HIV leads to AIDS, plain and simple

FYI: This is the second of ten posts that will not be related with vaccines.

Back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, there was a lot of scientific confusion as to what the relationship was between Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and a newly discovered retrovirus first known as HTLV-III and then renamed to HIV. Thirty-plus years and millions of dollars later, we have come to understand that HIV infection, if left untreated, progresses on to AIDS. We came to understand this because we observed people with HIV and people without it. Then we went one more step further and observed people infected with HIV who were treated and those who were not treated. We did these observations in real-world situations and also in controlled situations. We also did these observations in animal models.

All the evidence is there, and it is very clear that HIV causes AIDS.

Still, there are a group of people out there who honestly believe that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, that AIDS is the result of things other than HIV, or that neither HIV nor AIDS actually exist. (There are wilder theories than those, if that is possible, but I don’t have time for them.)

A few years ago, I came upon the comments of a man who has some “interesting” views of the relationship between HIV and AIDS. Here is the comment:

“Whether ORAC knows anything about medicine or science is unclear, but he knows NOTHING about how to conduct an investigation.

Having conducted thousands of criminal, civil and military investigations since 1980, it was clear from the onset that Deer’s so-called investigation resembled more of a hit-piece than a real investigation. As such, it was the perfect pretext for the kangaroo court known as the medical board review.

ORAC’s outrage is also telling. Since truth is the best defense in such cases, Deer’s defense should be extremely easy – unless, of course, he lied to destroy Dr. Wakefield’s career.

Because I have been involved in more than 100 criminal, civil and military cases involving medical and scientific incompetence since 2009, I am not at all impressed that ORAC is funded by the DoD, NCI or any other US government agency. And having recently cleared a US Marine of criminal charges by impeaching a top military infectious disease expert, I’d say that ORAC’s outrage is likely based upon his fear that he will be eventually be discovered as a charlatan as well.

If ORAC is telling the truth, nothing would preclude the use of his real name. The fact that he blogs on this pharmaceutical marketing website is telling.

Clark Baker LAPD (ret)”

He did us all the favor of directing us to his website, the “Office of Medical and Scientific Justice”. It’s a pretty legit-sounding website that talks a lot about clearing people who are innocent from false accusations against them. Just read the “About” page:

“Having conducted thousands of criminal and civil investigations since 1980 with the LAPD and as a licensed investigator, Mr. Baker founded OMSJ in 2009 after witnessing the reluctance of government agencies and research centers to investigate allegations related to medical and scientific corruption (also known as JUNK SCIENCE).

Many of the agencies and companies that market junk science fund activist groups and local, state and national politicians who facilitate corruption that has cost taxpayers billions of dollars in wasted research dollars. Junk science is used to keep predators on the streets, convict the innocent and injure or kill 2-4 million Americans annually.”

Read in a vacuum, that all sounds great… Until you start reading into Mr. Baker’s ideas. (Tip o’ the hat to regular reader/commenter “Lilady” for the link.) It seems that Mr. Baker is an HIV/AIDS denialist. Among some of the claims on his website are the usual bits of anti-science strategy. First, deny the science and call it “junk science”, but never mind that 99.9% of scientists (that is, 100% of reputable scientists) know and understand that HIV does cause AIDS, that HIV is not a “passenger virus”, and that HIV without antiretroviral treatment is pretty much a death sentence. Second, to try and back up those anti-science claims, find something by a member of the 0.1% of whacky scientists and publish the hell out of it. Third, find instances of scientists misbehaving and then try and discredit their scientific work and that of their colleagues. Finally, cater to what the far right-wing groups and their members want to hear.

It really is quite humorous that Baker follows the same playbook of almost all other anti-science activists follow. Cherry pick and discredit. Cherry pick and discredit. Cherry pick and discredit and be mean about it. Cherry pick, discredit, be mean, and put yourself up on a pedestal as being more than you really are. Oh, and sue people. Don’t try and fight the science, just goddamn sue!

Unfortunately for humanity, Clark Baker is not the only AIDS denialist out there. There are plenty, and there are plenty with advanced degrees whose letters after their names give them some degree of credence. For one reason or another, people listen to them, and we all pay for it dearly.

No, seriously, walk away from “the jail of autism”

A few weeks ago, I told you about some parents who should walk away from their autistic (or other special needs) children and give them over to people who will look after those children’s needs. They should walk away because they have been led to believe that autism is worse than death. They see people in “online newspapers” gnashing their teeth that they have been dealt a “bad hand” in life and have children with special needs. Those same people are quick to blame anything and everything for their current position in life, and then they pretty much walk away from responsibility and become advocates for some pretty sketchy causes.

Today I heard a story about a woman who is right now waiting to be sentenced for first-degree child abuse. What did she do? This:

“According to the Benzie County prosecutor’s office, on Sept. 3, 2013, Stapleton put her 14-year-old daughter Isabelle – known as “Issy” – in her van, drove to a rural location in Elberta, Michigan, and lit two charcoal grills inside the closed vehicle.

The two were later discovered unconscious from carbon monoxide poisoning. Issy spent four days in a “coma-like state” before making what was described as a miracle recovery.”

Why did she do that?

“In the months before the crime, Stapleton recounted her daughter’s physically abusive behavior on her website. She posted pictures of a black eye that Issy reportedly gave her and described the teen’s “horrific,” often violent outbursts towards other members of the family.

Stapleton “thought this would be the best solution,” police officers said she told them in a statement, “if Issy and her went to heaven.””

Read that again, just so that you can ponder about it a bit more. According to the mother, it was better for her child to die than to continue to live. When asked how she’s doing, the mom said this:

“”The jail of Benzie County has been a much kinder warden than the jail of autism has been,” Stapleton told Dr. Phil McGraw in a clip provided exclusively to PEOPLE. “

I wish I were joking. According to this woman, being in jail is better than being the mother of an autistic child. I wonder where she got that idea? I wonder what kind of rhetoric she’s ben hearing online and elsewhere that a child with autism is “lost,” “gone,” or “dead”? After all, if the child is already lost, then the child is viewed as less than worthy of being alive. If a child is seen as dead, killing them a second time is not that much of a bad thing, right?

Once again, I call on parents of children with special needs who think those children are lost, gone, dead, or who feel that they (the parents) have been cursed or otherwise “sentenced” to a less-than-desirable life to just walk away from their children. We don’t need any more dead children because you’ve been told that autism is worse than death or that an autistic child is not a person.

And, before you mention it, it doesn’t take having a special needs child or “walking a mile in a special needs parent’s shoes” to know that KILLING CHILDREN IS NOT JUSTIFIED AND NEVER WILL BE.

Big, fat, overfed trolls

I’ve come to the conclusion that anti-vaccine advocates are not in it for the children. They’re not in it to prevent any harm or avoid any damage to anyone. They’re in it for self-aggrandizement. The more I think about how they act and react to anything having to do with vaccines, the more I am convinced that they just want attention.

Let’s look at the latest “scandal” being pushed by the anti-vaccine groups. They claim that a scientist at CDC has come clean about purported hiding of data and institutional racism. When you point out that the data have always been there and that the analysis by BS Hooker was rife with poor epidemiological and biostatistical methodology, they call you a “pharma whore” and block your comments on their site. Ah, but they allow comments from anyone else that praises their misinformation. They love to be called “mavericks” who oppose the status quo.

That “status quo,” by the way, is vaccine-preventable disease at an all-time low, the world population at an all-time high, the near eradication of polio, the elimination of measles from the Americas, and chickenpox so rare that some young physicians have not seen a case in their entire careers. That’s the status quo they seek to destroy so that their fans can cheer for them and send them donations. The anti-vax crowd often says that we should “follow the money,” but not when the money leads to enormous mansions near Austin, Texas, or unquestioned admissions of rabid antivaxxers into public health programs.

They often accuse reasonable people of being “trolls,” people who comment for the sake of shock or to get a negative reaction out of people. And they do this while calling those reasonable people some pretty nasty names, or even threatening violence. Then they’ll go to science blogs and use trolling techniques to get reactions out of people there. Because we can’t resist calling them out on their BS, or BS Hooker, we respond. We feed the trolls.

One anti-vaccine fanatic who has previously threatened to reveal my identity to the world, which is laughable, recently sent me an article about one Bob Sears, MD. Bob is the kind of physician that, in my most humble and unimportant opinion, doesn’t really act like a physician. The anti-vax nut job was obviously trying to bait me into a discussion, but I’m tired of discussing anything with her, or with any anti-vax activist who sees Wakefield and that whole bunch of walking wastes of space as gods. What’s the point? The trolls are fat enough, so why feed them anymore?

We know that Dr. Bob, like others who should know better, is anti-vaccine. So why should I take the time to cover the story on him in which he is pretty good at burying himself in anti-scientific rhetoric? It gets boring. It’s exhausting. The reasonable people who read this blog will nod their heads. The crazies will froth at the mouth as they write comment after comment that goes to the spam folder or gets held in moderation because of bad language. (I refuse to publish comments with bad language.)

Because the anti-vax crew just wants attention, I’m going to try something new. I’m not going to play their game. My next ten posts will not be about anti-vaccine shenanigans. They will be about other pseudosciences or about vaccines themselves. But nothing about the anti-vaxxers themselves, not for a while. They can go be their own echo chamber in their sad little world.

Slowing down doesn’t mean giving up

Can you smell it? It’s the smell of fear and contempt from new students on a new academic year. It is delicious, and nothing gives me more pleasure than to impart my knowledge to unsuspecting “kids” that come along wanting to learn about this dark art called “epidemiology.” I’ll be a little busy with that for the next few months. I might not be able to post as often as I have, but I will post. Don’t you worry your pretty little head about that. It’s just a little bit of a slowdown.

While I get the next post ready over the coming week, I’d like to ask you all a questions. I’d like you to take a gander at The Kid’s blog and tell me if you can find one single post where he puts his epidemiological know-how to good use. After all, he fancies himself an epidemiologist. He introduces himself as one when he writes nonsensical letters to whine and complain about what he perceives to be injustices. But I keep failing to find a single blog post of his that uses epidemiology to address something. For example, in the latest brouhaha over Andrew Jeremy Wakefield and BS Hooker, The Kid never once defended the horrible epidemiology and biostatistics approach that BS Hooker had. The Kid never told us why it would be okay to use case-control data as a cohort study.

I’m willing to wager that it is because The Kid has forgotten all about the science to make room in his head for all the conspiracy theories that can fit in it. But that’s just me. So, if you can find one blog post where The Kid addresses some controversy or some issue from an epidemiological point of view, I’ll wash your car some day.

Next post this weekend, unless something happens between now and then. (And, no, Age of Autism releasing an alleged text message conversation between Andrew Jeremy and the CDC Whistleblower is not “something.” It’s the same old song, just enough to get their troops riled up. Besides, who signs their name in a text message? And it’s not like you can fake such a thing, is it?)

Is it?

Is it?

The only controversy here is why this is “controversial”

In life, there are things that are true and there are things that are not true. In between those things are things that could be true and things that could not be true. To figure out where things gall on that spectrum, we have science.

Science is not an abstract concept that is hard to understand. When you look at how science works, it’s a pretty simple thing. You probably do quite a bit of science every day and don’t even know it. Science begins with a question, then a period of gathering of evidence, then the formulation of a theory on what the answer might be, a series of experiments to confirm that theory, and then a period of analysis to confirm those findings. Very rarely will we scientists accept something as true based on one study or one set of data.

Question: Do vaccines work? Answer: Yes. But that answer is not written blindly and with no thought behind it. I don’t write it with passion or because I have a personal stake in the answer. I write it because there is a wealth of evidence that shows that vaccines work, and they work wonderfully. It wasn’t until the introduction of the MMR vaccine in the 1960s that cases and deaths from measles truly started to come down. The introduction of other vaccines has done the same for some other very deadly diseases.

It’s human nature to cling on to something we believe in and refuse to let it go no matter what the evidence. Just look at all the abusive relationships where either party (or both) think that they can change themselves or change each other. Even with beatings and arrests, they cling to each other in the hopes that they’re wrong and that they truly will live happily ever after. Anti-vaccine activists do the same thing. They hope against all odds that they are correct, even when children die from vaccine-preventable diseases, even when mothers lose pregnancies to Rubella. They pray to God (or their version of a god) that they are correct and that all this science, all this research done by devoted and hard-working people, is wrong. They pray to be correct.

With something as serious as people’s lives, I like to go with the evidence. I throw away any and all personal beliefs and gut feelings and go with what works. It’s not only in my nature as a scientist, but it should be in my nature as a “thinking ape.” Our brains should be in the business of allowing us to think and allowing us to let go of gut instincts whenever we can.

Working in the quote mine

If you’ve ever watched a politician speak, you might have noticed that they tend to be very, very careful with what they say. Most of them, anyway. They’re very careful with what they say because their opponents are quick to jump on the first little thing that doesn’t quite make sense. Remember John Kerry, our current Secretary of State and former Democratic candidate for President? He said that he voted for something before he voted against it. In the abstract, that sounds like a ludicrous statement. He sounded like a “flip-flopper” and the Republicans let him have it. When you look at what he did, you see that it was a procedural move to kill a bill. He voted for the bill in committee to then vote against it in the full Senate and kill it.

It makes sense to me, but it didn’t make sense to the masses of Republicans who brought flip-flops with them to Kerry’s rallies. They didn’t want to listen to reason, either. When people tried to explain to them why he did that, they basically covered their ears and ran away while screaming.

Anti-vaccine advocates are the same way. They’ll take something out of context and run with it, feeding it to the unsuspecting minds. The unsuspecting minds will then parrot what they’ve been fed without going to the source to make sure they’re not being fooled.

Take as a prime example the public statement by Dr. William Thompson from yesterday. Here is the full text:

“FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—AUGUST 27, 2014

STATEMENT OF WILLIAM W. THOMPSON, Ph. D., REGARDING THE 2004 ARTICLE EXAMINING THE POSSIBILITY OF A RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MMR VACCINE AND AUTISM

My name is William Thompson. I am a Senior Scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention where I have worked since 1998.

I regret my co-authors and I omitted statistically significant information in our 2004 article published in the journal Pediatrics. The omitted data suggested that African American males who received the MMR vaccine before 36 months were at increased risk for autism. Decisions were made regarding which findings to report after the data was collected, and I believe that the final study protocol was not followed.

I want to be absolutely clear that I believe vaccines have saved and continue to save countless lives. I would never suggest that any parent avoid vaccinating children of any race. Vaccines prevent serious diseases, and the risks associated with their administration are vastly outweighed by their individual and societal benefits.

My concern has been the decision to omit relevant findings in a particular study for a particular sub-group for a particular vaccine. There have always been recognized risks for vaccination and I believe it is the responsibility of the CDC to properly convey the risks associated with the receipt of those vaccines.

I have had many discussions with Dr. Brian Hooker over the last 10 months regarding studies the CDC has carried out regarding vaccines and neurodevelopmental outcomes including autism spectrum disorders. I share his belief that CDC decision-making analyses should be transparent. I was not, however, aware that he was recording any of our conversations, nor was I given any choice regarding whether my name would be made public or my voice would be put on the Internet.

I am grateful for the many supportive emails that I have received over the last several days. I will not be answering questions at this time. I am providing information to Congressman William Posey, and of course will continue to cooperate with Congress. I have also offered to assist with reanalysis of the study data of development of further studies. For the time being, however, I am focused on my job and my family.

Reasonable scientists can and do differ in their interpretation of information. I will do everything I can to assist any unbiased and objective scientists outside of the CDC to analyze data collected by the CDC or other public organizations for the purpose of understanding whether vaccines are associated with an increased risk of autism. There are still more questions than answers, and I appreciate that so many families are looking for answers from the scientific community.

My colleagues and supervisors at the CDC have been entirely professional since this matter became public. In fact, I received a performance-based award after this story came out. I have experienced no pressure or retaliation and certainly was not escorted out of the building as some have stated.

Dr. Thompson is represented by Frederick M. Morgan, Jr., Morgan Verkamp, LLC, Cincinnati, Ohio.”

And here’s what the anti-vaccine people are saying about it:

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Note how none of them mention this from Dr. Thompson:

“I want to be absolutely clear that I believe vaccines have saved and continue to save countless lives. I would never suggest that any parent avoid vaccinating children of any race. Vaccines prevent serious diseases, and the risks associated with their administration are vastly outweighed by their individual and societal benefits.”

Of course they don’t disseminate that because it goes against everything they believe. They also don’t mention this:

“I was not, however, aware that he was recording any of our conversations, nor was I given any choice regarding whether my name would be made public or my voice would be put on the Internet.”

That is, no mention of the betrayal of trust (and possible criminal action in recording someone without their knowledge) of Wakefield and BS Hooker.

The Drinking Thinking Moms also don’t mention that the findings were only statistically significant for African American boys. Most, if not all, of the children they claim were “lost” or “dead” or “stolen” by autism are white boys and white girls.

Of course, the moms are not the only ones lying by omission about this whole thing. Plenty of anti-vaccine people online have been flooding comments sections of blogs with falsehoods. They say that data were omitted when they weren’t. Others said that Dr. Thompson was escorted off the CDC campus when was not. And, of course, the loonier of the loons are blaming everything from the Illuminati to the Reptilians for this.

The worst of the worst, however, keep using racially-charged language over this, and they keep stoking something that I’m sure not even they want to see catch on fire.

 

Autism is not death, unless you want it to be

The latest scandal to rock the anti-vaccine crowd has done nothing to sway the opinions of the True Believers® about vaccines and autism. If anything, they think that they have a smoking gun and all the evidence in the world to point their fingers at vaccines as the causative agent of autism. At best (for them), they have evidence that giving the MMR vaccine before 36 months increases the risk of autism for African American boys. That is a big assumption because the DeStefano paper that has been so widely criticized as of late dealt with a case-control study and odds ratios. Thinking that you can reanalyze it as a cohort study with relative risks is poor judgment and horrible reasoning.

I’m not here to talk about all that. Others are doing a fine job in peeling the layers of the ineptitude of Andrew Jeremy Wakefield and BS Hooker in trying to scam the American public about vaccines and autism again:

  • Orac tells us here, here, here and here about the whole goddamned thing. In fact, his latest post wraps it all up very neatly with a message to the “CDC whistleblower” and how the whistleblower’s scientific career is pretty much done.
  • Todd W. tells us here about Andrew Jeremy Wakefield confusion about history, here about anti-vaccine activists on Twitter not understanding Twitter, and here about the whistleblower telling us all about being betrayed by Andrew Jeremy Wakefield and BS Hooker.
  • Phil Plait tells us how, no, there is no connection between the MMR vaccine and autism, yet again, here.
  • Liz Ditz tells us about the whistleblower statement here, about Andrew Jeremy Wakefield and BS Hooker implicating an African American researcher in an alleged scheme against African Americans here, and she gives us the overall backstory here.
  • Finally, Ren tells us why the whistleblower’s and BS Hooker’s epidemiological and statistical reasoning is unsound here, and how everything came undone for Andrew Jeremy Wakefield and BS Hooker yesterday here.

That right there should be essential reading for you to get caught up. Now, let me tell you about a special group of people…

There is a special group of people who are, for the most part, parents of autistic children (or children with other developmental delays). These people are special because, although their child is right there in front of them, they are under the impression that the child is dead. They refer to their “lost” child, or how their child was “taken” from them, all the while the child is breathing in front of them. In many cases, the child is not just breathing but trying to interact with them. I write “trying” because the amount of online activity these people have makes me wonder if they have any time for their living, breathing, interacting child in front of them.

I’ve told you before why I believe that these people need to walk away from their children, and I even got a rabid anti-vaccine and conspiracy theorist threatening to kill me if he ever saw me in person for it. (Some people react in the weirdest ways to being told the truth.) The joke is on him, though. Ideas are bulletproof.

With so many anti-vaccine activists “hooked” on the “BS” over the “whistleblower”, I started to notice something about how they were presenting themselves online. During their “twitter party,” many of them had a black ribbon as an avatar. Why? Because these “non-sheeple” were told to:

black_ribbons

While the black ribbon can mean different things to different people, it’s main use is for grieving or remembering the fallen, the dead. The way that these people have used it is to try to bring attention to their cause by equating autism with a death or a loss.

I call on these parents who think hours-long “parties” on Twitter are the best way to advocate for their children to walk away from their children immediately. Those children deserve love, caring, understanding, and acceptance. Why not go fight for them at school meetings to get them more inclusive curricula in public schools? Why not go to your elected representatives and demand laws to protect your children from scam non-medical treatments like bleach enemas and chemical castration? Why not write letters to the editors of your communities’ newspapers to advocate for acceptance in the community of your children with special needs so that they will not be shunned from your society and, instead, be integrated into it?

But to display black ribbons and say that your child is no more because he or she is autistic? How in any reasonable terms is that the best way for you to do something for your child? Again, walk away, because there are thousands more caring and loving people out there to take care of them than you, based on your brand of advocacy on line and in person.