Dealing with people who can’t take a joke

If you’ve noticed that more and more people are being named by name on this blog, you’re not seeing things. There was once a time when names were to be avoided as much as possible because there are people out there who seemingly have Google alerts for any mention of their name. Write their name on a blog or some place, and they send their legion of followers to attack. Drama is not as appetizing as it used to be.

We had an “editorial” meeting, of sorts, and decided that we would not be afraid of naming names because fear is not good for the open and honest discussion of ideas. As soon as you start fearing the repercussions of calling out the “douchebags”, then you might as well call it a wrap and get a job where you don’t have to interact with douchebags ever. (There is no such job.) When someone goes on their online “radio show” and threatens you, you don’t back down from calling them on their bullshit, from telling them that maybe they should leave their autistic children if they already see said children as “gone.”

But enough about Mr. Linderman, Facebook friend of the reigning douchbag of the year.

The events over the last couple of days in Paris, France, should teach us that there will always be idiots out there who overreact to what you say (or do). We are very lucky in the United States to have our speech be protected from acts by the government, but we’re still pretty vulnerable to the actions of people who’d do us harm because they see something we did as offensive. Of course, there are times when we intend to offend and times when we offend without it being our intention to do so. In either case, the government can’t do squat about what we write or say (or draw) except under very strict circumstances and always under judicial oversight.

So what do we do when the crazies come after us for what we’ve written? We stand up to them, of course. We don’t give an inch because giving in to them even just a little bit will embolden them to try the same crap with other people. For example, when Jake Crosby went after Orac, Orac didn’t back down. Orac very openly and in no uncertain terms refuted what The Kid had to say about alleged conflicts of interest. The Kid then turned his attention to Ren, mentioning in his letter the whole “Epi Gate” affair in an attempt to probably say, “Look, Ren’s calling people douchebags again,” but with a very whiny tone. Ren fired back at him and has continued to fire back at him every time Jake accuses Ren of “threats”.

And so it should be with all bullies. We don’t back down from our position so long as we have facts, evidence and reason on our side. If they get offended or feel bad because we point out the flaws in their ways of thinking or in their misguided deeds, that is very much their problem. If they come after us and somehow manage to hurt us, we keep doing what we do. We fight like we’ve never fought before.

If they can’t take a joke, if they are so offended by the truths to their lies and misinformation, then they will run the other way when you show them that you will not be pushed around. I guarantee it.

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Damaged, but not damaged enough

I told you just the other day about “Your Baby’s Best Shot“, a book describing the necessity of vaccines and placing the risks and benefits in real terms, and how an error in the book was being used and abused by anti-vaccination groups to say that the entirety of the book was in error. Well, if you go to the Amazon.com page for the book, you will be able to read some reviews on it. Most of the reviews are positive, and then there is this one. It is a 3,466-word rant about all of the perceived errors and “sloppiness” in the book, combined with plenty of anti-vaccine propaganda.

I can’t possibly review the entire review. That would be very meta, and I just don’t have the time or the intestinal fortitude. However, if you’re familiar with anti-vaccine rants, you’ll be able to pick up on the reviewer’s antics right away. Also, a few people responded to her rants, including a friend of this blog. They pushed the reviewer to reveal some interesting things about herself. As always, I will not mention the reviewer by name, but you can read this rant by her — in the form of a letter to the editor.

So what did she reveal in her follow-up comments? In this follow-up comment, she writes:

“I got a tetanus booster at 19 which paralyzed both arms for two days, brachial plexus neuropathy, and then I went on the develop MS, caused by the mercury in that and previous vaccines I had gotten. My daughter and I are two of the millions of severely vaccine-damaged people in the U.S., and in the world.”

MS stands for “Multiple Sclerosis“, a neurological condition in which the nerves lose their ability to properly conduct electrical impulses because the myelin sheath — a layer of insulation — around the nerves gets worn down or destroyed. Multiple Sclerosis is caused by inflammation that destroys the myelin. That inflammation is caused by the body’s own immune system attacking the myelin. What triggers the auto-immune reaction is not known. But you know what has been ruled out? Thimerosal has been ruled out as causing MS. It’s been pretty much ruled out as causing anything because there is just not enough mercury in thimerosal to cause anything. It’s too little, and it’s the kind of mercury that doesn’t accumulate in the body. It’s all in the chemistry.

The reviewer mentions her injury and subsequent disability on her next reply:

“So, Binky Boy [Ed. a person replying to her rants], have you seen the medical records I provided Voc Rehab with recently, in an attempt to find employment I can do with the limitations imposed by my MS, most seriously the mitochondrial damage which leaves me with very little energy? Have you seen my daughter’s medical records, were you there when we both had severe reactions to vaccines? If you were not there, then you are only trying to insult us with your lies, plain and simple. We have suffered vaccine damage in extremely classic ways. I have read Dr. Wakefield’s Callous Disregard, which I puchased on Amazon two years ago. I have read many books on the subject. I have read the articles about and by him in Vaccine Epidemic. I have read about every one of the false calumnies which you and your colleagues have attempted to smear him. I am proud that you put me in the same category as Dr. Wakefield. It is you who are endangering children by your mindless, absolute defense of all vaccines all the time, at any cost, and the cost is quite a large one, both in terms of permanently damaged lives and the monetary gain from vaccines, which rains down on their paid promoters as well. I submit that it is you and your little army of fellow pharma employees who are the real danger, the real fraud.”

I bolded the “Pharma Shill” Gambit for you, one of the many gambits she tries to use to prove her point. No science, just gambits.

Did you catch the part where she has “limitations” due to her MS, wherein she has “very little energy”? Another person replying to her mentioned it. Here’s the interesting part: Up to this comment, she has written 4,855 words. That’s one weak disability if you can write that much. But she keeps going, and going, and going, and going. She even states this, my emphasis added:

“I am dizzy, wobbly, and exhausted all the time. The hospital records from an MS attack which completely paralyzed my left arm and leg for over a months were sufficient proof of my disability (caused by the mercury in the DPT) to qualify me for help from Voc Rehab and Job Point.”

But not exhausted enough to post, by this point, 6,469 words.

Seven thousand words in, she tells us why she is an authority on the subject of vaccines:

“I consider myself well-informed on this issue because I have read books and articles on both sides of this issue. I have read things by Offit, the tawdry book that is the subject of this review, and the shallow propaganda on Shot of Prevention.com You people, on the other hand, cannot bring yourselves to read books and articles from our side, which you really should do to prevent you from making as many stupid mistakes as you do. You might even learn something about the immune system.”

Well, we don’t read anti-vaccine books to educate ourselves because fiction doesn’t educate, it just entertains — and misinforms.

When asked why she keeps using the “Pharma Shill” Gambit, she answered with this:

“You haven’t actually said that you are not. Let’s clear that up first.”

Ah, well, if one doesn’t state that one is a murderer, it’s okay to be called a murderer, right? Aside from all her other statements, this one was very telling. It was telling because it shows exactly the level of paranoia and mistrust that many in the anti-vaccine camp seem to show. Further evidence was her reply to when someone mentioned their education:

“If you have degrees from accredited institutions, it means you have vested interests in the vaccine issue, which means that you are not a reliable source for credible information on the question. Vaccine-damaged families are much better sources for information when trying to decide whether to risk the vaccines for their own children.”

When someone states that they have degrees in the sciences, this was her response:

“College and master’s degrees in what? I have a B.A. in French, with honors, 4.0 average, a Ph.D. in Spanish, 4.0 average, and a J.D. in law. If just having college degrees means one knows what one is talking about, then I have more than you, so must be presumed to know better what I am talking about.”

I almost fell out of my chair reading that. Two degrees in languages and one in law make her an expert? I ask you again, what universe is she living in?

It seems to be a universe in which she is too damaged to work, but not damaged enough to post over 7,300 words on her review and subsequent comments. Not damaged enough for 1,035 words here, the myriad of comments here, comments here, comments here, another letter to the editor here, and so on and so forth. Someone with her ability to communicate should not be unemployed. Then again, someone who is exhausted, dizzy, and wobbly all the time because of vaccines should probably rest up and save their energy, PhD in Spanish or no PhD in Spanish.

When statistically significant is insignificant

I love Twitter. I got a hold of this little bit of anti-vax nonsense and just had to bring it to everyone’s attention. Check this out:

Source.

You can click on the image to see it a little larger. The original caption is what caught my eye. It reads: “Snapshot of the Verstraeten study dated 02/29/00 showing a statistically significant relationship between mercury exposure and autism.” My emphasis added in bold because this image shows no such thing. It shows a statistically insignificant relationship between mercury exposure and autism.

However, I realize that some of these terms might as well be in Chinese to some of you, unless you speak Chinese. So let’s break it down piece by piece.

Relative Risk (RR) is the ratio in the risk of developing autism given an exposure to thimerosal between a control and an intervention group. That’s the left-hand axis. The control group doesn’t get thimerosal. The intervention group does.

For example, if the RR is 10, then those exposed to thimerosal have a ten times higher risk of developing autism than those who were not exposed. An RR of 1 means that there is no difference in the risks; both exposed and unexposed have equal risks of developing autism. So, an RR of 1 means that the relationship observed is not statistically significant.

Statistical significance means that the results you observe are not due to random chance. That’s the 95% confidence interval (CI) part. That CI tells you the range of RR values you’d see 95 out of 100 times if you repeated the same experiment 100 times. The CI in this chart is represented by the error bars in each value.

At <37.5 micrograms, there was no difference between the two groups. The RR was 1. Note the lack of error bars for that value because of the low number of study subjects (n=5).

At 37.5 micrograms, the RR is still 1. Again, no difference.

At 50 micrograms, the RR is 0.93. This means that the control group is about 7% more likely to develop autism than the thimerosal group. BUT the CI includes 1, so there is a very good chance that your RR will be 1 if you repeat the experiment 100 times. As a result, this finding is not statistically significance. Certainly, I would not go out to the streets and proclaim that thimerosal protects from autism.

At 62.5 micrograms, the RR is 1.26, meaning that the group receiving thimerosal is 26% more likely to get autism than the control group. BUT look at the CI again! It still includes 1. As before, this result is statistically insignificant.

At over 62.5 micrograms, the RR rises to 2.48. The CI still includes 1. This result is statistically insignificant.

Wait! Doesn’t this show a trend whereby if the exposure is high enough, then the association will be stronger? Nope. It doesn’t. If you look at the error bars, you could hit 1.0 the whole time. Heck, with the logic shown in this article, I could make a case that thimerosal is protective against autism at certain levels.

It’s nonsense (to not use a harsher word).

But anti-vaccine advocates are not known for letting facts get in the way. The author of that piece of nonsense continues with quotes taken out of context from some meeting long used by anti-vaxers as evidence of a plot… Blah! Blah! Blah!

If you don’t know what is statistically significant and what is not, then that pretty much destroys your entire argument from the get-go. If you try to come off as a researcher, when you’re obviously not, then you lose the argument even worse.

But what about that study? Well, read all about it here, here, here, and here, and see how it has been misused to further the anti-vaccine agenda. Too bad they don’t know the difference between significant and insignificant, or they would have not used this study (or this graph).

Sucrose: Dangerous Poison or Plain Table Sugar?

The answer is clearly “plain table sugar”. I’ll explain why in a little bit. But let me first show you an anti-vaccine rant about sucrose (emphases mine):

“Here is the promised Sucrose information. It can also be found in the notes section.
Sucrose:Material Safety Data Sheet:http://www.sciencelab.com/msds.php?msdsId=9927285&nbsp;

The first thing I want to point out is that the MSDS is for the safe handling of large quantities of the chemical. It would be seen in a binder on the floor of a manufacturing plant, storage facility and anywhere it may come in contact with humans working with it. As we can see, this MSDS was updated on 6/09/2012 at 12:00pm. This is important information to note. One must always be sure the MSDS you find is up to date. 

I am NOT going to break down each section of the MSDS. However, I am going to point out Section 3 and 4. As we can see it has a listing of acute and chronic health effects and the first aid required for acute exposure.

The acute affects make it dangerous for skin and eyes to come in contact with it, as well as an indication that ingestion would be unwise. Treating acute exposure is covered in Section 4 of the MSDS. The chronic affects would be difficult to pin down to exclusive exposure to this chemical. We do see it has carcinogenic effects label of A4.

Here are 2 websites that break down the classes of carcinogenicity:

http://sis.nlm.nih.gov/enviro/iupacglossary/annex3.html

http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/occup-travail/whmis-simdut/carcinogenesis-carcinogenese-eng.php

It is important to note that “Not classifiable as a human carcinogen” often means the government has not conducted definitive studies to rule one way or the other. Although we are seeing many independent university studies regarding this specific chemical.

All one has to do is Google “dangers of sucrose” and you will be bombarded with many health sites, such as livestrong.com, telling of the danger this artificial sweetener poses. I want to present studies though. There have been none in recent years to determine whether long term exposure to sucrose would cause permanent damage to the human body. At least none that I could find.

(Please, if you have links to the study summary in PubMed, post them!)

Here is what I did find:http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9519848 – This relates to a study done with rats and dogs, but it was a short study. Because I am not a chemist nor a biologist, I’m not sure how this translates to humans consumption. This is an older study and I could find nothing newer.

One more, and it is from 1998. It shows no long term affects:http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9519849I am not going to report things that don’t exist. However, the MSDS shows definite hazards to being exposed to the chemical in the event of a spill. Again, if you have links to the specific studies I keep seeing mentioned, post them or message them so I can update the notes section and my own records.

Carrie 

**Later today I will address the next 3 ingredients and post it to notes and the wall. Thank you.”

Of course she’s not a chemist or biologist. If she was, she would know what sucrose is.

There are these chemicals called sugars. They consist of carbons attached to hydrogen and oxygen. If they have six carbons, they are “hexoses”. “Hex” is the prefix for “six”. If they have five carbons, they are “pentoses”, with “pent” being the prefix for five. Human beings take in these hexoses and pentoses and break them down via chemical reactions. These chemical reactions produce energy. Our cells then use that energy to grow and multiply, repair themselves, and just, you know, live.

You are warm right now because you are actively breaking down these sugars and the reactions produce heat.

You’ve probably heard of “glucose”. It’s the sugar in your blood right now. It’s a hexose, and it packs quite a punch when it comes to energy. The energy is stored in the bonds between the carbons. Break those bonds, and you release a ton of energy.

You’ve probably also heard of “fructose”. It is the sugar in plants. We have glucose, and plants have fructose. We consume fructose when we eat fruits and vegetables. Some have more fructose than others. “High fructose corn syrup” is a corn product (corn has fructose) that has been refined to contain the most fructose possible. It’s super sweet because it has a lot of sugar in it. Fructose, a pentose hexose, is a sugar.

Still with me?

Here is a picture of glucose:

Note the six carbons are labeled 1-6.

Now, here is a picture of fructose:

They’re not labeled, but there are five six carbons there.

Now, let’s talk sucrose.

The reason why that anti-vaccine person is demonizing sucrose is because it is contained in some vaccines. If it is in a vaccine, then either the devil defecated it or aliens produced it. That is to say that anti-vaccine people think that everything inside a vaccine vial is absolute evil and/or not of this world.

But here is why the government has never tested sucrose for toxicity. Check out the picture of sucrose:

Look familiar?

That’s right, dear reader! Sucrose is glucose put together with fructose. It’s also known as table sugar. It’s the white powder that you use to sweeten your coffee or your muffins. Pineapples and apricots produce sucrose as the main sugar. When you eat sucrose, an enzyme in your gut breaks it apart into glucose and fructose. Then these are absorbed into the bloodstream and metabolized.

When you are injected with sucrose, or you are given it by IV as part of a medical therapy, a similar enzyme breaks it apart in your circulation. Then your metabolism takes over.

“But wait, she said it could be a carcinogen?” Tumors (large groups of cancer cells) also need energy. They’re cells! So a well-fed person who eats plenty of refined sugar and has cancer is only feeding those cells. It’s not a cancer-cause as much as it is a cancer-collaborator.

So don’t fear sucrose. It’s not evil. It’s delicious.

Then again, fear it a little bit if you’re overweight or a diabetic… Or both.

PS: Would you like the government to spend millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours to study table sugar?

Science Is Not The Enemy, Ignorance Is

Take a quick look at the following YouTube video. You don’t have to watch it all – or watch it at all – to get the gist of it because I’ll tell you what the gist of it is. The gist of it is that a mother in some suburban town in America is so afraid of contrails from airplanes, and so ignorant of basic principles of science (physics and chemistry), that she goes out of her house and uses a simple spray bottle to spray vinegar “at” the contrails.

Let me tell you what happened again, because even I have a hard time understanding this without writing it again. A woman is so afraid of contrails from planes that she uses a household spray bottle to spray vinegar in the air out on her backyard in hopes – and belief – that the vinegar will clear the contrails. I’ve written that twice and seen the video, and I still can’t believe that this is happening in the 21st centruy in the United States of America. I really wished it was a joke. Unfortunately, the lack of science knowledge in the US is very prevalent. There is no fake science or fake medical remedy that people won’t buy. All you need to do is stay up late one night and see the infomercials to see what is going on.


There are metal bracelets that promise you better athletic performance.

There are remedies to help your male genitalia get “bigger” or perform “better”.

And what can I say about homeopathy?

It is because the consumer is not aware of the science – or lack thereof – behind these products that these products sell. And they must sell well if they’re solvent enough to produce infomercials. A quick way to know that there is no evidence of the products’ function is in the advertisements themselves. Skeptics call this the “Quack Miranda Warning“:

“These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevenet any disease.”

But let’s get back to contrail – or “chemtrail” – lady. What science is she missing? First, she is missing basic physics. Physics prescribes that the vinegar she is spraying from a spray bottle behind her house will not spread far enough or high enough to have any effect on the contrails thousands of feet above her. Could you imagine if it did?

Second, she is missing basic chemistry. Contrails are made from condensed moisture. Adding vinegar to that condensed moisture doesn’t cause any kind of chemical reaction to do away with the contrail. (She alleges that she succeeded in erasing the “chemtrails” when the contrails disappear on their own.)

Third, she is missing basic research and critical thinking skills. Many people who believe in this conspiracy do so because they read about it on some blog – ehem! – or online somewhere. However, that ability to do “their own research” doesn’t seem to extend to the truth, or to truthful sources, or to sources that question her beliefs. It’s not a bad thing to have one or two of the basic tennets in your life questioned every once in a while. It’ really isn’t. I’ve had it happen to me all my professional life, and it has led to some really good discussion.

Sadly, as you can see in the video, she is dragging her child into this. How is that child supposed to interact in a high school chemistry class if they should ever touch on the subject of condensation, chemtrails, or even vinegar for acid-base reactions? What kind of laughter will this video on the net trigger in his peers? What kind of future is expected for him with a mother like this? I won’t speculate – much – on that, but I will tell you that it will not be an easy adolescence.

There are other examples of the lack of science education – and/or critical thinking – in the world around us. People who discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity are ignorant of basic principles of evolution and genetics. If they did, they would know that our external differences are just the cause of generations’ worth of adaptations to the climate where our forefathers lived. If there was too much sun, our ancestors adapted by having more melanin in their skin for protection from the sunlight. If it was very cold, then our ancestors adapted by having more fat tissue around the face – which needed to be uncovered for seeing and interacting with each other. That’s it. There is no difference in the intellectual capability between people, only differences in learning styles or knowledge because of different social, political, or economic situations. In essence, we’re the same, it’s the stuff around us that’s different.

I was going to write about 300 or 400 words on the anti-vaccine crowd, but that’s been done on this blog. So I’ll just write that they’re really, really lacking on the science, and it’s a dangerous thing because those vaccine-preventable diseases that we almost had defeated are making a comeback. All because they don’t know – or refuse to know – about immunology and biology, and a little bit of chemistry.

Global warming? Well, that’s a whole chunk of people who never did a science fair project where they took a box, painted it black on the inside, covered it with plastic, and left it out in the sun. The plastic works just like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It lets sunlight in, but then traps the heat, warming the earth. The process in the real world is gradual, but the principle is the same. Yet, somehow, this principle is beyond any comprehension by some people – people who should know better, nonetheless.

Unfortunately, the heroes of today have little to nothing to do with science, for the most part. Movie stars who overdose every other week, athletes who shoot themselves in the leg, or singers who have pretty voices do nothing to stimulate young minds into wanting to learn more about science. Sure, there will be the few children who’ll dig deeper into the science of movie-making, throwing the perfect spiral, or getting the best acoustics. But the rest of the audience will just sit back and enjoy the show.

Even more unfortunate, we’ve ended the Space Shuttle program. There are no more impressive take-offs from Cape Canaveral. No more drama of docking to the International Space Station. While NASA is still recruiting astronauts, being one is not at the top of the list for today’s children. They’re prefectly happy – our children, not the astronauts – flipping burgers and buying “kicks”. Science be damned.

If I were the President’s science advisor, I would call on him to create a “Manhattan Project” of sorts to solve some of our most pressing problems, issuing a challenge to the country and the world to help in figuring out things like alternative fuels (because oil WILL run out and the climate can’t take much more of this), disappearing forests (we all need their oxygen), species going extinct, or diseases emerging and reemerging. Instead of spending billions of dollars on bailing out companies that are too big to fail, I’d suggest those companies be acquired and rebuilt to solve our problems. Imagine General Motors being compelled to make environmentally-friendly and gas-efficient vehicles as a condition of their bailout. Imagine building factories all over the country, employing thousands of people, to build better and more efficient solar panels for home water heating. Think of a government that continues to fund space exploration and experimentation to continue to give us technologies that will make our lives better.

And don’t tell me about solar panels and how inefficient they are. I remember a time when satellite dishes were several yards in diameter and only affordable to the very rich. Now we have small units sitting atop almost every dwelling in our cities. I also remember a time when video cassette recorders were twenty pounds heavy and took up lots of space. Now we have phones that play better videos and store thousands of video cassettes’ worth of data. Technology gets better and more affordable if we work at it, not if we are afraid of it and pass legislature to scare people away from it.

But we’re not there quite yet. We still have people spreading diseases because they were told that vaccines are ultimate evil. We have people sparying vinegar at the sky. And we have influential politicians denying that carbon dioxide is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do, what’s it has been known to do for a very long time. Furthermore, we are still arguing about race and ethnicity, or who speaks what language and why. People are still shooting other people for money or property or relationships gone bad. In the huge universe of things – and perhaps because not all of us have looked through both a telescope and a microscope – we are launching wars against each other for really nothing… Nothing at all.

Yeah, totally worth spilling blood over instead of trying to make it better so we can start to get off it.