A different definition of “fiction”

I was talking to a friend who works in a psych unit the other day, and he asked how I was dealing with the anti-vaxxers and other denialists. I told him that it was a little frustrated at times that there are so many people willing to ignore reality for fiction. He told me about a psychological concept called “fiction”. This is not fiction in the traditional sense. This is fiction in that a person has created a sort of reality around them that is real to them, maybe even tangible, even if all the evidence points to the contrary. You have probably seen examples of this in women who go to deliver a child and had convinced themselves all the time that they were not pregnant, even going on public record and saying that they had no clue (never mind the belly, the lack of a menstrual period, and other indicators of what reality was). You also see it too often in men who cheat on their wives and have convinced themselves that what they are doing is not wrong, or that there will be no consequences.

My thoughts went to the “Weirdo” John Stone of Age of Autism. He is convinced that I am someone else, someone employed by “Big Pharma”, and that I am in cahoots with a whole bunch of other people who are pro-vaccine. I’ve offered to him to become my “friend” on Facebook and get to see pictures of myself and my family, where I am working, and even my telephone number, but he has not agreed. Why? Because he is convinced that I am “despicable”. That, or he doesn’t want the fiction that he has created about me to be torn down. After all, if I turn out to be just a random guy and not who he thinks I am, there is no more boogeyman, no monster under his bed.

The Weirdo is not the only one, of course. There are plenty of leaders and followers in the anti-vaccine camp that have created a fiction around their lives. To many, their children were not autistic until the minutes or hours following their childhood vaccines. Even when they are shown videos of their children exhibiting autistic behaviors before vaccination, their fiction will not allow them to accept this. Their fiction dictates that vaccines and only vaccines cause autism, not their genes, not anything else. (Although some would concede that maybe the environment had something to do with it.)

In many, and very heated, discussions about vaccines (and even about science in general), public health officials and workers (and anyone in any way associated with the pharmaceutical industry) get compared to the Nazi regime which ruled Germany in the 1930’s and 1940’s. To take in and understand why that analogy is flawed, you have to understand what happened during that time in Europe. I won’t bore you with the history class, but I will tell you that public health working to save the lives of children today is nothing at all like what happened under the Nazi regime. We are not arbitrarily picking children and killing them en masse. We are not tying anyone down and performing medical experiments on them. We don’t believe that one ethnic or religious group is to blame for all of society’s ailments.

To be a person of science, and someone who believes in science, we cannot have the luxury of creating fictions around our lives. Sure, we may create mini-fictions to understand why someone like the weirdo or the kid may hate us with such a passion, but we pretty much accept reality for what it is. Personally, I believe the weirdo just has a psychosexual obsession with me, but that’s just me, and I’m no psychologist. That’s a very minor personal fiction compared to what he fantasizes believes about me, maybe. And I’ve told you about his obsession with Dorit Reiss as well. On the contrary, we need to live and accept the evidence and do something about it. Even those among us who believe in a higher power, I’m yet to find a true person of science who falls to their knees and prays instead of taking evidence-based action.

So how do you deal with a person or a group who is/are cocooned in their own fiction? With some, it will be just a matter of breaking down that fiction with facts. With others, there will be absolutely nothing you will be able to do. What they see as reality looks, feels, and even tastes like reality, so there cannot be anything else. In the case of the weirdo, it will not matter how many times I explain to him that I am not who he thinks I am, and that I’m not at all interested in him in the way that he seems to think I am interested in him… Which sends shivers down my spine.

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Some are just too far down the rabbit hole

I’ve told you before that the true anti-vaccine activists blame anything and everything wrong in their lives, or with the minds and bodies of their children, on vaccines. The same goes for anyone who believes in conspiracies, alternative medicine, ghosts… You name it. They will believe their bias before believing anything else, including clear and tangible evidence.

A friend of mine pointed me to this link from “GeoEngineering Watch”, a website dedicated to conspiracy theories having to do with “weather engineering”. If you look through the site, you’ll see the usual hodgepodge of unscientific theories about what is going on with the crazy weather we’re seeing around the world. Instead of going with the science of climate change because of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (most of it from our pollution, and a lot of it from volcanoes), the authors of the website seem to go with contrails, radio wave transmissions, military experiments, etc. Continue reading

I’m just asking questions here

One of the favorite pastimes of denialists of all shapes and sizes is the “I’m just asking questions” gambit. They pose questions about something that has already been scientifically settled and say that they’re just looking for “honest debate” on the subject. But it’s often, again, on things that have been settled. It’s like the holocaust revisionists who say that they just want to “set the record straight” about what happened in German-controlled Europe in the 1930s and 40s. They’ll put a little bit of untruth in the truth and seed doubt in the minds of their readers and followers.

Anti-vaccine activists will say that there have been no double-blind clinical trials on vaccines and then walk away from the conversation, knowing that they have put doubt in the minds of people who don’t know better. While there have been such trials on most vaccines, a lot of what we know about vaccine safety and efficacy comes from observational studies. We know that vaccinated people are less likely to be part of an outbreak as a group and that individuals are less likely to catch a vaccine-preventable disease if they’re immunized. It would be highly unethical for us to take a group of babies at birth and randomize them into a “to be vaccinated” and “to not be vaccinated” group now that we know what we know about vaccines and the diseases they prevent. Continue reading

Science and Reality and AIDS Denialism

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, physicians around the country started to notice that certain patients of theirs were coming down with some really weird infections. These infections, like pneumonia from a fungus, were not usually seen in otherwise healthy individuals. In fact, the fungal pneumonia being seeing at the time had only been seen in severely malnourished children and in people whose immune systems had been decimated. These physicians, being the astute people that they were, reported their findings among themselves and to health departments. It wasn’t until June of 1981 that a report from CDC documenting these cases of atypical pneumonias in gay men that the floodgates were opened. Healthcare providers from all over the nation started to report that, yes, there was something happening that people (usually gay men at the time) were coming down with atypical pneumonias and other infections termed “opportunistic” because they take advantage of weakened immune systems.

In 1983, two independent (and competing) groups of scientists in America and France isolated a new virus from people with what had come to be known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). The viruses they isolated were named HTLV-III and LAV by the two teams, respectively, but it would be renamed Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in 1986. It was then understood that HIV was the causative agent of AIDS because:

  • AIDS patients all had HIV in their blood and anti-HIV antibodies in their serum.
  • People without AIDS who were exposed to HIV and infected (by lab accidents and accidental needle sticks, NOT because they were deliberately infected) went on to develop AIDS.
  • In the lab, HIV was grown in media from all cases of AIDS and people without AIDS were not found to have HIV in them.

It would have been unethical to randomize people in a study into the “give them HIV” and “don’t give them HIV” groups, so a lot of these observations were based on observational epidemiological studies. Later on, antiretroviral drugs (drugs against HIV) showed that:

  • AIDS patients given antiretroviral drugs would get better, especially once their HIV levels went down.
  • People with HIV who were given the drugs before AIDS set in did not develop AIDS, or developed it at a much later time.
  • Pregnant women with HIV given antiretrovirals would have HIV-negative babies, while pregnant women with HIV who did not receive the drug would pass it on to their children.

Jesus once said that all who had ears should listen, but I’m going to take it one step further. Let all who have brains understand this:

No HIV, no AIDS. HIV, AIDS. Antiretrovirals, low HIV, no AIDS. No antiretrovirals, certain death from AIDS and the infections that come from it.

Sadly, not everyone has grasped this concept and there continue to be people who… Well… Read it yourself:

The Group for the Scientific Reappraisal of the HIV-AIDS Hypothesis came into existence as a group of signatories of an open letter to the scientific community. The letter (dated June 6, 1991) has been submitted to the editors of NatureScienceThe Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine. All have refused to publish it. In 1995 The Group was able to get another letter published inScience.

Over the years more and more people have added their signature to the first letter. By signing the letter; the statement below, one becomes a member of The Group too.

It is widely believed by the general public that a retrovirus called HIV causes the group diseases called AIDS. Many biochemical scientists now question this hypothesis. We propose that a thorough reappraisal of the existing evidence for and against this hypothesis be conducted by a suitable independent group. We further propose that critical epidemiological studies be devised and undertaken.

There are 3100 signatories.”
There are 3,100 people who don’t believe that HIV causes AIDS, despite the overwhelming evidence that it does. They want “critical epidemiological studies be devised and undertaken.” Well, they have. They’ve been devised and undertaken. Since we can’t randomize people into the HIV infection and non-HIV infection groups, we looked at people with AIDS and tested them for HIV. They all had it. Then we looked at healthy people and tested them for HIV. They all didn’t have it. (Of course, there are a couple of people who were exposed to HIV and even mounted an immune response to it, becoming positive for antibody testing, but they shed the virus and were not infected.) Further, people exposed to the virus by accident (e.g. needle-stick at the hospital) before the time of antiretroviral therapy, who then became infected, went on to develop AIDS. Once antiretroviral therapy was developed, people exposed to the virus, and even those infected, did not develop AIDS, or recovered from AIDS if they had it.
The people that don’t believe this are known as “AIDS denialists.” They believe in their hearts that HIV does not cause AIDS. Some believe that HIV doesn’t even exist. Others believe that AIDS is the result of the antiretroviral drugs and that these drugs are not necessary. Still others believe that AIDS has been made up by pharmaceutical companies wanting to sell their drugs to third world countries. And then there are the fringe elements, those in the most extreme, who believe that the government (or some big, malevolent force) created the virus, but that it doesn’t cause AIDS.
Now, if I may get personal for a little bit, it is painfully obvious to me that these people have not been to Africa, have not done real virological research, or may be otherwise sick in the head. But that’s just me. Now, back to the story I’m trying to tell you…
AIDS denialists wrote the following passage and signed it. (Scroll down to read the statement.) It’s a long statement, and, if you’re inclined to live in reality, you might find your blood boiling. But it is worth reading because you need the full “flavor” of what I’m talking about. After listing everyone that has signed this statement, the following reads, with my emphasis in bold:

“There you have it. No “handful of wild-eyed conspiracy theorists.” No “right-wing racists,” as the Aids industry’s spinmeisters would have you believe. Just 2,916 very serious, concerned, highly educated people from every corner of the globe who sense that an enormous tragedy is unfolding due to the medical establishment’s unwillingness to face the evidence that the Hiv-Aids theory is a mistake.The people on this page were intellectually curious enough to have sought out and studied the arguments that discredit the Hiv-Aids theory. Since the mass media and professional journals censor these arguments, the vast majority of doctors and scientists, although decent people who want to do the right thing, have never been exposed to them, and so accept the biased conclusions of politicized bureaucracies like the CDC and WHO, whose coziness with the drug industry is legendary and whose recommendations always seems to dovetail perfectly with drug industry marketing plans.

Were it not for the massive media blackout of information that contradicts the Hiv theory, many more people would be asking tough questions.

The next time you hear the media say, “only a handful of scientists doubt Hiv’s role in Aids,” refer them to this page. Explain to them that it is wrong to misrepresent the fact that there is enormous dissent to the Hiv-Aids paradigm.

The next time you hear the media drone, “Hiv, the virus that causes Aids,” remind them that journalists are supposed to distinguish between what is a theory and what is a fact. That Hiv-Aids is only a theory and has never been proven, is admitted by top scientists even in the Aids establishment.

The next time the media announce that tens of millions of people are dying from Hiv in Africa, ask them how they know that. Remind them that journalists are supposed to question dubious assertions from powerful, drug-industry funded agencies like the WHO, not parrot them as if they were indisputable. Ask them why they report these numbers as if they were actual Aids cases, when in fact they are projections made by WHO’s computer programs, based on very questionable statistical methodologies and contradicted by many facts including the continual large population increases experienced in the countries supposedly worst affected.

Request that the media stop twisting the truth in support of a politicized, entrenched Aids establishment that profits financially by terrorizing people, pokes its nose shamelessly into people’s private sex lives, compels people to submit to inaccurate tests and literally forces mothers and babies to swallow toxic, unproven chemotherapy drugs with horrific, often-fatal side effects.

Explain to them that this is irresponsible, and that such actions cause needless anxiety, shatter people’s lives, tear families apart, destroy hope and trigger countless suicides. And that while we realize that sensational headlines about “killer viruses” sell newspapers, the social cost of these profits is unacceptable.

Make the media understand that keeping people in the dark about the large number of credentialed dissenters to the Hiv-Aids dogmas, and the financial conflicts of interest that are rampant among Hiv-Aids scientists and NGOs, is a violation of everyone’s human right to informed consent and freedom of information.”

If these statements sound familiar to you, they should. They’re the same kind of ploys used by anti-vaccine forces to try and discredit the proven science of vaccines. In their minds, there are conflicts of interest, secret arrangements, media blackouts, human rights violations, paradigms that need to be challenged, and mothers and babies dying. Never mind that independents organizations like Doctors Without Borders have been on the ground in Africa helping all these supposedly inexistent people dying from AIDS. Never mind that plenty of people here in the US have died from AIDS after being infected by HIV, not before. Never mind that our collective hearts have been broken time and time again at seeing children dying from AIDS after being born to HIV-positive women, only to be lifted up when we see thriving children whose mother received the antiretrovirals and didn’t pass on HIV to those children.
There is a sort of disconnection from reality that boggles the mind, really.
So why am I writing this? I am writing this because a friend alerted me to one of the people who apparently* signed this statement. That person has been described thus as “…one of the most influential voices in medical research today.” (NY Times). He was up until recently a post doctoral researcher at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He has participated in the Cochrane Collaborative, doing systematic reviews on research about influenza vaccines and Tamiflu. And now, he’s been hired as an associate editor of the British Medical Journal.
Let that settle in for a few seconds.
One Mississippi.
Two Mississippi.
Three Mississippi.
Four Mississippi.
Five Mississippi.
An associate editor of the British Medical Journal apparently* signed a statement supporting the idea that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, that there are no such things as actual cases of AIDS or deaths from AIDS or a pandemic of AIDS, and that there are plenty of groups interested in killing mothers and babies with antiretroviral therapy.
Sleep on that tonight and tell me in the comments if reality hasn’t been just a little bit distorted for you.
Below is a screen shot of the names of a few signatories. The person in question is the fourth one down. The first one you’ll recognize too, I believe.
Screen Shot 2013-10-04 at 8.41.45 PM
*Then again, everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt. This PhD may have come around to accept the fact that HIV causes AIDS and that’s why he’s now focusing on the idea that influenza is not a big deal. After all, the page does not tell us when he signed it, and the form to be signed is pretty easy to spook (sign anonymously or sign in place of a different person).
What do you all think?

Don’t defend the science, refute the lies, expose the liars

When I read an anti-science screed, I usually want to fire right back with something like “you’re lying” or “you’re full of it,” but I’ve found this to be non-productive. It’s non-productive because the person writing the screen is 99% of the time sold on the anti-scientific concepts that they are displaying in their writings (or speeches). It’s also non-productive to fight anti-science with science because science really doesn’t need to defend itself. In the end, one way or another, science gets proven right.

There was a time when people thought the Earth was the center of the known universe. Then Galileo proposed that the sun was the center of our solar system, based on scientific observations of the movement of celestial bodies, he was accused of heresy. It would take some time, but his theories were tested and found true. If we were still locked into the way of thinking of that era, we wouldn’t have a space program that yielded us things like satellite communications, GPS, or even dried ice cream. Yes, people died for these scientific beliefs, but the science they adhered to was proven true. Continue reading

If it’s not normal, it must be broken

There are those people in the world who see everything that is not normal (or expected) as something that is damaged, wrong, or evil. They see a hurricane and, instead of acknowledging that it was caused by a low pressure weather system over warm and moist air in the tropics, they see a conspiracy by the government to control the weather through radio waves. They see a child with a neurodevelopmental delay, and they see a child who is a victim of a vaccine injury, genetics be damned. Even when all the evidence tells us that low levels of folate in the diet of expectant mothers is the main cause of spina bifida (a condition in which the spinal canal doesn’t close as the fetus develops), these people will blame chemical contamination of food or water by a big, multinational corporation.

In essence, they blame the unlikeliest of things for what they see as abnormal.

Along the same lines, we have the people who go overboard with their belief in the supernatural. They blame children born with cleft palates on the mother seeing an eclipse. Or they say that a person with schizophrenia is actually possessed by a demon. Again, they seem to ignore the most common, rational, and possible explanation and go with the most far-fetched idea.

Now, is it possible that the far-fetched is the correct explanation for what they’re observing? Yes, everything is possible, but it is incredibly improbable. We’re talking probabilities of one in a million or less.

There is this website that always seems to take the news of the day and apply the most unlikely of explanations to it. When the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, happened last summer, the author of the site, or his underlings, blamed the shootings on a “false flag” operation by the US Government as an attempt to scare the public into shifting their opinions on gun control. Same thing with the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Yesterday was no different for that site. In case you don’t know, there is a court case being heard right now in Florida. It involves a neighborhood watchman shooting a young man deemed suspicious by the watchman. There was some sort of a fight, and the young man ended shot dead. The only two people that know what happened are the deceased and the watchman. Some say it’s a clear case of self-defense. Others say it’s a clear case of racial profiling and a trigger-happy watchman. We’ll see how it goes.

One of the witnesses on the stand yesterday was a friend of the victim. She is Black, from Florida, overweight, and female. As almost anyone who’s been on the stand in a court of law, and as almost anyone who’s been put in front of the cameras without previous experience in the limelight, she was observably nervous. She mumbled some words, moved around in her seat, and asked for the person questioning her to repeat the question.

What did the “natural” website make of her nervousness, her looks, and her demeanor on the stand? Here:

“Watching defense witness Rachel Jeantel testify in the Trayvon Martin trial was horrifying, shocking… disturbing. Here is a 19-year-old high school senior, raised in America and educated in public schools, who is wildly illiterate (she simply cannot read) and who seems unable to speak in coherent sentences. Almost right out of the movie Idiocracy, she makes odd grunting noises and seems to display wild emotional swings, verbal inconsistencies and irrational behavior.”

Frankly, she wouldn’t be the first high school senior, raised in America, who was not proficient in English. But look at the other things written about her. “Wild emotional swings”? There’s more, and it’s worse:

“On the issue of lead, Rachel’s behavior strongly resembles that of a lead-poisoned individual. This isn’t just a one-time exposure issue, either: it’s a chronic exposure during childhood development issue.

It’s possible she actually ate lead paint as a child, for example, if she was living in a much older house where the paint was flaking off. (Lead was removed from paint in 1978, but many homes still contain that lead-based paint.)”

Yeah, it’s possible, but not really probable since most states, including Florida, have made it a law to not rent/sell houses with lead-based paint. Furthermore, there is a very robust lead poisoning surveillance system in Florida and other states. Just because she’s nervous on the stand, and a teenager prone to distraction like any other teen, it doesn’t mean she’s lead poisoned.

“In addition to being poisoned by fluoride, lead, aspartame and vaccines, Jeantel is obviously eating a diet that is completely lacking in the nutrients needed to protect the brain from oxidative damage.”

I agree that her size is indicative of an imbalanced diet, but I don’t agree that she is necessarily “poisoned” by any of those things. Like any good anti-science and anti-vaccine website, this “natural” site blames chemicals and vaccines. It couldn’t be that her circumstances have allowed for her to gain extra pounds, like so may of us? No, it must be the damned vaccines.

And her speaking with a regional accent or in a regional/cultural dialect (?) doesn’t mean she’s illiterate. I certainly don’t think that people from the Caribbean who speak an different version of English are illiterate or brain, damaged. Same for Black people in the inner city or Latinos in downtown LA, or even White people in Boston. The more I listen to that young lady speaking, the more I understand what she is saying. Brain damaged? Poisoned? Not likely.

But that’s how those people react, people who see monsters under their bed, in the closet, on the side of the road, and everywhere else. It’s all a conspiracy. It’s all the fault of Big Pharma, Big Government, Big Business, and they are the only ones who know the truth, especially when no one is listening.

Finally, if you go to the comments section of that particular blog post, you’ll see the outrage from a lot of readers at the gigantic leap this person tried to make in attacking that young lady.

Sometimes enough is enough

Before you watch the following video, let me set it up for you. There’s a guy called Bart Sibrel who likes to question the authenticity of the trips to the moon. He spews some nonsense about radiation and God’s will and such. If there were him and a dead loon on the road, I’d assume that the loon was on his way to a gig while Sibrel was on his way to harass Buzz Aldrin. Because that’s where this video takes us. It takes us to the last few moments when Buzz Aldrin walks out of the hotel where Sibrel lured him for a fake interview. Sibrel (or his people) told Buzz that they were filming a children’s science show, so Buzz showed up. Instead of a children’s show, he was cornered by Sibrel and… Well, watch the video:

God, that was a satisfying punch!

Sometimes enough is enough. Buzz was trying to get away from this jerk and not give him the pleasure of an “interview” or even a statement, but the jerk kept calling Buzz names. I’m not normally one to respond with violence, but I cannot fault Buzz at all for punching this guy. Enough is enough. You can only allow lies and insults so much before you need to stop it. Some of us respond with insolent, albeit reasonable, blog posts. But I guess Buzz is not much of a blogger. And there is nothing wrong with that.