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.
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VAERS as "evidence" of vaccine harm

Another common anti-vaccine attempt at rationalizing the fear they want to instill in you is to point at the “Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System”, or VAERS. It is a system set up as a repository for reports from the public of “adverse” events following immunization. The vaccine injury act created it. Just about anyone can post an event to the system, and it is up to epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to look into the reports and investigate them. In most cases, it is determined that the event had a cause other than the vaccine. But that doesn’t stop the anti-vaccine groups from scaring you through quoting numbers they got from VAERS.

It is as if you were to look at the nightly news and determine that you’re not going to interact with the world because, hey, bad things happen out in the big, bad world. Though only the bad news gets reported, many times, what you get in a 2-minute blurb is not a true picture of reality. Want proof?

Let’s do this step-by-step, so you can follow along and discover the “evidence” along with me. Before we do that, let me warn you about a site that purports itself to allow you to analyze VAERS data. The site is called “medalerts.org”. If you look at the site’s disclaimers, you’ll learn that it’s run by an anti-vaccine group. Furthermore, some of the conclusions drawn from the data in there seem to be based only on the raw numbers. I can’t find any critical thinking there. So let’s do our own thinking. Let’s look at reported deaths associated with vaccines.

First, go to the VAERS website here. After you’ve read through all the caveats of the VAERS database, click on the bottom link to proceed.

Alright, so you’ve agreed that “the inclusion of events in VAERS data does not infer causality”, contrary to everything the anti-vaccine groups will tell you. Next, you’ll get to the following web page:

If you’re not tech-saavy enough to download the data and analyze it yourself, no problem. CDC has it’s own software program called “CDC WONDER” to analyze it for you. That’s what we’ll use for this demo. So click on “CDC WONDER“. You’ll get to this site:

Once there, we only need to adjust a couple of variables to look at all reported deaths. Under “1. Organize table layout”, you want to group results by VAERS ID and check the box for “Adverse Event Description”, like so:

Next, under “4. Select event characteristics”, you want to select deaths, like so:

That’s it. Now click on “SEND” at the bottom of the page. You will not be presented with all the reported deaths submitted to VAERS, for all ages, genders, and locations. It’s a huge file, so give it some time.

As of 12/14/11, a total of 3,504 deaths have been reported to VAERS. Anti-vaccine groups will tell you that all those deaths are from vaccines and that they’re evidence of how deadly vaccines are. Are they?

Let’s separate the wheat from the chaff.

CAR ACCIDENTS?

First, let’s look for deaths related to car accidents. Car accidents? Yes, deaths related to car accidents have been reported to VAERS because, hey, the accidents happened after the vaccination, so they must be related, right? Sadly, because people died, we find the following (all bolding mine):

VAERS ID 168749-1: “No data obtained. Parents are awaiting final autopsy report and the death certificate. These will not be produced until a final toxicology report is obtained. All of this is per the coroner. Autopsy states cause of death as undetermined. Death certificate states cause of death due to cerebral laceration w/open skull fracture due to an automobile accident.”

VAERS ID 209245-1: “This subject is a three month old female, who suffered a fatal head injury while enrolled in a comparative post marketing safety study of Daptacel (diptheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis vaccine absorbed) administered with other recommended vaccines according to the US standard of care. The subject received one dose of study vaccine: the last dose prior to the event was given on 01/14/2003. The subject “”expired instantly due to blunt head injuries in motor vehicle accident described as “”auto vs. fixed object, ejected,”” 18 days post immunization and expired the same day. No other information was reported. Death Certificate has been received. Autopsy has been performed but report not yet received. The event of fatal head injury was reported by the investigator as unrelated to the study product. The autopsy report states accident automobile, death. Follow up on 09/30/2003: “”Autopsy Report received by medical affairs on 09/16/2003. This three-month-old female is a victim of an apparent accidental death. “”Auto (passenger) vs. F/O, rollover, ejected“”. The base portion of the car seat strapped in the center of the back seat. The car seat carrier was facing rear, however it was behind the passengers seat of the vehicle (not locked in the base) with the seat belts in use. The car seat canopy was found with the descedent. She was about 100 feet north of the vehicle, face down with her head against a rock. There was a blanket covering her. Death is probably instant and is clearly from crushing blunt injuries to the head. Other injuries also listed in the autopsy report include a crushed head and multiple severe abrasions and probable compressed chest event due to collapsed lungs and areas of hemorrhagic discoloration on lungs. This can happen in infants without fractures of the ribs, etc. Other injuries included fracture of the left femur as well as crushed and avulsed toes of the right foot. There was no signs of internal torso injuries except for the lungs. No further information is anticipate”

VAERS ID 308661-1: “We received on 12 FEB 2008 from a healthcare professional the following information: A 7-year-old male patient, born on 21 JUN 2000 was vaccinated with FLUVIRIN (batch no. unknown) on 19 NOV 2007. The patient was killed in an automobile traffic accident on 01 FEB 2008. The subject had participated in a clinical trial sponsored by MedImmune. FLUVIRIN was used in that trial as a control, and Novartis Vaccine & Diagnostics (NVD) has donated the FLUVIRIN, but other than that has not been involved. Although the event did not occur during the duration of the trial, and the investigator did not see any causal relationship to the vaccination with FLUVIRIN, he reported the event to the IRB and NVD because the child had died.”
VAERS ID 367379-1: “Killed in a car accident while pulling out of the street where the clinic was located. Was turning left onto a divided highway when the driver’s side door was hit by an oncoming vehicle. Died on impact.”

SUFFOCATION?

All deaths are tragic, and nothing – in my mind – is more tragic than the death of a young child. Unfortunately, there are times when well-meaning parents place the child in an awkward position in their cribs or on their beds. There are other times when the parents fall asleep with the child next to them in bed, eventually rolling over and asphyxiating/suffocating the child. Again, because these accidents happened after the child was vaccinated, they were reported to NEDSS…

VAERS ID 082237-1: “pt recvd vax 24NOV95 & was sleeping w/father & found pulseless & unresponsive;brought to ER & pronounced dead;autopsy done conclusion accidental suffocation as COD

VAERS ID 161098-1: “Pt received vaccines on 10/25/00 and on 10/26/00, infant asleep with 16 year old sibling. Mother found arm of sibling across baby’s face and baby was not breathing. CPR was administered and intubation to no avail. Autopsy shows found unresponsive, congestion of lungs, kidneys congested. Final cause of death stated as suffocation by mechanical asphyxia.”

VAERS ID 204529-1: “Infant found unresponsive laying on stomach am of 6/3. The autopsy states suffocation.”

VAERS ID 215994-1: “Per EMS, found face down in crib not breathing. CPR initiated. Patient intubated and received O2, epinephrine 2 times, Atropine 1 time per ER record. Autopsy Report received on 4/27/2004 states COD was suffocation.”

There are plenty more related to suffocation, but you can see those for yourself now that you know how to access the data. So let’s just look at one more.

DROWNING?

As with car accidents, these accidental drownings were also submitted.

VAERS ID 206893-1: “This subject is a 9 month old female, who was enrolled in a Phase IV P3T08 (Daptacel) study. The subject received two doses of study vaccine; the last dose prior to the event was given on 12/27/02. The subject died of multiple system organ failure due to near-drowning, 163 days post-immunization. The event of drowning was reported by the investigator as unrelated to the study vaccine. Autopsy results are pending. From additional information received on 11/4/03 from the autopsy report: It was determined by an investigation that an autopsy would be necessary to establish the cause of death. Based on the known circumstances and cause of death, the manner of death is an accident. The drowning occurred in a wading pool. Follow up on 11/25/2003: “”Information has been received from an investigator concerning a 9 month old Hispanic female patient who was enrolled in a phase IV diptheria toxoid/pertussis vaccine/tetanus (DAPTACEL) study. On 12/27/2002, the patient was vaccinated with a dose of hepatitis B virus vaccine rHBsAg (yeast) (manufacturer unknown). Concomitant vaccination on 12/27/2002 included a second dose of diphtheria toxoid/pertussis vaccine/tetanus (DAPTACEL), a dose of poliovirus vaccine (IPOL), a dose of Haemophilus influenzae vaccine (+) tetanus toxoid and a dose of Streptococcus pneumoniae vaccine (PREVNAR). 163 days post vaccination on 06/08/2003 at 15:52, the patient died. The cause of death was “”multi-organ failure due to near drowning.”” Autopsy findings included: heavy lungs with hypostatic pneumonia and diffuse alveolar damage; ischemic encephalopathy; thymic involutional changes; congestive hepatomegaly; generalized visceral congestion; minor contisions of legs. External examination revealed a normally developed, adequately nourished Hispanic female infant who appeared consistent with the reported age of almost ten months. Internal examination revealed histology-sections of all major viscera were submitted per the SIDS protocol; X-rays-total body X-rays showed no recent healing fractures or”

VAERS ID 331195-1: “Information has been received from a study concerning a patient (age and gender not reported) who was vaccinated with a dose of PROQUAD (date, dose, route not reported). It was reported that the patient died due to drowning (date not reported). This is one of several reports from the same source. Additional information has been requested.”

But what about all the others? Well, look at the data yourself. You know how to do it now, and – if you’re reading this – you’re a pretty smart person. You’ll see cases like this one, where it is painfully obvious that the vaccine did not cause the unfortunate end of this person:

VAERS ID 177955-1: “It was reported that a 44 year old white male was vaccinated in 1995 with a dose of pneumococcal vaccine 23 polyvalent and a dose of influenza virus vaccine. At the time of vaccination, the pt’s CD4 count was 250 cells/microL (19%) and he was prescribed concomitantly zidovudine, lamivudine and sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim. It was noted that over the subsequent 2 years, there was a transient increase of his CD4 count to a maximum of 370 cells/microL and then a slow decline. The pt presented in 4/97 to the ER with a 6 day history of violent shaking chills, night sweat and malaise. The pt reported shortness of breath, occasional blood-tinged sputum and pleuritic chest pain for 3 days. The pt was known to have been HIV (+) for 8 years, with risk factors including IV drug abuse. It was noted that the pt had received medical care at the infectious disease clinic at the same hospital. It was noted that at his last appointment, 3 months prior to his presentation to the ER, the pt had a CD4 cell count of 216 cells/microL (16%) and his viral load was 1270 copies/mL. It was reported that the pt completely recovered from a hepatitis b infection, but hat a history of chronic sinusitis and hepatitis C. The pt had never suffered from the opportunistic infections common in AIDS. It was reported that in the ER, the pt was poorly cooperative, appeared pale and coughed occasionally. He was afebrile, hypoxemic and had oliguria. Septic shock with severe bacterial pneumonia was dx’d. Ceftazidime, erythromycin, sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim and IV hydration were administered. It was reported that the pt required orotracheal intubation and mechanical ventilation. About 11 hours after presenting to the ER, the pt developed recurrent ventricular tachycardia and expired. It was noted that with the exception of minimal aseptic leptomeningitis, the neuropathological findings were unremarkable. There was no evidence that the pt had a concurrent influenza infection. It was reported that Streptococcus pneumoniae was cultured from various blood

Unfortunately, I’m sure many anti-vaccine advocates will not hesitate to make giant leaps based on these reports. I’m not kidding you. Someone actually suggested that the person who drove out in front of a car was “disabled by the vaccine and couldn’t drive” the car or that the accident was done “to cover up the vaccine damage”.

A Question Of Whose Side You’re On

Yeah, I know I haven’t published a new chapter in The Poxes in a while. Relax.

Anyway, let’s talk about bias a little bit. Take a look at the following clip:

Did you see that? The player in red (Chile, I think), grabbed the arm of the player in yellow (Colombia?), and hit himself with it. Clearly, it was not a foul. But the ref still called it a foul and gave the ball to the Chilean team.

What the fuck, right?

Unfortunately, a lot of things in life work the same way. The deceit is especially tricky, or the person making the call is not paying attention (or not informed enough to make the good call).

People who make pseudoscientific claims do kind of the same thing. They’ll take a fact about their pseudoscience and run with it. For example, homeopaths will say that their remedies are free of side-effects, and they’re correct. However, their remedies are free of any effects.

Now, people who want to believe in homeopathy will believe it no matter what. It’s actually a very low number that will change their mind when they are presented with evidence. Very low. Those who won’t change their minds will – sometimes literally –  go to the grave for their belief. They will see the Chilean player clearly grab the arm of the Colombian and hit himself with it, and they will still say that the Colombian was a dirty player.

People of science, critical thinkers, and anyone else that likes to look at the evidence presented to them before jumping to conclusions, those people will see what really happened and act accordingly. Can they be tricked? Of course. They’re human. But they are much more likely to change their mind to what is right and what is fair rather than stay in a state of darkness that brings about harm to others around them as well.

I’m not saying that everyone in the world should take up a scientific discipline and become a critical thinker. It wouldn’t hurt, but I’m not saying that. What I’m saying is that there are two factions – at least – who are in a battle for the minds of the public. On the one hand, you have the charlatans, those who would send you sugar pills and attribute to those pills all sorts of magical acting. On the other are the people who hold themselves to a higher standard, to not deceiving the public. Rather, we’re here to point out the Chileans in the world, so to speak, who are trying to trick you into losing the game.

It’s all a question of whose die you’re on.