The Anti-Vaccine Declaration

I would have more respect for anti-vaccine organizations and people if they just came out and told us what they really believed in and what they really wanted. For example, I would respect them — though not like them — if they declared their intentions like this:

We are the anti-vaccine people of the world. We will not listen to reason. We will not take bribes. We just want to watch the world burn. For this reason, we declare the following:

1. All research studies declaring that vaccines are safe, or safe enough, or safer than drinking water, are performed by corrupt officials who have conflicts of interest in our eyes.

2. All case series, anecdotes, and gossip that supports the linking of vaccines to any disease or condition, and even to car accidents, are all true. We will not question nor think critically about such stories.

3. Everything evil that happens to us in our lives is the direct result of a conspiracy between the Government (i.e. Obama), Big Pharma (i.e. Merck), the medical establishment (i.e. Paul Offit) and some other unknown force.

4. All that evil, like having a child with special needs, is comparable only to the evil brought upon the world by the Nazi regime.

5. All other forms of public health interventions are also inherently evil, including fluoridated water, vitamin-enriched foods, pasteurization, and, sure, why not, antihistamines.

6. Only homeopathy, bleach enemas, colloidal silver, and chelation are acceptable medical treatments. (This point may be amended at the suggestion of Mary Tocco, Joseph Mercola, or Sheri Tenpenny. Mike Adams? No. He’s just nuts.)

7. Evidence? We don’t need no stinkin’ evidence.

What would you add to the list?

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Dealing In Absolutes

Gary Schwitzer has an awesome post on the “Three common errors in medical reporting”. I suggest everyone read it to better understand how some of the stuff that medical reporters (or reporters in general) can get things wrong even when they’re trying to get it right. My favorite error is the absolute vs. relative risk fallacy. As Mr. Schwitzer describes it:

Many stories use relative risk reduction or benefit estimates without providing the absolute data. So, in other words, a drug is said to reduce the risk of hip fracture by 50% (relative risk reduction), without ever explaining that it’s a reduction from 2 fractures in 100 untreated women down to 1 fracture in 100 treated women.  Yes, that’s 50%, but in order to understand the true scope of the potential benefit, people need to know that it’s only a 1% absolute risk reduction (and that all the other 99 who didn’t benefit still had to pay and still ran the risk of side effects).

This is something that people on both sides of a scientific debate are guilty of doing. Some overzealous public health people may say that an intervention is the best thing ever because it “cut in half” the number of new cases of some disease or condition. On the flip side, pseudoscientific zealots may say that some “natural” remedy is “the shit” because it “more than doubled” the life expectancy of a person with cancer… Or something like that.

In both instances, it is absolutely critical that the person making the assertion report on the actual numbers, not just how much – or how little – impact the intervention had. So trust your sources, but always verify. Just because something is “statistically significant” doesn’t mean that it’s “impressive”.