Archive for January 23rd, 2009
I am young enough to not have experienced practically all of the vaccine preventable illnesses first hand as either a physician or a patient. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a healthy respect for the amount of morbidity and mortality that they can cause. With one in particular, Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib), I at least know a large number of older pediatricians who have seen many cases. The vaccine against Hib was developed in the early 1980’s and nearly wiped this dreadful condition out here in America, but I have heard countless stories of residencies spent seeing young children with fatal or debilitating meningitis presenting with brains full of pus and children being suffocated by rapidly progressing epiglottitis, and the thought of this illness returning sends shivers down my spine.
At one time, Hib affected 20,ooo children each year. Since the vaccine, many states see one or two cases yearly and often none. Hib bacteria is still prevelant, but high vaccine rates and herd immunity have kept our young children safe. Unfortunately, the return of this disease may be happening, and if it does it will be because of the anti-vaccine nonsense that has so overtaken this country over the past two years. I received an emergency news alert from the CDC today revealing that Minnesota reported 5 cases of Hib in 2008, the largest number in children under 5 since 1991.
The alert provided some details of the cases:
“Three patients had received no vaccinations due to parent or guardian deferral or refusal of vaccinations. One of the unimmunized patients, a 7-month-old infant, died of Hib disease. Two of the remaining children received age-appropriate immunizations. One child, a 5-month-old, had received two Hib immunizations. The other child was 15 months old and was fully vaccinated for age but, subsequent to Hib infection, was diagnosed with an immune deficiency (hypogammaglobulinemia).”
Three of the children were not vaccinated, one had a condition which hampers the ability for the vaccines to work, and one had been fully vaccinated. That is not suprising, as no vaccine is 100% effective, and it perfectly illustrates the importance of herd immunity. There is a persistent and pushy minority of people in this country, led by clueless celebrities and pseudojournalists, who are so blind to the reality of science that they are willing to sacrifice not just the safety of their own children by refusing vaccinations, but that of every child in this country. It isn’t just the unvaccinated that are at risk. There are also the children too young to be immunized against Hib and other diseases, or with real medical contraindications as opposed to manufactured ones in addition to those in which the vaccine doesn’t confer protection.
This may end up as being only a statistical fluke, but increasing rates of vaccine-preventable illness are an inevitable result of increasing numbers of parents refusing to protect their children. We have already seen major spikes in measles infections, another potentially deadly diseases. The situation is a few years ahead in England, where there have also been outbreaks of measles as well as mumps. Hib is considerably more dangerous and if there are large outbreaks more children will certainly die.
If you know anyone who is considering refusing vaccinations for their child, please direct them to the CDC’s online information. Or, convince them to read Paul Offit’s recent book Autism’s False Profits. You may save a life.
Last week, I wrote how there were different levels of skepticism. There a similar levels of pseudoskepticism. Pseudoskepticism is the practice of promoting an unsubstantiated idea or theory using the language of skepticism. Denial is a big part of the philosophy, but many logical fallacies are also to blame. Frequently, the word skeptic is placed after theory. For example, evolution skeptic and global warming skeptic are commonly seen. Of course the word skeptic is not necessary and pseudoskepticism can take many forms. The point here is that you can still have healthy skepticism towards any topic, but conclusions shouldn’t be be based on pseudoscience or plain old denial.
Below I have listed the different levels of pseudoskepticism as I see them. Just like with my levels of skepticism, I don’t want this post to insult anyone, but to hopefully open people’s eyes to the shenanigans all around us. I will be using examples from Intelligent Design proponents as I am most familiar with the movement’s methods and techniques.
Level 1 pseudoskeptic
The first level of a pseudoskeptic is someone who doubts a particular idea or theory. There is a small difference here between the real skeptic and the pseudoskeptic. The key difference here is that a skeptic will look at the evidence before coming to a conclusion. In intelligent design, a skeptic would look at the two sides and conclude that there is a scientific consensus and actual evidence for evolution, while none exists for intelligent design. The level 1 pseudoskeptic would look at the same evidence and conclude that since there is not perfect evidence for either, neither one is more likely to be true.
Level 2 pseudoskeptic
The second level of pseudoskeptic is someone who has made up their mind for the pseudoscientific side of a debate in spite of the evidence to the other side. This person outright denies that there is evidence contrary to their position. They rely heavily on logical fallacies to prove their point. They also claim that they are the real purveyors of science. For example, evolution skeptics (or ID/creation proponents) outright deny that their are transitional fossils. They also argue that evolution could not possibly happen because they couldn’t imagine how random mutation and natural selection could lead to the current state of life’s diversity (argument from personal incredulity).
Level 3 pseudoskeptic
A third level pseudoskeptic is someone who is spreading their false skepticism through a website/podcast/ etc. These people are actively trying to undermine real scientific observations and conclusions. These people will often rely on non-experts or non-peer reviewed studies. Anecdotal evidence or anomalies will also be presented. In fact, anything but actual science will be presented. One example from an evolution skeptic is Denyse O’Leary. She has several blogs which attack evolution through the techniques mentioned above. She has no real scientific training, but that doesn’t stop her from spreading her pseudoscientific wares.
The highest level of a pseudoskeptic is someone who is well known throughout the pseudoskeptic circles. These people have a large influence over the similar minded people. One thing that makes people like this so dangerous is that they sound like the voice of reason to the unsuspecting. It is not apparent without prior knowledge that they are not giving the accurate or complete story. Often these people have no real training in the subject that they are focusing on.
One prime example of someone that has reached this stage is Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute. Luskin exhibits all the characteristics. He may not be as recognizable as Richard Dawkins or James Randi, but he certainly is well known in the “evolution skeptic” circles. He repeatedly denies the existence of evidence for evolution, comments on scientific discoveries of which he is nowhere near qualified, and relies heavily on logical fallacies.
Philadelphia, PA-Chaos broke out today at the studios of WHYY-FM in Philadelphia when a caller refused to turn down his radio resulting in a tear in the very fabric of space and time, and the death or disappearance of hundreds of people.
“I don’t know what the heck happened over there”, Rick from Tuscon explained. “One minute I’m asking that dude from The Shield where he got his motivation from and the next all hell is breaking loose.”
Scientists are scrambling to piece together what exactly happened to leave so many of the people working at WHYY-FM that day dead or missing without a trace. Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku of the City University of New York believes that there are a number of possible explanations. “The infinite feedback loop caused by the callers radio may have somehow elevated the harmonic of the missing individuals, carrying them fully, or partially, into a higher dimension. Also this may just be a big coincidence and a black hole simply formed in the middle of the building.”
Maggi Leyden, Executive director of Donor Relations at WHYY-FM and one of the few survivors of the horrific event, remains hopeful about the future of the public radio. “I can’t say that I’ll ever truly get over seeing Terry Gross ripped in half at the waist, but I can say that now would be the perfect time for listeners out there to support their local NPR stations.”