As you know, over the past year or so I have had the distinct displeasure of posting a few times about Frank Taaffe, caped crusader for George Zimmerman. And this is precisely why I wish beyond any measure that George Zimmerman would stop getting himself into trouble. Because every single time Zimmerman is in the news, Taaffe quickly follows like the tragedy leech that he is.
Today, for example, Taaffe appeared on CNN to air his grievances regarding Zimmerman’s latest arrest for pointing a gun at his girlfriend. This is felony aggravated assault, according to the law. According to Frank Taaffe, “it happens”. Yes, domestic violence “happens”, Taaffe, as you may indeed be aware.
Taaffe blathered on and on to host Sunny Hostin about how Zimmerman is being oppressed by the media, and then came the gem. The moment for which we were all waiting. Hostin, in a tone that I took to be sarcastic, asked Taaffe if Zimmerman is the real victim in this current arrest. You know, the arrest for felony aggravated assault by Zimmerman. On his girlfriend. With a gun. Taaffe’s answer? Yes. Yes, Zimmerman is the victim here. What followed was the curse of broadcasting: complete silence. He’s really outdone himself this time.
Like Hostin, I am speechless, and that is why I must write. If you’d like to read more about Taaffe, and the reasons why he gets my goat every time, Mariah Blake wrote an excellent piece that you can find here.
I would apologize for my extended absence but I’m sure you’ve been busy with your own life and haven’t even noticed. I felt that I had to write today, because it seems that common sense has been tossed out the window once again. Why? Because the Food and Drug Administration has seen fit to appoint an anti-vaccine advocate, Dr. Stephanie Christner, as the Consumer Representative for the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC).
Dr. Christner may appear to have the qualifications (described further below) for membership on VRBPAC, as she is a D.O. However, there are other issues that may outweigh her ability to objectively review and evaluate the safety, effectiveness, and appropriate use of vaccinations. As covered by Orac in the past, Dr. Christner tragically lost her infant daughter in 2008. As also covered by Orac, Dr. Christner blames the death of her daughter on vaccines. I have a great deal of empathy for Dr. Christner, as losing a child is simply matchless in terms of devastation. However, I do have some concerns in that she appears to be unmovable in her view that her daughter died as a result of vaccinations, despite a dearth any supporting data for this belief.
Dr. Christner described her horrifying ordeal in the antivaccination film “The Greater Good”. This particular movie has been justifiably and thoroughly dismantled, piece by piece, as a misleading and frankly deceptive bit of anti-vax propaganda. She is also a current board member of the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), a well-known anti-vaccine organization that cloaks itself in claims that it is merely trying to promote “well-informed vaccine decision-making”. Unfortunately, both the organization and its leader are quite adept at passing on blatant misinformation.
Dr. Christner’s affiliations with this film and with NVIC strongly suggest that she is a poor choice for VRBPAC, which, according to its website:
“reviews and evaluates data concerning the safety, effectiveness, and appropriate use of vaccines and related biological products which are intended for use in the prevention, treatment, or diagnosis of human diseases, and, as required, any other product for which the Food and Drug Administration has regulatory responsibility”.
The page also states that the FDA is currently engaged in
“ongoing efforts to recruit qualified experts with minimal conflicts of interest who are interested in serving on FDA advisory committees”.
So how does one become a member of this committee, you may be wondering? Well, no need to cogitate further:
Members and the chair are selected by the Commissioner or designee from among authorities knowledgeable in the fields of immunology, molecular biology, rDNA, virology, bacteriology, epidemiology or biostatistics, allergy, preventive medicine, infectious diseases, pediatrics, microbiology, and biochemistry.
Reader, am I the only one left scratching my head about the selection of Dr. Christner for this position? It appears to me that this appointment gives a false legitimacy to the anti-vaccination position, and while the potential long-term effects can only be speculated upon, I’m not seeing kittens and unicorns. If I were on the board, I would resign in protest.
Back when this blog was but an embryo, I wrote a post about the states with the highest rates of vaccine exemptions and the potential risks caused by these idiotic anti-vaxxers. And just in time for the school year, new data were recently released in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the CDC.
So which states are nasty-ass petri dishes currently in pre-outbreak mode? Is yours one of them? Who’s up and who’s down on the list? We must first acknowledge the state of Washington, which went from THE most pestilent state in 2011 down to #13 on the updated list. Why could this be, you are wondering? Well, my spidey sense says it may have something to do with the law that the state passed making it more difficult to obtain a non-medical exemption in the state. Congrats to Washington, which may fall off the pestilence list altogether in the very near future.
In contrast, we have the great state of Colorado, which barged its way up the list to the #7 spot after not being a contestant on the prior list, and boasting a full 4.0% of kindergarteners who are unvaccinated. Shields up, skiers! There are some serious clusters of unvaccinated roaming around there. Rocky mountain cry, Colorado.*
We also must give a kidney punch to Oregon, which has lodged itself in as the most pestilent state in the nation. Now, I love Oregon, and I even pronounce it correctly. I would no more put a “gone” on the end of the “Ore” than I would step on a rusty nail and try to treat the wound with colloidal silver. I spent much time there when I was just a young’un, and I do enjoy having someone else pump gas for me while I sit around. But Oregon is also well known for an ”alternative” mindset, which is probably why the folks over there have decided that they will eschew vaccinations. Oregonians, let go of that tree you are hugging and get your kiddoes immunized, please! Especially because you probably just gave the tree measles.
Anyway, it bears reminding that even though these exemption rates may look “low”, the target for vaccination coverage is 95%, and some states are falling below this on the basis of exemptions alone. As I have discussed here before, exemptions are rarely spread out evenly across the population of states; rather, they tend to occur in clusters, creating a time-release epidemic bomb in areas with high exemptions. Check out the Pestilence List below and see if your state made the big time this year, and thanks for stopping by.
The 2013 Pestilence List: Top 15 states for kindergarten non-medical vaccine exemptions.
*Somewhere, John Denver weeps.
I have seen references to an entity known as Sarah, “The Healthy Home Economist”, from time to time around the anti-vax world, but this time she caught my attention. Somehow, this person has attracted over 60,000 likes to her Facebook page, on which she opines on everything from nutrition to vaccinations. This despite the fact that she has no training in any area even remotely related to science or health. Rather, she has a BA in economics and a graduate degree in “governmental administration” from Penn, a school which she cannot resist emphasizing is an Ivy. As a side note, I have always found that those who feel compelled to brag about their university are usually the least qualified to do much of anything, but that’s for another day.
Sarah’s latest rant is in regard to a change in Australia’s law that would deprive any family that refuses to vaccination their children from a tax benefit. It’s not a paltry figure, either, as the total benefit may add up to $2000/child. For what it’s worth, I applaud PM Kevin* Rudd for forcing this issue out into the open and taking action. He is a total boss, and I am sure he is thrilled with my support and will print out this post and put it on his fridge and stuff.
But anyway, not surprisingly, the apparently ill-informed “Home Economist” disagrees with my position on this topic. On her blog, she states that
“One wonders if doctors like Dr. Steve Hambleton spouting their nonscientific propaganda all in the name of science would be surprised to learn that immunization rates below 50% have existed for decades without any resurgence in widespread epidemics? [emphasis hers]“.
I was absolutely thrilled to see that she had a source for this claim, until I read further and saw that the source was the dubious Russell Blaylock, about whom you can read more here and here. One wonders if Sarah could discern a person who is “spouting their nonscientific propaganda all in the name of science” if that person walked up and stared back at her from a mirror.
Regardless, I’m not sure at all why the Healthy Home Economist would be bothered in the least by the enforcement of a law that, let’s face it, is little more than a slap on the wrist for the types of people who eschew vaccination. These people tend to be middle class, white, and suffering from a blazing entitlement complex.
Thanks for stopping by, reader.
* Thanks Retro for the correction!
Today I would like to walk you through the latest steaming turd of a “study” being bandied about by the anti-vaxxers, which they tout as the holy grail: an allegedly peer-reviewed article showing that vaccines unquestionably cause autism. The paper is written by one John B. Classen, and is such a horrific pile of non-science that it is hard to know where to begin a critique. But try, I shall. In the meantime, one cannot help but wonder if the “peer review” were conducted by the author’s mother or perhaps a 7-year-old child. Regardless, below is a list of reasons why this paper cannot be used for anything other than parakeet cage lining.
1. The introduction omits any information contrary to Classen’s hypothesis, which appears to be that vaccines cause both diabetes and autism.
Classen’s introduction makes the rather bold assertion that vaccines may cause diabetes. This line of thinking is allegedly supported using references from the author of the paper, and ignores several studies showing no increased risk for Type 1 diabetes whatsoever with vaccination. In fact, a ginormous study conducted by Duderstadt et al. among over 2 million individuals, a significantly reduced risk of Type I diabetes was observed with several vaccinations, including hepatitis B, MMR, and yellow fever vaccines. Another study by Blom et al. has also shown that having received an MMR vaccination was associated with a lower risk for Type I diabetes.
In addition to the published literature, Johns Hopkins convened a panel to address the very issue of whether vaccines might cause Type I diabetes. Their conclusion? They do not. As an added bonus, Classen actually participated in this meeting, though the panel chided him for his over-interpretation of ecological data, as well as stating that, for at least one of his presentations “[Classen’s] analytic methods were incorrect and a careful analysis of data from 10 years of follow-up has revealed no significant differences in the incidence of type 1 diabetes mellitus in children who received one vs. four doses of Hib vaccine”. The evidence from Classen’s latest paper demonstrates that he again appears to fall into the same trap of misinterpretation and flawed data analysis. In short, Classen’s introduction is one big epidemiological no-no. He apparently ignores data that do not support his hypotheses, he relies almost exclusively on his own work, and he continues to do the very things to which the Hopkins panel rightfully objected. Red flags, I see you waving.
2. The methods are a disaster.
It appears that Classen attempted to perform a dubious ecological study comparing prevalence rates of Type I and Type II diabetes and autism, by race. In short, he copied data from this JAMA paper for rates of diabetes by race, and then added on another column of data from this paper for autism prevalence among children aged 8 years, by race. From here, things begin to degenerate quickly, as can be handily ascertained because these data are quite easy to check. I will use the correlations between Type 1 diabetes and autism as an example. If you conduct the analysis by age group, examining the association between Type I diabetes and autism rates by race, there are no statistically significant findings—not even close. The magic p-values Classen presents are only obtained when you perform a sleight-of-hand whereby the Type I diabetes data from all age groups are counted together in one lump, and the data for autism at age 8 are counted three separate times for comparison. This might be considered to be intellectually dishonest at worst, and statistically inept at best. But regardless of the faux findings, it wouldn’t matter even if they were legit, which leads us to the third fatal flaw with this paper. Remember, all that these “analyses” fail to show is that two diseases—Type I diabetes and autism—tend to be higher in certain racial/ethnic groups when compared to others.
3. The conclusions are not supported by the data.
This may be the worst criticism that one scientist can fling at another. But in this case, I’m afraid it must be said, particularly as Classen himself admits that his conclusions are based in part on stuff that was not even included in the publication. The final sentence in this paper is as follows:
It is the belief of the author, based in part on the data present in this manuscript that the epidemics of Type 1 diabetes and autoimmune autism are more likely than not to share the same etiological cause.
That cause, according to Classen, is vaccination. Perhaps the most striking aspect of this outrageous conclusion is that Classen did not include vaccines as a variable at all in his deeply flawed analysis. Yet somehow, he “believes” that these data support the idea that because certain diseases are diagnosed more often in one racial group than another, it can only be caused by vaccination. He ignores a plethora of other potential confounding factors, which are actually too numerous to be listed in full, but may include socioeconomic status, access to healthcare, or genetic predispositions.
4. The author has a clear conflict of interest.
Oh yes. The author is the CEO of Classen Immunotherapies, Inc., which, to his credit, he discloses the paper. But we can’t quite get away from the fact that on his company webpage, it states that Classen Immunotherapies, Inc. is
dedicated to understanding the chronic effects of vaccines and developing safer immunization methods for those who choose to be immunized.
Classen also peddles his patented “adverse event discovery and disclosure method” on his website. Thus, we have a gentleman who potentially stands to profit directly from sowing fear of vaccinations. This type of person generally stimulates cries of “Pharma Shill!” from the anti-vaxxers, yet for some reason he has been accepted into the warm, yet stupid, embrace of the anti-vax community. Curious indeed.
Thanks for stopping by, Reader.
There is really nothing I can say that hasn’t been said already about the demerit of ABC hiring Jenny McCarthy to co-host The View, so I’m just gonna phone this one in and provide a cornucopia of links below for your reading pleasure. What actually stuns me, however, is the insanely awesome media coverage of why hiring McCarthy is so objectionable. I am, of course, thrilled with the ubiquitous outrage. Hopefully this controversy will stir more people to become aware of the very real dangers posed by anti-vaxxers, because the most fascinating thing about this is that everyone from NPR to Fox News appears to think McCarthy’s hiring is a very bad idea indeed. Send me a link if you have one!
Edited to add: The Raptor has a much better list of links than mine, so stop by his place on your way home!
You may recall that I blogged quite a bit about the odd but fascinating phenomenon of tics that occurred in LeRoy, NY. This outbreak appears to have been resolved, but I have just gotten word that similar events appear to be occurring in Danvers, MA.
You may have heard about Danvers, or as it was formerly known, Salem Village. This is the locus where the Salem Witch Trials occurred–an event that many historians have now attributed to “mass hysteria”, or as it is more accurately known today, conversion disorder. What is happening there right now is somewhat less sinister than the famous Witch Trials. It is an outbreak of hiccups.
Health officials report that during the last school year, over 20 students at two schools in Danvers were afflicted by repetitive “vocal tics” or hiccups. Environmental samples have been taken, but no potential causes have been identified in that arena. Health professionals appear to believe this is a case of conversion disorder, similar to what occurred in LeRoy.
Although the symptoms appear to be less severe than the tics in LeRoy, I do want to extend my sympathy to those affected. At best, a case of repetitive hiccups would be titanically annoying. I hope this is resolved very soon.
Now, let us pause and wait for the anti-vaxxers to emerge from their dens and blame this one on Gardasil, shall we?
Thanks for stopping by.