Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Quack Is Back

I'd thought that we'd seen the last of the homeopathic quack, Jennifer Stella, back in the 2012 session of the Vermont General Assembly. But apparently she's concerned that there may again be a move this year to finally remove the dangerous exposure to unvaccinated kids in our schools by the legislature, finally killing the "philosophical exemption" to vaccinations. This despite the fact that it's clear that the session is to be taken up by more pressing matters, at least for this term of the biennium.

True to the extremist nature of her agenda, I found that she has posted misleading material at Rob Williams anti-Semitic hate blog called the Second Vermont Republic (as a rule, I no longer link to Williams' hate site) from a similarly committed anti-vaxxer by the name of Bob Sears. Essentially, such anti-vaxxers believe that despite the proof and the science their poorly acquired doubts trump reason because "Freedom!", your child or immunocompromised relation or grandparent be damned.

Stella has incorporated Sears' misleading material into an essay that she addressed to Governor Shumlin. I'll tackle some of the deception via a dissection of Sears' essay from a piece published last Friday at Scienceblogs (there's that pesky "science" that doubters like Stella and Sears so rue) called "Blowing the Antivaccine Dog Whistle Again."

Here's a taste:
"There’s a term I coined reading Dr. Bob (Sears') nonsense: The antivaccine dog whistle. In politics, a “dog whistle” refers to terminology that sounds benign to most people but in reality tells those holding objectionable viewpoints that the speaker is sympathetic to them (or even one of them). In other words, most people can’t “hear” the message, and only those for whom it’s intended can “hear” it, recognizing for what it is. Let’s just put it this way. Dr. Bob is very good at antivaccine dog whistling. (So is Rand Paul.) Now, in a “point-counterpoint” pair of editorials, Dr. Bob does it again. Now, don’t get me started on the idiocy of false balance that presenting point-counterpoint editorials represents about a scientific topic like vaccination. Unfortunately, lately false balance has been rising from the grave again. (Apparently, like Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, it never dies.) Dr. Bob’s editorial is entitled Mandatory vaccination is not the answer to measles and it starts out with some serious dog whistling right out of the box:"
"Measles. It used to be just a disease. Now it’s become a banner under which politicians gather to threaten one of our most sacred rights – the right to give informed consent for medical treatment."

"Whether you are for vaccines, against them, or neutral, allow me to ask this question: Is vaccination a medical treatment which should fall under the protection of informed consent, or does the government have the right to force them on every American?"
"See what I mean? Right out of the box, Dr. Bob is trying to reframe the debate over a bill being considered in the California legislature that would eliminate non-medical exemptions to school vaccine mandates. I realize that often the editorial writer doesn’t pick the title (usually the editor does), but the very title “mandatory vaccination” helps Dr. Bob frame the issue not as one of public health but rather personal freedom, just as Rand Paul did. Notice how obviously but nonetheless rather cleverly he does it, with a little rhetorical prestidigitation in which he’s saying, “You know, what’s important is not whether you’re for vaccines or antivaccines or “neutral” (whatever that means in this context), it’s that the government can’t take away our FREEDOM!"
In addition to the measles anti-vaccine dog whistling, Stella has engaged in guilt by loose association attacks on legislative opponents of her philosophical scam. We can expect to see more of these if, by chance, legislation is actually introduced and begins to move forward. It's how she rolls.

More from Scienceblogs on the Stella/Sears' junk science:
"The issue thus reframed, Dr. Bob launches into a list of the horrors of vaccination and the joy of measles. OK, I’m exaggerating, but not by a heck of a lot. It’s the same stuff Dr. Bob’s been spewing all along since the measles outbreaks began, antivaccine tropes about how the measles isn’t that bad and how vaccines are “dangerous,” all in the form of bullet points. For example:"
About 2,000 severe reactions are reported to the CDC each year which result in prolonged hospitalization, permanent disability, or death. Most reactions aren’t even reported, so the true number may be even higher. Yet, because they can’t be proven, the medical community denies that they can happen. Over $3 billion have been paid out to victims of vaccine reactions. Not $3 million. Not $30 million. Not even $300 million. But $3 billion. Are we paying that much money to victims of pretend reactions? I think not.
"Dr. Bob should change that last sentence from “I think not” to “I don’t think,” as in “I don’t think,” a general statement of Dr. Bob’s intellectual prowess with respect to vaccines. I’m guessing that 2,000 severe reactions a year is probably referring to the > (VAERS) database, which, as regular readers here know, is an open database to which anyone can report any “reaction” to vaccination, whether it’s actually related to a vaccine or not. VAERS is not authoritative, and the adverse events are not generally verified. Indeed, as has been reported before, one pro-vaccine blogger, Dr. Jim Laidler, reported that the influenza vaccine turned him into the Incredible Hulk. True, the VAERS staff did contact this blogger and ask him about it, but, as he noted, if he had refused to remove the entry, it would still be there. Another pro-vaccine blogger, Kevin Leitch, verified that VAERS lets you enter basically anything by reporting that a vaccine had turned his daughter into Wonder Woman. That’s why VAERS is the antivaccinationist’s favorite database, and I like to refer to dubious correlations reported from VAERS as dumpster diving. Not surprisingly, antivaccine lawyers have made the database almost worthless as a source of information over the incidence of adverse events due to vaccines by encouraging their clients to enter all sorts of reports, in particular reports claiming that vaccines caused autism. Most recently, the Toronto Star completely misinterpreted how VAERS data should and shouldn’t be used in its utterly botched story falsely linking all sorts of horrific reactions to Gardasil. Then Dr. Bob lists a bunch of bullet points, all consisting of tired antivaccine misinformation that was old when Dr. Bob was in medical school, including (my favorite) the claim that measles isn’t dangerous, a claim rebuked by medical science. For instance:
It has killed no one. It can kill about 1 person in every 1000 cases. Will someone die of measles in the United States in the years to come? Maybe. But it hasn’t killed anyone in the past 15 years or more. The last time measles hit us hard was 25 years ago. Not last year, not this year, yet. It’s measles, people. It’s not the plague. It’s not polio. It’s not Ebola. It’s measles. If the plague hits, let’s force everyone to vaccinate. But measles? Measles? We need something a lot more dangerous than that if we are going to rob each and every patient of the sacred right of informed consent.
"So, measles is no big whoop, even though it can kill one out of a thousand children who get it. Of course, Dr. Bob neglects to note other, more common, complications of the measles that can be very serious, such as pneumonia (which he at least mentioned in his earlier rants) and he very much failed to mention how about one in four victims of this year’s measles outbreak have had to be hospitalized."

"But notice the overall construction of Dr. Bob’s argument. To him, measles isn’t serious (which he explicitly states multiple times) and the vaccine is dangerous (which he implies with his listing of “severe complications” of vaccination in general); so to him it follows that “forcing” vaccination is an unacceptable affront to freedom"
Stella and her partner in the crime of disinformation, Dorian Yates, have been on a media push that includes misstating vaccine statistics, following the Bob Sears model for screwing with the facts. I just have to wonder why she thinks posting her crap at a well known anti-Semitic hate blog like Williams' is going to do her much good except with the bigoted misogynist, homophobe and racist demographic. But perhaps it's expecting too much in the way of rational thought from a quack.

The entire piece at Scienceblogs is well worth the read and I recommend it.

More, undoubtedly, to come.

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