Friday, 15 August 2008

Daily Mail Attempts to Vaccinate Against Insanity: Fails

Given the Daily Mail's track record on the vaccines/autism scare - and on logic in general -I admit to being more than a little surprised to see The anti-MMR mothers who are putting us all in danger (11/8/08). In fact, that is an understatement. For an instant, my understanding of the Universe was turned upside-down. If the Daily Mail, last bastion of conservative nonsense, can publish an actually sensible story on vaccines, perhaps I need to start questioning some of my other assumptions?

After a short break in which I confirmed that, yes, gravity still goes down, fire is still hot and that alcohol still makes you drunk - in that order, it's far too dangerous to do it the other way around - and a slightly longer break in which I confirmed that sleep still stops you being tired and coffee helps wake you up I literally sprang into action. Well, I literally sprang - meaning walked - to work, did some work and sprang back, tested the sleep thing again... After only two more confirmations of my sleep/rest theory - watch the stands for imminent publication! - I arrive at where you find me today. Which is apparently on board the derailed train-of-thought express.

Basically, I was shocked. I may need therapy.

The thrust of the article, as you might imagine, is that not vaccinating your children means they might get diseases and that this is bad. There is also an apology, nebulously on behalf of "the media" for blowing the Andrew Wakefield "research" out of all proportion.

The author, Jonathan Myerson, highlights the tendency of mothers of autistic children "to invent paper tigers that are slavering for a bite of [their] precious child."
"The arrogance is stunning, the stupidity is off the scale. But give the mother of a newborn something to fight against and logic is history."
Obviously this isn't true of all mothers, or probably even most, but there is a tendency creeping across from the US to give too much credence to the so-called Fallacy from Motherhood. It is certainly true that when it comes to spotting abnormalities in the behaviour of a child mother probably does, in fact, know best. However, mother probably doesn't have the medical expertise required to establish the cause of the abnormality, be it a fever, weight loss or autism.

Given the number of highly trained doctors and scientists around the world studying the complex neurological condition that is autism, would it not be best to defer to the experts, the medical community when looking to establish a cause?

Goodness me, I thought to myself, that was an oddly refreshing dose of scepticism. Maybe I'll just read a few of the comments to see how the readership of the Mail responded to it. I'll quote a few examples below but I warn you:

Here Be Stupid.
(but not spelling)
"yea well if they came out and admited it was the mercury in the mmr not the vaccine itself that caused autism.. then the rates of immunisation will rise.. but to keep on stonewalling because they dont want to compensate autistic children then the rates will fall... better safe than sorry is the parents feelings on this i have no doubt my autistic daughter was poisoned by mercury"
Which, of course, perfectly tallies with evidence from the US where mercury preservatives were removes form vaccines and autism diagnoses continue to rise...
It also ignores that there is no evidence that ethyl-mercury (as found in vaccines) causes mercury toxicity and that there is no good evidence to even link autism to heavy metal poisoning of any kind.
"Doesn't the author realise that most of the parents who refuse the MMR do know more than him and that is why they steadfastly refuse the triple vaccine. Just because one person's child is ok receiving the jab, that is no guarantee that another child will be unharmed."
Parents refuse the MMR vaccine because they've been frightened into doing so by the media (ie. the Daily Mail) without looking at the evidence.
The fact is that the rate of serious side-effects from most vaccines is in the 1 in a million range, whilst the rate of serious side-effects from the diseases vaccinated against is far higher.

If you want to play spot the logical fallacy I think the two quotes above provide rich pickings.

Also, if I hear one more person on the internet saying "but why do we bother vaccinating against TB when nobody gets it any more?" I might just have to go totally crazy and start believing in nonsense.

For an antidote to this sudden onslaught of stupid, head over to Science Based Medicine where Mark Crislip goes through most of the common diseases we vaccinate against and what the risks are.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Dictionary to Aisle Six Please

Somebody doesn't seem to know the difference between the words "atheism" and "secularism." In addition, Soumaya Gannoushi has also borrowed the current pet-phrase of America's Most Stupid: "militant secularism."
Just what exactly is this militant secularism and even if it existed, would it be something to fear? I imagine that a confrontation with a militant secularist would sound something like:
"You there, with the religion on!"
"Who, me?"
"Yeah you. Just you make sure you practice your religion, or lack thereof, freely without interfering with the human rights of other people, or I'll blow your head off, OK?"
"You heard. And if I, or the state, tries to interfere with those rights of yours you'd better tell me so I can blow them up with some C4 or something."
It doesn't make any sense. People are always going on about how we should fight oppression and the erosion of human rights as if it's a good thing to do. It certainly sounds like a good thing to do. Of course, it's being bigoted and militant if the oppressor happens to be a religious organisation or individual.

Once again, religion responds as the classic school-yard bully. It's happy to interfere with the freedoms of others but cries foul and goes running to teacher if anyone fights back.

It seems to me that some religionists are making a concerted effort to conflate atheism, which they are free to dislike privately if they wish, with secularism, which they should support if they have even two brain cells to rub together on a cold day. By making secularism the enemy they fight the one movement that aims to protect true freedom of religion. Of course, religions seem to love being painted as the persecuted underdog. Just look at how the Catholics respond any time they are even remotely challenged on something. In this case, the willful destruction of a small piece of bread.