Respectful Insolence

Idiotic comment of the week

In a nod to fellow ScienceBlogger Ed Brayton, with his hilarious Dumbass Quote of the Day, I hereby inaugurate the “Idiotic Comment of the Week,” culled from this very blog. I don’t guarantee that I’ll do it every week, but when I see neuron-necrosing idiocy below and beyond the usual call of pseudoscientists and quackery boosters who occasionally like to try to match their “wits” (such as they are) with my reality- and science-based commenters, usually to hilarious effect, I’ll give it the “honor” it deserves. This week, despite highly intense competition (thanks to a recent infestation of new anti-vaccine trolls even dumber than the old bunch of anti-vaccine trolls), this particular comment sank below all the rest with its sheer unrelenting level of utter ignorance:

May I make a suggestion? ….wash your hands, exercise, eat well, live healthy, & fight off bacteria and viruses the old fashion way (like humans have done for 50,000 years.)

Yeah, because that worked so well, say…350 years ago. Back in London in the 1600s, John Graunt compiled one of the earliest examples of vital statistics. In 1662, he published Natural and Political Observations Mentioned in a Following Index and Made Upon the Bills of Mortality. In this book, Graunt was the first to attempt to construct life tables and mortality tables based on the numbers of births and reported deaths in London. As a tercentenary tribute stated:

300 years ago John Graunt, a London draper, published some “Natural and Political Observations on the Bills of Mortality.” These observations represent the 1st, as well as an extremely competent attempt, to draw scientific conclusions from statistical data. The present study illustrates Graunt’s careful scientific approach, his ability to extract the essence from what by modern standards are distinctly untrustworthy demographic data, and his intuitive appreciation of the amount of interpretation his findings would tolerate. Based upon ratios and proportions of vital events and consideration of the way in which these changed in different circumstances, his analysis is amazingly free of major statistical errors. His statistical understanding was consideration. He is responsible for the 1st scientific estimates of population size, the concept of the life table, the idea of statistical association, the 1st studies of time series, and a pioneer attempt to draw a representative sample. Graunt’s book continued to be worthy of reading today, for it laid the foundations of the science of statistics.

So what did John Graunt find?

Graunt found that the average life expectancy in London was 27 years, with 65% of people dying before age 16, the vast majority due to childhood infectious diseases, diseases, I note, that have now been largely brought under control by vaccines, antibiotics, and advances in medical care. Steve Rappaport reports in Worlds Within Worlds: Structures of Life in Sixteenth-Century London that, a century earlier in the 1500s, of men who made it to age 25 to 26, the ages at which most men became full citizens, the average further life expectancy was 28 years, meaning that men who made it to adulthood would have about a 50-50 chance of living to be older than 53 or 54. One-tenth died by their mid-30s, and only around one-third lived to be older than sixty. I’m not quoting these statistics for precision, but merely to show that life expectancy sucked until fairly recently. Indeed, most of the gains in life expectancy that we’ve experienced have occurred in the last 150 years or less.

As for prehistoric humans 50,000 years ago, it was uncommon for them to live past age 40.

So, yeah, it would be a really good thing to go back to how we “kept microbes at bay” 50,000 years ago. That worked so well, didn’t it?

Finally, comes a comment that plumbs the depths of stupid even more than the first comment, making this award a two-fer. First, commenter Joseph C wrote a very reasonable response to the first comment:

If you want to go back to the life expectancy humans had 50,000 years ago, then go for it. Also, most biologists believe that homo sap is much older than 50,000 years.

Indeed. But then a commenter named brian responded:

how long did people live 50000 years ago?
At least they didnt have any iatrogenesis to contend with!

Yikes! At first I thought he was making fun of anti-vaccinationists, but perusing the rest of his comments (for example, this one) shows me that he was serious. He really does appear to think that iatrogenic injuries kill more people than infectious diseases did 50,000 years ago.

As I am wont to say, perhaps more often than I should, against such ignorance the gods themselves contend in vain.

Comments

  1. #1 Greg Laden
    November 8, 2009

    I wonder what we were doing before 50,000 years ago?

  2. #2 Andreas Johansson
    November 8, 2009

    I wonder what we were doing before 50,000 years ago?

    Dying of iatrogenic diseases. Then the secret of not seeing doctors was found, and people lived happily until quite recently when it was lost again.

  3. #3 daijiyobu
    November 8, 2009

    Kind of like saying, “sure my magic carpet doesn’t fly my anywhere, but at least I won’t die in a plane crash with it.”

    -r.c.

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    November 8, 2009

    That could explain certain cave paintings ….

  5. #5 Luna_the_cat
    November 8, 2009

    Which would obviously be why all those paleolithic and neolithic burial sites are full of babies, children and people in their 40s. Because they lived such happy, healthy lives, right? :-/

    I got to see skeletons excavated from a neolithic site, once; rickets, lesions in jaw bones from tooth infections, one very badly healed broken arm, and in every one damage from parasites. Yay.

  6. #6 Dave Munger
    November 8, 2009

    Kind of like saying, “sure my magic carpet doesn’t fly my anywhere, but at least I won’t die in a plane crash with it.”

    More like saying “sure my magic carpet won’t fly me off the top of this active volcano, but at least I won’t die in a plane crash with it.”

  7. #7 red rabbit
    November 8, 2009

    Ah the smell of burning stupid in the morning.

    On top of the excellent points made in the post in the comments, the blame-the-victim attitude of these self-righteous jerks just irks me.

    Children in Africa? Oh they deserve to die because they don’t eat right. That young mother with cancer? Tsk, she’s got that from injecting herself with those filthy vaccines.

    As my mother would say, “come here ’til I slaps you upside the head.”

  8. #8 Denice Walter
    November 8, 2009

    Stupidest Headline I’ve Seen in Quite a While(courtesy of Mike Adams, NaturalNews – where else?):”Massive US health care reform bill contributing to deforestation:1,990 pages and 19.6 pounds of paper.”(11/8/09)

  9. #9 K.B.
    November 8, 2009

    Well, sure, individuals have survived diseases for hundreds of thousands of years – that’s why we humans are still here. And for the majority or that time, survival was accomplished without “modern” medicine.

    But…

    Here’s what the naysayers don’t understand. They don’t get to choose who lives and who dies – survival (without medical intervention) depended on a number of factors, many of which a single person (or family) cannot have influenced (eg. did they have enough to eat that winter? Depends on the harvest, the wealth of the family, etc.).

    If someone wants to choose alternative medicine, have at it. But I prefer them to do so with their eyes open, and not with some utopian idea of the past.

  10. #10 Becca Stareyes
    November 8, 2009

    It’s not like ‘wash your hands and eat well’ are bad advice, they just are woefully insufficient. It’s like saying ‘drive defensively and you’ll survive any crash — you don’t need all those safety devices like seatbelts and airbags on your car’. True, not driving like a maniac and assuming people on the roads can be idiots will prevent some crashes, and mitigate others, but there’s always going to be that patch of ice, or the pickup out of nowhere, or deer.

    (For that matter, airbags do hurt people when used blindly, which is why you note when they’ll do more harm than good in a crash and turn them off, not just blindly read about airbag injuries and assume they are worse than getting hit in the first place.)

  11. #11 Blue Genes
    November 8, 2009

    childhood infectious diseases, diseases, I note, that have now been largely brought under control by vaccines, antibiotics, and advances in medical care

    Not to give these fantastic advances short shrift, but I’m fairly sure that public health, sanitation and improvements in living standards did most of the work before the 1950s (when antibiotic were introduced, and many vaccines didn’t yet exist).

    After that, modern medicine really took off and brought these now rarer disease to the brink of non-existence.

  12. #12 Pascal Leduc
    November 8, 2009

    Well since Vaccination started in the 18th century I wouldn’t chock it all off to public health improvements.

    Interestingly the first vaccines killed off something like 10% as many people as the regular infection and still people wanted vaccines.

    These days, people freak out if a vaccine has a possibility of being 0.00001% as deadly as the disease.

  13. #13 Douglas McClean
    November 8, 2009

    He really does appear to think that iatrogenic injuries kill more people than infectious diseases did 50,000 years ago.

    Which, I suppose, if estimates are to be believed, might well be true. On a per capita basis, on the other hand, not so much.

  14. #14 LW
    November 8, 2009

    “On a per capita basis, on the other hand, not so much.”

    I’m not so sure even that’s true. It probably depends on your definition of iatros, but I can imagine a “healer” 50,000 years ago desperately trying out one herb after another on dying children, and accidentally poisoning a few of them.

  15. #15 History Punk
    November 8, 2009

    “health, sanitation and improvements in living standards did most of the work before the 1950s ”

    So which advance in the aforementioned fields was responsible for the decline of small pox in Washington’s army after his decision to begin vaccination after the Quebec debacle? Also, why did the British army fail to discover or implement this advance once their American camp followers, tory soldiers, and the escape slaves in their ranks began to fall ill?

  16. #16 Pareidolius
    November 8, 2009

    As I just posted as commenter 329(!) over at the original thread:

    Orac,
    Nevermind “Idiot Comment of the Week”, you clearly need to create an “Idiot Commenter of the Year” award for the brians. I say “brians” because I’m fairly certain that there are several different people posting on the same spittle-flecked keyboard over at AOA, or perhaps Dr. Buttar’s basement.

    One of the posters is just a frothing loon who can’t spell or punctuate. One of them is just as loony as the first, but less frothy and has some command of English which includes the use of capital letters and diacritical marks (in the correct places). I haven’t identified a distinct third brian, but the sheer volume of spume is just too much for one person to generate.

    That said, perhaps Occam’s Razor should be applied, in which case brian is probably just a lone poster in his parent’s basement, jacked up on Red Bull and Jolt with his tinfoil hat screwed on just a bit too tight. This scenario might explain the multiple personality effect.

    Whatever the source of these posts, their vast numbers, utterly credulous nature, slightly off-target snark and conspiratorial ardor places them among the pantheon of posters worthy of the soon-to-be coveted “ICOY”.

  17. #17 TheRaven
    November 8, 2009

    People, stop trying to argue with stupid. Call it a bad hangover in our post-politically-correct phase, but we all need to get past this silly notion than any ‘argument’ in opposition is worthy of attention.

    The anti-vaccine fools skew towards marginalized, uneducated losers. This almost all-white group uses the internet to overcome what would otherwise be well-deserved obscurity. They do not occupy positions of power nor do they they exert leadership in any meaningful forum. If you respond to lunacy, credit only goes to the lunatic.

    Anti-vaccine arguments are so overwhelming crushed by science and history that they are ‘not even wrong’. Borrowing Christopher Hitchens well-articulated distinction between the ironic mind and people who, for example, accept a 2,000 year old collection of stories as literal truth, your articulate arguments are useless.

    The good news is that the AVF (‘anti-vaccination fools’, ‘natch) is a minority anyway you dice the demographics. Better still, they are a shrinking minority. Uneducated white people in America are much heavier users of tobacco and they are simply much heavier, on average. As America gains 2-3 million population each year the AVF dies off faster than the rest of us and their proportional numbers fall even faster.

    So between now and the day when America will finally rid herself of the 12th century borderlands mentality that drags public discourse back to the Reformation, limit your attention to those who are worthy.

    Let the AVF chatter amongst themselves as they look to radio clowns like Glenn Beck, racists like Limbaugh or other Fox simpletons for direction. We are much, much bigger and as we so ably demonstrated on November 4, 2008, we’re in charge.

    PS – note to any ambitious prosecutors out there – can’t speak for the laws in your jurisdiction, but you’ve clearly got enough science with which to lock up parents who fail to vaccinate their kids.

  18. #18 JohnV
    November 8, 2009

    I am paralyzed with fear that this will induce the other idiot commentors (doctrinalfairness) to try and win the award.

  19. #19 Greg F.
    November 8, 2009

    @TheRaven,

    The anti-vaccine fools skew towards marginalized, uneducated losers. This almost all-white group uses the internet to overcome what would otherwise be well-deserved obscurity. They do not occupy positions of power nor do they they exert leadership in any meaningful forum.

    Actually, the anti-vax position tends to skew towards widely accepted, fluffy New Age woo among college educated, well to do parents. Who do occupy positions of power. Who do have the ability to exert significant influence.

    This is why there are now pockets of populations in which vaccination levels have dropped below the 80% to 90% herd immunity threshold and infection childhood diseases have started coming back with a vengeance.

    You dismiss anti-vaxers at your own risk. Yes they’re woefully uneducated about medicine and simply repeat whatever half-baked pseudoscience they read on random blogs that support their phobias. But they’re not losers who can be easily ignored and they have more than enough potential to do serious harm. In fact, they’re doing it now.

  20. #20 Jonathan
    November 8, 2009

    If most humans didn’t live past 40 50,000 years ago, why do all women who go through menarche also go through menopause at 55? There’s a 15 year discrepancy. Is it because males died significantly younger than women?

  21. #21 cynical
    November 8, 2009

    Are you really comparing life 350 years ago to life today? Antiseptic medical care was practically nonexistent. Infrastructure was woefully inadequate. Changes in the modern diet certainly began to occur, and like all adaptation, it has occurred very slowly – and not all of it good. Yet, here you are, acting as if these changes had positively nothing to do with life expectancy or susceptibility to any given pathogen. Rubbish, at best – intellectually dishonest at worst.

    In your own words, you can’t perform an observational study on vaccinated and unvaccinated kids due to confounders – but you can compare life in the year 2000 to that 300 years ago. Okey dokey.

  22. #22 Jennifer B. Phillips
    November 8, 2009

    Actually, the anti-vax position tends to skew towards widely accepted, fluffy New Age woo among college educated, well to do parents. Who do occupy positions of power. Who do have the ability to exert significant influence.

    Exactly. And due to their well-financed and aggressive PR campaigns, they have an enviable presence in both the print and television media, where they have been able to exploit the journalistic favoritism paid to controversial, maverick ideologies, david v. goliath stories, ‘D-list actress finds a *CAUSE*’ drama, and the like. In my opinion, the failure of science-based medicine advocates to respond soon enough or often enough to these people is partially responsible for their current level of success.

    And, TheRaven, please note that the majority of the responses to the antivax posters on this blog aren’t merely to try and reach the trolls themselves (indeed, in most cases we recognize almost immediately this is would be an exercise in futility), but to provide counterpoints for the fence-sitters to weigh against the glut of antivax fearmongering they’ve absorbed from friends, or for the pro-vaccine laypeople who recognize the batshit insanity of the opposition but don’t know enough science to counter them.

    It’s a growing movement. It’s important not to be silent and dismissive of this lunacy when health and life is at stake to this regrettable degree.

  23. #23 Jennifer B. Phillips
    November 8, 2009

    If most humans didn’t live past 40 50,000 years ago, why do all women who go through menarche also go through menopause at 55?

    Uh…because they’re now living long enough to reach this end-stage of their reproductive process?

  24. #24 LW
    November 8, 2009

    “Are you really comparing life 350 years ago to life today?”

    Well, it makes a lot more sense than comparing life 50,000 years ago to life today. Many diseases that we vaccinate for did exist 350 years ago but did not exist 50,000 years ago, e.g., measles and chicken pox (they spread person-to-person, create permanent immunity, and have no animal reservoirs, so they die out in small populations). We are exposed every day to a lot more people (and thus, communicable diseases) than was normal 50,000 years ago, and much more comparable to the numbers one would encounter 350 years ago.

  25. #25 daedalus2u
    November 8, 2009

    They must have had some excellent birth control and family planning back then. If we consider a ~1,000 generation period from 50k BCE to 25k BCE, if the average woman had 2.1 children, then world population must have been pretty high. (1.05^1000 = 1.5e10^21).

  26. #26 Azkyroth
    November 8, 2009

    To be fair, in the 1600s people didn’t really wash their hands to speak of. Of course, plenty don’t now…

  27. #27 titmouse
    November 8, 2009

    The anti-vaccine fools skew towards marginalized, uneducated losers.

    Sadly, no.

    You underestimate the power of crank magnetism combined with the over-representation of media and marketing professionals among alternative medicine promoters.

    Crank magnetism likely arises from the social reality of sympathy toward anyone fighting the same enemy. The internet has made it possible for cranks to link up and help each other in ways humans haven’t really had to deal with before.

    New recruits to the alt world, whether entering via energy medicine, herbalism, anti-pharma, detox, chiropractic, naturopathy, or Scientology, all get the same Welcome Wagon gift basket stuffed with “immune system” and “toxin” memes. These notions link to a long history of rejected medical writings. Anti-vax is part of that history and so it’s not going away.

    I haven’t checked but I’d guess that Suzanne Somers is an anti-vax sympathizer, even though vaccine issues aren’t directly connected to cancer treatment. Might be worth checking as a test of the magnetism hypothesis.

    A free marketplace of ideas is self-corrective against lone crackpots. Unfortunately it’s not effective against coordinated misinformation campaigns capable of creating the appearance of multiple unrelated experts all independently reaching the same conclusions.

    The fact that over 40 of our top medical schools now promote integrative medicine proves my point.

    We can’t remain silent and expect that the anti-vax tribe will simply wither and die.

  28. #28 Chris
    November 8, 2009

    I’m sure someone by now has thoroughly demolished the common argument that improved sanitation and increased standards of living — rather than vaccines — were what knocked down the levels of the infectious diseases that used to kill so many. (I’ve heard this argument again and again from anti-vaxxers.) Where can I find a link to a thorough, careful takedown of this myth?

  29. #29 Christina
    November 8, 2009

    @daedalus2
    It wasn’t birth control. It was high death rates. Like most animals. Populations kept in line by famine and disease when they got too high

  30. #30 Dr. P
    November 8, 2009

    Are you really comparing life 350 years ago to life today? Antiseptic medical care was practically nonexistent. Infrastructure was woefully inadequate. Changes in the modern diet certainly began to occur, and like all adaptation, it has occurred very slowly – and not all of it good. Yet, here you are, acting as if these changes had positively nothing to do with life expectancy or susceptibility to any given pathogen. Rubbish, at best – intellectually dishonest at worst

    I didn’t see anyone making that argument,only that improved medical care (and in latter days vaccinations) surely were a component in what is undoubtedly a multifactorial answer.If I’ve read wrong please show me the quote.This post appearedto be a response to “live right and fight off viruses the old fashioned way” which is patently absurd as the old fashioned way didn’t include any of these factors( hygiene, improved nutrition or potential for same, improved medical care). This begs the question, “What is the ‘old fashioned way’?” And to Azkyroths point yes, I don’t think the few handwashing studies I’ve seen have been very encouraging.

  31. #31 Dr. P
    November 8, 2009

    But along that same point, if its silly and dishonest to say that hygiene and nutrition had nothing to do with extending our lives, isn’t it just as silly and dishonest to be so adamant that these were the only factors and vaccinations had nothing to do with it and be certain that this is so? I’m not claiming this is your argument, only that its one I’ve seen crop up here several times.

  32. #32 Susannah
    November 8, 2009

    Re the canard about sanitation and lifestyle bringing down death rates before vaccination: I was there.

    I 67 years old. I grew up in the time before vaccination was available for most of our childhood diseases, the 1940s and early ’50s. (Some vaccinations came along only in time for my own children.)

    My mother was a nurse. She was fanatical about sanitation and proper nutrition. No junk food, no overeating, no skipping veggies. And she taught me how to scrub for surgery. As a daily clean-up task.

    Still, I and my brothers came down with measles, chickenpox, mumps. I got typhoid and rheumatic fever from the ever-present strep. One brother got polio, thankfully without serious complications or residuals.

    We weren’t unusual. We lived in dread of polio; I had seen many children with residual paralysis and deformities from it. Many ended up in the iron lung, entire ward-fuls of kids. Many died.

    Many died of whooping cough, pertussis, too. Does anybody even remember whooping cough now? It was frightening; the hopeless, unceasing, racking cough, convulsing the whole body. (The “whooping” in the name comes from the “Whoop!” sound made by the sufferer, usually a small child, as they tried to catch a breath after a bout of coughing.) Children died, eventually, of exhaustion. My father lost his brother that way. We watched all coughs carefully in those days.

    Then the vaccine came along. What a relief for parents!

    Everybody got measles. We had to sit in a darkened room, no TV, no reading, for two weeks (over Christmas!) to avoid eye damage.

    Boys who got mumps before puberty were lucky. If it came later, they could end up incapable of fathering children.

    Young women feared German measles, which would damage unborn children in the womb.

    TB was rampant. A relative died of it. “Galloping consumption”, we called it in those days; sometimes it took an apparently healthy person in a few short weeks.

    There was still no vaccine for chicken-pox in the early ’60s, when my children were toddlers. I watched the disease march through an entire children’s ward in the hospital where my son was for syndactilia correction. All surgery was halted, all visitors gowned and masked, all discharges postponed, the entire ward under quarantine, until a week after the last case had subsided. Every single kid got it. None died; at least people didn’t usually die of chicken-pox. They were just miserable. And then they grew up and came down with shingles from the virus still in hiding in their bodies. Painful.

    Sure, that’s anecdotal. But it’s a report on the general state of things not so terribly long ago, in this well-fed, well-cared for developed world.

    People have such short memories, these days.

  33. #33 Uncle Glenny
    November 8, 2009

    I think this story of polio would be instructive to some of our it’s-all-due-to-sanitation weenies.

  34. #34 muteKi
    November 8, 2009

    Would someone care to explain HOW eating a healthy diet is enough to stop the spread of infectious diseases, exactly?

    I especially loved the commenter’s vague recommendation to “live healthy”. Would this not include regular physician appointments and immunizations?

  35. #35 Ian Musgrave
    November 8, 2009

    Commenter Brian in the referenced thread wrote:

    how long did people live 50000 years ago? At least they didnt have any iatrogenesis to contend with!

    If they were using herbs as therapeutics, they had iatrogenesis to contend with. In 3000 BC China people were using ephedra for bronchial problems, and this would have killed some people through the spikes in blood pressure it can produce (which is why herbal remedies containing Ephedra are banned in many countries). If they were using opium poppy for pain releif (which the Chinese certainly did an the Assyrians from at least 1900 BC), then morbity and death from opium overdose certainly occured. If they were using any of the salicylate containing plants for pain relief (which the Egyptians did since at least 1500 BC), then the side effects of salicylates such as gastric bleeding and ulceration (which can lead to death), were certainly present. The popular crocodile dung pessaries were also likely to have iatrogenic effects. (see Murder, Magic and Medicine, John Mann, 1992 for some nice history of herbal therapies and the Ebers papyrus for more on Egyptian medicine)

    Any therapy that has enough physical effects to change the course of a disease will have iatrogenic effects. Herbal remedies, “natural” though they may be, also produce iatrogenic effects. That they are not widely known is due mostly to ignorance on the part of herbal users.

  36. #36 Chris C
    November 8, 2009

    Excellent post, Susannah. I may reference it in the future for those occasional idiot parents who say “Pertussis isn’t so bad!”

  37. #37 Calli Arcale
    November 8, 2009

    Hell, people were using *mercury* and *arsenic* as cure-alls.

    Jonathan @ 20:

    You’re assuming there’s a reason why women go through menopause. This isn’t actually clear, though some biologists seem to enjoy coming up with evolutionary “just so” stories to explain it. It may just be one of those things.

    Note also that the age of menopause is highly variable, and the average today may be different than the average 50,000 years ago.

  38. #38 JLT
    November 8, 2009

    @ 12:

    Interestingly the first vaccines killed off something like 10% as many people as the regular infection and still people wanted vaccines.

    I was interested whether the death rate was really that high and found a very interesting article about the history of small pox.

    Two to three percent of variolated persons died of smallpox; became the source of a new epidemic; or developed other illnesses from the lymph of the donor, such as tuberculosis or syphilis [39]. Nonetheless, case-fatality rates were 10 times lower than those associated with naturally occurring smallpox, and artificial inoculation was widely practiced until Jenner’s discovery; indeed, Jenner himself was variolated at 8 years of age. The primary side effect of the procedure was the appearance of smallpox itself; however, in 1722, in one of the first applications of statistics to a medical and social problem, James Jurin [40] observed that the smallpox-associated case-fatality rate was 1:14 in noninoculated children and 1:91 in inoculated children.

    Another article shows that anti-vaxxers didn’t change much since the 18th century:

    Much publicity and some opposition by the clergy and the medical profession followed. The Reverend Mr. Edmund Massey in a sermon entitled “The Dangerous and Sinful Practice of Inoculation,” which was delivered on 8 July 1722 from the pulpit of the Parish Church of St. Andrew’s Holborn, referred to variolation as “a diabolic operation which usurps an authority founded neither in the laws of nature or religion and which tends to anticipate and banish Providence out of the world and promotes the increase of vice and immorality.” The surgeon Legard Sparham in a pamphlet entitled Reasons against the Practice of Inoculating the Smallpox, which was published in 1722, argued against inserting poisons into wounds and bartering health for diseases (96).

  39. #39 Caravelle
    November 8, 2009

    As for prehistoric humans 50,000 years ago, it was uncommon for them to live past age 40.

    Do we still know that ? I thought the common knowledge had evolved to thinking that pre-agricultural societies were actually healthier than later ones, because they had a more balanced diet and fewer infectious diseases (because infectious diseases need high densities and lots of inter-species contact to evolve, and hunter-gatherer societies didn’t have much of either).

    Jonathan : If most humans didn’t live past 40 50,000 years ago, why do all women who go through menarche also go through menopause at 55?

    Jennifer B. Phillips : Uh…because they’re now living long enough to reach this end-stage of their reproductive process?

    I think Jonathan means that menopause is an event that was shaped through evolutionary forces, which wouldn’t happen if nobody lived that long. Although Calli Arcale addresses that.

  40. #40 Susannah
    November 8, 2009

    Chris C. #36
    Thank you. Please do pass it on. I’d hate to see these plagues come back.

  41. #41 Jon H
    November 8, 2009

    I’m sure Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s polio infection was due to his poor nutrition and living in squalor.

  42. #42 Chris
    November 8, 2009

    Chris (there is more than one of us!):

    I’m sure someone by now has thoroughly demolished the common argument that improved sanitation and increased standards of living — rather than vaccines — were what knocked down the levels of the infectious diseases that used to kill so many. (I’ve heard this argument again and again from anti-vaxxers.) Where can I find a link to a thorough, careful takedown of this myth?

    I don’t think there is a single link to this information, because there are so many tangents to this point.

    Polio has already been pointed out with a link to a very good history (short story, sanitation delayed infection with polio virus to a point past when it was still mild… before sanitation most babies were infected and they were not so very infected).

    Sometimes I bring up the fact that measles, which was becoming rare before a certain fraudulent Lancet paper was misrepresented by its author, returned to Japan and England in numbers large enough to become endemic (and is coming back to Germany, New Zealand, Switzerland and other countries). I ask if the increase of measles was due to a sudden reduction of vaccination or a declination of vaccination.

    I never really get a good answer.

    Sometimes I get stupid answers like polio is now called meningitis, or that Hib is called something else. At that point you realize you are dealing with a whale.to/naturalnews nut, and no amount of reasoning will penetrate into whatever gray matter they possess. All you can do is silently laugh at them, while you hope that any information will be useful to reasonable people who were first intrigued by their silly arguments.

  43. #43 Chris
    November 8, 2009

    Oh, I forgot… sanitation actually is very helpful for diseases that are transmitted through water and certain insects. Sanitation has helped reduce cholera, typhus, typhoid and even bubonic plague.

    Does the pediatric vaccine schedule in the USA include vaccines for those diseases?

    (By the way, I was born overseas and my pediatric vaccine schedule included typhus, typhoid and yellow fever… the schedule did have a place for cholera, but it was never used!)

  44. #44 DLC
    November 8, 2009

    There is a strong movement afoot among the worried wealthy to “get back to nature”. People romanticize about going “back to the good old days” all the time. For most of them its just a desire to return to their childhood. For some, like the referenced commenter, they wish to return to pre-technology times, when they didn’t have the choice of 7 varieties of rice at the grocery, or have to worry about “western medicine” because it didn’t exist yet. Most of them realize it is a fool’s wish, and when pressed, accept that no, they really wouldn’t want to live without technology after all.
    Some are even self-deluded enough to believe they really do want to live without technology and without science. Now, if only they would move to some remote locale where they could have what they want without dragging the rest of us down with them. They would die off in a few years and relieve the surplus population.

  45. #45 Nomen Nescio
    November 8, 2009

    @daedalus2u, #25: sure, if you consider rampant infant mortality to be birth control, and deliberate infanticide to be family planning. that is in fact how some primitive societies control their numbers to this day.

    those old stories we can read about how the ancient Romans decided to expose infants they didn’t want to raise? that was how pretty much the entire species did things up until cultural values shifted enough to make the practice unacceptable, what with the rise of christianity. (that wasn’t the first time that cultural mores had made infanticide taboo — ancient Egypt was famous for it — but it may have been the first time such a taboo became so dominant, influencing the lives of so many people.)

  46. #46 Phoenix Woman
    November 8, 2009

    Which would obviously be why all those paleolithic and neolithic burial sites are full of babies, children and people in their 40s. Because they lived such happy, healthy lives, right? :-/

    I got to see skeletons excavated from a neolithic site, once; rickets, lesions in jaw bones from tooth infections, one very badly healed broken arm, and in every one damage from parasites. Yay.

    Yup. I’ve yet to hear of any skeletons of eighty-year-olds found in these sites.

    And yes, if sanitation was all it took to stop polio, then rich Twentieth Century Americans like FDR would never have caught it.

    Furthermore, as Historypunk has pointed out, life for troops in George Washington’s army wasn’t exactly sanitary — yet once they started getting inoculated against smallpox, the rate of pox dropped dramatically.

  47. #47 Phoenix Woman
    November 8, 2009

    If most humans didn’t live past 40 50,000 years ago, why do all women who go through menarche also go through menopause at 55?

    Actually, there is evidence to suggest that, for Western women at least, fertility started later in life and ended sooner in life than it does now: http://www.webmd.com/menopause/news/20031114/age-of-menopause-getting-later

  48. #48 Jennifer B. Phillips
    November 8, 2009

    Here’s an interesting write up of a study in human evolution that considers the cost/benefit of establishing an optimal age for menopause:
    http://primatediaries.blogspot.com/2007/09/evolution-of-menopause.html

    Sorry if my initial response to Jonathan was flippant. I honestly didn’t know what he was asking, and the question as posed seemed to posit some effect of the male lifespan on the female reproductive cycle. My bad. It’s definitely an interesting subject. I’d love it if Dr. Amy were to do an SBM post about this at some point.

  49. #49 OurSally
    November 9, 2009

    >I thought the common knowledge had evolved to thinking that pre-agricultural societies were actually healthier than later ones, because they had a more balanced diet and fewer infectious diseases.

    The main causes of death among hunter gatherers are still murder, childbirth and starvation. Among pygmies (I know, you spell it with an ! now), superfluous babies and seniors are left out for the jackals to eat.

  50. #50 not a gator
    November 9, 2009

    1.
    Nomen nescio, I’d be interested in just how Christianity decreased infanticide by exposure. There’s quite a bit of it going on in the US today, even though it is quite illegal here. The perps are typically very young women who had unwanted pregnancies. If anything, Christianity makes these unwanted pregnancies more prevalent…

    No, I think infanticide is seen as evil because of moral inflation which occurs as standards of living and life expectancy rise. What a prior generation might have seen as “the way things are” becomes a horror to a more comfortable, affluent generation. “Each child as special” is a meme that can only exist when households have very few children.

    2.
    It would be a horrible mistake to assume that vaccine refusers are the ignorant poor. The poor are the reason that doctors push multiple vaccines at once, running roughshod over parents. This is because they “can’t be trusted” to continue returning for prenatal care. (Because of their jobs/lack of transportation/barriers to receiving care.) Middle class parents of course are insulted by and resist this monolithic and authoritarian standard of care and so begin refusing vaccines simply because they do not think they or their child should be “forced” to do anything. The herd immunity argument only brings out the resistance more.

    Wakefield and so on then come in for the really evil act II, providing a rationalization for the middle class parent’s inchoate emotions, taking the grumblers to outright resisters, leading to the outbreak of what should have been preventable, often deadly disease. Therefore it is very important to impress upon these generally well-informed people just how dangerous measles, pertussis, etc, are, and make it clear to them that low vaccination rates will end up signing the death warrant of those children who don’t develop immunity from the vaccine. These facts should be hammered again and again until they stick.

    Let’s face it, the middle class is a bourgeois, and the bourgeois are inclined to be piggish. If Mommy Oinks gets it through her noggin that little Skyler could DIE if enough kids at the school aren’t vaccinated, your vaccine refusenik will become a vaccine crusader.

    3.
    Toxins. A favorite Boomer woo. It’s not hard to see how they acquired these beliefs, what with the fact that they grew up being exposed to really toxic shit (lead in the gasoline! Carbona! cyclamates!) promoted as being the awesome wonders of science. They’re a little skeptical now. And it only takes a little dash of lazy thinking to accept the idiotic idea that bodyfat comes from toxins in the environment settling in your body rather than from eating too much. Cut out the coffee cake AND the coffee enema, and maybe you’ll get somewhere. That woo about detox-spas-cleanses-whatever is getting really nauseating–we need some faked ford pickup fire tv journalism about deaths from chelation and coffee enemas. Now THAT’s infotainment!

    4.
    Part of the reason the elites believe woo woo is that they have liberal arts degrees. In HS and college they aren’t required to learn much if any science. It involves math, which liberal arts majors are allergic to, and since nobody is making them do it … well … so much for being part of the reality-based community. Instead, they study the “history of ideas” and “western canon” where they spend valuable classroom hours on stupid, discredited ideas about physics, physiology, psychology, social science, and so on. Proper medical science exists only as a thread until about 150 years and most of the major advances within the last 50 years, so naturally none of this is known to any of the deep thinkers they are supposed to study and regurgitate in detail. Even if they study “moderns” like WEB DuBois and Sartre their view of human nature is either purely political or involves Freud/Jung-influenced I-pulled-this-out-of-my-ass-after-smoking-hash attempts at understanding human nature/psychology. Your typical liberal arts major leaves school with the impression that thinking deeply about something in the coffee house will result in profound insights that will change the world. They have a passing familiarity with logical fallacies–from a rhetorical point of view–but no notion as to how one sets out to construct and test a hypothesis in order to advance human knowledge. The medical, neurological, and evo-devo advances in our understanding of human behavior, the origin of morals, and decision-making are completely unknown to them. Heck, the germ theory of disease is just an “idea” which can be tossed out in a passing fancy, just as one might discard Hobbes for Rousseau.

    I once talked to this “deep” musician dude who had so little practical knowledge that he didn’t understand the mathematical relationship between string or tube length, frequency, and pitch. He kept saying “wow” to 9th grade physics. A grown man!

    Oh, and although Galen is in the Western Canon, I don’t think he’s much read outside pre-med majors. It’s much more likely that a liberal arts major has wasted a severe number of braincells on Descartes (and I don’t mean his valuable contributions to mathematics). When really, those brain cells were much better wasted on beer. *g*

    Many of these people go on to be journalists and other “elites”. They think they are well-educated because they’re well edjumacated with all the wrong, muddled, misleading, and misogynistic drivel that’s been sold as pure gold by some men in muu muus and silly hats over the centuries. In fact, today the putrid stench of these rotted old theories is so bad that the prof often affects the pose of criticizing the dreck, but when you’re knee-deep in shit it not only gets in your clothes but little flecks of it land in your nostrils… I naively took one of these classes and found myself trying to explain a simple point of mathematics to the prof when he was expounding on Alexander Pope and the ladder of creation. Of course Mr. Prof thought the idea was absurd–truly! But he himself was a giant ignoramus who could not comprehend the difference between a finite number and an infinite number, something any 12-year-old school child could explain. Er, that is, had they read “1, 2, 3, Infinity…” by George Gamow, and I will have you know that a goodly number of 12-year-olds with mathematically, technically, or scientifically minded parents have!

    Is there no value in this old stuff? Well, sure there is, that’s why we have professional historians, but it’s idiotic to waste millions of young minds on hours upon hours of muck while not exposing them to the best our science has produced. Even allegedly “scientific” majors do a cruddy job… in 1997 when I was in college I was subjected to Psych majors doing “subliminal message” experiments with the classic “flashing word” crap they picked up from some movie. IT DOESN’T WORK. It doesn’t even have anything to do with the original definition of subliminal messages. IT’S PLAIN STUPID. Why not teach them all how to make their own home dowsing kit? Honestly.

  51. #51 Gus Snarp
    November 9, 2009

    I have seen a lot of stupid and a lot of crazy in blog comments elsewhere, but your trolls take the cake. I have also learned (for the 23rd time) the folly of feeding the trolls. This time I promise not to do it again.

  52. #52 Arren
    November 9, 2009
    @ not a gator

    Sadly, I agree with much of what you wrote. However:

    Many of these people go on to be journalists and other “elites”.

    You have your scare-quotes transposed in this statement — “journalists” such as the talking-heads that comprise the mainstream commentariat* certainly deserve to be lumped into the derisive category you’ve constructed.

    In contrast, actual journalists — whether the product of your hated liberal arts curricula or otherwise — perform a literally vital (and largely thankless) task in society, and some of them even demonstrate a firm grasp of logic and the rudiments of the scientific method.

    Baby ≠ bathwater.

    * And are themselves part of the elite, regardless of the demographics of the brands they respectively represent.

    [N.B. I am not a journalist, nor is anyone in my immediate family.]

  53. #53 Luna_the_cat
    November 9, 2009

    Gee whiz, not a gator, don’t hold back; tell us what you REALLY think. ;-)

    You left something out, though. While all of that may have some degree of truth, you forgot about the elephant in the room, which has been noted by other people, most wonderfully by Susannah: personal experience influencing perception of risk.

    FWIW, my sister has been a family practice doctor for, um, decades now, and we were just having this conversation in September. Her experience has been that the poor, and the immigrant populations, which her clinic serves have been very, very keen to have their kids vaccinated, often because they have witnessed (or have first-hand experience) of serious infectious disease. On the other hand, her yuppie-middle-class white-bread moms grew up without ever witnessing measles, or mumps, or whooping cough, or polio, and these are the people who probably didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to their own parents’ stories. So to them, these diseases are distant, not scary, and the only personal-experience guage they have to judge them by would be their own childhood coughs and colds, so hey, not that bad, right? But pollution, and the parents’ nightmare of having a special needs kid, THAT they can relate to.

    It’s like, in the absence of common experience of truly life-threatening dangers, they take the little dangers they have experience with and inflate them to fill the available space and assign them a far higher probability and then work to find some scary causes. Sometimes I wonder if it is simply part of being normal to have a certain amount of being scared in your life, and if you don’t have the experience or knowledge to grasp the real big issues you just invent some out of imagination.

    On another level, the abysmal level of science education in the general public, the unwillingness to evaluate evidence according to rational standards as opposed to emotive ones, and the culturally hyperinflated cult of emotion being way more acceptable to people than “cold, arrogant ‘rational’ elites” certainly feeds into poor decision making.

  54. #54 attack_laurel
    November 9, 2009

    My mother, who is in her 80s, liked to tell people who talked about “the good old days” of natural medicine about her brother, who died at 9 of amoebic dysentery, and seeing wards full of children and adults in iron lungs, thanks to polio.

    I remember as a kid in the ’70s, the number of special schools that existed for children who had become deaf or blind because of HIB. I also remember the real fear my mother had when we got various at the time inevitable childhood diseases – I got chicken pox, measles, and mumps, my brother got whooping cough, measles, and chicken pox, and my sister, who was slightly immune compromised, had to be kept isolated (which was tough because she was special needs, and couldn’t understand why she couldn’t be with us).

    My mother says that being able to get the polio vaccine for all three of us was *amazing*, and wonderful, and that she could look forward to us growing up.

    She also thinks anti-vaxxers are *insane*. I think their stupidity has not hurt them yet, and when it does, they’ll change their minds pronto.

  55. #55 Caravelle
    November 9, 2009

    OurSally : The main causes of death among hunter gatherers are still murder, childbirth and starvation.

    None of which are diseases, and two of which can happen to healthy people so that doesn’t say anything about the relative health of hunter-gatherers vs agricultural societies.

    Btw, just to clarify in case someone misunderstood, “healthier than later [agricultural societies]” doesn’t mean “healthier than modern industrial societies”. It might mean “healthier than 1500 London” which, you know, not such a high bar apparently.

    Anyway, my main source for that idea is Jared Diamond, is he wrong on this one ?

  56. #56 Mr. B
    November 9, 2009

    I once talked to this “deep” musician dude who had so little practical knowledge that he didn’t understand the mathematical relationship between string or tube length, frequency, and pitch. He kept saying “wow” to 9th grade physics. A grown man!

    There might be something more to your statement, but speaking as a musician myself, you don’t need to know the relationship between string/tube length, frequency, and pitch to be able to play; you don’t even need to know theory to play, which is far more practical. (Doesn’t hurt, though.) This doesn’t exactly seem like a useful example, especially given your derisive “9th grade physics” comment (many schools don’t offer any sort of physics to lower grades, if they offer it at all).

  57. #57 DebinOz
    November 9, 2009

    My antecedents (and I am in my 50s) suffered and sometimes died from polio, mumps, measles, and various unidentified childhood ‘infections’. I still have living relatives who survived the polio epidemics in Australia, and tell stories of living in fear of when and where this disease would strike next.

    My lovely family GP tears her hair out with distraction over dealing with the ‘worried well’: going berserk trying to find the best medication that won’t conflict with the ‘natural’ crap her patients insist on taking.

    Can we please find some unoccupied island where these cranks can go and live, as long as there is a cafe that can provide the perfect latte and designer drapes? Grrrr

  58. #58 wheatdogg
    November 9, 2009

    If people did a little research into their own family history, they could find some pretty unhappy news about the “good old days.” For instance, my mother’s mother died when Mom was 6 months old, probably of TB, in 1915. Hy great-grandmother on my father’s side died when my grandfather was barely 2 years old, perhaps from an infection. His step-mother gave birth to nine children; only four survived to adulthood. Two had died before age one. That was all before 1880.

    My father’s elder brother went swimming one day at age 32, got some kind of infection and died a few weeks later. That was in the 1930s. My dad had scarlet fever as a child, which left him with a heart murmur. It kept him out of combat in WWII, but contributed to his eventual death at age 76 after his second heart valve replacement.

    Every family has these stories, even, as we know, the New York Roosevelts. What we need is more “old folks” reminding us of how bad the “good old days” really were.

  59. #59 James Sweet
    November 9, 2009

    If most humans didn’t live past 40 50,000 years ago, why do all women who go through menarche also go through menopause at 55?

    The question answers itself. If a gene is living in a survival machine (body) that typically does live past 55 years, then if that gene brings about menopause, it would be maladaptive and would be (eventually) selected out of the population. However, if the survival machine the gene is living in typically dies before then, then the menopausal nature of it is no longer maladaptive — it can proliferate throughout the population if it causes, as part of the tradeoff, even a modest improvement in reproductive success during the first 40 years of life.

    In fact, due to genetic drift, it would be possible for a gene that caused menopause at 55 and had absolutely no adaptive effects to proliferate throughout the population. It has been shown that these sorts of “neutral” genes can indeed accumulate and even become dominant in a population to due to the messiness of the selection process.

    So yeah, the question answers itself. Menopause-at-55 was able to evolve only because female humans usually died before then. If they didn’t, it would have been maladaptive and would have been selected out.

    (And in fact, there is some evidence — very preliminary evidence, so don’t take this as gospel — that genes which defer the age of menopause are being selected for, since now those confer a reproductive advantage that they did not previously in history.)

  60. #60 Natalie
    November 9, 2009

    Chris @ 43 and everyone discussing sanitation vs. vaccines – my partner took a course recently taught in the engineering department. The engineers very much like to take credit for reducing disease by developing sanitation systems. As Chris said, they are probably right in regards to certain diseases, mainly those transmitted by contact with feces. I suspect that the anti-vaxxers, given their incredibly poor understanding of diseases, don’t have any idea that the benefits conferred by city planning and the benefits conferred by vaccination barely overlap.

    And not a gator – get over yourself. I have a liberal arts degree (US History) and I’m familiar with basic scientific concepts and critical thinking. I suspect that those who had no interest in critical thinking in the first place actively avoid it during their college years. Most of those liberal arts majors never end up working in their field, so they don’t exactly have to master actual research, analysis, or theory.

  61. #61 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    November 9, 2009

    Does anybody even remember whooping cough now?

    Some are starting to know about it all over again.

  62. #62 Nomen Nescio
    November 9, 2009

    @#50:

    I’d be interested in just how Christianity decreased infanticide by exposure. There’s quite a bit of it going on in the US today, even though it is quite illegal here.

    at levels comparable to what you’d see when (1) it is a socially accepted way of choosing which children to raise and which not, while (2) there exist no reasonably effective methods of birth control, and (3) no effective social safety net to take on unwanted infants and raise them in your stead? i would be extremely surprised to find the numbers remotely similar. in fact, that claim seems so extraordinary to me that i’ll have to ask you for some evidence.

    as for how christianity reduced infanticide, the religion made murder a crime (in most cases) even as it rose to become politically dominant all over Europe and somewhat beyond. it enforced its dogma relatively strictly, while at the same time ensuring that dogma would be preached as the only morally acceptable way to live, making living in abject poverty with however many infants you could manage to keep alive be considered a virtue of sorts.

    pre-christian cultures viewed things rather differently; in them, the majority of people might still suffer abject poverty, but they usually weren’t threatened with hellfire everlasting (and execution more immediate) for abandoning an infant to die. christianity, by and large, was successful in convincing people they would indeed burn in hell for such acts.

    The perps are typically very young women who had unwanted pregnancies.

    when we speak of “unwanted pregnancies” today, it carries inescapably the undertone of “could have been averted”. when discussing societies of more than one or two centuries in the past — or far enough out into the third world, even today — a pregnancy might still be/have been unwanted, but the connotation of preventability just isn’t there in any comparable fashion. that means the social stigma attached to the events, and to what one might do in response to such events, are not easily compared.

    I think infanticide is seen as evil because of moral inflation which occurs as standards of living and life expectancy rise.

    if this were true, infanticide ought to have been more acceptable in western Europe during the high middle ages than during antiquity and late antiquity. that should be possible to provide evidence for, and the claim is extraordinary enough that i feel justified in asking you for some.

  63. #63 Joseph
    November 9, 2009

    Would someone care to explain HOW eating a healthy diet is enough to stop the spread of infectious diseases, exactly?

    The argument is not that a healthy diet will prevent the spread of disease a whole lot, but once you get the disease, you might be better able to survive it. So it could presumably have some effect in mortality figures, although I don’t believe this has been measured.

    I guess another argument might be that you don’t get a severe enough case of the disease, so it might not be recorded in hospital admission stats.

    Measles, though, had a very stable incidence between 1912 and 1965. This begs the question as to why the great improvements in sanitation and diet didn’t have an impact in the spread of the disease and the number of known cases.

    Mortality from measles did drop considerably at the same time. The simplest explanation, in my view, is that medical advances other than vaccination are responsible for this. That is, of those who were hospitalized, fewer died.

  64. #64 daedalus2u
    November 9, 2009

    I think the idea of menopause as a “feature” added to a default female without menopause is misguided. To me is seems much more likely that as humans evolved a long life (i.e. the delayed senescence of all organ systems), the delayed senescence of the female reproductive system didn’t provide enough of a reproductive advantage for it to be selected for.

    Prolonging life, the delayed senescence of all organ systems, has to be more difficult than the delayed senescence of a single organ system (female reproduction).

  65. #65 Pablo
    November 9, 2009

    Instead of talking about the gene that “causes menopause at 55″, shouldn’t we be talking about the gene that causes fertility until about the age 55?

    Instead of thinking of menopause as some new condition, think of it as the _return_ to the infertile condition with which we are born (pre-puberty). So instead of asking “What causes menopause at 55?” the question is, “Why does fertility only last until 55?” In that context, it is trivially obvious: because most women were dead by then.

    Why did women’s body evolve to only be fertile until they were 55? Because they didn’t need to be fertile beyond that.

    Remember, menopause is the not onset of something, it is the cessation of it.

  66. #66 Nico
    November 9, 2009

    my sister’s a rabid anti vaxxer, despite growing up in the same years I did (younger by 3) and yet, she doesn’t recall the HiB outbreaks, the whooping cough, mumps and chicken pox that went through our communities as recent as 20 years ago.

    She has no clue just how serious these can be, but she herself was vaccinated.

    I don’t know how to explain to her why it’s important that her son get these shots, but she’s convinced all science is gonna get us, fueled by the cult of celebrity non vaxers.

    Meanwhile everyone around her is scrambling to get seasonal flu shots. So in essence, we’re protecting her empty head and she doesn’t know it.

    If someone could please tell me how to explain this to someone with a jr high level grasp of science, I’d sure love it.

  67. #67 Luna_the_cat
    November 9, 2009

    pablo: I don’t think that works, because the majority of mammals are in fact fertile right up to the point they die, including most of our closest primate relatives; I think something that turns off female fertility *before* senescence is an addition.

    And, the fact that *most* people died before they were 50 didn’t mean that absolutely everyone did. In fact, even if 10% of the population made it to 50 and above, there is a good chance that they made a significant contribution, not just to collective knowledge for the group but also possibly to child care. While I am hardly a fan of the whole “return to the ways of your forebearers” crowd, I don’t actually think it’s legitimate to pass off the whole “grandmother effect” as entirely an artifact or accident either.

  68. #68 Denice Walter
    November 9, 2009

    @ wheatdogg: Yes! Last week (@PalMD’s place), I commented that we might use *personal* stories from elders and *emotional* stories about present-day higher-risk people as a way to combat woo.From my own family history:c. 1900, my grandmother had to live with her aunt in NYC, because her mother, upstate,had TB and eventually died;my *other* grandmother lost a young child to influenza in 1918; my father’s sister died of infection following appendectomy;my maternal aunt lived with heart valve damage, following (probably)scarlet fever-her son and daughter sustained similar(albeit milder) damage.All of these people were/are at least middle-class and reasonably well-educated for their time.

  69. #69 Pablo
    November 9, 2009

    I don’t think that works, because the majority of mammals are in fact fertile right up to the point they die, including most of our closest primate relatives

    But that’s exactly the point!!!!!

    The only reason we aren’t fertile up until we die is because we have developed means that extend our life expectancy well-beyond what it was naturally. We USED to be fertile right up the point where we died, or most did, but now we live much longer.

    Those primate relatives of ours are living, what, into their 30s? That’s what nature was working with, and it granted us fertility long past that time. We are still outliving it.

    Nature equips human women with 40some years worth of eggs in their ovaries. Historically, that was enough. Nowadays, it isn’t.

  70. #70 Luna_the_cat
    November 9, 2009

    Well, no — chimps can live into their 50s too — but even though most of them don’t, of those that do, they stay fertile the whole way, even after they enter senescence. The key issue is senescence. Human fertility stops before senescence, the only mammalian species I can think of off the top of my head where that happens. And there is a whole heck of a lot more going on in menopause than just “running out of eggs”!!! In fact, we DON’T run out of eggs — we still have plenty of eggs, way more than will mature in a lifetime — but hormone production goes through this whole shift-and-shutdown in a way which means we won’t use them any more. That is different; it is not unreasonable to ask why we do that.

  71. #71 freud vs. jung
    November 9, 2009

    @ not a gator

    Speaking as a professional musician (and former liberal arts major), I just want to say that we’re not all woo-drinkers. Beer drinkers, yes.

    And whenever bandmates get all “whoa, man, like, the universe…” on me, I make them watch stuff like this.

    That’s right, blow their minds with science.

  72. #72 Susie Q
    November 9, 2009

    Let’s just get this straight …

    In order to remain ‘healthy’, we should:

    - Inject ourselves with mercury and aluminum.
    - Inject ourselves with multiple live viruses at one time.
    - Inject our healthy babies with the Hep B vaccine (unnecessary) when they are hours old.

    Really? Ok, Orac… Whatever you say…. Too bad that only leads to more autism, food allergies and autoimmune diseases. Way to go!

  73. #73 Travis
    November 9, 2009

    I have no idea about this Hep B vaccine Susie Q, so I hope some others will respond to that. I have no idea if it is unneeded but you give no reason for me to think it is.

    But my main problem is your first and second point. You act as though it is obvious both of those are actually bad, that they are obviously bad things, when it is not at all obvious that the amounts and forms of mercury or aluminum in vaccines are actually harmful. Especially considering the lack of evidence that they are a problem.

  74. #74 Sid Offit
    November 9, 2009

    May I make a suggestion? ….wash your hands, exercise, eat well, live healthy, & fight off bacteria and viruses the old fashion way (like humans have done for 50,000 years.)

    Yeah, because that worked so well, say…350 years ago.
    ————————-
    Orac, the London of the 17th and 18th centuries was not a world of organic farmers markets and 24 hour fitness centers. Let’s see how Dickens describes life in a typical London slum:

    rooms so small, so filthy, so confined, that the air would seem to be too tainted even for the dirt and squalor which they shelter; dirt-besmeared walls and decaying foundations, every repulsive lineament of poverty, every loathsome indication of filth, rot, and garbage: all these ornament the banks of Jacob’s Island.
    ——————————-
    As for prehistoric humans 50,000 years ago, it was uncommon for them to live past age 40.

    So, yeah, it would be a really good thing to go back to how we “kept microbes at bay” 50,000 years ago. That worked so well, didn’t it
    ———————————
    Microbes probably weren’t much of a problem pre-neolithic revolution, so I don’t know where the 50,000 years comes in.

    Anyway, just out of curiosity, and I’m not disagreeing with the number, but does anyone have any good data regarding the widespread belief that cavemen lived to twenty. After all the bible speaks of some who lived as long as 900 years.

  75. #75 Susie Q
    November 9, 2009

    “I have no idea about this Hep B vaccine Susie Q, so I hope some others will respond to that”.

    I’m sure that some here – perhaps even you – will go ape-sh*t over my next comment but here it goes…

    Then go do some homework. Study up. Clearly, you have no clue what is going on.

    Due to your ignorance on an important point, I must ignore the balance of your commentary. You have proven that you don’t know much (if anything) about the vaccine controversy… therefore, it’s a waste of time to discuss the issue with you.

  76. #76 Pablo
    November 9, 2009

    In order to remain ‘healthy’, we should:

    - Inject ourselves with mercury and aluminum.
    - Inject ourselves with multiple live viruses at one time.
    - Inject our healthy babies with the Hep B vaccine (unnecessary) when they are hours old.

    Really?

    Sure, why not? Can you provide any actual reason to doubt it? Aside from blatent assertions (hint: if you can find an ACTUAL connection between vaccines and autism, you will be the first to do so)

    (let me just note, you discount Travis for not knowing the Heb B story (I know very well what you are implying, but I also know why it is irrelevant), but you know what they say about glass houses; your mention of “aluminum” tells ME that you have no clue what is going on (calling aluminum oxide aluminum makes about as much sense as calling table salt chlorine))

    We put a lot of stuff in our body that doesn’t sound good when you consider their technical names, but are essential for good health. Tactics of “ooooo, evil chemicals” don’t scare people who know what’s going on. Got something useful to contribute?

  77. #77 JohnV
    November 9, 2009

    @Sid Offit

    “Microbes probably weren’t much of a problem pre-neolithic revolution”

    Let me preface this by saying that I’m asking out of ignorance on the topic. Is there any reasonable suggestion that environmentally acquired pathogens weren’t an issue prior to agriculture?

    Again, with no particular evidence to back it up, I can kind of convince myself that some/many/most/a few transmissible diseases wouldn’t really gain much traction prior to a population settling down. But the number of diseases that manifest after dirt gets in a cut, for example, would be an issue up until “modern” medicine.

    This of course is based on my … chronocentric … assumption that up until about 30 years ago humans wandered around forests naked getting cuts and scrapes :P

  78. #78 Susie Q.
    November 9, 2009

    “Sure, why not”?

    LOL! Sure, why not inject yourself with mercury and aluminum – it’s perfectly safe!

    ps. Except it isn’t… There are even what you would call “peer reviewed science in respectable journals” which shows us that. Have you missed them?

  79. #79 Dedj
    November 9, 2009

    The question of whether the Hep B is unneccesary in neonates is a unconnected question to the validity of vaccines overall.

    One can easily think a vaccine is not worth the cost, yet still support vaccination. It’s exactly because of this cost/benefit analysis that public health care systems don’t always offer the full range of vaccines as standard.

    So, sorry Susie Q, you don’t get to dismiss concerns with your non-arguement just because the person is deferring (correctly I might add) to people who know more on one – just one, not all – of the specifics.

  80. #80 Sid Offit
    November 9, 2009

    Chris

    Polio has already been pointed out with a link to a very good history (short story, sanitation delayed infection with polio virus to a point past when it was still mild… before sanitation most babies were infected and they were not so very infected).
    ————————–
    I’m always amused when someone brings up the cleanliness theory of polio. How would you explain the fact that:

    “Polio cases appeared in both overcrowded slums and sparsely populated suburbs.”[Dirt and Disease P15]

  81. #81 JohnV
    November 9, 2009

    “Have you missed them?”

    Why not provide us with a couple of citations, then? 2 will do, as 3+ links will get the post in spam purgatory.

  82. #82 Joseph
    November 9, 2009

    Anyway, just out of curiosity, and I’m not disagreeing with the number, but does anyone have any good data regarding the widespread belief that cavemen lived to twenty.

    They can tell by looking at burial sites, and determining likely age at death from the bones.

    After all the bible speaks of some who lived as long as 900 years.

    It’s good to know what you consider data, Sid.

  83. #83 Sid Offit
    November 9, 2009

    JohnV

    Is there any reasonable suggestion that environmentally acquired pathogens weren’t an issue prior to agriculture?

    Jared Diamond summarizes it like this
    ———————————

    the mere fact that agriculture encouraged people to clump together in crowded societies, many of which then carried on trade with other crowded societies, led to the spread of parasites and infectious disease. (Some archaeologists think it was the crowding, rather than agriculture, that promoted disease, but this is a chicken-and-egg argument, because crowding encourages agriculture and vice versa.) Epidemics couldn’t take hold when populations were scattered in small bands that constantly shifted camp. Tuberculosis and diarrheal disease had to await the rise of farming, measles and bubonic plague the appearance of large cities
    ————
    One can also look to the need to treat farmed animals with antibiotics due to their dirty and crowded living conditions

  84. #84 Dedj
    November 9, 2009

    “Have you missed them?”

    There’s peer reviewed journals that show that the mercury and aluminium compounds used in vaccines carry an excess cost when injected in the pattern and volumes typically used in the vaccination schedule, in comparison to the risk from vaccine preventable infections?

    Reference them.

    You claim they exist, so reference them.

  85. #85 Todd W.
    November 9, 2009

    @Dedj

    Silly person. You want Susie Q to do your work for you? Just because she made the claim and is the only one that knows specifically to which studies she refers? Didn’t you know that you’re supposed to go out, find the studies, then either claim they don’t exist or that they actually contradict her claims? That way, she can say that you clearly did not look hard enough or that you found the wrong studies. How dare you actually ask her to back her own claims up and detract from her smug self-satisfaction.

    Silly, Dedj.

  86. #86 IBY
    November 9, 2009

    Hhmm… I think someone forgot how we humans owned the smallpox virus with a massive vaccination program.

  87. #87 Sid Offit
    November 9, 2009

    Susannah writes:

    TB was rampant. A relative died of it. “Galloping consumption”, we called it in those days; sometimes it took an apparently healthy person in a few short weeks.
    ——————————-
    Another disease wiped out without vaccination

  88. #88 Todd W.
    November 9, 2009

    @Sid Offit

    Another disease [TB] wiped out without vaccination

    Not exactly wiped out. Still rather a problem, actually, particularly as antibiotic strains are becoming more prevalent. And, there aren’t any really good vaccines for it. BCG is not particularly effective and it frequently results in recipients testing positive for TB when they are skin tested. Lots and lots of research is going on right now to figure out just how TB works, how to diagnose it earlier and more accurately and how to create a better vaccine.

  89. #89 Todd W.
    November 9, 2009

    proofreading fail: should be “antibiotic-resistant strains”

  90. #90 Sid Offit
    November 9, 2009

    So why isn’t it rampant? Improved living conditions perhaps?

  91. #91 JohnV
    November 9, 2009

    Sid,

    Right, I can understand that from a communicable disease perspective (not to say that the microbes themselves didn’t exist). But you’d still have environmentally acquired microbes, which Diamond’s quote doesn’t cover.

    Or the ever-present normal flora which are in part kept at bay by a functioning immune system.

    I guess my meandering and marginally on-topic point is that its not like prior to agriculture humans mostly didn’t need an immune system. Assuming that’s what brian, the original commenter, was referring to when he used 50,000 years as his example. It’s not like eating right is going to cause a wound contaminated with spores of Clostridium tetanii or C. perfringens from developing into a case of tetanus or gas gangrene, respectively.

    Even in the best of circumstances anyone (or anything) is pretty much constantly dealing with bacteria trying to use them as a growth substrate (the traditional 10:1 ratio of bacteria to human cells as cited in http://arjournals.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.mi.31.100177.000543 and I don’t have access to the article he sites yet).

    The fact that some intra-cellular pathogens are modeled using amoebae demonstrates that this battle has been going on for longer than mammals even existed.

  92. #92 Katharine
    November 9, 2009

    It’s rampant in Africa.

  93. #93 Luna_the_cat
    November 9, 2009

    TB was a major killer in my father’s family before my generation.

    Things that helped wipe it out in most places: better public sanitation and building code practices, the advent of modern antibiotics, and finally the BCG vaccine giving it just a bit more oomphhttp://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/BCG-Vaccination.htm , http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8309034 . TB rates were declining before the advent of the vaccine, but it was by no means vanished; and even an efficacy of 50% was enough to remove a lot of people out of TB’s possible vector, which meant it couldn’t travel through the population the same way. Fortunately, unlike measles (where even brief casual intersection with an infected person can be enough to trigger infection) TB is more usually transmitted through prolonged contact with an infected person. In practice this means that reducing the vector has a far better effect on lowering new infections.

    Plus, the vaccine is *very* efficacious against non-pulmonary TB. That would have saved my father’s mother, who was crippled by tuberculosis in her hip and spine.

  94. #94 Katharine
    November 9, 2009

    Whups. That didn’t contradict the point.

    Tuberculosis in the United States is, however, increasingly drug-resistant.

    http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/143089.php

  95. #95 Vicki
    November 9, 2009

    Sid Offitt:

    If you know as little about the other subjects you talk about as you do about TB, do everyone a favor and stop spreading rampant misinformation.

    TB has not been wiped out, alas. Not even in the United States, let alone in the whole world. Some numbers, from WHO as of 2007:

    An estimated 1.3 million deaths occurred among HIV-negative incident cases of TB (20 per 100 000 population) in 2007. There were an additional 456 000 deaths among incident TB cases who were HIV-positive; these deaths are classified as HIV deaths in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10).

    Part of why TB hasn’t been wiped out is that the vaccine isn’t very effective. Nonetheless, I’m glad to have been vaccinated.

    Another reason is that some strains of TB are now resistant to most of the available drugs. To avoid creating resistance, people have to keep taking their medicine even when they feel well. For TB, that can be a year of drug therapy, including months when the person feels well but is vulnerable to a relapse if they stop the medication.

    Opening your windows, regular exercise, and vitamins aren’t going to protect you from TB.

  96. #96 Luna_the_cat
    November 9, 2009

    Re. the TB vaccine, interestingly just found this:
    http://www.news-medical.net/news/2009/02/26/46307.aspx

  97. #97 Todd W.
    November 9, 2009

    TB is pretty rampant in much of the world, particularly Africa and Asia. Sanitation improvements most likely have had some impact, but I’d say that quarantining those infected has helped to reduce the spread, at least in the U.S., in addition to what others have said.

  98. #98 Susie Q.
    November 9, 2009

    “Reference them.

    You claim they exist, so reference them”.

    Actually, it’s more of a ‘can’t be bothered with you guys’ attitude. For fun though… google alzheimers and aluminum ;)

    Keep up the good work claiming that neurotoxins are good for you!

  99. #99 Luna_the_cat
    November 9, 2009

    Oh, good, now we have the dubious at best link between aluminum and alzheimer’s: “the new mercury”.

    Susie Q, if you “can’t be bothered with us”, why exactly are you here?

  100. #100 Dedj
    November 9, 2009

    “Keep up the good work claiming that neurotoxins are good for you! ”

    Not something I’ve claimed. Nor has anyone here. To suggest that anyone would is insulting to your intelligence. Yes, yours. To even indicate that you really believe that is what provaccine arguements state is to display your inability to understand the arguements regarding cost-versus-benefits regarding vaccines (and every other medication or nutracuetical, supplement or special diet).

    Lying about people, much less being dim enough to lie to the very people you’re lying about, is never a clever tactic. Please refrain from doing so again, or leave if you are unable to do so.

    I’m well aware of the purported link between Alzheimers and aluminium. Apart from being a irrelevant (I’d say you’re being deliberately avoidant as we both know you cannot answer the questions put to you) , the link is tenous and the supposed ‘risky’ levels are far, far in excess of that obtained through vaccines, even assuming a 100% absorbtion rate.

    If you can’t substantiate your opinions then fine. Just admit to it and we won’t laugh, we’ve had grade schoolers drop by before so we’re well used to people like you here.

  101. #101 Todd W.
    November 9, 2009

    @Luna_the_cat

    Clearly Susie Q is a devotee of Eris, Greek goddess of discord, sowing seeds of doubt among the lay readers. She makes an assertion and insists that other people look it up. That way, they find dubious information to reinforce unsubstantiated fears of vaccines. Panic ensues and golden apples rain down upon the faithful servant.

    Or maybe she’s just a Pharma shill working for the manufacturers of drugs that treat illnesses that are otherwise prevented by vaccines.

  102. #102 Travis
    November 9, 2009

    Oh, how else are we supposed to know she cannot be bothered with us unless she comes here and tells us? Gee, how hard is that to understand?

  103. #103 Luna_the_cat
    November 9, 2009

    Oh, pff. Silly me, I should have figured that out. Ta.

  104. #104 Susie Q.
    November 9, 2009

    The stupid it burns.

    Here on Orac’s blog… washing your hands, exercising, eating well and living healthy are all to be mocked and laughed at while injecting neurotoxins is the only way to health…

    Please check yourselves in to your local mental health facility.

  105. #105 Sid Offit
    November 9, 2009

    TB has not been wiped out, alas. Not even in the United States

    Yes your right. I was speaking figuratively. But TB is certainly no longer the number one cause of death in the US and Europe.
    —————–
    Vaccines and antibiotics were to late to account for the 90% drop in mortality that began in the 1850s in Europe. And I beg of you, stop bringing up Africa. The conditions there are unlike those in America. Finally as to the the BCG vaccine, we still don’t know if it even works [Vaccines 4th ed. p192

  106. #106 Todd W.
    November 9, 2009

    Last I checked, washing your hands, exercising, eating well…those are all supported by those here, as well as doctors in general as a part of standard medical advice.

    What is laughed at, however, is when someone waltzes in spewing various claims about “toxins” without providing a single shred of evidence to support those claims.

    Now, if a person were to come in, making claims, and actually providing citations to good sources to support those claims, they might be taken a bit more seriously.

    Done feeding the troll, now.

  107. #107 Pablo
    November 9, 2009

    Suzie Q is doing a great job at dodging anything direct. Oh sure, it’s easy to throw out things, but then when challenged, she conveniently changes the subject.

    Go back to the “there are peer-reviewed citations” showing the dangers of aluminum. Then, when asked to provide one, she tells us to Google? And then ignore anything else…

  108. #108 Militant Agnostic
    November 9, 2009

    The anti-vax trolls sure are a competitive lot as they vie for the coveted Idiotic Comment of the Week trophy.

    Sid Offit certainly has a contender with

    After all the bible speaks of some who lived as long as 900 years.

  109. #109 Phoenix Woman
    November 9, 2009

    Hey, antivaxers! Please keep posting, so we can show everyone how you twist and squirm and refuse to provide actual evidence for your claims. Each time you refuse to back up your claims, each time you try to change the subject with bogus distractions (such as the alleged but not even close to proved “link” between aluminum and Alzheimer’s) you hammer another nail into your cause’s coffin.

    And kudos to you doctors and scientists who patiently take the time to explain to those who know not of PubMed just how medical science actually works.

  110. #110 Luna_the_cat
    November 9, 2009

    Sid:
    Finally as to the the BCG vaccine, we still don’t know if it even works

    Don’t effing lie, eh?

    Have another study link:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8602127?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_SingleItemSupl.Pubmed_Discovery_RA&linkpos=3&log$=relatedarticles&logdbfrom=pubmed

    Have another — it’s got quite a good graph on p. 393:
    http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/documents/digitalasset/dh_104934.pdf

    Nobody here claimed it was perfect, or even that it is a particularly good vaccine, as vaccines go — but that it does work a good proportion of the time is beyond doubt, and we have evidence of its usefulness.

  111. #111 Vindaloo
    November 9, 2009

    Sid and SusieQ/M troll fail.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pyr6cHa6k4I

  112. #112 Jay Gordon, MD, FAAP
    November 9, 2009

    @Luna_the_cat:

    Finally as to the the BCG vaccine, we still don’t know if it even works

    Don’t effing lie, eh?

    Have another study link:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8602127?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_SingleItemSupl.Pubmed_Discovery_RA&linkpos=3&log$=relatedarticles&logdbfrom=pubmed

    Actually, Luna, the study above supports what Sid says 100%. Not 99%, but 100%. That’s one of the reasons we don’t use it in the USA.

    Strange post and cussing there, Luna.

  113. #113 Sid Offit
    November 9, 2009

    Luna

    Finally as to the the BCG vaccine, we still don’t know if it even works [Vaccines 4th ed. p192

    Take that up with Stanley Plotkin not me.

  114. #114 Scott
    November 9, 2009

    Well, Jay, since you’re so confident I’m sure you’ll have no problem explaining how

    two meta-analyses of the published results of BCG vaccine clinical trials and case-control studies confirmed that the protective efficacy of BCG for preventing serious forms of TB in children is high (i.e., > 80%)

    supports the claim that

    Finally as to the the BCG vaccine, we still don’t know if it even works

    Note in particular that Sid didn’t claim that data is insufficient in certain groups which the study does support. He made a BLANKET claim regarding efficacy.

    And you could certainly be able to explain how

    In the United States, the use of BCG vaccination as a TB prevention strategy is reserved for selected persons who meet specific criteria.

    is consistent with the claim that “we don’t use it in the USA.”

    Based on previous patterns of your ignoring inconvenient questions, though, I don’t really anticipate a response.

  115. #115 Luna_the_cat
    November 9, 2009

    Jay, perhaps you could explain how

    two meta-analyses of the published results of BCG vaccine clinical trials and case-control studies confirmed that the protective efficacy of BCG for preventing serious forms of TB in children is high (i.e., > 80%).

    somehow equals “Finally as to the the BCG vaccine, we still don’t know if it even works“?

    Because I am not following this “logic”.

    The fact that its efficacy is uncertain in some populations does NOT equal complete uncertainty, NOR does it mean it has not been useful — as evidenced by the recommendations for continuing use in pediatrics and healthcare workers in that very paper.

  116. #116 Luna_the_cat
    November 9, 2009

    Hah, snap.

  117. #117 Sid Offit
    November 9, 2009

    Luna

    Your own links state:

    The use of BCG vaccine has been limited because a) its effectiveness in preventing infectious forms of TB is uncertain

    and

    Studies of the effectiveness of BCG vaccine have given widely varying results, between countries and between studies, ranging from no protection to 70 to 80% protection

  118. #118 Phoenix Woman
    November 9, 2009

    Wow, are Jay and Stone Deaf Sid the same guy? They both seem to be like the Black Knight — they keep shouting “I’m invincible!” even as their arms and legs are being hacked off.

  119. #119 Luna_the_cat
    November 9, 2009

    Indeed, simply ignoring the bits that contradict them.

    Sid, it will take me a while to get hold of an edition of Vaccines, but I’m willing to make a substantial monetary bet that even your p.192 is savagely truncated and quote-mined, so as to leave out some vital information about efficacy.

  120. #120 Dedj
    November 9, 2009

    “Here on Orac’s blog… washing your hands, exercising, eating well and living healthy are all to be mocked and laughed at while injecting neurotoxins is the only way to health…”

    Please stop lying.

    As Todd indicated, these are all basics for here and in general healthcare where a lot of us – myself included – have worked. To pretend to know anything about this blog yet attribute a bizarre and stupid arguement to the posters here is to distort what the original discussion was about.

    The original discussion was about the claim that handwashing, healthy eating and regular exercise ONLY is better for you then modern medicine. The fallacy is twofold there. First is the assumption that modern medicine does not promote those things (it does, and several allied professions are dedicated to it as an ideal), second is the assumption that natural and synthetic are mutual opposites.

    No one here has claimed that neurotoxins are ‘the only way to health’ so you can shut up on that front too.

    My profession (an allied health profession) focuses on participation in constructive and meaningful activities. Hardly all about the neurotoxins.

    The more you lie about us, to us, the more desperate (and dumber) you make yourself look.

  121. #121 Susie Q.
    November 9, 2009

    “Sid and SusieQ/M troll fail”.

    Is it really trollish to point out the absurdity of Orac mocking hand washing, exercise, healthy eating, healthy living?

    Didn’t think so.

  122. #122 James Sweet
    November 9, 2009

    Here on Orac’s blog… washing your hands, exercising, eating well and living healthy are all to be mocked and laughed at

    I can’t believe you are even making this contention. Does Orac need to explicitly say that hand-washing is a good idea in addition to the vaccine, lest you fucking idiots fail to figure out that that is implied?!

    Crazy asshole: We should get rid of airbags and stick with good old-fashioned seatbelts.

    Non-crazy person: That comment is worthy of mockery and being laughed at. Airbags save lives.

    Susie Q.: Wow, that non-crazy person is mocking seatbelts. That’s absurd!

    ….sigh….

  123. #123 cicely
    November 9, 2009

    May I make a suggestion? ….wash your hands, exercise, eat well, live healthy, & fight off bacteria and viruses the old fashion way (like humans have done for 50,000 years.)

    Possibly the commenter holds with human ages of Biblical (Patriarchal) Proportions, while not going with the YEC 6000-odd year old Earth of Genesis? Only thing I can think of (apart from the obvious stupidity/ignorance explanations).

  124. #124 phantomreader42
    November 9, 2009

    Susie Q, it’s trollish to constantly lie through your teeth, even after you’ve been corrected. It’s also trollish to falsely claim to have evidence supporting your assertions, then refuse to provide it. It’s trollish to make false claims and demand other people prove you wrong, then continue repeating the same bullshit even after they’ve done so. In short, everything you’ve said here is trollish. So back under your bridge, troll.

  125. #125 Dedj
    November 9, 2009

    Until Susie Q actually provides us with the arguement she is trying to make, then we cannot answer it. This is, of course, deliberate, as then Susie Q can internally claim victory.

    Of course, if Susie does provide an incling of whatever the jizz it izz she is on about, it will inevitably be deliberatly convulated in explanation, poorly stated, badly referenced and other such sneaky tricks meaning none of us will have the time to rebut her properly, making it yet another cheap ‘victory’ for her.

    Is Susie Q honestly doesn’t see that there is one hell of a gap between the contradictory arguements “All of the recent increase in autism is down to vaccines” and “A subset of people with autism developed it because of a vaccine injury” when that is the ‘side’ she appears to have chosen, then she has one hell of a lot more issues to address than just lack of ability to provide references.

  126. #126 Scott
    November 9, 2009

    Your own links state:

    The use of BCG vaccine has been limited because a) its effectiveness in preventing infectious forms of TB is uncertain

    and

    Studies of the effectiveness of BCG vaccine have given widely varying results, between countries and between studies, ranging from no protection to 70 to 80% protection

    As to the first, marginally careful reading of the surrounding verbiage would make clear that it’s uncertain in particular populations, not overall.

    And the second is even more blatant, as the very next sentence after your quote is

    However, meta-analyses have shown the vaccine to be 70 to 80% effective against the most severe forms of the disease, such as TB meningitis in children

    Your cherry-picking is so blatant that the only possible reaction is *facepalm*.

  127. #127 ursa major
    November 9, 2009

    Posted by: Susie Q.

    “The stupid it burns.
    Here on Orac’s blog… washing your hands, exercising, eating well and living healthy are all to be mocked and laughed at while injecting neurotoxins is the only way to health…
    Please check yourselves in to your local mental health facility.”

    Susie, you are right, the stupid does burn and you are teh stoopid. You get 0% of your information right including that which you have just read. I am amazed you can even type. Oh, there I go with an unfounded assumption. Who types for you?

  128. #128 Susie Q.
    November 9, 2009

    Wow… You guys are nuts here! I can’t get over this place. No, seriously. Just attack, attack, attack. Those comments re: Desiree just show how evil some of you really are. It is actually pretty disturbing that there are some here who may actually be doctors … and you have this much hatred towards people? Wow. Just wow…

  129. #129 ursa major
    November 9, 2009

    Susie Q,

    Um, you came in here attacking with utter nonsense, you have refused to respond to the questions asked of you and what you advocate increases the incidence of disease and discomfort. Suffer from projection much?

    The evidence shows that the average non-troll here is a very funny, kind person. Much more so than you. It is a shame that you can’t see that.

  130. #130 Travis
    November 9, 2009

    I think we are supposed to be unquestioning and not hurt people’s feelings by saying why they are wrong, or that their arguments have flaws (or they have made no argument at all). Asking people to provide evidence is abuse!

  131. #131 Peter syms
    November 9, 2009

    Suzie, all I can think of when I read your writing is some bored middle age woman laughing to herself while posting because clearly the people posting articles and explaining their arguement are deluded by some neferious power that you are magically immune to. I liken it to a moneky in a tuxedo dancing on a piano. No matter how polished, it’s still an animal that hurls it’s feces for fun.

  132. #132 han
    November 9, 2009

    I’m calling shenanigans on Susie … I’m not buying her incredulous tone or her lone-voice-of-sanity-routine. I think she likely came here to deliberately be infuriating so she can generate responses that can be used out of context to prove what meanies we all are.

  133. #133 ursa major
    November 9, 2009

    @han

    True, Susie could be just a twit seeing how how much trouble she can stir up. I have met some who worked as hard at being irritating for the sake of …. whatever. However I have also met many whose reasoning and grasp of reality are equally poor. Then there are those who are both obtuse and deliberately annoying.

  134. #134 Daniel J. Andrews
    November 9, 2009

    Ditto han’s post. Maybe the SQ troll is just a bored person making “her” own fun. I suspect she doesn’t even believe what she says, but is just spouting nonsense trying to get immortalized in Orac’s dumb quote of the week.

  135. #135 Jennifer B. Phillips
    November 9, 2009

    I think Susie Q is an agent of DoctrinalFairness. SQ is more succinct and to the point, which is refreshing after the week we’ve put in with DF, but those flaming sacks of persecution she’s lobbing smell suspiciously familiar.

  136. #136 Sid Offit
    November 9, 2009

    @LunaScott

    However, meta-analyses have shown the vaccine to be 70 to 80% effective against the most severe forms of the disease, such as TB meningitis in children
    ————–
    So, in a small segment of the population (children), it’s efficacious against a manifestation of TB that affects only 15% of those contracting the disease. Hardly enough to make a blanket statement of overall efficacy against TB. Especially since your study doesn’t even claim efficacy against the bacterium – simply one of its manifestations.

  137. #137 Susie Q.
    November 9, 2009

    I worry about you guys spending so much time on this site. Some of you seem like bored old men with no life. Go study Star Trek or something equally important.

  138. #138 Chris
    November 9, 2009

    Wow, it is the “Get a life” argument. That is unoriginal!

    So, Miss SusieQ, can you tell me which is the more potent neurotoxin: tetanospasmin or alum ?

  139. #139 Dedj
    November 9, 2009

    Many of us are able to multitask.

    Maybe that boredom can be relieved with some journal articles? The ones you promised us existed? The ones you definetly, cross your heart and hope to die, definetly didn’t lie about?

    The ones you’re going to dig out and post?

    That’s right. We’re ‘sad old men’ yet look at who has nothing better to do but troll a blog they claim is ‘evil’.

  140. #140 Travis
    November 9, 2009

    Dedj, exactly, I can multitask. Currently I am reading a paper on multiple whole-genome alignments. I am learning something new and someday soon I hope to contribute something useful to science! (contribute again I mean, I do have some publications already).

    Writing on here takes very little of my time, reading this takes very little of my time. I just refresh once and a while, it takes maybe 5 minutes to write a reply and that is if it is a long one.

  141. #141 Dedj
    November 9, 2009

    Indeed, since the last comment, I’ve priced compared hobby ‘bitz’ across three websites, looked for hobby boxes, looked up and found the address of a local hobby shop, made other posts in other discussion boards, looked up facebook for tonights additions, listened to some music, made a sandwich, sorted out a tool box, tidied under the bed, put some rubbish away, gone toilet, organised tommorrows meal, seen someone post for the first time and get themselves banned on another site, looked up some christmas presents ,fed the hamsters and shuffled through some old journals.

    This response took three minutes from the second I read your response until now, whilst reading another website and another thread.

  142. #142 Pablo
    November 9, 2009

    I think Susie Q is an agent of DoctrinalFairness. SQ is more succinct and to the point, which is refreshing after the week we’ve put in with DF, but those flaming sacks of persecution she’s lobbing smell suspiciously familiar.

    That was very similar to my reaction to her “Do a Google search for alzheimers and aluminum” comment. I thought, hmmm, Google University, Suzie Q is kind of like Susan Chu…it’s DoctrinalFairness (aka Susan Chu)!!!!!!!

    But then I thought, wait – she actually said it without using 400 words. That can’t be DF…

  143. #143 amphiox
    November 9, 2009

    Sid Offit said: “Microbes probably weren’t much of a problem pre-neolithic revolution”

    That’s got to be a candidate for next week’s award.

    Particularly when the fact that paleolithic human remains are littered with evidence of microbial infestation was pointed out several times in comments on this very thread, well before that comment was posted.

  144. #144 Sid Offit
    November 9, 2009

    That’s funny – on so many levels.

    Are you basing your entire thesis – the one that says early man was decimated by rampant parasitic infection – on the recollections of a single person who, once upon at time, visited an ancient burial site on her summer vacation?
    ———————
    Luna says, “I got to see skeletons excavated from a Neolithic site”

    Sid says, “Microbes probably weren’t much of a problem Pre-Neolithic revolution”

    What’s the key differences between the two sentences? The prefix PRE. See her statement was about the Neolithic era. Mine was about, that’s right, the PRE-Neolithic era
    ——————

    was pointed out several times in comments on this very thread

    No. Luna was the only one. Sorry

  145. #145 Phoenix Woman
    November 10, 2009

    Well, no — chimps can live into their 50s too — but even though most of them don’t, of those that do, they stay fertile the whole way, even after they enter senescence. The key issue is senescence. Human fertility stops before senescence, the only mammalian species I can think of off the top of my head where that happens. And there is a whole heck of a lot more going on in menopause than just “running out of eggs”!!! In fact, we DON’T run out of eggs — we still have plenty of eggs, way more than will mature in a lifetime — but hormone production goes through this whole shift-and-shutdown in a way which means we won’t use them any more. That is different; it is not unreasonable to ask why we do that.

    One of my acquaintances, on taking her dog to the vet one day, was told that having litters shorten’s a dog’s life, and that this was so well known in the veterinary world there was actually a calculation for how many months were lost per litter. When she said something to the effect that it was odd that this didn’t happen with humans, the vet looked at her like she was the stupidest person in the world, then went on to say that this happened with humans, too — it was just that no doctor would ever openly talk about it for fear that no woman would ever want to have kids.

    Have any OB-Gyns reading this ever heard of such a thing? I never had.

  146. #146 Luna_the_cat
    November 10, 2009

    Well, let’s take a quick look at African diseases (and parasites, which often carry or cause diseases) with non-human reservoirs, which therefore do not rely on human population density to persist — and which could (and almost certainly did) affect PRE-neolithic populations:

    malaria
    yaws
    pinworm
    leptospirosis
    trichinosis
    tularemia
    trypanosomiasis
    sleeping sickness
    tetanus (!)
    salmonella
    staphylococcus (!)
    microbial blindness
    tuberculosis (given that it has multiple animal and avian reservoirs, it can still pass to scattered hunter-gatherer populations; and I believe that evidence of TB has actually been found in paleolithic remains)
    “scrub typhus”
    other water-borne protozoan illnesses

    …So even though diseases like smallpox, measles and mumps wouldn’t have made an appearance until after agriculture began and human density increased, with humans in constant full-time contact with domesticated animals, I think there would still have been plenty of infectious diseases available to kill people. Including a few of the more modern scourges.

  147. #147 Richard Eis
    November 10, 2009

    Considering how many people don’t wash their hands, eat well or live healthy i’d say that vaccines are therefore taking on a huge strain.

    Modern society is therefore clear proof that they work, otherwise we would be up to our armpits in disease from our unhealthy living.

  148. #148 Richard Eis
    November 10, 2009

    -What’s the key differences between the two sentences? The prefix PRE. See her statement was about the Neolithic era. Mine was about, that’s right, the PRE-Neolithic era-

    You mean there was time when all the viruses magically didn’t affect humans?

  149. #149 Luna_the_cat
    November 10, 2009

    …sorry,
    trypanosomiasis
    sleeping sickness
    was supposed to be
    trypanosomiasis/sleeping sickness
    …sleeping sickness IS a trypanosomic disease, after all.

    Richard Eis: it is true that a lot of viral diseases didn’t take hold in human populations until the advent of agriculture, because they needed a certain density of population to sustain them. However, to argue as Sid and Jay seem to be doing that humans didn’t have to worry about communicable disease then is disingenuous on a couple of counts:
    1. Protection against those diseases did indeed rely on the fact that human populations were small and scattered, not on ANY intrinsic health or hygeine of said populations (i.e. “eat healthy and wash” were not what protected humans against these diseases — and besides, how many hunter-gatherer populations do they know of who regularly wash their hands?)
    and
    2. It’s not like we are ever going to go back to those conditions again anyway, so we damned well better have more ways of dealing with diseases which enjoy settled populations.

  150. #150 Luna_the_cat
    November 10, 2009

    As for more evidence of parasites and parasitic diseases, there is this and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11345321?dopt=Abstract — studies indicate that tapeworm originated in humans, and were then passed to domesticated animals after the advent of agriculture.

    There’s also plenty of evidence of paleolithic head and body lice, roundworm and whipworm, but too many links trip the spam-hold. Google it.

    So, a great deal more evidence for parasitism out there than just my “summer vacation”, ya know. If you could ever bother to look up real information instead of just falling back on the old tried-and-true Sid strategy of “make shit up.”

  151. #151 JohnV
    November 10, 2009

    @Richard Eis

    “You mean there was time when all the viruses magically didn’t affect humans?”

    Or environmental microbes or the normal flora…

  152. #152 Richard Eis
    November 10, 2009

    Perhaps Sid is referring to that golden time when Adam was naming all the animals, nothing could die and T.Rex ate coconuts…before that nasty knowledge stuff got into our heads.

    (Luna, assume sarcasm from me when dealing with Sid unless indicated)

  153. #153 johannes9126
    November 10, 2009

    “Have any OB-Gyns reading this ever heard of such a thing? I never had.”

    Actually, the numbers stand against this hypothesis. Women with children seem to become older. However, getting kids before 20, getting them too close after another (<18 months) and getting more than 4 or 5 reduces the life expectancy.

  154. #154 Luna_the_cat
    November 10, 2009

    Richard Eis: Figure that as already figured. ^_^

  155. #155 Luna_the_cat
    November 10, 2009

    Richard Eis: Figure that as already figured. ^_^

    Although in retrospect, that wasn’t exactly clear either. Hmmm.

    Apologies.

  156. #156 Richard Eis
    November 10, 2009

    No worries, I was just making sure. Sarcasm is not too easy sometimes to pick up in text-based messages.

  157. #157 Natalie
    November 10, 2009

    Luna @149 – for that matter, ancient hunter-gatherer populations wouldn’t have been able to effectively wash their hands, even if they had understood the importance of handwashing in preventing disease. Without hot water and/or soap, handwashing isn’t good for much but removing visible dirt. I’m not aware of any ancient water heaters found in Lascaux or Shanidar.

    I’m not even sure if modern hunter-gatherer populations have access to the luxury of heated water and soap, but I don’t know much about modern hunter-gatherers period.

  158. #158 Militant Agnostic
    November 10, 2009

    Richard – Sid did refer to biblical accounts of people living 900 years.

    It looks like Jay has dropped out of the competition for the coveted RI ICOY trophy after a couple of feeble attempts.

  159. #159 Richard Eis
    November 10, 2009

    -Richard – Sid did refer to biblical accounts of people living 900 years.-

    You don’t say. Remind me never to take you to a comedy night ;p

  160. #160 Militant Agnostic
    November 10, 2009

    I get all the comedy I need right here from Jay Gordon et al.

  161. #161 Scott
    November 10, 2009

    So, in a small segment of the population (children), it’s efficacious against a manifestation of TB that affects only 15% of those contracting the disease. Hardly enough to make a blanket statement of overall efficacy against TB. Especially since your study doesn’t even claim efficacy against the bacterium – simply one of its manifestations.

    In particular populations, it’s highly effective at preventing severe manifestations. That’s “effective” by any credible definition.

    Perfect? No. Pretty good and quite useful? Absolutely.

    But of course, this is Sid we’re talking about, so we already know he doesn’t care how many millions of kids die of infectious disease.

  162. #162 Jonathan
    November 10, 2009

    #23

    Uh…because they’re now living long enough to reach this end-stage of their reproductive process?

    Yes, but why would they have one in the first place if they weren’t regularly living long enough to need one. Men don’t have an end-stage reproductive cycle. Women are born with 500,000 eggs, so they can’t run out in the 40 years between the average on-set of menarche and the average on-set of menopause. All women go through menopause if they’re fertile. That implies rather strong selection in the past. Natural selection doesn’t care what happens to you after you die, so it could only select and propagate the genes for menopause if women were living long enough past menopause to make a difference in nurturing. We are, after all, a K-selected species.

    #37

    You’re assuming there’s a reason why women go through menopause. This isn’t actually clear, though some biologists seem to enjoy coming up with evolutionary “just so” stories to explain it. It may just be one of those things.

    That might work if it weren’t something that directly effects fitness. You know, that whole unable to have more children thing. Natural selection would seem to work against that sort of thing, unless it directly added to fitness in some way

    Note also that the age of menopause is highly variable, and the average today may be different than the average 50,000 years ago.

    It’s not that variable. The 95% range is something like 45-60 years of age. With the exception of a few genetic and hormonal disorders, women go through menopause at an age well past the average age of mortality. 50,000 years ago, the average age of death was 40. That number dropped to 25 with the invention of agriculture. It’s only been in the last 150 years that the average age of mortality rose above that 40-year mark again. So where was the intervening generations that could be selected for a later menopause?

    #39

    Do we still know that ? I thought the common knowledge had evolved to thinking that pre-agricultural societies were actually healthier than later ones, because they had a more balanced diet and fewer infectious diseases (because infectious diseases need high densities and lots of inter-species contact to evolve, and hunter-gatherer societies didn’t have much of either).

    As I commented above, agrarian societies life expectancy dropped to 25. The only reason agriculture spread is because it lets you support 10x the population off the same amount of land as nomadic existence.

    I think Jonathan means that menopause is an event that was shaped through evolutionary forces, which wouldn’t happen if nobody lived that long. Although Calli Arcale addresses that.

    Link?

    #47

    Actually, there is evidence to suggest that, for Western women at least, fertility started later in life and ended sooner in life than it does now: http://www.webmd.com/menopause/news/20031114/age-of-menopause-getting-later

    Interesting study, but that stills leaves questions. Between the years of 1908 and 1930, the age of menopause rose by 2-3 years. Over the same period of time, though, life expectancy rose by 10-15 years. That’s a significant difference. Also, how did the study control for the effects of second-hand smoke?

    #48

    Here’s an interesting write up of a study in human evolution that considers the cost/benefit of establishing an optimal age for menopause:
    Link

    See, that’s exactly my point. Women would have needed to live 15-20 years past the average age of mortality to take advantage of the benefits of menopause. Since women are half the population, the other half, men, would have had to live proportionally shorter lives to end up with the average lifespan of 40. The average age of death among men would have had to have been around 25.

    Sorry if my initial response to Jonathan was flippant. I honestly didn’t know what he was asking, and the question as posed seemed to posit some effect of the male lifespan on the female reproductive cycle. My bad. It’s definitely an interesting subject. I’d love it if Dr. Amy were to do an SBM post about this at some point.

    I wasn’t implying that male lifespan effected the female reproductive cycle. I was noting that if women lived longer than the average lifespan, men must live shorter for that average, or that average would have to be wrong.

    Though, it’s interesting to postulate on a species where males routinely live half as long as females. There would be nearly twice as many females as males in the total population. That seems to imply patriarchal societies were improbable at best in humanity’s past. It also implies males are driven to reckless, self-destructive behavior. Perhaps as a way of flourishing genes and attracting mates?

    #59

    The question answers itself. If a gene is living in a survival machine (body) that typically does live past 55 years, then if that gene brings about menopause, it would be maladaptive and would be (eventually) selected out of the population. However, if the survival machine the gene is living in typically dies before then, then the menopausal nature of it is no longer maladaptive — it can proliferate throughout the population if it causes, as part of the trade-off, even a modest improvement in reproductive success during the first 40 years of life.

    In fact, due to genetic drift, it would be possible for a gene that caused menopause at 55 and had absolutely no adaptive effects to proliferate throughout the population. It has been shown that these sorts of “neutral” genes can indeed accumulate and even become dominant in a population to due to the messiness of the selection process.

    So yeah, the question answers itself. Menopause-at-55 was able to evolve only because female humans usually died before then. If they didn’t, it would have been maladaptive and would have been selected out.

    (And in fact, there is some evidence — very preliminary evidence, so don’t take this as gospel — that genes which defer the age of menopause are being selected for, since now those confer a reproductive advantage that they did not previously in history.)

    I understand genetic drift and neutral evolution. The question is, why is menopause so universal? And also, the link above (Link) shows an evolutionary benefit to survival in a culture without modern medicine. That implies a selection that was positive, not neutral. So why were men dying so young as to lower the average age of death to 40 from 55-60?

    #64

    I think the idea of menopause as a “feature” added to a default female without menopause is misguided. To me is seems much more likely that as humans evolved a long life (i.e. the delayed senescence of all organ systems), the delayed senescence of the female reproductive system didn’t provide enough of a reproductive advantage for it to be selected for.

    Prolonging life, the delayed senescence of all organ systems, has to be more difficult than the delayed senescence of a single organ system (female reproduction).

    Most of the increase in human lifespan can be attributed to our larger size. Bigger hearts have to beat less often. All tetrapods lifespans can be measure roughly by dividing the universal average heartbeats per lifetime by the average BPM of the species. Slower heartbeats offer longer lives.

    In order for tumors to grow, some cancer cells have to form blood vessels. Cancer cells that have a mutation that won’t let them form blood vessels tend to out populate those that do. They don’t have to waste energy and cells forming blood vessels. Thus the longer a tumor grows, the more likely it is to harmlessly starve from lack of blood-flow before growing large enough to kill the animal. The larger an organisms organs are, the larger a tumor can grow before becoming deadly. Thus large animals die less often from cancer.

    It’s our size, that lets us live this long. Our decreased senescence is a result of our larger size.

    Also, as I said earlier, our lifespans for the past 13,000 years was an average of 25. Before that, it was 40, about twice as long as a chimp.

    #65

    Instead of talking about the gene that “causes menopause at 55″, shouldn’t we be talking about the gene that causes fertility until about the age 55?

    Instead of thinking of menopause as some new condition, think of it as the _return_ to the infertile condition with which we are born (pre-puberty). So instead of asking “What causes menopause at 55?” the question is, “Why does fertility only last until 55?” In that context, it is trivially obvious: because most women were dead by then.

    Why did women’s body evolve to only be fertile until they were 55? Because they didn’t need to be fertile beyond that.

    Remember, menopause is the not onset of something, it is the cessation of it.

    That is the first logical assumption to make. Unfortunately, like so many logical assumptions, it doesn’t survive it’s first brush with reality. Our closest relatives, chimps, bonobos, and gorillas, don’t go through menopause when in captivity. There are great apes that have lived into their fifties in captivity without menopause. No other mammal, tetrapod, or vertebrate has a menopause. Men, the other half of our species, doesn’t have menopause. So why do women?

    Menopause also isn’t the grinding to a halt of the reproductive system. It’s a systematic stoppage brought about by specific chemical cascades. It’s more like a controlled demolition of a building than the collapse of a condemned structure.

  163. #164 Sid Offit
    November 10, 2009

    Luna

    You’re wrong about so many things it’s impossible to keep up. But as to malaria and the cavemen…

    http://www.malariasite.com/MALARIA/history_parasite.htm

    It is argued that the entry of agricultural practice into Africa was pivotal to the subsequent evolution and history of human malaria. The Neolithic agrarian revolution, which is believed to have begun about 8,000 years ago in the “Fertile Crescent,” southern Turkey and northeastern Iraq, reached the western and Central Africa around 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. This led to the adaptations in the Anopheles vectors of human malaria. The human populations in sub-Saharan Africa changed from a low-density and mobile hunting and gathering life-style to communal living in settlements cleared in the tropical forest. This new, man-made environment led to an increase in the numbers and densities of humans on the one hand and generated numerous small water collections close to the human habitations on the other. This led to an increase in the mosquito population and the mosquitoes in turn had large, stable, and accessible sources of blood in the human population, leading to very high anthropophily and great efficiency of the vectors of African malaria.

  164. #165 Scott
    November 10, 2009

    If she’s wrong about “so many things”, why pick one that’s not really relevant to the central discussion? As opposed to, you know, actually trying to prove your case.

  165. #166 Luna_the_cat
    November 10, 2009

    You’re wrong about so many things it’s impossible to keep up.

    …heh. Projection, much?

    Funny how, if I’m wrong about all those things, you home in on the one thing where there’s any debate at all about paleolithic vulnerability.

    But fine, I’ll see your popular web site, there, and I’ll raise you this. It has a nice summary of research and understanding, a few pages in.

    (…Also funny, in a totally unsurprising way, how you completely ignore the fact that it was neither native health nor washing nor nutrition which was providing paleolithic populations against later endemic viruses. It was scattered, mobile populations, nothing more. So much for THAT strategy.)

  166. #167 Luna_the_cat
    November 10, 2009

    Feh, that was supposed to be “providing paleolithic populations protection against…. All that alliteration obviously overwhelmed me. ;0p

  167. #168 James Sweet
    November 10, 2009

    OMFG, I can’t believe I’m agreeing with Sid Offit on anything… but his account of the proliferation of malaria is more or less correct. Epidemic diseases like malaria, measles, bubonic plague, etc., require a high population density — and often, but not always, a reliance on livestock — in order to evolve to infect humans.

    Livestock help because then a virus that was evolving in a dense population of herd animals for hundreds of thousands of years can jump to humans in its fully infectious form (swine flu anyone?). But the real key is population density. The reason is because highly virulent and contagious diseases tend to rapidly burn themselves out as the population develops immunity. Unless you have a population above a certain size, they can’t survive long term.

    I don’t think this really has any bearing on the argument at hand, though. That prehistoric peoples didn’t have to deal with measles or malaria doesn’t mean their life was all wine and roses. There were PLENTY of ways to die, and plenty of them were nasty diseases. I mean, bacteria for instance don’t need high population densities to learn to infect humans…

  168. #169 Luna_the_cat
    November 10, 2009

    Re. the whole OT menopause thing — if you Google for “grandmother effect” + “evolution”, about a bajillion interesting papers and discussions come up — including http://content.karger.com/ProdukteDB/produkte.asp?Aktion=ShowFulltext&ArtikelNr=236045&Ausgabe=0&ProduktNr=0 and *cough* http://scienceblogs.com/gnxp/2009/10/the_grandmothers_effect_patern.php .

    I’ll restate what I proposed earlier, in a slightly different form: even if only a small percentage of women lived past menopuase, it is entirely possible that their presence had a strong selective effect. And it appears that the preponderance of evidence is pointing towards the idea that menopause is not accidental, but selected.

  169. #170 Luna_the_cat
    November 10, 2009

    James Sweet: I don’t think that anyone would argue that malaria became endemic before agriculture; the issue I think was whether they ever had to fight it. Given that the other great apes also have to deal with Plasmodium and our Plasmodium is far more related to chimp Plasmodium than to avian Plasmodium or anyone else’s, the working hypothesis is that the parasite followed us (probably at a fairly low level) until circumstances really allowed it to explode. As, it appears, for tapeworm. (bleah)

    The point (or the deceased equine, which in this case I think I may have beaten into a red smear in the dirt) is simply that paleolithic humans would still have been vulnerable to it as a cause of death, even if it wasn’t an endemic plague. Given the reservoirs of all the types of Plasmodium and multiple host mosquito species in Africa, I think you have to stretch some to argue that it didn’t exist at all until agriculture gave it room to expand.

  170. #171 James Sweet
    November 10, 2009

    Fascinating. I had not heard of the Grandmother Effect before — it is an interesting hypothesis.

    It, of course, has no bearing on life expectancy of prehistoric peoples, which I believe we already know fairly accurately based on bones. (Is that a correct assertion?) If there is an adaptive effect of menopause, as a Luna says, if it were powerful enough then the fact that only a small percentage of women with the “menopausal gene” lived long enough to have it manifested.

  171. #172 Luna_the_cat
    November 10, 2009

    Well, as far as I can tell from good old “University of Google” (in other words: I *DO* know how to read a paper, from my actual university education, but this is Not My Field) — the mean age of death in various paleolithic sites around Africa and the Middle East especially appeared to range between 21 and 40. However, the mean does not give the range. Since we also know that there was a very high infant mortality (again varying between 20-65%), it makes a sort of shallow sense to me that there were probably some deaths at the upper end of the age range as well, i.e. 60+.

    But sadly, I really have to go do some real work for a bit. I have some [expletive deleted] that I’m supposed to be getting done for the end of the week.

  172. #173 Calli Arcale
    November 10, 2009

    One rather interesting paper on the grandmother effect (sorry, I don’t have a link; I read it years ago) postulated that it would be seen in other species. They were attempting to find a link between age of fertility decline in females with generational age. After all, in humans, menopause occurs about the time one’s eldest children would start having children of their own. They claimed to have found the same effect in gorillas and African lions, both of which are social animals and will raise young somewhat collectively. However, they did run into criticism from researchers who pointed out that in the wild, they never reach that advanced age, and that even in captivity, they seldom become completely infertile, as human women do.

    Still, whether it’s unique to humans or not, the “grandmother effect” is one of the more plausible explanations for how menopause could confer evolutionary advantage. I’m still a little skeptical, personally. But I am willing to be convinced.

  173. #174 James Sweet
    November 10, 2009

    I was almost going to make a point myself about the average not necessarily being reflective of the range.

    Re: The malaria thing, I hadn’t read most of the thread before I jumped in. I was so shocked to see Sid saying something that was actually accurate, I guess it affected my judgment :D Reading back, I see that the points I made were already covered in depth by you.

    And in any case, I don’t really see how any of it would support Sid’s crackpot ideas anyway, even if we DID falsely assume that ancient peoples didn’t have to contend with many parasites…

  174. #175 Michael Ralston
    November 10, 2009

    The question is, why is menopause so universal?

    No! That is not the question. This reflects an overly telic but very common misunderstanding of evolution.

    Neutral genes that provide no evolutionary advantage but no or small disadvantage can and will achieve fixation without any selective pressure whatsoever, it is simply unlikely in most cases.

    However, humans are one of those exceptional cases! We underwent a significant period of genetic bottlenecking quite recently in evolutionary time, which means that we would expect humans to have a significant number of mostly-neutral differences from our closest relatives. And a lot of those differences “just happened”.

  175. #176 Tsu Dho Nimh
    November 10, 2009

    @11 Not to give these fantastic advances short shrift, but I’m fairly sure that public health, sanitation and improvements in living standards did most of the work before the 1950s (when antibiotic were introduced, and many vaccines didn’t yet exist).

    What advances in sanitation happened that made polio almost vanish after 1955? Why are the favelas of Brazil as polio-free as the USA, if living standards and sanitation are what did the work?

    What happened in sanitation between 1962 and 1972 that made measles almost vanish in the USA? Was it the introduction of the blow-dryer? Flush toilets? Tampons?

  176. #177 Basiorana
    November 10, 2009

    I’ve read many theories as to why menopause happens, but the most plausible to me was that the older you get, the more dangerous childbirth was, especially as you have more children; what’s more, the children themselves are unlikely to survive birth or at least to adulthood. The most successful parents lived longer to help their kids survive, and thus, the most successful mothers were those who stopped having kids when they were most likely to die from it, and instead focused their attention on their living children.

    Also notable that women under stress (such as from chronic infections, or severe infections, or severe and chronic nutritional deficiencies) undergo menopause earlier (and also have menarche later). So our ancestors likely had menopause in their mid to late 30s, their 40s if they were lucky, and lived long enough to help their own children survive but died before their children had to support them. Modern healthcare has pushed the time back to about 50, but it’s still very variable.

    So yes, selection should have created menopause, since women in pre-industrial societies tend to be malnourished and have had hundreds of infections of all degrees of severity throughout their life, thus, menopause would likely occur at 35 or so (earlier if you were really sickly). African tribesmen living in the middle of the jungle with no contact with the world all have the yellow eyes of chronic disease, and skeletons from the time periods clearly show individuals who have had many serious infections over the course of their lives.

    Menopause, particularly when you account for it occurring earlier in life in preindustrial populations, would have a powerful selection as it was the best way to make sure you could have a lot of kids and help all of them grow up, rather than die

    Phoenix Woman: “Have any OB-Gyns reading this ever heard of such a thing?”

    Hard to tell since currently, we provide such good healthcare and diet to pregnant and recovering women, as well as prolonging the life in old age; and earlier in history it would be more likely to die of infection. Dogs are unusual because we protect them from infection, but don’t give them the intense healthcare, organ donation, dialysis, pacemakers, etc we give humans. It is certainly true that pregnancy weakens a woman and puts her at risk of infection or injury; some of that risk may continue afterwards, and without modern healthcare, it might decrease lifespan.

  177. #178 Andreas Johansson
    November 11, 2009

    Do we still know that ? I thought the common knowledge had evolved to thinking that pre-agricultural societies were actually healthier than later ones, because they had a more balanced diet and fewer infectious diseases (because infectious diseases need high densities and lots of inter-species contact to evolve, and hunter-gatherer societies didn’t have much of either).

    Tangential, but earlier this year I read an odd thing concerning this in a book called Early Cultures of Mainland Southeast Asia (ISBN-10: 1588860280). The intro bit about the beginning of the Neolithic said that hunter-gathering was “the original affluent society” and the question ought be not why some societies didn’t transition to agriculture but why any did. Then, in the discussion, one learnt that at the site that was discussed in most detail, life expectancy (15ish, IIRC) and general health were utterly dismal during the purely hunter-gathering phases, while during the one phase were grown rice formed a significant part of the diet conditions improved slightly.

    The lesson, perhaps, is that the Paleolithic and Neolithic each cover so much time and space that generalizations are of very limited use.

  178. #179 D. C. Sessions
    November 13, 2009

    Crank magnetism likely arises from the social reality of sympathy toward anyone fighting the same enemy.

    IMHO that may be a factor today, but it’s not an essential element.

    I suspect that it’s more a matter of someone without function reality checking mechanisms (thus susceptible to all sorts of crankery) combined with the fact that reality is interconnected. Thus, defending one crackpot notion eventually requires rejecting reality altogether.

  179. #180 Susan
    November 14, 2009

    one flaw in the ongoing menopause conversation: fertility essentially ends in the early 40′s, not at 55. There is a steep decline from 40 to about 43, when most of the population becomes infertile. From 44 onward there are a few pregnancies, with sky-high rates of miscarriage and genetic anomalies. Which fits right into an average life span of 40.

    Also, the main killer of women in their fertile years is pregnancy and childbirth, so women who survive to become menopausal would have a long retirement ensuring her children survive.

    I’ll post some references when I’m not on my iPod.

  180. #181 Jonathan
    November 16, 2009

    #180

    Women regularly have children in their 40s. They’re less fertile but still fertile. The same cannot be said after their 50s.

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