Respectful Insolence

As brief as it will be, this is my first post for my self-declared Vaccine Awareness Week, proposed to counter Barbara Loe Fisher’s National Vaccine Information Center’s and Joe Mercola’s proposal that November 1-6 be designated “Vaccine Awareness Week” for the purpose of promoting all sorts of pseudoscience, quackery, and misinformation about “vaccine injury” and how dangerous vaccines supposedly are. As you may recall, I decided to try to coopt the concept for the purpose of countering the pseudoscience promoted by the anti-vaccine movement and urging medical, science, and skeptical bloggers to do the same. To kick things off, I thought a brief post might be in order to revisit some old territory before moving on to new territory on Monday morning. Basically, I couldn’t wait until Monday to get started; so I jumped the gun tonight.

Remember Raymond Obomsawin, PhD?

About seven months ago, I encountered a profoundly intellectually dishonest set of graphs done by Obomsawin that were designed to demonstrate that “vaccines didn’t save us.” Of course, as I pointed out in my own takedown of this misinformation, Obomsawin cherry picked graphs, used an old ant-vaccine standard of confusing mortality with incidence, and in general used arguments about as intellectually lazy or dishonest (or both) as can be.

Worse, he also chose his graphs in a way that parts of the data were left out. Indeed, less than a month ago, the Australian anti-vaccine activist Meryl Dorey approvingly cited Obomsawin’s graphs. When it was pointed out how Obomsawin had cherry picked his graphs to deceptive purpose, his response was beyond pathetic:

The software that I was using to create the graph did not allow for the creation of either a blank space or a dotted line between 1959 and 1968. There was no intent to be dishonest about this, and thanks to your blog, I will make it a point to specifically note on the graph that there is an absence of incidence data in this period.

I note that, not only have the graphs not been changed as far as I can tell, but Dr. Obomsawin is scheduled to give a webinar tomorrow evening (exactly 24 hours from now, actually) entitled Graphic Reality: The Charting of Truth in which he is apparently going to argue the same old nonsense that “vaccines didn’t save us.” His content is described thusly:

Dr. Obomsawin uses a series of graphic tables to dramatically challenge the widely held assumption that vaccines have historically benefitted humanity throughout the world.

Yep, that sounds like the same level of burning antivax stupid as before.

It’s also claimed:

Dr. Obomsawin was born in the United States in 1950. He and wife Marie-Louise have three adult children who have never received the prescribed regimen of childhood vaccines, and have exhibited lifelong immunity to the common childhood infectious diseases.

Or they got lucky. That, and they took advantage of herd immunity.

You know, I’m half tempted to sign up and see what Obomsawin says. It’d make for more blogging material, and an update to the Obomsawin Technique of vaccine denialism (yes, I named it after him) is probably overdue anyway. After all, I never took on several other of the graphs he included in his collection. My guess is that Obomsawin won’t change his graphs. Anyone want to make any bets? In fact, if any of you have the time to check out his webinar (in case I can’t, which is, alas, a distinct possibility), I’d be grateful to hear reports.

Obomsawin’s webinar announcement also reminds me that I have intended for a while to go back and revisit Obomsawin’s remaining nonsense. Somehow I just never got around to it. As you may recall, in my original post I didn’t deconstruct all of his graphs and how deceptively he used them. Vaccine Awareness Week might be the perfect opportunity to rectify that oversight.

Comments

  1. #1 peicurmudgeon
    October 31, 2010

    I never see these folks talking about smallpox or polio. I doubt any are even are even aware of the eradication of rinderpest, a devastating livestock disease that has been the cause of starvation across Europe, Asia, and Africa for thousands of years.

    Not only do they cherry pick data, they cherry pick diseases.

  2. #2 Sid Offit
    October 31, 2010

    In lieu of candy, I’m giving out flu shots to the kids tonight. The line’s already around the block.

  3. #3 Anthropologist Underground
    October 31, 2010

    Also, I can never understand why the anti-vaccine folks don’t consent to vaccinating their older kids. Why the heck not have them vaccinated after they’ve aged out of the emergence of autism?

    I think a few of us at shethought.com are going to jump on your VAW train this week. Here’s a taste.

  4. #4 Pablo
    October 31, 2010

    How the blazes does anyone “exhibit…immunity”? I mean, aside from intentionally exposing them to pathogens to see if they respond?

    BTW, they never had chicken pox even?

  5. #5 Fran Sheffield
    October 31, 2010

    We are struggling to manage two problems at once but not being very clever about it.

    The first is that people, including children, still die from infectious diseases such as whooping cough and other epidemic diseases.

    The second is that vaccines are NOT the best thing since sliced bread. They have several drawbacks. They are expensive, slow to produce, complicated to distribute and administer, and offer variable rates of protection. They also produce minor to serious side-effects, including death. For some diseases no vaccine exists.

    Why aren’t we looking at the homeopathic alternative?

    Homeopathy has been repeatedly used for protection AND treatment during world epidemics and outbreaks (including whooping cough). It is inexpensive, quickly distributed, easily administered and safe. Remedies exist for all epidemic diseases.

    Large scale, government sponsored studies in Brazil and Cuba have recently shown that homeopathy was highly effective during their meningococcal and leptospirosis epidemics.

    http://homeopathyplus.com.au/human-homeopathic-preventio-records-studies-and-trials/

    Isn’t it time our governments researched the homeopathic option so that needless loss of life from disease and vaccines doesn’t continue? Under the circumstances, it is the only sensible thing to do.

  6. #6 Science Mom
    October 31, 2010

    Large scale, government sponsored studies in Brazil and Cuba have recently shown that homeopathy was highly effective during their meningococcal and leptospirosis epidemics.

    No they haven’t. Go ahead and defend those studies; it will be very speshul.

  7. #7 Chris
    October 31, 2010

    Fran Sheffield:

    Why aren’t we looking at the homeopathic alternative?

    Because it doesn’t work.

    Homeopathy has been repeatedly used for protection AND treatment during world epidemics and outbreaks (including whooping cough).

    Prove it… but not with those stupid and very poorly done studies, but with real ones. Oh, wait. They don’t exist. For anytime there is a well done study homeopathy does not work.

  8. #8 Chris
    October 31, 2010

    So Ms. Sheffield, are you ever planning on ever publishing that retraction that TGA recommended because you are a deluded fool?

  9. #9 EoR
    October 31, 2010

    Homeopathy has been repeatedly used for protection AND treatment during world epidemics and outbreaks (including whooping cough).

    Use != Effectiveness.

  10. #10 JohnV
    October 31, 2010

    I was all set to ask about not getting a disease equaling immunity, but then I saw the homeopath spouting her nonsense and lost my train of thought.

  11. #11 Skeptiverse
    October 31, 2010

    @Fran Sheffield

    I get the impression from your post that you were being sarcastic? if not please read below

    we are not looking at the homeopathic alternative because it is not an alternative.
    Homeopathy is inexpensive because it comes directly out of the tap. Governments suprisingly have spent alot of money on Homeopathy, i mean, they built the water infrastructure didn’t they?

  12. #12 Chris
    October 31, 2010

    Skeptiverse, she was not being sarcastic. She was serious. The reason the Australian TGA wanted her to put a retraction on her website was she was saying homeopathic immunization actually worked. See it in its full glory here:
    http://scepticsbook.com/2010/01/21/homeopathy-websites-prosecuted-for-false-advertising/

  13. #13 Skeptiverse
    October 31, 2010

    Chris,

    Ha, funny i remember her now she was the one who was trying to sell people homeopathy for plants. funny that, water making plants grow better who would have thought. Being Australian i guess i should probably get to know more about our home grown quacksters.

    as a bit of fun while i was at uni (Bachelor of land and water science) myself and a a few friends decided to put some homeopathic remedies we picked up from a homeopath down the street to the test. What we found was that, after a full analysis for just about anything that we as students could test for in the lab, the constituents in the Homeopathic remedy (chloride, flouride etc) were staistically similar to the concentrations of those found in good old Sydney tap water.

  14. #14 Maggie
    November 1, 2010

    The Fran Sheffields of the world are a harder nut to crack. She understands (and possibly even observes) the scientific method enough to know why its important. But when the results don’t match up with her strongly held belief that homeopathy works, she drops back to the ‘more study is needed’ position. In reality that means “more study needs to be done until there’s a result which satisfies my already held belief”.

    Homeopathy is nonsense, reputable rigorous studies show it’s nonsense, but people like this keep hitting the snooze alarm on the truth hoping that 9 more minutes (figuratively) is all they need.

  15. #15 tigtog
    November 1, 2010

    In serendipitous anticipation of your Vaccine Awareness Week (how, oh how did I know?…) my husband and I were both inoculated against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Whooping Cough last week.

    Hurrah for herd immunity!

  16. #16 a-non
    November 1, 2010

    Why aren’t we looking at the homeopathic alternative?

    Because we’re not idiots.

  17. #17 ESPness
    November 1, 2010

    Fran Sheffield on Homeopathy:

    It is inexpensive, quickly distributed, easily administered and safe.

    That’s because it’s water! us Firefighters use it for the same reasons, but we have good evidence that it actually puts out fires.

  18. #18 Julian Frost
    November 1, 2010

    You may have jumped the gun in the US, Orac, but in South Africa it was already November 1st when you posted this.
    Chris: As per your request, I have a new Blog. I’m going to move my old posts over so that everyone can see them, but that may take a few weeks.

  19. #19 AJ
    November 1, 2010

    Oh dear I apologise for our local Aussie loon Fran popping her empty head up here…with any luck the AMA will put her out of business soon. They may even arrange for a paid holiday for her at the taxpayers expense. That’s one use for my taxes that I will actually enjoy.

  20. #20 NZ Sceptic
    November 1, 2010

    “Fran Sheffield on Homeopathy:
    It is inexpensive, quickly distributed, easily administered and safe.”

    Who thinks Fran is just talking from a vendor’s perspective? Me!!!

    I got my daughter to work out the price per litre for ‘Rescue Remedy’ at our local pharmacy last week and the answer was $2900.

    For that money I’d rather drink the world’s most expensive champagne: Cristal Brut 1990 “Methuselah” at $17,625 for 6 litres. Even if it’s just fermented water with a memory of grape, I know it would cure anything that ails me!

    PS: I was sorry to see that neither massive doses of Vit C – or homeopathic remedies failed to save Meryl Dorey’s dog Cappy when he got bitten by a snake. Maybe she should have administered Cristal Brut!

  21. #21 NZ Sceptic
    November 1, 2010

    Sorry – that should have read:

    I was sorry to see that neither massive doses of Vit C – or homeopathic remedies could save Meryl Dorey’s dog Cappy when he got bitten by a snake.

  22. #22 NZ Sceptic
    November 1, 2010

    Sorry – that last post should have read:

    I was sorry to see that neither massive doses of Vit C – nor homeopathic remedies could save Meryl Dorey’s dog Cappy when he got bitten by a snake.

  23. #23 Bob O'H
    November 1, 2010

    In lieu of candy, I’m giving out flu shots to the kids tonight. The line’s already around the block.

    Damit, Sid. I might buy your book just that!

  24. #24 Matthew Cline
    November 1, 2010

    So, with “homeopathic immunization”, is the pathogen put into water, then diluted-and-successed until there’s none left, and that’s what’s ingested? Or is a remedy prepared as if to cure someone who already has a typical case of the disease, which is then consumed by a healthy person?

    Either way, I can’t see mass immunization of the homeopathic variety being popular with the pure/straight/hardcore homeopaths, since there wouldn’t be any individualization.

  25. #25 Sam C
    November 1, 2010

    Couldn’t guerilla homeopaths immunise huge regions against everything by putting a few drops of their incredibly effective remedies into the water supply. The huge dilutions would potentise these to 1000000C or better and no disease would stand a chance!

    Perhaps it would be even stronger if the local pixies could be persuaded to sprinkle a little magic dust into the water supply to. All we need is to get some gold from the leprechauns to bribe the pixies to help the homeopaths and the world could be so much healthier!!

    Why oh why won’t you sciencey folk listen to the wisdom of the complementary practitioners?

  26. #26 DLC
    November 1, 2010

    Good to see such people taken to task over their lies.

  27. #27 Lawrence
    November 1, 2010

    Technically, since homeopathic remedies are diluted to such an extreme anyway – don’t we all take the remedies every time we drink a glass of water?

    Now I get it – they are a bunch of H20 Shills!!!! Damn water companies and their homeopathic marketing campaigns!

  28. #28 squirrelelite
    November 1, 2010

    It was good to see Dr David Katz’s article about the flu vaccine posted over at the Huff Po.

    “What To Do About Flu? Get Vaccinated”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-katz-md/what-to-do-about-flu-the-_b_737899.html

    But, I noticed Dr Bob Sears offered his take as well on mandatory vaccination for healthcare workers.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-bob-sears/mandatory-flu-vaccines-fo_b_770363.html

    He acknowledges that the flu vaccine is a lot safer than the disease, But, he suggests that waiting until you show symptoms and then just taking a few days off is a reasonable alternative. Unfortunately, this ignores the fact that for many diseases a person can be contagious before they show symptoms.

    Then, he implies that these requirements are mandatory with no exceptions (which doesn’t sound like what I remember reading) and embarks on the slippery slope argument.

    I find it interesting that less than half of health care workers get a flu vaccine each year. Why is that? Is it because they’ve all read the vaccine product insert and don’t like that long list of possible, but unlikely, side effects? Or do they just not get around to it for no particular reason? I don’t know.

    In my opinion, no government has the right to force anything potentially dangerous on anyone. We should all have the freedom to choose between a flu vaccine and risking the disease. Patients who come into a doctor’s office or hospital take a small risk every time, but not primarily from the doctor. There’s far more risk of catching something from another patient. So, if this policy passes, what’s next? Denying hospital admission or even health care to anyone who doesn’t get a flu vaccine? After all, that patient would be putting others in the hospital or office at risk, and we can’t have that. And why stop at the flu vaccine? Let’s make all vaccines 100 percent mandatory for everyone! Hey, why don’t we just burn the constitution?

  29. #29 JohnV
    November 1, 2010

    “We should all have the freedom to choose between a flu vaccine and risking the disease”

    What about my “freedom to choose” not to be exposed unnecessarily to pathogens by some chucklehead like you?

    Dumb ass libertarian.

  30. #30 dean
    November 1, 2010

    “Dumb ass libertarian”

    That is redundant – either “Dumb ass” or “Libertarian” is sufficient.

  31. #31 squirrelelite
    November 1, 2010

    Oops!

    Guess I messed up the block quote.

    That last paragraph was also a direct quote from Dr Bob.

  32. #32 Scott
    November 1, 2010

    In my opinion, no government has the right to force anything potentially dangerous on anyone. We should all have the freedom to choose between a flu vaccine and risking the disease.

    Well, no government DOES force anyone to get a flu shot. The mentioned mandates for healthcare workers are by hospitals as a condition of said workers’ employment. No government involvement.

    The closest thing to a government mandate is the vaccination requirement to attend public schools. However, even that’s eminently justifiable for several reasons:

    – The children being vaccinated are children, and hence not in a position to make a properly informed decision. Requiring parents to do the proper thing for their children is an entirely different matter than attempting to mandate an adults’ decisions for themselves.

    – Not vaccinating one child puts all the other children in the school at risk.

    – Private schools or homeschooling are available as alternatives.

    – Exemptions are, in most of the country, easy to trivially easy to obtain.

    There just isn’t a libertarian argument against vaccination here.

  33. #33 Raging Bee
    November 1, 2010

    I find it interesting that less than half of health care workers get a flu vaccine each year. Why is that?

    Probably because flu shots are recommended only for people in high-risk categories (athsma, high blood pressure, etc.), and people not at risk commonly forego shots to ensure that those who need them most, get them. It’s called chivalry.

  34. #34 jaranath
    November 1, 2010

    NZ Sceptic:

    Gaaaaahhhh! YOU SEE?!? It’s true! EVERYTHING in Australia tries to kill you! Snakes and spiders and sharks and jellyfish and Meryl Dorey! No wonder you willingly live in New Zealand! ;)

  35. #35 Tobinius
    November 1, 2010

    You all may mock homeopathy, but it is extremely dangerous, since all of its remedies contains extremely high concentrations of Dihydrogen Monoxide (see http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/dhmo.htm for full details).

  36. #36 JohnV
    November 1, 2010

    dihydrogen monoxide jokes are triple U material :p

  37. #37 Chris
    November 1, 2010

    Julian Frost:

    Chris: As per your request, I have a new Blog.

    Hurray!

  38. #38 Vicki
    November 1, 2010

    Vaccines aren’t the greatest thing since sliced bread: they’re older than sliced bread. (The Internet might be the greatest thing since sliced bread.)

  39. #39 Gray Falcon
    November 1, 2010

    And for those who don’t believe Vicki:

    http://blog.modernmechanix.com/2008/03/07/slicing-bread-by-machinery/

    Invented in 1928. That’s after the first world war.

  40. #40 zed
    November 3, 2010

    @ESPness

    Are you saying that you use Homeopathic Fire to put out fires? that should work great!… Or not.

    DHMO, not just for fires.

  41. #41 Lisa
    January 28, 2011

    Where are the long term studies on the effects of vaccination on the nervous system? There are none. The question is why??? As with everything in life, it’s a trade off. We do not get something for nothing. I’m not saying that because you were or weren’t vaccinated you will or will not get the disease. I am simply stating that there are consequences to every action. Could it be autism, cancer, asthma, developmental disorders, etc.? Yes.
    Scientists say there is no definite link between vaccines and autism based on the conclusions of “multiple” studies. I don’t know about you, but that seems like either a very ignorant statement or a very vain one to say the least. When we we realize that we haven’t it touched the tip of the iceberg. As for me, “multiple” is not enough. I want thousands.

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