One of my dear readers just left the internet equivalent of a flaming bag of turd on my bloggy doorstep:
Everybody should read this article by Dr. Russell Blaylock http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/11/03/What-We-Have-Learned-About-the-Great-Swine-Flu-Pandemic.aspx
These are the facts folks, all information is derived from Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the New England Journal of Medicine.
Whenever stamping out the flaming bag of poo, it’s wise to remember ones shoes may become sullied. Still, how can I resist?
Before we explore the link kindly given by our reader, let’s look at the messenger. He recommends reading Dr. Russell Blaylock. Who is this man?
The opening page of his website reads like a roster of denialism, quackery, and crankism. In the first few inches, titles of articles read, “Vaccines can kill”, “Cholesterol drugs are dangerous”, “Why fluoride is toxic”, and some other great ones like “Stop aging”.
He believably claims to have graduated from medical school and done a residency in neurosurgery. He seems to be trying to piggyback an awful lot of general credibility on his early, very specific work, creating a penumbra of “expert-ness” that is unjustified. That being said, who, besides Blaylock himself, takes him seriously?
The Weston Price Foundation
These folks reportedly have given Blaylock their 2004 Integrity in Science Award. Coming from a foundation that bases it’s mission on the odd nutritional ideas of a single individual, this is a dubious honor. They must be on the cutting edge because they’re into raw milk! They support an incoherent range of fringe nutritional issues, including the assertion that high serum cholesterol is not associated with increased mortality. Hey, I love meat, but reading their site makes me wonder if Weston Price was invented by a bunch of ranchers.
Life Extension Foundation
Blaylock sits on the “advisory board” (damn, I love me some “scare quotes”!) of this organization. Their website appears to be an ad factory for nutritional supplements. They do say they are not-for-profit, however. But, hey, I just have to quote this, in honor of Walt Disney and Ted Williams:
The long-term goal of The Foundation’s low-temperature research program is the development of human suspended animation, which will enable physicians to transport dying patients through time for treatment by the super-advanced medical scientists of the future.
I love science fiction as much as the next nerd, but as a real doctor, I’d rather focus on the real and marvelous treatments that we already have, rather than offering my sick patients the “corpsicle” option.
Blaylock is reportedly an editor of the Journal of the American Nutraceutical Association, “recognized” by Quackwatch. Since “nutraceutical” is not really a scientifically accepted concept in the first place, I’m not sure why he would want his name anywhere near them. Volume 10(2)2007 of JANA (the free sample available online) does not contain a single piece of original research as far as I can tell. It is more of a newsletter than a journal.
Newsmax and the Wellness Report
Newsmax, a conservative news organization with at least some legitimacy, publishes “The Blaylock Wellness Report”. I am not a journalist, so please forgive me for wondering what possible advantages a conservative news outlet could gain from publishing the rantings of a crank denialist. Perhaps someone with more experience might know. Either way, the Report is a denialist’s nocturnal emission. As stated above, it basically repeats every denialist canard imaginable from the “dangers” of fluoridated water, to “killer” vaccines. He repeats the usual canards, including the horrible fact that the number of childhood vaccinations has grown since the 50s! He fails to mention that the death rates of vaccine-preventable childhood illnesses has tanked. But it turns out that all of that is just a wackaloon amuse bouche.
Our commenter found the main course.
He points us to an article called, “Swine flu: one of the most massive cover ups in American history.” This piece contains so many statements that appear to be either the rantings of a feverish mind or outright lies that I can only address a few for now.
Our commenter claims that Blaylock is simply using conventional sources such as the CDC and the New England Journal of Medicine to find all the “lies” about swine flu. I have to give the guy some credit. He says he went to all these sources, and yet he was able to draw completely different conclusions than every expert in the field of epidemiology, virology, and infectious disease, but hey, that shit ain’t brain surgery, and Blaylock’s a brain surgeon. Right?
His premise (emphasized by plentiful scare quotes) is that everything you’ve heard about the flu is wrong. It’s like opposite day in school. If I say, “get in your seats,” I really mean, “jump up and down.” If I say, “swine flu is highly contagious,” I really mean, “swine flu is hard to catch and makes you feel like unicorns and rainbows.”
Let me demonstrate. Blaylock says, “Initial studies show H1N1 not dangerous or highly contagious”. He bases this statement on a study from Science. This study looks at the swine flu in animal models, and finds that the new H1N1 was in some ways nastier, in other ways, not as much—in non-human animals. Since then, we have had the experience of being able to study the disease in actual humans. While the animal models provided interesting early data, it turns out that H1N1 is highly contagious with a very high attack rate in naive populations—of humans. This attack rate is not evenly spread among age groups, disproportionately affecting young people, so while some early studies found a household attack rate similar to or less than other seasonal flu, the attack rate in naive populations is to be taken quite seriously, as the size of the naive population is greater than that for regular seasonal flu. That is, while this virus may not be any more “infectious” on an individual level, it is on a population level.
His next canard? “H1N1 vaccine is NOT made the same as regular flu vaccine!!” This claim is supported by the following citations:
The next windmill he tilts at has something to do with underlying conditions contributing to H1N1 deaths. I’m not sure why this brings him so much comfort. As I’ve pointed out many times, when millions of more people catch the flu than usual, and when millions of these are from a different population, there will be an increase in deaths in this population. That’s what we’ve seen. The fact that many have underlying medical conditions simply tells me that we have to target the highest risk people first for vaccination—which is what we’re doing.
And of course his mortality graph from the CDC which shows that this year is no worse than other years? The CDC interprets the graph differently: “Including week 42, P&I mortality has been above threshold for four consecutive weeks.” Compared to the same time period last year (on the same graph) we are much higher than is usual for this time of year.
Blaylock argues that there is a vast conspiracy to hype this year’s flu season and claims that his ideas are supported by the mainstream literature. Even a cursory glance at the data he cites shows that his conclusions are creative at best, mendacious at worst. Shame on Blaylock for writing such dreck, and shame on my usually savvy commenters for believing it so credulously (OK, it was only one commenter, but still, I wept).