White Coat Underground

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.

JPANDS???

Yes, he admits to being an associate editor of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, the official publication of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. ‘Nuf said.

Nutraceuticals

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).

Comments

  1. #1 Bardiac
    November 2, 2009

    The blank space for citations cracked me up. My students sometimes do the same thing; alas, they aren’t doing it to make a point.

  2. #2 BigHeathenMike
    November 2, 2009

    Man, Blaylock is a…dammit, what’s that term? …Oh, right, “tremendous douche”.

  3. #3 antipodean
    November 2, 2009

    Might be best to don some Wellington boots rather than shoes.

    Fly fisherman’s waders might also be judicious?

  4. #4 becca
    November 2, 2009

    ” But it turns out that all of that is just a wackaloon amuse bouche. “
    Awesome. Simply awesome.

    But didn’t you read the website?! You can’t get swine flu unless your obese. Pigs get pig flu. Duh. So anyone who gets it basically ate themselves to death.

  5. #5 Calli Arcale
    November 2, 2009

    I always have a childish little laugh when I hear the word “nutraceuticals.” It’s childish, it’s pathetic, but I can only ever think of Neuticles (testicular prosthetics for neutered male dogs and cats) when I hear that word. :-P

  6. #6 Wind
    November 2, 2009

    First flag- mercola in the url. Second was “most massive cover ups in American history” in the article title. From there it was an absolute given that what was to follow was pure crap.

  7. #7 JohnV
    November 3, 2009

    The lengths that various cranks are going to to misinterpret the mortality graphs is sad. Funny but sad.

  8. #8 BB
    November 3, 2009

    Blaylock? The one who lost his license? That Blaylock?

  9. #9 Teragram42
    November 3, 2009

    So happy to hear the flu my daughter gave me and her 2 brothers isn’t contagious. I guess we all got different illnesses with the same symptoms in the same week.

    If I could ignore reality as well as conspiracy theorists, I’d write fiction. Oh wait – I guess that’s what they do too!

  10. #10 Denice Walter
    November 3, 2009

    @ Teragram42:you’ve hit on a very important point-it’s *fiction*!People have this great need for creating stories showing “fitting-ness”,”poetic justice”,”closure”,”great discoveries”, “plot ‘thickenings'”,”revelation of secrets”,”symbolism” about things that are important to them.The problem is- they’re *labeling* it wrong.If you look at any of the most blatantly egregious “health”(sic) websites that are gleefully deconstructed here on a regular basis,you’ll see *just-so* stories,*paeans* to so-called “Truth”,valiant investigators uncovering “corruption”, poetic balances of reward or come-uppance-in short, woo-meisters are *writers*, albeit bad,but writers nevertheless, using all the devices common to novels,screenplays, and advertisement.Personally, I like to keep art and science as two distinct areas of inquiry.

  11. #11 Kathy
    November 3, 2009

    It just amuses me to no end how vehement they are about only certain diseases. Is this some convoluted way to prove moral/mental/physical toughness because it’s “just” the flu? Not that flu can’t be deadly, but it is arguably preferable to, say, tetanus, or hepatitis, or rabies–I just have to wonder if they would refuse those vaccinations as well, or if they would “tough it out”.

    It must be nice to have the freedom to choose what needles you’ll put in your body. People with diabetes don’t often have that luxury, and for some of us (like me) it’s a death sentence without daily injections. We’re no tougher, just less able to choose what we can afford to be picky about.

  12. #12 Bill
    November 3, 2009

    “Toughing out” tetanus could involve a few weeks on a ventilator.

    I’ve seen some anti-vaxers suggest you should just be more careful while outside.

    Sure, tell that to someone working a landscaping job 40+ hours a week year round to not get any cuts, scrapes, or other abrasions.

  13. #13 Electric Landlady
    November 3, 2009

    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.

    Yes, I’ve seen this line of thinking around. I’m very glad to know that if I catch H1N1 and die, that will be all right, because I have an underlying condition. (Asthma, in my case.) I personally consider it very far from all right, but hey, it’s all my fault for getting a chronic disease in the first place, right? And I’m sure the many millions of other people with chronic health conditions feel the same way.

    *eyeroll*

    (@Kathy: I have started wondering if people who are vehemently anti-vaccine ever have pets, and if so, do they have their pets vaccinated against rabies? Inquiring minds want to know!)

  14. #14 Kim
    November 3, 2009

    Hey now, the assertion by Weston Price Foundation adherents that I won’t catch H1N1 flu if I just take my vitamin D and try to get a good night’s sleep is the only (unfortunately BS) comfort I have in this time of being exposed to suspected flu patients on a regular basis yet not qualifying to get the vaccine (assuming there were supplies in my county at the moment anyway, which there are not). :P

    Oh, and re tetanus: Yes, there are people who resist receiving the shot after a risky injury. I really do not understand people who seek out modern medical care for an injury, accept sutures if appropriate, and then balk at a tetanus shot. You would think maybe letting the nice educated professionals provide you protection against potential dire consequences would be considered at least as desirable as a Vicodin script, but no. I suspect that more often the resistance is based in fear of immediate (if minor) discomfort more than any commitment to anti-vaccine doctrine, though.

  15. #15 Enkidu
    November 3, 2009

    @5: Calli, I think the same exact thing! LOL

    Sad thing is, Blaylock is being touted around some mommy groups in this fashion: “And now I will leave you with a very informative video by Dr. Joseph Mercola and Dr. Russell Blaylock, both of who are very respected doctors and researchers… Dr. Blaylock is a neurosurgeon.”
    http://forum.baby-gaga.com/about854924-1.html

    Shoot me now.

  16. #16 Calli Arcale
    November 4, 2009

    Glad to hear I’m not the only gutter-mind around. :-P OT, but I remember reading about a human who had to have a bilateral orchidectomy for some reason, and tried to get Neuticles for himself. He couldn’t find anyone in the US willing to implant them, and once the manufacturer found out his intentions, didn’t want anything to do with him because of the possible FDA ramifications. Their product is only approved for veterinary use, after all. Nobody’s ever attempted to get one approved for human use. Which is, in a way, hilarious. Sad for guys who have to get an orchidectomy but want improve the, ahem, aesthetics, but hilarious because of what it says about people’s willingness to pay for things for their pets.

    Back on topic.

    Kim, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head for why most people refuse prophylactic tetanus vaccine (which isn’t the same as the vaccination, IIRC; you get a passive immune boost only, which is actually good because it’s effective much sooner; it’s the same shot you’d get if you actually started to show symptoms). It’s not that they’re all antivaccine, but that they’re hearing the doctor say “Now, if you want, we can give you a shot to prevent tetanus,” and deciding that it must be optional. After all, most people who get cut don’t get tetanus, right? And they’ve just had a bad day. They’re hurting enough. Why break the skin again? They’ll be fine.

    Humans suck at risk analysis even at the best of times. When all stressed out in the emergency room they do even worse.

  17. #17 Jim
    November 5, 2009

    Lots of ad hominem attacks, but not much substance refuting what Blaylock and Mercola said in the over 1 hour interview. You have a good sense of humor but don’t seem to know much.

  18. #18 Jim
    November 5, 2009

    My name is Jim and I do NOT approve of #17’s message. Kind of embarassed we share a name, really.

    First comment on your blog, Pal, but I’ve been reading for a while. Thank you.

  19. #19 CrackMonkey74
    November 5, 2009

    Here is part of a comment that I posted in response to another commenter’s citing of this article on a CBC news comment thread.. I’m posting it here because I checked up on another of Dr Blaylock’s “points” and it is enlightening (in the sense that it suggests that he is either a liar or borderline illiterate/innumerate):

    “Another thing that he claims is that most of the ILI’s are not influenza. This is probably true and is typical of all flu seasons. So what? He cites a CBS report that found that the state reported ILIs were mostly not influenza (but the majority of the ones that were really flu were pandemic H1N1. Blaylock tries to conceal this last bit by what appears to be out and out lying, more on this in a moment). Anyway this is old data from the summer when we know H1N1 went through a lull. The CBS report also doesn’t show that the CDC, while it examines the state data, actually uses data from a network of sentinel clinics and this is the data that it compares from one season to the next. In fact the high proportion of non-flu included in ILIs is typical of all flu seasons. The CDC takes this into account (even if the sensationalist media does not). The graphs that show this fact are published along with the rest of the data in the public reports. Back to the lie:

    only 26.3% of cases tested positive for H1N1 variant virus, but that 99.8% of the specimens tested positive for some type of other flu virus, most of which were regular seasonal flu.

    He claims that this comes from the CDC’s reports. It is easy to check up on. It turns out that 37.5% really were influenza (this week the number has climbed to 42.1%). Of this amount 67.8% were typed (the rest are flu but strain is unkown because for whatever reason they weren’t tested further (probably preservation issues or lab capacity issues but I don’t know)). From that amount 99.8% were H1N1 swine flu! So 62.7% were not flu (this is typical) But of the ones that were flu (all the rest) almost all of them were the pandemic strain. Blaylock got it almostexactly backwards. “

  20. #20 flim flam
    November 6, 2009

    Thanks to you calli i will also now think “neuticles” not “nutracuticles”!.
    sometimes i almost feel sorry for the wackaloons,they have to support any and every crackpot conspiracy theorist and Scam spruiker, however far out because having abandoned reason and science in favour of anecdote and “common sense” they are left with no way of sorting fact from fiction. After all, once you accept the premise that big pharma and teh gubmint are injecting babies with autism, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary,what’s to stop you believing that alien lizard people run the world?.

  21. #21 Julieannmullen@gmail.com
    November 15, 2009

    Thanks. A commenter on our blog just directed me to the Blaylock site. So I took a look, and then I searched on Science Blogs to find a post like this.

  22. #22 dan steinberg
    November 18, 2009

    This article is character assassination by innuendo. its nonsense.

    Blaylock is anything but a quck. What he is is a truthteller, and that makes him dangerous and inconvenient to the big money business of selling phony medicines and dangerous vaccines.

    The Weston Price Foundation is fantastic. They have a wonderful collection of articles about diet and nutrition. Weston price was the first scientist to systematically study the diets of indigenous people. He made some startling discoveries that modern, for-profit medicine continues to ignore. Unfortunately, this means that millions of people will not benefit from his discoveries.

  23. #23 Chris
    November 18, 2009

    dan steinberg:

    and that makes him dangerous and inconvenient to the big money business of selling phony medicines and dangerous vaccines.

    And it is okay that he sells supplements from his website?

    How about you tell us how dangerous the vaccines are? Give us some real evidence that the MMR vaccine is more dangerous than measles, mumps and rubella. Be sure to use primary source data, not Blaylock newsletters (you could use the references in the bibliography, but they documents must be available in a medical school library).

  24. #24 dan steinberg
    November 19, 2009

    well, you can read the “Danger of Excessive Vaccination during Brain Development” article on Blayloks website. I think it spells out pretty clearly his proposed mechanism for multiple vaccines causing autism. The article is heavily referenced and logical. This theory deserves to be tested.

    Unfortunately, I cant find much science on this ridiculous blog. The only thing here are ad hominem attacks and character assassination by innuendo. How scientific is that?

    I was hoping to find some commentary on the merits about why Blaylocks theories are wrong or contradicted by scientific evidence. I guess this silly blog isnt the right place for such enlightened discussion. Thats rather hypocritical for a blog that declares itself a place for “science based medicine”.

    The issue is not the MMR vaccine alone, but rather the large number of vaccines (36 in the first 2 years of live) that constantly stimulate the immune system. There is no good science (e.g. a controlled study of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated children or animals) showing that this is safe.

    What we need is a study of 1000 baby monkeys-500 get the full vaccine schedule (one vaccine shot every 3 weeks), 500 get a placebo. That will tell us the truth. Epidemiological studies cannot give us firm answers about causation. But some observations definitely point to problems. See below

    Acetaminophen (paracetamol) use, measles-mumps-rubella vaccination, and autistic disorder
    The results of a parent survey
    Stephen T. Schultz

    University of California San Diego, and San Diego State University, USA, Stephen.schultz@med.navy.mil, stevendri@hotmail.com

    Hillary S. Klonoff-Cohen

    University of California San Diego, USA

    Deborah L. Wingard

    University of California San Diego, USA

    Natacha A. Akshoomoff

    University of California San Diego, USA

    Caroline A. Macera

    San Diego State University, USA

    Ming Ji

    San Diego State University, USA

    The present study was performed to determine whether acetaminophen (paracetamol) use after the measles-mumps-rubella vaccination could be associated with autistic disorder. This case-control study used the results of an online parental survey conducted from 16 July 2005 to 30 January 2006, consisting of 83 children with autistic disorder and 80 control children. Acetaminophen use after measles-mumps-rubella vaccination was significantly associated with autistic disorder when considering children 5 years of age or less (OR 6.11, 95% CI 1.42—26.3), after limiting cases to children with regression in development (OR 3.97, 95% CI 1.11—14.3), and when considering only children who had post-vaccination sequelae (OR 8.23, 95% CI 1.56—43.3), adjusting for age, gender, mother’s ethnicity, and the presence of illness concurrent with measles-mumps-rubella vaccination. Ibuprofen use after measles-mumps-rubella vaccination was not associated with autistic disorder. This preliminary study found that acetaminophen use after measles-mumps-rubella vaccination was associated with autistic disorder.

    Key Words: acetaminophen • autism • paracetamol • vaccination

    Autism, Vol. 12, No. 3, 293-307 (2008)
    DOI: 10.1177/1362361307089518

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