Of all the vaccines out there, it’s hard for me to decide which among them antivaccine activists fear and detest the most. Sure, there’s the MMR vaccine, the original granddaddy bete noire, demonized so successfully by Andrew Wakefield as causing autism based on some of the flimsiest evidence ever, evidence later shown to be fraudulent. That has to be near the top of the list of any of the vaccines demonized by the antivaccine movement, despite is safety and efficacy. After all, it is the mMR vaccine that people like Del Bigtree, Andrew Wakefield, and Polly Tommey are still flogging as the cause of autism, spinning their very own conspiracy theory about it known as the “CDC whistleblower,” in which a CDC scientists, William Thompson, has been portrayed as having claimed that the CDC covered up evidence that the MMR was associated with nearly a four-fold increase in the risk of autism in African-American males. They even have a movie, VAXXED, about it, a propaganda film disguised as a documentary.
However, if you want real fear and loathing, look no further than HPV vaccines, such as Gardasil or Cervarix (particularly Gardasil in this country). HPV vaccines have been blamed for everything from premature ovarian failure to even death, as well as the contamination of our precious girls’ precious bodily fluids with the dreaded HPV DNA. Never mind that it’s a safe and effective vaccine that prevents infection with the most common strains of HPV that lead to cervical cancer. Or maybe part of it is because exactly that, as there seems to be an almost willful denial that my girl would ever need a vaccine to protect her against a sexually-transmitted virus, because my girl is a “good” girl and would never (apparently) engage in premarital sex or have more than one sexual partner in her lifetime.
None of that was enough apparently. Just as antivaccinationists like Yehuda Shoenfeld make up fake “syndromes” like Autoimmune/Inflammatory Syndrome Induced by Adjuvants (ASIA) for other vaccines and blame other vaccines for behavioral problems based on shoddy mouse experiments retracted and republished, so too, apparently, antivaccinationists need to make up a new syndrome of its very own for HPV vaccines, this time calling it “HPV vaccination associated neuro-immunopathetic syndrome” (HANS), but, as you will see, in reality it’s just ASIA with another name and just as convincing—as in not very.
I first learned of HANS in a journal article circulating among the antivaccine underground. It was published in Scientific Reports, which is apparently Nature’s answer to PLoS One, but in reality is increasingly striking me as Nature’s answer to Medical Hypotheses, the journal long famous for publishing “speculative” papers on how vaccines cause autism and a number of other scientifically dubious topics. Am I being harsh? Maybe. It could be confirmation bias. But I’m increasingly getting the impression that Scientific Reports is the new go-to journal for pseudoscience. Be that as it may, Scientific Reports shares the same criteria as PLoS One for publication, namely that a paper doesn’t have to have high impact or importance. It just has to be scientifically valid. Indeed, Scientific Reports is on track to surpass PLoS One as the largest scientific journal in the world.
Open access journals are a mixed bag. PLoS One, for instance, has published some really good science, but it’s also published some truly terrible science. A skeptical eye is required. This article in Scientific Reports is as bad or sorse than anything I’ve seen in PLoS One—or anywhere else, for that matter. One reason I mention the journal is because of the confusion. Because Scientific Reports is published by Nature Publishing Group (NPG), articles published there are sometimes mistakenly viewed as having been published in Nature or by Nature. Given that Nature is one of the top three or so scientific journals in the world, that mistake can lead articles appearing in Scientific Reports to be viewed as far more prestigious than they should be. I can’t help but wonder if NPG knows this and uses this and that’s why Scientific Reports is growing so fast.
On to the paper, which is authored by Aratani et al and entitled Murine hypothalamic destruction with vascular cell apoptosis subsequent to combined administration of human papilloma virus vaccine and pertussis toxin. Now, my first thought upon reading the title was: Why on earth were the investigators combining pertussis toxin with HPV in mice? It couldn’t be that they wanted to make sure they saw an inflammatory reaction, could it? Perish the thought! Of course, As Yehuda Shoenfeld has done for ASIA, Aratani et al do for HANS. They assume the existence of facts not in evidence, namely the existence of HANS as an actual syndrome:
To evoke a full- and adequate immunological reaction, vaccines include aluminum adjuvant in addition to virus-like particles as antigens. Chronic stimulation of the immune system by adjuvants can result in an autoimmune disease characterized by myalgia, arthralgia, chronic fatigue, and neurological manifestations - appropriately named the autoimmune/inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants (ASIA)7,8. According to the HPV vaccination, there are two recent well-documented review articles. Palmieri B. et al reported the occurrence of severe somatoform and dysautonomic syndromes after HPV vaccination9 and Brinth L. et al. also described the onset of autonomic dysfunction after the quadrivalent vaccination10. Both reviews clearly indicated the presence of unique adverse reactions associated with the HPV vaccination including headache, fatigue, depression, cognitive dysfunctions, uncontrollable and involuntary movement, and limb weakness. For these clinical manifestations, we have coined these reactions as human papillomavirus vaccination-associated neuro-immunopathic syndrome (HANS) and proposed diagnostic criteria. HANS syndrome is thought to consist of four clinical domains; (i) autonomic, endocrine and inflammatory symptoms; (ii) cognitive and emotional symptoms; (iii) environmental hypersensitivity and pain symptoms and (iv) locomotion and motor symptoms11,12. Several clinical studies on HANS symptoms have also shown that the HPV vaccines may influence the central nervous system (CNS)10,13,14,15.
Let’s take a look at one of these reviews. The first, by Palmieri et al, Severe somatoform and dysautonomic syndromes after HPV vaccination: case series and review of literature, is a retrospective case series of patients referred to something called the “Second Opinion Medical Network” at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia Medical School in Modena, Italy. Sadly, this appears to be a general surgery clinic. It was a small case study of 18 girls, all of whom complained of “long-lasting and invalidating somatoform symptoms (including asthenia, headache, cognitive dysfunctions, myalgia, sinus tachycardia and skin rashes) that have developed 1–5 days (n = 11), 5–15 days (n = 5) and 15–20 days (n = 2) after the vaccination.” The authors then catalog the complaints but don’t do much in the way of further investigation, other than to strongly imply that correlation equals causation and to speculate that the girls’ symptoms fit in with ASIA, which, of course, is so protean in its manifestations that just about any set of vague symptoms can be attributed to ASIA. Unfortunately, this article was credulously reported on Medscape, which so bought into the unwarranted speculation that it drew a rebuke from Paul Offit, who noted:
First of all, the HPV vaccine was studied for safety in 30,000 people for 7 years before licensure. It has been formally studied both in phase 4 postlicensure studies and by the Vaccine Safety Datalink in more than a million people, and has been found not to cause chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia. When those symptoms do occur, they occur at the same rate in both vaccinated and unvaccinated groups.
We learned from these studies that the HPV vaccine doesn't prevent fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue in adolescents. That Medscape chose to highlight this article, as if it were in any way an advance, is disappointing. Frankly, this falls under the same category as the syndrome described by Andrew Wakefield—that the MMR vaccine caused intestinal symptoms and autism, which also was thoroughly debunked.
Yep. This “study” is nothing more than some cherry picked cases—the investigators were actually looking for girls complaining about these sorts of symptoms after vaccination—combined with confusing correlation with causation and speculation about an as yet unproven clinical entity.
But what about the mouse study? Whenever I see a study like this, one of the first questions that come to mind is: Where the hell was IACUC, or, in this case, the Japanese equivalent of IACUC? IACUC, for those not familiar with it, is the committee at each university and institution charged with protecting animal welfare, assuring that animal research is conducted ethically and humanely, and following federal and state laws and regulations governing animal research.
It wasn’t long before I learned why Aratani et al administered pertussis toxin in addition to Gardasil:
To assess the neurophysiological effects of the HPV vaccine, forty eight female mice were either immunized with Gardasil or given phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) as a control (Fig. 1-a). Pertussis toxin (Ptx) was administrated subsequent to the vaccination to facilitate the access of the vaccine to the CNS via modulation of the blood-brain barrier (BBB)16.To assess the neurophysiological effects of the HPV vaccine, forty eight female mice were either immunized with Gardasil or given phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) as a control (Fig. 1-a). Pertussis toxin (Ptx) was administrated subsequent to the vaccination to facilitate the access of the vaccine to the CNS via modulation of the blood-brain barrier (BBB)16. As a control for autoimmune encephalomyelitis, myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein (MOG)35-55 was used17.
So this is a totally artificial system. The pertussis toxin is intended to cause “leakiness” of the blood-brain barrier, which would normally keep out proteins like the ones in Gardasil. As a positive control, they injected MOG to induce autoimmune encephalitis. The experimental groups were thus:
- Vehicle (phosphate-buffered saline, or PBS)
- Pertussis toxin + PBS
- Gardasil + PBS
- Gardasil + pertussis toxin
- MOG + PBS
- MOG + Pertussis toxin
The first thing that struck me about this paper is the paucity of quantitative data and the utter lack of any sort of statistical analysis. Nor is there any indications that the observers who observed neurologic symptoms, such as tail drop, and scored the disease severity using various instruments were blinded to experimental group. Ditto the investigators who scored the tissue sections for immunohistochemistry (IHC). There’s a nontrivial amount of subjectivity in scoring IHC, as all pathologists know. To me, any study that does IHC studies in which the pathologist or investigator scoring the tissue sections isn’t blinded to treatment group deserves extreme skepticism because such measurements are extremely prone to subtle unconscious bias that can affect choice of areas examined and how cells that stain weakly are called (positive or negative). After all, if you look at the supplemental data section, you’ll see that there was no difference between the mice in the vehicle control group and the Gardasil + pertussis toxin groups in the mobility of the mice as measured by the horizontal bar test and Kondziela's inverted screen test.
So basically, the investigators report that mice inoculated with HPV and pertussis toxin had impaired responsiveness of the tail reflex and reduced locomotive activity. Again, this is a very artificial system basically designed to show something. Pathological analyses supposedly revealed damage to areas of the brain (the hypothalamus and circumventricular regions) around the third ventricle, as well as increased apoptosis (programmed cell death) in the vascular endothelial cells (the cells lining the blood vessels) in these regions.
One commenter noted exactly this problem and others that I’ve mentioned above:
If seven times more apoptotic cells were observed in mice treated with Gardasil and pertussis toxin than those in control mice, how much were the actual number (e.g. the average number per 10 or more high power fields)? Similarly, if tyrosine hydroxylase was increased in PVN, and glutamic acid decarboxylase 67 and gamma-aminobutyric acid was decreased in PVN, how did they assess these findings (e.g. by comparing the intensity of positive staining per 10 or more high power fields)? They did not mention at all how they analyzed these pathological findings. Instead, they only showed numerous microscopic pictures which might manipulate readers’ images.
If they had assessed them only by their subjective impressions, it would be highly vulnerable to confirmation bias or even intentional overestimation, unless the microscopic examiners had been blinded about whether each specimen was derived from a vaccinated or non-vaccinated mouse. Otherwise, it might be reasonable to request some researchers of other institutes, who are blinded about the information of those specimens, to retest the pathological analysis. If such a retest should corroborate their conclusion, their study would obtain a robust credibility, and in turn, further evaluation of the safety of HPV vaccines might be necessary.
As for risk of confirmation bias, it is all the same for the neurophysiological
tests for the mice. Their behavioral tests for the mice revealed no significant differences between the vaccinated mice and the control.
Exactly. This commenter also noted that the authors never really defined a lot of rather important criteria for their IHC analysis in terms of neuroanatomy and how they picked their sections to examine. Again, when the authors are unblinded, unconscious bias can easily affect selection of anatomic areas. That’s why we blind researchers in clinical research. Unfortunately, researchers in basic research often seem not to understand how important blinding is when it comes to measurements like this. Basically, this is an utterly useless paper, a waste of precious animals. Worse, it’s animal torture—and I mean that literally—for no good scientific reason.
Antivaccinationists like to postulate the existence of autoimmune diseases and syndromes that arise as a result of vaccines, basing their ideas on the extremely rare incidence of vaccine complications such as Guillan-Barre syndrome, a syndrome so rare that it’s still not entirely clear that it’s linked to vaccines. They invent syndromes like ASIA, and now HANS (which, let’s face it, is basically just ASIA with a different name). Neither condition has been demonstrated to exist.
This brings me back to Scientific Reports. I’ve always supported the existence of open access journals like PLoS One (and now Scientific Reports) dedicated to publishing scientifically valid research that might not be as impactful as what other journals publish or that might not (yet) make a complete story (although, having published a couple of times in PLoS One, I can’t help but notice that its review process has become very much like that of the other journals I’ve published in). However, whatever Scientific Reports means by “valid,” this paper by Palmieri et al fails that test. To me “valid” scientific research means proper experimental design, including blinding, selection of measurement criteria, and proper quantitative and statistical analysis, as well as sufficiently detailed reporting to allow other investigators to know what was done and evaluate the results. This paper fails both criteria massively.
NPG has a great reputation, thanks to its flagship journal Nature. Publishing crap like this on Scientific Reports risks both that reputation, but, worse, can easily allow cranks and quacks to falsely but convincingly claim that Nature published putridly awful research like this supporting their ideas.
- Log in to post comments
I think you hit the nail on the head. A big reason why antivaxxers are going after the HPV vaccine is they can get a lot of support from the religious zealots who are solely opposed to this vaccine's existence on the grounds that it involves acknowledging that young people have sex.
A lot of antivaxxers are (or at least claim) to be rather far down the religious rabbit hole as well. Religion is generally anti-sex, and thus any medical advancements that reject the anti-sexuality claims, even with major life-saving implications, are the enemy.
Peer review clearly failed here. This paper fails on so many levels let me go through a few of them.
1. The study design is terrible. They use MOG EAE as a control group for CNS inflammation but most of the pathology is in the spinal cord in this model so it really isn't a valid control. I also don't understand how their MOG + PBS controls had disease, you need to give pertussis to have clinical symptoms. I assume they gave the MOG in complete Freund's adjuvant but who knows from their methods. Partial limp tail is also not a score in this disease system-too subjective.
2. The TUNEL staining is awful. I can't even tell what those arrows are pointing at and I enlarged the figure quite a bit. They only show higher magnification of the CD31/TUNEL stain for the Gardasil/PTX group, I bet I could find TUNEL positive CD31 positive cells in a PTX treated mouse and maybe even a vehicle if I look hard enough.
3. Why do they compare the GABA/TH staining in Figure 5 between vehicle and Gardasil only-they need the pertussis alone control in there.
4. There is no attempt to perform quantitative analysis of anything-not ventricle size, nothing. The behavioral analysis is supplementary data also only compares gardasil/PTX versus vehicle not PTX treated mice.
I cannot understand how this paper got through peer review and Nature Publishing Group should be be ashamed (if they can feel shame which I don't think is possible since Nature published the whole acid stem cell debacle).
This is incredibly helpful, and thank you for going through it.
I do want to mention that you can get hpv from marital sex, too.
Well, of course, but that's not what the anti-Gardasil nuts are worked up about.
I have had a few of my friends who have refused to allow their daughters to have the vaccine 'cause - they fear - that their daughters will become promiscuous because there will be "... no consequences ..."
Oh great. Cervical cancer is now a "consequence" for "nasty women".
Poor mice. Just in case anybody needs a pick-me-up after the past couple of weeks, here are Rat and Chicken again. And a merry little rat Christmas.
Based on my experience with Medical Hypotheses (Orac has complained about that one several times in the past) as well as Physics Essays (which is sort of the physics version; a fair amount of crackpot stuff ends up in that journal), to have a journal with the title Scientific Reports ought to raise some alarm bells. WTF was NPG thinking?
I'll grant that many journals have occasional breakdowns in peer review. It happens to Nature, Science, and many others. But real journals usually try to get it right. Even PLoS One generally tries to get it right. So far, I have no evidence that Scientific Reports tries to get it right.
Because the sort of people who espouse that viewpoint are firmly of the opinion that sluts must be punished. Where "slut" is defined as any female who engages in sexual activity with anybody other than the man to whom she is married, and then only subsequent to the marriage. Same-sex spouses do not count.
Unfortunately, these jerks are too numerous and too politically powerful for us USA types to ignore. The VP-elect is one of this crowd.
ORAC - Defender of lab rats? Just curious - are you saying that the torturing of mice in what you consider to be legitimate scientific studies is more humane than studies you don't agree with? There seems to be a logical fallacy in here somewhere...
Oh please, stop trying to "gotcha". Clinical studies which are done humanely and advance valid scientific inquiry are valid. Studies, such as this one which are methodologically-poor and agenda-driven do needlessly sacrifice animals. I'm not sure why that is a hard concept for some to grasp.
If it is considered ethical to use animals in medical experiments, the minimal criteria, the lowest ethical hurdles to overcome, include that the experiments be grounded in good science, that the information cannot be obtained another way, that every effort be made to minimize pain and suffering, and, finally, that every effort be made to use as few animals as possible. The experiments in this paper fail on most counts, and possibly all counts.
HANS, huh? Let's see now...
Hopelessly Asinine Nonexistent Syndrome
Hosting A Nonsensical Study
Hysterical Antivax Ninnies Screeching
That'll do for starters.
Bob, you're not the former Lester, are you?
Oh, and I'll repeat myself yet again: I still think that HPV vaccination represents, to the not-getting-any-younger antivaccine brigade, a possibly huge chink in the recruitment armor.
What a stupid waste of mice. And what a stupid study! I mean, I could show that saline causes all kinds of bad reactions if I gave it with huge doses of LPS too.
The amazing thing is that they manipulated their “experimental system” that much and *still* didn’t get any kind of meaningful difference. If you’re going to fake that much you might as well go all the way. (No, don’t, but still.)
I see that the journal's APC doesn't include language editing, either.
This is rather mild compared to the horrors of vivisection.
Robert Mendelsohn? Bwahahahaha. Total crank.
When I encounter phrases like "murine hypothalamic destruction with vascular cell apoptosis subsequent to combined administration of human papilloma virus vaccine and pertussis toxin," my brain goes to spinning beachball mode about a third of the way in. Are there still people promoting science with 'anyone can do it, anyone can understand it' kinds of arguments? I found this quote from Carl Sagan more pertinent:
To the extent the individual words in that title mean anything to me, they don't call up any importance, don't connect to the stakes involved in controlling a venereal disease. Add that impenetrability to non-specialists to the fact most of this 'science' is behind a paywall, and the public is left to secondary sources like news accounts to get ant kind of clue as to what's going on -- which, given the quality of most science 'journalism' may be worse than having no clue at all. Is it any wonder stuff like anti-vax brews in these grounds?
I don't have any concrete suggestions for doing things differently in some way I could imagine fixes this "combustible" recipe for "disaster"... I'm basically just left with chuckles at the acronyms for the phony danger syndromes -- ASIA? invading yellow adjuvent hordes!, HANS? Needle Nazis will pump you up! HANS, of course, is often co-morbid with FRANS: “Fear response anti-vax nonsense syndrome”.
At first, I thought it might be fun to make up more funny acronyms to parody this 'science', but, frankly, the way so many things are blowing up in our faces,It's kinda hard to find amusement in the opaqueness of science to the body politic.
DB: I have Long Arc Mental Exhaustion Anti-science Sufferer Syndrome.
"We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science… " The problem is that qualified professional scientists do not understand science either. These papers have been written by scientists, evaluated by scientists, and accepted by academic journals. They do not significantly differ in terms of silliness from many other papers, the main difference is that Orac does not like their conclusion. But one can make the same destructive approach with more mainstream papers, as Dan Graur (Judge Starling) does with the ENCODE papers, which are published in Nature.
Absolutely. This is what caught my eye. It's a deliberate and dishonest attempt to load the deck.
Nice observation. To completely scare people away from vaccines, the trick is to construct an acronym that absolutely nobody wants to get. Such as: Free Aluminum Gardasil Syndrome (FAGS).
Oh, the irony.
One would have thought that the "experimenters" would have also included a ”adjuvants only" grouping, to rule out the adjuvants.
But, when stacking the deck, one stacks in limited ways, hoping to not get caught.
“We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science… ”“We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science…"
Well, I could discuss the merits of inertial assembly and confinement via a tamper system vs neutron reflection and radiation confinement in the construction of nuclear warheads, but it's likely that the math would be beyond many.
Does that mean we should get rid of all nuclear warheads, because most people cannot understand them?
Or would the more sensible reason to be rid of them be the insanity behind the rationale for their current existence, MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction)?*
Some things can't be easily simplified for the lay public. A more sane example is the very devices we are using to read this blog, computers. The majority of the populace is incapable of comprehending boolean algebra, truth tables, programming techniques, even computer and information security, but even the more dedicated luddites don't recommend abandoning computers.
*Note how I also tilted the argument. ;)
Just caught a COPS episode set in Indianapolis, wherein a brother and sister were not getting along. He was busted, having to surrender his pack of Pall Malls (while asking the cops to retrieve his meds, since "Ah have COPD"). His sister was yelling from the porch while wearing a t-shirt with this logo (which I thought was pretty apt):
@ Wzrd 1
In a democracy, the fact some things can't be well understood by a lay public is no excuse for presenting scientific information relevant to the health and welfare of citizens in ways that increase the difficulty of understanding them to those citizens -- since their elected representatives will have a lot of say in how policy is made (I belabor the Big Orange obvious).
While I still have no concrete answers to propose, this idea did just pop into my head: Perhaps the scientific community should consider that science literacy on key policy areas is too important to be left to journalists, and institutionalize some measures to address that. And no, I'm not talking about science popularizers like NdGT or bloggers like Orac, but rather some sort of accessibility requirement as attendant to research grants, publication, and to get really radical, academic tenure and promotion.
re: Narad's #26
No irony. I have way above average skills in the territory of prose that makes eyeballs glaze over and mental beachballs go aspin. So if I can't cut it, I doubt J. Doe Average=Citizen has much of a chance.
Yeah. I think the title was uneccessarily prolix. I would have shortened it. The full title Murine hypothalamic destruction with vascular cell apoptosis subsequent to combined administration of human papilloma virus vaccine and pertussis toxin is abit lengthy. Compared to hypothalamic destruction, vascular cell apoptosis seems rather mild. It would be silly to list every single effect of the combination in the articles' title. It should be then: Murine hypothalamic destruction subsequent to combined administration of human papilloma virus vaccine and pertussis toxin.
But still too prolix. Why not use the well-known abbreviation for human papilloma virus. This abbreviation is actually more common and well-understood than the full name itself. We would then get: Murine hypothalamic destruction subsequent to combined administration of HPV vaccine and pertussis toxin.
And this is a more readable title.
It seems as if the authors were being intentionally prolix.
Actually, "Murine hypothalamic destruction with vascular cell apoptosis subsequent to combined administration of human papilloma virus vaccine and pertussis toxin" makes sense.
If one destroys vascular cells, one destroys the vascular supply to many areas of the brain, including the hypothalamus. It does seem that the hypothalamus, considering multiple diseases in many vertebrates, is especially sensitive to this, as is well displayed in dementia patients.
What is questionable is what effect HPV would have otherwise, in a mammal that is generally not susceptible to infection by HPV? This is especially questionable, as the BBB, which was artificially induced to "leak" is part of the protective mechanisms of the brain.
Perhaps, a more accurate title would be, "Bad things happen when one damages the BBB".
Publishing a paper in an unfocused OA journal strikes me as a novel definition of "presenting scientific information" to "a lay public."
"Perhaps the scientific community should consider that science literacy on key policy areas is too important to be left to journalists"
Anything is too important to be left to journalists. We need books and discussion.
Of course, the folks behind "Murine hypothalamic destruction with vascular cell apoptosis subsequent to combined administration of human papilloma virus vaccine and pertussis toxin" may not want to present scientific information to a lay public. I don't know anything about the authors, and have no idea where the funding for the study came from. But money went to this for a reason, and the researchers chose this topic for a reason, and I wouldn't be surprised if the reasons had something to do with arousing public suspicion over Gardasil. That could be an anti-vax thing, a sexual repression thing, or a business thing from competing pharmaceutical interests. My first point is that a good way to arouse the public is to 1) get a low quality study published anywhere that will take it, 2) make a bogus claim about the significance of the finding 3) find a credulous journalist who'll write up that claim in a gee-whiz report as the latest 'science has now shown' revelation 4) make sure the actual published study is too arcane for any non-expert who might check the source to know if it really supports the claimed significance or not.
My second point is that this bogus science is indistinguishable from the real thing as far as the lay person is concerned because the presentation is equally obscure. Publishing a paper in a top-notch, focused conventional journal is hardly a definition of '“presenting scientific information to a lay public” either.
@sadmar, so you want researchers to now write two papers per study?
One for their peers, one for anyone who can read to comprehend?
So, researchers, with their copious spare time, can take time off from grant applications to write about cellular receptor signaling, in a way that Joe the gas station guy and Jimmy the burger flipper can comprehend? The same would be true for research papers in autoimmune disease?
It'd be a gas to see such a paper on quantum physics, which is entirely mathematical, in math that most of the populace doesn't understand!
We have enough people trying to turn science back into philosophy, when we've managed to take it down to atomic and even quantum mechanical levels, why should we be forced to move backward by more than a century to satisfy the luddites?
You can find bogus science in top-notch journals too. The only way to make your own opinion is to listen to contradictory arguments. I think that PubMed commons comments is a very useful way to combat bogus science. Look for instance at this comment:
Orac writes (#11),
"If it is considered ethical to use animals in medical experiments, the minimal criteria, the lowest ethical hurdles to overcome, include that the experiments be grounded in good science, that the information cannot be obtained another way, that every effort be made to minimize pain and suffering, and, finally, that every effort be made to use as few animals as possible."
An example where mice are genetically modified in a effort to monitor their suffering.
GENETICALLY ENGINEERED MOUSE MODEL FOR AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER HAVING DELETION OF SHANK2 GENE AND USE THEREOF (Lee, et al. Patent number 9,232,775 – January 12, 2016)
It's clear that gene modification studies on mice are acceptable. Therefore, shouldn't vaccine studies also be encouraged in an effort to understand potential contraindications?
Desperate times encourage desperate measures?
<blockquote?Desperate times encourage desperate measures?
Yeah, when thousands of real studies don't support one's notions, things are indeed desperate. What are you going to suggest next, since this "study" has more holes in it than a swiss cheese used as a skeet target? Concentration camps?
Since ethics no longer matters.
Lee?!?! Lee?!?! Are you serious MJD? That name is all too familiar to us here at RI. Learn to use the SEARCH function up top, for crying out loud!
Something something Social Text something.
If someone has any arguments that science generally has unnecessarily complicated jargon, it might be an interesting discussion topic.
I will treat bald assertions or undefended suppositions that this is so with exactly the respect they deserve.
But of course, unlike the commentator who constantly tells others how they should think and talk, I'm an arrogant 'positivist'. Imagine the rudeness of demanding argumentation for an extraordinary claim.
@RJ #41, I'd say that science has necessarily complicated jargon.
To precisely explain, define and enumerate various complex factors, one needs to use more complicated terminology. :)
A case in point, once, I crushed the distal phalange of my right great toe. That precisely describes a very specific bone and I could even qualify it further by describing it as a greenstick fracture.
Although, when I discuss the story surrounding that event that involved careless handling of large chunks of metal, I mentioned dancing about and a severe rain storm that occurred immediately after that dance, I'd be digressing from the subject.
Short answer: Absolutely yes.
Elaborations: But we'll leave quantum mechanics out of it. Or any research project that has no impact on public policy. I don't know why you picked autoimmune disease, but that sounds like it might be relevant to Jimmy the burger guy. The lead author may or may not have copious spare time, but compared to other academic fields the sciences have copious junior authors and copious research assistants. Is it to much to ask that one member of the crew be able to write in common English, and take the time to do so? What percentage of the total person hours devoted to the project would that be? Anyway, the onus shouldn't fall on the scientist, who is, after all, just an employee. The institutions that want the work done and are supplying the funds should be responsible for putting the pittance more into the kitty so curious Joes and Jimmys might have a fair stab at figuring out what they're up to.
If you knew anything about the actual historical Luddites, you wouldn't ask that snide elitist question. How is science communication moving backward? It is 'science' itself that has moved backward for more than a century by obfuscating the fact that it IS philosophy, and IS politics, whether you believe it is or not.
Carbon levels. Ice Caps. Sea levels. Methane 'bombs'.
Busy, busy, busy.
@sadmar, how do you explain receptors, immune modulation and assorted similar complex biochemistry to the lay, when just this morning, I had to explain Archimedes principle to someone who couldn't figure out how wood floated, but steel could also float?
I know! We'll slow all research down by 60%, just to give a text book with every simply explained paper and meanwhile, we'll roll back medical science back to bleeding, leeches and prayer.
That'll solve the knowledge gap in the populace and the skyrocketing costs of health care.
Of course, it'll kill myself and my wife, who are receiving complex, modern medical treatments just to remain alive.
Actually, the title seems pretty straightforward and typical of scientific papers to me. You could change it to "Giving mice HPV vaccine and pertussis toxin at the same time destroys part of the brain and causes cells that line the blood vessels to commit suicide" but that would be even more ungainly and would probably make it less comprehensible to the target audience (i.e., scientists who specialize in this field) without actually making it much clearer to laypeople.
Keep in mind that antivaxxers are a special case of "laypeople" - they actively reject attempts at scientific communication (because scientists are all in on the conspiracy) and deliberately seek out individual papers that appear to support their pet hypothesis precisely because the over-all body of scientific evidence is very much against them. Most laypeople neither need nor want to read every individual study, which is just as well, since only about 30% of them are reproducible anyways.
Speaking of obscure writing that no one can understand...or was that deliberate? We seem to have cross-posted, but after reading my comment, do you still think every single study needs to be written up twice in light of the fact that 70% of them will turn out to be unreproducible anyways? What's wrong with the current practice of scientific bodies issuing consensus statements based on the entire body of research that's been done on a topic? Sure, there will always be people who don't accept the consensus, but that's mostly because they don't like what the evidence says, and they're not going to like it any better just because someone spends ridiculous amounts of time and money to translate every individual paper to a third-grade reading level. And that's not even getting into all of the extra background info you'd have to append to every single paper if your goal really is to make each one a stand-alone document that anyone can understand.
Congratulations, you've reinvented science by university press release.
@Narad, is it science by University Press Release or science by slavery?
Now, research staff have to write additional, unfunded papers, for free, as that isn't part of any research grant.
The last time I heard, labor without compensation that is mandatory is called slavery.
Weren't you just bitching about sets?
No sets? Wouldn't that make him a setless spewnick? ;)
I'll get my own coat, thank you.
Among the 'radical' ideas I actually advocated during my career: We have reached a situation where academics in the humanities are actually punished for writing accessibly. It is not enough to end this, such that acting as 'a public intellectual' no longer counts against tenure and promotion. Nor is it enough to make accessible writing count towards tenure and promotion, It should be required for tenure and promotion.
Sokal hoax era Social Text was far less obscurantist overall than most academic writing. The essays varied in use of language, of course, but many were quite accessible. For example, here's the first page on JStor of the essay by Andrew Ross (the prime target of Sokal's prank) in the journal issue (edited by Ross) that included "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity".
And here is an excerpt of Social Text's response to Sokal's hoax:
Maybe Joe the gas station guy could care less about this, but if he did care, I think he'd understand it a lot better than "Murine hypothalamic destruction with vascular cell apoptosis subsequent to combined administration of human papilloma virus vaccine and pertussis toxin".
Are you sure you don't want to qualify that?
Well, it seems the evidence of reading comprehension here supports a thesis it's a waste of time to publish anything.
"Congratulations, you’ve reinvented science by university press release." No. That's what we have now. The journalists generate their stories by regurgitating hype-filled press releases created by flacks from the school PR department for the purpose of maximizing publicity and alumni donations. The scientists take no responsibility for any of this. Works great, eh?
"Now, research staff have to write additional, unfunded papers, for free?" Wow, Wzrd read the quote Narad pulled in #43! Too bad he didn't read the quote Sarah pulled in #42, also by Narad in #45. Or, you know, my actual comment. He don't need no stinkin' context, apparently.
"After reading my comment, do you still think every single study needs to be written up twice?" After reading my comment , how did you imagine I thought every single study needs to be written up twice? Oh, apparently "But we’ll leave quantum mechanics out of it. Or any research project that has no impact on public policy" is "obscure writing that no one can understand…" Got it. My bad.
"someone spends ridiculous amounts of time and money to translate every individual paper to a third-grade reading level"
I was thinking, like, liberal arts undergrad reading level. But, based on the replies, maybe third grade level is pegging things to high. How about just taking reading level off the board and doing everything with stick figures?
I had no idea writing ~3,000 word reports takes ridiculous amounts of time. I've speculated that Orac must have an army of clones laboring to generate new blog posts every day. I figured there must be at least 30 of 'em to handle the load. Glad to have your confirmation of the thesis. And do please tell Wzrd that the graduate RAs writing the reports will be reaping ridiculous amounts of money for their efforts.
How about deflating the pumped-up strawman baloons you've plucked to pick at, and addressing the point of the discussion. Make a list for yourself of all the costs we are currently bearing due to the body politic's inability to understand science. Start at the top. If you need inspiration, read this and consider:
The leading candidates for Secretary of the Interior are reportedly Lucas Oil founder Forrest Lucas and Sarah Palin...
... OK. Never mind helping the public understand science. It's too late. We're f***ed. The game's over and we're just coasting down the denouement.
At least, there's this:
This is really good!… This is awesome news!… Good news indeed! I feel SO much better!
That's an easy explanation, as old as politics and worsened since Citizens United.
Prostitutes take care of the better paying johns.
A corollary to that law is, the only real difference between a street prostitute and a politician is that the prostitute will be honest about who and what she does for a living - the politician won't.
We need better science journalists. A decade ago, my local newspaper had a weekly science section. Not any more. It’s your profession, not ours, that dropped the ball. It’s the editors-in-chief who decided that science doesn’t sell. But it can’t sell if it’s not even there.
And why shouldn’t the onus be on those good folks who have chosen as a profession to inform the public to, you know, inform the public ?
Sadmar #53 (my emphasis)
Part of me agrees with part of your assessment of this problem. We, as scientists, need to take upon ourselves the responsibility of communicating better. We can’t rely on Niel deGrasse Tyson or the Discovery Channel to do it for us.
But good communication with the public is a full time job. If your job is communicating with the public, when do you find the time to do the science?
Trump appears to have no idea how the oil & gas industry operates...currently, with Oil being around $43 per barrel, there is no economic reason to drill new wells.....most US oil is uneconomical to extract at anything under $80 - 90 per barrel.
The Canadian Oil Sands are uneconomical at anything under $110 per barrel....if he thinks the industry is desperate to be drilling new wells, on new lands or even off-shore, he's nuts.
The primary reason that companies are still extracting oil today, is to keep the leases on the land they already have....that's about it, until we see prices rise significantly over current rates.
That you're pitching a fit because you couldn't understand the title of a crappy paper? Quick: What was the most recent Nobel Prize in Physics awarded for?
@Narad, wasn't a recent ig Nobel prize recently awarded for just what sadmar is complaining about? The inability to comprehend a title, let alone what the abstract says?
Because Wzrd1 asked you that exact question and you wrote, "Absolutely yes." You then went on to restrict it to only those papers that have some impact on public policy, but that's still a f*ck-ton of papers. Or, depending on how you look at it, that's actually no papers, since, as I've already mentioned, it's not wise to try and draw conclusions or implement policies based on the primary literature because 70% of it is wrong. So how about you stop prevaricating and get around to answering the question as it was obviously intended: of the papers you previously indicated as needing to be written up twice (i.e., those that may have some relevance to public policy), do you still think they should all be written up twice given that a) 70% of them will turn out to be irrelevant, and b) doing so would necessitate the attachment of several textbooks worth of background onto to each individual paper (I noticed that you neglected to respond to that point.)
As for the reading level, I would argue that scientific papers are already written at a liberal arts undergraduate reading level; when I started graduate work in science I had a B.A. in philosophy, and i was perfectly capable of understanding scientific literature once I learned the relevant background info and terminology, without any sort of global improvement in my reading comprehension. It's the lack of background info that makes scientific papers difficult for the average person to understand, not any sort of innate obscurantism in the writing itself.
Incidentally, after accusing scientists of incomprehensible writing, you realize you're not leaving this thread alive until you explain WTF the phrase "putting the pittance more into the kitty" means, right?
all the costs we are currently bearing due to the body politic’s inability to understand science
I do not see the benefit of confounding "inability" with "refusal to understand science", except that with the former version there is the satisfaction of having a small and identifiable group to blame, i.e. the scientists whose advice is ignored.
@Sadmar: you said: “someone spends ridiculous amounts of time and money to translate every individual paper to a third-grade reading level”
I was thinking, like, liberal arts undergrad reading level. But, based on the replies, maybe third grade level is pegging things to high. How about just taking reading level off the board and doing everything with stick figures?
I work for a company that does a lot of public mailings. We are actually required to make sure our mailings go no higher than 5th grade reading comprehension so that "everyone" can understand them. Preferably, we wouldn't go above 3rd grade. Yes, the standards of reading in the US are that low - basic literacy is defined as being able to read at the 3rd grade level.
Asking any techinical paper, medical review, or other research to be written at that level is very timeconsuming. (This comment is at the 8th grade level, by the way).
all the costs we are currently bearing due to the body politic’s inability to understand science
Any analysis of climate change denial that blames the scientists really has to explain why the level of denial is so different in the US than in other countries. Do US voters really find scientific writing so much harder to understand? Or are there other factors involved?
Well, herr doktor,
The US is notable for a general literacy level that is closer to third world than new world or old world.
Indeed, recently, we had taken in a homeless couple and noticed that both essentially failed in life, largely due to unaddressed and severe dyslexia. A lack of opportunity ensued, resulting in questionable choices being made in life, resulting in a significant decline in opportunities available to make a stable life for themselves.
I don't blame scientists for AGW denial... well not much, anyway. ;-)
Although less than ideal, (I just looked at them) I'd say the climate change 'consensus statements based on the entire body of research issued by science bodies' are pretty good. My thoughtwas/\is simply that AGW denial sits at the end of a long trail of separation between science and the body politic -- which is indeed the product of social forces way above any individual scientists, or even groups of working scientists. (c.f., the quote from Social Text above). If scientists have too easily just rolled with the flow, it would be naive of me to suggest they could have done much to reverse the trend, not without getting their (figurative) heads lopped off anyway.
Of the many things scientists typically fail to understand about science studies is that it isn't about them. Like that stuff about 'a civil religion: It wasn't scientists that created that any more than Elvis created his quasi-deification (that would start with Colonel Tom). My hypothesis on the animus against science studies is that scientists think they run their joints, can't even conceive of the reality that they're just the hired help, and misread criticisms of the institutions as assertions that they're the bad guys, as that would be the 'logical' conclusion if they were in charge. IOW, cognitive dissonance.
Ouch. I feel your pain. I confess that reading undergraduate attempts at coherent and grammatical prose left me feeling so depressed and helpless, I simply eliminated paper requirements from my history/theory/crit classes.* This despite having most of my teaching load in courses built around creative media projects. This despite teaching at a 'highly selective NE liberal arts college'. It was that bad.
The 8th grade level comment was really funny. Thanks for making me laugh.
Flush toiletsIndoor Plumbing [ftfy]
Shame on Narad for leaving the European minions and their bidets out of the equation.
I remember a film critic (Manny Farber, IIRC) once said something to the effect that Psycho is parody of all that America holds dear: Mom, large breasts, and modern plumbing, but I can't find the exact quote. One of the highlights of touring the Tower of London is seeing where the Royals took their dumps down side-wall chutes to land on the peasants surrounding the castle below.
* Just for the record, I still took teaching seriously, and didn't just turn (as some, alas diddo) to T/F and multiple choice exams: While I used some essay exams -- the students' writing stunk less when they were in a hurry, and there was no expectation for the prof. to markup the language -- mostly I substituted oral presentations where they not only had to talk coherently for half a class session, but lead a critical discussion on their topic in the second half. It actually worked really well, and probably helped their writing more than the kind of paper assignments they did in most other courses.
^^ I somehow addressed the reply to MI Dawn to Sarah. Sincere apologies. Getting old stinks.
See my #63 above. Communication is the responsibility of 'science' which =/= 'scientists'. My proposal was just to replace the PR flacks with grad assistants who can write, know a little science, and answer to the scientists, not the Development department.
"It’s your profession, not ours, that dropped the ball." I have to disabuse you of the notion journalism is\ a 'profession'. (That was actually a debate in journalism scholarship 30 years ago, btw. Now, IDK, I don't keep up. I'd guess, given all that's happened since, not so much, and only some delusional fogey die-hards are waving the 'Yes, we are professionals!' flag.) What's happened is that our bosses have either hidden the ball or thrown it away.
"Why shouldn’t the onus to inform the public be on those good folks who have chosen as a profession to inform the public?"
Because they're all driving for Uber 7 days a week after the layoffs. Assuming they chose to 'inform the public' in the first place, in which case they were probably very, very depressed working in 'news media'. True story. Back in the day when offering 'programming in the public interest' was a requirement for holding an FCC license for TV stations, a liberal mass comm professor (not me, a friend) goes to a seminar for professional broadcasters.These are local station guys, not network. There's a session on 'public interest programming' and the station managers are talking about the syndicated magazine shows they strip program before or after their 6PM news: A Current Affair, Entertainment Tonigh, etc. All gossip and tabloid sensationalism leavened with adoring promos for vapid celebrities. Professor asks, kinda agitatedly, 'How can you say these shows are in the public interest?" They all look at him like he's from Mars, and then one says, "Because the public is interested in them.', the rest of the execs nod, and get back to business, and the professor heads off to the bar to get drunk.
"It's always someone else's fault."
More like some THING. Methinks you guys to need to read some political economy real bad. I'd start here (seriously):
So I saw this article today.
Your thoughts, sadmar?
Jesus F*cking Christ.
I don't blame scientists at all for denial. I blame a failure, indeed, an abject failure in our educational systems.
I went to school during "the new math" era, where sets, subsets, etc were taught, along with critical thinking, reason, cultures and sociology. Our school even had electron microscopes and an observatory for students to use.
Those are long gone, as was critical thinking training, advanced mathematics, chemistry was taught using M&M's and teaching about other cultures was as extinct as the Dodo bird.
Imagine our eldest daughter's shock when she hit college and learned how Graham stain worked, let alone actually performing said staining and examining the slides! Something I did in 7th grade as an AP student.
I've been known to employ multiple guess exams, but I've never, ever ruled out trick questions. Find the best answer, based upon what you were just taught. If you know it, you'll find the correct answer in short order, as only the most correct is marked correct.
Oral presentations are all well and good, for native English speakers, but for those not, a nightmare. Have to weight where the knowledge is to be practiced, knowledge depth and the ability to utilize that knowledge in the career, some of which may not rely upon the spoken word in favor of the written word.
For that, I've found teach the class worked quite well, with "students" strongly encouraged to ask questions. One never learns a subject better than when one actually is teaching it. :)
Nowhere as much as not getting to get old stinks. ;)
Save that large organizations have a PR department and an absolute, iron clad requirement that all external contact, especially to the press, be conducted through that PR department.
No exceptions, violate at the risk of immediate termination for cause.*
*Save, for the military, who could lose 2/3 pay, rank, retirement and potentially go to prison.
@Wzrd1 #71 - That comment was meant for Sadmar; the phrase in blockquotes is from his comment #53.
Orac has blogged several times on the reproducibility problem, but I have to admit I haven't been able to figure out where I got the 70% from, unless I was misremembering this post, which discussed a survey showing that 70% of scientists have failed to reproduce published results (which is obviously not the same thing as saying that 70% of results are irreproducible.) However, I think I was actually thinking of this post, which discusses a particularly widely discussed (and abused) paper by John Ioannidis, in which he states that at least 1/3 of highly-cited clinical trials are either flat-out wrong or exaggerate the true effect. But then later in the same post he talks about a study showing that only 10 - 25% of preclinical research on drug targets is reproducible. So, yeah, I should have double-checked before I pulled a number from my (apparently faulty) memory, but my point remains valid: it doesn't make any sense to put a lot of time and effort into scientific communication at the level of primary literature because a large proportion of it will turn out to be wrong.
That was my point, actually: when Sadmar originally proposed writing scientific papers so that "laypeople" could read them, I interpreted that as around a third-grade reading level, since I vaguely remember being told that newspapers are written at a third-grade level. When he proposed a liberal arts undergrad reading level instead, I pointed out that scientific papers are already written at that level, and that what prevents laypeople from understanding them isn't the reading level per se but unfamiliarity with the relevant background info.
@Sarah A, as I recall, some of the blog entries were in regards to studies *not* being reproduced, not failing to be reproduced. A big difference, as one isn't even attempted, vs failed to reproduce results when attempted.
It was railing over a lack of funding for replication of results and rightfully so. Science replies upon others replicating results.
As for grade levels in writing, what level something is written at depends upon the intended audience.
This is how old *that* problem is:
The US Army went with 6th grade reading level, save in technical documents, where the grade reading level increased.
Also, for general preventative services/maintenance, a comic book formatted periodical:
Yes, that goes out to units on paper.
You know what, I agree with you that people scoring the histochemistry in animal studies should be blinded. However, practically no animal study does this. (Or at least they do not bother to report it, if the grad student drudging through all those slides does not know by looking at the labels which groups each came from.) Would you dish out the same contempt to unblinded animal studies purporting to find some harm in a natural product?
I also find it interesting that your concern for animal welfare appears only when an unapproved hypothesis is tested (anything that might make an alternative look good or a conventional intervention look bad). At other times, you and your ilk respond to activists who want to place legal restrictions on animal torture with rants about how they will shut down all medical Progress and must want babies to die.
Your problem in a nutshell is that you aren't interested in seeing a set of standard research principles that anyone could agree could be fairly applied; you are interested in principles that can be bent or stretched in whatever direction will result in the outcomes you prefer.
@jane, rather than perhaps, what the good doctor stated up front.
Or are you going to say that the test appears to be valid, despite invalid methods and even incomplete methodology, lack of blinding on multiple other issues beyond one set of tissue slides, lousy procedures and frankly, dubious assumptions?
Or is cherry picking arguments out of the entire blog entry for a few tidbits how you roll, rather than considering the total argument?
Would you care to define this "ilk," Jane? What's your opinion of Camille Marino?