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Skeptic Summary

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Skeptic Summary #335

By The Staff
Posted on: 6/25/2011

Jesus, churches, god, idiocy, omniscience, vaccines and more!

Week ending June 25, 2011 (Vol 8, #23)

Welcome to the Skeptic Summary, a quick week-in-review guide to the Skeptic Friends Network and the rest of the skeptical world.

Forum Highlights:
The return of Jesus - Not really, but a return of a proselytizer.

Tax the Churchs! - The pro- and con-discussion is taxing.

They’ve got it right - How can you hate something you don’t think exists?

Unbelievable idiocy - Not the story itself, but the lack of skepticism or investigation.

Editor’s Choice: The Mythicist position - Now random numbers versus omniscience.

Kil’s Evil Pick:
PBS FRONTLINE: The Vaccine War — The show pretty much lays out the controversy over childhood vaccination and the problem we all face as the mostly parent driven movement of anti-vaxers grows.

Watch the full program online.

From its beginnings rising from the now discredited and retracted Lancet published study by Andrew Wakefield that linked autism to the mumps-measles-rubella vaccination (MMR), the subsequent studies that showed no link whatsoever, through the moving of goal posts by the anti-vaxers to now include all vaccinations as being more dangerous (and yes, still causing autism) than not being vaccinated (what’s worse, measles or autism?) at all.

The Jenny McCarthey Body Count

Also at issue are parents claims that they would be denied a basic freedom over themselves and their right to protect their children as they see fit if they were not given the choice to vaccinate or not.

From PBS FRONTLINE: The Vaccine War, the introduction:
Vaccines have changed the world, largely eradicating a series of terrible diseases, from smallpox to polio to diphtheria, and likely adding decades to most of our life spans. But despite the gains — and numerous scientific studies indicating vaccine safety — a growing movement of parents remains fearful of vaccines. And in some American communities, significant numbers of parents have been rejecting vaccines altogether, raising new concerns about the return of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough.

In The Vaccine War, FRONTLINE lays bare the science of vaccine safety and examines the increasingly bitter debate between the public health establishment and a formidable populist coalition of parents, celebrities, politicians and activists who are armed with the latest social media tools — including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter — and are determined to resist pressure from the medical and public health establishments to vaccinate, despite established scientific consensus about vaccine safety.

“Scientifically, I think the matter is settled,” says Anders Hviid, an epidemiologist at the Statens Serum Institut in Denmark. In one of the largest and most comprehensive epidemiological studies available, Hviid and colleagues analyzed data on more than a half million children and found no link between the MMR “triple shot” for measles, mumps and rubella and an increased rate of autism — a link that’s been strongly asserted for years by anti-vaccine activists. Similar epidemiological studies in Denmark also failed to reveal a link between the mercury preservative thimerosal and autism. In fact, around the world, peer-reviewed epidemiological studies have found no link between autism and either the MMR shot or thimerosal.

But vaccine skeptics like celebrity Jenny McCarthy, whose son, Evan, was diagnosed with autism following a series of vaccinations, including MMR, are convinced that further study into the other 15 pediatric vaccines and their additives will ultimately reveal a link. “Something happened. And when I say something, I mean a behavior, a trigger,” McCarthy tells FRONTLINE. “Is it mercury? Is it the schedule? Is there just too many? My answer to people and what I’ve been telling them is, ‘It’s all of the above.’ We don’t know for sure, which is why we keep saying, ‘Study it.’”

Further vaccine safety research is what businessman J.B Handley, who founded the autism support group Generation Rescue, has been calling for, too. Handley tells FRONTLINE he has little doubt that vaccines are responsible. “There is no real-world study that shows me that those six vaccines didn’t cause my son’s autism.”

Nowhere has the vaccine war grown more heated than in Ashland, Ore. — an area that FRONTLINE learns is of high concern to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With an estimated quarter of the town’s children entering kindergarten not fully immunized, Ashland is one of the least vaccinated places in America. Despite the best efforts of local pediatricians like Dr. Donna Bradshaw-Walters, many parents are simply not convinced that vaccines do more good than harm, and they’ve been using Oregon’s religious and personal-belief exemption to get out of the state vaccine mandate. “I think a child’s immune system is so immature,” says Jennifer Margulis, an Ashland writer and mother of four. Margulis decided against following the recommended CDC schedule — although prior to a trip to Africa she did have her children vaccinated for yellow fever, tetanus, polio and meningitis. Says Margulis, “If you read the list of ingredients about what you’re putting intramuscularly into your child, it’s scary.”

According to public health workers, however, Margulis’ decision puts the entire community at risk. Vaccines don’t work for everyone, and in some kids the effects wear off, so it’s only when everyone — or almost everyone — is immunized that “herd immunity” is effective. “There are hundreds of thousands of people in this country who cannot be vaccinated,” says Dr. Paul Offit, the chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the inventor of a vaccine for rotavirus. “They’re getting chemotherapy for their cancers, or they’re getting immunosuppressive therapy. They depend on those around them to be vaccinated.”

Bioethicist Art Caplan argues that society has the right to coerce its parents to vaccinate their children even if vaccines carry a small risk: “Parents don’t have unlimited rights with respect to the welfare of their children. You can’t kill them. You can’t put them at risk of fatal disease. You can’t put them at risk of devastating disability.”

Surveys reveal that America’s conversation about vaccines is complex, involving not only medical risks and benefits but also ideological beliefs about parental choice and the limits of government. “This is true even of individuals who see the benefits of vaccines as substantial,” political scientist Hank Jenkins-Smith tells FRONTLINE. “They still want it to be a choice. They don’t want it to be compulsory.” Government control over individual choice is another factor fueling the anti-vaccine backlash, despite the peer-reviewed science that vaccines are safe.

“People now have a way to get the information they couldn’t before, to communicate it to other people, and to have a robust public debate that is not controlled by money or political power or by government policy,” says Barbara Loe Fisher, president of the National Vaccine Information Center. “Physicians are going to have to get over the idea that they tell people what to do, and people are going to do it without questioning.”
A discussion is included on the website as well as interviews with some of the major players and a Dotors and Viewers forum. There is also a resource and link page. Pretty much, the subject is covered.

I haven’t a whole lot to add, except to say that this is a real health crisis, and right along with global warming denial, it has pretty much risen to the near if not the top of the list of those things that I believe to be a clear danger to the most people because of the promotion and persistence of pseudoscience and anti-science sentiments by people not really interested in what an overwhelming scientific consensus of epidemiologists are telling us. This sort of thing makes me pine for the old days, when all we had to worry about were psychics, bleeding statues and a few con artists. (Okay. I’m downplaying those problems and leaving out others, but you get my point.)

Please visit PBS FRONTLINE: The Vaccine War and watch the video, check the links and maybe, take part in the ongoing discussion over there.

It is said to await certainty is to await eternity.
— Jonas Salk

Chat Highlights:
Wednesday the 15th: Well, by golly, we had a pretty decent chat. Talked about cultural constructs and how women are still treated as professionals. Men still earn roughly 20% more than woman doing the same jobs. That happened to be a pretty lively discussion because some sexist attitudes toward women and men are so ingrained in us by way of our culture, that even those who advocate for women (or men) often aren’t aware of our own sexism. Cultural constructs are a hard nut to crack. Both sexes play their roles without being aware that what they are doing is perpetuating what is mostly an artificial idea of what our roles are. Anyhow, if there was anything else of import talking about in chat, I don’t recall it because no one was logging chat this week. Oh wait! I ordered out for a pizza delivery during chat because I didn’t want to leave my post. And what do you know? For the first time Domino’s let me down. It took them over an hour to make the delivery, and by then, chat was over! So there you go.

Wednesday the 22nd: We started with a TAM-9 countdown. It’s close now… Kil got into trouble when an HOA condo board wouldn’t pay for work he did, and a small claims court won’t have time to process the claim in time for TAM or rent. The over-all economical situation was also discussed and not surprisingly, Teabaggers got a lot of blame. We also discussed Presidential elections, the latest and a few before that, and how some of them were potentially rigged. A theory was proposed that Republicans voted for Obama because they were scared of Palin. The Jewish-dog-stoning-story proves that journalism is a shadow of its former self.

Come chat with us.

New Members This Week:
Judge Bromley circa 1612

(Not a member? Become one today!)

Elsewhere in the World:
The Backfire Effect

Brian Haw and the false cures of quackery

David Attenborough On The Tree Of Life

‘Greatest Vitamin in the World’ owner Donald Lapre indicted

Help Talk.Origins Bid for “Expelled”

High Fructose Corn Syrup

How far should we trust health reporting?

Misleading money-saving claims help no one

Mr. Deity and the Days

Popper vs Kuhn and the battle to understand how science works.

Scientists Create First Memory Expansion for Brain

Skepticality #156 — Humanism and Happiness

Skepticism’s Oldest Debate: A Prehistory of “DBAD” (18382010)

Skeptics: Psychic’s show no salve for grief

What You Learned About Static Electricity Is Wrong

What’s New by Bob Park

Got some skeptic news items? Send them to us, and we’ll think about adding them.

Book of the Week:
Vaccines and Your Child: Separating Fact from Fiction, by Paul A. Offit and Charlotte A. Moser.

“Vaccines have received a lot of negative press in recent years. Vaccines and Your Child: Separating Fact from Fiction is an informative guide for parents to help them wade through all the misinformation that is all over the place in regards to vaccines. Dispelling myths about autism and other fears associated with vaccines, Paul Offit, M.D., and Charlotte Moser of the Vaccine Education center come together to provide a great deal of useful information. Vaccines and Your Child is a scholarly and much needed read for any concerned parent.”

— Midwest Book Review

This Week’s Most-Viewed Pages:
Forum Topics:
  1. Funny FAILS
  2. The Mythicist position
  3. The return of Jesus
  4. Dr. Jeffery Life and Cenegenics
  5. Unbelievable idiocy
  6. Luke 17 and the Rapture
  7. Moon-walker claims alien contact cover-up
  8. Stan Lee’s superhumans
  9. The Battle of Tehran
  10. Super generator? Perpetual motion? Another grift?
  1. Evolving a Venom or Two
  2. Fundamentalists Hate Noah’s Ark
  3. Miracle Thaw — The Bogus Miracle
  4. The Bible’s Bad Fruits
  5. Cold Reading
  6. Scientific Truth
  7. What is a Skeptic and Why Bother Being One?
  8. Is the Speed of Light Slowing Down?
  9. More on the Polonium 218 Controversy
  10. The Legend of the Shrinking Sun
There were 6,246 daily visitors this week.

More issues of the Skeptic Summary can be found in our archive.

The Skeptic Summary is produced by the staff of the Skeptic Friends Network, copyright 2011, all rights reserved.

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