Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Don't understand the science therefore religion

Since my last post on the Australian Vaccination Network I've been reading various posts from the AVN site.

I found a post there called "When 'Science' Becomes Your Religion". The title of this post is the summary for the AVN one.

It's a very standard anti-science post by Meryl Dorey (the head of the AVN) who doesn't actually understand the science behind the thing that they don't like. In this case it's vaccination.

Of course the post opens with pretty standard "I like science", "the scientific method is great" sort of statements and then goes downhill pretty quickly.

It all starts here:

This is why, when I first started to look into the vaccination issue after my first son’s reaction over 20 years ago now, the thing that took me so much by surprise was how little science actually went into the development of this medical procedure which we have been ‘worshiping’ for over 200 years.

Yep. Very little science went into the development of vaccination. It just popped out of nowhere, no observations, no testing, nothing. It's not like Edward Jenner (who is, by the way, mentioned in the AVN post) followed the scientific method of the time to come up with his vaccine.

And it's not as if we've stopped testing vaccines. It's no secret that sometimes vaccines don't work, or people have a reaction to them, and because of this we have to keep on coming up with safer vaccines for diseases. Take smallpox, the earliest known instance of vaccination for this disease was in China in the 1500's, the method had at worst a 2% mortality rate. The Jenner's vaccine had a rate of about one in a million. If we are to make the vaccines available for more people we are going to have to work on them.

But I don't think that matters to her, since it was her child who happened to have a problem with the vaccine, so therefore she's going to spread "information" that might kill more children. James Cherry in the 1999 paper Pertussis in the Preantibiotic and Prevaccine Era, with Emphasis on Adult Pertussis wrote that between 1922 to 1931 in the US there were about 1.5 million cases of which 73 000 people died. About 4% of people died of the disease before the vaccination. Another examination from 1983-1992, well after a vaccine was introduced, had 34 325 cases with only 56 deaths. That's only 0.1% of cases.

You may consider the ancient Chinese method to have an unacceptably high mortality rate, but remember that smallpox typically would kill up to 40% of people who contracted the disease.

I know what I'm writing sounds cruel, but this is one of the cases where people have to accept that no matter what you do there will be people who will die or be injured from either the disease or the vaccine, but that it's also our job to make sure that as many people aren't injured or killed from either.

Discouraging people from vaccinating themselves or their children does not protect anyone. I said before that the smallpox vaccine of Jenner's time had a mortality rate of one in a million. If you didn't vaccinate anyone you would have saved one person, but chances are 350 000 people would have died if those one million people all caught smallpox.

The post moves on to discuss the scientific method. That's what I would be saying if Dorey actually understood what a "theory" was and how that relates to the scientific method. Like a creationist Dorey seems to think that a theory is something closer to a hypothesis:

Now theories, as you can imagine, are not proven. They are a way of explaining why something behaves the way it does. They are AN explanation – but not necessarily the ONLY explanation.
This statement completely ignores the fact that theories come about through repeated testing, verification by many different scientists with plenty of evidence supporting it. Until shown otherwise, for all intents and purposes, it is the only explanation.

But apparently the science behind vaccination was disproved when Merrill Chase discovered that the body also used white blood cells to protect the body. She mentiones this obituary which says that he revolutionised immunology, not overturned it.

However in talking about this we do get the following:
We have known since the 1940s that, though antibodies are part of the immune system, their existence in the bloodstream does not indicate immunity. Instead, it indicates exposure.

(My bold)

Well duhhh... That's how most of the immune system works, exposure to infection etc. causes antibodies to be produced to fight it (although apparently there are some antibodies that appear without any exposure). Funnily enough she mentioned that two paragraphs beforehand. But because it isn't just antibodies alone that confer immunity it means that all the science is wrong.

She then uses the paper Measles outbreak in a fully immunized secondary-school population to say that immunised people can get sick. Although the abstract says that was the case, it also said that the seropositive (those that expressed the antibodies) students didn't get measles, but 14 of 74 seronegative did, even though they had been immunised. In other words if you aren't expressing the antibodies odds are you're more likely to get measles.

How this disproves any theories involving vaccination confuses me. From the comments Dorey made to a commenter who said the exact same thing it sounds like it doesn't work because some people got measles, even though the people who had antibodies didn't get the disease. And also because the herd immunity doesn't do what she thinks it does.

She talks of money, and apparently that all of Western medicine relies on vaccination to work or something and various other conspiratorial nonsense.

She then attacks those who oppose her. Yep, Skeptics are evil and if science was a religion they would be the Jesuits (I wonder why people always choose Catholics as a comparison? It's probably because their actions are better known...). Apparently:
Like the Jesuits, the Skeptics look down on those who don’t worship science in the same way they do as barbarians and somehow less than human. Perhaps it is this attitude to others – as lesser beings – that enables them to act in the cold, calculating and often immoral way they do?

Yep, it's not that her straw-skeptics (or sceptics if you prefer, although personally I prefer "skeptic") don't like her for the "information" that she peddles, it's because she doesn't worship science. Clearly the latter is the correct reason. In a way though she does explain what skepticism is:
Scepticism involves having a reasoning mind, questioning everything, never taking facts at face value and treating accepted wisdom with distrust until being shown the proof to your own satisfaction.

It might not be the best definition, but compared to some definitions I've seen from creationists, conspiracy theorists, and their ilk, it's quite good. But I don't suspect she applies this to herself. Her straw-skeptics apparently want to stop others from being skeptical, and also send her mean emails.

She then makes a list, which starts with the HCCC complaint. Apparently the complaint from the McCaffery's upset her. She also writes:
Dana’s parents have charged me with harassing them. They also said that I had invaded their privacy, perhaps because when their daughter’s death was reported in the newspaper, I rang the public health unit to ask if there had been a laboratory diagnosis of whooping cough.

Well of course. It's all just a big mistake. Let's just ignore the fact that she rang the health unit the day before Dana's funeral and that she stated that their daughter "supposedly" died from pertussis (see this Lateline transcript). I'm sure the family just overreacted to being asked to hand over their recently deceased daughter's medical records to a complete stranger.

I like point 3:

3. A group was set up on Facebook and Twitter called Stop the AVN. Though our organisation is acting within the law, these skeptics feel that they have the right to use any and every means within their power to shut us down. The implications of such an effort are shocking and one has to wonder why there apparently is no legal recourse when such anti-competitive, anti-democratic actions are taken?

How dare a group of people take advantage of their right to protest to create a group that opposes what the AVN does. It's not anti-competitive, and it's not anti-democratic. What I think is more anti-democratic is the AVN's opinion that nobody should be allowed to protest them.

Points 4 and 7 are also related to protest. 4 is that "they" (no evidence as to who) rang her advertisers and asked them not to advertise. 7 is that "they" (again) contacted places where she was/is to speak asking them to cancel.

I may as well point out that points 2, 5, 8, 9 and part of point 4 are unsourced. Perhaps I'm being too much of a skeptic to not blindly accept these points on faith alone.

Point 10, however, merits some discussion:
10. The McCafferys contacted the ABC to complain about a program I was on regarding the current whooping cough epidemic. Even though I quoted the government’s own statistics and had the information I was discussing peer-reviewed by a doctor who works as a reviewer for such prestigious publications are the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine, the ABC made a finding that the information was not correct. They didn’t say that my statements were incorrect but that the interviewer had mixed up the years we were talking about, quoting 2001 instead of 1991. The McCafferys have taken this information and used it in many public places to state that I had provided the ABC with incorrect information – a statement that is verifiably untrue.

And the McCafferys have every right to do so. If they believe that something breaches the ABC Codes of Practice they can complain about it. I don't know what the show was, so I can only guess as to which codes they base their complaint on. By the sounds of it the ABC found that they had breached either code 3.2, 4.4 or 5.3, which has to do with accurate content.

Frankly I'm starting to get a little scared at how anti-speech the AVN seems to be. It looks like they should be allowed to say whatever they want, but if someone does something they're being oppressed by the man.

She then asks us whether the skeptics are defending science. Unsurprisingly the answer is no:
All of this is supposed to be a way of defending science. But the thing is, science does not need defenders – if science is true and evidence-based – it can easily defend itself.

The science of the skeptics needs defending however because it is not true science – it is a faith-based conglomeration of twisted facts, lies and anger which form an evil perversion of the study of life and the world around us.

Yep. Apparently you don't need people to defend science, because apparently true science is so perfect that there is not a single way that you can interpret information differently. It's funny to read the second paragraph, since it's typically projection onto opponents.

She then spins the criticism as a sign that they are being successful, and the reason is apparently because people want to stop them from ensuring "free and informed vaccination choice".

We then get a list of stuff that is, again, unsourced. Is Gardasil the most dangerous vaccine ever produced? Did parents really let their kids be used for clinical trials without knowing? I don't know, it looks like I'm supposed to just accept it.

At least Dorey accepts that her organisation is dangerous but not for the reason she thinks. The actual reason is that by fearmongering and spreading misinformation that vaccines will injure your children and don't work it will cause far more people to get dangerous diseases that are more likely to kill them then the vaccine. In 2004 the Muslim states in Nigeria banned the polio vaccine because they claimed that Americans wanted to make them infertile or that they would spread AIDS. What happened was that more children contracted polio and were either crippled or died from the disease. The very reason that there are people here in Australia who want such an outcome for our country are the reason why AVN is dangerous.

Dorey believes the reason she is dangerous is:

If you are a scientific Jesuit; if you have based your career and your income on maintaining the status quo in regards to Western Medicine; if you will benefit from the sale of drugs and vaccines, the AVN is a very dangerous organisation indeed.

That's right, she thinks it's because of money. She may not believe that the Queen is a reptilian or that the Illuminati caused all disease, but she does believe in Big Pharma conspiracies.

She argues that she's there to make sure that people are fully informed. I don't think that's the case. She wants to stop people from being vaccinated by exploiting the fear that parents have when it comes to their children. But does she care that she may be causing far more harm then she thinks?

That is the question.

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