Friday, 29 November 2013

People die after vaccinations - shock, horror, probe

Apparently, people are interested in the last meal of a condemned man.  Why, I don't know.  That's not the cause of death.
Curiously, Lynne McTaggart is keen to push her anti-vaccine agenda and prints a news item in her journal of record rubbish with the title "People do die after vaccination".  Well, duh!
Her expose says that, for the first time, it is admitted that people have died after having had vaccinations.  In fact, 15,000 of them over a three year period in the US.  Sounds frightening, doesn't it?
The link given is to this paper, Mortality rates and cause-of-death patterns in a vaccinated population ( 2013 Jul;45(1):91-7. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2013.02.020).  Luckily, and in something that is becoming a bit of a habit at WDDTY, this looks like another foot in mouth for the plucky investigative journalists at the esteemed journal.  If only they learned to read.
As the authors of the paper put it:
In the overall distribution of cause of death classified by
body system among all ages, the categories that represent the
majority of the distribution include diseases of the circulatory
system (32%); neoplasms (24%); and diseases of the
respiratory system (10%). In children aged 0–18 months,
congenital malformations, deformations, and chromosomal
abnormalities (22%) were the leading cause of death within
30 days of a vaccination visit; sudden infant death syndrome
(SIDS) was the second-leading cause of death (16%). The
leading cause of death within 60 days of a vaccination visit in
children aged 0-18 years was external causes of morbidity
and mortality (21%); next in leading causes of death were
congenital malformations, deformations, and chromosomal
abnormalities (18%), and SIDS (13%).
In other words, causes of death weren't  related to the vaccinations but to pre-existing conditions, SIDS and accidents.  They also found that deaths occurred more commonly in the winter months, in elderly people and the causes of death were consistent with the wider population.
So although Lynne McTaggart would rather have us believe that vaccination is evil somehow, the paper she cites suggests very much the opposite.  The fact that people die after vaccination is not surprising.  They die after all sorts of activities.  Can I get funding for a study to find out how many people die within 60 days of reading McTaggart's rag?
Not that McTaggart or her magazine are in any way anti-vaccine.  Perish the thought.  Though in order to muddy the waters clarify matters, the article does say:
Aside from the elderly, other vulnerable groups include pregnant women and those with chronic health problems, so doctors perhaps need to think carefully before vaccinating these people, say the researchers.
What the researchers actually say is this (my bold):

Although there is currently no evidence to support a causal relationship between vaccinations and death, this study provides background mortality rates following vaccinations to be used as a baseline when examining the safety profiles of new vaccines and during mass immunisations campaigns.
Similar analyses should be conducted when new vaccines are added tot eh ACIP recommended schedule, and also would be useful in other populations, including vulnerable subpopulations such as pregnant women and people with underlying health conditions.
So that's not quite what WDDTY would have you believe.
There is a trend at What Doctors Don't Tell You clearly emerging.  Take a health story, twist it so it looks as if it supports the agenda you are pushing and hype it up to make it more scary.  Oh, and trust the intelligence of your readership does not actually rise to the level where they begin to read for themselves and check the references. 
It didn't take me long to find the paper McTaggart refers to.  If I can do it so can almost any reader with internet access.   And an inquiring mind might be disappointed to find that the news story and the paper don't support one another. 
And she wonders why true skeptics aren't taken with the magazine's efforts.  It's because it isn't honest with its sources.





Friday, 22 November 2013

Natural medicine is a human rights issue, same old Lynne McTaggart

Update at the end

Lynne McTaggart has really got angry when confronted with that old skeptical stand-by, evidence. So she avoids it by ignoring real criticisms and inventing a spurious human rights issue. She wants you to have a choice that you already have. If you want to take your chance amongst the unevidenced, mostly unregulated world of natural remedies then no one can stop you. It's your choice. Barry Sheene did it when he was diagnosed with cancer and look how healthy he is today.

Let's look in more detail.
During these past tumultuous weeks, where angry messages have been flying back and forth between two very polarized camps about alternative medicine and WDDTY, one contributor wrote that it was like watching two soccer teams whacking the ball back and forth.
Nice metaphor.
 The problem with that analogy is that, in this instance, team A isn’t interested in a fair game.  Team A wants to outlaw team B, and will stop at nothing – installing a biased umpire, beating up the opposition, calling foul on perfectly good passes – in pursuit of that objective.
I know you're American, Lynne, but you ought to know that it is a referee in soccer.  Oh, and your metaphor now looks silly because what team A wants is fair play and how team B responds is by deleting critical comments and banning commenters. Did she mention free speech yet?
 Make no mistake. This is not a fair debate, a reasonable discussion of the issues. This is a blatant attempt to deny you one of your basic human rights: the right to effective health care.
There it is, free speech, as upheld by Team McTaggart by deleting comments and banning... I already said that. And reasonable discussion? Try treating evidence with proper respect, Lynne, and reporting it fairly.
At the moment, as I have written earlier on these pages, conventional modern medicine kills thousands more people than it cures. Despite all the disingenuous attempts by ‘new’ visitors to these pages to cast doubt about the quality of our research, there is no argument about the fact that modern medicine remains the third deadliest killer in the West. No one in Establishment medicine disputes this.
When asked for a source for the assertion, Lynne is rather vague. When shown the source, she chooses to ignore it because it doesn't actually say what she says it says. There is doubt that modern medicine is the third deadliest killer (tautology) in the West. That's why skeptics doubt it - they want to see the evidence.
Cochrane Collaboration co-founder and esteemed medical researcher Peter Goetzsche refers to the statistics in Deadly Medicine and Organized Crime, and it was first cited more than a decade ago by the Journal of the American Medical Association. At that time, said JAMA, medicine was ranked the fourth leading cause of death – since that time it’s moved up in the league tables of things most likely to kill you.
References please? Show us the paper if it so important to you, then we can judge for ourselves. "So we have a system of medicine that, by its own admission, kills more people than anything other than heart disease and cancer every year, and yet is carrying out a systematized attack on anything else that might actually work and work safely." Well, only in part. Doctors now that some treatments are harmful but they proceed on the balance between benefit and harm. Chemotherapy has many downsides but the big downside of not having chemo for cancers it works well on is rather more severe. That's why it is used.
What this means is that modern medicine, infiltrated and now run by the pharmaceutical industry, is attempting to deny you access to safe and effective health care. That, to my mind, is a violation of your basic human rights. In fact it is essentially a form of persecution – no less than it was to deny a black in the pre-1960 American South a seat on the bus.
Not quite a Godwin but I'm sure se was tempted. This paragraph is classic conspiracy ideation and basically so wrong. Indeed, pharmaceutical companies also make vitamins so they can have a foot in both camps. But I can't remember ever being forced to take what Big Pharma sells me. Indeed, I'm pretty poor and have a cupboard with partly empty packets of pills. No one has yet been round to arrest me for this apparently hideous crime of not taking my medication. Lynne, you are talking rubbish.

"What are we to do about this in a positive way? We can take the lead from Iceland, where a group of 500 concerned citizens launched Heilsufrelsi (Health Freedom), a new health freedom association, to ensure that natural medicine is safeguarded and Icelanders have access to natural ways of maintaining their health.

But no one has said you can't take your leaves. What they are saying is stop playing fast and loose with published evidence and misleading readers. It's not rocket surgery.

"Instead of acting like a oppressed minority or continuing to play a game with loaded dice, it is now time for all of us interested in natural health care to unabashedly stand up for natural health freedom, organize together and insist on that mature dialogue.

Does that mean responding sensibly to questions and criticism or more deletion and banning? I don't think McTaggart is really interested in a mature debate but on assertion, misguidance and carrying on as she has been so far. An empty request, in other words. She continues in a comment:

"Once again the trolls on this site deflect from the important issues I raise in this blog by attempting to undermine our reporting on other issues, or criticizing other aspects of our business, and the comments are beginning to take on an air of desperation.

So by asking for evidence of McTaggart's claims, showing other evidence to contradict her assertions and pointing out where she is wrong is, er, wrong. McTaggart, on the other hand, is the one raising the human rights flag that has long since been conceded by the skeptics. How about that mature debate? Not interested, is she?

"The subject of this blog is not the cervical cancer (HPV) vaccine, but just to clarify, we never wrote that the vaccine KILLED 1700 girls.

True. Instead they said up to 1700. A difference but as all those stores promising up to 70% off in their sales know, the public are gulled into thinking the store has better offers than it really does.

"In our weekly WDDTY e-news, we reported on the figures appearing in an issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (July 26, 2013 / 62(29);591-595), the weekly report prepared by the America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a US government agency charged with the job of tracking infectious disease and vaccination.

Well, the report quotes VAERS data, which is often self reported and makes no distinction over whether there is cause and effect. Besides:
"Among the VAERS reports coded as “serious,” headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, dizziness, syncope, and generalized weakness are the most frequently reported symptoms.

Compare that last quote, from here, with what McTaggart says next:
"Between June 2006 and March 2013, said the report, the US’s Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System has received approximately 1700 - 1675 reports to be exact – of ‘serious’ adverse events occurring in girls who’d received the HPV4 vaccine. Reports are classified as ‘serious’ if they include one or more of the following, said the CDC: hospitalization , prolongation of an existing hospitalization , permanent disability, life-threatening illness, or death. Please see:
I didn't look at the definition of serious, I looked at what serious included. Now I'm not sure how the two actually mesh, but having seen actual girls in the aftermath of their HPV jabs, I can report that there are plenty of pretty psychosomatic responses. Thirteen year old girls don't like having injections and many react with headaches, queasiness and so on. I don't want to diminish their suffering, just that it isn't as serious as McTaggart likes to paint it. And there is an issue. Take the worst case and present it as typical. Don't check whether there is more to this than meets the eye. Miss out important details. All things McTaggart does repeatedly. Isn't that hypocritical? My favourite word.
"As for the idea that we charge £83 for a DVD, we don't sell DVDs. Besides a magazine, downloadable reports and online subscriptions, we sell courses that include both audio and written material – the costs of which are in line with or far cheaper than similar products on other similar sites.
This was in response to a comment about DVD sales. Now when I searched the WDDTY website, all the DVD mentions returned 404 messages so I can't check the truth of McTaggart's statement. I can, however report that £54 gets you one of those courses - a 90 minute mp3 file and some, presumably, word or PDF documents. That sounds like rip off prices to me. And they reckon Big Pharma is after your money. (I searched the net a bit harder and found this page which links to the WDDTY site where you can apparently buy a DVD of some scam conference starring McTaggart and Rupert Sheldrake (ohnothimagen) which might put the lie to what McTaggart said. Strangely, click on the link to buy the DVD and you go to a page where you can buy a subscription to your favourite health disinformation mag.)

So, sorry, Lynne. I don't think you want a mature debate. You could have had one by now. But you didn't bother so I can't believe you'll have one now. When confronted with evidence, you avoid answering the true concerns raised by skeptics. And as for human rights - look at yourself in the mirror. Can you look yourself in the eye and say that the medical establishment forces you to have the mainstream treatment (ie the one demonstrated to do good). If you, your mates, hangers on and followers want to take leaves, nuts, berries, vitamin pills, sugar pills, distiller water, powdered mummy, stick pins in your skin or whatever, no one can stop you. Just don't go running to say sorry to that gp who spent years of their lives learning real medicine and pleading for them to help you.

Spoiler: Barry Sheene wasn't exactly cured by his natural healing regime. Actually, he wasn't cured at all. Sadly he died. His oesophageal cancer has a five year survival rate of 15%. Sheene died eight months after diagnosis. Update McTaggart is so wedded to the idea of free speech that, on the same day she winged about a "campaign" to hide copies of her atrocious magazine, she chose to have another clear out of her Facebook page, deleting comments that she doesn't like. So, free speech is fine of she is doing it but reason for censorship if she is being criticised. If anyone who reads this page wishes to correct me, feel free. I don't censor any comments on this site. Only, so far as I know, one comment has been deleted and that was one I made and rethought. McTaggart does not want free speech. She wants her unscientific way.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Great granddad is a star

Tonight my dad found the unequal struggle against cancer too much.  He has, in the words we've chosen to use with my not quite four year old granddaughter, gone up to be a star.

I was blessed to have him as a father, someone willing to support me in my many enthusiasms, those fleeting and those permanent. 

I was blessed that his taste in music influenced mine - he bought a handful of Beatles singles all those year ago. 

He endowed me with a love of cricket - summers will never be the same again.  His seat at Essex where he was once a member will remain forever empty.

He fostered my love of science, buying me books, putting up with my astronomy, fossil collecting, and anything else sciencey that came my way.

He picked me out of bed so I could watch Armstrong and Aldrin walking on a dusty world a quarter of a million miles from home.

He gave me laughs by the bucket load, with his bad jokes, his tricks and his enthusiasm for life.

I was truly blessed to have had his love, his encouragement, his patient parenting over all those years.

I miss him.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Great granddad's going to be a star

Updated at the end

I spoke to the nursing home where my dad is spending his last days. His condition is deteriorating.  I shall go to see him tomorrow.  I don't know what I shall find.

We took the whole family down two weeks ago because his condition was very poor then.  He didn't recognise us, he was so ill.  My granddaughter had been primed that he was very ill and she went up to him and said "I love you very much, great granddad" and kissed him on the head.  Her mum has explained that great granddad is going to be a star up in the sky. 

I suppose I am a pessimist, resigned to the fate that comes to us all.  It is a long time coming, longer now that medical science has brought us incredible breakthroughs, prevented childhood killer diseases through vaccinations and ended the tyranny of others by the agency of antibiotics.  It would have seemed unthinkable to my grandmother, who lived to be 91, that such an age would be looked upon as fairly mundane now. 

If only there were a miracle cure.  If only there were some magic wand that could counter the pernicious evil that is cancer.  If only cancer were just one thing and not a collective noun for a vast array of cells gone wrong diseases, it would make it so much easier to face and to eliminate, to become something of a curiosity, like measles outbreaks and bacterial infections are now to those who don't truly understand. 

My mother lived in a perpetual fear of cancer.  Her mother, whom she adored, died of breast cancer in 1949, barely fifty years old.  Mum told the story of how her mother, crying out in pain, demanded that the doctor was sent for.  He arrived, and the rest of the family was ushered from the bedroom while the doctor did what he could.  A few minutes later he came downstairs with the news that she would be all right now.  She died that night.  Mum was always suspicious that the doctor gave her mother something to speed her passage.

When dad was first diagnosed with cancer it was frightening but not overly harsh news.  He had a benign skin cancer, treatable but one that kept coming back.  Then he was diagnosed with prostate cancer but it was slow and treatable, non-aggressive, one that could be contained.  For years he would take himself to the six monthly check ups.  Then came Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.  This was a new ball game, a more frightening cancer, with a lump sticking out of his side that looked as if something were trying to crawl out of his skin, the size of a rat.

But the Non-Hodgkin's was treatable, and it responded brilliantly to chemotherapy.  I sat with him on one of the those chemotherapy sessions, eight hours of infusion while he sat, reading the paper, listening to the radio, snoring after lunch.  It was frightening to see him go through that torment but he emerged the other side, with as much vigour and love of life as he did before. 

The fight is one sided in the end. There is a symmetry to an individual's life - you emerge into the world helpless and so often leave it in the same condition.  Dad is leaving that way.  He needs care for everything he does now.  One so vigorous and young at heart has withered to a husk.  You can understand why some people want to find that miracle cure.

I feel sorry for those people, on their fruitless search.  Not only will they not find it in some ascetic diet or cocktail of fruit juices, they will also not find it in fake chemotherapy run by quack doctors.  This week, one of the heroes of alternative medicine, Stanislav Burzynski, has been uncloaked as the dangerous fraud so many people believed him to be.  That he duped so many is bad enough, to have failed to stop the treatment of people he was poisoning to death (and in at least one case he seems to have done just that) is evil.  And too many were taken in by the PR and the fiction that he was curing people.  If he had a conscience, he would have stopped decades ago.  It is pretty clear to me that he has none.

The fact is, if there were a miracle cure for cancer, doctors would be giving it away.  The pressure on the pharmaceutical companies to make it affordable would be immense.  But there isn't.  It doesn't stop people trying but so far the little victories have been hard fought.  If there were something that could prevent the disruption of chemotherapy then doctors would not hide it or suppress it. They would shout it from the rooftops. 

Alas, that miracle is waiting to be found.  Whether it is amongst those millions of biological compounds waiting to be tested in those reservoirs of biodiversity, the rainforests, the reefs, the abyssal plains, maybe one day it will be found.

I find it insulting to the everyday working scientist who takes home a reasonable but not outrageous wage home for her endless hours in the lab has her labours denied by people who don't have a clue what scientists do, how they work, what they strive for.  I spent a while in the gleaming halls of academia, helping a professor of geography tone up a conference presentation on the hydrological cycle (ah, those were the days) because she was afraid someone would pick holes in the work.  I am no hydrologist (though I do have a book on the subject). My role was to ask the idiot questions.  How do we know?  What does that equation actually mean?  Others took the expert role and criticised other aspects. 

Thousands of scientists around the world are seeking something that will cure just one cancer.  Something, anything, because the benefit of a cure outweighs the harm (because life is better than death).  To know whether the cure is really a cure, the testing process is of necessity rigorous.  Wishful thinking doesn't win the prize.

It pains me to know that my dad couldn't be saved by modern medicine.  It pains me to know that eventually no one can be saved.  No one lives forever.  There remains no cure for everything.  I would love there to be, to restore my dad to the man he was when I was a child, playing football and cricket with us because he loved sport so much. 

A few weeks ago I came across a notebook my dad had on National Service back in 1949.  In it he wrote a letter he never sent.  It is a window into his world that is otherwise lost for good.  He mentions his own father's recent illness.  "I don't know what I would do without you" he says to his mum and dad.  I don't know what I would do without my dad.

It was painful to see dad yesterday.  He was in pain, mostly asleep, hardly recognised me.  I'd hate to see anyone like that but when it is your own father it is so shocking. 

I've been taking some photos on my phone when I've been seeing him, just so I have some last memory more permanently recorded.  When I showed them to some other family members on my return, my granddaughter want to have a look.  Her response: "Poor great granddad.  He's dying." 

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Just too late for Halloween - zombie Monckton and the ghost of Murry Salby

When I were a lad, I played with Weebles.  Those were the toys that, famously, wobbled but never fell down. 
Lord Christopher Monckton reminds me  of a Weeble.  No matter how often he is shown to be wrong (I could fill this post with links but I am sure you can Google Monckton debunked, Monckton wrong and any number of synonyms), he keeps coming back without changing so much as one full stop of his discredited fake science. 

But this being the season of Halloween, he reminds me of a zombie as well.  Sucking the flesh of the living, Monckton does not seem capable of academic death.  He cannot be killed because his science is literally undead.
So you don't have to go to WattsUpWithThat, I have archived Monckton's latest drivel here.

So far as I can tell, Monckton is bigging up Murry Salby, the sacked academic:
His lecture, a simplified version of his earlier talk in Hamburg that was the real reason why spiteful profiteers of doom at Macquarie “University” maliciously canceled his non-refundable ticket home so that he could not attend the kangaroo court that dismissed him, was a first-class exercise in logical deduction.
 If I were Macquarie, I wouldn't give this flea of a fake scientist the time of day, but I might want to instruct my lawyers to inform Monckton that what he is saying is untrue.  In fact, as soon as the real story came out, that Murry was a serial offender, the deniers went just a tad quiet about Salby and his status as a martyr.

But the fact, no matter how Monckton wants to portray it, is that Salby is categorically wrong.  Better minds than mine have shown this.  Have a look here where Tamino points out that:
The point Salby makes is that the rate of change of atmospheric CO2 is strongly related to factors like temperature (especially temperature). Knock me over with a feather! We already knew that, and people who study the carbon cycle areseriously unimpressed. He then claims that if temperature influences short-term changes in CO2, it’s natural to expect that it would influence long-term changes. Remind you of anything?
What Salby does not explain is this: total human emissions of CO2 from fossil-fuel burning are far larger than total CO2 increase. In fact, the CO2 increase has only been about half of human emissions. So, the net emission from other sources has been negative, while atmospheric CO2 has been rising. It’s especially ironic that Salby offers up a “bank balance” analogy when it’s obvious he himself has failed to do the simplest possible accounting of the carbon budget.
Or you could look here. Or here. Or here.  Like I said, it quickly gets repetitive because it so easy to show Salby is wrong.

And this is where the Weeble/zombie analogy comes in.  Because denialism/contrarianism does not proceed by making new discoveries, it is forever recycling the old arguments.  Science, on the other hand, accumulates new findings, incorporating them in existing theories or using them to build new ones.  Denialists almost by definition are trapped in their personal philosophy.  They cannot escape unless they admit to being wrong and that's not a likely event with an ego the size of Monckton's.  Because it is more full of holes than a teabag, Murry's ideas don't really deserve to have been presented before any audience, let alone parliamentarians (who, let's face it, would be better served listening to climate scientists who haven't been sacked for pretty serious offenses, such as refusing to teach, using University credit cards while suspended and so on).  Still, it occupies the time of Monckton and stops him selling shirts or puzzles or whatever else he is working on at the moment (how's Obama's birth certificate looking, Chris?).

Mind you, I am not sure I'd want to go to see Salby talk.  He has the charisma of a speak your weight machine and his tour included this salubrious location:
Hemingford Abbots village hall, Cambridgeshire
The tee shirts must have sold like hot cakes.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

What Doctors Don't Tell You about MMR safety

According to the bits of What Doctors Don't Tell You that I can access, there is a news story: "MMR causes fevers and fits, US agency admits".  In the interest of fair comment and free speech, here is the story:

The MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine causes fever and fits in around 2.5 per cent of children vaccinated, a US government agency has admitted.
The most vulnerable age appears to be between 16 and 18 months at the time of vaccination, a group that will suffer “significantly higher” rates of fits and seizures compared to younger children aged between 12 and 15 months.
The US agency, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), made the discovery when they analysed the records of 840,348 children, aged between 12 and 23 months, who had been given the MMR vaccine between 2001 and 2011. Of these, 18,403 children had a fever within 14 days of being vaccinated, and a further 1,810 suffered a seizure. Together, this represents a rate of around 2.5 per cent.
If there is a hidden agenda to this sudden revelation, it is this: there’s a growing move to have children vaccinated at a later stage, and this is an argument against changing current policy.
(Source: JAMA Pediatrics, 2013, epub ahead of print).
There are some weasel words here so I copy and paste the abstract from the reference for your delectation and delight:

Importance  The first dose of live attenuated measles-containing vaccines is associated with an increased risk of febrile seizures 7 to 10 days following immunization among 12- to 23-month-old children. The combination measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella vaccine is associated with a 2-fold increased risk of febrile seizures 7 to 10 days following immunization compared with the separately administered measles, mumps, and rubella and varicella vaccines. It is unknown whether the magnitude of these increased risks depends on age at immunization.
Objective  To examine the potential modifying effect of age on the risk of fever and seizures following immunization with measles-containing vaccines.
Design, Setting, and Participants  Retrospective cohort study at 8 Vaccine Safety Datalink sites of a total of 840 348 children 12 to 23 months of age who had received a measles-containing vaccine from 2001 through 2011.
Exposures  Any measles-containing vaccines and measles-containing vaccines by type.
Main Outcomes and Measures  Fever and seizure events occurring during a 42-day postimmunization observation period.
Results  In the analysis of any measles-containing vaccines, the increased risk of seizures during the 7- to 10-day risk interval, using the remainder of the observation period as the control interval, was significantly greater among older children (relative risk, 6.5; 95% CI, 5.3-8.1; attributable risk, 9.5 excess cases per 10 000 doses; 95% CI, 7.6-11.5) than among younger children (relative risk, 3.4; 95% CI, 3.0-3.9; attributable risk = 4.0 excess cases per 10 000 doses; 95% CI, 3.4-4.6). The relative risk of postimmunization fever was significantly greater among older children than among younger children; however, its attributable risk was not. In the analysis of vaccine type, measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella vaccine was associated with a 1.4-fold increase in the risk of fever and 2-fold increase in the risk of seizures compared with measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine administered with or without varicella vaccine in both younger and older children.
Conclusions and Relevance  Measles-containing vaccines are associated with a lower increased risk of seizures when administered at 12 to 15 months of age. Findings of this study that focused on safety outcomes highlight the importance of timely immunization of children with the first dose of measles-containing vaccines.

Excuse me for being obtuse, Ms (sorry Dr honoris causa) McTaggart, but isn't a hidden agenda supposed to be, well, hidden.  Not blatantly obvious in the conclusions and relevance section of the abstract.  Oh, and isn't part of the reason for any trend to later immunisation the result of you and your philosophy of pharma is bad, organic farmer is good.

But there is more. First of all there is a video which shows the revelation is a bit less than a revelation, since the lead author says they already knew there were cases of fevers and seizures.  Secondly there is an editorial.  One thing that jumped out of the editorial was this:
The implications of these results are significant.  First, it reinforces the well established safety of the current recommended schedule, which is based on many years of prelicensure and postlicensure safety and effectiveness data, including concomitant use studies.
In other words, MMR is safe and even safer when administered at the correct time. But you wouldn't know it from the WDDTY story because it chooses to highlight the negative. 

But hang on a minute.  Surely the medical profession isn't interested in checking whether what it does is safe or not?  That's the logical conclusion of the claims of the alternative medicine brigade when they tell us that doctors don't tell us about all these wonderful alternative cures.  Surely doctors are not bothered whether you live or die. 

News for the readers of WDDTY: doctors do care whether you live or die.  That's why they went into the profession in the first place.  It takes a long time to qualify and requires much rigorous study.  Much easier, perhaps, to set yourself up as an alternative practitioner and set your own fees.  Much quicker too.  Sometimes you don't need any qualifications.

Back to the MMR vaccine.  News is only news if it is new.  Otherwise it is a reheated soufflĂ©.  So here are some bits of cake going for a spin in the microwave of news, as easily found in a search of PubMed:

Measles-containing vaccines and febrile seizures in children age 4 to 6 years (2012)

Adverse reactions following immunization with MMR vaccine in children at selected provinces of Iran (2011)

Measles-mumps-rubella-varicella combination vaccine and the risk of febrile seizures (2010)

That wasn't difficult to do.  In fact, it was so easy it makes you wonder why the writers at WDDTY, Sid and Doris Bonkers, sorry, Mr & Mrs Hubbard, can't do it for themselves, to see what has already been published and to check their facts

Perhaps the easiest thing of all, since the claim is that the CDC is "admitting" these reactions to the MMR vaccination, is to check what the CDC itself says and when it said it.  For example:
  • The most common adverse events following the MMR vaccine are pain where the vaccine is given, fever, a mild rash, and swollen glands in the cheeks or neck.
Studies have shown a small increased risk of febrile seizures occurs among children who are younger than 7 years old approximately 8-14 days after vaccination for every 3,000-4,000 children vaccinated with MMR vaccine. This is compared to children not vaccinated during the preceding 30 days
And when did they say this:
  • Page last reviewed: May 15, 2010
  • Page last updated: February 7, 2011
So, the headline isn't really true while the figures might be.  But don't let that stand in the way of an antivaccination story.  If it can be spun to make the MMR vaccine look bad then that's the angle to be taken.  And heaven forbid that you comment on the WDDTY Facebook page about it - you'll only get free speeched into the deleted comment bin.

Monday, 4 November 2013

What doctors don't tell you - medical Macarthyism debunked

I can only assume that Lynne McTaggart is getting increasingly desperate. The article in The Times on Saturday has touched some raw nerves and she has resorted to some typical contrarian language, the language of conspiracy. The evil mastermind, Simon Singh and his nefarious organisation, Sense About Science, along with other shadowy organisations like the Nightingale Collaboration and those underground anarchists, known as skeptics, are destroying everything Lynne McTaggart has worked for years to build up. Except, of course, the evil and the shadowy organisations are not the ones I have listed and she has picked out.

McTaggart pours her latest bile out on her blog. It is not a nice piece of writing. For example:
The experts were three convenient rent-a-quotes (two from cancer charities) whose comments were solicited after the content of our current issue appears to have been misrepresented to them. It’s a cheap and nasty tactic in journalism usually resorted to when you don’t have a story.

Blimey, even cancer charities are in on this conspiracy.  Shame on them for wanting to save lives.  (Conflict of interest - my father has been helped by a number of cancer charities over the last seven years.)

It continues
From their answers, it seems evident that none of them have actually read the articles in question, or indeed have lodged complaints about WDDTY independently, but were led to believe that 

1) WDDTY thinks there’s a secret cure that cancer researchers have discovered but are concealing from the public 

2) WDDTY has said that homeopathy can cure cancer 

3) WDDTY urges its readers to just get vitamin C or homeopathy instead of drugs

Well, I must admit it is difficult not to take the opposite message to the one McTaggart gives. After all, the magazine is promoting alternative treatments. The advertising is distinctly alt med and the readership, judging by the comments on Facebook and McTaggart's blog are distinctly alt med minded. But let's give the benefit of the doubt and accept she is telling the truth here. It just doesn't look that way. The homeopathy beats cancer article, Like water for chemo, in the latest edition claims that the American National Cancer Institute is interested in the Banerji homeopathic method and reckons it warrants more investigation. As this link points out, the NCI isn't interested in alternative methods of treating cancer, which might be why it hasn't actually bothered to look any deeper. Not good for McTaggart, if she can't get that right. But there is so much else she gets plain wrong. For example, she says this:
Actually, as WDDTY has reported, after cherrypicking the very best clinical trials showing positive results, Australia’s leading oncologists found that chemotherapy’s contribution to five-year survival was only 2.3 per cent in Australia and 2.1 per cent in the US (Ann Oncol, 2013; doi: 10: 1093/annonc/mds636).
Well, the link doesn't work but when you search around you find the best fit is to this paper: Bias in reporting of end points of efficacy and toxicity in randomized, clinical trials for women with breast cancer. Try as I might, I just cannot spot the figures she quotes and even if I could, the authors of the paper note that the study is limited to breast cancer and cannot be said to be more generally true. Oh, and it is about bias in reporting and not actually about the effectiveness of chemotherapy. Or have I missed something? I think not. Is it me or does McTaggart get her sums mixed up:
There are two ways of expressing the same thing: as a relative risk, the drug has a 50 per cent rate of effectiveness – it’s reduced your risk from 4 to 2 – and that sounds attractive, but in absolute terms its effectiveness is just 2 per cent.
Surely rate of effectiveness is not a relative risk at all. If a drug is 50% effective, isn't it working in half the patients? In the end, McTaggart's bile is the result of this:
On Friday morning before the story ran, when Hannah Devlin, the co-author (with Tom Whipple) of the Times article interviewed us, I asked her, why are you doing this story again, to which she finally let slip, 'What do you expect? You wrote about us in your magazine.'

Now we only have her word for it and I suspect no self respecting journalist would say that, or would have only said that. My guess, for what it's worth, is that Devlin did not say that at all. And of she did I would expect the quote to continue "...and you misrepresented us". I am sure who I believe.

(edited to fix formatting problems)

Sunday, 3 November 2013

WDDTY - the dangers of evidence

As some of you may know, my father is very seriously ill. In fact, he has probably only days left to live.  It was incredibly painful to see him yesterday, slouched in a chair, his dinner down his shirt, mumbling about my mother, who died five years ago, as if she were in the room.  Three days before, he had been alert and mentally quite alive - he even made a joke. 

He has battled with cancer for more than twenty years.  He has turned up dutifully at appointments with a variety of specialists all that time.  I sat with him seven years ago when he was undergoing chemotherapy for Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma as he sat rooted to the chair he was in for eight hours as the infusion seeped into his vein.  I went with him to radiotherapy appointments and more.  I took him to visit his relatives in the North. 

Now it would appear I need not have bothered because, for the price of some specially prepared distilled water, he could have been cured.  Incredible as it may seem, the act of diluting some fairly randomly chosen substance to the point of chemical invisibility and shaking it up in a particular way can kill tumour cells and give the patient back their life without the fear of the tumour breaking out of its prison and invading those tricky to reach parts, such as the brain or the liver.

That's what my father's cancers have done. Invaded both brain and liver, and elsewhere.  He has not been cured but he was given a good many extra and healthy years as a result of the radio and chemotherapies he was given all those years ago.  He barely complained. My mother did not once moan. He has not been courageous or brave but he has retained his dignity, until the last few weeks now that the rush of the oncoming end has robbed him of that.

Actually, I don't think for one moment that homeopathy can cure cancer.  There are lots of good reasons.  The first among many is that properly controlled trials do not support homeopathy.  Occasional results may suggest it has some efficacy, but probability suggests that sometimes the random noise of data will give a nudge in that direction.  When one finds the results heading predominantly in the same direction, it is unlikely that one study, one investigation, one treatment is going to reverse that trend.  In homeopathy it is like that.  Supporters will the results to go the other way but the trend is inevitably that homeopathy is not effective.

A second reason is the basic implausibility of the process.  Whereas in every other field of chemistry it would appear that an increase in concentration has an increasing effect, homeopathy pretends otherwise.  In the days before the atom was the consensus, it might have been possible to argue in the manner that homeopathists argue, but no longer.  To remove the active ingredient is surely to remove the action.  It cannot be anything else.  If I wanted to do someone harm, I would want more, rather than less, of my chosen poison in the wine I wanted them to drink.  It just doesn't make sense.

But, wait.  The homeopaths tell me that there is a possibility that water may somehow retain a memory of the active ingredient that has been dissolved within it.  To which I reply with two questions:

1) Why not cure the whole world by pouring some of the wonderful homeopathic remedy down the sink so it can enter the general water supply, thereby passing on its magical properties to all drinking water and thereby doing a huge amount of good for a minimal cost?  After all, isn't that the logical conclusion of this dilution business.

2) All that magically possessed water, what happens to its properties after ingestion?  Do they wear off?  How long do they last?  Why do we need to keep making the stuff when surely the case is that the answer to question 1 should be that all those nasty diseases that homeopathy can treat have been treated in everyone the world over and there is no need for any medicines any more?

The true answer is, of course, that no organisation or memory contained within the structure of the water molecules can last more than the tiniest fraction of a second.  Kinetic theory tells us that.  The laws of thermodynamics tell us that.  Anyone with a tiny bit of science education, in other words those that didn't fall asleep in their first year at secondary school, will see that homeopathy's basic premise is rubbish.  Take it by all means, but just don't expect miracles.

That's because it cannot work miracles.  It won't work miracles.  Wishful thinking is lovely.  But it doesn't cure cancer.  I would love it to do so.  I'd love to be able to get my dad to drink some special water and have him jump from his chair and dance all the way home.  But it won't happen.

Now to my point.  What Doctors Don't Tell You tells us that homeopathy can cure cancer.  Specifically, it tells us that breast cancer can be treated with homeopathy.  Fat lot of good that is to my dad.  However, evidence is evidence and relying on a piece of research to support the WDDTY version of events means that the evidence can be interrogated.  And so it proves. 

I am not an oncologist but I know someone who is.  Orac of the blog Respectful Insolence is, and it is to him that I defer when I want some oncological information.  Why?  Not because he is a paid shill of the pharmaceutical industry, whatever one of those is (and since in writing this I am one, can Big Pharma please make out the cheque in the usual way and send it to my home address) but because he has put in the days and nights of study that enable one to become an expert. 

About the only piece of evidence that WDDTY can bring to support their thesis is a paper, this paper: Frenkel M, Mishra BM, Sen S, Yang P, Pawlus A, Vence L, Leblanc A, Cohen L, Banerji P, Banerji P. (2010). Cytotoxic effects of ultra-diluted remedies on breast cancer cells. Int J Oncol. 2010 Feb;36(2):395-403.  Orac deals with it here.  If you are visiting these parts and are interested in homeopathy then you should read it.  Orac might not shake your beliefs but you might question them.  If this is the beam that the entire WDDTY homeopathy cures cancer edifice rests on, it is shaky indeed.

What happens when you critically analyse evidence is that it can give you answers and those are not always the answers the authors intended.  In this case, it appears impossible to tell if the homeopathic treatments actually had an effect.  The graphs are unusual, the evidence lacking statistical analysis.  It might be fair to say that perhaps the authors didn't know what they were doing, but peer review and editing should have spotted something.  And WDDTY don't use critical faculties that other, more properly sceptical folk, do use.  They read the paper properly.  They ask it questions.  Do the data warrant the conclusions?  How can we tell? 

So there is the danger of evidence.  It tells stories even if those stories are hidden.  After years of watching all those police procedural shows, from Columbo to CSI, we should be a little better at thinking about evidence, but some people aren't.  They take things at face value.  It is not a surprise that we have advertising to persuade us because some of us are easily persuaded.  I would hazard a guess that virtually all of us have a guilty secret, a purchase made on the basis of some slick advertising that we would rather not admit to.  Advertising works because we do not always stop to ask the question that needs to be asked.  Is it really true?

It has been said that WDDTY is actually more like a series of adverts dressed as articles interspersed in the advertising for holistic dentists (how can a dentist be holistic when they are treating your mouth which, by definition, is not your whole?) and vitamins (always vitamins).  If they are not trying to persuade their readers then there is little point in them existing because the articles are not evidence or fact based, not critical and definitely not what doctors in their right minds would tell you.

If we skip back a bit, Lynne McTaggart is sensitive to the claim that she claimed that vitamin C cures cancer and HIV.  One of the papers (sic) she relied on was one that suggested taking doses of vitamin C at levels just below those that cause at least one unpleasant side effect - diarrhoea.  It is often said that natural is safe, something that is palpably untrue with the most cursory of thoughts.  As the naturopath said to the judge in defence at her trial for murder, "I thought natural was safe. The extra digitalis should have caused no harm."

Sin is caused by omission as often as by commission.  What Doctors Don't Tell You has the capacity to cause harm by omission.  The omission of the reality of the evidence.  In the article on homeopathy and cancer in the November 2013 edition, it would have been fair to have pointed out that the Frenkel & al paper had been criticised, what those criticisms were and whether they were valid.  But of course that would have destroyed the story.  Well, that's what evidence does.  It takes your cherished beliefs and destroys them.  How many criminals have found that evidence trumps the thought that they might get away with it?  Lots.

One day, this week or next, the unpleasant evidence will come to me in the form of a phone call.  It won't be what I want. It will be the truth.  Truth is, in the end, not relative, not invented, not what someone would prefer it to be.  It is what the objective evidence says it is.  That is where What Doctors Don't Tell You fall down in my opinion.  There are plenty of science and health magazines that do the job properly.  This one doesn't.  And in so doing takes advantage of those patients and their families and friends who are desperate for a cure for whatever illness it is that is being suffered.

The Cancer Act 1939 is there to prevent cancer patients being taken for a ride.  What Doctors Don't Tell You don't like the Cancer Act.  It prevents them telling even more tall tales.  Thank goodness for that.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Scientists in the making

We tried to take our granddaughter to the Natural History Museum today.  We didn't make it.  We went round the corner to the Science Museum instead.  The reason: there were just too many people there.

Not that the Science Museum was much better.  It was as busy as I have ever seen it but the queue for the Natural History Museum (yes, queue) was more than an hour long.  I have balked at queueing that long anywhere (although I did shuffle around for seven hours to pass the Queen Mother's coffin during her lying in state a decade ago).  A drizzly, reasonably mild day in November means quite a sacrifice to stand in line outside for an hour.  And with a not quite four year old.

The last time I went to the Natural History Museum (can I still call it the BM(NH)?), you had to pay and consequently it was a whole lot quieter.  Same went for the Science Museum.  Abolishing entrance fees has certainly made it a half term trip again.  I wish I'd spotted that before I went.  Perhaps I would have gone on Sunday instead, when the chances are that fewer parents would be bringing their budding boffin offspring for a few hours of dinosaur and full scale blue whale model fun.

Budding boffins.  Too right.  Each and every one of the children, and a good many of their parents too, would have learned something, enjoyed themselves and been reminded that science is actually fun, no matter what some in the Cabinet might wish were otherwise.  And what so many children reminded me was that kids love science.  They might not realise it is science they are doing when they watch a spider in its web, or play with boats in the bath, but it is science.  Dinosaurs are science just as much as the Large Hadron Collider. 

I often wonder how representative my experience with science is.  I grew up watching red spider mites on the doorstep on hot summer evenings.  I grew up catching butterflies on the Buddleia spikes hanging over the fence from next door.  I grew up working my way through the I-Spy book of The Night Sky.  I grew up looking for unusual stones in an old sandpit.  I was allowed to be inquisitive.

All of those children, in line for the BM(NH) or in the Science Museum were having their inquisitiveness fed.  Good for them.  These were dull eyed children of clichĂ©, staring at tablet screens and getting repetitive strain injury from the PS3s.  These were bright eyed children.  I spoke to one mother who said that she brought her son to the Science Museum regularly, as a treat, after school usually.  And he loved it each and every time.

My granddaughter loved it too.  She was disappointed not to see the dinosaurs but since she loves planes, she enjoyed the flight gallery.  Here she is, posing in front of the Rolls Royce Pegasus engine, the kind that powered the Harrier jump jet:
She ran around and looked at bits and pieces and thoroughly enjoyed herself.  She will make a good scientist, if she chooses.

Somewhere there may butt in some cynicism or the cranky sort of scepticism that somehow changes a point of view on science.  At the moment she relies on those that know better to guide her.  She was good as gold on the Underground because we had warned her.  Off her leash, she investigates.  She learns fast.  But she will become less trusting of authority and have a greater confidence in her own ability to make decisions.  That's natural, and it is something I would want for her because she will have to make her own decisions, make her own life, at some time in the future.  But I hope she will listen to those that have made an in depth study of matters and evaluate their learning with an appropriately critical eye. 

What I mean is that it is easy to lose site of what experts actually are.  We don't usually meet people we think are experts in their field because we don't realise that most, if not all, people know something about a topic that is more in depth about that topic than anything we know.  It is easy to convince yourself that you know better.  I can change a fuse, wire a plug and understand parallel and series circuits but I am not an electrician.  I get an expert in to do the real electrical jobs.  I take my car to a car expert when it needs a service.  But most people don't see those sorts of workers as experts.  Someone who explains the behaviour of the electrons in the wires is what they mean by an expert.

Somewhere along the line a lot of people get misled about science.  They retain their wonder and awe about some of the things science finds out, but they also tread dangerous paths.  The sort of path that Lynne McTaggart has taken, cloaking unreliable findings with a veneer of confidence they do not warrant.  Or Lord Monckton, twisting facts to fit a denier/contrarian world view.  It is essential that we continue to show that such distortions of science are not permissible.