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 05 July 2015

Congratulations Anti-Vaxers, You Killed a Baby!

February 24th, 2015

Measles is a very contagious disease.  It’s usually something that people get over, without permanent damage, although complications are not all that uncommon.  Deaths are relatively rare, but they do happen.   At one time, a country like the United States would expect to experience a few dozen deaths from measles, mostly in children, per year.

That began to change when an effective vaccine was developed in 1968.  It took some time for the vaccine to proliferate across the industrial world, and measles outbreaks continued into the 1980′s.  However by the late 1990′s, measles had become an uncommon condition in most of the developed world.  It did not go away completely, but by the turn of the 21st century, most public health officials considered measles to be a problem of the past and efforts on further eradication focused on third world countries, where low vaccine rates allowed it to flourish.

CanadameaslesThat began to change, however, as more parents started to buy into the propaganda of an increasingly well funded and vocal anti-vaccine movement.  It started with claims that vaccine caused autism.  Then they began to talk about all manner of “vaccine injury,” which, in most cases, was a complete fabrication.  Yet the fear of vaccines took hold enough for many parents to leave their children unvaccinated.  Many became so sold on the idea they would work to spread the message to others.

What happened is exactly what you would expect to happen.  A disease as contagious as measles once again had a population capable of sustaining an outbreak and that’s what happened.  In the United States, a single incident, where a number of persons were exposed in Disneyland resulted in a multi-state outbreak that has now spread to several states.  The numbers keep climbing and are now well over one hundred and fifty, although its likely that far more have not been reported.

Measels2Of course, the US is not alone.  Similar outbreaks and increases in rate of measles have swept the industrial world.  Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany have also faced the prospect of decreasing vaccine rates leading to measles outbreaks.  Other outbreaks have happened in the Netherlands, New Zealand, Italy, Singapore and New Zealand.

In many places, vaccine refusal has just begun to reach the critical number necessary for full scale outbreaks to be sustained in the population.  This has resulted in some very dramatic upticks in the rate of the diseases.  For example, Turkey reported 7,132 cases in 2014, up from 700 in 2013.  In New Zealand, 2014 saw 281 cases reported, while only 8 cases had been reported in 2013.

Up until now, no lives had been lost to the outbreaks.  There are a few reasons for this.  One is that vaccines are still reasonably common and therefore, the outbreaks have been small compared to those of decades ago.  Another reason is that, when someone gets measles, every effort is made to prevent them from dying.

Serious complications, complications that could even cause death, are not uncommon from measles.  But when they do happen, the health system springs into action and usually manages to save the lives of those infected.  For example, about 15% of those infected in the recent US outbreak ended up in the hospital.  When this happens, they are monitored, fluids and fever reducers are given, antibiotics are called for if there are secondary infections and doctors monitor their recovery.  Some will develop pneumonia and require breathing assistance, such as supplemental oxygen.  Vitamin A may be given by IV, as there is some evidence of decreased mortality when high vitamin A levels are maintained.

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Posted in Bad Science, Quackery

Why do a few doctors come out against vaccines?

February 7th, 2015

Vaccines represent one of the greatest achievements in public health.  They have saved millions of lives and have the ability to completely eradicate some infectious diseases.  They’re also extremely safe.  Serious reactions to vaccines are extremely rare and deaths are even more rare.  They certainly do not suppress the immune system, make people less healthy or cause autism.

The anti-vaccine movement is a false controversy, predicated on ignorance and lies.  It exploits fallacies, like the belief that “natural” things are always good or that any foreign substance must be harmful to the body, if it is put there by human intervention.  It is also based on fear, especially the natural instinct of parents to protect their children and not harm them.  Considering the number of websites and organizations that support these lies, it’s not surprising that many people have fallen for it.

The vast majority of those who run these organizations and campaign against vaccines have no medical or scientific background at all.  Some are garden variety conspiracy theorists.  Others are celebrities, who became famous because they posed in men’s magazines or for acting or music.  They seem to believe that its their duty to use their fame to promote something that they believe, even despite their lack of actual authority on the matter.

The overwhelming majority of competent doctors and scientists in the field will tell you that vaccines are very safe and quite effective.  Even doctors whose field is not immunology generally have enough basic training in general medicine and biology to understand this undeniable fact.  Those who are well versed in the real data, whether they are doctors, public health officials or just science advocates are in almost universal agreement in support of vaccines.

…almost.

While it isn’t surprising that most doctors and experts do support vaccines, it is a little surprising that there are some who do not.  They are few and far between.  In fact, there seem to be only a handful of them worldwide, but they do exist.

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Posted in Bad Science, Quackery

29 Years Since The Challenger Exploded, One of My Earliest Memories

January 28th, 2015

Space flight is dangerous.  Taking a rocket into orbit means sitting on a controlled explosion happening under an enormous tank of fuel and oxidizer.  Rocket engines are under such tremendous forces, they push engineering to its limits.  Once one arrives in space, the spacecraft must protect occupants from one of the harshest environments imaginable.  Then, upon return, the rapid reentry to the atmosphere subjects the craft to enormous heat and pressure.  Every part of a space mission is dangerous.

It is more dangerous when politics and a desire for good publicity and scheduling gets in the way of more important concerns over safety and engineering.   This is what happened to the Challenger.  It was the first American space mission to result in causalities (although astronauts had died before in practice sessions and dry runs, such as Apollo 1).  It was the worst loss of life in a single space mission up to that time.  It would be tied by the 2003 breakup of the shuttle Columbia.

The accident put a temporary halt to the US space program and resulted in numerous safety improvements.  Unfortunately, these improvements were not enough to stop another tragedy from happening with the Space Shuttle.  While the Shuttle proved to be one of he most capable craft for low earth orbit, with unique capabilities, like the capacity to retrieve satellites from orbit, it also has some other, more dubious, distinctions.  More lives have been lost in the Space Shuttle than any other spacecraft.  It has a LOVC (loss of vehicle and crew) rate of greater than one percent, for all launches.

For me, the Challenger incident has other significance.  I was three years old at the time if happened.  It is one of my earliest distinct memories and the earliest memory I can pin directly to an event.

My memories are vague, but I do remember a few things.  My mother worked with a man whose television was not working on that day.  He came over to my home to watch the TV coverage.  He and my father were glued to the set all afternoon and evening.  I was upset because I wanted to watch Mister Roger’s neighborhood and we only had the one television.

My parents watched ABC news.  It’s amazing but these videos actually jar distinct memories for me.



Posted in History, media, personal, Space

The Truth About Aluminum Toxicity

January 15th, 2015

One of the things that I have been hearing a lot of recently is that vaccines are dangerous because they contain aluminum.  Similarly, various chemtrail conspiracy theorists frequently cite aluminum as being one of the dangerous ingredients in their imaginary chemical discharges.  They’re not alone.  Others have said that children’s medicines contain dangerous amounts of aluminum which could cause everything from autism and dementia.  It’s strange to see this common material, which we encounter daily becoming something so many are afraid of.

Presented here is some information on what kind of concerns aluminum and it’s most fundamental compounds present.  Spoiler: It’s pretty benign stuff and for most people there’s no concern at all about toxicity.

Sorry, but you have been exposed to aluminum, possibly a lot of it:

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Posted in Bad Science, Conspiracy Theories, Quackery

Chlorine Dioxide: A Horrific Treatment for Autism

January 11th, 2015

I have written before about a product being sold as Miracle Mineral Supplement.  It claims to cure everything from cancer to malaria, but is actually one of the most dangerous quack products out there.

Miracle Mineral Supplement is actually sodium chlorite, a toxic and reactive compound.  The instructions for Miracle Mineral Supplement tell users to “activate” the product by combining it with citric acid.  The result is a chemical reaction which produces chlorine dioxide.  Chlorine dioxide is a gas, although it can dissolve into water.  It is not something you would ever want to be exposed to in any quantity.  It is a powerful oxidizer and bleaching agent.  The most common use of chlorine dioxide is in the paper industry, where it is used to bleach wood pulp.  It also is used for fumigation and disinfection purposes.

Chlorine dioxide is very toxic and in high doses it could easily be fatal.  In low doses, like those which might be produced from the Miracle Mineral Supplement product, it is not likely to be fatal, but it can be highly irritating to the skin, the respiratory tract and the eyes.  It is, after all, bleach.  It’s not quite the same as household chlorine bleach (that is sodium hypochlorite) but it is a bleaching agent – one more powerful than the bleach used for household cleaning or whitening laundry.

Despite this, some people still swear by the stuff and use it at their own peril.

One of the most horrific uses, the treatment of autism:

It is one thing to use this nasty chemical on oneself, but it is being pushed as a treatment for autism and is being used primarily on children by believers.   Autism is a neurological condition that exists because of developmental issues that arise before birth, even if it is not obvious until some time later.   There is no cure for autism, as such. However, intensive therapy, special education and social groups can result in major improvements in the prognosis for many autistic children, especially those who do not have a severe case of autism.

Chlorine dioxide certainly has no benefit to autistic children.  It is hard to imagine anything more harmful to a child with social developmental problems than to subject them to the painful and damaging effects of an oxidizer.  If nothing else, it can easily harm the natural inclination to see parents as protective and trusted.

Yet that is exactly what some are pushing.  The website cdautism.org pushes a book and is run by a group of quacks who actively encourage the use of chlorine dioxide to treat autism.  The side claims autism is “avoidable, treatable and curable” and recommends chlorine dioxide, which it calls “an inexpensive, broad spectrum, gentle, anti-pathogenic.”

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Posted in Bad Science, Not Even Wrong, Quackery

Some Revealing Videos from the “March Against Monsanto”

January 10th, 2015

Around the world, people have come out to events dubbed the “March Against Monsanto.”   The events have happened in hundreds of cities (supposedly) and may involve thousands of people.  Overall, the total number who have come out for these events seems to be relatively small.  Most of them were lucky to draw a crowd of dozens.  But those who did show up certainly are passionate.

The event is supposed to be a demonstration against the Monsanto Corporation.  It’s basically a demonstration against genetically modified organisms, which is the Monsanto product that activists tend to hate the most.  While Monsanto is not the only maker of genetically modified organisms, they have become one of the most the most visible and are certainly the one who is targeted the most by anti-gmo groups.

The protests also seem to oppose modern, conventional agriculture and the production of food on large farms.  It is part of the movement for organic agriculture and the “eat local” campaigns, which promote the idea that food should be grown in a large number of small farms, rather than a smaller number of larger farms.

There are a number of videos that have been taken at these events, including some which interview participants. I would highly recommend checking out those made by Bronson Kaahui, who attended some of these events and interviewed the participants about their beliefs and what they are taking a stand against. There are some others floating around that are also worth watching.

Here are a few of my favorites:

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Posted in Agriculture, Bad Science, Conspiracy Theories, Enviornment, Just LAME, media, Not Even Wrong, Politics

SpaceX Will Attempt First Stage Recovery Launch – UPDATE

January 6th, 2015

A brief post but something that really excites me.

SpaceX was planning on launching a Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Staton today.   This launch is not the first time the rocket has been launched nor the first mission to the ISS.  What makes it exciting (in addition to the fact that all rocket launches are exciting) is that it would be their first attempt to recover the first stage in a near-perfect reusable condition.  Aside from the SRB’s on the Space Shuttle, which splashed down in sea water, there has not been any launch system which allowed a major stage component to be reused.

Since this is the first attempt, there’s a good chance it won’t work, but if it does, it will be a huge step toward lower cost space flight.  Of course, it’s only one stage of the rocket, but it’s still a big achievement.  The rocket itself costs tens of millions of dollars, while the fuel is only hundreds of thousands, so reusing a major portion of the rocket can save enormous costs.

The unique method of recovery is to have the rocket use remaining fuel and its own engine to decelerate and make a soft landing.  Landing legs will deploy and the touchdown will be attempted on a floating barge, which is unmanned and some distance offshore, thus reducing any risks should the landing not be successful.

NOTE:  The launch has been aborted.  Apparently there were some readings with the thrust vector control system which indicated a problem.  It’s not entirely unusual for launches to be aborted at the last minute, as a result of such technical data.  In a high risk activity like launching rockets, it is not worth attempting a launch if there appear to be any potential problems.

The systems will be checked and diagnosed and the launch will likely proceed shortly, but probably not today.   It may require a couple of days before the proper launch window opens up again.  It may also take a number of days for the problem to be solved with the thrust vector control.  In all likelihood, the launch will still happen in the next few days.

 

YOU CAN WATCH THE HISTORIC LAUNCH AND RECOVERY ATTEMPT HERE


Posted in Good Science, Space

No, it does not take a conspiracy to make people fat

January 1st, 2015

 Videos like this one really get under my skin

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PEOPLE LIKE HIGH CALORIE FOODS. IT IS NOT A CONSPIRACY

Foods that are high in calories, that contain a large portion of fat are simply something people like.   The same is true for starchy foods and sweet foods.   Any chef will tell you this. There’s a reason why so many of them seem to be nearly obsessed with butter.  It makes foods taste pleasing.  Trying to make foods that are low in sugar, low in fat and low in starch as palatable is, at beast a challenge.  They can be spiced and seasoned, but this really does not get you quite the same level of culinary gratification.

Owithdrawalfromsugarf course, substitutes can be used, which give similar taste to foods.  Many substitute sweeteners exist.  Unfortunately, they do not always work in all products, since they may not melt or dissolve the same way as natural sugars do.  They also tend to have inferior subjective tastes, at least to most people, with undesirable mouth-feels and aftertastes.  There are also fat substitutes, but they have their own problems.   Olestra is a well known example.   The molecule is similar to fats, chemically and physically.  It has the same thick, greasy feel to it.  However, it also has some unfortunate side-effects.  It is not absorbed in the digestive tract but passes through.  It’s become famous for therefore producing an unpleasant side effect known as anal leakage. (Which is exactly what it sounds like.)

The human affinity for sweetness, however, should not be viewed as an addiction in the same way something like cocaine is addictive, however.  That’s just ridiculous.  Sugar is a natural part of our food we are all exposed to and which can’t be eliminated.  Sweet flavors light up the pleasure centers of the brain because we like them and that’s what stuff we like does.   Cocaine is a powerful drug that modifies brain chemistry, working on the dopamine system.  It has strong stimulating effects and produces tolerance and dependence.  With time, users are left dopamine-deficient without it.  It also has an effect on serotonin and norepinephrine.

Why this is the case:

The reason why humans seek out and prefer high calorie foods is actually very simple.   For most of our evolution food was scarce and it was common to not know where your next meal was coming from.  Calories are, by far, he most important basic nutrient, and therefore when the opportunity arose to eat something high in them, it made sense to do so.  If our ancestors went out foraging or hunting for food, it made sense to seek out that which had the highest calorie density.

It’s also more common to find other important nutrients, such as vitamins in the fruits of plants than in their leaves.   Since humans require a steady supply of vitamin C, an affinity for sweet fruits was a good thing to have.

It really is that simple.   It’s a matter of desiring foods and high calorie foods, because that’s what we need.

Evolution is also the reason why humans get fat when they eat a lot of high calorie foods.  Many seem to believe that gaining weight represents the human body functioning improperly or that it is the result of something unnatural.  This seems to be the reason why there are so many “detox” diets, which are based on the entirely false notion that fat is toxic or that some toxic and foreign substance is making people gain fatty tissue.  There’s nothing especially toxic in fat cells.  They’re just full of nutrients.

This has the same basic evolutionary reason.   Every day we burn a certain number of calories, based primarily on the level of activity undertaken.  We also take in a certain number of calories, based on diet.   When we consistently eat more calories than we burn, there is a surplus and that surplus of calories needs to go somewhere.

Perhaps these calories could be eliminated by selectively closing the intestinal wall to further absorption or by boosting the body’s resting metabolism rate.   If we were designing the human body for modern society, that might be what we’d decide to do.  But that would be a very bad decision in a more “natural” environment, where food could be scarce.  If there are extra calories, they are stored in fatty tissue, which is one of the primary purposes of fat.  Our distant ancestors probably never had the opportunity to take this process to the extreme that so many do today, but it does not change the fact that it’s all just the body functioning normally to pack away calories for later.

It’s been said that there’s more to weight loss than just calories in and calories out.  That’s only partially true.  Metabolism is a complicated process and some people do have naturally higher or lower metabolisms, which does mean they may have to work harder than others to keep the pounds off.  It’s also true that some foods have more easily absorbed calories than others.  It does not change the fact that the human body cannot create fat out of nothing nor can it expend energy without burning something.  We can’t photosynthesize.

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Posted in Agriculture, Bad Science, Culture, Good Science, History

An Open Letter About GMOs

December 8th, 2014

An open letter to Europe and the world about GMOs in response to the ridiculous “Letter From America” about GMOs.   Of course, Europe and much of the world has been eating and benefiting from GMOs for some time. It’s a fallacy to equate GMOs with the United States.  However, it is true that the US agricultural sector has been one of the earliest and largest adopters of genetic engineering, and has benefited from it greatly.

Feel free to click the above link and read the “Letter From America” if you’d like a laugh or to be disgusted.

I’m also an American and I’ve been eating genetically modified foods since the mid 1990′s.  So I figured I’m just as qualified to set the record straight.  No, the sky is not falling.  And yes, I am perfectly healthy.

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Posted in Agriculture, Bad Science, Culture, Good Science, media

Terrifying Attack On Crop Duster

December 7th, 2014

I should start off by saying that we do not know what caused this attack.  It could just be some drunkin idiots who were out shooting skeet and decided to shoot at an airplane.

But these days there are a lot of people who believe that agriculture is ruled by evil corporations who are applying toxic materials with the intent of depopulating the earth.  There are others who believe that aircraft are spraying things into the upper atmosphere for evil reasons.   Many of these conspiracy theorists are at the point where they feel that it’s time to take this battle to the perceived evil-doers.

Incidents like this really make me wonder if that is starting to happen.   Again, we don’t actually know the motives here, but it is definitely worth considering…

Click here for video

(does not allow embedding)

Via Ky3 News:

Crop dusting plane shot while flying over Lawrence County

LAMAR, Mo. -

Lisa Kingsley gets chills when she counts the bullet holes in her friend’s plane

“Here’s one on the wing and then another in the back,” Kingsley said. “It’s scary.”

Kingsley and her husband own a crop dusting business, Kevin Kingsley LLC. The Kingsleys asked a friend to help with her crop dusting business while their plane was grounded for repairs.

On Wednesday, while the pilot was working on a field in Lawrence County, Lisa Kingsley got a terrifying call.

“Someone shot at the plane near the job site.”

There are 16 bullet holes in the plane, a 1997 Thrush 510, and Kingsley says the shots came inches away from bringing down the plane with her friend in it.

“I made it here in I think in less that 30 minutes from Joplin, and I hugged him first thing,” Kingsley said. “He’s a father, a husband, a son and this was an attempt on his life. When you’re a family man like that, his whole life flashed before him.”

Kingsley says the FBI is on the case, because shooting at a plane is a federal crime.

“It is a federal offense, it is being investigated, it’s ongoing and you can face up to five to ten years in federal prison,” Kingsley said investigators told her.

Kingsley says she and her husband are nervous about flying again, but hope their story will stop others from shooting into the skies.


Posted in Bad Science, Conspiracy Theories, Misc