Archive | Junk Science and Quackspertise

Evolution Still Undertaught

The NYT summarizes a new report in Science that finds a majority of high school biology teachers skimp on their teaching of evolution to avoid controversy and a sizable percentage explicitly teach creationism.  One of the study’s authors believes the answer is more and better science education for teachers.

“Students are being cheated out of a rich science education,” said Dr. [Eric] Plutzer, a professor of political science at Penn State University. “We think the ‘cautious 60 percent’ represent a group of educators who, if they were better trained in science in general and in evolution in particular, would be more confident in their ability to explain controversial topics to their students, to parents, and to school board members.”

Perhaps, especially if this education helps teachers explain that a belief in evolution does not require rejecting religious understandings of the world, let alone atheism. Creationism and “intelligent design” aren’t science, and it’s wrong to present them as such. But evolutionary theory is not a comprehensive explanation of human existence and doesn’t disprove the existence of God. Science educators would have an easier time teaching evolution if some of evolution’s advocates were not so strident in suggesting that belief in evolution disproves a belief in God. A frontal assault on someone’s worldview is not the best way to get them to listen. [...]

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Salon Sanitizes the Record

Salon has withdrawn a 2005 article by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (aka “America’s Most Irresponsible Public Figure®“) alleging a link between vaccines and autism.  The article, co-published with Rolling Stone, had an “explosive premise,” according to Salon‘s editors.  Too bad it was scientifically bogus and completely irresponsible.  Salon was forced to publish several corrections to the article, but has now decided to remove it from their website altogether.  A better step would have been to leave it online with a bolded header explaining the article has been thoroughly discredited and never should have been published in the first place. [...]

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Vaccine-Autism Study an “Elaborate Fraud”

Last year, The Lancet withdrew a controversial study that had purported to find a link between autism and childhood vaccination because “several findings” of the paper were “incorrect.”  The study, by Wakefield, et al., was the only study published in a respected medical journal reporting a potential link and was routinely cited by those claiming childhood vaccinations could cause autism, despite obvious flaws and a wealth of contrary research.  Now a new report shows the study was not just wrong, it was “fraudulent” as well.

A report by journalist Brian Deer in the British Journal of Medicine, the first in a series, reveals that the Wakefield study relied upon “bogus data” that was “manufactured” by those who conducted the study.  Specifically, Deer found that the study’s authors misrepresented medical and other information about the children in the study, including the timing and appearance of relevant symptoms, creating a false impression of a vaccine-autism link that was not there.

An accompanying editorial in the BMJ pulls no punches.

The Office of Research Integrity in the United States defines fraud as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism. Deer unearthed clear evidence of falsification. He found that not one of the 12 cases reported in the 1998 Lancet paper was free of misrepresentation or undisclosed alteration, and that in no single case could the medical records be fully reconciled with the descriptions, diagnoses, or histories published in the journal.

Who perpetrated this fraud? There is no doubt that it was Wakefield. Is it possible that he was wrong, but not dishonest: that he was so incompetent that he was unable to fairly describe the project, or to report even one of the 12 children’s cases accurately? No. A great deal of thought and effort must have gone into drafting the paper to achieve the

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That Explains It

Washington Times:

Pornography normalizes sexual harm, Dr. Cooper said. It shows children a lack of any kind of emotional commitment or relationship between two consensual partners, shows unprotected sexual contact and visual examples often of violent rape.

“When a child sees this image of adult pornography, the mirror neurons that are in their brain will convince them that they are actually experiencing what they are seeing,” she said.

Children are very vulnerable as compared to adults because of the presence of mirror neurons in the brain, Dr. Cooper said. Mirror neurons are part of the brain that convince us that when we see something we are actually experiencing it.

I’ve wondered for years why, when I eight, I thought I lived on a lush island with a giant puppet with a huge head, an Australian boy with a talking flute, and a witch with a very strange nose. So now I know. [...]

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Lancet Retracts Vaccine-Autism Study

The Lancet, one of the premier medical journals, has retracted the controversial study purporting to link the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine to autism in children.  The journal issued this statement:

It has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al. are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation. In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were ‘consecutively referred’ and that investigations were ‘approved’ by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record.

From CNN’s report:

The Wakefield study has been a key piece of evidence cited by parents who do not vaccinate their children.

“The story became credible because it was published in The Lancet,” Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation, said Tuesday. “It was in The Lancet, and we really rely on these medical journals.”

Singer, the mother of a child with autism, added, “That study did a lot of harm. People became afraid of vaccinations — this is the Wakefield legacy — this unscientifically grounded fear of vaccinations that result in children dying from vaccine preventable diseases.” . . .

“Since Wakefield’s study came out, some 20 other studies have come out, and each one of these studies, done by different researchers, in different populations and in different countries has denied the associations between vaccines and autism,” he said. “… Scientifically, this story is over.”

Schaffner added, “This series of events is damning and should refocus all of us in the field to find better methods of diagnosis and treatments.”

“This story is over”?  I sure hope so. [...]

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Anti-Vaccine Scientist Acted “Dishonestly and Irresponsibly”

Claims that childhood MMR vaccines cause autism are unfounded and irresponsible.  As Ron Bailey notes, “study after study has debunked” the claim that MMR vaccines are linked to autism, and there are credible allegations that the study that prompted the initial scare was faked.  As the BBC reports, British medical authorities have also concluded that the primary researcher promoting such claims, Andrew Wakefield, acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly” in conducting and promoting his research.  More here from Discover‘s Bad Astronomy blog.

Despite the broad medical consensus on the importance of vaccination for many diseases, some prominent public figures, such as Oprah Winfrey and John McCain, continue to embrace or encourage the unfounded, unscientific charge that vaccinations cause autism.  This could have very serious consequences as the rate of vaccination gradually declines.  Childhood vaccinations are extremely important for public health.  If vaccination rates drop below a certain point, herd immunity can be compromised, leading to widespread outbreaks of disease.  Perhaps the latest report on Wakefield’s research will lead some to reconsider.

UPDATE: More from Orac at Respectful Insolence. [...]

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Homeopathy

I’ve met a lot of well-educated people who think that a “homeopathic” remedy is simply a “natural” remedy.  Here’s a welcome reminder that it’s actually quackery of the highest order.  Meanwhile, if you have “brusing and injury”–or any other malady, really–I’d be happy to sell you patented Bernstein© brand Placebo Pills for an even lower price than my homeopathic competitors, guaranteed to work at least as well.

UPDATE: My motto: “No active ingredients, so no side effects!” [...]

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