Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Letter to "Ring Of Fire"

I confess it - I listen to a Progressive Radio station. Primarily for Stephanie Miller and her "Sexy Liberal Crew", but some of the other broadcasters are informative and I find myself aligning with their political and intellectual stands more and more.

So I was extremely disappointed one Saturday when I tuned in an heard a load of tripe served by a program called "Ring of Fire". In this show, they 'assessed' the vaccines link to autism "controversy" (it really isn't controversial - they don't cause autism).

I wrote to the program and, as I have had no response several months later, I would like to share my letter.

It read:

Dear Ring of Fire broadcasters,

As a scientist concerned with child-care, I am outraged that so much one-sided, unbalanced and opinion-based air-time was given to the scientifically unsupported idea that vaccines might cause autism. The host, Mr. Kennedy, referred to many ‘studies’ that have already been conclusively refuted by the science, including one undertaken on Amish children by ‘reporters’. Such anecdotal reports (e.g., Dan Olmstead, 2005) have been demonstrated to be scientifically unsupportable, but of course this has little impact on those who perform all of their 'research' via the Internet. In fact, according to a 2010 study from Joycelyn Lee Robinson at the Hussman Institute for Human Genomics, University of Miami, autism among the Amish is quite common (1 in 127) and those studies are ongoing, contrary to your suggestion on the program and your rhetorical “Why don’t they study a population that isn’t vaccinated - like the Amish?”

As a matter of fact, The Amish vaccinate their children with rates that are comparable to the rate found in the general population. Thus, vaccinations (or lack thereof) among the Amish have not told us anything about the origins or causes of autism, although some interesting and unique genetic characteristics that lead to a syndrome that includes autism are being investigated and may eventually contribute to a better understanding of the etiology of this complex neurological condition. Your failure to mention these studies demonstrates that you are either unfamiliar with the current scientific knowledge or that you are disingenuous and choose to ignore them because they do not support your hypothesis. Peer-reviewed studies demonstrating even a tenuous link between vaccines and autism are most usually worded ambiguously and tend to stress the inability of the scientific method in general to eliminate a negative. An example would be that, so far, nobody has ruled out the possibility that leprechauns cause Global Warming. The null-hypothesis is not necessarily that they do! Most such studies involving vaccines, including an extremely famous one (Andrew Wakefield), have been proven flawed, if not out-and-out fraudulent. While vaccines certainly carry some risk, and although many studies have undoubtedly demonstrated the toxicity of mercury compounds (including thimerosal) in animal models, the idea that any vaccine may cause autism in humans is at best controversial (and at worst just a nonsensical conspiracy theory) and should be handled as such – with a balanced viewpoint. It is obviously of the utmost importance that people know the risks involved with any medical procedure or preventative measure, but your program, which contorted the facts, did not assist in this endeavor and would likely have the opposite effect - that of 'muddying the waters'.

Earlier in your show, Mr. Papantonio talked about the current political situation in Wisconsin, where the Governor is trying to crush the Unions so that he can push through an agenda that, I assure you, will not stop at Unions and workers' rights, but will undoubtedly continue into matters of Public Health. If you provide to those pushing this type of agenda the slightest excuse, they will only too happily take away the expensive, but effective Public Health measures that have been in place for many years to protect the public from disease. First on the list is water treatment for some municipalities, second is healthcare for the poor (likely affecting women and children disproportionately). Next - vaccines?

Science is currently under attack from many angles – Evolution, Global Warming, Water Fluoridation and Vaccines all being a part of that attack. For your program, you were able to find a ‘maverick’ scientist – a professor ‘Emeritus’, Dr. Boyd Haley - who supports this unscientific position, and there are several of them out there. I could find you some mavericks who would refute the composition of the Sun or tell you that the Earth is only 6000 years old, but they are not right simply because they have a PhD and an impressive title. Most usually, such mavericks have either a conflicting vested interest or an ideological axe to grind (or perhaps, as in this case, some untested industrial chelation therapy to sell). How do I deduce that this man is a maverick? Because, without comment, he allowed you to perpetuate the lie about the Amish not having autism. He is clearly not interested in the science.

May I remind you that childhood illnesses such as measles, mumps and rubella are dangerous and occasionally lethal, and that in areas where concern about vaccine safety has led to a reduction in such preventative strategies, even after thimerosal was removed, children have, in fact, died. This is a double tragedy because such illnesses are preventable. I would also remind you that a 1985 study estimated that 52 million cases of childhood illnesses were prevented in the USA alone in the first 20 years of the MMR vaccine becoming available, meaning that 17,400 cases of mental retardation and 5,200 deaths were also prevented (Bloch et al. Pediatrics 76 (4): 524–32). Extrapolate that another 25 years (and across the Globe) and you must admit that the benefits of such strategies are most impressive. This has also provided an astounding quantity of data to study in follow-up that has led to the World-wide consensus that vaccines DO NOT cause the conditions you would have us believe. My suggestion to you is that in matters of Science, either you believe that there is an international conspiracy by scientists against the public good and that institutions like the Center for Disease Control, The American Academy of Pediatrics, The Institute of Medicine, The National Institutes of Health, The United Kingdom National Health Service, The Cochrane Library and many other institutions Worldwide are run by incompetents, or you have to agree with the consensus, derived from THOUSANDS of peer-reviewed studies conducted over a century or more around the world. The alternative is that if you succeed in having these public measures terminated, or if you succeed in scaring gullible parents into opting-out of the vaccine program, you may be in-part responsible for the sickness, and possibly the death, of children who are no longer protected. Is this your goal?

I have no desire to enter the wasps’ nest surrounding the anti-vaccine battle against medical science. However, I implore you to treat such matters with more balance and allow somebody more knowledgeable about the most recent scientific developments in this area at least as much air-time as was given to the ‘maverick’ side of the debate.

Yours most sincerely,

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Rocking Horse Girl

As a younger man, I was fascinated by the idea that aliens may have visited Earth from time-to-time. I still think that the likelihood of alien life in the Universe is 'a given' and I also think there is pretty good evidence that some UFOs are extraterrestrial in nature and driven by some intelligent life. However, that is not the point of this post.

The following is an intellectual exercise - an assessment of what aliens would think of us if they landed on Earth and saw how poorly we treat this place we call 'home', and how despicably we treat one another. After all, most of us as individuals know the old adage "don't shit on your own doorstep", but on a societal level we seem less inclined to adhere to such simplistic concepts.

Although I wrote this song several years ago, recent political events in certain states of the USA such as Wisconsin have brought home how little we have learned as a society. The central message of the song is still apropos. However, I am also quite optimistic that, as stated in the last verse of the song, the power of the people "has never been so strong."

So, I give you the song "Rocking Horse Girl". Lyrics first and full-performance video following:


Voice of young 'abductee' in interview: "They think we’re silly."
Man’s voice: "Why do they think we’re silly?"
Abductee: "Because all atoms have electrons, so existence is electricity; but we pay people lots of money to give us electricity wrapped up in big words like generator."

She’s been picking up signals from Venus and Mars, “'Cause there’s somebody out
there,” she said.
“But there’s no need to worry, they’re quite ordinary, just inquisitive and timid,”
she said.
And I have no reason to doubt her. She’s too innocent for malicious intent.
And, bright as she may be, these are not the stories a Rocking Horse Girl would

They’d like to approach us for a beer and a chat, but they’re not quite sure what to
Cause they’ve seen us react to what we don’t understand; they don’t think that
we’d show them respect.
But they’re worried about our politicians who sing for their supper with lies,
And care for nothing except their positions, while around them the community

That’s what she said!
That’s what she said!
That’s what she said!
Should we make some commitment to change or commit her instead?

They’re concerned by the way that we treat one another, defending "fictitious
borders,” she said.
And by the chaos that’s caused by the criminal minds who "control law and order,”
she said.
How we loved Oppenheimer for what he achieved, how Gatling was praised for
his gun,
And how governments are quick to invest in inventions with "potential for killing

That’s what she said!
That’s what she said!
That’s what she said!
Should we make some commitment to change or commit her instead?

They can see contradiction in the fact that our instincts are strong for self survival, she said,
And yet we allow that our ignorance sets us on a course suicidal, she said,
But by using the power of the people, which they say has never been so strong,
We can stop the futile attempts of the politically correct to hide the intrinsically

That’s what she said!
That’s what she said!
That’s what she said!

Should we make some commitment to change or commit her instead?

(The future needs public protection. The alternative is too frightening to mention. Don't expect some benevolent intervention)