Archive for October 26th, 2009

A Not-So-Split Decision

For those who battle tirelessly against the never ending onslaught of anti-vaccine propaganda, misinformation, and fear, there was great news the other day from Merck. The pharmaceutical company, and maker of the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella, has decided not to resume production of the individual, or “split”, components of the vaccine. A Merck representative made the announcement during a meeting of the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) on Tuesday. During previous ACIP meetings, science experts on that committee presented compelling arguments against  continued, large scale production of the monovalent components of the MMR vaccine, which were echoed by scientists in Merck’s vaccine division. In a moment, I’ll discuss the arguments against the split vaccine, and why this is so important a decision. First, some background on the issue of splitting the MMR.

Posted in: Science and Medicine, Vaccines

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A science-based blog about GMO

Much time, money, and ink is spent in our culture obsessing over what foods are “good” or “bad” for health. Oftentimes such claims are out of proportion with available evidence, perhaps based on reasonable-sounding theories but not so much on convincing data. Here are a few examples of SBM bloggers addressing food and diet: 1, 2, 3, 4.

An interesting subset of food claims relate to the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMO) in the food chain, safety both for individuals and for ecosystems. I’d like to recommend SBM readers to a blog called Biofortified written by graduate students and scientists in plant genetics. The Biofortified bloggers explain hot topics and controversies in genetic engineering, attempting to cut through the wild propoganda in favor of calm science. The authors tend to be more pro-GMO than not—perhaps unsurprising since their careers are spent studying them—but they strike me as quite reasonable in their support. Here are a few posts I liked: on fears about GE crops, on food labels, on anecdotal health claims, on gene patents, on smoking your vaccines someday.

Today is a particularly good time for you to check out Biofortified because they are competing in the Ashoka Changemakers “GMO: Risk or Rescue?” contest. According to Karl, a grad student who writes on Biofortified, theirs is the only “pro-science” group in the running. The prize includes a nice grant and an opportunity to have a conversation with author Michael Pollan. If you like the blog enough to vote for them by this Wednesday 10/28 at 6pm EST, see details about the contest here.

Posted in: Science and Medicine

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Suzanne Somers’ Knockout: Dangerous misinformation about cancer (part 1)

If there’s one thing I’ve become utterly disgusted with in the time since I first became interested in science-based medicine as a concept, its promotion, and the refutation of quackery and medical pseudoscience, it’s empty-brained celebrities with an agenda. Be it from imbibing the atmosphere within the bubble of woo-friendly southern California or taking a crash course at the University of Google and, through the arrogance of ignorance, concluding that they know more than scientists who have devoted their lives to studying a problem, celebrities believing in and credulously promoting pseudoscience present a special problem because of the oversized soapboxes they command. Examples abound. There’s Bill Maher promoting anti-vaccine pseudoscience, germ theory denialism, and cancer quackery on his show Real Time with Bill Maher and getting the Richard Dawkins Award from the Atheist Alliance International in spite of his antiscience stances on vaccines and what he sneeringly calls “Western medicine.” Then there are, of course, the current public faces of the anti-vaccine movement, Jenny McCarthy and her boyfriend Jim Carrey, the former of whom thinks it’s just hunky dory (or at least doesn’t appear to be the least bit troubled) that her efforts are contributing to the return of vaccine-preventable infectious diseases because she apparently thinks that’s what it will take to make the pharmaceutical companies change their “shit” product (her words), and the latter of whom spreads conspiracy theories about vaccines and contempt on people suffering from restless leg syndrome. Finally, there’s the grand macher of celebrity woo promotion, Oprah Winfrey, who routinely promotes all manner of medical pseudoscience, be it “bioidentical” hormones, the myth that vaccines cause autism (even hiring Jenny McCarthy to do a blog and develop a talk show for her company Harpo Productions), or other nonsense, such as Christiane Northrup urging Oprah viewers to focus their qi to their vaginas for better sex.

Unfortunately, last week the latest celebrity know-nothing to promote health misinformation released a brand new book and has been all over the airwaves, including The Today Show, Larry King Live, and elsewhere promoting it. Yes, I’m talking about Suzanne Somers, formerly known for her testimonial of having “rejected chemotherapy and tamoxifen” for her breast cancer, as well as her promotion of “bioidentical hormones,” various exercise devices such as the Thighmaster and all manner of supplements. Her book is entitled Knockout: Interviews with Doctors Who Are Curing Cancer–And How to Prevent Getting It in the First Place. It is described on the Random House website thusly:

Posted in: Book & movie reviews, Cancer, Science and the Media

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