Is the anti-vaccine movement dangerous?

April 24, 2012

I get e-mail from Bob Park, the physicist curmudgeon/philosopher at the University of Maryland (I’ve added links):

Robert L. Park

Robert L. Park (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“DEADLY CHOICES”: PAUL OFFIT EXPOSES THE ANTI-VACCINE MOVEMENT.

There was never a time before people knew that falling trees and large animals with teeth can kill.  Microbes are another matter. They had been killing us for perhaps 200,000 years before Antonie van Leeuwenhoek showed them to us. Paul Offit and two colleagues worked for 25 years to develop a vaccine for the rotavirus, a cause of gastroenteritis that kills as many as 600,000 children a year worldwide, mostly in underdeveloped countries.  The vaccine is credited with saving hundreds of lives a day.  Offit wrote “Autism’s False Prophets” in 2008 exposing British physician Andrew Wakefield for falsely claiming the MMR vaccineis linked to autism.

H. Fred Clark and Paul Offit, the inventors of...

H. Fred Clark and Paul Offit, the inventors of RotaTeq. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vaccination prevents more suffering than any other branch of medicine, but is still opposed by the scientifically ignorant who accept the upside-down logic of the alternative medicine movement.  Because vaccination of schoolchildren against virulent childhood infections is ubiquitous, crackpots, scoundrels and gullible reporters get away with linking it to unrelated health problems as they did in the 1980s with the ubiquitous power lines.  We still hear echoes of the power-line scare in the cell phone/cancer panic. Paul Offit has just written “Deadly Choices: How The Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All.”  We need to do everything we can to stop it.

You don’t subscribe to Bob Park’s “What’s New?”  You should.

THE UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND.
Opinions are the author’s and not necessarily shared by the
University of Maryland, but they should be.

Archives of What’s New can be found at http://www.bobpark.org
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You’ll be smarter for reading his little missiles missives missiles.

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Measles cases reported in the United States be...


Another blog, shocked — shocked! — at cold in Argentina in July

August 10, 2010

Unlike the blog discussed in an earlier post at first, this blog seems to understand that it’s winter in South America.  Still, the author can’t understand why record cold in one small spot doesn’t completely negate warming in the rest of the world:  Minnesotans for Global Warming.

One almost expects to find it has sister sites:  Minnesotans Love Cancer, Minnesotans for Child Abuse, and Self-Lobotomies R Us.

Maybe it’s not the concept of climate that confuses these people, but the entire notion of “average global temperature.”  People who spend their entire lives below average, probably expect that’s the way it is in temperatures, too.  (Is that nasty enough for today?  I’m feeling crabby about idiocy.)


Yellowstone earthquake swarm, 2010

January 25, 2010

Stop me if you’ve heard this one:

Earthquake swarm hits the area of the Yellowstone Caldera, around Yellowstone Park; wackoes start predicting the End of the World As We Know It, at least for West Yellowstone, Montana, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Unless they are Bobby Jindal, and they predict that the quakes didn’t even happen.

Oh, yeah — that was the series of earthquake swarms in late 2008 and early 2009, right?

Not exactly.  It’s happened again.

Yellowstone Volcano Observatory logo
YELLOWSTONE VOLCANO OBSERVATORY INFORMATION STATEMENT
Thursday, January 21, 2010 2:26 PM MST (Thursday, January 21, 2010 2126 UTC)

Yellowstone Volcano
44°25’48” N 110°40’12” W, Summit Elevation 9203 ft (2805 m)
Current Volcano Alert Level: NORMAL
Current Aviation Color Code: GREEN

The earthquake swarm on the northwest edge of Yellowstone Caldera that began on January 17, 2010 continues.

PRESS RELEASE FROM YVO PARTNER UNIVERSITY OF UTAH SEISMOGRAPH STATIONS

Released: January 21, 2010 2:00PM MST

This release is a continuation of information updates building upon our two previous press releases on the ongoing earthquake swarm on the west side of Yellowstone National Park. The University of Utah Seismograph Stations reports that a pair of earthquakes of magnitude 3.7 and 3.8 occurred in the evening of January 20, 2010 in Yellowstone National Park.

The first event of magnitude 3.7 occurred at 11:01 PM and was shortly followed by a magnitude 3.8 event at 11:16 PM. Both shocks were located around 9 miles to the southeast of West Yellowstone, MT and about 10 miles to the northwest of Old Faithful, WY. Both events were felt throughout the park and in surrounding communities in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

These two earthquakes are part of an ongoing swarm in Yellowstone National Park that began January 17, 2010 (1:00 PM MST). The largest earthquake in the swarm as of 12 PM, January 21, 2010, was a magnitude 3.8. There have been 901 located earthquakes in the swarm of magnitude 0.5 to 3.8. This includes 8 events of magnitude larger than 3, with 68 events of magnitude 2 to 3, and 825 events of magnitude less than 2. There have been multiple personal reports of ground shaking from observations inside the Park and in surrounding areas for some of the larger events (for felt reports, please visit http://earthquake.usgs.gov/eqcenter/dyfi/). Earthquake swarms are relatively common in Yellowstone.

The swarm earthquakes are likely the result of slip on pre-existing faults rather than underground movement of magma. Currently there is no indication of premonitory volcanic or hydrothermal activity, but ongoing observations and analyses will continue to evaluate these different sources.

Seismic information on the earthquake can be viewed at the University of Utah Seismograph Stations: http://www.seis.utah.edu/.

Seismograph recordings from stations of the Yellowstone seismograph network can be viewed online at: http://quake.utah.edu/helicorder/yell_webi.htm.

Anyone who has felt earthquakes in the swarm are encouraged to fill out a form on the USGS Community Felt reports web site: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/eqcenter/dyfi/.

This press release was prepared by the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory partners of the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Utah, and the National Park Service: http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/yvo/

The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) is a partnership of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Yellowstone National Park, and University of Utah to strengthen the long-term monitoring of volcanic and earthquake unrest in the Yellowstone National Park region. Yellowstone is the site of the largest and most diverse collection of natural thermal features in the world and the first National Park. YVO is one of the five USGS Volcano Observatories that monitor volcanoes within the United States for science and public safety.

CONTACT INFORMATION:
Peter Cervelli, Acting Scientist-in-Charge, USGS

pcervelli@usgs.gov (650) 329-5188


The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) was created as a partnership among the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Yellowstone National Park, and University of Utah to strengthen the long-term monitoring of volcanic and earthquake unrest in the Yellowstone National Park region. Yellowstone is the site of the largest and most diverse collection of natural thermal features in the world and the first National Park. YVO is one of the five USGS Volcano Observatories that monitor volcanoes within the United States for science and public safety.

Here’s the map as of Sunday night, January 24, 9:10 p.m. MST (where the observatory is located); while this map may update here, you may want to click over to the observatory for more information (click on the map):

Yellowstone National Park Special Map, showing earthquakes in last week.

Yellowstone National Park Special Map, showing earthquakes in last week.

Eruptions has a short post on the swarmVolcanism, which covers volcanoes better than Sherwin-Williams covers the world, has a short post, probably appropriate to the newsworthiness.  Stoichiometry mentions them.  Not much to say yet, right?  Yellowstone Insider doesn’t seem too alarmed.

In mass media, The Billings (Montana) Gazette notes that these quakes are probably just shifting rocks, and not volcanic activity.  The headline in the Bozeman (Montana) Daily Chronicle captures the news:  “Earthquake Swarm Suggests Just Another Day in Yellowstone.”

Meanwhile, Scott Bowen at True/Slant sounds just a little alarmistRalph Maughan sets the right tone:  “No, it doesn’t mean the end is near.”  The tinfoil hat concessions probably won’t make nearly the money they did a year ago.

Outside of the Yellowstone and Intermountain areas, students will probably ask about 2012.  Tell them the Mayans didn’t know anything about Old Faithful.

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Cranks refuse to budge on influenza hoaxes

September 27, 2009

Friday came and went.  President Obama did as he was scheduled to do, chairing a session of the United Nations Security Council in a meeting directed at nuclear weapons non-proliferation.

This should have silenced some of the cranks, crackpots, crank scientists and hoaxters who had “warned” us that Obama was going to use that opportunity to take over the world and order people to get inoculated against influenza — with some unstated fears that those inoculations would be more dangerous than the flu itself, or turn us all into Volvo-driving, chablis-loving, union-belonging, line-dancing Democrats, or something like that.

:::Sigh:::

No.  Never such luck.

At the post where I debunked the claim that WHO is planning to take over the world with inoculations at the point of a gun, instead of with Auric Goldfinger, SMERSH, KAOS, or Lex Luther, a guy named Simon McDermott complains I don’t give him enough credence.  His letter doesn’t help.

Look:  The World Health Organization is a group of distinguished medical care specialists, public health specialists, and policy wonks, most of whom are too nerdy to want to hold great power — heading up WHO is a stepping stone to no great governmental power position anyone has ever found, least of all at the United Nations, which has no army, no troops of its own of any sort, and advises nations on bettering health care.

The claim that WHO is plotting to take over the world is not just moonbat-shagging silly, it’s completely insane.  It makes no sense on any level, nor is there any evidence to corroborate the claims.  Jane Burgermeister’s website notwithstanding, I have my doubts that she could demonstrate mental competence to enlist as a private in the Russian armed forces.

Moreover, the world faces a crisis in influenza.  With luck and a lot of hard work, we can avoid a spread of a killer flu virus that might make Zero Population Growth look optimistic.  We don’t need hoaxsters, pranksters and fools claiming that influenza is all a great hoax.

Simon said:

I am a freelance writer and have heavily researched the ‘well known’ and ‘established facts’ written in my article that I posted in my previous comment.

The facts are that the H1N1 vaccine has not been safely tested. It takes years to accurately test and research the effects of a new vaccine.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1208716/Half-GPs-refuse-swine-flu-vaccine-testing-fears.html

I have posted a link above to the Mail Online a highly respected national newspaper here in Britain.

The article says that health officials say the vaccine has been thoroughly tested.  No one in the article offers any credible denial of that fact.  The headlines feature an earlier poll of general practitioners alleging that they said the vaccine had not been tested well enough.

Simon:  An out-of-date, nonscientific poll of  GPs in Britain who were underinformed, is not science.

Nor is your reading that story doing “heavy research.”  Googling is not generally considered serious research.

‘First, you exaggerate. Second, that outbreak and the aftereffects are very much on the minds of health officials. Guillan Barre was never linked to the vaccine, by the way. Get some facts, will you?’

This is established fact; although experts now believe that it will be more like one in one million that will contract GBS rather than one in ten thousand.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcnIojjzvvg

No, a badly researched, poorly produced story on a local CBS affiliate, migrated to YouTube, does not make something “established fact.”

GBS is rare, but occurs all the time.  We don’t know the cause, and no one has been able to pin any vaccine as a cause of GBS.  After several million people were vaccinated, a few fell ill from GBS.  No research has ever been able to establish any vaccine as a cause of GBS, however — it may be that those people would have fallen ill with GBS whether they got any vaccine or not.  See the CDC’s information page on GBS:

What causes GBS?

It is thought that GBS may be triggered by an infection. The infection that most commonly precedes GBS is caused by a bacterium called Campylobacter jejuni. Other respiratory or intestinal illnesses and other triggers may also precede an episode of GBS. In 1976, vaccination with the swine flu vaccine was associated with getting GBS. Several studies have been done to evaluate if other flu vaccines since 1976 were associated with GBS. Only one of the studies showed an association. That study suggested that one person out of 1 million vaccinated persons may be at risk of GBS associated with the vaccine.

We’ve had that many kids die of swine flu already this year, in Dallas and Tarrant counties in Texas.    Right now, GBS from all causes is less prevalent than deaths from swine flu.

Also here is a list of dangerous substances that are in other vaccines; we can also expect similar material to be in the swine flu vaccine.

http://www.stunnedmullets.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=130:official-facts-on-vaccines&catid=78:vaccines&Itemid=141

Did you know that potatoes contain carcinogens?  Are you aware that the essential nutrient, selenium, is also carcinogenic?  Did you know that an excess of salt can kill a person?  Are you aware that plain old tap water can be deadly, in several ways?

Gosh, a list of “dangerous substances.”  Did you look at the list?  Did you see that the “dangerous substances” include eggs and yeast?  Are you aware that almost every loaf of bread in America contains more eggs and yeast than three years’ worth of all vaccines for a person?

You’re being irresponsible to the point of recklessness. Yes, people with allergies to eggs should avoid flu vaccines.  No, that doesn’t mean the vaccines are inherently dangerous, that they vaccines don’t work, nor does it mean eggs are inherently dangerous.

It means people who are allergic to eggs should avoid flu vaccines (vaccines are grown in eggs, and some egg proteins remain in influenza vaccines).

Almost all substances are dangerous, when out of place, or in the wrong quantities.  You could note that fact without alarmism and without hysterics.  Dangerous things are all around us.  Flu vaccines fall near the bottom of the danger scales, but near the top of the life-saving scale.

You’re aware that we annually lose around 30,000 people to the pedestrian, seasonal flu?  How many thousands of times greater is the risk of death to flu than death by vaccine?

Research has shown that there are plenty of natural preventative actions that can be taken to protect against catching flu viruses. These are a healthy organic diet, vitamins; such as vitamin D3, regular exercise and certain herbs – all of these are known to boost and strengthen the immune system.

Staying healthy is always a good idea.  H1N1, however, attacks healthy kids. It’s not a question of natural prevention.  Some people have never been exposed to this particular strain or its cousins, and they have no natural immunity to it.  When it strikes, it strikes quickly.  Most of the deaths in the U.S. from H1N1 are to young people who have taken your natural preventive actions.  Vitamins and organic diets don’t work.

In fact, that’s dangerous advice right there.  A medical professional could be subject to malpractice for the advice you just issued.   Kids, Simon is an amateur — don’t try that at home.

I used to regularly take the seasonal flu vaccine before finding out the dangers of vaccines in general; on the two occasions that I did take it I ended up getting flu shortly after taking the vaccine. Since then I have not taken it and decided to go down the alternative route, which has served me very well as I have not had so much as a cold in over three years.

As people grow older they have fewer colds — you never get the same cold virus twice.  When you’re over 30 or 40, you’ve been exposed to most of the variations on cold viruses.  Your reduction in colds is because you’re older, not because you’re healthier.

Ironically, that’s exactly what you argue against.  You’re more resistant to colds because you’ve been “vaccinated” against them.  The vaccination was natural, by catching the viruses and developing immunity.  For flu, we have to have flu shots for the greatest safety.

Don’t argue against flu vaccines by telling us how effectively the natural method of vaccination has protected you from colds, okay?  You look like an idiot when you do that, suggesting you really don’t understand viruses, how they are passed, nor how human immunity occurs.

Since you seem so eager to poison your body with a substance which is clearly more dangerous than swine flu itself, then who am I to stand in your way.

That’s just a crass, cold and craven lie.  There is not even an insane argument to be made that flu vaccines this year are more dangerous than the flu itself.  That’s crazy talk, terrorist talk.  What do you have against old people that you want to see thousands of them die from the flu?   Since the “death panels” claim turned out to be bogus, you decided to go on a one-man campaign to encourage death among the elderly and ill?

Since you are so eager to poison minds with completely bogus attacks on science, let me urge you to volunteer to forego all flu vaccines, but be exposed to the viruses, for the sake of research.  That way the rest of us could benefit from your bizarre animus to life.

I am sorry to hear that there have been a couple of deaths where you live due to swine flu, but there are much safer alternative and natural preventative actions that can be taken. A healthy nutritionally rich diet should be first on the list before we even consider vaccines, of which there is a huge amount of evidence calling into question, their overall safety and effectiveness when fighting disease.

Call the CDC.  Volunteer for flu exposure now, before the rush.  You’re not sure that the vaccines are safe, but you argue that the flu IS safe?  Let’s see you put your life where your mouth is.

I don’t think you’re that big a fool.  Your that whopping dishonest, but not so big a fool.

The problem is that the majority of western doctors are taught absolute fallacies at medical school and in some cases have been brought up to become nothing more than glorified pill prescribers.

The human immune is an extremely powerful and efficient tool when it comes to fighting disease. The reason that it is susceptible to diseases like swine flu at all is because our diets are so nutritionally poor. In many cases this is due to processed foods (filled with additives and preservatives) and poisons such as aspartame in many of our soft drinks.

http://www.naturalnews.com/026168.html

I have posted a link above to a site that lists natural preventives and explains that viruses such as swine flu cannot be contracted by a healthy well maintained immune system.

Don’t look now, but you’re obviously suffering a dementia produced by lack of immunity.

In your case, that dementia could be cured with a trip to a library.

What you wrote in that last excerpt is pure, unadulterated bullshit.

Thank you, but we’ve already heard the “smart pills” joke.

I am not a ‘crack pot’ and neither are others who show a distinct lack of trust in bodies like the WHO and companies such as Baxter, because history has taught us that they have seriously let us down in the past.

You mean, you advocate crackpot ideas for noble reasons?  Alas, that leaves you in the category of crackpot.  Anyone who thinks killer flu is safer than vaccines is a crackpot, or an idiot, or an agent of evil.  I’m assuming you’re not an idiot, and not an agent of evil.  Can you convince me otherwise?

If after examining the evidence that I have provided you still believe that the vaccine is safe, then be my guest, take it, it is your right to choose, but please do not belittle with your derogatory use of humour those who do not!

The reason I talk about this information is because I want people to be safe, and nobody wants a repeat of the 1976 debacle.

Better to keep quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

Shut up.  Nobody wants a repeat of the 1918 debacle, either — and you should be ashamed of campaigning for it as you are.

If we all lived clean and healthy natural lives then there would be no need for vaccines at all.

There you go with that crackpot stuff again.  If you think that chicken pox and shingles would disappear without vaccines, you’re a fool.  If you fail to understand that polio can’t be beaten without vaccines, you’re a greater fool.

If you claim that people could beat chicken pox, smallpox, measles and polio without vaccines, you’re a dangerous tool of crackpot evil.

Maybe it is our social system that needs a rethink, because if you examine Amazonian tribal communities, who have had little to no contact with the outside world, you find a distinct lack of disease in these societies.

There’s a whopper I’d like to see some serious studies on.

That testifies to a lack of virus transmission, but you will also find a distinct surplus of diseases that diet can’t cure.  Someday spend some time studying Huntington’s Disease, Huntington’s Chorea, and how the prevalence of the disease in one of those isolated Amazonian tribes contributed to the search for a cause.  Of course, almost every member of that tribe had the disease.  (It’s genetic, and no vaccine can prevent or cure — yet.)  You’ll also find they die of bacterial diseases that modern medicine can treat — those physicians you mock.

Dirty living equals disease; an unclean polluted environment equals disease; the addition of chemicals to our food, drink and drinking water equals disease; when are we going to wake up and realise that the cause of disease is not some unknown, unfortunate ‘random factor’, but the way we live our lives.

Of course, clean living increases asthma.  A lack of pollution tends to correlate with lack of civilization.  The absence of chlorine in our drinking water contributes to cholera epidemics and typhoid, the lack of fluorine in our water means more dental caries and brain infections.  Trace amounts of iodine in salt have all but eliminated goiter.  When are you going to wake up and realize that some disease causes are well known, some diseases easily preventable, and life is complex and cannot be made perfectly safe with today’s technology, but was a minefield of deadly infections without today’s technology?

If we live our lives soaked in superstition and crank science, we haven’t even a prayer (full irony intended).  You’re not advocating for better health.  You’re ranting about stuff you don’t know about.

Although in the case of Baxter the cause of the so called ’swine flu virus’ may well have been them!

I think there’s a better case that you are the cause of swine flu than there is a case that any drug company manufactured the stuff.  Among other clues you should look at is the prevalence of swine flu in swine populations around the world — today and historically.  Influenza viruses tend to be species specific, and it’s actually quite rare for them to jump species.  That’s why, when they jump, they can be so deadly.

But then, that’s what you’re campaigning for, right?  You’d love to see a virus wipe out most people, especially those with scientific knowledge — right, Simon?

Ugh.

Get an education about flu and other viruses:

Don’t let your friends go without this information, please:

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The article the British Chiropractic Association hopes you will not read

July 31, 2009

Science-based Medicine carried this article yesterday, and several other blogs have joined in.  Below is the article Simon Singh wrote for which he is being sued for libel by the professional association for British chiropractors.  It’s a good cause, so I’ll stretch it another little while.

Science-based Medicine introduced the article with this:

Last year Simon Singh wrote a piece for the Guardian that was critical of the modern practice of chiropractic. The core of his complaint was that chiropractors provide services and make claims that are not adequately backed by evidence – they are not evidence-based practitioners. In response to his criticism the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) sued Simon personally for libel. They refused offers to publish a rebuttal to his criticism, or to provide the evidence Simon said was lacking. After they were further criticized for this, the BCA eventually produced an anemic list of studies purported to support the questionable treatments, but really just demonstrating the truth of Simon’s criticism (as I discuss at length here).

In England suing for libel is an effective strategy for silencing critics. The burden of proof is on the one accused (guilty until proven innnocent) and the costs are ruinous. Simon has persisted, however, at great personal expense.

This is an issue of vital importance to science-based medicine. A very necessary feature of science is public debate and criticism – absolute transparency.This is also not an isolated incident. Some in the alternative medicine community are attempting to assert that criticism is unprofessional, and they have used accusations of both unprofessionalism and libel as a method of silencing criticism of their claims and practices. This has happened to David Colquhoun and Ben Goldacre, and others less prominent but who have communicated to me directly attempts at silencing their criticism.

This behavior is intolerable and is itself unprofessional, an assault on academic freedom and free speech, and anathema to science as science is dependent upon open and vigorous critical debate.

What those who will attempt to silence their critics through this type of bullying must understand is that such attempts will only result in the magnification of the criticism by several orders of magnitude. That is why we are reproducing Simon Singh’s original article (with a couple of minor alterations) on this site and many others. Enjoy.

Here it is:

Beware the spinal trap

Some practitioners claim it is a cure-all but research suggests chiropractic therapy can be lethal

Simon Singh
The Guardian, Original version published Saturday April 19 2008
Edited version published July 29, 2009

You might be surprised to know that the founder of chiropractic therapy, Daniel David Palmer, wrote that “99% of all diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae”. In the 1860s, Palmer began to develop his theory that the spine was involved in almost every illness because the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Therefore any misalignment could cause a problem in distant parts of the body.

In fact, Palmer’s first chiropractic intervention supposedly cured a man who had been profoundly deaf for 17 years. His second treatment was equally strange, because he claimed that he treated a patient with heart trouble by correcting a displaced vertebra.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact some still possess quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything, including helping treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying – even though there is not a jot of evidence.

I can confidently label these assertions as utter nonsense because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions.

But what about chiropractic in the context of treating back problems? Manipulating the spine can cure some problems, but results are mixed. To be fair, conventional approaches, such as physiotherapy, also struggle to treat back problems with any consistency. Nevertheless, conventional therapy is still preferable because of the serious dangers associated with chiropractic.

In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection.

Laurie Mathiason was a 20-year-old Canadian waitress who visited a chiropractor 21 times between 1997 and 1998 to relieve her low-back pain. On her penultimate visit she complained of stiffness in her neck. That evening she began dropping plates at the restaurant, so she returned to the chiropractor. As the chiropractor manipulated her neck, Mathiason began to cry, her eyes started to roll, she foamed at the mouth and her body began to convulse. She was rushed to hospital, slipped into a coma and died three days later. At the inquest, the coroner declared: “Laurie died of a ruptured vertebral artery, which occurred in association with a chiropractic manipulation of the neck.”

This case is not unique. In Canada alone there have been several other women who have died after receiving chiropractic therapy, and Edzard Ernst has identified about 700 cases of serious complications among the medical literature. This should be a major concern for health officials, particularly as under-reporting will mean that the actual number of cases is much higher.

If spinal manipulation were a drug with such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, then it would almost certainly have been taken off the market.


Simon Singh is a science writer in London and the co-author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. This is an edited version of an article published in The Guardian for which Singh is being personally sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.

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Scientists of a feather (& Big Bang resources)

January 15, 2009

Gamow and Myers.

From a report on Simon Singh’s presentation on Big Bang to the New York Academy of Sciences, reported by William Tucker:

There is much, much more to Singh’s chronicle. Did you know, for example, that helium was discovered in the sun before it was found on earth? Most terrestrial helium had long since drifted into space—hence the name, derived from “helios,” Greek for the sun. Then there is story of George Gamow’s first scientific experiment, when he took home the communion wafer in his cheek and put it under the microscope. He found no evidence of the Transubstantiation. “I think this was the experiment that made me a scientist,” he later wrote.

The report on Singh’s presentation is itself a good, concise history of Big Bang theory development, accompanied by this long list of top-notch, on-line resources about Big Bang.

Resources

Books:

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas S. Kuhn. 1996. University of Chicago Press.
Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe, by Simon Singh. 2005. Harper Collins, New York.
Amazon | Barnes & Noble

The Code Book, by Simon Singh. 2000. Anchor, New York.
Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Fermat’s Enigma, by Simon Singh. 1998. Anchor, New York.
Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Web Sites:

The Astronomy Cafe
Subtitled “The website for the astronomically disadvantaged,” Sten Odenwald’s site includes answers to many frequently asked questions about the universe and its origins and describes a number of books and articles he has written on the subject.

“Big Bang” on Wikipedia
An encyclopedic overview of the subject, including the history of the theory, problems it has faced, and questions remaining to be investigated. The essay includes extensive hyperlinks to other related topics.

Creation of a Cosmology: Big Bang Theory
A concise scientific explanation of the Big Bang theory.

Curious About Astronomy? Ask an Astronomer
This Web site for laypeople provides an archive of questions and answers about the Big Bang, and allows visitors to pose their own questions on the subject.

“A Day Without Yesterday”: Georges Lemaître & the Big Bang
Extensive biography of Georges Lemaître (1894-1966).

The First Three Minutes
Review of Steven Weinberg’s The First Three Minutes, a book about the very early development of the universe.

Sir Fred Hoyle
Extensive biography of astronomer, mathematician, and novelist Sir Fred Hoyle (1915-2001).

Great Debates in Astronomy
A series of debates held at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History among leaders in the astronomical community. Features background information, educational material, and published proceedings for each debate.

The History Guide: Giordano Bruno
Links to resources about the life of philosopher and astronomer Giordano Bruno (1548-1600).

Hubble
Brief biography of Edwin Hubble.

Physics: Cosmology and Astronomy
A collection of links to popular information on the subject, from About.com.

Science & the Arts
A program organized by the City University of New York New Media Lab that bridges the two worlds. Expert speakers and performers—including recent participants like Laurie Anderson, Wallace Shawn, Michel Gondry, Brian Eno, and Todd Haynes, as well as Mighton and Greene—present examples of the interplay of science and the arts in dance, art, and theater. A calendar of upcoming events is available, as well as information about past offerings.

The Ten Big Questions: Big Bang Theory
This page ponders philosophical questions related to the Big Bang theory.

Theories Section—Big Bang
Concise article on the subject, written for educated non-astronomers, from Astronomy Today.

From the Academy:

What Caused the “Bang” of the Big Bang?, featuring Alan H. Guth, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 2001. New York Academy of Sciences eBriefing.

A 50-50 Chance of Making It to the 22nd Century? Martin Rees Asks Scientists to Help Improve the Odds. 2003. New York Academy of Sciences eBriefing.

String Theory: A Conversation with Brian Greene. 2003. New York Academy of Sciences eBriefing, co-sponsored by NOVA.

Mirror, Mirror: Robin Kerrod and the Romance of Astronomy. Reported by William Tucker. Author: Robin Kerrod. 2004. New York Academy of Sciences Readers & Writers article.

Cosmic Questions
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Volume 950, published Dec 2001
Edited by James B. Miller
description | full text

Faber, S. M. The Big Bang as Scientific Fact. 2001. Annals Online 950: 39-53 abstract | full text

Guth, A. H. Eternal Inflation. 2001. Annals Online 950: 66-82 abstract | full text

Russell, R. J. Did God Create Our Universe? Theological Reflections on the Big Bang, Inflation, and Quantum Cosmologies. 2001. Annals Online 950: 108-127 abstract | full text

George Gamow
Encyclopedia entry on the life of physicist George Gamow (1904-1968).

AstronomyLINKS
A small collection of annotated links on the big bang theory.

Also, see Simon Singh’s website.


Paul Davies bucks the trend toward reason in physics – faith instead?

November 24, 2007

In 2003 Physics Nobel Winner Steven Weinberg made a stunning presentation to the Texas State Board of Education on why evolution needs to be in biology texts.

Live by the physicist, die by the physicist: Paul Davies takes it back, giving aid and comfort to the intelligent design/creationist camp, in Saturday’s New York Times. While he doesn’t mention evolution or biology, the Public Spin Department at the Discovery Institute is probably at work on press releases touting Davies’ piece right now.

Oy.


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