Quickies

Skepchick Quickies, 2.3

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Jen

Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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  1. So I was watching LOST last night, and my wife wanted to see the “final chapter” synopses thingie that aired before on ABC. And I happened to catch a news teaser mentioning a “Shocking development about the link between vaccines and autism.”

    I thought nothing of it, figuring whatever the shocking development was, I’d find out later from one of my regular sources.

    Our cable provider swaps the ABC signal to CTV when both channels are airing the same show, so when LOST actually came on, we got a CTV news teaser about the same thing. This time, with the added blurb: something about a coverup, and how researchers suppressed information, or something like that.

    It got my attention, anyway. What could the “shocking development be?” Could we have been wrong? Could a link have been found, and the medical community suppressed data to conceal it? Would the skeptic blog-o-sphere be publishing recipes for stuffed crow with cranberry sauce?

    Not wanting to stay up past midnight to find out what I needed to know about my childrens’ safety, I went to the CTV web site, and found the article that Lloyd Robertson was planning on being sensationalist about. Not only did I learn that the Lancet had retracted the study, but that what I’d gleaned from the news teasers was exactly the opposite of what had actually happened.

    Just another downfall of short attention-span theater, I guess. That’s what happens when you get your news from the headlines, rather than the text.

  2. Somehow I doubt that exposing the MMR-autism hoax will convince any of the anti-vaxxers that they’re wrong. They’ll probably just claim it’s a conspiracy or something. I only wish that Wakefield could be held responsible for the deaths of children that he caused.

  3. The reasonable, rational, responsible thing to do in their position is to admit that they’re wrong, and move towards trying to undo some of the damage they’ve caused. That’s what the Lancet has done, and unfortunately, it took them 12 years to do it. That’s why pier review works, and these kind of anti-science movements don’t.

    Unfortunately, the damage is done. Lives have been lost, and many more endangered. And I can understand the mindset of someone in their shoes; they’re in too deep. Admitting you’re wrong at this point means loosing credibility with those who have followed you this far, and admitting responsibility for those lives, and potentially being on the receiving end of some very angry parents. While “staying the course”, “Keeping the faith”, clinging to ignorance means deferring the guilt, perhaps indefinitely. If they can stretch it out long enough, they may even escape this life, or at least make it to retirement, without ever facing the consequences themselves.

    Karma doesn’t work that way. There are always consequences, whether to yourself, or to someone else.

    I can respect someone who admits mistakes and tries to undo their damage and move toward redemption more than someone who stays mired in denial rather than face the music. If they were to admit they were wrong, they could gain more credibility with some of us than they would loose with their ilk. But that’s just me. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening.

    How ’bout it, anti-vaxers? Prove me wrong. Admit you were in error, mislead by a flawed 12 year old paper, and that science was right all along, and join us in trying to undo some of the damage you’ve caused.

  4. I heard so many dire warnings about MMR when my daughter was an infant that I forced my new-mother-exhausted brain to get online and do some research. It didn’t take long for me to find out that the so-called “facts” I was being told were more like a telephone-game repetition of bad science. Pregnancy and parenting are like that…people spread a whole lot of garbage to make you panic constantly, and when you’re tired and stressed it’s easy to fall prey to that panic. I also learned quickly that a response of, “Oh? What’s the current science on that?” or “Can you send me some links to some studies that show that?” only win you scorn and alienation, which truly sucks when you’re a new mom and already feel on-edge and isolated behind the walls of suburbia.

    So it really bugs me when people spread lies. Now that my daughter is 4 and I actually get to sleep at night again, I look back on that first year of her life and wonder how the hell anyone can be expected to wade through the vast piles of bullshit thrown at parents daily, and that’s speaking as someone who never watched spook-happy news shows (you know, the ones that do teasers about the upcoming report about how something in your house can KILL YOU, coming up right after our sports report…).

    I thus call on every skeptic to please, please, please help spread the truth every moment they can, especially if you hear someone telling a pregnant woman or new mom some kind of crap. You may not win her over but at least plant the seed of doubt so she’ll consider looking up more information. Even if you can’t cite the specifics of the science or don’t have all the proof you need to refute every part of someone’s statement, at least call into question the ones you are sure about. You will NOT get immediate appreciation for this (my recent experience shows that you can expect insanity and rudeness: http://kimberlychapman.livejournal.com/501530.html ), but it’s really important that this information get spread beyond the skeptic community to those who really need it.

    We really need to encourage a culture of questioning.

  5. @kimberlychapman: One problem is that there is a culture of pseudo questioning that involves middle and upper middle class fairly educated people who have been the biggest consumers of the anti vaccination propaganda. Questioning can be a good thing unless it leads to being a crank that will not accept established facts and the weight of evidence.

  6. @James Fox: Granted, although at least anecdotally speaking, my experience with other mothers so far has been that the ones who are prone to questioning are more likely to vaccinate and not shell out big useless bucks for herbal remedies, while the ones who take whatever anyone says at face value are the ones who don’t vaccinate but will swallow anything an herbalist concocts. And the majority I’ve known fall into the latter category, in part because to hang out with other non-violent discipliners I end up aligned with the groups more prone to being into alternative medicine. So I’d rather have more people at least open to the idea of questioning who is telling them what and why, especially when it comes to playgroup medical rumours.

    But yes, I have known the occasional person who is so paranoid about the “true” source of all information that they can barely function because the “conspiracies” surround them. The ones like that tend to also have dabbled in hard core narcotics and have lots of other issues.

  7. Comment from the “Lancet Retraction Changes Nothing” post on Huffington:

    “The reason that the medical community, the septics and most of the media are saying that this is the end game for the connection between vaccination and autism is because they so DESPERATELY want to shut up any debate on this subject.”

    Was “septics” a typo? Either way, I find it hilarious.

  8. I think I like the proposed idea mentioned the BBC article to post reviewer comments as supplementary material online. In addition to protecting against the behavior alleged in the article, it could really improve the peer review process overall if less experienced reviewers could see the reviews of their peers and learn from them. It could also speed up the overall publication process if scientists are aware of the kinds of things that reviewers will pick on (e.g., please report confidence intervals or standard errors with your model estimates) and have a better first submission that will need less revision.

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