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Mainstream scaremongering over Gardasil

Posted in Bad Astronomy by Skepdude on August 20, 2009


Gardasil is the brand name of a vaccination that protects young girls and women against the human papillomavirus (HPV), a virus that has been positively linked with cervical cancer along with other horrible diseases. It also can trigger cancers in men as well.

I’ve written about this topic before; 4000 women in the United States die every year alone from cervical cancer, an appalling 1/3 fatality rate for those diagnosed with the disease. Tens of millions of people — both men and women — carry HPV.

Gardasil protects young women from ever getting HPV. These women have a substantially lower chance of contracting the virus and getting cervical cancer. I consider that a very, very good thing.

But you wouldn’t think so if you read the New York Times, or the (Australian) ABC News. Both posted articles playing up the dangers of Gardasil as revealed by a new government study of the vaccine. That would be fine if it were true, but both reports, in my opinion, unfairly inflate the apparent danger. The ABC article is particularly egregious, with a headline saying “US doctors question Gardasil side effects” when it’s clear from the article that this isn’t really the case.

What are the dangers? The worst one would of course be death. In a study of the vaccine, there were 20 deaths of young girls at some time after they got the shot. Twenty! That sounds like a lot! However, there are two MAJOR problems with that statement:

1) There is no obvious link between the deaths and the vaccination other than in time. One girl died from drug abuse. Another from hepatitis, and others from embolisms, cardiac failure, and other problems. While these are all very sad — and as a father of a young girl at the age to get Gardasil, my heart aches for those families — none of these can be directly tied to the vaccination.

2) There were 20 deaths out of 7 million girls who received the vaccine. Those odds are 1 in 350,000. That’s roughly the same odds as dying from falling off a bed, chair, or other furniture.


When “gut feelings” about science attack, or: Oh, no! Histidine and polysorbate-80 are going to kill us all!

Posted in Respectful Insolence by Skepdude on September 3, 2008

Some people should keep their “gut feelings” to themselves.

You know the type: People who have no knowledge about a topic or, even worse, just enough knowledge to sound as if they have a clue about it to people who don’t have a clue but are easily spotted as utterly and completely clueless by people who do have a clue. These people often think they’ve discovered something that scientists, in all their blindness have missed, and have a burning urge to share the information as though it’s some revelation, a bolt out of the blue. Not uncommonly, they also often “beg” the authorities, be they the CDC, FDA, NIH, or CIA (in the case of particularly wild clueless wonders) to take a look at their amazing new finding. Even more commonly, they often cherry pick literature without understanding it and link things that really don’t have much of link.

I’ve found an excellent example of a clueless wonder who’s done virtually all of the above. Meet Cynthia A. Janak, who describes herself as:

…a freelance journalist, mother of three, foster mother of one, grandmother of five, business owner, Chamber of Commerce member. Her expertise is as an administrative professional. Her specialties are adoptee and genealogy research and research journalism. Hobbies: Writing prose, crocheting, Conservative Studies, and rehabbing houses.

Sounds like a nice lady, right? Too bad this nice lady has written what has to be the most amazingly convoluted and silly attack on Gardasil I’ve ever seen. Being a nice grandmother isn’t enough to protect her from a bit of the ol’ not-so-Respectful Insolence, I’m afraid. It won’t be as heapin’ a helpin’ as usual, though. On second thought, the article she wrote, Polysorbate 80 and Histidine, a marriage of disaster, merits the full Orac treatment. I’ll probably feel a bit guilty when I’m done, but I’ll get over it. If someone’s going to post such amazing ignorance about science (while admitting over and over that she doesn’t know anything about the science) and expect to be taken seriously, she should be disabused of that expectation as quickly as possible.


Antivaxxers and the media

Posted in Bad Astronomy by Skepdude on August 6, 2008

I have said this before, and I will say it again many times in the future: antivaxxers are potentially the Number One health hazard in America.

These are people who (very incorrectly) think that vaccines are linked to autism. It has been shown, conclusively, that no such link exists. Every time an antivaxxer is shown this data, they move the goalposts, claiming it’s some other vaccine feature causing autism, or cite outdated and flawed studies. The problem (for them) is, you can show that the number of autism cases diagnosed is totally unrelated to vaccines. They deny this, they spin, they distract, but in the end this simple fact proves them wrong.

We need vaccines. We have stopped smallpox cold with vaccines. Rubella, measles, and pertussis can be stopped. Where antivaxxers have sown distrust in vaccines, these diseases have been making a comeback, and kids have died.

Read the rest of this entry at the “Bad Astronomy” blog.