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Medicine The Media Science

What the Papers Don't Say About Vaccines 737

Posted by Soulskill
from the headlines-over-reason dept.
jamie tips an article in The Guardian's "Bad Science" column which highlights recent media coverage of the MMR vaccine. A story circulated in the past week about the death of a young child, which the parents blamed on the vaccine. When the coroner later found that it had nothing to do with the child's death, there was a followup in only one of the six papers who had covered the story. "Does it stop there? No. Amateur physicians have long enjoyed speculating that MMR and other vaccinations are somehow 'harmful to the immune system' and responsible for the rise in conditions such as asthma and hay fever. Doubtless they must have been waiting some time for evidence to appear. ... Measles cases are rising. Middle class parents are not to blame, even if they do lack rhetorical panache when you try to have a discussion with them about it. They have been systematically and vigorously misled by the media, the people with access to all the information, who still choose, collectively, between themselves, so robustly that it might almost be a conspiracy, to give you only half the facts."
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What the Papers Don't Say About Vaccines

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  • by Zironic (1112127) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @01:42PM (#26021721)

    No one is interested in reading positive news like the fact the vaccine isn't actually harmful so there's no money in printing it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      No one is interested in reading positive news like the fact the vaccine isn't actually harmful so there's no money in printing it.

      My daughter got the MMR a month or two ago and she ended up with a week of 106F fever. Ordinarily, she likes to run around but for that week she just didn't do anything other than clinging to her mother. What I'm saying here is that the side effects of the vaccine were far worse than anything else (colds, injuries, etc.) that she had up to that point.

      Now, she probably didn't end up with permanent damage from the vaccine and it may be that permanent damage is (very?) rare. But the reason these stories have t

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 07, 2008 @02:32PM (#26022281)

        My daughter got the MMR a month or two ago and she ended up with a week of 106F fever.

        So the doctor told you that the fever was a result of the MMR or did you come up with the diagnosis yourself?

        I'm just saying that it could have been a coincidence. Perhaps it wasn't the vaccine but some other cause after all kids do tend to get sick.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by jbengt (874751)
          Mt son got a fever of over 105 from the MMR, though he got over it in a couple of days.
          Being told by the doctor that it was just a coincidence was pretty insulting, as a fever is a pretty common side effect of vaccines.
          Also, a fever that high, even in an infant, can be fairly serious and needs to be controlled and brought down to prevent permanent damage.
        • by IBitOBear (410965) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @06:35PM (#26024687) Homepage Journal

          I am waiting for the stories blaming the scare for the disease to come out. It has to happen eventually. The media just needs to make sure that they don't make the dumbass parents look like dumbasses for being dumbasses about not vaccinating their kids.

          Sort of a "i know we sold you on not doing this thing, but now that you aren't doing this thing and your kids are dying, we decided to tell you that the people who made up how bad this thing was were dumb and we were just following the press coverage heard, so get mad at them."

          It'll happen. You heard it here first.

    • by reporter (666905) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @02:29PM (#26022247) Homepage
      A more fundamental problem is a general lack of interest in science. Consider the news stories about American celebrities. Regardless of whether such news is postive or negative, the public loves reading about the lives of celebrities. "People" magazine is one of the most popular magazines in America. The circulation of, say, "Scientific American" pales by comparison.

      Consider the story about the dangers of germ-free environments [findarticles.com]. Specifically, excessive attempts to elminate germs can, in addition to creating super-bugs, cause our immune system to malfunction. Without the constant exercisng of our immune system by germs, our immune system goes into overdrive by generating an immune response to things (e.g., pollen) that are not germs.

      The above story appeared for a brief moment in the news and then disappeared. Meanwhile, the quantity of advertisements for anti-bacterial products (containing triclosan) has exploded. The public prefers to watch pseudo-science commericials instead of genuine-science news stories.

      The anti-science public does not care about science. If the public did care about science, it would have dramatically reduced its purchases of anti-bacterial products (thus protecting the health and lives of Americans). So, when the public does not care about science, science-related stories appear briefly in the news media and then quickly fade away in favor of stories about, say, Paris Hilton.

      • by Sen.NullProcPntr (855073) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @02:57PM (#26022543)

        Consider the story about the dangers of germ-free environments. Specifically, excessive attempts to elminate germs can, in addition to creating super-bugs, cause our immune system to malfunction. Without the constant exercisng of our immune system by germs, our immune system goes into overdrive by generating an immune response to things (e.g., pollen) that are not germs.

        Yeah, it's difficult to find soap that is not "antibacterial" today. Which is odd as just soap and water used properly will do the job.

        But let's not forget it was science that taught us about germs in the first place. It's been hammered home since microbes were first discovered that bacteria and virus were to be avoided at all costs. Now the opposite is true?
        I can see why most people would rather read about Paris Hilton than try to decide which scientific report to believe.

        Then there's X-Ray Spex's [youtube.com] take on the subject;-)

      • by scorp1us (235526) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @03:19PM (#26022753) Journal

        Helminthic therapy [wikipedia.org] is the intentional infection of a person with a parasite. The parasite mitigates the immune response of the immune system. The idea is to choose a helminth (parasite) that 1) can't replicate in the body and 2) won't have any adverse side effects. Luckily there are two such species of parasite. These worms live in in the intestine and are well-tolerated by most individuals.

        The effects of these buggers is reduces asthma, allergies, arthritis, and other issue from over-active immune systems.

        The idea is that the human immune system evolved with these parasites, so they are factored into a balanced immune system. Clean societies don't have these, so the immune system overreacts, thus causing problems.

        I plan to get it, (for my food allergies) but it is not yet accepted by western medicine.

        PS. I am allergic to beef, chicken, egg (egg is used for the flu shot), all shellfish, corn, rye barley... the list goes on. I can't even drink beer, unless it is a special sorghum beer.

        • by layer3switch (783864) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @03:35PM (#26022929)

          I can't even drink beer

          Today, I bow to dedicate my entire week's worth of beer fund to creating scorp1us foundation for cure to this despicable disease.

          Join me, fellow slashdoters, to bring some gleam of hope and cure for this poor little sap.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Theovon (109752)

          Given the number of food allergies you have, it sounds like you ALREADY have a parasite. Both my wife and I picked up giardia somewhere, and it's caused all kinds of health problems, along with a list of food sensitivities. I did an IgG food sensitivity panel and my test results make me look like an AIDS patient (although I am HIV negative). I've taken Tinidazole for the giardia, but that didn't work so I'm on Metronidazole right now.

          You should also be checked for problems with neuraltransmitters and hor

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by gad_zuki! (70830)

          >The effects of these buggers is reduces asthma, allergies, arthritis, and other issue from over-active immune systems.

          So you say. Cam you site any double-blind studies by respected researchers publishing in peer-reviewed journals? It seems everyone has a crackpot theory on the immune system nowadays, yet I constantly am seeing a lack of results from these crazy ideas. Kids growing up "dirty" and kids growing up "clean" tend to have the same health issues as adults. Auto-immune diseases look genetic or p

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by afxgrin (208686)

      Well if you're immune system is expressing large amounts of chitinase because of the vaccine, I wouldn't be surprised if it leads to things like asthma.

      From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chitinase [wikipedia.org] :

      As such, it is unsurprisingly related to allergies. What is surprising, perhaps, is that asthma in particular has been linked to enhanced chitinase expression levels.[14][15][16][17][18]

  • by tannhaus (152710) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @01:44PM (#26021747) Homepage Journal

    When it comes to something that may seriously harm your child, whether it be vaccines or the illnesses the vaccines prevent against, it is your responsibility as a parent to not go off half-cocked and to make extremely sure that you have all the facts before you make a decision regarding the welfare of your child. If you're not up to that responsibility, then you shouldn't have custody of your kids. Plain and simple.

    *Father*

    • by Samschnooks (1415697) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @01:52PM (#26021841)

      When it comes to something that may seriously harm your child, whether it be vaccines or the illnesses the vaccines prevent against, it is your responsibility as a parent to not go off half-cocked and to make extremely sure that you have all the facts before you make a decision regarding the welfare of your child. If you're not up to that responsibility, then you shouldn't have custody of your kids. Plain and simple.

      *Father*

      Or why not ask your physician who, I would think, knows a bit more than a writer who does the bare minimum of research, if any, to meet his deadline.

      • by m.ducharme (1082683) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @02:31PM (#26022263)

        Why, because Western medical practitioners are conspiring against us, didn't you know?~

        But a little more seriously, I think many people are getting suspicious of doctors who are too quick with the prescription pad, and don't spend much time actually doing preventative, or even curative, medicine.

        Anecdotes factor in to the story as well. A friend of the family has a son who's autistic. The boy is 13 years old, handsome, has some artistic talent, and wears a diaper because he's totally incontinent. His mom swears up and down that she can trace the changes in him to the very day he got his 18 month MMR. Even if it's anecdotal, a story like that puts the fear into you when you have your own baby.

        My wife and I thought about it carefully, and did consult with our family doctor, who is very strict about research-based medicine, and doesn't like to pull out the prescription pad for the least little thing. He recommended going with the shots, but also told us that he takes extra precautions with the vaccines (this was before the latest research). Him, we trust.

        Also, and this really bothers me, many parents who don't vaccinate their kids are trading on the fact that the rest of us do. The risk of their kid catching one of the MMR diseases is much lower because everyone else has their shot. This of course eventually leads to a "tragedy of the Commons" situation where, as we see, those diseases become more prevalent.

        • by st0rmshad0w (412661) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @03:07PM (#26022635)

          Also, and this really bothers me, many parents who don't vaccinate their kids are trading on the fact that the rest of us do. The risk of their kid catching one of the MMR diseases is much lower because everyone else has their shot. This of course eventually leads to a "tragedy of the Commons" situation where, as we see, those diseases become more prevalent.

          No, what will happen is that there will be a spike in previously preventable diseases due to unvaccinated kids, which will eventually bring about a mutation in the pathogen which will then infect your vaccinated child, or possibly you yourself, who is no longer protected because the anti-vaccine crowd gave the disease a breeding ground and place to evolve to evade the vaccine-created immunity.

        • by puck01 (207782) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @03:17PM (#26022725)

          But a little more seriously, I think many people are getting suspicious of doctors who are too quick with the prescription pad, and don't spend much time actually doing preventative, or even curative, medicine.

          As a doctor, I agree wholeheartedly. There are a number of reasons for this, but, honestly, the biggest reason is this is just not paid for. The biggest insurers in this country - medicaid and medicare do not pay for annual preventative health visits except for children. Also, they pay per visit, not what you did or how good a job you did as a doctor. I can spend 30 minutes discussing stuff with my patents about non-medicine treatments, about vaccines or whatever (and I do because I consider it my job to do what is best for my patients), but I won't get paid a dime to do it by their insurance for all that extra time with them or for many of the preventative health visits. That costs me quite a bit of money actually. I have to pay staff and office cost so it comes straight out of my families pocket. Many docs, are understandably (to a certain degree) not willing to make that sacrifice.

          This also might lead you to understand why docs get upset with the Jenny McCarthy types. If we spend more time talking about why vaccines are safe, we either have less time to talk about stuff that might be more important or just sacrifice and lose more money ourselves and at the same time make other patients wait longer.

            I do make this sacrifice and build it into my schedule, but I make about 30-50% of most my colleuges for it and I spend more time than most of them working because of it. Most of my patients would agree I'm a much better doctor than most for it. Other than knowing I do a good job, I am essentially punished for it. Our system in the US is screwed. My only recourse to maintain this type of care and make a competitive salary is to do boutique medicine. I'm not sure I'm willing to do that because it would exclude all of my poorer patients.

          • by m.ducharme (1082683) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @03:38PM (#26022969)

            Thanks for the insight. I live in Canada, incidentally, but the situation is similar. The government pays on a per-visit basis, not by time, and so it benefits a GP to squeeze as many visits into a day as possible.

            There seems to be something else at work though. My doctor, who sounds a lot like you in some ways, is not very popular where I live (a small community of about 10,000). To some extent this can be attributed to his bedside manner, which isn't great, but also I think it's because people know he won't give pain meds at the drop of a hat. He's also been so indiscreet as to suggest that people with chronic pain disorders might benefit from seeing a psychologist, something that doesn't fly too well with the auto-accident litigation industry here.

            I think that there is a strong push to prescription-pad medicine from the patients' side as well. People want the quick fix that makes them better. They don't want to hear that pain relief won't fix their problem. They don't want to hear that exercise and a healthy diet are really the only way to lose weight safely. They want magic.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by dr_dank (472072)

            This also might lead you to understand why docs get upset with the Jenny McCarthy types.

            This is why I love America. What's a better source of medical information than a doctor? The lady who blows Jim Carrey, thats who.

            SMOKIN!

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 07, 2008 @01:55PM (#26021863)

      "Make extremely sure that you have all the facts"? I'm a continuous skeptic about everything, and from what I've read, I'm 99.99% sure that autism and vaccines are not linked in any way - but the cause of autism is not known, so it would be irresponsible for me to run out and declare that I'm 100% sure. I'm not sure, and neither are you, and if you claim you're 100% sure, then you're being religious instead of scientific.

      A parent who is less sure, say 90% sure, now has to balance the effects and probabilities that on the one hand, that the kid will get the almost-never-lethal-or-disabling measles; and on the other hand a minute chance that the kid will get the disabling malady of autism. It's their kid, so I find it unsurprising that parents are simply skipping the vaccines as long as there's the shadow of a doubt.

      The only way to get the parents back on vaccine schedules is to determine the cause of autism.

      • by dmr001 (103373) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @02:20PM (#26022143)
        When parents of my pediatric patients say they're skipping vaccines, they talk more about what they read on the Internet than what they see on television or read in the newspaper. The second most common source of information cited about how vaccines are dangerous is "people [they've] talked to." Only a small percentage make a distinction about specific vaccines; most who refuse the MMR refuse everything. So, do I have to wait until we prove another negative - autism isn't caused by DTaP - to prevent common (and sometimes fatal) whooping cough? Proving that the MMR vaccine doesn't cause autism (NEJM 347:1477-1482) hasn't been enough for my vaccine refusers so far. This is a parental issue. I think the solution is basic education in the scientific method and statistics for everyone, beginning in elementary school.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by MikeBabcock (65886)

          Information from experts in your life is how you make decisions on which video card to get, which new TV to get, which video game system to buy, which new game to get for it.

          Nobody alive is an expert in all fields, and everyone has to put trust in others. That trust is sometimes misplaced, sometimes misplaced in authority, sometimes in lack of authority.

          Blaming people for listening to 'other people' and not doing their own research is just stupid -- there's no possibility, and I mean _NONE_ that any human

        • by Reziac (43301) * on Sunday December 07, 2008 @03:02PM (#26022597) Homepage Journal

          What amazes me is their complete inability to compare risk factors (tho this is much the same as Schneier talks about re perceived risk).

          Chances of a mild reaction to whooping cough vaccine runs somewhere around 1 in 10,000, with the chance of a fatal reaction about 1 in 1 million (but in that case, the child's immune system is a bomb waiting to go off, and sooner or later something will get 'em).

          Chances of death if the child contracts whooping cough: about 1 in 4 with modern hospitalization, or 1 in 2 without.

          To me, that's a no-brainer.

          The same bullshit is permeating the dog breeder community too -- "Vaccinosis" is now blamed for everything that can possibly go wrong! How about not breeding animals whose immune systems can't handle the trivial stimulation of a vaccine? And if they can't handle vaccine, how on earth are they expected to handle a realworld exposure, at hundreds or thousands of times the strength of vaccine??

        • by Kohath (38547) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @04:23PM (#26023449)

          I think the solution is basic education in the scientific method and statistics for everyone, beginning in elementary school.

          This is wrong. People don't care. Teaching about the scientific method and statistics won't make them care. It's too many steps removed from the vaccine issue for the average attention-span anyway.

          We have a cultural problem. It's not about the scientific method. People believe in conspiracy theories. People believe in shadowy corporations who are secretly out to get them. People believe in secret cover-ups. People believe everyone's got a hidden agenda or a conflict of interest. But, most importantly, people believe they're the exception. They have it figured out. They're wise. They're not going to be fooled like everyone else.

          It's a self-esteem problem -- too much self-esteem. It's a lack of respect for others. It's laziness. It's irresponsibility. It's self-focus and emotional self-investment. It's not being completely grown-up.

          The scientific method won't help because it's only useful if the answer it leads to fulfills some emotional need you have. Otherwise, it can be discounted in favor of the process that leads to a more fulfilling answer.

          I don't know what the solution is. Removing some of the societal rewards for making bad choices would help.

      • by jamie (78724) * Works for Slashdot <jamie@slashdot.org> on Sunday December 07, 2008 @02:38PM (#26022359) Journal

        The only way to get the parents back on vaccine schedules is to determine the cause of autism.

        Um, no. That's not the only way.

        There are two public interests here. One is preventing the outbreak of infectious diseases. The other is protecting vulnerable members of our society who are unable to defend themselves against their parents' superstition and ignorance. For either or both reasons, we can and should use the law to force parents to vaccinate their children.

        Parents are prosecuted for withholding other forms of medical care from their children. For example, 11-year-old Madeline Kara Neumann died from diabetes while her parents prayed over her, and those parents are now charged, as they should be, with reckless homicide [thenorthwestern.com]. Why not meet deliberate failure to vaccinate a child with, say, a charge of child endangerment?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by scorp1us (235526)

          Immunize the kids, sterilize the parents?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 07, 2008 @02:02PM (#26021929)

      It's a societal issue. Once a critical portion of the population is not immunized against a disease, then a widespread epidemic is more possible and likely. This could have severe economic impacts that go far beyond the goals of individual parents. This is why most immunization is mandatory unless there is a specific religious or health related exception. People invoking these exceptions trivially are endangering the functioning civil order. These vaccines have proven to be quite safe -- and, even if there is a risk of infection (say for example, with live polio), if the negative side-effect rate in the population is low-enough, its still something that should be mandated in order to ensure that the population as a whole is resilient to some of the Big Nasties.

      • by Tisha_AH (600987) <Tisha.Hayes@gmail.com> on Sunday December 07, 2008 @04:41PM (#26023633) Journal

        I find it miraculous that anyone of us over the age of 40 survived at all. There is so much hype about peanut butter allergies, laundry detergent allergies, supposedly deadly inoculations and the terrible dangers of dust and dirt.

        In the 60's and 70's as elementary school students we all ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, played outside, ate dirt (not me but of of my younger siblings did), got scraped up, sunburned, poison ivy/oak/sumac and rolled around in the grass. If the prevalence of terrible medical conditions were so common as they are claimed of today, we would have all died before we were 11 years old.

        How many children today are on Ritalin or other behavior modifying medicines? In my childhood if you acted up repeatedly you would be spanked with a belt or a shoe.

        There is a common thread through all of this; more and more parents would rather assign some condition, allergy or psychological problem to their children, rather than accepting that their poor parenting skills and lack of oversight is the primary reason on why their children appear to have problems. So let's not get inoculations for our children, after all, smallpox, bubonic plague and malaria are all "natural" and we should live closer to nature.

        The "victim" mentality is all pervasive and we are passing it off to our children. Should we really be surprised by the apathy and disconnection of our children from societal structures? This will be our legacy, civilizations who decline to these levels have traditionally collapsed after a few decades.

    • by ultranova (717540) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @02:08PM (#26022005)

      When it comes to something that may seriously harm your child, whether it be vaccines or the illnesses the vaccines prevent against, it is your responsibility as a parent to not go off half-cocked and to make extremely sure that you have all the facts before you make a decision regarding the welfare of your child.

      Unless you happen to be a medical expert of sufficient calibre to run the experiments yourself, you rely on others to supply you accurate knowledge about the subject. Unless you are an expert in every subject, there are bound to be potential decisions regarding the welfare of your child where you have little choice but to go off half-cocked, since you simply have no way to know for sure what the results of each choice might be, and at what probability.

      If you're not up to that responsibility, then you shouldn't have custody of your kids. Plain and simple.

      No one is up to that responsibility. Nothing short of a god could possibly be. But don't let logic get in the way of making grandiose declarations - in the name of the children, of course.

      *Father*

      Ah yes, that would explain it. There's something about children which seems to turn people's brains off, allowing them to both spout and believe unbelievably stupid statements without recognizing them as such. Must be some kind of hormonal thing.

    • by Teancum (67324) <{ten.orezten} {ta} {gninroh_trebor}> on Sunday December 07, 2008 @02:33PM (#26022291) Homepage Journal

      How do you possibly get "all the facts" when you are trying to raise a child?

      Most parents (if you really are a parent) sort of muddle through the whole process of raising kids with imprecise information and an attempt to do the best we can with what limited information may or may not even be available to us at the moment.

      Yes, reading first aid manuals, parenting guides, and other such books or websites may be useful, but more often you go on the advise of your own parents, neighbors and friends. There is often a whole lot of trust that happens too... sometimes misplaced trust at that.

      As for "THE TRUTH" about vaccines, I don't really even know what the truth may or may not be here. Certainly it can be quantitized how useful vaccines have been in terms of the society as a whole, but as a parent you don't care about who a vaccine is generally saving the whole of society if it is your own kid that is the 1% or 1/10th% who gets screwed over with a bad reaction to a vaccine. All you care about really is how it is going to impact your own children.

      I also don't think the medical community is being totally honest here, and that there can be some children who shouldn't be receiving vaccines. The trick here is to be able to make that decision... often with the medical community actively fighting against you or openly dismissing your fears without so much as even looking at any legitimate concerns you might have or even doing so much as even looking at your child at all, much less your child's medical history.

      Muddling through is the best any parent can do anyway, and how dare you suggest that a child should be removed from a parent who is otherwise working in good faith to do the best they can for their own kids.

      • by Fzz (153115) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @04:44PM (#26023675)

        but as a parent you don't care about who a vaccine is generally saving the whole of society if it is your own kid that is the 1% or 1/10th% who gets screwed over with a bad reaction to a vaccine. All you care about really is how it is going to impact your own children.

        Well, I'm in the 1% who got screwed over from NOT having the vaccine. I got mumps when I was 12, and I'm nearly completely deaf in one ear as a result. Completely preventable. Needless to say, we did do the research when it came to vaccines for our kids, and they both did get the MMR.

        By the way, some people don't really get too much of a choice. One requirement to get a US greencard is to prove you've been vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella.

  • Err... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by brian0918 (638904) <brian0918@@@gmail...com> on Sunday December 07, 2008 @01:44PM (#26021751)
    Since when is this nebulous entity called "the media" the only group that "has access to all the information"? If people decide to shirk responsibility for their own lives, and blindly accept conventional wisdom, that is their choice and they have freely made it, whether or not they consciously acknowledge it.
    • Re:Err... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gowen (141411) <gwowen@gmail.com> on Sunday December 07, 2008 @02:08PM (#26022001) Homepage Journal

      The problem here is that many British newspapers have spread wholly-untrue scare stories about the MMR injections, largely based on erroneous analysis by descredited scientists, Andrew Wakefield.

      No-one can be be expected to follow every major medical story by reference to the original papers (and despite your noxious smugness, you don't either). We all rely on the media, both to alert us to potential medical risks, and to give accurate and even handed treatment to medical stories.

      The papers and journalist in question (and. Melanie Phillips, I'm looking at you) have put sales-grabbings scare stories ahead of providing actual information -- acceptable if you're just gossiping about celebrities, but children have lost their lives because well meaning parents have been swayed by newspaper medical stories written with scant regard for the truth. Like people who shout "Fire" in a crowded theatre, they should be held to account.

  • by Loibisch (964797) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @01:45PM (#26021769)

    ...to read the last sentence.

    They have been systematically and vigorously misled by the media, the people with access to all the information, who still choose, collectively, between themselves, so robustly that it might almost be a conspiracy, to give you only half the facts.

    Six commas...

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 07, 2008 @02:03PM (#26021953)

      You must be new here, for if you were not, you would know that us, the readers of slashdot, enjoy reading summaries which, when read slowly and carefully, provide some great meaning that, fortunately, could not have been presented to us without all the deliberately, refreshingly placed commas, all of which brighten our sad, lonely days in these dank, windowless basements which, for many of us, have been our homes for decades and, comma-willing, will continue to be for many more decades to come, for we would be distraught should our parents, who gave birth to us, of course, were to boot us out into the "real world", the simple notion of which frightens us beyond belief, really.

      Sincerely, yours,

      Reader, who is anonymous, for various reasons, none of which concern you, the reader of this comment.

  • by DrLudicrous (607375) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @01:51PM (#26021811) Homepage
    I know this is going to be viewed somewhat as flamebait, but to put it bluntly, doctors are mechanics for the human body. No more, no less. The vast, overwhelming majority of doctors have little to no true scientific training, any more so than a business person or Joe the Plumber. Even those doctors doing active medical research have limited scientific faculties IMO, having heard about this stereotype from others, read about on the internet, and dealt with it myself. Therefore, when it comes to scientific interpretation, anything coming from a doctor's mouth should be taken with at least a grain of salt, if not a shakerful.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Not every computer scientist actually does scientic research on computation and data sets, many of them program. They are scientists ACTING as technicians or engineers, if you are familiar with the Scientist-Engineer-Technician hierarchy and its meaning.

      In that, medical doctors are scientists, trained in the medical sciences, which act as technicians on the human body.
      • by DrLudicrous (607375) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @02:17PM (#26022111) Homepage
        Right, I see some of what you are saying. However, the point I was trying to make was that doctors don't effectively use the scientific method on a day to day basis. The way they approach research is fundamentally different from how a scientist in biology, chemistry, or physics would approach the same research. Basically, IMHO, calling doctors scientists is an insult to real scientists, and denigrates the work that they do. If you are going to call doctors scientists, you might as well call a biologist a neurosurgeon because they know the science behind how the brain works.
    • by dubl-u (51156) * <2523987012.pota@to> on Sunday December 07, 2008 @02:03PM (#26021941)

      I know this is going to be viewed somewhat as flamebait, but to put it bluntly, doctors are mechanics for the human body.

      It's funny you should say that. A friend of mine is toward the end of med school, and at her house I was leafing through one of the professional journals she gets. It reminded me a lot of a car mechanic's guide. Very little on the science or the why. She agreed.

      Maybe that's the right thing, as being a family doctor you have to keep up with an awful lot of conditions. But I went through a lot of doctors before I found one who a) had at least a touch of humility, and b) made me feel like she understood the actual science involved.

  • Not that I'm saying there's a link, but my son suddenly started suffering Cold Urticaria [wikipedia.org] right after having his second MMR jab. When we saw the doctor about it, I mentioned the vaccination as a possible trigger and the doctor immediately launched into a defence of MMR without recording it (she wrote down everything else I mentioned). While I'm aware that the previous arguments about links to autism were based on poor use of statistics, I did find it strange that the NHS is not interested in recording such i

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Tony Hoyle (11698) *

      Many, many statistical analysis have been done. Repeatedly it has been proven there is no link.

      But the press still print any trash story they can make up, leading to people like you being unsure.

    • by dunkelfalke (91624) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @02:12PM (#26022053)

      most urticarias do start suddenly and the reason is never found.

    • I did find it strange that the NHS is not interested in recording such incidents so that they can do proper statistical analysis and find any real links that exist.

      Because such self-reported anecdotes are not relevant in a proper statistical analysis.

      If there were a correlation to be found, then the epidemiologists would be able to find it just based on the fact that a significant number of children came in with cases of hives shortly after coming in for their MMRs. Your records would support that, based si

  • by Naughty Bob (1004174) * on Sunday December 07, 2008 @01:54PM (#26021845)
    Just gotta give up some respect to Ben Goldacre.

    In the face of the standard shrill anti-science which permeates western media, he's a guy who tells it straight. A high class myth-busters, if you like.

    A geek. The man.
  • by Chineseyes (691744) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @02:04PM (#26021959)
    Do we really want to take medical advise from amateurs? This isn't backyard car modding we are talking about.
    • by squizzar (1031726) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @02:21PM (#26022149)

      Well, I'd suggest not, but there are plenty of people who take their advice from 'alternative' therapies, from the internet, from their religion and from spam email.

      Of course with so many of these things it's what people want to hear: People would like there to be magical cures. People like a conspiracy - to feel that they know something everyone else doesn't - such as that MMR is actually an overall negative and hence they won't have their kids vaccinated.

  • Power Lines (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bperkins (12056) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @02:11PM (#26022041) Homepage Journal

    Remember when power lines were giving our children cancer?

    I'm glad they fixed that.

    • Re:Power Lines (Score:4, Insightful)

      by moosesocks (264553) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @04:18PM (#26023391) Homepage

      Actually, there was a degree of truth to that story, even though it turned out that the power lines themselves were harmless.

      It turned out that the pesticides used to clear the land surrounding the high-voltage lines were carcinogenic, and seeped into the water supply.

      Other studies have concluded that any other correlation between childhood cancers and powerlines were either statistical noise, or due to other factors such as the higher likelihood that the lines would be located near industrial residential areas.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Just Some Guy (3352)

        Other studies have concluded that any other correlation between childhood cancers and powerlines were either statistical noise, or due to other factors such as the higher likelihood that the lines would be located near industrial residential areas.

        I have a friend who's a radiologist. He's an extremely sharp guy and I've heard people say that he's really good at his job. And yet, he and his wife fought tooth and nail to try to keep a cell phone tower being put up a mile from their house because they didn't want to be irradiated.

        Great guy, but the logical disconnect here almost drove me to drink.

  • Science knowledge (Score:4, Informative)

    by apillowofclouds (699564) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @02:19PM (#26022123)
    Recently here in NY we had a law passed to take the mercury out of vaccines (diff. kind of mercury used and not in dangerous amounts). The mother who they put on the news to hail the bill was, like me, a parent of an autistic child. However, the reason she gave for the bill was that "infants' immune systems are not well formed enough to fight the mercury". I was laughing so hard I nearly ripped something. That's what's wrong. You protest so hard you get a bill passed and go on the news to defend it, and you lack any basic understanding of the human body. If all these people think the vaccines are harmful, so be it. But I wish they would gain some basic understanding of the body first.
  • by HangingChad (677530) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @02:19PM (#26022133) Homepage

    The age old debate about whether the flu shot can give people the flu. And the odd reaction to other components...I'm looking at you, thimerosal. Most of the discussions tend to be more heat than light.

    My opinion is the fear is far greater than the actual risk would indicate. Even if the reaction rate was extremely small, litigation and the internet are going insure the stories spread far and wide. Combine a very small number of actual problems with a lot of publicity, add a dash of anecdotal evidence and I think the fear factor of vaccinations is over done.

    Complicating the discussions are the number of times we've been collectively lied to by big business and big pharma. Even if they were telling the truth, we have reasonable grounds to remain suspicious. And the Bush administration installing an incompetent religious frootloop as head of the FDA hasn't exactly inspired public trust that the safety of medications and vaccines are being adequately monitored. It's easy to suspect that oversight of medication safety is every bit as good as the SEC's oversight of the financial markets.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 07, 2008 @02:35PM (#26022311)

    Usually, one can rely on the cock-up theory. However, in the case of the MMR vaccine there really was a conspiracy.

    "In 1998, a young British surgeon named Andrew Wakefield published a paper in The Lancet suggesting an association between the measles component of the triple vaccine and the development of childhood autism. Though the paper stressed that no causative relationship had been proved, Wakefield took the most unusual (and self-promoting) step of calling a press conference, in which he suggested that the vaccine should be withdrawn. ...

    An investigative journalist discovered a few years later that Wakefield had received payments from a serial litigation lawyer who hoped to mount a class-action suit against the vaccineâ(TM)s manufacturers."

    http://www.city-journal.org/2008/bc1114td.html

  • by he-sk (103163) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @02:38PM (#26022361)

    Here's my reasoning: Once in a while, an article covers a subject that I am knowledgeable about. Almost always, I will find something wrong in the article. Sometimes it's just a minor mistake or a gross over-simplification. More often than not, however, the article gets it hopelessly wrong and completely misinforms the reader.

    I can only conclude that the same happens in articles that cover stuff I know nothing about.

    So, I pulled the number in the headline out of my ass. Kinda like the average newspaper author.

  • by st0rmshad0w (412661) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @02:55PM (#26022525)

    Has Jenny cured her sons supposed vaccine induced autism yet?

    The media is eager as hell to hope on board whenever she opens her ignorant mouth.

    Seriously, who the fuck in their right mind would take medical advice from this nutbar? And shouldn't spewing such nonsense somehow fall into the realm of practicing medice without a license?

    http://www.stopjenny.com/ [stopjenny.com]

  • by Conspicuous Coward (938979) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @03:05PM (#26022617)

    Ben Goldacre is actually an excellent journalist, a phrase that is increasingly becoming oxymoronic. He's happy exposing the BS of the big pharma companies, the alternative medicine quacks, and most importantly the media themselves.
    In a media filled with "science correspondents" who either mindlessly reprint press releases or scaremonger to drive sales this is a breath of fresh air.

    I really wish I could attribute the ignorant scaremongering of the media on issues like the MMR vaccine to the fact that most journalists have never even seen the inside of a science textbook. But I think the malaise runs far deeper.

    The simple fact is that fear sells papers. Print a headline that strikes fear into the hearts of parents and they're likely to buy the paper to read the article. Printing a headline stating the opposite ( new study finds vaccines reduce asthma deaths ) just doesn't have the same emotional impact.
    This extends beyond reporting on science to a wide range of topics. Look at the coverage given to vanishingly rare child abduction/murder cases for example. If you can generate fear you can shift product.

    In a wider sense I'd also say that the atmosphere of fear this kind of media coverage generates is tolerated and even encouraged by owners and advertisers because it doesn't threaten their interests, and in many cases aligns with them.
    If a paper was to start scaremongering to the same extent(i.e. fearmongering multi-page spreads several times a week) about the (very real) threats to it's readers from global warming, foreign wars or lax regulations, it would be branded as a crazy left wing rag and rapidly ditched by advertisers, assuming the owners didn't fire the journo's responsible first.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Wonko the Sane (25252) *

      The simple fact is that fear sells papers. Print a headline that strikes fear into the hearts of parents and they're likely to buy the paper to read the article. Printing a headline stating the opposite ( new study finds vaccines reduce asthma deaths ) just doesn't have the same emotional impact.

      Perhaps the rational stories just need *better headlines:

      Exclusive Report: Sensationalist headlines could kill your child!

      *For certain definitions of "better"

  • by myxiplx (906307) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @03:14PM (#26022693)

    What gets me is that the media can report all this garbage, with no research, no medical training, and no scientific training, yet we as a society allow them to do this without making any attempt to make them act responsibly.

    If reporters or newspapers regularly print scare stories without adequate research, or something like this which is practically designed to scare parents without giving them the full story, they should be prosecuted. They are making a profit out of playing on people's fears, why on earth do we allow that?

    Surely there would be a case for Reckless Endangerment or Child Endangerment if papers create scares like this, but then make no effort to correct their mistakes when scientific testing proves them wrong? Yes, papers are sometimes made to print apologies, but they are tiny and hidden out of the way. In cases like this, it would be fairer (and safer!) to make papers print a big "We're sorry" article, given exactly the same attention as the original story. And if that means running it on the front cover for a month, with regular follow up articles, then so be it.

    The media have a huge effect on the public, they need to take responsiblity for their actions.

  • by Richard W.M. Jones (591125) <rich@annexia. o r g> on Sunday December 07, 2008 @03:33PM (#26022903) Homepage

    I just finished Ben Goldacre's book "Bad Science" [amazon.co.uk] and I can highly recommend it.

    Rich.

  • Follow the Money (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LouisJBouchard (316266) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @03:46PM (#26023047)

    The reason why this debate has been and is still going on, even with the evidence to the contrary, is the money trail.

    The average cost of therapies for Autism is about $50,000 - $100,000 US per year for at least 2 - 3 years for those who end up being higher functioning and even more for those that are lower functioning. Health Insurance companies refuse to pay the costs calling it a mental health issue (will be interesting to see where mental health parity leads), the schools do not want to pay for it because they do not see it as a medical issue, and for those who never get the ability to survive on their own, the government is not real interested in paying for their care for the rest of their lives. I am sure that in some ways, athasma is in a similar area.

    To make the situation worse, there is stress on the whole family. The parents cannot go out together because they cannot find someone to care for their kid. The other kids feel left out. There is the monetary stress. Simply put they want someone to pay.

    Who better than a big bad corporation who has deep pockets. So of course, now they are going to be blamed. The lawyers pick it up for the money and the media picks it up because situations like that sell news. Even worse, if there is evidence that proves that this group is wrong, it is either ignored or there is a conspiracy. I remember a couple of months ago where we here on Slashdot where a mother and person with Autism did a blog against the whole MMR causes vaccines argument and was vigorously subpeonaed by a lawyer fighting for anti-vaccine parents. This occurred in the Dow-Corning fight with Silicone Breast implants too.

    Add to the fact that in most cases, scientists cannot and will not say for 100% certainty that MMR does not cause Autism. This is because nothing is 100%. If 100 people jump out of a 3rd story window and all die, are you 100% certain that the 101st also will die when the jump out. In fact, the agent which is claimed to cause the issues has been removed from vaccines in many states in the USA and the expected drop in autism has not occurred. That should be enough proof for most people that they are looking up the wrong path.

    I do not think this will die however until someone/thing comes up with a system to pay for the treatments of autism and other issues. This is all about the money.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I'd agree. And you can't prove a negative. However, our legal system isn't supposed to require you to prove a negative, even in a civil case. The problem is tons of lawsuits brought by individuals gets expensive. Eventually, these cases will cause Congress to give pharma blanket immunity on vaccination lawsuits, which is a lousy idea. And not for a good reason. There's no valid, statistical evidence of a causative link between the MMR and Ausitm, and all the wishing in the world doesn't make it so. There ar

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