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30 April 2009

Retirement Ceremony Updated

Just wanted to let you know that I updated some of the info on my retirement ceremony. We actually have some details nailed down for now. Still not totally thrilled with being told I have to do this with the approved script as opposed to just doing what I want. And it looks like I will end up paying for my own shadow box and just about anything else assoiciated with getting a retirement done (cake, punch, programs, etc.). How nice of them... especially considering that I STILL don't have a job lined up. Of course, I could have a job; but I'm still sitting in the Middle East on a deployment instead of taking care of things at home. I know that this deployment has cost me at least 8 job offers because I'm here instead of at home and able to take terminal leave...

Autism News

Since I have become involved with "Todd W." and "IVAN3MAN" from the Bad Astronomy Blog in fighting the anti-vax pro-disease nutters, I've been keeping my ear to the ground for news. So today Dr. Plait posted a link to news saying that scientists have actually identified the gene that can be traced to 15% of autism cases. That's good news in many ways. First of all, it confirms that vaccines got nothing to do with it. Also, with our better understanding of genetic therapy, we may be on the road to figuring out more effective treatment for autism.

While on the subject of autism causes and information, there is also the "baffling" correlation to folks who have vinyl flooring. Keep in mind, correlation is not causation... That's the same bad reasoning that got hold in the pro-disease nutter community. Scientific American has also run an article on a possible connection to a Vitamin D deficiency. Of course, on the same page there is a link to an article talking about environmental factors causing autism. While overall the jury is still out on this, we are starting to find some of the myriad of interrelated factors that can play into it. One thing we do know though is that it's NOT vaccines that play into that particular myriad.

I also can't help but to put out a warning and admonishment to people. Don't try to look for the simple answer. All over the internet, I see parents and debaters attempt to simplify autism as to being caused by X or Y and say that's the end of the discussion. Most of the time, the people who do so are laypeople who have no scientific training, so I can sort of forgive them. However, we live in an incredibly complex and dynamic world. Almost nothing is simple anymore. It really is imperative that the responsible citizen get at least some amount of scientific literacy. Otherwise they will continue to be simpletons looking for the simple answer.

Science is pretty cool though. We don't have answers to something, so we look into it, and then we find it. We don't make up fairies or pixies, but use what we know and delve into it more. It's almost as if Science Works Bitches!

29 April 2009

Human-chauvinism

When debating with folks about evolution, invariably I get told that humans are somehow unique. That perhaps we really aren't just highly evolved animals. In many cases, the person making that assertion insists that humans are the only animal that does this or that thing. Sadly, it seems for those who hold that opinion that there are fewer and fewer things that we do that other animals don't do. New Scientist has an interesting article and a video on this (sadly you need a subscription to get to all of it).

Furthermore, this argument even seems to come from more skeptical people when debating what could lead to intelligence "elsewhere" (i.e. not on earth). We seem to be so stuck on our one data point that we forget that nature only managed to get to our state of being through many fits and starts. And we aren't very well put together either. As I said in a previous blog, evolution has no goal, aside from propegating a particualr species. The ones that do it well survive, those that don't end up extinct.

So, the point of this blog? Don't be such a human chauvinist!

28 April 2009

By the way, Abiogenesis is NOT Evolution

I don't know how many times I have to repeat that evolution has nothing to do with abiogenesis, yet the strawman of "how did life start" always creeps up in every evolution debate... Abiogenesis is a very new and exciting field of study though. That's why I was quite thrilled to find this article:

First Life and Next Life
Synthetic biology is a new field, but it's targeting an old question: How did life begin?


After reading that article, I just gotta say that is so frikkin' cool! Of course, as Carl Sagan once said, every scientific endeavour has some moral ambiguity to it. I can see this having some serious ramifications if we aren't diligent in the controls and methodology of all this.

As I said, the discussion on abiogenesis generally starts out in a discussion of evolution, and sometimes I just can't understand the rigid denial of actual concrete evidence, combined with horribly flawed logic that some of these nutters employ (not to mention the out and out lies). You can point to the mountain of evidence for evolution all you want. It’s just that the creationists and IDiots will proclaim, “Hah! It’s not a mountain, it’s half an inch under being a mountain. Nice try. Now, see, my mountain is tall enough to be a mountain.”
“But, that’s just a tent. Look at the gauze-like fabric and the plastic structure holding it up. You have a tent, and a flimsy one at that.”
“At least it’s as tall as mountain.”

Which, if you think about it, is pretty much the way the conversation always turns out.

Creationist dimwits should also invest in mirrors. The knucklewalkers they’d see staring back at them would be proof enough of human devolution.

What continues to be most fascinating, however is how consistently repetitive and predictable all these crank arguments are and will be, regardless of whether they are presented to support a belief in gods, or flying saucers, or ghosts, or…whatever.

To summarize:
•Science is false, my belief is true.
•Your evidence means nothing. I can say this despite the fact I have no idea what it even means.
•I have no evidence but it doesn’t matter because…(I have faith, the government is hiding it, it’s beyond the powers of science to reveal, etc.).
•I only came here to see if anyone had an open mind.
•My own closed mind doesn’t count.
•People who don’t believe as I do are arrogant jerks.
•I guess no one here wants to know the truth.
•Good bye.

Now if only they’d reach that last step a little more quickly (and even permanently?).

27 April 2009

Swine Flu Fears!

Swine Flu Okay, the title links to a series of Scientific American articles about the Swine Flu that should hopefully educate folks. And while it may be too soon to really laugh about this and all, I have found a coupe things that just makes me go "Hmmm. That is sorta funny."

First of all the comic. This is from XKCD, and ful credit goes to him for everything about that image and humour. I just love XKCD because it's so wacky and off the wall.

The other thing I found is something that implores devout folks to forgoe any medication. Again, I was amused by this, and then at the same time disgusted with myself that I was hoping for a pandemic should "they" buy into it!

Note to real Christians: PLEASE do NOT take Tamiflu or any of those demon drugs invented by strict evolutionists!

If you:
1) ...believe evolution should not be taught in school...
2) ...believe that evolution is still a theory without strong support...
3) ...believe that Darwin was a nut and 'Origin of Species' is an evil book...

...I urge you NOT to take Tamiflu under any circumstances. Taking this anti-viral drug is tantamount to admitting that evolutionary science (and those scientists who received the 'origin' of their education in public schools) is useful and helpful to sick people. Clearly viruses were CREATED, and these damn evolutionist whackos are trying to mess with the Creator's plan.

Viruses evolve and adapt at such a rapid pace that it takes evolutionary scientists (you know, those ones that conservative religious types rail against) tons of hard work to stay one step ahead of the mutations.

If you believe evolution is an unproven theory, taking anti-viral drugs is clearly an admission that you believe, when the chips are down and your health is at risk, that you believe that science has a better chance of saving you than prayer.

Risking your life to save people from a rapidly 'evolving' virus is a sure way to land yourself in Satan's brimstone swimming pool.


Sorry, it just was such a great Poe that it had to be done! And the elimination of the shallow end of the gene pool... Yeah, again, I sorta feel bad for that!

Your Friendly Neighborhood Atheist

I just read this article in the NY Times and I just had to share! That this is happening in South Carolina (further south than the home of that bigot Elizabeth Dole) is even more encouraging. I love how the last paragraph ends, since I tend to be the kind of guy that would actually go out and do that sort of thing! I wonder how something like that would go here in the Panhandle of Florida though? I know that I plan to do a "Drinking Skeptically" group here, but would an outright atheist/humanist group do anything? I mean, my Yahoo Atheist Group only has a few members after all, and hardly any email traffic. While I would like to suspect that there are more non-believers in this area, I find it difficult to convince myself of that. Just the incredibly provincial and dogmatic behaviour of the locals makes Children of the Corn look absolutely sane.

I guess on reason that it's so hard to get atheists together is that there really isn't anything common to the group besides a lack of something. It would be like a meeting for people who don't collect stamps for a hobby. The legislative side of the issue is something that as a group could perhaps get behind more readily than just meeting because we lack a belief. Oh well, here's the article:


More Atheists Shout It From the Rooftops
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
Published: April 26, 2009

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Two months after the local atheist organization here put up a billboard saying “Don’t Believe in God? You Are Not Alone,” the group’s 13 board members met in Laura and Alex Kasman’s living room to grapple with the fallout.

The problem was not that the group, the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, had attracted an outpouring of hostility. It was the opposite. An overflow audience of more than 100 had showed up for their most recent public symposium, and the board members discussed whether it was time to find a larger place.

And now parents were coming out of the woodwork asking for family-oriented programs where they could meet like-minded nonbelievers.

“Is everyone in favor of sponsoring a picnic for humanists with families?” asked the board president, Jonathan Lamb, a 27-year-old meteorologist, eliciting a chorus of “ayes.”

More than ever, America’s atheists are linking up and speaking out — even here in South Carolina, home to Bob Jones University, blue laws and a legislature that last year unanimously approved a Christian license plate embossed with a cross, a stained glass window and the words “I Believe” (a move blocked by a judge and now headed for trial).

They are connecting on the Internet, holding meet-ups in bars, advertising on billboards and buses, volunteering at food pantries and picking up roadside trash, earning atheist groups recognition on adopt-a-highway signs.

They liken their strategy to that of the gay-rights movement, which lifted off when closeted members of a scorned minority decided to go public.

“It’s not about carrying banners or protesting,” said Herb Silverman, a math professor at the College of Charleston who founded the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, which has about 150 members on the coast of the Carolinas. “The most important thing is coming out of the closet.”

Polls show that the ranks of atheists are growing. The American Religious Identification Survey, a major study released last month, found that those who claimed “no religion” were the only demographic group that grew in all 50 states in the last 18 years.

Nationally, the “nones” in the population nearly doubled, to 15 percent in 2008 from 8 percent in 1990. In South Carolina, they more than tripled, to 10 percent from 3 percent. Not all the “nones” are necessarily committed atheists or agnostics, but they make up a pool of potential supporters.

Local and national atheist organizations have flourished in recent years, fed by outrage over the Bush administration’s embrace of the religious right. A spate of best-selling books on atheism also popularized the notion that nonbelief is not just an argument but a cause, like environmentalism or muscular dystrophy.

Ten national organizations that variously identify themselves as atheists, humanists, freethinkers and others who go without God have recently united to form the Secular Coalition for America, of which Mr. Silverman is president. These groups, once rivals, are now pooling resources to lobby in Washington for separation of church and state.

A wave of donations, some in the millions of dollars, has enabled the hiring of more paid professional organizers, said Fred Edwords, a longtime atheist leader who just started his own umbrella group, the United Coalition of Reason, which plans to spawn 20 local groups around the country in the next year.

Despite changing attitudes, polls continue to show that atheists are ranked lower than any other minority or religious group when Americans are asked whether they would vote for or approve of their child marrying a member of that group.

Over lunch with some new atheist joiners at a downtown Charleston restaurant serving shrimp and grits, one young mother said that her husband was afraid to allow her to go public as an atheist because employers would refuse to hire him.

But another member, Beverly Long, a retired school administrator who now teaches education at the Citadel, said that when she first moved to Charleston from Toronto in 2001, “the first question people asked me was, What church do you belong to?” Ms. Long attended Wednesday dinners at a Methodist church, for the social interaction, but never felt at home. Since her youth, she had doubted the existence of God but did not discuss her views with others.

Ms. Long found the secular humanists through a newspaper advertisement and attended a meeting. Now, she is ready to go public, she said, especially after doing some genealogical research recently. “I had ancestors who fought in the American Revolution so I could speak my mind,” she said.

Until recent years, the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry were local pariahs. Mr. Silverman — whose specialty license plate, one of many offered by the state, says “In Reason We Trust” — was invited to give the invocation at the Charleston City Council once, but half the council members walked out. The local chapter of Habitat for Humanity would not let the Secular Humanists volunteer to build houses wearing T-shirts that said “Non Prophet Organization,” he said.

When their billboard went up in January, with their Web site address displayed prominently, they expected hate mail.

“But most of the e-mails were grateful,” said Laura Kasman, an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina.

The board members meeting in the Kasmans’ living room were an unlikely mix that included a gift store owner, a builder, a grandmother, a retired nursing professor, a retired Navy officer, an administrator at a primate sanctuary and a church musician. They are also diverse in their attitudes toward religion.

Loretta Haskell, the church musician, said: “I did struggle at one point as to whether or not I should be making music in churches, given my position on things. But at the same time I like using my music to move people, to give them comfort. And what I’ve found is, I am not one of the humanists who feels that religion is a bad thing.”

The group has had mixed reactions to President Obama, who acknowledged nonbelievers in his inauguration speech. “I sent him a thank-you note,” Ms. Kasman said. But Sharon Fratepietro, who is married to Mr. Silverman, said, “It seemed like one long religious ceremony, with a moment of lip service.”

Part of what is giving the movement momentum is the proliferation of groups on college campuses. The Secular Student Alliance now has 146 chapters, up from 42 in 2003.
At the University of South Carolina, in Columbia, 19 students showed up for a recent evening meeting of the “Pastafarians,” named for the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster — a popular spoof on religion dreamed up by an opponent of intelligent design, the idea that living organisms are so complex that the best explanation is that a higher intelligence designed them.
Andrew Cederdahl, the group’s co-founder, asked for volunteers for the local food bank and for a coming debate with a nearby Christian college. Then Mr. Cederdahl opened the floor to members to tell their “coming out stories.”

Andrew Morency, who attended a Christian high school, said that when he got to college and studied evolutionary biology he decided that “creationists lie.”

Josh Streetman, who once attended the very Christian college that the Pastafarians were about to debate, said he knew the Bible too well to be sure that Scripture is true. Like Mr. Streetman, many of the other students at the meeting were highly literate in the Bible and religious history.

In keeping with the new generation of atheist evangelists, the Pastafarian leaders say that their goal is not confrontation, or even winning converts, but changing the public’s stereotype of atheists. A favorite Pastafarian activity is to gather at a busy crossroads on campus with a sign offering “Free Hugs” from “Your Friendly Neighborhood Atheist.”

25 April 2009

Retirement Ceremony....

Okay, so the AF is insisting that I have a retirement ceremony... Even though I'd prefer just to have a kegger and a roast. I suppose I really ought to take it seriously, but with as FUBAR as some Air Farce policies are, I just can't get into that frame of mind. So, while I don't want a ceremony, they are insisting that I have one. So here are the details as I have them. I'll edit and post more as I become aware of it. This is open for anyone who wants to come.

Ceremony:
Date: 26 Jun 09
Location: 9th SOS Auditorium
Time: 1300 (1:00 PM)

Clicky for image of route to 9th SOS Auditorium on base. Basically come in the Eglin East Gate (circled in red top center on the image). This will have you on Eglin Blvd. Follow that through three lights. After the third light (which is on 7th street), you go under a pedestrian bridge. Then the road sort of bears to the right, splits, and goes up a hill. Right after you pass a big building on the right, you should be able to see the 9th SOS building (also circled in red lower left on the image). There are parking lots scattered around that area. The entrance closest to the auditorium is on the east end of the building as I recall. Park and come on in.

The big thing wil be getting singed in to the base should you want to come to this part.


Dinner:
Date: 25 Jun 09
Location: Louisiana Lagniappe
Time: 1830 (6:30 PM)

The link for Louisiana Lagniappe has directions and everything.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask. If you plan to attend, or wish to attend, please send an email to Jason.Moran@eglin.af.mil with your address. I can recomend places to stay if you are coming into town (there are several Clarion Family hotels in Niceville that are close to that east gate).

Anyway, just blogging because I need to one day figure out what the hell I am going to actually do. I have 60 days to figure it out. That and set up invitations and whatnot. Sounds like a job that I can assign to a random Lieutenant. I guess the only reason I am even agreeing to all this is that I can get some good loot out of it. Of course, knowing the AF, I'll probably have to pay for my own Shadow Box...

24 April 2009

Apathy...

I am suffering from Apathy right now... I guess the version I am suffering from today is the "general fatigue" version... Not getting a good night's sleep probably has a lot to do with it (air conditioning was loud, and there was some manner of construction that was just outside my trailer). [As an aside, Al Udeid is the only place I can think of that has a gated community protected by armed guards, where you still live in a trailer...] However, one of the contributors to my fatigue is fighting morons...

I suppose the throwing feces school of discourse is their only recourse. In the pro-disease nutter arguments I have seen, they keep saying things authouritatively with nothing to back them up. No citatations, no evidence, nothing. And when they do have a link, it's one that has already been soundly and wholly refuted to the point that the only appropriate reaction is to outright mock it. Yet they keep throwing out the same stuff in just an effort to wear down the rational people. Their method of argument is to overwhelm with bullshit...

Sadly, there is no way that anyone can reasonably be expected to counter every single one of their ridiculous assertions... They keep crapping out their nonsense until they have stunned their opponent with their stupidity. It's like playing chess with a pigeon. They fly in, knock over all the pieces, crap all over the board, then fly back to their flock and claim victory. Sadly, these birdbrains don't even understand the basics of what they are arguing, let alone something as significant as evidence and science.

Heck, these idiots are found in numerous camps. I suppose, the biggest camps are creationists, pro-disease anti-vaxers, homeopaths, alien abductees, ... aw man, now I'm apathetic and depressed at how many idiots there are...

Well, here's something to at least peruse in order to recognize these idiots:

The Operative Laws of Pseudo-Science by Fnord

1) The Law of Bipolar Order: (1) Given any set of data or line of reasoning, there can be only two conclusions to choose from -- only one of which is true. (2) Given any chain of events, there can be only two outcomes -- only one of which is desirable.
2) The Law of Burdensome Disproof: An unproven assertion must be sufficiently disproven to be false. (Alexander’s Corollary: “The burden of disproof lies with the dissenting party”). For example, this applies to cases where everybody knows that the defendant is guilty, and therefore the defendant must prove his innocence beyond any doubt.
3) The Law of Cardinal Perspective: Only the asserting party possesses enough of the right kind of mental capability to fully understand every aspect of the assertion.
4) The Law of Cascading Events: Any given activity, no matter how benign, will eventually lead to undesirable or disastrous results. This is also called The Avalanche Law.
5) The Law of Circumstance: Any assertion believed to be true by circumstance alone can not be refuted by a contrary assertion that is supported by mere facts.
6) The Law of Diction: Any assertion that is made with perfect diction, grammar, punctuation, and spelling bears greater validity than an assertion that is made from perfect data and reasoning alone.
7) The Law of Flawed Scruples: Any assertion may be disbelieved if the asserting party is found to have ever had a breach of ethics, morality, or fashion sense.
8) The Law of Hidden Analogies: Any two (or more) events or ideas that are related by at least one similarity – no matter how superficial the similarity – are analogous to each other. For instance, “comparing apples and oranges” makes sense in light of the fact that both are fruit, both grow on trees, both contain seeds, both have skins, et cetera.
9) The Law of Hidden Authority: (1) Expertise in one field automatically grants expertise in another unrelated field. For example, a Journeyman Electrician is automatically an expert in the Psychology of Child Development. (2) Experience in one field automatically grants expertise in related fields. For example, a Masseuse is automatically an expert in Chiropractic.
10) The Law of Hidden Causes: A conclusion may be made before the facts are all in and any reasoning is applied. This is also called The Law of Common Sense.
11) The Law of Hidden Connections: Everything is connected to everything else. Thus, any conjecture may be used to reach a valid conclusion provided that a connection can be drawn between the facts and the conclusion. This is similar to the Law of Hidden Analogies, except that the hidden connections may be obvious only to the asserting party (See also The Law of Cardinal Perspective.)
12) The Law of Image Aversion: Any assertion is to be disbelieved if the asserting party (or the assertion itself) is associated with an unpopular image, regardless of the validity of the data or reasoning behind the assertion. For example, the report published by independent experts is to be disbelieved by ordinary, working-class people because the experts are all wealthy, ivy-league graduates.
13) The Law of Implied Approval: Any assertion is to be believed if the asserting party applies enough flattery to the opposition.
14) The Law of Implied Threat: Any assertion is to be believed if the assertion implies or expresses dire consequences for disbelieving the assertion.
15) The Law of Irrelevant Meaning: Nothing is irrelevant; everything has meaning. While a piece of information may appear, at first, to be irrelevant, later information and the interpretations thereof may reveal the true relevance of the initial information.
16) The Law of Mutual Validation: Cause and effect are interchangeable. For instance, the statement “I am always right because I’m the boss; and I’m the boss because I’m always right” uses mutual validation.
17) The Law of Ordinal Perspective: Any question for clarification or validation of even one aspect of the original assertion is de facto evidence that the questioner does not possess enough of the right kind of mental capability to fully understand any aspect of the original assertion.
18) The Law of Overwhelming Disproof: Any data cited to disprove an assertion must be kept to a higher standard than the data cited in the original assertion.
19) The Law of Popular Support: Any assertion believed by a majority need not be proven. For instance, since “Everybody Knows” that a middle-eastern man can’t learn to fly an airliner in a few short months, those planes must have been flown by remote control.
20) The Law of Revealed Mysteries: An unpopular assertion may be disbelieved if it can be connected with an unknown threat to civil liberties. Cabals, conspiracies, and unregistered governmental entities are often cited.
21) The Law of Volumetric Repetition: (1) If an assertion is spoken loudly and repeatedly, then it must be true. (2) If an assertion is repeatedly published in capital letters and in several publications, then it must be true. (Hitler’s Corollary: “If you say something loud enough and often enough people will believe it.”)

A well-constructed pseudo-science assertion meets four criteria:
1) Believability: Its assertions are acceptable to those making the assertions, whether or not others involved in the discussion believe them.
2) Deniability: It directly opposes the strongest counterarguments, whether or not it actually addresses and refutes them.
3) Self-Sufficiency: Each of its assertions supports at least one other assertion, whether or not they directly or indirectly support the stated conclusion.
4) Volume: It contains a great number of assertions, whether or not those assertions are provable or relevant to the subject under discussion or the eventual conclusion.

Follow the link for even more hillarity on woo.

23 April 2009

Pro-disease Nutters...

Public Heath Hazard Warning!
There are people out there that think vaccines cause autism. They have some "celebrities" in their ranks. Never mind that these people are just plain WRONG in their assertions, but they are a public health risk in their stances. Dr. Phil Plait (The Bad Astronomer and President of JREF) takes on these nutters on a regular basis. Not because it's particularly astronomy related, but because these nutters are lying to make their case, are endangering children (not only their own, but others as well), and are trying to drag public health back 70 years. (P.S. That body count is out of date, I think the numbers are closer to 18,000 and 160 as of 23 April 09.)

Invariably, every time he makes a post on his blog, the nutters come to try to spread their lies and falsified claims. A fellow that posts on Dr. Plait's blog by the name of Todd W. has made a preemptive compilation of why these nutters are wrong. So, for your enjoyment, here is that list (with some added material at the end for even MORE actual evidence and citations):



The Truth About The "Evils" Of Vaccination




by Todd W




Before making any comments on how evil vaccines are and how they cause autism, please read the following. I apologize for the length, but the mouthpieces of the pro-disease anti-vax movement spout so much nonsense and misinformation.




MMR



(info available from FDA, CDC, investigative reports by Brian Deer)



  • Some in the pro-disease anti-vax movement claim that the MMR has/had mercury in it. However, the MMR vaccine does not and never has had any mercury in it.

  • The basis of the “MMR vaccine causes autism” argument is a flawed study by Andrew Wakefield, who had several ethics breaches, including failure to disclose financial compensation from a lawyer representing families claiming MMR cause their children’s autism, failure to disclose financial interests in patents for MMR alternatives, failure to include data which contradicted his conclusions, use of contaminated samples to support his conclusions.

  • Independent studies trying to replicate Wakefield’s results have come up negative. To date, no properly controlled study has shown a causal link between vaccines and autism.




Thimerosal



(info available from both FDA and CDC)



  • Thimerosal is a preservative that is used in the manufacturing process of some vaccines and other medicines to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi, which could otherwise cause illness or injury.

  • It metabolizes into ethylmercury, not methylmercury, a mistake commonly made by pro-disease anti-vaxers who claim that the amount of mercury that used to be in vaccine exceeded EPA exposure guidelines. Those guidelines were for methylmercury, a compound that has a half-life in the body of several weeks to months and is often found in fish or other environmental exposures. Ethylmercury, on the other hand, has a half-life of a few days to about a week, meaning that it is not in the body long enough for it to build up to toxic levels from vaccination to vaccination.

  • It was removed from the final product of nearly all vaccines around 2001/2002. This was a political move, due in large part to public pressure, rather than based on sound science. This was a recommendation rather than a regulatory requirement. A handful of studies that suggested problems with thimerosal, but which were inconclusive, prompted a “better safe than sorry” approach from the FDA while the issue was investigated by FDA, CDC and others. No follow-up studies have found any health risks beyond local hypersensitivity.

  • Some vaccines still use it during the manufacturing process, but remove it from the final product, leaving, at most, trace amounts. The influenza vaccine still uses thimerosal, though thimerosal-free versions are available.

  • Despite the removal of thimerosal from vaccines, resulting in exposure levels lower than anytime in the past, autism rates have not declined, suggesting that there is no connection between thimerosal and autism.

  • To date, no properly controlled study has shown a causal link between thimerosal and autism.




Other Vaccine Additives





  • Some pro-disease anti-vaxers claim there is antifreeze in vaccines. This is false. Antifreeze is ethylene glycol. Vaccines use polyethylenes glycol. These are different substances, the latter of which is not toxic. More info can be found at Inside Vaccines.

  • Vaccines contain formaldehyde. However, the chemical structure of the formaldehyde in vaccines is the same as that produced by our own bodies. It is used during the manufacturing process, but is diluted to remove it from the finished product, leaving only small or trace amounts. The total amount of formaldehyde in a finished product is far less than what is naturally found in the human body.

  • As an aside; the total amount of Formaldehyde in vaccines from the vaccine schedule for a 6 year old child is 1.2016mg, BUT 1 (one) banana contains 16.3mg!

  • Vaccines contain aluminum in a salt form. Pro-disease anti-vaxers claim this is toxic, and some will cite that 4ppm will cause blood to coagulate. However, individuals are not exposed to such amounts of aluminum in a single vaccination visit. Blow are the vaccines containing aluminum, with the corresponding parts per million (ppm) for an infant (~251 mL of blood in the body) and an 80lb. child (~4000 mL of blood); note the two numbers for DTaP represent extreme ranges of aluminum content: (I'm sorry, I tried to make this table all nice for folks, but now I can't get rid of all this extra white space... Stand by for an actual web page with this info.)





























ppm (w/v) = (weight in grams of sample/volume of sample in mL) * 106
Vaccine
ppm in infant
ppm in child
age received (in months)
DTaP (170mcg)
.677
.043
2, 4, 6, w/ final ~4-6 yrs
DTaP (625mcg)
2.490
.156

Hep A
.996
.063
12 w/ final ~6 mo. later
Hep B
.996
.063
birth, 1 or 2, final at 6+
HiB
.896
.056
2, 4
HPV
.896
.056
11 or 12 yrs., then 2, 6 mo.
Pediatrix
3.386
.213
2, 4, 6 (in lieu of DTaP, IPV and Hep B)
Pentacel
1.315
.083
2, 4, 6, 15-18 (in lieu of DTaP, IPV and HiB)
Pneumococcus
.498
.031
2, 4, 6, 12-15




  • Further, about 71% of the aluminum is excreted from the body after about 5 days or so.

  • An interesting source of aluminum is breast milk. After between 51 and 346 days breast feeding, a child will have taken onboard the same amount of Aluminium as from the total US vaccine schedule for a 6 year old child.




Polio





  • Pro-disease anti-vaxers claim that polio rates increased after the introduction of the polio vaccine, that OPV spread the disease, and that polio was on a decline before introduction of the vaccine. This is wrong.

  • Before the approval of the vaccine, paralytic polio struck 13,000-20,000 individuals every year in the U.S. The number of cases peaked at 21,000 in 1952, only three years before approval of the vaccine. By 1960, there were only 2,525 cases, and only 61 cases in 1965.

  • The oral polio vaccine (OPV) was nearly 100% effective in preventing polio, though it did have a very small risk of causing paralytic polio in the recipient. OPV-caused paralytic polio resulted in about 6-8 cases per year. However, when vaccination rates were low, OPV had the added benefit of contact immunity. In other words, the virus from the vaccine was present in the stool, resulting in about 25% of people who came in contact with the immunized person would also become immune.

  • With the eradication of wild type polio in the U.S., the OPV vaccine is no longer used, and the less effective inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) is used. This version does not cause paralytic polio. OPV has not been used in the U.S. since 2000.




Vaccine Court and National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP)



(info available from the Autism Omnibus Proceedings)



  • Pro-disease anti-vaxers claim that Hannah Poling and Bailey Banks are examples of successful Vaccine Court cases where vaccines caused autism. This is wrong.

  • Hannah Poling was found to have a mitochondrial disorder, and that the vaccine worsened her condition. The court did not rule that a vaccine caused autism. Note, mitochondrial disorder is not autism, though some in the anti-vax camp claim it is.

  • Bailey Banks was found to have suffered acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM). This disease occurs in approximately 1 or 2 per million vaccine recipients, compared with 1 per 1,000 individuals infected with measles and 1 per 500 rubella infections. The court ruled that this is a type of pervasive developmental disorder, but made clear that it is not autism. Like the Poling case, anti-vaxers try to distort the truth to make their case. In the case of ADEM, vaccination helps reduce the risk of contracting the disease by reducing the likelihood of natural infection.

  • Despite the low standards of proof in the vaccine court (more likely than not, or 50% + a hair), no one has been able to establish a causal relationship between vaccines and autism.

  • In three of the best cases put forth by the anti-vax movement, the court ruled in all three that vaccines did not cause the individuals’ autism.

  • Before VICP, the media fueled fears about vaccines, leading to increases in law suits and many manufacturers halting production of vaccines altogether. The VICP was proposed by a coalition of government, health organization, and industry representatives, as well as physicians and ordinary citizens as a means to ensure a suitable supply of vaccines while allowing legal recourse to those injured by vaccines.

  • Individuals may still seek damages through the tort system, if they choose, though they must then prove not only that the vaccine caused the injury, but also that the manufacturer was at fault.




Vaccines in General





  • Pro-disease anti-vaxers want vaccines that are 100% safe. This is never going to happen, as all medicines carry some risk. However, the relative risk of injury from vaccines is significantly lower than the risk of injury from getting the disease naturally. For more information, see the CDC website.

  • Reduced vaccination rates lead to higher incidents of infection. This has been illustrated in the U.K. following Wakefield’s bogus study, in Germany in 2006 (including two deaths in unvaccinated children), in California, in MN (where an unvaccinated child died from hemophilus influenza type b).

  • Pro-disease anti-vaxers claim that “Big Pharma” makes lots of money from vaccines. If vaccination rates dropped, however, there would be an increase in preventable illnesses, many of which have high rates of complications resulting in hospitalization and expensive treatment. See the link about Germany above for information on costs associated with the measles outbreak there. The money to be made from the diseases far outweighs any money to be made from vaccines.

  • Pro-disease anti-vaxers claim that better hygiene has led to a decrease in disease, rather than vaccines. However, many of the diseases prevented by vaccines are airborne, and are not greatly impacted by improved sanitation or hygiene.

  • Pro-disease anti-vaxers claim that too many antigens (the parts that make the vaccines work) are given at once, ignoring that infants and children are exposed to thousands of antigens every day by touching things and putting their hands or the object in their mouth, through absorption or by inhaling.

  • They claim that combination shots should be avoided, and that parents should break up the vaccinations into individual vaccines and spread them out. However, this increases the total number of shots received, as well as exposure to those various “toxins” they hate so much.

  • There have been no properly controlled studies establishing a causal link between vaccines and autism.

  • There have been numerous properly controlled studies sponsored and run by various people and organizations around the world that have shown no link between vaccines and autism.




Population X and Vaccines/Autism





  • Pro-disease anti-vaxers claim the Amish do not vaccinate and do not have autism. This stems from a lie by Dan Olmsted from Age of Autism. The Amish do, in fact, vaccinate, and it appears that their rates of autism may be lower than in the general population.

  • Some claim that the Chinese do not have a word for autism (they do, it’s 自闭症 [zì bì zhèng]). And simply not having a word for the disease does not mean that it does not exist, merely that it is not recognized as a specific disorder. Did autism only afflict people after someone created the diagnosis? No, but it may have been called something else.

  • The same claim about the Chinese has been made about Somalis due to a recent article about Somalis in Minnesota. Again, lack of recognition does not mean that the disease never occurred in the population. Further, the cases in Minnesota do not have a consistent connection to vaccines. Some of those with autism have been vaccinated, some have not. Despite a lack of evidence, Generation Rescue (which runs Age of Autism) has told the Somali parents that vaccines were the cause.

  • There is a phenomenon called "Herd Immunity" (Google it). So even if you have your children vaccinated, the irrisponsible pro-disease anti-vax nuttters are still endagnering your child with their antics.




Some additional reading:
The CDC Pink Book has an appendix G with lots of statistics on cases and deaths. Here are some of the data for measles:
Disease: Measles in the USA
Year__Cases___Deaths
1961__423,919_434
1962__481,530_408
1963__385,156_364
(^^ first vaccine licensed)
1964__458,083_421
1965__261,905_276
1966__204,136_261
1967___62,705__81
1968___22,231__24
1969___25,826__41
1970___47,351__89
1971___75,290__90
(^^^ MMR licensed)
1972___32,275__24
1973___26,690__23
1974___22,690__20
1975___24,374__20
1976___41,126__12
1977___57,245__15
1978___26,871__11
(^^^ Measles Elimination Program started)
1979___13,597___6
1980___13,506__11
1981____2,124___2

Pertussis still kills over a dozen American babies every year.

Anyway, about the silly “money trail”… Which makes more money for “Big Pharma”: selling vaccines or by providing supplies and medication to hospitals for those who have been hospitalized due to pertussis, measles, mumps, Hib, etc? Be sure to provide real actual factual evidence of the type I can find in my local medical school library. Something like this:
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2005 Dec;159(12):1136-44.
Economic evaluation of the 7-vaccine routine childhood immunization schedule in the United States, 2001.

“RESULTS: Routine childhood immunization with the 7 vaccines was cost saving from the direct cost and societal perspectives, with net savings of 9.9 billion dollars and 43.3 billion dollars, respectively. Without routine vaccination, direct and societal costs of diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, H influenzae type b, poliomyelitis, measles, mumps, rubella, congenital rubella syndrome, hepatitis B, and varicella would be 12.3 billion dollars and 46.6 billion dollars, respectively. Direct and societal costs for the vaccination program were an estimated 2.3 billion dollars and 2.8 billion dollars, respectively. Direct and societal benefit-cost ratios for routine childhood vaccination were 5.3 and 16.5, respectively. CONCLUSION: Regardless of the perspective, the current routine childhood immunization schedule results in substantial cost savings.”

Links to support with actual DATA!

The economic study: http://archpedi.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/159/12/1136
The California experience with the 1990 measles epidemic: http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pubmed&pubmedid=8855680
Another study on the impact of medical interventions on mental retardation, it notes the effect of measles, Hib an rubella: http://archpedi.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/160/3/302
The CDC Pink Book: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/default.htm
And the Appendix G: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/downloads/appendices/appdx-full-g.pdf
Just the cases and deaths: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/downloads/appendices/G/cases&deaths.pdf

An Interesting article on some possible connection to Vitamin D and autism: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=vitamin-d-and-autism&sc=DD_20090424 I would caution reading too much into this though since it is very preliminary. After all, there have been correlations of autism with linoleum floors too!

One final addition to the discussion. Many people claim that autism is on some sort of WILD upswing, and is an epidemic of sorts. While I cannot say if there is a rise or not for sure, one thing is quite certain: The autism spectrum is much more understood in this day and age. We are able to correctly identify someone as autistic as opposed to mislabeling them as troublesome, distant, aggressive, impulsive, etc. There is a certain selection bias involved with the autism diagnosis increase claim.

Now, one of the places that a lot of this pro-disease nuttery is coming from is the Huffington Post (proving that woo and delusions know no political boundaries). So a good man who goes by IVAN3MAN happened upon this:

From the Huffington Post article:

Every 20 minutes, a child is diagnosed with autism. In a study of select populations around the United States, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that one in 150 children has the condition. According to the Autism Society of America, this is the fastest growing developmental disability with a 10-17% annual growth rate.


At Least 11% of American Women Smoke During Pregnancy



The negative effects of nicotine exposure to their fetuses and newborns are significant.


Huffington Post:

Throughout Healing and Preventing Autism, Jenny passionately reminds us that she and her dedicated army of advocates for autism are in this for the long haul:

Thousands of parents, like me, have learned so much and the only reason we won't shut up is to teach YOU, so you don't have to walk in our shoes. Dr. Jerry and I want to arm parents with all the tools and information necessary to have the healthiest baby you can. The next generation of kids is counting on it!



Jenny McCarthy SMOKING!
Jenny McCarthy SMOKING!



Jenny McCarthy SMOKING!
Jenny McCarthy STILL SMOKING!



Make of that what you will. And this is the lady that likes to inject one of the most deadly neurotoxins into her face, but thinks vaccines are bad... Wow... Just wow!

And for all those people who have anectdotal stories remember that the correlation may seem remarkable to you because anomalies always seem remarkable when they happen to you. However, what you need to understand is that in the context of the 360 million people in the United States, anomalies are actually not only expected, it would be remarkable if they didn’t occur. Here’s a back of the envelope explanation why (from another blogger that frequents BA http://padraic2112.wordpress.com/2009/04/25/my-last-vaccination-post-for-a-while/):


There is a simple reason why this is not relevant, take the following facts…
* children take vaccines
* autism displays its first symptoms in childhood
* children under the age of 5 make up ~7% of the population
* there are ~306 million people in the U.S.* about 80% of children are vaccinated entirely
(editor’s note: I didn’t make those numbers up, you can find them with a couple seconds and a web browser)


This means 306 x 0.07 x .8 = 1.7 Million children (roughly) have been vaccinated. With the vaccination schedule being what it is, then, there are somewhere around 100,000 children getting a shot every month (that last one is hand-wavey, it assumes a lot about frequency distributions, but that’s not really germane to my point). Autism rates are estimated at anywhere between 1 in 100 and 1 in 150 children, that means we have about 17,000 diagnosis of autism. If every single one of those autism diagnosis was given to a vaccinated child (they’re not, but again for our sake here it introduces very small error), and those 17,000 have a scatter distribution of vaccination patterns, that means not one, not dozens, not hundreds, but *thousands* of those diagnosis came within days or weeks of a vaccination: yes, this means that dozens will occur within an hour of a vaccination.


Put those thousands of people together on a message board (and since autism is hard to deal with, a very high percentage of these family *do* bond together, like SMA sufferers or MS or cancer or any other family-impacting disease), you’ll have a few thousand people all saying to each other, “Gee… MY kid got a shot right before her symptoms started showing, too! There are thousands of us! THAT CAN’T BE A COINCIDENCE.”


But you can see, it actually *isn’t* a coincidence… it’s exactly what we would expect to happen.

22 April 2009

Day of Reason?

Something I just discovered, May 7th, 2009 is a National Day of Reason. Apparently it's the first Thursday of May each year as a "response" to the National Day of Prayer. I wonder if I will ever see something like that endorsed on a military base as much as the Prayer Breakfasts and all that bullshit? I doubt it! All part of that fire, ready, aim mentality of theism in the military I guess. Sorry, just a snipe for today.

And as promised, I had to add in a picture. While the sentiment in the picture is rather vile, it made me chuckle, and wish that they would just do that to themselves! Okay, another snipe!



21 April 2009

I Agree 100% with Obama About the Torture Tactics


So there has been some talk in the news about the CIA methods used to interrogate certain high level targets. I have to agree with President Obama on this one. We as a nation should be better than this. We should be better because it's more difficult as well. We don't take the easy way out, and we don't compromise our standing. That's it! End of story.

Sadly, I see so many things that went wrong with the whole idea here that I have to expound on them a little bit more...

First of all, torture is notoriously unreliable. I honestly can't think of any research or evidence that says torture of any kind is a reliable method for gathering intelligence and data. It's effective at humiliation and making the target hate you over the long term, but I don't think that should be the goal. Besides, isn't the United States one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world (as long as we can keep fundies off our school boards)? Don't we have many other methods to gather information, and even determine their veracity? And I'm not only talking the intelligence community, but with using much more effective psychological methods on detainees of interest. Heck, even at survival school they gave us a little exposure to a lot of different methods that are a heck of a lot more effective than just plain old beatings...

Another worrying aspect of this is that it highlights the whole idea that people will do terrible things if they are dogmatic followers. By abdicating responsibility to some higher authority, they justify doing the most atrocious things. I'm sure that former President Bush justified it by the fact that he was doing god's work. Isn't that just a bit sick? If you have an imaginary friend that takes responsibility for everything bad you do, then what makes you any different from people flying airplanes into buildings? And it's a type of mindset that is at play here (not just being a theitard). One thing that a lot of people seem to forget is that human beings really are just a type of animal. While we have a highly developed altruistic sense, there are parts of our brain that are frightening. By prostrating ourselves to former President Bush and his cronies, the United States became that which we abhor. That just made me sick. I am glad I never received any orders to work at Guantanamo, and if I had, I would probably be facing UCMJ action for disobeying orders and revealing what has finally come to light.

I don't care that people are all upset at President Obama about this. I'm 100% behind him. The people that are complaining or bitching and moaning should get some FBI attention, because they are clearly sociopathic on some level or another.

My thought for today.

20 April 2009

Should I just write non-sense?


So I was wondering, should I write more on my blog? Sure, I have a blog, but in the past year, I have written a few times each month. Now, generally I only try to write when I have something to say, or I have found something that I really want to pass on. Of course, that means my blog tends to be rather static, and really not much of a reason for folks to come here. Not that people really come here for my blog that often as it is... So, in a sort of chicken or egg type of thing, I suppose that I ought to blog a bit more often. Hopefully that will eventually lead to more folks coming here.

One thing that I will always try to do is find some sort of funny picture to go with the blog entry. Hopefully it will be somewhat applicable to the entry. Also, I will always make sure to tag my entries. I realize that I tend to write about science, logic, and atheism, so I will try to expand my horizons a little just to find more material. Although, science is one of the things that I really, really enjoy, so that will be a focus for me. As for the atheism focus, well, that's a battle that I am embroiled in because I care about the future. Hopefully those two things won't drive you away, since there are many tings to talk about aside from just those two items.

Well, so over the past two days, I guess I am keeping up on the resolution... Although, I do tend to travel A LOT and sometimes I just don't have internet access... So I amnot making a resolution to write every day, but you should hear a lot more often from me. Now to try to think of topics to write about... They say personal experience is one thing to draw on. First, who the hell are they? And how about writing about resume writing, job searching, networking, job interviews, etc.? That's probably quite topical as well!

19 April 2009

Magic is NEVER an Explanation....


So I got into a "discussion" with a theist about evolution (which amusingly had started out as a morality and decline of religion discussion...). Now, they seem to be an old earth creationist, but don't buy into ID because that doesn't directly acknowledge god (I guess he didn't get the memo). After going round and round, I made the comment that anytime we find something we don't know the answer to yet, the theists instantly jumps in with "It's biblegod MAGIC" and the case is closed. As I argued that magic should never be a way to answer a question, he did squirm out and finally admit that it shouldn't be a scientific answer.

Well, I gotta take exception to that. Magic should NEVER, EVER be the answer! The only thing that resorting to magic says is, "Shut Up! Stop Asking Questions! I'm too cowardly to say I don't know the answer yet." Instead of having the courage to admit that an answer isn't known, they replace inquiry with the certitude of magic, and stop any line of investigation. I personally find that to be almost as dishonest as all the IDiot and creationist lying that goes on...

I don't know, I just have to get it off my chest. Why are people so afraid to admit that they don't know an answer? And why is admitting to a lack of absolute knowledge cause them to go to an absolute answer of magic?

Book Review and a Comment...

For something different, today we have a book review from Dr. Phil Plait's excellent blog. Now, he may use some terminology that is less than kind perhaps, but I think it comes from dealing with the rampant dishonesty and lying tactics used by creationists in our school systems. I only recently got this book, so I am only on chapter two, but I really sincerely wish that the folks who need this book would actually read it. Add to the list, The Ancestor's Tale as well. Two books you all ought to read:

(Now, I tried to post this review on my local paper. Sadly, the system they use there is called Pluck, and let me tell you it's "plucked" up to say the least. That little introductory paragraph got left off, and I didn't notice it. Of course, since I link to Dr.Plait's excellent blog in the blogroll over at the paper, I'm sure someone would know for sure where it comes from... What happens? Well, one of the christians that posts there is instantly accusing me of nefarious deeds and calling me out in public... Such a christian attitude, wouldn't you say? And in the comments, I actually go so far as to thank him for pointing out the serious omission... I guess being judgemental comes naturally to them in that regard...)

Anyway, here is the review:

As an astronomer, my familiarity with the details of biological evolution are about on par with that of an interested layman (though being trained scientifically helps with that understanding, adding insight to the process of the scientific endeavor). I’m familiar with the concepts of descent with modification, genetic mutations, natural pressures for adaptations, and the like. I’m less familiar with other aspects, like allele frequencies, how specifically pressures can change adaptations, and what transitional fossils are in the record, but I can probably hold my own against your run-of-the-mill creationist.

Jerry Coyne’s book cover of Why Evolution is True

That’s why I loved the book Why Evolution is True by biologist Jerry Coyne. This is a clear, easy-to-understand work that shows you — with no compromising and no backing down — that evolution has occurred, the evidence is overwhelming, and that no other explanation for what we see around us makes sense.


He goes through many, many arguments about this: how we do see adaptation to changing environments, how the DNA records support the change in the genome of life with time and environment, how fossils support evolutionary change.

Moreover, he shows that the scientific theory of evolution by natural (and in some cases, sexual) selection makes clear predictions which are borne out by observations. And on top of that he shows why these conclusions make no sense at all if you think there is some Creator that made us the way we are out of thin air (or dust, I suppose).


I was particularly struck by the concept of geographic isolation and how that affects evolution (perhaps because I spent more than a week last year touring the Galapagos Islands). Species isolated on islands adapt genetically and morphologically (or vice-versa) to the environment, and you can see how there are changes in those species as they radiate out to other nearby islands. We only see species on those islands that come from nearby land masses, as you’d expect from natural methods of dispersion over long time periods (but not what you’d expect for a Creator to simply pop life into existence). And all of this fits in with what geologists see by way of plate tectonics and continental drift.


Creationists love to try to pick apart evolution, looking at minor details in isolation and saying it doesn’t make sense. But they’re wrong: evolution is a beautiful tapestry, a complex fabric of countless threads woven together into a grand picture of life on Earth. And it all holds together.


I strongly recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in evolution, or the manufactured controversy of creationism. Coyne’s work is complete and convincing, slamming the door firmly closed on young-Earth creationism. If you have to deal with creationists in your life, this book is something you should keep very handy.


Bonus: my friend Joel Parker interviewed Coyne on his radio show How on Earth (you can get the MP3 through this direct link), and another friend D. J. Grothe interviewed Coyne on his podcast Point of Inquiry.


And I’ll leave you with this, Coyne’s perfect summation of the situation (from pages 222-223 of the book):


Every day, hundreds of observations and experiments pour into the hopper of the scientific literature… and every fact that has something to do with evolution confirms its truth. Every fossil that we find, every DNA molecule that we sequence, every organ system that we dissect supports the idea that species evolved from common ancestors. Despite innumerable possible explanations that could prove evolution untrue, we don’t have a single one. We don’t find mammals in Precambrian rocks, humans in the same layers as dinosaurs, or any other fossils out of evolutionary order. DNA sequencing supports the evolutionary relationships of species originally deduced from the fossil record. And, as natural selection predicts, we find no species with adaptations that benefit only a different species. We do find dead genes and vestigial organs, incomprehensible under the idea of special creation. Despite a million chances to be wrong, evolution always comes up right. That is as close as we can get to a scientific fact.