Thursday, October 22, 2009

Vaccines again...

I remember back about 2006, there was an outbreak of severe flu, and there were some severe shortages of vaccines to deal with it. Back then, everyone was wondering why there wasn't enough, and the media did a good job of answering why. There are only two or three companies willing to produce vaccines on a large scale, and this is because of the tremendous financial risk involved. If too much vaccine is produced, then whatever is left over gets wasted, and the company takes a huge financial loss. To avoid this, the companies deliberately err on the side of too little when estimating how much vaccine is needed, and the net result, inevitably, is that there isn't enough vaccine to go around. If a shortage develops, then the companies produce a little extra, but never quite enough to fully meet demand. The goal, after all, is to make sure there's a profit.

Now, nothing wrong with profit. That's ultimately the whole point of industry. But in this case, protection of profit comes at the expense of the public welfare, and that's simply unacceptable. People might wonder when I started to sour on the idea of capitalism always being so damned perfect. This is when. I simply couldn't argue with the economics. And now, we're facing shortages of swine flu vaccine, only this time, we have health care reform up for evaluation on Capital Hill. Where's the reminding news story about why we don't have enough to go around? It's not there. Because the "liberal" media won't run the story. You see, that would appear to be biased. (And that's the odd thing: To avoid appearing biased, the news media will bias its coverage the wrong way. But that's another blog post.)

In order to adequately protect the public from disease, an entity must be willing to take the financial loss of producing too much medicine. Only one entity is both capable and willing to do this: the government.

Here's where the economics also get interesting: Because enough vaccines weren't made, more people got sick, causing more treatment for symptoms to be needed, and more vaccine to be produced at an emergency basis - and an emergency price tag. In other words, the overall health care cost in terms of caring for the sick ends up being way higher, simply because the vaccinations weren't done properly in the first place. The best way to get the most health for the public, at the least cost, was to spend the extra money to begin with. The lesson this has on our national health care debate is obvious. If we want to spend less on health care, we have to spend more on prevention for everybody.

You see, viruses don't give a damn if you're covered or not. Superbacteria doesn't give a damn who has insurance. Disease will live and thrive wherever it can. And if people can't get medical coverage because they can't afford it, and have no public option, then the diseases have a population which incubates such disease indefinitely. These people are everywhere. You can't run away from them in the suburbs. You can't hide from them forever. They'll spread their diseases to the airplanes, buses, trains, and street corners of your neighborhood. They'll make sure the germs are waiting for you, no matter what. Shit, if only those low income bastards had been given coverage, eh? Maybe then, the bad flu and cold bugs would finally go away. Even if one has medical coverage, even if one can live in the relative safety of the suburbs most of the time, the incubating indigent will make sure that the sickness is alive and well and ready to float into a stray nose the minute it breathes city air. And then your medical insurance has to pay for treatment of symptoms, and more medicine. What goes around, comes around.

To put it bluntly, if the rich want to avoid getting sick, they're just going to have to cover the medical bills of the poor.

And here's the irony that the free market, in this one instance, cannot address: If we want to lower health care costs, we're going to have to open our purses initially.

Republicans, who are otherwise fiscally responsible, don't seem to understand that.

Ben Franklin understood it. He was the one who taught us, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." To put it in modern terms, a billion dollars in public option is worth twenty billion in later medical costs saved.

Even if cutthroat economists were right (which they're not) and public option healthcare didn't save costs (which it will), and even if the free market economy was always perfect (which it's not) and private insurers could meet our medical care needs (which they SO can't), we're still talking about something that's a right, not a privilege. No, it IS! The government is there to protect us from shit that's not our fault. So we have firefighters to keep your neighbor's burning house from destroying yours. We have policemen to catch the guy who mugged your neighbor so that you don't get mugged too. By the same token, we need the government to prevent disease from incubating among the general public so that we don't get sick.

Are you libertarian? Think the government is supposed to keep out of our lives? Great! But unless you want the government to give up fire and police protection too, and I'm betting you don't, shut the hell up. If the government does NOTHING ELSE, it should provide health care!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Michael Shermer speaks to Bill Maher

Well, this pretty much says it all regarding the vaccine issue on "Real Time With Bill Maher." Michael Shermer pretty much says it far better than I could. Here's the web link:

From Fellow Skeptic Michael ShermerEditor of Skeptic magazine and "Skeptic" columnist for Scientific American

Dear Bill,
Years ago you invited me to appear as a fellow skeptic several times on your ABC show Politically Incorrect, and I have ever since shared your skepticism on so many matters important to both of us: creationism and intelligent design, religious supernaturalism and New Age paranormal piffle, 9/11 "truthers", Obama"birthers", and all manner of conspiratorial codswallop. On thesematters, and many others, you rightly deserved the Richard Dawkins Award from Richard's foundation, which promotes reason and science.

However, I believe that when it comes to alternative medicine ingeneral and vaccinations in particular you have fallen prey to the same cognitive biases and conspiratorial thinking that you have so astutely identified in others. In fact, the very principle of how vaccinations work is additional proof (as if we needed more) against the creationists that evolution happened and that natural selection is real: vaccinations work by tricking the body's immune system into thinking that it has already had the disease for which the vaccination was given. Our immune system "adapts" to the invading pathogens and"evolves" to fight them, such that when it encounters a biologically similar pathogen (which itself may have evolved) it has in its armory the weapons needed to fight it. This is why many of us born in the1950s and before may already have some immunity against the H1N1 flubecause of its genetic similarity to earlier influenza viruses, and whymany of those born after really should get vaccinated.

Vaccinations are not 100% effective, nor are they risk free. But thebenefits far outweigh the risks, and when communities in the U.S. andthe U.K. in recent years have foregone vaccinations in large numbers, herd immunity is lost and communicable diseases have come roaring back. This is yet another example of evolution at work, but in this case it is working against us. (See for numerous articles answering every one of the objections to vaccinations.)

Vaccination is one of science's greatest discoveries. It is with considerable irony, then, that as a full-throated opponent of the nonsense that calls itself Intelligent Design, your anti-vaccination stance makes you something of an anti-evolutionist. Since you have been so vocal in your defense of the theory of evolution, I implore you to be consistent in your support of the theory across all domains and to please reconsider your position on vaccinations. It was not unreasonable to be a vaccination skeptic in the 1880s, which the co-discoverer of natural selection--Alfred Russel Wallace--was, but we've learned a lot over the past century. Evolution explains why vaccinations work. Please stop denying evolution in this special case.

As well, Bill, your comments about not wanting to "trust the government" to inject us with a potentially deadly virus, along with many comments you have made about "big pharma" being in cahoots withthe AMA and the CDC to keep us sick in the name of corporate profits is, in every way that matters, indistinguishable from 9/11 conspiracy mongering. Your brilliant line about how we know that the Bush administration did not orchestrate 9/11 ("because it worked"),applies here: the idea that dozens or hundreds pharmaceutical executives, AMA directors, CDC doctors, and corporate CEOs could pull off a conspiracy to keep us all sick in the name of money and power makes about as much sense as believing that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their bureaucratic apparatchiks planted explosive devices in the World Trade Center and flew remote controlled planes into the buildings.

Finally, Bill, please consider the odd juxtaposition of your enthusiastic support for health care reform and government intervention into this aspect of our medical lives, with your skepticism that these same people--when it comes to vaccinations and disease prevention--suddenly lose their sense of morality along with theirmedical training. You excoriate the political right for not trusting the government with our health, and then in the next breath you inadvertently join their chorus when you denounce vaccinations, thereby adding fodder for their ideological cannons. Please remember that it's the same people administrating both health care and vaccination programs.

One of the most remarkable features of science is that it often leads its practitioners to change their minds and to say "I was wrong."Perhaps we don't do it enough, as our own blinders and egos can get in the way, but it does happen, and it certainly happens a lot more in science than it does in religion or politics. I've done it. I used tobe a global warming skeptic, but I reconsidered the evidence and announced in Scientific American that I was wrong. Please reconsider both the evidence for vaccinations, as well as the inconsistencies in your position, and think about doing one of the bravest and most honorable things any critical thinker can do, and that is to publicly state, "I changed my mind. I was wrong."

With respect,

Michael Shermer

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bill Maher, Vaccines, and Autism

So, apparently, this bit of pseudoscience keeps cropping up. People continue to believe that vaccines cause autism, or are bad for you in some obscure way. This anti-vaccination movement is probably the biggest outcry against vaccines since Edward Jenner first gave his own son cowpox in order to protect him against smallpox. That innoculation worked, by the way, and 200 years later, vaccination is still proven. Why, oh why, do people not trust 200 years of proven science and medical track record?

Below this blog on my Facebook page, you'll see the video clip of Bill Maher arguing with Bill Frist about why he would never have the H1N1 vaccine himself. He feels that vaccines mutate too fast for immunization programs to be of much use. Now, that's only true if a certain percentage of the population does not get vaccinated, and the anti-vaccination movement helps insure that percentage stays abnormally high. In other words, it's the same sort of self-fulfilling prophecy that Bill decries in his movie, Religiulous.

Now, I trust Bill will change his mind about this one. He may never fully trust Western medicine, but I think his natural intelligence will eventually convince him that the problem is with the financing and insurance structures behind healthcare, rather than with the science behind it. The science is sound.

So what prompted me to blog this comes down to two quotes you'll see the one Bill give the other Bill in this video clip. First, Maher quotes from someone he says is the Chief Control Officer of the U.S. FDA, a J. Anthony Morris. The quote goes like this, "There is no evidence that any influenza vaccine thus far developed is effective in preventing or mitigating any attack of influenza. The producers of these vaccines know they are worthless, but they go on selling them anyway."

I tried finding out who this J. Anthony Morris was. Search after search revealed nothing. This guy didn't even have an entry on Wikipedia, and all I could find was one blogger after another making feedback comments on news service websites, quoting that same line over and over again. Where the fuck did that quote come from? Who the fuck was this guy? (I'm assuming he's dead, so I say "was." He'd be about 90 today, if still alive.) Finally, I found another blogger who was kind enough to do an archived newspaper search of the New York Times before he blogged. His name was B. Martin, and his blog is called Pathophilia. Here's what he found:

Morris was a virologist in the Division of Biologic Standards, which was part of the NIH until 1972 when the division was transferred to the FDA. In the fall of 1971, he made news by arguing to Congress that influenza vaccines were not just useless, but dangerous (see Lyons RD. Influenza shots held ineffective. NYT. October 15, 1971). He claimed that "not only has there been little or no benefit from the use of influenza vaccine in man, but harm has resulted." However, a federally appointed, 12-person scientific committee rejected Morris's claims of incompetence within his NIH division. The committee then proceeded to reject Morris's claims that influenza vaccines are harmful (see Lyons RD. Charges of poor vaccine regulation rejected. NYT. November 30, 1971). A related news story in June 1972 indicates that Morris had been demoted within his division, which was now (presumably) a part of the FDA. But later news reports indicate that Morris was appointed director of the Slow and Temperate Virus Branch of the agency. In July 1976, Morris, then 57, was finally fired from the FDA for "insubordination" and "inefficiency." Morris claimed that he was sacked from his $35,000-a-year job because he opposed President Ford's swine flu vaccination program. FDA officials acknowledged, at the time, that it was very unusual for an FDA employee to be fired, but the process that led to Morris's departure began long before anybody recognized the swine flu threat. Later Morris showed up on fear-mongering talk shows like "Phil Donahue" and provided anti-vaccine quotes to news reporters as recently as 1988.

A phrase search of various archived newspapers fails to return a source for the exact quote cited by Maher, except in 1 instance: Donald Harte, in a November 2007 editorial for the Marin Independent Journal ("Is there a vaccine that protects against non-science?") requotes Morris from a citation in a contemporary issue of Health & Fitness magazine. The quote was described as being 30 years old, but the original source was not identified.

So this quote is from an incompetent grandstanding prick, even if it could be verified. Strike one.

Bill Maher goes on to quote another person, Dr. Jonah Salk. Presumably, he said, "Live virus vaccines against influenza and paralytic polio, for example, may in each instance cause the disease it's intended to prevent."

Dr. Salk developed the Polio vaccine. But nobody knows where this quote developed from. It has no citations, no sources, and no search seems to reveal anything about it. Were it a genuine quote, the citation would be fairly common, and easy to find. It's safe to conclude, until any contrary evidence comes up, that this quote is fake. Strike two.

Besides this, Bill Maher is appealing to authority, even though there are no authority figures in science. Strike three.

Maher doesn't like the idea of being injected with a form of the actual disease you're trying to be cured from. The part he forgets, or at least has been oblivious to, is that the damned virus is DEAD, and that means you can't get sick from it. Do the vaccine preservatives contain mercury? Some of the older ones did, sure. Would that mercury hurt you? Not in such trace amounts. For comparison, you put more mercury into your body from the fillings in your teeth than you do from an entire lifetime of old-fashioned vaccinations, and mercury hasn't been used as a preservative for vaccines in decades.

I'm disappointed. I would think someone like Bill Maher would at least have verified his sources first. But then, his news-gathering technique has always been to gather up as much information as possible, and rely on the truth to ring out through the din of noise. Often, that has worked for him, and worked rather well. In this one case, he has mistaken the noise for the song.

It's time to put this nonsense to bed. Don't trust that professional bimbo, Jenny McCarthy. Don't trust the pseudo-scientists who mean well, but get it just plain damned wrong. This whole sad, stupid affair would be extremely funny, if only KIDS didn't get KILLED because of it. Vaccinate your kids! Do it today!

Otherwise, you're just like the insane couple I wrote about in my last blog who prayed over their kids instead of taking them to a doctor.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bill-Killers and Prayer-Killers

Well, been awhile since I've had time to blog about anything. I have a test today, and will have a test every week from now until the end of the semester, when I will, of course, have no less than four tests and one quiz in as many days. Still, I thought I'd toss my two cents' worth into the wishing well of public opinion, seeing as how the world continues to turn, in spite of my being too busy to even really watch it whizz on by.

First off, I have to chip in on the parents up near Wausau, WI, who had decided to pray over their daughter instead of taking her in to proper medical care, and the girl died. (Because, it turned out, she had an undiagnosed condition of diabetes.) They were sentanced not to long ago, to 6 months jail-time, and some community service besides. Now, a lot of my fellow unbelievers are stunned that the sentance was so light. After all, they killed their kid with their superstitious nonsense! But I actually found myself defending the verdict, because any parent who has lost a child (and who wasn't trying to kill the kid on purpose) has felt a sting and pain of loss that is beyond anything the State can possibly dish out. So I thought that they'd punished themselves sufficiently enough, and any jail time issued was essentially gravy. Ah, but no. I've recently had the time to go back over the whole story. This couple actually thought their daughter would be resurrected after she died. Furthermore, the husband, Mr. Neumann, who seems to be the driving force in this whole sad, stupid affair, actually dared to be defiant to the court at his sentancing. "I'm guilty of trusting my Lord's wisdom completely. Guilty of asking for heavenly intervention. Guilty of following Jesus Christ when the whole world doesn't understand. I am guilty of obeying my God."

Mr. Neumann, if that's really what your God demanded, then to hell with him!

I've completely changed my mind. Life sentance is too short for him! This prick actually dares to assume he knows God's will, as if anybody knows jack shit about God in the first place! He dares to be defiant, instead of contrite over committing such an obvious and colossal fuck-up! He actually thinks that if the whole world doesn't understand his actions, that it's the whole world's fault, and not his own!

The only difference between this prick and Jim Jones is that the poor little girl wasn't made to drink poisoned Kool-Aid.

I've said it before, and it bears repeating: In a world where, if there is a God, he obviously said nothing to guide us, the only sin truly deserving of an eternity in hellfire is the sin of presuming to speak for Him.

God's Willl is, apparently, for us not to know His Will!

Hey, parents! Do you hate your kids? Think they're a financial burden? Do they drive you nuts? Now, you too can get rid of them and receive a mere slap on the wrist! Just get religion. Then, get your hands on some type of disease that will kill them if not treated, like Typhoid, and add it to their drinking water. Better yet, put it in their Kool-Aid. Then, just pray for them instead of taking them to the doctor. You'll only have to do six months in jail, thanks to the myopia of the Wisconsin justice system! You'll be out and free in no time!

After all that, I almost don't have it in me to say anything more, much less say anything more about the health care debate. But I will anyway.

I had a chance the other day to stay up late into the morning, and go to the bank. During that time, I caught a little bit of the Charlie Sykes show, which I haven't been able to do in a little while. Charlie was talking about (you guessed it) health care reform, and was making the point about how many medical breakthroughs take place because of the desire for companies to make a profit off of the breakthrough. His point, I guess, was that medical care for profit is not necessarily a bad thing, especially in terms of advancement of medical technology.

Now, Charlie has morphed through the years. I liked the Charlie Sykes show back when it was newer, and he was more reasonable. Back then, the old Charlie would have asked the obvious question: What percentage of medical research is actually for-profit? The modern Charlie didn't touch the question with a 10-foot pole! How I miss the "old Charlie!"

Turns out, most medical research is still government and research-grant funded. The percentage which isn't, is geared towards mega-payoff, and isn't really looking to advance medicine in a way which would produce maximum health. Instead, its looking for maximum profit. This explains why we have many treatments for long-term ailments, such as acid reflux, sleep apnea, and heart disease, but few long-term cures. Long term cures, you see, means you get treated once, and don't make companies any more money afterward. For-profit medical care pretty much means that they'd prefer you be (ahem!) a "regular" customer.

Now, I'm not going to go off the deep end here like Bill Maher recently did, and say that alternative medicines are needed instead. But I am going to say that I think it's odd, and more than a little shameful, that we have a cure for male-pattern baldness, and pills that will give you an erection, but have no cures for things like alzheimer's disease. After all, if alzheimer's gets cured, all those treatment centers would have to close, wouldn't they?

Sometimes, especially with medicine, you simply have to take the system by the throat and say, "Fuck your profit! Do the right thing!"

But doing that will prove tricky. The lines have sharpened, and it's quite clear that this is a fight between our government and the insurance companies. And that's scary for a number of reasons. Sure, the Democrats may have a super-majority, but the insurance companies have a similar such super-majority in terms of the number of lawmakers they have in their pocket. We've already been sold down the river with the abandonment of the public option, even though I'd detailed in an earlier post why public-paid health care is as inevitable as death and taxes. What might get lost next?

The mantra that gets repeated is that private industry is better than government. That's almost true. Private industry sucks when there's a monopoly. That's why we have anti-trust laws. And it's interesting that it's phrased like that: "Anti-trust." What aren't we trusting, if not capitalism left unbridled? Don't get me wrong, I like capitalism, but not left unchecked, and it's already had far too much freedom than is good for it.

But there's another exception to private industry being better than government, and that's the insurance industry. In fact, the insurance industry is the one form of private industry that has consistently underperformed the government at every possible level. And this is what some want to trust our healthcare to? Isn't it the insurance industry which was, and is, the problem to begin with?

I mentioned anti-trust laws earlier. Did you know that insurance companies are exempt from anti-trust laws? This was outlined on Keith Olbermann's show last night. Any health care reform bill better at least slap an anti-trust clause onto the insurance giants, or we're going to be in for a whole world of hurt!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Putting A Rubber Dog-Turd On Darwin's Legacy

Well, nobody disagreed with my last posting, so that's a pretty good indication that either I was 1.) right on target, and nobody wants to disagree with me, or 2.) everyone's bored with me already. So, that's one issue nailed, on to the next one.

So, apparently, Ray Comfort and his lap-dummy, Kurt Cameron, are teaming up again, this time to hand out copies of Darwin's classic Origin of the Species. Nothing wrong with that, except that Comfort has included a 50-page introduction which gives his twisted attempt at refuting evolution, and that's simply a cheap shot, at best. At worst, it's raping the dead. Idealogical necrophilia.

I wanted to read the 50-page introduction for myself, but unfortunately, Ray Comfort has removed the .pdf link from his ministry's website. (If anybody out there saved it onto their PC or Mac before he quashed it, please, e-mail it to me!) He claims he did this because angry responses from atheists have caused him to withdraw from any public address of the book, or its introduction.

I call bullshit. Oh, I'm sure some atheists responded to him angrily, but I'm sure an equal number of respondents were angry Christians who don't want to see their Lord and Savior publicly fucked by a piss-poor P.R. strategy. AGAIN.
As bad publicity goes, this one ranks (literally, ranks!) near the top. Only Oral Roberts' claim that God would "call him home" if millions weren't raised for his ministry, is worse. It's probably tied with Jim Bakker boinking his secretary. Well, maybe Robertson & Fallwel saying that 9/11 was the fault of gays and liberals might be worse. I mean, better. I mean... Oh, hell! You know what I mean!

In a video promoting this insanity, Cameron makes a number of stupid claims about American culture. He says that kids are no longer allowed to pray in school or read a Bible publicly. Wrong! I WAS the class Jesus-Freak in High School, and I read my Bible and prayed in school almost every day. Nobody stopped me, nobody gave me a detention. The difference is that teachers can't FORCE kids to pray in school anymore. And guys like Cameron are actually pissed about that? But he also points out that over 60% of college professors are atheists or agnostics. "No wonder atheism has doubled among 18 to 25 year olds over the last 20 years."
Um, Kurt? It's TRIPLED among 18-25 year olds. It's only doubled among the general population. But it's not college professors who are responsible. If you want to know why young people are leaving the faith, take a good look in the mirror. It's washed up actors like you who are driving kids away by claiming that artificially-selected domesticated banana plants are somehow God's design, or by acting like shit in the movie-version of your fundie-wish-fulfillment-novel, Left Behind. (Kiss MY left behind, why don't you?) Or blame your fellow washed-up actor buddy Willie Aames, for being stupid enough to play "Bibleman" in purple spandex, and guarantee that kids would go running away from Church, screaming, the very second they hit puberty.

Conscientious college students all over America will be carefully removing Comfort's lame attempt at redacting Darwin via commentary as these books are given away, and the end result will be that Christians will have flooded the market with tons of free copies of Darwin's classic science book. Plus, Christian leadership gets the privilege of looking all kinds of stupid in the process. Wow. Brilliant move, guys.

With enemies like this, who needs friends?