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What Does “Anti-Vaccine” Really Mean?

We write a lot about vaccines here at Science-Based Medicine. Indeed, as I write this, I note that there are 155 posts under the Vaccines category, with this post to make it 156. This is third only to Science and Medicine (which is such a vague, generic category that I’ve been seriously tempted to get rid of it, anyway) and Science and the Media.

There is no doubt that vaccines represent one of the most common topics that we cover here on SBM, and with good reason. That good reason is that, compared to virtually any other modality used in the world of SBM, vaccines are under the most persistent attack from a vocal group of people, who, either because they mistakenly believe that vaccines caused their children’s autism, because they don’t like being told what to do by The Man, because they think that “natural” is always better to the point of thinking that it’s better to get a vaccine-preventable disease in order to achieve immunity than to vaccinate against it, or because a combination of some or all of the above plus other reasons, are anti-vaccine.

“Anti-vaccine.” We regularly throw that word around here at SBM — and, most of the time, with good reason. Many skeptics and defenders of SBM also throw that word around, again with good reason most of the time. There really is a shocking amount of anti-vaccine sentiment out there. But what does “anti-vaccine” really mean? What is “anti-vaccine?” Who is “anti-vaccine?”

Given that this is my first post for SBM’s self-declared Vaccine Awareness Week, proposed to counter Barbara Loe Fisher’s National Vaccine Information Center’s and Joe Mercola’s proposal that November 1-6 be designated “Vaccine Awareness Week” for the purpose of posting all sorts of pseudoscience and misinformation about “vaccine injury” and how dangerous vaccines supposedly are, we decided to try to co-opt the concept for the purpose of countering the pseudoscience promoted by the anti-vaccine movement. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

Unscientific Medicine: What’s The Harm?

Any promoter of science-based medicine often faces the question: “What’s the harm?” What is the harm if people try treatment modalities that are not based upon good science, that are anecdotal, or provide only a placebo benefit? There are generally two premises to this question. The first is that most “alternative” placebo interventions are directly harmless. The second is that direct harm is the only type worth considering. Both of these premises are wrong.

The pages of Science Based Medicine (SBM) are filled with accounts of direct harm from unscientific treatments: Argyria from colloidal silver, death from chelation therapy, infection or other complications from acupuncture, burns from ear candleing, stroke from chiropractic neck manipulation — the list goes on. You can read anecdotal accounts of such harm on the website,

Of course, as we often point out, harm and risk is only one end of the equation — one must also consider benefit. It is the risk-benefit ratio of an intervention that is important. But generally we are talking about interventions that lack any evidence for benefit, and therefore any risk of harm is arguably unacceptable. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

Aspartame: Facts Vs. Fiction

If you believe everything you read on the Internet, then is seems that a chemical found in thousands of products is causing an epidemic of severe neurological and systemic diseases, like multiple sclerosis and lupus. The FDA, the companies that make the product, and the “medical industrial complex” all know about the dangers of this chemical, but are hiding the truth from the public in order to protect corporate profits and avoid the pesky paper work that would accompany the truth being revealed.

The only glimmer of hope is a dedicated band of bloggers and anonymous email chain letter authors who aren’t afraid to speak the truth. Armed with the latest anecdotal evidence, unverified speculation, and scientifically implausible claims, they have been tirelessly ranting about the evils of this chemical for years. Undeterred by the countless published studies manufactured by the food cartel that show this chemical is safe, they continue to protect the public by spreading baseless fear and hysteria.

Hopefully, you don’t believe everything you read on the Internet, and you don’t get your science news from email SPAM, where the above scenario is a common theme. While there are many manifestations of this type of urban legend, I am speaking specifically about aspartame — an artificial sweetener used since the early 1980s. The notion that aspartame is unsafe has been circulating almost since it first appeared, and like rumors and misinformation have a tendency to do, fears surrounding aspartame have taken on a life of their own. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

PTSD “Breakthrough?” Real Science Doesn’t Need Endorsement

The PTSD BreakthroughIt infuriates me when someone misappropriates the word “science” to promote treatments that are not actually based on science. I have just read a book entitled The PTSD Breakthrough: The Revolutionary Science-Based Compass RESET Program by Dr. Frank Lawlis, a psychologist who is the chief content advisor for Dr Phil and The Doctors. There is very little science in the book and references are not provided. It amounts to an indiscriminate catalog of everything Dr. Lawlis can imagine that might help post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients. 

He describes recent brain imaging studies suggesting that signs of traumatic brain injury are associated with PTSD.  He thinks PTSD can no longer be considered a psychological condition, but must be approached as a complex biological, physical, psychological, and spiritual condition. He says many of these patients have brain damage. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

Prevention Magazine’s Inaccurate “Coffee Cures” Story

The September issue of Prevention magazine inaccurately headlines the story ”4 Ways Coffee Cures.” There’s no solid proof that coffee cures anything — unless some of you cure bacon with java, which I don’t want to know about.

What the story (below) did was to try to present a cute little graphic summary of observational studies that show a statistical association between increasing coffee consumption and fewer early deaths, fewer deaths from heart attack, fewer cases of dementia, and fewer cases of type 2 diabetes.

But such observational studies (they actually never cite the source — I’m just giving them the benefit of the doubt that they’re citing observational studies) CAN’T establish cause and effect, therefore it’s inaccurate for the story to use terms like “cure,” “protective,” and “lowers (or reduces or slashes) your risk.” Besides being inaccurate, such stories fail to educate readers. They mislead.

We ask the editors of Prevention to read and understand our guide “Does the Language Fit the Evidence? Association versus Causation.

Prevention coffee cures.jpg

*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*

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