Fake news, post truth, anti-vaccine

In 2016 use of the terms fake news and post truth became commonplace. Yet for those who address attacks on science, scientific consensus and the use of evidence in designing legislation, both concepts already had a long history.

Evidence based public health policy is attacked through the intentional disinformation of fake news and mocked via the subjective, emotional selective trickery of post truth. Alternatives to medicine rely upon bogus testimonials, false claims of scientific backing and pseudscience.

The anti-vaccine lobby want to be seen to be presenting a range of specific arguments against vaccination. Yet their main aim is to convince the unwary that vaccines cause harm and also kill on a huge scale. This in turn demands a feverish use of fake news and post truth. When their lack of fake evidence fails, post truth themes seeking to enrage an audience because governments “take away their right to choose” what’s best for their children’s health may quite sadly find their mark.

Presently we can see application of these concepts respectively with the promotion of the fraudumentary, Vaxxed and claims that Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his wife profit from their investment in childhood vaccines.

Meryl Dorey

In March last year Meryl Dorey wrote (bold mine);

Australia has a long history of holding its elected representatives accountable when there is even a hint of corruption or profiteering – yet the current PM’s wife is Chairman of the Board of a company involved in vaccination and other pharmaceutical pursuits whose value has increased dramatically due – at least on the surface in my own opinion – to policies which her husband has helped push through Parliament. Did Mr Turnbull excuse himself during the debate on No Jab No Pay? Did he tell Parliament that he had a conflict of interest and excuse himself from the vote on this legislation? These are genuine questions – I don’t know the answer and my investigations so far have not been fruitful. Despite the apparent conflict of interest, not a word has been raised about this in the media or by the opposition.

Ah yes. “Not a word has been raised about this in the media or by the opposition”. Not so. Particularly with the number of media reports on the Turnbull’s investments.

Firstly had Dorey done her research well (or is that not employed the post truth tactic of cherry picking?), she’d know that six months earlier Lucy Turnbull was questioned about potential conflicts of interest for an article that was published in the media. Most importantly, quoting Mrs. Turnbull;

“I am currently in the process of assessing my role on company boards to ensure there are no conflicts of interest,” she says.

“We are seeking advice from various sources, and we hope to be in a position to decide in the next fortnight, whether I can keep doing what I am doing,” she says.

Just over a fortnight later the same paper wrote up Labor’s attacks on the Turnbull’s wealth. The byline was;

Labor’s attacks look like a shabby smear, but the bar is set very high for prime ministers and their partners.

Now in fairness to Meryl I should address why Bill Shorten didn’t challenge the PM for not excusing himself from the vote on No Jab No Pay, based on that conflict of interest. Firstly, Dorey did contend that “on the surface in my own opinion”, the value of Prima BioMed “increased dramatically due to policies which [Turnbull] helped push through Parliament”.

Okay, so it was a feelpinion. Worthless. But we can do better.

Two paragraphs earlier Dorey was ranting at Malcolm Turnbull, including;

Are you afraid that your wife’s profits at Prima BioMed (profits that jumped to AUD $5.5 million mere weeks after No Jab No Pay legislation was announced) might be affected if enough people start to question vaccination?

Above Dorey has linked to a May 21st, 2015 Financial Review piece headed, Patience Pays Off for Prima Chairwoman Lucy Turnbull. A small three paragraph piece, it finishes;

After a $15 million equity injection from US firm Ridgeback Capital last week at 1.73¢ a share, the stock has climbed from 2.2¢ to 16¢ after the bell on Thursday – jumping 190 per cent yesterday alone. And Turnbull’s stake? Now worth a tidy $5.5 million.

Clearly Dorey has fabricated the notion that the value of Prima BioMed increased due to the passing of No Jab No Pay.

Dorey can claim any rubbish she likes to try to sell the line Turnbull is shaping legislation to boost the share value of Prima BioMed. But the $15 million from Ridgeback Capital didn’t go to a company that manufacturers childhood vaccines. Yes Lucy Turnbull is Chair of the board of Prima BioMed, a biotechnology company working on cancer immunotherapy. Dorey really stretches the facts to contend it is accurately described as, a company involved in vaccination and other pharmaceutical pursuits. The company presently focuses on three main products targetting autoimmune disease and cancer which you may read about here.

The most notable link to vaccination is the development of CVac, the commercialisation of which was one reason for the formation of Prima BioMed in 2001. CVac, targetting ovarian cancer, ultimately trialled unsuccessfully. A potential trial for pancreatic cancer was cancelled in Febuary 2015. Read up on CVac here and Lucy Turnbull’s personal financial loss here.

More on the Turnbull’s investments here. Remember it’s now 18 months since Lucy Turnbull told Fairfax she was, “assessing my role on company boards to ensure there are no conflicts of interest”. Her full history of board, Foundation and senior committee positions indicates a person devoted to the success of not for profit, charity and with a love of science and medical innovation.

There is simply no substance to the claim by Dorey and others of a conflict of interest based on profits from childhood vaccines.

Belgin Sila Colak/Arslan

Last October when Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy was targetted by antivaccinationists the public got a glimpse of the name behind the Facebook group Anti-Vaccination Australia. Belgin Colak, aka Belgin Sila Colak, aka Belgin Sila Arslan.

Earlier this Month (March 6th) she posted this on her public timeline.

A “Yale study” eh, I thought. I followed the link and ended up at a “trueactivist” Feb. 17 piece. Under that deceptive headline the authors ran through a number of bogus, disproved claims about vaccines based at best on temporal correlation. A number of comments were scathing as to the misleading intent of the article. Now have a good read of Belgin’s claims above. “Multiple studies and other countries” report vaccine induced disorders. And these “very brave and unabashed scientists [who] have been able to show a correlation of what many have known for quite some time”? Where are they?

Had Belgin read the comments she’d have picked up on the objections to the alternative facts the authors had used. The worst was;

As with most research studies, the researchers stop short of claiming the vaccinations cause the all too common brain disorders.

In other words there really was no study from Yale suggesting autism and multiple brain disorders were linked to vaccines. Belgin’s love of fake news was on display here, for there was in fact an accessible link to the actual study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry. The title was Temporal Association of Certain Neuropsychiatric Disorders Following Vaccination of Children and Adolescents: A Pilot Case–Control Study. The institutes involved were, 1) Department of Public Health Sciences, Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, Hershey, PA, USA and 2) Yale Child Study Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA.

What conclusion did these “very brave and unabashed scientists” offer? Bold mine;

Conclusion: This pilot epidemiologic analysis implies that the onset of some neuropsychiatric disorders may be temporally related to prior vaccinations in a subset of individuals. These findings warrant further investigation, but do not prove a causal role of antecedent infections or vaccinations in the pathoetiology of these conditions. Given the modest magnitude of these findings in contrast to the clear public health benefits of the timely administration of vaccines in preventing mortality and morbidity in childhood infectious diseases, we encourage families to maintain vaccination schedules according to CDC guidelines.

This is so clear we should thank Belgin. This study offers what antivaccinationists often demand. It’s saying there may be correlation in a small group but not causation. Vaccines work. Keep on vaccinating. The end.

A week ago I noticed Belgin post what can only be described as simply reprehensible exploitation of Saba Button.

The health department knew this vaccine had been reported several times, yet they still administered this vaccine on (sic) children regardless of numerous ER reports. You’re told a fever, seizures and crying is normal. Some never wake up, some end up with autism, and some are permanently disabled. Every vaccine causes damage! They’re still out there murdering babies, destroying lives, pushing more vaccines on children and now on expectant mothers. Every parent should be aware of this and have a choice!

Alternative facts and post truth galore. I addressed this case back in November 2011, because of similar exploitation at that time by Meryl Dorey. There are no excuses or denials to be made. Fluvax was not suitable for under 5 year olds. There were problems with both CSL, who incorrectly advised the TGA and the W.A. Health Department. Meryl Dorey was variously, fallaciously claiming hundreds of cases and hundreds of admissions. The ABC reported “hundreds of reactions” on April 18th, 2010 with 47 taken to hospital reported on April 23. The West Australian on the same day reported 23 admissions. This led to the suspension nationwide by Commonwealth chief health officer Professor Jim Bishop.

Why was it even used? During a 2006 Fluvax trial with a sample of 272, 1 child had a febrile convulsion. The TGA argue that one adverse event in a clinical trial is “not usually regarded as an adequate signal of a major safety problem”. In 2010 the febrile seizure rate caused by Fluvax was 3.3 per 1,000. This is remarkably similar to the rate in the 2006 trial. Yet TGA national manager, Dr Rohan Hammett told a Senate estimates committee hearing that the 2006 data showed “no sign of a febrile convulsion signal”. More so CSL may have advised the TGA of fever (not seizure) rates from 2005 – far less than 2006 fever rates. It is a convoluted, detailed issue. Do read this post. Fortunately Saba was compensated.

Belgin Sila Arslan claims there were or are fatalities and cases of autism. False. Every vaccine causes damage! False. Babies are being “murdered”. Repulsive. A visit to The Saba Rose Button Foundation presents a very different view.

The SABA ROSE BUTTON FOUNDATION is a not-for-profit charity focussed on raising funds to help children who have special needs and their families. The funds raised will pay for these special children to participate in ‘intensive blocks’ of physiotherapy, for specialised equipment that is needed, for parental respite and for care in the home.

Vaccine Injuries

I stated above that antivaccinationists ultimately seek to convince the unwary that vaccines harm and kill on a significant scale. Both references here to Belgin confirm this. Dorey also insists vaccines injure and kill – but never has the subjects or the evidence to confirm this. On her blog she lies smoothly, as here;

Many of you know of children who were injured or killed by vaccines. I personally know the families of at least 10 children who died as a result of vaccination and dozens (this is within my family and my close friends) who are permanently injured.

Other material above shows Dorey beating the conspiracy drum: profit from evil vaccines. Fortunately for me she raised the passing of No Jab No Pay legislation. Professor Julie Leask is not a fan of No Jab No Pay. This may well delight the anti-vaccination lobby. During the Social Services Legislation Amendment (No Jab No Pay) Bill hearing in Brisbane on November 2nd, 2015, Professor Leask answered questions on vaccine injury. Her submission to the inquiry was firmly against No Jab No Pay. Thus with some hope one may view her information on vaccine injuries as something antivaccinationists might entertain.

Put simply there are between zero and less than five injuries that would require compensation each year, according to Leask citing a vaccinologist.

The audio and text below is from page 41 of the hearing.

If you listened to the audio you heard the anti-vaxxers in attendance groan in denial at the “zero to less than five” serious vaccine injuries per year figure. But this didn’t stop Meryl Dorey publishing Julie Leask’s anti-No Jab No Pay submission to the Social Services Legislation Amendment Bill on her blog. Splendid post truth cherry picking right there.

To conclude we can expect to see anti-science groups gradually develop skills in the use of fake news/evidence and post truth. Recent stories in Australia involving measles cases in the unvaccinated and a case of tetanus are concerning. Cases of vaccine preventable disease are likely to become more and more common. As the unvaccinated spread their wings management of imported disease will demand more resources and frustrate health authorities.

Politically, science has lost a certain respect and may be under threat as rabid post truth movements such as Trumpism take root. Yet the harm such thinking and ideologies cause, and the cost inflicted financially and socially is easily seen and eagerly discussed. Exploitation has its limits.

And that is always a positive.

UPDATE: What does a health minister and an anti-vaxxer have in common?

Pod On The Hill podcast (by Victorian Labor). Episode 6, March 30th 2017.    

  • Outtake of discussion of anti-vaxxers – 3min 27sec – Download mp3
  • Or listen to outtake below:

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Full episode on Soundcloud. Forward to 23 minute mark for beginning of anti-vaxxer discussion.

Fake News serves conspiracy theorists well

A recent article posted by Orac examined the fallacious story of FBI raids on the USA Centre for Disease Control.

What’s concerning here is that such stories aren’t just bogus claims or cherry picking from evidence or misrepresenting of reports and announcements from authoritative sources. Nope, these stories are utter nonsense with no basis at all in verifiable events.

They aim to advance malignant and anti-social agendas. In the case of the above lie that the FBI raided CDC offices, it’s clear purpose was to exploit the drooling anticipation of the anti-vaccination lobby. Mainly that with “vaccine/autism/tweeting” Trump having been inaugurated the evil masters behind mass poisoning-by-vaccine would get theirs.

A second very useful purpose is that very few people check the source of the material. Within 24 hours the fake news story may have been read by tens to hundreds of thousands. Even if the piece is refuted with evidence and thoroughly debunked, it is unlikely readers drawn to the key message will invest the time and intellectual discipline to ascertain a. the facts and b. how readers were deceived.

There’s an interesting article here examining Trump’s grab bag of lies.

Do read Orac’s piece. It focuses on the FBI/CDC issue nicely. Not only was this fake news story published but was followed up with further fake news boasting articles with headlines proclaiming “Confirmed”.

Fake news isn’t new to those dealing with anti-vaccination lies. The anti-vaccine lobby has been publishing deceitful articles and “announcements” for years.

It seems in the present climate it is likely we will see more fake news from a range of anti-science, far right wing, bigoted groups that are finding a damaging voice to Western democracy.

Del Bigtree misleads his audience over safety of influenza vaccinations

An excellent video published by More Truth © provides a firm evidence based rebuttal to the blatant lies being peddled by Del Bigtree in his promotion of fraudulent anti-vaccine film Vaxxed.

A quick summary of main points raised in this production follows beneath the video.

Lies of Vaxxed: Episode 1 “The Flu Shot”

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  • The first lie from Del Bigtree is that “mercury” is still in influenza vaccines. “So let’s not kid ourselves”.

Actually the silvery metallic liquid that appears alongside huge needles in images antivaccinationists use to mislead, is elemental mercury. This has never been used in vaccines. The preservative thimerosal is used in multi-dose vials of influenza vaccine only. It is vital multi-dose containers are protected from bacterial infection and thimerosal ensures this.

Once in the body this compound breaks down into 49% ethylmercury which is expelled within approximately one week. A large number of studies confirm its safety for use in childhood vaccines. The mercury in seafood that we consume – methylmercury – is bio-accumulative and a recognised neurotoxin. This is why guidelines exist to ensure safe levels of methylmercury are consumed via seafood.

Of course the anti-vaccine lobby lie just as Bigtree does. Some even counter, bizarrely, that they do not inject fish. Or that ethylmercury is still a form of mercury and crosses the blood brain barrier. Firstly it does not enter the brain. Secondly if one is going to argue ethylmercury is “still mercury” they should apply that flawed logic to table salt; sodium chloride. In that light table salt is “still a form of chlorine”, which is inaccurate.

Thimerosal isn’t used in single shot vials. Finally, to be sure, one can simply ask for an influenza vaccine without thimerosal. There’s more information available here, and also here. So let’s no kid ourselves.

  • Next Del misleads his audience by claiming the influenza vaccine is being given to pregnant women, “and if you read the vaccine insert it’s never been tested on pregnant women”.

There are numerous studies confirming the safety of the influenza vaccine for both mother and fetus. As is clear in the above video this is true for “VAERS reports of pregnant women after the administration of TIV or LAIV”. TIV: Trivalent influenza vaccine. LAIV: Live attenuated influenza vaccine. Also there are significant problems in assuming the content of package inserts is equal to the conclusions of clinical research. Only the latter can be considered evidence.

  • Del continues with, “We now know women are probably miscarrying because of these vaccines, so that’s really horrific”.

Quoting from the video, “There are no studies that show the influenza vaccine can cause miscarriages or stillbirths. An independent study has actually shown that the flu shot can decrease the risk of a miscarriage or stillbirth”. A screenshot [3min 20] from the New England Journal of Medicine, Jan. 24 2013 follows showing an abstract summary of Risk of Fetal Death After Pandemic Influenza Virus Infection of Vaccination. Conclusion as follows:

vaxxed_lies

There are a number of benefits for newborns associated with administering influenza vaccines to pregnant women. Between 2004-2012, 43% of children who died from influenza were healthy with no underlying conditions.

I recommend watching the video which includes evidence of a large number of studies that firmly refute the claims made by Bigtree.

Dravet syndrome is not a vaccine induced genetic mutation

Recently I was sent some appallingly misleading nonsense on Twitter regarding Dravet (pron. druh-vay) syndrome and vaccination. Or more specifically that Dravet (a rare intractable form of epilepsy) is a “vaccine induced genetic mutation”.

The phrase appeared on a screen grabbed page (below) full of harmful misinformation. It took advantage of the fact that in around 80% of cases Dravet is linked to a de novo genetic mutation. More specifically the uninherited SCN1A mutation leads to the development of dysfunctional ion channels in the brain.

Seizures develop within the first year of life and infants develop normally until this time. The first seizures infants experience may often be associated with fever. Later seizures can present without heat triggers or illness. Nonetheless the first seizures often occur around six months of age and are associated with vaccination. Although it begins in infancy Dravet syndrome is a lifelong condition. It is also known as Severe Myoclonic Epilepsy of Infancy (SMEI).

A range of health challenges accompany Dravet syndrome including a higher incidence of SUDEP (sudden unexplained death in epilepsy). According to The Dravet Syndrome Foundation other conditions which require proper management and treatment include:

Behavioral and developmental delays, movement and balance issues, orthopedic conditions, delayed language and speech issues, growth and nutrition issues, sleeping difficulties
chronic infections, sensory integration disorders, disruptions of the autonomic nervous system (which regulates things such as body temperature and sweating)

Whilst the screenshot below offers a copious amount of rubbish and does so with absurd confidence, we can see how important facts have been abused to push a fearful message of misinformation. Firstly the presence of a de novo (new, not inherited) genetic mutation. Secondly the association of vaccination with the first seizure.

McIntosh et al (2010) state:

Vaccination might trigger earlier onset of Dravet syndrome in children who, because of an SCN1A mutation, are destined to develop the disease.

That statement is quite unambiguous. Infants are destined to develop the disease because of the genetic mutation. Not because of vaccines. Vaccination may trigger a seizure; the early onset of Dravet syndrome. In what may be considered a firm conclusion that vaccinations do not cause Dravet syndrome, they continue:

However, vaccination should not be withheld from children with SCN1A mutations because we found no evidence that vaccinations before or after disease onset affect outcome.

We’re now in a better position to judge how misleading this insult to evidence is.

P01YN0NYM0U55_2016-May-24

Interestingly I have not been able to source it. Nonetheless it is intellectually offensive to see so much effort go in to falsely accuse the scientific and medical communities of hiding information. Apart from targeting the WebMD page on Dravet syndrome, the piece merely insists “the medical establishment” studied six children “who had previously been diagnosed with vaccine induced Dravet”. Then the children were “re-diagnosed” as not vaccine injured. Keep an eye out and one can see a “pattern of coverups like this…”.

Below is a short audio of Dr. Linda Laux, MD, of Lurie Children’s Hospital speaking on behalf of Dravet Syndrome Foundation [Which can also be accessed here]. She is quite clear in stressing that in Dravet, vaccinations can trigger seizures. “It is not the cause of the epilepsy syndrome. But it may precipitate seizures just the way an illness may precipitate seizures”.

Dr. Laux argues this was first shown by “an Australian group” (McIntosh et al) wherein the authors chased up adults who had previously been compensated for vaccine encephalopathy. They checked for Dravet and found the majority were positive for the SCN1A gene mutation. As we saw above there is good evidence to continue vaccinating. Laux reminds us that vaccine preventable diseases would trigger seizures for such a cohort.

The researchers checked the sample’s seizures as children. They defined the “vaccine proximate group”, who had their first seizure within two days of a vaccine. The second group who had their first seizure not associated with a vaccine, was labelled the “vaccine distant group”. Then the researchers studied subsequent seizures, severity of seizures and development of both groups.

They found no difference in the prognosis of these variables. This suggests that in this study Dravet syndrome seizures initially triggered by vaccination did not lead to a more deleterious prognosis than Dravet syndrome seizures initially triggered by another means.

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Another study (Pediatrics, 2011) by Reyes et al entitled Alleged Cases of Vaccine Encephalopathy Rediagnosed Years Later As Dravet Syndrome, includes in the abstract:

It was reported recently that a proportion of patients previously diagnosed with alleged vaccine encephalopathy might possess SCN1A mutations and clinical histories that enabled a diagnosis of Dravet syndrome, but these results have not been replicated. We present here the cases of 5 children who presented for epilepsy care with presumed parental diagnoses of alleged vaccine encephalopathy caused by pertussis vaccinations in infancy. Their conditions were all rediagnosed years later, with the support of genetic testing, as Dravet syndrome.

Verbeek et al studied data of 23 children with epilepsy onset after vaccination. In October 2014 they published in Pediatrics Etiologies For Seizures Around The Time Of Vaccination. They write in their abstract conclusion:

Our results suggest that in most cases, genetic or structural defects are the underlying cause of epilepsy with onset after vaccination, including both cases with preexistent encephalopathy or benign epilepsy with good outcome. These results have significant added value in counseling of parents of children with vaccination-related first seizures, and they might help to support public faith in vaccination programs.

The constant theme that emerges as one pursues research on vaccination and Dravet syndrome is that the SCN1A mutation underlies Dravet, and as demonstrated by Verbeek et al, “genetic or structural defects are the underlying cause of epilepsy with onset after vaccination”. The valuable work of McIntosh et al, reinforces the importance of maintaining vaccination regimes for these at-risk populations.

As for nonsense claiming Dravet syndrome is a “vaccine induced genetic mutation”, supporters of vaccine programmes should be aware that perpetrators of these lies can distort facts to cause fear and confusion in the unaware. Evidence to confirm vaccination does cause Dravet syndrome has not been forthcoming.

Fortunately the medical establishment has never tried to hide the truth. Vaccines can trigger seizures in infants with the SCN1A mutation at a rate of 1:16,000 – 1:21,000. The reality is that if not a vaccine causing a fever, then another trigger will certainly bring Dravet syndrome to the fore. Evidence suggests there is no difference in prognosis between the vaccine proximate and vaccine distant.

Dravet syndrome remains a very rare condition and there is still no vaccine conspiracy.

Vaccines and autism: A thorough review of the evidence

The following post is an exceptionally detailed review of the evidence, and scientific consensus, specific to the persistent claim of a link between vaccination and autism.

Those familiar with the integrity of the scientific method and its value in examining this particular issue will be grateful for both the quality and extent of this review.

Use of the seven tiered Hierarchy of Scientific Evidence provides an excellent device by which to gauge the value of evidence, and as such, introduces one to a reliable tool for similar endeavours.

I trust you find the article a valuable resource.

Hierarchy of Scientific Evidence

© thelogicofscience.com

The Logic of Science

One of the most common concerns that people have about vaccines is that they might cause (or exacerbate) autism. This idea is perpetuated by celebrities and innumerable websites, and it has become one of the cornerstone arguments of the anti-vaccine movement, but is there any truth to it? Perhaps unsurprisingly, both sides claim a superiority of evidence. Indeed, you can find numerous websites presenting lists of papers that they claim provide evidence that autism is caused by vaccines (such as “124 research papers supporting the vaccine/autism link“). Conversely, those who support vaccines also have lists of papers which they present as evidence that vaccines do not cause autism (for example, here and here). So which is correct? The internet is full of misinformation on this topic, so I want to cut through that crap and talk about the actual studies themselves rather than simply tossing lists around…

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