Category Archives: General

Yet Another Link Roundup #

Anti-Vaxxer Craziness #

Sometimes, people are stupid. Our sensationalist (and often scientifically clueless) media doesn’t help matters.

Back in January, Kottke collected a handful of links about how schools are dealing with anti-vaccine nutters, including banning students who never got measles vaccinations (there was a local outbreak at the time). My favorite line: “If my kid can’t bring peanut butter to school, yours shouldn’t be able to bring preventable diseases.”

Last week, a blog sponsored by Boy Scouts of America posted a somewhat tongue-in-cheek admonition for scouts to be properly vaccinated. The anti-vax crowd descended in force, claiming “extensive scientific evidence” supporting such a link (nope!), and down-voting anyone disagreed with their crack-pot fringe misinterpretations of science.

(Do I feel strongly about this? Why, yes, yes I do. As the parent of a kid who at times had a very compromised immune system, I sympathize with parents in similar plights. Yes, if one has a legitimate religious objection, that’s one thing, but if a parent doesn’t vaccinate because of fears of autism linkage, they’re just wrong.)

So, I ended up going down the rabbit hole. Because someone is wrong on the Internet.

Scientific Research

First, there is extensive evidence that vaccines are not linked to autism. It is the strong consensus of the scientific community.

To list just a few:

  • Taylor B., et al. (1999) “Autism and measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine: no epidemiological evidence for a causal association” The Lancet (353:9169), 12 June 1999, pp. 2026–2029. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(99)01239-8 (Sample size 498 persons with autism.)
  • Frank DeStefano, Robert T Chen. “Negative association between MMR and autism” The Lancet (353:9169), 12 June 1999, pp 1987–1988 doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(99)00160-9 (These Lancet articles were both early responses to the original claim.)
  • Flaherty, D. K. (2011) “The Vaccine-Autism Connection: A Public Health Crisis Caused by Unethical Medical Practices and Fraudulent Science” Annuals of Pharmacotherapy (45:10) pp. 1302–1304 doi:10.1345/aph.1Q318 (Key quote: “The alleged autism-vaccine connection is, perhaps, the most damaging medical hoax of the last 100 years.”)
  • DeStefano, F, et al. (2013) “Increasing Exposure to Antibody-Stimulating Proteins and Polysaccharides in Vaccines Is Not Associated with Risk of Autism” Journal of Pediatrics pp. 561–567 pdf (Perhaps the biggest, most authoritative study, conducted, in part, by the CDC. Sample size of more than 3,000.)

Other articles of interest:

Some History

The “anti-vaxxing” controversy started with Andrew Wakefield, via an article published in The Lancet in 1998. The article was later thoroughly discredited. Journalist Brian Deer demonstrated that in addition to poor methodology, Wakefield also falsified many of his findings in the study based on only 12 (yes, twelve) patients and minor temporal association (stuff happened close together, but one did not necessarily cause the other). Contrast that with many studies since with hundreds or thousands of patients that show no link. It was also discovered that Wakefield’s undisclosed agenda was to support a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers. One by one, the paper’s co-authors withdrew their support for the paper and its conclusions, and the paper was officially retracted by the journal in 2010.

In addition to forging data, other problems with Wakefield’s sample included undisclosed familial ties between 2 of the 12 patients (they were brothers), mis-representing autism diagnoses for at least 3 patients, not disclosing that parents of one patient were active campaigners against the MMR vaccine, incorrectly describing developmentally delayed patients as “previously normal”, and parents of another were blaming vaccination. (See, e.g., Brian Deer, “How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed”, 6 Jan 2011)

In any case, the whole of “scientific evidence” claimed by ant-vaxxers in top, peer-reviewed medical journals rests on Wakefield’s single article about 12 patients, data for most of was fraudulently altered. No study since has been able to replicate those findings. (There is another paper, also retracted for error of data, which anti-vaxxers cling to. Snopes has a takedown of that claim.) To the contrary, multiple credible studies, each with thousands of participants have demonstrated no observable statistical link.

(See also, Goodlee, F. “Clear evidence of falsification of data should now close the door on this damaging vaccine scare”)

So, can we please stop believing there is no evidence against an autism–vaccine link? Study after study has been unable to find a link, or has significant statistical results demonstrating no link.

Pretty please?


For LDS readers: The LDS Church has officially endorsed vaccinations for more than 35 years (according to a 1978 letter from the First Presidency letter; “We urge members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to protect their own children through immunization.”, Spencer W. Kimball, from “Immunize Children, Leaders Urge”) In 2003, the Church donated $3 million to fund measles/MMR vaccinations through its Humanitarian Services Division, and continues to provide millions in funding for pro-vaccination initiatives. (“Church Makes Immunizations an Official Initiative, Provides Social Mobilization”, Church News, 13 June 2012)

Another Link Roundup #

Once again, it’s time to reclaim some browser tabs.

  • “Police Investigate Family for Letting Their Kids Walk Home Alone” by Hanna Rosin at Slate. The parents were visited at home by officers who drove the kids a half-mile home. Rosin writes, “The police asked for the father’s ID, and when he refused, called six patrol cars as backup. Alexander went upstairs, and the police called out that if he came down with anything else in his hand ‘shots would be fired,’ according to Alexander. … The following week the police and [Child Protective Services] workers questioned the children at school without the parents’ permission, …” Read the article. These sound like very conscientious parents trying to do good things for their children despite governmental meddling.
  • More recently (Feb 20th), the same parents received notice that CPS determined the parents were responsible for “unsubstantiated child neglect”, which is a somewhat oxymoronic finding that permits CPS to continue monitoring for several years. (Donna St. George, “‘Unsubstantiated’ child neglect finding for free-range parents”, Washington Post, 2 March 2015.) (via NextDraft)
  • Retraction Watch has an article on the consequences of late retractions, and does slight coverage of several measles outbreaks that might have been prevented if the much-discredited autism-vaccine paper in Lancet (1998) had been retracted earlier. (It wasn’t retracted until 2010, when an investigative journalist was able to conclusively demonstrate important data on a majority of the 12 cases studied had been withheld from reviewers or fraudulently altered.) More on this later.
  • FiveThirtyEight covered an education research paper that argues “Elementary school gifted-and-talented programs are most effective when students are selected based on high test scores rather than high IQ. Low-income and minority students experienced particularly large gains.”
  • Most Major League Soccer players make close to the minimum salary ($36,500 for players under 25; $48,500 for “senior” players), according to the New York Times.
  • A great “What If?” article at led to an interesting, if somewhat macabre look at “A History of Tug-of-War Fatalities”
  • Kottke links to a physics blog that discusses current paradoxes in modern cosmological physics, “i.e. areas where theory and observation disagree, sometimes by a whopping 120 orders of magnitude”
  • Lastly, Mary Elise Sarotte wrote in 2009, “How an accident caused the Berlin Wall to come down” for the Washington Post.

Link Roundup #

A brief list of things I’ve been meaning to write about for months, but haven’t. It’s time to reclaim browser tabs!

When Chase and Apple Pay Isn’t Chase and Apple Pay #

I was quite excited to try Apply Pay, with the new iOS 8.1 update and supported hardware. One of my banks, Chase, is an Apple Pay launch partner, so no problem, right?

Heh. It seems that not all Visa cards through Chase support Apple Pay. Or more specifically, it seems all Visa cards through Chase support Apple Pay, except the one that I have, the Amazon Rewards Card.

After a little searching, GeekWire has a more complete story, where their sources suggest Amazon opted out, but might, maybe, participate, eventually.

Chase has a list of supported cards, so there may be other rewards cards affected.

The Fence or the Ambulance #

I heard the poem “The Fence or the Ambulance” some time ago in a sermon, and wanted to share it. Unfortunately, as is the way of the Internet, there are several different versions (e.g., this list) with differing titles, punctuation, and minor changes to wording. It’s typically attributed to Joseph Malins (1895).

The earliest version I found was from The Public, Volume XV (1912). Stanzas found in other sources I’ve marked with double square brackets.

‘Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant;
But over its terrible edge there had slipped
A duke and full many a peasant.
So the people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally
Some said, “Put a fence around the edge of the cliff,”
Some, “An ambulance down in the valley.”

But the cry for the ambulance carried the day,
And it spread through the neighboring city;
A fence may be useful or not, it is true,
But each heart became brimful of pity
For those who slipped over the dangerous cliff;
And the dwellers in highway and alley
Gave pounds or gave pence, not to put up a fence,
But an ambulance down in the valley.

“For the cliff is all right, if you’re careful,” they said,
“And, if folks even slip and are dropping,
It isn’t the slipping that hurts them so much
As the shock down below when they’re stopping.”
So day after day, as these mishaps occurred,
Quick forth would those rescuers sally
To pick up the victims who fell off the cliff,
With their ambulance down in the valley.

Then an old sage remarked: “It’s a marvel to me
That people give far more attention
To repairing results than to stopping the cause,
When they’d much better aim at prevention.
Let us stop at its source all this mischief,” cried he,
“Come, neighbors and friends, let us rally;
If the cliff we will fence, we might almost dispense
With the ambulance down in the valley.”

“Oh he’s a fanatic,” the others rejoined,
“Dispense with the ambulance? Never!
He’d dispense with all charities, too, if he could;
No! No! We’ll support them forever.
Aren’t we picking up folks just as fast as they fall?
And shall this man dictate to us? Shall he?
Why should people of sense stop to put up a fence,
While the ambulance works in the valley?”

But the sensible few, who are practical too,
Will not bear with such nonsense much longer;
They believe that prevention is better than cure,
And their party will soon be the stronger.
Encourage them then, with your purse, voice, and pen,
And while other philanthropists dally,
They will scorn all pretense, and put up a stout fence
On the cliff that hangs over the valley.

Better guide well the young than reclaim them when old,
For the voice of true wisdom is calling.
“To rescue the fallen is good, but ’tis best
To prevent other people from falling.”
Better close up the source of temptation and crime
Than deliver from dungeon or galley;
Better put a strong fence ’round the top of the cliff
Than an ambulance down in the valley.
]]Joseph Malins, “The Fence or the Ambulance”, 1895

Perhaps the shorter version was edited in 1912 due to space restrictions, but I actually prefer its simplicity.

After several searches, I found the longer version (shown above) in The Best Loved Poems of the American People (1936) Hazel Felleman (Ed.), Doubleday, pp. 273–274. [Google Books link]

Quick updates #

I’ve had too many things going on to make posting a priority (sorry to any few remaining followers), but I’ve always tried to keep posts content-full.

In the past few months:

Support “Altered Perceptions” #

Rob is a friend of mine. Or, maybe more accurately, was a friend, because I’m awful at correspondence and keeping in touch with people. He’s a smart guy, and think highly of him. I remember sitting in the lounge at school, between classes, and just shooting the breeze with Rob. He was the only student in the cohort that was a published author. He’s easy to talk to, and an interesting person as well.

Rob and his friends have put together a fantasy anthology of alternate and deleted scenes from some well-known (and some new-to-me) fantasy authors, with the proceeds set to help Rob get out of some debt that’s been exacerbated by mental health issues, and to raise awareness and funding for mental health in general. The list of authors donating their work is impressive, and it’s worth supporting. I did.

I wish I understood mental illness better. It’s all too easy to marginalize those dealing with it. I’m glad of this project, because it makes it more real to me.

Rob and his family were among the many who helped us out when we were dealing with my son’s cancer. This time it’s his turn, so go donate, and get a great fantasy anthology at the same time.

Regular Expression Crossword Puzzle #

Via Kottke and @grimmelm, the Internet delivers a wonderful regex crossword.

Difficult, entertaining, and, as @grimmelm says, “It’s not as bad as it looks.”

I did it in pen. Successfully.

Still, through the middle third of it I kept wondering if it would be easier to write a back-tracking search tree program to solve it for me…

Yes, there is a single, unique solution.

Muppets: Swedish Chef and Gordon Ramsey #

Hire Tom! Hire Tom!