Reason Freely

Wakefield MMR Study is Fraud

Posted in news by reasonfreely on January 7, 2011

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) retracted the Wakefield study and called it a fraud.  Finally!

An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study’s author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study — and that there was “no doubt” Wakefield was responsible.”


The now-discredited paper panicked many parents and led to a sharp drop in the number of children getting the vaccine that prevents measles, mumps and rubella. Vaccination rates dropped sharply in Britain after its publication, falling as low as 80% by 2004. Measles cases have gone up sharply in the ensuing years.

In the United States, more cases of measles were reported in 2008 than in any other year since 1997, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 90% of those infected had not been vaccinated or their vaccination status was unknown, the CDC reported.

Anderson Cooper 360


Health News Reviews

Posted in review by reasonfreely on May 27, 2010

GOOD:  Paid for by the Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making, this site uses a standardized set of ten criteria to review medical news articles, judging them by how completely and accurately they inform the consumer.  The site is run by doctors, and the reviewers are doctors and public health professionals mixed with journalism professionals.

BAD:  To date the site has reviewed just 1,062 articles in 4 years.  That’s not even one per day.  Your chances of finding a review of a specific article on a given day are slim, especially if it’s a specialized topic or a secondary news source (e.g. blog, website, TV).

Overall, this site is great and I intend to follow it as time permits.  I’ll probably use it for future health posts.

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MMR-Autism Researcher Loses Medical License in UK

Posted in news by reasonfreely on May 25, 2010

Dr. Andrew Wakefield lost his license to practice medicine in Britain yesterday.  Unfortunately, in addition to martyring him to his supporters, this decision has no impact on him.  He stopped practicing medicine in 2004, and has been running an autism recovery clinic since.

Some of the crap this guy pulled is just offensive.  To quote NYT:  “taking blood samples for his study from children at his son’s birthday party” and “the costs of Dr. Wakefield’s research was paid by lawyers for parents seeking to sue vaccine makers” and “he had shown “a callous disregard” for the suffering of children involved in his research…”  Ultimately they slapped him with 30 charges of professional misconduct.

The ban does not prevent him from continuing to do research and publish it, though at this point no professional medical journal will print his work.  Wakefield became  an alternative medicine practitioner since 2004, working in both the US and UK.  This goes to show you what value alternative medicine has — it’s the last refuge for quacks, hacks, greedy liars and cheats.

(I was recently alerted to this comic strip on the subject: )

If she weighs the same as a duck, she’s made of wood?

Posted in news by reasonfreely on May 18, 2010

Climate Change Skeptics

Posted in essay, news by reasonfreely on March 9, 2010

Let me start off by saying that it is our ethical duty to question authority and, generally, I like skepticism.  I’m a skepticism pusher.  But I don’t like it when people use the label of skepticism (or science!) to promote their agenda.

Climatologists are not always going to get everything right, and both carbon activists and energy companies want us to make policy decisions based on their predictions.  This is what happens when you combine the three main ingredients of ideology and praxis in the 21st century:

Complex reality

Media sensationalism

High stakes


Followup: Pinotgate

Posted in news by reasonfreely on February 23, 2010

The new wine fraud scandal (Pinotgate?) makes a good follow-up to my review of The Wine Trials 2010 because it shows us another angle on the authoritative statements the wine industry makes, and how they often don’t know what they’re talking about.

The kerfluffle in sum:  People believe Pinot Noir to be a more complicated, challenging wine to produce, and a more complex wine on the palette so brands can charge more for it.  Sieur d’Arques, a French company, criminally defrauded US importers by mislabeling wine as Pinot Noir as demand was rising for the varietal.  The mislabeled wine was sent from France and sold in the US for years as, among others, Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir, when it was in fact Merlot and Syrah.  The 2006 fraudulent Pinot Noir got an 83 pts rating from Wine Spectator online according to the Red Bicyclette website.


Review: The Wine Trials 2010

Posted in review by reasonfreely on February 10, 2010

Take hundreds of wines that are commonly available nationwide, varying in price from $3-150.  Randomly pick a few at a time, staying within a major flavor category (e.g. heavy new world red).  Put them in brown bags and number them.  Have groups of people taste rank sets of wine, blind.  Repeat until thousands of people have tasted hundreds of wines.  Look at the results, creating a ordinal-ranked ladder.   That should give you an objective measure of wine quality.

Robin Goldstein and Alexis Herschkowitsch did just that in The Wine Trials 2010, and to ice the cake, they gave us a list of the blind tasters’ top 150 wines for $15 and under.  Their shocking finding was that those “under $15” wines were the category winners.

The recommendations list is appropriately humble, and what I’ve tasted from their list (only 4 of the wines) everything has been good.  As a list to guide your everyday wine purchases, it’s worth the cover price.

But as a piece of skeptical inquiry that exposes wine rating, wine pricing and wine judging as biased and unreliable, well, it’s pretty… acerbic.


MMR Conspiracy Theorists: The Power of Fear

Posted in news by reasonfreely on February 4, 2010

Yesterday, The Lancet posted the following retraction of the MMR vaccine/autism article that started the whole vaccine/autism kerfluffle.

Following the judgment of the UK General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise Panel on Jan 28, 2010, it has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al. are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation. In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were “consecutively referred” and that investigations were “approved” by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record. [click for original source]

I don’t want to go into the history of the “controversy” (see wikipedia for that) but I’ll summarize it in brief:  Dr. Andrew Wakefield (et al.), in 1998, wrote a paper in The Lancet whereby he claimed (and showed evidence supporting this claim, mind you) that the mercury-based preservative in the Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR) vaccine caused a bowel problem he called “autistic enterocolitis” which then quickly led to autism in these twelve children.  Panic ensued.

In 2004, ten of the paper’s co-authors retracted their support for Wakefield’s conclusions, and between 1998 and 2004, researchers spent millions on epidemiological studies of the vaccine and autism finding no evidence, but the damage was done.  The two things I will discuss here are 1) speculation on why this misinformed theory was so appealing to young mothers, and 2) why people still believe it despite a staggering amount of evidence to the contrary, including a full retraction.