Monday, May 16, 2011

A Response to Orac’s Evidence Free and Fact Free Response to MySocratesNote

Sadly, this will be my last post for a while. I had an all too brief respite from my extremely heavy workload last week, and tomorrow (Monday, when I have this post set to publish) it will be back to work for me. And, until the end of September, I don’t see any time in the near future that I will have time to blog.

So, today I will take a brief interlude and respond to something the good Quack…err, I mean “Doctor” posted in his comments section on the article I wrote about in my last post.

Now, to remove any cries of hypocrisy on his part, I will post the 2 comments that he devoted to me first (and one from one of his commenters), and then reply to them in my usual manner, i.e. picking them apart, showing how and why it’s wrong, and then making fun of him.

Let’s begin.

Post 1:

Oh, dear. It would appear that I've managed to annoy someone. Yet another irony meter is fried as Craig accuses me of "missing the point":

Holland et al found no such thing [vaccines causing autism]. Really. They didn't. Because the number of possible autistic children found among the VICP-compensated, even being as generous as possible, is not really distinguishable from the expected prevalence in the general population (and they came by their number using criteria much less strict than the commonly accepted 1% prevalence), there isn't even a correlation shown to make us suspicious that vaccines might have caused autism in the VICP-compensated group. Correlation doesn't necessarily equal causation, but if there isn't even a correlation then there's no reason even to suspect causation.

Me, "missing the point"? Pot, kettle, black, Craig. Pot, kettle, black.”

Post 2, from someone named JayK:

“Did you notice how well cited Craig's posting was? I mean, he obviously knew that the only reason that the CDC, the authors of the Korean study and most recent studies on autism all use the 1:100 rate for autism is because of the one British study. He sure showed all them intellectual academic fools!

And I notice you've been poisoning the well again, what have we told you about that?”

Post 3:

“No, no, no, no, JayK, you've got it all wrong! I'm shifting the goalposts! Craig himself says so in the comments of his post (Blogger's down, and Craig hates me so much that deletes any comment I leave on his blog)

First off, the government's own data do not "prove" that vaccines cause autism. Second, there is no "shifting of goalposts." I could have easily made the same argument without the South Korean study. It was nothing more than conveniently timed icing on the cake. Craig simply does not understand the concepts that (1) correlation does not necessarily equal causation; (2) in order to justify looking for causation, you need to have at least correlation, which the PACE study doesn't provide, given that it can't show a significantly higher risk of autism in the VICP-compensated population; and (3) that legal evidence is not scientific evidence.

Poor Craig. With his realization that Andrew Wakefield is a fraud, I thought there was hope for him. I really did. But he appears to be backsliding.”

Ok, take a few moments to read those comments (and compose yourselves…laughing that hard can rupture something if done too much).

Ok, now that you’ve had time to wipe the tears of laughter away, let’s pick his first post apart.

David, you didn’t annoy me…not in the least. I find it highly amusing that you like to pretend and play at being a scientist and skeptic. And, I’m quite certain that those who are truly scientists and skeptics also find your antics amusing in an “aww, isn’t that cute!” sort of way. Kind of like a “baby skeptic.” I and others have explained the reasoning for this in several posts. And, laughably, it seems that I may have struck a nerve with him, especially considering the tone of both of those comments. He took the time out of his busy day, breaking into his comments, to announce to his sycophants what I had said.

Oh look, and there’s another reason for my condescending amusement; the irony meter comment!  The lack of maturity inherent in that comment is profound. Not only that, but it calls into question both his emotional and intellectual maturity/health, simply because of the fact that it makes him look like a twelve year old child. Besides, the hypocritical blathering that I pointed out in his article has already destroyed all future irony meters, melting them into a puddle of radioactive slag.

And, the next sentence is, again, unscientific. Holland et al found confirmed cases of autism in children who received compensation from the NVICP. Records from the NVICP confirm that these children had a brain injury and subsequent autism. Saying that their autism is exclusive to the vaccine injury, without reviewing the evidence, is laughable at best. I, and the authors of the paper, agree that extrapolating that this is a clear case of the vaccine courts compensating for autism is ill advised. Which is why the authors are asking for more study. But it is clear that David is opposed to doing this. Is he afraid of what they’ll find?

Then he claims that the number of of cases of autism in children in the NVICP is consistent with the general populace. Right here, we see him trying to shift the goalposts, and in EXACTLY the way I said he would. The point of the paper, quite simply, was to call for more study into the unscientific claim of “Vaccines don’t cause autism.” The prevalence was merely an afterthought. Furthermore, David is basing his accusation/claim off of his own misrepresented data. In a letter from Robert Krakow to the Medscape editors, Mr. Krakow makes clear that, “83 cases computes to slightly more than 3% of the approximate total number of compensated cases, which is approximately 2500. We deliberately avoided any such statistical conclusions in the paper because our research is preliminary and constituted review by interview and verification of only 150 cases. While extrapolation allowing use of the 3% computation is tempting and would allow the statement that 41% of reviewed cases showed "autism", we deliberately avoided making this statement, as our analysis is not an epidemiological or statistical one.” Again, calling for more inquiry.

But, let’s throw that out. Let’s just say that the paper does not exist. Now, let’s perform a little thinking exercise here. Let’s say that the NVICP compensated one child for a vaccine injury that caused autism. Just one! Would that invalidate the claim that “Vaccines don’t cause autism?”

Using simple and binary logic, if a statement is stated as true, and another statement verifiably contradicts the first statement, then it invalidates the first statement. This is why real scientists never make claims like “Vaccines don’t cause autism,” because real scientists never make such absolute claims in the first place, and in the absence of all evidence. Science never argues in absolutes. Why? Because doing so removes the possibility that the person making this unscientific claim will be open to evidence that opposes this view. Real scientists understand that it only takes a single example that contradicts a claim to invalidate that claim. One single case of vaccines causing autism would invalidate the “Vaccines don’t cause autism” claim. Just one.

Which is why I say that Orac is not a real scientist or a real skeptic.

In the next sentence, we see how he shifts the goalposts (in exactly the way I said he would).  I’ll get more into that in a minute.

Finally, he accuses me of missing the point, saying that I’m the pot calling the kettle black. Oh, the hypocrisy in that comment…

He keeps using those words, but I don’t think they mean what he thinks they mean.

My point was that the paper was trying to use the NVICP cases to claim that there were instances of vaccines that resulted in brain damage and autism. They were doing this to attempt to call for more investigation into these 83 cases, and ultimately to disprove an unscientific claim that “Vaccines don’t cause autism.” He obviously missed the point.

Whew…and that was just his 1st comment! Ok, on to the next.

This one is easy. JayK attacks a strawman. His poorly executed sarcasm claims that I am invalidating the CDC and all recent prevalence studies because of the British prevalence study. All I said was that the false-skeptics pray to the British study, which used a survey on the adults, many of them self diagnosed. But, they dismissed the SCQ survey because it just doesn’t mesh with their paradigm. I don’t see anywhere where I was claiming that any recent prevalence studies were invalid. I did say that the Korean study was pretty bad, though. Sadly, starting tomorrow, I won’t have time to write about it in detail until at least October. And, obviously, JayK is unaware what poisoning the well is…even though I explained it clearly in my previous post.

Poisoning the well:

This sort of "reasoning" involves trying to discredit what a person might later claim by presenting unfavorable information (be it true or false) about the person. This "argument" has the following form:

  1. Unfavorable information (be it true or false) about person A is presented.
  2. Therefore any claims person A makes will be false.

This sort of "reasoning" is obviously fallacious. The person making such an attack is hoping that the unfavorable information will bias listeners against the person in question and hence that they will reject any claims he might make. However, merely presenting unfavorable information about a person (even if it is true) hardly counts as evidence against the claims he/she might make. This is especially clear when Poisoning the Well is looked at as a form of ad Hominem in which the attack is made prior to the person even making the claim or claims.

So, JayK apparently doesn’t have the mental capacity to understand that simple concept. Let’s look at how Orac the Quack…err “Doctor” opened his article from last week.

“So it is, now that I've sat down to write about the "study" or "report" (or whatever you want to call it) that was touted late last week as "proof" that the government has compensated vaccine-injured children based on their having autism. Maybe the buildup was just too much. After all, the anti-vaccine flacks at Age of Autism have been flogging this report relentlessly since the press release was first announced. So have other anti-vaccine groups. A little known fact is that I'm on the mailing list for a number of anti-vaccine groups. I do it for you, to keep my finger on the pulse of the anti-vaccine loons and as an early warning system to let me know when they're up to various chicanery. Between being plugged in to anti-vaccine blogs and various mailing lists, I can report that the entire anti-vaccine crankosphere was abuzz with excitement over the release of this report, so much so that I was starting to wonder if there would be anything there that might be be worth paying attention to. Heck, even FOX News took the bait:

I needn't have worried. Now that the report, written by anti-vaccine stalwarts Mary Holland, Louis Conte, anti-vaccine lawyer Robert Krakow, and Lisa Colin and entitled Unanswered Questions from the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program: A Review of Compensated Cases of Vaccine-Induced Brain Injury, has been published, I sort of wish I hadn't promised to blog about it, because now that I've actually read the damned thing I can't believe it. It's just that bad.

The things I do for you! One thing that I didn't do for you, I will admit, is to watch the press conference announcing the report. After all, why bother with the spin when I can look at the report itself, which has plenty of spin, all wrapped up in legalese and logical fallacies commonly used and abused by lawyers?”

He’s presenting adverse information beforehand in order to bias his readers against the persons in question and hence reject any claims.

It must be nice for JayK to be so stupid that he allows others to think for him.

Now, to Orac the Quack…err “Doctor’s” last post.

First off, I don’t hate Orac; quite the contrary. I find he is an intelligent person, though he is terribly misguided. And the reason I write about him so much is that it amuses me greatly to see someone who is so intelligent do so many things that are unintelligent. Sure, some of my comments are derogatory, but that’s me just poking fun at him in the same vernacular that he pokes fun at others. To be honest, I have a good deal of respect for him, and I find his articles on cancer research extremely fascinating. If, sometime in the future, I were to ever come down with cancer, and I somehow ended up at his hospital (this is all hypothetical, of course), I am quite certain that he would be able to provide me with sound advice and excellent care. What saddens me about him is that he is so willing to accept any trash or garbage that comes out of the Pharmaceutical industry. Oh, sure, he’s written about some of their atrocities, and was rightfully appalled. But he is unwilling to accept that they are not being forthcoming about vaccines, that they are not being completely truthful. Sure, I understand the importance of vaccines. Sure, I understand that it is terrifying to accept the possibility that vaccines are causing damage like what happened to my son. But being unwilling to accept that they (the Pharma industry) have been dishonest before and could also (and likely) be lying about vaccines baffles me.

Also, his parenthetical comment leaves the impression that he tried to leave a comment on my last post. That, however, is completely untrue. If he had tried, and was polite in his response, he would have been allowed through. This is why I allowed someone like Mr. Reibel to start posting here again. And he and I have had some serious knock-down, drag-out verbal brawls.

Now, going on. He says that the paper, and the government’s data, did not prove a single case of causation. I agree; it did not. My previous post was made in error before I finished reading the paper, and for that, I ask my readers to accept my apologies. However, he IS shifting the goalposts. Let me explain why.

Let’s say that the paper DID find causation. David’s excuse for dismissing this is that, since the prevalence is not greater than the autism prevalence in the general populace, then it is irrelevant.

Yes, in other words, if a single case exists of vaccines causing autism is found, then he would still say that vaccines don’t cause autism.

Then, he makes a blatant ad hominem fallacy, saying that because the PACE study wasn’t performed by scientists (who were consulted in the review), then it is invalid and is not evidence.

What is remarkable, to me, about the PACE study is that it has never been done. None of these children in the NVICP have had any type of follow-up. Orac is making his definitive claim on studies performed by parties with vested interests (oh yes, I know that he will say that studies that purport to prove causation also have vested interests), who are essentially policing themselves, and who have never looked at the population that actually got sick! I find it both odd and depressing that it took a group of lawyers to do this, and not scientists. Sadly, science looks as if it is afraid of what they’ll find. As a result, these children and families are being left in the dust. They are dismissed, marginalized, and essentially are pariahs to society for doing their duty to society and getting their children vaccinated. It isn’t their faults that their children got sick.

Lastly, Orac claims I’m slipping. However, I ask you this; I was willing to accept new information that contradicted my previous views and change my mind on something that was important to me. Have any of you ever seen Orac do the same thing? Or, does he drop the subject and never speak of it again?

Orac, in the words of Eric Clapton;

“Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself.”

Goodbye for now, friends.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

And, Here we Go Again.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written anything on my blog here. When last I wrote, it was concerning the Wakefield affair and my thoughts in reference to said affair. I promised that I would further write about it, and that I would try to get it to you soon.

Sadly, I had to break my promise to you. This is for several reasons. Work has, sadly, crept into my personal life. Major projects at work have forced me to take on added responsibilities. On top of this, they’ve been downsizing my department, so now we have less people in my department who are doing more. So, that caused some significant interference in both my blogging persona as well as my own writing. So, my thoughts on Wakefield remain in my blog queue, I have still not had time to finish “Callous Disregard,'” and I was even contemplating cancelling my blog.

What is it, you ask, that has brought me out of semi-retirement?

I’m sure you can probably figure out why, can’t you?

After yesterday’s announcement, I figured that you all may be wondering about my thoughts (well, the one or two of you that read my little blog). Don’t worry, I’ll let you all know about that shortly.
What I really wanted to talk to you about is our favorite false-skeptic and Dr. Who fanatic. Yes, that’s right…the guy who likes to talk about himself in the third person; Mr. Ego himself, Orac.

Orac’s latest execrable article is titled “Another swing for the fences and a miss by the anti-vaccine movement.” And yes, you can be certain, it is chock-full of logical fallacies, ad hominem attacks, and strawmen arguments, all wrapped up in the pretense of actual science. But this one is so bad that I just HAD to come out of my partial retirement and say something.

So, please allow me to take this apart and look at it.

He starts his post by hurling accusations of “anti-vaccine” no less than ten times in a paragraph that is eleven sentences long. Yes, I kid you not. On top of this, he devotes a good portion of this paragraph hurling insults and negative epithets on those he disagrees with in order to make it clear that he has no intention of honestly looking at the press release. This is a tactic known as “poisoning the well.” In other words, he is presenting adverse information to his audience with the intention of discrediting or ridiculing everything they say before they actually say it. This is, of course, a form of ad hominem fallacy. And as we all know, such logical fallacies have no place in real science.
He then starts describing the paper:
“The things I do for you! One thing that I didn't do for you, I will admit, is to watch the press conference announcing the report. After all, why bother with the spin when I can look at the report itself, which has plenty of spin, all wrapped up in legalese and logical fallacies commonly used and abused by lawyers?”
So, after reading that excerpt, I’m sure you can all see the reasoning for the above picture. He mockingly accuses those he falsely labels “anti-vaxxers” for using logical fallacies, all while he gleefully makes logical fallacies. To use his extremely juvenile and blatantly idiotic phrase:
“He owes me a new irony meter.”

He then goes on to quote a line from Lewis Carrol’s “Through the Looking Glass,” which describes how Humpty Dumpty confuses Alice with how he twists words to mean what he wants them to mean. Then, he accuses the authors of the report Unanswered Questions from the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program: A Review of Compensated Cases of Vaccine-Induced Brain Injury of doing just that; changing the meanings of words to fit their purpose.

I’ll get to that in a minute, because it is quite important.

He goes on to describe a few key points from the report, which focuses on looking at a number of children compensated through the NVICP for vaccine injury and brain damage, who then later developed “symptoms consistent with autism spectrum disorder.” Here’s what he has to say:
“It is not as uncommon as we would like in medicine for conditions and diseases to be defined primarily (or even only) by aggregations of symptoms. Irritable bowel syndrome is an example. Ditto tension headache. Moreover, it is often the context within which those symptoms arise that distinguish one diagnosis from another. In any case, the DSM-IV provides fairly clear diagnostic criteria for autism. If the child doesn't have enough of these criteria to be diagnosed as autistic, that child could have "autism symptoms" but not autism. This is not a difficult concept, except apparently for Holland et al, who seem to be arguing that any child with autism-like symptoms must have autism. This is akin to arguing that anyone who has a belly ache or diarrhea must have irritable bowel syndrome or that someone who experiences a headache must have migraines”
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen; he just said that these children did not have enough symptoms of autism to be classified as having an ASD. He did this, mind you, without providing a single shred of evidence! And this is not the first time he’s done this. When Hannah Poling was awarded for her vaccine injury, he outright said that she didn’t have autism, even though her parents and physician said that she did. So, it is quite clear that he is twisting the meaning of the word “autism” to suit his own purposes. Oops…there goes another irony meter.

Here’s the deal; 39 of the parents of these children were able to provide proof that their children received an ASD diagnosis after their encephalitis. But, Orac says that that isn’t autism…without seeing any of their medical records.

He then continues with a discussion of the prevalence rates, and how the authors of the report got those numbers. For the sake of amusement, let’s see what he has to say:
“83/2500 results in an estimated prevalence rate of approximately 3.3%. On the surface, this seems to support the claim that the prevalence of autism is three-fold higher in VICP-compensated children than it is in the general population. Of course, there's at least one problem, and that's that the authors admit that, of these 83 children, they could only find documentation of autistic symptoms for only 39. This results in an estimated prevalence of autism of around 1.6%. This is rapidly falling into the range of what we would expect in the general population. Given that the VICP population is a skewed sample, many of whom have developmental disabilities, I'd be shocked if the prevalence of autism in this group wasn't at least slightly higher than it is in the general population. Of course, this "study" is not good evidence that it is. Taking into account the skewed population and the noise inherent in looking at a small population over 20 years, the prevalence of autism in VICP-compensated children does not appear to be detectably different than it is in the general population.”
The report made it quite clear that the rest of the 83 children they are saying developed autism after their injury were evaluated and found to be autistic. They used similar criteria and methods that the British study that was released recently did that found a prevalence of 1 in 100 autistic adults (this was done with a survey, and many of these adults surveyed had no official diagnosis and were self-diagnosed). But, the British study was legitimate. Yes, the irony is so thick that all future irony meters will not melt into a pile of radioactive slag.

You know what, though? Let’s say you agree with him and completely disagree with the findings in the report. One simple and irrefutable fact remains:

These children were compensated by the United States government because they were injured by a government-sponsored vaccination program, and those injuries caused brain damage and behavioral symptoms that look an awful-lot like autism.

He then finishes off with an insulting barrage on those he disagrees with, insinuating that the Korean study that was just released was actually good science (it wasn’t; there have been several reviews of this “study” that show just how awful the methodology was). But, since Orac agrees with it, then it HAS to be legitimate.

He closes with this little gem:
“In other words, they did all that work and wrote all those words in order to add yet more evidence to support what we already know from copious evidence from a large and robust existing body of studies: That vaccines do not causes autism. They just refuse to realize or admit that that's what they've done.”
Somehow, without reviewing the medical records of these children, or even reviewing their histories, he is able to make this definitive statement.

And somehow, in all of this, he has the audacity to claim he is science and evidence based?

Man, did I call this one. He did EXACTLY what I said he would.

David, if you read this, please take this bit of advice. Calling yourself science and evidence based after writing that piece of evidence-free garbage is, quite simply, hypocrisy to the infinite power, and frankly quite dishonest. You call yourself a scientist? The hypocrisy I pointed out has NO place in real science. I think that, perhaps, you should return to high-school for remedial science classes. Sadly, I feel that the students in high-school would be far more mature than you, at least mentally.