I Walk the Talk

July 22, 2011


A couple of weeks ago I went in for my annual medical appointment. We went through the whole routine, and I showed my family doctor my very scratched up arm from pruning the porch-eating rose. I asked if I could get the Tdap since I am a gardener. He looked at my chart, saw I got the vaccine in 2005 and said I was good for another four years.


Then I went on a little trip: Read the rest of this entry »

The Anthropology of Anti-Vax

May 25, 2011

At She Thought, Anthropologist Underground kind of nailed it with this piece about how not immunizing becomes a mark of social status in some parenting communities:

Many women who can afford to stay home gave up careers to do so. Larger society undervalues stay-home moms (as well as teachers and other child care workers). So bright, educated women find themselves in clusters, isolated from prestige, and they bring the work ethic and focus that advanced them in careers to parenting. They must seek status and validation from other members of the stay-home community, and this requires separating themselves from the unwashed masses. (My friend calls this “competitive parenting.”)

My read is that challenging the authority of conventional medicine and MDs is one way of artificially ascribing status to oneself.

Thought provoking, and yet completely unsurprising, really.  Living in LA, I’m surrounded by status moms like this.  They were all over my mom support group listserv, to the extent that I finally had to unsubscribe.  I often posted on here and Rational Moms about these moms.  Reading their posts on the listserv was a great way to take the temperature of the anti-vax community in response to news about the Wakefield scandal or the whooping cough epidemic.  (Ultimately, it proved too frustrating for me to encounter their responses daily, so I left the board.)  I think Anthropologist Underground has pegged the way these people think, to a large extent.  And I wouldn’t confine it to moms.  There are plenty of stay-at-home dads who join the status parenting club as well.

I would add (and I did in my comment) that unfortunately, recent events in our country do lend credence to the idea that a web of financial interests can override public interest.  Just watch The Inside Job to have that sneaky suspicion confirmed.  So I don’t think it’s only a group status/power mentality at work here.  I believe anti-vax parents are egged on by a prevailing cultural suspicion of authority that has been intensified by the events of our time.

Responses to this idea?

The Wonderful World of Statistics

January 29, 2011

We as parents stumble along trying to make sense of the world as we make sure our kids grow up healthy and educated. One thing that we often encounter is the mysterious world of statistics. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Official: Andrew Wakefield is a “Fraud”!

January 5, 2011

My Dad sent me a text message to say that ABC News was doing another expose on an autism doctor. Right away, I knew it was either a hit piece against Dr. Paul Offit or a fluff piece about the martyrized Andrew Wakefield.

I was right about one thing: the piece was about Andrew Wakefield. But for once, it seems like the media is starting to wake up to the idea that this guy Wakefield is not the most trustworthy tool in the tool shed. He’s just a tool, and not the kind that hangs from Handy Manny’s belt. The British Medical Journal has come right out and called Andrew Wakefield “a fraud” according to ABC News. Wow. The BMJ doesn’t mince words, does it?

Of course, we’ve been saying for years that Wakefield acted improperly. He was paid a heap of money by antivaccine trial lawyers just before he did his “research”, his study was only on 12 children, and his ethical integrity has repeatedly been called into question for other reasons by people such as journalist Brian Deer. There is no reason that anyone should give a hoot about his original published paper, which has been retracted by it’s co-authors and the journal that published it.

So why is this news? I’m not sure. But it’s one sweet victory in a long and tedious battle.

Please visit Elyse at Skepchick

November 21, 2010

Read what she wrote today. She is one of the contributors to the Parenting Within Reason podcast. Read the rest of this entry »

Mark Crislip on Homeopathic Vaccines

November 5, 2010

Mark Crislip takes on Homeopathic Vaccines today on Science Based Medicine:

The first ‘law’ behind vaccines and homeopathy is the same: like cures like. Vaccines are the only medical validation of the first  ‘law’ of homeopathy of which I am aware.  It is the second ‘law’ of homeopathy where medicine, and reality, part company with homeopathy, the ‘law’ of dilutions.  Where vaccines are given with a well characterized concentration of antigen, homeopathic nostrums are often diluted long past the point where anything remains behind.  If a homeopathic nostrum is  20X, then there is no longer even a molecule of the original substance in the mixture.   Which can be a good thing, since homeopaths  use nosodes as their vehicle for imaginary vaccination.

A  nosode “is a homeopathic remedy prepared from a pathological specimen. The specimen is taken from a diseased animal or person and may consist of saliva, pus, urine, blood, or diseased tissue.”

And people complain about the alleged toxins in real vaccines.

If only I could post this for everyone’s information on my fun LA based online mom support group.  But I can’t,  because a thread regarding homeopathic vaccinations was shut down by the moderator after it became too heated.  So I am reluctant to post a link to Mark Crislip’s article and bring more angry emails upon myself.

Actually, there were more grateful emails than angry ones.  Several readers on that board wrote to me to say basically, “Thank you for speaking up.  I am afraid to say anything.”

A few months back, a homeopath posted on our board about the possibility of using homeopathic vaccinations, and she offered them as an alternative to parents frightened of vaccines.  I usually don’t say much on the board about alternative medicine.  I prefer to keep my posts limited to finding free baby stuff, getting rid of unwanted baby stuff, kvetching about lack of sleep, and offering support to new breastfeeding moms.  Why get into a tangle with people who are hawking acupuncture or amber teething necklaces?  I don’t see that it would change anyone’s mind, and I already had a forum (Rational Moms, which has now merged with this blog) where I could get on a soap box.

But I had to say something about homeopathic vaccinations.  What would be on my conscience if I didn’t?  A mom gets fooled into giving her kid one of those and then the kid gets measles encephalitis?  So I spoke up.  And there was a huge response, most people on my side, and some really, really not on my side.  I got a few angry emails, more supportive ones, and then finally, the moderator of the blog said enough already and asked us all not to post anymore.

I kept my tone neutral the whole time, but I think what got people’s nipples in a twist (sorry, but you can use that expression if you’re talking about a breast feeding support group) was that I called into question the entire practice of homeopathy.  I didn’t just say the vaccinations were a bad idea, I said look, homeopathy is nonsense, and here are some links for you to read.  And people didn’t like that at all.  I got one email from a woman who said, “Are you crazy?” And then she went on to use a bunch of logical fallacies, like telling me that a lot of people use homeopathy, so it must be valid, and there are even homeopathic hospitals, so who was I to say it didn’t work?

The moderator, when she shut this thread down, gave some general guidelines for discussing controversial topics, and actually I’ve found them quite useful.  As I’ve gotten a little better, over time, at speaking up about skeptical topics, I’ve tried to implement that moderator’s advice, and I’ve come up with a few rules of my own, which I elaborated upon here.  I’ve gone from unfriending people on Facebook to being able to speak civilly and then walk away from a discussion not angry.  Progress!

I guess for some people, questioning alternative medicine in general is just too much.  What I maybe should have stuck with were links to studies that show that these homeopathic vaccinations are inneffective.  And then maybe a little, watered down statement about how “to the best of my understanding” homeopathy in general is a total waste of time and money.  I don’t know.

Here are the studies Mark Crislip found:

Are there any studies or case reports  to support the use of nosodes? As best I can discover there are two clinical trials in animals of nosodes: one in calves that did not show benefit and one in mice that did, and both are in journals too obscure for my library to have subscriptions. There are two cases of fatal polio after receiving homeopathic vaccinations. That is it in Pubmed.  Not a convincing literature for effectiveness.

The proof offered by this homeopath on my mom board was (get ready to be shocked) all self published by some dude, probably writing from his basement.  So all I really had to do was point out the questionable nature of that evidence, which of course, I did.  But changing people’s minds about homeopathy in general?  Maybe too much for the board. 

My point in posting an article like this here is never really to break news.  Homeopathic vaccinations don’t work?  Not really news.  It’s more to contemplate for myself about how to talk to other parents without provoking rage, if that is possible.  How do I live as a person who can’t keep her mouth shut but really hates conflict?  I’m just trying to get better at that, somehow.

My Pertussis Paranoia

November 4, 2010

Once upon a time I was a professional who went to work every day with a jacket and a little floppy tie. I did battle with second order differential equations, multiple computers with various quirks (like the VAX), varying data for parameter studies and working in a large bullpen room full of engineers like myself. That was back when I was intelligent, before I had kids. Little did I know what I was to expect. Read the rest of this entry »

Post Halloween Pox

November 1, 2010

I hope everyone had a good Halloween.  Now it is time to gear up for the end of the year holidays.  I have a tale of a memorable November a while ago.  First let us start with a picture of MathMan in his Red Ranger costume that I made when he was four years old:

Healthy looking but infectious!

Isn’t he adorable?  His big brother was the Blue Ranger, and I put little white felt cutouts on their baby sister’s pink onesie to turn her into the Pink Ranger.  Halloween was very busy with a visit to the grandparents and then going trick or treating at the local mall (and hitting up some of the neighbors).

Then we found something out the next day… Read the rest of this entry »

Dang Amy, Tell Me How You Really Feel!

October 24, 2010

Amy Tuteur has a great post about “Pseudo-knowledge” up on her blog.  She goes to town on vaccine rejectionists, alternative medicine advocates, and home birth advocates for getting their information on the internet but having no actual medical knowledge.

It is certainly true that advocates of alternative health have often done a great deal of reading. And it is true that they have learned lots of new things. But what they fail to understand is that they have acquired pseudo-knowledge. It has the appearance of real knowledge; it uses lots of big words, and it often includes a list of scientific citations. There’s just one teensy problem; it’s not true.

The appearance of real knowledge is what can trip a lot of us up.  It’s what made me consider the alternate vaccine schedule at one point.  Since none of us on this blog are scientists or doctors, it is obviously somewhat ironic to post this next quote from Amy’s article here, but here goes:

The truth about health education is both simple and stark. You cannot be educated about any aspect of health without reading and understanding scientific textbooks and the scientific literature. Period!

Don’t waste your time perusing the internet. Unless you are willing to confirm what you read on the internet by reading the scientific literature, you can’t be sure you’ve learned anything.

So, yeah, it’s sort of funny that Dr. Amy is telling people to stop wasting time reading health advice on the internet…but she’s giving this advice on the internet.

Don’t bother to tell the rest of us that you are “educated” because you’ve demonstrated nothing more than your gullibility. You haven’t acquired knowledge, you’ve acquired pseudo-knowledge, and it marks you as a fool.

While I love this statement, I also don’t quite think that believing these kinds of things marks you as a “fool.”  Gullible, maybe, but it’s easy to be fooled.  It is embarrassing to hear anti-vaccine folks talk and repeat the same misguided statements.  Sadly, I hear this kind of talk too often where I live, and now our pertussis epidemic may be the outcome of this ignorance, which continues to be passed on through the grapevine and on the internet and in the parks in my neighborhood.

But I do remember being fooled and scared by this kind of talk.  The vaccination rates are most down in LA among people just like me–the well educated and slightly suspicious of authority.  We’re the target audience for the anti-vaxers.  The pseudo-knowledge sounds pretty impressive to us, and that is the problem.

Boulder Public Library Speaker

October 3, 2010

Look who is coming to Boulder, CO!

WHO: Dr. Andrew J. Wakefield WHAT: Speaking in Boulder WHERE: Boulder Public Library Auditorium (on Arapahoe between Broadway and 9th Street) WHEN: October 20, 2010, 6:00 pm, Free


Oh Deer!
Read the rest of this entry »