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So, another All Black has come down with mumps and the comments threads are once more awash with those opposed to vaccines, posting the usual mix of pseudoscience and misinformation. Honestly, I would post a link on the Stuff FB page to this excellent commentary by Dr Mark Crislip, but I just know that the antivax proponents would see only the extracts of woo and ignore Mark's science.

On the other hand, the comments threads certainly provide some 'teachable moments'... The silly thing is, so many of the claims made there are so very easy to check. Those making them must hope that most people won't bother, especially if you sound all confident & knowing. For example, the old one about how the Amish don't vaccinate (&, by extension) don't have individuals with autism in their population.  

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Except that they do. Snopes has investigated the claim made by Pink (and by many others) and found it wanting. However, since (in my experience) woo-promoters are likely to laugh if you cite snopes, I searched more widely: an Amish-focused website also points out that many Amish do vaccinate their children (and also explains why the vaccination rates are lower than that of the general US population). And this article in the Atlantic ranges more widely and discusses, not only the fact that vaccination is a thing in this group, but also the underlying reasons why they are prone to some pretty nasty genetic diseases.

Then there's Brown, whose wildly-capitalised statements also repay investigation. He seems to think that vaccine-preventable diseases disappeared with the advent of modern sewage systems and good public hygiene practices. Sadly this doesn't explain why, in 1950s America, polio epidemics were a regular summer happening - until the vaccine was developed. Nor does it explain why hospitalisation due to rotavirus infections in New Zealand didn't begin a steep decline until the vaccine was released in 2014

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As for his claims about isolated tribes not having diseases because they don't have vaccines - it's more because they're isolated. I did suggest that he consider what happened (all too often) when those isolated groups were 'discovered' by explorers who brought those diseases with them. Our own NZ history is a sad case in point - the article at that link notes that

Although the impact of introduced diseases was severe, Maori were dispersed over a wide area and so were less at risk than Pacific Islanders living on small islands. The first New Zealand-wide epidemic of measles in 1854 may have killed 7% of the Maori population. This is an alarming figure, but far below that for Fiji's first outbreak, which killed an estimated 20% of their population. 

Brown is in good (?) company - for another antivaxxer, who also clings to the idea that hygiene can explain everything, came up with this doozy about the 'black' (bubonic) plague

how did we get rid of black plague.png

He seems blissfully unaware that there is currently an outbreak of bubonic plague in Madagascar - with a case-fatality rate of 8.6%. Or that plague is present in parts of the US (and elsewhere around the world). Or that for the moment is treated using antibiotics, which isn't possible for the viral VPDs. 

It wouldn't be a FB antivaccine thread without the almost obligatory reference to not-a-doctor Andrew Wakefield

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The irony here is that Black is the person who is believing what she wants to & really needs to understand that what she's doing isn't research. If she'd genuinely done a proper search, she'd have found that the judge's full decision is available on line, and it neither 'vindicates' the original fraudulent research paper, nor says that the Lancet should 'reinstate' it.

But the one that startled me was the statement by both Red & Black that polio is simply a manifestation of DDT poisoning. Their google-fu appears to have deserted them on this occasion, as on so many others. But I suppose it's a change from them blaming vaccines for everything. 

polio was a product of DDT poisoning.png

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I've just received a reminder that I need to set up the paper & teaching appraisal for my summer school paper. This is a series of items that students can answer on a 1-5 scale (depending on how much or how little they agree with each statement), plus opportunities to give open-ended responses to a few questions. These last are the ones where I might want to find out how the students think I might improve my teaching, or the aspects of the paper that they did & didn't like.

Among the first set of items is usually a stem along the lines of "this teacher provides useful feedback on my work", where responses would range from 'always' (1) to 'never' (5). It's the one where I get my lowest scores - and this is despite the fact that I provide general feedback to the class, written individual feedback on essays etc (& when I was teaching first-year, the opportunity to get feedback on drafts), and verbal feedback when the opportunity is there. Digging into that a bit, it appeared that most students only saw the written feedback as feedback at all, and since a substantial minority didn't collect their essays afterwards, then they felt they weren't getting feedback. Bit of a catch-22, and one that perhaps marking & giving feedback on line might ameliorate? I hope so.

But you can understand why students might not participate in an appraisal of the paper and the teaching in it: if they feel that the teachers aren't providing them with feedback, why bother? And - just as important - if we don't close the loop & tell students how we use their feedback, then why would they bother?

So, are universities good at providing feedback to students? I don't agree, and I think quite a few students would say no - and according to this excellent article in the Conversation, academic researchers, Australia's 2015 Graduate Course Experience survey, and the Australian government's "Feedback for Learning" project agree with them. For example: 

The 2015 Graduate Course Experience surveyed over 93,000 students within four months of their graduation. It reported that while close to three quarters of graduates felt the feedback they received was helpful, 16.3% could not decide if the feedback was helpful, while a further 9.7% found the feedback unhelpful. Clearly something is wrong when a quarter of our graduates indicate feedback is not working.

The findings from the Feedback for Learning survey of more than 4,000 students are particularly interesting - & saddening. Of all those surveyed, 37% said that the feedback is discouraging. Thirty-seven percent!!! There were few instances where students felt that they'd received the opportunity to benefit from any formative feedback they received. 15% of all respondents found the feedback upsetting - but this rose for international students, students with poor English skills (these first two are not necessarily one & the same) or a learning disability. And a majority of both staff & students felt that the feedback is impersonal. 

You can see why I found the article saddening. But why is there such a problem? Perhaps, suggests the Conversation, it's partly (largely?) because in many cases both academics and students don't really understand what 'feedback' really is. 

For example, many academics and students assume that feedback is a one-way flow of information, which happens after assessment submission and is isolated from any other event. In addition, academics and students often feel that the role of feedback is merely to justify the grade. A further misunderstanding is that feedback is something that is done by academics and given to students. These beliefs are deeply held in academic culture.

Luckily there are things that we can do about it. The article describes four things that educators should bear in mind that would significantly improve both the quality of feedback that we provide, and the nature of students' learning experiences arising from that feedback. I strongly recommend reading those recommendations - and acting on them.

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At FYSEC2017A last week, we heard about a site called sketchfab. Sessions like this are an invitation to get sidetracked, & my friend Terry & I set up an account & went in for a look. There are some truly amazing 3D models there that I think could have real utility in science teaching (& an enormous amount of other material (classical sculpture, anyone?), from complete organisms down to the level of macromolecular structure.

There are some seriously talented people out there! (And many thanks to Andy Todd, who's happy to have his work shared here.)

A #FYSEC2017 if you're a twitterer :)

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I'm sitting in the sun waiting for the 2017 First-Year Science Educators' Colloquium (FYSEC) to kick off- & it's somewhat embarassing to realise that I hadn't done anything with some of the notes I took at last year's event. However, much of the discussion then is still just as relevant today, & in fact many of this year's discussions will also be about the transition from school to uni. So, here we go: 

One of the nice things about FYSEC (formerly known as FYBEC, where the B = biology) is that it brings university teachers working in the first-year space with secondary school teachers in the various disciplines. This is particularly important because both groups can contribute to an enhanced transition into tertiary study, something that many students struggle with. So last year, it was really interesting to hear my colleague Pru Casey talk about the transition to university in addressing the question: are school biology teachers doing a good job?

If you look at the comments on a news story about education, you'll almost certainly come across someone who thinks that they're an 'expert' in secondary school, because after all we all went there. (I suspect that uni lecturers can be as guilty of this as the next person.) However, the secondary sector is constantly evolving under a combination of pressures from its political masters, the results of international research, and the demands & expectations of schools' wider communities. So it was timely to have Pru remind everyone that only around 1/3 of year 13 students will go on to university study. This means that for any discipline, not just the sciences, teachers are faced with the problem of delivering what they believe their students need to succeed at university while also meeting the needs of the remaining 2/3 of the class. 

Rather than make assumptions about what might (or might not) have been covered in school, Pru asked for lecturers to identify the actual Achievement Standards (ASs) available in their discipline at years 12 & 13. This is relatively easy to do, via Te Kete Ipurangi or the NZ Curriculum and NZ Qualifications Authority web pages). However, that's only part of the story, and it would be unwise of tertiary educators to assume that all schools teach all the standards: in fact, schools will vary in terms of which standards they offer, and in addition students may not choose to attempt the relevant assessments. (When I was the Year 13 Bio examiner, the genetics AS was the one that was attempted by the fewest students, but bear in mind that this particular subject has now moved to the year 12 curriculum.) 

At FYSEC 2016, Pru noted that schools were already starting to drop Level 1 NCEA assessments - she hoped that this would become a nationwide thing, and in that light this article makes for interesting reading. The hope is that reducing the number of ASs that a student takes will result in much better learning outcomes overall.

Why? Well, assessment should not & does not equal curriculum, but the focus on achieving a particular number of credits (each AS carries a small number of credits with it) has meant that NCEA assessment has become a de facto driver of what is actually taught. When the NZ school curriculum was redeveloped, back in 2007, the intention was that schools and communities would use it to develop and deliver tailored, flexible curricula that provide what those communities wanted for their children. However, the relatively narrow focus of NCEA assessment, and the way that University Entrance is determined, actually work against that outcome. (And in fact I'm not convinced that simply reducing the number of ASs & credits available to students will address this issue, if the breadth of curriculum still isn't delivered because of pressure from other subject areas.) 

But to come back to that transition: Pru feels - & I agree - that we shouldn't be asking what schools or universities should leave out; we should be asking, what should students be learning? In that context, she suggested that it would be valuable for all uni first-year lecturers and program convenors to look at the front part of the NZ Curriculum (NZC) document. This sets out the key competencies that have to be delivered, which can then be contextualised within the various disciplines. For example, with her L2 Biology students, Pru uses a local project (e.g. dredging of Otago harbour; surveying passerines in Dunedin's green belt) to provide the context in which she then leads her students to aquire both content knowledge & the process skills and competencies mandated in the NZC. 

She pointed out that most students can master the key competencies very well - but they also need to learn how to learn in order to succeed at university (and universities need to support the mindset that underlies this). There are great on-line opportunities available for self-directed learners, and students who've gained the necessary intellectual skills can excel in biology (or any discipline, really) at both school & at uni - if they have been supported in learning how to learn. That really has to be up there with the most important competencies there are. (However, the need to pass external ASs requires rather a different skill set - there's not necessarily a lot of critical thinking or analysis going on there. Once again, assessment impacts on the curriculum in a negative way.)

Pru concluded by commenting that university staff who deal with first-year students need to be aware that: they're used to a more personal approach (they aren't used to the feeling that they might be 'just a number'); they may find themselves in information overload and don't know how to cope; many don't know how to study on their own: they're unsure where to go or who to ask for help. Many really haven't gained self-management skills or the ability to grasp the big picture (and in this, the fragmentation of learning promoted by a focus on ASs has a role to play). She believed that schools consistently push two key messages: the need to develop the ability to see the whole picture (the breadth of the curriculum), & understanding how one learns. Like Pru, I believe that these are messages that universities should also actively promote and learnings that we should encourage. The question then becomes - how do we actually get students to engage with those messages? Could the sciences learn from the humanities on this one?

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The Butchering Art is medical historian Lindsey Fitzharris's first book. And  what a book! Descriptions that bring the horrors of pre-anaesthesia, pre-antisepsis surgery shudderingly into view? Very definitely. Science and history? Oh yes, lots of it, and beautifully told. And through it all, the humanity and vision of Joseph Lister and others like him, working to improve the outcomes of surgery, childbirth, & warfare. 

Before reading the kindle edition of this deeply fascinating volume I had only a fairly sketchy idea of Joseph Lister & his huge impact on health outcomes for those unlucky enough to end up in a Victorian hospital. Yes, I knew he came up with the use of carbolic acid as an antiseptic, an insight that radically changed outcomes for so many people: prior to his work, Fitzharris describes hospitals as "gateways to death"; places that people, especially people with money, avoided if at all possible.  But through Fitzharris's narrative we learn about Lister's background, the importance to him of family (especially his relationship with his father) and his Quaker faith, the trip to Edinburgh that was meant to precede a stay on the Continent but which saw him remain in Edinburgh and then Glasgow for decades, his insights about bacteria as the cause of sepsis following his encounter with Pasteur's work, and the struggle he faced in getting the medical establishment to accept that antisepsis using carbolic acid could save thousands of lives. And it's all interwoven with a great deal of history, science, and social commentary, and some great human-interest vignettes. 

When Lister was young, surgery really was a 'butchering art'. Surgeons prided themselves on how quickly they could perform amputations - a necessary evil given the lack of any effective anaesthesia. In fact, we first meet Lister as an onlooker at the first operation using a true anaesthetic in the UKA, when the great surgeon Robert Liston used ether to render a young man blessedly unconscious while his leg was amputated. (The task took Liston just 28 seconds.)

Fitzharris also relates the tale - which she feels is perhaps apocryphal - of how Liston's speed on one occasion contributed to an operation having a 300% mortality rate. He cut so fast that an assistant was unable to get his hand out of the way & lost 3 fingers to Liston's knife; an unlucky bystander had his coat slashed by the same blade. The bystander died of fright on the spot; both patient and assistant died later of sepsis. 

Lister went on to study medicine and became a great surgeon and outstanding teacher himself; apparently his students absolutely worshipped him. But Fitzharris makes it clear that something else contributed to his discovery of a reliable antisepsis for use in hospitals: the early gift from his father of a high-quality microscope led to a lifelong interest (& a very large number of publications) in scientific research into the causes of putrefaction and sepsis. Then, in 1864, a colleague introduced Lister to Pasteur's work on fermentation and decay. Lister immediately acquired and read Pasteur's publications, replicated the Frenchman's work in his own lab at home, and realised that wound infections were down to bacteria (not realising at first that they were everywhere, not just in the atmosphere). He then began to search for a treatment that would kill the germs but not harm the patient:

"When I read Pasteur's article, I said to myself: just as we can destroy lice on the nit-filled head of a child by applying a poison that causes no lesion to the scalp, I believe that we can apply to a patient's wounds toxic products that will destroy the bacteria without harming the soft parts of this tissue." [Lister, quoted by Fitzharris.]

He settled on carbolic acid because he'd heard that engineers at a sewage works had used this to counteract the stench that accompanied the plant's operations and which hovered over fields where the waste was irrigated. As a bonus, they'd found that the substance also killed protozoan parasites. 

It would be easy to say that the rest is history - but in fact Lister's 'eureka' moment happens about half-way through the book. There's much more history, science, excitement, and unpleasant messiness before the end, including details of a mastectomy sans anaesthesia that another author might have glossed over, or handled less sensitively. While unpleasant, that particular story helps contextualise the awful decision that faced Lister when his own sister, with a tumour hard in her breast, sought her brother's help in its removal. Ether made the actual operation painless for Isabella, which Lister's surgical skill and his scrupulous use of antisepsis saw her survive the operation and live for another 3 years. (His growing reputation saw him subsequently operate on Queen Victoria herself, followed by an appointment as her personal surgeon and an eventual knighthood.)

And Fitzharris reminds us that no-one achieves greatness on their own.

Ideas are never created in a vacuum, and Lister's life very much attests to that truth. From the moment he looked through the lens of his father's microscope to the day he was knighted by Queen Victoria, his life was shaped and influenced by his circumstances and the people around him.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, & will wait eagerly for the next. In the interim, I'll just have to get my Fitzharris fix on Facebook. If you have an interest in medical history and biological curiosities, you might like to follow her too.

 

A The Americans had come up with this use of ether some years earlier. 

 

Lyndsey Fitzharris (2017) The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's quest to transform the grisly world of Victorian medicine. Scientific American/Farrar, Straus & Giroux; ISBN-10: 0374117292.

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That's the title of this excellent article by Jennings Brown, and I urge you to go and read the whole thing. It's the tale of perhaps the last 3 people in the US who are still alive because they are still living in iron lungs. It's a story of courage and endurance that lets them live a life that most of us would find impossible to imagine. It's also a sad story, because those 3 rely on the love, kindness & skills of friends, family, and complete strangers to keep their much-repaired machines going & so keep them alive. The lungs are so rare that parts and knowledgeable technicians are harder & harder to come by; if they break down, or the power goes off, the people reliant on them may just die in their sleep.  

This is why we have the polio vaccine. This is why my mother's parents would have had bittersweet feelings when that vaccine became available, because it was too late to prevent their daughter contracting polio. And my friend Dorothy, who spent 6 months in an iron lung in her youth, for the very same reason: the vaccine came too late for her. The trouble is that people forget, because in countries like New Zealand it's a long time since wards of people in iron lungs, and kids wearing calipers as they learned to walk again, were a common sight. 

Brown notes that

The worst polio outbreak year in US history took place in 1952, a year before Lillard was infected. There were about 58,000 reported cases. Out of all the cases, 21,269 were paralyzed and 3,145 died...

In 1955, Americans finally had access to the polio vaccine developed by Jonas Salk. “It was hailed as a medical miracle and the excitement about it was really unparalleled as far as health history in the United States,” Jay Wenger, director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s polio-eradication effort told me. “No one who remembers the 1950s, in terms of polio, wants to go back there and be in that situation again.”

For this was a common outcome of 'that' situation:

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Sadly, we're getting to the point where those who remember the 1950s in terms of polio are becoming fewer in number. Brown's excellent article deserves a wide audience because of this.

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A recent FB post from Stuff discussed the rising concerns around the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. (This is something that Siouxsie Wiles has often written about: here and here, for example; her excellent book on the subject is reviewed here.)

Fairly predictably, it didn't take long for the proponents of essential oils to turn up, soon to be joined by the usual antivax folks and those arguing that an 'alkaline' diet is the best cure-all. (They also believe that drinking lemon juice - an acid - is the best way to achieve thisA. It's not, and alkalosis is not a healthy state of being.) However, someone also commented that we should basically allow natural selection to take its course, by removing the "weak and feeble". It's not the first time I've seen this said, but it annoys me every time.

Firstly, because many diseases don't give a damn whether you're fit & healthy, or not. Smallpox was no respecter of health (or social status), for example; nor was the "Spanish flu"B that caused the pandemic towards the end of World War I. In fact, that particular form of influenza had a more severe effect on the young & the healthy. As this article in the Smithsonian says: 

The 1918 pandemic was unusual in that it killed many healthy 20- to 40-year-olds, including millions of World War I soldiers. In contrast, people who die of the flu [these days] are usually under five years old or over 75.

In the US alone, around 670,000 people died; in New Zealand, the toll was around 8,600. Fiji lost 14% of its population in the space of just 16 days.

This article on the Stanford University site adds further, chilling, information: 

The effect of the influenza epidemic was so severe that the average life span in the US was depressed by 10 years. The influenza virus had a profound virulence, with a mortality rate at 2.5% compared to the previous influenza epidemics, which were less than 0.1%. The death rate for 15 to 34-year-olds of influenza and pneumonia were 20 times higher in 1918 than in previous years. 

In some ways, one of the worst aspects of this pandemic is the way that - in the US at least - truth also became a casualty, with public health officials initially lying about its severity and spread. They were supported in this by newspaper editors, who refused to print letters from doctors that warned of the danger. 

What was it that killed so many healthy young people, in particular? The general consensus seems to be that their deaths were largely due to the impact of their own immune systems, which mounted such a strong response that they severely damaged the patients' lungs (which also made it much easier for secondary bacterial infections, such as pneumonia, to take hold). For these people, "weak & feeble" didn't come into it.

The other reason that attitude annoys me is that it betrays a deep misunderstanding of how natural selection operates. This is because the process isn't future-focused. A population under the influence of natural selection may well become better-adapted to its current environment, but what works now may not work so well if the environment should change.

And some genetic traits of which that original commenter might be dismissive, could turn out to be beneficial. After all, the reason that the sickle-cell allele is retained in many African countries is that it offers some protection against malaria (the same is true for thalassaemia in Mediterranean lands), despite the fact that having two copies of this allele (ie being homozygous for it) confers significant, life-threatening disadvantages. 

Then there's cystic fibrosis (CF) - again, in individuals homozygous for the allele, this disorder is life-threatening. But the allele is relatively common: among newborns in Europe, 1 in 2,500 will have CF. It's hypothesised that this is because an individual with a single copy of the allele (a carrier) may be protected from the worst effects of cholera. This is because cholera results in very large amounts of watery diarrhoea, and the same cell-membrane chloride pumps that are implicated in producing all that watery efflux don't work properly in CF individuals. (There's also a suggestion that the allele may have conferred an advantage to some people early in the development of dairying, when lactase persistence was not widespread.)

I guess I shouldn't really read the comments sections!

 

A In fact, there are an awful lot of totally incorrect claims made for the benefits of drinking lemon juice.

B While it's generally been thought that this pandemic strain originated in China, a second Smithsonian story suggests that it may actually have begun in the US, in Kansas, where the virus may have jumped from pigs (possibly pigs already infected with an avian influenza virus).  

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There's an oft-repeated claim by the more strident antivaxxers that ingesting and injecting are two different things when it comes to subsantces like aluminium. This betrays a disturbing lack of knowledge of biology and physiology (especially from those who boast of 'having done their research'), but they repeat it nonetheless. (Red's self-belief is mildly amusing.)

The aluminium present in vaccines (as an adjuvant; see later) enters the interstitial fluid (the fluid that bathes all cells) & eventually the bloodstream. However, what Red is completely unwilling to accept, despite a large amount of evidence to the contrary, is that the same thing happens to aluminium contained in food and drink. I did try.

There's been quite a lot of research on this, as it happens (& as another commenter, Paul, pointed out at length. For his pains he was blocked by another antivaxxer; as she'd started that particular thread, her action made it invisible to Paul. I guess she just couldn't stand being presented with material that consistently refuted her stance, but it does say something - actually, it says a lot! - about her willingness to consider all available evidence.) Both food and drink contain low levels of aluminium, as does the air we breathe (allbeit in tiny amounts). This is partly the result of aluminium being so plentiful, and widely distributed, in the earth's crust, and partly because it's added to a range of foodstuffs. It's also released into the air by coal-fired power plants. The CDC states that in the US, an average adult daily intake is 7-9mg of aluminium - but the great majority of that is rapidly elininated in faeces and urine, and perhaps also across the skin. So, if Red wants to completely avoid her children avoiding ingestion of aluminium, she'll have to put them on a very restricted diet.

Of course, to leave via urine the aluminium must first enter the bloodstream. It crosses the gut wall by moving either through cells ('transcellular') or between them ('paracellular'), and thence across capillary walls into the blood. At which point, that ingested Al is in exactly the same place as the injected Al - which as this author makes clear, is "dissolved in the interstitial fluid, absorbed into the blood, distributed to tissues, and eliminated in the urine" - only there's much more from the ingestion route, compared to injection.

And then it mostly leaves the body, rather rapidly. For injected aluminium, the great majority is eliminated from the body within just a few days post-injection. However, all this is something that Red & her associates are completely unwilling to accept.

Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for my $hill-bucks to arrive...

Actually, I'm also still waiting for a citation to support the claim that "vaccinated kids have so much brain damage". I guess that'll be a while in coming.

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On that FB thread, one commenter proudly proclaimed that she & her four children had all had measles. Over in a week, no problems, stop yer whining. 

Well, lovely for her - & if the illness indeed lasted only a week per person then they were lucky; 7-10 days is the norm for uncomplicated measles. But measles infection carries a range of costs & risks, about which she seemed blissfully ignorant. Or couldn't care less; on that thread, it was hard to tell sometimes. 

If a child comes down with measles, someone has to stay home (or pay someone else to stay home) & care for them, for a week or more. For many families, that's quite a financial burden.

If any individual comes down with measles, there's a taxpayer cost, because their contacts need to be traced, checked, asked to quarantine themselves if infected. 

If that individual develops any of the severe complications of measles (& the risks of that are much greater than the risks associated with vaccination) then the costs to families (in terms of disruption, travel to hospital, time off work) & to the taxpayer (hospitalisation & medications) climb again. (The figures at that link are from the US, but the message is the same.)

After recovery, anyone who's been ill with measles is at risk of succumbing to other infections. This is because measles infection reduces the immune system's ability to fight off other pathogens for up to three years

And in rare cases, especially if they contracted measles as an infant, that individual may develop the progressive brain inflammation known as subacute sclerosing panencephalitis. There is no cure and it is often fatal. 

The vaccine is a better option. Seriously.

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Aaron Leaman's excellent storyA in the Waikato Times and in Stuff used those words, and I'm sticking with them - because those adjectives desribe the majority of the comments on the relevant FB page.

When Aaron interviewed me for that story, I commented that it's essential for scientists and doctors to continue to confront the waves of anti-vaccine mythinformation that's so easily circulated via the internet & social media. Without that, and without journalists like Aaron who write science-&-evidence-based articles, the strident anti-vaxx voices, with their continual Gish gallops, may be all that people hear. But honestly, each time an article like this is published, visiting the comments section makes me feel like it's groundhog day - or a game of whackamole - because the same tired old claims come up again and again and againB.

There's the claim that 'Big Pharma' pushes vaccines because they make a truckload of money for them. The World Health Organisation provides a useful schedule of vaccine prices: for most the price varies from a few cents to a few dollars. The CDC has collated the costs of treating individuals severely affected by any of a number of vaccine-preventable diseases. It's in the thousands of dollars (& would be little different here, once the exchange rate's taken into account). I'd say Big Pharma would make more money out of people being hospitalised.

Incidentally, vaccines don't cause autism. They just don't. Not even the mercury.

Grey could also have pointed out that the mercury-containing compound thiomersal (at least 2 spellings) hasn't been in paediatric vaccines since 2001, with the exception of some multi-dose flu vaccines. You'd think that this would have taken the wind out of the sails of those claiming that its presence in vaccines is linked to autism - but you'd be mistaken. Sadly, Orange refused to listen & continues with the claim. As do others, claiming that vaccines contain borax, polysorbate, formaldehyde, foetal cells, you name it. They generally ignore the fact that dose is important, something I've written about previously: for example, our bodies make more formaldehyde on a daily basis than you'll ever find in a vaccine. (Don't eat pears if you're worried about the stuff.)

There's this:

This concern is sort of understandable; the number of vaccinated individuals is (currently) much higher than the unvaccinated, and because no vaccine is 100% effective some of those vaccinated may still come down with the disease. Say you've got a vaccine with 80% effectiveness, and a population where there are 1000 who are vaccinated and 100 who aren't. This means that in the vaxxed group, up to 200 individuals may get sick: 20% of that group. But if we're dealing with a highly infectious virus, like measles, then 80 or so of the 100 unvaxxed may contract it: 80% of that group. So on a proportional basis, unvaccinated individuals are much more likely to be infected.

There's the statements that Andrew Wakefield didn't commit scientific fraud (he did), that his medical licence has been reinstated (it hasn't), that he never claimed MMR vaccine was linked to autism (he did). None of them are correct, but Wakefield seems to remain a hero in their eyes. (He also directed the film "Vaxxed", but we're supposed to believe that it's an accurate & unbiased documentary.)

And some of them just make me very, very angry:


A Aaron's also written this article, which addresses some of the myths relating to vaccination.

B Occasionally something new cropped up. On one thread the 'discussion' focused on gardasil. I cannot believe that people can be so wilfully ignorant.

I did. Well, I posted the link. Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV.

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  • Alison Campbell: I feel that may have connotations of 'night soil', which read more
  • herr doktor bimler: Would it sound better as "liquid soil"? read more
  • Alison Campbell: The results in the study you linked to look promising read more
  • Alison Campbell: Thanks, Ed. Totally agree - it's just a matter of read more
  • Ed Darrell: Plague? Antibiotics, plus we know the vector and how to read more
  • Matthew: At least you came at this with an open mind. read more
  • Alison Campbell: No, I think you're wrong. You do get people there read more
  • herr doktor bimler: On the other hand, the comments threads certainly provide some read more
  • Alison Campbell: "$hillpounds" has a much less euphonious ring to it. read more
  • herr doktor bimler: "$hill-bucks"? I believe you are paid in pre-decimal currency, that's read more