Some planks in the platform

The Texas Republican Party platform document was amusing (and scary); as I discussed earlier, it implied that the party called for banning the teaching of critical thinking. This whetted my appetite for the National Republican Party platform, a document which was expected to take the whole party further to the right than before. That document was ratified at this week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, FL [1].

A quick search through the document on issues of interest to me:

  •  “Science”:a quick search for the word “science” turned up a few places where it appears. For instance, on page 7:“We can accelerate the process of restoring our domestic economy—and reclaiming this country’s traditional position of dominance in international trade—by a policy of strategic immigration, granting more work visas to holders of advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math from other nations. Highly educated immigrants can assist in creating new services and products. In the same way, foreign students who graduate from an American university with an advanced degree in science, technology, engineering or math should be encouraged prosperity to and remain here and contribute to economic prosperity and job creation. Highly contribute skilled, English-speaking, and integrated into their communities, they are too valuable a resource to lose. As in past generations, we should encourage the world’s innovators and inventors to create our common future and their permanent homes here in the United States.”

    It’s amusing that here, when sucking scientific prowess from other nations means making America better, they are all for immigration. That’s pretty elitist.

    On page 18, we find a section on “Protecting our Environment.” Here we find:

    “Moreover, the advance of science and technology advances environmentalism as well. Science allows us to weigh the costs and benefits of a policy so that we can prudently deal with our resources. This is especially important when the causes and long-range effects of a phenomenon are uncertain. We must restore scientific integrity to our public research institutions and remove political incentives from publicly funded research.”

    Here, one needs to watch out for vague phrases like “restore scientific integrity” – it’s left up to the reader to define this phrase, since no evidence is given that such restoration is needed. Absent evidence, this implication of misbehavior in scientific institutions is merely the sowing of doubt. Similarly, the phrase “remove political incentives” implies, absent evidence, that such incentives pollute the science of the environment. Again, doubt is their product here.

    Later, on page 23, they discuss government regulation:

    “The bottom line on regulations is jobs. In listening to America, one constant we have heard is the job-crippling effect of even well-intentioned regulation. That makes it all the more important for federal agencies to be judicious about the impositions they create on businesses, especially small businesses. We call for a moratorium on the development of any new major and costly regulations until a Republican Administration reviews existing rules to ensure that they have a sound basis in science and will be cost-effective.”

    I find it at least amusing that when it comes to regulation of industry, here they demand science. Note the logical fallacies common of all political documents, from any party. ” . . . one constant we have heard . . . ” should be critically answered with “from whom?” The values assertion here, absent evidence, is that jobs and regulations are incompatible – this is a false dichotomy. You can choose jobs, or regulations, but not both; of course, as with all economic decisions, the truth is not that simple.

    Regarding NASA, the only science agency so far mentioned in the document, they say on page 28:

    “Today, America’s leadership in space is challenged by countries eager to emulate – and surpass – NASA’s accomplishments. To preserve our national security interests and foster innovation and competitiveness, we must sustain our preeminence in space, launching more science missions, guaranteeing unfettered access, and maintaining a source of high-value American jobs.”

    This same argument could have been applied to MANY areas of research, not just the one tied closely to the aerospace industry, which has offices and factories in just about every state and in many powerful districts.

    Then we get to family structure and find this pseudoscientific gem:

    “It has been proven by both experience and endless social science studies that traditional marriage is best for children.”

    Skeptic-brain kicks into high gear. “Experience” means “anecdote” – a small statistics sampling of the world that is mistaken for a generalization of the world. Experience is useless, unless it is backed by sound and self-consistent evidence of a much stronger sort (e.g. real data, gathered from a wide sampling of the population). As for the claim that there is “social science” studies (endless, no less) backing up the claim that a one man, one woman marriage is better than any other kind . . . PROVE IT. Cite the evidence. Was it peer-reviewed? What data were used? How did they control for other factors external to the same-sex nature of the couple that might influence marriage or children (e.g. support of the wider family, friends, community, etc.)? I’d love to see the data on this, because this claim hangs in the air and demands to be assessed critically.

    “Science” appears again in criticism of the Food and Drug Administration on page 34:

    “America’s leadership in life sciences R&D and medical innovation is being threatened. As a country, we must work together now or lose our leadership position in medical innovation, U.S. job creation, and access to life-saving treatments for U.S. patients. The United States has led the global medical device and pharmaceutical industries for decades. This leadership has made the U.S. the medical innovation capital of the world, bringing millions of high-paying jobs to our country and life-saving devices and drugs to our nation’s patients. But that leadership position is at risk; patients, innovators, and job creators point to the lack of predictability, consistency, transparency and efficiency at the Food and Drug Administration that is driving innovation overseas, benefiting foreign, not U.S., patients. We pledge to reform the FDA so we can ensure that the U.S. remains the world leader in medical innovation, that device and drug jobs stay in the U.S., that U.S. patients benefit first from new devices and drugs, and that the FDA no longer wastes U.S. taxpayer and innovators’ resources because of bureaucratic red tape and legal uncertainty.”

    Then on page 35-36, they turn to education:

    “After years of trial and error, we know what does work, what has actually made a difference in student advancement, and what is powering education reform at the local level all across America: accountability on the part of administrators, parents and teachers; higher academic standards; programs that support the development of character and financial literacy; periodic rigorous assessments on the fundamentals, especially math, science, reading, history, and geography; renewed focus on the Constitution and the writings of the Founding Fathers, and an accurate account of American history that celebrates the birth of this great nation; transparency, so parents and the public can discover which schools best serve their pupils; flexibility and freedom to innovate, so schools can adapt to the special needs of their students and hold teachers and administrators responsible for student performance. We support the innovations in education reform occurring at the State level based upon proven results. Republican Governors have led in the effort to reform our country’s underperforming education system, and we applaud these advancements. We advocate the policies and methods that have proven effective: building on the basics, especially STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math) and phonics; ending social promotions; merit pay for good teachers; classroom discipline; parental involvement; and strong leadership by principals, superintendents, and locally elected school boards. Because technology has become an essential tool of learning, proper implementation of technology is a key factor in providing every child equal access and opportunity.”

    It’s all pretty vague. Hey, we’re all for classroom discipline – I wish they defined that term. They use a lot of vague phrases here, whose exact meaning is left up to the reader. This is a whole paragraph of vague terminology, a great example of a massive logical fallacy. Fail to define the terms, and your viewer will define them for you in a way that maximizes their positive impact on the reader independent of your intent. So for all we know, “classroom discipline” means “corporal punishment for ill-behaving students” . . . but who can say, since it’s never defined?

    Then we get to a juicy subject – sexual education. Here, they finally say what they mean (page 36):

    “We renew our call for replacing “family planning” programs for teens with abstinence education which teaches abstinence until marriage as the responsible and respected standard of behavior. Abstinence from sexual activity is the only protection that is 100 percent effective against out-of-wedlock pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS when transmitted sexually. It is effective, science-based, and empowers teens to achieve optimal health outcomes and avoid risks of sexual activity. We oppose school-based clinics that provide referrals, counseling, and related services for abortion and contraception. We support keeping federal funds from being used in mandatory or universal mental health, psychiatric, or socio- emotional screening programs.”

    The science of abstinence-only education is clear; in states where this is the primary form of sexual education, the teen pregnancy rates are highest in the nation. For instance, see [2]. This word you use . . . “science” . . . I do not think it means what you think it means.

  • “Climate”: this word appears in the context of “climate change” only once, on page 40. Here, they complain that climate change is considered part of the overall threat to national security, and whine that the word “climate” appears more than “Al Qaeda”  in President Obama’s strategy for national security (I’d LOVE to know how they cherry-picked that statistic – I have some hypotheses on how they made that sentence a reality in their platform). It’s sad that the Republicans completely avoid this subject, either negatively or positively, in the document. They have completely abdicated any interest or responsibility on the most serious threat to the economic stability and prosperity of the United States – the predictability of the very climate upon which our entire way of life depends.



Resource: multiple simultaneous vaccinations, immune compromise, and autism

Correction (6/12/2013): I originally referred to a vaccine containing multiple vaccinations as both “comcomitant” and “conjugate.” In fact, a “conjugate” vaccine is different; it is one where an antigen is attached to a protein from the same parent organism in an attempt to confer the immunological properties of the carrier protien to the antigen. This is not at all what is being assessed in the articles below, which are focused on concomitant vaccines – the intent of this post.

There was a decent review of the advances in understanding autism and its causes printed in the New York Times [1]. I thought it would be useful to remind folks that this is scientific evidence for a real set of causes (linked to the immune response of the mother during development of the fetus). In contrast, there is no consistent supporting scientific evidence for the long-discredited “vaccine hypothesis,” which holds that vaccination is the cause of autism.

One of the claims used to argue against childhood vaccination is that some of the vaccines are introduced using a single dose containing multiple vaccines (a concomitant vaccination). The claim goes on to state that the baby’s immune system, overwhelmed by the multiple diseases it must suddenly learn about, causes autism to then occur. However, this claim has been scientifically discredited because the underlying explanatory mechanisms do not hold water and because in a specific case, MMR, no evidence has been found in multiple independent peer-reviewed studies for a vaccine-autism link.

Here are resources to help understand why this is not considered a legitimate scientific claim.

Note: journals are uptight about paid access to research, a practice with which I STRONGLY disagree. If you need any of these articles, please comment below (use your real email address when entering your comment) and I will try o make copies of the articles available in a private way. Some of these articles do not have electronic versions, so you’ll have to make a trip to your local university library or town library and see if you can get a copy from inter-library loan or through their journal subscription (typical of university libraries). If you care about this subject, you won’t see this as a barrier.

  • Overview article, published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, an international peer-reviewed journal on infectious diseases. This is merely a review article, which itself cites the key studies that disconfirm the conjugate vaccine/autism hypothesis ( “Vaccines and Autism: A Tale of Shifting Hypotheses.” Gerber, J. and Offit, P. (section editor: Plotkin, S.). Clin Infect Dis.(2009) 48 (4): 456-461. doi: 10.1086/596476.
  • 13 publications showing no link between the MMR conjugate vaccine and autism. Ten of these were conducted by independent authors. The studies span populations in North America and Europe. This is perhaps the strongest collection of evidence dis-confirming that conjugate vaccination causes autism, independent of any other studies, since no causation or correlation is detected at all, independent of the causal mechanisms hypothesized below. All of these were published in various peer-reviewed scientific journals.
    • Taylor B, Miller E, Farrington CP, et al. Autism and measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine: no epidemiological evidence for a causal association. Lancet 1999; 353:2026–9.
    • Farrington CP, Miller E, Taylor B. MMR and autism: further evidence against a causal association. Vaccine 2001; 19:3632–5.
    • Kaye JA, del Mar Melero-Montes M, Jick H. Mumps, measles, and rubella vaccine and the incidence of autism recorded by general practitioners: a time trend analysis. BMJ 2001; 322:460–3.
    • Dales L, Hammer SJ, Smith NJ. Time trends in autism and in MMR immunization coverage in California. JAMA 2001; 285:1183–5.
    • Fombonne E, Zakarian R, Bennett A, Meng L, McLean-Heywood D. Pervasive developmental disorders in Montreal, Quebec, Canada: prevalence and links with immunizations. Pediatrics 2006; 118:e139–50.
    • Fombonne E, Chakrabarti S. No evidence for a new variant of measles-mumps-rubella–induced autism. Pediatrics 2001; 108:e58.
    • Taylor B,Miller E, LingamR, Andrews N, Simmons A, Stowe J.Measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination and bowel problems or developmental regression in children with autism: population study. BMJ 2002;324: 393–6.
    • DeWilde S, Carey IM, Richards N, Hilton SR, Cook DG. Do children who become autistic consult more often after MMR vaccination? Br J Gen Pract 2001; 51:226–7.
    • Makela A, Nuorti JP, Peltola H. Neurologic disorders after measles-mumps-rubella vaccination. Pediatrics 2002; 110:957–63.
    • Madsen KM, Hviid A, Vestergaard M, et al. A population-based study of measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination and autism. N Engl J Med 2002; 347:1477–82.
    • DeStefano F, Bhasin TK, Thompson WW, Yeargin-Allsopp M, Boyle C. Age at first measles-mumps-rubella vaccination in children with autism and school-matched control subjects: a population-based study
      in metropolitan Atlanta. Pediatrics 2004; 113:259–66.
    • Peltola H, Patja A, Leinikki P, Valle M, Davidkin I, Paunio M. No evidence for measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine–associated inflammatory bowel disease or autism in a 14-year prospective study. Lancet
      1998; 351:1327–8.
    • Patja A, Davidkin I, Kurki T, Kallio MJ, Valle M, Peltola H. Serious adverse events after measles-mumps-rubella vaccination during a fourteen-year prospective follow-up. Pediatr Infect Dis J 2000; 19:1127–34.
  • A theoretical exercise, based on data about the infant immune system, suggests that an infant immune response can handle thousands of infections at once before becoming “overwhelmed.” Published in “Pediatrics,” a major peer-reviewed journal ( and the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Offit PA, Quarles J, Gerber MA, et al. Addressing parents’ concerns: do multiple vaccines overwhelm or weaken the infant’s immune system? Pediatrics 2002; 109:124–9.
  • A data-based study of multiple vaccinations, which agrees with the theoretical predictions made above in terms of immune response. The finding is that simultaneous multiple vaccines trigger an immune response similar to the introduction of a single vaccine. This paper was published in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, a European publication and a peer-reviewed journal ( GE, Hadler SC. Simultaneous administration of childhood vaccines: an important public health policy that is safe and efficacious. Pediatr Infect Dis J 1994; 13:394–407.
  • A study of the natural level of exposure of urban American children to infectious disease finds that an average child is exposed to 4-6 diseases per year. The sample under study was a group of 86 Cleveland families (443 individuals)  in middle- and upper-level socio-economic groups. This study helps us to understand whether a vaccine containing 3-5 biological samples needed to train an immune response is atypical.  Dingle JH, Badger GF, Jordan WS Jr. Illness in the home: a study of 25,000 illnesses in a group of Cleveland families. Cleveland: Press of Western Reserve University, 1964.;jsessionid=330136A8E5AF79032A96E065282DE773?freeview=true
  • A related hypothesis is that multiple vaccinations weaken the immune system. Three studies suggest that there is no difference in the immune response of a vaccinated and un-vaccinated child (within some time period after administration of the vaccine). Here are the resources:
    • This article was published in the American Journal of Diseases of Children 1991.  (this journal changed its name in 1993 to “Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine,” It is a journal of the American Medical Association, and uses peer-review. Black SB, Cherry JD, Shinefield HR, Fireman B, Christenson P, Lampert D. Apparent decreased risk of invasive bacterial disease after heterologous childhood immunization. Am J Dis Child 1991; 145:746–9.
    • This study looked at the rates of certain bacterial infections in a control group (prior to immunization) of about 100 people and in a post-vaccination group (also of about 100 people). No evidence was found for a weakening of immune response after application of the DTP combined vaccination. This was published in the same year as the previous article by independent researchers using a different population and technique, in the same peer-reviewed journal. This is independent confirmation of the null hypothesis (vaccines do not weaken immune response). Davidson M, Letson GW, Ward JI, et al. DTP immunization and susceptibility to infectious diseases: is there a relationship? Am J Dis Child 1991; 145:750–4.
    • This study in Sweden looked at an anomalous number of deaths in the ~year after they received pertussis vaccination. The study had no control group (e.g. unvaccinated children). The analysis of their immune responses showed nothing atypical, suggesting no immune compromise. The hypothesis that vaccination was the cause could not be ruled out, but also had no support from the data. This was published in the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Journal in 1988. This journal was mentioned above, and is a respected European peer-review journal. Storsaeter J, Olin P, Renemar B, et al. Mortality and morbidity from invasive bacterial infections during a clinical trial of acellular pertussis vaccines in Sweden. Pediatr Infect Dis J 1988; 7:637–45.;jsessionid=tWDyMDPyTZkMwFtEcOYC.0

The authors of the overview article above note at the time of writing of their article that no study had yet been performed comparing autism rates in normally vaccinated (e.g. multiple simultaneous vaccinations), alternative vaccinations (a spread schedule), and non-vaccinated children. They attribute this to the difficulty in controlling factors in the three populations such as quality of health care, frequency of health care, and follow-up with the subjects of the study. For instance, undervaccinated children tend to be minority and poor; unvaccinated children tend to be caucasian and affluent. Controlling for these is extremely difficult, especially given the much stronger evidence that the mother’s immune response during pregancy appears to have a STRONG correlation with autism rates in children and that immune response depends on the mother’s environmental exposure to pathogens, etc. which vary with socio-economic status.

Here is a reference for a study of vaccination schedule and socio-economic status: Children Who Have Received No Vaccines: Who Are They and Where Do They Live? Philip J. Smith, Susan Y. Chu, and Lawrence E. Barker. Pediatrics 2004; 114:1 187-195; doi:10.1542/peds.114.1.187.

There are also not enough unvaccinated children in the U.S. to do such a study. In order to detect down to a ~few percent difference in autism rates between unvaccinated and vaccinated children, you need  several hundred THOUSAND children. This is because autism occurs in about 1 in 150 children. There are only a few tens of thousands of unvaccinated children in the U.S. Even a study that could control for the environmental factors would be statistically insignificant. With the sample available, if EVERY unvaccinated child could be studied, you’d only be able to detect a difference in rates as small at ~26% but not smaller. For some math, see Ref [2].

REMEMBER: one must keep in mind the following: in science, you don’t get to leap to the conclusion that “X causes Y” just because no one has yet been able to test whether or not X causes Y. A lack of knowledge is not knowledge at all. The weight of the evidence is strongly against the hypothesis that concomitant or conjugate vaccines cause autism (due to the proposed hypotheses of an overwhelmed immune system and/or a weakened immune system).

Also, just because someone hasn’t tried to test this, or hasn’t thought of a way to test this, does not mean it cannot be tested.

Autism is an emotionally stirring subject (as a scientist, even though I do not do medical research I am passionate about supporting researchers who DO search for real knowledge about such diseases). That means often the debate is laced with logical fallacies and charged language. If you truly care about the cause of autism, and where to spend your tax dollars or donations on research for this disorder, you need to consider the weight of the evidence. That weight is strongly against the vaccine hypothesis, while pointing instead to other factors. Regardless of how you feel about vaccines, you must consider the evidence against the vaccine-autism link when donating to organizations for research and lobbying. Otherwise, you are wasting precious money and doing a great disservice to all children with autism and families of children with autism.

Every dollar wasted on a discredited hypothesis is a dollar that could have been spent understanding, and maybe curing, this disorder.



Kentucky Legislator Ignorant of U.S. Constitution

Kentucky State Sen. David Givens. He thinks that classrooms in Kentucky should have to teach Creationism as science, alongside Natural Selection. He clearly failed Constitutional scholarship.

An article caught my attention today, written by Linda B. Blackford for The article, entitled, “GOP lawmakers question standards for teaching evolution in Kentucky,” [1] contained some choice quotes that exposed the bald motivations of legislators opposing the teaching of Natural Selection (the only established unifying principle of all biology). These quotes also exposed the ignorance of state lawmakers to the U.S. Constitution, its requirement of the separation of church and state (the state cannot impose religious doctrine on the people, nor can religion dictate the actions of the state), and the rich tradition of Supreme Court rulings that follow from this founding principle of the first amendment.

For instance, this quote from Senator David Givens (R-Greensburg), is a pretty good summary of both problems,

“I would hope that creationism is presented as a theory in the classroom, in a science classroom, alongside evolution,” Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, said Tuesday in an interview. [1]

Creationism has been ruled in several Supreme Court cases (e.g. Epperson v. Arkansas [2], Edwards v. Aguillard [3], and Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District [4]) to be merely a repackaging of Christian creation doctrine and thus equal to a religious teaching. There is no scientific evidence for the tenets of Creationism, while there is over 150 years of evidence for Natural Selection as the only means by which biological diversity can be explained, predicted, and modified. The scientific community rejects things that are not scientific, and Creationism (which appeals fundamentally to the supernatural to explain biology) cannot be tested (you cannot disprove God) and therefore is not science. So for two reasons – U.S. Constitutional law (separation of church and state) and the definition of “science” – science classrooms cannot be a place for the instruction of Creationist thought.

And then there is Representative Ben Waide (R-Madisonville), who uttered this GEM of a statement:

“The theory of evolution is a theory, and essentially the theory of evolution is not science — Darwin made it up,” Waide said. “My objection is they should ensure whatever scientific material is being put forth as a standard should at least stand up to scientific method. Under the most rudimentary, basic scientific examination, the theory of evolution has never stood up to scientific scrutiny.” [1]

Kentucky State Rep. Ben Waide. He thinks that scientific theories are the same as opinions and that Charles Darwin made the whole thing up.

So many problems here. First, evolution (that organisms are related to one another through both the biological and geological record) is a FACT. How one explains evolution – the relation of organisms to one another – is the purpose of Natural Selection. Natural Selection is a scientific theory, more powerful than a mere fact because scientific theories EXPLAIN facts while incorporating them and hypotheses to explain them, so that predictions can be made and the predictions can be tested to evaluate whether they are true or false.

Also, Charles Darwin did not “make up” evolution; Wade is confusing the term theory (“scientific theory”) with “opinion” – the two are not the same at all. Darwin observed what others before him had already observed in both the geological and biological record: earth is not fixed, neither in its geology (mountains rise up from the earth and shorelines can move in earthquakes) nor its biology (so many species were found in the fossil record that no longer walked the earth that biology could not be fixed). He observed that it was the pressure of the environment – geological or biological barriers, predators, food supplies, etc. that selected animals who were best adapted to those circumstances while those poorly adapted fared worse and either faded away or went extinct. That is Natural Selection – an observation, codified by Darwin and independently by naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace at about the same time. Both made observations of the natural world in separate parts of the world; by observing how environment shaped form and function and survival, both formulated the explanation that Natural Selection leads to speciation and unites the diversity of life on earth.

That is FAR from “making it up.”

And as for his total fabrication that the “theory of evolution [sic]” has never stood up to scientific scrutiny, I suggest that Rep. Waide go and get an education in science so he understands the words that are coming out of his mouth. The only ideas that survive in science are those that withstand the test of scientific experimentation. All useless ideas are cast aside or marginalized by the community. Useful ideas allow us to make progress; useless ones waste our time, reverse the progress of science, or do damage to our body of knowledge. Without the Theory of Natural Selection, there would have been no hunt for the source of all heredity (DNA, predicted by Darwin and his contemporaries but which eluded discovery for almost a century); there would be no understanding of how disease learns to resist treatment, and how treatment must be adapted to the disease; there would be no modern medicine, no “genetic algorithms” that power parts of the information sector and the world wide web.

Kentucky has a problem. Like most States in the union, Kentucky has people in power who want to change the culture by rewriting the Constitution and redefining science, the only tool that lets us make sense of the natural world. These folks struggle not to win a scientific argument, but to convince their constituents that there is a better parallel world where Christian doctrine is better than all other religious (and un-religious) views. To do this, they will twist the very fabric of reality with their words, hoping that their appeal to the religious values of their constituents will win over their constituents’ interest in health and knowledge of the natural world. They try to put religion in opposition to science, mixing two things that are not miscible.

The faithful of Kentucky should not put their faith in these false prophets, whose ignorance is their only light and whose poisoned words are their only weapon. The faithful of Kentucky should look to luminaries like Francis Collins, co-leader of the project to map the human genome and a devout Protestant, or Ken Miller, a biologist and devout Catholic. These are the guides to how one unites science and religion in the person, without contaminating either of those two spheres of thought. They see no conflict between the laws of the natural world, including Natural Selection, and a rich spiritual life devoted to God. These noisemakers in the Kentucky legislature – these false prophets of educational and spiritual doom – are as dim candles when compared to the lamps of thought in Collins and Miller (to name just two).

I pull one final quote from the same article I cited at the beginning, this one from Vincent Cassone, chair of the University of Kentucky biology department and member of the committee that drafted the educational science standards for Kentucky:

“The theory of evolution is the fundamental backbone of all biological research,” he said. “There is more evidence for evolution than there is for the theory of gravity, than the idea that things are made up of atoms, or Einstein’s theory of relativity. It is the finest scientific theory ever devised.” [1]

As a physicist, Cassone has my full support on this one.