Science Policy Under Trump: Vaccine Policy . . . or maybe not.

A chart from the CDC showing the rate of measles infections and how it dropped precipitously upon the introduction of the first measles vaccine. Like all other vaccines, this one saved thousands of lives.

Since the election, while I have paid attention to the developments of the Trump administration, I have withheld on commenting about any of the news so far because nothing has actually happened. On the science front, the most salient decisions related to science policy that Mr. Trump has made so far have been the nomination of former Texas Governor Rick Perry for Secretary of Energy, the nomination of US Representative Tom Price for Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the nomination of the Attorney General of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt, for Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Secretary positions require confirmation, and I am waiting to hear the confirmation process for Perry and Price before I come to any conclusions about how they might set policy for the nation on these areas of national priority.

However, there is one area that I feel compelled to write about, even though no formal action has been taken and the action reported earlier today is now contradicted by the Trump team itself. That is the announcement today that Mr. Trump has asked a leading ant-vaccine, anti-science advocate, Robert Kennedy Jr., to lead a panel to investigate the safety of vaccines . . . or maybe he hasn’t.

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Bad at two things – intelligent designers on dark matter

It’s been a while since I felt it necessary to comment on the people who profess that things like “intelligent design” are science. However, tonight on Twitter the Discovery Institute mixed their usual nonsense – their fundamental distortion of biological science – with physics. Since they took it upon themselves to blend their area of obfuscation with my area of expertise, I feel the need to write. Their tweet and the post to which it links show that there are bad at more than one science.

If you read nothing else in this post, read this: they confuse two things and use their confusion to try to mislead the reader. First, dark matter physicists are still hunting for the fundamental explanation of the nature of dark matter, and when they figure it out they will take all the failed ideas and throw them away. Biologists already had that moment – in 1859, when Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species”, he showed that he had discovered THE fundamental explanation of natural biological diversity. That idea went on to succeed, at the elimination of all competing ideas. Biologists had their moment almost 2 centuries ago, while dark matter physicists are still waiting for their breakthrough. If anything, dark matter physicists have much to learn from the biological community.

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The science, not ethics, of unverified Ebola drugs

The Ebola Virus. Image from NIAID (Ref. 2).
The Ebola Virus. Image from NIAID (Ref. 2).

I haven’t posted in a while. The current global Ebola panic, spread mostly by social media and the media and not so much by the actual global threat of Ebola, has spurred me from complacency. Specifically, a WHO ethics panel today unanimously authorized the use of unproven, untested, experimental Ebola drugs in the field. But missing from the public discussion of this move is a key question: what is the scientific benefit (or downside) of this decision? In this short post, I hope to address the issue of using unproven drugs on Ebola patients from the perspective of the scientific method.

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SciFi: Bad reporting on the “acupuncture and breast cancer patients” study

Having needles shoved in your skin can seem like a major medical intervention, but science says it's a sham. Is a new study about lung cancer pain and acupuncture going to change that picture? In short . . . no. It's terrible science. Photo from Ref. 4.
Acupuncture is shown again to be no better than placebo. An AltMed news site spins it to say any acupuncture, even badly done, will help breast cancer patients. Is this good science?

I keep a special feed on Google News called “Nonsenseville” [1]. It’s an rss stream that results from a search for keywords that typically appear in pseudoscience articles. Normally, I scan the headlines to get a sense of how credulous is the science reporting on a topic. Today, I saw this headline from the Canadian Sun news company in my feed: “Sun News: Acupuncture, even done wrong, can help women taking breast cancer drugs: Study [finds]” [2] (the last word appears to have fallen off their site . . . I assume it was “finds”). This is nonsense of the highest order, and is a dangerous message to women desperate for relief from the awful side-effects of breast cancer treatment. The message is: even an extremely incompetent and dangerous quack can help you. This is grade-A nonsense of the highest order, and deserves to be critically assessed.

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