Is The Government Hiding Link Between Vaccines and Autism?

May 19, 2014

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Keith Law is a baseball writer for ESPN who focuses primarily on prospects (players not yet in the Major Leagues).  He’s also a bit of an anti-Jenny McCarthy, never missing a chance to point out studies that show no link between childhood vaccines and autism. Reading the responses to his tweets is often, um, educational.

Let’s look at some of the points being made.  I am summarizing for the sake of brevity and clarity while retaining the points the original writers were making.  Note that my responses were not made in Keith’s thread, but are only being made in this article.

Tweeter 1:  The MMR vaccine should be broken into three vaccines, as it’s the combination that is the problem.  My first child had the combined vaccine and developed autism.  My second child didn’t have the combined vaccine and developed normally.  Coincidence?

Kosmo: Yep, coincidence.  1 in 68 kids develop autism, so the odds of the second kid developing it were pretty low, unless there are genetic factors (and the basic argument being made is that it’s the vaccine, not the genes).  The odds of the kids not developing autism were 67/68, so hardly a shock that he didn’t. 

Tweeter 2: I’m not saying the vaccine is to blame, but I have three kids and they all have autism.  My wife and I can’t be that unlucky.

Kosmo: This is actually strong evidence that the vaccines are not to blame.  If the sole cause were the vaccines, the cases of autism should be randomly spread across the population.  The odds of all three kids in the same family randomly developing autism would be 1 in 314,432. It’s possible that Tweeter 2 is that 1 in 314,432 case.  More likely, though, is that there’s a grouping within his family because there are genetic factors.  If there are genetic factors, then it would make sense that some families would see many more cases than others, due to basic principles of genetics.  Most likely, Tweeter 2 and/or his wife have strong genetic factors that contribute to autism, whereas Tweeter 1 and his wife have somewhat weaker factors. 

Tweeter 3: You can’t believe the government because they are in bed with Big Pharma.  Vaccines don’t work.

Kosmo: Is this the same government that causes very profitable drugs to be delayed several years while the drug company jumps through FDA hoops to get approval, at the same time that the same drugs can be sold in other countries?

Are insurance companies aware of this illicit relationship?  Are they happily paying for useless drugs?


You might ask why I care.  These aren’t my kids, so why do I care if they contract preventable diseases?  Well, first of all, these are innocent children who are suffering because of the actions of their parents.  It hurts me to see kids suffer in this way. Additionally, these kids can spread the disease to others in the community – such as infants who have not yet been vaccinated.

You may not like everything the government does – I certainly don’t – but the government is not trying to give your kids autism.



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What If The Environmentalists Are Wrong About Global Warming?

June 10, 2010

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How’s that “Drill, Baby, Drill” thing working out for you now?

In the popular 1984 movie Ghostbusters, there’s a scene where the mayor of New York City is trying to decide if he should trust the Ghostbusters or not. On one hand he has a bunch of popular whackos who claim to be able to deal with the rampant, bizarre paranormal events plaguing his metropolis. On the other hand, he has his adviser from the EPA saying the Ghostbusters are con artists and should go to jail. He asks Bill Murray what happens if he’s wrong, and Murray replies, “If I’m wrong, nothing happens! We go to jail – peacefully, quietly. We’ll enjoy it! But if I’m *right*, and we *can* stop this thing… Lenny, you will have saved the lives of millions of registered voters.”

I have the same sort of feelings about climate change. Despite an overwhelming number of credible scientists (over 80%) believing that both global warming is real and human actions have caused it, there is still rampant doubt in political circles that it exists. Fox News commentators were often heard muttering that if global warming is true, how could there be such prolific blizzards this past winter? (Fox News commentators are invited to read about the first law of thermodynamics) Let’s look at this from a skeptic’s point of view. If they’re right, and global warming is just a big scientific error or big liberal hoax, we should ignore efforts to curb fossil fuels and not worry about that South American rainforest. Exxon-Mobile, BP, Haliburton, and other major corporations involved in oil have a vested interest to be able to find and sell as much oil as possible. Strange that such large, powerful corporations would need to spend so much on lobbying when they already receive such massive tax breaks from the US government.

What about the flip side, though? What if environmentalists are wrong? If they’re wrong and climate change doesn’t exist, we’re spending lots of money to find alternative energy sources, specifically focusing on natural gas, solar and wind power as well as electric cars. We’ve already spent over a trillion dollars on the war in Iraq – had we used that money to fund research in alternative fuel, would we even need the middle east? Let’s face it, we didn’t really go into Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction. When it was revealed that those weapons never existed, the Cheney administration changed its tune and said we went in there to topple a horrible dictator and bring democracy to the region. That’s not a bad thing, mind you, but we have no more right to do that than Russia does to come and make this a fascist nation. We went into Iraq to gain money and oil, and at what cost? Thousands of US lives, tens of thousands of other lives are gone. Many more people horrible wounded and crippled for life, all for what? Oil. If the environmentalists are wrong, we’ll be spending less money and probably no lives than the Iraqi war to come up with new technology that may help ween us off our dependence for oil, and a lot of scientists will go down in history as having been wrong.

But if environmentalists are right, and climate change is real and we ignore it, what’s at stake? Predictions are pretty widespread on this. The amount of polar ice melting from just a few degrees of overall planetary atmospheric warming is enough to raise ocean levels by anywhere from a few inches to a few feet. A few feet would leave many of the most highly populated areas of the Earth under water. 634 million people live in coastal areas within 30 feet of sea level. About two thirds of the world’s cities with over five million people are located in these low-lying coastal areas. You think crowding is bad now? Let’s sink the bulk of Florida and see how bad it gets.

Despite recent examples of what happens when our addiction for fossil fuels goes bad, notably the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, party lines have for the most part not changed. Louisiana is right now, as I type this, having hundreds of miles of coastline covered in oil and sludge and thousands of animals are dead. Thousands more will die. The entire fishing industry in the Gulf of Mexico is at risk of collapsing. You’d think that the governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal (R), would be outspoken against this. Not with oil and gas industries as his 2nd biggest contributor. He’s already called for President Obama to reconsider the ban on deep water drilling, yet every day thousands of more gallons of crude oil pour out of the broken well and pollute the water. Sarah Palin continues to speak across the country that this is an example of why we should drill more with more safety regulations, not less. The Exxon Valdez disaster happened in her home state of Alaska, and is still having an impact on Prince William Sound, over 20 years after the event. Conservative activist judges have multiple times reduced the fine Exxon received after the event to the point where Exxon has paid less than 1/10th of the original court ruling. BP still hasn’t capped the spill, do you really think they’re going to do the right thing and pay for all the cleanup and all the damage this spill has caused and will cause?

There is a Native American saying that goes, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” Despite this, there is a widespread mindset that this current trend of climate change is just a rare but not unexpected anomaly in the history of the planet. If that line of thinking is right, we don’t have anything to worry about, right? Our children will simply have to work harder to live comfortably because they just happen to be in the wrong time. But what if this isn’t just part of the long-term trend? Do you really want to be leaving your kids a trashed-up planet because you wanted $2.50 a gallon gas for your huge SUV? Do you really want your kids grandchildren asking them, “what was Florida like when you were young?”

An OPEC exec once said, “The stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stone and the oil age won’t end because we run out of oil.” I’m praying he’s right and it ends because we pull our heads out of our collective butts and find a better alternative to fossil fuels.

Evolution of a Creationist

March 21, 2010

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I am a Catholic, and I firmly believe that God created the heavens, the earth, and all the beasts upon the earth – including man.

I am firm believer in the theory of evolution, believing that man evolved from the single cell organisms that once inhabited the earth.

I firmly believe that these beliefs are not in conflict with each other.  I refer to myself alternately as a creationary evolutionist or an evolutionary creationist, depending on which term suits me at that particular moment.

We’ll tackle my belief in science first, since it is the less controversial.  Although evolution is a theory, and not proven fact, I believe that fossil evidence, coupled with other research, clearly shows that Darwin was on the right track when he wrote On the Origin of Species more than 150 years ago.

While the big bang theory does a nice job of explaining what happened during and after the birth of the universe, it begs the disturbing question: what happened BEFORE the big bang?  The theory that the universe expanded from a concentrated point is fine – but how exactly did that single point come to exist?

My personal theory is that God got the ball rolling and let the big bang take things from there.  Is this in conflict with the teachings of the bible?  Not necessarily.

First of all, it’s important to note that the bible of today is not the same as the original bible.  As any work is translated from one language to another, certain nuances are certain to be lost – or added – due to the differences in the languages themselves.

In additional to the fact that certain passage may have been translated inexactly due to differences in languages, there is evidence of several actual errors in the translation process, as a word in one language was mistaken for a word that was physical similar, but very different in meaning.  This wrong word was then translated into a word in the language the bible was being translated into, and the meaning was changed forever.  Some of these errors cause rather major shifts in meanings of certain passages of the bible.  That’s an entirely different can of worms that we could spend much more time on – but we’ll gloss over it today.

My most important reason for believing that evolution and creation are not in conflict is based on the way that Christ himself taught his followers.  He often used parables to explain concepts that would not be well received if told in plain language.

Should we then be surprised if the Old Testament also contains parables – parables that are not obvious to all readers?  If St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity to his followers, perhaps God inspired the writers of the Old Testament to use parables of their own.  Perhaps the seven days in Genesis are not to be taken literally, but instead to represent billions of years of evolution.

If God created a single celled organism and pushed it down the evolutionary path toward the eventual end result of man, could it not be said that God created man?  The concept of evolution may have been too advanced for the people of Old Testament times – simplifying into the parables of the seven days of creation may have simply been the easiest way to illustrate the point.

Is this heresy?  I don’t think so.  If we take the alternate view and suppose that the theory of evolution is completely wrong, where does this lead us?  Are we to believe that science has led us down the wrong path?  Are we to accept the advances that science has brought us in many other phases of life while ignoring the scientific evidence of evolution?

I believe that this would be pure folly.  I believe that God gave us science as a way to help us understand the world around us.  Instead of exposing us to the entire base of knowledge at once, he allowed this knowledge to evolve gradually, as scientists continue to make further advances.   Science is a gift, not a curse.

Bill Gates vs. Hurricanes

July 20, 2009

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Bill Gates made news last week when the news media caught wind of his latest idea. The Microsoft co-founder, who has focused much of his energy on philanthropy in recent years, (even convincing Warren Buffet to leave the bulk of his estate to the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation) appears to be trying to save mankind from hurricanes.

Gates and colleagues have filed five patents related to their idea. The basic idea is to have barges that are fitted with pumps that would exchange surface water with water from the depths. Ocean water gets considerably colder as you go deeper into the water. Since hurricanes grow stronger when they pass over warm water, the Gates plan is to cool the water in the path of the hurricane; starving it of the “fuel” it requires to grow.

Let’s tackle the major issues.

Will it work?

Writers in the comment-o-sphere (places where the public can leave comments) on the major media sites seem to have two basic thoughts. The majority view is that this is the dumbest idea ever. The minority view is that this is a brilliant idea.

Where do I stand? Somewhere in the middle, leaning a bit toward the brilliant side of the discussion. Bill Gates may be a lot of things, but he’s not stupid. I doubt that he would attach his name to something like this without some due diligence on the feasibility of success.

I know a bit more about the nature of hurricanes than the average person, but not enough to be considered an expert. I personally think there is a decent chance that this plan could reduce the strength of a hurricane. If this method could drop a hurricane’s strength from a category 4 to a category 3, this could result in massive reduction in property damage and loss of life.

Ken Caldeira of The Carnegie Institution partnered with Gates on the patent applications. Other scientists are more skeptical, although some have gone on record with their belief that there is a strong likelihood that the plan could work.

Who pays for it?

There will certainly be significant cost to this plan. Not only is the equipment certain to be expensive, but it is also quite likely that many of the barges will be destroyed when they are deployed into the path of a hurricane. They might be able to prevent the hurricane from building strength, but the current strength of the storm might overwhelm them as a storm passes overhead.

It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where a private company could fund this operation. My guess is that the most likely solution would be a government agency that licenses the technology and pays for all expense.

How, then, would this agency receive funding? My suggestion would be a surcharge against those entities that would stand to gain – homeowner’s insurance companies, as well as the government-funded National Flood Insurance Program. The amount of the surcharge would be based on the hurricane exposure that each company has. I won’t waste your time (or mine) hammering out the exact amounts.

Even if the plan does end up being expensive, it could still end up paying for itself. Hurricane Katrina (and the subsequent breaching of levees) killed 1800 people and caused an estimate $80 billion in damage. It would be interesting to see how much damage a similar storm would do if the Gates devices were in its path.

Should we do it?

One argument against trying to control hurricanes is that hurricanes are a natural part of the ecosystem, and that changing the intensity or frequency of hurricanes could wreak untold havoc on the ecosystem. Additionally, exchanging the surface water and the deep water could have a negative impact on the species of wildlife that happened to live in those locations.

I agree that these are valid points.

At some point, however, this is going to boil down to a decision about the value of a human life, relative to environmental impact. Most of us will probably agree that is acceptable to cause some degree of damage to the ecosystem in order to save thousands of human lives. On the flip side, many among us would not agree to massively damaging the ocean ecosystem (and countless living beings) in order to save a single human life. Here’s an extreme example – would you kill all of the dolphins in the world if it would extend the life of one person by one year? The tricky part is the middle ground. Exactly how much value should we assign to each human life?

Am I dodging the answer to that question? Yes, most definitely.

Weekend articles

Did you take a break from the internet this weekend?  You may have missed these articles on The Soap Boxers.

  • Friday – Heidi and the Shark. This short story details the struggle between Heidi and a hammerhead shark on the high seas.
  • Friday – Tribute to Jamie Moyer. We poke a bit of fun at the ageless wonder in the aftermath of his one hitter.
  • Saturday – Saturday Stew takes a look at Harry Potter, Google, the New York Yankees, and more.  Help yourself to a bowl of stew.
  • Sunday – In North of the Border, Tyson gives us an introduction to the Canadian Football League.

Fun science

March 21, 2009

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Wireless electricity

About ten years ago, I started driving my friends crazy with the idea of wireless electricity. This idea sprang mostly from an annoyance for electrical outlets and electrical cords. Why can’t I just place an electronic device at point X and have the electricity streamed to it through the air – with no need for messy cords.

A couple of years ago, MIT announced that they had been able to successfully transmit electricity wirelessly (which they call WiTricity). On the day this news came out, I received about a dozen emails from friends who declared that I was not, indeed, crazy. Well, I wasn’t crazy for this particular reason, at least.

It turns out that this concept had been around for quite a while, completely unbeknownst to me. The researchers at MIT were able to wirelessly power a 60 watt light bulb from a distance of seven feet. This might not sound particularly impressive (and, indeed, most “proof of concept” experiments don’t have a great deal of immediate real world application) but I look forward to a future where electric cars may be recharged wirelessly, as they zip down the interstate at 70 mph.

Air cars

Have you ever filled a balloon with air, and then let go of the balloon, watching it flying crazily around the room as the power of the compressed air provides energy for its journey?

There are currently at least four car companies that are working on cars that would be powered by compressed air. For the environmentally conscious people, the air car would have zero emissions (since it emits only air). Note that the environmentally impact could be greater than the car’s emissions, as other sources of energy would be required to compress the air.

The air cars would be cheaper to manufacture, because they could eliminate many costly components that are found in internal combustions engines.

At this point, the air cars are still in the early stages. There are currently concerns about the safety of the cars (since the manufacturers attempt to make them light to decrease the power requirements) and lackluster range.

Super Man

Frenchman Yves jumped out of a plane on the French side of the English Channel and soared 22 miles across the channel on his jet-propelled wing at a speed of more than two miles per minute. The wing carries seven gallons of fuel (getting about 3 mpg) and weights in at a svelte 120 pounds when fully fueled (stop for a second and think about how much the fuel weighs).

Rossy dreams of one day making a consumer model of his device. When he does, I’ll be the first one in line. Assuming, of course, that I can afford one. We can all dream, right?

Wikipedia was used as a source for he WiTricity and air car sections. Popular Science (February 2009) was used as a source for the Superman section)

Artifact thieves

February 13, 2009

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I’m a fairly new subscriber to Archaeology, which is a pretty cool magazine. It cost $22 for a one year subscription (6 bi-monthly issues). Archaeology has stories various aspect of archaeological discoveries – the culture of the society that left the artifacts, the mechanics of the digs, and even stories about artifact trafficking. My interest in crime causes me to get sucked into the trafficking articles.

The March/April edition has a story about artifact thieves in the southwestern US. There is a lot of federal land in this part of the country. It is illegal to take artifacts from federal land, but much of this land is pretty remote, resulting in the agents from the Bureau of Land Management being stretched pretty thin in their efforts to catch thieves.

There is a new breed of artifact thieves who seem to enjoy the task of searching for artifacts – a process that involves digging holes, scanning the ground closely for artifacts, and repeating the process over and over. It is hard, tedious work.

These thieves are receiving some help, though. The are meth users, and the drug gives them a lot of energy (great when you need to dig a bunch of holes) and also the intense concentration to comb for the artifacts.

The users take the artifacts they find, and trade them to their dealer in exchange for more meth. The dealers then turn around and sell the artifacts for a nice profit. Essentially, the meth dealers in the southwest are financing (with meth) a massive theft of government property. Artifacts that could be in museums, educating everyone about the cultures of the past, end up in a private collection.

Subjects for upcoming blog articles will include:

Reviews of TV shows Monk and Psych

NASCAR brand disloyalty

The best baseball sites

Profile of author Lawrence Block