Anti-science quacks find success in Maine in their fight against health and vaccines

Vaccine rates for young people entering school has been declining in recent years:

The rate of unvaccinated kindergartners in Maine continues to climb and is now the fifth highest in the nation, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Friday.

The percentage of Maine parents voluntarily opting out of vaccines for their children is alarming state public health officials who have been working to bolster immunization.

Nearly 800 public school kindergartners in Maine started the 2013-14 school year without receiving the required vaccinations for diseases such as whooping cough and measles because their parents opted not to immunize. That represents 5.2 percent of all kindergartners in the state, up from 3.9 percent the previous year.

This is in large part due to the anti-vax movement that has been steadily gaining ground since the 90’s. Indeed, although disgraced British doctor Andrew Wakefield had his 1998 study linking vaccines and autism debunked – no one ever reproduced his results, and it was no wonder since he outright made them up – he remains a hero of the anti-vax crowd.

One of the more favored canards of anti-vax quacks is to call herd immunity a myth. Do a quick search and one is liable to find any given quack claiming that herd immunity makes no difference to the health of a state. I recall reading some random anti-vax nobody argue that because vaccines are between 60-80% effective, even with 100% compliance, we could still see an epidemic. Of course, while he spoke of vaccines at-large in an intentionally general sense, he actually linked to CDC statistics on the flu vaccine. I guess it was a coincidence that he found it inconvenient to tell his readers that he was talking about one specific vaccine, huh? So is the high bar set by quacks.

At any rate, for herd immunity to be effective, there needs to be about a 95% vaccination rate. Of course, 100% would be the ideal because we’re talking about saving human lives, but with all the anti-government and anti-science kooks out there, 95% is actually a very achievable number that allows for some bumper space. Unfortunately, sometimes we see areas that fall well below that bumper space. For instance, when vaccine rates for whooping cough fell to 91% in California, communities there saw an outbreak in the disease. Thousands got sick and at least 10 infants died. What makes this all the more heart-breaking is that these infants were too young to be vaccinated, meaning they relied upon the herd immunity around them to remain safe. Anti-vax parents and the quacks they trust are at fault for these deaths. Frighteningly, Maine is on a similar path.

Thought of the day

It would be impossible to say one or another right is the utter cornerstone of a free and democratic society – they all work in tandem – but if I had to narrow it down to one right that I value more than any other*, it would be the right of free speech. Interestingly, this is the right that is under the greatest attack every day. From bad actors in positions of power to frivolous libel claims to unpopular groups not getting the support they deserve when their speech is threatened, free speech is one of those rights we all too frequently allow to fall by the wayside when it doesn’t benefit us personally.

*For reasons outlined here, I feel it’s necessary to state that this doesn’t mean I don’t greatly value other rights.

Dishonest media

We all know American media is generally garbage. Aside from Al Jazeera America and foreign broadcasts, TV news media in the US is utterly useless. But it somehow gets worse online. Take this (good version of a) story about a mistake DiGiorno made involving a hashtag on Twitter:

This is just another cautionary tale for any companies on Twitter. Always, always think before you tweet.

DiGiorno Pizza’s account got involved with a trending topic on Twitter last night, which is not out of the ordinary for companies trying to promote their brand online. Unfortnately, the Twitter campaign they decided to jump on was one dedicated to domestic abuse victims sharing their heartbreaking and inspiring stories using the #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft hashtags.

Obviously, the person operating the account did not know the story behind the hashtag or else they never would have sent out this now deleted tweet that read: “#WhyIStayed You Had Pizza.”

The DiGiorno people then went ahead and personally responded to as many critical tweets as they could. It was a simple mistake anyone could have made, and it’s hard to imagine anyone being reasonably angry with the company at this point. They’ve apologized profusely and made it quite clear that it was a genuine mistake – this wasn’t even a case of a rogue employee trying to make some sort of crass joke.

This good version of the story, surprisingly from E! Online, is titled “DiGiorno Mistakenly Used the Domestic Abuse Twitter Campaign #WhyIStayed to Promote Their Pizza”. Take a look at the headlines from garbage ‘news’ outlets* like HuffPo, Bustle, and an ABC affiliate out of Chicago:

DiGiorno Interrupts Serious Conversation About Domestic Violence To Sell Pizza (HuffPo)

DiGiorno Pizza’s #WhyIStayed Tweet Is Not How You Respond To Domestic Violence (Bustle)

DiGiorno under fire after using #WhyIStayed hashtag to sell pizzas during Ray Rice scandal (ABC affiliate)

Each of these outlets is either ignoring or embracing intention; it’s tough to tell. If they’re simply ignoring the intention of DiGiorno, then they’re being dishonest and bad journalists by not telling the whole story. One imagines the editors at these places hate the saying “It’s the thought that counts.” They would reply to such a phrase, “No! It isn’t the thought! What matters is that I was given an awesome gift for my birthday!” If, on the other hand, they’re embracing intention (and this is where my money is at), then not only are they being wildly irresponsible, they’re actually outright lying. What I mean is, these ‘news’ outlets are heavily implying that DiGiorno intentionally jumped onto a hashtag bandwagon about domestic violence due to some overt, deliberate callousness towards DV victims. Of course, DiGiorno absolutely did no such thing. Yet, in order to get people to click on their garbage sites and articles, they are trying to lead the reader into believing that DiGiorno is some sort of evil company willing to exploit a serious issue in order to sell their product.

*I’m not saying E! Online isn’t a garbage news outlet. I don’t know either way since I don’t read it; it was merely one of the first search results I found with an honest title.

Thought of the day

Anyone who seeks to diminish the attention the death of Robin Williams is receiving by claiming there is some sort of media-distraction conspiracy is not only a kook but is also a genuinely bad human being.

This is incredibly impressive

Daniel Radcliffe (perhaps better known as Harry Potter) recited “The Element Song” on The Graham Norton Show several years back. It’s damn impressive.

Thought of the day

South Park has to be one of the worst shows on television. It comes across as a cartoon written by a kid who just read Ayn Rand for the first time. If it isn’t fart jokes or Cartman speaking in an ever higher pitched voice, then it’s preachy libertarianism written for the sort of person who actively dislikes philosophy; Matt Stone and Trey Parker are little more than toddler philosophers.

A rare victory for individual rights

From narrowing the application of the Fifth Amendment to allowing police to take DNA without due process, the Supreme Court hasn’t exactly been friendly about our civil rights. Today, however, we saw a rare victory for those rights in a 9-0 decision:

The Supreme Court unequivocally ruled Wednesday that privacy rights are not sacrificed to 21st- century technology, saying unanimously that police generally must obtain a warrant before searching the cellphone of someone they arrest.

While the specific protection may not affect the average American, the court made a bold statement that the same concern about government prying that animated the nation’s birth applies to the abundance of digital information about an individual in the modern world.

Modern cellphones “hold for many Americans the privacies of life,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for a court united behind the opinion’s expansive language. “The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.”

Most cell phones on the market today essentially double as a computer we’re able to take with us everywhere we go. And for most of us we’re constantly logged into a number of essential and private applications, from email to texts to Facebook to whatever the latest trend happens to be. Allowing free wheeling access to these things is hardly different from giving over our mail, bank account information, and phone conversations. (Not that the illegal arm of the government, the NSA, doesn’t already have most or all of this stuff on file.)

This case was one of those rare no brainers where the only people against the inevitable decision were those with an interest in actively disregarding and violating individual rights.

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