Prayers keep boy alive

Until the real life-saving treatment is removed, of course…

Anti-vaccine nut gets nuts chopped

Andrew Wakefield has helped to contribute to the death of children and the rise of a disease that was practically extinct. He did this by promoting unethical research which contributed to unfounded fears that linked autism and other diseases to vaccines. Fortunately, unlike Christopher Maloney, Wakefield’s irresponsible message about vaccines can be regulated more efficiently and effectively because he is a real doctor.

After nearly three years of formal investigation by the General Medical Council (GMC), Dr Wakefield has been found guilty of serious professional misconduct over “unethical” research that sparked unfounded fears that the vaccine was linked to bowel disease and autism.

Parents were advised yesterday that it was “never too late” to give their children the triple vaccine to protect against measles, mumps and rubella, as the case drew to a close.

He has been struck off the medical register in the U.K. over his abuse of science now, but he’s still an unfortunately powerful figure. The hostility towards science demonstrated by the anti-vaccine crowd goes beyond this one quack. One can only hope this issue is big enough news to bring the vaccine rates back to their pre-Wakefield levels (they dropped near 50% for certain vaccines early in the last decade in the U.K.).

What science is all about

All which is between “~~~” is from Jerry Coyne.


I have sometimes written that evolutionary biology doesn’t have much practical value in medicine or other areas impinging on humanity’s material well being. Here is one example of what I’ve said. However, my friend and colleague David Hillis at The University of Texas in Austin — who played a big role in trying to make the Texas State Board of Education teach real science – has taken exception to my view. I asked him to let me know how he thought that evolutionary biology had been of use in medicine, and he wrote me an email with his answer, which he’s given me permission to post. He’d wants to emphasize that it’s an off-the-cuff response rather than a comprehensive reply, which of course I appreciate; but I think it’s worth posting:

OK, here are just a few examples from the thousands that are in the literature, off the top of my head:

Using positive selection to identify the pathogenic mechanisms of HIV in humans: PNAS 102:2832-2837 (one of many such studies that are now appearing and are using positive selection in pathogens to identify pathogenic mechanisms).

Using phylogenies and positive selection to predict which currently circulating strains of influenza are most likely to be closely related to future flu epidemics: Science 286: 1921-1925.

Using evolutionary analyses to track epidemics in human populations: many examples that have wider health implications, but our study of transmission in a forensic case was an interesting example with a specific legal application; PNAS 99:14292-14297.

Using evolutionary analyses to identify new disease outbreaks: new examples in every single issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Using phylogenetic analyses to identify whether polio outbreaks are from native circulating viruses or from reverted, escaped vaccines (which tells health workers which vaccines to use in these areas to eradicate disease): see review in Bulletin of the World Health Organization, Vol. 82, No. 1.

Identifying changes in sodium channel genes that are under positive selection for TTX resistance, which has led to understanding the function of human diseases that are caused by the corresponding substitutions in human sodium channel genes: Mol. Biol. Evol. 25(6):1016–1024. (I included this one to show that all of the examples are not from virus work; this is the original evolutionary work from Manda Jost and Harold Zakon, with our collaboration, but there has been follow-up on the understanding of human diseases that are produced from these same mutations, now that they have been replicated by in vitro mutagenesis)

This just scratches the surface. I think there are now more papers that use evolutionary methods and analyses in the human health literature than all other areas of biology combined. I think it is crazy to not acknowledge the numerous and important human health applications of evolutionary theory and methods.


Well, this is good enough for me–I gladly retract my earlier opinion that evolutionary biology hasn’t been of much use in medicine. Thanks, David.


Imagine a creationist making the claim that evolution doesn’t have much practical value in medicine (something with which I am hugely surprised Jerry Coyne ever said) and then retracting it when presented with counter-evidence. It would never happen. Creationism rejects all principles of science.