Measles and the Yanomami: did a Scientist “kill Amazon indians to test race theory”? No.

According to recent activity across various social networks, those evil scientists are at it again. And this one must be true as it’s from no less a robust and upstanding source as The Guardian

“Thousands of South American indians were infected with measles, killing hundreds, in order for US scientists to study the effects on primitive societies of natural selection, according to a book out next month.”

It’s got it all: scientists conducting eugenic experiments on an innocent native people, funded by an organisation that makes atomic bombs, and using vaccines to spread disease and cause death.

Many don’t bother to read the article – they don’t have to, the headline confirms everything they already knew. They click ‘like’, share and retweet it, tag it with keywords such as ‘white supremacy’ and ‘eugenics’, and make comments referring to Ebola, AIDS, the Tuskegee Experiment, the depopulation agenda, MMR, racism and, of course, the Nazis. Some versions also show an indigenous tribesperson covered in a mosaic of awful welts – presumably the very measles that was deliberately set off to run free within this jungle utopia of a savage yet noble people at one with nature.

Those who do follow the link and read the article do not have their minds changed. In the late-1960s, a “new book” reveals, an anthropologist named James Neel, backed by the US Atomic Energy Commission, administered a harmful measles vaccine, Edmonston-B, to intentionally create or exasperate a measles epidemic among the vulnerable Yanomami people in the forests of Venezuala, killing hundreds, possibly thousands, of men, women and children.

Let the outrage pour forth!

Or … perhaps, you should take a closer look. Note, for instance, the date of the article. It was written in September 2000 – over fourteen years ago. And what about the picture (warning: unpleasant) … is that really measles? It doesn’t look right. An image search reveals it is not a case of measles, and is not a member of the Yanomami – in fact the young girl in the photograph is not even South American. She is a Bangladeshi with smallpox, and the image comes from the CDC’s Public Health Image Library (it’s not actually part of the Guardian article, someone has added the photo somewhere along the line and it has accompanied the Facebook version of the link ever since).

Once your skeptical hackles have been raised, if, in fact, they ever have, it is not hard to find out what became of this terrible crime against humanity. It never happened.

The Guardian article consists primarily of quotes from a leaked letter written by Professor Terry Turner of Cornell University to the president of the American Anthropological Association. Turner had just read the proofs of a forthcoming book, Darkness in El Dorado, by journalist Patrick Tierney, and wanted to warn the Association so it could prepare its defence.

The allegations in the book are damning and Turner’s assessment is equally harsh and accusatory. Neel, aided by ‘maverick’ anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon and funded by the US Atomic Energy Commission, used the Edmonston-B vaccine to instigate measles – a highly contagious and sometimes deadly disease – in order to observe ‘survival of the fittest’ in action. The book is copiously annotated, was previewed and reviewed widely and positively, including prominently in the New York Times, and was a finalist for the prestigious National Book Award.

But even before it was published, in November 2000, Tierney’s story started to unravel, causing the author to apparently edit a number of his claims before going to press and to distance himself from Turner’s suspiciously enthusiastic ‘leaked’ commentary. Turner, it emerged, was one of the people Tierney had thanked in the book’s acknowledgements.

The resulting inquiry by the American Anthropological Association – though it concluded that Neel saved many lives through vaccination – was a mess, selective in its evidence, biased from the outset, and seemingly a panicked shot fired in self-defence rather than a rational and balanced look at the facts. Though the damage was done, Turner himself retracted his statement that Neel was responsible for the measles outbreak once he actually bothered to look into the facts of the matter, and the AAA later admitted their report was flawed and withdrew their support of Tierney’s work three years later.

James Neel did not deliberately introduce a measles epidemic to the Yanomami at the bidding of his dark masters, the US Atomic Energy Commission. The US AEC were widely involved in supporting genetic research and Neel had worked for them previously in relation to Japanese victims of the atomic bombs. This was all out in the open, there was nothing sinister or unusual about it. The Yanomami represented, for Neel, a living example of humankind as it might have existed in its pre-agricultural state, offering a near-perfect opportunity to research and compare their genetic structure with modern populations – Richard Dawkins described them as “a human tribe which probably ran as close to the cutting edge of natural selection as any in the world”.

One aspect of Neel’s expedition was a humanitarian one – to vaccinate the tribespeople against measles, a disease he discovered they were particularly susceptible to due to practically no genetic history with the virus, and one that was dangerously close to spreading among them. Neel consulted with experts to choose the right vaccine: true, the Edmonston-B strain had slightly increased side effects (a higher fever) compared to the more recently developed Schwartz strain, but it conferred longer-lasting immunity and the fever could be pacified with an additional shot of gamma globulin. After nineteen-million doses given (and, despite being phased out, it was still being used in the US at the time), not one had been the cause of a measles outbreak. Two-thousand doses of the vaccine were donated to Neel’s mission by Pharmaceutical companies on the grounds they were to be used for humanitarian purposes and not for scientific research.

To further put this accusation in the grave, where it belongs, a close examination of the dates reveals that measles reached the Yanomami at least a week before Neel arrived (it was most likely brought in by the daughter of a missionary at Toototobi). His carefully planned vaccination strategy had to be abandoned as he and his team raced to try and control the epidemic. Unfortunately they couldn’t prevent its spread, but there is no doubt they saved lives. The claim that Neel deliberately withheld treatment can also be dismissed – with nurses employed and documented requests for doctors and penicillin made by radio. The expected 30% death rate turned out to be just 8% thanks to Neel’s medical direction.

The main point of Darkness in El Dorado, and Turner’s conveniently leaked letter to the AAA, seems to have been a smear campaign against Neel’s assistant, Napoleon Chagnon, something that had been rumbling away for a good few years, involving two opposing tribes of anthropologists and their respective ideologies. That debate, relating to the ethics of studying and intervening in the lives of indigenous peoples, is a separate issue, but the wider accusations of the book have been roundly discredited multiple times, including investigations by the American Society of Human Genetics, Alice Dreger in Human Nature, the University of Michigan, the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, by Kim Hill of the University of New Mexico, and John Tooby at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

It is interesting to note that in the years since his book was published and debunked, Tierney has drifted into the arms of the modern anti-vaccination movement, in particular becoming a friend of the discredited pariah Andrew Wakefield. Here he has found an audience who are all too eager to lap up his tales of human experimentation and vaccine-induced death and injury.

And so perhaps this is why Tierney’s work is once again getting an airing, this time on the Facebook pages of those who think vaccines are the government’s way of  controlling the population and polluting the perfect immune systems of their children, rather than what they actually are – the cause of millions of lives saved and the near eradication of once common killers from our privileged existence.

But how can they resist such a damning headline? The blame for that should lie with The Guardian. It’s blatantly provocative, without foundation, and worthy of the most lurid of the gutter press (the article appeared later in the Manchester Guardian with the almost-as-bad headline ‘US scientist brought death to the Amazon’). There’s no visible update to inform the reader that the story presented has since been definitively consigned to the rubbish-tip of smear journalism and it’s even tagged with the label ‘MMR’, despite that having nothing to do with what’s reported.

So it lives on, a time-capsule causing heartache to those whose reputations it tramples (or their families, James Neel died seven months previously), and provoking real harm in a world where distrust of vaccines in developing countries results in the continuance of deadly disease and the murder of those who work to eradicate them.

As of the time of writing, Paul Brown’s ‘Scientist killed Amazon indians’ article has over 27,000 shares. Its follow-up, James Meek’s ‘Professor denies causing measles epidemic‘ has zero shares. There seems to be no further update or reporting from The Guardian dealing with the eventual debunking of Turner and Tierney’s false allegations.

The Yanomami-measles link itself is a virus – reactivated after years, spreading from one Facebook page to another, ratcheting up the clicks and infecting viewpoints. At some stage someone has added the smallpox image, an adjuvant to increase the emotional reaction among the uncritical devotees of an imagined Illuminati-lead world. They blindly repeat and publicise the misinformation because it supports their agenda – and a lie is the perfect shape for an ignorance-shaped hole.

Update:

Please read historian of medicine Alice Dreger’s response to the resurgence of the Guardian article: And the Dead Claims Shall Rise (8 Mar 2015)

Sources

I have been accused of writing an article with no basis in fact and no sources. The article is peppered with links to back up the statements made. However, here is a more visible list of the most relevant links, for convenience:

Scientist ‘killed Amazon indians to test race theory‘ by Paul Brown, The Guardian, 23 Sep 2000
Open email from Dr. Samuel Katz, co-developer of the measles vaccine, 28 Sep 2000
Professor denies causing measles epidemic by James Meek, The Guardian, 4 Oct 2000
University of Michigan Report of the Ongoing Investigation of the Neel-Chagnon Allegations, University of Michigan, 20 Oct 2000
Jungle Fever – Did two US scientists start a genocidal epidemic in the Amazon, or was The New Yorker duped?, John Tooby, 25 Oct 2000
Hearts of Darkness by John Horgan, The New York Times, 12 Nov 2000
The Turner-Sponsel Memo, Terence Turner, 13 Nov 2000
Report of the Medical Team of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro on Accusations Contained in Patrick Tierney’s Darkness in El Dorado, Nov 2000
Statement by Kim Hill of the University of New Mexico, April 2001
Response to Allegations against James V. Neel in Darkness in El Dorado, by Patrick Tierney, American Society of Human Genetics, 19 Nov 2001
El Dorado Task Force Papers, Volume I, American Anthropological Association, 18 May 2002
AAA Rescinds Acceptance of the El Dorado Report, American Anthropological Association, Sep 2005
Darkness’s Descent on the American Anthropological Association by Alice Dreger, 16 Feb 2011

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This Is the Way One Father Told His Pediatrician “No” to Vaccines

Looking at various #CDCWhilsteblower tweets the other day, I followed a link to an article on VacTruth.com (an anti-vax website) called ‘This Is the Way One Father Told His Pediatrician ‘No’ to Vaccines‘.

“What does an informed parent look like? We’ll show you”, says VacTruth, before reprinting a letter that lays out the reasons a father, Bob O’Kane, gave to his paediatrician for refusing to sign a vaccine waiver for his daughter.

Is VacTruth telling the Truth? Does the letter represent the views of an informed parent? Let’s look at the two main points the letter makes, firstly based around measles statistics, and then about aluminium in vaccines.

Says Bob “… the head of the CDC in an April/May radio show admitted the so called measles outbreak in New York consisted of 23 cases of which 20 people who got the measles had previously been vaccinated and thus nobody could be assured the vaccines actually work. (this [sic] is public information on the CDC website, and put [sic] a dent in the so called “herd immunity” theory). The other three cases involved foreigners.”

There’s no reference to the radio show in question, but I presume he’s referring to the Feb-Apr 2014 outbreak in New York which eventually affected 25 individuals (there was also one other measles case in this time-frame, unrelated to the outbreak).

I don’t know why he’s calling it a so-called outbreak. An outbreak is defined as three or more confirmed measles cases within a localised population in a month. It was an outbreak.

The “20 people who got the measles had previously been vaccinated” statement is way off, and seems to come from a shoddy video hammered together by conspiracy peddler Experimental Vaccines (‘New York Measles Outbreak 90% Vaccinated‘) and unthinkingly copied across the Internet, where they focus on a single sentence in a news report:

According to the New York State Department of Health, two of 20 people infected in a recent measles outbreak in New York City were children who had not been vaccinated by their parent’s choice.”

This is true, but it is not the whole picture and does not mean the remaining 18 people were vaccinated. At the time the outbreak reached 20 cases, 9 were children and 11 were adults; 7 of the children were too young to be vaccinated, two of the children were indeed the children of vaccine-refusers; 3 of the adults were vaccinated; and 8 had no records that could confirm vaccination. Four of the cases required hospitalisation.

While I don’t know the source of the New York outbreak (except it was picked up at a US airport) I can say that the US was declared measles-free in 2000, thanks to the vaccine program, and the disease flares up almost exclusively when unvaccinated travellers come into the US from locations where measles remains endemic. It is mostly spread by and spreads among unvaccinated people. True, a few vaccinated people will get the disease if it’s allowed to get hold within a community – vaccines are ‘only’ 95% effective, which is why herd immunity is so important, and these very statistics prove it works, contrary to Bob’s claim.

As for the fact that the remaining three cases were foreigners, I’m not sure where this comes from, but I don’t think it lessens the potential severity measles can have on your health or how highly contagious it is.

Bob continues … Our last Doctor even told us people are dying … do you know how many people have died in the past 10 years? The number is in fact less than all the fingers I have on my hands. Again, this is public record available through the CDC and not some Google search result.”

I’m guessing Bob’s attitude to foreigners is prevailing here and that he’s not counting the annual global deaths from measles which was 122,000 in 2012. Either that or he has a disproportionate number of fingers “on his hands”.

The last death from measles in the US was in 2003. The next 10 years saw sporadic outbreaks and not quite 1000 individual cases in total. The crazy thing is, Bob, this is thanks to vaccines. The very fact you proclaim is true is thanks to the vaccines you wish to avoid.

While deaths from measles were declining before the vaccine was introduced in 1963, thanks to advances in medical science and hygiene, it’s vaccines that are responsible for wiping out the disease and its deaths from the US altogether. In the years before the vaccine arrived there were still 400-500 reported deaths and 48,000 hospitalisations per year from measles in the US – way down from the over 7,500 deaths back in 1920, but still far too many.

Bob’s next problem with vaccines is aluminium, used as an adjuvant in some vaccines. To prove its dangers he quotes some text that the FDA required a maker of dextrose solution for IVs to include as part of their package insert, reflecting an update to their guidance on labelling parenterals that are contaminated with no more than 25 micrograms (mcg) of aluminium per litre, and referring specifically to research related to babies with poor kidney function.

What’s IV dextrose solution got to do with vaccines, you may ask? This comes from Dr Robert SearsThe Vaccine Book where an entire section is dedicated to showing that vaccines contain aluminium in far higher concentrations than the FDA recommend for IV solutions. Sears does attempt to cover the core of his idea (that aluminium will damage your child) with a gloss of science and an impression of balance, but the reader can be left in no doubt that, yet again, something evil is lurking in the vaccines.

Of course, any flaccid attempt at caution by Sears is left behind as soon as the idea leaves his domain and starts replicating within the hive of anti-vax websites, where ‘Mercury In Vaccines Was Replaced With Something Even More Toxic‘ becomes the new battle-cry. And our letter-writing parent lends his voice too …

The HEP-B shot alone is almost 14 TIMES THE AMOUNT OF ALUMINUM THAT IS FDA-APPROVED. The MMR? The dTap? All have similar amounts.

Note the move to capital letters – the inevitable Act III of nearly all conspiracy argument, starting out reasoned and calm before the underlying fear and paranoia break through, and shouting and screaming fill up the holes where facts no longer fit.

The trouble is, the aluminium argument just doesn’t hold together where vaccines are concerned. IV solution tends to be used on sick people, and if that sick person is a baby, especially a premature baby with weak renal function, then you want to severely limit any aluminium going directly into their bloodstream because they will not be able to eliminate it as efficiently as they should. The FDA recommendation of 25 mcg per litre takes into account that other aluminium contamination will be likely (it is the third most abundant element in the Earth’s crust) and that the patient will almost certainly be taking in many litres over many days in a single period.

Patients who take in intravenously infused aluminium could potentially retain from 40% (adults) to 75% (newborns) of the element, whereas normally the body will eliminate 95% through kidney function, with only 0.3% becoming absorbed. This is why IV fluids, especially for premature babies, have such a strict and low limit.

With vaccines, the shots that contain aluminium salts (which are poorly absorbed anyway) are spread out over many months and are not injected directly into the bloodstream. You cannot compare the FDA limit set for IV fluids, which are administered over long periods in greater amounts, with the minuscule amount in even an entire schedule of vaccines. And, Bob, the MMR vaccine does not contain aluminium.

What does contain aluminium? Well, breast milk contains about 40 mcg per litre and infants’ formula contains about 225 mcg per litre. We’re eating the stuff all the time – unprocessed foods can contain between 100 mcg and 20,000 mcg per kg.

Children will get about 4,400 mcg (4.4 mg) of aluminium salts spread across their first six months through vaccination, just over half of what they’d get from their own mother’s breast milk and almost ten-times less than the amount ingested through formula in the same time. That’s about 1/1250th of a teaspoon.

Seeing as Bob does recognise the FDA’s advice for aluminium control, perhaps he’d  like to move away from the world of parenteral dextrose solutions and look at what they actually recommend for vaccines, which is no more than 850-1250 mcg per individual dose. The largest amount in any vaccine is 625 mcg in DTaP (though it can be as low as 170 mcg), and most vaccines, if they contain it, are no more than 225 mcg.

2014 is a bad year for measles in the US, with more cases from January to August than the country saw in the last five years put together. The vast majority of these are among the unvaccinated – as of May 2014 69% of this year’s cases were unvaccinated and 20% had unknown vaccination status (probably largely unvaccinated); of those who were unvaccinated 85% had declined vaccination (or had it declined on their behalf by their parents), 6% were missed opportunities, and 5% were too young to receive vaccinations.

Ohio has seen a particularly bad outbreak among its Amish populace, where unvaccinated missionaries brought the disease back from the Philippines and it then spread easily among their largely unvaccinated community.

So, have we seen what an informed parent looks like? Does VacTruth spread the truth? No. Bob O’Kane – if he exists – seems to be pretty highly misinformed, probably thanks to websites such as VacTruth, who seem to be in the business of spreading fear and misinformation where vaccines are concerned, and contributing greatly to many parents’ decision not to get their children vaccinated, in turn leading to sick children, sick adults, hospitalisations, and, if the US outbreaks continue at their current pace, eventually, the first measles-related death since 2003*

* Update: a few months after this article was written, a woman died due to measles in Washington State.

Virginia Tech Massacre – WHERE are the victims?

I’ve been wanting to write something on the conspiracy theory of ‘staged violence’ and ‘crisis actors’, but thought I’d have a little pop at this conspiracy fish in a barrel, a four-minute video entitled ‘Virginia Tech Massacre – WHERE are the victims?‘.

It was posted to the Internet Archive (update: on YouTube here) on or near to the seventh anniversary (2014) of the Virginia Tech shootings that were carried out on 16 April 2007, and shows screenshots of an Ancestry.com search for the death records of the 32 victims in Montgomery County, Virginia – where the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University is located.

The point of the video is that the researcher finds no mass list of deaths for 16 April 2007 (they actually search from 13 Apr – 27 Apr), just one name appears for the date of the massacre – a person not listed among the victims of the shooting.

As the description for the video states:

“A search for the “victims” of the 2007 Virginia Tech ‘massacre’ in official records yields some shocking results. There aren’t any.”

I think this video is a good reflection of the research skills of the average conspiracy theorist: woefully poor. The video shows them searching the US Social Security Death Index (1935-current), with no name entered, in Montgomery County, Virginia, USA, on the dates of 13 Apr 2007 (eh?) through to 27 Apr 2007.

“Did you see it?”, asks the video, “did you miss the day where 32 people were killed in Montgomery County? Here it is again … and this ONE name is not even in the list of ‘official’ victims”. The official list is shown, then they go on – “SOME of those names do occur in the US Death Master File but NONE from THIS location! WE HAVE BEEN LIED TO”.

So why didn’t this conspiracy genius find 32 names (33 if you include the perpetrator) registered in Montgomery County on 16 April 2007? Because searching the US Social Security Death Index for Montgomery County, Virginia, will only return results for people whose last residence is recorded as Montgomery County, Virginia (you can even plainly see this on the video), and the victims were students and lecturers who were either not residents of the county or who have no data in the ‘last residence’ field.

If you search for the victims by name, you find them, and they are listed under the locations where their social security numbers were issued. Here are four of the victims, picked from a random point part-way down the list:

  • Kevin P Granata 29 Dec 1961 – 16 Apr 2007: State (Year) SSN issued: Ohio (1979)
  • Matthew G Gwaltney 11 Dec 1982 – 16 Apr 2007: State (Year) SSN issued: Virginia (1988)
  • Caitlin M Hammaren 4 May 1987 – 16 Apr 2007: State (Year) SSN issued: New York (1988-1992)
  • Jeremy M Herbstritt 6 Nov 1979 – 16 Apr 2007: State (Year) SSN issues: Iowa (1983)

Conspiracy theorists aren’t interested in the truth – they want everything to fit into their fantastical and degenerate world view. Whether they’re aware of it or not, they will bend and break the truth to fit that view, and very often lie about it or even fake material in order to make it ‘real’. The fact that the maker of this video admits he found “some of those names” makes me think this one is most probably in the ‘knowing liar’ category.

For them, no disaster, natural or human, occurs out of the blue. The government, the cabal, or the illuminati is behind everything – Sandy Hook, 9/11, Aurora, Fukushima, The Titanic, Boston, 7/7, Princess Diana, Flight MH370, Senator Giffords, and thousands more, including the Virginia Tech massacre. And the conspiracy theorist, more often than not, believes all of them.

When they accuse the parents of the children murdered in the Sandy Hook shooting of being ‘crisis actors’, when they say the victims of Sandy Hook, or Flight MH370, or Virginia Tech didn’t really die, that it was all staged, they are being disrespectful to the point of abuse.

Just looking up the names of the four victims listed above for this article left me feeling slightly uncomfortable – like I was prying. What emotions must these conspiracy theorists be switching off (or not have in the first place) in order to commit such atrocities in the name of their paranoia?

The victims are real, and the parents, children, grandparents and friends, etc. of those who died, those who are left, are real people with real grief.