Osteopathy Part 2 – a review of 100 Osteopathy websites

Last weekend I wrote a skeptical overview of osteopathy, how it was generally seen as a mainstream healthcare option but was actually born of pseudoscience, and how, even though modern evidence has pushed back many of its original wild claims, it is still rooted there and has at least one foot fully planted in the world of complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM). You can read part 1 here.

As part of my research I had started to survey a number of osteopaths’ websites within my own home county, and used that data to show the field’s continued connection to unevidenced CAM. As a result I received more than one criticism that I had cherry-picked osteopaths who were on the fringes of the field, and that mainstream osteopathy was scientific and well-researched medicine.

With that in mind I decided to continue my review and spend the rest of (coincidentally) International Osteopathic Healthcare Week (17-23 April 2016) surveying the websites of 100 randomly chosen osteopaths in the UK and Ireland, to see just how much pseudoscience remained within the profession. Is it fringe?

Selection procedure

Obviously, this is not a scientific study, I can only claim it is a careful review. I used only declarations published on the websites (as they appeared in April 2016) and took them at face value. The websites were selected using a random number generator and the General Osteopathic Council’s own online register of members.

The majority of osteopaths practice in the south, so the randomly selected websites come from four southern counties (ten each from West Sussex, Dorset, Surrey and Devon), two midland (not Midlands) counties (ten each from Staffordshire and Suffolk), two northern counties (ten each from Yorkshire and Lancashire), and then ten from Scotland, six from Wales, and four from Ireland. If a random number selected a GOC register entry with no website (or a dead link), I continued down the register until I hit the next entry with a working website.

Criteria

To check for pseudoscientific claims I picked four criteria:

i. the claim that osteopathy allows the body to ‘heal itself’;
ii. the practice of cranial osteopathy;
iii. the claim that osteopathy can treat specific conditions not related to the musculoskeletal system;
iv. whether an osteopath also personally uses another CAM therapy as part of his or her treatment system.

Let’s look at these in more detail …

i. Self-healing

The claim that a therapy aids the ‘self-healing’ process is a recognised red flag of pseudoscience and one that osteopathy shares with other CAM treatments such as chiropractic, naturopathy, homeopathy, reiki, therapeutic touch, energy healing, reflexology, acupuncture … and I could go on and on. It’s pretty much the central refrain of most quackery, and is perfectly placed to take credit for conditions that are temporary, that regress to the mean, or that appear to react to various placebo factors. The best evidence for this kind of self-healing is the least reliable: post-treatment anecdote.

The philosophy of Andrew T. Still, the founder of osteopathy, stated that the human body is perfect and contains within it everything needed to self-heal, and that the only impediment to this is if bones or nerves cause an obstruction to the free-flow of the body’s “fluids of life”. Osteopathic manipulation, he asserted, can be used to clear the obstruction and allow the body to return to its natural state of self-healing.

While it has been tempered slightly, this philosophy remains at the core of osteopathic medicine, often accompanied by a statement saying that no drugs or surgery are needed – it’s ‘natural healing’. Here’s how the World Health Organisation defines osteopathy:

“Osteopathy is grounded in the following principles for treatment and patient management:
i. the human being is a dynamic functional unit, whose state of health is influenced by the body, mind and spirit;
ii. the body possesses self-regulatory mechanisms and is naturally self-healing;
iii. structure and function are interrelated at all levels of the human body“

In my survey of 100 randomly selected osteopath websites, 57%, just over half, explicitly stated that osteopathic treatment aids the body’s own innate self-healing mechanism.

I did not count those that alluded to the idea but weren’t explicit, eg. “osteopathy is based on the principle that the body has the ability to heal”. No one can deny that, but the question is whether money is paid for a treatment that actually aids that process, whether it would have happened anyway, or even if it would have happened more quickly without treatment.

The greatest danger with the CAM definition of ‘self-healing’ comes when it is applied to the many serious and semi-serious afflictions that do not normally obey this supposed universal rule of ‘natural healing’.

ii. Cranial osteopathy

I discussed cranial osteopathy (also known as craniosacral therapy) in part 1, but, briefly, it’s based on the belief that tiny pulsations can be felt with the fingertips and can be gently manipulated to ‘release restrictions’ and promote health.

There is no strong evidence behind this claim, and it remains scientifically implausible. In the words of Dr. Stephen Barrett – “cranial therapy is silly”.

In my survey of 100 randomly selected osteopath websites, 70% said they offered cranial osteopathy as part of their treatment services.

It was especially pushed as being beneficial for babies and children, with many setting no lower limit on age – often explicitly stating “from birth” or “from a few days old”. One website said “osteopaths believe all babies should be routinely checked after birth”. (Out of interest, only 2% of osteopathic practitioners reviewed stated they would not see babies).

And whereas general structural osteopathic manipulation focussed predominantly on conditions related to the musculoskeletal system, cranial therapy had much fuzzier claims made for it, often relating to general health and unsettled babies (eg. 19% said it could help with colic).

iii. Treatment of conditions unrelated to the musculoskeletal system

The NHS website proclaims that there’s …

“good evidence that osteopathy is effective in treating persistent lower back pain* … there’s currently no good evidence that osteopathy is effective as a treatment for health conditions unrelated to the musculoskeletal system (bones and muscle).”

(*Many osteopathy websites cite NICE’s 2009 guidance that suggested this positive outcome for early lower back pain, but in March 2016 this advice was updated to say that manual therapy should not be used on its own due to a lack of evidence.)

About this time last year, the Good Thinking Society investigated a number of websites that claimed osteopathy could treat a variety of non-musculoskeletal conditions, including colic, asthma, dyslexia, and many more. After a number of complaints made to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) this eventually resulted in a directive from the General Osteopathic Council suggesting that their members check their claims were in line with those advised by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP).

While the profession has reigned in many of the wilder claims on their marketing, osteopathy still sees itself as a ‘holistic’ treatment that can tackle a plethora of human disabilities and illnesses.

In my survey of 100 randomly selected osteopath websites, 61% claimed to be able to help with specific conditions that were unrelated to the musculoskeletal system. These included various digestive problems, asthma, colic, ME and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, eye and ear infections, haemorrhoids, post-natal depression, boosting the immune system, menstrual problems, insomnia and more.

In the light of the CAP guidelines, there were some interesting statements. The majority of websites included a list of CAP-approved conditions, rounded off with “plus many more” (such generalisations were not counted in my survey). Some were more brazen …

“Osteopathy can help with many other conditions. If your symptoms are not listed, please telephone to enquire whether osteopathy might be effective for you.”

Another alluded to the ASA directly …

“The Advertising Standards Agency will only allow osteopaths to mention conditions where the efficacy has been proven by large-scale clinical trials. This data is not available for many conditions that patients report improvement in, so they may not be mentioned here.”

While another said …

“There is no statistical evidence it [osteopathy] can treat conditions such as asthma, colic, IBS, painful periods. However, there is plenty of clinical and anecdotal evidence suggesting it can.”

One even stretched his hand into the world of conspiracy theories …

“Most clinical trials are funded by drug & pharmaceutical companies, and osteopaths do not have prescribing rights for drugs. As a result data is not currently available for a lot of the conditions that our patients report to have improved, and so we cannot mention them here.”

Although I only looked at four osteopathic clinics in Ireland, these made some of the most far-fetched claims and were out of the jurisdiction of the ASA, including some bold statements about the treatment of autism, cerebral palsy, dyslexia, Down’s Syndrome, fertility and immune difficulties due to ‘post vaccination’, to name a few.

Concerning vaccines (excuse this short detour into another personal interest), while it is by no means a mainstream osteopathic view, the founding philosophy of osteopathy was anti-vaccine. On his website, one UK osteopath states …

“not only does immunisation directly oppose our [osteopaths] principles, it is a key point on how our principles supersede others. Immunisation is a slow poison.”

Another UK osteopath uses the shield of ‘I’m not anti-vaccine, I’m pro-choice’, before stating “often, it is the family that has vaccinated and has lived through the horror of vaccine damage unfolding within their family, that precipitates a change in their choices”.

The British Institute of Osteopathy also has an ‘interesting’ view on vaccines, strongly suggesting you have a choice whether to vaccinate or not and then spending some time adding weight to the ‘not’, in particular by linking to the website of ‘vaccine-concerned’ homeopath, Jayne Donegan, not the only osteopath I found to do so.

Thankfully, these are outliers, and the vast majority of UK osteopaths accept the science, the safety, and the benefit of vaccination.

iv. Osteopaths who use other CAM therapies

While this category does not address the field of osteopathy directly, it does, I believe, say something quite strongly about the mindset and philosophy of the practitioner in question. It is an interesting marker of how much store they set in science-based medicine, and perhaps how much they are happy to wallow in pseudoscience.

In my survey of 100 randomly selected osteopath websites, 48%, almost half, had practitioners who personally practiced and offered another CAM therapy. The majority of these were acupuncture, but they also included naturopathy, homeopathy, reiki, ear candling and even magnified healing and Bach flower remedies.

While just 29% of websites surveyed seemed to show they practiced osteopathy alone with no other CAM available in their clinic, 71% practiced in clinics where other CAM was available, either from themselves or from fellow clinic tenants. Many presented this as having the advantage of quick referral to one of the other CAM therapies as part of an ‘holistic treatment’.

In relation to children, one osteopath said “I may suggest using homeopathic remedies. These are harmless, have no side effects and can be extremely helpful.”

Another had a different source of healing power … “God’s values and principles will underpin your treatment session”.

To sum up

57% of websites in the survey published the ‘self-healing’ claim;
70% publicised the fact they offered cranial therapy;
61% made a claim to treat one or more specific ailments not related to the musculoskeletal system;
48% of practitioners also personally offered another CAM therapy – with 71% of all sites surveyed located in a setting where other CAM was immediately available.

All in all, 93% of the randomly selected websites in my survey checked at least one, often more, of these criteria for pseudoscientific claims, concluding that they are far from existing only on the fringe of osteopathic practice.

The average price for treatments seemed to be around the £40 mark, with hour-long initial consultations being more expensive than the subsequent half-hour regular treatments.

And while the FAQs often indicated a finite number of sessions were required to bring the patient back to a ‘state of balance’, there was also a strong suggestion that clients should continue with regular treatments, or ‘MOTs’, to prevent old conditions from resurfacing, and to forestall new ones from emerging. As one website put it …

“Who needs an Osteopath? Potentially everybody, of any age!”

See part 1 here.

Notes: A good follow-up by Professor Edzard Ernst can be read here.

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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

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.

Genocidal Fraud by the CDC. Not.

For a while now I’ve had an anti-vaccination friend trying to get me not to vaccinate my children. Why? Because autism, because toxins, because New World Order population control. At the time of their first intervention I was pro-vax, but largely uninformed on the issue. I knew a little about the fraudulent Andrew Wakefield study, but not much more.

The friend sent me a couple of articles, pieces that had appeared in the ‘independent media’ and I decided to look into them in detail. It didn’t take too long for my previously ambivalent pro-vax stance to evolve into a pretty much full-on, raging pro-vax stance. The articles were brimming with blatant lies. The more I examined the anti-vax scene, the more I found it to be anti-scientific, bare-faced nonsense, and the more I learned about just how important and amazing vaccination actually is.

The friend hasn’t given up (despite my polite evidence-based counter-arguments, and my children being well into their vaccination schedule), and the latest salvo was a newsletter from bunkum-buffet website, Forbidden Knowledge TV, a newsletter titled Genocidal Fraud by the CDC.

The background is this: in 2004 the Center for Disease Control released a study that showed there was no link between MMR and autism with respect to the age of first MMR vaccination. One of the researchers on that paper was William Thompson. Now, champion of the ‘vaccine-damaged’, Andrew Wakefield, and one his disciples, Brian Hooker, have revealed that Thompson has turned whistleblower, pointing Hooker in the direction of allegedly covered-up data from that 2004 study and allowing him to re-analyse the raw data and discover a link between MMR and autism in African-American boys. Press releases were released and Wakefield made a video comparing the CDC to various genocidal dictators, and now the anti-vax crowd are dancing in the streets.

Barely two weeks old, this story has already been scrutinised by many bloggers more knowledgeable than me (bearing in mind it’s still playing out and not all the facts are in), but I wanted to pay particular attention to some of the points raised in the Forbidden Knowledge TV piece.

“The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) whistleblower … has been identified”

Well, let’s get this straight. Thompson spoke to Brian Hooker in confidence and he had no idea that he was being recorded. In doing this, Hooker broke Californian and Georgian law (where the relevant parties reside). Hooker further undermined Thompson’s trust (and again flouted the law) when he shared those recorded conversations with Andrew Wakefield, who then went on to publish Thompson’s name and voice on the Internet. If this is how Hooker and Wakefield treat their friends then I don’t think trust and ethics figure very highly on their list of character traits. I also think they’ve trashed the possibility of any future whistleblower contacting them – so I guess they’d better make the most of this one.

Indeed, William Thompson has released a statement stating that he was not aware he was being recorded and did not agree to either his name being made public or his voice being put on the Internet.

As we’re on the subject of Thompson’s statement, he also says this:

I want to be absolutely clear that I believe vaccines have saved and continue  to save countless lives. I would never suggest that any parent avoid vaccinating children of any race. Vaccines prevent serious diseases, and the risks associated with their administration are vastly outweighed by their individual and societal benefits.

Epidemiologist, William W. Thompson, PhD broke a decade of silence over the government’s deliberate concealment of the link between the MMR vaccine … and a dramatically increased risk of autism, particularly in African American boys.”

And here the tale unfastens from the world of facts and starts to drift away. Brian Hooker’s reanalysis did not find an increased risk of autism in caucasian boys and girls, or African-American girls, only in African-American boys. You can call “dramatically increased risk” a misrepresentation, or you can call it a lie, but either way it shows the disregard the anti-vaccination lobby has for the truth.

But while we’re on the subject of B. S. Hooker’s  study (yes, those are his initials), let’s add a couple of other things about it. He took the raw data from the CDC’s 2004 study, which was designed and implemented as a case-control study, and re-cast it as a cohort study, thus increasing the risk of false positives. Related to this, his data-set was tiny and had no comparative, so a methodical and definitive conclusion is almost impossible. This bad science makes more sense when you know that Hooker is a biochemical engineer, not a statistician or an epidemiologist, and he didn’t employ one either.

But let’s entertain the idea that Hooker’s forced conclusion is actually correct – this, then, flies in the face of Andrew Wakefield’s and his legion of Warrior Moms’ assertion – that MMR causes autism across the board. It’s a blow to their crusade in particular because the vast majority of these campaigners are white upper/middle class parents. Strangely, they don’t appear to have noticed this.

Lastly on this point, only very short snippets of Thompson’s ‘confessions’ have been released – edited, repeated sound-bites with no context. All the context is added by Wakefield where he references the shameful Tuskegee experiment and goes on to claim that the CDC are worse than Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. If Thompson’s revelations are so damning, why doesn’t Wakefield let us hear them, instead of giving us barely thirty-seconds of illegally recorded conversation in a 9-minute video dripping with propaganda?

“The same month of its publication, Thompson wrote to Dr. Julie Gerberding (then director of the CDC, now director of Merck’s vaccine division – check out that revolving door, eh?), discussing his intention to present, at an Institute of Medicine meeting on vaccines and autism the following week, “several problematic results” that the study had produced.”

So, Thompson intended to present the “problematic results” of the 2004 study at an IoM meeting? Wrong. Read the letter. Thompson is asking Gerdberding to respond to a letter by Rep. David Weldon which asks for clarification of a completely different vaccine study – not the 2004 paper that Thompson worked on. He wanted leadership support for the science that showed there was no MMR-autism connection. Another lie.

“Dr. Julie Gerberding (then director of the CDC, now director of Merck’s vaccine division – check out that revolving door, eh?) …”

First of all, this has no bearing on the facts of whether MMR causes autism, but if you’re going to play that game then we should be fair, and check out the biases of both sides.

Andrew Wakefield was struck off the Medical Register in 2010 and is barred from practising medicine in the UK after his 1998 paper that led to the MMR-autism kerfuffle was found to be not only bad science, but fraudulent – he used a tiny sample size of children with no control group, subjected them to unnecessary and invasive medical procedures, was reportedly in the pay of lawyers acting on behalf of several autistic children whose parents wanted to sue MMR manufactures (and these children made up a portion of Wakefield’s study subjects) and had just filed a patent for his own single-jab measles vaccine. He now relies on his position in the anti-vaccine movement for both his income and his status.

Brian Hooker, the author of the re-analysed CDC data, has been involved in litigation against the CDC and claims that vaccines caused his own son’s autism. He’s also a board member of Focus Autism, a group who want to “put an end to the needless harm of children by vaccination”.

By two years of age, US children receive as many as 24 vaccine injections, and might receive up to five shots during one visit to the doctor – all of these containing the toxic mercury-based preservative, Thimerosal and administered to toddlers whose immune systems are not developed enough to cope with so much toxicity.

So many wobbly facts in this paragraph. Only two vaccinations in the US childhood schedule might contain thimerosal, DTaP and DTaP-Hib combined, and these would only contain trace amounts as the thimerosal is removed after the manufacturing process, so it isn’t an ingredient in the actual vaccine. Similarly, no childhood vaccines in the UK contain thimerosal as an ingredient. Some flu shots do contain thimerosal, but MMR never contained it.

The amount of mercury in thimerosal is not toxic – “the dose makes the poison” and there is too little. Furthermore the mercury in thimerosal is ethylmercury which is expelled from the body pretty quickly, it doesn’t build up like its cousin, methylmercury – which is probably what most people are thinking of when they hear about ‘toxic mercury’.

If mercury in vaccinations is the cause of autism, then how come autism has continued to rise even though thimerosal has not been an ingredient in the majority of vaccinations for over 14 years?

As for the ‘too many too soon’ argument, this just doesn’t bear out. A child is exposed to vastly greater amounts of “toxicity” in real life, from food, the environment and naturally acquired disease from the moment they are born. Their immune systems cope just fine.

I have a distinct suspicion that the release NOW of the genocidal fraud and criminality of the CDC, of a vaccine which specifically harms black boys …”

Is it actually possible to have a substance injected into any member of the human populace, but which will only take effect if that human happens to be of a specific ethnic origin and gender?

This last bit is the cue for the remainder of the newsletter to go into full-on conspiracy mode, claiming the US government are inciting a race war, a civil war and even a world war.

Conspiracy theorists just can’t help it. Everything is connected, it’s all just one big convoluted plan … ‘They’ are lying to us about everything from the moon landing to spraying us from the air with chemicals, from murdering Princess Diana to bringing down the World Trade Centre. They start out trying to be calm and scientific, and end up ranting about lizard-aliens coming to drink the life-essence from our children.

My friend continues to believe that MMR causes autism and that the government want to inject brain-controlling microchips into the population. He accuses me of being ‘indoctrinated’, yet he gets his news solely from the fear-merchants in the ‘alternative media’, not allowing a single counter-argument to unbalance his Matrix-tinged view of the world, even though that alternative media tell blatant lies and assert things without a shred of evidence. Even if you don’t trust the ‘mainstream media’ (whatever that is), a lot of the claims are backed up with various forms of evidence that you can often check yourself.

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, Hooker’s re-evaluation has been removed from the public domain “because of serious concerns about the validity of its conclusions”, and Wakefield and his cronies’ claims about autism continue to lead to real-world deaths, in numbers, from diseases that are preventable and, in many cases, were on the brink of being eradicated.

Thanks to the continued vigilance and expertise of various bloggers at Science-Based Medicine, and many other writers and blogs linked to in the piece above.