Oprah gets called out for her quackery

Here is a really good article from NEWSWEEK calling out Oprah Winfrey and her parade of pseudoscientific guests for promoting quackery. The article doesn’t go too deeply into the science of things, so I just want to make a few comments.

The first one is brief. Regarding the woman who adopted the strategy of “The Secret” (I can hardly type that without gagging) and rid herself of breast cancer: There is such a thing as spontaneous remission. It is rare (estimates range from 1 in 60,000 to 1 in 100,000), but it is medically documented and happens often enough considering cancer rates. For more on spontaneous remission, read this.

Now, a more lengthy comment on vaccinations and the anti-vaccination movement. There are no discernible links between autism and vaccinations. Nearly 20 scientific, reproducible studies have been conducted throughout the world to date, and the indisputable conclusion is that there is no association between autism and vaccines. Study after study after study, including the U.S. Autism Omnibus proceedings, prove that there is no link between vaccines and autism.

The major battle cry of anti-vaccinationists was that thimerosal (the preservative used to prolong the shelf life of vaccines) was the cause of autism. In 1999, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigated thimerosal in vaccines and found no evidence that it causes any harm. However, they ordered the removal of thimerosal from childhood vaccines as a precautionary measure (in essence to placate the hysterical). Ten years after thimerosal was removed from vaccines, autism rates have continued to rise.

One “study” and the “doctor” who conducted it, Dr. Wakefield, connected the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine with autism. Despite not one scientist being able to replicate the results of this study for years, the anti-vaccinationists have clung to it as all the proof they needed.

Except that Dr. Wakefield’s findings have now been shown to be completely bogus:

“…there has emerged potential explanations of how Wakefield was able to obtain the results he did. This evidence, combined with unprecedented access to medical records, a mass of confidential documents and cooperation from parents during an investigation by this newspaper, has shown the selective reporting and changes to findings that allowed a link between MMR and autism to be asserted.”

One study—a fabricated study—has caused people to hysterically decry vaccinations, many refusing to have their children vaccinated. The result? No more herd immunity, for one. Herd immunity occurs when enough of the population is vaccinated that protection is afforded to the unprotected (and in some cases especially susceptible, perhaps because of illness or poor immune systems). The mechanism is simple—infection can’t easily pass from person to person when the majority of the population is protected. The chain is broken. Now in the UK vaccination rates have sunk so low that herd immunity is not maintained. And in North America, we’re getting close to that.

The result is that children will die needlessly of measles, mumps, and rubella. We think of these diseases as antiquated, but that’s only because in the past immunizations and herd immunity has protected children from them. Now that some parents are listening to the anti-vaccinationist wackos and refusing to vaccinate their children, these diseases are on the rise. And they can be deadly.

It is true that autism rates have been rising, but the cause of this rise is a controversial subject. Either true autism rates are rising, or increased surveillance and a wider definition of “autism” has made it appear as though the rates are rising. The second hypothesis is more strongly supported by available evidence. Simply, it is that more cases are being diagnosed, not that more cases are occurring.

So Jenny McCarthy, the head cheerleader of the anti-vaccination movement (who has recently recruited her boyfriend Jim Carrey to the battle), and all of the other credulous folks who believe the propaganda and pseudoscience, are actually endangering your children by not having theirs vaccinated.

One wonders why they aren’t concerned with the real causes of autism, focusing their energy, time, and money on scientific research that may one day provide an answer.