The past thirty days have been rife with excellent science news, which for various reasons I’ve been unable to blog on. Rest assured, I’m very grateful to those of you that submitted links to these pieces of good news! I’d love to encourage you all to continue submitting such victorious tidbits, as every submission proves you’re thinking of me, and, as I’m a blogger, I’m also therefore a huge egotist. Also, every one of these links made me cheer, and the more cheery, the better, I say.
The first and obviously biggest victory we skeptics can celebrate, is the retraction by The Lancet of Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s spurious study linking autism and vaccination, a campaign he evidently started out of reprehensible self-interest, having previously patented a “safer” MMR vaccine. That’s right, he sought to destroy the existing vaccination schedule not because it was actually unsafe, but because he had the alternative and would have stood to make a shit-ton of money.
Not everyone’s happy with the retraction though — Forbes suggests the retraction should have made more plain the depths of Wakefield’s mendacity, so peabrains like Jim and Jenny (and their followers) might actually stand a chance of getting why it’s so important, since as the retraction stands, it leaves room in their minds for the conspiracy theory that Big Pharma is looking to shut down the anti-vax brigade to protect their revenue streams. Where they get that idea in the retraction, I couldn’t tell you. I do think Forbes is right — the retraction does NOT make plain how dangerous a fabrication Wakefield wove in putting together a tiny and non-representative study (consisting of a mere handful of his son’s birthday party companions), in order to line his own pockets.
In the wake of The Lancet retracting the study (which by the way now clears the way for all those studies that have since disproven any autism-vaccine link that came afterward!), Wakefield has resigned from The Thoughtful House, an autism treatment centre for whom his association has evidently become detrimental. The House still has lots of anti-vax FUD on their site, though look for these to disappear in short order.
While the ending to this story isn’t terribly satisfying, having opened the Pandora’s Box of creating a whole new avenue of dangerous pseudoscience and not definitively closing it all down (because, you know, the people behind it aren’t interested in reality), at least there are other, more satisfying victories on which I can report.
For instance, the 1023 Campaign has forced the New Zealand Council of Homeopaths to admit their homeopathic solutions are nothing but water or sugar and contain absolutely no active properties after 1023 had a mass-”overdose”, taking hundreds of doses of homeopathic solutions in a public protest and nobody suffering any ill effects whatever. This is not surprising to those of us in the rational community, given that the solutions are, in fact, nothing but water or sugar, but probably comes as a surprise to anyone that has staked their health on such expensive solutions, paying tens of dollars per teaspoon. It’s good that the homeopaths in NZ have discredited themselves, but here in Canada there’s still a homeopathic practitioner on my way to and from work. One of these days I really ought to stop in to see if they’re confusing “homeopathic” with “naturopathic”, as is the common fallacy around these parts.
Elsewhere, US-based GE Healthcare dropped a British libel action it brought against a Danish scientist that criticised one of their drugs. They claim they “did not mean to stifle academic debate”, but I can honestly come up with no other reason but to abuse Britain’s absurd libel laws for a US company to channel its complaint against a scientist in Denmark through the UK. If I’m somehow missing some other good reason for them to do so, let me know. This is a far cry from Britain’s libel laws being reformed, but it is certainly heartening that the Danish scientist is not going to be forced through a costly court battle tilted heavily against him for the high crime of science.
And finally, the American body Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has apparently forcefully asserted that medicine is an applied science based heavily on other sciences, including evolution. This seems self-evident, that the treatment of diseases is subject to the pathogens that cause them evolving, but it has a side effect that doctors will be made to learn more about evolution and understand how it can affect treatment. This means there will be fewer creationist doctors, but that’s the choice you make when you decide to ascribe to an unscientific stance like “evilution is fake and made up by godless liberals” in the face of all the evidence proving evolution is a scientific fact. (By the way, pardon the digression, but yes, evolution is a scientific fact just like gravity is a scientific fact. The “theory” of evolution, like the “theory” of gravity, is the current scientific explanation for how it works, and it’s that explanation that’s subject to revision, not the fact that it happened.)
I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of really good news over the past month, too. Do feel free to highlight your favorite pro-science moment in the comments!