Another bad anti-vax paper sidles into the literature

If you’ve paid any attention to anti-vaxxers, or are on the mailing list of some annoying conservative, you may have heard this one: there is a peer-reviewed study in an established science journal that shows that vaccines kill almost as many people as the pandemic. Oh no, you might say, maybe I shouldn’t get vaccinated if doing so has a significant risk of death!

Unfortunately, as I’ve said before, sometimes complete bollocks slithers through the peer-review process, and this is no exception. It’s such utter garbage that the board of the guilty journal is experiencing a wave of resignations in protest

Several reputed virologists and vaccinologists have resigned as editors of the journal Vaccines to protest its 24 June publication of a peer-reviewed article that misuses data to conclude that “for three deaths prevented by [COVID-19] vaccination, we have to accept two inflicted by vaccination.”

Since Friday, at least six scientists have resigned positions as associate or section editors with Vaccines, including Florian Krammer, a virologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and Katie Ewer, an immunologist at the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford who was on the team that developed the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Their resignations were first reported by Retraction Watch.

It’s a case study in how to destroy a journal’s reputation with a single stupid paper.

The paper is a case of “garbage in, garbage out,” says Helen Petousis-Harris, a vaccinologist who directs the Vaccine Datalink and Research Group at the University of Auckland and who also resigned as a Vaccines editor after reading the paper. Diane Harper, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who was founding editor-in-chief of Vaccines, also resigned, as did Paul Licciardi, an immunologist at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Parkville, Australia, and Andrew Pekosz, a respiratory virologist at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The resignations began Friday, the day after the paper was published. By early Monday, Fanny Fang, the journal’s managing editor, wrote to the editorial board members that Vaccines—a reputable open-access journal launched in 2013 by Basel, Switzerland–based publisher MDPI—had opened an investigation into the paper. “We are treating this case with the utmost seriousness and are committed to swiftly correcting the scientific record,” she wrote.

The first obvious problem is that none of the paper’s authors have any expertise in the field. Further, the reviewers who let it through are similarly bereft of experience. Despite the fact that the journal is titled Vaccine, apparently some of the editors are also lacking in relevant knowledge.

None of the paper’s authors is trained in vaccinology, virology, or epidemiology. They are: Harald Walach, a clinical psychologist and science historian by training who describes himself as a health researcher at Poznan University of Medical Sciences in Poland; Rainer Klement, a physicist who studies ketogenic diets in cancer treatment at the Leopoldina Hospital in Schweinfurt, Germany; and Wouter Aukema, an independent data scientist in Hoenderloo, Netherlands.

The three peer reviewers on the paper, two of them anonymous, did not offer any substantial criticism of the authors’ methodology in these brief reviews. One of them, Anne Ulrich, a chemist who directs the Institute of Biological Interfaces and is chair of biochemistry at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, wrote that the authors’ analysis “is performed responsibly … and without methodological flaws … and the results were interpreted with the necessary caveats.”

To make it worse, the authors relied on data from a Dutch study…and the authors of that study are saying that their work was misused and inappropriately interpreted.

On 25 June, the day after the paper’s publication, Lareb’s head of science and research, Eugène van Puijenbroek, sent an email to Vaccines’s editors, criticizing the paper and requesting a correction or retraction.

“A reported event that occurred after vaccination is … not necessarily being caused by the vaccination, although our data was presented as being causally related by the authors,” van Puijenbroek wrote. “Suggesting all reports with a fatal outcome to be causally related is far from truth.”

He also took the authors to task for stating in the paper that “the Dutch [registry] data, especially the fatal cases, were certified by medical specialists.”

“This point is simply incorrect,” van Puijenbroek wrote. “The authors seem to refer to [Lareb’s] policy plan. However, in this plan (in Dutch), it is nowhere mentioned that the reports are ‘certified’ by medical specialists.”

Woopsie. The paper has since been retracted, and the journal is doing an in-house investigation of how this screwup occurred, but it looks to me like a whole lot of the people competent to carry out such an investigation have up and quit altogether. And the damage has been done. The anti-vaxxers will continue to cite the paper — they still think Andrew Wakefield’s work was credible — and they’ll scream “Cover up!” at the retraction.

Sometimes, fire is the appropriate response

The churches are burning in Canada.

I oppose the idea of atheists setting churches on fire. That you are offended by the absurdity of their dogma is not sufficient justification for property damage. I grew up next door to a Catholic church, and they never did me any harm, so I certainly don’t have any grounds for seeking vengeance.

Of course, I was just a white boy occupying the lands of the Coast Salish, so it wasn’t my place to get angry. Some people, on the other hand, do have justification.

If the people and government of Canada won’t impose severe sanctions on the Catholic church, and if they won’t pay reparations to the First Nations people who suffered so much and so long…

Let ’em burn.

Come on down to Kent’s Krazy Kult Kompound!

There’s something funny going on down in Alabama, at Kent Hovind’s Dinosaur Adventure Land. It’s getting a bit cult-like, with Hovind constructing various buildings with money of murky provenance, and whole families coming down to camp out on the grounds and attend the little repetitive indoctrination seminars he records and puts on his YouTube channel. He’s also up to his old con man tricks. It’s difficult to piece together because all we’ve got to go on are accounts from the kind of people who fall for Hovind’s line of patter and subsequently see through it all and get out. Like Mary Tocco, his second wife, for instance.

Kent is intelligent, charming, humorous and talented. I cannot deny that I fell in love with Kent and his ministry whole-heartedly and believed that he was the man that of God I was preparing my life for. I did not date him while he was married and I never spoke with him while he was in prison as some people have alleged. We saw each other professionally for the first time when I went to Pensacola, Florida in April of 2016 for the purpose of using Kent’s videography resources to produce an educational video on my own area of research that happens to be a cause that Kent supports. At that time I knew nothing about Kent’s personal or family life.

That’s reality — I might find Kent Hovind repulsive, but there are plenty of people who like the guy, like his message, and like him so much that they send him money…or marry him. Well, sort of: knowing Kent’s anti-government beliefs, they didn’t get a marriage certificate, but were married on the basis of Kent’s authority.

The honeymoon didn’t last, though, and Tocco left him because he was scheming and scamming and dodging tax law, and she didn’t want to end up like his first wife, sent to prison for being an accomplice.

Finally, I requested the opportunity to address these concerns in a meeting with Kent and the trustee of the DAL board. I had learned enough to be able to ask specific questions about how the business was being conducted. Much to my dismay, their side of the discussion was a terribly disappointment, and more accurately appalling. I shook my head in disbelief as I heard statements repeatedly such as, “well, that’s a gray area” and “I think we could explain it this way to defend ourselves, if we had to in court”. I was told to forget my concerns because they would likely be civil issues anyway, not criminal. It was one of the most unacceptable discussions I have ever witnessed, especially given the past of the men speaking.

Yeah, he’s playing games with his taxes again. Fortunately for Tocco, she got out.

Kent removed his wedding band three months later. In November 2017, he renounced his marriage to me and informed me he was looking for a new wife. He is now married to his third wife, Cindi Lincoln, who was previously my friend when I lived in Alabama.

That is so telling. To Hovind, marriage isn’t a mutual contract, it’s something he can decree or renounce one-sidedly. Read any of the accounts by the people who have escaped his orbit, and it’s non-stop alarm bells.

Then there’s his association with a convicted pedophile. This is where it gets tangled, and the story suffers because, goddamn, none of these people know how to put together a clear journalistic narrative. So there are these patchwork scrapbookings of assembled Facebook posts that are really hard to read, and rambling videos by unhappy ex-followers. To boil it down a bit, Kent Hovind has a mutually loyal relationship with a guy named Chris Jones, the convicted pedophile. There are excerpts in which he baldly states that sure, he’s a convicted pedophile, but he was convicted by the same system that found him, Kent Hovind, guilty of tax dodging, so it’s all a lie. Besides, he’s down there at Dinosaur Adventure Land all the time, helping out with the work of running the place, helping the families who come down, playing with all the kids they’ve got frolicking about…

What did I tell you? Alarm bells. Great shrieking sirens.

If you don’t believe me, a liberal radical college professor, here’s a good ol’ truck-drivin’ Southern boy, a man who was briefly under Hovind’s spell and then saw the light.

I didn’t think I would be back over here talking about Kent Hovind on this channel but it’s where my platform is so that’s where I’m at. But some authorities definitely need to start stepping up their investigations of this so-called christian organization. It is nothing less than a cult at this point. What other “theme park” is building churches in the middle of their conpound. Dinosaur Adventure Land definitely needs child protective services over watching them. From accusations of child abduction to a child drowning and now a child that nobody knows of his whereabouts…..or at least nobody has been informed even people have asked…..and this child was traveling alone with a convicted child m0lester.

Now I might just be some dumb truck driver but at the same time I do know how to put two and two together and see that there is a lot of fishiness going on. Numerous people have come out stating how unsafe Kent Hovind’s Dinosaur Adventure Land is.

After this last year with Kent Hovind openly and publicly stating that he has an open invitation for Chris(the convicted child abuser) to come at anytime to DAL…… I do not understand how any parent in their right mind would have their kids there.

But certainly if these accusations are true about this boy and Chris then the authorities obviously need to get involved as well as answers from Kent and anyone else involved in any sort of cover-up.

And of course you would have people out there asking why Kent Hovind would have anything to answer for when it’s only his friend….. quite simply due to him openly inviting him to a place that Kent himself admits is intended for children and Kent knows his criminal history makes him culpable for anything that happens.

There’s a lot I’ve skipped over, like the child who drowned, and the missing child, and who knows what else.

There is definitely a lot of fishy stuff going on in Alabama, and it needs exposure. Any journalists want to take it on? Or shall we wait until something truly tragic and sordid and scandalous happens, and the True Crime authors can take over?

It’s like reading the letters section of my local newspaper!

Small town newspapers occasionally get letter-feuds going — it fuels subscriptions, since you really want to know how angry Sally Jo is going to get with Fred over his dog tearing up her petunias, and the back and forth can go on for months. Sometimes science gets that way, too.

The backstory: Augustin Fuentes wrote an editorial for Science in which he pointed out that Charles Darwin was a flawed, prejudiced Victorian man, as part of a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Descent of Man. While he may have been somewhat more progressive than many of his contemporaries, he still had awful racist views.

Darwin portrayed Indigenous peoples of the Americas and Australia as less than Europeans in capacity and behavior. Peoples of the African continent were consistently referred to as cognitively depauperate, less capable, and of a lower rank than other races. These assertions are confounding because in “Descent” Darwin offered refutation of natural selection as the process differentiating races, noting that traits used to characterize them appeared nonfunctional relative to capacity for success. As a scientist this should have given him pause, yet he still, baselessly, asserted evolutionary differences between races. He went beyond simple racial rankings, offering justification of empire and colonialism, and genocide, through “survival of the fittest.” This too is confounding given Darwin’s robust stance against slavery.

Not to mention his ideas about women.

In “Descent,” Darwin identified women as less capable than (White) men, often akin to the “lower races.” He described man as more courageous, energetic, inventive, and intelligent, invoking natural and sexual selection as justification, despite the lack of concrete data and biological assessment. His adamant assertions about the centrality of male agency and the passivity of the female in evolutionary processes, for humans and across the animal world, resonate with both Victorian and contemporary misogyny.

“GASP!” went some scientists. How dare he be so rude? Think of the harm it will do to science education if we reveal the flaws in our heroes! So they fired off a letter to the editor.

We fear that Fuentes’ vituperative exposition will encourage a spectrum of anti-evolution voices and damage prospects for an expanded, more gender and ethnically diverse new generation of evolutionary scientists.

Oh, dear. So rather than be interested in the truth, we should conceal those past embarrassments, lest a creationist discover them. This is a terrible idea, because eventually someone will discover them (they’re in books in the public domain, you know), and then it’ll be the cover-up that is the scandal. Have they learned nothing from political history?

In The Descent he demolished the slavery-justifying view of different races as separate species, so inspiring the anti-racist perspectives of later anthropologists like Boaz. On sexism, Darwin suggested that education of “reason and imagination” would erase mental sex differences. His theory of sexual selection gave female animals a central role in mate choice and evolution.

On races, sure, he was better than many, and he also criticizes the race “science” of his day, noting that none of the proponents of that dangerous nonsense could even agree on the number and boundaries of the various races. He was an abolitionist, but as we Americans should know from our history, you can oppose slavery while still having demeaning views of black people. While it is correct that he demolished the idea of different races as different species, he still thought the races had different characters, which is a belief that still feeds racist views. Like this, from the Descent of Man.

There is, however, no doubt that the various races, when carefully compared and measured, differ much from each other,—as in the texture of the hair, the relative proportions of all parts of the body, the capacity of the lungs, the form and capacity of the skull, and even in the convolutions of the brain. But it would be an endless task to specify the numerous points of structural difference. The races differ also in constitution, in acclimatisation, and in liability to certain diseases. Their mental characteristics are likewise very distinct; chiefly as it would appear in their emotional, but partly in their intellectual, faculties. Every one who has had the opportunity of comparison, must have been struck with the contrast between the taciturn, even morose, aborigines of S. America and the light-hearted, talkative negroes.

Oh, those light-hearted negroes, chattering away happily out on the plantation, with their distinct mental characteristics! How dare you accuse Darwin of still clinging to the stereotypes of his day, and being less enlightened than he should have been?

What about his views on women? Did Darwin really think the differences in intellect between men and women would be erased by education?

Here my comparison to conflicts in the letters section of my local newspaper falls down, because Science hasn’t published what should be the next reply in the chain. Holly Dunsworth called the Darwin apologists on their claims by actually reading their citation that purportedly shows how egalitarian Darwin was. Ooops. Here’s Dunsworth’s letter in full:

Whiten et al. described Fuentes’ editorial as a “distorting treatment” of Darwin’s writing in Descent of Man.

As counterpoint to Fuentes’ points about Darwin’s racism and sexism, Whiten et al. wrote that,

On sexism, Darwin suggested that education of “reason and imagination” would erase mental sex differences (1, p. 329).

From that sentence, a reader might reason that Darwin wrote about how educating women could make them equal to men in mental powers. And, a reader might imagine that Darwin advocated for such a thing.

Darwin did neither in the cited passage which says,

In order that woman should reach the same standard as man, she ought, when nearly adult, to be trained to energy and perseverance, and to have her reason and imagination exercised to the highest point; and then she would probably transmit these qualities chiefly to her adult daughters. The whole body of women, however, could not be thus raised, unless during many generations the women who excelled in the above robust virtues were married, and produced offspring in larger numbers than other women. As before remarked with respect to bodily strength, although men do not now fight for the sake of obtaining wives, and this form of selection has passed away, yet they generally have to undergo, during manhood, a severe struggle in order to maintain themselves and their families; and this will tend to keep up or even increase their mental powers, and, as a consequence, the present inequality between the sexes. (1, p. 329)

There is no hope for women and, by the end, Darwin is back on about how men are superior and suggests that they may evolve to be even more so.

It took extraordinary imagination to read that passage from Descent of Man and present it casually in Darwin’s defense as Whiten et al. did.

Now that’s a distorting treatment.

Wow. That passage could be happily quoted by MRAs, anti-feminists, and the general mob of misogynists as perfectly compatible with their views. Do not get into a sparring match with Dr Dunsworth, she’ll cut you.

One other curious thing about that passage…Darwin at the time he wrote Descent of Man was, unfortunately, lacking in a good theory of inheritance and had stumbled into pangenesis — he was basically a Lamarckian. That’s what that bit about how an adult woman had to be trained to “energy and perseverance” so that she would similarly train her daughters, who over many generations might rise to be as smart as a man, if such clever daughters might succeed in producing as many children as those other silly, flighty women. It’s not only profoundly sexist, it’s bad evolutionary logic! He’s not touting the equality of women at all — he’s simply promoting his wrong ideas about the inheritance of acquired characters.

(I’ve written about this before, so this is old ground. Darwin had some even more blatantly sexist passages in the Descent of Man. What’s really going to “encourage a spectrum of anti-evolution voices” is this embarrassing idolatry.)

That sure is a funny way to celebrate Canada Day

I shouldn’t talk. Here in the US we have our own funny way of celebrating a patriotic holiday: “Hey, let’s set off a lot of explosions and set fires and terrify our pets!” In Canada, though, it’s “Hey, let’s go poke around the church school and find the dead bodies of Indian children!”

You guessed it: another 182 mysterious shallow graves have been discovered on the grounds of a residential school.

A First Nation in B.C.’s South Interior says 182 unmarked grave sites have been discovered near the location of a former residential school.

The community of ʔaq̓am, one of four bands in the Ktunaxa Nation and located near the city of Cranbrook, B.C., used ground-penetrating radar to search a site close to the former St. Eugene’s Mission School, the Lower Kootenay Band announced Wednesday.

In a statement, the ʔaq̓am band said it began searching the area for burial sites after finding an unknown, unmarked grave during remedial work around the ʔaq̓am cemetery last year. The cemetery is adjacent to the former school.

Preliminary results from that investigation found 182 burial sites. The statement said the graves were shallow — about a metre deep — and within the cemetery grounds.

Come on, Canada. You have to learn from your sister nation to the south. We keep our atrocities on the down low, and our legislators work night and day to bury our history. When you murder masses of small children, you have to dig the graves much deeper, and cover them over with a heavy layer of excuses.

That’s definitely not a spider

At least, I’m pretty sure.

That’s Homo longi, or Dragon Man, a recently rediscovered fossil from China. It has a curious history.

Almost 90 years ago, Japanese soldiers occupying northern China forced a Chinese man to help build a bridge across the Songhua River in Harbin. While his supervisors weren’t looking, he found a treasure: a remarkably complete human skull buried in the riverbank. He wrapped up the heavy cranium and hid it in a well to prevent his Japanese supervisors from finding it. Today, the skull is finally coming out of hiding, and it has a new name: Dragon Man, the newest member of the human family, who lived more than 146,000 years ago.

Here, take a tour of the skull with Chris Stringer:

That is a big head-bone! The most provocative idea about it is that it might be one of the mysterious Denisovans, known only from DNA and fragmentary teeth.

I’ve been so deeply steeped in spider lore lately, though, that my perspective has shifted to finding it hard to believe in species anymore anyway. It’s cool to see that humans were also a diverse clade with subtle variants 150,000 years ago, almost as messy and complicated as, say, the Tetragnatha.

Bad news, good news

I’m going to rip off the bandage over the bad news: Bill Cosby has been released from prison. He was accused by 60 women of drugging and molesting them; he even confessed, in the most chillingly reptilian way, that yeah, he doped them so he could do whatever he wanted with them, but he made that confession after a prosecutor promised him immunity, so it was obtained under false pretenses, and now he’s been set free. I think it’s good that bad lawyers get their tactics rebuked, but yikes, they let a monster out.

At least he won’t be making any more puddin’ pop commercials, I hope.

In other bad news, Britney Spears has been living under a repressive conservatorship for well over a decade (I don’t care what you think of her music, whether you love it or hate it, this is a human being we’re talking about.) Why, I don’t know. She’s a grown-ass woman, pop stars have a long history of making fools of themselves without getting all their rights stripped away, but this seems to be one of those situations where a greedy family has a grip on the one money-making talent in their midst, and are squeezing her for all that she is worth. She’s been trying to get out from under their control, and unfortunately, a judge has ruled that her father will continue as her conservator. Leave Britney alone!

Now for the happy news. Nikole Hannah-Jones has been awarded tenure after all! This should have been a no-brainer, considering her immense accomplishments and standing in the intellectual community, but it took a second closed-door meeting and tremendous public pressure to get the board of trustees to do the right thing. Opponents just needed money. It turns out that a man who donated $25 million dollars to UNC thought that gave him the power to pressure the university to deny her tenure because he didn’t like her opinions.

Some of that opposition came from Walter Hussman, a UNC donor and Arkansas newspaper publisher whose name adorns UNC’s journalism school. Hussman, who is also an alumnus, told NPR he was given pause by criticism of prominent scholars that Hannah-Jones distorted the historical record in arguing that the protection of slavery was one of the primary motivations of the Founding Fathers in seeking independence from the British. (Hannah-Jones has recently tweeted that she will be able to back up that contention in her forthcoming book.)

You know, that doesn’t even sound that controversial to me. The British had outlawed slavery in their country, and we can see right there in the US Constitution all the compromises the founding fathers had made to convince the slave-holding states to join in their rebellion. I’d be curious to see her argument that this was a primary motivation, but I don’t find it at all implausible. Also not implausible: that a rich conservative Republican would try to silence a valid criticism of the history of this country.

But wait! We need more good news! How about the beginning of the end of the Trump grifting empire?

A grand jury in Manhattan filed criminal indictments Wednesday against former president Donald Trump’s company and its longtime chief financial officer, according to two people familiar with the indictments.

The indictments against the Trump Organization and its CFO, Allen Weisselberg, will remain sealed until Thursday afternoon, leaving the specific charges against them unclear. Earlier Wednesday, people familiar with the case said the charges were related to allegations of unpaid taxes on benefits for Trump Organization executives.

Weisselberg is expected to surrender Thursday morning at the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. (D), two people familiar with the plan said. He is expected to be arraigned later in the day in front of a state court judge. The Trump Organization will also be arraigned, represented in court by one of its attorneys.

Trump himself is not indicted, yet. They’re going after the Trump hotels and golf courses, which probably hurts him more.

It’s also cute that they’re going after him on tax evasion, like Al Capone. The lesson I take from this is that when I become an evil overlord, I will be meticulous in paying my taxes. Either that, or I will buy a bunch of congresspeople and get legislation passed to give me plenty of legal loopholes.