15 Sept 2009
Get ready for some more Critical Thinking about today’s fun-filled Science in Society news stories…
… from out into deep space …
… to down here, on our beautiful “Green” Earth.
Hold onto your hats and here we goooooooooooooooooooooooo……..
First off…Hubble is back! YAY!!!
“Hubble drifts over Earth after its release on May 19, 2009 by the crew of the Space Shuttle Atlantis. The crew had performed all planned tasks over the course of five spacewalks, making the Servicing Mission 4, the fifth astronaut visit to the Hubble Space Telescope, an unqualified success.”
So… what has Hubble been looking at?
Ladies and Gentlemen, please meet Carina, isn’t she beautiful?
“Composed of gas and dust, the pillar resides in a tempestuous stellar nursery called the Carina Nebula, located 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation Carina. The image shows the tip of the 3-light-year-long pillar, bathed in the glow of light from hot, massive stars off the top of the image. Scorching radiation and fast winds (streams of charged particles) from these stars are sculpting the pillar and causing new stars to form within it. Streamers of gas and dust can be seen flowing off the top of the structure.”
Also, have a look at these beautiful new images from the just refurbished Hubble Space Telescope. WOW!
And… at the edge of our visible Universe …. let me introduce you to the newly discovered Green Pea Galaxies.
“The galaxies, which are between 1.5 billion and 5 billion light years away, are 10 times smaller than our own Milky Way galaxy and 100 times less massive. But they are forming stars 10 times faster than the Milky Way. Citizen scientists from the Galaxy Zoo project have discovered rare galaxies they’re calling the “Green Peas.” They’re small in size, bright green in color, and proficient at churning out new stars — plus, they could reveal unique insights into how galaxies form stars in the early universe.” Yum, yum!
What a enchanting Universe we live in.
But … let’s get back down to Earth and get our feet dirty….
Bad to the Bone … describing the quality of today’s Science journalism in The Media?
Here is the classic George Thorogood version…fantastic 1980’s rock.
Or … if you dare …..
… here is the non-Politically Correct version with “Arnie” being very good at being a very bad boy.
… Great music anyway.
Now, about that HAM…
…. what has been happening recently with the Pig Flu Scare?
First let us ask a few basic questions:
[We’ll take a peep at our fountain of world knowledge … Uppsala Nya Tidning.]
1) How much will all this cost us?
“Massvaccineringen beräknas kosta mellan två och tre miljarder kronor i Sverige, varav cirka 160 miljoner i Uppsala län.”
Sarcasm (definitely) ON/
Oh … so that would be about …let me calculate … 1x Musikens Hus = 529 million crowns … so, lets say…
… 1 Swedish Swine Flu Scare = 5 Musikens Hus, WOW!
I wonder how many new BLIC6 Science text books that would buy?
Maybe there’s even a bit of change left over to buy some chocolate cake for Friday teacher’s fika?
2) Which groups are most at risk from Swine Flu?
“I första hand ska speciella riskgrupper behandlas. Här ingår sjukliga personer, gravida kvinnor, barn samt personer över 65 år…. säger Martin Holmberg, överläkare på Socialstyrelsens smittskyddsenhet.”
O-oh, it looks like we should vaccinate all schools in Sweden. This must be serious!
3) Do the rest of us healthy citizens need to get vaccinated?
“Enligt SMI:s beräkningar kan 500 liv räddas om 90 procent av befolkningen vaccinerar sig. Men först om fyra månader kommer alla 18 miljoner doser vara här. Trots det är det ändå inte för sent att vaccinera sig, menar Annika Linde på SMI.”
O-oh. Looks like I’ll be going to prison for 500 life terms. Boy, do I feel guilty!
Wait on … before we go broke, abuse our children and all get sent to prison…lets think.
OK … Lets, as we always start our Critical Thinking, get back to the raw data:
Let’s have a look at the extremely boring statistics and ask a relevant question.
Question: Does it look like we should be worried about more deaths from flu-like diseases?
“Today, you only get a fraction of what was standard before the war. When it comes to the later pandemics, such as the “Asian flu” of 1957 or the “Hong Kong flu” of 1968/69, you can barely detect them as exceptional figures when it comes to death statistics as a whole.”
Another question: Has this years flu been exceptional in other countries?
Answer: “…the total number of influenza-related deaths in the United States — including from the H1N1 pandemic — have remained below epidemic levels and resulted in 2009 being the mildest flu year in more than a decade.”
“Despite perceptions among the public and portrayals in the media of extreme risks, medical professionals recognize that, while the H1N1 flu may spread easily, it causes a relatively mild flu in most people and there is no evidence that is has or is likely to mutate and become deadlier. “If we have to have influenza, I would clearly choose novel H1N1,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, just told the Wall Street Journal.
And … how about predicted death rates?
Reality check — How have scary predictions about swine flu held up to reality?
Lets start with that fabulously well oiled medical machine that is the Australian Health Care System :
“The flu season is winding down in Australia, where their winter is nearing end. Three months ago, public health experts and even the President of the Australian Medical Association were warning that one-third of the population would get swine flu. As late as last month, the Australian government had ordered 21 million doses of swine flu vaccine, enough to vaccinate the entire population. In reality, as of noon today, the Australian Department of Health and Ageing reports that Australia has had 35,775 confirmed cases of pandemic H1N1. The experts had overstated the numbers who would get sick by 203-fold. There have been 162 deaths — a fraction (5.4%) of the 3,000 Australians who typically die from the seasonal flu each year.”
And how about the good old U S of A ?
“… in the United States. In July, we were hearing projections that as many as 40 percent of Americans could come down with the flu over the next two years and several hundred thousand could die. The government ordered 160 million doses of vaccine. In reality, the pandemic H1N1 variant has proven to remain far less virulent (to be milder) than the seasonal flu here…”
(Ooops… sorry…that cartoon just seemed to slip in there … all by itself ! )
Well what does all this mean?
OK … lets check with some major independent NON-governmental organisations …
A) The Cochrane Collaboration
An interesting article has just been printed about the Swine Flu Panic in the German Die Spiegel magazine.
It is an interview with the head of Influensa Research at the Cochrane Collaboration. This foundation is “The God” of independent medical investigators, respected around the world and it has already saved millions of lives through their medical reports. The article is very critical of many European countries (this includes Sweden) rushing to vaccinate their populations agains Swine Flu:
And what specifically does this Cochrane Collaboration say?…(I’ve highlighted the important bits)…
‘A Whole Industry Is Waiting For A Pandemic’
SPIEGEL: For a number of years, as part of the Cochrane Collaboration, you have been systematically evaluating all the studies on immunization against seasonal influenza. How good does it work?
Jefferson: Not particularly good … the few decent studies that exist show that the vaccine mainly works with healthy young adults. With children and the elderly, it only helps a little, if at all.
SPIEGEL: But aren’t those the exact groups that influenza immunization is recommended for?
Jefferson: Indeed. That’s one of the contradictions between scientific findings and practice, between evidence and policy.
SPIEGEL: So, what’s behind this contradiction?
Jefferson: Of course, that has something to do with the influence of the pharmaceutical industry. But it also has to do with the fact that the importance of influenza is completely overestimated. It has to do with research funds, power, influence and scientific reputations!
SPIEGEL: So, at the moment is it reasonable to keep vaccinating against seasonal influenza?
Jefferson: I can’t see any reason for it, but I’m not a decision maker.
SPIEGEL: And what about Tamiflu and Relenza, two of the anti-flu medications that are being deployed against swine flu? How well do they really work?
Jefferson : If taken at the right time, on average, Tamiflu reduces the duration of a real influenza by one day. One study also found that it diminishes the risk of pneumonia.
SPIEGEL: Could these medications lower mortality rates associated with the flu?
Jefferson : That’s possible, but it has yet to be scientifically proven.
SPIEGEL: And what about side effects?
Jefferson: Tamiflu can cause nausea. And there are things that point toward psychiatric side effects. There are reports coming out of Japan that young people who have taken Tamiflu have had acute psychotic reactions similar to those found in schizophrenics.
SPIEGEL: So, is it sensible to use such medications at all?
Jefferson : When it comes to severe disease, yes. But under no circumstances should Tamiflu be handed out to whole schools, as is currently sometimes being done. With that being the case, it doesn’t surprise me at all that we’re already hearing reports about resistant strains of swine flu.
“The NICE review from February 2009 looks at similar data…The prevention studies are a bit more exciting. Patients had less virus on board, and less in their noses, but neither drug actually stopped patients being infectious. In fact, neither drug had a protective effect at all against influenza-like-illness, or asymptomatic influenza, even at higher doses.
B) THE BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL
“The September 3 issue of the British Medical Journal published an analysis from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) about how public health responses to flu pandemics have not followed the scientific evidence and that public strategies, which are based on catastrophic epidemic scenarios, risk doing more harm than good.”
“But the 2009 pandemic, taken as a whole, bears little resemblance to the forecasted pandemic. Pandemic A/H1N1 virus is not a new subtype but the same subtype as seasonal A/H1N1 that has been circulating since 1977. Furthermore, a substantial portion of the population may have immunity.”
” … pandemic preparedness strategies have largely considered only type 1 (catastrophic) epidemics. Public health responses not calibrated to the threat may be perceived as alarmist, eroding the public trust and resulting in people ignoring important warnings when serious epidemics do occur.
C) THE SPANISH MEDICAL ASSOCIATION
“The Spanish Medical Association, representing around 200,000 physicians, who’ve launched a country-wide “Common Sense” flu communication initiative called Gripe A— Ante Todo Mucha Calma [“Influenza A, above all, very calm”]. It was endorsed by the Organización Médica Colegial [College Medical Association] and has been praised by the Spanish Minister for Health and Social Policy, Trinidad Jimenez. He described the pandemic of H1N1 mostly as an epidemic of fear caused by a ghost illness being fought by exaggerated responses.”
Great Spanish cartoon…
And some more good quotes from the Spanish:
“The World Health Organization, as well as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Public Health Agency of Canada, changed the definition of “pandemic.” Influenza pandemics were defined as occurring when a new influenza virus appears where the human population has no immunity, resulting in epidemics worldwide with enormous numbers of deaths and illness. That phrase was removed from the definition in early May, just after a phase 5 pandemic alert was declared. The definition of pandemic was changed to reflect how widely dispersed a virus has been detected, not how severe the disease.
“Laboratory testing is used to drive public fear and create misperceptions of huge increases in the numbers of cases of the disease.”
And from the Spanish Translation:
“It is unclear whether the use of masks prevents the spread of the epidemic. Only recommended to use them as sick people are in contact with other people and their carers. Also it is not clear if the use of drugs such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu ®) or zanamivir (Relenza ®) can prevent infection. There are some studies in closed institutions and family connections with little benefit. Given that this is a mild flu and that these drugs have side effects, and are usually not recommended. ”
The flu vaccine does not work for influenza A. It is not yet finished with developing the new flu vaccine with every guarantee of safety and effectiveness. The current situation regarding the number of people affected and the number of deaths does not justify social alarm.”
“Quick laboratory tests to see if you have swine flu are accurate only about 35% of the time and are not useful, they explain.”
“Despite the scary misinformation, swine is NO more dangerous for pregnant women than the seasonal flu: “Being pregnant does NOT increase the risk of suffering from swine flu.”
“Historically, flu pandemics also do not have “second waves,” he wrote, and if they occur, they are not likely to be more severe. “It’s absurd to panic about swine flu, especially since it won’t cause severe disease in many people. The current WHO messages, which are increasing fear of swine flu is a form of disease mongering.” And the media’s focus on worst case speculations and giving detailed accounts of every case or every death is irresponsible.”
‘The flu lasts 7 days with treatment and one week without it.”
“Given that it’s unlikely the enormous political and financial interests behind flu pandemics will come to a screeching halt, that leaves medical professionals and consumers to be the responsible ones and get the facts, keep calm and practice common sense”
Read more here:
Common sense about swine flu
OK … what do the conclusions from evidence based medicine support:
Well… There is good scientific evidence (above) about this A/H1N1 flu that:
1) It is a very mild flu
2) We should not expect to see more deaths than normal
3) It is not likely to mutuate to become deadlier
4) Swine Flu drugs are unlikely to help children or older people
5) Pregnant woman are not more at risk than normal
6) The Swine Flu drugs have side effects
7) They will not reduce the already small death rate
8) The flu drugs don’t stop people from being infectious
9) A large portion of people probably already have immunity
10) “under no circumstances should Tamiflu be handed out to whole schools”
Why then is the information given out by The Media and Governments about Swine Flu so different to the Science?
Well … you will have to answer that one for yourselves.
Are the above conclusions … dare I say … “inconvenient truths”? … dare I say… insidious truths?
I think so.
Do they need to be said anyway?
I think so.
So … what should we do when Science journalists in The Media (UNT, SVT1 etc.) say, just like Arnie:
I’ll tell you what … I then think of the lyrics in Bad to the Bone:
I broke a thousand hearts, before I met you
I’ll break a thousand more baby, before I am through
I wanna be yours pretty baby, yours and yours alone
I’m here to tell ya honey, that I’m bad to the bone
Bad to the bone
Bad to the bone
Well … I suggest we forget The Media and their Silly Scare Stories and …
(dare I say it? … dare I say it? … I dare!…)
Let’s just enjoy life and be happy living in this wonderful world.
Have an invigorating autumn.
Very Best regards,
“I’ll Be Back” Brady