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SidDithers's Journal
SidDithers's Journal
June 21, 2013

GMO virus cures kid of cancer, mainstream media finally interested

Saw this at scienceblogs tonight:http://scienceblogs.com/erv/2013/06/20/its-true-kid-cured-of-cancer-with-alternative-therapy/

Basically, little girl dying of leukaemia, out of options, tries radical experimental treatment being developed at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. There, researchers have genetically modified HIV to attack cancer cells.


NY Times story here:


June 20, 2013

Antivaccine versus anti-GMO: Different goals, same methods

Countering ideologically motivated bad science, pseudoscience, misinformation, and lies is one of the main purposes of this blog. Specifically, we try to combat such misinformation in medicine; elsewhere Steve and I, as well as some of our other “partners in crime” combat other forms of pseudoscience. During the nearly five year existence of this blog, we’ve covered a lot of topics in medicine that tend to be prone to pseudoscience and quackery. Oddly enough, there’s one topic that we haven’t really written much about at all, and that’s genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs, as you know, are proliferating, and it’s quite worth discussing the potential and risks of this new technology, just as it is worthwhile to discuss the potential benefits versus the risks of any new technology that can impact our health, not to mention the health of the planet. Unfortunately, GMOs have become a huge political issue, and, I would argue, they have become just as prone to pseudoscience, misinformation, and bad science as vaccines, with a radical group of anti-GMO activists who are as anti-science as any antivaccinationist or quack.

Leave it to that quackery promoter to rule all quackery promoters, Mike Adams, to give me just the opportunity to show you what I mean. Over the last couple of weeks, Mike has been in a fine lather about GMOs, with multiple posts with titles such as The GMO debate is over; GM crops must be immediately outlawed; Monsanto halted from threatening humanity and The evil of Monsanto and GMOs explained: Bad technology, endless greed and the destruction of humanity. In other words, it’s a series of post with Adams’ typical hyperbole. If you were to believe him, GMOs are the product of a plot by Satan, Monsanto, big pharma, and the government, and he’s not sure which one of these is the most evil of the bunch.

Not to be outdone, that other quackery supporter vying with Mike Adams to be the quackery supporter to rule all quackery supporters, Joe Mercola, also weighed in with a post entitled First-Ever Lifetime Feeding Study Finds Genetically Engineered Corn Causes Massive Tumors, Organ Damage, and Early Death. It also turns out that Mike Adams had pontificated about this very same study a couple of days before Mercola with a title equally ominous, Shock findings in new GMO study: Rats fed lifetime of GM corn grow horrifying tumors, 70% of females die early. Whenever I see the cranks pile on a study like this, my curiosity is piqued. I also noticed that Steve Novella had already discussed the study that had this not-so-dynamic duo in such a frothy lather. Of course, as you know, that a blogger as awesome as our fearless leader had covered a topic never stopped me from pontificating about the very same study before (well, actually, it has, but in this case it wasn’t enough to stop me). Besides, these sorts of studies are right up my alley, given that I’m a cancer researcher, and the study being touted as “smoking gun” evidence that GMOs are pure evil is such a an incompetently designed and performed study that it actually irritated me more than the usual bit of bad science that I discuss on occasion.

There’s a lot in common between anti-GMO activists and antivaccine activists. Perhaps the most prominent similarity is philosophical. Both groups fetishize the naturalistic fallacy, otherwise known as the belief that if it’s “natural” it must be good (or at least better than anything man-made or “artificial”). In the case of antivaccine activists, the immune response caused by vaccines is somehow “unnatural” and therefore harmful and evil, even though the mechanisms by which the immune system responds to vaccines are the same or similar to how it responds to “natural” antigens. That’s the whole idea, to stimulate the immune system to think that you’ve had the disease without actually giving you the disease, thus stimulating long term immunity to the actual disease! In the case of anti-GMO activists, the same idea appears to prevail, namely that, because GMOS are somehow “unnatural,” they must be harmful and evil. That’s not to say that they might not have problems and issues that need to be dealt with, but the apocalyptic language used by many of the anti-GMO activists like Mike Adams and Joe Mercola is so far over-the-top that it is very much like the language of the antivaccine movement. In fact, not surprisingly, antivaccinationists are often anti-GMO as well, and vice-versa, an example of crank magnetism in action. Indeed, Joe Mercola himself is one of the biggest backers of California Proposition 37, which would require the labeling of GMO-based food, having donated $1.1 million so far.



June 15, 2013

'Psychic' who reported mass grave north of Houston must pay $7 million


A self-described psychic who triggered a media frenzy when she told authorities a Liberty County couple had a mass grave on their property has been ordered to pay the couple $6.8 million.

A Dallas County judge issued the judgment May 7 against Presley "Rhonda" Gridley, the sole remaining defendant in a lawsuit filed a year ago.

"Whether it will be collectible, we're going to pursue that," said Dallas attorney Andrew Sommerman.

He represents plaintiffs Joe Bankston and Gena Charlton in the suit that has concluded, except for efforts to collect the judgment.

And if the Sheriff had told the "psychic" to fuck off, none of this would have happened.

June 15, 2013

“Autism biomed” and the murder of Alex Spourdalakis


Sometimes, in the course of blogging, I come across a story that I don’t know what to make of. Sometimes, it’s a quack or a crank taking a seemingly science-based position. Sometimes it’s something out of the ordinary. Other times, it’s a story that’s just weird, such that I strongly suspect that something else is going on but can’t prove it. So it was a few months ago when I came across the story of Alex Spourdalakis, a 14-year-old autistic boy who became a cause célèbre of the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism.

I first noticed the story in early March when perusing AoA to see what the merry band of antivaccine propagandists was up to I came across a post by Lisa Goes entitled Day 19: Chicago Hospital Locks Down Autistic Patient. In the post was a shocking picture of a large 14-year-old boy in a a hospital bed in four point restraints. He was naked, except for a sheet covering his genitals. A huge gash was torn in the bedsheet, revealing the black vinyl of the hospital bed beneath. The boy’s name, we were informed, was Alex Spourdalakis. Further down in the post was another, equally shocking, picture of Alex that, according to Goes, showed severe dermatitis on Alex’s back due to the hospital sheets. The photos shocked me for two reasons. First, if the story was as advertised (something to be doubted always about anything posted to AoA), for once I thought that I might be agreeing with Goes and thinking that AoA was doing a good thing. Second, however, I was extremely disturbed by the publication of such revealing photos of the boy. Undoubtedly, Alex’s mother must have given permission. What kind of mother posts pictures like that of her son for all the world to see? Then there appeared a Facebook page, Help Support Alex Spourdalakis, which pled for readers to help the Spourdalakis family.

As I said, something didn’t seem right.

Now I know that something definitely wasn’t right, but I still can’t yet figure out what was wrong at that time three months ago. What is wrong now is that over the weekend Alex was murdered by his mother and caregiver, stabbed to death, in fact. The murder was carefully premeditated and truly gruesome:

Convinced that Alex Spourdalakis’ severe autism was growing worse, his mother and caregiver allegedly planned for at least a week to kill the River Grove teenager and themselves.

But the alleged murder plot initially went awry last weekend when the stocky 14-year-old didn’t succumb to an overdose of his prescription medications.

After waiting for several hours, Dorothy Spourdalakis, fatally stabbed her 225-pound son four times with a kitchen knife, then cut his wrist so deeply she nearly severed his hand, Cook County prosecutors said Wednesday.

His caregiver, Jolanta Agata Skrodzka, later stabbed the family cat with the same knife, then washed the utensil and put it back in a butcher’s block, prosecutors said.

Their suicide pact never succeeded: Both women took drug overdoses, then locked themselves in the bedroom with the slain teenager.

They were found semi-conscious inside the second-floor apartment on Sunday afternoon when Alex’s father and uncle came to check on the teen, prosecutors said as the women appeared in court to face first-degree murder charges.


Harsh? Yes. But it rings true. The entire narrative of the autism biomed movement is that autism “stole” the parents’ “real child” away from them. Since the idea that vaccines cause autism is basically holy writ for the autism biomed movement, that means vaccines “stole” the real child away by making him autistic. Parents who try to “recover” that “real” child are thus viewed as heroic, rather than abusive, because they’re willing to do whatever it takes to defeat the scourge of autism (and vaccines) in order to rescue the “real” child within. One can’t help but wonder whether what was really happening was that DFCS was going to put Alex into a conventional long term care facility because his mother clearly couldn’t handle him anymore and was treating him with autism boomed. Unfortunately, it appears from what we know right now that Alex’s mother seems to have thought that he would be off dead than not being given access to what she viewed as “curative” treatments for autism. Events and evidence from the investigation and trial might prove that initial assessment incorrect, but for now it seems to fit with what we know. Was Alex collateral damage in this never-ending war by antivaccinationists against autism? Although what we know now suggests that this might be the case, we just don’t know yet. We’ll have to keep an eye on the results of the investigation into Alex’s murder to find out.

Strange, very sad story. Much more detail, including a guest appearance by none other than Andrew Wakefield, at the link.

June 15, 2013

Environmentalists Must Face Down the Anti-Science in Their Own House


How can environmental groups and media outlets maintain that they are advocates of science, and not ideology, when they engage in the anti-science Luddism of GMO fearmongering? The potential of this anti-science behavior to poison their credibility on global climate change is real, as there is an obvious comparison between their flawed risk assessment on GM foods being compared to their legitimate risk assessments on issues of global climate change and pollution.

One of the major arguments of environmental groups on global warming is that there is overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change. This consensus, which is represented by the IPCC and supported by the national academies and scientific societies of every country in the world, is that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and that human activities add enough of this heat-trapping gas to warm the planet. This is a valid argument. When one finds oneself on the opposite of the scientific consensus of such esteemed bodies as the NAS, the Royal Society, the IPCC, etc., you should be worried. If you don’t have an overwhelming level of evidence and a solid body of literature backing you up, you should consider a period of introspection and self-evaluation, because you might just be a crank or denialist. Most cranks don’t have this capability, instead they have conspiracy theories, and a set of ready-made logical fallacies to throw at their critics like “you’re just a shill for x”, where x is variably big pharma, monsanto, corporations in general, big government, grant money, environmental groups, the democratic party, the republican party, or whatever other bogeyman the crank hates. If they throw in a reference to how they’re just like Galileo, we’ll happily give them the crank stamp and call it a day.


And what exactly is the ideology that ties together Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, Mike Shermer, Dave Gorski (who thinks the anti-vaxx comparison is more apt), Steve Novella, and Keith Kloor? Could it be skepticism? Respect for science? It sure isn’t politics (Shermer is even a libertarian – ewwwww). None of us works for any of these companies, or receives money from them (although I hear Keith is in bed with Monsanto these days). That won’t stop us all from being called a “shill” in every comment thread in which we express skepticism of the often outrageous, science-fiction claims of anti-GM advocates like Jeffrey Smith. So what’s this ideology that binds us all together on the ludicrous nature arguments made against GMO, other than a hatred of bullshit?

So Laskaway is partially correct, on one side we have groups with a specific and obvious bias with a high probability of ideology clouding their reason on science. On the other side we have the AAAS, the European Commission, the Royal Society, the National Academy of Science Institute of Medicine, and a diverse group of skeptic and science writers from Richard Dawkins to PZ Myers to Dave Gorski and Steve Novella. Feel free any time to take these two weak papers that show nothing, and wave it under our nose and call us the ideologues.

Good read.

June 7, 2013

Citizen Hearing on Disclosure, a Faux Hearing About Alien Encounters


They can’t get a hearing on the real Capitol Hill, so this week believers in a massive government coverup of extraterrestrial life held their own with former members of Congress. Josh Dzieza reports

After truthers and false flags, an old-school conspiracy theory with benign little green men, flying saucers, and midnight visits by mysterious government agents is almost refreshing. Though you wouldn’t know it from the weary faces of the former members of Congress listening to testimony this week.

Since Monday, five former representatives and a former senator have listened to witnesses talk about a massive decades-long government coverup of extraterrestrial life. The meeting is being billed as the “Citizen Hearing on Disclosure,” and it looks in some respects like a real hearing. Witnesses are sworn in, and there are members of Congress, albeit former ones who are getting paid $20,000 each to attend.

The faux hearing is the latest attempt by the Paradigm Research Group to bring attention to extraterrestrials. Its last was in 2011, when the White House responded to its petition by denying any extraterrestrial contact and politely referring them to real searches for alien life, like SETI. Paradigm plans to use footage from the panel, lent a bit of apparent authority by the former members of Congress, to make a movie about the alleged government coverup of alien life.

The group’s executive director, Stephen Bassett, told the New York Daily News that he initially reached out to 55 former members of Congress with an offer of $10,000 to attend. Not even Dennis Kucinich, who has spoken of his own UFO encounter before, took the deal. Bassett then doubled the offer and got six takers. They’re an eclectic bunch.

$20,000 for the week? Nice gig if you can get it. Then again, maybe that's a relatively cheap price for selling your name and reputation, to give credibility to a bunch of UFO loons.


June 3, 2013

Will This Doctor Hurt Your Baby?


This is a really good feature article about a prominent vaccine researcher and critic of the anti-vaccine movement. The article isn't short, it's an in-depth look at what science is up against in the court of public vaccine opinion.

Thanks to celebrity anti-vaccine crusaders like Jenny McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Children’s Hospital doctor and vaccine inventor Paul Offit gets death threats from parents frantic about autism — and worse. He’s had enough. He’s taking his critics on

A few years ago, Paul Offit found himself in a small room with a bob-haired American mother of three who was so mad at him she had tears in her eyes, and she was standing above him, sort of rearing up — this is his recollection — as if she was preparing herself, mentally, physically, to call him something cutting and mean, “like ‘a piece of shit,’” Offit remembers thinking, “or ‘an arrogant jackass.’” That’s what Offit was bracing himself for. An epithet. But this woman didn’t say anything like that. Instead, she said, “You’re an elitist.”

Compared to some of the other names Offit’s been called, “elitist” is a tongue-kiss. But it got under his skin anyway. He still talks about it. He’s still trying to figure it out.

It had begun so calmly. There he was, at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., doing what he does best, which is talk about vaccines. Offit is the world’s number one vaccine pundit. He writes opinion articles about vaccines. He writes books about vaccines; Offit just published his fifth book, Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure. He recently helped convince a famous Hollywood actress, Amanda Peet, to become a spokesperson for vaccines. He even invented a vaccine. If you’re reading this, and you have a baby, and your pediatrician has followed the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended vaccination schedule, Offit’s strain is most likely coursing through your kid’s bloodstream. Offit is basically Mr. Vaccine. Even his day job is vaccine-related; Offit runs the infectious-diseases division at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where he roams the colorful wards and pokes his head into the rooms of three-year-olds laid up with complex staph and strep infections, and engages in gentle patter like, “Trent, we’re just gonna look at you, sweetie, we’re just gonna look,” and prods gently at little Trent’s bandages, hoping to kill whatever bugs have slipped through Trent’s protective vaccine “net.” And Barbara Loe Fisher, the woman who called him an elitist, runs a grassroots organization called the National Vaccine Information Center, whose website features a quote from her decrying the State’s ability to “tag, track down and force citizens against their will to be injected with biologicals of unknown toxicity.”

They’re ideological opposites. Offit thinks vaccines are heroically staving off death and suffering, and Fisher thinks vaccines are causing death and suffering.

June 2, 2013

Keep Your Cures Off My Cancer


Since my diagnosis a year and a half ago,http://thestir.cafemom.com/baby/134431/congratulations_its_a_girl_ps?next=21 I've received countless recommendations for purported cures and treatments for cancer. Most have been respectful and well-intentioned recommendations from friends and family members who only want to see me around for as long as possible. Others, maybe not so much.

Being a target for criticism comes with a blogger's territory. I learned pretty quickly that I have to have thick skin if I am to keep writing publicly about my personal life. However, I admit I was surprised in the beginning to experience open hostility from strangers who disagreed -- vehemently -- with my health care choices. Individuals who had no qualms (anonymously) blasting someone actively dealing with cancer.

Some of the loving comments I received included gems like these:

"Have the courage to REFUSE chemo and you will have a better chance of living to 100."

"It is NOT a cancer 'battle' when you put all four paws in the air and blindly and stupidly trust the cancer industry."

"Chemo is an over-priced highly ineffective chemical attack on your immune system which if it was healthy to BEGIN with you would have never gotten cancer at all."

"When you're ready to stop poisoning yourself, the real, natural cure is out there."

"If you were evolved enough to recognize the truth about the pharmaceutical industry, you wouldn't be risking leaving your daughter without a mother."

"You are part of the problem, a pawn for the cancer machine."

And a related blog post from the excellent Respectful Insolence blog at scienceblogs.

On “helping” that is anything but

Cancer is a bitch. Depending upon what organ is involved and what kind of cancer it is, it can be incredibly hard to cure. All too often, it is incurable, particularly when it involves the brain, pancreas, esophagus, or other organs. People wonder why, after over 40 years of a “war on cancer,” we don’t have better treatments and more cures. As I’ve explained before, it’s because cancer is incredibly complex, and cancer cells have incredibly messed-up genomes. Even worse, cancer uses evolution against any efforts to treat it, producing such marked heterogeneity among tumor cells that not only are different cancers very different but individual cells within a single cancer cell can be very different. That’s an incredibly powerful weapon. Still, there has been progress, and some have even developed strategies to try to turn evolution against cancer.

Unfortunately, many of the treatments that work and result in actual long term survival in cancer patients (more commonly called remissions or, even more colloquially, cures, although oncologists don’t like to use that latter word) involve surgery or toxic therapies such as chemotherapy or radiation. Indeed, most solid tumors that are curable are cured with surgery, and the chemotherapy and radiation are usually the “icing on the cake” that decreases the risk of recurrence, while most “liquid” tumors (like leukemias) are treated primarily with chemotherapy. These treatments are difficult, and too frequently they produce significant morbidity. On the other hand, we don’t (yet) know of anything else that works. Newer targeted therapies, with a few exceptions, have been relatively disappointing. Don’t get me wrong; they do work very well with much less toxicity for selected tumors, but it’s hard to conclude that they’ve lived up to the sometimes excessive hype.

Because cancer, other than early stage solid cancers that can be completely extirpated with surgery, are so hard to cure, it’s always interesting to see what happens when a believer in alternative medicine is unfortunate enough to be stricken with cancer. After all, real oncologists understand what an intractable and devious foe cancer can be. All too often, to the alternative cancer quack practitioner, curing cancer is a matter of readjusting that life energy, giving that herb, or cleansing those toxins (all too often involving various solutions poured into the rectum and colon). It’s all so easy, and such high success rates are claimed that you’d think that alt-med practitioners always use alternative cancer treatments. True, sometimes they do, with predictably disastrous results, but more often the stories I see resemble this story by Joanna Montgomery, a blogger who is battling cancer right now, entitled Keep Your Cures Off My Cancer. In it, she first links to the article describing her diagnosis, which is as heart-rending a cancer story as I’ve ever heard, in which she discovered her diagnosis after the birth of her daughter:

Good reads, both posts. And both point out why medical woo, whether it's anti-vax bullshit, anti-fluoridation nonsense, or quack medical cures, should be exposed for the harm they do.


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