Consumer Health Digest #15-37
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
September 20, 2015
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.
Republican candidates display ignorance about vaccines. During the Republican Presidential debate on September 16, three of the candidates made statements that clashed with scientific knowledge about vaccination. The discussion, which spanned from 2:46 to 2:50 of the 6-hour-long event, began when the moderator noted that Donald Trump has repeatedly linked vaccines to autism and asked candidate Ben Carson, M.D. (a pediatric neurosurgeon) whether Trump should stop doing this.
- Carson replied that there is no connection between vaccination and autism, but he refused to correct Trump.
- Trump responded that he is "totally in favor of vaccines but wants smaller doses over a longer time." He then used graphic terms to express his belief that the size of the shots has triggered autism in cases he has seen, particularly the case, "just the other day," of a child of someone who worked for him.
- When asked again to comment, Carson replied that there is "extremely well documented proof" that there is no connection, but he added that there are "way too many shots in too short a time."
- Rand Paul, M.D., an ophthalmologist who advocates a quackery-tolerant version of "health freedom," added that "even if the science doesn't say that the 'bunching up' is not a problem, I ought to have the ability if not the right to spread my vaccines out at the very least."
Trump's account of the "just the other day" case does not appear to be accurate because he told the same story on during a Fox-TV broadcast in 2012. After Trump said he believed that vaccinations were responsible for a rise in autism, Fox News co-host Gretchen Carlson said, "You know that most physicians disagree with that and the studies have said there is no link. It used to be said that it was the the mercury in those vaccines, which they have not had for years and yet we're at the highest number in recent years." Trump replied, "I couldn't care less. I've seen people where they have a perfectly healthy child, and they go for the vaccinations, and a month later the child is no longer healthy." A moment later, he described how child of a woman who worked for him "recently" had become autistic a month after getting vaccines. [Autism on the Rise. Fox & Friends, April 2, 2012] Scientific studies indicate that any association between autism and vaccines is coincidental. But Trump seems unable to consider this.
The debate's antivaccination exchange has triggered an avalanche of criticism:
- CNN's Sanjay Gupta, M.D., who sometimes misinforms viewers about matters of personal health and quackery, provided a brilliant review of the candidates' exchange. He said (a) there is no connection between vaccines and autism, (b) although the reported incidence of autism has risen, the amount of antigenic material needed to vaccinate has actually decreased, (c) there is no reason not to get children vaccinated on schedule, (d) spreading the vaccines over time is potentially dangerous because children are left unvaccinated for a period of time, and (e) called on all three to say this and "not equivocate."
- Writing as a Forbes blogger, Steven Salzberg, Ph.D. called Trump's comments "nutty and dangerous" but said that Carson's (non)response was "in some ways worse."
- Reason.com published a blog article titled Trump anti-vax idiotarian: Really smart people don't blame vaccinations for causing autism.
- A Slate blogger commented that "Politically, the moment was a perfect summation of Donald Trump's candidacy: his ability to pair off-the-charts self-confidence with complete ignorance about whatever subject he's opining about."
- David Gorski, M.D., noted that Trump's antivaccination activities extend at least back to 2007 when he spoke at an autism fundraising event. [Gorski D. Donald Trump and the dangerous vaccine politics of the 2016 Presidential race. Science-Based Medicine blog, Sept 21, 2015]
These events suggest that if Trump, Carson, or Paul are elected president, they might try to force the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to change its recommended vaccination schedule to one that is less effective. Quackwatch has an article that explains why vaccination "spreading" is not a good idea.
Reason.TV blasts Harkin's promotion of quackery. Todd Krainin has produced a brilliant 15-minute history that spotlights the 23 years of government-supported pseudoscience at the National Institutes of Health. Titled "The Alternative Medicine Racket: How the Feds Fund Quacks," the video recounts how the NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health and its predecessors have spent $5.5 billion on research that has found no effective treatments and on funding centers at dozens of major hospitals and medical schools that offer treatments that have no evidence of efficacy. The high point of the video is the passage that begins at 12:40 in which Senator Tom Harkin, who launched the NIH program, described in 2009 how disappointed he was. The NIH program was intended to "investigate and validate alternative approaches," he said, but "the focus has been on disproving things rather than seeking out and approving things." Harkin, who retired at the beginning of this year, doesn't seem to understand that the aim of science is not to validate methods but to test them. Overall, the video illustrates how politicians with sufficient power can wreak havoc on the scientific community.
Dr. Oz reportedly less popular. The American Council on Science and Health has reported that the estimated number of people watching the "Dr. Oz" show dropped sharply during the past year. [Dolaski A-M. Dr. Oz audience down 50 percent—So we're halfway there. ACSH Web site, Sept 15, 2015] Two factors in the drop appear to be the widely publicized effort to terminate his medical school faculty position and the Congressional hearing at which Senator Claire McCaskill criticized him for promoting worthless weight-loss products.
This page was revused on September 21, 2015.