Every so often, being the kinda girl who finds everything fascinating, and always wanting to be well educated on subjects that do catch my interest….. sometimes I fall down these little rabbit holes in the internet. Following warren tunnel after warren tunnel of links and information that likely have very little to do with anything I’m working on at the moment. Yes I have lost whole days this way.
For the girl who used to get lost in an encyclopedia for a day when she only went to look up the population of Switzerland the internet can be an enormous time sink.
So this is where my morning went today:
A week or so ago someone emailed me this link reporting on a new study supposedly linking Autism to Vaccines. I’ll admit, I didn’t first off notice that the report was six years old. What I first noticed was that MNT wasn’t a website I was particularly familiar with but was at least attempting to appear to be a legitimate Medical News source. I also noticed the study was out of the University of Pittsburgh, not an disreputable source on the face of it, and was presented an IMFAR a not disreputable conference. (INFAR and IMFAR are tied up with Autism Research Institute – which is certainly considerably less flaky than some I still had issues with some of the research they funded and published back in the 90′s – when I was eating / breathing / sleeping – when I could / autism full time). So the University of Pittsburgh and IMFAR were attached to the study, suddenly it’s lent an air of credence and this is the danger of these sorts of websites and these kinds of reports. Most people don’t read any further, they get to the “research from the University of Pittsburgh” “presented at the IMFAR scientific conference” this isn’t crazy woo stuff – this is SCIENCE it must be true!
It’s why myself, who’s lived with autism as part of my daily life for over 20 years, and real scientists devoted to real research to help families get so pissed off at this stuff. I hated quakery then, I still hate it now. It takes advantage of people and detracts funds and efforts from truly helpful and meaningful research. However, being a good and diligent hater, I needed (for my own piece of mind) to debunk this nonsense. And yes, Vaccines cause Autism IS BUNK!
And I fell down the rabbit hole. Clue one that the study, despite it’s attempt to appear to be legitimate science news – the article gives it’s source as Safe Minds. Safe Minds is happy to tell you upfront on their front page that they’re anti-vaxers, “The purpose of SafeMinds is to restore health and protect future generations by eradicating the devastation of autism and associated health disorders induced by mercury and other toxicants from human activities.”
Looking at the paper presented, leads us to learn that once again our old friend Andrew Wakefield is involved in the research. So at this point most rational people go “oh THAT guy!” realize we can safely dismiss the paper as pure bunk and move on with our lives. Although I am still interested in knowing how the University of Pittsburgh got their name attached to this, and how it got any air time at IMFAR. I kept digging. In the end I read a lot of pages (from scary in their craziness to a bit unfathomable in their scientific-speak and everything in between) and I learned a lot more about Laura Hewiston than I ever wanted to know. To save you all a ton of reading I’ll give you the two links that best summed up the problems with the study and the ‘poster’ presentation at IMFAR and are probably the most readable.
From: Left Brain Right Brain – autism news science and opinion”
And from: Science Blogs
Important lesson – just because the initial report LOOKS like it might be serious, worthwhile, ethical, science research – doesn’t mean you can trust the headline. Caveat Emptor folks, caveat emptor.
Then there was a second, although shorter rabbit hole.
A friend posted an interesting link to a report on a NASA funded study of which the upshot is – the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Ok, this isn’t exactly news to me. Honestly I’ve been saying it since the late 80′s/early 90′s, and I’d been saying it based on the same evidence. I did find it interesting that someone went out and developed a mathematical computer model to measure what I think is relatively evident to any student of world macrocosm history. But it was fun having all those intellectual arguments vindicated scientifically.
This of course led me to another interesting article about James Lovelock. (Yeah it’s 6 years old too – LOL) Frankly I’ve been a fan of Lovelock for some time, I was first introduced to his work and Gaia Theory in the BBC documentary series Beautiful Minds. Again like the NASA research the Gaia model was one and Lovelock’s assertions fit within a world view I already had and instinctively made sense to me. I’m not sure how much the author likes Lovelock, a lot of folks don’t,
“Sometimes he seems less clear-eyed with scientific vision than disposed to see the version of the future his prejudices are looking for.”
But then, don’t we all? The vindication of having the ideas and world view one’s developed over a lifetime published as solid scientific theory is pleasant. Particularly considering that while I have a background in science and engineering and specifically earth and weather science – I am no climate expert.
I did find it interesting that Martin Ogle, Chief Naturalist, for NVRPA, and long-time Gaia Theory proponent had not only organized the fourth Gaia Conference, (for which Lovelock did prepare a video presentation) but is also the owner of http://entrepreneurialearth.com/ and http://gaia.org – both of which seem to be bent on selling the kind of environmental sustainability woo that Lovelock has long dismissed.
Oddly enough these two rabbit holes kind of merge together somewhere in my large macrocosm view of life, the universe and everything. The world right now is a mad mad mad mad place. Just as the industrial revolution turned the world completely on it’s head and changed the entire social order of the world, so is the technological revolution, and it’s not done with us yet. Just as entire empires and civilizations such as Rome rose and then fell, so too is our civilization more than likely past it’s peak and about to crumble and fall. Just as the earth’s history has seen the rise and fall and change and growth of so many climate changes and populations and mass extinctions, so too I wonder if mankind is just a blip on the evolutionary scale of this planet. And somewhere in all that I think that the rise of madness, of tea partiers and science deniers and the distrust of organized anything, and medicine and technology is part of that pendulum swing the smarter we get as a race the less we trust our own invention. The more the technologies change the world the greater the backlash fighting against it.
Finally it’s part of that world view that mankind is on a crash course I’m not sure we can avoid, that has impelled us to move further and further away from urbanized civilization and head out for the fringes. It’s not that we don’t trust the technology or the government or medicine or social structures. For us, self sufficiency isn’t about eschewing civilization, we’re just not sure it’s going to be here 20 years from now.
One day I’ll have to tell you about my theory of the next coming plague, we’ll probably be able to blame the anti-vaxers for that.