How the media helped fuel the anti-vaxx movement
Andrew Wakefield turned away from science and to the tabloids to spread his fabricated data.
- Investigative journalist Brian Deer has published a new book on anti-vaxx ringleader, Andrew Wakefield.
- Discredited in the science community, Wakefield turned to the media to share his anti-vaxx propaganda.
- The disbarred doctor fabricated results and filed for his own vaccine patents, Deer reports.
Michael Gershon is a professor of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University. Dubbed "the father of neurogastroenterology," his classic book, "The Second Brain," introduced the world to the enteric nervous system—a "third'' nervous system that governs the space between our esophagus and anus. His research on GI physiology has transformed the field and prepared the entire planet to better understand the importance of the microbiome.
In short, he's an irreplaceable scholar.
In 2001, Gershon was shown clinical test slides from an intriguing three-year-old study published in the journal, The Lancet. Only something wasn't panning out. The study claimed that the measles virus—specifically, a strain of the measles virus from the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine—made the gut wall leaky. Gershon said if that was the case, it should be leaky in both directions, which was not reported.
That wasn't the only issue. The study also claimed opioid peptides were being released from the gut into the bloodstream, yet similar-sized peptides would also be released if that were the case. Strike two.
Finally, there was a charge that particular foodstuffs penetrated the brain's blood-brain barrier in the 12 children involved in the study. That would imply these substances evaded the liver, which Gershon found unreasonable. The study, he concluded, was trash.
Or, as it turns out, the research was completely fabricated to push an agenda. Investigative journalist Brian Deer is the reason The Lancet eventually retracted that infamous study. Deer's tireless journalism exposed the fraudulent team, led by an incredulous (now former) doctor, that put the notion that vaccines cause autism into widespread circulation.
While Andrew Wakefield's study was engineered for monetary gain, the myth of vaccine dangers, which has morphed from autism to QAnon-level conspiracy, persists. Deer's new book, "The Doctor Who Fooled the World: Science, Deception, and the War on Vaccines," compiles nearly two decades of reporting that details Wakefield's every sinister move.
Brian Deer on the media's role in vaccine scares
Gershon realized the slides were likely contaminated in the laboratory. He wasn't the only one. Science has long suffered from the "replication crisis"—many studies come to a conclusion that cannot be replicated upon further research. Not only did future research fail to confirm Wakefield's research, the doctor balked when his research institution, Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, offered a large sum of money to conduct a follow-up study. If Wakefield's work was sturdy, it would have held up.
Wakefield never even tried. Instead, he turned to an increasingly popular trick when your data fails: let the media do your work for you. Science is hard and expensive. Clickbait, cheap and addictive.
The actual data is mind-boggling. The 12 children in the original study were handpicked, which is antithetical to clinical research. Wakefield falsified the results from pediatricians. He used microscopic-level stains; a more reliable molecular method found nothing. The parents of study subjects, some with their own agendas (such as litigation), kept changing the timeline of their child's conditions—some children showed symptoms of autism before the MMR vaccine was given while others claimed symptoms started hours after injection when previous reports state that it was months. While Wakefield was raging against the vaccine, he filed for two patents on single measles shots.
After purchasing a six-bedroom house on five acres of prime Austin real estate—Wakefield moved to America to take advantage of growing anti-vaxx fervor—he realized the equation for success: "Autism + vaccines = money."
Every chapter drops your jaw. Consider this example to better understand the myth of vaccine-created autism. On July 20, 2005, Wakefield, with support from anti-vaxx congressman Dan Burton, spoke at the National Mall. The event was a rally against the vaccine ingredient, thimerosal, which itself is a red herring: thimerosal was removed from almost all vaccines in 1999, yet autism cases continued to rise.
Dr Andrew Wakefield (C) walks with his wife Carmel after speaking to reporters at the General Medical Council (GMC) on January 28, 2010 in London, England.
Credit: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Wakefield read a statement from a UK newspaper apologizing after the former doctor brought a defamation suit. By this point, Deer had published numerous groundbreaking stories in the Sunday Times (circulation: 1.2 million). A tiny local newspaper, the Cambridge Evening News (circulation: 5,000), had reprinted two sentences from Deer's coverage. Instead of bringing Deer to court (which he would do later, unsuccessfully), Wakefield sued the fragile paper in eastern England, which did not have the resources to defend itself.
No one on the Mall that day understood the specifics. They weren't told the backstory. All they heard was that Wakefield was vindicated, for which they cheered.
Every schtick has a shelf life. Deer details the increasingly absurd stakes of Wakefield's career: measles causes Crohn's disease; the MMR vaccine causes autism; all vaccines are suspect. Over the course of two decades, the disbarred doctor chased money wherever it led, taking a willing media along with him. His efforts culminated in the 2016 pseudoscience documentary, "Vaxxed."
Actions have consequences. Andrew Wakefield saw opportunity in vaccine-resistant parents. At first, he filed for his own single-jab measles vaccine—at the time, the demon was supposedly the triple shot MMR—but he wasn't fully aware of what lurked inside of this Pandora's box. Wakefield was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to fabricate the study, as Deer's reporting shows. A long game hadn't yet been imagined.
Twenty-two years later, during the worst pandemic in a century, 35 percent of Americans claim they will not take an FDA-approved, free COVID-19 vaccine, according to a Gallup poll. The science community called Wakefield's research out for what it was, yet by manipulating the media—more forcefully, social media—the "doctor with no patients" has made a large percentage of people skeptical of one of the best therapeutic interventions ever devised. The cost, if and when a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, will be high.
Never say one man cannot change the world. And never think that change is always for the better.
- Do anti-vaxxers really think differently than others? - Big Think ›
- How anti-vaxx groups became a billion-dollar industry - Big Think ›
- The beliefs of anti-vaxxers - Big Think ›
Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling has an important favor to ask of the American people.
- Michael Dowling is president and CEO of Northwell Health, the largest health care system in New York state. In this PSA, speaking as someone whose company has seen more COVID-19 patients than any other in the country, Dowling implores Americans to wear masks—not only for their own health, but for the health of those around them.
- The CDC reports that there have been close to 7.9 million cases of coronavirus reported in the United States since January. Around 216,000 people have died from the virus so far with hundreds more added to the tally every day. Several labs around the world are working on solutions, but there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19.
- The most basic thing that everyone can do to help slow the spread is to practice social distancing, wash your hands, and to wear a mask. The CDC recommends that everyone ages two and up wear a mask that is two or more layers of material and that covers the nose, mouth, and chin. Gaiters and face shields have been shown to be less effective at blocking droplets. Homemade face coverings are acceptable, but wearers should make sure they are constructed out of the proper materials and that they are washed between uses. Wearing a mask is the most important thing you can do to save lives in your community.
Two massive clouds of dust in orbit around the Earth have been discussed for years and finally proven to exist.
- Hungarian astronomers have proven the existence of two "pseudo-satellites" in orbit around the earth.
- These dust clouds were first discovered in the sixties, but are so difficult to spot that scientists have debated their existence since then.
- The findings may be used to decide where to put satellites in the future and will have to be considered when interplanetary space missions are undertaken.
What are they?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDA0NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTM1ODc0Mn0.NH33LuauIo__sUBi4tvhwxDcsvhflDFD-Nhx9FjlSNk/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=148%2C0%2C149%2C0&height=700" id="cec96" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="acb78abe2ab46a17e419ad30906751d6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Artist's impression of the Kordylewski cloud in the night sky (with its brightness greatly enhanced) at the time of the observations.
G. Horváth<p>The<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kordylewski_cloud" target="_blank"> Kordylewski clouds</a> are two dust clouds first observed by Polish astronomer Kazimierz Kordylewski in 1961. They are situated at two of the <a href="https://www.space.com/30302-lagrange-points.html" target="_blank">Lagrange points</a> in Earth's orbit. These points are locations where the gravity of two objects, such as the Earth and the Moon or a planet and the Sun, equals the centripetal required to orbit the objects while staying in the same relative position. There are five of these spots between the Earth and Moon. The clouds rest at what are called points four and five, forming a triangle with the clouds and the Earth at the three corners.</p><p>The clouds are enormous, taking up the same space in the night sky as twenty lunar discs; covering an area of 45,000 miles. They are roughly 250,000 miles away, about the same distance from us as the Moon. They are entirely comprised of specks of dust which reflect the light of the sun so faintly most astronomers that looked for them were unable to see them at all. </p><p>The clouds themselves are probably ancient, but the model that the scientists created to learn about them suggests that the individual dust particles that comprise them can be blown away by solar wind and replaced by the dust from other cosmic sources like comet tails. This means that the clouds hardly move but are <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2018/11/news-earth-moon-dust-clouds-satellites-planets-space/" target="_blank">eternally changing</a>. </p>
How did they discover this?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDAzNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1Nzc4MjQ4MX0.7uU9OqmQcWw5Ll1UXAav0PCu4nTg-GdJdAWADHanC7c/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C180%2C0%2C181&height=700" id="952fb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a778280a20f1c54cd2c14c8313224be2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
"In this picture the central region of the Kordylewski dust cloud is visible (bright red pixels). The straight tilted lines are traces of satellites."
J. Slíz-Balogh<p>In their study published in the <a href="https://academic.oup.com/mnras" target="_blank">Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society</a>, Hungarian astronomers Judit Slíz-Balogh, András Barta, and Gábor Horváth described how they were able to find the dust clouds using polarized lenses.</p><p>Since the clouds were expected to polarize the light that bounces off of them, by configuring the telescopes to look for this kind of light the clouds were much easier to spot. What the scientists observed, polarized light in patterns that extended outside the view of the telescope lens, was in line with the predictions of their mathematical model and ruled out other possible sources. </p>
Why are we just learning this now?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDAzOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MjUyNDMyMH0.Zl8GmQ_rJHiL4b7hN0r_YBmgb6_ZqIRvqOVuko2ubpw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C141%2C0%2C185&height=700" id="87afe" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dd4c0b5088e601d7279cc5eb226f8b7b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
"Mosaic pattern of the angle of polarization around the L5 point (white dot) of the Earth-Moon system. The five rectangular windows correspond to the imaging telescope with which the patterns of the Kordylewski cloud were measured."
J. Slíz-Balogh<p>The objects, being dust clouds, are very faint and hard to see. While Kordylewski observed them in 1961, other astronomers have looked there and given mixed reports over the following decades. This discouraged many astronomers from joining the search, as study co-author Judit Slíz-Balogh <a href="https://ras.ac.uk/news-and-press/research-highlights/earths-dust-cloud-satellites-confirmed" target="_blank">explained</a>, <em>"The Kordylewski clouds are two of the toughest objects to find, and though they are as close to Earth as the Moon are largely overlooked by researchers in astronomy. It is intriguing to confirm that our planet has dusty pseudo-satellites in orbit alongside our lunar neighbor."</em></p>
Will this have any impact on space travel?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c3d797fff5430c64afcb5a49bddc3616"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Ou8N3v9SFPE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Lagrange points have been put forward as excellent locations for a space station or satellites like the <a href="https://jwst.nasa.gov/about.html" target="_blank">James Webb Telescope</a> to be put into orbit, as they would require little fuel to stay in place. Knowing about a massive dust cloud that could damage sensitive equipment already being there could save money and lives in the future. While we only know about the clouds at Lagrange points four and five right now, the study's authors suggest there could be more at the other points.</p><p>While the discovery of a couple of dust clouds might not seem all that impressive, it is the result of a half-century of astronomical and mathematical work and reminds us that wonders are still hidden in our cosmic backyard. While you might never need to worry about these clouds again, there is nothing wrong with looking at the sky with wonder at the strange and fantastic things we can discover. </p>
New cancer-scanning technology reveals a previously unknown detail of human anatomy.
- Scientists using new scanning technology and hunting for prostate tumors get a surprise.
- Behind the nasopharynx is a set of salivary glands that no one knew about.
- Finding the glands may allow for more complication-free radiation therapies.
PSMA PET/CT technology<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="676e611b970c9b516cace0870447b325"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/RHAyoQF09X4?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>PSMA PET/CT is a new combination of <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/pet-scan/about/pac-20385078" target="_blank">PET scans</a> and <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/ct-scan/about/pac-20393675" target="_blank">CT scans</a> that is believed to offer a more reliable means of locating prostate cancer metastasis. A <a href="https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2020/prostate-cancer-psma-pet-ct-metastasis" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">study</a> published last spring suggests it may be the most accurate way to diagnose prostate cancer metastasis than any method previously available.</p><p>Prior to PSMA PET/CT, the primary way to look for metastatic prostate cancer was to image the body using x-ray-based CT scans and to perform bone scans, since bone is where prostate cancer often spreads. CT scans, however, often miss small tumors, and bone scans can generate false positives as a result of other damage or abnormalities that have nothing to do with prostate cancer.</p><p>PSMA PET/CT scans track the travels of an intravenously administered radioactive glucose tracer throughout the body. For hunting down prostate cancer, this tracer contains a molecule that binds to the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1472940/" target="_blank">PSMA</a> protein that's present in large amounts in prostate tumors. The molecule is linked to a radioisotope, <a href="https://netrf.org/2018/11/13/gallium-68-scan-for-neuroendocrine-tumors/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">gallium-68</a> (Ga-68).</p><p>In last spring's research, PSAM PET/CT was shown to be 27 percent more accurate than previous methods at finding metastases (92 percent accuracy as opposed to 65 percent). In addition, it was found to be much less likely to produce false positives, and it was particularly good at detecting tumors far removed from the prostate.</p>
A good kind of avoidance behavior<p>"Radiation therapy can damage the salivary glands," says Vogel, "which may lead to complications. Patients may have trouble eating, swallowing, or speaking, which can be a real burden."</p><p>The researchers looked back through the cases of 723 patients who had undergone radiation treatment, interested in seeing if inadvertent radiation of the tubarial glands was associated with the complications experienced by the patients. It turned out that this <em>was</em> the case: In cases where more radiation had been delivered to this area, patients did indeed report more in the way of complications of the type one would expect when salivary glands are radiated.</p><p>Now that we know the tubarial salivary glands exist, therapists can stay out of their way. Vogel says, "For most patients, it should technically be possible to avoid delivering radiation to this newly discovered location of the salivary gland system in the same way we try to spare known glands."</p><p>He's hopeful that that things may be about to get at least a bit better for cancer patients: "Our next step is to find out how we can best spare these new glands and in which patients. If we can do this, patients may experience less side effects which will benefit their overall quality of life after treatment."</p>
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