Sunday Opinion: Astroengine Gets Vaccinated

pin-up-nurse-white

NOTE: This post is a little light on the space science, but keep reading, you’ll see why I’m making such a big thing out of my trip to the doctors…

Yesterday was supposed to be a very productive blog-writing day, however, like all good plans, the day didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped.

For a start, I heard news about a wildfire on my doorstep (it started literally a few hundred metres from my house, and I was only alerted to this fact via Twitter – I wondered what all those helicopters were doing), which prompted me to run outside looking for an ominous smokestack, only to find I was an hour too late and the blaze had been put out by the superb LAFD.

Then I had to play babysitter to Astroengine.com’s server in the hope I was going to get hit by a flood of Digg traffic some… time… soon…

Then I had to let the rabbits out for a run. Barney felt the need to stick his head in the pool, so I decamped my office into the garden so I could make sure he didn’t decide to take a swim. Oh, there’s a lizard! She’s massive! Where’s my camera?

Then I had to run to the bank.

Oh yes, then I had to get to my appointment at the docs to have my tetanus vaccine booster.

Of all the things I hate in the world, syringes come a frightening third after slugs and tall buildings (don’t ask, just look up batophobia). However, these are phobias. If I start using logic and seriously consider all the scary stuff that could happen to me, I’d be most reluctant to become horribly sick and be responsible for infecting others with a nasty, preventable illness.

Hence the vaccine. And the achy arm.

I actually have a strange love for doctors surgeries, as soon as I walk through those doors, I hand all responsibility for my body to the specialists in white white and blue coats. If anything health-wise should happen, at least I have a team that can diagnose me and hopefully repair me. Yes, bad things happen in medical centres, but I’d much rather take my chances with highly professional individuals with years of training and a huge stack of qualifications, than leave things “to chance”.

So there I was sitting in the waiting room, trying to stay calm as I saw the nurse fill up the syringe with fluid from a tiny vial.

Naturally, I started chatting to try to distract myself from thinking too much about the jab. “Do you get many people not wanting to take vaccines?” I asked the nurse.

What do you mean?

Well, there’s this growing anti-vaccination movement I’ve read so much about,” I said, a little surprised she appeared to be genuinely surprised by the notion. “Some celebrities have taken it upon themselves to spread misinformation about the link between vaccines and the onset of autism in children.”

I heard about that,” she said, realizing what I was nervously talking about while staring at the needle in her hands. “But they are crazy, right? I mean, since when did they know anything about medicine?

As it turns out, the only complaint she’d heard from parents about the need to vaccinate their children is the cost, but even then there are options for financial help.

When I left the medical centre with a sore arm, I felt a little different than I had done in the past.

When getting my vaccinations in the UK, it was always a routine affair that required no thought, it was just one of those things you needed to function in society. It’s one of those things I had to do. Looking at my medical records, I received my first vaccine when I was a baby and throughout my life I’ve had regular shots (or as I call them “jabs” which my Mrs Astroengine finds highly amusing). I can quite safely say that I will never catch mumps, measles, rubella, hepatitis and a whole host of other nasties, because my immune system has been bolstered by a history of vaccinations.

Vaccines are highly successful, almost too successful.

Many life-threatening diseases have been wiped out by the widespread use of vaccines, leading to some misinformed individuals to believe vaccines are no longer needed (on the contrary). Then there’s the misplaced (and completely wrong) notion that vaccines are somehow linked with childhood autism. This is a topic that is as insane as it is bewildering, and what’s worse, Los Angeles has become a hothouse of stupid celebrities who think they have every right to be peddling their belief that parents should not vaccinate their kids.

Having seen Jenny McCarthy on the TV a LOT (no red carpet is safe from her Christian Diors), I’m quickly realising the media has a lot of sympathy for her views about the connection between autism and the MMR vaccine. Unfortunately, this makes her extremely vocal in my neck of the woods, and many of her anti-science remarks blend in with her celebritydom, so her message is very well polished, and very… reasonable. People listen to her, and when hubby Jim Carrey wades in with his crazy take of reality on the biggest blogging platforms, even more parents start to think twice about their choice to protect their children against deadly viruses.

If all of this is news to you I urge you to read up on it via Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy. Phil has been bringing this topic up a lot, and at first I wondered what all the fuss was about. Then I had conversations with neighbours and family and many of them are concerned about Jenny et al.’s views on the topic. Fortunately, they all have the common sense to talk to a medical professional before making any rash decisions about boycotting vaccines. Their concerns were laid to rest by the GPs, nurses and healthcare professionals who don’t have the celebrity soap box so many of the famous are using for their personal crusades. So we need more professionals and scientists like Phil who actually know what they are talking about.

Science is a collection of facts, not a collection of personal opinions and beliefs, a notion many people don’t seem to understand. And judging by the density of palm-readers and psychics in my neighbourhood, there’s a lot of people who choose belief of the paranormal over logic.

So, when I walked away from the medical centre, marvelling at the protective injection I had just received (a little bit proud about how I didn’t pass out at the sight of the needle), I felt sad for the kids out there whose parents deemed it necessary to listen to the idiocy spewing from the plumped lips of an ex-Playboy model. Those children could become ill due to negligence (it is parental negligence), and there are an increasing number of deaths associated with diseases that were once unheard of in modern society.

I don’t have children, but when I do, I’ll make sure I’d read up on all the scientific facts first, but they will certainly be vaccinated. For me, vaccines are imperative for “herd immunity” and essential for a healthy society. Individuals who are un-vaccinated could easily become carriers of deadly diseases. In my eyes, an un-vaccinated child could be viewed as a potential weapon. If they are immunized at an early age, their bodies have the ability to fight off contagious disease, preventing unnecessary suffering and, ultimately, improve the health of society as a whole.

Conclusion

So why did I bother to go off-piste and discuss my concern about antivaxxers?

We live in a revolutionary age for mankind. We are exploring space, we have unbelievable technology, we are processing data at a faster rate than ever before. We communicate globally. Medical technology is helping us live for longer than ever before. We are stronger and more intelligent. On paper, mankind is doing pretty well. Yes, there are massive issues challenging us (climate change, economic crises, disasters, overpopulation etc.), but never before have we been able to confront these problems so well. If we had infinite resources and a strong political direction, the Universe could be our oyster.

But as with the antivax movement, anti-science and religious interference with science could undermine our very existence on this planet. Imagine a future where we have constructed a low-Earth orbit infrastructure, sending probes into deep space; we have quantum computing and fusion power. And yet a large portion of the “developed” world distrusts science at its core. Every year there’s a doomsday prophecy. Despite all the scientific evidence against, classrooms are teaching evolution along-side “intelligent design”. Some kids think the Universe is 6,000 years old, others know it is in fact 13.73 billion years old.

And then there’s the Jenny McCarthy’s of this world, spreading nonsense about why we should fear immunization. The media eats that stuff for breakfast, can you imagine what the media could be eating for dinner in a decade? The physical health of entire nations could be put in jeopardy. Who can advance mankind when borders are closed and our brightest minds are dying because of a pandemic caused by a mutated strain of a virus that should have been controlled decades ago?

Having fought a pitched battle with 2012 doomsday advocates for the last year, I’m seeing a pattern emerge. Anti-science is rocking the foundations of mankind, and if you don’t believe me, you need to spend some more time on the internet (a medium by which everyone has a voice, no matter how insane). For every science website, there’s ten websites with pseudo-science ramblings. Unfortunately, now that bigger entities are finding new and inventive ways to make money from people’s fear, I get the feeling we’ve seen nothing yet…

So, that was my big day of getting vaccinated. Interestingly, the most profound moment came at the medical centre as I was leaving with a Band Aid on my arm. The nurse who injected me, obviously thinking about what we were talking about in the waiting room said something very interesting. She asked me why people thought there was some elevated risk associated with vaccinations, after all, all medication carries some kind of “risk” (but the probability of anything bad happening is very, very small). As researched by my friend Greg Fish, these “toxins” don’t sound half as bad if you understand exactly what those scary-sounding ingredients actually are, and in what quantities they are administered.

Do these people have any idea how many toxins they breathe in every day?” the nurse asked as I walked out the door, referring to McCarthy and Carrey. Pointing at the traffic outside she added, “LA isn’t exactly known for it’s clean air!

Good point, I thought.

2012 Is Coming… And All I Got Was This Lousy Fridge Magnet

Screenshot from the Flash animation "The End of the World" by Fluid

Just when I was getting bored of the endless stream of 2012 doomsday hype (tripe), my interest was suddenly reinvigorated when I saw this advertisement:

2012 Calendar Magnet

$2.99 + shipping

Our calendar magnet is a real 2012 calendar. So you can have it on the refrigerator for 3 1/2 years! The calendar magnet is 4.25 inches wide and 5.5 inches long. It is also very clear and easy to read (looks better than the picture above, but is smaller). The shipping cost within the U.S. is $0.79 and for International orders $1.89.

No way. Oh yes. Yes, they did! The most well-known 2012 protagonist website is selling doomsday fridge magnets depicting an Earth plus comet barrelling towards it.

I had to triple-check, just in case this was the doomsday blogging equivalent to Punk’d. No, this is real: fridge magnets.
Continue reading “2012 Is Coming… And All I Got Was This Lousy Fridge Magnet”

The Striking Similarity Between Ghostbusters and 2012

It’s funny, because it’s true

world-of-psychic

It’s been one of those days, where I had a list of things to do and I didn’t tick off one item. That’s not to say I haven’t done anything. I wrote an article about the cosmos throwing a Molotov cocktail at us, wrote another article about something a lot more scary (creationism) and then watched some TV at lunch. To my delight, a childhood classic was on daytime TV while I was nursing a headache: Ghostbusters II, from 1989. Oh yes! I love this “work from home” thing.

Anyhow, I had all but forgotten about the film, so there were a lot of surprises and a lot of laughs. They sure made good comedies in the late 80’s (at a time when I was of single-digit age). As I’m sure you remember, we pick up five years after the Ghostbusters crossed-the-streams in the first film (back in the “old days” of 1984), destroying the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in a fireball of gloopy sugary joy, ridding New York of the Sumerian God: Gozer the Gozerian. Now, reality has set in and all the Ghostbuster crew have settled into regular jobs. However, I cracked up when watching Pete Venkman (played by the excellent Bill Murray) present his not-so-prime-time “World of the Psychic” TV show.

This served as a reminder that although we are facing the mother of all doomsday pseudo-science/profit-making/nonsensical prophecies (this time in the guise of the year 2012), we’ve heard it all before. And Ghostbusters 2 had this wonderful sketch I had to share…
Continue reading “The Striking Similarity Between Ghostbusters and 2012”

How Do You Spot Science Abuse in the Social Media Soup?

Heads should be held in shame...
Heads should be held in shame...

You know the drill, we’ve all been there.

There you are, minding your own business, participating in the Web 2.0 phenomenon, scanning through the webpages on one of the countless social media sites. And then you see them, like coffee stains on your white upholstery, pages that seem a little out of place. One entry tells you that the world is coming to an end. Another tells you that the Illuminati have built a base on Pluto (with the obligatory IT’S A PLANET!!! comment underneath). Oh, and there’s another, claiming that a comet, twice the size of Jupiter is actually Planet X… and it’s coming right for us!

Of course, our common-sense neurons usually kick in, telling us that the author of the article is either a) nuts, b) an idiot, c) flying at half-mast or d) a troll. In which case, we are able to flex our social media muscles by burying, down-thumbing, down-arrowing, reporting or ignoring the offender.

There we go, social media in practice. One BIG victory for online democracy!

However, sometimes it’s not that simple. What if the author seems to be bona fide? What if the author is a so called “expert”? Say if the article uses some real science to explain their hopelessly flawed theory?

I may have been trawling around the dregs of the doomsday theory ilk for the past year, but the following list applies to pretty much any daft conspiracy theory or outrageous science claim, intended to misinform, scare or cause an online headache as you voyage through the increasingly accessible social media…
Continue reading “How Do You Spot Science Abuse in the Social Media Soup?”

2012 Fear = Money: Sony Pictures Cashes In

ihc

Another day, another inbox with three emails asking me about what this 2012 “thing” is all about.

Another two from concerned (but now relieved) readers and one (from late last night) calling me a fudging idiot (edit the italicized word). I had no idea that my 2012 articles on the Universe Today (and the growing number on Astroengine) would evoke such a spirited and sustained barrage of hate/love/relief mail. I’m a scientist, first and foremost, I’m not used to this kind of attention.

Seriously though, this 2012 insanity needs to calm down. Admittedly, telling “believers” there is nothing to fear about the Mayan calendar coming to the end (or the hopelessly flawed Bible Code is nonsense) is a bit like waving a red cloth in front of a pissed off bull, and any hope that we wont be barraged by doomsday hysteria in 2012 is a lost cause (in my opinion). But mainstream media really needs to lay off the scaremongering tactics.

I can deal with the crackpots, greedy authors, pseudo-science liars, misinformed and weak-minded “YouTube Scientists” spreading prophecies of doomsday, linking ancient prophecy (that has a non-existent prediction:proof ratio by the way) with modern science. But when Sony Pictures jump on the 2012 juggernaut, I think we can forget about having any sanity in the run-up to December 21st 2012.

Enter the Institute for Human Continuity, a Sony Pictures viral campaign…
Continue reading “2012 Fear = Money: Sony Pictures Cashes In”

Doomsday in 2012: Science-Lite

Doomsday = Fear = Money
Doomsday = Fear = Money

Something pretty cool has just happened over at that “2012 Comet” doomsday site (I won’t link to it, I can’t stomach sending any traffic to it, but here’s my Universe Today article about the subject).

I’ve had equal measures of praise and criticism for my most recent “No Doomsday in 2012” article. Most of the praise came in the form of: “I’m really glad you addressed the 2012 comet scenario, those ads were p***ing me off!“. However, it did get criticised for chasing after a “small website” with “very little written on it” which “obviously confuses” what a comet is and what Planet X is.

However, this “small website” (which actually receives an awful lot more traffic than Astroengine.com), has decided to comment on my views on the subject. And you know what? I think it has enhanced their content ten-fold.

Here’s my reply
Continue reading “Doomsday in 2012: Science-Lite”

I Stand Corrected…

Forget Planet X, a rogue comet, geomagnetic reversal and killer solar flares… this could be what the Mayans were talking about:

Oh no... (PunditKitchen.com)
Oh no... (PunditKitchen.com)

OK, I’ll stop with the humour now. Time to get on with some serious science stuff…

Update: Isn’t that a bit disrespectful of Palin to be signing her name against McCain’s head? Lol.

I really am getting back to the science now…

Source: Bad Astronomy

Will the Real Walter Wagner Please Stand Up (and Put the Geiger Counter Down)

Wagner discovers tiles of uranium-filled death (MSNBC)
Wagner discovers tiles of uranium-filled death (MSNBC)

After chatting with Walter Wagner (the guy who filed the LHC “Doomsday Suit” in an Hawaiian court… only for it to be thrown out last month) on Paranormal Radio in July, I was left a little unsatisfied.

By the July 28th radio show, I’d only written about the LHC lawsuit a couple of times and had little time to prepare for the discussion. However, after only a few minutes of digging for some background information Wagner I’d unearthed a couple of things. For one he had previously attempted to sue the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory in 2000. This attempt had failed on the basis that Wagner’s “evidence” that the RHIC could create strangelets (that will spawn the end of the world) and black holes (spawning… well… the end of the world) was too flimsy to warrant any serious investigation. Then I uncovered something a little unsettling: Wagner had a rather unhealthy scrape with the law. At the time I didn’t want to follow this up, as I was going on air in 30 minutes, the RHIC lawsuit was enough for the time being.

Today, another piece has been added to the puzzle of what drives Walter Wagner. Over at the hilariously named “The Physics Anti-Crackpot Blog” there’s a link to an article chronicling Wagner’s Geiger counter crusade against radioactive tiles (oh yes!). I’ll leave it for you to read, it is both entertaining and unsettling.

Wagner believes he is a public safety crusader, and I doubt we’ll hear the last of him (besides superheroes love the attention, whether it is good or bad).

Why does Mr. Wagner hate the LHC? Well, the short and simple answer — ironically, this is the short and simple answer — is that Mr. Wagner and a lot of other people who like physics but don’t really understand it as well as they think they do have latched onto the notion that the LHC will spontaneously generate black holes, which will destroy the Earth. – Excerpt from Return of the Radiation Man (Standing on the Shoulders of Giant Midgets)

Source: The Physics Anti-Crackpot Blog

Universal Death and Impossible Physics… In the Same Box!

The box from Amazon.com cannot contain the awesomeness inside...
The box from Amazon.com cannot contain the awesomeness inside...

Today marks a significant day in the history of my bookshelf.

Having moved to the US from the UK, leaving the bulk of my proto-library collection back in my Bristol hometown, I only transported my most prized science and university textbooks. Alas, I had to leave my treasured collection of Patrick Moore books, my guide to the Universe and several hefty quantum physics texts in storage, bringing the bare minimum across the pond.

Books are important to me, and I have big dreams about having a room filled with them; one of those in-house libraries filled with knowledge and history. But five books hardly constitute a library… heck, they barely fill a rucksack. So action needed to be taken… I needed to turn this proto-bookshelf into a source of reference!

I have a bookshelf. Check.
I have an office. Check.
I have an Amazon.com account. Check.
I have a credit card (it’s strained, but you can’t put a price on knowledge, right?). Check!

So I went shopping and brought Michio Kaku’s Physics of the Impossible (of which I have been promising myself most of the year) and succumbed to Phil Plait’s Death from the Skies! (with a book title like that, you have to obey the calling). Can’t wait to put a crease down the spines of both books, but I am keen to read Dr Plait’s account of how dangerous the Universe can be. Having done battle with the 2012 doomsayers, I need to read a book with a good, scientific rundown of how the world might end – and not fighting against the pseudo-scientific claims about Planet X and those pesky Anunnaki. The world is going to end some time, so look at the facts behind the claims and find out yourself.

The praise from Mythbuster Adam Savage for Death from the Skies pretty much sums it all up, I can’t wait to review the book myself:

Phil Plait has done it again. He brings his unique and funny voice of reason and sanity to bear on making sense of a deadly universe. If things worked the way I wanted them to, any reporter about to do another “sensational” story on deadly meteors would consult this volume and BANG! Common sense would find it’s way into the news. How strange would THAT world be? On his blog and in his books, Plait is an important source of sanity and critical thinking, with just the right sense of wonder, reminding us that the universe is an amazing enough place without having to make crap up about it.” – Adam Savage, from Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters.

For more on his big box of death, check out Phil’s Bad Astronomy blog

2012 Doomsday Debunking Article Makes Slashdot

Just a quick bit of news: my “2012: No Geomagnetic Reversal” article over at the Universe Today was posted on Slashdot.org today! This is fantastic news, as on Saturday it became “popular” on Digg.com and hit the front page. Internet traffic has therefore been a little busy for Fraser’s server of late…

Thank you to everyone who is supporting my work, these 2012 doomsday scenarios are finally being exposed for what they really are. Although some may have a dash of scientific reasoning, most are born from scaremongering and greed, so it is very good to know that the scope of this article’s readership has expanded exponentially 🙂

I am working on my next couple of articles now, so expect the completed text soon…

Cheers!