Great editorial response to the Jumbotron ad

The Times Square Jumbotron ad keeps trucking, and with it frustration from the medical and public health community. The American Academy of Pediatrics sent a letter to CBS Outdoors, asking them to pull the ad, to no avail. Rahul Parikh thinks it’s time to do more:

We in medicine need more than letters and passive education for parents on a website. What we really need are some Mad Men of our own. If you want guidance, look at what the folks at the the American Legacy Foundation have done with their anti-smoking campaign, The Truth. Who can forget the TV commercial where a truck pulls up to the headquarters of a tobacco company and teenagers jump out, carrying body bags? We need powerful and unforgettable messages that remind us what’s at stake here.

Have you heard the horrifying whoop of pertussis? Seen how meningitis kills and maims kids, or the painful, paralyzing rigor of every muscle in the body of a child with tetanus? Dear AAP, collect those sights, sounds and the true stories of kids injured by vaccine-preventable diseases and the parents who cried for them when they got sick. Then have the audacity to buy space on a jumbotron, right next to NVIC’s, or in a newspaper the day after Generation Rescue takes out another of its bogus ads. Tell the stories of those parents and children — if they’re still alive today — and make it clear that choosing vaccines means choosing health for kids, families and communities.

I agree with what Parikh is saying, but it’s still sometimes tough to get over my gut reaction to that kind of emotional advertising. He’s right that it can be effective where the simple scientific facts don’t work, but like Chris Mooney notes, it also has to be “presented in a context that doesn’t trigger a defensive, emotional reaction.” For those currently eschewing vaccines for their children, that could be tricky to do, but I wonder how many are true “fence-sitters” and not emotionally committed to an anti-vaccine stance? Those are the ones we really need to work with.

[Edited to add: Steven Novella has a great post up today that reminds us why this is such an important fight: Consequences].

The Columbus Science Pub wants you!

If there’s anyone living in the Columbus, OH, area who’s interested in getting involved (or more involved) in science outreach and the Science Cafe movement, now’s your chance. The Columbus Science Pub, which I started off back in September 2010 and which now boasts over 450 fans on Facebook, is looking for new leadership to take over when Dan (the current organizer) leaves Cowtown at the end of the summer.

Anyone interested should send a note to columbussciencepub@gmail.com.

For more information on the Columbus Science Pub, go to Columbus Science Pub’s Facebook site or for information on the Science Cafe movement, check out http://www.sciencecafes.org/.

Margulis does it again

We all know of once-respected scientists who ended up going off the deep end, adhering to an unproven idea despite massive evidence to the contrary. Linus Pauling and his advocacy of megadoses of Vitamin C, or Peter Duesberg’s descent into HIV denial. It’s all the more disappointing when the one taking a dive is a woman, since there are, compared to men, relatively fewer female “big names” in the sciences. So when one goes from views that were, perhaps, outside of the mainstream (but later proven largely correct) to complete science denialism, it makes it all the more depressing. Even worse, mainstream popular science magazines like Scientific American (with this article by Peter Duesberg) and Discover (Duesberg again) give these ideas reputable press. And now Discover has done it again by giving “maverick” biologist Lynn Margulis a profile in their latest issue. More after the jump.
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Why don’t “pro-lifers” support birth control?

There has been a lot of commentary this week about the GOP-led proposal to de-fund Planned Parenthood. Commentators such as Ezra Klein note the irrationality of this stance, since Planned Parenthood itself estimates it prevents more than 620,000 unintended pregnancies each year, and 220,000 abortions. Why wouldn’t the anti-abortion crowd support this increase in contraception, and subsequent prevention of abortions?

What’s missing in this rationale is that many on the far right perceive most forms of contraception *as being equivalent to abortion.* So by their logic, Planned Parenthood isn’t “preventing” these abortions–it’s just doing them another way, via the Pill, IUDs, etc. instead of drug-induced or surgical abortions. To many who view the world this way, Planned Parenthood *is* using tax dollars to fund abortions, because they’re using tax dollars to help provide patients with oral contraceptives and other means of birth control. After all, while the Pill mainly works to prevent ovulation in the first place, there is some evidence that a secondary action may prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. If you’re of the mindset that a fertilized ovum is the equivalent of a “person”, then it becomes outrageous to allow the prescription of a product that will “kill” that egg, and it becomes more reasonable to protest organizations like PP which provide women access to such medications (or, public schools which educate our children about such alternatives–hence their opposition to comprehensive sex education as well).

Do I agree with this position? Hell no, but I think it’s necessary to understand and acknowledge it–and as such, to see why articles like Klein’s above (and many others which I’ve seen appear in the past week or so) only serve to stoke the fires for those on the extreme right, rather than making them jump on the PP bandwagon.

CBS airs anti-vaccine Jumbotron ad

Via Skepchick, CBS will be airing ads from the National Vaccine Information Center and Mercola on the CBS Jumbotron in Time’s Square (NVIC announcement here). This, while there’s a measles outbreak in Minnesota (and another one being investigated in Utah), and we’re on the heels of the worst pertussis outbreak in generations in California. Shameful.

Hello,

I recently learned that CBS will be playing ads featuring misinformation by the National Center for Vaccine information Vaccine Information Center. These ads are misleading and potentially dangerous. Vaccine-preventable illnesses have had a resurgence in the past decade, and there currently is an ongoing measles epidemic in Minnesota. Pertussis cases (and deaths) hit a record high in California in 2010. Much of this increase in disease is due to unfounded fears about vaccination, pushed by NCVI, Mercola, and even your own Sharyl Attkisson.

Recently AMC theaters did not run similar anti-vaccine ads (http://getsatisfaction.com/amc_theatres/topics/remove_the_unfounded_anti_vaccine_message_from_your_ads). Until a similar solution is reached by CBS, I will boycott CBS TV shows and sponsors, and ask others to do the same. I am an infectious disease epidemiologist and have seen the dangers that can result from vaccine misinformation. Please do not be complicit in spreading these dangerous lies to your consumers.

Thank you,

Tara C. Smith, PhD

(Some other template language can be found here).

You can also sign the petition at Change.org, email CBS (jeremy.murphy@cbs.com, info@cbsoutdoors.com) and tweet @CBSoutdoors to let them know your thoughts on this development.

“Pox” by Michael Willrich

Next to Ebola, my favorite virus would probably be smallpox (Variola virus). I mean, now that it’s eradicated in nature, what’s not to love about the mysteries it’s left us–where it came from, why it was so deadly (or, not so deadly, as in the emergence of the “mild” form, variola minor), and will a new poxvirus emerge to take its place? The topic is particularly germane since the debate still rages on about the fate of the world’s smallpox stocks. Smallpox has killed untold millions and influenced the destiny of societies; and as Michael Willrich details in his new book, Pox: An American History, the legacy smallpox has left us is still alive and well today.
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