Information on working terriers, dogs, natural history, hunting, and the environment, with occasional political commentary as I see fit. This web log is associated with the Terrierman.com web site.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Superstition and Snake Oil
PK writes to ask me about flu shots:
I wanted to know whether you are getting the flu shot this year or not. I'm reading so much conflicting information. CDC says everyone needs it while Dr. Mercola says it contains dangerous additives. I couldn't find anything in your Daily Dose so I decided to ask you directly.
Well to start, I should say I am not a doctor, but on the upside I am also not a quack who is being sent "desist" letters by the Food and Drug Administration either. More on that in a minute....
What I am is a demographer and population scientist who spends a lot of time now reading and writing about U.S. health care and white collar crime.
And so I wade in:
Get the flu shot.
Flu shots, like most vaccines are grown on chicken eggs, and the "dangerous additive" stuff is nonsense. In fact the additives are preservatives, and an egg sandwich is more dangerous (and yes, I am quite serious about that).
Most of this fear mongering is done by people who have no knowledge of statistics or epidemiology.
Here's the short story: if 80 million people touch their nose at about the same time, you can expect 12 of them to have a heart attack within 10 minutes. This will happen EVERY TIME. And you know why? Because every year, in a population of 80 million people, at least a million people will have a heart attack. That means there are 2,739 heart attacks a day, or 114 an hour, or about 19 every 10 minutes. So 12 heart attacks within a few minutes of touching your nose? You missed a couple! But did touching your nose cause a heart attack? Nope. Not a chance.
This is the kind of stuff that happens with vaccine reactions, and it's this kind of confusion that is the basis of most superstition ("a black cat walked in front of me while I was on a ladder and fell, so black cats must cause ladders to fall.")
Joe Mercola is simply a general practice doctor who wrote two fad books that did well in the stores, and his niche is in "alternative medicine" which is a nice way of saying he sells "second- best results and unsubstantiated claims."
I am not knocking Mercola gratuitously, only saying that he borders on quackery to the point that he has been dinged in warning letters by the FDA twice. He sells his publications largely through hype and fear and the suggestion that there is "secret" information out there that only he has the inside skinny on. Mostly, it's hooey.
I loathe pharmacy companies, hate being ripped off, and I am a general skeptic. But are vaccine makers trying to poison us? No. Is pasteurized milk dangerous? Are you kidding? I grew up in countries where UN-pasteurized milk killed you!