Here we go again!

good pointAfter my last post, and follow up letters in the local paper, I hoped the anti-vax loon would give in. Of course, I was wrong.

“Vaccine dogma

THIS is in reply to people who criticised my letter on the ineffectiveness of vaccines.

The history of the flu vaccine reveals some huge gaps it in current vaccination mythology, essentially proving they don’t work.

In the history of flu vaccines, there were two years in which the formulated flu vaccine was a total mismatch to the widely circulating influenza that made people sick.

These years were 1968 and 1997. In both of these years, the vaccine was a complete mismatch for the circulating virus. In effect, nobody was vaccinated! Knowing this, if the vaccine itself was effective at reducing death rates, then we should have once again seen a huge spike in the death rates during these two years, right?

Seriously, if the vaccine reduces death rates by 50 per cent as is claimed by vaccine manufacturers, then these two years in which the vaccine completely missed the mark should have seen huge spikes in the winter death rates, right?

 But what really happened was.., nothing. Not a blip. Not a spike. Nothing. The death rates didn’t rise at all.

If vaccines really worked to save lives, then the more people you vaccinate, the lower death rates you should see, right?

But that’s not the case. Back in 1989, only 15 per cent of over-65 people got vaccinated against the flu. But today, thanks to the big vaccine push, over 65 per cent are vaccinated.

And yet, amazingly, death rates among the elderly have not gone down during the flu season. In fact, they’ve gone up.

Scientists who question the vaccine mythology are routinely shunned by the medical establishment.

Tom Jefferson from the Cochrane Collaboration is an epidemiologist who questions the claimed benefits of flu vaccines.

“The reaction (against Jefferson) has been so dogmatic and even hysterical that you’d think he was advoca

ting stealing babies,” said a colleague (Majum dar).

Jefferson is one of the world’s best informed researchers on the flu vaccine. He leads a team of researchers who have examined hundreds of vaccine studies.

To quote directly from the article: the vast majority of the studies were deeply flawed, says Jefferson. “Rubbish is not a scientific term, but I think it’s the term that applies (to these studies)”.

Even the people who manufacture flu vaccinations have criticised its over- promotion and effectiveness.

Report from The Independent, November 22 2013: “the flu vaccine given to millions of people each year in Britain is “over-promoted” and “over-hyped” and the protection it offers against the seasonal illness has been exaggerated, scientists claimed.

”Flu causes thousands of deaths, mainly among the elderly, in the UK each year but the vaccine is of limited effectiveness, especially for older people.

“One expert told The Independent the Government should be held accountable for “wasting taxpayers’ money” on the annual £120m national vaccination campaign.”

I have been accused of being irresponsible and scare mongering! Tell that to all the parents who’s children are vaccine damaged and elderly people who died as a result of vaccination complications.

It is people at the top of big Pharma and the government and the medical establishment that is irresponsible, not doctors and nurses,by letting this big fraud go on.

The vaccination dogma is so deeply embedded in the minds of doctors, journalists and the public, that any time

 a communicable disease starts to spread, everybody immediately leaps to the false conclusion that “more vaccines are needed”. This is very nearly a Pavlovian reaction in the minds of the brainwashed masses. Here are some web- sites for readers who want to know more: out break_mumps_vaccines scientific_fraud.html#jxzz2lZ0O MTpf

http://campaign          http://www.natural                                                         http://drlwil



someone is wrong

Well, you know me, I can’t let that lie (sic):

I was hoping not to have to respond again to Paul Bryant’s poorly written anti-vaccine nonsense, but then I read the ‘Vaccine Dogma’ letter last week.

Firstly, let me say that there were two saving graces to the published views – he has backed away from the ‘weak scientific evidence for all vaccines’ statement and most of the website links don’t actually work (but more of them later).

Mr Bryant is very good at throwing out statements as ‘facts’ without really referencing their source or country they refer to. I will assume, as the laughably biased sites he references are US based, that it is North America. So, let me try to explain the background:

1968 was the year of Hong Kong flu, so the vaccine used was ineffective. However, similarities to the 1957 pandemic virus,the fact that school children were on holiday,and improved health care/antibiotics for secondary infections all could explain the greater survival rates.(Source: 1997 is more of a mystery. All I could find was to do with the H5N1 (avian flu) outbreak in Hong Kong, not the USA.

In both these years, however, people did still have a degree of immunity, possibly aided by earlier vaccinations.

In terms of how effective the flu vaccine is, the Center for Disease Control (CDC – US) state a figure of about 60% for the general population ( This better than halves the chance of falling victim to the virus – not to be confused with preventing deaths, a claim I find hard to find evidence for.

Like most typical ‘anti-vaxers’, he likes to exaggerate and misrepresent the views of those who have expertise in this matter (a ‘Straw Man’ fallacy). In any case, his comment “If vaccines really worked to save lives, then the more people you vaccinate, the lower death rates you should see, right? “ sort of argues against his own point. As we see across the world, vaccinations against all sorts of diseases are much more effective than doing nothing, wishful thinking or prayer.

As to his assertion about flu deaths in the elderly rising – where does that data come from? Even if true, it doesn’t necessarily mean the death rate is due to flu, it could be other factors. The data here is unclear, however we do know that although the flu vaccine is very safe, it is not nearly as effective as other vaccinations.

Paul then falls into the trap of referencing Tom Jefferson and his views (as reported on the Gary Null show – a man who is a well-known alternative medicine, anti-vax advocate).  Dr Jefferson’s statements have been generally misrepresented, even though it is true that some of the studies carried out were of a low quality (

The Independent article (November 21st not 22nd) does state what he quotes, but of course he ‘cherry picks’ what reinforces his prejudices. The full article can be found in their archive (

I will reiterate the fact that he is being “irresponsible and scaremongering”, and will add dishonest/deluded (delete as appropriate).  He needs to try a different search engine to get a wider view of these issues, not to rely on Google’s algorithm which feeds the user with similar sites to their earlier searches.

There will always be a risk of any medical intervention causing injury or death – the human body is a very complex biochemical organism. However, it’s all about weighing up risks against likely benefits. There is absolutely no doubt that vaccinations have saved millions of lives, and will continue to do so!

Finally, he throws out the usual conspiracy nonsense (“It is people at the top of big Pharma and the government and the medical establishment that is irresponsible… nearly a Pavlovian reaction in the minds of the brainwashed masses”). Unfortunately it is he, and those who promote those ridiculous websites he tries to reference, that are the brainwashed, deluded or dishonest. I urge you to look at them and see how many promote their own supplements, books, courses or treatments. They are all willing to take as much of your money as the ‘establishment’.

As a final comment, and a suggested exercise for the reader, you can see how many anti-vax sites also reference alternative medicine therapies, supplements, em fields, water therapy, etc,). They all reference each other, and generally have a strong anti-science agenda. I use RationalWiki ( to check most of their claims.

Other references:  and

I will not be replying to any more of Mr Bryant’s anti-vaccination nonsense in the future, he will not be convinced as he does not seem to be able to apply critical thinking in this matter. Most of us involved in the Skeptical movement are very willing to accept that ‘Big Pharma’ and governments are not to be taken at face value. We are willing to do a bit more hard work in investigating these matters for ourselves.

Ben Sagan, West Cumbrian Skeptics


An Apology

After a flurry of (well two) posts on one day, there has been a bit of a lull due to work commitments and limited internet access. My plan was to next do a detailed ‘take down’ of some of the claims made by the British Acupuncture Council, in the light of North Lakes Clinic’s recent promotional advert. This is still on the way. Then I encountered a zealot promoting colloidal silver use – he wanted help making a basic electrolysis machine to help him produce it for himself and others much cheaper than commercial outlets. So, this was then going to be the new blog post, provisionally entitled “Smurfs 3: An ethical dilemma”. However, I then read a letter in our local paper from a dangerous loon promoting anti-vax distortions and lies. Sooo…from the Times & Star (Cockermouth edition) of Friday 8th November 2013, we have the following (quoted here verbatim so any grammatical or logic errors are preserved):- out out

Vaccine scandal

“REGARDING last week’s letters on side effects of the flu vaccine, in the 1930s Rockefeller and many more wealthy people in the USA decided to change the face of modern medicine forever. A lot of good came out of it but, as in most things, there was a down side.

The pharmaceutical indus­tries have been allowed to get away with a lot over the years. They are a big influence on the medical establishment and Government. They can control what the public see on health in the me­dia. In the USA the FDA food and drug administration that de­cides what is safe for the public and what is not is mainly fund­ed by big pharmaceuticals.So we have a lot of drugs and vaccines and food additives that are unsafe to the public.

The science on flu vaccines and all types of vaccines is very weak to say the least. As regards flu jabs I would personally prefer to strengthen my immune system through healthy lifestyle changes. If you have a healthy im­mune system you have a better chance of being disease free!

There is no magic pill or vac­cine that will prevent flu. The fact is as time goes by we are seeing more and more vaccinations in general, which means massive profits for big pharmaceuticals. In the USA your child will have 55 vaccinations before they are six years old; in The UK 25 vaccines before the child is 15 months. One study shows that in 1980 one in 10,000 had autism; in 2013 one in 50 have autism which is believed to be linked to vacci­nations.

Most diseases that were mostly eradicated were not as a result of vaccinations but better hygiene, healthy food and san­itation. We are seeing more vaccines of very low risk diseases which means more money for the profit hungry big pharmaceuti­cals. It is a scandal that it is allowed to go on. Why is research money not spent on vitamin and mineral effects on ill health for the ben­efit of mankind?” No profit in that, is there! The truth is that pharmaceu­tical companies will not re­search something unless there is a large profit at the end of it.

There are many good vaccine websites, some which the Gov­ernment are trying to ban, so we are unable to make an in­formed decision. Also watch on You Tube “Silent Epidemic: The Untold Story” by Gary Null, then make your decision.”


…and my reply (which may or may not appear in this form, or at all, in print on 15/11/2012):-

“One of the main reasons I became involved with skeptical activism and helped set up the West Cumbrian Skeptics, was clearly illustrated by Paul Bryant’s poorly written letter in last week’s Times  Star. I’ll skip over the usual ‘Big Pharma’ and FDA corruption implications – one so often trotted out by anti-vaccine groups. If anyone wants a good objective analysis of the bigger picture, read Ben Goldacre’s ‘Bad Pharma’. Unfortunately, Paul produces several logical fallacies and inaccuracies, presumably ones he has read from from the standard scaremongering websites and magazines.

He states “So we have a lot of drugs and vaccines and food additives that are unsafe for the public” – what absolute nonsense! Where does he get this blind assertion from? Where is the evidence?

Then he claims that not only is the science weak for the flu vaccine, but for ALL types. Tell that to the millions whose lives  have been saved, by not contracting smallpox, polio, tetanus, diphtheria, etc. No vaccine claims to be 100% effective or even completely side-effect free. What is this ‘weak science’ he talks about?

He is right on one point, however. A healthy lifestyle and diet can help to bolster the immune system, meaning less chance of a severe infection taking hold. Unfortunately, not everyone, particularly the very young, old or infirm, can do enough without vaccine support (not a “magic pill”). The flu vaccine can, and does, prevent flu by the way.

Moving on, the claim that “big pharmaceuticals” (sic) are making massive profits with all these vaccinations, if indeed it is true, so what. If money is spent on developing and marketing a product that greatly benefits human life, why shouldn’t there be a decent reward? By 18 months, a child in the UK will have 19 jabs to cover 9 conditions (the vacines Hepatitus B, Diptheria, Tetanus, Petussis, Haemophilus Influenzae Type B vaccine, Inactivated Poliovirus vaccine, Pneumoccal Conjugate vaccine, Rotavirus vaccine are given, with their relevant boosters).  Again, another factual error from Mr Bryant.

Now we come to the classic ‘vaccines can cause autism’ nonsense. Firstly, there is still no clear understanding of what the causes of autism actually are.  ‘Dr’ Andrew Wakefield tried to promote a link between this condition and the MMR vaccine a few years go, but has not only been discredited by the medical profession, but also shown to have falsified the research. I’d like to know where this study of autism rates comes from, or even which country it refers to. Autism rates in the UK were rising BEFORE the introduction of MMR in 1989, and have continued to rise steadily since then (from about 1 in 100,000 to 3 in 100,000 in 2001).

Then he asserts that it is better hygiene, food and sanitation, not vaccinations, that caused the eradication of those diseases that have mostly disappeared. Again, based on what evidence? Certainly those steps will reduce the chance of  spread of many diseases, but smallpox would never have been wiped out without the relevant vaccination program. Look at what happened in Wales, starting in Swansea,with the outbreak of measles (not a ‘low risk’ disease). This took hold quickly due to anti-vaccine propaganda in the press over 10 years earlier!  And how polio is spreading across Syria (possibly threatening Europe) with many of their refugee population not being vaccinated. There are many other ‘clusters’ of easily controlled infections all over the world, particularly where there are vocal anti-vaccination proponents.

A small correction is needed next. As far as I know, there is a lot of money spent on the effects of vitamins and minerals in the role of ill-health. In fact, plenty of the places that I guess Paul gets his information from will happily sell you all sorts of supplements and lotions to “improve your health”.

One more point he is correct on. There indeed are plenty of good vaccination sites available on the internet, but also some absolutely appalling ones. These are often the same websites that throw their lot in with such scientifically unproven therapies such as homeopathy, acupuncture, reiki and the like.

Finally, it is interesting that his final comment is to promote a YouTube clip by Gary Null. This man is a well-known conspiracy theory advocate and marketer of dubious supplements and treatments. He also claims qualifications that cannot be verified. Quackwatch has done  a very good summary. See

In conclusion, if this letter seems a little terse,it is because I feel that this sort of dangerous nonsense should not go unchallenged, for the greater good of those who do not have the time or opportunity to check for themselves. It’s what we at the West Cumbrian Skeptics are trying to guard against.

I hope that all Paul Bryant is doing is to repeat back things he has read uncritically, and does not have some other agenda.  All I can say for certain is that he did not do any reasonable fact checking (I spent about an hour doing mine).

Yours, critically thinking, Ben Sagan – West Cumbrian Skeptics”

I am responsible - ant-vax

Now, maybe that is a bit wordy and perhaps poorly expressed, but I was very angry when I read his letter. I know that freedom of expression is a very important human right, but sometimes …   😉

HPV Scare – Catholic ‘Evidence’

A link sent to me by my concerned, rational daughter today:


My first thoughts, purely based on the look of the website and the words it uses (think Natural News and What Doctors Don’t Tell You) was this is surely scaremongering

However, on careful reading of it and other sources, including the abstract from the published paper is that it is scaremongering, unscientific, fallacious bullshit.

The extra fact for me is the type of sources that credulously promote it.

The ‘study’ was based on three patients, and falls foul of at least a couple of basic logical fallacies. Coupled with the fact that Dr Deidre Little is a Catholic activist (I wonder why they would be against HPV 🙂 .She concludes that “The diagnostic tasks were to determine the reason for her secondary amenorrhoea and then to investigate for possible causes of the premature ovarian failure identified. Although the cause is unknown in 90% of cases, the remaining chief identifiable causes of this condition were excluded.” In other words, this young girl fits in the unknown cause group, and there was no evidence whatsoever that Gardasil was a causal factor.

Here is some more stuff – judge for yourself:
The extract of the paper:
(I’m not an immunologist or statistician, but THREE cases, noted after the HPV vaccine was given? Post hoc proctor hoc anyone?)

Other sources:

In the October issue of The Cockermouth Post, a short and pointed letter from a local homeopath was printed on page 3.

Now, confession time. I do have a little ‘history’ with the non-medicine providing trained professional. A little while ago I responded by email to her posting an advert in the Post, which suggested homeopathic ‘remedies’ for young people. I asked her for details of what it takes to be a trained homeopath and how she could justify her generic advice when homeopathy is supposed to be aimed at the individual. The reply was simple and polite, though did not really address all my points. A short while later, another email arrived, this time asking if I’d reported the ‘clinic’ to the Advertising Standards Authority. Aparrently, the NLC website was being challenged about its claims. My reply was simple. No I hadn’t, though we’d be happy for her to either give a talk to our meeting, or meet me for a coffee and a chat. There was no further reply from her.

Then comes the letter. quack So, here is my reply (which may or maynot be published in The Cockermouth post next month). At least it has appeared here (and on the West Cumbria SitP blog)


Dear Editor, It was kind of Carey Blanden (homeopath at the North Lakes Clinic) to thank us last month for drawing her attention to the magazine ‘What Doctors Don’t Tell You’ in a “recent issue” of The Post. Unfortunately, she seems to be confused on two counts. Firstly, I have only mentioned WDDTY twice since the formation of the West Cumbrian Skeptics – issue 366 (February) and issue 369 (May). I don’t consider five months ago to be particularly recent (except in geological terms). Secondly, I feel the term ‘magazine’ is overly grand for a publication that purports to give health advice, yet shamelessly promotes diets and treatments that, in some cases, border on the ill-advised or dangerous. It is produced by two, non-scientifically and non-medically trained individuals, with articles by a range of ‘experts’, most of whom have no conventional medical education. For further information, Josephine Jones has compiled a useful list of references for anyone to check through for themselves. I hope Carey enjoys the magazine subscription (I actually believe she has been a reader for a while), though hope others soon realise that the “backed up by scientific research”statement is at best hyperbole, and at worst misleading or untrue. One final point, just for the record, The Society of Homeopaths had a recent ‘pasting’ from the Advertising Standards Authority about their misleading claims on treatments. Find the details here

Ben Sagan 

West Cumbrian Skeptics

The Patients’ Guide to Magic Medicine

I recently attended a talk by David Colquhoun (professor of pharmacoloDavid_Colquhoun_smgy at University College London) at Merseyside Skeptics in the Pub.

A fairly quiet man, with very firm views on all forms of quackery, in particular those held and promoted by HRH Prince Charles and his ‘cronies’. His website is here and you can follow him on Twitter (@david_colquhoun).


The title of his talk was ‘Science in an Age of Endarkenment’ (How quackery corrupts real science).

Here is a summary of his views on ‘integrated medicine’:

  • Homeopathy: giving patients medicines that contain no medicine whatsoever.
  • Herbal medicine: giving patients an unknown dose of an ill-defined drug, of unknown effectiveness and unknown safety.
  • Acupuncture: a rather theatrical placebo, with no real therapeutic benefit in most if not all cases.
  • Chiropractic: an invention of a 19th century salesmen, based on nonsensical principles, and shown to be no more effective than other manipulative therapies, but less safe.
  • Reflexology: plain old foot massage, overlaid with utter nonsense about non-existent connections between your feet and your thyroid gland.
  • Nutritional therapy: self-styled ‘nutritionists’ making untrue claims about diet in order to sell you unnecessary supplements.
  • Spiritual healing: tea and sympathy, accompanied by arm-waving.
  • Reiki: ditto.
  • Angelic Reiki. The same but with added “Angels, Ascended Masters and Galactic Healers”.  Excellent for advanced fantasists.
  • Colonic irrigation: a rectal obsession that fails to rid you of toxins which you didn’t have in the first place.
  • Anthroposophical medicine: followers of the mystic barmpot, Rudolf Steiner, for whom nothing whatsoever  seems to strain credulity
  • Alternative diagnosis: kinesiology, iridology, vega test etc,  various forms of fraud, designed to sell you cures that don’t work  for problems you haven’t got.
  • Any alternative ‘therapist’ who claims to cure AIDS or malaria: agent of culpable homicide.
  • (and this one inspired by the legal mind of Jack of Kent) Libel: A very expensive remedy, to be used only when you have no evidence. Appeals to alternative practitioners because truth is

He had some unkind words for all sorts of specific organisations, for example NHS Choices and their slowness to act on changing their description of homeopathy on their website, MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority) and the THR kite mark for echinacea and the like. He also addressed the lack of evidence for effectiveness of expectorants and cough suppressants, and even questioned the evidence for the placebo effect!

quackAcupuncture (that ancient Chinese remedy that only came to widespread knowledge after Mao reintroduced it in the early ’70s to rural China) was also given very short shrift. Using the flow of chi (sic) through the 12 meridians (based on the 12 rivers of China or the star signs), and pins in any of the 365 acupoints (I wonder where they got that number from, and would Martin acupuncturists have 669 points to play with?) is not shown to be effective. There have been over 3000 trials done to date, and still no demonstrable evidence to prove it works.

As an aside, apparently 100% of all Chinese authored studies show that acupuncture is completely effective. Wow!

However, my favourite quote of the night came from Camden & Islington NHS Trust, when challenged about their use of the company Connect Physical Health and their physiotherapy claims. Part of their response to the lack of convincing data to support its use was “Lack of evidence doesn’t mean these therapies don’t work“. WTF!snake oil

Finally, he did push part of the blame for the continued rise of these snake oil salesmen on conventional medicine and the media. There is plenty of corruption in the USA and UK when it comes to invoicing and drugs prescriptions, and not just that done by individuals. In addition, “Alternative medicine’s boom is the fault of orthodox medicine. It (and the media) allowed us to think we could be healthy and happy. That there was a pill for every problem, and if we died too early or painfully, it was an act of some agency, other than a capricious old God. We expected miracles.

Logical Fallacies

brain gears

To help develop my mental toolkit, I have been taking a closer look at Logical Fallacies –  poor arguments of logic, or misconceptions that result from incorrect reasoning.

There are dozens of these, often with grand sounding Latin names or wordy definitions.

Two useful extra sources are: and

False Cause: also known as Magical Thinking, Ignoring a Common Cause, or PostHoc, Ergo Propter Hoc (After this, therefore because of this). An example would be, “Severe weather incidents have increased because more countries are allowing same sex marriage”out out

Straw Man: also known as Argumentum Ex Culo (argument pulled from ‘thin air’). An opponent will deliberately misrepresent someone’s position to try to weaken it. For example, “Evolution is a stupid theory. A crocodile cannot evolve into a duck!”

Appeal to Authority: Argumentum Ad Verecundiam (argument from respect). Someone famous or powerful believes it, so it must be true. “Andrew Strauss, the Ashes series winning captain, wears a Power Balance band, so it must improve my cricket skills”.

Slippery Slope: also known as Reductio ad Absurdum. This involves a general assertion that if we allow A to happen, then Z will follow, so stop A happening. For example, ”If we allow same sex marriage, then next we’ll have people marrying animals or their children” (Norman Tebbit actually said “It would lift my worries about inheritance tax because maybe I’d be allowed to marry my son!”

At the Person: also known as Ad Hominem. Person A claims X, but there is something objectionable about them, so X is false. A special version of this is Reductio ad Hitlerum “Hitler was in favour of euthanasia, therefore, euthanasia is wrong.” (he was also a painter, vegetarian and Roman Catholic, so go figure). See also Godwin’s Law and internet trolls!Godwin

Appeal to Ancient Wisdom: This is of the form: Culture A said thing X: Culture A lived a long time ago.Therefore X is true. This fallacy is often cited by a number of alternative medicine supporters and creationists. Such ancient practices include blood-letting, trepanning, human sacrifice, Flat Earth, herbal medicine and acupuncture.

good point

These examples have been used by many Republicans, some Creationalists,promoters of Power Balance bands and Kinesio Tape, anti-marriage equality groups, woo merchants and many more.


Why use Critical Thinking and Skepticism?

Two recent news items have reminded me why.

1. The conviction of fraudster James McCormick.
He sold Iraqi security forces over 6,000 fake bomb detectors. In Kenya, they are still used due to a mixture of corruption and not wanting to lose face.
Skeptics, and some journalists at the time, did point out that these devices (based on a vague dowsing idea) could not. However, they were not heeded, which resulted in who knows how many injuries and deaths.

2. The South Wales measles epidemic.
The MMR scare that the dishonest/discredited (Dr) Andrew Wakefield instigated, has to be a major factor. Some newspaper scare stories just added to it. It’s no wonder parents were unsure about whether to immunise or not, but they are not the villains. It’s the anti-vaccination movement and its supporters that are.
People need to look at the risk-benefit analysis carefully and consider that the overwhelming balance of evidence is in favour of vaccination over many diseases. Again, skeptics have repeatedly pointed out the erroneous MMR research data, until the GMC eventually acted.

Unfortunately, the April edition of “What Doctors Don’t Tell You” had a front cover attacking the MMR vaccine, and there are still homeopathic treatments on sale.

The British Homeopathic Association now state, “There is no evidence to suggest homeopathic vaccinations can protect against contagious diseases. We recommend people seek out the conventional treatments”. Hmmm.

Stay skeptical.

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