awareness

PSA: The “Vaccinations Lead To Heroin Use” Graphic Is A Parody

It has been said that some of the most effective satire is nearly impossible to distinguish from the truth. As such, occasionally a graphic or quote which has been created as a parody is shared on social media, creating confusion, fear and outrage among a wide range of people… particularly those not familiar with the source and their particular brand of humour.

One such example is currently doing the rounds; a graphic which appears to be an anti-vaccination claim, which seems to suggest that childhood vaccination leads to heroin use, due to needles being regarded as something positive.

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Parody image by Something Awful forum user Bog Chef, using a photograph sourced from Flickr user e_monk.

I’d like to reassure anybody concerned that this has not been created by an anti-vaccinationist (though, being familiar with the wide range of bizarre claims made by anti-vaccination campaigners, I can understand why it could be read as real). Furthermore, in case I need to clarify this, there is no known causal link between vaccination and intravenous drug use later in life.

This graphic was created as a part of Something Awful’s Photoshop Phriday in 2013, in which SA forum participants tried to create over the top parodies of anti-vaccination posters. After showing some examples of actual anti-vaccination memes, the SA admins issued a challenge: “If they can take anti-vaccination posters to this level of absurdity, imagine what we can do!”

Unfortunately, this one has escaped its context and repeatedly gone viral – on its current round, it has managed to spread far enough to grab the attention of the media, with the Sunshine Coast Daily reporting, “Viral anti-vaccination meme shocks professionals“.

“The image, which depicts a drug addict slumped in a corner with the text “their first injection was a vaccination: protect your children from vaccinations”, has gone viral on social media and has recently found its way to Coast news feeds.”

The version of the image which has been received by the Sunshine Coast Daily has been cropped of the Something Awful watermark and as such, is not identifiable by doing a reverse Google Image Search. Generally though, reverse image searching is an excellent way to check the source of an image – and if there is a watermark present, do check the nature of the website it came from before sharing.

If you see this image on social media, my recommendation is not to share it, but to let others know that it is both factually incorrect and was created as a parody by the Something Awful forum participants.

UPDATE 05/06/2014 11:41am: The Sunshine Coast Daily have updated their article, with information from this post.

UPDATE 05/06/2014 10:30pm: Ten News Brisbane have also reported on the meme, acknowledging that it is a parody image. Video report: Confronting Parody

UPDATE 11/06/2014 5:40pm: I have written a letter to the editor of the Sunshine Coast Daily newspaper regarding their use of the above post in an article.

UPDATE 21/03/2015 11:11am: It’s very much doing the rounds again! Please keep in mind that this image was created as a joke and is currently being shared by certain trollesque Facebook pages in order to provoke outrage. Before sharing it on social media, I ask that you consider whether you really want to give trolls oxygen. While the spike in blog traffic over here is kind of nice, I’d rather see this silly graphic out of circulation.

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World Homeopathy Awareness Week – Raising Awareness that Homeopathy is Bulldust!

Well, this week is rather special – it’s World Homeopathy Awareness Week!

First, a very brief primer on homeopathy. Homeopathy was founded in 1796 by Samuel Hahnemann, based on his postulation that “like cures like” – for example, a small amount of a stimulant, such as caffeine, is purported to help with sleep troubles. Homeopathic preparations are produced by “dynamisation” or “potentisation”, in which active ingredients are diluted with alcohol or distilled water, then “succussed” (a form of ritualistic vigorous shaking). The dilution process is repeated until the likelihood of a single molecule of the original ingredient being present in a bottle of homeopathic “remedy” is as close as can be to zero.

Homeopathic remedies are sold as liquids or sugar pills and can be found in health food stores, online shops and to my great disappointment, in pharmacies in Australia. Homeopathy is at times confused with herbalism, as it is included within the scope of “natural medicine”, thus it is worth noting that while herbal remedies contain active ingredients, homeopathic remedies contain no detectable trace of such. For more information, visit the 10:23 Campaign’s page, “What is Homeopathy?” 

 

Beginning on the 10th of April each year,coinciding with the birthday of Hahnemann, World Homeopathy Awareness Week (WHAW) has been established by the World Homeopathy Awareness Organization to coordinate global promotion of homeopathy by those who practice and advocate it. Simultaneously, WHAW has been embraced by critics of homeopathy as a fine time to raise awareness of the lack of plausibility behind the mechanisms used to create homeopathic “remedies”, and the lack of evidence that homeopathy has any physiological effect beyond that of a placebo.

This year, WHAW related discussion kicked off a couple of days early, as Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council released a draft of their information paper, “Evidence on the effectiveness of homeopathy for treating health conditions“. The NHMRC is accepting feedback on this paper until May 26th, so if you wish to provide them with any feedback for consideration, details on doing so are available via the above link.

Admittedly, when I first heard that the NHMRC were conducting a review on homeopathy studies, I was flummoxed – I was familiar with the findings on homeopathy already, and it seemed akin to reviewing findings on whether the sky was blue, or whether water was… wet. However, more public awareness on homeopathy – and the findings that no credible evidence supports its efficacy – has been a great prompt for the media to get on board and for public discussion of homeopathy to increase.

In short, people are still investing their money and hope in products and treatments which have no plausible mechanism of action beyond a placebo. Pharmacies are still selling homeopathic products, in what I consider to be a terribly unethical case of lending false credibility. A small but important minority of general practitioners are referring their patients to homeopaths and naturopaths (some of whom include homeopathy in their practice). There are people who, heart-breakingly, eschew evidence based medicine in favour of homeopathy – as was seen in the tragic case of Penelope Dingle. As such, I believe that it is worth getting the word out, loud and clear, that homeopathy is a sham.

 

I’ve spotted a few fantastic reads during WHAW this year. First up, Ken Harvey has written a piece on The Drum titled “Homeopathy – We Can’t Have it Both Ways“, in which he discusses the fact that, while the NHMRC paper condemns homeopathy, other authorities still give it legitimacy, by accrediting the study of homeopathy, including it in health insurance plans and allowing it to be sold in pharmacies.

From the Good Thinking Society, here is a wonderful page on Homeopathy Awareness Week, with a list of twelve quick facts on homeopathy. The project director, Michael Marshall, explains the importance of the site and of awareness of homeopathy in his Guardian piece, “Homeopathy Awareness Can Make The World A Happier and Healthier Place“.

This week’s episode of The Skeptic Zone Podcast (permalink) has more information on homeopathy than molecules of active ingredients in a homeopathic dilution, and includes my first attempt at a podcast report (replete with awful jokes, such as the one I’ve just made), in which I cover a minor skeptical activism success on the Better Health Channel’s promotion of WHAW. After an impromptu letter writing and social media campaign last week, and in light of the NHMRC draft report on homeopathy, the Better Health Channel made the commendable decision to remove WHAW from their events calendar. If you’re not already a regular Skeptic Zone listener, I encourage you to give it a go this week – despite my cheesy lines, the show is great.

Speaking of humour, I’d like to provide two more links on which to end this post. They’re not to be taken seriously, but sometimes laughter is… the best medicine. (Sorry – I’ll see myself out).

How Does Homeopathy Work? (from the 10:23 Campaign)

List of scientifically controlled double blind studies which have conclusively demonstrated the efficacy of homeopathy (from RationalWiki)

10:23 Campaign Against Homeopathy – Antarctic 2011 (a short video via The Skeptic Zone, in which Dr Paul Willis puts himself on the line and takes a homeopathic overdose!)

2009-11-02-homeoComic by Luke Surl, shared under Creative Commons Licence

Australian Skeptics National Convention 2013 Blogroll

auskepcon2013

Over the weekend, I had the great pleasure of attending the 2013 Australian Skeptics National Convention, held at the CSIRO Discovery Center in Canberra. After two days of entertaining and enlightening talks (plus several fringe events), and some time spent with wonderful friends new and old, I have come away feeling very much recharged and inspired to involve myself further in grassroots skeptical activism.

The last talk of the conference on Sunday afternoon was “Looking to the future: where to now for skeptical thought”, by the illustrious Paul Willis (@Fossilcrox) of the Royal Institution of Australia (link to a recording of the talk here, thank you Ed Brown!). One of the topics he addressed was the importance of skeptical outreach via online media, noting that creation of online content is an accessible and cost-effective way in which to engage audiences. During his speech, he requested a quick show of hands to ask who in the audience had a blog – and on a whim, I quickly tweeted the suggestion of creating a blogroll for convention attendees.

Here is the beginning, a list of convention attendees who replied to my initial tweet. I would love to keep adding to this, so that we can keep in touch, keep up to date with one another’s writing and help share posts that we feel would be valuable to give more exposure to. If you would like to be added to the blogroll, please leave a comment here or get in touch via Twitter (@joalabaster) and I’ll put you on the list.

Brisbane SITP by Brisbane Skeptics in the Pub (@BrisbaneSitp)

Dan’s Journal of Skepticism by Dan Buzzard (@DanBuzzard)

Etwas Luft by Ketan Joshi (@KetanJ0)

Evidence, Please by Jo Alabaster (@joalabaster)

Luke Freeman’s posts on Young Australian Skeptics by Luke Freeman (@lukefreeman)

Medicandus on The Conversation by Mick Vagg (@mickvagg)

Peter Bowditch’s Blog and The Millenium Project by Peter Bowditch (@RatbagsDotCom)

rbutr Blog and Shane’s Soapbox by Shane Greenup (@Aegist)

Really, Ed Brown by Ed Brown (@reallyedbrown)

RiAus Blog by Paul Willis (@Fossilcrox)

Skeptimanda by Amanda Devaus (@AmandaDevaus)

Skeptimite by Phil Kent (@skeptimite)

The Logical Place by Tim Harding (@mordiskeptic)

The Lone Deranger by Linley (@Lone_Deranger_)

The Sceptic’s Book of Pooh Pooh by Rachael Dunlop (@DrRachie)

There should be a sign by Shelley Stocken (@shellity)

Victorian Skeptics by… the Victorian Skeptics

I’d also like to link to some wonderful online tools mentioned by Amanda Devaus (@AmandaDevaus) in her talk “Guerrilla Skepticism: No more preaching to the choir”.

Skeptools – Tim Farley (@krelnik)’s vast compendium of skeptical software tools.

rButr – a browser plugin that tells you when the webpage you are viewing has been disputed, rebutted or contradicted elsewhere on the internet, founded by @Aegist.

Web of Trust – a browser plugin with a rating system and link notifications which aims to offer protection against online threats that only real life experience can detect, such as scams, untrustworthy links, and rogue web stores.

Skeptic Action – Simple and useful online daily tasks for skeptics!

Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia – Improving the skeptical content of Wikipedia entries.

I’d also like to include here the Eventifier summary of #auskepcon, which includes Tweets, photos and links posted over the weekend.

Finally, I’d like to note my personal thanks to Canberra Skeptics for all of their hard work in organising and running the convention, the speakers for presenting some excellent information for us all to ruminate upon and to everybody that I spoke with who was friendly and welcoming (being everyone that I interacted with). This was my first Big Skeptic Event(tm) and socially awkward and introverted as I am, I felt comfortable and valued – which I feel is testament to the wonderful sorts of people who have helped create the culture of Australian skepticism.

Parenting and the False Dichotomy Between Nature and Technology

NB: The quote is actually from ‘Christiane Northrup MD’, more about her in ‘Further Reading’. The Facebook page I saw the above image on was not the one mentioned in the bottom left hand corner.

A couple of months ago, I happened upon this quote posted by a breastfeeding support and advocacy page on Facebook. As a new mother, I visited many such pages while I navigated my way through learning to breastfeed, alongside other pages and communities relating to various aspects of parenting infants.

The text in the above image demonstrates an ideology that I see expressed often in the realm of online parenting information; the simplistic appeal to nature and subsequent derision of technology.

I’ll quickly state that I do not dispute that breast milk is an ideal food for babies*. I’m not quite willing to call this part of the quote out as being a straw man argument, but it is very rare in my experience to see the claim made that formula is as good as breast milk. As such, I’m not quite sure who or what the quote is intended to be in response to. Perhaps this would be more evident if the quote was not taken out of context, but for the purposes of this article, I think it appropriate to leave it as the short excerpt that has been used to create this meme.

What I wish to focus on in this post is the notion suggested in the second part of the last sentence. On reading it, my immediate response is to declare that yes, sometimes relatively new human innovations are superior to the products of several million years of evolution.

The poliomyelitis virus is the product of three million years of evolution. Relative newcomers, the range of polio vaccines that have been developed over the past fifty years have fortunately proven to be superior to the poliomyelitis virus. As a result, we are now on the verge of eradicating polio.

Snakes are evolutionary success stories and populate every continent aside from Antarctica. The administration of antivenom, a medical technology, allows us a greater chance at surviving their bites.

Some of the high risk events associated with childbirth – uterine rupture, cord accidents and other complications with delivery, post partum haemorrhage – are natural. Modern obstetric medicine with its comparatively new technologies is able to intervene when required and save the lives of both infants and their mothers.

In some developing nations, a varied diet is unaffordable and people rely on easy to grow rice to make up the larger part of their sustenance. To help combat morbidity and mortality caused by nutrient deficiencies, the humanitarian Golden Rice Project have created a genetically modified variety of rice which accumulates bioavailable beta carotine in its grains. Golden Rice is still in the development phase, the eventual goal is to distribute seed to farmers free of royalties, which they will be able to grow as they do traditional rice varieties, saving and replanting seed.

I hope the above examples not only illustrate that those things which are considered to be natural are not always the safest or most beneficial for us, but in the case of the latter two, that the natural can work in conjunction with technology to offer optimal outcomes.

My concern with separating out that which is considered ‘natural’ and that which is considered to be a product or tool of technology is the risk that we turn our backs on the safest or most beneficial choices in order to maintain an idealisation of the natural that is not always reasonable. The appeal to nature argument is used to sell many products and ideas, from harmless natural baby toiletries and foods to dangerous concepts such as rejecting vaccination and using homeopathic treatments in lieu of seeking legitimate medical care.

Automatically equating ‘natural’ with ‘safe’ is a presumption we must be mindful of. Likewise, whether we consider a concept or product to be natural should hopefully be of less relevance than whether it is the safest and most effective option.

I would like to suggest an alternative means by which we can claim our power as women (or, indeed, as parents and human beings in general). We can equip ourselves with a greater range of useful tools in our lives if we assess individual concepts and products on their own merit, rather than pigeonholing them as natural or otherwise. If we reject the notion that nature and technology are diametrically opposing notions, we can embrace both and make use of all available resources to facilitate the best possible wellbeing for ourselves and our loved ones.

Further Reading:

Christiane Northrup, MD: Science Tainted with Strange Beliefs – by Harriet Hall MD on Science Based Medicine

An Open Letter to My Fellow “Natural Parents” – by Madonna Behen on Redbook

The Golden Rice Project

* I don’t think that I am able to make this post citing such a highly emotive example without making a short statement on my position on the breastfeeding/formula feeding issue. As somebody who wanted to breastfeed my kids, I have been fortunate and tenacious enough to have succeeded – my son self-weaned at seventeen months and my daughter is still at it at the time of posting. The accepted consensus is that breast is best; I’m down with that and happily support any woman who wishes to breastfeed their child. However, if a woman chooses to formula feed, it’s her business, just as choosing to breastfeed is mine. If a woman is unable to breastfeed and wished to, I acknowledge her efforts, am sorry that things didn’t work out as she’d wanted and hope that she is feeling okay.

It is possible to advocate breastfeeding without being critical of those who formula feed. I’ve seen some awful attempts to guilt-trip women who formula feed and I do not understand what these critics are trying to accomplish. There’s no shortage of pro-breastfeeding information out there, it is unlikely that a woman who is already formula feeding their baby needs educating about the advantages of breast milk, nor is it common for women to attempt to re-induce lactation. I would ask those who make negative statements about formula feeding to question how constructive they are being. Which is of more use, a shamed, ostracised or hostile mother or a mother who feels supported and not judged?

Additionally, I acknowledge that a baby’s nourishment can be almost all-encompassing during their first year of life, but within the context of an entire childhood, it is a relatively small factor compared with whether the child is loved, supported, able to develop and express their identity and safe.

The Dreaded Lurgi

No post of great substance this week, as I have been sidelined by a viral lurgi. I do have quite a few ideas floating about which I am looking forward to writing about when I’m able to think clearly again.

In the meantime, it seems appropriate to post a link to NPS Medicinewise’s campaign to fight antibiotic resistance. It’s an awareness campaign to promote the proper use of antibiotics and I feel that it’s worth a little linkspamming to get the message out to those who might not be familiar with what antibiotics are, do, don’t do and the potential consequences of their inappropriate or incorrect use.

Among OECD countries, Australia is well above the average prescription rate for antibiotics with twenty two million scripts written per year. NPS estimates that if at least 35000 Australians take the Resistance Fighter Pledge, we could get our antibiotic use back in line with other OECD countries. It’s a simple little meme that has the potential to do some good.

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1. I will not expect antibiotics for colds and flu as they have no effect on viruses.
2. I will take antibiotics as directed if I am prescribed them.
3. I will practice good hygiene to help stop the spread of germs.

This post brought to you by ‘Big Rest’, ‘Big Fluids’ and ‘Big Home Made Chicken Soup’. Written whilst under the influence of dihydrogen monoxide vapour.

Further reading:
NPS Medicinewise
Treating the Common Cold – Science-Based Medicine