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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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femvax posttoFAV

End of Year Detox – Free Gift Included!

With the end of the year upon us, many of us are feeling the effects of celebratory excesses. The traditional over-indulgence in alcohol and rich foods which can accompany the festive season can leave one feeling somewhat under the weather, particularly when combined with rushing about preparing for parties, attending gatherings of family and friends, and shopping. Tired and flat, the appeal of a New Year’s resolution to improve our health and fitness is understandably rather alluring to many. Gather round ye, ’tis the season for detox!

With the myriad advertisements for detox kits, cleansing diets, “superfood” secrets and liver supporting supplements appearing in health food store windows, on social media and on television, the detox industry is big business. Unfortunately, it’s a business that is built on a falsehood… our bodies are quite capable of “detoxing” themselves.

Unless an individual is suffering liver, kidney or lymphatic system malfunction, or has overdosed on a poisonous substance (both of which should be investigated and treated by a medical professional), our bodies are perfectly capable of filtering and removing waste products from our own systems. The best things that we can do to support these systems (and feel well in the process) are to eat a healthy and balanced diet, remain hydrated, be active and get sufficient sleep. No detox product can either take the place of basic self care, nor improve the body’s ability to look after itself.

So while the detox industry tries to sell you products or secrets this season, I would like to give you something for free. Admittedly, it’s just a somewhat daggy graphic to share – but my hope is that perhaps it may cause someone out there to think twice before investing their money and faith in detox products that are completely unnecessary.

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This was adapted from a tweet I sent to Dr Karl a last week, in response to somebody asking him about detoxing. It amassed a fair few retweets, so I figured that it was a message that people wanted to communicate – I know that I certainly do. And yes, his “billions” amendment is correct!

In this graphic, I also wanted to stress that should somebody have concerns about their health or lifestyle, I would urge them to speak with a qualified health professional. Regarding dietary issues, a dietitian is the most appropriate health professional to provide evidence-based assessment and advice – qualifications in dietetics are much more tightly regulated than those of nutritionists. Here’s a clear summary of the difference between dietitians and nutritionists via the Dietitians Association of Australia.

For more in-depth information on detoxification, visit Sense About Science – Debunking Detox, Science-Based Pharmacy – The Detox Delusion and Science-Based Medicine – The Science of Purging or the Purging of Science?

On a personal note, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all the best, whatever you celebrate (or don’t) at this time of the year.

The last couple of months have been busy but fulfilling ones for me; the rush of finishing my studies and sitting exams was punctuated by my first skeptics convention unfortunately said punctuation was a pair of brackets rather than a full stop – getting home and back to exam revision was a challenge. I’ve also celebrated the festive season with two curious preschoolers, my four year old son and two year old daughter both simultaneously hitting the “Why?” phase, which I admit I’m reveling in. A nerd parent moment was had last week when my son finally asked me why the ocean was blue – I adore asking the kids about their hypotheses and looking up information with them.

As an aspiring science communicator and advocate, several months ago I set myself a challenge to overcome my shyness and discomfort with verbal communication, be it recorded or with a live audience. Quite unexpectedly, at the Australian Skeptics National Convention, interviewer extraordinaire for The Skeptic Zone PodcastMaynard confronted me with a microphone and an array of questions – if you’re curious to hear my babbling, I make brief appearances on The Skeptic Zone #270 and #271. I don’t feel that it went too badly and have resolved to follow through with some podcast related plans for 2014. I also plan to continue working my way through my science degree – I have especially enjoyed my biology units over the past year and am looking forward to introductory epidemiology and infectious disease units when I hit the books again in late February.

During my break from uni, I hope to get a few posts written here – I have a couple of topics simmering away in the back of my mind. Comments and feedback on this blog are always welcome and if you’re so inclined, you can find me on Twitter at @joalabaster.

Thank you for being with me this year, here’s to a fascinating 2014!

Defending the Lion; The Vulnerability of Truth

“The truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself.”

The above quote, attributed to St Augustine, has been doing the rounds as an inspirational meme for some time. Occasionally it will pop up on one of my social media streams, posted by somebody who I assume has faith that fact will prevail in the face of falsehood. And of course, I certainly hope that it will – but I disagree strongly with St Augustine’s sentiment. Based on my observations, I believe that the lion of this metaphor is vulnerable and that we do need to fight to defend it.

Ethical truths, which are highly subjective (and as such, it is highly debatable whether they are indeed truths at all), do not defend themselves – if they did, surely I would not be repulsed by honour killings, as those who commit them are behaving in a manner according to the ethical truth with which I find indefensible, that bringing dishonour to one’s family is a greater crime than murdering them. We would not have an anti-abortion/pro-choice debate, nor a euthanasia debate, nor disagreements regarding the death penalty. If ethical truths could defend themselves, should they not convince us all of their merit?

Likewise, logical truths are not agreed upon by all – be it through a lack of exploration or exposure to concepts, alternate well-argued conclusions or cognitive dissonance.

The clearest of all truths though, factual truths backed by solid evidence, are still vulnerable to falsehoods – some of which when taken as truth present real risks to our society.

The truth that vaccination is the safest and most effective means by which we can protect ourselves from vaccine preventable diseases (and that these diseases are a real threat to human health and life) is continually under attack from anti-vaccination advocates – and to some in our community, the anti-vaxxers can be persuasive, resulting in both danger to individuals’ health and lowered herd immunity in our communities. As such, I find it imperative that vaccination advocates defend the truth; and I am honoured to know many people who spend a lot of their time and energy doing just that.

Likewise, fluoridation of our water supply is a safe way to ensure that our population’s dental health is maintained, but anti-fluoridation activists believe differently. Not only are these activists able to convince individuals with their rhetoric, they can also influence policy to the extent that entire regions remove fluoride from their water supply as a result of their campaigning. In this case, to maintain evidence-based public health policy, we must defend the truth.

The truths that fringe conspiracy theorists deny – that the moon landing occurred, that chemtrails are merely contrails, that the reptilians or Illuminati are unlikely to be controlling the world behind the scenes – arguably cause far less harm to communities and relatively little to the individuals who believe them (this moon landing hoaxer aside), but they do serve as examples of situations in which the truth is not defending itself. I’m inclined to spend less time defending these truths, though I do tend to take issue with the conspiracy theorists’ undermining of rational evidence-based thinking.

lion of truth

It is probable that St Augustine was referring to the biblical truth in which he believed – that the truth of his god would prevail without his defense. Clearly at this point in human history it has not, given the wide array of beliefs and lack thereof held by the people of this planet. His biblical truth is not defending itself.

We humans are capable of manipulating our world, both with concepts and with actions. Both metaphorically and in reality, we have rendered the lion vulnerable; and it relies our protection if it is to prevail. The benefits of defending the lion and whether we have a moral imperative to do so are truths to be explored.

Ethically, logically and factually, St Augustine’s truth, that truth can defend itself, does not hold true for me.

Mummy Instinct

Well. I have been incredibly busy catching up with uni work after taking a break over the holiday season and have not been able to find the time to write a blog post for a couple of weeks now. As I don’t like to go for too long without putting something up here, have this:

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I feel very fortunate that my “mummy instinct” is to understand the importance of evidence and reason when making decisions regarding my children’s health and wellbeing.

Please feel free to share this image if you find it entertaining or pertinent to a discussion that you’re having.

Image created using Success Kid template on quickmeme.com.

 

Further Reading:

Parenting and the False Dichotomy Between Nature and Technology

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