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Big Skeptical Wins: Andrew Wakefield “Fraud” and Power Balance Bull

January 6, 2011 Leave a comment

The blogosphere is teeming with articles regarding a couple of recent wins for skepticism. I’ll save the best for last.

The Power Balance Wristband

The first such win is the admission by the makers of Power Balance, a bracelet designed to increase sport performance. How you ask? The website states that

Power Balance is based on the idea of optimizing the body’s natural energy flow, similar to concepts behind many Eastern philosophies. The hologram in Power Balance is designed to resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body.

Sound like bullplop? Well it is bullplop.

Making these kinds of statements was a violation of Australian trade practices. Why? The press release to Australian media by Power Balance says it all:

In our advertising we stated that Power Balance wristbands improved your strength, balance and flexibility.

We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims and therefore we engaged in misleading conduct in breach of s52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974.

If you feel you have been misled by our promotions, we wish to unreservedly apologise and offer a full refund.

Big time win for the skeptical movement, since they were instrumental in bringing about this admission from Power Balance.

So that’s great. But this one is awesome!

Andrew Wakefield

Our dear friend Doctor Andrew Wakefield, whose study linking vaccines to autism (retracted study, btw) sparked an anti-vaccine movement and a huge public health risk, is in the news again. If you have read my blog before, you know that I am not his biggest fan.

Although he has had his medical license stripped and paper retracted by the Lancet, the anti-vaccine movement persisted, painting Wakefield as some kind of martyr; hung out to dry by Big Pharma for trying to tell the “truth” about vaccines.

Well yet another blow has been struck against this movement, and its a doozy.

Journalist Brian Deer has written a feature in the British medical Journal BMJ accusing Wakefield of falsifying his data by altering the medical histories of all the subjects in his study.

After seeing the data, the father of one of the children in the study said

His misrepresentation of my son in his research paper is inexcusable. His motives for this I may never know.

The piece is well written and documents Deer’s investigations into Wakefield’s research. I encourage you to read the whole text, but here are the key points:

  • Three of nine children reported with regressive autism did not have autism diagnosed at all. Only one child clearly had regressive autism

  • Despite the paper claiming that all 12 children were “previously normal,” five had documented pre-existing developmental concerns

  • Some children were reported to have experienced first behavioural symptoms within days of MMR, but the records documented these as starting some months after vaccination

  • In nine cases, unremarkable colonic histopathology results—noting no or minimal fluctuations in inflammatory cell populations—were changed after a medical school “research review” to “non-specific colitis”

  • The parents of eight children were reported as blaming MMR, but 11 families made this allegation at the hospital. The exclusion of three allegations—all giving times to onset of problems in months—helped to create the appearance of a 14 day temporal link

  • Patients were recruited through anti-MMR campaigners, and the study was commissioned and funded for planned litigation

     

So basically, he lied. He’s a dirty rotten liar-liar-pants-on-fire.

But what was his motivation? From the CNN news article:

Deer said Wakefield “chiseled” the data before him, “falsifying medical histories of children and essentially concocting a picture, which was the picture he was contracted to find by lawyers hoping to sue vaccine manufacturers and to create a vaccine scare.”

According to BMJ, Wakefield received more than 435,000 pounds ($674,000) from the lawyers.

Wakefield continues to defend himself by playing the fall-guy to Big Pharma:

Wakefield dismissed Brian Deer, the writer of the British Medical Journal articles, as “a hit man who has been brought in to take me down” by pharmaceutical interests.

The evidence against Wakefield was already overwhelming. But this story has hit the news media hard. It is a huge blow to the anti-vaxxers. Why do I think this? Well what did the anti-vaccine movement’s and Andrew Wakefield’s most prolific and outspoken public relations person, Jenny McCarthy, say about this story?

Actress Jenny McCarthy, founder of Generation Rescue and whose son also has autism, declined to comment on Wednesday’s developments

Your friends are abandoning you Andrew Wakefield. The truth is finally starting to become clear to everyone. You have duped a generation of mothers into thinking that vaccines cause autism, and children have died because of it.

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