Vaccine Skeptics…Are They Right?

I hope the anti-vaccination advocates soon realize that any victory they gain could lead to the next epidemic of an easily preventable disease…

I remember watching an episode (ep. 14) of the Korean historical drama Jejoongwon where an American missionary doctor and a team of newly trained Korean doctors develop a smallpox vaccine using The Lancet and Korean texts, 우두신설 (udusinseol, On Making Vaccines) [Author: Ji Seok-yeong, 1885] and 마과회통 (magwahoetong, Medical Treatment for the Measles) [Author: Jeong Yak-yong, 1800].

The key conflict of the episode were the anti-vaccination protests led by mudang, Korean shamans, who felt that the new doctors and their methods were unwanted competition and dangerous. I remember that when I was watching those scenes, I was grateful that contemporary society no longer believed superstition over science. I was 13 at that time…

I was quickly proven wrong when I came across a group of anti-vaccine protesters in front of the Atlanta CDC office on Clifton Road. As a biology-major student, I felt a strong urge to debate their claims that vaccines cause autism, but I chose safety over education and went on with my day. However, the experience compelled me to look into the vaccine case myself.

I was grateful that contemporary society no longer believed superstition over science. I was 13 at that time…

I was naive to think that challengers of established facts didn’t exist. In fact, anti-vaccination has long existed. Vaccine skeptics suggest that vaccination is profit-driven and compulsory vaccination laws infringe personal liberty and choice. Others mistrust the science and believe that vaccines are against nature and unnecessary since good hygiene is enough to prevent disease. Other suspicions are based on government conspiracy theories.

However, what really gave vaccine skeptics fuel was Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues’ research paper published in The Lancet in 1998. The paper linked the measles mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine with autism. Later studies refuted Wakefield’s claims and he was discovered to have a conflict of interest. In 2010, the British General Medical Council (GMC) found three dozen charges proved. The Lancet retracted his paper following the GMC’s findings. Three months later, Wakefield was removed from UK medical register and barred from practicing medicine in the UK. 

Accordingly the Panel finds Dr Wakefield guilty of serious professional misconduct.

– General Medical Council

Following the Wakefield debacle, scientific research has shown that vaccines do not correlate with autism. I will consent that vaccines are known to have side effects, but autism is not one of them. And when it comes to vaccines for deadly diseases, vaccination is worth the risk of side effects.

Yet, the anti-vaccination movement, buoyed by President Trump, remains strong in America. Members of the movement are calling for a new vaccine safety commission and the ban of the mercury-based preservative thimerosal (chemical structure here). (As a side note, I would like to remind readers that a compound containing an element does not have the same properties as the element.) Studies have not indicated a connection between thimerosal and autism, but thimerosal was phased out of child vaccines in 2001 regardless.

So, if thimerosal is no longer in child vaccines, then what is the anti-vaccination movement fighting for? In the end, they’re not fighting for vaccine safety, but rather searching for an easy explanation for their children’s autism. But disorders in the autistic spectrum are complex and can’t be explained away as vaccine injury, and certainly not as mercury poisoning, which shows different symptoms from autism.

And seeing that these people are so concerned for their children, they should take the time to look up these diseases: hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and polio. These diseases once plagued developed countries, and still kill thousands in undeveloped areas. If you grieve that your child has autism, then how much more will you grieve if your child contracts any of those deadly diseases without immunity from a vaccine?

I hope the anti-vaccination advocates soon realize that any victory they gain could lead to the next epidemic of an easily preventable disease. 

In response to Discover Challenge: Speak Out

As usual, if you wish to debate or otherwise discuss this topic, feel free to comment. Remember that comments are moderated, so be civil!

Global Warming: Science or Hoax?

This debate is getting old, but the Trump presidency policies have compelled me to write this post. Yes, the debate is corrupted by competing special interests, but let’s focus on the science because the question of global warming is a question of science.

Before I continue, I would like to note that 21st century society has venerated science as a superior source of knowledge. I will point out here and now that science is only one of many ways to obtain knowledge. Also, I have heard some of my colleagues praise science as an “objective” discipline, but science is largely based on empiricism, the philosophy that all knowledge is derived from sense-experience. Thus, science is limited by the threshold of human or instrumental observation and measurement.

Now that I have established the role of science, we must turn to the definition of global warming. Merriam-Webster defines global warming as

an increase in the earth’s atmospheric and oceanic temperatures widely predicted to occur due to an increase in the greenhouse effect resulting especially from pollution

Using this definition, let’s pick apart global warming.

An Increase in Earth’s Temperatures

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), ice core data from Antarctica indicates that large-scale climate changes form an example of Earth’s natural variability. Figure 3b in the article, [Petit, J.R., et al. 1999. Climate and atmospheric history of the past 420,000 years from the Vostok ice core, Antarctica. Nature 399: 429-436], indicates the temperature fluctuations (from -8°C to 4°C) in Antarctica for the last 420,000 years before 1999.

So, is the observed 1.5°F (~0.8°C) global temperature increase since 1880 (Source: EPA) caused by just natural fluctuations? Honestly, without the specific data points, it’s hard to tell. Based on the data from the Petit, et al. paper, the Earth should be entering a cooling phase based on previous cycles, and it clearly isn’t. Moreover, a 0.8°C increase in 137 years is a fast rate compared to “historical” rates. I place quotation marks because ice core data, reliable as it may be, isn’t historical data.

An Increase in the Greenhouse Effect

Like large-scale climate changes, the greenhouse effect is also a natural phenomenon. The greenhouse effect is when greenhouse gases (e.g. water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, chlorofluorocarbons, etc.) absorbs infrared radiation (aka heat) radiated from the Earth’s surface and emits it back into the atmosphere.

Although the greenhouse effect is natural, the industrial revolution (which started in roughly 1750) exponentially increased greenhouse gas levels through emissions. Moreover, ice core data indicates that the highest historical carbon dioxide level is around 300 ppm. The CO2 level exceeded 300 ppm after 1950. Human impact is likely responsible for this sudden increase in carbon dioxide levels.

Pollution

Some greenhouse gases are products of natural processes: water vapor from the water cycle, carbon dioxide from respiration, methane from methanogenesis, and nitrous oxide from nitrification and denitrification.

CO2, CH4, and N2O are also emitted through industrial processes. Tropospheric ozone (O3) is another industrial pollutant. While ozone is natural in the stratosphere, where the ozone layer can block UV rays from Earth’s troposphere, tropospheric ozone is unnatural and a dangerous pollutant. Another prominent green house gas, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were widely used refrigerants, propellants, and solvents until they were phased out in the 1990’s.

Conclusions

So, here’s what we have so far: temperature fluctuations are normal, but the observed recent temperature increase is irregular; the greenhouse effect is natural, but there is a much higher level of greenhouse gases than ever before; new sources of greenhouse gases are from human industry. Based on this data, the logical conclusion is that global warming is real, as in the average global temperature is increasing due to the increase of the greenhouse effect caused by pollution.

But what does this all mean? Obviously global warming means melting ice caps in both poles, which changes water levels, which changes maritime activity and salinity, the former of which impacts the climate/weather and the latter impacts sea life. However, that doesn’t mean that global warming is going to lead to a doomsday catastrophe. In the end, global warming is going to help some species and societies and harm other species and societies. So, yes, letting global warming continue at its current rate could put New York City under water by 2100. But hey another U.S. city can take its place, right?

We must not underestimate the impact of human activity on the environment. Although we are animals, we have the gift of invention and industry. When we start messing with nature without considering the eventual consequences, the grander machine of nature will overpower any machine of our making. 

Also, as usual, if you wish to debate this post, feel free to write a comment! Just remember that comments are moderated by me, so keep it civil.

Woman’s Choice or Baby’s Life?

I know this is a touchy subject. A subject that even got Tomi Lahren suspended and soon after fired from The Blaze. Note: We’re sticking to abortion as an issue in the United States, and I will not discuss women aborting their fetuses due to the fetus’s birth defects or gender.

Let me start off by stating that I am a woman, but I have not experienced an unexpected pregnancy. OK, now take a deep breath…long story short, I am pro-life. I believe that life begins at the sperm’s fertilization of the egg. Therefore, I’m against abortion, embryonic stem cell research, IVF (on the fence since I know someone who has been through the IVF process), certain morning-after pills, etc. In general, I follow the guidelines listed here.

Note: just because I referred to the Village Church website, does not mean I endorse every belief the church or the pastor holds. So please, no comments arguing against the Village Church.

Of course my idea could be scientifically, and, possibly, even Biblically problematic. After some research, I found the following Congressional record: “Report, Subcommittee on Separation of Powers to Senate Judiciary Committee S-158, 97th Congress, 1st Session 1981”. S-158 (of the 97th Congress) was a bill titled: “A bill to provide that human life shall be deemed to exist from conception”. It was killed in the Senate, but what was interesting was the scientific testimony supporting the bill: several scientists stated their judgement that life did begin at fertilization. Specifics can be found here.

However, that was the scientific community of the 1980’s. The most recent scientific testimony I could get was in Web Topic 1.1 on the companion site for the textbook Developmental Biology, Eleventh Edition by Scott Gilbert, published in May 2016. According to this recent writing, scientists debate, if at all, whether human life begins at fertilization, gastrulation (when cells are “told” what to become), EEG activity (when brain activity can be measured), or birth. The writing tries to remain unbiased, but it leans left, as seen in the final thoughts:

By equating a fertilized egg with an adult human, one not only makes the zygote like the person; it makes the person like the zygote. As less than half of normal human conceptions make it to term, most zygotes don’t become babies. Zygotes can be cheap, and human life never should be.

However, some scientists hold that the question of when human life starts in development is unscientific, and they’re right because there’s currently no experimental procedure to answer that question. “Life” isn’t measurable (and hence not empirical), it’s philosophical. It all boils down to how you, as an individual, view the world and its events.

Science falls short in the abortion debate.

So, how do I, as an individual, view the world and its events. The best way to describe it is a fusion of the Judeo-Christian and Confucian worldview. Of course, as some of you would know, Confucius is out of the equation here because he was not the type to state specific opinions about topics. If you ever have the chance to read the Analects, you’d understand what I mean here. I will mention that Koreans traditionally include conception to birth as a year of life, so when a baby is born, the baby is already 1-year-old.

But most of my reasoning is based on my Judeo-Christian beliefs. Now, I will not answer any arguments against Christianity in this particular blog post. This is NOT what this is about because there are Christians who are pro-choice and believe that Christ died for them and rose again in three days. Let’s stick to the issue of abortion here. The only real way to convince me that pro-choice is supported by the Christian God, is to cite a Bible verse. And, it will be easy because I believe that every word of the Bible is true. I promise I won’t cop out if you successfully do this. Also, if you’re not a Christian and pro-choice and you wish to debate, I will debate with you based on your beliefs, not mine.

I already know of one now after reading the Web Topic 1.1: Exodus 21:22. John Piper, a respected theologian and pastor, refutes that claim on his site here. Of course, the site implies mistakes in Biblical translation, but let’s save that for another day.

Of course there’s countless Biblical passages that support pro-life: Psalm 139:13-16, Jeremiah 1:4-5, and Luke 1:41-44, to name a few.

But hold onto your seat-belts, pro-choicers, before you accuse me of being anti-feminist or small-minded. I am pro-life because I am a feminist; I am pro-life because I wish abortion did not even have to exist.

So do I believe that the government should legislate anti-abortion laws? To be honest, no, because I believe that abortion is a symptom of a bigger issue. Not to mention that governments are oftentimes ineffective, and there may be times when abortion is needed (let’s say if a girl is too young to give birth or if a woman is a rape victim or if a woman needs treatment that may kill her baby) and the law might not account for that. This is a fallen world, and sometimes the least worst thing has to be done.

There may be times when abortion is needed, and the law might not account for that.

So, what is the real problem? Inadequate sex education, for one. Although I’m a Christian and a proponent of abstinence, abstinence isn’t the only choice a young person can make. If you’re not a Christian, or not following religion that teaches abstinence before marriage, then you should be able to learn about contraception methods. In fact, even Christians and followers of other religions should know about contraceptives in order to better family planning. Just because you’re married and sleeping together doesn’t mean you want kids right away.

A second (and bigger) problem is lack of support (from government, organizations, clinics, churches, etc.) for pregnant women most likely to get an abortion. What is the primary reason for getting an abortion? Because the women don’t believe they can provide for their children. Maybe they’re too ill, and labor may endanger both the mother and the child. In other cases, giving the children up for adoption is a possibility, but how trustworthy is that system? Not to mention, why are men not taking responsibility for the children they father? Why are parents throwing out their pregnant teenage daughters?

So, yes, pro-choicers are right. Oftentimes, a woman’s only real option is abortion. I don’t support the Republican politicians’ method of handling this issue. It’s not about women or the babies for them, it’s about enforcing male entitlement. Just think about that photo with President Trump, surrounded by white men, signing the executive order pulling U.S. funding from organizations abroad that mention “abortion”. Where were the women? It’s not like female pro-lifers don’t exist.

It’s not about women or the babies for them [Republican politicians], it’s about enforcing male entitlement.

So, this is my view on abortion in one post. I apologize if this was long, but complex issues require long posts.

Feel free to engage in discourse and comment below. Remember, comments are moderated by me, so stay civil to each other and to myself.