The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.
I’m starting with a quote I have used many times on the blog. It says something about most of us, and I think it is relevant for this particular post.
If you read sensationalist news from the world of science you are sooner or later going to come across the term debunking. Some debunkers appear to genuinely be interested in getting the truth out, but there are also some, especially among amateur debunkers, who do it by making the oponent look ridiculous. This is sometimes more important than addressing the issues.
The British physician and researcher Ben Goldacre is one of the better debunkers. He is interested in facts, like a scientist is suppoed to be, and doesn’t just use empty rhetoric. I have embedded his TED-presentation at the end of this post and in it he talks about so-called “publication bias.”That’s a term for an unwillingness to publish something. It’s not always negative. An editor don’t want to publish lies of course, but Goldacre is talking about the negative definition. Then it means an unwillingness to publish the truth, if it will reflect badly on yourself or as in this case, you’ll lose an opportunity to profit.
He mentions Reboxetine as an example, a type of antidepressant he prescribed to a patient. He likes to do a thorough job, so he read the studies that were available on this drug before deciding to recommend it. One study showed that this medication was better than placebo, and three other studies showed that it was as good as placebo. He decided to try Reboxetine on his patient, but found out later that he had been tricked. It turned out that 7 studies had been conducted where they compared Reboxetine with a placebo/sugar pill. As many as 6 of them produced a negative result, and they were not published.
I’m not going to quote the whole talk, but encourage you to listen to it. Goldacre also talked about “negative fixes” and “fake fixes”, the fact that nobody cares about following a decision to keep the industry honest. They (I assume he means the authorities) established a registry where researchers had to tell them what they were doing before they started a study, but no one cared about using this registry. Then the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors said that they were not going to publish any studies unless these had been registered before they started. Still nothing happened.
He concluded his presentation by talking about the FDA Amendment Act (think it’s an American law). This law states that all studies that have been completed after 2008 must be made public, but many of the drugs we use today were developed long before that time. Therefore, it is only a partial solution.
The pharmaceutical industry is big, very big, and unfortunately finding scandals is easy. The newspaper The Guardian for example wrote about GlaxoSmithKline in 2012 after this British company had to pay $ 3 billion in fines. They had sold antidepressants to children in the United States that had not been approved for children, and they had also hidden negative results from US authorities. Analysts described this as a drop in the ocean compared with the profits they had made. The same article also states that the pharmaceutical industry had been fined with $ 20 billion over the last two decades. That is what the government knows about, and no matter how large the fines are, they are probably never going to be high enough to hurt. The industry is likely to make much bigger profit from this dishonesty.
The Guardian also wrote about a scandal in which the manager in the same company, GlaxoSmithKline, was sentenced to imprisonment and the company received a fine of £ 300 million for corruption in China. I think that proves my point. Big corporations don’t really worry too much about ethics.
One of my facebook friends shared a blog post by a Norwegian “vaccine debugger” recently. Gunnar Tjomlid is one of those that has taken on the job of defending the pharmaceutical industry. I’m not going to get entangled in that argument, but I do believe there is a significant basis for doubt. Those who support the vaccine program have undoubtedly a point when they say that vaccination is one of the most successful measures in modern school medicine. However, when we look at how the pharmaceutical industry is run, there is also cause for concern, and it might be just as irresponsible to recommend something when you don’t know what they put in it, or what the consequences will be.
I can see good arguments on both sides. I agree that vaccines have been very positive in the sense that most people in industrialized countries have gotten much safer and better lives, but we are also asked to entrust our children to an industry that is willing to do anything for profit. I don’t doubt that the government wants to force the industry to be more responsible, but the question is whether they are trying hard enough. The pharmaceutical industry in the United States, for instance. won’t allow African countries to buy generic AIDS-medicine, but they force Africa to buy the expensive original brands. In some countries that means they can’t buy it. This is the trailer from the documentary “Fire in the Blood“:
It was possibly something similar we saw in the ebola outbreak last year. When aid workers from the United States and Europe got sick, there was suddenly a medicine available. It wasn’t ready for the market, and still experimental, but this medicine was still used to prevent the spread of ebola among ourselves.
Regarding skepticism to vaccines I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we are basically asked to trust wealthy shareholders and let health care workers inject something into us that they can’t vouch for themselves. If something goes wrong the parents are not likely to get any help or understanding.
Another thing is that vaccines contain other things that are not good for you. There used to be mercury in vaccines. I believe it is being used to a lesser extent today, but I think there’s still aluminum in some vaccines. I wrote about this in The Tipping Point last year. Officials in Norway say that aluminum is harmless, and many even reject the claim that it’s a heavy metal, although that’s not very obvious to me. The Norwegian FDA warns against the use of deodorant containing aluminum (most of them do), because you could get many times the amount they think is safe into your body. Vaccines may not contain dangerously large amounts of heavy metals, but combined with all the other sources of aluminum and mercury, we could reach a limit.
Besides, we don’t know what goes into medicines and vaccines. When doctors don’t know, how could we feel more confident? There is a reason we hear about more serious reactions to medications and vaccines. I think most doctors will tell you that there is a risk with any therapy, and when we in Norway start with vaccines allready from the child is six weeks old, I’m not sure the risk is worth it. The first vaccine is against stomach flu, a disease that may be fatal in some developing countries, but hardly here.
I have written about vaccines in We are vaccinating ourselves sick as well. Some people call me irresponsible, but I’m not sure it’s any better to experiment with our children.