Simple Science

Hi there! Welcome to Simple Science!

:About the blog:

This blog is dedicated to explaining why things are the way they are. At it's core, this is science - however, "science" is more often than not a complicated, hard-to-follow language, spoken by a select few.

I aim to change that. I hope that I can answer any of your questions in such a way as to make everyone understand it.

:Questions and Submission Policy:

Ask away! Submit away! I plan on always allowing anonymous questions, regardless of any abuses. This is to protect the privacy of those who are uncomfortable asking certain questions, as well as allowing those who would wish to correct my errors a sense of protection (from what, I can't imagine).

If (When) you catch an error in something I've said, or if you simply would like clarification - feel free to send me an ask! Replies may work too, however they will likely be more difficult to follow (for me).

:About the Author:

I'm Evan - I graduated from a Liberal Arts College in Central Texas with a Bachelors of Arts in Biology (and nearly minored in Physics and Chemistry), and now attend the University of Washington. I've always loved science, and the rational and logical way it can explain our world. For me, knowledge of the world (and universe) we live in provides a profound sense of perspective, while simultaneously amplifying the beauty present in everyday life.

:Policy on Religion and such:

There is no policy - no topic is out-of-bounds. Especially religion, philosophy, or even things like English.

Seriously.

Ask away.

Anonymous asked: Do our childhood vaccines cause Autism? What are the risks of not receiving these vaccines?

Ah yes, always a pleasure to answer these controversial questions.

Short Answer: 

Except it’s not really controversial in the scientific community, where people rely on facts instead of playing off of people’s fears. More on that in a bit. No, there is ZERO evidence that our childhood vaccines cause Autism. There have been a ton of VERY thorough studies on this subject, and none of them have found any link between childhood vaccines and Autism. As for risks of not receiving vaccines – the child who doesn’t receive the vaccine will obviously be at risk for contracting whatever disease the vaccine protects against. This isn’t necessarily the end of the world – many of the diseases that vaccines prevent are more annoying than deadly (to most children). But vaccines are only effective due to a phenomenon known as herd immunity. If enough people refuse vaccination, the effectiveness of the vaccine for the entire population suffers, and we may even see stronger versions of the diseases start appearing.

Long Answer: 

Before I begin answering this question, I’d like to start with a brief rant about one Andrew Wakefield. Perhaps you noticed the start of my rant earlier, with my comment: “it’s not really controversial in the scientific community, where people rely on facts instead of playing off of people’s fears”. This is precisely what Andrew Wakefield did.

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Wakefield

In 1998, Dr. Andrew Wakefield (and a few other researchers) presented research that linked the MMR Vaccine (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) to Autism. Following this startling revelation, MMR vaccination rates in England plummeted, as shown here:

 

Great, right?

NO.

The problem was that the research was completely, for lack of a better word, WRONG. There were, in fact, so many errors and faults in the research that some scientists called it the “worst paper ever to be published” in the Lancet – the esteemed British Medical Journal where this research was published.

But we don’t even need to get into the countless scientific errors that were made. Instead, there is much more damning evidence of foul play: Andrew Wakefield had patented an MMR Vaccine Replacement, and stood to make a TON of money off of his new vaccine. SPECIFICALLY IF EVERYONE WAS SCARED OF THE OLD VACCINE.

Yes, Andrew Wakefield released research that drastically lowered the MMR vaccination rate, putting countless children in danger, and possibly disrupting herd immunity, just so he could make some money. He didn’t use facts – he used fear. It doesn’t matter that his research has since been found to be COMPLETELY BASELESS; anti-vaccine people use his name and incorrect research as a rallying point.

Also, not only did Andrew Wakefield attempt to use fear-mongering to gain money, he has since blatantly lied about it. He claims that his patent was never for any “vaccine replacement”, when his patent itself (easily available online) uses those exact words countless times.

So for a brief recap: One of the primary rallying points of the anti-vaccine movement is a lying, unethical scum bag. He has succeeded in only distracting from true research into Autism, wasting people’s money and time for his own personal gain, and causing pain felt by Autism-sufferers and future Autism-sufferers to continue. Those who claim themselves scientists and parade fiction as fact are some of the most terrifying individuals, and capable of the largest amount of destruction. We should all be afraid of seeing something similar happen again.

If you would like more links on this subject, I implore you to search “Andrew Wakefield”, “MMR Vaccine”, “Vaccines and Autism”, or anything similar.

If you find a link giving “evidence for the links between vaccines and Autism”, please read it! Undoubtedly you will find that none of their “evidence” has any links or citations to actual scientific papers, and many of their “experts” are not scientists.

Here are a few links I have found:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-01-13/mmr-vaccine-scare-andrew-wakefields-fraudulent-study/

http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/2010/01/wakefiel-vaccine-alternatives/

http://briandeer.com/mmr-lancet.htm

http://briandeer.com/wakefield/vaccine-patent.htm (The patent)

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

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Autism and Vaccines

Normally, this would be where I would talk in detail about both Autism and vaccines, eventually breaking down each explanation into smaller and smaller parts until I could make it clear how “vaccines” and “causing Autism” simply do not go together. Unfortunately, Autism is only barely understood (in part due to the actions of anti-vaccine people distracting us from more useful research). There is no ability (yet) to understand Autism as a system, meaning I cannot show you how it’s impossible for vaccines to cause Autism: We don’t know what causes Autism, nor many of the specific detailed events that cause the symptoms of Autism.

If you would like a more detailed explanation of Autism, feel free to send me a question about it! One unlinked to vaccines – enough research has already been wasted in this field, and vaccines should no longer be tied to Autism.

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Vaccines

Vaccines are simply small amounts of a certain disease. Normally, these small amounts are so small that you won’t get sick. Side note: it takes a certain amount of disease to actually make you sick – the amount varies based on the disease however. However, there is enough of the disease for your body to recognize and react to it. This is important – by recognizing and reacting to this disease just once, your immune system will remember it for a long time. Once your body “knows” this disease, the next time you’re exposed to it in larger quantities, your body can begin fighting it off before the disease has a chance to build up enough to make you sick!

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How we know Autism and Vaccines aren’t linked

The primary way we know that there’s no link between Autism and vaccines is because there’s no research showing it! Indeed, every research effort that has shown a link has been full of incredibly large errors. Some researches manipulate the statistics (and then try to hide it). Fortunately, this is easily solved by giving the raw data to the general scientific community, and letting them take a crack at it – the manipulated statistics never stand.

Another way we know that there’s no link is thanks to an incredibly thorough study from Denmark. Researchers studied over a half million children (the health records of every child born from 1991 to 1998 in Denmark). They looked at children who had been given the MMR vaccine and children who had not been given the MMR vaccine, to see if one group got Autism more often than the other group. They didn’t. There was no difference in the rates of Autism between vaccinated and non-vaccinated children.

There have been countless other studies too, although this is most large-scoped. Recent evidence has begun pointing to the fact that Autism may begin before birth, even – long before any vaccines can be delivered.

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Other Older Arguments

One of the older “vaccines cause Autism” arguments that you may hear centers around Mercury (the chemical) and a chemical called Thimerosal. Thimerosal is just a preservative found in vaccines, meant to keep bacteria from growing (and us from actually getting sick when receiving the vaccine). However, Thimerosal contains a form of mercury (specifically ethylmercury), and people worried that it may be causing problems. This was actually a valid worry for a while – methylmercury was found to cause developmental defects. Side note: This is why pregnant women are advised to not eat fish. The methylmercury accumulates in the fish, and then the pregnant woman, and then finally the fetus. The methylmercury accumulation causes developmental defects (such as brain damage) in the unborn child.

However, all of this worry went out the window when we found out that ethylmercury (in the Thimerosal) doesn’t accumulate. It can’t cause problems, because it can’t build up in any bodies.

Even so, every vaccine available in the United States is REQUIRED to have zero to trace amounts of Thimerosal, except for the flu vaccine (and you can still find thimerosal-free versions of that).Thank Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and people who love jumping on conspiracy-theory bandwagons for that waste of money, time, and research.

Interestingly, Denmark removed all Thimerosal from its vaccines way back in 1992, and Autism rates have continued to climb. It turns out science was right – don’t worry about the Thimerosal.

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Herd Immunity

The worst part of the anti-vaccine movement is that many people who support “not giving their kids vaccines” believe that they’re only risking their own health.

This is completely false – by refusing to vaccinate, you are putting the entire population at risk.

Vaccinations center around an idea known as herd immunity – the phenomenon where diseases can be completely removed from a population even if everyone isn’t immune (or vaccinated). Some people simply cannot be vaccinated (people who have immune disorders, or receive transplant organs for example) – these people rely on herd immunity to continue living.

Furthermore, some vaccines aren’t 100% effective. For instance, the whooping-cough vaccine is only 81% effective at preventing even vaccinated individuals from acquiring a VERY severe cough. However, thanks to herd immunity, it doesn’t matter! Because of Herd Immunity, there aren’t enough people acquiring the whooping-cough disease for the disease to spread, so that 81% immunity is bumped up to roughly 99% immunity. The point being, you must acquire this disease from an infected individual, and if there is no one around you to acquire the disease from (due to Herd Immunization), it doesn’t matter that you’re only 81% immune. You could be 0% immune and still be fine, because there’s no one to catch the disease from!

Or at least, that’s what should happen. Due to anti-vaccine people, Herd Immunity is suffering badly. Due to heroic immunization efforts, there were only 1010 cases of whooping cough in the US in 1976. In 2007, there were over 10,000 new cases of whooping cough.

I should know – I was one of them.

That’s right, I caught a disease I was vaccinated against because Herd Immunity in my community had suffered. And not only me – FIVE OTHER PEOPLE AT MY SCHOOL caught this disease. The doctors didn’t even diagnose it correctly for over a half a year because they assumed that everyone was still protected due to herd immunity.

When a High-School student catches whooping-cough, it’s enough to take them out of school for a month. When a small child catches whooping-cough, it’s enough to kill.

And that is the danger of not receiving these vaccines.

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