Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Scary Journalism

I did see the title on the main page of the Toronto Star, and thought it probably had some questionable content following it, but I'm surprised to see VOX commenting on it:
On Thursday, the Toronto Star, one of the largest newspapers in North America and the most-read in Canada, published a story that is everything wrong with vaccine reporting in one dangerous package.
I've written before on data and story. The VOX article that opens with the quoted sentence, How the Toronto Star massively botched a story about the HPV vaccine, communicates when annectote can be useful, and when it needs to be substantiated:
When anecdotes are all we have, they can be extremely powerful. Early stories about patients from doctors, for example, led to the tragic discovery that mothers who were takingthalidomide for morning sickness were having babies with missing limbs. These reports surfaced long before a randomized trial could be done — and spared thousands of babies.
But what was crucial about the reporting on those thalidomide side effects was that health researchers and doctors didn't have piles of contradictory studies involving millions of people showing the drug was safe. There, the stories were an early warning that were quickly confirmed by better evidence. The Star's story, however, is just the opposite.
VOX tells us "San Francisco ob-gyn Dr. Jen Gunter did a good job debunking the Star on her blog", and lo-and-behold, Canadaland has a guest post by Dr. Jen Gunter, The Toronto Star's HPV Reporting is a Disaster.
The writer of the VOX article, Julia Belluz writes that the Star's editor-in-chief dismissed her concerns as coming from the writer of a"very pro-Gardasil story".
Dr. Gunter's Canadaland piece is given a sub-title, "The Star's medical expert worked for Gardasil's competitor."

And if that's not unseemly enough, somehow the vile Heather Mallick was inspired to contribute her special poison to attack critics of the The Toronto Star's article.

Meanwhile, at Consumer Reports, The surprising dangers of CT scans and X-rays explains to their trusting readership that the tests are either useful or unnecessarily performed due to greedy and/or poorly trained doctors and/or lawyers (why not?). Some undefined "Researchers estimate that at least 2 percent of all future cancers in the U.S.—approximately 29,000 cases and 15,000 deaths per year—will stem from CT scans alone."
Frightening, and I suspect extremely controversial. 

Consider this from Consumer Reports:
CT emits a powerful dose of radiation, in some cases equivalent to about 200 chest X-rays, or the amount most people would be exposed to from natural sources over seven years. That dose can alter the makeup of human tissue and create free radicals, molecules that can wreak havoc on human cells. Your body can often repair that damage—but not always. And when it doesn’t, the damage can lead to cancer.
Now consider this, from Geoff Russell,  on an area with high radiation.
Kerala’s been on the radar of the World Health Organisation for over half a century ago and the reasons have nothing to do with population or rice or wood cooking fires or dodgy forest data. Kerala has a very high rate of background radiation due to sands containing thorium. The level ranges from about 70 percent above the global average to about 30 times the global average. For thousands of years, some of the population of Kerala have been living bathed in radiation at more than triple the level which will get you compulsorily thrown out of your home (evacuation) in Japan. The Japanese have set the maximum annual radiation level at 20 milli Sieverts per year around Fukushima while some parts of Kerala have had a level of 70 milliSieverts per year … for ever.
Scientists have been looking for radiation impacts on Keralites (people from Kerala) for decades. In 1990 a modern cancer registry was established and in 2009 a study reported on the cancer incidence in some 69,958 people followed for an average of over a decade. Radiation dose estimates were made by measuring indoor and outdoor radiation exposure and time spent in and out of doors. They haven’t just been bathing in radioactivity for thousands of years, Keralites have been eating it. An early 1970 study found that people in Kerala were eating about 10 times more radioactivity than people in the US or UK, including alpha particle emitters (from fish).
The cancer incidence rate overall in Kerala is much the same as the overall rate in India; which is about 1/2 that of Japan and less than 1/3rd of the rate in Australia.
I don't like Consumer Reports advice, because my dentist has asked me if it's OK to x-ray my head with his new machine, and I didn't think worth evaluating the risks - plus I was curious as to what was in there myself.
He didn't find anything worth noting.

I can't object to Consumer Reports advising not to trust recommendations for CT scans from doctors owning the devices.

I don't go to my doctor very often.

He owns the parking lot.


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