Archive for October, 2009

PSA Don’t Eat The Candy!

Posted in Media, Skeptic on October 31, 2009 by saskskeptic

Sigh!   These people need medication.

Original Article. Don’t forget to read the comments.


Flu Shot Side-Effects

Posted in Media, news, Skeptic with tags , , , , on October 31, 2009 by saskskeptic

I have been having “discussions” on Facebook about the merits of the pandemic H1N1 vaccine.  Often, those concerned about the vaccine send a message to the effect “Yeah what about this” and a link to one of the Desiree Jennings videos.  For example:

The videos describe her condition as dystonia and a one in a million adverse reaction to the flu vaccine. It is the tragic story of a beautiful cheerleader gravely incapacitated, and her life ruined by a flu vaccination.

While watching the videos there was a little voice in my head that was saying where did one in a million come from and why is it such a round number? How do they know it’s an adverse reaction to the flu shot and not some other cause?  Why is there only this one cheerleader if it is one in a million? Is the media just focusing on one sympathetic victim?  How do they know it is incurable?  Is this a typically adverse reaction or the worst one to occur?  Is this a typical example of vaccine-induced dystonia?

I resisted that little voice.  I thought responding that way on Facebook would seem petty and uncaring.  Neurological disorders are not an area where I have expertise.  The better response seemed to be to accept the one in a million chance of an adverse reaction and argue that it is an extremely rare side-effect.

Today in his Neurologic blog, Dr. Steven Novella posted a detailed article about Desiree Jennings. Dr. Novella is a neurologist who teaches at Yale University School of Medicine.  In his post he discusses some of the issues that I had.  For example, where the one in a million number came from.

He is also in a position to evaluate the symptoms that Desiree Jennings presents in the videos.  In his opinion and that of the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation her symptoms are not consistent with a diagnosis of Dystonia.

The Dystonia Medical Research Foundation stated that:

Because of the concern of individuals with dystonia as to whether or not to get a flu shot because of this reported case, we have sought the opinion of dystonia experts on this case. Based on the footage that has been shared with the public, it is their unanimous consensus that this case does not appear to be dystonia.

Dr. Novella went on to state that:

Her speech and movement are, however, very suggestive of a psychogenic disorder.

In other words she may have  a very real and uncontrollable disorder that is psychological rather than physical in nature.

This is good news. If Dr. Novella and others are correct, this is not an incurable neurological disorder and there can be optimism that eventually Ms. Jennings will recover from her symptoms.

In the mean time however, she has become a poster child of the anti-vaccine movement.

Catholic Priest Admits Theft Of Orphan’s Money [Updated]

Posted in Media, news with tags , , , , on October 29, 2009 by saskskeptic


I read the original article from the CBC as, the money was being collected by the church for orphans in Tanzania.

Yuen estimated the church lost between $20,000 and $54,000. The money was being collected to be distributed to orphans in Tanzania.

The Winnipeg Sun has a different take on the story.  The article indicates that Raju Madanu claims that he stole the money for orphan in Tanzania.  There are a lot more details in the Sun article so I am included to believe that it is correct.

The accused claimed that he took the money to send to an orphanage in Tanzania and eventually acknowledged stealing $13,200, a figure agreed to by the church which originally estimated up to $20,000 may have been taken.

However, an examination of wire transfer records has only added to the mystery.

Lonstrup noted records indicate Madanu sent only $611 to Tanzania and investigators couldn’t determine whether the funds went to an orphanage.

Records also show more than $54,000 — more money than the church estimated was missing — was sent to individuals with the surname of Madanu.


The CBC has posted an updated story.   The estimated amount stolen is $20,000,  and the section about the money being for Tanzania orphans has been dropped.


The CBC is reporting that Brandon, Manitoba Catholic priest Raju Madanu plead guilty to breaking and entering and theft from the parish.  The estimated missing $20,000 to $54,000 was intended for orphans in Tanzania.   This was not a one time event nor was it a moment of weakness.  For 5 months, he shut off the churches alarm system every Monday between 4AM and 5AM and took a portion of the donations.  This was a willful premeditated action.

This is the second Catholic priest with recent legal problems.  Why does the media report Catholic Priests as former pastors.  Initially they did the same with Raymond Lahey, the Nova Scotian Catholic Bishop accused of entering Canada with child pornography.  If they are Catholic are they not priests.  Are they not still members of the clergy? Were they not Priest or Bishop at the time.

H1N1 Vaccine

Posted in news, Skeptic with tags , , , , on October 26, 2009 by saskskeptic

Recently friends and family have been expressing their concerns to me, on Facebook and in person, about the H1N1 vaccine.  Is it safe?  How could it have had long-term testing?  There have been videos circulating of extremely rare but traumatic neurological side-effects that flu vaccines are known to cause.

To clarify, I do not have a medical background and can only point the reader in the direction of information from sources I trust.  For example, see the Canadian based Facebook group H1N1 Vaccine – Get The Facts. Also see the Center For Disease Control’s H1N1’s Facts and Figures.  Look at the age profile at the bottom of the CDC’s article.

First, my understanding of the swine flu vaccine is that it is made using the same process as the other seasonal flu vaccines.  The current H1N1 (swine flu) appeared after this year’s flu vaccine had gone into development.  Therefore, a second vaccine was developed just for the H1N1 virus.  This means that the H1N1 vaccine should have the same safety and efficacy profile as the seasonal flu vaccine.  There is a standard process used every year for the flu vaccines, we just happen to have two of them this year.  This also means that the concern that H1N1 vaccine has not had long-term testing is meaningless.  Flu vaccines have been available for years and they are different every year.  The safety is known.  This H1N1 vaccine seems different only because it is for a single virus and people know the name of the virus.

But is it safe?  The simple answer is that the risk of serious side-effects is much lower than the risk of the flu.  Is it 100% safe?  No, but of course nothing is.  Vehicles are not 100% safe yet people ride in them every day.  For most people, the risk of getting seriously injured in a vehicular accident is greatly outweighed by the convenience.  In the same way the risk of vaccines are much safer than the risk of the disease that they are preventing.

The trade offs of the vaccine are described in a Calgary Herald Article:

Dr. Butler-Jones [Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer] has been very, very adamant– it’s safe. It’s the one thing we can do as Canadians to protect ourselves and our families and our communities.”The risk of experiencing severe side-effects after taking the H1N1 shot is literally one in one million, compared to the 20 to 35 per cent of the population who will get sick from this pandemic flu without protection, said Butler-Jones.

“If every single Canadian is inoculated, then 30 Canadians could have the potential for a severe side-effect, compared to 10 million people sick, 100,000 people in hospital and 10,000 people dead,” he said.

10,000 people dead seems alarmingly high, but even if it is 3,000 it is still a significant risk.  If 3,000 people die and Canada’s population is 30,000,000, then the chance 0f dying is 1 in 10,000.

For some reason people expect medicine to be almost 100% safe.  It’s not, and likely can never be.  Aspirin can be deadly.  So can peanut butter to those who are sufficiently allergic.

We set a very demanding standard for medicine if we expect it to be risk free.  We are heartbroken when it fails.  The sad story of Desiree Jennings is one of the anti-vaccination videos that is circulating.

It is very hard to unbiasedly weigh the trade offs between a potentially life saving vaccination against the very rare (1 in a million)  risk of a side-effect.

For some reason we are hardwired to see an action that leads to a bad outcome as much worse than an inaction that leads to a bad outcome.

If you choose to get a vaccination and have severe side-effects you can question your actions and regret them.  If you do not get vaccinated and you get the flu that is just random chance even though statistically it was the wrong choice.  Inaction is a choice.

Think of it another way, let’s play let’s make a deal.

  • Door number one is a 1 in a million chance of permanent neurological damage
  • Door number two is a 1 in 10,000 chance of dying.

Which would you choose? It’s blindingly obvious – isn’t it?

Feed Your Brain: Sleaford Observatory Open House

Posted in Feed Your Brain, news with tags , on October 24, 2009 by saskskeptic

I went to the Sleaford Observatory open house last night.  It was quite a bit of fun, even with the clouds.  There were discussions of telescopes, the school house ordered from an Eaton’s catalog and meteorite hunting.

They had over 20 visitors on a fully overcast night.

There is a second open house tonight (Saturday, Oct. 24) .  Unfortunately the weather is unlikely to be much better.

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and The University of Saskatchewan Physics and Engineering Physics Department
Invite you to an Open House at the Sleaford Astronomical Observatory 65 km east of Saskatoon
Friday, October 23 and Saturday, October 24, 2009
See our moon, the moons of Jupiter, spectacular star clusters and the bright Milky Way free from light pollution though our telescopes!
Bring your car and join a convoy departing from the east end of the Field House parking lot at 7:00 pm
Dress Warmly (winter gear recommended)
For further information call: 249-1990

If you want to drive, the map is here or enter the lat/long (105o 57’ W (-105o 57’), Longitude: 52o 06’ N) into your GPS.

Café Apostate

Posted in news on October 22, 2009 by saskskeptic

Starting Nov. 1, there is a new group for recovering religionists in Saskatoon.  See below for details:

Are you a recovering religionist?  A former fundy?  Or just someone who grew up deeply involved in the faith, and now has gone all heretic?  If so, then you should come out and join us for coffee and religiously-based rants at Café Apostate.  It’s a low-key way to interact with other freethinkers who have “left the flock,” and share stories and maybe even brainstorm some strategies of how to deal with religious friends and family members who don’t understand your godlessness.

We’ll start by meeting at the Broadway Roastery (on Broadway) on Sunday, November 1st (ironically, All Saints Day!!) at 7pm.  If you think you’d be interested in joining our heathenish congregation, send me an email, and we’ll save you a spot.  If it looks like we’ll have more than a few come out, I’ll send around an email to update the location.

Hope to see y’all there!

Rebekah, the former Bible college student, the infamously popular “flirt to convert” youth group star, now raging “avowed atheist.”

See the Saskatoon Skeptic Google calendar for this and other events.

Watch A Lunar Inpact Live

Posted in Feed Your Brain, news with tags , , , , , , on October 7, 2009 by saskskeptic

Early in the morning of Oct. 9 Nasa is going to crash the LCROSS spacecraft into the southern pole of the moon.  Perhaps it will be the LCROSS‘s final mission.

You could try watching through your telescope, but what if your telescope is out for repairs. The SLOOH spacecamera has a solution. For the LCROSS impact they have a special free website setup so everyone can watch the fireworks.