ThinkProgress: Inside The Sleazy Business Of Cashing In On Americans’ Ebola Fears

ThinkProgress examines the commercial response to the ebola outbreak, and finds not just profiteering, but rank pseudoscience:

While a government-approved Ebola vaccine hasn’t been released as of yet, some pharmaceutical companies say that approved drugs could enter the market in the beginning of 2015. However, that hasn’t stopped companies from selling products they claim will cure or treat the disease.

In August, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued warnings to three companies selling Ebola medications after consumers complained about the misleading claims that the manufacturers made, some of which included assertions like “viruses, including Ebola, are no match for our products” and “the Ebola virus cannot live in the presence of cinnamon bark.”

“This is an area where there’s little regulatory oversight unless the manufacturers suggest — which they don’t — that their merchandise has been reviewed by the government,” Dr. William A. Carter, Chairman & CEO of Hemispherx Biopharma, told ThinkProgress. Carter said that these companies have profited because Americans often let fear take precedence over logic, especially in cases of the unknown.

Canada: New poll shows 84% support legalized assisted dying

A new poll of 2500 Canadian citizens—the largest poll to date—shows resounding support for assisted dying in the country. Conducted by Canadian nonprofit Dying With Dignity, the poll found 84% of Canadians in favor of legalizing doctor-assisted dying.

As is often the case on the topic of assisted dying, the influence of religious belief and practice provided for some significant differences among respondents:

• The largest divergence in support was by degree of church attendance. Those who attend church most frequently are least likely to support assisted dying. While even those who attend church once a week or more are still in support overall, the size of that majority (58%) is smaller than for those who go less frequently (86%) or never (92%).


Those who never attend a church were most in support of legalizing assisted dying, with 92% supporting it. Overall though, even the Christian majority in Canada are strongly in support of assisted dying:

• There were high levels of support from both the religious and non-religious. In total 80% of all Christians support assisted dying, including 83% of Catholics support assisted dying. (Sample sizes for other religious affiliations, though reflective of the Canadian population, were too small to draw conclusions.)

Interestingly, church attendance also changes how respondents perceive support for assisted dying across Canadian society:

• Those who attend church more than once a week are much more likely to think most Canadians oppose assisted dying (35%) than those who never do (16%).

An executive summary of the poll is available here. The full poll results can be examined here.

Death-With-Dignity Movement Springs Back to Life in California

Emboldened by favorable poll numbers, the nonprofit Compassion & Choices has begun efforts to legalize assisted dying in California. The Los Angeles Times reports:

It’s not going to be easy to pull this off, proponents concede, and the process could take years. In the past, statewide attempts have been shot down by heavily financed religious groups — primarily the Catholic Church — and some physicians. But advocates are encouraged by a recent poll of 500 likely voters, conducted for Compassion & Choices, that asked this question:

“The Death with Dignity Act would give a terminally ill person, who is mentally competent, the right to request and receive a prescription for life-ending medication from a physician. If the election were held today, would you vote to favor or to oppose this ballot measure?”

Nearly two-thirds of those polled said they were in favor, including 53% of Republicans.

“I think our polls indicate the state is ready,” said Rev. Ignacio Castuera, a United Methodist minister in Pomona. Castuera said he thinks the gathering storm of baby boomers who grew up in “the age of Aquarius” are likely to want the freedom to make such personal choices when they near the end.

Ohio Court Rejects 1st Amendment Objections To Required Alcoholics Anonymous Attendance

Even though AA and other 12 step programs require belief in a higher—and often Christian power—an Ohio court has rejected a man’s challenge to his sentence that required attendance at AA. At the venerable Religion Clause, Howard Friedman notes:

In rejecting the claim, the court noted that Miller only raised the religious claims belatedly.  The court added that, more importantly:

“the record is devoid of any evidence showing that appellant ever attended an AA meeting whose primary purpose was to advance religious beliefs rather than to promote sobriety and recovery from addiction and substance abuse.”


State Farm Drops Ads Starring Anti-Vaccine Comedian Rob Schneider

After a torrent of online criticism from pro-science activists, State Farm has dropped a series of ads featuring noted anti-vaccine proponent Rob Schneider. PR Week reports:

State Farm has pulled an ad featuring anti-vaccine activist Rob Schneider after a social media campaign urged the insurance company to end its affiliation with the actor.

Social media pages Food HunkScience Babe, and Chow Babe, all of which refute pseudoscience claims, started the anti-Schneider campaign last week, questioning how a company that sells insurance could hire a celebrity spokesman so openly against vaccinations.

The activists have encouraged consumers with State Farm policies to get involved by contacting their agents and telling them that “someone who publicly states dangerous opinions should not be a spokesperson for a health insurance company.”

Schneider has long supported the anti-vaccine cause, including fighting against California bill AB 2109, which made obtaining a vaccine exemption more difficult—by requiring consultation with an actual medical professional. He has also lent his voice to the Canary Party, an anti-vaccine organization whose stunningly misinformed propaganda video, narrated by Schneider, was screened at a legislative briefing on Capitol Hill last year.

Paul Offit on the Anti-Vaccine Epidemic

Pediatrician Paul A. Offit, winner of the CFI/CSI 2013 Balles Award in Critical Thinking, took to the Wall Street Journal today to warn of the current anti-vaccination epidemic and surging diseases that have resulted:

We simply don’t fear these diseases anymore. My parents’ generation—children of the 1920s and 1930s—needed no convincing to vaccinate their children. They saw that whooping cough could kill as many as 8,000 babies a year. You didn’t have to convince my generation—children of the 1950s and 1960s—to vaccinate our children. We had many of these diseases, like measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox. But young parents today don’t see the effects of vaccine-preventable diseases and they didn’t grow up with them. For them, vaccination has become an act of faith.

Perhaps most upsetting was a recent study out of Seattle Children’s Hospital and the University of Washington. Researchers wanted to see whether the whooping cough epidemic of 2012 had inspired more people to vaccinate their children. So they studied rates of whooping cough immunization before, during and after the epidemic. No difference. One can only conclude that the outbreak hadn’t been large enough or frightening enough to change behavior—that not enough children had died.

Because we’re unwilling to learn from history, we are starting to relive it. And children are the victims of our ignorance.


Anti-Vaccination Beliefs Are Contagious Like a Disease

Anti-vaccination beliefs are contagious like a disease, argues Malia Jones and Alison Buttenheim in the Washington Post:

How do these clusters of exempted kids form? We think that the idea of vaccines being unsafe or ineffective or unnecessary spreads—like a disease itself—from person to person within social networks.  Parents talk to their friends, other parents at their child’s school, and to their neighbors.  Normal social processes produce clusters of vaccine refusers in the social landscape.  When it’s time to enroll in school, like-minded parents are drawn to certain schools—and this is especially pronounced when parents have the resources to be choosy about their child’s education.  Soon, there are schools and communities where vaccine refusal is not an anomaly; it is the norm.


“Measles is Back: A Mother’s Warning”

Retelling the story of her own son’s near death from measles encephalitis in the Los Angeles Times, Margaret Harmon gives a warning:

It’s highly likely that the few doctors fueling the anti-vaccine movement — bucking the vast majority of their peers — have never seen a case of measles encephalitis. They haven’t had to, thanks to those who vaccinate. But do parents who choose not to vaccinate understand that they may be giving deadly diseases the chance to regain footholds? And it won’t just be their children who pay the price. In epidemics, even vaccinated children can fall ill. And outbreaks give bacteria and viruses the chance to evolve to beat vaccines and treatments.

In the first eight months of this year, there were 18 measles outbreaks in the United States and nearly 600 cases of measles. That’s nearly three times more cases than in any year since 2001, according to statistics kept by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When I read about a child fighting measles here — where we once were safe — I feel that heartbreaking weight of a beautiful brown-eyed toddler not breathing, blue, on my lap.

A Center for Inquiry Campaign