Sunday, October 16, 2011

She no longer needs braces

That's not just a metaphor but it is also a metaphor.

Once upon a time there was a little girl named Marjorie. She was usually called Marjie but sometimes she was know as Iggie.

She grew.

And grew.

She tried school. It wasn't a great fit.

She leapt into life with unbridled enthusiasm.

She had many adventures.

One day, she decided she wanted to be MJ, rather than Marjorie, and have some holes in her nose.

She had more adventures, including a nice visit to Europe.

And one day, she decided she needed some braces.

Then one day, she no longer needed them.

But in the Duchy of Metaphor, if you ever want some (more) bracing, of any kind, smallish or largeish, the Duke of Metaphor (aka yer dad, sometimes known as me) is always reachable and ready to assist. And the Duke is a stone-cold, awesome genius, yo! He can figure shit out like a motherfucker! Remember dat!

I love you, my little MJ!

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Really? Intellectually, I know some people are gullible and antiscience while relying on pseudoscience to legitimize their beliefs but this kinda shit drives me nuts.

Someone recently posted this chart on FB.

Direct comparison KIGGS study and (September 2011)

Damn! Sure looks like it's a LOT healthier to avoid vaccinations, doesn't it?

The original KiGGS study is abstracted at this site. I recommend reading the whole thing but I’ll quote some highlights here:

The lifetime prevalence of diseases preventable by vaccination was markedly higher in unvaccinated than in vaccinated subjects.

The prevalence of allergic diseases and non-specific infections in children and adolescents was not found to depend on vaccination status.

Protective vaccinations are among the most important and effective preventive measures in modern medicine.

The benefits, efficacy, and safety of protective vaccinations are widely scientifically proven.

Some parents—and doctors—fear that vaccinated children are protected against specific infections, but that their immune systems reacts less to non-specific diseases and that vaccinated children contract infections such as colds, bronchitis, or gastrointestinal infections more often than unvaccinated children. However, the KiGGS data did not show any notable differences in the numbers of infections.

Another fear associated with protective vaccinations is that they might possibly promote the development of allergies. The KiGGS data did not show statistically significant differences in the prevalence of atopic disorders in unvaccinated subjects compared with vaccinated subjects.

In recent years, a number of scientific articles were published investigating potential associations between vaccinations and allergies. In a review article by Bernsen et al. from 2006, which summarized study results about the association of diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis vaccination, measles/mumps/rubella vaccination, and Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccination with atopic disorders, the authors conclude that according to the available evidence, recommended protective vaccinations do not increase the risk of atopic disorders in children.

The current guideline for allergy prevention (as of March 2009) recommends vaccinations according to STIKO recommendations for children and adolescents with and without allergy risk.

In addition to atopic disorders, we further compared diseases—such as obstructive bronchitis, pneumonia and otitis media, heart disease, anemia, epilepsy, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—in unvaccinated and vaccinated subjects. No relevant differences in the lifetime prevalences were found, neither for different age groups nor between girls and boys. SchneeweiƟ et al. conducted a comprehensive literature review of vaccine safety, the central part of which was the evaluation of vaccine critical arguments on the basis of the current state of scientific knowledge. None of the hypotheses were found to be valid.

The evaluation showed that vaccinated children and unvaccinated children differed substantially only in terms of the lifetime prevalence of vaccine preventable diseases; as is to be expected the risk of such diseases is notably lower in vaccinated subjects.

[End quotes from abstract of KiGGS study.]

Wow! That's kinda the opposite of what the graph shows, isn't it? It shows that there are significantly smaller values (lower incidence of illnesses and diseases) for nonvax kids than for vax kids but these statements quoted from the abstract say otherwise. What's up?

Yes, that’s certainly what the graph seems to indicate but if you read the label carefully, you’ll note that it says:

Direct comparison KIGGS study and (September 2011)

Let’s parse that.

The blue graph is the scientific study produced under rigorous conditions by KiGGS. It included vaccinated and unvaccinated children. The graph is their summary. The comparison results, and differentiation between vax and nonvax kids, are deciphered at that site I linked in ponderous, statistical detail.

The red graph is the compilation of voluntary parent comments from parents who subscribe to the beliefs of the website called This informal online survey, created by a rabid antivax site and populated by feedback from rabid antivax responders, is not only unscientific, it is antiscientific. And (Do I really need to say it?) worthless, fact-free, anecdotal crap.

To create the seemingly impressive graph at the beginning of this post, the ideologues at vaccineinjury simply took their anecdotal feedback from their true believers and stuck that alongside the actual, scientific KiGGS graph. Voila! Pseudoscience at its most heinous.


Vaccinate. Don't vaccinate. The choice is yours. But, please, whatever choice you make, do it on the basis of facts not woo-woo.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

First approximation

In my post While we’re on the subject I talked about the difference between limiting and constricting knowledge into discrete “subjects” vs. accepting the reality that all knowledge and information is connected – somehow. Granted, the connection might be tenuous, to you, at this particular time, but at some other time, in some other circumstance, to someone else, it might be quite closely connected. Early in that post I referenced Eratosthenes and his ingenious – and simple – method for calculating the circumference of the earth 2200 years ago, with none of the resources we have today. Remembering Eratosthenes reminded me of another brilliant man whose life overlapped my own, rather than being from two millennia earlier, Enrico Fermi. If you’re not specifically familiar with him, you may recognize his name from the element named after him, fermium (Fm - element 100), or the fermion of quantum physics.

First, I’ll tell you the Fermi story which Eratosthenes’ story reminded me of, then I’ll fill in the how and why I wanna talk about it.

Fermi was one of the transcendental geniuses of his time who worked on the first atomic bomb, the Manhattan Project. All the lead-up calculations to the first test explosion were very blue-sky. They were even unsure of the order of magnitude they might be dealing with. AAMOF, there’s a story that prior to the explosion, Fermi was taking bets on whether or not it would ignite the atmosphere and destroy the entire universe, or at least the earth, maybe just New Mexico. (Yes, Fermi was a funny guy.) But that’s not the Fermi story I wanna tell. It’s this. Because they wanted to know just how much power they were producing, they set up lots and lots of sophisticated sensors and measurement devices to monitor the blast. It took quite a while after the explosion for the calculations to be completed but as the blast happened, Fermi dropped some torn-up pieces of paper and from their displacement, he quickly calculated it at about 10 kilotons.

Eventually, when the rigorous calculations were complete, the official measurement came out at around 18 kilotons. When your margin of error includes orders of magnitude, that’s incredibly precise, especially when your equipment is a torn sheet of paper vs. the most accurate, sophisticated, and expensive scientific instrumentation of the day.

Fermi was famous for his simple approach to any and all problems, even before his torn-paper A-bomb powerometer. He was so significantly know for this that nowadays it’s often called the Fermi method. You may have also heard this concept referred to as BOTE (back of the envelope) calculations, guesstimate, SWAG (scientific wild-ass guess), etc. The phrase I heard most often in my schooling was “first approximation,” thus the title of this post. Unfortunately, in popular culture, most of these phrases have lost the rigorousness and accuracy which the concept actually embodies. This is not something you pull out of your ass; if done properly, it should get you within striking distance of the ponderously-calculated answer.

Because the Manhattan project was a government/military project, a career officer named General Leslie Groves was placed in charge. In an unfortunate juxtaposition of personalities, Groves was a micromanaging, toe-the-line, precision-in-everything, engineering-mentality kinda guy. That’s not bad per se but most of the folks he was now in charge of were more, ummmnn, theoretical than that. Take the brilliant Leo Szliard who was responsible for many breakthroughs in this field. Leo did his best thinking in the bathtub or on long walks. To a guy like Groves, lying in the bathtub for half a day was not an effective use of time. Except, of course, that it was.

One of Groves’ first interactions with the scientists was when he watched them brainstorming in a room and throwing equations on the chalkboard as they talked. He was shocked to see that there was a (minor) mistake in one calculation and he was appalled that they shrugged it off when he pointed it out. Groves and Fermi had a number of interactions like this, based on their different approaches to life.

When I think about those personalities and interactions, I always see Groves as one (or several) of my math teachers. He’s the kind of guy who’d give you zero credit on a quiz or homework for making a simple mistake in your number manipulation when you had successfully defined the problem and attacked it with the proper solution. On an infinitely more significant playing field than a school math class, here were the greatest geniuses of the age, solving a problem which had never been addressed, which was possibly unsolvable, and his input to the process of saving the world from the NAZIs is to correct their arithmetic and complain about their undisciplined work habits.

The original code names for the two test bombs (two because they were experimenting with two different types of atomic bombs) were “Fat Man” and “Thin Man,” ostensibly for the Dashiell Hammett characters. “Thin Man” was later changed to “Little Boy” but “Fat Man” was retained. Despite the official explanation, scuttlebutt maintained that “Thin Man” was named for Oppenheimer and “Fat Man” was Groves, and the former was an homage but the latter was a studied insult, referring not only to Groves’ physicality but also to his fat-headedness.

One reason why we unschool, one of many reasons, each of which has its own significance, is that I hope my children will be free enough to be like Enrico Fermi or James Brown rather than Leslie Groves or Arnold Schoenberg. I know I somewhat emulate Szliard in my bathing habits and Chloe does, too. I guess that’s something.