Michelle Bachmann Claims HPV Vaccine Might Cause ‘Mental Retardation’

It’s a new twist on an old story. Michelle Bachmann has possibly been duped into repeating an urban legend concerning the Human Papilloma Virus vaccine. After the recent debate with Governor Rick Perry in which she confronted Perry’s mandate that young girls get the vaccine, Bachmann told the story on Fox News that, “There’s a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate. She said her daughter was given that vaccine. She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result…”

According to this article in the Washington Post today, “Social conservatives argue that the vaccine, which protects against a sexually transmitted disease that can lead to cervical cancer, encourages promiscuity.” This was the first point in this article where my skepticism reflex nudged me a little. Are they equating this method of disease prevention to condom or birth control use? Wouldn’t it make more sense just to vaccinate all young girls in order to prevent disease later?

Another article in the Washington Post voiced a concern of some critics of the vaccine that, “…vaccinating children would send a subtle signal that their parents assumed they would become sexually active and that it would give youngsters a false sense of security.”. This is where education comes it. Teach the young people about what HPV and other STDs are. Explain that these are the risks you take when you become sexually active. Teach them what they can do to prevent getting STDs. Studies have shown repeatedly that abstinence-only education doesn’t work. In my opinion it is better to use the tools at our disposal than put young people at risk for a disease that can be prevented. The vaccine is ultimately less expensive than the treatments for cervical cancer.

In that same statement, Bachmann also said, “It (the vaccine) can have very dangerous side effects”. However, most public health authorities say that Merck’s Gardasil (the HPV vaccine) and a similar vaccine were subsequently approved as safe.

The vaccines have been “tested in thousands of people around the world,” according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web site. “These studies showed no serious side effects. Common, mild side effects included pain where the shot was given, fever, headache, and nausea. As with all vaccines, CDC and [the Food and Drug Administration] continue to monitor the safety of these vaccines very carefully.” Some girls who get vaccinated also faint, the CDC noted.

“The vaccine has been licensed for over five years. Over 35 million doses have been given in the United States, and the evidence is it’s safe and effective. There has been no pattern of serious side effects or dangers associated with the vaccine,” said Joseph Bocchini of Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, who chairs the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices working group on the HPV vaccine.

“One of the things that’s really important to remember with the use of vaccines is when we give vaccines to large numbers of individuals events that follow the vaccine are not always caused by the vaccine. Someone who was going to develop a medical problem is going to develop that problem whether they get the vaccine or not,” Bocchini said in a telephone interview.

Either Michelle Bachmann simply did not know any better or she is pushing a conservative agenda based on her debate with Perry and his (former) stance on mandating the HPV vaccine. If it truly is the former, then her people need to address her education in that matter. Yes, I know that so far she has not shown herself to be knowledgeable in science. If she’s going to be a serious contender for the presidential race, she really ought to do something about that.

If, however, Michelle Bachmann is intentionally misleading the public about the HPV vaccine for her own political agenda, then there needs to be a Michelle Bachmann Body Count website along with Jenny McCarthy’s.


For the last two weeks I have been researching a product I saw on TV. It is called Thundershirt and it is supposedly used to combat anxiety and other problems in dogs. The website claims that Thundershirt will alleviate: Fear of Thunder/ Fireworks; Separation Anxiety; Travel Anxiety; Crate Training; Problem Barking; Hyperactivity and Leash Pulling.

According to their website “As for WHY Thundershirt’s gentle pressure works to calm a dog, experts such as Dr. Temple Grandin believe that pressure has a calming effect on the nervous system. Using pressure to relieve anxiety has been a common practice for years.”

For those not familiar, Dr. Temple Grandin, she has a PhD in animal behavior, a MS in that same field and a BA in Psychology. She has done extensive research on domestic animal behavior. Her main field of study deals with the design of humane livestock facilities. This may sound like it has nothing to do with a shirt for dogs, but Dr. Grandin also talks about humane restraint and keeping animals calm for transport.

Initially I was skeptical about the device and I am still not totally convinced that it is completely safe. The Thundershirt website states that their device has been studied, but the only studies I was able to find was the one done in-house.

There are plenty of videos on YouTube that show a range of reduced anxiety in dogs. There are also videos that show no change in behavior. Thundershirt’s site claims that it works for about 80% of the people who use it. Interestingly, they also suggest behavior training in conjunction with the use of the Thundershirt. There is also a suggested adjustment period for the device.

While anecdotal evidence suggest that this works, I have to wonder why people simply don’t find a good dog trainer in their area to work on these issues.Our dog Brenner is something of a little Diva and he used to have a very bad barking problem. With just an hour with a good trainer in our area we had a solution. It really looked like a live-action version of “The Dog Whisperer”. After a few weeks of implementing the trainer’s suggestions, we no longer have a vicious little piranha slavering at the front window every time someone passes.

Now he just gives a little warning burrff. Anyone who has a dog or has been around dogs knows what a burrff is. It’s that small, half-bark that equates to “Hey, you should look over there.”. As opposed to a full on “BARROWOWOWOW! SOMETHING IS COMING TO EAT US!!”, like Brenner used to do. He still has a little anxiety when we leave but he’s also from a rescue so I expect that behavior but it doesn’t make his life unmanageable and he’s always thrilled to see us when we come home.

To me the Thundershirt seems to me to be more of a shortcut or Magic Bullet that is used to alleviate the problem temporarily but it doesn’t solve the underlying issue in the long term. Granted, it is still a relatively new product and there isn’t enough substantial research on it. Once the Thundershirt comes off, those underlying issues are still there. With some training however, your dog can usually be freed of that anxiety, stress, etc.

My advice: Even though the Thundershirt is an interesting concept, do yourself and your dog a favor. Don’t take the shortcut. It does your dog a disservice.

Always Check Your Sources

Two days ago I wrote an article about Pat Robertson and his supposed claim that his God is confused by metrosexuals. Last night I received a very kind email from George Hrab letting me know that the piece I used as a source (link is in original article) was, in reality, a comedy piece.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is why you ALWAYS check your sources. I made the very big mistake of letting my personal views get in the way of actual journalism this time. Pat Robertson has a previous history of saying things that, to me, as a skeptic, sound kind of nutty. For instance he blamed the earthquake in Haiti on a pact with the Devil that the Haitians supposedly made to win their freedom as a country. So, of course when that piece about the DC quake came up, instead of checking to make sure these were real quotes from Pat Robertson, I jumped on the chance to spread the word. That was bad journalism.

What I SHOULD have done was check the net to see if there was more than one source using those quotes. I should also have checked out the URL doing the “reporting” to see if it was a new outlet or, as it turns out, something else entirely. I SHOULD have checked to make sure that this had been reported in other places. But, I didn’t. I let my personal biases get in the way.

Sorry Internets. I’ll do better next time.

Pat Robertson: “God is confused by metrosexuals”

Yesterday an earthquake measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale hit the mid-Atlantic coast. It was felt as far north as Canada and as far south as central South Carolina. To my knowledge there was only property damage and no fatalities. Fortunately it was a relatively minor quake.

Today, evangelist Pat Robertson said that the earthquake was God’s revenge on meterosexuals, those men who “get manicures and wear designer eyewear”. He went on to say, “God finds this somewhat gay-like behavior confusing, and He responded by getting mildly peeved.”.

Okay…so, a god who is omniscient throughout time is confused by men who like to look nice and present themselves well? Sounds more like some old guy standing on his porch yelling “Get a haircut, ya hippie!”.

Robertson continues, warning that if Americans continue with their “seemingly sort-of-gay behavior,” we in the US should brace itself for additional ambiguous acts of retaliation from the Almighty.

“God will strike back at people who act sort of gay with all kinds of mild responses,” he said.  “If you keep getting pedicures and facials, you can expect two to three inches of rain and some really hot humid days in your future.”

Someone should tell Roberson that he just described a typical summer day in Florida.

Roberston feels that because some people in New York had what he refers to as an “over the top reaction”, those people will “run the risk of moderately annoying the Heavenly Father yet again.”.

“God looks at people who get their panties in a twist after a little shaking, and He says to Himself, ‘Wow, that’s really kind of gay,’” he said.

In other episodes of the 700 Club, Robertson has blamed the earthquake in Haiti on a supposed Satanic Voodoo pact that the Haitians made to gain their independence. Now he’s blaming yeasterday’s earthquake on metrosexuals. This, coming from a man who wears make-up.


Harold Camping Is Still At It

Harold Camping, the man who brought us Rapture Fail on May 21 of this year, is continuing to publicize the end of the world on his web site. As we all know, his high level of cognitive dissonance led him to justify the lack of Rapture earlier this year by stating that it was, in actuality, the beginning of Judgement Day.

For the next five months, according to Camping’s web site, those who are non-believers will suffer the torment of knowing that there is no salvation for us. Apparently May 21 was the cutoff date and there is no way to salvation after that date.

Although there was no Rapture, Camping still thinks that the world is set to be destroyed by fire on October 21, exactly five months after the Rapture date. A quote on Camping’s site claims, “God’s people were never meant to be raptured on May 21, and this misunderstanding of believing they were to be raptured has certainly not invalidated the biblical calendar in any way, which still reveals that the time for salvation is now gone forever since May 21 – exactly what we had declared – and the end of the world will still be October 21, 2011 when this world will be completely destroyed by fire – exactly what we had and are still declaring.”

I have to wonder that if God’s chosen were meant to be spared the torture of the end of the world, why will they be burned alive with the rest of us non-believers? In my reading of the Bible I have been led to believe that the whole idea behind the Rapture was to reward the true believers and keep them from being harmed. You know, by the giant locusts. Those same locusts that are supposed to be eating us right now. During the five months of torment that isn’t happening except in a metaphorical sense.

I can honestly say that I don’t feel tortured. Now that Dennis Markuze is getting the help he needs and not spamming the JREF site, my life is pretty good. I haven’t heard anything from other non-believers about feeling tortured since May 21. Unless you count the post-Rapture party hangovers.

I’m just waiting to see what kind of justification Camping will come up with on October 22nd when the world does not end by being consumed in fire.

Rules For Surviving DragonCon 2011

It won’t be long until we will hit the road and head up to Atlanta for DragonCon. This event, for those not familiar, is the east coast’s largest sci-fi and comic book convention. It takes place ever year at the five largest hotels in downtown Atlanta and it is always Labor Day Weekend. Every flavor of geekery and science you can imagine can be found here.

This year will be my eighth DragonCon. I consider myself a Con veteran. I survive every year relatively unscathed aside from minor exhaustion. So here are a few things I’ve learned from my years in the trenches: not only at DragonCon but other cons as well.

Live by the 3-2-1 Rule:

Three hours of sleep a night

Two meals a day

One shower a day – trust me, a deodorant fail in a cramped elevator or enclosed room is NOT something you want to be a part of.

Bring a light backpack. Not only is it useful for picking up free shwag buttons but you can carry your pocket program with you. I also highly suggest packing a few PB&J sandwiches, some cookies and a bottle of water to nibble on between panels. It may not seem like it but you ARE expending lots of energy.

Three hours of sleep is the absolute minimum. Try to get more if you can BUT as the old saying goes, “It’s DragonCon. You can sleep when you’re dead.”.

Wash your hands a couple times a day too and carry hand sanitizer. Con Crud spreads like wildfire and trust me, you do NOT want Con Crud. This year at BaltiCon I caught it the first night and I didn’t leave the room until the last day of the Con. I’m still not completely convinced that I wasn’t dead for a few days.

Get in on Thursday if you can and leave Tuesday morning. It is SO much less stressful than trying to check in on Friday with the 30,000 other people at the same exact time. Not a rule, I know, but if you can manage the time off, it really does reduce stress levels..

Take pictures. Take LOTS of pictures. You really only see stuff like this once a year.

If something is a major event, get there at LEAST an hour early. For some panels you may actually have to line up as soon as the previous panel starts. Two years ago when William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy did their talk we were up at 6 am and in line by 6:30 and we were STILL four rows back in the big hall. If you want to see Masquerade, line up as early as you possibly can. Duck Dodgers is the annual tradition while the judges are deliberating so be prepared to bellow at the top of your lungs “DUCK DODGERS IN THE 24TH AND A HALF CEN-TU-RY!!!” every time Dodgers yells it.

Plan ahead. When you get your pocket guide, which will soon be available online at the DragonCon website, decide ahead of time what panels and workshops you want to go see. It makes it easier than trying to decide on the fly. Remember, there is A LOT of navigating to do to get where you need to go and only 15 minutes between panels. That’s JUST enough time to get from the Hilton to the Sheraton.

Do bring costumes. Lots of people dress up and the big day for costumes is Saturday. I’m personally not much for the costume scene but I promised my sister we’d do a Steampunk day so I’m bringing that one and my Con t-shirts. You know, stuff like “Cowthuhlu” and “You don’t need to look at my chest. These are not the breasts you’re looking for, Move along”. In short, Nerdwear.

Most importantly, have fun! This is a fantastic event with something for everyone. Even if you’re not so much for the sci-fi, there’s also the Science Track, the Skeptic Track and the Podcast Track. Two years ago I learned how and why the Large Hadron Collider isn’t going to kill us all at the science track. So there really IS something for everyone.

Psych Eval for Mabus

In yesterday’s article from the Vancouver Sun, though the police are still not releasing the name of the man arrested, he will be receiving a psychological evaluation “soon”.

I am personally relieved and gratified by that news. I, along with many others, have been saying for some time that Dennis Markuze needs help. Thanks to these efforts, he is now at least getting a diagnosis and that will lead to help.

More updates as they become available.

Mabus Arrested

Although the news report states that the police have not named the person who has been arrested, our buddy Mabus would appear to be in the custody of Montreal police now. Over 5000 signatures and emails made this happen. Thanks to Kyle VanderBeek’s online petition and Tim Farley’s hard work, Mabus may finally get the help that he needs.

More updates will be posted as they come available.

Eve Markuze, “Mothers Know Best”

In an interview in the Toronto Sun, David Markuze’s mother spoke out. She thinks that those of us who have received threats of death and violence are simply misunderstanding what her son has written. According to her, Mabus would “not even kill a fly”.

I can see how “Maria, leave the JREF if you want to live”, might be interpreted as “get a life”. But it’s pretty hard to misinterpret threats like, “we are going to torture you before we execute you, fucker”; just one of the many sent to mcgeesorg. Or calling a woman a cunt and threatening to rape her before killing her. These kinds of things are not a matter of misinterpretation.

I knew from things that Michael Shermer has said that Markuze’s mother and father didn’t think their son really had a problem.  In the Toronto Sun article, Ms Markuze said that her son has the right to talk and tell the truth.

She also stated, “I thought this was a free country,” she said. “Maybe he is misunderstood, but definitely I am not scared of his work.

“I am not scared at all about what he is doing. I am the mother. And mothers know best.”.

Those comments bring into stark relief that his mother is a part of the problem. She lives with him and still doesn’t see the problem. As Jeff Wagg said, “(she) must be writing from Egypt because she’s knee deep in denial”.

Mabus Threats Finally Being Investigated

On Facebook this morning I found this from Jeff Wagg and Tim Farley: Montreal police are FINALLY investigating death threats from Mabus http://bit.ly/rdbWHM . According to the article, thanks to a Change petition, the station closest to where Dennis Marzuke (aka Dave Mabus, aka Mabus) lives and works has received several hundred screen shots and several THOUSAND emails.

On Monday afternoon the station claimed they had received nothing, but had changed their tune by Wednesday with a tweet stating that they were investigating the situation.

They have asked that people stop sending complaints. Personally, after years of being ignored, I say Keep Signing! Every time someone signs the petition, they receive a notification along with the attached comment. If you have been harassed or threatened by this man, let them know about it. The more complaints they recieve, the better the chances that Mabus will FINALLY get the help he seems to need so badly.

Pass this along to everyone you know in the skeptical and atheist community. Over 3000 complaints isn’t enough. The police department needs to understand just how serious this is.



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