Reporting Flu Vaccine Science

Many news articles about a study of influenza vaccine and miscarriages raised good questions—but for questionable reasons, reports Rob Wipond.

(This article appeared in The BMJ (British Medical Journal), January 5, 2018.)

When reporting on medical studies, the popular press has a habit of sensationalising. So the muted response to a recent research paper reporting increased risk of miscarriage with influenza vaccines was at first sight surprising.

The study, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that women who had received an influenza vaccine containing the 2009 pandemic strain pH1N1 and who were also vaccinated in the next flu season had a statistically significant, 7.7-fold higher odds of spontaneous abortion within 28 days of the second vaccination. (Absolute risk increase could not be calculated because it was a case-control study.) The concerning odds ratio fostered extensive discussion in the paper. But the news media projected an air of calm, highlighting the observational study’s many limitations.

The headline on the health news website STAT read: “Study shows miscarriage risk may have increased after flu shots, puzzling researchers”2—as if the increased risk was in doubt. A widely syndicated Associated Press story ran with the headline, “Study prompts call to examine flu vaccine and miscarriage,” discounting the fact that this had been the purpose of the reported study. The Washington Post initially declared: “Researchers find hint of a link between flu vaccine and miscarriage”—but within hours that headline was softened to, “What to know about a study of flu vaccine and miscarriage.”

Read the rest at The BMJ.(subscription required)

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Escape from British Columbia

Some people say that our province’s strong mental health laws save lives. A constitutional court challenge says they lead to discrimination, abuse, fear and the flight of psychiatric refugees.

THE PSYCHIATRIC NURSE held out a paper cup with pills. Sarah clasped a handwritten note. Having learned not to protest loudly, the 24-year-old gave the nurse her note that read, “I have a right to my mind and my body.” Then, she reluctantly put the pills in her mouth.

Sarah knew that she had to execute her escape out of British Columbia quickly, before the drugs seized control of her mind again.

Sarah (she requested her name be withheld) is sharing her story to show support for a constitutional court challenge recently launched by Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS). The Vancouver non-profit is arguing that a key part of British Columbia’s Mental Health Act, called “deemed consent,” violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“At CLAS, we’re routinely told that people are either considering leaving BC to avoid our deemed consent laws, or that they’ve done so in the past,” says Laura Johnston, one of the lawyers representing three plaintiffs in the case.

CLAS has many concerns about BC’s Mental Health Act, explains Johnston. However, this case is focused on how the “deemed consent” provision violates rights to security of the person and equality before the law. “This case isn’t arguing that forced treatment can never be constitutional,” says Johnston, “But it does say that forced treatment which is imposed unilaterally by a doctor with no checks or balances and no recourse to anybody else is unconstitutional.”

Read the rest of this article at Focus Magazine.

Why Does Psychiatry So Often Get a Free Pass on Standards of Evidence?

The website HealthNewsReview.org specializes in publishing critiques of misleading press releases and news reports on health care and medicine. But they tend to let a lot of claims from psychiatry go largely unquestioned. Today, HealthNewsReview.org published my own review of one of their reviews.

Why Does Psychiatry So Often Get a Free Pass on Standards of Evidence?

A HealthNewsReview.org team gave a five-star, 9/10 glowing rating to a Philadelphia Inquirer article about an electro-mechanical device that ostensibly helps people avert experiences of panic. I would give this review by HealthNewsReview.org a failing grade. And though psychiatry has certainly produced more dangerous interventions than this breath-training device seems to be, the HealthNewsReview.org review nevertheless illustrates some of the common ways in which hyperbolic psychiatric and psychological claims frequently get free passes from otherwise thoughtful medical critics. I believe these deeper problems need to be more widely examined and discussed, so I’ve written a review of the HealthNewsReview.org review.

1) Is there disease-mongering with dubious statistics occurring?

Go to HealthNewsReview.org to read the rest of the article.

Province to Rein in Police Chief Associations?

A surprise government announcement could lead to the resolution of long-standing controversies about police secrecy.

The British Columbia provincial government has pledged to pass legislation to make the BC Association of Chiefs of Police and BC Association of Municipal Chiefs of Police “public bodies.” The announcement came from Bette-Jo Hughes, Chief Information Officer and Associate Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services, speaking in mid-November to MLAs reviewing the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The amendment to FOIPPA could resolve many concerns about how the associations operate — concerns that Focus has been reporting since 2012.

“I will be prepared to celebrate when the ink is dry,” commented Micheal Vonn, policy director for the BC Civil Liberties Association. Vonn has reason to be concerned. For years, members of the associations have sidestepped transparency and accountability by ping-ponging between claims that they were acting as “private citizens” or “public servants.” For example, the BCACP and BCAMCP successfully asserted that they were not subject to freedom of information laws because they were private groups. Conversely, the associations didn’t have to register as private lobby groups, because their members successfully argued that they were public servants just doing their public duties.

Read the rest of the story at Focus Magazine.

See my earlier stories on this topic here.

Are America’s High Rates of Mental Illness Actually Based on Sham Science?

The real purpose behind many of these statistics is to change our attitudes and political positions.

ABOUT one in five American adults (18.6%) has a mental illness in any given year, according to recent statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health. This statistic has been widely reported with alarm and concern. It’s been used to back up demands for more mental health screening in schools, more legislation to forcibly treat the unwilling, more workplace psychiatric interventions, and more funding for the mental health system. And of course, personally, whenever we or someone we know is having an emotional or psychological problem, we now wonder, is it a mental illness requiring treatment? If one in five of us have one….

But what NIMH quietly made disappear from its website is the fact that this number actually represented a dramatic drop. “An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year,” the NIMH website can still be found to say in Archive.org’s Wayback Machine. Way back, that is, in 2013.

A reduction in the prevalence of an illness by eight percent of America’s population—25 million fewer victims in one year—is extremely significant. So isn’t that the real story? And isn’t it also important that India recently reported that mental illnesses affect 6.5% of its population, a mere one-third the US rate?

And that would be the real story, if any of these statistics were even remotely scientifically accurate or valid. But they aren’t. They’re nothing more than manipulative political propaganda.

Read the rest of this article at AlterNet.