Measles or Autism? False Choice, Says Science

Perhaps nowhere is the attack on science more visible than in the opposition to vaccination against infectious diseases such as hepatitis, polio and measles. To anti-vaxxers, immunizing a child with the measles vaccine is a choice between sentencing him or her to the lifelong misery of autism, or exposing the child to possible aftereffects of a disease that the youngster may never contract. This view, passionately held by a substantial minority of the population, is completely at odds with the logic and evidence of science.

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Despite the insistence of anti-vaccinationists to the contrary, there’s absolutely no scientific evidence of any linkage between vaccines and autism. The myth connecting them was first suggested by U.S. activist Barbara Loe Fisher in the 1980s. It gained steam when British gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield claimed in a 1998 study that 8 out of 12 children in the study had developed autism symptoms following injection of the combination measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

But Wakefield’s paper in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet was slowly discredited until, in 2011, the journal’s editors took the unprecedented step of declaring the paper fraudulent, saying that Wakefield had falsified his data. Die-hard anti-vaccinationists refused to accept this conclusion, despite Wakefield’s medical license being subsequently revoked by the UK General Medical Council, who found that his fraud was compounded by ethical lapses and medical misconduct in the same study.

The autism episode generated worldwide publicity and led to thousands of court cases in a special U.S. Vaccine Court set up as part of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. To cope with the enormous caseload, the court assigned three special masters to hear just three test cases on each of two theories: that autism was caused by the MMR vaccine together with a mercury-based preservative known as thimerosal, or that it was caused by thimerosal-containing vaccines alone.

In 2009 and 2010, the special masters unanimously rejected both contentions. But they emphasized that their decisions had been guided only by scientific evidence, not by the poignant stories of autistic children. One of the masters declared in her analysis:

“Sadly, the petitioners in this litigation have been the victims of bad science, conducted to support litigation rather than to advance medical and scientific understanding of autism spectrum disorder. The evidence in support of petitioners’ causal theory is weak, contradictory, and unpersuasive.”

Yet, despite the Vaccine Court’s findings in the U.S. and The Lancet’s accusation of fraud against Wakefield in the UK, anti-vaccinationists continue to connect the MMR vaccine to autism.  In 2016, Wakefield directed a documentary, “Vaxxed,” alleging that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) covered up contrary data in a 2004 study that drew the same conclusions as the Vaccine Court and numerous epidemiological studies.  His allegations were baseless, however, as the 2014 research paper behind his outrageous claim was subsequently retracted.

According to CDC statistics, autism spectrum disorder afflicted 1 in 59 U.S. children in 2014. Diagnosis of the condition can be devastating and highly stressful for the desperate parents of an autistic child, who naturally tend to grasp for explanations and are often quite willing to believe the hype about vaccination.  Currently, the causes of autism remain unknown, although several risk factors have been identified: certain genetic conditions have been implicated, and it’s thought that exposure during pregnancy to toxic chemicals such as pesticides, or to bacterial or viral infections, plays a role.

While there’s no medical evidence tying autism to vaccines, it’s also true that serious adverse reactions to a vaccine shot do occur occasionally – typically about once in every one million vaccinations. Negative and occasionally fatal reactions to various vaccines have been documented in approximately 400 research papers. But these 400 cases need to be weighed against the hundreds of millions of vaccine doses administered every year in the U.S. without any reported side effects, cases that aren’t even worth studying.

And the odds of suffering an adverse reaction have to be compared with the risk of contracting the disease itself. One of 1,000 children who get the measles, for instance, will end up with encephalitis, which can have devastating aftereffects such as seizures and mental retardation; some children still die from measles, often after getting pneumonia. It’s a lot less dangerous to subject a child to an MMR shot than risk exposing the child to a disease as contagious and potentially deadly as measles.

Solar Science Shortchanged in Climate Models

The sun gets short shrift in the computer climate models used to buttress the mainstream view of anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming. That’s because the climate change narrative, which links warming almost entirely to our emissions of greenhouse gases, trivializes the contributions to global warming from all other sources. According to its Fifth Assessment Report, the IPCC attributes no more than a few percent of total global warming to the sun’s influence.

That may be the narrative but it’s not one universally endorsed by solar scientists. Although some, such as solar physicist Mike Lockwood, adhere to the conventional wisdom on CO2, others, such as mathematical physicist Nicola Scafetta, think instead that the sun has an appreciable impact on the earth’s climate. In disputing the conventional wisdom, Scafetta points to our poor understanding of indirect solar effects as opposed to the direct effect of the sun’s radiation, and to analytical models of the sun that oversimplify its behavior. Furthermore, a lack of detailed historical data prior to the recent observational satellite era casts doubt on the accuracy and reliability of the IPCC estimates.

I’ve long felt sorry for solar scientists, whose once highly respectable field of research before climate became an issue has been marginalized by the majority of climate scientists. And solar scientists who are climate change skeptics have had to endure not only loss of prestige, but also difficulty in obtaining research funding because their work doesn’t support the consensus on global warming. But it appears that the tide may be turning at last.

Judging from recent scientific publications, the number of papers affirming a strong sun-climate link is on the rise. From 93 papers in 2014 examining such a link, almost as many were published in the first half of 2017 alone. The 2017 number represents about 7% of all research papers in solar science over the same period (Figure 1 here) and about 16% of all papers on computer climate models during that time (Figure 4 here).

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This rising tide of papers linking the sun to climate change may be why UK climate scientists in 2015 attempted to silence the researcher who led a team predicting a slowdown in solar activity after 2020. Northumbria University’s Valentina Zharkova had dared to propose that the average monthly number of sunspots will soon drop to nearly zero, based on a model in which a drastic falloff is expected in the sun’s magnetic field. Other solar researchers have made the same prediction using different approaches.

Sunspots are small dark blotches on the sun caused by intense magnetic turbulence on the sun’s surface. Together with the sun’s heat and light, the number of sunspots goes up and down during the approximately 11-year solar cycle. But the maximum number of sunspots seen in a cycle has recently been declining. The last time they disappeared altogether was during the so-called Maunder Minimum, a 70-year cool period in the 17th and 18th centuries forming part of the Little Ice Age.

While Zharkova’s research paper actually said nothing about climate, climate scientists quickly latched onto the implication that a period of global cooling might be ahead and demanded that the Royal Astronomical Society – at whose meeting she had originally presented her findings – withdraw her press release. Fortunately, the Society refused to accede to this attack on science at the time, although the press release has since been removed from the Web. Just last month, Zharkova’s group refuted criticisms of its methodology by another prominent solar scientist.

Apart from such direct effects, indirect solar effects due to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation or cosmic rays from deep space could also contribute to global warming. In both cases, some sort of feedback mechanism would be needed to amplify what would otherwise be tiny perturbations to global temperatures. However, what’s not generally well known is that the warming predicted by computer climate models comes from assumed water vapor amplification of the modest temperature increase caused by CO2 acting alone. Speculative candidates for amplification of solar warming involve changes in cloud cover as well as the earth’s ozone layer.

(Comments on this post can be found at the Ice Age Now blog, which has kindly reproduced excerpts from the post.)

Next week: Measles or Autism? False Choice, Says Science

Evidence Lacking for Major Human Role in Climate Change

Conventional scientific wisdom holds that global warming and consequent changes in the climate are primarily our own doing. But what few people realize is that the actual scientific evidence for a substantial human contribution to climate change is flimsy. It requires highly questionable computer climate models to make the connection between global warming and human emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2).

The multiple lines of evidence which do exist are simply evidence that the world is warming, not proof that the warming comes predominantly from human activity. The supposed proof relies entirely on computer models that attempt to simulate the earth’s highly complex climate, and include greenhouse gases as well as aerosols from both volcanic and man-made sources – but almost totally ignore natural variability.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that the models have a dismal track record in predicting the future. Most spectacularly, the models failed to predict the recent pause or hiatus in global warming from the late 1990s to about 2014. During this period, the warming rate dropped to only a third to a half of the rate measured from the early 1970s to 1998, while at the same time CO2 kept spewing into the atmosphere. Out of 32 climate models, only a lone Russian model came anywhere close to the actual observations.

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Not only did the models overestimate the warming rate by two or three times, they wrongly predict a hot spot in the upper atmosphere that isn’t there, and are unable to accurately reproduce sea level rise.

Yet it’s these same failed models that underpin the whole case for catastrophic consequences of man-made climate change, a case embodied in the 2015 Paris Agreement. The international agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions – which 195 nations, together with many of the world’s scientific societies and national academies, have signed on to – is based not on empirical evidence, but on artificial computer models. Only the models link climate change to human activity. The empirical evidence does not.

Proponents of human-caused global warming, including a majority of climate scientists, insist that the boost to global temperatures of about 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius) since 1850 comes almost exclusively from the steady increase in the atmospheric CO2 level. They argue that elevated CO2 must be the cause of nearly all the warming because the sole major change in climate “forcing” over this period has been from CO2 produced by human activities – mainly the burning of fossil fuels as well as deforestation.

But correlation is not causation, as is well known from statistics or the public health field of epidemiology. So believers in the narrative of catastrophic anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change fall back on computer models to shore up their argument. With the climate change narrative trumpeted by political entities such as the UN’s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and amplified by compliant media worldwide, predictions of computer climate models have acquired the status of quasi-religious edicts.

Indeed, anyone disputing the conventional wisdom is labeled a “denier” by advocates of climate change orthodoxy, who claim that global warming skeptics are just as anti-science as those who believe vaccines cause autism. The much ballyhooed war on science typically lumps climate change skeptics together with creationists, anti-vaccinationists and anti-GMO activists. But the climate warmists are the ones on the wrong side of science.

Like their counterparts in the debate over the safety of GMOs, warmists employ fear, hyperbole and heavy-handed political tactics in an attempt to shut down debate. Yet skepticism about the human influence on global warming persists, and may even be growing among the general public. In 2018, a Gallup poll in the U.S. found that 36% of Americans don’t believe that global warming is caused by human activity, while a UK survey showed that a staggering 64% of the British public feel the same way. And the percentage of climate scientists who endorse the mainstream view of a strong human influence is nowhere near the widely believed 97%, although it’s probably above 50%.

Most scientists who are skeptics like me accept that global warming is real, but not that it’s entirely man-made or that it’s dangerous. The observations alone aren’t evidence for a major human role. Such lack of regard for the importance of empirical evidence, and misguided faith in the power of deficient computer climate models, are abuses of science.

(Another 189 comments on this post can be found at the What's Up With That blog and the NoTricksZone blog, which have kindly reproduced the whole post.)