Monday October 22, 2018

Polio History and Misinformation on Digital Journal

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By Ernest Dempsey

Nothing divides the medical community and the public more on public health issues today than vaccination. Media is a major player in this divide and when it comes to polio vaccination, even citizen journalism sources take to policies of censorship of some information as well as allowing questionable information that fits the vaccine industry’s model of truth.

Take Digital Journal, for example – the popular Canadian citizen journalism site where I wrote hundreds of articles over the course of 5 years and was one of the top content producers for a few months. But last year when I published my article on the history of polio incidence, it was removed. The article titled “The millions of polio sufferers who never existed” was published on November 23, 2014 and remained published for two weeks before it was removed from the website. On December 8, 2014, I received the editorial staff’ email telling me:

“We have received several complaints about the article, and it’s been raised that your sources are not reliable and your qualifications are not related to relaying the efficacy of these vaccines.”

396px-Polio_vaccine_posterBy that time, the article had been liked and shared hundreds of times on social media and many news sites and blogs were linking to it. Its removal signified outright censorship of information that questions the superficially but intensively fed story of millions of polio patients prior to the advent of polio vaccines.

Upon writing to back to the editors, I asked what was their policy on the number of complaints they needed to receive to make information disputed and what were the qualifications of the editors in the field of public health. I did not receive a reply. The site provided no explanation or justification of the censorship that I deemed very unprofessional and prejudiced.

Though I put the same article on my own blog, questions remained about the neutrality of Digital Journal when it came to debatable issues. Was the site actively suppressing dissident voices on questions of polio incidence?

Recently, my doubts were verified when an article “Nigeria beating polio, Africa closer to eradicating disease” appeared on the site. Near the end of the story, the writer includes: “Back when the polio eradication initiative was founded, the disease was endemic in 125 countries and caused paralysis in nearly 1,000 children a day.”

This raised a frown from me since from my research on the topic as shared in my article censored by Digital Journal, I knew these stats were questionable. To my knowledge, there is no verifiable source that shows such large numbers of polio cases causing paralysis in people at any time in human history.

I decided to contact the writer of the article to inquire about the source of the information. The reply I got from the writer said her source was Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Upon my asking whether she looked up to verify the information, I received the reply that she didn’t fact-check the information and the foundation is “respected”, but that they could be wrong so I could always check with them myself.  Poliodrops

Next step, of course, was to contact the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to inquire where they had received their information on polio incidence. Their reply – “WHO and CDC are the sources for this data.” Having known the questions about the reliability of WHO and CDC as stakeholders in the vaccination business brought my doubts closer to the belief that the information is unreliable. I did write to the media cells of CDC and WHO with the same question about polio stats – and to date, I haven’t received a response!

But how far did Digital Journal go to verify the stats themselves? Were the qualifications of the writer of this article, claiming a thousand people paralyzed daily by polio prior to the vaccine’s introduction, enough to back up the information when the writer herself says that she didn’t do any fact-checking on the information?

The case of information censorship on Digital Journal regarding polio history is the tip of the iceberg that goes to unfathomable depths of media’s interests in certain industries, particularly the pharmaceutical industry. And while mainstream media is an active advocate of vaccination, mostly downplaying the case against the efficacy and safety of vaccines, citizen journalism sites like Digital Journal are also following the same route. Yet, alternative news sites and blogs as well as some citizen journalism sites that are independent in the real sense of the word provide hope for continued skepticism and critical analysis of information fed to the public.

About the Author

Ernest Dempsey is a writer, editor, blogger, and journalist based in Orlando, FL. He runs a popular blog Word Matters! at http://www.ernestdempsey.com/ and edits the journal and its blog Recovering the Self. Dempsey is a sceptic, vegetarian, and advocate for animal and human rights.

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Immunotherapy Drugs Show Significant Improvement Against Breast Cancer: Study

Side effects need a close look, both doctors said. Nearly all study participants had typical chemo side effects such as nausea or low blood cell counts.

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Breast Cancer
This undated fluorescence-colored microscope image made available by the National Institutes of Health in September 2016 shows a culture of human breast cancer cells. For the first time, one of the new immunotherapy drugs has shown promise against breast cancer in a large study that combined it with chemotherapy to treat an aggressive form of the disease. VOA

For the first time, one of the new immunotherapy drugs has shown promise against breast cancer in a large study that combined it with chemotherapy to treat an aggressive form of the disease. But the benefit for most women was small, raising questions about whether the treatment is worth its high cost and side effects.

Results were discussed Saturday at a cancer conference in Munich and published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

Drugs called checkpoint inhibitors have transformed treatment of many types of cancer by removing a chemical brake that keeps the immune system from killing tumor cells. Their discovery recently earned scientists a Nobel Prize. Until now, though, they haven’t proved valuable against breast cancer.

Breast Cancer
Weight loss may lower breast cancer risk for post-menopausal women. Pixabay

In the study

The new study tested one from Roche called Tecentriq plus chemo versus chemo alone in 902 women with advanced triple-negative breast cancer. About 15 percent of cases are this type, their growth is not fueled by the hormones estrogen or progesterone, or the gene that Herceptin targets, making them hard to treat.

Women in the study who received Tecentriq plus chemo went two months longer on average without their cancer worsening compared with those on chemo alone, a modest benefit. The combo did not significantly improve survival in an early look before long-term follow-up is complete.

Failed protein test

Previous studies found that immunotherapies work best in patients with high levels of a protein that the drugs target, and the plan for the breast cancer study called for analyzing how women fared according to that factor if Tecentriq improved survival overall.

breast cancer
FILE – A patient receives chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer at the Antoine-Lacassagne Cancer Center in Nice, July 26, 2012. VOA

The drug failed that test, but researchers still looked at protein-level results and saw encouraging signs. Women with high levels who received the combo treatment lived roughly 25 months on average versus about 15 months for women given chemo alone.

That’s a big difference, but it will take more time to see if there’s a reliable way to predict benefit, said Dr. Jennifer Litton of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. She had no role in running the study but enrolled some patients in it and oversees 14 others testing immunotherapies.

“We’re really hopeful that we can identify a group of women who can get a much bigger and longer response,” she said.

Another breast cancer specialist with no role in the study, Dr. Michael Hassett at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, said he felt “cautious excitement” that immunotherapy may prove helpful for certain breast cancer patients.

Breast Cancer
Breast cancer cell, Wikimedia Commons

Side effects and cost

Side effects need a close look, both doctors said. Nearly all study participants had typical chemo side effects such as nausea or low blood cell counts, but serious ones were more common with the combo treatment and twice as many women on it stopped treatment for that reason.

Three of the six deaths from side effects in the combo group were blamed on the treatment itself; only one of three such deaths in the chemo group was.

Also Read: New DNA Tool To Predict People’s Height And Risk For Cancer

Cost is another concern. Tecentriq is $12,500 a month. The chemo in this study was Celgene’s Abraxane, which costs about $3,000 per dose plus doctor fees for the IV treatments. Older chemo drugs cost less but require patients to use a steroid to prevent allergic reactions that might interfere with the immunotherapy. Abraxane was chosen because it avoids the need for a steroid, said one study leader, Dr. Sylvia Adams of NYU Langone Health.

The study was sponsored by Roche and many study leaders consult or work for the company or own stock in it. (VOA)