Sunday, January 23, 2011

Atheist smart Car: An Aftermath

In October 2009, I bought a used smart car because I've always thought they were neat. I also got a good deal on a trade in and the cost of the car was well below its Kelly Blue Book value. Also in October, I stepped down as president of Minnesota Atheists after only serving for 8 months. I did so for a number of different reasons and I still think it was the best decision for myself and for the organization.

In the spring, I decided to commission Dan Norte of Dark Dan's Window Tinting in Owatonna to cut and apply Out Campaign decals on the smart car. Since I had a Ford Focus, I've had decals on my cars. The first time I had a Pac Man decal on my hood to cover a paint chip from road debris. I figured it was cheaper than repainting and the decal would protect the metal. What I found out, was that cars with nerdy decals get a lot of attention and that was cool. It was so cool, I did it again with a new car.

August Berkshire, long-time organizer of Minnesota Atheists, owns the vanity plate, "Atheist," for the state of Minnesota. When deciding how I wanted to participate in breaking down stereotypes of atheists, I thought something similar to a license plate would be a good, non-invasive option.

Over the last 10 or so months, my car has been blazoned with giant red "A's," the website for the Out Campaign, a plug for Camp Quest of Minnesota, and a slogan, "Don't Believe in God? You are not alone." The result? A handful of conversations at gas stations and parking lots and a few thumbs up on the highway. I'm sure most of the people I work with have no doubt how I view the God issue, but no one has brought it up. My goal for having the decals was to gain awareness, just as the Out Campaign is supposed to do. I think to some degree, that happened.

So, is it dangerous to have atheist decals stuck all over your car? For me, it wasn't. Though, I'm a sample of one. It you feel compelled to wear your atheism on your sleeve, seek out your local sign maker, get a decal cut, and slap it on! Of course, anytime you wear your religious views on your sleeve, you risk being "that guy." How would you feel if someone felt so compelled to put giant Ichthys fish on their car? Even if to some people I was, "That Guy," I still think it has been a positive experience. The smart car will likely be retired in the next week for a new car.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Flu Vaccinations: A Short Lesson on Critical Thinking.

A friend recently asked me to critically review the following article on the influenza vaccine. Rather than spam my original facebook post I thought I would write my review here.

When you read an article like this it is always important to look at who is promoting or publishing the article. This is true of all scientific studies, but something I am more assiduous with in regards to vaccine literature. The study itself was done by The Cochrane Collaboration, which I don't know much about but seems pretty legit. It is basically a non-profit organization that reviews health care. I didn't do that much research on it so of course I could be wrong, but the reports produced by them seem to be evidence based with no particular bias.

However, it all depends on how the study is interpreted. You can always slant a review to meet your needs. In this case, the website featuring this article is far from unbiased. Gaia Health is very anti-pharmaceutical company and it looks like they don't care for mainstream medicine at all. The comments alone made it pretty evident that the people who regularly read this site would likely belong to the Wakefield fan club. So right of the bat I was alert for anti-vaccine sentiments.

The article isn't so much about the harm the influenza vaccine can cause, which is usually the case of people with this mindset, but with the ineffectiveness. If you are a healthy adult it may seem like the flu vaccine doesn't really have an effect at all, which this particular study proves. I don't doubt that. Healthy adults may not personally benefit from the influenza vaccine. So why bother?

We bother because it isn't the healthy people we should be concerned with. This article does little to report on the unhealthy people. Normally I would refer to the herd immunity defense, but surprisingly the article actually addresses that. It claims when given parenterally the vaccine does little to prevent viral infection and doesn't do much to prevent complications.

I believe the outcome to a degree. Do what you will with that information. However I always resort to third party resources. I am a huge fan of the Center for Disease Control. They bring up an important point. They state that the more non-specific the outcome being measured the lower the estimates of vaccine effectiveness. Also not addressed are the different population in which the vaccine is effect as it can widely vary.

With all vaccines it is important to weigh the risks vs benefits. This article did little to address the harmful side effects of the flu vaccine. If it turns out the vaccine itself was risky to the general population (there are always those that are more prone to adverse effects) and there were no real proven benefits I would say don't vaccinate. If the risks are small what is the harm of getting the shot either way. If it works it works, if it doesn't at least you tried. For me the jury is out, simply because based on this article alone there simply is not enough information. If you can take away any lesson from this, it should be to never resort to one source and to research your sources before you draw conclusions.