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CDC: “Thank you, Sallie, May We Have Another?”

27 Sep

A CDC study released yesterday found no evidence to support “a causal association between early exposure to mercury from thimerosal-containing vaccines and immune globulins and deficits in neuropsychological functioning at the age of 7 to 10 years.” In other words, vaccines don’t scramble your brain.

The study didn’t examine autism as an outcome, although that is almost certainly what it was intended to get at. Instead, it looked for whether children’s exposure to thimerosal before birth or in infancy had any relationship to their later performance on 42 standardized tests which one would expect to be affected by autism. For each of the 1,047 children in the study, the researchers assessed speech and language; verbal memory; achievement (letter and word identification); fine motor coordination; visuospatial ability; attention and executive function; behavior regulation; tics; and general intellectual functioning.

CDC tried so hard. They invited one of the queen mercury moms, Sallie Bernard of “SAFEMINDs,” to participate in the planning of the study. They brought on a panel of outside advisors. The team spent at least two years administering forty-seven separate tests to each of the children and analyzing and writing up the results. They printed every piece of data generated in a companion volume to the published study.

They got kicked in the teeth, but don’t feel bad for them. They should have known better.

The autism-vaccine contingent has responded by spluttering about the study not having been large or random enough, and by accusing the researchers of being biased and of ignoring important associations in the data. It’s no news that these people don’t believe anything that comes from CDC – they’ve said as much, very clearly. But one would think that if you let the antivaxers in on the process from day one, if you were totally transparent, they couldn’t object, could they? They’d have to see the light when the results came back and say, “Well! I guess it’s not the vaccines after all!”

CDC, if you really thought that would happen, you were so, so wrong.

The appearance is that Sallie Bernard was going along with all this up until the day the results came in and – shockingly! – showed thimerosal didn’t do one bit of harm. If she’d thought from the outset, as a SAFEMINDs press release now claims, that there weren’t enough kids in the study or the sampling were biased, does anybody think this gadfly would have nodded and smiled and gone right along with it?

No, everything was fine and dandy as long as she was enjoying being fawned over as a “representative of the autism community” and a fellow-scientist instead of the commercial marketer she actually is. Here’s a clue, Sallie: If you’re going to play scientist, you have to follow the rules of science, and that means you stand by your results. You don’t get to say “heads I win, tails you lose” by waiting to see the outcome before deciding whether the study was any good.

And you really don’t get to have CDC at your beck and call, spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to do a study to your specifications, then turn around and call them liars when you don’t like how it comes out.

And you, CDC? You’re not just a victim here. Every time you say “let’s do more research” or “we are examining this issue” in order to appease the mercury moms, you increase the chances that kids will go unvaccinated because you failed to give their parents confidence in the safety of vaccines. When you say a study is reassuring and then highlight what is virtually certain to have been a chance finding (a statistical association between higher thimerosal exposure and transient tics in boys) without making it abundantly clear that some false associations were inevitable given the study design, you defeat the purpose of doing the study. People who understand statistics weren’t the ones who needed to be convinced thimerosal is safe; the antivax crowd will never be convinced no matter what. You needed to speak to the well-meaning parents who worry about the rumors they hear at playgroup, and not only did you give them something new to worry about and whiff the opportunity to show them that the likes of Sallie Bernard are all about the rhetoric – you managed to tee up for yet another round of Righteous Long-Suffering Parents vs. Heartless Government Scientists.

Haven’t you learned yet who wins that one? Or are you going to invite Sallie back for another round of research?

Postscript: More commentary on this study by Arthur Allen, Orac, Joseph, Interverbal, and Kristina Chew.

CSS Reboot – Guest Reviewer

2 May

Well, the CSS Reboot is upon us once again and I thought given the prestige of the occasion, I’d hand over to a guest reviewer to review some of the entries in the Reboot.

Please welcome Guest Reviewer – Johnny Nice-Painter.

Oh hello my fellow artists….how very lovely it is to be here reviewing such a prestigious event as the CSS Reboot amongst all you young people. You may know I’m something of an artist myself, although I have to say I utilise the more conventional approach of a nice canvas and water colours. I daresay that sounds terribly old fashioned.

Anyway, lets move on shall we? Katie has my tea and medication waiting for me and I don’t want to be late…so who’s first Mr Leitch?

Oh ah, young Prabhath from Nidahas…what an exotic looking web page that is! How jolly nice! Did he win? No? Why? Because he didn’t pay to get his design listed on the front page? I don’t understand Mr Leitch – you have to pay?

Oh, only some people can pay – those who can afford it I presume – not those who come from developing countries with other priorities I would surmise…? How very strange. Anyway, which lovely website should I look at next?

Oh, ah Standards Rule…well now thats jolly nice too, what a lot of talented people we have here Mr Leitch!…what’s that? Look at the ‘source code’…whatever for? Ah…I see – using a table for layout purposes – I thought this was a CSS competition? It is? Oh dear. I don’t understand, I’m afraid. Admittedly, an old man like me can’t keep up with the latest gizmo’s and jeejaws but even I know that calling a website ‘Standards Rule’ and rebooting in a CSS competition whilst using a table for layout is a bit…well, its not cricket is it eh?

Shall we just go straight to the CSS Reboot home page Mr Leitch? No? Why not? What do you mean ‘no reason’, that sounds a bit silly – lets just click the link and…..

oh….

….there’s an awful lot of black isn’t there…….

….oh dear…Terry Ng, David Longworth, John Protasiewicz, Bryan Veloso, Doug Gibson…….

black……BLACK!!!!

ah……Christian Montoya….ARRGGHHH Christian Montoya AGAIN!!!! BLACK!!!!

You lock me in the cellar and feed me pins, where shall we sleep tonight Mother? On Father’s grave?

Alex Graul….Jonathon Snook….

They wait for me in the woods…

VEERLE MADE IT GOOD BUT IT MAKES ME SAD!!!

The black…..ITS EVERYWHERE!!!!! I MUST HIDE IN THE WARDROBE OF SUBTLE PLAGARISM DARKNESS!!!

Well…sorry about that. I guess all that black was a bit much for poor Johnny. I know how he feels.

Meme Clobbered – Where Was I?

3 Apr

H has meme clobbered me and as I took the piss out of 37 Signals so mercilessly I can no loger cry off such things. Damn you karma!!

Where Was I One Year Ago?

One year ago I worked for a financial services company as their in house designer/developer. We were also getting our daughter established in a mainstream school, my wife was six months pregnant and I had gone through about 3 re-designs of this site in a month.

Where Was I Five Years Ago?

2001 right? Erm….I was working for a design agency (clients included Disney, Nat West, Jarvis and others) churning out very dodgy Flash based websites and living the dotcom dream. Shorlty afterwards I was laid off. The dotcom nightmare.

Where Was I Ten Years Ago?

Christ. In 1996 I was at University doing my degree and was doing a bit of web stuff to make ends meet. I had just met Naomi. I was thinner. I was fitter. I had a better blood pressure. Other than that I cannot remember/am not saying.

Its customary at this time for me to clobber three other people with this meme. I shall therefore choose one design blogger, one autism blogger and one skeptic blogger.

Hating Sanity: My Very Own Sockpuppet

13 Mar

Someone (and its really not hard to guess who) has created a little sockpuppet site for me. Whomever (ahem) it is has also started sprinkling the blogosphere with spicy comments from ‘me’.

How cool is this? Someone (ahem) is worried enough about what I say to start a whole new blog to sockpuppet me!

I could get annoyed about such a thing but really, we have to look at it this way – I must be making a much bigger impression on someone (ahem) then I thought I was. Enough for them to be really worried about the success I’m having in getting through to people.

But lets not ruin the possible fun here. Lets have a bit of a Cluedo type blog post to work out the suspects….who is ‘kev’????

Is it:

a) JB Handley?

Evidence for: He’s got form for trying to coerce people to his beliefs. He’s also good for a bit of name-calling.
Evidence against: Probably knows I wouldn’t be anything but amused.

b) SueM?

Evidence for: Has the wit.
Evidence against: Lacks the motivation.

c) John Best Jr?

Evidence for? Has been repeatedly made to look foolish by a myriad of people on his own blog and other peoples but as I have adopted a position of purposefully getting in his face, I’ve probably stuck in his brain longer than most. Possibly because I continually post his racist (equates Muslims to terrorists), homophobic (believes homosexuality is a perversion which can be cured by a dose of ‘self-respect’) illogic (believes autism was invented by Eli Lilly in 1931) back in his face.

Lately I pointed out to Joseph that attempting rational debate with John was useless. His two crowning moments for me were when he said that there was no autism in China prior to 1999 (whereupon he was deluged with comments pointing to the many studies that predate 1990, let alone ’99 in China) and that autism didn’t exist before 1931 (whereupon I pointed out the diagnosis for case studies stretching back to the 1880’s) and it was at this point that I referred to him as ‘spectacularly stupid’ by which I meant that I was occasionally in literal awe of how stupid he truly was.

Evidence against: Can someone that stupid have a mildly amusing idea like this?

d) Sigourney Weaver?

Evidence for: Took umbrage at my post disagreeing with her statement that autism is a gift. Also annoyed that I confessed to lusting after Gillian Anderson and Geena Davis as well as her.

Evidence against: Is quite obviously in love with me.

So there we have it. Put on your deerstalkers, sniff your class A narcotic of choice, play the stringed instrument you like the best, indulge in a same sex relationship and claim its platonic, be insufferably condescending all the time and inspire lots of really good black and white movies starring Basil Rathbone.

Fire Cannot Burn Truth

9 Mar

Something of a departure in a way, I want to talk today about something that blogging friend Orac is talking about today, namely that a bunch of arsonists have burnt down the office of the Holocaust History Project in an apparent attempt to stifle the work that goes on there.

The HHP is a vital cog in the machinery that fights against the neo-fascist perpetuated denial of the Holocaust. It puts out educational material to schools in the US designed to educated about the nature and effects of the holocaust.

The Nazi regime is estimated to have murdered approx 275,000 disabled people during its reign, reasoning that:

It was argued that allowing disabled people to live and have children, led to the “unfit” reproducing more quickly than “the fit”. It was said that this weakened society’s ability to function efficiently, placing an unnecessary toll on non-disabled people.

I’ll leave you to reflect on how disconcertingly familiar that sounds to some sentiments repeated today by a certain section of people.

On the grounds that disabled people were less worthwhile and an unfair burden on society, a widespread and compulsory sterilisation program took place. This began in 1933…..sterilisation was followed by an active killing program, which started in 1939

Under a secret plan called the ‘T4 Program’ (T4 was a reference to the address of the program’s Berlin HQ – Tiergartenstrasse 4), disabled people in Germany were killed by lethal injection or poison gas. The T4 Program saw a string of six death camps – called “euthanasia centres” – set up across Germany and Austria. These centres contained gassing installations designed to look like shower stalls.

This is why organisations like the Holocaust History Project are vital. If we are ever to learn from the mistakes of the past we cannot allow the ignorant and brutal to hold sway.

Who’s Blog Is It Anyway?

1 Feb

And so, the Signal vs Noise debate rumbles on – a company who’ve been mildly successful with some intriguing and OK products and who up until fairly recently were well respected in the design/dev blogosphere decided to play the ‘holier than thou’ card when tagged with the ‘four things’ meme.

For the uninitiated, a ‘meme’ is like a viral game, comprised of a series of questions that is passed from blogger to blogger. They’re far from the be all and end all of the blogosphere and being tagged can induce feelings of ‘do I _have_ to?’ but at the end of the day, its just a bit of fun. If you don’t want to participate and you get tagged all you have to do is simply not post your answer. No one cares, no one gets hurt and the meme rolls on regardless.

The ‘four things’ meme is a series of questions about four things e.g. name four jobs you’ve had, four movies you could watch again and again. Utter bullshit stuff for sure and about as important as a wet fart but still, mildly interesting on occasion when the meme lands on the blog of someone you know or someone you admire but don’t know.

So what was 37signals response to all this?

The listed each question with ‘pass’ written into each answer, making it totally clear they felt the whole thing beneath them. A few choice comments were left, particularly this one from Matthew Oliphant:

This is what I take away from this post: “I hope people stop writing what they want to write about on their own blogs and write only about things I find interesting.”.

Realising that they’d pissed a few people off, the 37signals guys decided to invent a whole new meme (one supposes as some sort of ‘reward’ for us peons), entitling the post A meme worth spreading.

Great name. As Jon Hicks commented with masterful sarcasm:

Pass. I bow to your far superior meme creation techniques.

Jon went on to elaborate:

You know how I said that one of my concerns for 2006, was that blogging amongst the design community was becoming too serious and worthy? Well there we go…..After all if you can’t arse around on your blog, where can you? C’mon!

In that spirit of arsing around, I offer my own thoughts to the debate – during an idle surf I stumbled across what looked like an intruiging product. I dutifully took a screen capture which you can see here.

Please watch this space for details of my soon-to-be-upcoming court appearance.

Lets Cut Microsoft Some Slack Eh?

19 Sep

I don’t know about anyone else but I’m getting really really bored with the recent upsurge in MS bashing. Its really prevalent in the web design industry as a lot of designers are Mac users.

It comes in many flavours. First their is the odd blog post with a reasonable proposition that turns into an MS (oops, sorry ‘M$’) bashing fest. Or there’s the full on blog attack.

MS (damn, did it again, I need to write ‘M$’ for full ‘kewl’ points right?) have just released their Developer toolbar for IE and yup, you can bet that announcement got its fair share of idiocy too.

Most of the complaints centre around how uninovatory Microsoft are. Well duh. Thats not their strength. You know thats not their strength, they’ve never traded seriously on that being their strength. Stop moaning about it. However, what they _are_ good at is responding to demand. They watched how Konfabulator panned out then launched Gadgets. They watched how Tiger panned out and they’ll soon launch Vista. They watched how Firefox panned out and saw how good some of the extensions were/are and did their own…..um, whats wrong with that?

Here’s one of the things that rankles me: if they _didn’t_ do these things then these same people would be moaning about how Microsoft are sticking with the same old crap that nobody likes. There truly are times when Microsoft cannot win. They appreciate how good something is and implement a similar system/product and get accused of being uninnovative. Stick with what they’ve got and they get accused of not being able to move forward.

Here’s another thing that rankles me: without the Windows PC, the vast majority of those doing the moaning would not be in the line of work they are currently in. Corporate websites require visitors. Next time you wonder who pays your wages (or who funds your clients ability to finance design work) take a look at the OS stats for your clients site visitors.

Windows made the PC easy for the mass market to use and to get on the web with. Whilst Mac dither about for months designing a _mouse_ , the average price of an internet ready Windows PC is still falling. Whilst precocious designers complain about how Gadgets are really Widgets or what ever, Windows users continue to ramp up web sales.

This recent spate of Windows bashing is totally misplaced. So what if Vista uses a ‘plastic’ style interface? So what if Desktop X wasn’t the first to support widgets? So what if the new IE toolbar resembles the Firefox extension? Are any of these things holding back innovation on the web?

Why don’t you redirect some of that moaning into areas that Microsoft really _do_ need a good kicking about? Like full CSS2.1 support. Or why it took nearly half a decade to get an upgrade to their flagship web product?

Oh, and if you really want to know why PC’s (both Win and *nix) sell better than Macs, try changing the memory on a Mac Mini.

Having A Mint? Nope.

6 Sep

So Mint got launched. The product site is gorgeous and you can almost taste the minty tang on your tongue as you surf around. Watch for it appearing in CSS Galleries over the next few days.

Regarding Mint itself: First things first. It also looks fantastic. But then its designed and built by Shaun Inman so thats hardly news. It also works like a dream but, again, its designed and built by Shaun Inman so, again, thats not a surprise.

What _is_ a surprise is how limited it is functionally. It picks up on browser share, visitors, searches. Its a Stats programme. Call me cynical but I was distinctly underwhelmed. Whats new here that justifies $30 per site?

Most disappointingly of all, you can’t configure it to hook straight into your server generated log files. Instead its dependant on Javascript to source all stats. Thats not good. Or as reliable as getting data straight from the source.

Now I know some people will say that its very simplicity (which seems to be becoming synonymous with ‘lack of standard functionality’ on the web these days) is its attraction – thats its easy to just get the most ‘vital’ data and go. Hm. What web stat application can you _not_ do that with? Personally, I’d rather have all the options I can and then invest some time in (gasp!) learning why they’re important and how to use them.

I don’t mean to knock Shaun Inman here. He’s a web designer/developer that the vast majority of us can only aspire to be as skillful as. Maybe thats why I’m so disappointed by this. The ‘Inman’ brand usually comes with an assurance of innovation and ‘must have’-ability (sorry for the word mangling).

I use Awstats on all my sites and the sheer power is hard to beat. Its also very well organised, dead easy to use and a doddle to find what you need. Its also free.

Mint on the other hand seems like its aimed at a ‘vanity’ audience who just want the quick warm glow of seeing which of their mates linked to them. Thats all very well but whats the point in that other than a quick ego-trip? A tool like Awstats by comparison allows you to develop a brand new skill – learning to read log files in order to better your SEO skills. If you’re in business then the better your SEO skills are, the more money you make. If you’re an agency or in-house developer then the better your SEO skills are, the more money you make for your company and the better your chances of career advancement are. How can you lose?

One area of interest might be Pepper which is basically an API to allow 3rd party developers to develop plugins for Mint. But to be honest, if I’ve already paid $30 per site when I can get 100 times the power for free then I expect much more functionality to be in the core product from the word go.

Is there some aspect I’ve missed here? Something that would blow me away?

Web 2.0? No Thanks.

5 Sep

Web 2.0 – I’ve seen the phrase now and again but I’m not big on hype and I wouldn’t consider myself a really early adopter so I just marked it away for future consideration and moved on. Over the last few months though I read an upsurge in articles about Web 2.0 and have a clearer idea about what it actually is.

What it is is hype with very little substance. Steady on now as I’m going to have a bit of a rant.

First is the idea of attaching a version number to an uncontrollable system. This is the most bullshit marketing aspect of the whole deal. The whole point of versioning software is to retain an aspect of control over its staged development.

It also seems to be an attempt to add ‘coolness’ to something which doesn’t need it, in much the same way as the year 2000 become known as Y2K. I really hated that too. A year (or the web) isn’t cool, it just _is_. If it needs to have coolness thrust upon it then its almost certainly a concept that isn’t a good idea.

Secondly is my fear that this is simply a way to wrap up a series of perfectly understandable and easy to access concepts in a containing idea that simply adds mystique where none is needed and might actually be counter productive. We have enough to learn as web designers/developers without having a totally unnecessary concept put upon us.

Lets have a look at the technical components that encompass Web 2.0:

CSS, semantically valid XHTML markup, and Microformats
Unobtrusive Rich Application techniques (such as Ajax)
Syndication of data in RSS/ATOM
Aggregation of RSS/ATOM data
Clean and meaningful URLs
Support posting to a weblog
REST or XML Webservice APIs
Some social networking aspects

Wikipedia

So basically, Web 2.0 is any halfway decent out-of-the-box blogging tool.

This leads me to strongly suspect that Web 2.0 is essentially a big old-boys club for web designers/developers. Once we were able to take the piss out of those lesser than us because we could code valid XHTML and they couldn’t. Now they’ve caught up we need to up the stakes to something else in order to maintain the old boys network.

What the hell was wrong with the ‘Semantic Web’? as a concept? At least it didn’t appear to be a way to exclude rather than include people, it didn’t place a stupid amount of emphasis on blogging and it had a totally valid purpose – to make the web more semantic and thus easier to understand. Most of all it didn’t have a bloody infantile ‘version number’.

WikiPedia sums it up:

An earlier usage of the phrase Web 2.0 was a synonym for Semantic Web. The two concepts are similar and complementary. The combination of social networking systems such as FOAF and XFN with the development of tag-based folksonomies and delivered through blogs and wikis *creates a natural basis for a semantic environment*.

Thats right, it does. And a naturally developed environment has no need to suffer through the bullshit of a hyperbolic naming and packaging process. Let the semantic web evolve and stop trying to coerce it.

Lion Taming For Beginners

1 Sep

What results in a successful piece of software? Is it the power of the software itself? Is it the range of features it has? Or is is the interface design that allows a user to access those powerful features?

Its a bit of everything really but that would make for a very short and dull post and you’d feel like you wasted your time if I finished with that so let me explain.

I’ve just started a new role working for a software development company. Their flagship product is an immensely powerful data management tool – and ‘tool’ is an understatement, it doesn’t _begin_ to do justice to the level of complexity this bad boy has. If you’re an ordinary user you can view and generate reports and charts based on data from either an OLAP or relational (SQLServer in this case) DB. If you’re a Developer then you can design custom forms, reports, get down and dirty with your own SQL and a wide variety of other frighteningly techy things I’m too right brained to get right now. Take it from me, this is one powerful piece of kit.

And its driven through the thinnest of clients – a web browser. When I first saw it working, it blew my ‘cool’ rating up to 11. Its the first time I’ve ever seen anything this powerful working in a standard install web browser.

But as Spidey’s dead Uncle once said: “with great power comes great responsibility.” and thats where this colossus falters just a _little_ bit. Its too easy to get lost in it and its a very steep learning curve to learn how to use it. We know that and this is one of the reasons they took me on – to put an interface on it that is easy to navigate and make it work like the very best web based applications such as “Rojo.com”:http://www.rojo.com – a big powerful beast with an interface that tames it wonderfully.

I suspect I may have a bit of understandable resistance to overcome. There’s a lot of people who invested a lot of time in this product and it’ll take some time to convince them that I also want whats best for it. I’m hoping I can find a way to let them see the potential of this without treading on anyones toes.