SGU Episode 175

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SGU Episode 175
November 20th 2008
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 174                      SGU 176

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

R: Rebecca Watson

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

“Whatever people in general do not understand, they are always prepared to dislike; the incomprehensible is always the obnoxious.”

Letitia E. Landon

Download Podcast
Show Notes
SGU Forum


You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

News Items ()[edit]

Trudeau Smackdown ()[edit]

Placebo Acupuncture ()[edit]

NASA Drinks Urine, Loses Tools ()[edit]

Reflexology in UK Schools ()[edit]

Questions and E-mails ()[edit]

Question #1 Flu Vaccine ()[edit]

Dr. Novella,

I thoroughly enjoy your blog entries and /love /the SGU podcast. You have saved me from more than one pseudoscience and have sharped my mind. I was wondering if you could take a look at an article that gave me pause.

Yesterday I was listening to the SGU episode where you interviewed Mark Crislip, who advocated /everyone /getting the flu vaccine. Then today I ran into this article: 'Avoid Flu Shots, Take Vitamin D Instead'

Sandwiched between government conspiracy theories and anti-vaccine propaganda he writes:

'In one widely quoted study, 1838 volunteers age 60 and over were randomized to receive a flu shot or placebo (a shot of saline). The flu shot reduced the /relative /risk of contracting (serologically confirmed, clinical) influenza by a seemingly impressive 50%. The incidence of influenza in the unvaccinated people in this study was 3%. In the vaccinated group it was 2% (/JAMA /1994;272:16615). Flu shots reduced the /absolute /risk of contracting influenza by a meager 1% (not 50%, as the 'relative risk' portrays it).'

My BS detector was already going off by this time in the article, but this seems to be a reasonable point. If vaccines only reduce the absolute cases of the flu by 1% then why get should we get them? But I wanted more information, so I went to the CDC's website.

According to the CDC:

'Overall, in years when the vaccine and circulating viruses are well-matched, influenza vaccines can be expected to reduce laboratory-confirmed influenza by approximately 70% to 90% in healthy adults<65 years of age.'

Is the CDC claiming that flu vaccines reduce flu cases 70% to 90% absolutely or relatively? Or am I just getting hung up on a minor point?

Basically I have two questions. (1.) Is this guy completely full of crap? Or only mostly? (2.) Is the effectiveness quoted in the CDC website a reduction in relative risk or absolute risk?(Or maybe I shouldn't even try to understand statistics)

Blake Harber

Question #2 New England Skeptics ()[edit]

Not sure if you guys have seen this one, but I couldn't help spotting a certain book in the newly release adventure game A Vampyre Story. It's one of the parodies in a library near the start of the game, but it... jumped out of the screen.

Of course, it could just be a coincidence. I'd hate to rule anything out, unless it's too ridiculous to be true. Then, yes.

Richard Cobbett

Interview with Steven Schafersman, Ph.D. ()[edit]

Science or Fiction ()[edit]

Item #1: Scientists report that they have completed sequencing most of the Mammoth genome. Item #2: A young girl survived without a heart for four months, while awaiting a transplant. Item #3: Scientists discover a live specimen of a rare New Zealand penguin thought to have gone extinct 500 years ago.

Quote of the Week ()[edit]

“Whatever people in general do not understand, they are always prepared to dislike; the incomprehensible is always the obnoxious.” - Letitia E. Landon

S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by the New England Skeptical Society in association with the James Randi Educational Foundation and For more information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at For questions, suggestions, and other feedback, please use the "Contact Us" form on the website, or send an email to If you enjoyed this episode, then please help us spread the word by voting for us on Digg, or leaving us a review on iTunes. You can find links to these sites and others through our homepage. 'Theorem' is produced by Kineto, and is used with permission.


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