I am Neuroscience PhD, a humanist, skeptic, feminist, avid reader, science enthusiast, woolly-liberal über-nerd, and, as of October 2015, father to the Lykketroll.

I moved from England to Norway in January 2012 and live in Lørenskog with my wife, the Lykketroll, and our two aging rescue cats, Socrates and Schrödinger. 

I am on paternity leave from the 4th of July to the 18th of November. 

The job I am on leave from is as an  Associate Professor and Head of Studies at the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences. My background is in child neurodevelopment (my PhD looked into the relationship between fatty acids like omega-3 and cognitive development in young children) but I now work on a hodge-podge of things roughly within the field of Universal Design of ICT 50% of the time, the other 50% of my time I am Head of the 'General' Studies (Allmenn in Norwegian) Unit, which is comprised of around 24 academics within a range of fields, including mathematics, physics, Norwegian, and technology and leadership.

In between working and doing the usual dad things,  I like hiking and running in the beautiful Norwegian outdoors, cooking and playing video games. 

If I believed in souls I would say that mine was born in Norway. 

I plan to sleep when I'm dead.

Dagbladet and the HPV vaccine: A one-line correction isn't enough

On Friday the Norwegian tabloid Dagbladet published a story about a 12 year old girl who developed facial paralysis around two weeks after getting the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine. There is no evidence thus far that the two events are linked in any way and  there is a lot of scare-mongering associated with the HPV vaccine, with many articles like this one from the Daily Fail . 

Prolific and excellent blogger Gunnar Tjomlid over at Unfiltered Perception has written and blogged about the HPV vaccine ‘controversy’ (a controversy only in the mind of anti-vaxers) quite a bit, including a great dissection of this latest Dagbladet article, excellently titled ‘Reading Dagbladet can give you cancer’. It’s in Norwegian, but it doesn’t take much to Google Translate it – I assure you, it’s well worth your time.

I’ve included a translated extract from the post below, which shows just how dangerous and misleading scaremongering articles like this can be in Norway:

What happens if articles in Dagbladet lead to more girls refusing the HPV vaccine? Annually there are 30,000 girls who are offered the HPV vaccine and 80% say yes. This means that 24,000 girls accept. If coverage is reduced by 1% due to an article, this corresponds to 300 girls not getting HPV vaccine.

Without the HPV vaccine, 10% will develop genital warts, 10% serious abnormalities, 1% will get cancer and 0.3% of those will die from it. In sheer numbers, this is 3,000 with genital warts, 3,000 with severe abnormalities, 300 cases of cancer and 90 deaths due to cervical cancer.

The HPV vaccine can prevent 90% of genital warts, 50% of abnormalities, 70% of cancer and the mortality from cancer.

· If 11 people decline the HPV vaccine, one girl will get genital warts unnecessarily.
· If 20 decline the HPV vaccine, one girl will develop severe cell changes unnecessarily.
· If 140 decline the HPV vaccine, one girl will get cervical cancer unnecessarily.
· If 500 decline the HPV vaccine, one girl will die of cervical cancer unnecessarily.

What’s even more damaging is that in the original version of the Dagbladet article there was the following reference to one of their own stories from 2009, which reported that a 14 year old girl in England had died as a result of the HPV vaccine.

"I 2009 døde en engelsk 14-åring etter å ha fått vaksinen, og flere mener det ikke ligger nok forskning bak mulige bivirkninger av vaksinen." (Google translation: "In 2009 an English 14-year-old died after receiving the vaccine, and some think there is not enough research behind the possible side effects of the vaccine").

It later emerged that this girl had actually died from a malignant chest tumour and not a reaction to the HPV vaccine. My wife read the article in Dagbladet shortly after it was published at 4pm and wrote the following email to the journalist to point out the mistake (reason #1395432 that she is the most awesome wife ever):
Hei Therese,

I artikkelen din "Caroline (12) frykter hun blir lam i ansiktet etter HPV-vaksine" skriver du blant annet "I 2009 døde en engelsk 14-åring etter å ha fått vaksinen, og flere mener det ikke ligger nok forskning
bak mulige bivirkninger av vaksinen." Det viste seg i etterkant at jenta i England døde av en svulst i brystet og at dette ikke hadde noe med vaksinen å gjøre (se blant annet BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8284517.stm). Det at noe skjer rett etter noe annet betyr ikke at det er en sammenheng. Jeg regner med at du oppdaterer artikkelen din, da en slik feil ikke bør bli stående.

Marte Patel

Translation: "In your article "Caroline (12) fears she will be paralyzed in the face after HPV vaccine", you include "In 2009 died an English 14-year-old after receiving the vaccine, and some think it is not enough research behind the possible side effects of the vaccine." It turned out later that the girl in England died of a tumor in the breast and that this had nothing to do with the vaccine (see for example BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/ 2/hi/health/8284517.stm). The fact that something happens immediately after something else does not mean that there is a connection. I think that you should update your article as such an error should not be standing."

To the journalist’s credit, the line in the article referring to the English girl’s death was removed shortly afterwards (the only proof that it was there in the first place is that my wife copied the quote in the email), but the fact that it referred to a discredited story in the first place is worrying to say the least. I also can’t find a follow-up article in Dagbladet that clarifies the real cause of death of the British 14 year old, which means that many Norwegians who read the original article continue to believe that she died as a result of the vaccine, which is not true.

The damage caused by these kinds of uncritical and speculative articles, which rely on emotive anecdotal ‘evidence’, is not trivial. My wife may have been able to get one line of misinformation removed, but the fact is that the story remains up and the damage is really hard to undo.

This blog could stop Dadbladet from parroting the Daily Mail's shoddy journalism*

Book review: The Science of Superheroes by Lois Gresh and Robert Weinberg