Welcome to the year of Zardoz, my droogies. Yes, that epic Sean Connery flick was set in 2023. I’m sad that Connery didn’t get to see its reality. I’m further sad that his sartorial prediction has not yet come to pass:
Mind you, as I continue to work from home, there’s no reason that I can’t make this my new official office attire.
This website is now officially 30 years old. That’s got to be some kind of record, right? It has sadly outlived many adult human beings in my acquaintance, and I wonder now if it might one day outlive me, as well. If I can find a few spare days this year, there are a few overhauls to the site aesthetics that I intend to make.
I was asked recently to comment on the reappearance of that old canard, the disproven link between vaccination and autism. The advantage of having an old blog is that I can just point to some old posts I’d already written on the topic. Keep in mind, though, only recently have I learned to be publicly palatable, as I never expected this platform to have an audience greater than my handful of similarly profane friends. Do retain that fact as you browse these dismissive posts from several years ago:
“Vaccines and Dumb-Asses”
“That Vaccination Question Again”
“More On Vaccination”
This blog is not peer-reviewed. It’s not meant to be cited by scholars. It’s a repository for my thoughts, and sometimes a vehicle for explaining complex concepts to a general public that does not have my specific training.
And yet, over the past few years the contents of this blog have been entered into evidence in a court of law more than once. And in my capacity as an expert witness in some cases, I’ve been asked to confirm, refute, or explain things I’ve written here. (Please do not ask me to discuss any elements of such cases, as I will divulge nothing.) No one is more surprised by this development than me, especially since I have a section called “Separated At Birth“, that clearly should be of great interest to scholars and litigators alike. (That’s sarcasm, by the way.)
2022 was definitely interesting. The year ended on some personal upswings. For example, I got to record a new podcast with a nice gentleman from Alberta named Richard Richards…. whom I’ve never met. That’s right, two strangers made a podcast. I love that such a thing is still possible.
The year ended with Greta Thunberg offering the greatest social media smackdown in Twitter history to misogynist lowlife Andrew Tate, so deafening that the Romanian police heard it. I’ve always been fairly agnostic when it comes to Ms Thunberg, even finding her antics a tad annoying in the past. But the year ends with me becoming a definite fan and supporter of the young lady.
Regular readers of this blog (both of you) will know that I reserve the first post of every year to list things for which I am thankful…. which I will do in a moment. But, much like last year, I’d also like to make predictions for this year.
I ended 2020 on a very hopeful note, quoting Tennyson: “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering. ‘It will be happier.’” I was wrong, as 2021 was disastrous for many, even becoming one of the worst years of my life.
I was careful not to make such a cheery prediction for 2022; and I’m glad. From a public health perspective alone, the year was fraught with peril. The number of COVID deaths is sky high. Hospitals, particularly pediatric hospitals, remain unsustainably overfull. My spouse and I felt compelled to pull our child out of daycare because of this fact, making our personal lives even more stressful.
Scarlet Fever, Monkeypox, Measles, and Polio (and others) are showing their faces again, as we might be entering a new Age of Infectious Diseases. And yet our leaders behave as if it’s 2019 again. Anti-science continues to run amok, with vaccine denial and the vilification of scientists and physicians continuing at worrying pace.
In short, we have much work to do.
But the year ends with Professor Timothy Caulfield being awarded the Order of Canada for his work combating science misinformation. I don’t know Dr Caulfield personally, but I’m proud to say that I spoke on a panel with him once, and the man is totally as advertised: a top notch communicator and scientist. His recognition fills me with confidence that we are about to turn the tide on the war against science. The Age of Enlightenment might not be over just yet.
At the beginning of 2022, I predicted the Epidemiology buzzwords of note would be “Farr’s Law”, “Nosocomial”, and “Sequelae.” I don’t think I was right. I should have said, “Base Rate Fallacy” and leave it at that.
For 2023, I hope the words of note will be, “Mucosal Immunity”. I fear the keywords might be, “Original Antigenic Sin”, “XBB”, and “immunity theft.” But I suspect the big word will actually be, “Hyperendemicity.” I’m watching carefully the unrolling of the Incovacc mucosal COVID vaccine in India. Though, to be honest, the trial data that has justified its introduction were not particularly compelling, due in large part to the curious choice of comparator group. I’m also looking askance at the vaccine’s delivery mechanism (nose drops rather than a spray), which might be its undoing. But let’s not get too deep into the mucosal woods right now. Let’s cross our fingers that with sufficient roll-out and effectiveness, India might see a remarkable dent put into COVID transmission.
At the very least, let’s celebrate the fact that we might be looking at a new era in immunotherapy. Vaccines to treat and maybe prevent cancer, dementia and heart disease? Maybe. And there’ a good chance we will be seeing a flotilla of new mucosal vaccine candidates introduced to the world in coming months. Hope is not always “hopium”.
Speaking of hope, I had hoped in 2022 I would have “fixed” my reading problem. Between my endless work, my doom-scrolling, and chasing a toddler all day, everyday, I have very little time for self-indulgence. What time I do have, I spend passively plunked in front of the TV re-watching the same episodes of Stargate SG-1, because it’s comfort food. Thus, my rate of book consumption has suffered. For a man who prides himself on both his writing ability and on being well-read… and on the fact that I’ve written several award-winning books… I now find it challenging to read a single book.
In 2021, I did indeed read a single book. Yes, one. Which book? Women In Black by Nick Redfern.
In 2022, I have similarly managed to finish just one book…. and only barely. Which one? Skinwalkers At The Pentagon.
Now, with these titles I have confessed to you one of my hidden interests: so-called “paranormal” scientific research. It might surprise some of you to learn that a public defender of empirical research would be so taken by subjects on the fringe of Enlightenment thinking. It shouldn’t surprise you, as I see no conflicts here.
In “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, Thomas Kuhn wrote that discovery arises with “the recognition that nature has somehow violated the paradigm-induced expectations of normal science.” It therefore behooves a good scientist to carefully examine those instances when unusual observations are reported. Indeed, the philosophical challenge to the positivist approaches of traditional epidemiology was going to be the next and final research focus of my professional life, the topic that would take me unto retirement…. until a pesky pandemic got in the way and derailed all of our plans.
One day perhaps I will share with you some of my own “fringe” observations in this area. But not today. And maybe one day, when I have several hours of distraction-free time, I’ll further develop my thoughts on the philosophy of positivist science. (Spoiler alert: true positivism is impossible, and it is important that we do not become married to our paradigms.)
So let’s move on to the traditional portion of this post. For what am I thankful? This year, I have listed six items in no particular order, except that of literary expedience.
(1) Well, I still have one parent. I lost my father in 2021, just as I became a father. But I still have my mother. And watching her love affair with my son is one of the best experiences of my life. Every day in which I have them both in my life is a gift.
(2) I also have a wider family, which includes a spouse and siblings. Never ever ever take for granted that you have people in your life in whom you can have absolute and perfect trust. This is the finest blessing any god ever bestowed upon any human being. Be thankful for that fact every moment of every day.
(3) I have a dog who is getting up there in years. Every day, I am short with him and every day I feel guilty for that fact. It’s hard caring for a toddler while a jealous dog gropes for your attention, as well. But I love this beast with all my heart, and I hope he knows it. As I write these words, he’s asleep at my feet, dirty-paws and car-stopping bad breath and all:
My spouse and I have already decided that when we finally do lose my fluffball, we will not get another dog. It’s just too much work having two dependents right now. I think about that every morning as I awaken to his excited pre-walk panting. Every day with my four-legged firstborn is a gift. He taught me to love unconditionally, and to forgive loved ones who are short with us. We must all strive to be worthy of our dogs.
(4) Weirdly, I’m thankful for an army of strangers on my social media feed. By virtue of the curating power of Twitter’s “locked account” function, and Facebook’s “friends only” approach, I have somehow managed to find myself amidst several thousand characters whom I mostly like. No, I don’t really know any of you. Y’all might be joy-hating devil-worshippers for all I know. But every day, I know I’m going to have something akin to a pleasant social interaction when I log into my various accounts. As I’ve been sequestered at home for two years (by virtue of pandemic, work changes, and child care demands), not seeing my in-the-flesh friends, this experience has been invaluable. So thank you, People of the Internet.
(5) Of course, I am thankful for having a child. I won’t bore you with the endless pontifications on fatherhood that so many parents have independently discovered. I will say this: having a child has made me invested in the world. Who knows how many years I have left. But now I know those years will be filled with a singular purpose: to prepare my child for the path. And, where possible, to beat down the path if it threatens to be unfairly threatening for the child. In many ways, fatherhood is clarity.
(6) The last thing I am thankful for is my father. Yes, he died 18 months ago. But it’s his life that lingers with me still, not his death. He prepared me for the path. That’s what a good father does. Daily, I marvel at what a good father he was. In essence, his life lesson to me was to demonstrate a to-do list, the tasks and challenges I must seek to complete and overcome in my quest to leave my own son his own full kit of life tools. So I end the year with his name on my lips, and a full understanding of my labours to come.
Happy New Year, y’all. Regardless of how dire your circumstance, do remember Tennyson’s words: “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering. ‘It will be happier.’”