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From Issue #15 April 25, 2013

Editor’s Note

They blinded us without science; also, love, links, and laps; and dark dungeons.

By Glenn Fleishman Twitter icon App.net icon 

The Magazine takes an editorial stance that empirically derived, peer-reviewed medical research is the starting point for making informed decisions. We also accept that money corrupts, and trusting big business (like Big Pharma or the cellular phone industry), government officials, and politicians to act in society’s best interests requires constant vigilance.

Research can be fabricated, but it’s found out over the long term as results from the general population reveal the fibs. Take Vioxx (rofecoxib), a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that was supposed to be a miracle in reducing inflammation from arthritis and other conditions without the side effects and limitations of earlier NSAIDs. Approved in 1999, it was pulled by Merck in 2004. In numerous court cases and a settlement with most U.S. states, it was revealed Merck hadn’t disclosed the full extent of the risk of the drug.

Thus it’s easy to understand why anti-vaccination groups flourish. In the same time period that Vioxx was released and pulled, a study appeared in a leading British medical journal that seemed to connect childhood vaccines and the rise of incidence of autism diagnoses. Perhaps Big Pharma loved its vaccine profits so much that it was suppressing a critical side effect? In “Give It Your Best Shot,” pediatrician Saul Hymes explains how that study was hogwash, and how studies and statistical work in the intervening years have shown affirmatively that vaccines and autism have no connection.

Still the narrative persists despite no credible reproduction of the original study, which was repudiated by the journal that published it and all but one author, who has had his medical credentials revoked. The weight of independent evidence in the interim is heavy — and linked through Saul’s article — but the data are not enough on their own to break the magical thinking involved. Parents want an answer as to why their kid has been diagnosed with autism, and “vaccination” is a simple answer and hard to give up.

Saul speaks from several years in practice where he’s seen first-hand the effects that omitting routine inoculations has on children who experience the lifelong consequences — or early death.

Love, links, and laps

When I was about 10 years old, my father brought home an old cash register from his furniture store for me to mess around with. I disassembled the heck out of that thing, and learned hard lessons about E-rings, a kind of retaining clip used extensively in the cash register to keep parts in place on rods. They’re also called “Jesus clips,” as in, “Jesus! That hurt!” when you remove them and they snap onto your finger rather than a metal post.1

It seems like Morgen Jahnke’s husband — who also happens to be my friend Joe Kissell — was also such a disassembler. Morgen tells us in this issue, in “Mechanically Attached,” how she, a lover of 19th century literature and aesthetic beauty, managed to build a life with Joe, a supreme geek who likes to know why things tick. It’s a lovely story about how a couple moves beyond accommodation into appreciation.

Nancy Gohring also appreciates mechanical beauty, as she describes the boilers used in small-scale craft distilleries made by a former forest-products engineer in “Lifting One’s Spirits.” Cheap, efficient, and flexible, these ugly stills produce delicious results.

Also in this issue, Rob Pegoraro tackles a topic close to the hearts of many photographers in “Feed Me, See More.” Many Web sites, some well funded, seem to take it as given that images posted anywhere on the Internet are free to take and use. Some credit and link back to the source, but many seem to seek no permission and pay no compensation.

Rob takes a close look at BuzzFeed, a site often thought of as a source of neatly packaged, numbered, and recycled memes consolidated from sites like Reddit, and illustrated with one photo per bullet point. That’s no longer quite accurate. BuzzFeed is well funded, and has expanded to cover news and politics with reporters who cut their teeth in serious journalism. Rob checked out the provenance of all the photos in a recent BuzzFeed article, and the results surprised him and us.

Before taking on Chris Higgins’ “Second Wind,” we recommend a warm-up of reading tweets for a few minutes, then progressing to short blog entries, and finally embarking on his feature. Chris takes us from a painful breakup — his own and that of the subject of his article — and kicks through the wall of pain on his road to a happier life.

(And congratulations to Chris and his bride from The Magazine on their upcoming nuptials!)

Dice of darkness

Scott McNulty’s “Roll for Initiative” brought back a lot of readers’ and microbloggers’ fond recollections of playing D&D when they were kids, and many still play as adults. (Scott guided members of The Incomparable podcast through a game recently.) But a number reminded us that D&D has regularly been cited as a tool of Satan by religious fundamentalists who see the game as normalizing the notion of spells, magic, and a life in which one’s desires replace making moral choices.

One Twitter buddy referred us to the Jack Chick “Dark Dungeons” comic tract. If you’ve never read the Chick comics, they’re remarkable. On first glance, the drawing style, stilted dialog, and liberal use of the supernatural fools you into thinking they’re camp. But they’re absolutely earnest. You can be a devout Christian and still find Chick hilarious because of the scenarios he presents.

“Dark Dungeons” follows the story of Debbie, who has fallen in with a D&D crowd, where she plays as Elfstone. Her ruthlessness is recognized by the Dungeon Master, who cultivates her and invites her to join a coven. Debbie starts casting real spells.

But all is not well in the paradise of hell that she has joined! A friend, killed in the game, commits suicide. (But she took the time to write her farewell note in Brush Script.) Debbie still has a conscience and regret. A handsome classmate helps her find redemption. She comes with him to a faith meeting, and a man who seems to be styled after the 1980s version of Alex Trebek expels the demons (“What are Acts 19, verses 13 to 17, Alex?”), and then the whole group joins in a healthy bookburning.2

Scott wasn’t immune from this. He noted on Twitter, “When I started playing D&D, my aunt was very concerned because it was devil worship. My mother told her that was idiotic.” Yay, Scott’s mom.


  1. No, I never did reassemble it. 

  2. Chick’s tract helpfully notes in the exorcism portion a warning! Consult Acts 19:13–17. In verse 16: “Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.” I suppose he’s suggesting that one be prepared for this. 

Glenn Fleishman is the editor and publisher of The Magazine, hosts the podcast The New Disruptors, and is one of the writers of the Economist's Babbage blog. The father of two, Glenn won two episodes of Jeopardy! in 2012, and he won't let you forget it.

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