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An exclusive Filipino disease

Elson Elizaga .

A network of journalists worldwide gives me instant news report on any topic of my choice. They work for me for free. And they’re reliable compared to the blogger with six million followers.

The network is called Google Alerts, familiar to my friends in the field of writing and research. But anyone can use it, even a grieving housewife with a computer or smartphone connected to the web.

When I learned about Google Alerts years ago, I set it to give me news reports about the megamouth shark. So, whenever this mysterious fish would get caught in the ocean, or land dead on a beach, I would receive a short note about it in my inbox. When I clicked the title, the full report would open in my Mozilla Firefox.

I’ve been following the discovery of this rare, mysterious deep-sea dweller for almost 20 years and so far I have seen reports and pictures of it in various places: Indonesia, California, Indian Ocean, South Africa, Philippines, Taiwan, Ecuador, Sumatra, Mexico, Brazil, China, the disputed “Sea of China”, and Vietnam.

Recently, I’ve been using Google Alerts to give me information about climate change and science discoveries. As usual, the reports arrive from all over the planet.

In March 2018, I began a new research using this same app because I was curious about an allegation of Persida Rueda-Acosta, chief of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO). She said that the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia is “linked to the deaths” of around 60 children in the Philippines.

My thinking was if Dengvaxia is a killer drug, it should also cause casualties in other parts of the world. Wikipedia notes that in 2016, it “became commercially available in 11 countries: Mexico, the Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Guatemala, Peru, Thailand, and Singapore.”

To my surprise, however, about 90 percent of the news reports about “dengue” and “dengvaxia” that I’ve been receiving for months from Google Alerts are coming from the Philippines. They usually describe Acosta’s claim and opposite views from experts of the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH). But the search phrase “death dengvaxia” always points to the Philippines. Even the Wikipedia article “Dengvaxia controversy”, which I thought would be about an international phenomenon, is solely about this drug in the Philippines.

Why are these alleged Dengvaxia deaths happening only in our country? Are Filipino citizens gifted with a special trait that makes us vulnerable to Dengvaxia? If so, Filipinos living in Mexico, Indonesia, and Thailand should probably suffer the same fate when inoculated by Dengvaxia. But no such incident has been reported.

The Dengvaxia controversy remains just that, a controversy. More sober investigation is needed. Unfortunately, Acosta appears to be doing reverse science. She has jumped to a conclusion, and selects information that supports her conclusion, and fights anyone who gives contrary evidence.

This behavior is called confirmation bias. Scott Plous in his book, The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making, wrote: “Confirmation bias, also called confirmatory bias or myside bias, [Note 1] is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.”

UPDATE: Several hours after I submitted this article to the editor, Google Alerts gave me a fresh one. It’s interesting because it shows that our Dengvaxia debate is being ignored by a large organization in Europe. The report is published by caribbeanbusiness.com but it is fast appearing in other sites:

“SAN JUAN – The European Medicines Agency’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) has adopted a positive opinion for the marketing authorization of biopharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur’s dengue vaccine, recommending its approval in Europe.

“According to the Associated Press, the recommendation comes ‘despite concerns about the vaccine’s wide use and a lawsuit in the Philippines alleging that it was linked to three deaths.'”

See also elson.elizaga.net

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