Tuesday, August 15, 2017

#1884: Sin Hang Lee

Sin Hang Lee is an MD and formerly pathologist at the Milford Hospital pathology laboratory (where he received the boot in 2010), who has gained a reputation for himself for scaremongering about the Gardasil vaccine (facts here). His ideas about HPV DNA are silly and have been widely discredited, but that matters less to the antivaxx crowd than his credentials and that he tells them what they like to hear, and he is currently one of the more sought-after antivaxx voices for various antivaxx events – he appears, together with an impressive array of other conspiracy theorists, for instance in the recent “documentary” The Truth About Vaccines.

Lee has been reasonably well-known in the conspiracy community for a while, but made a bit of a splash in 2011 when the conspiracy website SANE Vax claimed to find “Recombinant HPV DNA” in “multiple samples of Gardasil”. Lee, of course, was the guy (“well-known for using cutting-edge DNA sequencing for molecular diagnoses”) contacted to perform the analyses. Of course, we are not informed about how he got the results – there is no scientific article or report attached to the findings, and neither he nor SANE Vax would tell us because they need to “protect the proprietary processes and information utilized by our laboratory to test the samples.” That is one pretty enormous red flag, insofar as testing for DNA contamination is otherwise a pretty straightforward affair, at least if the amount of contamition is sufficient to be anything to conceivably worry about. Nor do SANE Vax tell us how much was detected, which is rather telling; it turns out that the quantities were so small that Lee had to use nested PCR to detect it, which means that they are close to homeopathic (if Lee really found anything at all). Moreover, one would need some serious pseudoscience to dream up a possible mechanism by which such DNA would be harmful, but at least Lee is perfectly willing to provide that:  the HPV DNA in Gardasil™ is not ‘natural’ DNA. It is a recombinant HPV DNA (rDNA) – genetically engineered – to be inserted into yeast cells for VLP (virus-like-particle) protein production. rDNA is known to behave differently from natural DNA. It may enter a human cell, especially in an inflammatory lesion caused by the effects of the aluminum adjuvant, via poorly understood mechanisms.” That is utter nonsense (but common nonsense in anti-vaxx groups), but we suspect that most of SANE Vax’s regular audience wouldn’t know, so claims like this probably do their tricks among the target audience. More details here.

So, basically Lee is the source of a fear mongering campaign derived from a nonexistent understanding of molecular biology, if not on his part then certainly on the part of his intended audience (what he is pushing is ultimately nothing but a version of the toxins gambit). And Lee has continued in the same vein, claiming that deaths not caused by the HPV vaccine were caused by the HPV vaccine and publishing case reports in what appears to be predatory journals based on laughable methodology (indeed, it becomes clear when looking at the report that Lee deliberately made poor methodological choices; one wonders why.)

His research has, of course, been endorsed by various antivaccine activists and pseudoscience groups, such as the deranged conspiracy theory and anti-science hate group (!) the American College of Pediatricians (not to be confused with the reputable American Academy of Pediatrics, though the ACP certainly revels in the confusion).

Diagnosis: Pseudoscientist and crackpot, who seems to have a penchant for choosing the methodology for investigation based on what is most likely to create fear and sensation rather than accuracy. Dangerous.

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