Vaccine deniers misuse the Peter Doshi flu vaccine study

Peter Doshi

Anti-vaccine activists constantly look for any science that seems to support their beliefs about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. Lately, they have gravitated to the writings of Peter Doshi, who has made a career talking about vaccines. Although Doshi lacks the credentials in any area of science related to vaccines – immunology, microbiology, virology, public health, epidemiology – the anti-vaccine forces embrace him like he’s a Nobel Prize winning scientist. Which he is not.

Let’s take a look at Doshi’s credentials and what he’s written about vaccines, specifically the flu vaccine.

 

Argument from Authority

Before we look at Peter Doshi, we need to start by looking how the anti-vaccine crowd depends on authorities, especially false authorities. Vaccine deniers rely upon the Argument from Authority, a logical fallacy which provides an argument from an authority, but on a topic outside of the authority’s expertise or on a topic on which the authority is not disinterested. Furthermore, the works of authorities, no matter how eminent or influential, is always judged by the quality of their evidence and reasoning, not by their authority alone.

For example, Peter Duesberg, a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley, has incredible credentials and would probably be considered an authority based on his academic credentials alone. Sadly, Duesberg claims that HIV is not the cause of AIDS, and that recreational drug use is more to blame for the prevalence of AIDS amongst the homosexual community.

Duesberg has also claimed that AIDS in Africa is largely misdiagnosed, and is not really AIDS but merely the accumulated affects of malnutrition and disease. AIDS deniers, like Duesberg, have little or no scientific evidence for their disputing that HIV causes AIDS, they are considered crackpots at best and harmful to the research to treat and prevent AIDS. A true scientific skeptic does not accept the statements of an authority figure just because they are an authority, but on the body of evidence, along with the qualifications, of said authority.

Another example of a false authority, specific to vaccines, is Tetyana Obukhanych, an immunologist who has become the darling of the anti-vaccine forces. The science deniers use Obukhanych’s anti-vaccine words as gospel, more so because she has the authority of a degree in immunology. However, she never did any research to support her beliefs, so the evidence does not support her actually being an expert in the field of vaccines.

Science deniers attempt to create a false equivalence, or even this false democracy of science, by cherry picking some “authority” that supports their point of view. Of course, they ignore the vast majority of “authority” figures who are on the other side of the fence. Once again, one authority person does not outweigh the vast numbers that are usually on the other side of the argument.

 

All about Peter Doshi

Recently, the vaccine denier zombie memes  have resurrected an “authority” named Peter Doshi, who has made a recent career of denying some aspects of vaccinations, specifically flu immunizations. An article in one of the crank online “medical” websites, NewsMax Health, that is being passed around again by the vaccine obstructionists, relied upon some statements by Doshi “of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.”

Promoting influenza vaccines is one of the most visible and aggressive public health policies in the United States, says Doshi of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Drug companies and public officials press for widespread vaccination each fall, offering vaccinations in drugstores and supermarkets. The results have been phenomenal. Only 20 years ago, 32 million doses of influenza vaccine were available in the United States on an annual basis. Today, the total has skyrocketed to 135 million doses.

“The vaccine may be less beneficial and less safe than has been claimed, and the threat of influenza seems to be overstated,” Doshi says. Mandatory vaccination polices have been enacted, often in healthcare facilities, forcing some people to take the vaccine under threat of losing their jobs.

Even when the vaccine is closely matched to the type of influenza that’s prevalent, which doesn’t happen every year, randomized, controlled trials of healthy adults found that vaccinating between 33 and 100 people resulted in one less case of influenza. In addition, says Doshi, no evidence exists to show that this reduction in the risk of influenza for a specific population — here in the United States, among healthy adults, for example — extrapolates into any reduced risk of serious complications from influenza, such as hospitalizations or deaths, among seniors.

Well, this sounds provocative. So let’s start at the top. First, let’s look at Doshi’s background. According to a report written for the National Academies of Science (and having absolutely nothing to do with vaccines), Doshi is

…a postdoctoral fellow in comparative effectiveness research at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His over-arching research interests are in improving the basis for credible evidence synthesis to support and improve the quality of evidence-based medical and health policy-related decision making. In 2009, he joined a Cochrane systematic review team evaluating neuraminidase inhibitors for the treatment and prevention of influenza. Rather than focusing on publications, the review evaluates regulatory information, including clinical study reports. He received his A.B. in anthropology from Brown University, A.M. in East Asian studies from Harvard University, and Ph.D. in history, anthropology, and science, technology and society from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

For those of you who don’t know anything about scientific research (that would be every vaccine denier I’ve met), a post-doctoral fellow is not on the faculty. Yes, he’s at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, but he does not practice medicine, nor does he do any clinical research. He is not a faculty member, and, except for guest lecturing, does not teach medical or graduate students.

As a post-doc, he is doing research which extends from his Ph.D. research at the MIT. Moreover, he doesn’t have a science research background, it appears that his background is in the history of science, a fine field of much interest to many real scientists, but it isn’t hard science, that is developing a hypothesis based upon observations, then testing the hypothesis using the scientific method, and finally publishing it.

On the scale of educational background, Doshi would not qualify as a “scientist”, but people can claim whatever they want. As I’ve said, it’s evidence that matters. All of Doshi’s research are criticisms of vaccines, not based on his personal leadership in a clinical trial, but merely on his opinion. And he seems to enjoy attacking Big Pharma, a trite strawman argument.

So using the Peter Doshi vaccine study as a “proof” that vaccines are bad because Doshi is a leading authority on vaccines and the flu? That isn’t going to fly. Doshi is not even close to having credentials of a real vaccine researcher.

A few years ago, a writer took Doshi to task for his lack of scientific rigor in his tactics to attack flu vaccines and preparation for potential flu pandemics:

The question is not whether the virus as it currently is constituted is a pandemic threat but whether it will become one. There are many reasons to think this can happen and happen soon. When and i it does, there will be no time to prepare, so waiting to do so is not prudent, although that is what Doshi is advocating. As we have emphasized here many times, and will do again, the way to prepare for an influenza pandemic is to strengthen a community’s social service and public health infrastructure. Concentrating on vaccines and antivirals is not a useful way to prepare because if there is no pandemic (we should be so lucky) it would be wasted and the use of either requires an infrastructure to distribute them. Instead the task before us is one of community mobilization but requires a proper appreciation for the nature of the threat.

Doshi’s view is very unhelpful in that regard, but not because he objects to scaring people as a tactic. I consider it a bad tactic, too. It is unhelpful because it doesn’t do what it should: provide people with a sane appreciation of the risk so they can start to develop the kinds of relationships, structures and orientations that will respond to widespread community illness by encouraging and allowing neighbor to help neighbor.

Worse yet, Doshi has attended crank science meetings, which push an antivaccine agenda without any pretense of using real science. For example, he attended and presented at a meeting sponsored by the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), a renowned vaccine denier group with a laughably obfuscating name. Maybe Doshi isn’t in agreement with NVIC principles of denying vaccines for children, but attending the meeting seems to indicate some level of support.

Now, let’s be honest. Despite Doshi overstating his credentials (it’s funny how antivaccinationists love his background, but hate others with much more brilliant scientific backgrounds), he does make some valid points about the effectiveness of the flu vaccine. According to this flu-myth debunking article by Tara Haelle, the flu vaccine does reduce the risk of catching the flu. But, the issue has been that it’s difficult to precisely match the antigens of each season’s flu, so that there is a variability in effectiveness of the vaccine.

However, this is what makes science so energizing. Real scientists, who do real work with viruses and who actually have an education in real biomedical sciences, are actually trying to discover a flu vaccine that works better against all types of flu, mainly by trying to uncover the common antigen. This is hard work, not in the purview of pontificating fake-scientists who think that cherry-picking data and publishing it, makes them knowledgeable.

Doshi also vastly overstates the the risks of the flu vaccine while understating the benefits in saved lives. A real epidemiologist might have provided a better analysis of risk versus benefits, a hallmark of understanding evidence based medicine. In fact, a true skeptic weighs the evidence on the risk and benefit sides of the equation, then determines the value of the benefit to risk ratio.

The risks from the flu vaccine has been refuted, more than once. And the benefits of reducing the risk of catching the flu has overwhelmingly been established. These are infinitely better studies than opinion pieces written by Doshi.

One last thing. Peter Doshi is an HIV/AIDS denier, and has made his “belief” (unsupported by any science whatsoever) public by signing a petition along with some 2000 other scientists, artists, engineers, government lackeys and other individuals with no scientific background in virology and immunology (like Doshi himself).

These petitions, like a similar one for evolution deniers, are feeble attempts to show support for the denialist side of the discussion. First of all, science is not a democracy, it is not subject to a vote. Science relies on evidence published in peer reviewed journals. Second of all, if we eliminate all of the non-scientists from the list (goodbye Peter Doshi, because you’re no scientist), we’d have a list of a couple of hundred scientists who would make up less than 0.01% of research biologists, meaning if science were a democracy, these deniers would lose in an awesomely huge landslide.

Real vaccine authorities

Of course, there are authority figures in vaccines who have the background, education and expertise that should be appreciated and have provided evidence that overwhelms the biased and evidence-lacking beliefs of non-authorities like Doshi.

For example, Paul Offit is one of the leading experts on vaccines in the world. He spent years of his life being educated and trained to be a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist. He is currently the Chief of Infectious Diseases at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology and professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He has published over 100 peer reviewed articles, most of which are focused on vaccines. He has been a member of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which establishes the recommendations for vaccination of children in the USA (and is followed by other countries).

Most importantly, he was co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine, which protects children from the rotavirus, which causes over 2 million cases (most in the developed world) of severe diarrhea in children. Each year an estimated 450,000 children die of this disease, and the rotavirus vaccine will probably save most of those lives.

Think about that for a minute. A real scientist doesn’t pontificate about helping humanity with fake science, he actually does something about it, and is directly responsible for saving nearly a half a million lives every year. If I were responsible for honoring heroes for saving children’s lives, Paul Offit and Jonas Salk, who invented the polio vaccine, deserve statues in front of every hospital, every medical school, and every city in the world. They are real heroes, who saved millions upon millions of children’s lives.

But despite credentials that are worthy of being considered one of the top scientists on the planet, Offit is vilified, hated and despised by the antivaccine cult. It’s hard to determine the particular reason for this hatred, except that he invented a vaccine, which saved those half a million lives every year, so obviously (to the lunatic fringe) he is completely corrupted by Big Pharma. Instead of seeing the Appeal to Authority fallacies they have with their non-scientists inventing garbage science about vaccines, the vaccine deniers jump all over the Argumentum Ad Hominem to attack Offit. Laughable and pathetic.

Summary

Here’s the point: we have evidence that supports the effectiveness and safety of vaccines, almost all vaccines. The evidence is based on clinical trials that are large, well-controlled, and published in peer-reviewed journals. They have been included in well-written systematic reviews. These studies have also been published in important peer-reviewed journals.

And unless you like cherry-picking evidence to support your belief, rather than reviewing all of the scientific evidence and see what conclusion it would support, the antivaccine authority figures lack any standing. The weight and quality of the “evidence” presented by antivaccine so-called authorities is simply too weak to even consider, and it falls far short of evidence presented by the pro-science vaccine supporters. In other words, the vaccine “authorities” are actually authorities about vaccines.

The Peter Doshi flu vaccine study isn’t worth much, but if you’re going to use it as your argument for authority–it’s not going to work.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in November 2013. It has been revised and updated to include more comprehensive information, to improve readability and to add current research. This is an update of another article about the Argument from Authority logical fallacy and Peter Doshi.

 

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Vaccine skeptics – let’s be clear, they are really science deniers

vaccine skeptics

I get so tired of this, the press describing vaccine deniers as “vaccine skeptics.” I wish the press would stop doing this, but no matter how much we say it, we continue to see it. I took the cantankerous Orac’s suggestion to Google “vaccine skeptic” and “Robert F Kennedy.” And, I got over 2 million hits. Two million!!!

Now, you might be asking yourself, “self, why is this feathery dinosaur getting all cranky about whether these people are called skeptics or deniers?” Because skepticism, even to the lay person, implies that the person has some legitimate beef with the science of a topic based on a thoughtful and unbiased review of said science. That is actually the furthest thing from the truth for these so-called vaccine skeptics.

Besides I’ve been cranky and snarky about misusing the term “skeptic” in science for years. And when this feathery dinosaur sees the press lending some legitimacy to the illegitimate beliefs of Robert F Kennedy Jr, it requires some cranky commentary (although the crankier Orac took some wind out of my sails). Continue reading “Vaccine skeptics – let’s be clear, they are really science deniers”

Donald Trump and vaccines – he’s wrong

Donald Trump and vaccines

Donald Trump is technically the Republican candidate in the 2016 election for President of the United States. There’s a lot that he says that disgusts me personally, and the public generally. But there’s one area that may indicate the depth of his ignorance. Donald Trump and vaccines – his views are just plain wrong.

Trump isn’t alone on this matter – dangerous comments about vaccines were made by Republican presidential candidates during the campaign. Ben Carson (ironically, a neurosurgeon) and Rand Paul (we’ve laughed at his vaccine denial before) also pontificated about the dangers of vaccines.

I’ve written previously about Republican candidate’s views on vaccines, back before we actually thought that Donald Trump had a real chance to become the Republican nominee. Feels like eons ago.

As I wrote recently, there’s really only a slight, probably not statistically significant, difference between the acceptance of mandatory vaccination. So the views of Donald Trump and vaccines is way over on the side of crackpot. This is why we can’t have good things.

Let’s look at some the things that Trump has said about vaccines on Twitter, his preferred method of communicating.

Continue reading “Donald Trump and vaccines – he’s wrong”

Climate change denier is accurate – AP stylebook disagrees

climate change denier

I’m going to guess that a discussion of the AP stylebook isn’t a typical subject discussed in a skeptic blog. But the AP is worried that “denier” is too pejorative, and recommend that the term not be used, which made me take notice. I’m going to take umbrage with their recommendation and state emphatically that “climate change denier” is an accurate description.

Sure, it may be pejorative, but it’s based on the fact that those who deny real science, that is, the conclusion derived from a powerful and robust consensus of expert scientists in a field of study, willfully ignore said evidence and invent their own pseudoscience. Not only do I state that a climate change denier is a factual representation of those beliefs, I also think that a GMO denier, a vaccine denier, an evolution denier, and a Holocaust denier are essentially equivalent – each ignores the massive and robust mountain of evidence to come to an unsupported conclusion.

I think the use of “denier,” to anyone who rejects the scientific consensus, is accurate and acceptable. And it’s like several of orders of magnitude better than the “climate change skeptic” used by the deniers to make it sound like their denialism is actually scientifically based. Because real scientific skepticism is an honorable pursuit in which constantly questioning and doubting claims and assertions is based only on the accumulation of evidence. It requires the use of the scientific method, where claims, facts and theories are relentlessly tested and reviewed.

Deniers attempt to co-op the word “skeptic” when they really are just doubters and cynics who can’t be bothered with evidence or cherry pick just enough evidence to support their pre-conceived notions.

I want to look at what the AP Stylebook has recommended. I would like to know if my pre-conceived notion that denier is an accurate description for anyone who rejects the scientific consensus.

Continue reading “Climate change denier is accurate – AP stylebook disagrees”

Science denialism and pseudoscience – left vs. right politics

On a recent episode of his HBO political talk show, Real Time with Bill Maher, Maher repeated his contention that the Republican Party, more generally the right wing of the American political spectrum, is the party of science denialism.

I am no fan of Bill Maher, because, in fact, he himself is is a science denier. Maher hits some of the top 10 list of science denialism: he’s an anti-vaccine crackpot, he’s pro-alternative medicine, he’s on the verge of AIDS denialism, and, to top it off, he hates GMO foods.

In other words, Maher, a leftist by any stretch of the meaning, embraces science denialism in a way that would probably inspire your local climate change or evolution denier.

HBO’s other political news-ish program, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, features British comedian Oliver, who is pro-science on every issue I’ve heard, including scientific research and vaccines.

Neil deGrasse Tyson was a guest on Maher’s episode, and contradicted him regarding the claim that Republicans hold the monopoly on junk science:

Don’t be too high and mighty there, because there are certain aspects of science denials that are squarely in the liberal left.

I like to generalize about the politics of science denialism – I and many others have claimed that the anti-GMO crowd is nothing more than the left’s version of climate change deniers. But some people have taken umbrage with Tyson’s comments, and believe that science denialism cannot be correlated with political beliefs.

Let’s take a look at left vs. right ideas about science, and how each embrace science denialism and pseudoscience. It’s quite a bit more complicated than you can imagine.

Continue reading “Science denialism and pseudoscience – left vs. right politics”

John Oliver promotes real science – a comedian gets it right

John Oliver promotes real science

On Sunday evening (8 May 2016), John Oliver, the English comedian and political satirist, talked about science and how we should embrace it during his HBO show, Last Week Tonight. The upshot is that John Oliver promotes real science – and critical thinking about bad science. And states that vaccines don’t cause autism.

Oliver is one of the best satirists on TV. His attacks on stupidity in politics and culture are classics. He’s been doing his shtick for many years on American TV, being one of featured correspondents for the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I always looked forward to his reports, though always funny, they were generally pointed and quite intelligent.

His recent segment on science on his HBO show was a classic. And let’s take a look at how John Oliver promotes real science – and why it’s kind of sad that a comedian has to hit it out of the park.

Continue reading “John Oliver promotes real science – a comedian gets it right”

Mike Adams of Natural News – nuclear stupidity about Gorski

Mike Adams of Natural News attacks David Gorski

This story is about Mike Adams of Natural News, considered the number one lunatic of the pseudoscience and anti-science pushing American Loons (a particularly vile form of worldwide loons).

Mike Adams, who styles himself as the Health Ranger (more like the anti-Health Ranger), runs the anti-science website, Natural News. Adams claims that Natural News is a science-based natural health advocacy organization, led by himself, a proclaimed “activist-turned-scientist.”

If you know nothing else about Natural News, Adams has claimed he’s a better scientist than Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Yes, let that sink in for a few minutes. Tyson thinks that evidence should be studied to form a conclusion, you know, the scientific method. Adams thinks that he can invent a few lame experiments to confirm his preconceived beliefs. That’s pseudoscience, in its purest form.

Mike Adams’ anti-science beliefs includes just about every important scientific fact of our modern world. He is an AIDS denier (meaning he doesn’t think that AIDS is caused by HIV). He is anti-vaccination. He is an 9/11 truther. He is an Obama birther. He thinks chemtrails exist. He has advocated violence against GMO supporters.

Mike Adams of Natural News encompasses the totality of science denialism in one wonderful package. If you wonder why he’s such a lunatic, it’s really just to sell his junk medicine to a naïve public. Essentially, he has used his “pseudoscience to sell his lies to the public.”

You might think there are no other lines he can cross. But you would then be underestimating his skills in lying and attacking those who support real science.

 

Continue reading “Mike Adams of Natural News – nuclear stupidity about Gorski”

Mike Adams invents Tribeca vaccines conspiracy theory

I thought I was done with the whole Robert De Niro/Tribeca Film Festival/Andrew Wakefield fraud documentary. De Niro pulled the film, and that was that. Story ends. But I did predict that the anti-vaccination crazies would invent all kinds of crap about this story. And behold, Mike Adams, the anti-science pushing nut behind Natural News, goes full batshit insane to invent the Tribeca vaccines conspiracy theory.

As Michael Corleone says in the Godfather, “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.”

But I refuse to be pulled all the way back – I’ll just pull a few quotes to show you Adams’, the so-called Health Ranger, crazy. Continue reading “Mike Adams invents Tribeca vaccines conspiracy theory”

Americans are ignorant fools about evolution

Americans are ignorant fools about evolution – there is simply nothing more frustrating than evolution deniers, sometimes called “creationists” that have infiltrated the discussion about evolution.

The body of work that constitutes evidence for evolution is literally mountainous, making up over a million peer-reviewed studies and books that explain what we have observed in current living organisms and the fossil record.  In addition, over 99.9% of scientists in the natural sciences (geology, biology, physics, chemistry and many others) accept that evolution is a scientific fact (pdf, see page 8). If science worked as a democracy, it would be a landslide vote in favor of evolution.

The scientific theory of evolution is quite easy to understand – it is the change in inherited characteristics of a biological population over time and generations through the process of natural selection or genetic drift. Setting aside the creationist misinformation about what constitutes a scientific theory, evolution is a scientific fact, about as solid as the fact that the earth revolves around the sun.

There is no scientific debate about evolution, although there is continuing discussion about all of the possible mechanisms that drive evolution beyond natural selection and genetic drift. These discussions are based on the observations and evidence that evolution lead to the diversity of organisms we see today, arising from a common ancestor from about 3.8 billion years ago.

Despite the ongoing scientific research examining other mechanisms for evolution (which are all scientifically based, and none that include magical actions of mythical supernatural beings), the matter of evolution is settled. There are no scientific disputes about the fact that evolution has occurred over a period of 3.8 billion years until present time. None.

Other than literature published in self-serving creationist journals, it is impossible to find a peer-reviewed article that disputes the fact of evolution published in a real scientific journal over the past 25 years, if not past 50 years.

Despite the scientific facts, American politicians, almost exclusively conservative Republicans, continue to push legislation to force public school districts to teach creationism. Even though rarely successful, unfortunately, Louisiana and Tennessee have recently implemented antievolution legislation. These right wing politicians are convinced that evolution and creationism are equivalent, and they defer to a ridiculous political and cultural “debate” while ignoring the overwhelming scientific consensus.

Once again, many or most Americans are ignorant fools about evolution – thus, politicians, at least in some areas of the country, think they have the political cover to do whatever they want with regards to the teaching of creationism.

Continue reading “Americans are ignorant fools about evolution”

Mashing up the Walking Dead and science denialism

The Walking Dead and science denialism

I am really impatient with science deniers, so I saw something that will allow me to mash up two of my favorite subjects – the Walking Dead and science denialism – and it makes me happy. I know, you want to know how I can possibly combine the Walking Dead and science denialism – you’re just going to have to read on!

I know it’s shocking, but I find it difficult to be really civil towards science deniers. Partially, it’s because no matter how much evidence you present, science deniers rely on logical fallacies like strawman arguments, arguments from ignorance, post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacies, and so many others.

Or they rely upon all of their biases. Confirmation bias, yes. Selection bias, yes. Cognitive biases, yes. And that logical fallacy that’s also a form of bias – cherry picking. The denialist’s favorite fruit has got to be cherries, because they’re picking them all day long.

Then toss in a big dollop of Dunning-Kruger effect, and it’s really difficult to take any science deniers very seriously. They take themselves seriously, despite their total lack of affirmative or negative evidence.

The only thing that matters in science is evidence. That’s it, that’s the beginning and the end of the story. I don’t care if you’re a man, woman, alien, immigrant, liberal, conservative, a janitor, a professor, black, white, or a Nobel Prize winner. If you lack evidence, you have nothing.

If you think there are debates to be made in settled science, that means you get the denialism card, no matter who you are. If you are an MD, and think that vaccines don’t work, then why should I consider your opinion on anything in medicine to be valid, when you’re denying some of the basic principles of medicine – the Germ Theory, for example.  Continue reading “Mashing up the Walking Dead and science denialism”