Skeptical Raptor's Blog hunting pseudoscience in the internet jungle

Debunking myths about Dr. Paul Offit

Dr. Offit and Phillie Phanatic at a Philadelphia Phillies game

Updated 17 November 2013.

I consider Paul Offit as one of the leaders of the theme that Vaccines Saves Lives, and as someone who is truly dedicated to vaccines. He has done great work at great personal sacrifice to do so.

Being one of the “leaders” has caused his name has been demonized by the anti-vaccine lunatics, who use the Big Liea Nazi propaganda technique where a known falsehood is repeatedly stated, then treated as if it is self-evidently true in hopes of swaying the course of an argument in a direction that takes the big lie for granted rather than critically questioning it or ignoring it. The vaccine deniers constantly repeat untruths so that those lies evolve into apparent truths, at least for those who hold onto their pseudoscientific anti-vaccine beliefs.

The problem is, of course, that if you’re a new parent who is confused by what vaccines may or may not do, you’d assume you could not accept anything that Dr. Offit says because of the anti-scientific memes and tropes of the vaccine denialists. And the Big Lies told about Dr. Offit.

Let’s counter the Big Lie with the Big Facts.

Dr. Offit’s biography is simply one of a person who is passionate about helping children. His first book, Breaking the Antibiotic Habit: A Parent’s Guide to Coughs, Colds, Ear Infections, and Sore Throats, was one of the first popular books that asked parents to start reducing the use of antibiotics, because they may have long-term consequences for the children. Obviously, the antibiotic industry didn’t get to him then. But most of his career has been in studying and supporting vaccines as the best method to prevent deadly diseases. Here are just a selection of what he’s done:

That is an impressive resume. It is also frustrating that individuals with little or no biomedical background can spend 10 minutes on google searches and proclaim themselves smarter than Dr. Offit. I actually have a strong biomedical background (and 25 years of experience), yet I’m an amateur compared to him. 

In the book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell states that the key to expertise and success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. That’s about four years of 8 hour days, with no breaks for the bathroom, phone calls, texting your friends, or meals. It’s focused studying. Based on the Offit’s productivity, he has far exceeded those 10,000 hours of training and studying.

A while ago, I ran across Left Brain Right Brain’s blogpost, Your Baby’s Best Shot: Why Vaccines Are Safe and Save Lives,  which was quick review of the book I mentioned above by Hagood and Herlihy with a forward by the aforementioned Dr. Offit. The blog post really was nothing much more than the blurb about the book, a quickie article to update their readers about something new and interesting, which that book most certainly is. However, the blog post’s comments section was filled with some of those Big Lies about Dr. Offit:

We should just point out that he was reprimanded by Congress for voting on vaccine policies for which he had financial conflicts.

According to Liz Ditz, no he wasn’t. He was “harassed” (my words, not Ms. Ditz’s) by a vaccine denialist member of Congress, Representative Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican, who has since left Congress. According to the report from Congress, which was a critique on the CDC’s policies and its enforcement of those policies, mentioned that Paul Offit abstained from a critical vote on rotavirus vaccine. Not really a reprimand. In fact, though the report was awfully wordy, it seemed like he was being praised for his decision. Dr. Offit, because he was the inventor of the vaccine which saves hundreds of thousands of lives, decided to recuse himself from the vote on the vaccine, which was the ethical, moral, and right thing to do. No one reprimanded him.

Refuted. Next on the list of Big Lies in that comment section:

Also, his chair at the Children’s Hospital is paid for by Merck, which by any definition represents a continuing conflict of interest.

Yes, Dr. Offit is the Offit is the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Yes, Merck gave an endowment for the Maurice R. Hilleman chair, but it was mostly set up Hilleman himself prior to his death. Merck does not have special rights to come to his office and demand that he do anything. Merck and the University of Pennsylvania make the funding public. And Merck, like all pharmaceutical companies, has a charitable foundation that gives boatloads of money to many worthy causes. Diabetes. AIDS/HIV. Asthma. This money funds research, not “controlled” by the company. The same foundation gave the “no-strings-attached” funding for the new Vaccinology chair.

Moreover, and I’ve never gotten this, why do the vaccine deniers (actually all science deniers) think that people are so easily bought and sold? Maybe the antivaccinationist’s morals are abject failures in human society (of course, they don’t want to save children, so I might actually be onto something) that they are so easily bought and sold they project their lack of ethics onto others. I can only speculate.

The Pharma Shill Gambit is getting awfully tiresome, a trope barely worthy of consideration and response. Without any evidence whatsoever, pseudoscience pushing anti-vaccine lunatics keep using ad hominem arguments that somehow the pharmaceutical industry is filled with evil people. Provide evidence of that, because almost everyone in the industry, including researchers, executives, engineers, and everyone else in the industry is devoted to doing everything they can to help humanity.

Every morning, every employees feels empowered to do one more thing that saves one more life. How many people in the world can say, “I’m not a doctor, but what I do saves lives and provides the world with a better way to live longer?” That they make a bunch of money on that, well, after all that work, why not? It’s hard work, and it takes the years of training to actually create a vaccine that prevents diseases. Or a cancer drug that increases your lifespan. Offit developed vaccine to save hundreds of thousands of lives. What has an vaccine denier done to save a single life? 

Back on point. Liz Ditz penned “Meryl Dorey: Seven Assertions. One is Factual. Six Are False” in her I Speak of Dreams blog about autism. She takes Meryl Dorey to task about her lies about Dr. Offit:

  1. Paul Offit Works in Pennsylvania — TRUE!
  2. Paul Offit sat on the FDA Committee--FALSE!
  3. That Approved His Rotavirus Vaccine — FALSE!
  4. Paul Offit Continues to Derive Revenue from RotaTek patent – FALSE!
  5. Paul Offit “Has Set Himself Up” As An Expert on Vaccines — FALSE!
  6. Paul Offit “Opposes All Vaccine Exemptions” — FALSE!
  7. Paul Offit Published A Study Proving the “100,000 Vaccines at Once” Safety Claim–FALSE! (This particular zombie antivaccination meme has arisen lately by the obnoxious and unethical Meryl Dorey)

There’s more out there, but we’ve hit the top 10 list. OK, top 7 list.

I still cannot understand why people with no education in the fields of vaccines, immunology, medicine and/or pediatrics think that they know more than an expert. Is it because people feel empowered by uninformative websites? Is it because they think that they know more than a highly educated and trained physician? To become a physician and researcher of Dr. Offit’s level takes 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, 2-3 years of internship and residency, 4-7 years of further training, and constant retraining and studying of anything new. Most of that time, it requires nearly 100% focus on studying and training. He’s obviously far surpassed Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of training–I bet that Dr. Offit is on his fourth or fifth round of 10,000 hours.

Vaccine denialists think they can throw around words like “immune system”, or “mercury poisoning”, or “autism can be ‘cured'” haven’t a clue. The immune system takes years to understand. It is a complex system of immunoglobulins, cells, proteins, and organs (and I’m probably missing something) that has a nearly infinite number of permutations. Researchers spend years to just understand one tiny portion of the immune system. How can someone do that with a college degree in art, reading google hits for a few hours? They can’t.

Dr. Offit rocks. And Vaccines Save Lives. 

If you need to search for accurate information and evidence about vaccines try the Science-based Vaccine Search Engine.

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