Misinformation, lies, and memes from the anti vaccine cult

Misinformation, lies, and memes from the anti vaccine cult

I do yeoman’s work reading the stupidity on the internet so you don’t have to do it yourself. Some of it makes me feel unclean–I hate that I contribute to the google rankings of some of these websites by even clicking on these websites.

The Age of Inventing Stuff about Autism is one of the most offensive of the anti vaccine cult websites, although that ranking changes depending on what is posted. It’s not just me who thinks they’re bad, but Skeptoid considers it one of the Top Ten Worst Anti-science Websites.  

According to Skeptoid:

This website of investigative reporter Dan Olmsted promotes his own notions that autism is caused by mercury toxicity (contrary to what we’ve learned scientifically), that it is increasing dramatically at epidemic proportions, not just in counting methods but in actual incidence (contrary to whats been measured), and that it can be cured by holistic treatments, supplementation, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, removal of dental fillings, and bowel cleansing (contrary to all research done on these methods). Web authors like Olmsted obviously must know that their writing is at variance with science based findings, so there must be some kind of cognitive dissonance going on, outright dishonesty, or perhaps even a belief in a global Big Pharma conspiracy of bad science.

The anti vaccine cult pontificates

 

The Age of Autism published an article in 2012 entitled, The Trouble with the ANTI “Anti-Vaccine” Movement: How They Hijack the Issue; Distort the Facts; and Totally Miss the Point, by Julie Obradovic. It is a screed of disinformation, even propaganda, about how the evidence-based science behind vaccinations has somehow harmed the anti vaccine cult distortion of the facts.

Oh, sorry, I got confused on the title of the article. I guess the anti-vaccine lunatics are feeling upset that real science has demolished their arguments.

The article list outs 11 points where we, the scientists and healthcare professionals, have hurt the anti-vaccine movement. In other words, we did a good job invalidating the pseudoscience of this cult, but we have to do it repeatedly.

Let’s debunk each of their points (and in case it’s not real clear, “we” refers to the pro-vaccine side, and “they” refer to the anti vaccine cult members):

1. We think there is an anti-vaccine movement.

 

This may surprise a lot of people, but there actually isn’t an “anti-vaccine movement”. Although there are definitely people who believe no vaccine is a good vaccine, the controversy has never been solely about whether or not vaccines are good or bad; it’s been about whether or not they are being used responsibly and have been properly investigated for their role in chronic health conditions.

Just because one says they are not something, doesn’t mean it’s so.  Ms. Obradovic is trying to use rhetoric to make her points instead of evidence.

If there were plenty of evidence that there is a major risk to vaccines, and the government and pharmaceutical companies were not being responsible, then she’d have a point. But when you have a movement that is not based on any evidence whatsoever, then you are a denialist, or in this case, anti-vaccine.

All denialists (evolution denialists, or creationists, for example) do the same thing. They attempt to redefine the argument as a right vs. wrong, rather than evidence vs. no evidence.

2. We think that anyone who disagrees with vaccines is an idiot.

 

If the first line of attack doesn’t work it will almost always be followed by an insult. Not only are people who disagree portrayed as dangerous lunatics who want to see the world explode in infectious disease, supposedly they are also “flat-earthers” who can’t accept the world is round. Certain journalists have gone so far as to suggest it’s no wonder their children have problems.

Well, if the shoe fits…

Nevertheless, defending a pseudoscience that lacks any evidence whatsoever seems to fit a denialist attitude, one that would be considered “flat-earth” thinking.

Disagreeing with me about whether chocolate tastes good is an opinion. Denying evidence that shows the vaccines are generally safe, whereas not vaccinating children based on this denial, leads to children contracting deadly diseases–that is the definition of a “dangerous lunatic.”

3. We blame Dr. Wakefield for everything.

Dr. Wakefield has now become the scapegoat for the whole controversy. Supposedly this man and his team of researchers, who had the audacity to suggest there might be a problem with the MMR that warranted further study, is single-handedly responsible for the plummeting vaccine uptake throughout the country. This too is untrue. Parents who implicate the MMR in their children’s Autism represent only a sub-set of parents. Dr. Wakefield’s study was not and never has been the whole story where vaccines and Autism have been concerned.

Although it is impossible to know, would the “vaccines cause autism” trope even be out there without Andrew Wakefield? Since Wakefield fraudulently created this claim, every responsible, peer-reviewed analysis of the data states has come to the same conclusion: vaccines do not cause autism.

Further discussion of this topic with no compelling evidence is not logical.

4. We just don’t get it.

 

Although the controversy appears to be about vaccines, it goes much deeper than that. Quite simply, many parents have lost faith in their physicians. While some would like to believe this is because parents are impressionable conspiracy theorists that can’t distinguish fact from fiction, arguably the medical community has brought this problem on themselves.

This is an illogical comment. I find the anti vaccine cult to be filled with individuals who push pseudoscience and denialism attitude. Period.

Losing faith in physicians is a problem that has nothing to do with vaccines, and everything to do with the healthcare system, the expansion of the university of google medical education, and other factors.

They sold out to the pharmaceutical industry. They have a terrible track record for children’s health. They refuse to examine how they might be responsible for that. They dismiss the testimony, experience and suffering of thousands of parents and children. They threaten parents with ultimatums. Most important, they are completely inept at dealing with Autism and always have been.

Appeals to conspiracy is just a logical fallacy, considering there is no evidence. Most physicians use evidence-based decisions, and the evidence says “vaccines are relatively safe and those same vaccines prevent diseases, many of which are dangerous, even deadly.”

Pushing anecdotes about physicians is a ridiculous, a strawman argument. Yes, autism is difficult to diagnose. Yes, physicians may not all be cognizant of the autism spectrum. But this has nothing to do with vaccines.

5. We repeatedly distort or exaggerate the facts.

 

Distorting the facts?  There are hundreds of peer-reviewed published articles that support the lack of a link between vaccines and anything serious. No neurological deficits. No blindness. No paralysis. No autism. That’s not an exaggeration, but just plain objective evidence.

The distortion field that surrounds the anti-vaccine cult is amazing. They invent a whole universe of disinformation, not based on any reasonably objective piece of evidence, yet want to point the finger of evil at the medical profession and scientists.

6. We pretend to be the gatekeepers of science.

 

Gone are the days of limited access to information. With the advent of the Internet, scientific information is readily available to whoever would like it. While certainly this doesn’t qualify anyone who reads it as being an expert, it does mean that a new phenomenon has developed: consumer-scientists who question what he or she is being sold.

This is true to a limited extent. Except, how many individuals when googling “vaccines autism” read every link? Does anyone click on the out-links to read the original article?

I can tell when readers click on out-links on my blog, and I bet less than 1 in 20 readers click on those links. And on places like Twitter or Facebook, most individuals just read the 100 character comment and don’t read the link. Is this getting scientific information?

When I read a Wikipedia article, for example, I review as much of the source information as I can to confirm the validity of key points that have been written. In other words, I try to think and analyze. I try to analyze what is written critically. Part of that is that I have decades of scientific education and research.

Does that make me an expert? Not necessarily, but it means I have critical thinking skills. It means that I don’t form an a priori conclusion before examining the amount and quality of evidence presented.

Furthermore, no one in the science community claims to be a gatekeeper of science.  Science is a very clear philosophy of analysis that includes moving from observation to hypothesis to experimentation to publishing to formulating a consensus. It is not a rhetorical discussion or debate, as the author of this article seems to believe, it is a logical analysis of data.

Combined with the mounting instances of pharmaceutical fraud, the lack of urgency or answers for Autism, and the availability of this scientific information, parents have become a critical voice of what they have uncovered: compromised research; conflicts of interest; non-sensical methodology; idiotic results; and unanswered questions.

I can’t resist.  I think Obradovic is talking about the anti vaccine cult directly.  Wakefield committed fraud.

What pharmaceutical fraud?  In general, pharmaceutical companies are made up of ethical, moral, hard-working researchers and scientists.  Propagating a fraud would take so much time and energy that the secret would be out in about an hour.

7. We fail to acknowledge the context of the controversy.

 

In the vaccine controversy, there are four major players: the consumer, the government, the medical community, and the pharmaceutical industry. The consumer purchases a product manufactured by the pharmaceutical industry that is mandated for use by the government that is given to them by the medical community.  Should the consumer get hurt by the product neither the pharmaceutical industry nor the medical community can be held liable.

Instead, the consumer pays a tax on the product that funds a court run by the government that determines if they were hurt and to what extent. The science and experts they use to make that determination are provided from the defendants themselves: the medical community, government, and pharmaceutical industry. If it is determined the consumer was in fact injured, the government awards compensation from the consumer tax fund. In other words, the injured consumers pay themselves.  This, for many citizens just realizing it, is insane.  Fear, however, allows it to continue. Consumers are repeatedly told this is all for their own good and that to dismantle the system would lead to certain death.

The subsequent abandonment of the pharmaceutical industry from the market (should they actually be held accountable for their product) would make it so, they claim. Policy makers believe it. Coupled with the fact the government is now partnering with the pharmaceutical industry to create vaccines in public-private partnerships, we now have a situation in which the government is profiting from their use while simultaneously serving as their regulator and recommender.

Believe it or not, we have actually legislated the ability to legally kill someone for profit without liability.  In the case of the Autism controversy, the problem is simple: consumers are accusing the government, pharmaceutical industry, and medical community of collectively causing Autism, yet the government, pharmaceutical industry and medical community are the only ones who have been allowed to investigate themselves to determine if they are guilty. Astonishingly, they keep coming up innocent.

Still, many believe the sheer volume of people involved in those entities makes any connection between them and the crime of which they are being accused impossible; hence, the conspiracy theorist accusation. Surely someone, somewhere, they justify, would have stopped it.

Unfortunately, this is not a good argument. Too many people have never been a deterrent to corruption or the perpetuation of atrocities, especially when there is money and accountability involved; in fact, it is almost always precisely because there are so many people involved the problem continues. It’s systemic. One needs only examine the housing crisis as evidence.

A serious belief in a conspiracy. There is no evidence of one.

8. We oversimplify the problem.

 

But perhaps most difficult of all, the vaccine controversy is really just a microcosm of a much larger issue. When being forced to vaccinate in order to participate in society, parents are to accept their child may be injured or killed for the sake of other children. They are also to accept there is no way of identifying who that child may be. Their only comfort is statistical rarity; a statistic mind you, created by those who manufacture, profit from, regulate, and are responsible for vaccine uptake…and can never be held accountable if they are wrong.

Let’s get this clear. The vaccine prevents the injury and mortal harm to children. It does not cause it.

In fact, the anti vaccine cult probably doesn’t really want ALL children to stop getting vaccines, because then the herd immunity would be destroyed that protects the unvaccinated children from communicable diseases. In essence, the cult wants their children to avoid the imaginary adverse effects of vaccination, but still benefit from the protection across the community. How selfish is that?

Again, absent any evidence at all about the risks of the vaccines, then to participate in society, vaccinations are necessary to prevent epidemics. If the anti-vaccine groups don’t want to participate in vaccines, do we then deny them the treatment to treat their children when they contract measles, mumps, or whooping cough? Ethically and morally, physicians won’t hesitate to help.

The basic point is that there is no significant problem with vaccines. It is invented by the vaccine deniers.  Any discussion that goes beyond that is logically fallacious.

When parents decline, weighing the immediate risk-reward ratio carefully, they are told opting out and putting their child first is immoral and selfish, leaving the rest of the world’s children in danger, perhaps the most counterintuitive position a parent can take. Even so, vaccination, society insists, is the right thing to do for everyone; that, above all else, should come first.

This is medical communism.

Seriously?  First of all, communism is an economic theory, not a healthcare policy, but creating red-herrings are often the strategy du jour of the science denialism crowd.

Creationists, who probably could write this same manifesto with just a couple of word changes, claim that Darwinism lead to Hitler.  And communism.  It’s a wonder that Obradovic didn’t go full-Godwin’s Law, and just say Hitler.

9. We have no hypothesis.

 

The hypothesis of those who believe Autism is primarily, but not exclusively, an iatrogenic disease is simple: heavy metals and toxins when coupled with microbes such as bacteria or viruses are able to penetrate the central nervous system and/or damage the immune system, thereby leading to systemic malfunctions that manifest as the symptoms of Autism and other health conditions in a susceptible person. Depending on the exposure, timing, and combination, the manifestations vary.

The null hypothesis, “vaccines do not cause autism” has been supported by evidence, published over and over and over.  However, the anti-vaccine cult has made the extraordinary claim (or hypothesis) that vaccines cause autism (and everything else, I suppose).

They need to provide the extraordinary evidence.

Vaccines contain both heavy metals and microbes and would be one way of causing such a problem, especially since they deliver them artificially into the body via injection. Medications, as well as other toxins, like pesticides per se, would possibly contribute too.

This is a reasonable and plausible hypothesis to explain the explosion in chronic disease we have documented in the industrialized nations of the world over the last 200 years. The chemical soup in which we now live is frightening. Everyone can agree on at least that.

Evidence to support this hypothesis abounds. Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill brilliantly documented the likelihood of this phenomenon in their extraordinary book, Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-Made Epidemic. They also uncovered a similar set of circumstances that would explain why polio became more dangerous in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: pesticides. To ignore what they have discovered is a disservice to humanity.

Where’s the evidence? A book which is not peer-reviewed? Where’s the clinical trial with appropriate controls?

The anti vaccine cult prefers to go for special pleading, that is, “ignore the evidence, we’re right because we’re right.”

PennyLane Handley, who co-wrote an article about some of the unscientific claims regarding autism, brings real science to the analysis of what may cause and does not cause autism spectrum disorders.

This is in spite of the fact that research has been able to assign close to two thirds of the increase on the implementation of the new autism criteria alone and thimerosal has been shown to have no link to autism here, and here and here and here and here, and in fact autism has been shown to have no link whatsoever to the MMR vaccine here, and here, and here. And here and here. And here and here. There are actually over 100 of these studies, so I could literally do this all day.

I think Ms. Handley pretty much clears up any misinformation about whether “we” have a hypothesis or not.

10. We have an excuse for everything.

 

Everything regarding Autism is a coincidence. From the observations of the first doctor to identify the disorder in 1943, to the symptoms, to the timing, to the anecdotal evidence of parents, to the prevalence and incidence rates, to the improvement and recovery, all of it is considered best explained by coincidence.

When the rates of Autism began to skyrocket in the mid 1990’s, right after the amount of mercury tripled in vaccines, moved up to the day of birth, and more vaccines began to be added to the schedule, they claimed to have simply missed everyone that had Autism for decades prior.

As the explosion continued over the next fifteen years, and schools and doctors and parents became overwhelmed with the demands of these children, they claimed they were over-diagnosing. They took it even further and said it was parents, not them, who were actually to blame. Parents were greedily seeking services for their children they didn’t deserve.

Parsimoniously, the best explanation for the increase in rates of autism, may be better diagnostics.  But employing that constant special pleading is ridiculous.

Science dismisses, utterly and completely, the hypothesis that vaccines have anything to do with autism based on evidence and analysis of said evidence.  hat does not mean that scientists and medical professionals lack empathy or sympathy for autistic children and their parents.

Oh, and the mercury thing again. I’ve discussed it, and it’s nothing more than a strawman argument.

11. We fail to recognize their tactics aren’t working.

 

I have just thoroughly and thoughtfully laid out the position for why the vaccine controversy continues. I will continue to do so as long as I live, or until at which time it is no longer necessary. I am confident other parents like me will do the same. Calling us names, censoring our stories, or dismissing our concerns will not deter us.

Of the 11 points, this one may be true. Except for the simple fact that around 95% of children are fully vaccinated. And that California made vaccinations mandatory.

The problem is that the anti vaccine cult is causing problems in select areas of the country, mostly because their arguments are much easier than the nuanced, complex science that rejects their pseudoscience. The cult can say “vaccines cause autism.”

On the other hand, the pro-science side can say, “but here’s lots of complicated scientific evidence that says vaccine don’t cause autism”.

Then the cult claims “those scientists are lying and are paid off by Big Pharma.” We say, no we aren’t, we’re scientists. They say, “we win.” The antivaccination cult acts like immature children trying to get their way.

The end

 

I could go on and on about their fallacies and distortions. But why should I? I have the scientific evidence, thus “we win.”

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in February 2012. It has been completely revised and updated to include more comprehensive information, to improve readability and to add current research.

The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!
  • GlobalWrench

    Unless someone has been hiding under a rock, it is almost impossible to not notice the war taking place in America in state legislatures against the families who are making selective and informed vaccination choices. From taking away the ability to get an education to legally forcing more vaccines under new schemes of computerized vaccine tracking and expanded police and emergency powers, this is just the beginning. Most states still have time in their legislative schedules to file more bills.

  • GlobalWrench

    The truth is not a cult, just the enemy of the state.

  • This is a great article, but it could use some reformatting. It’s very hard to tell where the quotes end and your responses begin — or if you’re just paraphrasing and then responding.

    • Maybe it doesn’t show up on your screen, but on mine the quotes are in a lighter color font. It may be too light or something.

      • I admit I am viewing the page on a mobile platform. Perhaps your mobile CSS didn’t include the same blockquote formatting that you have in your standard CSS.

        • Well, I took your advice to see if I could improve it, because I never really liked the block quote system that I’m using. I kind of liked what I’ve done. I need to get some spacing fixes, but I think this is much better for readability.

          • Sandy Perlmutter

            It’s good with the block background. Brings out the quotes!

          • Ah, now I see your previous response. It hadn’t shown up earlier. Well done. I really like the change. It’s bold and legible.

      • Interesting. Now the quotes are enclosed in dialog bubbles with grey gradient backgrounds. I wonder why that element didn’t show up before in either of the browsers I tried.

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  • I always have an issue about how to describe science, which doesn’t work in absolutes. For example, I cannot be 100% certain that evolution is a fact, I’m closer to 99.999999% sure. Whenever I say that, some creationist will say, “see there’s doubt.” Not really, it’s just that I’m openminded to evidence out there that might say evolution works by secret nanobots that were left by an alien civilization.

    Same with vaccines. Yes, in broad clinical trials, some side effects show up. And sure, I probably shouldn’t be an absolutist, but I know that during clinical trials, every side effect, whether related to the injection or not, are included in the data, just in case.

    But you are right. And I’ve said it many times, every single medical procedure, pharmaceutical or device has some risk. What matters is the level of risk vs. the benefit, and in this case, it’s overwhelmingly in favor of vaccines. And Autism is not a risk. I’ll have to edit that section to be more clear.

  • Good post with one glaring weakness: vaccines AREN’T perfectly safe. No medical intervention is. Each vaccine has a different risk component, but the risks overall are very small (perhaps as small as 1/1,000,000) but the risks exists.

    • Sandy Perlmutter

      Yeah, and driving with your kids in the car isn’t perfectly safe. In fact we know exactly how dangerous it is, statistically, but most people realize that the benefits of taking the kids to soccer practice are worth the risk, which is much more than 1/1,000,000. In general people don’t understand risk at all, which is why they (we) run across the street when a bus is coming, assuming they won’t trip and fall this time.