Skeptical Raptor's Blog hunting pseudoscience in the internet jungle

Opinion: why vaccine denialism is so annoying


SwineFluVaccineI’m writing this opinion piece not for those who vaccinate themselves or their children, because they accept the science either because they reviewed it and accepted it, or they just know that vaccines work and are relatively safe.

On the other hand, this article is not written for the antivaccinationists, because they don’t listen to logic anyways. They ignore real science to invent their own, based on lies, pseudoscience, and logical fallacies.

No, this article is written for those who may be on the fence about vaccines, and thinks there’s some sort of balanced discussion or debate about vaccines. It’s time to dispel the false-balance discussion pushed by pseudoscience for the simple reason because they lack the intellectual and scientific evidence.

Let’s look at how the antivaccinationists have gone off the rails of real scientific understanding.

Vaccine deniers are lazy

Vaccine denialists think that spending a few hours, or maybe a few days, doing “research” on Google, or reading other vaccine denialists on a internet page, or trolling around an antivaccine Facebook page is sufficient to understand immunology, virology, bacteriology, vaccines, and epidemiology. They now think they are experts in highly complex fields of biomedical science.

Then from that weak attempt at “research”, then they make claims that vaccines cause Type 1 diabetes. They they try to invent a belief that vaccines shed the disease to others. Next, they make claims that vaccines cause autism. None of these are true, not even close.

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.

Science is absolutely hard work. It takes those 10,000 hours, and many more, to become a researcher or world-class physician. Scientists spend thousands of hours in laboratories and in classrooms. They attend conferences where their work is criticized and sometimes ridiculed. They spend thousands upon thousands of hours of writing or reading other scientist’s works. Science takes dedication–it does not result from a few part-time hours of surfing the web, reading every outlandish statement without any critical thinking. Being an expert in science takes all of your heart and time, and there is not an easy way to do it.

These anti-vaccinationists think they can understand complex concepts in biochemistry and immunology in a few hours. I wrote an article about the immune system, and it took me hundreds of hours of research over a few months to put it together in a clear, scientifically supported way. And I have my 10,000 hours in two fields of biomedical sciences which gave me a head start. How can an antivaccinationist make some claim that “vaccines damage the immune system”, when there isn’t a stitch of evidence that would support that claim. 

One, of the many, problems with how vaccine denialists do their research is that they accept data from the weakest sources, because they are too lazy, too intellectually bereft of critical thinking skills to take the time to actually understand “good” science and to critique “bad” science. They do not want to spend the time to become world-class researchers because they lack the ambition, they lack the intellect, they lack the time, or they lack the motivation to do so. It doesn’t matter why they failed to do so, but too many others have invested the effort to become top-notch scientists and physicians, and their efforts should be respected and trusted. Hard work and intellectual strength should be cherished by all, not belittled by individuals who haven’t got the strength of will to do the same.

Vaccine deniers are illogical

Instead of real science, the antivaccinationists rely upon various logical fallacies because they have no real evidence to support their position. For example, they default to the Big Pharma ad hominem claiming that these vaccines are just thrown into the market for money, without understanding that the several hundred researchers, who develop those vaccines, probably have accumulated 10,000 years of scientific research, have published tens of thousands of articles in peer-reviewed high impact journals, and have dedicated their lives to understanding the basics of immunology, virology, biochemistry and many other subspecialties of biomedical sciences. These individuals have given their working lives to alleviate human suffering. And these vaccines represent that hard work, not a few hours of surfing the internet for conspiracy theories.

Vaccine deniers do not deserve respect

Vaccine denialists whine about not getting respect from the so called pro-vaccine people. (As an aside, I do not consider myself “pro-vaccine”, I just consider myself pro-science and pro-children, and vaccines are supported by overwhelming scientific evidence to save children’s lives.) They claim that they are presenting science.

Why should I respect a group of people who cannot provide one single peer-reviewed paper published in a real journal that shows a significant issue with vaccines? They tend to mine news or research for anything that slightly supports their beliefs, while ignoring everything else that does not. They ignore all new research that’s supported by other researchers, that’s repeated by a wide variety of research groups, and then added into meta-reviews by respected groups such as the Cochrane Reviews. 

They have an over reliance on personal anecdotes that have no basis in reality and can’t be proven. They make claims like “my child had vaccines and had XYZ happen.” How do we know? And certainly, how do we know that there’s a causal relationship? The oft-quoted snark, “the plural of anecdotes is not data” is apropos to the belief system of antivaccinationists.

It’s impossible to respect a group that brings nothing to the discussion. It’s amusing that the antivaccinationists continuously use MrAndy Wakefield‘s paper that alleged a connection between MMR and autism, which has been retracted by the Lancet. Oh, by the way, vaccines don’t cause autism.

But the most important reason why I don’t respect vaccine deniers is that children’s lives are at risk. Vaccine refusals can harm children, and that’s why they should be ignored and disrespected. 

Vaccine deniers are arrogant

There is nothing as arrogant as the antivaccinationist belief that their opinion is somehow more important than the vast weight of 99.99% of physicians, healthcare workers, researchers, scientists, public health officers, and just about anyone with a vested interest in the good health of community. Essentially, vaccine deniers exhibit the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. They are utterly incapable of recognizing their own mistakes and misinterpretations of science. In other words, these antivaccinationists are incompetent people who not only perform a task poorly or incompetently, but lack the competence to realize their own incompetence at a task and thus consider themselves much more competent than everyone else.

As I’ve said previously, the vaccine deniers are so delusional that they believe that their quick research on the internet somehow exceeds that of individuals who have invested years of hard work studying the various fields of science, endured criticism, discovered new ideas, and supported them with numerous years of  research. The arrogance of the vaccine deniers is frightening and profound.

Vaccine deniers are selfish

Clearly, the antivaccinationists care only about their cause. Because if they didn’t, they would actually read what the real experts say, and then vaccinate their children today. They have a belief that these childhood diseases are not that serious, but as we have said over and over again, kids die of these diseases. These children don’t die because they are weaker or somehow different than the kids who are not vaccinated, they die because the diseases are dangerous. I personally cannot understand why these parents choose to risk their kids lives, but the cause seems to matter more than anything. How can we trust people who make that choice? 

And to answer the strawman fallacy that is often made by the antivaccinationists that “vaccines are dangerous”, once again, the evidence does not support them. None. The evidence says that vaccines are safe and efficacious, and that is supported by the most brilliant minds in science and medicine, people who have dedicated their lives to studying it

Vaccine deniers are manipulative

Just read any news article about vaccines, whether positive or negative. The comments will be blasted by anti-vaxxers with their anecdotes, false claims, mined research, quote mining, and other junk science. The >90% of people who vaccinate their children either don’t care, or don’t comment, since they just vaccinate because they already have decided it is the right thing to do, and there is no debate. They don’t care. So you have a tiny minority of individuals who make it make it appear that there is a real debate, when there isn’t one. This is a time-honored method of the global warming and evolution denialists, who create a debate, when there is nothing but scientific support for the theories.

Scientists, being thoughtful and nuanced in their discussions, often try not to be emotional or provocative in their points. They rely upon well-researched science in discussing vaccines. They trot out complex graphs that don’t have two sentences that are easy to digest by those whose science education was done on the university of google. So, the anti-vaxxers pull out a very badly done study on a vaccine causing XYZ saying “this proves that vaccines cause XYZ”, when it shows nothing at all. But their manipulative argument is so much easier to read than a complex scientific deconstruction of the poorly done paper, published in a fourth rate journal.

In an NEJM article, authors GA Poland and RM Jacobson clearly describe the ongoing the scientific problems of the antivaccination crowd:  “…the reality that none of the antivaccinationists’ claims of widespread injury from vaccines have withstood the tests of time and science. We believe that antivaccinationists have done significant harm to the public health. Ultimately, society must recognize that science is not a democracy in which the side with the most votes or the loudest voices gets to decide what is right.“ All we get from the vaccine deniers is yelling and screaming, without any serious scientific information.

Conclusion: Vaccines save lives

If you’re examining the “debate” between vaccines and the vaccine deniers, it’s not a matter of putting the evidence on one side or another. The quality of evidence for the safety and effectiveness vaccines is solid gold, solid platinum. It is published in the most prestigious medical and science journals in the world. They are reviewed and critiqued over and over again. The scientists and physicians stand in front of their peers and accept careful discussion and dialogue. The scientists continually revise their hypothesis and repeat over and over again. They do not sit in front of their laptops trying to find the one article to support their data, but they actually talk to patients, gather data from thousands of data points, review it, analyze it, and publish it. This is very hard work. 

The evidence to support the beliefs of the antivaccinationists is almost nothing. They rely upon what they observe in a narrow world around them. They hear about a story on the internet and accept it as a fact. They take a poorly written article that has little data supporting it, and use it as their “evidence”. They don’t have any science whatsoever, yet make claims as if they are.

Think of it this way. If you have heart disease, there are a number of options on how to treat it. The treatments can range from medications that reduce blood pressure and cholesterol to interventional cardiology or bypass surgery. To determine which option is the the appropriate one to manage your cardiovascular disease, first you will need a bunch of diagnostic tests, followed by the learned opinion of a medical professional. Usually, it’s a cardiologist who has had 4 years of college, usually in a science program. That is then followed by 4 years of medical school, which includes a combination of both intense classwork and vigorous clinical training. Then, that is followed by 3-4 years of residency, where the physician receives progressively more exhaustive training in cardiology. This is followed by another 2-3 years of focused, intensive education and experience in one sub-field of cardiology. After over a decade of education, experience, and training, probably several times Gladwell’s 10,000 hours, that doctor is ready to treat, manage and repair your heart.

Would you trust your heart to someone who studied surgery on the internet for a few hours? Then why would you trust your child to someone who studied vaccines for a few hours on the internet? WHY?

 

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

 

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