There are so many annoying issues about the antivaccination cult, that most of us can’t even keep up with it. If only they would provide evidence published in high quality, peer reviewed journals (yes, a high standard, but if we’re talking about public health, a high standard is required), the fake debate would move into a real scientific discussion. One of their favorite feints against real evidence is to push people, like Tetyana Obukhanych, who appear to have great credentials, but once you dig below the surface, not much is there.
One of the most irritating problems I have with the antivaccination movement is their over-reliance on false authorities, where they trumpet the publications or commentary from someone who appears to have all of the credentials to be a part of the discussion on vaccines, but really doesn’t. Here’s the thing – it simply does not matter who the authority is or isn’t, all that matters is the evidence.
For example, Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic, two researchers in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of British Columbia, have, for all intents and purposes, sterling credentials in medicine and science. However, they publish nonsense research (usually filled with the weakest of epidemiology trying to show population level correlation between vaccines and adverse events) in low ranked scientific journals.
In the hierarchy of scientific principles, the scientific consensus – that is, the collective opinion and judgement of scientific experts in a particular field – is an important method to separate real scientific thought from junk science, pseudoscience, cargo cult science, and other fake beliefs.
I often discuss scientific theories which “are large bodies of work that are a culmination or a composite of the products of many contributors over time and are substantiated by vast bodies of converging evidence. They unify and synchronize the scientific community’s view and approach to a particular scientific field.”
A scientific theory is not a wild and arbitrary guess, but it is built upon a foundation of scientific knowledge that itself is based on evidence accumulated from data that resulted from scientific experimentation. Generally, a scientific consensus eventually leads to a scientific theory.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Hominemto attack Offit. Laughable and pathetic.
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.
Dr. Sherri Tenpenny is one of the leading activists on the anti-vaccine side. Yes, she’s a real physician – she’s actually a DO, an osteopath (see Note 1). Despite her medical education and training, she is a science denier on many levels. Not only does she hate vaccines, ignoring the wealth of science supporting them, but also she denies a lot of basic scientific principles.
For example, Tenpenny denies the Germ theory of disease, which states that infectious diseases are caused by microorganisms. Germ theory is one of the basic foundations of biology – denying it implies either she doesn’t know anything about biology, or she has a vast body of evidence to overturn a scientific theory. My guess it’s the former, rather than the latter.
Instead, Sherri Tenpenny believes that diseases are due to toxins flooding the body, and germs subsequently jumping into the toxin-damaged tissues. Let’s be clear, there isn’t a stitch of evidence supporting this idea. Of course, once Tenpenny denied Germ theory, she would find vaccines to be useless. The vaccines aren’t actually protecting against disease in her mind.
Does Dr. Sherri Tenpenny have any training, education or background in infectious diseases, immunology or microbiology which would lead one to think she has a clue about all of this? Not as far as anyone can tell. She’s board certified in osteopathic neuromuscular medicine (AOBNMM) and the woo-based integrative and holistic medicine (ABIHM). Again, there is absolutely no indication that she actually has any kind of research, training or educational background in anything to do with vaccines, infectious diseases or epidemiology. She fails basic science here.
In a recent post in the anti-vaccine website, Vaxxter, Tenpenny pretends she’s Jesus (as in the Christian myth) telling a parable on how she tries to pass out information on the evils of vaccines – but that her claims are rejected by “close-minded” pro-vaccine types. Like me I suppose.
Shall we take a look? Sure, it’s a good day to debunk some anti-vaccine nonsense.
Sherri Tenpenny and Jesus
To be honest, doesn’t directly compare herself to Jesus. But she comes really really close.
Jesus often told stories called parables to teach a lesson through an example. Many of you may be familiar with the Biblical story, “The Parable of the Sower.” For those who don’t (and there are many faiths here, so many may not), here is a summary of The Parable of the Sower. I always keep this in mind as I am sowing seeds of information about vaccines (emphasis mine).
In essence, this parable attempts to assert that the seeds of faith (the word of Jesus, I suppose) can’t take root everywhere. But where it does grow, the rewards will be abundant. As an atheist, I find all of this to be ridiculously obtuse, but she’s the one claiming to use the parable to spread the seeds of her anti-vaccine information.
Let’s examine this.
The Parable of the Sower of Vaccine Seeds
So, Sherri Tenpenny, the Jesus of vaccines, says the parable fits into her dogmatic religion of the anti-vaccine. She’s the savior in this metaphor, I suppose.
Let’s take a look at them one by one.
1–Some seeds never have a chance. There will always be skeptics and “know it alls” who believe in the Religion of Vaccination and can never hear the information. Try as you might, they will never hear. Like the hard soil, their mind is closed. Save your energy. Move on.
She says that we’re close minded? I don’t think that means what she thinks it means. A close minded person has established a conclusion, evidence be damned. An open minded person (yours truly is one) only comes to a conclusion after weighing all of the highest quality evidence. In fact, the seeds of science never have a chance with Tenpenny and her ilk, because they believe in the Religion of Anti-vaccination, a faith based group. They ignore all the high quality evidence to stick stubbornly with the pre-conceived conclusions demanded by their religious faith.
The evidence for the efficacy and safety of vaccines is mountainous. But like creationists, another science denying religion, anti-vaccine-ists (yeah, I did that) rely upon anecdotes, misinterpretation, logical fallacies, and all of the other tools of the science denying crowd to close their mind to real science and evidence. So Dr. Tenpenny, look at yourself in the mirror. Seeds of knowledge, truth and science have no chance with your closed mind.
2–Some seeds of truth will start to grow because the truth is exciting and their interest starts to sprout.
3–Some seeds start to grow, but the truth is quickly choked by the weeds. Family members in healthcare, social media friends, community nay-sayers crush the spirit of the growing seedling. Discouraged and literally choked out, the seeds of truth die.
This is where my job starts. I need to get rid of those weeds of science denialism with a good dose of Truth™ glyphosate. Just about anyone who supports vaccines does the same – they get rid of the weeds of doubt, misinformation and bad science so that open-minded parents will realize how valuable vaccines are to the health of their children.
4–But a few seeds of truth will take root, and grow…and grow..and grow. Some who heard the truth about vaccine hazards immediately embraced and understood it. Their resolve grew the more they studied. They joined a like-minded community for personal support. The seeds planted within this person grew into a massive plant.
Yes, there are many, over 90%, who have heard the truth about vaccine hazards and immediately rejected the nonsense spread by Sherri Tenpenny. Then they vaccinated their children. To abuse this parable (or Tenpenny’s version of said parable), the massive plant of like minded people who accept science and knowledge, and understand who is and isn’t speaking the truth have made sure their children are protected against vaccine preventable diseases.
To be frank, Jesus Tenpenny’s version of the parable of the sower fits more for her sycophants and followers rather than for the “pro-vaccine” side. Because the parable is about faith and accepting the teachings of a god, while rejecting science and evidence.
Science isn’t about faith and blind acceptance. Sure, I am not an astrophysicist, so I tentatively accept what Neil DeGrasse Tyson says about Pluto being a planet or not, because he presents evidence, and he’s not ridiculed by the vast majority of astrophysicists. But if further evidence appears, supported by brilliant scientists say he’s wrong about Pluto, I’d rethink my position. But on vaccines, I’ve done the research, not as an amateur accepting by faith the statements of others, but as an expert in several biomedical sciences who can read the thousands of studies supporting vaccines. The evidence leads me to the conclusion about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, not “faith.”
In the USA, a licensed physician may be either an MD (medical doctor) or DO (doctor of osteopathy). DOs attend osteopathic school, rather than medical school, and are generally taught evidence based medicine. Its roots are somewhat based in medical woo, but that’s more historical than current philosophy. A DO must go through the same training process as an MD – they have to compete for the same internships, residencies and fellowships as MDs. Currently, it’s really hard to tell the difference between and MD and DO with respect to your own health care.
Several of the ongoing memes, tropes and fabrications of the vaccine deniers is somehow, somewhere, in some Big Pharma boardroom, a group of men and women in suits choose the next vaccine in some magical way, and foist it upon the world just to make billions of dollars through vaccine profits. Of course, while magically concocting this vaccine brew, these pharmaceutical execs ignore ethics and morals just to make a profit on hapless vaccine-injured victims worldwide.
The Big Pharma vaccine profits conspiracy trope ranges across the junk medicine world. Homeopathy, for example, claims that Big Pharma suppresses the data that shows water cures all diseases. Like Ebola.
But the Big Pharma vaccine profits conspiracy is still one of most amusing myths of the antivaccination world.
I don’t judge people by their looks, intelligence, bank account or fame. I only judge people by the good things they have done to save and improve lives. It’s a simple equation. Using a similar life calculator, Dr. Paul Offit, in an article in the Daily Beast, examined the legacy of Rachel Carson, and her groundbreaking book, Silent Spring. Published in the early 1960s, Carson was the first to warn that DDT effects include accumulation in the environment, and by doing so, it could bring harm to wildlife. She also warned that its overuse could make it ineffective. And finally, she said that we should use natural means for pest control, like bacteria that killed the mosquito larvae.
But Dr. Offit looked at something that is generally ignored with regards to the most important of DDT effects – it killed malaria carrying mosquitoes that kills millions of lives. Today, because of DDT, there is no malaria in the USA. But it’s more than just America, Dr. Offit looks carefully at other successes of the pesticide:
As malaria rates went down, life expectancies went up; as did crop production, land values, and relative wealth. Probably no country benefited from DDT more than Nepal, where spraying began in 1960. At the time, more than two million Nepalese, mostly children, suffered from malaria. By 1968, the number was reduced to 2,500; and life expectancy increased from 28 to 42 years.
It’s hard to imagine, but Nepal had a 99% decrease in malaria infections just because of DDT. From our cozy homes in the wealthy developed world, malaria seems like some distant disease that matters not. But it wasn’t too long ago that malaria was rampant in many areas of the developed world, like Italy, the American south, Greece, and other areas. It’s not some boring disease, it kills.
And since DDT was banned, malaria has come screaming back. According to Dr. Offit, “since the mid 1970s, when DDT was eliminated from global eradication efforts, tens of millions of people have died from malaria unnecessarily: most have been children less than five years old. While it was reasonable to have banned DDT for agricultural use, it was unreasonable to have eliminated it from public health use.”
There is a claim out there that whether we chose DDT, and killed ourselves and the environment, or choose malaria with no DDT, it was all the same. But in fact, real scientific studies have since shown us that the danger from DDT was overstated, while the danger from malaria stayed the same.
It’s the 0,1 binary scale of decision making that we see by a lot of anti-science types. DDT may save lives of by preventing malaria, but any harm to the environment is bad. Either an insecticide must be 100% safe, or it’s 100% unacceptable.
In a lawsuit filed with a court in Israel a young girl and her mother are suing, apparently (since I do not have the lawsuit, I’m reporting based on a news report that included an interview with the girl’s mother) claiming that the girl was negligently administered an HPV vaccine because the family was not warned that it can trigger an autoimmune disease, lupus. Because the evidence does not support the claim that there is a link between the HPV vaccine and lupus, the claim is unfounded, and should be rejected. The Ministry of Health is not required – and should not – warn parents about risks vaccines do not have: that would be misleading those parents.
I have previously written about the budding Wakefield Trump bromance with respect to vaccines. The cunning fraud, Mr. Andrew Wakefield, veritably bragged about his meeting, before the election, with Donald Trump. From what Wakefield passed along (there are no actual transcripts of the meeting), President elect Trump is a supporter of the Wakefield narrative that vaccines cause autism. Of course, we know real science says no.
Wakefield basically endorsed Trump for president with these words:
For me, this is a one issue election. That is the future of this country, invested in its children. And if we have mandatory vaccination, in this country, in this state, as they have in California, it’s all over…so you use your vote extremely carefully.
There is one person, whatever else you may think about him, who has expressed the fact that he knows that vaccines cause autism, that vaccine damage is real, and that this is an issue that will never lead, in his mind, to mandatory vaccination.
He would never allow mandatory vaccination. I had the privilege of meeting with him to discuss this precise issue. He is on our side.
Well, the white supremacists and anti-vaccine cult got their man as President, and I had moved on to worrying about the end of our great nation. And wondering if there’s a way to move to Australia, if they remove all of their spiders and Meryl Dorey.
But there seems to be a post-election blossoming of the Wakefield Trump bromance.
I and others have written several articles on this website about the anti-vaccine hate debate – discussing the atrocious and hateful behavior of a large portion of the anti vaccination cult.
This kind of “free speech” goes beyond simple mockery, ad hominem attacks, or, though it rarely happens, arguments about the science. Ad hominem attacks are, by definition, personal attacks that are used in lieu of real evidence. So, if you lack evidence to support your side of a debate (even a fake debate like what is happening with vaccines), you attack the person, rather than the evidence.
The vaccine hate debate on exists because they have nothing – no evidence of harm, no evidence of a lack of benefit. None. Ground zero of the Facebook anti-vaccine hate crazies is The Vaccine Resistance Movement (VRM) – read their hatred and lies. Donald Trump would be proud of them.