In a recent article in Without a Crystal Ball on Patheos, Katie Joy, an anti-pseudoscience writer after my own heart, laid out a powerful case to label vaccine deniers as anti-vaccine terrorists. I think I’m on board. I know, it’s tough but deserving.
Fringe conspiracy-theorist terrorists, called ‘anti-vaxxers’ are multiplying so fast that some counties, cities, and states have vaccination rates below community or ‘herd’ immunity levels across the U.S. With more parents buying into the conspiracy that vaccines contain toxins, cause autism, and are unsafe, children, the elderly, and immunocompromised are suffering. These people need to be called out for what they are; anti-vaxxers are terrorists that kill and harm our children.
Even if you oppose anti-vaxxers, you might think it’s too extreme to use the “terrorist” label in this case. I do not. Though there is no single agreed-upon definition of terrorism, most agree that it consists of using fear as a tool to achieve political or social change while disregarding harm done to others in the process. I think anti-vaxxers meet every part of that definition.
After giving it much thought, I think I’m going to have to change my description of these nutjobs from anti-vaccine religious extremists to anti-vaccine terrorists. Maybe it’s harsh. But it’s deserving.
I want to make a case for this “anti-vaccine terrorists” label. Maybe you’ll agree, or maybe you’ll think I’m over-the-top, even if you’re pro-science. But these vaccine deniers are putting children at risk of harm, it’s becoming difficult for me to excuse their lies and misinformation.
Anti-vaccine terrorists – lying about autism
The ONLY reason we’re discussing a link between vaccines and autism is that defrocked fraud, Andrew Wakefield whose published article about autism and the MMR vaccine was retracted. In a series of articles published in the prestigious medical journal BMJ (see here, here, and here), investigative journalist Brian Deer outlined how Wakefield committed his fraudulent “research” in a cynical attempt to enrich himself at the expense of children.
Despite this deceit, it started a mythos about vaccines, at first the MMR vaccine, but eventually, all vaccines being linked to autism spectrum disorder. And this has lead to outbreaks in measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases throughout the world. Measles is a dangerous, often deadly, disease, in spite of the ignorant tropes of the anti-vaccine terrorists.
Of course, those who push this false narrative about vaccines and autism have provided zero robust, repeated, peer-reviewed, published evidence of such a link. None. And that should end the conversation right there.
But it doesn’t. The anti-vaccine terrorists rely upon anecdotes, false claims, Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) dumpster diving, or anything else that supports their pre-conceived beliefs. But what they don’t have is unbiased evidence.
If they could bring just one large epidemiological case-control or cohort study that is published in a respected peer-reviewed journal, not some predatory junk science journal, then maybe we could talk about a potential link between vaccines and autism. And please anti-vaccine terrorists – shut up about the unethical and immoral double-blind clinical trials for vaccines. It’s never going to happen unless it’s a brand new vaccine for a new disease.
Nevertheless, despite the utter lack of evidence supporting this nonsense, billions of dollars have been spent funding research by legitimate, respected scientists throughout the world to investigate this hypothesis. And over 120 studies, all published in top-quality, peer-reviewed journals, show that there is no link between vaccines and autism. None.
This is settled science. Pushing the lies that it isn’t settled science is part of the conspiracy theory of the anti-vaccine terrorists that will lead to the deaths of children across the world.
Anti-vaccine terrorists – ad hominem attacks
I’ve spoken about the constant ad hominem personal attacks used by the anti-vaccine terrorists so many times. The attacks on Professor Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, a frequent contributor to this website, are legendary. These attacks are usually childish, anti-Semitic, racist, and not based on any evidence ever. Just read any comment or article she writes here or anywhere on the internet, and you will find disgusting and hateful comments from the anti-vaccine trolls and religious terrorists.
Then, there are the attacks on Paul Offit, one of the great vaccine scientists of this generation. The rotavirus vaccine, one of which he invented with other scientists, has and will save hundreds of thousands of lives. How many lives have any of us saved?
Of course, this feathered dinosaur is attacked all the time by the science deniers. All you have to do is read the “About Skeptical Raptor” page to see some of the laughable attacks. One of my favorites is the Pharma Shill Gambit (about which I first learned from the indefatigable Orac nearly 15 years ago), which tries to accuse me, Professor Reiss, Orac, Paul Offit, and many many others of being in the employ of Big Pharma to push vaccines on the innocent children of the world.
However, these anti-vaccine terrorists, using lies and misinformation to push this bovine excrement, lack any evidence of such a huge conspiracy. It’s all about the evidence, and it’s settled science that vaccines are safe and effective. I don’t need gold bars from the Big Pharma Mint to say that, but if they want to ship me a couple for a new Ferrari, I’m all for it.
Yesterday, the aforementioned tenacious Orac wrote an article about a quack named Gary G. Kohls, a retired MD and 9/11 truther, who attacked Dr. Paul Offit and Orac by falling back on the old Big Pharma shill ad hominem attack. Kohls wrote:
But Big Vaccine companies, in their devious efforts to deter activists whose children have been sickened or killed by vaccines also hire internet trolls that cunningly infiltrate websites and chat rooms to cripple the efforts of the activists to spread “unwelcome truths” about vaccines. Two common tactics are ad hominem attacks. And the derogatory label “anti-vaxxers” when the reality is that vaccine critics are actually “anti-over-vaccination” activists.
Orac replies to this nonsense with this:
I’d be willing to bet that Dr. Kohls can’t define “over-vaccination.” Or, if he can, I bet that his definition will have nothing to do with science, reason, or evidence. My guess is that, basically, to Dr. Kohls “over-vaccination” means more vaccines than he happens to like, whatever that number is. Certainly, Dr. Kohls appears to be quite antivaccine, given that he’s up to part 10 of a series he’s entitled Trying to Refute, with Real Vaccine Science and Documentable Facts, the Big Pharma Propaganda/Lie that all Vaccines are Safe and Effective.
Of course, his “real vaccine science” is anything but. Let’s just put it this way. He actually cites Dr. Suzanne Humphries, an antivaccine quack about whom I’ve written on a number of occasions. Dr. Kohls is even gullible enough to spout the “vaccines didn’t save us” gambit beloved of antivaxers. Basically, this intellectually dishonest—downright deceptive, actually—tactic involves pointing out that mortality was falling from a given infectious disease before a vaccine for it was introduced. In this case, it was measles and a few other diseases. The implication that antivaccinationists want people to draw is that hygiene, sanitation, and the like were the “real” causes of the decrease. The long version of the rebuttal this gambit is here.
The short version is that disease incidence does not equal mortality and that measles incidence plummeted after the introduction of the vaccine. The reason mortality was falling before the vaccine was for other reasons. Medical care was getting better, and a smaller percentage of people who got the disease died from it.
One of the more tiresome tropes of the anti-vaccine religion is conflating morbidity, that is the incidence of a disease, with mortality, death from a disease. We shouldn’t assume that the only serious consequence of disease is death – there are many other complications from diseases from lost productivity, to hospitalization, disability, and yes, death.
Even then, the mortality rate is not zero. This is part of the bad math skills of the anti-vaccine terrorists. They round up extremely rare adverse events of vaccines, many of which happen less than 1 in 1,000,000 vaccinations, to 100%, while rounding down fairly frequent disease complications like death, which with measles can happen in 2 out of 1,000 cases, to 0%. Either these people are delusional or outright liars. It probably doesn’t matter which it is.
Laughably, Orac reports that Kohls embraces the bizarre conspiracy theory that yours truly is Dr. Offit. As if, because I am not worthy! But I’ve heard that before, so Kohls can’t even be original. Why doesn’t he claim that the Skeptical Raptor is President Obama?
Nevertheless, Kohls has to use all of his conspiracy theories (though grouping me with Orac and Dr. Offit is humbling, I am not even close to them in scientific prowess) to attack, destroy, and belittle scientific minds that have only one goal – to push the truth about vaccines, and that is that they are very safe and very effective. And they are one of the great medical advancements of our history.
Kohls wants to destroy this advancement and bring us back to the dark ages of medicine because that’s what terrorists do. They want to use unfounded fears to make us lose faith in the institutions that brought us here. Vaccines have made sure that our cemeteries aren’t filled with babies and infants because they have died of vaccine-preventable diseases. Their mindset is scary.
The CDC conspiracy theory
But these conspiracy theories get worse. The anti-vaccine terrorists love to attack the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for being a tool of Big Pharma because they promote vaccines. Robert F Kennedy Jr., who has gone off the deep end of the anti-vaccine conspiracy theory lunacy, has pushed lies about the CDC “profiting” from vaccine patents.
The CDC is made up of government employees in public service. They are scientists, physicians, nurses, and public health specialists who are in the military, United States Public Health Service, and the Commissioned Corps of the US Public Health Service.
The infectious disease experts generally have advanced degrees from prestigious universities across the world and extensive research experience in immunology, virology, microbiology, epidemiology, biochemistry, and other fields that are critical to public health. What do most vaccine deniers have? Two hours of Google searches?
Their goal is to protect the citizens of the USA, and frequently the world, from diseases that harm humans. To most public health experts across the world, the CDC is one of the most respected, most prestigious institutions on the planet for public health. But the anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists want to make it sound like its a center of corruption and evil. But like almost every single conspiracy out there, there is simply no evidence of that. None.
Finally, they put their lives at risk by being the first responders at every single disease outbreak throughout the world. They invest thousands of hours of their lives to investigate diseases to protect public health. They are modern day heroes, and they don’t do that wealth and riches, they do it out of public service. But the anti-vaccine terrorists prefer to invent ridiculous lies and tropes about the CDC rather than facts.
I’ve never shied away from being snarky, tough, and critical of the uneducated and ignorant pseudoscience pushers, especially vaccine deniers, that inhabit the internet these days. They put people, especially children, in harm’s way.
Am I being too flippant by calling them, anti-vaccine terrorists? Well, if using fear as a tool of social change, as Katie Joy states, is a key characteristic of a terrorist, then the accusation against anti-vaxxers stands. Because, as we have seen, these vaccine deniers use fear, uncertainty, and doubt to make it seem that vaccines are unsafe and ineffective in a cynical and risky attempt to make sure that others join their crusade to expose children to dangerous and deadly diseases.
So calling them terrorists seems to be the right thing to do. And I am okay with the criticism that might follow.
Because, as Katie Joy concludes in her article, “Our choice as parents must be to vaccinate our children.”
- Retraction–Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. Lancet. 2010 Feb 6;375(9713):445. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(10)60175-4. PubMed PMID: 20137807.
- Deer B. How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed. BMJ. 2011 Jan 5;342:c5347. doi: 10.1136/bmj.c5347. PubMed PMID: 21209059.
- Deer B. Secrets of the MMR scare . How the vaccine crisis was meant to make money. BMJ. 2011 Jan 11;342:c5258. doi: 10.1136/bmj.c5258. PubMed PMID: 21224310.
- Deer B. Secrets of the MMR scare. The Lancet’s two days to bury bad news. BMJ. 2011 Jan 18;342:c7001. doi: 10.1136/bmj.c7001. PubMed PMID: 21245118.