I’ve noticed something about the pseudoscience world – they love to “prove” their point by pointing to a Harvard (or some other prestigious university) research study that they believe supports their claims. It usually doesn’t. Now we have something floating around the anti-vaccine interwebs – there’s a Harvard vaccine study that says that unvaccinated kids are not dangerous to other children.
No, Harvard published no such a study. But our favorite false authority, Tetyana Obukhanych, did make these claims, which we have debunked previously. Basically, the new claims in the anti-vaccine blogosphere are related to a letter she wrote in opposition to SB277, California’s law that eliminates personal belief exemptions for vaccines prior to entering school.
Somehow, the anti-vaccine religion has attached itself to her claims and converted it into the Harvard vaccine study. So, I’m going to take a look at this amazing Harvard vaccine study and how Obukhanych is involved with it.
Tetyana Obukhanych’s biography
Obukhanych does have a Ph.D. in immunology from Rockefeller University, according to her own biography, and once was on a research team at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
Does that make her an expert on vaccines? The whole point why the appeal to authority is a logical fallacy is that anti-vaccine zealots look to her degree as proof she is an expert, rather than relying upon scientific evidence. If Obukhanych is an expert, she would not reject the scientific consensus on vaccines, she would present the overwhelming evidence that vaccines are safe and effective. She does not, so she ends up pushing pseudoscience.
As far as I can tell, Obukhanych is an unemployed Ph.D., other than shilling for anti-vaccine groups. So let me clarify – despite her academic credentials, she is not employed in scientific research. But let’s look at what we can confirm and not confirm about her academic background:
- Again, she received a Ph.D. in Immunology from Rockefeller University in New York City in 2006. Her thesis was entitled Immunologic Memory to Polysaccharide Antigens. Ironically, her research showed how vaccines work. Yes, she provided us with strong evidence on the effectiveness of vaccines.
- Although a lot of pro-vaccine websites state that she was a postdoctoral researcher (post-doc) at Harvard, and Obukhanych states she was a post-doc there on her website, I can find little corroboration of it. If she were a post-doc at Harvard, she failed to publish even one study while there. Post-docs often, but not always, are the first step to getting a permanent academic position – obviously, she did not, since she left.
- Obukhanych was once a post-doc in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at the Stanford University School of Medicine. However, she is no longer a researcher, post-doctoral fellow, or faculty member at Stanford University School of Medicine. Many times, when she’s used as the appeal to false authority, she is claimed to be a Stanford researcher (which, of course, is the Harvard of the West, or Harvard is the Stanford of the East, depending on your point of view).
As far as I can tell, Tetyana Obukhanych has never written any study about vaccines in association with Harvard. In fact, Obukhanych is a co-author of eight published studies. Let’s review the key points about these articles:
- Only one of her papers had anything to do with vaccines, although two of them (here and here), very small clinical trials, examined amino acid relationships to autism spectrum disorder. Neither of these articles even mention vaccines, so don’t invent some trope where Obukhanych published an article linking vaccines to autism – we know that there is no link. None.
- Other than one article, Obukhanych was never the first or last author. In most papers, the first author is generally the individual who did the bulk of the research work. In that one paper, she concluded that “As the generation and regulation of immunologic memory is central to vaccination, our findings help explain the mode of action of the few existing polysaccharide vaccines and provide a rationale for a wider application of polysaccharide-based strategies in vaccination.” Yes, that was a pro-vaccine paper.
- Did I mention that none of them had anything to do with Harvard?
- However, she was interviewed for an antivaccine article in the lunatic website, whale.to, an anti-semitic, hate-filled, conspiracy-laden website run by a pig farmer. Apparently, that’s what she thinks is peer-reviewed research about vaccines these days.
- Lastly, Obukhanych has written a book, Vaccine Illusion: How Vaccination Compromises Our Natural Immunity and What We Can Do To Regain Our Health, which is self-published (on Kindle). It is essentially a screed about vaccines. In other words, it’s a book that’s so unworthy of respect, that she couldn’t find a real science book publisher to take it on.
Do we have any evidence that Obukhanych wrote a Harvard vaccine study? No. Harvard researchers have published over 3000 articles regarding vaccines, nearly all of them positive about current and future vaccines. Obukhanych had nothing to do with any of them.
Let’s be clear – there is no evidence that there’s a Harvard vaccine study that states that unvaccinated kids are not dangerous to other children.
- Hardan AY, Fung LK, Libove RA, Obukhanych TV, Nair S, Herzenberg LA, Frazier TW, Tirouvanziam R. A randomized controlled pilot trial of oral N-acetylcysteine in children with autism. Biol Psychiatry. 2012 Jun 1;71(11):956-61. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2012.01.014. Epub 2012 Feb 18. PubMed PMID: 22342106; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4914359.
- Obukhanych TV, Nussenzweig MC. T-independent type II immune responses generate memory B cells. J Exp Med. 2006 Feb 20;203(2):305-10. Epub 2006 Feb 13. PubMed PMID: 16476769; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2118207.
- Tirouvanziam R, Obukhanych TV, Laval J, Aronov PA, Libove R, Banerjee AG, Parker KJ, O’Hara R, Herzenberg LA, Herzenberg LA, Hardan AY. Distinct plasma profile of polar neutral amino acids, leucine, and glutamate in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. J Autism Dev Disord. 2012 May;42(5):827-36. doi: 10.1007/s10803-011-1314-x. PubMed PMID: 21713591.