Natural News is wrong about mandatory vaccinations – Part 1

For the typical American skeptic, there is nothing surprising by a headline that says that Natural News get it’s it all wrong. Most skeptics might wonder when they’ve ever gotten it right.

Just to be thorough, Natural News is a website that’s focused on anti-science delusions and pushing junk medicine, while marketing a whole boatload of nonsense remedies and “cures” for whatever makes the website money. It is owned by Mike Adams, self-styled “Health Ranger”, considered one of the biggest lunatics on the internet. Some consider him the #1 American Lunatic (and that takes some serious effort). Adams is so delusional, he insists that he’s just as science-oriented as Neil deGrasse Tyson. Only if it’s one of those alternative universes, I suppose.

Natural News has had a long history of vaccine denial, which always piques my interest, even if it’s to laugh hysterically. Occasionally, however, Natural News takes its anti-science beliefs to a whole new level, one that requires a double-pronged rebuttal and refutation.

What did Natural News say now?

Recently, Natural News published an article that criticizes mandatory vaccinations of healthcare workers both from the scientific and legal point of view.  In that article, Natural News is wrong about mandatory vaccinations – big surprise. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2020 has established a goal to vaccinate 90% of the nation’s healthcare workers with the flu vaccine annually by 2020, up from the current 55.8% (go to section IID-12.13).

The author of the article, Alan Phillips, JD, promotes his legal services on a website called “Vaccine Rights.” Of course, he’s not trying to make sure everyone gets vaccinated, his sole purpose is to fight vaccines. He even promotes the fact that he will help non-custodial parents to legally block vaccinations of their children. His website is filled with the same misinformation and outright lies of most of the anti-vaccine crowd. Let’s be honest, he’s basically a shill for the antivaccination cult, and, of course, he makes money from attracting clients to his antivaccine legal services. Let’s hear it for profits and the American Way.

Back to the Natural News article. Phillips wrote it with a two-pronged attack. One about the science of mandatory vaccinations, which I’ll endeavor to deconstruct and refute here, and the other about the law. However, not being a legal scholar, and certainly not pretending to be one on the internet, I will turn to a real scholar, Professor Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, who has collaborated with me on several articles, to critique Phillips’ line of reasoning (such as they are) on the legal issues.

And thus, Phillips begins:

First, are policies mandating flu shots for employees scientifically justified? Multiple peer-reviewed medical studies and other mainstream medical sources tell us that influenza vaccines don’t work. In fact, the research reveals that they may actually lower protection and cause an increase in flu-like illnesses, while studies favoring the vaccine have been shown by independent sources to be fatally flawed.

Where did he get this nonsense?

This criticism is based on a Cochrane review that essentially concluded that flu vaccines don’t work. Now, I consider systematic reviews, including ones from Cochrane, to be at the pinnacle of scientific evidence. However, and this is a critical point, systematic reviews, including ones that come from Cochrane, cannot be accepted as “fact” without a critical evaluation. And this particular study (which has been updated several times) has been roundly criticized by several writers, and has caused many evidence-based scientists to begin doubting the quality of Cochrane.

The lead author, Tom Jefferson, is a renowned antivaccination researcher who, from everything published, is unwilling to have an open mind with respect to vaccines. Setting aside the obvious bias of the author, let’s look critically at this study:

  1. The author eliminates any study sponsored by a vaccine associated company. Although one might think this is a wise idea, it moves the bias in another direction. How about we eliminate every article written by Jefferson, since he’s obviously biased. In fact, corporate sponsorship can range from corrupt to complete benign, how does he know what’s happening. Is he presuming that every sponsored study is unethical? Does he have evidence? Or does he know that eliminating that group of studies, he gets an answer that he wants.
  2. Jefferson has a false dichotomy view of the effects of the flu vaccine. It’s either perfect, or it’s worthless. But, there is substantial evidence that the flu vaccine lessons the effects of the flu, which leads to a lower death rate, especially amongst the elderly.
  3. Part of the whole reasoning behind vaccinating is preventing the disease from spreading, that is, the herd effect. Jefferson’s review completely ignores or dismisses this effect. Part of the vaccination process is to not only protect yourself, but your fellow man. I know, a difficult concept for the narcissists that make up the bulk of the antivaccination cults.

But it’s more than that. We have huge mountains of evidence that show how the flu vaccine benefits individuals. The CDC’s own unbiased estimates (looking at millions of patients, not just a few thousand) of flu vaccine effectiveness in 2016-2017 is approximately 48% depending on the group (pdf). But it’s more than that. The flu vaccine benefits those with cardiovascular risks. It benefits pregnant women. It benefits the general population – healthy people can die of the flu.

Conclusion

So Phillips chooses to use ONE biased review while ignoring the vast broad wealth of scientific research that actually states that the flu vaccine is safe. To quote Mark Crislip, an infectious disease expert (and who also doesn’t pretend to be a lawyer),

Or you can look at the preponderance of data, with all the flaws, nuance, subtleties and qualifiers, and conclude the flu vaccine is of benefit. The vaccine decreases the probability of morbidity and mortality. It is a good thing.

Phillips also tries to go dumpster diving in the VAERS database and misrepresenting data from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP) to try to prove that the flu vaccine harms people. Of course, lying about NVICP payouts makes for great press, except that it represents a tiny percentage, extremely tiny percentage of the number of vaccines given.

Except for the data that completely dismisses any significant adverse effects from the flu vaccine, Phillips might be correct. But he loses on the evidence. Badly. Unless cherry-picking evidence is the contest.

Healthcare workers have a responsibility to patients. Their code, their cause always must be the health of their patients above almost all else. If a healthcare worker is going to make a decision not to vaccinate, based on bogus information and outright lies, rather than real science, why are they in healthcare? They may as well open up an office to push crystal healing or some other kind of nonsense. Only dumbasses in healthcare don’t vaccinate.

Expecting Natural News to be truthful about any science about vaccines was not and continues not to be reasonable. But Phillips’ article, which exposes his ignorance of the science behind vaccines, was mostly about the legal issues behind mandatory flu vaccinations. So, unlike Phillips, I’m not going to pontificate on an area about which I may be ignorant, and turn to Dorit Reiss for a legal critique.

See Part 2-How Natural News doesn’t get the Law

Editor’s note – This article was originally published in August 2014. It’s been updated to fix broken links, formatting, and other issues. 

 
 
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Key citations:

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!


  • Victor

    Recently I got into a scuff with a naturalnews writer by the name of Jonathan Benson.
    There was an individual who stated that all individuals that support vaccination should be brutally murdered.
    Every attempt to oppose this extremist view was promptly removed by Benson, while all who supported the idea of murdering “pro-vaxers” were welcomed.

    This is the ugly side of this anti-science website. While bias and ignorance can be excused for what it is, (idiocy) the truth is unexcusable. The truth is that this is an extremist website with an extremist agenda.

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  • To outline what kind of person Mike Adams is, let me put it like this: If the truth were right next to him, and free, yet a lie were a mile away and he could sell it, but he’d have to crawl on his hands and knees, he’d show up with before and after images of his scraped up knees, say they were from the same day, that the lie healed him that quick, and you can buy it on his site for the low, low price of $149.99 plus shipping & handling.

  • jre

    Like most people I use a personal set of heuristics in deciding what’s worth my time to read. I enjoy your posts, so I pulled this one up — but it was about Mike Adams, so I did a lot of fast-scrolling on the reliable assumption that anything published in Natural News would be 99.9999% shit. Then I hit the part about Tom Jefferson and screeched to a halt. What is the deal with this guy? He seems knowledgeable, competent and sane, but he also has some axe to grind about vaccination, and keeps some very shady company. Is he just a contrarian, or is there more to it? I’d be interested in others’ impressions.

    • Let me put it this way. There are real scientists with real degrees from real institutions who deny real science.

      William Dembski has a Ph.D. in biology from Harvard but believes that all life on earth arose 6000 years ago.

      Peter Duesberg is a professor of Molecular Biology at Cal, and he denies that HIV causes AIDS.

      Lynn Margulis, who discovered endosymbiosis, one of the key steps in eukaryotic evolution and former wife of Carl Sagan, denied HIV/AIDS and also denied that vaccines worked.

      The point is, you can get Ph.D. in a real field of science. You can work hard. And sometimes you get it all wrong, for whatever reason. Tom Jefferson produces biased systematic reviews, one of the worst sins of doing a systematic review. If you’re going to introduce bias, then it becomes worthless.

      Just because someone has the Ph.D. doesn’t make them an authority. Only evidence does, and the vast mountain of evidence is opposed to Jefferson.

      Yes, sometimes science moves because one person moves the field. That’s how it should work. But it must be done with real science with real research. Jefferson is trying to move the thinking about flu vaccines through very bad work that is endorsed by Cochrane. Just so you know, Cochrane errs a lot–a couple of their articles on acupuncture are laughably biased and poorly written.

      So that’s how I look at it.

  • Tyler Rosolowski

    You are filled with hate and vile. I can’t take you seriously.

    • And you offer nothing substantive to the conversation. Definitely can’t take you seriously.

    • kellymbray

      No science? Then nobody cares.

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