Opinion – vaccine deniers annoy the shit out of me

This is part of my series of opinion pieces. As I’ve written, it is not meant to be supported by evidence or data – unless I link to evidence. Then it is.  

Vaccine deniers, or anyone who is antivaccine for any reason, are a difficult group. They have ideas that are just unsupported by any factual evidence. They have an opinion that they’ll hold on to as if it were a commandment from Thor.

Again, as I’ve written before,

[infobox icon=”quote-left”]Even if you believe that your opinion is right, does not make it so. It’s still wrong. And just because you can troll the internet finding others who share that misconception, again does not move it into the realm of fact, it merely means you’ve found like-minded people who are also wrong. Your wrong opinion is still wrong, and it has no validity. None.[/infobox]

The opinion that vaccines are neither safe nor effective is simply wrong. The vaccine deniers want to claim there is a scientific debate. No there’s not. The vaccine deniers want to claim that their opinion is more valid than the mountains of evidence. It isn’t.

Let’s make this clear – the antivaccination cult is wrong. We’re going with that assumption, because it is valid, and it is supported by mountains of evidence. And just because they whine loudly, they’re still wrong.

So how do they get there? Here are some of my “opinions” of what led them to being so wrong.

1. 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 various Facebook anti-vaccine pages is sufficient for them to understand immunology, virology, bacteriology, vaccines, physiology, public health, and epidemiology.

They believe that they are experts in highly complex fields of biomedical science, just by spending a few hours on the internet.

And that few hours of research, often derived from websites that cherry pick bad data or make outlandish and unsupported claims, is their basis for refusing to vaccinate their children against dangerous, and often deadly, diseases. That is the epitome of arrogance and conceit.

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 on one issue.

Science is absolutely hard work. It takes those 10,000 hours, and many 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. There are no easy routes to being a scientist. To be a leader in a scientific or medical field, like vaccines, is something that takes an incredible amount of time and dedication.

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.

2. Vaccine deniers are arrogant

 

There is a term that’s used a lot to describe the arrogance of the vaccine deniers – they think they know more than accomplished scientists – the Dunning-Kruger effect.

So what is the Dunning-Kruger effect? It is a cognitive bias wherein relatively unskilled individuals suffer from an illusion that their knowledge is superior to others, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than is accurate. In other words, those who suffer from this think their opinions are better than real evidence.

Those with the Dunning-Kruger effect don’t see that they lack skills in the area being discussed. They also reject or diminish the skills of the actual experts. And they fail to recognize that their lack of skills causes harm.

Vaccine deniers are utterly incapable of recognizing their own mistakes and misrepresentations of real science. In other words, these antivaccine cultists are, at their core, 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.

Generally, when someone who has this effect receives actual training and education in the area, the usually recognize their own deficiencies. Of course, this doesn’t occur in individuals with personality disorders, like narcissism.

This is why I keep telling those with Dunning-Kruger to quit being lazy, and actually put in the effort of research that I’ve done. And hundreds and thousands of others. My guess is that most of them will say “damn, I was wrong about vaccines.”

But that’s probably not going to happen. Because of point #1.

3. 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. Or that anyone speaking out in favor of vaccines is a shill of Big Pharma.

Of course, all of this arises 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 about vaccines.

And these researchers 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.

These vaccines represent that hard work, not a few hours of surfing the internet for conspiracy theories.

4. 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.

The vaccine deniers ignore all new research that supports the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. They fail to accept that good research gets repeated many times, and by repeating it, the error around the mean becomes smaller and smaller. And they fail to accept high quality meta reviews that time and again support the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.

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 antivaccine cult frequently uses MrAndy Wakefield as their source for their wrongheaded opinion that vaccines cause autism.

Oh, by the way, vaccines don’t cause autism. That’s not an opinion that is a scientific fact supported by mountains of real evidence.

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.



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5. 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 effective. And that consensus is supported by the most brilliant minds in science and medicine.

6. Vaccine deniers are manipulative

 

Just read any news article about vaccines, whether positive or negative. The comments will be blasted by the antivaccination cult 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 about it in their mind.

Sadly, the vaccine deniers just 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 anthropogenic climate change deniers, the GMO safety deniers, and the evolution deniers–they create a fake 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.

On the other hand, the antivaccination cult pulls out a very badly done study on a vaccine causing XYZ saying “this proves that vaccines cause XYZ”, when it shows nothing at all. Unfortunately, their manipulative argument is so much easier to read, for some,  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 gang:

[infobox icon=”quote-left”]…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.[/infobox]

All we get from the vaccine deniers is yelling and screaming, without any serious scientific information.

What can we conclude? 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, maybe solid diamond-encrusted platinum.

The evidence that supports the vaccine consensus 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 critical discussion and dialogue.

These scientists continually revise their hypothesis–then they repeat it 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 antivaccine cult 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?

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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!