I wish I weren’t spending this much time writing about Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for President of the US. She barely breaks 2% in the latest polls, which means, it’s almost as likely as she’s at 0% than at 2%. Yesterday, I stated that she is probably anti-vaccine, but many people pointed out that the usually reliable skeptical website Snopes defended Jill Stein.
I occasionally cross-post my more political articles, along with any article that offends the anti-science left, to the Daily Kos, a liberal political blog. I posted my Jill Stein vaccine article there, where it exploded. It received over 400 comments, which is big time.
One of the comments said that Snopes, which is generally an important website for debunking nonsense, said that Jill Stein is not anti-vaccine. Basically, a few comments said that Snopes trumps the Skeptical Raptor in accuracy. This scaly reptile teared up a bit.
But then I got my mind in the right place, and thought about what I had written. All I care about is evidence, so if Snopes has it right, who am I to fight them? But let’s take a look at this evidence.
For those of you who don’t know, Snopes is like one of the oldest websites on the internet, founded in 1995, which, in internet years, is like 200 years old. It is run by Barbara and David Mikkelson, a California couple who met in the alt.folklore.urban newsgroup, one of the ways skeptics used to post and communicate information back in the really old days of the internet.
Whenever I see some nonsense about politics, science, medicine or just about anything, I check Snopes first, then other sources. In general, they are very good about science, including vaccines.
I’m quite proud that David Mikkelson has quoted this blog in his article that debunked one of the myths (there are so many) about Gardasil, the anti-cancer HPV vaccine. It was well written, and is one of the many articles on Snopes that cites this blog.
But let’s make one point clear – Snopes, this blog, Orac, ScienceBasedMedicine, Patheos, or any other skeptic website depends on evidence. And as I’ve said so many times that I ought to get a tattoo, the only thing that matters are the quality and quantity of evidence. That’s it.
Before we get to the actual article in Snopes, let’s be clear about something – they don’t get a pass because they are Snopes. They don’t speak with authority. And they are not immune to being critically analyzed.
Some people, for example, think that meta-reviews, which are considered to be the top of the hierarchy of scientific evidence, speak the truth. Mostly, they are the best data we can have about biomedical research, but that doesn’t mean they are excused from criticism. Cochrane, probably the leading think tank for meta reviews of medical research, has gotten it wrong on acupuncture and flu vaccines several times.
Thus, if you think Snopes, Cochrane, or even the humble Skeptical Raptor are perfect or immune from criticism, you’d be wrong. Again, only the evidence matters, and the mere fact that they have an article that disputes my conclusions about Jill Stein’s anti-vaccine beliefs does not make them right. Only evidence can be used.
Let’s look at that.
Snopes defended Jill Stein
In a recent article, a writer at Snopes defended Jill Stein, saying that the claim was “false.” Actually, I was surprised at first, and it caused me to wonder if something had changed in Dr. Stein’s thinking.
No. Dr. Stein did not change her opinion about vaccines. But the author of the Snopes article, Kim LaCapria, appears to simply parrot and embrace the anti-vaccine cult’s current tropes. I was surprised.
LaCapria, in the article, uses this quote from Dr. Stein as “proof” that Stein isn’t anti-vaccine:
[infobox icon=”quote-left”]I don’t know if we have an “official” stance, but I can tell you my personal stance at this point. According to the most recent review of vaccination policies across the globe, mandatory vaccination that doesn’t allow for medical exemptions is practically unheard of. In most countries, people trust their regulatory agencies and have very high rates of vaccination through voluntary programs. In the US, however, regulatory agencies are routinely packed with corporate lobbyists and CEOs. So the foxes are guarding the chicken coop as usual in the US. So who wouldn’t be skeptical? I think dropping vaccinations rates that can and must be fixed in order to get at the vaccination issue: the widespread distrust of the medical-indsutrial complex.
Vaccines in general have made a huge contribution to public health. Reducing or eliminating devastating diseases like small pox and polio. In Canada, where I happen to have some numbers, hundreds of annual death from measles and whooping cough were eliminated after vaccines were introduced. Still, vaccines should be treated like any medical procedure–each one needs to be tested and regulated by parties that do not have a financial interest in them.[/infobox]
These are the typical talking points of any standard vaccine deniers. How many times have we heard the cunning fraud, Mr. Andy Wakefield, tell us that he is not against vaccines BUT…? All of the infamous anti-vaccine crowd use this pedantic verbiage over and over agin.
Jill Stein is so ignorant of the regulatory process that she claims that “regulatory agencies are routine packed with corporate lobbyists and CEOs.” That is utter bullshit, and Ms. LaCapria should have taken the time to refute that statement.
The FDA advisory committee for vaccines contains 17 members, all but two are academics with impeccable research and science credentials. The other two, admittedly are from Big Pharma, but they also have impressive scientific backgrounds, and to impugn their character or any of the 17 others, is borderline libel.
Does Jill Stein have any evidence whatsoever that those 17 scientists are all handed bribes by Big Pharma to vote against the safety of American children? Well, does she? Ms. LaCapria apparently agrees with Stein by accepting, without critical analysis, Stein’s comments.
Dr. Stein also employs the other big trope of the anti-vaccine gang, by saying “vaccines should be treated like any medical procedure–each one needs to be tested and regulated by parties that do not have a financial interest in them.”
Who thinks they’re not? I can provide you over 100 high quality peer reviewed articles that include millions of patients that reject any link between vaccines and autism. These aren’t articles published in predatory journals by anti-vaccine shills – these are some of the best epidemiological research available to the world.
The same can be said for many other vaccines. For example, the research supporting the safety and effectiveness of the anti-cancer HPV vaccines is similarly overwhelming. Jill Stein has fallen victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous of which is ‘Never get involved in a land war in Asia,’ but only slightly less well-known is this – don’t believe anti-vaccine tropes.
It’s bad enough that someone posts something on a very respected website without really analyzing what it says. But when you double down on your error, it becomes somewhat embarrassing.
David Gorski, of whom I’m an alter ego, got into a minor Twitter kerfuffle with Ms. LaCapria.
.@gorskon @snarkyhumanist @pzmyers We adopt science-based perspective but it was not a page about vaccines/rhetoric, it was about her view
— Kim LaCapria (@KimLaCapria) July 31, 2016
That tweet was followed by another:
.@brian111979 @gorskon It’s solely on the rumor (is she anti-vaccine) and her answer (no). There’s a place for editorial, but not w/us.
— Kim LaCapria (@KimLaCapria) July 31, 2016
She claims that she has a science based perspective, yet she misses two huge points that Jill Stein made that are just plain wrong. And are, without a doubt, representative of vaccine denial along with a dollop of other anti-science fallacies.
I am an amateur in the skeptic world. I’ve only been doing this for four years. But taking someone’s claims at face value, when the follow-up statements are utterly contradictory, is the antithesis of embracing scientific skepticism.
Sure, Ms. LaCapria is sort of right. It really isn’t a black and white analysis. It is some odd shade of gray.
But there are only a few ways to look at Jill Stein’s comments:
- She really is pro-vaccine, but is using a poor choice of words. Now, this is possible, but she’s repeated these myths so many times, I am willing to discard this choice.
- Stein hasn’t spent the time to research her statements. But she’s running for President, as laughable as that is, and if she can’t spend the hour or so I spent to research her comments, then she really doesn’t deserve anyone’s support.
- She’s pandering to a far left element that hates vaccines. She may actually think that vaccines are the greatest medical invention ever, but she’s so desperate for votes she discards her years of education and experience. A real leader tries to pull the voters to their own point of view, not just embrace the anti-vaccine rhetoric.
I’m sure there are some other choices. But she needs to say “vaccines save lives. Period.” At that point, I’d write an article about her pro-vaccine attitude, then criticize her on her other anti-science beliefs, like GMO dangers and homeopathy.
I’m not alone in my criticism of Jill Stein’s vaccine rhetoric. The effervescent Orac has just written:
[infobox icon=”quote-left”]So the question remains: Is Jill Stein antivaccine? To be honest, I’m not sure whether she is or not. It almost doesn’t matter. Almost. Certainly, at the very least she is aware that what she is saying sounds antivaccine. It’s like racism. Whenever you hear someone say, “I’m not a racist, but…” you know that whatever follows after the “but…” is almost certainly going to be racist as hell. It’s the same with antivaccine views. If someone feels obligated to say, “I’m not antivaccine, but…” you know that whatever follows is highly likely to be antivaccine as hell. Jill Stein fits that pattern.[/infobox]
Stein is using some of the most debunked myths of the anti-vaccine crowd in her “but” statement. And that’s a big chunk evidence supporting our view.
Emily Willingham, who writes extensively about vaccines and autism, stated that:
[infobox icon=”quote-left”]You can’t have it both ways. You can’t confirm the benefits of vaccines out of one side of your mouth while unjustly claiming that the decades-long history of their approval is so irrevocably corrupt and compromised that we should question vaccines. To come to this discussion with the imprimatur Stein claims and equivocate in that way simply fuels what all sensible people keep hoping are the dying embers of dangerous anti-vaccine fervor.[/infobox]
Jordan Weissman at Slate recently wrote:
[infobox icon=”quote-left”]Let’s consider this statement carefully. Stein is invoking her authority as a medical professional to say that there were legitimate reasons to be concerned about the toxicity of vaccines, and that she doesn’t know if those issues have been resolved. Stein is not saying vaccines are necessarily unsafe. But for all she knows, they might be—some way, somehow. She is leaving open the possibility.
Back here on Earth, there is no evidence that vaccines pose a danger to children’s health. Doctors know this.[/infobox]
Here’s the bottom line – Snopes is generally one of the best websites to debunk myths on the internet. But to claim they are 100% perfect, well that’s just plain nonsense. And in this case, where Snopes defended Jill Stein and her anti-vaccine ignorance, you need to look at scientists, myself included, who have written about Stein.
We not only contradict Snopes, we point out the logical fallacies and factual misinformation of Stein’s comments. Critical thinking requires a bit of work, because sometimes your favorite sources are wrong.