Anti-vaccine pseudoscience vs science, or fake vs fact

anti-vaccine pseudoscience

I toss about the term “pseudoscience” quite a bit because a lot of the anti-vaccine “information” that flows from their keyboards is, frankly, pseudoscience. Unfortunately for rational discussions, anti-vaccine forces tend to rely on the belief system that uses the trappings of science without the rigorous methodologies that value evidence — what is called pseudoscience. Those of us on the pro-vaccine side rely upon actual rational methodology, called science, to discover facts about vaccines.

Simply put, pseudoscience is pure, unfettered male bovine excrement, while science is rational knowledge. Too many times, anti-vaxxers, such as James Lyons-Weiler, Robert F Kennedy Jr, and Russel Blaylock employ pseudoscience that pushes false narratives and disinformation.

Pseudoscience is seductive to many people partially because it’s not only easy to comprehend, but also oversimplifies the understanding of the natural universe. Pseudoscience is the basis of alternative medicine, creationism, vaccine denialism, and other quackery that true believers try to claim is science.

Pseudoscience tries to make an argument with the statement of “it’s been proven to work,” “the link is proven”, or, alternatively, they state something negative about scientifically-supported ideas. It is appealing because it oversimplifies complex systems and ideas. I keep saying science is really hard work, that’s why most anti-vaxxers use their Google University degrees to proclaim that they’ve “done the research” while accusing pro-vaxxers of not doing the same. Ironically, the exact opposite is true.

Acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, naturopathy, and many other “alternative medicine” beliefs are pseudoscience. They simply lack robust evidence to support their efficacy. Science has failed to establish the clinical usefulness of most alternative medicine (CAM) therapies. But there’s an old saying, once evidence shows that these “alternative medicines” work, they’re just called “medicine.”

If anti-vaxxers had robust and repeated evidence that vaccines did what they claim, every single pro-vaxxer would take notice and embrace it. However, the fact that vaccines are very safe and extremely effective is settled science. That’s not based on this old dinosaur’s belief, it is based on the vast wealth of scientific evidence.

Because I can’t help writing about vaccines, the pseudoscience vs science battle applies perfectly to the vaccine discourse. Pseudoscience uses logical fallacies, anecdotes, and misinformation to make it appear there is evidence supporting the anti-vaccine beliefs. Real science has debunked the claim that “there is a proven link between vaccines and autism,” a common and rather dangerous belief of the anti-vaccine world. 

This article will explore the pseudoscience vs science debate (not a debate) by examining what exactly makes an idea scientific (and spoiler alert, it isn’t magic), and contrary to the logic of science, what makes an idea “pseudoscientific.” So sit down, and grab your favorite reading beverage, because this isn’t going to be a quick internet meme.

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Biological plausibility — determining causation in vaccine adverse effects

biological plausibility

If you read enough of my verbiage around these parts, you know I point to biological plausibility as part of my criticism of claims that vaccines cause whatever adverse event of the day is being pushed. Why do I do this? Because without biological plausibility you cannot find causality.

How many times have you heard tiresome tropes about the HPV vaccine causing this or that? No matter how many times we debunk the nonsense,  it persists. One of the critical points I try to make is that the anti-vaxxer must provide me with a biologically plausible mechanism that will lead from the vaccine to an adverse event. In other words, can we establish a reasonable and plausible biological mechanism, without resorting to special pleading and pseudoscience, that can lead one from one action, say receiving a vaccine, to some result, real or imagined/

Biological plausibility is a requirement to establish that correlation means causation. It is almost an essential requirement for one to claim a causal association. But biological plausibility must be consistent with our existing knowledge of biology, chemistry, physics, and medicine.

How many times has an anti-vaccine zealot tried to convince us that “mercury in vaccines causes autism” but ignores the basic scientific tenets of numerous fields of biomedicine like biochemistry, cell biology, toxicology, immunology, neurology – well, just about every field? Setting aside the fact that there is no “mercury” in vaccines and vaccines are not linked to autism.

Or someone who claims that acupuncture treats a bunch of diseases, yet we cannot find any reasonable biological plausibility between sticking a needle in the arm to treating some medical condition like pain. They tend to ignore that by using their anecdotes as “proof.”

That’s why science is much harder than what is said by the pseudoscience pushers. Establishing plausibility requires a strong knowledge of science to make the case. It’s much more than simply stating that plausibility does exist, you have to use actual real science, published in real scientific journals, to make the case of biological plausibility.

Continue reading “Biological plausibility — determining causation in vaccine adverse effects”

Correlation and causation between vaccines and adverse effects

correlation and causation

Correlation and causation are topics that have become a part of the anti-vaxxer claims regarding the links between vaccines and adverse effects. I hear both terms thrown out so frequently, it’s hard to determine what is what.

How many times have you heard tiresome tropes about the HPV vaccine causing this or that? No matter how many times we debunk the nonsense,  it persists.

Correlation is a statistical technique that tells us how strongly the pair of variables are linearly related and change together. It does not tell us why and how behind the relationship but it just says a relationship may exist. 

Causation takes a step further, statistically and scientifically, beyond correlation. It is any change in the value of one variable that will cause a change in the value of another variable. It is often referred to as cause and effect.

But there are ways to establish causation from correlation. But it must happen with a logical process that does not resort to special pleading and pseudoscience

For example, biological plausibility is one of the requirements to establish that correlation means causation. It is almost an essential requirement for one to claim a causal association. But biological plausibility must be consistent with our existing knowledge of biology, chemistry, physics, and medicine.

How many times has an anti-vaccine zealot tried to convince us that “mercury in vaccines causes autism” but ignores the basic scientific tenets of numerous fields of biomedicine like biochemistry, cell biology, toxicology, immunology, neurology – well, just about every field?

Or someone who claims that acupuncture treats a bunch of diseases, yet we cannot find any reasonable biological plausibility between sticking a needle in the arm to treating some medical condition like pain. They tend to ignore the need for biological plausibility by using their own personal anecdote as “proof.”

That’s why science is much harder than pseudoscience. Establishing correlation and causation requires a strong knowledge of a scientific or medical specialty to make the case. It’s much more than simply stating that plausibility does exist, you have to use actual real science, published in real scientific journals, to make the case.

So let’s talk a little bit about correlation and causality. Continue reading “Correlation and causation between vaccines and adverse effects”

Biological plausibility – a keystone of medical and vaccine research

biological plausibility

How many times have you heard tiresome tropes about the HPV vaccine causing this or that? No matter how many times we debunk the nonsense,  it persists. One of the critical points I try to make is that before an anti-vaccine claim can be made, there has to be a biological plausibility. That is, can we establish a reasonable and plausible biological mechanism, without resorting to special pleading and pseudoscience, that can lead one from one action, say receiving a vaccine, to some result, real or imagined.

Biological plausibility is a requirement to establish that correlation means causation. It is almost an essential requirement for one to claim a causal association. But biological plausibility must be consistent with our existing knowledge of biology, chemistry, physics, and medicine. How many times has an anti-vaccine zealot tried to convince us that “mercury in vaccines causes autism” but ignores the basic scientific tenets of numerous fields of biomedicine like biochemistry, cell biology, toxicology, immunology, neurology – well, just about every field?

Or someone who claims that acupuncture treats a bunch of diseases, yet we cannot find any reasonable biological plausibility between sticking a needle in the arm to treating some medical condition like pain. They tend to ignore that by using their own personal anecdote as “proof.”

That’s why science is much harder than what is said by the pseudoscience pushers. Establishing plausibility requires a strong knowledge of science to make the case. It’s much more than simply stating that plausibility does exist, you have to use actual real science, published in real scientific journals, to make the case.

So let’s talk a little bit about causality. And a large dose of biological plausibility. Continue reading “Biological plausibility – a keystone of medical and vaccine research”