I decided to write about vaccine settled science, based on comments I saw on Facebook after someone posted an article I wrote about recently polling on American attitudes towards vaccines. The headline of that article said “atheists support vaccines,” but that was not even close to what the article was about.
In fact, the article described how recently polling showed that nearly 90% of Americans thought that the MMR vaccine was safe and effective. In other words, most Americans think that vaccine science is settled.
Anyway, the comments to the post digressed wildly from the point, because anti-vaxxers wanted to claim that science is based on faith and belief, just like a religion. And that evolution is based on faith, and creationism is really a science. And that atheism is a belief.
The forum admins shut down the thread because it began to have nothing to do with vaccines.
Nevertheless, science is not based on faith or belief, it’s based on evidence. Creationism is a pseudoscience with zero supporting evidence.
And atheism was not the point of the article, which convinces me that too many people read headlines and not the article. This saddens the old feathered avian dinosaur who spends several hours researching and writing these articles.
This article will talk about vaccine settled science, but also what constitutes science. And it has nothing to do with faith and belief.
What is “settled science?”
I have found that anti-vaxxers are clueless about lots of things, but their understanding of scientific principles is both ignorant and naïve. They think that when someone says “vaccine safety and effectiveness is settled science,” they think it’s like religious dogma – obviously, Pope Skeptical Raptor speaks with infallibility.
In fact, nothing could be further from how science actually works. What the typical science denier fails to grasp is that all scientific ideas, theories, laws, and consensuses are provisional.
That is, all scientific conclusions can be overturned with evidence, but not through debate, rhetoric, anecdotes, conspiracy theories, or logical fallacies. And the contradictory evidence must be of the same quality AND quality as the evidence that supported the original conclusions.
Settled science is roughly equivalent to the scientific consensus, the collective opinion of scientific experts in the field, based on superior evidence, usually published in peer-reviewed journals. Again, and I cannot stress this enough, settled science is only based on peer-reviewed, published, repeated, high-quality evidence.
My opinions or beliefs regarding vaccine settled science are completely irrelevant. The only thing that matters is the mountain of evidence that supports settled science or scientific consensus
Because it’s often ignored by the science deniers, it’s important to note that science is not a democracy, so there is no formal vote in some cocktail party to develop and create a scientific consensus.
Occasionally, respected scientific societies will often publish a public statement on the scientific consensus for a particular scientific idea. There are consensus statements on GMOs, climate change, and vaccines – this constitutes settled science.
This scientific consensus or settled science derives from a huge body of scientific evidence that all agree with and support one another. It is based on public, published evidence that has been repeated a number of times. Settled science arises from this consistent evidence, not as a result of personal opinions or a priori conclusions.
What settled science does not mean:
- The scientific consensus is not religious dogma that can never be changed. Again, bring evidence to change it, and it will be reviewed, repeated, and become a part of the body of evidence. Prior to the 1980s, there were numerous hypotheses as to why the non-avian dinosaurs (remember, birds are dinosaurs) went extinct. Eventually, the K-Pg bolide impact event became the explanation for the extinction event, because of the vast amount of evidence.
- It does not mean one can resort to the old Argument from Ignorance, that is, just because we can’t find evidence of something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It’s a bastardization of the old “the absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence.” Except it does, especially if you look very very very hard for such evidence.
- It does not mean one can cherry-pick evidence that supports one’s beliefs while ignoring all of the other evidence, especially if the quantity of that evidence that contradicts your beliefs is 10 or even 100 times more.
- It does not mean that science says “game over,” time to move on to something else. Science is constantly adding data to the body of knowledge of everything. In fact, I’m sure a Nobel Prize is awaiting the scientist who brings a powerful body of evidence showing that evolution is wrong. But please don’t hold your breath, the body of evidence supporting evolution is equivalent to millions of articles, books, and lectures, a literal mountain.
- The “science makes mistakes” tropes that are used by science deniers everywhere is based on fake news. One of the prominent vaccine denier myths is to claim that the “CDC supporting tobacco smoking” is evidence that we can’t trust the CDC with respect to vaccines. Of course, this isn’t true.
Given what I wrote above, obviously vaccine science can become “unsettled.” But that doesn’t mean it’s unsettled because of your opinions, beliefs, or faith. It becomes unsettled with a massive amount of evidence equivalent to or superior to the evidence that supports the original claim.
In other words, it is vaccine settled science, until science finds evidence to unsettle it.
Vaccine settled science
Although I have the educational and scientific background to fully comprehend most scientific articles on vaccines, I can’t possibly read every vaccine article published. I mean there are over 20,000 articles published on vaccine safety alone (and yes, almost all of them say vaccines are safe). Besides, I’m an old avian or non-avian dinosaur who is about as close to winning a Nobel Prize in science as Donald Trump.
So, I look to respected groups who do review all of the evidence, and who are respected scientific researchers.
The National Academy of Medicine (NAM), a scientific body within the National Academy of Sciences (funded by the US Government and whose members are not compensated for their work for the organization) has written an extensive report about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.
The NAM’s consensus statement is:
Vaccines offer the promise of protection against a variety of infectious diseases. Despite much media attention and strong opinions from many quarters, vaccines remain one of the greatest tools in the public health arsenal.
Certainly, some vaccines result in adverse effects that must be acknowledged. But the latest evidence shows that few adverse effects are caused by the vaccines reviewed in this report.
In my review of this report, written by experts with hundreds of thousands of hours of education, research, and publication, the vaccine settled science is clear – vaccines are very safe and very effective.
What won’t unsettle vaccine settled science?
Occasionally, science deniers love to try to think they’re clever by asking someone to provide the single piece of evidence that supports a scientific claim. Creationists do this all the time – except evolution is an observed fact, and the theory of evolution, which describes the mechanism of evolution, is supported by that literal mountain of published data.
The same can be said of vaccine settled science. It’s not based on one seminal work, it’s based on those tens of thousands of scientific articles. This is what makes amuses me about pseudoscientists like James Lyons-Weiler, Christopher Shaw, Christopher Exley, and Tetyana Obukhanych.
These false authorities are the darlings of the anti-vaccine religion, and they profit monetarily from their association with it. They are the exhibits of “scientific credibility” for the anti-vaccine community.
But they provided nothing that “unsettles” the vaccine settled science. Lyons-Weiler published garbage in predatory or low-ranked journals that provide zero scientific or clinical data. It’s an opinion piece.
Shaw publishes nonsense that has been retracted at least four times over the past few years.
Exley has been cut off from funding in the UK because his research is of low quality and has never provided evidence.
And, of course, there is Obukhanych who, despite an outstanding education, has only published articles that support vaccines! Seriously, her body of peer-reviewed work is pro-vaccine.
Vaccine settled science doesn’t rely on personalities and false authorities. It relies upon published and repeated evidence.
In case it’s not clear, my acceptance of the vaccine settled science is based on the wealth of evidence. I don’t “believe” in vaccines. I don’t have “faith” in vaccines.
I look at the evidence and the scientific consensus, and it’s clear to anyone with a scientific background that vaccine safety and effectiveness is settled science. And that’s based on evidence. Period.
Faith is believing in something in lieu of evidence. But that’s not science. In fact, science is rather simple – ask a question via a hypothesis, do experiments to test that hypothesis, and determine if you get a yes or no answer to the hypothesis. Then analyze the data and publish it.
Vaccine science (or any real science) is not a religion. It is evidence-based.
Because science is open-minded, scientists hypothesized that “vaccines are linked to autism.” After literally hundreds of experiments (mostly clinical and epidemiological studies), we are virtually certain that vaccines have nothing to do with autism. This is the vaccine settled science.
But again, if no one reads anything else, we can “unsettle” that settled science with evidence. Not assertions. Not anecdotes. Not VAERS data. Not grieving parents who experienced a tragedy and need to blame something, someone.
I’ll put this a very pointed manner – if you want to unsettle vaccine science, then get off your lazy ass, go to college, get a degree in biology, go to grad school, get a Ph.D. in a field related to vaccines (epidemiology, immunology, cell biology, or many others), get a post-doctoral appointment to continue studies in vaccines, publish all of the articles in respected journals that demolish this settled science, present findings in large scientific meetings, stand up to criticism and questions, and then laugh at all of pro-vaccine people.
Until you do that, you have nothing but your false authorities, anecdotes, beliefs, and faith. You don’t have science.
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