It has become fashionable in the media recently to lament the apparent lack of faith people have in science today. “Anti-vaxxers,” in particular, are often singled out for censure as “anti-science.” Nowhere is this trend better exemplified than in a March 2015 National Geographic cover story written by Joel Achenbach: “Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?”
A diorama of a moon landing graces the magazine’s cover, and the article’s caption reads “We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledge — from climate change to vaccinations — faces furious opposition. Some even have doubts about the moon landing,” erroneously implying that all scientific “doubt” springs from the same source and is of equal value or validity — or lack thereof – and that “doubting” the validity of science with regard to vaccines and genetically modified organisms is equivalent to “doubting” climate science, evolution, and moon landings.
As a geeky physics major who happens to be quite proud of my father’s contribution to the moon landings (he was part of the team responsible for the lunar module’s antenna and communication system), yet has the temerity to question the science and wisdom behind the current vaccine schedule and widespread dissemination of genetically modified organisms, I finally find myself irritated enough by this journalistic trend to rebut to the popular conception of those who question vaccine science as “anti-science.”
Despite his title, Achenbach makes the case that (all) people who “doubt science” are not in fact “reasonable.” Rather, they are driven by emotion – what he calls “intuitions” or “naïve beliefs.” “We have trouble digesting randomness,” he says, “our brains crave pattern and meaning,” implying that we use our own experiences or “anecdotes” to see pattern and meaning where there actually is none – insisting on believing things that are counter to the evidence.
I find Achenbach’s piece fascinating – well-written and persuasive, yet built upon logical inconsistencies and false assumptions that, taken together, make a better case against his thesis than for it – at least with regard to vaccine science. He quotes geophysicist Marcia McNutt, editor of Science magazine, as saying, “Science is not a body of facts. Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of nature or not.” And he himself claims, “Scientific results are always provisional, susceptible to being overturned by some future experiment or observation. Scientists rarely proclaim an absolute truth or absolute certainty. Uncertainty is inevitable at the frontiers of knowledge.”
Having studied science pretty intensively at Williams College, including a major in physics and concentrations in astronomy and chemistry – there were semesters it felt like l lived in the science quad – I fully concur with these statements. Sitting through lecture after lecture laying out elaborate scientific theories that were once accepted and used to further scientific knowledge and then discarded when it became clear they did not account for all the available data, it would have been hard not to be aware that scientific results are provisional and subject to change when a more complete picture is developed. And indeed, information received by the Hubble Telescope and continuing work conducted by people like Stephen Hawking have changed the landscape in astronomy and physics rather dramatically since I graduated in 1983.
The episodic nature of scientific progress
In his 1962 seminal work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, philosopher Thomas Kuhn instigated a revolution of his own – in our understanding of how science and scientific understanding progress. Kuhn’s main idea was that science does not simply progress by the gradual accretion of knowledge but is instead more episodic in nature, characterized by periods of “normal science” — “puzzle-solving” that is guided by the prevailing scientific paradigm – punctuated by periods of intense “revolutionary science,” when the old paradigm gives way to a new paradigm that better explains the totality of observed phenomena.
The old paradigm is never given up lightly or easily in the face of new evidence. In fact, an established paradigm is generally not abandoned until overwhelming evidence accumulates that the paradigm cannot account for all the observed phenomena in scientific research and an alternative credible hypothesis has been developed. Wikipedia summarizes it well,
As a paradigm is stretched to its limits, anomalies — failures of the current paradigm to take into account observed phenomena — accumulate. Their significance is judged by the practitioners of the discipline. . . But no matter how great or numerous the anomalies that persist, Kuhn observes, the practicing scientists will not lose faith in the established paradigm until a credible alternative is available; to lose faith in the solvability of the problems would in effect mean ceasing to be a scientist.
When The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was first published it garnered some controversy, according to Wikipedia, because of “Kuhn’s insistence that a paradigm shift was a mélange of sociology, enthusiasm and scientific promise, but not a logically determinate procedure.” Since 1962, though, Kuhn’s theory has become largely accepted and his book has come to be considered “one of The Hundred Most Influential Books Since the Second World War,” according to the Times Literary Supplement and is taught in college history of science courses all over the country.
It would seem likely that a journalist writing a high-profile article on science for National Geographic would not only be aware of Kuhn’s work, but would also understand it well. Achenbach seems to understand the evolution of science as inherently provisional and subject to change when new information comes in, but then undercuts that understanding with the claim, “The media would also have you believe that science is full of shocking discoveries made by lone geniuses. Not so. The (boring) truth is that it usually advances incrementally, through the steady accretion of data and insights gathered by many people over many years.”
This statement is patently false. First off, the mainstream media tends to downplay, if not completely ignore, any contributions of “lone geniuses” to science, as exemplified by the 2014 Time magazine cover story proclaiming “Eat Butter! Scientists labeled fat the enemy. Why they were wrong.” Suddenly, everyone was reporting that consumption of fat, in general, and saturated fat, in particular, is not the cause of high serum cholesterol levels and is not in fact bad for you. “Lone geniuses” (also known as “quacks” in the parlance of the old paradigm) understood and accepted these facts 25-30 years ago and have been operating under a completely different paradigm ever since, but it wasn’t until 2014 that a tipping point occurred in mainstream medical circles and the mainstream media finally took note.
Secondly, “the steady accretion of data and insights gathered by many people over many years,” what Kuhn calls “normal science,” cannot by its nature bring about the biggest advancements in science – the scientific revolutions. Also from Wikipedia,
In any community of scientists, Kuhn states, there are some individuals who are bolder than most. These scientists, judging that a crisis exists, embark on what Thomas Kuhn calls revolutionary science, exploring alternatives to long-held, obvious-seeming assumptions. Occasionally this generates a rival to the established framework of thought. The new candidate paradigm will appear to be accompanied by numerous anomalies, partly because it is still so new and incomplete. The majority of the scientific community will oppose any conceptual change (emphasis mine), and, Kuhn emphasizes, so they should. To fulfill its potential, a scientific community needs to contain both individuals who are bold and individuals who are conservative. There are many examples in the history of science in which confidence in the established frame of thought was eventually vindicated. It is almost impossible to predict whether the anomalies in a candidate for a new paradigm will eventually be resolved. Those scientists who possess an exceptional ability to recognize a theory’s potential will be the first whose preference is likely to shift in favour of the challenging paradigm (emphasis mine). There typically follows a period in which there are adherents of both paradigms. In time, if the challenging paradigm is solidified and unified, it will replace the old paradigm, and a paradigm shift will have occurred.
That paradigm shift will usher in a scientific revolution resulting in an explosion of new ideas and new directions for research. Achenbach recognizes this tension between the bolder and more conservative scientists to a degree:
Even for scientists, the scientific method is a hard discipline. Like the rest of us, they’re vulnerable to what they call confirmation bias — the tendency to look for and see only evidence that confirms what they already believe. But unlike the rest of us, they submit their ideas to formal peer review before publishing them.
Scientific consensus relies heavily on the flawed process of peer review
Achenbach acknowledges that scientists are human beings and, as such, are subject to the very same biases and stresses to which other human beings are subject, but implies that those biases are somehow held in check by the magical process of peer review. What Achenbach fails to mention, however, is the fact that the process of peer review is hardly a “scientific” discipline itself. In fact, peer review is so imperfect in practice that Richard Smith, former editor of the prestigious British Medical Journal, described it this way in his 2006 article, “Peer Review: A Flawed Process at the Heart of Science and Journals”:
My point is that peer review is impossible to define in operational terms (an operational definition is one whereby if 50 of us looked at the same process we could all agree most of the time whether or not it was peer review). Peer review is thus like poetry, love, or justice. But it is something to do with a grant application or a paper being scrutinized by a third party — who is neither the author nor the person making a judgement (sic) on whether a grant should be given or a paper published. But who is a peer? Somebody doing exactly the same kind of research (in which case he or she is probably a direct competitor)? Somebody in the same discipline? Somebody who is an expert on methodology? And what is review? Somebody saying ‘The paper looks all right to me‘, which is sadly what peer review sometimes seems to be. Or somebody pouring (sic) all over the paper, asking for raw data, repeating analyses, checking all the references, and making detailed suggestions for improvement? Such a review is vanishingly rare.
What is clear is that the forms of peer review are protean. Probably the systems of every journal and every grant giving body are different in at least some detail; and some systems are very different. There may even be some journals using the following classic system. The editor looks at the title of the paper and sends it to two friends whom the editor thinks know something about the subject. If both advise publication the editor sends it to the printers. If both advise against publication the editor rejects the paper. If the reviewers disagree the editor sends it to a third reviewer and does whatever he or she advises. This pastiche—which is not far from systems I have seen used—is little better than tossing a coin, because the level of agreement between reviewers on whether a paper should be published is little better than you’d expect by chance.
That is why Robbie Fox, the great 20th century editor of the Lancet, who was no admirer of peer review, wondered whether anybody would notice if he were to swap the piles marked ‘publish’ and ‘reject’. He also joked that the Lancet had a system of throwing a pile of papers down the stairs and publishing those that reached the bottom. When I was editor of the BMJ I was challenged by two of the cleverest researchers in Britain to publish an issue of the journal comprised only of papers that had failed peer review and see if anybody noticed. I wrote back ‘How do you know I haven’t already done it?’
In the introduction to their book Peerless Science, Peer Review and U.S. Science Policy, Daryl E. Chubin and Edward J. Hackett, lament
Peer review is not a popular subject. Scientists, federal program managers, journal editors, academic administrators and even our social science colleagues, become uneasy when it is discussed. This occurs because the study of peer review challenges the current state of affairs. Most prefer not to question the way things are done – even if at times those ways appear illogical, unfair and detrimental to the collective life of science and the prospects of one’s own career. Instead, it is more comfortable to defer to tradition, place faith in collective wisdom and hope that all shall be well.
In short, exactly what Achenbach does.
Problems with scientific research run much deeper than peer review
Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of the also-prestigious New England Journal of Medicine makes the case that the problems with scientific research, especially with respect to the pharmaceutical industry, go much deeper than peer review issues. In May 2000 she wrote an editorial in the NEJM that asked “Is Academic Medicine for Sale?” about the increasingly blurry lines between academic institutions (and their research) and the pharmaceutical companies that pay the bills. The editorial was prompted by a research article written by authors whose conflicts-of-interest disclosures were longer than the article itself. In 2005, Angell wrote The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It, a book that Janet Maslin of The New York Times described as “a scorching indictment of drug companies and their research and business practices . . . tough, persuasive and troubling.”
What determines who will be among the bold scientists who usher in a paradigm shift and who will be the more conservative scientists opposing it? I submit that it is those very scientists who can extrapolate from their own experiences and observations, i.e. “anecdotes,” and synthesize them with their understanding of the scientific research to-date who possess the “exceptional ability to recognize a theory’s potential.” In other words, those who can take a step back from the “puzzle-solving” of “normal science” enough to see the bigger picture. Pediatric neurologist and Harvard researcher, Dr. Martha Herbert, describes this eloquently in her introduction to Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s book, Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak:
What is an error? Put simply, it is a mismatch between our predictions and the outcomes. Put in systems terms, an “error” is an action that looks like a success when viewed through a narrow lens, but whose disruptive additional effects become apparent when we zoom out.
Why do predictions fail to anticipate major complications? Ironically the exquisite precision of our science may itself promote error generation. This is because precision is usually achieved by ignoring context and all the variation outside of our narrow focus, even though biological systems in particular are intrinsically variable and complex rather than uniform and simple. In fact our brains utilize this subtlety and context to make important distinctions, but our scientific methods mostly do not. The problems that come back to bite us then come from details we didn’t consider.
Once an error is entrenched it can be hard to change course. The initial investment in the error, plus fear of the likely expense (both in terms of time and money) of correcting the error, as well as the threat of damage to the reputations of those involved — these all serve as deterrents to shifting course. Patterns of avoidance then emerge that interfere with free and unbiased conduct of scientific investigations and public discourse. But if the error is not corrected, its negative consequences will continue to accumulate. When change eventually becomes unavoidable, it will be a bigger, more complicated, and expensive problem to correct – with further delay making things still worse.
Personally, I think a large part of the brewing paradigm shift in medical science (which I expect to predominate in the near future) comes from the very tension that Herbert describes between the view of bodies, biological systems, as machines that respond predictably and reliably to a particular force or intervention and the view of bodies as “intrinsically variable and complex.” Virtually every area of biological research has identified outliers to every kind of treatment or intervention that are not explainable in terms of the old paradigm, arguing for a more individualized approach to medicine that takes the whole person into account.
For instance, it is clear that most overweight people will lose weight on a high-protein/very low-carbohydrate diet such as Dr. Robert C. Atkins promoted or the Paleo Diet that is all the current rage. What is not clear, however, is how an individual will feel on that diet, which feeling will determine to a large degree the overall outcome of the diet strategy. Some will feel fantastic, while others will feel like the cat’s dinner after it has been vomited up on the carpet. Logically, one can see that it doesn’t make sense to make both types of people conform to one type of diet. “One size” does not fit all.
There are those who believe that all we need is more biological information about a particular system in order to reliably predict outcomes, but there is a good deal of evidence to show that this may never be the case as biological systems appear to be as susceptible to subtle energetic differences as they are to gross chemical and physical interventions. The old paradigm of body as predictable machine has no mechanism to account for the effectiveness of acupuncture on easing chronic pain or the difference that group prayer can make in the length of a hospital stay. The biological sciences may be giving way to their own version of quantum theory, just as Newtonian physics had to.
Intuition as a characteristic of scientists who perform “revolutionary science”
The ability to “utilize this subtlety and context to make important distinctions” that Herbert describes constitutes the difference between the scientific revolutionaries and those who will continue defending an error until long past the point that it has been well and truly proven to be an error. It is an ability that Albert Einstein possessed to a larger degree than most. Einstein felt that “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” And that “All great achievements of science must start from intuitive knowledge. I believe in intuition and inspiration . . . . At times I feel certain I am right while not knowing the reason.” Interestingly, another well-known scientist whom many consider to have been “revolutionary” was known to place a great deal of emphasis on intuition. Jonas Salk, the creator of the first inactivated polio vaccine to be licensed, even wrote a book called Anatomy of Reality: Merging Intuition and Reason.
Gavin de Becker, private security expert and author of the 1999 best-selling book The Gift of Fear, upended the prevailing idea that the eruption of violent behavior is inherently unpredictable by explaining how we can and do predict it with the use of intuition. Like Einstein and Salk, far from denigrating intuition as an irrational response based on “naïve beliefs,” de Becker considers intuition a valid form of knowledge that does not involve the conscious mind. He teaches people to recognize, honor, and rely upon their intuition in order to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. In fact, if we could not do so and had to rely solely upon our conscious minds to protect us from danger, chances are very good human beings would no longer walk the earth.
Anenbach makes the argument that our intuition will lead us astray, encouraging men to get a prostate-specific antigen test, for instance, even though it’s no longer recommended because studies have shown that on a population level the PSA doesn’t increase the overall number of positive outcomes. But there are people whose first indication of prostate cancer was a high PSA result, and those people’s lives might have been saved due to having that test. Who is to say that the person requesting the test will not be among them? In other words, intuition is not necessarily wrong just because it encourages you to do something that is statistically out of the norm or has yet to be “proven” by science.
With regard to proof that a hazardous waste dump is causing a high rate of cancer, Anenbach, says that
To be confident there’s a causal connection between the [hazardous waste] dump and the [local cluster of] cancers, you need statistical analysis showing that there are many more cancers than would be expected randomly, evidence that the victims were exposed to chemicals from the dump, and evidence that the chemicals really can cause cancer.
That’s true, of course, but surely it’s not all that you would – or should – take into account when deciding whether or not to build your house next to the hazardous waste dump. And if you had to wait for the corporation doing the dumping to produce that statistical analysis, something that could presumably be expected to run counter to its own interests, it seems likely that the stronger the correlation between the dumping and the cancers, the longer you would be waiting for that analysis to appear.
Consider the case of a child growing up in a house with chain smokers in the early 1900s, listening to them hacking up phlegm after every cigarette and upon rising every morning. The smokers die youngish, at least one riddled with lung cancer making every breath a torture. The child has an inkling that the cigarette smoking, the coughing, and subsequent lung cancer are all related. What would be the best choice for that child to make – to assume that the lung cancer and the smoking were not related until science had proven 50 years later that smoking does indeed cause lung cancer or to listen to that initial intuition and steer clear of cigarettes in the first place? Obviously, in retrospect, the latter option would have been the far better choice. As indeed avoidance of the hazardous waste dump may be as well in Anenbach’s example.
Some of you may know that I was on Larry Wilmore’s The Nightly Show in February of this year because it is well known that I do not vaccinate my children. That show also featured Dr. Holly Phillips, medical contributor on CBS News. What most of you won’t know is that Dr. Phillips also spent her undergraduate years at Williams College, my alma mater, but unlike me, she didn’t major in science; she majored in English literature. (Coincidentally, I was also on the CBS News show UpClose with Diana Williams that month with Dr. Richard Besser who was also at Williams while I was there. He was an economics major.)
I’m quite certain that Dr. Phillips learned the body of facts taught in medical school as well as anyone, but I think it’s very likely she’s deeply entrenched in the old paradigm of the body as predictable machine. I was taken aback and, frankly, horrified to hear her say, “I think it’s one of those things where there’s a mother’s intuition where you don’t necessarily want to put a needle in your [healthy] child, but I think this is one of those times when you have to let science trump intuition.”
Did she actually tell people to ignore their intuition – that ability to utilize subtlety and context to make distinctions extolled by Einstein, Salk and de Becker – in favor of someone else’s interpretation of “scientific consensus”? To quote those fabulously creative geniuses Phineas and Ferb, “Yes. Yes, she did.” I regret not finding an opportunity that night to point out how dangerous Dr. Phillips’s advice was.
“Doubt” of scientific consensus is due to adherence to the “tribe”
Anenbach’s thesis ultimately fails due to his reliance on the application of Dan Kahan of Yale University’s theory to explain all science “doubt,”
Americans fall into two basic camps, Kahan says. Those with a more “egalitarian” and “communitarian” mind-set are generally suspicious of industry and apt to think it’s up to something dangerous that calls for government regulation; they’re likely to see the risks of climate change. In contrast, people with a “hierarchical” and “individualistic” mind-set respect leaders of industry and don’t like government interfering in their affairs; they’re apt to reject warnings about climate change, because they know what accepting them could lead to—some kind of tax or regulation to limit emissions.
In the U.S., climate change somehow has become a litmus test that identifies you as belonging to one or the other of these two antagonistic tribes. When we argue about it, Kahan says, we’re actually arguing about who we are, what our crowd is. We’re thinking, People like us believe this. People like that do not believe this. For a hierarchical individualist, Kahan says, it’s not irrational to reject established climate science: Accepting it wouldn’t change the world, but it might get him thrown out of his tribe.
This is crystallized by another quote from Marcia McNutt,
We’re all in high school. We’ve never left high school. People still have a need to fit in, and that need to fit in is so strong that local values and local opinions are always trumping science. And they will continue to trump science, especially when there is no clear downside to ignoring science.
The problem with this viewpoint is that it is inherently contradictory. On the one hand, it pretends that only science that fits in with the prevailing viewpoint is “correct” science or worthy of note, when it is apparent from Kuhn’s work on scientific revolution that that is not the case. When, then, is it “okay” to “ignore” science? Anenbach makes the case that it is okay to ignore any science that does not fit the “scientific consensus,” or the prevailing paradigm. For instance, he says that “vaccines really do save lives,” without ever mentioning the fact that, while that may be true, they maim and kill some people as well, and he says that “people who believe vaccines cause autism . . . are undermining ‘herd immunity’ to such diseases as whooping cough and measles” when science has made it clear that, at least for now, they are doing no such thing. In addition, he pretends that there is no other science than the infamous 1998 case series of 12 children written by Andrew Wakefield and twelve of his eminent colleagues that supports a link between vaccines and autism, when there are in fact a large number of studies that do so.
Corporate interests may slant scientific findings
Anenbach uses an interesting argument to encourage “ignoring” climate science that opposes the prevailing paradigm, “It’s very clear, however, that organizations funded in part by the fossil fuel industry have deliberately tried to undermine the public’s understanding of the scientific consensus by promoting a few skeptics.” It may surprise you to know that I tend to agree with Anenbach on this point. I don’t have an opinion on climate science because I haven’t read it. What I do have is a healthy distrust of “consensus” – given what I know about paradigm shifts – coupled with an even stronger distrust of science that is conducted by an industry that stands to gain from the outcome of that science, and an intuition that leads me to believe that we been heaping abuse upon the planet and that recent bizarre weather patterns – tornadoes in Brooklyn? – are among the many signs that it will not be long before the Earth can no longer sustain that level of abuse.
But, illogically, Anenbach doesn’t show that same mistrust of science performed or financed by an industry that stands to gain when the industry itself controls the prevailing paradigm. The vast majority of vaccine science, for instance, is conducted by the vaccine manufacturers themselves or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is largely staffed by people with tremendous conflicts of interest. Vaccines are one of the fastest rising sectors in a hugely profitable industry. In fact, according to Marcia Angell, for over two decades the pharmaceutical industry has been far and away the most profitable in the United States. This year total sales of vaccines, a number the World Health Organization says tripled from 2000 to 2013, is expected to reach $40 billion, and the WHO predicts that it will rise to $100 billion by 2025 (by the way, is anyone else a little creeped out by all the economic data on vaccine profitability in that WHO report?) – none of which could possibly be finding its way to the people staffing our government agencies or making decisions on which vaccines to “recommend,” could it?
Julie Gerberding, who left her job as the director of the CDC to take over the vaccine division at Merck soon after overseeing most of the research that supposedly “exonerates” vaccines in general, and Merck’s MMR in particular, of any role in rising autism rates was just an anomaly, right? Unfortunately, no. No, she wasn’t. Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s description of the CDC as a “cesspool of corruption” may be strongly stated, but it is largely borne out by recent studies. And the situation is eerily similar when it comes to safety studies on genetically modified organisms conducted by Monsanto and rubber-stamped by the FDA.
Scientists willing to break with the “tribe” are more likely to be truth tellers
Practically in the same breath that Anenbach tells us we should ignore any science that does not fit the prevailing paradigm, he makes the claim that those scientists who are most dedicated to truth – and therefore presumably the most trustworthy – are the ones who are willing to break with their “tribe” in order to accurately report what they have observed or discovered, despite the risks of censure, loss of prestige, or even loss of career. But what is a scientist’s “tribe” made up of but other scientists – the very ones so invested in the prevailing paradigm of “scientific consensus.” It sounds to me as if those truth-telling scientists might even be accurately described as “lone geniuses.” But didn’t Anenbach just imply that we should ignore those people willing to say that the Emperor is in fact naked, despite the inherent risk in doing so, in favor of the “tribe” of “scientific consensus”? Does he truly not see the inherent irony of this position?
There is no one who sacrificed his position in the “tribe” by speaking his truth more than Andrew Wakefield, who, prior to publication of the infamous 1998 case study, was a well-respected gastroenterologist with a prestigious position at the Royal Free Hospital in London – a deeply entrenched member of the “tribe” of physicians in other words – and who, as a result of standing by his work and that of his colleagues, has since had his medical license revoked and almost never sees his name in print without the word “discredited” next to it, yet still performs and supports work that undercuts the prevailing paradigm because, as he puts it, “this issue is far too important.” By Anenbach’s own argument, Andrew Wakefield is inherently more credible than all the scientists clinging to the “vaccines are (all) safe and effective” “consensus” position. Frankly, I’m inclined to agree.
Anenbach uses this fear of betrayal of the tribe to explain why people do not put their faith in the prevailing paradigm. And it may perhaps explain certain aspects of scientific doubt in some quarters, but it certainly does not explain why most of the people who question the safety or wisdom of vaccines or genetically modified organisms, and the science that purports to establish it, do so. Time and time again I hear about people losing friends, loved ones, and even jobs when they question the current vaccine schedule – and heaven forbid they should express active opposition to it! It can be a very lonely position to take indeed. So lonely, in fact, that many people express profound relief at finally finding like-minded people online. (If you peruse the numerous vaccine blog posts on this website, you will see many examples of this in the comments.) In effect, having given up their place in the tribe, they must seek out a new tribe, a tribe of truth tellers. Evangelical Christians and traditional Catholics, in particular, the very people one might think of as most likely to be “hierarchical individualists” may have the loneliest road of all as many of their periodicals and organizations have come out strongly in support of the vaccine program.
Every doctor who publicly expresses perfectly rational questions about vaccine reactions in certain subpopulations is vilified by the press and an increasingly vitriolic group of self-identified “science” bloggers and their followers, despite the fact that many of them start out as vocal supporters of, and believers in, the basic premise of vaccines. In other words, any doctor who even dares to question our current vaccine schedule risks his or her membership in the “tribe.” And yet, surprisingly, quite a few have the courage to do so anyway, including Dr. Bernardine Healy, ex-head of the National Institutes of Health, which makes her a de-facto “tribal chief,” who in a 2008 interview with former CBS correspondent Sharyl Attkisson disclosed that “when she began researching autism and vaccines she found credible published, peer-reviewed scientific studies that support the idea of an association. That seemed to counter what many of her colleagues had been saying for years. She dug a little deeper and was surprised to find that the government has not embarked upon some of the most basic research that could help answer the question of a link.”
In order to get at truth, scientific or otherwise, one needs to be able to take a step back and see the whole picture, incorporating one’s own observations and experience with that of others, including the subtleties and the context. In addition, when it comes to science, one needs to unflinchingly and critically examine all the evidence presented and be willing to break with the prevailing paradigm if the evidence demands it.
In 1987 a “holistic” doctor put me on a diet to lower my cholesterol. Counter to the prevailing paradigm at the time, she put me on a hypoglycemia diet that was very low in carbohydrates but quite high in saturated fat, including cholesterol. In the prevailing paradigm that would have been a recipe for disaster, if anything increasing my serum cholesterol as the proportion of saturated fat in my diet was certainly higher than it had been previously – which is exactly what I feared would happen. So what did happen? My cholesterol dropped from 280 to 140 in a month. Fluke? Could be . . . Only the doctor showed zero surprise at my result, which implied that, while I may have been shocked, she herself had seen many like it before.
Since that time I have read study after study confirming the truth of that doctor’s understanding, serum cholesterol levels can be adequately controlled by diet, but not a low cholesterol diet. Also since that time, I have bored the heck out of my older brothers, at least three of whom have had high cholesterol, with lectures about how the low-cholesterol diets their doctors had prescribed were useless and the statins were unnecessary and maybe even dangerous given the fact that the cholesterol performs a protective anti-inflammatory function in the body. (If you bring down the cholesterol level without bringing down the underlying inflammation, you are setting someone up for disaster.) I briefly hoped they would take note when Dr. Barry Sears’s book Enter the Zone became a bestseller in 1995, but they had to find out the hard way, however. And now that the mainstream has finally caught up with what the “alternative health” folks have known for more than 25 years, it’s a little hard to resist an “I told you so.”
The same is true every time yet another study comes out that supports and confirms the alternative health (a.k.a. “new paradigm”) view of autism as a medical condition with its roots in gut dysbiosis and toxicity, exacerbated by impaired detox pathways, rather than a psychiatric condition.
Technology does not equal science
The biggest problem with Anenbach’s piece, and every other piece that laments the “rejection of science,” is that it conflates rejection of technology with rejection of science. As Alice Dreger, a professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, beautifully illustrates in an article in The Atlantic titled, “The Most Scientific Birth Is Often the Least Technological Birth,” technology does not equal science. “In fact,” says Dreger, “if you look at scientific studies of birth, you find over and over again that many technological interventions increase risk to the mother and child rather than decreasing it.”
Dreger quotes Bernard Ewigman, the chair of family medicine at the University of Chicago and NorthShore University Health System and author of a major U.S. study of over 15,000 pregnancies, who says that our culture has “a real fascination with technology, and we also have a strong desire to deny death. And the technological aspects of medicine really market well to that kind of culture.” Dreger herself adds, “Whereas a low-interventionist approach to medical care – no matter how scientific – does not.” Indeed. What many scientists forget is that just because something “cool” can be done, doesn’t mean it should be done.
Which brings me to the “Precautionary Principle.” There is no accepted wording of the Precautionary Principle, perhaps because it is something that is largely informed by intuition. According to the Science & Environmental Health Network, “All statements of the Precautionary Principle contain a version of this formula: When the health of humans and the environment is at stake, it may not be necessary to wait for scientific certainty to take protective action.” In other words, if there is any uncertainty about the risk of harm, it is better to err on the side of caution. That seems not only intuitively obvious to me, but logical as well. Science sometimes takes quite a long time to prove something is harmful. It certainly takes long enough that many drugs have done tremendous damage before they were withdrawn from the market: Thalidomide, Vioxx, DES, Darvon, Dexatrim are just a few of the myriad examples.
What the Precautionary Principle isn’t is anti-science. In fact, it supports one of Anenbach’s goals – making efforts to avoid disastrous climate change. It would also support making damned sure that genetically modified organisms can’t do systemic damage to either people or the environment before licensing them for general use (with follow-up studies verifying that is indeed the case after licensing) and testing the vaccines we use against true placebos and in the combinations we actually use them before “recommending” them for every newborn in the country, as well as studying the health outcomes of the vaccinated vs. unvaccinated populations after licensing. It would also support investigation into the commonalities of children with regressive autism whose parents claim that their children were harmed by their vaccines in order to identify possible subpopulations that may be more susceptible to vaccine injury – like, oh say. . . children who exhibit genes that can cause impairment in detoxification pathways, for instance. Wait a second . . . What’s going on here? It sounds like I’m recommending science!
Science should serve humanity over corporations
When it comes down to it, science is a tool. And like any tool, it can be used ethically or unethically, morally or immorally, humanely or inhumanely, in pursuit of ends ranging from the sublime to unquestionably evil. Is it anti-science to deplore the experiments conducted by Josef Mengele on concentration camp captives? Is it anti-science to condemn the ethics of the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male”? Was J. Robert Oppenheimer, known as the “father of the atomic bomb,” anti-science when he said, “ . . . the physicists felt a peculiarly intimate responsibility for suggesting, for supporting, and in the end, in large measure, for achieving the realization of atomic weapons . . . . the physicists have known sin, and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose”? Was Hans Albrecht Bethe, Director of the Theoretical Division of Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project, anti-science when 50 years later he called upon fellow scientists to refuse to make atomic weapons?
Science can serve corporate interests or it can serve the interests of humanity. There will certainly be places where the two will intersect, but there will always be places where they will be in opposition and science cannot serve them both. Is it “anti-science” to insist that, where the interests of the two are opposed, science must serve humanity over corporations? Certainly not. A far better description would be “pro-humanity.” We are not even close to being able to say that science is currently putting humanity’s interests first, however, and while it may be prudent for individual scientists to stick with the tribe in order to further their careers, it cannot be prudent for us as a human collective to let corporate interests govern what that tribe thinks and does.
Until the day we can say that we truly use science in service to humanity first, not only is it prudent for us to question, analyze, and even scrutinize “scientific consensus” from a humanist viewpoint, it is also incumbent upon us to do so.
For more by Professor, click here.
I really enjoyed reading this article!
I think the kind of intuition that leads to a scientific breakthrough is very different than the traditional “mother’s intuition”. The intuition of a person who has spent years studying a specific problem even if based on an anecdotal observation is different than one of a person who has not. Even the intuition of someone well versed in the field can be dead wrong.
Albert Einstein was probably one of the most intuitive and imaginative persons ever to walk the planet, and obviously he had no small understanding of theoretical physics. However his intuition “God does not play dice” with regards to quantum mechanics has been shown to be wrong thousands of times over.
Intuitions can be right or wrong, most are not precursors to some as yet unrealized paradigm shift.
You may “think” it is different, but that doesn’t mean that it is. Intuition is based upon processing of information that happens outside of the cerebrum, and are thus not “reasoned” or “conscious.” As noted earlier, the source of intuitive information is not conscious, it must be interpreted by the conscious mind in order to talk or think about it. Those interpretations can be right or wrong, but the more you pay attention to them the more often your interpretation will be right on target.
And if you think many mothers haven’t spent every waking moment (and many non-waking ones) “studying” their children (many from the moment of conception) you are dead wrong.
“God does not play dice” with the universe was a conscious interpretation of Einstein’s intuition. Despite the validity of quantum mechanics in explaining much of what is happening on levels that we cannot easily observe, that doesn’t mean Einstein’s uneasiness with the idea of “God playing dice” was incorrect. I think there is an aspect that we have no scientific way to explore or understand as yet that Einstein understood intuitively.
No one said that ALL intuitions are precursors to some “as yet unrealized paradigm shift.” But many, many ARE.
TMR: “Vaccines are not safe”
Skeptic: “AHHH!” *loses mind, runs around bouncing into walls, picks up thesaurus and consults logical fallacy chart before writing 3 page rebuttal followed by 3 hours of arguing over the proper use of terminology*
This may be my favorite comment ever. Thanks, Hoofnagle. 😉
WOW!! ProfessorTMR. I am amazed by the patience you have “debating” with all this “intelligent” commenters; english is not my first language and even i can see the amount of misinterpretation displayed by “these” avid detractors, it is so evident that makes one wonder of their intentions…. maybe it is a way to wear you off, who knows, what i am sure is that the work of reflexion and critic you do is very important, please do not let them wear you off and your readers!!!
Thank you, Oscar. I really appreciate your encouragement. It does take a great deal of patience sometimes, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there weren’t at least an not-entirely-conscious attempt going on to “wear me out.” 😉
I thought the article was great as I am very interested in the vaccination/autism debate. I was even more fascinated to see Daniel W’s very pro-vaccine post because he is blood related to two of my grandsons who are autistic – hence my interest in the debate. As we live the ‘other side of the pond’, he would not know of this connection. Fascinating!
Great, informative article professor. Keep up the good work. Don’t let these trolls get to you. Pharma has a lot of cash to pay these losers. Science/Alchemy is for better being. For them to randomly deny any consequences to injecting foreign toxins into their system makes their positions completely unrealistic. I challenge both of them to take the “inoculation challenge”, get the same dose schedule for a 6 month year old child. They won’t because most of these pro-vax trolls don’t have children and don’t need to get vaccinated again therefore, no stake in the debate except to get paid trollin.
Your entire argument was that people who don’t think the same what that you do are trolls and are payed by big pharma. Great to see how scientifically advanced the anti-vax community is.
If you want to actually talk science, let me know 😉
Hmmm . . . Clearly, you did not actually read the piece or have very little in the way of reading comprehension. I didn’t say anything about “people who don’t think the same what I do.” And I certainly didn’t call anyone a troll, as that is not something I do. Nor did I say that people who don’t agree with me are “paid by big pharma,” as that is not something I do either. So, no, things that I never said clearly do not constitute the “entire argument” of this rather long piece. I would say, “Great to see how intellectually honest the vaxtremist community’ is, but you are not the ‘vaxtremist community,’ just as I am not the ‘anti-vax community.’ You are just one misguided individual.
I enjoy discussing science with those who actually understand it, including those who disagree with me. Thanks for the offer to “talk science,” but since you have not displayed an iota of reading comprehension ability, I shall respectfully decline. Science involves a LOT of reading.
I don’t think you understood who my comment was referring to. Funny how you proceed to make fun of my reading comprehension ability when you made a mistake and I didn’t. You’re right, science DOES require reading. Given your likelihood of jumping to conclusions and incorrect interpretation of my comment, I believe you are inadequate of science as well.
Oh, I’m sorry, are you going to take this from the “misguided individual?”
You’re right, “Big.” It’s hard to tell sometimes on my comment feed what a comment is in response to. It looked like it was in response to the article, and I see now that it was in response to a comment on the article. I’m usually pretty good at checking. I apologize for missing it and commenting on your reading comprehension.
However, you’ve submitted many comments previously, many of which have not made sense, so I stand by my “misguided individual.” 😉
Are you implying that what I said earlier was wrong because it didn’t make sense?
I think it’s clear that I was talking about comments prior to this exchange, most of which I know you’re aware have been “trashed.” If that’s what you meant by “earlier,” then, yes, that is one of the reasons. There were others as well.
*sigh* If you haven’t got anything more to say than “the person who came out with this ‘study’ already admitted they falsified data,” please don’t bother commenting.
For the 150th or so time, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, one of TWELVE eminent gastroenterologists who published a case study of 12 children with autism back in 1998, did NO “admit they falsified data” EVER. He and his colleagues stand by their data. In addition, his case study did NOT say that vaccines cause autism. Hint: You might want to actually READ the study instead of listening to what highly biased sources tell you about it. And NO ONE is basing their opinion of the vaccine/autism link on THAT study. There are approximately 100 papers and studies that support a link between vaccines and autism, one major mechanism of which is the hyperstimulation of the immune system, which has just been shown to be DIRECTLY linked to the brain through lymphatic vessels. http://www.techtimes.com/articles/58602/20150608/researchers-uncover-missing-link-between-brain-and-immune-system.htm
“In addition, his case study did NOT say that vaccines cause autism. ”
Well a) it wasn’t a study it was an early report and b) he did say they found “developmental regression in a group of previously normal children, which was generally associated in time with possible environmental triggers.” – the only environmental triggers that are discussed at any length are vaccines and while you’re technically right that doesn’t necessitate a diagnosis of autism. If that isn’t the implication of that report for any of the regressed patients then the argument that vaccines are responsible for a significant portion of current autism diagnoses suffers.
“He and his colleagues stand by their data.”
Why would they? Why would they have even something above mild feelings concerning their findings? I mean at absolute best this is hypothesis generating research. It’s not really structured to answer any meaningful question.
“And NO ONE is basing their opinion of the vaccine/autism link on THAT study.”
Please confine yourself to speaking to things you are qualified to speak on. 🙂
“There are approximately 100 papers and studies that support a link between vaccines and autism”
Please provide a list of these. Also it would be interesting to know how many papers you think don’t support a link between vaccines and autism. 1? 5? 200?
The paper we’re talking about WAS a case study, which is exactly what I said it was. It studied the twelve children with autism that had been referred to the Royal Free Hospital with gastrointestinal disease. Yes, they reported developmental regression which was associated in time with possible environmental triggers. Given the data, that is exactly what they SHOULD have reported. That does not say or mean that “vaccines cause autism” or even “the MMR (the vaccine that was temporally associated for these particular children) causes autism.” What it does mean is that the MMR was a POSSIBLE trigger for both the intestinal disease and the autism and that possibility should be investigated. That is how science works. You report a preliminary finding, and then you investigate further when you find intriguing correlations. Unfortunately, what happened in response to Wakefield et al’s findings was extremely UNscientific. It was what’s known as a smear campaign or witch hunt. Rather like what happened to Semmelweiss when he reported that you could cut fatalities from “childbed fever” by more than 80% if the physician did the simple action of washing his hands before touching a woman in labor. http://semmelweis.org/about/dr-semmelweis-biography Witch hunts, while not scientific, are often the way our society reacts to unpalatable truth.
You are correct. I overstated. What I should have said is virtually no one who DOES NOT VACCINATE is basing their opinion of the vaccine/autism link on that study. (I have conversed with literally thousands of people on the subject. So, whether or not you agree, I think I am far more qualified than most to discuss their thinking. The vast majority of people with the courage to buck the prevailing paradigm of “the more vaccines the better” do not (maybe even cannot) do so without a great deal of investigation, thought, and/or personal experience of vaccine injury.) Plenty of people who have read nothing more than mainstream accounts ARE basing THEIR opinions on that study. 🙂
Here is a link that lists 100 papers and studies that support a link: http://adventuresinautism.blogspot.com/2007/06/no-evidence-of-any-link.html I have no idea how many studies DON’T support a link, but I suspect there are far fewer of them (I personally have read on the order of 20 or so) as the same problematic studies are pointed to over and over again to “prove” that vaccines don’t cause autism, including the Verstraeten study that took five years, five different analyses, and a hush-hush meeting with vaccine manufacturers (Google Simpsonwood transcripts) to get the data to the point where it could be published as a “neutral” study, meaning no conclusion one way or the other could be reached. Obviously not “proof” of anything, much less that “vacccines don’t cause autism.” They also point to the 2004 CDC study that was recently revealed to fraudulently leave out the three-and-a-half-fold risk of autism (a twofold risk is considered evidence that a particular exposure is “more likely than not” to have CAUSED the condition in a court of law) to black boys who got the MMR vaccine on time. Also supposed to be “proof” that vaccines don’t cause autism, despite the fact that the CDC researchers involved knew it was anything but. As a matter of fact, according to William Thompson, one of the co-authors of the piece, the authors got together and BURNED the data that they decided to leave out of their piece. He knew it was illegal to do so and kept copies which he has turned over to Representative Bill Posey of Florida who spoke about it on the House floor yesterday morning http://vaxtruth.org/2015/07/posey-asks-for-hearings/. Other “problematic” studies include Danish studies with Poul Thorson as co-author. In case you’re not aware, he is wanted for defrauding the federal government. That, however, is by no means the only thing wrong with the Danish studies.
This is a small point but you are incorrect. It’s an early report – it says so right in the journal. Go read it. 🙂 It doesn’t refer to itself as a case-study anywhere. Which is reasonable as in medicine this usually means looking at a single patient. Groups of cases are called a “case series” or sometimes a “clinical study”. The ER designation shows that the authors/journal considered this preliminary work for which they would do follow up analysis. Not necessarily that, like a case study it’s a springboard for other investigations. That’s pretty clear from how haphazard it is.
In contrast if you evaluate this as a case study it’s pretty poor. There’s really no detail as to the pre-existing rationale for the environmental criteria they are investigating. Case studies are pretty low quality evidence, if you want anyone to take your science seriously you need to put far more work into establishing a framework for evaluation. The “patients and methods” section is literally two sentences. Not a lot of room to discuss your diagnostic criteria – unless again – this is just preliminary data and you plan to do a follow-up.
Again, small point but no. Only nine had an autism diagnosis. CDD is not currently agreed as an ASD and the other two were considered to be some form of meningitis. Later on they asserted that meningitis could give way to autism-like diseases.
Very probably not.
Why do you consider that an intriguing correlation?
The fact that you think yourself qualified was never in doubt. The only thing I commented on was that you are clearly unqualified to make the determination you made before. It’s certainly not clear if you are qualified to represent “those who do not vaccinate” – it’s not even clear what you mean by that. Do you mean people who have avoided at least one vaccine? People who avoid ALL vaccines? People who avoid some set of vaccines that you failed to mention?
After all I’ve talked to thousands of people who eschew vaccines for one reason or another as well, from many parts of the world too. Does that make us equals? 🙂
How many of those do you consider high-quality evidence? Could you point out the subset which contains the highest quality studies?
You are correct, I meant a case series, not case study. I’m sorry, I am not a scientist and do not use “the lingo” on a daily basis. It was both a case series and an early report.
The inclusion criteria for the series (http://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(97)11096-0.pdf) was “regressive developmental disorders,” that included nine children with autism diagnoses, one with childhood disintegrative disorder (“CDD”), which according to the Mayo Clinic is “part of a larger category called autism spectrum disorder” (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/childhood-disintegrative-disorder/basics/definition/con-20026858), and two children with “possible postviral or vaccinal encephalitis,” not meningitis. Yes, those two did not technically have an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis, but a pervasive developmental disorder due to vaccinal encephalitis frequently ends up with one. Of the compensated cases reached by investigators into the NVICP, approximately 40% had autism diagnoses as well as encephalopathy. So, yes, I was being overly broad by saying “twelve children with autism,” but the characterization is quite close to the truth.
I find it odd that you would ask why a correlation between MMR and regressive developmental disorders with gastrointestinal disease would be intriguing. Why would you NOT consider it intriguing? Children go in for a vaccine and end up losing skills and getting bowel disease? That’s certainly something I would consider worthy of investigation.
You’ve talked to thousands of people who eschew vaccines? And you still think that many are basing their opinions on this case series? Have you listened to those people, by any chance, or just talked to them? I have. All the way from people who have refused this year’s flu vaccine or the HPV for their preteen (obviously not based on Wakefield, et al), to those who refuse all vaccines (also obviously not based on Wakefield, et al, as that discussed exactly ONE trivalent vaccine, and Wakefield himself advocated vaccinating for those diseases, just doing it separately). We are equals, whether or not we are equally qualified to speak for this particular group of people.
I have not stratified that list into “high-quality evidence” and lower-quality. I have read a great number of them, and while some would not be convincing by themselves, overall they paint a consistent picture that jives with the experience of thousands of people. There are patterns in the families of those with ASD, particular regressive autism that become noticeable when you talk to even a small number of them. When you talk to hundreds and thousands, they become as obvious as if they were glowing in neon letters in a midnight sky. Immune problems, including, allergies, asthma, and autoimmune disease, run rampant. There are certain genetic markers that predispose people to excessive reaction to the hyperstimulation of the immune system presented by vaccines. The action of the immune system has a direct effect on brain function. In addition, there are genetic markers that make it likely people will not be able to excrete some of the ingredients in vaccines before they make their way to the brain and do damage. Mercury and aluminum are the two most obvious, but not the only, culprits.
Thank you for this excellent, thorough article. I was surprised and disappointed by the National Geographic article that you reference which I found to be both illogical and manipulative.
If, out of 1000 people who felt intuitively that they should not have a vaccine but are pursuaded to get a vaccine anyway, only 1 gets a complication, 999 people will feel that their intuition about not getting the vaccine was wrong, and 1 will feel tthat their intuition about not getting the vaccine was correct, even though getting the infection prevented by the vaccine might have subjected them to much more serious complications than the vaccine.
Intuition must always be subjected to the rigors of scientific investigation.
The fallability of intuition is the very reason for the existence of science. Everyone has differenct intuitions about the same thing. Science is what decides between them.
I can’t believe someone with a Phd can be so wrong in their understanding of science.
Your explanation of science has significant flaws, and your focus on using Einstein I believe to be indicative of either a chronic misunderstanding of science or a deliberate attempt to gain authority in your argument.
We all love Einstein and his flair for theoretical physics. The concept of the thought experiment is well embedded in culture. But these are media explanations of what went on, and this is why you, as a geeky physics major, should know better. Because frankly you should.
For a start you have skipped the years of mathematics that went into Einstein writing his papers. This mathematics is complex, and the intuition that a physicist or mathematician has in developing a solution is not the same as the gut feel that people have about their life in general. And this is because this is about problem solving.
Theoretical physics is by far the glamorous side of the discipline, but it’s nature is very specific with regard to it’s contribution to the field. At it’s basic level it is unscientific other than it focuses on the provision of one very important aspect of the process.
And I say process because that’s what science is. Science is not facts or ideas. It is a method for determining right from wrong, using empirical evidence to do so. But in order to test something you must have something to test. This is where intuition comes in. There is no science to work out what to do science upon.
Any you know this. Because having graduated in 1983 you will have seen just how many models there are of fundamental physics. and even within just M-theory just how many competing but non exclusive models there are. This is because theoretical physics is not science. All it does is propose things for science to test.
This is why we don’t just look at the maths, say “yep that model is internally consistent so let’s accept it as being true”. Especially not when that comes from people with authority. The history of science in the west is heavily influenced around not accepting the word of authority but actually doing tests. This is why we built CERN.
So intuition is anti-science. You can use it to come up with things to feed into science. But your thoughts, feelings, and ideas count for nothing unless tested. It is the testing bit that is science.
As far as history goes, intuition has a very very poor track record of establishing what is right from what is wrong. That’s why we have advanced more in the past 500 years than the previous 50,000.
The piece was about the BODY of science, not the scientific method, which is the “process” you speak of. That which people point to when talking about “scientific consensus” is NOT the “process” of science it is the interpretation of the current BODY of science, including theoretical physics and the math behind it. As I stated in another comment, intuition has nothing to do with the scientific method. What it can do is inform the kinds of questions to USE the scientific method on. (Including helping people like Einstein to form theories to test that involve years of mathematics. Again, “anti-science”? Hardly.) In addition, it can help to understand the results of the scientific method from a larger perspective than the exceedingly narrow scope of “normal science.” Intuition does not say “ignore what comes out of science.” It says don’t assume the current interpretation of the results is the most meaningful interpretation.
“Why does this magnificent applied science which saves work and makes life easier bring us so little happiness? The simple answer runs: Because we have not yet learned to make sensible use of it. In war it serves that we may poison and mutilate each other. In peace it has made our lives hurried and uncertain. Instead of freeing us in great measure from spiritually exhausting labor, it has made men into slaves of machinery, who for the most part complete their monotonous long day’s work with disgust and must continually tremble for their poor rations. … It is not enough that you should understand about applied science in order that your work may increase man’s blessings. Concern for the man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavours; concern for the great unsolved problems of the organization of labor and the distribution of goods in order that the creations of our mind shall be a blessing and not a curse to mankind. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.”
Albert Einstein, Speech to students at the California Institute of Technology, in “Einstein Sees Lack in Applying Science”, The New York Times (16 February 1931)
A study that was published in medical news on May 8- Children’s immune system weakened for up to 3 years after measles infection
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/293660.php proposes this as a basis for the importance of getting a measles vaccine.
Decrease in Measles Virus-Specific CD4 T Cell Memory In Vaccinated Subjects
This states: “Overall, accumulating studies suggest that, after natural infection or vaccination, MV-specific CD4 T cells may decrease overtime.
I would assume since the MMR contains a live virus that children’s immune system would also be weakened in those who were vaccinated.
My intuition says you’re hitting the nail on the head because the pseudoskeptic navel gazers can’t resist climbing down from their Amazing treehouse and flailing around in the comment section like moths unable to resist a porch light. You even got a write up by whats-his-name, Borax at Resentful Impotence or something. Keep up the good work. And put a bug zapper up there next to the porch light.
It’s interesting that you should say that. I was struck by the knee-jerk reactivity of one of the commenters and noticed that he had put up this facebook post announcing that he was debating a “quack” and inviting others to pile on. https://www.facebook.com/theskepticsguide/posts/10153776285063496 When he begins a “debate” by hurling an epithet, I have to question his definition of “debate”, his debate scruples, and his intentions in commenting here.
We need 1000 Laura Condon’s – tipping my hat to Laura (proper activism)
Was it not science that invented the pesticide ZyklonB ?
Was it not science that created the concentration camps , extermination machines ?
Was it not science that created the atomic nuclear weapons arms race ?
and just so it follows science is wholly responsible for the Autism Hg-olocaust .
Mercury (Hg) was removed from vaccines in the 90s, and autism rates were unaffected. I cant think of a better example of being “anti-science” than clinging to a dis-proven hypothesis.
Welcome to the Anti-Science club Peggy. Wear your badge with pride!
In 2015, the following vaccines contain 25 µg/0.5 mL dose:
(Fluzone, Fluvirin, Afluria, FluLaval) – recommended for all pregnant women and infants & children 6 mos and up
TT (Tetanus Toxoid)
DT (Diptheria/Tetanus shot multi-dose)
DtaP – ≤ 0.3 µg/0.5 mL dose
FDA.gov, Thimerosal in Vaccines, 3/1/2015
Sanofi-Pasteur Inc., Adacel (Tdap) prescribing information via fda.gov, 8.1, 13.338
Sanofi-Pasteur Inc., Tripedia DtaP package insert, p. 12
Welcome to the real science, Curt.
Mom of 2, where does that data come from? On the FDA site I see a list of vaccines which states that the current Fluzone no longer contains thimerosal (single dose since 2004, multi-dose since 2014), nor does fluvirin (not since 2009). The data from 2012 shows two meningococcal vaccines that are free of thimerosal, a DT vaccine that has trace amounts and several DtaP vaccines that are free of thimerosal. I haven’t found any more recent data so far on the FDA site “Thimerosal In Vaccines” page.
According to the CDC’s vaccine excipient table http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/downloads/appendices/B/excipient-table-2.pdf Fluvirin does contain Thimerosal in multi-dose vials, at least until January 2012. This also claims that it is in Fluzone, but has a date of April 2013.
Curt: “Mercury (Hg) was removed from vaccines in the 90s…”
No, it wasn’t. The data came from here: http://www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/SafetyAvailability/VaccineSafety/UCM096228#t3 which states it was last updated 6/20/2012. However, the page was last updated 6/18/2014. Please direct me to more recent data, although it still doesn’t negate you’re comment was wrong – it was not removed in the 90s and still exists in vaccines, including those recommended for pregnant women, infants, and children.
Curt: “The data from 2012 shows two meningococcal vaccines that are free of thimerosal…”
Right and it also says there is a meningococcal vaccine with the amount I indicated (plus the DT and the TT). Parents are not asking which version their child is receiving. They are trusting the well-worn fallacy that vaccines no longer contain Thimerosal because of folks like you saying it was removed in the 90s and their uninformed doctors.
Actually Curt’s point still stands “Mom of 2 vaccine damaged children”. Some influenza vaccines in some forms still carry adjuvant thiomersal. Some diptheria/tetanus vaccines carry preservative amounts (and a few others vaccines as well).
What “real science” you are forgetting is that coverage for vaccines isn’t anywhere near 100% – influenza is around 30% and that virtually every chemical has a dose/response relationship. Hence it is highly improbable to remove thiomersal from a significant amount of vaccines and observe no change in autism diagnosis if your expectation is that thiomersal is, as you have stated causing the vast majority of cases.
Your fallback position now is to claim that other things like aluminum are also causing the same problem. You would run into a similar statistical problem…but hey…go ahead.
Jonathan Graham, you need to read the comments again. Curt’s point doesn’t stand because he said Thimerosal was removed from vaccines in the ’90’s. Didn’t happen – my child received a TDaP vaccine containing Thimerosal in 2001.
I’m definitely not forgetting the coverage for vaccines isn’t anywhere near 100%. I understand that fully. Please quote from my comment where I stated my expectation was that Thimerosal caused the vast majority of cases. You can’t because I never said that. Nor do I believe that.
However curt was responding to someone who said:
Which is largely irrelevant to Curt’s point when responding to someone who *DOES* believe that mercury is wholly responsible for these things.
Now as for your child’s 0.3 µg of Hg. Do you believe *that* was largely responsible for some health issue in your child?
Curt’s beliefs notwithstanding, there are few people who DO believe that mercury is the only cause.
In 2001 chances are excellent that her child’s TDaP cont ained 25µg of mercury, not 0.3 µg. The average child has three in the first year of life. That makes 75 µg. In Thomas Verstraeten’s CDC study on early exposure to Thimerosal and it’s relationship to autism and other neurological disorders found a VERY strong statistically significant association between high levels of mercury and neurodevelopmental disorders. http://www.safeminds.org/wp-content/uploads/2004/11/041122-GenZeroReport.pdf So, yeah, it’s pretty likely that those 75 micrograms DID have something to do with her child’s issues.
Just out of curiosity, are you aware that a huge proportion of children with autism, particularly children with regressive autism, have one or more difficulties with detoxification? Many of them have gene mutations that make methylation less likely. Methylation is a major way the body rids itself of mercury. If the body can’t do that in a short period of time, in an infant with a wide open blood-brain barrier, it will go to the brain and get stored there. Mercury is highly toxic to neurons. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XU8nSn5Ezd8
Intuition is absolutely a big part of science, but it doesn’t mean anything unless it leads somewhere. You give an example of a child growing up in a house of smokers having an “intuition” that smoking is bad — this is a classic example of confirmation bias (on your part, not the child’s), because your only example is one where that “intuition” works. What about when it doesn’t?
Intuition is just plain WRONG more often than it is right, and the more abstract a process is, the more likely it is that it will be wrong. It is great to use your intuition to drive investigation, but if that investigation ends up with data that proves the intuition wrong, the correct response isn’t to say “I don’t care what the data says” and continue to follow your intuition.
In the case of vaccines, it is perfectly reasonable to intuitively question how they could work; it’s not a simple mechanism. The problem with anti-vaxers and their cherished “research” is that they ONLY PAY ATTENTION TO STUDIES THAT CONFIRM WHAT THEY WANT TO HEAR. Everything else is “Big Pharma lying to us”.
These studies you link to have been debunked time and time again for the junk science that they are — but even if they weren’t, what about the 100x as many studies showing that vaccines are safe? Why do you feel free to ignore them? Is that your “intuition” again?
Where are you getting your data on intuition being “just plain WRONG more often than it is right.” Intuition? 😉 Perhaps it’s only YOUR intuition that is wrong.
Confirmation bias on my part, huh? I have to say that that is absolutely untrue. It took me quite a long time to honor and rely on my intuition, and despite the fact that it is proven right over and over again, I STILL sometimes let my conscious mind override it to my regret. I didn’t understand intuition at all when I was younger and thought “hunches” were silly. In all that time, I have virtually never heard anyone say that “I really regret following my intuition on that, while I have frequently heard the latter — often from parents who have lost their children.
No one is saying “I don’t care what the data says.” I have NEVER said that. I read the data. I analyze the data. And I know it DOESN’T say what the mainstream media says it says — ever noticed that you can’t watch a show on TV these days without a few ads for drugs? I’ve read many of those “studies that show vaccines are safe” and I know their limitations — and they are vast. So, nope. Sorry. “They only pay attention to studies that confirm what they want to hear” is ABSOLUTELY bogus, and the fact that you talk about perfectly good science as debunked means that YOU, sir, are projecting your OWN tendency to “ONLY PAY ATTENTION TO STUDIES THAT CONFIRM WHAT YOU WANT TO HEAR” onto others.
The point is that intuition can be wrong. Just because you believe yours to be correct all the time doesn’t mean that it actually is. The fact that you’ve never heard anyone say that they regret following their intuition is anecdotal evidence, which I’m sure you know is not very reliable from a scientific standpoint.
No one is saying mainstream media is right. Journalists most often get it wrong. Frankly, most of them stink at reporting scientific findings. And of course commercials for pharmaceutical commercials are rampant.
If you have a new analysis of the data that shows irrefutably that vaccines are not safe and that the countless studies showing that they are safe are garbage then I would love to see your analysis. Daniel Welch correctly pointed out that the studies you cite have issues – he’s not ignoring the studies, but many have leveled perfectly reasonable and valid criticisms in regard to these studies. I am also particularly interested in hard data confirming this massive Big Pharma conspiracy. The financial data that I have seen shows that Big Pharma would profit MORE if vaccines didn’t exist. They would make far more money selling drugs for the vaccine-preventable diseases that would be much more common.
I look forward to your reply, fellow physics geek. After all, if your analysis is sound, it should be able to stand up to scientific scrutiny. I am excited to read your new evidence with an open mind.
You say that “intuition can be wrong.” The thing is that intuition doesn’t give you FACTS. Intuition gives you images, feelings, urges to act in specific ways. Often those actions are protective. YOU have to interpret those images, feelings, and urges in order to be able to state something that could be described as “right” or “wrong.” Can you interpret those images, feelings, or urges incorrectly. Certainly. But that doesn’t make the images, feelings, or urges “wrong.” I don’t know anyone who thinks that they always intrpret their intuition correctly, but I know many, many people who find that they more they pay attention to those images, feelings, and urges, the more correctly they interpret those intuitions. In addition, intuition is a starting point. For instance, if a mother feels an urge to say “No, thanks” to a vaccine that her pediatrician is recommending (however strongly), she should honor that. There is a REASON she got that feeling. Will she know what the reason is? Probably not. That is the point at which she should do further research. If she can make herself truly comfortable with the idea with her research, then she can change her mind. But chances are that she’s going to find that the hepatitis B vaccine that they want to inject her beautiful, healthy newborn baby with on the first day of his or her life is for a disease that is transmitted sexually and through blood products or dirty needles. She’s going to question why that perfect newborn would need such a thing. Then she’s going to find out that fewer than 2 in 100,000 children ages 0-4 were infected with hepatitis B in the United States before the vaccine was licensed. Then she’s going to find out that a study found a threefold increase in the likelihood of autism diagnosis in boys who received the birth dose of hepatitis B. Then she’s going to find out that infants can’t manufacture mature antibodies until their older and that’s one reason why there are so many shots in the hepatitis B series. Then she’s going to find out that the vaccine manufacturer bears no liability for any harm done to her child. Somewhere around now she’s going to be thinking she was right to question what was getting injected into her healthy baby, and she’s going to question further. Having gone through this process myself, I feel for that new mother. It’s a deep, dark rabbit-hole.
There are MANY analyses of the data that show “irrefutably” that vaccines are not safe. MANY people are hurt or killed by them. A simple perusement of VAERS data makes that crystal clear (some of which we will be posting in tomorrow’s blog), in addition to the fact that they are officially classified as “unavoidably unsafe.” The unanswered questions are merely HOW unsafe are they? And WHO are they unsafe for? And new data is coming in in that regard all the time. For instance, I was speaking yesterday with Lucija Tomljenovic, PhD, who has been doing research on the neurotoxic effects of aluminum on the brain. She did a PowerPoint presentation discussing a number of points that have been shown by previous science. One is that stimulation of the immune system has a direct effect on brain tissue, such that some scientists have begun to refer to the “neuro-endocrine-immune system.” They are NOT the discrete entities that medical science tends to treat them as. Scientists have long known that the endocrine system interacts with the nervous system, as the HPA axis involves both, but most are still unaware that the immune system has a direct effect on brain function and development. And the more often you stimulate the immune system, especially while the brain is developing, the greater the effect will be. Can the immune system be stimulated by encounters with disease? Certainly. But it’s rare for a person to have frequent encounters with diseases in the very early years, and, as Dr. Tomljenovic pointed out, the antibody response stimulated by a vaccine is often in the range of 10 times higher than what would be stimulated by the actual disease. Food for thought, no?
She also discussed recent work on the idea of cross-reactivity of antibodies that have been stimulated due to molecular mimicry. They tested some of the HPV antibodies and added brain extract. Binding of the HPV antibodies to HPV was inhibited in the presence of the brain extract. This indicated that some of the antibodies were binding to the brain tissue instead. When the HPV vaccine is given to young girls, it is given prophylactically. There is no HPV in their bodies other than that in the shot for these antibodies to bind to. That means those antibodies will bind to brain tissue and, instead of killing HPV, will kill brain cells. Is that irrefutable “proof” that we are screwing young girls up immeasurably? No. But it is highly suggestive, and it isn’t inconsistent with some of the weird effects that vaccine series seems to be having. As Dr. Tomljenovic pointed out that was ONE type of antibody and ONE type of tissue. That vaccine could cross react with more tissue types, and other vaccines could be cross-reacting with any other types of tissue as well. Given the proliferation of autoimmune diseases these days which no one can explain, I myself have FOUR autoimmune conditions (by the way autoimmune conditions run rampant in the parents of children with autism, particularly children with regressive autism), that made my blood run cold.
The financial data you have seen is bogus. Did you see that quote from Marcia Angell about pharmaceutical companies being the most profitable industry? And that vaccines were the fastest growing sector? $40 billion dollars this year. Back in the 1960s when kids got measles, mumps and chicken pox as a matter of course, what did parents give them? A few aspirins from the aspirin bottle they kept on the shelf all year and maybe some calamine lotion. There are no real treatments for viral diseases. And the treatments for bacterial ones are antibiotics that they already sell far too many of. There is no significant profit potential in children getting childhood diseases. Do you honestly think pharmaceutical companies would be spending so much money to make sure that they have an unfettered playing field with respect to vaccines if they weren’t convinced that it was greatly in their financial interest to do so?
And, sorry, but to dismiss 96 studies with the word “debunked” is to ignore them. He didn’t point out that they “have issues.” Sure they have issues, but their issues are not any larger in scale or number than the “issues” with the studies that people constantly point to as “proof” that “vaccines don’t cause autism,” and in many cases are FAR smaller in scale and number. If you want to discuss “issues” fine, let’s also discuss the “issues” of the studies that counter them.
And I’m agreeing with your assessment of mainstream media. RFK Jr. says that “science journalists don’t read the science,” and from what I’ve seen that has to be true. A quick perusal of the actual science would show that it doesn’t support the statements in the press releases that they tend to quote verbatim.
“intuition doesn’t give you FACTS.”
Exactly, so I’m not sure what intuition has to do with looking at data and using scientific criteria to determine if the data is accurate, biased, subject to confounders, etc. Sometimes intuition is helpful, and sometimes it is misleading. The bottom line is, if I want to know FACTS, I need to consider the totality of the scientific evidence and leave intuition out of it.
Your example of the mother considering the Hepatitis B vaccine is a prime example of the problems with your line of thinking. First off, if a mother with no science experience has a bad feeling about the vaccine and then does research, she will likely be subject to confirmation bias, since she already feels apprehensive about the vaccine. She will likely ignore that half of children who catch Hep B have no known risk factors and do not acquire it from their mothers – they catch it by casual contact with member of the community. Biting is just one example of how it can be spread. She’ll also ignore that 90% of infants that catch Hep B will end up with chronic Hep B infection, and a quarter of those will die early from liver cancer, cirrhosis, or liver failure. She won’t have the scientific literacy to know that the study that found a three-fold increase in risk was done on a very small sample size – 33 children with autism, 9 of which actually had the Hep B shot, as opposed to 1,258 of 7,455 in the non-autism group. And that there were children aged 17 years in the survey, who were born in 1980, while the vaccine was introduced in 1991 (fully implemented in 1996). So basically anything that changed in that time would “correlate” with autism. In this example, intuition almost certainly leads to biased thinking and a failure to adequately consider the totality of the evidence. This is why science trumps intuition.
Your mention of VAERS only hurts your argument. Any symptom occurring after administration of a vaccine can be reported to VAERS, and no one investigates as to whether there is a even a causal relationship between the vaccine and the symptom. It is also subject to bias and inaccuracy, as is any passive reporting system. At best, it shows trends that MAY indicate a problem, which would have to be confirmed with further research.
It’s interesting that in your entire discussion of these potential risks, you don’t quote any well-designed studies in humans. You talk about aluminum toxicity without ever mentioning that the dose also determines toxicity (a basic pharmacological principle). More interesting, is that this argument only holds if we assume that vaccines have no demonstrable benefit. In reality, the benefits have to be weighed against the risks using the totality of the hard scientific data.
I would love to see a well designed study in humans from Tomljenovic showing that this supposed effect on the brain has any real world ramifications. If you’re going to make a hand-waving argument that some effect seen in a lab is translatable to humans with observable effects, you better have data from a well-designed study to back it up.
Actually, the financial data I have seen agrees with your $40 billion assessment. Your statement “There is no significant profit potential in children getting childhood diseases” is not true. Take measles, for example. When you look at a scenario where there is no measles vaccine and calculate the number of infections and then account for a 10 to 30% hospitalization rate, and calculate the amount of medications that will be prescribed in the US alone, the profits range anywhere from $30 to $100 billion. That is for a single disease in one country. The $40 billion is for ALL vaccines, makes up a small fraction of Big Pharma’s total revenue, and doesn’t even account for taxes and all of the money spent on research and development. If pharma execs wanted to make a killing by the most unethical means possible, they would simply stop producing vaccines. And unfortunately, there are various complications for measles (encephalitis, loss of hearing, bronchitis, laryngitis, pneumonia, thrombocytopenia…) and in this day and age rest assured that patients would be given far more than just aspirin and calamine lotion.
Yes, pharmaceuticals want to make money, and I am highly critical of them. However, that they make money from vaccines is not proof that vaccines are harmful, even more so when they could be making a lot more without them.
You have yet to present any irrefutable proof that the risks of vaccines outweigh the benefits. I await more rigorous data and analyses with great interest.
Grrrr. I just lost the comment I was working on… I may do this somewhat piecemeal so that I don’t lose it again. So if I haven’t addressed everything when you first read the comment, don’t assume I’m done.
I suspect that your mind is not nearly as “open” as you think or imply.
As I have explicitly stated, intuition is knowledge that comes without the use of the conscious mind, therefore it has nothing to do with analysis of data, which is a conscious, cortical function of the mind. Intuition is what leads the mother to put on the brakes and DO the research and analysis, and has nothing to do with the actual analysis. Your assumption that a mother would have a particular bias because she has an intuitive urge to do something means that you don’t understand intuition. Haven’t you ever heard of someone getting an intuitive urge to do something that goes against everything they thought they “believed”? It happens all the time. Personally, I think it is the single biggest reason people ignore their intuition, what it says is counter to what they believe of the world. When my intuition prompted me to investigate vaccines I had no bias to confirm. And the same is true for many others. What most people who denigrate “anti-vaxxers” completely miss is that the vast majority USED to vaccinate, and most of them vaccinated “on schedule.” So their “bias” was on the side of the safety of vaccines, unless of course they actually watched their child react quite badly to a vaccine, which constitutes “experience” rather than “bias.”
Now, hepatitis B. Where are you getting your “half of children who get it have no known risk factors”? (Even if that were true for children 0-4, which I don’t believe for an instant it is given the CDC’s description of the means of transmission of hepatitis B, that would correspond to a rate of infection of less than 1 child in 100,000. I like my kids’ odds.) http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/B/bFAQ.htm#transmission If you can’t go to that link it says:
How is Hepatitis B spread?
Hepatitis B is spread when blood, semen, or other body fluid infected with the Hepatitis B virus enters the body of a person who is not infected. People can become infected with the virus during activities such as:
Birth (spread from an infected mother to her baby during birth)
Sex with an infected partner
Sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment
Sharing items such as razors or toothbrushes with an infected person
Direct contact with the blood or open sores of an infected person
Exposure to blood from needlesticks or other sharp instruments
Nowhere does it mention casual contact with other children, including bites. If bites were a significant factor in the the spread of disease to that 1 in 100,000 children aged 0-4, the CDC would mention it, don’t you think? I’m liking my odds more and more.
Yep, 90% of infants with hep B develop chronic hep B, but you have in NO way shown that infants have virtually ANY risk of getting hep B if their mothers are not hep B positive. Even if there is any truth to your claim about hepatitis B in “children,” I strongly suspect that you are using the word to include “children” up to the age of 17 or 18, who are FAR more likely to get hepatitis B due to risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex and needle sharing.
The FACTS are that the likelihood of infection by hepatitis B in the first four years of life was on the order of 0.02% in the days BEFORE the vaccine was licensed, and as you yourself acknowledged was less than half that for children who are not born to mothers with hepatitis B. That puts us in the 0.01% range. Risk of hepatitis B has dropped since the vaccine was licensed, whether that has to do with vaccine use or not if means that the risk is even lower today. That means that there is a significantly greater than 99.99% chance that the shot will be of ZERO benefit to that woman’s child. I don’t know or care about anyone else, but if something has that little likelihood of being of any benefit to my child at least for the child’s first few years, I am going to seriously question the risks. I’m not going to go looking now, but I have seen plenty of data to indicate that the risk of my child ending up in the NICU on the first day of his or her life due to a shot he or she didn’t need is significantly greater than 1 in 100,000 and that alone means that it is NOT a risk I would be willing to take.
Yes, there are imperfections in that study. It is not “proof” that hepatitis B vaccines at birth cause autism, but it IS highly suggestive and to ignore that fact is not “science trumping intution,” it’s sheer folly.
YOUR implication that mentioning VAERS hurts my argument hurts YOUR argument. VAERS is the ONLY place vaccine adverse events are tracked. In addition, few people know about it and it is widely acknowledged that passive reporting systems are far more susceptible to under-reporting than over-reporting. Estimates vary widely as to how MUCH under-reporting happens, but no one who asks the question seriously believes that it isn’t a huge percentage. Is it a flawed system? You’d better believe it. But for now it’s the only game in town for tracking serious adverse events. Would you prefer the $3 billion so far paid out by the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program? Something tells me you’re going to come up with all the same talking points I see everywhere about that as well.
Yes, it IS interesting that I don’t “quote well-designed studies with human subjects,” isn’t it? But I suspect you know why that is, don’t you? They don’t exist because they can’t get funding. No one has EVER done a well-designed study comparing the health outcomes of vaccinated vs. completely unvaccinated populations, though there are highly suggestive studies like the one that found I believe it as a 9-fold increase in eczema and a 12-fold increase in asthma in kids who had had pertussis containing vaccines in a large study of British kids. The study’s authors rationalized away that HUGE correlation with the fact that the correlation was strongest in the kids who’d had the fewest doctor visits. They assumed that there was this large population of unvaccinated children with asthma and eczema that weren’t getting treated in a country with socialized medicine, as if somehow the parents of children who are not vaccinated are going to let them gasp for breath without ever taking them to a doctor.
No one has ever done a well-designed study in human subjects of the combinations of vaccines that we give. No one has ever done a well-designed study of the safety of the totality of the vaccine schedule as a whole in the days before the schedule exploded, much less today’s schedule.
“Real-world applications”? You mean like the autoimmune diseases that young girls are getting after Gardasil injections? How about the mouse study she did where they injected aluminum in proportional amounts to those that would be injected in the childhood vaccine schedule at intervals that were appropriate developmentally to the children’s schedule? The mice developed a host of symptoms almost all of which turn out to be symptoms associated with autism. Then they killed the mice and analyzed their brain tissue. Many genes were affected, including a number of them that have to do with inflammation. Did you know that a recent study showed that inflammatory genes in children with autism are “turned on”? And that brain inflammation is a marker for autism? One of the sad things to me personally (my children do not have autism) is that a gene that controls production of an enzyme that keeps anxiety levels down was affected and affected preferentially in females. “Anecdotally,” my daughter and her friends who always tested at the top of the standardized tests they took were ALL suffering tremendous anxiety when it came to schoolwork. I was in their category as a child and schoolwork just did not produce that kind of anxiety in the kids around me. Believe me, I know that’s not quantified data, but I would be stupid to ignore it and pretend it didn’t exist.
A 10-30% hospitalization rate for measles is ridiculous and absurd. The CDC acknowledges that in the days before the measles vaccine was licensed there were probably 3-4 MILLION cases a year. There were not a MILLION people being hospitalized with measles. If there were, it would have been taken far more seriously by mass media instead of being the butt of jokes in sitcoms like The Donna Reed Show, The Flintstones, or The Brady Bunch.
But that’s completely beside the point, WHAT are the “medications that will be prescribed” for measles? There is no “cure” for measles. The only sort of “medication” that would be at all applicable would be an antiviral or ant-pyretic, but that doesn’t mean that people who are being more cautious about vaccine consumption would rush out and fill that prescription. One of the points of this piece was just because something is available in “this day and age” doesn’t mean it’s advisable to use it or that people would. And IF a MILLION people (one-third of the number of cases of measles annually before the vaccine was available and significantly more than even bothered to report HAVING the measles) DID go and get those prescriptions filled, please tell me how those million people are EACH going to be consuming $3,000-10,000 worth of them? I’m sorry, I don’t buy your numbers, and I don’t believe the pharmaceutical companies do either.
You can’t truly be a physics geek or you wouldn’t use terms like “irrefutable proof” that the “risks of vaccines outweigh the benefits.” As is made crystal clear in the piece above, science isn’t about “irrefutable proof.” It’s about using the available data, preferably ALL the available data, to decide what to believe. In addition, a scientific person would be well aware that EACH vaccine has its OWN risk-to-benefit ratio and those can and DO vary widely. And to complicate things further, those risk-to-benefit ratios vary with the individual (in our hep B scenario, the risk-to-benefit ration would be significantly different for a mother who happens to be an IV drug user who is hep B positive than it would for a mother who has zero contact with IV drugs and has tested negative for hepatitis B). To pretend vaccines are monolithic and all behave the same way or have equal risks and benefits is exceedingly unscientific.
All your “open mind” talk to the contrary, you’re baiting me with nonsense, and that’s disappointing. I have no interest in wasting any more of Mother’s Day weekend on it.
Adam is right.
Hep B is spread to children. If you want examples and sources, feel free to ask.
*snort* No thanks. I’ll stick with the official sources.
And what exactly is wrong with the drugs you just listed?
I don’t see any “96” studies either.
It seems that both sides do this, so it really wouldn’t be fair for either side to criticize the other for this.
“I, too, have looked at your studies, and have discovered they are much more biased than yours.” ??? Then “Please, list some studies of yours.” ???”
I’m talking about the studies that you used. Insert “a few of” between “at” and “your.” All of the studies I’ve seen were rather flawed.
You said you “looked at my studies.” I posted a link in the piece to 96 studies. If they were flawed, then discuss the flaws. I’ll discuss some of my own and we’ll see which are worse.
“Both sides”? What ad hominem attacks did I make? I will criticize ad hominem attacks whenever I see them. They do not add to any discussion and they are not a form of logical argument.
I didn’t say there was anything wrong with those drugs. I implied that the fact that they are advertised — heavily — on TV means that the television radio stations are beholden to their biggest “sponsors.” Ever heard the expression “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you”? You can bet they have.
“There are MANY analyses of the data that show “irrefutably” that vaccines are not safe. MANY people are hurt or killed by them.”
The author then goes on to misquote VAERS as saying the exact thing that VAERS warns readers NOT to say.
She then adds the recently popular anti-vax talking point that vaccines are “unavoidably unsafe,” which came from a Supreme Court decision. I highly doubt the author actually read the report, like I did. If she would have read it, she would know that the term “unavoidably unsafe” is used in the same way performing CPR (or even seatbelts) is unsafe, in that you might bruise or break someone’s ribs in the process of saving their life.
I didn’t quote VAERS at all, so I’d be interested in knowing what you think I said that VAERS “warns readers NOT to say.” I pointed out that VAERS is the ONLY reporting system for vaccine adverse events (which it is) and that it is generally accepted is much more susceptible to UNDER-reporting than OVER-reporting for a number of reasons.
ProfessorTMR: Hep B is only “transmitted sexually and through blood products or dirty needles.”
Me: “Hep B is spread to children. If you want examples and sources, feel free to ask.”
ProfessorTMR: “*snort* No thanks. I’ll stick with the official sources.”
Considering the author quoted the CDC as an official source herself, I’ll assume she reads the whole discussion. Here’s a few more quotes from her exact same source that the author seems to have missed.
—“Worldwide, most people with chronic Hepatitis B were infected at birth or during early childhood.”
—“Hepatitis B virus can survive outside the body at least 7 days. During that time, the virus can still cause infection if it enters the body of a person who is not infected.”
—“Unlike Hepatitis A, it is not spread routinely through food or water. However, there have been instances in which Hepatitis B has been spread to babies when they have received food pre-chewed by an infected person.” (Luckily babies and toddlers never chew on things they find on the floor… oh wait)
—“Why is the Hepatitis B vaccine recommended for all babies?
Hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all babies so that they will be protected from a serious but preventable disease. Babies and young children are at much greater risk for developing a chronic infection if infected, but the vaccine can prevent this. “
I love the kinds of “names” all you anonymous posters choose.
Okay, “Nobody”: “Worldwide” is of absolutely ZERO applicability to children in the United States. Hepatitis B is far more prevalent in many other countries, risk of transmission by any means is thus far higher. The fact is that fewer than 2 in 100,000 children in the United States were infected with hepatitis B in the year BEFORE the vaccine was licensed. That means that the risk your child is going to “receive food pre-chewed by an infected person” is ridiculously low unless your child LIVES with an infected person, which you really ought to know. It is NOT a risk factor UNLESS you are talking “worldwide.” Fewer than 2 in 100,000 babies in this country were EVER at risk of hepatitis B infection. People should know the facts and choose for themselves whether they feel that the risks of the vaccine are worth the ridiculously low possible benefit from the vaccine. If you feel the risk of hepatitis B is high enough to risk vaccinating YOUR newborn, then by all means do so, but don’t be surprised if many of the parents of the rest of 99,998 out of 100,000 children don’t feel the same way.
I applaud you Daniel! When I read this article, all I could do was shake my head and say “No, that’s wrong.” It’s good to see someone else agreeing with me!
As for ProfessorTMR, you don’t deserve your title.
“ever noticed that you can’t watch a show on TV these days without a few ads for drugs?”
No, unless you’re talking about things like Nyquil and Pepto Bismol. Not exactly the hard drugs you are implying.
““They only pay attention to studies that confirm what they want to hear” is ABSOLUTELY bogus, and the fact that you talk about perfectly good science as debunked means that YOU, sir, are projecting your OWN tendency to “ONLY PAY ATTENTION TO STUDIES THAT CONFIRM WHAT YOU WANT TO HEAR” onto others.”
A classic example of an anti-vaxxer crying when her argument is being attacked. Enlighten us on what this “perfectly good science” of yours is. I, too, have looked at your studies, and have discovered they are much more biased than yours. Please, list some studies of yours.
It’s not a “title,” it’s a nickname or moniker. I’m sure you would feel that “Goddess,” “Saint,” and “Money” don’t “deserve” theirs either, but we don’t really care.
And “hard drugs”? Really? 🙂 Did you seriously think I was implying there were ads for cocaine and LSD? How about Humira, the pneumococcal vaccine, Cialis, Nexium, Boniva, Lyrica, etc., etc., etc.? THOSE are the drugs I’m implying and their ads are all over television. If you haven’t seen them, you’re not watching television.
“Crying when her argument is attacked”? That MIGHT be a reasonable thing to say if Daniel had “attacked” any argument. He didn’t however, he just swept it aside as if it didn’t exist. If he criticized a study, I’d be happy to discuss that study. He didn’t he just announced “debunked” as if that was an argument. It’s not. It’s disguised ad hominem.
And your comment doesn’t make sense. I think there may even be a bit of a Freudian slip in there . . . “I, too, have looked at your studies, and have discovered they are much more biased than yours.” ??? Then “Please, list some studies of yours.” ???
I gave you a list of 96 studies. Point out the “much greater bias” and I’ll be happy to counter.
Actually sweeping aside your argument as if it doesn’t exist was completely appropriate. Using intuition to make decisions about science is inherently unscientific and demonstrates a lack of knowledge of scientific study. Scientific study is going where the evidence leads you. Building a hypothesis and TESTING it. in the testing phase you have to be willing to throw it out if at any point the evidence doesn’t fit. you cannot confabulate an idea and then wash away everyone else’s ideas because you believe there is some terrible conspiracy. You have to show positive evidence that you are right which there is absolutely none of when it comes to Vaccine dangers.
You obviously didn’t read either his “sweeping” or the argument in the first place. What he “swept away” was 96 studies, not my argument. And my argument had nothing to do with the scientific method. The scientific method is fine. I ABSOLUTELY agree that you have to throw out a hypothesis if the evidence doesn’t fit, but as is made clear there is usually a GREAT DEAL of evidence that doesn’t fit before a hypothesis that people have considered “consensus” (whether or not it is supported by good science) is “thrown out.” My argument had to do with the USE of the scientific method, which is very, very clear.
Great piece. Mainstream media and news organizations, and conventional science and medicine — all of these players supported by pharmaceutical giants — didn’t do themselves any favours this year by cultishly bullying millions of parents who, even if their kids weren’t obviously vaccine-injured, decided it was time to question orthodoxy. The cat’s definitely out of the bag now. Thanks for this article.
“Cultishly bullying millions of parents who, even if their kids weren’t obviously vaccine-injured, decided it was time to question orthodoxy.” I like that! Well said!
standard propaganda, project out your covert behaviour. Vitamin c proves it http://whale.to/a/vitamin_c_banners.html
Bravo! Thank you for this incredible article I look forward to more insights and wisdom in the future.
I call it the “cult of science”. Blind trust in current scientific consensus with mockery and belittlement, even shunning, of people who dare to question it or disagree.
Which is, of course, unscientific. 😉
Thanks for this articulate tour de force. I hope you’ve forwarded a copy to Achenbach.
The word “science” has been co-opted and imbued with coded meaning by various individuals and groups, for coercion, exclusion or ego propping. We all contribute to scientific knowledge, and for people like Phillips to prioritize some arbitrary definition of “science” over gut intuition — a manifest of firsthand experience — is specious and perilous.
I REALLY enjoyed this article! Very well stated and useful. I will be referring to it often.
I get told I’m “anti-science” because I question everything and trust my intuition and own experience over “what I am told”. Yet, I love science. Actually, isn’t always analyzing and questioning exactly what science IS (or was)?
This is absolutely brilliant and so necessary. Thank you, Professor.
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Brilliant, Professor. Blew my mind how amazing this is.
You touch upon a lot of subjects, many of which could justify a post of their own. The one aspect which I did not see directly addressed is the fact that ‘science’ and ‘the Scientific Method’ were long ago appropriated by those with political, sociological and economic agendas. Contrary to what many often suggest, it is not merely about the money, or the corporations that benefit from ‘scientific’ proclamations. Not that this is not a huge factor. It undoubtedly is, but it is not the only, nor perhaps the most significant factor.
What I believe to be the greater factor is the arrogant elitism of the few who believe that mankind can continue to function in direct opposition to God (some like to call it nature). Thus, mankind can produce countless toxic poisons which are introduced into our air, water, food and other products – all in the name of progress and/or convenience – and no price will have to be paid. We will just ‘outsmart’ the toxic effects of these inherent ‘evils’ with our modern ‘medicine’. Thus, an entire medical system has been established which has as its goal the suppression and amelioration of the symptoms of a toxic environment – in lieu of eliminating the toxic environment.
Rather than acknowledging that poor and unsanitary air, water, food and living conditions were and are the major factors in individual and epidemic disease, we focus on eliminating the ‘germs’, ‘bacteria’, ‘viruses’, or whatever they choose to call the microbes that the human body produces to combat the damages being done by toxic exposure to unnatural and unhealthy environmental factors. Vaccines, while among the worst – as the toxins are being directly injected into the body – are not the only assaults that threaten us in our daily environment.
Because, you see, no one wants to admit that countless factories might be part of the problem. Who wants to give up their factory made clothing, car or cellphone? No one wants to admit that processed food is inherently inferior and toxic. Who wants to go back to growing, managing and preparing all of their food from scratch? Few want to give up their toxic grains, toxic sugar, and pesticide laden foods – because that would require intensive labor in the pursuit of natural, sustainable food production.
The reality is, ‘science’ since at least the days of Francis Bacon has been developed and used as an instrument to produce and protect the modern concept of civilization we all accept as ‘normal’. Certainly profit is a major motive for many, but I would posit that even more seek that utopian society nearly all long for. We are promised that our next technological leap, our next ‘scientific’ discovery will lead us into that perfect world in which all want, disease and war will be permanently banished and mankind will live in perfect peace and prosperity. In other words, man has bought into the lie that ‘science’ can deliver what only God truly can.
What we are reaping is the best that man can produce. For every natural law that we transgress will create consequences, most of which bring harm to our world and ourselves. I am not an environmental activist or a Luddite – but I am increasingly sympathetic to those who are, and wonder if that is not where I will eventually find myself. There were always noble and non-noble savages, thus I have no illusions that ‘back to nature’ will produce the much sought after utopia. That, in my opinion, requires a spiritual element that each man must personally deal with. However, if we hope to overcome some of the increasing maladies of mankind we must face honestly the fact that much, if not all of them our our own doing.
The ‘conspiracy’ of the elite has been to keep from us the full truth of how much harm modern modes of production inherently produce. Endlessly kicking the can down the road, corporate capitalism and its political enablers have told themselves that ‘science’ will fix all of the problems that their ‘progress’ creates. I believe that we are in the process of seeing that this is not possible; that we cannot have our cake and eat it too; that a life of ease is not our inherent right.
Sadly, it has taken generations of damaged and ruined lives for more than the few lonely voices to question what we are doing to ourselves. As more and more parents are experiencing the tragedy of unhealthy, damaged children they are finally beginning to ask themselves, ‘What is normal about this?’ Many have discovered for themselves that even stepping back from a few of our modern conveniences like processed food and modern medicine (vaccines and other pharmaceuticals) produces a much healthier child and family. They are making the oftentimes lonely and difficult decision to not embrace all that modern ‘science’ and technology has to offer, and they are increasingly becoming a threat to the great powers behind such ‘science’.
This is where profit comes in, as the vast wealth of the vastly wealthy rests upon the modern consumer continuing to consume whatever is dished out without asking questions as to the health and wisdom of each new product. Alas, when people begin to question the toxicity of those marvelous fake scents that grace everything from our soaps, shampoos and other personal care items to our air ‘fresheners’, candles and garbage bags. Alas, when people learn that all of those unpronounceable chemicals in their food, personal care items and building products are more about producing products cheaply and increasing their shelf life than improving the well-being of the user.
It is so much more than ‘good science’ vs ‘bad science’. It is more what sort of tool, and for what benefit, has ‘science’ become? When it is held up as unchallengeable dogma to which all must bow, it has stopped being a ‘tool’ and has become an idol. When we are forced to bow down to this idol against our wishes, we have stopped being free people enjoying the benefits of modern civilization and have become slaves.
This is the most well-thought-out comment I’ve read yet.
I appreciate your thought process, and your eloquent articulation of ideas that most people in developed countries will find unpalatable, at the very least. As you point out, a large percentage of people will dismiss them out-of-hand because to entertain them might make them feel the need to give up their creature comforts.
I will admit that, like most Americans, I enjoy the privileges afforded me through the fruits of others labors and processes that reek havoc upon our world. As I sit here, writing on my iPhone and within view of eight pieces of mass produced technology the production of which surely added to our toxic environmental overload.
You’ve given me much to ponder. Thank you.
Excellent! I fought the screaming intuition which told me not to vaccinate my son who went on to have an encephalitic reaction to his first round of vaccines with devastating results. That is when the curtain of Oz began to unravel before my eyes. As a teaching assistant of logical thinking in college, I find it astonishing how intelligent people (doctors especially) can turn a deaf ear to parental reports and visual evidence in the name of science. But it speaks powerfully of cognitive dissonance and the role of propaganda in our lives; both of which leave no level of scientific thinking unhindered.
Anecdotal evidence, especially those that begin to pile up, should be used to dictate possible studies. I don’t know why science fears or discredits intuition, thought or anecdotal evidence when this is what is used to guide potential research. One makes a hypothesis and tests it out based on hunches or from repeated events that need an explanation or exploration. Hypocrisy at its finest.
I really like this article. It looks at science from an alternative angle. Eventually over time the truth will come out. Kuhns book makes me hopeful. There are other issues with vaccines besides the autism debate.
You seem to be conflating intuition (the idea that your opinion is somehow more accurate than the available evidence) and anecdotal evidence (the use of individual or small scale, poorly controlled reports).
I think what you’re missing here is that while anecdotal evidence *can* be hypothesis generating. It’s not NECESSARILY so. i.e. a single event can get repeated in multiple anecdotes and it’s also not necessarily a very GOOD source of hypotheses.
The idea that you use experiments to validate or invalidate your hunches is quaint but it’s clearly insufficient to do actual science with finite funds. As the number of hunches will outnumber the ability to perform an experiment by several orders of magnitude.
Jen L. isn’t “conflating intuition and anecdotal evidence,” she is saying that intuition, or “hunches” (which is far closer to a definition of intuition than yours is), and anecdotal evidence are BOTH being — and should be — used to guide scientific research. No, one cannot examine EVERY hunch or piece of anecdotal evidence, but Jen didn’t imply they should. She even included the phrase, “especially those that begin to pile up,” such as the “anecdotes” of parents whose children developed autism following a round of vaccines that easily number in the thousands. Far more than the number of milkmaids that Edward Jenner could possibly have known of that didn’t develop smallpox, leading him to to hypothesize that something about cowpox was protective against smallpox.
There is nothing “quaint” about the idea of using experiments to validate or invalidate hunches. “Hunches” in the form of hypotheses are the cornerstone of the scientific method. Just because one can’t investigate every hunch thoroughly, doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with doing it when one can.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve been thinking this for quite a while now, and I really appreciate the level of detail you went into. Bookmarked and will be shared often!
Professor- I LOVED THIS. “Science is a tool…” – priceless
this is such a good article. It also drives me crazy to be called anti-science by people who don’t understand the changing nature of scientific theory. Thank you!!!
Unfortunately she is dead wrong about what science is. Science is taking evidence, forming an hypothesis and then testing the hypothesis. This article suggest that such tests should be ignored if they don’t fit with intuition. This is unscientific… the Testing is the most important part. When it comes to making a claim… such as vaccines cause dangers, there must be evidence put forth that demonstrates that. An explanation to it must encompass both the results that suggest dangers and those that do not… without the ridiculous claim that for some reason the government, scientists and all drug companies are in a conspiracy to doctor them to hide the truth. Once you throw out the impossibility of such a conspiracy (I work in government, you cannot even get them to agree on a lunch order)… then you must conclude that your ideas are not correct.
I’ve answered this one a number of times. You’re confusing the body of science with the scientific method. The two are not the same. And I suggested nothing of the kind. Reread it. I suggested looking DEEPER at the the results, not throwing them out as so much of “scientific consensus” does. And I absolutely agree that one must evaluate evidence on BOTH sides of any question and have at least an understanding of the possible reasons for conflict. That would be that “looking DEEPER” thing…
So you don’t think there’s any credibility in the idea that the fact that drug manufacturers are financing the academic institutions that are conducting research on their drugs, that which we “call a conflict of interest” for obvious reasons, has ANY effect on what results actually reach mainstream publications (not to mention the that money they put into mainstream media might have a tiny bit of influence on the interpretation of those results that reaches mainstream media)? Just out of curiosity, I would be interested to know if you concerned with the influence of the Koch brothers on political affairs? And if so, how exactly do you reconcile that “ridiculous claim” with your naive attitude toward the influence pharmaceutical billions?
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it.” — Upton Sinclair
Evidence put forth that “vaccines cause dangers”? How about the fact that every vaccine comes with warnings, just as every OTHER drug does. There is NO DRUG that does not cause harm to some individuals. Most people enjoy taking codeine, for instance. In me it causes such a horrible reaction that it could kill me. Why does no one insist on “scientific proof” that other drugs can kill and cause systemic harm before they say, “You know, it just might be a good idea to avoid taking this ever again…”? Perhaps it’s because they could be sued for malpractice if they knew there was a history of reaction and continued to prescribe it. Did you know that a doctor cannot be sued for vaccinating even under such circumstances?
An extraordinary blog. It should be published on the front page of the New York Times! Congratulations!