I know you are, but what am I?: Medical Voices’ woo-ful anti-vaccine whine

“I know you are, but what am I?”

That’s basically the child’s version of a familiar logical fallacy known as the tu quoque, which basically means, “You, too!” It’s a very simple and simplistic logical fallacy that tries to argue that, if one’s trait shares one or more of the same bad traits of the people he is criticizing, then his arguments can be dismissed. It’s sometimes very effective in that implied within the fallacy is a charge of hypocrisy. As a diversionary tactic, it can be very effective.

Not too surprisingly, I’ve found a doozy of an example of just this fallacy over at the other anti-vaccine crank site besides Age of Autism, namely Medical Voices. Remember Medical Voices? It’s nowhere near as active as our “friends” at Generation Rescue and Age of Autism, but, being number two, it appears to try harder. Truly, it’s a wretched hive of scum and quackery, and the post over there can be characterized as a combination of tu quoque and a massive straw man argument, in which the word “quack” is turned back on defenders of science-based medicine while simultaneously the positions and arguments of used to criticize quacks are misrepresented as straw men that go beyond Burning Man size and in the article produce a conflagration that could consume a small city as they are engulfed by burning stupid.

Of course, being such a wretched hive of scum and anti-vaccine quackery, Medical Voices has provided me, and more recently Mark Crislip, with blogging material. Dr. Crislip has had perhaps the most hilarious take on the anti-vaccine quackery being promoted over at Medical Voices in a three part takedown:

  1. Nine Questions, Nine Answers
  2. Mumps
  3. Medical Voices: Always in Error, Never in Doubt

Amusingly, as a result of Nine Questions, Nine Answers, Nick Haas, one of the founders of Medical Voices, decided to emulate all varieties of cranks, including 9/11 Truthers, HIV/AIDS denialists, Holocaust deniers, supporters of “alternative medicine”, and believers in ghosts and the paranormal, and challenge Dr. Crislip to a live, online debate. Also not surprisingly, just like Brave, Brave Sir Robin, Mr. Haas ran away from anything other than a “live” debate.

The looniness of Medical Voices Vaccine Information Center (MVVIC) does have an upside, though, and it’s an upside that I’ve unfortunately ignored for a while now. Basically, it, like Age of Autism or NaturalNews.com, should be a copious source of blogging material, and in this case it is. Specifically, it’s a massive case of the aforementioned logical fallacy of tu quoque in the form of an article by someone named Suzanne Humphries, MD entitled Quack. In the post, right is left, up is down, and wrong is right. She begins with one of my favorite quack attacks on science:

Mainstream medicine has hit a new low in its war against physicians who have become alternative healers. The battle has been going on for decades, but lately, in bully-like fashion, pharma’s minions are ramping up the vilification. They’re now discrediting any healing method not based in their version of accepted science – excuse me, I meant their religion of pharmaceutical belief which has been misnamed as “science”.

Hilarious! This is an example of the classic strategies of believers in pseudoscience to bring science down to their level by declaring it “religion.” After all, if science is nothing more than a religion, then its conclusions can be easily dismissed as having no more substance than the beliefs of a competing religion, much as Christians dismiss the beliefs of Buddhists, Hindus, or Muslims and vice-versa. It’s nothing more than doggerel. There are many differences between science and religion, but perhaps the most important is this: Science changes its conclusions on the basis of new evidence. Not only that, it actively seeks evidence that will falsify its current “dogma.” This is in marked contrast to religion, which not only doesn’t seek disconfirming evidence for its beliefs but actively attacks and rejects such evidence when it is presented. Yes, it’s true that scientists may be too fast to reject ideas that are out of the mainstream, but science itself continues. In science, sooner or later, evidence wins out. The process may be messy and contentious, because human beings who do science are, like most human beings, messy and contentious, out of the messiness and contentiousness the explanatory power of science improves. It’s a Darwinian process, in which hypotheses that best explain how nature works and make the most accurate predictions survive.

In fact, Humphries gets it totally wrong in so many ways that I almost feel tempted to leave this paragraph as an exercise for the reader:

They demand explanation and evidence when we reject their drugs, yet they never serve up true evidence or proof that drugs do more good than harm. They insist with religious fervor that vaccines are safe, effective and keep people healthy. They preach as gospel that antibiotics are better or safer than homeopathy, herbs, colloidal silver, vitamin D and natural support for non-life threatening infections, despite the fact that antibiotic adverse effects are common and well documented. Serious effects such as anaphylaxis (inflammatory shock), kidney failure, liver failure, Stevens-Johnson syndrome (a life threatening condition where the epidermis separates from the dermis), Clostridium difficile colitis (commonly referred to as C-diff), and the creation of drug resistant super-bacteria are but a few examples. And now, they’ve recruited some very bright (but not necessarily wise) minds to attack alternative practitioners. Their latest weapon is name calling – most notably, labeling them “quacks”.

Oh, hell. I can’t resist. First of all, I’m really interested in knowing what the heck Humphries means by “true evidence.” Apparently scientific evidence demonstrating that homeopathy is useless, nothing more than sympathetic magic, and her belief that vaccines cause autism doesn’t count as “true evidence.” One wonders what does to her. Anecdotal evidence? Probably? Revelation from on high? Possibly? Whatever it is, it doesn’t appear to be science, and clearly Humphries rejects science. Yes, real medicine has real risks and can produce real complications, but it produces real benefits too. Homeopathy does not. Neither does colloidal silver. Silver salts may have some value in treating superficial infections when applied as part of a cream or paste, the concentration they require to kill bacteria is too high to be useful in treating systemic infections. As for vitamin D, “alt-med” practitioners massively oversell its benefits, while “conventional” practitioners more and more do actually check vitamin D levels and recommend supplementation. The difference is that, unlike practitioners like Dr. Humphries, they’re doing it based on science and a realistic assessment of the potential benefits, risks, and the uncertainties involved in those calculations, rather than a pie-in-the-sky set of claims as vitamin D as a panacea.

Of course, what’s really hilarious about this entire article is not so much that it’s a massive tu quoque fallacy. Yes, that’s funny enough in and of itself, but what’s really both hilarious and pathetic is that Humphries can’t even do a propoer tu quoque fallacy without reinventing the definition of what a quack is. After listing a dictionary definition of “quack,” she writes:

But from its current usage, I’d say they’ve added a new definition:

3. A physician or medical healer who does not profit from creating and maintaining disease, but rather respects the natural tendency of the body to heal itself; one who helps the body eliminate whatever toxins are causing illness, be they environmental, emotional or pharmaceutical; one who uses primarily non-toxic, non-surgical means for routine care, and uses pharmaceutical and surgical medicine as a last resort.

I do like how Humphries has expanded the definition of “toxin” to “emotional toxins.” I wonder what that means. Maybe she’s an advocate of the German New Medicine or Biologie Totale, where various forms of emotional trauma are postulated to be the cause of all disease, in particular cancer. In any case, Humphries goes far beyond just redefining the word “quack” as she does above, going on to write:

As a matter of fact, it seems a quack is apparently anyone in the healthcare industry who does not believe in and support the unharnessed proliferation of the pharmaceutical industry, with its virtually unlimited profits from its worldwide distribution of toxic medications and vaccines. When a physician has the ethical fortitude to reject these massive operations and label them as destructive, s/he will be considered a quack. And most definitely, any physician who no longer wishes to be a mercenary for the pharma-backed junta that has taken over medical schools and medical institutions will be tagged “quack”.

Funny, by this definition, friends of mine could be considered “quacks.” Mark Crislip, for instance, has recently written a post describing how he refuses to take anything from pharaceutical companies and has refused to do so for nearly three decades now. On various occasions over the years, I myself have criticized the pharmaceutical and medical device industry. Does that make me a “quack,” too? Probably not, I would guess. After all, I still accept the paradigm that science is the best way to guide and improve medical care. Humphries clearly does not.

Her view is a massive straw man as well, although it’s a telling one. Clearly the term “quack” stings Humphries more than she lets on. That’s why she has to redefine the word “quack” and turn it into a straw man parody in which defenders of science-based medicine are crazed minions of big pharma who desperately want to pump people full of pharmaceuticals in order to increase the profits of pharma to beyond obscene.

Most gratifying, I think, is this next passage, which appears to be evidence that my humble efforts, as well as those of my “friend” and his partners in crime, are having an effect:

This word “quack” has been turned into a weapon, unleashed on those who notice the scores of patients spiraling to their death at the hands of FDA-approved, CDC-sanctioned medical interventions of big pharma and their affiliated institutions. The self proclaimed authorities of “science-based-medicine,” the paid pharma bloggers, “Quack Watchers” and many others who proselytize the message of drug companies and attempt to discredit the time-tested healing methods used by alternative practitioners, are destined to fail. I take comfort in the fact that the masses are becoming increasingly disgruntled with the results of their conventional medical options. The public trust and confidence in what pharma and conventional medical doctors have to offer is, thankfully, dying.

Yes! The forces of science-based medicine are pissing off quacks like Dr. Humphries, so much so that she’s using the time-honored tactic of people who are losing and they know it:

Those who have attempted to warp our reputations by calling us “quacks” will not succeed. The primal wisdom of the masses is more powerful than all the propaganda promoted by the misnamed “science-based medicine” and “quack watchers.” The pillars that support the sick-care industry are cracking and its architects are getting desperate. In due time, the Yellow Pages will be abundant in so-called quacks. Quack watchers really should watch carefully. The revolution has begun.

Sounds as though Humphries is getting set to get a French revolution going with her very own Comité de salut public, if you know what I mean. Talk about delusions of grandeur! On the other hand, it is true that quackery such as the anti-vaccine movement championed by Humphries and MVVIC have seemed to be in ascendance for a while. Although I’ve been at times rather pessimistic regarding the anti-vaccine movement, of late I’ve seen encouraging signs of a backlash against Jenny McCarthy and the anti-vaccine movement. Whether that backlash will persist or not, I don’t know, but I do view complaints by supporters of quackery like Dr. Humphries to be an encouraging sign that we bloggers who relentlessly harp on medical pseudoscience and quackery are actually having an effect. There have been times when I truly doubted it, when I thought we were lone voices in the wilderness having no effect.

Thanks, Dr. Suzanne Humphries, for showing me that we’re having an effect.