“We shall overcome,” sings the anti-vaccine movement

Yesterday, in the course of applying a heapin’ helpin’ of not-so-Respectful Insolence to a particularly brain dead exercise by the anti-vaccine movement, in which the International Medical Council on Vaccination (the most deceptively named anti-vaccine organization this side of the National Vaccine Information Center) gathered 80 signatures of “health care professionals” who warn about the danger of vaccines, I pointed out something I have noticed about not just anti-vaccine groups by by may different cranks groups. I’m referring to the “petition” or the statement attacking consensus science signed by an impressive-looking list of people with advanced degrees. As such an exercise, the IMCV list was particularly pathetic at only around 80 signatures, including a significant percentage of naturopaths and chiropractors, as well as some anti-vaccine advocates who can charitably only referred to as being even more off than even a typical Age of Autism (AoA) blogger.

Speaking of AoA bloggers, there was a doozy of a post yesterday on AoA that demonstrated another characteristic of cranks other than a propensity for making lists of fake experts supporting their viewpoints the way that creationists, anthropogenic global warming denialists, 9/11 Truthers, and now antivaccinationists do. That characteristic is an unholy mixture of a persecution complex, in which the crank or cranks believe that they are the target of a conspiracy to silence or oppose them, combined with the absolute certainty that they are right and that one day they will be vindicated. This latter characteristic is particularly well-demonstrated by a post by Kent Heckenlively at AoA entitled Our Time Will Come. Kent, as you might recall, is one of the nicer denizens of AoA, always polite and never nasty, in marked contrast to his leader J.B. Handley. In fact, for that very reason I usually don’t relish writing about some of his more nonsensical posts. However, in this case, it’s hard not to, because his post epitomizes the mindset of not just anti-vaccine activists, but anti-science cranks of all kinds, in which they are utterly convinced that they are right, science is wrong, and they will ultimately be vindicated.

After reading Kent’s post, all I could think was: What planet does Kent live on? You see, apparently to Kent the anti-vaccine movement is just like the oppressed people in Egypt who are currently rising up against an authoritarian ruler after 30 years of being under his thumb. And, just like the Egyptians apparently, it’s not his fault or that of his fellow anti-vaccine propagandists that they are radical. Oh, no. It’s the fault of their oppressors, who are–surprise! surprise!–the “reigning medical establishment”:

I’ve been glued to the television the last couple days watching the situation in Egypt unfold and thinking of our community. Make no doubt about it, we are an opposition group. If there is any radicalism within us it’s because our questions to the reigning medical establishment have been so consistently ignored, and we as a community have been attacked. What have we asked of the medical community which threatens them so greatly? A study on the rates of neurological disorders among vaccinated and unvaccinated children? If that would take too long, how about a similar study with a group of vaccinated and unvaccinated primates?

Because the anti-vaccine movement spreading fear about vaccines is exactly like the Egyptians taking to the streets to demand their freedom and an end to a repressive government.

Far be it from me to point out that the discredited Andrew Wakefield already tried to do just such a study with primates and screwed it up royally, to the point where, in a horrific waste of primates, his results are basically uninterpretable and tell us nothing. Well, not, it’s not far from me at all to do that. It’s what I’ve been doing for the last six years now. Ultimately, the journal retracted Wakefield’s work, and with good reason. As for the “vaccinated versus unvaccinated” study that the anti-vaccine movement so pines for, it’s neither scientifically justified, ethical, nor practical. To Heckenlively, merely saying so and refusing to fund such crappy research is the equivalent of oppressing him and those who believe against all science and reason that vaccines cause autism. “Help, help! I’m being repressed!” Heckenlively cries.


Let me be clear about this. Dr. Wakefield is only the most visible medical person to be attacked. In my discussions over the years with various scientific researchers they have often shared similar stories with me. I expect any medical professional who honestly searches for the cause of autism to run the risk of an attack on his or her professional reputation.

No, I expect that any medical professional who abandons science and ethics to pursue pseudoscience will risk an attack on his or her professional reputation because he or she will have done something to deserve it. The reason Andrew Wakefield is so reviled is not because he is a man speaking Truth to Power. No! It’s because his science was not just shoddy and wrong but outright fraudulent. He deserves the opprobrium that has been piled on him. Similarly, scientific disgrace has come to scientists and physicians who have “gone rogue” as far as vaccines go because their science is crappy. I’m talking about Mark Geier, Boyd Haley, Rashid Buttar, and many others. Some of these disgraced physicians and scientists are laughing all the way to the bank. Rashid Buttar and Mark Geier come to mind. Even worse, the law seems unable to touch such people even when they engage in outright quackery or dubious human subjects research. In the case of Rashid Buttar, he had the power to influence North Carolina lawmakers to change the law in his favor.

More pertinently, if Kent really wants to talk about being attacked or who’s attacking whom, he really should take a look right in his own back yard, where his partner in crime J.B. Handley, who’s been known to launch misogynistic attacks against female journalists who have the temerity to criticize the anti-vaccine movement, allow AoA to be a home to a clueless wonder like Jake Crosby and his fevered conspiracy dreams, and to launch relentless attacks on scientists like Dr. Paul Offit who dare to stand up to them. It’s not for nothing that I not infrequently compare the anti-vaccine movement to the animal rights movement, particularly after having been on the receiving end of an attempt by AoA readers to get me fired from my job based on a lie spread by Jake.

Be that as it may, perhaps a greater picture of why the anti-vaccine movement tend to attract people who think that the ends justify the means comes from the last quarter of Heckenlively’s piece. After castigating conventional doctors for not being willing or able to interpret the quack tests he gets from DAN! quacks–mainly because they haven’t been scientifically validated and science-based physicians don’t know what to do with the results, in contrast to the quacks, who make it up as they go along with the help of these tests–Heckenlively gets down to it, the inevitable histrionic prediction that he and his movement will be vindicated. I can’t help but cue “We Shall Overcome” as I read:

There are too many injured children. After all of the assaults, after having the Secretary of Health and Human Servies, Kathleen Sebelius say in an interview with Reader’s Digest that she has asked the media not to give equal weight to the arguments of the vaccine-safety community, the simple fact remains they are failing. When a recent study on the question of whether vaccines were related to autism, nearly half of those interviewed believed there was a connection or that they were unsure of the answer. A bare majority, 52% believed there was no connection.

They have tried everything in their power to deny us a voice and still they only draw a bare majority. It will only get worse for them.

Of course, Heckenlively conveniently forgets to point out that, compared to the 52% who don’t think vaccines cause autism, only 18% believe that vaccines cause autism; the other 30% aren’t sure. Even worse, if you break it down more, only 2% believe that the idea that vaccines cause autism (I refuse to dignify it by calling it a “hypothesis”), while 16% think the idea is “probably true.” Heckenlively also neglects to note that the poll also found that 69% of respondents agree that schools should require all children to have “received the required shots” before they can attend school. In other words, this poll is not nearly as good for the anti-vaccine movement as it sounds on the surface. Not only do those who accept science outnumber those who believe that vaccines cause autism by roughly 3:1, but those who believe that the idea that vaccines cause autism is “certainly not true” outnumber those who believe it is “certainly true” by 10:1.

While there is reason to be concerned that only 52% agree with the science showing that vaccines don’t cause autism, judging by the news coverage in the wake of Andrew Wakefield’s fraud having been publicized, the news media appear to be coming around to the side of science. Other than on conspiracy radio shows like Alex Jones’, whenever Wakefield dared to show his face to media stars like Anderson Cooper or George Stephanopoulos, he was pummeled relentlessly, and more and more journalists appear to be accepting the idea that it’s not necessary to represent pseudoscience like the anti-vaccine movement as being a valid alternative to science. In other words, their arguments do not have to be treated as having similar scientific validity. Of course, Heckenlively is living in fantasyland, believing that he is on the side of science, as he flits with his daughter from one quack to another, even going so far as to take her to Costa Rica for a highly dubious stem cell treatment, getting $15,000 from her grandfather to pay for it.

Not that any of this stops him from proclaiming “Your time is gonna come“:

When will we know when the end of the tyrants of the medical community has come? When media interviewers ask hard question of them. When the media turns their skepticism on those who have perpetuated this epidemic. “Okay, Dr. —-, why is it that other countries give fewer vaccines and have less autism?” Maybe Anderson Cooper can shout down some shill for the pharmaceutical company by complaining that, “No studies have shown that vaccinated kids have the same amount of autism as unvaccinated kids!!! Why haven’t you done those studies, sir???”

Our time will come.

We’d better hope not, at least if we don’t want to return to pre-vaccine levels of measles, whooping cough, and other preventable childhood diseases.