A black hole of antivaccine misinformation

Every so often, I come across a bit of antivaccine idiocy that’s so amazingly idiotic, such a–shall we say?–target-rich environment that it’s catnip to a cat. I just can’t resist it, even when there are other topics and subjects out there that have backed up over the last few days and I want to cover. You’ll see why in a minute. In this particular case the antivaccine lunacy comes in the form of a video that’s been making the rounds amazingly quickly the anti-vaccine crankosphere since it was released yesterday. It comes to us courtesy of a nurse who calls herself “The Patriot Nurse,” and it’s a video entitled Why this nurse won’t vaccinate. (NOTE ADDED: TPN removed the video but then someone else reposted it here.)

The first thing I noticed about the video is that The Patriot Nurse (TPN) turned off embedding. This really annoyed me, because when I’m featuring a video for a blog post I like to embed the video, so that my readers can just view it straight from my blog. When a YouTuber refuses to allow embedding, it strikes me as a transparent ploy to drive direct traffic to her YouTube channel. For what purpose, I don’t know, given that it’s views that count. Be that as it may, there’s something even more annoying about this video. Right in the beginning, TPN opines:

The comments are OFF for many reasons. Foremost is that I refuse to be abused for a contrarian viewpoint that goes against mainstream “Sickcare.” This video comes at a cost to me as a practicing nurse, and the comments are a casualty of war.

I almost don’t blame TPN for turning the comments off. What she says in the video is a collection of antivaccine talking points packed into the video so densely that it’s surprising it doesn’t form an event horizon around it, just like a black hole, that no logic, science, or reason can escape from. Perhaps at some level, TPN knows that she can’t defend the viewpoints contained in her video. Or perhaps she’s just too lazy. So, in order to save face, she comes up with a transparently obvious excuse that she is “not interested from the noise from either side,” which also has the advantage (to cranks) of drawing a false equivalence between the science-based viewpoint and the anti-vaccine viewpoint. I guess it’s not surprising that what follows is sheer, napalm-grade burning stupid.

Before I begin my deconstruction, though, let me know that I very much respect nurses. Heck, I’m married to one! In fact, that’s part of the reason why screeds like this one irritate me so much. They bring dishonor to the noble profession and utterly critical profession of nursing, much as anti-vaccine doctors bring dishonor to the profession of physician. However, it’s hard not to get sarcastic when I see TPN assert, in an utterly transparent argument from authority, that she “graduated with honors from the best school in my area.”

Color me not impressed.

In fact, if her education is what led her to lay down such a heapin’ helpin’ of anti-vaccine misinformation, pseudoscience, and lies, I’d say that TPN should get her money back. Or maybe whatever nursing school she graduated from should disavow her. After all, if I were the dean of a a nursing school and I saw one of my graduates spewing such dangerous misinformation, I’d disavow her in an instant, particularly after hearing her say something like:

In the time I was at my educational institution, there was very little discussion–true discussion–and even less true debate on the subject of vaccination, on the true “science” of vaccination and on the real risks and possible perceived benefits of vaccination. So I had to search out the information, the data, the studies for myself.

Oh, great. Whenever I hear someone say that there’s no “true debate” about vaccination, in my experience it’s almost always a rock solid indication that what I’m about to hear will be chock full of antivaccine crankery par excellance, and TPN doesn’t disappoint. Of course, it never occurs to her that “true debate” doesn’t mean “giving credence to every half-baked idea that anti-vaccinationists come up with to discredit vaccines and treating it as legitimate.” Her nursing school likely didn’t teach antivaccine canards any more than medical schools teach antivaccine canards. That it didn’t is a feature, not a bug, as we say. Nor should nursing or medical schools provide “true debate” about vaccines, at least not “true debate” as apparently defined by TPN, because there really aren’t two equally valid sides to a story. There aren’t even two sides whose validity is roughly the same order of magnitude. There’s science, which supports vaccines as safe and effective and not a cause of autism. Then there’s antivaccine pseudoscience.

Based on antivaccine pseudoscience, TPN concludes that she is opposed to vaccination, particularly for infants and children. Her three main areas of objection include “additives,” the vaccination schedule, and the sufficiency of breast milk for conferred immunity. In other words, her objections are (1) the “toxin” gambit; (2) “too many too soon,” and (3) the claim that natural immunity due to breast milk is enough. All are based on bad science, pseudoscience, and misinformation.

For example, our TPN starts by ranting about “mercury” and “aluminum,” beginning with the usual false equivalence where she attributes “strong positions” to “both sides.” In one part, she correctly points out that antivaccinationists claim there is no safe level of mercury “whatever form it may come in,” invoking her nurse credentials again to declare that she can’t envision any time when it is ever acceptable to inject and “bypass the body’s immune system” by injecting it into the body of a “six pound baby” in order to “help save their life.” (Yes, she does use finger air quotes when saying “help save their life,” a particularly annoying trait that she frequently exhibits during the video.) She then asserts that no poison is safe.

Well, duh! It’s a poison.

However, there are safe doses of poisons. It’s a cliche but it’s accurate to say that the dose makes the poison. Something that is poisonous at one dose is safe at a lower dose. If that weren’t true, Botox could never be administered, because it’s a deadly toxin. However, at small doses, it’s useful for many things, from cosmetic wrinkle removal to treatment for achalasia to stopping excessive sweating. By TPN’s view, no dose of Botox would ever be safe, not even a single molecule, but we all know that’s not true.

Particularly amusing to me is the part where TPN discusses eating a plate of tuna and how it’s not the same thing as “injecting” mercury:

When one ingests a plate of tuna, the tuna goes through the gut. And, being a “selectively permeable membrane” [Orac comment: She does that annoying air quote thing again here.], the gut decides whether or not to let certain chemicals through to the bloodstream. When you inject mercury or aluminum into the body via a vaccine, you are bypassing that security net. You are bypassing that defense mechanism of the body and, as such, the mercury and the aluminum go directly into the bloodstream to be dealt with in a myriad of ways, but quite often heavy metals, including mercury, accumulate in organs and the brain, an organ, accumulates a decent amount of mercury.

The ignorance here is breathtaking. First off, mercury and aluminum can be absorbed through the gut. The “selectively permeable membrane” of the gut doesn’t stop that. Inorganic mercury salts can be absorbed through the GI tract. Of course, the mercury in vaccines is in the form of thimerosal, which is a different chemical form, an organomercury. In any case, there is no evidence that mercury in the form of thimerosal is harmful at the doses used in vaccines. Similarly, aluminum has been safely used for decades; there is no evidence that it causes any harm at the doses contained in vaccines. Given how eagerly TPN laps up the antivaccine canard that is the “toxins” gambit, I suppose I should be grateful that TPN didn’t try the formaldehyde gambit or the “fetal cells” gambit. Maybe it’ll be in a followup post. She did, after all, say that she could talk for hours about this, and of that I have no doubt. I bet she could easily bury us in hours of pretentious gibberish with “air quote” flourishes about formaldehyde, squalene, “monkey cells,” “fetal parts,” and the like. In fact, in retrospect, I suppose I should be grateful for the small favor that, at least in this video, TPN doesn’t list those hoary old antivaccine canards. On the other hand, TPN does fall hook, line, and sinker for the myth that vaccines cause autism. That alone doesn’t speak well for her scientific ability or critical thinking skills. In TPN, Dunning-Kruger rules supreme, and ignorance doesn’t get much more arrogant than her.

I’m left to marvel at TPN’s credulously ignorant assertions that “regardless of how we want to classify these vaccines as effective, they are not safe” and “if they have a known poison in them there is no way they can be safe.” I guess that there’s no way a lot of things can be safe, then. After all, the dose makes the poison, and lots of common every day items and foods even have poisons in them. Why don’t we all suffer, then? Because they’re present at such low concentrations that they’re safe. By TPN’s “logic” (air quote!) we shouldn’t drink water because it’s a poison too at a high enough dose. Come to think of it, pretty much all drugs are “poisons” (air quote!) because they can be “toxic” (air quotes!) at high doses. Of course, if we are to believe TPN, babies are getting “too many vaccines too soon” (air quotes!). That’s a favorite antivaccine talking point and one without any evidence to support it, as a real expert, infectious disease doc Mark Crislip, so snarkily explained. Indeed, when the issue has been studied, it’s been found to be a non-issue.

Finally, TPN parrots the claim that breast milk is enough to protect baby from pathogens. This has to be one of the most pernicious, and, more importantly, dangerous antivaccine lies out there. While it is certainly true that there are maternal antibodies provided to the baby in breast milk, TPN has way too much faith in them to prevent diseases. Think about it this way. Before vaccines, mothers breast fed their babies, too. Yet, there were still epidemics. Babies suffered and died from infectious diseases that are only uncommonly (or even rarely) seen today in the United States. A perfect example is haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib). As recently as the late 1980s it was a scourge of children, causing encephalitis and other serious complications up to and including death. Was hygiene any worse 25 years ago? Nope. Were mothers not breast feeding 25 years ago? Certainly they breast fed their babies in large numbers. So what was the difference between 25 years ago, when suffering and even death from Hib were all too common, and today, when Hib is rare and many younger pediatricians have never seen even a single case? The Hib vaccine.

Truly, TPN is peddling the most dangerous of nonsense, invoking the naturalistic fallacy in which she rhetorically (and stupidly) asks what makes us think that “geeks with beakers” can do better than Mother Nature.

The Hib vaccine, for one thing. The MMR, for another thing. Antibiotics, for a third thing. In fact, much of modern science-based medicine is a living testament that “geeks with beakers” can do better than Mother Nature. And that’s a good thing. Vaccines have arguably saved more lives than any other medical interventions, yet, in the purest arrogance of an even purer ignorance, TPN declares that their risks outweigh their benefits, a demonstrably incorrect assertion. On her Facebook page, when she’s taken to task, she responds:

I looked at the original studies in detail and came to the conclusion for myself. Having been convinced in my own mind by the data I viewed, I formulated a viewpoint different than yours. I am no victim. I am a free-thinking individual and a healthcare professional.

Yes, indeed, TPN’s pseudoscience, antivaccine canards, and pure idiocy are nothing more than a “different viewpoint.” How postmodern.

I’ll conclude with a little request. Any time you see “The Patriot Nurse” video about why she doesn’t vaccinate, post a link to my post and this excellent additional deconstruction by a nurse who actually knows what she’s talking about, CanadianNurse. Those of you who know how, refute her pseudoscience and misinformation herself. Ask her why she is too cowardly to allow free and open debate about what she said. Dare her to come here or show up at Vara’s blog to defend her Dunning-Kruger nonsense. Post links on her Facebook page. The difference between a crank like The Patriot Nurse and defenders of science is that cranks like The Patriot Nurse, for all their protestations otherwise, can’t handle the free speech they claim to love so much. Compare my comment section with The Patriot Nurse’s cowardly declaration that she won’t allow comments after her video.

In other words, call her out.