The “toxin gambit,” resurrected

Well, I’m here. That’s right. As I mentioned yesterday, I’m at CSICon. As is the case when I’m at conferences, be they skeptical conferences or professional conferences, it’s hard to predict the blogging time available. It could be a lot; it could be a little. Or it could be none. (Well, obviously it’s not none, or you wouldn’t be reading this.) In any case, there was lots of stuff going on, plus there was the second game of the World Series, which made me miss the live recording of The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. Oh, well. Steve understood. So I wasn’t up for any heavy lifting or taking on a complex study. Maybe later. In the meantime, fortunately for me, everybody’s favorite quackery promoter (at least for blogging purposes) Mike Adams provided me with a topic that, while I’ve discussed it before, deserves being revisited from time to time. Besides, it’s Friday, and I often like to take the blog in a lighter direction on Fridays, and there is little lighter intellectually than a Mike Adams screed.

Certain antivaccine canards never die, no matter how many stakes you stick through their heart or how many silver bullets you shoot them with or how many headshots you’ve pumped into them (depending on whether your favorite metaphor is a vampire, werewolf, or zombie, of course). One such canard is what I like to call the “toxins gambit.” Over the years, we’ve seen it used by such antivaccine “luminaries” as Jenny McCarthy, Dr. Jay Gordon, and others. Basically, it consists of listing all sorts of scary-sounding ingredients that are found in vaccines and then trying to argue that vaccines are horrific cesspits of toxins because they contain trace amounts of formaldehyde, for example. It’s a truly stupid, brain dead gambit, but no matter how many times it’s slapped down, there will always be some ignorant antivaccinationist who will resurrect it. (It’s like a lot of antivaccine misinformation that way, actually, but even more so.) Oddly enough, I had thought that this particular bit of silliness had finally faded away because I hadn’t seen it in a while. Leave it to someone like Mike Adams, the Health Danger, to bring it up again in an article entitled What’s really in vaccines? Proof of MSG, formaldehyde, aluminum and mercury.

MSG? O. My. God. The horrors! (And a new one on me.)

Get a load of Mike’s nonsense:

Have you ever wondered what’s really in vaccines? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s vaccine additives page, all the following ingredients are routinely used as vaccine additives:

• Aluminum – A light metal that causes dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. You should never inject yourself with aluminum.

Except that there’s no good evidence that aluminum adjuvants in vaccines cause dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The evidence regarding whether large amounts of aluminum can cause Alzheimer’s disease is at worst inconclusive. Here’s a hint: The amount of aluminum in vaccines is not anywhere near what we would call a large amount.

• Antibiotics – Chemicals that promote superbugs, which are deadly antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that are killing tens of thousands of Americans every year.

This is even sillier than the aluminum gambit. It’s as though Adams thinks his audience is too ignorant or stupid to understand that trace amounts of antibiotics left over from the manufacturing process are enough to select bacteria for resistance. I mean, really? Really, Mike? This is the very definition of a non sequitur. It does not follow from the fact that antibiotics, when improperly used (and sometimes even when properly used) can select for resistant bacteria that trace amounts of antibiotics in vaccines are in any way dangerous. The amount in vaccines is so small that it’s not even anywhere near a therapeutic dose.

• Formaldehyde – A “pickling” chemical used to preserve cadavers. It’s highly toxic to the nervous system, causing blindness, brain damage and seizures. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services openly admits that formaldehyde causes cancer. You can see this yourself on the National Toxicology Program website, featuring its 12th Report on Carcinogens.

There, the formaldehyde Fact Sheet completely neglects to mention formaldehyde in vaccines. This is the “dirty little secret” of government and the vaccine industry. It does state, however, that “…formaldehyde causes myeloid leukemia, and rare cancers including sinonasal and nasopharyngeal cancer.”

Here we go again with the formaldehyde gambit (a variant of the toxin gambit). What Adams neglects to mention is that these reports on formaldehyde and cancer suggest that formaldehyde can cause cancer at high concentrations. We’re talking about industrial workers and embalmers exposed to high concentrations of formaldehyde. We’re talking animal studies in which animals are exposed to high levels of formaldehyde. We’re not talking about small amounts in vaccines. As the CHOP Vaccine Education Center discusses, the most formaldehyde that an infant might be exposed to through vaccines at one time is around 0.2 mg, less than one fifth the normal amount of formaldehyde circulating in an infant’s bloodstream. That’s a “worse case scenario.” Usually it’s less than that. Once again, Adams knows that his audience, most non-physicians, and a depressing number of physicians are unaware of that fact; so it sounds scary: “Oh, my god! Don’t you know formaldehyde is in embalming fluid????”

I could go on and on, but I do think it’s interesting to observe the techniques of a crank like Adams. For instance, he goes on and on about the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal in vaccines, neglecting to mention that thimerosal was removed from most childhood vaccines in 2001 and vaccines that still contain thimerosal are all available in a thimerosal-free version. He also neglects to mention that multiple studies have been done since the late 1990s when there was the most concern about thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism and failed to find any correlation with autism or other neurological diseases. The link between thimerosal and autism is a failed hypothesis.

Of course, science is not what Adams is about. Fear mongering is. That’s why he follows up with this passage:

Now, consider this: The most common side effect of a vaccine injection is a headache. The CDC admits that over 30 percent of those receiving vaccines experience headaches or migraines. Gee, think about it: What could possibly be in vaccines that would cause headaches, migraines and brain damage?

Ummm, how about the mercury, the formaldehyde, the aluminum and the MSG!

Even if you believe in the theory of vaccines as a helpful way to train the immune system to recognize pathogens, why would anyone — especially a doctor — think it’s okay to inject human beings with mercury, MSG, formaldehyde and aluminum?

The CDC fact sheet referenced by Adams does mention that about 1 in 3 people complain of headaches within a two weeks receiving a vaccine. One wonders what percentage of people who don’t get a vaccine complain of a headache sometime in any given two week period. Headaches are extremely common. I probably average a at least a headache or two every month. Correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation. These are simply symptoms that have been reported, and the CDC even points that out, writing, “It is not clear whether these mild or serious problems were caused by the vaccine or occurred after vaccination by chance.” My guess is that the more common ones are probably not (or mostly not) related to vaccination. Again, we’re talking really, really common complaints that even healthy people experience, such as headaches, stuffy nose (which I have right now as I type this; I suspect allergies), abdominal pain (which I actually have a mild case of as I write this, having eaten a burger a few hours ago that really stuffed me), and diarrhea, which is also very common.

Adams then asks:

If vaccines are supposed to be good for you, why do they contain so many additives that are BAD for you? You wouldn’t want to eat mercury in your tuna fish. You wouldn’t want MSG in your sandwich, and you certainly wouldn’t want formaldehyde in your soda. So why would you allow yourself to be injected with these deadly substances?

And just as importantly, why wouldn’t the vaccine industry offer CLEAN vaccines? Without any brain-damaging additives?

Think about it: When you buy health food, you want that health food to have NO mercury, NO MSG, NO aluminum and certainly no formaldehyde. No sane person would knowingly eat those neurotoxic poisons. And yet, astonishingly, those same people literally line up to be INJECTED with those exact same brain-damaging poisons, with the justification that, somehow, “This injection is good for me!”

Absurdly, the vaccine industry says these toxic ingredients are intentionally added to vaccines to make them work better! Yes, that’s the reason: Mercury makes vaccines work better, they insist. Click here to see a video news report actually claiming mercury makes vaccines work better, granting children “improved behavior and mental performance.”

This is the news report that Adams is talking about, and, yes, some idiot reporter does completely misinterpret a couple of studies looking at thimerosal-containing vaccines. I rather suspect that at least one study to which the reporter is referring is Thompson et al, which basically looked at multiple 42 neuropsychological outcomes in children vaccinated with thimerosal-containing vaccines. The study found that a few outcomes were improved and a few were worse in an almost exactly even number. This was almost exactly what would be expected by random chance alone if there were no effect, and the authors therefore quite properly concluded that they found no association between thimerosal-containing vaccines and adverse neuropsychological outcomes. In an intellectually dishonest fashion, antivaccinationists pointed to the handful of measures with poorer outcomes and ignored the ones with better outcomes. Of course. This reporter seems to be having difficulty going the other direction. I’m not sure what the other study to which she refers is, but I’d bet that it’s the same issue she’s confusing.

So basically, Adams’ argument boils down to finding a single reporter who doesn’t know what she’s doing when analyzing medical research and basing his claim that the media is trying to tell you that mercury is good for you on that. Of course, the real reason that these substances are in vaccines is because, given current manufacturing technology, they need to be in vaccines. Formaldehyde is used to inactivate viruses. Antibiotics are used to inhibit bacterial growth and, depending on the vaccine, to select for bacteria containing the plasmid that produces the protein antigens used in the vaccine. Thimerosal used to be used as a preservative for multiple dose vials. Contrary to what Adams says (namely that thimerosal is still used because of greed and the desire not to produce single-dose vials), in Third World countries there are often difficulties keeping vaccines refrigerated, and multidose vials are cheaper per dose, where cost is an issue.

To Adams, though, this is the real purpose of vaccines:

That’s the real purpose of vaccines: Not to “protect children” with any sort of immunity, but to inject the masses with a toxic cocktail of chemicals that cause brain damage and infertility: Mercury, MSG, formaldehyde and aluminum. The whole point of this is to dumb the population down so that nobody has the presence of mind to wake up and start thinking for themselves.

This is precisely why the smartest, most “awake” people still remaining in society today are the very same ones who say NO to vaccines. Only their brains are still intact and operating with some level of awareness.

This is one of the dumbest antivaccine talking points there is. It would be hilarious if so many people didn’t believe it (or half believe it). Notice the vastly inflated view that Adams has of himself that he uses to pander to his audience. Only he and those who refuse vaccines are smart. Only they still have functioning brains, because they haven’t vaccinated. They are superior to all those sheeple who vaccinate. Adams even abuses a classic George Carlin clip to make his point. One can’t help but remember that George Carlin’s description of people who can’t think critically applies to the antivaccinationists far more than it does to those who vaccinate.

Finally, what I can’t figure out is this. If the “world masters” that Adams describes want a docile workforce, one would wonder why they’d choose to load vaccines with all sorts of “toxic chemicals” to do it. Wouldn’t it be easier just to put the mind control chemicals in the drinking water? Or in other products. Oh, wait. It’s Mike Adams. They’re doing that too. In any case, I still can’t figure out why the corporate masters would want everyone to be infertile. Wouldn’t it make more sense to encourage reproduction, the better to produce more willing consumers? I know. I know. It’s Mike Adams. It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s Mike Adams.

Still, I stand in awe at the contempt that Adams has for his audience. he lays down huge quantities of misinformation, pseudoscience, and lies that are so transparent and self-contradictory that it doesn’t take huge amounts of critical thinking skills to see right through them. His audience doesn’t see right through Adams’ stew of misinformation, logical fallacies, and utter nonsense. And Adams knows they don’t.