How “they” view “us” (briefly revisited)

Yesterday, I wrote about how “they” view “us,” the “they” being believers in dubious medicine, pseudoscience, and outright quackery. As examples, I used believers in the unsupported claims of “brave maverick” cancer doctor Stanislaw Burzynski and antivaccine activists who are utterly convinced, against all science and evidence, that vaccines caused their children’s autism. I pointed out at the time that many of these people really, really do believe that “we” (i.e., skeptics and supporters of science-based medicine who criticize the various modalities they passionately believe in) are not just wrong, but downright evil. They view us not just as opponents or people with whom they disagree, but as pharma shills who are actively trying to keep them from helping themselves or their relatives. One dismissed us by saying, “Evil people feed off of aggravating others. Bad people have no place in our healing journey.” (Yes, she used the word “evil,” and, yes, she seems to think that we do this for jollies because we like aggravating others.) Meanwhile, antivaccinationists rail against “hate campaigns” against Jenny McCarthy and how they view us as promoting autism (which they equate with evil, although only a few of them will directly say it). Indeed, to them we are promoting a “vaccine-autism Holocaust.” If you don’t believe me that antivaccinationists routinely use this term, Google “vaccine autism Holocaust.” Indeed, one parent has even stated:

For me, the denial that there is an autism epidemic is the medical equivalent of denial of the holocaust. In the spirit of protecting the vaccine industry from any linkage to autism, the pro-vax side not only denies that vaccines may be linked to autism but denies that there even is an autism epidemic.

Yes, that’s right. If you accept science and medicine, along with all the evidence that has failed to find even a whiff of a hint of a correlation between vaccines and autism, you’re the equivalent of David Irving, a Holocaust denier. As I said, that’s really how they view us. Or worse. In the comments at the antivaccine propaganda blog Age of Autism I found a real gem about the 1977 swine flu vaccine campaign, right after this post:

None of us understood that the people behind the swine flu vaccine fiasco were criminals who were experimenting on the public just like the Nazis.

Yep. To antivaccinationists, not only are supporters of vaccine programs just like Holocaust deniers, but they’re the equivalent of Nazi doctors carrying out horrific experiments on concentration camp prisoners. It only makes sense, of course. Holocaust deniers are almost always Hitler admirers or Nazi sympathizers; so it’s only a small step to go from calling someone a Holocaust denier to calling him a Nazi.

Visions of pro-vaccine Nazis dancing in antivaccinationists’ heads aside, it didn’t take long for me to become aware of one more example of just how evil antivaccinationists think “we” are. It comes from one of the usual hives of scum and quackery that promote such ideas, but not the mothership, Age of Autism. Rather, it comes from Mama Mac at the (not-so-)Thinking Mom’s Revolution in the form of a post entitled Dirty. Rotten. Scoundrels. It is a list of people that Mama Mac views as pure evil (or as “dirty rotten scoundrels). In the interests of serving my now-massive ego before I give praise where praise is due, I will have to point out how disappointed I was that I wasn’t included on the list. In fact, it’s been quite a while since the antivaccine crowd at AoA or its closely allied blogs has actually done me such an honor. I rather suspect that I’ve been too open on this blog and in other public forums about stating just how much of a badge of honor I view it to be counted as someone they really, really don’t like. It used to bother me, more because of the Google reputation poisoning than anything else, but now I view it as high affirmation that I’m doing good when someone like Mama Mac attacks me. Perhaps the antivaccinationists realize that now and won’t give me the satisfaction anymore, although Jake Crosby apparently hasn’t gotten the memo.

Be that as it may, with a couple of exceptions, the fourteen people listed as, apparently, “dirty rotten vaccine scoundrels” by Mama Mac are in actuality highly admirable people. We’ll dismiss the actual scoundrel first: Poul Thorsen. Antivaccinationists really, really like Poul Thorsen, not because he participated in (not ran) the Danish studies that failed to find a link between either the MMR vaccine or thimerosal in vaccines and autism. Thorsen, it turns out, has been accused of misappropriation and misuse of U.S. federal government grant money, and about a year ago the antivaccine movement went wild, trying to use the Thorsen case to distract from the inconvenient science that does not support their case. He was a convenient bogeyman, and they labored mightily to hold him up as “proof” that the Danish studies were hopelessly tainted by his fraud (if he is, in fact, guilty—after all, he has not been tried yet). Even though he was only a “middle of the pack” author on those studies (meaning that he clearly did not hold a leadership role in running or writing up the study), suddenly Thorsen was the face of the CDC and pro-vaccine movement. Why? Because he really is charged with fraud and he really was an investigator for the Danish studies. Of course, even if Thorsen is guilty, that doesn’t invalidate the Danish studies. Moreover, there’s a lot more evidence out there than the Danish studies that support the safety of the vaccine program and the lack of correlation between vaccines and the dire outcomes antivaccinationists attribute to them. Even if the Danish studies were hopelessly tainted, it would not alter the scientific consensus, because the Danish studies are not the be-all and end-all of vaccine safety studies. They are just, to quote a cliche, another scientific brick in the wall supporting the safety of vaccines.

In any case, if Thorsen is guilty, he really is a dirty, rotten scoundrel and should be locked up for a long time if convicted. He is not, however, a dirty rotten scoundrel who is the face of the vaccine program, as much as antivaccinationists stretch to try to convince you that he is.

The other somewhat questionable person on the list is Nancy Snyderman. She’s the chief medical correspondent for NBC News, and, on the good side, she’s been a staunch advocate for vaccine safety. Unfortunately, she isn’t always as careful as she should be about what she says about vaccines, and, worse from my standpoint, she has embraced quackery in the form of “integrative medicine.” I wouldn’t call her a “dirty rotten scoundrel,” but I would call her somewhat unreliable in her support of science. Of course, whatever Dr. Snyderman’s failings, they are not the fevered nonsense that Mama Mac tries to pin on her:

She believes simply that if you vaccinate, you are a good parent and if you don’t, you are not. She has said, “Just get your damn shots”. She values the herd over the child and is comfortable with an acceptable level of collateral vaccine damage in the war against infectious disease.

Actually, Snyderman’s saying “Just get your damn shots!” was one of her finer moments. I should make it a tag line for this blog.

The rest of Mama Mac’s list includes people who are, in fact, people I admire: Paul Offit (of course!) is there, because to antivaccinationists like Mama Mac he is Sauron, Darth Vader, Voldemort, Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot all rolled up into one. Why? Because he invented a vaccine for rotavirus that has saved lives and prevented suffering, and for that he is considered pure evil. For his contribution and (more directly) for his unflagging promotion of vaccines and his willingness to call the nonsense promoted by antivaccinationists exactly what it is, nonsense, he’s been subjected to the vilest attacks and slander at the hands of the antivaccine movement. It’s not surprising that on a couple of occasions the pressure got to him a bit, and he lost his cool. I only wonder at how he could have kept his cool for so long, given what he’s put up with. Bill Gates is also there, of course. Since he retired from the active management of Microsoft and dedicated his great wealth to philanthropy he’s become another Dark Lord of Vaccination, mainly because a large focus of the Gates Foundation’s work has been to promote vaccination campaigns in Third World countries as a means of promoting health and ending the scourge of preventable disease and death there. He also has no patience for the nonsense of the antivaccine movement, which is a plus. In fact, since Bill Gates ceased to lead Microsoft, he’s become a really great guy.

To get a bit more insight as to how antivaccinationists view such people, I can’t help but quote Nancy Hokkanen, a contributing editor to that wretched hive of scum and quackery, Age of Autism:

They reveal much about their narcissistic personalities via a chilling lack of compassion for vaccine-injured children and their families.

So let’s recap. Adding Hokkanen’s characterization, I conclude that “they” see “us” as narcissistic, lacking compassion, corrupt, and, yes, downright evil. Is it any wonder that they would come to the conclusion that virtually any tactic is justifiable in their crusade against medical science? It’s not hard to find similar quotes elsewhere about topics other than vaccines. Indeed, if you can stand the craziness and hostility, just wander on over to Patrick “Tim” Bolen’s website (The Bolen Report—I don’t want to link to it), and you’ll see even more hostile language directed at skeptics over not just vaccines, but cancer therapies, alternative medicine, supplements, and pretty much any other quackery you can think of. This hostility, this “us versus them” attitude is a feature, not a bug. Whipping it up is how quacks keep their supporters enthusiastic and how they continue to sell useless products. We’re not likely to penetrate such tribalism or to change the mind of people like Mama Mac, although on rare occasions we can. It’s far more important to get the fence-sitters and make sure good science-based information is out there for them.

Finally, overall, I can’t help but conclude that, other than for Poul Thorsen, this is a very good list of people who have actually made a contribution to the world. I also can’t help but point out the marked contrast between thirteen of the fourteen people on this list and people like Mama Mac. The people on this list in general do good for science, medicine, and society. Mama Mac? Well, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.