“Common sense” that isn’t

“Common sense” is not so common. Actually, that’s not exactly right. What I meant was that what most people think of as “common sense” has little or nothing to do with what science concludes. Evidence talks, “common sense” walks. I saw a fantastic example to illustrate this point on a certain blog that I’ve found nearly as useful as a target topic to blog about as the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism (AoA). I’m referring, of course, to The Thinking Moms’ Revolution (TMR), an antivaccine crank blog almost as cranky as (and sometimes even more cranky than) AoA., and the post that drew my attention was called, simply, Common Sense. Unfortunately, for BK (the blogger who wrote the piece), her definition of common sense and real common sense are related only by coincidence, not unlike the way that the TMR’s definition of “thinking” and real thinking are related only by coincidence. It won’t take long to show you what I mean.

After saying “But I’m a Thinker now” (yes, she did capitalize the word “Thinker”), BK launches into a list of questions that she apparently believes to be profound. She also apparently thinks that the commonly given answers to the questions by proponents of science0-based medicine are completely off-base because they go against “common sense.” The result is about as mind-meltingly stupid as you would imagine. I was half-tempted to leave the deconstruction of all the questions as an exercise for my readers, but you know that Orac don’t roll that way. On the other hand, I can—ahem—cherry pick a few of my favorite examples and riff on them a bit in whatever order I feel like. You, of course, can feel free to riff on some of the rest to your heart’s content. Given that this is a holiday weekend coming up, and it’s a long week, it’s the perfect low stress way to end the week and, unlike yesterday’s post and other recent posts, doesn’t require me to delve into studies or complicated scientific arguments.

I mean, really. It’s embarrassing. I literally felt embarrassment for BK, and you should too after reading these. Let’s start with one of the dumbest ones of all:

If formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, why is THAT okay to inject directly into our bodies? How is it possible that known carcinogens “strengthen” the immune system?

As has been explained time and time again to antivaccinationists, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen at exposures much, much higher than any that result from vaccination. Formaldehyde is also a byproduct of normal metabolism. That’s right, the baby’s body makes formaldehyde every minute of every day at low levels, and, even better, the amount of formaldehyde in a typical vaccine is small. It never ceases to amaze me how the concept of “the dose makes the poison” escapes quacks and especially believers in antivaccine quackery. To them, apparently, even a single molecule of a chemical in a vaccine is irretrievably dangerous, at least as long as the has a scary-sounding chemical name or an otherwise bad reputation. Many other examples come to mind, such as polysorbate 80, aluminum adjuvants, ether, and of course the most brain dead of all gambit, namely the “antifreeze in vaccines” gambit.

Well, maybe that’s not the dumbest antivaccine gambit. The absolute dumbest antivaccine gambit is the claim that “aborted fetal tissues” and/or “cells from aborted fetuses” are in vaccines. Not surprisingly, BK uses this gambit:

If you are pro-life, why wouldn’t you be concerned/outraged that vaccines were created and cultivated with the cells of aborted fetal tissue?

Yes, as I’ve described before, the manufacture of some vaccines requires that the virus the vaccine protects against to be grown in a human cell line that was derived from fetal lung back in the 1960s. These cells have been passaged in culture for hundreds of cell divisions over the last 40-50 years. It’s not as though vaccine manufacturers grind up fetuses to make vaccines, although that is clearly what is being implied. At the very least, antivaccinationists don’t try to disabuse their followers of this concept because that would defeat the very purpose of using what is in essence a “guilt by association” fallacy. In any case, claiming that there is “aborted fetal tissue” in vaccines or that vaccines were “created and cultivated with the cells of aborted fetal tissue” is like saying that using HeLa cells in an experiment is the same thing as using Henrietta Lacks’ cervix. Actually, it’s even dumber than that, because there are no cells left from human cells in vaccines.

Then there’s another antivaccine favorite:

If vaccines work, then how are non-vaccinated kids a danger to vaccinated children? Wouldn’t that make the vaccinated children protected?

When I see something like this, I want to reach out and shake the person writing it. No one who has the barest understanding of the concept of herd immunity and how vaccines work would ever say something so revealing of her ignorance. Well, strike that. Obviously BK would. She apparently dosen’t realize that vaccines are not 100% effective, which means unvaccinated children are a danger to vaccinated children. True, they are less of a danger than if the child had never been vaccinated in the first place, but if a vaccine is 90% effective (a very good vaccine), that means 10% of vaccinated children are still potentially susceptible to the disease. That’s where the concept of herd immunity comes in. In order to prevent the organism causing a disease to be able to spread in the population, a certain percentage of the population must be vaccinated, a percentage that depends on the effectiveness of the vaccine and the transmissibility of the disease and is usually north of 90%.

I could go on, but you get the idea. On second thought, I can’t resist one more:

If we know vaccines alter your immune system, why wouldn’t we automatically investigate vaccines as a cause of an autoimmune illness?

Of course, scientists do investigate vaccines as a cause of autoimmune disease. That BK is apparently unaware of these studies reveals her ignorance more than anything else. For instance, a PubMed search of “vaccine” and “autoimmune disease” brings up 3,860 results. You can disagree with the research results if you like (although it would be helpful if you had valid reasons, something antivaccinationists virtually never do). You can even argue that vaccines are not investigated enough as a cause of autoimmune disease. You’d be wrong, but you can argue that. However, to imply that that we don’t investigate vaccines as a cause of autoimmune disease is just wrong, but then there’s so much wrong in BK’s post that it’s hard to read. There’s also a not-so-subtle message inherent in BK’s question that somehow vaccines cause all sorts of autoimmune disease, if only scientists would open their minds.

And this is what BK calls “Thinking”?

The “Thinkers” (as they call themselves) in TMR labor under the delusion that they and they alone have shaken off ignorance and freed themselves to really, really “Think” with a capital T. They place themselves in contrast to everyone else. BK even says this, concluding by asking, “Am I the only one who wonders about these things?” The clear implication, of course, is that no one else beside this merry band of antivaccinationists, these “Thinking Moms,” bother to “Think,” with everyone else being “sheeple.”

If there’s a better crystallization of the arrogance of ignorance, I have a hard time finding it. What BK and the rest of the antivaccine crowd laud as “common sense” is anything but.