The “I told you so” fantasy, or: The fallacy of future vindication

Last week, I noted a particularly loathsome trend (even for antivaccinationists) to invoke Holocaust analogies for what they view as the “vaccine-induced autism epidemic holocaust.” Now, loathsome analogies are not uncommon among antivaccinationists, who routinely refer to their children as “damaged” or “toxic” and view them as somehow not their “real” children, but this time around, former reporter turned hack editor for the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism fantasized about dragging his former colleagues through the “evidence” for a vaccine Holocaust the same way that Allied troops forced German civilians to view the piles of bodies in concentration camps like Dachau after the liberation of Nazi Germany to show them what was going on right under their noses so that they could not deny that they knew anything about it.

It occurred to me, however, that Olmsted’s fantasy is only a particularly disgusting version of the same fantasy that you hear time and time again from people who continue to believe that vaccines cause autism despite the mountains of evidence that have failed to find even a whiff of a hint of a link. It’s what I like to call the “I’ll show them!” fallacy or maybe the fallacy of future vindication. Basically, it’s the idea that someday, in some fantastical future, the medical and scientific community will realize that antivaccine cranks are not cranks at all, that they were right all along and that vaccines are the horrible thing that vaccine-autism conspiracy theorists claim them to be. It’s the fantasy that antivaccine quacks like Andrew Wakefield will cease to be viewed as quacks and cranks and be recognized for the forward-thinking geniuses that the antivaccine movement believe them to be. Yes, this fantasy says, these doctors today are shunned, viewed as pseudoscientists and quacks, but someday their brilliance will be undeniable, and then we’ll rub the noses of the medical community in it much the same way Olmsted fantasizes about rubbing the noses of his former journalist colleagues in it, just like the way the Allies rubbed the noses of German civilians in the atrocities committed in their name during the Holocaust that they claimed they knew nothing about even though it was happening literally “right up the road” from where they lived.

An example of this sort of “thinking” is on display over at the most inaptly named blog of all time, The Thinking Moms’ Revolution, in a post entitled Autism Doctors: Hope For Our Children. It might better be called: Antivaccine quacks. Yet, these brave maverick doctors, these “geniuses” in the eyes of the not-so-Thinking Mom who goes by the ‘nym Cupcake are unjustly attacked by unimaginative and uncaring doctors:

In this day and age, where doctors are subjected to witch hunts and the mainstream medical system is poisoning our kids, I want to take the opportunity to thank those doctors who fight for our children’s health every day. Like Rhazes (806-932AD), these doctors strive for the truth in spite of false allegations against them and in spite of society calling them charlatans and governments taking their licenses away. Our autism doctors of today are treated much in the same way Vesalius and Servetus were treated during the inquisition. They will be vindicated. I have faith that the truth will come out and those individuals helping our children will prevail.

So, not only is the “persecution” of cranks like Wakefield akin to the Holocaust, apparently, but it’s also like the Inquisition. Of course, one can’t help but note that Servetus was not condemned to death for his medical practices, but rather for religious reasons, specifically denying the Trinity and criticizing the practice of infant baptism. In other words, it was not for his medical work, and there is considerable doubt that Vesalius was ever actually a target of the Inquisition. Be that as it may, to Cupcake apparently Vesalius’ history of having corrected the work of Galen, whose anatomic descriptions of humans famously had been based on dissections of apes, is akin to the refutation of much of Galen’s work. Cupcake’s lionization of “brave maverick doctors” continues to hilarious extremes. For instance:

There are stories like this all across America and beyond our borders. Our children are sick and need people like our good doctors sticking their necks out to heal them. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy has helped countless children regain speech, heal the gut, increase cognition, decrease hyperactivity and a host of other gains. However, doctors like Dan Rossignol are thought to endanger the lives of children that use mHBOT and are discredited in much the same way as Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier when he theorized that oxygen exchanged with carbon dioxide in the lungs. People thought he was a fool, and yet, we know this to be true today. I have yet to meet a family negatively affected by mHBOT. You hear about ONE family of a friend of a friend of a friend, but honestly, no one ever gives a name. Let’s just say I know far more people that benefitted than had a negative experience. A geneticist we saw for suspected mitochondrial dysfunction lectured us ad naseum about the dangers of mHBOT for anyone and anything other than wound healing. Clearly, he was uneducated about other illnesses or conditions benefitting from mHBOT such as brain injuries, CO poisoning, MS and others.

Yes, that’s right. Brave maverick doctor “visionaries” who subject autistic children to HBOT are akin to Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier. Of course. Lavoisier was not killed for his scientific discoveries, nor was he “discredited” for them. He went to the guillotine during the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution because he had been a powerful figure in the deeply unpopular Ferme Générale, 28 feudal tax collectors for the king. In fact, Lavoisier’s supporters tried to argue for clemency for him because of his scientific achievements, arguing that he should be spared so that he could continue his researches. The judge’s famous retort to this plea was, “The Republic needs neither scientists nor chemists; the course of justice cannot be delayed.” Joseph Louis Lagrange lamented Lavoisier’s execution thusly, “It took them only an instant to cut off his head, but France may not produce another such head in a century.” One also notes that Lavoisier is listed among eminent Roman Catholic scientists who defended their faith against those who would use science to attack it. In other words, Lavoisier was indeed a great scientist. It is also true that he did encounter resistance to some of his ideas from other scientists, but, whatever scientific disagreements there were, he was highly respected and hardly considered a “fool” for his discovery of how respiration functioned similarly to burning to produce carbon dioxide.

Elsewhere, another not-so-Thinking Mom going by the ‘nym Mama Mac envisions a Museum of Autism:

A beginning glimmer of hope emerges in the exhibit with a discussion of Lovaas’s ABA method and the brand new idea that Autistic children could improve. Then the numbers of children diagnosed with Autism begins to surge around 1984 and we start to see that spark of hope ignite as the first ‘Mercury Parents’ outlined in David Kirby’s book Evidence of Harm start the parent led activism that has brought us out of this despicable nightmare. We see the dawn of DAN medicine when physician Autism parents, like Bernard Rimland, refute the ridiculous party line because their experience of autism is a sick child, a child that needs medical care. The history continues with the saga of Dr. Andrew Wakefield who dares to question the safety of the MMR vaccine and is vilified for it. Autism Speaks steps into the fray and Jenny McCarthy picks up the mantle of hope. The numbers become staggering and parents become educated. As parents function as wise consumers of medical care for their children the pharmaceutical hold on pediatric care begins to crumble. This is where I think we are today. Daily greater numbers of parents are refusing to support ‘one-size-fits-all’ vaccination programs insisting on pediatric care based on real science and a hearty dose of common sense.

I had a really hard time not laughing out loud when Mama Mac described herself and other parents chasing quackery as “wise consumers.” Moreover, as I pointed out, common sense is not so common and often not even sense. Funny, but I even used a TMR post to illustrate the principle, just as I’ll finish up by quoting one last TMR post by Mama Mac to come to the conclusion that perhaps this should be called the “I told you so” gambit. I’ll quote generously, because Mama Mac brings home the stupid quite well:

I would never say, “I told you so” to a parent; however, I feel differently about my conversations with medical providers. I’ve talked with many of Nick’s doctors about my concerns involving vaccine and antibiotic safety. I’ve also talked with lots of friends who are doctors and scientists. With the exception of a rare few, their usual reaction is polite disdain.

Medical providers of small children have tremendous power and responsibility in the Autism/vaccine debate. They do have the time to critically analyze the studies on this subject for flawed design, author bias, and affiliation of practice, pharmaceutical ties and relationship to the vaccine industry. Autism mothers find time to do this and we are the busiest people on earth. Pediatricians must demand better leadership from their professional organizations in the area of vaccination safety practices and get help standing up to pharmaceutical interests that infiltrate the way they practice medicine.

When the Autism/Vaccine shit hits the fan, which is inevitable, I will shout, “I told you so” to every one of these arrogant S.O.B’s. because it has been on their watch that more children have been harmed. Whether through their denial, passivity or stubborn adherence to medical orthodoxy, they have ignored innumerable attempts to raise their awareness of the risks of the current vaccine schedule. They will have more blood on their hands if they do not acknowledge this crisis in children’s health now and make adjustments to the way they practice. How will they justify their actions ten years from now? “We just didn’t know” might have been acceptable in the early ‘90’s. In 2012 we know. How will they live with the shame? Will they be able to forgive themselves for the damage they are inflicting today?

Notice how much better Mama Mac thinks that she and her fellow un-Thinking Moms are. Those horrible doctors just don’t care. They don’t have the time to read studies critically or they don’t have any interest! Only Mama Mac and her brave band of mavericks understand enough to recognize design flaws in research studies and to ferret out all those horrible conflicts of interest. Never mind that they are the personification of the arrogance of ignorance, thinking that their University of Google-won pseudoknowledge trumps the knowledge of scientists and doctors who have devoted their entire careers to studying vaccines and/or autism. It would be one thing if all their “study” actually produced evidence that they understand the basic concepts involved, but it doesn’t and they don’t. Instead of focusing on the totality of evidence, they focus in like a laser beam only on evidence that supports their preconceived notions that vaccines are an evil threat to their children and the cause of autism and pretty much every other chronic health problem suffered by children these days.

And, of course, Mama Mac concludes with the fantasy of vindication, the “I told you so” fantasy. Like the mad scientist in a horror movie, she’s basically saying, “They thought me mad—mad, I tell you!—but I’ll show them! I’ll show them all! Just you wait and see!”

Now imagine that ranting and apply it to every quack, crank, and pseudoscientist pushing the antivaccine myth, and you’ll have an idea of how these cranks think of themselves: As persecuted visionaries who will ultimately be vindicated. Never once does the thought enter their mind that they might be wrong, that the reason they are viewed as cranks or treated with “polite disdain” is because they are so obviously wrong. That’s what separates them from real scientists. Sure, real scientists who believe unpopular things also believe that some day they will be vindicated, but they also carefully consider the possibility that they might be wrong and are prepared to change course if the evidence demands it.

So unlike the un-Thinking Moms and the brave maverick doctors they lionize.