A bit of antivaccine misinformation from the left and the right

Thanks, Daily Kos.

Well, not really. You’ll see why in a minute, but first here’s the background. There’s a general impression out there that the political right is associated with the antiscience that includes anthropogenic global warming denialism, denial of evolution, and denial of aspects of reproductive biology that don’t jibe with their religious beliefs, and that consensus while the political left’s brand of antiscience includes antivaccine beliefs and fear mongering about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Of course, as I’ve discussed many times before, it’s more complicated than that, with there being no strong evidence, for instance, that antivaccinationism is more strongly associated with liberal political views than conservative political views, and there’s plenty of evidence of right-wing opposition to GMOs and to vaccines based on the same pseudoscience that launched nonsensical studies like those by Gilles-Eric Séralini at the University of Caen and Judy Carman from the Institute of Health and Environmental Research in Australia. It just tends to be the reasons that differ. For instance, antivaccinationists on the left tend to fear vaccines because they view them as somehow “unnatural” and products of big pharma, which they hate and fear, while antivaccinationists on the right tend to oppose not so much vaccines themselves, but any sort of vaccine mandate, as “big government” overreach. Indeed, there was an excellent example of this just the other day with Rush Limbaugh’s less talented and intelligent wannabe doppleganger, Sean Hannity, ranting against the recent school flu vaccine mandate by New York City as “forced vaccination”:


Note that it’s Hannity and the Republican strategist who are against this mandate, while the Democratic strategist is the voice of reason. And, of course, Sean Hannity has promoted “health freedom” with respect to cancer quackery in the past. Hannity also notes that other conservative “luminaries” like the ever-despicable Mark Levin are into “holistic” therapy as he defends the rights of homeopaths not to vaccinate.

But back to Kos. Earlier this week, there was a brain-numbingly stupid antivaccine screed by a Kos diarist with the ‘nym carolinewriter entitled Beef heart, human diploid tissue, air bags–I tie it all together .. The only reason I didn’t get to it earlier this week is because of rapid-fire developments in the case of Sarah Hershberger, Stanislaw Burzynski, and the Katie Couric show about HPV vaccines. This Kos article begins with one of the most brain dead of antivaccine arguments ever, one that I’ve heard time and time again in various forms:

If I witnessed my child get bruised and harmed immediately after he was hurt by an air bag, and a journalist reported on it so that we could make them safer, no one would accuse the journalist or me of being “anti-air bag” or try to reframe our argument that we were “against air bags” or “anti-science”. Instead, we would be applauded for trying to make the air bags as safe as possible. After all, I BOUGHT a car with an air bag, right? I was PRO-AIR BAG . But they didn’t work as expected. I want them to work better. I want my son’s suffering to prevent another child’s suffering. I want air bags to save children but at the same time, be designed in a way that hurts as few as possible. If the injury is not acknowledged, how can we make the air bag better? If I am silent, they will not continue to refine the air bags or test them or find out why my son was hurt –what was different about him– so that they can prevent future injury.

Only one source would try to make that bogus straw man argument. The car manufacturer, who did not want to go to the trouble to make the air bags safer. And agencies that actually think the populace is so stupid that if they knew air bags could harm some kids, they wouldn’t buy cars with air bags.

Be careful. There’s a black hole of stupidity embedded in this post so powerful that it’s likely to suck the intelligence embedded in even the hardiest collection of neurons past its event horizon into its massive ignorance. Yes, this is the same disingenuous “I’m not ‘anti-vaccine’; I’m pro-safe vaccine” argument beloved of antivaccinationists since time immemorial (or at least since before I started paying attention to the issue). Here’s the problem. These “injuries” that carolinewriter attributes to vaccines are not due to vaccines. They are, as antivaccinationists have an amazing propensity to latch onto, a classic example of confusing correlation with causation. It’s not as though these questions haven’t been studied time and time and time again. The result is always the same in studies that have been conducted rigorously with large numbers of subjects: There is no correlation between vaccination and autism, developmental delay, autoimmune disease, or any other of the conditions antivaccinationists frequently associate with vaccination.

But carolinewriter is all about the science, maaaan, so much so that she has to convince people with her bona fides as a science-loving liberal:

Katie Couric just got shamed into retracting a story that reported on vaccine injuries from the HPV vaccine. She was accused of being “anti-science”. Tell me. I have a B.S. from Carnegie Mellon. I am VERY far left life time liberal. I respect science. SO I know that nothing is 100% safe and if an industry is bullying us by demanding we say it is, or get shamed into silence, they are trying to hide something. This is not new to Pharma. They have done this with product after product. The only difference is that even the left has been duped by their accusation that any questioning of vaccine ingredients, policies, or side effects, is “anti-science”. How is it “anti science” to point out that no medical product is perfect, and that we need to make them as safe as possible? How is it “anti-science” to say, I witnessed this from my child, and there are MANY credible studies that explain why this could have happened, why it is plausible: http://www.fourteenstudies.org/…

Yes indeed. Given how cold it is in my neck of the woods these days, along with a threat of significant snow beginning tonight, I do so love a giant burning straw man that you can see from space. Maybe it’ll help keep me warm. Of course, no one is saying that it is “antiscience” to point out that all pharmaceutical products have a risk-benefit profile. That is not, however, what carolinewriter and her fellow antivaccinationists are doing. The are doing what I like to call “misinformed consent” in that they inflate the risks of vaccines and downplay their benefits, citing a website by a bunch of the most passionate antivaccinationists on the planet as her “evidence” to support her claims. These studies are either horrible studies or misrepresented. Either way, they do not show what the antivaccine group behind the website (Generation Rescue) claim that they show. Not at all, not now, not ever. In fact, carolinewriter, by citing those papers, pretty much invalidated any claim she might have to be “science-based.”

carolinewriter also can’t resist using an old antivaccine trope so hoary that she probably had to brush the fossilized dinosaur feces off of it before trotting it out, namely what I like to call the “toxins” gambit. I’ve written about it many, many times. For all her claims of being pro-science, carolinewriter appears not to understand something so basic as the concept of dose-response curves and the well-known medical maxim that the dose makes the poison. Instead she trots out the same old trope of scary-sounding ingredients in some vaccines:

The following ingredients are in the DTaP-IPV/Hib (Pentacel) vaccine, just for example. This is from the CDC site. Is it not plausible that SOME infants might get a dangerous reaction from these? The package inserts on each vaccine, and on GARDISIL!, also mention that some patients may have allergic reactions, and worse, and if they do, you should stop vaccinating that patient with followup vaccines. Read this from the DTP 5-way shot:

aluminum phosphate, polysorbate 80, formaldehyde, gutaraldehyde, bovine serum albumin, 2-phenoxethanol, neomycin, polymyxin B sulfate, Mueller’s Growth Medium, Mueller-Miller casamino acid medium (without beef heart infusion), Stainer-Scholte medium (modified by the addition of casamino acids and dimethyl-beta-cyclodextrin), MRC-5 (human diploid) cells, CMRL 1969 medium (supplemented with calf serum).

Here’s a hint. Think dose. I suppose I should be grateful that she didn’t do what our old bud Dr. Jay Gordon did and try to compare vaccine manufacturers to tobacco companies back in the day when tobacco companies were doing everything they could to deny the emerging science showing how harmful cigarette smoke is to human health.

I will admit, however, that it was a mildly clever ploy to try to link vaccines to other complaints about big business and big pharma. The woman knows her audience, and no one is saying that we should trust big business and big pharma unconditionally or that criticizing big pharma is “anti-science.” What is antiscience is making claims for harm from vaccines that are not only not supported by science but refuted by science and making them using pseudoscientific arguments from antivaccine activist groups. That’d do it. So would her referring to a study listed on PubMed as an “NIH study” just because, apparently, it is listed in PubMed, even though they are not actually NIH studies. In fact, the study she cites is from Brazil.

So would a passage like this:

Mothers Against Drunk Driving were not against cars or even drinking. They were for safer drinking. Nearly everyone I have ever known personally who fights for vaccine safety fight for vaccines to be SAFER not to eliminate vaccines. Yes, there are a few who are simply “against” vaccines with no coherent reason. But they are the straw men and they don’t represent parents who have seen serious harm come to their infants, who just happen to have different, more sensitive metabolisms. Their only motivation is to prevent others from suffering as their family did, to acknowledge this occurs so that we can treat it accordingly, to identify who is at risk, and to make vaccines safer for others. What other product on the face of the earth is purported to be one hundred per cent safe? It is anti science to suggest that Vaccines are perfectly safe! That is it acceptable to allow harm to some “for the greater good” without acknowledging it, trying to identify who might be at risk, or trying to prevent it.

Ah, more straw men set afire with flamethrowers of burning stupid. No one says anyone is simply “against” vaccines with no coherent reason. They are, however, against vaccines for reasons that seem coherent to them but are rooted in the cognitive quirks that all humans share that lead us to be too quick to confuse correlation with causation, along with a heaping helping of motivated reasoning. Also, no one who is pro-vaccine claims that vaccines are “perfectly safe.” We point out that the scientific evidence indicates that they are incredibly safe and that their risk-benefit ratio is incredibly favorable, but we do not claim that adverse reactions to vaccines never happen or that it is antiscience to question whether vaccines are “perfectly safe.” We do point out that it is antiscience to deny vaccine science, cherry pick studies, and promote misinformed consent by claiming vaccines cause adverse events that science shows they almost certainly don’t cause.

Finally, if you really want a reliable indicator of someone who is antiscience on an issue, it’s when that person tries to turn the “antiscience” charge around and falsely level it at her critics:

You cannot imagine my frustration as a lefty who has seen this happen with my own eyes and my own son, having my motives and experience attacked and misrepresented, by my fellow liberals. I know global warming happens and in fact, I equate vaccine injury deniers to global warming deniers. (The pharma industry flipped that analogy on its head and everybody bought it . . . . ) I think GMOs are dangerous. I campaigned for Obama. I love Alan Grayson and Elizabeth Warren. And my child WAS injured by a vaccine. A vaccine that is sold at great profit by a giant corporation that uses tobacco science tactics to silence those who have been harmed. Please start listening and stop attacking parents and vaccine injury victims. Support us in our quest for safer vaccines. For the good of your own future infant, or your teenager, so that his or her vaccines can be as safe as possible, just in case he or she has the metabolism that can’t process heavy metal adjuvants or other odd ingredients. This is not anti-science. It’s common sense. I know some of you will attack this. I am willing to pay that price in honor of my son’s struggle. I hope others will start to wake up. Thank you.

I find it amusing that carolinewriter tries to convince her readers that she’s not antiscience by claiming that she thinks GMOs are dangerous. Here’s a hint: That’s even more evidence that she’s probably antiscience. I bet she probably cites the same sort of pseudoscience and antiscience to justify her fear of GMOs, such as the studies I mentioned above. Of course, then she uses a tactic beloved of the antivaccine crowd over at AoA, to try to co-opt the term “denialism” to use against those who argue science by referring to them as “vaccine injury denialists” or “vaccine injury deniers.” Unfortunately, she chose one of the worst examples imaginable. The science showing that AGW is happening is very strong, consisting of studies from a wide variety of sources and disciplines all converging on the same conclusion: That human activity is a major contributor to global climate change. The “science” supporting vaccine injury, at least as viewed by antivaccinationists, consists of a flimsy patchwork of bad science, pseudoscience, and antiscience “studies.” There is no comparison.

All of us feel sympathy for a parent, like carolinewriter, who has a special needs child. That sympathy sometimes even causes us to hold back and sometimes even not to refute pseudoscience. It shouldn’t, particularly when one promotes dangerous pseudoscience. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter whether it’s Sean Hannity or carolinewriter promoting dangerous antivaccine pseudoscience. It needs to be countered.