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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:…

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.

By Orac

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658 replies on “A bit of antivaccine misinformation from the left and the right”

In some ways, it’s scarier when somebody like carolinewriter does it than when a Hannity or Limbaugh does it. Most of the population, even those on the right, know that Limbaugh and Hannity are idiots. People are going to be more prone to take someone like carolinewriter seriously, which is scary, given the black hole of derp written above.

(Two other notes: First, I’ve read some studies that show that people on the political left are nearly as likely to have a disbelief in evolution as people on the political right (which I’m guessing is due to religious African-American and Hispanic Democrats). And second, MADD is anti-drinking, nowadays. But that’s not really relevant)

I forgot to mention that. It’s true. These days MADD is very obviously anti-drinking at least as much as it is anti-drunk driving.

The worst part about that rant–and it’s all pretty bad–was the poll and how it was worded. “Keep quiet” implies the only way to work towards change is to scream inflammatory things that don’t have real meaning. I personally don’t see someone like John Salamone as “antivaccine.” This chick and those who follow her? Yeah.

Does she ever say how her son was “damaged?” What does he have?

I had this thought: Back when Katie Couric was big on colon cancer, what would she have said if another journalist had brought on the wife of a man who died of a heart attack during the colonoscopy? Does that mean all colonscopies are unsafe and should be avoided? Or given the number of colonoscopies there are bound to be folks that have heart attacks during the procedure.

We need another logical fallacy about the abuse of the anecdote.

A. I’m adopting – with proper citation, of course – your “misinformed consent” language for future use.
B. Several of the commenters on the Couric threads have been banging the Vioxx drum very hard. Is this a new approach?

Carolinewriter didn’t try to compare vaccine manufacturers to tobacco manufacturers “back in the day”..

BUT Mikey sure did! .
Yesterday he ranted, railed and ragged on about the NYC policy embelllishing his post with the usual sparkling but brain-dead declarations and analogies:
” No legitimate scientist would ever argue that mercury is safe to inject *at any dose*”
“Why there is no such thing as a safe vaccine”
“New York City to become the capitol of autism in America”
“”.. parental rights trump the state”
It will become a “medical police state”
Similar material at PRN.

Both he and the other idiot cum laude attempt to appeal to BOTH ends of the political spectrum by speaking about a return to natural life and – of course- natural products which they hawk- conservatives might interpret this Rorshachian meme as a return to a by-gone era of g0dliness and purity whilst liberals interpret it as being about less interference from the Man( the Woman?) and the 1% corporatocracy towards their crunchy commune. Null even talks about starting a political party called “Progressive Libertarianism” and his “radio station” is the PROGRESSIVE Radio Network, unlike the “corporate” left and right media cited by Orac above- which he aims to replace- his media rises above their fascistic information control-
Oh, will delusion ever cease?

BUT they both reveal their inner clockwork- which probably runs low tax, *laissez faire*, low regulatory, de-centralised government- by the issues they support and their vehement antipathy for Mr Obama. I would assume that most US liberals support him ( and voted for him) and would be turned off by the increasing levels of vitriol and hatred gainst him spewed by these loons.

So perhaps, like the Canary Party, their message is aimed at libertarians more than the left- which could cut into sales.
They probably figure that those hippies are broke anyway.

This sounds like something out of TMR.

That poll is a serious push poll.

Did she ever link to her son’s story?

That kos article was idiotic from sentence one. I’ll take a bruise from an airbag and a lap/shoulder belt any day over a dirt nap from flying out windshield.

I wonder if Gordon will come out of his shell for a good thrashing.

I was very excited to check out the “our studies” part of Unfortunately, I tried opening all of the thirty-something studies, and only two were still up! I’d say it’s a total fail, but of course anyone who buys into this nonsense isn’t reading the actual studies, so it’s just as effective either way.

I might venture that various proselytisers against vaccines who cry out against the injustice of governmental interference above parental rights are also opposed to governmental interference with business in general- such as regulation, taxation et al. Two of the Canary Party’s leaders, Larson and Blaxill, run/ own rather large businesses as do woo-meisters Adams and Null. This might influence their political leanings as much as medical issues- and probably preceded the latter.

Dear Carolinewriter,

“Lefty”. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

carolinewriter’s screed inspired me to write a diary there at 5 in the morning yesterday, is not a credible source (one of her Gish Gallops contained links to It actually made the Recommended list about an hour after it was published. So there’s plenty of pushback against antivax tropes at DKos nowadays (several years ago that wasn’t the case).

AOP: It’s mentioned in the comments that her son has autism, and he had difficulty nursing. Another attack of the plastic people.

Caroline’s air bag analogy would have been more accurate had she described an accident where the air bags deployed and saved the vehicle occupants’ lives with nothing more than minor bruising. Then, a month later, one of them develops swollen lymph nodes, is found to have lymphoma, and the family sues the airbag manufacturer for causing cancer, while supporters proclaim:.

“We’re not anti-airbag, we’re just pro-safer airbags!!!”

It occurred to me recently that in a way, left-leaning nature-woo types actually share one of the beliefs they hate so much in conservatives: the idea that nature is designed for the comfort and convenience of human beings. Of course, they’d say that its the exact opposite, that they think humans should adapt themselves to nature and not vice-versa, but I’ve never heard any of these people advocate for going back to eating only what we can hunt or gather, having as many children as possible as soon as possible, and resigning ourselves to the fact that most of us will die young of injury or disease. Rather, they think that “Mother” nature will provide for all our wants, that there’s an herb to cure every illness, that ripe fruit will simply fall at our feet year-round as we romp through the forest with no fear of predators, etc. Obviously this Disney-esque view of nature isn’t based on reality, but on the unconscious assumption that the world was designed to meet our needs.

That user was banned from dailykos for spreading conspiracy theories.

The false equivalence is laughable. You’ve got 1 banned user posting to a social networking site where any user can post, and are comparing it to Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and Republican politicians? Give me a break…

@ Sarah A:

Sure. That’s the common denominator- “Back to Eden”- although their edens aren’t the same.

HOWEVER Mercola and others like him DO advocate a “Paleo” diet wherein one eats only what one ( could have) gathered and hunted- like unprocessed fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and game. Of course, all of their hunting and gathering is restricted to the interior of a posh, squeaky clean natural foods super mart. Or proceeds by mail order from woo-meisters’ GMO-free, organic cornucopia of powdered, dried high ORAC superfoods and supplements web-based stores.

Science is a well-crafted, constantly improving system for obtaining and interpreting evidence about the natural world. What makes someone anti-science is when they reject this system and choose to accept ideas based on no evidence or poor quality “evidence.” Whether it is about vaccines, GMOs, AGW, whatever…you are anti-science if you ignore the evidence. And the proof of the pudding is that science and what has come from it, including vaccines, has DOUBLED human life expectancy in about 150 years. Has anyone got anything to match that?

When I first read that Kos post yesterday, I had to stop after the airbag analogy. My mind got stuck in a loop of “how can you think that’s an equivalent analogy?” I was worried if I read on that my brain would rebel, liquify and dribble out my ears and nose. It helps to read it in chunks interspersed with rationality. Thanks, Orac, for risking your sanity for the sake of ours.

@ Sarah A @ Denise
Sure. That’s the common denominator- “Back to Eden”- although their edens aren’t the same

WHY on earth would anyone want to go back to Eden/nature?!? It SUCKED.

And thanks PGP. I missed it.

As for airbags and bruises, ANECDOTE, but I’ve experienced airbag deployment and HOLY CRAP. My face was swollen for a week. Isn’t it pretty par for the course to be bruised by an airbag? They’re not gentle, at all, injury is FAR more common than from a vaccine. And also, better than having a steering wheel imprinted on my face.

Denice Walter wrote:

Of course, all of their hunting and gathering is restricted to the interior of a posh, squeaky clean natural foods super mart.

I guess that in a sense a grimy Lidl is significantly more natural than a typical natural food store – Mother Nature is not noted for keeping house, what with bear poop in the woods and what not.

I like how while everyone is having fun getting their hippie punching in, no one has acknowledged that this random anonymous blog post does not represent “the left”, and the user was banned from dailykos shorter after that post.

@ Beelzebud

No one is saying that carolinwriter is representative of the Left or for that matter even the Daily Kos. In fact, it is impressive how quickly carolinwriter was banned from the Kos after her post. However, the implication from your comment is that the the Left is somehow more immune to cognitive error that the Right. If you want to balance the nutbaggery of Hannity, Levin, Alex Jones … just go over to Huffpoo and start reading some of the posters there.

How do you know she was banned Beelzebud? Her profile does not sat anything like that.

Look at the profile again. Notice that the “karma” is a skull and crossbones, and when you hold your mouse over it, it says “Banned”.


Yes, but the problem with this line of argument is that on the right you can find many prominent people, with very loud public voices. On the left, all you can point to are random quotes from anonymous people on websites.

The left is definitely prone to cognitive error, but in this particular case it is a false equivalency.

Oooh, I just came online to see that Orac posted a piece about Caroline’s Daily Kos “diary”. I think Caroline has been banned and her pal who libeled me repeatedly has had her comments removed.

Someone linked to Orac’s post just now and I just posted links to the CHOP-Vaccine Education Center and the Autism Science Foundation.

Apparently, Caroline thought that her voting record (Democratic) gave her unique qualifications to post that article…because ya know…she isn’t a Conservative.

@ Beelzebud

Oprah, Dr. Oz, Bill Maher, are just 3 “liberals” off the top of my head, who have a lot of anti-science cultural influence. I am sure Orac has posted about others. The point is that the Left’s anti-science is not limited to anonymous posters on blogs and websites.

Chris Mooney and Michael Shermer had some interesting back and forth on this topic.

I was looking at US death rates by age over the past several decades, and thought others might find it interesting. We are constantly told that the expanding vaccine schedule has been killing children. Looking at the figures (PDF), we see that from 1935 to 2010 infant mortality fell by around 90%, as we all know. However, mortality in children aged 1-4, and those aged 5-14 also fell by about 90%, and fell by over 70% in those aged 15-24.

I suppose someone will pop up and claim that this is all down to improved hygiene, but Thomas Crapper’s plumbing company was building flush toilets in the 1880s, and germ theory was widely understood by the end of the 19th century. I don’t believe that hygiene made much difference to mortality over this period (apart from paradoxical effects on vulnerability to paralytic polio). I think it’s improved medical care, particularly antibiotics and vaccines, that have made the greatest difference.
Clearly our evil Big Pharma paymasters are failing miserably. We must try harder.

Hippie punching? All I saw was an argument that idiocy is no respecter of political affiliation.

Re: airbags – Perhaps carolinewriter should note that if her child is left “bruised and harmed immediately after he was hurt by an air bag”, then perhaps it did work as expected. While his bruises are certainly regrettable, the it may (I don’t say is, just may) be that this is the minimum harm that the product can do while still providing the full expected benefit.

“Obviously this Disney-esque view of nature isn’t based on reality, but on the unconscious assumption that the world was designed to meet our needs.”

Religious teachings reinforce this view. While is commonly associated with Christianity, a lot of the herbs-were-put-on-earth-to-serve-us types seem to be heavily into mystical eastern religions and philosophies (not all of which, I’d bet, are that mankind-centered).

Perhaps carolinewriter should note that if her child is left “bruised and harmed immediately after he was hurt by an air bag”

A little OT, but children aren’t supposed to ride in front with the air bags for that reason. Makes the analogy even worse.

I don’t know (or care) what the political leanings of Drs. Gordon and Sears are, because that is secondary to the fact that their anti-vaccine views expressed on facebook pages, web sites, speeches. books, blogs, webinars and you tube videos are, IMHO some of the most damaging things done to hurt vaccine rates in this county. Those two have no shame.

A few things.

This comes back to what I was saying last time I stopped by, Are these cases of vaccine injury ever objectively investigated? What is the frequency of so called events?

It seems like both sides are making assumptions, one, the parent of a child assumes the vaccine did the injuring, and the other, SBM community assuming that the parent is confusing correlation with causation.

It seems like a good recipe for a continuing impasse.

The “dose makes the poison” is a oft used mantra here, but it makes much more sense to consider the other variables, like the underlying genetics or metabolism. This is just a more nuanced way of thinking about it.

The other thing I wanted to say is that what is important about “natural” is discerning when it is important or not to take this route. In some cases taking a natural approach makes sense, other cases maybe not.

Parents want what is best for their children. Common sense (rightly so) has told them that reducing chemical exposure is a good thing for their childrens’ development. Considering most of the chemicals that are used today are untested and have no real toxological profile, the cautionary principle should prevail.

Also, It is wise to feed your child a wholesome diet, one that may emulate that of our ancestors is probably not that bad of an idea. In fact, it is generally in line with mainstream medical advice, eat many whole vegetables fruits, legumes and a variety of lean meats (from what i can gather this is basically a paleo diet) Funny thing is around here that just means buying local produce and meat and isn’t about going to “posh” supermarkets, but rather food co-ops.

Buying meats from animals heavily laden with antiobiotics is also promoting the proliferation of antiobiotic resistant bacteria. Hopefully, this practice will be curtailed here in the states due to the recent FDA action, but we will have to see if it has any demonstrable impact. If you source your meat, or verify and trust your local co-op, then you can find farmers that use antibiotics in a responsible way–only treating sick animals that need it.

Beelzebud, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool leftie (member of the NDP here in Canada) and yet I see this all too often amongst some of my fellow lefties.

Here’s another example for everyone’s edification – there’s a dispute here in my home province of BC about health care workers being required to get the flu vaccine. While I support the union’s position to advocate for their members, I’m not a fan of them using junk science to back it up, like with this article from a prominent writer/activist:

As a pro-science leftie, I have no problem calling out the anti-vaccine, anti-gmo, alt-health types who try to lump in progressive beliefs with their particular form of woo.

@ Beezlebud:

If you stick around you might discover that quite a few very vocal liberals, leftists, socialists and probably a few communists number amongst Orac’s minions- including yours truly.
I’m not joking and have never run a SB poll but I’d guess that the average is NOT conservative at all and that includes people from far more left-leaning countries than the US.

Interdimensional Shape-Shifting Lizard-People,

Re studies cited on the “Fourteen Studies” website, on the page that starts,

You never hear about the science that has been published that helps support a connection between vaccines and autism and other disorders, and yet the list grows every day. Below we provide examples of some of that research.

Most of the papers have been analyzed and found severely wanting. A list with a great deal of overlap with the “Fourteen Studies” list was debunked, starting here

@ AOP:
@ Andreas:

Right. I think that their ideas about the natural world may reflect what they read describing how the elves live in Tolkien or from19th century Romanticists’ notions about antiquity or the pre-industrialised world.

Prior to Industry and Government, people lived in Freedom and Purity, eating of the santified fruits of the earth uncontaminated with poisons, drinking pristine water and living in harmony with Mother Nature and their Fellows.

@skeptiquette – yes, adverse reactions to vaccines are thoroughly investigated…which is why we have a good sense at the rate at which they occur.

There are both pre and post-release safety surveillance programs – both here in the US & also overseas….and we certainly don’t dismiss all claims out of hand, but both the number & seriousness of the claims that are made by anti-vax nut-jobs just aren’t borne out by the actual research.

That’s what they can’t get through their thick skulls – that if reactions (serious ones) occurred at the rate they claim, it would be easy for research to show it – but instead, we see nothing of the sort.

@Denise – and died in droves from things like Cholera, the Plague, Malaria, and the other whole host of diseases that have been the bane of mankind since the beginning…..

Sarah A: To a large extent, the difference between lefty nature-woo types and righty fundie types is the difference between having a deity who sits to pee and one who stands.

DB: after “heavily into” I’d insert “Western interpretations (often created by charlatans) of”. A lot of “indigenous spirituality” is related to Gerald Gardner in much the same way that “traditional Chinese medicine” is related to Mao Zedong.

Are these cases of vaccine injury ever objectively investigated?

Yes, skeptiquette. That’s why we have VAERS. That’s why DTP was replaced with DTaP.

The “dose makes the poison” is a oft used mantra here, but it makes much more sense to consider the other variables, like the underlying genetics or metabolism.

Vaccines are tested in large groups of people before being added to the schedule. If there were genetic or metabolic factors that provoked/worsened bad reactions, they would be picked up.

Common sense (rightly so) has told them that reducing chemical exposure is a good thing for their childrens’ development. Considering most of the chemicals that are used today are untested and have no real toxological profile, the cautionary principle should prevail.

Every single ingredient used in vaccines is thoroughly tested, and vaccines are thoroughly tested also. In addition, there is constant surveillance done on vaccines after they are added to the schedule.
You are JAQing off and concern trolling, skeptiquette. Stop it.

I think GMOs are dangerous

And I think my farts smell like roses, but that doesn’t make it so.

Oprah, Dr. Oz, Bill Maher

Bill Maher and Penn Jillette are two names that spring to mind when I think of Prominent Atheists Who Make Us Look Like Asshats. To follow up Denise – I feel very strongly about calling out anti-science lefties/progressives, as I think we have a responsibility to be better – that progressivism has to include scientific progressivism, or it’s meaningless.

@Roadstergal – Bill Maher really pisses me off…the guy wouldn’t know real Science if it came up and bit him….

“Western interpretations (often created by charlatans)”. A lot of “indigenous spirituality” is related to Gerald Gardner in much the same way that “traditional Chinese medicine” is related to Mao Zedong.

There’s a general pattern there… some indigenous group might have been robbed of all their *material* possessions by colonists, but the appropriation doesn’t stop here — if they still have *cultural* assets, the New Agers will take that too.

“These people must be spiritual — after all, they no longer own any physical assets — so let’s steal their spirituality too.”

This is part of my theory (and it is mine) that the New Age movement is libertarianism under another name. “These tribes have something we want, which they can’t defend? OK, we’re grabbing it.”

I am staunchly pro-vaccine and I think a point that the article was making has been overlooked and I believe doing so undermines our case.

I have a friend whose son had a LEGITIMATE serious reaction to the DTAP vaccine. Legitimate as in where the DTAP says “Rare side effect: brain damage: 1 in 1 million”. Their child collapsed within 30 hours after the vaccine and after a few days’ coma emerged severely disabled, unable to walk, speak, lift his head. Permanently. They were compensated by the vaccine fund or whatever it is, but obviously that’s pretty inadequate.

Anyway, my point is an extremely rare reaction can happen with a majority of drugs and clearly the statistics are vastly on the side of benefit over harm. I was hoping that my friend was one of those rare thinkers who would be able to see this, despite his personal loss, but understandably, they are now anti-vaccine. I think we as humans are not really great at imagining ourselves as part of a statistic once personal tragedy strikes.

Now, this is not to say the science-based community should accept dubious links to autism, etc, but that ANY industry can have consumers calling for “greater safety and oversight” and you can’t characterize everyone doing so as a science-denier.

The tone of this article is overlooking that this person is not calling for an end to vaccines or encouraging anyone to refuse vaccines. So when there is a tone on the pro-vaccine side of dismissal: “Nothing bad EVER happens” it undermines our case by seeming defensive and disingenuous. There ARE cases of severe problems– even if that’s 1 in a million. You should state that up front before the other side tries to use your omission against you or imagines a cover-up conspiracy. Yes, 1 in a million will be severely brain damaged. There are very rare cases. If there were 2 cases a year of seat belts killing people in a crash but 500,000 cases of them saving lives, the seat belt industry should state the 2 cases up front, not downplay it. And then say “Yes, we always want to make them safer, we have a department working on improving the safety of the seat belts”. That is good PR, but it’s also what consumers ask of EVERY product’s manufacturer.

I KNOW my pee smells like a vitamin shop (Vitamin B complex prescribed by my doctor).

Caroline accused me of being a “teabagger”, because I commented back at her.

“Are these cases of vaccine injury ever objectively investigated?”

You bet they are. That’s why Rotashield vaccine was voluntarily recalled by the manufacturer, once CDC started to investigate an uptick in cases of intussusception…and removed permanently from distribution.

@Lawrence and Julian.
apparently you didn’t understand my questions.

I am wondering if the claims, like the author’s of the Kos article, are actually ever investigated?

Did she ever take her child that was allegedly vaccine injured in for a check up after the injury? if so, what did they find? In any of these cases where parents report an change/injury subsequent to vaccination, Is there a medical examination that either refutes this or validates this on a case by case basis? This is what I am wondering. That isn’t concern trolling, I am genuinely curious.

Julian, when I was clarifying the “dose is the poison” mantra, I wasn’t specifically applying it to vaccines, just in general, touting the “dose makes the poison” doesn’t seem to be a thorough way to look at it.

I for one think we could do a better job testing vaccines, which may ultimately help solve the issues of today. But I also, think that this will require more advanced technology that is currently being developed. It’s just the way of the world, you can always make something better.

@zaster – that’s why a Vaccine Information Sheet is given to each and every person (parents of children, for example) before any vaccine is given….it clearly states what the risks are….

@Julian Frost

From a research standpoint, the more pertinent registry is the Vaccine Safety Datalink, which is constantly being mined for near-real-time data on vaccine safety and reactions. VAERS reports are investigated, but may not always be used for as in-depth research as the VSD.

“I for one think we could do a better job testing vaccines, which may ultimately help solve the issues of today. ”

What, exactly, do you see as significant shortcomings in the current vaccine testing process? And what are your suggestions for improvement? Not being snotty here, I’d like to know.

Zaster, I actually see it differently.
I agree with you that we should openly acknowledge real vaccine injuries. It’s a horrible tragedy for a family facing that. No compensation can reverse it, but they should at least be compensated. But I don’t think that’s what the article is saying. I think the article’s author is exactly one of those who is asking us to accept any vaccine injury claim with no evidence or against the evidence. I think by doing that, she is actually hurting those with real vaccine injuries, because she is creating a situation that casts doubt on their stories. I think it’s fair to call her out.


Every report to VAERS is investigated by CDC. Where medical records are available, they can usually determine whether or not the reported injury is connected to the vaccine. However, the entries are not updated after investigation, so whatever you see there may not represent subsequent information that has been gained after investigation.

So when there is a tone on the pro-vaccine side of dismissal: “Nothing bad EVER happens”

Zaster, I dare you to show us a single instance of any pro-vaccine person saying this at any point, ever.

@ skeptiquette: If you read Caroline’s posts, she claimed that her child was given the hepatitis B vaccine birth dose and was hospitalized in the NICU for 4 days (for some unknown reason).

She also claimed she did not sign permission for her child to receive that vaccine and she was too busy to file a claim for vaccine injury…because she was busy changing her child’s diapers for six years….all anecdotal.

Too bad you didn’t see the nasty comments made by Caroline and her pal directed at me, accusing me of being a “big phama shill” and having other COIs as well as lying about being a Registered Nurse. Those comments and my replies were removed by the moderator.

apparently you didn’t understand my questions.

I am wondering if the claims, like the author’s of the Kos article, are actually ever investigated?

You didn’t understand my answer. They ARE investigated. A problem was found with the original DTP, so the whole-cell pertussis component was replaced with an acellular pertussis component. That wouldn’t have happened if the claims weren’t investigated.


No, every report to VAERS is not investigated… I just read your post about it that CH linked to and it clearly says that selected serious cases are investigated further (which definitely does not mean ALL), which is also what I just read on the CDC website.


Ok, so sometimes in selected serious cases the CDC will attempt to get further records to investigate a case(we are not talking about an actual medical examination here), but many times situations like Caroline’s will not be investigated and then we are all left making assumptions…

There has to be a way to make it better than that.


I saw the comments (on the DK post) directed at you, before they were removed, and rolled my eyes so hard, I think I strained something. I admire your tenacity and thick skin!

@skepticette – no, all “serious” reports are investigated, if they are able to get medical records and / or real contact information (there are several Gardisil reports that list out as “Respondent saw on the Internet that someone died) – not exactly the kind of report you can follow up on, can you?

A problem was found with the original DTP

Didn’t that turn out to be Dravet Syndrome, as discovered not too long ago?


Julian, when I was clarifying the “dose is the poison” mantra, I wasn’t specifically applying it to vaccines, just in general, touting the “dose makes the poison” doesn’t seem to be a thorough way to look at it.

Here’s an example: I have often seen people complaining that some vaccines contain formaldehyde, and saying it is insane injecting a known carcinogen into children etc. etc..

However, when we look at this more closely, we find that the largest amount of formaldehyde in any vaccine is 0.1 milligrams, and our bodies naturally produce and metabolize large amounts of formaldehyde; one study estimated that the daily turnover of formaldehyde is 31,000-59,000 milligrams per day, mostly from the breakdown of methylated amino acids and methanol in our diets.

If our bodies metabolize over 31,000 milligrams of formaldehyde each and every day, it is clearly ridiculous to claim that injecting 0.1 milligram could possibly be harmful.
Not only that, many foods naturally contain formaldehyde such as apples which contain up to 22.3 mg/kg, pears up to 60 mg/kg and dried shiitake mushrooms with up to 406 mg/kg.

We inevitably find a yawning gulf of several orders of magnitude between the amount of a “toxin” in a vaccine and the minimum amount we know it would take to possibly do any harm. It is very difficult to see how anyone could be so sensitive to formaldehyde, for example, that a quarter of a millionth of the amount their body naturally deals with every day could hurt them.

That’s what is meant by “the dose makes the poison”: some doses cannot plausibly be poisonous, no matter how “sensitive” a child might be.

To build on what Krebiozen is saying: yes, skeptiquette, the dose certainly does make the poison. Vaccinations also contain water, which in sufficient doses (smaller than many people think) is certainly life-threatening to infants and toddlers. If you don’t believe me, look up “water intoxication.”

So yes, the dose makes the poison is a “thorough way to look at it,” because generations of toxicologists have established and continue to revise our understanding of the safe exposure levels for these substances. Throwing up your hands in horror at OMG! Chemicals! is the opposite of thorough.


Traditionally, the phrase just means that all things are poisonous and it depends on the dose. I was just stating that this mantra is often used without considering the other side of the equation.

In your specific case, yes, the dose is too small to have any toxic effect, and you can probably interpret the phrase to mean what you are suggesting.

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!

1. No doubt it is possible to use the “Gardisil” spelling and not be a frothing loon, but it’s hard to find evidence of this on the Interweb. Frothing loons seem to be attracted to the misspelling as if it is a shibboleth, a badge of membership.

2. With the Pentacel description, carolinewriter managed to single out the one entry in the Pinkbook appendix which lists ‘gutaraldehyde’ as a possible contaminant — an obvious typo for ‘glutaraldehyde’ in all the entries above and below. Does the former just sounds scarier?

No doubt it is possible to use the “Gardisil” spelling and not be a frothing loon

No offense intended to Lawrence @65.


why is it difficult to understand that there is another part to the equation?

Not to mention that some substances don’t follow a normal dose/response relationship or linearity.

Im not throwing up my hands saying OMG chemicals are bad, I am saying that the large majority of chemicals are un-tested and do not have a toxological profile and therefore a precautionary principle is the best way to go.

So, would it be better to have a general toxological profile of a substance or one that recognizes how that profile interacts with specific genomics?

According to the NIH and CDC, it is incorrect to say that “1 in a million will be severely brain damaged” by the DTaP vaccine.

Their conclusion is that severe allergic reactions occur after less than one out of a million doses, and that: “Several other severe problems have been reported after DTaP vaccine. These include: long-term seizures, coma, or lowered consciousness; permanent brain damage. These are so rare it is hard to tell if they are caused by the vaccine.”

Zaster: “So when there is a tone on the pro-vaccine side of dismissal: “Nothing bad EVER happens” it undermines our case by seeming defensive and disingenuous.”

As already indicated, there is no vaccine expert, public health organization or medical society making any such claim, and I have never seen _any_ pro-vaccine advocate no matter what their education level say such a thing either.

I am therefore getting a flavor of concern troll from your post, i.e. “Gee, I’m pro-vaccine and all, but we have to stop behaving so badly.”

Sure you are.

Thanks for your input though. 😉

As a researcher and not an MD, I used to point out that when somebody is brought into the emergency room with chest pain, the response by the physician on duty is not to say, “Ah, this is interesting. Let me write a grant application to study this problem in depth.”

No, the doctor has to do something about the immediate problem. It’s similar for the case of potentially fatal, infectious diseases. If you look at how many people diptheria used to kill, or the suffering and long term effects of pertussis, you begin to understand that perfection is not the immediate aim, but the highest level of prevention absent a large number of serious side effects is. Luckily for humanity, vaccines are pretty close to the imagined perfection in terms of serious side effects, and fairly good in conferring immunity.

The comments by Dangerous Bacon @73 above lead the rationalist to conclude that the DTaP vaccine probably never causes the most serious effects, because they are seen in that one-in-a-million even without the vaccine. Maybe they do, but probably they don’t.

The serious question for the rest of us, parents and non-parents alike, is whether it is better for our society to accept that enormously small risk in order to obliterate a very large level of suffering by a large number of people and a lot of dead infants. The argument is strong for polio vaccine and equally strong for measles vaccine, since the ubiquity of measles in an unvaccinated population does more overall damage to more people than polio does. I’ve been lectured on this by a friend who is a retired pediatrician, who had to deal with sick children during a time when some of these vaccines were not yet available.

So yes, I find the argument that vaccines are not yet perfect to be a perfect case of concern trolling, illogical and unconvincing.

The interesting point in an age of vaccine denialism is that the more the anti-vaccine trope spreads, the more danger there is to the unvaccinated children of the denialists. I think we see that more in Europe and Britain at the moment, but the number of deaths from pertussis in California alone last year ought to give one pause.

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