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Anger is an energy? Maybe, but it doesn’t help you evaluate vaccine science

Anger is an energy, as a certain old punk sang back in the 1980s. It can even be a great motivator, such as when anger overtakes us for injustice or over crimes. Anger, however, is not a particularly good intellectual tool, nor does it help in analyzing science.

Which reminds me: J.B. Handley is back.

You have to be a bit of a long time reader—OK, a really long time reader—to remember that Mr. Handley’s antics used to be a regular topic of this blog. After all, he and his wife were the founders of a long-standing antivaccine group, Generation Rescue. It was an antivaccine group founded on the idea that autism is a “misdiagnosis for mercury poisoning” and existed to promulgate the idea that the mercury in thimerosal-containing vaccines causes autism. Over time, Generation Rescue “expanded” its purview to believe that all vaccines (with, of course, mostly unnamed and vague environmental toxins) are the cause of autism and that “autism biomed” quackery is the cure, an evolution that happened around the time that Jenny McCarthy became Generation Rescue’s president and was doing an antivaccine “Green Our Vaccines” march on Washington. During that time, Handley distinguished himself (if you can call it that) with his bullying, bull-in-a-china-shop demeanor, his misogyny, and his blatant anti-intellectualism, the latter of which was frequently manifested by his attacks on expertise, in particular scientists and physicians who told him that science doesn’t support his antivaccine views. Sometimes the results are hilarious, such as when he mistook a blogger for Bonnie Offit and even made a bet about it that he lost.

Over the last few years, we haven’t heard nearly as much from Mr. Handley. Yes, he still pops up from time to time but not nearly as often. Last week, though, he was back, as angry as ever, more full of the arrogance of ignorance, as I saw in his article entitled An Angry Father’s Guide to Vaccine-Autism Science (understanding “distracting research”). He begins with a furious broadside over a frequent statement made by vaccine defenders:

We autism parents are being browbeaten by a mantra from the mainstream media and health authorities spoken so loudly and repeated so often that it seems it simply must be true, namely:

“It’s been asked and answered, vaccines do not cause autism.”

The science has been done. Deal with it. Case closed

Personally, I like to start riffing on Monty Python’s famous “Dead Parrot” sketch, in which a pet store owner tries to convince a dissatisfied customer who had just bought a dead parrot that the shopkeeper had told him was alive. The humor comes from John Cleese’s (the customer’s) increasingly histrionic and angry rants about how the parrot has “shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!!” and how this is an “ex-parrot” and Michael Palin’s (the shopkeeper) increasingly ridiculous excuses and explanations about how the parrot isn’t really dead but resting and how he’s “pining for the fjords” (because he’s a Norwegian blue parrot). Basically, in my favorite analogy, the vaccine-autism hypothesis is dead, an ex-hypothesis that’s “joined the bleedin’ choir invisible,” and antivaccinationists are the shopkeeper who keep telling people it’s not really dead but “pining for the fjords.”

The situation is, of course, slightly more complex than that. For instance, just the other day in the context of discussing an unethical study of the vaccine schedule using macaque monkeys, I pointed out that, as negative studies looking at a question pile up, there must ultimately come a time when the question has been answered as well as today’s science can answer it. Basically, when a certain weight of negative studies builds up, the pre-study probability of a positive result looking at the same question becomes smaller and smaller, eventually reaching a point where further studies are so unlikely to provide a positive result and are thus no longer worth doing. It’s Bayesian thinking, pure and simple. Barring new compelling evidence that resurrects the vaccine-autism hypothesis, it’s a hypothesis every bit as dead as the parrot in the Dead Parrot Sketch. Of course, antivaccinationists like J.B. Handley won’t understand and can’t accept that. So we get rants like Mr. Handley’s latest.

It’s as though Handley isn’t even trying. He starts out with a favorite antivaccine trope, comparing the vaccine defenders to the tobacco companies that denied the growing science in the 1950s through the 1980s that showed that cigarette smoking causes a lung cancer and a variety of other health problems. The tobacco companies, as you know, were some of the first truly sophisticated denialists, producing experts who sowed “fear, uncertainty, and doubt” about the growing body of science implicating smoking as a health risk, distorting the science, and producing its own studies as a distraction, quoting a 1954 Guardian article:

A 1954 article from The Guardian newspaper rings eerily reminiscent of what we are today experiencing with the autism epidemic. In 1953, a pair of scientists reported their findings that coating mice in tobacco tar had produced skin cancer in 44% of the mice. Importantly, the mice study produced the first alarm bells around the world that smoking may in fact be bad for one’s health, which triggered a forty-year campaign by the tobacco companies to obscure the truth with funded “science”. The Guardian article from 1954 also discusses a scientist from the American Cancer Society — Dr. Cuyler Hammond — who expressed deep cynicism about the initial findings of the smoking-cancer link from the mice study and other studies bubbling up implicating tobacco. From the article:

He has deep doubts about all the studies reported so far. He suspects that the interviewers of lung-cancer patients probably induce an emotional bias in their victims who will thereby be led to make suspicious confessionals of heavy smoking. He says that it is extremely difficult to find a control group with the matched characteristics, of age, social standing, occupational habits, and regional location, of any given sick group. He warns against the false premise which might be exposed to prove only that smokers produce earlier symptoms rather than more cancer. He suggests that even if there were no significant association between smoking and cancer in the general population, a telling one might be found in the hospital population. He is even sour about the claims of the filter-tipped cigarettes, remarking in his wry way that the carbon in tobacco smoke probably neutralises some toxic agents, and that if the filter removes those carbon particles ‘filter cigarettes would do more harm than good.’”

Sound familiar?

Why, yes. Yes it does. It sounds a lot like antivaccinationists denying the very solid science that’s failed to find a hint of a whiff of a whisper of a correlation between vaccines (thimerosal-containing or otherwise). As I discussed when Dr. Jay Gordon invoked the same analogy, the comparison to tobacco companies fits the antivaccine contingent far more than it fits scientists and vaccine manufactures. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hold up big pharma as some sort of paragon of scientific virtue, but in this case it is on the side of science. The question has been asked many times. None of this, of course, stops Handley from showing his historical ignorance and invoking Naomi Oresky and Erik Conway’s book Merchants of Doubt.

After invoking his execrable 14 Studies website, in which ignorance of science was never so annoying, Handley then went on to write something that endangered my keyboard, as I was drinking coffee early this morning as I wrote this:

Three principles lead to understanding

biological plausibility: “refers to the proposal of a causal association — a relationship between a putative cause and an outcome — that is consistent with existing biological and medical knowledge”.

encephalopathy: “means disorder or disease of the brain. In modern usage, encephalopathy does not refer to a single disease, but rather to a syndrome of overall brain dysfunction; this syndrome can have many different organic and inorganic causes”.

wisdom of crowds: the notion that “large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant–better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future.”

OK, that’s not the part that nearly made me spray my laptop with hot coffee. This is:

Let’s pause: 1. biological plausibility, 2. encephalopathy, and 3. the wisdom of crowds. Learn it, know it, live it.

Ha. Hahaha. Hahahahahahahahaha!

Oh, geez.

Seriously, Mr. Handley wouldn’t know biological plausibility if it were to bite him on the posterior, latch on to his rectum, and insinuate itself into his colon like one of those bleach enemas touted by certain bloggers at Age of Autism. In the meantime, he trots out familiar antivaccine misinformation, distortions, tropes, and lies. He confuses correlation with causation, which is mandatory among antivaccine activists. He invokes the “wisdom of crowds” in terms of all the anecdotes from parents about how their children regressed after vaccination. Of course, this is why, when it comes to inferring causation from correlation, the “wisdom of crowds” is not so wise at all. In fact, when it comes to medical questions, such as whether vaccines are correlated with the onset of autism, crowds are often much less “wise” than science. Memories are imperfect and selective. We are pattern-seeking mammals; when something happens, we are very quick to latch on to something that happened before, whether that something has anything to do with causing what happened or not. Add the emotional overlay of love for your children, and these spurious “correlations” become very hard to shake. That’s why science is needed. That’s why epidemiology is needed. They are needed precisely because, when inferring medical causation, crowds aren’t wise. They’re often downright clueless. It’s human nature and the way all human beings think, and it’s very hard to overcome. Worse, he conflates autism with encephalopathy (the two are not the same thing) and frequently describes autism as:

It would be enough, frankly, that brain damage is known to be a side-effect of vaccines in some children to assert how biologically plausible the vaccine-autism connection is It would be enough, frankly, that brain damage is known to be a side-effect of vaccines in some children to assert how biologically plausible the vaccine-autism connection is, but the argument is bolstered by two additional points…

Later, Handley writes:

I don’t really have to use that many of my IQ points to think that there may be a correlation between a product that causes brain damage (vaccines) and my son’s brain damage!

Handley has IQ points? You wouldn’t know it from the quality of his arguments.

Of course, autism is not brain damage. It’s just not. More importantly, encephalopathy due to vaccines is quite rare. That it rarely happens does not lend biological plausibility to the idea that vaccines cause autism. This idea might have had some plausibility back in the 1990s, before all the more recent epidemiological studies had been done, but in light of studies since then that biological plausibility. This leads h

In any case, his view of autistic children as hopelessly brain-damaged because of vaccines aside, it is because Mr. Handley latched on to the idea that vaccines caused his son’s autism and he loves his son, Mr. Handley, however smart he might be, finds it very hard to let go of the idea in the face of mountains of disconfirming evidence. Instead, he goes on the attack. Couple that with the Dunning-Kruger effect, the tendency of people not expert in a field to vastly overestimate their competence and you get the same tired references to Brian Hooker’s bogus “reanalysis” of a famous paper that failed to find a link between MMR and autism, his claim that the financial fraud of an investigator named Poul Thorson, who was a middle author on two papers on MMR and autism a dozen years ago, somehow invalidates all CDC research on vaccines and autism (hint: it doesn’t), and a hilarious denial of the recent macaque monkey study by Laura Hewitson that failed to find a correlation between vaccines and neurodevelopmental problems or changes in brain structure in the monkeys in favor of the smaller preliminary studies that showed what he wanted them to show. He lashes out at studies that failed to find a correlation between vaccines and autism or thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism, using the same tired old antivaccine cliches against studies like Tozzi et al, Thompson et al (never mind that no scientist claims this study shows thimerosal doesn’t cause autism, just other neurodevelopmental problems); Verstraeten et al (antivaccinationists’ favorite bugaboo and subject of the infamous Simpsonwood conspiracy theory). (Links lead to discussions of the studies and often explanations why antivaccine attacks on the studies—like Handley’s—ar ignorant loads of fetid dingo’s kidneys.)

So what studies does Handley like? Take a guess. He like’s Mady Hornig’s “rain mouse” study (of course). He also likes Burbacher’s monkey study, which isn’t all that convincing but is nonetheless frequently cited by antivaccine activists.

Handley ends by imploring “honest scientists” to have a come-to-Jesus moment, or maybe a road-to-Damascus conversion. (Antivaccinationism is so much like a religion that such analogies seem appropriate.) He writes:

Remember that guy, Dr. Cuyler Hammond, from the American Cancer Society back in 1954, the guy throwing skepticism all over the tobacco-lung cancer hypothesis? Turns out Dr. Hammond ended up being an honest man and an honest scientists, and when presented with overwhelming data supporting the tobacco-cancer link, he changed his tune and quit smoking, and his obituary makes him out to be a hero:

“Dr. E. Cuyler Hammond, the biologist and epidemiologist who did early research showing that cigarette smokers had a high risk of death from lung cancer, heart disease and other causes, died yesterday at his Manhattan apartment…Dr. Hammond’s findings were often controversial, drawing criticism from the Tobacco Industry Research Committee and from other quarters. Dr. Hammond said in 1970 that he doubted the tobacco industry ‘would ever develop a cigarette that doesn’t do some damage to a smoker’s health.’”

I beg each of you to correct every misstatement you hear. Read the studies for yourself. (Most can be found at 14studies.org) Ask skeptical friends of yours to read this article and respond. Be loud and proud when you say that the other side’s mantra is simply a lie, because it is.

Is there an honest person left on the mainstream side of this debate who will correct the lies and make sure the research actually gets done?

Of course, this is a massive case of projection, because, if anything, it is the antivaccine side that far more resembles the tobacco industry in the sorts of scientific arguments it makes, how it twists data, how it cherry picks studies the way J.B. Handley did. The reason there aren’t scientists undergoing the conversion Handley desperately wants to see can be shown by repeating one phrase in Handley’s screed, “When presented with overwhelming data supporting the tobacco-cancer link, he changed his tune and quit smoking.” Note the words, “overwhelming data.” There’s the difference between the situation surrounding the question debated in the US between the 1940s and the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report on smoking of whether smoking tobacco products caused lung cancer and the situation now surrounding the question of whether vaccines cause autism. In the former case, there was a relentless accumulation of evidence to the point where it became undeniable that smoking caused lung cancer, chronic lung disease, heart disease, and other cancers. In contrast, the more scientists look at the question of whether vaccines cause autism, the less they find. Correlations in preliminary studies disappear in larger, better-designed studies. Over time, the weight of the evidence has gone in exactly the opposite direction from the case for tobacco. As time goes on, from a strictly scientific standpoint, evidence linking vaccines and autism has become less, not more, convincing.

Anger is indeed an energy of sorts, and there is no doubt J.B. Handley is an angry man. Over the years, as documented by myself and lots of other bloggers, he has frequently let his anger get the better of him and lashed out at his perceived enemies whom he believes to be responsible (incorrectly) for his son’s autism, such as scientists at the CDC and those whom he views as defending the scientifically corrupt enterprise that in his view failed to protect his son from those evil, poisonous vaccines and now deny that vaccines cause autism. Of course, the problem with righteous anger is that, unless held in check by a reflective intellect, it feeds on itself and resists any disconfirming evidence that the enemies at which it’s directed are not targets deserving of such rage. Certainly, anger is not a useful tool to analyze science, but that’s just what J.B. Handley has always used it for.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

235 replies on “Anger is an energy? Maybe, but it doesn’t help you evaluate vaccine science”

I don’t really have to use that many of my IQ points to think that there may be a correlation between a product that causes brain damage (vaccines) and my son’s brain damage!

Note Handley’s explicit assumption that vaccines cause brain damage. That has not actually been shown, despite the claims of the anti-vax crowd. (The vaccine court accepts claims that would not be considered proven in any other legal forum or in the scientific world.) On the contrary, some of the diseases that vaccines are intended to prevent do cause brain damage.

These folks also have a habit of not thinking their analogies through. I saw where Orac was going with this–that Handley et al. are in the role of the tobacco companies here–several paragraphs before Orac went there. But that’s what projection is for: attribute your faults to your opponents.

I’d suggest that Mr. Handley avoid sticking his handy hands into the innards of oldschool tube televisions. From the photo it looks as if he tried changing a tube and got a hefty dose of capacitive discharge instead. Speaking of “energy.”

And if he does want to call on the wisdom of crowds, what does the fact that most autism parents don’t believe the vaccine connection, as Matt Carey demonstrated, do?

And that the AoA crowd, like it or not, are an extreme but tiny minority group?

It is amazing that people like Handley who have spawned a child who happens to have autism, seem to be so insecure about it that they have to blame a very common and necessary procedure, such as having a vaccine is the causation of the child’s problem. Is it because these people believe that they could not be maybe partially to blame. It is very reminiscent of those men who blamed their wives for spawning a child who has an intellectual disability.

As I understand it, the “wisdom of the crowds” works for things like politics (and general knowledge questions) where the people can hold referendums on bills, and which seems to work fairly well in Switzerland. It seems to break down when it has to deal with items which require specialized knowledge (like most science and medical related items), and as you mentioned in confusing causation and correlation; And breaks down due to our many cognitive “software” glitches, which magicians exploit for entertainment (and charlatans for profit and control).

A local retired lawyer, Richard Tafel, has published a book (You Can Control Your Government) in which he uses the wisdom of the crowds as an argument for a different style of government. In talks, he essentially agrees that it may not work in specialized fields, but says the need to deal with specialized fields in a political arena are so infrequent it isn’t really a valid argument against using wisdom of crowds.

I’ve had several discussions with him where I point out that, depending on whether we’re talking federal, provincial/state or municipal level, rejection of evidence-based medicine (e.g. vaccinations) would happen if the “wisdom” of the crowds prevailed. And I’ve pointed out that our society is more dependent on technology and science than before and even one poor choice by the crowd can have wide-ranging consequences (increase in disease for example).

I think the Carl Sagan quote is apt when considering wisdom of the crowds: “We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”

@harobed:

Is it because these people believe that they could not be maybe partially to blame? It is very reminiscent of those men who blamed their wives for spawning a child who has an intellectual disability.

Exactly. Their perfect, perfect genes could not possibly have caused their child to become autistic. They don’t want to believe it, so they try to find a scapegoat.

If Mr Handley is so desperate to see a resoundingly positive study for a change, how about one that correlates steamingly pathological personality types against the utter inability ever to accept or admit one’s mistakes? Bound to be a total slam-dunk with that bunch of clowns as subjects; no macaque torturing required.

Surely anger fuels the anti-vax movement as well as it does alt media empires.

I think that it is a simple way to engage other participants who may have similar beliefs , clouding their thinking even more so that your half-baked arguments will sound as though they could hold water ( deliberate mixed metaphor- since we’re talking about bad writers anyway).

As someone who is fond of attribution, getting your readers to become angry at malfeasance by whomever allows them to cast blame outside themselves which preserves self-esteem- the problem is not YOUR fault ( for having bad genes, bad luck or merely taking the child to a doctor for a vaccine). The only positive I can discern is that it protects the child from the parent’s anger. The is child is then seen as a victim of Evil Designs by Big Business not as a failure.

So many of the people I read – both alt med and anti-vax- seem to run on anger. Aren’t the anti-vaxxers planning a protest at the CDC in a few weeks? So much of what I read at Natural News or hear on the Progressive Radio Network involves starting activist movements.- protests and internet campaigns against something. Age of Autism has already started a few groups- the Canary Party and Health Choice Whatever. Hearings are called for and jail terms are suggested. Interestingly, only their side seems to have been in legal trouble ( Andy, the Geiers, Bradstreet etc).

AoA certainly has its share of angry parents:
Handley, Heckenlively and Stagliano stand out. I often wonder how much their rants are influenced by other angry factions such as the alt med movement or right wing politics?

@ Denice #9: Don’t know much about J. B. Handley’s politics, except that he considers himself a single-issue voter (guess) and that he endorsed Michele Bachmann and Donald Trump for their anti-vax views.

Incidentally, Ginger Taylor and Jennifer Larson were delegates at the last Republican convention.

@ has:

You might have something there.

If you think about it, these partisans use writing both as a coping mechanism and a way to attract followers. Although some psychologists suggest writing as a tool for self-understanding, I don’t see a lot of that going on here.

Instead, they look to examine OTHERS’ purported motivations rather than their own. Whilst they may portray themselves as dedicated, martyred parents, observers outside of their charmed circle might view opportunistic self-promoters and career seekers instead. **

AND although I never diagnose anyone on the net, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if quite a few of them had “issues”.

** an awful lot of them have become authors through the enabling publisher, Skyhorse.

[email protected]: You think much too small. JB Handley blames the entire fecking universe for not giving him the incomparably perfect child to which he is so rightfully entitled. And no wonder he’s upset, for a less-than-transcendent offspring reflects terribly upon Him.

Of course, if Handley ever did have the perfect child, he’d still be miserable because then He’d no longer be the most perfect person ever to exist. Russell’s paradox must be absolute hell on his ego.

@ Sebastian Jackson:

I thin that there’s a mix of political views at AoA/ TMR
( Olmsted and MacNeil are liberals) but perhaps the strong anti-vax stance displayed by libertarians/ republicans recently might push some of the more moderate towards that camp as one-issue voters.

Mikey and Gary certainly decry liberal publications’ position on vaccines.

@ #3 Gray Squirrel- just for clarity, that picture is of Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, not Mr Handley. (Fun video by PIL, “Rise”)

@ Denice #14: I think Orac is right to say that the anti-vaccine movement is a big tent politically and that there is are a large number of both liberals and conservatives in there. But I would add that there seems to be an ideological center of gravity in the movement that seems to shift over time. The anti-vaxxers have been trying to appeal to conservatives and libertarians ever since Barack Obama was elected. Before that, during Bush, it was popular among left-wingers. Seems to me that anti-vaxxers change their political tastes (or try to appeal to whoever is politically marginalized at the moment) depending on who is in office.

I think the crowd could well make the call on vaccines because they do now. But for the blind following crowd I think all it would take is to see the effects of diseases they haven’t witnessed because of being insulated from them by vaccines. I hope they are reached before it comes to them having to see it personally but for many I predict that’s what it would take.

And the anger. Looks like that’s what is driving the hit and run commenters here. They say they want discussion but just they rant and accuse before ditching the conversation when called out.

@ Sebastian Jackson:

That makes sense.
Interestingly, the “us against the world” mentality is precisely what the alt media honchos spout all the time:
” We are a tiny beleaguered minority which is ahead of the curve, harbingers of paradigm shift”.
Null says 5% ‘get it’.

@Gray Squirrel #3:

I’ve no idea what JB Handley looks like, but I’m pretty sure that photo is of Johnny Rotten, circa 1985.

or try to appeal to whoever is politically marginalized at the moment

I agree that there is an element of “sticking it to the Man” in the anti-vax movement, but considering which party is nominally in control of Congress, I wouldn’t call conservative[1] or libertarian views marginalized. The views of Ayn Rand and John Birch are quite well represented in Congress, and in state legislatures as well.

[1]Meaning conservative by US standards, let alone standards anywhere else. I recently had a conversation with a man from Norway, a member of that country’s Conservative party, who pointed out that in Norway Bernie Sanders would be a mainstream Conservative. That’s in line with comments I have heard from other Europeans.

We are a tiny beleaguered minority which is ahead of the curve, harbingers of paradigm shift

They laughed at Galileo. They laughed at Einstein. They laughed at Bozo the clown.

What’s with this habit so many Americans have of resorting to persecution complexes? (Anti-vaxers aren’t the only people in the US who do this–certain self-described Christians come to mind.) It’s as if they have to feel that the Truth is being suppressed–even when it’s neither true nor being suppressed.

@ Eric Lund:

In addition, they continuously express how their movement is GROWING by leaps and bounds. Notice how Mike prominently displays his numbers and multiple sites/ columns at Natural News. The other idiot brags about his network’s spread AROUND THE GLOBE and how searches for his films number into the millions! Soon alt media will overtake the mainstream !

@ Denice

” We are a tiny beleaguered minority which is ahead of the curve, harbingers of paradigm shift”.
Null says 5% ‘get it’.

Putting this next to the “wisdom of the crowd” argument, it leads to a nice black hole of logic…
Unless of course you separate the universe into the great unwashed sheeple group and the deserving, smart people group, put yourself into the appropriate group, and states that only the later group’s opinion is worth of the “wisdom of the crowd” quality…
At the risk of Godwining the thread, this view of humanity is very elitist and a first step toward authoritarian politics*.

* OT: on another blog, the question of “scientism” and putting scientists in charge of society was risen, and I realized that, for all I would prefer politicians to listen more often to experts presenting the scientific consensus, I don’t want scientists to be directly in charge. Each to his/her job.

In any case, his view of autistic children as hopelessly brain-damaged because of vaccines aside,

As horribly offensive a belief as ever. Is it really so hard to love your child as he is?

Also, since when is encephalopathy a principle?

@ Helianthus:

I know!
AND they scream about all of us elitists from fancy, schmantzy universities where they didn’t study because they are ‘of The People”- yeah, right!
but then they say “Seneff of MIT” and So-and-so of Oxford or Harvard.
Consistency is not their strong suit.

Denice [email protected]: That’s an easy one.

The True Woo is a paranoid narcissist, ignorant and impotent, raging against a world she does not understand and cannot control.

As Bacon once said: Knowledge Itself is Power. He did not, however, say it had to be right.

Indeed, to the True Woo, real knowlege is effectively worthless: extensive, difficult, imperfect, and incomplete, demanding a huge amount of effort to accummulate, yet available to all and sundry entirely for free. In comparison, their Knowledge is precious beyond measure: jealously hoarded, tightly guarded; a unique, priceless, and incomparably prestigious property, worthy only of the most Truly Enlightened, and no-one else.

Her ego, her social status, her entire identity and purpose in life; everything that she is is built atop that. And therein lies the harshes rub: for it is not our rationalist tendency to reduce her True Knowledge to rubble that frustrates her (that alone would merely confirm our jealousy), but her simple practical observation that we do not covet it ourselves.

A tiny, inescapable, pinprick of actual knowledge, unceasingly burning at her butt like the fires of a billion suns. Angry? Hell, you’d be too if you went through as many chairs.

has @29

Applause, Applause, Applause.

I am SO going to steal that – with full attribution, of course.

fusilier
James 2:24

Wisdom of Crowds?

Robert Heinlein stated (I don’t know if he was the first) that: 1. Most people seldom if ever think: 2. Some people think most of the of the time but not always: 3. Very few people think all the time.

I believe Heinlein’s view is correct. If the above is true; most of the people in a crowd are not thinking so wisdom would be improbable.

Bradley boasts of his massive intellect (like Trump confusing wealth accumulation with intelligence) yet chelated his kid for over two years with no improvement. Bradley even boasts of having his wife chelated prior to getting pregnant with their second child. Bradley has subjected his autistic child to countless abusive “autism treatments” over the years and has been bleaching the poor child for at least several months now. Yea, real brilliant Bradley is and quite the humanitarian too.

[email protected]: Ahem. Seeing as how my filthy pHARMa checks still haven’t come through, I am definitely charging y’all for that one.

(Albeit with a 10% discount to whoever finds my stupid spelling error first. Curse you, uneditable SB comments.)

Love the first couple of PIL albums.Public Image and Metal Box are still my favorites.
have original pressing vinyl of both.Not a fan of the later,more dance-rock oriented stuff.

Metal Box would have been the first album that would come to mind when I think of the antivaxers,especially a track like Albatross.

Anyone care to speculate what the next Safe Minds funded study will be?They seem to get more and more bizarre and sociopathic in nature each time.Maybe a certain Republican presidential candidate will kick in he funds for it.

@has#29 —

I had to read that aloud to get the full, Shakespearean swing of it. The post actually reminded me of Sonnet 129 –

lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight;
Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad…

Re. Johnny Rotten: Bad me; and I was involved in the punk rock scene back in the day…. So much for reacting to first impressions & pictures without reading the article first or bothering to think. OTOH there have been plenty of wacky looking cranks pictured around here lately (e.g. the guy with the photoshopped lightning bolts emanating energetically from his powerfully healing hands, etc.). (Rebecca @ 21: Aha, so there he is. Not much better. Looks like he’s posing for the “before” part of a laxative ad.)

Sebastian @ 16: oppositional politics:

Good observation, and I think it is likely correct: anti-vaxers appeal to whichever party is out of power at the moment. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s because, whether they know it or not, “like attracts like” as far as emotions are concerned, so they gravitate toward whoever shares their underlying emotions, and then the mutual feedback amplifies the dynamic.

Trump is a confounder because he’s one himself, and it remains to be seen if he’ll change his views on that (or anything) if he gets into office. The prospect of an antivaxer in office ought to be enough to motivate all of us to make sure everyone we know votes next year, and to do some volunteering for any candidate who is science-based.

Denice @ 25: “growth”:

Years ago I recall reading something about religious cults that discussed their growth curves. For many cults, early growth is rapid and is touted as meaning that the group is headed to become a mainstream religion or majority religion. Then their curve eventually levels off and goes flat, and the groups in question remain more or less static. It would be interesting to see the actual curve for the growth of antivaxer attitudes and behaviors: I’m inclined to think it’s similar to the curve for cults.

but then they say “Seneff of MIT” and So-and-so of Oxford or Harvard.
Consistency is not their strong suit

When it suits them, they will respect the letters Ph.D. after somebody’s name, as if that gives the person credibility on the subject. Academic jokes aside[1], the Ph.D. is awarded (at least in principle) for a specific body of original research in a narrow specialty. That doesn’t mean the degree holder is an expert in some other field. Senneff has a Ph.D., as do I, but neither of us earned the degree in epidemiology or any field closely related to epidemiology. The difference is that I am aware of this limitation in my expertise, and Senneff seems not to be.

It’s not just ant-vax people who do this, either. Global warming denialists are notorious for trotting out lists of “scientists” who supposedly support the denialist position. The majority of these “scientists” will turn out to be engineers, and the number of such who actually have a background in atmospheric science is so small that exceptions stand out.

[1]In case any of the regular commentariat haven’t heard it: You know what B.S. stands for. M.S. means “More of the Same”, and Ph.D. means “Piled Higher and Deeper”.

@ Eric Lund:

Sure, I am reminded of the list of 2000 “scientists”** who questioned the connection between hiv and aids.

One of the most hilarious examples of two-facedness:
the woo cites a study from the “prestigious BMJ’ but has, on occasion, said its editor, Dr Godlee, was totally compromised by pharma ads.

** not really- not all scientists, not relevant fields, people who wanted to be off that list remained etc.

Eric Lund #22: It would be difficult to know if the views of John Birch are represented by anyone in American politics since by the time the John Birch Society was named for him he was safely dead. As well, he had spent a very large part of his life outside the United States. Gen. Doolittle, a wartime acquaintance, doubted that John Birch would have approved of the views advanced over his name.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Birch_%28missionary%29

Anyone who is certain of the wisdom of crowds has probably not been caught up in a panicky or even overenthusiastic crowd, as witness recent events in Mecca.
I would also refer all those crowd-wisdom-partisans to the Iranian crowds shouting “Death to America!” I fail to see much wisdom there. I could even go full frontal Godwin and point to the much used films of crowds saluting their Fuhrer and chanting “Sieg heil”.
Ambrose Bierce summed it up quite nicely:
“Multitude, n. A crowd; the source of political wisdom and virtue. In a republic, the object of the statesman’s adoration. “In a multitude of counsellors there is wisdom,” saith the proverb. If many men of equal individual wisdom are wiser than any one of them, it must be that they acquire the excess of wisdom by the mere act of getting together. Whence comes it? Obviously from nowhere – as well say that a range of mountains is higher than the single mountains composing it. A multitude is as wise as its wisest member if it obey him; if not, it is no wiser than its most foolish.””

Orac writes,

As time goes on, from a strictly scientific standpoint, evidence linking vaccines and autism has become less, not more, convincing.

MJD says,

It appears with this statement you (Orac) acknowledge that previous evidence linking vaccines and autism existed.

Did you mean to say hypotheses instead of “evidence”?

If you stand by your original statement please enlighten us.

What was the evidence?

Silly man. Of course there was “evidence” linking vaccines to autism. It was just crappy evidence, at best preliminary, and in comparison to the wealth of better quality evidence that has superseded it, has faded into the background as not convincing. Which is as it should be.

He like’s Mady Hornig’s “rain mouse” study

So he doesn’t mention Hewitson’s casual dismissal of Hornig’s results as being artefacts of experimenter incompetence?

Orac says (#43),

Silly man.

MJD says,

The word “evidence” is used as a noun in your statement (#42).

Synonyms of the word “evidence” when used as a noun include proof, confirmation, and verification.

So, did you mean to use the phrase evidenced-by-data instead of evidence?

Is this what you meant to write:

Evidenced by data, from a strictly scientific standpoint, a vaccines and autism connection has become less, not more, convincing.

Does anyone proof read your stuff which is often quite good?

I’m available if you need a RI editor.

I’m curious about the number of articles about vaccines here and with the numerous comments they generate.

With all the many and mammoth wrongs in this world, why this focus on vaccines?

Can someone here describe AND QUANTIFY the top one or two harms to humanity inflicted by these anti-vax people?

Mr. Handley wouldn’t know biological plausibility if it were to bite him on the posterior, latch on to his rectum, and insinuate itself into his colon

Mr Handley, meet Tyrannobdella rex>i>, the Amazonian mucosal leech. Or perhaps it’s biological plausibility! Can you tell the difference?

With all the many and mammoth wrongs in this world, why this focus on vaccines?

Start your own blog, then, asshole.

I spent a couple of weeks posting on the FB page for what is probably the most inaccurately named site on the internet “The Thinking Mom’s Revolution”. I’d say that you are right about the religious nature of anti-vaccine-ism. A few things I noticed….before I was blocked.

1) Weird Pantheism – TMR possesses one of the most magical views of science I have ever witnessed. If a doctor somewhere claims that they have concluded a child is vaccine damaged. It is paraded around like a win. You ask “So what do you imagine was the differential there and what diagnostics would the doctor have ordered up to make that diagnosis” and you get blank stares. Or if a immunologist on a talk show makes a 2s mention that allergies are somehow related to vaccination. It’s again, a triumph for The Truth but if you point out this researcher has published nothing on this and in fact there’s nothing but a few speculative papers even remotely related. All you hear are crickets chirping (or people simply telling you that the person in question is an immunologist and you should believe them). Or when a presidential candidate who is a retired neurologist says something in line with their ideas…etc… Clearly it’s the PEOPLE that mater here, NOT the science they do.

2) Intuition worship – Jenny M. was speaking somewhere and they cited her as saying “Trust your gut”. It was almost impossible to get anyone to understand that this was the exact opposite of *thinking*.

3) Acceptance of anything as long as it is anti-vaccine – People cite things which are factually incorrect. Nobody cares. People have clearly mutually exclusive ideas on the origin of autism but somehow that doesn’t matter. There are even people there blaming homosexuality on vaccines and nobody says one word.

4) Faith in the existence of support – This is kind of interesting. There are all sorts of websites which purport to host some number of studies supporting some anti-vaccine link. Yet if you ask ANY of those folk: “Which one of those studies makes the strongest argument statistically speaking?” all you get is silence. Why because probably nobody has read them – or at least beyond their abstracts. It’s almost like the studies themselves are fetishized beyond their actual contents.

As an ex-Creationist I can tell you how all of these ideas resonate with the kind of religious education I grew up with (and eventually shook off).

Narad only says (#48),

Screw off, attention whore.

@Orac,

Exactly how far can an Orac-minion go with their senseless vulgarity on this blog?

Narad’s makes no reference to who or what the inappropriate language is directed at.

Please consider placing Narad on RI probation.

@Narad, can you add any substance to your soft porn language? Remember were discussing vaccine science.

Anti-vax may not be an exclusively conservative/libertarian tent, but IMHO it’s just wrong to say it has a significant ‘Left-wing’ component. (I think I posted to this effect somewhere recently, but maybe I just intended to and didn’t follow through…). By which I mean the stereotypical Marin-county ‘granola cruncher’ (GC) anti-vax types are not Leftists. To be on the Left is, first of all, to be overtly political, and engage in the political process. It is, furthermore, to take political positions in favor of government intervention in social welfare for the common good, including re-distribution of wealth, if only in the form of progressive taxation.

It’s common for people to see other folks who stand outside their groups norms as a sort of undifferentiated mass, when in fact the outsiders may have equal or greater differences among themselves. That GCs get identified as ‘the Left’ goes back to the 1960s, where youthful diversion from mainstream America took two fundamentally different forms. 1) The New Left, exemplified by the Port Huron Statement SDS, coming out of support for the Civil Rights movement, seeking to build a movement for broad radical change toward “participatory democracy” via activist reform of government policy, finding it’s defining issue in organized opposition to the Vietnam War; 2) the Hippie counter-culture which sought not to change the system, but rather to ‘drop-out,’ separate themselves from the ‘straight’ world, and start ‘their own thing’ on rural communes, or the Haight-Ashberry, or wherever. True, some folks, and some influential individuals moved from one camp to another (most notably Rennie Davis). But the ethos of the two camps was VERY different. The Lefties generally had little use for the Hippies, who they saw as spoiled and self-indulgent, and the Hippies basically just ignored the Left, as they’d simply quit that whole bummer scene, man!

Yet to the Silent Majority, all the long-haired kids looked the same, and merged into one cultural panic fantasy combining the most unseemly seeming characteristics of both. Now, people who are too young to have ‘been there’ are influenced by mainstream versions of received history the reproduce the distortions.

In short, I wouldn’t dispute that there are some anti-vaxers who actually have ‘left’ ideals, just not very many. AV-ers will co-opt ANY rhetoric they can to bolster their First Principle (‘the vaccines damaged my special snowflake baby!), so if Olmstead sometimes sounds like ‘a liberal’ I’d point out he used to be employed by an arm of The Unification Church (Moonies) a notorious cryto-fascist cult of personality and anything but ‘Left-wing’. The thing is, anti-vax views are fundamentally a poor fit with the tenets of the actual (political) Left.

On the other handfinds much more fertile soil in the counter-culture mind, and if we consider that todays GCs are are sort of neo-pseudo-faux hippies, that makes the turf all the more accomodating. Far from really dropping-out, the GCs pick and choose little symbolic practices to keep some illusion of counter-culturalness alive: driving an (expensive as hell) Prius, shopping at (corporate) Whole Foods, charging everything on a Wells Fargo bank card (you know, instead of fire-bombing the capitalist pig f***ing bank…)

The word ‘liberal’ has a variety of meanings, and I wouldn’t dispute that GCs are ‘culturally liberal’ at least. In my experience, they tend not to be politically active though, and often not vote at all, but if they do, I can’t imagine they ever vote Republican. I suppose you could consider that makes them nominally ‘liberal’ ideologically, but they’re a far cry from New Dealers.

If I see a common thread in the anti-vax activists it’s a fear-of and/or anger-at loss of class privilege. They seem to individuals or part of a couple with high ambitions for professional success in corporate America, and all the attendant perks of “doing well”, who find those ambitions derailed by having to care for a ‘special needs’ child (or are scared poopless by the thought). Thus: mad as hell, and not going to take it anymore! And that anger is about as far from the Left — in which I would include the anger of Johnny Rotten / John Lydon, Joe Strummer, Zack de la Rocha, not to mention the anger of Black Lives Matter — as you can get. When Zack screams, “Your anger is a gift!”, the ‘you’ he’s referring to does not include J. B. Handley.

“With all the many and mammoth wrongs in this world, why this focus on vaccines?”

I shall answer not for Noevo, but for anyone who has wandered in here innocently and way be wondering something similar, in a non-rhetorical question kind of way.

1) It’s called division of labor. This is a medical science blog. Preventing epidemics of infectious disease are what the writers here know and care about. Fixing Ferguson or ISIS is not in their area of expertise.

2) Just because someone devotes attention to the wrongs that are germane to a particular defined forum, doesn’t mean they’re neglecting any of the other many and mammoth wrongs in this world. They may just be doing that in, you know, the places set-up to discuss those things.

3) With all the many and mammoth wrongs in this world we can’t seem to do much about, it might be a good idea for medical scientists to try to ward off possibilities of an epidemiological disaster BEFORE the harms reach a certain level of quantification, yes?

4) The harms are described here:
http://web.texaschildrens.org/multimedia/flipbook/vaccine-book/

“Wisdom of Crowds”
This statement immediately makes me think of the phrase “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.” It also makes me think of the more encouraging quote by Thoreau: “Any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already.”

 Dr. Cuyler Hammond — who expressed deep cynicism about the initial findings of the smoking-cancer link from the mice study and other studies

I grieve to report that Handler is gravely misrepresenting the content of the 1954 Guardian article (where “misrepresent” is a term of art meaning “lying”).

Dr Hammond was not denying the possibility of a smoking / cancer link; he was suggesting that some of the research was not sufficiently rigorous; his reason for making that suggestion becomes clear in the very next paragraph of Alistair Cooke’s article, which explains that Hammond

happens to be conducting, on behalf of the American Cancer Society, the most exhaustive study yet attempted. He began in January 1952, composing a staff of interviewers who will study the life histories of 204,000 healthy white men between the ages of 50 and 69, who together form a statistical sample of the American white male population.

In other words, Hammond already accepted the likelihood of a link enough to invest in a large, expensive study to test it, but he wants people to wait a few more months for his conclusive proof, so he gets full credit.

To describe Hammond as a late, reluctant convert —

Dr. Hammond ended up being an honest man and an honest scientists, and when presented with overwhelming data supporting the tobacco-cancer link, he changed his tune

— Handley requires a state-of-the-art ultracentrifuge to spin the facts fast enough.

Exactly how far can an Orac-minion go with their senseless vulgarity on this blog?

I have no pearls and I must clutch.
Now I must hie me to my fainting-couch, for a fit of the vapours is impending. Carstairs, being the smelling salts!

Intuition worship

Especially if you have managed to give birth. Maternity trumps science every time, to the mommy warrior-wannabes.

Please consider placing Narad on RI probation.

Except, of course, that SN *is* an attention whore.

Oh, Orac fights against many evils other than the antivaccine nonsense that risks the life and health of children. For example, he fights against neo-Naziism in all its forms (racism, Holocaust denial, creationism), and against abusive “alternative” treatments.

herr doktor bimler: Note that Handley’s favorite doctor Bernadine Healey worked for the cigarette company think tank – and she got to be an Age of Autism person of the year (while Jenny McCarthy does e-cig advertisements currently). I guess lying about cigarettes is okay if you’re antivax enough.

Exactly how far can an Orac-minion go with their senseless vulgarity on this blog?

Seriously, this sounds like an invitation to Narad (or Rebecca, or Elburto, or other unnamed commentors) to determine the limit with empirical tests, and you probably don’t want that.

@ #52

If I’m upset by the tone or language on a blog, I just leave.

I imagine most reasonably intelligent people do the same.

Well….
I have gone very far indeed ( as well as in RL) but I might mention that automatic moderation kicks in if you uncrypt
[email protected], sh!t, [email protected]@rd, b!tch whilst medical terms for genitalia/ sexual activities seem to be acceptable

Exactly how far can an Orac-minion go with their senseless vulgarity on this blog?

Seriously, this sounds like an invitation to Narad (or Rebecca, or Elburto, or other unnamed commentors) to determine the limit with empirical tests, and you probably don’t want that.

Based on the recently, locally restored “Recent Insolence Returned” pane, this is MJD, yes? And he’s bitching about my telling S.N. to reserve his fondness for sad attempts at threadjacking to his pants, where it belongs?

Please consider placing Narad on RI probation.

Hell, I have been placed on “RI probation,” but I doubt that some sort of whiny demand based on inconveniencing MJD’s ideas of reference is going to cut it.

And if he does want to call on the wisdom of crowds, what does the fact that most autism parents don’t believe the vaccine connection

Handley seems to be assuring his readership of their ultimate victory and vindication because
(a) They are a silent majority, the tip of the groundswell, the grassroots of the iceberg; AND
(b) They are “we few, we lucky few”, an indomitable band of freedom fighters supported by the White Council of wizards and elite scientists like Seneff.

The wisdom of crowds is why we never have market bubbles and crashes. It’s also why if you ask enough fundamentalists how old the Earth is you’ll come within 5 or 6 orders of magnitude of the actual answer.

What Dangerous Bacon said at #2.

Exactly how far can an Orac-minion go with their senseless vulgarity on this blog?

You don’t really want to find out do you?

Narad’s makes no reference to who or what the inappropriate language is directed at.
Please consider placing Narad on RI probation.

And just who the fսck do you think you are?

To sadmar #54:

Me: “Can someone here describe AND QUANTIFY the top one or two harms to humanity inflicted by these anti-vax people?”

You: “… Preventing epidemics of infectious disease are what the writers here know and care about… a good idea for medical scientists to try to ward off possibilities of an epidemiological disaster BEFORE the harms reach a certain level of quantification, yes?”

What was the death toll (and/or disability toll) of vaccine-preventable epidemics in the U.S. in the last 50 years or so?

What is the forecast of the death toll (and/or disability toll) of vaccine-preventable epidemics in the U.S. for the next 50 years or so?

1. MJD says,
The word “evidence” is used as a noun in your statement (#42).
Synonyms of the word “evidence” when used as a noun include proof, confirmation, and verification.

I am glad to have my knowledge base increased. I never knew that evidence equaled proof, confirmation or verification. Really !!!!

The sun circles the earth. The evidence is the sun rises and sets each day. I guess we have proven the sun circles the earth.

And just who the fսck do you think you are?

It’s been so long that I can’t even remember what MJD’s idée fixe is. Is he the latex crank?

What was the death toll (and/or disability toll) of vaccine-preventable epidemics in the U.S. in the last 50 years or so?

Oh, great, S.N. is so desperate to try to change the subject that he’s gone straight for the antivax playbook.

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