I was measured, science-based, and reasonable in yesterday’s post about the new American Cancer Society guidelines for screening mammography (which is obviously why that post garnered so few comments, thus teaching me my lesson yet again0, but regular readers know that I can be quite obnoxious and sarcastic and there’s a reason why this blog is called Respectful Insolence. It’s based on a quote from a character (a computer, actually) in a 35 year old British science fiction series. That character, Orac, is my namesake, and the adopted quote is, “A statement of fact cannot be insolent.”
Of course, you and I both know that a statement of fact can most definitely be very, very insolent indeed. That’s why I like to apply science and fact liberally and—dare I say?—insolently to quacks, cranks, and pseudoscientists. Sure, I can be quite restrained and even-keeled when I want to be, but—let’s face it—there are people who are not deserving of such respect. After I named the blog Respectful Insolence, it didn’t take me very long at all to realize that there are those who deserve what I like to refer to as not-so-Respectful Insolence™.
Matt Jonker, who is responsible for the font of antivaccine idiocy known as Dinner For Thought, is just such a man.
We’ve met Mr. Jonker before, but I’ve only blogged about him once because a particular post of his, 15 Things You Should Know Before Becoming An Anti-vaxxer, went viral around the holidays last year. Suffice to say, Jonker’s understanding of science was about as…lacking… as that of any antivaccine loon. He earned my attention not because of his very run-of-the-mill antivaccine pseudoscience, but rather because of his confident, even arrogant, regurgitation of antivaccine tropes so hoary that they were probably circulating within a year of Edward Jenner’s discovery that he could inoculate with cowpox to protect people against smallpox. Yet, there Jonker was, delivering standard antivaccine tropes as though they were astoundingly brilliant insights that he himself had been the first to think of with unassailable logic and relentless research. That his logic wasn’t quite so unassailable as he thought it was and his research consisted primarily of perusing wretched hives of scum and quackery and misinterpreting studies apparently never occurred to him but was painfully obvious to anyone with an understanding of vaccine science.
Well, he’s back, this time with another listicle. Yes, Jonker seems to have figured out that listicles make good clickbait, although he does share one characteristic with me that prevents his listicles from truly achieving true viral status: He’s just too damned long-winded for it. Of course, I never pretend to be otherwise, and my long-windedness usually has a purpose, namely in depth explanation of medicine and science. In any case, Jonker’s latest is Why don’t you vaccinate?, and it’s a doozy, briefer than the first post that brought me to his attention but chock full of antivaccine pseudoscience nonetheless. It’s like a black hole of antivaccine stupid, threatening to suck all intelligence from anyone with a brain who reads it. Fortunately, Orac is made of sufficiently stern stuff that he is not concerned about such threats to the integrity of his neurons. Neuron-apoptosing stupidity is (usually) beaten back by Orac’s neuronal survival pathways.
Enough science geekiness, though. Let’s see what nonsense Jonker is laying down. First off, you can see from the graphic he uses to illustrate his post that he’s into the whole #CDCtruth thing, which is at the heart of the antivaccine protest rallies that will be taking place in Atlanta and Oakland this weekend. I assume that he also buys into the “CDC whistleblower” nonsense. He has ten reasons. All are straight from the antivaccine playbook. None are particularly compelling. Most are outright ignorant. All contain a lot of conspiracy mongering, like this:
To some, I may seem like some sort of modern day renegade; some kind of rogue in a vast wilderness of pharmaceutical influence. I suppose I am different, although I don’t feel that way most of the time. What may set me (and millions of others) apart is how I reached this decision.
Translation: I’m different and awesome. I understand things you mere peons do not and am going to educate you clods with my brilliance thusly:
There is not one sole reason that I’ve stopped vaccinating my kids; there are many reasons.
I’ve been researching this topic in depth for quite a while now(spurred on by an adverse reaction my second child had to her twelve month round of shots), and I’ve come to the eye opening realization that the rabbit hole is much deeper than most people realize. I have many reasons for not trusting common vaccine science, but there are ten reasons that I feel compelled to specifically address whenever the topic comes up.
And there’s the conspiracy you were waiting for.
So let’s march down the ten reasons. Some I will only deal with briefly because they are, quite simply, not worth my spending much time on. Others I will discuss in a bit more detail. The first two are relatively easy:
10. Vaccine manufacturers are immune from any and all liability.
This is, of course, one of those half-truths that antivaccinationists like to parade out as though they were Gospel Truth. Yes, in 1986, the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act was passed, and this act created the the Vaccine Court, whose payouts are funded by a tax on each dose of vaccines. Of course, the Vaccine Court uses civil standards of evidence (50% and a feather, as some have put it) and pays the court costs of those bringing cases to it, which is quite different (and more advantageous) than suing in regular old civil court. Complainants who lose in Vaccine Court can still sue in the federal courts. Granted, it’s more difficult, but it can be done. I also can’t help but note that the very reason the NCVIA was necessary was because of a flood of frivolous lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers that threatened to drive vaccine manufacturers to stop selling vaccines in the US. Basically, Jonker sounds as though he watched a Canary Party propaganda video and confused it with reality, which has been described here.
Next, number nine:
9. Financial incentives and conflicts of interest turn me off.
That’s nice. Antivaccine pseudoscience and quackery turn me off. Really, that’s all this idiotic objection deserves. Well, that and a mention of how many antivaccine luminaries make money being antivaccine luminaries. Conflicts of interest are not good, but it’s undisclosed COIs that really matter.
Next, number eight:
8. The vaccines aren’t as effective as you’re led to believe.
Some, like the pertussis, influenza, mumps, and meningitis vaccines, are easy to observe with the failing rates, by simply looking at a large percentage of vaccinated people that still contract these diseases. Even the CDC hesitantly admits some of them aren’t as effective as advertised.
Others are a little more difficult to observe, because disease outbreaks in the US have become so rare. In the case of polio, measles, diphtheria, and tetanus, we can see clearly that cases were already declining before vaccine introduction, so it’s almost impossible to prove that the vaccines are what saved us from outbreaks.
Ooh boy, this sounds like the “Vaccines didn’t save us” gambit (more on that later, when Jonker explicitly invokes that gambit). More importantly, Jonker doesn’t understand very basic math. Because no vaccine is 100% effective, even if a population is 100% covered by a given vaccine, there will be a percentage of people still vulnerable to the disease. That’s the importance of herd immunity (more on that later, too). Because the vast majority of any given population is usually vaccinated, in an outbreak there will be vaccinated people who come down with the disease. What matters is not the raw numbers, but rather the percentages. When outbreaks are studied, the attack rate is always much higher in the unvaccinated. For example, those not vaccinated against pertussis are at a 23-fold higher risk of becoming ill with pertussis during an outbreak. Looking at raw numbers is profoundly deceptive. I suspect that smarter antivaccinationists know that. I also suspect that Jonkers is too ignorant to understand that; he really believes he’s making a valid point.
7. I don’t believe that vaccines eliminated diseases.
At least, not in the manner that we’re force-fed. It becomes quite clear from studying historical graphs of disease morbidity and mortality rates, that most of the diseases we vaccinate for today were already on a steep decline before their respective vaccines were widely introduced. While this may go against everything you’ve ever been taught to think, I’d ask you to look into this further before laughing it off. As it turns out, hygiene/sanitation has played the biggest role in reducing disease than any other factor. Again, I do believe vaccines have helped curb outbreaks in some ways, but I do not give them near the full credit as many people do without even studying the facts.
“I don’t believe”? Oh. My. God. The stupid, it burns.
This is the lie that I like to refer to as the intellectually bankrupt gambit known as Vaccines didn’t save us. Heck, Jonker even uses the same damned graphs that I mocked. His take on this is so stupid that I really don’t see any point in doing any more than providing the aforementioned link to my takedown of this particular bit of antivaccine idiocy. Basically, it’s a transparent bit of misdirection and misinformation that intentionally conflates disease incidence with disease mortality. The CliffsNotes version is that antivaccinationists like Jonkers argue that, because mortality rates for various vaccine-preventable diseases were falling before the introduction of vaccines against them, that must mean that the vaccines had nothing to do with the elimination of the disease. Of course, in most cases, better medical care was what was responsible. Besides, it is the incidence of diseases that matter for determination of vaccine efficacy, not mortality, and whenever disease incidence is plotted against the introduction of vaccines we always see that there is a rapid and obvious decline in disease incidence after the introduction of a vaccine for that disease.
Then there’s this:
5. Herd immunity does not exist.
And the beat goes on:
4. The ingredients in vaccines scare the crap out of me.
That’s nice. What antivaccine fear mongering such as Jonker’s can do scares the crap out of me, even as I laugh at his ignorance. I think of children developing vaccine-preventable diseases because their parents are misled by antivaccine propaganda of the sort that Jonker is regurgitating, such as “toxins gambit” writ large:
Formaldehyde is used not only for embalming dead bodies, but also to kill the viruses or bacteria in inactivated vaccines. It has been labeled a carcinogen in other areas, yet we’re injecting it into our bodies. Sure, a pear might contain the same amount of formaldehyde as a single vaccine, but when’s the last time you injected a pear, or even fed one to your 2 month old? The bottom line is, it hasn’t been tested for safety in infants. Go ahead, check. Even the package inserts themselves state explicitly that vaccines have not been tested for carcinogenic or mutagenic effects. Have you noticed the epidemic of childhood cancer that is happening today? No, they don’t know what’s causing it.
Except that there is no “epidemic” of childhood cancer today. Some cancers are increasing in incidence. Some are decreasing. Mortality from all of them is decreasing. I would point out that the reason mortality from childhood cancer is decreasing is science, but I suspect that observation would be lost on our “friend” spewing antivaccine talking points. I would also point out that formaldehyde is produced in normal metabolism and that the amount in childhood vaccines is so far below that amount that it doesn’t significantly increase blood levels in infants. Nor is there any believable evidence that mercury causes autism, as Jonker seems to believe, or any evidence that aluminum adjuvants are harmful.
Now here’s one that made me laugh out loud when I read it:
3. Many vaccines contain foreign animal DNA.
There is no way around the fact that every vaccine contains some type of foreign DNA. Tissue from several animals is needed to cultivate viruses and bacteria. There are no safety studies on injecting foreign DNA and what it does to the body.
I’ve decided that I don’t like the thought of my children getting injected with pig, cow, monkey, mouse, rabbit, and dog DNA; I don’t care if it’s widely deemed “safe”.
With no studies on the effects, and my own common sense, this should be enough. No thanks.
Here’s a rule of thumb: Whenever someone invokes “common sense” before discussing science, there’s a pretty darned good chance that what will follow will be anything but “common sense.”
In any event, this particular entry in Jonker’s list is so amusingly silly that there’s not a heck of a lot to say about it. It basically boils down to, “Ewww, icky!” Perhaps I should come up with a fancy Latin phrase that translates to “appeal to ickiness” or “repeal to personal revulsion.” Of course, just because you find something repulsive does not mean it’s harmful or dangerous. Besides, if Jonker is afraid of “foreign DNA,” he really shouldn’t be eating meat. Heck, he shouldn’t be eating vegetables, either. I bet Jonker doesn’t have clue one what happens to “foreign DNA” that finds its way into the bloodstream. He seems to think it will somehow contaminate him or his child. In actuality, the body deals with it quite rapidly.
This is, of course, a very common theme in antivaccine pseudoscience, that vaccines will somehow sap our purity of essence or contaminate our precious bodily fluids. I mean, seriously. Is Jonker Jack D. Ripper?
Which brings me to:
2. Many vaccines are designed using aborted fetal tissue as a growth medium.
Huh? What does this even mean? Aborted fetal tissue as a growth medium? Jonker clearly has no idea what the meaning of the term “growth medium” is in science. It has nothing to do with cells; rather, it is the liquid that contains all the substances necessary for cell growth in tissue culture. A word of advice: If you’re going to refer to something like tissue culture, know what the hell it is you are talking about. Learn the basic terminology. The failure to do so only reveals your ignorance and thus lack of credibility on the subject. Not that our intrepid antivaccine loon is the least bit deterred by something as trivial as a lack of knowledge of the relevant science. Don’t believe me?
While there is no fetal tissue in vaccines (a common misconception), there are unavoidable traces of fetal cells/foreign human DNA in many of them. There are no safety studies that prove this isn’t dangerous or doesn’t cause adverse effects. There are studies, however, that do find a strong correlative link to the case spikes in autism and the introduction of vaccines containing human fetal cells.
I’m impressed. At least he realizes that there isn’t actual fetal tissue in vaccines. On the other hand, that’s about the minimum one should expect; so Jonker didn’t hit a very high bar.
Not surprisingly, Jonker neglects to mention that the “studies” that claim to find a “strong correlative link to the case spikes in autism and the introduction of vaccines containing human fetal cells” are crap studies by antivaccine ideologues like Theresa Deisher, whose twisting of science in the service of religious dogma is, unfortunately, epic.
All of this brings us, countdown-wise, to #1:
1. It’s MY choice.
It’s not up to the government, the pharmaceutical giants, the health department, my doctor, or you to decide for me how to raise my kids. I’m not neglecting or abusing my kids by not having them vaccinated, despite a new push to paint this image into the minds of the public.
No, I stopped vaccinating my kids because I love them so much that I realized I really needed to be researching such an important topic; one that has destroyed the lives of many families.
No, not exactly. The “it’s my choice” gambit is, as I’ve described before, an antivaccine dog whistle. Contrary to what Jonker seems to think, his children are not his property. Parents are stewards of their children, not their owners. They do not have the unfettered right to do whatever they want with respect to their children’s medical management, and it is not an unconstitutional infringement of freedom to require children to be vaccinated as a condition of attending school or day care.
What this listicle shows is that Matt Jonker is suffused with what I like to refer to as the arrogance of ignorance. He thinks that his Google University learning and his “deep research” outweigh the real deep knowledge that scientists and physicians who’ve dedicated their professional careers to studying autism and vaccines. If you don’t know much about science or vaccines, he sounds as though he knows what he’s talking about, apparently subscribing to the philosophy that if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit, confidently delivered.
Harkening back to my discussion of who does and who doesn’t deserve respect when taken down by skeptics, Matt Jonker is clearly one who does not. His unabashed arrogance of ignorance, coupled with is truly cringe-worthy assessments of evidence preclude that.