A “professor” who isn’t talks science about vaccines that isn’t

One of the great things about having achieved some notoriety as a blogger is that readers send me links to articles that the believe will be interesting to me. They usually come in waves. For instance, after anything having to do with Stanislaw Burzynski, “right to try,” particularly egregious antivaccine idiocy, and the like hits the news, I can be sure that well-meaning readers will send me or Tweet at me about the same article several times. (So don’t take it personally if I don’t respond; I get hundreds of e-mails a day.) Sometimes they’re wrong and its something that I have no interest in, but that’s just the price to be paid for being such an amazingly popular blogger. I know, I know. I’m basically a microcelebrity, if not a nanocelebrity. But to me, even eleven years on, that’s amazingly popular because I never expected when I started this whole crazy thing that I’d ever get more than a few hundred readers, if that.

In any case, when a reader sends me a link to something entitled Scientific Proof: Vaccines DO Cause Autism, it is, as I told that reader, not unlike waving a cape in front of a bull. Actually, it’s not, at least not most of the time, because so many antivaccine blogs post articles with similar titles. I could probably write about nothing but articles claiming to have the “scientific proof” that vaccines cause autism and still be able to produce at least three posts a week. However, when an article entitled Scientific Proof: Vaccines DO Cause Autism is posted on the Drinking Thinking Moms’ Revolution (TMR) and is as hilariously off base as this one is, well, it really is like waving the proverbial cape in front of the proverbial bull. At the very least, I know I’m in for potential fun and frustration deconstructing one of the Drinking Thinking Mom’s attempts to fancy herself an expert immunologist and neuroscientist. Basically, TMR is a wine loving, vaccine hating, coffee klatch of mommy warriors for whom the terms Dunning-Kruger effect and arrogance of ignorance were coined, and, believe me, the Dunning-Kruger is very strong here.

This time around, it’s Drinking Thinking Mom in whom the Dunning-Kruger is arguably the strongest, the one who calls herself “The Professor” or “Professor TMR” and uses as her avatar a photo of a teacher writing on the blackboard wearing a very short dress that shows off her black stockings and garters. I must confess that I never understood the choices, but, then, every regular at TMR likes to choose a ‘nym like Professor TMR, Dragon Slayer, Sugah, Blaze, Goddess, or Killah. You get the idea. Maybe it’s just because I’m a clueless middle-aged white male, and maybe I shouldn’t care, but it’s still odd to me. Oh, well. I chose as my ‘nym and avatar an all-knowing computer from an obscure late 1970s British science fiction television show. So I guess I can hardly talk.

Be that as it may, we’ve met the Professor before, and she is magnificent at laying down the Dunning-Kruger. Of course, that’s not a good thing, and unfortunately she’s just as magnificent here. First off, she seems very unhappy about a famous Tweet Hillary Clinton made trolling antivaccine activists:

The Professor’s reaction:

This is it: The Changepoint.

Can you feel it? The last 30 years have led inexorably to this moment when, for the first time in history, all the candidates remaining in the race for the presidency of the United States feel the need to clarify their stance on the use of vaccines – repeatedly and conflictingly. How did we get to the point where vaccines have become such a highly charged, controversial issue? After all, if vaccines are truly as safe as “they” say they are, wouldn’t anyone want a “get out of sickness free” card?

The truth? Of course they would. If vaccines were a truly “free” way to avoid illness, there would be no controversy, plain and simple. Everyone would be on board. That’s why vaccines have generally enjoyed the largely unquestioned popularity they have for as long as they have. Everyone wants to believe in magic. The problem is that, as the number of recommended vaccines and vaccine doses has climbed in the last 30 years along with their concomitant serious adverse events, it has become glaringly obvious that such avoidance of illness through the help of a hypodermic needle is anything but “free” for a large and growing segment of the population who are now living with chronic, often debilitating, illness.

I do so love how antivaccinationists conflate two different things, as the Professor is doing here. Vaccines are not “controversial.” At least, they aren’t controversial in the way antivaccinationists think they are. Hillary Clinton was correct about this. Despite many attempts over two decades to find a link involving hundreds of thousands of patients, no link between vaccines and autism has been found. To a high degree of precision and to the best of science’s ability to determine, vaccines do not cause autism, which is exactly the opposite of what the Professor is trying to argue. So where does the controversy come in? Simple. It involves questions of how far society should go to mandate vaccinations for children; i.e., how to balance the public good against individual rights to refuse. Society has clearly struck a balance in which it requires that children be vaccinated in order to be allowed to attend school and day care. It’s a reasonable compromise. Now, the controversy is over whether nonmedical exemptions (a.k.a. religious or personal belief exemptions) should be permitted. That controversy only exists because antivaccine views have led to an increase in nonmedical exemptions in many states, leading to pockets of low vaccine uptake, leading to degradation of herd immunity, and leading to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.

I’m not sure if this is an intentional or unintentional strategy in the Professor’s case, but antivaccine activists often try to conflate the political controversy over vaccine mandates with a scientific controversy. They then go on to argue that the reason there is a political controversy is because there is a scientific controversy over the safety and efficacy of vaccines. However, that “scientific controversy” is nothing more than a manufactroversy. Antivaccine “scientists” do their damnedest to generate “science” implicating vaccines in everything from autism to autoimmune diseases to sudden infant death syndrome to just about any chronic disease or condition that you can imagine.

This leads Professor TMR to do what antivaccinationists do so well, play the victim:

You all know in your heart of hearts it’s true. The mocking of CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen, her “journalistic” colleagues, and the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program Special Masters notwithstanding, there can be no other explanation for why the “myth” has persisted. The mainstream media would have you believe that everyone who believes that vaccines cause autism (at least one-third of American parents of children under 18 at last count) is a superstitious, anti-science nutcase. But if you actually dig deeper and investigate this claim, you will find that often the “all vaccines are magic” crowd is actively discouraging the sharing of science and factual information while at the same time disseminating a great deal of – what shall we call it? Misinformation? – justifying themselves with “you can’t handle the truth.” Those of us who think that vaccines come with some very serious risks that mean that everyone should be thinking long and deeply before taking any vaccine, on the other hand, actively share as much scientific and factual information as possible, while at the same time encouraging you to do further independent study on the subject. We want you to understand that large, epidemiological studies are easy to manipulate. (There’s a reason for Disraeili’s saying, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”) We want you to look at who is funding the science, and ask yourself what questions didn’t they ask or answer? We want you to be aware of what the editors of the most prestigious medical journals and the Cochrane Collaboration (the least biased international repository for medical science) have to say about corporate corruption of science and the failure of peer review.

One can’t help but note that the Cochrane Collaboration houses within its organization at least one high-placed scientist who is profoundly skeptical of the influenza vaccine and has said things about it that border on antivaccine. Yes, I’m referring to Tom Jefferson. Heck, he’s even appeared on the Gary Null Show. I also see a lot of projection here. Professor TMR calls us the “all vaccine is magic” crowd, but that is more true of antivaccine loons like her. The difference is that she thinks all vaccines are black magic that causes autism and all manner of health problems. As for manipulating epidemiological studies, Professor TMR’s claim shows that she’s clearly never been involved in an epidemiological study. They are not nearly as easy to manipulate as she thinks. Protocols have to be approved by scientific review boards (SRBs) and then institutional review boards (IRBs), the purpose of the latter of which is to protect human subjects. Has Professor TMR ever served on an IRB? Clearly not, or she would know that SRBs and IRBs pore over the plans for study design, data collection, and statistical analysis. They look for any issues that might compromise the study. Truly, the ignorance of our “Professor” is breathtaking.

But our good “Professor” is only getting started. Here’s the part where she fancies herself an immunologist. Hilariously, she references a post on TMR by Twilight (here we go with the ‘nyms again) that is notable for throwing around a bunch of immunology terms, cites a bunch of studies relating neuroinflammation and autism, and concludes that just because there’s evidence that neuroinflammation is seen in autism that vaccines must be a cause. Seriously, it’s that simple. Or should I say, that simplistic? It might be fun to deconstruct the issues with that post in more detail, but not here. For purposes of this post, I just find it quite amusing that Professor TMR would cite such a source. Even more hilariously, Professor TMR invokes Vaccine Papers. Regular readers know that whoever is behind that execrable site has on occasion shown up in the comments here. I might just finally have to do a post about that website.

Professor TMR concludes with an analogy that shows just how little she understands science:

After our blog on Autism and the Immune System, Lisa Stephenson of Autism Revolution for Medical Intervention requested that we stop pursuing the link between vaccines and autism and suggested that by doing so we were sacrificing “all our children for the sake of the ones who have vaccine-induced autism.” I heartily disagree and will illustrate it with an analogy. Say that you have read the research linking smoking and lung cancer. You know it implicates smoking in a big way, but the tobacco companies are running successful interference, and you see people all around you who don’t know about the link and are subsequently developing lung cancer. Do you keep quiet about it because there are some people who develop lung cancer, like my own father, who have never smoked a day in their lives and you might be “sacrificing” those people “for the sake of the ones who have smoking-induced lung cancer”? Of course not! You speak up and inform people what their choices and actions may lead to and in the process help benefit the individuals, their families, society at large by enabling them to avoid the physical, social, and economic costs of serious illness. Then, if they still choose to smoke, at least they’re doing it with their eyes open.

Comparing vaccine manufacturers to tobacco companies is a favorite trope of antivaccinationists. Never mind that the real analogy would place antivaccine propagandists in the place of tobacco companies. They are the ones using the same techniques of spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt (a.k.a. FUD) about vaccines in the same way that tobacco companies spread FUD about the science showing that cigarettes cause cancer. Now here’s why Professor TMR’s analogy is so brain dead. Smoking increases the risk of lung cancer by as much as ten-fold, and the epidemiological evidence that it does so is bulletproof. In contrast, there is no solid evidence that vaccines cause autism and mountains of evidence that it doesn’t. The analogy is ridiculous on so many levels.

In the end, Dunning-Kruger triumphs.