Adventures of a science-based mole at an antivaccine crankfest (conclusion)

[Orac note: Welcome back, my friends, to the antivaccine show that never ends. We’re so glad you could attend. Come inside, come inside. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Earlier this week, I published a rare guest post by a mole whose services were loaned to me by our great imperious leader Lord Draconis Zeneca (All hail!), to report on the activity of One Conversation, an event whose organizers tried to ensnare Orac himself into participating in a “balanced” (translation: false balance) discussion of vaccines and vaccine injury. )Orac, of course, was too savvy to fall for that trap.) Ultimately, as the provaccine doctors and scientists initially attracted by the unctuously polite patter of One Conversation organizers Shannon Kroner and Britney Valas dropped out, what was left was an antivaccine quackfest, that became an even quackier antivaccine quackfest with two late additions to the panel.

In case anyone is interested in seeing the source material, here is part one of the antivaccine quackfest on video:

Note that they have decreased the time that the logo was on the video markedly, meaning that the timestamps used in the previous post are no longer correct. We’ll have to go back and correct that. If they do the same thing with part two, we’ll end up having to correct timestamps as well. Note that the time stamps are of the form “(video part/time).”

Now, here’s part two of our intrepid mole’s report on the One Conversation antivaccine quackfest.]


While the second block was shorter, the amount of information imparted that was notable, was not so Part 2 is at least as long as the first and for that I am sorry. Here is the video.

So, welcome to part two of the One Conversation report. The video begins at 2/21:40 if you are interested in jumping right in and avoiding the dead space. Orac asked me to include some features that only an attendee would have observed. The audience was primarily female and older; I got the impression that most were grandmothers and, as I stated in the previous post, about half identified as vaccine-injured or know someone vaccine-injured. There were just a handful of younger, parent-aged attendees. There were also some attendees who appeared to be from the Nation of Islam, which has a very large presence in the metro Atlanta area and has been the focus of a sustained anti-vaccine campaign by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Tony Muhammad. The vast majority of the audience was clearly anti-vaccine. Unsurprisingly, the panelists appeared to pick up on this and over time became increasingly provocative, “playing to their base” so to speak, as the discussion went on.

The antivaccine quackfest continues

At this point, James Lyons-Weiler, Gayle DeLong and David Lewis were introduced and asked how they became anti-vaccine. David Lewis said that the government banned ocean-dumping because of the polio vaccine and reversion to wild-type virus, while Gayle DeLong said that she was drafted by having two autistic daughters and James Lyons-Weiler said that Del Bigtree convinced him. A video of the news coverage about the Disneyland measles outbreak was shown and audience laughed at some segments. Shelley Wynter incorrectly stated that 99% of the “Disney kids” were vaccinated. (2/31:49) Sherri Tenpenny presented a video of the Brady Bunch episode in which the kids all all got measles as how she remembered when her generation had measles and the audience applauded. (Orac has referred to this as the “Brady Bunch gambit” or “argumentum ad Bradi Bunchium” When she had heard that 644 kids got the measles (Disneyland outbreak), “she though to herself, lucky them they got the measles and they’re going to have a whole lifetime of immunity, lucky them.” She disparaged herd immunity as, “How does her getting a vaccine keep you from getting sick? Natural immunity is superior.”

She remembered that a DO conference in San Diego canceled her speakership because she was going to present an anti-vaccine talk and that they replaced her with pro-vaccine DOs. She took umbrage at being probably the countries’ leading osteopathic doctor on the topic of vaccines (in her mind) and yet not allowed to present to her peers who would want to hear about this. She presented “natural herd immunity” as a good thing that protected people and asserted that the word “diseases” is used to scare parents and that we should use “infection” instead to remove fear. She showed some slides about the benefits of “real and natural” herd immunity.

Natural maternal immunity is better and infants one year old have the ability to mount immune responses to “normal childhood infections” and be fine. Absent from this slide are that not all maternal infections lead to trans-placental or IgE in breastmilk; infants under two years old do not mount adequate immune responses and not all infections lead to “long-term, innate immunity”. She informed us there is a distinction between natural or “real” herd immunity and “medical” immunity.

Next up:

Any maternal illness is passed through the placenta and breastmilk. Vaccines can only provide antibodies for less than twelve years. She then explained how the concept of herd immunity came about and it was based on natural immunity (2/42:34).

Next up:

Medical Herd Immunity

Dr. Tenpenny discussed how superior “natural herd immunity” is by citing The corrected average attack rate from measles among city children. She claimed that this study concluded that when 55% or more of children under 15 years old had natural measles, outbreaks stopped. I feel compelled to comment on this since this paper may be hard to obtain for those who wish to fact-check. That is most definitely not what this study concluded. What this study actually found is that in urban settings, when 55% of children were infected with measles by 15 years old, transmission was decreased but susceptibles were still there to be infected at a later time as well as birth cohorts brought into the pool of susceptibles. This observation is what explains the fluctuations that we see in historical measles data and graphs. Furthermore, the 55% threshold was only applicable to that particular urban center, with fluctuations in different urban centers and even higher in rural areas. Dr. Tenpenny presented this as superior to “medical immunity” because the threshold is 55% as opposed to 95-97%. She says “medical immunity” doesn’t work. She implied that herd immunity is a myth because it doesn’t apply to “most” vaccines e.g. hepatitis b (“you can’t give something you don’t have.”), tetanus, diptheria and pertussis. Since OPV, rotavirus, varicella and live influenza vaccines are live viral vaccines, they contribute to transmission. At least so Tenpenny claimed.

Shelley Wynter asked about formula feeding and how that seemed to get pushed on lower socio-economic groups. Toni Bark answered and actually made fair and reasonably accurate points about the marketing and social engineering of formula feeding as superior. Del Bigtree added that African American communities have higher rates of autism due to forced vaccination for financial benefits. Sherri Tenpenny chimed in that “capture” is used to catch up a child from a lower socio-economic group with vaccines, and the audience audibly reacted negatively. Shelley Wynter explained he doesn’t get flu vaccines, “because he doesn’t know what they are shooting me up with.” and the audience wildly applauded. Sherri Tenpenny added, “That should apply to all vaccines, if you don’t know what’s coming out of that needle, you shouldn’t inject it into you or your children.” Again the audience applauded. Toni Bark explained that according to some studies (Canadian ones were repeated because they didn’t get the results they wanted), when you are vaccinated with the flu shot, you are more than twice as likely to contract a novel flu virus which is more virulent and you are more than four times as likely over the next few months to get infected with a serious upper respiratory infection (that would be yes-ish to the former and no to the latter). James Lyons-Weiler explained that physicians vaccinated for pertussis every ten years are responsible for spreading pertussis and should wear masks. The audience whooped and applauded wildly again.

Enter “Dr. Bob” Sears

Dr. Bob Sears was asked to discuss mandatory vaccine laws (2/55:40). He related three reasons why he feels they are unnecessary: They won’t work and are wrong for our society. He feared non-medical exemptions will happen in other states but “we’re fighting it”:

Number one: There is no infectious disease crisis that warrants the exercise of government police powers.

He showed a slide of reported measles cases from 2010 to 2018 (2/55:17)

Dr. Bob Sears and the measles

The average number of measles cases each year has been 128 except for 2014 with the Disneyland outbreak and that had 667 cases but what “they” don’t tell you was that 400 of those cases occurred in one area of Ohio. It was in an Amish community that was largely unvaccinated and about 70 cases occurred in a group in Texas that year. He stated if you take out that 470 that occurred in these [unvaccinated] groups:

…measles was business as usual for the rest of our country. But ‘they’re’ not going to tell you that; they’re going to tell you that measles has tripled because fear sells.

He called this an anomaly and when doing statistical analysis, you don’t count that because it’s an anomaly. He said not to let “them” lie to you and spread fear while trying to make that case that because the CDC said measles was eliminated and now it’s back, but there were never any zero measles cases in that year so they can’t say it was eliminated because the definition of eliminated is one that no longer circulates and has zero cases. But we’re dealing with lies and fear in order to sell the idea that there is an infectious disease crisis.

He said there had to be something wrong with the status quo to justify mandatory vaccination laws and that they weren’t justified because measles wasn’t transmitted in schools in California. Because many vaccines for diseases don’t prevent transmission, that was, to him, reason number two for eliminating mandatory vaccine laws. He used Acellular pertussis vaccines protect against disease but fail to prevent infection and transmission in a nonhuman primate model to make his case. Of the study he said:

This study was actually done by a researcher at the FDA and a researcher at the NIH. Right two governmental organization, two esteemed researchers-this wasn’t Joe’s Granola Journal, this was a study done by FDA and NIH researchers.

He then went on to bolster his case by stating that eight of the ten diseases we vaccinated against don’t circulate in schools, only whooping cough and chicken pox do. Hepatitis b doesn’t spread in pre-schools or schools, babies don’t need these. He urged listeners to speak to their state senators about stopping mandatory vaccine laws using his talking points. He was rewarded with wild applause.

Sears’ third stated reason was that the questionable safety profile of the CDC schedule makes mandating vaccines ethically-problematic. You can’t say the CDC vaccine schedule is proven safe:

Those that are pro-mandate are trying to create this environment of discrimination against those that choose a natural immunity lifestyle and a natural approach to immunity.

“Natural immunity people will become a discriminated minority” by using fear by doctors. He criticized incentives to improve vaccination rates in physician offices, as well:

This is getting really ugly because they are labeling your children as dirty, contaminated, dangerous, less deserving of equal rights. Remember separate but equal bathrooms? Drinking fountains? Classrooms? Sitting on the back of the bus? Separate but equal schools and education? Well now our kids in California don’t even get an education in a school; they get educated at home. I worry that they’re not even going to let us on the bus, or let us go to the parks. This is discrimination and yes, this is nothing like the discrimination that we’ve perpetrated on other people in the past, no comparison to that. But this is how it starts; it starts with one idea-you people are dangerous, you people don’t deserve equal rights and it has to stop.”

He was rewarded for this rant with a partial standing ovation.

Sherry Tenpenny asked: If your kid is vaccinated, why should my unvaccinated kid be a problem? (I think that all of you know the answer to that one.)

When is a whistleblower not a whistleblower?

David Lewis was then introduced as a whistleblower who is oppressed, downtrodden and cast out (2/1:15:08). Dr. Lewis explained that whistle-blowing was publishing results that go against consensus science used to support government policies and certain industry positions. He listed his publication record and then relayed an elaborate story of the conspiracy perpetrated against him for whistle-blowing on a superior. He mentioned Brian Deer as Brian “Fear” (some in the audience moaned) and “got on his case” by resurfacing the Synegro case against Dr. Lewis and claimed that Mr. Deer was trying to do to him what he did to Wakefield. Dr. Lewis said that he became interested in the Wakefield case because it bore similar characteristics to his own regarding the U.S. government ban on ocean dumping due to waste containing live polio vaccine and other live vaccines along with toxic chemicals. He said he became a vaccine skeptic because he had the flu vaccine twice over the last 20-25 years and got the flu. Deer targeted him because Dr. Lewis appeared on a panel at Harvard and mentioned vaccines. According to him, the One Conversation panelists who canceled would lose their jobs if they discussed vaccines as he did. He then invoked a grand conspiracy “at the highest levels” against anyone who came out against the government.

An economist who thinks she’s an empidemiologist

Gayle DeLong, who, as you recall, is an antivaccine economist who thinks she’s an epidemiologist (well, “economist” does sound a little like “epidemiologist”), was asked to tell us about the financial incentive for that oppression (2/1:27:30). She quoted Dr. Paul Offit regarding vaccine development getting more expensive and less profitable. She implied that it couldn’t be possible because shareholders would want to know that companies never made profits on vaccines. She addressed the criticism she has received about being an economist conducting vaccine studies as she being an outside point of view needed to “ask the right questions and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

She “proved” vaccine profits by showing four individual pharmaceutical company total sales and the proportion of vaccine sales. She claimed that vaccine sales made up a huge part of sales but there are very few costs behind those sales because they don’t have to advertise, or have product liability because Congress took care of that. “These sales are just money the company printed”. She showed a slide of vaccine sales and total sales for 2014-2015 to demonstrate how vaccine sales have increased relative to total sales. Finally, she mockingly concluded that when pharmaceutical companies say they don’t make money, don’t believe them. Antivaccine quackfest indeed.

Notably, DeLong made no attempt to hide her derision for HPV vaccination when she presented results from her fertility and HPV vaccine study (2/1:30:50). She credited herself highly for having been the one to look at the relationship between HPV vaccination and fertility and told the audience the only two survey questions on the NHANES were “have you ever been pregnant and have you ever received the HPV shot?”. She denied she claimed causation and addressed the criticism of ignoring contraceptive use as, “fine, look into it”. She complained that, “some people trashed the study [for this reason] and there are some limited data in the data set that she went back to look at and it turns out married women actually used less birth control.” (Orac, of course, recently demolished DeLong’s shoddily designed and executed study.) She said we need to study this more and other possibilities could be aluminum and polysorbate-80.

DeLong also invoked Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s criticism of the HHS reports on vaccine safety that should have been issued every two years but never were and repeated the trope that vaccine manufacturers can’t be sued for the injuries caused by their vaccines after the vaccine injury act of 1987 (point of “delitigation” according to her). She used VAERS to make her case because there wasn’t any other reporting system around. She did recognize that there was no denominator in VAERS that established how many doses of vaccines were given; so she estimated that. How? Who knows? As we can see, according to DeLong, vaccine injuries went up after “delitigation” and vaccine manufacturers were absolved of liability.

At this point, DeLong was asked by Shelley Wynter who buys vaccines, and she responded that it is the government and physicians who are reimbursed by insurance companies. She said she knew a physician who took her family to Tanzania on the SkyMiles she earned from vaccine purchases, which to her represented a conflict of interest. Shelley Wynter asked about who finances the Institute for Vaccine Safety and compared it to an oversight group for cigarette safety funded by cigarette companies.

On the incoherence of antivaccine cranks at an antivaccine quackfest

Dr. James Lyons-Weiler was asked by Shelley Wynter how are safety studies selected when they are used for safety (2/1:40:30). Dr. Lyons-Weiler started by responding to a question posited by an audience member prior to the intermission who asked if autism rates were really rising. He informed her to print this reference by Cynthia Nevison and Mark Blaxill. He picked up a metal detector, jumped to the subject of “healthy user bias” and pretended to speak to Dr. Paul Offit:

”How can one man be so wrong about so many things so often?!”

The audience howled with laughter, and Dr. Lyons-Weiler looked very pleased with himself. This was the point the audience was asked about who stopped vaccinating because of vaccine injury. He considered this “empirical observation of data” in their families. Lyons-Weiler said these vaccine-injured people take themselves out of studies to explain how healthy user bias occurs.

Next jumped to his introduction of vaccine skepticism when he wrote his book Cures vs. Profits and related how, while writing the chapter about vaccines, he remembered something about Andrew Wakefield, searched him on the internet then found out about Brian Hooker and Dr. William Thompson, the latter of whom Dr. Lyons-Weiler proclaimed to be, “a protected whistleblower” due to Dr. David Lewis’ struggles. He regurgitated the CDC Whistleblower talking points (frequently deconstructed by Orac and others), such as hiding results, putting Dr. Thompson on leave so Dr. DeStefano could appear before the IOM and [forging data] is standard practice for all vaccine safety research studies. Dr. Lyons-Weiler read “all the vaccine safety research:” studies as a result, two thousand of them he said. He used SafeMinds as a resource and claimed adverse events are ignored because Barbara McCormick (her name is actually Mary) said, “I don’t have a free weekend, do you?” (Various iterations of this appear only on anti-vaccine sites).

Lyons-Weiler also criticized the Verstraeten thimerosal study because the authors corrected for confounding variables such as maternal age, gestation length, birth weight, mother’s income and nutritional status. He explained that vaccinating “low birth weight, high risk children” with MMR are excluded [from vaccine safety studies] and called this “translational failure”.

He also announced he has a research study under review and the topic is the application of his own “Objective Evaluation Score (OES) to 46 epidemiological studies on vaccines and autism.

Amusingly, Lyons-Weiler claimed he’s an expert in study design and developing scoring systems since he had graded “thousands of students”. The highest score a study can obtain is +12, the average score of all the studies he evaluated was -6.61 and only one study, D’Souza et al. 2006 received a score of +4. He did not evaluate any anti-vaccine research studies with his own scoring method. He said epidemiological studies “have failed us” and when we demand a vaccinated versus unvaccinated study, it must be only a “randomized clinical trial only” because causation can’t be determined from epidemiological studies. He stated:

”There is no valid science that vaccines do not cause autism.”

I feel compelled to stipulate that while I am not a great writer, Dr. Lyons-Weiler’s presentation really was this disordered. [Orac notes that, even though he is a great writer and editor, even he couldn’t make a lot of sense of this description of Lyons-Weiler’s segment.]

Questions and bad answers

The final question and answer session began (2/1:55:59):

Q: My daughter is vaccine-injured from Gardasil and has the MTHFR mutation and can’t detox. Why don’t doctors test for this?
A (Toni Bark): Most doctors don’t know they can get these studies, these are epigenetic studies looking at single nucleotide polymorphic variants. This is very hard to find research but can only be found in Shoenfeld’s book on autoimmunity, geneticists don’t know about it, mainstream medical doesn’t accept it. James Lyons-Weiler concurred and essentially said that animal models in autoimmunity studies are applicable to humans and autoimmunity is induced in certain genetically-modified mice and rats with only 5x AlOH per body weight.

Q: What is correlation between pesticides and what’s in vaccine ingredients?
A: David Lewis said to watch his video Below the Fruited Plain. Mixtures of chemicals and vaccines create a doomsday scenario. He claimed the head of the USDA (at some time in the past) said under oath, “So long as it’s supported by hundreds of studies, it’s okay if the data are fabricated.”

Q: Do fetal cell lines used in vaccines contribute to genetic mutations and duplications?
A: Sherri Tenpenny answered yes and “transession” occurs which is a process of incorporating the DNA of one set of cells into another (2/2:11:30). Del Bigtree informed the audience that Dr. Theresa Deisher is the leading expert on that; she’s one of the top scientists in the world. She did a study putting MMR with stem cells and they mutate. Del Bigtree said top geneticists say residual DNA in vaccines don’t incorporate into cells but Del Bigtree informed us that’s not true. Toni Bark clarified that it’s fragmented DNA, not cells that’s in vaccines; Sherri Tenpenny said, “that’s not true, there are cells”.

Q: Which is the bigger public health threat, Gardasil or cervical cancer?
A: The entire panel said Gardasil. James Lyons-Weiler explained that older women are at a higher risk of per-cancerous lesions after HPV vaccination and this is known as “negative efficacy” and Mary Holland researched this and her book is in the lobby [for sale]. The audience member who asked the question stated that HPV vaccination will never prevent cervical cancer, it was designed to prevent “the little warts” and it causes more cancers. Del Bigtree claimed,

”that for every 100,000 women, 8 will get cervical cancer and 2 will die but if you vaccinated 100,000 women with the HPV vaccine, 2,300 of them will have a life threatening adverse event. You do the math.”

Toni Bark added, “and 1 out of 792 women died in their study who received the HPV vaccine. We would have to kill 99 women to get one less cervical cancer death.” Dr. Chris Shaw mentioned Sin Hang Lee and his discovery of viral DNA complexed with aluminum adjuvant in Gardasil but was widely ignored by the CDC and other governmental agencies as not true but it was true. He went on to say, “he can’t think of a better way to create autoimmunity than complexing aluminum with DNA and sticking it in your brain-you’re asking for serious trouble if you do that”. The audience reacted very strongly to the discussion about HPV vaccination as did all the panelists.

Del Bigtree concluded with a very dramatic “call to action” and claimed pharmaceutical companies kept pro-vaccine people who wanted to be here from coming, “This is what science looks like and these people are doing important science” he proclaimed as he pointed to the panelists. He implored all in “cyberworld” to call every hospital, doctor and ask why they won’t stand up.

[Note added by our minion: The last audience member to pose the question about HPV in the second block was none other than Judy Mikovits of the bizarre and tawdry tale of data manipulation, study retraction, theft and arrest. It appears as though she has taken up the anti-HPV vaccination crusade. I did not realize it was her at the time but put it together after reviewing some of the video.]

Final observations from a pro-science minion

This concludes my account of the the speakers’ presentations at One Conversation but I would like to offer a few words of “post-hoc” analysis. We are all very familiar with these speakers and their respective antivaccine “bodies of work” but the impression I had of them prior to this event was probably like most of yours. That impression evolved seeing these speakers in person and interacting with a primarily anti-vaccine audience. They all have a savior complex along with a persecution complex; they genuinely believe they are correct and competent and have appointed themselves thought leaders to guide scared or hurting anti-vaccine parents and nuture their “vaccine-injured” children. That they have carved out a way to monetize anti-vaccinationism is not mutually-exclusive with sincerely-held beliefs. I have difficulty reconciling overt and intentional acts of deception on the part of some of the panelists and organizers with their genuine beliefs they are providing a public service and basing their position on pro-vaccine scientists being deceptive and fraudulent regarding vaccine safety.

The panelists seemed blissfully unaware or uncaring that their respective presentations and claims were completely disparate. For example, James Lyons-Weiler said to throw all epidemiological studies in the trash and start all over with RCTs yet he and all of the other panelists rely on anti-vaccine epidemiological studies to form their conclusions and they all applauded him for saying this. I also noticed he didn’t subject any anti-vaccine studies to his “objective evaluation score” to demonstrate their strengths which would be an interesting thing to do if someone here were to take that on.

I actually enjoyed listening to their presentations and gleaning an insight into their motivations that only a personal experience could provide. I frankly don’t think any of the panelists are particularly talented or otherwise notable in their respective fields, but they are highly-ambitious. There was a distinct delusion of group superiority spurred on by an extremely high degree of the Dunning-Kruger effect and validation by their colleagues and audience members. They are very convincing and effective at what they do and are not going away.

[Orac concluding note: I heartily thank Lord Draconis’ minion, and I am sure that the reward for this infiltration will be, as usual, rich. Reading this account, I had a hard time not interjecting frequently my opinion. In actuality, for the most part my editorial touch has been relatively light, mainly consisting of keeping tenses consistent and making some of the prose flow a little better. Oh, sure, I did throw a couple of Orac-isms in there here and there, and I couldn’t resist adding a couple of links to my deconstructions of some of the pseudoscience being spewed at this antivaccine quackfest, but for the most part I restrained myself, which, given the size of my ego, is not easy. Fortunately, our minion has done very, very well indeed. I also fear that I must agree with the conclusion. Antivax activists like the members of this panel do seem to have a persecution/savior complex, and some of them are indeed very persuasive to people who don’t know the science. We will need to continue to be vigilant.]