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Del Bigtree’s ICAN “questions” the studies used to license the MMR vaccine. Hilarity ensues.

With the current measles outbreaks in the US having, only a third of the way through 2019, surpassed the total number of cases seen in any year since measles was declared eradicated in 2000, thanks largely to pockets of unvaccinated children, you’d think that the antivaccine movement would be on the defensive. To some extent, it is, but as the number of measles cases climbs past 700 just since the beginning of the year, antivaxers are getting, if anything, more aggressive. They’re promoting legislation to make opting out of vaccine mandates easier, while trying to intimidate physicians, nurses, and advocates who speak out. Some of the antivaccine rhetoric is even getting disturbingly violent. In addition, the propaganda and conspiracy theories continue to flow in order to undermine public trust in the vaccination program. Enter ICAN (Informed Consent Action Network), an antivaccine group formed by Del Bigtree, producer of the antivaccine propaganda film disguised as a documentary, VAXXED.

I’ve been getting a number of inquiries on social media regarding a claim by ICAN that’s been making the rounds in the antivaccine underground and being thrown at science advocates as if to “prove” that the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine wasn’t adequately tested before being approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Amazingly, this was an antivaccine claim that I hadn’t heard before; so I decided to investigate. First, let’s look at ICAN’s press release from last week, MMR Vaccine Licensing Called Into Question Following ICAN’s Latest FOIA Exposure of FDA Coverup:

In another significant legal win for vaccine risk awareness non-profit Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN), a new Freedom of Information Act disclosure from the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has revealed that the MMR vaccine was licensed based on clinical trials which in total had less than 1,000 participants and far more adverse reactions than previously acknowledged.

It’s alarming that an appeal was required to get this information, but it’s more alarming that every time ICAN prevails in obtaining a FOIA disclosure from the FDA, CDC or HHS, we learn about another serious shortcoming in their duties to assure Americans’ health and health care,” says Del Bigtree, ICAN founder and host of the weekly fact-based medical news show “The HighWire.”

“Vaccine risk awareness nonprofit”? More like vaccine risk massive exaggeration nonprofit or vaccine risk liar nonprofit. If there’s one thing we know about Del Bigtree (not to mention all groups who misuse the term “informed consent”) in their names, its’ that they massively inflate the risk of vaccination and attribute to vaccines complications, conditions and diseases not caused by vaccines, such as autism, autoimmune disease, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), diabetes, and all manner of chronic health conditions, while massively underestimating the actual benefits of vaccination. That’s why I frequently refer to the antivaccine version of “informed consent” as misinformed consent. The idea is that, if you don’t know anything but what groups like ICAN tell you about vaccines, you’d be insane to vaccinate your child because the message these groups peddle about vaccines is that they don’t work very well and are dangerous—oh, and the diseases they protect against (e.g., measles) aren’t that bad, hence the “misinformed consent.” In the case of ICAN, just look at Bigtree’s video, in which he talks about eradicating “man-made diseases”; i.e., all the horrible things that, according to him, vaccines cause:

But what if ICAN is correct? It’s possible, albeit unlikely. Let’s look at Bigtree’s claims first, as enumerated in the press release. First, ICAN apparently got some documents using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) concerning the licensing of the MMR vaccine:

  • There were eight clinical trials that in total had less than 1,000 individuals, out of which only 342 children received the MMR vaccine
  • The safety review period only tracked ‘adverse events’ for 42 days after injection
  • More than half or a significant percent of all participants in each of the eight trials developed gastrointestinal symptoms and upper respiratory infections
  • All adverse events were generically described as ‘other viruses’ and not considered in safety profile of licensure
  • The control group received other vaccines for either rubella or measles and rubella, and none of the controls received a placebo (an inert substance such as a saline injection)

As is the case of many antivaccine claims, what’s left unsaid is far more important than what is said. Let’s just say that the characterization above leaves out a lot of important information. I’ll dismiss the last charge right now, because it’s a common antivaccine trope that betrays a complete lack of understanding of clinical trial ethics. Here’s a hint: If an effective treatment for a condition for which you’re testing a new drug or an effective vaccine against a disease you’re testing a new vaccine for exists, it is unethical to do a placebo-controlled trial because that would require leaving the control group untreated or unprotected. The only ethical way to test such new therapeutics or vaccines is against the existing standard of care; that way no subject in the trial is intentionally left untreated or unprotected. I know that Bigtree knows this because science advocates have been telling him this ever since he emerged as the darling of the antivaccine movement; so here he’s clearly being intentionally deceptive, knowing that his audience won’t question his claim and will eat it up. He does a lot more of the same in this Highwire video from a month ago:

It’s a long video

So what’s the real story.

Things left unsaid by the ICAN press release

The press release leaves out a lot, as will become apparent if you look at the actual documents received by ICAN as a result of its FOIA request. The very first page is an approval letter dated September 15, 1978. If you know anything about the MMR vaccine, this should raise a red flag. The original MMR vaccine was approved in 1971. So this isn’t about the trials used to license the original MMR vaccine. So what is it about? Well, read the letter:

This is to inform you that the amendments to your product license applications to include the use of RA27/3 strain rubella virus grown in human diploid cells have been accepted for manufacture of the following products:

Rubella Virus Vaccine, Live
Measles Mumps, and Rubella Virus Vaccine, Live
Measles and Rubella Virus Vaccine, Live

What we’re talking about here is the second iteration of the MMR vaccine. As explained on Vaxopedia:

As most folks know, the original MMR vaccine, which combined the separate measles, mumps, and rubella shots, was licensed way back in 1971.

It included the original rubella vaccine, which was made with a duck embryo derivative of HPV-77 that was attenuated by passing it 77 times in monkey kidney cells.

Wait, what?

HPV?

Before the new conspiracy theories start, no, not that HPV.

It stands for High Passage Virus.

And while the vaccine worked, it didn’t work as well and caused more side effects than a RA27/3 rubella vaccine that was already approved in Europe:

“Over the next decade, accumulating evidence led to changes in the United States. First, the duck embryo and dog kidney vaccine strains caused significant joint reactions [24–27]. Second, reinfection on exposure to wild rubella virus was demonstrated frequently with all strains except the RA 27/3 vaccine [28–30]. Third, the good safety record of the RA 27/3 vaccine in Europe, plus the majority opinion of scientists, led the US Food and Drug Administration to license RA 27/3. Important pressure for this decision came from Dorothy Horstmann at Yale, who was convinced by her comparative studies of rubella vaccines [31], and by Maurice Hilleman at Merck, who sought a better rubella strain for measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.”

Stanley Plotkin on The History of Rubella and Rubella Vaccination Leading to Elimination

So that’s it, they just changed out the rubella component for one that was safer and worked better.

So basically, a minor change was made in the MMR vaccine, substituting a different strain of rubella virus to use one that had already been approved for use in Europe with a subsequent good safety record. Not only that, but scientists went a step further and did a controlled cohort study comparing the new MMR vaccine to folks who didn’t receive any vaccine at the time of the study. This is, of course, a perfectly acceptable methodology when the primary outcomes measured are not subjective, like antibody responses. It is also not unreasonable only to follow patients a relatively short period of time after vaccination when what is being tested is a relatively minor change to the formulation of an existing vaccine with an excellent safety record. As noted in Vaxopedia, the studies leading to the licensure of MMR II followed much, much larger randomized controlled studies of the individual measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines. Basically, the measles vaccine was safe in 1968 when it was approved, as was the mumps vaccine in 1967 and the rubella vaccine in 1969. So was the MMR vaccine when it was approved in 1971, as was MMR II when it was approved in 1978.

In fairness, in his Highwire video (above), Del Bigtree does note that the clinical trials he is ranting about were for MMR II, not the original MMR; the press release, however, makes no mention of that or even the year. In addition, Bigtree also misrepresents the reasons why the changes in MMR were made to produce MMR II as being because Stanley Plotkin wanted to switch to a strain of rubella that could be grown in one of the cell lines derived from a human fetus, rather than because of concerns about joint reactions due to the strain of rubella virus being used in the originally approved MMR formulation. Amusingly, he confidently asserts that this would be the first MMR using a rubella strain grown on “aborted fetal DNA,” a howler of a scientific misstatement. (Del, I’d love to see someone try to grow a virus on fetal DNA. It currently takes cultured mammalian cells to grow a virus like rubella in sufficient quantities for a vaccine, you scientific ignoramus!) Naturally, he prefaces this with a rant about how children are being quarantined because their parents have not accepted this “ritual” of injecting “toxic products” multiple times in their life, they’re not allowed to go to school or synagogue (at approximately the 42 minute mark). Hilariously, he also glowingly cites Andrew Wakefield’s now retracted 1998 Lancet paper that started the whole MMR-autism conspiracy theory, in particular the claimed association between MMR vaccination and GI complaints. This little gem will become relevant in the next section.

As for “not being adequately studied” or not being studied for a long enough time, Bigtree is full of poop emoji there, too. Arguably, MMR II is the most studied vaccine in history. Unfortunately, a lot of the more recent studies of the vaccine came about because of Bigtree’s partner in crime with respect to making VAXXED, Andrew Wakefield, and his bad science suggesting that MMR can cause autism, but nonetheless MMR has been massively studied—and continues to be massively studied—for safety. There’s even been a double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study of adverse reaction to MMR vaccination in twins! OK, the placebo wasn’t saline, but rather he same product including neomycin and phenol-red indicator but without the viral antigens, but, unlike what antivaxers try to claim, that is a perfectly acceptable placebo for a trial like this. Arguably it’s better than a saline placebo because it allows identification of whether any adverse effects observed were truly due to the vaccine antigens, particularly when you remember that MMR doesn’t contain aluminum adjuvants or mercury-containing thimerosal preservative, two of the biggest bogeymen in the antivaccine universe. But, hey, if antivaxers want saline controls, I’ll give them saline controls. Yes, there are randomized, double blind clinical trials of MMR II using saline as the placebo control. Granted, it wasn’t tested that way before FDA approval, but that’s because it didn’t need to be given that MMR II was a minor modification to the original MMR and the rubella strain being substituted already had an excellent safety record in Europe.

So, we’ve taken care of important things left unsaid by ICAN that show that, contrary to what ICAN claims, MMR II was tested adequately and since has been tested in double-blind, saline placebo controlled trials. Del is either ignorant or lying when he claims that the MMR was “never tested” in a double-blind saline placebo-controlled trial. But what about the claim of lots of adverse reactions that the FDA is “covering up”? As with ICAN’s other claims, there’s less there than meets the eye.

How to deceive with numbers the Del Bigtree way

The ICAN press release mentions that more “than half or a significant percent of all participants in each of the eight trials developed gastrointestinal symptoms and upper respiratory infections” and “adverse events were generically described as ‘other viruses’ and not considered in safety profile of licensure.” That sounds damning, doesn’t it? Not so much if you look closer. Fortunately for me, Magdalen Wind-Mozley wrote a long Facebook post that delves into this question and helped me enormously in perusing the tables that Bigtree so confidently discusses in an alarmist nature as he tries to imply strongly that all these symptoms were evidence that MMR really was causing autism in these children:

I’ll quote liberally where appropriate for those of you who don’t have FB accounts. The study that Bigtree zeros in are trials #442 and $443 (pages 9-43). Basically, the money discussion by Wind-Mozely comes after she describes how vaccine trials use a study diary, where every day parents would take their child’s temperature and grade a list of symptoms, commenting if they so desired:

Del instead wants you to think of “GI issues”; because we all know GI issues are associated with…autism.

He also wants you to believe that some children suffered for these symptoms for the whole period of the trial. Which is I think (being perhaps overly generous to Del) because he’s misunderstand the summary table.

You can see the sheet image attached, it records data for each day. In the summary table there are time periods, days: 0-4, 5-12, 13-18, 19-28 and 29-42.
So a child might be sick on day 3, have a tummy ache on day 20 and diarrhea on day 33; and be counted 3 times.

Also in the summary table is a column which tells you how many individuals were affected over the full 42 days.

In the case of GI issues this number is 43/102 children.

Del makes huge play of this number!

Mentioning autism, and claiming he “couldn’t make it up”.

As a comparison, she decided to ask members of a mothers’ forum of which she is a member how many of the mothers’ children had GI symptoms in the last 42 days, noting a couple of caveats. First, none of them were in vaccine trials, and, second, they weren’t filling out symptom diaries every day. If you’re in a trial and filling out a symptom diary every day, you’re definitely likely to be more vigilant looking for even minor symptoms than you would be otherwise. She also chose parents of children under 4 because 84% of the children in the trials were under 4. She also quite sensibly noted the limitations of her approach, which wasn’t scientific (obviously) and not systematic. Still, I think it’s worth noting:

I asked the question “Has your LO had an upset tummy over the course of 42 days? and captured the data at 200 responses.

I qualified the “upset tummy” by citing the symptoms from the study sheet:
“So including, BUT NOT RESTRICTED TO:

Throwing up
Stomach ache
Diarrhea “

And what do we find? Out of 200 votes we have:

Those currently with a baby/small child reporting yes: 76
Those currently with a baby/small child reporting no: 83
Which gives us 48% with “GI issues”, compared with Del’s supposedly terrifying bombshell of 42% (43/102)

Those who are recalling a child who has now grown up:

Reporting yes: 13
Reporting no: 28
Which gives us 32% with “GI issues”.

Her conclusion: Minor GI issues in very young children are very, very common, or, as she put it in the comments: “Tl:dr (too long:didn’t read) version: little children vomit and have explosive poos. Nothing to do with vaccines…”

I know what you’re thinking: But, Dave, dude, this is just an unscientific survey on a mothers’ discussion group! Is there scientific literature that can help us? The topic is a complex one because, again, GI complaints are very common, so common that a lot of times parents don’t even take their children to the doctor for them, making it difficult. We know that the prevalence of recurrent abdominal pain in children can range from 11% to 45%. A 2016 systematic review of functional GI disorders in infants and toddlers found that infant regurgitation and functional constipation can be as high as 25.9% and 31%, respectively, although the authors noted that “included studies were of moderate to poor data quality with respect to absence of confidential interval for prevalence rate and inadequate sampling methods” and concluded that the “scarcity and heterogeneity of FGID data call for the necessity of well-designed epidemiological research in different levels of pediatric practice and refinement of diagnostic.” Another systematic review, this time from 2017, found that functional gastrointestinal disorder (FGID) “prevalence rates for student samples ranged from 9.9% to 29% to as high as 87% in clinical samples. Cyclic vomiting, irritable bowel syndrome and functional constipation were the most researched conditions, with a prevalence ranging from 0.2% to 6.2%, 0% to 45.1% and 0.5% to 86.9%, respectively.” The bottom line is that GI symptoms are very common in children, and, because data regarding their prevalence is relatively poor quality, their prevalence likely underestimated. Basically, 40% of parents with children in a vaccine trial noting GI symptoms during 42 days sounds alarming, but isn’t. GI complaints are very common in young children, as any pediatrician will tell you. Most are self-limited and not severe.

I can’t help but mention here that in the double blind placebo controlled twin study of MMR, “respiratory symptoms, nausea, and vomiting were observed more frequently in the placebo-injected group than in the MMR vaccinated group.”” Unfortunately, this is not directly comparable to study #443 ranted about by Bigtree, because the questionnaire in this study did not include a daily diary and the only GI symptoms asked about were nausea and vomiting. The bottom line is that MMR is not associated with a markedly increased risk of significant GI symptoms nor, by Bigtree’s implied association, autism.

MMR is very safe, and Del Bigtree is deceiving by omission again

In response to the current outbreaks, the FDA issued a statement two weeks ago:

The MMR vaccine has been approved in the United States for nearly 50 years to prevent measles, mumps and rubella (also known as German Measles). As a result of its use, measles and rubella were completely eradicated in the United States, and mumps cases decreased by 99%. Large well-designed studies have confirmed the safety and effectiveness of the MMR vaccine and have demonstrated that administration of the vaccine is not associated with the development of autism. However we’re seeing an increasing number of outbreaks of measles in communities across the country, including those in New York, New Jersey, Washington, California, and Michigan.

And:

We do not take lightly our responsibility to ensure the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, and work diligently to assess safety and effectiveness of all licensed vaccines for their intended uses. The MMR vaccine is very effective at protecting people against measles, mumps, and rubella. It also prevents complications caused by these diseases. And we have nearly 50 years of experience and evidence supporting that fact. In fact, according to the CDC, two doses of the MMR vaccine beginning at 12 months of age (the recommended dosing schedule) are 97% effective against measles, 88% effective against mumps, and 97% effective for rubella.

Like many medical products, the MMR vaccine has known potential side effects that are generally mild and short-lived, such as rash and fever. If parents have concerns about these side effects, we recommend that they speak with their health care providers about the benefits and risks of vaccines, along with the potential consequences of not vaccinating against diseases.

Absolutely right.

Bigtree’s “blockbuster” revelation is neither a revelation nor a blockbuster, except perhaps for being a blockbuster of cluelessness, deception, or both. Whether Bigtree’s deception by omission regarding the approval of MMR II by the FDA is unintentional and due to scientific ignorance or intentional and due to mendacity, I don’t know. I tend to think the former because Bigtree has demonstrated his scientific misunderstanding and cluelessness more times than I can recall, but maybe he’s smarter than that and it’s the latter. I don’t know and it doesn’t matter. Either way, Bigtree is, as usual, wrong as wrong can be. MMR II is incredibly safe, very effective, and does not cause autism. His fear mongering based on misinformation does nothing other than make the current measles outbreaks more difficult to bring under control by frightening parents about the MMR vaccine.

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]

42 replies on “Del Bigtree’s ICAN “questions” the studies used to license the MMR vaccine. Hilarity ensues.”

Regarding “unintentional: scientific ignorance” vs “intentional: mendacity” (bonus points for working “mendacity” in there – kudos!) in many cases of anti-vaxxer bombast I tend to err on the side of the former (Hanlon’s Razor and all that). In the case of Bigtree (and certain others such as that scum-sucking pustule on the backside of humanity Andrew Wakefield) though I’ve never been quite convinced that this is what’s happening.

Stirring this particular pot is essentially his full-time job these days and his livelihood is based on knowing which buttons to push in his adherents and if he was just picking up on things as his based purely on his uninformed attempts at understanding “teh sciencez” then I’d expect his hit-rate to be a bit more erratic.

Take the focusing on GI symptoms here – it’s the perfect button for him to hit here for two reasons:

1) It ties in with the focus of Wakefield’s retracted (and largely fictional) “study”, this essentially does the simplest of manipulations leading the faithful or gullible to “Wakefield talked about something-something-gut issues. GASP! if he was on to something there that must mean he was right about everything!!

2) the extremely common nature of basic GI symptoms in babies toddlers means (as the numbers Orac dug up show) that there is a good chance that parent’s reading/watching his tripe will be able to recall their child having had similar symptoms during the 42-days post vaccination thus “proving” Del’s point. And of course due to the fact that our memories are all unreliable narrators of our own lives once the brain goes looking for specific memories of post-vaccination GI symptoms it’s likely to find them, it;s not looking for ones pre-vaccination so it will ignore those and make it seem as though it was an inciting event. Add in that very few will have had reason to track the exact number of days between such joyous experiences as being spit-up on or dealing with a steaming poo-plosion any number of potentially well-scattered events will get lumped in to this magical 42 day period that Del is harping on about.and before you know it parents will be swearing on whatever religious text they believe in that within hours, nay, minutes of receiving the MMR-II jab their child became a raging torrent of vomit and diarrhea and stayed that way for weeks. They won’t be lying – they will genuinely believe that to have been the case. Because human recall of events, particularly those that were considered mundane at the time is notoriously unreliable.

So in summary I don’t believe that Del uses these specific points accidentally as a result of ignorance, he’s just too consistent in the way he uses emotive words and imagery for me to think otherwise.

I’ve had some training in non-fiction writing and getting the reader to feel a particular way about a character or an event is at the core of that art so you get taught to deconstruct what you see and read to see how and why an author has produced a specific emotional response. What Del does isn’t sophisticated by any means, but it can be very effective if someone’s not expecting it – and everything he says and writes is riddled with these crude manipulations. “aborted fetal DNA” is a classic one – of course he knows the difference between that and cells derived from an aborted fetus but courtesy of shows like the ever-popular CSI franchise “DNA” in the popular vernacular has become synonymous not with Deoxyribonucleic acid molecules but with the very core of what makes a person a person.

It’s the same with his talk of “freedom hanging in the balance” – when you hear that you aren’t evaluating the question of vaccines, your animalistic/emotive brain is thinking about shackles, about jail cells and prisons. And that speaks to humans, especially those living in a fairly permissive western culture such as that in the US in a very powerful way – there’s a reason why Mel Gibson’s speech in Braveheart remains so insanely over-quoted 20+ years later. Bigtree is just hamfistedly tugging on the same strings.

A. If he knew in the video that this is MMR II, omitting it in the press release suggests dishonesty.

B. Whether the problem is inability to read clinical trial documents well enough to understand the basics or intentional misrepresentation, as you point out, doesn’t matter. In either case, he is not fit to be a source on vaccines.

C. The idea that Dr. Plotkin could dictate to Maurice Hilleman from Merck which strain to use in Merck’s MMR suggests serious misunderstanding of the people involved.

I sense a theme here. Remember Bigtree and Kennedy, Jr.’s hullabaloo over their FOIA for HHS vaccine safety reports? Not only did they get smacked down by the HHS response but the HHS did, in fact, comply with the law and release safety reports within two years, not every two years as the dynamic duo of lies claimed.

re Dr DG’s twitter: that rally tonight (?) featuring Del, AJW et al

Holy hell! That venue is a LARGE wedding palace that’s very visible on the highway in Monsey, The website says they can accommodate 1500. If the weather wasn’t so horrible I might try to attend.

OT but it’s great news!

I looked at Jarry’s tweet- via Dr DG’s- about the meeting and another tweeter was KREBIOZEN!
He’s ALIVE!!!
I doubt it’s fake as he shows the familiar fox image, Forest Gate, London, other designating markings!
Let’s hope it’s real

Julian Frost writes,

I wonder why he went silent for over three years.

MJD says,

Orac banned KREBIOZEN? If this is true, an investigation is warranted to determine why the foxy minion was silenced.

@ Orac,

Great post!

Your friend always,

MJD (Michael J. Dochniak)

Orac banned KREBIOZEN? If this is true, an investigation is warranted to determine why the foxy minion was silenced.

Really Michael? Really? What is your proof that Orac banned Krebiozen? What in my comment suggests Orac banned him?
I am done with you. Orac puts you in moderation because you constantly climb onto your hobbyhorse and comment, even on posts that have nothing to do with your fixation. You’re very lucky you comment here, because I would have banned you long ago. As Narad said of you, your signal-to-noise ratio approches zero.

@ Julian Frost:

You’re right. I am done with him as well. I would have banned him also.

BUT Orac is nicer and kinder than we are OR perhaps he has ulterior motives:
— he only wants to ban the worst offenders like those who threaten violence, are racist, sexist, homophobes or
— he allows really awful commenters who KNOW NOTHING simply to illustrate how terrible people’s beliefs / ideas/ writing can be- thus, RI is a lab where sceptics can refute an easy obviously wrong commenter as practice for real world encounters with more refined and articulated BS or.
— he knows that life is hard and we all need to laugh

BUT at any rate, KREB lives!

Denice Walter: perhaps MJD is the whetstone on which we sharpen our rhetorical tools? If so, he’s a pretty rough grit. Beth would be a much finer stone.

@ JustaTech:

He’s probably for the newbies. Readers can work their way up by responding to trolls here or to writers/ commenters on various websites/ media.
Notice that I usually restrict myself to professional woo-meisters/ anti-vaxxers who are prevaricating to their thralls as a public service – in other words, the Big Guns- but hey, everyone has to start somewhere.

I do hope Orac has ulterior motives. And I’m wondering how long he will put up with me… As people say: All good things must come to an end.

@Panacea: You wrote about people falling for alt-med: “they believe that SBM “failed” them or a family member”.

I have observed many people who had “beliefs” or “ideologies” about healthcare on the net and in real life. Not the vocal ones on the net. The ones who cower in shame when it comes to talking about their bad experiences, real or perceived. Yes, these people have had their trust in healthcare shattered, and they do progressively turn to alt-med beliefs. For various reasons too long to expose. Their “conversion” to alt-med can be either brutal or very progressive. When these beliefs are firmly ingrained, and when these people decide to “speak out”, you witness the blooming of an alt-med ubercrank.

It’s tough to remain pro-science when you believe, rightly or wrongly, that medicine failed you. That why I believe medicine should relentlessly claim that it should be based in science, while simultaneously not overplaying the breadth and scope of scientific medical knowledge. Alt-med ubercranks may, sometimes, have rightly (or wrongly) identified problematic issues in medicine as a practice and as a science. And then they take it as a personal duty to rectify the wrongs they see, while not understanding clearly that they’re mostly unable to do it. That’s why I believe most alt-med gurus are initially delusional more than mendacious. What they evolve over time to be is a whole other matter…

I believe medicine should investigate (abnormal) illness behaviors much much more thoroughly.

https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/343508

And I’m wondering how long he will put up with me…

Pretty much indefinitely, so long as you lay off the snuff videos, is my guess.

Julian Frost writes,

I am done with you.

MJD says,

Stop behaving like a stubborn politician, Julian. I apologize for offending you with my respectfully insolent comments. Now, in the spirit of compromise, can you soften the statement, “I am done with you.”?

Now, in the spirit of compromise, can you soften the statement, “I am done with you.”?

I’m sure he could shorten it.

Now, in the spirit of compromise…

The man who says “I’ll meet you half way” believes himself to be standing in the middle.

…can you soften the statement, “I am done with you.”?

I can, but I’m not going to. You have banged on about your latex fixation, even on posts that have nothing to do with the subject. You have repeatedly asked to write a guest post despite Orac telling you “no way”. Your consistent attempt to wear him down grates on everybody here, not just me and Orac. You were placed in moderation because you kept violating the Comments Policy. You took my comment and twisted it six ways to Sunday to attack Orac.
In short, Michael, if you don’t like being sent to the naughty corner, behave.

I am not done with you, Julian Frost. Behave is the antithesis of respectful insolence, therefore, I will continue to speak the language Orac created. I appreciate Orac all of the time, agree with him some of the time, and want to be in auto-moderation none of the time.

@ Orac,

What do I have to do to make your minions like me? Speak respectful in the absence of insolence. Please advise.

KREBIOZEN was here!

@MJD

What do I have to do to make your minions like me? Speak respectful in the absence of insolence. Please advise.

Try doing the following – before you click “Post Comment” to submit to the site try reading your comment back to yourself first to do the following checks:

Check that it actually adds something to the discussion.
Check it is actually related to what is being discussed.
Check that you aren’t directly or indirectly shilling one of your books
Check that if you are responding to a question another user has asked you that you are actually responding to that question not just answering it with another, otherwise evading the question, or asking someone to buy one of your books for the “answer” (see #3)
Most importantly (and I cannot stress this enough) check that it isn’t a load of cretinous gobbledygook?

If you’re having trouble with check #5 I suggest using your previous posting history as a yardstick – there’s plenty of the aforementioned cretinous gobbledygook in there for you to compare future comments against.

If you’re still struggling with this or any of the other checks you’ll find all the answers and guidance you need in my book How to avoid auto-moderation on Respectful Insolence: The Latex Connection

What do I have to do to make your minions like me?

Even Sisyphus was more intelligent than that…

Alain

I am going to generalize here. I have never worked Mr Bigtree but spent years in the natural health field, working with several of the prominent and odious names that the readers are familiar with, and others who have never achieved mainstream status because they are even more despicable.

As hard to believe as it may seem, I would guess that he believes almost everything, if not everything he says.

Remember, alternative health is an insular tribe with their own pipeline of better information. He is not just giving the people what they want by pushing their buttons, his zealous followers are also the primary source of his strength and influence. They have created a classic social network. If not for this sizeable cohort of paranoid, obscurantists they would just be screaming into the void.

The relationship leader and follower surprisingly symbiotic. Yes, the Bigtrees and Loe-Fischer’s are viewed as God-men/women who know more than everyone else, but the followers are also considered divinely enlightened.

Breaking dogma is a perilous game that gets you excommunicated. If Mike Adams started preaching gun control and Mercola advocating vaccines, do you think their followers would listen and embrace a more mainstream view? Or would their businesses collapse within a year? They have the Wolf by the ears and dare not let go. Fortunately for them, they do believe almost everything they say.

With this in mind, Anything new they introduced to the faithful must fall within an accepted rubric and ideology. The marketing people and content generators have to keep this in mind, and many are surprisingly credulous and quick to adopt all but the most lunatic aspects of their employers world view. That said, the language and creed are quite easy to ape and as a result, the bigger sites can rely on ESL employees to further cut costs.

A salient issue is that the people and institutions that call out their views as total nonsense are Held in absolute contempt. The God-men leaders are certain that they have a better grasp than the experts, and so do their acolytes. Across the board, they attribute suspect motivations to anyone who questions them.

In the exceedingly rare instance where they are aware that what they are preaching is totally false (a surprisingly infrequent scenario) such falsehoods are fine because they are under siege from well funded enemies, the general gist of what they are saying is believed to be accurate and winning the debate is crucial because the future of the planet is in the balance.

@ Bruno Schulz:

Having studied alt med for a long time ( since the early1990s), I mostly agree with you. It is an insular cultlike network that feeds the egos of both leaders and followers whilst enriching those who have products to sell. The followers/ marks often become small time proselytisers on their own- modelling themselves after their gurus – sometimes selling but always preaching the gospel of alt wisdom, annoying family, friends and colleagues whom they assume are “un-educated” and “didn’t do their homework” as one puts it. Also true in anti-vax circles,

I truly believe that their contrarianism ( opposing real medicine/ doctors/ meds) derives from possibly two factors-

perceived harm –
they believe that SBM “failed” them or a family member- Adams writes that family members died of cancer despite SBM and he himself was ill at age 30 because he followed doctors ( actually, he was overweight with borderline diabetes) and Null blames SBM for his parents’ deaths at relatively young ages because his mother took hormone replacement therapy ( and both smoked a few packs of cigarettes a day). All medicine’s fault.
Jealous hatred-
perhaps these guys ( and it is mostly men) believed themselves to be superior intellects and planned a career in science but were shocked when universities weren’t exactly thrilled with them – they didn’t have the money for elite universities and had to work or go to lower level schools. HOWEVER anyone who has gone to elite schools knows that there are scholarships and other means IF you are bright or at least a decent student. I know so many students who were not wealthy but were able to attend the best universities because of scholarships, assistance and work study. PLUS both those I survey most claim being fabulous athletes which would help acceptance. But No dice.

They thus hate people who have achieved in fields they initially chose and wish to constantly show their superiority to these usurpers of their rightful places writing articles disproving SBM and insulting well-known sceptics like Orac. Always trying to prove that SBM is based on smoke and mirrors AND deep seated corruption. Sour grapes, huh?
In addition, they studied easy access areas like nutrition and alt med labelling themselves “scientists”

I’ve found that their politics have been evolving: earlier on, they seemed more left-leaning, back to nature based.Around the time of the financial crash, both Adams and Null politicised their material- they rebelled against authority and governmental control and spending ( rather Tea Party of them) and ( Adams) drifted right as a libertarian, Christian, gun rights advocate/.Null is more libertarian but despises more leftist ideas but IS on a liberal station ( Pacifica).Whether they really believe in these policies or just figure it’s where the money is, ( Alex Jones sells vitamins) I have no idea. I think that both of them like the idea of low/ no taxes for rich people . Which they are.
.

@Bruno Schulz,
Thanks.
What you have described is essentially a cult.
I think most rationalists have come to the conclusion that the anti-vaccine “movement” is, basically, a cult.
The intransigence and refractory nature of their anti-science beliefs makes it obvious they aren’t founded on facts, evidence, or rationality.
In this manner it is much like religion.
Which is why I laugh when some doctor, psychologist, or PhD writes an article on how family physicians should try to talk these loonies out of their beliefs.
For the fence sitters it may be possible but for the confirmed believer you may as well be trying to deprogram a Scientologist (or Christian, or Jew, or…)
Doctors don’t have the months and months of time necessary to do that.
.
Catch ’em before they develop the belief is my motto.
Make it socially unacceptable and ridiculous to the tweens, teens and young adults before they become 25+ years old and firm believers.
Make it so the kids laugh at and ridicule the very concepts…
Give those kids enough science knowledge to feel empowered and “smart enough” to confront the idiocy then watch them ridicule the True Believers™ off the face of the planet.
IMO – That is where the battle is to be won.

I totally agree: you can’t change beliefs when they form an integral part of a person’s identity and/ or serve as a means of financial or emotional support.
The people we discuss- those obsessed enough to write for a website or get deeply involved in anti-vax events- are too far gone. But people who read their articles or are curious may be reachable. That’s why it’s important to expose their error, explain their MO and ridicule their leaders. A young parent may read something and wonder about the veracity of their claims. That’s why we’re here. Making it un-hip is the way.( TV comics)

Fortunately, when you google names of these websites/ leaders you get articles by Orac and others. Right now, Wikipedia, who are good at SB explanations and are used by huge numbers of people, has alties very worried because newbies read it and may reject them so there is a massive effort ( prn.fm/ natural news) to discredit Wikipedia, sceptics and social media that de-lists altie nonsense. According to Null, he hasn’t been asked to speak at conferences or be interviewed and (GASP!) he’s lost sales. Adams had to invest a lot of money to replace You Tube ( where he was tossed) for his own alternative service, Brighteon- when I look at his recent videos, it seems he doesn’t get thousands of plays. He often sounds desperate as he rants.

You Tube, Wikipedia, google, twitter et al are the main channels and it seems that all of them have taken steps to counter altie BS- that’s why woo-meisters/ anti-vax leaders are so angry: they had free ad space and international coverage . now? It’s being shut down.

Adams had to invest a lot of money to replace You Tube ( where he was tossed) for his own alternative service, Brighteon

Alexa (I know, I know) traffic stats here.

@ Narad:

I just found an announcement ( 4 months old) where Mikey complains that many people are using Brighteon to store videos in large numbers which COSTS HIM MONEY as opposed to active users who post videos / link to websites ( which can have ads/ cheap bandwidth) SO
he’s changing the rules. you have to prove that you’re getting viewers etc. OR ELSE no free storage
EVEN I understand w funny this is

FWIW –
You could be right, you could be wrong, I have no idea since I’m not a scientist. But I do know people, and you’re definitely an asshole. And a terrible writer.

Please explain why? I am sure Orac would love to get writing tips from you, along with suggestions on how to be a better human being. Perhaps you can enlighten us how to be nice to an ableist like Bigtree who decided to appropriate the Star of David.

But I do know people, and you’re definitely an asshole.

So, wait: You (1) know people who know Orac’s an asshole, (2) have a lot of assholes in your social circle, or (3) are simply trying to frost a primitive insult-cake? I’m having trouble sorting this out based purely on your ejaculation missive.

Oh Jesus, I so hope that “Independent Alternative Dispute Resolution Professional” is not satire.

I can’t help it. Whenever i hear the name Bigtree, I think of the big trees in my neighborhood, and what the local dogs think of them.

I wonder about that name: on one occasion he claimed Native American ancestry so perhaps it’s not totally made up. Maybe we should call him Del Sequoia

re prejudice ( your comment on another thread)
My father’s cousin married a Filipino med tech in the 1950s ( she was a whitey) in Olde Timey New York – people referred to their children as “Spanish”. Not the best designation in the 1950s. They didn’t get it right but they were properly racist.

He supposedly took his mother’s maiden name.
She is supposedly (and I have no reason to doubt) Mohawk from the Akwesasne/St. Regis Mohawk Reservation up in northern NY by Massena and Cornwall, Ontario.
That would fit with a vid I saw from Dull long ago** where he visited his parents in Colo. and he introduced her as Mohawk and mentioned she was a big alt-med believer and practitioner. His dad is some 1960s hippie Christian minister with his own NuAge version, etc.
It makes Dull’s anti-science woo-woo beliefs somewhat understandable.
.
** I wish I could find that vid again…
Have fun.

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