Hard as it is to believe, I’ve been writing on this blog about the antivaccine movement for nearly 15 years and refuting antivaccine misinformation for nearly five years before that. Two decades. That’s right, it’s been nearly two decades that I’ve been dealing with the pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, and fear mongering on the part of the antivaccine movement. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed, it’s that the more things change the more they say the same. While it’s true that of late I’ve become concerned about the increasingly violent rhetoric of the antivaccine movement and even an attack on California State Senator Richard Pan the other day, the threat is not new, and I see it more as an escalation of pre-existing paranoia than anything else. After all, Dr. Paul Offit was getting death threats 15 years ago. Nor do the the arguments change (much). Sure, they’ll add mitochondrial disorders and MTHFR mutations as “predisposing factors” to “vaccine-induced autism” without evidence, but what never changes is that it’s always about the vaccines. Nor do the conspiracy theories change that much. True, there are always new ones, like the “CDC whistleblower” of the antivaccine propaganda film disguised as a documentary VAXXED, but like that hoariest of antivax conspiracy theories, Simpsonwood, they’re all variations on what I like to call the central conspiracy theory of the antivaccine movement, namely that the CDC, the government, pharma, or in other words “they” knew that vaccines cause autism but have covered it up. Which brings me to Ann Dachel and Teresa Conrick.
I was perusing the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism (AoA) yesterday when I came across an a post by Ann Dachel, the “media editor” of the blog whose primary function has been to identify stories about vaccines or autism, particularly if they’re pro-vaccine, and unleashing her horde of flying antivaccine monkeys to fling poo in the comments section of the article and to harass the reporters, bloggers, and editors responsible for the articles targeted. This time around, another AoA antivaxer, Teresa Conrick, reposted a post by Ann Dachel from 2008 entitled Back To School Worries Then and Now, along with an introduction by Conrick:
Note: Anne Dachel wrote this post back in 2008, more than a decade ago! What has changed? Nothing and everything. Back in 2008, “anti-vaccine” was being used to brand us all as kooks and paranoid conspiracy theorists. Same today. But it’s worse in 2019, as laws are being passed that prevent healthy kids from attending school by the removal of vaccination exemptions. This Fall, thousands of children in New York and California will be staying home from school for lack of…. a flu shot???
There’s a video circulating on Facebook as of yesterday that seeks to clarify why so many of us speak out against vaccine damage, push for safety, push for medical freedom – the right to say “NO.” Here’s the Facebook link – Your Children. Your Choice. Please watch the video – share it on Facebook.
Why am I bothering to highlight the republication of an eleven year old post blog post from an antivaccine crank on an antivaccine blog, complete with a link to an antivaccine propaganda video? The reason is simple. Dachel is correct. Things haven’t changed much. But what her republication and the video she hawks before it remind me is that antivaccine misinformation hasn’t changed in 11 years later, which is a depressing thought because it shows just how impervious to evidence and science antivaxers remain. Let’s take a look.
What provoked the original post by Ann Dachel was an appearance by Dr. Marc Siegel on Fox News in which he stated, “The anti-vaccination movement is based on irrational fears and is absolutely destructive.” He was, of course, correct, although here I do like to make a distinction. The fears of vaccine-averse parents who have heard the message of the antivaccine movement demonizing vaccines but do not have the requisite scientific knowledge to know why antivaxers are wrong and how antivaxers distort and misrepresent science in order to make a false case that vaccines are dangerous and don’t work very well are not irrational. They are more based in lack of knowledge. In contrast, the fears of hard core antivaxers have generally gone well beyond this into full-on motivated reasoning and conspiracy theories. But that’s just a quibble. Let’s see Ann Dachel’s response:
No, Dr Siegel, you’re wrong. The loudest voices out there aren’t from ‘the anti-vaccination movement.’ They’re the parents who did vaccinate. They never missed the checkups for those scheduled vaccines.
They’re also the people who saw their children lose learned skills like making eye contact, talking, and being potty trained.
And they watched in disbelief as these same kids exhibited the signs of autism — rocking, staring at bright lights, and knocking holes in walls.
Here, we have the same confusion of correlation with causation that has been the root of the unshakeable belief among antivaxers that vaccines cause autism. I get it. Raising a special needs child is incredibly difficult. I’ve said many times before that I dont’ know if I would have been up to the challenge if my wife and I had had a child like this. I like to think I would have, but there’s no way of ever knowing unless you live the experience. The anger of antivaxers, however, is misplaced. It’s not vaccines that caused their children to become autistic. We have mountains of high quality studies looking for a link between vaccination and autism, and scientists haven’t found one. The most parsimonious explanation for this is that vaccines do not cause autism.
Let’s move on:
These parents are the voices out there asking that health officials clean up vaccines by getting rid of the countless toxins currently and routinely injected into children. The one thing that Jon and Terry Poling, Katie Wright, and Jenny McCarthy have in common is that they all vaccinated.
Why is it that anyone who asks for safe, non-toxic vaccines is ‘anti-vaccination’? Marc Siegel and everyone else out there blaming parents better understand one thing: The medical community is at fault for the rapidly eroding confidence in the vaccine program. Health officials do nothing to address the plague called autism. For years, as the numbers exploded, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked on, unconcerned. The CDC can’t tell us what causes autism and they’re the first to say there is no cure. They don’t even know if there really are more kids with autism out there, despite counting them for years. The only thing they’re sure of is that their vaccines aren’t responsible.
Yes, the “toxins gambit.” This is the antivaccine claim that vaccines are loaded with “toxins” that cause autism and all the other health issues for which antivaxers blame vaccines. Jenny McCarthy popularized this particular antivaccine trope, but it’s an old one that I remember seeing ever since I first started paying attention to the antivaccine movement. Back then, it was thimerosal, the mercury-containing preservative that was used in several childhood vaccines until around 2002. These days, the aluminum-containing adjuvants used in childhood vaccines, especially HPV vaccines, are routinely demonized. And who could forget the greatest hits of “toxins” trotted out by antivaxers who don’t understand the concept of dose-response, “toxins” such as formaldehyde, polysorbate 80, “antifreeze” (a misunderstanding that the polyethylene glycol in some vaccines is not the same thing as antifreeze, ethylene glycol), and so many more than I can remember.
Note the other argument used by Ann Dachel. It’s still used, still unchanged. It’s the argument from ignorance. Just because we don’t understand yet what causes autism does not mean that vaccines are a potential cause. When Dachel says, “they’re sure that their vaccines aren’t responsible,” she views that as a condemnation, as being hopelessly close-minded. In reality, it is a response to existing evidence. Also, it’s not as though we don’t know a fair amount about what causes autism. We know that the cause is primarily genetic, and we know that vaccines don’t cause autism. That’s not a lot, but it’s far from nothing either.
That leads me to the video that Ann Dachel linked to:
It’s from Sayer Ji (remember him, the guy who was outraged that Google correctly views antivaccine pseudoscience as akin to conspiracy theories like Pizzagate and QAnon?) and his GreenMedInfo Facebook page. It’s a veritable “greatest hits” of antivaccine tropes, all of which have been around at least as long as I’ve been blogging about vaccines:
- “Too many too soon,” complete with the usual deceptive and erroneous exaggeration of how much the vaccine schedule has expanded since the 1980s.
- The “sickest generation” claim, which is also not true and, even if it were, confuses correlation with causation in blaming vaccines for a rise in chronic illness among children. (It even repeats the same deceptively cherry-picked figures from Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. claiming that chronic illness prevalence among children has risen from 12% to 54% since 1986.)
- Blaming vaccines for autism, food allergies, sudden infant death syndrome, autoimmune diseases, seizure disorders, and many other conditions that vaccines do not cause or contribute to.
- The lie that vaccines do not go through double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trials, complete with the lie that vaccines don’t go through saline placebo-controlled trials and the usual misunderstanding that including everything but the antigens used to provoke an immune response in the control group is actually a superior placebo. Particularly hilarious is the lie that no vaccine has ever undergone saline placebo-controlled clinical trial prior to approval. That is straight up false.
- There’s also the claim that health outcomes have never been compared in vaccinated versus unvaccinated children. That, too, is false, and, in fact, the comparison doesn’t show what antivaxers think it will show. Sayer Ji even cites Anthony Mawson’s execrable, retracted zombie “study” that claimed to show unvaccinated children are healthier.
- Fear mongering about aluminum, the new mercury.
- The intellectually dishonest “vaccines didn’t save us” gambit.
- The central conspiracy theory of the antivaccine movement, including the CDC whistleblower conspiracy theory.
- The false claim that “no one” is accountable for vaccine safety.
- The pharma shill gambit.
- The “health freedom” and “parental rights” gambits.
You get the idea.
By republishing Ann Dachel’s eleven year old post, Teresa Conrick thinks that she’s shown that the “opposition” (those of us who accept the science concluding that vaccines are safe and effective) never changes, but there’s a reason for that. It’s because the pseudoscience and conspiracy mongering behind the antivaccine movement she represents never changes, not at its core. Ann Dachel’s post shows that, as does the video by Sayer Ji. There might be new antivax conspiracy theories, but they’re always variations of the central conspiracy theory of the antivaccine movement. There might be new “toxins” tagged, but it’s still always the “toxins” gambit. There might be new claims about vaccines and the immune system, but they’re all variations of “too many too soon.” Antivaccine pseudoscience and conspiracy theories might occasionally add new styles to its repertoire of pseudoscience, but they’re just styles. Nothing fundamental ever changes.