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Antivaccine nonsense Medicine

Vaccine Guide: A “guide” to cherry picked antivaccine pseudoscience

Sometimes there are weeks where I decided to take care of something that’s been in the old Blog Fodder Folder on my computer and that I’ve been meaning to do a post about. Usually, because many of these are not time-sensitive, they get pushed back in priority whenever something that is time sensitive catches my attention. Of course, as I like to say, I’m a a bit like Dug the Dog in the movie Up is with squirrels when it comes to blog topic. I’m easily distracted by a shiny new bit of science or pseudoscience that interests me. In any event, I’ve been meaning to look at something I’ve been seeing popping up on antivaccine social media, specifically the Vaccine Guide.

It’s the creation of a woman named Ashley Everly, who, believe it or not, is someone I haven’t heard of before. (I know, I know, right?) She’s currently running an antivaccine group, Health Freedom Idaho, whose website is also chock full of all manner of quackery, including naturopathy, chiropractic, and other alternative medicine. She lists herself as a toxicologist, even though her LinkedIn profile shows no evidence that she is, in fact one. Sure, she has BS in environmental toxicology from UC-Davis and worked as an intern in the California EPA Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment for a little over a year, but that’s about it. No MS, no PhD, no evidence that she ever worked as a toxicologist anywhere. Let’s just put it this way. I have a BS in Chemistry (with Honors!), but I never called myself a chemist.

Antivaxers, though, think this is a fantastic resource:

Let’s just put it this way. Ashley Everly is no toxicologist, and even in this strange antivax website, it shows. Also, I’m kicking myself. How is it that I never really encountered something announced a year ago until recently?

The Vaccine Court and National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986

Of course, science talks, and BS walks; so I decided to look at Vaccine Guide itself. At first I didn’t know what to make of it. There’s a menu bar on the left, with topics such as NCVIA/VICP/VAERS. If you click on that menu, there’s a submenu with a variety of topics, but there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of original content. For example, the link to National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 (which has, of course, been extensively discussed here many times), there’s just a link to screenshots of the act itself, with specific passages highlighted in yellow. No context is given, just the raw source with some highlighting. In this case, Everett highlighed passages like “Sets forth a table of injuries deemed vaccine-related for compensation purposes” and “Limits awards for actual and projected pain and suffering and emotional distress to $250,000.” Why? Who knows? But data without context tend not to be very helpful.

Here’s another example. There are screenshots from Bruesewitz v. Wyeth (2010), a legal decision from which antivaxers frequently cherry pick and misrepresent a passage concluding that vaccines are “unavoidably unsafe.” John Snyder wrote about this on SBM when the ruling was originally made, and you can find more here and here and here. Basically, the case was about whether a section of the “NCVIA preempts all design defect claims against vaccine manufacturers, and the Supreme Court ruled 6-2 that the NCVIA preempts all design-defect claims against vaccine manufacturers brought by plaintiffs who seek compensation for injury or death caused by vaccine side effects. This doesn’t mean that there remains no recourse for parents who think that their child was injured by a vaccine because of a design defect, just that they can’t bypass the Vaccine Court and go directly to state or federal courts. As for “unavoidably unsafe,” it’s a terrible term meant to communicate that there are some products whose benefits outweigh their risks but do have risks that can’t be eliminated completely. Vaccines could qualify. Their benefits clearly outweigh risks, but there are tiny risks that can’t be entirely eliminated due to the nature of the product. Naturally, Everett highlights “unavoidably unsafe.”

Basically, the vast majority of the website consists of screenshots of various documents and studies with passages of text that Everly apparently considers important. Yes, there are links to the source, apparently, but why Everly chose to construct this website that way, I don’t know. Under the the Vaccine Injury Compensation payout link, she highlights the figure of $4 billion paid to Vaccine Court Claimants over the last 30 years. In reality, I discussed before, when taken in context of the billions of doses of vaccines to hundreds of millions of children given during that time it’s not really that large a figure. In another link, she displays a screenshot of an explanation of the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS), while leaving out any mention of the other vaccine safety monitoring systems, such as the Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD). Why do I mention this? VAERS is the least reliable system because it’s a passive reporting system, subject to underreporting of some things and lawsuit-related overreporting (or making up) of adverse events for other things. VSD is an active system that doesn’t rely on passive reporting. That’s why antivaxers rarely mention it or the other active reporting system out there, such as the CDC’s VSD and the FDA’s Post-licensure Rapid Immunization Safety Monitoring System (PRISM). Everly also includes a screenshot of a report from Harvard Pilgrim medical group on VAERS reports that found some underreporting in VAERS and proposed a new automated system. Apparently the CDC didn’t show much interest, which has led to the usual antivaccine conspiracy theories. My guess is that it’s because there are already two active reporting systems (VST and PRISM), making turning VAERS into a third one unnecessary, but I don’t know for sure and could be wrong.

Vaccine Guide on the “toxins gambit”

Another major section is Vaccine Ingredients/Excipients/Contaminants. Basically, what follows is a list of cherry-picked studies, many from the usual antivaccine suspects with whom regular readers of this blog have become familiar, such as Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic. The choice of these articles is deceptive, too. For instance, one link, Hyperosmolality in small infants due to propylene glycol, links to a screenshot of a paper finding that propylene glycol can cause hyperosmolarity (very simply—or maybe simplistically—too much solute dissolved in the blood) in the multivitamin preparation used in parenteral (IV) nutrition. Now, you know (I presume) and I know (as do all doctors and medically knowledgeable people) that there’s a huge difference from a very tiny amount of propylene glycol in a vaccine and injecting a much larger amount of it intravenously, but the average person coming across this link in Vaccine Guide will likely react with fear that vaccines could cause hyperosmolarity.

Another study is hilarious in its cluelessness. It’s a study from 2003 that concludes that thimerosal induces DNA breaks and cell death in cultured human neurons. What’s left out is that, yes, thimerosal can cause DNA breaks and apoptosis in cultured human neurons, but not at any concentration you’d ever see in the blood of an infant receiving a thimerosal-containing vaccine. We’re talking micromolar-level concentrations, which would require a large and toxic dose of thimerosal to attain in the bloodstream. Never mind that no childhood vaccine in the US contains thimerosal as a preservative any more, and only some adult flu vaccines still use it. A real toxicologist would know that this paper is not evidence that thimerosal from vaccines kills neurons.

Some of the screenshots are just to abstracts, which is a real head scratcher to me, given that you can get the text of these abstracts just by searching PubMed. For instance, there’s this abstract. It’s a study of coating nanoparticles with polysorbate 80 (Tween-80), which is sometimes used as a stabilizer in vaccines. The idea was to use it as a means of targeting the nanoparticles to the brain. If you know antivaccine pseudoscience, you know that antivaxers frequently claim that vaccines ingredients (such as tiny DNA fragments) get into the brain to cause autoimmunity and inflammation, and you know how Everyly’s choice of this cherry picked study is meant to imply that the polysorbate 80 in vaccines is a means of getting all those imagined nasty “toxins” from vaccines into the brain.

I could go on and on here, but there’s so much more to get to. If you want to know more about these “toxins,” the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) Vaccine Education website has a great page explaining each vaccine ingredient, why it’s there, and whether it has any toxicity. As I said, this is what I like to call the “toxins gambit,” and I’ve explained a bit about it, too.

Vaccine Guide on vaccine package inserts

There’s one whole section that contains nothing but screenshots of vaccine package inserts. This is what I like to refer to as “argument by package insert.” It’s a ploy that ignores the fact that package inserts are not medical documents, but legal documents. They are, to put it briefly, a “CYA” document. As such, they list every adverse event ever reported in any clinical trial, whether the event is related to the vaccine or not. Antivaxers love to point to package inserts that note that autism was reported in clinical trials of vaccines used for FDA approval, even though if you actually look at the study you’ll see that there was no evidence that the vaccine had anything to do with autism. Also, as we keep writing again and again, there are numerous epidemiological studies failing to find a link between vaccines and autism.

Vaccine Guide on asymptomatic transmission and shedding

Next up is a section on asymptomatic transmission and shedding. Regular readers will know that a favorite antivaccine trope is to claim that attenuated live virus vaccines “shed” the virus and that that shedded virus is dangerous to those around them. It’s their answer to herd immunity in that they want you to believe that it is the recently vaccinated, not the unvaccinated, who are a danger to unvaccinated children. It’s very clear that the claim that children shed virus and are thus potential vectors for infection is important to antivaccinationists because it allows them to portray others as equally, if not more, the cause of outbreaks than their children, but is there anything to it? Regular readers can probably guess the answer to that question. The answer, of course, is that there’s far less to the issue of virus shedding than meets the eye. For one thing, virus shedding can only occur with live virus vaccines, such as the rotovirus vaccine, oral polio virus vaccines (which are not really used in the US any more because of a one in 2.7 million risk of paralysis from the vaccine strain of the virus), or intranasal flu vaccines.

Of course, there’s a difference between shedding and causing disease. For one thing, the strains of virus used in live attenuated virus vaccines are just that—attenuated. They’ve been weakened in some way so that they don’t cause the actual disease. Otherwise, a live virus vaccine would be the equivalent of giving the disease to the person vaccinated, which would rather sabotage the whole point of vaccination in the first place, which is to produce immunity to the disease without the vaccinated person actually having to suffer through the disease itself. (Scratch that, it would be exactly the same as giving the person the disease.) The question, then, is whether secondary transmission (transmission of the vaccine strain virus to others who haven’t received it) is a major concern. The answer to that question, is no, as these articles entitled Secondary Transmission: The short and sweet about live virus vaccine shedding and Live Vaccines and Vaccine Shedding, show.

We learn from the former article that these are commonly given live virus vaccines:

  • MMR – the combination measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine
  • Vavivax – the varicella or chicken pox vaccine
  • rotavirus vaccines – including two oral vaccines, RotaTeq and Rotarix
  • Flumist – the nasal spray flu vaccine
  • oral polio vaccine – the original oral polio vaccine (sometimes called the Sabin vaccine). Again, this has been replaced in the United States by the inactivated polio vaccine (Salk vaccine)

We also know that:

  • the MMR vaccine doesn’t cause shedding, except that the rubella part of the vaccine may rarely shed into breastmilk (since rubella is typically a mild infection in children, this isn’t a reason to not be vaccinated if you are breastfeeding though). What about the rare case of a person developing measles after getting the MMR vaccine? In addition to being extremely rare, it would also be extremely rare for a person to transmit the vaccine virus to another person after developing measles in this way.
  • the chicken pox vaccine doesn’t cause shedding unless your child very rarely develops a vesicular rash after getting vaccinated. However, the risk is thought to be minimal and the CDC reports only 5 cases of transmission of varicella vaccine virus after immunization among over 55 million doses of vaccine.
  • the rotavirus vaccine only causes shedding in stool, so can be avoided with routine hygiene techniques, such as good hand washing, and if immunocompromised people avoid diaper changes, etc., for at least a week after a child gets a rotavirus vaccine
  • transmission of the live, nasal spray flu vaccine has not been found in several settings, including people with HIV infection, children getting chemotherapy, and immunocompromised people in health-care settings

In other words, the claim that virus shedding is a serious problem is yet another bit of antivaccine nonsense. It’s true that some pediatric cancer centers used to caution the parents of immunosuppressed patients to keep their children separated from recently vaccinated children, but that was more out of an abundance of caution than anything else. Indeed, guidelines from the Immune Deficiency Foundation state a

Close contacts of patients with compromised immunity should not receive live oral poliovirus vaccine because they might shed the virus and infect a patient with compromised immunity. Close contacts can receive other standard vaccines because viral shedding is unlikely and these pose little risk of infection to a subject with compromised immunity.

Of course, in the Vaccine Guide, these studies are all presented without context and are clearly cherry picked, and, of course, the oral polio vaccine is not used in the US any more. Basically, shedding is very uncommon, and transmission of vaccine strain virus to other individuals is incredibly rare.

Effectiveness/Outbreaks/Herd Immunity

This is a bit of a grab bag, but if there’s a common theme it’s that vaccines don’t work, herd immunity is a myth, and outbreaks aren’t due to the unvaccinated. For example, Everly links to a commentary that notes that antigen-specific antibody titers don’t always correlate with protection. She also links to studies showing this. Well, duh! Immunologists have known this for, like, forever. That doesn’t mean that vaccines don’t work. She also links to an 1992 abstract describing a three patient case series of patients with high tetanus antibody titers who still contracted tetanus. That one was a head scratcher, too. Why did she include this? Who knows? I couldn’t find another case series like it; so this tells me that it’s very likely quite rare for patients with high antibody titers after tetanus vaccination to be susceptible to tetanus.

Everly also links to a story about an LA Countywide outbreak of pertussis. The problem of waning immunity due to the the pertussis vaccine is one that’s been known for a while. Indeed, I wrote about it seven years ago, and Steve Novella wrote about it in 2010 and last year.

The implication when antivaxers point to pertussis outbreaks and waning immunity is nothing more than the Nirvana fallacy. Basically, to them, if a vaccine doesn’t protect 100% with absolutely no risk of problems, it’s crap and not worth being used. Ditto with Everly’s invocation of the Fordham mumps outbreak five years ago.

Giving the game away, Everly also links to an article co-authored by antivaccine lawyer Mary Holland in a law review journal that claims that herd immunity “does not exist and is not attainable.” How did I miss this utterly hilarious article? Two lawyers going all Dunning-Kruger and claiming that it’s impossible to achieve herd immunity, which is just nonsense.

Vaccine Guide on the necessity of vaccines

Right off the bat, it’s easy to see where Everly is coming from. Through her choice of papers, she’s trying to imply or argue that vaccines aren’t necessary. For instance, she links to a 1977 article by John and Sonja McKinlay, The Questionable Contribution of Medical Measures to the Decline of Mortality in the United States in the 20th Century. It’s the same article that antivaxer J.B. Handley cited a mere year ago in attacking vaccines, and I discussed in detail its irrelevance to the question of whether vaccines work back then. She also links to some mortality graphs, which show declining mortality due to various vaccine-preventable diseases dating to before the introductions of the relevant vaccines. She even links to a graph showing declining mortality from tuberculosis and typhoid, noting there was “no widespread vaccination” but a “similar decline.” It’s the “Vaccines didn’t save us” gambit writ large, where antivaxers ignore the improvements in survival due to better medical care before the introduction of the vaccine and also ignore tha massive decline in disease incidence and morbidity after the introduction of vaccines. It’s an intellectually dishonest gambit, one we’re well familiar with here. For instance, in 2012 Steve Novella demolished Julian Whitaker’s use of the trope, and I’ve written about it before as well.

Another ploy she uses is to link to a CDC article on the contribution of water treatment and clean drinking water to the decline in cholera and typhoid. This historical observation would be disputed by no one, but it’s also irrelevant. We don’t routinely vaccinate for cholera and typhoid in the US. She also links to studies supposedly supporting treatment of vaccine-preventable diseases, such as a 1990 paper touting vitamin A for measles. It’s also a paper about supplementation with large doses of vitamin A (400,000 IU) in children in South Africa with severe measles complicated by pneumonia, diarrhea, or croup. Of course, this study says nothing about vitamin A preventing measles, and it’s always better to prevent serious infectious disease than to treat it later after it’s become serious enough to endanger life. Even the review article Everly includes concludes that vitamin A should “be used for the treatment of measles as recommended by WHO in children admitted to hospitals in areas where the case fatality rate is high.”

Particularly vile is her inclusion of this CDC article on polio. The article itself is fine, but what Everly underlines seems to make the deceptive case that polio is no big deal:

  • “Up to 95% of all polio infections re inapparent or asymptomatic. Estimates of the ratio of inapparent to paralytic illness vary from 50:1 to 1000:1 (usually 200:1).”
  • “Approximately 4%-8% of polio infections consist of a minor, nonspecific illness without clinical or laboratory evidence of central nervous system invasion.”
  • These syndroms are “indistinguishable from other viral illnesses.”
  • “Fewer than 1% of all polio infections result in flaccid paralysis.”
  • “Many persons with paralytic poliomyelitis recover completely…”
  • “The death-to-case ratio for paralytic polio is generally 2%-5% among children…” She also adds a footnote reading “Less than 1% of all polio infections result in ‘paralytic polio.’ Of those cases “2-5% result in death among children.” She also conveniently leaves out highlighting “…and up to 15%-30% for adults (depending on age). It increases to 25%-75% with bulbar involvement.”

Everly’s implication, as I said above, is clearly that polio is no big deal, that for the vast majority of people it’s just a mild self-limited disease, and that even many of those who get paralytic polio recover. Well, alrighty, then! Seriously, there is no facepalm great enough to do justice to this scientific ignorance.

Vaccine Guide on adverse reactions and miscellaneous topics

The last ostensibly “scientific” section of the Vaccine Guide includes a selection of screenshots of papers claiming adverse reactions. It includes a cherry picked selection of truly horrible papers by antivaxers like Gayle DeLong, Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic, Russell Blaylock, Christopher Exley, Theresa Deisher, Yehuda Shoenfeld, and more, plus commentary by David Kirby (what a blast from the past).

We’ve discussed many, albeit not all, of these particular antivaccine “scientists” and pundits here, some on several different occasions over the years. Their “research” does not in any way demonstrate that vaccines cause autism, “ASIA” (Shoenfeld’s creation), autoimmune disease, sudden infant death syndrome, diabetes, or any of the other myriad conditions and diseases for which antivaxers blame vaccines. Ashley Everly’s inclusion of these articles, with her highlighted passages, has but one purpose: To convince parents that there is good scientific evidence that vaccines cause harms that they do not cause and that they cause these harms at a high rate.

There’s also a section on Incentives/Marketing/Misconduct. You can predict what’s on there, of course. For instance, there’s a link to Del Bigtree’s ludicrous ICAN lawsuit, as well as to Peter Gøtzsche and Tom Jefferson’s article claiming that the Cochrane review on the efficacy of the HPV vaccine ignored evidence of bias. Remember that Tom Jefferson and Peter Gøtzsche have both flirted with antivaccine groups and have made borderline, if not outright, antivaccine statements.

You get the idea.

Ashley Everly reacts

I started writing this on Saturday and finished writing it yesterday morning. In the interim, I became aware of a Friday post at #vaccinesworkblog on the Vaccine Guide by Kathy Hennessy. The post mentions some of the same things and some things I didn’t mention, while not covering some things that I did. So I like to think that the two posts complement each other. On Saturday, it was noted that Ashley Everly had responded to the criticisms on Facebook:

The amusing thing is that Everly focuses largely on the fact that Hennessy dissected Everly’s utter lack of qualifications as a toxicologist and how she claims the status of toxicologist to give a veneer of authority that is unjustified and ignores all the substantive criticisms of her cherry picking and selective highlighting of studies and articles in a manner designed to make it appear that vaccines are dangerous and ineffective. Instead, Everly pulls the “pharma corruption” gambit, the pharma shill gambit, and seems oblivious to her own strategy. Here’s what I mean. She writes:

But somehow they’ve concluded that my Vaccine Guide, a resource I have made freely available, which:

🔹 Contains NO personal commentary (this is *purposeful*, so that people can think for themselves and not accuse me of “twisting” or “misinterpreting” the information),

🔹 Gives links to the original sources of the articles, and

🔹 Is simply a depository for research that the medical system, the media, and our regulatory agencies are not telling us about… …is biased, dangerous, cherry-picked, etc.

Hm… from my perspective, to *not* share this information with people, is misleading and “cherry picking”.

See what I mean? Everly seems utterly oblivious to what any editor knows. The choices of articles and the choice of text to highlight in her Vaccine Guide tell a story. It’s not objective to choose article to present and specific text from those articles that you consider important, while leaving little “footnote” comments about some of the text you’ve highlighted. It’s not letting people “think for themselves”; it’s telling them what Ms. Everly believes they should take away from the articles and abstracts.

My guess is that if she sees my post she’ll pull out the same clueless tropes, even though I’ve already addressed them. I also predict she’ll try to return the favor, given that there are so many cranks (like Mike Adams) who have written defamatory articles about me on social media, and ignore my substantive criticisms. Whatever she does, in her Facebook post above, Everly refers to a Facebook post of hers from February:

An excerpt:

So if you’ve seen articles/posts/comments floating around that I’m “not a toxicologist” because I don’t have a PhD…

Full disclosure: I don’t have a PhD! I don’t have a masters degree. I chose to start a family while I was young, rather than pursue a graduate degree. Then I ended up with a vaccine injured kid and became engrossed in the subject of toxic substances in vaccines and their effects on the human body. And this is why I’m here, 8 years later.

I do have a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Toxicology.

You might not know what that entails.

Here are some of the courses I took:

Physics (3 courses)

Genes and gene expression Biology & biochemistry (4 courses)

General & organic chemistry (5 courses)

Applied statistics for biological sciences

Environmental fate of toxicants

Quantitative analysis of environmental toxicants

Legal aspects of environmental toxicology

Biological effects of toxicants (2 courses)

Health (toxic) risk assessment Toxicology in industry

————

#1. You don’t have to have a masters or PhD to work as or be considered a toxicologist.

#2. I know how to read and interpret scientific research, check for design flaws, bias, etc.

#3. Doctors and immunologists are not educated in the field of toxicology and toxic substances are used in the manufacture of vaccines.

#4. No one is more dedicated to investigating an issue, than a mother whose child has been harmed and may experience more harm unless thorough knowledge and understanding is obtained.

#5. I currently work as a consultant for Health Freedom Idaho.

I laughed out loud when I read this. My undergraduate chemistry degree appears to have been significantly more rigorous in its requirements than Ms. Everly’s undergraduate toxicology degree, and I never called myself a chemist, even though I did briefly work in industry in a spectroscopy laboratory in the 1980s. The part about her working as a consultant for Health Freedom Idaho is particularly hilarious, given that a brief glance at its webpage reveals it to be an antivaccine advocacy group that also buys into just about every form of quackery used to treat “vaccine injury” that there is. Actually, the part about her knowing how to read and interpret scientific research is even more hilarious, given her credulous cherry picking of antivaccine “studies” and deceptive highlighting of legitimate studies to promote fear, uncertainty, and doubt about childhood vaccines.

To me, it doesn’t matter whether Ashley Everly is a legitimate toxicologist or not. I can point to quite a few full-fledged MDs and PhDs who are antivaccine. What matters most is her promotion of antivaccine pseudoscience. If you don’t believe me, look at Hennessy’s description of a “debate” between a real pediatrician and this “toxicologist.” I think the key observation is this one:

Ashley is asked if there is even one vaccine she would say is important. She likes that Idaho is for parent’s rights and that people are not aware of how much harm vaccines can cause. So, she will not pick a vaccine to recommend.

If there is any one reliable indication that a person is antivaccine, it’s dancing around this question and not being willing to name even one vaccine that you consider to be safe and effective enough to recommend. If a person can’t even concede that one vaccine is effective and safe, she’s definitely hard core antivaccine.

I also have to wonder if the printed edition of Vaccine Guide is a massive violation of copyright law; after all, if the book is just reprints of scientific papers with Ashley Everly’s highlighting and occasional written comments, I can imagine very easily that publishers would not take kindly to it. Heck, even using screenshots on a website might catch their attention.

In summary, the Vaccine Guide is nothing more than a collection of screenshots of cherry-picked studies and articles, many the typically bad science used to justify antivaccine beliefs an many just abstracts (which makes it difficult to interpret them). Even the studies that are legitimate and decent science are intentionally made to seem to support antivaccine pseudoscience by Ashley Everly’s highly selective use of highlighting. (Basically, Everly appears to be trying to be GreenMedInfo without even the pretense of commentary that Sayer Ji provides.) If you’re looking for reliable information on vaccines, the Vaccine Guide is not the source you want, not on the web and especially not in a printed edition for a cool $90 or even for $5 a month for access to the “full” version of the Vaccine Guide. If what I’ve sampled is a representative sampling of the full version (and I’m sure it is), the Vaccine Guide is nothing more than a particularly strange variety of antivaccine propaganda.

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]

31 replies on “Vaccine Guide: A “guide” to cherry picked antivaccine pseudoscience”

yes orac missed commenting on your last blog re the 13 year girl & her cancer treatments……u are right off on that one ….suggest u open your mind up & your followers too the hundreds of people on line .utube & dozens of storys on alternatives treatments which have saved there lives & given loved ones hope…cbd with high thc on its own & or along with the poison /slash/burn along with high dose bagged vit ..c..intro has helped many suffers ..u really went hard on that rant & that case yes it is a hard one but u branding all other treatment as a quacker is a bit silly ..ah.?? u may have a hard line outlook due to your job but really the over all info & facts of what is happening,,,as u wont bend on some of these matters u paint yourself into a corner …. hhmmmm cheers too all,,,,happy bob from oz ..

Please add capitals and hold back on the commas and periods.
Not that this would make your post more coherent, but it might make it easier to read.

A. When you’re trying to use being a toxicologist as a source of authority, you should expect it to be called out. When your supporting credentials for the assumed authority are as weak as here, it should hurt your credibility.

B. If we are drawing on authority of toxicologists, here is what the President of the American College of Toxicology said about vaccines ingredients a few months ago. https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2019/06/04/vaccines-safe-what-you-know-mercury-other-toxins-column/1327466001/

C. I think they say vaers is the only system letting people see data, hence they don’t count the others. Given their difficulties in using VAERS data correctly, that’s unconvincing.

@ Dorit, regarding, part B.–I’ll take the President of the American College of Toxicology’s expert opinion on vaccines over Ashly Everly who has all of a BS in toxicology and learned so little that she posts pro-homeopathy articles on her Health Freedom Idaho site.

From the AMCT web site regarding Dr. Michelle Ruha, President of the AMCT (https://www.acmt.net/directors.html):

Michelle Ruha, MD, FACMT

Banner—University Medical Center Phoenix
Phoenix, AZ
President (2019-2021)

Dr. Ruha received her medical degree from UMDNJ New Jersey Medical School and then completed an Emergency Medicine residency at Morristown Memorial Hospital in New Jersey. Her fellowship training brought her to Phoenix, Arizona, where she served as Director of the Medical Toxicology Fellowship at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center from 2005 to 2017. She is now Vice-Chief of the Department of Medical Toxicology at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix and Section Chief for Addiction Medicine. Dr. Ruha is Board Certified in Emergency Medicine, Medical Toxicology, and Addiction Medicine, with her clinical practice focused on the care of patients with medication or venom toxicity as well as substance use disorders. She is a Clinical Professor with the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine Phoenix. Her primary research interests include North American snake and scorpion envenomations, and she is the Principal Investigator for the ACMT North American Snakebite Registry. She has been a member of the Board of Directors of the American College of Medical Toxicology since 2009, and is currently serving as President.

I could do something similar (if I knew how to make a blog):

The pyramids were built by aliens. I should know, I have a BA in Anthropology and there are dozens of books and films on Amazon and Netflix that support this. And there was a Professor at my alma mater who had “proof” of Bigfoot.

See how easy it is!

What’s sad is that she does have a decent education. I used mine to seek actual experts in my own and other fields.

#2. I know how to read and interpret scientific research, check for design flaws, bias, etc.

Through the course of my education, it took me a long time to see that this is a pretty dangerous stance. This self-appraisal among scientific professionals is why peer review is necessary. Nobody is perfect. This is why professionals argue at conferences and why discussion among collaborators is necessary when writing a paper. Further, if your “contribution” can’t weather professional level criticism, you probably aren’t at the level of the argument.

I think people have a tendency to say this about themselves (Dunning-Kruger), but it should be tempered by the wisdom to know that there are always limits and that those limits are usually closer than you would like them to be.

But you say it in an interesting way!

Similarly, I find that woo-meisters are frequently citing “science”, “peer reviewed papers” etc. to support their usual claptrap. Of course, they say this to impress their audience/ customers who are unable to differentiate meaningful research from BS. Some do their own “research”: they get a group to try a supplement or diet and then ask how they feel. Much of the research they cite comes from low impact journals or outright altie sources. They feature images of themselves in white lab coats, cargo cult fashion as well.

As I recently remarked to an anti-vaxxer here at RI recently: there’s a reason that no SB researchers are doing studies that resemble your suggestions and it’s not because you’re so far ahead of your time. It’s because they know that they’re not worth doing or that we already know that they’re wrong.

FP: I don’t think Everly is claiming she uses ability #2 to filter her own discourse for bias, flaws, etc. I suspect she’s claiming insight into why various ‘vaccines are safe’ studies are somehow methodologically flawed. Indeed, some AVs who troll in these threads seem to know enough about about medical science to make critiques that seem close enough to legit that the discussion here quickly descends way deeper into the weeds than I can follow.

While there are certainly all sorts of folks overestimating their abilities, I honestly don’t see many specifically claiming “I know how to read and interpret scientific research, check for design flaws, bias, etc.” Per my comment below, I think Everly may indeed know enough to spot problems in some studies, but that’s just been short-circuited by her angst over and campaign against “vaccine injury”, which must be served in all forms at all cost.

I’m resistant to the argument that #2 is, in and of itself, “a dangerous stance,” For example, while i don’t know how to “read and interpret research” in the physical sciences,, “check for design flaws, bias, etc”. However I consider myself to have significant abilities to read and interpret research, check for design flaws in the social sciences, despite not being a social scientist myself, having studied that sort of research design and critiques thereof in grad school. And I think that’s a good thing. Saying that hardly means I think I’m infallible on the topic. For example, I’d never claim a paper was bias or flaw free just because I didn’t find a problem with it. But I do think I sometimes can identify some real issues that others – e.g. peer reviewers to my shock and dismay – have overlooked. I wouldn’t expect anyone to just take my word for it either*. Any form of review is all about showing your work, yes?

I guess I’m just saying that any degree of knowledge or expertise can be abused, or warped to very subjective agendas… by anyone. But that’s not an argument against spreading knowledge and expertise beyond a coterie of “professionals”.

To be fair, I have referred to studies as ‘garbage’ here without detailing a detailed critique, out of wont for bandwidth on the thread and in my head. Besides, as a ‘humanities educator’ I’m inclined toward the Socratic method rather than just spelling out the ‘right answert’ So I sometimes drop hints and suggest “check for yourself'” No one ever does. (Sigh) For example, if you can’t spot serious flaws in the first Kruger-Dunning paper (1999, “Unskilled and Unaware of It”) you’re not thinking critically at all . Here’s the hint: Y-axis.

I don’t think Everly is claiming she uses ability #2 to filter her own discourse for bias, flaws, etc. I suspect she’s claiming insight into why various ‘vaccines are safe’ studies are somehow methodologically flawed

I think that’s splitting hairs. She’s claiming ability #2 to absolutely filter discourse. Explicitly or not, the implication is that her own opinion is informed by this ability and that she’s a valid authority on the subject for that reason. She’s offended by the criticism leveled on her calling her expertise into question. She says as much. Why would she claim to be an authority if not to suggest that her own discourse is directly informed by the source of her authority? If the two were disjoint, she would fail at self-consistency. Granted, while AVers seem to have big problems with self-consistency, they definitely would like to believe that they are… if not, they wouldn’t push people on this site out into the weeds, as you say;-)

While there are certainly all sorts of folks overestimating their abilities, I honestly don’t see many specifically claiming “I know how to read and interpret scientific research, check for design flaws, bias, etc.”

I don’t totally disagree with that. However, most of them do claim that they have an informed opinion and that they are competent enough to judge the information at hand sufficiently to warrant the stance they take. Scaling for magnitude, that’s back to a claim of ability #2 at some level.

I’m resistant to the argument that #2 is, in and of itself, “a dangerous stance,” For example, while i don’t know how to “read and interpret research” in the physical sciences,, “check for design flaws, bias, etc”. However I consider myself to have significant abilities to read and interpret research, check for design flaws in the social sciences, despite not being a social scientist myself, having studied that sort of research design and critiques thereof in grad school.

I think that being able to call your own capacity for ability #2 into question is important in the physical sciences. You always have to ask whether you understood an argument… it’s part of the observer paradox. Like it or not, the observer is not completely independent of the observation and faults in any measurement may be a problem with the observation, measurement apparatus or even the experimenter directly. I don’t know how it works in the social sciences, but if you don’t stop and contemplate the observer paradox for at least a second, then you’re missing something. Being able to ask the question “Is this screwed up, or am I screwed up?” is very very important. Being too utterly certain of ability #2 to ever stop and think, “Well, I do trip over my own two feet now and then,” puts you on course to miss that time where you do end up tripping over your feet. Being confident of your abilities is okay, as long as you’re able to error check them. The old guard scientists that I’ve known are very careful and thorough about checking each other and I’ve found that I take their example seriously. Conversations are common where somebody admits to overlooking or forgetting something. If you more or less put your faults on the table and everybody knows about them, it’s easier for someone to catch the things you might miss. I don’t think this is how it always works, but the most successful examples I’ve seen do work this way. That’s part of the power of collaborative research.

For example, if you can’t spot serious flaws in the first Kruger-Dunning paper (1999, “Unskilled and Unaware of It”) you’re not thinking critically at all . Here’s the hint: Y-axis.

If I get a chance, I’ll take a look;-)

FP:

Thanks for the reply. You make some really important points about the necessity of humility, that don’t just apply to science, but any type of inquiry. Being able and willing to call your own assessments into question; asking yourself whether you truly understand an argument; Realizing you trip over your own two feet now and then, and asking “Is this screwed up, or am I screwed up?”… I’d go a little further and say you shouldn’t have any confidence in your abilities unless you have actually rigorously error-checked them in some way.

These are all exactly the attitudes and procedures I tried to teach students in doing a film analysis, or writing a treatment proposal, or doing culture critique. To me, it’s the basis of all genuine education, and maybe all wisdom.

Which brings us back to what Orac usually describes as Dunning-Kruger** – overconfidence outside of one’s field of knowledge and expertise. It seems to me that lots of folks who may be error-checking themselves (or at least participate in error-checking communities) abandon that once they get off their own turf.* It’s actually pretty common here, for example. Seems to me that kind of compartmentalization is pretty much standard ‘human nature’…

To reflect this back on Everly, my point is that’s NOT what she’s doing. That is, she’s not really overestimating her abilities so much as just chucking them out the door in favor of what amounts to an article of faith, a somehow emotionally gratifying mythology. Overconfidence is one thing; denialism is something else.

Speaking of physicists, if Alan Sokol had asked himself if he truly understood an argument, he wouldn’t have written Intellectual Imposters.

One major recurring theme that I routinely see with antivaccine people and that also strikes me in this ‘Vaccine Guide’ is the ubiquitous use of double standards (or perhaps even better: blatant hypocrisy) when people such as Mrs Everly talk about risks and benefits of vaccinating vs. not vaccinating.
– They demand that evidence for vaccine safety and efficacy conforms to insanely high (and often plain impossible) standards, yet they will accept the shoddiest research and even mere speculation, rumors and fantasies as the gospel truth if that supports their point of view.
– The factual risks of the diseases is downplayed to an irresponsible extent, yet the smallest risks associated with vaccines are blown completely out of proportion (the already mentioned Nirvana fallacy).
– And one can’t even make them compare normal everyday risks that everyone accepts (e.g. traffic accidents(*)) with the perceived risks of vaccination.

In my experience, the hatred these people have for vaccines and everything and everyone associated with vaccines seems to make them incapable of normal reasoning. To them, vaccines represent pure Evil, and if defending that notion requires that they abandon all sanity and all nuances in reasoning, so be it.

*: Here in the Netherlands, one has an annual risk of 1 in 25,000 to die in a traffic accident. Yet those very same people who preach the Doom of vaccines, with a far, far smaller chance of deadly side effects, think nothing of getting into their car every day to drive their offspring to school.

They also fall into one of two camps in their “parade of horrors.” Either they focus in on autism and pretend it’s a “unique horror” among all special needs that might require high levels of services, or they throw in every condition they can think of and the kitchen sink as caused by vaccines. Autism, Alzheimer’s, learning disabilities, allergies, asthma, cancer, etc, etc, etc.

I’m always rather astonished that the one in one thousand(ish) chance of dying from the measles is brushed under the rug too.

Not to mention the fact that in the western world, half of those deaths from measles is from SSPE, an absolutely horrible way to die.
Also, one in every 500 or so measles infections results in profound, permanent hearing loss – something that is hardly ever mentioned too.

“…talk about risks…”

It needs to be said that people are in general terrible at judging risk, even in day to day activities. I begin discussions of risk and probability in my intro to stat courses by having students assess both their ability and “chance of injury or death” in things from driving to campus to flying, etc.

So far almost 100% of my students have been “above average” or “much above average” drivers (self rating), believe it’s far riskier to fly than drive, would never bungee jump but would skydive, etc.

On a more satisfying level, I’ve had an extremely low percentage of them express high levels of concern about vaccine safety. On the down side, I have had more than a few expressing the local (Grand Rapids MI) right wing notion that children are the property of their parents and nobody other than parents should have any say in any medical care.

To be fair the notion that “children are the property of their parents and nobody other than parents should have any say in any medical care” is usually a moral stance, not a risk assessment.

About credentials, this is terribly uninteresting other than for recent graduates with little relevant work experience. When interviewing candidates for highly technical positions requiring substantial ability the list of degrees, courses, job titles, previous employers can be set aside with one question: don’t tell me what you’ve done and where you’ve been; tell me, what have you accomplished?

And it’s not as if that list of courses gives us much information without context. Are those semester courses or quarter courses, and if the latter does her school use a 3-3-3 or 4-4-4 calendar? (Or to put it another way: Do the 19 listed courses comprise a bit over half of her undergraduate coursework, or a bit over a third?) Did she take Physics for Poets or some more rigorous course sequence? What was covered in some of those other courses? Not to mention that having passed those classes does not mean she actually learned everything.

But as you say, this is all academic, so to speak, for somebody whose degree is more than two or three years old. Consulting for a group like Health Freedom Idaho says a lot more than any listing of degrees or coursework.

Eric:

You all need to get off the idea that taking a science curriculum in school is a prophylactic against woo, not like those awful magical-thinking-engendering humanities majors. (Attn: especially Denice Walter) So here’s an anti-vaxer with exactly that sort of undergrad major, and you cling to your prejudice so strongly you fantasize that somehow she was able to construct a major out of gut courses. At UC Davis, no less. [You could pop over to the UC-Davis website and check out the course descriptions??] Orac rightly objects that Ms. Everly has not earned the label “toxicologist’, but are we going to move the goalposts and suggest that you need a PhD to learn what’s woo and what’s not?

Here, in fact, we have evidence (albeit anecdotal, but that’s the OP’s frame) that education and knowledge have little or nothing to do with assuming an antivax identity. We’re more likely talking about a mental framework fractured by some sort of mental/emotional trauma. Everly basically explains everything right in her discussion of her qualifications. “Then I ended up with a vaccine injured kid and became engrossed in the subject of toxic substances in vaccines and their effects on the human body.” You can’t adopt the concept “vaccine injured” without either chucking everything you learned about the scientific method, rules of evidence, causality, etc. etc. right out the window, locking it away in a rigidly compartmentalized box “over there”, or, in this case, twisting it around and upside down through a wacko set of funhouse mirrors and/or Photoshop filters.

Again, I must wonder if anyone here who opines on the influence of college curricula has ever taught college kids, and then learned by hook or crook how their lives develop in the years after graduation. Trust me, pretty much all of us who’ve done so have encountered examples that twist our heads around in a big “WHAA?” Intellectual paths that seem to have done a 180 from where they were going in school. Not often, mind you, but it happens – sometimes in a positive way – sometimes just… weird. People are fragile. Sh!t happens.

@ sadmar:

I don’t think that SB majors are inoculation against woo or that liberal studies majors make it more likely but I do notice that some of the biggest anti-vax moms have the latter ALTHOUGH engineers, bio majors, doctors, nurses don’t exactly seem free of it either. It’s not cut and dry.
Maybe studying life sciences with a focus on alt med errors might help.

Disclosure: undergrad split between life sci and liberal studies. Grad: social sci with experimental

Denice:

You ought to know that the fact you ” notice that some of the biggest anti-vax moms have” those kind of majors* is worthless as evidence. First, in order to establish a correlation, you’d need to define some kind of domain which includes AVs and non-AVs, and collect data to show that AVs disproportionately have the sort of education you suspect plays in the phenomenon. Then, to make any sort of causal claim, you’d need to control for other factors that might lead to a correlation. Such as that, for some reasons, the kind of people who are already prone to anti-vax avoid the sciences. IOW, the majors could be an effect, not a cause.

My guess would be that in any case, the raw % of people with those majors* who are AV is so low, that even if it’s disproportionately more than other major category X (check the business school, please!), it’s just not a useful indicator of anything. But yes, that’s just my guess.

FWIW: “Liberal Studies” generally refers to any overall undergrad curriculum not devoted to pre-professional training. The ‘classic’ natural sciences – physics, chemistry, biology – are absolutely part of Liberal Studies. Liberal Arts colleges differ from research universities in having somewhat fewer credits devoted to majors and somewhat more credits devoted to Gen Ed requirements. For example, at my last school, ambitious students could complete double majors in disparate fields in four years. But I’m sure you’re referring to majors like English, Philosophy, Art History, yada yada yada, which are mostly labeled ‘humanities’ but sometimes labeled something else, so here’s no one right term. …

“When your supporting credentials for the assumed authority are as weak as here, it should hurt your credibility.”

And even if the coursework looks good on paper, what matters is what you do with it.

Chiropractors and naturopaths are fond of citing their coursework in anatomy, physiology etc. as supposedly being as good as what physicians in training learn. But most of it is overshadowed/ignored by the systems of quackery they imbibe.

If you go through a toxicology curriculum and come out at the other end heavily misunderstanding what toxins are in the real world, your education has gone for naught.

In relation to the screen shots of those pages and documents on the so-called guide, it seems Averly has been notedly careful or haphazard (your choice) in removing as much context as possible. Some pages do have actual working links to sources, some just show the URLs that are part of the page/image/pdf, but without working links. It’s as though she wants to minimize the chance that a visitor might accidentally encounter information that does offer context and explanation, such as the “Guide to Interpreting VAERS Data” page (https://vaers.hhs.gov/data/dataguide.html) where it is explained how very limited the system is in detail. It certainly is a curiously awkward system and site.

yes thank u folks for the comments on my previous post today …suggest u have a look @…mgc pharmaceuticals on [email protected]… & log on for their announcements this is a big uk co world wide & in oz under taking many trails for cbd & related matters & products world wide they are one of many…we have a local one in wa called…little green pharma… here in western australia …. so open your minds up on all these matters in the usa u are flooded with all this info & are far ahead of us on these matters so find it hard to understand the wall u put up against alternatives …cheers to all…happy bob from oz

But if their trial results say that ‘effects were minimal’, ‘no better than current standard of care’ or ‘tiny effect at dangerously high doses’, will you change your mind about CBD?

#2. I know how to read and interpret scientific research, check for design flaws, bias, etc.

Yet she copies Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff’s pretend science into her Vaccine Guide.

I think her ability to do these things is prodigiously lower than she claims.

How about: “I seek out scientific research that, no matter how awful, confirms my pre-existing bias.”

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