Here’s what to say to anti-vaxxers!
Jeff Bradstreet, who has been described as a “controversial autism researcher,” has now become the center of conspiracy rumors after reports of his apparent suicide. His death is said to have followed on the heels of a raid by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of his Bradstreet Wellness Center in Buford, Georgia (update 27JUN2015: the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency is reported to have aided in the raid). A fisherman found Bradstreet’s body in a North Carolina river on Friday, June 19. Authorities in Rutherford County, North Carolina, state that he had a gunshot wound to the chest, “which appears to be self-inflicted,” according to the local newspaper, the Gwinnett Daily Post. The Post also reports that
“By Wednesday night, some of Bradstreet’s supporters were speculating that his death wasn’t a suicide, but a conspiracy.”
That speculation has spread like a virus through the community of people who are mourning the loss of a man whom they viewed as a courageous crusader against mainstream medicine and who believe, as Bradstreet argued, that the mercury in vaccines causes autism (the evidence emphatically indicates otherwise). According to his website, Bradstreet, whose own son is autistic, embraced a number of unproven or untested interventions for autism, including using stem cells in an overseas study he chronicles, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which the FDA cracked down on in 2013. He was known for his use of chelation therapy.
I’ve frequently written about the “arrogance of ignorance,” a phenomenon that anyone who’s paid attention to what quacks, cranks, or antivaccine activists (but I repeat myself) write and say beyond a certain period of time will have encountered. Basically, it’s the belief found in such people—and amplified in groups—that somehow they can master a subject as well or better than experts who have spent their entire professional lives studying the subject on their own, often just through the use of Google University and the echo chamber discussion forums that they frequent with their fellow cranks. Thus we have, for example, the rambling clown car of antivaccine bloggers over at the crank blog Age of Autism declaring that, contrary to the mountains of evidence otherwise, vaccines cause autism, “brain damage,” autoimmune diseases and all sorts of mean and nasty other conditions. Skeptics quite properly point out that (1) there is no convincing evidence from well-designed and well-executed studies to support these links; (2) there is a lot of evidence from well-designed and well-executed studies that there is no link between vaccines and these conditions given that such studies invariably are unable to detect differences in the prevalence of these conditions associated with vaccines (or, in the case of the mercury militia, thimerosal-containing vaccines); meaning (3) the most parsimonious explanation for these results is that there almost certainly no link. What is the response? Antivaccine cranks will invoke the pharma shill gambit and all sorts of dire conspiracies on the part of the CDC, big pharma, the FDA, and the World Health Organization (WHO) to “suppress” smoking gun evidence that vaccines cause autism.
This is a well-known phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, a phenomenon whereby people who are unknowledgeable or incompetent about a topic hold an unjustifiably elevated estimate of their own knowledge base on the topic. In the antivaccine movement, the Dunning-Kruger effect tends to take the form of parents who think that their University of Google knowledge trumps the knowledge of physicians and scientists . . .
Oh no, here we go again. The antivaccination cult, lacking any real evidence, grabs onto the flimsiest of stories, disregarding the foul and corrupt individuals promoting the story–using it all to scream “GOTCHA” to anyone involved with vaccines. Last year, it was laughably jumping on some comments of Dr. Diane Harper, who was promoted by the antivaccination crowd as the “lead researcher” for Gardasil, that appeared to say that Gardasil was useless.
Or promoting an “Italian court” that decided that MMR caused autism, relying upon the discredited and retracted study by one of the greatest scientific criminals of the past 100 years, Mr. Andy Wakefield, who fraudulently alleged a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism.
Or furthering the story of a French businessman, who claimed to have intimate knowledge of Merck’s data about Gardasil–all of it negative. Except he never worked in Merck’s R&D department, and was made redundant when his company was acquired by Merck.
The Church of Antivaccines, whose god, Mr. Andy Wakefield, should be held criminally responsible for deaths of children who never got the MMR vaccine, are so bereft of any real evidence to support their beliefs, they will either invent, misrepresent, or manipulate any story that even tenuously supports their dogma that vaccines are dangerous.
So, what is the Antivaccine movement saying? They’re pushing a story that a CDC researcher, Dr. William Thompson, has “admitted” that the CDC itself has covered up or hidden damning evidence that MMR vaccine actually causes autism. It was presented in a heavily promoted video, narrated by the aforementioned conman, Wakefield. If you really want to watch the video, you can find it here, but you’ll have to check your skepticism at the door, or bring an emesis basin to collect the vomit from watching it. In other words, it’s a 0.00000001-star movie. Don’t ignore the Godwins comparing the CDC (and I suppose the researchers) to Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and others that I might have missed.
Via Skeptical Raptor
Like all medical procedures, devices and pharmaceuticals, vaccines are not perfect. What matters is that the benefits, not only medically but also economically, outweigh any risks. As far ask I know, no perfect medical procedures, devices or pharmaceuticals, none, that are perfectly safe or perfectly effective.
Sometimes the ratio is small. For example, there are chemotherapy drugs that only add a few months to a patient’s life, usually with substantial side effects to the medication. Yet, if you ask a patient whether it was worth it, to spend just a few extra months with their children and loved ones, the value becomes nearly incalculable.
But mostly, the FDA and other regulatory agencies demand that new products and procedures must meet or exceed the safety, and meet or exceed the financial and health benefits of currently acceptable versions. Actually, the FDA examines a lot more than that. They check packaging, shelf life, instructions, manufacturing practices, and so much more, it would take a book to explain it (and there probably are several). It may not be a perfect process, but it’s better than what we had 100 years ago, and it continues to improve every single day. People tend towards a form of confirmation bias where they remember where a drug may or may not have been found to be dangerous (best example is Vioxx). But they forget about the millions of medications and devices that save lives or measurably improve the standard of living.
After arguing the scientific point of view with the antivaccination forces for nearly 15 years, I have observed that they tend to vastly overstate the safety risks, while vastly understating the financial and health benefits. It’s a form of the Nirvana Fallacy, which is a fallacy that if something is not perfect, then it’s junk. For some, if a vaccine is only 95% effective in stopping a disease, it’s worthless. And they want a “guarantee” that there are NO side effects of the vaccines, even when the “adverse effects” of a vaccine preventable disease could be hospitalization or death.
Of course, no pro-science proponent of vaccines would ever say “vaccines are perfect.” We never claim that vaccines never have an adverse effect, though there is no evidence that a vaccine has killed anyone in the last 30 years. On the other hand, I do have plenty of evidence that vaccine preventable diseases have killed children across the world, including the USA.
Autism cure promoters are people who claim they “cure” people with autism.
The claims made by these people are very conversational, both in their claims about autism and it’s causes, and what they say can cure autism.
Now there are a lot of different things I have noticed about autism cure promoters, but I’ve narrowed it down to five different things.
So here are five things I’ve noticed about autism cure promoters:
5. They’re closely aligned with the anti-vaccination movement.
Autism cure promoters and the anti-vaccination movement are pretty much like peas in a pod. Anti-vaccers often promote these so called “therapies” that the autism cure promoters claim can cure a person with autism, and autism cure promoters also tend to publish on their websites anti-vaccination movement propaganda, mainly in the form of claims that certain chemicals in vaccines can cause autism.
Some of these promoters also like to use certain words that the anti-vaccination movement also uses inorder to sell their therapies to people with autism or have autistic children, such as “vaccine damage”, “vaccine injury”, or “autism epidemic”.
They also ignore the fact that such words are not only incorrect and misleadinf, but very insulting to people with autism. Ofcourse they’re not actually promoting their therapies towards people with autism, they’re really promoting them towards parents of children who have autism and just want their kids to be normal.
4. They exploit the fears and desires of parents with autistic children.
For some parents when a child is diagnosed with autism it can be devastating to them, and the fact that there is no way to cure autism can make that devastation to them even worse. Then comes along someone who claims they can do things that the medical industry cannot do and can “cure” their child of autism, and if they don’t know any better they may take that person up on their offer.
A person who is misinformed about what autism is and what causes autism, mixed with both the fear of what will happen to their child and how their life will turn out due to their autism, combined with their desire to have a “normal” child, would be very temped by someone whom claims they can cure their child of autism and give them a chance at a normal life and be willing to pay whatever price they can inorder to do so.
The people who are promoting these so called autism cures know this and know that they can exploit these fears and desires to sell people products and services that scientific research has concluded are useless at curing autism.
3. They’re trying to give a simple solution to a complex issue.
Autism is a neurological disorder, and like all neurological disorders it’s complex without any simple solutions.
Autism cure promoters try to make it look like autism is caused by toxins in the body, and that by removing these toxins a person whom has autism one can be cured of autism.
While some toxins can cause neurological disorders, all legitimate scientific research has shown that autism isn’t one them.
While the actually cause of autism is still technically unknown, most scientists who study autism agree that it’s . . .
Via Skeptical Raptor
If you know none of the details of the antivaccination lunacy, then your education should start with the perpetrator of one of the greatest scientific frauds, Mr. Andy Wakefield. Mr. Wakefield published a paper, subsequently withdrawn by the highly respected medical journal, Lancet, that blamed the MMR vaccine (vaccination for measles, mumps and rubella) for causing autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
From that one fraudulent article, some of the most dangerous outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases can be laid at the feet of Wakefield, as parents started to refuse to vaccinate their children against these diseases. And of course, billions of dollars, money that could have been spent on actually treating and assisting children with ASD, was spent to investigate this claim, with over 100 peer-reviewed papers completely dismissing and debunking any link between any vaccine and any type of autism. Let me make this absolutely clear–vaccines do not cause autism even when we looked hard for a link.
But one more article, one more peer-reviewed paper has just been published that should slam the door shut on the vaccine-autism myth. But I am not naïve, I know that the antivaccination cultists will invent some logical fallacy to continue to lie about the tie between vaccines and autism. The research, published in the journal Vaccine, is a meta-analysis of five cohort studies involving 1,256,407 children, and five case-control studies involving 9920 children. As I’ve written before, meta-analyses form the basis, the deep foundation, of the scientific consensus, and they are the highest quality scientific evidence available. This study is like a gigantic clinical trial because it rolls up the highest quality data from those millions of subjects to develop solid conclusions.
So what did the authors find?
In Skeptoid Episode #364, Brian made a statement regarding conspiracy theories that I’ve since used many times in my continued battle against tinfoil-helmeted nonsense. It’s simple, direct, and 100% true:
A less-elegant and wordier way to say this is that there has never been a popularly held conspiracy theory, ie, a non-evidenced belief that a group of powerful people secretly worked together to do something harmful, that later had compelling evidence to prove that said conspiracy was real.
Whenever I use this argument in social media, I’m invariably sent one of about half a dozen different internet listicles that attempt to prove me wrong by going through a number of conspiracies or conspiracy theories that were later proven to be real. One is a really long slog from Infowars. Another is from Cracked. There are still others from Listverse, Style Slides and True Activist.
What much of the content on these lists, as well as those who send them to me, get wrong on a pretty consistent basis is that there is a difference between a conspiracy and a conspiracy theory. Conspiracies are real, and many of them have been proven conclusively to have taken place at all times throughout history. Some of these include the conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, the conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler (the so-called July 20th plot), the conspiracy to throw the 1919 World Series, American tobacco companies conspiring to suppress scientific research that painted their products as harmful, and so on. All of these are real and none of them are theories.
Likewise, things like 9/11 being an inside job, JFK being shot by multiple gunmen, chemtrails, the existence of an all-powerful New World Order, FEMA camps and any number of banking and currency related plots are all conspiracy theories. That is to say, they are all theories that a conspiracy took place – and most have little to no evidence supporting those theories.
Not only is there a difference between a conspiracy and a conspiracy theory, there are all manner of reasons why people would “conspire” about something – and they’re not all bad or harmful. There are perfectly legitimate reasons why a government or corporation would want to keep something secret, whether it’s a patented technology, proprietary research or a sensitive national security matter. Like it or not, not everyone gets to know everything.
With all of this in mind, I want to take a look at one of the lists I’ve been sent a couple of times. It’s representative of the general tone and content of the other lists, and has the added advantage of being from a reputable source, Business Insider. This is a good example of a list of “conspiracies” that is not a list of conspiracy theories, and isn’t even all “conspiracies.”
That’s a lot of qualifiers. To be on this list, the plot has to be huge (whatever that means), driven by the government, and proven to be a conspiracy that with compelling evidence to support its existence.
This is completely true. The Treasury, in its capacity to enforce the Volstead Act, added deadly chemicals to the industrial alcohol that was being used by bootleggers as a substitute for grain alcohol. While the poisoning became public knowledge very quickly, over 1,000 people still died in New York alone, thanks to this true conspiracy.
Another true conspiracy, and one that the CDC openly acknowledges – making up for decades of knowingly sickening hundreds of poor black men. But even during the heyday of the experiment, it was never a popularly discussed theory, and it’s been public knowledge for four decades.
Here’s a perfect example of something that’s not a conspiracy, certainly not a government conspiracy and not even true. The Business Insider piece relies on debunked testimony from anti-vaxxer Barbara Loe Fisher to back up the pseudoscience claim that millions of doses of Jonas Salk’s original formulation of the polio vaccine contained the “cancer causing virus” SV40. But no compelling evidence exists that SV40 actually causes any harm in humans (SV stands for simian virus), and virtually every source that makes this claim is strongly anti-vaccination.
The author of the BI piece is either anti-vaccine or fell for anti-vaccine propaganda.
This would indeed be a “huge government conspiracy” if it were true. As I wrote about in my piece on false flag attacks, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident was actually two separate attacks on a US destroyer by North Vietnamese torpedo boats in August 1964. The first was an actual attack, with bullet holes in both the destroyer Maddox and the North Vietnamese boats to prove it.
The second was theorized even at the time to be a phantom attack, featuring jittery US sailors shooting at shadows. While we now know that this “attack” didn’t happen, there was a tremendous amount of confusion in the White House shortly afterwards, and subsequent tapes show President Johnson openly wondering what happened. It could be argued that there was a conspiracy to make the Incident fit the Johnson administration’s desire to expand US involvement in Vietnam, that’s a conspiracy of a different color.