Doubt’s Foot In Logic’s Door: Thoughts On Anti-Vaxxer Attitude

So, measles, huh?

Let’s just get this out of the way right now: vaccinate your kids. I know, we’re taught to ask questions, we’re taught to be skeptical, we’re American iconoclasts goddamnit and we didn’t get anywhere by getting in line and marching to someone else’s beat and something something patriotism. Except, you’re marching to someone’s beat if you don’t get your kids vaccinated (and more on that in a moment). For now, it’s time to unclench your jaw. It’s time to vaccinate your children. Otherwise, what’s next? Polio? People in my family had that. It’s horrible. I’d rather my kids have autism, which is a thing not at all caused by vaccines anyway.

There.

Now that’s out of the way.

Which brings me to the larger question: how does this happen?

How does the anti-vaxxer attitude gain enough prominence that diseases we have eradicated or at least marginalized begin to surge anew? How does an anti-science parade march down the middle of our city squares and we not only fail to run the parade-leaders out on rails but, instead, give them a podium and a microphone and an ounce of credibility? What the crap is happening? What the hap is crappening? Wuzza wooza fizzy fuzzy muh? Whuh? Buh?!

I started to noodle on it.

Just turning it around and around in my mouth, like a soft glob of food where you suddenly bite into something hard and then have to wonder: “Jesus, what is in my mouth? Eggshell? Piece of glass, plastic, or is it a fingernail? Oh, god, it’s a fingernail.”

As I started looking closer, I started finding empathy.

Not sympathy. The difference is critical. Understanding the problem and the mindset (empathy) is a whole shed-load different from feeling emotional kinship to it (sympathy).

Because, a lot of anti-vaxx people aren’t total scramble-brained moonbats. They can spell. They have college degrees. Contrary to what people think, gasp, they might actually even be liberals. (If you think either party has the lockdown on bad information and fear-mongering, ha ha ha, ohh, you naive stripling, please let me show you the world.) Hell, I’ve been a guy who has spread bad information before — usually with the all-too-easy click of a SHARE THIS UNVERIFIED HORSESHIT link at Facebook. I’ve seen people I consider smarter than me pass around information dumber than a bag of socks.

I wanna know how. I want to crack this nut.

And I think it begins when our trust in certain institutions begins to break down.

Erosion

We are taught to trust. To have faith in systems and structures and disciplines.

One such system is our health care system.

(Please, hold your laughter.)

It’s true, though, right? Even in the snark that’s already building at the back of your throat when I even mention the health care system, we still go to doctors and still go to hospitals because that’s ultimately where our trust lies. They are the experts. They know things we don’t. Even when we say we don’t trust them — we have to trust somebody, and it might as well be them.

But, inevitably, those people will fail you. And they might fail you in a spectacular way. I had an aunt who had leg and hip problems and for months tried to get it diagnosed beyond muscle strain, and eventually, she didn’t have to — because turns out, it was cancer. My mother had a friend who had neck problems and the doctors misdiagnosed too long — turns out, it was a form of meningitis, and she almost died.

We’ve had our own brushes with this. When our son was born, we heard through our crunchy hippie liberal idea chain that birth is often over-managed — it’s pitocin and an epidural and not long until a C-section is on its way, and sure enough, when we get there that was exactly what they wanted to do. It’s like a train you get on and can’t get off. And they push that shit hard. Like drug peddlers. (An epidural, before insurance, can cost anywhere from $1000 – $3000.) Last year, our son was sick — not real sick, not sick in a scary way, just with a cold, but it had lingered a while and so we took him to the doctor just to see what they had to say. Our doctor, who we love, said without hesitation that he needed antibiotics. I said, “Did you test for a bacterial infection?” because it was right at that time we were started to hear about the post-antibiotic age and how doctors overprescribe antibiotics (when I was a kid if you sneezed once, you had a week’s worth of amoxicillin), and he said, “No, it’s just a preventative.” Which is weird, given that few colds are ever treatable by antibiotics. Again, I stress: our son wasn’t problematically sick. He was happy, running around, fever long-gone. We neglected to give him the antibiotics (a scary moment because — hey, the doctor told you one thing, and if you go the other way, oh boy howdy you just fucked up), and two days later he was all good.

It’s enough to give you pause.

Just a moment’s worth — but that’s all it takes.

Because once that mirror is chipped: the whole thing shatters pretty damn easy.

Somewhere along the way, the system is going to disappoint you. Education will fail your child. Your government will launch missiles at a wedding or a school or it will raise your taxes or betray your confidence. Your insurance won’t pay for something you swore was covered: flood, accident, an injury. All of these things are threads, and once you start pulling on them — *whistles* Hoo boy, will your faith be shaken. You hear about some outbreak of food-borne illness and it doesn’t take much to see how the FDA doesn’t have the power you think it should have, how they cannot institute recalls and how recalls are entirely voluntary. And then you think about those studies that say eggs are good for you, and now they’re bad, and now they’re good, and they raise cholesterol, but they don’t raise cholesterol, and how the first thing the doctor asks you when they note your high cholesterol is, HOW MANY EGGS DO YOU EAT followed by CAN WE PUT YOU ON A CHOLESTEROL MED NOW? And you start to see how maybe the eggs-are-good study was paid for by the Sinister Egg Lobby, or how the eggs-are-bad study was paid for by goddamn Lipitor, and then CBS asks you DOES YOUR DOCTOR HAVE TIES TO BIG PHARMA (warning: the devil lurks there as an autoplaying video) and healthimpactnews-dot-com says DOCTORS EARN $3.5 BILLION IN KICKBACKS FROM PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES. And healthimpactnews sounds like a real thing — you like health, you like news, and those things should impact the shit out of each other, so yeah, yes, cool.

And then you click a little deeper into the healthimpactnews site and you find talk of ozone therapy curing ebola (but of course it’s repressed!) and hey look at this vaccine cover-up and did you know application of broccoli sprouts improves autism — and at first some of those things seem woo-woo weird, like, hey, that can’t be right, but then you follow the pulled thread back and you remember, oh right, big business pays for studies and doctors were pushing meds when I didn’t want them to and the government blows up children and OH GODDAMN SHIT I CAN’T TRUST ANYTHING ANYMORE. Soon you learn that healthimpactnews is bullshit, and so you either have to go deeper down the I can’t trust anything rabbit hole or you have to plant a flag and say, this far, no further, I trust in this random asshole website who actually probably doesn’t believe its own lies and is really just selling content and advertising and clicks.

You no longer know what to believe.

Because that thing you just read sounds crazy, but we’re fans of crazy. We like to think we know things that the BIG SYSTEMS and CORPORATE MONSTERS don’t want us to know. And some of it is real! Some of it isn’t horseshit — we see how big companies legitimately abuse people, how banks give wafer-thin mortgages, how a corporation will pollute water that people drink. Corporate and governmental abuse is no myth. It happens. Not all the time, maybe not even all that often, but that doesn’t matter. We’re shit at risk analysis. Driving in a car is a lot worse than riding in a plane, but one plane crash and suddenly we’re like, nope, fuck that, I’m not a bird, I will not violate God’s own laws just to get to Tulsa more quickly. People die endlessly of flu but we get a statistically non-existent blip of ebola in this country and everybody’s shitting out their internal organs hoping they don’t catch the disease that makes them shit out their internal organs. More people are killed by hippos and cows, but fuck you, sharks.  *throws dynamite at sharks*

So, all this adds up, and then you go onto a place like Facebook, where ideas transmit fast. See, once, you wouldn’t read this post — you’d hear me tell it to you at a conference or in an elevator somewhere. And when I told you about my aunt or my Mom’s friend, maybe you’d nod and say, yeah, yeah, that happened to a friend of mine, or a friend or a friend, and we’d take our respective stories — true, false, or statistically improbable — and we’d carry them onto other groups. But we’d do this very, very slowly. Many times the idea would die out. Ideas in this way transmit like viruses or bacteria — they used to be slow, but now, Facebook? Facebook makes transmission of ideas fast. (Hence: “gone viral.”) We share bad information quickly, and we rile each other up about the things we thought were true — our distrust cracks the windshield collectively, now, not just on an individual, singular basis. Even this post that I’m writing? I told you about my experiences, about my aunt, about my mother’s friend — and we take those things in as data points when really they’re just fucking anecdotes with no meaning in the greater scheme. And god, even when you go looking for data, you can find all these correlating points still are open to wild interpretation (remember the ties between Internet Explorer and the murder rate?).

You eventually have to return trust and faith to something, so you start to put it in those people or those sites that you perceive are telling you the truth. People who have not yet betrayed your trust.

(So far as you know. You may see their agendas soon enough.)

And we spread the information.

And we nod and smile and tell each other we know things others don’t.

And we feel good because we found some inherent truth. Some signal amidst noise.

And we append to these things our own agendas, often unrealized.

It’s mostly a lie, of course. The truth is usually out there if you look hard enough. You can find a consensus on most topics — an imperfect consensus, but one that is often better than trusting like, that one guy on that website.

But this is how we get there.

This is how we stop vaccinating our kids.

This is how we disbelieve in climate change.

Or how we start to wonder if Obama really is a Kenyan socialist. Or we share inflated numbers of the dead to support our gun control wishes, or we pass around up other bullshit statistics to counter the efforts of gun control. We eat up mis- and disinformation with a spoon because we need to eat something. Doubt has opened the door, and when that happens, if we’re not careful, a whole lot of bad information can get in through the gap. We don’t always lie to each other knowing they’re lies.

We lie to each other because we’re waystations for other people’s deceptions.

We’re idea conduits. Agenda flingers. Little doubt factories.

So, how do we combat it?

I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t. I think you look for consensus. I think you look at everything with a skeptical eye and try to search out experts. I think you trust known sources of journalism and distrust fringe journalism — but even here, already I can feel my certainty in that eroding because plenty of journalistic sources are really just entertainment cloaked in the thinnest, most diaphanous veneer of “news.” Best bet is to recognize that you know less than you know, and that growing up is about embracing uncertainty rather than proselytizing the gospel truth.

It’s hard. It’s really hard.

And I think that’s what this post is about: just acknowledging that it is hard to get good information, and that distrust is overwhelming and damaging, and that the disruption of the Glorious Internet sometimes means awesome things but it sometimes means really shitfucky information gets transmitted really quickly. Anecdotes become artisanal data very, very fast — often without us realizing it. And before we know it, we’re all giving Jenny McCarthy a microphone, and kids are dying from measles they caught at a goddamn amusement park.

P.S. vaccinate your kids, for Chrissakes.

P.P.S. global warming is totally a thing.

P.P.S.S. Read this book: You Are Not So Smart.

95 comments

  • Relying on ‘studies’ is an impossible metric. I also don’t know the alternative, but eggs and bacon are the classic examples of how useless scientific studies are at relating true, verifiable information.

    I want eggs and bacon. I will have my eggs and bacon because they’re god-damned delicious, and if I start to gain weight or feel a little unhealthy because I’m eating too much of these things, then so be it. I can exercise if I want to live longer.

    • Most of the time, the scientific method yields useful data. A lot of what we think of as “common sense” nowadays is a result of science. Science has given us many awesome things, like low infant mortality, expanded life expectancies, sanitation, rapid communication, the exploration of our solar system, and the computers we’re typing these posts on (just to name a few). It’s also made us aware of things our ancestors just didn’t bother thinking about too much, like the role other species play in ecosystems, or the negative long-term impacts we have on our environment.

      But like any other human endeavor, it’s not perfect. Scientific studies never prove anything beyond all doubt. They can’t. But they can do a pretty good job of letting us narrow down the possible explanations and pick the one that seems most likely, based on what we know now. Life is messy, however, and by necessity, experiments have to focus on one thing, one hypothesis, at a time. That’s why two reasonably well-designed studies can yield conflicting data about something like eggs. Perhaps the investigators were examining different populations, or perhaps they controlled for different external variables, or maybe we lack the means to control for something external that can bias our data, or maybe there was even a mistake or glitch during the process of data collection.

      It’s even possible that eggs are good for some people and bad for others for reasons we haven’t figured out yet.

      It’s never the result of any one experiment that establishes the probable truth of something. You have to do many and do them under different conditions and over a long time period. The problem is, the media tends to grab onto exiting, controversial, or contentious findings, or on the ones that tell us what we want to hear. Because the media doesn’t exist to disseminate accurate information. Not because they’re evil, but because they make money from getting people to read their articles and see the associated advertisements.

      And human attention tends to be selective. We most often see and remember the things that tell us what we want to believe. Unless we bust our butts and train ourselves to do otherwise.

      Long post, and I’m sorry for that. I teach college biology for non majors, so I deal with the confusion people feel about science every day.

      • Fair points. I’m not suggesting that studies are useless, but that the fractious reporting is what renders them useless. The public digests information from key sources that they believe in, and those key sources get their own reporting data from wherever they get it. If more people paid attention to scientific journals and actual science reports instead of viewing it from whatever lens they’ve decided to view it, a lot more people would have information they could use to form opinions instead of being fed an opinion.

        Maybe the answer to fighting ignorance and misinformation is to just get people engaged in more than their own little worlds and their own little perspectives. How to do that? Haven’t a clue.

      • I just listened to a report on NPR that revealed some disturbing trends in how scientific papers get published in major scientific journals. The problem isn’t just the mass media’s hyping the stories it wants to tell but that scientific publications themselves tend to overreport studies with positive findings and underreport studies with negative findings. The way that some science gets disseminated among scientists is just as vulnurable to bias as the things that get reported to the general consumers of information. And if I can reference another essay in the You Are Not So Smart website, survivorship bias tends to give us this skewed version of the truth based mostly on the things that made the cut. The failures are almost never revealed, and it often robs us of incredibly important information. If we accept history as only written by the victors, we clearly only get one side of the story. You can read more here:

        http://youarenotsosmart.com/2013/05/23/survivorship-bias/

        The NPR post can be found here:

        http://www.npr.org/2015/01/28/382056490/studies-critical-of-bilingual-benefits-often-shelved-because-of-bias?

      • The problem is that people think science is the pursuit of truth and facts. It is no such a thing. We are inherently incapable of perfectly understanding the universe in all of its non-linear, uncertain glory. Science is a process. We are pursuing better understanding, and sometimes we take a wrong turn. We aren’t anywhere near truth and facts. I often feel brain damaged because I know those two words, because they’re complete faith-based bullshit that doesn’t reflect reality.

        What we need is to get people talking in terms of what isn’t known and the failings of our models of reality, because they’re all flawed. Unfortunately, most people aren’t comfortable with uncertainty. It’s this way in the scientific community. It’s in the way we teach science. Science needs to stop trying to be a smarter version of religion for dumb people and instead train people to better understand the extent to which they personally have a grasp on how things work and where they’re just making shit up.

  • Interesting post. As a librarian, I have grappled with finding the truth. It’s not always so easy. As a Mother, I’ve grappled with how to approach the vaccine thing. (I vaccinated but I broke it up and took my child back twice as many times as necessary for shots because I didn’t understand how layering vaccines that can cause a reaction on top of each other on the same day made sense. It may, but I couldn’t understand it.) As a person, I wonder why people choose to believe the sources they believe when facts become so twisted with spin. It’s a fascinating topic and the best answer I have is more research, and always question where the information is coming from and what bias the source may have.

  • A decent education helps discernment. We no longer do, but we used to get good educations in this country — broad based — some basic science, history, economics, language, civics (remember that? Who knew government worked that way?) So when someone says, “Studies say…” we know something about the scientific method, elemental statistical concepts, whether replicated, etc. Or someone throws out a political or social or economic idea: we know some history, whether the idea has provided results or been discredited. Etc. Add some degree of “show me” skepticism, confidence in our ability to discern information from propaganda, theory from practice, speculation from fact, implication from inference. But without a base of essential knowledge, we are left to the devices of demagogues, rumor mongers, marketers, and other ignoramuses, and deserve what we get. Our educations system, once the best in the world, has become a limp dick.

      • (Short time reader, first time commenter, this is a subject near and dear to me as I’ll explain.)

        In my neck of the woods the expression was always “dumber than a bag of hammers,” but I have heard both bag and box of rocks.

      • I agree with the sock metaphor, although the ones in the bag were smart enough to find their way out of the dryer. And they’re narcissistic dicks, abandoning their buddies when things got hot. So, yeah, a bag of socks is not trustworthy.

  • Wow, Chuck. Love your stuff but on this one you’ve gone way out in left field creating a story to satisfy your pre-conceived decision about the truth. That makes you a good story teller, but a lousy scientist.

    As a scientist, I’m very concerned about how much people engage in group think to parrot the official line that vaccines are all sunshine and ponies and anyone who doesn’t use them is irrational or emotional or some other justification for why the official line is gospel. Because I used to be very pro-vaccination, but once I started looking into the actual science and numbers, that changed. The more studies I read the more skeptical I am. From this post, it looks like you haven’t read many studies at all. You’re working to justify your decision but you haven’t looked at the evidence. You can do better Chuck.

    There are two basic questions about vaccines:
    1. Are they effective?
    2. Are they harmful?

    That’s it. And if you read the many studies on the subject, and look at the actual numbers, you’ll find that the jury is still out on the first question, and the jury has definitely brought in a guilty verdict on the second (although strong reactions are rare, they definitely happen, and are sometimes devastating). The question of whether or not to vaccinate involves finding a balance between these two, and that’s why there will probably always be disagreements about it. Very valid disagreements. As in both sides have valid points and neither side should be stereotyped or demonized.

    And one of the mistakes you’re making is actually bad storytelling. In fact, it’s one of the same mistake the CDC makes (and the reason most of their attempts to increase vaccine use fail): you’re painting “anti-vaxxer” as a 1-dimensional character, and you’re trying to create motivations for them that don’t jibe with any real human beings. Research shows that, although there are people who believe vaccines are some kind of a government conspiracy, the vast majority of people who choose not to vaccinate do it not out of emotion or mistrust or anything like that, but out of scientific concerns that are…drum roll please…backed by science.

    Those same supposed “anti-vaxxers” don’t have a problem vaccinating themselves or their kids for some diseases which are severe (like polio). However they make a choice not to vaccinate for diseases which are less severe (like the flu), since the effectiveness of the vaccines is questionable so the risk outweighs the rewards.

    I’ll talk specifically about the flu virus here, since it’s the most common one most of us deal with, and the most common one supposed “anti-vaxxers” reject.

    I won’t get into the actual numbers or how the CDC uses “specmanship” to make vaccines sound more effective than they are. But if you’re wondering, read the CDC’s press releases about how effective vaccines are (i.e., what they say they do) and then do your own calculations with their raw data. The actual calculations of effectiveness are underwhelming; in some scientific circles this would border on fraud, but hey, what you gonna do, since no one peer-reviews the CDC’s press releases.

    Add to that recent studies that show that children that received the flu vaccination in a previous year (and receive it again in the current year) get the flu more frequently than children that have *never* been vaccinated, and from a *purely scientific* standpoint a different picture emerges. Over the long term, frequent vaccination may be causing more harm to our immune systems, and causing more people to get the flu, than if we never vaccinated at all. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this study wasn’t done by people with a lack of trust or emotional issues – it’s based on hard science, and some very respectable scientists are very concerned about the results.

    Now the flu vaccine is a particularly pernicious beast, since it’s actually a guess at best. The flu viruses that are most active change every year – the flu virus is continually evolving. They create the flu vaccine each year based on an educated *guess* of what the 3 most common strains of flu *will be*. And that means that sometimes they get it wrong (which means the flu vaccine is even less effective than normal).

    But it’s not limited to the flu vaccine. There was recently an outbreak of whooping cough in California. The blame was predictably placed on people who choose not to vaccinate their kids. However that’s curious, since data showed that vaccination rates were higher than ever, and a big (and successful) vaccination push by the state increased vaccination rates even further – but didn’t prevent whooping cough from spreading even further. What was the problem? Simple – a study done last year showed that whooping cough had evolved, and the vaccine was no longer effective against the new strain. Millions of people vaccinated, with no discernible effect. Because, well, Mother Nature is really hard for us hairless apes to beat – she has a mind of her own, and always will.

    The other scientific part we all need to be aware of is that vaccines are not universally safe. No, I’m not a tin-hat wearing paranoid delusional. It’s a recognized scientific fact. So recognized, in fact, that the U.S. government has recognized it as a fact in legislation, and created a large fund to settle the claims of people who are harmed by vaccines. And so recognized that laws have been created to shield vaccine companies from being held accountable when someone who takes a scheduled vaccine is hurt (because the companies own studies showed that the vaccines can do harm). The incidence of severe reactions is relatively small – but it is very real. So the scientific question becomes, is vaccinating millions of people – which will cause severe damage to a small number of people – worth it to reduce minor damage to a large number of people? In the past, the answer has seemed to be yes. But as more evidence comes in that questions the effectiveness of the vaccines, the answer is now in doubt. And as other evidence comes in that doing other things to boost your immune system (like avoiding chemical toxins in food, improving the health of your microbiome, etc.), it’s no longer a slam-dunk case. And that’s why – even putting the question of religious freedom aside – it should be up to each individual to decide whether or not they vaccinate themselves and their children.

    Now you are right about one thing, there is a trust issue. But you’re wrong in thinking it comes first; it actually usually comes after people start looking into the science. For example, when I crunched the CDC’s flu vaccination numbers myself, and compared them to what the CDC claimed the flu vaccine’s effectiveness was, I can tell you I lost alot of trust. Because I’m a scientist and they abandoned the scientific method – it was clear they chose what they wanted the results to mean, rather than letting the results dictate the message.

    Bottom line Chuck, if you’re going to take on a subject like this, you need to be a good writer and do your research. That doesn’t mean just reading what the CDC and vaccine makers say (I mean, it’s not like the drug manufacturers have anything to gain by assuring everyone the vaccines are safe and the CDC telling millions of people to buy their vaccines, right?). It means investigating the other side, and looking at the science, not the press releases. It means looking at the data instead of assuming an emotional reaction by people it doesn’t appear you’ve ever talked to (correct me if I’m wrong, but it doesn’t appear you’ve even tried to read up on the objections to vaccination). Don’t trust anyone’s interpretation of the numbers, crunch them yourself (or at least find one of the many people who crunched the same numbers and came to a different conclusion, so you’ve got two sides to look at). Otherwise you’re doing exactly what you accused the supposed “anti-vaxxers” of – you’re just being a parrot mouthpiece for someone else, who more than likely has their own agenda.

    • Excellent thoughts, John Michael Thomas, speaking as one who has looked at both sides of the issue. Also, with all this anti-vaxer hate in the air, what happened to the idea that if you’ve had your kid vaccinated against the measles, supposedly he/she won’t get the measles, right? If I choose not to vaccinate and accept that my child might get the measles, then that’s a parental choice that Does Not Affect Your Vaccinated Child. Sheesh.

      • “Also, with all this anti-vaxer hate in the air, what happened to the idea that if you’ve had your kid vaccinated against the measles, supposedly he/she won’t get the measles, right? If I choose not to vaccinate and accept that my child might get the measles, then that’s a parental choice that Does Not Affect Your Vaccinated Child. Sheesh.”

        This is a myopic, selfish viewpoint.

        Some children and adults cannot be vaccinated because of health risks. But they are (relatively) protected because of herd immunity — a contract that is effectively broken by people choosing not to vaccinate their children against horrible diseases. Also, Your Parental Choice is choosing to accept your child might get the measles, which — well, your choice very clearly might affect someone else, someone very close to you.

        Again, humans: very bad at risk analysis.

        — c.

          • Conspiracy theories used to be more the province of the politically conservative in the US, but over the past several decades the politically liberal have been fed a steady diet of how the Koch brothers are going to destroy America, puppies, and rainbows with their shadowy manipulations, George Bush had the Twin Towers knocked down at the command of his Israeli masters, etc. In my current experience the willingness to believe in conspiracy theories isn’t strongly correlated with political ideology anymore.

        • Not only that, but vaccine is, in fact, less effective in some people than in others. However, it’s effective enough in enough people that it keeps the diseases out of the herd. Once the disease gets a foothold, it will affect not only the unvaccinated, but the immunocompromised and the ones whose bodies didn’t process the vaccine well.

          Yes, you can get the disease even if you’re vaccinated. However, that is not a reason not to get the vaccine. That is a reason why EVERYBODY should get the vaccine.

        • When I was a pre-school age child, still too young to receive vaccinations, I almost died from chicken pox. And this happened because I was exposed to someone’s non-vaccinated child. Some parent too self-absorbed or lazy almost killed me. So all the unicorn feathers about personal choice do not mean shit to me.

    • Speaking as a scientist myself (biochemistry and neuroscience) with experience in clinical trials (not involving vaccines), and having been screwed by the healthcare system (just like anyone else) and having worked with doctors (some smart, some idiots): what research are you reading? Are you looking at peer-reviewed journals? I can find “research” that proves global warming isn’t a thing. But guess what? It is.

      No drug intervention is perfect. There is such a thing as side effects or allergic reactions. But the jury is NOT out on whether vaccines are effective. They are one of the foremost breakthroughs of human ingenuity.

    • “Bottom line Chuck, if you’re going to take on a subject like this, you need to be a good writer and do your research.”

      This is both rude and ironic.

      First, a note: assume that this blog is like my house, and just as I wouldn’t want you to come into my home and criticize my interior decorating, don’t come into my blog and tell me I need to be a “good writer.” The spam oubliette has not been opened in a while, and I am eager to give it guests.

      Second: “The incidence of severe reactions is relatively small – but it is very real. So the scientific question becomes, is vaccinating millions of people – which will cause severe damage to a small number of people – worth it to reduce minor damage to a large number of people?” Yes. Yes! YES. Do I really need to unpack that further? Hundreds of thousands of cases of smallpox, then and now? Horrible diseases, eradicated by vaccines. The reward way way way outweighs the risk.

      Third: the effectiveness of the whooping cough vaccine is because the new(er) vaccine is less complete. The reason is it less complete is because of complaints (and some might say, overblown concerns) over the side effects that came with the earlier version, which was more effective. Thankfully, we have herd immunity — unless anti-vaxxers ruin that.

      — c.

      • I really wish your blog had little “like” buttons so we could add our support without needing to add more comments to what already says it all. 😉

    • I haven’t read many studies either. I’ll tell you what I have done, is watched many unvaccinated children die, in foreign countries as near as Mexico and as far away as Saudi Arabia. Vaccines aren’t perfect, we all know that, but they beat the hell out of the alternative.

    • You would actually turn to the actions of the United States Legislature to lend you credibility? The jury is NOT out on the effectiveness of vaccines. Too many serious diseases have been virtually eradicated through their use. I have personally administered literally thousands of doses of virtually every commonly used vaccine under the sun. In twenty five years, I have never had one patient experience an immediate negative reaction. Not one. I realize the statistical risk is there. I realize that if you are the patient that suffers that reaction, that it is then a VERY big deal. However, they are so rare as to be virtually insignificant. I cannot understand how a scientist could speak out against vaccination, letting statistics blind you to hard, empirical evidence

      • Let me apologize in advance if I’ve been rude, this is an emotional topic for me, and finding it here caught me off gaurd

        • Thank you for speaking from the trenches. Honing in on the rare reactions is like saying, “Well, some people have died from this surgery, so we’d better stop it now.” People will have risky surgery that has a 2% chance of success. They will beg for it and line up to get it and throw their child on the operating table. However, something that is medically proven to save lives, and they freak the hell out.

          My mom suffered polio as a child. She did not suffer paralysis, but the neurological damage significantly shortened her life. I am a survivor of a “minor” childhood disease that, according to the anti-vaxxers is 3 days of eating jello and watching cartoons. I almost died and suffered inner ear damage (from the fever) that plagues me to this day.

          My mom had me in line for every vax the second it was available in our area. I got a little stick in the arm and a new toy from the dime store next to the doctor’s office. And I didn’t get sick.

          If you or your family has any history of allergies to eggs or vaccine reactions, then that needs to be taken up with your doctor. For example, a friend’s oldest child had a fairly serious reaction on her very first round. Therefore, for subsequent rounds and her second child, mom and doc devised a different schedule. That is the difference between informed advocacy and OMGBIGPHARMAWANTSTOKILLMYCHILD!

          And, yeah, I have a hard science background as well.

    • “…So recognized, in fact, that the U.S. government has recognized it as a fact in legislation, and created a large fund to settle the claims of people who are harmed by vaccines…”

      There is also a fund for people who get hit by fire trucks en-route to emergency calls. Should we get rid of those too? Is the jury still out on whether those are helpful?

    • John,

      The problem here isn’t that if you look at the evidence that there shouldn’t be concerns about vaccines, there should, but there should be more concern about the resurgence of diseases. Yes, we should be concerned about anything being injected into our bodies, but let’s not take those concerns and use them to spread so much fear that people are willing to face the alternative and expose themselves needlessly to deadly disease. Let’s use those concerns to make the vaccination process better. Because it does work overall. Even you know that.

      The problem, as Chuck pointed out, is that people interpret info to back up what they already suspect or want to believe. So when you say that you’ve “crunched the numbers” and found that vaccines aren’t always effective. That is you being objective and weighing your options. But many people who already are beginning to fear vaccines will read a sentence like, “Vaccines are not always effective for every person,” something everybody knows to be true, and they will see “Vaccines are never effective for anyone.” Likewise, the line “Vaccines sometimes harm some people,” turns into “Vaccines will definitely harm everyone.” Once those ideas take hold there is no convincing them otherwise. The doctor who “proved” vaccines caused autism was shown without a doubt to be a fraud with malicious intent, but there is still a decent amount of the population who fears their child might become autistic if they get a vaccination. Or too many vaccinations too quickly. It will take the turning over of a generation for that falsehood to be completely stamped out. Meanwhile, children, the elderly, and the immune compromised will contract diseases that were statistically non-existent prior to this one man’s fear-mongering, and will suffer and possibly die as a result.

    • Yes! No one EVER wants to acknowledge the vaccine injury fund and the legal protection. I think they are happy inside their vaccine bubble, blindly following along with the masses and believing all the horrid lies passed around about “Jenny McCarthy’s gang”. LOL. It’s either a sad show of intelligence or an utter lack of respect for anyone still playing the JC card in a vaccine discussion. Seriously. As an added note, for anyone who says vaccine injury is rare, think again. I have physically met and witnessed more than the “rare” share of children in my kids peer group that were effected by vaccinations. (again, look at the fund to pay restitution to the families of these children). It’s one thing if you decide to say “I don’t give a rat’s ass about your child nearly dying or being permanently ruined by this vaccine, I don’t ever want anyone else to have to worry about getting sick, even if the chances of them being seriously injured or dying from the disease itself is a thousand times as rare.” At least then you’re being honest with everyone, including yourself. You’d call poison control if your child ever ingested the ingredients in a vaccine, yet you willingly line them up to have it administered directly into their system, totally bypassing their bodies natural defense mechanisms. High fever following immunizations; normal. Sick and lethargic; normal. Regression; normal. Yeah, that’s what they call good parenting. Isn’t the first rule of medicine to do no harm? I must have misread that. “My bad”.

        • 1. Sterile Water
          2. Saline
          3. Small amount of the germ, irradiated to the point that it is dead or almost dead, so that the immune system can create the antibodies to fight off the virus.

          Which is to say, nothing harmful.

      • Many pharmaceuticals are something you’d call poison control for. Right now, in order to kill the cancer before it kills me, I am slowly ingesting poison. Because that’s what chemotherapy is. A poison that will *hopefully* kill the bad thing in me before it kills me. That’s why it’s administered in controlled amounts by a physician who knows what they’re doing.

        But hey, let’s just listen to unqualified people freaking out on the Internet instead of people actually trained in medicine. Right?

    • I agree. For me and my kids I researched a LOT. Then researched more…and found that for me the risks outweighed the supposed benefit. I think the correct information should be presented to parents and let them decide without bullying or bashing from either side. I think there is a lot of fear mongering going around.

  • Critical Thinking is key.
    Lots of people on both sides claim evidence from “studies”. Looking at the methodology of those studies can help give confidence in which one has the better balance of evidence. In general, if you don’t have time (who has, amiright?), the scientific consensus is usually the best position to take.
    That scietific consensus will change over time, as more/better evidence comes to light, as good science should; whereas an alternative position will simply become entrenched no matter what evidence is presented. That is often how you can give yourself a heads-up on which position is more likely to be faulty.

    As a starting point on several issues, a podcast like The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, or a website like Science Based Medicine, are decent.
    Book-wise, I would suggest that everyone reads (or listens to) Ben Goldacre’s books “Bad Science” and “Bad Pharma”, in that order. Dr Goldacre is by no means easy-going on the pharmacutical industry, but likewise makes it plain where the balance of trust should be.
    Even there, though, take your sceptical brain with you (that’s sceptical, not cynical — asking question about the strength of evidence, not dismissing or attacking based on belief), and examine what is presented.

    It is perfectly permissible (even admirable) to say “I don’t know”, and hold a decision in abeyance until more/better evidence comes along, especially if it seems that there is no genuine consensus. Being aware of false equivalence, and our own biases (we all have them) helps us to properly evaluate something which is presented.

    OK. That was going to be a couple of sentences. Little bit preachy. Sorry about that.

    K

  • I can’t believe this whole issue has caught on over there. We had it in the UK for well over a decade after Andrew Wakefield’s irresponsible announcement that there was a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Some people still cling to that as justification for not having their kids vaccinated, despite his research being debunked and him being struck off. Our little boy has just had his final course of boosters and, apart from a little discomfort and a couple of sleepless night, appears none the worse for wear. I’m with you Chuck, because the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.

  • Wasn’t it Twain who said there’s three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics?

    I almost went down the non-vac rabbit hole with my son 20 years ago until I did more research (early days of the Interwebz, too) and decided that since he also has spina bifida, I wasn’t going to play Russian roulette with his health when he had enough shit to deal with. He got vaccinated. Ironically, they didn’t have chicken pox vaccines when he was born and he got it as a baby–and then _I_ caught it from him because I’d never had it.

    That was fun. NOT. (And yeah, now we’re both at risk for shingles on top of that. Goodie. *sarcasm*)

    I think there’s a lot of selective cherry-picking of data on both sides of the fence, and the truth is in the middle. Is Big Pharma out to make a buck? Hellz, yeah, they are. I’ve got fibromyalgia and get a fuck-ton of shit pushed on me that a) won’t work, b) won’t work on ME, c) I tried for a while and it stopped working (I have a weird metabolism).

    I also see a lot of scare mongering, and when non-big Pharma results come out not supporting the rabbit-holers, I see irrational screeching and pointing of fingers and claims the researchers are secret big Pharma fuck buddies.

    Honestly? I don’t trust either side. Just like “regular” government is bought by lobbyists, we have medical corporations all about the profit margins, not necessarily about the well-being of patients. And they’re also pumping money into government as lobbyists to push agendas they have.

    It’s, frankly, depressing.

    At least the cake isn’t a lie.

    Is it?

    *oh, shit…*

  • Smallpox was eradicated through use of vaccination. This isn’t imaginary. It wasn’t created by BIG PHARMA (which didn’t even exist at the time). It was pretty risky (and by today’s laws completely illegal) experimentation that discovered that you could infect people with a less deadly strain of cowpox and give them immunity to smallpox. And now smallpox is no more. This actually happened. So at the most basic level we KNOW that some vaccinations work.

    Polio is another example.

    Anyone who argues against ALL vaccines is also denying the millions of lives saved by these vaccines.

    As for the MMR vaccine that many people still (GAH!) believe causes Autism. Ok. Even if it is true (and I’m firmly in the camp that believes it ISN’T) I think that I would rather have my child alive and autistic then dead from a preventable disease. There. I said it. And that is why my baby gets his vaccinations. I also don’t think it’s okay for any parent to put other people at risk of death for the sake of their one child, but that’s a difficult argument to make and the amount of love I feel for my son makes me empathetic to other parents. So. If I KNEW that a vaccine would give my son autism, but would also maintain the herd immunity, and thus save the lives of other children/immune compromised adults? I hope I would make the right decision….but I don’t know. So, I trust in the CDC’s claim that it doesn’t cause Autism. And I feel fine about that risk.

    That being said….my doctor recommended the flu vaccine for me when I was pregnant and after the baby was born. I declined to get that vaccine, despite recommendations. I don’t begrudge anyone else getting it, and I believe that getting it makes it a little less likely you’ll get the flu. I also think I have a pretty hearty immune system and I decided to take the risk. I haven’t gotten sick yet.

    Not trying to change anyone’s mind. Just my thoughts on the matter.

  • And while we’re on the subject of vaccinations: PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, GET YOUR DAUGHTERS (and sons) VACCINATED against the HPV virus. It wasn’t available when I was at the right age for it. I wish it had been.

    I can’t tell you how many times I was told (when I mentioned it to various relatives with kids) their response: “Oh no, don’t trust those nasty vaccines”, or the long worn out excuse: “It’ll encourage the girl to have sex”, etc, etc.

    stupidity.

    Now, as I feared, two of those girls who I’d recommended to their parents get the HPV vaccine and they refused to vaccinate them for silly reasons– these girls also weren’t properly educated on safe sex and instead got on the birth control pill (of course pushed on them by the doctors as the end all be all of birth control) and refused to use a condom because their “boyfriends didn’t like to use them” the old bullshit excuse of the raincoat in a shower.

    As I feared, both teens contracted the HPV virus, which has led to cancer and countless painful treatments to try and rid them of this cancer. One recently had to have her ovary removed, the other is in a late stage. Sad.

    We have had more than 70 cases of measles (last time I checked–it’s probably much more now), originating from Disneyland.

    And no I’m no lover of big pharma. If I can avoid any kind of meds, I will.

  • Don’t forget that many many people find a correlation between the time of vaccination and the time when signs of autism begin. I’m not sure how many people can actually make this claim with any believability, but everybody seems to know someone (or know someone who knows someone) who sees these times being close together.

    It’s hard to tell a mother, who believe vax caused her kid’s autism, that she’s wrong and the science doesn’t agree with her. Well, it’s not hard to tell her that; it’s hard to tell her that and not get someone very very angry. You can’t convince her.

    But the fact is correlation is NOT causation. It’s not even connection. My favorite example is to point out that 95% of airplane related deaths happened to pickle-eaters. So even if there was some firm documentation pin pointing these times so that it’s reasonable to believe that the vax could have done it, there’s still not nearly enough evidence there to make a connection.

    We are subjective creatures. Even those who try to stick to empirical evidence are subject to confirmation bias. Very often we end up going with what feels right, what we wanted to believe, or what’s tempting to believe. We want a target. We want a criminal, a scapegoat. If you can’t blame those good-for-nothing doctor’s for what you think is wrong with your kid, then the next villain is… you. Who wants that? No wonder it’s easy for people to fall prey to bad science and bad evidence. It’s not rational, but it is how people behave.

    • *raises hand*

      I did. Saw it with my own two eyes. And I actually entertained the theory that vaccines might be related to autism when I first heard it. It’s not inherently illogical.

      Then I read the actual studies and meta-studies and there is no there there. Vaccines don’t cause autism.

  • Get the fecking vaccines! I’m 57. I’ve taken the pneumonia shot, the shingles shot, the flu shot, the booster for the whooping coughs and tetanus. Trust me when I say, you do not want your kids to get the measles. I had the German Measles and then the Red Measles and then as soon as I was over the last bout, I got Scarlet Fever. I nearly died with the measles. I was delirious and seeing angels (and to this day, I hope to gawd, they were really there). In those days, your mama bathed you in cool water and epson salts and said lots of prayers to those angels because there was a good chance you would just plain die from the illness. That’s how bad measles are. I survived and grew up to be a science fiction writer who deals in stories about disease. But really, do you want your kids to have first hand knowledge of how bad disease is, just so they can get a good story sale out of it later in life?

  • I too have been seeing far too much of this Vaxx=Autism nonsene.

    Autism is a neurological condition (not a disease) that develops in utero by no apparent rhyme or reason which makes it damn near impossible (read:imposisble) to be caused by vaccination. You can’t catch autism. You’ve either got it or you don’t. Some of the anti-vaxx argument regarding autism takes the approach that there is a drastic increase in autism diagnoses to which I rebut; There is an increase in autism diagnoses year over year because more doctors and clinicians are being trained on the developments in research (all of which is only 40-50 years old). More knowledge=more accurate diagnoses.

    tl;dr

    As Wendigo commands: please vaccinate your children and yourselves. Neither of you will “catch” autism.

    Source: I am a parent of a child with Autism and have been to every conference, lecture and information session they let me go to so I could better understand my little man’s inner workings.

  • Chuck, I love reading your stuff and generally agree with you on this, But, man! It must be exhausting to rant for that long! You must’ve killed off a keyboard. I don’t have time for this. Back to my novel in progress.

  • My grandpa turned 100 this past July (lives on his own still, is basically a total badass) and in pondering all the things he’s seen in his lifetime, it’s common vaccinations that get me more than the technology jumps he has witnessed. He was extremely sick as a kid with diphtheria. His eldest, my uncle, was crippled by polio. But you know what? None of his many grandchildren or great-grandchildren contracted any of these diseases. BECAUSE VACCINES. I don’t think it’s ever been a question in our family, you vaccinate your fucking kids as we’ve all seen what happens when you don’t. Bloody hell.

  • I have 2 kids: 3.5 yo boy and a 13 mos girl. The only adjustment we made to the vaccination schedule was we didn’t get the hepatitis vaccine until the kids were about a month old (I figured birth was traumatic enough, which it certainly was in my daughter’s case). Otherwise, my kids have gotten all their vaccines. My son is on the autism spectrum, my daughter is not. I was very, very relieved when they were both old enough to get the DTAP and the MMR vaccine (and my son was showing indications of autism before then in case anyone wants to say the vaccines caused it) because given the outbreaks of whooping cough and measles, I was scared going to the playground would be enough to get them sick. And I know that measles/mumps can result in blindness, brain injury and/or death.

    Let’s say I believed vaccines cause autism (which I don’t) or other developmental/cognitive issues. It would still come down to this: balance my son’s development against not having a son? Not a hard choice at all.

  • My daughter is autistic. She showed signs of autism in the classic anti-vaxxer paradigm, with developmental delays and other symptoms starting to become observable not long after she received her normal vaccine course.

    I would like nothing more, nothing in this world, than to know that vaccines caused her autism.

    Just so I would have somebody, or at least something, to blame. Some explanation of why the Universe chose to visit this hideous motherfucking disease on my precious daughter.

    OH GOD PLEASE GIVE ME A FALL GUY PLEASE.

    (Actually, God, I’d be okay with it remaining a mystery if you’d fix her, but I know I’m not going to get that either.)

    But you know the other reason I want somebody to blame?

    Because then I would know it was not my fault.

    You cannot begin to imagine the guilt a person feels knowing they’ve brought a person into the world who is going to struggle for all of their days. Who will need care for the rest of their lives and when her parents are gone will have to be cared for by strangers and won’t even know why her parents left her. Who has enough awareness to love but not enough to understand why someone she loves left her and is never coming back.

    God damn would it be nice to at least know that it was nothing to do with me.

    That I am not such a monster as to deserve such a weight upon my soul. That it wasn’t that her mother and I are both ubergeeks who should never have been allowed to breed. That that time she had a terribly high fever when she was a baby and I didn’t take her to the emergency room didn’t cause brain damage. That there wasn’t lead paint or some bizarre fungus or something in the old house that was all we could afford when she was a baby and our (relative) poverty led to her brain being scrambled. Or that it wasn’t simply punishment for all the times I’ve been a complete and utter a-hole without just cause. Oh, sweet Hermes, would that be nice. Maybe I could even get a decent night’s sleep just one time if I had somebody to blame.

    But there is nobody to blame.

    She has a neurological disorder, almost certainly caused by some accident of genetics. If there’s anybody to blame, it’s me, but in my few rational moments, even I have to admit that I had no way to know. (There’s no history of autism in either of our families: my family in particular is freakishly healthy and long-lived. I’m not a Missing Howard, but damn close.) I can blame evolution, I can blame the Prime Cause. That’s all I’ve got. And both of them are dreadfully unsatisfying to scream at, let alone try to get a bead on.

    I can’t approve of people who use that need to have a reason, a villain, something to blame, to justify the utter dipshittery that is the anti-vaccination movement. But I can understand it. Because like I said, Sweet Jesus, would it be wonderful both to get off that hook and put somebody else on it. (Preferably through their navels and out their rectums, but I’m not fussy.)

    So. That being said…

    Vaccines don’t cause autism. Failing to vaccinate causes death and suffering. If you don’t vaccinate your kids, you are a bad parent. If your kid gets sick and dies because you didn’t vaccinate them, you’re a murderer but at least your gene spread has been somewhat restricted so there’s a plus. If your kid gets somebody else’s kid sick and they die, you are a murderer and there’s no plus so if I were Emperor I’d have you fed into an industrial pasta-maker feet first. (If I were Emperor Jenny McCarthy and Andrew Wakefield would be first in line for a dual Let’s Make Murderous Moron Macaroni execution.)

    • I have to wonder if you might find some peace if you looked at your beautiful daughter for who she is and not who she might be if you could “fix” her.

      • *GASP*

        Why, all this time, these fifteen long years, I’ve been torturing myself… FOR NOTHING? If I only accepted her for who she is and celebrated it, everything would be fine? THAT HAS LITERALLY NEVER OCCURRED TO ME AND NO ONE HAS EVER SUGGESTED IT! The scales, they fall like snow from my eyes!

        Thank you! O, thank you, kind soul! I would never…

        Oh, screw it.

        *rips off mask of transcendentally surprised face, revealing expression of disdain and scorn so powerful that all dogs in the Western Hemisphere immediately assume The Position of Shame*

        I usually add a proactive response to this kind of comment when I write on this subject, which goes like this: “Come and say that to my face, and I will punch you so hard your great-grandmothers will spontaneously miscarry.” But I was wiped, and I thought, “Chuck’s readers wouldn’t do that to me. Not good old Chuck.” Thanks for chipping another large shard off the scrap of flint which is my remaining faith in humanity.

        Let’s get two things straight:

        1) My kid is amazeballs. She’s smart (One reason her severe handicap is not more apparent at first is that she’s so effing sharp. To a degree, her intelligence offsets her limitations.) She’s funny. She can be (very occasionally) very loving. She’s better-behaved than most of the uncivilized yard-apes one sees gallivanting around in the wild. She listens better than most neurotypical children I see and she has a communication impairment. I love her to bits.

        2) Her brain is FUCKING BROKEN. She has a VERY SERIOUS LIFE-THREATENING NEUROLOGICAL DISORDER. She’s not “perfect in her own way.” She’s not “who she was meant to be,” unless you believe that God is an incompetent sadist. Her life is frustrating and circumscribed (and dangerous) to a degree most people who haven’t interacted extensively with someone with severe mental handicaps can’t even imagine. (If you have worked a lot with such people: Bless you. But also, still fuck you.)

        If I could push a button and make her neurotypical, I would. If I could push a button which would simultaneously make her neurotypical and make me fall over dead, I would. There would be a small clap of thunder caused by the air displaced when I moved to push it, you dig me? Take your little dime-store philosophy sayings, cross-stitch them onto a sheet of aluminum foil, crumple it into a large, rough ball, and cram it somewhere extremely uncomfortable. Then sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done.

        • I love you. No, really. I have a daughter with a rare genetic disorder, and every time someone does the “OH, what a blessing!” or “God must think you’re something special to give you such a special child!” I want to rise up and strangle them with my bare hands.

          Raising a kid with disabilities is FREAKING HARD WORK. Yes, there are moments of joy, and moments of awesome, and moments of peace- but I am SICK AND FUCKING TIRED of this idea that acknowleging & expressing that it means having your life ripped apart and tossed in the toilet means you somehow hate your child and think they are a burden.

          “Welcome to Holland!” Fuck that. It isn’t that you wanted a trip to Paris and ended up in Amsterdam instead; it’s getting relocated to the Gaza Strip, where every single day is going to have fear and worry attached even if they are good days, and then you will have days and weeks and months where artillery is raining down on your head.

          We absolutely love our children for who they are. That doesn’t mean that the reality doesn’t suck giant glacial erratics through a bent coffee straw on a regular basis.

          • Bwahah, yes, if one more person sends me that Welcome to Holland thing I will punch someone. I’ve been to Holland, it was entirely without stress or fear for the future….

            Also, as the parent of a child who had to delay his MMR because of health issues, vaccinate your children!!!!!!!

        • I love you too (also Eleri and Jen). I love my son fiercely, just as much as I love his neurotypical sister. Would I move heaven and earth if I could make his life a little easier? If I could do something to not have to watch the confusion in his eyes when he tries to interact with a neurotypical child and they just look at him like he’s something they scraped off the bottom of their shoe? If I could be sure that after I’m gone, he’ll be ok without me to translate the world for him? Hell yes, without hesitation.

          But I can’t. I have nowhere to put the blame (autism doesn’t run in my family as far as I know, but half my family was killed in Auschwitz) and no button to push except as much early intervention and therapy as I can find. So that’s what I do – it won’t completely fix him, but maybe it will make his life a little easier.

          It is because we love our children that we want to fix them. We don’t want them to suffer.

          • Anybody who takes issue with the term ‘fix’ should take the time to understand that it doesn’t imply “broken”.

            There are real problems that affect real people, we can still love, appreciate and care for people (and children) afflicted the way they deserve. Take the time to realize that ‘fix’ really means ‘help’. Jess, would you say something like that if someone was trying to ‘fix’ someone with cancer? I thought not. So shut up.

            Attacking the people who DO love and care for and appreciate people with this kind of problem, whether relative or friend or just someone they know, for using a term (such as ” fix”) that might offend your delicate sensibilities is a senseless and, frankly, a bullshit thing to do. Take some time before throwing out your judgments, please.

          • Thanks to you and all the other commenters for the love. 🙂

            That being said, if anybody wants to distribute thoughts, prayers, good feelings, or cash in response to what I said, please direct them to my wife, who is far more patient with our daughter and far less tolerant of fools than I could ever be.

  • One of the enablers to all of this nonsense (it’s certainly not a cause, but definitely an enabler) is the celebrity-as-mouthpiece for . Let’s see, Bill Maher, Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey, Robert Rodriguez, etc., are certainly talented people, but who use their celebrity as a bullhorn against vaccines. So whatever value they bring to society with their art? They just wiped their ass with it when they jumped on the bandwagon who believe Jesus rode a dinosaur and the earth is only 4 thousand years old. It’s science. You may not like the answers it gives us, but it’s better than whatever that lump of cold oatmeal these people call brains came up with.

    One day — certainly not soon — the sycophants who shower adulation on celebrities might just think about questioning some of the shit that comes out of their mouths.

    As for me, I couldn’t do my job without vaccines. Some of the places I travel to — well, let’s just say I am all over getting a prophylaxis for malaria, getting vaccinated for typhoid and yellow fever — yeah, bring it on. Because dying from the raging shits is not how I plan to exit this earth.

    • You’d never pay to see research scientists play Broadway, why the hell do we put so much stock in actors’ opinions on science? It’s akin to asking a fish which bicycle you should buy.

  • As the mother of a vaccinated child who contracted Whooping Cough through low herd immunity and an non-vaccinated child who introduced the virus to the school, I can’t stress enough how important it is to vaccinate your child — not just for your own kid, but for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. My daughter caught a virulent strain of the disease (yes, it’s a disease) and was off school for six weeks. So severe was it, her throat would close. My husband and I used to take shifts sitting with her overnight to make sure she didn’t die. She was on steroid-based Ventolin to ensure her airways stayed open.

    When diagnosed by our local GP, he explained it to me like this: my daughter’s personal immunity sat at about 80% (which is why you get booster shots), but as a lot of parents in my community refuse to vaccinate, her immunity was dropped to about 40%. Once Whooping Cough was introduced to the herd, it spread like wildfire through the school.

    To say I was furious is an understatement. Anti-vaxxers state that they refuse to have other make decisions on the choices they make for their children, yet it’s their choices that can impact so horrendously on the choices *I* make. But that’s okay, right? I mean, the choice to vaccinate my children can’t kill yours, but your decision to not vaccinate almost killed mine.

    So vaccinate your kids — it saves lives.

    • Great post Chuck, as always…

      Seeing your thought process here, I can kind of, *almost* grasp the concept of how anti-vaxxers come to the decision to not vaccinate their children. I kindasorta understand it, reading what you said about the doubt and mistrust, etc., etc., but when it comes down to it I just don’t see how a parent could choose that path.

      I had one child of my own, and the thought of her contracting a deadly childhood disease because I fell for some line of bullshit makes me nauseous. She’s 20 now, and healthy, thankfully.

      Enough of my rambling but before I go, I would lIke to spam the comment thread with a fantastic video I saw yesterday (on Facebook, no less! ). It’s short, it contains NSFW language, much like this blog, and it really strikes to the heart of why it’s so goddamn important to vaccinate your kids.

      http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2015/01/watch-2-magicians-destroy-anti-vaccine-movement-90-seconds.html

  • I don’t know where the anti-vax movement started but I suspect it either started gained momentum with the MMR -autism study which was published, got a lot of publicity and made a lot of people scared. Then it was discovered that the study was not properly peer-reviewed and had a pathetic sample size (don’t remember the exact number but it was low double digits). The study was quietly retracted by the article but it had already done the damage. People were scared and people still cite the retracted bad scientific study.

    That is not to say that vaccines don’t warrant further study.

    If you have not heard about the Guinea-Bissau study (you can read it here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17092614) they determined that schedule in which DTP and measles vaccines were given caused a reduced immune function in girls that increased the mortality rate. Both vaccines were effective in preventing the diseases they were designed to prevent but girls died from other diseases due to the compromised immune system. However, this was a third world problem since in countries such as the United States, children have better access to medical care and are less likely to die from the diseases that killed the girls in Guinea-Bisau.

    I am vaccinated. If I had a child I would vaccinate them. However, I think it is reasonable to desire additional studies on vaccines for their unintended consequences.

  • Here’s something that’s always bugged me:

    Let’s say there was a possibility that vaccines caused autism. If an anti-vaxxer is hellbent on only seeing THE TRUTH, then they’ve surely noticed the negative and potentially lethal results of their crusade…

    …so what type of person thinks ‘I would rather my child die than maybe be austistic’?

    • Yes, yes, yes.
      Life is a lottery and there are no safe bets.
      I bet on the best odds given for my health. I’m old, I have health problems, so I’m there for my flu vaccine every year because the vaccine gives me the best chance of making it through the Winter healthy.

    • 1) Narcissistic assholes.

      2) People who can’t do math and who see that such diseases are (were) very rare, and figure that the risk of getting what they think of as diseases from Charles Dickens’ time is smaller than the risk from the Horrible P’ison Vaccines.

  • I’m reminded of a quote from the illustrious film “Men in Black:”

    “A person is smart. PEOPLE are dumb, panicky animals.” – Agent K (or something like that)

    • Some districts – most notably of late, in affluent California districts – are allowing abstention based on personal beliefs. I think the intent of that was *religious* beliefs, but it’s really hard to prove someone’s religion *doesn’t* mandate one thing or another. My closest friend is an anti-vaxxer, but here where we live that abstention thing doesn’t fly. So she home schooled her kids until she couldn’t anymore, and thus they had to be vaccinated to get into public school. Surprise surprise they are absolutely fine and healthy. I love her to bits, but there’s definitely things she does/says that make me cringe.

  • Great book. I shipped this book to my grandmother for her birthday (and to my Mother.) I think she read it, if not, I’m shipping the senile dog hater a bag of fucking glitter. Hold on. Let me call her.

    P.S. I love my Granny. But she can get the bag, too…

  • As an actual example of not getting vaccines, in Wales in 2013 there was a measles outbreak that infected 1200 people, hospitalised about 88 and killed one 25 year old man. All because a huge number of people did not get their children vaccinated due to the surge in anti-vaccination propaganda. Apparently just 2 children spread the disease to 29 people. So anyone who says that it’s a decision that only affects them and their children is intentionally ignorant.

  • Another aspect of this may be that people who live happily in first world countries with relatively good healthcare systems don’t often come in contact with the full repercussions that some of these diseases can cause. In fact, many vaccines have become so effective that it’s the whole exception that proves the rule thing. An outbreak of mumps or measles is big scary news because it’s uncommon.
    In the States I know multiple people who have autism, but no one who has had the measles. Had I not been to third world countries where I saw people who had no chance to receive vaccines and had the measles (which led to complications and deaths) I probably would have been more concerned about the chances of my children having autism than the measles.
    When you’re fear-mongering, the ones that strike closest to home are generally the most effective.

  • Is this a good place to talk about publication bias? ‘Cause it sure is neat. Let’s say I conduct a study concluding that sitting on a couch and watching Law and Order re-runs has no impact on SAT scores. I’m going to have a tough time getting my results published since the results are a bit obvious and you’d probably get similar result 99 times out of 100. Its that 100th time thats the problem. Every once in a while, someone performs a study with just the right conditions or a very unique sample and you have a study that shows that the duo of Lennie Briscoe and Ice-T (I assume his character’s name is Ice-T) are the most effective SAT tutors in the world. Which is probably interesting enough to get published.

  • I vaccinated my kids. I still do. If new ones pop up that are recommended by the pediatrician, I research it heavily before I give the big OK, but I normally go with the vaccine.

    However, I do have a kid with autism and I do wonder where it emerged (no family history of it on either side) and if you had a kid with autism, you wouldn’t make a flip comment about it.

    • I have a kid with autism, and I make flip comments about it. Mostly to set up verbal attacks on idiots who make comments about autism they haven’t got the brains to understand are ridiculous, but I do. Sometimes just for sheer Byronesque cartharsis.

      (Byronesque catharsis is based on the line, “And if I laugh at any mortal thing, ’tis that I may not weep.”)

  • Speaking as a Brit… We have an injection called MMR which stands for measles, mumps and rubella. As in what it vaccinates kids against. There was a big hoo hah when it was tentatively linked to Autism. Turned out the research was dodgy anfd the link false. It helped me, with my kid, that I know some scientists, without an agenda, that I could ask. After a flurry of worry the national panic has gone away and once again, kids are having MMR vaccines. So what I’m saying, tentatively is, it looks like we’ve already done this so you Americans don’t have to. It was hard to turn my back on the hysteria and vaccinate my kid at the time, even with the scientist’s advice, but lots of people did and now everybody does.

    With the medicine… We’re the other way around.., ‘is that really all that they can do or are they telling us that because we’re old, they think we’re going to die soon, anyway, and they want to save money?’ That’s the British attitude.

    Wider, in politics, there is so much polarity, so many extremes. No imagination of the viewpoint on the other side. The more can-do we all get the more right and wrong, black or white everything has to be. But life isn’t ever simple. There are half tones, there is always grey. It’s no good trying to jemmy a grey thing into a black or white box. That way lies untruths and madness. That way, these days, lies politics.

    Lovely post. I hope people listen.

    Cheers

    MTM

  • Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate. I know it’s scary, all those stories. Your child will get autism! They can have a bad reaction and die! Bottom line is, as parents we can only do our best. We don’t have all the answers, so we just have to go with the safest bet for keeping our kids alive and well.

    Listen, I know fuck-all, but I seriously doubt vaccines have anything to do with autism. My personal theory is that it has something to do with the crap we’re doing to our agriculture these days, since much of our food is barely recognizable from what we ate 100 years ago. I never knew one kid with a peanut allergy growing up, and no one that I know in real life did either. Now there’s usually at least one in each classroom. Something’s changed. Somewhere along the line, things got messed up, and I’m sure it affects us in many more ways than we would ever guess. It sucks. I know some people will disagree with me, and that’s fine. It’s just my personal theory, as I said.

    Food! GMO’s! There’s another inflammatory subject for you, Chuck. 🙂 Sorry. Your post today may do some good. Maybe some of your fans will take their kids and get them vaccinated, just because you said so. If even one more kid is spared the misery and danger of the Measles, that’s a victory.

    See? Writing can even save lives!

  • And in the very definition of irony, in her stupid new reality show, Jenny McCarthy, was lecturing people in a radio interview about the importance of preventative medical care.

    It does come down to critical thinking. Really, in my studies for both my engineering degree and then my law degree, that is what was taught. How to fucking think.

    One engineering teacher took away our calculators and made us do all of our work with cheap grade school plastic measuring tools. Cheesy plastic rulers and cheap cracked protractors, and compasses with 2 inch long dull wooden pencils. All the math was done with pencil and paper. The point was to force us to eschew technology that would tell us our result was “accurate” to 10 decimal places and really look at what we were doing.

    And we did it. Hurtfully, like someone going cold-turkey from coffee. And me made math and science out of stone knives and bearskins.

    What is 5 X pi? The answer is 15, because without more information you can’t trust the 5. Pi may be an infinitely studied number with a set value out to 11 trillion decimal places, but you don’t know a thing about that 5. Is it 5.03, 4.97, 5.00000? Was that 5 measured with a laser calibrated to an atomic clock or a 79 cent Walmart ruler? Without more information, you just don’t know.

    That is part of the problem. Fanatics pick the one piece of data that confirms their bias to 10 decimal places and run with it without thinking about how reliable that number really is.

    Vax your kids. That doesn’t mean don’t educate yourself and challenge your doctor. But take off your 10 decimal place surety shield and know that while nothing is perfect, vaccines are fucking close. Vaccines are closer to being pi (at least to a dozen decimal places) than not. They are a known entity. Over the generations, millions of kids had to die for measles to become a childhood ailment. If you are willing to go back to the pioneer days of bear 8 and bury 4, then . . . . well . . . . fuck you. Genetic Hawaiians (not mixed with Chinese, Japanese, or other Polynesians) are almost extinct because missionaries showed up dragging measles behind them. It was genocide.

    Climate change is real. It is not a conspiracy of scientists that has been uncovered by a band of plucky billionaires. And please tell me why stopping pumping greenhouse gases into the air and asshat deforestation is a bad thing. And, yes, science. I know about the Medieval Warming and the “Little Ice Age.” I can discuss the “Year Without a Summer” when you could walk to Manhattan Island on the ice. I can also tell you about the Clovis People and why we, as a species, can’t do that shit any more. It is about human activity using up the safety factor in the bio-sphere that allowed our planet to absorb and dissipate the disastrous effects of natural climate cycles. Stop being asshats and our environment can heal.

    I adore conspiracy theories. I find them great entertainment. However, I understand that they are just an unreliable 5 and do not stake my life or the life of those around me on them.

  • In the early 1900’s my grandmother’s sister – her name was Mary – died of diphtheria. She was an infant. My grandmother and her brother also had diphtheria but a home remedy was applied – they swallowed kerosene – very poisonous – but it made them vomit up the mucous ball which suffocates and causes death. In those days epidemics would sweep the cities and in an attempt to contain the disease, the city would send carts around and forcibly take away the sick. So little Mary was taken from her mother and brought to the hospitals out on the Hudson River islands – in this instance Roosevelt Island. Each day my grandmother and her mother would go to the dock where a list of those who had died would be posted, looking for the fate of their beloved Mary. After four days of this angonizing journey Mary’s name appeared on the list of the dead.

    Vaccinate your kids.

  • Excellent post. Trust is a delicate thing… easily lost and almost impossible to replace. I also think there are other factors in play.

    A tendency all humans have to see correlations where there are none. Worse still causal correlations. I only recently heard an excellent example of the difference: causal correlation is when two things are directly linked like the moon causing and being correlated to tides. A non-causal correlation is something like the way a child’s height is correlated with their skill and knowledge in almost any subject… but it’s because of their age not their height. They are older and wiser… being taller is a correlated side effect of aging, not a cause and once they stop growing the correlation breaks down.

    If you ask people to “fake” coin toss data with a rows of H and T they never cluster the data like the real thing. They’ll use clusters of two or three of one letter but real data can have four or five in a row. This looks “wrong” it looks “significant”. Random data can have clusters caused by nothing other than chance but it looks like cause and effect… When people win a lottery twice the odds are astronomical so we seek an explanation and “shit happens” is not particularly satisfying (but I wish more statisticians would say it for my amusement).

    We’ve had the anti-vax scare here in the UK, and apparent cancer clusters around cellular phone masts and a host of others. “The media” here are notorious for two things: a relentless focus on the negative and a short attention span. The upshot of that is a few weeks of hysterical headlines and a singular lack of interest in any objective follow up research which undermines their narrative (see what I did there?)

    Anyway that’s my wee contribution… for what it’s worth.

  • All of this talk about not trusting doctors or basicaly anything is unfortunately right on target We are all pretty much fucked Whether we live 10 30 or even 80 years mankind will always have this problem Best of luck to all reading this but soon enough we will all be returned to non existence a brief experience for absolutely no purpose then we will not have any ability to worry about quality of life or anything

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