Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Unfortunately, the “Pro-Vaccine” Movement Regards Shrillness as More Effective than a Rational and Civil Discussion.

Anti-vaccine, anti-vaxx, anti-science, anti-vaxx denialism, fear mongering, unreasonable, irrational, panicked, crusaders who tell long debunked lies, they kill children. You don’t have to search long on the internet or in the newspaper to find these labels among other unprintable ones.

At this point, I’m surprised that they still call us “anti-vaccine.” We seem only one small step away from the label – “pro-baby killers.”

People on both sides of this debate are guilty of calling people on the other side names, but only one side seems surprised by it. My question to the “pro-science” side is really? After you throw mud at someone you are surprised and complain that a “panicked parent” picked it up and threw it back?

I understand that name calling can be effective and secretly satisfying, if admittedly childish. So, if you do it – own it! Many “anti-anti-vaccine” proponents like to wrap themselves in the false security of the label “science and rationality” while flinging insults. But is an argument ever that simple? Do you win over anyone by calling them stupid?

I was surprised to find myself in the periphery of the recent Amy Wallace fray. I’d commented on Dr. Parikh’s article, The Ugliness of the Anti-Vaccine Movement. The next thing I knew I was listed as an anti-vaccine writer on the I Speak of Dreams blog. I decided to take a look at other bloggers’ writing.

What I found on the “pro-science” blogs didn’t surprise me.

Isis the Scientist’s wisdom includes calling J.B. Handley a “Colossal cockweaseldouchemonkey, genuine asshat, and founder of the ultimate denialist's association,” and accuses him of illegal and immoral acts [sic]. (Warning: her post is disturbing, nasty and inappropriate for viewing at work!)

Pal MD says, in his post The anti-vaccination movement is morally bankrupt, that “Fear and intimidation is the enemy of science. But the anti-vax crowd doesn't care about dialog; since they have no science to support their delusions, all they are left with vitriolic spittle. The anti-vaxxers are fundamentally immoral. They, like many fundamentalists, want us all to suffer for their faith, and heretics and apostates must burn.”

The Tethered Swimming blog article titled How To Kill Children Legally (Even Your Own) claims “not vaccinating your kids is like patrolling your neighborhood for panel vans while Cousin Steve, the thrice convicted child molester, stays home to babysit. Except it’s actually worse than that because every child that isn’t vaccinated raises the risk that other kids will become sick. So Cousin Steve isn’t just watching your kid, the whole play group is under his tender care.”

So, if I understand the arguments of some of the “pro-science” proponents: it’s really bad to call people names, I’m an immoral fundamentalist who is delusional and has a spitting problem, and I’m the equivalent of a procurer of victims for child molesters.

The pedestal upon which the “pro-science” movement is standing doesn’t seem very elevated, does it? But it’s very loud. It’s full of uninformed and ill-informed people who think vaccines are all that’s standing between us and death. They accept the government’s propaganda without critical thought or research. I understand this person all too well because I used to be one of them. I drank the Kool-Aid.

The “pro-vaccine” proponents are engaged in a purposeful and selective distortion of the “anti-vaccine” proponents’ argument.

Common tactics examined:

Label someone into irrelevance: Words have power. Labels matter. Witness the differences between the labels: pro-life, pro-choice and anti-choice extremists. This tactic also has the benefit of sometimes sidetracking the whole discussion to a label.

One of the anti-anti-vaxxers’ most effective arguments is that if someone questions the safety or necessity of any vaccine they are anti-vaccine. Many of us believe that vaccines are among the environmental triggers of autism. We question the safety of additives and preservatives in vaccines and propose spreading out the vaccine schedule. We believe some children are genetically predisposed to developing autism and we want the link between autism and vaccines studied. Somehow what they hear seems to be “vaccines are evil.” I don’t understand why the “pro-science” movement seems willing to believe half of what we say (when we question the safety) yet unwilling to believe the other half (we want them studied, so we can safely give them to our children). Anyone who claims vaccines triggered autism in their child obviously saw enough value in vaccines to vaccinate in the first place!

Another effective argument from the “zealots of one size fits all medicine” is: the anti-vaxx movement is anti-science.” They claim that science has closed the door on any link between vaccines and autism. “Asked and answered!” They say, sandwiched between sentences calling us stupid and immoral. But science doesn’t actually work like that. Just ask any pure scientist. (They wax on poetically while you regret asking them anything.) The history of science is littered with accepted “facts” that actually were later proven false by other scientists. Our knowledge of the physical world builds upon itself. As more information is gathered and tested, established “facts” are discarded and new facts emerge.

Dr. Bernadine Healy the former head of the National Institutes of Health has publicly stated that she found credible published, peer-reviewed scientific studies that support the idea of an association between vaccines and autism. And she said in a interview with CBS that a memo went around the NIH in 2004 saying, “Do not pursue susceptibility groups. Don’t look for those patients, those children, who may be vulnerable.” If our public health organizations are actively avoiding doing this research, it is not our side that is anti-science!

The “anti-safe vaccine” movement seems to believe that since vaccines are good and save lives, it is inexcusable to say anything bad about them. This leads to convoluted arguments such as a mercury containing compound can be safely injected in babies. How do I even respond to that? If someone claims mercury isn’t harmful they’ve chosen irrational, selective ignorance over science.

Autism is 100% genetic. Then why are the numbers increasing and why don’t both of all identical twins have it? The hidden horde doesn’t exist. “Desperate mothers” do believe that autism has a strong genetic component – that’s why many of us don’t have more children. But it is not possible to have a genetic epidemic – period.

We’re the experts! The “anti-vaxx” movement is full of hysterical parents who don’t know anything. This is colloquially known as “shut up and sit down.” This approach is used when “anti-safe vaccine” proponents claim that we don’t understand: herd immunity, correlation does not imply causation, diseases kill people, and so on. The experts also told us that refrigerator mothers caused their children to develop autism and that the only cure for autism was psychotherapy. Then they told us that autism was lifelong and to institutionalize our children. It was a parent that debunked that idea. All good science is based on observation. Parents, untrained as they are, spend countless hours observing their children from necessity. To dismiss this observational data set is arrogant and anti-science.

The medical profession castigates us for trying alternative medicine. Using that as proof that we are ignorant of science and irrational dupes who unknowingly harm our children. Well, conventional medicine has failed our children. They seem to only offer our children drugs. Then more drugs to combat the side effects caused by the first drug. They say that we’re desperate, willing to try anything regardless of harm. There is no doubt that many of us are willing to try wild sounding treatments. I learned to be more open-minded after putting my son on the gluten and casein free diet. The behavior improvement caused by a dietary change shut me up and opened my mind to other alternative treatments. A gluten and casein free diet is far less risky than powerful anti-psychotic drugs!

The “weak must perish to protect the herd” movement likes to play with statistics. At first they claimed that the number of children diagnosed with autism wasn’t increasing, it was due to a change in diagnostic criteria or to misdiagnosis. They admit a few people are injured by vaccines, but won’t release VAERS data for independent replication of the analysis. Figures don't lie, but liars figure. - Samuel Clemens

“Jab them all Darwinian warriors" state that side-effects are unfortunate and wholly unpredictable. Medical professionals know that some people shouldn’t be vaccinated including those with: immune deficiencies, seizure disorders, neurological problems, certain food allergies and drug sensitivities. We argue that our children have genetic predispositions to developing autism and that vaccines are one environmental trigger. Thus it is predictable that vaccines trigger autism in a susceptible population.

The “anti-parental choice” movement links the “anti-vaccine movement” to pseudo-sciences such as “reincarnation, channeling, and extraterrestrials.” Brilliant redirection! Thus mentioning that vaccines have side effects becomes equated with alien abduction.

And my favorite “Darwinian Fundamentalist” argument: Jenny McCarthy posed for playboy! Alright, I concede! She did. The “pro-vaxx” movement felt compelled to get their modesty impaired “spokesmodel” to compete -- Amanda Peet. Who looks better naked has no bearing on the issue!

“Champions of the herd,” when you’ve run out of arguments you can always ask the children who’ve been injured by vaccines to speak up for themselves.

Note: The labels are used to make a satirical point, not to widen the divide or offend anyone.

Lifeasthemotherof4 unknowingly embarked on a new career as an “anti-vaccine writer.” In my spare time I search for UFOs and spit on science. I can be sarcastic but usually try to be respectful of others. I'm calling for a civil and label-free discussion.


Eileen said...

Good article.

While we can look to the "experts" and hope for good information, they are just people. There is still much to learn. It should be okay to question things respectfully.

Kim Wombles said...

It is okay to question things respectfully, perhaps even stridently, depending on the situation. The experts should deal with reasonable questions with patience and diligence and explain carefully the scientific evidence behind the vaccine schedule. I hope that in one-on-one consultations with patients that they do just that.

The anti-safe vaccine crowd (yes, I do get tongue-in-cheek and have a tremendous appreciation for a wry sense of humor) in the blogosphere gets down and dirty, absolutely, when dealing with the anti-vax crowd. If you read much of AoA with even half an open mind, the anti-vaccine stance is clear. It can make it almost impossible for civil discourse. I'd argue, though, that neither of those two extremes is interested in dialogue, let alone civil dialogue, with the other side.

Science-based bloggers (I know, the labeling, what are you going to do?) are going to be dismissive when key names or sites are brought up. They are. Deth, Wakefield, Blaylock, Geier, Boyd Haley, Mercola, Hyman, Gordon are all going to garner a negative reaction.

The problem is that there really is an element of anti-vaccine philosophy out there, and a lot of it is at places like AoA and Generation Rescue. The Child Health Safety blog isn't about safe vaccines; it's about bringing vaccines down. 14 studies isn't good scientific analysis of the studies regarding autism and vaccines; it's JB Handley's propaganda.

If you haven't read this, Immunization Safety Review:
Vaccines and Autism, at
http://books.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=10997, I hope you'll look it over.

Life as the mother of 4 said...

(I'm more strident than Eileen is.) I think some of the vaccine experts in the CDC and NIH have a conflict of interest because of the needs of public health vs. an individual's needs. What is best from a public health standpoint does not always correspond with what is best for an individual. Individual doctors are not generally experts in vaccines. They rely on our public health organizations for guidance.

I agree that there is an anti-vaccine philosophy out there. I saw that in the comments on AoA. I'm trying to show that there is also a large group of us that are very much pro-safe vaccines. We vaccinated our children. We see value in vaccines but we also saw firsthand the side effects. I think too much of this debate has been fear driven. Fear driven on both sides.

I know that there is not a lot of research supporting our position, yet; because most of the money directed towards autism research has been directed towards genetics research and towards trying to prove vaccines do not trigger autism rather than objectively looking at the possibility of a link.

The way to answer this question is to have scientists from both sides study it together.

The only way to move forward productively is to dilute the extremists on either side as we try to find common ground.

I will say that I was disappointed in the postings that I've read from some of the "science based bloggers." Some of it was unbelievably ugly. I know if I wrote anything like it about anyone, everyone in my family would call me out.

Kim Wombles said...

The nastiness can be overwhelming, and I hope that my post did not fall into that; I try never to get too much farther than calling someone a dumbass (and remember what my friends Thelma and Louise say, even they have feelings). I'll agree, when the insults are being hurled, civil discourse is out the window.

I don't know that there is as a big a ocnflict of interest between public health and individual health at the government agencies, or at least I wouldn't term it that. One of the ideas for vaccines is that it protects both the individual and the larger group, that those who can't vaccinated have buffer zones (in immunized people) around them. If the CDC can catch 15 cases of intussesception connected to the first rotavirus vaccine, if it caught the 20 plus cases of GBS wih the 1976 swine flu (which was not proven to be causal), then why do parents in the autism/vaccines camp continue to believe that somehow the CDC is missing it over the last decade? That the IOM in its review is missing the connection?

Life as the mother of 4 said...

I think they initially missed it because it was such a small subset of the population (1 in 20,000) roughly 20 years ago that increased and there was no mechanism in place to look for any link and no one was looking for that kind of link anyway. And not every case of autism is linked to vaccines.

Regressive autism is different from infant onset autism. I think it's likely the epigenetic environment has changed, and when combined with an increase in toxins in the environment and genetic susceptibility (such as and an impaired ability to excrete heavy metals), autism is triggered. Unfortunately, we don’t know what causes most cases of autism, but it is clearly linked with immune disregulation and gastro-intestinal problems (chronic diarrhea in Will's case). The mechanism isn't clear and I'm so frustrated that it hasn't been studied! Until we start looking for and identifying biological markers to separate the different causes of ‘autisms’ from a catch-all behavior diagnosis, we won’t make progress. Genetic studies aren’t going to find the source, only the vulnerability. I feel like little pieces have been looked at individually but not the whole picture of regressive autism. Who knows what else has led to an increase. Why are the parents expected to fund (and do) the research, when 1 in 80 boys is being diagnosed with autism? That’s what is exasperating, and makes us impatient.

Many parents don't link vaccines to regression at first. I didn't. I didn't know what autism was. I didn't know Jake was on the spectrum until over a year later but I knew exactly when it happened -- November. Both my boys regressed two weeks after the same series of of vaccinations. Both of them had fevers for days 2 and 3 after every shot they received.

Until there is a large scale study that looks at body processes like epigenetics, metabolic processes, allergies, "gut" problems, etc. and how they work differently in people on the spectrum I don't think we'll find the answer. I'm so upset that more children continue to become autistic and I feel that we've spent the last ten years wasting research time.

I think the vaccine research is generally approached from the position that there can't possibly be a link rather than objectively looking at the possibility.


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