Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Category Archives: Anti-vaccination

Jenny McCarthy: Still an Anti-Vaccine Activist

Jenny McCarthy is anti-vaccine

Anti-vaccine activist Jenny McCarthy has taken her own twisted self-delusions to an entirely new level. She has spent years on promoting demonstrably dangerous myths about how vaccines supposedly contain dangerous toxins that cause autism. She has repeatedly appeared on popular TV-shows to spread misinformation about the current vaccine schedule. She has deployed nearly every single gambit in the anti-vaccine play-book. In a move of enormous audacity, McCarthy wrote a piece for the Chicago Sun-Times trying to whitewash her deeply tainted anti-vaccine history. She now claims that she is not anti-vaccine at all and that the media has wrongly trusted “blatantly inaccurate” blog posts. In reality, her words betray her even in the midsts of writing her defense as she continues to parrot classic anti-vaccine distortions.

I am not “anti-vaccine.” This is not a change in my stance nor is it a new position that I have recently adopted. For years, I have repeatedly stated that I am, in fact, “pro-vaccine” and for years I have been wrongly branded as “anti-vaccine.”

If McCarthy is pro-vaccine, then why has she promoted dangerously false anti-vaccine tropes, including the notion that the MMR vaccine cause autism, that the preservative thimerosal cause autism and that multiple vaccines overwhelm the immune system cause autoimmune disease? It is right there, in the transcript of the interview she gave for the PBS documentary The Vaccine War. If she talks like an anti-vaccine activists and distort like an anti-vaccine activists, then she is an anti-vaccine activist. No matter what after-the-fact rationalizations she puts forward.

Let us see how McCarthy betrays herself in the very article she claims to not be anti-vaccine. Read more of this post

Is Donald Trump Scientifically Illiterate?

Donald Trump does not understand climate change

One of the most basic distinctions in climate science is the difference between weather and climate. Weather is the instantaneous atmospheric conditions, such as rainy, snowy, sunny and so on. Climate, on the other hand, is about long-term trends. Confusing weather with climate, claiming that we cannot predict climate because we cannot predict weather, or trying to argue against the existence of human-influenced climate change by referencing current weather events is one of the most common tactic used by climate change denier.

Trump fails on climate knowledge

Contrary to Trump, the existence of local anomalies does not refute a general trend. More about the difference of weather and climate can be found on the NASA website.

Donald Trump does not understand vaccines or the immune system

Trump claims to not be anti-vaccine, yet he pulls out a classic anti-vaccine trope:

Too many, too soon? Nope!

While the number of vaccines have increased over time, the number of immunological challenges (“antigens”) have decreased. This is because modern DNA technology has enabled researchers to include only those components that are necessary to produce a good response. In other words, vaccines poses a smaller challenge to the immune system now than it did in the past. For more information, see the Offit et al. (2002) paper in Pediatrics.

Read more of this post

Half of Americans Believe in Medical Conspiracy Theories

ResearchBlogging.org

Medical conspiracy theories

An interesting study was recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine by Oliver and Wood (2014). They report the results of a YouGov survey that looked at the acceptance of medical conspiracy theories in the United States and what, if any, effect the belief in medical conspiracy theories had on health-related behavior, such as taking herbal supplements, getting a flu shot and preference for organic foods. The results were chilling as almost half of the U. S. population believed in at least one medical conspiracy. Those who held three or more were less likely to go to the doctor or dentist and fewer got vaccinated against seasonal influenza. They were also more likely to take herbal supplements.

The selection of medical conspiracy theories

Oliver and Wood selected six different medical conspiracy theories to include in their research. Although the researchers did not justify their selection, it seems representative and wide as it spanned from FDA and alternative medicine to discredited beliefs about the origin of HIV Read more of this post

Neil deGrasse Tyson Invites Anti-Science Activist Mayim Bialik

Holistic Moms Network

Many scientific skeptics may recognize Mayim Bialik from hit TV-shows such as Blossom and The Big Bang Theory. In the latter, she plays the neurobiologist Amy Farrah Fowler who becomes the girlfriend of the physicist Sheldon Cooper. In real life, she has a PhD in a very similar field as Amy, namely neuroscience. One would think that this provides some protection against being subverted by irrational pseudoscience. However, Bialik is a notorious promoter of a wide range of different pseudosciences, including anti-GMO, anti-vaccine, alternative medicine, Waldorf schools and homebirth quacktivism.

In 2009, Bialik became a celebrity spokesperson for the Holistic Moms Network (here is their description of holistic parenting). On their website, they promote the American anti-vaccine activist Barbara Loe Fischer and recommend homeopathy as an alternative treatment to post-partum depression. In a 2011 interview, Bialik explained that she is homeschooling her children and in a 2012 interview, she confessed to using the Waldorf “philosophy” to attain this goal (which includes not letting her children watch TV or see movies). In a 2009 interview, she admitted to being “a non-vaccinating family” and claimed that she based her decision on “research and discussions with our pediatrician”. In a 2012 post on her blog, she says that she does not want to discuss her beliefs about vaccines, but deploys the classic “too many, too soon” trope. David Gorski discusses her ideas about vaccines in additional details here. In a 2012 article on homebirth, she promoted a number of classic quacktivist beliefs despite the fact that homebirth causes considerable more deaths compared with giving birth in a hospital. She calls these facts “hysteria-inducing” stories and that it is “insulting to any woman’s intuition and intelligence”. In late 2012, she posted the following on her official Facebook page: “California voters: the condoms you approved for sex workers to have to wear (which I voted for too)… maybe I’ll wear them when I eat my unlabeled genetically modified food. Sound good?”

In other words, being a neuroscientist does not, no pun intended, make you immune to pseudoscience.

Recently, American astrophysicist and science educator Neil deGrasse Tyson decided to invite Bialik to his talk show StarTalk.

Tyson's screw-up?

He claims that they will be discussing neuroscience. But why is Tyson inviting an anti-science activist such as Bialik? Why is he giving her a platform to spread her pseudoscientific quackery? Is Tyson unaware about her beliefs or does not care as long as he can sell tickets to the show? Clarification is badly needed at this point.

Anti-Vaccine Misinformation about the Seasonal Influenza Vaccine

Related: Mike Adams and The Deadly Doctor Gambit, Mainstream Climate Science Defeats Global Crank Mike Adams.

Natural News spreads misinformation about seasonal influenza vaccine

Natural News is perhaps the largest website devoted to the promotion of quack treatments for almost any medical condition and anti-scientific falsehoods. They spread a massive amount of misinformation on a wide range of topics such as climate change, genetically modified foods, water fluoridation, vaccines and advocate conspiracy theories about contrails, aspartame, antidepressants and even about the 2012 Aurora shooting. Its founder, Mike Adams, have been discussed on this website before when he attempted to dismiss the harmful consequences of global warming by parroting the same tired old denialist falsehoods about the fertilization effect and coral bleaching. He also attempts to argue that doctors are more dangerous than guns (a pseudoscientific argument called the deadly doctor gambit), apparently without taking into account the enormous benefit that modern medicine brings.

Recently, the Natural News website published a post written by Ethan A. Hoff that is spreading pseudoscientific misinformation about the seasonal influenza vaccine. He falsely claim that the efficacy of the inactivated seasonal influenza vaccine is just 1.5%, when in reality, it is close to 60%. He denies that over 200 000 people become hospitalized from influenza-related complications and blames that on the vaccine instead. He also fearmongers about the side-effects when they are most often fairy mild. Finally, there is no consistent evidence that vitamin D, garlic or any of the other “natural health” products that Hoff promotes can prevent influenza infection. Read more of this post

The Scientific Ignorance of Stasia Bliss – Part X: Measles

Note: This is the tenth and final installment in an article series debunking the massive amount of pseudoscientific claims made by Stasia Bliss. This post will slash through her false claims about the MMR vaccine and measles. For more posts in this series, see the introduction post here.

Bliss on measles

We have now reached the final part in this series on the pseudoscientific nonsense promoted by model and freelance writer Stasia Bliss (who calls herself a “master alchemist” and “a High Priestess of Qi Vesta”). In previous installments, several of her claims have been refuted, such as her claim that individuals with cystic fibrosis caused their own disease by eating acidic food and thinking negative thoughts, that colon cleansing and hydrochloric acid supplements are effective against HIV/AIDS, that staring into the sun for long periods of time allows for astral projection and unaided human flight, that DNA has twelve strands, that a vital life force exists, that eating genetically modified foods makes you less humans, that dark matter does not exist, her promotion of quantum woo and her belief in human shape-shifting and death as the result of a psychological conditioning.

In this tenth and final part, the claims made by Bliss with regards to measles and the MMR vaccine will be critically examined. Despite her beliefs, measles is a dangerous disease and not a “natural cleansing” or “adventure” and the MMR vaccine is safe and effective. Her misguided reliance on the National Vaccine Information Center (a pseudoscientific anti-vaccine organization) and VAERS dumpster-diving will be exposed. Contrary to Bliss, the Vaccine Court provides individuals who have experienced genuine adverse events from vaccines with compensations in a way that is easy, cheap and fast for those individuals. Like many other anti-vaccine activists, Bliss has difficulty grasping the concept of herd immunity. Her promotion of quack treatments (that lack evidence of efficacy) is based on a misunderstanding of physiology and evolution. She even goes so far as to claim that childhood diseases are a result of too much “toxins” from modern life (thereby embracing germ theory denialism), apparently not understanding that measles existed many hundreds of years before present and the fact that the body has robust systems for elimination actual toxins from the body. Read more of this post

Bill Gates, Vaccines and Human Depopulation

Bill Gates and Vaccines

Vaccines represents one of the biggest public health victories in human history. Vaccines were responsible for eradicating smallpox and greatly reducing the incidence of new infections of diseases such as polio, diphtheria, measles, rubella, rotavirus and many others. However, vaccines have to some extent been the victims of their own success: when they work, the average person do not come into contact with those diseases anymore, which can lead to complacency and sometimes outright science denialism.

Despite this enormous public health success, irrational anti-vaccine sentiments based on ignorance and fear mongering continues to exist. Often, they appeal to fraudulent studies or to safe but scary-sounding names of vaccines components. Sometimes, they even succumb to grand conspiracy theories involving vaccines and world domination based on nothing but misunderstood quotes taken out of context.

In reality, vaccines and general improvements in health care availability increases the living standards of individuals. As people become better off, they tend to have fewer children. A society having fewer children will reduce the population growth i.e. reduce the rate at which the human population is increasing. This bares no resemblance whatsoever to the irrational conspiracy theories who posit and evil and draconian plan spearheaded by Bill Gates that is somehow going to cause massive depopulation. This post examines and clarifies the quotes by Gates that anti-vaccine cranks take out of context. Read more of this post

Mailbag: Anti-Vaccine Myths, Pharma Shill Gambit and Vaccine Court

Challenge Accepted

Recently, an anti-vaccine activist by the name of “peter” posted a comment on my article Irrefutable Evidence Shows That Anti-Vaccine Activists Still Have No Clue (were I destroyed some anti-vaccine propaganda written by Dave Mihalovic). It did not address any arguments and attacked me directly, yet I think it can still be useful to unravel and debunk his claims about scientific skeptics, vaccines and the U.S. legal system. This exercise also highlights some of the common rhetorical devices that anti-vaccine activists make use of in their efforts to undermine modern medicine.

The basics flaws in his approach are (1) the use of the “pharma shill” gambit, (2) the gross ignorance about the Office of Special Masters of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (also known as “vaccine court”) and the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) and (3) the deployment of anti-vaccine crankery about the alleged negative health effects of vaccines.

As we shall see, the pharma shill gambit is just a vacuous rationalization to psychologically shield anti-vaccine beliefs, vaccine court / VICP are more beneficial to individuals who have suffered a genuine adverse effect of vaccines (faster, cheaper and requires a much lighter burden of evidence to be met) and the peer-review literature as well as scientific reports by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and others show that vaccines are not linked to the conditions he claims.

Here is what Peter has to say about me and vaccines: Read more of this post

Irrefutable Evidence Shows That Anti-Vaccine Activists Still Have No Clue

irrefutable evidence?

Intellihub is an online “alternative” news site that claims to provide “independent news for independent minds” founded by Shepard Ambellas. The background story is already cliché: mainstream media are somehow controlled by evil corporations and Intellihub wants to “inform” people what is really going on by providing them “top notch information”. In reality, the so called news site is a propaganda tool used by conspiracy theorists to spread their pseudoscientific falsehoods about 9/11, synthetic biology, genetically modified foods, alleged depopulation and vaccines.

In a recent anti-vaccine post, Dave Mihalovic spews the same old recycled garbage that defenders of science-based medicine has refuted thousands of times. In stark contrast to the claims made by Mihalovic, vaccines led to a decline in the spread of infectious diseases, vaccines provide only a negligible challenge to the immune system of the developing child, the increase in allergies can be explained by the hygiene hypothesis and correlation between two things does not imply a causal relationship. Read more of this post

Swedish Anti-Vaccine Infection Parties for Measles and Rubella

infection party

Near the Swedish capital Stockholm lies a small city called Järna. It is the main center for the anthroposophy movement in the country. The city has several Waldorf schools and even a medical clinic called Vidarkliniken. The clinic was awarded with “Misleader of the Year” by the Swedish Skeptic Association in 2008 for their pseudoscientific treatments, which include homeopathy. Despite this, the clinic continues to receive some political support and financial support from the regional municipality. Vidarkliniken has also been in the news recently when they gave mustard leaves to a patient with a cerebral hemorrhage. In 2012, the largest outbreak of Rubella since 1989 occurred in Järna and all fifty cases (compared with a couple of cases per year) could be connected to the region. The proximate origin of the outbreak is thought to be from India where a group of people traveled to and so non-vaccinated individuals got infected and brought it back, making rubella explode in the community.

The Swedish anti-vaccine movement is particularly strong in Järna and parents prefer to take their children to infection parties instead of vaccinating them. The basic idea behind an infection party is that you bring a bunch of susceptible children to spend time with a child that is currently infected with e.g. measles, rubella or chicken pox and hope that the non-infected children become infected. According to anti-vaccine cranks, this hardens the immune system of the child and they see it as a rite of passage. In addition, anthroposophist believe that it is good for the child’s spirit.

For proponents of science-based medicine, this is dangerous for children because the diseases can cause harmful complications and safe vaccines are available against those diseases. Read more of this post

Cold Facts about Gardasil? More like Intellectual Rigor Mortis

Kalla Fakta - Vaccination Choice

Kalla Fakta (roughly translates to “Cold Facts”) is an investigative program on Swedish television that has been on air since 1991. Among its many crowning achievements we can count exposing how the Swedish government let a CIA-led operation on Swedish soil deport two suspected terrorists and subject them to torture in an Egyptian prison (one of them was released and each got financial compensation equivalent to almost half a million USD) as well as shining a light on the Nazi connections of Walther Sommerlath (father of the Queen of Sweden) that was previously denied. Together with Uppdrag Granskning (roughly translates to “Mission: Scrutiny”), it is one of those investigative shows that typically sends chills down the spine of people anytime you get a phone call or visit from them; you instantly know you are in deep trouble.

However, even good investigative programs sometimes fall pray to pseudoscience. On April 21st, Kalla Fakta aired an episode called “The Vaccination Choice”, which was supposedly investigating the information teenage girls get about the HPV vaccine Gardasil. In reality, it was a compilation of classic anti-vaccine tropes and, astonishingly, one of their tactics was reminiscent of the HIV/AIDS denialists pseudodocumentary House of Numbers.

Let us investigate the investigators. Read more of this post

New Swedish Site Takes on Anti-Vaccine Crankery

Today, a new Swedish website called Vaccininfo (Vaccine info) has been launched. What is special about this project is that yours truly is one of the writers! We have decided to bring the debunking of Swedish anti-vaccine crank into the online world to counter the increasing vaccine rejectionism presence in the mainstream media and in social medias like Facebook and Twitter.

Here is a description of the website that I wrote (my translation).

Vaccines is one of the greatest inventions of modern medicine. Today, children do not die in vaccine-preventable diseases to the same extend that they did before. During the 20th and 21th centuries, humanity has defeated many infectious diseases by extermination (e. g. smallpox and rinderpest) or radically reduced their incidence (polio, measles, whooping cough).

Despite this enormous success, there are dark forces in society attempting to undermine the public confidence in vaccines by spreading myths, conspiratorial thinking, scientific inaccuracies and fear propaganda.

With the emergence of internet, anyone can publish anything they want without it needing to be accurate. This has lead some to believe more in what they have seen on Youtube than read on the website of various infectious disease control authorities around the world.

Vaccininfo takes on these vaccine rejectionists and counter them on all fronts.

This does not mean the end of Debunking Denialism of course, but my time will have to be shared between these two projects.

Swedish Anti-Vaccine Cranks Start Encroachment on Africa

Your worst nightmare just came true.

As you know, I have been keeping an eye on Swedish anti-vaccine cranks during the last few months, detailing their spread and debunking their claims in detail. They basically repeat the same old canards as their British and American counterparts, often not even bothering to translate it to Swedish, but just copy/paste intellectual defecation from places like Natural News. I generally considered them to have low potential impact on society at large. Their editor Linda Karlström had only given a few talks under the umbrella of marginalized conspiracy organizations and had not gotten any particular coverage in the news.

This was until I noticed a new press release on their website vaccin.me. It just goes on and on, so I only wrote its central message below (my translation).

Vaccin.me want to each out to 115 million french-speaking Africans

Vaccin.me wants to reach out to larger groups that is suspected to lack knowledge about the risks an ineffectiveness of vaccines. Therefore, we want to reach as many as possible within french-speaking Africa to increase knowledge about risks and to stimulate an open debate.

This could, in a worst case scenario, dwarf the deaths of over 330000 people with HIV/AIDS under the regime of AIDS denialist Thabo Mbeki.

Now, the group behind vaccin.me is probably not well-funded or organized. Realistically speaking, their impact will probably be minor. However, they may help to mount an increased resistance against vaccination and contribute to thwarting efforts at eradicating vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio and measles.

If they join forces with other anti-vaccine organizations, we may be looking at major outbreaks that could have been prevented. They will have to spend the rest of their lives trying to wash their hands of the blood of innocent African children that died due to their anti-vaccine actions.

A Swedish Vaccine Rejectionist Comes Out to Play…

…but gets badly burned by powerful radiance of science-based medicine and reason.

Note: In a response to an earlier article where I debunked a Swedish anti-vaccine crank by the name of Marina Ahlm, she posted a comment so scientifically flawed that I thought I dissect it in detail. However, my comment became so long that it was worth its own blog entry. I have reproduced my reply below. Enjoy!

I see that Marina Ahlm found her way to my refutation of her blog post. She seems very keen on commenting, as she submitted her comment multiple times. It is interesting to see that she have merely senselessly copy/pasted the comment word-for-word from other texts on the internet, often repeating the same flawed claims that she presented in the original entry at your anti-vaccine blog, rather than making arguments in her own words. she also did not respond to any of the points that I made in this blog entry. Did she even read it before commenting? If she read the comment policy of this blog before she posted (she clearly did not), she would have seen that it prohibits copy/pasting long arguments without any original input. However, I will be humble and allow this behavior. For now. Also, unlike what goes on at the anti-vaccine blog at vaccine.me, I do not randomly delete comments or edit them to undermine critics. She and her allies have been exposed.

Anyhow, I will indulge her delusional beliefs and provide a point-by-point refutation (again!). Hopefully she will learn this time around, but I doubt it. When someone is so ideologically committed as she is, it is extremely hard to make them see their error. She more or less repeat the same logical fallacies as before: confirmation bias (she artificially inflates minor setbacks and limitations with vaccines while ignoring the benefits and efficacy), perfect solution fallacy (she reject vaccines because they are not perfect) and she also tend to quote government reports and scientific articles out of context. Probably, she have not read the original documents, but merely copy/paste what other anti-vaccine cranks have written Read more of this post

The Insanity that is Swedish Anti-Vaccine Crankery

Sweden has largely been spared of the creeping vaccine rejectionist propaganda that has plagued the United States and Great Brittan for decades. However, the anti-vaccine forces are stirring under the surface and have acquired a larger internet presence than ever before, especially after the vaccination program against the pandemic H1N1/09 virus. The growing movement is centered around conspiracy-mongering websites like vaken.se that has bought into almost every conspiracy theory imaginable about 9/11, water fluoridation, vaccines, global warming and genetically modified foods. Another important hub of the Swedish anti-vaccine movement is Annika Dahlqvist, who is a medical doctor promoting diet as protection against infectious diseases. For her pseudoscientific claims, she was awarded denialist of the year (“Årets förvillare”) by a Swedish skeptic society (called “Föreningen för vetenskap och folkbildning”) in 2009. A third central figure is blogger Linda Karlström (an economist), who has recently started a new anti-vaccine group blog under the domain vaccin.me. She has teamed up with others and they spend most of their time shamelessly parroting the anti-vaccine falsehoods put forward people like Mike Adams, Lawrence B. Palevsky and Jackie Swartz, a anthroposophist doctor at a Swedish CAM clinic called Vidarekliniken. Karlström’s group is collecting anecdotal stories from anti-vaccine parents who believe their children have gotten hurt by vaccines. According to their website, they intend to gather 1000 reports before they attempt at class-action lawsuit.

Luckily, they do not have free reign. Responsible science journalists, scientists, public health professionals as well as the skeptic society of Sweden are combating their falsehoods, both online and offline.

Let us take a detailed look at what passes for evidential arguments at Karlström’s blog. The blog post that I am refuting is written in Swedish, but I will translate the claims being made to the best of my ability. Feel free to use online translation services to check the translation. The user Marina Ahlm (a nurse currently trying to become a “medicinal foot therapist” according to the website bio) posted an entry absurdly entitled Herd immunity cannot be achieved through vaccination: even vaccinated people carry viruses and bacteria that can be found here. As we shall see, it is filled by distortions, scientific falsehoods, half-truths and plain old nonsense.

Measles vaccination has been a scientific success!

—> According to the WHO (2011), the measles mortality has been reduced by as much as 78% between 2000 and 2008 mostly due to the benefits of large-scale immunization program. In the vast majority of regions, this figure is at 90% (between 2000 and 2010).

—> After the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1963, the incidence of measles fell dramatically, from almost 500000 cases per year to almost none in comparison. Even though small and sporadic peaks and valleys due to natural fluctuations, the huge reduction is real (CDC, 2011). To be sure, the fact that B follows A does not mean that A causes B, but when you have a strong correlation plus a mechanism that is supported by many different lines of evidence, the reasonable position is to tentatively accept the efficacy of the measles vaccine.

—> Ahlm makes the flawed argument that since, apparently, it is practically difficult to evaluate the efficacy of a second dose of measles vaccine, this means that the measles vaccine has been a failure and that WHO only offers excuses. However, practical problems evaluating the efficacy of a second dose of measles vaccines compared to getting one cannot undermine the enormous mountain for the efficacy of the measles vaccine. As far as we know, a single dose may potentially offer the bulk of the protection.

—> In fact, the WHO does not offer excuses, but points out the real reasons why we have seen some resurgence of measles in certain areas of the world: vaccine efforts are sometimes not sustained partly because of the actions of vaccine rejectionists (like Ahlm): “However, global immunization experts warn of a resurgence in measles deaths if vaccination efforts are not sustained. Experts fear the combined effect of decreased political and financial commitment could result in an estimated 1.7 million measles-related deaths between 2010-13, with more than half a million deaths in 2013 alone” (WHO, 2011a). Read more of this post

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