Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Tag Archives: vaccines

When Anti-Vaccine Activists Falsely Dismiss Polio and Measles Harm

Vaccine Outliers

Russell Blaylock is a brain surgeon, but also a proponent of a whole host of misguided pseudoscientific claims about aspartame, MSG, water fluoridation, vaccines, medications for high cholesterol and he also believes in chemtrails. He even goes so far as to argue that modern medicine is not in the business of preventing disease, only treating it with expensive medications, despite the fact that vaccines are the pinnacle of preventative medicine and are very cheap compared with treatments for e. g. chronic diseases.

A long quote attributed to Blaylock is being circulated on social media originating from a website called “Vaccines by the Outliers”. The name refers to a closed Facebook group with over 5000 members. They call themselves “vaccine education and awareness group”, but readily admit that they consider that “much of what is heard about vaccines and vaccination within the mainstream, corporate media, the government, the medical profession, and certainly within the vaccine manufacturing industry is not the whole truth, and in many cases is just plain false.”

In reality, Blaylock borders on germ theory denialism, systematically attempts to dismiss the dangers with measles and polio, ignores the realities of importing vaccine-preventable diseases by travel, makes a common mistake of conflating death rates with incidence data, claims better sanitation got rid of measles and polio, despite the fact that this occurred in different decades, claims polio is a harmless summer flu and that vaccines overwhelm the immune system. More infuriating, he attempts to falsely tie the horrible tragedy of malnourished children dying to vaccines without any evidence whatsoever.

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Mailbag: Countering Miscellaneous Pseudoscientific Nonsense

mailbag letter

It is time for another entry into the mailbag series where I answer feedback email from readers and others. If you want to send me a question, comment or any other kind of feedback, please do so using the contact form on the about page.

This round-up installment of the mailbag series will take on a three separate crank comments that were recently submitted to this website. I declined to publish anyone of them because they did not address any of the arguments or evidence that were presented in the articles, they repeated the same old pseudoscientific canards that been refuted thousands of times before and some of them promoted genocide denial.

First up is an anti-vaccine activist going by the name of Bomac. A little later, we will examine the falsehoods promoted by Holocaust denier Jeffrey Stafford and the belief that transgender people are delusional promoted by Obarryon King.

Vaccines are, in general, very safe and effective

Bomac starts off by claiming that:

Many of the claims of vaccine’s success are not true, but for the sake of discussion, presuming they are all true; that was then and this in now. Vaccines have changed today. Manufacturers include all kinds of toxins that are extremely harmful.

This is a common anti-vaccine tactic know as the toxin gambit. Either anti-vaccine cranks refuse to specify what these alleged toxins are, or they list essential vaccine ingredients that are not toxin at the concentrations used in vaccines. Polysorbate 80 is a nonionic emulsifier and is present in higher amounts in common ice cream. Formaldehyde is used to inactivate viruses to prevent them from causing disease and there is more of it occurring naturally in your body. Aluminum salts are adjuvants that increased the effectiveness of vaccines and have been safely used for 70 years. These are not the same as elemental aluminum and aluminum salts in the concentrations used in vaccines do not cause brain damage. Thimerosal, which is not the same as environmental mercury, has been removed from vaccines over a decade ago and only occurs in some multidose vials of seasonal influenza vaccine to protect against contamination. These are just a few examples of anti-vaccine misinformation about vaccine ingredients. Reliable information about vaccine ingredients can be found at the CDC and the FDA.

Just ask 47,000 paralyzed Indian girls that Bill Gates gifted.

The cases of paralysis occurring in India was caused not caused by the polio vaccine or even polio. According to The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, there was no reported cases of polio during the time these individuals became paralyzed. In reality, these cases were caused by non-polio enteroviruses, primarily Coxsackie-B and various echoviruses. This shows that anti-vaccine cranks seem to have little issue with exploiting human tragedy in their efforts to vilify vaccines.

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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.

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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

Scientific Skepticism and One-liners

skeptical one-liners

The great power many of pseudoscientific myths is that they are often short, simple, memorable, emotionally influential and cognitively attractive. These are beneficial traits in the modern media world, where people can have short attention spans and frequently browse a lot of information. Scientific rebuttals, on the other hand, are usually hard, complex, cold, long-winded and can include a lot of technical information such as crowded graphs, large tables and statistics. It takes a lot of reading effort to get through the material and a lot of cognitive effort to really understand the science. In addition, the problem of different backfire effects looms over any attempt at correcting pseudoscience.

Right from the start, scientific skepticism (and science at large) face uphill terrain. How can the scientific skeptic throttle his or her way out of the situation? Read more of this post

Anti-Vaccine Propaganda at The Sovereign Independent

Have you ever heard of an online paper called “The Sovereign Independent”? According to their about page, they strive to “provide critical news, information and education which the mainstream media often refuse to print regarding the direction Ireland, the UK and the wider world is heading and the increasing loss of sovereignty and independence spreading across the globe”. Right now, high-pitched sirens and alarms should be going off in your head and your baloney kit should be activated. A cursory sifting of their website shows that they focus mainly on spreading conspiracy theories about the New World Order, which includes falling deep into anti-vaccine advocacy.

A reader sent me a link to an article by S. Edmonson at The Sovereign Independent called ALL the Vaccines Are Contaminated – Every Last One of Them. It is a fairly standard piece, claiming that vaccines cause autism, that the government is using forced vaccinations to sterilize the population and so on, but it has been pasted around the internet a couple of thousands of times, so I decided it merited a detailed debunking. Not because there is any merit to their claims, but because pseudoscience and denialism must be steadfastly resisted. It is too much text for a point-by-point refutation, so I will concentrate on writing short and concise responses to the main points, but retaining a useful reference list.

Vaccines do not cause autism

—> Even if the rates of autism correlated with increase in number of vaccinations, this does not mean that vaccines cause autism as correlation does not imply causation.

—> About a dozen scientific studies show that the vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella does not cause autism (Afzal et. al. 2006; Dales et. al. 2001; Davis et. al. 2001; DeStefano et. al. 2004; DeStefano et. al. 1999; D’Souza et. al. 2006; Farrington et. al. 2001 etc. see reference list for more).

—> About a half a dozen scientific studies show that the preservative thimerosal does not cause autism (Andrews et. al. 2004; Fombonne et. al. 2006; Heron et. al 2004; Hviid et. al. 2003; Madsen et. al. 2003 etc. see reference list for more).

—> Detailed reviews published by Institute of Medicine shows that neither the MMR vaccine nor thimerosal cause autism, that hepatitis B vaccine does not cause myelinating neurological disorders, that vaccines do not cause Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and they conclude that “few health problems are caused by or clearly associated with vaccines” (see reference list for all relevant publications).

Vaccines do not overwhelm the immune system.

—> The immune system of a child does not get overwhelmed by many vaccines. This is because the immunological challenges in all vaccines currently administrated are negligible (about 150) compared with the immunological challenges from a single bacteria (about 2000). A newborn baby is exposed to literally billions of bacteria at the moment of birth (Gerber and Offit, 2009; Offit et. al. 2002; Smith & Woods, 2010). Read more of this post


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