Debunking Denialism

Fighting pseudoscience and quackery with reason and evidence.

Tag Archives: vaccines

“Politics?! I Thought This Was About Science!”


“Politics?! I thought this was about science!”

This is a common trope that is often leveled against scientists and skeptics that challenge pseudoscience or political policies being pushed by anti-science politicians. However, it is fatally flawed on several different levels.

First, many forms of pseudoscience have deceptive political agendas, such as pushing creationism in public schools, undermining the vaccine schedule, shredding climate agreements or deregulating fake treatments that harm people. These cannot be ignored. Second, anti-science politicians are have no magic immunity shield towards criticism. If they promote nonsense, they are just as viable targets for intellectual criticism as any other profession.

Third, scientific victories were hard-won and should not be conceded so easily. Fourth, when scientists and skeptics argue for evidence-based policy, it is science that justifiably intrude on politics not the other way around like the accusers would have it. Fifth and finally, science crucially depends on science funding that is partially under the control by politicians. If you screw up science funding, you screw up science. Science and scientists should not be intellectual pacifists and not go quietly into the darkness.

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What Will the Trump Presidency Mean for Scientific Skepticism?

Trump election results

Donald Trump has now been elected as the next President of the United States and Hillary Clinton has conceded the election to him. He won by an estimated 289 electoral votes to the 218 of Clinton. This might slightly change over the coming days as the vote counting is complete, but it is clear that Trump has won. Most polls and models predicted that Clinton would win by a small margin, but they were mistaken. This is partly because of the flawed methodology and partly because the far right is often underestimated in pre-election polls.

What will this mean for science and scientific skepticism? Two major groups of issues is that Trump is against vaccines and climate change, and has also promoted pseudoscientific bigotry against ethnic minorities, immigrants, women and people with disabilities. This post will examine some of the potential consequences and impacts of a Trump presidency for science and scientific skepticism.


Here are some of the issues that will face science and scientific skepticism during the Trump presidency. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but it gives a flavor for the breath and depths of some of the problems we are likely to now face.

Vaccines: Trump has stated on numerous occasions that he thinks that vaccines cause autism. In particular, he has regurgitated the myth of “too many, too soon”. This might have implications for how much resources is being spent on vaccine development, distribution and vaccination rates.

Climate change: Trump believes that climate change is just a hoax invented by the Chinese to make American suffer economically. His rejection of climate science can potentially have disastrous consequences, both when it comes to the Paris agreement and our chance at preventing or mitigating climate change consequences.

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Mailbag: Real Vaccine Risks?

mailbag letter

It is time for another entry in 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.

Nothing in the world is 100% safe or 100% effective. Everything you do carries some degree of risk: you can get hit by a car at a pedestrian crossing, choke when drinking water, accidentally fall when walking on gravel and so on. The challenge is to figure out if the benefits of something outweigh the risks, and if that is the case, then the product is reasonably safe and effective. It the risks clearly outweigh the benefits, the product is unsafe or ineffective.

These challenges are given substantial attention in the research and development of all medical products and certainly vaccines. This is due to several reasons: a dangerous product would be unlikely to pass the stringent regulatory checks and safeguards, a dangerous vaccine would just be pulled of the market, there is a very small profit margin for vaccines compared with other products (since most vaccines are only given once or a couple of times during life compared with other products that need to be taken every day) etc.

There are real risks with vaccines (as with any medical product), but these are either mild or very, very rare. However, what greatly irritates scientists, medical doctors and scientific skeptics is that anti-vaccine activists make up imaginary risks that are either enormously scientifically implausible (that smallpox vaccines turned people into cows) or have been repeatedly refuted by a massive amount of scientific research (such as most modern anti-vaccine claim). Read more of this post

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

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