A Review of “Vaccines? Safe. Parents? Dangerous”.
Relative to our topic today, I would like to review “Vaccines? Safe. Parents? Dangerous”. I cannot determine whether this post has one or many authors. This is of no concern. What is a concern is the attitude toward science promoted within the posting. I will quote large chunks of the post and my reply to them below.
“Lately I’ve been noticing an increasing number of journal articles, blog articles and opinion pieces on a terrible problem: Parents have questions about vaccines.”
This is not a problem. It is reasonable and perhaps necessary to inspect both current health issues and older science from time to time. Scouring for merit and questioning are the tools by which correction of science may occur. However, what is a problem is the promotion of pseudo or anti-science under the guise of self-correction. For many of us, this is our concern, not the legitimate questioning of science.
“You would have to look far and wide to find anyone who thinks that these questions are valid and should be taken seriously.”
Perhaps the author(s) of the post have done neither.
“Common explanations are:1) It is all about the parents who think they are really smart.2) It is all about the parents who are very stupid and read stuff on the Internet.3) It is all about the bad stuff on the Internet which is deceiving the parents who aren’t very smart and who think they are smarter than doctors. And infinite variations on this theme, which is really one argument…and the real argument is (drum roll)…vaccines are perfect and parents are the problem.”
And do we see this among the science based bloggers or scientists that are well known? Or is this a reference to Mr. Haggen-Daas, your grumpy and opinionated old neighbor down the street. If you mean the former, I think I am going to have to ask for quotes or call straw argument at this point.
“Oddly, however, the number of parents with questions seems to be increasing. Perhaps the vaccine defenders need to reconsider their approach.”
Yes, the numbers do seem to be going up. That is okay, questioning is not the problem. I don’t think science has anything to fear from questions. On the other hand, there is a big problem when information is dressed up as science, but is actually.... not science.
Let me be direct here. I do not care if people question vaccines. For that matter I do not care if the majority people hear a variety of argument and adopt a very different view from the one I hold. What I do care about is the consistent application of science; this is a concern based on logic. What I also care about is that people have a right to be given accurate even if emotionally hurtful information; this is a concern based on ethics.
“Here are some suggestions, kindly meant, from an admirer of their efforts. These guys have put a lot of sweat equity into defending vaccines and they ought to be getting better results”
Why so? People exposed to our arguments will still make up their own minds. Our efforts do not somehow intrinsically merit the greater popularity. Of actual concern to me and those like me is how science is used and promoted.
“One argument which comes up over and over again is herd immunity.”
This actually seems to be a talking point of the vaccine etiology of harm theory advocates, not of those bloggers who hold a similar view to myself. I am not saying that it is never used, but that it is rare. In fact, I would argue that herd immunity is one of the favored whipping-boys of those who advocate a vaccine etiology of harm theory and that mention of it is disproportionate. I think a great little “study” would be to look at the Autism Hub and look at the Age of Autism blog and see how many times “herd immunity” pops up and who uses it. The results could be quite interesting no matter what they find.
“In addition to the defenders acting as though all vaccines are identical in their efficacy, safety and relevance, they also tend to act as though all vaccine questioners are identical. Anyone who has a question, is, in the defenders view, anti-vaccine.”
You treat us as monolithic; moreover you offer no quotes or references for such an opinion. Your comment here should not be mistaken as being logically sound.
“And people who are anti-vaccine are bad people. As a result the defenders respond with sarcasm, rudeness and repetition.””
There are indeed people who are largely or wholly anti-vaccine. They are not the majority, but they are out there. I do not think of them as bad people. I do not think of them as fools. I understand too, that all people are going to occasionally land on a stupid, illogical, or anti-scientific comment, perhaps in spite of their general inclinations. To counter-act this, I select to make my own arguments which attack and correct the errors that I see. Some people may be hurt by the information I provide or by the questions I pose. Even so, I am obligated to speak up if I see a problem, this is the same for anyone and everyone. I would cite failure to do so, as a form of unethical behavior.
“Some parents who raise concerns are just raising concerns. They haven’t gone over to the dark side. But with enough rudeness and sarcasm from the vaccine defenders they will definitely be moving in that direction.”
They may, but that is their choice. Do not misplace their decision on others. Please note, I am advocating neither the appropriateness of rudeness nor sarcasm, but only that people can select a course based on what they value. In my view however, this course of action is particularly illogical. It is not their emotions or desire to be treated with respect that is illogical, but their decision based on their emotions. Most of us will have had a teacher at some point in our lives we could not stand. Does this somehow make what they taught us untrue? Do we now have license to reject fact, because we were mistreated?
“Which leads me to the next problem. It is not, absolutely not, all about autism and vaccines.”
True, but for many of us coming from many views, this is indeed the main bone in contention.
“Try being polite and sympathetic. I know this is tough and doesn’t come naturally, but it is absolutely essential if the vaccine defenders want to get anywhere in this battle.”
I understand polite, but what do you mean by sympathetic? Do you mean that I should:
A) Consider the author’s view and try to understand their feelings?
B) Accept (or at least avoid questioning) certain accounts that my inclination towards science has taught me to question?
C) Both A and B
D) None of the above
There are two choices above that I am going to reject as being unethical.
“The articles on this blog provide good models for a sympathetic, thoughtful and scientifically oriented approach.”
I would be interested to know which of the above your particular post models.
“Vaccine defenders need to deal with the science. Saying that the science is all on the vaccine side, without actually presenting said science is a hollow argument.”
Here we stumble upon some agreement.
“A sub-point on science: the scandals about faked science in medical journals are undermining people’s faith in doctors and science in general. If Merck did some bad stuff with Vioxx, is it unreasonable to have questions about their trustworthiness when it comes to Gardasil? The defenders need to be able to explain why vaccines are an exception to dirty dealing from the pharmaceutical companies. I’m wondering about this one myself and look forward to seeing what the vaccine defenders come up with.”
It has been tackled before…. multiple times in fact. The blogosphere is a big place, no doubt explaining why you missed it. The answer is this; vaccines should not be a special case, but the general case. Because companies are run by imperfect beings they occasionally deal dishonestly. This is a very good reason to be careful, scientifically conservative, to expect replication, and to revisit old issues. This is no excuse at all to offer a carte blanche dismissal of well designed science.... no matter who funded it.
“Calling people anti-vaccine isn’t actually an argument.”
Exactly, it is a description that may or may not be accurate.
“Selective and delayed vaccinators are potential allies who will fight for vaccines, but currently the vaccine defenders want nothing to do with them. Some of these parents are quite knowledgeable and have done extensive research into vaccines. They know more of the science than the defenders, frankly.”
If you are going to offer an argument, then offer an argument please.
“But defenders want nothing to do with them, because in a black and white world you are either with us or against us and there is no middle ground. Pushing away allies is dumb.”
If we both advocate for certain vaccines then we are already allied on this particular issue, right? If this is the goal then we simply press on. But if what you mean is actually mutually coordinated advocacy then I would want to know to what extent you will be simultaneously advocating your other views that I do not agree with. And to what extent will I be creating a platform for you to advocate such views. Also, I would want to know whether I am expected to put aside our disagreements, because of our coordinated advocacy. Based on this cost-benefit analysis I may or may not see our collaboration as the best option. Perhaps too, the people who want nothing to do with the selective and delayed vaccinators see a proposed collaboration as creating more problems than it solves. I think mutually coordinated advocacy is possible, but a number of issues would have to be resolved first.
“Now comes a truly tough one: The vaccine defenders should be strongly, passionately, in favor of a philosophical exemption to vaccines.”
I am in favor of such, but not for scientific or practical reasons. My agreement here is based on an ethical reason, the right to self-determine, in this case via proxy. My agreement here is neither strong nor passionate. Instead it is tentative, quite possibly to be removed. The post author(s) predict that this would actually increase the vaccine rates. I see zero evidence for that. It may be true, but then maybe not. If not and certain vaccine rates plummet, then one or more very serious health issues could arise. If so, then I would argue that a significant amount of parents have failed to be a reasonable proxy for their child in this regard, and that philosophical vaccine exemptions should be removed.
“Now, listen carefully, because this is the most important point of all. Defenders should stop denying vaccine damage.”
Illness or injury from vaccination happens. A new or newly modified vaccine may not be as safe as initial tests suggest. A batch may go bad. An individual may have a unique or rare reaction. Although there may very well be disagreements about rates of injury, that fact that injury itself occurs is not a point of contention among any players in the debate.
“When a parent testifies that their child was damaged by a vaccine they should fall all over themselves to acknowledge what happened, to agree that vaccines can, indeed cause injuries, to encourage the parent to report what happened to VAERS, to sympathize if they say the doctor denied the incident and refused to report it.”
Wouldn’t this depend on the case? If you said that your child regressed a month after her MMR and now meets criteria for Autistic Disorder, I am probably going to question whether there is a connection. These events are not that close in proximity. I have reason to question and/ or to suggest that you question your assumptions. If I offer nothing but sympathy, then I am probably helping you feel better, but I am also engaging in enabling behavior towards anti-science. It seems to me that the author(s) try to assume the mantle of science, but reject it when expedient.
“They even see, as I recently did, a vaccine defender proclaiming gleefully that the VAERS system is useless and cannot be used as a source of information about the risks of vaccines. What sort of message are vaccine defenders sending out to the public? Clear enough, unfortunately.”
The VAERS does a good job doing what it was designed to do. Being a rapid and ongoing system to monitor and hopefully detect problems with vaccines. It is an imperfect system, but it does the job it was designed for. When it is forced fit into epidemiology then the VAERS has very little utility. It is a database that controls for none of the 6 types of statistical threats. It has been used this way by a variety of people working on a variety of issues. The VAERS data are un-refereed and uncontrolled. Don’t confuse monitoring and formal epidemiology, and don't twist a data set into something it is not.
“On the same note, a good study comparing vaccinated and unvaccinated populations will obviously prove that vaccines are safe, right? So why don’t the vaccine defenders fight for such a study? Vaccines make children healthier and the evidence should be easy enough to find. Yes?”
I have no problem with additional research. However, since this is what you are calling for, this is your burden.
“Are they really fighting to defend vaccines or are they just out there to tell everyone how smart they are? Some of us are wondering.”
Using an ad hominem to close I see.
Well, thank you for the advice. I would like to reciprocate your gesture and offer some advice too.
1) Do not claim to be an admirer of our efforts and then slander us with ad hominem arguments, we will note the inconsistency.
2) Do not claim your blog as a model of science then abandon it when an emotive issue arises, we will note that your work is not as scientifically oriented as you claim.
3) Do not claim your advice is kindly meant and then deploy arguments that are really quite snotty. We will question your work's intellectual integrity.
Thank you for your time.