Ten Things I Know About Anti-Vaxxers

If there is one thing you can count on when it comes to the anti-vaccine crowd is that they will try to defend their worldview tooth and nail, against all odds, even in the light of overwhelming evidence. Not only that, but they will get oh-so-upset if you call them “anti-vaccine”. Some of them will say that it’s an epithet against their “pro-informed consent” stance. Then, when asked what vaccine they would support, they are quick to run away and hide, like roaches when the light switch is flipped on.


Go ahead and ask the kid what vaccine he’d approve of. He’ll tell you something this ridiculous:

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In other words, the government should not promote other things like seat belts or crash standards, just ensure that cars are safe. If it doesn’t make any sense to you, you’re not alone. Nothing that kid has ever written has ever made any sense to me, ever.

Anyway, this other anti-vaccine activist decided to write the “Ten Things You Don’t Know About the So Called ‘Anti-Vaccine’ Crowd“. It is comedy gold: Continue reading

In which I break a rule and call out Dr. Bob Sears

Dr. Bob Sears, famed pediatrician who seems to live to write books, wrote the following on his Facebook page:

“New Study in Journal of Pediatrics Shows Number of Vaccine Antigens Not Associated with Autism Risk… Another waste of money in another attempt to pretend to do research on vaccines and autism.”

Because we haven’t wasted enough money and resources chasing that windmill? He continues:

“Now, if I were to do a study (and have several million bucks to fund it), here’s how I would look at the question of whether or not an increased number of vaccines relates to an increased risk of autism: I would take a bunch of kids who had all the vaccines on the regular schedule and look at the rate of autism in that group. We know that it’s about 1 in 50 kids. Then I’d take a whole bunch of kids who were only partially vaccinated and look at the rate of autism. I would subdivide the partially vaccinated group into subgroups based on the total number of vaccines given during infancy. I would perhaps have a group that delayed vaccines. And hey, while we’re at it, let’s really go crazy and find a few totally unvaccinated kids just for fun. On the other hand, no. Let’s not. It would be totally unethical to subject a group of totally unvaccinated children to any type of medical research. Ok, back to my study. These data would then give us a true look at autism rates compared to number of vaccines given and the age at which they were given.
Now THAT would be an interesting study. Unfortunately, it’s just too logical. It’s much better to study things in a confusing and illogical manner so you can get some results that the press can really sink their teeth into.”

Really? IF you had the money? You haven’t made enough from your books, Dr. Bob Sears?

And when the heck did you become an epidemiologist? Oh, you didn’t. I can tell from your study “design.” The study you’re criticizing (PDF) is a case-control study. The researchers started with cases (kids with autism) and controls (kids who were neurotypical). They then assessed if there was a difference in the number of antigens and vaccines they received. That is, was there a difference in the odds of getting a vaccine as it relates to autism? There wasn’t. Kids with autism were just as likely to be exposed to vaccines as kids without autism. We do case-control studies when the cases are too few in number. We do it to get a good idea of causality. We do it because it’s the right study to do, Dr. Bob Sears.

That’s not what the anti-vaccine people, like Dr. Bob Sears seems to be, want to hear.

Dr. Bob Sears wants a retrospective cohort study, where you take kids with different levels of exposure and then go back through medical records to see if they are autistic, or how autistic they are. It sounds reasonable, right? The problem with that study design is that autism is rare, even at a 1 in 50 prevalence rate. To get a significant number of autistic and non-autistic kids for comparison, you’d have to enroll thousands and thousands and thousands of kids. If you don’t do that, you run the risk of having too small a sample, screwing up the statistics. Further, it’s really hard to assess temporal (chicken or egg) associations. And there are all sorts of biases, including selection and recall bias that can affect your results.

And we couldn’t possibly do a prospective cohort study because, well, it would never go through an IRB. Never. Never ever.

But it’s not like Dr. Bob Sears has a mastery of vaccine science. He doesn’t. So why assume he knows anything about epidemiology?

He does know about straw men arguments and pharma shill gambits, though:

“So, is anyone really surprised to see the Journal of Pediatrics study? What were you expecting? CDC researchers to publish as study that actually showed an increased risk of autism related to vaccines? The CDC would NEVER simply publish such a study. I doubt anyone would. Anyone at the CDC who published such a study would be fired faster than they could sell their Pharma stock.”

Dr. Bob Sears has revealed his true anti-vaccine nature. Can’t wait for the next measles outbreak from one his patients and for him to deny it.

Now, for a list of studies that have found no association between vaccines and autism, check out the Autism Science Foundation’s page on the subject. But Dr. Bob Sears is right on one thing, how much more should we waste?

I hope Orac is happy with his iMac

Today on his blog, Orac announced to the world that he bought a new iMac. I hope he’s happy. I hope he’s happy because, according to the following graph, the price of Apple stock correlates with the rise in autism:


I’m joking, of course. That graph is a visual trick that you get when you overlay two things that trended in the same direction, ignore the magnitude of their scale, and then make some assumption based on what you see in the graphs and not in the data. Anti-vaccine people do it all the time. Those of us who are real scientists can do it, but then we get caught and sanctioned by our peers, our credibility flying out the window.

I’m not the only one pointing out this trick. Here’s a graph correlating autism with organic food sales. So look at the data from which the graphs are derived. Analyze it. Think it through. Think critically about it. And then draw your conclusions. That’s how science works.

Attack the fallible human when you can’t counter the evidence

Remember when you were in grade school and you got into an argument with some other kid? Neither of you would present a rational argument. Instead, your argument against the other person consisted of statements like “You’re a poopy head!” or “Your momma is so fat…” You know, things that only petulant children would bring up to try to win an argument.

But you grew up, right? Well, it appears that some of us didn’t.

Person A in this blog post is a regular guy from a state out west who one day decided to stand up against the anti-vax forces on Facebook. He created a Facebook page that mocked an anti-vax Facebook page. His page blew up in popularity. Pretty soon, the anti-vaxers began a campaign against him, accusing him of all sorts of horrible things. They couldn’t defend their anti-vaccine agenda with science or reason, so they attacked Person A in a very personal way.

You see, Person A had a past, like we all do. His past included a divorce and subsequent custody hearings. So some anti-vax jerk decided to dig up court documents and post them on Facebook, accusing Person A of spending all of his time on Facebook instead of taking care of his children. This bothered Person A a bit:

But that’s Person A. Let’s talk about Person B…

Person B is a successful writer from the Northeast who has been widely published in different sorts of media. Like we all do, Person B has a past. A couple of years ago, he wrote a most excellent book that accurately, concisely, factually describes the anti-vaccine forces’ use of fear and ignorance to spread their misinformation. The book is well-researched, and it has all sorts of citations to everything stated in it. Person B even keeps errata on his blog. So what are the anti-vaccine forces to do?

They brought up his past, of course. They harped on his heroin addiction over and over, writing about his addiction and how it somehow disqualifies him from writing about vaccines. And the comments included such “gems” as:

“Just so we are clear… The former heroin addict [redacted] wrote a book and I’m supposed to be impressed? Um, no thanks. I’ll take a Autism Mom former playboy bunny any day of the week!! He’s going to be speaking @ Hospitals?!?! Lock up the medicine cabinets. 😦 How sad.”

How sad indeed that, unable to address the science, the facts, the anti-vaccine advocates rely on attacking a person’s past, as if they were clean of any sin themselves.

And then there’s Person C…

Person C is a researcher who has co-authored several studies on vaccines, particularly the effects of thimerosal on children who receive it as part of their vaccines. These studies, like so many others, have discredited the role that thimerosal was supposed to play in childhood autism. As it happens, Person C appears to have committed fraud with the funds he received for his research.

Note, the research he participated in is not in question. Other researchers have duplicated the work of those studies. The research is sound. It’s credible. What is in question was his use of funds. That’s all. But that doesn’t stop the anti-vaccine groups and individuals from using him as a distraction from the autism-vaccine discussion. Because he was just one of many researchers on these studies, and because these studies discredit their fears, anti-vaccine forces have decided that all of that research is invalid.

So there you have it. If they cannot argue the science, anti-vaccine groups and their members will — among other things — launch all-out attacks against those they dislike. They’ll dig up your past. They’ll rub your past mistakes and indiscretions in your face. And they’ll claim that any crime you commit takes away from the evidence. In short, if you use science and evidence and reason to support your claims, but you have a past, you’re a Poopy Head.