The only controversy here is why this is “controversial”

In life, there are things that are true and there are things that are not true. In between those things are things that could be true and things that could not be true. To figure out where things gall on that spectrum, we have science.

Science is not an abstract concept that is hard to understand. When you look at how science works, it’s a pretty simple thing. You probably do quite a bit of science every day and don’t even know it. Science begins with a question, then a period of gathering of evidence, then the formulation of a theory on what the answer might be, a series of experiments to confirm that theory, and then a period of analysis to confirm those findings. Very rarely will we scientists accept something as true based on one study or one set of data.

Question: Do vaccines work? Answer: Yes. But that answer is not written blindly and with no thought behind it. I don’t write it with passion or because I have a personal stake in the answer. I write it because there is a wealth of evidence that shows that vaccines work, and they work wonderfully. It wasn’t until the introduction of the MMR vaccine in the 1960s that cases and deaths from measles truly started to come down. The introduction of other vaccines has done the same for some other very deadly diseases.

It’s human nature to cling on to something we believe in and refuse to let it go no matter what the evidence. Just look at all the abusive relationships where either party (or both) think that they can change themselves or change each other. Even with beatings and arrests, they cling to each other in the hopes that they’re wrong and that they truly will live happily ever after. Anti-vaccine activists do the same thing. They hope against all odds that they are correct, even when children die from vaccine-preventable diseases, even when mothers lose pregnancies to Rubella. They pray to God (or their version of a god) that they are correct and that all this science, all this research done by devoted and hard-working people, is wrong. They pray to be correct.

With something as serious as people’s lives, I like to go with the evidence. I throw away any and all personal beliefs and gut feelings and go with what works. It’s not only in my nature as a scientist, but it should be in my nature as a “thinking ape.” Our brains should be in the business of allowing us to think and allowing us to let go of gut instincts whenever we can.

The original project, again

I’ve been writing more and more on “The Poxes.” I think I’m well into 40,000 words now, which is a record for me. If you know me, you know that I like to write. “The Poxes” has been a labour of love, to be honest. I am beginning to care more and more for the characters in that story. Perhaps it’s because I’m basing it on friends and colleagues in my own life?

As we approach 200 posts, I keep thinking about the original project behind this blog and how it’s morphed. I’ve been dragged into the anti-vaccine wars not by my own will. They came after me. They drafted me into this. So sometimes I wonder if I should go on hiatus. After all, nearly every child is immunized in the United States. What more can I do? How much more can I keep putting myself out there for the anti-vaccine crowd to wonder who I am and, as I’m sure they will, come after me?

However, I picture a world where enough children are vaccinated, herd immunity is robust, and the anti-vaccine crowd goes away. But, being the dreamer that I am, I also picture them coming back in full force and doing what Bane did to Batman (watch it all, it’s only 4 minutes):

“Let’s not stand on ceremony here, Mr. Wayne.” Bane discovers our hero’s true identity. What are they going to do when they discover mine?

“Peace has cost you your strength. Victory has defeated you.” If all the kids are vaccinated, and we don’t need to fight that war, how prepared will we be when they come back?

“Theatricality and deception, powerful agents to the uninitiated. But we are initiated, aren’t we, Bruce?” Meaning, what if the anti-vaxxers learn all our methods to stop them and can fight back and defend themselves? Worse yet, what if an anti-vaxxer becomes an epidemiologist?

“You fight like a younger man. Nothing held back. Admirable, but mistaken.” Self-explanatory.

“The shadows betray you because they belong to me.” That is, if we lie like the anti-vaccine activists do, we’re only going to end up hurting ourselves.

“Ah, yes, I was wondering what would break first… Your spirit… Or your body.” I cringe at the thought.

This is the 199th post on this blog. There will be a 200th. But I am going to take an extended break until September and think hard about having a 201st.


Mental exercises for a better brain

There’s this discussion going on over at Respectful Insolence between an anti-vaccine activist and an epidemiologist, like me. The anti-vaccine activist — whom I thought was banned from there (oops) — is known to be quite “dense” when it comes to epidemiology and biostatistics. I don’t blame him, much. His highest degree in science is in Fire Science. I don’t know where this guy when to school, but most programs I’ve found, like this one, don’t have biostatistics or statistical reasoning in their curricula. This would explain the activist’s misunderstanding of a case-control study. Like the PhD in Biochemistry being discussed by Orac in that post, the activist thinks that matching cases and controls in a study somehow disallows for the examination of their vaccine status and its relationship to autism. They think that cases (autistic children) should have a different vaccine status than controls (neurotypical children), and then we can see if they have a difference in vaccine exposures.

Can you see the logical fallacy in that? Continue reading