Monday, October 12, 2009

Vaccination Quackery Revisited

The following is adapted from an e-mail I recently sent. The response I got was... "interesting".

I am a scientist by training. When asked scientific questions, I tend to answer them as a scientist. Scientific questions, like the question of whether vaccines cause autism, are not about belief. They are about evidence and facts -- and the fact is that the courses of action suggested by the anti-vaccination movement kill people. Worse, the advice and propoganda in question kill people, and not only the people who take it. This is why I take the time to study something before I comment on it or talk about it. I'm aware that bad advice and bad information kills.

I am not joking about this. I consider this sort of thing to be a (literally) deadly serious matter. I also don't make unqualified or categorical statements in this sort of matter without a lot of very strong evidence.

England has recently seen a resurgance of measels, resuling in considerable suffering and death. Australia has seen a tragic pertussis outbreak. A very large number of illnesses and deaths here in the US can be directly attributed to vaccination refusal. This is without breaking herd immunity -- and the thought of that happening (what happened in a small segment of Australia), frankly, scares me.

In addition to this, this sort of thing creates and exacerbates the problem of what are known as nocebo and harmful observer-expectency effects. To give you an illustration of how powerful nocebo effects can be, chemotherapy trials have been known to cause the control group (who are not recieving real drugs) to lose hair, start vomitting, and generally suffer all of the negative side-effects of chemotherapy... despite having only been given a saline drip.

This happens purely because said controls expect it to. It's not an effect of the drug, which they haven't been given.

Now, if this can happen with a saline drip (which is about as harmless as it gets), just what makes people think vaccines are immune from this? Things get worse when harmful observer-expectancy effects are factored in. Expectancy effects have killed people.

Of course, all of the above consequences could be forgiven if there were a legitimate danger the anti-vaccination groups were warning against. Leaving aside just how insulting the "don't vaccinate your kids because vaccines cause autism" rhetoric is (and how, exactly, do you think it makes autistic individuals feel when they see parents going on national television and advising other parents to risk both their children's lives and the lives of other people's children rather than risk having a child like them?), there is also the matter of the truth of these claims, which are pretty much universally bunk.

To provide an illustration of just how bad it is, the e-mail which provoked the original version of the above linked me to this website. I didn't have time (or the stomach) to go through and debunk everything said there, but I did provide an example to give her some idea of just how bad its information is.

The site's first citation to "prove" that flu shots are dangerous (and thereby presumably the one they regard as "best") is a paper by Mark and David Geier, which was published in 2003 in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.

The authors of that study are infamous quacks who are guilty of academic fraud and who make their living by chemically castrating children. The "journal" it was published in is an infamous hotbed of quackery which, among other things, has published politically-motivated articles claiming that abortion causes breast cancer and that shaking your baby is safe (and that shaken-baby syndrome doesn't exist), racist articles with utterly absurd claims about illegal immigrants (e.g. this one), and articles condemning both the practice of science-based medicine (e.g. this one) and peer-review (e.g. this one).

And this is without going into the methodological quality of the article (poor) or any of the scientific tactics I'd use to demonstrate that the article was utterly, totally meaningless.

That is just one example. Think about it.


  1. Is everyone who has viewpoints that are opposite from yours QUACKS, or just some of them?

    You say illnesses and deaths have been attributed to vaccination refusal.
    Maybe you can explain this to me. Suppose you get a swine flu shot and I don't. How can you get the swine flu from me? Is it possible that the shot you got really didn't work? I mean that's what the shot is for. To protect you from getting the flu from someone else, isn't it?

  2. It's not a matter of disagreement that makes someone a quack. I suggest that you review the definition and discussion at for the definition I use.

    As for deaths, you're forgetting that demographic factors effect epidemiology (i.e. the spread of diseases), that vaccines aren't, for a variety of reasons, perfect (damn close a lot of the time, yes, but not perfect), and that for various reasons, certain people can't be vaccinated (e.g. they're having chemotherapy, they have compromised immune systems, or they're just too young).

    Or, for more "hard-hitting" discussion and actual news coverage of a specific death that's directly attributable to other's vaccine refusal, I suggest watching the news coverage at .

  3. Since I wouldn't want to cite anyone you consider a quack I am passing this along.

    What the Inventor of the Flu Shot NOW Thinks of the Vaccine...

    "Dr. Anthony Morris, a distinguished virologist and former Chief Vaccine Office at the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA), states that "There is no evidence that any influenza vaccine thus far developed is effective in preventing or mitigating any attack of influenza" and that "The producers of these vaccines know they are worthless, but they go on selling them anyway."

    And in November 2007, the UK newspaper The Scotsman, made public warnings by the inventor of the "flu jab," Dr. Graeme Laver.

    Dr. Laver was a major Australian scientist involved in the invention of a flu vaccine, in addition to playing a leading scientific role in the discovery of anti-flu drugs. He went on record as saying the vaccine he helped to create was ineffective and [that] natural infection with the flu was safer. "I have never been impressed with its efficacy," said Dr. Laver."

  4. Without the date on the Laver article, I cannot trace his comment without a great deal of effort (at a minimum) -- the Scotsman's website's article search feature doesn't let me go back that far.

    I've also been tracing Dr. Morris. I wasn't able to find anything recent on him, but did note that he was sacked from the FDA in the '70s... over fourty years ago. My access to JAMA doesn't go back far enough to get a copy of the only discussion of why this was done that I could find, so I've requested a copy through the ILL system.

  5. Correction: I found information on both statements. There is direct coverage at , but I also found information on a few other commentaries on Dr. Morris, including one in Science. As this commentary is from 1972, I can conclude that Dr. Morris's sacking is over 45 years old.

    I also have obtained the Science accounting and will read it as soon as I get the chance.

  6. I would suggest that you recalabrate your calculator. 1972 was 37 years ago, not somewhere over forty.
    I found another side to the D.r Morris story.
    It seems he was fired from the FDA for debunking the swine flu pandemic of 1976. It's not nice to tell Pharma that they are only in it for the money.

  7. I also found the information on Dr Graeme Laver.
    Flu jab inventor warns of killer epidemic - but claims his vaccine could be powerless to stop it.

  8. I apologize for my mathematical error. That said... you consider a suppliment company's website to be an authoritative source?

    There is also discussion of the Morris bit at . I still haven't gotten around to reading the Science article.

    Regarding the Laver quote, that article is pretty much proof that context is important. Read the next frigging sentence, for crying out loud!

  9. The next frigging sentences read;
    "Flu could claim tens of thousands of lives this winter and vaccine will do little to stop it, warns the jab's inventor.

    Dr Graeme Laver believes an exceptionally-severe outbreak is likely.

    And although 15 million Britons a year receive the flu jab, he says it does not guarantee protection."
    it does not guarantee protection.

    And you seem to think that blogs and UTube entries are an authoritative source.
    The one you cited is frought with inaccuracies and bias thinking.
    For example, in one paragraph the writer say "Maher doesn't like the idea of being injected with a form of the actual disease you're trying to be cured from. The part he forgets, or at least has been oblivious to, is that the damned virus is DEAD, and that means you can't get sick from it. Do the vaccine preservatives contain mercury? Some of the older ones did, sure. Would that mercury hurt you? Not in such trace amounts. For comparison, you put more mercury into your body from the fillings in your teeth than you do from an entire lifetime of old-fashioned vaccinations, and mercury hasn't been used as a preservative for vaccines in decades." MERCURY HASN'T BEEN USED AS A PRESERVATIVE FOR DECADES? Is he wrong or maybe thinks a decade is a period on 10 weeks rather than 10 years?

  10. Actually, the next sentence reads: "It is better than nothing and I wouldn't want to advise people not to take it, but you can't rely on it doing any good."

    In other words, he was saying that his vaccine wasn't enough to prevent a flu epidemic, and
    that other methods were needed in addition (specifically, he was advocating for the over-the-counter sale of anti-flu medications).

    I also don't necessarily consider blogs to be definitive sources, as I consider them to be nothing more than publically-available writings by the people who maintain them. This is why, for instance, I tend to cite blogs maintained by medical doctors when talking about issues in medicine.

    I also didn't cite that blog entry as definitive. I noted that there was discussion there, nothing more.

    And sorry for taking so long to get back to this comment. The last few days have been... problematic.