Are we done yet?

By Phil Plait | October 9, 2009 3:00 pm

Sigh. I know that even though study after study can come out showing no link between vaccines and autism, the antivaxxers will spread their misinformation and lies.

Still, we can but try.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience, Science, Skepticism

Comments (42)

  1. IVAN3MAN AT LARGE

    Dr. Phil Plait: “I know that even though study after study can come out showing no link between vaccines and autism, the antivaxxers will spread their misinformation and lies.”

    Yep, and this is why:

    Belief Graph

  2. amstrad

    Does anyone have a link to the actual study? I’d like to read the details.

  3. C’mon, Phil. These are denialists we are talking about here. No amount of evidence will ever convince them that they are wrong.

  4. Mena

    Apparently they have been vaccinated against reality?

  5. There is no “done.” I wrote about this stuff on my blog this week, which is not exactly a whirlwind of activity (not bitching, just setting the scene), and I still managed to attract the crazy. It’s everywhere, and it is definitely not listening to the sane.

  6. Wes

    Movements like the antivaxxers are politically motivated, like the creationists, the AIDS deniers, the global warming deniers, and holocaust deniers. They don’t even care about scientific studies or evidence (it’s all part of the conspiracy anyways). Their goals are political, not scientific. So even a huge pile of the most conclusive and thorough studies humanly possible contradicting their view wouldn’t be enough to convince them.

  7. Brian Too

    One of the giveaways of denialist thinking is a phrase of the form “… nevermind Fact X, just talk to anyone in Situation Y and they will tell you it’s all messed up and broken beyond repair…”.

    The strategy here is to undermine Fact X and instead place Expert Status on the person in Situation Y. The brilliance of this phrase is that it ignores facts in evidence, while failing to identify ANYONE in Situation Y. It also seems to suggest that the Expert is easy to find but counts upon the audience to be distracted or unmotivated enough that they’ll never follow through and talk to “anyone in Situation Y”. In short it places an obligation on the audience to act knowing that most won’t.

    I’m telling you, Deniers use this tactic over and over again. Watch for it.

  8. JoeSmithCA

    CNN has an article stating Dr. Oz is going to get a flu shot but his wife and kids are not. I hate to be morbid but I think it’s going to take H1N1 to mutate into something with a high morbidity before people stop bitching about vaccines and get a clue. Then again someone like Jenny McCarthy will probably be telling people not to get vaccinated as she’s crumbled over dying from symptoms caused by the flu “Don’t get vaccinated! *cough* it’s poison! *cough*, *wheeze* it will cause *choking cough* *gasp* autism”

  9. Nol

    In any chemical reaction, there are always some reactants left, in a state called equilibrium. Society seems to follow this same concept. There are always some denialists, or ignorant people who will continue to believe, and spread information that has repeatedly been demonstrated to be false. Someone needs to develop a “social afterburner” so to speak, and clean up these deniers with a different aproach… maybe trying to adress their reasons for believing false facts. Obviously, proving their facts false isn’t enough.

  10. One of the reasons why such ‘debates’ will never end:

  11. RobQ

    “They don’t even care about scientific studies or evidence…
    “Their goals are political, not scientific. So even a huge pile of the most
    “conclusive and thorough studies humanly possible contradicting their
    ” view wouldn’t be enough to convince them.

    So our only goal is to inoculate the undecided against their bogus claims. We’re not exactly reaching those people here.

    “Movements like the antivaxxers are politically motivated, like the
    “creationists, the AIDS deniers, the global warming deniers, and
    “holocaust deniers.

    The moon landing was faked!

  12. John Paradox, that is so true in just about every woo or nutter case, isn’t it? I think most of them have those installed on wheels these days. Some can even get up to highway speeds with enough evidence.

  13. torture numbers and they will confess everything.

  14. Just Syd

    I found this site because of the stunning pictures of the universe. I’ve grown to love it because of the anti-woo. I am autistic. So is my son. I’m so tired of family members, friends and random strangers blaming vaccinations for for our problems. We were born this way. Period.

    Neither my son nor I see what we have as a problem. We’re different. We don’t fit in with normal society, but we can try. Period.

    I’m autistic and I’m married. Those that push the woo would tell you that isn’t possible. However, I’m happily married and raising three children. I have my faults and my wife is a saint for putting up with them.

    To those pushing your woo: we aren’t all Rainman. Tell me how I’m wrong. We don’t all need your sympathy nor do we want it. We’re humans, just like you, albeit a little different.

  15. Randy

    This just in: living in rented social housing causes autism.

    Causation? Huh? What’s that?

  16. widdowquinn

    deleted because the link was already given above, in (4)

  17. Al C

    There’s no better way to spread rumors/false info to the masses than by posting it online.Every year the ‘Mars will be bigger than the full moon’ notice makes the rounds.Amazingly,many believe that to be true year after year and they repost it or email to their friends,then their friends pass it along and the next thing you know it becomes TRUE because it’s on the internet.
    The best spam filter out there is common sense and education.People need to use those ‘tools’ a little more often.

  18. ShaneG

    Why is it autism in particular that is caused by vaccination? It would be more understandable to claim that ‘if you get the flu vaccine you might actually get the flu’ but autism as a general side effect for *all* vaccines? Have I missed out on something or are they complaining that this is something deliberate – that ‘the powers that be’ want a world full of autistic people? And how would that be of benefit?

  19. Nomen Publicus

    Something that puzzles me, why do these crazies NEED to believe that they claim. Why do they need to believe that nobody flew to the moon, the government blew up the towers, that vaccines are designed to injure not protect, general relativity is a lie etc?

    There must be some need that is being satisfied by these baseless beliefs. What benefit does anybody get by claiming in the face of overwhelming evidence that Armstrong set foot on the moon?

  20. Flying sardines

    @ 5. Mena Says:

    Apparently they have been vaccinated against reality?

    Wish we could vaccinate them with reality. Unfortunately, its too late they were infected by woo too long ago to be saved .. :-)

    (Or eventually, for some of them, hopefully not?)

    @17 Nomen Publicus :

    There must be some need that is being satisfied by these baseless beliefs. What benefit does anybody get by claiming in the face of overwhelming evidence that Armstrong set foot on the moon?

    I’d say it varies from the person but is mostly the need to feel superior that they “know” something others don’t.

    Some may be in it just for the money &/or attention. Others may just be delusional and so emotionally involved in their issue they are totally unwilling to even think about the possibility they’re wrong. Esp. in the case of the dedicated “leaders” of the specific woo thing (eg. Bart Sibrel, Ken Ham, Behe, Hoagland, Jenny McCarthy) they may feel they’ve just invested too much money & reputation-wise to ever risk changing their views and admitting they got it wrong.

    For others in-group and political identifcation is a big factor eg. “I’m a fundamentalist Christian and we all think everything was made by God in 6 literal days and I’m not going to even look at the evidnece to the contrary because its all supported and said by dem evul liberalls” or NASA is govt & govt =bad therefore they couldn’t have done something as amazing and competent as land on the Moon. Or Greens & feminists argue for Global warming & they’re all “communists” so must be lying … ad nauseam. Bad thinking but group and politically motivated and re-inforced

    That I think answers a lot of that qu. – that & the fact that sanity is far rarer than insanity in the general human population! ;-)

  21. Marcus Lim

    It’s an uphill climb. People who aren’t as well-educated are also perfect targets for those with conspiracy theories. Going to them with empirical proof is like trying to eat a meal through your nose, and doesn’t begin to address the root of all their protests: irrational fear due to a lack of practice in critical thinking. At the very least, there is some hope that they can be slowly taught, provided we have lots of patience. The education crisis is expected to temporarily widen this chasm, but it should eventually start to close in the the coming years.

  22. Yeebok Shu'in

    @3. Iason Ouabache

    If they’re denialists, why don’t we tell them they are right ? That’s fix ‘em.

  23. Chris Challans

    I don’t know if you saw this, Phil, but Bill Frist was on Bill Maher lastnight, and he absolutely schooled Bill M. about vaccinations:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRQ3xSjOfGA

  24. Charles Schmidt

    There are other reasons for not taking vaccine, like the H1N1 is a live virus and those of us with compromised immune systems are advised not to get them or we could be worse off than without it. Between cancer, leukemia and treatments it is not in my best interest to get the shot.

  25. Charles Schmidt

    There are other reasons for not taking vaccine, like the H1N1 is a live virus and those of us with compromised immune systems are advised not to get them or we could be worse off than without it. Between cancer, leukemia and treatments it is not in my best interest to get the shot.

  26. JoeSmithCA

    @Charles Schmidt

    There are always valid exeptions and nobody here will argue against those. My son for example cannot get the flu shot because his egg allergy. What people here are railing against are the nuts who believe any fantasy someone has created that vaccines are bad for you.

  27. David V

    The NY Times has a “weekend opinionator” article that describes how Glenn Beck & Rush Limbaugh are actively promoting antivax, presumably because it’s a government service and you can’t trust the government. It’s tempting to hope they get sick from their own stupidity just like the rest of us.

    Here’s the link:
    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/09/weekend-opinionator-does-the-nobel-hate-america/?hp

  28. fb36

    The claim is mercury in some vaccines causing autism.
    Mercury is a well-known nerve poison.
    The amount in the vaccines will be too little to cause harm normally but what if it increases the chance of autism in some susceptible children? You guys should realize that this type of study is really hard to experiment on. So it is hard to prove it but it does not mean it cannot be true! The truth is we do not know really.

    I do not understand what is the harm of finding a new chemical to replace mercury in vaccines.

  29. @6 I get a lot of traffic to my site and blog and I don’t get the crazies *pouts*. I even challenge them to be douches to my face but they do not take up the challenge.

    On another note, I had to tweet yesterday after one of my tweeps posted they got the H1N1 shot and have never been sicker in their lives and another replied with “I was going to get my shot and I have never gotten them before because I hear you get sick from them. Now I probably won’t get it.” To which I had to tweet “You do not get sick from the shot. Sure one side effect is sick like symptoms but you are not actually sick.” Thankfully a few people RT’d it.

    And thanks to this crazy and the crazy of our Canadian health authorities acting on a study that hasn’t even been published yet nor have they read it, I get to spend the winter in reverse quarantine because they are not giving out flu shots till the spring, just H1N1 and having Lupus and flu season is never fun.

  30. Gary Ansorge

    23. Julia(Jules)

    You might point out that if an ATTENUATED virus made them feel so bad, the real thing would have probably killed them. There were reports in the early 1960s of people who had minor polio-like symptoms after taking the live virus however, those symptoms were nowhere near as devastating as the real thing, so people kept taking the live vaccine. I guess my parents were a lot smarter than parents today.I wonder it that means we’re devolving as a species? Remember the story Marching Morons?

    We’ve come a long way in our understanding of vaccine technology over the last half century. Gee, I wonder why anyone would expect our knowledge to be perfect from the get-go but even imperfect is better than no action at all.

    Gary 7

  31. 24. Gary 7

    I am not familiar with Marching Morons I am afraid.

    I don’t know if parents were smarter or they lived in a time where they saw first hand the devastating effects of the diseases that most are fortunate enough to have to ability to be vaccinated against. Perhaps part of it has to do with we are fortunate enough to live in an area of the world that does not get illness spreading on a wide scale. I fear however, that is about to change. It will really suck if it takes mass amounts of people dieing or being disabled, when the disease could have been prevented in the first place, for everyone to embrace something as simple as a jab.

    Maybe part of the perfect knowledge phenom has to do with living in an instant gratification society and access to instant information. I honestly believe we as a larger society have gotten lazy and every day our society expands its instant gratification mentality. And forbid we actually fail and have to take time to acquire knowledge etc. That is my own theory. It would be interesting to test.

    I could rant and rave about all of the above for hours.

  32. Bernhard

    I know 1 thing that will give the antivaxers hell: Mini black holes from the LHC at CERN. Actual plans are to restart it next month.

  33. Mark Hansen

    fb36, it would be very hard to replace mercury in vaccines, especially as it isn’t in any childhood vaccines and hasn’t been for quite a few years.

  34. VJBinCT

    I think it’s time to announce an autism vaccine. Watch the antivaxers’ heads explode!

  35. Cairnos

    All I can add is “Homeopathic evidence – You just can’t question evidence this dilute”

  36. John

    Does anybody here have any idea what *does* cause autism?

    That would be really useful information. Unlike everything posted to and discussed in this thread so far…

  37. 38 – John

    No they do not. They have many theories (number one being a combination of genetic and environmental factors) but autism spectrum is a relatively new disorder (if you look at the history of labeling psychological disorders and the history of Autism being recognized as Autism and not labelled as other disorders) when it comes to labeling and diagnostics. The whole field of abnormal psyc in infant/children/adolescence is new. Up until recently(last decade or so), adult criteria for diagnosis and treatment were used. The label used for Autism has changed as well and this isn’t the first time it has. I wouldn’t be surprised if many adults who are walking around today were to be tested using today’s new criteria, that they would be given a diagnosis of Asperger’s which is one of the many disorders which falls into this spectrum, or some other disorder that falls in the range of Autism. It is no wonder many people are confused when it comes to this subject. And this change in criteria for diagnosis and the expanded scope of this label could be one contributing factor the apparent rise in number of children with ASD. It may not be more kids are becoming Autistic, we just have better tools for recognizing the many disorders in the spectrum and labeling children as such.

    As more research is done, more changes to labels and diagnosis criteria will be made as well. It is no different than (as example) homosexuality changing from a psychological disorder in the DSM III to no longer being a mental illness and that being reflected in the DSM IV. Or Bipolar being changed from Manic Depressive, or Multiple Personalities being changed to Dissociative Identity Disorder. As we become more aware of exactly what these things are, we apply better labels to describe them.

    Psychology is not a cut and dry field. There are many schools and thoughts within the field and some can be contradictory. It is why it is a social science and not an applied science (well at least that is the case in Canada) even so for most of the schools of psychology empirical thinking is used.

  38. Nigel Depledge

    FB36 (29) said:

    The claim is mercury in some vaccines causing autism.
    Mercury is a well-known nerve poison.
    The amount in the vaccines will be too little to cause harm normally but what if it increases the chance of autism in some susceptible children? You guys should realize that this type of study is really hard to experiment on. So it is hard to prove it but it does not mean it cannot be true! The truth is we do not know really.

    Actually, the original antivax claim was that MMR (specifically) caused autism.

    The claim that thimerosal (a compound of mercury that is metabolised in the body into, inter alia, ethyl mercury) causes autism is more recent, and appears largely to have arisen as the MMR vaccine was being proven safe (there was a study of 500,000 children in Denmark that showed no link between MMR vaccination and autism). Many of the antivaxxers claim that vaccines in general (even the ones that don’t contain thimerosal) cause all sorts of problems, but they pretty mucxh always have no evidence.

    I do not understand what is the harm of finding a new chemical to replace mercury in vaccines.

    OK, a couple of problems here – elemental mercury (Hg) has never been used in vaccines. It is very toxic and it would be murder to inject elemental mercury into people.

    However, there is a compound of mercury that is safe to use. This compound is thimerosal, which becomes metabolised into ethyl mercury (and other things), which is rapidly cleared from the body.

    Think of it this way: is a solution of salt (NaCl) in water (H2O) toxic or harmful? No (unless you take it to the extreme and try to drown yourself in it). Is sodium hydroxide (NaOH) harmful? You betcha, it’s a powerful alkali. The elements matter far less than the compounds formed from them.

    Additionally, thimerosal has not been used in the Western world for something like 8 years (IIUC, it is still used in developing nations where refrigerated transport is hard to come by). Thimerosal has been replaced already (predominantly for PR reasons, because vaccine manufacturers chose not to fight the anti-vax propaganda on that point).

  39. @Nigel Depledge

    A few minor corrections:

    Actually, the original antivax claim was that MMR (specifically) caused autism.

    Thimerosal, IIRC, actually came before the MMR thing. Thimerosal was unique to the U.S., and MMR to the U.K. at the beginning. It stemmed from a push in Congress to disclose the amounts of mercury in products sold in the U.S. David Kirby, among others, picked the “mercury in vaccines” thing up and promoted it pretty heavily as a cause of autism.

    Additionally, thimerosal has not been used in the Western world for something like 8 years (IIUC, it is still used in developing nations where refrigerated transport is hard to come by).

    To add some specifics: Thimerosal has not been used in childhood vaccines since about 2000/2001. As a consequence, the U.S. uses single-dose vials for vaccinations, rather than cheaper, multi-use vials. The multi-dose vials are still used in developing countries, as Nigel points out, where refrigerated transport, as well as proper storage conditions, require the use of preservatives, like thimerosal, to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi which would have some pretty serious health consequences. The multi-dose vials are also cheaper, so less-developed countries can actually afford the vaccines. Single-dose vials would be too expensive.

    Thimerosal has been replaced already (predominantly for PR reasons, because vaccine manufacturers chose not to fight the anti-vax propaganda on that point).

    It hasn’t been replaced. It’s just been taken out. To be a little more specific about the PR side, a hue and cry went out about thimerosal before quality evidence was in, so FDA and CDC took a “play it safe” approach, advising manufacturers to stop using thimerosal. Since then, the evidence that has been presented has suggested that there is no causal connection between thimerosal and autism.

  40. Erwin Blonk

    @John #38

    It is very much a field in motion. Spoke with a specialist last week (he diagnoses and gives therapy) and he says that in 2016 revised standards for classification are planned. The basics are clear, there is a lot being covered and there is even more to be done. Right now we have a workable outline and some good solid theories and hypothesis.

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