The woo marches on

By Phil Plait | January 31, 2010 11:25 am

While searching my blog archives for something I wrote on UFOs, I stumbled on an old article: Woo shots, about the antivax movement. It was one of the first times I wrote about the antivaxxers on the blog, and the first time I took them on directly:

If these people prevail, we are all at risk. If you’re under the age of, say, 40 do you personally remember anyone getting smallpox, or polio?

No? Guess why.

That’ll all end if the antivax people have their way. They must be stopped, and being vocal about critical thinking is the only way to do it…. and when it comes to the important stuff, the really important stuff, I’ll take all the help I can get to make sure the word gets out.

That article was written almost exactly two years ago, and little did I know then that not only would the movement grow stronger, but in the intervening 700 or so days many people — including babies — would die due to the words of those who deny vaccinations to their own children. That’s despite the 60 or so posts I’ve written about this, and the efforts of others like Steve Novella, Orac, Joe Albietz, Rachael Dunlop, and so many others. But it’s on more than individual blogs now: Daily Kos has a lengthy article up today about antivaxxers, and many other weighty websites and even the mainstream media have taken up the issue. I’m very glad to see it.

When I write about these topics, I get a handful of complaints from readers who think I should stick to astronomy. Well, that’s not going to happen. After these past two years I remain as adamant and as impassioned to spread the word that antivaxxers are dangerous, and their ideas kill. I will continue to write about this health danger, and keep you up to date as much as I can on the latest news on this.

People are dying, and it’s because of bad thinking. We must stop this, and the first step is to be aware of the problem. I can hope that two years from now I won’t have to write about this any more… but I’m a realist, and I know that this will be a problem for a long, long time to come. It’s up to us to minimize that time. Bad thinking takes lives, but good thinking can save them.

Think well.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience, Piece of mind
MORE ABOUT: antivax

Comments (72)

  1. Stanley H. Tweedle

    Do you ever get bored of anti-vaccinators?

  2. Charles

    I don’t think boredom is the issue.

    Rock on, Phil, you’re doing the right thing. Irrational thinking is dangerous, the more so the closer it gets to earth.

  3. We are learning more and more about human cognition every year, so hopefully those insights will help us find ways to communicate more effectively, and to overcome people’s tendencies towards denialism. In the meantime, please keep up the good work.

  4. Tom Foster

    Taught my class about the antivaxxers. A stunned audience. The topic of the day was bioterrorism and that we have a home-grown bunch of them.

  5. kenyee

    what, anti-vaxxer people to tell you to stick to astronomy, but yet, they spread bogusness about immunology and epidemiology????

  6. Levi in NY

    Well, only people who don’t like that you cover non-astronomy topics are going to even bring up the issue, so I suspect you’re getting a complaint-to-praise ratio that’s not representative of your readers’ actual opinions.

    I for one love that you cover general skepticism and critical thinking topics in addition to astronomy. You are following in the footsteps of Carl Sagan. I think it’s great you’re spreading the skeptical word to all the astronomy enthusiasts who come for the space stuff, as well as teaching regular old skeptics like me about astronomy. Plus, nobody can reasonably deny that critical thinking is the foundation of all science. It is a foundation that receives tragically little attention in our schools and in the culture at large. I want to see scientists from all fields delving into critical thinking the way you do.

    You keep up what you’re doing, Phil.

  7. Jamie F.

    As a parent, I considered the options with vaccinations, and I believe I chose rightly for not only my kids, but my community. Preventing diseases we know we can is great. I consider it an investment.

    But I didn’t realize the serious consequences, or how really harmful and strong the anti-vax movement was until you were on a radio show in 2008, Phil. It was your voice more than any other that called my attention to this issue. Thank you!

  8. Daniel J. Andrews

    Astronomy coverage great. Critical thinking and refuting of antiscience, even greater. Maybe saving lives in doing so, priceless. Keep it up, Phil!!

  9. To the critics’
    This is not just a blog about astronomy. It is a blog about science. If you are committed to the scientific method, then you are for finding truth where ever it takes you. Period. If, in the event, that there is irrefutable, double blind tested data showing something that I currently don’t hold as true, then I will change my mind. That’s called science and mature thinking.

    So bite me.

  10. Scott

    Hahha. Reading the HuffPost article, the area from Time by Joel Stein…

    “We complain less about the liberal side of antiscience because the women who believe in this stuff are generally hot.”

    *laugh* :)

  11. Tom Foster, you have a point there. They aren’t anti-vaxxers anymore, they are bio-terrorists!

    Oh, almost forgot to mention: (And yes, I have updated it quite a bit lately.)

  12. MarcusBailius

    Good article, making a good point. You can’t split one part of science from another. Antivaxxers think they attack a particular area of science, but all of science is connected.

  13. Chris


    This is not just a blog about astronomy. It is a blog about science.

    It is obvious the critics never followed his blog before it was brought into Discover Magazine’s Hive Mind. It was called “Bad Astronomy” for a reason, and tackled such issues as astronomy, the folks who consider the moon landing to be a hoax, and various disaster predictions like Planet X. Does anyone remember Planet X?

  14. This blog is about you and astronomy happens to be a big feature of you. You should no more stick to astronomy than PZ Myers should stick to biology or I should stick to programming. I come here to read about you as much as about your opinion on astronomy.

    I think it would be a disservice to us (and you) if you only blogged about astronomy, since being a skeptic and a woo fighter (unless you can sing, in which case you’d be a Foo Fighter) is a big part of who you are.

    Down with the evil antivaxxers! Reason FTW!


  15. I’m not sure how you can call them “bio-terrorists”. The “terrorists” part is a very specific term meaning that they intend to further an agenda through fear mongering. I suppose in a sense, that’s what they’re doing with the “OMG! Autism” routine, but at the same time, a large part of what encourages people to GET vaccinated is fear as well, not facts. In that light, we could just as easily be labeled as bio-terrorists by letting people know that lack of vaccinations causes the potential for outbreaks.

    God I hate framing.

  16. Dan I.

    @16. Jon Voisey

    Of course, the difference between our “fear mongering” and their “fear mongering” is that ours is actually true.

  17. Stanley, do you ever get bored of conspiracy theorists spreading irrational fear that kills children?

  18. Ant-vaxxers the gift that keeps on giving, disease that is.

  19. John Swindle

    Jon Voisey – Sorry, no cigar. Scaring people into doing the best thing is NOT the same as getting them to screw up entire communities. Okay, calling the anti-vaxxers “terrorists” might not be the best job of framing, but look at the scorecard.

    As for keeping the blog sciency – I read BA every day because it’s always interesting to this non-scientist. If it were ALL science, a good deal of it would sail right over my head.

  20. Bob

    Anti-vaxxers are more properly “plague rats” than “bioterrorists.”

  21. Bunny DeVille

    Before I had kids, I went along mindlessly with the antivaxxer agenda (the fact that I lived in Sedona, Capital of Woo, may have had something to do with this.) I didn’t get my daughter her Hep B shot in the hospital… when my mom found out, she had a screaming fit at me. Since my mom is a nurse practitioner who worked with sick kids for 10 years in a hospital, I decided to be rational and listen. When she told met that since the HIB vaccine came out, she has 50% less kids in the hospital than before it came out, I decided to vaccinate.

    I find that most antivaxxers are really just guilty of following the latest trend in child-rearing. It doesn’t matter what I say… rational, kind, loving people go batsh*t crazy about vaccines. One mother of an autistic child, despite having mild autism herself, insists that vaccines are what caused her kid’s autism, no matter how many times I tell her that it develops at that age regardless of whether they got the shots or not. It really bothers me, and I think that the people that started this nonsense should be horsewhipped and pilloried and forced to view the corpses of every dead baby that they are responsible for.

  22. Ron

    I appreciate that you keep posting about the anti vaxxers, Phil. If it were not for the fact that their campaign of lies and hysteria are killing people they could be dismissed as eaisly as bigfoot hunters. The anti vaxx movement is worthless and makes no valid points what so ever.

  23. brent

    I have chosen to delay my child’s vaccinations. There are major problems in medical science today that have killed the trust of the people. Besides the obvious industry for profit that lobbies for vaccines to be required in schools, (I know I would feel horrible if I started a deadly chicken pox pandemic) I have concerns about who’s best interest some of these vaccines are in. When our boy was born he got a blood test for metabolic disorders, then two weeks later again. When I had the audacity to ask why, I was told that the first test wasn’t accurate because it was to early, yet this first test is required. I suspect by lawyers. Then when the vaccine that includes a tetanus came up, I asked how would an infant get tetanus? Well he has been stuck by needles… I don’t buy the mercury, autism pop culture anti vax movement. But I don’t trust an industry, which is what medicine is, to make decisions for me with H1N1 virus scare tactics to recover their losses on a speculated pandemic. Just because vaccines are created by scientist doesn’t mean that a person that asks why is against science.

  24. Nerdista

    I love all the posts, astronomy or not.

  25. Katharine


    You have to differentiate between medicine the industry and medicine the science. Both are very different animals.

    Do you know how people get tetanus? It doesn’t discriminate by age.

  26. Katharine

    Frankly, though, brent, you sound similar to yet another one of those people who thinks any truth opposite to your point of view is a conspiracy theory, which often is a hallmark of being wrong.

  27. Prolix

    >> They aren’t anti-vaxxers anymore, they are bio-terrorists!

    Isn’t this a bit over the top?

    >> You can’t split one part of science from another.

    Actually, you can. If you couldn’t, refuting one scientific theory would refute the whole of science.

  28. Keep on posting about science and skepticism in any topic :)
    And the Planet Xers are still out there. I’ve run into them in other forums, and they’re just as insane as usual.

  29. Prolix

    >> you sound similar to yet another one of those people who thinks any truth opposite to your point of view is a conspiracy theory

    “By doubting we are led to inquiry and by inquiry we are led to truth” — Abelard

  30. @Brent # 21: There is a form of tetanus called neonatal tetanus… here is a link: and go down to the part about Signs and Symptoms. Although neonatal tetanus is “rare” in developed countries that does not mean it is “absent”. Best to get the child immunized, and not take a risk… I’m sorry no one told you this before.

    Tetanus is sometimes associated with manure of farm animals, and I live on a farm and raise livestock. I am very careful to get this shot (even thought I *HATE* shots!) every 5 years or so. It might be hard to get the shot, but it would *REALLY* suck to get the disease.
    Why not put the odds as much in my favor as possible?

    And hooray for all these differing blog posts. I find them informative and fun. Anyone who complains should probably read another blog; there are plenty out there. Why read something you don’t like? It’s your computer, you are in charge, if you don’t want to read this blog then don’t.

  31. kathi w

    @ Brent, if I were you, I wouldn’t delay my child’s vaccinations any longer. We get our vaccinations at the public health clinic where fees are slashed. On top of that, our insurance pays for all of them generally. But here’s another point – if your child comes into contact with a person who’s sick, where’s your child’s immunity? And if your child is carrying some bug, he could spread it to an adult. So you’re bummed out because big pharma is making money? That’s a cop out & you’re a chump because you haven’t looked into all the options out there! In the meantime, your child is unprotected against H1N1 & who the hell knows what else. Get your kid friggin’ vaccinated & yourself too while you’re at it.

  32. Old Geezer

    Not only from your picture, but by following you and your commenters for a couple of years, I believe that you and most of them are one generation younger than me. Thus, I do vividly remember my friends and others in our neighborhood contracting, some dying from as others were permanently crippled by, polio. I remember, as a cub scout, taking a tour of Rancho Los Amigos Hospital were ward upon ward, each with row upon row of iron lungs held people who were entrapped until death.

    Vaccination is, for me, not an abstract theory. Yes, it is possible that someone is making money from it. Yes, it is possible that a child (or adult for that matter) may have an adverse reaction. But I have seen the horrible result of not having access to vaccination.

    @Prolix: Look carefully at your quote. It does not say anything about doubting once the evidence is overwhelming. Once the truth is presented there is only one place left for doubt. That is an area reserved for fools.

  33. Liath

    Perhaps we are doing the antivax folks a diservice. They are, in their own small way, attemping to solve the grandaddy of all enviromental problems, over population. In addition, everytime another child contracts polio or any other disease that is preventable by vaccination a whole chain of goods and services springs into action. All those goods and services cost and that brings another boost to our failing economies. I’m about the same generation as Old Geezer and I can remember friends and family with polio. Shrunken legs that had never grown since onset polio, braces, iron lungs, were an excepted fact of life. Antivaxers would have a different take on the issue if they had grown up before the vaccine was available.

  34. Chris


    Then when the vaccine that includes a tetanus came up, I asked how would an infant get tetanus?

    Well, while it is rare, tetanus has been transmitted by bug bite:
    pediatrics.aappublications dot org/cgi/content/full/109/1/e2/T1

    Also, pertussis is fatal to infants, and you really cannot get protection from pertussis without the tetanus portion.

  35. Applause to Phil from an epidemiologist!

  36. DaveS

    @Scott, most of the “hot” anti-vaxxers are *formerly* hot, now repugnant due to their dangerous evangelism.

    On the other hand, I give you Rebecca Watson.

  37. Tom Rhoads

    Phil – it looks you have a lot of support from the people who read this blog. I’m glad to see that and glad that you continue to use your blog to educate people about science. Thanks and keep up the good work.

  38. Tensor

    DaveS, if only you had that power…… :-) As for Phil, keep up the comments on everything. You’re doing a great job.

  39. Theron

    I know someone who had polio – my Dad had polio. Would have been back in the fifties, just before the vaccine became widely available. He learned to walk again, but never finished getting his Eagle scout level (my grandfather was a Scouting executive, so this was a big deal) because he couldn’t complete the swimming badges. Today, just shy of 70, he has had some issues with post-polio syndrome, but being a total gym nut has helped him deal with that.

    He was lucky, and by extension, so was I. Not everyone was – these anti-vaxx people need to held accountable. Hard to do, given the freedom of speech, but isn’t this even worse than the proverbial “shouting ‘FIRE!’ in a crowded theater”?

  40. Gary Ansorge

    32. Old Geezer

    We must be of an age. I was born in the middle of WWII, so am a lot closer to 70 than 60. I even remember a time(vaguely) before penicillin. We’ve come a long way in less than a single human lifetime.

    Now, where the frak is my flying car, dagnabit.

    GAry 7

  41. Eric McCord

    To the critics, saying that it’s just an Astronomy blog, Phil’s just trying to get out the wonders of the universe to as many people as possible. We have already seen that children have died, and who knows, they could have been great astronomers themselves, that the critics would have read once Phil retires. I was amused and relieved, and even cheered, when I was watching WGN out of Chicago and saw that they were reporting on Andrew Wakefield’s sanctions. I give huge props to WGN for fighting the woo. By the way, I just finished reading “Death from the Skies!”- It was awesome! I loved it! I can’t wait for the upcoming super secret project, Phil!

  42. Excellent, thank you Phil!

  43. I’m over 40 but young enough to be vaccinated against Small Pox and Polio. I remember being told how lucky we were to have polio vaccine. My father wasn’t as lucky and had a limp his entire life as a result of polio.
    I am old enough to to have missed out on the current childhood vaccines. I grew up at a time when measles mumps and rubella were common childhood diseases. I had all three and luckily never suffered any long lasting effects. But one of my friends lost his hearing to rubella. Another friend of mine had mumps in adolescence and was sterile as a result. Both of my children had all of the available vaccines and I told them how lucky they were.
    The antivax people should be forced to watch the films from the ’50s showing wards of iron lungs and kids with braces learning to walk again.

  44. Bobo the pud

    Darwinism is a bit_h! Both antivaxers and the unhygenic who breed without regard for their bodies or their babies will go the way of the carrier pigeon.

  45. Sman

    Dr. Plaitt, keep up the good fight. I came here(or rather there, the old place) for the astronomy, but I stay for the rational elucidation inherent in your blog.

    I was one of the luckies that was born(’61) after the Polio vaccine was discovered. My mom confided that one of her greatest fears was that one of my sisters or brothers would contract the virus.

    Some of the older readers might remember visiting the county fair where one of the prominent displays was the iron lung with a description of the advances made in medicine, and why some day it would be obsolete in the treatment of polio.

  46. Greg in Austin

    Brent said,

    “Besides the obvious industry for profit that lobbies for vaccines to be required in schools, (I know I would feel horrible if I started a deadly chicken pox pandemic) I have concerns about who’s best interest some of these vaccines are in.”

    Heaven forbid in a nation of capitalism that the pharmaceutical industry make a profit. Or the oil and gas industry, or the banking industry, or the computer industry, or the farmers, or the grocery stores, or the malls, or the movie theaters, or the plumbers and the painters… We should outlaw profit making altogether and become socialists! Who’s with me?!?


  47. Autumn

    @ Greg in Austin,
    Well, profit making and socialism are actually totally compatible – it is how the profits are distributed that distinguishes socialism from capitalism – but the obvious thing, ignored by the anti-“Big-Pharma” idjits is that the vaccines make a small profit once or twice per person. Allowing the disease to become endemic would make them orders of magnitude more money.
    I maintain that all “vax-questioners” (since the inevitable trolls will cite merely a “concern about doubts that they have”) are, in fact, deeply in the pocket of “Big-Iron-Lung”.
    It not only underscores the ridiculousness of the argument, it also brings up vivid images of the dangers of not vaccinating.

  48. quasidog

    I reckon a big problem is assuming anti-vaxxers even read your posts, or that of any others.

    Do we force it on them ? and if so does that deny induviduals the right of free choice ? I mean, the reason I am protected from all these diseases was largely due to the fact I was not given a choice. I don’t know, but the more you push the more the nay-sayers will resist. Thats the way these sort of minds work. They have a choice, and as long as they do, they will choose .. poorly. The more we ridicule them, the more they will not listen due to the noise of the ridicule. People that think ridicule works to correct peoples thinking are kidding themselves. I know soon as I cop ridicule for a decision I have made, I just shut off and don’t listen. Rational respectful correction however is something I do not shut off to. Calm well planned education from the school level and mainstream media sources might help.

    I think the only way to effectively stop this is to deny people the right to choose, but doesn’t that just open up a whole can of worms with rights groups ? If only there was an easy solution. There isn’t. The world is doomed. ;p

    ( I am pro-vaccination .. I just got my whooping cough booster last week at age 35 due to my sister having a baby.)

  49. Yeebok

    You write it well, and I’ll read it Phil.
    I love that you take the time to work on a number of areas that you believe are important, and you write about them articulately, carefully and intelligently. I just wish more blogs were like this. There’s quite a bit that you’ve taught me in the year-ish I’ve been a reader and my only regret is that I did not do it sooner.

    Props, dude. Keep up the good work and fighting ignorance.

  50. TheBlackCat

    @ Brent: Other people have brought up the issue with your vaccine stance, but also take issue with this statement of yours:

    When our boy was born he got a blood test for metabolic disorders, then two weeks later again. When I had the audacity to ask why, I was told that the first test wasn’t accurate because it was to early, yet this first test is required. I suspect by lawyers.

    For a parent your ignorance of the dangers of metabolic disorders is disappointing and worrisome. I would google, for instance, Phenylketonuria. It is easily treated, but if it isn’t treated causes abnormal brain development, leading to retardation, seizures, and other serious, irreversible problems. Screening for Phenylketonuria and other similar congenital metabolic disorders ranks only below vaccines in my book among the great medical triumphs of the 20th century. Many are easily treatable but absolutely devastating, if not lethal, if untreated.

  51. Grimbold

    At the risk of being made fun of, I’ll post this little ditty that came into my head when I read the title for this entry…

    Mine eyes have seen the horror of the coming of the Woo!
    Antivaxxers, dowsing rods and Planet Nibiru,
    UFOlogists, astrologists, creationism too!
    The Woo keeps marching on!

    Glory Glory Hallelujah!
    Don’t you let these morons fool ‘ya,
    Always let your reason rule ‘ya.
    ‘cos Woo keeps marching on!

  52. Asimov Fan

    “Against Stupidity the Gods themselves contend in vain.”

    – Isaac Asimov quoting Friedrich Schiller in his novel (which I & many others consider his best ever) ‘The Gods Themslves.’ See :

    Sadly this is yet more evidence of that aphorism’s truth. :-(

    Sorry I know its not a cheerful thought. :-(

  53. llewelly

    Does anyone remember Planet X?

    Sure. There is a small raft of nutters predicting it will cause a disaster in 2012. They’re just not as numerous as they were in 2003. And now the top link is to an Ian O’Neil article explaining why Planet X won’t be causing any disasters.

  54. csrster

    Why do people always mention smallpox and polio but not diptheria? – dreadful disease, often fatal, now almost forgotten – thanks to vaccines

  55. Dave

    I’ve already got my space news site (Universe Today)

    I come to you for all the rest of science news

    (incedently I found this site through Universe Today)

  56. Yeebok

    Actually, I’m -still- reading stuff your post has lead me to. You’re a bastard (in the nicest possible way) for arousing my curiosity as well as that of probably countless others. If it wasn’t for fascinating topics like this on here, I’d be getting pwned on Crysis and chewing a few extra hundred W or so of power.. so there’s even an environmental benefit to this site lol.
    As for how I found this site, it was on one of those names that just stood out when setting up my iGoogle space tab. Since then it’s just become more lefty-uppy-ified on the page. I suppose I should blame iGoogle instead then … nah.

  57. Yeebok

    Actually, as an aside to all of this, where I live (Australia) some of the family related payments that are received from the government stop if you do not get the child immunised. The immunisations themselves are generally covered by Medicare. This might explain why the antivax movement (here) isn’t something that often pops up. To be honest though anything on American TV is going to hit over here at some stage, so I worry what impact that does/will have on things.

  58. Plutonium being from Pluto

    Co-incidentally, Richard Dawkin’s great skeptical documentary focusing on the fight of science against superstitious woo incl. astrology, pyschics, alt med & more “The Enemies of Reason” is screening on Aussie ABC -TV (& being videoed by me) as I type this. 😉

    See :

    PS. Off topic, sorry but thought some may want to know. While looking on the ABC TV site, I also stumbled on this news item which, sadly, confirms the rumours that Obama has cancelled the Ares-Constellation return to the Moon program : :-(

  59. Eidolon


    You really need to check out the Denver Post this morning. Big lead about a psychic who is going on tour with her book. For @275/30 minutes or $500/hr, you can talk to your dead realtives.

    “And the woo goes marching on…”

  60. @quasidog,

    I think that one of the problems is that people think that they have an absolute right of free choice. If not vaccinating only left your children unprotected, they might have an argument. However, not vaccinating also exposes other people’s children and other adults to harm by weakening herd immunity. Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. Of course, they deny that their fist-swinging is causing any problems while people fall left and right of “nose injuries.”

  61. @Eidolon,

    I can just picture talking with my dead grandmother that way. “I’ve contacted her. She’s beginning to talk through me… ‘TechyDad, you fool! Why’d you spend $275 on this bunk? You should have saved your money!!!'” 😉

  62. mantastic420

    All we need to do is find a washed up actress/Playboy model who has rekindled her fame by way of a fading Hollywood celebrity who talks out of his ass and get her on our side. The antivaxxers will be crushed.

  63. Katharine

    Realistically, I think the problem is that most of humanity is an unpredictable zoo to us. I have absolutely no comprehension of the mindset of someone this irrational.

    The unfortunate thing is that nature is far uglier in its punishment of an unfit group of people than we are.

  64. Jonathan

    I’m an astronomer as well and anytime someone tells me that I “am a physicist and don’t know biology, so [I] can’t defend evolution”, or in your case the benefits of vaccination, I say

    “astronomy and physics have taught me critical thinking and logical understanding, as well as the scientific process. The ability to examine a situation and extract understanding is a tool that I developed to work in astronomy. But, it’s a tool that all scientists have and is used in all fields uniformly. More importantly, critical thinking is a universal tool for unraveling understanding from observations. And, critical thinking, along with more than a century in research, tell us that evolution is our best way of understanding modern biology. And anyone who disagrees is free to create predictions, observations and thus theories to contradict it. But that hasn’t happened yet, so we are free to use evolution as a model for understanding the development of life.”

    This applies directly to your anti-“anti-vax” campaign. Over a century of research and development have shown us that vaccinatable diseases can be removed from the human condition, and that we as a society will prevail by following the scientific consensus. As well, because we have vaccinated for more than one generation, the global prospect of non-vaccination will be worse than had we never started. So in one sense we are dependent on the vaccinations, but only because we cannot develop the antibodies naturally and the diseases are so harmful.

  65. @Jonathan, I wonder how many of those people telling you you can’t defend evolution because you’re not a biologist are actually biologists themselves? (My guess: Zero.) Yet, apparently, they think it takes no special knowledge to attack a subject but special knowledge to defend it.

    Of course, this doesn’t work nearly as well with the anti-vax folks because people proclaim themselves experts in “anti-toxic-ology” or whatever and thus able to say that vaccines are bad for you and instead you must buy Product X. (Available from their website for the low, low price of only $19.95 plus shipping and handling! Act now!!!)

  66. It’s great that coverage of the antivaxers and their misinformation campaign is getting wide spread, but sad that it’s even necessary. Phil, your writing on this topic has led me not only to other sites (Respectful Insolence and Science-Based Medicine), but also to researching the topics and claims made by antivaxers, leading ultimately to the creation of Keep up the good work.

  67. Charlie Young

    Andrew Wakefield is being painted as a pariah and martyr by the folks on Age of Autiam, Natural News, etc. I don’t see the anti vaccination movement backing down any time soon. They are redoubling their efforts to make sure their message gets out that vaccination is ineffective, dangerous, and foolhardy. Vigilance is required to keep the message that vaccines are effective and save pain, suffering, and lives. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has just thrown $10 billion at the problem of low vaccination rates in third world nations, so hopefully this can gain traction in the developed world as well.

  68. Charlie Young

    I also read an article in the news the other day about some psychological research explaining that people will continue to maintain their opinion of something even if given the evidence to the contrary. It had more to do with political opinions (for example, people originally supporting the war in Iraq thinking there were WMDs there still showing strong support for the war even though the original hypothesis was proven wrong). I suppose this would carry over to any subject where strong opinions exist. Unfortunately, I can’t find the article. If anyone has access to the research, let us all know.

  69. Paul A.

    Its your blog, you can write about anything you want. The expect the blog to be mostly about astronomy.

  70. Bryan Feir


    When our boy was born he got a blood test for metabolic disorders, then two weeks later again. When I had the audacity to ask why, I was told that the first test wasn’t accurate because it was to early, yet this first test is required. I suspect by lawyers.

    Actually, this sort of thing is fairly common for certain types of medical tests, especially for rare conditions.

    The problem is that any medical test has non-zero error rates, where you can get either false positives (test says the subject has the condition when he doesn’t) or false negatives (test says the subject does not have the condition when he does). If you make the test highly sensitive, you tend to get more false positives than false negatives; if you make the test highly specific, you get fewer false positives but more false negatives. Add onto this that with a rare conditions, you often get more false positives than true positives (cases where the test correctly identifies the condition). Also, better tests often cost more.

    Put all of these together, and when testing for rare conditions, often the usual approach is to go for two tests. The first test is simple, cheap, can be given to anybody, and a bit overly sensitive so it has a high false positive rate but a low false negative rate. Then, for all of the people who show up on that test, you give them the second test, which is more expensive, but more specific and has a much lower false positive rate. Anybody who gets caught by the second test you start to worry about.

    That way, the two tests will tell you much more than either could alone; and by using the cheaper test as a filter, this actually saves money on average than using the better test all the time.

    And the only conspiracy involved is the ‘conspiracy’ that keeps people ignorant of statistics and how they actually work.

  71. Beryl

    Phil, I read your blog mostly for the more political material. That I see the astronomy material is a nice side effect and really where I learn the most. But, in all honesty, I’d probably not read it if you stuck to astronomy.

  72. Eisnel

    I know this isn’t major media coverage: I was watching Tosh.0 (on Comedy Central) the other night, and was happy to hear Daniel Tosh make a snide comment about Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vax views.


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