The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘immunization’

What If We Extended Anti-Vaccine Arguments to Other Technologies?

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 9, 2014

I saw a great meme going around Facebook the other day and thought I should share it here.  Often anti-vaccination activists make loaded claims about how vaccines are “toxic” and whatnot; of course they are playing fast and loose with the facts, and they are trying to use loaded language in an attempt to scare people from vaccinating their children.  When confronted with such nonsense, I often tell on-the-fence parents “You wouldn’t put your child into a car without securing them in a car seat, would you?”  It’s a pretty effective message for playing the odds and protecting your kids by vaccinating them.

Of course, here’s another way to counter anti-vax propaganda: apply their same ludicrous arguments to all kinds of other technologies, and see how quickly it all descends down the rabbit hole of stupidity.  Here you go (make sure you read the entire graphic; my personal favorite is the one about the fire-ax)…



Image source


Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Anti-Science and Science Denial: It Isn’t Just for the Political Right?

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 4, 2014

I have used up many electrons on this blog discussing the problem of anti-science and science denial regarding creationist and climate science denier movements.  I have also discussed many times about how those movements seek to destroy the credibility of science in order to prop up either their religious or political worldviews, which usually tend to be quite right-wing in nature.

However, lest we cease to be critical thinkers about the problem of anti-science and science denial, let us not over simplify the issue in to being a problem of only the political right.  Case in point: many of the worst of the anti-vaccination movement (AVM) are strongly left-leaning in their politics.  This is emphasized rather hilariously in this recent Daily Show segment:

An Outbreak of Liberal Idiocy


 No, this chart isn’t the idiocy.  The idiotic part is that anyone would seriously deny that vaccinations are the reason why these deadly diseases went away.

In the segment, the Daily Show interviewer discusses the topic of vaccines with someone who can only be described as an ideological science-denier… who is on the political left.  I really like how Orac at Respectful Insolence breaks this down:

In the piece, in particular Bee makes fun of a crunchy lifestyle blogger, Sarah Pope, who, after establishing her liberal-crunchy bona fides (after Bee’s amusing prompts, of course), rattles off pretty much every antivaccine trope and bit of misinformation and pseudoscience in the antivaccine canon, claiming herd immunity is myth, that vaccines cause autism, that they don’t work, etc., etc., ad nauseam. Yesterday, Pope wrote about the interview thusly:

” “The Epidemic of Idiocy” that The Daily Show segment labels the no-vaccination movement is head scratching given that the anti-vaccine movement is being led by the most educated in our society.

Are all those parents with college degrees, master’s degrees, PhDs and, yes, even many MDs that are saying no to shots for their kids complete idiots?

Highly doubtful!

No-vax parents aren’t the real “science deniers”. In fact, they the ones most interested in the science because they are digging into the research and demanding unbiased, objective data to support vaccination, not the slanted version presented by the CDC and conventional pediatricians like Dr. Offit who makes millions supporting the very industry that handsomely maintains his lifestyle.”

Uh, no.

No matter how much Ms. Pope wants to claim the mantle of science through the University of Google, she and her fellow antivaccine activists are just as antiscience as anthropogenic global climate change denialists and creationists (a.k.a., evolution denialists). They also share another important trait with people holding those antiscience beliefs. They’re just really, really good atmotivated reasoning, and one reason they’re so good at motivated reasoning is because they are educated and smart, which is why vaccine denialists and other science denialists are sometimes referred to as “smart idiots.” It’s a very apt term. I do, however thank The Daily Showfor making me aware of Ms. Pope. Her blog looks like—shall we say?—a highly “target-rich” environment for potential future blog posts.

However, we should take care to not oversimplify the AVM and the political affiliations of its adherents, because while there are many AVMers who are left-wing, there is also a strong (and apparently growing) right-wing element to vaccine denial.  More from Orac:

However, there is also a very strong strain of antivaccine views on the right as well, including General Bert Stubblebine III’s Natural Solutions Foundation, far right libertarians, and others who distrust the government, including government-recommended vaccine schedules.

Indeed, many of the the antivaccine people and groups whom I monitor tend to be anything but liberal politically. For example, The Canary Party, a rabidly antivaccine group that pushes the idea that toxins in vaccines are responsible for autism and all sorts of health issues and that autism “biomed” quackery is the way to cure vaccine injury recently teamed up with the East Bay Tea Party to oppose vaccine mandates in California. Moreover, the Canary Party has also recently been sucking up to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), with one of its major financial backers, Jennifer Larson, contributing a lot of money to Issa’s campaign (indirectly, of course) in order to buy influence and win a hearing by his committee examining autism and focused on vaccines as one potential cause. Fortunately, Issa’s hearing in 2012 was a bust.

So what are we to conclude about this question of anti-vaccination and political affiliation?  Well, the answer appears to be “not much” because it seems the question hasn’t been rigorously studied…

Unfortunately, there aren’t actually a lot of good data examining whether there is a correlation between political affiliation and anti-vaccine views. I blogged about this very issue a three years ago, discussing an article by Chris Mooney looking at polling data and doing the best he could to characterize the politics of vaccine denialism.

At this point, about the only thing I can say is that regardless of the political motivations of those who buy into and promote the dangerous nonsense espoused by the AVM, their lies and pseudoscience must be countered.  So how do we do that?  How do we in the skeptical and pro-science movement formulate an effective message to counter the AVM’s noise and misinformation?  Well, I am happy to say that last year a study was published (via the JREF and Women Thinking, Inc.) on this very question.  Please give it a look 🙂

Posted in medical woo, politics, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Skeptical Teacher Interviewed on The Pink Atheist

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 17, 2013

This past Sunday evening, I was interviewed on The Pink Atheist podcast/radio show.  The topics of discussion were the vaccine survey research I was involved with and the importance of promoting a good pro-vaccine message, as well as talking about some of the physics behind various crazy demonstrations I perform both in and out of the classroom.

Click the link below for the full audio of my interview, which starts at the 20:25 mark.  Enjoy! 🙂

The Pink Atheist

pink atheist

Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Opinion Survey on Vaccines Published by JREF and WT,Inc

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 18, 2013

I am very pleased to announce that a ground-breaking survey conducted on the issue of people’s opinions regarding vaccines and vaccination has been published; the work was a joint project of the James Randi Educational Foundation and Women Thinking, Inc. and it gets to the heart of how those of us who support good science-based medicine can communicate a more positive message on vaccines.

In addition, I am happy to say that I took a personal role in this research during my time with the Women Thinking, Inc. organization 🙂

[**Addendum: My skeptical colleague, Jamie Bernstein, wrote a wonderful piece on this survey research over at Skepchick, and she outlines there just how many people were involved in this process over the last few years.  Check it out!]

So, without further ado, I would like to link to the JREF’s press-release on the survey; please note that you can download the full paper at this link, so please share it!

Opinion Survey by JREF and Women Thinking Free Foundation Supports Childhood Immunization

The James Randi Educational Foundation and Women Thinking, Inc. have come together for an opinion survey aimed at better understanding the spread of the unfounded “vaccine panic” that prevents some parents from getting important immunizations for their children. The project, Immunization: Myths, Misconceptions, and Misinformation, explores better ways to communicate a “vaccine-positive” message.

“Vaccine misconceptions have been running rampant, which should not only be concerning to science advocates but to parents and the greater public,” said WTinc President Louise Kellar. “Previously it had been unclear which misconceptions had been taking a toll on parents. Through this survey that the JREF funded, we hope that that science advocates and educators will be able to focus their outreach efforts, thereby helping children have the best start in life and hopefully saving some lives in the process.”

The joint project is an opinion survey that includes data from hundreds of parents of young children. The survey data was collected by volunteers at events where parents may be especially vulnerable to “anti-vaccine” messages. The JREF and Women Thinking, Inc. is happy to make the results freely available to public health and science advocates to help inform their efforts to support childhood immunity.

“There are some provocative conclusions that may be drawn from the survey data,” said JREF President D.J. Grothe. “Although the scientific community has done a good job refuting the misinformation of the most vocal anti-scientific anti-vaccine campaigners, the survey data suggests that most parents do understand the importance of ‘herd immunity,’ but just consider this a greater risk than possible harm to their children coming from vaccination. We hope the information from the survey will help science educators and activists better understand parents’ concerns in order to help them make the healthiest choices regarding childhood immunity from dangerous diseases.”

The JREF-WTinc survey, conducted over the last two years and released to the public today, aims to help science advocates fill gaps in the public’s understanding of the vaccine panic. The opinion survey asked specific questions about parents’ beliefs and fears about immunization, their media consumption, and their conversations with friends, family, and doctors. From the report: “The most effective anti-vaccination arguments are those that induce fear in parents by naming frightening ingredients and by greatly exaggerating the risks of vaccinations. The best pro-vaccination arguments were those that focused on a good-parenting message, such as suggesting that not immunizing your child is equivalent to putting them in a car without a car seat.”

You may download a copy of Immunization: Myths, Misconceptions, and Misinformation here.

Click here to read the rest of the press-release

Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

It Bears Repeating: Yet MORE Evidence That Vaccines DON’T Cause Autism!

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 13, 2010

Not to beat a dead horse or anything, but… hell with it, let’s beat the dead horse once more: here is YET MORE evidence that vaccines DON’T cause autism!

No link found between vaccine mercury and autism

By Frederik Joelving Frederik Joelving Mon Sep 13, 3:38 am ET

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – A new government study adds to the evidence that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative until recently found in many vaccines, does not increase children’s risk of autism.

It shows kids who had been exposed as babies to high levels of the preservative — through vaccines they received or their mothers received while pregnant — were no more likely to develop autism, including two distinct subtypes of the condition.

“This study should reassure parents about following the recommended immunization schedule,” said Dr. Frank Destefano, director of the Immunization Safety Office at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, and the study’s senior author.

Concerns about a link between vaccines and autism were first raised more than a decade ago by British physician Andrew Wakefield.

His report, based on 12 children, has since been discredited and was retracted earlier this year by the journal that published it. In the meantime, it sparked a fierce worldwide debate among scientists and a health scare that caused many parents to shy away from recommended vaccines like the one against measles, mumps and rubella.

Outbreaks of all three diseases followed.

One widespread worry has been that thimerosal might play a role in the development of autism, a condition that affects as many as one in 110 U.S. children, according to the CDC.

Most scientists consider autism a developmental disorder, likely influenced by genes.

Autism spectrum disorders range from mild Asperger’s Syndrome to severe mental retardation and social disability, and there is no cure or good treatment.

The CDC researchers used data for U.S. children born between 1994 and 1999, who were enrolled in one of three managed care organizations.

They found 256 children with an autism spectrum disorder and compared them with 752 children who did not have the condition, but were matched for age and sex.

No matter when a child had been exposed to thimerosal — before birth when the mother had a shot, or when the child itself was vaccinated as a baby or toddler — there was no increase in the risk of any type of autism spectrum disorder.

In fact, those kids who were exposed to the preservative between birth and 20 months of age had slightly lower odds of developing the condition, although the researchers could not explain that result.

“This is a very reassuring study,” said Dr. Michael J. Smith, a pediatrician at the University of Louisville School of Medicine in Kentucky who was not involved in the research.

“These data show that you could receive a thimerosal vaccine and not be concerned about it.”

Smith, who said he has a fully vaccinated two-month-old at home, noted that autism rates have continued to rise, although thimerosal has been removed from all routine childhood vaccines, except flu shots.

For parents who remain concerned about thimerosal in the flu shots, he said there are alternatives without the preservative, such as FluMist, a nasal spray that can be used in children aged two and older.

Some parents have also worried that giving too many shots at once, or in children who are too young, could cause mental problems. Smith said studies had dispelled those concerns one by one.

“There is no credible evidence” for a link between vaccines and autism, he told Reuters Health.

SOURCE: Pediatrics, online September 13, 2010.

These sorts of things, sadly, need to be repeated over and over again because, in my experience, when those on the pro-science & reason side go silent, that is precisely when the pseudoscientific nuts will come crawling out of whatever rock they’ve crawled under.  And you need to look no further than the comment section on this article to see what sort of entrenched, conspiracy-mongering mentality we are dealing with from those in the anti-vaccination movement: they immediately dismiss one of the most comprehensive studies on the matter by making insinuations that the government is in league with Big Pharma or whomever to do… something.  I’ve rarely been told be the anti-vax conspiracy theorists what this “something” is supposed to be, but we can all be assured that it’s definitely something sinister…

In short: against such dangerous nonsense & irrationality, we must be ever vigilant, folks.  Ever vigilant – because if we are silent, these loons win the argument by default.

Posted in conspiracy theories, media woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Time for Back-to-School Vaccinations!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 6, 2010

I wanted to pass along a quick video about vaccinations and sending your kids back to school.  Starring in the video is Elyse Anders, president of the Women Thinking Free Foundation (WTFF) and generally all-around awesome Skepchick!  Check it out 🙂

For reference, the WTFF will soon be publicly launching our “Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated!” campaign, so stay tuned for more information on that.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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