is to commit the crime of heresy
against the vaccine religion,
as illustrated by how any dissent
is met by its defenders.
The subject of vaccines is a serious one, and deserves to be taken seriously. Concerned parents are asking legitimate questions, and they deserve serious answers rather than dismissals.
The public discussion about vaccines is essentially non-existent. Instead, the message we are told is that there is nothing to discuss.
The mainstream media, for its part, has utterly failed to properly inform the public about the subject of vaccines, and rather than engaging in respectful debate, there is a tendency to try to bully people into silence and compliance.
In this endeavor, the
mainstream media has useful partners in the blogosphere.
As someone who is openly critical of vaccine policy, I expect to be attacked and have such labels mindlessly flung at me. So I wasn't surprised to discover that one of the more notorious apologists for public vaccine policy, an anonymous blogger who goes by the moniker "Skeptical Raptor", set his sights on me recently for an article wrote in response to a Washington Post op-ed by Dr. Daniel Summers.
Dr. Summers took the usual dogmatic approach to the subject, insisting there is nothing to debate, just get your damned shots. The purpose of my rejoinder to his op-ed was to illustrate why this insistence is wrong.
There is a discussion to be had about vaccines, and it's past time we started having it.
Raptor's response to that article of mine provides me with the opportunity to reiterate that same point, as well as to illuminate the kinds of tactics employed by those who try to intimidate into silence anyone who dares to question public vaccine policy - rather than seriously addressing the legitimate concerns being raised.
Naturally, Raptor's post about my article is filled with such mindless attacks as:
It's instructive, given such vitriolic rhetoric, that Raptor fails to point to even a single error in fact or logic in anything I wrote in my rejoinder to Dr. Summers, which might explain why Raptor didn't link to my article so readers could check to see for themselves what I'd actually written, as opposed to his misportrayal.
On Doctors' Confirmation Bias
In my article, I quoted Dr. Summers saying that if vaccines can cause autism, then pediatricians like him must either be,
I observed that this gives us a useful insight into why doctors might easily succumb to confirmation bias, accepting of science that confirms their belief that they are competent and good while dismissing any evidence contradicting that belief.
After all, how many doctors would be honest enough to admit that they are either incompetent or evil?
So how does Raptor respond to this observation? He writes:
In other words, Raptor is saying that I'm the one guilty of confirmation bias, and that I don't understand what confirmation bias is.
So what is confirmation bias?
Here's how Raptor defines it:
I'm perfectly content to use that definition to reiterate the point I made in my response to Summers:
Note that Raptor does not actually address this point.
He simply asserts that I don't understand confirmation bias without bothering to demonstrate in what way I don't understand it and meaninglessly declares that doctors "use the scientific method" - as though having a medical degree meant that a person couldn't possibly have such a psychological conflict.
Compare this with Dr. Joseph Mercola of the leading health information website Mercola.com, a physician who once vaccinated his patients and had to overcome this very inner conflict himself.
Dr. Mercola in a recent article on his website quoted my observation about this natural tendency toward confirmation bias among doctors, then added:
In conclusion, Raptor, rather than actually addressing my valid point, resorts to obfuscation.
As for his charge that I'm guilty of confirmation bias, here Raptor is simply resorting to strawman argumentation, attributing to me logic that I did not use in my response to Summers' op-ed.
His protest against what I did say in my article on the subject of vaccines and autism is instructive.
The Autism Question
In my article, I criticized Dr. Summers for repeating the trope that the hypothesis that vaccines can cause autism has been "thoroughly debunked".
I pointed out that the government has in fact acknowledged that vaccines can cause brain damage in genetically susceptible individuals, and that this brain damage can lead to developmental regression, i.e., autism.
I quoted then Director of the CDC Julie Gerberding in 2008 admitting:
Then I commented:
So how does Raptor respond to this point?
Raptor simply asserts that,
We see once again all Raptor is doing is attempting to obfuscate the point.
Raptor continues this effort by writing:
The "Next" here is puzzling, since this point about the head of the CDC acknowledging vaccines can cause brain damage was the one and only point I made in response to Dr. Summer's repetition of the usual dogmatic mantra about any association having been "debunked".
Setting that aside, note how Raptor uses the verb "claims" - as though it wasn't a fact that the CDC director acknowledged that vaccines can cause brain damage leading to developmental regression.
This verb choice is puzzling, given how Raptor then proceeds to share the statement of Gerberding's that I quoted.
So how does Raptor address my point about that acknowledgment from the CDC director?
Note that Raptor acknowledges that vaccines can cause brain damage in genetically susceptible individuals.
Raptor nevertheless continues:
Now, this is also quite a puzzling argument, given the actual context of the quote from Gerberding.
See, when she spoke those words, the CDC director was referring to the case of Hannah Poling, who developmentally regressed and was diagnosed with autism after receiving five vaccines at once at 19 months of age.
The Poling Case and Genetic Susceptibility
One of the legitimate concerns parents have about vaccines is how the government constantly reassures them that vaccines are safe and effective while granting legal immunity to the vaccine manufacturers, which was upheld by the Supreme Court on the grounds that injuries from vaccines are "unavoidable".
Under the 1986 law granting this legal immunity, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) was set up to shift the cost burden from vaccine injuries away from the pharmaceutical industry and onto the taxpayers.
Naturally, parents are confused by this, and it certainly raises some legitimate questions.
The Poling family is among those who have been awarded compensation under the VICP.
In the case of Hannah Poling, the government acknowledged that
Now given the context of Gerberding's admission, note what Raptor is effectively arguing:
One could also argue that the fact you ran over a nail with your bicycle doesn't prove that the nail caused your flat tire - technically, it was the hole in the tire that did it.
Scientific American has commented on the Poling case by saying that "Theoretically, that makes sense" (that the vaccines triggered the cascade of events resulting in her autism).
In Hannah's case, her mitochondria, the "power plants of the cell", were,
Evidently, Scientific American is into "pseudoscience", too.
Another propagator of "pseudoscience" was Bernadine Healy, M.D., former director of the National Institutes of Health and president and CEO of the American Red Cross.
Before her death, she had come to challenge the official dogma, writing that as a trigger of autism,
But what about all those studies Raptor mentions that supposedly have proven there is no possible causal association between vaccines and autism?
As Healy also said in an interview,
When her interviewer pointed out that public health officials had been saying that,
Healy then offered another explanation for how confirmation bias can become institutionalized:
Healy also noted the lack of studies into - and lack of interest in studying - the possibility of some individuals having a genetic susceptibility to vaccine injury:
Hannah Poling's father, Jon Poling, who happens to be a neurologist, has made the same observation about both the institutional confirmation bias and the lack of studies examining the question of whether vaccines can cause autism in genetically susceptible children:
Then there's Dr. Frank DeStefano, who has acknowledged that "it's a possibility" that vaccines could trigger autism in genetically susceptible individuals.
Evidently, this CDC Director of Immunization Safety, who has coauthored several of the CDC's studies finding no link between vaccines and autism, is into "pseudoscience", as well.
The trouble is, DeStefano added,
Acknowledging the lack of studies in this area, he added that,
And here's the CDC's website, current as of this writing, on the lack of such studies:
When I contacted the industry-funded American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently to request them to provide studies that considered the existence of genetically susceptible subpopulations to support their claim that any association between vaccines and autism had been "disproven", the AAP provided me with a list of studies.
Not one of the studies provided by the AAP considered the possibility of a genetically susceptible subpopulation.
I pointed this out to the AAP, and I also pointed out that it isn't logically possible to say - as they had in their press release - that a hypothesis has been "disproven" when it hasn't even been studied.
I therefore then once more asked whether they could produce any studies that considered the existence of genetically susceptible individuals.
The AAP's response was that they had already provided all that they were going to provide.
When I asked whether the authors of the press release would like to comment, I was told by the AAP representative that she was going to hang up on me, which she promptly did.
Now, for good measure, let's turn to the medical literature on this question and look at a couple of papers written by individuals who can by no means be labeled "anti-vaxxers" to see what they have to say about the hypothesis that vaccines can cause autism in children who are genetically susceptible to vaccine injury.
Dr. Paul Offit and 'Poor Reasoning'
In a September 2008 paper in the journal Paediatrics & Child Health, Asif Doja argues against a causal relationship between vaccines and autism, yet acknowledges that "Mitochondrial disorders represent a rare cause of autism" - as well as the possibility that vaccines could cause fevers that in turn could cause encephalopathy (brain damage) and regression in individuals with mitochondrial dysfunction.
Doja is careful to emphasize that it is the fever that causes the encephalopathy, "not the vaccine itself". (It was the hole in the tire that caused it to go flat, not the nail, remember.)
Doja also argues that,
But this argument is a logical fallacy.
It's a non sequitur; the conclusion doesn't follow from the premise. It may be true that most patients with mitochondrial disease do not have an onset of symptoms associated with vaccination, but it does not follow that it is therefore "unlikely" that vaccines could be the necessary "trigger" in some children.
The title of Doja's article, "Genetics and the myth of vaccine encephalopathy", is a curious one, given how, despite his fallacious conclusion that it's "unlikely", Doja ultimately acknowledges the possibility that "fever associated with the vaccine" could provoke "the initial seizure" ultimately resulting in brain damage in genetically susceptible individuals.
Doja also cites another article, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, by Dr. Paul Offit.
So let's look at that one, as well.
Paul Offit is someone whose credentials as a defender of public vaccine policy are impeccable. He was sitting on an advisory board for the vaccine manufacturer Merck at the time he wrote that article.
Offit is also a former member of the CDC's vaccine advisory committee, a body that helps determine public vaccine policy. As a member of that committee, Offit advocated that the CDC recommend use of the rotavirus vaccine.
He later profited handsomely from the sale of a patent for a rotavirus vaccine.
Offit has made insane claims and is unafraid to brazenly lie knowing that, given the current climate surrounding the vaccine issue, his colleagues in the medical establishment will not hold him accountable for it.
For instance, he is famous for once claiming that children could safely handle 10,000 vaccines at once.
Another time, he declared that,
Offit is the director of the so-called "Vaccine Education Center" at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where he also holds the Maurice R. Hilleman Chair in Vaccinology, created in honor of the former senior vice president of Merck, which provided a $1.5 million endowment to "accelerate the pace of vaccine research".
Offit also happens to be the mainstream media's go-to guy when a comment is needed on anything related to vaccine safety.
When you read an article in the mainstream media about vaccines, there's a pretty good chance you'll find a quote from Offit in it (which says a lot about mainstream journalism).
He's been appropriately dubbed by Philadelphia magazine as "Mr. Vaccine".
In the New England Journal of Medicine, Offit describes what happened to Hannah Poling:
Offit goes on to argue that the government's decision was "poorly reasoned".
His first argument is that, while,
Compare this denial of Offit's to Doja's acknowledgment in his Paediatrics & Child Health article that,
Seizures are a recognized symptom of encephalopathy.
In fact, Offit himself just two paragraphs later acknowledges that,
Offit's second argument is that due to technological advancements, the combined schedule of fourteen vaccines children received in 2008 (the time of his writing) exposed children to fewer "immunologic components" than just the one smallpox vaccine from a century ago,
This argument, however, overlooks, among other things, that the immunologic components of the target antigen (i.e, the virus or bacteria the vaccine is designed to prevent the disease of) are not the only antigens contained in vaccines.
The smallpox vaccine did not contain aluminum or mercury, for example, both known neurotoxins contained in CDC-recommended vaccines today.
(Aluminum is used as an adjuvant in some vaccines to cause a stronger immune response than the target antigen would alone, and influenza vaccines that come in multi-dose vials still contain the preservative Thimerosal, which is 50 percent ethylmercury by weight. Other vaccines may contain "trace amounts" of mercury from the manufacturing process.)
As another example, vaccines can also contain contaminants, such as retroviruses.
This is not theoretical; numerous vaccines have been found to be contaminated with other viruses or viral fragments. Polio vaccines used in the late 1950s and early 1960s, for example, were contaminated with a monkey virus (simian virus 40, or SV40) that's been associated with an increased risk of some cancers.
In fact, the vaccine Offit himself helped develop, Merck's Rotateq, was found to be contaminated with pig virus DNA.
GlaxoSmithKline's rotavirus vaccine, Rotarix, was suspended from the market in 2010 because it was found to be contaminated with a pig virus.
Offit's third argument is that,
Offit's logic here rests essentially on the same fallacy as Doja's:
Offit further argues that Hannah's autism was caused by her mitochondrial disorder, not the vaccines she received.
This is like arguing that celiac disease is caused by a patient's HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 genes, not by gluten consumption.
Just as having the genetic predisposition,
...so it is that having a mitochondrial disorder does not necessarily mean that the child will develop autism; one or more environmental triggers are also required.
Amidst his protests against the conclusion that the vaccines Hannah received caused her autism, Offit nevertheless acknowledges the "theoretical risk" of "exacerbations" from vaccines in children with mitochondrial disorders and the absence of "data that clearly exonerates vaccines" in this respect.
As Hannah's father, Jon Poling, and three co-authors wrote in a case study published in the Journal of Child Neurology,
Now recall Raptor's admission,
In other words, despite his best efforts to obfuscate my point, Raptor tacitly acknowledges that what I wrote is true.
On 'the cancer-preventing HPV vaccine'
Another statement I quoted from Dr. Summers' Washington Post op-ed was:
In response, I wrote:
Raptor writes that here I am,
Raptor then declares that he "can point to several" studies in the medical literature that have shown that the HPV vaccine reduces the risk of cervical cancer.
In an attempt to support this claim, Raptor then provides five links. Turning to Raptor's very first source cited, we find a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Does this study show that the HPV vaccine reduces the risk of cervical cancer, as Raptor claims?
No, it does not.
The FDA and 'Surrogate Endpoints'
On the contrary, Raptor's source confirms what I wrote originally:
As Raptor's source observes:
That is to say, the FDA used what is called a "surrogate endpoint", defined as,
Fleming provides the remarkable example of the drugs encainide and flecainide.
Since these drugs were shown to be "very effective in suppressing" ventricular arrhythmias, which are "a known risk factor for sudden cardiac death", the medical establishment assumed that patients who took these drugs would have a lower risk of that outcome.
This raises an important point I overlooked when writing my rejoinder to Dr. Summers' Washington Post op-ed:
After all, if the vaccine, say, reduces the risk of cervical cancer while increasing the risk of death due to some other cause, then, obviously, it does not follow from the fact that it reduces the risk of cervical cancer that therefore it is a good idea to get the vaccine.
Also, while Fleming cites the example of pediatricians routinely resorting to antibiotics for ear infections, he might just as well have cited the argument given by the medical establishment and public policy defenders for why it would be unethical to do a study comparing autism rates (or other health outcomes, for that matter, such as autoimmune disease) for children vaccinated according to the CDC's schedule with children who remained completely unvaccinated.
No such study has been done because to withhold the vaccines from children, the argument goes, would be unethical since it would deprive children of the vaccines' benefits.
Just as those who believed that encainide and flecainide must be effective at lowering mortality based on a surrogate endpoint, so does this argument against doing vaccinated versus unvaccinated studies beg the question.
It assumes in the premise the very proposition to be proven (the petitio principii fallacy) - namely, that vaccines given according to the CDC's schedule are safe and effective.
The DTP Vaccine and Mortality
A stark example of this fallacy is found in the case of the DTP vaccine (which has been replaced in the US with the acellular pertussis vaccine, DTaP, but is still widely used elsewhere around the globe).
Since receipt of the vaccine has been shown to reduce the incidence of diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, the assumption has been that therefore mass vaccination with DTP will reduce mortality.
In fact, however, what studies show is that the DTP vaccine increases mortality.
The most recent of these, a study published in February of this year in the journal EBioMedicine, stated researchers' findings bluntly:
To return to Raptor's claim that the Journal of the National Cancer Institute study showed that the HPV vaccine prevents cancer, recall that it in fact confirmed what I had written about the FDA, which relied on a surrogate endpoint in its licensure of Gardasil.
Furthermore, this study in fact confirms what I wrote about why Dr. Summers would be unable to point to any such studies: because none exist.
As Raptor's own source states,
Hence we can see that Raptor's claim that this study showed that the HPV vaccine reduced the incidence of cervical cancer is a bald-faced lie.
It would be superfluous to examine the remainder of the Raptor's links.
On the Measles Vaccine
Summers had pointed out that one rare complication of measles is encephalitis, or brain inflammation, and then asked why any parent would risk their child becoming brain damaged by measles,
I pointed out that Summers' statement wrongly implied that encephalitis is not a possible adverse effect of vaccination.
I cited a couple of studies in the medical literature that have indicated that encephalitis is a rare outcome of measles vaccination, and I also pointed out that it's included on the list of possible adverse events on the product insert for Merck's MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine.
Raptor's response to my observation is to assert that I'm guilty of creating "a false dichotomy - either a vaccine is 100% safe or it's unsafe".
It's Raptor, however, who is here guilty of the fallacy of strawman argumentation.
Of course, I neither said nor suggested any such ridiculous thing. I merely observed - accurately - that Dr. Summers was characterizing the vaccine as though it was 100% safe.
Next, Raptor asserts that I think "that package inserts are some sort of infallible document" - another ludicrous strawman.
Raptor notes that,
That is true, and of course I hadn't suggested otherwise. I simply observed the fact that encephalitis is listed under the section listing possible adverse events on Merck's product insert.
So we can see how the very act of stating a fact in a context of questioning public vaccine policy automatically renders the person stating the fact a believer in "pseudoscience".
It's through such tactics that defenders of public policy attempt to stifle any form of dissent.
Raptor's next point is a valid one:
That is true.
It's also true that adverse reactions to vaccines are for numerous reasons widely underreported in the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), which was also established under the 1986 law granting vaccine manufacturers legal immunity (The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act).
But both of these facts are beside the point I was making, which is that it is dishonest to characterize vaccination as though it was a medical intervention that entails no risk of any serious harm.
Raptor rightly frames it as a question of weighing benefits versus risks. But this just bolsters my whole point, which is that the public ought to be properly informed of what those risks are rather than told they don't exist.
In Raptor's calculation, the benefits of the measles vaccine far outweighs any risks. But that's a decision that every parent should make for every child with every vaccine.
And there are countless other variables to consider to be able to make an informed choice that the public just isn't being informed about.
For example, parents aren't being informed that, just as studies show that the DTP vaccine has "non-specific effects" (that is, consequences that are unintended or unexpected) resulting in increased mortality, so have studies long found that natural infection with measles has non-specific effects that are beneficial.
Natural infection with the measles virus not only confers lifelong immunity against measles, but also seems to be an important childhood disease that primes the immune system to help protect against other diseases, as well.
Benefits of Getting Measles
This observation has led Mayo Clinic to experiment with using measles virus to treat brain cancer.
A study published in The Lancet in 1985 found a negative history of measles to be associated with an increased risk of developing,
A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the same year found that infection with measles is associated with a reduced risk of Parkinson's disease, suggesting "a truly protective effect of measles".
More recently, a study published in the International Journal of Cancer in 2013 found,
A study published in the journal Atherosclerosis in 2015 found that,
Dr. Summers naturally fails to disclose this kind of information in his op-ed so parents could do a proper cost-benefit analysis to determine whether vaccination is right for them.
One begins to see why studies have shown that parents who are choosing not to vaccinate their children, far from being unintelligent or "anti-science", tend to be well-educated and affluent.
It's the parents who choose not to put blind faith in an observably corrupt medical establishment that, rather than address their legitimate concerns, has shunned and ridiculed anyone who dares to question public policy, including parents of vaccine-injured children.
It's the parents who understand how bias can become institutionalized.
(No "conspiracy theory" is required to explain how the medical establishment could be wrong, though when it comes to "tobacco science", there is certainly an element of willfulness. Older generations may recall how advertisements for cigarettes used to feature doctors' endorsements, and it is not as though there wasn't an abundance of other examples where the medical establishment has gotten it wrong.)
It's the parents who are doing their own research, including by doing something most doctors and journalists can't seem to be bothered with: digging into the medical literature (which can be searched at PubMed.gov) to see for themselves what science actually has to say about vaccines.
Measles and Mortality
Raptor emphasizes that,
That is true. It is also true that the mortality rate from measles had already plummeted prior to the introduction of the vaccine.
This can be seen in the CDC data presented in the below graph (note that the vaccine was licensed in 1963, after the last year shown on this graph).
In fact, as an article in the journal Pediatrics notes,
Moreover, the risk factors for complications from measles, unlike the risks from the vaccine, are quite well understood - such as malnourishment and, most specifically, vitamin A deficiency.
This brings us to the next objection of Raptor's to my reply to Summers's op-ed. Summers had written:
Raptor asserts that I'm,
But that was precisely my point.
Dr. Summers was citing a statistic suggesting a mortality rate that would apply to other countries, but not to the US - a fact which Raptor here tacitly acknowledges.
Raptor claims Summers "wasn't trying to imply" that the mortality rate of measles would be the same in the US as it would be in developing countries.
One might wonder how Raptor can read Summers' mind, but it makes no difference because it isn't a question of intent. Whether intentionally or not, Summers did in fact imply just that.
In fact, it was in this very same paragraph that Summers noted that there is a risk of brain damage from measles and asked,
Summers was, of course, directing his question specifically toward American parents when he wrote that.
Raptor's next comment is,
So now, in addition to it being "anti-science" to point out the acknowledged fact that the mortality rate in the US would not be the same as in developing countries, it is also "offensive" to point out that Americans enjoy a higher standard of living.
Unintended Population Effects of Mass Vaccination
Among other factors that aren't taken into consideration in the risk-benefit analysis underlying public policy are unintended effects at the population level.
For example, one effect of mass vaccination for measles is that in the event of an outbreak today, the risk burden has shifted away from children in whom it is a generally mild disease onto those for whom it poses a greater risk of complications: infants.
This is because in the pre-vaccine era, most women experienced measles infection as a child and developed a robust cell-mediated immunity.
Frequent re-exposure to the virus also kept antibody levels high. Since antibodies are passed from mother to baby via breastmilk, breastfeeding provided a strong passive immunity to infants, who do not yet have a developed immune system to be able to handle the infection on their own.
Now, however, thanks to mass vaccination, mothers aren't as well able to confer immunity to their infants via breastmilk.
This is because the immunity conferred by the vaccine isn't as robust as that conferred by natural infection and wanes more quickly over time, and by reducing the circulation of the virus, the natural boosting of antibody titers from frequent re-exposure no longer occurs.
Thus, because mothers in the era of mass vaccination aren't as well able to pass protective antibodies on to their infants via breastmilk, in the event of an outbreak, infants are at a higher risk.
Raptor closes by describing my response to Summers' op-ed as consisting of,
It is fitting that Raptor should close with such words because, in the end, having failed to identify even a single error in fact or logic in anything I wrote, such empty rhetoric is all Raptor has got.
Rather than reasonably addressing my points, Raptor resorts to misrepresentation, strawman argumentation, obfuscation, and ad hominem attacks.
I am perfectly content to let intelligent readers decide for themselves, therefore, who is more "anti-science".
Such efforts to bully and intimidate people into conformity will ultimately fail, but there's a lesson in it: to dare to question public vaccine policy is a sin for which one must be rebuked.
It is to commit the crime of heresy against the vaccine religion.
The heretics, however, will not be intimidated.
We will not be silenced...