A Philosopher's Blog

Are Anti-Vaccination People Stupid?

Posted in Medicine/Health, Philosophy, Politics, Reasoning/Logic, Science by Michael LaBossiere on February 18, 2015
Poster from before the 1979 eradication of sma...

Poster from before the 1979 eradication of smallpox, promoting vaccination. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The United States recently saw an outbreak of the measles (644 cases in 27 states) with the overwhelming majority of victims being people who had not been vaccinated. Critics of the anti-vaccination movement have pointed to this as clear proof that the movement is not only misinformed but also actually dangerous. Not surprisingly, those who take the anti-vaccination position are often derided as stupid. After all, there is no evidence that vaccines cause the harms that the anti-vaccination people refer to when justifying their position. For example, one common claim is that vaccines cause autism, but this seems to be clearly untrue. There is also the fact that vaccinations have been rather conclusively shown to prevent diseases (though not perfectly, of course).

It is, of course, tempting for those who disagree with the anti-vaccination people to dismiss them uniformly as stupid people who lack the brains to understand science. This, however, is a mistake. One reason it is a mistake is purely pragmatic: those who are pro-vaccination want the anti-vaccination people to change their minds and calling them stupid, mocking and insulting them will merely cause them to entrench. Another reason it is a mistake is that the anti-vaccination people are not, in general, stupid. There are, in fact, grounds for people to be skeptical or concerned about matters of health and science. To show this, I will briefly present some points of concern.

One point of rational concern is the fact that scientific research has been plagued with a disturbing amount of corruption, fraud and errors. For example, the percentage of scientific articles retracted for fraud is ten times what it was in 1975. Once lauded studies and theories, such as those driving the pushing of antioxidants and omega-3, have been shown to be riddled with inaccuracies. As such, it is hardly stupid to be concerned that scientific research might not be accurate. Somewhat ironically, the study that started the belief that vaccines cause autism is a paradigm example of bad science. However, it is not stupid to consider that the studies that show vaccines are safe might have flaws as well.

Another matter of concern is the influence of corporate lobbyists on matters relating to health. For example, the dietary guidelines and recommendations set forth by the United States Government should be set on the basis of the best science. However, the reality is that these matters are influenced quite strongly by industry lobbyists, such as the dairy industry. Given the influence of the corporate lobbyists, it is not foolish to think that the recommendations and guidelines given by the state might not be quite right.

A third point of concern is the fact that the dietary and health guidelines and recommendations undo what seems to be relentless and unwarranted change. For example, the government has warned us of the dangers of cholesterol for decades, but this recommendation is being changed. It would, of course, be one thing if the changes were the result of steady improvements in knowledge. However, the recommendations often seem to lack a proper foundation. John P.A. Ioannidis, a professor of medicine and statistics at Stanford, has noted “Almost every single nutrient imaginable has peer reviewed publications associating it with almost any outcome. In this literature of epidemic proportions, how many results are correct?” Given such criticism from experts in the field, it hardly seems stupid of people to have doubts and concerns.

There is also the fact that people do suffer adverse drug reactions that can lead to serious medical issues and even death. While the reported numbers vary (one FDA page puts the number of deaths at 100,000 per year) this is certainly a matter of concern. In an interesting coincidence, I was thinking about this essay while watching the Daily Show on Hulu this morning and one of my “ad experiences” was for Januvia, a diabetes drug. As required by law, the ad mentioned all the side effects of the drug and these include some rather serious things, including death. Given that the FDA has approved drugs with dangerous side effects, it is hardly stupid to be concerned about the potential side effects from any medicine or vaccine.

Given the above points, it would certainly not be stupid to be concerned about vaccines. At this point, the reader might suspect that I am about to defend an anti-vaccine position. I will not—in fact, I am a pro-vaccination person. This might seem somewhat surprising given the points I just made. However, I can rationally reconcile these points with my position on vaccines.

The above points do show that there are rational grounds for taking a general critical and skeptical approach to matters of health, medicine and science. However, this general skepticism needs to be properly rational. That is, it should not be a rejection of science but rather the adoption of a critical approach to these matters in which one considers the best available evidence, assesses experts by the proper standards (those of a good argument from authority), and so on. Also, it is rather important to note that the general skepticism does not automatically justify accepting or rejecting specific claims. For example, the fact that there have been flawed studies does not prove that the specific studies about vaccines as flawed. As another example, the fact that lobbyists influence the dietary recommendations does not prove that vaccines are harmful drugs being pushed on Americans by greedy corporations. As a final example, the fact that some medicines have serious and dangerous side effects does not prove that the measles vaccine is dangerous or causes autism. Just as one should be rationally skeptical about pro-vaccination claims one should also be rationally skeptical about anti-vaccination claims.

To use an obvious analogy, it is rational to have a general skepticism about the honesty and goodness of people. After all, people do lie and there are bad people. However, this general skepticism does not automatically prove that a specific person is dishonest or evil—that is a matter that must be addressed on the individual level.

To use another analogy, it is rational to have a general concern about engineering. After all, there have been plenty of engineering disasters. However, this general concern does not warrant believing that a specific engineering project is defective or that engineering itself is defective. The specific project would need to be examined and engineering is, in general, the most rational approach to building stuff.

So, the people who are anti-vaccine are not, in general, stupid. However, they do seem to be making the mistake of not rationally considering the specific vaccines and the evidence for their safety and efficacy. It is quite rational to be concerned about medicine in general, just as it is rational to be concerned about the honesty of people in general. However, just as one should not infer that a friend is a liar because there are people who lie, one should not infer that a vaccine must be bad because there is bad science and bad medicine.

Convincing anti-vaccination people to accept vaccination is certainly challenging. One reason is that the issue has become politicized into a battle of values and identity. This is partially due to the fact that the anti-vaccine people have been mocked and attacked, thus leading them to entrench and double down. Another reason is that, as argued above, they do have well-founded concerns about the trustworthiness of the state, the accuracy of scientific studies, and the goodness of corporations. A third reason is that people tend to give more weight to the negative and also tend to weigh potential loss more than potential gain. As such, people would tend to give more weight to negative reasons against vaccines and fear the alleged dangers of vaccines more than they would value their benefits.

Given the importance of vaccinations, it is rather critical that the anti-vaccination movement be addressed. Calling people stupid, mocking them and attacking them are certainly not effective ways of convincing people that vaccines are generally safe and effective. A more rational and hopefully more effective approach is to address their legitimate concerns and consider their fears. After all, the goal should be the health of people and not scoring points.

 

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on February 18, 2015 at 9:51 am

    Just who are these anti-vaxxers, Mike? Why does their presence correlate with the presence of a Whole Foods in their community?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 18, 2015 at 1:16 pm

      They are often educated and affluent people, typically on the West coast.

      One can only infer the obvious: Whole Food is the cause. I go to Publix myself-Whole Foods seems to cost a whole lot more.

      • UnoRaza Back Up said, on March 3, 2016 at 8:34 am

        “vaccinations have been rather conclusively shown to prevent diseases”

        A widely known MYTH the largest pot of ‘evidence’ for which happens to coincide with the arrival of plumbed toilets and baths. Evidence also lined up with extreme epidemic outbreaks shortly following mass releases such as the 1918 epidemic following the war vaccinations.
        (Countries not having the vaccinations had NO OUTBREAKS. Good luck debunking that CLUE!)

        Is not germane the totally conclusive evidence Big pharma and their corrupted MD ‘authorities’:
        [well documented to kill more people than they cure, to bury and poo poo real cures that are economical.]

        1) Have been putting garbage ranging from Mercury to cellular matter from other than human organisms; recent string of doctors deaths appeared to correlate with another anti-human additive called nagalese.

        2) No longer test for safety their products and have been granted legal protections for the designed damages they inflict.

        Where’s the BEEF on this alleged ‘rather conclusive evidence’ for which you’ve taught us to demand?
        Should we now take your word for it? Is that not alluding to authority? ;D)

    • WTP said, on February 18, 2015 at 2:18 pm

      “Just who are these terrorists? Why do so many of them come from societies like the Arab world, Palestine, Iran, and such?”

      To which the obvious answer is “They are often poor and uneducated people, who lack jobs and economic opportunity.”

      Of course you won’t find many educated and affluent people who go to Publix.

  2. A said, on February 18, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    I agree with your observations. I believe this anti-vaccine movement is so much more prevalent and persuasive in the United States because of the issues we have with our current healthcare system. These problems you illustrated within the research and development, as well as lobbying and regulations, compound with the heavy costs and increasing density of this miasmic fog that shrouds the identity and focus of the healthcare system in the United States. Without the ability to see or understand the reasoning behind the healthcare systems focus on healthcare it’s bound to generate fear and skepticism.

    It’s difficult to materialize the root of the healthcare problem. Perhaps there are so many issues that it makes it difficult or impossible to find any solution to the problem other than a ‘slash and burn’ to reboot the system. Whether it is a financial, social, cultural, political, or geographical issue someone has with healthcare, it is clear the current system has issues that are becoming self destructive (or issues that exacerbate destructive outcomes).

    I’ll make an assumption here as to a possible reason for the rise in anti-vaccination. It isn’t the lack of trust people have in healthcare system but the lack of trust people feel the healthcare system has in them. It really doesn’t stop at trust either; compassion, respect, and support are all aspects that seem to be devoid from the system as a whole. Sure your PCP or local healthcare establishment is probably very concerned with your health and well being. Perhaps even your workplace and your local healthcare benefits liaison. But when an individual needs to use the ER, or call their PCP, or touch their health insurance they are at the mercy of the system as a whole. Perhaps being at the mercy of a system that strongly suggests a person be inoculated against disease but abandons that person if complications arise sends the wrong signal.

    The healthcare system is not a reward based system. It cannot be a reward based system. The healthcare system should be a preventative, maintenance, corrective, and repair system for humans. Instead it consistently appears as a money making venture. Why do we have the term ‘ambulance chasers’ for certain lawyers? Because there is money to be made in healthcare. Why do pharmaceutical companies chain up and lock away their secretes for life or death medicines? Because there is money to be made in healthcare. But if there is money to be made in healthcare why then is there a decrease in the number of practicing physicians? Why is there a risk that there wont be enough physicians to cover the population in 5-10 years? If there is money to be made, why wouldn’t more people want to become physicians? Because schooling to be a doctor, and maintaining their license and insurance has become expensive. Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements are dramatically falling. And indirectly affecting the healthcare system is the education system failing to nurture and develop the next generation of doctors and nurses.

    I’m sorry I haven’t provided statistics and sited references for my reply. Along with my own experiences, listening to the news and reading/listening to stories from friends, family, coworkers, and even complete strangers paints a fairly bleak picture of our healthcare system. Vaccination is clearly a corner stone to maintaining the health of our nation. If we remove it, the healthcare system cannot function. And while it does not function as well as I believe it should, this kind of reckless behavior does a disservice to those that depend greatly on even a moderately functioning healthcare system, where else can they turn?

    • Do you want to be treated or cured? said, on February 20, 2015 at 1:52 pm

      Colloidal silver, tumeric, coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, manuka honey, liposomal vitamin C, Vitamin D and K, etc, etc…. Natural Cures vs. Pharmaceutical Treatments

  3. ajmacdonaldjr said, on February 18, 2015 at 12:35 pm

  4. Pro-Vaxxer? Anti-Vaxxer? said, on February 20, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    In the entire article the only evidence provided is for the “anti-vaccine” standpoint. It’s so hypocritical and weird gaslighting to state the “anti-vaccine” standpoint has these *salient and reasonable points backed up by this evidence*; then to go on and refute all the “points” made without providing any evidence.

    The vaccine myth is falling apart, which is why pro-vaxxers are getting so weirdly aggressive with vaccines. Comply or be punished, is the over-riding mantra. Unless people are allowed to make unreasonable, irresponsible and unpopular choices, then there is no choice at all.

    The pro-vaccine standpoint doesn’t even make sense. Let me break it down; ‘We need everyone to get vaccinated so we have herd immunity, which begins at 95% vaccine rates.’ But according to the CDC’s own information, the adult population in the US is only 64% vaccinated. So why go after the children? Do children live in cities of only children, with zero contact to the adult population? “Herd immunity” will never happen, according to the CDC’s own numbers.

    This “debate” will never progress when pro-vaxxers use straw-man arguments and weird, illogical “science”, screaming at times that if you don’t believe in vaccines you don’t believe in SCIENCE!! “Vaccines work because…SCIENCE!” is a ridiculous, infantile and uninformed point of view. Unless you argue the points, you only point out that you are a fool.

    • Hysteria said, on February 20, 2015 at 4:41 pm

      Well stated. The article also ignores events where the government used vaccines as a guise to maliciously test other things. In the Tuskegee Experiment, the US intentionally infected airmen with syphilis while the airmen were under the impression they were being treated. But sssshhhhh, pro-vaxxers don’t want to talk about that.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 20, 2015 at 5:36 pm

        The fact that the Tuskegee experiments occurred shows that people will do awful things, but it does not show that the standard vaccines are actually a guide for malicious testing. To use the obvious analogy, the fact that some people are embezzlers does not prove that you are an embezzler.

        Do you have any evidence that, for example, the measles vaccine is a cover for injecting experimental material into an unwitting population?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 20, 2015 at 5:44 pm

      A look at the history of diseases like polio and measles shows that there are rather effective vaccines. While there are risks (people have been harmed by the polio vaccine), the risk is far less than the risk of the disease. Polio was a scourge before the vaccine was developed and now it is almost unheard of.

      Vaccines against viral infections are based on well-established biology regarding the immune system: the body “learns” how to defend itself by getting a “sample” of the enemy. Naturally, this does not work in all cases-the flu has so many rapidly changing strains that it is a problem and we have yet to develop a vaccine against some things. But immunization is reasonable well understood and is well grounded in the best science of today (which will, of course, be supplanted by the best science of tomorrow).

      I do agree it is wise to be concerned about medicine, but a general concern does not entail that specific vaccines do not work or are dangerous. To go with my usual analogy, the fact that it is wise to be a bit wary of people does not entail that you should be unduly worried that your trusted friends are trying to kill you.

    • jnhutchinson said, on February 20, 2015 at 5:53 pm

      “The pro-vaccine standpoint doesn’t even make sense. Let me break it down; ‘We need everyone to get vaccinated so we have herd immunity, which begins at 95% vaccine rates.’ But according to the CDC’s own information, the adult population in the US is only 64% vaccinated. So why go after the children? Do children live in cities of only children, with zero contact to the adult population? “Herd immunity” will never happen, according to the CDC’s own numbers.”

      I don’t understand your point. Lack of vaccination rates do not prove that vaccinations don’t work. Even taking your point at face value, do you believe that because something hasn’t happened yet we should quit trying? The CDC doesn’t think so and recommends increasing vaccination rates in adults. Quoting from the CDC: “Vaccination coverage levels among adults are low. Improvement in adult vaccination is needed to reduce the health consequences of vaccine-preventable diseases among adults and to prevent pertussis morbidity and mortality in infants”. To pretend we only “go after children” is disingenuous.

      Of course, vaccinating children is important because a) we want people to protected for their entire life b) it’s easier; children visit their doctor on a more regular basis than do adults.

  5. Anonymous said, on February 20, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    Where to begin… Also, why the hell am I even writing this.

    Michael, this is some substandard writing and argumentation. The world is complicated, but there is a huge amount that is known and described, and everyone should take the time to research and understand what they are considering, vaccines or otherwise (especially before writing a blog post). The vast majority of people are not scientifically literate, or critical thinkers. You have said a number of things to make me believe that you are not a very scientifically literate person. You might be a little bit, let’s say a C-minus to be generous, but you just say some things that boggle my mind.

    Why would you say “There is also the fact that vaccinations have been rather conclusively shown to prevent diseases (though not perfectly, of course).” “Though not perfectly, of course?” This to me implies that you think that there’s a better, perfect possibility. Of course, it’s a neat and safe mode of reasoning to think “there could always be a better one!” because it relies on anyone disagreeing with you disproving the existence of an unknown thing… as a philosophy-oriented person, you should see the problem in this.

    Also, your wording demonstrates an ignorance of biological complexity. The notion that there could be a “complete” prevention of “diseases” is in contrast to the nature of homo sapiens as multicellular eukaryotes and their intimate evolutionary relationship to viruses, which have co-evolved with eukaryotes, and continue to evolve. Life on earth is a phenomenon of continuing interdependent changes of informational molecules and their organisms in relation to the natural history of the earth and the other organisms. You speak as if you have a superficial understanding of biology.

    Some more points:
    — “However, it is not stupid to consider that the studies that show vaccines are safe might have flaws as well.” A straw man argument, and, ironically, a stupid one. You have to familiarize yourself with critical evaluation of evidence, and then you will understand the nature of evidence, of clinical trials, and of what is possible to demonstrate with clinical trials. It’s not the evidence’s fault that you (or anti-vaccinators) don’t take the time to actually point out flaws in the studies. Where are the faults? Let’s see them, instead of this mindless pandering to the possibility that they might exist.
    — “Given the influence of the corporate lobbyists, it is not foolish to think that the recommendations and guidelines given by the state might not be quite right.” What a cowardly non-statement to make, with no evidence to back it up. It IS foolish to think these evidence-based guidelines “might not be right” if you have NO evidence to believe so. Again, you present a dearth of meaningful data. Also, you sound like a conspiratorial high-schooler.
    — “Given such criticism from experts in the field, it hardly seems stupid of people to have doubts and concerns.” That guy you quoted was talking about nutrients. Your claim is that “A smart dude with degrees has doubts about how valid data in dietary science is for making recommendations about diet; therefore, ALL DATA IS CORRUPT”. I’m going to go ahead and downgrade you from a C-minus to a D for science here, and an F for writing “given that” you can’t stop saying “given that”.
    — Your numerous implications that “rational” equals “good”. Eugenics is rational to those who are doing it. For the perpetrators of genocide, it is rational. I think you mean “skeptical”, and even if you do, you can’t be skeptical about only ONE thing, that’s more bias then skepticism. You have to be skeptical about everything, and you have to do your homework. You can’t form an argument from just saying “everything has its flaws!” It is a cowardly, lazy, immature, and damaging approach, given that other people read what you write, and you just contribute to the cesspool of ignorance that is outthere.

    I think I have to stop soon. But, if you care, take the time to look up what I’m talking about. Also, just accept that you are incorrect and actively try to correct your ignorance, instead of thinking I misunderstood you. I understood you perfectly well, and you are wrong.

    Sincerely,

    Your local doctor procrastinating on reddit between seeing patients

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 20, 2015 at 6:33 pm

      Thanks for the ad hominems-I’m covering them in class next week and can always use new examples.

      To respond to your points in order:
      1. The “not perfectly, of course” is to acknowledge the fact that vaccines do not always work. I included this in anticipation that someone would accuse me of believing that vaccines are perfect. Nothing I said entails that I believe there is a perfect method, so why infer that?
      2. I never claim that there could be a complete prevention of disease. Where did you get that from? It is not in my essay. Having read enough sci-fi, I can imagine a world without disease…but it would be a fictional world. At least for now (and for the next, say, 500 years).
      3. That is not a straw man argument. Any inductive argument (and all studies/experiments are inductive) can yield a false conclusion from true premises because of the nature of induction. I know how studies work-I actually teach the subject. Also, you are actually repeating one of my main points: the fact that any study can be flawed does not entail that a specific study is flawed. Each study needs to be assessed on its own merits. So, you are (ironically) making a straw man of my position.
      4. Again, you are making a straw man of my view. My point is that it not stupid to have doubts (given what an expert has said about nutrition). But, the general doubt does not entail that a specific study or claim is false.
      5. Why bring in genocide? Where the heck did that come from? You seem to have misread my essay. What I say is not what you say I say. I am not sure if you honestly misread it or are just trolling-I’ll just assume an honest error.

      Here is my main point:

      The above points do show that there are rational grounds for taking a general critical and skeptical approach to matters of health, medicine and science. However, this general skepticism needs to be properly rational. That is, it should not be a rejection of science but rather the adoption of a critical approach to these matters in which one considers the best available evidence, assesses experts by the proper standards (those of a good argument from authority), and so on. Also, it is rather important to note that the general skepticism does not automatically justify accepting or rejecting specific claims. For example, the fact that there have been flawed studies does not prove that the specific studies about vaccines as flawed. As another example, the fact that lobbyists influence the dietary recommendations does not prove that vaccines are harmful drugs being pushed on Americans by greedy corporations. As a final example, the fact that some medicines have serious and dangerous side effects does not prove that the measles vaccine is dangerous or causes autism. Just as one should be rationally skeptical about pro-vaccination claims one should also be rationally skeptical about anti-vaccination claims.

    • wtp said, on February 20, 2015 at 7:26 pm

      We who are not a doc, salute you sir.

      Why the hell am I even writing this

      God sent you here, didn’t he?

  6. Glen Wallace said, on February 20, 2015 at 6:16 pm

    Is the study that started the belief that vaccines cause autism a paradigm example of bad science or is it just an example of how a politically subservient paradigm can succumb to the political power of a dominant paradigm? The question still remains: Is paradigm dominance largely a function of political power or epistemological power? And if someone within the mainstream scientific community presents a study that, if accepted, would result in a paradigm revolution, will the defenders of the existing paradigm be able to make the revolutionary study appear faulty even if it is sound?

    There certainly seems to be double standard in how the medical field handles evidence. For instance, when some parents note how their children present with some bizarre symptoms and behaviors minutes after being vaccinated, the mainstream medical community writes it off as worthless anecdotal evidence. But if those same symptoms were instead supportive of the dominant paradigm, then I’m sure the medical community would laud them as vitally important case histories that support the accepted theory.

  7. TJB said, on February 20, 2015 at 8:02 pm

    I suspect that the anti-vaxxers are mainly just selfish. They want to benefit from herd immunity without taking any risks themselves.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 21, 2015 at 6:42 am

      Some are-which is a fundamental error. After all, as the Disney case shows, not being immunized means that a person is at risk herself. So there is actually a very selfish reason to vaccinate one’s kids: so they do not get polio, measles, etc.

      But some people are honestly worried. Telling these people they are stupid will not help convince them to immunize.

      • T. J. Babson said, on February 21, 2015 at 10:38 am

        “After all, as the Disney case shows, not being immunized means that a person is at risk herself.”

        Too many selfish people and the herd immunity disappears.

        These are the same people who flash their headlights at you on the highway and think because they drive a BMW they own the road.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 21, 2015 at 12:36 pm

          True. But I would still get vaccinated in order to protect my own rump. That is rational self-interest at work. I know that a vaccine might have a side effect, but I try to go with the best odds. There might be, for example, a 1 in 100,000 (or whatever) chance that the vaccine will harm me, but if the odds of me getting something without it are “better”, then I’ll go with the vaccine. But, if the vaccine is worse than the disease or the odds favor going unprotected, the rational thing would seem to be to avoid the vaccine. That is why I would generally not get an experimental vaccine whose effects and efficacy are not known.

          Damn BMWs.🙂

  8. teslark said, on February 20, 2015 at 8:51 pm

    http://www.uscfc.uscourts.gov/vaccine-programoffice-special-masters

    most of the people writing about vaccines are bullshit artists who write about the topic de jure not knowing evne to do BASIC RESEARCH ABOUT THE SUBJECT.

    the u.s. already pays out approximately 100m of taxpayer money every year to cover succesful damage claims from vaccines in a special court setup by legislation in the 80’s to prohibit lawsuits against vaccine makers

    READ ABOUT IT IDIOTS.

  9. anon said, on February 20, 2015 at 8:56 pm

    Just another example of people needing protection from their own misguided beliefs. Immunizations help prevent disease. The benefit clearly outweighs the risk. Just like laws regarding seat belts, motorcycle helmets, sale of alcohol/tobacco to minors, government funding of birth control, collection of income tax by the government, government tracking of communicable diseases and even forced confinement for treatment of tuberculosis…it really doesn’t matter whether you believe in it or not, disagree with it or not, when it is clearly in the interest of the common good. I would gladly have a portion of my taxes go toward educating dissenters and enforcing immunization. I would not call anti vaxers stupid. I would say that they just ignorant and entrenched in their dangerous beliefs. The DEA raided a Waco compound for the same thing. But in the end it is just semantics, like the rest of philosophy, which is not a science. So you can argue all you want. I look forward to the day that people are dragged to municipal court and fined for not vaccinating their kids. If

  10. J said, on February 20, 2015 at 11:59 pm

    I think the main reason I have trouble buying the claims that “anti-vaccination people aren’t stupid” is that they *routinely* get really simple stuff incorrect. The average anti-vaccinationist is told that vaccines ‘contain formaldehyde’, and they happily believe it, without even checking to understand that it’s used in the manufacture of vaccines and not as an ingredient in the final product. The average anti-vaccinationist believes that vaccines contain formaldehyde, which is patently incorrect. The average anti-vaccinationist will go completely livid at the idea of hydrochloric acid or sodium hydroxide being used in the manufacture of vaccines, because they happily forgot that their high school chemistry class taught them that if you neutralize an acid or a base with these substances, you get water and salt. They’ll even happily believe that vaccines contain ground-up fetal tissue.

    Here’s another example, this one from Age of Autism:

    “Sucrose is used as a stabilizer [in vaccines]. Over-consumption of sucrose has been linked with some adverse health effects. The most common is dental caries or tooth decay, in which oral bacteria convert sugars (including sucrose) from food into acids that attack tooth enamel. When a large amount of foods that contain a high percentage of sucrose is consumed, beneficial nutrients can be displaced from the diet, which can contribute to an increased risk for chronic disease. It has been suggested that sucrose-containing drinks may be linked to the development of obesity and insulin resistance.”

    Thousands and thousands of people read this, and they see it as a legitimate problem. Can we really argue in full, straight-faced honesty that a person who can read that paragraph and not immediately see the problem is genuinely intelligent, rational, or informed? I really have trouble buying that.

    I understand that the adherents of the anti-vaccine movement are more educated than average, but that’s because it’s a hobby for the privileged. But ultimately, a reasonably intelligent, rational, and honest adult should be able to understand that vaccines don’t contain antifreeze or ground-up fetuses. If the anti-vaccine are capable of rationally and intelligently evaluating these claims, they simply are choosing not to do so.

    In all seriousness: Take a casual stroll through naturalnews.com or whale.to. This is literally where these people get their information from.

    • J said, on February 21, 2015 at 12:00 am

      “The average anti-vaccinationist believes that vaccines contain formaldehyde, which is patently incorrect.”

      This should say “contains antifreeze”, not formaldehyde.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 21, 2015 at 12:31 pm

        True-many of the claims used to justify the anti-vaccine views are, in fact, untrue. Weirdly, providing evidence that a claim is untrue often causes people to double down on the belief-this happens when the belief is a core part of the person’s identity. It happens quite often in politics. So, as a practical matter, this has to be considered when trying to correct erroneous core beliefs.

  11. Lenny said, on February 21, 2015 at 1:51 am

    “There are, in fact, grounds for people to be skeptical or concerned about matters of health and science”

    While this statement is true, it absolutely should not be stated in an article arguing for vaccination because it gives far too much credence to the ideas of anti-vaccination people. While there are lots of things that you could and should be critical about when it comes to health and science, vaccination is not even close to being one of them. Statistics are very clear about the success of vaccination, there is a lot of grey area in a lot of science, but there is absolutely none when it comes to vaccination. That is why anti-vaccination people are in fact stupid, because in the face of absolute evidence they rely only on paranoia and misinformation to control their decision making. That is practically the definition of stupidity, or at least irrationality. Trying to reason with unreasonable people gives far too much credit to them and their ideas, that is why simply calling them stupid is the best response to their beliefs.

    I’m all for people not getting vaccinations because it speeds up the process natural selection, but I do not believe they should be allowed in a civilized society because they are a risk to children too young to be vaccinated. They should be treated like the dangerous, psychopathic criminals that they are.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 21, 2015 at 12:29 pm

      Reasonable points.

      But, I think that taking the concerns of the rational folks who are worried about vaccines seriously is a first step to addressing their concerns in a way that might actually have an effect.

      The way to help a person with fears is not to tell them they are stupid or dismiss their fear. Presumably, they are really afraid and that has to be the starting point of dealing with their fears.

      I have found that being mean, hateful, dismissive or mocking tends to turn people off. So, I try to understand why people have the fears and beliefs they do. I might think they are wrong, but I do try not to be a jerk about it. I am not accusing you of being a jerk, just trying to explain why I do not want to call anti-vaccine people stupid.

      • Lenny said, on February 21, 2015 at 4:43 pm

        “rational folks who are worried about vaccines”

        You do realize how illogical that statement is, don’t you? I can’t believe those words in that order could come out of an intelligent persons brain. If you honestly believe such a human can possibly exists then you are in fact the one that is stupid. You have to dismiss such a vast amount hard evidence and accept such a vast amount of misinformation to not believe in vaccination, that such a person cannot be considered rational by definition.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 21, 2015 at 6:54 pm

          Lenny,

          One reason to be worried about vaccines is that they do have known side effects. Severe side effects are rare, but it is well worth considering the possibility. Doing so is hardly stupid.

          While some folks distrust the government, the CDC notes that “However, any medicine could possibly cause a serious problem, such as a severe allergic reaction. The risk of any vaccine causing a serious injury, or death, is extremely small.” That is certainly worth considering.

          They also add, perhaps to ally the fears of those who are worried, that “Like all vaccines, *** vaccines will continue to be monitored for unusual or severe problems.”

          Perhaps I am stupid, but I look at the warning labels of any medications (even OTC) that I take, plus I try to keep up with the current research as much as possible. For example, I don’t exceed the dosage for acetaminophen because “taking more than the recommended amount can cause liver damage, ranging from abnormalities in liver function blood tests, to acute liver, failure, and even death.

          There is a rather big difference between being worried about vaccines and not believing in vaccination.

          No need to call people stupid. That doesn’t help or add any value to the discussion.

          • Lenny said, on February 21, 2015 at 10:28 pm

            I disagree, I think calling someone stupid helps frame the argument properly which would add value to a third party being able to understand. It shows the other person displays a willful disregard of empirical evidence. You use the word stupid, perhaps we should say willfully ignorant instead? Maybe that will make you feel nicer, though they essentially mean the same thing though.

            Using your example, yes, there are extremely rare cases of side effects to getting vaccinated. That percentage is so small though that if we’re going to use that as the basis for our argument over the value of vaccinations then we ought to take into account you also need to get to the doctors office in order to receive the vaccination some how. Where I’m from you would probably have to get into a car to drive there. The probability of dying on the trip to the doctors office is exponentially higher than the chances of suffering a side effect from the vaccination. So in reality if you’re scared of the side effect of the vaccines you might as well wrap your entire body in bubble wrap and hide in a dark closet for the rest of your life.

            Do you think that is stupid? If so, then your argument is stupid. And calling it stupid helps frame the argument properly. If you’re fearful of vaccinations you should be mortified of car rides. Does that help you understand why your argument is so bad? You have to take into account the percentage chance of a negative side effect, there are so many things that you’re at risk of, that if you’re going to be scared of vaccinations, you cannot possibly function as a human being, you might as well live your life in a bubble. And would you really consider that living at all?

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 23, 2015 at 5:26 pm

              While I can certainly see the appeal in calling people stupid, I have found that it tends to be a poor way to open a conversation aimed at the truth. But, as you note, it does have some use in expressing what you think about a person.

              I never actually argue that the risk of vaccines exceeds their value. Assuming the statistics are right, for most people (those without known allergies or special issues) the established vaccines are a rational bet. After all, the odds of something really bad happening from an established vaccine is exceptionally low, etc.

              But, it is not stupid to consider the odds when something involves risk. After all, you did just that in your example: while the risk of driving is real, the odds of dying on the way to the doctor’s office is very low (but still not zero). In the case of vaccines, one mistake is (as you indicate) is that some people think the risk is much higher than it is-so they could be reasoning well with bad data. For example, if I think that something has a decent chance of killing me, it would not be irrational to be concerned about it. Now, if they are willfully ignorant about the odds, then that is another matter-then they would seem to be irrational and also probably acting immorally. Based on what I have seen from people who are willing to argue about the matter, they seem to think that vaccines are high risk. This would be, assuming they are wrong, a factual error and not an error of reasoning.

              I’ve never said I was scared of vaccines, so your comments are misdirected. I have had all my shots. I don’t have kids, but my husky has all her shots to-although she did have some minor side effects once. When the vet offered a new vaccine against Lyme disease, I asked about the possible side-effects, which hardly seems stupid. Since we run trails with lots of ticks, I decided to get the shot for her.

              While I enjoy hyperbole as much as the next person, you don’t have my view right. Also, you seem to be working with a false dilemma here regarding a person’s options. I can be concerned about side effects without living in a bubble. Going back to your driving example, I am actually concerned about the safety of driving-which is why I wear a seat belt, follow the traffic laws and drive carefully. The odds of death on the road are low, but why be…stupid?

  12. Soham Chowdhury said, on February 21, 2015 at 2:56 am

    While I agree, it is often very difficult for pro-vaccination people like you and I to convince people who have witnessed (what they consider) a vaccine-caused death firsthand. That, I think, is probably the greatest challenge one can face even when employing reasoned argument instead of name-calling.

    • Soham Chowdhury said, on February 21, 2015 at 2:59 am

      Commenting to get email notifications.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 21, 2015 at 12:24 pm

      True-if someone has seen his or her child suffering from a serious vaccine side effect, then that person might be difficult to convince. Also, they would have grounds for concern. While side effects tend to be very rare they do occur and it is small comfort to a parent to tell her/him that it was just a 1 in 100,000 occurrence.

      People usually do not make their choices on the basis of the actual statistics-we all tend to suffer from biases and easily fall victim to fallacies such as misleading vividness and hasty generalization. For example, I got really sick from some bad turkey once and avoided turkey for years-even though I knew the odds of turkey illness were extremely low. But, when thinking of the turkey induced adventures in vomiting I was swayed by the vividness and not the statistics.

  13. Anonymous said, on February 21, 2015 at 9:47 am

    Not buying it … They don’t have well considered points. It’s a particular kind of stupid we’re seeing more of every year where someone fixates on one particular risk or possible risk, losing all perspective of the overwhelming evidence and the overwhelming risk levels. It makes it worse that most people in the US have never seen the illnesses being vaccinated against (yeah for public health measures) and various media,especially the Internet, scream about every new study without fitting it into the context of reliability, scientific method or the greater body of research.

  14. Glen Wallace said, on April 17, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    “(those of a good argument from authority)”

    But is there anything that can accurately be described as a good argument from authority? If that were true, then wouldn’t it also be true that there is such a thing as a good ad hominem critique? After all, don’t both rely on the same epistemological foundation of the nature of the individual that happens to be presenting the argument or evidence rather than the argument or evidence in itself?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 20, 2015 at 4:17 pm

      There are good arguments from authority, but a good AfA is still not very strong. Believing, for example, what your trusted doctor or trusted accountant say because they are credible, honest, unbiased etc. would be a good argument from authority. But, of course, they could still be wrong.

      A good ad homimem critique, with a broad view of ad homimen, would include such things as considering the person’s credibility, bias, knowledge and so on. For example, being suspicious of a witness who was inebriated would be reasonable. However, even relevant facts about a person would (generally) not prove her claim to be false.

      But, you are right to note that appeals to the source as a basis of rejection or acceptance are weak arguments.

  15. Glen Wallace said, on April 17, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    Knowing the etiology, or cause of a particular medical condition, is notoriously difficult in the field of medicine. As a result the incidence of bad reactions from vaccinations may be greatly underestimated by the medical community. If some condition that did not exist prior to the vaccination appears soon after, or even not so soon after, a vaccination, it is very difficult to determine if the vaccination is the cause. Instead, personal bias and allegiance to a paradigm may be more of a factor in any etiological conclusions either way than any good scientific evidence. The anti-vaccination paradigm people will likely assign the blame to the vaccination whereas the pro-vaccination crowd will tend to assume something else is causing the particular malady and we just need to continue searching for a cause that they are convinced couldn’t possibly be the vaccine.

  16. Hal Marie said, on November 7, 2015 at 8:43 am

    I’ve heard much… however, I’ll stick to the flu shot today.
    FLU SHOT
    “They make you sick” — they contain DEAD viruses but you’re body still makes te antibodies to protect you
    “I got sick after the flu shot” — though it is possible to get slightly sick from the vacine itself, if you got the flu right after the shot, it couldn’t protect you as you were already infected, it takes 2 weeks to protect.
    “I didn’t get the flu and I didn’t get the flu shot” Maybe because the majority of people got vaccinated that year, also protecting you, and if there were more people like you, you couldn’t benifit.
    “My nurse said she wouldn’t be getting the flu shot” However, in many health systems it’s required. Perhaps she’s allergic to contents of the vacinne, maybe she’s pregnant?


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