Tag Archives: antivax

If Possessing Marijuana Is Child Neglect, What Else Should Be?

19 Aug
Ben's Gravatar

by Benjamen Johnson

The New York Times ran a story yesterday about a woman who had her son and niece taken away for possessing 10 grams of marijuana. This wasn’t even enough of the drug to be charged with a misdemeanor in New York City, yet it was enough for child welfare to take an decided interest. I was outraged that possession of marijuana alone could be grounds for child neglect. Put aside the dispute about the effects of marijuana and the damage the so-called “war on drugs” has wrought upon our society, there are so many other forms of child neglect that are far more dangerous and yet ignored by our society.

So after my initial rage subsided, I  started listing some of the pseudo-scientific practices I thought were more realistic signs of child neglect:

  1. Choosing prayer over medical attention
  2. Chelation therapy for autistic children
  3. Not vaccinating your children
  4. Treating serious illness with homeopathy

This is by no means a complete list, but notice what all the items have in common, they are actual forms of child neglect/abuse, in the best case they will endanger a child, and in the worst case they will kill him. Courts have a hard time removing children from homes that refuse them medical care, yet all it takes is 10 measly grams of marijuana and the kids are sent packing? What is wrong with this picture?

I submit that a parent who has exposed their children to any of the above practices poses a much greater danger to their children than a parent possessing marijuana. Unfortunately for now, the reality of the law seems contrary to this position.

I admit, most of the time the parents who subject their children to these pseudo-scientific practices are doing what they think is in the best interests of their children, and probably should not be in the same classification as parents who actually neglect or abuse their children. They are simply mistaken and should have our sympathy; it is easy to get taken in. But, unfortunately the results can be just as bad or worse.

Being Wrong is Alright

21 Jul

by Benjamen Johnson

Part of being a skeptic is learning to admit you’re wrong. This can be a hard thing to do when everything else in your being rebels against the rational side of your brain — it just  doesn’t come naturally. Coupled with a society where hardly anybody ever publicly admits to being wrong because they are afraid it’ll cost them their job, family, political career, or even open them up a lawsuit, makes admitting you’re wrong that much more difficult.

Yet admitting and owning up to being wrong is a important process, it is one of the processes that makes skepticism so powerful. When is the last time you heard a true believer say he was wrong, without some sort of qualification like special pleading or moving the goalposts?

I’ll admit I’ve been spectacularly wrong on many occasions. To name a few, I was a global climate change denier, I was fooled by the anti-vaxer “too many too soon” argument, and I bought several wackaloon theories about ancient peoples being much more advanced much earlier than archaeologists said they were.

What were some of the reasons it was hard to admit I was wrong on these positions?

  • It disturbed my world view
  • It would effect what I was already doing or make me do something I didn’t want to do.
  • The truth conflicted with what my friends and family believe
  • I was suffering cognitive dissonance — ignoring evidence that did not fit my views

Let’s take the too many too soon argument. After my daughter was born, we got a list of the shots she would be receiving and each which visit. Carefully going through the list, I was somewhat surprised at the number. I just couldn’t see how sticking a kid with a needle that many times could be healthy for them. Many of the immunizations I agreed with, but I remember the Varicella (Chicken Pox) and Hepatitis B vaccines stood out as two unnecessary ones. The chicken pox vaccine especially flustered me. I remember telling my wife that we both had Chicken Pox, there’s nothing wrong with a kid getting Chicken Pox, it’s part of being a kid.

Of course my bias affected how I researched the topic. I found sources that backed my predetermined opinion and disregarded the sources that conflicted it. So what made me change my mind? It wasn’t an immediate change, in fact we continued with the vaccination schedule as laid out by the clinic, because I begrudgingly deferred to my wife’s judgment and just didn’t feel like fighting the system. As time passed I became less emotionally attached to the opinion and the conflicting arguments started to make headway into my brain.

What’s important is that I now freely admit I was wrong so I can learn from the experience. By examining the reasons I was wrong, I have tools to evaluate other aspects of my life where I’ve been less than skeptical. Being wrong yourself also helps you learn to become more sympathetic with other people who hold non-scientific beliefs. You realize that if you can make mistakes or be sucked into plausible sounding pseudo-science that anybody can.

Minnesota Measles Outbreak Over, Officials Announce. No Thanks To Anti-vax Douchebaggery

11 Jun
Melissa Lee (a.k.a. LilaMae)

by Melissa Lee (a.k.a. LilaMae)

On June 9, Minnesota officials announced the state’s worst measles outbreak in years is over.

I was going to write a post about the measles epidemic, but I’m happy to say it’s been contained. Thankfully, no deaths occurred as a result of the outbreak.

No thanks to Andrew Wakefield and the anti-vax community.

Anti-vaxers are directly responsible for the fear mongering that led to this recent measles outbreak in the first place. Wakefield and anti-vax organizations like Generation Rescue & Autism One have been throwing fuel on the fire in the Somali community (where the measles outbreak originated) here in Minnesota.

Seen Here: Unconscionable douchebag

Some quick stats. For the past decade, MN has reported 0 to 1 cases of measles per year. As of May 2011, 23 cases have been reported. At least seven cases were in children too young to be vaccinated.

MN measles stats

The awesome anti-vax nonsense fighter & author of the book The Panic Virus, Seth Mnookin, points out this scary fact

Measles is the most infectious microbe known to man–it’s transmission rate is around 90 percent. It has also killed more children than any other disease in history.

I wonder if Dr. (ooops, my mistake)Wakefield’s aware of this?

The thing is, there seems to be an unusually high percentage of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder within Minnesota’s Somali community. Although at this point health officials say it’s “hard to tell whether the apparent surge of cases is an actual outbreak, with a cause that can be addressed, or just a statistical fluke.”

More from a 2009 New York Times article on this issue:

Antivaccine groups have noticed. In November, J. B. Handley, a founder of Generation Rescue, which advocates treating autistic children with wheat- and dairy-free diets, vitamins and chelation to remove mercury, wrote an open letter to “Courageous Somali Parents.”
He warned them not to trust the state health department and suggested they slow down their children’s shots and get exemptions to school vaccination requirements. He also offered to pay for some to attend an antivaccine conference.
The appeal has had an effect. Many parents, including Ayub’s, now say that their children’s autism began after seizures that started after they got shots.
“People in the Somali community have gravitated to that theory, and many are resisting immunization,” Dr. McLellan said.

Damn, this just grinds my gears.

And finally, from MPR News, reporter Rupa Shenoy writes:

All the Somali parents I spoke to at the meeting knew about Wakefield’s past But they said they would listen to anyone who might know something that could help their children.

That’s the hardest thing to fight. It’s completely understandable.

How To Argue With An Anti-Vaxer

27 May
Melissa Lee (a.k.a. LilaMae)

by Melissa Lee

I’m a skeptic. But I rarely “get into it” with people because I cannot seem to lightly sprinkle skepticism  into a debate. It’s either a firehose on full blast or it’s nothing. Suffice it to say it’s draining to engage in debate. Debating your woo means now I have the responsibility to choose my words extremely carefully if I’m to do justice to representing skepticism. I need to be clear and precise, I have to be on guard I don’t use logical fallacies, every point I present has to be backed up by solid evidence and so on.

So when I do engage, I switch into pretty intense mode – partly because now I’m angry I had to look up shit. And the snark doth cometh.

The following is one of the extremely rare occurrences when I chose to bring it to a Jenny McCarthy-supporting, anti-vaxer who pushed the wrong button. And I guess I had hours of free time to research my rebuttals.

Note: The names have been changed to protect the bitch-slapped.


Tad Crotchsniffer: Some of what she’s [Jenny McCarthy] questioning is sound. If you think the medical community is practicing sound risk/benefit analysis based on empirical evidence then you need to do some additional research.

Me: Really, Tad? I think we’d be interested in seeing this research.

Tad Crotchsniffer: Research? Get this book; it was even written by a doctor so then it must be true, right?


The problem with current vaccination recommendations is that we now vaccinate for a lot of diseases that aren’t particularly dangerous or statistically risky. For efficiency’s sake they also like to bundle a lot of it up and administer multiple vaccines in one visit. We got a small fraction of the vaccines when we were kids that they’re getting now…

The long-term effects of administering so many new vaccines in a short time period cannot be known. Over this same period of escalated vaccine use autism rates are soaring. There might not be a connection, but it seems reasonable to at least exercise some caution. There could be many reasons for increased autism (industrial food, pollution, genetics) but don’t think there’s no hard science/logic to question this stuff. Don’t be a tool. Question authority.

Oh no he had di int

And so…my rebuttal to Tad Crotchsniffer’s argument. Whether or not you agree with me, hopefully I can at least refute Tad’s implication that I am a “tool” that does not “question authority”.

“Research? Get this book; it was even written by a doctor so then it must be true, right?”

OK Tad, if you really do question blind acceptance of authority, and you weren’t just being kind of a snarky douche there, I assume you’re open-mined enough to read an article that contains a skeptical analysis of the ideas of your hero, Dr. Sears.


“Failure to put a tidbit of information into proper context is the worst kind of deception.”  If you deconstruct Dr.Sears’ fence-riding, specious arguments, you’ll find that his ideas are ultimately misguided and dangerous.

“The problem with current vaccination recommendations is that we now vaccinate for a lot of diseases that aren’t particularly dangerous or statistically risky.”

They’re not particularly dangerous or risky BECAUSE WE HAVE VACCINES FOR THEM. And the only evidence Dr.Bob provides to back up this claim in his book is from his own personal anecdotal experience. “I, like, hardly ever saw it in all my years of practice” is not statistical evidence. (Especially when you work in private practice as opposed to an ER)

“For efficiency’s sake they also like to bundle a lot of it up and administer multiple vaccines in one visit.”

This is another one of those statements that seems to be implying something sinister but is not actually stating anything. Is this implying the vaccinations should be spaced out more? Based on what? And how about the inefficiency of requiring more office visits for the parents? Wouldn’t more office visits mean more chances of kids getting an infectious disease from other kids?

“We got a small fraction of the vaccines when we were kids that they’re getting now.”

Yes, BUT….even though the number of vaccines have increased, the total number of antigens in those vaccines have decreased (due to improved vaccine technology). So children are getting less of an antigen challenge today than 20 years ago. There is no evidence nor any reason to believe that the vaccine schedule is unsafe or that the number or timing of vaccines is too great. This is just a convenient assumption.

“The long-term effects of administering so many new vaccines in a short time period cannot be known.”

That’s pretty misleading, since vaccines are tested in larger numbers of children for longer periods of time than any medications on the market. And wait, I thought it was the old vaccines that were considered dangerous. So they’re ok now and it’s the new one’s that are bad? Or are they just bad in a vague, nonspecific way? I’m confused.

“Over this same period of escalated vaccine use autism rates are soaring.”

Correlation does not equal causation. (<—- Memorize this line right here)

Study after study has shown consistently that there is no link between autism and vaccines. But on the topic of correlation, do you want to know what else mysteriously took place during that same time period? A major expansion of the diagnostic criteria for autism in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. In fact, autism is now being referred to as “autism spectrum disorder”. An increased public awareness and doctor vigilance have contributed to a major increase in autism diagnoses. This is strongly supported by the fact that autism diagnoses have increased at the same rate in ALL age groups, from children to teenagers to grown adults to even the elderly. Did THEY all get autism from vaccines?

“There might not be a connection, but it seems reasonable to at least exercise some caution.”

Logically, there is no place for “exercising of caution” regarding vaccination. You either vaccinate or you don’t. To say “exercise some caution” is just a pussy way of saying don’t vaccinate without actually saying it.

“There could be many reasons for increased autism (industrial food, pollution, genetics) but don’t think there’s no hard science/logic to question this stuff. Don’t be a tool. Question authority.”

There is no empirical scientific evidence that supports the idea that vaccines are unsafe in any way, it’s all just fear mongering. Anyone claiming to have scientific data to back up their nefarious claims is either cherry-picking facts, siting some discredited study, or simply presenting fraudulent data.

Meanwhile there are more and more outbreaks of easily preventable childhood diseases (measles, mumps, whooping-cough) occurring all over the world and that’s unquestionably real. So how about not focusing on what some quacks think might be happening and focus on what’s actually happening?

Here’s another article about increasing autism rates amongst Somalians in Minneapolis. Interesting, no? http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/01/health/01autism.html?_r=2&th&emc=th

Yeah, that one narrow study that was based on “… very limited data” whose authors “…did not examine children or their medical records” and is based on the medical diagnoses of “some school evaluators”. That’s iron clad.

I also love press articles that equate parents’ observations with scientific data.

And if it’s a study, than it must be true, right?

EDIT: I wish to note that “Tad” was, and is actually an acquaintance of mine (not just a stranger I chose to put the smack down on) and we have since made nice. He has also come around on the antivax issue after I pointed him in the direction of actual research. So… the story does have a happy ending.
Hopefully that makes me less of a dick. 😀