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Nine differences between “us and them,” nine straw men burning

I’ll start this post by admitting right up front: I blatantly stole the idea for the title of this post from Mark Crislip’s most excellently infamous post Nine questions, nine answers. Why? Because I really liked that post and felt like it. Also, there seems to be something about the number nine among anti-vaccine zealots: Nine “questions.” Nine circles of hell.

Nine straw men.

I’m referring to an amazing post that appeared on the anti-vaccine crank blog Age of Autism over the weekend by contributing editor Julie Obradovic entitled The Difference Between You and Me. In this post, Julie describes not one difference, but nine differences, that she perceives between herself (and, apparently, by generalization other parents who have become believers in the myth that vaccines cause autism) and people like SBM contributors and (I hope) the vast majority of our readers, who support science-based medicine, understanding that correlation does not necessarily equal causation and that, most importantly, science not only does not support the belief that vaccines cause autism but provides us with copious evidence that there almost certainly no link between the two. Actually, there are more than nine differences, as Ms. Obradovic packs multiple apparently related differences around each of her nine “differences” and then complains that Alison Singer and, apparently by generalization the rest of us who support SBM and oppose the anti-vaccine movement, misrepresent the reasons why she and her merry band of anti-vaccine activists reject the science that has failed spectacularly to validate their deeply held belief that vaccines cause autism and all sorts of other health consequences. Her post ends up being a collection of straw men constructed to Burning Man size, each of which she then applies a flamethrower of burning nonsense to with self-righteous gusto.

Although no doubt Ms. Obradovic won’t see it that way, the reason I chose her article as an introduction for this post is not to pick on her (although if you look at her other posts on AoA, particularly her equally large city of straw men entitled How to Actually Save the Vaccine Program) she certainly deserves some picking on for her combination of pseudoscience, logical fallacies, and straw men). Rather, it’s because her collection of straw men are highly illustrative of what supporters of SBM have to deal with when dealing with pseudoscience and quackery. Ms. Obradovic’s “nine differences” may be all about vaccine-autism mythology and victimization that those mean and nasty scientists don’t take her beliefs seriously, but they could be about almost any form of non-science-based medicine. If you don’t believe me, do this simple thing. Wherever Ms. Obradovic writes “vaccines,” insert your favorite woo du jour and then channel the all-purpose quackery crank site Whale.to or NaturalNews.com. It doesn’t work for all of them (the part about the government “mandating” vaccines, for instance), but it works for enough of them to show my point.

Another reason why I’m going to discuss Ms. Obradovic’s collection of massive straw men peppered with other logical fallacies is that her attitude is not unique. What she writes demonstrates some key attitudes and belief systems towards science and points out many of the obstacles that those of us who try to promote science over pseudoscience, whatever the field, be it vaccines or any other area of quackery or pseudoscience, must address and overcome.

Straw men on flame with logical fallacies (apologies to Blue Öyster Cult)

Ms. Obradovic appears to be very incensed about a talk that Alison Singer, President of the Autism Science Foundation, arguably the only truly science-based autism charity in existence at the moment, and she uses a talk by Singer that was lambasted by Generation Rescue big macher J.B. Handley in three parts, as her jumping off point:

I am growing increasingly tired of the real reasons there is such controversy regarding vaccines and Autism being misconstrued to make me look pathetic. Alison Singer’s attempted explanation at Yale earlier this month (HERE) is a perfect example.

Contrary to what she suggests, our differences are not due to the internet. They are not due to desperation or the traumatization of having a child with Autism coupled with the need to blame someone. They are not due the media or the anti-establishment-toxic-earth movement. They are not due to the dismissive attitude of society and physicians who for years believed bad parenting was to blame. They are not due to an inability to simply accept clear science. They are not due to lack of an education or ability to think rationally. They are not due to being taken advantage of. They are not due to the cult of celebrity.

Wrong. Sorry. Not even close.

Actually, all of the above are excellent partial explanations for why parents like Ms. Obradovic refuse to accept science and continue to believe that vaccines cause autism. The reason Ms. Obradovic “looks pathetic” is not because some cabal of scientists are trying to make her look pathetic; it’s because she does an excellent job by herself of making pathetic arguments.

As I pointed out above, the rest of Ms. Obradovic’s post is structured as nine descriptions of what scientists and those of us who accept the science that doesn’t support her belief that vaccines cause autism believe, and her responding, “I don’t,” followed by a heapin’ helpin’ of what she does believe. Unlike Mark’s post, I’m not going to cover each and every one of these fallacies one by one in detail the way Mark did. I will note that upon rereading the post I just realized that Ms. Obradovic forgot a #3, disobeying the rule regarding the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch: “Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three.” Of course, Ms. Obradovic has two straw men #5; so it all evens out to nine straw men again.

So let’s start with straw man #1:

1. You believe the government (the Department of Health and Human Services) has the legally protected right to research, develop, patent, license, supervise, judge, approve, recommend, mandate, and profit from a product (vaccines) that they produce in partnership with a private entity (the pharmaceutical industry). You further believe they have the right to simultaneously oversee the quality, safety and efficacy of this product, and that they objectively do so. You even further believe that they have the right to fund and conduct studies used to defend their product and policy in a court that they serve as judge and jury over in the event you are harmed by it; and moreover, that if they do find in your favor, they have the right to award you compensation at their discretion using money that was secured by a tax you paid on the product when you purchased it and/or were mandated to use it. And finally, you believe this should be protected by law; that neither the government nor the private entity should be held criminally or financially responsible for negligence in the event it maims or kills you.

I don’t.

See what I mean? Straw man #1 is in reality several straw men prefaced by misrepresentation of Ms. Obradovic’s opinion as fact. The fct is that the government does by law have the power to fund the development of vaccines, purchase them for government-run vaccination programs, and recommend them. Note also how Ms. Obradovic is specifically castigating the federal government (DHHS is a federal, cabinet-level department) when in reality the federal government has relatively little power to mandate vaccines in the civilian sector. (If you don’t believe that, check out how few Americans were vaccinated against H1N1 last year despite a massive government effort to persuade Americans to be vaccinated). It is the state and local governments that set specific vaccine mandates required of children. True, they usually use the recommendations made by the CDC and AAP, but it is not primarily the federal government that “mandates” vaccines.

As for compensation, Ms. Obradovic is referring to the Vaccine Court. While it is true that the government requires that claims against vaccine manufacturers first be adjudicated through the Vaccine Court, as has been described on this blog and elsewhere, the Vaccine Court is actually a complainant-friendly venue, where the Daubert rule for scientific evidence is usually not enforced and it is not necessary to prove negligence. Moreover, for purposes of the Vaccine Court, there are a set of “table injuries,” which are in essence recognized potential complications from vaccines that are automatically compensable. These injuries are simply assumed to have been from vaccines, based on science documenting these as potential complications from vaccines. Also, unlike regular courts, the Vaccine Court will pay attorney’s fees and reasonable expenses even to losing petitioners. A petitioner need only demonstrate that the petition was filed in good faith and that there was a reasonable basis for the claim, the idea being to make it as easy as possible for ordinary citizens to seek compensation for vaccine injuries without incurring huge legal bills or being unable to find a lawyer to represent them on a contingency basis. Indeed, attorneys like Clifford Shoemaker have made quite the cottage industry of bringing claims before Vaccine Court, knowing that their expenses will be paid, win or lose. Finally, if an action fails in Vaccine Court, the parent is perfectly free to pursue it in the regular courts.

What straw man #1 reveals is that, like many supporters of pseudoscience and crankery, Ms. Obradovic views science and the government as being arrayed against her, all in cahoots with big pharma. Whatever the short comings and misbehavior of big pharma, some of which I’ve personally documented right here on this very blog, cranks like Ms. Obradovic go far beyond reasonable concerns about big pharma, as we will see.

On to straw man #2:

2. You believe the only protection the consumer needs to be afforded in the aforementioned situation is trust. People should simply trust that those given such enormous power and protection are honorable, ethical, and responsible human beings with families of their own who would never abuse it or put profit over safety primarily because they are smart, went to prestigious medical institutions, and are at the top of their field. You do trust them. And you trust that there are just too many of them involved to all be bad, somehow making the system safe from corruption based on numbers. This is the one point people rely on to debunk the “conspiracy theorists”.

I don’t.

First of all, trust is earned. So is respect. I don’t care what letters you have after your name. You’re smart? Great. So am I. I’m not impressed, nor am I intimidated. Smart doesn’t mean ethical. And some of the smartest people I know are also those with the least common sense.

Does this sound familiar? It’s very much the same anti-intellectual attitude that J.B. Handley once bragged about. Here’s a hint for Ms. Obradovic. Being “smart” isn’t what matters. “Common sense” isn’t what matters. Understanding and accepting the scientific method and how science works does. Ms. Obradovic honestly seems to believe that the reason the scientific community doesn’t accept her wild beliefs that vaccines cause autism is because of a lack of ethics, plus the government, big pharma, and scientists being all in some grand conspiracy, not because the scientific evidence doesn’t support her belief. Unlike the case for scientists, it never occurs to Ms. Obradovic that she might be wrong or that the reason her belief that vaccines cause autism are not taken seriously by scientists is because, well, she is wrong. But not just wrong, spectacularly and arrogantly wrong about the science. It is the the pure arrogance of ignorance, born of anti-intellectualism.

In brief, I’m not in the least bit impressed by Ms. Obradovic’s trumpeting of her being so “smart.” She has not earned respect in any scientific discussion–quite the contrary. She has proven time and time again that she does not know what she is talking about when it comes to science and that her emotion and distrust of science trump all. Contrary to Ms. Obradovic’s apparent belief that the science behind vaccines is rotten to the core, in actuality it is scientists, not misguided conspiracy mongers like Ms. Obradovic, who point out the shortcomings in the vaccine program.

Next, I’ll skip ahead a bit, because it’s a lot more of the same ranting about the government and the scientific community, and it can all be boiled down to straw man #5-1 (given that there are two straw men #5) anyway:

5. You believe the science funded and conducted by the DHHS, pharmaceutical companies, vaccine patent holders and government witnesses (there exists no widely accepted study without this level of participation and conflict) thus far on the potential role between vaccines and the onset of Autism Spectrum Disorder and other health outcomes (for which they will be held accountable) is objective and adequate as it stands right now in both quantity and quality to dismiss a link between the two.

I don’t.

There is not enough space in this article to explain why, but a detailed explanation can be found through the series of articles I wrote here at Age of Autism on the 14 Studies. I’ve read, analyzed and presented every single study multiple times. What you call clear science, I call crap. And no, I’m not willing to accept crap when it comes to my child.

The problem is, of course, that Ms. Obradovic doesn’t have the background to determine whether a scientific study is “crap” or well-designed, well-executed, and reliable. It is the arrogance of ignorance once again asserting itself. In addition, it is a straw man to claim that we supporters of SBM believe that the science “funded and conducted by the DHHS, pharmaceutical companies, vaccine patent holders and government witnesses” is adequate because there’s so much more than evidence funded by the U.S. government. There’s more to the world than just the United States, you know. There have been many studies not just in the U.S., but in several other countries, including Denmark, Canada, the U.K., Japan, Italy, and elsewhere that have failed to find a link between thimerosal in vaccines and autism or between vaccines and autism. Surely all these countries can’t be in on the conspiracy, can they? A much more accurate way of saying this, without the intentional use of the logical fallacy of poisoning the well, is that the totality of the scientific and clinical evidence, when taken as a whole, does not support a link between either thimerosal in vaccines and autism or between vaccines and autism. In contrast, by mentioning the execrable Fourteen Studies website, Ms. Obradovic demonstrates that what she views as “good science” is any science that reinforces her belief, no matter how biased it is or poorly designed and executed, as Steve Novella, Mark Crislip, and I have all demonstrated in our deconstructions of that particularly misinformation-packed Generation Rescue-sponsored propaganda effort. Let’s just put it this way. Anyone who doesn’t easily see through the distortions and misinformation in the Fourteen Studies website has forfeited any claim to an understanding of scientific studies adequate to make grandiose statements about the validity of existing science, such as what Ms. Obradovic makes in straw man #5-2:

5. You believe everything about Autism is a coincidence: the dramatic rise in incidence; the parallel increase in vaccinations given at the same time; the similarities to mercury poisoning; the ratio of boys to girls; the identification of this new disorder in 1943; the timing of the onset of symptoms; the anecdotal evidence of parents; the original CDC findings; the recovery of children who are treated medically; and more.

I don’t.

Science is rooted in observation, and yet, every observation here listed is casually tossed aside as a cosmic lining up of the stars. There is nothing scientific about calling all of this coincidence and explaining it away with unproven excuses (see your list in the second paragraph)…and crap.

This particular straw man demonstrates a misunderstanding of epidemiology so profound as to be beyond belief. In actuality, Ms. Obradovic’s “observations” are nothing more than the blatantly obvious confusing of correlation with causation. As has been pointed out time and time again, mercury poisoning and autism do not resemble each other that strongly. The “dramatic rise” in autism incidence can be largely (although it is unclear if it can be completely) explained by widening of the diagnostic criteria and diagnostic substitution. Also, an example I’ve used before is the Internet. The rise in Internet use beginning in the early 1990s very closely parallels the rise in autism diagnoses and autism prevalence. Surely, by Ms. Obradovic’s logic, the Internet should be just as plausible as a cause of autism as vaccines.

She’s also dead wrong that the hypothesis that vaccines cause autism has been “casually tossed aside” as coincidence. In fact, scientists have studied extensively vaccine safety, looking for a linkage between vaccines and autism, largely driven by the concerns of mothers like Ms. Obradovic. They haven’t found any. In fact, I can retort that one difference between someone like Ms. Obradovic and someone like me is that she doesn’t understand that correlation does not equal causation and that, when science has failed to find a linkage between two things, when that the most likely explanation for any linkage between the two is coincidence. It’s a really hard concept for most people to accept, particularly when they have an emotional investment in a claim of causation, but it’s true. Confusing correlation with causation, confirmation bias, and a number of other cognitive factors conspire to prevent people from easily accepting that sometimes bad things are a coincidence.

One excellent example came from an article about the H1N1 vaccine using the example of H1N1 vaccination and heart attacks.Given that there are this number of people having heart attacks each and every day, during the months when so many people were being vaccinated against H1N1, it was inevitable that there would be dozens, if not hundreds of coincidences a day in which something bad happens to a person after having the H1N1 vaccine. If you’re one of those people, it will seem all the world as though the vaccine caused the badness to happen. It’s not because these people are stupid or ignorant; it’s because, not knowing the expected rate of these coincidences, most people assume that the rate of coincidence is far lower than it truly is. They assume that the rate is close to zero, that such a coincidence would be rare, but that assumption is wrong when dealing with large numbers.

Yes, that’s one difference between Julie Obradovic and me. I understand that. She doesn’t. She thinks herself to be too “smart” ever to make the mistake of mistaking correlation for causation. One of my favorite movie quotes of all times comes from, of all places, a Dirty Harry movie, specifically, Magnum Force. In it, Dirty Harry Callahan says at one point, “A man’s got to know his limitations,” and at another point, “A good man always knows his limitations.” This applies to women as well as men, and Julie Obradovic doesn’t know her limitations with respect to science. From my perspctive, if Obradovic’s world view were more accurate than mine, if big pharma really did have the power to fake research findings all over the world, I’d have to wonder: Why bother to put all those alleged “toxins” in vaccines? Why not use homeopathic vaccines, something harmless but ineffective, and then make up evidence to make it look as though they work?

I think that, in the end, the difference between Ms. Obradovic and someone like me, a supporter of science-based medicine, is that there is evidence that, if produced, would change my mind about whether or not there is a link between vaccines and autism, and I know what that evidence would have to be right now. All it would take would be a couple of well-designed, well-executed, well-analyzed epidemiological studies showing a strong link between vaccines and autism. Produce those, and I would start to reconsider my position. Or, as Tim Minchin put it so brilliantly about homeopathy in his nine minute beat poem Storm (please be warned that Minchin is fond of the f-word):

Science adjusts its beliefs based on what’s observed
Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved.
If you show me
That, say, homeopathy works,
Then I will change my mind
I’ll spin on a fucking dime
I’ll be embarrassed as hell,
But I will run through the streets yelling
It’s a miracle! Take physics and bin it!
Water has memory!
And while it’s memory of a long lost drop of onion juice is Infinite
It somehow forgets all the poo it’s had in it!

You show me that it works and how it works
And when I’ve recovered from the shock
I will take a compass and carve Fancy That! on the side of my cock.

The same goes for me and not just homeopathy, but the belief that vaccines cause autism. I’d be embarrassed as hell for having been wrong, and I might resist changing my mind for a while, but eventually science would win out, and I’d realign my beliefs to conform with science. I would, however, abstain from bringing any sharp instruments anywhere near my genitals, and I’m not sure if I’d go running through the streets yelling, “Vaccines cause autism!” I would, however, write about it right here on SBM, minus the use of the f-word. In contrast, there is clearly no evidence that will ever change Ms. Obradovic’s fanatical belief that vaccines cause autism. Just try asking her if you don’t believe me.

The question that remains is: Why do people like Julie Obradovic refuse to accept the science that shows that vaccines are safe and effective and that they are not associated with autism? I’ve already pointed out one reason: Failure to understand that correlation does not equal causation, coupled with failure to let go of a belief that isn’t supported by science. Obviously, though, that alone is not sufficient to explain the intensity of her reaction.

Next week (or the week after if something comes up that catches my fancy), I’ll consider mechanisms by which we protect irrational beliefs from science.

Posted in: Public Health, Science and the Media, Vaccines

Leave a Comment (79) ↓

79 thoughts on “Nine differences between “us and them,” nine straw men burning

  1. eskrav says:

    I don’t know if this has been covered already, but regarding parents’ conviction that their children regressed immediately following a vaccination, I thought that a bias towards ‘time compression,’ when a causal link between two events is rightly or wrongly perceived, may also have partial explanatory value: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20438218

  2. Adam_Y says:

    I’ve always wondered if there was someway to twist their ignorance on their head to make them self destruct. Take the issue of using material safety data sheets as evidence of danger. The problem with that is that they are only supposed to be interpreted on an industrial scale otherwise they start becoming nonsensically insane. Nitrogen is classified as being just as dangerous as acids that are famous for eating through bone.

  3. daedalus2u says:

    To me, the mark of a professional and of a real expert; of any kind of professional or any kind of real expert; is to know the limits of your expertise.

    If you don’t know enough to know what the limits of your expertise are, then you are not an expert, you have not even reached the level of a novice.

  4. Robin says:

    …check out how few Americans were vaccinated against H1N1 last year despite a massive government effort to persuade Americans to be vaccinated

    I think you’re wrong about this. Did you forget about the massive shortage of shots?

    Last fall, getting a vaccine if you were:

    1) not a health care professional

    2) not in a priority group

    was nearly impossible until very late in flu season when the flu was practically gone.

    I saw news footage of local DOH run clinics. People stood for hours in the rain to get their shots.

    Maybe the numbers tell a different story but I think you have to take them in context.

  5. vexorian says:

    You’re smart? Great. So am I. I’m not impressed, nor am I intimidated. Smart doesn’t mean ethical. And some of the smartest people I know are also those with the least common sense.

    I see this pattern everywhere in regards to anti-vax and homeopathy. I sometimes wonder if these guys do the things they do and believe in the things they do just to bolster their egos.

    See, I am smarter than the average parent, I don’t get my kids vaccinated.

  6. lizditz says:

    Excellent deconstruction, Dr. Gorski.

    Obradovic wrote in her article that citizens should be

    ashamed of ourselves for being so intimidated by infectious disease

    I’d like her to meet
    four families in California

    our newborns have died from whooping cough – two in Los Angeles County and two in the Central Valley.

  7. Robin, I second the point about h1n1 vaccines. I tried many avenues to get my 4 and 6 year old children h1n1 shots in the fall and early winter, there was nothing available short of going to a crowded room and waiting in line for 2 or 3 hours with two very active kids. At one point our ped did have some, but my children weren’t considered high risk enough.) They were not available until the incidence of h1n1 were on the decline. We did get the shot when they became available, but by that time it was pretty much pointless.

    Likewise when I asked hospital workers about it (OT, SP and office worker) they said they had not been able to get the shots because none where available to them yet.

    Yet it seemed that most of the science medicine sites had at least one article emphasizing how terrible it was that people might reject this vaccine, that was not available for people to get. Grrr, bit of a kerfuffle there.

  8. lizditz says:

    Oh man. Julie gets some great, evidence-based commenters, too:

    Kristina writes

    Vaccines or no vaccines, my children will not die of whooping cough, diptheria, tetanus, mumps, rubella. They will not go deaf or become infertile from measles. They will also not develop autism. Because I have protected them, by avoiding all vaccines.

    And I am proud of that fact. Because I understand how science works. And I am grateful to the people who warned me and got me looking into the science before I had kids.

  9. nitpicking says:

    Interestingly, my own doctor had a plentiful supply of H1N1 vaccine, I didn’t have to wait at all for my shot. Long Island, NY.

    Why, I wonder, were delays so long elsewhere?

  10. David Gorski says:

    I was referring to how there were huge numbers of vaccine doses left over:

    http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/story?section=news/health&id=7388630
    http://www.fox4kc.com/health/wdaf-story-health-h1n1-vaccine-leftovers-050510,0,3784005.story

    Early on, it’s true. There were shortages. But once vaccine production was ramped up, those shortages disappeared. A lot of people still didn’t bother to get vaccinated:

    http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/news/20100401/1-in-4-americans-got-swine-flu-vaccine

  11. Pareidolius says:

    Nine strawmen burning,
    eight lies a lying,
    seven swarms of measles,
    six crappy studies,
    fiiiive wheat free caaaakes,
    four lumbar punctures,
    three fallacies,
    two chelation drips
    and a Wakefield without an M.D.

  12. Doctor Gorski – But I wonder how much of that was because h1n1 cases were tapering off by the time the vaccine was widely available? Our ped basically told us that it was pointless to get the second shot (for the kids) because by the time the second shot was due, there were no h1n1 cases in our area and there have been none reported since then.

    My guess is many people thought there was no point in getting a shot that is only effective for one season at the end of the season.

  13. shawmutt says:

    Nitpicking, you wrote “Why, I wonder, were delays so long elsewhere?”

    There were many issues with trying to get millions of doses of the novel H1N1 vaccine done while still trying to produce the regular flu vaccine. I know the company I work for had issues with getting the usual seasonal workers in early, and then ran into issues when trying to get the second fill/finish line up. Near the end of the campaign we had folks working 12 hour shifts, around the clock, seven days a week to try and keep up with demand.

    This doesn’t include the mistakes that were made. Something as simple as paperwork caused us to have to recall an entire lot. Another lot was recalled when the efficacy of the vaccine dropped below tolerance too soon.

    All in all it was a display about how horrible our response to a pandemic is. Thankfully this strain wasn’t as deadly as it could have been.

  14. pmoran says:

    Julie Obradovic quoted: “You believe everything about Autism is a coincidence: the dramatic rise in incidence; the parallel increase in vaccinations given at the same time; the similarities to mercury poisoning; the ratio of boys to girls; the identification of this new disorder in 1943; the timing of the onset of symptoms; the anecdotal evidence of parents; the original CDC findings; the recovery of children who are treated medically; and more.”

    David, despite its incoherence and superficiality, this kind of material has to make many uncomfortable about vaccinating their children, especially combined with a justifiable suspicion that doctors and most social institutions will support vaccination even if at a risk of injury to a few individuals. We know also how most patients will preferentially avoid potential immediate risk over potential future risks. Mothers don’t need to be certain one way or the other to become sloppy with vaccinations.

    So, satisfying as it can befor author and reader, the above kind of veiled ad hominem towards antivaxers is not my cup of tea. especially on a supposedly science-based forum. I would prefer a reasoned, patient, chipping away, chipping away at the specific points with simple explanations as to what the available data is really able to say. There is a lot of material that does this on this blog, but it quickly becomes difficult to find and it is only sporadically updated.

    I like this blog, but wonder if there could be an even better source for those wanting to know why the scientific community thinks the way it does on this and other issues (which is all we can do — the public sees science as a servant, not a master). A site with durable but updatable articles on specific subjects similar to wikipaedia might be the thing. Much of the material is already here, merely not easy to get at.

  15. nitpicking says:

    pmoran, calling someone what he/she is is not an ad hominem. The phrase does not mean “insult”. The ad hominem fallacy is saying that a proposition is wrong because a particular person asserts it. Dr. Gorski has not done that–he has in fact done the opposite, asserting that certain antivaxers are unethical and/or dangerous because of the propositions they assert. The propositions are false because the evidence says so. Continuing to assert them is evidence of a second proposition, that the asserting person is either stupid, irrational, or evil. No fallacy.

  16. pmoran says:

    Nitpicking, this would seem to meet your understanding of ad hominem — “The problem is, of course, that Ms. Obradovic doesn’t have the background to determine whether a scientific study is “crap” or well-designed, well-executed, and reliable.”

    But let that drop. My main concern is how to have reliable information easily and constantly available for those who wish to consult “us”.

  17. Adam_Y says:

    Nitpicking, this would seem to meet your understanding of ad hominem — “The problem is, of course, that Ms. Obradovic doesn’t have the background to determine whether a scientific study is “crap” or well-designed, well-executed, and reliable.”

    No. An ad hominem is calling someone an idiot and saying that therefore their argument is crap. Pointing out how someone’s argument is flawed and then afterwards calling them an idiot isn’t.

  18. Adam_Y says:

    So, satisfying as it can befor author and reader, the above kind of veiled ad hominem towards antivaxers is not my cup of tea. especially on a supposedly science-based forum.

    Just out of curiosity what do you find a veiled hominem?

  19. weing says:

    “I would prefer a reasoned, patient, chipping away, chipping away at the specific points with simple explanations as to what the available data is really able to say. ”

    I think that this has been tried and it does not work as pointed out by Steve Novella recently in his blog about the barriers to the acceptance of science. Educating the public in how to figure out if someone is a trustworthy expert is worth a try. I would recommend the use of Alvin Goldman’s five kinds of evidence as mentioned in Nonsense on Stilts.

  20. pmoran says:

    (I thought I might get some support on this.)

    Adam_Y, basically, to me it is attacking of the man and not the ball.

    This is an opinion piece which stands or falls on the reliability of Dr Gorski’s opinions on autism and vaccines (which I accept), from which will follow the worthiness or unworthiness of Ms Ogradovic’s. It is weakened by the emphasis on the personalities involved rather than “how can we know the truth?”.

    Take the laboured point about correlation not indicating causation. That is true, but equally in the reverse.

    Our main point, surely, is that there IS no true temporal correlation between the two, either on a population or an individual basis. My understanding is that it is not even clear that autism rates have increased over any relevant period. In a few sentences supported by references the main lynch pins of the vaccine-autism belief can be refuted.

    The public still has to decide where to invest their trust. I suspect they expect sound scientific advice to be delivered without much reference to personalities.

  21. David Gorski says:

    David, despite its incoherence and superficiality, this kind of material has to make many uncomfortable about vaccinating their children, especially combined with a justifiable suspicion that doctors and most social institutions will support vaccination even if at a risk of injury to a few individuals. We know also how most patients will preferentially avoid potential immediate risk over potential future risks. Mothers don’t need to be certain one way or the other to become sloppy with vaccinations.

    So, satisfying as it can befor author and reader, the above kind of veiled ad hominem towards antivaxers is not my cup of tea. especially on a supposedly science-based forum. I would prefer a reasoned, patient, chipping away, chipping away at the specific points with simple explanations as to what the available data is really able to say.

    Jumpin’ Jesus on a pogo stick, Peter! What do you think I’ve spent the last two and a half years doing here and the last five and a half years doing at my other blog, if not chipping away at each of those points ad nauseam in excruciating and at times tedious detail? I’m sorry if you didn’t like the strident tone of this particular post, but sometimes wrongheadedness such as that of Ms. Obradovic has to be called for what it is and countered, and at times illustrating such attitudes is a legitimate thing to do because it shows supporters of SBM what we’re up against. Sometimes the tone may be a bit harsh, although I don’t recall your being quite so upset just the other day when Mark Crislip, for example, entitled a post Lying liars and their lying lies. Don’t get me wrong; as I’ve said before, I love Mark’s posts. He is, however, in general far more sarcastic and cutting than even I usually am. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t have the guts to entitle a post on SBM “Lying liars and their lying lies.”

    In any case, I can’t be expected to reinvent the wheel with each and every post or to keep repeating a detailed “chipping away” each and every time I discuss the belief that vaccines cause autism. If you really want refutations of each and every point there, detailed explanations of why correlation does not equal causation, etc., etc., I can provide copious links both from this blog and my other blog going back as far as five years, some of them repetitive because I’ve written about these topics so prolifically and so many times. If that’s not enough, I can provide copious links to posts by other SBM bloggers going back to the very beginning of this blog.

    I mean, really.

    If you don’t like this week’s post, perhaps you’ll like next week’s better, where I plan on following up in a more general fashion what sustains such anti-science attitudes based on actual peer-reviewed research.

  22. windriven says:

    pmoran is correct about the meaning of ad hominem. There are two meanings in general use; one suggests an appeal to emotion rather than to reason, the other suggests an attack on an individual rather than on an argument.

    I’m not sure that I would agree however with this:

    “Take the laboured point about correlation not indicating causation. That is true, but equally in the reverse. ”

    S/he seems to be arguing that cause and effect are not necessarily correlated; a cognitively dissonant assertion.

    “A site with durable but updatable articles on specific subjects…” misses the point. Wikipedia does address these issues. But the point of a blog is more than the mere dissemination the latest digit added to the known value of pi. It is also to shape and focus opinion.

    It seems to me (and I have absolutely nothing to base this on but my personal impression of comments) that many of the commenters on this blog are scientists though not necessarily physicians. I, for one, read this blog to understand some of the issues facing general medicine today. If I didn’t I would barely be aware of the anti-vax movement and would probably have written it off as a corollary belief held by no more than a few dozen snake handlers in Tennessee.

    I also appreciate the wit that most of the bloggers bring to their columns. Humor, even biting satire, has a place in technical discourse. And this brings us around full circle. One man’s ad hominem is another man’s satirical caricature.

  23. David Gorski says:

    Take the laboured point about correlation not indicating causation. That is true, but equally in the reverse.

    Our main point, surely, is that there IS no true temporal correlation between the two, either on a population or an individual basis.

    Actually, only the first would be the right point to make. The second, not so much.

    On an individual basis, there is sometimes temporal correlation. That’s the problem. Whenever large numbers of children are vaccinated, by random chance alone there will be a not insignificant number of instances of children regressing in reasonably close temporal proximity. As I’ve written before, both here and elsewhere ad nauseam, on an individual level, such a regression can appear all the world as though the vaccine caused it. It is only on the population level, where no higher incidence of regression is observed with vaccination than without, where it is possible to see that apparent correlations between the timing of vaccination and timing of regression are in fact coincidences. This is what Ms. Obradovic uses as her jumping off point to incorrectly characterize what scientists say about autism as “everything being a coincidence.” Yes, the word “coincidence” is used, but it is only used after carefully ruling out on a population level any evidence of a linkage between vaccines and autism.

    I’m guessing that by inserting the word “true” temporal correlation you are trying to imply there is no causation. While it is correct that there is no causation, it is not true that there is no correlation on an individual level. If there weren’t, there wouldn’t be a problem! There are enough incidences of apparent temporal correlation at the individual level to keep the myth of causation alive. That’s why parents, seeing only their child and the temporal correlation, so easily leap to the conclusion of causation. That was the reason that I made my apparently oh-so-”laboured” point about correlation and causation and have done so on multiple previous occasions.

  24. David Gorski says:

    No. An ad hominem is calling someone an idiot and saying that therefore their argument is crap. Pointing out how someone’s argument is flawed and then afterwards calling them an idiot isn’t.

    Exactly, although I didn’t call Ms. Obradovic an “idiot.” I simply pointed out that she doesn’t have the background to tell good science from “crap,” her claims otherwise notwithstanding. I believe there is copious evidence in this post to support such an opinion. Ms. Obradovic may be as smart as she proclaims herself to be (heck, for all I know her IQ may even be higher than mine!), but she demonstrates that she has little understanding of science and a lot of the arrogance of ignorance.

  25. pmoran says:

    David: “There are enough incidences of apparent temporal correlation at the individual level to keep the myth of causation alive.”

    It is my point that it is only a “apparent” temporal correlation, a frankly false one in the case of at least a few of the mothers who once attributed mental abnormalities to a specific vaccination episode.

    Do we, then, need to evoke a rule which only applies if there IS a correlation? I don’t know, we can argue further if you wish, but it has to get messy once we get too far away from specifics : “these are the facts, and this is what we think they mean.”

    I sense that it is counterproductive for us to be trying to shoot/undermine the messengers rather than explaining why they are being misled by information that might mislead many reasonably intelligent people. We need to remember that we always speak from a highly privileged intellectual position.

    If there is an autism epidemic and scientists don’t know for sure what has caused it, why might the present spate of vaccines not be seriously looked at as a possible cause? What other changes have there been recently? Don’t tell me autism is genetic (the argument will go) our genes cannot have changed much over these decades. When, in addition, some distressed mothers are claiming a strong temporal association with vaccines, why would there not be concern?

    I think it is an overly dismissive tone that I am reacting to. It is not unreasonable that vaccine concerns have been aroused. We need to respect that, and respond to those concerns directly, even if it is difficult to understand the rigidity and the sometimes foolish arguments of the extremists that infest any emotive cause.

  26. zed says:

    @daedalus2u

    An Expert is Someone Who Knows More and More About Less and Less Until He Knows Absolutely Everything About Nothing.

  27. Apparently I’m in a “me too” mode, but I generally agree with pmoran. To me, the article, overall, comes across as more of a personal attack than laying down of the evidence and the logic to educate. Yes, you can use humor, even cutting humor. But I think in this article there were informational opportunities lost in order to be cutting. Whole long paragraph seem to be written to explain why and how you are going to put down Ms. O.

    As to the comparison to Dr. C, well generally, I find him funnier and warmer sounding. I usually get a chuckle out of his articles, which makes the cutting parts go down easier. Can I prove he is, nope. Welcome to the world of subjective creativity.

    Anyway, the article reads more as a vent than a argument that is meant to convince. As a blog, the writer has the prerogative to vent, but there is no way that I would direct a friend who had concerns about vaccines to this blog, mostly because I’m afraid they would be put off by the “venting” and listen to the evidence.

    Sorry to sound harsh, I really enjoy many of your article’s Dr. Gorski. This is more of an exception.

  28. Adam_Y says:

    If there is an autism epidemic and scientists don’t know for sure what has caused it, why might the present spate of vaccines not be seriously looked at as a possible cause? What other changes have there been recently? Don’t tell me autism is genetic (the argument will go) our genes cannot have changed much over these decades. When, in addition, some distressed mothers are claiming a strong temporal association with vaccines, why would there not be concern?

    I think we have found ourselves a concern troll. Anyone who claims to have read this blog on a regular basis would immediately know why there is no autism epidemic.

  29. pmoran, a concern troll? That does not seem indicative of the posts I’ve read by that commenter before. I read that quoted phrase to be demonstrating a hypothetical reader’s thought process “if there is such and such, then they conclude such and such”. That is why (jeesh I can’t remember is pmoran is he or she) they used the phrase – so the argument will go.

  30. weing says:

    I had the same impression, that he was simply voicing the lay person’s thinking process. On the other hand, where does one draw the line in calling it a personal attack when one just shows the fallacy of someone’s thinking?

  31. On the other hand, where does one draw the line in calling it a personal attack when one just shows the fallacy of someone’s thinking?

    Well this sentence ” But not just wrong, spectacularly and arrogantly wrong about the science. It is the the pure arrogance of ignorance, born of anti-intellectualism.

    In brief, I’m not in the least bit impressed by Ms. Obradovic’s trumpeting of her being so “smart.”

    says more personal than just showing someone’s fallacy to me. (oh look, ironic quotes). I think that some of the reader’s who are not Ms. O but may need some convincing, may have quite innocently come to (or been convinced of) some of the same conclusions as Ms O’s. So, when they read this line they are going to empathize with Ms O and feel they are being called wrong, spectacularly and arrogantly wrong.

    That feels personal and it’s hard to bring someone over to your side after that. Just IMO, though.

  32. Scott says:

    On an individual basis, there is sometimes temporal correlation. That’s the problem. Whenever large numbers of children are vaccinated, by random chance alone there will be a not insignificant number of instances of children regressing in reasonably close temporal proximity.

    Strictly speaking, this would be more properly described as “coincidence” than “correlation”. In order to be an actual temporal correlation in the technical sense (as opposed to the colloquial), regressions would have to happen in close proximity to vaccination more often than random chance would predict.

  33. Dragging fallacious thinking out into the light of day is more measured and fact-based and is useful to the uninformed reader.

    Stating that smart but convincing-sounding people make mistakes because they aren’t scientists sounds like another way of saying that laypeople shouldn’t think for themselves. This is not empowering to the vast majority of people on the internet who are laypeople. It is also not true.

    We should think for ourselves — but how? About what?

    What are the tools in the bullshit detector kit that will allow a layperson to figure out when there’s a problem? What are the red flags that a layperson can see? If a layperson wanted to follow up on the red flags, what steps would they take?

    How can a layperson recognize a straw man? We’ve all had experiences with medical professionals during which we felt patronized; we’ve all had experiences when medical professionals made mistakes or showed seriously flawed judgement. The former shouldn’t be true but too-often is; the latter is just reality.

    Given that we know that doctors can be misguided jerks, and we need to be able to challenge them in these situations in order to advocate for ourselves, how can we recognize the woo-sters’ straw men? Someone in the field can recognize a straw man easily. Someone outside… much less easily. How should we go about it?

    Illustrations help. Woo-ster X says that TMICs* say Y terrible thing. Ok, so it’s not true. (Either they don’t say it or it’s not terrible.) What do TMICs really say? Why is it soo much more interesting than what the woo-ster is saying? Because the truth is more interesting, always.

    * Tools of the Medico-Industrial Complex

  34. weing says:

    I’ve heard it said that you catch more flies with honey than with manure but I’ve not seen any experimental data on it.

  35. David Gorski says:

    Strictly speaking, this would be more properly described as “coincidence” than “correlation”. In order to be an actual temporal correlation in the technical sense (as opposed to the colloquial), regressions would have to happen in close proximity to vaccination more often than random chance would predict.

    Fair enough, and I actually (mostly) agree, but it is the very word “coincidence” that led to a big part of Ms. Obradovic’s screed. When you use the word “coincidence,” it goes against every fiber of human psychology when parents see two events temporally related one following the other, and leap to the fallacy of confusing correlation with causation. It comes across as very “dismissive,” and, as Peter has been lecturing me, we mustn’t be too “dismissive,” must we?

    Actually, if I could think of a better way of describing this phenomenon other than using “coincidence” (which is too “dismissive” sounding) or “correlation” (which gives too much of an impression that there might actually be a causal relationship), I would. But I can’t. Maybe a better person than I can.

  36. Scott says:

    Put that way, I have to agree that you have a point. The technical and colloquial meanings of the terms don’t really match up conveniently here.

  37. Adam_Y says:

    says more personal than just showing someone’s fallacy to me. (oh look, ironic quotes). I think that some of the reader’s who are not Ms. O but may need some convincing, may have quite innocently come to (or been convinced of) some of the same conclusions as Ms O’s. So, when they read this line they are going to empathize with Ms O and feel they are being called wrong, spectacularly and arrogantly wrong.

    So pointing out how someone basks in their own stupidity is mean how? Her definition ignores the reason why science is more than just observation based. A concept that a six year old would not have a problem understanding. And before you whine about how mean I’m being I’ve actually seen six year olds grasp that concept using a two story van de graaf generator. Its actually provides one of the most interesting examples of confirmation bias and errors in observation that are around in science.

  38. David Gorski says:

    If there is an autism epidemic and scientists don’t know for sure what has caused it, why might the present spate of vaccines not be seriously looked at as a possible cause? What other changes have there been recently? Don’t tell me autism is genetic (the argument will go) our genes cannot have changed much over these decades. When, in addition, some distressed mothers are claiming a strong temporal association with vaccines, why would there not be concern?

    I’m really confused here. These are topics that we (predominantly–but not limited to–Steve Novella and myself) have covered over and over and over and over again right here right from the very beginning, carefully, patiently, and in detail. Sometimes I think we cover the topic so much relative to its overall importance that we risk boring our readers.

    I think it is an overly dismissive tone that I am reacting to. It is not unreasonable that vaccine concerns have been aroused. We need to respect that, and respond to those concerns directly, even if it is difficult to understand the rigidity and the sometimes foolish arguments of the extremists that infest any emotive cause.

    I find it curious that this post is the first one that I can recall where you’ve become this disturbed at a post of mine with an “overly dismissive tone.” Let’s take a stroll back down memory lane to a couple of examples. First, let’s quote Ms. Obradovic from the article that I took on:

    First of all, trust is earned. So is respect. I don’t care what letters you have after your name. You’re smart? Great. So am I. I’m not impressed, nor am I intimidated. Smart doesn’t mean ethical. And some of the smartest people I know are also those with the least common sense.

    Because my response to this part of Ms. Obradovic’s post seems to have disturbed you more than any other part of my post, I propose going back to an excerpt from a little rant by J.B. Handley:

    I’m not intellectually intimidated by any of these jokers. Their degrees mean zippo to me, because I knew plenty of knuckleheads in college who went on to be doctors, and they’re still knuckleheads (I also knew plenty of great, smart guys who went on to be doctors and they’re still great, smart guys).

    I chose a different path and went into the business world. In the business world, having a degree from a great college or business school gets you your first job, and not much else. There are plenty of Harvard Business School grads who have bankrupted companies and gone to jail, and plenty of high school drop-outs who are multi-millionaires. Brains and street-smarts win, not degrees, arrogance, or entitlement.

    Pretty much the same anti-intellectual, anti-elitist broadside against scientists and doctors, right? Pretty much the same dismissal of scientists in favor of “Google University” education, right? My response was:

    In other words, to J.B., it’s all about “elitism.” He honestly seems to believe that the reason the scientific community doesn’t accept his wild beliefs that vaccines cause autism is because of elitism and groupthink, not because the scientific evidence doesn’t support that belief. Unlike the case for scientists, it never occurs to him that he might be wrong or that the reason he is viewed with such disdain among scientists is because, well, he is wrong. But not just wrong, spectacularly and arrogantly wrong about the science. As both Steve and I have pointed out, it is the arrogance of ignorance.

    As you can see, I used very much the same sort of phraseology as I did with Ms. Obradovic (hmmm, perhaps a little too close and my response resembled my previous work a little too closely; maybe I should think of some new catchphrases), and I think I was even “dismissive” in the rest of my response to J.B. than I was with Ms. Obradovic. Yet, I saw no evidence that this older post upset you for its tone. Maybe you never read it. Or maybe you did and didn’t respond. Either way, what’s the difference between the two posts by me? Not much that I can see other than the target of my “dismissive” tone.

    At first, I thought that maybe the key difference was the fact that Ms. Obradovic is a woman, and J.B. Handley is not, but then I realized that I’ve written similarly “dismissive” posts about Jenny McCarthy, as have other SBMers. Yet I don’t recall the same degree of concern over the “dismissive tone” of such posts. Ditto posts (not all of them by me) that were just as dismissive of women like Suzanne Somers and Oprah Winfrey. Both Steve Novella and I (not to mention other SBM bloggers) have accused anti-vaccine activists, both male and female, of anti-intellectualism and the “arrogance of ignorance.” Sometimes, there are things that deserve to be dismissed with extreme prejudice, as long as the reason why is explained.

    So, I guess what I’m asking for here is education: Just where is it that I stepped over some sort of invisible line, where previous posts using a very similar (or even more) “dismissive” tone resulted in no complaints, but this one riled you up so much? More importantly, what is your evidence that a less “dismissive” tone would do any better? Remember, these are leaders of the anti-vaccine movement, J.B. Handley because he founded Generation Rescue, Julie Obradovic because she’s a contributing editor to the propaganda organ of Generation Rescue. Ms. Obradovic isn’t a “confused” mother who has heard the fear mongering about vaccines and is wondering if it’s safe to vaccinate her child. She has heard the science time and time again and decided that she knows better and thus rejected it (as she herself points out in her post). She’s a hard core anti-vaccine zealot, contributing to what is probably the largest, most influential anti-vaccine organization out there (Generation Rescue) as an editor and regular contributor to its propaganda blog (Age of Autism).

    So, please, let’s hear some guidelines. I assure you I’m not beyond redemption. Or is it never appropriate to show outrage and “dismissiveness” towards the promoters of vaccine misinformation? If that’s what you believe, then I simply cannot agree with you.

    Or maybe I shouldn’t have quoted Tim Minchin or, if I did, maybe I shouldn’t have left the F-word and C-words intact in his amusing little beat poem. Perhaps it was the quoting of a verse containing a couple of naughty words that was so “over the top.”

  39. Molly, NYC says:

    I don’t care what letters you have after your name.

    . . . that you got after years of studying science.

    Science is rooted in observation, and yet, every observation here listed is casually tossed aside as a cosmic lining up of the stars. There is nothing scientific about calling all of this coincidence and explaining it away with unproven excuses . . .

    I have woman’s intuition or some freaking thing, and therefore know more about science than you ever will. So there!

    Y’know, if you paid your rent by fixing cars, say, or doing other people’s taxes, almost nobody but another mechanic or accountant would presume that he or she knew more about it than you. What is it about the sciences that make people whose last bit of formal science education garnered them a C- in 10th grade feel comfortable lecturing people who do science for a living about how science works?

    If you were to suggest to anti-vaxers that you love their kids more than they do, they would be furious, and with good reason; you’d be grossly deprecating their genuine affection for their children, and your rudeness and presumptuousness would be off the charts.

    By the same token, their insistence that years (probably decades) of your life spent learning this metier is equaled by them spouting whatever the A-of-A pulls out of its tuchis is every bit as insulting. I realize the phrase “Shut up, you pig-ignorant twit” wouldn’t advance the discussion much, but inasmuch as that’s as much respect as their arguments deserve, it’s a tribute to the patience of the scientific community that they don’t hear it more.

    * * *
    I’m not in the least bit impressed by Ms. Obradovic’s trumpeting of her being so “smart.”

    Now, now. She’ll get that “counting to 10″ thing down eventually.

  40. wales says:

    For what it’s worth, my opinion on who is most cutting and sarcastic in general, DG or MC.

    DG said “Don’t get me wrong; as I’ve said before, I love Mark’s posts. He is, however, in general far more sarcastic and cutting than even I usually am.”

    I disagree. Can’t quite put my finger on the difference between the DG and MC brand (or perhaps it’s merely the degree) of sarcasm, but I agree with Michele in Michigan on this one. DG is far more cutting (perhaps it’s the surgical training). MC employs liberal doses of self-deprecating humor to good effect. My perception is that MC enjoys a good jab but DG goes for the throat. I enjoy reading both but tire of excessive sarcasm with slicing and dicing. I realize “too much” is subjective. Or perhaps it’s the combination of acerbic tone and the length of DG’s prose. This recent post does appear to be quite a bit longer than the essay being critiqued.

    This is a bit off topic. Someone here made a “concern troll” comment. I have always been mystified by the concept of a “concern troll” in a public forum. As I understand it a concern troll is thought to be somehow interfering with a consolidated, like-minded discussion group. Isn’t the purpose of a public forum to be, well, public? If a group of like-minded individuals want to limit their discussion to encouraging pats on the back while excluding those with dissenting opinions then a private forum would be the solution. Or is the distinction that “concern trolls” are thought to be insincere and merely stirring the pot for fun?

  41. Scott says:

    Y’know, if you paid your rent by fixing cars, say, or doing other people’s taxes, almost nobody but another mechanic or accountant would presume that he or she knew more about it than you.

    I’d be interested to know what makes you so sure of that…

  42. MC says:

    To get further off topic… Anyone who thinks that Mark Crislip is somehow less cutting probably hasn’t heard his quackcast. That man certainly doesn’t pull any punches.

  43. @wales:
    “Or is the distinction that “concern trolls” are thought to be insincere and merely stirring the pot for fun?”

    It’s usually more than just that. Often the distinction is that the concern troll is a disingenuous person firmly on the opposite side of an issue than they are portraying themselves to be, or they have a clear, firm position when the pretend to undecided or uncommitted.

    Often they claim to be on one side of an issue, but merely have some concerns regarding certain points or approaches of their side. They’re often not stirring the pot for fun; they’re trying to sow dissension and scuttle the ship from within because they’re really firmly on the other side of the issue.

    The key is to be able to tell the difference between a concern troll and an honest questioner. If there weren’t so many concern trolls out there, this wouldn’t be such a problem.

  44. Molly, NYC says:

    I’d be interested to know what makes you so sure of that…

    Scott–You’re right, it’s an awfully sweeping statement. Nevertheless, if a mechanic says, e.g., “I’ve been working with these things since high school, and I’m telling ya, you do not want to put one of those self-cleaning lubes into that old car,” other mechanics, and people who are seriously into cars might credibly argue (what if you mixed the self-cleaner in on a gradient?), but who’s going to listen to the driver’s license-free holistic mechanic whose judgment is based entirely on “common sense” and “street smarts” and his claim to be able to read a ’49 Chevy’s aura?

  45. David Gorski vs Mark Crislip…

    It reminds me of the days of “Tastes great, less filling”.

    Variety is the spice of SBM. :)

    Some days you have Steak; some days you have Chicken Parm.

  46. wales says:

    I hear what you’re saying, KW, but here’s the part I don’t get. “they’re trying to sow dissension and scuttle the ship from within” sounds like someone has broken into a private sanctuary, rather than posting differing or opposing opinions in a public forum discussion. Where does this idea come from, of a cozy, homogeneous public forum? (I am not speaking solely of this site in particular, but the larger concept of concern trolls.) And for this site in particular, I perceive that part of the objective is to educate the public. How can an opposing opinion threaten the “inner sanctum”?

    What’s the difference between “sowing dissension” and having a spirited discussion? Why is one a negative concept and the other positive?

  47. pmoran says:

    “Concern troll?” That was a misreading of my last post. MM and Weing had it right.

    “Shruggie”, “altie”, now “concern troll” —Ugh! Why do intelligent adults feel the need to diminish opponents by finding a demeaning name for them?

  48. @wales

    The difference is the honesty of the person you’re in a spirited discussion with.

    Consider the green our vaccines and too many too soon camps of anti-vaccinationists that insist they are not anti-vaccine. Nearly all of them are not being honest about their positions, and their concerns about certain ingredients or vaccine schedules are smokescreens for their total opposition to vaccination in any form. They are concern trolling.

    They are pretending to occupy a middle position in order to get some compromise/concession in their direction, at which point they will shift the goal posts.

    A concern troll is playing an intellectually dishonest, bait and switch shell game with the discussion. A lot of people have little patience or tolerance of such behavior.

  49. pmoran says:

    I think many who might be thus labelled are testing out viewpoints, held with varying degrees of firmness. They are doing you an honour by choosing to solicit YOUR response.

    You may not be able to change their views in a brief flurry of posts, but you can either present yourself as holding a well-reasoned evidence-based position, or you can start calling them names. I now what I prefer.

  50. By the way, I’m not saying pmoran is a concern troll here; I’m just answering wales’ questions about the un-love for concern trolls in general.

    You may disregard Karl Withakay’s Laws of Concern Trolls for this coment. :)

  51. @pmoran
    “I think many who might be thus labelled are testing out viewpoints, held with varying degrees of firmness”

    And thus the challenge in telling the difference. I generally hold out the label as a nuclear option: Not to be used quickly or lightly, but as a last resort.

    I discussed an issue/position with a commenter here once long, long past the point that I felt he was representing his position honestly before finally giving up all hope that the other guy might be having an honest discussion.

    (Whatever happened to vargkill anyway, did he get himself banned, or did he get bored an leave?)

  52. Robin says:

    pmoran wrote: “you can either present yourself as holding a well-reasoned evidence-based position, or you can start calling them names. I [k]now what I prefer.”

    I agree.

    I think when someone is ensconced in a subculture or cultural phenomenon (like the anti-vax movement) it can become very frustrating to slash through the same rhetoric over and over; and it’s easy to lose a clear view of the larger picture. That seems to be what’s happening here.

    I brought up the point about the flu shots earlier because it’s obvious to me that there was a huge demand for them (in the beginning, not so much in the end when availability converged with a low threat level) and that people, largely, are unworried about vaccines. That may not have been so apparent to Dr. Gorski who spends a great deal of time thinking and writing about the anti-vaccination movement.

    While it may be tiresome to remain calm “well-reasoned” when most everything has already been said, remember that there are always people new to the debate. There are new parents and grandparents researching vaccine safety who know nothing about the science and are simply looking to get a grip on both sides of the argument, as I was when i found this blog. Anyone who enters is welcomed by the most recent post not the vast body of work. The underlying hostility here is understandable, but probably not helpful to the cause.

  53. wales says:

    “I think many who might be thus labeled are testing out viewpoints, held with varying degrees of firmness. They are doing you an honour by choosing to solicit YOUR response. ”

    I agree with pmoran here. I think the labeling I have seen of concern trolling is usually a knee jerk reaction, intended to discredit the person so labeled.

    KW thanks for your input. My initial comment was in response to Adam Y’s comment at 8:39 where he stated “I think we have found ourselves a concern troll” in what appeared to be an attempt to “out” pmoran as a concern troll. I find the label to be rather ridiculous in general and most likely inaccurate in this case.

  54. pmoran says:

    David, I’ve offended more than I wished. Let me retract a little. You did deal with many critical points, such as this sentence in the middle of the (15th?, 20th?) paragraph.

    “The “dramatic rise” in autism incidence can be largely (although it is unclear if it can be completely) explained by widening of the diagnostic criteria and diagnostic substitution. ”

    So it is all there, also elsewhere on this blog if you can find it.

    Nevertheless, I suggest that anything written on the subject of vaccine and autism that does not leave something like that sentence as the dominant take-home message is a waste of print (except as venting, or as reassurance for the faithful). Pretty-well the whole vaccine-autism question hangs on this point. If there has been a serious increase in autism, I am not sure that we can yet say that vaccines are entirely exonerated. If autism rates are the same then vaccines are in the clear.

    It is easy to be dismissive of incoherent, ill-researched persons like Obradovic, and to reflexly react to HER ad hominems, but in doing so we can be distracted from the main points that we need to address. It is general public perceptions that matter.

  55. David Gorski says:

    If there has been a serious increase in autism, I am not sure that we can yet say that vaccines are entirely exonerated. If autism rates are the same then vaccines are in the clear.

    Point one: Whether there has been an real or measurable increase in the true prevalence of autism or not, it’s pretty clear that there has not been a “serious” increase in the true prevalence of autism. I’ll have to look it up, but there was a recent study that estimated the prevalence of autism and ASDs in adults up to age 70 in the U.K. as 1:100, which is very close to what the estimate is right now among children. We’ve discussed this many times.

    Point two: Why vaccines? As I pointed out, Internet usage took off around the same time as the apparent increased prevalence of vaccines, namely the early 1990s. So did cell phone use. So did any number of things. Why not any of them? Why not the decrease in the number of pirates corresponding with global warming?

    I’m sorry, but the vaccine-autism hypothesis has been tested time and time again and found wanting. If there were a significant link between the two, it’s highly unlikely that it would have remained undetected over the last two decades, given the number of studies.

  56. pmoran says:

    “I’m sorry, but the vaccine-autism hypothesis has been tested time and time again and found wanting. If there were a significant link between the two, it’s highly unlikely that it would have remained undetected over the last two decades, given the number of studies.”

    I’ve never disputed that. This is about public perceptions and how best to influence wrong ones.

    I think my point is made, in that only now does one of the most vital pieces of evidence emerge — one that, if it stands up to any kind of unbiased examination, shows quite convincingly that there is no epidemic of autism — there is nothing to correlate with anything, not even pirates, or use of cellphones by two-year olds!

  57. weing says:

    “I think my point is made, in that only now does one of the most vital pieces of evidence emerge — one that, if it stands up to any kind of unbiased examination, shows quite convincingly that there is no epidemic of autism — there is nothing to correlate with anything, not even pirates, or use of cellphones by two-year olds!”

    But that is not convincing to a lot of people that want something like vaccines to be the cause. Personally, I think the main reason for this is the possibility of getting some deep pocket dollars.

  58. pmoran says:

    Weing: “But that is not convincing to a lot of people that want something like vaccines to be the cause.”

    Yes, it is not enough to have evidence that satisfies us. We have to constantly reinforcing public trust.

    The public has to be reassured that we are taking their justifiable concerns seriously and looking at the available data with rigor, not jumping to conclusions that fit our biases. This is why certain approaches can be counterproductive.

    If we truly have conclusive evidence, why should we ever need to depart from the dispassionate exposition of it?

  59. weing says:

    “If we truly have conclusive evidence, why should we ever need to depart from the dispassionate exposition of it?”

    Fatigue, boredom, grumpiness, or just trying to piss them off?

  60. Zoe237 says:

    Add me to the chorus of “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” I prefer to see professionalism in response to anti-vaccination arguments.

    That said, I thought this post was pretty tame. Probably been reading too much at other nastier blogs.

  61. David Gorski says:

    If we truly have conclusive evidence, why should we ever need to depart from the dispassionate exposition of it?

    Because passion is also important. Put a passionate antivaccine advocate against a “dispassionate” scientist in a debate and the antivaxer will “win” almost every time. It’s not as if we haven’t faced this issue before in a lot of other denialist campaigns, such as evolution denialists (creationists).

  62. It also matters what we’re getting passionate about. Are we enraged that consumers want to engage with the health care that they’re getting, even though they lack scientific training? Or are we enraged that children are dying and disabled unnecessarily?

    The former would reasonably be expected to alienate consumers who lack scientific training but still want to engage with the health care that they’re getting, and is not an approach I would expect to be effective in debate. The latter demonstrates shared priorities in an understandable way.

    If somebody’s making shit up, just say so.

  63. Adam_Y says:

    The public has to be reassured that we are taking their justifiable concerns seriously and looking at the available data with rigor, not jumping to conclusions that fit our biases. This is why certain approaches can be counterproductive.

    And this is why I called you a concern troll. Some of their concerns are based on fantasy. You would have actually realized that if you read the blog post Dr. Gorski linked to or even read the first comment I made. The only real criticism I see is that I don’t think anyone on this blog has actually discussed the misuse of chemical safety regulations the antivaxers have used to justify their positions. Though Dr. Gorski did cover their numerous butchering of chemistry in a blog post from two years ago. His friend’s blog tends to be much more valuable in terms of commenter providing relevant information in that area. Is it their job to?

  64. Adam_Y says:

    Sorry about the double post. But I don’t necessarily think it is their job to discuss that issue. They are doctors not chemists and someone who works with chemicals for a living will start to see huge inconsistencies with using industrial safety regulations applied to the levels that the antivaxers use.

  65. BillyJoe says:

    Take your honey and shove it guys.
    (Yes, you know where!)

    David Gorski, you would feel right at home in Australia. If that sugar-honeyed American crowd gives you too much flack, come on Downunder.

    Goddamn honey-eaters!

  66. Adam_Y says:

    Take your honey and shove it guys.
    (Yes, you know where!)

    Straight into our mouths because honey is yummy.

  67. “As I pointed out, Internet usage took off around the same time as the apparent increased prevalence of vaccines, namely the early 1990s.”

    Actually, internet usage probably has had a very significant impact in the increase in autism diagnoses. I’m thinking both correlation and causation here.

  68. pmoran says:

    David: “Because passion is also important. Put a passionate antivaccine advocate against a “dispassionate” scientist in a debate and the antivaxer will “win” almost every time. ”

    Possibly true. But even in such a public confrontation there will surely be one or two critical pieces of information that the scientist will try to get across to listeners, as coldly and as calculatingly as will politicians in similar settings (– for example, the results of the important adult autism study).

    I think a greater problem in debate is that we scientists can have too much information swilling around in our minds. When appalled by what at first sight may look to be totally irrational viewpoints we may not see the need to identify the key underlying perceptions and target our responses to them. It is easier to assume we are dealing with pathological reasoning of some kind, and it is not hard to find bits of foolishness that support that impression.

    I insist that not all of it is pathological, for those whose knowledge base is limited to what is easily and generally available to the lay public including that offered to them by the media..

  69. Zoe237 says:

    “David Gorski, you would feel right at home in Australia. If that sugar-honeyed American crowd gives you too much flack, come on Downunder.”

    BJ, then why on earth is Australia still a commonwealth of the U.K and a constitutional monarchy? Too much honey? :P

  70. Adam_Y says:

    I insist that not all of it is pathological, for those whose knowledge base is limited to what is easily and generally available to the lay public including that offered to them by the media..

    Oooo I don’t know. I think a lot of people would be generally disturbed by what goes on the mainstream antivaxer crowd. Remember Obradovic wrote that post defending a rally in which people were openly stating that vaccines is a form of eugenics and likening doctors to Nazis.

  71. Yes, and in the case of delusional Godwinism I think a brisk “Oh don’t be silly” is enough to make the point for most onlookers. Very few people really need to have their hands held and walked through the logic to figure out what’s wrong with that.

  72. Adam_Y says:

    Very few people really need to have their hands held and walked through the logic to figure out what’s wrong with that.

    As multiple people have proven in this discussion that a lot of people missed the irony of having someone claiming they are smart at the same time defending a festival that was at the same time conspiratorial grandstanding at times.

  73. JRB says:

    Geez, I hate when forums devolve into discussions of tone. Dr. Gorski (or rather his “friend”) writes one of the very few blogs I check on a daily basis, and I can tell you it’s not his dispassionate exposition of conclusive evidence that keeps bringing me back. While Dr. Gorski has the evidence on his side and is rather good at explaining that side of things, as a non-scientist I find it is the personality he puts into his writing which makes for interesting and entertaining daily read.

    What pmoran and micheleinmichigan need to remember is that just because they find something off putting, does not mean that everyone shares that same opinion. While I was never a hardcore anti-vaxer, I was — shall we say — a lot more woo-friendly before I stumbled upon Dr. Gorski and I’m willing to bet that if his writing had consisted of little more then dispassionate expositions of conclusive evidence I probably wouldn’t have stuck around long enough to have my eyes opened.

    I agree not every article Dr. Gorski writes is necessarily a great introduction for someone new to Science Based Medicine; however, because I read these articles, when one of my co-workers says she’s unsure if she should get her kids vaccinated because three of the mothers in her new moms group have autistic children, I can have a rational, informed discussion with her myself. When she wants to learn more, I can than point out which one of the 135 articles on vaccines hosted on SBM best addresses her concerns.

    Oh, and I posted this not because I want to join in some over-long discussion on tone but rather to make sure Dr. Gorski knows that there are at least some of us who like him exactly the way he is and think there is nothing wrong with including a little snark to keep things interesting.

  74. JRB “What pmoran and micheleinmichigan need to remember is that just because they find something off putting, does not mean that everyone shares that same opinion.”

    Yes, I do remember this. That is why I wanted to make it clear that it was IMO. My only intention was to present my opinion or preference and the rational behind that opinion. Since I’m a mom of two youngish children, one might consider me sort of a “target market” for pro-vax articles, BUT, in no way do I wish to present my opinion as representative of all other mom’s of young children. That just ain’t true.

    Consider it a focus group form. Dr. G’s now has my opinion. He’s got others’ opinions. Maybe that gives him some idea how he might approach a future post, maybe it’s completely worthless to him (as many focus group opinions I’ve seen.) Either way, I’m not fussed

    I actually understand that as someone (who I don’t want to meet in a dark alley) once said “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

  75. pmoran says:

    JRB, I also think Dr Gorski does a brilliant job of dissecting some extremely complex issues, in a way I could never approach.

    But I see two problems (and not the “tone”) with the kind of material under discussion — three if you worry that stooping to what can be interpreted as personal attack may be off-putting for some of the persons we most desperately wish to inform. (It goes without saying that anything that attacks antivaxers will be music to the ears of the converted, but that is irrelevant to anything.)

    The first problem is that there is no logic to the implication that a person who is wrong, even stupid, about many matters must ergo be wrong about everything.

    Secondly it can take the eye off the ball. One can find oneself reacting to outrageous but peripheral assertions, rather than the ones that are crucial to antivax belief.

    So there is a lack of focus. In the above there was discussion of correlation vs causation when OUR point is that there is no correlation. The information on which we base that judgment was given no prominence at all, even though it alone is destructive for the whole vaccine-autism hypothesis and is almost all that needs to be said, but over and over again.

  76. David Gorski says:

    The first problem is that there is no logic to the implication that a person who is wrong, even stupid, about many matters must ergo be wrong about everything.

    And, of course, because I never said anything of the sort in this post, this shouldn’t be a problem, should it?

    As for the lack of “focus,” that all depends on what one is focusing on, doesn’t it? At times, I focus like a laser on the science and nothing but the science. At others, I describe the history or comment on something that has happened relevant to the anti-vaccine movement. At still others, I focus on the logical fallacies being used to justify pseudoscience, sometimes quite cuttingly. This was one of those latter times.

    Again, I’ve been at this a long time. Over the years I’ve used a whole bunch of different tactics and covered the topic of the anti-vaccine movement and the pseudoscience they use in trying to promote their views from a whole bunch of different angles. If you don’t like this one post, fine. You’ve made that abundantly clear. If you apparently think I’m a jerk who lacks “focus” and has “taken his eye off the ball,” well, that’s fine, too. Time to move on.

    Quite frankly (and a bit bluntly), I’m getting tired of your lecturing me about how to blog or what “tone” to use. We will have to agree to disagree on this, as I don’t plan on changing and I don’t plan on arguing anymore about “tone.” I’ve been exceedingly patient up until now because I have nothing but the utmost respect for you, but even I have my limits. It took 76 comments to get to them, but there you are.

  77. pmoran says:

    I do seem to have thoughtlessly overstepped a mark and I humbly apologise.

  78. BillyJoe says:

    Zoe,

    “BJ, then why on earth is Australia still a commonwealth of the U.K and a constitutional monarchy? Too much honey? :P”

    The Liberal Party. :(

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