Bullshit science, a.k.a. “That’s all I can stands; I can’t stands no more!”

There’s no shortage of pushback against the anti-vaccine crowd on Ye Olde Internet (see below), so I wasn’t going to weigh in. Really, I wasn’t! Not on here, anyway. But then I watched this abomination, in which an M.D. debates a D.O. cardiologist whose stance is 110% bullshit. If every derogatory use of the word “chemical(s)” I’ve heard were a piece of straw, this one would definitely be the one that broke my camel’s back. I won’t give Dr. Asshat enough credence to bother debunking most of what he says, but I’ve got to point out the stupid in the following because it cannot be said enough. Observe:

Well, what I’m opposed to is, is the fact that we’re injecting chemicals into our children. This is aluminum, mercury, uh, uh, sometimes aborted fetal proteins. There’s antibiotics in there. We’re, we’re doing something that is totally foreign and totally unnatural to our children. We are experimenting on our children.

The things wrong with that sound byte are:

  • So, injecting CHEMICALS is bad, but eating, drinking, and breathing them is okay? Because if you separate kids from all chemicals, I can abso-friggin-loutely promise you those kids will die. Technically, you’d have to atomize them to achieve it, in fact. At which point, they’re no longer kids. To review, the aptly named material world, humans included, is made of atoms. To avoid physics-y weirdness with light, energy, and subatomic particles, let’s go up a level and agree that the parts of the material world that we have the option of interacting with are made up of ions or molecules, which are, wait for it……………… chemicals!!
  • Maybe I’m being harsh. Often, especially in popular discourse, when people say “chemicals,” they mean chemical compounds. Oh, wait, “aluminum and mercury” aren’t even chemical compounds; they’re friggin chemical elements, which famously appear on the periodic table. Who the hell promotes a generalized fear of the basic chemical building blocks of the entire world? Not to say they’re uniformly human-safe; many of them are quite dangerous, in fact. But for many of the non-radioactive elements, the danger is in the dose or the compound. Methylmercury (in your tuna), for instance, bioaccumulates; ethylmercury (probably not even in your vaccines) does not. A general fear of chemistry is the third-to-last quality I’d want in a doctor (the last being a propensity toward rape-ish-ness, followed by a propensity toward serial killer-ish-ness).
  • “Aborted fetal proteins.” I’d be willing to bet, based on this assertion, Dr. Asshat also believes that my vagina is a shark. (EDIT!: Thank you Boyfriend for clarifying that Dr. Asshat, though he implied by omission that he believed human aborted fetal proteins to be in vaccines, was talking about fetal bovine serum, a cellular growth media component commonly used by biological researchers in “wet lab” experiments.)
Fuck yeah, Left Shark!

The moment Katy Perry learned about squalene. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)

  • The “foreign and unnatural” parts of vaccinations must be the bits where a needle is involved and… oh, probably that part where YOU DON’T ACTUALLY HAVE TO GET A LIFE-THREATENING DISEASE TO BUILD UP AN IMMUNITY. Otherwise, everything about the immune system being exposed to a thing and mounting a response, then remembering to hate that thing in the future, is completely natural. In fact, vaccination was discovered because this was happening ~naturally~ to milkmaids exposed to cowpox. Living a totally “natural” life, à la everyone who lived before sanitation, soap, and real medicine, one can expect to die pretty damn young. There is nothing inherently better about shit that can be described as “natural”; any irrational belief otherwise is dangerous and unhealthy.
  • “We are experimenting on our children.” Look, if you want to assert that vaccinations–having been around since the latter half of the 18th century (1700s)–are a form of human experimentation, and if you mean to imply that using unproven medicine on humans is immoral, why the holy hell are you a doctor?! It was literally not until the late 1960s (also when the vaccines for measles, mumps, and rubella became available) that anyone questioned whether medicine should be based on proof that the recommended intervention works. Evidence-based medicine has only been taken seriously at all (which is not to say by the majority of practitioners) since I, a Millennial, have been alive.
  • This is not directly related to Dr. Asshat’s above quote, but make no mistake that the emerging “hygiene hypothesis” is not an argument against vaccination.

Other thought-provoking links (though I’m necessarily endorsing their content):

Meet the Latest Driver of the Anti-Vaccine Clown Car (Who Thinks You’re a ‘Bad Mother’), Time.com

Antivaccine cardiologist Jack Wolfson and the resurrection of false balance about vaccines, Respectful Insolence

‘I Never Told Anyone Not to Vaccinate’ (re: Jenny McCarthy), The Atlantic

Vaccine Skeptics vs. Your Kids, Mother Jones

Vaccine Deniers Were Just Dealt A Blow In Court, Think Progress

Legal Responsibilities in Choosing Not to Vaccinate, Shot of Prevention

Measles Can Kill, And It’s Spreading. Sue Parents Who Didn’t Vaccinate? Absolutely., Forbes

The Truth About The Evils of Vaccination, AntiAntiVax

There is every reason to get vaccinated — there aren’t reasons to not. – President Obama

I’m really pissed at the stupidity of this vaccine/outbreak situation, so you probably don’t actually want to know what I think. (It’s not very democratic.) But if you’re also really pissed and will feel some catharsis from reading my rant, here goes:

“Beliefs” are not a valid excuse.

I’m with Orac on the false balance thing; I think network news (i.e. outlets the masses turn to for information) should be banned from hosting anti-vaxx doctors because it’s a willful misleading of the public. And I’m all for civil suits, if they help. Personally, I think that it should be mandatory, under penalty of child endangerment/neglect laws, to vaccinate within error of the standard schedule and to provide evidence-based medical treatment, generally, for children under the age of–as an absolute minimum–12, unless there is a medical reason not to. “But what about freedom of religion?!” you cry. Well, I believe in freedom from religious persecution at the hands of the government, but I do not, in my head or my heart, find evidence-based medical treatment to be a form of persecution, especially when suffering death or disease at the will of a parent are much more clearly construed as such (though, of course, religious persecution by non-government actors is not protected in the same way, unless it violates other laws). I also believe, pursuant to the Constitution, in the right of fully-vested citizens to pursue the religion/morality of their choosing, with the standard “Your rights end where my nose begins” caveat. I find anti-vaxxers to be in violation of that clause in a very literal sense (Hello, mucus membranes!).

I do not think that children–especially potentially brainwashed (for lack of a better word) ones–are able to provide or negate consent regarding their own medical care, nor do I believe that they should be treated as property of their parents when it comes to grave matters of health. So, no, I do not support religious or moral exemption from proven medical care. Throw all the slippery slope arguments you want at me; they work both ways. e.g. It is child abuse to severely limit your child’s caloric intake for an illogical reason, even though that’s a health decision normally left up to parents. Child car seat and seatbelt safety are legislated, even though “seatbelts kill!!!” The line always has to be drawn somewhere and I see no reason why we can’t draw it at disallowing parents from choosing a great risk over a slight one with regard to vaccines, in the way we do with so many other things.

Neither your “rights” nor your emotions are a valid excuse.

Furthermore, I find failing to vaccinate against mumps, measles, rubella, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, and polio (the standard battery for public school in most states) to be a breach of the social contract. You get to choose to endanger other citizens and burden the government that’s sworn to protect us all to the best of its ability… why? (Frankly, I also view having to pay for these vaccines and the flu shot as a breach of the government’s end of the social contract.) Choosing not to vaccinate might be sort of similar to smoking cigarettes in public (which I’m also in favor of outlawing, given that your allergenic/carcinogenic cigarette smoke doesn’t end where my nose begins), but it’s definitely not the same as being obese, as some have tried to argue. I think we can reasonably agree on a right to do with your body as you please, within reason; to overwhelm the tension with that right, laws protecting individuals from self-harm or from becoming a societal burden tend to deal primarily with very direct causality and very skewed risks (e.g. outlawing the use of heroin because it is highly addictive and it is what directly causes heroin addiction, which can easily become society’s problem). Making smoking cigarettes illegal, therefore, would be an easier target than obesity, which can be caused by many things and doesn’t necessarily cause someone to place an undue burden on society. Additionally, while too much food can certainly cause obesity, outlawing the consumption of food is clearly not the answer, nor is it feasible to police the amount of food overweight people eat. If, for instance, we found an effective vaccine against HIV, but it caused sterility, the risks would not be appropriate skewed in favor of the vaccine. In the case of the standard vaccines we’re discussing, the causality is so fucking direct and uncomplicated that there’s no chance of accidental infringement upon any related rights, the data shows that the risks are skewed in favor of vaccinating, and enforcement is already mostly in place, between public school vaccination requirements and the existence child protective services.

There’s a question, in talks of civil proceedings against anti-vaxxer parents, as to whether they have an enforceable duty to protect the public health by vaccinating. Though it’s not yet explicitly a legal one, I believe that parents either have a duty to vaccinate or a duty to withdraw from the public because herd immunity. I honestly think that people opting out of vaccinations (as opposed to having a legitimate medical reason to abstain) should not be allowed access to publicly-funded schools, libraries, hospitals, transit, etc., and I think that–given my conviction that the religious exemption is baloney–owners and operators of businesses (including private hospitals) should be able to turn unvaccinated persons away. Emerging digital drivers licenses, with the requisite changes, could be used to show vaccination status. (Reductio ad Hitlerum in 3, 2, 1…)

I would additionally be totally fine with government healthcare plans excluding cost-sharing for the treatment of measles, mumps, rubella, polio, etc., for people choosing not to be vaccinated but for the facts that proving one’s vaccination status to the federal government could slow down approval and the adult children of anti-vaxxers, as things stand, could be punished for the decisions of their irrational parents. Instead, I am in favor of a rate increase like that imposed on smokers, but much higher.

Would all this make anti-vaxxers second-class citizens? Yep. Do I have a problem with that? Nope. It’s a choice, and it’s one that the data shows people are actually more likely to make in the face of data contradicting them. Again, there are plenty of times when various levels of government step in to disincentivize bad choices, including ones that people might otherwise have strong emotional attachments to (e.g. the sexual abuse of their children). Governance in defense of the many should not and cannot be subordinate to your irrational feels and fears.

Let me be clear that my rage is directed at the vocal minority; not confused parents just trying to do right by their kids. It’s such an embarrassment that there are so many highly visible experts and laypersons alike who are either misleading people for personal gain or who are themselves too damn stupid to understand facts, but who are nonetheless yammering on publicly about things far beyond their ken. Parents shouldn’t have to get a degree in medicine to figure out whom to trust with their kids’ health. And that’s why I think the government needs to step in and put an end to the debate before it confuses anyone else. (Higher standards for public education might not hurt either.)

Got a convincing argument for why I’m wrong/evil? Have a suggestion for benevolent dictator so we can avoid future stupid? Cuz I don’t know about you, but I’d be totally fine with being a subject of, say, Neil deGrasse Tyson‘s.

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2 thoughts on “Bullshit science, a.k.a. “That’s all I can stands; I can’t stands no more!”

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