CREDIBILITY

Posted in Rants on May 17th, 2010 by Ed

I can't honestly say that I highly recommend devoting 50 minutes of your life to watching the new Frontline ("The Vaccine War") because it won't be telling you anything you do not already know – namely that people who turn to Jenny McCarthy for medical advice are collectively dumber than a bag of hammers or an Arizona State freshman. It is not informative so much as it is entertaining in the trainwreck sense. You watch for the same reason you might watch boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao fight an uncoordinated 12 year old. It's not so much "I wonder who will win?" as "I can't miss what promises to be the ass-beating of a lifetime."

You will not find a better example of shitty logic – pure, unadulterated, and frequent – than the arguments made by this random collection of quacks, discredited fringe medical professionals, middle aged dads who look like militiamen, and idiot housewives. If you're familiar with the "movement" you're aware of the fact that the arguments boil down to:

1. "My child got vaccinated and then developed (autism/paralysis/narcolepsy/scabies/enlarged earlobes/whatever)." If one thing happens after another, the first was causal.

2. "Many doctors have questioned the safety of vaccines and support the vaccine-autism link." This is the saddest form of Appeal to Authority. It's more like "Appeal to Some Bus Driver with a Blog about Autism."

3. "There is no evidence that vaccines do not cause autism." Argument from Ignorance. Extreme ignorance in this case.

4. "There hasn't been a case of polio in the U.S. since 1979, so why are we still vaccinating kids against polio?" I shit you not, this is an actual quote. Watch the episode.

Their arguments are so stupid, in short, that I don't think it would be interesting to refute them. These are self-refuting arguments. I realize that there is a lot of room for honest disagreement and subjectivity in this world – although this is a recent development for me – but there is still a place for good ol' fashioned objectivity too. If you subscribe to any of these theories, you are retarded. Period. No "but" or "unless" forthcoming.

That said, the aspect of this that bothers me the most is the skepticism of the medical profession combined with complete, unquestioning trust in a bunch of crap one finds on Google searches. I understand the first part of that. I really do. It is a very good idea to be skeptical of medical advice, at least up to a point. The second part of the equation baffles me, though. "I really don't believe anything doctors say" transcends mere paranoia and becomes truly baffling when paired with "But I totally believe Jenny McCarthy and these three moms with a Geocities page!" Who does that? Who thinks that makes sense? In my mind, skepticism so well-developed that it encompasses people with medical degrees should also include clueless, uneducated celebrity morons and the select group of people who can throw a website on the internet.

What drives this kind of skepticism about medical science paired with unshakable faith in quackery and internet strangers talking directly out of their own asses? This is not a rhetorical question. I honestly do not get it. My best guess is that it is some kind of affinity based on similar characteristics – moms being more likely to trust other moms, nitwits being attracted to the arguments of other nitwits, uneducated people feeling kinship with other uneducated people in an alliance against the fancy book learnin' folk.

Perhaps this is just a subset of the population that has always existed – people who combine immature cynicism with total gullibility and absence of the ability to discern credibility from a source. These are the people who fall for Nigerian email scams; buy "collector's items" on the Home Shopping Network; jump on every diet/health fad no matter how ridiculous; believe that ridiculous home remedies can cure fatal diseases; watch Touched by an Angel and think it is based on a true story. A century ago these people were being suckered into buying patent medicines off the backs of wagons. Today they cruise the internet buying equally ridiculous empty promises from whoever happens to be the best salesman. That's what this is all about, no? Salesmanship. Jim Carrey,Jenn y McCarthy, and all of these internet hucksters have it. And of course a bunch of doctors at Johns Hopkins don't. So jumping on this bandwagon makes perfect sense as long as salesmanship and credibility conflate in your worldview. Good luck with that.