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.

42 thoughts on “CREDIBILITY”

  • Isn't the silver lining to this mass delusion that fact that those who believe that vaccinations are bad will…how to put this without seeming monstrous…fail in their attempts to pass this belief on to their children? Because their children will be, you see, dead. (Yeah, there was no way that was not going to be monstrous. Fuck it–I own my misanthropy with pride.)

    As for why people are gullible, it's pretty straightforward: faith in a quick and easy answer to life's confusing barrage of conflicting ideals and demands will always appeal to the overburdened, the undereducated, the intellectually lazy, and the stupid. Since that list makes up a good 2/3rds of the population, there are few ideas so stupid that someone can't make a buck off of selling them to the booboisie. Hence, The Secret. And Psychic Hotlines. And Angels. And abstinence-only education. Horoscopes have been a daily fixture of most American newspapers for over 50 years…I could go on, but I need a drink. (Another easy answer, but soooo delicious.)

  • Sour Kraut says:

    This isn't the first woo by which McCarthy was suckered. She started out believing her kid was an "Indigo Child," a budding psychic sent to guide humanity through a new stage of evolution.

    Check out the symptoms–it's a classic 'cold read' list.

  • ChicagoPat says:

    Jenny views on Autism changed dramatically once her little snowflake was diagnosed. She used to refer to them as "shadows". nice. I'm a physician and the one thing that irks me most about this is exactly what J said above: These morons won't be paying the price for their stupidity (they're all vaccinated) its their kids who will end up catching polio while on vacation, or from a recent immigrant, etc.

  • AS a physician, epidemiologist, and lifelong vaccine advocate, I find your arrogance only matched by your ignorance.

  • Part of the problem is that scientists and doctors don't fight back hard enough. Someone rails about the vaccine-autism link, or intelligent design, or the grand global warming conspiracy, so we point out the facts, demolish their argument six different ways, reduce them to jibbering, and get all our friends to laugh at them. But then we sit back smugly, thinking our work is done. We go back to our labs, while they go home and call a PR firm, or get themselves booked on Fox News.

    This is, simply put, really fucking stupid on our part. It takes a very special kind of naivety to think that people will believe something just because it's the truth.

  • Anecdotal evidence from one mom to another is very powerful. You left out that many of these stories involve the kid getting sick in the car home after the vaccine and waking up the next day with the enlarged earlobes or whatever it is. To most people, rail at them all you want, that is causal. We delayed our kids vaccines for this reason. They are now fully vaccinated, but followed a slower schedule. Now throw all your bricks at me.

  • I have (had) and autistic child…he's 16 and grown out of most of it. But I'm also a biologist so I have never been a supporter of the link to vaccines. Like you say the lines of reasoning are laughably self-defeating. Of the "How long is this 40 foot pole?" variety. It gets into emotionally charged issues and that leaves the realm of reason behind when parents want answers. overdiagnosed though…it's a problem looking for a solution. And I don't think there is one, it's just a state of human existence.

  • ZenPoseur has it absolutely right but it needs to be put in a different way…people will believe a lie they understand more easily than a truth they don't understand.

  • It boggled Carl Sagan, too. In DEMON-HAUNTED WORLD, he was blown away by the way that people who confronted him with pseudoscientific beliefs would have command of the vast pseudoliterature about their beliefs. He couldn't chalk up their belief in the Faked Moon Landings or the Holocaust Hoax or Area 51 or the Supressed Discovery Of Atlantis to simple intellectual laziness because they'd read so many books and magazine articles and attended conferences and clearly put a lot of time into thinking about whatever nonsense they were peddling.

    I think it draws on the latent American dislike of smarty-pants intellectal expert authority figures. By asserting that vaccines=autism, you put yourself on the same level (above, actually) as those oh-so-smug dcotors and scientists with their "degrees" and "peer-reviewed journals". It's also self-flattering – I'm not a fat useless housewife, I'm a brave crusader against the medical conspiracy to poison Our Children with mind-control toxins! Pay attention to me, I'm a modern-age hero! Check out the passive-aggressive martyr just a couple of posts above me for an example.

    This strain of thinking is very strong in Palinism – a lot of her rhetoric is salt-of-the-earth Real Americans who put their trust in Jesus versus those pie-in-the-sky elitest eggheads with their charts and science and whatnot. I notice one of her favorite phrases is "common sense".

    Finally, a lot of the anti-vaxxing isjust a classic free-rider problem. Vaccines are slightly risky (one in every so many thosands of kids vaccinated will have an adverse reaction to it, possibly severe or deadly) but the overall health of a population that is vaccinated is much, much higher than one without (better that three kids die of a bad reaction that 600 kids die of un-prevented whooping cough). But if you skip vaccinating your kids while 98% of other families let their kids get jabbed, then you gain the benefits of vaccination (so many people got their Polio shots that the chance of your kid getting it is extermely low, even though they're not immune) without the risks. Let those other parents and children bear the price! Big surprse: it all boils down to Fuck You I Got Mine. But you can't actually say FYIGM, so they reach for the pseudoscience to make the case that they're not spectacularly selfish.

  • "You Are Not A Gadget" by Jaron Lanier touches on a few relevant issues, and it's an excellent read more generally. Specifically, he comments on the concurrent rise of anti-intellectualism and "2.0 web technologies," and the bizarre mob-like collectivism that's ensued.

    An observation of my own: several times I've witnessed other students (one in particular – a repeat offender) strut into class utterly unprepared to discuss assigned readings and instead immediately pull out a lap top and google, say, "husserl's transcendental reduction," and proceed to, literally, argue with the professor about it's import, meaning, etc. Whereas reading the actual text might have instilled a bit more humility and appreciation for textual nuances, a cursory google search and a wikipedia article instead imbued the student with enough arrogance to challenge someone who wrote their PhD on the topic in question. 10+ years of research is trumped by 20 seconds of wikipedia reading, apparently.

    This doesn't strike me as something to do with mob-like collectivism. Something akin to what FMguru discusses must be going on – and it seems to be a growing trend.

  • The merging of the "true believer syndrome" with the skeptic is rooted in a suspicion of the status quo and a belief that there must be another explanation. The problem is the same level of scrutiny given to the accepted idea is not applied to the challenging idea by the vaccine skeptics.
    That said I think the medical profession has long had a problem with arrogance with their clients. In the past the doctor, patient relationship was very akin to a priesthood. When mistakes are made, as will happen in any profession, it blows the priesthood mantle away, and can creates a skeptic. The medical profession shares this blame.
    The other problem is the for-profit medical system and the close relationship between the medical providers and the drug and vaccine manufacturers. When you create a public that is being scammed all the time by high sounding Madison Avenue sales pitches and they see the cozy relationship between doctors and Merck et al in inspires suspicion.
    You do not have to be a crazy internet follower of quack web sites to feel uncomfortable with Merck's marketing tactics of Gardasil, a new vaccine designed to protect girls and young women from cancer-causing strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). The firm gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in "grants" to medical associations to develop educational materials promoting the vaccine. Even worse, Merck made substantial campaign contributions to state legislators — as it lobbied them to make Gardasil mandatory for girls attending public schools. The 1.4 billion in sales of this drug for Merck in 2008 and knowledge of the previously noted relationship with the medical profession and the government that is supposed to regulate them would give any concerned and informed parent pause.
    While I agree Jenny McCarthy is not someone I would go to for my information on vaccines, and I want someone with more than "common sense" to consult for my medical needs, dismissing these people as nut cases ignores the real problem.
    In an era when so called "experts" in the military world get Iraq's WMD's all wrong, experts in the financial world never see the economic train wreck coming, and regulatory bodies like Standard and Poors,the Mineral Management Services are in bed with the entities they are supposed to regulate, is it any surprise the public's confidence that everything is not a rigged game surprising?
    Those of us who believe in science should pay attention to what is the real problem fueling the skepticism of medical science instead of focusing on nutty people who are the result of real issues.

  • displaced Capitalist says:

    These are the same people who click on those mortgage ads with the pictures of the beaded homeless people.

    Man, if only I had less scruples, I could make a mint off of these suckers.

  • Ed, as noble as it is to want to figure these people out, it simply is not possible. They cannot be reasoned with; their views do not fit any known form of logic.

    It is in the same vein as the people who will tell you how evil, incompetent, and oppressive the Gub'Mint is all day, then immediately turn around and castigate anyone who has anything negative to say about the military — that arm of the Gub'Mint best-equipped to oppress people — which is part of the exact same machinery they were railing against just moments before. It doesn't make sense, it doesn't exist in a world based on logic and rational reasoning.

  • As much as I kind of hated my students this past semester, knowing that they were all going into public health and nursing meant that I gave myself huge amounts of time to get up on my soapbox about this issue. I spent a looong time explaining community immunity, and the costs of not vaccinating, and exactly how there is no credible link between vaccinations and autism, and do they have any questions? And I got a lot of "well, my mom says that my little brother's autism is because of vaccinations, so what else could it be?", which let me explain things over and over and over again. It was kind of fun watching them start out being offended, and then watch the lights come on.

  • displaced Capitalist says:

    and then watch the lights come on.

    HOLY SHIT. People capable of understanding reasoned discourse do exist. My mind is officially blown.

  • I'm going to go with confirmation bias on this one, Ed. Take the natural human need to have explanations for the unexplainable ("Why did my child get autism?? I'm not comfortable blaming random chance or genetics, so I wonder if it was that vaccine!"). Then once they've crossed the Rubicon of suspecting it's the vaccines, confirmation bias kicks in and starts booting out any evidence that doesn't point a finger at the vaccines and keeping only evidence that does.

    Making room for evidence that exonerates vaccines would put them back at "I don't know what caused this", and they can't bring themselves to go back to that place where they no longer understand how this could happen (and might happen again).

  • "It takes a very special kind of naivety to think that people will believe something just because it's the truth."

    Fucking LOVE. I am totally stealing this.

  • I parallel this with the Tea Party movement. Anyone ever tried to explain that our tax burden is one of the lowest in the developed world to a friend or family member totally swept away by this "movement"? Ever tried to explain that no one is taking their liberties or their rights away (hence their ability to hold horribly misspelled signs in a public place)? No amount of fancy book learnin' or "proof" will ever convince these people that what they are screaming about doesn't make any sense. No amount of explanation using historical information could inform these people that returning everything to the way it was 200 years ago would be bad for everyone but white males. Trust me, I've tried. It's like they have earplugs in and all they can say back is exactly what they've heard about (vaccines/taxes/communism/liberty) and no amount of anything will sway them from their path. Kids are going to learn that behavior too, and then good luck to our public school teachers.

    Today every statement is viewed as an opinion or viewpoint, not as truth or lack thereof, and so anyone following McCarthy or the Tea Party movement just sees us learned folk as opposing viewpoints or other opinions that they can choose to believe in. They pick the opinion they like the best and defend it against all others because they are good soldiers. It's not a search for truth, it's a search for comfort in the midst of ignorance. It just frustrates the hell out of the rest of us.

  • Oh god, I actually got an even more fact free version of #4 one time (Hardly anyone even gets polio anymore!) from a third party when I tried to suggest that yes, a friend of mine should get her kid vaccinated, because polio is a terrible fucking disease that still causes pain and mobility problems for my grandmother, 80-something years after the fact.

    One thing that's always really bothered my about anti-vax assholes is the way many of them are comfortable circumscribing their kid's life options. The same woman told me 'Well, it doesn't matter anyway, because my kid only plays with other unvaccinated home schooled kids.' For how long? Polio is still a huge problem in some parts of the world. So are many of the other diseases that have become blissfully rare in the US, but having an artificially-assisted immune system has let me go to some pretty amazing places without stopping to worry about catching Yellow Fever. Do people like this figure their kid will never travel? Or that they want to spend their lives meticulously avoiding preventable diseases at home? Or do they just fucking forget that their offspring won't always be a toddler over whom they have complete control? I'm putting my money on the last one.

  • We watched that documentary a few weeks ago. To me, even more astounding than the scientific ignorance was the selfishness of some of these parents. Even when they were confronted with the herd immunity idea, specifically that their refusal to vaccinate their children could endanger other people's children, they justified their refusal to do so by couching it in this individual rights language. So, even some of those who acknowledged the truth of this possibility were completely unmoved.

  • I see a direct link to our society's acceptance of religion as a "Good Thing (TM)". It's a widespread belief in our so-called modern society that people are better human beings if they swallow giant chunks of mysticism and mythology without a shred of evidence. How can that not spill=over into the rest of our group decision-making process?

  • ladiesbane says:

    Disagreement with established beliefs can lead to progress, if the facts support it, or we would still believe in spontaneous generation and an earth-centered universe. My school taught the basics of germ theory in 8th grade. Is biology still taught in school?

    Confidence without practical knowledge amounts to picking the soapbox that best jibes with one's experience and beliefs. It's extremely rare that any layman can support his position, whether it be for or against.

    There are a lot of folks out there who would never dream of doubting vaccines or pasteurization or other proven techniques, but who are deeply doubtful of evolution, global warming, and irradiated food. All that can save us is science. (And logic. Thanks for revisiting what originally drew me to this blog!)

  • It's also self-flattering – I'm not a fat useless housewife…

    A little bit harsh, don't you think?

    I think there may be another reason that the Mom network is such a seductive source of information: the bad experiences that a surprisingly large number of people have with medical professionals.

    I was a very healthy child who only had injuries and not diseases, and didn't have any health issues at all until I was 20, whereupon I went a little nuts.

    The two GPs I saw contradicted each other's diagnoses, and one announced to me (and a fascinated waiting room) that if I didn't try her complementary therapy (she was big into homeopathy) that I would be dead by Christmas.

    Psych #2 also criticised the diagnosis of PTSD I had been given, because that was an occupational health issue experienced by brave firefighters, and (the implication was) not something that whiny-babies with sucky childhoods had. He also indicated that if I could put out for my boyfriend then I wasn't that traumatised, and that the fabulous world of psychiatry held no further balm for my soul. (I cannot convey to you how textbook my presentation of PTSD was, because self-diagnosis is the hallmark of the lame, but it was.)

    If I hadn't found a bit of solidarity on the internet, which emboldened me to read some books by trauma specialists and get a grip, I think I might be in a very dark place right now.

    That whole year of being patronised by ignoramuses meant that I view healthcare with a jaundiced eye, and I'm glad I do, because there have been a few (minor) fuckups since that of which judicious Googling has mitigated the damage.

    I've also got smart friends who are parents with a whole wealth of stories about being lied to, ignored, and patronised by medical staff with agendas. I understand that the practice of medicine cannot be on the basis that every individual is a special snowflake and that exhaustive efforts should be made at the expense of all others to achieve their health. However, healthcare workers who make no effort to be engaging, or to explain things properly, or tell the truth to their patients, or challenge their own assumptions that new mothers are hysterical princesses, are fuelling the systematic mistrust/Geocities dependence that clearly exists.

  • Can we not call them skeptics just like we don't call global warming or evolution deniers skeptics. It gives skepticism a bad name.

  • You guys might be interested in . It gets into the FDA>Big Pharmaceutical link. There are articles on on vaccinations, health foods, and homeopathic medicine.

  • Uhm…no, Tim, I think that precisely the point is that most of the commenters here would not, in fact, be interested in that font of quackery.

  • @ Anecdotal

    Consider the bricks thrown, you thoughtless hack. All you did was endanger your child and those yet-to-be-inoculated with whom your spawn associated. "Moms have very powerful, occult knowledge" is an untenable and lethal line of reasoning. "Moms" "know" as much as Jenny McCarthy or any other hack. People who actually think tend to know quite a bit more. But honestly, I'm glad your kids weren't damaged or died as a result of your nonsense. Cheers.

  • @ D

    Anecdotal is glad that such a bad decision as theirs had no horrible consequences. Vilification of them now is pointless.

  • You people with your contempt aren't going to win anyone over to anything. Did I say I thought we made the right decision? No, I didn't. You'd rather spew than have a conversation. I've enjoyed the snark on this site for years. Being on the wrong side of it has taught me a lesson. With the exception of a few here, you guys have no interest in actually solving problems…you just want to rail at the targets Ed picks out for you.

  • @Anecdotal – One person replied to you directly. One. And you asked for it. Really, you can go back and check. You literally asked for it. But anyway…

  • Antivax wackaloons can't be won over with kindness. It's been tried, and it has failed. In fact, a startlingly high percentage of those I've seen online who profess to be converted antivaxxers say that they responded to beatdowns, not logical arguments (not that my assertion is in any way based on science, and it should be taken with as much doubt as the related assertion that teddy bears cause autism or vaccine injury or nihilism).

    Say, do kids like getting shots? Do they get a little wound up about sometimes, even very wound up? Yeah. That couldn't really explain them getting sick in the car, could it? Mothers' opinions may be powerful, ubiquitous, or supernatural; it doesn't make them right, and a doctor disagreeing with Mom's opinion doesn't make the doc evil.

    Ed does a pretty good job of highlighting many of the issues in his post. Contempt doesn't grow in a vacuum, Anecdotal, and you're providing a fine example.

  • Polio isn't around anymore? Jesus.

    Listen up, anti-vax wackaloons: the only reason it still exists after Jonas Salk *gave* the cure to the world is because of ignorant superstitious nutbags like you! Google: Nigeria, polio vaccine, polio spread– to see what I'm talking about. Innocent kids suffer, are crippled, and die, because know-nothings who like to believe in whatever cuckoo theory pops into their heads (or is placed there by others who can make a profit, financial, religious or political, from it) prevent kids from getting the life and limb saving vaccine.

    Woo-worshippers: you don't want to vaccinate your kid? Fine. No-one will force you to. However, you don't get to go anywhere with your germ paradise of a child- not to the movies, the mall, the supermarket, schools, the park, nor anywhere else you could destroy another person's life with your selfishness. You can't see people's immunodeficiency, they can't see your kids' contagion. Why should others, cancer patients, kids born with a hole in the heart, anyone who has an immuno-disease, who need to rely on herd immunity, die because you're selfish and ignorant?

  • Good grief. Some of you people need to lighten the fuck up. @ D: Go jerk off or something, jerkoff. Where do you get off ripping a total stranger for delaying his/her child's vaccinations yet still getting the kid fully vaccinated. Life is a risky proposition, and while GnTs has a higher IQ than most blogs, there are few that have people getting quite so venomous and self-righteous. Don't panic just yet; evolution could have a helluvalot worse in store for us.
    I doubt you know Anonymous. Would you speak that way to someone in person? No, you wouldn't, in part perhaps because you'd get punched right in your over-reactive face or perhaps because you're actually a decent person at heart who gets carried away when playing holier-than-all online. Jesus. Take it easy.

    We delayed some of our son's vaccinations. A month or two here or there, primarily so he didn't get so many shots at once. This is not cause to freak out. You may be shocked, but there haven't been any polio/chickenpox/etc. panics in the area, and we are hardly alone in wanting a more graduated schedule of vaccinations. You want to give your kids shots on Dr.'s orders, by all means do.

    Regardless of whether he invited "bricks," the manner in which you ripped him (and by extension me, et al) was uncalled for…
    I realize many feel that the relative anonymity online makes people feel they have free reign to be wholly dickish. Still, take it down a notch why don't you.

  • Well, here's my view on vaccinations: I had measles before the vaccination was developed for it. (Yes, I'm old). Had to stay home from school for a week with the curtains closed. I don't remember suffering, but I must have been pretty damn sick, or I wouldn't have been kept home. I think I would rather have been vaccinated than have had measles.

    My mother, who is 93, is completely baffled by the anti-vaxxers. She had every childhood disease and managed to pull through, but knew many, many friends who did not. My father lost two sisters to childhood diseases. For which there are now vaccinations.

    Do the anti-vaxxers REALLY want to return to that? Hardly anyone is alive anymore to remember what it was like to have a child and pretty much figure it would croak before it ever got to age 5 or even 10. If the stupid anti-vaxxers had their way, no one would vaccinate their child. They'd be right–they wouldn't have to worry about austism from vaccines because THEIR KID WOULD BE DEAD from preventable childhood diseases.

  • What I find most fascinating about this "debate" is that otherwise sane and intelligent people are choosing to ignore the staggering evidence supporting vaccination and

    It is easy to dismiss the ravings of the insane or the gurgling of morons. Unfortunately, the anti-vaccine community does not consist entirely of lunatics nor idiots.

    It's really perplexing.

    I wrote about this some a while back:

  • Along with every little thing which appears to be building within this subject matter, many of your viewpoints are very radical. In any event I did enjoy reading through it.

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