Recently I saw this on Facebox:


The comment reminds me an awful lot of one of the most common problems I encounter while teaching. You see, this person has done her research. Unfortunately research is not helpful if everything you read is bullshit. That's the beating heart of the anti-vaccination movement, for example: a person can do endless research on the subject online and find numerous sources of antivax information. I mean, none of it is accurate, but it's certainly plentiful.

About once per semester, depending on what I'm teaching, I will encounter this with a student. He will write a paper and cite numerous sources throughout as students are taught to do in a research paper. But the sources will be, for lack of a better term, bullshit. Tumblrs. Blogs. Conspiracy theory websites. Essentially, a bunch of garbage that falls into the category of Unreliable.

Now I have to do a mini-lecture on Good Sources vs. Bad Sources. The problem is that younger people who have grown up with the internet perceive The Internet, or perhaps Google, as a source. If one views Google as a single source, than any link found on Google is as good as any other. I try to explain that reliable sources of information for academic purposes are things like major media outlets, peer-reviewed journals, government records, and so on. Certainly all of those can and do provide inaccurate information at times. But if we're playing the percentages, your odds are a lot better with the Bureau of Labor Statistics or Science than with the Vaccine Facts tumblr or the Strip Mall Holistic Healing Wellness Center's website.

What I do not understand about this is that Americans of all ages express a tremendous amount of skepticism toward the media, the government, corporations, interest groups, and anything else considered Official. Yet when reading some anonymous mommyblogger's tale of how she cured her son's autism with quinoa cookies, an appreciable percentage of the public is willing to internalize this information completely unskeptically. The librul media and the government and "scientists" are lying to us wholesale, but this random asshole on a message board speaks the unvarnished truth. Even the fact that such dubious sources of information often have a clear ideological or financial motive – they reveal the rapacious greed of Big Pharma and then immediately try to sell you some unregulated Homeobullshit product – it's not enough to tip some of us off that it might be a scam.

I understand, but I don't understand. The skepticism of our scientific, media, and political institutions makes perfect sense. That none of that skepticism extends to random, qualification-free people talking out of their asses on the internet does not make sense. Perhaps this is an area where the rottenness of cable TV news and the decline of print media are causing serious problems. Perhaps Fox News and the like look so utterly ridiculous and amateurish that people raised on a diet of that product honestly can't tell what distinguishes it from some half-decent looking Tumblrs. Maybe one news website looks as good as any other, whereas if one sees a physical copy of the New York Post next to the New York Times the differences between the two are much clearer. I don't suppose I will discover the cause by ruminating on these questions, but I do know that an uncomfortably large number of people claiming to have "done their research" have done something that makes them feel like they are well informed when they have actually filled their heads with nonsense.

85 thoughts on “UNSKEPTICAL”

  • These antivax parents should quite simply be arrested and have their children taken into protective custody.

    If they drove 100 mph and their kid didn't have a seat belt on you'd do the same thing.

    It's a black and white issue of pubic health. Crazy people who are a danger to others need to be incarcerated.

  • I try to explain that reliable sources of information for academic purposes are things like major media outlets

    Major what now? I think you lost me there…

    As for the inconsistency you point out, I assume it is more a case of selection bias. They do not make up their mind after accidentally and gullibly reading bullshit sources. Instead they only read the sources that confirm what they already believed to start with.

  • I remember this phrase "I've done my own research" very well. RESEARCH = Loose Change(all three editions despite their mutually exclusive contradictions), Alex Jones, etc.

  • You know, when I was a kid, our schools had "libraries", with books and reference materials and trained librarians who could actually guide the research process. And, of course, the primary material of which you speak. Now-a-days, librarians are in the first tier of cuts when school budgets shrink. No wonder. Oh, but I forgot, there's always Wikipedia.

  • ConcernedCitizen says:

    To echo Alex SL: people are more willing to internalize information that jives with their preconceived beliefs/worldview. Invariably these beliefs have strong emotional components that tend to cloud their judgement. In other words, people believe what they want to believe, critical thinking and science be damned.

  • Folks also have a hard time wrapping their heads around science being about probabilities, ranging from "Provisionally, it looks like this is happening." to "Lead pipe cinch". Anecdotes can sound more solid, prior to close examination.

  • I came up in the 80s and I was taught to write my papers using sources published in legitimate books and periodicals. I'm old enough to remember the Internet being a novelty but still young enough to have potentially been infected by the anti-vax movement and other such things, were I that stupid. Whenever I'm doing research these days, I always consider the source, and something a history professor said in class years ago has become a mantra for me: I can put up a web page that says that the sixteenth president of the United States was Adolf Hitler, and it will stay there, unquestioned.

  • By the way, if anyone is interested in reading the original article which inspired the comment which inspired this post, it can be found here.

  • I'm with Dr. Mac and Sarah; I'm at the forefront of Gen X, and the great schools and school libraries the Boomers enjoys were only just starting to crumble from lack of funding in my day. In elementary and junior high, my teachers actually taught research skills and took us to the school library to gather materials for rudimentary research papers. We were taught how to cite our sources, and (this is before the Internet) sources like People magazine would have gotten us a failing grade. I started high school during St. Reagan's reign and everything just went to crap.

    I have a Millenial child, and it's been an uphill battle in the "everyone gets a trophy, all opinions are equally valid" world they live in to teach that some sources are just better than others. The CDC has better scientific data than a former Playmodel centerfold. The Encyclopedia Brittanica has better geographic data than Fox news.

  • I also grew up pre-Internet. Research papers were done in the library, notes were taken on index cards or legal pads, papers were typed on a typewriter. The final paper of my academic career–my senior seminar in vet school–was done on an AT running DOS, word processed on Word Perfect which we considered a massive improvement over the old Smith Corona.

    As with all things, sources matter, and kids growing up now need to understand the difference between good and bad sources. (Is it footnoted? Was it published in a peer reviewed journal? Did someone think it was worth publishing in hard copy that can be taken out of the library? Etc, etc, etc.)

    Anti-vax only works if your kid (or you) get to benefit from good herd immunity. Quit vaccinating in large numbers and herd immunity goes to shit and more and more people start getting sick.

    I personally don't understand how otherwise intelligent people can be anti-vax. Now Jenny McCarthy may be an ignorant moron but Mayim Bialik (of Blossom and Big Bang Theory) is not. The woman has a Ph.D in neuroscience from UCLA and justifies her position with "my pediatrician is okay with it."

    I see a fair amount of vaccine phobia in my veterinary work. It's only when a chronic non-vaccinator loses an animal to a vaccine preventable disease that they wake up. (Usually.) And these same people will resist rabies vaccination even though it is mandated by law. (We are in a rabies endemic area.) I love telling them, "This vaccine is a state requirement and it has nothing to do with preventing your dog/cat from getting rabies. The state doesn't care if your dog/cat dies of rabies. The state cares if YOU die of rabies."

    My two older kids are a college sophomore and a HS senior. Thankfully, their teachers have impressed upon them that Wikipedia is not a valid source for any research project. They do go to a brick and mortar library when they have to write a sourced research paper. But they both also tell me that their researching/writing habits are not the norm; many of their peers are guilty of regurgitating nonsense that they found via The Google and submitting it as academic work.

    I hold Ed personally responsible.

  • c u n d gulag says:


    And that faith in God, or faith in homeopathy, or something, something, something, will protect them and theirs, even if they help to cause an epidemic or a pandemic.

    What they can't grasp is that they're not special snowflakes – just ignorant flakes.
    Flakes who only look for "information" that supports their pre-conceived notions.

    We're all snowflakes.
    And we all will melt.
    ALL of us.
    But if all of we snowflakes stick together, it'll take longer for all of us to melt.

    You know what?
    If the consequences of not vaccinating themselves and their children meant that it only affected THEIR health, up to and including the death's of them and theirs, we shouldn't give two Hershey-squirt's.
    But we're not selfish and ignorant assholes.
    We try to at least look to help others.
    To help educate others.
    And who needs help and education more than selfish and ignorant assholes?


    Well, this is what I was saying before about Libertarians (or libertarians) impressing their ideology onto others in order for it to succeed. (Again, when I say "succeed" here, I mean that it spreads to a critical mass point where it has an actual effect on public policy, and not as a judgment about its validity.) They're just fine and dandy with collective action when it benefits them personally, and so much the better if they don't have to spend any money or be in any way inconvenienced in the process. Penn & Teller, for example, espouse a blatantly libertarian philosophy and yet this video demonstrates that they can grasp the concept that collective action has its upside, even for libertarians. Socialize the benefits and privatize the costs of society, that's what they want to do.

  • This applies to pretty much all conspiracies online. Try arguing with any of them and the first thing you'll get is "Do your research!" once they've finished accusing you of being a paid corporate shill.

    Also, the solution to the paradox of this article is that these people aren't selectively being critical, they were never thinking critically to begin with. They're the type of person who believes anything they hear, but they've internalized a deep distrust of corporations and government. To an outside observer it may appear that they're critically assessing the claims made by these groups but in fact they're doing nothing of the sort, they're just automatically disbelieving them in the same way they automatically believe almost everything else.

  • middle seaman says:

    We all have biases. Even my wife, one of the wisest people I ever met, would say "Glenda said …" The leaves me with the thankless duty to say: Glenda is a moron.

    We hear/see (radio/tv) reports on medical findings. All done by reputable institutions using the best statistical support. A typical finding will say: carrots cause cancer if eaten in excess. Absolute truth? No, experiments medical experiments have to be repeated repeatedly. Etc.

    Even well established scientific publicans have to be taken with a grain of salt. Reason: we publish many thousands of papers, but only a handful of them are significant. The rest is a waste of time.

    It's not easy and expert bullshitters do well. See above antivax example.

  • When I read things like this and hear about people doing their own research, I think about the really great imposters of research.

    This for example:

    Not sure if you remember this but I certainly do.

    I'm no skeptic, I'm all about getting vaccinated, but I do question what to trust even when it comes to actual research. There is always a means to an end with humans. Librul or liber'Merican, somebody has something to gain.

    Sometimes I get so fed up with it, that I give the person credit for even trying to do research, which my relatives fail to accomplish even that (they vote strictly down the line on what I call gun personhood). I guess it depends which you view better, ignorance or apathy.

  • Someone actually said to me the other day that because the typhoon in the Philippines was so large that was proof that there is no global warming. Yup.

  • When I was exposed to — fortunately did not contract — pertussis, my first thought was F-U Dr. Jenny!

    With medical issues there're a number of factors at work here.
    • I wouldn't be surprised if a significant reason for alternative care — in the States at least — has been cost. Docs n drugs cost big dollars. Bladder infection? You don't need a doc, drink cranberry juice.

    Probably the biggest culprit is that trusted institutions have made themselves untrustable:
    • The MSM's? Remember they're the ones who helped bring us Nam, Gulf War 1&2, and tell us that hostage taking is an acceptable PoV and the Ds should learn to play nice.
    • Politicians? 'Nuff said.
    • Academics? Ask Greece and Ireland how the austerity model — based on purposefully fudged data — has worked out for them.
    • Drug companies? How many drugs rushed into the market have nasty side effects?
    • Doctors? Who prescribe drugs based on junkets. Perform unnecessary procedures* (c-sections) or bodgy work — malpractice.
    • Peer reviewed journals? We've spoken here at length about what a rort those can be. Remember, Pasteur and Lister were demonised in their times.
    • Churches?

    So is it any wonder that when what used to anchor society has been uprooted and discredited that people will go with their gut and believe whatever? We've had our bed now we have to sleep in it.

    We live in a country that has four other competing narratives for the War Of Southern Treason. So who you gonna trust?

    *I was once experiencing numbness in my fingers. The doc's first/only solution was to perform surgery. WT…?!?!! That was it. It turned out the problem was caused by a bad neck. By performing stretches and exercises the numbness went away.

  • Sigh. Just yesterday I had a patron who wanted to know about the scientific facts about abortion that she heard from the local Catholic radio station. But she didn't want to come in and research. She wanted me to gather them up and send them to her. So if you belong to a faction with prepackaged bullshit, you win just because people are that lazy.

  • First, let me politicize this somewhat – There is a certain irony in that the big enablers of what is deemed pseudo science on this subject are gigantic Libs.

    Even though y’all have busted Oprah a little bit I can only imagine the filth stream that would have emanated from hereabouts if the enabler were The Pillsbury Beck Boy. We would have munched on marinated and fried filet of Beck, fer sure, about 30 comments worth.

    Second gear,

    In an analog to the now discredited Freudian analysis, the Wakefield Blasphemy functioned as a thought provoker about vaccine safety as a general subject.

    One of my children is struggling w/ vaccination of my grandbabies relative to both the timing and the combination – NOT the basic concept of necessity for personal and herd health.

    Lets look at the “party line” on combination vaccines, for example

    From the CDC:


    ‘Can so many vaccines, given so early in life, overwhelm a child's immune system, suppressing it so it does not function correctly?

    No evidence suggests that the recommended childhood vaccines can "overload" the immune system. In contrast, from the moment babies are born, they are exposed to numerous bacteria and viruses on a daily basis. Eating food introduces new bacteria into the body; numerous bacteria live in the mouth and nose; and an infant places his or her hands or other objects in his or her mouth hundreds of times every hour, exposing the immune system to still more antigens. An upper respiratory viral infection exposes a child to 4 to 10 antigens, and a case of "strep throat" to 25 to 50.

    Adverse Events Associated with Childhood Vaccines, a 1994 report from the Institute of Medicine, states: "In the face of these normal events, it seems unlikely that the number of separate antigens contained in childhood vaccines …would represent an appreciable added burden on the immune system that would be immunosuppressive."’

    Now, a little dueling banjos…

    From Bloomberg


    Combo Vaccine Raises Risk of Fever-Related Seizures in Kids
    MMR, varicella vaccines given separately seem safer, though real risk still rare, study finds

    “MONDAY, June 28 (HealthDay News) — Toddlers who receive the combination MMRV (measles, mumps, rubella and varicella) vaccine are at higher risk of having a febrile seizure a week to 10 days after receiving the shot than children who get the MMR and varicella (chicken pox) vaccines separately at the same visit, a new study confirms”
    Later in the article…

    ‘“What's important for parents to understand is that even though there's a doubling of the risk for the combination vaccine, the overall risk of seizure to any one child with any measles-containing vaccine is still less than one in 1,000 doses," said Dr. Nicola Klein, co-director of the Kaiser Permanente Vaccine Study Center in Oakland, Calif., and lead investigator of the study, published online June 28 and in the July print issue of Pediatrics.’

    And later…

    ‘The findings are a follow-up to preliminary findings on the twofold increased risk of febrile seizures, which Klein and her colleagues reported to the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) in February 2008. Soon afterward, the ACIP CHANGED ITS RECCOMENDATIONS (ed- caps added) from a stated preference for the MMRV vaccine to no preference for either MMRV or separate MMR and varicella vaccines.’

    There is a lot more on other conditions, but this is just one example of, perhaps, a ‘harmless’ side effect (unless it’s your kid.)
    So my family is trying to get the timing right and they are searching for ‘unbundled’ vaccines which, for some of the immunizations, are rare right now. Maybe there just might be a growing market for them.

    Real life IS sometimes more complicated than some of y’all would allow…


  • My family got our first television in 1955.

    I blame television for turning us – and by us I mean me as well – into short attention span morons. I blame solutions to stressful family problems solved in half an hour accompanied by a laugh track. I blame the glorification of the police, the soldier, the detective, the gunslinging cowboy. The hapless dad, the ditzy mom, the TV family that doesn't have a bookshelf or even coffee table books on display. I blame the sittin' on your butt two dimensional, either – or, no nuance, no grey area, appeal to shorter and shorter attention span bullshit to which children, young adults and adults are exposed 4 to 8 hours daily. I blame the parents for falling into the trap of having the television be the baby sitter.

    I've urged co-workers, friends and family who've discussed with me the problems they have with their children. "Take your TV's an throw them away. Keep a small one in the closet and only bring it out for elections and wars. Or Presidential assassinations.", I'd say.

    No one ever does more than chuckle nervously at such a suggestion often replying, "But I want to watch my TV".

    By the way, I blame television for the word "Kids". They're Children. Kids are baby goats. I blame television for the use of "whether or not" instead of "whether". I blame television for the increase in the word "tuh" when the word is "to".

  • @middle seaman: True enough. My own mother is a registered nurse and she was born in a third world country. She vaccinated the heck out of me; when I had to gather evidence for having been vaccinated against MMR a couple of years ago, I found proof of three doses of MMR, at least five doses of polio, and a whole mess of DTPs. When flu season showed itself to be especially bad last year, I told her I'd go get my shot when I got done with finals and I thought she was going to throw me in the trunk of her car and drag me down to Walgreen's for the goddamn vaccine.

  • Oh, and I blame television for cheapening the use of various words. Primarily I blame Dan Rather for starting the use of the word "hero" to describe anyone who served. Yeah, I went to Vietnam, so what? No, I'm not a hero.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Major Kong,
    All of those needles prove once again, that the most socialistic thing we have in this country, is our military.

    A military unit is only as good as its weakest member.

  • I'm reminded of Nietzsche's critique of the stoics from Beyond Good and Evil: rather than trying to conform to the laws of nature, as they claimed, they rather created "laws of nature" that conformed to their prejudices and desires. While claiming to seek a truth located outside themselves, they in fact created a "truth" that confirmed themselves.

    I think this sort of thing is quite similar. Anti-vaxxers and other conspiracy nuts claim to be seeking a truth beyond the MSM or medical establishment, etc. But what they are really doing is seeking any old horseshit that confirms their prejudices.

  • Ed's point is spot on and applies to so much.
    If we're to be skeptical, and we better be, it's easy to take aim at Ms. McCarthy and her ilk. Is there no basis for questioning the whole chain of industries, professions and health officials that has us lining up for flu shots, etc? Are there any similarities to the set-up that arrives at an acceptable amount of rat shit in our Cheerios box?
    The weakness of the intellectual is arrogance. A smug attitude towards Jenny doesn't mean we know what we're talking about.
    Doctors were bleeding folks not that long ago. Lobotomies anyone?

  • If we're to be skeptical, and we better be, it's easy to take aim at Ms. McCarthy and her ilk. Is there no basis for questioning the whole chain of industries, professions and health officials that has us lining up for flu shots, etc?

    I think the key here is a basic education so that we don't have to keep reinventing the wheel. I can look at a web site that says some obvious bullshit–such as that the sixteenth president of the United States was Adolf Hitler–and I know that it isn't true. We also need to be willing to base our opinions on valid evidence and change our minds as necessary. Doctors were bleeding people and doing lobotomies because those methods seemed to work. They stopped when the anecdotal and empirical evidence demonstrated that they didn't. As far as being able to know good sources of information from what is not, I think that is a field which is going to have to be addressed. It's a shame that the people who are the most obviously equipped to address it–library science majors and professional librarians–are getting their funding cut to hell and gone.

  • Yes, because the corporations and their government lackeys tell us all the truth when it comes to GMOs, right Entomologista??? Right….

    Ed, maybe it's the old conspiracy theorist in me, but I think there's a lot of knowledge out there that is frowned upon because it didn't come from Monsanto or Big Pharma. I'm not saying people shouldn't vaccinate, just that they have good reason for not believing those people. If I have kids, they'll get vaccinated but they damn sure won't be taking the BS flu shot every year, whose ineffectiveness does not outweigh all it's potential side effects.

  • I used to do cases in the national vaccine injury compensation program (in the court of federal claims). Lots of division within the bar over the autism link, unfortunately. One thing I got tired of was the assumption of everyone that I was anti-vaccination. Of course not, some people get injured and deserve compensation, but I am still 100% pro-vaccine.

  • How many people take vitamins? I bought a package of multivitamins on the advice of my doctor, and it contained a little line on the package about how there have been no studies confirming the effectiveness of taking vitamins.

  • College Sophomore says:

    Hey Ed, (or anyone else willing to input)

    I have been having a debate with someone for the past three years, who claims that http://www.zerohedge.com/ is a reliable source. I maintain that it is not, because It provides opinions, and not facts. However, the person I'm arguing with refuses to believe that it could possibly be an unreliable source. Mainly I think it's a lot of conspiracy theories, and libertarian propaganda, but I am open to the idea that it could be reliable.

    Since I doubt I'm going to convince the person I'm arguing with that he's wrong, I want to know, am I wrong? If I were taking a class from you, and I cited an article from that website, would I still get a passing grade? Would you consider it an acceptable source for a paper?

  • @College Sophomore, Zero Hedge is a very mixed bag, as it's largely an aggregator a la HuffPo. I am not an economist (though I do have an old B.A. in Econ), but my take would be generally that it would not be a reliable source in that mostly what they do is present economic or market data and then put their spin on those data. Which is often libertarian/ Paulish, but sometimes surprisingly lefty. My thought is that the data IF USED DIRECTLY AS A SOURCE (and they generally provide links) is fine, and their opinions would not be acceptable as a source. But I basically feel like using Paul Krugman's opinions, despite the fact that he is a Nobel Prize winning economist and appears in the NY Times would be the same. Stick with government data and peer-reviewed academic papers for sources.

    @Middle Seaman, I see you comment on Naked Capitalism, maybe you have a better take?

  • "What I do not understand about this is that Americans of all ages express a tremendous amount of skepticism toward the media, the government, corporations, interest groups, and anything else considered Official."

    Well, this is not exactly surprising since it is all CONTINUOUSLY ENCOURAGED by conservatives (media, talking heads and even politicians)!

    A few years ago, while Obama was visiting India, there was this crazy rumor that the ENTIRE US Navy fleet was in India to protect Obama, at the cost of $20 billion PER DAY! After she expressed her utmost outrage about it, Michele Bachmann was asked WHERE she had gotten the figure of $20 billion/day from. I mean, heck, she is part of the US Government!

    She casually replied: "It's all over the internet"!!!

  • As other people have pointed out, but in a "they are all gone now" sort of way (except they aren't all gone, but they will be if not used)…teaching finding good sources from bad is an instruction librarian's job. I hope your institution has a good one who you can take your class to, or have come visit your classroom. Having someone whose entire job is evaluating good sources drill the process into your students' heads might not hurt, is what I'm saying.

    Also, Jenny McCarthy and anti-vax people should all be stopped.

  • I'd be all for the anti-vaxx crowd culling themselves from the population with easily-avoidable illnesses but for the fact that I have to share a PLANET with said yoyos.

  • True story: I saw a teenager reading the label on a pill bottle and he said "Homeopathic. Does that mean it will let me read gay guys' minds?" But seriously, have Americans cooled to the medical profession? Doctors were once the poster for benign meritocracy. Having worked in healthcare administration, I prefer Joseph Heller's take on the profession. I have in laws who are Fox watching, ultra Catholic, classic right wing authoritarian followers who drink hydrogen peroxide and are always pestering my wife about getting a hair analysis. They don't trust doctors. I think it works like Congressional approval ratings: all bad except for mine. Or that one nice GP I used to see who listened. And, let's be honest, the healthcare racket screws people over and not all of that comes from the insurance end.

  • There used to be people who argued that HIV was unrelated to AIDS.

    We don't hear from them since most of them died. At least they took relatively few people with them. I think it's connected to what C.S. Lewis described as the I'm as good as you concept. You went to college and medical school and through residency, and have your M.D.on the wall, and you think it means you know more than me? I'm as good as you, and I say vaccines are poison!

  • It sure would be nice if some forward-thinking legislator would slip an amendment into the ACA that would:

    1) allow antivax cretins to refuse vaccines for themselves and their children, but with the understanding that:

    2) they will have to pay the full fee-for-service cost of the entirety of medical care resulting from whatever medieval disease they catch. Full fee-for-service, not the negotiated Medicare/Medicaid/Insurance company cost, (so like $800-1000 for a CNA to switch an empty bag of IV saline for a fresh one);

    3) that those costs will not be subject to discharge via bankruptcy, like student loans. The price of freedom is high, and follows you until you die;

    4) and if they or their dependent chile are revealed to be Patient Zero in some sort of outbreak, they also have to bear the cost of care for all of the people they infect

    So by all means, exercise your special fact-free freedom. Just know that the rest of us will use the full force of the government to snatch every penny from your bank accounts, garnish your wages, and drastically reduce your Social Security check for the rest of your life if you force us to rescue your ass from typhus or get a bunch of nursery school kids sick with mumps.

    Because Freedom.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    I may be a near-sighted pig, but I never said I was a successful one at finding truffles – except once in a blue moon in a blog's comment section ;-)

  • Indeed. I have gotten into debates with two friends a few times who differ wildly from me in almost every aspect. All too often they will back their argument up with "I've done my research!" and I honestly don't have the authority to call them out on it, since I haven't SEEN the "research" they have conducted, the data they looked at, and haven't been able to counter that with readily available (at the time) true facts.

    So I end up feeling like I lost the argument, because I'm not evil enough to use biased sources and flat-out lying to proclaim that everything I know is the truth and factual and what they read is all wrong without even looking at their facts.

  • A quote I heard recently:

    "Alternative medicine that worked would be called medicine."

    You know like that willow bark we take. It's called aspirin.

  • College Sophomore says:

    @geoff, thanks! That was pretty much exactly what I had been insisting from the person who I'm having this argument with. I told them to send me the data without the additional "analysis" from Zero Hedge, and that if the data speaks for itself, I would be more than happy to believe what the data shows. I just don't feel like ZH, always (or even frequently) gives good analysis on what the data is showing (Based purely on the articles the person was sending me).

  • Professor Fate says:

    One thing that comes to my mind as a possible reason for this mindset is that from Vietnam to Watergate to Iran Contra to Iraq and going forward the political elite have lied to us on an almost daily basis for years. With that sort of experience why expect any professional elite (such as scientists who often come from the same impressive sounding schools as our Political Class) to be truthful? It’s a mindset that would very easily accept someone saying scientists and doctors are lying about vaccines to serve their own interests at your expense.

  • People have a downright religious belief in vaccination.

    Usually I'm afraid to wade into this argument, just like I don't want to argue with Christians about the immaculate birth. But I'm feeling stabby, I guess.

    How many believers in vaccination have gone back to the original research to see if the data is actually compelling? Anyone here?

    They are arguing from authority: Scientists say so!

    Or anecdote: When I was a kid my neighbor had a gimpy leg from polio! How dare you say that better hygeine and no natural cases in the U.S. for decades is a reason to question the efficacy of continuing to vaccinate every infant!

    Vaccines have never been subjected to double-blind studies. They can't be. It would be unethical. That makes the science sketchy. Sorry, but there it is.

    And that's only one reason the science is sketchy. Here's another one: Surveys reveal that 9 out of 10 adverse reactions are not reported to doctors, and 9 out of 10 of those reports are not recorded or forwarded to public health authorities. Because everyone knows vaccines are safe and effective!

    There are more reasons that cause me to doubt. Different ones, to different degrees, for different reasons. I'd guess that most of you very rational people believe in every vaccine, every time, because: science!

    Do you people really want to send me to jail or kill me?

  • Hunky Jimpjorps says:

    Us Americans love that One Weird Trick. We like to find out the real truth from the people "they" don't want us to know about. We love extreme couponing and hypermiling and pinching every last penny. Unfortunately, it means we also tend to get taken in by something that's too good to be true because it appeals to our self-image as mavericks bucking the establishment with common sense and moxy.

    Doubter: The whole "your advocacy of X is actually a scary religious Xism cult" isn't the best foot forward if you're gonna take the contrary position here, man.

  • A corollary to this is the phrase "just asking questions," also known as JAQing off. I'm sure many other readers have encountered it. It usually goes like this:


    You: Hey I noticed you said X, but that doesn't seem right because (point out obvious, glaring mistake in conspiracy theory's "evidence").

    Conspiracy guy: HEY I'M JUST ASKING QUESTIONS!

    Of course when those questions get answered and the answers don't support their assertion, they just keep asking the same questions over and over again.

  • By the way, I blame television for the word "Kids". They're Children. Kids are baby goats.

    You and my dad, man, you and my dad. I still go out of the way to say "children" instead of "kids." And yes, teevee is definitely to blame for that one.

    Well, my mother, who died at the age of 94 two years ago could tell you some pretty hair-raising stories about illnesses she and her cohorts contracted in the years before vaccines. Some of them died. She nearly died a couple of times. From diseases that are (were?) now extremely rare because of vaccination. Don't be a stupid. Vaccination is not evil.

  • It's worse in some ways and better than others. If someone's absolutely sure that kids were better off when they didn't wear helmets on bikes and all that, it's easy to look up "Child Mortality in the United States, 1935-2007" and note that kids really do die a lot less than they used to, and most of the lives saved are in the "unintentional injuries" category. If someone wants to know anything at all about power generation, the Energy Information Administration frequently updates their database.

    On the other hand, if you have a particular viewpoint, you can enjoy partisan facts to go along with your partisan opinion, to the point where people who disagree about politics aren't even living in the same conceptual universe. Learning a bit about history, the most striking thing is how easy it can be to lie without saying anything that's untrue, just by cherry-picking and giving undue emphasis. If you're not profoundly committed to truth and fairness, you're going to end up reassuring your prejudices, and not doing much else.

    And Arslan… indeed! I wonder if "doubter" will be at all dissuaded from claiming in the future that there were never any double-blind studies of the polio vaccine's efficacy. (The UMich account linked to by Matt C doesn't explicitly say that the 1954 trials were double-blind, but they were.)

  • Synchronicity! I happened across a book at the library today, "Pox". It's about the smallpox epidemic of 1900-1902, the massive public health effort to get people across the USA vaccinated, and the tremendous resistance to vaccination that hampered it. The Progressive movement in this country was rife with racism and classism, which complicated things considerably. But seriously -smallpox! If you won't get your own children vaccinated for smallpox. . .words fail me.

    And now we have chicken pox parties, so concerned parents can keep their precious offspring safe from vaccines. By getting infected with chicken pox.

  • Double blind experiments are not the only method of proof in science. There are also field studies. Astronomy, for instance, would have a very hard time corralling galaxies in petri dishes. Sometimes all you have is field studies.

    And for vaccination we've had global and repeated field experience over close on two centuries now. Results vary given the effectiveness of the vaccine, which is known and can be predicted. Smallpox: incidence goes from large numbers of the population to zero. Polio, after vaccination, very few, as in single occurrences, of disease. Tetanus: also almost perfect. Typhus: a few percent still get it. Flu: not so high. 60%+ don't catch the disease at all, most of the rest have an attenuated version. Immunity, even when it's not perfect, is still immunity and still helps.

    Those results are so consistent over such a long period of time that arguing with them shows nothing but ignorance. And ignorance, as Dilbert recently pointed out, is not an opinion.

    Does that mean everything else the establishment says is also true? No, it doesn't. Some GMO foods may yet turn out to be a bad idea (mainly because of the poor agricultural practices some of them promote). Cell phones may turn out to cause tumors. We don't have two centuries of consistent evidence about some things. We do about vaccination.

    As for the side effects of vaccination: it's one of the most closely watched issues in public health. The CDC doesn't wait for people to tell them about side effects, although they include that data in their studies. They actually randomly sample populations to check for side effects. The methodology needed to get a representative sample is known. They use it. To think they'd miss 90% of people with side effects is just plain silly. The rest of us would notice them a lot more too, in that case. We wouldn't only be hearing about them from neighbors or on the internet.

  • Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    I'm currently halfway through _Age of American Unreason_ by Susan Jacoby. You may find some of her discussion relevant.

  • from


    This was published February this year…

    "VE in those 65 and older against both influenza A and B was 27% (95% CI, -31% to 59%), and against H3N2 it was 9% (95% CI, -84% to 55%), but both numbers are statistically not significant.

    The United States had an early and vigorous flu season that has been especially hard on seniors, who have had high levels of hospitalization from the disease. Concerns about the disease in seniors this year have renewed reminders from health officials about usefulness of early antiviral treatment.

    One possible reason for the findings in seniors is that some may have not mounted an effective immune response to the vaccine's H3N2 component, the group wrote. "Nonetheless, this finding should not discourage future vaccination by persons aged ≥65 years, who are at greater risk for more severe cases and complications from influenza."

    They cautioned that more data are needed to fully evaluate VE in older adults.

    "Although imperfect, influenza vaccines remain the best tool currently available for preventing illness from influenza," the authors emphasized."

    TRANSLATION: The data that we have doesn't agree with the party line out the CDC so still take the shots old farts, cause we know in our hearts that we are right.

    I have become sick with flu-like symptoms (though I am sure not the flu) within 24 hrs of each of the last two flu shots I've taken. Unless the data gets significantly better, or unless the Obamanistas force it on me, I have and will continue to decline the shots.


  • Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    You know, when I was a kid, our schools had "libraries", with books and reference materials and trained librarians who could actually guide the research process. And, of course, the primary material of which you speak. Now-a-days, librarians are in the first tier of cuts when school budgets shrink. No wonder. Oh, but I forgot, there's always Wikipedia.

    Hey, I've had wingnuts tell me that as a librarian all I do is shelve books for a living.

    I haven't had the heart to tell them I work on a computer all day and don't even touch books as part of my work.

  • Hunky, point taken. I'm not feeling quite so stabby anymore.

    Grendelkhan, I will absolutely change my opinion of whether or not there were double-blind experiments with respect to the first polio vaccine in the 1950s.

    They don't do that now.

    Robert, I'm pretty sure we don't vaccinate for small pox anymore.

    Quixote, double-blind is the gold standard in medical science, I know it isn't how they do astronomy.

    Field studies are what we are left with, and they'll have to do, but there are complications, especially with viruses as opposed to bacteria. Viruses move and evolve. The Flu vaccine efficacy stats don't get me through the door for my shot. We don't vaccinate U.S. babies for typhus or small pox, why polio?

    I got a tetanus vaccination a couple of years ago. I'm not against all vaccinations all the time, but I think we've gone crazy with them, and am not at all sure that's good for the immune system.

    I think you have to look at them one at a time, as well as question the ever growing schedule of them. I have the idea that babies are especially vulnerable, and that negative effects may be hard to reliably measure.

  • I was going to weight in on this by saying please, go to Africa, see all of the kids who are dying because of a lack of access to stuff we in the West take for granted, like vaccines, and then come back and bitch and piss and moan about how terrible it is.
    Jared Diamond, for all of his pop "history" cited some stuff in his book "Guns, Germs and Steel" about how Western Europeans are more genetically resistant to smallpox than Native American populations because of the plague that hit Western Europe in the middle ages. What is a fact is that smallpox destroyed up to 90% of the population of the Americas before Europeans even spent a few decades dicking around the interior of North America, looking for gold.
    So, to echo what Dylan said, yeah, "freedom" doesn't mean putting everyone else at risk. Vaccines do not cause autism. Full stop. Even if they did (which, again, they DON'T), I still wouldn't care, because the few that would get it would be outweighed by the literal thousands of lives it would save.
    @ bb in GA- any flu shot you've been given in the past 5 years or so is a dead virus, that physically cannot get you sick. I would imagine you got sick during cold and flu season because, well, it's cold and flu season. Flu shots are not exact sciences due to the different strains of the flu, and if new ones come up, it's hard to get a whole bunch of vaccines produced to combat it- see swine flu from a couple years ago.
    Why is it that people who assume that it's all a huge government cover-up (like with 9/11) are also the ones who say that government is the "problem" because it's corrupt and inefficient and wastes resources? How can someone assume Hyper-Competency when it comes to things like aliens, etc, while at the same time railing about how the government can't do anything right, and that the "market" is better at things like making sure our roads get paved or children get educated?

  • Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    How many believers in vaccination have gone back to the original research to see if the data is actually compelling?

    Even going back to the original research isn't enough.

    Consider a paper stating that they found a link between vaccines and autism significant to the 95% level.

    Citing that paper as proof means nothing if you don't also realise that there's 19 other papers finding no such link.

    Good science is repeatable and holds up to further investigation. Any result by itself can be an anomaly.

  • @Khaled

    You didn't take a breath after calling my name and starting to call out conspiracy people. Maybe you weren't linking me, maybe you were…

    I am not questioning anyone in the Govt's sanity or absolute competence – I'm just seeing bureaucratic bullsh!t from the CDC. The best data they have for older people (ME) for vaccine effectiveness says why bother on the most serious strain of the flu.

    Perhaps I'm guilty of the Post Hoc logical fallacy (2 for 2 on getting sick within 24 hours with no other sickness during that season), but all things considered I am passing on the shot.


  • @ bb in GA- bad line break, I wasn't throwing you in with the conspiracy nuts, unless you think that flu shots contain tracking devices from the government.

  • @mothra: "Kids" was also a song from Bye Bye Birdie. I miss Paul Lynde.

    On sources: I am in a graduate studies program with a few idiot children who think Wikipedia is a reliable source that is appropriate to cite in their papers. When they get marked down for it, they argue. So far I have been able to refrain from showing them the Wikipedia entry a friend of mine edited to win an argument with his wife (specifically, that the traditional gift a wife gives her husband on their first wedding anniversary is a particular sex act still outlawed in many states.)

    On why peer-reviewed is better: get a bunch of experts in a room to check each other's work. The odd guy out might have the same degree, but if his work isn't supported, he doesn't look so smart.

    On the temptation to believe 1 guy from the Upstairs Hollywood School of Medicine rather than everyone in the AMA: how many Paul Harvey-ish stories can we read about a wildcard rebel who bucked the system and kept fighting for his genius notion that the Establishment pooh-poohed? And That Little Boy Grew Up To Be Albert Einstein (Louis Pasteur, Tycho Brahe, Richard M. Nixon, whomever.)

    It's the same magic bullet / Twilight Zone / Click On This One Weird Trick sort of twist that had me looking for Narnia in the back of my closet as a kid (and which turned me into a crusty old skeptic at 12).

  • @ladies: I'm not opposed to peer review journals and believe they're highly important. The issue that erodes confidence in them are the politics that drive them. Though on this level hard sciences have it over social, as they can be performed empirically.

    However, there's as much pissing in corners and defence of fiefdoms as in any industry. So if Famous Dr X has staked his/her reputation and financial security on the efficacy of drug treatment for depression, s/he is far more likely to try to bury work that shows meditation can work as effectively.
    Having used both for my depression, annecdata proves a combination works in 100% of all cases ;)

    Still, I'll put more stock into peer review and proven methods. I'll try this hoodoo voodoo in the first instance, no need to help contribute to developing MSRIs if I can help it, but if they don't work I'll take a script thank you.

  • "We don't vaccinate U.S. babies for typhus or small pox, why polio?" — Doubter

    In 1968, the U.S. Public Health Service recommended against requiring typhus vaccines because there hadn't been a reported outbreak of epidemic typhus in the United States since 1950, and no outbreak from indigenous sources since 1922.


    (There was an outbreak of murine typhus in 1944, though. From 1964 to 1993, there were an average of 45 cases of endemic typhus per year in the United States; see http://www.gideononline.com/2011/09/17/endemic-typhus-in-the-united-states/ )

    As for smallpox, "Worldwide immunization stopped the spread of smallpox three decades ago. The last case was reported in 1977."


    Polio, however, is much more easily spread than typhus. After polio vaccinations in northern Nigeria were temporarily halted in 2003 and 2004, polio spread to twenty-one different countries that had managed to eradicate it. Typhus, which generally relies on body lice as a vector, is much easier to contain.


  • Xynzee,

    I may be biased as I am a scientist myself, but here are my five cents. The trick about science is not that individual scientists or journal editors are exceptionally trustworthy or competent. We are all humans. The trick is that we all constantly test and criticize each other. If something wrong or manipulated is published, then in the long run only one of two things will happen:

    (1) The problem remains undiscovered. But this can only happen if it is so irrelevant that nobody cares about the issue. In that case, does it really matter?

    (2) If it is something significant, then people WILL try to build on it or test it, and then the mistake or fraud gets discovered. It may take some time, but it will.

    And this is why science works. It is a collective exercise in which practitioners constantly try to find the mistakes in each others works. Even if all scientists individually are as irrational and dishonest as the next human, the way the work is set up guarantees that we get it right in the end. To expect it to be perfect every step of the way is naive. Again: humans.

  • Obamanistas? Cool. Do I get a uniform, maybe some jackboots?

    I also support the right of motorcyclists to not wear helmets, if and only if they have valid organ donor cards.

  • bb – I want to know if you stay sick for days after getting the flu shot or if it clears up as quickly as it arrived. I get the flu shot every year (helps that my company provides me with it for free, at work even) and every year, I know that I'm gonna feel like shit until i get at least one good sleep. It's not so bad that I have to go home, but I don't plan a lot of stressful activities for the day. But by the next morning, I'm fine, no problems, and I don't get the flu all winter.

    You aren't alone in your reason to not get the flu shot, but it reminds me of my father's reason for not going to a Packer playoff game two years ago after I bought him tickets. See, he went to a December game at Lambeau about 15 years before and he lost the feeling in his legs… at least until he got back to the car in the parking lot. To me, it sounded like a dumb tradeoff, just like not getting the flu shot to avoid one crappy day, but, as they say, ymmv.

  • I was going to weight in on this by saying please, go to Africa, see all of the kids who are dying because of a lack of access to stuff we in the West take for granted, like vaccines, and then come back and bitch and piss and moan about how terrible it is.

    Yes, like I said, my mother is from a third world country, and in places like that, infectious disease is indeed A Thing That Happens. And causes issues with infant and childhood mortality. She vaccinated me to hell and gone. I am going to look into going for a TDaP next month, since I wasn't aware that all the DTPs I had as a child have probably worn off by now and that I could potentially get whooping cough because some idiot parent won't vaccinate a child because s/he doesn't believe in herd immunity nor reciprocity.

    Ursula, last year I waited until after I got done with final exams because I always get a headache and a stiff neck with the flu shot. The only reason I got it at all was because of said mother hammering at me to do it. I headed her off at the pass this year by getting it when I had a free Friday afternoon and a weekend with no activity scheduled last month, so that I could spend that time recuperating. I actually didn't even need that much time, as it turned out, because I was just fine within 24 hours.

  • In some ways it must be a lot easier getting along with people if you are willing to uncritically believe what they say. I think some people mistake a strong bullshit filter for being a stubborn ass.

  • @doubter

    Effectiveness of vaccines is a settled question and totally uncontroversial among people who actually have technical knowledge on the subject. The mechanism of action is well understood and it's been thoroughly tested in practice. If you don't actually know anything about a topic, it's really easy to be all solipsistic about it, but it's not like there's any genuine controversy there.

  • You have students that are illiterate. They don't know how to analyze or think about information. You can thank 20 million standardized grade school/middle school/high school standardized tests per week on that.

  • This is, in a nutshell, why we need librarians more than ever. There ARE good sources of information available online, but finding them is hard, and learning to recognize them takes practice and experience.

  • James Dietsche says:

    When mentioning Major Media resources, I believe the author was thinking along the lines of newspaper archives, which can be used, for the most part as valid original sources.

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