I enjoyed this pair of comments on a post about anti-vaccine crackpots on the Gin and Tacos Facebook page.


It's neither worth it nor interesting at this point to address the basic flaws in anti-vax arguments.
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However, I think this comment illustrates why so many of these half-assed pseudoscientific theories are finding receptive audiences these days: it seems like it makes sense. To someone without a basic understanding of anything scientific or medical – that is, about 95% of American adults – it makes perfect sense that exposing an infant to many different diseases at once would "overwhelm" them. It's not correct, but a semi-reasonable person without any real understanding of how vaccines or the immune system work could read this and think it sounds perfectly reasonable.

If you're one of the increasing number of people for whom "Sounds about right!" is a suitable replacement for accurate information – and so much easier! – the scientific facts gleaned from Tumblr leads down some very strange roads.
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38 thoughts on “SOUNDS ABOUT RIGHT”

  • The idea that a very young child's immune system can be "overwhelmed" by the current US vaccine schedule is one that I've seen on someone's blog (apparently many doctors in Europe and Asia think the US schedule is insane? I don't know), as well as the assertion that one's unvaccinated child would not be a threat to my (hypothetical) own vaccinated child. I think my current favorite thing about the anti-vaxxers is the way that many of those who have been taking a "what, me worry?" approach to vaccine-preventable illnesses that have in the past been responsible for so much death, disfigurement and disability, are now freaking the fuck out about Ebola. Bush II implemented a plan for quarantine rules in the event of an outbreak or epidemic in the US (when swine flu was still in the news), which was cancelled in 2010 by Obama. Oh my god, the libertarian anti-vaxxers are up in arms about that!

  • Ah, but Sarah, you must remember that Ebola is a virus carried by those BLAH people. Therefore it's terrifying!

    I had a head-desk-pound conversation yesterday with a co-worker, whose husband had gotten a flu shot and she was terrified of catching the flu from him (I think she misunderstands what a flu shot does). Then she went on to say she never gets a flu shot herself because she "eats healthy" and thus she's immune from catching the flu. Yes, those are two compely contradictory beliefs, but she has no problem holding them at the same time.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Somehow or other, a lot us folks survived having our immune system 'overwhelmed' when we tykes!

    How do they account for that – and the fact that they, themselves, had their immune system 'overwhelmed?'

    I didn't think about it at the time, but I've come the realization that "Idiocracy" was actually a documentary.

  • @c u n d gulag: Great point! I would say that virtually all the commenters here have had their vaccinations, because in the 1960s – 1980s, there wasn't this stupid notion that vaccines were bad.

  • Sounds about right!

    You once used the phrase "contemporaneous plausibility" to describe the writings of Megan McArdle at her best. That's similar to what your are describing here.

  • If it continues on its current trajectory, the human race will be extinct in about 200 years or less. This will just hurry it along.

  • In the military they made us keep up on our vaccinations.

    When you were getting ready to deploy to certain parts of the world, guess what, MORE shots!

  • Ah yes shots and more shots for those about to deploy. A prime rule of the time was, don't piss off the Corpsman and never, ever lose your shot card.

  • @Anonymouse: my secret to avoiding the flu is all natural and comes from my garden… garlic. LOTS of garlic. Keeps pesky disease bearing people at a distance ;)

    Unfortunately, there were a number of antivaxers back in the 60s/70s. Commie-nism!! Or something, I suspect an uncle—by marriage(-sigh-)—was one. They were just easily forced to the margins on this one, and told what's-what by The Man on this one. Now we have to respect everyone's opinion in case we hurt someone's fee-fees.

    Sadly, medical practitioners in conjunction with Big Pharma and insurance companies have done a lot to undermine their own credibility amongst the masses. So it's natural to to think that there's an element of profiteering to be had here.

  • Myself, I'm delighted that the kid mentioned is getting the vaccinations, a real anti-vaxxer's kid gets none.

  • Somehow or other, a lot us folks survived having our immune system 'overwhelmed' when we tykes!

    How do they account for that – and the fact that they, themselves, had their immune system 'overwhelmed?'

    I didn't think about it at the time, but I've come the realization that "Idiocracy" was actually a documentary.

    There actually have been bad reactions to vaccines; smallpox had a very high rate of bad reactions, which was one of the reasons for the big push to vaccinate everybody against it. They wanted to wipe it out with herd immunity so that they could then stop vaccinating for it. The US vaccine schedule dropped it before I was born, so I never had it; when I looked into getting it when the anthrax thing was going down back in 2001, I learned that I actually am someone who would have a severe reaction to it due to my medical history. I'm not supposed to get it unless it is absolutely necessary. This is not something that is isolated or unknown; my dog had a severe reaction to one of the vaccines she got a few years ago (it was either the new vaccine for leptospirosis or the reformulated vaccine for bordatella), and now the vet gives her an antihistamine to prevent her having a reaction to her annual shots.

    There's also the (more rare) case of the individual who is asymptomatic but shedding the disease and spreading it around. A famous example of this was Typhoid Mary (who was a real person and was involuntarily quarantined for the last years of her life to stop her from spreading typhoid all over creation). And some of them–unlike Typhoid Mary–actually are vaccinated. Vaccine fails happen, but they're rare and the vaccines get reformulated if and when the failures become common enough to be a real problem. But anti-vaxxers take these rare events and blow them up to seem as though they are bigger than they are, and are thus a reason to argue that their own kids needn't get vaccinated.

    I guess I'm weird because I'd rather overwhelm my body with vaccines than with the actual diseases.

    Great minds think alike.

  • The following is an excerpt from an article written by Stephen J. Gould for the December 1990 issue of Natural History magazine.

    I almost began to picture myself in this better and innocent world, supping freely with my fellows and bringing in the sheaves. No more essay deadlines and no more suffering with the Boston Red Sox. No Saddam Hussein, no seatbelts, no sweat but by the honest brow. Then I came upon the Great Reminder (make that capital G, capital R) so freely available in any town as the ultimate antidote to waves of romantic nostalgia for a simpler past — the gravestones of dead children. In 1834, as the True Inspirationists began to contemplate their move to America, Friedrich Riickert
    wrote the set of poems that Gustav Mahler would later use for his searing song
    cycle of 1905 — Kindertotenlieder, or songs for dead children. Rich or poor, city
    or country, all nineteenth-century parents had to face the probability that half their
    children would never enter the adult world. All my Victorian heroes, Darwin
    and Huxley in particular, lost beloved children in heart-rending circumstances. I
    cannot believe that the raw pain could ever be much relieved by a previous, ab-
    stract knowledge of the statistical inevitability — and on this powerful basis
    alone, I would never trade even the New York subways for a life behind John
    Deere's plow that broke the plains. Imagine the mourning, or just the constant

  • c u n d gulag wrote:
    Somehow or other, a lot us folks survived having our immune system 'overwhelmed' when we tykes!

    For what it's worth there are more vaccines given now and given earlier than when you grew up. More + earlier = more bad reactions & a greater negative perception to those reactions.

    NPR had a thing on this 'middle ground for the vaccination argument' and laid it out rather well that meeting anti-vaxxers in the middle isn't a logical argument. I'm not sure that I agree. I believe much if not most of this delaying argument came from Dr. Sears who for better or worse many people adore. I re-read some of his position on delaying vaccination and it could be read as his suggestion for reaching a middle ground with anti-vaxxers in the same way that I believe in negotiating with terrorists. At some point saying 'they're wrong I'm right' isn't productive.

    Having said that – no vaccines = no public school. Private schools can make their own rules but should likely follow the same policy. Idiocy may be followed religiously, but it doesn't deserve an exemption.

  • @Sarah:
    "(apparently many doctors in Europe and Asia think the US schedule is insane? I don't know)"

    Yup. Nations with strong health care infrastructure and single-payer prefer to see babies 6 times in the first year of life and twice a year in the next 2 years. Therefore they can give shots at each of those visits, and spread out the load. The rationale for this is to ID any reaction specific to the shot & log that data.

    It makes as much sense, or more, than the US method–my kid had a reaction to the battery of shots she got at 23.7 months to 'catch up' with the US immunization program, and she will never know WHICH of the 7 substances tripped the wire.

    Point being, the US vaccine schedule is irrational, and carries an increased risk of a future reaction for those who react. Except, as we have no method to make people take their kids to the doctor, since we insist that the state may not pay for the visit because Bolsheviks under the crib, it's better for the herd than the alternatives.

    Spacing is scientifically supported, tested on the human populations of the UK, Ireland and Spain, and not at all similar to anti-vax illogic.

  • It's worth noting that, unless I miss my guess and there's a professional biochemist or immunologist participating in this discussion, everybody here that is reviling the "illogic" of the woman who trusts an expert that tells her it's better for her kid to spread out the shot schedule, is doing THE SAME THING by putting trust in an expert that says it isn't.

    That's not to say that she's right and y'all are wrong; but from a sociological perspective the biggest problem with these conversations that mock the people who "don't believe science" or whatever, is that they miss the mark: the problem is not that they trust what someone says because it "sounds about right", the problem is they've picked the wrong person to trust. That's still a pretty tough nut to crack, to be sure, but the problem will remain thoroughly unsolvable as long as people keep pretending like it's only the other people who are relying on trusting someone saying something they don't fully understand.

  • Yes to spacing, for the scientific and common sensical reasons articulated above ( to the extent that we can agree that common sense exists). Ed I share your disgust with anti-vaxers but not your pleasure at the fucking moron you exalted above. You have no children so you have no clue how much easier it is to deal with a feverish and/or ill 9-month-old (or whatever age) when you know it's coming because you know what reaction your child has to which vaccine.

  • Mindlessly BELIEVING what the experts say is just as dumb as rejecting it out of hand.

    If the science is actually looked at, the European model is best, and the person you are mocking, Ed, is right, and you are wrong.

    ALso, they did used to space them out more when we were young, because they weren't as focused on raking in the dough ASAP as they are now (also, insurance companies)

  • Here's the deal, from the point of view of a veterinarian (note: most of us are not associated with 3rd party insurance): Vaccines are DESIGNED to provoke an immune response: they contain antigens. That's the entire point. Sometimes antigens merely make you feel crummy (or not), sometimes they cause a local swelling and pain, sometimes they cause an anaphylactic reaction. There is no way to predict what reaction you get. If you've had a reaction before, you're perhaps more likely to have one this time.

    As far as dividing up vaccines is concerned, it's a good idea for this reason: you are more likely to know WHICH vaccine caused the reaction. Has nothing to do with overwhelming the body, and everything to do with recordable data. Vaccine reactions are supposed to be reported. If you don't know which vaccine caused the reaction, the reporting is more or less worthless.

    Pe-medication can do a great deal to make vaccinations more comfortable. Ask your doctor (or your veterinarian).

  • In the US, the recommended vaccine schedule is set by the CDC. The criteria for this schedule are evidence-based; the CDC attempts to set the schedule to maximize benefits and minimize harm. That is, they attempt to maximize net benefits. The CDC is not infallible and does not have access to perfect knowledge; its recommended schedule is merely its best estimate. However, there is nobody anywhere who has access to better data and analysis. In particular, "European doctors" do not have access to some special source of data hidden from the CDC.

    It is true that measuring net benefits requires some sort of normative measure, on which reasonable people may differ. However, the CDC recommendations are robust to changes in these assumptions. Typically the difference the in net benefits associated with the CDC recommendations and those associated with alternatives are so large that normative assumptions must be absurd to overcome them.

    From time to time the CDC revises this schedule, either in light of new evidence, or better analysis, or because a new vaccine has become available which changes the cost-benefit analysis. We can therefore be quite confident that the CDC recommendations are somewhere "wrong" in some particular. The difficulty is to identify this particular in advance. If you had good reason to think the CDC was wrong, they would use your information and analysis to revise their recommendation. Catch-22.

    I recommend the blog Science Based Medicine for information about vaccines in particular and scientific analysis of medicine in general. Steven Novella has a good post about the issue under discussion here:

  • it seems like it makes sense

    As a wise man once said, common sense is what tells you the Earth is flat.

    As far as vaccines, forty years ago we also 1) had fewer antibiotics being overprescribed, 2) fewer antibiotics in farm animals, and 3) less idiot insistence on scrubbing everything someone else might have touched with germicide and antibacterial glop. Shorter: we have a eugenics program for superbugs in this country.

    But hey, let's screech about ISIS Mexicans coming to kill us all. That's useful.

  • NPR had a thing on this 'middle ground for the vaccination argument'

    Oh, why am I just so not fucking surprised.

    Next on NPR: our expert panel of Juan Gonzalez, Bill Nye and Phil Robinson find a middle ground on the question of whether or not the Moon is a giant crab waiting to eat the Earth.

  • Oh crap – "Juan Gonzalez" should be "Juan Williams".

    Apologies to Mr. Gonzalez, great host on Democracy Now!.

    I blame my error on Obama's policies, and the giant Moon crab.

  • To the commenter earlier who said believing one set of experts is not better than believing another set. That's indeed true.

    In the vaccine case, though, the anti-vaxxers experts can be counted on the fingers of one hand. *All* the other doctors, immunologists, epidemiologists, biologists, you name it, are on the side of vaccination.

    In that case, yes, you're believing a set of experts but you have considered the evidence on the preponderance of scientific conclusions. It's a belief based on reason, not simply an article of faith.

  • I am waiting for the NRA to explain the best way for parents to deal with a wilfully "infectious" post-vaccination child. I have an intuition that it involves more guns in the home….

  • Having given my girls (who turn two in about a month) a whole bunch of shots- I can say, that maybe the Europeans space them out because the go to the doctor more often. Also, it's bad enough having my little girls get shots (and they are starting to know what is going on when the nurse brings the needles in) but having to do it more often may just stress the kids out a little more.
    I personally don't care about how "spaced out" the shots are, as long as people are getting them for their kids.

  • Note that this is not restricted to vaccines.
    Here's a scenario that a pediatrician friend says is not uncommon lately:
    Mom brings in sick kid.
    Doctor prescribes medication.
    Some time later kid has not improved, Mom brings kid back because "the medicine is not working."
    Turns out that Mom looked up the medication on the internet, freaked out, didn't want to give her kid "all that strong medicine," so she's been giving him one pill per day instead of the four that were prescribed.

  • Actually, and a bit OT, but "sounds about right" is the quintessential approach with which the right-wing misinformation campaign has been able to fuck up so much in terms of politics and life over the past, certainly 13 years, but really the past 40.

    It's exactly, perfectly, this phrase and the evil pursuit of it for partisan and power gain that misanthropic and greedy charlatans have mastered, harnessing the general derpitude of the population to keep us all from progressing.

  • Turns out that Mom looked up the medication on the internet, freaked out, didn't want to give her kid "all that strong medicine," so she's been giving him one pill per day instead of the four that were prescribed.

    What's always good as well is the person who ignores the fact that their pharmacist warned them that the antibiotic they're taking can cause stomach upset, gets stomach upset and decides not to take the rest. Bingo! Yet more antibiotic resistance.

  • I still "believe" in science, but given the utter failure of so many American institutions (the banks, the press, the broadcast media, the Congress, the courts, the MIC, the "intelligence" apparatus off the top of my head) I can understand why so many people distrust the medical/ scientific community too. We are generally NOT GIVEN "accurate information", so… Don't agree re: vaccinations, but I kinda get it.

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