The Plural of Anecdotes is not Data

I’ve had run-ins with anti-vaxxers before – ironically, the first big argument was with people I’d considered acquaintances, if not friends. We’d been to parties together, had drinks together, then suddenly, they lost their shit over a Facebook post of mine and that was that. I had attacked their sense of privilege and their smug ignorance (ok, I’d also called them idiots and that their little disease vectors were potentially infecting innocent people), but they clicked the “unfriend” button on Facebook and stomped off into the sunset.

Because if there’s one thing more intolerant, or resistant to pesky facts, or completely out of touch with reality, than a creationist, it’s an anti-vaxxer. And let’s face it, you can spread Creationism around Disneyland, and nobody gets hurt. These people, however, are a fucking menace to society.

So yesterday on Facebook, I posted a link to the article where an immunologist takes down the dribbling idiot who complains that “if you injected mercury, ammonium phospat (sic) and formaldehyde with VIRUSES (!) you’d be arrested for abuse, but doctors can do it legally.” I just posted it, didn’t make any comment, let it speak for itself, and a couple of friends “liked” it. All was well in the world.

Then, from out of the blue – and from somebody I didn’t know, thankfully – comes the message:

just because a “scientist” said it does not make it true

Uh-oh. Scientist in inverted commas, and of course scientists lie – mostly because they’re saying sane, rational things that are diametrically opposed to whatever germ-ridden fantasy land anti-vaxxers live in. Honestly, I probably should have just left it there. Made a snide remark and walked away. But, I didn’t.

“Ok then, I’ll bite, let’s hear your refutation of his facts. And please don’t let it be a YouTube video,” I said. Because we all know that these people all have Masters in Internet Videos from YouTube University, and if it’s in a video, IT MUST BE TRUE!

Immediately, she goes on the defensive. Maybe because she wasn’t expecting me to ask for facts, maybe because she’s used to throwing around one-liner “refutations” of articles and walking away, satisfied with her own smugness. I dunno.

do you really want facts or is this another vac bash

I’d just asked her for facts, but – again like with creationists – the need to feel persecuted is high in these ones. They feel that if their insane ideas are being torn apart in front of them, that it somehow justifies their ideas, and the more you show them how wrong they are, the more they know they’re right. It’s the Backfire Effect (When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger), and I’ve run into it often enough in dealing with creationists and right-wing nutters, to know that I should have just walked away. Buy hey! It was late, I’d had a beer, and it was either tear her a new one, or go to bed. And I wasn’t tired. However, I thought that it would be fair to warn her that I held her kind in very low regard, so she would have her work cut out convincing me, but that I was willing to be enlightened if she provided the evidence.

Given that I’ve yet to see an anti-vaxxer come up with anything resembling scientific, proven, tested results (and Wakefield can be safely ignored for the fraud that he is), go ahead and enlighten me. I should also warn you that I think people who don’t vaccinate are despicable creatures who put their own unfounded paranoia above the safety of their children and people around them. So there’s your caveat.

I don’t think I could be fairer than that. Plus, I’d also taken the precaution of taking the old favourite of Andrew Wakefield out of the equation. I shouldn’t have bothered:

exactly why is wakefield a fraud? and what is your personal qualifications

It was around this point that I facepalmed for the first time. Not only was here somebody still clinging to the lies spread by that evil, evil man – he has a lot to answer for, and if there is a Hell, I hope they’re keeping an extra warm spot just for him – but there’s suddenly an appeal to expertise too? Presumably because her qualification of “having produced small human from my loins” trumps any qualification I might have in refuting her medieval beliefs. Sorry, but “speaking as a mother” is crazy talk for “talking out of my arse.” Or “Suspending rational thought for a moment.” (To paraphrase Bill Bailey)

Still, I took my hand away, and politely and succinctly pointed out everything that was wrong with Wakefield and his fraudulent research, complete with a handy link, because these guys love the “Look it up!” route. Of course, that was my mistake – I have dared to provide facts and kick dirt on her shrine to Andrew Wakefield. Immediately, we see another trait that creationist display: the “oh, I have so much information for you, but you’re too closed minded to even listen to it” tactic of running away.

I am sitting here with so much data and just realised that i have no desire to educate someone who has already closed their mind to a world different to your own. I have no personal qualifications,but mom in law was head of research at glaxo for years and refused to vaxx kids, sister is head of a lab as microbiologist and guess what refuses to vaxx if you really wake up tomorrow and want the truth,you know where to find the way,go back and research wakefield again without the propaganda.

“Go and research Andrew Wakefield without the propaganda.” And you’re going to provide anecdotal evidence?? Excuse me for a moment…


Why, dear goddess, is it that those who are always totally closed to any idea – and especially evidence – that contradicts their own worldview, are the first to accuse you of being close minded. I’ve asked her twice to produce evidence and twice told her that I’m willing to be enlightened – provided her evidence stands up to scrutiny. Of course, given that she’s wheeled out Wakefield straight off the bat, my hopes of such enlightenment happening were diminishing fast.

Luckily at this point, one of my friends stepped into the fray, who happens to have a Ph.D in chemistry (thus also handily solving the Appeal to Expertise argument). (He blogs too. About stuff. Read it. It’s good.) His take-down of the belief in Wakefield is so good, and so simple that it bears repeating:

We’ve known for 17 years that Wakefield’s 1998 study didn’t prove vaccines cause autism (this information brought to you by the people who actually read it).

We’ve known for 11 years that he had financial conflicts of interest in publicising his apparent work that meant he stood to profit significantly from scaring people away from a triple-vaccine.

We’ve known for 8 years that his infamous study was performed unethically, from unnecessary procedures performed on children to blood samples being collected at a birthday party.

We’ve known for 5 years that his ethical violations were deemed sufficient for him to be banned from practising medicine in the United Kingdom.

We’ve known for 4 years that the BMJ have declared that his work on the MMR vaccine was not just unethical, but outright fraudulent.

It’s 2015 now. There is literally no excuse for believing his shit anymore.

Of course, arguing with these people is like trying to nail jelly to a wall. Having had Wakefield trashed, but without acknowledging that fact, she suddenly swing tact, posting a link to the – also discredited Dr Hooker “whistleblower” who claimed the CDC falsified the data. Again, a very familiar anti-vaxxer trope and one that is equally easily debunked as being a storm in a petri dish.

Along the way, I’d also asked her if she’d be happy if people still suffered from smallpox and polio. Yeah, I know, puerile argument really, but by this point it was clear we were being faced with the usual anti-vaxxer standard talking points, so why play nice? The reply was a special kind of crazy:

people still suffer from polio, we just call in guillian barr now, look up

No. Just no. At this point, I’m indebted to another commentator who pitched in:

Umm Guillain-Barré syndrome is not another name for polio, it’s another name for Guillain-Barré syndrome. I always heard people like you existed but I assumed you were a myth, like unicorns or human kindness.

Because by now, we’d reached plutonium levels of stupidity and really, being nice wasn’t going to help anyway.

But once again, we switch tack – back to the ingredients of the vaccines. Because, in true Food Babe style, if something sounds bad, then it must be bad. The irony of this is that by going this route, she immediately validates the point raised the the OP that she started out criticizing.

guy in lab coat did not say they did not use aluminium in vaxx he said they had to use it, look up aluminium in the child brain,formaldehyde in the system,and the insert of any vaxx you are putting in your kid

aluminium phosphate is a poison with level 2 warning,maybe not for injecting?

all you are doing is quoting povaxx and not considering the important facts here,like what is in the vacines

So, clearly she’s done her research, so I asked for a bit more clarity. I also lost my shit with her repeated “look it up!” claims. And yeah, if you’re using “provax” as a snarl word, we might need to revisit your “close minded” claims.

Stop saying look it up – seriously, that is the most infuriating thing with you lot – “look it up!” ‘Google it!” – because it means the other person has to waste time looking for stuff and you get away without providing citations for your claims.

No, instead of look it up, provide the information yourself. You’ve made the claim. Back it up.

Tell me, what’s the LD50 for AlP04? What’s the concentration in the average vaccination dose? Are you doing a Food Babe and going the “ooh! scary word! must be bad!” route, or do you actually know the chemical make-up and concentrations of the chemicals in a vaccination? Saying ‘But there’s formaldehyde in it!” isn’t enough? How much is in it? What are the allowable tolerances in the human body for that? That’s the big difference that the Op pointed out – if you mixed up the chemicals listed on a vaccine and injected yourself, you’d probably die. That’s because you’re not a pharmacist and don’t know the first thing about how these are actually made, apart from the ingredients listed on the side.

Still waiting for a reply. Maybe her kid needed it’s latest dose of 100% organic, gluten-free soy milk, or something.

But I’m also indebted to two more commentators. The first posted a link to the wonderful article “What Everyone Gets Wrong About Anti-Vaccine Parents,” which states what I think we all know already – being an anti-vaxxer has nothing to do with the welfare of the children. It’s about the parents’ sense of privilege, their denial of authority – hich really, you’re only allowed to do if you’re 14 and emo, and a misbegotten need to feel “empowered’ – that they’ve “done the research” and that they know best. It’s about ego, not lives. And because of that, lives are at risk.

I’m going to close off this with one of the final comments posted by another commentator on the thread, with which I agree 100%. By all means, don’t vaccinate. But then, don’t complain when society excludes you and your little disease vectors from public spaces, where they put people at risk.

I’ve taken on the anti vac donkeys numerous times. The question is, why bother? The choice should be theirs. But that choice should have a direct consequence. Access to public buildings, schools, transport systems, theatres, stadiums, work places… If you’re not safe to be in a crowd, you don’t get to be in a crowd. Kennels ask to see my dog’s vaccination certificate before they let him stay, for the safety of the other dogs. Why aren’t we as demanding of protection for vulnerable people? I’m glad to see this attitude coming into being at doctor’s surgeries, schools and work places in the States. I hope we follow suit. Leave the muppets the choice, but they feel the consequences of their choice, not others.


About PsyGremlin

PsyGremlin is a former Conservapedia sysop (although the position was earned nefariously), stand up comedian, DJ, and is currently a self-employed financial adviser, who impersonates a responsible adult at least 5 days a week. However, highlighting and poking fun at the crazies out there remains his first love. Well besides pork crackling. And custard. And cricket.
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5 Responses to The Plural of Anecdotes is not Data

  1. David Samuel says:

    This antivaccination meme is coming from liberals (conservatives too). Conservative media at first thought that it was so stupid that it must be coming from their party of stupid and supported it. But now they know it’s coming from liberals they oppose. But why are liberals being so stupid? You’re right to some extent that it is about their sense of privilege. But it’s about more than just that. It’s a result of a meme that has long been part of liberal tactics. A meme that has increased in use over the decades. It’s based in the old anti establishment meme. I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember. It took a definable form in the early seventies as white bread, white sugar, the white man is no good. They bought brown bread but found out it was just white bread with brown dye. Then they bought into wheat bread. Too ignorant to know white bread is wheat so… Whole wheat, then 100 percent whole wheat. Now multi grain. White sugar was bad (fast uptake so “shock” to the system) so replace with high fructose corn syrup (slow uptake, delayed sugar satisfaction so more sugar consumed and stored as fat) and massive widespread obesity is the result. Never going back to the original assumtion to scientificly validate the original postulate, that white, white, white, is bad. Knowing dishonesty to conceal the error. It was originaly merely a political philosophy. Supported entirely on ignorance and liberal popularity. That became a meme in liberal argument. Pseudo intellectualism and pseudo science as politics. Science is about measurement. That’s work. They don’t do the work. Lazyness is supported by their sense of entitlement. Now we have the climate change pseudo scientific political meme. The left has become really entrenched in their position. Try to talk basic measurements required to support any conclusion and they scurry off to their fallacious argument to authority, “look it up” meme, and arrogant hostility. The meme now in any discussion, or gab fest as I call it because discussion is too intelligent a word to apply to their babble and knowing dishonesty, is don’t call me on my bullshit and I won’t call you on yours. It’s a popular meme because it supports ignorance, lazyness, and dishonesty which most people are. They’ve been applying that rule for so long and so widely that to violate it with calls for measurement, evidence, and work is met with the hostility reserved for violation of real rules. Worse, we get the anomymity of the internet cultivating the habit of spouting off ignorantly so that people are spouting off like that in real life too. Taking ignorant actions like not vaccinating their kids putting kids too young to be vaccinated at risk. So it is about their sense of entitlement. Entitlement to be ignorant, dishonest, unsocial, and dangerous.

    • PsyGremlin says:

      Ok, firstly – this should never be a partisan issue. To make it one is fucking idiotic. There are anti-vaxxers on both sides of the fence – from new age hippies on the left, to the “but it’s mah feedums!” libertarians on the right. And they are all idiots.

      And to say “But now they know it’s coming from liberals they oppose” – I’m not sure where you’ve just flown in from, but have you heard who’s making the most anti-vax noise in the US right now? I’ll give you a clue – Obama (he’s that liberal Kenyan, remember?) came out and said people must vaccinate. In the build-up to an election year! The nerve of the man! So, I’m sorry to report that rather than opposing, the conservatives are embracing anti-vaccination. Just look at the comments by Chris Christie, Rand Paul (both Republican Presidential hopefuls) and talk show mental midgets Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck.

      So, I’m afraid that while it should not be a partisan issue, your attempt to smear liberals for some reason has fallen a bit flat.

      And as for the rest of your word salad, I got as far as “white bread, white sugar, the white man is no good” and gave up. I don’t know what the fuck you’re rambling about. There’s a racial element to healthy eating? WTF??

  2. David Samuel says:

    I see you’re not up to date on this week in conservative media (post Disneyland measles outbreak). It exposed the liberal Marin County as home to a cluster of anti-vaxers. Exposed other liberal anti vax sentiments. So conservative media is pro-vax this week. Shouldn’t be a partisan issue but it is. Your post was about liberal antivaxers as representative of some liberal’s stupid “sense of entitlement”. I knew you probably wouldn’t understand the racial referrance to white bread. (you’re too young). Though an intelligent person should have understood in the context of my post that the early seventies was a time when “the man”, the racist white establishement, had been degraded by protests of the sixties, and terminology to smear activities of “the man” was simplified to terms such as refined sugar, white bread, big oil and now “big pharmaceutical”. The point of my post was that lot of liberal philosophy has evolved to a degraded pseudo intellectual collection of ignorant and dishonest catch phrases that result in this stupid liberal anti-vax meme. Just like conservatives.

    • PsyGremlin says:

      “So conservative media is pro-vax this week.”

      Sorry, you’re going to have to provide links to back that up, because I’m not seeing any, and I’ve given you enough examples to show they are very much touting the anti-vax line. So, I’d be happy to be proven wrong on that account.

      Also, I think you’ll find that “sense of entitlement” is more a libertarian, ergo conservative talking point. And no, my post was not about “liberal anti-vaxxers” – it was about a conversation with one particular anti-vaxxer. I have no idea what her political leanings are. They are not relevant.

      And again, I’m going to ask for sources for the “white bread = white man” thing. I’ll ignore the “too young” and “intelligent” remarks. I just have a nose for ignoring word-salad, unsubstantiated bullshit.

      “The point of my post was that lot of liberal philosophy has evolved to a degraded pseudo intellectual collection of ignorant and dishonest catch phrases that result in this stupid liberal anti-vax meme. Just like conservatives.”

      The sentence itself is full of of “ignorant and dishonest catch phrases.” What beautiful irony.

  3. armondikov says:

    The polio/Guillain-Barré one I’ve never actually come across before. Or, at least, I’ve never filed it away as a “thing” that people actally believe.

    It would be a great theory… if poliomyelitis and GBS had the same underlying cause, the same symptom progression, the same transmission/infection rates, the same morbidity and mortality rates… or, in fact, were even remotely similar beyond “they attack the nerves”. Because by that logic, meningitis and chickenpox are “the same thing by different names” because both make you feel unwell and have a skin rash as a symptom. Or, paracetamol and alcohol poisoning are “the same thing by different names” because both target the liver. It’s beyond medically ignorant to even suggest it in the first place, never mind actually falling for the distinct lack of evidence for it. Sure, you might throw both into the ddx if someone says “my arms are weak” but they are not the same.

    Of course, the *real* interesting thing about polio is that the first wave of vaccines were so effective in eradicating the virus that the major source of poliomyelitis became the vaccine itself. The potential side-effects became greater than the actual risk, which is something that only happens when your medicine is really, seriously, off-the-charts good. And so they switched to second vaccine type that was less effective, but less prone to side-effects – but you could only do that once the risk of poliovirus transmission was sufficiently low to warrant the less-effective vaccine.

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