a case of medical luddism

April 8, 2009

One would think that when public health officials are worried about a dramatic rise in cases of infectious childhood diseases because parents aren’t vaccinating their kids, it’s time to stop taking your medical advice from celebrities and conspiracy theorists. However, as is the case with most things we don’t really understand very well, people are getting more and more afraid of the same medical technology that wiped out smallpox and polio just a few generations prior with stunning success. And that’s quickly turning into a huge health hazard which is only being made worse by woefully misguided celebrities on a mission.

vaccination syringe

The story sold by the anti-vaccine movement has all the elements of a made for TV drama. Evil medical conglomerates on a mission to make money at any cost. A rogue researcher who took it upon himself to reveal their evil ways only be to be attacked by Big Pharma henchmen afraid to see their vaccine empire crumble before their eyes. It even has big name celebrities attached to the cause. A small problem with all this however, is the fact that the anti-vaccine movement started out with a case of medical and research fraud by a doctor who was working for a lawyer trying to sue vaccine makers for “causing autism.” Even after the reality behind Dr. Wakefield’s infamous research was made public, the anti-vaccine movement insists that his studies must be true and the reporter who exposed them must be a hatchet man for the medical industry.

Why are the anti-vaxxers (to borrow a term from Phil Plait) so insistent to sticking to their guns despite overwhelming proof that vaccines work? Because to them it’s not about the vaccines or the science. Rather, it’s about their distrust of big companies and attempts to pin the blame for what seems to be an epidemic of autism. And this is where Wakefield’s study gives them one of those perfect excuses to attach their legitimate concern to their favorite villain. The popularity of alternative medicine dealt a major blow to modern medical science. It’s practitioners needed to overcome Big Pharma’s supremacy in the healthcare industry and they decided that the best way to do it was to create a PR narrative where the likes of Merck, Eli Lilly and Pfeizer weren’t the guardians of our health but greedy monsters who wouldn’t think twice about selling poisons to us and our children if it will net them an extra dollar.

Of course medical corporations exist first and foremost to create shareholder value, like every commercial entity, and that very reason is why they would’ve adopted any alternative medicine that could be proven to work. It costs around $800 million to take a new pill from the lab to the pharmacy counter. If some random plant root could be bottled up into a pill and was a lot more effective than anything they could make in the lab, they would be the first in line to use it. Why? It drops R&D costs, speeds up time from lab to clinical trials and to the market and generates a better ROI since their “natural” pill is on the market longer and enjoys the protection of a patent for an extra few years. In fact, Big Pharma uses a wide variety of natural substances like venoms and plant leaves when developing new drugs. And contrary to alternative medicine claims, you certainly can put a patent on a plant extract and sell it in pill form.

However, people’s mistrust of authority and big corporations gives alternative medicine plenty of pity points and the idea that Big Pharma is evil has taken deep roots. Now we can blame trace amounts of mercury in a long discontinued vaccine preservative for autism and accuse a giant evil industry of poisoning us for profit because after all, so many people are saying that a huge pharmaceutical company would do that to protect its oligopoly on healthcare. We can even try to question the effectiveness of vaccines with straight faces despite all the diseases they helped to suppress and the fact that when we stop giving them and sabotage herd immunity, all those diseases start coming back. It’s culture vs. science and the facts don’t really matter anymore. I understand that parents of autistic children are frustrated. I’ve seen how difficult it is for them and I know it’s tempting to find a villain and feel like we’re on the verge of preventing a flood of autism, but the reality is much more complex.

The big question the anti-vaxxers pose is why there’s an outbreak of autistic children. Well, the answer to that is not very clear cut. You can’t just take a blood sample and determine whether a child has autism based on a chemical analysis. It’s a very complex condition that carries with it a whole host of problems doctors are still trying to understand. A diagnosis could be more of a bureaucratic matter than a medical one. Some experts believe that earlier versions of the DSM, the guidelines by which conditions are diagnosed by psychologists, were restrictive in what can constitute autism and the condition was under-diagnosed. The subsequent revision had a less restrictive definition and there are concerns that we may be over-diagnosing autism and since the condition is so complex and requires a whole lot more research, we don’t have that great of a handle on exactly how many cases of autism there are. To boil down this complex problem to a few simple shots is like trying to solve an integral calculus problem on the back of a napkin. It can be done, but you better be very knowledgeable about calculus before you try it.

And yet anti-vaxxers can’t be bothered to do a little reading on the subject they try to pretend they understand. They insist on solving a calculus problem with arithmetic and when it doesn’t work or make things worse, they blame the evil calculus lobby for undermining their efforts in the name of profit. Worse yet anti-vaxxers deny that they’re the primary cause behind a major decline in vaccinations and the resurgence of measles and mumps. “Oh, we don’t say that kids shouldn’t be vaccinated,” they shrug, “don’t look at us.” No, of course they don’t. They just say that if you vaccinate your kids, evil pharmaceutical companies will inject them with toxins that cause autism and that vaccinations should be a personal choice. I wonder how anyone wouldn’t rush to get their kids vaccinated after that, even though the diseases being suppressed by the aggressive regiment of vaccines are not extinct and are just waiting for a chance to come back should herd immunity drop. This is exactly what happened in the UK and exactly what can and will happen in the U.S. when a cover of Playboy becomes more important than a medical degree in a scientific debate over a developmental condition.

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  • Amadan

    There are parallels with creationism, particularly in the appeals to emotion and group identity as ways of besmirching the evil ‘others’; and in the purely negative rhetoric: it’s all about the other side being wrong, not what should replace it if The Good Guys get their way. (Ever heard of anyone wanting to teach the ‘strengths and weaknesses’ of ID or the argumentum ex banana? Me neither.)

    The biggest problem is that the tactics make rational debate irrelevant. To be rational is to be arrogant, elitist, and unsympathtic.

    Creationism’s main vulnerability lies in the fact that the main body of its adherents take very seriously the Christian commitment to telling the truth. Its main proponents, on the other hand, regularly and flagrantly dodge, duck and weave to avoid confrontation with their own inconsistencies and outright lies.

    Perhaps the anti-vax denialists are vulnerable in the same way. They appeal to people’s instincts to protect their children but some, at least must realise at some level that they are endangering them. So the solution lies in how you confront them (preferably in public) with that inconsistency?

  • http://www.thibault.org John Stracke

    Good article. But I’m most pleased with the phrase “the evil calculus lobby”. Such a charming notion. I envision Prof. Frink sending his goons to beat up innocent arithmetic teachers.

  • Isabella Thomas

    > http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25272600-2702,00.html

    > THE AUSTRALIAN

    > Vioxx maker Merck and Co drew up doctor hit list

    > Milanda Rout | April 01, 2009

    >

    > AN international drug company made a hit list of doctors who had to be

    > “neutralised” or discredited because they criticised the

    > anti-arthritis drug the pharmaceutical giant produced.

    >

    > Staff at US company Merck &Co emailed each other about the list of

    > doctors mainly researchers and academics – who had been negative

    > about the drug Vioxx or Merck and a recommended course of action.

    >

    > The email, which came out in the Federal Court in Melbourne

    > yesterday as part of a class action against the drug company,

    > included the words

    > “neutralise”, “neutralised” or “discredit” against some of the

    > doctors’ names.

  • http://www.kylev.com/ KyleV

    Oddly (and off topic) I started using variations on the phrase, “Your inability to understand calculus does not make your algebraic solution any more correct” several weeks ago on facebook and social news sites. I wonder if it flew around the internet, or if great minds think alike.

    Anyhow, excellent entry. It reminds me how easy it is to mask outright anti-corporatism under any number of guises (especially when some sort of emotional appeal is a part of the message).

  • Greg Fish

    “AN international drug company made a hit list of doctors who had to be neutralised or discredited because they criticised the anti-arthritis drug the pharmaceutical giant produced.”

    Before I begin, I was wondering why there are so many angled brackets being used, as if the story excerpt was part of a chain e-mail copy/pasted as a reply to the post.

    The article itself seems to be a case of sensationalized writing where quote marks are inserted quite liberally. It makes perfect sense that companies would keep a list of doctors who are highly critical of products that are being used to sue them. But hit list? Let’s get serious. The author seems to equate reps at a drug company asking their bosses what do to about the doctors who represent a legal liability and could cost the company billions to hiring gunmen to shoot them in the back of the head.

    Really, some of these e-mails sound so outlandish that without seeing the actual documents themselves, I can only think they were a colorful retelling of some hearsay, peppered profusely with an active imagination. Really, they belong in a novel about special ops rather than an article about corporate CYA procedures.

  • tony

    This is a quote from a New Jersy parents united to defend their right to decide over their children’s treatments.

    “Middleton said the vaccination mandates are not about children’s health.

    “I believe the government and big pharmacies are in bed together,” Middleton said, adding that if the state cared about children’s health it would demand “green vaccines” that do not contain neurotoxins and carcinogens such as thimerosal, formaldehyde, mercury and aluminum.

    Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk (R District-39), the primary sponsor of the conscientious objection bill, said federal law exempts vaccine manufacturers from liability. She said the federal government compensates those parents who can establish a firm timeline between a vaccination and a resulting injury or death and has paid $910 million toward vaccination-damaged children. She said as of Oct. 1, the federal government had 988 vaccination-related deaths on file. Since it seems that he is very welcome in Tanzania, he may disregard your beaurocratic hypocritical “ethics” which have nothing to do with the benefit of terminally ill people there at all. Sitting, in the comfort of your office or home and spread libelous small det

    “What about the products causing the deaths”

    Now it is dubious that vaccinations have abated smallpox and the rest of the diseases, since it is a known fact amongs biologists and MD’s who have eyes, to observe that the strong decline of these diseases happened before vaccinations were introduced!

    This particular lie that the decline is due to vaccinations gave the pharmaceuticals the license to damage the health of already billions babies (today adults) all over the world.. As Autism is the disease of the ninties onwards. But what with allergies, respiratory and gastric problems, ticks, ear infections, you name it that is so spread in modern times.

    For some reason I am certain that the Big-Farma CE’s see that their offspring is not vaccinated.

    Just google vaccination scandals and you will come along some scientific proven data that will make you sure to never go near one vaccine or other.

  • Greg Fish

    Tony,

    I’ve always tried to point out that random quotes are meaningless, especially when taken out of context and used to justify a personal opinion. It really doesn’t matter who said what. All that matters is the evidence of which I see none provided.

    The funny part though, is that thimerosal hasn’t been used in vaccines for a long time now, formaldehyde and aluminum also aren’t used, and mercury is a primary part of thimerosal so it being quoted twice seems a lot like list padding to me.

    Oh and did you know that formaldehyde is used in shampoo? If it’s one of the toxins causing autism and other developmental diseases, we should all be sick from day one. In fact, we’re all exposed to countless toxins by just being alive. Trying to count them all, put up a list and then worry ourselves sick accomplishes nothing but scaremongering which is exactly what anti-vaxxers are doing.

    “Now it is dubious that vaccinations have abated smallpox and the rest of the diseases, since it is a known fact amongs [sic] biologists and MDs who have eyes, to observe that the strong decline of these diseases happened before vaccinations were introduced!”

    Really? I suppose they’ve written peer reviewed papers over the last 100 years to attest to this fact and those countless MDs and biologists who disagree don’t have eyes to observe or got bought off by Big Pharma? The greater art of medicine is totally incompetent and corrupt I suppose?

    Like noted in the original post; we give kids vaccines for mumps and measles and the cases go down to almost nil. We stop giving them and the diseases soar right back the moment herd immunity drops. If you’d like to ignore that evidence, it’s like trying to ignore that the sky is blue. If you’d like to explain it away, it would be like trying to explain why the composition of our atmosphere doesn’t make the sky blue.

    “For some reason I am certain that the Big-Farma CEs see that their offspring is not vaccinated.”

    Just to let you know, that was a TV show. If you have tangible proof that the doctors who make the vaccines and the executives who oversee the process are afraid to give their own kids vaccines, please produce it now.

  • Alex Reynolds

    Do you guys have the same views on Monsanto or do you consider them another “benevolent giant” after all the toxic waste theyve dumped into the environment? Here is a framework of their subversive actions:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsanto

    Finally, rGBH milk is being pulled off the shelves– once and for all. There’s a reason why the WHO and the Canadian Ministry of Health condemned them and wont sell any of their products, while our own scandal ridden FDA turns a blind eye. At least with all the lawsuits theyve been losing recently, we’re finally bringing them down on their knees. Meanwhile you naive little idiots can live in your wonderful fantasy-land… but just know that people have the right to vaccinate or not vaccinate their children and neither you nor anyone else should ever take their right away.

    BTW, before I hear any of you fools defend large corporations like Merck… just remember that they were recently found guilty of trying to threaten doctors into prescribing their medication (in the court system of Australia)

    http://www.news.com.au/business/story/0,27753,25273468-462,00.html

    and need we get into the landmine that is/are Celebrex, Vioxx etc– and why the FDA lets these commercials air on TV is beyond me– except of course, overwhelming greed. So before I see any of you low IQ morons try to defend the large corruption infested drug companies get your facts straight or I’ll make you run with your tail between your legs. I hope your children end up with autism or mental retardation because you surely deserve it.

  • Alex Reynolds

    The vehemence of my post was merely in reference to the degree in which you guys were ganging up on people and attacking their free will to choose… yes, vaccines protect people from dangerous diseases (I wouldnt call it lethal though), but people still have the right to choose what’s best for their children. And if that means theyll have to home school them because public school wont take them in… so be it, they have the right, so they suffer the consequences.

    I didnt “lie” about the Merck court case, merely acting upon the assumption on how it should turn out (they have enough evidence, based on the amount of information Ive read.) Also, the connection of Monsanto, Celebrex and Vioxx is apropos, because, although pharmaceutical companies provide a necessary service, they need to be held in check… the fact is humanity has a natural desire for power and greed, and to just naively let them do whatever they want is foolish. Its better to err on the side of caution.

    Dont take offense to the harshness at the end of my post, its merely my way of expressing strong emotions… not that I necessarily meant it.

  • Greg Fish

    Alex,

    Does Monsanto make vaccines? If not, what possible relevance do they have here other than to show the anti-corporatism mentioned in the article front and center?

    As for your link, someone else beat you do it but at least she had the honestly not to declare that the Australian court made any decision regarding Merck. Oh and if you cared to read the comments, you would’ve noticed that there’s already a dissection of the article.

    “So before I see any of you low IQ morons try to defend the large corruption infested drug companies get your facts straight or Ill make you run with your tail between your legs.”

    And your dad can beat up our dads? I also wonder how we’re the ones with the low IQs when you’re the one chasing your tail and declaring who’s been found guilty of what in a court system while your link says that the court just reviewed some e-mails and memos and is still thinking about whether to make a case out of it? That’s also known as lying by the way…

    “I hope your children end up with autism or mental retardation because you surely deserve it.”

    You know, being a hateful jackass on the internet is still being a hateful jackass.

  • Greg Fish

    “I didnt ‘lie’ about the Merck court case, merely acting upon the assumption on how it should turn out”

    You said they were found guilty. They were not. Therefore you made a false claim. The justice system in a country doesn’t work on people’s opinions of who should be found guilty and of what.

    If people want to choose not to vaccinate their kids, there’s nothing I can do about that. But they should understand that they’re putting both their kids and other people’s children at risk with their choice.

    Making a choice to harm others because you have the right to do it and think people are out to get you in the name of profit, isn’t a good thing to do.

  • Think Different

    Hey Alex, you said “…yes, vaccines protect people from dangerous diseases (I wouldnt call it lethal though)”. Why don’t you inform yourself about the non-lethality of these preventable diseases by checking out the recent Ch7 “Sunday Night” covering the death of a 4 week old from whooping cough or the WHO story on Measles deaths and vaccination effectiveness at http://www.who.int/features/qa/53/en/ . Are these the non-lethal diseases you speak of. We are lucky in Australia that we don’t experience this very often. But that is because of our high rate of vaccination. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t vaccinate.

  • Think Different

    Sorry, my mistake, it was a 4-month old, Dana McCaffery, who died.

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  • http://NaturalHealthTechniques.com Denice Moffat

    It sounds like you all have never seen vaccination reactions! We all should be able to make choices on whether or not to be a part of the process or not. We over vaccinate as a nation. We find a vaccine for everything. And now those vaccines are causing problems. Lots of problems actually. I’m not totally against vaccinating (esp. when it comes to polio and rabies) but do we have to pop every human and animal with every new vaccine that comes along? Why is it that the 3 year rabies vaccine we use in the United States lasts 5 years in Africa? I used the FIP vaccine on my own cat when it first came out. A couple months later it was found that the vaccine actually caused the disease! We’re finding that some of our vaccines are causing cancer in animals now. Human vaccines give a variety of side effects. The autism agenda is like the spotted owl. There are more things to protect in the forest besides spotted owls. This was just the bird they chose to represent the others who were not endangered. The same goes for vaccines. I think we should have a choice and be able to make a decision looking at both sides of the controversy. http://naturalhealthtechniques.com/to-vaccinate-or-not.htm

  • Greg Fish

    Denice, thanks for the advertorial for your services. I understand that a lot of people will want to give you call so you can elaborate on your very vague and medically inaccurate romp through basic immunology taught in most high schools because you said that a controversy about vaccination actually existed…