if it’s catchy, why bother with the science?

January 19, 2010

Too many, too soon is one of the sacred mantras of the anti-vaccination movement and its sympathizers who are looking for any remotely plausible argument which would paint vaccines as some kind of poison turning an entire generation of children autistic. Ok, so you can show that timerosal used in vaccines had nothing to do with autism and that the type of mercury it contained wasn’t a neurotoxin. You could even tackle the big issue of how autism is diagnosed and whether parental age has something to do with a rise in the number of diagnosed cases over the last decade and have sound science on your side. But you certainly can’t debate a threefold increase in vaccinations over the last thirty years. And if you can’t debate that, you certainly couldn’t say that three times as many vaccines means that kids’ immune systems aren’t being overwhelmed, right?

Actually, yes. You could. The number of vaccinations is actually a misnomer used to make an argument which firmly casts vaccines as either the villain in today’s pediatric problems, or at least a suspect cause. What has been missed by TV personalities promoting this fallacy, like Bill Maher and Joy Behar, is the fact that today’s vaccines are much more efficient than those given when they were kids. The initial seven vaccines of the late 1970s have been doubled in the last 30 years but their actual antigen load has been lowered from 3,000 to just about 150, only 5% of what the people making this argument were exposed to in their childhoods. For the too many too soon argument to be true, we’d need to see the same kinds of pediatric problems a generation ago and with far greater frequency than we do today. If we weren’t overwhelming immune systems back then, how could we possibly be doing it today with a twentieth of the antigens? And yet, this is the argument being made by the alt med and anti-vaccine crowd.

Either someone is trying to apply the homeopathic idea of dilution and potentization to vaccines, or we’re not being given the relevant fact for the sake of keeping the manufactroversy going. And even if doctors on TV will keep bringing up the massive drop in antigen loads thanks to modern technology, the anti-vaxers will keep on using it by bringing up their other favorite chant. They’ll blame unnamed toxins in vaccines and say that while there are far less antigens, there must be more toxins in the greater number of vaccines. How do these toxins cause whatever pediatric problems they want to blame on them? They don’t know, but the lack of evidence for their position isn’t going to keep them up at night for the simple reason that they can blame doctors for doing bad research to protect their Big Pharma friends or just demonize those who disagree with their agenda as enablers of infanticide. Meanwhile, after vilifying well tested, well proven medical technology, putting almost every study of their efficacy into question over the tiniest if or but, they’ll sprinkle industrial mining chemicals on their autistic kids’ breakfast after seeing a testimonial on an anti-vax blog and call it battling autism.

Give that a moment to sink in. Highly refined, thoroughly tested and very successful vaccines that expose kids to around 150 antigens or roughly 5% of what their parents received in their early childhood are overwhelming immune systems of infants who are exposed to billions of bacteria and viruses from birth. However, a mining chemical which contains benzene, a known carcinogen, comes with no clinical proof of its safety and efficacy, and is marketed by testimonials is perfectly safe to sprinkle over their gluten-free waffles. Yes, maybe it’s not going to actually harm anyone if it’s extremely diluted or administered in small enough quantities, but maybe, just maybe a group with this kind of approach to medical science has its priorities skewed and isn’t a reliable source of information on immunology. So rather then simply repeating the chant of too many too soon, some of the aforementioned TV personalities could take a minute to look up a few studies, read a couple of medical blogs and ask a couple of pointed questions once in a while. Just a thought…

[ illustration by Erik Andersen ]

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  • Pierce R. Butler

    … their actual antigen load has been lowered from 3,000 to just about 150…

    Speaking as an utterly ignorant layperson: this sounds like a good thing in terms of reducing risks of spreading infection while trying to stop it – but is that the only “cost” of vaccination?

    There is, presumably, a burden placed on an individual’s immune system for each antibody or other type of defense produced. Fewer antigens should mean that production would occur on a reduced scale, but having to produce more than one at a time might multiply (rather than add) the combined loads. No doubt this has all been looked at in great detail, but the anecdotal evidence I’ve encountered suggests that multi-vaccinations do seem to stress some kids non-trivially.

  • Greg Fish

    One problem with anecdotal evidence is that stories can vary wildly between people and depend on who’s telling the story. It preys on our emotions and social instincts rather than the rational part of our minds which wants details and clinical studies. In the clinical studies done on childhood vaccines, these multiple vaccinations proved to be safe and effective without stressing the body beyond acceptable standards.

    True, there are very mild side-effects of any vaccines. Flu shots always make me feel a bit loopy for a day and kids who get some of their shots are whiny for some time as their immune systems begin producing antibodies, but considering that they’ll repel some very nasty and dangerous childhood diseases that can have lifelong and pretty dangerous complications, a day of a slight fever and crying is a far lower cost than a heart problem from what anti-vaxers call harmless diseases. Which is an oxymoron of pretty epic proportions…

    The big point here is that when the body is injected with 3,000 different antigens via seven vaccinations, it will always be under more stress than with 150 because your immune response doesn’t have to be as dramatic. And let’s keep in mind that while we count our antigens for vaccines, kids are exposed to literally a billion of them on a daily basis since they day they’re born from the environment around them.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    To be sure, and that’s why I described my information as anecdotal.

    That said, and looking particularly at the kids on the weaker end of the bell curve, might there not be a case for providing vaccinations one at a time rather than in a bunch? This would be more expensive, and more inconvenient for school administrators, but perhaps better from the viewpoint of parents and kids themselves.

  • Greg Fish

    And now we’re sinking past my depth on the subject…

    I’ve heard this argument before and it seems that it does make sense, but I’d need to ask an expert for a qualified opinion before trying to answer this question.

  • Greg, that last response is part of why I read your articles. When you don’t know something, you just come out and say it, instead of making something up like the people whose ideas you attack.

    One thing has always confused me. We don’t know for certain what causes autism, although there are some interesting possibilities. And yet, the antivaxxers state with 100% certainty that it’s the vaccines, despite a lack of evidence for that idea and despite evidence that refutes that idea.

  • thinking

    “True, there are very mild side-effects of any vaccines.”

    My brother fainted in the elevator right after his multi-vaccination. Clonked head-first onto the floor. Was completely blacked out for about fifteen seconds, then for almost a minute after that was able to speak but was not able to stand up or move at all.

    And how would you like to be the girl who died after being injected with a vaccine sporting your so-called “very mild” side effect profile? http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/09/29/world/worldwatch/entry5348842.shtml

    What turns a lot of people off to the pro-vaccination camp is the smugness. Anti-vaccine demagogues generally don’t come across as such smug, smarmy, dismissive tools. On the other hand, I’m sure that they can strike some as hysterical worrywarts. But I can tolerate a worrywart much better than a tool.

  • oztaurus

    I know that correlation is not cause, but I have often wondered whether the dramatic rise in cancer in our society is related to the introduction of mass vaccination – with a 30 year delay factor?
    If someone were to begin a very long term study (which can never be fully accepted because you can’t possibly do a double blind, randomized, crossover, placebo controlled study of childhood vaccinations with a 30 year span) then perhaps we could answer several of the questions facing medical science.

  • The number of antigens that you’re exposed to from a vaccine are outweighed by the number of other antigens you’re exposed to on a daily basis from everything else you interact with.

    The CDC has some good info: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/Vaccines/multiplevaccines.html

    Oh, looks like you got your first anti-vaxxer (for this story at least). Careful, they always come wielding anecdotes and never any evidence. And this one is already insulting the other side. Their most common tactic is to paint their opponents as horrible people shilling for Big Pharma, and “thinking” is doing just that.

    Thinking’s brother fainted…probably because he doesn’t like needles. Lots of people don’t. And the blackout was obviously the result of whacking his head on the floor. Vaccines don’t even work that quickly!

    As for the girl who died from a vaccine, why not read the very first sentence? “Parents, schools and doctors across the United Kingdom were on alert Tuesday after a 14-year-old English girl died from what appears to have been an extremely rare, severe reaction to the now-common cervical cancer vaccine.” Nobody’s denying that vaccines do very rarely cause unanticipated serious effects. But this is literally a one-in-a-million chance. You have a better chance of being hit by lightning.

  • bolangi

    Vaccine advocates, as the author of this article, present these inoculations as unequivocal good science practiced carefully with undeniable social benefit.

    The truth is not so simple. Lab procedures are subject to error. Vaccines can be contaminated. Early vaccines have caused disease and death.

    Not all vaccines are administered safely. Instructions for every vaccine lists contraindications. People are different, and some react badly to vaccines. Not all vaccines are administered with care about contraindications.

    Not all vaccines are administered in sanitary fashion. Vaccine advocates say we should ignore anecdotal reports. How about reports of unsanitary practices? My wife got her smallpox vaccine in Japan in 1960. She watched her schoolteacher jab one student after another, saying “Next!… Next!…” He was using the same needle for everyone without disinfecting it! And in 1980 in Guatemala, when a good friend of mine was in school, he saw the same thing: one unsterilized needle used to poke the whole class.

    In boosting the benefits of inoculations, vaccine advocates tend to blithely extol these benefits as scientifically proven beyond a doubt. However they neglect to consider that not all reactions that occur following vaccines are reported or reflected in statistics. Rigorous statistical studies are a recent innovation. And statistics themselves are not necessarily reliable guides due to the influence of big money on research.

    Those who believe issues are straightforward “no-brainers” are immature. It is an unfortunate paradox that those who are the most bull-headed and self-assured tend to make decisions for society, whereas those who are mature, contemplative and sophisticated in their understanding are shunted aside in favor of someone who can speak with absolute, unqualified conviction.

  • Christopher Hanson

    Well bologni, that is a very fact lite argument. While it is a possibility that Lab procedures may not be practiced safely, that does not warrant it a fact; so this premise is worthless until a credible source is given.

    Vaccines that are not administered safely are the fault of the administer, not the vaccine. This is frankly a stupid thought.

    Contradicting instructions? What, they say to insert the blunt end into the patient? Again no credible source, so a worthless premise.

    You have second hand experience from your ‘wife’ while she was getting vaccines, which in no way merits it as a fact in this argument. All that can be said is that this is a cool story, bro.

    The first non-worthless element to your argument is bringing raising the question on whether statistics are biased. Historically, this has been the case in things like product sales or marketing gimmicks. However, many credible sources list statistics which contradict you; here is an example: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/stats-surv/default.htm . You may want to site your sources next time, since even high school kids know to do that.

    The rest of your comment is dedicated to belittling the minority of your opponent; I am sure that is just coincidental.

  • Mike

    @thinking I think smugness is in the eye of the beholder – I find it incredibly smug when someone tells me my scientific education is a crock and that their intuition trumps all else. Seemingly people feel more comfortable questioning doctors and researchers than they do their local car mechanic. Millions of man hours have been poured into understanding the whether vaccines could possibly have these horrendous side effects. Data looked over with intense scrutiny and an eye for the truth – throw that all away because someone spent an hour on google reading some crackpot’s blog. That’s the ultimate arrogance. The cynical assumption that all these scientists are ignorant or callously dismissive of other people – that’s smug. Constantly and patiently trying to explain why we are quite confident that there is no credible link between vaccines and any developmental disease – even in small subpopulations – only to be told we are dismissive. The vaccine establishment is understandably frustrated.

    Also, that UK death was eventually declared to be linked to serious underlying health conditions and NOT associated with the vaccine. Funny how the word retracting the original conclusion never made its rounds: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601102&sid=axwTIiVQPC7Q

    @bolangi You don’t seem to be arguing against vaccines so much as you are against poor medical practices. Unsanitary medical practices would be just as dangerous for any injection – you’re not advocating we stop administering insulin as well?

    Also I can absolutely assure you that vigorous statistical studies are conducted regularly on vaccine safety and many certainly follow up with their patients longitudinally. I don’t think you understand how extensively and thoroughly the government tests the safety of vaccines. I wish the anti-vacc community spent less energy on public relations and applied a similar rigor to their claims. Why hasn’t this energy been put into money for research they support?

  • Greg Fish

    And how would you like to be the girl who died after being injected with a vaccine sporting your so-called “very mild” side effect profile?

    @thinking. You mean the girl who died of a malignant chest tumor that wasn’t caught in time? That’s absolutely terrible, especially because she was apparently living day to day and not even aware of it. What I also don’t like is how her death was used as a defamation against medical science seconds after the story broke out and no one on the anti-vaccine side has the guts to admit they were wrong in this case.

    When it comes to your brother, there’s a hundred reasons why he could’ve fainted so what you’re doing here is a disservice of correlating correlation with causation. What you should’ve done is went to a doctor to track down if he had any serious problems that could be very serious conditions rather than just blame it all on what happened in the last fifteen minutes. Please, try to do as your nickname implies and look after your brother’s health.

    Anti-vaccine demagogues generally don’t come across as such smug, smarmy, dismissive tools.

    Sounds like you have a personal issue here rather than a scientific one because you seem to prefer people who are “generally nice” but pretty much always wrong. Let me know how tolerating a rise in preventable diseases in places where parents refuse to vaccinate their children goes for you.

    I have often wondered whether the dramatic rise in cancer in our society is related to the introduction of mass vaccination – with a 30 year delay factor?

    @oztaurus. Cancer is a disease correlated with aging and because today we have a whole range of somewhat effective therapies for it, there’s been a sharp rise in cases as more people are living to have cancer, we can detect it faster, and people who are diagnosed with the disease are surviving for a longer period of time. All this tends to push the statistics into an alarming direction. One problem with your hypothesis is a lack of a pathway by which vaccines could cause cancer, especially since cancers of the immune system are just a subset of the hundreds of different types of cancer. To explain bowel, breast, brain and genital cancers with a rise in vaccines requires new evidence for how tumor growth is triggered.

    The truth is not so simple. Lab procedures are subject to error. Vaccines can be contaminated. Early vaccines have caused disease and death.

    @bolangi. Nowhere did I argue that vaccines were absolutely perfect. They do have well proven and extremely well documented social benefit that simply can’t be waived off. But your argument is that mistakes in medicine happen and that’s really not much of an argument. We know that no vaccine is 100% safe, but we do know they work as intended in the overwhelming majority of cases and are one of the safest treatments in the medical field. So your argument has nothing to do with the post.

  • meh

    Just a note on the fainting, frequently such reactions are a harmless (if unpleasant) result of the vasovagal reflex.


  • SpongeyOne

    Greg, I have not seen the structure of this chelator but I wanted to state that just because a molecule has “benzene” in it does not mean that it is carcinogenic. Many safe molecules have a multiple benzene rings in it’s structure. Like the multiple chlorines and fluorines that adorn many biologically active molecules, the benzene ring is not free to react in the same way a benzene molecule can react with its substrates. Now, thimerosal is metabolized into ethlymercury and is toxic to an extent, but is cleared from the body much faster than mercury salts (3-15 days vs. 120 days: wikipedia). Fast enough that it may not do lasting damage at the doses used in the inoculate. How old are these supposed mercury-induced autistic children? Since they removed thimerosal from inoculate solutions in 1999, if they are younger than 10, this is not a valid argument. In addition, the only reason they pulled thimerosal is because they based the acceptable toxicity limits on methylmercury, which is significantly slower in leaving the body than ethylmercury. Remember this toxicologist’s axiom: EVERYTHING is a toxin, it’s “how much” that determines it’s toxicity.

    To All: That said, as a pharmacokineticist / toxicologist in small pharma, a possible lead compound goes through much more testing than is released or available for public consumption. Pilot studies, repeats, larger, more stringent studies, scaled-up CRO-conducted studies in 2 relevant species other than man (i.e. unbiased in eyes of FDA), and more are carried out just to get a lead molecule into humans. Then things get serious.

    Point#1: There is no shortage of data, pre-clinical or otherwise regarding vaccinations. It may not be public, but the FDA knows everything if an IND or NDA was filed. How long have mass vaccinations been administered? 50+ years! That’s not enough data? People routinely take drugs that have a much smaller longitudinal data sets (3-5 years). Where some may see smugness and bullhead-ness, I see confidence in 6 decades worth of longitudinal scientifically produced, collected, and analyzed data plus positive results you can measure by any standard. To fault statistics, evil data-manipulating pharma, or lack of pre-clinical / clinical study results as your only real arguments against vaccination is utterly ridiculous.

    Point#2: Impurities, additives; that’s a manufacturing issue, in the same way needle-sharing inoculations are/were an inoculation problem, not a virus problem. I agree that there are minor side effects, many of which may go unreported or undiagnosed. In some cases side effects can be fatal, and I feel for those very few that develop disorders or die as a result of these side effects. However, if the anti-vax crowd thinks that ingestion of untested chelators is less harmful than the inoculations of which they are so afraid, they may be in for a big surprise. I hope not for their sake. Only time will tell when polio, cervical cancer, etc. start to rise in these inoculo-phobe populations, or someone taking this chelators dies and an extensive autopsy is performed. Without knowing anything about the molecules metabolic pathways or target tissues, any outcome is possible, but they are rarely good or benign.

    The anti-vax crowd needs to argue with valid, logical points if anyone is to take them seriously. However, that would leave them very little with which to argue. As for the chelator-crowd, shame on them for treating their children in such a reckless manner. Treating yourself is your choice, your responsibility, and I support your decision as wrong as I may think it to be. Please, no matter how desperate you may be, don’t put your vanity before common sense, science, and even your God. If you do such a thing and have unintended consequences, don’t start complaining about regulatory issues and lack of warnings. You subverted all that by ignoring common sense and sprinkling a chemical intended for industrial chelation processes on your child’s cereal. Sadly, responsibility for one’s actions is a rare commodity these days.

  • Greg Fish

    I have not seen the structure of this chelator but I wanted to state that just because a molecule has “benzene” in it does not mean that it is carcinogenic.

    @SpongeyOne. I’m sure you’re absolutely right, but the reason why I mentioned the carcinogenic potential of benzene is a nod to anti-vax arguments which allege that a certain compound is present somewhere in a vaccine or a drug and therefore, since it can be toxic, it must be terribly, horribly harmful to children. And yet, they feed white powder containing traces of benzene to their autistic children with no question. I very sincerely hope that it doesn’t harm their kids, but I’m amazed by this hypocrisy.

  • Jane

    Hey – actual mom of a five month old here, and I first want to thank you for a refreshing take on this argument. I think you make some wise points about the overall improvements to vaccines – which, you are correct, is not something that is covered widely.

    But I do also want to make the following points

    (1) The anti-vax (or more accurately the vaccine-concerned) crowd cannot and should not be represented only by the “rabid” or “celebrity autism mom”. Yes those are the most vocal and out there, but there are also lots of normal parents who simply want to have a discussion about these shots and not feel like they are being labeled as “anti-science”.

    (2) @ Pierce Butler – this is exactly where my husband and I came out. Look – my daughter is likely to get 95% of her vaccines, even the exotic ones (those for disease not commonly found in Westernize countries) because we like to travel and don’t want to expose her unnecessarily. But I see no reason at all that a 2, 4 or 6 month old should be getting 5-8 shots – which is standard at most Peds offices.

    (3) So, after much research and discussion, we have our daughter on a delayed vaccination schedule. She gets her shots monthly and never more than 3 at a time. Our approach, we believe, has put less stress on our daughter’s immune system and makes the whole process easier.

    Now more than likely, this approach doesn’t make me a strict “anti-vacciner”, but I do empathize with these parents and where they are coming from. This is their very precious child, for whom they are determined to do the best thing they know how.

    So to me, raising questions about vaccines doesn’t make you a bad person or parent, and a little more respect (from both sides!) might be helpful to get the discussion past – paradigm of one side is stupid/ the other side is evil.

    And one final point – Big-Pharma makes good money off of every (new and old) vaccination they can come up with, so making it seem like they are purely scientists with no other aims is a little disingenuous. They are key actors in this issue and their role as profit makers does need to be acknowledged.

  • marc

    And how would you like to be the girl who died after being injected with a vaccine sporting your so-called “very mild” side effect profile?

    You mean the girl who had a tumor? Did you read ANY of the follow up to that story, or just jump on the first article you saw?

  • Greg Fish

    …there are lots of normal parents who simply want to have a discussion about these shots and not feel like they are being labeled as “anti-science”.

    @Jane. Funny thing about that. Many of the most rabid anti-vaccination activists use the same tactic to ask leading questions and descend into an anti-science rant as if they graduated from the Glenn Beck School of Debate. Then, they turn around to the concerned parents they scare with misinformation and plugs for their favorite alt med doctors every day and warn them that should they ask questions, the skeptics will be rabid dogs who turn on them.

    If you just want to ask questions about how vaccines are made, tested and decide on a vaccination schedule that you think is best, you’re not anti-vax or anti-science. There is a whole lot of anti-scientific, ignorant spew parents today have to navigate and this is what many skeptics are trying to fight. We don’t want to stop you from asking some basic questions about vaccines. We do however want to dismantle scare tactics that are designed to prevent you from vaccinating your children and steering your money into a homeopath’s or irresponsible quack’s pockets.

    [Big Pharma] are key actors in this issue and their role as profit makers does need to be acknowledged.

    No one denies that pharmaceutical companies make some money on vaccines. It’s not a whole lot because as you’ve probably noticed, vaccines are relatively cheap as compared to most other prescription medication, but it is a profit. However, money is not necessarily evidence of wrongdoing as many anti-vaxers try to make it.

    And it just so happens that all those quacks and alt med practitioners who oppose a normal vaccination schedule and spread fear, uncertainty and disinformation about them are part of a multi-billion dollar industry which sells unproven, untested “cures” for everything from cold and flu, to cancer and autism. And yet no anti-vaxer seems to find this a problematic conflict of interest and point out this hypocrisy.

  • Mike

    @Jane: I don’t think any of us who are vociferous supporters of vaccination are suggesting you blindly accept what we say and refrain from questioning. If anything that’s anti-scientific. I absolutely think it is legitimate to ask whether the vaccination schedule is too burdensome on children. But the next step is to do your research and consult your doctor (which it sounds like you have).

    If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to check out the CDC’s website which has some great information for parents:

    Asking questions and informing yourself – tailoring your individual medical treatment is absolutely your right and should never be considered anti-science. Dismissing the thoughtful work of thousands of people based on half-thought out theories, misguided intuition, and fear is another story.

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  • Cris

    You ask, why bother with the science? The science is broken. Horrendously broken. First go out and read this book: http://www.wnyc.org/books/32070

    Then, to end your blind faith in the peer review and publication process, read into the HeLa cell contamination controversy covered in Michael Gold’s “Conspiracy of Cells: One Woman’s Immortal Legacy and the Medical Scandal It Caused”.

    Don’t dismiss this. Read these books and your opinion of science will change. I know mine did, and I work as a biological scientist.

    Walter Nelson-Rees deserves a nobel prize, instead he was pressured to retire and his laboratory lost funding.

    The following quote (and references) are from “What Happens When Science Goes Bad” by Louis Pascal.

    “The reason the problem grew so large despite all his efforts is the same reason so few have ever heard of it: instead of joining forces with Nelson-Rees to rid science of this great adversary, scientists and journal editors joined forces to cover it up, thereby becoming HeLa’s greatest allies. Scientists unwilling to throw away years of work refused to admit their cultures were contaminated and continued to supply samples to other researchers without a word of warning and to publish papers with no mention of the possibility of contamination. Often researchers deceived the journals. But in at least one major case, when a researcher wrote an important paper published in Science without warning the journal that three years earlier he had been told by the American Type Culture Collection that his cultures were probably contaminated, he was able to deflect a portion of the criticism by proving that previously, when he had included warnings, two separate journals had asked him to delete all mention of the possibility of contamination [2]. Other journals refused to publish Nelson-Rees’ lists of contaminated cultures or took unconscionably long, while researchers unknowingly using the cultures wasted valuable time and HeLa continued to spread. Meanwhile, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published a cooked-up case by workers previously discredited by Nelson-Rees arguing through shoddy logic buttressed by illegitimate composite photographs of chromosomes that Nelson-Rees’ charges of contamination were not valid, since, they erroneously claimed, they had found a non-HeLa culture that according to Nelson-Rees’ tests might have been mistakenly classed as HeLa. Nelson-Rees and the chromosome expert at the American Type Culture Collection both agreed that this culture was not in any way mistakable for HeLa. The journal was warned of the serious defects of the paper but published it anyway, and without any mention of the fact that the acknowledged world expert on HeLa identification had told them it was blatant nonsense [3]. At least one major biological supplier, Microbiological Associates (which later changed its name to M.A. Bioproducts) continued to sell a HeLa-contaminated culture for 13 years after first being told by Stanley Gartler and for 7 years after half a dozen other scientists had confirmed Gartler’s charge. What they described in their catalogue as “prostate, benign, human adult” was instead cancerous cervical tissue. The culture, MA160, was a best-seller [4].

    In the end, Nelson-Rees made so many enemies with his disclosures that he was effectively forced to retire in 1981 at the age of 52. Shortly thereafter, the National Cancer Institute halted funding for his laboratory, and the most scrupulously careful cell culture facility in the country ceased to exist. During his years of work, Nelson-Rees and his laboratory had uncovered 90 contaminated cell lines, 22 of them in his last two years. According to the head of the American Type Culture Collection, this represented “about a third of the more popular cell lines used in cancer and related research” [5].

    So combine this vested interest science cabal that derives so much of its funding from pharmaceutical sources, combined with the corporate downward pressure on costs of manufacture of vaccines (if the choice is between safety and profit, the corporation MUST always choose profit), then I think people who question the safety of vaccines are right on the money, so to speak. And if you are a scientist who belligerently thinks your discipline is “perfect” then you simply don’t know the facts.

  • Greg Fish

    @Cris. So you’re telling us that because you found one example in which scientists made a mistake, something we all know happens, and it’s in a book which makes claims based on hearsay about how Nelson-Rees retired, the scientific process is broken in its entirety and you should go on a rant about how evil all pharmaceutical companies are and how they’ll kill babies for profit?

    I’m curious, do you understand the concept of the wrong in one thing, wrong in all things fallacy? Because you’ve just used it quite awkwardly here and then went on to forget about the fact that sacrificing safety for price ends in terrible PR and expensive lawsuits for those who choose to do so, thus making this course of action far more expensive then just obeying the safety regulations. Which are set by the FDA.

    Also, you work “a biological scientist” of some sort? Really? You’re not a biologist, or an embryologist, or a doctor, or a geneticist? Who are you trying to fool here? Do you think I can’t tell when someone’s pretending to be something he’s not?

  • Cris

    @gfish. You are saying I said things I did not. I work in comparative genomics. I think the devil is in the details. So you went out and read those books, did you? Gee, that was quick. Oh wait, no, you’ve just dismissed it! I’ve had enough here. There are no new scientists, the old scientists just die.

  • John

    FYI: 3 essential amino acids “contain benzene”. Unless it metabolizes to it or another toxic compound, this is a poor argument to make.

    This is a great technical summary of this “supplement”: http://www.neurodiversity.com/weblog/article/169

    It doesn’t even have a CAS Registry entry or an MSDS and we are supposed to believe their own internal studies showing it is safe. No thanks.

  • Mike

    @Chris This is where the comments spin wildly out of control. Firstly, SV40 has not been shown to cause cancer in humans. It does immortalize tissue culture cells – but its quite the jump to go to humans. Granted, its tough to do that kind of study properly without willingly injecting people with something you think might cause cancer.

    Secondly, you seem to suggest that the contamination was followed by a big cover up by the scientific community, when in truth it has been very publicly discussed and criticized. See an IOM report from a few years back that goes into some detail: http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2003/Immunization-Safety-Review-SV40-Contamination-of-Polio-Vaccine-and-Cancer.aspx

    The scientific community – complete with all its flaws, is rather incapable of forming or maintaining a secret cabal – the entire system is based on quite fierce inter-laboratory competition. If I find out my competitors are using faulty methods – I guarantee my next paper/talk/seminar is going to rip them apart for being sloppy.

    I myself am a publishing biomedical researcher, and I don’t know of any colleagues that love the current publication system – opinions range from “Best system available” to “Requires serious reworking” Including ending the blind review process to open access to all journals. This monolithic scientific cabal you suggest is a farce.

  • Mike

    Oh and also – please let me know where this wellspring of pharma money is. The only consistent souce of funding I’m familiar with is the NIH and some non-profit organizations (Gates foundation, CCF, American Cancer Society, etc). I know of the occasional research with a small amount of pharma money that has hired them an extra technician – but that’s about it.

    Pharma has their own research teams – they don’t publish too much, and when they do its very clear where the work is coming from. Usually its some methodology paper.

  • Anti-vaccine demagogues generally don’t come across as such smug, smarmy, dismissive tools.

    Actually, they do.

    See Jenny McCarthy anytime she is talking about autism, vaccines, or recovery from autism.

    See Generation Rescue’s J.B. Handley attacking Paul Offit, Amy Wallace, or anybody else who dares to suggest that autism is NOT vaccine injury. Including threats of litigation.

    See the entire editorial staff at Age of Autism.

    See Barbara Loe Fisher suing everyone she can think of over a two-word quote in Wallace’s Wired piece.