It has been an interesting couple of weeks week on the news and social media front. While finally subsiding over the past couple of days, there has been an absolute storm of vaccination related items, most of which appear to contain little discussion of the issue itself but are long on emotion and political ends. This is NOT an article to advocate for or against vaccination itself, but rather to point out the concern for the manner in which this discussion has turned. I am going to pick a few examples from social and traditional media for illustration. Is it cherry picking? I'm not sure - these are simply the items that have been thrust in front of me, and one would assume, in front of others with the same relative frequency. Rarely have I seen such a PR campaign (and it IS a PR campaign) come out with this much "full spectrum" coverage. To get a feel for this, Google "anti-vaxxers" and review a few articles. If you have watched any network television or listened to network radio this week, what you will find are not articles about science or discussion, but of fear mongering and an absolute beat down of "anti-vaxxers".
If I am proposing that this is a PR campaign, then I need to supply a purpose for it, as all PR campaigns have missions and goals. I contend that the purpose of this one is clearly to put forth not just a case for, but establish an atmosphere of demand for mandatory vaccinations. The tools of the campaign are fairly typical of recent media efforts, as they incorporate fear and logical fallacies to sway public opinion.
The first article I am going to select appeared in the National Post. It doesn't take long to find something to look at - the Title is "Rise of the health truthers: Medical skeptics and conspiracists...". Before the article is read (or even opened, as a Google search will bring up the title), there is (1) a grouping of everyone who might question anything regarding vaccination and (2) associating them with the "c' word. This forms an immediate bias. This vein continues in the second paragraph - "The move, announced Friday, follows events that highlight the broad social influence of medical skeptics, denialists and conspiracists." We've added denialists now.
The most interesting paragraph is yet to come.
“Part of this is about how people navigate a complex, uncertain world,” says Herbert Northcott, interim chair of sociology at the University of Alberta. “In the past, I think people had less information, there weren’t as many experts making pronouncements. They trusted the priest, they listened to the priest, then they prayed to God. That’s how they managed risk. Health trutherism, then, “functions like religious faith used to function.” Like religion, it mixes fear and hope into a single motivation, and like religious faith, it is impervious to worldly arguments."
I find this to be a very ironic set of statements. Is Northcott advocating trust of a single body of "priests" or an atmosphere of reason and individual evaluation of evidence? It isn't clear to me. If I interpret correctly, it appears that he is telling people to simply accept what is presented to them as scientific findings, don't evaluate it on their own, and we will all be happy again. What I am seeing is people hauling out the words "science" and "scientist" in the same context as the words religion and priest. It can never be enough to say "science says" or "scientists say". Science must be continuously able to question observations and findings. Newton's gravitational laws, for example, while providing a great mathematical model for lobbing shells, have been found to be incomplete/inaccurate. As dangerous as it is to ignore scientific findings, it is equally dangerous to ascribe full credibility without scrutiny to a theory simply because someone has placed the word "science" somewhere in the sentence. Under logical fallacies, this would seem to fall under the category of appeal to authority. As an aside, I am also a little confused by the sudden need for science to be a bad-*ss, in your face endeavour, with popular sites such as "I ***ing Love Science" and its apparent sister site "I ***ing Hate Pseudoscience". Science doesn't have character - it just is. It is not affected by attitude or number of likes. It does not seek approval nor does it insult those who challenge it. We know that Canadian scientists have been severely muzzled by the Harper government. When you have a combination of restricted, politicized science accompanied by a broad acceptance of anything with the word "science" attached to it, I contend that you are in grave danger of circling back to state-sponsored religion.
The article continues to deteriorate for a while after that. Once again it associates (and "others") those refusing to uniformly accept the current state of medicine with conspiracists, Scientology, and UFOs (really, how did they get into it??). It is not accidental that this is done as a subheading. Later on we read "Even right-wing conspiracy theorists, no enemies of the free market, tend to embrace herbal miracle-cures and other forms of quack medicine more commonly associated with the vegan Left.” I can't even begin to follow that one. This appears to be a word-circus worthy of Miss South Carolina's dissertation on maps . Unfortunately, I believe that this type of journalism sways many a casual reader.
Finally the article begins to offer a less bullying tone. The final paragraphs offer a more balanced explanation of the issue. Unfortunately, this is not given any large font exposure and appears only at the end of the article, underneath the "Related" links, which at first glance appear to be the end of the article.
At our privacy discussion last week, it was mentioned how discussion can be curtailed by self censorship, resulting from fear of reprisal. In this light, I have to confess I was very hesitant to include the next part of this piece, but I'm going there...Jennifer Hibben-White's Facebook post. Everyone with children can identify with fears for their children's safety - it is indeed one of the most primal instincts we have. Ms. Hibbard White, it was noted, has previously lost a child due to an unrelated cause. Of course she would be fearful of any threat to her remaining children.
So be clear, I do not take issue with her and I mourn for her loss. No, I cannot know the pain of losing a child. The post itself, however, is widely public and must be open to criticism. This seems to have gotten an incredible amount of coverage for something that seems long on fear and emotion but short on information. There is very little discussion of vaccination risk issues. "I won't get angry at or blame the person in the waiting room. I would have likely done the same thing...you get sick, you go to the doctor. I have no idea what their story is and I will never know. But I do know one thing: If you have chosen to not vaccinate yourself or your child, I blame you" So she transfers her anger to a convenient set of scapegoats. She exonerates the individual at the root of physical causation and transfers anger/blame to everyone who hasn't vaccinated their child? This has emotional appeal but is hardly based in logic.
"You think you are protecting them through extracts and homeopathy and positive thoughts and Laws of Attraction and dancing by candlelight on a full moon?"
"You think you are protecting them by letting them eat their shovel full of dirt and reducing antibiotics and eating organic? You aren't."
Once again, you have a pair of false associative ad-hominem attacks that are completely without basis.
It is only because we have been recently conditioned to place measles on a par with Ebola in terms of risk that this article has gained such traction. Historically, measles did not carry anywhere near the absolute panic that is portrayed in the current media storm. It was interesting that during our recent layup with a cold, my wife and I holed up with a box of Kleenex and a set of "Leave it to Beaver" DVD's. In one of the episodes, Beaver does in fact get the measles. There is no state of panic or worry. It was simply an accepted childhood disease and was dealt with calmly and matter-of-factly, even with a hint of humour. While I understand that LITB was hardly real life, it DOES provide an insight into measles in the mass consciousness at a time when it was a very common childhood disease. The disease itself has not changed and, while hardly benign, it is neither something to provoke the histrionics contained in Hibben-White's post.
Hibben-White is angry and that not something I fault her for. Her fear has been fuelled by the aforementioned way we have come to treat measles. I completely understand her protective instincts. When our child was diagnosed as diabetic at aged 4, our world seemed to be falling apart. There was a lot of anger and no one on which to place the blame. I do believe, however, that the media is opportunistically using this as a focal point for the aforementioned PR campaign. It is perfect for that purpose. I don't think its viral nature is accidental. Tragically, she has suffered the loss of another child for a cause completely unrelated to vaccination discussion. Somewhat ironically, this confers upon her some immunity in public discourse. Who is going to take issue with a parent who has lost a child? Thus, Hibben-White and her post are tailor made for this campaign.
I want to include a comic as well -scroll down a little so that you see both panels of the comic and not just the headline one. This is a definite attack item, with subtle inferences. Of course, there is the obligatory "plain nuts" insult at the top of the panel. Compare the two women in the panels. The anti-vaxxer is portrayed as uncaring "I don't care if your child is sick". That is hardly the mantra of any person I know who has questioned the safety of vaccinations. Quite the opposite in fact. They are concerned for the safety of anyone receiving a vaccination. "Ain't nobody vaccinating my child". Clearly the anti-vaxxer is uneducated, hence her use of poor grammar. She is also menacing and unsympathetic. Finally, and this is the most important part, she is responding to a document titled "Mandatory Vaccinations for Students". The message here is clear. If you don't support mandatory vaccinations you are simply mean-spirited and uneducated (as well as ugly).
This brings me to my biggest concern in all of this - the steamroller move towards mandatory vaccinations. I am troubled by the religious parallelism. It has many of the control elements within religion - Original Sin (everyone is unclean and must be vaccinated/baptized for salvation). It has heretics that must be dealt with (the anti-vaxxers) and even an inquisition (witness the Toronto Star who were hauled onto the carpet after a recent article that was unfavorable for the HPV vaccine - how many lights do you see NOW, Mr Cruikshank?). It has a patron saint (Jonas Salk), a devil (Andrew Wakefield), false prophets (e.g. Jenny McCarthy) and no shortage of people with pitchforks and matches ready to burn the heretics - as this article shows.
If you question, you are shunned and ridiculed - perhaps your career is ruined.
Regarding Wakefield - see this Newsweek article and note the caption under the photo: " The GMC ruled that Wakefield acted unethically in researching a link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism." Perhaps the wording on this is ill chosen, but if not, it is a chilling statement for science...researching is unethical?
See also this Washington Post editorial. Science does not require a law to protect itself - if we need to make laws and censor research, what does that say? Shouldn't we be demanding extensive research and testing to prove both efficacy AND safety as well as responsibility?
You have no doubt been presented with the case of Melody Torcolacci, a Queen's University professor . She has been severely censured for slides contained in a Powerpoint presentation. Fire has come from many sides, a large proportion of which have never seen the presentation. Try as I might, I have been unable to locate a copy of the presentation in its entirety. My only contact has been 1 level removed - i.e. speaking with a Queen's student whose friend is in the class and seen the presentation. According to this source, the 2 slides in question can be taken largely out of context. This is also reflected in this February 19th article. This acknowledgement was not present, however, in this February 4th article. Effectively, however, it doesn't matter - there is only one position to be had and questioning it will lose you your livelihood. Opinion was formed long before February 19th. This differs little from a page 8 retraction of yesterday's front page headline.
Do I have concerns personally over vaccine safety? Yes. This is not, however, based on homeopathic remedies, dancing in the moonlight or lefty veganism. Nor is it based on a long officially debunked paper on autism so often used as a straw man in this campaign (BTW, Wakefield's article IS on the Lancet but NOT available for reading). For my part, I have observed (first hand) the explosion of autoimmune diseases such as Diabetes Mellitus, Crohn's, general autoimmune disorders and many others, mainly in the developed nations. The correlation follows closely a more aggressive vaccination program. Yes, I know correlation does not proved causation - but given what an autoimmune disease IS and the way vaccinations work, it would be intellectually sticking our heads in the sand to not study this very closely. I was able to locate only one such study on the Lancet, which was created by advisors to Glaxo-Smith-Kline and Baxter Pharmaceuticals. Forgive me if I don't put a lot of faith in it.
But surely the vaccine makers and pharmaceutical industry will self police and not bring dangerous vaccines to market, right? Unfortunately, past history has given us examples where this is false. The swine flu vaccine in the 70's is known to have caused incidents of Guillain-barré Syndrome. The Lancet documents the monkey-virus present in the polio vaccine and the subsequent move by the industry to downplay/cover up.
More recently in 2009, Baxter pharmaceuticals accidentally shipped vaccine containing live H5N1 virus. This was not caught at Baxter but by a lab in the Czech Republic. The world was not far away from a accidental pandemic.
In 2006, Bayer was found to have KNOWINGLY shipped a hemophilia drug tainted with the AIDS virus to several other countries. The drug was not a vaccination, but the fact that no one was charged with wrongdoing in this case illustrates the relationship between the medical industry and the government (While this is specifically the US government, I don't see Canada as any different as we have long been "Finlandized" to the US).
Further, despite claims that vaccines are risk free, there have been, and still are, millions of dollars paid to claimants from the US National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program -Why IS there a vaccine compensation program?
Sadly, this amounts to, IMO, "hush money". Under the Reagan administration, a federal act was passed which prohibited suing the makers of vaccines for ill effects suffered thereof. Ostensibly this was to encourage vaccine makers to develop new vaccines without risk of reprisals. Using this logic, however, why are experimental drugs on fatal diseases held back from dying patients because they haven't gone through phased clinical testing?
Why should I have any distrust for the pharmaceutical industry? I will share a personal experience. Shortly after my son was diagnosed with diabetes in 1992, like any parent I researched the topic exhaustively. From information shared with my pediatrician, I gleaned that incredible advances were being made. He told me not to be overly distraught because a cure would be in place within 5 years. Indeed, eyelet cell transplants from fish showed great promise and had been shown to work. Sadly, that research lost its funding. Anyone familiar with diabetes will know that diabetics need to test their blood sugars at regular intervals, 4-5 times daily. Each of these tests require a reactive strip, costing over a dollar each. Multiply this by the growing number of diabetics, throw in all the required ancillary supplies and it is not difficult to see how lucrative diabetes is as a business - it is perfect...it allows people to live a relatively normal life but in constant need of purchasing medical supplies. About 1994, I attended a local biomed's presentation on a non-invasive, infra-red blood glucose meter. I was able to test it firsthand. It showed my blood sugar in the normal 4-6 range but it did so without the use of a costly reactive strip. This machine would surely be worth thousands to any diabetic, not only because of the convenience of not having to draw blood out of your fingers several times daily, but simply on a cost savings basis. I inquired about investing in the product but was informed that it was a private company and that they were in talks with a major drug company. Shortly after, the company was sold to an undisclosed buyer and the product never came to market. My son still spends hundreds of dollars annually on strips and pokes his finger with a lancet several times a day. Again, forgive me if I am skeptical.
Are vaccines effective and recommended? Absolutely. It would be folly to deny their beneficial effect. We chose to have ourselves and our children vaccinated. Do I trust the government and the vaccine industry to dictate what they are going to inject into everyone, and when? Absolutely not. In addition to affronting my sense of Libertarianism, I simply don't think the evaluation of risk of accidental or intentional dangers should be taken out of people's hands, nor should the study of these risks be self-censored because of the rising environment of intellectual bullying. In fact, it is the nature of this intensive campaign that heightens my concerns. If you are not the least bit concerned about enshrining in law the ability of government and corporations to decide what to inject you with and when, while they are at the same time legislating immunity from responsibility and stifling research regarding the effects of into what goes into the mix, I contend you need at least a little dose of skepticism, or you are operating in an environment of fear and need to re-read The Shock Doctrine.
Finally, yes, I hear you repeating the mantra about the herd. The herd immunity is important.
Here is a video that I found ridiculous when I first came across it but found there was little in it that I could refute. It simply offers a rather interesting alternative perspective of our world. Somewhat sensationalistic, a little amateurish in terms of its dramatics and not at all something you will be comfortable with, but I have to confess that it is where my mind goes when I hear about the herd.
Craig...Measles, Chicken Pox and Whooping Cough Survivor