Every Child By Two is pleased to launch another article in their Expert Commentary series featuring guest writer Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH, a retired epidemiologist who has worked in the areas of preventive medicine, infectious diseases, medical outcomes research, and evidence-based clinical practice guidelines. Today we will feature Dr. Harrison’s latest paper, John Stone and the “Best of Age of Autism”: Just Plain Wrong About Everything.
by Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH
John Stone is listed as the UK Editor for Age of Autism, a daily web newspaper. He is author of numerous articles posted on Age of Autism as well as an active writer of comments, not only to Age of Autism articles; but to articles on other websites, including this blog. I have written a number of commentaries on John Stone and his antivaccinationist views, but after seeing Stone’s article “Paul Offit’s 10,000 Vaccines and the Milgram Experiment, ” now being posted for the fourth time, I just had to get out my pen and pad once more.
In his article, Stone discusses four topics:
- Using the Milgram Experiment as an explanation for why doctor’s vaccinate
- Profits made on the manufacture and sale of vaccines
- Paul Offit’s oft out-of-context quoted by antivaccinationists “10,000 vaccines”
- The Cutter Incident
In my paper, John Stone and the “Best of Age of Autism”: Just Plain Wrong About Everything, I show that not one of his claims has any validity; but, rather, clearly display many of the flaws in Stone’s thinking as well as other antivaccinationists, including: poor scholarship, a deficient understanding of scientific thinking and methodology, deficient knowledge of immunology, microbiology, and epidemiology, deficient understanding of basic economics, the illogic of false analogies, as well as a lack of common sense, plus a blatant hypocrisy.
Stone’s knowledge of the Milgram Experiments appears to be based only on one article he found in a popular magazine and on a movie clip. Based on his writings on the Milgram Experiments, it does not appear that he even bothered to read the original articles, and isn’t aware that it wasn’t the Milgram Experiment; but Experiments. If he had accessed the original articles, he would have found the study procedures and results to be quite different from the description in Psychology Today. Different enough to make him guilty of the False Analogy Fallacy, a logical fallacy that occurs when applying facts from one situation to a substantially different situation, precluding the ability to draw a logical conclusion (Rational Wiki. “False analogy”)
Stone repeats the antivaccinationists’ trope of 10,000 vaccines, ignoring context and a clear display of lack of common sense. As an analogy, imagine a 15 – 20 minute lecture or 2,500 word article about research into potentially almost limitless energy. The last sentence states: “Our research indicates we could theoretically put 10,000 gallons of gasoline in your car tank.” The average gas tank holds probably up to 25 gallons. Given Stone’s lack of common sense, I assume he would take the 10,000 gallons literally. Most rational people would understand, even without context, that the 10,000 gallons did not refer to actual gallons of gasoline but to the energy/mileage equivalent. The physical impossibility of giving 10,000 vaccines at once to an infant or anyone together with the exponential leap from the current 17 vaccines, there not even being remotely so many microbes that vaccines would ever be developed for, says it all.
He continues to display faulty reasoning, actually a display of hypocrisy, when attacking the profit motive behind vaccines. He and other antivaccinationists seem to have NO problem with the purveyors of complementary and alternative medicines making profits, so it seems that the making of profits is only unacceptable when selling something Stone and other antivaccinationists disagree with. Of course doctors get paid for giving vaccinations. Should they give them for free? As a further display of his ignorance, Stone doesn’t seem to be aware that the profit margin for vaccines pales in comparison to other pharmaceuticals and that the amount doctors make on administering vaccines is, at best, marginal. In fact, some doctors take a loss on vaccinations.
Finally, Stone goes back 60 years in time to the Cutter Incident where approximately 200 people, mainly children, were paralyzed from an inadequately killed vaccine and thousands more exposed. Stone is either unaware of or intentionally ignores that this incident led to ever-increasing safety regulations and surveillance of vaccines. If one were to use Stone’s approach to medicine, since many beneficial medicines and interventions had problems years ago, much of modern medicine would be rejected. In fact, historically, one can find problems with much of modern technology. Is Stone’s approach even rational? And, again, Age of Autism chooses to repost Stone’s article as an example of “The Best of Age of Autism.”
And there you have John Stone and the Best of Age of Autism in a NUTshell!
Read Dr. Harrison’s full article, John Stone and the “Best of Age of Autism”: Just Plain Wrong About Everything, click here.
Please note: The opinions in this article reflect the views of the author who is not an employee of Every Child By Two and do not necessarily reflect the views of Every Child By Two. Dr. Harrison volunteers his time to provide in-depth, well-researched analysis of articles which ultimately make false claims about the safety of vaccines. His articles are summarized here on Shot of Prevention with links to the full response on the Every Child By Two website.
Last week, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., of the World Mercury Project, orchestrated a major publicity stunt designed to question the safety of vaccines. Since he had no real evidence to present, and the same accusations which have been repeatedly refuted for years, he attempted to garner attention by offering journalists a glimpse at a new anti-vaccine celebrity and the promise of a $100,000 challenge.
During an hour-long press event on Wednesday, Kennedy was joined by other vaccine critics such as ‘Vaxxed’ movie producer Del BigTree, San Antonio District Attorney Nico LaHood, Tony Muhammed of the Nation of Islam and celebrity actor, filmmaker and father of an autistic child, Robert DeNiro.
While each had their turn to suggest there was a worldwide scientific conspiracy to lie about vaccine safety, Kennedy concluded by announcing that he would give a $100,000 award to any American journalist who could produce a study that proved that the level of thimerosal used in vaccines was deemed to be safe.
(Of course, since he failed to mention the fee required to participate in the challenge, made no reference to a scientific expert(s) who would assist in evaluating the science, and refused to accept the mountains of studies that already exist on the subject, his promise of a payout was seen by many as an elaborate publicity scam.)
On Thursday, Kennedy continued his crusade on Capitol Hill by renting out a Congressional briefing room and attempting to lure legislators with the involvement of celebrity Robert DeNiro. While staunch vaccine refusers were invigorated by these meetings, hanging on the hope that Kennedy could possibly make inroads with the current administration and put an end to vaccine injury once and for all, the reality is that hardly anyone was listening.
With about 40 people in attendance on Wednesday, and not one member of Congress showing up on Thursday, it’s safe to say that Kennedy’s message is only echoing among those who already support him. Even DeNiro appeared to have lost interest since he was notably absent from Thursday’s event on Capitol Hill.
As expected, there have already been dozens of commentary that address Kennedy’s misinformation. However, there is still one statement he made that I feel the need to address.
Kennedy claimed, “I’m not anti-vaccine. I’m pro-safe vaccines.”
It’s understandable for people to say,“Yes, I vaccinate, but I don’t feel completely certain that vaccines are safe.” Since we’re unable to guarantee that vaccines will be 100% safe, this “pro-safe vaccine” battle cry is an effective way to appeal to parents who don’t have the time, the understanding or the inclination to delve into the science that supports the widespread use of vaccines.
By using this “pro-safe vaccine” label, Kennedy and others like him play into the emotional need of parents to protect their children while dangerously misleading them into thinking that vaccines are far more dangerous than the diseases they prevent. In essence, this statement is used to help anti-vaccine crusaders turn vaccine safety into a personal and anecdotal issue, when we should all be demanding that vaccine safety be investigated and addressed with scientific objectivity.
Kennedy continues to try to discredit his critics by questioning, “Why wouldn’t anyone be agreeable to studying vaccine safety?” He seems to suggest that anyone who isn’t “with” him in arguing that vaccines aren’t safe, is simply against safe vaccines.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Vaccine experts ARE agreeable to studying vaccine safety. In fact, that is largely what they do. But unlike Kennedy, they don’t rely on anecdotal evidence. They demand scientific evidence and they go to great lengths to get it.
If we were to go back in history, we would see plenty of examples of how our current vaccine safety protocols have successfully identified problems and taken steps to address them. Consider the history of the rotavirus vaccine. The vaccine was withdrawn in 1999 after scientists associated it with a rare intestinal problem called intussusception. This would not have been identified if it weren’t for the vaccine safety monitoring systems that we currently have in place. And what about the nasal spry flu vaccine which was pulled just prior to this flu season? The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) decided not to recommend the vaccine based on low efficacy studies, especially among children. Again, an example of action taken by one of our current vaccine oversight committees. There are plenty of other examples of vaccines being pulled from the market – the whole cell pertussis vaccine (DTP), Lyme vaccine, and oral polio to name a few. These instances occurred because of the vaccine safety protocols in place. Read more…
Personally, I’ve never really given Jenny McCarthy much consideration. To me she represents a pretty face who has done her best to exploit her good looks in order to earn a living.
I can’t say that I blame her. The few times I’ve heard her speak publicly it was painfully clear that she lacked the intelligence to make a living doing much else. In fact, despite the now disproven theory that vaccines are linked to autism, McCarthy continues to claim that her son became autistic as a result of his vaccines. And even more shocking are her claims that he no longer has autism thanks to diet and alternative treatments. (As far as I know, he appears to be the one and only child who’s autism has ever been completely “cured”).
If her claims weren’t so dangerous they might actually be entertaining. But that’s just the problem. Entertainers should not be mistaken for medical professionals. Jenny McCarthy’s statements have not only given credence to false information, they’ve led many parents to fear vaccines more than the diseases that vaccines are intended to prevent.
While I may not be the kind of parent who takes medical advice from the likes of celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, there is no denying that her celebrity status has brought attention to the topics of autism and vaccines among many mainstream parents. Parents who, like McCarthy, are concerned about their children possibly being diagnosed with autism. Parents who may not be well versed in the scientific studies that demonstrate the safety of vaccines. And even some who, like McCarthy, prefer to follow gut instinct over the advice of medical experts.
Earlier this week, when the word got out that ABC is considering McCarthy as a co-host on the popular day-time talk show ‘The View’, many public health advocates began speaking out against this decision. The outcry has been swift and immediate, and the general consensus among science bloggers, vaccine advocates and concerned parents is that allowing a celebrity like Jenny McCarthy a public platform by which she may continue to propagate dangerous misinformation is a major public health concern. Read more…
You know all the crazy stuff you read about vaccines….the myths your friends remain fearful of…the articles that people send you that claim vaccines are toxic and dangerous? Well, I’m beginning to hear from people who claim that all this anti-vaccine sentiment has actually helped to encourage them to be more active in advocating for vaccines. This seems especially true among a select group of people who may have otherwise not been inclined to become vocal on this issue.
Take Kristen for example. She admits that the anti-vaccine dialogue actually made her more committed to vaccinating her child.
“It dawned on me last night that I actually have an anti-vaxer to thank for how pro-vaccine I am now. I reached out to her when I was questioning having my little man vaccinated. All of the absolutely stupid brain-dead articles that she would send to me – with their fear mongering that I’m sure she was hoping would make me join the dark side – did the exact opposite and had me running like hell to the nearest vaccination clinic instead. I should probably send her an organic fruit basket & a recycled thank you card.”
“It’s similar for me. A friend told me she wasn’t vaccinating because the “risks outweighed the benefits” and I looked into for myself and now I’m way more pro-vaccine than I would have been otherwise.”
And these are just a few examples of what I’ve been hearing from parents online.
Perhaps, by suggesting crazy conspiracy theories, twisting data and neglecting to back up vaccine criticism with scientific evidence, anti-vaccine rhetoric is actually helping to ensure that parents continue to vaccinate.
History shows that suggestions of vaccine safety concerns have the power to create fear and hesitancy among parents. Andrew Wakefield’s unproven claims that vaccines were linked to autism are a perfect example. Years after his reckless statements, public health advocates are still struggling to combat this misinformation, despite the fact that there are plenty of scientific studies that have failed to provide any evidence that links vaccines and autism. But if people were smart about pushing their anti-vaccine agenda, they may consider leaving well enough alone. Just the suggestion of autism, coupled with discussion of adverse effects from random people on the internet may be enough to create a lingering doubt about immunizations among concerned parents.
But no. They can’t just leave it at that. They have to take it to an extreme.
January has been a busy month here on Shot of Prevention. We’ve had a parent speak out on the significance of HPV protection for her son, a pharmacuetical employee comment on how proud she is to help ensure the safety of vaccines, we’ve even had a nurse call out the non-vaccinating Patriot nurse for sharing misleading information on YouTube. Of course, let’s not forget about the return of Andrew Wakefield and his plans to sue for libel.
Which leads me to a great editorial that appeared this morning in The Huffington Post, entitled Unencumbered By Facts: What Upsets Me Most About the Anti-vaccine Movement. In this article, Claire McCarthy, M.D, who is a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School, explained why the appearance of Andrew Wakefield on Good Morning American had given her the chills. (View it for yourself and you’ll see exactly what she is referring to.)
She explains that “My only crusade as a pediatrician is to keep my patients healthy — and vaccines are part of what I use to do just that.” But she questions how doctors are supposed to help parents understand the enormous benefits and occasional risks of vaccines when “We stick to the facts. But people like Andrew Wakefield don’t.”
Dr. McCarthy does a great job of communicating her frustration and explaining the challenges the medical community has in countering the much publicized anti-vaccine rhetoric. And while she speaks as one individual pediatrician, I would venture to guess that many others have echoed her views, but are, as she described, often “drowned out” by the headlines and airtime devoted to people like Andrew Wakefield.
She concludes her article by referring to what Wakefield says at the end of the Good Morning America interview;
“Wakefield encouraged parents to get educated, and to read about immunizations. He even suggested the CDC website. He said, emphatically, that there are two sides to the story. I couldn’t agree more. But just one of them is grounded in facts.”