Pa and I 3Dear Pa,

I know you care deeply about many issues, especially social justice. You’re tired of wars, you’re ashamed of the attempts to destroy social programs in this country, you hate seeing the unions that helped you as a worker provide for our family get dismantled by wealthy CEOs whose only goal is to make themselves and their cronies more wealthy. These are noble things to believe in, and values that you’ve instilled in your children.

But you probably don’t often consider how you select and digest (and frequently, share on Facebook) the stories that you’ll accept as true. This is called cognitive bias–sorry, that’s a terrible article for a layman, but I’d be happy to discuss next time I’m home. Anyway, the bottom line is that the beliefs you already hold prime you to accept certain types of information, and reject others–and it’s something everyone should be aware of when reading anything on the Internet, especially. You don’t investigate how the authors of articles and videos you read and view came to their conclusions, or what data they may have overlooked (I’m being generous here–in most of the things you post, it’s not a matter of “overlooking” contradictory evidence on the case of the authors, it’s flat-out denial that it even exists). And you’re not an expert on health issues like fluoride or vaccines, so I don’t expect you to go back to the journal articles and try to figure out if these people you’re listening to are telling the truth. That’s what I do, but it took years of training to get me to this point, as you probably remember.

You repeatedly caution, “follow the money.” Often this is the case, and no one disagrees that many times people or companies do some nasty shit in the name of profit. However, you have to look at this on a case-by-case basis. Let’s look at vaccines, for instance. Sure, pharmaceutical companies make money off of vaccines. However, this money is a fraction of what they make for drugs that treat chronic conditions or “lifestyle” medicines, like cholesterol meds and Viagra. Indeed, many pharmaceutical companies have gotten out of the vaccine game altogether because it’s not particularly profitable, and because of lawsuits directed against them (which, in most cases, aren’t based in science but on fear and misunderstanding of cause and effect). This leaves us with fewer and fewer options when we need new vaccines quickly, like for the H1N1 pandemic in 2009.

So, we’re agreed that vaccines are potential money-makers for pharmaceutical companies (though, comparatively, not a lot). Let’s look now at those who started the most recent iteration of vaccine panic, including Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield is the British doctor whose study first drew an association between the measles/mumps/rubella (“MMR”) vaccine and autism. Except, first of all, it really didn’t if you look at the original article. And, you might note that article has a big “RETRACTED” notice at the top. This means that the journal took away its support of the paper–it shows that it never should have been published. That’s because, for that study and several others, Wakefield lied about data, unethically recruited test subjects, and/or just outright made shit up. Why might he do this? Well, a British lawyer had paid him to find evidence of this connection between MMR and autism, so that the lawyer could sue on behalf of the parents. Oh, and did I mention that Wakefield stood to make money for a replacement for the MMR vaccine as well? Follow the money indeed–though in this case, it didn’t lead to the pharmaceutical companies. Wakefield was tried in England and stripped of his medical license, but has since moved to the United States and still spreads misinformation about vaccines.

What about other anti-vaccine players? Jenny McCarthy has made millions selling books about how she “cured” her son Evan of his autism. Joseph Mercola makes millions selling dietary supplements (untested and largely unregulated, by the way), and lives in a two million dollar mansion. I know you’ve criticized creationists; well, these people are the creationists of the medical field. They distort, they cherry-pick their evidence, and they cause the public to lose confidence in credentialed scientists because of their writings. Credentialed scientists like myself, who carry out the vast majority of this research but certainly don’t live in million-dollar homes.

And you’re helping the Mercolas of the world–every time you post something like your “Italian court rules MMR vaccine causes autism” picture. Guess what “evidence” that court used? Andrew Wakefield’s discredited study. In science, this is an error even a first-year PhD student would be embarrassed to make. Not surprisingly, the decision is being appealed. But in the meantime, every parent who (wrongly and unscientifically) believes that vaccines caused their child’s autism is being buoyed by this court, whose decision is being trumpeted by people like Mercola and Mike Adams at Natural News (another supplement-pusher like Mercola, with no medical expertise or training). Every time someone buys into their anti-vaccine line and chooses to buy their supplements instead of vaccinating their child, it puts other children in danger. And you’re helping them.

Know the results of this vaccine backlash? Research dollars are diverted away from real causes of autism and other conditions. And kids are dying. Just in the U.S., there have been more than 1000 vaccine-preventable deaths in the last 6 years, and over 100,000 vaccine-preventable illnesses. Freaking whooping cough has made a huge comeback in the U.S. A big reason for the resurgence of these diseases is because anti-vaccine myths and scares spread so easily between acquaintances–in person, and on social media; scares that you’re now perpetuating with your own posts. Sure, it’s a free country and you have every right to share these pictures and memes, but have you thought about the possible harm it might do to others when you click “share”?

I know how crazy it drives you when Republican politicians (and friends and relatives) post pictures and stories that are flat-out wrong, about the deficit, the economy, “Obamacare,” and more. It makes you nuts how uncritically they quote Fox News. They don’t examine their own biases; they don’t stop and think why they accept that Obama is the anti-Christ and that everything associated with him is evil, even if the facts clearly contradict their belief. Sure, they may know a lot, but it’s all from the same sources and it reinforces their pre-existing belief that Obama is Satan. Here’s the kicker: you’re doing the same thing. Yes, I know you’ve watched a lot of YouTube videos on vaccines, and fluoride, and other health issues, but the ones you watch–and accept–are the ones that already appeal to the beliefs you’ve accepted. This isn’t how science works, or how evidence is fairly weighed. I know this can get messy, because again, you’re not one of those trained scientists and you don’t know how to navigate the literature and determine which studies are well-conducted and which ones are crap. So sometimes, you have to accept that there are people out there who have taken the time to do this in an unbiased fashion, and decide to trust them (y’know, people like your daughter, perhaps? Or thousands of other scientists and journalists who have studied these fields for many, many years?), and look skeptically upon people like Mercola et. al. (Follow the money!)

I will be sending along some books I hope you’ll read with an open mind: The Panic Virus by Seth Mnookin, and Deadly Choices by Paul Offit. Both come into this from different backgrounds–Mnookin is a journalist and new parent who was investigating vaccines, while Offit is a research scientist like myself who has worked in vaccines and infectious diseases his whole life. Both come to the same conclusions: vaccines are safe, and critical for public health. And before you google Offit and find that he holds a vaccine patent, ask yourself–if I were to work on a vaccine at some point in my career, would you dismiss my authority and expertise for that reason? Or would you be willing to look at the science behind it before making a judgement?

Next discussion: the Illuminati. Baby steps.

Love,

Tara

 

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Comments

  1. #1 Kausik Datta
    http://www.scilogs.com/in_scientio_veritas
    April 3, 2013

    Brilliant and honest essay, with important facts and simple explanations. This is a must read for anyone who engages in discussions with casual antivaxxers and battles with pseudoscience on a regular basis. Thank you, Tara.

  2. #2 Andrew
    April 3, 2013

    That was a very concise message to your father. :) I can’t interpret scientific literature all that well, and I would love it if I could. I can only see as far as a lack of control and some probability.

    In any case, let us know how your father responds. I hope he responds positively.

  3. #3 Ethan
    April 3, 2013

    Great one, Tara!

  4. #4 Pat Gardiner
    United Kingdom
    April 3, 2013

    I guess that’s a pretty lucky dad.

    What else can one say?

    Except that maybe he did not do such a bad job in parenthood. That thought might make him feel pretty good.

    Dads often feel pretty helpless. They too need encouragement

    Go for it Tara!

  5. #5 Mike Olson
    Sherrard,Illinois
    April 3, 2013

    Your situation would be difficult because it is family. Ironically, in my hometown I’m the local crazy guy. I have a B.S. in psych, was trained as a lab tech by the USN and read as much math and science as I can get my hands on. Unfortunately, the local chiro is an anti-vaxxer. So, whose word is going to be given more credence? The guy locally known as “Doctor,” or “the crazy guy,” everyone dismisses? Because vaccinations are important, I keep my mouth shut so as not to lend credence to the doctors beliefs. Hell, as to your Dad, it really is a shame, as a liberal I used to think it meant we supported science, not just fears of corporate greed.

  6. #6 Dr. Stic Harris
    Washington, DC
    April 3, 2013

    Outstandingly done. This should be required reading for anyone in public health as ammunition.

  7. [...] just ran across this post at Aetiology …. An open letter to my dad… in which Tara explains to her dad why perpetuating the anti-vax talking points is a bad, [...]

  8. #8 Amy Charles
    April 3, 2013

    Tara, if I may leave a message for you somewhere, I would love to tell your dad about how, when my daughter was eight months old and I’d taken her to the ER with a dramatic-looking rash, she was exposed to measles. Parents who apparently thought vaccines unnecessary or evil had brought in their boy, desperately ill with measles, a disease easily picked up simply by hanging around near measly people, and there was my infant daughter. Who was, at the time, unvaccinated, because they don’t give the MMR till the baby’s a year old. I would like to explain to your father what kind of fear those @#%!@$ parents put us through, and what sort of violence I’d like to do to them should I ever meet them. I would like for him to think about you at eight months, suffering from, perhaps permanently damaged by, and maybe even dying of measles. Send along a picture of what a baby with measles looks like. And ask himself again whether it’s such a racket, and whether in fact it matters. Press him on wishfulness — because in the end, that’s what’s behind his facebook post. Wishfulness, thoughts about how things should be. Knock him in the head with some reality, please.

    I get very angry about these things, still.

  9. #9 Matthew Herper
    April 3, 2013

    Wonderful.

  10. #10 John Michel
    April 3, 2013

    Every other commentary on the nonsense of the autism-vaccine debate should be replaced with this one. Thank you.

  11. #11 KM
    United States
    April 4, 2013

    What a great post. I’m liberal, have many liberal friends and follow many liberal pages on Facebook. It’s amazing how many of them suddenly become anti-science when it comes to vaccines, fluoride, and GMOs.

  12. #12 Tj
    April 4, 2013

    Thank you Tara for being kind and covering all the evidence clearly.

  13. #13 Scott Myers
    April 4, 2013

    What a great post. Your father should be very proud.

  14. #14 Tim
    April 4, 2013

    I vaccinate my kids. I’ll take at face value that you are an expert. I skimmed your CV and it is impressive. Despite agreeing with you I found your post quite condescending. I don’t think you aren’t going to win over converts with this style of writing. Holding out the most egregious examples of your very flawed opponents doesn’t necessarily prove our side is correct. Just some food for thought. Being aware of various cognitive biases doesn’t mean one isn’t susceptible to them as well. There are enough reports out there about how the scientific community is rife with publication bias calling into question the strength of the peer-review imprimatur. I have my kids vaccinated. Just thought I’d offer a slightly “opposing” view in a comment section that has been mostly an echo chamber. Still, I look forward to reading more of your stuff.

  15. #15 Pareidolius
    April 4, 2013

    Tim, I imagine this isn’t the first time this has come up between the good scientist and her father. I’ll say that as a former magical-thinker, altie and denizen of Wooville, nothing would have changed my mind back when I was in the thick of things. But when the information reached a critical level and my emotional landscape shifted, I can say that all the things I rejected due to tone and delivery were factored in to my shift to a reality-based worldview. That, and Ms. Smith probably knows how reach her father better than you do, but by all means, call her condescending, I’m sure you have her attention now.

  16. #16 Bronwyn Tudor
    April 4, 2013

    Well, my view of myself as a liberal might lead one to think I’m pro-Union. But my personal experience is that they are chiefly after power and have no interest in supporting the little guy (who really needs them). So when I read someone’s “Fed UP” t-shirt yesterday that listed AFSCME as one of the things she was fed up with, I just had to say, “Me, too.” I’m also fed up with things like someone telling me what kind of light bulb I’m allowed to use or having to pay exorbitant prices for municipally-labeled trash bags. That’s what being liberal means to me– not conforming to something simply because it’s the flavor of the month. I am pro-environment, but take a look at the economy, folks. People can’t afford to pay for these ridiculously-priced items. You want me to shop local? Make the prices more competitive. The bottom line is my family unit and I have to survive. I don’t have the luxury of “buying from Interdependent book stores on principle.” That’s the luxury of limousine liberals who don’t have to worry about where the next dollar is coming from. I mostly read eBooks these days, which is extremely pron-environment, but something a lot of liberals seem to be taking issue with. I see it as a no-brainer. No paper used to print the book on, no fossil fuels expended traveling to the book store. I’m liberal because I grew up as part of a struggling, working, socioeconomic group. Save the Middle Class? I’m tired of hearing about it. Some of us never made it that far, even when we surpassed our family of origin in terms of education.

  17. #17 ginckgo
    April 4, 2013

    Great article.
    To expand on what KM @11 said, I’ve sadly come to the conclusion that every single person has at least one (most have may) view point that is completely divorced from reality. Be it creationism, climate change, anti-vaxx, GMO, homeopathy, expanding earth, conspiracies, etc. And that view point is nearly impossible to be debunked. I work with numerous highly intelligent, scientifically trained, rational, people, and the amount of times I’ve had to address the exact same falsehood from the same person is depressing.
    And no, I’m not saying I don’t have the odd belief that is counter the scientific mainstream, but I’m working hard to deal with it.

  18. #18 charan langton
    San Francisco
    April 4, 2013

    Needs to be said more often. How cognitive errors keep us stuck in our belief systems. We repeat what we hear from sources we have put on our “never block” list.

    Bravo to this young lady.

  19. #19 Katie
    April 4, 2013

    This really hits home for me! I am a doctor who has spent years training in Peadiatrics, where we frequently see the results of parents who choose not to vaccinate. My father is a conspiracy theorist and is anti-vacc, though thankfully has only become so in the last 10 years or so, meaning myself and most of my siblings are fully vaccinated. It makes it very hard to talk about work and about the wonders of science and medicine with my family, which is a great shame.
    My father has an incredible mind and just loves learning and I find it to be such a shame and so sad that his intelligence is so misguided. His problem is the same as this father… He lacks the ability to critically analyze sources of information so he believes in whatever he reads, as long as it fits into his pre-existing beliefs. He never finished high-school as back in England in the fifties it was encouraged to have a trade. I wonder if things would have been different if he had stayed in school to learn more about science instead of becoming a carpenter. I am torn, as I feel my dad is an incredibly intelligent man (he has a memory for facts that well exceeds mine, and a great thirst for knowledge) who has simply taken off in the wrong direction, and lacks the skill to find his way back! He would have been a brilliant scientist or academic, but instead I will have to force him to have a whooping cough vaccine before coming into contact with any future grandchildren, and buy him bottled water so he doesn’t have ingest any flouoride, and endure his disapproval every time I drink a drink with aspartame in it or take a pharmaceutical.
    As close as we are being family, we will always have a divide between us that can’t be breached… Manifest I guess of his disappointment in me for wholly accepting the ‘conventional’ view, and my disappointment in him for rejecting it.
    Such a shame.

  20. #20 jre
    Boulder, CO
    April 4, 2013

    Tara, I’ve enjoyed your writing for years, but have never before been so moved as by this piece. Members of my own family whom I deeply love and respect have followed the same path as your father, and I have often been torn by the need to preserve harmony with them while acknowledging what I understand to be true. I don’t have to tell you how painful a situation this is, but it may help you (it certainly helps me) to feel a bit less lonely in it. In my view, your letter was honest, positive, not even slightly condescending, and driven by love from beginning to end. Thank you more than I can say for writing it.

  21. #21 Clay
    Australia
    April 4, 2013

    I agree with Tim. If I had kids, I would probably vaccinate them, but even though you are concise in many of your points of argument, you seem to be “cherry picking”, which is exactly what you accuse your father of. But perhaps there isn’t enough room in a small blog to present all the arguments and all the personalities against vaccintion?

  22. #22 Juliet
    oz
    April 4, 2013

    We currently have an outbreak in Northern Sydney of encephalitis/meningitis and transverse myelitis caused by a sub-type of Hand-foot and mouth- some of these children have died, some have brain and spinal injury- we have no sure and no vaccine. Would he deny a vaccine to these children if we could protect them? I haven’t seen so many parents in tears and terrified in a long time.

  23. #23 Dr. L
    Australia
    April 4, 2013

    Bravo, Tara. People like you give me hope to keep fighting the good fight. My own family is weighed down by baseless superstitions and crazy pseudoscience. I too will push on to show them the light.

  24. #24 Lindsay Went
    Sydney
    April 4, 2013

    Clay, if you’re looking for more detailed deconstruction of the arguments used by antivaxers, you might find Orac’s blog called Respectful Insolence useful. He has been posting about it for years, in copious detail. It’s also available here.

  25. #25 Canary
    Globe trotting
    April 4, 2013

    Brilliant and well put. Thank you so much for posting this!

  26. #26 Susan
    Sydney
    April 4, 2013

    Tara that was simply wonderful. I too wish that more people would read the books by Mnookin and Offit before they even think about commenting on the internet about this subject.

  27. #27 Amy Charles
    April 4, 2013

    Clay, please, if you decide not to vaccinate your kids, go live with them in the wilderness somewhere. Homeschool them, get mail drops ,etc. If you want your kids wide open to lethal childhood diseases, I suppose that’s your business, but please do not put everyone else’s kids at higher risk. Because — apart from all the too-young-for-vaccines babies you put at risk, should you insist on living among people — when these disease find hosts, they also mutate, and every once in while they hit a sweet mutation that happens to do well against current vaccines. And then the vaccinated kids are more vulnerable to mumps or measles or whooping cough or what have you.

    Please do not be a ninny about this. The shots will not turn your kids autistic.

  28. #28 Jo Benhamu
    Sydney
    April 4, 2013

    Wonderfully written. I intend to share far and wide. Thank you.

  29. #29 Judy
    April 4, 2013

    It would be nice if the medical community would at least acknowledge that there are adverse reactions to vaccinations. As with every medical treatment there are risks. My nephew had an adverse reaction to his four month shot, spent nearly a week in PICU, the trauma to his parents was not something anyone would want repeated. His doctor said “we were remiss in giving him his vaccination.” it is documented! If veterinarians acknowledge that animals get adverse reactions, note it on the pet’s chart and no longer give that vaccine, why can’t people get that same information?

  30. #30 Roy G Benaroch MD
    United States
    April 4, 2013

    Judy, I don’t know of any medical providers who say “vaccines are always safe” or “never cause reactions” or are “100% safe.” We are required to distribute vaccine-information statements that clearly stipulate that serious reactions, though rare, can occur.

    It is false to claim that the medical community denies that there are adverse reactions to vaccines.

  31. #31 Rosalie Dieteman
    NY State
    April 4, 2013

    In old cemeteries, the gravestones list cause of death. Stone after stone reads diphtheria, polio, whooping cough, tuberculosis, measles, mumps, rubella, influenza, especially small children. In newer cemeteries, the “baby” area contains mostly stones with dates of birth and death just few days apart. They didn’t die of the traditional “baby killers,” they died because they weren’t ready to live. Although still sad, I’d rather see the second sort; it shows we’ve made progress.

    I agree, it’s probably a bad idea to inject mercury compounds into small children, but that should be a call to find safer preservatives, NOT to stop vaccinations. Personally, I get my flu shots at a pharmacy that pays the extra money to get vaccine without the preservative.

    “It is false to claim that the medical community denies that there are adverse reactions to vaccines.”

    However, documentation errors prevent doctors from having the information they need when they need it. Doctors in a hurry may not see notes about previous bad reactions in paper files and even electronic systems may require the doctor to go through screen after screen to find what they need. Again, not the fault of the vaccine, rather, the software developers need to incorporate feedback from the doctors into the next version of their software. In addition, parents need to be proactive and make sure the doctor knows about important events since the last visit.

    BTW, one of my brothers almost died of measles in the late 40s. My other brother was a Polio Pioneer in the 50s.

  32. #32 Shelley D
    Pacific Northwest
    April 4, 2013

    Excellent letter and reasoning.
    My mother’s twin died of diphtheria as an infant-luckily she survived. (1925)
    She also spent one entire summer taking care of her nine children who all contracted whooping cough. She told me the only time she didn’t enjoy being a mother was that particular summer of 1959. She literally lived on just a few hours of sleep each night for three solid months. Coughing all night long by the kids and then changing their bedding several times a night due to the kids’ vomiting from coughing so hard.
    I think that this generation of parents have no idea of how bad it was before vaccines became available. I hope they never have to personally find out.

  33. #33 Scott
    Florida
    April 4, 2013

    Tara,

    Thank you for writing this.

  34. #34 Sian Morton
    Australia
    April 4, 2013

    As an Australian registered nurse immuniser I heartily endorse the comment by Roy G Benaroch MD.

    Tara, thank you for a beautifully written blog. It has been well received in this country and I hope it is read by many of those with concerns about vaccination fueled by misinformation.

  35. #35 Laura CPNP
    TN
    April 4, 2013

    Beautiful. Thank you. I wish more people would read your words.

  36. #36 jre
    Boulder, CO
    April 4, 2013

    Tara -
    Any response from your father?
    One hesitates to intrude … but it is an open letter, after all.

  37. #37 Jay
    April 4, 2013

    Please reply to me!
    I’m one of those parents who is terrified by vaccine injury stories. My daughter is 3 months now and the night before her 2 months shots I could barely sleep. I was terrfied that I would lose my baby girl because of something that was supposed to protect her.
    A 4 month old, very dear to me, died because of vaccine injury. After her shot her brain began to swell. They couldn’t stop it, and she passed away. I can’t “science” that fact away. Something that is supposed to be safe, that you’ve claimed is safe several times in this writing, killed her.
    Is it going to kill my daughter too?
    Is the death of my daughter worth making sure another baby doesn’t get measles?
    I just… I can’t resolve to one side or the other. Which is a lower risk to take? If she was ever injured by a vaccine I couldn’t live with myself. I just couldn’t. I’m sick with this worry.
    Please, if you know anything about vaccine injuries, about the mercury and aluminum and other additives in the vaccines – please answer me.

  38. #38 Tara C. Smith
    April 4, 2013

    Thanks to all for the comments. Just a few quick responses–

    Clay–this isn’t a dissertation, so no, clearly I’ve not covered all the issues by a long shot. However, many I’ve written about here on the blog previously, if there’s a specific topic you’re looking for.

    Jay, yes, those stories are scary. However, the risk from vaccines is much, much smaller than the risk from the diseases they prevent. There is nothing that is 100% safe. People die from injuries in their bathtub; from crossing the street; from cars; from Tylenol; from peanuts; I could go on. It’s tough to be rational when emotion is involved, but the CDC has some numbers on vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases here, showing that vaccines are the best course if you’re looking at it from a risk comparison scenario. If you want an anecdote to compare to yours, I’ve spent the last almost 20 years studying infectious diseases, and my kids (currently ages 13 and 11) are vaccinated for just about everything they can be–MMR, DTaP, chickenpox, HepB, HepA, HPV, HiB, pneumococcus, influenza (yearly), probably others I’m forgetting. The diseases scare me way more than the vaccines–orders of magnitude more. Could you live with yourself if your daughter wasn’t vaccinated, and then contracted a preventable disease like these parents, or spread it to others?

  39. #39 Peter Thom
    S. Kent, CT
    April 4, 2013

    Because I wrote a lengthy article in 2003 debunking the MMR-Autism link and those like Wakefield responsible for peddling harmful nonsense, I’ve closely followed this story. Fourteen years after publication of the Wakefield article, uptake of MMR vaccine in the UK finally returned to pre-Wakefield levels. In some areas of London uptake had fallen to less than 50%. Ninety percent is considered necessary by epidemiologists for adequate protective coverage of a population. During this period measles notifications in the UK more than doubled. Measles kills about 1/1000 who contract it, so Wakefield’s fraudulent claims had serious consequences. The internet seems to have worsened the problem of cognitive bias. Along with instilling a love for learning the next most important lesson to be taught is how to properly assess the veracity of any claim. As The Lancet found out the hard way in the Wakefield case, this is not always easy.

  40. #40 Tara C. Smith
    April 4, 2013

    And JRE, no, but I don’t really expect one. Not how our family works. :) I’ll know if it had an impact via actions.

  41. #41 Larry MIller
    Wichita, KS, USA
    April 4, 2013

    >Tara C. Smith; Superb !

  42. #42 chris
    estonia
    April 4, 2013

    tl;dr

  43. #43 Franca Jones
    Australia
    April 4, 2013

    Its quite simple really – if vaccines caused autism then why does autism still occur in children that haven’t been vaccinated (as occurs in many scandanavian countries)? Answer: Because vaccines are not the cause.

  44. #44 Laura H.
    California
    April 5, 2013

    Boy, do I agree with every logical point made in this article. I am a liberal, a believer of science, and the daughter of a pediatrician, and I have no patience for anti-vaccine BS. If loved ones could make these arguments to their anti-vaccine family members and friends, I bet we would make some headway. Because the argument was so strong I don’t want to admit this, but I also found the tone to be condescending. And I hope that tone doesn’t turn anti-vaccine readers away from the logic of the piece.

  45. #45 Mike E
    United States
    April 5, 2013

    Wow, you write great for being so young. I hope you still write this well after getting vaccinated. Best wishes.

  46. #46 Chloe
    Australia
    April 5, 2013

    First Jay – as Tara said, I am sorry your friend went through this. There could be a lot of reasons why this happened and unfortunately nothing is 100%. I would highly recommend you have your child vaccinated, I realise it is scary but it is necessary. The odds of a child being injured or dying in the home far outweighs the risks of a vaccine. More children are injured from falls and drownings but we still shower, we still bathe and many houses still have stairs. I could ramble off a massive list of risks just within your own home that have a higher percentage of injury or death than vaccines. I would urge you to have your child vaccinated and find comfort in how safe vaccines really are compared to the alternative. Yes people have talked about passing the disease onto infants and this may not alarm you because it isn’t your child. Keep this in mind then, if your child contracts one of these diseases that could have been prevented by a vaccine, they may die or become severely disabled or even start a pandemic. Is this really how you want to protect your child? It’s a decision that is ultimately up to you but whatever decision you make, ensure it is informed from credible srouces.

    Well said Tara! I have similar issues with my father and uncle who both did not finish school. My dad thankfully is a strong believer in vaccines so that isn’t an issue but talk about fluoride and numerous others areas that’s a whole other story. My uncle is a LOT worse, where we usually have an argument every time he visits and it is ALWAYS about some ‘research’ he has done on the net. He lives in a country area and it is quite scary to see how information so damaging can have a whole town believing in this moral panic with science. I try to bite my tongue but sometimes the things that come out of their mouths is so way off and downright dangerous, I have had to say something. It’s definitely always an interesting visit with my uncle. My dad is worse since my uncle has been feeding him this rubbish (he brings over ‘proof’ these things are true from very dubious websites and blogs). Thankfully as I mentioned my dad is a firm believer in vaccines and is blaming parents for not vaccinating their children as the cause of these once ‘rare’ diseases to come back, such as whooping cough.

    It is so difficult to talk about my thesis and my passions when they start throwing back conspiracy theories. Unfortunately they feel if it is on ‘A Current Affair’, new or in the paper then it must be true. They never look at the facts and when I attempt to explore their beliefs by asking: when was the study conducted? How many people participated? and various other questions to understand the validity of their argument.

    The problem is the public see these people as ‘experts’ when their study is anything but valid. I have tried to explain any information they come across they need to verify it. I explained verifying a story doesn’t mean finding other people who believe in the same thing or if famous people are saying it so it must be true. I have tried to explain they need to look at journals, where you can see how the study was conducted, can the study be replicated, what were the criticisms of the study and future implications for further research. I said all of these things are so important. I just hope some of what I have said has gotten through to them.

    You have a lot of courage for putting this out there, it is something that everyone needs to hear. We all need to check our biases at the door when reading studies. We have to read it objectively and combine it with other credible research. It’s a very dangerous world when people are anti-science. It will only lead to more diseases and deaths that may have been prevented by science / technology.

    I really love how you worded this, I would appreciate it if I could have your permission to print this out for my dad to read (not my uncle because he is definitely not receptive), Let me know if this is ok.

    Thanks!

  47. #47 Ben
    Adelaide
    April 5, 2013

    Looks like other commenters have already said what I would’ve said. So here, have a cute youtube clip of cuteness to cheer ya up :-)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QKh_dNUy24

  48. #48 Deanna
    April 5, 2013

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!

  49. #49 Tara C. Smith
    April 5, 2013

    Chloe, sure, be my guest.

  50. #50 nosecohn
    April 5, 2013

    Respectful and firm letter.

    On a side note, what’s up with Italian courts? They convicted Amanda Knox when someone else had already confessed to the crime and been convicted. Then they convicted some scientists for FAILING to predict and earthquake. What kind of legal system are they running over there?

  51. #51 Bron
    Adelaide South Australia
    April 5, 2013

    Thankyou for such a well written letter. I too don’t understand why people would believe conspiracy theorists and various practitioners with no formal education in diseases and vaccines! Our son nearly died of whooping cough caught from an unvaccinated 10 year old in my daughter’s classroom…2 years after his horrific ordeal our family still suffers from the trauma of watching him fight to keep breathing and stay alive! When I meet new parents who question if they should immunise their baby I share our story….they are always shocked to hear it and all have gone onto immunise.

  52. #52 Mike
    UK
    April 5, 2013

    Many thanks for a thoughtful and compassionate post. I hope your Dad finds it helpful and is proud. As you’ll be well aware this problem extends well beyond the anti-vax movement, and he might also find Ben Goldacre’s “Bad Science” a helpful primer.

  53. #53 Adrea
    Florida
    April 5, 2013

    I really appreciate your well-written rebuke to pseudoscience. People’s (conservative and progressive) steadfast love of pseudoscience baffles me. All of your points are fantastic and are backed up by a large amount of evidence. One thing I want to point out about Jenny McCarthy. I wish she could identify the one thing that truly did “cure” her son (actually it just trained him to exhibit socially acceptable behaviors on a frequent basis; there is no neurological cure for autism). Like any loving, involved, and caring parent, she latched onto absolutely every treatment she could find for her son. The one thing that worked for son was the only treatment that has significant empirical evidence: intensive (i.e., 40 hours/week) applied behavior analysis by a board certified behavior analyst.

    She is a perfect example of trying to sort through all the emotionally-charged confirmation-biased pseudoscience where there is some real science buried in there. But that real science is so sedate and unsexy as to not be able to compete with the allure of pseudoscience.

  54. #54 Richard Adams
    Stratford upon Avon
    April 5, 2013

    Ben Goldacre is essential reading on this subject. Well researched, clever yet light-hearted

  55. #55 Sam Wang
    United States
    April 5, 2013

    This is brilliant. Well done.

    Adrea’s comment is dead-on. The one treatment that has been demonstrated to be effective in autism is intensive conditioning therapies such as ABA. Too bad Jenny McCarthy doesn’t advocate that parents spend their energy on that.

    Based on evidence, everything else is neutral (balance therapy, or whatever) or damaging (chelation and non-vaccination). For parents who aren’t as wealthy as Jenny McCarthy, these “alternative” therapies are damaging because they take up time and money.

  56. #56 Roger Edwards
    Norman, OK
    April 5, 2013

    I’m a socially conservative, governmentally Libertarian, reliably Republican-voting, formally-published earth scientist who has been a union steward, is a science-journal editor *and* (on a personal level) a fully devoted follower of Christ. [How does that combination test some folks' "tolerance for diversity"?] As such, I have no problem with vaccinations. I received them as a kid, as the 2-cm scar on my left arm testifies. My economically poor parents from the polio/smallpox era recognized the value of protection from disease, knowing it wasn’t fool-proof.

    The measles shot gave me measles. You know what? So what. I completely realize that was statistically extraordinary, even more so today, and have made sure all my children have the recomended vaccinations for school. They’re not autistic. Even if they had been, it wouldn’t be because of a vaccination.

    The sad part is that scientific quackery like the Wakefield article wouldn’t have been published if it had gotten the sort of rigorous review it had deserved. The journal editor and reviewers were at least as responsible for the ramifications of that dangerous rubbish as the author himself. Education in science often fails miserably in one area–how to review and critique research. Who among us scientists ever has taken a course in that? I suspect few, if any.

  57. #57 Valeria
    Eastern Seaboard, USA
    April 5, 2013

    You’re a good daughter, Tara. I hope you’re Pa is proud of you, because I would be if you were my child.

  58. #58 charles brown
    April 5, 2013

    This reads as, “Dear Dad, your comments on social networks and the internet should be limited to only subjects on which you’ve done extensive scientific research, please consult with your research scientist daughter before your next post.” Your dad should be able to say whatever he wants on FB or anywhere else on the internet. If you want to educate him, and keep him from being misinformed, or posting what some believe to be misinformation then it might be most appropriate to have that conversation with him privately. It feels like you publicly ridiculed him for not having your smarts. But…you know him best, so hopefully he wasn’t too embarredsed by this.

  59. #59 charles brown
    April 5, 2013

    correction: *embarrassed

  60. #60 Len
    Chicago
    April 5, 2013

    Thank you Tara for this heart felt letter to your Dad. As a medical director of a large hospital, I too battle with many misinformed nurses about vaccines and medications on daily basis. Yes, we are entitled to our beliefs but when one’s biased or misinformed beliefs are causing serious harms to patients and general public, there should to be legal consequences. But our hospital administrators chose to remain silent. Sadly, I’ve met a few equally misinformed doctors too over the years. I often wondered which medical school did they come from.

  61. #61 G
    April 5, 2013

    It’s not that Offit holds the patent that hurts his cred. It’s that he voted for CDC approval for it when originally approved, then, later when that vac caused issues and other voters voted against it, he abstained b/c of his conflict of interest. If there was a conflict on 2nd vote, there he should have abstained in first. Credibility craters when u do that. I did read the source docs. Liked him until that. Can’t prove they do, can’t prove they don’t. There are No blind studies either way b/c probably not ethical. The Belgian study, etc all just expost with flaws. Personally saw no reason to vac for hep B at birth when mom doesn’t have it and even if kid got a transfusion likelihood of catching is near zero. So, give the dude a bit to grow. The “schedule” is convenient for people who can’t keep their own notes I guess.

  62. #62 Janelle
    Canada
    April 5, 2013

    Jay, I really resonate with your comments and questions and thought I should make a suggestion. Research the disease(s) each vaccine is for. Then if jumping right into a full/standard immunization schedule feels too overwhelming call your health office or clinic and ask to meet with a nurse to discuss options and develop an alternate or delayed immunization/vaccination plan you can be more comfortable with. If you are met with hostility then try another clinic or office if available.
    {A side note to heath professionals, your need for “ammo” against non-vaccinators just might keep them from ever trusting you and prevents you from having input into their care. Time, compromise and a listening ear can go a lot further than a debate.}

    Here is my story: I started fully vaccinating my oldest; however, after a number of experiences and conversations with people who’s kids had reacted to vaccines and people who hypothesized that one of my children’s health issues was caused by her immunizations I was developing some big concerns about continuing. At our next appointment I started asking questions and refused some vaccinations. The hostility I received and pages of stats shoved in my face made me feel like I just walked into the middle of a war and I was not in a safe place. That day and those medical staff turned me into a non-vaccinator until my husbands career change necessitated a move and new doctor. Our current doctor didn’t give me a list of reasons why I must vaccinate but simply listened to my concerns and asked if I saw any value in any of the vaccines, suggesting she would be willing to work out an alternate schedule for select vaccinations or delayed vaccinations. This was huge for me! Someone to help me slowly navigate through my fears to a compromise. I now deal with a specific nurse at the immunization clinic and we discuss each vaccine my kids get. I am offered advice but know I won’t be met with hostility if I don’t take it. I wish more people with fears and concerns were given this third option.

  63. #63 Paula
    Silver Spring, Maryland, USA
    April 5, 2013

    As a new mother of a now one year old, vaccines are something I take very seriously. After reading numerous articles, consulting friends, and reading various chapters of the Dr. Sears book on vaccines, I came to the conclusion that I should vaccinate. I think almost all people should have their children vaccinated.

    HOWEVER, I did learn a few other things, which I am sharing here because I just read the article and all these comments and it didn’t come up. The caveats that I apply to vaccinting are: (1) VACCINATE WHEN THE CHILD IS WELL. If my child had been sick (or is ever sick) on the day scheduled for vaccination, I would have rescheduled for another week. You can read this on the vaccine warnings at the pediatrician office, you shouldn’t vaccinate when the child is already sick with a stressed immune system. No one ever bothers to mention this but I think a healthy immune response is an important part of minimizing any adverse reactions or side effects from vaccines. (2) WATCH YOUR CHILD AFTER THE FIRST VACCINES, EVERY PERSON’S BODY IS DIFFERENT AND SOME MAY BE MORE SENSITIVE. There are some possible issues like fever etc. which are to be watched but considered normal. However if there are any more extreme reactions that you see as a parent, perhaps space out the vaccines more and always keep a watch out for negative reactions. (3) NOT ALL VACCINES ARE EQUAL. The ones applied in the recent past are, in my opinion, worse than the ones more commonly applied now. Mercury and aluminum compounds are used as adjuvants in the vaccine (so the body knows to have an immune response to the vaccine and develop antibodies). Aluminum is becoming preferred now. Also some vaccines (that are for the same diseases) have a lot of adjuvant and some have a little. Go ahead and ask your pediatrician which brand they use, and you can find out what the load of metals will be on a given vaccination day (Dr. Sears book gives details on the brands and amounts of adjuvant). Fortunately for us, our pediatrician already used the lower adjuvant brand. (4) IF YOU HAVE A SENSITIVE CHILD, YOU WILL HAVE TO COME TO YOUR OWN DECISIONS. If your child seems to react adversely to certain vaccines, you have to think carefully about what to do. But do have a read about what each disease does, and realize your child may be exposed to one or more of these diseases someday. Some of them are so horrific (with permanent or fatal impacts) that you will likely decide that vaccines are still “the lesser of two evils.” If you don’t vaccinate all along and then want to enroll your child in public school, he or she may have to getting a whopping load of vaccines all around the same time to attend school. So that’s something to bear in mind, too. Best wishes to all in doing the best for their child. And from a public health standpoint, I do personally encourage all to vaccinate. [On a personal note, we did decline the vaccine offered to my child in the hospital as a 1 day old and waited for the pediatirician's office to administer the shot/s, at 1 month. I'm glad we did that, because we got to see my child's personality and build trust before seeing her fussy from vaccine injections.]

    I have multiple advanced degrees, classes and years of experience with critical thinking, and still deal with arguments in the home about these topics because they are so polarized. I still maintain that people are entitled to come to their own conclusions, hopefully with the best information available. I think we do a big disservice by painting everything so black and white. There are gray areas in all these issues, vaccines (though overwhelmingly I fall on the side of vaccinating) and fluoride and others. (Fluoride and infants/children is I think an especially sensitive topic.) People should investigate for themselves and come to their own, possibly nuanced conclusions, instead of following only the party-line of people in their social grouping. I think it is good to stay resepctful of different people’s views and embark on a sincere conversation and sharing of anecdotes, rather than shaming and making the issue any more polarized.

    I commend the author of the article for raising an important issue. On a similar token though, I do believe that Dr. Mercola is correct about numerous topics and helps bring new important health issues to light. I don’t think him selling supplements or having a nice house makes his thinking or messages wrong. I see the same kind of blinders and cognitive bias in not even giving his articles a chance (they tend to be very well based in science, with articles cited). I think much of what he writes about is essentially on the mark (though I suspect I may not see eye-to-eye with him on vaccination).

    Jay, I decided to respond because of your comment. I hope you find some of this helpful. I think vaccines are generally a blessing, though I do not like it when vaccines are talked about as perfectly safe. I think the media and medical establishment want to assure everyone that vaccines should be gotten and that is how they do it. But I find it an oversimplification and think we are all intelligent enough to understand more facts and yet still decide to vaccinate, if with more caution due to experiences we may know about or have been through.

  64. #64 Miguel A. Jimenez
    Madrid, Spain
    April 5, 2013

    Congratulations for such a great post, Tara. As a virologist and active researcher, with knowledge on vaccines, I understand perfectly your point. Furthermore, I am deeply concerned about the growing scepticism in certain groups, mostly in developed countries, disregarding science as reliable source of knowledge. Moreover, I would not expect it from people politically on the left wing (I assume what we call “left wing” in Europe is what you call “liberals”, though possibly these terms do not exactly match), traditionally believing in scientific progress as the source of welfare for the human being, and, above all, rationalists. I myself feel politically on the left wing, so for me this “step back” is even more appalling.
    Some comments reminded the excellent book by Ben Goldacre “Bad Science”, with a full chapter devoted to dismount anti-vax activism. I would also recommend “Junk science” from Dan Agin, also combating pseudoscience and dogmatism.
    I would dare to suggest another issue of great concern for those who believe in human progress through scientific-based knowledge and rationalism: the blind defense of animal rights claiming for a ban on all kinds of use of animals in scientific research. This is simply worrying. In my opinion, these “animalist” movements root in the same irrational beliefs as the anti-vax activism. Of course animals need protection and their rights are a true issue that should always be protected, but, please, a bit of commonsense: the advancement of science- and thus to a large extent human and animal health and welfare- still depend largely on animal experiments. Do not misuse them, do not make them suffer unnecessary, reduce the experiments to a minimum, substitute them when possible…but, please, do not ban them!

  65. [...] -Dear Dad, your Facebook posts suck…..great letter from science writer Tare Smith to her father about misinformationabout the autism/vaccine link.  At ScienceBlogs. http://scienceblogs.com/aetiology/2013/04/03/an-open-letter-to-my-dad-on-the-occasion-of-his-recent-… [...]

  66. #66 Pat Malone
    Oz
    April 6, 2013

    Excellent post.As mentioned above,should be “required reading”

  67. #67 Phyllis Erwin
    US of A
    April 6, 2013

    Well written, concise, and oh so true. These anti-vaccine folk should have grown up when I did, when there were very few vaccines. Every summer there was a polio outbreak, every winter an outbreak of measles, every spring whopping cough and chicken pox. These people need to learn about “herd immunity.” A entire herd, even the unvaccinated members, is protected from a disease so long as an overwhelming majority of the herd is vaccinated. Only a small fraction of the herd can be left unvaccinated for this method to be effective. Fall below that threshold and you have disaster.

  68. #68 Jo Watt
    South Africa
    April 6, 2013

    Congrats on a wonderful letter – your father should be proud!

  69. #69 Angela
    Netherlands
    April 6, 2013

    Well,People just don’t have the experience how life was before vaccines. Many children died or were left blind or crippled after being ill. My own son died, alas he was a statistic who helped introduce the vaccine for all children in Holland against meningocal c.

  70. #70 Barry
    Kenya
    April 6, 2013

    I thought the “Left” thought Fox/Murdoch were sheer evil…?

  71. #71 penny
    castlemaine, australia
    April 6, 2013

    I’m kinda with Tim here… I really love what you have done here but I do find it a bit condescending and generalist in its specifics.

    Big hurrahs for the concept, though! :)

    xx

  72. #72 C. Heaton
    United States
    April 6, 2013

    1. The article was retracted because the authors (all but Wakefield) agreed to retract it.
    2. Wakefield made far overreaching conclusions about his data, but the implication that he lied or unethically recruited subjects is a bit of an exaggeration.
    Nonethelesss, the conclusion is still the same. The link between MMR and autism simply does not have support in Wakefield’s results.

  73. #73 Amy Price
    April 6, 2013

    Interesting post. I think people of vulnerable children want real population evidence more than people citing expert opinions. At the end of the day they just want the best for their children.

    My aunt did not vaccinate her child, he got polio while staying with , his vaccinated cousins. He suffered his entire life we were polio free. There are other issues such as standards in production, careless vaccination of children who are presently ill, have contraindications or who are given multiple vaccines in too short of a time period.

    The public does not fully understand the causation and Correlation http://www.ithinkwell.org/autism-correlation-does-not-equal-correlation/ links and they fall for the Big Pharma conspiracy marketing theories. None stops to think that the longer we all live the more Pharma makes so they have incentive to keep us health and reproducing.

    It may not help to kick over sacred cows and natural medicine proponents instead lets just produce evidence and explain it so the truth can stand on its own. In traditional medicine we have our own questionable conclusions http://www.ithinkwell.org/how-much-do-medicine-and-evidence-matter-do-big-numbers-always-have-the-evidence/

  74. #74 Mary Matheson
    Canada
    April 6, 2013

    Hi Tara,
    2 days before reading your article, I had to bite my tongue when my brother talked over me on the phone. I had just read a book called An Epidemic Of Absence—about autoimmune diseases and a likely connection to a general lack of certain microbes in our guts that aren’t exposed to the microbes of the barnyard any more— fascinating stuff that may help explain the huge increase in conditions such as autism in ‘developed’ societies– I was met by the talk over and the brick wall–My brother wasn’t interested — he already had the answer– vaccines!– Good luck with your dad! Also lovely to read so many comments.

  75. #75 Tara C. Smith
    United States
    April 6, 2013

    For those asking for more specifics, one of the mistakes we make in communicating science is just to throw a lot of facts out there and expect them to speak for themselves. This wasn’t meant to be a dissertation on vaccine facts, as I mentioned above. I’ve written many posts on that previously. Instead, this is meant to get others thinking about why they accept the conclusions that they do, with some facts and stories thrown in there as examples to illustrate that. Most people who aren’t supportive of vaccines feel that way because they don’t know “the facts”–they simply accept different interpretations of the evidence, which appeal to their pre-existing biases. This is what we need to examine and speak to, in order for the best-supported facts (that vaccines are safe and effective) to be the ones that are universally accepted, rather than twisted to meet other ends.

  76. #76 Tara C. Smith
    United States
    April 6, 2013

    And C. Heaton, I strongly disagree that I’m exaggerating. Wakefield’s authors were not told many details of the background of his study–withholding this information = lying. Furthermore, Wakefield did not have IRB approval for many of the invasive tests he carried out on these kids. For those unfamiliar, you can read more here–if I did any of that as a researcher, I’d be immediately fired and stripped of my funding, and for good reason.

  77. [...] Really give this a read and think about it. [...]

  78. #78 Dawn Trueman
    Canada
    April 6, 2013

    I’m not responding to any of the comments posted, but to the letter itself.

    If you look at the subject matter from your father’s perspective, he has probably been witness to myriad social injustices even within the community in which he lives that impact him profoundly even if by the experience of empathy for someone’s suffering.

    The workings of the media account for massaging the message or creating the foundation for the beliefs that dominate policy and political debate. It affects all subject matter pertaining to our social structure, and health, including access to basic rights and in some cases is cynically framed and judged based on religious tenets which are even more cynically cherry picked by powerful people to support political ascension.

    Eisenhower spoke of the Military Industrial Complex, the problem is that we all learned from that statement that such an organization of media, industry and collective-will can be reproduced in other areas of our lives effectively enough, for example, to set the stage for poor people to divest themselves of the services they need in the name of nationality and God. Most of the rhetoric is based on fear, that people respond to because social injustice is so prevalent, that most of us have been bullied for too long. The tragedy is that we’ve been bullied to cede power in ever more concentrated doses to fewer and fewer people.

    Your father has chosen a different media stream separate from the mainstream, and I agree with much or all of your letter regarding vaccination and unproven science, but the alternative is as you’ve written – much of the same. He’s searching for alternative sources of information in a spirit of defiance and I understand his position thoroughly.

    To find mainstream coverage to support the belief that we have the right to determine how we want our world to be, and that that should be based on a subjective position that includes the importance of the wellness and sustainability of all walks of life is rare indeed. I’m engaged in that search too, and I see a great deal of questionable information, but I keep searching.

  79. #79 Tara McMillan
    United States
    April 6, 2013

    it is clear that you are only allowing views on your behalf- not the anti vaxers- as I am one of them now that my son is vaccine injured. I hope to God one day you NEVER have a vaccine injured child- because I know you wouldn’t help them.

  80. #80 Eric Milne
    Canada
    April 6, 2013

    Just an outstanding article, and one that uses language that is easy to understand. From years of Immunology and Family medicine training I can talk about vaccines for hours, but translating that into simple language in a short doctors visit can be brutal, especially when there are such strong emotions on every side.

    Definitely an article to hang on to. And scientific reasoning and bias aside, Wakefield should be criminally charged for the deaths he caused, and that IS a positive correlation I will draw conclusions from.

    Great article, keep it up!

  81. #81 Constance Still
    Bayport, l.i.
    April 6, 2013

    Important needed article, well done!

  82. #82 Rebecca Phillips
    United States
    April 6, 2013

    I feel for you. Unfortunately, this letter is not likely to change his mind. My own experience in arguing with anti-vaxxers has been a total bust. I have pointed to all facts and observations you have, and the response has been personal attacks on my character, accusations of being in bed with big “Big Pharma”, and when those fail, they pretty much just stick their fingers in there ears and go “lalalalala!”

  83. #83 Bobbi Ross
    April 7, 2013

    Whatever your father’s opinions, he is free to have them. Embarrassing him publicly is indefensible.

  84. #84 lee
    April 7, 2013

    I say let the stupid genes take care of themselves….don’t vaccinate your kids, but don’t complain if the “medocal system” can’t save then when a measles epidemic strikes….we really don’t need people around who rely on others to take care of them!

  85. #85 Howard
    Greeley CO
    April 7, 2013

    :…, but I also found the tone to be condescending…”

    Not condescending, simple and easy to understand. Her father has divorced himself from reality in one section of his life, and is diminished as an intelligent person. Delusion is delusion, whether it be anti-science, religion, or something else. Belief, such as these folks exhibit, is the delusional thought that events and facts will somehow turn out different in the future, overwhelming evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. Pointing out to these people that they’re wrong isn’t enough, these movements need to be, uh… eradicated from our world, through the simple wonders of education. If you aren’t qualified to understand the science, shut the fuck up, the grownups are attempting to make your lives better. One point and then I’m done. Based on the track record of belief v. science, the overwhelming victor is the scientific method, in terms of Making Life Better, to the point where every single part of our environment, everything you touch, see, hear, smell or taste is the result of science’s influence. There are small, small areas where science isn’t prevalent, for instance, inaccessible mountain ranges where animals have never seen man, but they too are, uh…infected, so to speak, with science, even if only by vanishingly small amounts of radioactivity from the Cold War. Anti-science retards the evolution of our race, and should be spoken out about, loudly and pervasively.

  86. #86 Howard
    Greeley CO
    April 7, 2013

    “Whatever your father’s opinions, he is free to have them. Embarrassing him publicly is indefensible.”

    He’s already embarrassing himself publicly. Ms. Smith is merely pointing that fact out to him. Excellent stuff.

  87. #87 Dawn Trueman
    Canada
    April 7, 2013

    It is difficult for an average person to pour over all of the scientific data and understand it with as much clarity as you do Tara, That scientific data is not accessible to the average person, so when pseudo science rears its head, we can be susceptible to how authoritatively it is presented. Presenting the data comprehensibly and journalisticaly might be a push that the science world might want to get behind,

    David Suzuki here in Canada is a good example of popular media making science understandable, relevant to the public on a human scale, and able to show the effects of a wide range of industry activity on human and environmental health on a massive scale – based on respected scientific studies.

  88. #88 Julie Rahme
    Marbella, Spain
    April 7, 2013

    I am new to face book and saw the posting on vaccines. I am always interested in health matters but frankly when I read your open letter it really made me think…how I select and digest everything I read or hear. Cognitive bias! It applies to every evaluation we make in life. I am going to try to be more open minded from now on. Thank you, brilliant letter.

  89. #89 Mailman
    April 7, 2013

    Though I applaud and agree with almost everything you say in your letter, I think your condescending comments (and therefore tone) distracts from the message, and turns the very people you’re trying to reach, against you.

    I’m also concerned your article discourages people from discussing issues, unless one is qualified in the topic of discussion. Silencing people on the basis that their spreading misinformation closes the dialogue, in my opinion.

    Instead, we should encourage these discussions, while also encouraging the scientific community, government regulators, and ombudspeople, to make it more difficult to make this misinformation available to the public.

  90. #90 LGS
    New York
    April 7, 2013

    Tara, thanks for your succinct article. Its candidness helps to reach out to those who are grossly misinformed. As someone who does not specifically identify as a liberal, however, I found your penultimate paragraph to be unnecessarily exclusive. It takes away from your desire to bridge gaps and build bonds when you turn your nose up at a segment of the population with different political views. That said, keep fighting the good fight to keep our children healthy!

  91. #91 Tara C. Smith
    United States
    April 8, 2013

    LGS, I can understand that, but it’s an example that he would get immediately. My uncles are all of the tea-bagger persuasion, and do think (and send me emails) about Obama being Kenyan/anti-Christ/Hitler/etc. Certainly not all Republicans have these views, but those that do I think aren’t going to be persuaded by many rational arguments anyway.

  92. #92 Tara C. Smith
    United States
    April 8, 2013

    Mailman, I’m not discouraging discussion–I’m actively encouraging it. *However,* discussion is different from posting something as fact and passing it along to friends/relatives/etc., without having the knowledge to back that up. “Here’s an article I think is interesting–what do you think?” is way better than passing something along as truth or proven when, in fact, it may be far from that. I ask many questions about topics that aren’t in my area of expertise–something that I may find intriguing but don’t have the background to properly evaluate it. Often someone on my FB friends list or Twitter feed can point me in the right direction to look further into things, whether it be something about running, or gardening, or economic theory–areas that interest me, but where I’m admittedly a novice.

  93. #93 James
    NY NY
    April 8, 2013

    Tara, I’ve done all the research, read all the articles, and its obvious you’re just naive and simply unaware of the vast conspiracy at play between our government and every major health care company…. just messing with you – this article is awesome and I couldn’t agree with you more! The same message needs to be repeated in every other field and discipline! Thanks so much for taking the time to write this.

  94. #94 Alexander Miller
    Australia
    April 8, 2013

    Or he could read ‘Bad Science’ by Ben Goldacre.

    I borrowed it from the library based on his TED video http://www.ted.com/talks/ben_goldacre_battling_bad_science.html.

    He also has a website critiquing dodgy science: http://www.badscience.net/

  95. #95 Alexander Miller
    Australia
    April 8, 2013

    Also, sometimes there are complications from vaccines – e.g. http://www.watoday.com.au/wa-news/flu-vaccination-ban-goes-national-after-fever-convulsions-in-children-20100423-tglp.html. I remember hearing about it in the ABC news here in Canberra, Australia. Of course, there are many confirmed safe vaccines and the diseases they protect us from are certainly worse than any side effects are likely to be.

  96. #96 Catherine Kehl
    Cleveland OH
    April 8, 2013

    I think science is less inaccessible than it’s cracked up to be. One of my hobbies the last few years has been introducing people – especially people making dodgy claims about medical studies – to PubMed. (Hey, if you’re in the US, it really is your tax dollars at work. And its awesome. Your friend and mine, PubMed.)

    A reasonably intelligent person can at least read an abstract. Yes, some of them require a lot of context to understand, but those are a lot less likely to be the articles someone from a more general background is looking for. It isn’t that hard to teach people how to look for review articles. And this all allows people who are exposed to popular science writing to go back and check if what is being presented in the popular piece is accurate. Slowly, slowly, the socially acceptable bar as to when you should re-post dodgy links is raised.

    If people post shoddy science to social networking sites that I’m on I will often post links to articles in scientific journals and at least briefly (and gently) explain what the problem is. I don’t mock them, though I suppose some people might be embarrassed.

    But I’ve noticed even the people who coldly ignore what I’ve said, or get huffy about it seem to be, over time, a lot more thoughtful and careful about what they re-post. I’m sure it helps that I tend to run with a fairly science oriented and over-educated crowd – people don’t want to be seen as supporting bunk. But change does happen.

  97. [...] sent this open letter written by a woman to her father, who had posted anti-vaccination information on his Facebook [...]

  98. [...] An Open Letter to My Dad on the Occasion of His Recent Anti-Vax Facebook Postings [...]

  99. #99 Amy Price
    April 10, 2013

    We are working on some research to get answers for the public and the experts on vaccines and autism. There may be some real concerns and plausible explanations, we would be grateful for all input as there are other areas not just vaccines that are at the heart of concern. http://www.ithinkwell.org/the-autism-and-vaccines-battle-do-you-need-research-that-makes-sense/ Can we work on this together:

  100. #100 Sean
    Australia
    April 11, 2013

    Parents choosing not to immunise their children whom then die from that disease? That’s natural selection – survival of the smartest or death of the stupidest would be more appropriate, however, a tear is shed for the child but no sympathy is given to the abusive parents.

    That being said you idiots will be the death of us all – when you break your arm do you go to a naturopath and get them to rub lavender oil on it or do you go to a doctor and receive proven medical care?

    Unless it’s the obvious answer please don’t disappoint me more.

  101. #101 molly
    April 11, 2013

    What a breath of fresh air that was

  102. #102 Elizabeth
    Denver, CO
    April 12, 2013

    Daddy’s gunna be so sad he’s making monthly tuition payments from when you graduated 5 years ago yet you refuse to leave his basement and spend your days writing emails to him about how wrong he is about everything. *grumble grumble GEN Y grumble grumble*

  103. #103 Tara C. Smith
    United States
    April 12, 2013

    Ah yes, attack my age and character when you have no other arguments. For the record, 1) my parents paid none of my tuition, room or board–I paid my own way through Yale; 2) I’m way more than 5 years out, I’m Gen X and already a tenured professor and 3) difficult to live in their basement as first, they don’t have one, and second, I live roughly 500 miles away. But thanks for playing.

  104. #104 Matthew
    Australia
    April 13, 2013

    Yeah this sort of thing is all over the net now especially Facebook. It definitely causes a lot of hysteria and misdirection on important topics. It is kind of nice though to see people on facebook getting passionate about community matters. Compared to their usual lighthearted posts, like their trip to the beach and so forth. This article is spot on about the lack of academic credibility in most of these community/political types posts, if anything, unfortunately these people just end up destroying the credibility of there own argument and become annoying enough to end up blocked.

    In some ways though it’s really unfortunate because a lot of meaningful issues and credible arguments get grouped with the non-credible arguments as paranoia and conspiracies. Even if its not on facebook but just talking amongst family and friends a lot of people wouldn’t even mention their beliefs on these taboo community issues, because you know you’ll end up looking crazy, and the whole dialogue on these issues becomes removed from common society. Which means these issues are left solely up to the discretion of politicians to decipher with no feed back from the community. And from my perspective this way of thinking ends up removing the democratic aspect of our democracy, or at least redefining it down to a vote.

  105. #105 Robert Churchill
    Portland, Oregon
    April 13, 2013

    Thank you so much for your critical insight and the nice way that you shared it. One unfortunate truth of the internet is that it now becomes just one of maybe 10,000,000 sources of information about your topic. So, the truth, or at least a rational point of view about your topics are now watered down with a deluge of mostly unrelated or misunderstood b.s. that would take someone years to filter through just to get “all” the sides to the arguments.
    Like on a “House” program the other night, where the patient made his own diagnosis based on internet searches because he didn’t trust his doctor’s diagnosis, we are now saddled with becoming our own “experts” because we no longer trust other “experts” who have failed so miserably in representing the “truth” so much that they have spoiled all experts for many people.
    This is a curse on our culture, which may not end. Best Regards, Robert

  106. #106 Shafaan
    USA
    April 14, 2013

    Bravo Tara.

    Very much looking for your thoughts on the Illuminati!

  107. #107 Paul Sandilands
    Canada
    April 16, 2013

    thank you, brilliant and brave. I could never have told MY dad that, …
    One comment, does it not tire you spending so much time undoing the BS that people seem to want to believe instead of truth and science and proof .. it does me.. but heh I’m 60 years old :)
    PS can’t wait for the illuminati, again, in a way I’m glad my dad is gone… chestnuts are hard to crack

  108. [...] An open letter to my dad on the occasion of his recent anti-vax Facebook postings. [...]

  109. [...] a judgement?” Science blogger Tara C. Smith recently wrote an open letter to her father ”on the occasion of his recent anti-vax Facebook postings”. It’s a text which oozes with feelings – a blend of professional anger and daughterly [...]

  110. [...] said than done. Recently ScienceBlogs had a post using the context of anti-vaccine sentiment ("An open letter to my dad on the occasion of his recent anti-vax Facebook postings") which examines the issue of familiarity with the literature and the need to not seek out reports [...]

  111. #111 Rob
    Australia
    April 23, 2013

    A well written letter. It baffles me that people find this in some way offensive on behalf of your father. “He’s allowed to have his own opinion on this” was an idea I found in the comments. How can anyone possibly think that this is a matter of opinion? As if scientific fact hinges on belief or what people reckon. Freedom to express ideas should not and simply cannot stretch to falsehoods that cause real harm to people. Vaccines causing autism is exactly that. There is no backing, no leg to stand on, no manner of support for it. Ignorance should not be tolerated because all it causes is real suffering.

  112. [...] “An open letter to my dad on the occasion of his anti-vax Facebook postings“ [...]

  113. #113 David Grant
    Calgary, AB
    May 18, 2013

    Excellent post, Tara. I would probably agree with your father on a lot of issues, but on vaccines I don’t. I have these people in my hometown who are generally pretty good about accepting science in regards to evolution and climate change, but when it comes to vaccines and complementary medicine they become just like the deniers that they are critical of. It is true that there are risks in everything in life and when people understand them, they can live with them. I hope that your father will consider these science before reading any of these other claims.

  114. #114 Rebecca
    Australia
    September 14, 2013

    I started reading about the anti-vaccine debate. A friend is a nurse and she told me about this lady who is being crippled by tetanus as she stepped on a very rusty nail. She had never had a tetanus vaccine. They had to induce a coma to fight. If she had just one tetanus shot it would have given her some protection.
    We should vaccinate, but we aware of what they are and how many children are given

  115. […] do, Tara Smith; a scientist wrote an open letter to her Dad about what to believe on the Internet.  An open letter to my Dad is a must read. Best most of all, no one does it better than Penn & […]