More stupid from the Huffington Post

In a new apologia for Jenny McCarthy and the mercury militia, Alison Levy, writing for HuffPo, wonders what all the fuss is about.

When I watch Jenny McCarthy on CNN or when I read the blogs (and comments) on autism, I keep wondering: What is this debate about? Yes, the parents of autistic kids are more “emotional” than the aloof doctors before them. But why are they met with anger, rather than compassion? If their concerns are heard, how does that harm other citizens? As a health journalist, and recent newcomer to this issue, I’m trying to understand the passion on the “pro-vaccination” side.

She wonders what the debate is about? After all that reading? How dense is she?

The underlying fear and anger towards these parents suggests that it’s somehow heretical to question any proffering of scientific “proof” even when it squares off with experience–in this case, parents’ tragic and oft repeated experience of watching hundreds of thousands of children immediately deteriorate upon vaccination.

There are several logical fallacies here…

First, she assumes that we haven’t already proved ad nauseum that vaccines are beneficial, and that they do not cause autism. Second, she assumes that there are hundreds of thousands of parents watching their kids become autistic immediately after being vaccinated. In other words, she moves the goalposts of proof, and then assumes that there is a crisis that may or may not exist.

As these two different and valid kinds of evidence collide, the collision should awaken the spirit of scientific inquiry. Instead it’s viewed as a threat.

Two different kinds of valid evidence? Who is she kidding? Remember, folks, the plural of anecdote is not “data”. Collections of anecdotes are not as valid as real scientific research. We do research because our own judgment and common sense is so fallible, missing important patterns, and finding others where none exist.

Leading material scientist, Rustum Roy, currently co-launching the Journal of the Science of Healing Outcomes, maintains that throughout the history of science, most discoveries originate in similar circumstances, in the need to explain evidence not understood by current scientific theory. The dilemma of autism leads us to that threshold.

What the fuck is she talking about? Now she is begging the question—she is assuming that science hasn’t yet disproved the autism-vaccine link.

[...]

Unfortunately, there’s much that this research focus fails to address. The totality of the human being, the complexity of human health factors, the wide range of health stressors, the multiplier effect when all of these variables interact, not to mention the biochemical individuality of each human being. Yes, each of us is unique.

Oy. Once again, the writer, who claims to be a “health journalist”, betrays her ignorance of biology. Scientists already know about complexity, multivariate analysis, and biochemistry. That’s what scientific studies do—they account for the complexity of real life. Does she really think the scientific community just “guesses”?

Well, since all the old canards are almost used up, what else can she come up with? How about a false analogy?

Testing single vaccine ingredients to refute vaccinations as a major autism contributor is inconclusive, especially given the poor nature of the studies. Vaccines are not single agents.

Imagine consuming several different type of cocktails at once. Each cocktail contains multiple infectious agents, microbes, and metals acting together and creating new and unexamined synergies in interaction with each individual. Our research model doesn’t assess those synergies or predict which individuals are vulnerable.

Vaccines aren’t cocktails—their ingredients are not mysterious. The fact is, vaccines have been tested in their actual formulation. We don’t test vaccine ingredients, we test vaccines, and have found them not only to be safe, but to save lives.

So when science repeatedly proffers findings that “No, it isn’t this single agent,” rather than proving that vaccinations don’t precipitate autism, what’s demonstrated are the limitations of the modern reductive research approach.

WTF?? So, when science doesn’t prove your point, then science got it wrong. Of course it’s not you.

As is usual with idiots like this, she starts with the false premise of, “I don’t have a horse in this race, I’m just interested in the facts.” If she were interested in facts, she would have spoken to vaccine experts, scientists, physicians, or autism experts.

Look, I’m actually a fan of a lot of the politics in the Huffington Post. But they have become a worthless broadsheet for poorly written, poorly researched, and poorly reasoned health columns. God forbid they ever try to start up a science and health section.

Woo cares not for Left or Right. Woo infiltrates anywhere people are willing to be led. People use these ideas to their advantage—they use them to piggyback other causes. Both parties in the upcoming election should work on putting science back on track. After the Bush administration’s evisceration of science in favor of politics, lets try to separate the two and get back to work.

Comments

  1. #1 Phil
    April 7, 2008

    This is what you get when you have people with no scientific background writing on science. OR if she has some, it’s off the back of a cracker jack box.

  2. #2 Todd
    April 7, 2008

    As a parent of a child with ASD, it sickens me how much money is being wasted on this nonsense. Money that could be better spent helping children with PDDs overcome their limitations to live rich and full lives. This is such a huge waste of fucking time and it does nothing to help my child navigate the complexity social interaction that he is faced with on a daily basis. You want an anecdote? How about this anecdote. Vaccines are given to both boys and girls, yet the preponderance of autism strikes boys.

    People who are scientifically illiterate should not be allowed to breed.

  3. #3 Maddy
    April 7, 2008

    I think everyone ‘needs’ to have something to blame to try and make sense of what has happened to their families. Fortunately for us, we need look no further than the gene pool.
    Best wishes

  4. #4 Orac
    April 7, 2008

    Leading material scientist, Rustum Roy

    LOL!

    Citing Rustum Roy is not exactly the way to convince people that you have a clue about what you’re talking about when it comes to science. He’s the homeopathy guru who presents all sorts of dubious science to support the “memory” of water.

  5. #5 Jennifer Ouellette
    April 7, 2008

    Uh, I write about physics, with no formal physics background, and manage just fine. It’s not about the academic credentials, it’s about the capacity to research a topic, sift through the chafe, and critically assess the various sources to arrive at a reasonable understanding of the issue. None of that applies in the present case, but it’s due to sloppy journalism and under-developed critical skills, not the lack of scientific training of the journalist. (Although some scientific training would have helped with those missing critical skills…)

  6. #6 Mark
    April 7, 2008

    What do you expect. They don’t pay their writers. For a post on politics, just stating your opinions suffices, and anyone can do that without research. But for a health column you’d need to make phone calls, and who’s going to do that for no money?

  7. #7 di
    April 7, 2008

    http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=88831

    is a the link leading to a discussion of Roy’s research on homeopathic solutions.

    Long discussion, lively.

  8. #8 z
    April 7, 2008

    even if there is the possibility that some kids who are different in some way are sensitive to vaccine and the epidemiology isn’t picking it up, there is pretty much no chance it’s the thimerosal, because you still get the same rates of autism when there is no thimerosal in the vaccine.

  9. #9 Rich
    April 8, 2008

    As a parent of an autistic son I would like to echo Todd’s sentiment. My manager didn’t get his kids vaccinated and infected his neighborhood with whooping cough and didn’t feel the least bit guilty. So, yeah, I’m angry. Autism is not life threatening but what is being vaccinated against is. If you want to show compassion to parents like me, get your kids vaccinated. Please.

  10. #10 Uriel
    April 8, 2008

    Just wanted say ‘thanks’ for all the work you all have done here and at other venues in exposing the vacuity of the anti-vaxers, despite the fact that taking a stand seems to draw unrestrained vitriol quicker than blood in the water draws sharks.

    Despite all the strum and drang that the thiesm wars and AGW seem to generate, this is this one issue that truly makes me fear for the future. Not just because it is so much more anti-science and irrational- rising above mere uncertainty over philosophical conceits(in the case of godlessness) or somewhat difficult to understand, but clearly valid scientific interpretation and prediction (AGW)- to blatantly ignoring obvious, time tested facts. And not just because the results, if the anti-vaxers are triumphant in their PR battle, are, potentially far more dire for humanity- since losing herd immunity is little more than inviting the return the days when polio, small pox and flu epidemics ravaged whole continents, at best. And at worst, it’s rolling the dice on a future where one of the many diseases which we can control easily might just gain enough of a foot hold to mutate into something truly horrific- a black plague unrestrained by the epidemiological barriers of primitive travel methods and natural barriers.

    No, the thing that really scares me about this tactic of the anti-vaxers gloming onto the fear mongering of illusory autism links is that- despite all of the factors that would seem to call for disregarding it out of hand, despite the harmfull, anti-science, anti-reason nonlogic being embraced-

    They seem to be winning.

    It’s the clearest case where every, last thing that the enlightenment supposedly bequeathed us is being called into question. And the forces of endarkenment are gaining ground based on nothing more than sentimentality and wishful thinking.

    And that is truly troubling.

    (BTW- I’m assuming PalMD is the same PalMD posting at rat-wikki and banned on Conservapediea. If so, double kuddos. I’d have never had the patience.)

  11. #11 Liz Ditz
    April 8, 2008

    Thanks for tackling this, Pal. I read it and threw up my hands in despair.

    Then I read the comment stream and threw up some more.

    I want to echo Uriel said:

    “It’s the clearest case where every, last thing that the enlightenment supposedly bequeathed us is being called into question. And the forces of endarkenment are gaining ground based on nothing more than sentimentality and wishful thinking.”

    In case you, or your readers, think that all parents of children with autism are anti-science and anti-vaccination:

    A parent of a child with autism, who blogs at Out in Left Field, left this comment (#122), at Kathleen Seidel’s Neurodiversity blog:

    How gratifying to see the number of people supporting you. I often get the feeling that the majority of autism parents believe in the vaccine theory. Now I’m wondering if it’s simply that vaccine skeptics are uncomfortable publicly expressing their views to this crowd. Perhaps your courage will inspire more of us to speak up more often even to tough crowds. Good luck!

    Kristina Chew, writing at AutismVox about the Levy article

    It must be emphasized again that “every single” parent of “every single autistic child does not believe in the notion that vaccines or something in vaccines had anything to do with their becoming autistic. I’m one of those parents, as is Kathleen Seidel,

    There are a number of other parents of children with autism who reject the autism/vaccine link who commented on Chew’s blog post.

  12. #12 Liz D
    April 8, 2008

    Pal, meet Karoli. She doesn’t have a kid with autism, but writes,

    Why Are Pro-Vaccine Folks so Passionate?

    We’re passionate because we love our kids, too, and don’t want them placed at risk for horrible diseases like polio, mumps, and measles that can blind them, render our boys sterile, or cripple them for life. We’re passionate because of the selfish insistence of the anti-vaccination crowd that vaccines cause autism, despite the lack of science behind the assertion, the utter lack of proof beyond anecdotes, and the self-indulgence of people like Jenny McCarthy who claim that not only can vaccines cause autism, but that autism is “curable”, again with no proof.

    There’s more. Go read the rest of the post.

  13. #13 Wes
    April 8, 2008

    The underlying fear and anger towards these parents suggests that it’s somehow heretical to question any proffering of scientific “proof” even when it squares off with experience–in this case, parents’ tragic and oft repeated experience of watching hundreds of thousands of children immediately deteriorate upon vaccination.

    The fallacy here is called “post hoc ergo propter hoc,” a form of false cause reasoning which concludes that since B occurred after A, therefore A caused B. It’s the same error that goes into a lot of superstitious thinking, such as “the power of prayer” and alternative medicine quackery. Of course, mere temporal sequence by itself is insufficient to prove causation.

    Schools really need to start focusing on education in logic, critical thinking and philosophy. A lot of these types of errors can be avoided when you know what they look like. People would probably be less inclined to accept bogus causality claims if they knew what an argument for causality should and shouldn’t look like.

  14. #14 T. Bruce McNeely
    April 8, 2008

    Who the hell is Jenny McCarthy?

  15. #15 Paul A
    April 8, 2008

    This is the rag that gives a podium to Deepak Chopra and yet you’re surprised by this? It’s exactly this kind of thing that gives liberals a bad name as a bunch of kooks. For that reason, regardless of how often I agree with their politics, I could never give the Huff Post the time of day.

  16. #16 Marion Delgado
    April 24, 2008

    When they found pluto they called it Planet X.

    I would recommend spotting the thimerosol causes autism, vaccination causes autism people the whole argument.

    X makes the mercury in thimerosol especially toxic.

    So ask why when Denmark stopped using thimerosol the X factor didn’t show itself, and how you could still observe it.

    Y makes vaccinations in general toxic – it’s not an irrational fear – look at the toxic food and products from china, and the motivation alleged is similarly mercenary.

    So then ask why you can’t observe the affects of Y – why there isn’t much of a correlation between vaccination and autism? Does that mean there is a factor Z that’s suppressed by Y? And what would it mean?

    Etc. I think that approach at least puts the ball in their court.

  17. #17 prom dresses
    November 1, 2009

    This is the rag that gives a podium to Deepak Chopra and yet you’re surprised by this? It’s exactly this kind of thing that gives liberals a bad name as a bunch of kooks. For that reason, regardless of how often I agree with their politics, I could never give the Huff Post the time of day.

The site is undergoing maintenance presently. Commenting has been disabled. Please check back later!