The Vaccine War… on the internet

I almost didnt watch FRONTLINEs ‘Vaccine War’ last night. I made it to ~5 minutes in, but then they showed a clip of this dumb woman (Jennifer Margulis? Ya I read her papers in Journal of Immunology all the time. Oh wait, shes not an immunologist? Shes just some random nutbar? Ya, lets interview her about the ‘science’ of vaccines.) and I blew a fuse… but I decided to stick it out, and Im glad I did.

You can go over to Oracs place for a… Oracian break-down of the show.

I just want to put my two cents in. My main take-away message is, contrary to Chris Mooneys baseless, evidence-less bitching : We r doin it rite.

I liked how PBS emphasized the Google University nature of anti-vaxers. They emphasized the echo chambers of misinformation that YouTube/forums/etc can create… But they also gave a sly hat-tip to ‘Science Based Medicine’ when talking to a mom that is pro-vaccine. Our side can use the internet to help put out the burning fires of Stupid too.

I know nothing I say will change the mind of an anti-vax True Believer. Hell, that post I just wrote about our vaccines being safe from contaminating viruses? This asshole didnt even read the damn post they were commenting on, which directly addressed their anti-vax comment.

Science is irrelevant to these people.

However our side can do a good job educating laymen who do care about science, and if we make them laugh by making fun of bimbos like Jennifer Margulis and Jenny McCarthy, or get them all pissed off exposing the bullshit assholes like Wakefield and Handley get away with, thats nice too.



  1. #1 Yogi
    April 28, 2010

    I have a son with autism and many fellow parents of similar kids are convinced that the vaccines cause autism. You can’t talk to them at all. I like your echo chamber comment. That’s what it is they just keep talking to themselves and convincing themselves even further.

    So I appreciate all the resources and links I can get on this topic.

  2. #2 Sili
    April 28, 2010

    What is it with Margulises being crazy?

  3. #3 Prometheus
    April 28, 2010

    “Hell, that post I just wrote about our vaccines being safe from contaminating viruses? This asshole didnt even read the damn post they were commenting on, which directly addressed their anti-vax comment.”

    Hahahahahahahahahah. I missed that asshole. He’s using an Eva Snead lecture as an authority.

    1. She’s dead.

    2. The CIA and National Cancer Institute made AIDS to kill black people for…..

    3. The Belgian Monarchy.

    4. Chelation, lots of holistic alternative chelation.

    Eva Snead used to write these rambling nonsensical conspiracy books for Bridger House (maybe defunct). Bridger House accounted for half of the horrible crap print media sold at gun shows and psychic art festivals in 1995.

    P.S. Jennifer Margulis (travel writer) is doing the Cris Mooney Crawfish dance all over “”

    *vomits in mouth a little*


    What a wretched waste of air

  4. #4 Tyler DiPietro
    April 28, 2010

    I thought it was a good show, though it gave the kooks a bit too much free time to spew anti-vax nonsense. I’ve been mainly reading the anti-vax websites going all apoplectic over the show this afternoon. 😀

  5. #5 Prometheus
    April 28, 2010

    #4 Tyler DiPietro

    “I’ve been mainly reading the anti-vax websites going all apoplectic over the show this afternoon.”

    I’ve been reading the comments on the Frontline site. The anti-vax moms are going to cause a global exclamation point shortage.

  6. #6 isles
    April 28, 2010

    YAY ERV!

    Couldn’t agree more. The show did the story as well as TV can do it. And yet, I wish they wouldn’t have. Even putting those people on TV to show how deluded they are gives them a certain twisted credibility. I hope the average PBS viewer is a little more sophisticated than the average American and could actually discern the message of the show.

  7. #7 Penny Lane
    April 28, 2010

    I went to high school with Jen Margulis. She graduated a year early and went to Cornell, and then later on she started (and dropped out of) the comp lit PhD program at UC Berkeley. Jen wanted to be a big-time intellectual, hanging out with French writers and debating poststructuralist theory, but now I see that she has written several baby books about how cute toddlers are(?). Well I guess life takes you to some strange places.

    Also, kinship alert: Jen’s former stepmother is Lynne Margulis, famous biologist. So there might be some issues there.

  8. #8 Paul Murray
    April 28, 2010

    “our side can do a good job educating laymen who do care about science”

    Absolutely. Same when debating religion, or anything else involving belief. Your audience is never, ever the person you are talking to – they are lost to reason.

  9. #9 DLC
    April 29, 2010

    Because if you can’t bring the science you have to bring the loudness. Turn the noise up to 11, play for the emotions and hope nobody notices that your position is illogical and unsupportable.

  10. #10 Jesse
    April 29, 2010

    Google-U: It can be a fairly insidious beast. Don’t get me wrong, I love google, but I also have this understanding that all sources of information are not created equal. I tend to ask questions like: Is that a mainstream, expert peer reviewed source? If so, is it straying outside of its area of expertise? What sort of research is backing it up?

    Most people don’t do that. It is not uncommon for some quack to publish some paper in a non-peer reviewed journal or, in one case, a global warming denial article in a medical journal. I’m sure the same happens with anti-vax stuff too. That article will then get cited in numerous places by numerous schmucks. Some of those articles will in turn get cited, etc… It becomes a meme on the internet and is taken as truth because the claim gets made so many times in so many places. It doesn’t matter that it can all be traced back to one, shitty source.

  11. #11 Savant
    April 29, 2010

    Hi, ERV; hi Sb readers!

    First time posting on Sb, though not the first time reading by a very long shot. Just wanted to write in and say thank you for your work both in the lab and here in the tubes. It is important work – getting the truth out into the world is re-lighting the Alexandrine lighthouse fire. We need more of it! You do so with good wit and great humour, too, which is all the better 🙂

    With regards to this specific blog post, Yay Internet!

  12. #12 interkin3tic
    April 30, 2010

    I, like most other people who saw the initial story, didn’t follow the cheerleader story. I’m glad she turned out to just have a case of the crazies. Thanks for following that up!

    Downside: I was using that as a “I know how illogical this is but I hate waiting at the health center to get poked with a needle so that is officially going to be my reason for not getting a flu shot, since apparently there’s at least a one in six billion chance that could happen to me too.” Now I have no excuse and will have to wait and then get poked with a needle.

  13. #13 Azkyroth
    April 30, 2010

    Our side had that shit covered.

    And the anti-vaxxers didn’t?

    Why am I not surprised that their anti-mainstream-medical lunacy extends to opposing proper sewage systems?

  14. #14 SLC
    April 30, 2010

    Re Penny Lane @ #7

    Lynn Margulis is a textbook example of a once competent and productive scientist who, for unknown reasons, turns into a whackjob. She joins Linus Pauling, William Shockley, Peter Duesberg, J. Allen Hynek, and Brian Josephson in that, fortunately, small collection. Among her current nutty beliefs are HIV/AIDS denial, 9/11 trooferism, and, possibly, Holocaust denial.

  15. #15 Prometheus
    April 30, 2010

    Penny Lane @ #7

    “Also, kinship alert: Jen’s former stepmother is Lynne Margulis, famous biologist. So there might be some issues there.”

    Not stepdaughter…daughter.

    Jennifer Margulis’ father is Thomas N. Margulis PhD ,X-Ray Crystallographer at U. Mass.

    Her brother is a wildly successful federal criminal defense attorney.

    Which makes her irrationality and under-educated underachievement incredibly tragic

    Her half brothers are Dorion and Jeremy, Carl Sagan’s kids.


  16. #16 Cain
    April 30, 2010

    @15 Prometheus

    Disappointing…yes, but I would like to be a fly on the wall at Thanksgiving. I wonder if Dorion Sagan regularly hands her her anti-science ass.

  17. #17 Crudely Wrott
    April 30, 2010

    However our side can do a good job educating laymen who do care about science, and if we make them laugh . . .


    Oh, yes. I heartily agree that humor plays a significant role in learning and I suspect that the use of humor along with the stating and restating of basic science would be much more effective at encouraging grass roots rationality and science awareness than large amounts of confrontation and ridicule.

    Those last two shouldn’t be totally ignored, they do have some useful functions but a more lighthearted approach has a lot going for it. Glad you know about it, too.

  18. #18 William Wallace
    May 1, 2010

    Dear Abbie,

    Could you please direct your (or your friend’s at scienceblogs, e.g., PalMD or Orac or a physicist’s) skeptical attention on something for me?

    Take a look around googld for the Amega AMWand or zero point energy wand. It is an obvious MLM scheme promoted with plenty of pseudo scientific technobable that you or some of your friends should be able to easily skewer.

    Take a look:

    You should be able to find other silly videos and claims based on that. It will be more difficult than you might expect, because their promoters seem to have clogged Google with promotional meatpuppet spam with lots of praise and little in the way of scientific explanations.

    I’d do it, but I’ve retired. I have an MD friend who asked for a scientific explanation, and was referred to “The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe” by Lynne McTaggart. LOL.



    P.S. Characterizing people who refuse to accept some or all vaccines as an unreasonable cult isn’t very persuasive, except to people who already believe all CDC recommended vaccines should be accepted without question.

  19. #19 William Wallace
    May 1, 2010

    This one is even better:

  20. #20 William Wallace
    May 1, 2010

    Ugh! My head is going to explode.

  21. #21 Stop Jenny
    May 2, 2010

    I suspect the asshole is the same Erwin that runs the Facebook page titled “Vaccination Resistance Movement.” I believe they also have a non-facebook page of the same name. I’ve been challenging his claims for weeks on Facebook and, yeah, the guy’s entirely immune from facts and rational thought of any kind. He’s into homeopathy, Bilderberg conspiracies, and even an anti-education advocate (yes, apparently they do exist). But so far he’s never banned me from commenting on his Facebook page so at least he’s willing to let the opposition speak.

  22. #22 reasonablehank
    May 2, 2010

    Erwin “this asshole” Alber also thought it was an appropriate action to go on to a facebook memorial page for a baby that had passed away from pertussis, and present his anti-vaccinationist screed against pertussis being a dangerous condition; including graphic photos of a baby that he stated was vaccine injured, in an attempt to diminish the horror suffered by the family. Like any true anti-vaccinationist, his motto is “whatever it takes”.

    Callous sociopath is callous.

  23. #23 Jesse
    May 2, 2010

    @21 Uggh, he didn’t even get the where the concept really comes from right. It pops out of the math in quantum electrodynamics. More specifically, what pops out of the math is that there is an infinite amount of energy in a vacuum. However, there is nothing in QED that tells us how to harness that energy (if it really exists) and there has also never been any experiment to verify that it is not simply a mathematical artifact that should be ignored or modified. On the other hand, the Casimir effect is quite real. What it all points to is that there is something very fundamental about the nature of the universe that we simply do not understand yet.

    Now, the really cool thing is what pops out when you plug in the concept of negative energy ala the Casimir effect into General Relativity.

  24. #24 William Wallace
    May 2, 2010

    Two of the videos that had allowed comments were removed. I hope somebody copied them. I should have but oh well.

  25. #25 Jesse
    May 2, 2010

    @25 If you’re looking for somebody with a physics degree to say those videos are completely full of shit, you have it. Yes, there is something in physics called zero point energy. It basically means “ground state.” When used in the way that people who don’t know what they’re talking about, they mean all of the energy below the ground state, i.e. vacuum energy. Yes, we have observed that you can lower the energy in a vacuum by putting two conducting plates very close together, verifying that there is such a beast as vacuum energy. Yes, infinities do pop out of the math when calculating how much of that energy exists. Those infinities could be bogus. Or maybe not. The universe is weird like that. In any event, if somebody says that they aren’t bogus, ask them to show you the data acquired via mainstream peer reviewed experiment that verifies their claim. As I said in my last post, there is some fundamental aspect of the universe that we simply do not understand here.

    If those guys knew how to manipulate zero point energy, err… vacuum energy, they’d have Nobel prizes by now. It means that they would have discovered some fundamental physics that nobody else has AND they would have verified that those infinities are not an artifact of the mathematics.

    OTOH, this all makes for great science fiction.

  26. #26 eddie
    May 3, 2010

    I’ve read some stuff about zero-point energy from people who ought to know better. (add michio kaku to SLC’s list.) I have come to think of it as sub-prime physics. The basic idea is that, due to the uncertainty principle, you can borrow energy from the vacuum to make particles and pay it back later. Where they mess up is that they have built the universe entirely on deficit spending. They never balance the borrowing with any savings and so have a valuation for the amount of available energy that’s out by 10120! That’s a record for the wrongest answer evar.

  27. #27 Prometheus
    May 3, 2010

    eddie just took the lead in this month’s best pop-cultural extended illustrative metaphor competition.

    I really don’t see how he can be beaten at this point unless the “ant legs in canned pears” meme can be used to explicate logical and probability errors in the assumption of viral CFS causation.

    I have no genuine expectation of anyone doing this but watching the literary groin injuries from the suggestion should be good for a laugh.

  28. #28 Quick Fix
    May 4, 2010

    Maybe the anti-vax crowd just needs help sticking to their principles. Perhaps the evil scientific types can help:

    i) If an anti-vaxtivist has not been vaccine poisoned themselves, innoculate said truth-seeker with one live bug per month. This will either i) prove that polio, etc are not harmful, ii) give them immunity without being vaccinated or iii) summon the alien mothership

    ii) The can have, free of charge, a wristband and a small tattoo which exempts them from all “mainstream” medical procedures, prescription drugs etc. Trauma ward? Nah, to many radio waves in the OR. They will have use of the Zero Point wand instead. Antibiotics? Infections are actually caused by cell phone towers which must obviously cause immune dysfunction. In case of infectious disease they will receive no antibiotics but instead have, free of charge, use of a Faraday cage bodysuit.

    Hat optional.

  29. #29 William Wallace
    May 4, 2010

    Back on topic. See To vaccinate or not, that is many parents’ question. Not everybody is a sheep. Not everybody believes their newborn infant needs to be protected against STDs. Not everybody thinks young children need to be protected against chicken pox. It’s not as black and white as Abbie and her buddies at Scienceblog makes it out to be. Vaccine recommendations by the CDC is not only driven by public health. Some of it is driven by economics (e.g., for Chicken Pox). Some of it is driven by politically correct pessimism (e.g., vaccines for STDs for newborns or young girls, and lefty progressives would classify this as pragmatism, but I think it is pessimism.)

    Has a study been released regarding the U.S. and autism–since most childhood vaccines have stopped using thermisol several years ago–pointing out that the incidence of autism was unaffected? If such a study existed, they pro-vaccine moonbats would be trumpeting it to high heaven, like they did the Japanese study that the rate of sudden infant death syndrome did not change after the vaccine suspected of causing it had been removed from the list of vaccines mandatory for Japanese children.

  30. #30 Tyler DiPietro
    May 5, 2010

    “Has a study been released regarding the U.S. and autism–since most childhood vaccines have stopped using thermisol several years ago–pointing out that the incidence of autism was unaffected?”

    I just accidentally over 9000 MB of facepalm.

  31. #31 William Wallace
    May 5, 2010

    241 bytes of non-answer.

  32. #32 qetzal
    May 5, 2010

    Has a study been released regarding the U.S. and autism–since most childhood vaccines have stopped using thermisol several years ago–pointing out that the incidence of autism was unaffected?

    Have you been living in a cave? This has been published repeatedly in both the scientific and the lay press. Here’s just one example that’s available as free full-text. Took me 30 seconds to find.

  33. #33 Tyler DiPietro
    May 5, 2010

    I sense an epic goalpost shift coming.

  34. #34 William Wallace
    May 6, 2010

    CONCLUSIONS: The DDS data do not show any recent decrease in autism in California despite the exclusion of more than trace levels of thimerosal from nearly all childhood vaccines. The DDS data do not support the hypothesis that exposure to thimerosal during childhood is a primary cause of autism.

    trace levels?

    Otherwise, not bad. If you have another 30 seconds, I’ll take a look.

  35. #35 William Wallace
    May 6, 2010

    Why doesn’t some scientist examine the CDC’s Vaccine Safety Datalink records? Should be a gold mine (national database), and should put the hypothesis that thimerosal is one of the causes of autism to rest.

    Regarding the study qetzal cited, why limit to California. The California study is interesting, but who was ever saying that thimerosal exposure was the “primary cause of autism”? Autism predated thimerosal, as far as I’ve heard. Seems that they slew a red herring there.

    Anyway, that pubmed thing is pretty cool. I found this

    BACKGROUND: In vaccines/biologics, preservatives are used to prevent microbial growth. MATERIAL/METHODS: The present study examined: (1) the comparative toxicities of commonly used preservatives in US licensed vaccines to human neurons; and (2) the relative toxicity index of these compounds to human neurons in comparison to bacterial cells. RESULTS: Using human neuroblastoma cells, the relative cytotoxicity of the levels of the compounds commonly used as preservative in US licensed vaccines was found to be phenol <2-phenoxyethanol < benzethonium chloride < Thimerosal. The observed relative toxicity indices (human neuroblastoma cells/bacterial cells) were 2-phenoxyethanol (4.6-fold) < phenol (12.2-fold) < Thimerosal (>330-fold). In addition, for the compounds tested, except for 2-phenoxyethanol, the concentrations necessary to induce significant killing of bacterial cells were significantly higher than those routinely present in US licensed vaccine/biological preparations. CONCLUSIONS: None of the compounds commonly used as preservatives in US licensed vaccine/biological preparations can be considered an ideal preservative, and their ability to fully comply with the requirements of the US Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) for preservatives is in doubt. Future formulations of US licensed vaccines/biologics should be produced in aseptic manufacturing plants as single dose preparations, eliminating the need for preservatives and an unnecessary risk to patients.

  36. #36 William Wallace
    May 6, 2010

    I also found this.

    I wonder how long it will take the editors of those journals to get Sternberged.


  37. #37 Tyler DiPietro
    May 6, 2010

    Epic goalpost shift was right. Now Wallaids isn’t even interested in autism, he’s just interested in any study (whose quality he is not competent to evaluate) that finds a vaccine preservative doing something not good. I must be psychic.

  38. #38 JohnV
    May 6, 2010

    I have to say, I start out with high hopes for a journal article who’s corresponding author’s email address is their frigging comcast account.

    omg haha I just realized that thats a paper authored by the Geiers.

  39. #39 William Wallace
    May 6, 2010


    You are judging a paper by an email address?

    And you’re citing a blog to refute a peer reviewed journal published paper?

    Come on, I was hoping for something better than that. Like accusing people of belonging to the Republican pary. Or claiming they go to church.

    Really, you can do better than that. Get in touch with Eugenie Scott. She can help you focus your smear compaign, perhaps with gems like:

    “The Geiers are Sarah Palin supporters.”
    “The Geiers are closet Christians.”
    “The Geiers voted for Ronald Reagan.”
    “The Geiers thought there were WMDs in Iraq.”

    One thing we know, JohnV doesn’t work for the Smithsonian.

  40. #40 Tyler DiPietro
    May 6, 2010

    Shorter Wallaids: “Don’t bother me with analysis. The fact that it was published somewhere was good enough for me.”

  41. #41 JohnV
    May 6, 2010

    I’m picking the low hanging fruit.

    Orac has done heavy lifting over the last 4-5 years on why the Geiers are an abomination. I’m not citing the blog itself as a refutation, I’m citing it as a place you can go to see 100+ refutations of the Geiers.

    These are the same “people” who are running clinical trials, approved by their “IRB”, using lupron to chemically castrate autistic kids.

    Anyhow, with respect to the email, how high quality can a research institute be if it can’t afford it’s own domain? Also, I believe that it is located in their house which I also believe to be the same location as their for profit business. (Make of that what you will.) The non-profit research institute that I work for (not the smithsonian) not only has its own fancy-pants email addresses, but its own buildings as well!

    Added bonus for the authors stating their conflict of interest as all 3 were involved in anti-vaccine litigation.

    Now, about that journal. They posted in “The Indian journal of medical research”. Why they chose to publish in that peer reviewed journal and not, oh say a journal with an impact factor of over 1.89, or one in this country is anybodies guess. It is at least open access and an IF of 1.89 isn’t the absolute lowest I’ve ever seen.

    So yes, the fact that they use their home email address for contact info in a published journal article is just icing on the cake.

  42. #42 qetzal
    May 6, 2010


    You were the one who seemed to think this was an important point. You even went so far as to imply there must not be such a study, because if there were,

    they [sic] pro-vaccine moonbats would be trumpeting it to high heaven….

    The fact is there are multiple such studies. And not just in CA; that was just the first free full-text citation that I pulled up in PubMed. There’s nothing stopping you from finding others (other than your preconvictions).

    But now it’s just a “red herring,” right? Funny how you reached that conclusion only after the data contradicted your world-view.

  43. #43 William Wallace
    May 6, 2010

    qetzal, I’m having trouble finding them, could you spend another 30 seconds and point me to some?

  44. #44 Tyler DiPietro
    May 6, 2010

    Wallaids prefers to be ignorant.

  45. #45 qetzal
    May 7, 2010


    No. When you thought there was no such data, you took it as evidence in your favor. When I showed you some data, you dismissed it as a red herring.

    Forgive me for saying that you don’t seem interested in what the data actually say; you only seem interested in reinforcing your prior convictions. You don’t need my help for that.

  46. #46 William Wallace
    May 7, 2010

    I understand, that was the only study.

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