Desperately seeking skepticism

This has been an annoying week on the old blog. In fact, I can’t remember the last time we had an infestation of antivaccinationists this persistent and prolonged in a while. Heck, even one of the “big kahunas” of that blogospheric repository of all things antivaccine, Age of Autism (Dan Olmsted) showed up in the comments to spew non sequiturs about the Hewitson “vaccinated versus unvaccinated” monkey study (I’m devastated he apparently read my discussion of that very study) and misleading claims about measles. I guess that’s what mentioning Dr. Offit with anything other than a sneer does; it drives antivaccine activists into a frenzy of hatred.

In any case, this is just my usual long-winded and roundabout way of informing you that I could really, really use a strong dose of skepticism and critical thinking given the hundreds of comments full of pseudoscience, misinformation, and paranoid conspiracy-mongering that I’ve had to put up with lately. I bet you could, too, at least the vast majority of my readers who also prize science, skepticism, and critical thinking, given that you have valiantly and tirelessly done battle with the forces of antiscience right here on this very blog in the comments. (Those who don’t value science and skepticism, keep reading. Maybe one day what I’m laying down on a more-or-less daily basis, reinforced by the efforts of some prolific commenters, will finally start to sink in.)

That’s why it’s a wonderful thing that the 94th Meeting of the Skeptics’ Circle is scheduled to appear less than four days from now on August 28 at Reduce to Common Sense. The general guidelines for what we’re looking for are here, while submission instructions specific to this week are here. Finally, if you really want to contribute to science and skepticism and have a blog, why not consider hosting a Skeptics’ Circle of your very own. The schedule is here, and the guidelines for hosts are here. It’s a lot of fun, not to mention a good way to boost your traffic and potentially expose your blogging talents to a wider audience.


  1. #1 yanub
    August 24, 2008

    It must be silly season, with the sillies crawling out from under their rocks as they begin their instinctual crawl to the sea. At least their sanity is already blasted, so no loss for them when they finally meet their terrible master.

    I remember back when I was a young woman, as the day of my wedding approached, two of my siblings came down with rubella. One of them, my sister, was in her first trimester of pregnancy. My very religious parents and my sister’s in-laws counseled an abortion. Every woman they had known who had rubella during early pregnancy had either had a stillbirth or a child who did not live very long. Sis did get the abortion, and ultimately went on to have healthy children. But that short-lived pregnancy was terrifying, to see her so sick, to learn from our elders the consequences of German measles during early pregnancy and to have our hopes dashed.

    Oh, but surely, there were no children with autism, what with there being no MMR vaccines? There were lots of children with autism. They simply weren’t diagnosed. They were called “idiots” and sent off to live out their lives in grim institutions. The ones who are now labelled “high-functioning” got to stay home and go to school and get corporal punishment on a daily basis for acting so contrary. Oh, yeah, the past was just a wonderland of health and joy. How I long for those halcyon years of diptheria quarantines, deaths from pertussis, and iron lungs. Well, I don’t. But the Jenny McCarthys of the world apparently can’t wait to get back there.

    These antivaccinationists have been shielded, thanks to the widespread use of vaccines, from the reality of epidemic infection. They are living in an ahistorical, illogical, as well as nonscience-based, fantasy.

  2. #2 Bronze Dog
    August 24, 2008

    Usually, with this sort of rage-inducing thing I end up craving a bit of self-generated silly.

    But, I’ve had some bad news. My grandmother died last night of natural causes. She was one of the big early influences that lead me to my current skeptical outlook on life. Think it’d be appropriate to mention she was quite shocked this one time I mentioned anti-vaxxers. She was around when all those diseases were running free in America.

  3. #3 DBC
    August 24, 2008

    Dead on, yanub. These folks have no understanding of the health issues faced by people in poor countries where many of these diseases are still a fact of life. They think everybody lives long happy lives when they’re not being trod under the iron-shod boots of Teh Evil Pharma, and they’d like very much to bring public health in the West “up” to the standards of poorer countries in Africa or central Asia.

    Think anecdotes better than studies? Fine, whatever. Go spend a few months volunteering with Médecins Sans Frontières and then come tell me how much better off we’d be. I’d actually be interested to hear that anecdote.

  4. #4 Dan
    August 24, 2008

    Orac, both you and PalMD are doing a wonderful job communicating with the public. One of the criticisms I have had in the the past is the public health does not seem to be able to communicate to the public on the level that an average person can understand. I am not including you or PalMD in this list, so do not get critical of me. But somehow, you have to get beyond blogging and get out there or convince your colleagues to do the same. Every time Jenny rears her pretty brainless head, make sure that the medical community screams louder. Of course this is a lot to ask. Again you and PalMD are already doing more then expected. Keep up the good work!

  5. #5 Shay
    August 24, 2008

    I’m not a scientist. Never studied it. Don’t have a degree in it.

    But reading history has taught me that many people find it easier to believe in conspiracies (Pearl Harbor, 9/11, the Kennedy assassinations), than to accept unpalatable truths.

    La stupidité, il brûle.

  6. #6 OmegaMom
    August 24, 2008

    I’ve been reading the latest outburst of anti-vax commentary, and it just leaves me with my skin crawling, my mind reeling, and a total inability to speak. All I can do is just gibber and clutch my hair with frustration.

    How can *anyone* look at those figures on the decline in measles right after the vaccine was introduced and not say, “Whoa! Lookit what the vaccine did!” Instead, these people seem to think some weird sudden outbreak of uber-sanitation must have done it. Or that someone cooked the books…All they need to do to refute that one is to go to the library, dig out some old books, and look at the measles rates *there*.

    I really do think that we are the victim of our success: None of these parents have any ideas or memories of what things were like. Those of us born in the early 60s or before do.

  7. #7 sophia8
    August 24, 2008

    All they need to do to refute that one is to go to the library, dig out some old books, and look at the measles rates *there*.
    Or dig into their own family history and note how many children their grandparents and greatgrandparents lost to all these “harmless” childhood infections, in the good old days before vaccination.

  8. #8 DLC
    August 24, 2008

    If I had A Blog I would submit a piece for the skeptics circle.
    I’ve been reading the past threads full of anti-vax nonsense and regretting the experience. The volume of quote-mines, misinformation, obfuscation and downright lies has caused me to replace 2 BS meters. The number of beaten-down straw men alone would empty the supplies of four or five farms.

    Then there’s the one who cites government studies in one reply only to turn around and cynically say that government cannot be trusted.
    The temperature of the burning stupid must have raised the global average an entire degree by now.

  9. #9 Amy Alkon
    August 24, 2008

    Orac, I just read that there’s a “upsurge” in measles cases thanks to parents afraid of vaccinating:

    I’m usually a lurker, not a commenter, but just know that what you’re doing is very important, very necessary, and much-appreciated.

  10. #10 MBA
    August 24, 2008

    I’m not a blogger, but am very interested in all things skeptical. I am also a brand new med student who very much appreciates the work done by Orac and others. There are a lot of student groups in medical school, but so far I have not seen a skeptical student group. Does anyone know of any skeptical med student groups in the Saint Louis area? I’m not aware of any pseudoscience going on at my medical school and I don’t think my school is on Orac’s list of woo friendly med schools, which is good, because I’m not really looking to go head to head with the faculty, but I also despise the current trend to embrace pseudoscience as though it has anything to offer besides lightening your wallet at best, and at worst, turning treatable diseases into life threating issues, as we’re seeing with the measles. Keep up the good work and I’ll be keeping my eyes open for a way to get involved.

  11. #11 Alan Kellogg
    August 25, 2008

    Orac, since the Skeptic’s Circle deals with scientific skepticism, I thought I’d deal with a bit of geo-politic skepticism here.

    By now most people have heard of the Russian/Georgian War (which isn’t over yet, just on hiatus). They’ve also heard pundit after pundit state that Russia is this bad ass hard ass America has to step softly around.

    These people are ascribing all sorts of puissant powers to a nation that has seen a steady decline in population since the late 1920s, a degradation in military power since 1944, and which now has to deal with the lack of resources to maintain infrastructure to a basic level, while at the same time suffering under a medical system most sub-Saharan African nations would consider criminal and a rate of alcoholism that is astounding.

    It is said that modern Russia is not the old Soviet Union. When you consider how bad things were in the old Soviet Union, that’s saying a lot. Road and rail is crumbling, air travel becoming increasingly hazardous. Life expectancy is growing shorter, but especially for the men. We are talking about a declared population of 140 million and a projected population loss for 2009 of 120 thousand. This from a country with a governmental culture with a long history of lying through their teeth. And this is supposed to be the all-conquering uber-nation?

    A nation who’s glorious fighting men were brought to a halt by a small country using Cold War surplus equipment and an American C17 transport. For the Berlin Airlift we needed hundreds of transports and thousands of flights. How the puffed up have deflated.

    So remember, fact checking and critical thinking are not for science alone.

  12. #12 Phil Schwarz
    August 25, 2008

    Minor nitpick. If stupidité is feminine (la stupidité), then one should say elle brûle, rather than il brûle. (Think “Jenny”.)

    — Phil, who’s old enough to have *had* measles, mumps, rubella, and chicken pox. And who lost the vestibular and auditory nerves on his left side to encephalitis contracted as a complication to the mumps.

  13. #13 Heraclides
    August 25, 2008

    Wrong thread for this [off topic], but I’m not sure what is the right thread: “A Sydney couple in hiding after refusing to have their newborn baby vaccinated against hepatitis B also have a three-year-old child who could be carrying the virus.” … “They fear the vaccination could cause their child neurological damage.”

  14. #14 Shay
    August 25, 2008

    Dear Phil: That’s what I get for relying on 30-year-old memories instead of Babelfish.

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