There are quite a few reasons why I blog. After all, to crank out between 500 and 3,000 words a day, with an average of somewhere around 1,500 by my reckoning) takes quite a commitment. One of the main reasons that I do this is to combat the irrationality that permeates the world, and, since I know medicine, I tend to concentrate mostly on medicine, although I certainly do not limit myself to medicine. Still, over the last seven years I’ve noticed myself writing less and less about other topics and more and more about medicine. It’s been quite a while, for instance, since I’ve written about evolution and creationism, anthropogenic global warming, the paranormal, or other topics that skeptics like to discuss. I’ve also noticed that at least one-quarter, probably more, of my blogging seems to be taken up combatting the lies of the antivaccine movement. I suppose this is appropriate, given that, among all the forms of quackery, antiscience, pseudoscience, and just plain nonsense that exist in medicine, antivaccinationism arguably has the potential to do the most harm to the most people, reversing literally hundreds of years of progress in preventing infectious diseases. For vaccines are arguably the medical intervention that has saved more lives and prevented more death and suffering than any other.
Still, sometimes I feel as though I’ve drifted into a bit of a blogging rut. Every so often the antivaccine world pukes up a story or a rapid succession of stories that occupy my blog space for several days in a row, and it certainly seems that we’re in one of those periods, albeit after a fairly long hiatus away from antivaccine issues (at last a long hiatus by the standards of this blog). Consequently, I had been looking for other topics to blog about other than vaccines for a while. Heck, maybe it could be like the good old days, and I could have some fun with our favorite creationist neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Egnor. Now those were some fun times! However, sometimes dealing with antivaccine nonsense can be pretty fun too. In fact, sometimes the nonsense is so ridiculous that it requests–nay, demands!–a heapin’ helpin’ of not-so-Respectful Insolence, and Orac is just the Plexiglass box of blinking multicolored lights to provide it, too! If it’s camel’s milk as a treatment for autistic symptoms, I’m there.
At least until I saw an article by Harold Buttram over at the Orwellian-named Vaccine Truth website entitled The Ultimate Gamble: Do Childhood Vaccines Result in Genetic Hybridization from Alien Human and Animal DNA Contents? That’s right! If we’re to believe Buttram, those evil vaccines are turning your baby into some sort of animal-human hybrid; that is, if the horrific toxins don’t fry their brains and making them autistic first!
As you might imagine, Orac cannot resist such a–shall we say?–target-rich environment. Nor would you, his readers, want him to.
Harold Buttram, if you will remember, is a particularly vile antivaccinationist in that he is one of the people most responsible for spreading the lie that shaken baby syndrome is a misdiagnosis for vaccine-induced brain injury. Seriously, that’s what he claims. Apparently now he’s moved on to other pseudoscientific claims about vaccines (or just added them to his preexisting claims).
You know, if there’s one thing I’ve noticed about cranks, it’s that they have memes that spread through the crankosphere very rapidly. It hasn’t been all that long since the anti-Gardasil crank group SaneVax tried to gin up a fear campaign over finding tiny amounts of HPV DNA in Gardasil. That was in September 2011. Just last month, a SaneVax became enamored of another crank scientists, a guy named Dr. Hanan Polansky, who approximately eight years ago came up with the concept of “microcompetition,” which is a process hypothesized by Polansky whereby foreign DNA from viruses could compete with cellular DNA for transcription factors and the transcriptional machinery of the cell and cause disease. As I described in my usual inimitably detailed fashion, it was a rather interesting hypothesis eight years ago, but since then there hasn’t been much in the way of evidence to support it as a mechanism of disease, and, besides, the genomics revolution has passed Polansky by, to the point where his hypothesis seems rather quaint in 2012. None of this stopped Polansky from claiming to SaneVax that the infinitesimally tiny amount of HPV DNA in Gardasil could somehow induce microcompetition and cause autism and a variety of other conditions.
It’s utter poppycock, of course, but it’s a meme that’s going around the antivaccine crankosphere. Not content with Gardasil, Polansky surfaced a couple of days ago, issuing a press release that claims that microcompetition from measles DNA in the MMR vaccine causes all sorts of diseases:
The CBCD believes that the current purification processes cannot completely filter all foreign DNA plasmids used in the process of manufacturing the MMR II vaccine. Therefore, some foreign DNA fragments end up being injected into infants.
In support of this belief, Dr. Helen Ratajczak, Ph.D. who published two papers on the subject in the Journal of Immunotoxicology, says “The MMR II vaccine is contaminated with human DNA from the cell line in which the rubella virus is grown. This human DNA could be the cause of the spikes in incidence. An additional increased spike in incidence of autism occurred in 1995 when the chicken pox vaccine was grown in human fetal tissue.” (Merck and Co., Inc., 2001; Breuer, 2003).
The contamination of MMR II with foreign DNA fragments, discussed by Dr. Ratajczak, combined with Microcompetition, discovered by Dr. Polansky is the missing link between MMR II and Autism.
Remember Dr. Helen Ratajczak? I do. She’s about as clueless as it gets with regards to molecular biology, her PhD notwithstanding. In fact, she’s about as clueless as Dr. Polansky, except that her idea of how the dreaded DNA from vaccines supposedly poison our precious children is that it somehow gets across the blood-brain barrier, gets taken up by neurons in the central nervous system, and then undergo homologous recombination with the DNA in the neuron, resulting in the expression of altered proteins that lead to the immune system recognizing them as foreign and attacking them. This idea is every bit as scientifically ignorant and ridiculous as Polansky’s idea, as I explained when she first published it. No, actually it’s even more so. Polansky’s hypothesis, at least when it was proposed, had a modicum of plausibility back then. Today, not so much, and it is to Polansky’s discredit that he never changed course. He continues to cling to his idea with the tightness of any crank.
Clearly, Buttram has been tuned in to the latest ideas floating around the antivaccine crankosphere, because he latches on to the idea that DNA in vaccines is to be feared, but he decides that he’s going to one-up Dr. Polansky and even Dr. Ratajczak, both of whom are apparently not crazy enough for Buttram. Of course, he is one of the guys who invented the concept that shaken baby syndrome is a misdiagnosis for vaccine injury; so it’s obvious that he will brook no challengers in the crazy hypothesis department.
So how does he do it? Easy. First, he sets the stage by referring to research, both old and new, that show how bacteria, maize, and other organisms can trade genetic material. He also notes that there are similarities between proteins made by some viruses during infection, resulting in post-infection immunological reactions that can result in encephalitis. This leads him to cite someone named Howard B. Urnovitz:
Urnovitz and his colleagues have been studying the implications of vaccines in cancer, Persian Gulf War Syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and AIDS. Urnovitz, who holds doctorates in Immunology and Microbiology from the University of Michigan where he studied vaccines, has become one of the most vocal proponents for scientists to become aware of vaccine-associated genetic mutations. 
His work in this area has supported the concepts that:
- Our bodies have a “genetic memory” of foreign substances it encounters, including vaccines.
- There is a limit on how much foreign material our bodies can handle before genetic damage occurs and/or progresses into a chronic illness.
- Each person has their own unique genetic blueprint which responds to foreign substances differently.
Comment: Although Urnovitz did not elaborate further on the subject of “genetic memory,” his reference to it can be interpreted as an inference that the genetic blueprints we inherit from our parents are influenced and potentially changed in adaptation to environmental exposures throughout our lifetimes.
One notes that the reference listed is not a publication in the peer-reviewed literature, but rather testimony before the Committee of Government Reform and Oversight. Oddly enough, I had never heard of Urnovitz before; so I did what I always do when I come across such a person. I Googled him. What struck me immediately was that the super-crank site Whale.to seems to really, really like Urnovitz in that he is featured multiple times on the Whale.to website. It seems that he is a proponent of the Gulf War Syndrome, which he appears to blame on the anthrax vaccine given to our troops before the first Gulf war. For example, both Whale.to and an antivaccine site quotes Urnovitz’s testimony in full. Particularly remarkable is that Urnovitz appears to be an HIV/AIDS denialist, calling the Durban Declaration a “more flagrant medical ethics violation” than the use of the anthrax vaccine and declared himself to be “outraged” at the authors of the declaration for simply stating the scientific consensus that HIV causes AIDS as being “totally at odds with the scientific method” because, according to him, it declared the debate closed.
In any case, does Urnovitz’ idea of “genetic memory” sound a bit like the “memory of water” that homeopaths proclaim? At the very least this sounds like one of the principles of sympathetic magic known as the Law of Contagion, whereby objects and organisms retain a “memory” of everything they’ve been in contact with. Urnovitz repeats a lot of these ideas here, but adds in a heapin’ helpin’ of antivaccine tropes, harping on the possibility of SV40 contamination of polio vaccines in the late 1950s, a problem that hasn’t been an issue for at least 50 years, given that 50 years ago scientists took measures to prevent such contamination.
In any case, Buttram doesn’t just cite Urnovitz’s dubious assertions. He goes whole hog repeating practically every antivaccine trope on the planet. He spends a section on the “toxins” gambit, including referring to formaldehyde in vaccines as a chemical used to embalm corpses, which is true but deceptive in that the amount of formaldehyde in vaccines is minuscule, far less than we make in a day from normal metabolism. He blames mercury and aluminum in vaccines for autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders, referring to them as “potent neurotoxins.” He then flogs the “toxins” gambit some more. He even cites the truly incompetent Generation Rescue survey that claimed to have found that unvaccinated children supposedly had fewer health problems. That survey actually showed nothing of the sort, for reasons that I enumerated a long time ago. (I applaud Buttram for his “restraint” in not mentioning an even more incompetent and useless survey done by a German homeopath.) Particularly amusing is how Buttram cites Generation Rescue and Mark Blaxill and Dan Olmsted’s Age of Autism as legitimate sources of scientific information.
Buttram even repeats his vile lie that shaken baby syndrome is in reality vaccine injury.
He then takes this stew of antivaccine lies, tropes, misinformation, dubious studies, cherry-picked data, and crank testimony and stirs it liberally, adding his own crankery for seasoning and confusing correlation with causation to blame mass vaccination programs for an “epidemic” of autism. The final result, according to Buttram will be this dire fate if we don’t stop vaccinating:
It has been demonstrated that a sharp and persisting rise in childhood autism commenced following the 1978 introduction of the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella) in the U.S.A,  a time when mercury-laced Hepatitis B and Hemophilus influenza type b vaccines were also introduced. In a bulletin sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics, January, 2004 entitled AUTISM A.L.A.R.M., it was announced that 1 in 6 American children were diagnosed with a learning disability and/or significant behavioral disorder. As described and documented by Dr. Kenneth Bock, approximately one-third of America’s children are afflicted by the 4-A disorders: Autism, ADHD, Asthma, Allergies.  It is entirely possible or even probable, based on present knowledge, that each of these conditions is associated with underlying genetic changes.
Of all the benefits provided by God and nature for the human species, human genetics must be considered the greatest and most indispensable. Are we a nation of people incapable of recognizing imminent danger signs in the health, welfare, and genetics of our children, and in recognizing these dangers to take corrective actions in their behalf? I think we are capable of taking such actions, but time may be running out. At some unknown future time this process will reach a point-of-no-return in terms of vaccine-induced genetic hybridization that will become incompatible with human reproduction. Mass extinctions are already taking place in plant and animal species, largely due to human encroachments and interventions.  Are we soon to follow suit? [34-36]
It is “entirely possible or even probable” that these conditions are “associated” with underlying genetic changes? I suppose so. Autism, for example, has a major genetic component. I suppose it’s possible, but what Buttram is really saying is that vaccine did it. In fact, to him vaccines more than “did it.” His claim is that vaccines are corrupting our very genetic code–is that anything like Communists sapping and impurifying our precious bodily fluids–and rendering us sterile to the point where we are looking at the mass extinction of the human race. I kid you not. That’s what Buttram is saying.
In a way, I suppose I should be grateful to Buttram. It’s rare for me to see so many antivaccine canards concentrated into one place so densely, like a black hole of pseudoscience. His post is also instructive, and I urge you to pay attention. Antivaccine views, at their core, really do boil down to a vitalistic view that there’s something about vaccines that contaminates one’s vital essence, ruining one’s health. It’s magical thinking, pure and simple. It’s good to be reminded of just how delusional antivaccinationists can be.