Well, I’m here.
Yes, last night I arrived in Boston for the Society of Surgical Oncology meeting down at the convention center. For any skeptics who might be so inclined the Boston Skeptics are planning a meetup on Saturday, details firming up. No talk this time, but at least we can hang out for a while. There probably won’t be too much drinking on my part, either, because I’ll be flying home Sunday morning, and flying with a hangover is not a good thing. How do I know this? Don’t ask. I am, however, happy not to be in Detroit tonight, given that the Republican debate will be occurring mere blocks from where I work and the area around my university is likely to be a bit crazy.
As a result of my being at the meeting, I don’t know if I’ll have any truly epic posts the next few days. Today, I’ll write about, of all things, an incident on Reddit. Now, count me among the people who don’t really “grok” Reddit. I have an account, but I rarely use it. Certainly the interface sucks, and finding anything is just far more trouble than it’s worth most times. I’m also not particularly thrilled with some of the stuff that’s on Reddit, the racist subreddits, the misogyny, the general nastiness in many subreddits, and the like. Look, I get it. Being pretty close to a free speech absolutist who’s criticized the outlawing of, for instance, Holocaust denial, I get the “total free speech” ethos of Reddit. It’s just that it’s no surprise that the price of that ethos isn’t particularly pretty.
Still, my failure to grok Reddit and my distaste for some of the nastier bits there aside, sometimes Reddit can be utterly glorious. I learned of just such an incident yesterday from The Friendly Atheist as I was collapsing in an exhausted pile on my bed in my hotel room, having had just enough energy left after a day of work and travel to order room service and pass out. The post is on the /r/Parenting subreddit and is entitled My partner and I do not agree on whether to vaccinate our baby. You can see where this is going.
Basically, it’s an antivaccine mom-to-be who is three months pregnant. She and the baby’s father, as often happens, were talking about how they would raise the child, and this happened:
I was raised by a mother in the alternative/natural healthcare field, and am currently earning my degree in holistic health sciences to do similar work myself. Both my mother and I have done enough research (in her case, two decades) to be extremely concerned with the ingredients and side effects involved with childhood vaccinations.
My partner has been on board with all of this since day one. He is still very concerned with an organic diet and all the rest. But now suddenly he comes out with thinking that we should vaccinate the baby. That the CDC, FDA, and EPA are well-meaning, benevolent organisations, and therefore their recommended vaccination schedule has everything to do with safe procedures and nothing to do with corporate payoffs.
I am not here to start the vaccination debate. You do not have to share my views. Their details are irrelevant and I am merely sharing them to share my struggle with the fact that my co-parent no longer shares them.
Writing about vaccine issues for over 11 years, I’ve come across mothers (and fathers) like this many times before. Note the defining trait of such parents, namely the extreme arrogance of ignorance. Truly, this young woman is the Dunning-Kruger effect distilled into a very concentrated form. No doubt her mom’s and her “research” consists of the usual antivaccine research conducted incompetently at Google University. This is particularly not surprising given that her mother works in an “alternative/natural healthcare field”; i.e., she is a quack of some sort. Whether she’s a chiropractor, a naturopath, a homepath, or whatever, we don’t know. I just know that whenever I see someone described as being in “alternative health,” it’s almost always quackery. As for being concerned with the ingredients of vaccines, clearly this mother, going under the ‘nym alicenevercameback, has fallen prey to the “toxins gambit,” a bunch of lies designed to demonize vaccine ingredients and make them sound as deadly as possible.
Also note the purpose of her post. Her mind is completely closed. Nothing anyone can say will convince her that vaccines are safe. Moreover, she isn’t posting to ask for advice about how to deal reasonable with this dispute with her baby’s father, who appears far more reasonable than she is, even being as woo-prone as she in other areas. She wants to win and, well, let her tell it:
Regardless of opinions and whether or not we share them, for me, this decision has been made. In my field I am more informed than most and I would rather die than allow my child to be vaccinated. It is very scary for me to have my partner suddenly question this, especially as he is an expert certified mechanic with no background in the health industry, and little interest in studying up prior to forming his opinion on the subject.
I have bought a stack of books that have plentiful research supporting my views, and furthermore I am writing a report for him which includes all the scientific studies and case studies and information about how vaccinations and natural alternatives work, in order for him to be able to educate himself as quickly and effortlessly as possible. He says he agrees that it’s important to learn, but in practice, still chooses to read other books in his spare time.
“I would rather die than allow my child to be vaccinated”? Histrionic much? Here’s a hint: It’s not about you. It’s about the child and protecting the child from infectious diseases. None of that stops the mother from stating in the comments, “I know what’s best for my own individual child (as do all of us) and am deadly determined to see it through at any cost.”
Actually, not all of us actually do know what’s best for their own individual children, as this thread shows. Also, as another commenter notes:
You would “rather die” than follow current medical conventions for your child? Do you use that kind of hyperbole when discussing the issue with your partner? Because that’s very difficult to respond productively to.
Yes, I can picture from this woman’s posts and comments what discussing vaccination with her must be like. I mean, get a load of this comment from her:
I’m looking for advice on how to talk to him about the fact that this is what my decision is, without stepping on toes, and letting him know it’s his decision too if he chooses look into the issue more. Nothing to do with what the specific decision is in this case, just about how to manage a healthy, equal relationship with the daddy when we are “on my turf” as it were.
TRANSLATION: It’s his decision too, as long as he decides it the same way I do.
Perhaps the father realizes the mother’s bias and is uninterested in reading what he knows to be a mass of antivaccine propaganda, given that she’s probably been haranguing him with antivaccine misinformation for a long time. Look at her description. Personally, I’d love for this woman to publish her “report” online. I can predict what it will say, and I’m sure it is nothing but a mass of antivaccine pseudoscience and propaganda. On the other hand, it is a bit disconcerting that apparently the father isn’t interested in countering this mass of misinformation. Perhaps he knows better than to try or is insufficiently willing to fight to vaccinate his baby.
Now let’s look at some of the responses. For instance:
You may have a degree in a made-up science, but you’re not a medical professional by any stretch of the imagination, nor are you properly informed on the topic. I suggest you look at some evidence-based research and actual scientific data from reputable sources, not just the ones that cater to your preconceived notions and biases. If you can’t do that, then just let the mechanic decide. He’s more qualified.
Heh. This response is even better:
Exactly. You wouldn’t expect a mechanic to fix a car just by holding a crystal near the engine. But you’re asking him to endanger your child by deferring to someone with no medical knowledge. Ask yourself: why do highly educated doctors vaccinate their own children?
Another commenter noted:
This is a problem of confirmation bias. OP did plenty of research for build a case for her position only. That’s not honest research. It sounds like the other half is perfectly on board with there entire hollistic thing, but heard evidence in favor of vaccination.
Nobody here is going to help you act against the best interests of your child, sorry.
Nor should anyone. Not surprisingly, alicecameback did not take well to this criticism, the vast majority of which was reasoned and respectful. She was, however, goaded to reveal more about her “holistic health” background:
I am still finishing it up 🙂 but it is a bachelors in holistic health sciences from the International Quantum University of Integrative Medicine (iquim.org). They are a relatively young establishment so not well known, but many of the faculty members are leading experts in quantum physics and many other areas (the school’s focus is a new perspective on medicine as based on modern quantum physics findings). It’s so fascinating whether you are interested in natural medicine or physics or both! 🙂
Here is the International Quantum University of Integrative Medicine’s website. Let’s take a look at its Bachelor in Holistic Health Sciences:
This is a Bachelor of Completion program to complete a Bachelor in Holistic Health Sciences degree. This program provides a foundation to understand the concepts in Holistic Health, implemented with the diverse modalities associated with the understanding of Quantum Physics:
Whoa. This is some nuclear grade (or should I say quantum grade?) quackery. It also leads to a completely useless “certification” as a Holistic Health Practitioner, taught online by real quacks, like Bruce Lipton! I was particularly amused by many of the courses offered, which include Quantum Hematology, Quantum Hormonology, Quantum Homeopathy, and Quantum Taoist Medicine and Acupuncture, among others.
You know, after reading about this “university,” I actually feel a little sorry for alicenevercameback. She seems to be a mark spending $450 a pop for these bogus quackery courses. Somehow I doubt she’s rich enough that paying for this nonsense isn’t a struggle. Indeed, clearly this woman has been victimized by a scammy diploma mill; one wonders what sort of employment she could ever hope to obtain after finishing her “degree,” such as it is. Most of all, I feel sorry for her baby, given how clueless her mother is. This is how she announced she’d be leaving Reddit:
I really hoped to get some compassionate advice for navigating the first throes of developing a coparenting relationship. I understand that others may believe differently on the specifics here, but I am shocked and disturbed at the sheer amount of hate, scorn, and intolerance we are capable of leveling at fellow beings when we are faceless on the internet. If I was a cultural minority this would be socially unacceptable, yet somehow it is okay to treat me as less-than because I am an intellectual minority… I had no idea what I was stumbling into. I will be leaving Reddit tomorrow.
Of course, she’s comparing apples and oranges. A person can’t do anything about what race she is, what culture she’s been born into, what her sexual orientation is, etc. A person can, however, control what sorts of information she believes in and chooses to impart. Also, her confrontational initial post, in which she blatantly stated that she would brook no disagreement over her beliefs in vaccination and, her later claims otherwise notwithstanding, asking for advice on how to make sure she doesn’t have to vaccinate her baby even though the baby’s father now wants it vaccinated, certainly wasn’t calibrated to provoke reasoned conversation. Yet reasoned conversation is what most of those responding to her provided.
Sadly, this being Reddit and all, even though the publicly posted responses to her original post were, by and large, quite reasonable and patient, there were the usual idiots. In this case, they messaged her privately:
I would just like to share that I have received a lot of hate mail through private message. Multiple people have not just suggested, but urged and begged, that I kill myself.
Some of them have clarified that I should do it after my baby is born. Others have not.
We may be on opposite sides of a debate. Having different opinions is what makes the world go round, despite whatever inconveniences it may cause each of us. That’s okay. But I don’t think it’s okay to tell another human being something so incredibly hateful, and I hope that you don’t think that’s okay either.
Just attempting to put at least some of this in perspective. It’s okay if you think I’m a quack. I just want you to remember that even quacks don’t deserve to be told to die.
Damn. Reddit giveth. Reddit taketh away. There are always idiots on the Internet who make the baby Jesus cry. It’s just hateful and plain wrong to do this. Almost as bad, even if a woman like this is incredibly unlikely to be persuaded, pulling crap like this virtually guarantees that she won’t be. It more or less guarantees that she will cling to her pseudoscience even more fiercely.
Still, this whole incident was worth commenting on because, anonymous hateful trolls aside, it demonstrates so well what happens when an antivaccine quack encounters reasoned and patient pro-science and pro-vaccine arguments. The results are usually not pretty—for the antivaccinationist.