Bill Maher: Still an antivaccine wingnut after all these years

It should come as no surprise to anyone here that I consider Bill Maher to be an antivaccine and pro-alternative medicine wingnut. Indeed, early on in my blogging "career" (such as it is), I used to blog about him fairly regularly, mainly because he served up deliciously stupid antivaccine red meat to a blogger like me on a depressingly regular basis. As hard as it is to believe, my first acknowledgment of Bill Maher's antivaccine proclivities was nearly ten years ago, when Maher promoted the myth that Louis Pasteur had "recanted" on his deathbed, adding to that a statement that "I don't believe in vaccination, either" because it's a "theory that I think is flawed." Indeed, he's been promoting the lie that vaccines don't work and that the influenza vaccine causes Alzheimer's disease since before I started blogging (although it's been nine years since I first noticed it) and proclaiming his lack of belief in "Western medicine" to the point of telling David Letterman after his heart surgery that maybe he could come off his medications.

A few years ago, though, Maher seemed to have made a strategic decision not to spout off so much about vaccines and his belief that, if you just eat the right foods and keep the body "pure," you will be magically immune to the flu. Maybe it was because his pseudoscientific invocation of "will" was so ridiculous that Bob Costas mocked him for it on his very own show, dismissing his claim that he wouldn't catch the flu on an airplane sarcastically by saying, "Oh, come on, Superman!" Or maybe it was the flak so justifiably aimed at the Atheist Alliance International for giving him the Richard Dawkins Award in 2009, which inspired me to liken giving Maher such an award to giving Jenny McCarthy a public health award. Back then, when he tried to defend himself, he just dug himself in deeper and deeper, to the point where Chris Matthews even compared him to a celebrity Scientologist like Tom Cruise denouncing psychiatry. Or perhaps it was Maher's foolishly ignorant attempt to refute Michael Shermer's open letter to him urging him to reconsider his antivaccine and anti-"Western" medicine views. Or maybe it was his endorsement of cancer quackery.

Whatever the reason, for the most part, Bill Maher has been relatively quiet about vaccines and medicine of late. Sure, I saw him or heard of him reverting back to form briefly on various occasions, letting loose with a sarcastic joke or two about big pharma or the like, but quite infrequently. He seemed to be sticking to politics and pop culture and laying off of medicine for the most part. Actually, I was grateful. It made Real Time With Bill Maher actually watchable for me, as in general I could compartmentalize and appreciate Maher's other humor, as long as I wasn't having his quack-friendly tendencies shoved in my face every episode. Too bad it couldn't last. Or maybe it did, but Maher just can't resist every so often letting people know he's still antivaccine. Whatever the case, on Friday, Maher couldn't resist reverting to form at the tail end of an interview with Dr. Atul Gawande. In fact, Maher couldn't resist introducing his last question with, "I got a lot of shit a few years ago because I said that flu vaccines are bullshit."

I bet you can tell where this was going.

Yes, Maher asked (with glee) about the news reports last week in which the CDC reported that the flu vaccine is 23% effective this year, you know, the stories and study that I discussed in depth on Friday. Maher continued by saying:

It's a big scam to make money, but flu vaccines are bullshit. I was right, wasn't I, Doc?

No, Bill. You're the one who's full of bovine excrement, not the flu vaccine. I suppose, however, that the story about this year's flu vaccine not being well below its usual average in efficacy this year was just too big a temptation, rather like a huge piece of catnip to a cat or a big fat joint to, well, Bill Maher.

Dr. Gawande did his best to school the ever-ignorant Bill Maher, putting up with Maher interjecting periodically after parts of his explanation, "That's why they're bullshit." For instance, Gawande explained patiently, in a manner that I envy greatly given that, were I being interviewed by Maher I'd have to resist with every fiber of my being the overwhelming urge to call Maher an idiot, that flu vaccines depend on an educated guess made in February about what strains will be circulating in the fall, and that's why their effectiveness can vary so much from year to year. Of course, I don't discount the possibility that Dr. Gawande was also resisting with every fiber of his being an overwhelming urge to call Bill Maher an idiot but was simply much better and hiding the inner struggle than I could ever be. Almost certainly he was, but his self-control is far greater than mine. That's probably part of the reason why he's on TV all the time, and I'm not. (That, and because he's written some bestsellers, which reminds me: I really need to write a bestseller.)

Be that as it may, if you've read my two posts on why this year's flu vaccine is not as good as we had hoped it would be, nothing that Gawande told Maher will come as a surprise to you. He basically explained to Maher, once again, the science. This led Maher to mock his explanation:

MAHER: What else would we use this method with? Let me just guess what would work?

GAWANDE (leaning forward): Meaning...?

MAHER: Meaning if you're guessing what would work and you don't know and you're going to inject that into your body, that's a good plan?

Gawande again tried to explain the rationale, namely that we do know what components will work if we can predict what strains will be circulating with sufficient accuracy. It was, not surprisingly, in vain. While he was trying to explain what you and I know about the flu vaccine, Maher looked at him with his smarmy, smug look, interjecting mocking little "yeahs" and a "twenty-three, Doc."

The interview ended with Bill Maher blithely dismissing Gawande with an airy, "We'll just agree to disagree here" and a joke about how he's not the Pope and therefore won't punch Gawande.

I left the whole thing annoyed. (Of course.) However, I was not surprised. Certainly I was under no illusion that Maher had changed his antivaccine views, his tendency to conspiracy theories about big pharma, or his proclivity to support quackery. He had just been spanked down a few years ago and decided to take this opportunity to let his antivaccine freak flag fly again.

Same as it ever was.

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I just can't understand why someone apparently versed in science can be anti-vaccine.

By Kenny A. Chaffin (not verified) on 19 Jan 2015 #permalink

He annoys the ever-living piss out of me. He claims that he's a 'rationalist' rather than just an atheist. But he's nothing but a blowhard.

By Roadstergal (not verified) on 19 Jan 2015 #permalink

A case of shingles might show him the error of his ways.

An invention that led to a 23% reduction in the risk of being killed in a car accident, having a heart attack, getting cancer or whatever, would be hailed as an important breakthrough. Why is it that some people think 23% efficacy is so terrible, especially when the risks are negligible? Even a 12% reduction in risk, as Mr. Schecter claimed (and LOLed at, weirdly) on another thread, is worth it in my opinion; flu is horrible. I don't see them mocking seat belts because they "only" reduce injuries by 48% in high speed collisions. It's that old Nirvana fallacy again.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 19 Jan 2015 #permalink

The one thing I don't understand is why we're do an "all or nothing" guess by picking 3-4 strains in February instead of picking the top 8 and formulating the vaccine to need, based on what's actually around in the fall. That's the one part were the "they only want to make money" idiots are correct - the flu vaccine could be more effective if we'd spend some extra money.

Sure, 23% decrease in risk, isn't that much. But, don't people take vitamin supplements thinking it gives them similar odds for better health?

If something increased your risk for illness by 23% would you avoid it? Probably.

So, would 23% sound better if we said "almost 1 out of 4"?

I try to be forgiving of Maher... he's an entertainer, a satirist, a stand-up comedian. The fact that he's speaking from my "community" prevents me from being entirely forgiving. It's a good lesson in two common themes, though:

1. A poor-man's Nobel disease. Fame makes people think their ideas are better than experts in that field. In the case of Maher, I think he secretly suspects that his own ability to cut through bullshit is superior to the medical community at large.

2. Per Michael Sherman, smart people are the easiest to fool. "Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons." Maher defends liberal ideals very well, even when they cross into irrational territory.

Maher is the epitome of these two ideas combined.

By c0nc0rdance (not verified) on 19 Jan 2015 #permalink

Roadstergal:

He annoys the ever-living piss out of me. He claims that he’s a ‘rationalist’ rather than just an atheist. But he’s nothing but a blowhard.

He's a rationalizer, is what he is. Like most people, but because he believes he's so smart and so clever for refusing religion that gives him some sort of license to not examine his own views critically ever again. "Rejected God, there, that's done, now I can't ever be wrong again!"

I realize that's probably not how he feels about it, but effectively that is what he's done. Congratulations, Maher, you worked out that there isn't any empirical evidence for God. Have a cookie. That doesn't make you a skeptic, and the crap you spout on other topics proves you are no skeptic at all. You're a man grinding an axe, accepting whatever evidence seems to help that and rejecting whatever doesn't.

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 19 Jan 2015 #permalink

Mu: I'm sure it's all down to how much antigen they can realistically grow in time for the next vaccine cycle. Doubling the number of antigens would probably halve the number of vaccine doses that could be made, which of course means the price tag would also have to go up.

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 19 Jan 2015 #permalink

A few things..

First, I'm glad that a well-known *liberal* broadcaster ( Mr Matthews) was the one who commented so adamantly. In fact, his colleagues ( Mssrs Farrow and Hayes), who similarly voiced support for vaccines recently, have both caught AoA's jaundiced eye.
I'm sure that these fellows know how to sway their audiences. Now if only the illustrious Ms Maddow would speak up. ( She may have already but I haven't heard it). They love her.

Maher is incredibly smug which annoys me even when I do agree with him.

And Rob, yes- woo-meisters often couch their line of bs in precisely those terms:
a particular fruit of phyto-chemical reduces the risk of cancer/ CVD/ whatever by 25%
exercise cuts risks of death by such-and-such percent
ad nauseum.
As a matter of fact, I've heard ( paraphrase) that eating fruit cuts the risk of cancer 10% so if you eat ten kinds of fruit you'll have absolutely NO risk!
Believe it or not, that's what the loon said ( @ PRN).
Swear to ( non-existent) g-d!

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 19 Jan 2015 #permalink

fruit OR phyto-chemical.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 19 Jan 2015 #permalink

Mu: In terms of increasing efficacy, there are thousands of strains and variants that are gathered each year. The strains drift, sometimes substantially.

Secondly, the primary manufacturing site in the US (Sanofi at Swiftwater, PA) uses thousands of chicken embryos for seeding the virus. I'm told that the embryos cannot effectively produce an adequate immunological response to more than a few strains, as some strains outright kill the hosts.

Together these are some significant barriers to producing a panacea vaccine.

Why, oh why is MISinformation so easy to spread and a simple bit of info like “they make the best guess months ahead and some years they do better than others” so difficult to get across?

Now if only the illustrious Ms Maddow would speak up. ( She may have already but I haven’t heard it). They love her.

Oh, we do. I personally want to get married to Ms. (Dr.) Maddow, but that is not legal at the moment in my state. Plus I think she's already pretty much married.

I don't think I've seen her address the subject on her show - she mostly does politics - but it might have come up at some point in the "Maddow Blog." Maybe I'll do a little sifting and see what I can find.

Hmm. She's covered some of the political stupidity surrounding the HPV vaccine, but you're right, nothing on anti-vaxxers per se.

Chris Hayes, a close colleague of Maddow's (who has hosted her show on occasion) did do a segment on anti-vaccination trutherism.

These folks are really more part of the nerdy, wonky, four-eyes liberal set, though, not so much the crunchy-granola contingent.

She’s covered some of the political stupidity surrounding the HPV vaccine, but you’re right, nothing on anti-vaxxers per se.

The funny thing, as I've mentioned before, is that Maher loves the HPV vaccine. Loves it. I rather suspect that the reason Maher is so in favor of the HPV vaccine is because conservatives and fundamentalists hate it. It is, after all, targeted against a sexually transmitted disease, and we can't have that, you know. Never mind that it's designed to prevent an STD that can lead to cervical cancer 20 years down the road. Vaccinating against such a disease might "encourage promiscuity" and "give our girls the wrong message." (Yes, I know. That's one of the most ridiculous arguments ever, but I hear it not infrequently.)

In any case, Maher is pro-vaccine when it suits his desire to stick it to religious fundamentalists; otherwise he's antivaccine.

@ JP:

Right. Both Hayes and Farrow have been castigated by Age of Autism ( g--gle their names plus Age of Autism).

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 19 Jan 2015 #permalink

Vaccinating against such a disease might “encourage promiscuity” and “give our girls the wrong message.” (Yes, I know. That’s one of the most ridiculous arguments ever, but I hear it not infrequently.)

Considering the same argument has been made against telling kids to use condoms, I am duly unsurprised.

I've always found Bill Maher to be an irritating (four-letter word) in any case. He always and obviously thinks he's the smartest guy in the room, even when that is so clearly not the case. I am qutie pleased that John Oliver has edged him out in the ratings.

I really do hope that John Oliver takes on the Disneyland thing - it would be epic, I'm sure.

@ Lawrence:

Agreed.
He's clever but enjoys going over the top with parades, marching bands and costumed extras - very apropo.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 19 Jan 2015 #permalink

PROBABILITY
Imho, Kreb hit it with #4. It's tough to affect anything 23% in the short term. (By my purely unscientific observation) sane people who take vitamin supplements are expecting more modest life improvement over a longer term.

MAHER
He IS an entertainer, and his smug is central to his 'positioning' in the land of comedy — his niche, or 'brand'. He's the only 'liberal' who presents the persona of being a dickhead. He fills the slot for folks who hate Rush, but wish someone 'on their side' talked like Rush. It's a small niche, but big enough for Maher to be pretty successful, as he 'owns' the brand. I have always found him personally annoying, and prone to cheap shots where more powerful, funny, and devastating 'fair' attacks would be available to a true wit.

MADDOW
She's definitely pro-science, but not into science per se. That is, science topics make it to her show on the basis of coming up in national policy debates and being exploited by conservatives to build their power base. She'll take on AGW denialists for messing with sane environmental measures, creationsts messing with textbooks... She did a devastating takedown on Rand Paul's false claims about Ebola — not to point out the claims were false, but to point out that Paul was a hypocritical and dangerous political opportunist. Like any TV news show, she and her staff pick from a multitude of potential topics each day the one's that Maddow both cares the most about, and gauges her viewers care most about. Anti-vax doesn't have the political significance to get above that threshold. However, it could, if VPD outbreaks continue to grow, leading Dems to propose some prevention strategy that Teapers can demagogue as 'more Big Government socialism destroying your freedom'. As for where Maddow herself might fall on the issue as it is, I'd observe that as MSNBC's clear 'star' (in addition to personal friendship) nothing that would piss her off is going to appear on All In with Chris Hayes. (In contrast, the MSNBC hosts who come out of the main NBC News shop — Matthews, Andrea Mitchell, Chuck Todd — wouldn't care what Maddow thinks, nor would her peeps likely stick their noses into what those folks do).

CRUNCHY GRANOLA
Granting that nerdy, wonky Maddow fans may indeed like granola and purchase it at Whole Foods, I think we all know who JP's referencing with the metonym, and I'm trying to think what media sources, if any, would be central to that contingent. For the most part, (personal observation again) I think they tend not to do news of any kind. Too depressing, and they focus on 'the personal' rather than the political. Maybe they get a feed of culture/lifestyle stuff from HuffPo? I really don't know...

WHAT'S FALLACIOUS ABOUT NIRVANA?
Sell the kids for food - weather changes moods
Spring is here again - reproductive glands
Hey - He's the one
Who likes all our pretty songs
And he likes to sing along
And he likes to shoot his gun
But he knows not what it means
Knows not what it means when I say
We can have some more - nature is a whore
Bruises on the fruit - tender age in bloom

@nazani #3:

A case of shingles might show him the error of his ways.

You're more charitable than I am. I was contemplating smallpox.

By Rich Woods (not verified) on 19 Jan 2015 #permalink

Yes, he is a comedian and his first job is to make jokes. After I watched that and most of the rest of the show I noticed that seeing the initial display of willful ignorance about vaccination, made me question a lot of the other things he said because I had seen the evidence of confirmation bias at the begining.

By Don A in Penns… (not verified) on 19 Jan 2015 #permalink

@sadmar:

RE: Maddow: Right. As I said, "she mostly does politics." ;) Given that she got her PhD in poli-sci, it's not exactly surprising. She does what she does best, much like our esteemed host.

For the most part, (personal observation again) I think they tend not to do news of any kind. Too depressing, and they focus on ‘the personal’ rather than the political. Maybe they get a feed of culture/lifestyle stuff from HuffPo? I really don’t know…

My personal observation jives with this to a certain extent. While I can understand not wanting to be obsessively involved in news and current events - it can be depressing - I do think that a basic understanding of news and politics, national and international, is vital for an informed citizenry. Sadly, a large percentage of our (USian) citizenry is rather uninformed.

Or: misinformed. As far as what the crunchy-granola set actually relies on for news (and I have a fair number of peeps in that set) it seems to basically be social media and ideologically-friendly "news" sites like alternet. I'm constantly astounded by how gullible otherwise intelligent people can be when they're blinded by ideology. The same people who think TV is the opiate of the masses seem oddly willing to believe anything the read on the Internet. Well, I suppose that the term "going viral" is not an accident - the spread of misinformation does have a large social contagion factor.

What's sort of funny is that a lot of people seem much more likely to swallow information when it's presented in the simplest, most "sound-bite-y" form possible. During the recent hysteria after the GMO labeling bill failed in Oregon, I posted what I thought was a smart and nuanced discussion of the scientific and political issues involved, and it got almost no attention at all; maybe it's because it was a big page full of words. As an astute friend of mine did comment on the article: "I prefer to get my information from pictures with one or two sentences on them." (Sarcasm, of course.)

Maher is courageous and entertaining
Let's keep questioning our assumptions...good science

By jonathan clark (not verified) on 19 Jan 2015 #permalink

JP: Yup on everything. I was thinking social media were big — pomo word of mouth — but didn't really know. I'd say the gullible granola gang is short-sighted by a ridiculously simplistic concept of ideology theory: corporate media = lies, voice of the people = truth. 'Social media' has techno-hippie origins: the first and still in many ways archetypal 'virtual community' was The WELL — The Whole Earth Lectronic Link founded by Stuart Brand. Techno-Libertarianism evolved out a more techno-Califnornia-style-anarcho-syndicalism.

But that was a more discursive forum to say the least. It seems to me that almost everybody on the Web swallows information presented in the simplest, most “bite-y” form without thinking about it too much, and passes on the bites that grab their momentary-attention as res ipsa loquitor along paths of potential virality.

And visual forms are far more suited to this, in addition to culture in general being more image-dominated anyway. The astuteness of your friends sarcasm lies in that preference notwithstanding, most people do get their information from pictures with one or two sentences on them, and that's as problematic for an informed citizenry as simply not attending to national and international affairs.

Dunning-Kruger gets attributed to 'Google-U', and the D-K that shows up on RI is likely to come from Googling pages that have a lot of words on them. But the broader D-K might better be characterized as Facebook/Twiiter/Instagram/YouTube/e-mail-notification. RSS-feed University. And all of these forms are short on text, and centered around pictures.

(Duty impels me to note that the social consequences of speed/fragmentation/image-saturation etc. are central to what actual pomo scholars are trying to suss out, especially Baudrillard.)

I'll discuss a 'local' example of words vs. images in a follow-up comment.
........
Smart and nuanced discussion of scientific and political issues getting almost no attention because of filling a page with too many words? Tell me about it! :-) :-)

@ sadmar:

Unfortunately, many of those who would eschew reading SB pages filled with 'too many words' purchase books by AoA
contributors**, read endless articles on Natural News and hang upon each and every word- no matter how mispronounced and/ or malapropised- uttered by the so-called Dr Null.

Then there are films, videos and taped lectures by the lot.

** there's even a book fest of sorts at a real university!

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 19 Jan 2015 #permalink

"Maher is courageous and entertaining"

I remember seeing a set of clips on YouTube of his wingnuttery, and in one of them, he was spouting off about how he could be arrested for just talking about 'alternative' cancer cures. I just had to laugh. No, Bill, nobody is going to arrest your rich white ass no matter how much pseudoscience you spout.

Yes, I have a bug up my butt about Bill. I feel like he gives atheism a bad name.

By Roadstergal (not verified) on 19 Jan 2015 #permalink

Can you imagine if Maher had, say, a climatologist on the panel alongside, say, somebody of the more Republican persuasion who said "we'll just agree to disagree" on climate change?

What would Maher's response to that be? Would he just let it to unchallenged?

By Luke Weston (not verified) on 19 Jan 2015 #permalink

Well considering that Maher based his whole theory on the origins of Christianity to a fringe theory that is not accepted by the historical community, yeah. He gives atheism a bad name.

Dishonest people tend to do that.

So it's no surprise to me that he's anti-vax. And dishonest about it.

Bill Maher also had Stanislaw Burzynski as a guest on Poltically Incorrect in the late 90s.

Bill has no real understanding of science. He supports action on Climate Change because he has seen the graphs of the temperature change and can understand a trend when it's shown to him, but he does not really have a grasp of the material. Bill Maher does not understand epidemiology, immunology or medicine in general and so when he's told "this only works 23% of the time" he compares that to high school math class where 23% was a failing grade on an exam.

It is ironic that Bill - who I watch faithfully and agree with on most things - will carry on and on about people who deny the science of climate change, and then proceed to perpetuate this myth about vaccines, completely ignoring the science. If those people are ignorant for ignoring science, why is Bill immune from ignorance. Oh, perhaps he found a root or a plant that gave him immunity.

By Bobbi Lee (not verified) on 19 Jan 2015 #permalink

The American left needs to vote with their feet and ignore him. Whether or not he's 'funny' (smug is not funny, it's rude) is irrelevant: he's a public health hazard who supports people becoming vectors and making others sick.

The fact that he spouts anti-vaxx BS and then talks about climate, only undermines climate activism generally: 'Climate change is nonsense, it has the support of people like Bill Maher who also believe in quack medicine.' Right, and how are we supposed to reply to that?

As for what he should catch, I'd vote for poison ivy. A fortnight of him struggling with a nasty itch on the telly would be really funny. All the more so if he tried some of his preferred quack remedies and none of them worked. 'Thanks for the measles, Bill! Now try not to scratch yourself when everyone's watching!'

Sounds like this author is a true idiot. Maher makes total sense. The flu vaccine costs the US government millions and its all BS..

Not only that but numerous studies have linked vacs to long-term automimmune diseases. Most people don't know this but the pharma companies DO NOT have to prove long-term safety to get FDA approval and they are not on the hook financially if you get sick or disabled. Quite a good business for them if you ask me. I can make a product that is guaranteed to sell AND I have NO liability for that product!!!! PERFECTION!

@JP:

[N]umerous studies have linked vacs to long-term automimmune diseases

Citation needed, and from a reliable source. That means not Mike Adams, not Gary Null, not vacctruth or the National Vaccine [dis]Information Center, and definitely not whale.to.

the pharma companies DO NOT have to prove long-term safety to get FDA approval

A half-truth, if not an outright lie. Vaccines are monitored and if problems are discovered (e.g. a rotavirus vaccine that supposedly caused an increased rate of intusucception) the vaccine is withdrawn.

[Pharma companies] are not on the hook financially if you get sick or disabled.

Another half-truth based on the (usually false) assumption that vaccines cause harm. Oh, and you're wrong.

By Julian Frost (not verified) on 20 Jan 2015 #permalink

@JP(the other one):

Please stop besmirching my initials with your stupidity. Thank you in advance.

Oh, crap.
I had also hoped the years of apparent quiet on the subject meant that Maher had either changed his views or at least recognized that they were anti-science and he was supposed to be pro-science.

Maher is courageous and entertaining
Let’s keep questioning our assumptions…good science

The problem is that Maher isn't questioning our assumptions regarding the safety and efficacy of vaccines (seasonal flu or otherwise): instead he's questioning established fact. That's the opposite of good science.

Maybe his problem come from facing black and white positions on medicine such as yours?

Clearly the "Big Pharma" are no angel working for the well-being of people.
Profit clearly dictate their actions and investments into research.

Dismissing western medicine altogether because of this would be madness.

But dismissing alternative medicine altogether is also madness (since almost all medicine started as alternative medicine).

So when faced with people holding black and white opinions like this, maybe some alarms go off in his mind and he is reluctant to trust anyone who would hold such position as rational?

Patrice #43 wrote:

But dismissing alternative medicine altogether is also madness (since almost all medicine started as alternative medicine).

What is your definition of "alternative medicine?"

anything that isn't currently in the list of approved medicine to be use by medical professionals i guess??

i haven't put much thoughts into it haha

or stuff that did not come from scientific research but from folks knowledge.

like aspiring coming from willow tree.
before isolating the active ingredients.

"Bill has no real understanding of science." Correct. Nor would having one help him do his job.
"He supports action on Climate Change because he has seen the graphs of the temperature change and can understand a trend when it’s shown to him."
Wrong. He mounts snide attacks on AGW deniers because his producers have extensive graphs on viewership demographics, know what appeals to their audience, and can spot a ratings trend when they see one.
"Bill does not understand epidemiology so when he’s told “this only works 23% of the time” he compares that to high school math class where 23% was a failing grade on an exam."
Partly wrong. Even if he did understand epidemiology, he would understand that comparing the two 23% numbers functions as a snarky joke.
"It is ironic that Bill will carry on about people who deny the science of climate change, and then proceed to perpetuate this myth about vaccines."
Correct. Irony is part of the act. Not that he's feigning this irony (though he's probably exaggerating it a bit for theatrical value), but inconsistencies are central to his persona as an 'independent-minded' sh!t-stirrer.
"If those people are ignorant for ignoring science, why is Bill immune from ignorance?"
He's not. A measure of ignorance works for him as an entertainer. He act is "professional wise-ass political humor". If he wasn't obnoxious, not enough people would tune in. It's a small niche in the entertainment world — it used to be just Maher and Dennis Miller. Then Miller took himself out of the game by becoming too ideologically rigid, and taking his own right-wing schtick too seriously. Maher is not going to make the same mistake.
If he really understood any of this stuff, it would weigh to heavily on his mind for him to be funny about it. The act depends on being 'more thoughtful' than typical media discourse — not hard, but a huge audience limiter to start off — but still maintaining a level of superficiality as it's really all about Maher's control of the discourse on his show — his air of confident superiority that express itself it snarky sound-bite sized put-downs. Like O'Reilly, he performs a wish fulfillment function for the viewers, dropping rude dismissals on the kind of people they wish they could just rudely dismiss. The actual content matters, but it's secondary to the exercise of imagined rhetorical power.
"I hoped Maher had recognized his views were anti-science and he was supposed to be pro-science."
His views are neither. They're pro-Maher and anti-'authority'. Science has nothing to do with it. AGW deniers and Creationists are close to the seat of political power. They are fat targets. Their opponents here are viewed by the Maher's audience as 'scientists' — smart anti-social nerds with good intentions and low political capital — underdogs worth rooting for.

The anti-vaxers though are the rebels, not against 'science' in the viewers eyes, but against the medical establishment — the dismissive inattentive doctor, the desk staff that never pick up the phone, the big dent in the Visa when you go to the pharmacy, the insurance company that denies every claim it can, and employs nasty adjusters to put you off. 'Medicine' has giant corporations. 'Anti-vaxers' have Facebook pages. People hate Big Pharma because whatever else good they may do, they also do hateful things that J. Q. Public knows about.

There's a rule in comedy, that only the hard-core righties routinely violate: Bullies aren't funny. Never punch down. Across is OK. Up is better. This is one reason Jews, Blacks, and Women have a natural advantage as comedians. If you're Richard Pryor, you can attack anybody without looking like a bully. Same with Sarah Silverman. Maher probably takes more liberties than most apparently-together white guys, excoriating some powerless dumb-asses for being dumb-asses. But there's a line you don't cross w/o losing the audience.

Consider the formula of The Daily Show. Stewart only takes on the big targets, and his comic persona allows for some 'just-kidding' passes Maher couldn't get. When The Daily Show goes after folks who aren't famous, that's the job of the correspondents, who are NOT the star, not abusing the power of celebrity, punching across.

And comedy is metaphoric punching. It needs an identifiable human target. That's part of the correspondent sequences. The target of the jabs is embodied and visualized on screen. So were Maher (even if he were so inclined, which he's obviously not) to take on anti-vaxers, he'd be dumping snark down on a group of anonymous mostly women, who are dealing with the stress of raising autistic children. That would not be entertaining to many people, and the phone would be ringing in the studio from the HBO execs beforehe elft the stage.

Is he Anti-vaccine or Skeptical of the Flu Vaccine? Anyone anti-vaccine proper needs serious guidance. With his breadth if influence albeit a more intelligent crowd; he is dangerous if a believer in the latter.

I subscribe to Skeptical Inquirer and love their work. But there is so much $$ in vaccines an conventional medicine in general that I'm personally afraid that science and true peer-reviewed studies are being left in the dust of the profit motive. Maybe it's time to reassess the pros and cons of vaccines. The voices against vaccines are growing louder.

@HomerD: if you are not a drive-by troll: Please point out how much money is made with vaccines compared to the potential money to be made treating the illnesses themselves. After all, the flu shot costs only a few bucks. Getting any of the anti-flu meds once you have the flu? A lot more.

The MMR is a cheap vaccine. Treating any one of those illnesses - lost work time, high risk of complications, lost school time for children, quarantine for exposed family members - that's a LOT more money than the vaccine itself costs.

Please explain how the profit motives are from the vaccines and not from treating the illnesses again? Or are you not a parent who *has* to work, can't afford to be off 7, 21, 28 days with a sick child (and lucky if only that child gets sick and doesn't pass it through the family). I know that the financial hit of a sick child would have caused a huge struggle in my household except for the fact that my husband and I could alternate staying home.

The voices against vaccines are getting louder because those losing arguments always raise their voices, hoping that loudness will detract from weak arguments.

HomerD: "Maybe it’s time to reassess the pros and cons of vaccines."

Yes, to continue on what MI Dawn wrote, do enlighten us to the comparative costs of the vaccines versus the diseases. Out of the fifty measles cases this past few weeks at least six required hospital care. Tell us how having at least one out of ten requiring hospital care is so much cheaper than the hundred or so MMR vaccine doses.

When you do answer please include good verifiable economic data that treating diseases is cheaper than preventing them. Use this paper as an example: Economic Evaluation of the Routine Childhood Immunization Program in the United States, 2009

"So were Maher (even if he were so inclined, which he’s obviously not) to take on anti-vaxers, he’d be dumping snark down on a group of anonymous mostly women, who are dealing with the stress of raising autistic children."

I disagree. He'd be punching up (actually, across) at affluent, arrogant people. Plenty of anti-vaxxers don't have autistic children, as Bill demonstrates. The Daily Show did an anti-vaxxer segment where they didn't punch down.

By Roadstergal (not verified) on 20 Jan 2015 #permalink

Maher wouldn't have to take on anonymous parents to make pro-vaccine jokes: he could take on the snake oil peddlers who told us the world was going to end on 1/1/2000, and doctors like Dr. Oz and the "pediatrician to the stars."

Or, for a target he and his audience would probably both enjoy him attacking: the Taliban as the armed wing of the movement to save the endangered polio virus.

IN 1957, I WAS A HEALTHY, IN GOOD SHAPE 22 YEAR OLD LIFEGUARD AND THE FLU DAMN NEAR KILLED ME AS IT HAD MANY AMERICANS THAT YEAR. AND UNTIL I WAS 62, I USED TO GET, THE FLU EVERY YEAR.

THEN,IN 1997, I STARED DRINKING NONI JUICE VERY DAY AND HAVE NOT HAD THE FLU ONCE!

By NEIL C. REINHARDT (not verified) on 20 Jan 2015 #permalink

Noni Juice? Is that anything like Yoni Juice?

THEN,IN 1997, I STARED DRINKING NONI JUICE VERY DAY AND HAVE NOT HAD THE FLU ONCE!

Noni Juice does have the very unfortunate side effect of making people type everything with the caps lock key down.

Perhaps Mr Reinhardt ("MANUFACTURING MANAGER MOSTLY IN LARGE MAIN FRAME COMPUTERS") is more comfortable with an old Teletype keyboard.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 20 Jan 2015 #permalink

Noni Juice? Is that anything like Yoni Juice?

I believe that an appropriate pan-Orientalist reply here is "Go butter your lingam."

"his lack of belief in “Western medicine” to the point of telling David Letterman.........
after his heart surgery"

Pretty much sums it up.

I propose the following, modestly:
Alternative surgery for Hollywood woonuts.
Put them under with something milder than a full anesthetic, glue on a fake scar that feels real enough until it falls off, let them be out for about the usual time. Afterwards, hand them a mini cutlery set labeled "General Gao's Ancient Wise Homopathic Surgical Kit" (the misspelling of homeopathic is deliberate, it's something to get hollywood types distracted ;-).

Bill the JennyM/BillyM etc the usual and customary charges for the eebil Western medicine they disdain, then offer the real surgery gratis to someone with a real job who needs but can't afford the operation.

By Spectator (not verified) on 20 Jan 2015 #permalink

Perhaps Mr Reinhardt (“MANUFACTURING MANAGER MOSTLY IN LARGE MAIN FRAME COMPUTERS”) is more comfortable with an old Teletype keyboard.

Even the two DECWriter II's that I rescued but had to give up had both cases. Hell, they could do APL for a fee.

^ Anyway, the "stared"/"very day" combo looks to have been custom-assembled for the occasion.

I'm curious as to how true this is,or has it been misinterpreted by someone waiting to pounce on Maher for some other reason?

By Peter Browne (not verified) on 21 Jan 2015 #permalink

I USED TO GET, THE FLU EVERY YEAR.
THEN,IN 1997, I STARED DRINKING NONI JUICE VERY DAY AND HAVE NOT HAD THE FLU ONCE!

I have a weird feeling of deja vu.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 21 Jan 2015 #permalink

My sister-in-law is virulently anti-vaccine and firmly believes the vaccines cause autism. Yet,, both of her (un-vaccinated) children have been diagnosed as autistic.

Go figure.

By John Smith (not verified) on 21 Jan 2015 #permalink

Just imagine how much worse their autism would be if they had been vacinated... [toggle sarcasm off]

"I’m curious as to how true this is,or has it been misinterpreted by someone waiting to pounce on Maher for some other reason?"

Someone spliced together a few clips of his wingnuttery.
youtu.be/jsmOrIotebs

His irrational stance on vaccination and other science-based interventions is plenty of 'reason' to pounce on him.

By Roadstergal (not verified) on 21 Jan 2015 #permalink

Because Maher is an atheist, and a vocal one at that, a lot of people seem to assume that he is rational, skeptical and scientific. In fact what it demonstrates is that in any demographic (in this case I'm talking about atheists) you will get some brilliant minds and some morons. For me Maher is highly irritating and just a little too proud to be an atheist. Now I am saying that as someone who loves Dawkins' approach to the debates, to Harris' relentlessness on it and the late Hitchens' caustic wit. But Maher wants so badly to be in that ilk and he just doesn't qualify, he's just not interesting enough to bother listening to and so he becomes boring and irritating to me. To know that he is an anti-vax is somewhat of a relief to me, now I have a more stable reason to dislike him.

By John Mitchell (not verified) on 21 Jan 2015 #permalink

Totally off-topic, but speaking as a major fan of old black and white TV westerns, I'm thrilled that both Peter Brown and John Smith could be with us today.

I’m curious as to how true this is
But not curious enough to investigate?

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 21 Jan 2015 #permalink

hdb: "But not curious enough to investigate?"

Surely not quite curious enough to click on four links in the first paragraph (on most browsers they are in blue letters).

He is not anti vaccine. He is anti flu vaccine, which is logical seeing it does only work 23%.

By Bridget Ryan (not verified) on 21 Jan 2015 #permalink

I'm pro-vaccine, but wonder if the flu is a bridge too far...

From a 'return on investment' standpoint.
The low effectiveness combined with the relative low dangers of the flu VS the cost.

Vicki #53
Yes, a 'Maher-type" could go after Oz. Oz is more than big enough. and his daytime-TV positivity would put him right in the snark-sight. I doubt a comedian would 'stick' Oz with anti-vax: he's not indentified with that, and he's not that far out. A Maher could co at Oz for his schtick in general, but mainly the supplements — stuff he promotes for the money. Nobody watching TV gives a sh!t about Bob Sears or Jay Gordon. The Taliban/polio would actually be a good gag for him. Unless a bunch of people are blaming polio vaccine for something I don't know about. He could actually make it funny (to people who think he's funny) and gain a little cred w/o sacrificing anything. Problem is it would help him say more bs about MMR. "I'm pro-medicine; I hate polito!"

Roadstergal #52
You're thinking real-life affluence. It would have to be hollywood affluence; tabloid affluence. And 'people' don't actually exist to television unless they've already been on television.

I've been a fan of Bill Maher for years, and regularly watch Real Time, though didn't see Politically Incorrect very often. Actually, that was one of the original reasons we decided to get HBO several years ago, so we could watch Real Time. I've even gone to one of his concerts last summer when he was in Vancouver, and enjoyed it. (all politics, marijuana and religion though...nary a whiff of his views on medicine, which he likely could have gotten away with in a place with such a huge yuppy-granola population as Vancouver)

I definitely share his political and religious views, and he is a sharp and knowledgable political commentator. I do admire his willingness to say out loud things that I often think. I did tend to side with him on the recent Islam/Ben Affleck broo ha ha. However....

Certainly his comments on vaccine and "western" medicine have been cringe worthy in the past. I agree with ORAC though, he seems to have toned it down the last few years.

His schtick is being snide and cynical, but in a smart and educated, (ie not Rush Limbaugh) way, however he has been even more so the last couple years.
If he mentions the fact he donated $1 million to Obama in 2012 one more time I'm going to throw a brick at the TV.

Bill does seem to be an edgy sort of a guy. You can see the fear and anger in his eyes when a joke falls flat. He gets offended if people don't laugh at everything, and will get angry and petulant sometimes if he gets a boo. He does NOT deal well with hecklers.

It is ironic how stupid, uninformed, and idealogu-ish he can be on vaccines, and CAM. Yet as a vocal supporter of anthropogenic global climate change, he regularly rails against the deniers talking about the overwhelming evidence from various sources and the expert consensus. How can he not see how he is doing the exact same thing with his medical views.

As a fellow atheist, I will now ironically refer Bill to Matthew 7:3 ""Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"

By NewcoasterMD (not verified) on 21 Jan 2015 #permalink

It was a fascinating interchange. I like watching Bill Maher because even if I disagree with him his arguments are either well thought out, or snarkily effective. This was neither. This was a guy trying to disprove science by saying something didn't work, so therefore the science behind it is bunk. I often agree with Maher, but this was pretty comically bad - and not in the way Bill Maher wants to be.

By Tony Markey (not verified) on 21 Jan 2015 #permalink

FWIW - I stopped paying attention to Rush when I heard him diss George Stephanopoulos for being well educated, short, and nerdy.

At 5'7", Mr. Stephanopoulos is quite tall indeed. He also went to the second rate school of Columbia University (the alma mater of Isaac Asimov). As to nerdy, well...

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 21 Jan 2015 #permalink

this is one of the smartest conversation I've ever read

"What I've read about what they think I'm saying is not what I've said. I'm not a germ theory denier. I believe vaccinations can work. Polio is a good example. Do I think in certain situations that inoculating Third World children against malaria or diphtheria, or whatever, is right? Of course. In a situation like that, the benefits outweigh costs. But to me living in Los Angeles? To get a flu shot? No."
That is a quote from Bill Maher. He's not anti-vaccine, but if everyone vaccinates themselves (which is no guarantee against illness) we actually cause the further evolution of deadlier and more virulent strains of viruses.

@Bridget Ryan

He is not anti vaccine. He is anti flu vaccine, which is logical seeing it does only work 23%.

You forgot a few important pieces of info in your sentence. It should have ended with, "in the overall population average, this year." You see, in well-matched years, effectiveness can be up around 60% or higher.

But even if it was always only 23%, rejecting it on that basis alone is not logical. If you were given the option of, say, a bullet proof vest that only worked 23% of the time or just the clothes on your back that only work 0% of the time at preventing a bullet from injuring you, would you reject the bullet proof vest? How about the choice of a car that only stops when you press the brakes 23% of time vs. a car that has no brakes?

The bottom line is that Maher is only pro-vaccine when it suits his ideological/political arguments. If Republicans came out tomorrow railing against the immorality of the flu vaccine, he would probably be crowing about how wonderful it is. He's a contrarian.

NewcoasterMD

He gets offended if people don’t laugh at everything, and will get angry and petulant sometimes if he gets a boo. He does NOT deal well with hecklers.

How can he not see how he is doing the exact same thing with his medical views.

I think you answered your own question, he is a thin skinned narcissist.

Smugness is usually a sign of someone who just knows their right because they are so much smarter than everyone else. This usually means they are immune to contradictory evidence.

By Militant Agnostic (not verified) on 21 Jan 2015 #permalink

This is the first I've heard of him being anti vax. To bad. I'll never watch his show again

@ MI Dawn / Chris
I wish we had readily available info on the profitably of vaccines, period. My hunch is it's not that much. I also question the 'trope' of 'profit from treating illness would trump profit from vaccine production' as it reproduces the notion that Big Pharma is some unified entity that would act conspiratorially for a shared interest in profit.

I'd observe there is no one Big Pharma, but a number of Big Pharmas that compete with each other in some markets and cede certain categories (mostly lower-profit I'd guess) to certain firms. E.g IIRC only two companies make MMR, and Merck supplies most of it. Whatever profit would come from sales of pharmaceutical products to offer symptomatic relief of measles wouldn't necessarily go to Merck. I'd guess the same holds true for the manufacturers of flu vaccine, as most popular flu/cold brand-name meds are made by companies like Proctor and Gamble and Johnson and Johnson.

And then there's the whole 'natural medicine' take that MMR vaccines are unneccesary if the population builds 'natural' immunity by kids getting exposed to the bugs under some kind of 'controlled' conditions. Horsepoop, I know, but you won't convince the natural remedy crowd that big profits await the pharmas if the vaccines are withdrawn.

The question, it seems to me, is whether any actual company makes enough profit from vaccine production — which plays a large enough role in their bottom line — that they would go to the very significant expense of protecting that profit with a PR/disinformation campaign powerful enough to rope in a whole lot of doctors and the CDC. There ARE pharma shills to be sure, but they don't come cheap, and they're not going to tasked to shilling for anything that doesn't have a big impact on the bottom line.

My understanding (which I haven't fact-checked for this post) is that the Pharmas make the big bucks from introducing new proprietary meds, especially for non-physical-illness issues: Prozac, Viagra, etc. Once one pharma opens a lucrative new market, the competition busily hurry their R&D folks into coming up with a similar chemical formula to grab a piece of the new pie. The shilling comes either as the brand names battle it out for market position (Viagra vs. Cialis vs. Levitra), or to pump up concern for a heretofore not-that-big-a-deal condition for which the R&D folks have stumbled upon a proprietary treatment for as a side-effect of a med developed for something else. When some of the pharmas have new gold-mines in the offing they've done some shady things. But AFAIK never on the order that would required to repress vaccine safety issues, even if vaccines were a goldmine, which is extremely unlikely. They've been on the market too long, and I don't see anybody trying to horn in on Merck, which they would if there was $$$ in it.

Basically, HomerD is positing there's enough profit in vaccines to warrant a campaign that would equal or exceed the efforts of The Tobacco Institute. Forgive me if I'm skeptical of Homer's alleged skepticism.

Furthermore, if I'm a big corporation, I'm not going to spend my shill budget on actual doctors, unless they have a TV show like Dr. Oz. I'm going to hire professional shills, not rank amateurs who are rank-and-file members of a profession notorious for its piss-poor communication skills. And why would I hire a real doctor to deliver a 'doctorly' message 30 years after Vicks proved it could sell a ton of Formula 44 with a TV spot beginning "I'm not a doctor but I play one on TV"? (The spot premiered in 1984, **add Baudrillard 'hyper-reality' reference or Orwell cite here**.)

When a con-man/quack like Mike Adams accuses folks like Dr. David Gorski, Dr. Steven Novella and other sbm advocates of being 'pharma shills' he's not just insulting Gorski, Novella et al., he's insulting every skilled PR professional from Bernays on down, as when it comes to serious shilling those guys got no game.

There are progressive watch-dog organizations devoted to looking behind the curtain of corporate PR. The most notable of these, PR Watch, is no friend of pharmaceutical companies — due mainly to the pharmas being major supporters of ALEC and thus all kids of anti-science lobbying not to mention runaway gun-nuttery. So if the pharmas were running a PR scam to hide vaccine dangers, the guys who wrote Toxic Sludge Is Good For You would be the folks I'd expect to know about it and publicize it. So I did a quick search on "pharmaceutical" at PR Watch, and the only link that came up not relating to ALEC funding was this from 2008 (I didn't dig pages in to the search results; still...):
Beyond Advertising: The Pharmaceutical Industry's Hidden Marketing Tactics.
Please take a look. IMHO its a good critique, offering plenty of legit beefs with the way the pharmas do business. But I don't see how vaccines would fit into any scenario similar to the ones discussed. At all. On the contrary, they would seem to be the inverse of the things the pharmas actually shill.

Again, if we had something like a breakdown on Merck's income and expenditures, I'm guessing that would confirm. So if anybody runs across something like that, do post it!

Sadmar, pharmaceutical companies like most large companies have several divisions. They usually act independently, like the several divisions of General Electric. I doubt that GE's jet engine division have much to do with their home appliance division.

I sincerely doubt that the vaccines come under the same division as statins and non-surgical cosmetics (that article does not mention Merck). It is a common tactic to try to poison the well by saying since the company is doing bad things with Vioxx, statins, whatever is an attempt to poison the well in a discussion on vaccines. This is a common tactic, but utterly fails when it comes under scrutiny.

At the moment there sixty seven confirmed cases of measles due to the Disneyland outbreak, with one quarter needing hospital care.

I would dearly love to see the economic breakdown on how much Big Pharma is getting for the sixteen or so who ended up in the hospital, versus how much it would have cost to give the unvaxed two MMR doses each. This is the evidence I want see to show how much Merck is pulling in the dough with the MMR vaccine. It has yet to be provided by anyone*.

* Though some have tried to claim the MMR vaccine has incurred high costs due to the number of kids diagnosed with autism. To them I ask for verified documentation dated before 1990 that the MMR started to cause a rise in autism staritng with its introduction in the USA in 1971. So far that documentation has not been presented.

If his digs at the Ben Affleck fallout in the wake of the Charlie Hedbo shooting are indication, Bill is very much on a "I told you so" tour.

By Groschopf (not verified) on 21 Jan 2015 #permalink

@Andrew:

From a ‘return on investment’ standpoint.

Here's the thing. My medical insurance provider lets me get the flu vaccine for free and even gives me points for doing so. The actuaries that look at these things clearly disagree with you.

The low effectiveness combined with the relative low dangers of the flu VS the cost.

Excuse Me?!?! Firstly, this low effectiveness is a once-off. The vaccine is usually far more effective. As for "relative low dangers", you have no clue what you're talking about.

The most common flu complications include viral or bacterial pneumonia, muscle inflammation, central nervous system disease, and heart problems including heart attacks, inflammation of the heart muscle, and inflammation of the sac around the heart. Other flu complications may include ear infections and sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.

I had a major bout of flu once and lost 9 kg in three weeks. I was always skinny, but it made me look like I had anorexia.

By Julian Frost (not verified) on 21 Jan 2015 #permalink

The anti-vax folks complain about vaccine profits - then they should take the time to read the SEC Filings from all of these publicly-traded companies.

The amount of financial detail one can get from these documents - include profit and loss, R&D expenses, etc. is enough to show that vaccines are a low-profit, low rate of return set of biologics, especially when compared to anti-allergy, erectile dysfunction, and anti-depressives.

In the Netherlands only people at high risk for complications when they get the flue are invited for a free anti-flu vaccine
This means anyone with diabetes, lungdisease, heart problems and anyone over 60 years of age
Sounds more realistic than giving everyone a shot
And Bill Maher is right questioning whether that makes sense

By Amadeus Hinterweh (not verified) on 21 Jan 2015 #permalink

Except that "everyone" getting the shot - who is capable, of course, reduces the likelihood that those who are either incapable of getting it or are otherwise vulnerable, will be exposed in the first place.

That's another point the anti-vaxers miss - that breaking or reducing the chain of infection is just as important as achieving herd immunity.

Sounds more realistic than giving everyone a shot

Depends.
On an individual basis, vaccination against one pathogen could indeed be based on personal risk of complications. Although it's easy to downplay these risks (1 in 1000? Oh, no biggie).

On a population basis, management of contagious diseases is more tricky. It's like a nuclear reaction. If unchecked, each infected people (or exploding atom of uranium in a nuclear reaction) will infect more than one other people, spreading the pathogen and increasing the speed at which it progress inside the population. One infect 2 infect 4 infect 8...
Let the pathogen get enough momentum, and at some point the rate of infection is going to be too fast to be put back under control. See Chernobyl for an example in the nuclear industry.
With power plants, we are interested in having some nuclear reaction, so we have to let some happen.
With infectious diseases, there is no real benefit in letting people getting sick. So we may as well suppress as much of the infection as possible, if we don't want nation-wide outbreaks.

By Helianthus (not verified) on 22 Jan 2015 #permalink

What I've always wondered, and never seen addressed anywhere, is how your immunity changes when you get the vaccine every year, year after year. The various viruses mutate, and there are many of them, but we know, for example, that older people were less likely to suffer from the swine flu because it was similar to the common flu when they were young, so they had some immunity. We know that in spite of this year's late mutation, the vaccine still provides some protection from that strain. We know that most vaccines provide protection for many years after vaccination.

So, if I get the flu shot every single year, does the immunity from each one last for say, 10 years? If so, does that mean that getting an annual flu shot regularly might mean that I have greater immunity to the flu in general regardless of this specific year's match? What if they're even more off some year and an unexpected strain is more prevalent and is not in the vaccine, but it was say, four years ago. Might I still be immune to that strain from my four year old vaccination?

I'm curious what research has been done on that aspect of flu shots. For now, I'll go on assuming that every year I get a flu shot my overall flu protection gets better.

By Gus Snarp (not verified) on 22 Jan 2015 #permalink

"For now, I’ll go on assuming that every year I get a flu shot my overall flu protection gets better."

I don't know if some of the things you mention have been studied, but they're good points. One thing I do know is that, although the vast majority of responses are to the variable regions of hemagglutinin and neuraminidase, every once in a while someone makes Abs to the constant regions, and they get the magic every-flu immunity. It happened to someone at my old work (that I'm going back to next week) after an annual flu vaccine. So I consider every flu shot my chance at the jackpot. :D

By Roadstergal (not verified) on 22 Jan 2015 #permalink

Amadeus:

"Realistic" how? I'm not in one of those high-risk groups, but one of the reasons I make sure to always get my flu vaccine is that my girlfriend has a niece who can't be vaccinated because of allergies. If I don't get the flu, I won't pass it alone to that child. "One of the reasons" because even uncomplicated flu is no fun, and there's no such thing as a no-risk group for complications; the "Spanish" influenza right after World War I was deadliest to young adults.

My understanding (which I haven’t fact-checked for this post) is that the Pharmas make the big bucks from introducing new proprietary meds, especially for non-physical-illness issues: Prozac, Viagra, etc

It's news to me that Prozac and Viagra don't treat "physical illness issues."

By justthestats (not verified) on 22 Jan 2015 #permalink

Bridget Ryan said

He is not anti vaccine. He is anti flu vaccine, which is logical seeing it does only work 23%.

There is nothing "logical" about rejecting incomplete protection for no protection. Even if the flu vaccine only worked 5% of the time, that would be better than nothing. The only reason a person would reject such an advantage is if they mistakenly believe vaccines to pose a danger.

That's a "Hasty Generalization" to call Bill Maher an anti-vaxxer. Based on what he has actually said about specific vaccines, he opposes the flu shot and ONLY the flu shot, but not other vaccines.

Here's a segment from his show where he says positive things about vaccines while criticizing conservative opposition to the HPV vaccine ( LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tp2QwPaIYrU ).

From this video, Bill Maher seems to support the HPV vaccine, the Measles vaccine, the Mumps vaccine, the Rubella vaccine, the Whooping Cough vaccine, and the Chickenpox vaccine - he supports all these things that an actual anti-vaxxer would oppose.

And the tell-tale sign of an anti-vaxxer these days is claiming that vaccines cause autism. The number of times Bill Maher has ever claimed vaccines cause autism: ZERO

People who are anti-flu shot are a lot more common than anti-vax people but skeptics mistakenly conflate the two all too often. Although I get a flu shot every year because 23% to 60% effective is better than 0% protection, I do wish a better flu shot would be developed that just need once to be covered for a decade or longer, like most other vaccines.

So call Bill Maher anti-flu shot, anti-GMO, anti-Big Pharma - but don't call him an anti-vaxxer because he's simply not one of those.

By MacIsBack (not verified) on 22 Jan 2015 #permalink

You clearly haven't clickec on the links which copiously back up mu assertions. Maher regurgitates antivaccine tropes, recycles antivaccine lies about Louis Pasteur, and parrots germ theory denialist talking points. He says he doesn't trust vaccines or "Western medicine." He makes a pathetic response to Michael Shermer.

Basically, he walks like a duck and quacks like a duck.

As for HPV, Maher supports it because right wing loons hate it.

What the hell is the matter with that guy?

By Anton Szautner (not verified) on 22 Jan 2015 #permalink

I got sick without getting a vaccine this year, but I while I don't know whether the vaccine that was distributed this season was partially ineffective, I do know that viruses have a diabolical tendency to mutate rapidly under the current ability of medicine to keep up. Bill Maher establishes himself as a willful ignoramus in thinking that if vaccines don't always do as advertised, in the asinine absolute terms which he requires of everything he examines, the whole idea, however well established in theory let alone practice, must therefore be suspect. And of course he transmits this unscientific bullshit with his tiresome approach to humor via sneer. That requires one despicable human being.

By Anton Szautner (not verified) on 22 Jan 2015 #permalink

Bill Maher says he does his own online research and most of the antivax claims that he regugitated (such as the lie about Louis Pasteur) are all over the Internet. That's more about how anti-vax stuff pollutes the Internet and can easily mislead someone, even him. (Just do a simple web search for what's in vaccines to see how much misinformation is out there. It's a lot! And without any good way to tell bad info from good info unless you already know the facts before searching... in which case, no need to search.)

Nonetheless, that doesn't change the fact that when it comes to vaccines, Bill Maher ONLY opposes the flu shot. He never speaks out against any other vaccine. NONE! And his criticism against the flu shot roughly amounts to: it's a guess, and by the time it's formulated and you get the shot a number of months later, the flu has mutated and it doesn't work. So, in his opinion, it's only good for Big Pharma to make money. (Not completely true, but it at least shows he does understand how the virus evolves.)

I suspect that Bill Maher is someone who never catches the flu so he doesn't see what the big deal about it is. I think one severe bought of a bad flu might change his mind fairly quickly.

By MacIsBack (not verified) on 22 Jan 2015 #permalink

Here's Dr. Maher describing inoculation (not just the flu vaccine, inoculation) as a "risky medical procedure," invokes the "toxins gambit" in which he complains about mercury, formaldehyde, and the like in the flu vaccine (note that these things are not just in the flu vaccine), saying that only "sometimes" that "inoculation is a good thing to do," and saying that the science is "not settled." He even says it's "not settled science like global warming." He disparages "Western medicine." He's trotting out many antivaccine tropes here.

http://youtu.be/GPrLCIoxe8Y

Discussed in part here.

Quotes from Bill Maher on vaccines:

Vaccination is a nuanced subject, and I’ve never said all vaccines in all situations are bad. The point I am representing is: Is getting frequent vaccinations for any and all viruses consequence-free? I feel its unnecessary and counterproductive to try and silence people with condescension. Michael Shermer wrote me an open letter and felt I needed to be told that “vaccinations work by tricking the body’s immune system into thinking that it has already had the disease for which the vaccination was given.” Thanks, Doc, I thought there might be a little man inside the needle. Yes, I read Microbe Hunters when I was eight, I have a basic idea how vaccines work.

And:

Instead of setting up this straw man of me not understanding germs or viruses, let’s have a real debate about how much we should use vaccines and antibiotics. Of course it’s good that we have them in our arsenal, but isn’t the real skeptic the one who asks if these powerful but toxic methods do harm to what actually is a a very good defensive system, the one you were born with?

Vaccines are "toxic"? Bill Maher thinks so.

LINK TO AN INTERVIEW WITH BILL MAHER (NOV 2014):
[ http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/news/2014/nov/05/mr-opinionated-bill-ma… ]

QUESTION IN THIS INTERVIEW: Some media outlets have dubbed you a vaccine "truther."

MAHER'S RESPONSE:
#That's wrong. ... I wrote a long article in 2010 ... in The Huffington Post. I'm sure it's in their archives, detailing what I've said over the years and what I believe.

#It all started when I said, "I don't believe in flu shots," and I stand by that. I think flu shots are a real scam because flus are always shifting. By the time you get the shot, the flu has migrated and morphed into something else. I think it's just a way for companies to make a fortune.

#Also, I don't think it's great to over-vaccinate. My position on vaccines was, first of all, do we really have any studies on the cumulative effect of so many vaccines? I would liken it to antibiotics. Do I think there's a place in the world for antibiotics? Of course there is. I'm very glad that I came along in a time after there was antibiotics because they're a magic bullet.

#Of course, we also know that when you use too many of them, they can be very harmful. I'm just wondering the same thing with vaccines. But to say I'm a vaccine truther is just stupid.

----------------------------------
So from this interview can say that Bill Maher is anti-flu shot with some sort of a concern about "over-vaccinating" but to call him a "vaccine truther" (aka, presumably an "anti-vaxxer") he says is "just stupid"

By MacIsBack (not verified) on 22 Jan 2015 #permalink

Also, I don’t think it’s great to over-vaccinate. My position on vaccines was, first of all, do we really have any studies on the cumulative effect of so many vaccines? I would liken it to antibiotics. Do I think there’s a place in the world for antibiotics? Of course there is. I’m very glad that I came along in a time after there was antibiotics because they’re a magic bullet.

That's some burning stupid Maher said there. Thanks for providing me with ammunition. I will use it as more evidence of Bill Maher's antivaccine views. You do realize, don't you, that the whole "overvaccinate" trope is straight out of the antivax playbook.

MacIsBack, you really, really need to click on Orac's links to articles about Bill Maher and his antivaccine nuttery.

Or you could just check out this article by Maher himself, which includes some real gems, including the suggestion that the only people who need vaccines are Third World residents with bad immune systems:

Maher: "...if you have a compromised immune system and can't boost it naturally, as in poor countries where the children are eating dirt, then a vaccine can be a white knight -- bravo!"

Maher in that article regurgitates a host of typically moronic antivaccine tropes. He also has high praise for notorious antivax wingnuts:

Maher: "Someone who speaks eloquently about this is Barbara Loe Fisher, founder of the National Vaccine Information Center. I find her extremely credible, as I do Dr. Russell Blaylock, Dr. Jay Gordon and many others"

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-maher/vaccination-a-conversatio_b_35…

Russell Blaylock is a retired neurosurgeon who thinks that vaccines, amalgam fillings and aspartame are horrible health threats. He also has said that the former Soviet Union secretly infiltrated drugs and STDs into the U.S. to undermine us and introduce collectivism.

I submit that if, like Maher, you find Russell Blaylock or the others "extremely credible", there is something deeply, deeply wrong with your brain function.

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 22 Jan 2015 #permalink

Yup. That particular article is a gem of antivaccine nonsense, and Maher admires three icons of the antivaccine movement, finding them "credible." Jay Gordon, by the way, is Jenny McCarthy's son's pediatrician and was very much with her as she promoted her antivaccine message.

We know that in spite of this year’s late mutation, the vaccine still provides some protection from that strain.

That depends on what you mean by "some protection." The CDC assertion that it may still lessen disease severity is wrong.

From Bill Maher:

Thanks, Doc, I thought there might be a little man inside the needle.

Given some nonsense spouted regularly by antivaxers on how vaccines are working (OMG, it's full of dead viruses and potassium chloride), Dr Shermer may be forgiven for thinking he needed to start with some basic explanations.

Seriously, you would sometimes think vaccines work by black magic.

By Helianthus (not verified) on 22 Jan 2015 #permalink

Either Maher believes in germ theory or he doesn't.

If he does, then what the hell was he trying to get at by spreading the tale, dubious on its very face, of Pasteur recanting on his deathbed? I don't care what you may think about whether an educated person should or should not, upon encountering such a tale, immediately suspect its veracity - if you accept that germ theory is correct, such a recantation means nothing except confirming the obvious fact that many people are confused when they are frail and nearing death.

If he doesn't believe in germ theory, then where the hell does he get off with that snark about "Thanks, I read 'Microbe Hunters' when I was eight [so you couldn't possibly fill in any gaps in my understanding of immunology because my knowledge is complete]?"

By Antaeus Feldspar (not verified) on 22 Jan 2015 #permalink

Back in the days before we started closing bases all over the world, and particularly in the Sixties, tens of thousands of military and their families were administered extensive banks of vaccinations before shipping out. Especially those assigned to tropical climates. Seems to me that we may actually have a ready-made database of multiple-vaccinated adults and children from that era. I have no idea how to access such data, if indeed it exists in any usable form -- but a long-term examination of these folks and any rates of negative responses to the vaccines could certainly be useful....

And just so I'm clear: I'm one of those recipients of those vaccines back in the Sixties, and I find the whole paranoia about vaxing utterly perplexing. I also am a regular recipient of the flu vaccine at my doctor's suggestion, since she believes I'm more at risk for complications from such things as a result of enduring (and surviving, so far) chemo and radiation for lung cancer. So I am decidedly inclined to believe scientists over polemicists. Every time.

By M Rodifer (not verified) on 23 Jan 2015 #permalink

Heh, I didn't know this but Bill Maher is a board member of PETA and has been for several years. Sceptic my ass. Calli Arcale has the right of it.

By Science Mom (not verified) on 23 Jan 2015 #permalink

I think some words need to be defined.

Go to Google and type in these 2 words to search: antivaxxer definition

Google returns this at the top of the screen:

ANTI-VAXXER (noun)
"a person who is opposed to vaccination, typically a parent who does not wish to vaccinate their child."

Now use Google again and type in these 2 words to search: naturopathy definition

NATUROPATHY (noun)
"a system of alternative medicine based on the theory that disease can be successfully treated or prevented without the use of drugs, by techniques such as control of diet, exercise, and massage."

Bill Maher, despite his opposition to the flu shot, is NOT an anti-vaxxer.

However, Bill Maher is definitely a Naturopath. He's even called himself one on his show. These are 2 different views that may have some overlap but are not the same.

Criticize Bill Maher for what he is, not for what he is not.

By MacIsBack (not verified) on 23 Jan 2015 #permalink

Ah, yes, the familiar argumentum ad Websterium. "I can cherry-pick one definition for the term that I found somewhere in some source, and the exact wording of that one definition doesn't fit the case you have in mind, and therefore I'm right and you're wrong."

By Antaeus Feldspar (not verified) on 23 Jan 2015 #permalink

@MacIsBack
He's a vaccine denialist—an anti-vaxxer—posing as a skeptic. He's pulling the same schtick as climate change denialists who say, sure, it happens, but it's not human caused or dangerous. It's a ruse that works because people like you are fool enough to fall for it.

A few months ago in the peak of flu season, my partner and I became ill at the same time with the same symptoms. I had the flu vaccine some months earlier and I recovered from my illness after 1.5 days. My partner didn't have the flu vaccine because he doesn't like needles. He was very sick for six weeks with the flu, four of those weeks with a relentless, severe headache. He also had 6 weeks off work with no income. I'll continue to have the useless flu vaccine each year.

@ Chris #88

Sorry for the late reply in a now-old thread, and additional apologies if I wasn't clear. Basically, I either had already assumed or agree with everything you said.

I wasn't so much taking on the Pharma Shill gambit in relation to the actual Merck, as pointing out how the accusation doesn't make sense given the limited things I know about pharma in general, even in a 'worst case' scenario, when it comes to products like the MMR.

That is, even the same division of a corporation made both the MMR and some product (X) with which they were doing arguably 'bad' things, the economics would be the same. My point in posting the link is that article's the most damning critique of pharma I found at the most hard-ass legit PR watch-dog source in the U.S, and it doesn't apply to MMR at all as far as I can tell. So any attempt to 'poison the well' of vaccines on the bases of the things pharmas actually do to boost profits (as detailed in the article) is totally ignorant or disingenuous, because those things are only ever applied to very different circumstances.

Lawrence #91 is absolutely right. If you're going to claim a profit motive is involved in vaccine policy in any way, you have to prove there actually is a big profit – as the market for MMR has no significant growth potential.

I've never looked at an SEC filing, but I know enough about corporate accounting practices (Arthur Anderson, etc.) to know those things can be diddled with to some extent. But the question remains the same. Diddling takes a lot of work and costs a lot of money so there has to be a big reward. Show evidence of reward, or evidence of major diddling, on the product at hand before you cry 'shill!' or STFU and go home.

Maybe I'm just too tired, but I'm not getting the hospital vs. vaccine comparison. Wouldn't the question be what Merck gets from the hospitalized patients, not what is reaped some abstract consolidated Big Pharma that doesn't exist? And wouldn't the answer be 'next to nothing' anyway, as hospitalized measles patients are just getting symptomatic care which mostly involves the cost of the room and the labor to keep an eye on them in a controlled environment? I don't see the argument. (Sorry...) It seems you're reaching for a too-stretched hypothetical in search of a simple refutation to an argument that doesn't even belong on the table as it hasn't even come close to making its bones in terms of here-and-now logic to be credible enough to consider seriously in the first place.

Still, the first thing I'd reply to someone who tried to pull the Big-Pharma-Shill gambit on Gorski/Novella/Offit etc. is 'there is NO Big Pharma!' The pharmas compete with each other, and they don't cede high-profit markets to their competitors. In absence of a monopoly, if there's no competition for something, that shows there's no significant profit in it. Following from that, I'd go on to argue: If you want to have a potentiallyvalid case for 'pharma shill' you have to –
1) identify a specific company making a specific kind of product
2) demonstrate that the product's profitability is significant to the overall financial health of the manufacturer. (Companies in general drop profitable lines all the time to devote the resources to searching for bigger profits.).
3) tie that specific product category, and the manufacturer to the alleged shill.
4) demonstrate the connection in (3) matters significantly in terms of (2).
5) demonstrate that whatever the alleged shill is receiving from the pharma is significant enough to his/her bottom line that they'd risk reputation and career for the gain.

More. The Pharma Shill gambit for the MMR has several necessary premises, which go beyond the notions that 'vaccines cause harm' and 'pharmas profit from vaccines'.
1) Merck at least suspects the MMR causes undisclosed harm.
2) None of Merck's competitors have enough economic incentive from exposing Merck (on the down-low) to trump the economic incentive to protect profits mutually via some conspiratorial cabal (that's the sound of the entire floor of NYSE convulsed in laughter you're hearing).
3) Gorski/Novella/Offit have enough effect via their blogs, an episode of Nova, and as sources for back-page science stories in the MSM to sway public opinion enough to conceal a major corporate scandal and massive government malfeasance even as two major TV stars call 'foul!'
4) Either there's no one better able to sway public opinion than Gorski/Novella/Offit, or the pharma is too stupid to hire them.
5) Gorski, Novella, and Offit need to be paid to take on Jenny McCarthy, rather than, say, paying Merck for the privilege of taking a whack a her autism BS just for joy (not to mention public health, or anything...)

If the failure to establish even one of the points raised above isn't enough to make the Vaccine Shill gambit utterly fail when placed under even minimal scrutiny...
I've got more! :-)
[For another post... later... maybe...]

Why must it be one or the other? Isn't it possible that some vaccines are safe and effective while others are not? It seems to me that there is a credibility gap at both ends of the spectrum, perhaps because the subject has grown to be so contentious that partisans on both sides are being pushed farther and farther toward the extremes of their positions until their arguments become a reductio ad absurdum. I think that reasonable people can conclude that Jenny McCarthy's crusade against childhood immunization was misguided and destructive and the discredited claim that these vaccines are implicated in causing autism false. It does not follow, however, that therefore all vaccines are safe nor does it follow that all vaccines are effective.

The essential argument, as I see it, of the pro-vaccine camp is that we should have implicit faith in big pharma. Thanks, but no. Ever hear of Vioxx (Rofecoxib)? Ever hear of Thalidomide? In the U.S. alone there are literally hundreds of drugs that were sold to the public bearing the FDA stamp of approval which were later pulled after they were determined not to be safe after all. Oops. That does not mean that all drugs or vaccines are dangerous but neither does the success of the polio or diphtheria vaccines mean that all vaccines are safe and effective.

To me, the fact that the current flu-season's vaccine efficacy rate is in the low 20's demonstrates that the skeptics are right. Would you get on a jet-liner that had only a 23% chance of not crashing? Those don't sound like good enough odds to me to warrant injecting myself with something that has been rushed to market without adequate testing. Unfortunately, unlike patients in New York State, where I live, who retain the right to refuse medication, I, as a health-care worker, am compelled against my will to submit to a flu vaccine annually. (Yes, in the hospital where I work, I can choose to wear a mask for six months each year instead but many other New York state hospital workers do not enjoy even that right.) The flu vaccine is not without risk, including that of developing Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a crippling and potentially life-threatening condition. (And in my career I have seen several cases of flu-vaccine-implicated GBS.) There is no cost-benefit analysis that makes it sensible for a healthy adult (I am not speaking about children nor senior citizens or others most at risk of death from the flu) to get a flu vaccine with its risk of causing GBS and that has only a 23% chance of preventing him or her from getting what amounts to a bad cold.

The public-health arguments - herd immunity - at least at my hospital, would carry far more weight if everyone were required to get the flu vaccine, however, only staff are. Patients are not required to get it - since that would be a violation of the Patients' Bill of Rights (which is part of New York State law), nor are visitors required to get it. Forcing healthcare workers but not patients or visitors to get the flu vaccine is a lot like closing a window only half way to keep out the cold.

There are probably certain segments of the population for whom the flu vaccine makes sense. There are others for whom it clearly does not. As I began by saying, it does have to be an either/or - either you're for all vaccines or against all vaccines - debate. But I do think that any policy intended to protect patients needs to be rational and consistent. If hospital workers may be compelled to get the flu vaccine, so should all patients and all visitors. What good will it do you, if you're a patient in a hospital sharing a room, if your nurse has had the flu vaccine but your roommate, two feet or less away, has not?

By David Balashin… (not verified) on 27 Jan 2015 #permalink

David Balashinsky, P.T.: "Isn’t it possible that some vaccines are safe and effective while others are not?"

Well, sure. Just tell us which ones are not safe and effective by providing supporting verifiable documentation to support your conclusions.

Yes, we have heard of Vioxx, and I hate to tell you this: it was not a vaccine.

David Balashinsky, P.T.:

Would you get on a jet-liner that had only a 23% chance of not crashing?

Your analogy fails miserably. Try addressing the jet-liner equialent of the real situation:

Since you're going to be on the jet-liner anyway, whether you like it or not (unless you die before the season starts), and you have little other control over its flight dynamics, would you like to have a 20% improvement of your chances against crashing?
By Bill Price (not verified) on 27 Jan 2015 #permalink

@David Balashinsky.
As a physio, you no doubt see many people recovering from GBS.
You say you see "several" cases implicated after Flu vaccination. Seeing as how GBS appears to occur 16 times more often following influenza infection than it does after flu vaccine, would you like to tell us how many GBS cases you have seen "implicated" with flu itself?

David, your characterisation of Influenza as the equivalent of nothing but "a bad cold" tells me that you haven't seen many cases, despite your claims to work in a hospital.

I am sad that a fellow health professional can so easily brush aside the thousands of deaths influenza causes every year. This season is especially bad, the vaccine is not as good as in previous years, and I predict the death toll will top 50,000 easily.

"A bad cold"? Think again.

I, as a health-care worker, am compelled against my will to submit to a flu vaccine annually.

Well boo farkin hoo. You could always quit your job.

The essential argument, as I see it, of the pro-vaccine camp is that we should have implicit faith in big pharma.

That is not the case. The essential argument is that for specific diseases, vaccines are able to reduce the incidence of both the diseases and their side effects (up to and including death), and they are able to do so safely (compared to the risks of catching the original diseases in a world without vaccines). This argument is backed by substantial evidence. There is also considerable regulation of the pharmaceutical companies which make these vaccines to ensure that the products they make are uncontaminated, as well as making sure they work. This is different for "little pharma" and supplement makers, which apparently are able to supply contaminated product that paralyze patients, or badly manufactured product which overdose people with Vitamin D.

Ever hear of Thalidomide?

Why, yes. Fun fact - it wasn't sold in the US.

It does not follow, however, that therefore all vaccines are safe nor does it follow that all vaccines are effective.

Sure. There's a vaccine for smallpox - 14-52 people out of a million had life threatening side effects and 1,000 out of a million had serious reactions. There's a vaccine for anthrax - according to the CDC it could cause a serious reaction in less than 1 in 100,000 doses. There's a vaccine for plague - per the CDC, it can cause "general malaise, headache, fever, mild lymphadenopathy, and erythema and induration at the injection site in about 10% of recipients. These reactions occur more commonly with repeated injections. Sterile abscesses occur rarely. Rare cases of sensitivity reactions manifested by urticarial and asthmatic phenomena have been reported." The yellow fever vaccine can cause death in about 1 in 500,000. There's a rabies vaccine for humans, which can be given prophylactically.

Given the relative risk/rewards for those, I'd think most people wouldn't recommend them for general use, unless those diseases are common in the area.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 28 Jan 2015 #permalink

Reply to some of the comments above:

To Chris (# 124): 1) Here's an example of a vaccine that isn't effective: the current (2014-15) flu vaccine. (Since that's the jumping-off point for the current blog I don't feel obligated to provide any supporting documentation.) As for its safety, we may not know that for years to come. 2) Nowhere did I say or imply that Vioxx was a vaccine; don't put words in my mouth or condescend to me. My point is that big pharma is no less obligated to demonstrate both the safety and efficacy of any of their products than the anti-vaccine crowd is obligated to acknowledge when a preponderance of the evidence fails to support an alleged link between routine childhood immunizations and autism.

To Bill Price (#125): That's a fair criticism. What is unreasonable about my original analogy is that it overstates, at least by implication, the risks associated with the flu vaccine; it is not comparable to a 77% chance of crashing when flying as a passenger. In my analogy, boarding the plane is analogous to getting the flu vaccine and the 23% chance of surviving the flight is analogous to the vaccine's being effective. That is indeed a false analogy. It would have been more reasonable to compare the much lower risk of developing GBS to the risk of crashing, which is much lower than 23%. It would also have been more reasonable to compare the 23% efficacy rate of the current vaccine to a 23% chance of my flight actually reaching its intended destination (instead of landing safely somewhere else). I still don't think those odds are sufficient for healthy adults to feel to compelled to get the vaccine, and certainly they are not sufficiently compelling to warrant the government's requiring by fiat that healthcare workers get the vaccine on pain of termination if they don't.

To Dingo199 (126-7): 1)Your most persuasive point is that getting the flu increases your risk of developing GBS 16 times as much as getting the flu vaccine does - if true. My research yielded only one article that mentioned that particular statistic. Yet in a report prepared under the auspices of the CDC [http://www.who.int/immunization/sage/Sejvar_GBS_influenza_2slides_page…] , which finds "no clear consistent association" between the administration of the flu vaccine and the incidence of GBS, the authors also concluded that there is also "no substantial evidence of strong association [between the flu itself and GBS], no seasonal pattern of GBS, no increase in GBS following large epidemics, [and] several reports suggest [a] risk but [the] data [are] conflicting." I'm open-minded; if you'd care to post some links documenting the validity of that statistic I could certainly be persuaded. I am not dogmatic on this subject. 2)As for your query as to how many cases of flu-mediated GBS I have observed, the answer is none, which of course proves nothing, since just because I haven't witnessed it firsthand does not mean that it did or does not occur. As I said: citations, please. 3)As for my characterization of the flu as a bad cold, for most healthy adults, that is what is; nothing more. Which is why I took great care, in my original comment, to limit the scope of my argument to "healthy adults." Do some healthy adults die from the flu? To be sure, but they are outliers. For that matter, there are many pathogens in circulation that are deadly or potentially deadly for some population groups but not for others.

To TBruce (#128): - your comment isn't worthy of being dignified with a response. I would be curious, however, to know your reaction when the government mandates strict caloric and fat-consumption restrictions with monthly weigh-ins in the name of reducing the incidence of cardiovascular disease, which kills vastly more Americans each year (anywhere from six to one hundred times as many) than influenza does.

To Mephistopheles O'Brien (#129): 1)Well argued and well put but, given its history, I have no more confidence or faith in Big Pharma than I do in Jenny McCarthy (or Bill Maher, for that matter, when it comes to dispensing medical advice). Nor do I trust the regulatory process - especially now, with the increasing shift in our government's philosophy, as it drifts farther and farther rightward, that industry should be free to regulate itself. 2)Finally, I didn't say that Talidomide was ever sold in the U.S. Please don't put words in my mouth or condescend to me by correcting something I didn't actually write.

By David Balashin… (not verified) on 28 Jan 2015 #permalink

I am sorry, I did not ask for your opinion. This is what I said: "Well, sure. Just tell us which ones are not safe and effective by providing supporting verifiable documentation to support your conclusions."

Where is the supporting documentation? For safety, influenza vaccines have been made for decades, surely you can find PubMed indexed studies by reputable qualified researchers about the relative risks of the vaccine versus the disease.

As far as efficacy, can you explain why 0%, which you have chosen to accept by skipping the vaccine, is better than 23% efficacy. Is this some kind of new form of math?

And still, the issues around Vioxx have nothing to do with vaccines, so bringing it was was you "poisoning the well." Just stick to the actual evidence on the subject being discussed, which is vaccines.

Oh, and by the way the CDC weekly flu reports that verified pediatric deaths are now up to fifty six. Do tell us how that equates to a bad cold.

@David Balashinky

A more appropriate analogy than your jetliner one would be this. There is a gunman loose in your neighborhood, shooting more or less at random. You have before you two vests: one has 0% chance of stopping a bullet, should you be hit; the other vest has a 23% chance of stopping the bullet, should you be hit. Which one would you choose?

Unfortunately, unlike patients in New York State, where I live, who retain the right to refuse medication, I, as a health-care worker, am compelled against my will to submit to a flu vaccine annually.

A health care worker being asked to take reasonable measures (flu vaccine or mask) to reduce the risks to the health of the patients they serve? Perish the thought! Anyone who is employed as a HCW who does not put the well-being of their patients first and foremost probably is not in the right career.

Finally, I didn’t say that Talidomide was ever sold in the U.S. Please don’t put words in my mouth or condescend to me by correcting something I didn’t actually write.

You wrote

Ever hear of Thalidomide? In the U.S. alone there are literally hundreds of drugs that were sold to the public bearing the FDA stamp of approval which were later pulled after they were determined not to be safe after all. Oops.

I wrote

Why, yes. Fun fact – it [thalidomide] wasn’t sold in the US.

Offhand, I cannot see how I either put words in your mouth or corrected you. I used your example of thalidomide to show how FDA regulation does, at least sometimes, work to improve drug safety. I never once stated that your paragraph implied otherwise.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 28 Jan 2015 #permalink

I would be curious, however, to know your reaction when the government mandates strict caloric and fat-consumption restrictions with monthly weigh-ins in the name of reducing the incidence of cardiovascular disease, which kills vastly more Americans each year (anywhere from six to one hundred times as many) than influenza does.

For a "health-care worker", you sure don't have a clue. The flu vaccine is not primarily to protect you from getting influenza, it's to prevent you from spreading it to your patients. You know, those largely vulnerable people who put their trust in you. Too bad it appears to be misplaced.

I hope you are also aware that atherosclerotic heart disease is not a contagious illness, unlike influenza.

Chris: Let me explain how this works: I actually don't need your permission to offer my opinion. For that matter, I didn't ask for yours either.

As for the efficacy of this year's vaccine, the 23% efficacy (and it's always a crap-shoot) is not weighed against the 0% efficacy of no vaccine: it's weighed against the attendant risks of the vaccine, which are not 0%. The risks may be small statistically but they are no less real, which is why one is required to sign a waiver and release before getting the vaccine. That's what a cost-benefit analysis is. One doesn't only consider the potential benefits of the vaccine against the potential benefits of not taking the vaccine but one considers also the potential risks of taking the vaccine as well as the potential risks of not taking the vaccine. That's just basic science.

As for my allusion to Vioxx, over which you seem to obsessing, I mentioned that case because it is a paradigm of how a pharmaceutical agent can receive FDA approval and be marketed as safe by its manufacturer and only later be discovered to be unsafe. Whether it's a medication or a vaccine is irrelevant to the point I was making. I'm not sure why you have such a hard time with that concept; maybe you can find someone else to explain it to you.

As for red herrings, I guess I have to repeat yet again (and this is the last time I'm going to do it) that I specifically couched my original argument in terms of the vaccine's applicability to healthy adults, not children, so your insistence on setting up straw-man arguments by citing pediatric deaths from flu, as well as your penchant for putting words in my mouth, such as claiming that I said that Vioxx is a vaccine, when even a cursory reading of my original comment would show that I said nothing of the sort, strongly suggest to me that you're much more interested in trying to score points instead of discussing this topic like an adult.

Have a nice day.

By David Balashin… (not verified) on 28 Jan 2015 #permalink

If any risk requires the patient to give informed consent and sign a waiver, surely patients should be told something like "David Balashinsky is unvaccinated, which increases your risk of contracting influenza, a serious and potentially fatal disease. Your increased risk is thus-and-such, and the likely sy You can sign a waiver and see him anyway, or you can wait for the next vaccinated physical therapist."

": it’s weighed against the attendant risks of the vaccine, which are not 0%. The risks may be small statistically but they are no less real, which is why one is required to sign a waiver and release before getting the vaccine."

Again you failed to provide any verifiable documentation.

Just provide the PubMed indexed studies by reputable qualified researchers that the risk to healthy adults of the vaccine is higher than actually getting influenza.

And still, the issues around Vioxx have nothing to do with vaccines, so bringing it was was you “poisoning the well.”

And doing it poorly, since rofecoxib still has "the FDA stamp of approval." It's unfortunate that nobody has taken it up since "the" patent expired in 2013.

As for the efficacy of this year’s vaccine, the 23% efficacy (and it’s always a crap-shoot) is not weighed against the 0% efficacy of no vaccine: it’s weighed against the attendant risks of the vaccine, which are not 0%. The risks may be small statistically but they are no less real, which is why one is required to sign a waiver and release before getting the vaccine. That’s what a typically poor cost-benefit analysis is.

FTFY. As for "your comment isn’t worthy of being dignified with a response," followed by an amazingly stupid straw man, no, it was a perfectly appropriate observation. You're whining about a condition of employment.

While I enjoy listening to some of Maher's anti-conservative screeds, ultimately he's still a performer. He started out as a stand-up comic & actor, i.e. an entertainer, and he still is.
In this sense he's really not fundamentally different than Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh, but since liberals like me (mostly) agree with his conclusions there's a temptation to overlook the cray-cray & cherry pick the good stuff.
TV & print media, including supposedly neutral organizations like NPR & the Beeb, are interested in maximizing viewers - entertainment will trump truth every single time, so even those you agree with have to assessed critically.

By Ron Skurat (not verified) on 01 Feb 2015 #permalink

My uncle had a very bad reaction to this year's flu vaccine that put him in the hospital. I'll never have that shit put in my body.

By Tom Keller (not verified) on 01 Feb 2015 #permalink

My aunt had a very bad reaction to a crossbody seatbelt a few years ago that put her in the hospital. (Seriously -- the seatbelt fractured her collarbone, which then punctured her lung.) But strangely, I'm going to keep wearing my seatbelt -- and so is she.

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 01 Feb 2015 #permalink

I assume she was in an accident? In that case, not using the seatbelt would have resulted in, probably, even more serious injury? (I'm not sure what you mean by "crossbody seatbelt")

In my uncle's case, not putting this crap in his system would have resulted in his continued good health.

I fully support childhood immunization. But, childhood vaccines are either one-and-done or with boosters spread apart by many years.

Flu vaccines, on the other hand, we are told we need EVERY YEAR. It's a way, in my opinion, for the industry to guarantee revenue.

And try not to be such a smartass next time, huh?

By Tom Keller (not verified) on 01 Feb 2015 #permalink

So, Mr. Keller, we need to ignore all of the science and evidence about influenza vaccine because of your one story.

Why is that? How does it carry more weight than these.

I don't understand you. Are you calling me a liar?

By Tom Keller (not verified) on 01 Feb 2015 #permalink

I don't think Chris is calling you a liar, by providing multiple PubMed citations which prove the safety and efficacy of seasonal influenza vaccines...versus your n=1 anecdote.

No, I am not calling you a liar. I am asking you why we should put more weight on your one story versus more than two thousand studies that were in that link.

How does your one story supersede all of the scientific studies done on the influenza vaccine over the past few decades?

@Chris, to borrow from Damon Runyan (or at least what is attributed to him)

The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet.

I think Tom Keller would argue that since in today's Super Bowl commercial, a Mercedes sports car showed up to help the tortoise beat the hare, we should bet on the tortoise in every race.

@Tom Keller, I'm sorry your uncle had to go in the hospital. It's not much fun even when it's not for disease.

I suggest you encourage him to file an incident report with VAERS.

But, Chris and I prefer to base our choices on a scientific assessment of the benefits and risks, not just that something bad happened to one person one time.

And, those assessments repeatedly show that adverse events serious enough to require hospitalization as a result of the flu shot are so rare that it is hard to accurately distinguish them from similar events occurring to random people day to day in the rest of the population.

And so, even though I had an adverse event from the Prevnar booster I got from my doctor last month (a sore shoulder for two or three days), I have been getting a flu shot every year for the last several years to help protect myself and others who are more vulnerable.

By squirrelelite (not verified) on 01 Feb 2015 #permalink

Something bad that happened to one person one time could conceivably outweigh a 'scientific assesment' in some cases, as scientific assessments vary in validity and may turn out to be wrong. But not in this case. As squirrelelite points out, the studies of adverse effects are repeated, and they're consistent with Keller's experience. Very, VERY few people have reactions that require hospitalization, but some do, and by chance Keller's uncle was one of them.

Which, is no cause for Keller to avoid the vaccine, as the broad scientific consensus is it's still safer than getting into a car and driving to work at rush hour for any individual – just as it would be if the reaction had occurred to a beautician in Boise rather than to Keller's uncle.

We also have no idea what Keller's experience actually was, as he conveniently fails to offer details such as what symptoms his uncle experienced, how long he was in the hospital, whether there were any lasting effects, etc. I'd take a wild guess that the adverse reaction was also completely consistent with the science detailing what sort of reactions occur on those rare occasions when they do.

Of course, Keller has no warrant to assert his uncle would have had "continued good health" except for the vaccination, as without the shot, he might well have come down with the flu. Finally, Keller's opinion that the flu vaccine is a significant revenue stream for it's manufacturer(s) is worthless without supporting evidence.

Chris: Did anyone but me actually look at your link? I looked at a few pages and many of the publications have nothing to do with influenza. In fact, of the 20 on the first page, only two have to do with broad safety studies. So there are not 'over two thousand studies' in that link.

squirrelelite: Thanks for the insult. Yep, I thinks tortoises is faster than hares because I seen it once!

sadmar: I "conveniently" didn't list any symptoms because it's none of your damn business! He got sick, he went to the hospital. That's enough for you.

And my supporting evidence for flu vaccines being a guaranteed (what I actually said, not "significant" as you asserted) revenue is that the pharma companies continue to manufacture and push them on us. They wouldn't do that without profit.

If you want to get a flu vaccine, it's no skin off my nose. It's well known that this site is in big pharma's pocket, so just take anything that's asserted with a grain of salt. That includes the comments.

By Tom Keller (not verified) on 02 Feb 2015 #permalink

Yes, I looked at the link. I was trying to tell you that lots of research has been done. So pardon me if some were included that did not match the search words.

Let me try to ask another question: The NVICP statistics show that between 2006 and 2012 there were about 809,000,000 influenza vaccines given. Now tell us how many of those ended up in the hospital with the symptoms you described. Please provide actual documentation (it might be in the list I gave you).

" It’s well known that this site is in big pharma’s pocket,"

and your evidence for that is...? Though first read this.

It wasn't "some" that didn't match the search words. A full 90% weren't about influenza vaccine safety, at least in a broad sense. And that's on the first page, where the closest matches would be!

No. I have no idea how many of those vaccines caused reactions bad enough to require hospitalization. I just know of this one, and you're not getting any documents on that.

My evidence for Scienceblogs being in pharma's pocket? Seriously? This site has more drug company ads than my doctor's office!

By Tom Keller (not verified) on 02 Feb 2015 #permalink

And try not to be such a smartass next time, huh?

Quite ironic coming from someone whose well-reasoned introduction was "I’ll never have that shіt put in my body."

I looked at a few pages and many of the publications have nothing to do with influenza.

What's that, you couldn't figure out how to narrow down the results on your own? Try this.

And that’s on the first page, where the closest matches would be!

Congratulations, you think Pubmed is G—le or something.

My evidence for Scienceblogs being in pharma’s pocket? Seriously? This site has more drug company ads than my doctor’s office!

And you don't understand how keyword-generated ads work either. Spectacular.

Okay, you got it down to 45 entries and most of them are, also, narrower studies about things like safety for people with egg allergies and pregnant women, not broad-based studies.

Sorry, I thought most search engines sort by relevancy. My mistake.

No, I don't understand how keyword-generated ads work. Please explain.

Don't most doctors have posters, tongue depressors, etc. with drug company logos?

By Tom Keller (not verified) on 02 Feb 2015 #permalink

"Don’t most doctors have posters, tongue depressors, etc. with drug company logos?"

Not my family doctor.

"Sorry, I thought most search engines sort by relevancy. My mistake."

You don't seem to understand how hard it is to program an unknown person's intent, do you?

So, Mr. Keller, now that you know how to use the PubMed index, perhaps you can find the study that shows the vaccine puts people in the hospital more than the actual disease.

(key word generated ads are caused by the ad software scanning the article and putting up certain ads, they also are generated by web searches, like when I was looking for a new deep freezer, I kept seeing ads from various large kitchen appliances)

Certainly not my pediatrician....I don't know which doctors you go to see, but over the past decade, regulations have prohibited "gifting" quite a bit - if not entirely.

My doctor must get a lot of free stuff, I guess.

I'm sure none of the published studies would ever show any thing like that. They wouldn't be allowed to be published. And, anyway, I can't afford to buy those studies on PubMed. They cost from 40 dollars upward.

By Tom Keller (not verified) on 02 Feb 2015 #permalink

No, I don’t understand how keyword-generated ads work. Please explain.

Try looking at a post here about "detoxing" or some other sort of quackery. I don't see the ads at all, but the commentariat often notes that the ads are for just that sort of quackery.

Looking at what's being caught by my filter set (ABP), there are two ad servers, matching the patterns '##.adsbygoogle' and '##.sb-ad'/'##.sb-sponsor'. The former is G—le AdSense, so that content is generated completely remotely.

If I disable the latter filters (and '###headerboard'), I still don't see any ads, so I'm not sure what they're supposed to be doing. They might be left over from the National Geographic days.

Let me get this straight in my mind. Tom Keller who wandered onto this blog tells us about his (unnamed) uncle who supposedly had a reaction from a seasonal influenza vaccine which resulted in hospitalization.

When sadmar asked for some additional information about the (unnamed) uncle's symptoms and diagnosis, Tom Keller replies:

"sadmar: I “conveniently” didn’t list any symptoms because it’s none of your damn business! He got sick, he went to the hospital. That’s enough for you."

Have I got it straight in my mind?

Mr. Keller: "And, anyway, I can’t afford to buy those studies on PubMed."

Then go to the library. If you live near a medical school you can often use their computers for free. Also you can ask your public library to get them for you.

Or you can click on the list to the left that says "free full text." Then you get studies like this and this.

Don’t most doctors have posters, tongue depressors, etc. with drug company logos?

I haven't seen so much as a memo pad in ages, but I infrequently visit private practices. Significant financial relationships now have to be disclosed under the Sunshine Act, FWIW, if one wants to take Medicare patients.

Hmm, seems to me all the memo pads, at the least, had logos on them. I know a good many of the 'preventive care' type posters had logos last time I was there.

Thanks, Chris, I hadn't seen the "free full text" feature. I'm still not seeing many relevant studies, but I'll keep looking. The samples you provided deal with Central and Latin America in the one instance, and Guilliain-Barre (not his symptoms) in the other instance.

lilady: I'm afraid I don't understand your comment. First you say I "wandered" onto this blog. Is it invitation only? Then you repeatedly insinuate that I am lying and decry my lack of supplying information. Well, with identity theft being rampant and such, you've gotten all the information I'm comfortable supplying. I can only assure you that I'm telling the truth and that my uncle's symptoms were severe enough to warrant a trip to the hospital.

By Tom Keller (not verified) on 02 Feb 2015 #permalink

Tom Keller:

Since you haven't told us what your uncle's symptoms were, nobody except you is qualified to sort out which papers are relevant. I understand why you haven't told us--it's not your information to disclose--but without that, how can anyone answer "is this paper relevant?" The current set of possibly relevant papers is "those having anything to do with vaccination that discuss any side effect other than Guillain-Barre syndrome."

Tom - I have yet to see a pharmaceutical ad on this site, they are nearly all for other websites I have recently searched for or visited (whenever Seattle Opera is doing a run, I get ads for them). Usually if a friend has pasted me a link in Google chat and I click on it, that website dominates my ad-viewing experience for a week. Right now I've inexplicably got termite control -- hope that doesn't mean Google street view sees inside the wood of the house! ;-)

By Emma Crew (not verified) on 02 Feb 2015 #permalink

Hmm, seems to me that Tom Keller does not comprehend how science blogs work. When you come to a science blog with your accusations and your anecdotal case study (n=1), of your uncle's supposed reaction reactions to a seasonal influenza vaccine, you should be prepared to provide us with some details.

You're worried about identity theft...because you have such an unusual name and other commenters on this blog will hunt you and your (unnamed) uncle down to loot your bank accounts and run up your credit cards? Really?

I hadn’t seen the “free full text” feature. I’m still not seeing many relevant studies, but I’ll keep looking.

Protip: If you find something promising but it's paywalled, try a G—le search on the title. For example, PMID 23002978, "Assessing the Safety of Influenza Vaccination in Specific Populations: Children and the Elderly," is available on Medscape. (Yes, it has a nuisance feature of insisting upon one's creating an account. And yes, the first result from bugmenot-dot-com works fine.)

This approach will barf up links to, e.g., ResearchGate, which is a pain in the ass even when it's not just a redirect to publisher, something that is increasingly the case – basically, you have to upload some random item in exchange for each download.

Of course, if you're really interested in something, a polite, coherent E-mail to the corresponding author to request a PDF is a straightforward approach.

Emma, count your blessings. I know why the ads for yarn and ladies' dresses show up, but why am I getting come-one for cholis, senior dating sites, and time shares in Abu Dhabi?

@lilady

As he seems to have dropped the "in big pharma’s pocket ... [t]hat includes the comments" routine, the corresponding Heraclitean approach* may be over and done with.

* "Πᾶν γὰρ ἑρπετὸν πληγῇ νέμεται."

^ Rats, I knew I forgot something.

Fun fact: Yes, one does catch more flies with vinegar (although I've found balsamic to be a dud compared with apple cider).

I know why the ads for yarn and ladies’ dresses show up, but why am I getting come-one for cholis, senior dating sites, and time shares in Abu Dhabi?

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest bidding.

@Narad, it depends upon the species of fly. Some are are exclusively drawn to sweet and nectar, other species you need rotting flesh. Botflies are obviously drawn in by sweat. I suspect horseflies are too, and pray you never get bit by a horsefly.

Guess you could call this a nit picking comment. **II******

By Colonel Tom (not verified) on 02 Feb 2015 #permalink

Tom Keller:
I haven't been following closely here, so someone else may have already mentioned this or posted links to better explanations.
Part of the reason that there are new flu vaccines every year is because the flu viruses show rapid "antigen drift" - the viruses mutate rapidly. Once you have been exposed to a particular virus by "catching" it or by being vaccinated with some deliberately-modified variant that doesn't cause the normal disease, you develop antibodies to that virus. This sort of antibody is highly specific to what triggered its original production. If you are subsequently exposed to the identical virus, your body will still have ready-to-go antibodies or "remember" how to rapidly start making them again, though this can fade over time. If the virus mutates a little, it may still cause a nearly-identical disease, but your antibodies to the original virus may be ineffective in fighting it.
Flu virus manufacturers have to try to identify which very specific variants of the influenza viruses are going to be "big" for a year's flu season, and make a vaccine that will stimulate production of antibodies against them. Like last year's fashion colors, last year's antibodies may be passé.
Fortunately, not all viruses mutate so rapidly. The virus that causes rabies, for example, is very stable over time. The measles virus seems to be pretty stable. If it mutated rapidly we could see fresh measles pandemics very frequently.

lilady: I don't know what your problem is, but please stop accusing me of lying.

Narad: Thank you. That study sounds like what I'm looking for. I'll try to find it somewhere I don't have to give out my email address.(I get enough junk mail and spam)

doug: Thank you for the info. My real concern is a lack of trust of the vaccine; for me and all of my relatives, I doubt any of us will take a flu vaccine in the future.

By Tom Keller (not verified) on 03 Feb 2015 #permalink

" My real concern is a lack of trust of the vaccine; for me and all of my relatives, I doubt any of us will take a flu vaccine in the future"

You should be more concerned that your family is making the wrong decision based on insufficient data.

That's your opinion. Surely you can understand that if you see a beloved family member get sick from a shot, that you might be leery of taking said shot yourself?

By Tom Keller (not verified) on 05 Feb 2015 #permalink

I’ll try to find it somewhere I don’t have to give out my email address.(I get enough junk mail and spam)

Please review the part where I said "and yes, the first result from bugmenot-dot-com works fine."

Yeah, I didn't really understand what that meant.

Ooh, and what is the secret code up there in post #172?

By Tom Keller (not verified) on 06 Feb 2015 #permalink

@Tom Keller:

That "secret code" is Greek, genius. Y'know, like Heraclitus was.

Surely you can understand that if you see a beloved family member get sick from a shot, that you might be leery of taking said shot yourself?

Of course we can understand. That's a completely normal human reaction. What people are trying to explain is that our normal human reactions are based on emotion and small sample sizes, and can lead us to making choices that seem to make sense from our guts and hearts but ultimately aren't supported by more empirical facts. Which is why we need science.

By Emma Crew (not verified) on 06 Feb 2015 #permalink

shay @171
I get a lot of beads (I tend to buy yarn in person; beads are MUCH cheaper online) and dresses (eShakti FTW) but more recently, I got an ad for the NRA which was then replaced by one for transcendental meditation. Sometimes It feels like Google is just messing with us.

By Emma Crew (not verified) on 06 Feb 2015 #permalink

I’ll try to find it somewhere I don’t have to give out my email address.(I get enough junk mail and spam)

Please review the part where I said “and yes, the first result from bugmenot-dot-com works fine.”

Yeah, I didn’t really understand what that meant.

Please tell me exactly what sort of problem connecting the two dots between "is available on Medscape and "bugmenot-dot-com" that you are having.

You're the one who's been complaining about paywalls and privacy.

I tend to buy yarn in person

Yup, I totally read that as "yam."

Maybe I'll just buy a bigger monitor.

"lilady: I don’t know what your problem is, but please stop accusing me of lying."

Don't you dare accuse me of calling you a liar Tom Keller. sadmar and a few other posters as well as me asked you for details of what you claim to be your uncle's severe adverse reaction to an influenza vaccine, which required hospitalization.

You, in turn, refused to reply to our questions stating you were afraid of identity theft perpetuated on you and your "unknown uncle". After that statement and the other uncalled for accusations you've made on this thread, I am now accusing you of lying. You're full of yourself and full of it, troll.

@Narad, I know a lot of folks who would have no idea what bugmenot is, and even a brief glance at the main page doesn't make it necessarily obvious what it does. It could probably use a page explaining that it's a workaround for email-required website viewing.

@Tom, if you enter a website domain at bugmenot (dot com), it will return a list of email address/password combinations contributed by other users so you don't have to set up an account with your own address.

By Emma Crew (not verified) on 06 Feb 2015 #permalink

(yes, I realize I may be giving way too much benefit of the doubt. call it a personality flaw.)

By Emma Creww (not verified) on 06 Feb 2015 #permalink

Emma Crow wrote, "our normal human reactions are based on emotion and small sample sizes."

I don't think is true of post hoc fallacies, which is where Mr. Keller seems to be starting, at least in his 'if you see one get sick you might be leery' remark.

The conflation of correlation and causality is basically hard-wired in our genetic code because survival selects for it. That is, correlation does indicate causality often enough that over the long term making decisions on that basis works out pretty well. There's a rumbling noise, you think 'stampede' and get your butt up a thick tree ASAP. If you think, "well that might be a stampede, but it could be something else I'd better ch..." that just confirms to the first guy that having to climb down out of the tree if it's a false alarm any number of times is OK, because stampedes are common enough and they always rumble.

So that's not emotion, but what people call common sense, and it's not a small sample size, but actually a probabilistic calculation based on a huge sample size extending through millennia of evolution.

Where emotion comes in (see the 2/6 Gordie Howe thread) is when people can't let go of their post hoc fallacies given time to safely think about them and compelling 'common sense' evidence to the contrary.

in short, if Keller's uncle gets sick after getting a flu shot, Keller would be crazy NOT to become leery of getting such a shot himself. However, he's been given the evidence that these reactions are overwhelmingly rare, temporary and not harmful. He's been given evidence that avoiding the distress his uncle had - even if he knew for sure he would have the same experience - at the price of vulnerability to a highly contagious and dangerous disease is an unwise health decision.

You could say the rumbling is long past, yet Keller is still up in the tree, and some kind of emotional investment is probably at the root of that.

The problem I have with 'skepticism' is that I'm skeptical of the premise that science/rationality/formal logic etc. are effective means of countering emotions and getting people out of trees. Where's the scientific research supporting that?

I don't doubt education in rational thinking, logical fallacies, the scientific method, and certain bodies of scientific knowledge serve as 'innoculations' against tendencies to stay up in the tree, but once somebody's in the frame of mind not to come down - however much they may protest a lack of knowledge is keeping them off the ground, I doubt that's the case. I the 'debates' with 'trolls' on RI prove anything, it's that you can throw facts up into the tree until hell freezes over without changing anybody's mind. I.e. those "where's the proof" demands are fake, though the first persons being faked may be tree-dwellers sincerely demanding that thing their lizard brain won't accept when they get it.

@sadmar Right, what I was thinking is in this case, emotion and extra weight to the sample of one is because it's a "beloved uncle" not just "George, night shift manager of the supermarket on the other side of town." If it were just human pattern matching for danger, wouldn't the likely dozens of other people Tom Keller personally knows who have had flu shots (and, indeed, any flu shots he and his other family members may have had in previous years) lead to the conclusion that his uncle's case was a fluke? I admit I am here giving the benefit of the doubt that his uncle's illness was a bad reaction to the vaccine (given that adverse reaction do rarely occur) rather than assuming post hoc fallacy. Because the family decision to skip the flu shot is just as poor in the case where the vaccine was at fault as in the case where it wasn't.*

Either way, I think my point that Tom Keller had a normal human reaction and your point that we've evolved to think that way are in violent agreement. ;-)

*Unless all members of the Keller family have some heretofore unknown genetic anomaly that makes them particularly susceptible to hospitalization post-flu-vaccine, which seems vanishingly unlikely, so... yeah.

By Emma Crew (not verified) on 07 Feb 2015 #permalink

JP, well, I knew they were Greek letters. Didn't know it was actual Greek language, though. Thought it was some kind of code you guys use.

Thank you, Emma, for being so nice. No, I didn't realize what bugmenot is, now I know and I'll check it out.

lilady: Yes, you strongly insinuated that I was lying in your earlier comments with the adjectives you were using. And you know it. And calling me a troll doesn't bother me, even though I'm not. Didn't you see 'Frozen'? Trolls are kind of cute! ;)

sadmar: Your points are well taken. Thank you.

Emma (again): Err...'the family decision to skip the flu shot is just as poor in the case where the vaccine was at fault as in the case where it wasn’t.' huh? How is it a poor decision if the vaccine is at fault? Doesn't that indicate a bad vaccine? (by the by, we wouldn't be afraid of a genetic component to having bad reactions since my uncle is not a blood relation.)

By Tom Keller (not verified) on 07 Feb 2015 #permalink

Hmmm, still do not see a reason to use anecdotes from some anonymous stranger on the internets in lieu of real medical advice from my family doctor.

Maher's segment last night on vaccination, eagerly seconded by his guests, was the most ignorant thing I have ever seen him do. While expressing his support of the science confirming human caused climate change and evolution, he and his guests proceeded to trot out the very kinds of arguments used by creationists and climate change deniers to attack vaccination.

For example, they compared the emergency of antibiotic resistance, an evolutionary change that scientists warned about almost from the beginning, to vaccine effectiveness. They ignorantly and incorrectly assumed that science had made a "mistake" and was surprised by antibiotic resistance and that this somehow cast doubt on the science behind vaccination. Two entirely different catagories of inquiry and they were wrong anyway.

They went on to talk about the Thalidomide debacle or GMOs and Monsanto, corporate misbehavior that has NOTHING to do with science. They went on and on, gleefully telling one another how right is was to be ignorantly skeptical, even as Maher ridiculed precisely the same thinking where climate change and evolution deniers are concerned.

I lost almost all respect for Maher last night. He really is an ignoramus when it comes to science.

By Scott Goodman (not verified) on 07 Feb 2015 #permalink

Tom - Well, think about how many people you know who have had annual flu shots and have been perfectly fine, well, maybe a sore arm. That is by far the most common result. It sucks what happened to your uncle, but he's part of a tiny minority, which you can probably see yourself through considering your circle of acquaintances, or further by looking at some of those studies Narad mentioned for even larger groups. People are much more likely to be hospitalized or die after getting the flu than after getting a flu shot.

By Emma Crew (not verified) on 07 Feb 2015 #permalink

Surely you can understand that if you see a beloved family member get sick from a shot, that you might be leery of taking said shot yourself?

No. I'd want to find out more but I wouldn't issue a diktat against all vaccinations based on a single incident.

Thanks for that link, Narad. After hacking in (thanks, Emma) I finally got to read the study. I'm not a doctor, but it was pretty straightforward.

I don't know which vaccine my uncle received. My best guess would be a high dose (he's in his eighties) of the inactive virus. According to the study, this showed more side effects than placebo, i.e. the vaccine was causing them. Side effects included his symptoms. Thanks, again!

By Tom Keller (not verified) on 07 Feb 2015 #permalink

Still no reply from Tom Keller about his uncle's symptoms and physician-diagnosed influenza vaccine injury....because Tom is afraid we are cyber thieves and will steal his and his uncle's identities.

Thanks for the laughs, Tom.

Nope, and you wont get any, lilady.

By Tom Keller (not verified) on 07 Feb 2015 #permalink

I already have my answer, Tom. Simply stated...you have no proof that your *uncle's hospitalization was caused by a seasonal influenza vaccine.

* It's quite possible that you have no uncle.

I'm done with you and your accusations. Please stop harassing me.

By Tom Keller (not verified) on 08 Feb 2015 #permalink

Mr. Keller: "Please stop harassing me."

When you write what you wrote on your initial visit here on Comment #142 you cannot expect it to be taken with sweetness and total acceptance. You reap what you sow.

I then asked you why we should take your inflammatory statement over the scientific consensus, and you retorted that I called you a liar.

If you don't like how you are treated, then perhaps you should try communicating in the manner that you wished to be treated. Or just stay away from this blog, or any other blog that does not take blanket declarations without any real evidence.

"I’m done with you and your accusations. Please stop harassing me."

And, I'm done with you and your false accusations. I am not a liar and I am not harassing you...and no one on this thread is going to steal your identity or the identity of your uncle.

Learn how a science blog works or just leave.

Chris: I never said that you called me a liar. I asked if you were calling me a liar because I didn't understand the way you phrased your response.

lilady: Yes, I am seeing how at least this science blog works. Anyone who doesn't toe the line is told to leave.

By Tom Keller (not verified) on 08 Feb 2015 #permalink

By that I mean, anyone who has any disagreement at all is made unwelcome. Way to convince people.

By Tom Keller (not verified) on 08 Feb 2015 #permalink

By that I mean, anyone who has any disagreement at all is made unwelcome. Way to convince people.

Allow me to quote:

I’ll never have that shіt put in my body.

Dale Carnegie, you're not.

Keller, you came here looking for a fight and you got one. Why are you acting so surprised?

Mr. Keller: "Chris: I never said that you called me a liar."

This is what you said: "Are you calling me a liar?"

I think we ave found the crux of your problem: you have issues with reading comprehension. Which is why I am not going to take your anecdote as evidence of the effects of the influenza vaccine over the research done by actual scientists.

Narad: Yeah, you're right. Bad first impression on my part. Sorry about that.

shay: No, I never wanted a fight. I just wanted to present another point of view. My surprise is the meanness from many of the people here.

Chris: Um...you don't see the difference in a statement and a question? And you say my problem is reading comprehension.

By Tom Keller (not verified) on 08 Feb 2015 #permalink

Tom Keller, you need to know how science blogs work.

When you came here with your pugnacious attitude and your childish unsubstantiate accusation/remarks, you should expect that some commenters are going to ask for some details about which type of flu vaccine your uncle received, which you claim "put him in the hospital" Lacking that information, lacking the symptoms which supposedly were associated to a severe adverse event, and, lacking a physican's diagnoses for your uncle's symptoms, you resorted to personal attacks against multiple commenters, calling them liars and harassers who might also be cyber thiefs. That's a spectacular display of school girl taunts.

None of us believe anything you have posted, because we're quite used to drive-by cranks and trolls who pull those same stunts.

A fight you were looking for and a fight you got. If you cannot master the art of posting cogent arguments with a the bare minimum of proof, perhaps you should consider taking leave of the arguments which you, and you alone, started.

Did you see his show on Friday night? Oh God it was awful! No scientists on the panel to refute his talking points. Amazing to see him resort to the same fallacies that he lampoons in creationists and climate deniers every other week.

I have called no one a liar.

By Tom Keller (not verified) on 09 Feb 2015 #permalink

I think you guys to chill out on the flu thing. This si not measles or the other horrors. Many humans worldwide do not take it and do not need to take it. Conflating the Flu shots with stuff like rubella et al is causing the anti-vaxxers to grow in sizze.

As scientists we observe and report yes? Well these people see othemselves/others nottaking flu shot, living just fine for year after year and decide all the panic over it is nonsense (which it is) and decide all other vaccines are also hogwash.

Stop it with the flu hysteria already. It is only creating more dangerous anti-vaxxers.

Blow it out your backside, Michael. Every year, numerous people die from the flu. During the 1918-1919 epidemic, more people did than died during World War 1, which lasted 4 1/2 years.
Here's my story: I developed a bout of flu one year that lasted 3 weeks and caused me to lose 9 kg. I survived, but it took months for me to recover. Not everyone is that lucky.

By Julian Frost (not verified) on 10 Feb 2015 #permalink

Michael -- go to the CDC website and read how many children died of the flu last year.

Okay, I looked it up. 96 for the 2013-2014 flu season. Not a lot, considering there are 73.6 million children in the US.

By Tom Keller (not verified) on 11 Feb 2015 #permalink

@Tom Keller:

96 for the 2013-2014 flu season. Not a lot, considering there are 73.6 million children in the US.

The US has access to the best medical technology in the world. Around the world, thousands die from flu every year.

By Julian Frost (not verified) on 11 Feb 2015 #permalink

I agree with everything you say, but I just wish you had a more composed tone and didn't sound so petulant and bitter. If only for the reason that I REALLY want Bill Maher to get himself informed. I like his show a lot, and most of his views, but I hate these alt-med views of his, and I feel like he IS open to listening to real information. You have to realize that the anti-vax rhetoric is incredible persuasive and intuitive sounding to many people, and he has read a lot of stuff that has made him nod along. It takes an equally deliberate, intuitive and persuasive effort to rebut that stuff effectively if you actually want to change minds. I know it's easy to just mock someone and call them an idiot (I'm guilty of it), but if you are a real scientific mind with a unique ability to correct the misinformation, you've gotta do better than this. He would read this and say you're trying to just "shout him down" and in some ways he's right.

Why so much anger, Brett?

I'm with you completely, but I fear your hostile tone is fatally damaging this attempt to reach out to pro-vaccine people.

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 16 Feb 2015 #permalink

Of course, I can't help but note that there have been several efforts over the years on the part of skeptics, including at least one very prominent skeptic, to provide Maher with an "equally deliberate, intuitive and persuasive effort to rebut that stuff effectively." For example, Michael Shermer tried back when Maher was in full antivax wingnut mode over the H1N1 pandemic:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-shermer/an-open-letter-to-bill-ma…

It didn't work:

http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/11/17/bill-maher-flames-out-over…

People have been trying the calm, reason-based method of trying to persuade Maher of the error of his ways for years. It hasn't worked. Maher remains an antivaccine loon.

Okay, I looked it up. 96 for the 2013-2014 flu season. Not a lot, considering there are 73.6 million children in the US.

Oh well,then...

if you are a real scientific mind with a unique ability to correct the misinformation, you’ve gotta do better than this

Brett, I wonder exactly what you're getting at here. Is it that you don't understand "the information," which would allow you to "rebut that stuff effectively if you actually want to change [Maher's] mind[]"?

I mean, I couldn't care less about Maher's "mind," and if this venue were of any concern to it, then it wouldn't be you trying to stand in for it, or pleading that one just try to talk to it in a fashion that you think will be acceptable to it.

Then again, I think Big Atheia is occupies a place on the conceptual ladder near Vinu Arumugham, so perhaps I'm out of touch with the relevant fraction of his sub-100 viewership.

^ "is occupies"