All anti-vaccination rhetoric is conspiracy theory. Yes, you too.

by Deb on September 6, 2011

Vaccines

It’s my soapbox and I haven’t jumped on for a while. And now that I’ve done the controversial headline I’ll put in the caveats. Most people concerned about vaccines are, as a commenter on an earlier vaccine post put it, relatively balanced parents holding a newborn in their arms.

And it’s hard. I get that. I’ve vaccinated two children plus myself and several pets. Of course there is an emotional reaction to injecting something into your pure, innocent little baby and making them scream. Unfortunately it just makes fertile ground for the conspiracy believers to scare everyone else.

There are a lot of debunking posts around, entire sites dedicated to taking apart the myths of the anti-vaccination network and deconstructing them in all their illogical glory. You can easily find them, but with great regret I’m not going to do it here or even link to them.

I’d love to do it, there is something incredibly satisfying about taking a superficially plausible concoction, holding it up, and showing that it’s really a net full of holes and scrabbling repairs that are an ugly mass of darns. It releases the frustrations.

Unfortunately it doesn’t do anything for the audience. Human minds are tricky things and much as we hate to admit it, they don’t work logically. And I’m not even referring to the weird and wonderful beliefs we all have tucked away somewhere, but the basic memory and subconscious wiring.

You see the traditional debunking type of article sets up ‘Some Number of Myths About The Thing We Want You To Do’ and tears them apart. But brains don’t store new information in neat little packets the way they learn it, they assign different values to it based on things like emotions. And the fears raised by the Myths mean that they are much more likely to be remembered than the logical debunking.

Yep, if someone reads a Myths article, the next time vaccines come up they remember all the scary bits and forget the nice logical holes that were poked in them. They get more afraid. Which leaves all of us involved in education efforts in a quandary – it seems that no matter what we do people will just remember the bad bits.

So I’m going to try a different approach and not even mention the Myths. I’m going straight for the conspiracy theories, and hopefully that’s what your emotional reaction will attach to and therefore what you remember. I don’t know what emotions you will feel – you could be angry at people using fear to manipulate, sorry for them because a conspiracy theorist’s world is not a comfortable place to live or amazed and bemused that people can really think that way.  But however you consider them, the denialists of vaccines, climate change, or any other pseudo-scientific fear mongers are hurting all of us, and we need to find creative ways to fight back.

Conspiracy Theories

And now to the meat of it.

The basis of all anti-vax rhetoric is that something in vaccines is hurting people rather than helping them. Quite often they will throw in that vaccines don’t work anyway, but that isn’t usually on its own. The big push is that vaccines are more dangerous than the diseases they are supposed to be protecting against.

Let’s just think about that claim for a moment. Vaccines are given to a fair number of children – 90% or more of Australian children have received a vaccine of some sort over the last several decades. That is literally millions, probably including yourself, your friends, your siblings, your cousins and even your parents. In order for vaccines to be more harmful than helpful several of you must have been injured, but we continue to vaccinate anyway.

But how could this happen? Vaccines are studied and developed all over the world. This is not a case of one or two companies based in a few countries. This is companies, universities, hospitals and governments working across national, class, language, wealth, political, ecological, religious and just about any other divide you may care to mention.

There are literally thousands of researchers as well as health care providers from the health care worker in a clinic up to the CEO of the health department.

There are ethics boards which include lay members of the public approving the research.

There are statisticians and data entry operators who know what information is going in during both research and monitoring and where it is coming from.

Three options

At this point you have three options.

  1. Vaccines are helpful because the interlocking grid of different loyalties, beliefs and backgrounds of the tens of thousands of people involved help to ensure that vaccine research, use, regulation and monitoring is stringently overseen and problems are quickly picked up.
  2. Vaccines are harmful and the researchers, regulators and health workers are too incompetent to see the dangers and disasters happening around them, but they can be detected by a simple check of the product insert when you have a vaccination appointment.
  3. Vaccines are harmful and it is a conspiracy. The tens of thousands of researchers, health workers, statisticians, ethics boards and especially regulators know that vaccines are evil, but they ignore it or actively cover it up and allow them to continue to maim and kill. They vaccinate their own children and allow them to be poisoned. Somehow this global conspiracy (which is a lot more successful getting people to work together than any attempts at world peace) has kept the secret and fooled us all except for the dedicated few. You probably know several of these evil people who are hurting your children.

And that’s it. Either the immense amounts of time, money and effort put into ensuring vaccines are safe are working, or it’s a conspiracy to hide the bad news. Thousands of people in different countries and systems cannot accidentally miss a major problem for decades.

And that is why I say – All anti-vaccination rhetoric is based on conspiracy theory.

It may sound prudent, it may sound logical. But it can only rest on the silence of thousands.

Rather than linking to other sites that have all sorts of facts about vaccines, I’m going to assume you can find them yourself. The link I’m giving you is even better – it’s the WHO Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety “Good information practices for vaccine safety web sites.” In other words, it tells you how to evaluate a website and decide for yourself if it is reliable or not. Have a look before you scoff at the source.

I very rarely edit or moderate comments, but in this case I’m going to. This post is an experiment in avoiding myths, which will go out the window if they are paraded all over the comments. So while I’m happy for robust debate about the post itself, either the content or method, please do not mention specific claims. Minor ones will be edited if possible, if not the comment will not be approved.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Debbie September 6, 2011 at 7:38 am

I enjoyed reading this post. I am not anti-vaccine not by far. It only takes one moment for a child exposed to something like the chicken pox, to bring it home to a parent who has never had them. Suddenly the parent gets them, and ends up in ICU. My point being vaccines may not be the way some want to go, but the illnesses that they DO prevent over weigh any fact shown to me about bad reactions to them.
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Kate September 6, 2011 at 8:25 am

Oh, we were having this discussion at playgroup just last week – well, two of the mums were sprouting major conspiracy theories while the rest of us either ignored them or listened with interest while they included us in their conspiracies :-)
This is such an emotive subject, but for my family, we vaccinate. Not because we’re just ‘following the crowd’ but because we have made the educated decision to do so.
Great post!

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The Mama September 6, 2011 at 9:23 am

OK… big breath… jump in. I promised myself I wasn’t going to reply to anymore vaccine related discussion. But since you’re advocating intelligent civil debate, I figured I’d put my own experience out there.

Let me begin by saying that I am not anti-vax. I have however chosen not to give my children their four year old boosters – yet. They are four and six. They had all of their vaccines until one year of age, because I genuinely believed that was the best choice at the time. There are various reasons my children are not going to have their four year old boosters on schedule – which I am not going into in depth here. The reasons sit with our own personal concerns and medical issues in our family. Combined, these reasons meant our situation changed, and to not give our four year old boosters (or 18 month old varicella shot) is the right choice now. I’ll say it again, I am not opposed to vaccines. It is because of wide spread immunisation programs that I am able to make this safer choice for my children, where once I would have felt no choice, placing them at risk of potential (family medical issue related) vaccine reactions.

Our choice was hard. Really hard. And for what its worth, we didn’t buy into any of the anti-vax myths either, informing our choice instead with the same scientifically based information that convinces so many TO vaccinate as per schedule. I am a health professional and as a part of that role I give vaccines to tiny new born babies regularly. That alone means that I was generally more informed about vaccines than average Joe parent to begin with, before doing our research. My husband and I are both ex-military – we have had every vaccine under the sun and then some.

It was an agonising and difficult choice. But one that I am comfortable with now. And one that we reserve the right to change our minds on if our situation changes – if my child has a deep and dirty wound, I reserve my right to choose a tetanus booster. If my children make it to age 12 (ish) without any signs of varicella, then I will likely choose to have the varicella vaccine as varicella whilst rather benign in children is deadly in adults and teens and contracting the disease as a child provides better immunity than the vaccine (for varicella, not all preventable by vaccination illnesses). If they are going to spend a lot of time around a new born, I will reconsider a pertussis vaccine, and so on and so forth…

As I said the decision was agonosing, but it has also been life changing. Because of our choice I make sure we eat, drink, and remain as healthy as we possibly can. When my son recently had a cough that was just a normal childhood respiratory infection, where most vaccinating parents would give them a hug and tuck them into bed I felt compelled to drag my wee boy into the doctor for an invasive (and painful he said) test for pertussis. Thats just an example of what we go through.

But I am comfortable with my choices, they are informed by science not myth and are right for our family at this time. And I would NEVER push my own choices onto another family. And I strive to make sure my children are healthy and take steps to ensure we avoid infecting others if we are ill. So why have I entered into debate here? Because whilst I agree with you Deb, that the anti-vax movement is largely based on scare tatics and myths, I have to highlight that SO IS THE PRO-VAX MOVEMENT.

I am not for one moment saying that you are guilty of that Deb, you wouldn’t. However let me share some of my experienes. Remember, our choice was made on an informed basis from the same literature that informs health professionals, and is based on a family medical issue meaning that my children are potentially at higher risk of a reaction to some vaccines (eg seizures). I am more informed about vaccines than the average parent that follows the recommended vaccine schedule.

I have been abused, told off, growled at and called a child abuser for our choices. I have had other parents tell me they vaccinate their children to “protect them from people like you”. I have been harassed at home by uninvited phone calls from our doctors surgery, who used as a last resort to change my mind (desite me telling her we had made an informed choice) that “the vaccines will cost you more money when they are older but they’re free now”. I have had to listen to countless frightening stories from people who know someone who knows someone else who’s sister’s dog’s flea knew someone who had a child die a horrible death “because of people like you”. OK that last one was an exaggeration, but you get my drift.

No all people who choose to NOT vacinate are careless lazy parents who are uninformed and stupid, and not all are making their choices based on the myths and scare tatics of the anti-vax netwrok. Yes I’ve been told I’m stupid many times despite having three university degrees that would disprove that. Our GP knows and respects our reasons for choosing what we have chosen regarding vacines. I just wish others could respect our choice too. Wise up people, sometimes we make choices different to you, and sometimes they are for good reasons that you might not be aware of. Get the facts before you judge. Better still, don’t judge, there is no way you can know how anyone else came to their decision.

Its about time BOTH sides of the debate wised up and started basing their arguments on fact rather than scare tactics and emotion.

(I want to add that I have in no way taken your post to be based on emotion and scare tatics, Deb. And I also do not feel judged by you or put down in anyway, just wanted to share my experience from the other side of the fence).
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Deb September 6, 2011 at 10:14 am

Thanks for sharing, I’m glad you trust this is a safe place and will try to keep it that way.

Seeing this was a post not a book I didn’t do all the disclaimers but I’ll take the chance to reinforce them now – there are some people who should not vaccinate, there are genuine medical contra-indications, and there are some vaccine side effects. I for one will only respect your decision – I might in appropriate circumstances question out of curiosity, but not the decision itself. I’m sorry you’ve faced ignorance and hostility.

And I agree completely that they are as much a part of the pro-vax side. This is an enormous world wide conversation and the internet is changing the way we communicate, there are many things said and done by pro-vaxxers I disagree with and even cringe at. This is on both a personal and ‘tactical’ level – people having a conversation aren’t always thinking ‘is this the best way to get my message across’ even if there was agreement that there is a best way. That’s one of the reasons I keep bringing it up here (and every time I do I get lots of hits and lose followers) to do my bit in putting the message across in a different way and provide a resource for others. I know something like this post is going to upset a lot of anti-vaxxers – who wants to be called a conspiracy theorist! – but I’m not aimed at them. I’m aimed at the parents who are only hearing a little bit of the story that sounds reasonable.

I’m glad you’ve given me a chance to clarify, I was very careful when I said ‘anti-vax rhetoric.’ I’m not talking about individual decisions such as yours, but about the basis of the movement that is trying to convince parents not to vaccinate. For an individual there can be good medical reasons not to vaccinate, and the fact that you looked at the literature to find them actually proves the system is working – we have managed to identify risk factors, not cover them up. It is the suggestion that somehow all vaccines are dangerous for all people or at least a large proportion that must depend on a conspiracy to cover up all those reactions.

I will slightly disagree with you that the pro-vax movement is based on scare tactics and myths. Do people use them? Absolutely. But if the scare tactics and myths were taken away, there would be evidence that stood on its own – that is the medical literature. It might be semantics, but in this case I think semantics are important, because it is actually the point of difference between the two sides. If a new parent is trying to find their way and both sides are trying to scare them, how do they choose who to believe? What I am arguing here is that a pro-vax stance rests on a solid foundation of evidence and the support of people with many different loyalties. The anti-vax side rests on a conspiracy theory.

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Belinda September 6, 2011 at 9:40 am

How privileged we are in the Western world to be able to contemplate vaccinating. It’s only because we have been vaccinating for decades and these horrible diseases aren’t rampant anymore that we can even consider not vaccinating. This is one of those times we need to put conspiracy theories aside and trust the system a little. As you say, there are not mass reports of children becoming ill from vaccinating. I think we’ve lost sight of how terrible and devastating these diseases are that we vaccinate against. No one wants to stick needles in their baby, but do we really want to see our children die from or be permanently effected by these horrible illnesses again? For me it’s an easy choice, but not one I take lightly …

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Veronica September 6, 2011 at 10:09 am

I find the anti-vaccine rhetoric immensly annoying. I wish I could just switch off and not listen, but sadly, I seem to not have that skill.

Even worse, because I have kids on the spectrum, people assume that I must want to know “what went wrong” and “what caused it” which inevitably ends up back at vaccines. Frustrating.

Personally, we did a slightly staggered vaccine schedule, because of the chance of reaction and immune system issues (I had terrible reactions to all of my vaccines – a week in bed type reactions, not hospitalisations) and so I weighed that up and we did our vaccines late, for both kids (one full step late) – except for the whooping cough vaccine for Isaac, that he got ASAP as it was going around when he was born.

For myself, I seem to remain steadfastly NOT immune to some things I’ve been immunised against (rubella for one – have been immunised 3 times in the last 6 years and afaik, still not immune).
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Deb September 6, 2011 at 10:23 am

This is one of the things that upsets me the most – the people who have genuine reactions and genuine concerns are drowned out. And the way that autism research, funding and support has been hijacked really annoys me and I’m only an outsider.

I’m not immune to rubella either and I’ve been immunised 3 or 4 times. Although I was exposed as a teenager and didn’t get it, so it was either enough to protect me or I was lucky.

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The Mama September 6, 2011 at 10:42 am

Did I say I thought the pro-vax movement was based on myths and scare tactics? Opps, it is semantics sorry. You’re right, its not based on it. Wrong choice of words, sorry.
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Deb September 6, 2011 at 10:52 am

No probs :) It’s a conversation and you made some valuable points and gave me the opportunity to expand on some of mine.

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Mum's the Word September 6, 2011 at 3:01 pm

My son is almost 2 and is fully up-to-date with his immunisations; mostly because I believe that it is the right thing to do – for my child.

But having read The Mama’s comment, I think I will do some research on the next round of vaccinations…

Like most things, education is the key. And finding the facts about vaccinations without the emotional charge behind them can sometimes be hard.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions on vaccinations. It doesn’t bother me one little bit if you are pro- or anti-vax, just please don’t push your views on me.
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Deb September 6, 2011 at 8:04 pm

I have a few questions – do you do your own research in law? or mechanics? Or do you accept that there are people who are experts, having studied and got the experience, and they are doing the right thing.

Because that’s actually what it comes down to, as parents we are not capable of knowing everything ourselves because we don’t have years of full time work to put in. I would actually say you are far more likely to have problems with an accountant or car, simply because they are acting on their own or within a small group and there are few checks and balances. While I think a researcher or health worker is just as likely to be incompetent or lazy or even fake results for gain as anyone else, they are not working on their own and they are more likely to be found out – just look at Wakefield. It took 13 years for his fraud to be officially written up, but even in the same issue of the Lancet he originally published in there were questions raised.

And that comment is definitely general – I don’t know your family and if you have reasons for concerns which would make it necessary to investigate for yourself rather than accepting the general recommendations. I’m using comments as examples to explore, I’m certainly not trying to pick on you.

I disagree that it is hard to come by non-emotive information. The Immunise Australia Program is extremely clear and non-emotive and includes the Australian Immunisation Handbook as well. While I agree discussions in groups and on the internet become emotional and even abusive, I don’t generally class that as information – it’s a conversation. If you have a look at the guidelines from the WHO I linked to and use them to evaluate websites, it’s very helpful in finding ones that are trustworthy rather than fear mongering.

I’m not sure whether you’re referring to the general public or health professionals in your last point. I agree absolutely that discussions between parents / friends / relatives / random strangers should stay polite and people should back off, because it’s no-one else’s business. On the other hand, it’s actually the job of health professionals to do everything they can to keep their patients healthy, so it’s their job to bring it up and even push it.

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The Mama September 6, 2011 at 9:08 pm

I’ll answer that :-)

Yep, I absolutely do research everything I can before doing it. It drives my husband batty :-)

Now as a health professional who immunises other peoples children, yep its our job to bring it up and certainly make recomendations (to “push it” seems a little harsh although some of my colleagues are certainly guilty of that!) but above all our responsibility is to ensure the patient – or in this case the parent – gives informed consent. Informed consent must be obtained by the provision of unbiased information – all of the information – what happens if they do, what happens if they don’t, possible side effects, what happens if they do nothing at all. And I can tell you now, very rarely does this happen. There is not enough time in the day to provide parents with all of the information – I mean it took us about a year to obtain and decipher all we needed to reach our decision! So the basics are covered, the benifits are usually pushed and the possible adverse reactions skimmed over briefly. In my experience, and from what I have wittnessed, the adverse reactions bit is usually said very very fast followed up with a dismissive “but thats really really rare”. My issues with “informed consent” in my profession could fill a book… I recently had a discussion with a good friend who is a GP, and as she put it, its really really hard to know where to stop with informed consent – on one hand she knows a patient needs a medication, on the other she is obliged to obtain informed consent and if she goes too far in depth it is very likely the medication will be refused due to possible adverse effects of the medication.

So, I think its bloody fantastic that a parent wants to research their options before making a choice. I think we should all be more informed and take more control over our health care, and yes over our mechanical needs, law needs, everything. With the parents in my care I advocate that they read everything they can and do their own research, to genuinely be as informed as they can – not just with vaccinations but with every aspect of their pregnancy, birth and parenting.

After all, we health professionals are only human too…
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The Mama September 6, 2011 at 9:18 pm

PS, but in support of your post Deb, I absolutely whole heartedly agree that the information must be obtained from a scientific credible and unbiased scource!!!!
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Catherine September 6, 2011 at 6:38 pm

I agree with the other commentors – it is worth remembering when making a decision about vaccinations that we are able to choose because most people do vaccinate.
It makes me cross with some people I know who have not vaccinated their children that they try to tell me how important their choice is, while failing to acknowledge that if we all made that choice then the consequences would be devastating.
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The Mama September 6, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Yep totally agree – I thank each and every one of the parents who fully immunise their children for allowing me to choose what I believe is the safer option for my children at this time. It is only because of wide spread immunisation programs that I am able to make this choice. Thank you.
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mummycrit September 6, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Great post! excellent. Also great response by The Mama. I have two kids one originally unvaxed, but now caught up 10 year old, and one fully vaxed 3 year old, so The Mama’s comments about peoples’ reactions rang true for me (though our decision not to vax was mainly due my ex-husbands fear caused by anti-vax-rhetoric-spouters, which gave him a cover for his own fear of ‘needles’) so your response to her
“If a new parent is trying to find their way and both sides are trying to scare them, how do they choose who to believe? What I am arguing here is that a pro-vax stance rests on a solid foundation of evidence and the support of people with many different loyalties. The anti-vax side rests on a conspiracy theory.”

was useful to me. In the end I caved in to his fear, rationalising it as “in the end, it really doesn’t matter if we vax or not, but ultimately science has won out!

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Deb September 6, 2011 at 8:09 pm

Thanks, and I agree about The Mama.
I’m really glad science won (of course ;) ) and that your kids are fine. It’s worth remembering that most children are fine, just that when they aren’t it’s devastating because we all love our children.
And as Catherine says, we have a huge privilege in being able to make that choice.

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Staci September 8, 2011 at 1:03 am

We have had some serious family pressures about vaccinating. A MIL that sends articles and forwards and tells stories of stories of stories of all the terrible things that might have happened to somebody that somebody knew.
But the deciding factor for me was that I actually knew someone who has polio ( his parents chose to not vaccinate, thinking if everyone else does, I don’t have to); I don’t personally know anyone that has had the extreme side effects. Side effects that I honestly haven’t been convinced are connected. So I guess this is a time that we chose against the evil that we knew in favor of the gamble.

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Melissa September 11, 2011 at 5:07 pm

What a great post and replies. My kids are vaccinated, my nephew is not. I find it frustrating (but never voice that frustration) because there are no good reasons for him not be vaccinated. My SIL and her family are firm believers in the anti-vax lobby and any mention of vaccinations for kids or adults leads to her talking about how bad routine vaccines are. It’s led to a situation where vaccines never get mentioned in our circle of friends because we don’t want to hear her opinions on it again when we’ve all done our research and decided that for most of us vaccination is the correct choice.

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Karen February 1, 2012 at 6:27 am

Great post, very non inflammatory and getting straight to the point. Definitely one I’ll point out in the future.

I’m pro-vaccination based on my scientific understanding of it (and my trust in the experts). What confuses me about the anti-vax people (and here I’m obviously excluding those with genuine medical reasons not to vaccinate, who should in fact be more worried than the rest of us by the others since as I understand it it is their children they are putting at risk) is why they do it. Why are there umpteen websites out there claiming to give balanced information about vaccines, but actually propagating this conspiracy theory. They claim vaccines are pushed on us to make money for big pharma (among other things) but what do they get out of people choosing not to vaccinate?

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Deb April 18, 2012 at 9:04 pm

Sorry it took a while for me to find this and reply!

My take on this is based only on my own experience and reading, so it’s just my opinion. I think there are many reasons for people to push the conspiracy theory. Firstly to get it out of the way, there are a lot of people making money out of it. These are mostly the ‘professionals’ who sell things on their sites. They may be absolutely smaller than vaccine manufacturers, but selling magic water to ‘detox’ for $20/bottle or DVDs of a lecture they gave for $130 comes to a tidy sum.

But mostly, I think people are genuinely trying to help. Most of them deeply believe what they are saying – if you truly felt that children were being poisoned wouldn’t you want to help other people? And the passion is because, however much I might disagree with their methods or conclusions, these are people who love their children and are devastated if something has happened to them. If problems occur when children are young, vaccines are an easy target to latch on to for grieving people to blame.

Then you have the type of person to believe in anti-government conspiracies. There appears to be evidence that the believers have created the anti-vax movement, not the other way around. There has been a cultural shift to suspicion of big business and governments, throw in anti-intellectualism and beliefs in universal expertise and some people are pre-disposed to take it further into conspiracy territory.

And unfortunately once you are in the conspiracy, who is going to lead you out? Our brains are set up to ignore evidence we don’t agree with, and the people offering that evidence are the very ones conspiracists don’t trust.

Finally they have so much invested, they need to convince others to reassure themselves. It is too difficult for them to back out because they have such strong beliefs, so every time they convert someone it is justification that people agree with them and they were right. You see this quite often in proclamations that ‘the tide is turning!’

I see most of the parents and small players as fallible humans who are trying to help. Unfortunately, they are wrong.

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Karen April 18, 2012 at 11:35 pm

Thank you that’s a fantastic response. And you’re right if I believed vaccinations were harming children I would want to talk about it and “educate other mothers”. Like how I have to be careful to stop myself going on too much about the benefits of breast feeding/baby wearing/cloth nappy/co-sleeping around all other parents.

The question then is how to respond to the anti-vax nonesense. Because science doesn’t seem to be working, and emotive anecdotes lower us to their level, and insulting them is beside the point….. Any ideas.

I’m trying to do my (very small) bit on the Mothering.com “Researching the Vaccine Decision” forum (figure lots of doubting parents there), but I’m not sure it’s worth my time to be honest….

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Karen April 21, 2012 at 1:01 am

Never mind to my question – that was the whole point of your post. And it is a good way of trying it! ;)

Also came across this blog recently which I thought might be an interesting addition to this discussion.

http://skeweddistribution.com/2012/03/26/dear-antivaxxer-this-is-why-i-do-not-care-for-you/

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Deb April 24, 2012 at 1:32 pm

It was a good question, one I spend a lot of time thinking about. It’s pretty obvious I don’t think the hard core are easily reachable, at least in the short term. This is why as an educator I spend a lot of time talking about critical literacy and critical thinking – I think these skills are seriously lacking a lot of the time.

We all need to understand that we are in the middle of a revolution as fundamental as the agrarian or industrial revolutions as we move into the Information Age, and our thinking and teaching needs to change to catch up.

While individual conversations are often frustrating and unproductive, I think they can still be useful.
Firstly, I think of the internet as a conversation in a darkened room – the people who are directly involved might be unreachable, but you never know who else is watching or how much later that conversation will be seen. So it’s always good to have facts out there, presented in a variety of ways that might be the one a newcomer understands.

Secondly, those frustrating conversations prompt other ones. As internet users, we are the ones who need to be grappling with these issues and coming up with the rules for how we find, use and discuss information. That’s exactly where this has come from, and I’ve spoken about it in other posts here and on my education blog. Your link is another great example.

The internet is relatively new and open. It’s not up to governments, schools or businesses how we use it, if it is even possible for them to control it. The grassroots users are the ones who are negotiating that with everything we do and allow. I think it’s vital that we know that and think about it when we are online. Even if it means we get stuck in some frustrating, rambling threads ;) My current solution, which may change, is to try to go around the side rather than talk about enormous issues directly.

Amy June 5, 2012 at 7:47 pm

Sorry if I missed something, but I don’t understand how option #2 fits into conspiracy theory. Often researchers do not see the big picture.

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Deb June 5, 2012 at 8:26 pm

Option 2 itself isn’t conspiracy theory, however I think it is unlikely to the point of ridiculousness so I dismissed it. I should have made that clear.

“2. Vaccines are harmful and the researchers, regulators and health workers are too incompetent to see the dangers and disasters happening around them, but they can be detected by a simple check of the product insert when you have a vaccination appointment.”

There are two parts to it – Firstly that thousands of health workers, government officials and researchers all around the world for the last 200 years are all missing something.

And secondly that whatever they’ve missed is obvious enough that people who don’t know as much as they do about health and biology and don’t have access to the full statistics can somehow see it.

Absolutely researchers can and often do miss the big picture. But that is why there are checks and balances. Science is not decided on one interesting result but on entire bodies of literature, and there are literally hundreds of studies from all around the world and spanning decades that have been done on vaccine safety and efficacy. It defies belief that all of those studies, involving hundreds of thousands of subjects, have all been wrong. This is not one enthusiastic research group or one government or even one corrupt business – it is groups with intermeshing and even conflicting loyalties that still come up with the same answers. That adds enormously to the confidence.

As for the anti-vax movement somehow detecting this massive error, many of the people involved don’t understand basic maths or biology. The leaders of the Australian movement don’t understand the difference between absolute incidence and rates of infection or morbidity and mortality, if somebody has it wrong it’s not the medical and scientific establishment.

And thirdly we have another check on the scientific literature – internal consistency. When an oddball result appears, it is studied exhaustively. Look at cold fusion. And look at Wakefield and autism. The reason there are so many studies on this aspect of vaccines is because researchers, doctors and governments genuinely wanted to know the answer. They didn’t ignore parents or fob them off – they committed millions of dollars and research hours to it.

And those studies show that vaccines do not cause autism. They looked at different parts of the puzzle in different ways, but came out with answers that supported each other. If there were genuine mistakes happening then you would expect results that are all over the place, not consistent.

That is only one part of how exhaustively vaccines have been studied. To think that it’s all some sort of mistake because people didn’t want to see it stretches belief further than I think it can go. If nothing else, remember that many of those thousands of researchers, health workers and regulators are the parents and relatives of children with autism, auto-immune diseases, SIDS, and all the other ‘vaccine injuries’ that have nothing to back them up. They would have at least as strong a reason to look closely at those results as they do to support vaccines, and this is where it moves into conspiracy territory.

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