If you locked Harry Houdini in a trunk, he would probably not be able to get out of it. If you sealed Harry Houdini in a milk can and threw it in the water, he would suffocate and die, even though one of Harry Houdini’s signature acts was escaping from a sealed milk can that had been thrown in the water. This isn’t strange, though. Harry Houdini was known as an “escape artist” but he was also an illusionist.
Part of his act involved really escaping from things—he was great with handcuffs and straitjackets—but part of it involved tricking you into thinking he was doing things that he wasn’t actually doing. The brilliance of Houdini was that he was able to seamlessly mix the things he was really doing with the things he wasn’t in order to give the impression that he was somehow superhuman.
So, for example, Houdini’s “water torture cell” was a stunning feat in which Houdini’s feet were locked in stocks and then he was lowered into a tank of water. A curtain was pulled round, then drawn back, and Houdini had escaped. But the cell was an illusion. A trick. It had been specially built to allow Houdini to escape. In fact, Houdini was perfectly safe. Likewise, his milk can looked like a real milk can, but it wasn’t. It was a specially-designed milk can that could be opened from the inside. Substitute a real one, and he would have been screwed.
A great deal of Houdini’s art, then, was fakery, pretending to do great escapes. A brewery challenged Houdini to escape from a sealed barrel full of their beer. He did it. But he didn’t. They had collaborated with Houdini to design a trick barrel. It was fantastic PR for both the brewery and Houdini. Houdini would often pretend to struggle with something for much longer than it would actually take him to escape it, because the escape itself was easy. While he did, in fact, know how to escape from lots of kinds of handcuffs, sometimes the handcuffs were fake. Sometimes he had tricked the person who had cuffed him locked him in them into letting him look at the key beforehand, giving them back a fake key and pocketing the real one. It was a mixture of fact and illusion: the straitjacket escapes were real, the product of a great deal of practice. Other escapes were based on concealing critical information from the audience.
There can be a sense of disappointment when we realize that much of what Houdini did wasn’t “real.” But there shouldn’t be. In fact, Houdini was a genius, and his act was brilliant. He was secretly a great inventor who could design all kinds of things that looked inescapable but were actually engineered precisely so they made escaping a cinch. He didn’t want anyone to know he was an inventor, though, because that would have destroyed the whole act. He wanted people to think of him as someone with bizarre, physically impossible powers of escape.
A magician does things that seem like they cannot be done, that defy our understanding of the rules by which the world operates. This means that the magician’s art involves deceiving people, because obviously whatever they are doing can be done somehow. A magician pulls a rabbit out of an empty hat. Empty hats, by definition, do not contain rabbits, so the magician did not, in fact, pull a rabbit out of an empty hat. Something has happened, then, that we have not noticed. It is not a miracle. It’s a trick. In an important sense, there is no such thing as magic. That is, it is not possible to do the impossible. Only the possible is possible. The magician’s art is making things that are possible look like they’re not. But if the thing you’re seeing is actually clearly impossible, then something must be going on that you don’t understand.
When you watch an incredibly good magic act, it can feel as if you’ve seen something that literally cannot have happened. Nothing in your understanding of the rules by which the universe operates permits the thing you have seen to be true. For example, here’s magician Eric Chien doing seemingly impossible feats with cards—turning them from red to black, making them disappear and reappear, and even changing the color of his own clothes in an instant. When you discover how it was actually done (there is a YouTube explainer video), though I will not link to it), it goes from seeming impossible to seeming obvious, and you can never see the “magic” again.
This is why magicians are very reluctant to tell anybody who is not an aspiring magician how their tricks are done. The moment you know, the trick is ruined for you. It seems unimpressive (ah, it was just in his jacket). They shouldn’t tell you the answer, because your job is to figure it out yourself, not to cheat.
But even though there is a certain disenchantment that occurs when you learn the mundane reality of what looked so miraculous, there can be a re-enchantment when you realize everything that has gone into making the trick go right. You start to appreciate the skill and ingenuity that goes with trying to come up with and execute an action that defies human beings’ understandings of the laws of the universe.
If you learn how a few magic tricks work, and come to appreciate how simply and brilliantly they can fool very smart people, you realize how much at risk we all are of believing things that aren’t true, or being unable to grasp what is going on “behind the curtain.” Each of us sees a small sliver of reality, and from that observed sliver it can be impossible to figure out what it is we’re not seeing.
Karl Marx said that even ordinary commodities had “magic and necromancy” surrounding them, in part because, as with a magician’s trick, we do not see what is going on under the surface to create the thing we hold in our hands. I do not see the labor that goes into making the items I consume. The wider economy and the conditions under which things are produced are made invisible.
I see “rhetorical magic tricks” occurring all the time, too, the use of the selective presentation of information to convince people that something false is real. I consider PragerU to be master illusionists, for instance, because they carefully conceal and reveal little pieces of information in order to get viewers to believe a totally false picture of the world. They will display a shocking statistic, for instance, and decline to tell you how it was made. If you knew the secret behind the manufacture of the statistic, it would cease to seem impressive, because you’d know exactly how you were being manipulated.
There are good magicians and there are evil magicians. The good magicians are the ones who tell you they’re putting on a show, and encourage you to think critically and not to believe they have superpowers. Good magicians help debunk the frauds who try actually actively deceive the public into believing false things—Houdini, James Randi, and Penn & Teller have all been famous “skeptics” who have exposed charlatans who trick people into thinking they’re able to communicate with dead relatives and such. The good magicians teach you how to think critically.
My friend Katie Fernelius recently wrote an essay about magic for this magazine. Her father is a magician who could “make coins spill out of my ear, produce felt balls under copper cups, teleport a card from the middle of the deck to the top, and tear safety pins through a handkerchief without leaving holes” and Katie talks about what it is like to grow up in that “church of the peculiar” that is a magician’s household. Katie’s article got me watching videos of magicians, particularly the wonderful TV show Penn and Teller: Fool Us, in which some of the world’s best magicians try to stump Penn and Teller—themselves two of the most well-regarded magicians in the world. If Penn and Teller, who between them have over 100 years of experience performing magic, cannot figure out how a trick is done, the magician contestant wins a trophy. The fact that Penn and Teller, who both know as much about magic as you probably can know, are still consistently fooled by other magicians, shows that absolutely nobody is so smart that they can’t be deceived by appearances.
Like Katie, I quickly became hooked on the show, because you get to try to figure out what is going on and what you’re missing. It’s a bit like a detective show. You watch some astonishing thing, and then spend ages puzzling over how it must somehow make sense. For example, here’s a trick that fooled Penn and Teller, in which the magician swiftly locates a particular packing peanut in a giant crate overflowing with them. The magician himself later revealed the secret of the trick in a YouTube video—or at least part of it. Once you see his explanation, you may smack yourself on the forehead. But before the fact, it’s damn hard to figure out—and extremely fun to try.
Real-life trickery and illusion is not always explained in helpful YouTube videos. It takes a critical intelligence to try to unravel how the appearance of things differs from the reality of things. Watching videos of magic tricks, I thought about Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump, all of whom succeeded in convincing audiences to believe in an image of themselves far different from the reality. There are indeed “magic words” that can be used to manipulate perception.
And oftentimes to win us to our harm The instruments of darkness tell us truths Win us with honest trifles, to betray us In deepest consequence— — Shakespeare, Macbeth
Have you ever heard of “paltering”? It means lying with facts. That is: no fact you have presented is false, but you are still lying. At first, it can be difficult to grasp how this is possible. A fact is, by definition, true. A lie is, by definition, false. So if everything you’ve said has been true, how can it also be false? Surely this is a paradox.
It’s not a paradox. I’ve written before about how Alan Dershowitz does it. He will report one true fact, but leave out another critically important fact that provides important context. (For example, reporting on violence by Palestinians without discussing its motivation or what it arises in response to.) The most skilled “palterer” in the world is probably Bjorn Lomborg, who writes books of climate change skepticism that use real facts but present them incredibly selectively in order to present a false picture of environmental reality. It’s very deft, and it drives scientists nuts, because you have to be pretty well-educated in the subject matter to actually notice how the trickery is being done.
We know how omissions can mislead. Consider the following exchange:
Are you rich?
I do not consider myself rich. I do not own a home. I do not own a car. I have given 90 percent of what I earned away. I still eat egg McMuffins for breakfast. I still own the same pair of blue jeans I had in high school. Certainly, I have spiritual wealth. In that sense, I am rich.
Every fact in the statement is perhaps true, but the person answering might still be a multi-billionaire. I recently interviewed former health insurance industry executive Wendell Potter, who described the ways that his industry’s PR flaks would carefully massage the truth, so that they were neverlying in the most literal, technical sense but were fundamentally deceiving people about the nature of healthcare systems.
This is one reason why, when people like Dershowitz say, “I challenge you to find a single false fact in what I have said,” it means nothing. You can simply pluck out the facts that favor your conclusion and leave out the ones that disfavor it, and every fact is true even though the conclusion is false. It’s magic!
I performed the first actual magic trick of my life recently. As a child, at one point I had been given a magic kit, but I hated it. I was impatient and didn’t think anyone would be fooled and knew I wasn’t quick or dextrous enough to do any “sleight of hand.” This time I picked a trick that didn’t involve any technical skill on the part of the performer; you just had to set it up correctly and follow the steps exactly. (It helps to be good at bullshitting a covering story, which fortunately is a skill of mine.) And it worked: the person I did it for was impressed and didn’t know how I did it.
I was elated, of course, because I never thought I could do a magic trick, and realizing you’ve been able to disguise reality from someone gives you an incredible sense of power. But it’s also a little disturbing, because you know that you were able to successfully conceal the truth and that even intelligent people might not be able to know how you did it.
I felt the same often in law school. I came to see how a good sophist could produce arguments that looked extremely persuasive even though they were ultimately totally wrong. As someone who has studied arguments and knows how the tricks work, I could see how people were being manipulated, but it’s often hard to spot the deceptions without experience. I’m consistently impressed when I read books by people like Dinesh D’Souza at how deftly they produce pseudo-logic that can seem sensible but isn’t at all. It’s scary to realize that without a citizenry that has cultivated its critical faculties and developed a cautious skepticism toward the claims of pundits and politicians, ill-intentioned people may manage to make the destruction of democracy (or even humanity itself) look reasonable.
Learn to analyze magicians’ tricks then. In the case of stage magic, don’t spoil the fun by looking up the techniques, unless you want to try them on someone yourself. But every person should at the very least develop an awareness of how easy it is to be fooled and how what we see before our eyes may be nothing but an illusion.
Amish people spend only a fifth as much as you do on health care, and their health is fine. What can we learn from them?
A reminder: the Amish are a German religious sect who immigrated to colonial America. Most of them live apart from ordinary Americans (who they call “the English”) in rural communities in Pennsylvania and Ohio. They’re famous for their low-tech way of life, generally avoiding anything invented after the 1700s. But this isn’t absolute; they are willing to accept technology they see as a net positive. Modern medicine is in this category. When the Amish get seriously ill, they will go to modern doctors and accept modern treatments.
The Muslims claim Mohammed was the last of the prophets, and that after his death God stopped advising earthly religions. But sometimes modern faiths will make a decision so inspired that it could only have come from divine revelation. This is how I feel about the Amish belief that health insurance companies are evil, and that good Christians must have no traffic with them.
And Deists believe that God is like a watchmaker, an artisan who built the world but does not act upon it. But by some miracle, the US government played along and granted the Amish exemptions from all the usual health care laws. They don’t have to pay Medicare taxes or social security. They aren’t included in the Obamacare mandate. They can share health care costs the way they want, ignoring any regulations to the contrary. They are genuinely on their own.
They’ve ended up with a simple system based on church aid. Everyone pays tithes to their congregation (though they don’t call it that). The churches meet in houses and have volunteer leaders, so expenses minimal. Most of the money goes to “alms” which the bishop distributes to members in need. This replaces the social safety net, including health insurance. Most Amish go their entire life without needing anything else.
About a third of Amish are part of a more formal insurance-like institution called Amish Hospital Aid. Individuals and families pay a fixed fee to the organization, which is not-for-profit and run by an unpaid board of all-male elders. If they need hospital care, AHA will pay for it. How does this interact with the church-based system? Rohrer and Dundes, my source for most of this post, say that it’s mostly better-off Amish who use AHA. Their wealth is tied up in their farmland, so it’s not like they can use it to pay hospital bills. But they would feel guilty asking their church to give them alms meant for the poor. AHA helps protect their dignity and keep church funds for those who need them most.
How well does this system work?
The Amish outperform the English on every measured health outcome. 65% of Amish rate their health as excellent or very good, compared to 58% of English. Diabetes rates are 2% vs. 8%, heart attack rates are 1% vs. 6%, high blood pressure is 11% vs. 31%. Amish people go to the hospital about a quarter as often as English people, and this difference is consistent across various categories of illness (the big exception is pregnancy-related issues – most Amish women have five to ten children). This is noticeable enough that lots of health magazines have articles on The Health Secrets of the Amish and Amish Secrets That Will Add Years To Your Life. As far as I can tell, most of the secret is spending your whole life outside doing strenuous agricultural labor, plus being at a tech level two centuries too early for fast food.
But Amish people also die earlier. Lots of old studies say the opposite – for example, this one finds Amish people live longer than matched Framingham Heart Study participants. But things have changed since Framingham. The Amish have had a life expectancy in the low 70s since colonial times, when the rest of us were dying at 40 or 50. Since then, Amish life expectancy has stayed the same, and English life expectancy has improved to the high 70s. The most recent Amish estimates I have still say lowseventies, so I think we are beating them now.
If they’re healthier, why is their life expectancy lower? Possibly they are less interested in prolonging life than we are. R&D write:
Amish people are more willing to stop interventions earlier and resist invasive therapies than the general population because, while they long for healing, they also have a profound respect for God’s will. This means taking modest steps toward healing sick bodies, giving preference to natural remedies, setting common-sense limits, and believing that in the end their bodies are in God’s hands.
The Amish health care system has an easier job than ours does. It has to take care of people who are generally healthy and less interested in extreme end-of-life care. It also supports a younger population – because Amish families have five to ten children, the demographics are weighted to younger people. All of these make its job a little bit simpler, and we should keep that in mind for the following sections.
How much do the Amish pay for health care? This is easy to answer for Amish Hospital Aid, much harder for the church system.
Amish Hospital Aid charges $125 monthly per individual or $250 monthly per family (remember, Amish families can easily be ten people). Average US health insurance costs $411 monthly per individual (Obamacare policies) or $558 monthly per individual (employer sponsored plan; employers pay most of this). I’m not going to bother comparing family plans because the definition of “family” matters a lot here. On the surface, it looks like the English spend about 4x as much as the Amish do.
But US plans include many more services than AHA, which covers catastrophic hospital admissions only. The government bans most Americans from buying plans like this; they believe it’s not enough to count as real coverage. The cheapest legal US health plan varies by age and location, but when I take my real age and pretend that I live near Amish country, the government offers me a $219/month policy on Obamacare. This is only a little higher than what the Amish get, and probably includes more services. So here it seems like the Amish don’t have much of an efficiency advantage. They just make a different tradeoff. It’s probably the right tradeoff for them, given their healthier lifestyle.
But remember, only a third of Amish use AHA. The rest use a church-based system? How does that come out?
It’s hard to tell. Nobody agrees on how much Amish tithe their churches, maybe because different Amish churches have different practices. R&D suggest families tithe 10% of income, this article on church-based insurances says a flat $100/month fee, and this “Ask The Amish” column says that churches have twice-yearly occasions where they ask for donations in secret and nobody is obligated to give any particular amount (“often husbands and wives won’t even know how much the other is giving.”) So it’s a mess, and even knowing the exact per-Amish donation wouldn’t help, because church alms cover not just health insurance but the entire social safety net; the amount that goes to health care probably varies by congregation and circumstance.
A few people try to estimate Amish health spending directly. This ABC story says $5 million total for all 30,000 Amish in Lancaster County, but they give no source, and it’s absurdly low. This QZ story quotes Amish health elder Marvin Wengerd as saying $20 – $30 million total for Lancaster County, which would suggest health spending of between $600-$1000 per person. This sounds potentially in keeping with some of the other estimates. A $100 per month tithe would be $1200 per year – if half of that goes to non-health social services, that implies $600 for health. The average Amish family earns about $50K (the same as the average English family, somehow!) so a 10% tithe would be $5000 per year, but since the average Amish family size is seven children, that comes out to about $600 per person again. So several estimates seem to agree on between $600 and $1000 per person.
One possible issue with this number: does Wengerd know how much Amish spend out of pocket? Or does his number just represent the amount that the official communal Amish health system spends? I’m not sure, but taking his words literally it’s total Amish spending, so I am going to assume it’s the intended meaning. And since the Amish rarely see doctors for minor things, probably their communal spending is a big chunk of their total.
[Update: an SSC reader is able to contact his brother, a Mennonite deacon, for better numbers. He says that their church spends an average of $2000 per person (including out of pocket).]
How does this compare to the US as a whole? The National Center For Health Statistics says that the average American spends $11,000 on health care. This suggests that the average American spends between five and ten times more on health care than the average Amish person.
How do the Amish keep costs so low? R&D (plus a few other sources) identify some key strategies.
First, the Amish community bargains collectively with providers to keep prices low. This isn’t unusual – your insurance company does the same – but it nets them better prices than you would get if you tried to pay out of pocket at your local hospital. This article gives some examples of Amish getting sticker prices discounted from between 50% to 66% with this tactic alone; Medicare gets about the same.
Second, the Amish are honorable customers. This separates them from insurance companies, who are constantly trying to scam providers however they can. Much of the increase in health care costs is “administrative expenses”, and much of these administrative expenses is hiring an army of lawyers, clerks, and billing professionals to thwart insurance companies’ attempts to cheat their way out of paying. If you are an honorable Amish person and the hospital knows you will pay your bill on time with zero fuss, they can waive all this.
But can this really be the reason Amish healthcare is cheaper? When insurance companies negotiate with providers, patients are on the side of the insurances; when insurance companies get good deals (eg a deal of zero dollars because the insurance has scammed the hospital), the patient’s care is cheaper, and the insurance company can pass some of those savings down as lower prices. If occasionally scamming providers meant insurance companies had to pay more money total, then they would stop doing it. My impression is that the real losers here are uninsured patients; absent any pressure to do otherwise, hospitals will charge them the sticker price, which includes the dealing-with-insurance-scams fee. The Amish successfully pressure them to waive that fee, which gets them better prices than the average uninsured patient, but still doesn’t land them ahead of insured people.
Third, Amish don’t go to the doctor for little things. They either use folk medicine or chiropractors. Some of the folk medicine probably works. The chiropractors probably don’t, but they play a helpful role reassuring people and giving them the appropriate obvious advice while telling the really serious cases to seek outside care. With this help, Amish people mostly avoid primary care doctors. Holmes County health statistics find that only 16% of Amish have seen a doctor in the past year, compared to 54% of English.
Fourth, the Amish never sue doctors. Doctors around Amish country know this, and give them the medically indicated level of care instead of practicing “defensive medicine”. If Amish people ask their doctors to be financially considerate – for example, let them leave the hospital a little early – their doctors will usually say yes, whereas your doctor would say no because you could sue them if anything went wrong. In some cases, Amish elders formally promise that no member of their congregation will ever launch a malpractice lawsuit.
Fifth, the Amish don’t make a profit. Church aid is dispensed by ministers and bishops. Even Amish Hospital Aid is run by a volunteer board. None of these people draw a salary or take a cut. I don’t want to overemphasize this one – people constantly obsess over insurance company profits and attribute all health care pathologies to them, whereas in fact they’re a low single-digit percent of costs (did you know Kaiser Permanente is a nonprofit? Hard to tell, isn’t it?) But every little bit adds up, and this is one bit.
Sixth, the Amish don’t have administrative expenses. Since the minister knows and trusts everyone in his congregation, the “approval process” is just telling your minister what the problem is, and the minister agreeing that’s a problem and giving you money to solve it. This sidesteps a lot of horrible algorithms and review boards and appeal boards and lawyers. I don’t want to overemphasize this one either – insurance companies are legally required to keep administrative expenses low, and most of them succeed. But again, it all adds up.
Seventh, the Amish feel pressure to avoid taking risks with their health. If you live in a tiny community with the people who are your health insurance support system, you’re going to feel awkward smoking or drinking too much. Realistically this probably blends into a general insistence on godly living, but the health insurance aspect doesn’t hurt. And I’m talking like this is just informal pressure, but occasionally it can get very real. R&D discuss the case of some Amish teens who get injured riding a snowmobile – forbidden technology. Their church decided this was not the sort of problem that godly people would have gotten themselves into, and refused to help – their families were on the hook for the whole bill.
Eighth, for the same reason, Amish try not to overspend on health care. I realize this sounds insulting – other Americans aren’t trying? I think this is harsh but true. Lots of Americans get an insurance plan from their employer, and then consume health services in a price-insensitive way, knowing very well that their insurance will pay for it. Sometimes they will briefly be limited by deductibles or out-of-pocket charges, but after these are used up, they’ll go crazy. You wouldn’t believe how many patients I see who say things like “I’ve covered my deductible for the year, so you might as well give me the most expensive thing you’ve got”, or “I’m actually feeling fine, but let’s have another appointment next week because I like talking to you and my out-of-pocket charges are low.”
But it’s not just avoiding the obvious failure modes. Careful price-shopping can look very different from regular medical consumption. Several of the articles I read talked about Amish families traveling from Pennsylvania to Tijuana for medical treatment. One writer describes Tijuana clinics sending salespeople up to Amish Country to advertise their latest prices and services. For people who rarely leave their hometown and avoid modern technology, a train trip to Mexico must be a scary experience. But prices in Mexico are cheap enough to make it worthwhile.
Meanwhile, back in the modern world, I’ve written before about how a pharma company took clonidine, a workhorse older drug that costs $4.84 a month, transformed it into Lucemyra, a basically identical drug that costs $1,974.78 a month, then created a rebate plan so that patients wouldn’t have to pay any extra out-of-pocket. Then they told patients to ask their doctors for Lucemyra because it was newer and cooler. Patients sometimes went along with this, being indifferent between spending $4 of someone else’s money or $2000 of someone else’s money. Everything in the US health system is like this, and the Amish avoid all of it. They have a normal free market in medical care where people pay for a product with their own money (or their community’s money) and have incentives to check how much it costs before they buy it. I do want to over-emphasize this one, and honestly I am surprised Amish health care costs are only ten times cheaper than ours are.
I don’t know how important each of these factors is, or how they compare to more structural factors like younger populations, healthier lifestyles, and less end-of-life care. But taken together, they make it possible for the Amish to get health care without undue financial burden or government support.
Why look into the Amish health system?
I’m fascinated by how many of today’s biggest economic problems just mysteriously failed to exist in the past. Our grandparents easily paid for college with summer jobs, raised three or four kids on a single income, and bought houses in their 20s or 30s and never worried about rent or eviction again. And yes, they got medical care without health insurance, and avoided the kind of medical bankruptcies we see too frequently today. How did this work so well? Are there ways to make it work today? The Amish are an extreme example of people who try to make traditional systems work in the modern world, which makes them a natural laboratory for this kind of question.
The Amish system seems to work well for the Amish. It’s hard to say this with confidence because of all the uncertainties. The Amish skew much younger than the “English”, and live much healthier lifestyles. Although a few vague estimates suggest health care spending far below the English average, they could be missing lots of under-the-table transactions. And again, I don’t want to ignore the fact that the Amish do live a little bit shorter lives. You could tell a story where all of these add up to explain 100% of the difference, and the Amish aren’t any more efficient in their spending at all. I don’t think this is right. I think the apparent 5x advantage, or something like it, is real. But right now this is just a guess, not a hard number.
What if it is? It’s hard to figure out exactly what it would take to apply the same principles to English society. Only about a quarter of Americans attend church regularly, so church-based aid is out. In theory, health insurance companies ought to fill the same niche, with maybe a 10% cost increase for profits and overhead. Instead we have a 1000% cost increase. Why?
Above, I said that the most important factor is that the Amish comparison shop. Everyone needs to use other people’s money to afford expensive procedures. But for the Amish, those other people are their fellow church members and they feel an obligation to spend it wisely. For the English, the “other people” are faceless insurance companies, and we treat people who don’t extract as much money as possible from them as insufficiently savvy. But there’s no easy way to solve this in an atomized system. If you don’t have a set of thirty close friends you can turn to for financial help, then the only institutions with enough coordination power to make risk pooling work are companies and the government. And they have no way of keeping you honest except the with byzantine rules about “prior authorizations” and “preferred alternatives” we’ve become all too familiar with.
(and as bad as these are, there’s something to be said for a faceless but impartial bureaucracy, compared to having all your neighbors judging your lifestyle all the time.)
This is a neat story, but I have two concerns about it.
First, when I think in terms of individual people I know who have had trouble paying for health care, it’s hard for me to imagine the Amish system working very well for them. Many have chronic diseases. Some have mysterious pain that they couldn’t identify for years before finally getting diagnosed with something obscure. Amish Hospital Aid’s catastrophic policy would be useless for this, and I feel like your fellow church members would get tired of you pretty quickly. I’m not sure how the Amish cope with this kind of thing, and maybe their system relies on a very low rate of mental illness and chronic disease. A lot of the original “hygiene hypothesis” work was done on the Amish, their autoimmune disease rates are amazing, and when you take out the stresses of modern life maybe a lot of the ailments the American system was set up to deal with just stop being problems. I guess my point is that the numbers seem to work out, and the Amish apparently remain alive, but when I imagine trying to apply the Amish system to real people, even assuming those real people have cooperative churches and all the other elements I’ve talked about, I can’t imagine it doing anything other than crashing and burning.
Second, I don’t think this is actually how our grandparents did things. I asked my literal grandmother, a 95 year old former nurse, how health care worked in her day. She said it just wasn’t a problem. Hospitals were supported by wealthy philanthropists and religious organizations. Poor people got treated for free. Middle class people paid as much as they could afford, which was often the whole bill, because bills were cheap. Rich people paid extra for fancy hospital suites and helped subsidize everyone else. Although most people went to church or synagogue, there wasn’t the same kind of Amish-style risk pooling.
This makes me think that the Amish method, even though it works, isn’t the method that worked for past generations. It’s an innovation intended to cover for health care prices being higher than anything that traditional societies had to deal with.
Why did health care prices start rising? I’ve wondered about this a lot before – see here, here, and here. Looking into this issue, I noticed glimpses of a different possibility. The increase started around the same time that health insurance began to spread. In one sense, this is unsurprising – of course health insurance would become a thing around the time care became unaffordable. But I’ve never seen someone really try to tease out causality here. Might the two trends have been mutually self-reinforcing? The price of care rises due to some original shock. Someone invents health insurance, which seems like a good idea. But this creates a series of perverse incentives, which other actors figure out how to exploit (eg the Lucemyra example above). Insurance-based-health-care becomes less efficient, but hospitals can’t or don’t internalize this to the insured patients – they just raise the price for everyone, insurance or no. That makes even more people need health insurance, and the cycle repeats as prices grow higher and higher and insurance becomes more and more necessary. This syncs well with some explanations I’ve heard of rising college prices, where once the government made easy loans and subsidies available to everyone, prices rose until they consumed all the resources available.
I have no idea if this is true or not. If it is, the Amish succeed partly by successfully forcing providers to internalize the costs of insurance to insurance patients. Sometimes they do this by literally asking hospitals for better prices because they are not insured (eg the “honest customer” example above). Other times they flee the country entirely to reach a medical system that doesn’t deal with insured patients (eg Tijuana). This seems to work well for them. But their reliance on church alms and Amish Hospital Aid suggests that their care is still more expensive and burdensome for them than past generations’ care was for them. They’ve just learned ways to manage the expense successfully.
It is a weapon pointed at the living world. We
urgently need to develop a new system.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 25th
For most of my adult life, I’ve railed against
“corporate capitalism”, “consumer capitalism” and “crony capitalism”. It took
me a long time to see that the problem is not the adjective, but the noun.
While some people have rejected capitalism gladly and swiftly,
I’ve done so slowly and reluctantly. Part of the reason was that I could see no
clear alternative: unlike some anti-capitalists, I have never been an
enthusiast for state communism. I was also inhibited by its religious status.
To say “capitalism is failing” in the 21st century is like saying
“God is dead” in the 19th. It is secular blasphemy. It requires a
degree of self-confidence I did not possess.
I’ve grown older, I’ve come to recognise two things. First, that it is the
system, rather than any variant of the system, which drives us inexorably
towards disaster. Second, that you do not have to produce a definitive
alternative to say that capitalism is failing. The statement stands in its own right.
But it also demands another, and different, effort to develop a new system.
failures arise from two of its defining elements. The first is perpetual
growth. Economic growth is the aggregate effect of the quest to accumulate
capital and extract profit. Capitalism collapses without growth, yet perpetual
growth on a finite planet leads inexorably to environmental calamity.
defend capitalism argue that, as consumption switches from goods to services,
economic growth can be decoupled from the use of material resources. Last week, a paper in the
journal New Political Economy by Jason Hickel
and Giorgos Kallis examined this premise. They found that while some relative decoupling took place in the
20th century (material resource consumption grew, but not as quickly
as economic growth), in the 21st there has been a re-coupling:
rising resource consumption has so far matched or exceeded the rate of economic
growth. The absolute decoupling needed to avert environmental catastrophe (a
reduction in material resource use) has never been achieved, and appears
impossible while economic growth continues. Green growth is an illusion.
based on perpetual growth cannot function without peripheries and
externalities. There must always be an extraction zone, from which materials
are taken without full payment, and a disposal zone, where costs are dumped in
the form of waste and pollution. As the scale of economic activity increases,
until capitalism affects everything from the atmosphere to the deep ocean
floor, the entire planet becomes a sacrifice zone: we all inhabit the periphery
of the profit-making machine.
drives us towards cataclysm on such a scale that most people have no means of
imagining it. The threatened collapse of our life support systems is bigger by
far than war, famine, pestilence or economic crisis, though it is likely to
incorporate all four. Societies can recover from these apocalyptic events, but
not from the loss of soil, an abundant biosphere and a habitable
defining element is the bizarre assumption that a person is entitled to as
great a share of the world’s natural wealth as their money can buy. This seizure of common goods causes three
further dislocations. First, the scramble for exclusive control of
non-reproducible assets, which implies either violence or legislative
truncations of other people’s rights. Second, the immiseration of other people
by an economy based on looting across both space and time. Third, the
translation of economic power into political power, as control over essential
resources leads to control over the social relations that surround them.
In the New York Times on Sunday, the Nobel
economist Joseph Stiglitz sought to distinguish between good capitalism, that he called
“wealth creation”, and bad capitalism, that he called “wealth
grabbing” (extracting rent). I understand his distinction, but from the
environmental point of view, wealth creation is wealth grabbing. Economic
growth, intrinsically linked to the increasing use of material resources, means
seizing natural wealth from both living systems and future generations.
to such problems is to invite a barrage of accusations, many of which are based
on this premise: capitalism has rescued hundreds of millions of people from
poverty – now you want to impoverish them again. It is true that capitalism, and the economic
growth it drives, has radically improved the prosperity of vast numbers of
people, while simultaneously destroying the prosperity of many others: those
whose land, labour and resources were seized to fuel growth elsewhere. Much of
the wealth of the rich nations was – and is – built on slavery and colonial expropriation.
capitalism has brought many benefits. But, like coal, it now causes more harm
than good. Just as we have found means of generating useful energy that are
better and less damaging than coal, so we need to find means of generating
human wellbeing that are better and less damaging than capitalism.
no going back: the alternative to capitalism is neither feudalism nor state
communism. Soviet communism had more in common with capitalism than the advocates of either system
would care to admit. Both systems are (or were) obsessed with generating economic growth. Both are willing to inflict astonishing
levels of harm in pursuit of this and other ends. Both promised a future in
which we would need to work for only a few hours a week, but instead demand
endless, brutal labour. Both are dehumanising. Both are absolutist, insisting
that theirs and theirs alone is the one true God.
our task is to identify the best proposals from many different thinkers and
shape them into a coherent alternative. Because no economic system is only an
economic system, but intrudes into every aspect of our lives, we need many
minds from various disciplines – economic, environmental, political, cultural,
social and logistical – working collaboratively to create a better way of
organising ourselves, that meets our needs without destroying our home.
comes down to this. Do we stop life to allow capitalism to continue, or stop
capitalism to allow life to continue?
promised to save us from bureaucracy. Instead, it has delivered a mad, semi-privatised
By George Monbiot,
published in the Guardian 10th April 2019
My life was saved
last year by the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, through a skilful procedure to remove a cancer from my body. Now I will need another operation, to remove
my jaw from the floor. I’ve just learnt what was happening at the hospital
while I was being treated.
On the surface, it
ran smoothly. Underneath, unknown to me, was fury and tumult. Many of the staff
had objected to a decision by the National Health Service to privatise the hospital’s cancer scanning. They complained that the scanners the
private company was offering are less sensitive than the hospital’s own
machines. Privatisation, they said, would put patients at risk. In response, as
the Guardian revealed last week, NHS England threatened to sue the hospital
for libel if its staff continued to criticise the decision.
The dominant system
of political thought in this country, that produced both the creeping
privatisation of public health services and this astonishing attempt to stifle
free speech, promised to save us from dehumanising bureaucracy. By rolling back
the state, neoliberalism would allow autonomy and creativity to
flourish. Instead, it has delivered a semi-privatised authoritarianism, more
oppressive than the system it replaced.
themselves enmeshed in a Kafkaesque bureaucracy, centrally controlled and micromanaged.
Organisations that depend on a cooperative ethic – such as schools and
hospitals – are stripped down, hectored and forced to conform to suffocating
diktats. The introduction of private capital into public services – that would
herald a glorious new age of choice and openness – is brutally enforced. The
doctrine promises diversity and freedom, but demands conformity and silence.
Much of the theory
behind these transformations arises from the work of Ludwig von Mises. In his book Bureaucracy, published in 1944, he argued that there
could be no accommodation between capitalism and socialism. The creation of the
National Health Service in the UK, the New Deal in the US and other experiments
in social democracy would lead inexorably to the bureaucratic totalitarianism
of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.
His ideas, alongside
the writing of Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and other neoliberal
thinkers, have been applied in this country by Margaret Thatcher, David
Cameron, Theresa May and, to an alarming extent, Tony Blair. All of them have
attempted to privatise or marketise public services in the name of freedom and
efficiency. But they keep hitting the same snag: democracy. People want
essential services to remain public, and they are right to do so.
If you hand public
services to private companies, either you create a private monopoly, that can
use its dominance to extract wealth and shape the system to serve its own
needs, or you introduce competition, creating an incoherent, fragmented
service, characterised by the institutional failure you can see every day on
our railways. We’re not idiots, even if we are treated as such. We know what
the profit motive does to public services.
governments decided that, if they could not privatise our core services
outright, they would subject them to “market discipline”. von Mises repeatedly
warned against this approach. “No reform could transform a public office into a
sort of private enterprise”, he cautioned. The value of public administration
“cannot be expressed in terms of money”. “Government efficiency and industrial
efficiency are entirely different things”. “Intellectual work cannot be measured
and valued by mechanical devices”. “You cannot ‘measure’ a doctor according to
the time he employs in examining one case.” They ignored his warnings.
Their problem is that
neoliberal theology, as well as seeking to roll back the state, insists that
collective bargaining and other forms of worker power be eliminated (in the
name of freedom, of course). So the marketisation and semi-privatisation of
public services became not so much a means of pursuing efficiency as an
instrument of control. Public service workers are now subjected to a panoptical
regime of monitoring and assessment, using the benchmarks von Mises rightly
warned were inapplicable and absurd. The bureaucratic quantification of public
administration goes far beyond an attempt at discerning efficacy. It has become
an end in itself.
afflict all public services. Schools teach to the test,
depriving children of a rounded and useful education. Hospitals manipulate
waiting times, shuffling patients from one list to another. Police forces
ignore some crimes, reclassify others and persuade suspects to admit to extra
offences to improve their statistics. Universities urge their researchers to write
quick and superficial papers instead of deep monographs, to maximise their scores under the Research Excellence Framework.
As a result, public
services become highly inefficient for an obvious reason: the destruction of
staff morale. Skilled people, including surgeons whose training cost hundreds
of thousands, resign or retire early because of the stress and misery the
system causes. The leakage of talent is a far greater waste than any
inefficiencies this quantomania claims to address.
New extremes in the
surveillance and control of workers are not, of course, confined to the public
sector. Amazon has patented a wristband that can track workers’ movements and detect
the slightest deviation from protocol. Technologies are used to monitor peoples’ keystrokes, language, moods and tone
of voice. Some companies have begun to experiment with the micro-chipping of their staff. As the philosopher Byung-Chul Han points out, neoliberal work practices, epitomised by the gig economy, that
reclassifies workers as independent contractors, internalise exploitation. “Everyone
is a self-exploiting worker in their own enterprise”.
The freedom we were
promised turns out to be freedom for capital, gained at the expense of human liberty. The
system neoliberalism has created is a bureaucracy that tends towards
absolutism, produced in the public services by managers mimicking corporate
executives, imposing inappropriate and self-defeating efficiency measures, and
in the private sector by subjection to faceless technologies, that can brook no
argument or complaint.
Attempts to resist
are met by ever more extreme methods, such as the threatened lawsuit at the
Churchill Hospital. Such instruments of control crush autonomy and creativity.
It is true that the Soviet bureaucracy von Mises rightly denounced reduced its
workers to subjugated drones. But the system his disciples have created is
heading the same way.
Ooooooh boy. I have no idea what kind of rabbit hole I'm entering here, and this may end up being the 1) longest, 2) least read, and 3) most unworthwhile (yes, it's a word) post in the history of blogs. But fuck it, I'm doing it anyway.
If you've landed on this page, one of three things has happened:
You've been a loyal reader, got an email notification about this post, and you clicked it.
You searched the internet for "docbastard vaccines" for some stupid reason, or
I or (hopefully) someone else referred you here from Twitter because you made some bullshit argument about vaccines.
If it's #3, there is at least a 99.21% chance (I calculated it) that you haven't even read this far. But in case you have, please immediately refer to the number I listed so you can quickly find out why you're wronghere wrong.
If that last sentence doesn't make sense, just read on. Everyone else knows it will all come together by the end.
My Twitter life has devolved into arguing about pseudoscience, and that has devolved even further into mainly arguing about vaccines. I have officially gotten sick and fucking tired of answering the same stupid points repeatedly, so I have decided to make this handy dandy little (not-so-little) compendium of Answers To Stupid Antivax Talking Points. These are the same tired old arguments I have heard over and over and fucking over again, and that I have refuted over and over and fucking over again. So instead of repeating myself, I can just point people here and thus assure myself that no one will ever read this ever in the future history of ever.
If you're expecting any of the answers to be just "NO", then prepare to be sorely disappointed, because what I will not do is simply say "NO". What I will do is say "NO" and explain why it's NO while citing sources, so you can't just say "WELL THAT'S JUST YOUR OPINION". Let me stress here that almost nothing here is "just my opinion".
I'm going to place a handy little table right about here with all the arguments I'll be assassinating discussing for easy reference.
Stop right there. This is almost universally the first argument I see, almost like it's the antivaxxer fight song. This is what antivaxxers seem to think vaccines look like:
See the terrified crying child? The big syringes full of a large amount of scary yellow stuff that looks like apple juice? Multiple injections at one time? I could call this a lot of things - fear mongering, scare tactics, hyperbole. But a far more accurate term would be BULLSHIT. Here is what an actual vaccine injection looks like:
Calm baby, tiny needle (which you can't even see because it's so small), tiny amount of clear fluid. The actual volume of a vaccine is 0.5 ml. That's 10 drops. TEN FUCKING DROPS. So don't talk about pumping massive amounts of anything. There is no pumping, no massive, and no toxins.
Sigh . . . "toxins". There is no elemental mercury in any vaccine, nor has there ever been. What you are referring to is thimerosal, which is approximately 50% ethylmercury. And while the word "ethylmercury" has the word "mercury" in it, that does not make it either mercury or poison. Think of it this way: the word "chair" has "hair" in it. That doesn't mean it's made of hair.
Ok, that is admittedly a terrible analogy. How about this: sodium is a metal which explodes when exposed to water, and chloride gas is highly poisonous. But when you (well, not you exactly) combine the two into a compound, it produces ordinary table salt (which can still be toxic, but that's a subject for another time). This is basic chemistry. Basic. Heh. Yes, that was a chemistry joke.
Anyway, ethylmercury is not the mercury found in thermometers. It is also not the dangerous mercury compound found in fish. That would be methylmercury, and though it is only one letter different than ethylmercury, it is an entirely different compound with entirely different metabolism and effect on human physiology (just like ethanol, which is the alcohol found in your wine, and methanol, which will kill you if you drink it). Studies have found that ethylmercury is readily metabolised and excreted so does not increase blood mercury levels, while methymercury lingers for much longer and is much more toxic.
This all ignores the fact that ethylmercury was removed from all childhood vaccines in 2001. I will address this point further later.
Aluminum salts have been used as adjuvants in vaccines for decades. Adjuvants increase the immune response, increasing the chance that a vaccine will grant immunity. The exact mechanism by which it does this is still not clear, but what is clear is that aluminum salts have been extensively studied and found to be safe. This is an excellent review article which documents the excellent safety profile and the minimal risks (including macrophagic myofasciitis) of using aluminum salt adjuvants. Yes, they have risks. But they are very small.
Polysorbate 80 is a surfactant and emulsifier used in innumerable foods, cosmetics, eye drops, mouth wash, etc. It is also used in some vaccines as a stabiliser, but in such tiny amounts as to be negligible to human physiology.
Let's do a comparison, shall we? The HPV vaccine contains 50 microgram of polysorbate 80, while a small scoop of ice cream contains about 170,000 micrograms, or 3400 times as much polysorbate 80. (reference) It has also been studied in infants given vaccines with and without polysorbate 80, and it has been found to be safe.
This one usually makes me laugh. Antivaxxers make it sound like aborted babies are ground up and placed in a vaccine vial along with other assorted toxins. But no babies are aborted to manufacture vaccines. A few vaccines are grown on cell lines derived from a foetus that was aborted years ago, because viruses grow better on the type of cells that they normally infect. The vaccine is then washed, eliminating all but a trace of the growth medium. So no, there are no dead babies in any vaccine, and no new babies are aborted to make vaccines.
If you have used this stupid argument, then you have displayed your ignorance of human physiology. Formaldehyde sounds scary - "THAT'S WHAT THEY PRESERVE CORPSES WITH!" - but it is actually a very normal part of human metabolism. As you sit there steaming at me, your cells are creating way more formaldehyde than could be found in any vaccine. In fact, in the 30 or so seconds it took you to read this paragraph thus far, your liver has metabolised about 11 mg of formaldehyde, which is over 10 times as much as an infant could ever receive from even multiple vaccines (0.7 mg). In the time it took you to read that last sentence, an infant would have already metabolised all the formaldehyde from their vaccines twice. If your infant read that last sentence, however, then Mensa would probably like to have a word with you. And her.
Oh, you made the SV40 argument. Yes, many thousands of people unknowingly received a polio vaccine that was tainted (or contaminated, if you'd prefer) with SV40. And that is truly unfortunate. However, SV40 was not discovered until 1960, whereas the polio vaccine was first produced in 1955. It was simply not known. But once it was discovered, it was removed from the polio vaccine (obviously). Still, by the time it was removed in 1963 about 90% of children had received a polio vaccine contaminated with the virus, which causes tumours in animals. Of course the fear was that it would cause cancer in humans, and it is true that SV40 has been found in various human cancer cells. However, it has been extensively studied, and while the virus has been found in human cancers, a review of the evidence has shown that SV40 does not cause cancer in humans. It has been studied for over 50 years, and no association has been found. It also hasn't been in any vaccine since 1963, so there is no cancer in any vaccine.
I knew you would get here. The short version is "NO THEY FUCKING DON'T", but that won't satisfy you. Actually, nothing will satisfy you but I'm going to continue anyway. Vaccines have been studied extensively for their possible role in causing autism. There are exactly ZERO large studies that show any association between vaccines and autism, and while I'm thinking about it there are exactly ZERO small studies which show it. Wakefield's original 1998 bullshit fraud was only 12 patients, if you didn't know.
That last one was just published March 4, 2019 and represents probably the largest, most comprehensive study which shows absolutely no link between MMR and autism. They even looked at children who had siblings with autism and other risk factors that would make them high risk for autism, but they still found no link. The conclusion speaks for itself (emphasis mine):
Conclusion: The study strongly supports that MMR vaccination does not increase the risk for autism, does not trigger autism in susceptible children, and is not associated with clustering of autism cases after vaccination. It adds to previous studies through significant additional statistical power and by addressing hypotheses of susceptible subgroups and clustering of cases.
Oh . . . I suppose I accidentally emphasised the entire conclusion completely on purpose. That's because it should be fucking obvious by now. That's 7 huge studies and over 2.5 million children vs your anecdote or Wakefield's bullshit. So stop already.
I will refer you back to response 8 above. You can clearly see three studies (4, 5, and 6) which looked at children who received thimerosal-containing vaccines. Antivaxxers seem to think that every vaccine ever produced has several tonnes of thimerosal in it, but in reality MMR never contained thimerosal. Not "but trace amounts", not "but it was removed" - never. NONE. So yes, other vaccines have most definitely been studied, and they all show the same thing - that those other vaccines also do not cause autism.
I've asked every antivaxxer who has mentioned this to tell me in their own words what MTHFR is and how it relates to vaccination without looking it up, but not a single person has other than to call it a mutation. Strange. MTHFR stands for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase. It is a gene on chromosome 1 which encodes an enzyme that catalyses 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate to 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (which has to do with homocystine metabolism and is some pretty goddamned fancy science). There are many polymorphisms (ie variations) of the genes, and some are incredibly common (for example, 10% of the North American population has 2 copies of a specific polymorphism). Preliminary research shows it may increase the risk of schizophrenia or dementia, but no research shows the gene has anything to do with any vaccine side effect. MTHFR is a polymorphism, not a mutation. Those two words are not synonymous.
I know you think citing MTHFR makes you look smart, but it has the exact opposite effect. If you didn't understand the above paragraph but still think MTHFR is a mutation which causes autism, it isn't and it doesn't.
Hannah Poling had a very rare mitochondrial disorder, so rare that its exact incidence is unknown. She received her normal series of vaccines at 19 months old (DTaP, MMR, HiB, varicella, polio), and two days later was lethargic with a rash. She was diagnosed with vaccine-derived varicella, and several months later continued to have delays in her neurological development. Ultimately she was diagnosed with encephalopathy, followed by language, behaviour, and communication problems. Though mitochondrial disorders can appear quite similar to autism, her parents (including her father, who is a neurologist) took her case to the Vaccine Court and won. HA! SLAM DUNK! VACCINES CAUSE AUTISM! RIGHT? Well, no. Dr. Paul Offit has reviewed this case in very specific detail here, but I'll give a short summary nevertheless since I can't expect anyone to click on a link and read something: Infections are known to exacerbate encephalopathy but vaccines are not. And children with mitochondrial disorders are at a higher risk of infections, which can exacerbate encephalopathy (didn't I just say that)?
This is a rather recent antivax talking point. Andrew Zimmerman is a paediatric neurologist who co-authored an case report in 2006 which documented a child with a mitochondrial disorder who developed autism after being vaccinated (sound familiar?). While this is being translated by antivaxxers as "SEE? VACCINES CAN CAUSE AUTISM!", these people are merely cherry picking and completely missed Dr. Zimmerman's full statement: "There may be a subset of children who are at risk of regression if they have underlying mitochondrial dysfunction and are simultaneously exposed to factors that stress their mitochrondrial reserve (which is critical for developing the brain). Such factors might include infections, as well as metabolic and immune factors, and vaccines".
In other words, children with these extremely rare disorders may be predisposed to developing autism or autism-like symptoms if they are exposed to some environmental trigger. Vaccines may be one of them, but there are many others as well. Keep in mind that children are exposed to thousands of antigens every single day of their lives. Unless they are kept in a sterile bubble, the risk with these children is way higher with infectious diseases compared to vaccines.
First of all, it's Mister Wakefield. He lost his licence to practice medicine and thus should not be called "Doctor". Second, no he wasn't. Charges against one of his co-authors, who has stated both his continued support of MMR and that their paper did not establish any link between MMR and autism, were dropped on appeal. Mr. Wakefield, on the other hand, lost his license due to his elaborately fraudulent paper which involved paying children at his kid's birthday party £5 for blood samples, without permission from an ethics committee. Oh what's the matter, you didn't know that little detail? Shame. I suspect you also didn't know that Wakefield was trying to patent his own single measles vaccine by tarnishing MMR. What, you didn't know that either? Well now you do. Your hero is an unethical asshole.
Speaking of elaborate, this one is merely an elaborate conspiracy. It involves a team of CDC researchers, including William Thompson, supposedly throwing data in the garbage can (literally) which purportedly showed that black children were more than three times more likely to develop autism as a result of vaccines. This was supposedly found after a non-scientist named Brian Hooker re-evaluated the data.
Well there are a few problems with this: first, who keeps paper data anymore? Data is all digital and backed up repeatedly in multiple locations. If they didn't then they are shoddy researchers who should not be trusted with anything. Anyway, I literally laughed out loud when I read the part about throwing data in the bin. Second, William Thompson is still employed by CDC. Anyone ever heard of a whistleblower still being employed by the company (or agency) against whom they blew a whistle? Third, the re-evaluation by Hooker was completely incorrectly done, using the wrong statistical analysis to evaluate the data. And fourth, even if the re-evaluation were true (it isn't - read here), it only shows an increase in risk in one demographic (black males). It did not show any increased risk in white boys or girls. This would mean that vaccines STILL do not cause autism in every other demographic.
This argument is so stupid that I'm surprised anyone still uses it. First, no vaccine is 100% effective. The closest is measles, which is 97% effective after two doses. Second, not all children can be vaccinated. Third, some children are too young to be vaccinated. Are you telling me that you don't give a fuck about an infant suffering from a disease she's too young to be vaccinated against? What kind of monster are you? Actually I'll just let this handy graphic explain the rest:
What kind of "harmless disease" continues to kill over 100,000 children every year? There has only been one year on record that measles has killed fewer than 100,000 children (2016). Does this still sound harmless? Between 2000 and 2017, global measles vaccination increased from 72 to 85%, while during the same period measles rates decreased 83% and measles deaths fell 80%. Let me repeat - measles deaths fell 80%. And before you even say "But not in my country!", well fuck you. Fuck you for not caring about children dying in other countries just because they don't live near you and look like you. Fuck you.
Regardless, that's just for measles (which seems to have become the poster child for "harmless" vaccine preventable diseases), because this stupid argument also completely ignores all the other various deadly and/or debilitating diseases for which vaccines exist (hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenza, meningitis, polio, etc). Even chicken pox. Yes, chicken pox, which used to kill about hundred kids in the United States alone each year before the vaccine. Is 100 dead children enough for you? And after the vaccine was introduced, this happened:
Is that clear to you yet? And I swear to fucking god, if you try to say "But the Brady Bunch . . ." I will somehow find you and slap the shit out of you. The Brady Bunch was a fucking sitcom, produced to make people laugh. It was not a documentary on the supposed (but nonexistent) benign nature of infectious diseases. Did you expect them to show the graveyards of children killed by disease? I don't think the ratings would have been very high if they showed this:
which shows two young cousins age 4 and 7 who died within 2 days of each other from diphtheria. Which is preventable with a vaccine.
which shows two brothers and a sister, ages 7, 10, and 11, who all died within about two weeks of each other of diphtheria. Which is preventable with a fucking vaccine.
There are graveyards filled with the corpses of children who died of vaccine-preventable diseases. So fuck you for not caring about them.
This is supposed to scare people into thinking "HOLY HELL! LOOK AT ALL THOSE SHOTS!" But look closer - in 1960, there were only three shots which prevented 5 diseases (polio, smallpox, diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus). By 1983 this had been expanded to include 3 more diseases (measles, mumps, and rubella), and studies had shown that efficacy was much better for several vaccines when boosters were given. By 2016 we were now able to protect children from flu, rotavirus, chicken pox, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenza, pneumococcus, and meningitis. And you think this is a bad thing? Preventing debilitating and/or deadly diseases is somehow wrong to you? Yes we give children many more shots now, but only because we don't want them to suffer or die the way so many others did.
I had chicken pox as a child because there was no vaccine for it at the time. I remember it vividly because it was unquestionably the worst week of my life. I wouldn't wish chicken pox on my worst enemy (not even you, antivaxxer), so it's fortunate we now have a vaccine for it.
How much do you have to hate children to want them to suffer from these diseases? I watched my sister almost die from H flu meningitis when she was a toddler (also no vaccine at the time). She survived and recovered fully, but the kid in the adjacent room was not so lucky. He's in the fucking ground now, from a disease we can prevent.
Are there? According to whom, you? There is no evidence to support such a statement. You have been led to believe that children's immune systems are not developed enough to be able to handle the antigens in a vaccine, but somehow you believe they can handle all the other thousands or millions of antigens they deal with every day? Have you ever seen a baby? You know infants put everything right in their mouths, right? That teething ring your little angel just put back in her mouth was sitting on the floor that you walk on. Did you sterilise your shoes this morning? Did you even realise you stepped in dog shit? No? Well your child's immune system can handle that, so it can handle a few antigens in a few vaccines, even at the same time.
19) But the vaccine schedule has never been tested. Yes it has. The fact that you don't know it has is your failing, not anyone else's. Here is one such piece of evidence. And here is a study of macaques who were given the full infant vaccine schedule and observed for 5 years (keep in mind that autism generally manifests around 2 years old), and there were no neurodevelopmental problems. The best part of this study was that it was funded by antivaxxers who were expecting to find problems, but they didn't. This study proved them, and you, wrong.
No, it proves that vaccines are not 100% safe, which is fully acknowledged by anyone who knows anything about vaccines. The only people who say anything about vaccines being 100% safe or 100% effective are antivaxxers, but always in the context of "But pro-vaxxers say vaccines are 100% safe and effective!" which is not remotely true. We do not say that. You say that. (More on that later)
Regardless, let's actually look at the numbers from the vaccine court, shall we? According to the latest statistics (July, 2018) between 2006 and 2016 a total of 3,153,876,236 billion doses of vaccines were distributed in the US. Over that same time period, there were 3727 compensable claims in the vaccine court amounting to $1.74 billion (the $3.5 billion number being bandied about is the total amount give by the court since the inception of the vaccine court in 1989). $1.74 billion! HA! You lose! You didn't let me finish. Let's do some fun math here - 3727 claims divided by 3,153,876,236 billion doses of vaccines amounts to 0.000118%, which is just over 1 compensable claim per million doses. Hm, one per million sounds vaguely familiar. Anyway, the amount the vaccine court has awarded seems huge, but it is far less important than the actual number of cases, and the number of cases is far less important than the proportion of compensable cases compared to doses given.
I'll repeat - one per million.
As for the claim that vaccine manufacturers are immune from being sued, no they aren't. While it is true in the US that you go through the vaccine court first, it is still possible for the manufacturers to be sued. And this is of course ignoring the fact that the vaccine court (and NCVIP) only applies in one country on the planet.
I'm not sure where that estimate came from, but you sure do like to repeat it. Regardless, of course most adverse events aren't reported, because most vaccine reactions are mild and self-limiting (injection site pain, swelling, and redness). My arm was a bit sore after my last flu shot. Technically that is a "vaccine reaction", but did I report it? No. The serious ones get reported.
Well that's a rather stupid thing to say. Of course it's your choice, and no one is saying it isn't (except the truly hardcore vaccine proponents, who may overstate things about child protective services and all that bullshit). But what if you choose to beat your child with a plank of wood? Is that your choice?
Yes, how you raise your child is your choice. No one is trying to take your choices away from you. If you want to feed your kid nothing but organic, free range, sugar-free, gluten-free, GMO-free kale, that's your prerogative. You'll probably end up with a malnourished (and picky) (and very angry) kid, but that's completely up to you. And sure, not vaccinating your child is also your choice. No one is going to force you to take your kid to the doctor for her shots no matter what antivax (or pro-vax) fear mongers want you to believe, and no one is going to snatch them away and do it without your knowledge. But if you are making that choice based on misinformation and fear, then you are making the wrong choice.
I suppose that depends on your definition of "wrong". If you mean it violates your civil rights or civil liberties or personal medical liberty or whichever other buzz phrase you choose to use, well no it doesn't. Yes it does! No it doesn't. If you still think it does, then you happen to disagree with the United States Supreme Court which ruled against you in Jacobson v Massachusetts. But that was only one ruling! Then you must not know about Zucht v. King, in which the Supreme Court ruled that schools may refuse admission to children who are not vaccinated.
There are currently mandatory vaccination laws in Argentina, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Latvia, Pakistan. Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Ukraine (no, the US and Canada have no federal law mandating vaccines, though all 50 states and 3 provinces require children to be vaccinated prior to starting school).
It is legal and it is constitutional. You just don't like it. That makes it neither wrong nor illegal.
True, because that would be unethical. WHY? Because the study you're looking for would purposefully withhold vaccines from 50% of the study participants (you know, those vulnerable children you think you're trying to protect). A "true" vaccinated-unvaccinated study would observe tens or hundreds of thousands of children from birth through adulthood, with only half of them getting vaccinated, leaving the other half vulnerable, though no one would know which half was which. While I'm sure some of you True Believers would recklessly volunteer your child to be in the unvaccinated arm of such a study, that's not the way these double-blind studies work. There would be a 50% chance your precious snowflake would be in the vaccinated arm. You ok with that?
Regardless, no researcher with any sense of ethics would allow such a study to be done, knowing that so many children are being left unprotected from so many preventable diseases, and no institutional review board would allow such a study to be proposed, let alone done.
I'm not going to let you finish that argument, because if you are using the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System in your antivax argument, I have calculated a 99.9923% chance that you have no fucking idea what VAERS is or how it works. Anyone can report any adverse reaction in VAERS. I'll repeat - anyone can report any adverse reaction in VAERS. There are several children who have died in car accidents in VAERS:
There was also (for a short time) a report in VAERS of Dr. James Laidler receiving a measles vaccine, and the following day his skin turned green, his muscles grew, and he displayed uncontrolled rage: signs that he was turning into The Incredible Hulk. As Dr. Laidler wrote,
And before you ask, that's not a joke. I mean the "reaction" was clearly a joke ,but the fact that Hulk is in VAERS is not. It just underscores the worthlessness in using VAERS as evidence that vaccines are unsafe. Do not misunderstand me, VAERS is extremely important because it can help scientists track side effects from various vaccines. But make no mistake: VAERS is no evidence that "vaccine damage" is real or that vaccines are dangerous.
Well no, no they aren't. Has anyone ever claimed they are? If so, he was lying. Seat belts aren't 100% effective either, but you should still fucking wear one. And before you say, "Well vaccines don't work that well anyway!", let's just see how well they do work:
Incidence of tetanus: decreased by 96%
Incidence of pertussis: decreased by 86%
Incidence of measles: decreased by over 99%
Incidence of hepatitis B: decreased by 87% Incidence of diphtheria: decreased by 100%
Not effective? Really? How much more effective can you possibly get?
28) But vaccines are not 100% safe. Nothing is 100% safe. When discussing severe side effects, vaccines are approximately 99.9999% safe (1 severe adverse event per 1 million doses). If I told you that the severe complication rate from a "routine" surgery was 1/1000, would you go screaming? Probably not, but that is the true number (at least for gall bladder surgery), and it is one thousand times higher than the risk from a vaccine. And while many severe surgical complications result in death or permanent disability, the overwhelming majority of patients with severe adverse reactions from vaccines recover completely.
29) The flu vaccine is worthless. I will agree that the flu vaccine is the least effective vaccine availability, and the efficacy varies from year to year depending on how close the vaccines approximate the prevalent infecting strains. As opposed to the ones above, the average efficacy is around 45%, which at first admittedly sounds pretty terrible. But look at it this way - 45% is literally infinity times higher than 0%, which is exactly how effective not getting a flu shot is.
30) But the flu shot causes Guillain–Barré syndrome. GBS is a known complication of the flu shot - an extremely rare one. The relative risk of GBS after any flu shot is 1.41 (1.84 after pandemic flu shot, 1.22 after seasonal flu shot). However, the risk of GBS is significantly higher after actually getting infected with the flu (or other infections).
And most cases of GBS recover fully.
31) But the flu shot causes the flu. No it doesn't, and it never has. Not occasionally, not sometimes, NEVER. The flu shot is a dead virus vaccine, meaning it is 100% biologically impossible to get the flu from a flu shot. Feeling a little crummy for a day or two after a flu shot is not the flu - that's your body's immune system reacting to the shot, meaning it is doing what it is supposed to do. If you got the actual flu immediately after getting a flu shot, you had either 1) probably already acquired the virus but hadn't shown symptoms yet, or 2) picked it up wherever you got the shot.
Note this refers to the flu shot, not the flu mist, which is an attenuated vaccine.
Ok ok, I'll give you a slightly less silly analogy - I've never gotten into a serious car accident and I don't wear my seat belt, so I don't need to wear a seat belt. Or consider this - I do not have a smoke detector in my house or a fire extinguisher, and I have never had a fire in my house, so I need neither a smoke detector or a fire extinguisher. Or how about this - my kid has never crashed his bicycle and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury and he never wears a helmet, so he doesn't need to wear a helmet.
Now do you see how stupid that sounds?
The fact that you've never gotten the flu despite not getting the flu shot doesn't mean you don't need the flu shot, it just means you happened not to need it before. It doesn't mean your immune system is better than anyone else's or anyone else. It only indicates that you have been lucky so far.
35) How could you possibly give a 1-day old baby a hepatitis B shot? Hepatitis B is not just an infection of IV drug abusers and prostitutes. It is an extremely serious infection worldwide, with nearly 300,000,000 people suffering from it. An estimated 2 million children worldwide are infected with hep B. The big problem is that when contracted as a child, hepatitis B is much more likely to develop into a chronic disease, resulting in cirrhosis or liver cancer. It can be transmitted from mother to child during childbirth, or from child-to-child from bites or other bodily fluids. No one is saying your precious flower is going to be shooting up heroin at age 3, but can you guarantee the little shit next door who is asymptomatically infected isn't going to bite your kid and give him a death sentence?
36) Yeah, vaccine immunity wanes! Sigh. Sometimes, yes it does. However, if it waned significantly, we'd be seeing epidemics of diphtheria, polio, and measles in previously vaccinated adults. Have you heard of any of those?
If you're still arguing, see #36 below.
37) The pertussis vaccine doesn't work. You're wrong here, but I'll grant that you're very slightly less wrong than before. Let me fix it for you - the pertussis vaccine doesn't work as well as the previous one. The original pertussis vaccine was a whole cell vaccine, meaning the entire B. pertussis bacterium (inactivated) was used, and it was extremely effective. However, due to a relatively high rate of local adverse reactions (pain, redness, and swelling), it was swapped for an acellular vaccine, which contains only pertussis toxin or other various components of the bacterium and not the whole organism. However, not only is the acellular vaccine more expensive, but the local side effect rate is about the same as the whole cell version. To make things worse, it is not as effective as the whole cell vaccine, and immunity tends to wane within 5-7 years. But immunity to the tetanus portion of the DPT combination vaccine also wanes in about 5 years, so boosters are recommended. Huzzah! Science!
Yeah, that's the end of that story. It works, but not as well as the previous version, and not as well as it should. A better vaccine is necessary. Don't worry, I'm not entirely satisfied with that answer either.
38) Natural immunity is better than artificial immunity. That depends on your definition of "better": -Longer lasting? Sure. -Doesn't require a scary shot with scary-sounding ingredients which are not actually scary once you understand them? Most definitely. -Requires you to suffer through the disease AND SURVIVE in order to gain immunity? Fucking yes.
I'm not sure why you think suffering through a disease is better than, you know, not suffering through a disease.
All condescension aside, vaccines are a victim of their own success. Because they work so well and have nearly eradicated so many previously common diseases, doctors in practice now have probably never seen most (if not all) of them. The memory of children dead or disabled from polio, the vision of rows upon rows of children in hospitals in iron lungs has faded to the point where you actually believe it is relatively harmless. The fact that smallpox hospitals, entire hospitals dedicated to treating smallpox, no longer even need to exist because of vaccines is lost to the ravages of time. No one remembers the parents waiting in line to get their kids vaccinated against measles. You probably think these lines don't exist.
I absolutely agree - look at it, because it is plainly obvious that you never have. at least not carefully. It says right on top "Mortality Rates", and as we can all plainly see the mortality rates were indeed falling since the turn of the 20th century to the point where the mortality was near 0 for most of these diseases.
HA! I WIN! YOU JUST ADMITTED IT! No, I admitted that mortality was falling. During the first half of the 1900's there were huge advances in medical science, including supportive care, antibiotics, mechanical ventilation, etc. So of course mortality of everything would improve. Life expectancy in the US in 1900 was 47 years for a white man, and by 1950 it had increased to 65.6 (an improvement of over 28% in just 50 years).
But the number of cases of these diseases (ALL OF THEM) did not fall until the vaccines were introduced. Since you like graphs so much, take a look at these:
These are the disease rates of polio and measles, and you can once again plainly see that the rates DID NOT FALL until the vaccines were introduced. And as each vaccine was introduced, that disease rate fell.
I'm sure your next argument will be "But clean water and sanitation caused disease rates to fall, not vaccines".
diphtheria rates waited to decline until the 1930's after the vaccine was introduced, and
polio rates waited to decline until 1955 when the vaccine was introduced, and
measles rates waited to decline until 1963 when the vaccine was introduced, and
rubella rates waited to decline until 1969 when the vaccine was introduced, and
chicken pox rates waited to decline until 1995 when the vaccine was introduced, and
rotavirus rates waited to decline until 2006 when the vaccine was introduced.
You'd have to be pretty daft to think clean water and sanitation could be so sneaky as to wait just until the vaccine came out to start decreasing those particular diseases. That damned sneaky sanitation and clean water. Do you think that clean water and sanitation suddenly improved in the US in 1995 or 2006 when the varicella and rotavirus vaccines were introduced?
Furthermore, while the mortality graph sure makes it looks like the mortality rate of these diseases was 0, it was not. Not remotely. Hundreds of children in the US still died every year of measles. Yeah, you know measles - that "harmless childhood disease":
Notice this graph starts in 1950, after the mortality rate had dropped so close to 0 according to your graph. That "so close to 0" still translated to 400-500 dead children in the US every year. And once the vaccine was introduced, then and only then did it actually drop to 0.
42) Vaccines cause SIDS. No they don't. In fact, if you have made this argument, it only shows your stunning ignorance of this entire issue. At least with autism there was a bullshit paper published in 1998 which suggested a link (that's Wakefield's bullshit, in case you didn't catch the reference), but with SIDS, you have it entirely backwards: vaccines reduce the risk of SIDS by 50%.
In case you think I just pulled that number out of my ass, this is based not just one one paper, not two, but a meta-analysis of nine case-control studies looking at the relationship between vaccination and SIDS. And it found that vaccination decreases the risk of SIDS by half.
Read that carefully. It says, "Adverse events reported during post-approval use". It also says "Because these events are reported voluntarily from a population of uncertain size, it is not always possible to reliably estimate their frequencies or to establish a causal relationship".
The vaccine insert is a legal document, and vaccine manufacturers are legally obligated to list every adverse event that has been reported, regardless of whether or not the vaccine has caused it. That's also why you see "autism" on that list. It has been reported in children who have gotten that vaccine. But autism has also been reported in children who have not gotten that vaccine, though there is no legal document for that. The vaccine insert does not state, imply, or in any other way suggest that the vaccine caused it. Any of it.
I also think it is extremely ironic that you don't trust Big Pharma at all, until they publish the words "autism" and "SIDS" on one of their legal papers, and then you treat what they say as gospel.
45) But over 100 people have died of the MMR since 2003, so more people die of the vaccine than the disease. This "100" figure is derived from VAERS, which as you learned in #26 above is not designed to track that kind of data. So, there is no way to determine if this figure is even remotely true, though I highly doubt it is even close. There are about 4 million children born in the US each year, and since median vaccine coverage is 94.3%, that's 3,772,000 children getting the measles vaccine each year. As we know the serious adverse event rate is around 1 per million doses, so that would be between 3 and 4 serious adverse events annually, and most children recover completely. Even if they all died (they don't), that would be 16 years x 3.7 children = approximately 59 deaths, not 100. And that's if they all died, which they most assuredly do not.
46) Doctors even admit that vaccines are dangerous. Do they? Which ones? How many of them? This is just another form of "Some people believe . . ." If I were to say, "I believe the sky is purple", I could then logically go on to say "Some people believe the sky is purple". Is the sky purple? Does that make the sky purple? Of course not, but some people believe it is, so that means it might be true! Except that it doesn't.
What you're saying is that some doctors believe it, or at least they say they do. These are fringe doctors who are members of fringe groups who believe fringe things. So the important question is, what other beliefs do these doctors espouse? If you look hard enough you can find paleontologists who believe earth is less than 10,000 years old (like this guy who has a Ph.D in paleontology from Harvard. Seriously). I will grant that there are a few doctors who are antivaxxers, the most prominent and/or vocal being:
Joe Mercola, DO, who also believes that sunscreen causes skin cancer, homeopathy can treat autism, and HIV does not cause AIDS; and who has an online store;
Sherri Tenpenny, DO, who also believes an earthquake could cause California to fall off North America and sink into the Pacific Ocean, and who missed her entire third grade because she was too sick; and who has an online store;
Toni Bark, MD, who also practices homeopathy, and who has an online store;
Russell Blaylock, MD, who also believes in chemtrails, that aspartame causes multiple sclerosis, and that MSG is toxic to the brain; and who has an online store;
Tetyana Obukhanych, PhD who is not a physician but does have a Ph.D in immunology, who believes that immunology has no evidence-based explanation for immunity due to vaccines, that vaccines compromise our "natural immunity", and that homeopathy works;
Jack Wolfson, DO, who touts himself as a "holistic cardiologist", charges a $2800 fee for an initial consultation, and who believes children should get measles, mumps, rubella, and chicken pox because it is "their right"; and who has an online store;
Kelly Brogan, MD, who is also an HIV-AIDS denialist, advises diabetics not to take insulin, and who has an online store;
Suzanne Humphries, MD, who believes homeopathy works, who believes pertussis can be treated with vitamin C, and who believes the bible is a reason not to vaccinate; but who does not have an online store
Andrew Wakefield, who HAHAHAHAHA just kidding, he's not even a doctor anymore. Fuck that guy.
Yes, there are a handful of quacks out there who believe and endorse the same bullshit you do. But these are charlatans who are seizing on the very fear you are propagating to sucker in gullible people and make money. That's why these people almost invariably have online stores, and why Mercola brings in about $10 million per year from his bullshit website.
Keep in mind that every single major medical association in the entire world supports vaccines. Every. Single. One. And before you mention the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons, despite their official-sounding name they're one of those fringe groups I mentioned who have advocated such beliefs as AIDS denialism and abortions causing breast cancer. Quacks, all.
47) Vaccines cause autoimmune diseases. There are a few known associations of vaccines increasing the risk of certain autoimmune diseases, such as the flu vaccine and Guillain-Barré and MMR with immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP). And it makes sense that vaccines could potentially cause autoimmune diseases, since they are designed to stimulate the immune system, and autoimmune diseases are disorders of that immune system. However, studies have shown that these are very rare. Using MMR and ITP as an example, there is an increased risk. However, that risk is lower than it is with measles infection, the clinical course of ITP after vaccination is less severe compared to ITP after measles infection, and 90% of children resolve completely within 6 months.
And before you tell me how risky that is, the actual risk in that study was 23 cases in 700,000 children. Do the math, and . . . you know what, don't. I've done it for you - it's 0.0033%.
48) Vaccines cause seizures. Hooray! You finally said something true! See? I told you vaccines were dangerous! Oh don't worry, you aren't nearly as correct as you thought you were. Febrile seizures are a well-known and relatively common side effect of vaccines, but they are also a well-known and relatively common side effect of many other febrile illnesses. That's why they are called "febrile seizures" - it's the fever that causes them. The other reason you're wrong is that they aren't nearly as common as you think - this study found a risk of 1 febrile seizure per 3,300 vaccinations even when multiple vaccines were given at the same time. Keep in mind that 3-5% of children experience a febrile seizure each year that are unrelated to vaccines, so a busy paediatrician seeing 500 infants each year would see one vaccine-related febrile seizure every 5-10 years.
49) Vaccines cause allergies, asthma, and eczema. I'm assuming you're referring to the supposed epidemic of food allergies, peanut allergies, atopic dermatitis, etc that you believe are all caused by vaccines, because in your mind vaccines cause everything bad in the world and nothing bad every happened before vaccines were invented. Unfortunately, your belief is not supported by, you know actual data. This study of thousands of children across 97 centers in 10 countries showed no evidence that any vaccine is associated with food allergies, airborne allergies, or eczema. This study of over 1000 children found - gasp - the exact same thing. And this British study of over 29,000 children found - are you sitting down? - the exact same thing. And this study of nearly 15,000 children across 5 countries found - let me know when you tire of this - the exact same thing.
So who are we to believe - your unsubstantiated story of your kid developing a peanut allergy after getting vaccinated or multiple studies of tens of thousands of children across dozens of countries around the globe which all refute you?
50) What about the Cutter Incident? This is one of those terribly unfortunate tragedies in medicine that should never happen but still did. A batch of live polio vaccines made by Cutter Laboratories in 1955 were not properly inactivated, and at least 120,000 people received them before they were recalled, now known as the Cutter Incident. This caused about 40,000 cases of mild polio, 56 cases of paralysis, and 5 deaths.
There are other medical tragedies, including the production and distribution of blood products tainted with HIV prior to the virus having been discovered, Dr. Mengele's horrific human experimentation during the Holocaust, and similar ghastly experiments on humans in Japan's Unit 731. But perhaps the most notorious is the 1932 Tuskegee Study, in which black men who were already infected with syphilis were knowingly not treated for the infection, even after penicillin was proved to treat it successfully in 1947. The investigators withheld both treatment and information about that treatment until a whistleblower finally blew the lid off in 1972. The fact that this continued for 40 years only compounds its utterly unethical nature, and it has fueled a deep distrust in the medical industry which continues to this day.
These occurrences are rare but terrible. There is absolutely no doubt that they should never happen. But they have, they did, and they still do. However, this is hardly a reason to argue against vaccination in general. Incidents like these should be taken as very difficult lessons from which we can learn and then prevent anything like them from ever happening again.
51) And the Simpsonwood meeting . . . And here is where we start diving into Conspiracy Theory Land. This CDC conference ("Scientific Review of Vaccine Safety Datalink Information" actually happened in 2000. They reviewed the data regarding the possible link between thimerosal and autism and ultimately refuted any link, obviously. Enter your hero Robert F. Kennedy, Jr who wrote an article in 2005 (that was retracted by Salon) alleging the conference was intended to hide the evidence and that the lead author, Thomas Verstraeten, altered it.
Well there are a few problems with the bit of bullshit - first, the entire transcript of the meeting is freely available (for example here) (warning, it's really long), and there is no evidence of any conspiracy to cover up or change any evidence. Second, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions reviewed the entire affair and found no evidence of any impropriety by either Dr. Verstraeten or the CDC. In fact, they concluded "Instead of hiding the data or restricting access to it, CDC distributed it, often to individuals who had never seen it before, and solicited outside opinion regarding how to interpret it".
That doesn't sound like anyone trying to hide something.
52) Well we just need safer vaccines. I wish I could just say "Obviously" and leave it at that. We need safer everything - safer cars, safer bicycle helmets, safer sports gear, safer lawn mowers, safer lithium batteries, safer home wiring, safer food, safer schools. Everything around us should be safe, and everything around us (for the most part) has been designed specifically to be as safe as possible with the available technology. As safer technology evolves (think seat belts followed by air bags), products get ever safer. The same goes with vaccines. As vaccine science has evolved, the number of antigens in vaccines has decreased dramatically even as the number of vaccines given has increased:
And as the science continues to evolve, the products will continue to become safer.
53) Measles protects against cancer. This ridiculous claim is based on this one article (I can't even call it a study) from 1998 (does that year ring any other antivax bells?) in which anthroposophic practitioners (I can't even call them doctors) in Switzerland conducted a questionnaire and supposedly found that the number of febrile illnesses (ie measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, pertussis, etc) was inversely proportional to the risk of non-breast cancer. Why is this such a bullshit claim? To start, anthroposophic medicine is an alternative practice based on occult bullshit, risible bullshit, homeopathic bullshit, and other assorted bullshit. As an example, Rudolf Steiner, one of the founders of anthroposophic medicine, believed 1) that the sex of a baby was determined at conception by the alignment of the stars, and 2) that the heart was not actually a pump, but that instead blood circulates via its own "biological momentum". If the founder of such a cult (I can't even call it a form of alternative medicine) can't even understand concepts as (relatively) simple as genetics and the circulatory system, I can hardly expect his devout followers to understand something as complex as running a scientific study.
And this was in fact not a scientific study. It was merely a survey of anthroposophic practitioners with all the inherent confirmation bias and observation bias one would expect. This is similar to the Bachmair questionnaire where only home-school mothers were surveyed by a homeopath. It begins with a biased premise and just goes off the rails from there.
The main reason this article is completely worthless is that it has not been replicated despite 20 years of opportunity to do so. This sort of information should have elicited an "AHA!" reaction from the medical world. Instead, there has been nothing. No replication, no confirmation, nothing.
This was indeed the recommendation by Johns Hopkins as a precaution prior to actual information being gathered. However, this issue has now been extensively studied, and Hopkins has revised their statement:
In short, yes some live virus vaccines shed as these case reports prove. However, the cases are milder than wild-type infections, and they are extremely rare. Millions of doses of these vaccines are given every year, so this argument only strengthens the argument that vaccines are extremely safe.
Here is the reality - all vaccines (ALL OF THEM) go through pre-clinical toxicology testing for safety, including mutagenicity and carcinogenicity. But the problem with the flu shot is that the component for each year's shot is different, so each year's shot cannot possibly be tested prior to being used. But the data from several decades' worth of flu vaccination is that it does not cause cancer.
First, we’ve got population. The world today has 6.8 billion people. That’s headed up to about nine billion. Now, if we do a really great job on new vaccines, health care, reproductive health services, we could lower that by, perhaps, 10 or 15 percent
See! He wants to reduce population by 10-15%! No he doesn't. As I said, this quote is taken out of context. He is talking about ways to reduce the creation of carbon dioxide, and one of those is to reduce the rate of population growth, not to reduce population. THAT is what he meant by "lower that by 10-15%". He has said repeatedly that as vaccination rates go up in developing nations, infant mortality goes down, and as more children survive, parents don't feel the need to have 8 or 10 children anymore (emphasis added):
"A surprising but critical fact we learned was that reducing the number of deaths actually reduces population growth. […] Contrary to the Malthusian view that population will grow to the limit of however many kids can be fed, in fact parents choose to have enough kids to give them a high chance that several will survive to support them as they grow old. As the number of kids who survive to adulthood goes up, parents can achieve this goal without having as many children."
"When a mother can choose how many children to have, her children are healthier, they’re better nourished, their mental capacities are higher—and parents have more time and money to spend on each child’s health and schooling. That’s how families and countries get out of poverty. This link between saving lives, a lower birthrate, and ending poverty was the most important early lesson Melinda and I learned about global health."
There is no eugenics conspiracy, no depopulation, no agenda 21, and no conspiracy to decrease the world population to 500 million.
Anyway, you're talking about Antonietta Gatti's rather silly evaluation of so-called contamination of vaccines with nanoparticles which backfired. First, you'll notice the paper is on Medcrave, not Pubmed. That should be a huge red flag, and if you don't know why, then you have no business trying to evaluate a scientific paper. Regardless, Gatti and her partners found varying numbers of inorganic particles when they evaporated 44 samples of 30 different vaccines and looked at them under an electron microscope. And they found tiny particles of various substances including tungsten, gold, aluminum, etc, ranging from two to 1821 particles per 20 microlitres of fluid. While that seems scary, that is an incredibly small amount of these substances compared to the amount of the vaccine, which is itself very small.
They didn't use any controls, so there is no telling how many of these particles would be found in tap water or sterile saline or distilled water or anything else. The bottom line is that nothing is completely pure, but this study actually shows that vaccines are very, very pure.
58) But Gardasil . . . I'm going to stop you right there, because you said either "premature ovarian failure" or "kills" or "maims" or some other bullshit. I'm sure you probably mentioned some scary-sounding anecdote about a young girl getting her Gardasil shot and then becoming lethargic or wheelchair-bound or dead. Right?
Ooooh wait I know, you said that there are no Gardasil safety studies. Right?
Oh, you said there are no placebo-controlled safety studies, right?
Wrong, wrong, and wrong. In fact, here is a review of 109 safety studies across six countries including over 2.5 million subjects which showed only an increased risk of local injection site reactions (pain, redness, swelling), but no increased risk of any of the various things supposedly attributed to HPV vaccines, including demyelinating diseases and neurological syndromes.
And here is a study of nearly 1 million girls in Denmark and Sweden which shows no increased risk of autoimmune, neurological, or thromboembolic events.
59) Gardasil causes premature ovarian failure. Sorry, I left that out the last one. There are case reports of teenage girls developing primary ovarian insufficiency after HPV vaccination. But these are mere anecdotes, and even before HPV vaccination there was a 22/100,000 rate of primary ovarian insufficiency, so it has always existed. But this study of nearly 200,000 girls showed no increased risk of primary ovarian insufficiency after HPV vaccination.
60) Herd immunity doesn't exist. Sure it does. It's been demonstrated numerous times, but I think one of the best examples was this study from Burkina Faso, in which nearly 90% of the population at risk was vaccinated for meningitis (Neisseria meningitidis serotype A, or NmA), and 13 months later when the subjects (both the vaccinated and unvaccinated) were resampled, exactly ZERO still carried NmA. As the authors conclude, "The disappearance of NmA carriage among both vaccinated and unvaccinated populations is consistent with a vaccine-induced herd immunity effect".
That's just one example. There are many others.
61) X didn't exist before vaccines. It doesn't really matter what you said didn't exist before vaccines, unless you said "herd immunity". I've seen various claims here, but the most common ones are autism (of course) and SIDS. Leo Kanner first described autism in 1943 before all but two vaccines (smallpox and diphtheria) were invented (diphtheria antitoxin was invented in 1901, and Hans Asperger was lecturing about a group of children with autism in 1938, but the vaccine didn't come out until the 1920's). And Eugen Bleuler first used the term "autism" in 1908. That is a very long-winded way of saying yes, autism actually existed before vaccines. Except smallpox, but I haven't seen a single person arguing that the smallpox vaccine causes autism. Probably because it doesn't.
Any idea what it is? If you said "That's a polio virus", then chances are you are not an antivaxxer, because that is, in fact, the polio virus. I only say that because if you're an antivaxxer you probably couldn't tell a polio virus from a volleyball. You see, polio is a viral disease, and all those other things are not (as far as we know). Polio virus can be isolated from a patient with a paralytic disease. It cannot be isolated from Guillain–Barré syndrome, because it does not cause Guillain–Barré syndrome. It cannot be isolated from transverse myelitis patients, because it does not cause transverse myelitis. It cannot be isolated from acute flaccid myelitis patients, because it does not cause acute flaccid myelitis. See where I'm going with this? While we don't know what does cause acute flaccid myelitis, we do know it is not polio.
There are several different, distinct paralytic diseases, and they all present differently. That's why they are different, distinct diseases. Polio is polio, and not polio is not not polio.
What you are ignoring are the far-more-common outbreaks (and subsequent deaths) in unvaccinated (or undervaccinated) populations. And no, I'm not going to use the Disneyland outbreak in 2015, even though 45% of the patients from California were unvaccinated while only 7% were fully vaccinated (the rest were either undervaccinated or had an unknown vaccination status).
Oops, I guess I am going to use that as an example. An even better example is the 2019 Philippines outbreak, with nearly 15,000 cases and over 230 deaths (so far as of this writing), 65% of whom were unvaccinated.
Another example is the current outbreak of measles in Ukraine, with 24,000 cases and 9 deaths
And an even better example is the ongoing outbreak of measles in Madagascar, where they have had over 82,000 cases and about 1000 deaths, two-thirds of whom were unvaccinated. If you aren't seeing a pattern here, then you're even more intellectually dishonest than I could have predicted.
64) Squalene something something Gulf War Syndrome . . . I would have put this up in the "toxins" section, but I don't see it terribly often, so I decided to put it waaaaaaaaaaay down here. Squalene is not an adjuvant by itself, but it is when emulsified with surfactants. It is only added to certain flu vaccines in Europe and one for seniors in the US, so it is not present in any childhood vaccine. The reason for the fear is the supposed presence of anti-squalene antibodies found in American soldiers with the so-called Gulf War Syndrome.
A few problems with this:
Squalene is a naturally occurring substance, and your liver is making it right now as you read this;
A peanut oil adjuvant was tested in the 1960's, but it was never approved for use and is currently found in exactly 0 vaccines anywhere on the planet. While it is (probably) true that peanut (and other food) allergies are increasing in many countries, it isn't vaccines causing it, because much like the mythical truly well-informed antivaxxer, peanut oil adjuvants do not exist.
What is causing it is (probably) the attempted environmental sterilisation that too many parents undertake to keep their kids "safe" from germs. Unfortunately this practice appears to be preventing the normal development of the immune system and is increasing the risk of food allergies. In case you think I'm just pulling this out of my ass (which I admittedly was when I started talking about it over a decade ago), recent evidence fully supports this notion.
This one may sound completely batshit insane, but that's only because it fucking is. This ridiculous mind-bending claim comes from ultra antivaxxer Stefan Lanka, who bet 100,000 euros that no one could prove the measles virus exists. Of course someone (Dr. David Bardens) proved him wrong beyond any reasonable doubt, and a court ordered Lanka to pay up. But the decision was reversed on appeal, judging that the evidence Bardens provided had to live up to Lanka's expectations. Bardens could probably have invented a machine to embiggen the virus to 2m in diameter and shoved it in Lanka's face, but so deeply entrenched are his rabid antivax beliefs that he would have still denied its existence.
Yeah, measles virus exists. Here it is.
67) We never had all these vaccines when I was a kid, I got all these diseases, and I'm fine. Congratulations! You just described survivorship bias. Because there are literally millions of other people who contracted these exact same diseases and are now dead because of them. No vaccine-preventable disease is anywhere close to 100% fatal, so of course most people who got them survived unscathed. This doesn't make the diseases benign (see #16), it just makes you one of the majority who made it. Not every kid is as lucky.
68) Vaccines make you gay. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
No but seriously, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
If you believe a word that comes out of Alex Jones' mouth, then you are quite literally a lost cause. There really isn't a refutation to this, because it is actually that risible.
69) Polio was caused by DDT, not poliovirus. This is just an example of germ theory denialism. It is true that DDT was used to try to prevent the spread of polio, because at the time (mid 1940s) it was incorrectly thought that polio was transmitted by insects like mosquitoes or flies (it is actually faecal-oral).
The big problem with this hypothesis is the timing. The first polio epidemic in the US, for example was in 1894, and the polio virus was discovered in 1908. DDT, on the other hand, was invented in 1874 but was not discovered to be an insecticide until 1939, well after polio was harming children.
70) There hasn't been a vaccine safety study in 30 years. I see you are a fan of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr's brand of antivax bullshit. This claim has been wildly twisted from its origins and stems from a 1986 US law (NCVIA ring a bell?) which, among other things, required that HHS report vaccine safety studies to congress. But somehow even though the reports were done, they were not all properly filed. Let me repeat - the studies were done, they just weren't properly reported. In fact, here is one now.
Do not misunderstand me, the law was not followed here, and that's not a good thing. I don't know why the reports were not properly filed, and I don't know why HHS didn't present the information to congress as they were supposed to. Regardless, safety studies have been done, task forces have regularly met and reported on vaccine safety, vaccine safety oversight committees have been formed and reported to HHS, the Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment project was started in 2001, etc etc etc.
The evidence shows that vaccines are safe, that evidence just wasn't reported properly to congress. That does not mean it does not exist.
71) MMS can cure autism. No. It. Can. Not. There is literally no evidence to support such a ludicrous claim, so I can't even cite anything refuting it. And if you really think giving your child chlorine dioxide (an industrial bleach), either orally or rectally, can cure his autism, then you are even more evil than I could have imagined.
72) I'm not anti-vaccine, but . . . If you start a statement with "No offence, but . . .", you can be assured that the next thing out of your mouth will be offensive. By the same token, any sentence starting with "Not to sound racist, but . . ." is guaranteed to be followed by something racist. Similarly, if you start with "I'm not anti-vaccine, but . . .", there is at least a 99.9974% chance (I calculated it) that yes, you are anti-vaccine.
No, you are not "pro safe-vaccines", because vaccines are already safe. No, you are not "pro medical autonomy", because no one is forcing you to vaccinate yourself or your children. No, you are not "pro informed consent", because informed consent is already done prior to vaccination. What you are is using these excuses as excuses.
That's all I have at the moment. I'm sure there are myriad other bullshit anti-vaccine claims out there, so if I missed any good ones please comment below.
There’s been a lot of discussion over whether schizophrenia is somehow the “opposite” of autism. Many of the genes that increase risk of autism decrease risk of schizophrenia, and vice versa. Autists have a smaller-than-normal corpus callosum; schizophrenics have a larger-than-normal one. Schizophrenics smoke so often that some researchers believe they have some kind of nicotine deficiency; autists have unusually low smoking rates. Schizophrenics are more susceptible to the rubber hand illusion and have weaker self-other boundaries in general; autists seem less susceptible and have stronger self-other boundaries. Autists can be pathologically rational but tend to be uncreative; schizophrenics can be pathologically creative but tend to be irrational. The list goes on.
I’ve previously been skeptical of this kind of thinking because there are many things that autists and schizophrenics have in common, many autistics who seem a bit schizophrenic, many schizophrenics who seem a bit autistic, and many risk factors shared by both conditions. But Del Giudice, building on work by Badcock and Crespi presents the “diametrical model”: schizophrenia and autism are the failure modes of opposing sides of a spectrum from high functioning schizotypy to high functioning autism, ie from overly mentalistic cognition to overly mechanistic cognition.
Schizotypy is a combination of traits that psychologists have discovered often go together. It’s classified as a personality disorder in the DSM. But don’t get too caught up on that term – it’s a disorder in the same sense as narcissistic or antisocial tendencies, and like those conditions, some schizotypals do very well for themselves. Classic schizotypal traits include tendency toward superstition, disorganized communication, and nonconformity (if it sounds kind of like “schizophrenia lite”, that’s not really a coincidence).
Typically schizotypals are supposed to be paranoid and reclusive, the same as schizophrenics. But the diametrical model tries to downplay this in favor of noting that some schizotypals are unusually charismatic and socially successful. I am not exactly sure where they’re getting this from, but I cannot deny knowing several extremely charismatic people with a lot of schizotypal traits. Sometimes these people end up as “cult leaders” – not necessarily literally, but occupying that same niche of strange people who others are drawn toward for their unusually confident and otherworldly nature. Some of the people I know in this category have schizophrenic first-degree relatives, meaning they’re probably pretty loaded with schizotypal genes.
Schizotypals, according to the theory, have overly mentalistic cognition. Their brains are hard-wired for thinking in ways that help them understand minds and social interactions. When this succeeds, it looks like an almost magical understanding into what other people are secretly thinking, what their agendas are, and how to manipulate them. When it fails, it fails as animism and anthropomorphism: “I wonder what the universe is trying to tell me by making it rain today”. Or it fails as paranoia through oversensitivity to social cues: “I just saw him twitch his eye muscle slightly, which can sometimes mean he’s not interested in what I’m saying, and in the local status game that could mean that he doesn’t think I’m important enough, and that implies he might think he’s better than me and I’m expendable…”
Autism, then, would be the opposite of this. It’s overly mechanistic cognition, thinking in terms of straightforward logic and the rules of the physical world. Autistic people don’t make the mistake of thinking the universe is secretly trying to tell them something. On the other hand, after several times trying to invite a slightly autistic woman I had a crush on to things, telling her how much I liked her, petting her hair, etc, she still hadn’t figured out I was trying to date her until I said explicitly “I AM TRYING TO DATE YOU”. So not believing that you are secretly being told things has both upsides and downsides.
Autistic people are sometimes accused of looking for a set of rules that will help them understand people, or the secret cheat code that will make people give them what they want. I imagine an autistic person asking something like “What is the alternative?” This is the kind of thought process that usually works on stuff: figure out the rules that govern something, find a way to exploit them, and boom, you’ve landed a rocket on the moon. How are they supposed to know that human interaction is a bizarre set of layered partial-information games that you’re supposed to solve by looking at someone’s eye muscle twitches and concluding they’re going to steamroll over you to get a promotion at work?
Is this true? There’s…not great evidence for it. I’ve never seen any studies. There’s certainly a stereotype that brilliant engineers are not necessarily the most socially graceful people. But I know a lot of people who combine excellent technical skills with excellent social skills, and other people who are failures in both areas. So probably the best that can be said about this theory is that it would be a really neat way to explain the patterns of similarities and differences between schizophrenia and autism.
In this theory, both high-functioning autism (being good at mechanistic cognition) and high-functioning schizotypy (being good at mentalistic cognition) may be good things to have. But the higher your mutational load is – the less healthy your brain, and the fewer resources it has to bring to the problem – the less well it is able to control these powerful abilities. A schizotypal brain that cannot keep its mentalistic cognition yoked to reality dissolves into schizophrenia, completely losing the boundary between Self and Other into a giant animistic universe of universal significance and undifferentiated Mind. An autistic brain that cannot handle the weight of its mechanistic cognition becomes unable to do even the most basic mental tasks like identify and cope with its own emotions. And because in practice we’re talking about shifts in the complicated computational parameters that determine our thoughts and personalities, rather than the thoughts and personalities directly, both of these conditions have a host of related sensory and cognitive symptoms that aren’t quite directly related.
So here the reason why autism and schizophrenia seem both opposite and similar to each other is because they’re opposite (in the sense of being at two ends of a spectrum), and similar (in the sense that the same failure mode of high mutational load and low “mental resources” will cause both).
If you’re thinking “it sounds like someone should do a principal components analysis on this”, then Science has your back (paper, popular article). They find that:
Consistent with previous research, autistic features were positively associated with several schizotypal features, with the most overlap occurring between interpersonal schizotypy and autistic social and communication phenotypes. The first component of a principal components analysis (PCA) of subscale scores reflected these positive correlations, and suggested the presence of an axis (PC1) representing general social interest and aptitude. By contrast, the second principal component (PC2) exhibited a pattern of positive and negative loadings indicative of an axis from autism to positive schizotypy, such that positive schizotypal features loaded in the opposite direction to core autistic features.
In keeping with this theory, studies find that first-degree relatives of autists have higher mechanistic cognition, and first-degree relatives of schizophrenics have higher mentalistic cognition and schizotypy. Autists’ relatives tend to have higher spatial compared to verbal intelligence, versus schizophrenics’ relatives who tend to have higher verbal compared to spatial intelligence. High-functioning schizotypals and high-functioning autists have normal (or high) IQs, no unusual number of fetal or early childhood traumas, and the usual amount of bodily symmetry; low-functioning autists and schizophrenics have low IQs, increased history of fetal and early childhood trauams, and increased bodily asymmetry indicative of mutational load.
If men have much more autism than women, shouldn’t women have much more schizophrenia than men. You’d think so, but actually men have more. But men have greater variability in general, which means they’re probably more likely to satisfy the high mutational load criterion. So maybe we should instead predict that women should have higher levels of high-functioning schizotypy. Studies show women do have more “positive schizotypy”, the sort being discussed here, but lower “negative schizotypy”, a sort linked to the negative symptoms of schizophrenia.)
Something that bothered me while I was writing this: famous mathematician John Nash was schizophrenic. Isn’t that kind of weird if schizophrenia is about an imbalance in favor of verbal/personal and against logical/mathematical thinking?
There are exceptions to everything, and we probably shouldn’t make too much of one case. But I find it striking that Nash’s work was in game theory: essentially a formalization of social thinking, and centered around the sort of paranoid social thinking of figuring out what to do about how other people might be out to get you. This is probably just a coincidence, but it’s pretty funny.