Debunking Anti-vaxxers: Vol. 1

Thanks to the revolutionary technology of the Internet and subsequently social media, everyone has a loud voice that can potentially reach millions of people in the matter of seconds. This is great, assuming what you have to say isn’t false or misrepresenting truths. Unfortunately, millions of misinformed people are reaching the masses and infecting them with a virus called ignorance.

Ignorance is not only contagious, but it is also very difficult to cure. Once someone is infected, they are resistant to any vaccine, both metaphorically and literally. That segues me to the purpose of this piece: Dealing with anti-vaxxers.

Typically, I do not care what asinine beliefs other people hold, but when it comes to anti-vaxxers, said beliefs directly impact everyone. That is where I draw the line. You can believe Bush did 9/11 or we never landed on the moon, and I will never give it a second thought since those beliefs will never affect me.

In a recent situation, I was bombarded with links to “evidence” that vaccines cause autism to win me over. About a dozen links were sent at one time, making it impossible to address every point directly. Right off the bat, an informal logical fallacy was committed: shotgun argumentation, i.e. dumping a bunch of arguments on the opposition to the point of making it possible to respond to all of them.

Fortunately, shotgun argumentation is only effective in person. When I have time to research the info dump, you have made a fatal error. With that said, I did the research and I want to present it to you in the event you come face-to-face with an anti-vaxxer. Not everyone has the time and energy to do thorough research, so I did it for you. There is almost a 100 percent chance that your rebuttal won’t change their mind, but at the very least you’ll have fun watching the blank stare on someone’s face as your tear apart their beliefs. It’s why I became a journalist.

The thing about people who believe in nonsense is that they generally latch onto the same limited information supporting their claim. Links that were sent my way are more than likely going to be the same information you receive from an anti-vaxxer. As you might suspect, there’s not a whole lot of info supporting anti-vaxxers, so the odds of hearing the same bullshit are in your favor.

Now that you have sat through my long-winded explanation regarding what this is all about, let’s get to the first piece of “evidence” anti-vaxxers love to throw out:

The 28 Links

As discussed above, shotgun argumentation is a favorite tool amongst the uninformed. The first link I received supporting anti-vaxxers was actually a shotgun argumentation in itself, the inception of shotgun argumentation. It was a list of 28 studies that support Andrew Wakefield’s study linking autism to the MMR vaccine.

Wakefield is the former doctor (emphasis on the word “former,” as he has been excommunicated from virtually all scientific communities) who is responsible for this entire mess. His paper that was featured in the Lancet in 1998 has been redacted from the medical journal and has been debunked by nearly every credible scientist since. Despite the overwhelming consensus within the scientific community, i.e. People who know a shit ton more than us, some people still think Wakefield’s study is legit.

Anyway, back to these 28 studies. After doing some research, it appears this list of 28 studies is popular within the anti-vaxxer community. Several anti-vaxxer websites have reposted the list and has become the go-to grab bag for those who believe it. This alone proves that your anti-vaxxer friend did zero of their own research. They just found a list of studies on a website, copied and pasted.

Here’s the list of 28 studies that an anti-vaxxer will claim supports Wakefield’s study:

  1. The Journal of Pediatrics November 1999; 135(5):559-63
  2. The Journal of Pediatrics 2000; 138(3): 366-372
  3. Journal of Clinical Immunology November 2003; 23(6): 504-517
  4. Journal of Neuroimmunology 2005 
  5. Brain, Behavior and Immunity 1993; 7: 97-103
  6. Pediatric Neurology 2003; 28(4): 1-3
  7. Neuropsychobiology 2005; 51:77-85
  8. The Journal of Pediatrics May 2005;146(5):605-10
  9. Autism Insights 2009; 1: 1-11
  10. Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology February 2009; 23(2): 95-98
  11. Annals of Clinical Psychiatry 2009:21(3): 148-161
  12. Journal of Child Neurology June 29, 2009; 000:1-6
  13. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders March 2009;39(3):405-13
  14. Medical Hypotheses August 1998;51:133-144.
  15. Journal of Child Neurology July 2000; ;15(7):429-35
  16. Lancet. 1972;2:883–884.
  17. Journal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia January-March 1971;1:48-62
  18. Journal of Pediatrics March 2001;138:366-372.
  19. Molecular Psychiatry 2002;7:375-382.
  20. American Journal of Gastroenterolgy April 2004;598-605.
  21. Journal of Clinical Immunology November 2003;23:504-517.
  22. Neuroimmunology April 2006;173(1-2):126-34.
  23. Prog. Neuropsychopharmacol Biol. Psychiatry December 30 2006;30:1472-1477.
  24. Clinical Infectious Diseases September 1 2002;35(Suppl 1):S6-S16
  25. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 2004;70(11):6459-6465
  26. Journal of Medical Microbiology October 2005;54:987-991
  27. Archivos venezolanos de puericultura y pediatría 2006; Vol 69 (1): 19-25.
  28. Gastroenterology. 2005:128 (Suppl 2);Abstract-303

When I originally received this list I planned on addressing only the first five. Ain’t nobody got time for that, as the saying goes. However, I discovered something both baffling and hilarious: three (#2, #3, #4) of the first five studies supporting Wakefield’s study was coauthored by…Andrew Wakefield! Support studies cannot be coauthored by the researcher of the original study. That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

After doing a little more research, I discovered more quackery. Studies #18 and #19 were also coauthored by Wakefield, automatically disqualifying nearly 18 percent of the studies. Click the above links and see for yourself.coauthored-studies

As someone else pointed out, studies #18 and #22 are repeat citations, with #18 matching #2 and #22 matching #4. Gone. Furthermore, studies #5, #16 and #17 were published well before Wakefield’s 1998 study. The problem here is that a study cannot confirm “breakthrough” research if said research hasn’t even been done before. Logically, it doesn’t make any sense. Boom! Three more studies eliminated, brining the total of studies left to 19, or approximately 68 percent of the original list.

Study #9 was published in a journal titled Autism Insights. Never heard of it? Probably not because it was a very short-lived journal with four members on the editorial board…including Wakefield. The other three members of the editorial board were also members of Thoughtful House Center for Children, which is the organization that Wakefield founded. Furthermore, the journal was never indexed in MEDLINE, which is essential for any journal to be considered legitimate. However, even if it was indexed, Wakefield’s hands were all over it, rendering it useless.

The editorial board listing for Autism Insights has been conveniently taken down. However, a little research on the study in question reveals Arthur Krigsman is the leading author. Krigsman was a colleague of Wakefield at Thoughtful House.

Three of the six authors (Anthony, Thomson and Murch) in study #20 were also coauthors of Wakefield’s controversial 1998 study. If I have to explain to you why this disqualifies the study, I urge you to take a science course at your local junior high school to reacquaint yourself with the fundamentals of science and research.

The only claim of the above reference I could not independently verify is that study #27 was closely associated with Thoughtful House. It’s in Spanish and not very well referenced. Considering it’s in Spanish, it’s safe to assume that most anti-vaxxers also have not read the study.

We are now left with 16 studies, or 57 percent of the original list. On the next installment of Ty vs Anti-vaxxers, I will dissect each of those 16 studies. Spoiler alert: None of them support or replicate Wakefield’s study.

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2 thoughts on “Debunking Anti-vaxxers: Vol. 1

  1. Pingback: Debunking Anti-vaxxers: Vol. 2 | Unassociated Press

  2. Pingback: Debunking Anti-vaxxers: Vol. 3 | Unassociated Press

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