I was astonished to read this tweet today from well known anti-vaccination identity, Meryl Dorey:
Certainly, I agree that science never “proves” anything. Mathematics and logic have “proofs”, but not science. Which is why scientific consensus provides us with invaluable insight into evidence that applies to matters of science. More so, it is the flexibility of scientific consensus that gives one confidence in science. Dorey’s proposed infinite loop of unending testing is a semantic trick, designed to convey a feel of impotent stasis.
Scientific consensus provides the best explanation from the very best and most reliable of all possible theories. It has after all, extended lifespan and quality in the developed world. Surely there must be more to this reworking of reality. Facebook rewarded my curiosity.
I see. Further application of what we consulted just recently. Meryl’s Equation: < 100% = 0%.
Thalidomide was a watershed in how drug trials are conducted. The tragedy forever changed the way trials proceed before drugs are released onto the market. Vioxx – Merck’s COX-2 inhibitor – is equally concerning. Yet Vioxx represents regulator apathy and a triumphant change in scientific consensus. The FDA approved it in April 1999 and it was recalled completely by Merck in September 2004. There was no “ignoring evidence that their consensus is wrong”.
I’m not seeking to whitewash either event but they do not render scientific consensus as a valuable and crucial notion, suddenly useless.
I imagine mentioning “mercury” is aiming to cast the removal of thimerosal from childhood vaccines, in response to unfounded fears and a drop vaccination rates, as evidence it was causally related to autism or other horrors. In fact, speaking of consensus this remains a topical point. Many insist it was foolish to pander to the anti-vaccine lobby as it may be abused to legitimise their false claims. Such is exactly what we see here.
Depending upon what it is confirming, scientific consensus may come under attack as its relationship to the scientific method is open to exploitation and abuse. Denial of anthropogenic climate change, vaccine efficacy and promotion of intelligent design (biblical creationism), rely heavily on trying to undermine the fact of overwhelming scientific consensus. A key weapon here is in producing “their” scientists to attack the work of others and advance a sham alternative.
The relationship between scientific consensus and the scientific method is perhaps poorly understood. Thus, it befalls us to educate ourselves about the sources of proposed consensus. And by that I really mean finding reputable sources and knowing how to spot disreputable sources. I found myself recently struggling to explain these notions to a friend.
In Australia a documentary aired called I can change your mind on climate change. Presenting both “sides” (denialist rehash vs evolving facts) it was followed by an episode of QandA that offered a terribly worded poll. The question was “Would you change your mind on climate change”? By itself, my answer to that question is an unhesitating Yes. Availed of convincing evidence and a change in consensus I have no problem answering that I “would”.
Yet I suspect the question was worded to be seen in the context of the programme. In which case it should have read “Would you change your mind on climate change given the pathetically, preposterous, piffle to poke at the periphery of your predisposition to weigh dissenting views?” Er… No.
Nonetheless I spent a futile half hour attempting to explain to my friend that whilst I need no convincing of anthropogenic climate change, those very views are important to me because of the relationship between the scientific method and scientific consensus. It is because the scientific method makes scientific consensus so potentially frail, that I back the notion of anthropogenic climate change.
So it is with any consensus arrived at within science. The scientific method is the weapon of choice with which consensus is changed. Little wonder then, an anti-vaccination crusader seeks to demean both.
Prior to this another tweet had caught my eye:
This is pure nonsense. Being infected with influenza is “one of the most common side effects” of vaccination against influenza? I think not.
In fact the NCIRS have a handy Fact Sheet on influenza vaccination. Influenza vaccines used in Australia are inactive. Influenza cells in vaccines cannot cause infection. They have lost their mojo.
As Julie Leask pointed out, in what a betting person might argue was the catalyst for Meryl’s merriment, only 1% – 10% of recipients report symptoms of mild infection for “a day or two”. In fact the article entitled Monday’s Medical Myth: the flu vaccine will give you influenza also noted other reasons for claims of inefficacy-by-infection.
- Anyone vaccinated might get another virus that feels like influenza.
- Some people’s immune system does not respond to the vaccine.
- Anyone vaccinated may get another strain of influenza.
- (As mentioned) less than 10% have mild flu-like symptoms for up to 48 hours.
Other strains of influenza exist because at the time production began, the vaccine strains targeted were calculated to be in circulation months later. This isn’t always correct. Combined with the other issues influenza vaccine is suboptimal. And suboptimal is manna for application of Meryl’s Equation.
Leask points out that we under-react to the risk of influenza. Costing Australia $115 million annually, it kills 3,000 and hospitalises over 13,500 people over 50 each season.
Nonetheless a visit to Facebook was a definite must.
Writing in Science-Based Medicine about problems associated with suboptimal flu vaccination Mark Crislip touches on “vaccine goofs” prone to Meryl’s Equation (<100% = 0%).
So it’s a suboptimal vaccine. And that’s a problem. One, because it will make it more difficult to prove efficacy in clinical studies and two, there is a sub group of anti vaccine goofs who seem to require that vaccines either be perfect, with 100% efficacy and 100% safe, or they are not worth taking.
The CDC have this to say:
At least two factors play an important role in determining the likelihood that influenza vaccine will protect a person from influenza illness: 1) characteristics of the person being vaccinated (such as their age and health), and 2) the similarity or “match” between the influenza viruses in the vaccine and those spreading in the community. During years when the viruses in the vaccine and circulating viruses are not well matched, it’s possible that no benefit from vaccination may be observed. During years when the viruses in the vaccine and circulating viruses are very well matched, it’s possible to measure substantial benefits from vaccination in terms of preventing influenza illness.
[In older people] influenza vaccine is about 30– 40% effective in preventing symptoms of the flu, 50–60% effective against hospitalisation due to influenza, and 70– 80% effective against death from complications of influenza. Influenza vaccination also appears to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. When there is a good match between the influenza strains in the vaccine and those causing current disease, the vaccine can prevent illness in about 70–90% of healthy children and adults. The vaccine is less effective in those with an impaired immune system
Certainly then there is no evidence that the influenza vaccine doesn’t work or as claimed, “causes the flu”.
I don’t quite know what sparked this most recent attack on “skeptics” and science in general but I would hope to see better from a so-called “health educator” able to raise funds as a charity.
For now the scientific consensus is sound and overwhelmingly in favour of mass vaccination.