The Age of Hilarious: Reflections on the growing anti-science movement

When I was a kid, my mum had a sure way of finding out what we meant when describing something as “funny”.

“Funny Ha Ha or funny strange?”, she’d ask, and when suitably availed of an answer could turn her attention to following whatever enormously important point kids tend to make. Looking around today however, “funny strange” is thoroughly outdone by the eerie normality with which faith and belief in demonstrable and dangerous fallacies pass us by.

Using “funny” as our proxy description of weirdness, one may consider the present day feverishness with which cognitive bias is clung to, literally hilarious. In what passes for our first generation and more to have lived in the Space Age, there is an abundance of not just unscientific, but viciously anti-scientific beliefs to choose from. So ubiquitous, so easily tolerated, so poorly regulated is this tsunami of irrationality that one cannot miss that we live now in a new age of hilarious ritual and superstition.

In this Age of Hilarious there are some undeniable and durable trends. From hip healers, to AIDS denial, to scheming chiropractors, to cancer cures, to creationist museums to vaccine denial merchants and even the screaming lunacy of the freedom and conspiracy lovers, one enemy glues them together. Science. Without rattling off the volumes of anti-science movements – many of whom claim to be immersed in science – the same thought justification applies. Science is bad, evil, unnatural, open to unwholesome thinking, an unwelcome intruder upon the family, upon motherhood and upon health.

Its agents are intent on hiding the truth and in exploiting our species. It has destroyed the planet and wants to destroy us. It has permeated so much of our lives that to those worshipping in the Age of Hilarious it’s axiomatic as to how malignant Science is. To use Science – or something tainted with its touch – in thinking or in decision making draws mockery and derision is many circles. It is at once corrupt and the vehicle for the corrupt to continue their corruption. Nonsense has become normal to the point where presenting facts earns inane insults. From Pharma shill in citing undeniable facts on vaccination to Zionist or Jew Boy for querying the logic of 9/11 as an inside job.

Yet despite the pointy ends of these beliefs, the hub from which it all comes probably tells us much about human nature. Those who embark on evidence denial often challenge critics or defend their illogical meandering with the unwarranted observation that Science doesn’t know everything… it can be wrong… the universe is infinite… there’s more to discover… I say “unwarranted” criticism, because no-one knows this better than those who understand science. Nothing else adheres to these observations as strict rules but the Scientific method itself.

I tend to hear this challenge more as a plea. Those who deny evidence with little thought hold to an ideology wherein they want to live in a mysterious universe. Alienated by the ordinary and mundane everyday explanations and foregone conclusions in the Age of Hilarious, they have essentially no notion that so much of what we take for granted now, was once never so. Perhaps a total mystery, a brutal fact of nature, an expensive time wasting ritual of ignorance or a serendipitous discovery.

Today there are so many millions living with so much explanation that the human needs for mystery, discovery or the urge to conquer intellectual fulfillment must certainly go unrealised. Is it so unusual then that an instinctive response may be to create the “unknown” or perhaps do this by denying what is known? To use the term conveniently, if we accept that humans have spiritual needs, nothing defines the denial of evidence and advancement of belief via ignorance better than the Creationist/Intelligent Design movement.

Finally the dots linking Science to Satan were joined. The Discovery Institute’s “anti-evolution” Wedge Strategy for “renewal of science and culture” begins with the breath taking lie:

The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built. Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West’s greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progress in the arts and sciences.

Apart from its beaming intellectual revulsion, what strikes me most about the Wedge Strategy is its timing. Ideas from The Enlightenment (1650-1790) helped shape the most famous democratic documents in history. The intellectual forces it released have sustained reason and humanity above many attempts to counter Enlightenment philosophies. Although intellectual resistance began as early as 1800 the Industrial Revolution had already seen science secure its place as indispensable. After the two World Wars of the 20th century, then the Cold War, and the control of polio, science and democratic rights eventually opened the way for the quality of life that provided the luxury to be… well, stupid.

The timing was perfect to have Creationism – later renamed Intelligent Design – introduced as a new scientific area. Or rather, as ancient myths brought to life under the authoritative and credulous banner of Science. Thanks to godless communism and Billy Graham, Pentecostal, Baptist and Evangelical movements were well established. Biblical literalism was (and is) quite absurd but it did not want for believers. At the same time, the space race and the Apollo 11 moon landing succeeded in opening our eyes to new scientific wonders and understanding.

Punctuating this clash, and now forever in history, is the Apollo 8 Christmas Eve broadcast of 1968. The first astronauts to orbit the moon took turns to read from the book of Genesis, sending lunar images back to Earth.

By the time the sexual revolution and self discovery of the 1960’s and 70’s had passed, traditional religion offered cold, boring irrelevance. Confidence in mystery, cosmic wonder and supernatural interference had been blasted with knowledge, understanding and explanation. Faith was no longer a noble virtue. It was the absence of evidence and reason. Rather than a scattering of giant intellects condemning the folly of belief, it was an established widespread fact. Even worse the damage and perversion linked to religions was becomming manifest.

Science continued to do amazing things, spitting out new disciplines and knowledge as computer power took its place. Medical science wiped out smallpox in developing nations and extended the human lifespan in developed nations. Alien abductees and spoon benders were being challenged by these chaps known as Skeptics, but it was soon clear a new irrationality had taken root. Suddenly Noah’s Ark was discovered. Then again and again. The Age of Hilarious was upon us.

The ever increasing “natural” alternatives to medicine demanded more respect. Unable to provide evidence to back claims, denial of evidence and attacks on science began. Faith and high risk belief once again offered noble qualities. The alienated could belong. The challenge of ones character that led to such horrors during the middle ages: “How strong is your faith?”, underscored the rising anti-vaccination movement and its many “healing” cousins that in truth, do nothing but delay healing.

On another level the lessons learned from Intelligent Design proponents were being employed deftly by both climate change denialists and those with a vested interest in discrediting climate science. Except in this broadband age the change around from acceptance to denial occurred at breath taking speed. They too have their own “science” – a Global Warming Curriculum designed to undermine genuine science. Rather than the Discovery Institute befouling evolution and biology it’s the Heartland Institute generously funding a violent attack on climate science.

These factors aside the sheer numbers of people that now reject climate change, their high priests and the well established conspiracy language used is compelling stuff. Certainly it resonates well with anti-Enlightenment identities like Miranda Devine, products of The Age of Hilarious, who proceed to damage the field of discourse irreparably. So rigid are her anti-climate devotees a great number sprang to her defence when she blamed the London riots on equal rights and same sex union. The woman writes predetermined right wing vengeance, yet “great piece”, “wonderful article”, “blah blah”, flow across Twitter regardless of topic, as she insults critics with her baton of misplaced importance.

There are the Creationists who speak of climate science in the same tone I speak of war crimes. To confuse the mix other enemies of reason accept climate science not because they have the skill to choose a valid source, but because they are beholden to their misconception of “natural”. Yet far from potential allies in managing the fallout from climate change they contribute to delayed action on their own field of play. Destruction of GM crops. Misguided animal rights. Spreading misinformation about vaccination as a means to population control. It’s not smaller healthier and wealthier families they see emerging to bring developing nations out of poverty. It’s “human culling” via vaccine.

A common factor in all beliefs held by enemies of reason in the Age of Hilarious is the misconception of “research” and “conclusion”. We hear this with so many pseudo-scientific endeavours and particularly with climate denial and vaccine denial. People claim to have spent time researching vaccines, for example, only to follow on with the “conclusion” it’s best not to vaccinate their children. Yet whatever they have read has all the accuracy of that which leads others to deny evolution announcing, “If we evolved from monkeys why are there still monkeys around today?”. Or to quote Kent Hovind, he hasn’t seen “a squirrel give birth to a pine cone… a dog give birth to a non dog”.

Vaccine denial relies on the towering ignorance of the over-confident or the thunderous immorality of the callous and cunning. One can accept that it is surely impossible to properly study immunology and that they must trust the scientific consensus. Or alternatively one can crave the nobility of faith, the piety of belief and insist on not being “a sheep”. In truth no amount of reading without evaluation and practice justifies the often heard claims of superior intelligence.

It’s here we need the Dunning-Kruger effect. Rational Wiki describes it briefly and in brutal accuracy:

The Dunning-Kruger effect occurs when incompetent people not only fail to realise their incompetence, but consider themselves much more competent than everyone else. Basically – they’re too stupid to know that they’re stupid

Complicating this further is the in-group thinking that accompanies the anti-science crowds. Consider the Chiropractic Association of Australia. The Australian Homeopathic Association. The Australian Vaccination Network and other organised conspiracy movements. All these groups and many more exhibit a lack of any skill to discern the value of information. Ideology and belief is what drives them. Today, claimed intelligence and the accumulation of knowledge do not make for good decision making.

The sheer volume of information means we are better served by developing the skill to choose what sources to trust. Though I imagine for some they are at an extreme disadvantage. The constant urge for intellectual risk in the supposed realm of the unknown, once served by genuine mysteries, is a cognitive detriment. Hearing someone like Meryl Dorey talk, sets off warning bells like reading a scam Nigerian email offering me untold wealth in the worst grammar possible. Yet for others she is the cult figure that completes the circle of irrational belief.

It seems we develop intellectual tools in the absence of any skill to use them. No doubt that goes for all of us and highlights the importance of critical thinking. Vaccine denial appears in many cases to be justified by stories of cognitive dissonance that are resolved to an eventual cognitive bias which is then fed to the point of a splendid Dunning-Kruger effect. Intellectually the inability to use certain tools most often results in failed comprehension. But combined with the inability to gauge risk the anti-vaccine movement is overseeing a resurgence of disease. Consider this comment approved by Meryl Dorey on The Australian Vaccination Network Facebook page.

Inability to understand risk-benefit is a feature of The Age of Hilarious

The developing world is for those of us in the Age of Hilarious much like where a time machine would take us if we went backward and forward to gather information of vaccine preventable disease (VPD). Today, one child dies every 20 seconds from a VPD. Pneumonia and diarrhea are the biggest killers in developing nations whilst these are prevented by Pneumococcal and Rotavirus vaccines. As the AVN’s Judy Wilyman rails against the HPV vaccine, dismissively citing developed nation levels of cervical cancer the reality is 270,000 women die of HPV related causes annually – 85% in developing nations.

The smallpox vaccine saves $1.3 billion annually – 10 times the cost of the original program. Typhoid kills 200-600,000 per year and in developing nations congenital rubella syndrome still claims 90,000 lives annually. The cost to a family of a disabled child or adult often combined with the loss of a mother is to us, incomprehensible. Vaccination allows for improved health and growth. Children go on to attend and finish school. They contribute to family life and when eventually employed raise the family income to levels usually not dreamed of.

The more children vaccinated the more that live and the more that live the less that must be “produced” by parents to compete with the present law of attrition. In countries with high VPD one doesn’t expect to see children grow. Rather one hopes against the odds enough will grow to sustain a bearable quality of life for the family. With vaccination quality of life improves dramatically. Families, villages, districts and even nations can be pulled from poverty.

The GAVI Alliance – previously Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation – fund 97% of pneumococcal vaccination in developing nations. In the last decade they have pushed hepatitis B vaccination in China above that in Australia and placed a virtual halt on liver cancer.

Yet comfortable in their scientifically endowed lives, fully vaccinated as children and content with two kids, vaccine denialists in developed nations insist the reduction in family numbers and misery is planned genocide. They ridicule charities and sabotage attempts to raise money for, or educate about, the success of vaccination in less fortunate nations, as yet free from the Age of Hilarious. Which raises the question: what are they free from?

A typical example is that recently Mia Freedman wrote an article about the self appointed experts of the anti-vaccine movement. Mia shreds the AVN ticking all the boxes about their false “choice”, the farcical name, the pretend expertise… in fact the truth. One quote I like which applies because the benefits of vaccines are irrefutable is, “In fact there aren’t two sides and there is no debate. On one hand there is science and there is no other hand.”

Dorey went berserk, summoned her flying monkeys and actually had them writing to Mia “from the other side”. The attacks were typical. “What a bl**dy parasitic moron journalist!” commented one. Her article was likened to eugenics, she was a moron, and idiot. She was an ignorant douchebag, rude, self-righteous, uneducated and hateful…. One can only imagine the emails out of the public eye.

Mia tweeted:

To which Dorey shot back “What threats? How about listening to parents of vaccine damaged kids to learn about the other side if (sic) vaccination? YES-2 sides!”. Which is terribly ironic as many have asked to see these crowds of vaccine damaged children that Dorey so liberally exploits. At the same time anyone presenting evidence was banned and their posts deleted – as usual. One member managed to remain leaving:

Mia writes engaging articles with compassion, empathy and humour. Many, many commenters on MM disagree with her position on many issues but as long as they’re not abusive, the comments stay. That’s why she has such a vast audience. You should try it, Meryl. You might find your audience grows instead of shrinking away and hiding on closed websites and Facebook pages.

And (to the author of the above Facebook comment – but not in response to that comment):

… why are you being so mean? You do realise that lots of people – genuinely curious people – will come to this page after reading Mia’s column? If I were you I’d be using the traffic to make a reasoned argument in a friendly forum. Mocking and insulting a well loved and popular writer (even if you disagree with her) is not doing your cause any good.

All in all it continued on for some time. I was riveted at how far the antivaccination movement – or is it just Dorey’s mob – had fallen. I could not find any arguments or attempts at discourse beyond vicious, wailing ad hominem abuse. Dorey wrote her usual scathing personal reply seeming to latch onto two sentences that distort Mia’s intent:

I’m certainly not suggesting we become a flock of sheep or suspend critical thought. But I don’t need to ‘do my research’ before I vaccinate.

Dorey used this to accuse her of being a sheep proffering, “Well duh! If you don’t do your research first Mia, may I suggest you open wide and say baaaaaaaaaa!”

But the full paragraph is clearer:

I’m certainly not suggesting we become a flock of sheep or suspend critical thought. But I don’t need to ‘do my research’ before I vaccinate. Or before I accept that the earth is round and that gravity exists. Scientists far smarter than me have already done that research and the verdict is unanimous, thanks.

Therein lies the impact of Mia’s article. Cries of “I’ve done my research” just don’t cut it with something as irrefutable as vaccination. From a safety viewpoint, it is open to abuse and argument less than regulation of the aviation industry. I would also argue, one needs the skill to discern a reputable source rather than embarking on piecemeal “research”. And in this Age of Hilarious it’s plain that Meryl Dorey is a source of dangerous nonsense.

To top it off Dorey made her seventh appearance on Friday at Conspiracy Central Airwaves aka Fairdinkum Radio. I’ve snipped 3 minutes of grabs below [or MP3 here]. It opens with Leon Pittard criticising science and the “technocracy” we’re moving into. It continues with Big Pharma terror then Dorey attacking Mia Freedman who “is a product of the governments health policy [which is] everyone must vaccinate and we need to fear and hate those who don’t do it”. That’s right dear reader – that’s government policy according to Dorey. Just like racism she contends.

Despite knowing the pertussis vaccine gives dubious immunity and no vaccine is infallible Dorey can’t seem to grasp Mia’s argument that an unvaccinated child is a risk to all Australians, vaccinated or not. Meryl should read this post from a mother whose vaccinated daughter caught pertussis from an unvaccinated child and three months later, “is prone to chest infections, pneumonia, and more susceptible to viruses and Influenza.”

In the same program Dorey again repeats the myth that no children died of pertussis in the ten years to 2009. Reasonable Hank deals with it splendidly. Why she keeps insulting her hosts and listeners like this I don’t really know, only to politely assume it’s linked to the pitfalls of cognitive bias above. Between 1993 – 2008, 16 children under 12 months died from pertussis. Dorey is well aware of this. And so her cult-like cycle of bald faced untruths continues.

French atheist, philosopher and author, Michel Onfray suggests the coming century will be the century of religion. He is probably right, but exactly what form the religions will take and what passes for belief and faith might be hard to recognise by its end. Consider Scientology for a salient example.

Whatever the case it seems that for a number of reasons from human psychology, to arrogance to simple power and profit the Age of Hilarious will persist for a while yet.

Judy Wilyman’s Vaccine Woo

Coincidence is not science – Judy Wilyman, June 30th 2010

According to conspiracy theorist and anti-vaccine lobbyist Judy Wilyman, it is a “scientific fact” that “the chemicals” in vaccines and vaccines themselves have “synergistic, cumulative and latent effects”.

Most of us are familiar with the latent effect/s of vaccines. Prevention of disease and death spring to mind. Combined? Prevention of multiple diseases, passing them on to tiny babies or those who cannot be vaccinated. Yet Judy is pushing a barrow of malignancy. Cumulative effects are the cause of many ills, Judy claims. With vaccines widely used for 80 years, her evidence then, must be compelling. She states:

There is no measure of delayed responses of vaccines or long term health studies of children monitoring the combined effects of vaccines. That’s the hard evidence that we would need to say this programme is safe

Oh. Perhaps not.

Download MP3 from W.A. July 30th, 2010 or listen (quote at 21min 30s):


Wilyman claims diseases were reduced before vaccination and health department records show a rarity of adverse reactions. But of course, “often this link is denied”. Her evidence then, must be compelling. Nah – just kidding.

I previously wrote a little on the W.A. Woo Fest that Professor Fiona Stanley described as “bizarre” and ”so misinformed that it is scary”. I stuck to question one of the two that Judy reckons define “the context and the ethics” of immunisation programmes.

  1. Did vaccines play a significant role in controlling and reducing infectious diseases?
  2. What is in a vaccine?

No doubt the ghastly constituents of vaccines will be equally misrepresented. “This generation of children is the unhealthiest yet”, Judy intones failing to offer a definition of chronic illness or any insight into the massive leaps in diagnostic technology and paediatric medicine.

Obesity is a major chronic health problem in today’s children and it alone ushers in many more complications. Poor diet and restricted activity have a permanent effect upon the development of the endocrine system, in turn effecting fat and sugar metabolism. Unsurprisingly diabetes is more common.

Prolonged periods of sitting (including recreational choices) can lead to problems from chronic constipation to poor perfusion and oxygenation of peripheral tissues to the rare but steadily increasing incidence of childhood thromboses. Increases in long distance travel have brought an awareness of the importance of regular leg movement in adults. There is a delicate balance between haemodynamic pressure, lymphatic function and venous flow related to movement. Vaccination is not to blame.

Judy would have fun explaining why Vaccine Preventable Diseases make the list of childhood diseases on the increase in developed nations, following reduction in immunisation. Or the success of the Hib vaccine in controlling that disease in just 12 years. Rotavirus is not linked to intestinal problems in infants. Despite telling her audience in W.A. that the influenza vaccine may be more dangerous than influenza itself, last September 115 deaths from ‘flu were reported in the USA. Wilyman:

In epidemics where there is only a small risks to individuals from the disease then the risk of the vaccine may be greater. Particularly if multiple vaccines are being used – and this is the case with influenza. Influenza is not a serious risk for the majority of children

Judy goes on to misrepresent thimerosal and other preservatives (formaldehyde) “which are known to cause neurological and immunological diseases”. Thimerosal is in only two childhood vaccines. Bemoaning formaldehyde exposure is as outrageous as it is ridiculous. A backyard BBQ burning old wood off-cuts or timber fixtures would produce many thousands of times that of a lifetime of vaccination. It’s typical misrepresentation of how much dose makes a poison.

Antibiotics which “we know are linked with allergies and anaphylaxis” are other terrible ingredients. The same with aluminium which is also “linked to auto-immune diseases”. Judy omits telling the audience that breast feeding over a 6 month period exposes an infant to 2.5 times the amount of Al from vaccination. Formula delivers 10 times the amount whilst Soy formula introduces 40 times the amount of aluminium.

Exactly how an infant can deal with ingesting 40 times the aluminium as via vaccination over the same period without being poisoned, is of no moment to antivaccine lobbyists. Presumably they imagine the hanky panky “natural” approach via digestion is a fail safe. Yet ingested Al certainly makes it to the blood stream and is excreted the same way as any source of Al – the third most abundant element and most abundant metal in nature. We excrete all but 1% that we’re exposed to over a lifetime.

Judy goes on to link “autoimmune diseases” such as diabetes, autism, arthritis, M.S., lupus and thyroidism to pathogens in vaccines. You see, the hanky panky digestion caper means pathogen proteins would naturally enter the stomach as amino acids. But injected these whole proteins produce auto-antibodies and cause autoimmune disease.

In case you missed it Judy has seemingly discovered that autism is an autoimmune disease, whilst the rest of the world’s researchers claim it has no known etiology. Which is also at odds to Dorey’s claim of acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis and other instances of encephalitis being the cause. Their unique impact is graphed below.

Source: Theoretically Speaking

Judy also blames allergies and anaphylaxis on vaccination. Yet incidence of anaphylaxis is documented at 0.65 cases per million vaccinations. Larger studies have also found less than one case per million vaccines and no deaths attributed to the immunizing agent. However 500 cases per one million are attributed to eggs, tree nuts, cows milk, wheat, soybean, fish, shell fish, sesame, peanuts, latex, insect stings and anesthesia.

Allergies are also blamed on vaccines by Judy, despite greater intensity, duration and frequency already being linked to climate change. In fact everything is blamed on vaccines – even speech delay regardless of diagnostic criteria changing markedly in recent years. Other developmental delays include ADHD. Despite very few viable candidates for asthma, but many well known triggers that’s also squeezed into her discovery portfolio. All down to vaccine ingredients that parents are not warned about, according to Judy Wilyman.

Wilyman loves to quote government sources when it suits her but omits that The Australian Immunisation Handbook notes:

Research has constantly replicated no link in the following:

  • sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and any vaccine.
  • autism and MMR vaccine.
  • multiple sclerosis and hepatitis B vaccine.
  • inflammatory bowel disease and MMR vaccine.
  • diabetes and Hib vaccine.
  • asthma and any vaccine.

Being “an independent researcher” and fond of her “PhD researcher” title Judy would be aware of the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety’s position on Hepatitis B vaccination and Multiple Sclerosis:

The Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety (GACVS) has concluded that there is no association between administration of the hepatitis B vaccine and multiple sclerosis (MS). Since 1982, hepatitis B vaccine has been given to over 500 million people around the world. The hepatitis B vaccine is the first and only vaccine that prevents liver cancer by preventing hepatitis B infection.

It would seem Judy consciously rejects accepted material for that which is clearly baseless. Despite this mad scramble to blame almost every childhood ailment on vaccination, Wilyman has forgotten her hypocritical quote above. “Coincidence is not science”. In an evidence vacuum, her “synergistic, cumulative and latent effects” simply do not exist.

Despite the coincidences and claimed conspiracies, Judy Wilyman is yet to produce the science.

Pertussis notification and vaccination status in context

Across the globe it is known how important the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine is in preventing both infection and severity of infection with Bordetella pertussis.

Along with vaccines for diphtheria and tetanus, then polio (1950’s), measles, mumps, rubella (1960’s) the Australian pertussis vaccine has contributed to an astonishing 99% reduction in deaths from vaccine preventable disease. Just after the turn of the century pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus vaccines alone had saved over 70,000 lives whilst the population had almost tripled since their inception. Since then pertussis vaccination alone has saved around another 10,000 Australian lives.

From the World Health Organisation, to national or state health authorities across developed nations to your local doctor, the evidence is compelling. Although anyone can catch pertussis it is babies under 12 months who are most vulnerable to infection. The disease can cause disability and death in the unvaccinated. Whilst immunisation provides antibodies to fight pertussis, it does not provide “magical protection”. For that you need chiropractors or other practitioners of alternatives to medicine.

Immunisation against pertussis does mean:

  • A significantly reduced chance of being infected
  • A significantly reduced severity of infection if infected
  • Protection of unvaccinated individuals that one may come into contact with
  • Low levels of community infection with high levels of immunisation

Pertussis epidemics follow on from reduction in immunisation across the community, leading to a drop in herd immunity. The present epidemic Australia is experiencing began in Byron Bay, an area with very low immunisation rates, and then spread to other areas of low immunisation. From the backyard of Meryl Dorey’s anti-vaccination lobby group the seeds for this epidemic were sown a decade ago. Brynley Hull and Peter McIntyre wrote in January 2003 [page 12]:

Although immunisation coverage has greatly improved over the past five years in NSW, and many areas have reached coverage targets, there are areas in NSW where the level of registered conscientious objection to immunisation is great enough to affect immunisation coverage, as measured by the ACIR. One such area is northern NSW, and the Byron Bay SLA in particular, where the rate of conscientious objection is one of the highest in the country.

Despite the crystal clear science and undoubted success of immunisation, movements against all vaccines have grown. They have kept pace with internet driven conspiracy theories, imaginary diseases, imaginary cures and new age beliefs. The most successful currency used by those opposed to scientific success is ignorance and misinformation.

An excellent example regarding pertussis vaccination is that many people incorrectly believe all vaccines, with the exception of influenza, provide lifelong immunity. With pertussis, vaccine induced immunity wanes over time and as noted above whilst it reduces the chance of infection, it is not an impervious shield. Antivaccination lobbyists have taken advantage of this to infer that the pertussis vaccination schedule itself has failed. First, we have ignorance – the expectation that immunity is lifelong. Then follows misinformation.

For example as debunked here more than a few times, figures describing vaccination levels and notification of infection are frequently misused by the Australian Vaccination Network to falsely refute the efficacy of immunisation. Yet these clumsy attempts are piecemeal and misleading. Time and again infection notification and vaccination status is highlighted and infused with qualities that serve to misinform. Placing figures in context yields a very different picture which, given that they seek to deny international trends that have existed for decades, is not surprising.

The question, or challenge if you will, is about the veracity of the pertussis vaccination schedule. Thus we must take care to ensure we elucidate notifications related to full immunisation as per the schedule. Take the following table of children between 0 – 4 years old, diagnosed with pertussis:

Pertussis notification by vaccination status 0-4 years, Australia August 2011

We see that a total of 9,333 notifications have been tabulated. 5,296 or 56.7% are fully vaccinated.

986 are partially vaccinated. 800 are not vaccinated. 754 are ineligible for vaccination. This gives us a total of 2,540 or 27.2% who are not fully vaccinated.

1,497 or 16% are unknown.

Do these figures reflect infection in the community? No, they reflect the vaccine status of children diagnosed.

Firstly as the table informs us “fully vaccinated” does not necessarily conform with fully vaccinated under the National Immunisation Program. Ineligible cases between 6-8 weeks of age that had received one dose in 2009 are included in “fully vaccinated”. Both these facts artificially inflate the “fully vaccinated” category.

Next we must accept that this table underestimates the actual number of infections in the community. The National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System relies on a passive surveillance system which does not capture every case of pertussis in the community.

Which raises the question. Who is not making notification? Can we infer anything about the vaccination status of those not recorded in the above table? If so, does this help us understand the figures in the table better? As a matter of fact, yes.

Do these figures reflect the efficacy of pertussis vaccination? In other words, is this telling us that there are over twice as many infected children in our community who have been vaccinated (56.7%), than those who have not been fully vaccinated (27.2%) and thus reflect low vaccine efficacy? No.

Far more children are vaccinated against pertussis than those who are not. 95% vs 5% in fact. Even with greatly reduced chance of infection the sheer numbers of vaccinated children mean that “fully vaccinated” will dominate notifications. These figures also reflect the greater likelihood of parents who vaccinate to take their child to a GP and follow through with reporting, and also reflect the likelihood of conscientious objectors to avoid a GP and to not follow through with reporting.

For example a USA study published in Vaccine in December last year showed that parents who do not vaccinate their children are four times more likely to take their child to a chiropractor than a conventional doctor. In Australia we already know that chiropractors are vocal antivaccination proponents with strong links to antivaccination lobby groups such as the Australian Vaccination Network. Many chiropractors in Australia actively mislead consumers on the topic of vaccination making impossible claims, actively deriding vaccination.

But we can do much better than this and begin to build a profile of parents who refuse vaccination and later choose conscientious objection. Five days ago Australian Doctor reflected on the study:

A US survey found parents who refused childhood vaccinations were four times more likely to have sent their youngest, school-aged child to a chiropractor than parents of vaccinated children. Parents who conscientiously objected to school immunisation requirements were also more likely to have strong concerns about vaccines, to distrust local doctors and to have had one or more births in a non-hospital, alternative setting. […]

Are naturopathic and complementary healthcare providers reinforcing parental concerns and ‘anti-vaccine’ opinions or promoting exemptions, or are they providing healthcare without emphasizing vaccinations?

The pattern emerging is one of anti-conventional medicine, reinforced by alternatives to medicine masquerading as “complementary healthcare”.  For our purposes we must now accept that unvaccinated children may be up to four times less likely to visit a GP when ill with pertussis. This means they may be up to four times less likely to appear as a notification. Regardless of exactly how many unvaccinated children are missed, we can see with confidence that the total is skewed away from highlighting unvaccinated children.

Thus the 8.6% of unvaccinated children noted in the table above (n=800) is possibly a significant underestimation. As parents who do vaccinate are more likely to visit a GP and report diligently, the total is additionally skewed toward the fully vaccinated. What this actually means regarding community impact is best captured in this post written by a mother whose vaccinated child was infected by an unvaccinated child who had been sent to school.

Now comes the fascinating aspect. “Unknown”. What does this mean? Really? For whatever reason, somewhere along the line the child’s vaccination status is not recorded at all, is recorded and fails to make it to the final notification table or is lost to genuine confusion or poor record keeping.

However if parents are not registered on the ACIR as conscientious objectors or as completing their children’s vaccination schedules they are also listed as “unknown”. Thus the following from Brynley Hull and Peter McIntyre is compelling [bold mine]:

Additionally, the proportion of conscientious objectors on the [Australian Childhood Immunisation Register] ACIR is likely to be an underestimate of the proportion of parents who don’t immunise because they disagree with immunisation, particularly in more economically advantaged areas. There are some non-immunising parents who ‘object to registering’, and they will refuse to complete any government-provided form.

“Refuse to complete any government-provided form”. Such as those that question the immunisation status of one’s child? That also is where a significant number of “unknown” cases have their genesis.

In tandem with our emerging profile of anti-conventional medicine beliefs driving the decision to not vaccinate and combined with the observation that CO’s are likely to contribute to the “unknown” category by not registering on the ACIR, we are able to make a strong inference that unvaccinated out-rate vaccinated in this category.

Whilst it is impossible to make outright factual quantified claims and rewrite that table, we may conclude that placed in the context of community trends it gives a less than reliable indication of infected subjects within the community. What it does give us is a snap shot of the vaccine status of notifications. Placed in context those notifications appear to be skewed away from unvaccinated and toward vaccinated subjects.

The most significant reason is the overwhelming numbers of vaccinated children in the community. Although appearing as a notification they have a far less severe case of pertussis and are unlikely to suffer disability or death. Other reasons for this would appear to be the intentional avoidance or substitution of conventional medicine, diagnosis and reporting of vaccination status by those in denial of vaccine efficacy.

Of course, people will use these figures to attack the overwhelming evidence in support of vaccination. That’s just what eccentric parent Greg Beattie has tried. It’s simply gobsmacking to read his misleading claim that only 11% of pertussis infections aren’t vaccinated. Actually it’s only 8.6%.

But the point to be made is whilst only 5% of 0-4 year olds aren’t “fully vaccinated” they make up a disproportionate 27.2% of infection notifications. Unsurprisingly his novel mathematics have been dealt with unceremoniously by A Drunken Madman.

There is no debate here. Pertussis vaccination saves lives.

Andrew Wakefield had only one aim: to make money

Recently there’s been some unusual defence of Andrew Wakefield.

He never wrote a paper claiming vaccines cause autism, offered fans of Meryl Dorey at Woodford. The rationale? To drive home that vaccines do cause autism. You see, the shorthand misconception of Wakefield supporters is that he was found guilty of fraud in publishing a “vaccines cause autism” paper.

It isn’t quite that simple, and through what can only be described as a combination of ignorance and stupidity these blinkered fans now seek to capitalise on their own confusion.

A five member General Medical Council panel found Wakefield guilty of over 30 charges including 12 of causing children to endure “clinically unjustified” invasive testing procedures, buying blood at children’s birthday parties and managing four counts of dishonesty. Then, his “continued lack of insight” into his conduct, and consequences thereof, meant that only “total erasure” from the medical register was warranted.

In short he was an unprofessional crook, guilty of self serving and callous conduct with no insight into the damage he did or the ongoing harm he was causing.

Dorey’s fans insist Brian Deer stitched up Wakefield because Wakefield’s paper includes:

We did not prove an association between measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described

So. The reasoning in the mind of a Dorey fan is:

  1. Wakefield did not claim a link to autism, therefore the charge of fraud is wrong.
  2. If the charge of fraud is wrong, then claiming that vaccines cause autism is not fraudulent.
  3. Due to 2 above, then the claim “vaccines cause autism” is factual.
  4. Andrew Wakefield is thus doubly correct in that he never committed fraud, but when he was accused of promoting a fraudulent link to autism, due to 2 above he was “set up”.
  5. Vaccines thus cause autism.

Yet Wakefield did commit fraud in an attempt to manufacture his “autistic entercolitis” (AE), in tampering with histopathology results and in attempting to set up his grand financial empire

Not only would success in creating AE drive class action suits in the USA and the UK, the non-existent syndrome would make Wakefield a pot of gold. Proper diagnoses would be needed. At the expense of pharmaceutical companies, complex immunodiagnostics would be ordered by lawyers acting for the families of those stricken with AE.

Let’s follow the money….

Wakefield was paid £435 643 by Richard Barr’s law firm to create a syndrome to drive class action of anti-vaccination litigants. This was no fluke. In the 1990’s vaccine injury was shaping to be the big one for injury compensation lawyers. In 1996 Richard Barr was already working on his autistic test case – “child 2”. On September 9th the child was subject to what the GMC later found was a “clinically unwarranted” ileocolonoscopy. Although he did not have Crohn’s disease it was assumed he might.

Enter Wakefield’s March 1995 Diagnostic patent that claimed:

Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis may be diagnosed by detecting measles virus in bowel tissue, bowel products or body fluids

In a theme we will see later was Wakefield’s true driving force, an accompanying document proposed setting up a diagnostic company. Wakefield’s scheme suggested that molecular viral diagnostic tests run for clients in the USA and the UK would yield big bucks. In fact it would yield £72.5m per year. The document was an unbridled embellishment of Wakefield’s patented scam and included:

In view of the unique services offered by the Company and its technology, particularly for the molecular diagnostic, the assays can command premium prices […]

The ability of the Company to commercialise its candidate products,” the draft plan continued, “depends upon the extent to which reimbursement for the cost of such products will be available from government health administration authorities, private health providers and, in the context of the molecular diagnostic, the Legal Aid Board.

Despite being paid £150 plus expenses per hour since January 1996 and the reality “child 2” had been enrolled with Barr’s firm for seven months, Wakefield was after Legal Aid.

Here’s where Meryl Dorey’s new breed of Wakefield defenders fail to make first base. Two weeks before selecting his 1st subject for the 12 child study Wakefield co-authored with Richard Barr a letter that included:

Children with enteritis and disintegrative disorder, form part of a new syndrome. The evidence is undeniably in favour of a specific vaccine induced pathology

Nine months before publishing his paper Wakefield had filed for monovalent vaccine patents. A nice addition to his other patent that placed the measles component of MMR as a diagnostic pointer to Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Opening of Wakefield’s vaccine patent submission. See item 15 for reference to his Crohn’s Disease patent

[Image © Brian Deer]

In the lead up to releasing the paper’s results Wakefield made various copies on tape of how he should announce specifics of his “findings”. In one of these proposed announcements Wakefield states:

There is sufficient anxiety in my own mind for the long term safety of the polyvalent vaccine—that is, the MMR vaccination in combination—that I think it should be suspended in favour of the single vaccines

Having agreed to follow through with a press announcement that would reinforce the safety of MMR and stress his small sample of unverified results did – as the paper’s text stated – “not prove an association between [MMR] and the syndrome described”, Wakefield turned renegade. He argued that parents should consider splitting MMR vaccination into measles, mumps and rubella shots, leaving measles under a cloud. This of course, was a bonus for his hoped for impending single shot patent profits.

In a confidential submission (1999) to the Legal Aid board in his quest to set up Unigenetics, he argued the link b/w MMR and autism had been shown. He scored £800 000 of tax payer funds to conduct PCR tests of dubious pursuit. Within this venture – to be set up in the Republic of Ireland – he would take 37% of the earnings, the scheming parent known as “Number 10” would take 22.2%. A venture capitalist would get 18%. Royal Free’s professor of gastroenterology, Roy Pounder would get 11.7% and Professor John O’Leary another champion of “MMR causes autism” would get 11.1%.

In addition to these petty “legal costs and salary” monies Wakefield would get another £90 000 per year – more than half of which was for travel.

“Carmel Healthcare Ltd” (also registered in the Irish Republic) was to be named after Wakefield’s wife, Carmel.

Wakefield sought to use outmoded and discredited immunodiagnostic methods. Transfer factor, a technique that would purportedly be used for treatment, had been written out of practice. The technique lacked evidence, cost effectiveness and presented an infection risk.

American immunologist Hugh Fudenberg, of the Neuro Immuno Therapeutics foundation was also involved. Brian Deer writes that apart from being under sanction from his local medical board for prescription and use of controlled drugs, he also claimed to be able to cure autism with the above transfer factor. See Why investors might have paused.

Finally problems with the Dublin measles test would later become apparent. Supposed to detect virus from past MMR immunisations the technique gave inconsistent, unreliable results. Because of this method vaccine lawsuits in America and Britain suffered irreversible setbacks.

Brian Deer writes that he was handed a “private and confidential” prospectus 35 pages long, which included:

It is estimated that the initial market for the diagnostic will be litigation driven testing of patients with autistic enterocolitis from both the UK and the USA…”. £700 000 from investors was needed. Mind blowing profits were assured. “It is estimated that by year 3, income from this testing could be about £3 300 000 rising to about £28 000 000 as diagnostic testing in support of therapeutic regimes come on stream.

There was really nothing to diagnose. Count those profits. All from a made up syndrome driving litigation. “Litigation driven testing”. But then how many innocent families would also have been ripped off, lied to and how many others would have used his vaccines?

Of course today we know he forged conclusions from Dr. Amar Dhillon’s intestinal tissue sample grading sheets, to invent Autistic Enterocolitis. Now he is inexplicably trying to plead ignorance, blame Dhillon and thus sue the BMJ with the help of the USA’s version of Australia’s Dr. Brian Martin – “whistleblower” David Lewis.

Walker-Smith’s abuse of very ill children, at the insistence of Wakefield who continually ordered unnecessary tests, cannot be overstated. All of Walker-Smith’s tests – blood, colonoscopies, ileocolonoscopies returned negative results. Dhillon recorded normal findings. Consultant histopathologist Susan Davies also recorded normal intestinal findings. Also struck off the medical register, Walker-Smith was labelled “irresponsible and unethical”.

Paola Domizio, a consultant histopathologist and professor of pathology education at Queen Mary’s College has since claimed to be “astonished” at the normality of the histology findings. So Wakefield now blames Dhillon as the culprit of fraud. Just as he earlier used Walker-Smith’s presentation to “prove” he did not falsify data. Yet even there we can demonstrate Wakefield to have submitted identical material to the Legal Aid Board on 6 June 1996 – 6 1/2 months before Walker-Smith’s presentation.

It was Wakefield. It was always Wakefield. It will always be Wakefield.

Wakefield’s dishonesty and fraud sought to make him filthy rich. From well before the study began he had the “syndrome” laid out. Months before publication he was setting up his patents. Feel free to go through and add up those income totals. Then visit sham blog Child Health Safety and try to make sense of the autism ramblings peppered there.

So Child Health Safety and Dorey’s new Wakefield converts need to be aware. On at least four different occasions Wakefield claimed MMR did cause autism. He particularly did so when prospecting for capital to run his assumed to be obscenely profitable immunodiagnostic businesses, that specialised in a condition – autistic entercolitis – he had fraudulently invented.

Wakefield’s fraud may well have been done on mundane tissue samples. But he played a cunning side game.

That side game was to ensure people believed that MMR actually did cause autism.

 

Edited: 17/07/2018

Vaccination saved us from…what, exactly?

So goes one heading over at the No Compulsory Vaccination blog, leading to a screed of disturbingly accusatory silliness borne of the confidence from one graph.

Dr Raymond Obomsawin is one of the few to knock up a bogus graph that cites decreasing incidence of measles infection rather than the boring old general mortality we’ve come to expect from antivaxxers. The obvious conclusion of course is that lethal viruses were being tamed by clean water, less wandering poo and yummy food.

Robert Webb succinctly explains where the problems lie here and also points to a further mincing of Obomsawin by David Gorski at Science Based Medicine. I quite like Gorski’s sub-heading. Intellectual dishonesty at it’s most naked.

What surprises me still however, is just how many angles these purveyors of fiction will try. As I touched on in some satire recently, Meryl Dorey’s hilarious poker face revelation on Radio 3CR whilst chatting (or rather, lying) to Helen Lobato pre Woodford was a beauty.

A lot of the credit that’s been given to vaccines for the decline in deaths and infectious diseases has nothing to do with vaccines. Because it all happened before the shots were introduced. Engineers did more to improve the health of Australians than doctors ever have.

Whilst antivaxxers have been a little more vocal of late, they seem to have really only dug their hole deeper. If not attacking those who ask questions of them, engaging in a bit of fraud or libel, it seems to be silliness as usual. Judy Wilyman is a splendid offender with this myth, claiming there is “no historical evidence” for the success of any vaccine schedule. Her trick is to use mortality rates. Usually Judy just plonks up infant fatality rates from 1900 onwards and uses the rapid decline up till 1950 to mount her case.

Let’s ignore what two World Wars did to the birth rate and consequently infant fatalities in English speaking nations over that period, and just focus on the absurdity of mortality alone. There’s no doubt improvements in sanitation, hygiene and quality of food improved our health vastly. But did it also impact on viral behaviour and immunity as is being suggested?

Bogey sites such as Child Health Safety with Vaccines Did Not Save Us – 2 centuries of official statistics excel in exploiting this myth of “mortality = disease”. As amusing as such nonsense may be, it shows the lengths some go to in protecting the vaccine-autism myth. That blog provides graph after graph of fatalities which are virtually irrelevant to disease incidence. It is only once vaccines enter the timeline do we see disease incidence almost vanish.

To me, a drop in mortality coinciding with a healthier population indicates improved rate of recovery from illness. It doesn’t say much about infection other than to hint at better general immunity that comes with better health. But better immunity is not specific immunity, and this is what antivaxxers are really claiming – even if they don’t realise it.

More so, this claim would also demand rising herd immunity before widespread vaccination programmes, on a trajectory that would have matched the herd immunity achieved by mass vaccination. Acceptance of the value of herd immunity refutes the claim infection control arose from better living. That’s one reason antivaxxers deny it. Strangely, there is silence about success of the Hib vaccine, which they should be able to explain.

Being the lovers of science they claim to be, Hib has falsified the claim of improved living standards, not vaccination, controlling certain diseases. In time, perhaps shortly, we may see this repeated with a hepatitis C vaccine and I predict the antivaxxers will have just as little to say by way of explanation of their “theory”.

Yet ultimately it is antivaxxers themselves who debunk this nonsensical myth. If improved living standards controlled or wiped out vaccine preventable diseases then how do we explain this present resurgence on the back of low immunisation rates? Surely living standards haven’t dropped, anymore than they improved over the 12 years from 1993 in which Hib vaccination demonstrated it’s efficacy. Added to this is the bizarre belief that children are meant to catch these diseases. Which by the way we’re told, are harmless, even “marvellous”, in the case of returning measles.

Simply put, if improved living standards can suppress these diseases we should see them eliminated, not returning. Nor does the rise of chiropractic, homeoprophylactic, herbal and other “immune boosting” hanky panky make real sense. All of this exposes the fact that it is herd immunity sustained by vaccination that largely protects those who refuse vaccination. That’s another reason to deny the value of herd immunity.

As the lie becomes harder to sustain new myths are fabricated. The pertussis vaccine has caused the outbreak. Vaccination causes the disease it is meant to prevent. “Vaccine shedding” places the unvaccinated at risk. Viruses are intentionally released into the community. Vaccination causes immune dysfunction leading to later infection. Vaccination doesn’t provide proper immunity.

It would seem it is approaching the End Game in more ways than one for this myth. It isn’t hard to answer Ms. Dorey’s question.

Vaccination saved us from the returning diseases children are not being vaccinated against.

Vaccination And Improved Living Standards