September 27, 2007

Postmodernism, Religion and Anti-Vaccination Madness

There are a good number of people, American and otherwise, who are convinced that Thimerosal, a preservative formerly used in vaccinations, causes autism. These people therefore won't allow their children to be vaccinated against a number of diseases that had nearly been eradicated from much of the human population only a generation ago. They hold this belief despite study after study that has failed to show, or even disproven, any causal link between vaccination and autism. The most recent such study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, was a rather thorough one. It brought to bear more than 40 neurological tests in a sample of over 1,000 children and it demonstrated, once again, no connection between Thimerosal and autism. Ironically, a statistical anomaly could be interpreted by those not familiar with statistical analysis as indicating that vaccinated children actually had better neurological development than the unvaccinated — although this is in reality an expected artifact attributable to pure chance.

Thimerosal has been largely eliminated from vaccines in the US since 2002 and in Europe even before then, yet there hasn't been a decrease in autism rates in either geography. One of the first countries to ban the use of Thimerosal, for instance, was Denmark, which did so in 1992. Despite this, Denmark has not seen any decrease in the incidence of autism.

Thimerosal does contain mercury, but it does so in much the same way as salt contains chlorine. Neither the chlorine in salt nor the mercury in Thimerosal are the same as their elemental forms, of course. It's basic chemistry; a compound doesn't behave in the same way as do its constituent elements as a rule.

So, with all of this in mind, you would think that those who were concerned with Thimerosal would move on and get their children vaccinated already instead of piggybacking on herd immunity in the hopes that their kids won't contract some terrible diseases. They should be looking elsewhere for the cause of autism by now, one would think. The problem is that they adopted a postmodernist stance on vaccination that's very much in line with that adopted by evolution deniers, and in fact by science deniers in general. Having rejected notions of authenticity and verifiability, one can make up all sorts of stories to justify holding onto discredited ideas, and that's exactly what's happening now in the anti-vaccination camp. We should be thankful that these people are a small minority, because if they ever did become a majority — or even a sizable minority — children would be in big trouble. If we drop below the percentages necessary for herd immunity to various diseases, we could see new epidemics spring up. That would be a tragedy and would likely surpass autism as a problem in the population very quickly, indeed.

I find it useful to illustrate the mindset of people who espouse these bizarre positions by using examples, and examples of the sheer weirdness of most anti-vaccination individuals are in abundance on the Internet. I'm going to be a bit lazy this morning, though, and simply pick on two responses posted to an article about the latest Thimerosal study on the Wired Science Blog, entitled Thimerosal Didn't Fry Children's Brains, New Study Says. I'm not saying anything about the article itself, just the responses to it. To begin with, Alison Morrow writes:

Saying that not immunizing is "dangerous and irresponsible" is a pretty judgmental thing to say. Those of us who choose not to do not make that decision lightly. It's only after hours of reading, thinking, debating, and agonizing over the risks and benefits of vaxing and not vaxing that one finally decides to take such a stand. You'd be surprised what the body can fight off when the immune system is properly nourished and the body is free from chemicals and toxins.
Yes, saying that not immunizing is "dangerous and irresponsible" is indeed a judgmental thing. It's a good judgment, though, and better than the judgment that Ms. Morrow herself puts forward in the rest of her response. Whether or not the decision to do something took a long or short time is immaterial; one can certainly spend hours coming to a bad decision and thus still make a "dangerous and irresponsible" choice in the matter of vaccination. The risks of vaccination are so incredibly small, and the benefits accrued therefrom so great, not only for the individual being vaccinated but for the society as a whole, that any deliberation arriving at a contrary decision is clearly based on incorrect criteria to begin with. Morrow confirms this herself when she writes about how surprised we'd be as to what the immune system can fight off based on proper nutrition. In fact, nutrition has almost nothing to do with the immune system aside from the necessity of basic nutrients necessary to keep the body functioning and produce the proteins that we call antibodies on the surfaces of the appropriate cells. The immune response is based upon exposure to viral proteins and the like, not upon how many servings of leafy vegetables one might consume in the course of a day. With this statement, in fact, Ms. Morrow has shown that she clearly doesn't know as much about the immune system as one could learn from reading a general biology textbook and so is in no position to make judgments about issues related to the immune system.

Again, this isn't just ignorance; ignorance is acceptable and we're all ignorant about some things. The problem in such cases is that a postmodern philosophy results in not acknowledging ignorance in the first place. When my mechanic tells me that my car needs a new alternator, I don't insist that he inflate the tires instead, because I don't know anything about cars. Most people wouldn't think of doing that, in fact — so why are they just fine with making potentially life-altering decisions based on a lack of knowledge? Are the workings of the human body, the most intimate thing in the world, somehow less concrete than the workings of an automobile?
As bad as Ms. Morrow's comment is, however, there's a worse one soon after, posted by an individual calling him/herself TellMeNoLies. The response is very long, so I won't reproduce it in its entirety and will only respond to the salient points in it:
Scientific and empirical evidence abounds but don't expect it to come from the pro-drug government studies or Physicians (drug pushers) However the most valid evidence is eyewitness testimony.
Even in criminal cases, eyewitness testimony is not the most valid — forensic, scientifically-deduced evidence is considered far more reliable. The assumption here that either that both the government and physicians want children to suffer with autism is rather noxious. I find it very unlikely that doctors enjoy causing suffering as a group, but the true agenda of this individual will become apparent shortly.
Our first child was developing mentally and beginning to talk and very alert and active at seven month old when he was given his third DPT vaccine. I was in the military and I was deceived into believing that the diseases that supposedly could kill my child (not true) would run rampant without vaccination and were much worse than the very miniscule risk of a reaction to the vaccine (also a lie).
The diseases prevented by DPT vaccination can, indeed, kill, and do so in developing countries even now. And yes, if nobody were immunized against these diseases, they would indeed run rampant, as they do in places where no vaccines are available.
From the moment he got that HOT LOT of vaccine he was screaming continuously for more than 24 hours, his thigh swelled to twice it's normal size, and he was catatonic for days. We were told to expect these symptoms by the med techs (apparently since as so many children were getting brain damaged by having TOXINS directly injected into their blood streams)...
Yes, some swelling and tenderness do occur, and a very small proportion of children receiving any vaccination will have negative side effects. I don't see anything in this comment that says that this individual consulted with medical professionals when the child in question experienced something severe. Moreover, the statements this individual makes, following, lead me to doubt the whole story. The toxins injected with a vaccine are inactivated and/or in such minute quantities that there shouldn't be a reaction this severe, and if there were it would be an indication of a whole set of medical problems that existed before the vaccine was ever given. We certainly don't find large numbers of such reports in medical literature; if we did, there would be a huge public outcry, not a small number of extremists complaining on web forums.
We acted out of fear instead of faith and paid the price. Since then we have been blessed with four more children none of which have ever been vaccinated. All of which are beautiful children of GOD, He made them intelligent, creative and not prone to sickness.

We trust in the LORD Jesus to protect them and His word tells us that "the Life is in the Blood" and that it is sacred. Also, we claim the promises of psalm 91:
Now we've gotten to the meat of this argument; "the blood is sacred." "We acted out of fear instead of faith." This isn't really an anti-vaccination argument, it's a "childhood diseases are God's will" argument. This is just another science denial, and this is someone who has no problem with plagues sweeping through the population and weeding out those who are unworthy in DA LAWD's eyes. If, indeed, this individual had four more children, he/she is lucky that they haven't gotten anything life-threatening and owe such luck not to divine intervention, but to the well-documented phenomenon of herd immunity. I wonder, though... does their disabled child receive medical attention, or does she get carted around to faith-healers? Tossing in this sort of thing is very telling, in any case, as to the true motivations of this commenter. It all sounds very much like an instance of "lying for Jesus."
Every man must choose his god, not to choose is to make ones self a god and worship self.

Who you believe in matters most.

This was for you.
And again, the assertion being made here is that science, modern medicine, etc., have been set up as alternative gods. Vaccination is blasphemy unto DA LAWD, baby. We're supposed to get through life only with what is given to us at birth; modifying the body, and particularly the blood, in any way is anti-Christian according to this POV. Using this criterion, I suppose that one could also see things like air conditioning and cardiac surgery as evils. If Jehovah hates simple vaccinations, how much more must He hate pacemakers? What we have here is truly pernicious, spittle-spraying nonsense coming from someone who doesn't understand what a vaccination is, is making up stories to promulgate an extremist religious viewpoint, and probably both. This stuff is truly the worst-of-the-worst.
Let's assume for a moment that there is a link between mercury exposure and autism. Why fixate on a substance that has been tested to death and, in any case, isn't even present in the vast majority of vaccines anymore? It doesn't make sense. We know for sure that there are demonstrably dangerous mercury compounds showing up in the environment. We've found it in rainwater and it gets concentrated in fish like tuna and swordfish. The government and medical community provides warnings about these problems to the public, advising pregnant women to limit their consumption of fish, for instance. If scientific studies have ruled out Thimerosal as a causal agent in autism, and the stuff has been removed, shouldn't these individuals be going after producers of methyl mercury and dimethyl mercury which, even if they don't cause autism, certainly do cause a whole host of health problems?

We don't see this happening because there is an anti-medicine, radical religious driving force behind much of the anti-vaccination effort, and it consists of a lot of people who think just like TellMeNoLies. They're not so much concerned with the well-being of children as they are with insuring that religious edicts are slavishly enforced in the general populace. To be sure, I have absolutely no reason to include someone like Alison Morrow in that part of the equation. She, and those like her, would seem to be on the other side of it, somewhat victimized by the religious radical element who engage in the authoring of arguments like the one she has adopted. Just as in other spheres of science-denial, the radical element preys upon the ignorance of others to recruit them to their efforts. It's too bad that our culture doesn't place more emphasis on building up our population's resistance to such bizarre, religious, essentially postmodernist foolishness. Or, to frame the whole thing in a bit of a Hallmark context:

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