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The Huffington Post adds another antivaccinationist to its roster

I’ve been very critical of The Huffington Post since shortly after its formation three years ago, when (I believe) I was the first blogger to notice a proliferation of antivaccination propaganda at the then brand new group blog. It is a situation that the HuffPo has maintained to the present day. Indeed, on that day three years ago, I noticed that, right in among posts written by such mercury militia antivaccine apologists such as David Kirby, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., there was also Dr. Jay Gordon, who is currently very unhappy at having had a taste of not-so-Respectful Insolence yesterday. Indeed, HuffPo’s been so utterly, consistently bad that I’ve even ridiculed the very suggestion that it could ever have a credible science blogging presence. Arthur Allen and the occasional other voices of reason about vaccines just weren’t enough to balance out the die hard antivaccine loons.

So after that roll call of anti-vaccine shame, whom could the HuffPo possibly add that would continue its tradition of catering to the antivaccine fringe? Who could join David Kirby, RFK, Jr., Deirdre Imus, and all the rest of the merry band of antivaccinationists there, as well as other varieties of woo-meisters, like Deepak Chopra?

Kim Stagliano of the Age of Autism blog. Even worse, it’s Kim Stagliano thinking she’s a comedienne, a veritable female Jonathan Swift, so to speak, with her own “Modest Proposal” entitled New Jersey To Require Mandatory Kidney Donation:

New Jersey has had it with the lack of participation in the organ donation program among its citizens. In an effort to save the lives of gravely ill men, women and especially innocent children in the Garden State, Governor Corzine has passed a law that requires all healthy citizens to donate one kidney by age 45. Yes, the Garden State plans to reap your kidney. The law is called “Kidney2Me.”

That Kim. She’s sure hilarious, likening vaccination to organ donation and mandatory vaccination for school to mandatory organ donation. Of course, she’s making her rather pathetic attempt at satire in the wake of a “demonstration” held in Trenton for an antivaccination organization disguised as a “vaccine choice” group, namely the New Jersey Coalition for Vaccination Choice, a demonstration that at most looks like it drew 200-300 people, if the pictures on Age of Autism and the NJCVC website (not to mention media reports) are any indication. Not surprisingly, many of the usual antivaccinationist suspects were there, including Stagliano (who apparently lives in New Jersey), that grand dame of the antivaccine movement Barbara Loe Fisher (whose “no forced vaccination” mantra belies activists claims that this rally was not an antivaccine rally), and, that quack of quack, Gary Null:

Word to the organizers of this rally: If you really want to have just a little bit of credibility when you claim that your rally is not “antivaccine,” don’t–I repeat, don’t–invite HIV/AIDS denialist, coffee enema advocate, supporter of cancer quackery, and antivaccinationist Gary Null to give a speech. It doesn’t exactly enhance your credibility.

Just a friendly word of advice.

But I digress. Gary Null may be entertaining as a diversion because of just how out there he is, but let’s get back to Kim’s lame attempt at a Swiftian satire about New Jersey’s vaccine mandates. I find it very telling that she apparently equates vaccination as being as risky as the donor operation for kidney donation. Having done a few of these myself during the course of training in my surgery residency, I can’t help but point out that, even now that the operation can be done laparoscopically, it’s still a fairly major operation. Even though it remains a very safe operation, there is still a non-zero complication rate, and, uncommonly, even the occasional death. Indeed, the complication rate is in the range of 5%, and the mortality rate is in the range of 0.03%, many, many orders of magnitude greater than the possibility of injury from a vaccine. But, hey, Kimmy’s got what she thinks is a brilliantly hysterical idea, and she’s going to run with it:

Anticipating great civic success with the “Kidney2Me” program, the Governor is also planning to tackle obesity within the Garden State. A new law is pending that will require all slender citizens to eat the first six forkfuls of food off the plate of heavy citizens. Failure to show appropriate weight loss among the heavy will result in a .05% property tax increase on the slender for each 5 pounds not lost per capita. There will be monthly weigh ins at every town hall. Bumper stickers are in production. They read, “Fork You, Fat.”

Apparently Kim thinks using fat people as a source of satire is funny, too. She gets so upset (and correctly so) at insensitive remarks about autism by someone like Denis Leary, but, hey, belittling the obese is fine, as long as it serves her purpose. So is poo-pooing the health concerns of the elderly, who are most vulnerable to complications of the flu. Worse, she really has to “bring home teh stupid” in order to do it:

I saw an ad for the flu vaccine today sponsored by The American Lung Association. It ended with a small child hugging her grandmother. The voice over tells the viewer to get a flu shot to protect your loved ones. In other words, if you don’t give a flu shot to your child, you’re endangering your Mom or Dad or great-aunt Millie. Never mind that the flu shot is often only 70% effective.

Ah, yes, the fallacy of the perfect solution, so beloved of antivaccinationists! The argument goes: If the current solution to a problem is not sufficiently close to perfect, then we should do nothing at all. Of course, the flu vaccine is not perfect; no medical intervention is. However, it’s far from useless, and 70% protection is nothing to sneeze at. Contrary to the fearmongering of antivaccinationists, it is also very safe.

But let’s continue Kim’s game of “name that logical fallacy.” She can’t resist launching into a a couple of nonsequiturs:

Forget the fact that the version recommended for children and adults ages 4 and up contains 25 micrograms of mercury based Thimerosal. Ignore that fact that 60% of health care workers do not get a flu shot.

Number one: Mercury does not cause autism. I’m sorry, antivaccinationists, but the best available evidence is that it just doesn’t, and no investigator believing otherwise has been able to produce any credible scientific evidence that it does. Until someone produces such evidence in the quality and quantity necessary to cast doubt on established science, then there is no reason to conclude that vaccines contribute to autism. Indeed, there’s no evidence that the dose of thimerosal in a single flu vaccine is harmful. Multiple epidemiological studies powered to find even small correlations between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism have failed to find even a weak correlation, an observation from which we can conclude that, if mercury can in any way cause or contribute to autism, it would have to be so exceedingly rare that these studies couldn’t detect it–hardly a cause of an “autism epidemic.”

Rarer than active neurons in Ms. Stagliano’s central nervous system, actually.

Moving on, the next nonsequitur is that physicians don’t get the flu vaccine. It’s irrelevant, but it is a disgrace. The number should be close to 100% of health care workers who do not have a medical contraindication to receiving the vaccine. Our profession must do much more to bring that number up. Perhaps a vaccine mandate if a physician wants to have hospital privileges would be in order. (I wonder if Kim could get behind that.) Indeed, to my shame I have to admit that I didn’t get the flu vaccine last year. It wasn’t fear that the thimerosal in it would make me autistic or that the formaldehyde in it would cause some horrific toxic injury to me; it was sheer laziness. I paid the price, actually, getting my first major case of the flu in many, many years. I did not make the same mistake this year. (In fact, I was tempted to ask for extra formaldehyde and thimerosal.) Yes, I know that’s anecdotal evidence–testimonial evidence, even–but I present it nonetheless because anecdotes and testimonial evidence seem to be the only kind of evidence that antivaccinationists seem to consider convincing.

Next, there’s the confusing of correlation with causation:

Disregard that New Jersey has the highest incidence of autism in the 14 state Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, or ADDM

Of course, no evidence suggests that flu vaccine mandates or vaccine mandates in New Jersey have anything to do with this, but that doesn’t stop the stupid from burning.

Then we have more nonsequiturs:

Close your eyes to the death stats that are really about the bacterial infections people who are immune compromised tend to contract while they have the flu, probably in a hospital setting where health care professionals don’t bother to wash their hands.

Nice. Not only is Kim hating on immune compromised people (anything for a laugh!), but she’s trying to shift the blame to doctors who don’t wash their hands. Now, don’t get me wrong. Doctors in hospitals are all too often lazy about washing their hands between patients, which is inexcusable. But patients already in the hospital with influenza complicated by pneumonia almost certainly acquired their flu in the community and were hospitalized after the flu is complicated by pneumonia. There’s a reason that the CDC recommends that the flu vaccine be offered to persons older than 50 years; residents of chronic-care facilities; patients who have chronic heart or lung disorders, and patients with chronic metabolic diseases (such as diabetes mellitus), renal insufficiency or immunosuppression from whatever cause. In other words, this is yet another nonsequitur.

Kim’s leading up to a grand finale, as you might imagine. What grand finale can you possibly imagine? What is the favorite rhetorical gambit of antivaccinationists? I think you know the answer:

The push is on to sell as many flu shots as is humanly possible. Remember, “Don’t be a turd. Protect the herd.”

Yes! You knew it all had to lead up to this, and Kim didn’t disappoint! It’s all a plot by big pharma to sell flu vaccines. Never mind that vaccines don’t exactly make pharmaceutical companies a lot of money, profit margins being rather small and certainly not compared to hassle it takes to manufacture them and the potential legal liability they face for manufacturing them. I do commend Kim on her restraint, though, in not claiming that pediatricians are pushing vaccines because they are greedy and make tons of money administering them. Maybe even Ms. Stagliano realizes that this is not the case. But, hey, big pharma is always a good whipping boy. Sometimes it even deserves it–but not in this case.

Now there is a debate to be had about just which vaccines should be mandated before a child can attend school and what the appropriate balance between public health and parental choice should be. Ms. Stagliano, however, is clearly not interested in engaging in a reasonable debate about these issues, as her logical fallacy-filled screed demonstrates. She is unwaveringly convinced that vaccines cause autism and that they cause more harm than good. After all, if she weren’t, she wouldn’t be a regular blogger at the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism. If she weren’t, she wouldn’t have to use lame attempts at satire and logical fallacies to argue against vaccines.

If she weren’t, she wouldn’t be so at home with the antivaccine cranks who regularly blog for The Huffington Post.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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