Why Reddit is the worst place to inform yourself on vaccination

If you don’t vaccinate your children, you’re an anti-science uneducated Jenny McCarthy Facebook mom. At least that’s what every Reddit nerd would have you believe. Why are they so hysterical about this topic? Are they right? This is what I wish to discuss today.

First of all, we’ll look at the death rate of measles. How deadly is a modern measles outbreak in a developed nation? To examine this we can look at a recent measles outbreak in France. In France an outbreak between 2008 and 2011 led to 22,178 documented cases of measles. Ten people died. Out of the 1663 babies infected, zero died. There were ten deaths in total, for a fatality rate of 0.045%. The image that’s sketched these days however is that a child infected with measles must be in acute mortal danger. If you child has no immunological problems, taking up horse-riding as a hobby for a year would be about as likely to get them killed as getting infected in this measles epidemic would have.

What caused these ten deaths? In one case, someone had a congenital immunodeficiency. In six others, people had an acquired form of immunodeficiency. In other words, in these cases, the measles virus was an opportunistic infection that led to death. If things had gone a little different, these people might very well have died from another infectious disease. When reviewing treatment options for disease, we should focus not just on deaths, but on years of life lost. In case of people with pre-existing immune problems, blaming the measles virus means barking up the wrong tree, as the disease that ultimately led to the untimely dead was the immune disorder.

A natural measles infection is good for you

The measles virus however is also associated with a number of positive health outcomes. Men who had ever been infected with the measles virus have an 8% reduced odds of coronary heart disease. Another study found the same effect, that natural childhood infections lead to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. You might assume, based on the last study, that measles actually leads to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, as this author does, but that’s bad science and a complete misinterpretation of the study. The reason antibody titers are higher in cases with cardiovascular disease is likely because of the association with vitamin D. It’s known that higher levels of vitamin D both reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and reduce antibody levels in the human body.

There’s also a link seen in numerous studies between measles infection and a reduced cancer risk. You can find a list of studies demonstrating the link between childhood infections and reduces risk of disease later in life here. Another example of a study finding a link between childhood infection and reduced cancer risk can be found here. In the case of measles, we have a clear biological mechanism through which we can expect the reduced risk to occur. Measles uses receptors to infect cells, that are overexpressed on cancer cells. As a consequence, pre-cancerous cells in children infected with natural viruses like measles are removed from the body. Genetically modified forms of the measles are now being investigated as experimental cancer treatments.

The Would-Be Tyrants who wish to impose medical decisions on others

There’s a demographic of people on Facebook and Reddit eager to think of themselves as smart and thus they embrace whatever they imagine smart people should endorse. If someone with a Phd proclaims something it must be based on “science” and thus it must be an objective unquestionable truth. It’s impossible for them to consider the possibility that the scientific method doesn’t automatically deliver objective truths on our platter, or that measures imposed upon the whole population through appeals to “public health” have a very poor track record.

Estimates are that 800,000 people died unnecessary deaths, because they were prescribed beta-blockers due to their cardiovascular risk factors. But beta-blockers at the time were unquestionable peer-reviewed(!) solutions to the problem. Guidelines established in the 1990’s by medical professionals insisted that patients should receive beta-blockers during all operations, except during those on the heart. And yet, the people who fucking-love-science, will insist to you that you should swallow whatever is now forced upon you through fear-mongering and bad science. It’s not just the case that they want to vaccinate their children. They insist that children should have medical procedures forced upon them, to protect other people. After all, science can’t be wrong! Except in that one case where one doctor’s fraudulent science led to hundreds of thousands of deaths because people were prescribed beta-blockers that kill people.

But that was an exception, a rare case in which one fraudulent researcher managed to get policies implemented worldwide that killed hundreds of thousands, right? Except for the fact that when pre-clinical cancer studies are done again, only in 11% of cases do we find they’re still effective. But Randomized Controlled Trials are the holy grail of science and when these studies find a result, the result can be trusted! Except that’s not the case either. In fact, the scientific method may be best described as a method by which elites present their own prevailing biases in a dressed up manner.

Let’s look at a case directly relevant to our subject. Vaccines don’t cause autism, that link has been debunked right? We first have to ask ourselves if the link was debunked based on good science. Here we have a study which finds that vaccination reduces risk of autism significantly, by an estimated 83%. How can the MMR vaccine reduce the risk of autism by 87%? There’s no biologically plausible method, the most likely explanation would have to be a flaw in the study design, thereby invalidating the study.

Even meta-analysis of autism-vaccine link studies find a reduced risk of autism in vaccinated children, as seen here:

Similarly the case-control data found no evidence for increased risk of developing autism or ASD following MMR, Hg, or thimerosal exposure when grouped by condition (OR: 0.90, 95% CI: 0.83 to 0.98; p = 0.02) or grouped by exposure type (OR: 0.85, 95% CI: 0.76 to 0.95; p = 0.01).

What this suggests is that the vaccine significantly reduces the risk of autism. There’s a simple reason this happens: People who take vaccines are more likely to be healthy. This health user bias ensures that associations with disease caused by vaccines are likely to go unnoticed. As a consequence, the studies that compare vaccinated and unvaccinated children suffer from flaws that prohibit us from using them to determine if vaccines might cause autism. To put the record straight, I’m not claiming that vaccines cause autism, I’m claiming that the research we have that’s meant to debunk this hypothesis is fatally flawed.

I don’t know what causes autism. One thing I do know, is that the increase in autism is not caused by “improved diagnosis” as the people who claim to love science will suggest to you. Here’s a study done in Japan published in 1982. Tens of thousands of children were actively screened, for symptoms of autism. In the end, the average prevalence rate of autism in children born between 1968 and 1974 was 4.96 per 10,000 children. In three other countries, the same rate was found back in 1976. Today, the incidence in Japan is 161 per 10,000, other countries have similar high rates. I’m supposed to believe that back in the 1980’s, thirty-one out of every thirty-two cases of autism would have been missed.

The argument for a cover-up

I don’t know if autism is caused by vaccination or not. I’m not going to decide for you whether you should vaccinate your children or not. What I do know is that we live in a culture where social media is used to create a kind of manufactured consensus, in which it appears as if people deviate from the agreed upon consensus without any logical basis. If you look at social media, you’re not exposed to the arguments based on which people choose not to vaccinate. You’re exposed to a message more akin to “this is what the experts say, this is what the idiots believe”. Ultimately, the experts refer to science as the justification for their position, but the science behind their position is known to be suffering a crisis of confidence. In addition, we have a long history in which medical decisions were made for people based on flawed science.

We’re supposed to believe that scientists feel free to publish work that contradicts the established consensus, but how free can they genuinely be, when someone who proposed the MMR-autism hypothesis like Wakefield, was faced with the revocation of his medical license? Brian S. Hooker worked on a study on the link between autism and the MMR vaccine and claims that an order was given by the CDC to destroy all documents showing a link between autism in African American boys and vaccination. According to Hooker, the study was “adjusted”, by selectively applying different variables until the link was massaged out of the data.

If the studies conducted by medical authorities that show no link between autism and vaccination were part of a conspiracy to hide a link, we would expect wistleblowers to emerge. I don’t claim to know whether all of Hooker’s claims are correct or not, but Dr Hooker is the kind of man we would expect to hear about if a conspiracy had in fact taken place. This is what’s necessary to keep in mind. People are not simply skeptical of vaccines because of some meme on Facebook. We’re exposed to researchers who participated in research on the safety of vaccination, who insist that the CDC was engaged in a coverup.

This is a difficult subject to discuss, where a lot of uncertainty is inevitably involved. I’m not in a position where I can write one or two articles that would allow me to conclusively demonstrate who is right and who is wrong on this subject matter. The medical establishment unfortunately has a long history of lonely voices crying out in the desert that were faced with social ostracism, imprisonment and worse. Don’t forget that Semmelweis was thrown in jail after he suggested that doctors should wash their hands before delivering children. You’ve heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect, but an opposite effect seems to exist too, where people become more intolerant of dissenting views when they start to perceive themselves as qualified experts.

Conclusion

What I do know is as following: If you want to know what’s genuinely true, you’re not going to find out by browsing memes on Reddit about “anti-vaxxer Facebook moms” or reading the highest upvoted comments on some thread. Reddit is the kind of place where people always have a conclusion ready that you can’t deviate from. The kid who smiled at the Native American man was faced with comments that were upvoted to the top of threads, encouraging physical violence against him. All the media were happy to encourage this witch hunt, but only a few obscure right-wing subreddits were asking the question that genuinely matters: “What exactly am I looking at that is supposed to offend me?” It turned out the video was a Rorschach video. You saw exactly what you want to see. Some people see a smiling young boy, others see a boy who is high on his white privilege.

By now it’s clear that these people were simply making a hateful judgement based on their own preconceived notions. The emotions you see around vaccination are no different, because now these people are told that children are dying, thereby causing them to lose every last vestige of reason or nuance they might have. The same mindset that makes them want to punch a smiling boy with a Trump hat makes them want to punch a mother who doesn’t vaccinate her son.

What about other social media? You generaly post things that are socially desirable and people who post a lot of socially desirable stuff tend to have more friends. Then out of the things you post, Facebook will filter a portion that it expects your friends will like. If you’re sitting on your balcony you won’t post a photo, you post a photo when you’re on some tropical island on the other side of the planet. Similarly, the views that are most politically correct are the views posted on Facebook that will be amplified.

What then about those cases where you saw some post about some refugee who raped someone or some EU politician who committed fraud? Those are essentially cases where the algorithm screwed up. When Angela Merkel talked to Mark Zuckerberg, she complained that his algorithms are inadequate, because they don’t manage to completely eliminate all remnants of racism. We might not have pity for some angry white males on Facebook whose posts about refugees are censored. However, this is simply a precedent. We’re transitioning to a world where you’re exposed to views from your own friends and communities, that are depicted as representative of how they genuinely think but are in reality shifted and distorted until you are solely exposed to the safe views of the complacent majority, gently tinkered by Sillicon Valley tech companies subject to instructions from prominent politicians.

And if that’s what’s going on, a sudden insurrection against “anti-science Facebook moms” should give us reason for skepticism. The angry horde has found a new target, the dissenting voices are overshouted and the witches are accused of the most heinous of crimes. If your child suffers, it’s not because the child suffers an immune disorder, it’s because someone else did not feel safe administering a specific medical procedure to their child. When we suffer we look for explanations, it can be emotionally exhilarating to have a perpetrator to point at.

You’re going to see more cases like these, because there will be a manufactured consensus needed on other topics too. How many topics can you think of, where a significant minority of intelligent people feel afraid of voicing their genuine opinion in public? I can think of quite a few. I am not just talking about conspiracy theories, which are a real faux pas among the upper echelons of society. Just think for a moment about the case of Bill Nye the Science Guy, who was adamant that genetic manipulation is a profoundly dangerous process, until the usual suspects reacted with outrage and Bill quickly changed his opinion. I think this is detrimental to our culture and ultimately detrimental to the fabric of society.

What I would suggest to people is to be intensely skeptical when they notice that a small minority of people are suddenly demonized on an Internet community. This applies to hatred against “anti-vaxxers” and boys wearing Trump hats, but it also applies to the racism we see against Russians in such online communities, as well as to whatever outrage will inevitably occur in the future. It’s inevitable when these communities grow beyond a certain size that governments and corporations begin to recognize them as the most effective means to shape public opinon.

Finally, I would also suggest to you that you should not blindly swallow ideas because they are proclaimed by “experts”. Skepticism is healthy, it protects you from dangerous social fads, which tend to be most dangerous when they are wholeheartedly embraced by “experts”. Here’s a case to illustrate what I mean. Apparently, the doctors who saw a man who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after being raped did not consider that he may need mental health treatment, rather than letting him change his gender and transform himself into a dragon.

Those are the kind of doctors who now suggest that entire droves of girls -who generally happen to go to gender-segregated schools without boys- are in fact transgender and best off having their bodies irreversibly surgically altered. And yes, those are the kind of doctors who prescribed beta blockers to millions, delivered children after touching dead bodies, prescribed low fat diets to lose weight and implanted monkey testicle slices in men’s scrotums to rejuvenate them. Those are also the kind of doctors who proscribed synthetic estrogens to pregnant women for over thirty years, which now lead to reproductive problems in the third generation. The science of yesterday revealed an absolute unquestionable truth yesterday that you should not dissent from, until it was superseded by the unquestionable science of today. My suggestion would be to take the science of today with the kind of healthy grain of salt that would have properly suited the science of yesterday.

5 Comments

  1. “Don’t forget that Semmelweis was thrown in jail after he suggested that doctors should wash their hands before delivering children.”

    Pardon me if I’m mistaken, but from a cursory glance at the wikipedia article, this seems a bit misleading.

    “In 1865, Semmelweis suffered a nervous breakdown and was committed to an asylum”

    “In mid-1865, his public behaviour became irritating and embarrassing to his associates. He also began to drink immoderately; he spent progressively more time away from his family, sometimes in the company of a prostitute; and his wife noticed changes in his sexual behavior. On July 13, 1865, the Semmelweis family visited friends, and during the visit Semmelweis’s behavior seemed particularly inappropriate.[61]

    The exact nature of Semmelweis’s affliction has been a subject of some debate. According to K Codell Carter, in his biography of Semmelweis, the exact nature of his affliction cannot be determined:

    It is impossible to appraise the nature of Semmelweis’s disorder. … It may have been Alzheimer’s disease, a type of dementia, which is associated with rapid cognitive decline and mood changes.[62] It may have been third-stage syphilis, a then-common disease of obstetricians who examined thousands of women at gratis institutions, or it may have been emotional exhaustion from overwork and stress.[63]

    In 1865, János Balassa wrote a document referring Semmelweis to a mental institution.”

    • His breakdown could reasonably be a result of his ostracism, yet it just seems that his “imprisonment” was merely putting an insane person into an asylum rather than jailing him for a dissenting opinion.

  2. NSAIDs are my pet theory. Linked to autism during gestation and childhood. Emotional blunting effect in adults. Vaccine reaction often = NSAIDs treatment in children, which could be the reason for the link…

    • Personally I tend to think there must probably be multiple things going on. I suspect a lot of it is due to vitamin D deficiency too, which increases antibody production and thereby makes autoimmune disorders more likely. Autism is increasingly acknowledged as an autoimmune disorder.

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