No, I will not watch your three-hour celebration of stupid on Youtube. No, I will not read the latest screed on some obscure rightwing “news” site. No, I will not calmly, respectfully rebut every single point in your preposterous Gish Gallop. We’ve been through all of this over and over and over and over, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. I’m sick of it. The anti-vaxx movement has debased itself completely and utterly with its celebration of scientific illiteracy, logical fallacies, paranoia, and outright lies—often the exact same lies they’ve been barfing up for thirty years or more. Plus, it has blood on its hands. So you won’t get any respect from me; you haven’t earned it.
Let’s go back in time, look at a little personal history, and see how I got to this point.
Once upon a time, in the late 1990s, when the internet was young and I had no experience with the anti-vaxx movement, a photo customer of mine started talking about vaccinations. Specifically, she was concerned that the medical establishment was prescribing too many vaccinations too soon, and this was overloading kids’ dainty immune systems. She didn’t seem crazy, and the idea didn’t seem obviously preposterous on its face, so, with an open mind, I investigated the claim.
It proved to be bullshit. Completely, utterly baseless twaddle. The load on kids’ immune systems from vaccines is trivial compared to aspects of ordinary life, like being in a pre-school classroom with thirty other little disease incubators. Plus the schedule was supported by a vast library full of studies looking at the individual vaccines and various combinations of vaccines administered at different times. Meanwhile, the “too many, too soon” folks countered with a few unverifiable anecdotes. Peer reviewed studies beat anecdotes every time.
Then I started hearing about Andrew Wakefield and his study which “proved” the MMR vaccine causes autism. A dramatic claim to be sure, and it had passed peer review for Lancet, so there must be something to it… So, I looked it up. Pretty much the first thing I thought upon looking at the abstract was “the sample size was WHAT?” At best, a well designed, small sample-size study can identify a topic worthy of further study, but it cannot meaningfully prove anything. And this was not a well designed study. Lancet retracted the paper, initially because of Wakefield’s un-declared conflict of interest. He had his own replacement MMR ready to make him millions, so he’d benefit from doubts about the safety of the regular MMR. It turns out, the study was fraudulent from the get-go. Wakefield was selecting kids he already knew were autistic before they participated in the study.
Despite, or because of, his fraud and the revocation of his medical license, Wakefield is considered to be a guru, a martyr to the cause by anti-vaxxers to this day. Instead of making millions from his replacement MMR vaccine, he makes millions as an anti-vaxx crusader instead.
Oh, and dozens of large-scale studies since then have investigated the hypothetical link between vaccines and autism. The universal conclusion: there is no connection. The Earth is an oblate spheroid, the Nazis really did murder millions of Jews, the Moon landings happened, and vaccines do not cause autism. These things are facts, and if you believe otherwise, you are a wackanoodle cuckoo bird.
Then, the anti-vaxx claims came pouring down like rain drops during a deluge. Scary formaldehyde in vaccines. Shedding. The “horrors” of the HPV vaccine. Vaccines as the cause of nearly every pathology in the book. Bullshit. All of these claims and zillions more are complete and utter bullshit. After a while, I stopped doing the open-minded investigation thang, and went right to the pro-science skeptic sites for a good thorough debunking of whatever ludicrous claim was being made this week. Clearly the whole movement was intellectually bankrupt and worthless at best. No good arguments and no first warnings of a legitimate hazard from a specific vaccine have ever come or will ever come from the anti-vaxxers.
OK, anti-vaxxers, you ain’t gonna convince me, and I ain’t gonna convince you of anything in particular. So, let’s work on strategies where you can refine your techniques to irritate anyone who is even minimally scientifically literate.
How to be an Extra Annoying Anti-Vaxx Loon
Since none of the facts are on your side, your best strategy is to be so annoying in your cultivated stupidity that sane people will simply refuse to engage anymore. Then, you can call them intellectual cowards and declare victory. Use a few of these tried-and-true strategies and you’re sure to “win” all debates.
- Dictate the precise methodologies of scientific studies. Since you are a layperson who slept through your one-and-only high school biology class however many years ago, you’re in a perfect position to tell the world’s top specialists in the relevant fields of science how to design their experiments. Just say something like “the HPV vaccine is unsafe because there has never been a quadruple blind Feynman multivariant study with a backflip”. You’ll score many points with your fellow anti-vaxx nutjobs, since that sounds all sciencey and shit. Better yet, your scientifically literate interlocutor will be annoyed both by the absurdity of you attempting to dictate the design of scientific experiments and the fact that what you propose is some combination of illegal, unethical, impractical, or just plain gibberish.
- Cherry-pick your experts, then argue from authority. There are about one million medical doctors in the USA today. Inevitably, a few are attention whores. A few are scam artists. And a few are nuttier than fruitcakes. Still, roughly 99% of MDs today are pro-vaxx. For good reason; all of the real evidence points that way. So, when you trot out an “argument” like, “if you’re such an expert, why don’t you debate Dr. Mercola.” Or “these four doctors think the ______vaccine is unsafe”; you’re guaranteed to elicit eyerolls and guffaws from anyone halfway educated. You’re championing the expert authority of a few cuckoo birds while ignoring libraries full of evidence and a overwhelming consensus of sane experts.
- Assume that correlation proves causation. There’s a strange little cottage industry out there of people with some kind of academic credential who pore over the VAERS database, cherry-pick subsets of the data, perform magical statistical analyses, and claim they’ve found a correlation between vaccine X and pathology Y. They write their number-crunching and their puerile analysis down, and have it published in a pay-to-play or low-level “peer-reviewed” “journal”. This serves the vitally important function of giving anti-vaxxers “peer reviewed” studies to cite. But regardless of the usefulness (or not) of the VAERS for meaningful studies, and regardless of the dubious statistical analysis used, they’ve still got a wee little problem: all they’re even claiming is a correlation. And, as any high school science student can tell you, correlation does not prove causation. Yet you bozos wallow in this twaddle as if it’s proof of something or another. It isn’t.
- Use Freedom™ as an argument. Yes, we shouldn’t need to require vaccinations. People should enthusiastically prevent all of the diseases they can, even if it means they get poked by needles a few times. But you wackos make mandates necessary by spreading disinformation and sowing the seeds of cultivated ignorance, paranoia, and distrust of science. So no, you don’t have a right to use your kids as incubators for infectious diseases. And yes, airlines, night clubs, and restaurants can require you to prove you’ve been vaccinated before you share breathing space with dozens or hundreds of other people. And you don’t have the “right” to drive 90mph through a school zone on the left side of the road while you’re shit-faced drunk. Same. Damn. Thing. Use the Freedom™ argument and you will win no converts, but you’ll convince people you need a straightjacket and a padded cell.
- Start every third sentence with “I’m not an anti-vaxxer, but…” Every time someone who is spouting anti-vaxx gibberish claims to not be an anti-vaxxer, Jesus strangles a kitten.
- Use unverifiable anecdotes as if they were evidence. Nobody cares that you heard that your cousin’s neighbor’s hairdresser turned green after getting vaccinated. That’s not evidence of anything; stop pretending otherwise.
- Use unverifiable anecdotes about “vaccine injuries” to make your interlocutor look like a dick. Awww… you say your kid is “vaccine injured”, but you won’t specify the malady supposedly caused by the vaccine or how you made the connection between the vaccine and the malady? Well, I can’t deny that exactly, because vaccine injuries do occur. Very, very, rarely, but it happens. On the other hand, anti-vaxx nutjobs routinely assign the blame to vaccines for pretty much every non-optimality in anyone who’s ever been vaccinated for anything. I’m deeply skeptical, and the lack of details in your claim only feeds my skepticism. Maybe I’m a butthead for not instantly oozing sympathy for this unspecified condition in someone I’ve never met which is supposedly, but probably not, caused by a vaccine, but fuck you, you manipulative shithead. And what is your one isolated unverifiable case supposed to prove, anyway?
- Use the phrase “informed consent” as if that meant something other than “bombard yourself with anti-vaxx lies and then refuse to get vaccinated.” Seriously, who do you think you’re fooling?
- Wallow in chemical-phobia. Did you know that the Pfizer vaccine contains Hydroxycinnamic acids, 5-Caffeoylquinic acid, p-Coumaroylquinic acid, Flavan-3-ols/procyanidins, Procyanidins B2, Oligomeric procyanidins, and Dihydrochalcones? Oooh, scary, huh? Actually, those are chemical constituents of an apple. Everything is composed of chemicals, and the pronounceability of those chemicals tells us nothing about their toxicity. Let’s pretend for a moment that you don’t want to be as irritating as possible; you seriously want to make a meaningful argument about a specific component of vaccines. You must note the quantity of that scary component in a vaccine, compare that quantity to an established hazard threshold, and note where else we might be exposed to the same scary component in what quantities in day-to-day life.
Case in point #1: formaldehyde. Yes, formaldehyde is present in vaccines. And yes, formaldehyde is a scary poisonous chemical. But the infinitesimal traces in a vaccine are many orders of magnitude below any reasonable hazard threshold, and there’s more formaldehyde in one pear than in a lifetime of vaccines.
Case in point #2: mercury. You guys really demonstrate your glorious ignorance of basic chemistry with your vilification of thimerosol. Thimerosol is a compound which contains the element mercury, and is used in some vaccines. Again, the quantity is tiny, waaaaaay below any reasonable hazard threshold. And elements often have very different properties when they’re in different compounds. The mercury in thimerosol is swiftly removed from the body. The mercury in tuna fish bio-accumulates in the body. And there’s vastly more mercury in one can of tuna that in a lifetime’s worth of vaccines. Remember: the dose makes the poison.
But again, you don’t want to construct a meaningful argument. You want to be annoying. So spewing paranoid twaddle about scary chemicals is a great way to be annoying.
OK, so here we are. the Covid-19 pandemic is winding down… more specifically, hospitalizations are down to near-zero among people who have been vaccinated, while the pandemic rages on among those who haven’t. And the unvaccinated whine that it’s their personal choice. If it were just you self-centered brats who were suffering, I’d be fine with it. But some people legitimately cannot get vaccinated, and you’re putting those people at risk. And furthermore, since there are so damn many of you assholes, you’re preventing the larger population from reaching herd immunity, you’re extending the pandemic, and you’re helping new, potentially more dangerous variants to evolve and spread.
And you want me to watch your three hour Youtube video which inevitably is barfing up the same ol’ lies yet again. And you want me to respect your opinion. And you want me to be polite.