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An Encounter with An Anti-Vaccinator and the Issue of Scientific Literacy

On Sunday June 23, 2014 Charles Lazelle posted to Facebook an article claiming that herd immunity had been disproven. Whilst Lazelle was clearly not a good advocate for the anti-vaccination cause, for a first discussion with such individuals it was interesting insofar that it revealed some of the mindset of some anti-vaccination thinkers some of which can be summarised as follows.

a) Anti-vaccination campaigners do not understand why an unvaccinated individual is a threat to a vaccinated individual. They do not understand that vaccines are not 100% effective, or that a large number of vaccinated individuals can stop the spread of contagion. This is very important, because if they don't understand the mathematics of herd immunity, they're not going to ever accept the science regardless of correlative evidence.

b) They will rely instead on conspiratorial thinking. For example, it will be highlighted that vaccinations cost money and that people are paid to engage in vaccination research. Ergo, there is a conspiracy among the scientific community to create a need for vaccinations. This is the same sort of logic that's applied by climate change deniers etc. It is not logical, but rather an intuition that because action is being taken conflicts of interest must exist.

c) Old arguments, long-since refuted, such as the alleged association between oral polio vaccination and the origins of HIV, are retained as an article of faith.

d) The conspiratorial thinking is sometimes matched with anti-scientific attitudes in favour of naturalism. For example Suzanne Humphries argues that vaccinations create a quasi-sterile environment which can act as a contagion vector. She prefers that individuals are exposed, in nature, to wild and active variants of contagions as a form of "vaccination".

e) Other associations are speculated to the success of vaccinations. For example, when it is shown that the dramatic fall of poliomyelitis (from half a million per annum in the 1950s to less than a few hundred in 2012) they will claim that is because of other reasons post hoc ergo propter hoc, such as improved sanitation are responsible (which incidentally is a contributing factor). However, if these correlations are shown to false (e.g., improved sanitation with improved poliomyelitis incidents without vaccinations) it will not change the dogmatic belief that claims it could not have been vaccination that succeeded. In other words, the methods used to establish scientific causality are rejected.

More usefully...

f) They will raise some genuine concerns such as the SV40 contamination incident. Raising issue like this is legitimate and a contribution to risk analysis that needs to be applied to mass vaccination projects, but that is not a criticism of vaccinations per se.

Ironically, the poster seemed to be unaware of a recent article which narrowed down a measles outbreak in Minnesota to one unvaccinated child.

What was most illuminating and disconcerting in the discussion however from a sociological point of view is the issue of scientific literacy. As science becomes increasingly specialised and complex the capacity for each individual to have a high degree of knowledge in the disciplines and subdisciplines declines. A certain degree of trust is required of specialists because it is rare that individuals can make informed decisions on subjects which they know little about. This is not an example of argumentum ab auctoritate (argument from authority) which only constitutes a logical fallacy when misused (i.e., the person is not an authority on the subject, but an authority in a different area, or authorities in the area do not have a broad agreement etc).

Scientific literacy cannot be expected to equate with scientific knowledge of all subject matter. It should include however an understanding of rational methodology, basic arithmetic and probability, the use of evidence, and the capacity to engage in a discussion without engaging in logical or rhetorical fallacies and with a view to come to a reasoned and considered conclusion. The reality however is that most people (including ourselves) do not or will not engage in such thinking. We're not good at admitting error, we psychologically prefer deeply ingrained prejudices rather than the discomfort required to build deeply considered convictions. For political purposes this encourages the ideology that all opinions are equal value, when in reality some are in fact better than others.

Ultimately however there is light at the end of the tunnel. Rational argumentation has the social function to convince others even when individuals engage in self-deception. Engaging in a discussion where there is a genuine public sphere (individual free speech, proportional debate, admixture of ideas) may not convince an interlocutor, but it will convince those who listen in on the discussion. On Internet discussions, this suggests the long-term benefits of debate kept for review and assessment, even in the short-term in-group cultic networks also have the opportunity to establish their echo-chambers. In other words, whilst it may seem a waste of time convincing a dogmatist of the error of their ways, it is not for other readers of a more discerning persuasion.

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Where are you now Charles?

The vaccines that children receive when they’re young are perfectly safe, and the vast majority of them don’t lead to serious side effects, according to a sweeping new review of 67 recent scientific studies on childhood vaccinations. The analysis, published on Tuesday in the journal Pediatrics, also found no link between vaccines and autism — effectively debunking a common myth that dissuades some parents from inoculating their children.

Adriaan Reivers and is should be a choice if it is risk you want to take.
Like · Reply · 8 hrs

Lev Lafayette Fine. Don't get vaccinated. Go to a 'flu party for all I care.
The problem is that the unvaccinated are a danger to others as well as themselves. It's bad enough that some people can't be vaccinated. But those who wilfilly choose to be a threat to others?
Maybe move them to a restricted part of the country or something. Kangaroo Island perhaps? We'll do air drops for supplies every so often until they all die from a preventable illness.
Like · Reply · 1 · 7 hrs

Adriaan Reivers i don't carry diseases and it is you lot who get your flu vac that does not work and lets you shed for three weeks who are a danger to those of us who avoids this fallacy. Have never had a flu shot have not had flu since i was 24 (that is 39 years flu free) years old, while i have seen the vaccinated suffer intense symptoms while i have remained safe or "unflued"...can you explain you cannot unless it is with some flawed logic that fits the delusion you and your kind want to push. so who is the danger.. it is you who have immune systems that have been compromised by vaccines which do not work and in fact are known to give you the flu and then you shed that to others... i have invented a new term for people like is called sub-idiot or an idiots idiot. Now nick off with you panic paranoid bullshit it is you lot should be moved to restricted areas so you can be safe from yourselves and we from you and your moronity (new word) Again if you get vaccinated and it works then why panic about those who do not.
Like · Reply · 5 hrs · Edited

Lev Lafayette
Lev Lafayette Go on, explain "shedding" in your own words. You've used the term multiple times, so I presume you know what you're talking about.

This should be interesting.
Like · Reply · 5 hrs

Adriaan Reivers
Adriaan Reivers explain why the vaccinated should fear the unvaccinated. you first. this should be interesting and you can do your own research on shedding but it goes something like this you are injected with a live virus which while you immune system "fights" it can spread to others and often those so vaccinated catch the flu which yo and your kind then say "oh but it would have been worse if i had not had the injection" it is what a sub-idiot would say!!! . ..your turn. now tell me how can the un-vaccinated be a danger to the vaccinated if the vaccine works. This should be very interesting..
Like · Reply · 4 hrs · Edited

Lev Lafayette
Lev Lafayette > explain why the vaccinated should fear the unvaccinated. you first.

Because vaccinations do not provide perfect resistance against infection. They dramatically reduce your chance of infection, they don't eliminate it.

The more people that are unvaccinated the easier a disease can spread. The more people who are immunisated the harder it is to spread.

The mathematics is relatively simple. Let me know if you have any problems and I'll walk you through it.
Mathematical modelling of infectious disease - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Like · Reply · Remove Preview · 2 hrs

Adriaan Reivers
Adriaan Reivers so vaccines do not work thank you no more to say except enjoy your idiocy. like i dais how can i who have not had flu for 39 years be a danger to all you carriers.. brahahahahaha
Like · Reply · 1 hr

Lev Lafayette
Lev Lafayette Adriaan Reivers > so vaccines do not work thank you no more to say except enjoy your idiocy.

I wish I could say that I am surprised to witness this reaction.

I understand that people do get defensive when their deeply held beliefs are challenged, but intellectual cowardice is not a pathway to learning.
Like · Reply · 1 hr

Adriaan Reivers you use the word immune er how can that be if you are not
Like · Reply · 1 hr

Adriaan Reivers
The Influenza (Flu) Vaccine: Adverse Reactions. Thinktwice!
Like · Reply · 1 hr

Adriaan Reivers flu vaccine it can kill you...
Like · Reply · 50 mins
Adriaan Reivers do take the time and read the insert esp sections 5 and 6 (adverse reactions)
Like · Reply · 48 mins

Adriaan Reivers
Adriaan Reivers Arthralgia (from Greek arthro-, joint + -algos, pain) literally means joint pain;[1][2] it is a symptom of injury, infection, illnesses (in particular arthritis) or an allergic reaction to medication.[3]
Like · Reply · 47 mins

Lev Lafayette Adriaan Reivers > you are injected with a live virus which while you immune system "fights

There are several issues here which you need to understand. Firstly, there are different types of vaccines. The one that is used depends very much on how the body responds to it. Live, but attenuated vaccines, exist for measles, mumps, chickenpox, influenza. 'Dead' (inactivated) viruses are used for polio, hepatitis, and rabies. Toxoids are used for diphtheria and tetanus and subunit/conjugate vaccines for influenze injections, heptatis B, and human papillomavirus (HPV).

"Shedding", a legitimate medical term used to refer to the release of a virus from a host, has only every occured with the old liquid polio vaccine, which could be passed on through feces by people who didn't wash their hands after using the bathroom.

No other type of vaccine has ever been shown to shed. Ever.
Like · Reply · 43 mins

Adriaan Reivers now i will do with what i always do with shills and trolls i block them the insert and therefore i choose not to vaccinate not because i want to harm you but because i make an informed choice not to harm you are blocked..bye bye.
Like · Reply · 39 mins

[As can be seen, as is sadly typical among anti-vaccination advocates, Mr. Reivers doesn't understand the science, and reacts very poorly when it is illustrated that the facts are contrary to his beliefs]