The Appeal of Vaccine Rejectionism: It Flatters the Ignorant

10 Feb

Famous faces and matching T-shirts do not experts make.

One of the most attractive aspects of vaccine rejectionism, indeed of all “alternative” health, is that no particular knowledge is necessary to declare yourself an expert. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have even the most basic knowledge of science and statistics. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have any understanding at all of the complex fields of immunology or virology. Your personal experience qualifies you as an expert. Hence Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey, two actors with no training of any kind in science, are touted by themselves and others as “experts” on vaccination.

As the paper The Persuasive Appeal of Alternative Medicine explains:

The person-centered experience is the ultimate verification and reigns supreme in alternative science… Alternative medicine makes no rigid separation between objective phenomena and subjective experience. Truth is experiential and is ultimately accessible to human perceptions… [O]bjective diagnostic or laboratory tests that discern what cannot be felt never replace human awareness… [A]lternative medicine, unlike the science component of biomedicine, does not marginalize or deny human experience; rather, it affirms patients’ real-life worlds. When illness (and, sometimes, biomedicine) threatens a patient’s capacity for self-knowledge and interpretation, alternative medicine reaffirms the reliability of his or her experience.

On its face, such an appeal seems ludicrous, but it provides powerful validation for people who are frightened and confused:

  • You don’t have to listen to experts; you are an expert.
  • It doesn’t matter what studies show about whether vaccines cause autism; it only matters that it seems to you that vaccines cause autism.
  • Your personal experience isn’t irrelevant to determining whether vaccines cause autism; it is the central, perhaps the only, thing you need to know to make a determination.

Vaccine rejectionism implicitly reflects the conviction that no particular knowledge is necessary. Both immunology and virology, the foundations of vaccine science, are extremely complex. They are not as arcane as, say, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, but they require years of study and a fund of specialized, technical knowledge.

Vaccine rejectionists simply ignore this point. It’s not that they claim to have any knowledge of immunology or virology. They simply behave as if such knowledge is unnecessary. Merely having a child who is autistic and has been vaccinated (against anything, at any time) automatically qualifies them to pontificate on the claim that vaccination “causes” autism. They believe that their “personal experience” of vaccination makes them experts on vaccination, which is the equivalent of claiming that their “personal experience” of gravity qualifies them as experts on Einstein’s theory.

Vaccine rejectionists attempt to justify the lack of understanding of science and statistics, let alone immunology and virology, by making disparaging claims about the value of science itself . These are claims made by people who clearly feel threatened by knowledge. It is not coincidence that these claims have been invoked by flat-earth theorists and creationists as well as by purveyors and supporters of vaccine rejectionism. Such claims include:

  • There are areas of knowledge that are not accessible to science.
  • Statistics cannot tell us everything about what happens.
  • Science tells us something different than experience tells us.
  • Science does not tell us the truth because it is manipulated by scientists for their own ends.
  • Science does not tell us the truth because it is manipulated by business people for their own ends.
  • There is no such thing as scientific truth.

These claims are not merely a justification of lack of knowledge; they are an affirmative celebration of ignorance. Vaccine rejectionism is not simply based on factual errors and a pervasive failure to understand basic science and statistics, as well as immunology and virology. It is also based on a denial of the need for specific knowledge and a disparagement of such knowledge. By elevating “personal experience” to the same or even higher level than actual knowledge of the relevant subject matter, vaccine rejectionism makes everyone an “expert.” Instead of imparting new knowledge, instead of protecting children, however, it merely flatters the ignorant.


17 Responses to “The Appeal of Vaccine Rejectionism: It Flatters the Ignorant”

  1. Autismum February 10, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    Excellent piece.
    I would go further: vaccine rejectors do not only deny that scientific expertise is of any value but also seek to marginalise parents of autists who have reached a very different conclusion when it comes to vaccines. Their own experiences and those that mirror them being the only ones that have any validity.
    I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been told I make a person sick for vaccinating my autistic child or that not subjecting him to unproven and implausible quackery is neglect.
    As Paul Offit wrote, “A special kind of venom [is reserved for] parents of autistic children who do not believe vaccines are at fault.” He is absolutely correct.

  2. Chris Caston February 11, 2012 at 4:23 am #

    You forgot to mention that the vaccine industry is a multi-billionaire dollar a year industry. You also don’t understand that we live in an age of “disabling professions” in that the same industry that sells the vaccines also sells the medications to those suffering life long vaccine side effects. Those that work in the vaccine industry are not going to come out and blow the whistle on the nasty shit that goes into them and the side effects of this because they need to keep up with their mortgage repayments and put fuel in their car and food on the table. The industry needs to be audited by people that do not have a profit motive and conflict of interest.

    This industry goes against the basic tenet of medicine. That is “do no harm”. Not do some statistically insignificant harm and then refuse responsibility to compensate the people or families of those harmed by vaccines.

    You also forgot that the vaccine schedules are much larger than they were a few years ago. While when you and I were kids we had about 3 shots there are now 10-16 shots given in quick succession. While studies may be done on each individual vaccine there are no studies done on getting all those shots at once and what possible effect this may have on a young immune system.

    You also forgot most natural immunity comes from mother to child through mothers milk.

    You also forgot that billions of dollars gets wasted on vaccines that are stock piled and never used. Simply they are sold as scare campaigns such as swine flu. As we saw with the swine flu scare in the 70’s a lot more people were harmed from the vaccine than were harmed from the supposed swine flu.

    You also forgot that the primary strength of the immune system comes down to nutrition, hygiene and growing up in positive and supportive environments. Environments and diets free from toxins and electrical pollution which can harm the immune system.

    Waging war against the natural immune systems of human beings such as being done by the pharmaceutical industry will have negative consequences for the long-time survival of the human race.

    • Amy Tuteur, MD February 11, 2012 at 9:40 am #

      That’s funny. You forgot to mention that “Big Placebo” is a multi-billion dollar industry that scams people by pretending that legitimate medical treatments are harmful and that useless quackery is helpful.

      Moreover, you are betraying exactly the ignorance I am talking about. Clearly, you have absolutely no idea how the immune system works. Tell me, do you have any advanced education and training in immunology, science or statistics? If not, how could you possibly believe you have any idea what you are talking about?

      You are proving my point for me. Vaccine rejectionism flatters the ignorant. You’ve made it quite clear that you are utterly ignorant about immunology and vaccine science, yet you have allowed other vaccine rejectionists to flatter you into believing two separate fantasies: that you know what you are talking about and that you are qualified to “educate” anyone else.

      • Chris Caston February 11, 2012 at 7:47 pm #


        Thank you for your reply and I would like to thank to board and its operators for allowing me to enter discussion.

        The great thing about sceptics is they get to pick and chose the most extreme examples that will illustrate their point and use that as an excuse to paint anything that contradicts the views and practices of established authorities with the same brush.

        Yes there is a lot of stuff that people get sold that doesn’t really do anything with homoeopathy being the most extreme example of this but the modern medical industry is largely about the merger of the chemical industry and medicine.

        The FDA started life as a division or a bureau of chemistry. It was originally there to provide legal immunity to the chemistry industry so that citizens had no legal recourse for damages done to them by chemicals added to food.

        It was a “legal shield” to the chemical industry that approved their products as “safe”.

        The FDA also brought about two things a massive “book burning”
        of thousands of years of medical knowledge such as holistic medicine and plant based medicine and the knowledge of good nutritious food as medicine e.g. “thy food is thy medicine”.

        This happened as the chemical industry massively bribed its way into the medical education system and rewrote the curriculum to favour the products of the chemical industry.

        Before this the medical industry was not the lucrative market it is today. Schools were begging for Rockerfeller grants that were handed out to compliant schools.

        This meant abandoning traditional and natural medicines in lieu of petrol chemical based drugs and trashing entire libraries of past procedures.

        For example in 1928 alone The Rockefeller Foundation gave money to 18 medical schools across 14 countries.

        In exchange for this the schools become part of their aggressive campaign that in collusion for the FDA suppressed medicines that competed with the chemical industry.

        Natural medicines and substances that the industry could not control and profit from legally control with patents were suppressed.

        This is why natural and non-toxic therapies are quickly labelled as “quackery” by the FDA, the chemical industry an the medical establishment.

        All dissenters. e.g. those who stuck with existing natural methods of healing were hence forth labelled as “quacks” despite some of them even holding Nobel prizes.

        Thanks to the chemical industry the incidents of disease such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and infectious diseases such as polio began to explode creating high profitable and lucrative industries profiting from other peoples suffering.

        Doctors are routinely dictated to by the industry what chemicals to prescribe and to trust the the authorities FDA trials. Cancer is to be treated with radiation and chemo. Anyone offering alternative medicines to kill cancer cells without harming the patients own cells is labelled as a “quack”.

        Furthermore the clinical observation by physicians considered the most crucial aspect of developing medical knowledge is ignored if it contradicts the outcomes of official FDA trials.

        Big pharmaceutical co

        • Amy Tuteur, MD February 12, 2012 at 11:33 am #


          You don’t seem to realize that verbose, histrionic fabrications don’t impress skeptics. We need data and, thus far, you’ve provided none. That’s not surprising since most of what you claim is simply made up out of thin air.

          So far we haven’t really discussed anything. You’ve made ludicrous claims and we’ve pointed out that they are not data.

          I’d be happy to have a discussion, but that’s not possible until you present some scientific evidence.

        • tushcloots February 15, 2012 at 2:37 am #

          The FDA also brought about two things a massive “book burning”
          of thousands of years of medical knowledge such as holistic medicine and plant based medicine and the knowledge of good nutritious food as medicine e.g. “thy food is thy medicine”.

          [citation needed]

          I sure as f don’t see nutritional news being suppressed, doctors and licensed dieticians advice and government food guides are everywhere, doctors try to get people to quit smoking, getting fat, and to exercise often and effectively.

          I’m not inclined in the least to be polite to people that spread and define life threatening lies, you fucking fool, and outbreaks and rising infection rates are the obvious common sense consequences of not following established guidelines of prescribed medicine for good health.

          Ignorance is no excuse anymore. If you put half the effort into understanding what is really going on, that you do fabricating conspiracy theories and convoluted but easily dismissed histories, you would easily understand something useful..

          You are a pawn used by the shysters to shill for them and extort money from you suckers that keep reinforcing their celebrity.

          Already, your reason de tere was shown to be fraudulent and criminal in intent, yet you happily ignore the frightening implications and evidence of your criminally conceived and destructively perpetuated bullshit instead of stopping the bleeding and letting go of your egotistical delusions,

          You do not sound smart, Chris, you sound exactly the same as every perpetual machine and magic snake oil hoaxer everywhere.

          The inevitable is even happening plainly already, and that is discovering the true source/cause of autism. The strong correlation for a recessive genetic component has just been published, and the march is on for true screening and treatment while find ever more ways to make yourself into a fool.

          Just because you may have painful and unjust situations to cope with is no reason to lash out and try to destroy others.

          The sooner you learn to grieve and forgive yourself, the sooner you can return to sanity and salvage some real meaning for your life, instead of selling your soul to fraud and hatred and futile attempts to lessen your anguish by inflicting it upon others.

          Sorry, everyone, it just came out, yikes!

    • Autismum February 11, 2012 at 10:57 am #

      First you assert:
      “we live in an age of “disabling professions” in that the same industry that sells the vaccines also sells the medications to those suffering life long vaccine side effects.”
      You are implying that vaccine manufacturers make big bucks out of the vaccine injured then contend that:
      “This industry goes against the basic tenet of medicine. That is “do no harm”. Not do some statistically insignificant harm and then refuse responsibility to compensate the people or families of those harmed by vaccines. ”
      Such a small market wouldn’t be a particularly lucrative one. Correctly, in this second statement, you suggest that people who are harmed by vaccines to be very small in number – doesn’t that attest to their safety in the vast majority of people who receive them?
      Here’s an interesting article from someone involved in vaccine production. Not quite the self centred minion of your imagining.

      • Chris Caston February 12, 2012 at 3:12 am #

        Thank you for replying back and i’m glad to see you are using enlightened debate by finding contradictions in my arguments.
        I thought I would be called up on that one but it is possible that damage to the immune system won’t be apparent until later in life where it will be viewed as an unrelated condition such as an autoimmune disease. Ideally the incidence of all disease should be reduced so much that it is no longer profitable for industrial scale production of drugs to treat those diseases (and cancer) unfortunately the opposite is happening for a wide variety of reasons possibly related to modern livings conditions and exposure to toxins, pollutants and processed foods or even the spread of STIs.

        The “statistically insignificant’ immediate harm done to people by vaccinations just basically tells people that ok this vaccine caused an adverse side effect in you but your only one in 500,000 and worked out that 2 in 500,000 normally die of rotavirus. (just an example not actual figures) so you had the vaccine and got sick your just unlucky go away and btw you can’t sue us because the government approved this and we spend more on lawyers than we do on research.

        • Autismum February 12, 2012 at 9:58 am #

          I think actual figures would be relevant here if you expect your assertions to be taken seriously.

      • Chris Caston February 12, 2012 at 3:36 am #

        I also read that link thank you. I liked Steve counter-arguments as well and thought they were clever.

    • Sid Plait February 11, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

      Your comments on “natural immunization” don’t hold water, Chris. Not even close. The facts of what vaccines have done for us refute your entire argument. Things like drastically reducing the advent of measles, whooping cough, polio, and mumps in the US and Australia, as well as all of Europe. Some of these diseases were killing and maiming kids. You have absolutely no legs to stand on in this conversation.

      To add fuel to the truth, there is a scientific study going on right now as reported by Carl Zimmer in Discover Magazine (March 2012) that, with what is recognized as a small sample size, seems to indicate autism (often claimed by anti-vaxxers as being caused by vaccines with no proof of their claims) begins in the third trimester of pregnancy. The scientists are currently seeking a larger sample base. If this is proven, and they believe they may now know what symptoms exist of autism before autism actually manifests, that will put the final nail in the coffin of the “proof” the anti-vaxxers claim to have.

      The only problem is that, even with this proof, they won’t stop preaching their garbage to emotionally distraught parents.

      Kids are dying of whooping cough and measles, diseases that had effectively been eradicated in the US, Europe, and Australia. These kids needn’t have even gotten sick, but there are people out in the world who listen to their emotions and make irrational decisions, like chosing to avoid vaccines.

      It’s a bad choice, and it puts other kids, not just theirs, at risk of sickness and death.

      We humans, apparently, don’t have “natural immunizations” against those diseases. We need help to avoid them, and vaccines work.

      • Chris Caston February 12, 2012 at 2:32 am #

        Hi Sid,

        Thank you for entering debate with me. I hope to show you that I know a bit more than the average anti-vaxer and we can both have an intelligent discussion.

        I’ll do my best to address your points without dodging any of them but please remind me if I have missed something. I also don’t claim to have omnipotent wisdom so I may need to do more research to help me answer your questions and I do expect to learn more as this happens.

        Now you argue that vaccines have done a lot to reduce “measles, whooping cough, polio, and mumps in the US and Australia”

        One of the biggest tragedies in modern history was world war I. During that time a lot of people lost their lives including men fighting on the front line and in trenches. In these conditions far more died from disease than died from enemy fire.

        Fighting in foreign lands in close proximity to other soldiers varying in degree of health from fulling active to injured to dying exposed them to a lot of disease.

        This disease all spread and often came back with the soldiers that returned.

        At the same time back at home food was being rationed an people weren’t getting enough nutrition. All resources were going into the war effort and people without resources to buy from the black market went hungry.

        During this time of food scarcity and lack of nutrition susceptibility to disease increased. So a lot of people go sick with these diseases. The development of antibiotics certainly saved a lot of lives in this respect but I am very sceptical that vaccines made any positive difference.

        The graphs showing reduced incidents of disease after the war that pro-vaxers love to show say that the improved health and reduced incidents of disease was due to vaccines. It looked like humans were all dying like flies and we would be wiped out now if it wasn’t for these wonderful vaccines.

        I would like to argue though that the reduced incidence of disease was actually due to the return to normal food availability and the end of rationing.

        The pharmaceutical companies though liked to show this as evidence that it was their vaccines were working. The truth is that if we never had world war I we wouldn’t have had the epidemics of those diseases in the first place.

        Really people that are serious about ending disease and famine (nutricide) should be looking to end war. It is much easier for you to poke fun at Jenny McCarthy than it is to take on the war lords of the military industrial complex.

        I’m going to dodge your points about autism for the time being but I do intend to answer at some point but I want to develop my argument a bit stronger first. I have read that autism may be caused by an excess of testosterone at certain ages of pregnancy. It is also possible that certain types of neurological damage get clumped together with or mis-diagnosed as autism but overall I don’t want to touch this subject right now but I should try to soon as that is what most of this original post was about so I apologise.

        Now where you say that “Kids are dying of whooping cough and measles, diseases that had effectively been eradicated in the US, Europe, and Australia. These kids needn’t have even gotten sick, but there are people out in the world who listen to their emotions and make irrational decisions, like chosing to avoid vaccines”

        Can you show me any articles (not written by someone funded by the pharmaceutical industry) those shows solid data that people avoiding vaccinating their kids has actually increased the incidence of disease? Do they have solid data that un- vaccinated kids have got vaccinated kids sick?

        Do they have a theory as to why?

        “We humans, apparently, don’t have “natural immunizations” against those diseases. We need help to avoid them, and vaccines work.”

        I think you underestimate nature. We evolved very robust immune systems over millions of years.

        In order for that immune system to function properly it needs nutrition. It needs vitamins and minerals. Quality sources of proteins and glyconutrients as well as fatty acids. Plants can provide us with phytochemicals and flavonoids which they often use to protect themselves against pathogens such as bacteria and fungus.

        There are also natural antibiofilm agents that I have started building a list of on my site rejuvepedia.

        I don’t claim to work in medicine I am just interested in building open source collaboration in this area.

        Anti biofilm agents are important because one of the ways bacteria evades the host immune system is to form biofilms.

        This brings me to another point. Many of these diseases stay dormant inside people.

        If our immune systems are working as they are supposed to this is never a problem.

        We are in fact made of of trillions of cells and only about one tenth of those are human cells. The others are different organisms which if kept in their numbers are usually not a problem or are sometimes beneficial. If our immune system is unable to function properly things can get out of balance and some of these pathogens can wake up and start making us sick or spreading to other people and making them sick.

        So that is why nutrition is so important. We need a fully functioning immune system to protect us not only from what is outside and around us but from what is inside us too.

        Now where you say “It’s a bad choice, and it puts other kids, not just theirs, at risk of sickness and death.”

        Well what about kids that eat mostly fast, processed or junk foods. Processed meats have been shown to increase the incidence of crohn’s disease whereas eating fresh broccoli helps reduce it.

        The kid at school that eats pie slops and never eat fresh fruit or veg could just as easily make your kid sick too.

        You should also consider that pharmaceutical drugs are keeping the elderly live longer for example by preventing stroke but aren’t stopping the progressive decline of their immune systems. If the aging population is spreading disease and getting the younger generations sick are you going to start blaming them too?

        • Sid Plait February 12, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

          This is great! Thank YOU, Chris, for being willing to have an intelligent debate as opposed to rock-throwing. If anything I said, or the way I phrased something in my first post was challenging to your sense of debate, I apologize. I’m so used to folks from “the other side” of the issue writing nonsense with no real information to back up what they are saying. On the other hand, it is clear that you are a thinking person and that you are patient. Yay!

          I haven’t had time since you posted to look up good sources for statistics as to what I said about the current situation. I will attempt to do that in my copious free time (chuckle!).

          I do want to say that your arguments, which I will take to be correct right now because of my time constraints, don’t seem to me to address where we really are right now, but appear to make MY point. I may have misconstrued something, but I trust you’ll clear that up for me.

          What I mean is that if our immune systems are screwed up, for whatever reasons, I don’t think they will just adjust themselves until we have brought each of our constitutions back up to snuff. We need to exercise, eat properly, and generally get our bodies back to where they were before we ran them down BEFORE we stop taking vaccines. It seems to me that the pretty-much-ignored efforts of the US government (in particular) to educate us and help us get back to a better, more healthy lifestyle needs more punch, because we Americans (in particular) don’t listen too well. Corporations are telling us that it’s OK to drink huge cups of cola and eat extra-large quantities of food that really isn’t good for us in the first place.

          I don’t know if that will happen without some cathartic event to precipitate it. Even then, it will be many years before our bodies, as a society, will be ready to go naked into nature and keep us alive.

          I look forward to your response!

        • Renee Perry February 13, 2012 at 2:11 am #

          Hello, yes we do have robust immune systems and the way they work is fairly well understood, which is why vaccines are successful. Here’s a link from the WHO which supports the efficacy of vaccines in reducing disease incidence,

          There are many challenges facing the world, but I think undoing ignorance is as important as trying to stop war.

  3. thevaccinemachine February 18, 2012 at 1:14 am #

    Funny stuff. Describe to me how a thorough understanding of virology and immunology is required in order to decline a vaccine against a harmless illness such as chickenpox, flu or the mumps.

    • Sid Plait February 18, 2012 at 9:59 am #

      You cannot call mumps “harmless”. There is greater than a 1% mortality rate and some chance (as high as 5%) of mumps encephalitis, which can cause brain damage.

      The mumps vaccination is combined with the vaccination for measles and rubella, so singling it out is rather ludicrous.

    • Sid Plait February 18, 2012 at 10:26 am #

      In addition, neither chickenpox nor flu are “harmless”. They spread quickly to others, there is chance of death and/or brain damage from chickenpox, as well as death from flu. All of this is beside the incidence of large numbers of people unable to function properly for a number of days while the viruses run their course.

      The incidence of death is much higher for all three for adults.

      While your statement sounds plausible to those who don’t know, it is inaccurate. You really should do your research and instead of giving generalities and no information whatsoever, quote sources or give statistics so that your arguments can be given credibility. Right now, you have none.

      My sources, by the way, started with Wikipedia so I could get a general idea, then I spread out to other medical sites, including, but not limited to a paper entitled,

      “Health Impact of Measles Vaccination in the United States”, with authors Alan B. Bloch, Walter A. Orenstein, Harrison C. Stetler, Steven G. Wassilak, Robert W. Amler, Kenneth J. Bart, Cecil D. Kirby, and Alan R. Hinman; and

      a CDC-published article,

      “What Would Happen If We Stopped Vaccinations?”, which indicates that the death rate for measles is about 3%, with 20% of people infected being hospitalized.

      You may believe in conspiracies (I don’t know that you do and you did not indoiate so, but some reading this might), and you may denigrate these articles, but they are not scare tactics and the data are not falsified.

      So where did your statement of harmlessness come from?

      You may not need the education of a virologist or immunologist to decline being vaccinated, but, if you do so without having researched the diseases and their potential impacts, you are incredibly foolish and are putting your children and those of others at risk as well. That’s a lot of responsibility and the courts are beginning to recognize the liability of it.

      Of course, everyone has the right to choose. However, you run the risk of causing disfigurement, disability, and death as a result of that decision, along with jail time for yourself.

      Your choice. To bad you can’t win a Darwin Award, since YOU will survive.

Come on, tell us what you really think.

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