What makes you an epidemiologist?

I got into (yet another) Twitter discussion the other night that included a few friends of mine trying to argue with a young man who fancies himself an epidemiologist. This particular young man does indeed have a master of public health degree from the same university where I got mine. However, he is yet to do any kind of work as an epidemiologist, choosing instead to go straight into a PhD program in Texas and launching yet another anti-vaccine blog.

Yes, you read that right. He has an MPH but he still believes that vaccines are all sorts of evil and that there is a concerted effort by different parties, i.e. a conspiracy, to hide all the harms that vaccines cause. But you shouldn’t be too surprised. There are plenty of people who believe plenty of outlandish, disproven things, and they have degrees in the fields that study those things. There are medical doctors out there who are selling what amounts to fairy dust to cancer patients with the promises that those patients will be cured. There are also engineers who believe in their heart of hearts that the collapses of the World Trade Center buildings were explosive in nature.

The problem here is that a medical doctor who sales fantasies to his patients is not a “physician,” per se. He is a snake oil salesman, a lying weasel, a conman who happens to have put in the work necessary to get that medical degree. The same goes for the young man in question. He put in the time and effort to get through the required courses to get the MPH degree in epidemiology, and that’s about it. He has failed time and time again to display any real understanding of the epidemiology of infectious disease, biostatistics, and immunology. His undergraduate degree is not related to the biological sciences.

This is the case with many people who get the MPH. They’re not really in it for the biological aspects of the degree. They want to do work or research in public health, or in the healthcare field. From what I understand, the young man I’m referring to wants to research vaccines to find out and uncover the truth he’s been fed by close friends and families since he was very young. He was told he was “toxic” because of the vaccines he was given. He was told he has autism because of the vaccines his parents allowed for him to have.

He is not an epidemiologist. He┬ámay be studying “that which comes upon the people,” but he doesn’t do anything about it. He doesn’t intervene and offer solid proof of any of the conspiracies he believes in. He attends anti-vaccine conferences and meetings and is critical in the extreme of anyone who doesn’t agree with him. “In the extreme” meaning that he is willing to accuse people of serious crimes.

He emailed everyone at the health department where I worked and accused me of threatening him with violence, of impersonating another blogger, and of “stalking” him (albeit electronically). In his email, he emphasized that I should be dismissed from my position because I had some sort of “conflict of interest” (his favorite gambit) in promoting the influenza vaccine while being the epidemiologist in charge of influenza surveillance.

In essence, his actions and words (written and spoken) do not back up his claim at all that he is an epidemiologist. Epidemiologists work in the realm of reality, where evidence is put forth to support our claims of something that is happening to the people. If I say that there is an epidemic, then I better show that the cases of the disease/condition in question are above what is expected for a time and place. Not so for him. He believes that there is an autism epidemic, though there is none.

The most interesting thing is that a couple of my friends criticized him for using “MPH” in his name on Twitter, something I also do. That kind of stung a little because I use my MPH degree initials to show people that what I have the education to back up my work in epidemiology. It’s not because I’m insecure or because I want to flaunt it, which was something they were accusing him of doing. Hey, he earned the degree, I think he can show it. But I personally draw the line at calling him an epidemiologist, especially since he continues to violate epidemiological principles in his assertions about vaccines and infectious disease.

But that’s just me. It’s all my opinion.

I'm a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. All opinions posted here are my own, of course, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my school, employers, friends, family, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen

6 thoughts on “What makes you an epidemiologist?

  1. It’s not just your opinion Ren; he has that MPH-Epidemiology degree, but he will never be an epidemiologist.

    He’s just a spoiled nasty kid whose only forays into science blogging are tales of his stalking behaviors and his paranoid six-sixty-six hundred degrees of separation.

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  2. I was a little part of that twitter war. Jakey fails to realize that simply getting an MPH does not make you an epidemiologist. It’s a job title.

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  3. Also, I think the difference between you having MPH in your twitter name compared to Jake is the equivalent to you being an MD and having “Dr.” in your name and Jake being a Naturopath and having “Dr.” is his name.

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  4. There is just no way that Jake would ever put public health as his first priority were he to ever get a job as an epidemiologist. The only reason he would want the degree is so that he can appeal to his own authority, in which he has none, and never will. He’s in it for all the wrong reasons– his mind is already made up. The only thing he can do is try to science harder, but I doubt that he’ll ever make it past the outspoken critic phase.

    I noticed that someone on Twitter asked him if “chemtrails” were also part of the autism epidemic. Jake’s reply was something along the lines of, “not that I know of…”. But this is very telling of the audience in which he panders to. Nutters…

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