The entirety of the evidence

It’s been a rough few days for the antivaxxers. The measles outbreak associated with Disneyland has really put them on the spot when it comes to their refusal to vaccinated. Some say that they are protecting their freedom to do whatever they want to their children (aka their “property”). When it is explained to them that they are to do what is in the best interest of their children, they shift the goalposts and say that the vaccine is what caused the outbreak. When it is then explained to them that the vaccine strain is not the strain found in the outbreak cases, they then say that the vaccine doesn’t protect against the strain in the outbreak. They’ll quote CDC documents stating that the genotype of the vaccine is different from the genotype of the outbreak. When it is explained to them that there are different genotypes but that the vaccine covers all serotypes — and, thus, that genotypes and serotypes are different things — they fire back with some nonsense about “big pharma” and/or reptilian overlords.

Our human nature tells us to look for the patterns that matter to us and ignore the others. We’re very biased in that sense. We don’t like to be wrong because we’ve been taught that being wrong is bad. Being wrong gets us in trouble, laughed at, or might even kill us. So we look for the things out there that we can cherry-pick and mold into supporting our assertions. Even when we know in our hearts that we are wrong, we still plow through and try to get others to agree with us.

Yet this is not how science works. In science, we readily accept mistakes and try to correct them. Furthermore, we try to learn from them and not repeat them. We try to teach our mistakes to others so that they don’t make the same mistake that we made. If anyone hides a mistake, they are committing scientific fraud, and they will be laughed out of the scientific community. It happened to Wakefield. When he coauthored a paper whose conclusions expressed that there was no association between the MMR shot and autism, but he still went ahead and said that there was an association, and a causal one at that, he was soundly laughed out his profession. He now sits in Texas and puts out inflammatory videos based on bad science whenever he needs donations to flow his way.

I cannot emphasize enough the need for us scientists to look at the entirety of the evidence and then make our conclusions. We need to actively let go of our biases because being biased in our understanding of what is going on in the world can have very bad consequences. Physicians like Dr. Bob Sears and Dr. Jay Gordon seem to not look at the entirety of the evidence about vaccines. Thanks to their actions and inactions, herd immunity has been eroded not only in their patient pool but in the communities around them. And, as we can see now from the outbreak, there are consequences. The same can be said of other physicians who refuse to see all of the evidence on vaccines and go only with what will make them popular with their patients.

The saddest thing about Sears and Gordon — and others — is that we can see right through them. We can show them with plenty of evidence that delaying vaccinations is a foolish way to address their patients’ apprehensions about vaccines. And we can show them that refusal to vaccinate based on personal and/or religious beliefs has community-wide consequences. But, yet, they keep on keeping on. They’re steadfast in their beliefs, reality be damned.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live that way. I don’t want people to point out where I am wrong and show me plenty of evidence on why I am wrong and me still cling to my wrong ideas or actions. It’s immature to act that way. Instead, I want to be the kind of person that is wrong and accepts it, corrects his way, and moves on. That shows integrity, honor… All those good things.

I'm a 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

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