Face It, You Think You Know Better Than Me

There’s this person, we’ll call her “Ginny,”* who is an ardently anti-vaccine. She has multiple blogs, multiple social media accounts, participates in protests (traveling far and wide, money for the family be damned), and even thinks she leads a political party. Ginny has no medical or scientific training, per se. The closest she’s gotten is a bachelor’s or master’s or even a doctoral degree in a non-scientific field.

Still, Ginny thinks she knows better than me.

I have a bachelor’s of science in medical technology. To earn that degree, I had to take courses in biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, microbiology, blood banking, hematology, cytology, and so on. During those courses, people with entire lives devoted to those individual subjects tested my knowledge over and over again. Then I took a national certification exam to become a medical technologist. That exam was about 4 hours long and consisted of hundreds of questions.

Still, Ginny thinks she knows better than me.

I have a master’s in public health with a focus on epidemiology and biostatistics. To earn that degree, I had to take courses in epidemiology, biostatistics, health informatics, disease transmission dynamics, health communications, health policy, etcetera. During those courses, people with entire lives devoted to those individual subjects tested my knowledge over and over again. (My GPA for my MPH degree was almost a 4.0. I missed it due to one B in one course.) During the four years that I worked on the MPH part-time, I worked full-time as a medical technologist, furthering my knowledge of all things having to do with clinical laboratory science. I worked closely with physicians and other healthcare providers. I got to see sick people be healed through the use of science-based medicine. Then, once I got my MPH, I joined a state health department under the direction and mentorship of people who have studied and practiced epidemiology for time periods at times longer than my own life.

Still, Ginny thinks she knows better than me.

I’m working on a doctoral degree in public health with a focus on epidemiology. To earn that degree, I’m taking advanced courses in epidemiology, like longitudinal data analysis, advanced epidemiological methods, and even more biostatistics. I’m learning to better discern random coincidences from cause-and-effect relationships. I’m consulting with leading experts in different fields, people who, again, have devoted entire lifetimes to specific subjects. I am also writing a dissertation addressing a public health problem. For that dissertation, I must be able to show that I can tell the difference between a random association between X and Y and a true, causal association between A and B. Experts in the fields of epidemiology and other disciplines will read that dissertation and ask me poignant questions until they are satisfied that my knowledge is that of someone at the doctoral level of education in my field.

Still, Ginny thinks she knows better than me.

Ginny thinks that a slew of scientific literature clearly states that vaccines are bad and that vaccines cause autism. Those papers state no such thing. If you read them with the expertise of someone who has been doing a lot of biological sciences, epidemiology, and biostatistics, you would see that the vaccine-autism association is spurious at best. You would see that there are a lot of confounding factors that explain that observed association and dispel any cause-and-effect association between vaccines and autism. Furthermore, you would see that vaccines save lives. They may not be perfect, but they’re short of a miracle when it comes to their ability to stop serious and deadly infectious diseases in their tracks.

So why does Ginny think she knows better than me?

Ginny thinks that she knows better than me because, at one point in her life, she saw her child be diagnosed with autism. That diagnosis came after her child received their vaccines. She then, by her own admission, went online and found like-minded parents who comforted her and supported her idea that it was the vaccines. Then she found papers that she didn’t quite understand but said stuff that read closely to “vaccines cause autism.” To make matters worse, she then ran into the fraud perpetrated by Andrew Wakefield. Ginny probably thought, “Hey, a British doctor agrees with me!”

Ginny then swore to worship Andrew Wakefield unquestionably and forever, as if he was a cross between Jesus and Nelson Mandela.

So here we are, at the end of the age of expertise. It doesn’t matter that I went through all those obstacles to learn what I did, or that my learning has been validated by exams and tasks. It doesn’t matter that 99.999% of all scientists agree that vaccines don’t cause autism and that we need to continue to use them. It doesn’t matter because there are blogs like “Age of Autism” to explain to the incredulous masses that those of us who work on these things for a living are actually paid by Big Pharma to sit at home and write in our blogs, or that we are not who we say we are, or that we eat children at Thanksgiving.

Ginny and friends, and friends, all believe what they want to believe because they can find at least one person with enough letters after their name who believes what they believe. Never mind that Andrew Wakefield was paid to conduct his fraudulent research. Never mind that he applied to get a patent for a vaccine that would have benefited from his fraudulent research. Never mind that mountains of evidence against him have been found, confirming his “elaborate fraud.” No, to Ginny, none of that matters because one day her child was diagnosed with autism, and that was a fate worse than death to her. That, of all the things in the world that her child could have been, she could not deal with.

Face it, Ginny, you think you know more than I do, but not because you actually do. You think you know more than I do because there is enough storage in cyberspace for at least one lie to support your fears. You think you know more than I do because you’re the parent of an autistic child and I’m not. You think you know more than I do simply because.

sherlock_painful

*Before you — yes, you — get bent out of shape thinking that you are “Ginny,” please know that Ginny is an amalgam of all anti-vaccine people. Ginny is not a specific person.

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

16 thoughts on “Face It, You Think You Know Better Than Me

  1. The ones I love are real classy acts. Folks like doxxing those who they can’t sell their lies to and in one case, one enterprising individual both doxxed me and threatened to break into my home, rape, then murder my wife, then murder me.
    It didn’t turn out the way he hoped, as I patiently explained that, if I saw him *on* the property, he’d leave in two bags. I also explained that I’d only use firearms if I were feeling charitable, which would be unlikely.
    So, instead of shutting me up, he shut himself up.

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  2. Convincing the anti-vaxxers that they’re wrong on this won’t happen until you can tell them what IS causing the dramatic RISE in autism.
    I think an environmental factor that substantially contributes to development of an ASD is a dysfunction involving methionine synthase (excessive intake of both suboptimal forms of folate and B12 increase autism risk by 17 times, indicating a convergence at the point of methionine synthase function, per JH’s own findings last year) and that cultures that eat a high amount of dissolved trimethylglycine (a substrate of BHMT, which is the backup pathway to methionine synthase) are partially protected from autism development (see much lower rates for Poland, Ukraine, rural Arabs and orthodox Jews in Israel, and Himachal Pradesh–I blogged recently on them if you want links).
    Keep up the good fight!

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    • Except that there is no epidemic. You can’t call something an epidemic based on prevalence rates. That’s Epi 101. Furthermore, the only factors shown to lead to the increased prevalence are better diagnostic tools, change in diagnostic practices, and better access to diagnostic services. Historically, between 1% and 3% of the population are autistics. The current prevalence rates are approaching that, not exceeding it.

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      • Exactly, it is something we lived. In 1991 a neurologist assured me that my non-verbal three year old not autistic because the child laughed and smiled. So through the years he got a series of speech/language centered diagnoses, and we got acquainted with several children who we were told were autistic. Except they were more functioning than our son, yet he did not qualify for the developmental disability services because of his alphabet soup collection of diagnoses was not on the official list (granted, autism was included less than ten years ago).

        I finally became tired of being told that “he was going to be okay” when it was obvious he needed help socially and psychologically. So over objections from dear spouse I found a couple of places who diagnose adult. The final outcome was he was autistic under both DSM IV and DSM V, and for the latter it was Level 2I.

        Now he is getting the services he needs, including “gentle push” help to be better prepared for getting and holding a job. The term is from Temple Grandin: http://blog.theautismsite.com/cs-loving-push-asd/

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        • Aargh! While editing from Roman numeral to Arabic number I made an error. It should say “… and for the latter it was Level 2.”

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      • I often put epidemic in quotes. I know autism isn’t contagious. 🙂
        Which populations? Poland, which had guaranteed health care for children and many ties to the UK, recently reported an autism rate of only 1/2900. Germany is only 1/200. Amish in the USA are around 1/270. Something environmental is also going on, not just genetics.

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        • The term “epidemic” is not only used for infectious diseases. It means one new case above an expected number of new cases per year for the location or population under observation. New cases per unit of time per population at risk are measured as incidence. The numbers you are quoting as a “rate” are not a rate at all. They don’t have a time component to them, as rates do. The number you are quoting are prevalence numbers, whereby prevalence is the number of existing cases divided by the total population. The numbers you are showing, if correct, are more likely the result of different reporting requirements and practices. We are moving away from the environmental model of autism causation and toward the far more likely model of genetics, though some environmental factors, like congenitally acquired German measles, are known to cause developmental delays.

          I’m beginning to wonder about you.

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          • “It is one thing to show a man that he is in error, and another to put him in possession of the truth.”
            John Locke

            If you want to convince people that vaccines aren’t behind autism, you need to tell them what is instead of just insulting them. No one listens to people who go out of their way to be insulting. Is your goal to help people be healthier? Then find the truth. And, no, it’s not merely genetics and diagnosis differences behind different autism rates; environment is involved, too, via epigenetics.

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          • Alright, you need to take a break. Go for a walk. Learn a new skill. Breathe some fresh air. You just told me it’s not genetics by telling me it’s genetics. That right there calls for a time-out.
            Also, I’m an adult. Don’t tell me how to treat people who should know better.

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          • Here’s a good primer on “epigenetics.” Hint: It doesn’t mean what you think it means. Basically, CT, you’re the kind of person this blog post was written about, i.e. someone who thinks they know better when they don’t. Article: http://littleatoms.com/what-is-epigenetics

            From that article: “There has been a disturbing fixation on mapping patterns of DNA methylation, on the assumption that finding these tell-tale tags on genes means that they are switched off. But is DNA methylation or histone modification a cause – the actual thing that switches a gene on or off – or is it just a consequence of other underlying processes at work? To draw an analogy, is it like the locked door of a shut-up shop, or just the “closed” sign swinging against the windowpane, a visible readout of a more fundamental process at work? Most research shows that genes are activated by protein molecules called transcription factors, which sit on short stretches of DNA near genes and act as “control switches” to turn them on. Histone modifications may be important for locking in patterns of gene activity once the transcription factors have got them going, but there’s still a lot we don’t really understand about how it all works.”

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          • I have to go with Rene here. You try to say something is epigenetic, but not genetic, which is a contradiction. That strongly suggests that you have no clue in the universe what epigenetics actually is, let alone genetics.
            Here is a hint, this causes one form of autism, but not all forms and not always. 1q21.1 deletion syndrome.
            Epigenetic, that ain’t, as it’s partial to full deletion of part of a chromosome 1. Vaccines don’t delete sections of any chromosome.
            You don’t even quite understand environmental, which epigenetics may and only may play a part, as teratogens would also play a part, about which, you remain silent.

            If you want to not be treated like an idiot, do not make idiotic comments that don’t stand up to scrutiny by those who know about the subjects that you prove, via your comments, know nothing about.

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          • At the bottom of the comments I posted a video on the known autism causing gene sequences. I assume you are not going to bother watching it, because you have come up with your own theory (beets? Not different screening standards?).

            Anyway, starting at about 35 minutes in there is a pie chart of what is known. I will summarize it for you (there made errors in the transcription because the lack of video resolution, and my typos):

            5% are Genetic Syndromes like Fragile X, Tuberous Sclerosis (TSC1 and TSC2), …. etc

            10% are Copy Number Variants like 15q11-1, 1q21…. etc.

            2% are 16p11.2

            30% are De novo gene variants like DYRK1A, ADNP, … etc

            1% CHD8

            8% are rare inherited gene mutations (letters too small to make out).

            And 45% are still unknown, hence the massive recruitment for families for SPARK for Autism by the Simons Foundation (link in my other comment).

            At around the 57th minute there is a slide of various groups parents have formed around the specific genetic sequence their child has. It includes FamiliesSCN2A and ADNPkids.

            At 59 minutes there is a slide showing how knowing the specific gene sequence is important. For instance those with SCN1A need to avoid sodium channel blockers, and those with SCN8A need to use sodium channel blockers.

            Then the presentation concludes on research programs at the Simons Foundation and our local university. Then the presenters took questions.

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          • BTW, Ren, PZ Meyers was recently railing about some lousy reporting on RNA editing in cephalopods, which prompted me to look into some of the literature.
            Apparently, “broken” DNA that makes malfunctioning RNA can be edited by repair proteins in cephalopods. A *lot* of such protein editing was found, far more than is present in mammals.
            I guess that one could say, in some ways, cephalopods are more advanced than we are, at a cellular level. 😉

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  3. CT: “If you want to convince people that vaccines aren’t behind autism, you need to tell them what is instead of just insulting them.”

    Several genetic sequences have been found that cause approximately half of the cases of autism. There is an extensive hunt for the rest:
    https://sparkforautism.org/

    It requires answering several questions, and then they send you three swab kits. They want to test the genetics of the child and each parent. There is more information here on this video presentation:

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