It happened again.
I had planned on posting a second update this week, something about a stupid patient or something. I had the update all proofread, edited, and ready to go, but I unfortunately ran into someone on Twitter who inspired* me to change my mind. This person** is so utterly deluded, so hopelessly brainwashed that I felt the need to sit right down at my computer*** and type a brand-spanking new post and leave the other one for later.
*"Inspire" in this case means she was so violently wrong that I couldn't help myselfThe person in question is Charisse Burchett, otherwise known as @ on Twitter. She is a self-described "bitchcakes" and "fuckzilla", though I can't really say too much about those monikers considering I call myself a bastard.
** "Person" in this case means a spectacularly and fiendishly ignorant antivaxxer
*** Who the hell uses a computer these days? It's 2016 for god's sake! I wrote this on my iPhone with some assistance from my computer. Thanks, Apple!
It's never a good sign when someone's Twitter header is a picture that says "Wake up People // Vaccines = Death Adhd Autism Sids (sic)". But after Charisse engaged me on a tweet I made on January 4th, I felt obliged to engage her. My original tweet was a list of things I still can't believe people believe in 2016:
Astronomer Phil Plait tweeted a similar list a day before I did, which must have unconsciously inspired my own list. There were several dozen things I could have added to my list if Twitter allowed a few thousand more characters, but I felt that list summed it up fairly well. Charisse out of the blue replied with this:Things I can't believe are still believed in 2016: Flat Earth Creationism Vaccines cause autism Homeopathy Chemtrails Astrology Scientology— Doc Bastard (@DocBastard) January 4, 2016
I wasn't completely sure what she meant, though I did appreciate being called a toad (her insults would get far more hilariously ludicrous in the following days). A click on her profile told me three very scary things: 1) She was a home vaccine researcher (aka a googler), not a doctor, 2) she was rabidly antivaccine, and 3) she has three children. This woman needed educating, and quickly.@DocBastard mix up the vaccine thing and make it seem crazy. You are a bit of a toad aren'tcha— Charisse Burchett (@Charbrevolution) January 4, 2016
I clearly had work to do.
After Charisse declared that vaccines cause autism, I corrected her by showing her the study of over 1.2 million children showing no link between vaccines/mercury/thimerosal and autism. She of course rejected that very compelling data because it failed to support her pre-determined conclusion, so she immediately threw out the Simpsonwood meeting. This was held by the CDC in 2000 to discuss any potential link between the mercury in thiomersal (aka thimerosal) and autism (none was found, of course). Bringing up this conspiracy theory is a classic manoeuver by antivaxxers whenever they need one to cover up supposed evidence of a link between vaccines and autism (which doesn't exist). The issue has been extensively studied both before and since that meeting, and no link has been found. She then threw out the infamous "list of 122 papers showing a link". I've seen that list numerous times when antivaxxers perform that particularly predictable Gish Gallop, and it was soundly debunked several years ago (see this paper-by-paper refutation compiled by Liz Ditz).
Evidence, right? Data, right? Oh no, Charisse would not be deterred. She then decided to switch tactics by moving the goalposts, claiming that there are no studies comparing vaccinated versus unvaccinated people. Wrong again:
What? I know it? Was she really denying that those studies actually exist? Not satisfied with denying, she decided to move the goalposts again:@DocBastard rubbish and you know it— Charisse Burchett (@Charbrevolution) January 4, 2016
I have no idea why she would think Americans' immune systems would be any different than any other human's on Earth. Her response was curious:@DocBastard funny how US cohort never used.— Charisse Burchett (@Charbrevolution) January 5, 2016
Wait, wait, wait, I just showed you that the studies have been done, and they do not show that at all. Is she illiterate or just ignoring me? She then asked me to post a link to each study, which I did, expecting her to read exactly -0- of them. Her response was to move the goalposts YET AGAIN:@DocBastard same corruption all over. That's why a vax v unvax study has not been done. The unvaccinated are the most healthy kids— Charisse Burchett (@Charbrevolution) January 5, 2016
That has nothing to do with anything I had said, but I let it go because she seemed to stop replying. I thought, Maybe I've gotten through to her! Maybe she's learned something! Maybe she's taking all this time to read all those wonderfully educational links I've sent her! Then I remembered that I'm a realist, not an idiot. Her answer was to move the goalposts again:@DocBastard Again you are wrong. Even vaccine developers have come out saying what dangerous junk they are full of contaminants and can kill— Charisse Burchett (@Charbrevolution) January 6, 2016
Good grief. I explained that polysorbate 80 has been known to be perfectly safe since the 1950s, which is why it is used in so many products. The dose of polysorbate 80 in a vaccine is about 25 micrograms (that's 0.000025g), and rats fed a diet high in polysorbate 80 (the equivalent of a human eating 140g daily, the same as getting 5,600,000 flu shots) showed no ill effects (though if this was increased to an equivalent of a ludicrous 1.2kg (48,000,000 flu shots) daily, it decreased birth weight of offspring). Regarding animal DNA, anyone who eats meat has animal DNA floating around in their serum. So what.@DocBastard still evidence to show harm and cover up. Aluminium still present along with animal dna polysorbate 80 and formaldehyde 😛— Charisse Burchett (@Charbrevolution) January 6, 2016
She then moved the goalpost yet again, claiming that the flu vaccine causes narcolepsy. This is where I stepped into it, because I hadn't heard of that and asked her to prove it, which I then did myself with a Pubmed search. Indeed I learned that the Pandemrix vaccine used against the H1N1 strain of influenza in 2009 was found to cause around 1300 cases of narcolepsy around Europe, possibly due to a cross-reaction to an adjuvant used. That particular vaccine was only used that one year, and no other flu vaccine has been associated with narcolepsy.
I admitted my mistake to Charisse, but apparently my acknowledgement that I don't know everything shattered any credibility (not that I had any with her to begin with). Apparently Charisse thought that mistake reversed my opinion on everything else I had said:
Ah, no. I had said none of those things. But she seemed to think narcolepsy was a death sentence even though it is quite treatable, and that statement apparently made me evil and inspired one of the most fascinating insults I've ever received:@DocBastard but you have already admitted Simpsonwood was real and autism and adhd related to mercury— Charisse Burchett (@Charbrevolution) January 7, 2016
All I can say in response to that is YES. Because what else can you say to "hulking banana turd"? Her next tactic was to move the goalposts yet again and claim that Gulf War Syndrome is caused by vaccines. She claimed she was going to show me up by proving it and I was too easy and fun (that may be true, I am a lot of fun) but I preemptively showed her evidence to the contrary:@DocBastard evil. It's brain damage you hulking banana turd. No job, no passing driving test, no looking after kids, it's life ruined— Charisse Burchett (@Charbrevolution) January 7, 2016
Shockingly (not really) she hasn't brought it back up since. I then decided to change tack and find out if she thinks vaccines are just bad or if they are bad and don't work as advertised. I mentioned the fact that vaccines eradicated smallpox, which killed half a billion people in the 20th century, and that vaccines have prevented about 17 million deaths from measles alone since 2000. Her response was entirely predictable:@Charbrevolution If you like. I'll go first. From the Research Advisory Committee: https://t.co/8EfEIjnB1B pic.twitter.com/rcexwfb3aX— Doc Bastard (@DocBastard) January 7, 2016
And she revealed her stunning ignorance on anything having to do with biology, immunology, or science in general:@DocBastard certainly not on any level as it is not true. most ridiculous underesearched statement I have ever heard from a rabid pro vaxer— Charisse Burchett (@Charbrevolution) January 7, 2016
Yes, despite the fact that we know exactly how vaccines work, why they work, and that they work, she believes this is not causation. Continuing her spectacular ignorance, she then started with the "Vaccines didn't save us" bit, which Dr. David Gorski (aka Orac) has firmly debunked. I then showed her this graphic, which very nicely demonstrates how the measles infection rate, shown since 1912, plummeted to near zero after the vaccine was released:@sdoownek @smawlCorner @DocBastard so in that context vaccines did not eradicate any disease. Correlation does not equal causation 😁— Charisse Burchett (@Charbrevolution) January 7, 2016
Antivaxxers like the green line because it shows that mortality was already dropping precipitously when the vaccine came out, which is completely 100% true. But medicine was advancing dramatically in the early 20th century - antisepsis, supportive care, ventilators, antibiotics . . . of course people would survive diseases better since doctors actually knew how to treat them. But the red line simply can not be dismissed, as seasonal variations are seen until the very time the vaccine was introduced and measles all but vanished. I then asked her about this one:
For those antivaxxers who think clean water and improved sanitation eliminated these diseases, isn't it funny how that clean water started eliminating polio in 1952 (right when the vaccine was introduced)? But that same sly clean water waited to start improving measles rates until 1963 (when the vaccine was introduced). And that sneaky clean water waited to drop mumps rates until a few years later in 1967 (when the vaccine was introduced). And that water was still so wily that it waited 2 more years until 1969 to start dropping rubella rates (when the vaccine was introduced).
After all this education over a period of several days, I was beginning to think she was a lost cause, when finally Charisse showed her hand:
BINGO. And there you have it. Charisse openly admitted that no matter what evidence I showed her, no matter how strong the data, she would never change her mind. Most believers in pseudoscience and conspiracy theories don't admit this outright, so I confess I was a bit shocked (even more so than after the "hulking banana turd" line). Despite decades of tireless research by thousands of dedicated scientists and doctors, she (and many others like her) believe her "research" is somehow valid.
So there it is, my latest "conversation" with an antivaxxer. I think it went pretty well, all things considered (not really). Did I change any minds? Not Charisse's, to be sure. But perhaps someone else reading this (either here or on Twitter) will be swayed, though I seriously doubt anyone will actually read this entire stupid article. I barely could, and I wrote the damned thing.
But what I do know is that I will not stop educating (read: fighting with) these people, because ultimately the people who lose are children like Charisse's who are left unprotected and susceptible to several painful, debilitating, and potentially-fatal diseases because their parents are either woefully misinformed or willfully ignorant.