What Do We Do With Crazy Ideas? The Anti-Vax Movement

The Anti-Vax movement.

It's one of those crazy, unfounded, ideas that makes me very angry, even more than normal, because I was taken in by it for a while. I heard it in passing, and the idea of "Oh yeah, we really do pump our kids full of so much stuff so early" stuck. Over time it evolved to "Huh, maybe there's some credibility to this, so many injections so young can't be healthy for them. I don't have kids yet, but I'll look carefully into which vaccines I'll allow." It might have progressed further, but Mike brought it up at one point, I voiced my opinion, and he (nicely) ridiculed me out of it. Since then I've done my research, and I'm much more hesitant to accept an idea just because it sounds plausible.

Here's Penn and Teller's take on it (NSFW language):

The Anti-Vax movement brings up a difficult question for which I can see two answers:

1. We combat the crazy idea early, with the outcome of debunking it or giving it credibility where it would otherwise have none.

2. We ignore the crazy idea, and allow it to fall off the radar unnoticed or, in the case of the Anti-Vax movement, gain a large foothold.

Which do you think works better? Is there a third option that I've missed?

Never stop questioning,



  1. The Anti-Vax movement already has a foothold, which says to me that the second option really isn't. Deliberate and harmful ignorance cannot be simply ignored, especially when that ignorance is leading to kids being denied medicine for diseases that we should have beaten.

    We've seen outbreaks of measles, a disease we had very much under control with the combination of mandatory vaccinations and the resulting herd immunity, among children. www.jennymccarthybodycount.com keeps tabs on illnesses and deaths that are reported by the CDC, and are preventable with routine vaccinations. While not every one of these cases represents a child left deliberately unvaccinated, the CDC has also reported that in almost every instance, the "index patient" - or source of outbreak - was an unvaccinated child. The website currently counts 64,000 preventable cases, and about 600 preventable deaths due to lack of vaccinations. (Check the site for more details on these numbers.)

    There IS harm in this brand of ignorance. As reasonable people, we cannot let this go unchallenged. With spokesmen such as Jenny McCarthy pushing it, along with the whole bogus "vaccines -> autism) movement, it won't just go away if we ignore it.

    For some issues, ignoring them can allow them to fade into obscurity, not even giving them the chance to bloom. Sadly, that's not the case here.

  2. I agree completely.

    I think one of the big problems with the Anti-Vax movement is that it did go unchallenged for so long. Experts scoffed at the idea and ignored it, assuming that no one would believe something so ridiculous - for good reason - but didn't take into account the fact that it preyed on the fears of emotionally vulnerable new parents.

    The question should really be asked as each new crazy idea comes out, do we debunk it or ignore it?

    If we debunked every single crazy idea, we wouldn't have time for forward progress. But as we've seen with Anti-Vax, ignoring it can be deadly.

    It's a conundrum that I don't have a good answer for.

  3. That video is AMAZING. He doesn't even try to address the autism thing, he takes it as a given and shows that vaccination works, which is WAY more to-the-point.

    Also I'm super happy someone said it for me: "IT FUCKING DOESN'T!" You have no idea how angry that makes me.

  4. Additionally:

    People have been speculating about and playing with the concept of immunity for thousands of years. They've been vaccinating themselves (whether with a shot, or some other form of exposure to the disease) for hundreds of years. This concept is ancient, and it fucking works.

    Thanks. Sorry. Just had to get that out.


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