Why do people believe conspiracy theories?

Consider this a companion piece to my last bit on flat earth ‘theories’ (and I use that term very loosely). The idea of a flat earth relies exclusively upon belief in conspiracy, that NASA and countless scientists are not only wrong, but they’re actively lying to you. You’ll see stuff like this all over Facebook, Instagram, etc:

BlueMarbles.jpg

Of course the interesting thing about memes like these is that there’s never a reason given for why NASA and the media would perpetrate such a massive hoax. We can assume that anyone who develops and perpetuates a conspiracy is doing it for some reason. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is rarely a motivation provided for these conspiracies. We’ll see why that’s not problematic for the believer in a moment.

Of course, the flat earth isn’t the only conspiracy out there. Climate change, vaccines, 9/11, cures for cancer or AIDS, weather control–take your pick. There are people out there who believe it and who disseminate that belief online via social media. The weather control one was a particularly new one for me, but I’ve seen it making the rounds lately:

Haap Patent Weather Modification Chemtails EMF

Well, at least here we have a motivation: military power. However, why would a secret government organization file a public patent for a top-secret weapon? That doesn’t make much sense, does it?

Whenever I look at these kinds of conspiracies, I’m struck by one common thread: they contradict themselves at an incredibly basic level. They set up these shadowy corporations or institutions as entities that are simultaneously both immensely powerful and yet completely incompetent. Take the HAARP example. Here we have a secretive government organization that has all this power and money and knowledge–they can even control the weather!–yet they’re so stupid that they file public patents, let photos of their devices leak onto the internet, etc.

None of that matters to the conspiracy theorist, because these conspiracy theories aren’t meant to appeal to a sense of reason or logic. That’s why they never provide evidence and they rarely provide a motivation. None of that matters, because conspiracy theories are designed to do one thing:

Mollify a perceived lack of control in the believer.  

But don’t take my word for it. There’s been research into why people believe conspiracy theories. This article from Psychology Today has some real gems in it for explaining the conspiracy theory phenomenon:

“Melley proposes that conspiracy thinking arises from a combination of two factors, when someone: 1) holds strong individualist values and 2) lacks a sense of control. The first attribute refers to people who care deeply about an individual’s right to make their own choices and direct their own lives without interference or obligations to a larger system (like the government). But combine this with a sense of powerlessness in one’s own life, and you get what Melley calls agency panic, “intense anxiety about an apparent loss of autonomy” to outside forces or regulators.”

To me, this makes perfect sense. When someone who values their independence see a lack of control or an erosion of that independence in their own life, they manufacture a scapegoat in these conspiracy theories. Research by psychologist Jean Twenge provides some empirical data for this:

“Twenge’s research examines how Americans’ personality traits have been changing over the past several decades, from the 1960s through the end of the century, looking at the personality scores for each year. For example, she finds that trait anxiety (or neuroticism) has been rising dramatically in both children and adults over this period. […] In another study, she shows that people have come to hold an increasingly stronger external “locus of control”; this refers to the feeling that external forces are determining what happens to you, as opposed to an internal locus of control, the feeling that you dictate your own outcomes. […] Individualistic values have also been getting stronger in our culture, with greater importance attached to personal freedoms and self-reliance. […] The rise in anxiety, individualism, and external locus of control may therefore underlie the rise in conspiracy thinking. This is somewhat troubling because these personality trends show no sign of leveling off. In fact, given the current pace of globalization and the “Americanization” of other countries, it seems likely that these personality traits (and conspiracy thinking) will be increasing elsewhere too.

That seems like a succinct and accurate representation of the people who I know that believe in conspiracies. In my last post, I featured a screenshot of a conversation on Instagram. Let’s take a look at it again:

20170312_125753

The bit about density is still circled, but this time let’s examine some of the other comments on the thread, starting with the one from mitch_and_tammy: “Who gives a fuck if the earth is flat or round. Either way, I’m still a middle class slave!” This comment doesn’t really tell us if this person believes that the earth is flat. But it does show a predisposition toward not questioning the conspiracy because of a perceived lack of power and control.

Then there’s the comment from bitabites: “I KNOW it looks flat I know about operation paperclip. I know not to trust anyone so I know not to believe anything…” I’m not quite sure what operation paperclip has to do with the flat earth. Nevertheless, let’s examine the other language. This person exhibits a high degree of individualistic values, with much emphasis on “I,” on what the individual “knows.” There’s a strong distrust of that external locus of control– nobody is to be trusted and nothing is to believed.

These two individuals, particularly the second one, exhibit the kind of anxiety and paranoia that psychologists commonly ascribe to conspiracy theorists. Their belief in a flat earth, therefore, are unsurprising.

It’s also unsurprising, therefore, that scientifically trained or inclined people seem less likely to believe in conspiracies. Science relies almost exclusively upon external loci of control–we need other scientists to independently confirm or refute our findings. And because science is a genuinely collaborative effort, there’s less emphasis on “I” and more emphasis on “we.” Science isn’t about the individual, it’s about the scientific community as a whole. Science as a collective body also tends to work toward the same goal, with mutual cooperation and respect. In short, science empowers people, groups of people, whole scientific communities.

So, what do we do to combat this? Well, from the research that’s been done the first and most obvious thing is to make individuals feel more empowered. We can do that on a political, social, and economic level. We can correct the massive income and wealth inequality that exists in this country for starters. We can stop moneyed interests and corporate lobbyists from influencing our political system. Those are probably the biggest causes of anxiety we currently face.

But we also have to do a better job educating people. Basic scientific understanding is floundering in this country. People don’t know how science works, and more importantly don’t know how to critically evaluate evidence or anything they read and see. Sadly, science has become one of those external loci of control, the “other” that’s trying to suppress you. Of course that’s farthest from the truth, but it’s the outcome of a society that doesn’t understand science and feels large amounts of anxiety and paranoia–we have a tendency to fear what we do not understand.

We in the scientific community need to do a better job of engaging with these conspiracy theories and their believers. If people feel a lack of control in their lives, what they really need is power. And I would argue that science is the ultimate provider of knowledge.

The vitamin and oil conspiracy

Folks, if you read me regularly then you know there’s nothing in the world I hate more than pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. Which is why I’ve been fairly perturbed as of late by my social media feeds being inundated by posts about “Natural cures they don’t want you to know about!” I’m sure a lot of you have seen the ads or sponsored pages pop up on Facebook or Twitter. Bullshit like this:

Screenshot_2016-07-17-20-45-24

Look at that. 100k people think that cannabis just cures cancer. That’s something I’ve seen pop up quite a bit these days. Crap like, “Man with stage 4 cancer gets rid of it in a month with simple cannabis trick!” It’s the worst kind of social media offender: it’s simultaneously clickbait AND pseudoscience.

Screenshot_2016-07-17-20-42-26

Just a cursory Google search yields all kinds of wacky bullshit results:

Screenshot_2016-07-17-20-44-22

I mean, come on guys, this is totally on the up-and-up. If you can’t trust premier research institutes like Leafly, MedicalJane, and cureyourowncancer.org, just who the hell can you trust? I mean, just take a look at what this promises. Seven months of cannabis oil treatment and poof, goodbye cancer. Six terminal patients taking illegal cannabis oil?! Holy smokes. Of course, this kind of nonsense isn’t relegated simply to cannabis. “Natural cures” are the herpes of the pseudoscience world.

Screenshot_2016-07-17-20-39-28

Which prescription meds is turmeric better than? For what diseases? Who knows! I think it’s safe to assume, though, that the claim will be something along the lines of “All of them, of course!” But we can climb one more rung up the bullshit ladder and arrive at the detox fad:

Screenshot_2016-07-17-20-40-09

Well look at all of the stuff lemon and flax does. Not only will it “detoxify” you, but it’ll also cure your diabetes and get rid of that pesky cellulite. Simply amazing. Especially in light of the fact that “detoxing” is complete and utter horse shit, with all of the evidence in the world pointing to the inescapable fact that such cleanses do literally nothing for your health. And would you like to know why? Because your goddamned body already has an amazing filtration and detoxification system that works 24/7 your entire life. Folks, meet the real stars that keep you free of harmful toxins, your kidneys and your liver!

liver-and-kidneys
The unsung heroes

And there’s the granddaddy of all the natural cure bullshit: vitamin C. Motherfucking vitamin C, everyone. It cures everything, didn’t you know? Like, literally everything. Here, just take a look at this complete and utter drivel. What are some of things Natural News claims vitamin C therapy can cure?

  • Chickenpox
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Tetanus
  • Polio

Wow, that’s weird, exactly the diseases that vaccines eliminated. Almost as if these people are, I don’t know, trying to market something to a specific group of people, an untapped economic niche. It gets better, though. Here’s what else vitamin C can cure:

  • Herpes
  • Pneumonia
  • Hepatitis
  • Mono
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Arthritis
  • Glaucoma
  • Alcoholism
  • High cholesterol
  • Ruptured intervertebral discs

The crux of this therapy is receiving high doses of vitamin C intravenously. Because somehow science. Who knows what the alleged mechanism of action here is because it’s never explained. In fact, no evidence or explanations are offered at all. Instead, the sell is in the fear.

Manufactured drugs are poisons that are slowly killing you all to make a profit! These natural cures are, like, way better, because natural always equals better. Duh. You can’t trust the government and Big Pharma. They’re all evil and just want your money. That’s why they make you sick, so that they can take your money!

Okay, let’s take the stupid one step at a time here.

First of all, vitamin C is water soluble. Meaning that whatever your body doesn’t absorb gets peed right out. In other words, there’s a saturation limit with vitamin C–cramming more than your body needs or can absorb into your veins is going to do precisely dick. Then there’s the matter of overdosing. Yes, even though it’s water soluble, you can still overdose, by doing something like, I don’t know, RUNNING IT INTO YOUR SYSTEM IV. Then you can suffer the nausea, vomiting, and kidney stones that nature apparently wanted you to.

Which speaks to another irony: there’s nothing “natural” about injecting vitamin C into your body intravenously. If you wanted to get your vitamin C the way nature intended, you’d fucking eat it, because that’s how your body was designed, to obtain vitamin C through diet.

As to the conspiracies, there are plenty. First, the idea that vaccines and modern medicine are a way to poison people and depopulate the planet. If that’s the plan, I’d say that they’re doing a super shitty job, considering the population continues to grow. Plus, isn’t it a rather stupid business model to kill your customer base? How the hell are you supposed to make money if you kill everyone?

Second, creating cures for things is not an excellent business model if you’re part of a conspiracy. Why bother creating vaccines when letting people just catch the diseases would result in much more profit? You’d think that the last thing Big Pharma would want to do is eradicate polio and smallpox, and yet…that’s precisely what they did. You’d think that they wouldn’t develop a cure for Hepatitis C, yet that’s exactly what Harvoni is. Again, this doesn’t really jive with the conspiracy theorists’ models.

“Well follow the money!” That’s what all of these people who think Big Pharma is out to get everyone and suppress the truth say. That’s an excellent idea. Why don’t we indeed follow the money…right over to the Natural News store! Well, that’s funny. Why are these guys making a profit if the only people who are motivated by profit are the bad guys?

Screenshot_2016-07-17-20-47-12

I mean, fuck getting vaccines for free (which actually causes doctors to lose money, which again speaks against conspiracy) when you could just spend $650.00 on a stupid herbal medicine cabinet. 

Screenshot_2016-07-17-20-42-59

Or you could spend $164 on a single bottle of vitamin E. Seems totally legit. But you know what, guys. Before you do any of that, you have to know what health dangers are lurking in your house in the first place. But don’t worry, because the Natural News store has you covered again!

Screenshot_2016-07-18-19-47-32

Better fork over that $379.00 to detect those electromagnetic fields before they fuck up your chi or reiki or whatever other bullshit you believe in. Never mind the fact that every electronic device and appliance in your house will emit an EM field, so the product is guaranteed to make you think you’re being besieged by electromagnet fields –electromagnets are killing you and giving you cancer! Ahhhh!

I mean, why on earth would you pay a $20 copay for a visit to a medical professional and get a generic prescription for $10 when you could fork over $1,029 to Natural News for an EM detector and some herbs? I mean, you don’t want those money grubbing physicians to win, do you? They’re only after your money!

Do vitamins play a role in health? Yes, obviously. Does cannabis have the potential to lead to new cancer fighting drugs? Yes. But simply claiming that if you shove the shit raw into your veins you’ll cure all diseases known to man is stupid in the highest degree, without a single shred of evidence or science to back it up. And, by the way, most drugs on the market are based in some way on something completely natural, like how aspirin is derived from willow bark, or ACE inhibitors came from the venom of pit vipers–most medication you think of as poison really comes from completely natural substances anyway.

Okay, one last thing to convince any natural cure advocates reading this. Let’s grant for one moment that cannabis really does cure cancer. And let’s say that vitamin C really does cure all of the things that they say they do. And let’s say that all those herbs really are curative. Why on earth wouldn’t Big Pharma take advantage of that? I can guarantee you with 100% certainty that if all of those things really did work, then drug companies would have already patented them and the only way you could get your vitamin C or lemon and flax detox would be by prescription. At the very least, if the conspiracies were true you’d think that the drug companies would still patent them and then just make them inaccessible to everyone so nobody could cure themselves. What kind of a stupid conspiracy is it to sell everyone poison but leave well known cures out there for anyone to use?

Maybe it’s because there is no conspiracy. Maybe the drug companies do rip you off as far as price gouging goes, but at least their products work. Or you could just fork over your cash to Big Vitamin and literally piss out all of your hard earned money.

Time travelers and moon bases

Well, it’s time to debunk some more bullshit, folks.

I’ve seen a lot of stuff floating around online that revolves around two premises: 1) we have photographic proof of time travelers! and 2) there are secret alien bases on the moon.

Like all good conspiracy theories, they appear to have some validity visually. There’s always a hook, right? Some tantalizing morsel just within reach of reason. In this case, it’s strange things in photographs that seem anachronistic and weird shapes on the moon. To avoid confusion, let’s address these topics one at a time.

Time Travel

We captured a time traveler on film! Aha! Surely some of you have seen such claims on the internet recently. Stuff like this:maxresdefault (1).jpg

This guy is apparently a time traveler because he’s dressed in “modern” garb that doesn’t fit the period: a graphic t-shirt, cool sunglasses, and some kind of device in his hands. He’s basically a time traveling hipster. And then there’s this lady:

1421860910857.jpg

This is from a bit of film taken during the premier of a Charlie Chaplin movie. In the video, the woman walks across the screen, and it appears like she’s talking on a cell phone. And for something a little more recent, there’s this:

3423515800000578-3589539-The_video_was_first_published_on_YouTube_in_September_2015_by_ha-m-26_1463167113151.jpg

Look! That guy has a smart phone and he’s taking video with it…but it’s 1995! Obviously he’s a time traveler. Duh.

Except that all of these pictures have perfectly simple explanations. As far as the hipster goes, sun glasses have been around a lot longer than most young people think, and his clothing actually is typical of the era–he simply sewed a patch onto the front of his shirt. And how about the cell phone lady? Well, it’s probably not a cell phone, but rather an old timey hearing piece. One of these thingies:

ear-horn-trumpet-thing.jpg
Can you hear me now?

And what about the smart phone at the Mike Tyson event some 20 years ago, before your Nokia had that snake game on it and Minesweeper was the most advanced computer game known to man? It’s actually just a really early model digital camera. Turns out that Eastman Kodak built the first electronic camera all the way back in 1975. By the time the 80’s had rolled around, Sony invented a camera that stored pictures on floppy disks. The “real” first digital camera went on sale in 1990. Here’s a pretty interesting timeline of the development of the technology. You’ll notice that a lot of those cameras look super weird and futuristic, even though they’re 20-30 years old.

So no, nobody is time traveling. Sorry to burst any bubbles out there, but it just ain’t happening. Or if it is, it hasn’t been caught on film. And if you think about it, the whole “caught on film” thing is where this entire theory starts to come apart.

Let’s grant for a moment that in the future someone does invent time travel, and that eventually it’s marketed for tourism. Well, surely there would be rules, right? Like, you’d have to go back wearing clothing appropriate to whatever period you’re going to. So you don’t end up wearing a Banana Republic ensemble in the middle of the Battle of Gettysburg, sticking out like a sore thumb and drawing unneeded attention to yourself. So, there goes the time traveling hipster: it would be really stupid and dangerous to let people go back to the distant past in future clothing for obvious reasons.

One would also think that there would be a rule against bringing technology from the future into the past, precisely so that that shit wouldn’t be caught on camera. Or, more practically, what if you died during your trip, and the people of the past found all of your crap from the future? Can you imagine if the old woman from the Chaplin premier was a time traveler and keeled over from a heart attack right outside the theater? The police and coroner of the time would find her magic future cell phone and then everything would go to shit. So no, you probably wouldn’t be allowed to take technology back with you.

It’s fun to imagine time travel, sure. But all of these pictures and videos prove nothing other than the fact that people are totally gullible.

Alien Moonbases

Again, at first glance, this idea sounds remotely plausible. After all, if aliens were going to secretly monitor us, the best place to do that would probably be the moon. But when you look at the evidence and really dig into the theory, it all really starts to unravel, just like the time travelers. The ultimate claim is that there is leftover technology from aliens up on the moon, and NASA and the government know this and are altering or covering up the evidence to keep us in the dark. There’s a whole “documentary” about this on Netflix called Aliens on the Moon. It’s two hours, so I’ll summarize by telling you that it’s just a bunch of grainy pictures that have been retouched to highlight the parts that NASA supposedly altered. Like this crap:

moonbases02_03google-moon-basenasaScam

I mean, really, guys. Those are totally secret alien moon base things. And obviously NASA is hiding them and covering them up. That’s why we stopped going to the moon: the aliens kicked us off (I’m not kidding, that’s what these people think).

Alright, let’s start with the obvious. Those pictures are so grainy and blurry and enlarged that it’s impossible to tell what the hell you’re looking at. So to claim that you can tell that a smudge on an old piece of film is really an alien piece of technology on the moon is quite the claim. Most of those pictures look benign or like they’re photoshopped. And speaking of Photoshop, let’s talk about those allegations against NASA.

Let’s grant for a moment that NASA did indeed discover that there either are or were aliens on the moon. And let’s also grant that there is photographic evidence of this. The next obvious question is why the fuck NASA would release those images in the first place, even if they are doctored. It’s stupid on NASA’s part to release any of those images, even the doctored ones, if they want to keep it secret. Why wouldn’t NASA just point the cameras at some totally boring part of the moon devoid of alien technology and then release those, keeping the smoking gun photos a secret or destroying them? It makes no sense to go through a convoluted plot of doctoring evidence you want to suppress in order to release it for public scrutiny, when there’s no reason to do that in the first place.

Ultimately this conspiracy, just like the time travelers, is a load of crap. And you can smell it a mile away. I’ll never understand for the life of me why some people cling to this stuff as literal truth. What the hell is going on in the minds of people who jump into these obviously stupid conspiracies and hold on for dear life?

Denial disguised as skepticism

I’ve noticed a new trend. There have always been people who have flat out denied science for one reason or another. Take your pick–evolution, global warming–a lot of well established scientific theories have their vehement and vocal deniers. But I’ve been taking a course on vaccines in order to improve my practice as a public health nurse, and it’s here that I’ve really seen this new trend blossom. And that’s denial masquerading as skepticism.

Denialists have no evidence to support their beliefs. Let’s get that straight right out of the gate. If there was any credible evidence against an established scientific theory then you could bet scientists would be all over that. So what do you do when you have an unsupportable belief? Well, you make your belief sound smarter. And crying “skepticism” is what a lot of these people are doing now. It’s fairly simple. A lot of people who deny the safety and efficacy of vaccines were confronted in the discussion forums of this class, and the results were…well, they went along the lines of, “I’m just saying we need to question the science. I thought skepticism was healthy in science.”

See, by couching their beliefs in skepticism, it makes their position sound more grounded, almost rational. After all, questioning things is indeed a hallmark of science. But not blind questioning.

Skepticism doesn’t come from the gut, it comes from contradictory evidence.

There’s a mountain of data and evidence going back more than fifty years that crosses all ages, all places across the globe, gender, race, etc. that says vaccines are safe and effective. This same pile of data makes it very clear that chronic diseases and things like autism are not the result of vaccination.

You could say the same thing to people who claim to be “climate change skeptics.” Mountain of evidence on one side, zero evidence on the other side. There’s no reason to be skeptical of these theories other than personal bias or misinformation, period.

I’ve screen captured some of the discussion board happenings in this class that I’m taking in order to better illustrate what this new ploy looks like. I’ve blacked out last names for the sake of respect and privacy–my responses have the name blotted out in green:

vaccine debate 1

You’ll notice in this first example that Cheryl talks about “possibility.” The old “How can you be reeeeeally suuuure?” canard. Because there’s no evidence to support your position, Cheryl, and all the evidence to support mine. Ironically, I even get called out for NOT just considering one possible cause. When I originally suggested looking at other environmental factors that have recently changed, that’s the scientific approach. But no, apparently it’s “common sense” to single out one thing and then just run blindly with that. Don’t even think about other possibilities–thinking about the big picture isn’t common sense to people who live in Cheryl’s world. But just that first bit there, introducing “possibility” into the mix, is a much gentler and pseudo-reasonable way to introduce denial.

vaccine debate 2

In this example, we get this lovely fallacy: not all experts know everything, and not all laypeople are idiots. Fair enough, but that doesn’t change the evidence, which Jenette doesn’t seem to understand. You hear this nonsense with climate change and evolution, too. “Well, not all the experts agree.” Fine, but fact isn’t dependent upon universal consensus. To be fair to Jenette, she does admit that she’s here to learn the science of vaccines, which is a step in the right direction. But there’s still this attempt to introduce denial by way of making both sides of the argument equal. The media is guilty of this sort of thing. Cable news will have Bill Nye and some congressman debating climate change on a split screen. Well, when you see a climate change denier side by side with Bill Nye, it kind of sends the message that both sides are equally legitimate. Despite the overwhelming amount of data and evidence that one side has and that’s missing from the other.

vaccine debate 3

And lastly we come to my favorite excerpt. I’ve circled Andre’s problematic statement at the top of the picture. Science does not work like Amazon customer reviews, which is the lovely analogy Andre gave us. I don’t think I really need to explain why this is wrong and patently stupid. The important point here is trying to elevate denial to the same level as established science. It’s steeped in “research.” Do your own research sounds a lot less like philosophical dislike of something. Even though, if one were to do actual scientific research, they would arrive at a conclusion different from Andre and all of the other deniers in this class: vaccines are safe and effective.

When deniers talk about “research” what they’re really talking about is watching Youtube videos from “whistleblowers” or combing through a Google search or reading a book published by someone with their own agenda. Which, obviously, is not scientific research and data. But, to another person who isn’t well versed in how science works, hearing “I did some research” might sound legitimate. It certainly sounds better than “I just feel that…”

But at the end of the day, that’s really all these so-called “skeptics” have to fall back on: feelings. Paranoia about industry and government. Anecdotal stories from third parties. Maybe they have a “study” done by a non-peer reviewed entity or person. But it doesn’t amount to anything close to actual data or evidence. They “just know” the truth. They’ll make it sound, though, as if denial is healthy. As if skepticism and denial are the same thing. Make no mistake: denying something is not the same thing as being skeptical or critical.

Refuting anti-vaccine arguments

Well folks, here we are again, talking about vaccines. You’d think that this wouldn’t have to be a conversation we still have in the 21st century, but…diseases that were hitherto on the rapid decline are now making a rapid comeback. Undoubtedly, most people have heard about the measles outbreak in Disneyland. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Certainly, it’s a large incident. But by and large things like this are becoming more frequent. Of course, there’s an easy way to fix this problem.

Vaccination.

In the last twenty or so years, somehow vaccination went from well established science and life-saving medicine to the pariah of medical advancement and technology. This is, of course, due in large part to the completely fabricated study produced by Andrew Wakefield about how the MMR vaccine causes autism. This isn’t the only reason people decide not to vaccinate their children, though, and since my job is vaccinating people, I figured I would take the time to actually read some anti-vaccine arguments. So I googled “reasons not to vaccinate children” and vactruth.com was one of the first sites to pop up, and they have an article giving 10 reasons why people should not vaccinate their children.

I thought I would take the time to go through each of the points that the website alleges, and talk about what we actually know. Get your hip waders ready, everyone…

1. Vaccines have never been proven safe or effective. Biggest line of BS? This quote: “Effectiveness cannot be determined unless one is then knowingly exposed to the disease entity following vaccination.”

Okay, I’ve been over this before. Absolutely zero medications are completely safe. There’s no point in just singling out vaccines. Every single drug available (including “natural” ones, btw) has the potential to cause a deadly allergic reaction in a certain statistical portion of a population. Okay? Get that? So what’s the argument, then? That nobody should ever receive any medication, ever, for any reason, because of potential adverse effects? Well that’s clearly bullshit. Just ask the myriad of people who died of curable infections before the advent of antibiotics.

Now, let’s address that stupid line about efficacy. First of all, I don’t know how the people who wrote this think that germs work, but they don’t just magically disappear. You’re exposed to them all the time. Hell, I’ve probably been exposed to whooping cough a bazillion times. I’ve never caught it, though, because–surprise!–I’m vaccinated against it! When a disease is prevalent in a population and you first introduce a vaccine, people are still going to be exposed to the disease (at least until a high enough number of people are vaccinated that the disease can no longer reproduce and spread).

But there’s another, way more obvious way to determine whether vaccines are effective or not: look at how many people got the disease before and after the vaccine. Duh. This is so stunningly basic, I have to question the sanity of the people who wrote this drivel. Take a look at this:

Science, aka fact
Science, aka fact

And if you still don’t believe that, there’s the small fact that nobody gets polio anymore, even people who live in places without clean and running water and any modern sanitation. Same thing with smallpox.

2. Vaccines do NOT work. Biggest lines of BS: “Vaccines, with all of their toxins and their unnatural way of introducing disease directly into one’s blood stream, decrease cellular immunity, which is more critical for one’s immune system.” and “When there are outbreaks of disease, unvaccinated children are often blamed. Whenever the outbreaks are examined more closely, the data show that the majority of those suffering have been vaccinated for the disease.” and “What is truly responsible for most communicable disease elimination is clean water and improved sanitation.”

A lot of the information I gave from the first point could be used to refute this one as well. So let’s just focus on the two quotes. “Unnatural way of introducing disease directly into the bloodstream.” Sigh. All disease ends up directly in the bloodstream. If you think that your body cares whether it got in through a cut or through your nose or through a needle, you’re wrong. What constitutes “natural” is purely subjective and in this case extremely misleading. Do these people think that if they cut themselves the germs stop and say to themselves, “Whoa! We can’t go directly into the blood stream! We HAVE to go through each and every one of the body’s defenses first!” Get real.

“Unvaccinated children are often blamed. Whenever outbreaks are examined more closely, the data show that the majority of those suffering have been vaccinated.”  It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that there’s no data to support this, and there’s a conspicuous lack of citations here. Probably because there isn’t any actual data showing this to be true.

As for the idea that sanitation is the true culprit behind decreasing disease rates, I won’t argue that this helps stop the spread of some diseases. But answer me this: how does a sewer system and a flushing toilet protect you against airborne diseases?

3. The very first vaccine was a disaster. Biggest line of BS: “Vaccine safety and effectiveness is a created myth, strongly embedded in Americans’ psyche and reinforced by the health care system.”

picard

And here we go with the conspiracy theories. Didn’t take very long for the full crazy to come out. Here’s all you need to know about the “myth” of vaccine effectiveness:

Immunization-Vaccine-Effectiveness

If these data are mythological, then please explain to me why I don’t know anyone who suffers from polio. Because that used to be pretty fucking common back in the day. Even one of our presidents had polio, for crying out loud. And yet, you can go anywhere in this country, and nobody has fucking polio. You know why? Because vaccines work. Oh, the very first vaccine didn’t work very well? Well thanks to something called “science” they work pretty damn well now. The first airplane only flew for, like, 104 feet barely off the ground. Now you watch a movie at 35,000 ft while flying at 600 mph. Science. It improves things. And it works.

4. Vaccines are highly profitable for pharmaceutical companies and the health care industry. Biggest line of BS: “Strong financial incentives exist to continue this practice, not effectiveness.”

You need only an elementary school education to see that this is clearly a steaming pile of bullshit. Vaccines are not a cash cow for anyone. Certainly not for the pharmaceutical companies. You’re vaccinated and then immune for life. How is lifelong immunity profitable? It’s not. The drug companies would make waaaaay more money if they didn’t vaccinate you and then just let you get sick over and over and over, and then sold you drugs that treated the symptoms but didn’t prevent the disease or its recurrence. By vaccinating you, pharmaceutical companies are basically ensuring that you’ll never need to buy that product again. 

And it sure as hell isn’t profitable for the healthcare system either, for much the same reasons. I work for a health department, and it’s illegal to turn away children who can’t pay for vaccines. Even if they came in and racked up a $500 bill and couldn’t even pay a single cent, we have to vaccinate them. That’s the opposite of highly profitable.

5. All vaccines contain a number of toxic poisons and chemicals that are linked to serious neurological damage including aluminum, thimerosal (methyl mercury), antibiotics, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and formaldehyde.

Ah, mercury. This is certainly an argument that you hear a lot when it comes to vaccines. There is more mercury in fish than there is an vaccines. If you ate fish your entire life, you’d be exposed to tons of mercury. So are these people also willing to boycott fish? I doubt it. I mean, look at this:

169f8-fish-chart

There are now certain breeds of fish that are so full of mercury that they’re toxic to pregnant women, and we tell people to NEVER eat them. That’s pretty bad. And formaldehyde? Did you know that our own bodies naturally produce small amounts of formaldehyde? dun Dun DUN!

6. Every study comparing unvaccinated to vaccinated children demonstrates that unvaccinated children enjoy far superior health.

What study? There are no studies linked or provided here. This is an unsubstantiated claim at best and an outright lie at worst.

7. Vaccines cause a host of “chronic, incurable, and life threatening diseases,” including autism, asthma, ADHD, auto-immune disorders, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, food allergies and brain damage. [1]

A citation!

…which takes you to another anti-vaccine website’s homepage, and not specific evidence for this claim. Gee, the people at this other anti-vaccine website just happen to have information that the original site agrees with. What a coincidence! Again, no proof of these things whatsoever. Like the MMR-autism link that was completely and totally fabricated and later retracted.

8. The only way to create true life-long immunity to a disease is through natural exposure to the disease in which the body creates true antibodies and immunity on many levels.

Just what the hell is a “true” antibody? We’ll never know, because there is no information provided. Of course, in real life, the body doesn’t make “fake” antibodies. And again, all the numbers showing the rapid decline of disease incidence after vaccines are introduced and the fact that multiple diseases like polio and smallpox have been eradicated from the face of the earth would seem to prove otherwise.

9. Vaccines kill infants, children and adults. Biggest line of BS: “Strong evidence links vaccines to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). [2]”

Again, I wouldn’t say that this isn’t possible. Anyone who is receiving vaccines for the first time could have a deadly allergic reaction. But that’s an incredibly small number of people. The benefits far outweigh the risks.

Oh, and that second citation? http://vactruth.com/2012/11/08/brainwashed-police-ignore-vaccine-injuries/

Yeah, they cited themselves in this article. The paragon of science and knowledge here…

10. If you or a loved one suffers from a vaccine injury, pharmaceutical companies and physicians hold no medical liability.

This point mentions the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act. They talk about it as if it’s some evil thing. Yes, it limits medical provider liability (which is another issue altogether and a large part of why the cost of healthcare is so high in this country). But it’s not evil, and it also protects consumers and patients.

For example, it legally mandates that all medical providers report adverse vaccine reactions. It also sets up a payout system for people who are injured by vaccines. Which, again, can happen with ANY medication. It also mandates that information on each vaccine–including risks and side effects–be given at each visit.

So far from being evil, you’re actually given MORE information as a consumer thanks to this law.


It seems like a lot of the arguments that we hear against vaccines stem from what’s “natural” and what isn’t. Look, I wouldn’t argue that natural immunity isn’t good and in some cases may even be better than a vaccine. But as a parent, why gamble with your child’s life? We’re not talking about the common cold here. We’re talking about meningitis. And polio. And a whole host of other diseases that are either deadly or incurable.

Sure, your child might gain natural immunity against some of the diseases that we vaccinate against. But then again they may not–they may die or suffer permanent injury. So how would you know? You wouldn’t. Unless you can magically peer into your child’s body and evaluate their genetics and their immune system, there’s no way to know whether or not your child would survive being infected by a disease or whether they’d fight it off. Or whether the kid next door could fight it off.

And that more than anything upsets me the most about this argument. It’s not just about your kids. It’s about ALL the kids. Your reckless decisions could harm or kill other susceptible children. Children with weakened or compromised immune systems, children who couldn’t get vaccinated because of known allergies to vaccine ingredients (like yeast or gelatin). Aside from being a stupid decision, not vaccinating your children is also an inherently selfish one as well.

How to debunk a conspiracy theory

images

Thanks to the internet, we live in an age of conspiracy theories. Anyone with a computer and copious amounts of free time can flood social media and other sites with their ideas and theories. The problem with that, of course, is that most people are just flat out wrong for a variety of reasons. Now, that isn’t to say that there aren’t conspiracies out there or that there never were. I’m sure they can and do happen. But how do you evaluate a conspiracy theory to determine its validity? Well, here are some easy steps.

1. Where are people getting their information? This is probably the most scientific way to look at a conspiracy: the data. Evidence is important in any claim, and as the saying goes, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” So, when one encounters a conspiracy theory, the thing to look at is the source of the evidence. Did this person get their information from the US census? NASA? Or did they get it from some place like climatechangeisahoax.com? Or GMOiscancer.com? If someone is culling their information from a place like that, then chances are their information is colored by someone else’s bias or lack of understanding. There might be legitimate data out there to support a conspiracy…but it isn’t Glenn Beck and it isn’t some place like curestheydontwantyoutoknowabout.org. And speaking of evidence…

2. Is there a confirmation bias? This is another big red flag. If any conspiracy involves a big, “I KNEW it!” then take notice. A good example of this is the vaccine fear-mongering out there. Every time someone has an adverse reaction to a vaccine, someone is always quick to jump up and say, “See?! I told you so!” Unfortunately, they’re just cherry picking data. The entire body of vaccine-related evidence points overwhelmingly to the fact that they’re safe and effective. But by cherry-picking some specific outliers, some people are able to confirm their own bias. Which leads me to…

3. Who gains and who loses in the conspiracy? Let’s go back to the vaccines again. The way conspiracy theorists would paint it is that big pharma is raking in billions of dollars while knowingly giving us poison. Sounds pretty bad for us and great for the pharmaceutical industry, right? Except for tiny little facts like thanks to vaccination nobody in this country gets polio anymore. Another popular trope out there concerns climate change and green energy. Don’t you all know that climate change is a big hoax perpetuated by green energy companies to drum up profits?! Duh. It’s not like anyone else would have a stake in that argument. I’m mean, nobody at all benefits financially from carbon-based sources of fuel. Psh. Which brings us to…

4. Follow the money. Let’s revisit the climate change conspiracies. If it’s all a plot to increase profits, then look at the profits. And if you did that, you’d see that in 2012 Exxon made $16 BILLION in profits. Now let’s take a look at the other side of the fence. LDK Solar, a Chinese company which is the largest solar company in the world, has posted 8 straight quarters of losses, and is $2.9 billion in debt. In 2010 it finally turned a profit of $101 million dollars, or 0.6% of Exxon’s profits. Yep, sure looks like that conspiracy is working out for renewable energy companies…

5. To what end? This is a question everyone should ask of every conspiracy. For example, a lot of people also believe that scientists around the world are in collusion to perpetuate a massive global hoax regarding climate change. Because I guess they’re all going to share the Nobel prize? Who knows. I have no idea what the scientists are supposed to be getting out of this. Fame? Well, I’d be willing to bet cash money that 99% of Americans couldn’t name a single climate scientist. Money? It always comes back to money. Obviously these scientists are rolling in the lap of luxury thanks to all of the payoffs from the green energy companies. The ones who are posting massive losses and are in debt up their eyeballs. Totally makes sense.

6. Just use logic. If all else fails, think about what the conspiracy is claiming logically. A lot of people, some people I know personally even, believe that mass shootings are perpetuated by the government as an excuse to confiscate all of our weapons. Except that if anyone thought about that for more than five seconds they’d realize that’s a stupid idea. For starters, mass shootings continue to increase–and how many gun control laws are on the table? Oh yeah, that’s right, a big fat zero. But beyond that, this scenario would obviously never happen because it doesn’t need to happen. Guns aren’t a threat to the government. The same government that has drones and missiles and chemical and biological warfare and controls the infrastructure of the country. No, the last thing they’re worried about is how many guns Billy Tim Bob has in his basement. But they DO care about his vote. You bet they do. And anything that even remotely resembles gun control is political suicide.

Greedy, corrupt politicians are concerned with money and power. And so if letting you keep your guns makes you feel powerful, they’ll let you have them. So long as they continue to get your vote. And your money.

So, why do people believe conspiracy theories? Well, this about sums it up right here:

images1