Don’t elect the scientifically illiterate

Daydream with me — Congress decides the question of the Earth’s shape is still open.  Some members express a strong belief that it is shaped like a burrito.  (I know that at least one reader will catch the reference.)  Rather than access any number of reliable scientific sources, discover that the shape has been well-established as “round” and move on to some more pressing matter, said MOCs decide to hold a hearing on the shape of the Earth, in which several Burritoid Planet partisans are given a respectful audience but the hapless saps from NASA are brow-beaten and harangued.

I imagine that would attract a great deal of attention.  Indeed, I suspect the attention would take the form of practically unalloyed derision.  The Congressional Burrito Caucus would face a great deal of public scorn, and would hopefully learn to keep their foolish mouths shut.  Right?

And so I marvel that the Committee on Oversight & Government Reform saw fit the other day to hold a hearing on another topic no less scientifically settled.  I refer, of course, to whether or not vaccines cause autism.  They don’t, any more than the sun revolves around the Earth or the stars twinkle because they’re full of cheerful angels.  Period.  You can believe they do, but that belief requires you to reject a massive amount of research that has asked and answered the question beyond all doubt.

As I have already written:

In order for vaccinations to be the harmful substances that their strident detractors claim, their continued administration would require a gigantic, malicious conspiracy on the part of physicians, nurses, researchers and pharmaceutical manufacturers.

I alluded to this in my earlier post about why everyone should get vaccinated.  I’ve been out of training for the better part of a decade, and have been out of medical school for more than a dozen years.  In that time I have given vaccines to hundreds of children (probably thousands), and have worked with pediatricians who have been in practice for far longer and have vaccinated countless children more.  None of us have observed anything like a credible link between autism and vaccines, and we all continue to recommend them strongly.  What kind of depraved indifference to the well-being of our patients would be required for us to turn a blind eye to harms that were actually being done?  Creationists can attribute a belief in evolution to satanic delusion (which is what I was taught in the church of my youth).  To what would anti-vaccination zealots attribute my motivation to deceive and harm my patients?

Who apparently believes in this massive, malignant vaccine conspiracy?  Several members of Congress, that’s who.  Which they made clear in the hearing linked above when they repeatedly stated long-debunked claims about vaccines, mercury, chelation therapy and other dangerous nonsense.

Both Phil Plait at Slate and Steven Salzberg at Forbes have written great pieces about the morons on the Hill who conducted this farce of a hearing, and there’s no need to offer my own inferior copy of their work.  Suffice it to say that Rep. Dan Burton (R – Dark Ages), Rep. Bill Posey (R – Pleistocene) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D – Kuiper Belt) all demonstrated egregious stupidity regarding medical science and (in Posey’s case) a willingness to mau-mau experts from the CDC.  (The best that can be said about this disgraceful display is that, at very least, it shows that one party doesn’t have a monopoly on idiots.)

To my mind, this is of a piece with the much more publicized lunacy of (soon-to-be-former) Rep. Todd Akin and Rep. Paul Broun, both of whom serve(d) on the House Science Committee!  To me, a willingness to overlook, disregard or plainly disbelieve the scientific conclusions of the medical community in an area where there is no lack of data is no different from thinking women can’t get pregnant from rape or that demons are responsible for making people believe in evolution.  And all of these people are/were in positions to influence the laws that affect you, your body, and the way the country is run.

This is a travesty.  You cannot make decisions about how to govern the country while treating science this way.  As occasional Leaguer Alex has pointed out in Rep. Broun’s case, you can’t trust nuclear submarines but think the Earth is only thousands of years old.  It all comes from the same science.  Similarly, you can’t think my training is sound when it comes to antibiotics or diabetes, because the same research apparatus that put the kibosh on the vaccines-autism link provides the evidence for how to manage everything else, too.

If you can’t trust the Centers for Disease Control to provide reliable information about the health risks of vaccines, how can you trust them to respond to an epidemic?  If you believe the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is promulgating misinformation that increases the risk of neurological disease for pediatric patients, how can you possibly allow them to keep their doors open to treat leukemia?  The truth is, you cannot.  Not without a dizzying degree of cognitive dissonance, anyway.  And that means you can’t make a competent member of the government.

While there’s no way of actually making this a requirement, voters should treat a certain baseline degree of understanding and respect for science as a must for any serious candidate.  It makes just as much sense as requiring them to be US citizens, and more sense than some arbitrary minimum age.  (I’d much sooner vote for some brilliant 19-year-old political prodigy than any one of these blockheads.)  Scientific illiteracy should be an absolute disqualification, and voters should care about it as much or more than party affiliation.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. It’s always a cover up, Russell.

    The minute you’re ‘indoctrinated’ in ‘evidence based medicine’ you get your evil pHARMA shill check and must toe the line, rank and file.

    The AV mindset is simple: It’s always the fault of the vaccine. It is never NOT the fault of the vaccine.

    Except when it’s the mercury (elemental, of course), formaldehyde, aluminum, neomycin…

    They will always shift the goalposts. Sometimes, they’ll build a new stadium for them as well. There’s no understanding (or even an attempt to understand) basic biology or chemistry.

    I’ve had folks use a 70’s study done on cats with AlCl3 (which has a solubility of 3X10^3) to prove that Al(OH)3 is dangerous. Never mind that the solubility of Al(OH)3 is 3X10^-34 thereabouts.

    It’s still aluminum, therefore it must be dangerous.

    These are people who are so set in their preconceived notions that there will never be any swaying of their minds. They will continue to parrot the pablum given to them by Mercola, Null, Tenpenny and Humphries, while buying their supplements, collidal silver and breast thermographies.

    A quote that I’ve seen all too often, “I don’t need science. I know my child better than any scientist. That’s all the proof I need.”

    It makes me weep for the state of our education system when people can just thumb their collective noses at the basic ideas behind science.

    • There is a possible link between aluminum in pots and Altzheimers. Nothing proven yet, but we do see an epidemiological increase in the disease…

      • Again; the biology has to support the evidence.

        A compound which is nearly insoluble in all solutions save very alkaline or basic (lower than pH 2 or higher than pH 12) isn’t going to suddenly magically dissolve in our bodies.

        Then there’s the formaldehyde claims – that somehow the formaldehyde our bodies make as a byproduct of 1 carbon metabolism is magically another substance from the formaldehyde used for embalming.

        It’s damned embarrassing, the complete lack of basic science they exhibit.

        • JFC. Very alkaline or acidic, that should read.

          WTB preview button, kkthx.

  2. The enemies of science will always be with us. They’ve always been there, always will be. For science contains doubt at its core: the current theory is only accepted on a provisional basis, with the understanding new evidence might contradict it.

    Doubt is dangerous to the enemies of science. Pat certainty is their stock in trade.

  3. Yet another reason why Kucinich should never ever be elected again.

    • I was going to say, “(D – Kuiper Belt)” was space awesome.

  4. Help me out here Russel. Does, “vaccines don’t cause autism” mean the same thing as “injecting newborns and infants with a short-chain alkyl mecrcury compound multiple times is safe”? That seems to be what you, Salzberg and Plait are saying. If this is not true it begs the question of who really is scientifically illiterate.

    • 1) You’re using “begging the question” wrong.

      2) I infer from your comment that you think vaccines are not safe. In particular, you attribute their lack of safety to mercury. Please understand that this issue has been thoroughly investigated, and there is no association between thimerosal and autism. Click on the “Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia” link above, and you’ll find all manner of useful information.

      However, I understand that you almost certainly will reject any scientific research that debunks your claims, and that it would be the very definition of futility to try to change your mind. Though your syntax is difficult to parse in the last line of your comment, I’m pretty sure you’re saying I’m scientifically illiterate. Which I fine. I think you’re wrong, too.

      • Yeah, but I bet you’re complacent about the dangers of Dioxygenated Hydrogen, too!

      • Russell, there is no scientific research that says thimerosal is safe. The bottle has a “skull and crossbones” on it. Statistical manipulation by the vaccine industry is not science. That is the only research that says thimerosal is safe. Would you be willing to be injected 11 times with a weight adjusted dose of thimerosal similar to what newborns and infants received in the 1990’s? As a pediatrician, I know its hard to accept the consequences of the harm your profession has done. I hope you come to grips with this some day and instead put your efforts towards helping the injured children.

          • Thanks for posting the article Doc. It backs up everything I said. Statistical analysis (manipulation) done by vaccine industry cronies and published in a vaccine industry trade journal Pediatrics.

          • Whoopsie. There’s the bell that goes off in my head when I realize an online interaction has passed the point of utter inanity. Like this one here.

            I realize you think I’m wrong, but I actually don’t care at all what you think. I’m more concerned with level-headed readers who might come across this exchange, see that I can linked to a credible study and that you have responded with a silly little ad hominem and conclude that one of us has evidence and the other doesn’t.

            Edited: What the hell, I’m in a frivolous mood. Why not toss another study out there, just for a laugh?

        • TomT makes the following claim “there is no scientific research that says thimerosal is safe.”

          First error: failing to specify how much thimerosal over what period of exposure given which delivery rate?

          Second error: failing to study the published scientific literature, like this one:

          Pediatrics. 2010 Jun;125(6):1134-41. doi: 10.1542/peds.2009-2489. Epub 2010 May 24.
          On-time vaccine receipt in the first year does not adversely affect neuropsychological outcomes.

          Third error: making an unsubstantiated claim of widespread vaccine injury.

    • If even a single atom of mercury enters the bloodstream of a human being, that human being’s brain will surely cease to function normally.

      It is known.

      • Before we examine your latest study Doc, “Weight of Evidence Against Thimerosal Causing Neuropsychological Deficits” let’s take a look at conflicts of interest of some of its authors:

        * Dr. Thompson – the lead investigator – is a former employee of Merck.

        * Dr. Marcy has received consulting fees from Merck, Sanofi Pasteur, GlaxoSmithKline, and MedImmune.

        * Dr. Jackson received grant money from Wyeth, Sanofi Pasteur, GlaxoSmithKline, and Novartis. He received lecture fees from Sanofi Pasteur and consulting fees from Wyeth and Abbott. Currently, he is a consultant to the FDA Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee.

        * Dr. Lieu is a consultant to the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunication Practices.

        * Dr. Black receives consulting fees from MedImmune, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, and Merck, and grant support from MedImmune, GlaxoSmithKline, Aventis, Merck, and Novartis.

        * Dr. Davis receives consulting fees from Merck and grant support from Merck and GlaxoSmithKline.

        The article then states, “No other potential conflict of interest relevant to this article was reported.” One must wonder if it might have been easier to identify the researchers who didn’t have a conflict of interest!

        Of the 3,648 originally selected for the study: 959 dropped out. Of these, 68% cited a lack of time. However, there is no consideration for why they couldn’t spend the time. The possibility that some of these mothers were overburdened by having children with neurological problems, which is, of course, the focus of the study, simply isn’t considered.

        13% of these mothers are reported to have been distrustful or ambivalent about the research, but what their bias was is not indicated. Could they have decided not to take part because they noted a bias on the part of the researchers? 512 were eliminated because they “did not meet one or more of the eligibility requirements”. (The aforementioned issue of conditions that might predispose to harm from thimerosal or be caused by thimerosal are not considered.) Thus, 1288, 35%, of the children, were eliminated from the study for reasons that, at best, are not adequately documented.

        Other children were eliminated for various other reasons. One group excluded was children whose birth weight was under 2,500 grams, about 5.5 pounds. How many babies were eliminated for being underweight is not stated. Babies of this weight are hardly rare and they are not excluded from vaccinations. What legitimate reason could be given for this exclusion?

        In the end, only 30% of the originally-selected children were included in the study.

        Need I say more Doc?

        • So these studies passed peer review and were published in respectable journals, but we’re supposed to take the word of some anonymous guy on the internet with no known training in scientific research methodology?

          Sure, no problem.

          • I’ve got to hand it to him, that is easily the most tortured analysis of exclusion criteria I’ve ever seen. It has a strange beauty.

          • So these studies passed peer review and were published in respectable journals,

            Or so the liberal media would have you believe.

          • I’d like Tom to pony up with his version of ‘peer reviewed’ proof.

            It’ll probably be something from Shaw,Scheibner, Buttram, Hewitson, Geier, King, Goldman, etc – the same group who has their own ethics board – comprised of themselves – to give the ‘ethics approval’ to the studies.

          • What part of “It is known” do you not understand?

            Well, I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d like to clarify what we mean when we say “is” in this context.

          • Out of interest, why do you think Big Pharma keep on brainwashing doctors into poisoning children Tom? Is it for shits and giggles, are they part of an evil conspiracy against humans, what?

            Don’t say money because they could make more money if they could come up with vaccines that people like you would accept.

  5. …I suspect the attention [on the Burrito thesis] would take the form of practically unalloyed derision. The Congressional Burrito Caucus would face a great deal of public scorn, and would hopefully learn to keep their foolish mouths shut. Right?


    I don’t think that belief is actually arrived at through rational thought, but by tribal cultural identification. Remember , 10 years ago, most “conservatives” believed in global warming, and 20 years ago, there was a substantial chunk of the Republican party that believed in abortion rights.

    Have new facts come to the fore in either case? Not really. But the tribe decided that certain beliefs were hallmarks of membership in good standing.

    I don’t understand how any physician or biologist can believe in creation: evolution is so fundamental to our current understanding of biological processes, that to disbelieve evolution is to disbelieve 95% of all the knowledge we have gained in life sciences in our lifetimes. Nevertheless, there are conservative MDs and scientists who profess belief in biblical creation.

    Many of these scientific beliefs have become hallmarks for “approval rating of modern society.” Seen in this context, they make more sense. So the 49% of Republicans who believe that Acorn helped Obama steal this election, don’t really believe believe it: they are registering their scorn and disapproval.

    There are a lot of folks my age that spent the better part of the 70s and 80s in a state of extreme chemical alteration. And yet, ,they are as hard-ass anti-drug with their children as were their own parents. Are they being hypocrites? Not really. As they say, “where you stand depends on where you sit.” Everyone wants the best for their children, and–from the perspective of middle age–taking an absolutist stand on activities you yourself enjoyed in youth seems like a truthful and principled position.

    Drill down on many of these beliefs, and you will find that they are suprisingly squishy. Most anti-evolutionists know in their hearts that evolution is true: they just don’t like to think about the repercussions (“I’m descended from monkeys!”), or want society to abandon the tribal fiction of creation. And most global warming deniers devolve under challenge to narratives of cultural resentment (“pointy-headed scientists,” “statists,” widespread fraud).

    So, don’t take these denials of science to heart. Most of these “beliefs” are really proxies for some other set of cultural and political grievances.

    • The problem with these beliefs, however much people may or may not believe believe them, is they have very real ramifications.

      If you really have such an poor understanding of female reproductive physiology that you think they can’t get pregnant when they’ve been raped, you’re not going to support laws that give rape victims access to emergency contraception. While I think Rep. Broun’s blatherings are largely related to group signaling as you describe, they nonetheless foster a mistrust of science that has broad consequences. It allows people to, without doing any real looking, dismiss data they don’t like because they view science as inherently flawed.

      And in the particular case of vaccine refusers, giving their thoroughly discredited claims this kind of legitimacy only serves to keep a segment of our population unprotected against entirely preventable diseases, and leaves the population as a whole more vulnerable than it ought to be.

  6. Rep. Dan Burton (R – Dark Ages), Rep. Bill Posey (R – Pleistocene) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D – Kuiper Belt)

    This line was pretty damn funny Doc.

      • Yes, and I apologize for that. I do understand that Coulter is closer to your level.

        • Actually, that’s not fair. I’m really not at all familiar with Coulter’s work; for all I know she’s not nearly as bad as her left-wing detractors claim.

          • Actually, she is that bad. “It would be a much better country if women did not vote. That is simply a fact. In fact, in every presidential election since 1950 — except Goldwater in ’64 — the Republican would have won, if only the men had voted. ”
            She does not recognize the difference between facts and opinions. About four years ago several weeks went by when I did not hear a peep from her and I thought, “finally, the media have stopped propagating her hateful screeds.” Then I found out her mouth had been wired shut for that glorious hiatus.

          • That actually caused me to revise my estimate of her upwards by quite a bit. As ridiculous as it is, very few people have the sense to reject the idea of voting as an individual right.

  7. You seem to have been taken to task here Russell by TomT. Would you be willing to expose yourself to the same amount of thimerosal as what you say is safe for newborns and infants? In fact, would you be willing to receive all 71 doses of 17 vaccines that are now recommended for U.S. children? Have you received any vaccines in the last year Russell? Five years? Ten years? How many vaccines have you taken yourself Russell?

    • What a nitwit response. I’ve had every vaccine recommended for children, right on schedule. I am required to get a flu shot every year.

      What a foolish person you are. Not only would I happily submit to the full vaccine regimen without hesitation, both of my children will be fully vaccinated.

    • If Russell won’t, I certainly would.

      I get the flu vaccine each year (with thimerosal). I’ve had my TDaP. I’ve been caught up on the Hep B shot.

      With the exception of the flu shot (which can be obtained without thimerosal) and I believe one other vaccine (which has only trace amounts), thimerosal has been removed from childhood vaccines.

      Unlike methyl mercury, ethyl mercury (which is what thimerosal is broken down to in our bodies – along with a salicylate) is more water soluble, and is excreted rapidly through by the fecal route. Methyl mercury, being more lipophilic tends to get caught up in enterohepatic recirculation, which is why its half life in our bodies is much longer.

      We have ample evidence from humans that thimerosal and ethyl mercury are efficiently removed, even from infants.

    • It’s my understanding that the only vaccines that contain thimerosal are multi-dose flu vaccines, and that the typical schedule for children contains no thimerosal at all. Is that correct?

      On another question, can anyone tell me why it’s thiomersal in the most of the world, but thimerosal in North America? I mean, the first name makes sense, what with that big ol’ Sulfur in it.

      • There one vaccine which contains trace amounts of less than 0.3 mcg IIRC.

        As far as thimerosal/thiomersal – color/colour IMO.

  8. These guys don’t elect themselves, though. Why are voters – at least the ones who are motivated enough to show up and vote – electing the non-science candidates?

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