Thursday, May 13, 2010

Another of Orac's Egomaniacal Rants; A Deconstruction

I know it’s been some time since I’ve had the dubious pleasure of taking down one of Orac’s nonsensical posts. Usually, his posts are so chock full of verbal diarrhea that it’s difficult to wade through the crap to get to the portions of his arguments that actually contain substance.

His latest egomaniacal rant, “A confluence of the anti-vaccine and "health freedom" movements at AutismOne in Chicago,” (no, I don’t link to his blog) is one of those posts. In fact, it’s just verbal diarrhea, ad hominem fallacies, strawmen, and ego masturbation, all bundled together into a hodge-podge of logical fallacies.

I must thank Schwartz for his inspiration in this. His previous take-down of Mr. Novella was an excellent source of ways to take down Orac’s arguments using pure logic. I will attempt to do so with as little malice as possible.

Let’s start with his opening paragraph.

“One of the biggest examples of either self-delusion or lying that emanates from the anti-vaccine movement is the oh-so-pious and indignant denials that inevitably follow from its members and leaders whenever someone like me has the temerity to point out that they are, in fact, anti-vaccine. The disingenuously angry denials usually take a form something like this, "I'm not anti-vaccine; I'm pro-safe vaccine." (This is Jenny McCarthy's favorite variant of this gambit). Another variant is for anti-vaccine activists to claim that they aren't anti-vaccine at all; they're just "concerned" that children are getting too many vaccines. What belies their claims, which are seemingly reasonable on the surface to the uninitiated, is what happens if you try to pin them down on just what, exactly, it would take to convince them that vaccines are safe as administered. A good way to approach this is to try to ask them to tell you specifically exactly what it would take to convince them to vaccinate their next child. What evidence would convince them? What you'll almost inevitably find, if you push them, is that the answer to that question is: Nothing! Nothing will convince them. Ever!”

So much wrong with this opening paragraph that it is difficult to know where to begin, isn’t it? In the very first sentence, he begins his diatribe with a logical fallacy known as a sweeping generalization. He is using one or two specific examples to validate his argument that all “anti-vaccine” proponents think this way. Not only that, but he is clearly using the epithet “anti-vaccine” incorrectly. A person who is anti-vaccine is someone who clearly states that they are against all vaccinations. Someone who is advocating for safer vaccines is not anti-vaccine because they WANT vaccines. For someone who claims to be a critical and logical thinker, this simple logic is obviously way beyond his comprehension.

Continuing on with the 1st paragraph, Mr. Gorski further extricates himself from logical thinkers by attempting to pigeon-hole those he disagrees with. This means that because he says they are anti-vaccine, then they must be so. This is an egotistical approach to any argument, and forces the person who invokes this fallacy to fall into the same trap that he accuses the person he pigeon holed. In other words, “Because I say you are anti-vaccine, that means you are. Nothing you say will change my mind.” This is again repeated in the last part of the paragraph when he asks what evidence will change the mind of the alleged “anti-vaxxer.” The problem here is that we’ve given him a scenario that would need to be done in order to change the minds of many people who he labels as anti-vaccine (i.e. neurological health outcomes in an unvaccinated population), and he returns with, “It can’t be done.” This is a burden of proof fallacy. The last sentence of the paragraph is simply hypocrisy; he accuses us of being unable to be swayed from our position when it is clear that he is unable to be swayed from his position.

Let’s move on.

“The reason I bring up this topic is the impending arrival of the yearly autism quackfest known as AutismOne. As far as gatherings of the anti-vaccine movement and all manner of autism quacks goes, AutismOne is the 900 lb gorilla; everybody who's anybody in the anti-vaccine and autism quackery world will be there, with Jenny McCarthy giving the keynote, as she has for the last couple of years and the disgraced anti-vaccine "scientist" Andrew Wakefield being a featured speaker. This year, apparently three days not being enough, the quackfest has expanded to a full week. As if that weren't bad enough, on Wednesday, May 26, there will be a rally in Grant Park, an "American rally for personal rights." Perusing the website, you'll rapidly find out that the manifesto of the rally is about vaccines:”

Wow…more gems there. He starts off this paragraph with an ad hominem fallacy, and then builds upon this until it reaches ridiculous measures, repeating “quack” or some variation thereof no less than 4 times in one paragraph. You’d figure that someone with as much education as he claims would be able to expand his vocabulary a bit. Additionally, from reading this paragraph, and from previous articles and exchanges with him, Mr. Gorski clearly believes that anyone who opposes his views on science is a quack. He uses “scare quotes” to highlight his loathing of Dr. Wakefield, falling into the No True Scotsman fallacy. For example, no true scientist would believe that vaccines are associated with Autism. When doctors and scientists are presented who carry this view (Dr. Healy, Dr. Poling), Gorski says that they aren’t true scientists (this fallacy comes from a story about Angus, a Scotsman. Angus puts sugar in his Oats. It is argued that No True Scotsman would put sugar in his oats, therefor Angus is not a true Scotsman). Hey David, just as a bit of snark…no true Scientist would fall into that fallacy.

The next part of the article mentions some of the things that the American Rally for Personal Rights is about. This is pretty standard fare, and really should be a no brainer for anyone who believes in personal rights. But then, Mr. Gorski adds this long and rambling paragraph after he lists some of the things that they will be rallying for:

“Is it a coincidence that this rally is occurring smack dab in the middle of AutismOne? Of course not! The happy band of anti-vaccine loons at Age of Autism are pimping this rally, but get a load of who's going to be the keynote speaker there! Come on, guess! Oh, all right, I'll tell you:

Andrew Wakefield himself!

If you wanted yet more evidence that the "pro-safe vaccine" movement is really the anti-vaccine movement, here it is. But, wait, I hear. It's an entirely legitimate issue about how much power the government should have to require that children be vaccinated and under what circumstances, but the whole "personal rights" bit is a smokescreen to hide the true nature of the rally: Anti-vaccine to the core. In reality, this "personal freedom" angle is very much the intellectual offspring (I think I just choked on the word "intellectual" in this context) of the "health freedom" movement. As I've said more times than I can remember, "health freedom" in reality is nothing more than the freedom of quacks to ply their trade on their marks without any pesky interference from laws, regulation, or the government. "Vaccine freedom" is little different at its core. It's also profoundly deceptive in that parents already have the freedom to decline vaccines. The only real enforcement point of our vaccination policy is admittance to public schools, virtually all of which require children to be up to date on their vaccines before they can attend. Even with that leverage, in nearly every state, there are mechanisms within the law to claim exemptions from vaccination requirements based on religion or even personal philosophy, the latter of which can be something as simple as saying that the parent has some sort of "philosophical objection" to vaccines. In other words, this is a rally for a right that parents in nearly every state already have.”

Well, here we go. Let’s see…ad hominem, and several strawmen, to boot. So nice that Mr. Gorski subscribes to the whole “logical thinker” thing, yes? Let’s deconstruct it!

The first few sentences are purely ad hominem. He just rehashes the same tired screed about AoA and Dr. Wakefield, so I won’t bother deconstructing that. No, I want to start with the second part. Apparently, since they are allowing Dr. Wakefield to speak at the rally, then that is unequivocal evidence that the pro-safe vaccine movement is actually anti-vaccine. How he leaps to this logic I can only guess, but it appears to be nothing more than Guilt by Association, which is a fallacy that states that since David believes that Dr. Wakefield is anti-vaccine, anyone who would allow him to speak at their rally is also anti-vaccine. Of course, that is built entirely off of a strawman, especially since Dr. Wakefield is most assuredly not anti-vaccine. The next part is actually the meat of what I want to deconstruct. If you read Mr. Gorski’s comment as written, then the gist of his argument is that because they are having a rally to support the right for philosophical objections to medical procedures, then this rally is Anti-vaccine. So, apparently from his reaction to this and his obvious dislike, Orac doesn't want people to have the basic human right to object to medical procedures. Nor does he want people to rally in support of this basic human right, i.e. he is opposed to their right to free speech. Well, he is sounding dangerously close to being someone who would rather have communism instead of being someone who claims to support and promote Democracy.

David, I don’t know if you know this or not, but the right to reject medical procedures is a fundamental human right. I understand that you are opposed to this because it directly affects your paycheck, but that does not mitigate the fact that we all have this right. And having a rally to support this right does not make them anti-vaccine. Again, it appears that if David doesn’t agree with it, then it must be anti-science (or anti-vaccine…they are really the same thing in his book).

Moving on:

“Then there are what appears to be the organizers of the rally. First, there's Louise Kuo Habakus, who's described as:

...a board-certified health practitioner specializing in homotoxicology and integrative nutrition. A former senior corporate executive for Putnam Investments and The Prudential Insurance Company of America, Louise received dual degrees from Stanford University. From mainstream corporate America to mainstream parenthood, Louise's world changed when her children showed damage from vaccines. Louise confronted orthodoxy, found answers, and recovered her children. Louise lectures widely on the subjects of wellness, prevention and vaccination choices.

In other words, she's an practitioner of dubious "alternative" medicine and a die hard believer in the vaccine-autism myth. If you have any doubt just how anti-vaccine Habakus is, consider this. She was named Age of Autism's Person of the Year for 2009. Also, her website is chock full of links to anti-vaccine sites filled with pseudoscience, misinformation, and lies.”

Whew! That’s some pretty deep Bullshit there, huh? Because her child had a severe vaccine reaction, and because she used her knowledge of nutrition and opposed Mainstream Medicine’s “traditional” approach to “drugging the kid into oblivion,” then that means she practices “alternative” medicine and is an “anti-vaxxer” (see, I can use “scare quotes” too). He further reinforces this by saying that because AoA voted her Person of the Year for 2009, she MUST be anti-vaccine. Again, this is Guilt by Association. Then he moans about how her site is filled with pseudoscience, misinformation and lies. However, since he fails to specify exactly what this misinformation is or why it is a lie, we can only assume that Mr. Gorski is falling yet again into another ad hominem fallacy.

“Then there are Mary Holland and Robert J. Krakow, both attorneys and members of the Elizabeth Birt Center for Autism Law and Advocacy, while Krakow runs a law office that advertises its services for parents who want compensation for vaccine injury. He's also appeared on Lisa Jo Rudy's site telling parents how to bring legal action in Vaccine Court and has been described by anti-vaccine leaders David Kirby and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. as "a leading attorney for vaccine damaged children." In particular, Krakow seems quite interested in pursuing claims over Gardasil.

Finally, there's Mia Nitchun, who appears to buy into the myth that vaccines cause autism, and Ginger Taylor, who not only buys into the myth but actively promotes it, attacking anyone who tells her that science does not support her belief that vaccines cause autism and spews anti-vaccine propaganda hither and yon on her blog. The anti-vaccine team is rounded out.”

Wow! Even more ad hominem fallacies. Also, since David thinks that Robert Krakow gave out information on how to file with the NVICP, that means he’s Anti-vaccine. He defends vaccine-injured children, Mr. Gorski, because his son, Alexander, IS vaccine injured. And what’s wrong with pursuing claims about Gardasil? More and more information is emerging showing that this vaccine is not as safe as the Vaccine manufacturers make it out to be. Let’s not forget the obligatory insults to be thrown at David Kirby and Robert Kennedy Jr. An Orac rant would not be complete without one. Then, he goes on to throw more insults and ad hominems at Ginger Taylor and Mia Nitchum, particularly Ginger. As I recall from the exchange between Ginger and David, it wasn’t Ginger who did the attacking. I think David just got a sad because she chose to make the exchange public. Oh, and yes….because her and Robert and Mary Holland and Mia Nitchum all disagree with Mr. Gorski, then that means that they are anti-science (or anti-vaccine…they are really the same thing in his book).

“Next, let's take a look at some of the speakers. Andrew Wakefield, of course, needs no introduction. He's the British "researcher" who in 1998 published the now infamous study that not only launched a thousand autism quacks but sparked a major scare over the safety of the MMR vaccine that, even now, 12 years later, has not yet abated. It's not for nothing that, more than any single man, Wakefield deserves the blame for the resurgence of measles in the U.K. to endemic levels again. Jenny McCarthy has a long way to go to match his peerless inadvertent promotion of infectious disease and suffering.”

Not much to say here that hasn’t already been said. In a previous blog post, I took the task of pointing out all of the strawmen hurled at Ms. McCarthy. Since she is not actually promoting infectious disease and suffering (neither is Dr. Wakefield), then David’s argument is clearly illogical.

“Then there's Michael Belkin, a man who suffered the loss of his daughter to sudden infant death syndrome and attributes it to the hepatitis B vaccine. As sad as this loss is (no parent should have to lose a child, whatever the reason), he has used it to become an anti-vaccine activist whose testimony even appears on Whale. to. Joining Mr. Belkin are Habakus and a coterie of lawyers, all of whom appear to be involved in litigation over vaccines and one of whom, James S. Turner, is described as the "nation's leading natural health freedom advocate for over 40 years." He was particularly incensed at John McCain's ill-fated attempt to tighten up the regulation of dietary supplements. Finally, there's Boyd Haley, who most recently rose to "prominence" by selling an industrial chelator as a "supplement" with which to treat autism. What more needs to be said?”

This shows just how deeply disturbed Mr. Gorski is. Not only is this the type of man who dances on the grave of one of the people he doesn’t like (like he did with Hulda Clark), he insults Mr. Belkin, calling him an anti-vaccine activist with really no other reason than because Mr. Belkin’s child died because of a vaccine. That is utterly and completely pathetic, and there really is no nice way of saying how disgusting it is. I won’t go into the whole “industrial chelator” (insert dramatic horror music here) because I already picked apart that screed in another post.

“As much as I miss Chicago at times, having lived there for three years in the late 1990s, I'm glad that I won't be there the week leading up to Memorial Day. I might actually be tempted to wander down to Grant Park on the 26th. I doubt I'd actually say anything much. I'm not stupid. I could picture the reaction of what will probably be a few hundred rabid anti-vaccine loons if they were to learn that Orac was in their midst, and enough of the AoA crowd has seen enough photos of me to know what I look like.”

From this point he talks about showing up at the rally, but showing his cowardice by saying that he’s too afraid of the mean, eebil anti-vaxxers. David, you might be surprised, they may be perfectly polite, though I doubt they would give you any credence since you talk about yourself in the 3rd person and call people who don’t agree with you loons. And, if they did attack you (not that I encourage or condone it), you have to admit that your repeated and venomous attacks against these parents would not be unwarranted (see the loon reference).

Finally, we have his closing statement:

“My temptation to do something that not only might lead my brain to suffer massive neuronal apoptosis from flaming waves of stupid but could also potentially lead to physical harm aside, the fact that this anti-vaccine rally is occuring the very week that many the luminaries of the anti-vaccine movement will be in Chicago is definitely no coincidence. It was clearly planned, and the reason is obvious. The "health freedom" movement (i.e., freedom for quacks movement) has always had a strong anti-vaccine component to it that goes far beyond a simple political debate over individual rights to make medical decisions versus a societal interest in preventing the spread of harmful or even deadly vaccine-preventable diseases, and virtually every hard core activist subscribing to the scientifically discredited notion that vaccines cause autism is, his or her self-deluded or disingenuous denials notwithstanding, anti-vaccine to the core. No matter how much the leaders of and foot soldiers in the anti-vaccine movement deny that they are "anti-vaccine" or claim that they are in reality "anti-toxin in vaccines" or "pro-safe vaccine," in the end to them it comes down to the vaccines and nothing but the vaccines. No amount of scientific evidence will ever sway them that vaccines are safe. Unfortunately, it's incredibly difficult for someone to reason himself out of a belief he did not come to through reason.

What was that again about Andrew Wakefield and J.B. Handley swearing to high heaven that they aren't anti-vaccine?”

I won’t go into too much detail because this is just a reiteration of his original thesis statement. However, I will say that the opening sentence in this paragraph shows just how incredibly immature he is. Keep in mind that he is supposed to be a trained medical professional, yet he talks as if he is a teenaged boy who just discovered how to masturbate. This statement enforces my belief that Orac does not write about medical issues, but merely writes an immature form of Meditainment. Then he goes on about a conspiracy that the AutismOne conference and the rally are deliberately scheduled together. Really, David? How many people would need to be involved in that conspiracy? Don’t you know that conspiracy theorists are all crazy? And, ironically, his comment about no amount of evidence being enough and about it being incredibly difficult for someone to reason himself out of a belief he did not come to through reason is aptly appropriate for him.

His final remark about Dr. Wakefield is a strawman….again. However, I will concede that David’s comment about Mr. Handley does merit some validity, but not in the way he thinks.

J.B. certainly comes across as being anti-vaccine. He wants to bring the vaccine industry to its knees, and while I may not agree with how he is doing it, I understand why. Mr. Handley wants the vaccine industry to be accountable for its actions, which is something that is sadly lacking currently. They have entirely too much power and no oversight to keep it in check. If Mr. Handley’s actions were to cause better oversight and scrutiny into the Vaccine Industry, then I am of the firm belief that the Vaccine Industry would collapse when all of the corruption and underhanded dealing came to light. Does that make him anti-vaccine? Not when you look at it like that. It certainly does make him Anti Vaccine-Industry.

Now, I need to go have another shower....a very hot one....the burns!


  1. The joker is nothing more than the Glenn Beck of the Medical Deity, Allopathic-All-the-Time subculture. That is all he is and that is what his groupies are: a pathetic and strange subculture. These little haters don't really care about convincing anyone, changing any minds, or even helping people. No, it's all about "quackbusting," shitting all over anything the joker deems "pseudoscience," making enemies just for the sake of having an effigy you can burn down then build back up and then burn down again, and trolling the Internet.

    These actions and behaviors are not the traits or endeavors found in someone with a genuine desire to spread the truth as he believes it. Instead, what you have is a modern day BBS Warboard, where you slice your opponents with cutting wit, irony, and venom in an attempt to destroy, deride, and drive them off the Warboard, earning you a win and a fun stroke to the ego.

    I should know. Back in the early nineties I frequented several BBS warboards in the New Orleans area. It was a lot of fun and nothing anyone took seriously.

    Certainly explains why the idiot hides behind his alias.

  2. "Now, I need to go have another shower....a very hot one....the burns!"

    Craig, that quote is exactly how I felt when I started to read the referenced article.

    Kudos to you for hanging in there to fisk it.

    And to think that you actually had a civil discussion with him about his approach a few years back on ANB's site!

  3. Thanks Josh and Schwartz,

    It's been 2 days since I've perused his hate site so that I could deconstruct this rant, and I still feel dirty.

    And you are both correct. This man is nothing but a hypocrite who uses his "rock-stardom" (and I use that term loosely) as a way to bully and criticise others so that he can force his own views on them. It's the medical equivalent of the Weekly World News or Sun Magazine and is nothing more than Meditainment.

    The conversation over at Moron Supreme's site was really only civil on my end. Moron Supreme and Orac merely spent the time moaning about how mean AoA was to them. Neither of them realize that they deserve it.

  4. Thanks for trying. Perhaps you need to do some sort of internal cleanse to get rid of the ick? It may not be possible to just get it off by scrubbing.

    As one of the few avowed anti-vaxers posting around some of these boards, I'm quite amused by Orac's attempts to slap an anti-vaccine label on many, many people who don't qualify. IMO, this behaviors shows him as a very sloppy thinker and much devoted to ad hominems.

    However, he and his ilk have done a lot to expand vaccine questioning. Imagine that your child suffers a mild vaccine reaction and, as a concerned parent you decide to do some research. If you land on the Orac site, will it convince you that the vaccine critics are all loons or that the people defending vaccines are incredibly rude, fanatical and unscientific? Perhaps Orac should do a survey to find out how he is actually coming across to random folks doing research on vaccines?

    Calling names isn't actually a winning argument IMO, although it can be fun.

  5. It's too bad for the good doctor. He spent so much time and effort writing that up when his entire message condenses into the following:

    "Me Doctor. Me smart. Me say bad, you no do it."

  6. Hellbilly,
    Thanks for the summary. Perhaps you could make a career of translating pro-vaccine rants into Twitter? To save the rest of us time and suffering.

    Thanks in advance!

  7. I don't think there's enough money on the market to make me go swimming in that cesspool full time.

    I'd rather put on a donkey show.

  8. It was worth trying...

    I think a flea circus would be more interesting than a donkey show.

  9. *laughs!* You've clearly never seen a donkey show!

    Besides, translating these guys is, for the most part, a one trick pony kind of gig:

    "This is good. If you don't like it, you're dumb and wrong. STFU, n00b!"

    See? Just take the above quoted text and replace 99% of their entries.

  10. Brilliant, Hellbilly! That does sum it up perfectly. The other 1% consists of "is" "and" "the" and punctuation, right?

  11. No, the other 1% is self congradulatory mutual masturbation given in order to bolster low self esteem.

    I feel better now. I think I can go back to being a reasonable moderate instead of a troll.

  12. "Keep in mind that he is supposed to be a trained medical professional, yet he talks as if he is a teenaged boy who just discovered how to masturbate. "

    That may be one of the greatest descriptions of Orac's "style" I've ever seen. Now if I could only get that gawdawful image out of my brain.

  13. Why, thank you Wade! I do appreciate the comment.

    Yes, and disturbing imagery like that is one of my many talents ;-)