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Brandolini’s principle and vaccines – what’s the connection?

Brandolini’s principle states that ‘the amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than [that needed] to produce it’. But what does that have to do with vaccines? Read on!

I found this out while reading an interesting book – Calling Bullshit – by Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West.

Within the field of medicine, Brandolini’s principle is exemplified by the pernicious falsehood that vaccines cause autism.

Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West – Calling Bullshit

I had to look up the meaning of pernicious by the way! 😀 It means something that is highly injurious or has destructive consequences. Lovely word – can be used to describe most of BJP’s policies! 😛

Anyway so I looked at data from USA and even when only a small percentage of the overall population seems to be definitive about vaccination causing autism in children, way many are ‘unsure’!

Look at the below graph that I created from a Gallup survey data. Only post-grads are mostly clear that vaccines don’t cause autism (longest yellow bar); next best are 18-29 year olds.

Chart created by Amrit Vatsa; data source – Gallop

The trend is even bad – while currently 10% of U.S. adults believe vaccines cause autism in children, in 2015 only 6% used to.

The Calling Bullshit book tells us that this misinformation about vaccines persists, due in large part, to a shockingly poor 1998 study published in The Lancet by British physician Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues.

THE WAKEFIELD FRAUD

There is a whole Wiki article on this scandal if you are interested, but let me quickly share what I read about it in the book, and how it connects to the Brandolini’s principle.

Wakefield’s research team raised the possibility that a syndrome involving autism paired with inflammatory bowel disease may be associated with MMR vaccine. MMR vaccine is given to children to save them from measles and mumps etc. Btw back in June, I had mentioned the developer of the MMR vaccine in my video on ‘why vaccine for Covid-19 is taking so long‘.

Anyway, back to Wakefield’s paper in The Lancet. It galvanized the contemporary “antivax” movement, created a remarkably enduring fear of vaccines, and contributed to the resurgence of measles around the world.

After millions of dollars and countless research hours devoted to checking and rechecking the Wakefield study, today it is one of the most utterly and incontrovertibly discredited studies done in the scientific world.

  • 2004 – ten co-authors of the paper formally retracted the “interpretations” section; the same year, Wakefield was found guilty of serious professional misconduct by Britain’s General Medical Council and his license to practice medicine in the UK was revoked.
  • 2010 – the paper was fully retracted by The Lancet.
  • 2011 – British Medical Journal editor in chief Fiona Godlee formally declared the original study to be a fraud, and argued that there must have been intent to deceive; mere incompetence could not explain the numerous issues surrounding the paper.

Wakefield eventually directed a documentary titled Vaxxed, which alleged that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was covering up safety problems surrounding vaccines. The film received a large amount of press attention and reinvigorated the vaccine scare.

Despite all the findings against Wakefield and the crushing avalanche of evidence against his hypothesis, Wakefield retains credibility with a segment of the public, and unfounded fears about a vaccine-autism link persist.

Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West – Calling Bullshit

What did this intentional misleading lead to? The US, which had nearly eliminated measles entirely, now suffers large outbreaks on an annual basis. Other diseases such as mumps and whooping cough (pertussis) are making a comeback.

So why has it been so hard to debunk the rumors of a connection between vaccines and autism?

This is Brandolini’s principle at work – explain the authors of Calling Bullshit. Researchers have to invest vastly more time to debunk Wakefield’s arguments than he did to produce them in the first place.

Alright, that’s the end of the story. What else comes to your mind when you think of Brandolini’s principle? Let me know!

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