Monday, January 24, 2011

The Age-Old Struggle Against the Egghead Do-Gooder

Recently Dr. Gregory Poland* wrote an article for the New England Journal of Medicine entitled The Age-Old Struggle against the Antivaccinationist. In the piece he labeled anyone questioning the use of vaccines as essentially half-wits, incapable of thinking or acting for themselves. The doctor claimed:
Today, the spectrum of antivaccinationists ranges from people who are simply ignorant about science (or “innumerate” — unable to understand and incorporate concepts of risk and probability into science-grounded decision  making) to a radical fringe element who use deliberate mistruths, intimidation, falsified data, and threats of violence in efforts to prevent the use of vaccines and to silence critics. Antivaccinationists tend toward complete mistrust of government and manufacturers, conspiratorial thinking, denialism, low cognitive complexity in thinking patterns, reasoning flaws, and a habit of substituting emotional anecdotes for data.
Luckily, Dr. Poland has a solution for our intellectual failings: he's going to think and make decisions for us.
With the goal of making this solution acceptable - and to defend any challenges to the vaccine establishment upon which he depends - he uses his article to further disparage "antivaccinationists" and, likely referring to a number of death threats Paul Offit has received, expresses concern over “a radical fringe element who use…threats of violence in efforts to prevent the use of vaccines…”

Dr. Poland apparently feels it’s only appropriate to use force to compel the use of vaccines. After all he directs no criticism towards states that use threats of violence to coerce parents into vaccinating their children: the most egregious recent example of such behavior occurred in Maryland in 2007. The Washington Post, in a story entitled Get Kids Vaccinated Or Else..., reported:
The parents of more than 2,300 Prince George's County students who failed to get needed vaccinations could face fines of $50 a day and up to 10 days in jail if their children do not meet the state's immunization requirements, county officials said yesterday..
Poland then, in an effort to create fears about what would happen if large numbers of people decided not to vaccinate, mentions an increase of pertussis incidence that occurred in the 70s and 80s when DTP vaccination, due to safety concerns, either declined or ended in countries such as England, Japan and Sweden, He fails however to report that actual pertussis deaths remained low, hovering from single to low double digits - numbers comparable to those occurring in highly vaccinated populations

He goes on to imagine that, "the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009 and 2010 revealed a strong public fear of vaccination, stoked by antivaccinationists

Due to his love of vaccines, he's unable to get his [egg] head around the idea that, despite the endless and fanatical hype, his miracle drugs are simply unwanted. For him, only someone mesmerized by a “movement” or caught up in a wave of “fear” could turn down a flu shot.

Returning to the fear mongering, he repeats the Paul Offit / Seth Mnookin myth that Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 MMR / autism study has led to low vaccination rates and as a result the California pertussis epidemic of 2010

Then in an attempt to find a solution to the troublesome antivaccinator Poland asks "…what can we do to hasten the funeral of antivaccination campaigns?"

His answer, "first, we must continue to fund and publish high-quality studies to investigate concerns about vaccine safety.

Oddly, Dr. Poland imagines studies conducted with the expressed purpose of achieving a political end, in this case hastening the funeral of antivaccination campaigns, could in anyway be though of a “high quality.”

And where would Dr. Poland get the funding for his “high quality” studies? Most likely from the vaccine industry itself – after all, his Mayo clinic received in 2008 over $300 million dollars from government and industry.

Another way to hasten the funeral of antivaccination campaigns is, according to the doctor, "public education and persuasion." In other words propaganda - since this education is goal, rather than knowledge, oriented. These definitions of propaganda are enlightening:
information that is spread for the purpose of promoting some cause
Propaganda is a form of communication aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position. As opposed to impartially providing information, propaganda in its most basic sense, presents information primarily to influence an audience. ...
Wanting to eggsamine what drives his eggstremism, I turned to the internet and found a revealing Mayo clinic article detailing a disturbing portrayal of fanticism. The article's sycophantic author reported:
Dr. Gregory Poland is at once a warrior and a healer. He needs to be, he believes, because the war is real—too real—and the enemy is relentless.
In Dr. Poland's war, there are no rules of engagement; anything goes. The enemy is what Dr. Poland calls "unwarranted death." These are deaths caused by infectious diseases that could have been prevented by vaccinations. It is an enemy that is as ruthless as it is resourceful. Says Dr Poland:
"I was born into a Marine Corps family, and I spent my childhood growing up on military bases. As I went through medical school and residency, I knew right then and there that the warrior I was meant to be was the warrior taking on infectious diseases, to prevent them—because I just have a really hard time with death. Unwarranted death, the unexpected death."
He describes those wanting to choose whether or not to have their children medicated as a “radical fringe element” yet his own words reveal him to being far more radical than any so-called “anti-vaccinator”

Do-gooders such as Dr. Poland are perpetually at war; fighting drugs, poverty, obesity and the like. But as blogger and author Christopher Chantrill points out:
when you conduct domestic politics using the moral equivalent of war metaphor you do not just conduct a War on Poverty or a war for Energy Independence. Wars are not conducted against an idea but against people. You end up making your fellow Americans into a hated enemy.
Conduct your war Dr Poland; just do it without me. For when you force people to participate, your War on Bugs becomes a war against the very freedom upon which this country was built.

* The article was coauthored by Dr. Robert Jacobson. This post focuses on Dr. Poland because, based on his history [described below] it's my belief that he is the driving force behind the piece.

Dr Poland

Serves as the President of the International Society for Vaccines. The groups aim is "to encourage, establish and promote the development and the use of vaccines..."

He's the American Editor for the journal Vaccine.

In 1998, he received a joint award from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Health Care Financing Administration for his contribution to increasing adult immunization rates in the U.S. which was awarded by the Surgeon General of the United States.

He's a member of the National Network for Immunization Information's steering committee

Dr. Poland participates on many national and academic review committees and actively peer-reviews journal articles for over 26 different publications such as The Lancet, Annals of Internal Medicine and New England Journal of Medicine.

A prolific writer, Dr. Poland has published over 160 peer-reviewed scientific articles and book chapters.

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