Objective reality and Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias may work on both sides of the vaccine/autism "controversy", but sometimes, as you wade through the posts at AoA, you come across one that, to be charitable, leaves one laughing at the complete and thorough absurdity of it. Leave aside Kent's nastiness yesterday with the pigs bit, but he always signs off his posts so nicely. All the best, my plump arse. The comments by most of the AoA loyalists are typically hostile and arrogant. Kim S herself was in her element, showing that if you don't toe her line you're the enemy. Even Craig, whom I have a great deal of respect for, couldn't help getting aggressive. Craig, I'd remind you of group polarization and recommend you spend sometime over at the Countering Facebook group or Raising Autism; we'll offer support without demolishing other people who disagree with our perspective.

One of the crasser pieces was this (and there were so many, but there's only so much I'll wade through in a day and I've hit my quota):

"Your personal bias seems to be putting the words "bunk" and "fraudulent" here. What studies could you possibly be referring to for each of these people? Stick with methods, facts, data, and conclusions. As much as you do NOT want vaccines or aspects of the environment to be a big player in autism diagnoses, it does not give you the right to insinuate fraud in an attempt to deny and hoodwink real facts and good science.
That would be a serious error and would put a permanent question mark on your ability to be objective, rational and honest."

This response is in objection to another poster's contention that invoking studies by the Geiers, Wakefield, and Blaxill (who's not a scientist) did not constitute evidence (these studies have been debunked in mainstream science). For this particular poster, it's fairly restrained. It's still, ahem, in my personal bias, representative of her personal bias that autism is vaccine induced mercury damage. This commenter seems to have a visceral hatred for anyone who suggests her perspective is incorrect. Hell, you don't even have to argue with her or talk about vaccines at all. Just talk about autism in general as a neurological condition. That's enough to get her foaming.

I gave AoA props for a nice piece over the weekend and for the commenters being generally supportive. Well, they got the niceness out of their system.

Don't worry, AoA, whenever I meet someone who wants to know what AoA is all about, this one thread is all I need to show them. It says absolutely everything about what ya'll are all about.

Side note: Craig, I know you have some righteous anger, and I respect that, but seriously, don't you think there are places that would be a better fit than AoA? Please, we'd like it if you and your wife would come to Raising Autism or to the Countering facebook group.


Mom26children said...

I was equally surprised that Kim S. let so many commenters in that questioned the post. Then, I realized why....so they could bash the posters of these comments.
I mean, Twyla.....really....!!!

netdude said...

Read the comments by Kim to Olivia - wow. "you're lucky I allowed you comments through"

netdude said...

"New law: Anyone who refuses to acknowledge that vaccines could be a cause of autism because the Scientific Concensus says so is both a liar and a hypocrite and should be laughed out of the conversation.

Posted by: Craig Willoughby | July 14, 2009 at 02:02 PM"

Two word: closed and mind

cawill said...

Very good, netdude. I was describing someone who is close minded (yes, I know you were trying to say that about me; nice try).

So, let's try a little exercise. See if you can tell the difference between these two statements.

"I don't believe that vaccines cause autism. I've read many of the studies, and there just isn't enough evidence."

"Science says that Vaccines don't cause autism. Period. Get over it!"

One shows someone who has let group-think decide for them what they believe, and the other has made a judgement based on knowledge. One is an acknowledgement that evidence could come along and change their minds, the other is someone so close minded that all the evidence in the world won't change their opinion. One is an attempt to close off the conversation, the other is an invitation to discuss further. One is scientific, the other is religion.

Can you tell me which is which?

If someone claiming to be a scientist tells me that science says such and such is true, but refuses to acknowledge that evidence could change their opinion, they are not being scientific; they are letting someone tell them what to think. They are following a religion. They are hypocrites. Which is why I hold such contempt and disdain for the Oraccolytes. They are everything I described above, and they are arrogant, elitist, and rude.

With the evidence I've seen so far, I am unconvinced that vaccines are not to blame for encephalitic reactions and autism. The studies that I have read are full of conflict of interest and bias. That is NOT scientific. I will be convinced of a lack of connection when I see truly independant research that looks at the difference between a vaccinated and unvaccinated population that shows no connection; something they should have done a long time ago.

Kwombles, J Harris explictely came in there just to be rude and antagonistic. My reaction to him was to be rude and antagonistic. Nothing to do with group polarization.

KWombles said...

NetDude and Craig, good morning to both of you.

Craig, your response here is a better explanation of your position than the law you posted. Harris did come over there to be antagonistic, I'll agree with that. And I noted I understood your aggression, but if that aggression makes you overstate what you really believe, I'm not sure that's worth doing? Can't you be aggressive without overstating your position? Just name-call? :-)

I think I've read sufficient posts by the editors of AoA, and I've certainly noted the increase in ads and sponsorships on the site over just the last three months, and seen sufficient censorship of comments to feel the need to actively counter the site's worst or most inaccurate posts or comments. I'm trying to do it without invectiveness, although I don't always succeed.

Here's my bottom line: it's one thing to argue for more science, without the pharmaceutical companies funding it (since that seems to be a bug in people's bonnets -- if the study is well designed and the data transparent enough, I don't have a problem with it), to ask for epi studies comparing truly unvaccinated vs vaccinated (problems with samples matching, though, logistical nightmare). It's a completely different thing to do what AoA is doing. If they focus on more positive, supportive pieces, I'm good. If they run obviously paid endorsements, not so much. If they post complete bunk, what's a gal with time on her hands to do?

I'm all for being open to where the science leads. And I've waded through more than half of the actual studies on both sides of the equation( I don't want to overstate what I've read, so that's conservative, and I'm reading the others as time permits -- I've read all the abstracts of the 70 studies the Do Vaccines Cause That? lists).

If a future study comes out that is well designed, well executed, has a representative sample that achieves significance, and it says that a specific vaccination appears to be causally related to a diagnosis of autism, and those diagnoses of autism were blindly verified by more than one diagnostician with the same diagnostic tools and criteria (you see what I'm getting at with this? so many details), then I will amend my current view that it appears unlikely that some cases of autism are caused by vaccination.

In the meantime, I will be as balanced as I can. Vaccines save lives and prevent crippling disabilities that the diseases vaccines prevent can cause. Adverse reactions occur, as with medications. In many cases, these adverse reactions are unforeseeable. Doctors need to take reports of adverse reactions more seriously. Children with fevers over 103 degrees ought to be physically evaluated by a physician and parents should watch the child carefully. Mandatory reporting should be required.

And Craig, when you mention the difficulties with VAERS, you could add that we did find that the CDC had several reporting centers they monitored, for which they were basing their estimation of adverse reactions.

I hope both you and NetDude have wonderful days. When it's quiet on Huff and not a lot of posting going on, I admit to missing reading both your posts. :-) Which is why you are all welcome and invited to come over to Raising Autism and the Countering FaceBook group. Hint, hint.

Connie said...

Like a broken record, here I come once again to put a human face on the invective. My sister is justthisclose to divorcing her husband because he does not agree with her that vaccines are responsible for their son's autism.

They have both examined the evidence and have come to different conclusions. My sister has told my brother-in-law repeatedly that she "hates" him because he does not share her views.

She tells him that he "does not want to heal" their son because he does not share her views.

She tells him that he does not love their son because she does not share her views.

She tells THEIR SON that their own father doesn't love him because "Daddy doesn't want to help you."

My BIL certainly thinks my sis is wrong, but he has never told her that he hates her because of it.

There is a human cost to the divisiveness and demonization and name-calling that occurs every day on Age of Autism. My nephew and nieces are living through it.

I believe that sites like AoA encourage their readers to hate those who disagree with them.

I believe that sites like AoA encourage my sister to hate her husband.

Comments like yours, Craig, encourage my sister to think of her husband as a "liar" and a "hypocrite."

Comments like yours, Craig, are going to help bring down a marriage.

What do you think about that, Craig?

Craig said...

Comments like mine have nothing to do with your sister's problems. Her life is her life. Her choice is her choice. If you'd actually read what I said, you would see where I am coming from and what I am trying to say. I have nothing to do with how she interprets any comments I make. I was calling these scientists hypocrites because they refuse to even acknowledge that there is a possibility that vaccines could be implicated in autism. They refuse to even talk about it. Instead, they insult and call people who disagree with them idiots. But, I guess it is ok for them to do that because they are "science-based." That is what a hypocrite is. They lie when they say that they are open to new evidence, but they refuse to believe that vaccines could be implicated in autism.

Vaccines HAVE been implicated in brain damage that lead up to autism.

Let me put things into perspective here.

Orac's hate-site repeatedly encourages its readers to mock and ridicule parents who believe that there could be a connection.

They call organizations like the CPS to take away children of these parents. CPS showed up at my doorstep last year because one of the Oraccolytes called them, claiming I was endangering my children by not vaccinating them. When I showed them the vaccination records, they dropped the subject. Sadly, I don't know who did it, but I certainly have one particular suspect in mind.

They call insurance companies and tell the companies to drop coverage entirely from parents attempting alternative therapies.

They say that parents of children who are vaccine injured should be put away on a prison island so that they don't have to deal with them.

I believe sites like Orac's encourage their readers to be bigotted and hateful to parents seeking answers. Being called an idiot certainly wins people over to their side of the argument, does it not?

I believe sites like Orac's are the main reason why insurance coverage for autistic children is so laughable.

Comments like yours, Connie, are the main reason why there is so much polarization going on.

Comments like yours, Connie, are the reason why people like me respond to hatred and vitriol in the way that we do.

Comments like yours, Connie, are the reason why there is so much division and so much refusal to help our kids.

What do you think about that, Connie?

Does that help you put things into perspective? This goes both ways, hun. It's unacceptable that AoA would insult people who claim to be science based, but it is ok for "science-based" people to make fun of the parents of vaccine-injured children.

The problem with your sister and her husband has nothing to do with me or AoA. It has to do with her. If you want to blame someone for what is happening, perhaps you should look at the doctors and scientists who treat parents like me like idiots for questioning their sacred dogma.

Connie said...

Bullshit, Craig.

Words matter.

You and your pals at AoA gleefully toss around incendiary rhetoric, but when someone acts on it you want to wash your hands?

Sorry. You don't get to do that.

What is happening in my family is ABSOLUTELY a direct result of my sister being told -- thousands of times over -- that she should hate everyone who does not agree with her position on vaccines.

That everyone who does not agree with her is a devil, a dupe, a liar, a hypocrite.

This has nothing to do with what occurs on Orac's site, or with "doctors and scientists who treat parents like [you] like idiots." It has everything to do with what you and your friends on AoA do and write and say every single goddam day.

Suppose you use a bad word in front of your kids. Maybe a racial epithet. Then your kids start using it too. Isn't that your responsibility? Or is that just your kids' problem?

No. It's your responsibility. They learned it from you.

My sister learned to hate at AoA. I know you don't want to hear that. It's an ugly truth. But that doesn't make it any less true.

Craig said...

No, Connie. I think it is plain for everyone to see where she learned to hate. Maybe you should go have a look in the mirror? You certainly seem to have a lot of hate as well.

"Suppose you use a bad word in front of your kids. Maybe a racial epithet. Then your kids start using it too. Isn't that your responsibility? Or is that just your kids' problem?"

Yes, it is my responsibility....because they are CHILDREN.

I can clearly see where the problem lies now.

That's a pretty low opinion of your sister if you think that she is not mature enough to be able to take responsibility for her own actions. Maybe I was wrong to say that it is this has to do with her; I no longer think it does.

The key thing to remember here is that she is an adult and can make her own decisions and her own judgement. You are treating her as a child. I don't know the whole situation, nor do I want to. But I can see from your reaction why she doesn't like talking to you, and perhaps some of her viewpoint as well.

"That everyone who does not agree with her is a devil, a dupe, a liar, a hypocrite"

Ah, but everyone who disagrees with you is an idiot, a danger to children and everyone around them, and should be locked up. Again, look in the mirror before you start pointing fingers.

AoA is a direct result of years and years of parents being told they are morons. Years and years of parents being told that what happened to them and their children was a figment of their imagination, that everything that the watched their children go through was a lie. Of people like you spewing venom and hatred without stopping to LISTEN.

No, I think your sister's problem lies with someone else, don't you?

Nice to put things into perspective for you. Glad I could help.

BTW...If I seem blunt or slightly antagonistic, again, look in the mirror.

Connie said...

I never said that anyone who disagrees with me is an idiot, a danger to children, and should be locked up. Don't put words in my mouth.

What did I say that was hateful and venomous?

You're kinda proving my point, actually. Yep, I said something negative about AoA -- and you're immediately attacking me. Again, show me what I said that was hateful.

You have said that the rhetoric on Orac's site enflames you so badly that it sometimes causes you to say lots of hateful things.

But the rhetoric my sister reads on AoA couldn't possibly enflame her in a similar fashion?

Are you denying that the tone at AoA is hostile to anyone who doesn't agree that vaccines cause autism? You don't really seem to be. Rather, you seem to be defending the invective.

Words have consequences. Including the words that are used on AoA.

Craig said...

Connie, is it any different than you putting words in my mouth saying that anyone who disagrees me is a liar and a hypocrite. Perhaps you should read my actual post and tell me who I was talking about, will you? Maybe then, you can understand where I am coming from.

And I wasn't attacking you; not in the least. I was pointing out your fallacious argument using the same tone that you used against me. It was you who attacked me for saying that anyone who disagrees with me is a "liar and a hypocrite." But, that is neither here nor there, and in the end bears no relevance as to who started what.

My point is that you are treating your sister like a child. She is an adult and she can make her own judgements and her own decisions. AoA has nothing to do with that. She can make her own judgements as to how she reacts to that information, just as I can make judgements as to how I react to Orac's filth. It shows me that you have a very low opinion of her if you are unable to accept the fact that she is an adult. Do you live with her and her husband? Are you getting all details of the story? Are you getting one side of the story and ignoring the other? Is her reaction to you because of the way you are treating her? Do you respond to her in the same way that you have responded to me? Those are all very good questions, and I think you really need to take them into consideration before you start waving your finger.

Am I defending the invective? That is a good question. I will ask you a question in answer.

Is it ok for Orac and company to use hateful and spiteful rhetoric against anyone who disagrees with them? Use your argument against me earlier and apply that logic to what the Oraccolytes do.

Do you think that AoA has the right to defend themselves from the Oraccolyte's brainless and spineless attacks?

Yes, words have consequences. And AoA is a direct consequence of how the scientific community treats parents of vaccine injured children. That is the ugly truth, I hate to tell you.

Connie said...

First, Craig, I didn't put words in your mouth by saying that anyone who disagrees with you is a liar and a hypocrite. I was quoting your "new law," which you posted on AoA yesterday. I believe that your comments encourage readers to think of those who disagree with them as liars and hypocrites.

Wasn't that your intention? Don't you WANT people who "refuse to acknowledge that vaccines could be a cause of autism because the Scientific Consensus says so" to be thought of as liars and hypocrites?

And no, it is not OK for Orac and company to use hateful and spiteful rhetoric against anyone who disagrees with them.

And of course, as an adult, my sister is ultimately responsible for her actions. But that doesn't let AoA off the hook either, in my view, if it relentlessly tells its readership that it should hate and fear everyone who doesn't share the view that autism is vaccine injury. It's not just frustrated people blowing off steam.

Many people who read AoA are emotionally vulnerable, and are trying to deal with a very difficult situation the best way they know how. In my opinion, that gives AoA an even greater responsibility to be judicious in the articles they publish and (especially) the comments they put through.

Many, many people who read AoA regularly are in a difficult place psycholgically. They are desperate and looking for answers. Overheated rhetoric does not help them. It hurts them. I'm not "treating my sister like a child" to recognize that she is unduly influenced by the negative things she reads at AoA.

Many, many folks believe everything they read on AoA. That being the case, as I said, I believe the site is in a unique position to help lead people away from fear and rage and victimhood, and toward a better place psychologically and spiritually.

But by continually, continually, continually telling its readership that not only ARE they victims, but that they should never think of themselves as anything BUT victims, AoA is hurting people.

By relentlessly, relentlessly, relentlessly telling its readership that not only are they RIGHT not to trust their doctors, but they should never try to get BEYOND that distrust, AoA is hurting people.

By repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly assuring its readership that not only are they justified to feel angry and enraged, but that they should ALWAYS feel angry and enraged, AoA is hurting people.

And I think I've exhausted myself on this subject for now. Feel free to take the last word, if you want it . . . .

kathleen said...

Wow kim...good for you..I have a question...why would cps be called over not vaccinating-? And furthermore-why would they show up at someones door..I would contact an attorney..as not immunizing is not illegal...and showing up at your door and demanding documentation is a violation of your constitutional rights. That just really stuck out to me-sorry for going off topic :)

Craig said...

Connie, I'm not trying to get a last word in or anything like that. I'm trying to explain to you my position.

My law was a mockery of Orac and his "laws." That should be obvious to ANYONE who is familiar with his witless prattle. I explained it further in my above post about how those that accept scientific consensus mindlessly are allowing other people to think for them. People should be allowed to make judgements for themselves, and the people who say "Science says so, so it must be so," without doing the research themselves, without acknowledging that evidence could change their minds, are hypocrites. My "law" was aimed at the Oraccolytes, plain and simple.

I have never once read anything on AoA that says to hate your doctors.

And no, I don't think that encouraging these parents to feel righteously angry at what their children are going through is wrong (though, I don't see it as encouragement; it's like-minded parents supporting each other). Righteous anger can be productive when channeled properly, and I certainly see a lot of that going on there (trying to push legislation for further studies and to push through legislation that forces insurance to cover autistic kids). Many of these parents are angry because they have been repeatedly told that they are idiots, they are a danger, and they are liars. I am certainly angry, no furious, about it. Such rhetoric demeans and trivializes these children's condition and what they fight for every day.

I am truly glad to see that you disagree with the Modus Operandi of the Oraccolytes. It raises my opinion of you considerably. Hopefully, you can see why I act toward people like that the way that I do.

Please accept my apologies for my earlier terse post. I understand your anger; I only ask that you understand mine.

kathleen, Texas CPS is horrible. Rick Perry has given them so much power that they are almost above the law. CPS investigates almost any claim, no matter how outrageous. If they have sufficient reason to believe that parents are neglecting their children, then they can investigate. And, vaccine refusal can be construed as neglect in many states. My children, however, are vaccinated, so they had no reason to investigate further. I could contact my lawyer, but it would do very little good. CPS could just say that they were looking out for the best interests of the children.

KWombles said...

All this dialogue on this post today is exactly what I hoped for when I began this blog after being repeatedly blocked at AoA: a free exchange of ideas without censorship, without moderation. Thank you, to all of you, for choosing to engage in that conversation here. I appreciate it.

I hope you will come back often and exchange ideas. I also extend, Craig, the hope that you will join us at the facebook group and Raising Autism in addition to if not in replacement of reading AoA (it's not like I'm going to stop reading them; it's important to know what they are saying).

Connie, I am thrilled to have you at the facebook group and hope you will join Raising Autism and tell your BIL about it, as well.

I think that there is pain behind the anger, hurt and confusion, as well, for all of us. If we can share that, share what's behind the anger, then maybe we'll all be a bit better off.

We don't have to agree on everything, and like families, we can engage in heated arguments, but if we can remember in the end that we have so much in common, so much to work on in trying to make the world a more accepting place for the people in our lives with special needs, then we're all in a better place for it.

And this is where Kathleen plays kumbaya on the guitar, and the rest of us play drums or tamborines (running gag between Kathleen and me whenever I do my make the world a better place talk). :-)

My door is always open and all are welcome here. Craig, I appreciate that you visit here and sometimes stay long enough to chat.

Netdude, miss you! Science Rocks has become an echo chamber of me posting. :-)

Connie, I hope things are not as tense there, and if they are, that coming here helps to ease the tension.

Kathleen, I hope you have a good evening with your husband. I have two charcoal gray walls in the computer room and an utter disaster throughout the rest of the house. :-)

Netdude said...


Science does not work in absolutes such as "X definately causes Y". No scientist will say that sort of statement.
Whilst no scientist would say "vaccines dont get autism. get over it", one has to conclude from the evidence what the likely scenario is. In this case if you read the many, many studies from all over the world the science would most likely say vaccines and autism are not linked. In the flip side of the argument, where are the studies that show it does? Now in a scientific manner, if we really want to get to the heart of what is the underlying cause for autism, then only focussing on vaccines is not being open minded. That is the stance over at AoA.

What bothers me about this, is there are a number of individuals with an agenda to promote anti-vaccine propaganda using children and autism as their cause. This is so bad on many levels. 1. it as Connie says preys on the emotional vunerability of a parent with a sick child and 2. promotes the dangerous view that vaccine are not neccessary and are the equivalent of a lethal injection.

Whilst you critisize Orac, at least on his site there is free speach unlike the Orwellian AoA site of censorship.

Craig said...

"Whilst no scientist would say "vaccines dont get autism[sic]. get over it", one has to conclude from the evidence what the likely scenario is"

Exactly correct. And this is my exact point. Orac and his meandering mob of medical miscreants say that ALL THE TIME! So, since no true scientist would say that, it goes to prove my point that Orac and the Oraccolytes are no better than the people they ridicule. Hince my liar and hypocrite statement. Orac has said that new evidence could change his mind, but his actions and previous mental dribbles has proven this statement wrong. Case in point; he claimed that there was no such thing as Gulf War Syndrome at one point. He also claimed that the mercury in dental amalgams was safe. Evidence has proven him wrong. What do we hear from Orac? Nada. Another case in point, and something to show that he is a liar, is this statement from his latest mental filth;

"First and foremost are those parents who hear the lies of the anti-vaccine movement, are scared, and wonder if there is anything to all this talk of vaccines causing autism. Who can blame them, given the vitriol against vaccines, big pharma, and the government, all coupled with convincing-sounding testimonials about "vaccine injury" that emanate from the anti-vaccine movement? For these parents who have been frightened by this rhetoric, understanding and calm are important. I would never insult such parents for not knowing whether there is anything to the hysterical rhetoric of Generation Rescue, Jenny McCarthy, J. B. Handley, and their ilk."

Lies Lies Lies!!! That is all he does. My first encounter with Orac was such a situation that he described. I got insulted, bullied, and I was told that I was an idiot. Let me ask you this; is this truly the way to get more people to listen to you? Do you wonder now why it is that so many people are going to AoA for their answers?

And truly; is the way that the Oraccolytes respond to parents who are asking questions not a form of censorship? By calling them concern trolls, etc? By saying that people like Jenny McCarthy, and indeed myself, should have no say? Oh, sure, it is under the guise of being open and uncensored, but that is also a lie.

netdude said...

Whats the obsession with Orac? He's a blogger with a small following. Compared to the exposure that the like of Jenny McCarthy has, he's a drop in the ocean. I can't remember seeing anyone like Orac on mainstream television programs like Larry King, or the Doctors or Oprah.

Orac aside, you didnt answer my questions and this is the problem at the heart of AoA. Lots of finger pointing and shouting, but never answering the questions unless it involves blaming vaccines for every illness to affect mankind.