Schemas: Handy Dandy Shortcuts to Filing Folks

"A schema is a mental structure we use to organize and simplify our knowledge of the world around us. We have schemas about ourselves, other people, mechanical devices, food, and in fact almost everything." -Changing Minds

We all categorize people, and we often do it quickly and subconsciously. In the online world of skeptics versus (do we have a name for the larger group of non-skeptics?) woo-followers (way nicer than it could have been), each side quickly files a person based on key words or talking points the person uses in a comment at a skeptic blogger's site.

It's handy, and I'd argue, it's necessary. We can absolutely recognize where people are getting their information by what they write, and there are internet laws for a reason.

When a commenter over at my column at Science 2.0 invokes Nazis ("As I said if you and anyone else wants to shoot up, go right ahead, do not force me to. This is where the image of Nazis comes in, when you force people to undergo medical experiments and testing against their will"),  well, Godwin's Law applies: 

"The most famous of all the internet laws, formed by Mike Godwin in 1990. As originally stated, it said: "As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Naz!s or Hitler approaches 1."  It has now been expanded to include all web discussions.It is closely related to the logical fallacy “reductio ad Hitlerum”, which says “Hitler (or the Naz!s) liked X, so X is bad”, frequently used to denigrate vegetarians and atheists.
As well as the descriptive form, it can be used prescriptively, so if any poster does mention the Naz!s in a discussion thread, Godwin’s Law can be invoked, they instantly lose the argument and the thread can be ended."

If someone calls herd immunity a lie, well, we can file that person, can't we? We know where they've been reading (at some anti-vaccine site, doesn't have to be AoA).  Maybe they're getting their misinformation from people like Mercola: "One of the primary arguments that is being used to justify this insane behavior is 'herd immunity.' The fact is that vaccination does NOT stop you from carrying bacteria or viruses in your nose, in your throat, in your intestines, in your airway, on your skin, or in your body. But many do not understand the significance of this fact, and have been made to believe that if you’re vaccinated, you won’t carry viruses, and therefore, others will be protected because you’re vaccinated. As it turns out, this belief is NOT based on scientific fact."

AoA's happy to dish it out, though, with Katie Wright invoking Mercola's doctor Palevsky and writing: "We clearly need more inquiry into this critically important subject. However, it does not take scientific brilliance to understand this key point: discredit herd immunity and the house of cards supporting vaccine mandates comes tumbling down."

The folks who invoke the idea that herd immunity is a myth certainly haven't been looking at databases to see what the scientific literature is

Muhlemann and Weiss, in a letter to the editor in the American Journal of Public Health, write that "herd immunity, defined as the indirect protection of susceptible individuals by immunes. He [Lister] suggested that this indirect protection should be included when evaluating the total public health advantage conferred by a vaccine. However, herd immunity may also influence the assessment of vaccine efficacy for an individual...How can herd immunity influence the measurement of vaccine efficacy? Herd immunity not only decreases the disease frequency in the nonimmunized but also affects the vaccinated (if the vaccine is not 100% effective). If disease frequency decreases in the vaccinated and unvaccinated to the same relative amount
(e.g., by 0.25), no bias would occur."

The summary of Gonçalves's article (can't get to the whole article) Herd immunity: recent uses in vaccine assessment reads: "Human communities defend themselves against specific infectious agents in a way that extends beyond the simple sum of the immune status of its individuals. By analogy with individual immunity to specific agents, the community level of immunity may vary from complete susceptibility to full protection. Herd immunity has been used to name this community property, which is the result of evolution through natural selection, leading to relationships between two species, typical of prey–predator systems. Varying uses of the term herd immunity led to the use of other expressions, such as herd protection, herd effect and community immunity. Knowledge derived from observational studies and models on herd immunity has supported decisions on the choice of vaccines and vaccination strategies for the benefit of populations. This knowledge is most likely to be extended in the future, with far-reaching effects."

No need to run to databases, though. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has a page on herd immunity, also known as community immunity

"Vaccines can prevent outbreaks of disease and save lives.
When a critical portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, most members of the community are protected against that disease because there is little opportunity for an outbreak. Even those who are not eligible for certain vaccines—such as infants, pregnant women, or immunocompromised individuals—get some protection because the spread of contagious disease is contained. This is known as "community immunity."
A PubMed search on herd immunity provides many articles, as well: 1068 articles, 254 of them available as free full text articles. 

If someone says her doctor won't sign a form that the vaccine is perfectly safe or that they'll be liable if something goes wrong, we know where the person's been getting their information (not the only place to get it, of course):

"I have on this _________day of ___________________(month), A.D._________(year) administered this vaccination/medication/drug AFTER advising the above named patient that there is no risk involved with this vaccination, medication, drug therapy or treatment to the good health of my patient whatsoever. Therefore, and because any potentially negative or adverse effects of said vaccine(s) are apparently (and contradictorily) no longer insurable as being too high a risk, I hereby agree, without reservation, that should this patient at any time suffer or develop any permanent condition deleterious or injurious to my patient's health as a result of this treatment, I will personally pay for any and all costs involved relating to the care and treatment necessary for this patient for the rest of (his/her) natural life. I further agree that if my earnings are insufficient to meet these costs, I will sell my home, my business and all of my material possessions and put those proceeds towards meeting the patient-involved expenses."

Who honestly thinks a doctor can guarantee this? But medications are fine? They don't require or think the doctor should promise such insane things when they get a medication to treat an illness. The absurdity of these anti-vaccine sites is beyond surreal.

See, it's perfectly appropriate and entirely reasonable of me to generate a schema of a person who believes these ridiculous things. And I'm going to. And I'm not going to feel a bit bad when I decide that person just might be a woo-nut. Or a dumbass. I'm really not. Or, if I'm charitable, woefully misinformed and arrogantly ignorant. Because really, they are. And they're potentially dangerous, not only to their children who won't get protected and who may get subjected to a crapload of woo treatments and harmul treatments like do-it-at-home fecal transplants and nicotine patches, and nightly enemas and chelation suppositories,  but to public health, as well. And calling them out on that, pointing out that their beliefs are based on pseudoscience, con artists and wackaloons, albeit in a relatively gentle way, is the scientifically correct thing to do.

And calling me a shrew or worse isn't going to make me stop. It's going to make me laugh and then devote my morning to pointing out, through the use of scientific literature and a tromp through wooville that you're not operating out of reality. 

Gonçalves, G. (2008). Herd immunity: recent uses in vaccine assessment. Expert Review Of Vaccines, 7(10), 1493-1506. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
**I'm aware that I have pronoun disagreements in my post, using someone and then they. Yes, it bugs me, but I can be grammatically incorrect for simplicity sake. Sure, I'll feel angst over it. I'll castigate myself endlessly. I'll have to sit on my hands to not fix it. But we'll deal with it, I'm sure.


farmwifetwo said...

Your a shrew?? Heck, I've been trained by the Queen B herself - aka my Mother - and for the record she will admit it. I tell people I'm a Professional Nag and they tell me I'm a good Advocate for my boys... I still think it's a PC word (in my case) for b****.

One problem with vaccines like the flu one is that people then think they aren't going to get common cold nor the stomach bug. Influenza is neither of these things.

Also, I find it ironic that people are anti-GMO's but think nothing of additives in their yogurt. Think nothing of the chemicals they slather on their body and faces. Think nothing of popping pills for colds, headaches etc. You can't have it both ways. Nothing is safe... especially that road out there that has yet to be plowed and it's still snowing......

My budding engineer (the little one) just stuck a small pen lid in the wall - staircase - it's there permanently and he isn't happy.... I hope they go back to school tomorrow...

Joeymom said...

They reject our reality and substitute their own.

sharon said...

When recently having this debate online and pointing out the risk their non immunised children pose to the very young, the elderly and immuno compromised, I was called a bitch. THis is an example of when the schema is challenged and there is no comeback. I too struggle at times not to resort to name calling. The frustration boils over and calling a dumbass a dumbass seems to be the only recourse. Despite this I am eternally impressed by those who retain their dilpomatic composure under fire and so strive to emulate them. Unless Ive had a shitty day with Harri, then dumbasses are useful for venting.

KWombles said...

I don't go above asshat or dumbass, and I don't actually call the person the name 99% of the time. :-) However, after dealing with that over at the Science 2.0 Offit piece, I thought it was important to make it clear the schema I was placing folks in who believe that kind of stuff despite the abundant evidence that they've drawn faulty conclusions. I felt better after having written it, especially when read with a Jeff Foxworthy intonation or Bil Engvall's "Here's your sign" intonation. :-) Try it, you can't help but smile, "If you think antifreeze is in your vaccines, you might be a ..."