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Kirby Weighs in on "The Autism-Vaccine Debate: Why It Won’t Go Away"

February 12, 2011

My response to his post at Huffington and, I think, sufficient for hitting the glaring problems with his incredibly long-winded logical fallacies:

There’s not only no good scientific evidence for vaccines causing autism, there’s absolutely no reason to think that 1% of cases of autism is caused by vaccines. In addition, there’s no sound scientific evidence to believe that autism is a neuroinjur­y.

It’s also completely irrelevant what Americans think regarding autism and vaccines; appeals to popularity and appeals to belief have nothing to do with the claim “some autism is caused by vaccines.”

It’s not who makes the claim; it’s not who believes the claim. It’s the evidence for the claim that matters. And anecdote isn’t evidence.

It’s also a poor argument to make that parents must know an absolute cause before they’ll let the vaccine idea go. Those who believe that vaccines caused their child’s autism are unlikely to reconsider that belief.

That’s the problem with belief systems; they tend to be immune to contradict­ory informatio­n and evidence that refutes the belief system.

Here’s what I’m noticing on these ideas not founded on empirical evidence. The folks promoting the ideas write longer and longer pieces full of empty appeals: appeals to authority, to belief, to popularity. They confuse anecdote with evidence. And they are immune to contradictory evidence. Every red flag you can think of tends to be hit: appeals to ancient wisdom, ideological beliefs, you name it, and it pops up across woo-ville.
This is true in the autism-vaccine debate. It’s true of homeopathy. The proponents get longer-winded and the science-based bloggers boil it down to the basics: the consensus of the scientific studies (not of the people, but of the evidence) is that there is no evidence this works or is real (depending on what it is); the pseudoscientific proponents really on fallacious appeals and hot air.
The more I teach what homeopathy is the harder a time I have of understanding why anyone would believe it. Not one student, having watched the short Ben Goldacre clip explaining it or even the Mitchell and Webb skit, ever walk out of class believing homeopathy is anything other than hokum. They get the Avogadro’s number. They get it. Of course, they didn’t have an emotional investment in it, either, when I introduced them to it. And that may explain best of all why the debate won’t go away in some sectors: the people who already believe it.

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost


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