Autism, Alzheimer’s, and the Trouble with Rationalists

Rationalists live under the impression that facts can sway people. They believe that myths, ignorance, lies, and other falsehoods, can be dispelled once proof of those falsehoods have been presented. This is the rationalist's view; their innate belief that people are somehoe, by and large, reasonable. Belief that reason can dispel myths may well be the rationalist's weakness. I sincerely hope not.

Many of you, my regular readers, are probably thinking I'm going off on another of my anti-religious rants. Sorry, that will have to wait for another day. Today, I'm talking about flu shots.

It all started when a friend on Facebok posted the following image.

There are many things wrong with this, not the least of which is that it's a myth, not to mention completely false. Most interesting is that the Alzheimer's Association is cited, at the very top of the graphic, since The Alzheimer's Association Website says this is a myth. I hope you'll go check it out but if you're in a hurry, here's what it says about the link between flu shots and Alzheimer's.

Myth 6: Flu shots increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease

Reality: A theory linking flu shots to a greatly increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease has been proposed by a U.S. doctor whose license was suspended by the South Carolina Board of Medical Examiners. Several mainstream studies link flu shots and other vaccinations to a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease and overall better health.

  • A Nov. 27, 2001, Canadian Medical Journal report suggests older adults who were vaccinated against diphtheria or tetanus, polio, and influenza seemed to have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than those not receiving these vaccinations. The full text of this report is posted on the journal’s Web site.  
  • A report in the Nov. 3, 2004, JAMA found that annual flu shots for older adults were associated with a reduced risk of death from all causes. The abstract of that report is posted on PubMed.

Unless I read English very differently than most people, it sounds like the Alzheimer's Association says that people receiving regular flu shots and other vaccines have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. That's a very different story than the graphic suggests.

When I pointed all this out, my friend suggested it was a matter of perspective. My problem, I guess, is that I don't consider facts to be a matter of perspective. 

Strange as it may seem, I would feel differently if the graphic had simply said, "Dr Whoever says the flu vaccine causes Alzheimer's" because then it is a matter of perspective or personal opinion. But it suggests the Alzheimer's Association backs those claims where they clearly do not. In short, the infographic is using their name to substantiate their claims and that's just plain wrong. 

Let me put it another way. The person, or persons, responsible for putting this graphic together, had so little faith in their facts that they chose to misrepresent an organization with which they disagreed, by claiming they supported their false claims. That sounds like a lie, but in legal circles, it's called fraud. 

In case you missed it, the whole mercury in vaccines scare and the theory that it caused autism, was concocted by the widely discredited Andrew Wakefield, whose discredited paper the British Medical Journal described as an elaborate fraud. Despite all the evidence against this charlatan, all the proof that he lied and fabricated evidence, and all the harm it has caused, people continue to believe and repeat these lies as facts. 

Let me leave you with a final, disturbing, and unpleasant thought. 

Research on Alzheimer's is increasingly pointing to a very different cause for the disease; what some call the 'American diet'. The weight of evidence is so great that many are starting to call Alzheimer's "Type 3 Diabetes".  It is our increasingly unhealty diets of high-fat and high-sugar that is taking us down this frightening road. 

In the end, I'm still a rationalist, which means I live with the belief that presenting you with these facts will show you that vaccines don't cause autism, or Alzheimer's. What vaccines do is save lives.

Please share this post and help dispel the myths.

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