The anti-vaccine movement touts many appealing rallying cries, such as “do your homework,” “educate before you vaccinate,” and “think for yourself.” These slogans sound excellent and I whole-heartedly agree with them, but unfortunately, the actual actions of the anti-vaccers are dramatically different from the actions proposed in their favorite catch phrases. The reality is that when an anti-vaccer says, “do your homework” they actually mean, “read a bunch of blogs that weren’t written by scientists and listen to a bunch of anecdotal evidence.” To actually be well-informed on a scientific issue, you absolutely have to read an enormous body of peer-reviewed literature. It is the one place where new facts are published. Everything else is just someone’s re-interpretation or opinion about those facts. Why on earth would you want second hand information when you can have the original?
A further hypocrisy of the anti-vaccine movement is that they absolutely refuse to fact check. To be clear, this is not just ad hominem name calling, I can prove this by citing some of their most common arguments. For example, the argument that, “if vaccines work, my unvaccinated child shouldn’t be a threat to your vaccinated child” has appeared on innumerable anti-vaccine blogs and memes. On several occasions I have had an anti-vaccer tell me that they have done their homework, then immediately proceed to bring up this argument, usually in the form of a question. In reality, anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of the immune system would know the answer to this question because, as I explained in another post, the answer comes in the form of the most basic facts about vaccines! So asking this question clearly demonstrates that you don’t understand even the most fundamental facts about the topic you claim to be an expert on.
Another classic example is the claim that “vaccines are injected into the blood stream.” The claim is totally fictitious and takes only seconds to look up, yet I constantly see it appearing on anti-vaccine memes. Similarly, I frequently see memes that claim that the safety of vaccines has never been tested. One popular one shows a lady pointing to an empty chair and reads, “I’d like you to meet the person who tested the safety of vaccines.” In reality, mere seconds on Google Scholar or Pub Med will reveal thousands of scientists who have tested the safety of vaccines. The claim is demonstrably and unequivocally false and takes only seconds to debunk, yet anti-vaccers make it constantly. Even if you want to blindly disregard the results of those studies, it is an outright lie to claim that they don’t even exist (and no, they weren’t all bought off by Big Pharma).
The fundamental problem here is the sources being used. Anti-vaccers claim to fact check, but their version of fact checking is simply reading other unscientific blogs which merely act as echo chambers for what they already thought was true. Being well-informed and educating yourself requires you to use good sources. It does not matter how many blogs you read or memes you post, if you haven’t read the original peer-reviewed literature you aren’t well-informed and you haven’t done your homework. So to all the anti-vaccers out there, I encourage you to actually live by your pithy slogans and truly fact check, rather than blindly believing every quack website on the internet.
Addendum: It’s worth pointing out that you can find peer-reviewed anti-vaccine papers if you look hard enough, but you should not make the mistake of blindly believing those papers and ignoring all others. For almost any position, you will find a few outliers, which is why you must always look at the entire body of scientific evidence, not just the handful of papers that agree with you (details here).