Maggie Koerth-Baker's thought provoking essay on how anti-vaxxers view their own reasonableness

Our Maggie (can I call her that if I’m not actually a BoingBoing editor?) has just published a startling defense of the anti-vaxx movement. It is couched in reason, and it’s core premise is that experts aren’t acknowledging the primary underlying philosophy of anti-vaxxers: these parents disagree that the trade-off of herd immunity for the safety of their own child is a fair or reasonable choice, and further believe that the government should not be the entity to make that decision for parents.

“I don’t think experts intend to ignore what the debate over vaccines is really about. They care deeply about the public health implications of vaccine refusal. They’re worried about the health of their individual patients. But they personally think the trade-off between the small risks of side effects and the big benefit of herd immunity is a fair one. They decided this long ago, and that belief is built into every aspect of their work. For a lot of them – a lot of us, if I’m honest – it’s easy to forget that our perspective on the trade-off is a belief, and not a provable fact. We are uncomfortable with the idea that opinions on scientific topics could be influenced by philosophy, politics and other things that aren’t easily quantifiable.”


I’d hardly read that as a defence of anti vaccination parents. All the article is doing is pointing out that we have their core motivation wrong. They’re not always scientifically illiterate idiots. Sometimes they’re selfish assholes instead.


I didn’t read it as her defending the anti-vaccination position so much as promoting empathy for frightened parents, who are making a decision within a specific context.

She’s pointing out that the anti- and the pro- sides are having parallel debates, not the same one. Scared parents are having an emotional response, the public health community and science journalists are reacting to that emotion with facts, so we’ve been having the same disconnect for a long time.

She also mentions specifically that her children are being vaccinated according to the schedule. I don’t think she agrees with parents who refuse, but she isn’t insulting them.


this is the same disconnect that democrats often find when dealing with republicans, particularly of the tea party variety. this is why reality has a liberal bias and why the fox news intellectual ecosystem is so fact free.


I think I read that on The Atlantic and enjoyed it

If the benefit exclusively to your child of getting vaccinated doesn’t vastly, enormously outweigh the risks, then it’s because you’re already living in a world of herd immunity, bought and paid for by all the other people who accepted the risks of vaccination.


what is the alternative for this?



the alternative to reacting to emotions with facts is not quite that, I suspect.

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They’re emotional facts.


The existence of this ‘controversy’ is yet more evidence in favour of some kind of minimum requirements to be a parent.

Can’t evaluate a simple risk trade-off fairly and without losing your shit? Not qualified.


Still, such a measure would be somewhat unfair as long as critical thinking skills are entirely absent from school curricula…

But then our entire fucking social system is unfair as long as the populace is groomed to rely on their stupid fucking lizard brains; easy prey for capitalist marketroid scum and cynical button-pushing political hacks. Not to mention the idiots who want to raise their kids to believe the laughable crap found in ancient books.


eta: yeah, the alt-text


Precisely. There ARE data on the efficacy of vaccines which the antivaxxers refuse to believe. And instead they say, “there is no data.” There IS.

It’s similar to the climate change “debate.” There is no debate. There’s data. One side uses the data and tries to move forward scientifically on that basis. The other side denies the existence of the data, tries to obfuscate it, exaggerates minority conflicting aspects, and generally foot drags.

With the antivaxxers, they have exaggerated the connection of side effects and vaccines, which are extremely hard to link. Many events reported in VAERS are spurious or extremely hard to link directly to receiving a vaccine. They also exaggerate the links to thimerosal/mercury which have been shown not to exist. They exaggerate their power of choice. They call the cdc and public health into question as part of a monolithic conspiracy, etc.

I find all of it extremely vexing, unscientific and based in FAR more emotion than public health experts’ arguments in favor of vaccines. In short, I have a real hard time with refraining from insulting them or looking upon them with disdain. Their positions are unsupported by facts.


Like that Google exec said re the NSA: ‘Seriously, fuck those guys.’


I remember persuasive writing class in elementary school. Where they talked about the three appeals in persuasive writing: ethos, logos, and pathos. I failed on Pathos every single time. Because I couldn’t stand appealing to emotion when I wanted to persuade someone of something true. Anything other than the logic, and evidence is deception after all. Or maybe, not deception, but irrelevant. If you’re trying to persuade someone of something that’s true, then how it makes them feel is irrelevant to the veracity of the claim.


But it’s entirely relevant to your chances of being heard… unfortunately I’m hopeless at striking the right tone myself; bitter, ranting polemic is all I can seem to manage.


I believe that if a parent does not want to immunize their children, then they should not have to. However, children that have not been immunized will not be allowed to associate with other children not immunized .

No Heroin = incubators?

Also implying without Vaccines, you might live through, otherwise unnecessary if vaccination occurred, post-natal care. It’s not always that lucky.