Shock Jock Flusters Anti-Vaxxer

The radio show Rover’s Morning Glory had antivaxxer Brandy Vaughn on the show. Things start to go cattywampus for her on the issue of her credentials.

She was a pharma rep for Merck, for whom she sold Vioxx. Now she runs an scare-mongering effort called “Learn the Risk.” She claims a “background in biochemistry” but I can’t find any information about whether she has a degree in a scientific field. After all, many pharma reps do actually have biochemistry degrees. But, I feel like it would be more front-and-center if she had such experience.

I didn’t title this “SHOCK JOCK DESTROYS ANTI-VAXXER” because we all need less clickbait in our lives. I admit this is just a cheap thrill along the lines of the Jeremy Paxman-Michael Howard interview.

But for me, it has a little more personal significance. I’m a low-level researcher and as I tell people, a rather bad chemist. At least that’s how I feel 90% of the time, because I have an overactive self-awareness of my limitations at this early stage in my career. I find myself very hesitant to discuss chemistry I don’t have direct experience with, even if I think I understand it pretty well, because I know from experience that there are often subtleties that you can miss unless you’ve actually done work in that particular sub-field. It’s not just unethical to hold forth like you know more than you do, it’s deeply, deeply embarrassing when you’re wrong.

So watching people like Vaughan inflate their credentials to such dramatic degree doesn’t just seem like advertising puffery–it feels like downright fraud.

This is adapted from something else I wrote previously, but have yet to publish. This notice is just so that I’m not self-plagiarizing.


I really agree with this… I have to say I think some of this is driven by the decades long campaign to discredit academia more broadly, too. Some people have heard for so long that academics are really not that smart, are indoctrinating young adults into marxism, and don’t have experience with “real” life, that they believe that. As such, they don’t think that an academic credential has much meaning, so they can claim them too.


There is a narrowness to our foci that breeds the impression that we don’t know anything. The reality is that we know what we don’t know and that turns out to be a lot more important in scholarship. But most people think of scholarship as stuff you find on Wikipedia, when it’s actually all about figuring out stuff no one knew before. So, in a way, we’re not that smart, because we always focus on what we don’t know or are uncertain about. but that gets taken far too literally. This leads to a disconnect where “scientific studies are always wrong” and “historians should just report facts about the past.” They don’t understand what it is academics do.

I don’t know that you would necessarily agree with me here, but I think the current paradigm has functionally worked to the make it mean less. Universities are aiding and abetting the idea of a degree as a “job license.” The students themselves are savvy to this, and they are just trying to “push through,” and I think this creates a self-fulfilling prophesy where said students don’t bring much value to the field and weaken perceptions of the value of the field. I think that for all the blame academics lay at the feet of very real concerted efforts on the part of the media and various sectors of society working to undermine academia, there is a very real failure on the part of academics to fight effectively to maintain their relevance. My general bias, and I feel like this is incredibly obvious at this point, is to blame inward, not outward (and it’s a considered bias.) You do know more about this than I do, immersed as you have been in it for longer than I have, so I might be wrong to focus so strongly on that.

My more limited experience being a poor kid taking classes and working blue collar and service jobs while doing research for my first paper is that mainstream academics really take for granted how much they live on another plane relative to other people; and those are the academics with the clout to make a lot of necessary change. Also, the grad school system feels like a ponzi scheme, generating more students than there are positions to place them, but that’s another rant.


I’m fond of this definition of an expert: someone who knows more and more about less and less. :slight_smile:

Once you get a B.S., you think you know everything. Once you get an M.S., you realize you know nothing. Once you get a Ph.D., you realize no one knows anything!

    — unknown

But yeah, as an almost-done MSc in chemistry, I feel for you. I get moments of existential anguish every now and then, when I think about how much I’ve studied and worked on this stuff, and how little I still know about a lot of it!

Have relevant credentials, can confirm. In my experience getting a research degree has been profoundly humbling.


In essence, the less you know, the easier it is to believe you know everything. If you have sufficient knowledge to understand how much is uncertain, it is much harder to make definitive statements. Antivaxxers thrive on this.


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