When Someone Is Wrong on the Internet!

The comments thread for my recent post What Are You Thinking? Part 2: On Autism and Vaccines is 42 opinions long as of this writing. It's a spectacular irony showcase, as anonymous commenters sling the ad hominem while others attempt to equate belief and anecdotes with truth -- in a post dedicated to skepticism, the importance of research and open-mindedness, and the pitfalls of black-and-white pronouncements. (The comments also contain fine writing from evidence-seeking critical thinkers.)

I didn't respond to every point, and I'll tell you why (this is pulled and edited from the comments themselves):

I am disinclined to engage with people who feel threatened by neutral statements (e.g., suggesting people think for themselves), are dismissive (insisting that scientific studies are bogus but their anecdotes are legitimate) or perseverate on details to direct attention away from a larger argument.

I am also leery of those who pull a J.B. Handley in claim-jumping expertise (e.g., "[Alison Singer] annihilated the truth about what Wakefield actually studied in 1998, while inferring that she belonged to the group of people who understand science, much as you have done here." [and I believe this person meant "implying."]) yet leave their name unlinked.

Belief can lead to righteousness intoxication, making releasing those beliefs extremely difficult, because then where would you get that high? What would you have left?

We all have the right to share our beliefs. But we do not have the right to expect others to accept them, especially when the evidence to the contrary is so strong.


  1. I appreciate your approach to the comments. Yours is the most rational voice I've been hearing on the vaccine issue. My husband just sent me a link I thought you might find interesting.


  2. Hmmn.

    That's an interesting discussion.

    I also wonder if you should disable anonymous comments.

  3. You know I stopped getting involved quite a few years ago in many groups, websites,and "support" communities, precisely because of what happens when this comes up. I got tired of all the nasty, angry, self-righteous mud-slinging and the complete lack of rationality that seems to take over with the more zealous. I got back in to it here a little (thank you Emily for being specific where I had not been about what little Thimerosol there still is in some vaccines, it was late when I wrote my last comment and often forget that people can't just read my mind and know what I mean...) though it is disheartening to see that not much has changed over the last 10 years as far as this debate is concerned. It should have changed a lot.

    Shannon, I'll say it again, a post where you let people's own words speak for themselves was brilliant and thoughtful. This is clearly a subject that will always get people stirred up, I'm just glad that there do seem to be a few more level heads around now than there were 10 years ago. When Josh was first diagnosed, I was made to feel like I was doing something wrong by vaccinating my kids. At least now I can see that I am not alone. Thank you.

  4. I am disinclined to engage with people who feel threatened by neutral statements

    I love this and am going to make it my mantra.

  5. Bockychoy, I did see that cartoon. It's a bit over-worshipful towards Brian Deer (though he deserves high praise) but otherwise is a great medium for this particular message.

    Liz, Blogger's commenting permssions go straight from Anonymous to OpenID. No "Name/URL" option in between. Requiring people to register before commenting is a roadblock. I'll delete any anonymous personal attacks on other people. They're usually from the same bitter person anyhow.

    Sarah, community building is what we are all about. So glad to have found you.

    Evie, I'll be here all night. Try the fish! Oh, wait...


Respectful disagreement encouraged.

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