Ought to vaccine or Autism Vaccine: Part 2, Money vs Science

Piles of Money

Image by Thomas Hawk via Flickr

The following claim is easy to make, and made far too often:

“Anyone who speaks out pro-vaccination, in the face of the over-whelming evidence of it causing autism, must be funded by a corporation that makes a tidy profit from selling vaccines. It’s just a matter of time and research before you find the link between the money and the claim that vaccines aren’t causing autism.”

Such statements should be easy to dismiss. But as usual, the pro / anti vaccine debate in this area is muddled by emotion and conspiracy theories. Considering yesterday’s revelation of another serious flaw in Wakefield’s study, and some of the reactions already popping up, it’s timely for me to do this second installment in my vaccines series.

I’m breaking this discussion into three parts, all very important and too easily over-looked.

(1) Money can’t change science or fact

The claim that people are making money off vaccines or off promoting vaccines, goes right past the more important question of whether what they are saying is correct or not. If the claim is about a scientific study’s findings, then, by the very nature of science itself, the study must conform with reality, be testable, and repeatable. Regardless of whether the study was done for free or for countless millions of dollars, that statement holds true.

If the claim being made is not about a scientific study, but just someone stating – without any science or facts to back it up – that vaccines do not cause autism, then it is surely a good idea to do your own research into what they’re saying. But claiming what they’re saying is false just because they might be paid by interested parties, is a weak attack.

(2) You can always find a link to money

Finding a link between someone and a money-interest in what they are saying, may require some digging and creativity, but it does not qualify as a meaningful revelation if you do find a link. In our adult lives we study at different places, make various influential friends, and take various jobs; the chances of never interacting with someone who has some link to some cause, is low, especially if you have a passion for the area of interest (in this case, vaccinations and autism).

Furthermore, those claiming that there are money links between people coming out “pro-vaccination” (though I think the term “anti-anti-vaccination” is more accurate in this dialogue), should be consistent and turn the same spot-light on those claiming there is a link between vaccines and autism. There is money to be made off books, appearances at conferences, even ads on blogs, by both sides.

(3) Do it for free?

The only way to appease people who use this line of reasoning, is to refuse any monetary compensation for the work. That is to say, do the science for free, write for free, show up at conferences for free. That is a luxury that very few people can afford. To demand such a thing is to treat years of study and hard work, as not worthy of monetary compensation.

Even if someone chose to forgo accepting any payment for their time and effort, so as to avoid claims of being linked to pharmaceutical companies (for instance), they can still be the subject of personal attacks, and their claims are no more likely to get traction considering the level of blind fanaticism often involved in this debate (I will be doing a future post about unfalsifiable theories). So don’t bother turning down offers to get paid for work, otherwise all you’re doing is passing up money, for no advantage. The people who employ these arguments will sooner or later find something in your past to link you to money interests anyway, even if they have to make it up. I wish that was over-stating the point, but it sadly isn’t.

This post was not about trying to convince you that autism is or is not caused by vaccines; is it a reaction to the claims I’ve found flung painfully and mindlessly around the blogosphere and forums, replacing what should be rational and fact-based discussions. It is a lot harder to find these money claims thrown at people who think autism is caused by vaccinations, not least of all because it’s easier to point a finger at large pharmaceutical companies who employ enormous numbers of people, than to point at evidently poorer individuals “fighting the system”.

It’s hard not to get emotional when children and life and death are involved. But it is because children and life and death are involved, that we must try to find the truth, and not get swept up in these types of ultimately pointless and poor arguments.

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