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August 16, 2012

This was originally the introduction page to the list of anti-vaccination liars at The Millenium Project. I'm not sure, but it could very well have been the first essay I ever wrote for the site, back in 1999. My position and opinion have not moved an iota since, and that's not because I don't change my mind in the face of evidence.

When people say that all vaccines are ineffective, I wonder about the world they live in. In that world there must be children everywhere with calipers on their legs because of polio; these are the lucky ones because the unlucky ones are either dead or living in iron lungs. Other children struggle to draw breath as diphtheria closes their throats, or cough continually with whooping cough, or twitch with the spasm and rictus of tetanus. There are special schools for the children with sight and brain defects caused by measles and for those born with problems because their mothers caught rubella while pregnant. There are graveyards with row upon row of children's graves showing half of each generation dying before puberty. It is the world of a Hogarth print or a Dickens novel.

In the real world, you don't see these things. You see millions of children growing up without the threats of childhood diseases because, through probably the most significant advance ever in the history of medicine, we have learnt how to prevent those diseases. The very fact that we can now worry about car accidents and suicides being the largest killers of young people shows that we have made progress against the traditional killers. Certainly, our knowledge is not perfect. There will be those who contract these diseases even though vaccinated, and there will be those who react in varying degrees to the vaccination process itself. In extremely rare cases the reactions may be disastrous. Compensation funds exist not because of any knowledge of specific problems, but because some risk is recognised in any medical procedure or treatment. If someone is damaged through neglect, ignorance or incompetence, then the full force of the law should be brought against whoever caused the damage. Individual bad practitioners, however, do not invalidate the entire medical process any more than bad mechanics make us give up motor vehicles or crooked lawyers make us reject the judicial system.

I feel very sorry for anyone who believes they have had a child adversely affected by vaccination. I know how precious children are. That's why I care about what happens to them. It does not diminish pain, however, to be told lies about what has happened and why, and when what you are being told comes from someone who lives in the first world I described you may not be hearing what happens in the real world.

Much is made of freedom of choice and making informed decisions. These are noble concepts if the resources are there to allow them. If you are told that drug companies are only motivated by profit, that doctors are corrupt, that science is meaningless and you are told these things by people who are quite prepared to selectively quote drug company documentation, pretend to be doctors or cite doctors who have forgotten their training, and abuse the principles of science while adopting its trappings of respectability, you are not getting the balanced information you need. The alternative world may not only offer a different view of reality, but it must also have different rules of truth and logic. In the real world there is a word for people who say things which they know to be incorrect. We call these people "liars".

Several people suggested that I have to be representing a drug company, or be on someone's payroll, or be a doctor motivated by greed. I am none of these things. I can recognise an ad hominem attack, so it does not surprise me that these people suggest that the only reason someone would want to oppose them is for payment. In reality, however, some people just do things because they care.

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