"I don't believe that"

29 Aug

To promote his new book ‘Autism’s False Prophets. Bad science, risky medicine and the search for a cure’ (Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Canada) – and look for a review here very, very soon – Dr Paul Offit went on the US radio show Talk of the nation ‘Science Friday’ earlier today.

It turned into a microcosm of exactly the sort of scenario that those of us who have blogged about this for some time have come to expect. A question, a reasoned response and then a flat statement of denial.

The show began with the show host (who’s name I didn’t catch) asking why people weren’t vaccinating. Offit gave the answers we all know.

Then the show took a turn into what could’ve been a blog argument on any one of a number of blogs – including this one. A caller called Chantelle/Chantal came on the line and essentially asked Dr Offit how it could possibly be safe for a newborn to receive up to 1250micrograms of Aluminium and that there hadn’t been any studies on how Aluminium could affect a child. She said –

that is why I will not follow the CDC’s guidelines….my child will be vaccinated on my own schedule.

(Her emphasis)

Dr Offit answered with a brief overview of Aluminium’s role in a vaccine is and then told Chantal the simple truth – one that I blogged about fairly recently – there’s more Aluminium in between 50 days to a years worth of breast milk than in the entire vaccine schedule:

We live on the planet Earth. If we choose to live on the planet Earth that means we’re going to be exposed to light metals like Aluminium and heavy metals like mercury.

Chantal then seemed (I wasn’t entirely clear) to want to compare kids with kidney issues (who clearly need to be careful with Aluminium) with _all_ kids. As Dr Offit stated – that’s hardly a valid or real-world comparison.

Then the host asked a great question:

Chantal, is there anything Dr Offit could tell you that would change your mind


The answer: “Absolutely not”.

And there we have it. That is the rock bottom of every single argument the autism/antivax brigade peddle. Screw the science, screw the facts. I just don’t want to hear it and I will put my fingers in my ears and make ‘la-la’ noises until you go away.

Chantal then goes on to justify this ridiculous stance by saying (a la Jenny McCarthy) that there is no independent science supporting vaccine safety. This is tosh. A study this is submitted for peer review to a science journal is peer reviewed by independent experts from the relevant field all over the world. And then, the ultimate test of impartiality takes place – the science is either replicated or it isn’t. Replicated science _has to be_ by definition be independent of its author. How could it not be? If we want to see the opposite of reproducible science, then that can be arranged.

Chantal goes on to say that Dr Offit ‘makes millions’ from speaking about the safety of vaccines. A bizarre claim that I’m pretty sure is not true. He then goes on to describe the ‘high bar’ that vaccine studies must pass. Studies with tens of thousands of participants.

Next, Chantal tries the ‘too many too soon’ dogma that we’ve become recently familiar with. She claims ‘six at one time is absurd’. Dr Offit gives Chantal some facts to play with on that score too:

…the bacteria that live on their nose [a newborn], or the surface of their throat are literally in the trillions. Those bacteria have between 2,000 and 6,000 immunological components and consequently our body makes grams of antibody to combat these bacteria….The number of immunological challenges contained in vaccines is not figuratively, it is literally a drop in the ocean of what you encounter every day.

(Emphasis his, slight paraphrasing)

Chantal then got a bit snappy.

So tell me…how many studies have been done on vaccine loading, which means five or six vaccines at one time. How many?

Dr Offit’s answer:

Somewhere in the vicinity of the high hundreds to low thousands.


I don’t believe that.

Boom! There it is again – she simply doesn’t believe it. Screw the facts, screw the evidence, my fingers are going right back in my ears…la-la-la-la…I can’t hear you…

Dr Offit explains further that any vaccine in the US has to undergo something called a ‘concomitant use study’. These are to establish that vaccines work OK together.

You have to show that vaccine does not interfere with the immune response or the safety of existing vaccines and similarly that existing vaccines don’t interfere with the immune response or the safety of the new vaccine

Dr Offit said ‘high hundreds to low thousands’ of studies (Chantal didn’t believe that remember). A simple Google search reveals over 1,800 results for that phrase. Searching PubMed for ‘concomitant vaccine’ returns over 700.

Dr Offit closes the interview by saying he doesn’t believe all parents are as close minded as Chantal. He uses a nicer phrase than that as he’s a gentleman but that’s how I see it. Close minded to the point of obstinate stupidity.

For some people, it truly doesn’t matter what the facts are, or what the science is. They just stick their fingers in their ears.


28 Responses to “"I don't believe that"”

  1. mike stanton August 29, 2008 at 23:35 #

    You nailed it! Great response to Chantelle.

  2. Sullivan August 29, 2008 at 23:45 #

    She was an excellent example of the sorts of responses and logic used by vaccine rejectionists. Ira Flatow kept her on for a long time. My guess is that his screener did a good job finding the right person and once she showed herself to be a good fit, Mr. Flatow kept her going.

    Not to say that this is wrong. It’s not like they picked someone who is blaming demonic Ley Lines for bum-burns to discredit the rejectionists. Chantelle (sp?) was well spoken and didn’t lean on the obviously poor arguments. One does wonder, though, if a year or two ago she would have been talking Mercury instead of Aluminum.

    Dr. Offit, for his part, did the interview and answered the questions very professionally, I think.

  3. Ms. Clark August 29, 2008 at 23:56 #

    Dr.Offit started to say that he wasn’t paid to advocate for vaccines (the caller’s accusation) and she tried to talk over the top of him, and he said, something like, “you spoke, now it’s my turn to speak.”

    She started out seeming reasonable enough and then started to get more and more unreasonable, same thing you see with many of the true-blue antivax and self-made vaccine experts commenters

  4. Bink August 30, 2008 at 00:50 #

    I pulled over to listen to this today. I, too, thought they kept her on for a long time, and thought they had good reason for doing so. She was articulate and passionate, but made less and less sense as more specific questions were posed to her. She got all mixed up, and it was sad and obvious how misinformed she was.

    I feel sorry for her children and hope they don’t die of easily preventable diseases or spread them to others.

  5. Sullivan August 30, 2008 at 01:47 #

    A telling moment:

    I do not put any faith into anything my government tells me

    She then calls for indendent studies. In particular she asks for the government to do an independent study is performed.

    At which point Ira Flatow points out that she doesn’t have any faith in what the government says…

    She then moves into the “too many” concept with “six at once is absurd”. No reason, no data for this being “absurd”. Basically, it came across as “I’m floundering here, let’s change the subject”

  6. Joseph August 30, 2008 at 01:59 #

    Chantal then seemed (I wasn’t entirely clear) to want to compare kids with kidney issues (who clearly need to be careful with Aluminium) with all kids.

    Does anyone have a link to the exact FDA guideline she was referring to? Was it 50 micrograms per day? Clearly, a per-day guideline cannot be compared to vaccination load, since no one gets vaccinated every single day.

    Another thing she said is that there have not been any “independent” studies. I’d say the IOM is as independent as you can get if, you know, people living in planet earth can be considered independent enough. Also, the most inclusive vaccine study to date, in that it even allowed fringe consultants to participate, was Thompson et al. (2007).

  7. Science Friday Fan August 30, 2008 at 05:04 #

    [audio src="http://podcastdownload.npr.org/anon.npr-podcasts/podcast/510221/94129853/npr_94129853.mp3" /]

    An MP3 of the interview.

  8. isles August 30, 2008 at 17:17 #

    I thought it was brilliant – an excellent job by Ira Flatow in recognizing that he had a sterling specimen of antivaxer on the line, and in drawing her out to get to her real unwillingness to face facts and think critically about them. Lots of these folks can throw out a few sciency-sounding phrases but unless you let them go on a little while, you don’t get that they only know the words, don’t actually understand the claims they’re making.

    Can’t wait for Dr. Offit’s book to hit the stands. There’s a lot of talk of “bombshells” in the antivaxer world…they’re about to find out what a real bombshell is like.

  9. David N. Andrews M. Ed. (Distinction) August 30, 2008 at 17:44 #

    That woman needs to learn shitloads about thinking!

  10. alyric August 30, 2008 at 20:39 #

    And over at AoA, silence on the subject prevails. Maybe because their Chantelle/Chantal didn’t do so well.

    But do look at the apologia from Mark Blaxill for outing RJ complete with ‘we are open and honest and transparent’. Needless to say, they were lying within moments and pretty tackily too. Celgene isn’t into vaccines, but that’s what they’re insisting on. I wonder why when this stuff is immediately verifiable? These are really weird people and they need cutting down to size. Offit supplied the hacksaw.

    I was close to cheering when he confirmed all the safety studies done on vaccines, the ones that Schwartz baby and pd insist are non-existent. One tour de force of an interview.

  11. Regan August 30, 2008 at 22:24 #

    Chantal might have been getting her info on Al from this, or something similar,
    Is Aluminum the New Thimerosal?
    By Robert W. Sears
    Mothering: Natural Family Living
    Issue 146, January/February 2008

    I hesitated to post the link because there’s already so much hubris about, but I thought you might want to see one source directly.

  12. Ms. Clark August 31, 2008 at 01:02 #

    What I took away from that article by Dr. Sears (he’s the guy who says that if you aren’t going to vaccinate your child then do not encourage your neighbors to do likewise because you need the herd immunity to keep **your** kid safe) is it **might** be bad if they gave babies with kidney disease a vaccine containing aluminum more frequently than every ten days?

    He’s comparing what they found by giving small and sick babies intravenous “food” that contained aluminum over some long time period with what healthy babies get in an IM shot every few months.

    I didn’t read it to the end of the article. Did he compare the potential problems of the aluminum in vaccines (that helps them work better) to the potential problems of the waves of potent and KNOWN neurotoxins produced by the disease causing organisms or the toxins in the drugs that the kid will get in the hospital if he lands there.

    For every vaccine that is delayed that’s one disease that the child is left more vulnerable to, but no one wants to weigh the risks of not vaccinating. All the risks in the minds of the vaccine phobes are in the vaccine.

  13. alyric August 31, 2008 at 01:57 #

    “All the risks in the minds of the vaccine phobes are in the vaccine.”

    Right on Ms Clark and that is what is annoying as all get out with some of these illiterati. They’re alaways ignoring some huge amount of visible toxins in the diseases in favour of the non-existent toxins in vaccines. At least they’re uniformly and dumbly consistent. A la Chantelle/Chantal they wax lyriucal about six vaccines at once completely ignoring the massive load of antigens bombarding the infant every second compared to the pitifully miniscule load in the vaccine. I was so glad that Offit made a point of that, but honestly do you think our Kel, pd and Schwartz baby are among the sane? I have this memory of HCN trying and trying to make this basic point and they were doing the la la fingers in ears bit. Not especially dignified behaviour for an adult.

  14. Kerry Maxwell August 31, 2008 at 02:17 #

    I was prepared for the worst when I followed the NPR link, but I was pretty sure Ira Flatow wouldn’t be facilitating anti-vax kooks, no matter how well-meaning they might be. Thank goodness Science Friday didn’t let me down, and listening while they gave the caller more than enough rope to hang herself gave me hope that reason may still prevail over irrational hysteria.

  15. BTDT August 31, 2008 at 15:53 #

    I also pulled over to listen to this one. What a classic! And oh so familiar to those of us who have been arguing with the Chantels of the world for the last few years. There is simply nothing anyone can say, they just don’t believe it. They’d rather live in their paranoid and conspiratorial world.

  16. Liz Ditz August 31, 2008 at 18:31 #

    Here’s Chantele on the MotheringdotCommune discussion board:


    I was sweating bullets and sitting at work while speaking on the subject no less!!! I wanted to say so much more..including only 63 children who had the measles virus were not vaccinated, but there was no time. AND they hung up on me..so unfortunately yes, my last remark was “I don’t believe that!”

    I’ve done enough of my own research to know what I know…Yes, Dr. Offit, you may not get paid to actually speak out on the vaccines (well, we just haven’t found the paper trail yet) but regardless, you still get paid the big bucks by pharma!!

    on the second page of the discussion, she writes

    Offit stated that there were hundreds if not thousands of studies conducted on vaccine loading and aluminum..Who did it? Where are the results? I’d like to read about this information and find out what it says. Everything I have researched (FDA website, CDC documents, books, etc) I haven’t been able to find any of this information. The last book I read on vaccines was “The Vaccine Book” and even Dr. Sears stated that there was no research on Aluminum.

    At least I know that I have done my own research and came to my own conclusions. I truly believe that their is evidence of harm and one day the “Coincidence will hit the fan”. –I should’ve said this on the radio!! Dang it!!!

    Maybe somebody could help her out by sending the research links to her.

    She goes on to say,

    Thank you everyone for making me feel so much better!! I am sitting here, still furious with myself knowing I should have said more. I will always regret the things I didn’t say…This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to speak with Offit (I will not address him as Dr. since I don’t believe in his “medicine”.) and I feel as if I blew it…oh well! I just know that there are probably thousands of people listening to the station that day thinking “That girl doesn’t have a clue what she’s talking about…”

    I personally do not have any children with ASD, however I work with a woman whose little boy was just diagnosed with ASD and another lady I work with is somewhat in denial about her little boy (who am I to suggest anything?). My husbands family is riddled with asthma and severe allergies. My own mother in law stopped vaccinating her last two children because of the reactions that my husband and his brother had to the DTP shot (this vaccine was horrible and has its own book!). –So why in the world would I give my babies any shots when science tells me that they are already predisposed to something.

    I tell everyone I know in my daily life vaccinate, don’t vaccinate, it’s your choice, but make sure you do your own research. This topic has consumed my daily life. I’m sure the people that surround me on a daily basis wish I would shut up, but I’m not sure I even know how to do that..and if they don’t want to be around me because of it this is what I think “I would rather be passionate about one thing and make change happen, than to sit back and resemble the person judging me who is doing nothing..”

    Chantele seems to have a pretty severe case of digital otitis & La-la-la on the brain.

  17. Navi August 31, 2008 at 20:42 #

    didn’t read the comment thread, this post is in response to the post.

    My husband was listening to that same NPR radio show, and was telling me last night about her. He said Dr. Offitt was civil, but ripped her argument apart…. (apparently she hung up on them at one point?)

  18. Catherina August 31, 2008 at 21:39 #

    Chantele was a God-sent for Offit, because she addressed all the “usual” fears and gave him the opportunity to address them. Both Chantele and Offit fulfilled their roles really well.

  19. Sullivan September 1, 2008 at 01:17 #

    Offit stated that there were hundreds if not thousands of studies conducted on vaccine loading and aluminum..

    She would do well to listen to what she said. The “high hundreds/low thousands” comment was in response to her question on concomitant use studies, not aluminum.

    She says that she read Dr. Sears’ book. She doesn’t seem to be taking Dr. Sears’ advice (don’t tell your neighbors about not-vaccinating, since that reduces the herd immunity and puts your own child at risk.)

  20. Bink September 1, 2008 at 02:10 #

    Thanks to Sullivan for pointing that out. I wondered about that exact thing myself — is anyone on that board who is reading what she claims to have said, or what she claims the broadcasters said, actually listening to what transpired?

  21. Science Mom September 2, 2008 at 04:06 #

    Oh Liz, that MDC thread was painful in their selective memory recall.

    Here is the original research that Dr. Sears pulled that dandy of an aluminum ‘expose’ from:


  22. Schwartz September 2, 2008 at 06:45 #


    Chantel was clearly outclassed on the show. She broke rule#1 though: don’t call into a talk show and argue against a biased host. I didn’t get the impression she hung up, but that they had to end the interview. It was hard to tell though.

    Of course, I only listed to the recording and that may have been edited.

  23. Ms. Clark September 2, 2008 at 20:09 #

    I listened to Chantele call in live, the recording is not edited. I suppose Science Friday was following principle #1 “You can’t argue with stupid.” You can see how Offit and Flatow didn’t stoop to Chantele’s level and so upheld principle #2.
    “Don’t argue with an idiot. First, s/he drags you down to his/her level. Then s/he beats you up with experience.”

    While Chantele was throwing out derogatory and false remarks about Dr. Offit, he responded with professionalism and facts.

  24. Ringside Seat September 2, 2008 at 21:04 #

    I don’t think it’s right to be quite so abusive as some people have about this lady. Of course she didn’t know much about what she was talking about, but how would she? The way such parents are misinformed and misled is all part of the way they are being victimized by the anti-vaccine lobby of unscrupulous lawyers and their retained experts. I don’t think we should add yet another layer to that victimization. We should try to feel some kind of compassion for their plight. First they have a child with developmental problems. Then they are told by charlatans that its their own fault for vaccinating them. Then they are near-bankrupted by all kinds of shit cures and tests. Then they are dragged into litigation that makes them stressed and unhappy. It never ends for these people.

    I say: give Chantele a break.

  25. Bink September 2, 2008 at 22:37 #

    Well, based on her comments from another board that are posted above, I don’t think she does have a child with developmental problems. I do. She does not speak for me or for the vast majority of parents I know. I don’t need her brand of “help.”

    That being said, I think you are right to point out that it is unethical lawyers and doctors who are fueling this nonsense. The “biomed” parents I know are being fed various lines of BS by doctors — real, AAP-member doctors, not just naturopaths or chiropractors. It’s a disgrace.

  26. Patrick September 2, 2008 at 23:07 #

    After reading the ‘abusive’ note and then re-reading the comments I don’t see where the problem is. Many are complementing of her handling of the questions/anwers until it comes to the I won’t listen parts. Which is exactly what is being discussed here.

  27. jypsy September 3, 2008 at 00:35 #

    “I personally do not have any children with ASD, however I work with a woman whose little boy was just diagnosed with ASD and another lady I work with is somewhat in denial about her little boy (who am I to suggest anything?).”


  28. Heraclides September 4, 2008 at 02:32 #

    Ringside Seat:

    Chatele writes on the motheringdotcommune forum “I’ve done enough of my own research to know what I know” and I get the impression she inferred likewise in the radio call-in.

    While I agree that she’s either been misled or has misled herself, she claims to have done “research” of her own.

    In my opinion, when people say or imply to others that they are knowledgeable in some kind of way about a subject (esp. in a public forum) and then make assertions, I think they open themselves to having their assertions and the basis of their knowledge questioned by others.

    That said, I prefer it if people don’t attack the person themselves, but rather address what they claim. The impression I get is that Offit did just that.

    Its a different thing for someone who is concerned to say that they are NOT an expert and ASK someone who is–I think that’s to be encouraged.

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