Jan 10 2017

Cleveland.com Doubles Down on Fail

vaccine-shot-promoThere are several phases to a serious gaffe. First, there are the conditions which led to or allowed the gaffe to occur. Then there is the gaffe itself. There is then the response of the person or institution who committed the gaffe – which is perhaps the most important phase . Finally, there may or may not be a long term correction of the underlying conditions.

Over the weekend, as I discussed yesterday, Dr. Daniel Neides, Medical Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, published an anti-vaccine screed on cleveland.com. I won’t bother debunking the anti-vaccine pseudoscience again, just read my post from yesterday. You can also read David Gorski’s excellent take down at Science-Based Medicine.

Suffice it to say the column was full of misinformation and common anti-vaccine tropes that are long debunked. The publication of a dangerous anti-science rant by Cleveland Clinic’s Director of the Wellness Center was, of course, the gaffe.

The conditions that led to that gaffe are obvious, and something about which my SBM colleagues and I have complained for years- the infiltration of alternative medicine pseudoscience into academic medical institutions. Cleveland Clinic has an “integrative medicine” center headed by Mark Hyman, who co-authored an anti-vaccine book. The Wellness Center itself embraces all sorts of vitalistic nonsense and pseudoscience.

As David says – no one should be surprised when the director of a center that embraces quackery publishes an article that embraces quackery.

The Response

Cleveland.com’s response to the gaffe turned it into a full PR meltdown. We had hoped that as the workweek resumed, they would have put their heads together and appropriately managed the situation, but that did not happen. Instead, they doubled down on their initial failure as an academic medical institution.

Over the weekend the original article was taken down for a few hours, but was then restored. That was just evidence that they don’t have their act together.

Chris Quinn, Vice President of Content, cleveland.com, has now written an article explaining what happened.

Around 4:30 p.m. Sunday, I received an email from a reader expressing outrage about the removal of the Neides column from our site. I was surprised by the email, as nothing should be deleted from our site without my approval, and we very rarely remove articles and columns from our site and do so only with much deliberation. We own the rights to everything published on our site, with rare exceptions.

I checked, and the column was not just unpublished, it was entirely gone from our system.

I sent a note to the reader to thank him for the alert, and we set about restoring the column, and the many comments associated with it. We found it in an archive, and within an hour or so, we republished it.

So they didn’t have full control of their own content – but really that is the least of their problems. I will get to Quinn’s article in more detail, as it represents the core failure I want to discuss in this article.

Over the weekend the Cleveland Clinic also published their own statement, which to their credit disavowed Neides’ views:

“Cleveland Clinic is fully committed to evidence-based medicine. Harmful myths and untruths about vaccinations have been scientifically debunked in rigorous ways. We completely support vaccinations to protect people, especially children who are particularly vulnerable. Our physician published his statement without authorization from Cleveland Clinic. His views do not reflect the position of Cleveland Clinic and appropriate disciplinary action will be taken.”

Such a statement, however, is a minimal response. It looks as if they are just giving themselves plausible deniability and distancing themselves from the controversy. Unless they take concrete action to correct the underlying problems, I would find this statement insufficient and even insincere.

Neides also published a classic notpology:

“I apologize and regret publishing a blog that has caused so much concern and confusion for the public and medical community. I fully support vaccinations and my concern was meant to be positive around the safety of them.”

Right – he apologized for the controversy, not for being an irresponsible anti-vaccine pseudoscientist using the imprimatur of the Cleveland Clinic to spread dangerous misinformation. The notion that his article was meant to be “positive around the safety” of vaccines is double-speak BS. It was blatantly anti-vaccine.

OK – that was over the weekend. That was immediate emergency damage control. What is their more thoughtful full response? What “appropriate disciplinary action” will they take?

Teach the Controversy

Here is the core of Quinn’s explanation for why cleveland.com is leaving the post live on their website:

This column has become the topic of a widespread conversation. At cleveland.com, we strive to be the center of conversation, so we are loath to remove something that has become central to a debate.

As I said, if we had learned that Neides was pushing discredited anti-vaccination arguments before the column had become part of a bigger conversation, we might have asked him or the Clinic for revisions. By the time we knew of it, the conversation was raging.

What a total cop out. They are seriously taking a “Teach the controversy” position? Posting dangerous misinformation in order to be the “center of conversation” is a serious breach of jouralistic standards.

Also – there is no legitimate scientific debate about the safety of vaccines and the lack of any link to autism. This is a manufactroversy, a false debate. It is misleading and irresponsible to pretend that there is any real debate over the issue, and to host an article defending the debunked side of this false debate.

Also, if they learned about it ahead of time, they “might have asked him…for revisions?” Really? They would have published it with revisions? It is hard to imagine what revisions would have saved that article, since it was pure misinformation from beginning to end.

In the comments Quinn reinforces this position:

It’s a guest column. Not a news story. It’s clearly labeled as such, along with information about the person who wrote it. We run guess (sic) columns every day. We seek to be a platform that welcomes a great many voices and perspectives.

So, your goal is to be Facebook or Twitter? A news outlet is not supposed to be a platform for many voices and perspectives, but a source of trusted and vetted information. There are plenty of places on the web where anti-vaccine nonsense has a home, cleveland.com does not need to give it one.

This response is also incredibly naive. Has Quinn not been paying attention to social media the last few years? (I actually think he probably hasn’t.) Readers generally do not take note if an article is an opinion piece vs a news story. They may not even notice if it is advertising or satire. Further, the article will be spread via social media, where it will become a disconnected piece of information. Many readers will not look much past the headline.

Essentially, what will be spread around is that a doctor from the Cleveland Clinic thinks vaccines are unsafe because Big Government and Big Corporations cannot be trusted. This will spread unwarranted fears about vaccines, and it will contribute to the false controversy and will likely lead to an increase in vaccine-preventable diseases.

This article has not contributed to the conversation. The points made have already been thoroughly debunked. All they have accomplished is giving a shot in the arm (pun intended) to anti-vaccine nonsense, they have lent their reputation to dangerous misinformation, and they have sullied their own reputation.

Again, I have to point out that this is not about censorship. This is about editorial quality control. Cleveland.com does not owe a platform to misinformation. They are not keeping anyone from expressing themselves in public or on their own or other appropriate platforms. They should simply be quality-controlling their own content.

In this case they have contributed to what I consider to be one of the greatest challenges our society currently faces – the homogenization of information. Social media has rendered all sources of information roughly equal, and those who have ideological, financial, or other agendas have learned to exploit this fact. The public can’t have a conversation any more, because we don’t have any shared common ground of authoritative facts.

Quinn is essentially arguing that cleveland.com is just another social media platform where all views have equal merit. If this attitude takes further root, that would be an unmitigated disaster. It is, unfortunately, slowly happening.

It’s still early, however. Quinn’s response is extremely disappointing, but I hope they are still paying attention to the criticism aimed at them and will seriously think about what fixes they need to make.

Meanwhile, Cleveland Clinic should seriously consider what this means about the integrity of their Wellness Center. That is the underlying problem that allowed this to happen – inviting pseudoscience into a respected medical institution.

109 responses so far

109 thoughts on “Cleveland.com Doubles Down on Fail”

  1. NotAMarsupial says:

    Would Quinn be on board with an article on his local police department’s website saying that vigilantism is an effective method of maintaining law and order, or an article on a school board’s website saying that “separate but equal” schools for blacks and whites is a viable alternative, or a university’s paleontology department saying that dinosaur bones were put in the earth by the devil to trick us gullible sinners? I mean, as long as they were guest posts in an effort to ensure they were the center of the debate of course. Otherwise it’d be ridiculous to allow it.

  2. Jonathan Jarry says:

    Am I missing a connection here? Is Cleveland.com a website owned by the Cleveland Clinic, as this blog post implies numerous times? (“Here is the core of Quinn’s explanation for why the Cleveland Clinic is leaving the post live on their website”; “An academic website is not supposed to be a platform for many voices and perspectives”) I was under the impression that Cleveland.com was some sort of news aggregate for the Cleveland area, with major contributions by the Plain Dealer (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Plain_Dealer#cleveland.com). Maybe I’m wrong? Apart from this, I whole-heartedly agree. Neides’ article was egregious and the Cleveland Clinic’s answer to it is tepid at best.

  3. Ricardo says:

    @Jonathan Jarry: You are right. From their about page (http://www.cleveland.com/about-us/), “cleveland.com is the premier news and information website in the state of Ohio attracting an average of 5 million unique users every month. It provides an essential 24/7 news, information and social interaction network – collecting from many sources to inform, engage and entertain. Covering local and national news, sports, arts and entertainment information, community events, weather, traffic and more all updated minute-by-minute of every single day its the place Northeast Ohioans turn to when they want to know what’s going on in their area.”

    Cleveland Clinic’s website is clevelandclinic.org. While everything else Dr. Novella wrote on his post is spot on, the criticism about the Clinic’s editorial policy is misplaced.

  4. mlegower says:

    Agreed w/ Ricardo and Jonathan. The Cleveland Clinic doesn’t necessarily have editorial control over what one of its employees chooses to post as an opinion piece on a completely unrelated website. Apart from dismissing Dr. Neides or writing a opposing opinion piece (either of which they may be doing for all we know), they would seem to have done what they could.

    As for the cleveland.com portal, they are pushing the controversy because it gets them traffic and they don’t have any claim to academic integrity. FWIW, #1 and #3 of the top three “Most Read” articles are essentially explanations of why the original article is garbage and links to tweets of legitimate physicians piling on.

    Of course #2 is the original article 🙁

  5. BBBlue says:

    Does anyone at cleveland.com edit or approve Dr. Neides’ columns before they are published on the website?

    The short answer is no, but here’s how the system works: These days, Bob Smith in the Clinic’s Corporate Communications office has the duty of publishing the Neides column on cleveland.com. Smith is a former reporter for The Plain Dealer.

    When Smith publishes a Neides column on our website, he sends an email to Linda Kinsey, our editor of the Sun newspapers, to alert her. Kinsey would often take a look at the column but never found anything objectionable.

    But Smith didn’t send an alert after the column was published Friday. The column is published in the Lyndhurst-South Euclid page of cleveland.com and copied to other community pages. Without an alert from Smith, Kinsey did not know it was there.

    If we had noticed the column soon after it was published, I’d like to think we would have had a conversation about it, both internally and with the Clinic. Possibly, before the thing caught widescale attention, we would have unpublished it and sought revisions. That’s hindsight, though, so I can’t say for sure.


    Robert L. Smith: Lead communicator for Cleveland Clinic Innovations, the commercialization arm of the hospital system. Also represent healthcare IT and the Wellness Institute. https://www.linkedin.com/in/robert-l-smith-196b5314

  6. Sorry. I conflated to two sites. I corrected the article to reflect this.

  7. tmac57 says:

    On the broader topic of well respected healthcare facilities around the US buying into the sketchier and pseudo-scientific aspects of medicine, I think that this could be viewed as analogous to the political concept of the Overton Window:


    The ease at which fallacious information can now be disseminated, has created an opportunity for expanding the ‘window’ of ideas about what is a well founded base of standard of care.
    When it is now ‘common knowledge’ around the internet, that ‘detoxifcation’ diets are a real and good thing for people to do (as an example), then we know that we are in for a real struggle for restraining the ‘window’ of information to comport well with scientific reality.

  8. carbonUnit says:

    Fresh article on the backlash.

    Interestingly, there is a change.org petition by Neides supporters asking the clinic not to discipline him.

  9. Diane says:

    I know you said you fixed the article to make the distinction between Cleveland Clinic and cleveland.com more clear (I didn’t see it before the fix), but I think you need to change the headline as well.

    I don’t think you can fairly say that Cleveland Clinic has responded badly after the publication. They took down the article, put out a science-based statement denouncing it, announced they would discipline the doctor, and are reviewing their alternative medicine offerings https://www.statnews.com/2017/01/10/cleveland-clinic-wellness-institute/
    What more do you want?

    It’s cleveland.com that has doubled down on the journalistic fail, and I think the headline should reflect that.

  10. BenE says:

    You know, throughout my entire life, I’ve regarded healthcare for all as a good and something worth pursuing. I’m the child of a neurologist and a nurse, and I’ve obviously seen the benefits healthcare creates.

    Now? I’m not so sure. I see more downsides than ever before.

    What’s the point in saving the lives of people who deny the core concepts behind the treatments they receive? What’s the point in improving the well being of a life that, knowingly or unknowingly, pursues actions that harm others? We live in a democracy, and dumb opinions impact us all through the public policies we enact or don’t enact.

    Who can say (with any degree of certainty), that our society wouldn’t be comparatively better 20 years from now if doctors only treated people with treatments that are consistent with their core beliefs? You don’t believe in evolution? You don’t get antibiotics because you’re prone to stopping treatment when you start feeling better. If you start feeling sick again, you’ll just take more… is your logic. You don’t believe the bacteria can evolve a resistance to the antibiotic anyway, so no harm no foul. Had antibiotics only been given to people who understood the risk of antibiotic resistance within the framework of evolution, would we have the superbugs of today? I don’t know. Seems reasonable, though.

    Would such a policy create more death and suffering? It surely will in the short term. That’s why I’ve been in favor of universal healthcare all my life. But animal life has always involved a lot of death and suffering. The wildabeast enduring suffocation from the lion’s mouth clamping down on its muzzle is necessary for the lion pride to survive.

    Humans are at their best when we harness the power of natural processes. Evolution is a natural process we’re fighting more than harnessing. Maybe we should try to harness it in a way that makes us evolve into more intelligent beings. And that means some death and suffering for the unintelligent beings.

    I don’t know. But I’ve stopped donating to most health causes. I still donate to PP because all kids need to be wanted. I still donate to MS Society because of a family member, and I try to earmark that for research causes. But the rest of my charitable giving is going the direction of science and research.


  11. Diane – I agree. I meant to change that too. Now corrected.

  12. BillyJoe7 says:


    You still haven’t changed your reference to cleveland.com as a “academic medical institution” (in the section headed “The Response”)

    And it’s worth bearing in mind that, although the article was posted at cleveland.com and not the Cleveland Clinic’s website, it was posted with the Cleveland Clinic logo and was approved for publication by someone from the Cleveland Clinic.

  13. BillyJoe7 says:


    Doctors should help everyone in medical need without exclusion. That includes drug addicts and serial muderers as well as the medical and science “deniers” referred to in your comment. They can’t pick and choose. They can’t just let someone die because they don’t believe in evolution or germ theory, or don’t exercise, or smoke, or overeat. Pretty soon ther would be no one left to treat. And, of course, not all doctors base their treatments on science and evidence.

    And there are doctors who will not prescribe contraception, but they should still help that person in need. They should tell that person that they do not prescribe contraceptives for personal religious reasons and suggest that they see another doctor. There are doctors who disapprove of homosexuality and feel uncomfortable treating them, but they must still assure that their health is looked after and refer them to a doctor who has no problem managing them.

    Also, just because we believe that evolution is a fact, doesn’t mean we approve of the strategic mechanism by which evolution works as a guide for how we should live our lives. The basic strategy of evolution is genes getting themselves into the next generation by whatever means works – by tooth and claw! But human beings are not genes. Do you disapprove of contraception because it prevents genes from getting into the next generation? Or do you approve of contraception because it reduces unwanted pregnancies and terminations.

    Also, more often than not, we don’t “harness the power of natural processes”, we almost always strive to overcome them. Infection, disease, and cancer are natural processes that we strive to overcome. Evolution is a natural process but a prime example of a natural process we strive to overcome as indicated above. Evolution is a scientific fact, not an ethical command.

    Sorry, bit of a rambling post.

  14. chikoppi says:

    Don’t worry, dear leader is on it…

    Anti-Vaccine Activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Says Trump Asked Him to Chair Commission on Vaccine Safety

    Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an activist who’s pushed the debunked theory that vaccines cause autism for a very long time, says Donald Trump has asked him to chair a commission on vaccine safety. This isn’t like asking the fox to guard the henhouse; it’s more like asking someone to redesign the henhouse after they’ve told you they don’t think henhouses strictly need to exist.


  15. RickK says:

    Chikoppi, just saw that too.

    Unsatisfied with Skeptical Jacka$$ of the Year, Trump seems to be going for “of the Century”.

    I’m happy to help with the rest of his appointments. Maybe Dr. Egnor for Surgeon General and Marcus Morgan for National Science Advisor.

  16. hardnose says:


    J Toxicol Environ Health A.

    “U.S. male neonates vaccinated with the hepatitis B vaccine prior to 1999 (from vaccination record) had a threefold higher risk for parental report of autism diagnosis compared to boys not vaccinated as neonates during that same time period.”

  17. hardnose says:


    Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry

    “Our results show that: (i) children from countries with the highest ASD prevalence appear to have the highest exposure to Al from vaccines; (ii) the increase in exposure to Al adjuvants significantly correlates with the increase in ASD prevalence in the United States observed over the last two decades”

  18. hardnose says:


    “We propose that children with the autism diagnosis are especially vulnerable to toxic metals such as aluminum and mercury due to insufficient serum sulfate and glutathione. A strong correlation between autism and the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine is also observed, which may be partially explained via an increased sensitivity to acetaminophen administered to control fever.”

  19. Pete A says:

    Hardnose, you forgot to include Dr. Hull’s Hair Analysis Program:

    (Cited by http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Hair_analysis)

  20. Ricardo says:



    “These findings suggest that Reiki may be an effective and safe option for improving well-being in patients with blood cancer. These findings may lend support for the inclusion of Reiki into national health services as it may provide a useful contribution to improving patients’ welfare and consequently a better quality of life.”

    Sorry, I’m late to the party. We’re playing the “Drink every time someone links to a bullshit study” game, right?

  21. chikoppi says:

    This is why there are experts.

    [hardnose] J Toxicol Environ Health A.
    “U.S. male neonates vaccinated with the hepatitis B vaccine prior to 1999 (from vaccination record) had a threefold higher risk for parental report of autism diagnosis compared to boys not vaccinated as neonates during that same time period.”

    The actual name of the paper:
    Hepatitis B vaccination of male neonates and autism diagnosis, NHIS 1997-2002.




    As are the others you listed. In fact, all three are found among a notorious list of 72 discredited papers:


    You are not equipped to evaluate studies. Frankly, I’m tired of having to constantly correct your shoddy references. You are painfully credulous and readily believe anything that appears in a Google search if a few phrases in the abstract lead you think it might support your preferred conclusion.

    Being a skeptic doesn’t mean being a denier or doubting everything. It means following an epistemologically sound method for the establishment of knowledge. It takes work and actual research. It means following the evidence, not starting with a conclusion and trying to justify it with specious claims and poor methodology.

    You are incapable of objectively differentiating what is likely true from what is likely not true.

  22. Willy says:

    hardnose: Why do you keep ducking and dancing around my question about your “religion”? Are you an atheist or is “information” a god with a capital “G”? Who made the computer simulation? Is an idea valid because it’s been around since the 60s? What makes the “physicist” David Bohm especially trustworthy? How is Bohm more credible than L. Ron Hubbard? Or David Koresh? Jim Jones?

    Are you ashamed to explicitly state your religious beliefs?

  23. tmac57 says:

    You guys know that HN is f**king with you…right?

  24. Willy says:

    tmac57: I do not think hn thinks that way. I think he really believes his tripe.

  25. BillyJoe7 says:

    The Troll is at it once again!

    The number one best way to spot a denier of any stripe, be it climate, evolution, or vaccine denial:

    The Troll never learns anything.

  26. hardnose says:




    I am “cherry picking” research showing vaccines may be harmful, because you already know what mainstream news sources say on the subject.

    Obviously something is going on. I know you think that people are idiots and should not be believed. I know you think research that contradicts your opinions is poor quality. I know your minds are closed. But maybe someone reading this blog will look at research not done by the CDC.

  27. Willy says:

    Why so shy about the specifics of your “religion”, hn?

  28. bachfiend says:


    As usual, you’re making straw man arguments.

    No one claims that immunisations are completely benign, without adverse effects. All that’s claimed is that the benefits of immunisations outweigh, actually considerably outweigh, their risks.

    We don’t criticise your linked research as being of poor quality because it disagrees with our judgement that the benefits of immunisation considerably outweigh their risks, but because the research is of poor quality.

    If we can, and it’s something you appear never to do, we go and read the papers your links are based on, and assess whether there’s flaws in them. Almost always there is. Or the authors aren’t actually supporting your claims.

  29. chikoppi says:

    [hardnose] 1) I know you think that people are idiots and should not be believed. 2) I know you think research that contradicts your opinions is poor quality. 3) I know your minds are closed. 4) But maybe someone reading this blog will look at research not done by the CDC.

    1) People ARE idiots. That’s why anecdote and personal opinion are universally poor evidence.

    2) Research is only as good as its methodology. Also, you seem to fail to understand the peer review aspect. The mere occurrence of someone having published a study is not sufficient to establish a fact. The study has to withstand objective scrutiny. That is, the statistical methods must hold-up under independent critique and/or the experimental process must produce near-similar results when repeated. Also, the logic of the research conclusion must be causally related to to evidence presented. The proof is not in the paper, but in the peer review of it.

    3) My mind is closed to lazy bullshit artists.

    4) The only thing you are convincing readers of is that you are a completely unreliable source.

    I read the first paper you cited, “‘ASIA’ – autoimmune/inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants.”

    A) What is it that you think this paper says?
    B) What bearing do you think it has on the safety of vaccines?
    C) How did you determine if the research is legitimate?

  30. BillyJoe7 says:


    “I am “cherry picking” research showing vaccines may be harmful, because you already know what mainstream news sources say on the subject”


    Cherry picking is like having a plastic bag full of mostly white marbles and picking out only the few black marbles and concluding that the bag is full of black marbles.
    Cherry picking is clueless. The Troll cherry picks. Therefore The Troll is clueless.


    The mainstream or consensus is based on a careful consideration of ALL the marbles: white and black – and grey! In fact they are all neutral to start with, and then assesssed as either white or black or grey depending on things like relevance and methodological soundness – about which TT is clueless.

    “I know you think that people are idiots and should not be believed”

    Well, we know that The Troll is an idiot and should not be believed. But even people who are not idiots may not have sufficient knowledge of a topic to come to a sensible conclusion. In which case, they must necessarily rely on the consensus of experts in that area of expertise.

    “But maybe someone reading this blog will look at research not done by the CDC”

    Well let’s see what the clueless Troll has offered up to “someone reading this blog”. I’m not going to debunk all his references because that will amuse The Troll no end – because the only work he has had to do is to press a google search button!

    His second link is to a book on Vaccines and Autoimmunity by Yehuda Schoenfeld:


    He is expecting a random “reader of this blog” to read a 360 page book that costs over $140 on kindle! Has he even read the book himself? Of course not! So, how disengenuous. He is expecting a random “reader of this blog” to read a 360 page book that he hasn’t even read himself!


    Here is what the blurb says about the book:
    “Edited by leaders in the field, Vaccines and Autoimmunity is an invaluable resource for advanced students and researchers working in pathogenic and epidemiological studies”
    The Troll is expecting a random “reader of this blog” to read a book written for “advanced students and researchers working in pathogenic and epidemiological studies”!


    Here is a summary of the contents of a book that The Troll thinks supports his view on vaccines:

    “Vaccines have been used for over 200 years and are the most effective way of preventing the morbidity and mortality associated with infections. Like other drugs, vaccines can cause adverse events, but unlike conventional medicines, which are prescribed to people who are ill, vaccines are administered to healthy individuals, thus increasing the concern over adverse reactions. Most side effects attributed to vaccines are mild, acute, and transient; however, RARE reactions such as hypersensitivity, induction of infection, and autoimmunity do occur and can be severe and even fatal.

    The RARITY and subacute presentation of post-vaccination autoimmune phenomena means that ascertaining causality between these events can be difficult. Moreover, the latency period between vaccination and autoimmunity ranges from days to years. In this article, on the basis of published evidence and our own experience, we discuss the various aspects of the causal and temporal interactions between vaccines and autoimmune phenomena, as well as the possible mechanisms by which different components of vaccines MIGHT induce autoimmunity.”

    If we were to follow The Troll’s clueless habit of cherry picking, we would single out the third bolded bit and ignore all the rest. But, because we are not clueless we will read the whole excerpt. And the whole excerpt clearly DOES NOT support the impression that our clueless troll is trying so hard to promote.

    This is why we do not CHERRY-PICK.
    This is why we look at ALL THE EVIDENCE.
    This is why The Troll is CLUELESS.

  31. BillyJoe7 says:

    You won’t believe this but…

    The Troll’s third reference is a SINGLE CASE STUDY! 😀

  32. BillyJoe7 says:

    ….when I said “If we were to follow The Troll’s clueless habit of cherry picking, we would single out the third bolded bit” I meant to add “after the word RARE”, but you get my point.

  33. hardnose says:

    Wakefield is the infamous doctor whose research was discredited, and who was accused of fraud. You can find thousands of links assuring you that the whole thing was a lie.

    But … is it true? I decided to investigate a little.


    “the journal’s conclusion of fraud was not based on the pathology but on a number of discrepancies between the children’s records and the claims in the Lancet paper.”

    It turns out that a hospital reporting error is the basis of most of the drama. Deer, who accused Wakefield of fraud, found that one of the children became ill before the MMR shot, not after. But it was really just somebody’s typo.

    The Nature article shows that the accusation of fraud was controversial and uncertain. This is Nature, all you Big Science worshipers.

  34. hardnose says:

    “People ARE idiots.”

    Thank you chikoppi. I am glad one of you finally admitted the contempt you feel for all humanity. You probably feel you are above it all, since you are a materialist “Skeptic.”

    It’s nice to see your hatred for the public expressed openly for a change.

    This is one of the main reasons I am so opposed to your organization.

  35. hardnose says:

    My other main reason is your contempt for all of nature.

  36. hardnose says:

    “we discuss the various aspects of the causal and temporal interactions between vaccines and autoimmune phenomena, as well as the possible mechanisms by which different components of vaccines MIGHT induce autoimmunity.”

    How can that be? The CDC has declared that vaccines do NOT cause autoimmunity. Who should I believe? I mean we know how honest the CDC is.

  37. RickK says:

    “My other main reason is your contempt for all of nature.”

    Ok, that’s insulting. You have zero appreciation of nature which is why you insist on dressing it up with imaginary phenomena. You look but you don’t see the beauty and complexity around us. You freely equate what is invented by your desires and self-aggrandizement with what actually exists. Your only appreciation of nature is as a source to selectively quote-mine in support your ideology and juvenile self-promotion.

    You’re so lost in your own narrative that you completely fail to see and embrace and love the natural world that inspires and captivates the rest of us.

    BillyJoe is right – you are truly just a troll – a shell – contributing nothing but to react against passion. You embody contempt – it is what drives you and keeps you here.

    Walk away, go outside, set aside your ego-driven fantasy world and try for once in your life to strike up an acquaintance with nature’s reality.

  38. bachfiend says:


    Wakefield’s paper was retracted largely because he was hopelessly financially conflicted. He was being paid a large sum of money by the lawyers representing parents with legal claims against vaccine manufacturers and he was also interested in producing a single jab measles vaccine.

    I wouldn’t have described all people as being idiots, but I certainly would describe all people as being prone to logical fallacies, and you’re a good example. And you’ve committed a fallacy in going from ‘people are idiots’ to ‘all humanity’. ‘All people’ wasn’t stated.

    You claim that the CDC has declared that vaccines do not cause autoimmunity. Care to provide a link substantiating that claim? I’d be very surprised if anyone would make such a categorical claim. It’s entirely possible that vaccines could cause autoimmunity, and if they do in very small numbers, in the same way that various medications and infections (viral and bacterial) are both a suggested and proven (in some cases) cause.

  39. hardnose says:

    Look for the information and find out the real story about Wakefield. It is not exactly what you see all over google and wikipedia. Not even close.

    I have to say I am grateful for this blog. I have ready many of the intensely pro-vaccine posts here and at sciencebasedmedicine. I didn’t know if they were true or not, and I didn’t try to find out. I thought yeah, the anti-vaccine people sound a little crazy.

    This time, however, I decided to fact-check. So thanks, now I know a lot more about the vaccine controversy. Yes, it is still very much a controversy.

    And you can be sure I will ALWAYS fact check anything I read here from now on.

  40. hardnose says:

    “Wakefield’s paper was retracted largely because he was hopelessly financially conflicted.”

    Before you continue repeating the lies, FACT CHECK.

  41. BillyJoe7 says:

    The Troll Is Into a Gish Gallop and Cherry Picks Again!

    Now he is an expert on Wakefield:

    “I decided to investigate a little cherry pick once again”

    AGAIN, The Troll reads a single article and, suddenly, he knows everything there is to know about Wakefield. Some of us here have followed the developments since 1998 when it first started, but this liitle peepsqueak now knows more than all of put together!

    Just so everyone is clear: Wakefield has been totally discredited. He wa paid over half million dollars by lawyers long before his infamous “study”. He had applied for a patent for a measles only vaccine long before his “study”. His study consisted of 12 children, with dubious connections made between the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine and inflammatory bowel disease and autism, based on tests of dubious quality, and partly faked/altered histories. His “study” has been deleted from the BMJ archive. All his fellow authors have removed their names from the “study”. He has been de-registered by the General Medical Council. He now only gives talks to discredited anti-vax organisations.

    “It turns out that a hospital reporting error is the basis of most of the drama”

    This is so idiotically ahistorical, it is beyond words.
    Here we have a prime example of an Idiot.


    Chikoppi: “People ARE idiots.”
    The Troll: “Thank you chikoppi. I am glad one of you finally admitted the contempt you feel for all humanity. You probably feel you are above it all”

    The Troll is an Idiot. Chikoppi clearly meant that “everyone” is an idiot – including himself. He meant everyone is an idiot…until they take steps to educate themselves and overcome their idiocy…a process which The Troll is insistently refusing to do.

    “It’s nice to see your hatred for the public expressed openly for a change”

    And, when all else fails, The Troll simply lies.
    Nowhere has chikoppi espressed hatred for the public.
    He is simply telling the truth about our deficiencies (all of us) and how to correct them.

    “My other main reason is your contempt for all of nature”

    What does that even mean?
    On the other hand, The Troll, has an obscene comtempt for science unless he can cherry pick a single article, or a single opinion, or a single study that seems to support his own uneducated opinion. Then science is okay apparently. As long asyou canpick and choose!


    The Troll quotes from the excerpt from the 360 page book on Vaccines and Autoimmunity aimed at advanced students and researchers, without understanding a word of what he is reading.

    “we discuss the various aspects of the causal and temporal interactions between vaccines and autoimmune phenomena, as well as the possible mechanisms by which different components of vaccines MIGHT induce autoimmunity”

    The Troll then responds like an Idiot:

    “How can that be? The CDC has declared that vaccines do NOT cause autoimmunity. Who should I believe?”

    The Idiot can’t see that there is NO disconnect between the aims of the authors of the book on Vaccines and Autoimmunity and what the CDC says about Vaccines and Autoimmunity!
    Here is the CDC’s actuall conclusion about vaccines and autoimmunity:

    CDC takes concerns about vaccines and immune system diseases and disorders very seriously. Researchers at CDC and elsewhere have conducted studies to examine the possible link between vaccines and autoimmune conditions like MS, diabetes, and asthma. These studies have been reassuring, providing no evidence to suggest a link between vaccines and autoimmune conditions.
    As part of ongoing vaccine safety surveillance, CDC continues to conduct research to examine the effects vaccines may have on the immune system.

    There is NO disconnect between researchers looking for possible links and possible mechanisms whereby vaccines could cause autoimmune diseases and the CDC saying there is as yet no established link between the two. But the Idiot cannot understand this, and is incapable of understanding this.

    As usual it takes much longer to debunk bv||$#!+ than it does to present it.

  42. BillyJoe7 says:


    “You claim that the CDC has declared that vaccines do not cause autoimmunity. Care to provide a link substantiating that claim? I’d be very surprised if anyone would make such a categorical claim”

    And, of course, the CDC did not make a categorical claim (see quote above)

    It is interesting that you anticipated what the CDC’s actual opinon on vaccines and autoimmunity would be and would not be. It is because you understand science. The Troll, of course, has absolutely no idea how science is done.

  43. BillyJoe7 says:

    The Troll is a CONCEITED fool:

    “I will ALWAYS fact check anything I read here from now on”

    He wouldn’t know a fact from bull excrement
    He wouldn’t know how to fact check anything, but he is a master at locating all sorts of bullshit.

  44. hardnose says:


    “there was a consistent and statistically significant increased prevalance of IBD in patients with ASD”

    Wasn’t it Wakefield who first noticed the connection between IBD and ASD?

    I wonder if he may have been right about anything else?

  45. BillyJoe7 says:

    The Troll: more Gish Gallop + Cherry Picking:

    To be clear:

    Wakefield made a fictitious diagnosis of “autistic enterocolitis”.
    Wakefield made an erroneus connection between autism and autistic enterocolitis and the MMR vaccine.
    Wakefield was being paid to appear as an expert witness in a legal case against vaccine manufacturers.
    Wakefield set up his study in order to obtain evidence against the MMR vaccine
    Wakefield had applied for a patent for a measles vaccine to replace the MMR vaccine.
    Wakefield used children referred to him by the lawyer instead of using a random sample.
    Wakefiield study was unethical by medical standards at the time.
    Wakefield fabricated and/or ignored the medical histories of most of the 12 children in the study.
    Wakefield simply sent his biopsy specimens to another laboratory when all samples came back normal.
    Wakefields preferred laboratory had fatal flaws that invalidated the results.
    Wakefield concluded that over 58% of autistic children have enterocolitis (actual 0.25%)

    But The Troll won’t let the FACTS get in the way of a preferred narrative!

  46. BillyJoe7 says:

    The Troll is an Idiot


    To quote from the article

    It would be entirely wrong to jump to the conclusion that the measles component of MMR “causes” the colitis or the developmental disorder in these particular (or any other) children.

  47. BillyJoe7 says:

    The Troll doesn’t even bother to read his own links:


    “it is FEASABLE that vaccinations MAY also CONTRIBUTE to the mosaic of autoimmunity. Evidence for the association of vaccinations and the development of these diseases is presented in this review. INFREQUENTY reported post-vaccination autoimmune diseases include…”


    “The available evidence derived from several negative epidemiological studies is REASSURING and at least indicates that vaccines ARE NOT A MAJOR CAUSE of autoimmune diseases. However, there are still uncertainties as to whether a susceptible subpopulation may be at a higher risk of developing an autoimmune disease WITHOUT CAUSING AN OVERALL INCREASE IN DISEASE INCIDENCE.”


    “Vaccination has been perhaps the MOST IMPORTANT ACHIEVEMENT IN MEDICINE IN THE LAST CENTURY. A HOARD OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES THAT USED TO CLAIM THE LIVES OF MANY. ESPECIALLY CHILDREN. HAVE BEEN PREVENTED AND EVEN ERADICTATED.However, IT IS POSSIBLE that within this gift there is hidden a ‘Trojan Horse’. During the last decade increasing numbers of reports regarding possible autoimmune side effects of vaccination, have been published. The existing data does not link the vaccines and the autoimmune phenomena observed in a causal relationship

  48. chikoppi says:

    [hardnose] “People ARE idiots.”

    Thank you chikoppi. I am glad one of you finally admitted the contempt you feel for all humanity. You probably feel you are above it all, since you are a materialist “Skeptic.”
    It’s nice to see your hatred for the public expressed openly for a change.
    This is one of the main reasons I am so opposed to your organization.

    I’ve dealt fairly with you and engaged honestly, but I’ve had it with your petty and disingenuous fucktwatery. Here’s my full quote:

    [chikoppi] People ARE idiots. That’s why anecdote and personal opinion are universally poor evidence.

    UNIVERSALLY. Which is clearly a comment on the fallibility of subjective reasoning. But then, you knew better when you made the conscious decision to take my words out of context.

    You are not clever, or well-informed, or capable, or even honest…and I simply don’t care anymore. So congratulations, you’ve finally earned my indifference.

  49. mumadadd says:

    OMG, hn is so quick to play the pharma-shill card against the likes of Steve Novella and David Gorski, and here he is trying to deny massive, proven conflict of interest just because the person in question is anti-mainstream.

  50. SteveA says:

    HN: “I decided to investigate a little.”

    This made me laugh. I’m still chuckling now.

  51. hardnose says:

    “trying to deny massive, proven conflict of interest just because the person in question is anti-mainstream.”

    If you only read one side of the story, you would think that.

    If mainstream news shouts something loud enough and often enough, it becomes the “truth.”

    If someone claims to have a debunked a study, then you “know” that study had no value.

    If a study is imperfect in any way (and all of them are), then it’s completely worthless.

  52. hardnose says:

    I never believed the anti-vaccine people, but now that I have seen some of the other side, my opinion is:

    A small percentage of children may be vulnerable to certain vaccines, or combinations of vaccines, if received at certain ages.

    Autism, and autoimmunity in general, may sometimes be related to intestinal bacteria. These bacteria have important immune system and neurological functions. Some vaccines, in some people, may have an adverse effect on this complex system.

    A vaccine – autism connection may not show up in correlational studies, leading to an unwarranted impression of safety. Only a small percentage of children might become autistic because of vaccines, and autism may have many other causes. Therefore, the correlation may be weak and not statistically significant.

    More experimental research with animals is probably needed.

  53. RC says:

    Wakefield fabricated most of his data.

    There is no other side of the story.

  54. hardnose says:

    “Wakefield fabricated most of his data.
    There is no other side of the story.”

    According to one reporter. I guess that’s all the proof you need.

  55. BillyJoe7 says:

    The Troll: Dumb and getting dumber.

    It is hard to nose what to do with someone who gets dumber and dumber the more he reads 😀

  56. bachfiend says:


    Hardnose isn’t getting dumber the more he reads. He doesn’t even bother reading, let alone understand, the news articles, journal abstracts and papers, book reviews and other sources he links to.

  57. Willy says:

    And hn’s last two posts prove bachfiend’s last post.

    Hey, hn, what specifically is your religion?

  58. bachfiend says:

    ‘Research that shows that vaccines can cause autism’.

    No they don’t. It’s a grab bag of journal articles that might have a peripheral relevance to autism in that they’re mostly pure science studies dealing with the biological effects of chemical substances such as thimerosol (which is no longer used in vaccines) on rats or mice (animal studies can’t be extrapolated as a matter of course to humans) or cell culture preparations such as malignant neuronal cancers such as neuroblatoma).

    Hardnose needs to read the entire papers, not just the abstracts, and be able to comment whether the quality of the studies is adequate to reach the conclusions the authors make (he’s not competent to do this).

    I don’t see why we should be expected to analyse a list of cherry picked papers by antivaccine proponents to explain why they’re irrelelevant. Or just of extremely poor quality.

    Hardnose’s links is like adding more bullshit to a pile – it doesn’t produce bouquets of roses. Just a larger pile of bullshit.

  59. chikoppi says:

    [hardnose] Try to debunk all of them.

    Already done, above on 10 Jan 2017 at 8:34 pm.

    None of this matters. What is real doesn’t matter to people like this. It doesn’t matter to them who gets hurt by the baseless drivel they spread, so long as it serves their vanity to do so.

    hardnose is incapable of discerning what is FACT and what is FICTION. He has demonstrated that above by again and again citing garbage that he hasn’t read, understood, or researched.

  60. hardnose says:

    “animal studies can’t be extrapolated as a matter of course to humans”

    It is difficult to use humans as experimental subjects, when there is possibility of harm or being deprived of effective treatments.

    That is why animals are often used. And when animal studies show something you don’t like, you simply say it doesn’t count because it was animals.

    Other animals are not exactly the same as humans, but many are similar. If a substance harms an animal that is closely related to humans, that should not be ignored.

    I don’t know why I bother explaining the obvious.

  61. chikoppi says:

    Everything is obvious when one is incapable of knowing when one is wrong. Limit your understanding to only what is inside your own head, and you’ll never know the difference.

    There are both quantitative and qualitative differences between species. This is not surprising considering our current level of knowledge vis-à-vis evo devo, gene regulation and expression, epigenetics, complexity theory, and comparative genomics. Hypotheses generate predictions, which can be then proven true or false. Predict has a very distinct meaning in science and according to some is the foundation of science itself. Prediction does not mean retrospectively finding one animal that responded to stimuli like humans and therefore saying that the animal predicted human response nor does it mean cherry picking data nor does it mean occasionally getting the right answer.

    When a concept such as “Animal models can predict human response” is accepted as true, it is not functioning as a hypothesis. We have referred to this as an overarching hypothesis but could have easily referred to it as an unfounded assumption. An assumption or overarching hypothesis might in fact be true but its truth must be proven. If a modality such as animal testing or using animals to predict pathophysiology in human disease is said to be a predictive modality, then any data generated from said modality should have a very high probability of being true in humans. Animal models of disease and drug response fail this criterion.

    In medicine, even positive predictive values of .99 may be inadequate for some tests and animal models do not even roughly approximate that. Therefore, animal models are not predictors of human response.


  62. bachfiend says:


    I’m pleased to see that you think that rats and mice are similar to humans. I’ll be sending you the PETA membership and donation forms to you. Donations to me please, and in cash, large denominations only.

    There’s a very large animal study in progress which has shown zero risk of autism in the animal model. Dog owners usually have their beloved canine companions immunised with up to 5 vaccines for various infectious diseases yearly often for periods longer than a decade.

    If immunisation in dogs had any adverse effects, don’t you think that dog owners wouldn’t have noticed it by now? Dog owners enjoy (if enjoy is the correct word) a closer relationship to their dogs than researchers to their animal experimental subjects.

    And experimental animals are used as a screening test for new treatments, not established ones. Immunisation in humans is established. Demonstrating that it’s harmful in humans is possible to do in humans. And it’s been pointed out to you many times that the few studies purporting to show it has adverse effects have very serious flaws negating their results.

  63. BillyJoe7 says:


    I am certain that TT does not understand anything of what he reads (as evidenced by his links to articles that actually support the view that he is arguing against0, and I am certain he does not read the articles he links to, and I am pretty certain that he does not even read the excerpts. He pretty well just presses the google button and links to whatever comes up.

    Anyway, I’m going back to refusing to respond to a link if the person posting it does not explain the contents of the link and how it supports their view. Otherwise you have someone simply pressing google buttons and the other taking considerable time to actually read and dissect the contents of the links. I think it has been an interesting exercise to see how the fool understands nothing, but there’s a limit.

    I think his latest ploy of linking to a whole list of articles and inviting us to “debunk all of them” is pure trolling behaviour. He’s not even being serious anymore, just trying to save face when all his links have been shown to actually refute his own view. A genuine poster would actually respond to the our assessments of his links. But of course he cannot do so and therefore just posts more.

  64. RC says:

    HN:”According to one reporter. I guess that’s all the proof you need.”

    No – according to children who were in the study who don’t actually have the afflictions that Wakefield said they did.

    His data was fabricated.

  65. mumadadd says:

    BJ7: “Otherwise you have someone simply pressing google buttons and the other taking considerable time to actually read and dissect the contents of the links.”

    He won’t be using Google — it’s mainstream and part.of the conspiracy, rigged by skeptics to support their materialist ideology. xD

  66. mumadadd says:


    I can never remember whether to capitalise the ‘x’.

  67. mumadadd says:

    Never mind…

  68. Pete A says:


    I am very grateful to you for debunking “hardnose” — I’ve learnt many valuable things from your posts. I doubt that I’m the only reader who genuinely appreciates your time and effort.

    Many thanks also to the commentator “chikoppi”.

  69. hardnose says:

    Thank God you don’t have to question the mainstream authorities! If you read anything I linked you might have to.

    Animal research is valuable and necessary and ignoring it is stupid. Correlational studies of humans are not enough, because correlations can be very difficult to interpret.

  70. Pete A says:

    “because correlations can be very difficult to interpret” Yeah, and very easy to misrepresent, because correlation does not imply causation.

  71. mumadadd says:

    I think correlation does imply causation, it just doesn’t necessarily EQUAL causation.

  72. Pete A says:

    Mumadadd, Absolutely no disrespect intended: I think you might have confused a set for a sequence and vice versa. Our cognitive biases cause all of us to frequently commit this fundamental domain error: colloquially referred to (out of politeness and empathy) as a category mistake.

  73. mumadadd says:

    Pete A, perhaps ‘imply’ is a bit baggy and I’m taking it to mean something different to you. Would you agree that correlation suggests causation. Or, more accurately, correlation can suggest causation?

    To clarify, I’m aware that there are all sorts of spurious correlations out there (in fact I believe there’s a site by that very name) but, depending on the which correlations you’re looking at and your basis for looking, surely it’s fair to say that correlation can imply causation?

    My understanding is that science can’t in principle prove causation, but looks for ever tighter correlations in the right places.

  74. Pete A says:

    Mumadadd, I don’t know the answer to your questions because I don’t begin to understand what it is that you are actually asking.

    I can answer in only the fundamental domains (the fundamental principles) which I do understand. If you produced a dataset (e.g. a database table) that contains the results of 10^80 rolls of an unbiased six-sided die, then you would be able to extract from that dataset anything and everything that you wish to dream up to support your hypothesis. Yes, you could easily extract from that dataset ‘proof’ of your hypothesis with a statistical p-value orders of magnitude below the commonly-accepted threshold of 0.05. You could easily produce a plethora of seemingly valid statistics and conclusion from this huge dataset; you would’ve learnt many things during the process, but you wouldn’t have learnt what you think that you have learnt!

    My deepest gratitude to Dr Harriet Hall, MD, for inspiring me to write this comment.

  75. mumadadd says:

    Pete A, there are many scientific facts derived from correlations. E.g. anaesthesia and unconsciousness; we don’t understand the mechanism, but there’s a 100% correlation, which strongly implies causation. Stimulation/inhibition of specific brain regions and effects on conscious experience. Etc. etc.

    Wasn’t the link between smoking and lung cancer discovered through correlations — higher incidence in smokers, with incidence tracking dose? What about epidemiology in general?

    I didn’t mean to imply that correlation is a reasonable basis upon which to assume a causal relationship, just that in some circumstances it is suggestive of one.

  76. Pete A says:

    Mumadadd, Peer-review is an essential aspect of the scientific method, very sadly, it is frequently applied incorrectly: in an echo chamber. Anyone and everyone can be a legitimate peer reviewer of science, even nine-year-olds:

    Therapeutic touch, which Emily thoroughly debunked, was, and still is unfortunately, based on “correlation strongly implies causation”.

  77. mumadadd says:

    I know, Pete A. That’s why I distinguished between implied causation and actual causation.

    I’ve always heard the phrase “correlation doesn’t EQUAL causation” as opposed to “imply”. I think (but I’m going from memory) that Steve N even said on an SGU podcast that correlation implies but doesn’t equal causation, correcting one of the other rogues.

    But I think we’re talking past each other rather than disagreeing on anything substantial. In the context you outlines above (rolls of a die / going on a fishing expedition for any correlation you can find) I’d agree with you that correlation doesn’t imply causation.

  78. Pete A says:

    Mumadadd, That is why I previously provided you with the link to the abundantly clear article: Correlation does not imply causation [my emphasis]:

    As always: Absolutely no disrespect intended; I thoroughly appreciate the time that you devote to me and to the other readers.

  79. Pete A says:

    Mumadadd, Epistemic [that which we know] probability lies[1] on a scale from 0 to 1 (unity; absolute certainty). Ontic [that which is] probability is ether 0 or 1: this is not a fallacy of the excluded middle.

    Note 1: “lies” is, perhaps a very unfortunate, but highly appropriate, double entendre when it comes to epistemic statistics!

    Muddling the epistemic and the ontic domains is an extremely commonly committed fundamental domain error. This error is sometimes, and appropriately, referred to as “ontological confusion”.

  80. mumadadd says:

    Pete A, no disrespect inferred at all, and none intended on my part either.

    “That is why I previously provided you with the link to the abundantly clear article: Correlation does not imply causation”

    It doesn’t seem that clear to me. E.g.

    For any two correlated events, A and B, the following relationships are possible:

    1 A causes B; (direct causation)
    2 B causes A; (reverse causation)
    3 A and B are consequences of a common cause, but do not cause each other;
    4 A causes B and B causes A (bidirectional or cyclic causation);
    5 A causes C which causes B (indirect causation);
    6 There is no connection between A and B; the correlation is a coincidence.

    Thus there can be no conclusion made regarding the existence or the direction of a cause-and-effect relationship only from the fact that A and B are correlated. Determining whether there is an actual cause-and-effect relationship requires further investigation, even when the relationship between A and B is statistically significant, a large effect size is observed, or a large part of the variance is explained.”

    (I added the numbers). Only in 3 and 6 is there no causal relationship between the two correlated variables. So in 4 of 6 possible explanations for the correlation, causation is present. I accept that correlation alone can’t tell us anything about the direction of causation etc., but would still say the correlation is suggestive of a causal link.


    However, sometimes people commit the opposite fallacy – dismissing correlation entirely, as if it does not suggest causation at all. This would dismiss a large swath of important scientific evidence.[20] Since it may be difficult or ethically impossible to run controlled double-blind studies, correlational evidence from several different angles may be the strongest causal evidence available.[21] The combination of limited available methodologies with the dismissing correlation fallacy has on occasion been used to counter a scientific finding. For example, the tobacco industry has historically relied on a dismissal of correlational evidence to reject a link between tobacco and lung cancer.[22]

    Correlation is a valuable type of scientific evidence in fields such as medicine, psychology, and sociology. But first correlations must be confirmed as real, and then every possible causative relationship must be systematically explored. In the end correlation can be used as powerful evidence for a cause-and-effect relationship between a treatment and benefit, a risk factor and a disease, or a social or economic factor and various outcomes. But it is also one of the most abused types of evidence, because it is easy and even tempting to come to premature conclusions based upon the preliminary appearance of a correlation.[citation needed]

    [My bold]

    So now I’m quite puzzled. Correlation doesn’t imply causation, yet it’s also a fallacy to dismiss correlation entirely, as if it does not suggest causation at all. So where does that leave us?

  81. chikoppi says:

    [mumadadd] So now I’m quite puzzled. Correlation doesn’t imply causation, yet it’s also a fallacy to dismiss correlation entirely, as if it does not suggest causation at all. So where does that leave us?

    Experimental methodology: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Design_of_experiments

    By manipulating the variables under controlled conditions the actual relationship between two or more variables can be determined to a statistical degree of certainty.

    Observed correlation is useful for forming hypotheses. Those hypotheses must then tested to establish causation.

  82. bachfiend says:

    Ice cream consumption is strongly correlated with the rate of crime in a community.

    So it’s obvious that ice cream consumption causes crime. Ice cream should be banned.

    We should do animal studies to prove that ice cream causes crime. It’s obvious that it’s the chocolate in the ice cream that is responsible, so we should feed chocolate to rats or mice, and look for behavioural changes. Banning chocolate ice cream will cause the crime rate to decrease.

    No effect? Then it’s the vanilla. Ban vanilla ice cream and the crime rate will drop.

    Again no effect? Then it’s obviously the amount of calories. Or sugar. Or fat.

    Seems completely reasonable to me. It’s precisely what vaccine critics such as hardnose do.

  83. mumadadd says:


    “Observed correlation is useful for forming hypotheses. Those hypotheses must then tested to establish causation.”

    I get that. My puzzlement is over the statement that ‘correlation does not imply causation’. If there’s no implication (or ‘suggestion’ — they are synonymous) of a causal relationship then why bother wasting resources on further testing?

    It seems to me that ‘imply’ is being used to mean ‘prove’, or ‘demonstrate to a high degree of confidence’.

  84. chikoppi says:

    [mumadadd] It seems to me that ‘imply’ is being used to mean ‘prove’, or ‘demonstrate to a high degree of confidence’.

    Yes, I think you are correct. The phrase is idiomatic.

  85. Pete A says:


    The phrase is indeed idiomatic: it is supposed to serve as a sobering reminder to the questioner/researcher: What exactly is the question that I am desperately trying to answer while I’m faffing around like a headless chicken in the darkness?

  86. BillyJoe7 says:

    chikoppi, mumadadd, and Pete,

    Well, at least you shut up The Troll, who has no idea what you are talking about 😀

    Perhaps what we can say is that, where a correlation is found between two variables, there might also be a causal relationship (but, also, that there might not be), and, if it seems logical and reasonable to think there could be a causal relationship (obviously not between ice-cream and crime), it would be worth trying to establish this relationship. If multiple studies approaching this question from many different perspectives mostly find that the correlation holds, then that is evidence (but, of course, never proof) that there is a causal relationship.

    Or something like that.

  87. BillyJoe7 says:


    Thanks for that.

    “many thanks also to the commentator, chikoppi”

    Yes, I consider myself to be a reasonably intelligent layman with, I think, at least enough knowledge of science generally to know what is going on, to know what I don’t know, to recognise bullshit when I see it, to recognise when others have a deeper knowledge/understanding/appreciation of science than I have; and, most importantly, to improve my knowledge and understanding from what they have to say.

  88. Pete A says:


    I agree with your comment. I’m sorry to nitpick “.. it would be worth trying to establish this relationship”, I think that trying to establish the relationship is the very definition of the pseudoscientific and the anti-scientific methods. The scientific method requires more than adequately refuting the null hypothesis plus all the alternative hypotheses to the proposed hypothesis.

  89. BillyJoe7 says:


    Yes, science is hard isn’t it?

    I was going to say that I should have said “it would be worth trying to establish whether or not this causal relationship holds”, but then “establish” is also not correct, because nothing is ever proven. Perhaps, then, I should have said: “it would be worth trying to disprove the null hypothesis that the relationship is not causal.

  90. hardnose says:

    “I think correlation does imply causation, it just doesn’t necessarily EQUAL causation.”

    Proving you know nothing about science. If A and B occur together, A might cause B or B might cause A, or both might be caused by something else.

    You don’t understand what they mean by “correlation doesn’t imply causation.”

  91. BillyJoe7 says:

    …says the bullshit artist who hardly nose anything and understands even less. 😀
    (Okay…”knows nothing”…I just couldn’t resist)

  92. bachfiend says:


    If A and B occur together, A can’t cause B or B cause A. There must be at least one other cause C causing both A and B. Or perhaps two causes – C causing A and D causing B, assuming that A and B have causes.

    If iA is to cause B it must precede B in time. It must exist in time before B begins to exist.

  93. chikoppi says:

    [hardnose] You don’t understand what they mean by “correlation doesn’t imply causation.”

    Here, the subject is unaware of the actual topic of conversation, which is the seeming incongruity between the common phrase and the applied practice. Desperate to have something to contribute, it manages only to regurgitate the most basic and and tangential information about the topic.

    The irony, of course, is that this erratic discharge is accompanied by a comment meant to disparage the knowledge or intellect of another. Add to this that the original commenter had already provided a much more detailed and nuanced description of the topic, rendering the subject’s later contribution entirely surpurfluous.

    The subject seems to have no awareness that it is statements such as this which betray a general lack of comprehension, making it counterproductive the assumed purpose.

  94. BillyJoe7 says:

    The Troll demonstrates a point…

    Having been coaxed into responding after reading this comment…
    “Well, at least you shut up The Troll, who has no idea what you are talking about 😀 ”
    …the troll’s response demonstrates the point of that comment admirably.


  95. Pete A says:


    “Yes, science is hard isn’t it?” It certainly is! I know how to explain what I mean using diagrams while standing in front of an audience, but I’ve never mastered how to translate the diagrams and concepts into written words that are both easy to understand and unambiguous.

    Another problem I have while composing my written comments is not knowing how to properly convey the tone of voice and the facial expression I would use if talking face-to-face. Several years ago, a dear friend misinterpreted my text message to mean the exact opposite of what I was trying to convey: she thought I’d sent her a terse ‘eff off, I never want to see you again’ message; my sincere apology served only to add insult to injury.

  96. hardnose says:

    “If iA is to cause B it must precede B in time. It must exist in time before B begins to exist.”

    I was talking about correlational research. Increasing rates of vaccination are correlated with increasing rates of autism. That doesn’t mean vaccines cause autism, as I am sure you know.

    That is why experimental research is needed if you want to determine the cause of something. They can’t experiment on children, because they “know” vaccines are good and therefore can’t deprive anyone of vaccines in an experiment.

    So that’s the catch 22. We know vaccines are good, therefore we can’t try to find out if they really are.

  97. Steve Cross says:

    [hardnose]So that’s the catch 22. We know vaccines are good, therefore we can’t try to find out if they really are.

    Once again, the subject demonstrates its complete ignorance. In a pathetic attempt to feign an understanding of basic science, it completely misunderstands the reality of standard ethical practices, and therefore assumes that meaningful research is rendered impossible.

    If the subject understood basic science, it would know that many, many naturally occurring cohorts contrasting vaccination vs. non-vaccination are readily available and have already been analyzed. They clearly demonstrate the high benefit and low risk associated with vaccination. Similarly, it has been well established that there is no significant difference in autism rates between the two groups.

    As always, the subject makes the amateur mistake of placing too much emphasis on a few poor quality, unreplicateable studies — some of which are demonstrably fraudulent.

    As previously noted by other commenters, “the subject seems to have no awareness that it is statements such as this which betray a general lack of comprehension, making it counterproductive the assumed purpose.”

  98. bachfiend says:


    Increasing rates of immunisation are correlated with increasing rates of autism (diagnosis) – maybe. And increasing rates of ice-cream consumption are correlated with increasing crime rates.

    Your favourite linked studies making your assertions make all sorts of fallacies. Such as the ecological fallacy – assuming that the properties of a group is the same as the properties of the general population (assuming that immunisation rates within the general population is the same as the immunisation rate within children diagnosed with autism). And expanding diagnostic groups to include other conditions such as learning deficiencies in the autistic group in some American states but not others. Or taking the current immunisation rate and assigning it to the autism rate many years earlier, reversing temporal causation.

    Maybe we’ll be able to find a good experimental animal model which would allow us to extrapolate to humans – and how would you know that it’s a good model unless you look to see whether it extrapolates to humans unless you look at humans? And experimental animals tend to be inbred minimising genetic differences. If you’re claiming that some subgroups of children are more susceptible to immunisation, it may be that you’ve picked the wrong animal – one that’s less or even abnormally more susceptible.

    And anyway. We’re already doing a long term animal study. Dogs usually get three sets of shots within the first 3 months of puppyhood, and subsequent annual immunisations. If immunisation caused autism in dogs don’t you think that dog owners wouldn’t have noticed it by now?

  99. chikoppi says:

    @Steve Cross

    Addendum [15 Jan 2017 at 9:18 pm]:

    The CDC maintains a robust vaccine-safety research program that includes independent research partners.

    CDC’s Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment (CISA) Project was established in 2001 to address the unmet vaccine safety clinical research needs of the United States.

    Current priority areas for CISA research studies include influenza vaccine safety, vaccine safety in persons with autoimmune diseases, and vaccine safety in pregnant women. CISA complements other vaccine safety systems and focuses its efforts on scalable, prospective studies for US-licensed vaccines. These studies are designed to address clinical vaccine safety questions in targeted or special populations that are often excluded from pre-licensure clinical trials. CISA is well suited to study more common, non-medically attended events (e.g., fever) and to collect biological specimens after vaccination. CISA investigators also have access to special populations (e.g., persons with autoimmune diseases) and specialists who care for these patients.

  100. Steve Cross says:


    Thanks for the addendum. Sadly, the subject will no doubt be unable to understand or appreciate the significance.

    I must say that I find the current case study to be quite fascinating. It is one thing to read about cognitive biases in the abstract, but it is quite another to see them exhibited in the wild. Especially when presented in such extreme forms by a subject as blissfully unaware as the current specimen.

    It is utterly fascinating to observe. But all outward appearances, the subject SHOULD be able to comprehend the essence of the various cognitive biases and logical fallacies — including the fact that EVERYONE is susceptible to their influence. But the subject is unable to take the final step into self awareness. The subject persists in believing the delusion that it alone is immune to the entire litany of cognitive errors and thus requires no self examination.

    All in all, a wonderful case study, and an excellent teaching opportunity. Hopefully, by learning to identify extreme examples, students will eventually be better equipped to recognize more subtle presentations.

  101. Banzai Otis says:


    Not sure if you’re still following this thread, but I think I can clarify the “corr implies/equals cause” point. This is just a confusion that comes from two different definitions of “implies”: a casual and a formal.

    The casual is what we all know, synonymous with “suggests”.

    The formal, which is used in formal logic and mathematics, is absolute. It doesn’t suggest, it means one conclusion absolutely follows from another. In math/logic, saying X implies Y means “if X is true, then Y is true – every time, always, without doubt”. For example, given that a=b and b=c, we would say that these two facts imply a=c.

    I think the science-communication community runs into the same kind of confusion with the word “logical”. The casual definition is synonymous with “reasonable”, while the formal/mathematical/scientific definition means “follows from a valid chain of conclusions according to the rules of logic”.

    Hope that helps, for anyone who bothered reading this far past all of the Trolls drivel.

  102. mumadadd says:

    Banzai otis, thanks — that makes sense.

  103. hardnose says:

    If the CDC says vaccines are safe, we know it’s true.

  104. tb29607 says:


    Missed responding to your question on a different thread. I read the “intelligent, honest, religious” quote and now can’t remember or find where (I think it was a comment by a guy against GMO’s but that is going deep into the suburbs of my memory).

    Best vaccine safety study I have seen was in JAMA April 21, 2015:
    “Autism Occurence by MMR Vaccine Status Among US Children With Older Siblings With and Without Autism”
    Over 95k kids studied. Autism rate did not increase after 1 or 2 doses of MMR.

  105. mumadadd says:


    “Missed responding to your question on a different thread. I read the “intelligent, honest, religious” quote”

    I surf LinkedIn for professional reasons and want to stick my fist down my throat at most of the nonsense motivation drivel a lot of people post, but there is one meme that’s been doing the rounds in various formats that struck me as pithy and, more importantly, exactly right:

    “We offer three kinds of service: fast, cheap, and good. You can pick any two.”

    Needless to say, I saw the parallel.

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