The name Elle Furlong probably does not mean much to you. She is a resident of Florida (that alone speaks volumes) and recently gained my ire when she linked to a headline stating that courts “quietly” ruled that vaccines or a vaccine preservative called MMR is the cause of autism. Yes, this is going to get very ugly.
After reading Bugliosi‘s critique of the O.J. Simpson trial, I had a very profound insight concerning court rulings. In terms of determining what reality is, court rulings are no more valid than the ramblings of a drunken lunatic who sleeps wherever he throws up or passes out.
That might come as a surprise to some, given that people can be sent to prison for indefinite periods or even executed on the word of a court. But here is the thing. A court is not designed for proving how things work or why certain things occur. Courts are based on an adversarial process. One side argues in favour of one side of a story, the other side argues in favour of another side of the exact same story. And through process of either judge or jury, the court determines which of these two arguments has the most validity. That is literally it.
Scientific theories face an entirely different process when it comes to asserting and being granted validity. Many people (especially Americans) seem unaware of this, but a scientific theory has to go through a number of processes before the scientific community will accept it as valid.
The process goes something along the lines of the following:
- An observation is made
In this part of the process, scientists record exactly what they have observed. A good example of this would be the case for evolution. Over a period of years, Charles Darwin observed peculiar characteristics in certain animals that made them well-suited to live in some places, but very badly suited to live in others. He made notes of these differences, detailed descriptions.
- A theory is formulated to explain the observation
The next step is to formulate a theory. This is where a lot of Christian idiots and other scientific illiterates get confused. They think “theory” means the same thing as “unproven”. But what a theory is in scientific vernacular is an attempt to explain the observed facts.
A theory has to do certain things. It has to explain the observations that were made, for starters. When we ask “why is the sky blue?”, “god did it” is not a theory because it does not even begin to explain the observation. “The light refracts through the atmosphere in a manner that our eyes and brain interpret as the colour blue” is a theory. It happens to be the right one, aka a fact, but we are getting ahead of ourselves a bit with that. The reason why the second answer qualifies as a theory is because it explains the observations, provides a way of testing that explanation, and can be falsified if it is indeed false. This last part brings us to the next step.
- Experiments are designed to test the theory
When I said “falsified”, I had a specific meaning in mind. You see, for every theory that turns out to be true, the scientific community generates many that are not. So the responsible scientist designs what he calls an experiment, a way of finding out. A way of testing whether the explanation is true.
For instance, in the above theory, that light refracts a certain way through the Earth’s atmosphere and Humans see that refraction as varying shades of blue, there is a way of confirming this. One can set up a way of focusing light through the gasses that make up our atmosphere and see what colour the light turns. The entire process is very carefully documented, from the type and composition of light used to the type and composition of gasses used. Nothing is left to chance, at least so much as the scientist can control everything.
If all goes according to what the scientist expects, that the light turns blue when it goes through the gasses (and note that I am only using this as a very generalised example), he makes a note of how this test was passed and develops further experiments to test his theory.
An important part of this process is that experiments have to be repeatable, too. Others will want to test the experiment and see what results they come up with. And the scientific community does a lot of this. When the scientific community accepts a fact, such as the Earth getting warmer due to man-made pollution, they accept it as a fact because so many experiments have returned positive results that it would be silly, even idiotic, to refuse to accept their validity.
Note that this is already numerous more steps than is involved in court proceedings, and we are not done yet. Not by far.
- Everything, from observation to theory to experiment, is thoroughly documented
As the popular saying on the Internet goes, pics or it did not happen. Everything a scientist, a responsible scientist that is, does is documented very carefully so that other scientists wishing to test or confirm the validity of their findings may do so easily. This is for two reasons, equally valid. One, a scientist likes to get proper credit for their work, and nothing helps them get proper credit quite like proper documentation. Secondly, in the rare event that a scientist finds a proverbial magic bullet, such as a universal cure for all cancers or a clean source of limitless energy, nothing would piss that scientist off more than losing that discovery and having to do the search all over again.
This is a short point, because it leads us into the next one, and one that is quite fascinating in and of itself. It is also a third reason why a responsible scientist documents everything.
- The work is subjected to peer review
Everything you need to know about the validity of the vaccine to autism scares is contained in this simple step. The research is subjected to the hellish process known as peer review. Hellish, that is, to people who do not do their homework and make sure everything is thoroughly backed up.
Everyone in the scientific community smelled a dead, badly composed rat when Wakefield tried to avoid peer review by taking his findings to the press rather than have them subjected to peer review. In fact, this seems to be a popular tactic amongst fraudulent scientists. You may as well call it the O.J. Simpson of scientific fraud, as in when someone avoids peer review, they may as well walk into the proverbial courtroom with “everything out of my mouth is a pile of steaming shit” in neon above their heads.
Peer review involves hundreds, maybe even thousands, of scientists from the same field all gathering to go over the research data and relevant theoretical work, picking at it like locusts at a crop field. They argue. They argue some more. They argue so much that it would reduce card-carrying tough guys like Mark Brandon Read to a stream of tears. And when the peer-reviewed paper is done with this process, it is usually sent back to the author with some suggestions concerning how it can be edited in order to restore some, if not all, of the validity the author believed it had.
If a piece of writing offered as proof of a scientific theory is submitted first to the press and the system of peer review second (or third, or fourth, or…), that says everything about the theory. The reason they do this is not because they want to rebel against a system. The reason they do it is because their findings are not worth the paper the findings are printed on, and wish to avoid that being found out for as long as possible.
- Even after the work has been tested, peer-reviewed, and accepted, later findings may invalidate it
Unlike religion or the cult of the “vaccines = autism” brigade, a scientific theory, even when it has been validated enough to become both theory and fact, is not concrete. Scientific theories that are old get pushed aside in favour of new ones regularly. This is especially the case in medicine, where new theories and experiments intended to find cures for cancer or diabetes are brought for peer review on an almost monthly basis.
The problem is, when people who generally avoid peer review and attempt to disguise their methodologies latch onto a theory, they will hold onto it like a tick holds onto skin, refusing to let go even in the face of overwhelming evidence. This can be seen in other areas where science is applied, too. In spite of the fact that DNA evidence proved that a) O.J. Simpson had left trails of his own blood at the place where he killed Nicole and Ronald, and b) the chances of another, singular, person matching all of the blood as thoroughly as he did equate to ten times the Earth’s population, people were still willing to entertain the notion that the LAPD had tried to frame Simpson.
Calling that lunacy would be insulting to the patients who reside in the forensic wards of mental hospitals.
This process, peer review, is designed to elevate science above such lunacy. But like any Human endeavour, it is not totally without error. Sciences that are in their infancy produce mistakes. So it was with aerodynamics and the first planes. So it was with medicine and all of its branches (the side-effects of the chemotherapy used in the 1980s are almost as bad as the cancers themselves). So it still is, to a degree, today with neurology and neurochemistry.
To say that the Human brain is a complex organ is to say that week-old corpses smell a little bit. Millions of cells interact together in order to control every other part of the body, and the process is not always executed perfectly. Seizures and mood swings are just a couple of the kinds of imperfect execution that the brain has of its numerous functions, and this does not even scratch the surface.
- Yeah I get all of that. But the court says…
The court is like a very bad jester in this affair. In this instance, what the court in question is saying (essentially, that a three-in-one vaccine solution makes children autistic) is not only flat-out contradicted by the scientific community, but has no leg of its own to stand on in terms of evidentiary grounds.
As I have indicated already, “the court” said that O.J. Simpson was not guilty of murdering his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman. The scientific evidence says that in order to find someone else with as many genetic markers as similar to O.J. Simpson‘s in the blood that was found at the scene (and not Nicole‘s or Ronald‘s), one would have to test approximately fifty-seven billion people. That was, at the time, approximately ten times the population of the Earth. That should say it all about basing your view of reality (and what causes autism, like anyone who is autistic actually gives a shit) on court rulings.
Nor is this going to be the last time a court has something to say about autistic people or what makes them autistic. And at some point, someone who actually does know something about the autistic spectrum is going to get a say.
Another element I will borrow from Bugliosi‘s writings is the stunning incompetence of the world in general. What horrifies me the most about my experiences at the hands of folks who call themselves experts in their chosen fields. What bothers me is that these experiences do not even appear to be all that unusual. In fact, psychiatrists with multiple PhD.s seem to be very adept at not noticing the most extreme hints that the person they are speaking to might be autistic.
If a professional psychiatrist can speak to a person for, in some cases, years on end and not notice that said person might well be autistic, it does not say a lot for a court’s ability to speak the truth concerning any aspect of autistic life.
- But the people advancing this theory are top-notch scientists/want to help you/know everything! (Delete as applicable.)
First of all, fukk you. Secondly, nobody knows everything. In fact, where autism is concerned, the people who seem to know their butt from their ear can be counted on one’s fingers.
Nor are the people offering the vaccine theory what we might charitably call top-notch scientists. In fact, Andrew Wakefield was struck off the United Kingdom’s medical register for his work trying to prove it’s all caused by vaccines. In other words, the real-world, practical results of what Andrew Wakefield has done are so helpful and wonderful that the doctors of the United Kingdom do not want anything to do with him. Were his work valid and truly helpful to the patients as curebies want you to believe, they would be falling over themselves to bathe him in glory.
At this point, curebies will probably balk and cry “let the patient decide!”. Except there is just one problem with this cry. One, patients are not necessarily qualified to properly evaluate the science behind Wakefield’s claims. Two, even putting that aside for a moment, adult patients around the world have decided, over and over and over again. And the curebies keep trying to tell the patient their decision is wrong because it is not the decision that the curebies want them to make. So much for letting the patient decide, right?
And there is another problem that, were the medical profession as on the ball in psychological terms as it should be, would have every doctor quaking in concern. Namely, the Hippocratic oath. The Hippocratic oath is a lengthy bit of speech, but it can be broken down into a vow to do no harm to the patient, regardless of all else. Not only do curebies and the “doctors” that they drag autistic children to seem to not care one fig for this oath, they often have violated it in ways that would get them struck off the register if people were a little more vigilant.
And if there is one thing that I have found in doctor-patient relationships where the patient is a child, it is that the doctor cares nothing for what the actual patient has to say. It is all about the parent, the parent, the parent. That is alright if you want to cover your arse, of course. But when the parent-child relationship is abusive (as is universally the case with parents who want to “cure” children of the way they were born), this is a prescription for disaster.
For a while, I am going to provide just some links with articles written about how damaging both to medicine as a science and patients the MMR scare really has become. If you value your ability to believe in pseudo-scientific bullshit because you want to be able to turn your child into something he is not, then please stop reading now.
(Really, in reference to the above, if this does not show you how pseudo-scientists are literally getting away with murder nowadays, nothing will.)
(When you solicit donations to “cure” somebody of something that they do not want to be “cured” of, or the “cure” is based on dodgy science, that is fraud. That is just for starters.)
(Worth noting is that one advocate from whom I got this link is critical of Seth‘s work. Not because of what is in it, but rather what is not.)
Neurodiversity.com (A place to look for more links when you get tired of all of these.)
Okay, I have to call it a halt there because I am starting to get ill, and this is barely scratching the surface.
But the point here is as follows. Look at all of the above (especially the basics of peer review), and ask yourself something. With all of the above and more, how can you possibly expect me to respond to a singular court ruling by saying, well… “that clinches it, I guess, vaccines cause autism, I had better go and get cured”?
You cannot. And if you express such an expectation to my face, my fist connecting with your face at a great speed will be the last thing you ever feel.