NHTI professor Nathan Strong knew that inviting a prominent opponent of vaccination to speak to a class about the science of vaccines would be a little controversial.
That turned out to be a good prediction, as long as “a little” is translated as “very.” Maybe even “very, very.”
“I was not expecting the reaction,” admitted Strong, who has taught in the biology department at NHTI for 21 years, including a stint as department head.
The outcry occurred after Strong invited Laura Condon, New Hampshire director of advocacy for the National Vaccine Information Center, to speak to a class Nov. 16. Condon is probably the state’s most outspoken opponent of vaccination programs and vaccines in general.
The invitation was made, Strong wrote in a letter to critics, not because he wanted to present some sort of balance to the issue of vaccination – he realizes there’s no debate about the incredible value that society receives from inoculation programs – but “so the class had the opportunity to hear all the false arguments . . . and be able to recognize them as such.”
Critics responded that he was naive because no matter what happened in class, Condon and others would view the invitation as a stamp of validity.
Strong told me in interviews as the controversy raged that this issue had not occurred to him. “To some degree, I have to concede that point to them, and concede that Condon and her organization are making hay of this presentation opportunity,” he said Friday.
Still, Strong said, the entire debate has turned into a new learning opportunity. Which is sort of the idea of college, after all.
Strong is one of two teachers of a class known as STEM in the First Year, which he described as an orientation for freshmen that focuses on a science topic “in order to introduce students to the field of science and try to alleviate the fear of science that many develop.”
In past years, the class has been built around genetically modified organisms, but this year Strong thought vaccines would be a good topic.
“We have spent a lot of the semester talking about science in general, how it works and why so many current issues today which are scientific issues – like vaccines and climate change – but the science isn’t being listened to,” he said.
For years, Condon has put forth the position, in public talks and venues including the Monitor’s op-ed page, that vaccines are inherently dangerous, ineffective and unnecessary, and should be scaled back or eliminated.
In this position, incidentally, she is wrong. The historical and scientific evidence is clear that widespread vaccination programs are one of the great accomplishments of humanity, eliminating more suffering than almost anything we’ve ever done. Opposing vaccines and government inoculation mandates is like opposing societal programs to provide clean drinking water.
Condon, not surprisingly, isn’t swayed by my certainty. We had a very pleasant phone conversation; she said appreciated the way Strong was “polite and candid” over his disagreement with her position, but didn’t appreciate others’ attempts to have her un-invited.
“The effort to intimidate, ridicule and shut down any conversation, I don’t think that engenders any confidence,” she said, referring to discussion on Facebook. “If the (vaccine) program is not strong enough to address the public’s concerns, I think that’s a red flag. The program should be able to withstand public scrutiny.”
Condon’s invitation became public knowledge after she announced it on her Facebook page and it was noticed by members of a group called Granite State Skeptics. They are part of New Hampshire’s loose skeptic community, which tackles everything from horoscopes and UFOs to homeopathy and creationism. Many skeptics are particularly livid about “anti-vaxxers,” a disparaging term for opponents of vaccination, because their ideas can spread disease and do harm to innocent people.
The idea that Condon was being given an anti-vax platform in a college science class set them off. Protesting emails flew to officials at NHTI and some state agencies and debate grew on Facebook.
“(The students) were surprised, almost incredulous, at how incensed the people on Facebook were,” Strong said.
Students were also irritated by it, he said, because of the implication “that the students were going to be unable to resist the argument that Condon was giving. They said: ‘We’re adults, we can think by ourselves.’ ”
One student joined the Facebook fray to make this argument to skeptics.
“Our concern is not at all with you, your class, or Professor Strong,” wrote Steve Lundquist of Bow, in response. “Rather, the concern is with the unintended consequences of lending Ms Condon an air of legitimacy that she will then take to people less equipped to evaluate her misinformation. . . . While you and your fellow students were probably not swayed by her arguments, the general public on the other hand may be. Which is a real and present threat to public health.”
Therein lies a quandary for public debate about scientific issues. Science thrives on discussion and debate and the weighing of evidence, but the mere fact that a debate exists can give a false impression that all points of view have equal validity.
Imagine a public debate about whether the Earth is flat. That seems ridiculous, but if the discussion was held, no matter what was said, I guarantee some people would get the impression there is scientific support for the flat-planet hypothesis and start agitating for it to be taught in school.
On the other hand, as we’ve seen above, denying debate makes it seem like scientific consensus is hiding something or is scared of the truth.
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Life sure can be complicated.
Having said that, I’m off to get my flu shot.
(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)
It’s worth noting that the discussion on Facebook never disparaged the students’ abilities to discern what is (and is not) good science. It was focused upon how Ms. Condon and NVIC would milk this opportunity to “shout from the rooftops” regarding the invitation, and the legitimacy they received from it.
In turn, they will use said legitimacy to convince parents who might be unsure of their choice to vaccinate to avoid vaccines altogether.
After all, if they weren’t telling the truth, they wouldn’t have been invited to speak….
Apparently patents are even more impressionable than young college students? Doubtful.
Not hardly – there are plenty of parents today who have never had the benefit of learning how to evaluate scientific evidence.
That’s evidenced by the number of new parents refusing vaccines, vitamin K shot, trying to ‘cure’ colds with essential oils or homeopathy, etc.
Real science is founded on thorough evaluation of all the facts, and includes rigorous scientific debate. Many accredited, brilliant scientists have studied the vaccine issue and found flaws in the current science. What if we could fix those? Without open informed exchange of ideas that will never happen.
By disallowing opposing view points you downgrade the pro-vaxxer side to a mere cult following, as opposed to a scientifically established viewpoint. In which case, Anti-vaxxers are not the hysterical, “unscientific” side… Allow her to speak. See what she has to say.
Because the evidence is accepted worldwide by scientific and medical doctors. There is no debate on the current vaccine schedule it’s not safe with minimal side affects and/or rare reaction. Does NASA debate flat earthers?
If there’s no debate, it’s not science. Science is NEVER settled.
My initial attempt at my post contained a typo. Here is a corrected version. If you wouldn’t mind posting this one instead, I’d appreciate that. Thank you.
Wow. What a biased piece of non-journalism.
This is called an opinion –> “In this position, incidentally, she is wrong. The historical and scientific evidence is clear that widespread vaccination programs are one of the great accomplishments of humanity, eliminating more suffering than almost anything we’ve ever done. Opposing vaccines and government inoculation mandates is like opposing societal programs to provide clean drinking water.”
For starters, anyone interested in the facts of the matter must know that one can’t make blanket statements about whether “vaccines” are on balance better or worse for individual and public health. Co-factors and specific varying circumstances with regard to the availability of sanitation, clean water, & good nutrition, not to mention differing genetic predispositions, current health status, and incidence rate of targeted disease, likelihood of complication from targeted disease, number and type of vaccines administered, and according to what schedule all change the risk/benefit ratio for an individual and for subpopulations.
When the writer makes sweeping faith-based statements such as this the centerpiece of his article, without acknowledging them as such, I must conclude that his knowledge level on this topic is shallow to say the least.
There was no sweeping faith based statements in this piece. The fact about vaccination is clearly stated.
Polio, chickenpox, whooping cough, etcetera… If you have heard of few cases of people getting these diseases, it’s because of the efficacy of the vaccines. Vaccines save thousands of lives every year, and depend upon a high degree of cooperation. Certainly, if one’s sole source of science information is a former Playboy bunny, you might get a different impression.
(Yes, the flu vaccine is less effective, given how the disease mutates and travels across the globe, but it’s still better than nothing.)
Amen. I’m sure glad I got my Scarlet Fever and Black Plague vaccines
The reason health authorities across the world, at local, national and international levels, recommend vaccination is exactly because the evidence is incredibly clear and one sided: vaccines’ smaller risks are far outweigh by their large benefits.
Unfortunately you are so wrong as to be held in contempt for the risk posed in such a grotesquely inaccurate and biased load of mid information- good luck with your diseases
Exactly. By inviting someone like Ms. Condon, which advocates against protecting children from diseases by constant use of misinformation, Prof. Strong allowed her to claim legitimacy she does not deserve. Even if none of the students are misled by her – and that cannot be guaranteed, however thoughtful and careful they are: anyone can be misled – others may see it as acknowledging that her point of view is legitimate. But a point of view that relies solely on misinformation is not legitimate. And a point of view that puts children at risk because of misinformation is dangerous.
Ms. Condon has many forums in which to promote her false claims. A university class should not be one of them.
Dorit, (the shill), and you & your big pHARMa bosses have all the answers. That is why you are free & clear to make any vaccine any way you want with mercury, aluminum, peanut oil, etc and cause harm to children. THE SCIENCE IS NOT SETTLED !!! You have NOT conducted any real studies comparing your vaccines against a sterile placebo. Neither have you conducted studies comparing these multi-valent vaccines……… You are wrong on all counts – until you have these impartial studies done AWAY FROM BIG pHARMa $$$$$$$$$$$
Vaccines are extremely thoroughly tested. Here is a post where I addressed, with references, the myths about vaccine testing, including the “no real placebo” myth: http://www.skepticalraptor.com/skepticalraptorblog.php/debunking-myths-about-vaccine-testing-and-safety/
I love it when an AVer shows the world in writing the level of nonsense they believe. Throwing in all capital letters and a barrage of exclamation points (incidentally a sign of being unstable).
Vaccines make up 3% of the entirety of pharmaceutical sales and they are cheap. Not the smoking gun your tired argument of “big pharma” you imagined, huh.
This is why we legislate you.
I don’t understand. So its okay for professors to declare their opinions as fact across the gamat in the name of education but its not okay to present a class with an alternative view? Regardless of either position, this is positive, balanced education.
We vaccinated. On schedule. Never questioned. That is until one of our children reacted. Reacted again. Reacted again again and again and we were too blind believing the mainstream that it was anything but the vaccines.in fact, we never even thought of blaming the vaccines. Until one day I read an article about an increased rate of “x” in children that received dtap.Peaked my interest. Started reading everything possible. Started scouring sources. Sure enough, sure enough the drug makers knew it. The doctors knew it. But it was just acceptable to sacrifice her for the greater good. No thank you. My child not yours. Who knew her body would start healing itself once we stopped vaccinating?! (Read sarcasm). We don’t vaccinate any longer.
This is precisely the problem.
You went ‘scouring sources’ – however, not all sources are valid. Like Ms. Condon’s ‘sources’, those put forth by anti-vaccine individuals (and organizations) are flawed, misrepresented, and at some times, flat out lies.
I’m sorry your child had a reaction. If you feel she was injured, you should seek compensation for it. You should still vaccinate for other diseases.
If your child were allergic to strawberries, would you stop feeding her fruit altogether? No, and there’s no reason to.
So ? What happened with her talk ? Has it occurred yet ? Did she actually go ahead with it ?
You lead with ‘speaks to NHIT audience’, but don’t give us the outcome. I understand there is the preamble kerfuffle to be mentioned, but then …… nothing. It just tails off with you going to get your flu shot (good on you btw) and we are left hanging.
The talk consisted entirely of her presentation, with no time for questions, so it’s not clear what affect she had on students’ opinions – follow-up classes will determine that. I started to get into the issue but the column was so long already, and I didn’t think it was all that germane – so I cut it out.
In almost any reporting, deciding what to leave out is the hardest part.
Off to get the flu shot because it is scientific. Here is some science. Last years flu shot was 23% effective. That doesn’t beat placebo. But go ahead.
See my semi-related story, also here on the blog, about a proposed law regarding flu shots – it discusses the relative ineffectiveness of last year’s vaccine.
And yet none of the sources you listed indicated that last year’s flu shot was no better than a placebo.
One of them actually says the following, “Influenza vaccines have a very modest effect in reducing influenza symptoms and working days lost in the general population, including pregnant women. No evidence of association between influenza vaccination and serious adverse events was found in the comparative studies considered in the review. This review includes 90 studies, 24 of which (26.7%) were funded totally or partially by industry. Out of the 48 RCTs, 17 were industry-funded (35.4%).”
So, where is your science which supports your claim for placebo?
Haha!! And you quote Skeptical Raptor as your source? Look into who he is first, if you want science, don’t ask a marketing man, you’ll be duped with propaganda!
“denying debate makes it seem like scientific consensus is hiding something or is scared of the truth”
Yeah, pretty much sums it up. And while the ‘debate’ happened, note the ‘no time for questions’ and very minimal coverage of the actual event… and I’m sure the one-sided ‘education’ that will happen in later classes now that the person who could refute the misinformation is gone. That’s “education” these days… more like assimilation. Poor students…
“The science is clear, the science is clear”
Did you look into the science of “insertional mutagenesis”?
The dogma is clear and you did an excellent job parroting it.
Prolly want a cracker?
“The Science” is frighteningly limited and the media rote.
Injury from the flu shot, most frequently Guillan Barre, is the most highly compensated in the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.
Did you really run off to get your flu shot?
You must be feeling lucky because the odds are not in your favor.
Had your heavy metals burden tested recently?
Medicine is so successful almost no one is healthy.
“Healthcare” is the third leading cause of death in the US and the leading cause of personal bankruptcy.
Do you think genetic pollution will possibly be the final straw for humankind?
Scientists have rushed in where angels fear to tread.
The science of generating genetically spliced food that is non-nutritious, highly poisonous, and highly toxic to our planet is clear.
The science of cancer is so clear you are more likely to die from it as not.
What is mysteriously not clear is the science surrounding the nation’s most unhealthy generation of children, ever.
Just can’t seem to get a handle on that Alzheimer’s or Autism can we?
Please rest now- you have done your economic role.
‘Original antigenic sin’: when a vaccine teaches the immune system to have a permanent default memory of fighting a virus strain in an inefficient way:
“Interestingly, since the vaccine effectiveness at this intermediate antigenic
distance between the vaccine and circulating strains is lower than the effectiveness at a larger antigenic distance in unvaccinated people, original antigenic sin could make vaccinated people more susceptible to the virus than those who are unvaccinated.” p. 3
If you believe “science” is already determined, and is merely about majority consensus, you are actually referring to religion.
If you believe a potential finding in scientific studies, or hypotheses presented by scientists are unquestionably true, you are actually talking beliefs.
If you believe in this concept of science above all else, and cannot consider criticism or permit this science to be challenged or questioned, then you are following dogma.
If you believe all people must follow this science without doubting or searching for more answers, you are demanding an act of faith.
If you believe that the amount of science you have at your hands right now is the ultimate knowledge, and that all people must be compelled through peer pressure or laws to follow this science, you are attempting to make our country a theocracy.
Thank you Martha for pointing out that aspects of science especially vaccines is a faith based practice since our own government acknowledges that they are unavoidably unsafe. I’m reading these comments and I know many of you haven’t done 1st hand research but rather are regurgitating info you believe to be true. I know with historical facts that vaccines never eliminated or decreased rates of disease or death. Don’t take my word for it, go to your library like I did and get the real information yourself.
Very bad journalism! Go back to school David.
It is not a question about what great things vaccines accomplished in the past. The issue today is QUALITY!!! Vaccines today are NOT AT ALL equivalent to the vaccines of yesteryear. Pharmaceuticals are no longer about safety and health. They are about money and greed. To prove my point, I ask you WHY are pharmaceuticals protected from responsibility to vaccine-injured people?? And better yet, WHY do pharmaceuticals no longer have ANY REQUIREMENT to test and prove the safety and effectiveness of any vaccine???
Look up SQUALENE? Why was this neuro-poison put in our military’s anthrax vaccines at Desert Storm? And how did it get FDA approval for use in current flu vaccines???
Someone stated that homeopathy and natural remedies were a poor substitute for ‘real medicine’ and such. I wonder if they understand that nearly all patented synthetic medicines, are merely singular or combined copies, which are sourced from nature and organic sources in the first place? Here is your lesson in science for the day; It’s big business to be able to identify the key ingredient in a herbal remedy, patent the effective item, via synthesized version. That’s where the money is, but such segregation of organic compounds, and consumption of synthetic substitutes, often results in the human body getting inferior results, or having reactions from the ‘medicines’. To enforce the false position that official pharmaceutical medicine is better than naturally sourced herbal alternatives, the industry has made it illegal for a herb to be stated as having curable properties, even though the exact match synthetic of the same sourced herb, can be called ‘curing medicine’. What all arguments in this thread have over looked, is the consideration of individual liberty. I have liberty. Nobody can force me to accept a vaccine, if I don’t want to. Institutions like NVIC continue to gain supporters, because the pharmaceutical industry has violated the principals of personal liberty, by trying to deny civil services, employment, schooling, and other considerations, denying that to persons whom do not vaccinate. Vaccines are just another medical product. Can you imagine being fined and ridiculed if you did not take your daily aspirin or use epson salts every time you bathed, or what have you. Everyone is missing the point. Big pharma has crossed the line, abusing the representative governance system, by attempting to eliminate citizens liberty of choice, in their personal medical decision making processes. If for no other reason than such an action is offensive to the principals of personal liberty, I now refuse the product. At it’s core, the vaccination argument is not primarily about science, it is about ethics and liberty. It is unethical to force a person whom enjoys liberty, and has done nothing wrong, it is unethical to force them to adopt an opinion, or medical treatment, other than their own. Consider the ramifications of such a bold movement of the line of individual liberty. Supporters of forced vaccinations can look forward to a brave new world where any medical treatment deemed necessary, will become legally mandated, and persons whom make individual choices, will be subject to increasing penalties, up to the loss and removal of their own personal freedoms. Jailed for not taking a vaccine. That’s where this argument leads. How about jailed for not paying your credit card bill. If you’re turning hospitals into agents of the state, why not bring back debtors prisons as well? I guess I’m an anti vaxxer, but not really. Our kids had a light assortment of vaccines, and so did we. We’ve toned back our patronage of these pharma companies, based primarily on ethical principal, because we are astute and devoted lovers of liberty. Know your history, or be condemned to repeat it. Tyranny is defined as absence of liberty. Go get your vaccines, I don’t care. You’re their customer, not me, and there is no way they can make me a customer. Free markets are where products are supported by merit and consumer demand. Socialism is the absence of consumer choice. Should I start quoting Lincoln on the preparations of bondage? I hope you’re well enough educated on constitutional principal to understand these arguments. You can’t control others ethics, but only your own. Shaming anti vaxxers is the modern day equivalent of a mob demanding the witch be burned. Put liberty first, and we’ll all be safe enough, vaccinated or not. Remove liberty from the equation, and you’ll have much much greater concerns than some medicine to contend with. Thank you.
To find the truth follow the money trail!!!