Anti-vaccine loons exhibit the love/hate relationship with science so typical of pseudoscientists – on the one hand, they have to vigorously deny or pretend not to see that science consistently produces results that don’t support their cherished fantasies; on the other, they will desperately try to use whatever flimsy and imaginary support they can in the scientific literature, wherever they can find it. And applying enough motivated reasoning, Texas sharpshooting, cherry-picking and misunderstanding, you will always seem to find some if you torture it enough.
John Gilmore is as fine an example of these dynamics as any. Gilmore is the Executive Director of the Autism Action Network, and a convinced vaccine denialist. He has testified against requiring health care workers to be vaccinated with the flu vaccine, and has made a number of appearances in anti-vaccine rallies and various new stories that need “balance”, always arguing the dingbat side. Moreover, Gilmore is the author of “2003 Danish Study on Mercury Fabricated? New Study Completely Different Results” (note the question mark. The background is described here, but the short story is this: Antivaccinationists really, really don’t like the so-called “Danish studies,” of which one unsurprisingly found no link between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism, and another found no link between the MMR and autism. Of course, these two studies are mere drops in an ocean of studies finding no such link, but they have nonetheless become particular targets for these loons. You see, some years ago one of the co-investigators of the Danish studies, Poul Thorsen, was charged with fraud and misuse of federal grant money that he purportedly used for private expenses. That Thorsen was not the main author, that the fact that he misused grant money for personal expenses in no way invalidates or affects the results, or that the studies themselves are mere drops in the ocean of evidence, doesn’t matter much to the crazies, who made quite a bit of meaningless noise to divert attention from the real issues. Gilmore, however, appears to think that he hit gold with the publication of a new study, Grønborg et al. (2013). Like the previous studies, Grønborg et al. found no evidence of a link between autism and vaccines – in fact, it found very, very strong evidence for a significant genetic component in autism and no evidence for environmental factors. Gilmore disregarded that part of the study, the part that produced further evidence against the conclusion he wants to be true; Gilmore focused instead on the fact that Grønborg et al. operated with different figures than the “Danish studies”, which is unsurprising since they were studying completely different questions using completely different designs (details here), longer follwups, and took into account the expansion definition of “autism” that has occurred in the meantime, as they should. But to Gilmore, who apparently fails to grasp the basic facts about scientific methodology, the fact that they used a different study design is evidence that the “Danish Studies” were fraud. And if they were fraud, everything must apparently be a conspiracy, and Gilmore’s pseudoscientific denialism is vindicated. The usual story.
In 2005, Gilmore praised the work of David Kirby: “Thanks to David’s incredibly hard work the book has done phenomenally well. Two years ago this was the province of the loonie fringe. EOH has put us in the mainstream. Our main job is to destroy the credibility of the vaccine industry and that’s just what EOH has done.” Wonder whether he, ten years later, still believes that he’s not on the loonie fringe?