Monday, May 23, 2016

#1665: Jay Gordon

A.k.a. “Dr. Jay” (he likes to call himself that)

We’ve been hesitant about this one, but ultimately decided that we had to include him. Jay Gordon, and M.D., would of course vigorously deny that he is “anti-vaccine”, and although a case could be made that he is less blatantly anti-vaccine than some other members of the anti-vaccine movement who also deny that they are anti-vaccine (such as Robert F. Kennedy), Gordon is anti-vaccine by any reasonable definition, and has managed to become something of an authority in the anti-vaccine movement (anti-vaxxer Bill Maher, for instance, has said that he finds Gordon “extremely credible,” based on his own lack of expertise and minimal understanding of the field). Gordon is, or at least used to be, a pediatrician to Jenny McCarthy’s son, and has surely done little to dissuade McCarthy from her delusions – quite the contrary (apparently he is pediatrician to Mayim Bialik’s children as well). He also hangs around with leaders of the anti-vaccine movement (and various peddlers of quackery such as homeopathy), gives speeches at anti-vaccine rallies, such as the “Green Our Vaccines” rally in Washington, D.C. in 2008, and hasn’t exactly used those opportunities to take a pro-vaccine or pro-science stance. Instead, Gordon is fully on board with the deceptive anti-vaxx strategy of claiming that they just want to get Big Pharma to make safe vaccines, falsely implying that they aren’t safe already. Of course, the standards of safety they are assuming are standards that could never be achieved in any world remotely similar to the actual one. And, to emphasize: Given their utter insensitivity to any reasonable weighing of the risks of getting a disease (and the accompanying hazards) against the possible negative reaction to vaccination these people are emphatically in the crank camp.

Gordon’s website suggests that he wants to provide parents with information that would enable them to make the best choices for their children (which should not mean balancing sound advice with crazy crackpot denialism, but Gordon is unable to see the distinction). His “information” includes links to artciles he has written, including, for instance, his “Autism and Toxins” published in the venerable journal Huffington Post, suggesting “[t]hat there is no proof that these shots are as safe the makers say they are” (yes, seriously: read that again, and you’ll see why dr. Gordon can be correctly accused of misleading parents). In the article, Gordon just dismisses the science, and instead offers his intuitions. He admits that he has “no proof that vaccines cause autism” (no shit) but claims, against better knowledge, that the question has not been adequately studied. Indeed, Gordon explicitly says that we should dismiss evidence, science or the judgments of scientist when these go against “experienced doctors” (himself) who use their “eyes and ears” and listen to “parents who are certain that vaccines caused their children’s autism”; those who dismiss the latter are just “mean-spirited” (and to emphasize: note his distinction between the kind doctors, like himself, and the “mean-spirited” ones who follow science instead of intuition). And when pushed on the issue, Gordon has even tried to argue that we need to redefine “science” to incorporate a broader evidence-base that also takes seriously what he already knows in his guts to be uncontrovertibly true and therefore not refutable by properly done studies. Here is a deconstruction of some of his other misconceptions about vaccines. Here is another.

Gordon also peddles the stupid myth that vaccines are full of toxins such as aluminum and formaldehyde, and although he does vaccinate children on parents’ request, he does so rather unwillingly and advices against following the standard schedule because of his intuition-based misconceptions about how the immune system works (in stark contrast to the recommendations of those who actually know how it works, of course) ; according to Gordon “the immune system, like every other system of the body, matures slowly, and that it can better tolerate viral infection at older ages and better tolerate one virus at a time,” which probably sounds reasonable to those who don’t know much about the topic but is, in fact, nonsense.

But he denies being anti-vaccine; oh, no – he just wants to have a conversation and for his misconceptions (and those of his fellow anti-vaxxers) to be taken seriously. As a matter of fact, Gordon has even said that “I can tell you that my very strong impression is that children with the fewest vaccines, or no vaccines at all, get sick less frequently and are healthier in general. I truly believe they also develop less autism and other ‘persistent developmental delays.’” So, yes – he does believe that vaccines cause autism (Another example? What about: “It’s true that the onset of autism often coincides with the time that kids are getting their shots. But the vast majority of times that I see a temporal relationship, I’m assuming it’s not a coincidence;” because … post-hoc fallacies are not fallacious when he is making them? He offers nothing else). He just doesn’t want to say those words out loud. What about herd immunity? “What I really want is an honest discussion of the risks and benefits of each vaccine and combinations of vaccines for your child. Just your child;” not about herd immunity, in other words. Once again, Gordon is anti-vaccine by any reasonable definition of “anti-vaccine”. Heck, he has even claimed that scientists are involved in a Big Pharma-paid conspiracy to cover up the vaccine-autism link (“The proof is not there yet [so how does he know? That’s right: He just does]. It will be found. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another fifty years and hundreds of court cases to convince the government and the public. Private industry is once again duping the FDA, doctors and the public”). How more anti-vaccine do you think it is possible to be?

Diagnosis: Zealous anti-vaccine facilitator (we do sort of suspect he really knows better). Because he does, in fact, possess a medical degree his misconceptions, half-truths and myths – precisely what the parents he caters to want to hear, of course – seem to carry a lot of weight among those who don’t know better. Dangerous.

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