Anti-Vaxxer Websites – Venues for Brainwashing?

By Michael Edmonds 15/06/2011 16


I’ve just been reading my first Kindle book, “Believing Bullshit: How not to get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole” by Stephen Law, which was recommended to me by a friend. Chapter 8 talks about different methods by which people can be brainwashed into believing strange beliefs. These include:

Isolation – removing the person from associating with people who might have dissenting views

Control – limiting a person’s access to resources which only push your point of view

Uncertainty – creating doubts about any other belief system

Repetition – repeating the same beliefs over and over again.

Emotion – inducing fear is considerably effective, as is making people feel guilty about considering dissenting views.

As I read this list it hit me that the structure of many anti-vaxxer sites and the behaviour of anti-vaxxers involve these techniques.

Many anti-vaxxer sites ban or block those with dissenting views, isolating their members from challenging information and controlling the type of information their members are exposed to. Key (often erroneous) beliefs are often repeated ad nauseum, for example, the belief that vaccines contain aborted fetal material or that there is a medico-industrial conspiracy to poison people with vaccines. Such conspiracies also create an “us” vs “them” mentality which further enforces the isolation. Many erroneous claims are promoted about vaccines, creating uncertainty.  Finally, and in my opinion most insidiously, antivaxxers use emotions such as fear and guilt to bully their opponents. Jibes and threats of the most vile nature have been leveled against vaccine creators, and last year members of the anti-vaccine Australian Vaccine Network were accused of harassing the parents of a child who died of whooping cough. Pictures of crying babies faced with large needles play on a parent’s protective instincts, distracting them from seeing the benefits of vaccination.

So are anti-vaxxer websites venues for brainwashing? Make your own mind up. Next time you visit an anti-vaxxer website or listen to an anti-vaccine advocate, watch for these techniques.


16 Responses to “Anti-Vaxxer Websites – Venues for Brainwashing?”

  • Argh, did you read Sam’s link, Michael? A healthy immune system is utterly important, but it’s foolish to think it’s enough to protect yourself from viruses and symptoms. The link also played the “natural” versus “artificial” immunity gambit.

    That link was filled with Very Misleading Advice. A distressing read. 🙁

  • Adults can choose to not vaccinate despite that vaccines have an excellent track record and that the risk of problems is higher with the diseases than the vaccines. That is, adults can choose to play against the odds. That shouldn’t have to be done by offered unsound justification, though.

    The best defense against the flu, or other vaccine-preventable infection or illness, is to immunise yourself against it. (Unless you are one of the small proportion of people who can’t.) Being healthy may help you react better to infection than someone who is ill or very unhealthy, but someone who is vaccinated will react much better to the infection than someone who is not.

    Being healthy will not reduce the chance of being infected—that’s determined by being near infected people, etc.

  • Matty,

    Just read the link, Sam provided and it is naive to say the least. The more aggressive strains of flu can overcome the most resilent healthy immune system, and when such a strain will arise is any bodys guess. However, as an adult it is his right not to choose this option, though I would hope the moment he does feel ill he isolates himself from others.
    The only time I have ever suffered from a bad dose of the flu is when I got it early in the season before I had had a flu shot. Other than that over the past 8 or so years I have only suffered from mild colds. Anecdotal I know, but it is my experience.
    I see the link also mentions mercury in the vaccines. However levels of thimerosal (which incidentally is quite different to mercury as the element or as simple organic mercury compounds) as so low, and not used in every vaccine, that a tuna sandwich would contain more mercury.

    I agree that healthy living does assist with keeping a healthy immune system and try to live healthy myself, but relying only on healthy living to resist flu infections is very naive, in my opinion.

  • In the 1950s there were hundreds of millions of rabbits eating a vegan diet and suckling their young. Then came myxomatosis. 95% died. The black plagues devasted the population of Europe, rich and poor. It’s a myth, among others, spread by the anti-vaccinators, that diet will protect them from disease. What does protect them is that most people around them have been vaccinated. Look at Australian Newspapers online on the National Library of Australia’s website. Search the names of common diseases to find out what families suffered before vaccination.

  • As adults we can choose to get vaccinated or not, but anti-vaxxer parents leave their kids with no choice. They play russian roulette with their children’s health.

  • John,

    I’m not sure the myxomatosis analogy quite works as a comparison but agree with you that diet alone will not protect people from microbes and associated disease.
    Though it is probably reasonable to suggest that a healthy diet does have a number of benefits which will minimise disease when used along side vaccines.

  • One thing I probably could add here. If you choose not to vaccinate, you will be more likely than those that vaccinate to pass on an infection to others, including to some who may not respond well to infection. Others inability to respond well may not be their choice, as it would be for you. Those others who you are are most likely to pass infection on to will be those who you associate with most often – your family, friends, colleagues and so on. Just a thought.

  • Sam Hight believes that his immune system is in good enough condition to deal with diseases and I think he meant that all one needs to do is to sing holy, holy, holy.

    Yep, I’ve seen two fatal cases (relatives of mine) where they refused medical treatments, thus preferring to pray & sing hymns instead with help of the local village church ministers.

  • Falafulu Fisi

    Sorry to hear about your relatives. How frustrating and sad that must have been to watch.

  • “The best defense against the flu, or other vaccine-preventable infection or illness, is to immunise yourself against it.”

    As a science blog sponsored by the government it’s important that a science base is used to support statements of fact.

    The Cochrane Reviews are the gold standard for evidence-based medicine and their reviews of the evidence would disagree with the above claim.

    Even hand washing is much more effective at controlling ‘the flu than flu vaccine.
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/o/cochrane/clsysrev/articles/CD006207/pdf_fs.html

    Science blogs should focus on promoting evidence-based solutions.

  • Ron,

    Yes, Cochrane Reviews are one of the gold standards for evidence based medicine.

    I’ve just checked the Cochrane reviews and while a number of their studies involving immunisation against influenza have been inconclusive (due to lack of reliable data) there is a review from 2008 which concludes:

    “The review authors found that in children aged from two years, nasal spray vaccines made from weakened influenza viruses were better at preventing illness caused by the influenza virus (82% of illnesses were prevented) than injected vaccines made from the killed virus (59%). Neither type was particularly good at preventing ‘flu-like illness’ caused by other types of viruses (33% and 36% respectively).”

    If you are aware of any Cochrane reviews which state that vaccines do not work against influenza please provide the reference, as I would be interested in reading it.

  • “If you are aware of any Cochrane reviews which state that vaccines do not work against influenza please provide the reference, as I would be interested in reading it.”

    Have you read what one of the Coçhrane influenza vaccine reviewers wrote? “”The optimistic and confident tone of some predictions of viral circulation and of the impact of inactivated vaccines, which are at odds with the evidence, is striking. The reasons are probably complex and may involve “a messy blend of truth conflicts and conflicts of interest making it difficult to separate factual disputes from value disputes”22 or a manifestation of optimism bias (an unwarranted belief in the efficacy of interventions).23”

    http://www.bmj.com/content/333/7574/912.full

    Firstly, you have to define what influenza… the vast majority of what’s called influenza is not influenza. So Jefferson is saying that the influenza vaccine can not possibly reduce most cases of ‘influenza’ (sometimes referred to as influenza-like illness ILI).

  • But that is not the same as saying that the flu vaccine is ineffective against the specific strains of influenza virus for which it was developed.

  • Ron

    “Firstly, you have to define what influenza… the vast majority of what’s called influenza is not influenza. So Jefferson is saying that the influenza vaccine can not possibly reduce most cases of ‘influenza’ ”

    Well it seems rather obvious to me that an influenza vaccine will only be effective against influenza. The fact that many people confuse what is influenza and what isn’t, seems a strange argument to make?
    If someone is vaccinated and catches a cold within the following year that is certainly better than catching a cold and also influenza during the following year, is it not?