Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | June 5, 2012

Science Hubris, or Shame on You, Mayim Bialik

Turns out that Mayim Bialik, PhD, is an antivaxer.  Thanks to Marziah Karch of Wired for so eloquently expressing the disappointment I share:

I’d rather be mentioning her in a positive light. She’s a bit of a geek icon, and as I said, I’d really love to adore her. In many ways I still do, but I’m disappointed in her irrational fear of vaccines. Her book implies that choosing not to vaccinate is equally acceptable as vaccinating. She goes on to say that she’s happy not vaccinating, and the books she recommends parents use for research play up vaccine fears and do not reflect mainstream medical views. She may not see that as directly telling other parents what to do, but I and many others see it as influencing parents on what to do.

I, too, want to love Mayim. What’s not to love? She’s talented, smart, and Jewish. From all accounts, she’s a wonderful mother, a talented writer, and an engaging speaker. So what’s the problem?

Apparently, Mayim has fallen victim to the hubris that an advanced scientific degree in any given field immediately makes you an unqualified expert in everything “science”. Sadly, because of human nature, virtually the opposite is true. Highly educated, intelligent people are far more likely to fall for pseudoscience in fields outside their own, especially with emotionally charged topics. I know chemists who believe in astrology, astronomers who swear by homeopathy, cardiothoracic surgeons who believe in acupuncture…the list goes on. Surely Mayim, with her PhD in neuroscience, would easily see through someone pushing phrenology. Why she is so quick to fall for junk science in other areas is equal parts sad and puzzling.

Mayim went ahead and responded to the above post. Sort of. Actually, she said she wasn’t responding, but then she did (just a little):

Here’s a nibble, though (sigh): Children today get about four times as many vaccines as the average 35-year-old did when we were kids. Besides visiting the CDC website and finding out who gets diseases the medical establishment vaccinates for (and why and where and when), here are the books we used to research each vaccine and discuss each with several doctors before deciding what was right for our family.

The Parents’ Concise Guide to Childhood Vaccinations: Practical Medical and Natural Ways to Protect Your Child, by Lauren Feder. Hatherleigh Press, 2007.

The Vaccine Book: Making The Right Decision for Your Child, by Robert Sears. Little Brown, 2011.

That’s right: sources by known antivaccine advocates. You say you don’t want to discuss it, Mayim, but you give yourself away by the sources you cite. It’s like responding to accusations of antisemitism by saying, “I’m not going to bite. We’ve done lots of research on the subject. You can decide for yourself. Here are the books we’ve used,” and then referencing Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf.

Children today may get four times as many vaccines as did their parents 35 years ago, but millions fewer of them die of Hib meningitis, become sterile due to mumps orchitis, have febrile reactions or seizures because of acellular pertussis vaccines, or suffer the sequelae of invasive pneumococcal disease. Vaccines are the victim of their own success. It’s impossible to see things that don’t happen, but make no mistake: children today are significantly less likely to die of vaccine-preventable illnesses than they were before, well, vaccines.

As a mother, Mayim, you entitled to your own opinions. But as a scientist, you are not entitled to your own facts. I don’t hate you. I’m just disappointed. Please do some further research — real research, from reliable sources (the reading list on the post you refused to respond to is a good place to start) — and reconsider your public stance on the subject of vaccines.


Responses

  1. Indeed. I appreciate your analysis and suggest that anyone who considers that vaccines may somehow be harmful look at what Bill Gates is doing for the people of this world who are not as fortunate as we are.

  2. Thank you. I so very, very much share your sentiments and couldn’t have expressed them more eloquently. I am a bit crushed, though that someone who brings so much laughter into our home is not as perfect as I wish her to be. So, she doesn’t make my rock- stars of science list (headed by my fave Paul Offitt.) I’ll just keep her on my list of actors that make me laugh but should not be spokespersons for children’s health. I am also a dinosaur, a rural solo pediatrician in practice 22 years.

  3. You have, once again, wrought mightily, a clear and concise discussion. I’ve been an FP for 30 years and well remember the horrors of H. flu meningitis.I had contemporaries who’d had polio, for goodness sake. It’s weird, public health is so much better now, and vaccines get way too little credit for that and antibiotics get way too much credit.

  4. Just a note on ‘your own facts.’ The source you quote that tars Dr. Bob Sears with the anti-vax brush is highly inaccurate and cherry picks quotes out of context to do so.

    The book John Snyder misrepresents is actually very pro-vaccine, and **recommends that all children be fully vaccinated**. Each chapter ultimately argues why the vaccines are important for your child, with the exception of the chicken pox (which as I recall you also are not a huge supporter of) and the Hep B vaccine (which he suggests may be better to wait on until the early teen years unless you have certain risk factors).

    Even if I did not know that particular book, I would not trust Dr. Snyder right off the bat because of this:

    “Dr. Robert Sears is perhaps one of the best-known pediatricians in the country. The youngest son of Dr. Bill Sears, the prolific parent book writer and creator of AskDrSears.com, Dr. Bob has become the bane of many a pediatrician’s existence.”

    A thirty second google search would have revealed that Dr. Robert Sears is not the youngest son of Dr. Bill Sears and Mrs. Martha Sears. That would be Stephen. And the reason this would is so well known and easy to find is that Stephen has Down’s Syndrome, and Dr. and Mrs. Sears have written eloquently and extensively about the joys and challenges of parenting a special needs child.

    Dr. Snyder apparently did his book research about as well as he did the rest of his research. Or perhaps he is so blinded by his worship of ALL vaccines, EXACTLY on schedule, for EVERY child even those with previous serious and life threatening reactions to that exact vaccine that facts be damned, anyone who dares question anything must be utterly destroyed.

    (For the record, I am not anti-vax. But I am against anyone who tells half truths and outright lies for the point of character assassination against someone who does not worship his particular sacred cow.)

    ~A

  5. [...] Science Hubris, or Shame on You, Mayim Bialik by Lucy E. Hornstein MD [...]

  6. [...] Science Hubris, or Shame on You, Mayim Bialik by Lucy E. Hornstein MD [...]

  7. [...] Science Hubris, or Shame on You, Mayim Bialik by Lucy E. Hornstein MD [...]


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