Dr. Stephanie Cave’s book, What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Children’s Vaccinations (Warner Books, 2001), is an attempt to inform non-medically trained people about hersuspicions concerning the potential dangers of vaccinations. However, her attempts more often fall short of their intended goal. No doubt, this book will leave questioning parents anxious and worried about the effects of vaccinations. But is this anxiety valid? In order to answer this question, one needs to examine (first) Cave’s interpretation of supporting evidence, (second) her logical reasoning and defense, and (third) her methodology for conclusions.
Since the writing of this book eight years ago, there have been no less than eight epidemiological studies (one as recently as 2008) that conclusively-as conclusively as the scientific method allows-show no correlation whatsoever between autism and either vaccines or the preservatives used in them. Furthermore, since 2001, thimerosal has been nearly completely removed from childhood vaccines (by a 96%+ reduction). And case studies like the MMR study in Japan-after the cancelation of the MMR vaccine-have successfully and thoroughly disproved any relationship between MMR and autism.
What’s more, Andrew Wakefield-oft quoted by Case in her book (e.g. p 65)-has been debunked in his research methodology. Some argue that Wakefield has been blackballed by vaccine manufacturers, but the fact remains that Wakefield did not follow the procedures of valid scientific research, despite his claims otherwise. Wakefield claims to hold to traditional scientific methodological research, but then cheated to get the results he sought. Wakefield’s findings were based on 12 children-a laughable number considering the vast number of quantitative and qualitative based research case studies, to the contrary.
Secondly, there is the issue of Cave’s logic and reasoning. Far from subscribing to either a purely deductive or inductive presentation, Cave employs numerous questionable argumentations. She regularly argues the converse fallacy of accident-drawing broad conclusions from the limited number of patients she herself has treated. Ironically, even among those that she had treated (some 600 by her account), there are some who don’t respond to the treatment. Her conclusion: they must have been too old. (Ironically, when you create your own system for success or failure, it’s easy to explain away exceptions.)
Cave also draws several irrelevant conclusions by begging the question. Consider her conclusions in the section “Mass Immunizations = More Illnesses” where she writes, “Are these increases [in a variety of illnesses] just a coincidence or are they partly a result of better diagnostic testing? Or could it be, as many experts and parents believe, that these chronic health problems are the result, at least in part, of continued assaults on the immune system of infants and young children with injections of viruses, bacteria, and various toxic substances?” (24; cf 46-47 for another example). These questions are fine to ask, but the mere asking of them is not an answer. In fact, Cave doesn’t answer these questions at all-but simply assumes the conclusion that vaccines cause illnesses.
Also consider the broad use of abstract terms: “many parents” or “many experts.” These no more prove or disprove a particular conclusion (Cave’s conclusion being that immunizations cause autism) any more than one saying that “many children” believe in Santa Claus proves his existence. For that matter, to what experts does Cave refer? And as for parents (I have four young children), when did becoming a parent make one an expert in medicine, or any other discipline for that matter?
Cave has no problem making arguments from “silent evidence” (borrowing a term from Nassim Taleb). Perhaps the most glaring case is her statement that, “Not only are there tens of thousands of vaccines adverse events reported-but tens of thousands more not reported” (22). If these supposed cases are not reported, how does she know? Answer: she doesn’t! This is unfounded reasoning based presumably on statistics and (though Cave doesn’t defend her suppositions) a classic Gaussian bell curve.
When Cave isn’t arguing from fear (argumentum ad baculum) or popular sentiment (argumentum ad populum), and trying to win over unwitting readers through pity (argumentum ad Misericordiam), she draws heavily on the fallacy of false cause. Because she “believes” that immunizations are bad for children, she doesn’t bother to show the relevance of various juxtaposed segments of text. For example, on page 61, she fires off statistics on the increase of autism in various US states in the mid- to late-1990s. In the very next paragraph, she rattles off the number of immunizations that children during that time period were receiving. But she does nothing to show a relationship between the two segments of information-unless the reader accepts the faulty reasoning. This reasoning follows that if someone shows that children had an average of 10 soft drinks per month in the 1990s and then list the increase in autism rates in the same period, then this is conclusive proof that soft drinks cause autism! As such, readers should not accept for a moment the unjustified accounting of data as evidence supporting a particular conclusion when any conclusion can be drawn.
Sadly, Cave has little or nothing positive to say about immunizations. She concedes they might, occasionally save lives (like her passing reference to potential dangers of these diseases on page 19; cf, 17). Rather, she casts doubts on medically trained, practicing and published, research specialists (like Paul Offit; pg 36) for presumed “conflicts of interest” while exalting non-medically trained, politicians who are angry to find one of their grandchildren has autism (aka. Dan Burton who chaired the House Government Reform Committee during the great “witch-hunt” for the vaccines-cause-autism debates, pg. 31). Apparently in Cave’s eyes, having a grandson with autism-as Burton does-doesn’t render him biased and with “conflicts of interest” but holding a patent or working for a particular company does. Again, Cave exalts suspicion where it supports her claims, and dismisses findings (as biased) when they contradict her commitments. This is paramount to philosophic alchemy.
Fact: measles has killed hundreds of millions of people throughout history, including nearly 200 million people worldwide in the past 150 years (that’s more than half the current population of the US). In 1875, nearly 40,000 Fijians died during one outbreak-nearly a third of the population. Rubella outbreaks plagued the US as recently as 1965, leading to over 11,000 miscarriages and more than 20,000 cases of congenital rubella syndrome. These deaths aren’t just numbers. They were real people with real children (born and unborn) who really died or were blinded or otherwise disabled.
Consider this reality for a moment, and pit against it the supposition of unfounded claims that Cave makes in her book. When she isn’t criticizing the immunization process, Cave is making claims that begin with, “I believe… (pgs. 7, 31, 32, 72 , and 80 to name a few). This isn’t proof-this is theorization. The fact is-if Cave had factual evidence, she is compelled to present it. But sadly, her evidence is more the raising of suspicion than the demonstration of proofs.
Even her wording occasionally reveals the depth of her committing to prove something that science doesn’t support. On page 34, Cave writes, “In November 1999 the vaccine was pulled from the market because it was linked with ninety-nine reports of a rare bowel obstruction called intussusceptions and at least one death in infants.” Does this mean only one person died, and that person was an infant; or does this mean that many people died but only one was an infant? Cave is attempting to provoke the casual reader who is likely to miss the impact of the clunky reference, and render the finding as “…death in infants” (plural).
Cave wants to put parents on the jury (80) to make decisions regarding the cellular impact of vaccines, and risks in not giving them to children; while admitting that scientifically trained researchers don’t fully understand the process of such things (23). She is critical of the governments “one size fits all” approach to vaccines (20-21), but doesn’t offer an alternative short of just seeing who gets a disease. She lumps half a dozen diseases in with autism to make a case against vaccines, such as childhood diabetes-which in the vast majority of cases has been proven to be linked to childhood obesity (and the poor diet of many American children). And while she gives nod to the medically trained, practicing research specialists (e.g. Ronald Kennedy, pg 25)-it’s her philosophic comrades that get the lion’s share of attention: un-credentialed and medically untrained Barbara Loe Fisher, for example (pg 25-26).
In conclusion-while science doesn’t support the claims purported by Cave in this book, what is tragic is the uncritical manner in which she has presented her information. Poor research and methodology aside, Cave clearly has an agenda. It’s not to get to the truth-but to advance her beliefs. At the end of the day, it isn’t research of proven methodology, doctors, researchers, or even trained professionals dignified by a respected community committed to the scientific method that Cave leans upon. It’s the unnamed mother, quoted as saying (in an oddly medical way), “I wouldn’t give my child food with MSG; and I certainly wouldn’t feed him aluminum, mercury, or formaldehyde, so why would I knowingly have those things injected into his bloodstream?” (28)
I guess that pretty much settles it… for anybody who want a case of fear mongering (52-53) and pity cases (28, 67, 89). But for those looking for evidence that can be scientifically studied, argued, supported and defended-Cave sadly leaves readers wanting.
Click here to read a review of Autism’s False Prophets, and here to read a review of Blame it on the Brain.