How can you tell the difference between an expert and a quaxpert on vaccines?


Whom should you trust on vaccines, an expert or a quaxpert? And how can you tell the difference?

1. An expert has formal education in the topic at hand, while the quaxpert has none.

This has several important implications. It means that the expert has been exposed to a wide variety of evidence and viewpoints. He or she tends to be familiar with ALL the scientific evidence, not merely cherry picked studies that the quaxpert has never read and wouldn’t understand if she did read. It means that the expert is fully conversant with any major controversies in the field, has thought a lot about them, has read both sides, and has come to a decision. The quaxpert generally views the controversy as a dichotomy between those with formal education and quaxperts, who claim to have personal experience.

Quaxperts take no responsibility for recommendations.

2. An expert understands both science and basic statistics and can reach an independent opinion about the existing scientific evidence. A quaxpert has to take the word of someone else.

An expert is giving you an expert opinion. A quaxpert is giving you the opinion of someone he likes with all the attendant drawbacks of relying on empirical claims just because you like who made them.

3. An expert recommends what’s good for YOU. A quaxpert recommends what’s good for himself.

Experts rarely have a one-size-fits-all recommendation. Even in the case of vaccination for childhood diseases, which ALL experts (pediatricians, immunologists, public health officials) recommend, there are exceptions and every effort is made to find out if your child is one of the exceptions. That’s why you are asked about your child’s allergies, previous reactions to vaccinations, and family history of vaccine reactions. The quaxperts generally have one-size-fits-all recommendations; you should do what the quaxpert did, regardless of how your circumstances differ from those of the quaxpert.

4. Experts change their recommendations based on new scientific evidence. Quaxperts never change recommendations regardless of what the scientific evidence shows.

For example, over the years experts have changed the formulation of vaccines, the timing of vaccines and the need for boosters. Quaxperts were opposed to all vaccinations 100 years ago and they’re opposed to all vaccinations now even though the scientific evidence has shown repeatedly that vaccines are extraordinarily effective and extraordinarily safe. It makes no difference to quaxperts what the evidence shows because quaxperts rely on unchanging beliefs systems, not science.
Experts also acknowledge when they are wrong. Consider this year’s flu vaccine. The experts, the same people who counseled everyone to get the vaccine, publicly announced that this year’s vaccine has only limited effectiveness. Although you should still get the vaccine, you should understand that it is not as effective in some years as in others. When was the last time a quaxpert acknowledged that he or she was wrong about a fundamental claim?

5. Experts take responsibility for their recommendations. Quaxperts ignore you, or even blame you when THEIR recommendations cause more harm than good.

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this point. Experts pay a price if they are wrong. You can take action against them, and they are well aware of that. It is in THEIR best interest — professional, financial and personal — to give you state of the art recommendations based on the latest science. Nothing ensures accuracy like having skin in the game.

In contrast, quaxperts take no responsibility for their recommendations. If they are wrong, YOU pay the price and they just keep giving out the same bad advice. They win if you listen to them, regardless of whether listening to them harms or kills you or your child.

Sure, they dress it up by pretending that you are taking responsibility for your health by listening to them, but you are taking the SAME amount of responsibility for your health when you listen to your doctor. The difference is not in your level of responsibility; it’s in THEIRS.