Five anti-vax lies I read on the internet

How do you know if someone is ignorant about vaccination? They claim to have “educated” themselves by “researching” the subject on anti-vax websites on the internet.

Let’s leave aside for the moment the fact that being educated about vaccines involves learning microbiology, immunology and virology, and let’s leave aside the fact that while “reading” and “research” begin with the same two letters, they are not the same thing. The main reason why it is impossible to become educated reading anti-vax websites is that they are filled with pseudo-knowledge, not factual information.

What is pseudo-knowledge? Pseduo-knowledge contains big, scientific words and sounds impressive. It contains actual facts, although they are entirely unrelated to the benefit being touted. It contains completely fabricated claims that have no basis in reality and which, not coincidentally trade on the gullibility of some lay people and it asserts that “we know” things that are flat out false.

Anna Kata, a professor of anthropology at McMaster University, has investigated the reliability of the information in anti-vax websites. Her paper, A postmodern Pandora’s box: Anti-vaccination misinformation on the Internet, appeared in the journal Vaccine in 2010. Kata analyzed the content of the eight most popular American and Canadian anti-vaccination websites (popularity determined by Google) for factual accuracy. These websites were (as of May 2009):

Global –
Vaccination –*
*website (homepage only) now archived at
Vaccination Debate –*
*website now hosted at
Vaccination Liberation –
Vaccination News –
Vaccine controversy –Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia –
wiki/Vaccine controversy
VRAN: Vaccination Risk Awareness Network –
WHALE – Vaccine website –

Not surprisingly, Kata found that 100% of the websites contained factually inaccurate information, (aka lies):

Lie #1 Vaccines are poison.

… Every site claimed vaccines are poisonous and cause idiopathic illnesses. Sites stressed that vaccines contain substances poisonous to humans, including anti-freeze, ether, formaldehyde, mercury, and nanobacteria. Pertinent information was not elaborated upon – for instance, that the amount of potentially harmful substances …

Lie #2 Vaccines don’t work.

Questioning whether vaccines actually conferred immunity was also common (on 88% of sites). This included propositions that vaccination weakens the immune system, or that immunity is ineffective because vaccinated individuals still contract diseases. Many websites (88%) pointed to decreases in disease levels occurring before mass immunizations; credit was given only to improvements in sanitation, nutrition, and poverty levels.

Lie #3 Vaccine prevetable illness aren’t that serious.

Half the websites asserted that VPDs are trivial. One website described smallpox as “harmless under proper treatment [. . .] And not considered deadly with the use of homeopathy [. . .] And it certainly didn’t appear to be that infectious, if infectious at all”. Another site maintained that infections such as measles improved a child’s health, pronouncing, “the symptoms do not constitute the disease but the cure”. Serious complications of VPDs were not acknowledged – for example, that in developed countries, 1 in 1000 children with measles develop encephalitis and 1–2 in 1000 die.

Lie #4 It’s a conspiracy.

The conspiracy theory theme was present on every website analyzed. Most sites (75%) made accusations of a cover-up, where regulatory bodies purportedly have information about vaccines they are hiding from the public. Equally as common(75%) were suggestions that vaccination is motivated solely by a quest for profit. Allegations of collusion were present on 63% of websites, where pharmaceutical companies and physicians were accused of benefiting from vaccine reactions as harmful side effects keep them in business. Similarly, 50% of websites were suspicious that governments protect vaccine manufacturers and doctors from possible harms caused by vaccines.

Lie #5 Fantastical allegations.

Many websites (88%) made claims unsupported by evidence, including that: smallpox is not contagious (but rather spread by bedbugs); autism is caused by “stealth viruses”; and polio is caused by sugary foods (as the disease was more prevalent in summer, and thus linked to increased ice-cream consumption). One site questioned whether rabies was a psychosomatic manifestation rather than a viral disease, and recommended against vaccinations when bitten by wild animals.

It’s hardly surprisingly that lay people who imbibe this misinformation are afraid to vaccinate their children. And it is difficult to change the minds of misinformed lay people because they lack the understanding of science, immunology and statistics that is REQUIRED as a foundation to even discuss vaccine effectiveness and safety. Nonetheless, we can come up with a rule of thumb for assessing who is truly knowledgeable about vaccination:

A claim of being “educated” about vaccination by “researching” on the internet is prima facie evidence of thorough-going ignorance.