Ad Hominem Attacks on Brian Deer: Antivaccinationists’ Poor Scholarship & Unethical Behavior
by Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH
Posted: December 6, 2016
In a series of articles in The London Sunday Times, investigative journalist Brian Deer uncovered numerous problems with the case series presented by Andrew Wakefield in a 1998 article published in the British medical journal The Lancet. Almost immediately antivaccinationists began an ongoing series of ad hominem attacks against Brian Deer. The purpose of this paper is to show that ad hominem arguments not only represent a false logic; but a desperate act by those incapable of logically and scientifically supporting their position. And not only are they a desperate act; but a clear display of unethical behavior, attacking the messenger rather than the message. In addition, this paper will show that even the ad hominem attacks resorted to were wrong and, thus, one more example of the poor scholarship displayed by antivaccinationists.
Don’t reject an argument just because you don’t like the arguer or you question his motives.
The ad hominem fallacy occurs when one mentions things about a person in an attempt to show that the person’s argument is flawed. An argument stands or falls on whether its premises adequately support its conclusion. . . Personal characteristics, associations, past history, motives, and the like of the one making the argument are irrelevant to whether premises support a conclusion.
No argument is refuted by showing that the arguer is flawed or biased. Good people with good intentions can argue fallaciously and bad people with evil motives can argue cogently.
In an article posted on Age of Autism by J.B. Handley entitled “Keeping Anderson Cooper Honest: Is Brian Deer The Fraud?”, I respond to Handley’s key claims about Brian Deer, showing that not only are they irrelevant to the validity of Deer’s reporting; but clear indications that Handley doesn’t know what he is talking about, that is, with no evidence he bothered to research his claims.
Since Handley refers to writings by Martin J Walker and Wakefield also refers to him in his book “Callous Disregard”, I thought it appropriate to include Walker in this paper, to show that Walker’s writings clearly display poor scholarship, poor understanding, and poor footnoting/referencing. In other words, Handley and Wakefield’s referring to Walker’s writings, rather than conducting independent research, is a clear example of the blind leading the blind.
Ad hominem attacks are one of several logical fallacies. If the source of any evidence is considered biased, this should lead to a more careful questioning/investigation, possible critique of the evidence. Even the most biased source can still have produced valid evidence. Unfortunately, antivaccinationists, in their zeal, when they cannot logically and/or scientifically refute evidence, resort all too often to personal attacks. These attacks include impugning people’s integrity, innuendo, hearsay, guilt by association, and several other approaches, which, in my opinion, says more about the accusers, especially their inability to reason, to logically and/or scientifically approach evidence as well as their own lack of integrity, decency, and civility. Antivaccinationist ad hominem attacks are acts of desperation by those who believe they have some absolute truth; but are incapable of supporting it through scholarship, science, logic and common sense.
Though it would have taken a much longer article to refute every single attack, this article clearly demonstrates that antivaccinationist attacks on investigative journalist Brian Deer are seriously flawed, basically totally wrong, demonstrating poor scholarship, simply cherry picking anything that confirms their rigid dogma with NO evidence of any effort to verify the validity of their attacks.
Years from now as more and more scientifically valid evidence contributes to our understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorders, hopefully, antivaccinationists will dwindle, mainly residing in the dustbins of history. I just hope the above occurs soon, given that resistance to vaccination is fueling the resurgence of several diseases that were on the verge of elimination. That more and more children suffer unnecessarily from vaccine-preventable diseases is a disgraceful result of the anti-vaccine movement.
Read Dr. Harrison's full article as a PDF version by clicking here.