Monday, October 8, 2012

Rob Schneider's Hellish Nonsense

Thursday night, I mentioned that Rob Schneider was going to be on Salt Lake City's KXRK morning radio show Radio From Hell to promote his stand-up show Friday night at Wiseguys West Valley City. I joined Skepchick's Elyse Anders in urging people to contact the station if they had a call-in segment during the interview. Orac also put the word out about this appearance.

Well, I was fortunate enough to find time to listen to the show Friday morning via their internet live stream. As noted by Elyse, Schneider had been on the show before, shamelessly spouting a bunch of tired, well-worn anti-vaccine lies and myths. This morning, he was a bit late showing up at the studio, which I don't blame him for; it was early, he mentioned he only had about 3 hours sleep, and we don't know what his travel and traffic situation was.  The hosts, led by Bill Allred, pondered whether they should just rerun the clip (mp3 hosted at Skepchick) from the last time he was on.

At any rate, he finally showed up to sit down for a chat...

If you missed it, you can listen to the podcast here, with Schneider showing up at around the 7:50 mark. After some joking around about President Obama's performance at Wednesday night's presidential debate, Bill mentioned that the last time Schneider was there, they got into a bit of a fight and that, since he knew Schneider was coming, he made sure he had all his shots because he didn't want to catch anything from the comedian.

That was all the opening Schneider needed to start in with the nonsense. First piece of idiocy? "Well if you're vaccinated, what are you worried about?" Apparently, back when I got into a little back-and-forth with him on Twitter where he asked the same question of me, he didn't bother reading the information I provided to him. If he had, maybe he wouldn't have made the same idiotic comment Friday morning. Of course, he might have actually read it and found out why his position on the question is wrong and willfully went ahead with misleading people anyway.

He then proceeded to tell people not to get the flu shot, bringing up thimerosal and using big numbers to make it sound scary (25,000 parts per billion instead of 25µg), and claiming that 2 parts per billion (or .002µg) is toxic. I'm not certain where he got that figure, but maybe he was thinking of the EPA's maximum contamination level for inorganic mercury (not ethylmercury) in drinking water. Those limits are set based on daily exposure and have a rather significant safety buffer built in, usually on the order of 10-100 times, let alone that they are for a completely different substance than what is used in 4 of 8 flu vaccines.

Bill wisely pointed out that because of fears like Schneider's, thimerosal had been removed from vaccines. Not to be swayed from his ideology, Rob boldly claimed that wasn't true, saying that it's still there in trace amounts (which is far less than the 25µg he was crowing about earlier) and repeating the lie that it is the "second most toxic thing you can put in your body". When told he was wrong and that that wasn't true, he just shifted on to formaldehyde and aluminum.

It was pretty fun listening to the RFH crew tell Schneider that he was wrong, and Rob trying to say that they haven't read anything or done any research, which of course, Schneider clearly has (presumably at Google U., where he presumably earned his BS degree) or written any books, like Bob Sears, whose alternative vaccine schedule Dr. Sears himself admits is not science-based. 

The hosts tried to veer the conversation away from vaccines and onto the real reason that Schneider was in town. He apparently doesn't bring up vaccines much in his act, but he went on to say how he's not giving up his First Amendment rights to free speech and common sense or just accept Big PharmaTM bilking America for billions of dollars. They talked a little more about comedy and Schneider's failed attempt to get his show picked up, and about how he's working on another show in the line of All in the Family.

At this point, the conversation was brought back to nonsense. Bill asked if Schneider had a cold, to which he replied that he had allergies, which he deals with by "not getting vaccinated", as well as taking a number of "natural" products, like vitamin C or curcumin. He went on to say that old people should be taken off of prescription drugs and given things like fish oil, blueberries and cinnamon for high blood pressure. Not stopping there, he went on to rail about how there are over 200,000 deaths a year from prescription drugs.

Then it was on to the "too many, too soon" gambit. Schneider claims that when he was a kid, he got maybe 4 vaccines, then raised the spectre of 49 doses of 14 vaccines today. Let's pause for a moment and think about what vaccines were around when he was a kid. He was born October 31, 1963. At that time, the following vaccines were available:
  • Smallpox (1 dose)
  • DTP (4 doses - note, this is the whole-cell pertussis vaccine)
  • Polio (4 doses - live, attenuated oral polio vaccine)
  • Measles (1 dose - developed in 1963)
  • Mumps (1 dose - developed in 1967)
  • Rubella (1 dose - developed in 1969)
The vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella were not combined into the MMR until 1971. So there were 4-6 vaccines (6-8 if you use the anti-vaccine method and count DTP as three separate vaccines) he would likely have received by the time he was 6 years old, for a total of 10-12 doses (or 18-20 doses using anti-vaccine counting - and I'll note as an aside that for himself, Schneider uses "vaccines" and for today's children, he mentioned "doses"; this makes the difference even more dramatic, though dishonestly so). The reason he received so few was because all of the other vaccines we have today had not yet been developed. Since he was a child, scientists discovered how to prevent 6 more childhood diseases that are capable of causing serious complications or even death.

Now, what about today's schedule?
  • Hepatitis B (3 doses)
  • Rotavirus (3 doses)
  • DTaP (5 doses)
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (4 doses)
  • Pneumococcal (4 doses)
  • Inactivated polio vaccine (4 doses)
  • MMR (2 doses)
  • Varicella (2 doses)
  • Hepatitis A (2 doses)
  • Influenza (7 doses)
A child today would receive 10 vaccines for a total of 36 doses, not the 49 claimed by Schneider, unless you use some creative counting. And that's only if a child receives every recommended vaccine on-schedule. Many people skip some because they are not required for school or day care attendance, such as influenza vaccine. There are some other things to note about today's vaccine schedule. Notice that smallpox vaccine is not on there. That's because smallpox was eradicated, thanks to immunization. OPV was replaced by IPV, and DTP by DTaP, which, though somewhat less effective, have far greater safety profiles. Thanks to the combination vaccine, children today only need 2 shots of MMR (the second dose was added to bring efficacy to near 100%, instead of the measly 95% after one dose), rather than the 3 they would have gotten back when Schneider was a kid.

Back to the interview. Schneider mentioned that Salt Lake City has the highest rate of autism in the country. He holds the opinion, common among anti-vaccine activists, that vaccines cause autism. So how he reconciles the high rate of autism in Utah with the fact that the state ranks toward the bottom in the nation when it comes to vaccine uptake, I really just don't know.

The next anti-vaccine gambit used by Schneider? The "never been tested" schtick:
They've never done one safety test. In other words, they've never done a thousand kids without it, without a particular vaccine and a thousand kids with it. They've never done the test. What they do is this thing called -- let's take a thousand tests -- they'll do a thousand kids with the vaccine and then compare it to the general population at large. Unfortunately, the general population at large is 90% vaccinated. So you're doing a test, you're comparing against an already vaccinated group of people.
Once again, I am amazed at how so much wrong can be fit into so small a space. First off, it seems like Schneider is calling for the highly unethical prospective vaccinated vs. unvaccinated study. He also displays a complete lack of understanding about how vaccines are developed. For example, both rotavirus vaccines (Rotarix and RotaTeq) were tested against placebos. As have the DTaP vaccines Tripedia and Daptacel, the DTaP-Polio-Hib vaccine Pentacel, the Hib vaccines PedvaxHIB and COMVAX,the HepA vaccine VAQTA, the HPV vaccine Gardasil, the flu vaccines AFLURIA, Agriflu, FluLaval, Fluarix, and FluMist, the MMRV vaccine ProQuad, the meningococcal vaccines Menactra, the pneumococcal vaccines Pneumovax 23 and Prevnar 13, and the varicella vaccines Varivax (chickenpox) and Zostavax (shingles). And that is just considering the studies done for marketing approval from the FDA, but I guess he never bothered to read the package inserts, as anti-vaccine activists are so fond of telling others to do. A quick search of PubMed reveals thousands of other studies comparing vaccines against placebos, such as this one looking at MMR. Then, of course, there was the recently published retrospective study examining the health of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated children (commonly referred to as "The German Study").

Schneider then tries to belittle the role of vaccines by focusing on mortality rates, making the claim that improved sanitation, hygiene and nutrition were responsible for the reduction in deaths from childhood diseases. While those things did play a role in the reduction of deaths from some diseases, they did little to nothing when it comes to those spread via airborne routes and even made some diseases even more dangerous (e.g., polio). Furthermore, this argument from Schneider and other anti-vaccine activists ignores the reduction in incidence (i.e., the number of new cases) of diseases, a reduction that only occurred thanks to vaccines. And that is very important, since death is not the only bad thing that these diseases can do (take, for instance, the case of Emmanuel Simpungwe, who was blinded by measles). He also ignores the role played by improved medicine and supportive care that did not prevent disease but did keep people from dying once they were infected (e.g., the iron lung, developed in 1927).

The RFH hosts weren't having any of Schneider's BS, though. Remember what I said earlier about Utah having low vaccination rates? Bill Allred picked up on that, too:
You find lower vaccination rates in Utah than you find in other states, because there are a lot of people who believe insane ideas like you do.
Schneider tried to interrupt by listing supposed "authorities" like Dr. Palevsky (who flirts with germ theory denialism), Dr. Mercola (who vigorously promotes his own line of alt-med products as replacements for real medicine and generally pooh-poohs anything not alt-med) and Julian Whitaker (who has problems with logical thought, including how to make a graph). And when the hosts brought up recent pertussis outbreaks, of which Utah had some of the highest rates, Schneider comments on how 77% of the cases in Washington have been in vaccinated kids, displaying his lack of understanding of large numbers and the role that activists like Barbara Loe Fisher played in the switch from whole-cell pertussis vaccine to the less effective acellular vaccine. He also suggests, in a "just asking questions" sort of way, that the pertussis vaccine may be causing cases of whooping cough!

Yet no matter what the morning crew said, Schneider just writes them off as being "indoctrinated into a system that doesn't work". I wonder how many people's irony meters exploded at that comment. Not to be deterred, Schneider then brings up the MMR-autism case from Rimini, Italy, which the anti-vaccine crowd is crowing about, but which is likely to be appealed and overturned. They hold up this shoddy case, based on legal opinion rather than scientific fact, as proving that MMR causes autism, in opposition to the numerous well-controlled scientific studies that show otherwise.

Then it was back to the too many, too soon and 49 shots before age 6 (which again is wrong, false, a lie). Allred called that "horse crap" and that:
I have young children. They don't get forty nine shots!
Schneider just kept saying to look it up.

Finally, co-host Gina Barberi brought the conversation back to Schneider's comedy show that evening as the interview wrapped up. The whole show was basically a repeat of his earlier appearance, with no new arguments and not even a budge from his flawed position. It was very refreshing to hear the hosts of Radio From Hell stick up for science and reality against his nonsense. Unfortunately, given the venue, Schneider was able to basically Gish Gallop his way along, leaving very little opportunity for the hosts to not only show that he was wrong, but why he was wrong. I hope that listeners who weren't already savvy to the bilge spewed by people like Schneider were able to pick up on the fact that, however fervently he may have argued, he was at quite odds with the real world.

To Bill, Gina and Kerry, if you happen to read this, I just have to offer my sincerest congratulations and respect for dealing with Rob Schneider's conspiracy-fueled ranting. It had to have been difficult, but you met it with a sound foundation and the ridicule and humor it deserves.


  1. So difficult to get people to realize "look it up" isn't an answer!

  2. @Thursday

    Well, I think Rob doesn't actually want people to "look it up" or they might find that he is wrong. Unless, of course, he means, "Look it up on one of these dodgy sites where I get my misinformation."


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