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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mary Tocco Redux

So a number of years ago I wrote a post detailing my reactions to an anti-vaccine lecture delivered by Mary Tocco,* an "independent vaccine researcher," whose primary qualification appears to be that she's the business manager for a chiropractic clinic.** As you might guess, I found her lecture to be amazingly unconvincing and rather poorly informed. As such, in my view, while I absolutely believe that Ms. Tocco is acting in good faith and doing what she thinks is right, I am equally convinced that she is wrong. That's my opinion, and you're free to disagree with it, but I spent a lot of time watching her lecture and checking up on its claims, so I feel pretty secure in my opinion.

Now, interestingly enough, despite the age of that post, it still brings me a lot of traffic. In fact, "Mary Tocco" is a search term that seems to pretty regularly bring people by. I'm okay with that, not least because in the first few pages of hits on google I seem to be one of the only pro-vaccine sites. So, basically, I see it as providing some small amount of balance. Recently, however, one such visitor appeared here after having actually seen one of Tocco's more recent talks, and from the description,*** it sounds like Tocco is on about some strange stuff. And by "strange" I mean the following:

-Tocco is apparently now claiming that Bill Gates is trying to kill over one billion people in order to improve the environment. Moreover, she claims that he's trying to do it by donating $6 billion to vaccines for third world countries. And she uses this video**** as "evidence":

I think it's pretty clear from context that what Gates is actually sketching is the simple notion that as people's health situation improves and becomes more reliable, birth rates tend to drop. So, basically, making people healthy- using vaccines, etc,- is a good thing for the planet in the long run. But, what Tocco is apparently arguing now is that this is Gates admitting that vaccines are dangerous, and he's trying to poison the third world. Yikes.

-Staying on the Bill Gates angle, she is apparently also arguing that Gates' father is the reason we have abortion in the United States. Oh, yeah, and she has some kind of X-Files-ish conspiracy theory wherein the world is run by a small collection of rich people (okay, so that's sort of true, but not in the way Mary means) including the Clintons, Oprah, the Gates family and "our current president." Right, sure. Always a good sign.

-Apparently she's now also on about chemtrails, which is a level of crazy that's difficult to hold in one's mind without losing one's sanity.***** Apparently this bit concluded with her asserting that people should "LOOK IT UP!" and that chemtrails are "REAL! AND PROVEN!" She then added that, "This isn't conspiracy theory stuff, people. There is a movie coming out about it!" Indeed, anytime there's a movie about something it must be true, which, coincidentally, is why I refuse to buy a yellow car. You just never know when they'll turn out to be alien robots in disguise.

-She's still saying mean things about Paul Offit, including his claim that babies could handle up to 10,000 vaccines at one time. I'm fairly sure he's not suggesting that they could handle that many shots at once, but I digress. This isn't new, though- she's disliked Offit for some time- but it's interesting that she hasn't changed her mind.

-Interestingly, she seems to be defending Andrew Wakefield, arguing that the whole reason he was discredited is because of a recent study on vaccinating primates. You know, rather than because of blatant ethical and scientific problems. We've talked about Dr. Wakefield before, so I'll decline to go off on that again just now. See also here.

-Mary is also invoking some funny logic about VAERS, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. For those who don't know, if something happens to you- anything, really- soon after you received a vaccine, that event may be reported to VAERS. Importantly, however, reports to VAERS can be- and often are- unverified, and there's no confirmation that the event is at all due to the vaccination. Put differently, it is somewhat dependent on classic post hoc ergo propter hoc logic, and all the inaccuracies that implies. So, reports to VAERS do NOT equal confirmed problems stemming from vaccines. Rather, reports to VAERS are efforts to make sure that any previously unknown problems from vaccines can be detected, and the threshold for inclusion is ridiculously low out of an abundance of caution. In any case, and keeping all this in mind, she apparently claims that because "only about 10% of doctors report vaccine issues via VAERS" the true number of adverse reactions is nine times larger (i.e. accounting for the 90% of doctors who don't report anything). Obviously, this logic suffers from the assumption that all doctors see the same rate of adverse events, but more importantly it essentially assumes that all doctors who don't report adverse events are suppressing the reports, rather than simply not observing any adverse events. And when you make an assumption like that, what kind of proof could ever convince you otherwise?

Fortunately for us all, my reader seems to think that as this littany of madness continued to pour forth, most of her audience became more and more convinced that she wasn't as in command of the facts as she claimed. This makes me hope that, perhaps, some of the anti-vaccine hysteria may be self-limiting. But, even if it's not, it's both terrifying, and inescapably funny.

But mostly terrifying.

* Her website appears to be down lately, but you can see a brief bio here.

** I mention this because being the business manager for a surgeon doesn't qualify you to take a scalpel to anyone, so I fail to see how this particular qualification should make us value her advice about vaccines.

*** It goes without saying that I cannot confirm what my reader has told me, and as such I make no guarantee as to its accuracy.

**** I find it more than a little disquieting that the person who posted this video quoted Conservapedia's article on fair use in the description of the video. Leaving aside the issue of whether or not Conservapedia understands fair use (they don't), I gotta say, anyone who uses Conservapedia as a source in anything other than jest is probably not playing with a full deck.

***** For those of you who are wondering: yeah, I pretty much feel that some conspiracy theories are on a par with a Lovecraftian Elder God. One cannot behold them full-on without slipping the bonds of mere sanity.

As a final note: Special thanks to my unnamed correspondent, who was kind enough to send me several long e-mails on the subject.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this opinion. I have a relative involved with this and it concerns me. I googled Mary Tocco and found this.

Saturday, February 26, 2011 5:06:00 PM  

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