The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Anti-Vaxxers: Memes are for Morons

Here is a perfect example of the dishonesty of some anti-science kooks. “Dr. Tenpenny on Vaccines” lies by saying: “Astounding. More infants die here than anywhere else.” Notice over 150 countries are excluded from the list. In fact, every country with a higher infant mortality rate is excluded intentionally to distort the chart so the US appears on top.

To put the US at the top of the list they cut out places like Poland, Estonia, Russia, Latvia, Ukraine, Chile, Gibraltar, Argentina, etc. There are 168 jurisdictions with higher infant mortality rates than the US. To say more infants die here than “anywhere else” is either intentional or unintentional falsification. I suggest intentional because it takes a certain kind of stupid to think there are only 57 countries in the world. I immediately noticed my home for 10 years, South Africa, is not on the list, and it’s infant mortality rate is 41.61. The US is at the low end of the spectrum but looks high if you cut the chart off selectively to prove your point.

Another big problem is that countries use different measures for infant mortality which distorts the information people think they are getting. Infants that count as “live births” in the US are not counted as such in other countries. Some countries have minimum weight requirements which the US doesn’t, or have requirements that it has to be alive for X days before it counts.

US News & World Report explained it in 2006:

“First, it’s shaky ground to compare U.S. infant mortality with reports from other countries. The United States counts all births as live if they show any sign of life, regardless of prematurity or size. This includes what many other countries report as stillbirths. In Austria and Germany, fetal weight must be at least 500 grams (1 pound) to count as a live birth; in other parts of Europe, such as Switzerland, the fetus must be at least 30 centimeters (12 inches) long. In Belgium and France, births at less than 26 weeks of pregnancy are registered as lifeless. And some countries don’t reliably register babies who die within the first 24 hours of birth. Thus, the United States is sure to report higher infant mortality rates. For this very reason, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which collects the European numbers, warns of head-to-head comparisons by country.

Infant mortality in developed countries is not about healthy babies dying of treatable conditions as in the past. Most of the infants we lose today are born critically ill, and 40 percent die within the first day of life. The major causes are low birth weight and prematurity, and congenital malformations. As Nicholas Eberstadt, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, points out, Norway, which has one of the lowest infant mortality rates, shows no better infant survival than the United States when you factor in weight at birth.”

What counts as a live birth (and then death) in the US, doesn’t count as one in France or Germany.

Also, the US has more teen mothers and teen mothers are more likely to have infants die during birth. For instance, if you account for the higher rate of teens mothers in the US, then the infant mortality rate compared to Canada is the same, not higher.

None of that changes the dishonesty of the chart and this so-called Dr. who cliams the US has a higher rate than “anywhere else.” In fact, the US has one of the lowest rates.

And, if we want to look at her nonsense about vaccines, the US rate is higher than other countries with higher vaccine rates than we have in the US. In other words there is no connection. She is distorting facts and I think highly dishonest.

Often straight comparison of countries is comparing apples to oranges.. The demographics are different in the US. Japan is a nice example of how that analysis can go wrong. Given that teen pregnancies are more likely to end in infant mortality then accounting for them is important. Japan’s rate of teen pregnancy is 5 per 1000 women ages 15–19. For the US it is 26.5, almost six times higher. So what is being comparing is largely explained by the teen pregnancy rates, which has zilch to do with vaccines (as Dr. Tenpenny wants to imply.) Or take Spain, where the rate is 10, compared to our 30. You can look at Korea, where it is 2 and our teen pregnancy rate is 15 times higher. The problem is teen pregnancy.

Mississippi has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the country, 42.6 per 1000. That’s huge! Alabama is 34.3. (Based on CDC data for women 15 to 19 for 2013) If you compare countries or states with low teen pregnancy rates to countries or states with high teen pregnancy rates the infant mortality rates for the former will be lower than the later, but all you are doing is accounting for teen pregnancy, not for the quality of health care or the impact of vaccines.

A more scientific comparison would be to compare countries with comparable teen pregnancy rates. For instance, Ukraine is 25 so a bit lower than us, but their infant mortality rate is higher (8.1). Bulgaria has a TPR (teen pregnancy rate) of 34 and an infant mortality rate (IMR) of 15. Estonia has a lower TPR of 16, but a higher IMR of 6.7. The point being when you compare countries with similar TPRs the US scores well on infant mortality.

You have to adjust for teen pregnancy because you can’t attribute the pregnancy to vaccines or bad health care — bad sex education perhaps, and one reason to get rid of the abstinence education bullshit. But the IMR in the US has nothing to do what this Dr. Twopenny wants to claim it does. Her chart is dishonest and intentionally misleading.

As I’ve warned before: Anyone who believes memes will believe anything. Memes are by idiots, of idiots and for idiots. The meme that actually makes a valid point is rare. That’s why I almost never post any and why I debunk a lot of them. This one is just of the most dishonest that I’ve ever seen.

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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.