Another Study Rebuts The Claim That Vaccinations Cause Autism

A decade-long study once again establishes that there is no link between childhood vaccination and autism.

A new study that researched the issue for over a decade has found no evidence can be found linking the measles vaccine to autism:

The notion that vaccines might cause autism was refuted nine years ago, when a British medical panel concluded in 2010 that Andrew Wakefield, the doctor with undisclosed financial interests in making such claims, had acted with “callous disregard” in conducting his research.

But in 2019, professional epidemiologists are still devoting time and resources to discrediting Wakefield’s work, which set off a steep decline in vaccinations, including in the United States, where Wakefield moved in 2004. An increasing number of parents are exempting their children from immunization, in a trend that public health experts warn is threatening to reverse the progress that allowed officials to declare measles eliminated in the United States in 2000. In January and February of this year, 206 individual cases were confirmed in 11 states — more than the number of cases in all of 2017.

The latest evidence unequivocally denying any link between autism and the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella — a two-dose course that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is 97 percent effective — came Monday in a paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Researchers at Copenhagen’s Statens Serum Institut examined data for Danish children born from 1999 through the end of 2010, more than half a million people. The epidemiologists and statisticians then used population registries to link information on vaccination status to autism diagnoses, as well as to sibling history of autism and other risk factors.

The findings show the vaccine does not increase the risk of autism, lending new statistical certainty to what was already medical consensus. The researchers further concluded vaccination is not likely to trigger the developmental disorder in susceptible populations and is not associated with a clustering of cases appearing after immunization.

“The appropriate interpretation is that there’s no association whatsoever,” Saad Omer, a professor of global health, epidemiology and pediatrics at Emory University, said in an interview with The Washington Post.

In an editorial accompanying the study, however, Omer and a colleague asked whether vaccine research was best conducted as a “response to the conspiracy du jour.” Limited resources, they suggested, might be better spent on promising leads in autism research than on continuing to engage with “vaccine skeptics.”

Omer nevertheless hailed the Danish paper as “the largest, or one of the largest, studies on the subject.” Its only limitation, he said, was one basic to all observation studies, that “you can’t intentionally vaccinate people or prevent them from vaccinating to study the effects, which would be unethical.”

He offered that assessment on the eve of a U.S. Senate hearing on vaccines and the outbreak of preventable diseases, where he is scheduled to give expert testimony Tuesday alongside public health officials and other researchers, as well as a teenager, Ethan Lindenberger, who got vaccinated against the wishes of his parents.

Though the study was not intended to coincide with the congressional inquiry, the results did come at a critical juncture. Measles cases are multiplying, causing experts to warn that a nationwide outbreak is possible.

(…)

It is precisely the success of the measles vaccine — rendering these conditions rare, at least in the United States — that has enabled a small but fervent opposition movement to take root, Omer said.

“It is in some sense a victim of its own success,” the Emory professor said of the vaccine, which became available in the United States in 1963. “It’s hard to see the benefit if you don’t see the disease.”

Suzinne Pak-Gorstein, a pediatrician in Seattle and a professor at the University of Washington, said public awareness had grown since Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat who recently launched a bid for the presidency, declared a state of emergency in January. Still, she lamented that a crisis was necessary to jar residents into protecting themselves.

“People forget that they should be worried, and then, here we go again,” she said. “I do blame our non-vaccinated population, which has been scared by unfounded links to autism, which have been shown to be false.”

This news is consistent with the history of the claims of the anti-vaccination movement, all of which have been largely discredited. As I’ve noted before, this all started with a paper that was published in 1998 in the prestigious British medical journal Lancet. That report’s principal author, Andrew Wakefield, claimed to have found a link between autism in children and the MMR vaccine which is commonly given as part of the regular childhood vaccination schedule and is intended to vaccinate against Measles, Mumps, and Rubella. While public health officials and experts, drug companies, and many epidemiologists pushed back on that report, for the better part of a decade it stood relatively unchallenged as the definitive word on the issue and quite obviously helped to feed parent’s fears. Wakefield’s study led to anti-vaccination movements that were made popular by celebrities in the United States and elsewhere, as well as by medical cranks eager to hitch their stars to anything halfway credible. Slowly but surely, though, Wakefield’s study came to be questioned by the medical community as a whole and, in 2010, Lancet eventually formally withdrew the report. Roughly a year later, it was revealed that the original study that formed the basis for the report was fraudulent. Most importantly, in the entire 17 year period since Wakefield’s study, no other researcher has ever been able to duplicate his purported results or to find any statistically significant correlation between autism and childhood vaccinations. In 2015, a study published in the Journal Of The American Medical Association definitively found no evidence of a link between autism and childhood vaccination. This latest study, then, simply confirms what we’ve known for nearly a decade now, that there is no link between autism and childhood vaccination, and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.

This news coincided with a report that measles cases hit a high in 2017 and on the same day that a Senate Committee held a hearing dealing with how to push back against the disinformation being spread by the anti-vaccine movement. The New York Times, meanwhile, takes a look at the ways that anti-vaccination propaganda can be responded to:

Social media companies face increasing scrutiny for amplifying fringe anti-vaccine sentiment amid measles outbreaks in several states like Washington. In response, FacebookYouTube and Pinterest recently made headlines by announcing initiatives to reduce vaccine misinformation on their platforms.

But the focus on anti-vaccine content on social media can obscure the most important factor in whether children get vaccinated: the rules in their home states, which are being revisited in legislative debatesacross the country that have received far less attention.

A teenager testified before Congress on Tuesday that he got vaccinated in defiance of his mother, who he said got her anti-vaccination views from social media. Although this kind of misinformation can endanger public health, it’s not obvious that social media is substantially increasing overall vaccine hesitancy. Despite rapid growth in the proportion of Americans using social media sites, flu vaccination rates and infant immunization levels have largely remained stable in recent years. Moreover, fears about and resistance to vaccination are not new; they date to the late 18th century, when the first vaccine was developed.

Social media may simply provide a new pretext for hesitant parents who would otherwise cite a different reason for their decision. In other words, we may be mistakenly treating what is largely a symptom of vaccine hesitancy as its cause — an example of a recurring pattern in which we fault social media for causing problems that it is merely making more visible. (For instance, the internet and social media are often blamed for fueling political polarization, but the trend toward greater polarization long predates social media and is sharpest among older people, the group least likely to use new technology.)

It seems reasonable to ask that social media companies avoid worsening the global problem of vaccine hesitancy. But a more immediate threat in the United States are the state policies that make it easy to avoid immunization requirements for children entering kindergarten. Emory University’s Saad B. Omer and his colleagues have found that broad philosophical and religious exemptions to vaccine requirements — a set of policies that expanded before the advent of social media — are associated with substantially higher rates of unvaccinated children. They found this was particularly true during the 2005-2006 to 2010-2011 period, when exemptions grew fastest in these states.

Reversing such policies can increase vaccination rates. After a measles outbreak originating in Disneyland, for instance, California eliminated nonmedical exemptions from vaccination requirements for kindergarten entry and tightened compliance requirements. Although the process provoked controversy and required a bill to be passed along partisan lines (a risky approach), vaccination levels increased afterward — a public health success. For this reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics supports eliminating all nonmedical exemptions.

Stopping the spread of baseless anti-vaccination propaganda on social media is certainly one of the best ways to address the current problem, but it seems obvious that something more is required. What I’m speaking of is some sort of public education program directly addressing the false claims of the anti-vaccination movement is essential to combat the spread of these false ideas and encouraging parents to follow the recommendations of their child’s doctor regarding vaccination and related issues. This is something that public health officials at the state, local, and Federal levels ought to be undertaking. Additionally, there should be some focus on vaccination as part of health classes in public schools both to teach children how to differentiate how to differentiate between valid medical advice and nonsense like the ideas that the anti-vaccination crowd spreads. If nothing else, this would arm them with information that they can use when they become parents and, just maybe, cause some of those kids whose parents have not vaccinated them to ask their parents why they made that choice.

I’m sure there are other ideas about combatting this propaganda that can be considered. At the very least, though, we shouldn’t just accept the idea that allowing this nonsense to spread unquestioned is acceptable in a supposedly advanced nation such as ours.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Donald Trump, Health, Politicians, Science & Technology, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Another Study Rebuts The Claim That Vaccinations Cause Autism

    So?

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  2. Pete S says:

    How about a fair offer to parents who do not want vaccinations for their kids? They can insist on a “right” not to have their kids vaccinated in exchange for a guarantee of keeping their kids and themselves 100% quarantined from the rest of the world. Its bad enough that we are sacrificing herd immunity to their idiotic beliefs. But it also seems that facilities and resources which could be used for real new research are now being wasted trying to teach the unteachable.

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  3. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Just another symptom of the idiocy that has led us to Trumplandia.
    Is there lead in the water?
    How did Americans get to be so stupid???
    We cured polio. We walked on the moon. We have sent robots to Mars.
    Yet we are struggling with anti-vaxxers and climate change deniers.
    Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

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  4. Teve says:

    The wackos are now saying that a secret vaccine killed Luke Perry.

    I’m not joking. Anti-vaxxers are fucking stupid.

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  5. Gustopher says:

    Sometimes I wonder if vaccines can be administered through blow darts.

    If we can tranquilize a lion from a safe distance, can we immunize an antivaxxer?

    It’s a terrible precedent, and we shouldn’t do it, but maybe it’s an option we should explore for emergency deployment of vaccines.

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  6. Teve says:

    (the Luke Perry thing started out as a misunderstanding about an ellipsis in an unfortunate place. But once the mistake was pointed out, instead of saying “our mistake we were wrong, our bad” the anti-vaxxers doubled down.)

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  7. Kathy says:

    @Teve:

    Most anti-vaxxers have been taken in by a conspiracy theory. Such things often breed other conspiracy theories (find someone who believes in just one conspiracy). Social media doesn’t help, as it tends to suggest other groups, people or websites promoting other such theories. It’s a vicious circle.

    Now, people who believe in some JFK assassination nonsense, or chemtrails, or aliens, or even 9/11 truthers, are relatively harmless. anti-vaxxers are not.

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  8. Teve says:

    @Kathy: yeah, crank magnetism they call it. When you find for instance a creationist, more than likely you’ve also found somebody who doesn’t believe in global warming, or thinks that drinking hydrogen peroxide cures disease, etc.

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  9. grumpy realist says:

    Dump them all back in Tudor England, complete with fleas, malaria, and the plague.

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  10. Teve says:

    @grumpy realist: that’d be super healthy, because all their food would be organic, GMO Free, local, and free-range 😀 😛 😀

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  11. Kathy says:

    @Teve:

    You should see crank theories involving “ancient aliens.” For one thing, they seem to have limited their architectural prowess to current third-world areas like Egypt, Mexico, Guatemala, Southeast Asia, etc. None are to be found in Greece, Rome, or even Etruria.

    If someone were to find real remains of an alien probe which landed in Africa, say, around 2500 BCE, no reputable scholar would believe it.

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  12. Lynn says:

    @Kathy: they seem to have limited their architectural prowess to current third-world areas like Egypt, Mexico, Guatemala, Southeast Asia, etc. None are to be found in Greece, Rome, or even Etruria.”

    Gee, I wonder why the difference?

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  13. Teve says:

    @Kathy: I confess, the first time I saw Madonna with Saint Giovannino, I was a little “DaFuq?”. 😛

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  14. MarkedMan says:

    @Lynn:

    Gee, I wonder why the difference?

    I get the dig, but I suspect it has more to do with having widespread written records. Pretty hard to say all the Roman temples were built by space aliens but the Romans never thought to write it down.

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  15. Kylopod says:

    @Teve:

    the Luke Perry thing started out as a misunderstanding about an ellipsis in an unfortunate place.

    That reminds me of how the Scalia murder theory started. The rancher who found him dead told reporters that he had a “pillow over his head.” This unfortunate phrasing set the conspiracy world (including Trump) alight. The rancher then clarified, a few days later, that he simply meant a pillow was resting on a headboard above Scalia’s head, not that a pillow was on his face. The conspiracy theorists never thought to ask why the rancher’s original description was so nonchalant (he suggested Scalia looked like he died peacefully), or why someone who wanted him secretly killed would leave such a blatantly obvious clue as a pillow on his face.

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  16. MarkedMan says:

    @Teve: Just took a look at and have to admit my reaction was more along the lines of “Not sure why that is there but if the artist were trying to tell us about space aliens putting a small blob in the background of an otherwise normal painting sure seems an odd way to do it.

    One of the things that always makes me laugh is the idea that “the government” is keeping the knowledge of aliens from the public. Can you honestly think of a single president who wouldn’t be up on a podium in five minutes so as to be the go-to video for the rest of history?

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  17. DrDaveT says:

    What I’m speaking of is some sort of public education program directly addressing the false claims of the anti-vaccination movement

    I will admit to being somewhat bemused by the arbitrary line we seem to draw concerning which dangerous ideas should be met with a vigorous public education campaign, and which are off-limits. In approximate order from most consensus to least, would you advocate for such a public education campaign against false claims that…
    * The earth is 6000 years old?
    * The holocaust never happened?
    * Global warming isn’t happening?
    * Supply-side economics works better than direct subsidies?
    * Global warming is unaffected by human actions?
    * Sexual orientation is a lifestyle choice?
    * Widespread private gun ownership saves more innocent people than it kills?
    * Universal public health care is more expensive in the long run than private health care?
    * On average, illegal immigrants are less law-abiding and less productive than native-born Americans?

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  18. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Teve: Yeah, the only problem would be accumulating enough of it to eat 1400-1600 calories a day for all 12 months of the year.

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  19. reid says:

    Something needs to be done at the federal level? I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me that Andrew Wakefield is the surgeon general.

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  20. An Interested Party says:

    I wonder if there ever has been or ever will be a modern court case involving someone who was not vaccinated causing many other people to get sick or even die and how that might be interpreted as a public health crisis, like a Typhoid Mary situation…

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  21. Teve says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: yeah, I think a big part of the obesity problem we are having now is that for 99.99% of human existence, near-starvation has been the norm.

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  22. Teve says:

    @reid: based on how Trump is TV-centric, I’m surprised Doctor Oz isn’t the surgeon general.

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  23. MarkedMan says:

    @Teve:

    for 99.99% of human existence, near-starvation has been the norm.

    I don’t think it can be that simple. If you walk around the Louvre, you realize that 95% of it are portraits of rich people who certainly had access to all the food they wanted, and who thought it was attractive to be plump. Yet almost all of them are quite thin.

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  24. Teve says:

    @MarkedMan: I bet if you’d given that Mona Lisa chick a 24 oz of Mountain Dew Baja Blast to go with her Quesarito Box for lunch everyday she’d be shopping for bigger britches.

    we didn’t spend the last hundred thousand years evolving next to waterfalls of liquid sugar, that’s for sure.

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  25. Teve says:

    I’ve never mistaken anyone in a Rubens for Kate Moss. 😀

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  26. Kathy says:

    @Kylopod:

    The conspiracy theorists never thought to ask[..]

    They get side-tracked into oddities to ask the relevant questions, or consult relevant information.

    Dr. Steven Novella, a practicing neurologist, often posts a lot about conspiracy thinking in his blog, Neurologica.

    I appreciate such efforts, but I wonder how much it is preaching to the choir.

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  27. Unsympathetic says:

    Anti-vaxxers are the people who ignore facts they don’t want to confront. More proof that vaccines are objectively good will simply trigger their desires to “Be The One To Figure It Out” and they’ll just dig in their heels even more, repeating one of several variations of nonsensical twaddle about why this new study is also lies.
    A person who believes vaccines are bad doesn’t have the ability to evaluate actual risk, and doesn’t realize that they’re bad at this: They’re ignoring a seriously bad item that is quite common [measles] because of gossip asserting a potential harm from something that would require ingesting 10,000 of the thing they’re worried about ingesting 1 of [concentration of mercury within the vial causing an issue] — and even if 1 was ingested it’s still not an actual problem.. just drink water and the mercury is no longer an issue.

    It’s the suburbian version of rolling coal to own the libs, except in this case they’re killing their own kids.

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  28. Kylopod says:

    @Kathy: Thanks for the recommendation. I perused several of the articles, and I see it’s a great site.

    There are definitely some common features I’ve noticed about conspiracy theories in general. One is what I mentioned with the Scalia murder thing–they always seize on some small detail they think brings the whole thing crashing down, without examining it in its full context, and without stopping to wonder why the perpetrators would be so sloppy as to leave such an easily excised clue in plain sight.

    Another feature of conspiracy theories is that they are unfalsifiable. They can never be disproven, because any evidence that seems to disprove them can be explained as part of the conspiracy. It’s striking the number of popular conspiracy theories that started as something that has since been exposed as pure fiction. It doesn’t matter how thoroughly it’s been debunked, people just continue going on believing it, and the debunking itself is taken as proof of the work of the cabal or deep state. The Protocols for the Elders of Zion is a classic example, and so is the anti-vax movement. I have long suspected that whoever first dreamed up QAnon was a Sacha Baron Cohen-style prankster deliberately trying to come up with the most ridiculous caricature of a right-wing conspiracy theory imaginable, just to test how gullible right-wingers could be–and then they fell for it hook line and sinker. (But keep in mind that in 2015 I seriously entertained the idea that Trump’s candidacy was something along those lines.) The boundary between comedic performance art and grift can get very blurry when it comes to these things, as seen by the debate over whether Alex Jones is a “character.” Whether he is or isn’t, he’s still a scam artist taking advantage of people for profit. Similarly, the writers of tabloids reporting on Elvis sightings or alligator men may be having a good laugh in private, but if there weren’t people out there willing to accept this stuff as literal truth, they wouldn’t be in business, and they know it. Otherwise they’d market themselves as another version of The Onion.

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  29. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @MarkedMan: The Mayans and the Aztecs wrote it down.

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  30. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kylopod:

    (But keep in mind that in 2015 I seriously entertained the idea that Trump’s candidacy was something along those lines.)

    There is more than a little evidence that it was something along those lines.

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  31. MarkedMan says:

    @OzarkHillbilly😕

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  32. MarkedMan says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Interesting. I tried to reply with a single question mark, but it replaced it with a weird face emoji. I didn’t notice until it was too late to edit

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  33. Kylopod says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Depends what you mean by that. Here’s the scenario I posted on my blog in 2015:

    Donald J. Trump sweeps the Republican primaries, easily collecting enough delegates to nab the nomination. The mainstream GOP press starts to panic. After a few stray comments by a couple of pundits and operatives hinting at the idea that the convention should ignore the results and pick a more conventional candidate, the right goes berserk. Erick Erickson accuses the RINO establishment of attempting a coup d’etat, and Michelle Bachmann says they’re working in cahoots with ACORN and the IRS. After a few days of this, most mainstream Republicans start to make peace with the idea of a Trump nomination. They note that it’s really not so bad: they won’t have to worry about turning out “the base,” and they’re relieved to see that some polls show Trump trailing Hillary by only 10 percentage points, well within striking distance. The convention is set up in Cleveland. A slot of speakers is introduced including Rubio, Kasich, Jindal, and a host of other figures who had once bashed and ridiculed Trump, but who now tout Trump’s business acumen and talk about how he’s going to bring back greatness and to save America from the horrors of the Obama years and “the Clinton machine.” Several days pass until finally Trump is introduced to speak. He walks triumphantly across the aisle, chin set, bird’s nest on head, and he steps up to the podium. After a lengthy pause, he opens his mouth and speaks, in front of America and in front of the entire world:

    “Fooled ya! This whole candidacy has been a joke, and you fell for it! I just did this to prove once and for all how dumb Republican voters are, and to destroy their chances of winning. Which I just have, ha ha ha! Of course Mexicans aren’t rapists and Muslims didn’t cheer on 9/11, but by giving me your support you just proved beyond any doubt you’re all a bunch of racist, backwards lunatics who are so moronically predictable you’ll believe someone who’s totally faking it! What a sad, pathetic bunch of assholes you all are, and don’t blame me: you brought this on yourself. And oh, one more thing: God bless America.”

    He steps to the side of the podium and makes an up-yours sign straight at the camera. He then turns around and walks back down the aisle, leaving everyone in stunned silence.

    Just to be clear: this was purely tongue-in-cheek. But I did seriously believe it was probably an accurate reflection of what was going through Trump’s head. Maybe he didn’t intend to win, as Cohen suggested last week and as most of us suspected all along. But I underestimated the extent to which Trump is a truly delusional narcissist and a racist. Those parts were always real. It was not a prank, it was not done to help the Democrats or the Republicans, its purpose was the same as with everything Trump has ever done in his professional life: to advance the brand of a man who is a completely unreflective, un-self-aware, pile of human garbage. That aspect of him was never a performance.

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  34. Monala says:

    @Kylopod: I’m wondering if the commentariat here can weigh in on about a tangential “conspiracy.” I was listening to NPR this morning, and they shared a story about how during the Prohibition era, bootleggers would bribe workers to steal or outright steal themselves, industrial alcohol, which they would then use to make bootleg liquor.

    To stop this, the government started adding toxic chemicals to industrial alcohol. They then widely publicized this fact, inviting several media outlets to print the story, in order to stop said thefts. Said thefts continued, resulting in tens of thousands of people being poisoned by toxic bootleg liquor, and some dying.

    The conclusion to the NPR story was that, “No wonder people don’t trust government, when you find out that a conspiracy by the government to cause harm to people is actually true.”

    I listened to the story scratching my head. If the government had taken these actions in secret, then yes, you could call it a conspiracy. But if the government had, as the story reported, made these actions widely known in order to stop two illegal activities (theft and bootlegging), then how is that a conspiracy?

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  35. just nutha says:

    @Teve: Well I know that the obesity issue in Korea is related to that point. It’s only during the last 30 years or so that seasonal famine stopped being an issue according to what my older students used to tell me.

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  36. just nutha says:

    @Monala: I don’t know that I would count it as a conspiracy in that those involve more than one agent. But considering that bootleggers are said to have used wood alcohol as need arose, this story doesn’t surprise me at all.

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  37. Kathy says:

    @Kylopod:

    You’re welcome. I find it a most useful resource.

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  38. Kathy says:

    @Monala:

    To stop this, the government started adding toxic chemicals to industrial alcohol. They then widely publicized this fact, inviting several media outlets to print the story, in order to stop said thefts.

    I don’t buy it.

    1) There was no prohibition in Mexico. But medicinal alcohol is sold in Mexico in two variants. One comes, standard, in a bottle with blue lettering and it’s “denatured” so it’s rendered undrinkable. The other variety has red lettering, standard again, and is drinkable. this sounds a lot like the story NPR relates. But the blue denatured alcohol isn’t toxic, just very unpleasant (nauseating, according to what I’ve read).

    2) One can assume unscrupulous people, like mobsters, won’t care much if they kill a few people giving them stolen, poisoned alcohol. They killed people often in other business matters, after all. This can be so easily anticipated, that it would be outright murder for the government to poison a fluid it knows will wind up being drunk by some people. Something like denatured alcohol might have been enough to deter theft.

    3) All the reasoning in the world is not worth as much as solid evidence. So if I saw documents stating this was done, along with details on when, where, and with what poison, I’d change my mind.

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  39. Teve says:

    Sorry Kathy the anti-booze assholes in the US are worse than you guess–they denature ethanol by adding 10% methanol. Sometimes more.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denatured_alcohol

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  40. Teve says:

    Holy Shit. Ben Garrison has long been the absolute stupidest political cartoonist alive. Cartoons about a muscular Trump saving liberty and freedom, racist stuff about Latinos, etc. But he just went anti-vaxxer, too.

    https://www.grrrgraphics.com/mad-vax-bomber/

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  41. de stijl says:

    @Kylopod:

    I predicted here in August 2015 that Trump would win the R nomination basically because he was the biggest dick and modern-day Rs really appreciate and positively respond to that.

    And then I got dragged up and down the joint for even suggesting so (most notably by one of our hosts here at OTB).

    I contended that JEB! could not win the nomination nor Rubio because they were inherently less dickish than acceptable to the R base and seemed to be unwilling to go full utter dick.

    Whereas Trump had proven life-long dickishness in his pocket already just begging to be deployed. Yeah, he was obviously venal and buffoonish, but he was blatantly dickish to groups that the R base hated and that they had been primed to hate since Gingrich.

    Trump was leading the polling in July, but everyone “knew”/ assumed that Trump would fade and the voters would get serious and nominate an “electable” person.

    The cognoscenti consensus was that Trump could not and would not win the R nomination basically because they thought an idiot buffoon *shouldn’t*win. It’s gonna be Jeb at the end of the day – it has to be Jeb; history has taught us it will be Jeb – so we’re just going to discount all of this polling nonsense.

    Nevertheless, Trump won the nomination easily.

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  42. Kylopod says:

    @Teve: The funny thing is that anti-vax used to be associated almost entirely with the left. The first time I remember hearing a right-winger get into it was in 2011 when Michelle Bachmann said that vaccines cause “mental retardation.” But even this didn’t go unchallenged in the right-wing world; Limbaugh declared that she had “jumped the shark,” and that was about the point when her candidacy faded. Of course her statement was especially dumb, even by anti-vax standards. The original (debunked) study claimed that vaccines caused autism, not retardation. Bachmann’s remark suggested she didn’t understand the difference.

    By now, it seems that anti-vax is increasingly a right-wing preoccupation. I remember a poll from a while back suggesting that anti-vax beliefs are found in about equal proportions among liberals and conservatives. And it’s true some of its prominent advocates include left-wing celebrities. But among politicians, there’s no contest: it’s found almost entirely among Republicans, not Democrats. The only nominee of a major party ever to question vaccines is now sitting in the Oval Office.

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  43. Kylopod says:

    @de stijl:

    I contended that JEB! could not win the nomination nor Rubio because they were inherently less dickish than acceptable to the R base and seemed to be unwilling to go full utter dick.

    The problem with that theory is that it didn’t happen that way four years earlier. You mentioned Gingrich, who in many ways was the king of dicks among politicians. (Jon Stewart once described him as a master in “dick fu.”) He temporarily caught fire in the 2012 primaries, beating Romney handily in South Carolina. Then he imploded after talking about…moon colonies? Or maybe he just was never going to gain traction. He wasn’t even the runner-up in the end–that honor went to the not-quite-as-dickish Santorum.

    For that matter, a lot of people seem to forget that Trump himself flirted with a run for the nomination in the spring of 2011. And just like four years later, he actually led the polls for a while. Then his poll numbers abruptly collapsed (shortly after the release of Obama’s long-form birth certificate and the killing of Osama Bin Laden). He dropped nearly 20 points, going from first to fifth place in one shot. PPP called it “one of the quickest rises and falls in the history of presidential politics.” A few days later, he announced he’d decided not to run.

    So give his 2016 skeptics a little credit. His victory was not some foregone conclusion flowing from the fact that he was the biggest dick; it depended heavily on the circumstances–in particular the unusually crowded field. There was no single figure for the GOP establishment to rally around like Romney in 2012; that lane was clogged by multiple candidates that the establishment never made up their mind about. A poll in Feb. 2016 revealed that when Republican voters were asked to choose between Rubio and Trump, Rubio beat him by double digits. That, I believe, conflicts with the idea that GOP voters as a whole preferred the more dickish candidate. In fact, Trump didn’t win an absolute majority of the vote in a single state until fairly late in the cycle–after he had already accumulated enough delegates that it was mathematically impossible to stop him except through a contested convention. His final primary popular vote was 44.9%–making him one of only two Republican candidates in the modern era to win the nomination with less than 50% of the popular vote (the other was McCain).

    A lot of us have had to eat crow during the Trump era, and I certainly give you credit for seeing Trump’s potential when many of us were pooh-poohing the idea that it was even possible. But just because it happened doesn’t prove it was inevitable. I realize it often felt that way; it seemed like the more people insisted Trump could never win, the more he went on to do just that. It was like they were jinxing it or something. As Trump kept clearing one threshold after the next that pundits said would never happen (he’ll never enter the race, he’ll never last till Iowa, he’ll never win the nomination, he’ll never defeat Hillary), I kept thinking of Vizzini shouting “Inconceivable!” (which is one of the reasons why I’m so uneasy when I hear people say he’ll never win reelection).

    Still, it’s important to keep in mind: it was in many ways a perfect storm. Many things could have derailed his candidacy, both in the primaries and the general election. I think the Russians were already placing their thumb on the scale during the primaries, in some of the social-media attacks against his rivals. But even they couldn’t have guaranteed his victory. There was more luck involved than I think you are acknowledging.

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  44. de stijl says:

    @Kylopod:

    You are very, very good at analyzing past elections. Seriously. You should send your resume to 538.

    In 2016, there was no luck involved. This was scalp taking. They’d endured eight years of Obama’s insufferable reign. They were feisty and salty and hungry. They wanted a pain-bringer. I saw that. Most did not.

    Essentially, you are undercutting me and conveniently elevating your own post hoc rationalizations for being wrong, but for the logical, correct reasons. Eff that. You’re gilding poop here.

    It’s okay to be wrong. Learn from it. Eating crow is essential to growth.

    I was super wrong when it came to the general election where I predicted that Trump would win the R nomination and would subsequently get beat down Goldwater style. I was very wrong there. I underestimated the sheer R tribalism and I did not see at all the electorally relevant midwest states going for Trump.

    IOW, don’t retroactively justify your wrong call, but let it challenge you. Not “I wasn’t really wrong because the poll from blahbity-blah said this thing that supports my pet idea”, but embrace the fact you were wrong and investigate why.

    Myself, I have to reckon with the fact that WI, OH, MI, and PA went Trump. Why?

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  45. de stijl says:

    Interesting view of anti-vax demographics from Quartz recapping a Pew poll:

    https://qz.com/355398/the-average-anti-vaxxer-is-probably-not-who-you-think-she-is/

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  46. Kylopod says:

    @de stijl: The problem there is that the fact that something happens in itself doesn’t tell us anything about why it happened. Even a good prediction doesn’t automatically imply greater insight into what happened. Let me give an example. In the summer of 2016, Michael Moore argued that Trump was probably going to win the election. After Trump went on to do just that against most people’s expectations, media accounts naturally treated him like he was some kind of prophet.

    You know the problem with that? Moore also predicted Mitt Romney would win in 2012. Everyone seems to have forgotten that. You know the saying about the broken clock?

    Now, I don’t want to be too hard on Moore: I think he did have some genuine insight into the 2016 election, as a guy who grew up in Michigan with a dad who worked in manufacturing. He understood the appeal Trump had to that demographic, in a way I think a lot of us missed.

    Still, Moore has also long been something of an attention-seeking blowhard who’s built a brand for himself as a kind of left-wing doomsayer. I think he cried wolf on this one: he was right about Trump, but given his record of failed contrarian predictions, who could tell?

    Besides, I don’t think he was right when he said Trump was likely to win. Just because Trump won doesn’t mean it was ever likely. Unlikely events happen from time to time. If I tell you there’s only a 12% chance of getting heads three times in a row, and then you do, that doesn’t prove me “wrong.” In fact my statement is a mathematically provable fact.

    Is that a post hoc rationalization? It could be. But there’s no reason to just assume it is. The point is that it’s possible to be right for the wrong reasons, or wrong for the right reasons–the fact that one person’s prediction comes true doesn’t automatically mean their theories that led them there were correct. It does mean we ought to be willing to listen a little more to such people and to rethink our previous assumptions. I believe I’ve done exactly that since the election. I’ve had to completely rethink my understanding of what makes a plausible candidate and how much control the party has over the nomination. Indeed, it’s one of the reasons why I’m not dismissing Sanders’ chances in the Democratic primary, as I would have last time around. If you have enough name recognition and a strong base of support, you have a good chance of winning–especially in a crowded field. That’s what I (and many other people) missed in 2016.

    My record in the general election is not quite as embarrassing. As I have mentioned, six days before the election I outlined a scenario for a Trump victory that ended up being strikingly accurate in its details, down to naming the states of WI, MI, and PA and suggesting that Trump could win them even if Clinton maintained a narrow lead in the popular vote. I didn’t think the scenario was particularly likely, and I was still pretty shocked on Election Night. So what should I conclude from that? Was I demonstrating astonishing foresight, or did I completely blow it like most people? You could make an argument either way.

    So I think there’s more to figuring out which theories are right or wrong than simply by who had the best predictions. I give you a lot of credit for accurately predicting Trump would win the nomination when many people here laughed at the idea. You were right, we were wrong. But that doesn’t automatically mean your Theory of Dickishness works. If the most dickish candidate always wins, why didn’t Gingrich win in 2012? Why did Trump himself completely belly-flop in 2011 after first seeming formidable in the polls? Why did a poll in 2016 show Rubio beating Trump by a wide margin in a head-to-head matchup? Why did this supposedly inevitable candidate fail to win a majority of the vote?

    There’s no question that dickishness is a major part of right-wing culture, and that a significant minority of Republican voters flocked to Trump because they loved his dickishness. But he also benefited heavily from the unusually large and divided field, where his rivals ended up canceling each other out rather than forming a united front against him. I don’t think there was anything inevitable about that.

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  47. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kylopod:

    Bachmann’s remark suggested she didn’t understand the difference.

    Not as unusual as you’d like to believe; even among educat0rs. I was teaching an AP psychology class this past week and one of the articles the students read was about objections by parents of children with Asperger’s Syndrome and adults with the condition to the decision to merge Asperger’s with Autism as Autism Spectrum Disorder. Frankly, I agree with the objection even though it is what Asperger wanted to do with his original research. There is too much association of autism with retardation in the general society and the negative connotations of “autism” are simply too high.

    @ de stilj: Not surprised at the statistical breakdown of anti-vaxxers. Didn’t know the breakdown, but still not surprised. The most significant features to me are 1) don’t go to doctors and 2) tend to be what I would identify as extremely low income. I would guess that the objection might be most economic/geographic in nature. “Don’t need no fricken vaccines and even if I did, I can’t afford to take a day off to go to the city and waste all day gettin’ a shot.”

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  48. Kylopod says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I remember when it was reported that the DSM made that change in terminology, and it never occurred to me until now that it might invite a negative association between Aspberger’s and retardation. Perhaps I should have known, because my brother has Aspberger’s and also has a genius IQ. Maybe it’s about time they found a new word to replace autism. This happens a lot with terminology for mental conditions that comes to be insulting, including retarded, which itself was coined around the turn of the 20th century as a respectful alternative to moron, once the technical term for mild mental disability.

    I think a lot of the image of autism in our culture has been influenced by the Dustin Hoffman character in Rain Man who was very much not representative of a typical person with autism. It’s similar to the widespread trope that Tourette’s Syndrome means an uncontrollable urge to swear.

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  49. de stijl says:

    @Kylopod:

    You have a blind spot. You’re still trying to retroactively justify your past take which was wrong, but you seem unable to let it go. I was really right about Trump in the run-up and then really wrong in the final outcome. I’m okay with that because I have to be.

    If the most dickish candidate always wins, why didn’t Gingrich win in 2012?

    I had an insight to R behavior in 2016 and it was that the dickishness value was the prevailing factor. It is not necessarily the prevailing factor today nor was it yesterday, in fact somewhat likely not as they are trying to hold seats.

    Dickishness is a reactionary response.

    Trump is now eminently proving that dickishness is not the panacea as they had thought before they cast their votes. A flawed person dissuades people from voting primarily on that value for the next election – Trump basically failed their dickeshness mandate. The most dickish person imaginable has obviously been a really piss-poor President even to those people who voted for him because of his dickishness. The shine is off dickishness as the *primary* trait.

    (Although, perceived dickishness drives a whole lot of R voting behavior. It is a core value to them and will drive some future voting behavior. Dickisness as a core value and a preferred trait for R candidates and it will inevitably influence future actions.)

    (Theorizing here.)
    Dickishness won 2016. In 2012, Rs valued elect-ability over values purity. Dickishness was a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have. They’d suffered four years of the “Obama-(i)nation” not eight. They thought they could resolve this / reverse this with a respectable R President like Romney who wouldn’t necessarily set things “right” but would produce a society more amenable to eventually doing so in the future.

    —–

    I’m coming around to a synthesis of Values Based Voting + Race (rather “Race”) + Socioeconomics. Major events like wars and economic crises also obviously contribute.

    If we look at WI, OH, PA, MI – it was white, rural men that provided the Trump presidency. What does that suggest?

    I am not anywhere near omniscient. I don’t exactly know why I knew that Trump would win the R nomination but I just knew – grokking the zeitgeist or something.

    But, I have zero clue how today will drive 2020 voters. Zero clue as to who will be the eventual D nominee. D voters are settled on “anyone but Trump” in 2020 which is a really adaptive and good goal, but limited. So far, there is no overwhelming value based bloc – maybe Green New Deal will get traction. Today, I’d bet on Biden or Harris or Booker, but it will have to play out. Could be an un-announced candidate totally off the radar now.

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  50. Kylopod says:

    @de stijl:

    I was really right about Trump in the run-up and then really wrong in the final outcome.

    No disagreement there. But I think you are equating too closely the fact that you were right about the outcome of the primaries with your reasons justifying your predictions. If you say “I believe X is going to happen because Y,” and then X happens, that doesn’t automatically mean Y is correct. It’s possible to be right about the prediction and wrong about the explanation. In fact, that’s fairly common in politics–especially regarding elections, which always involve a complex set of causes and effects.

    You said you based your prediction on the fact that “basically because he was the biggest dick and modern-day Rs really appreciate and positively respond to that.” And if I’ve understood you correctly, you believe his nomination was a foregone conclusion–or at least overwhelmingly likely–based on the fact that he was the biggest dick. You insist that “there was no luck involved.” It’s those last two claims I take exception to. I’ve already provided some evidence that these claims are insufficient to explain what happened, which you have yet to address. The fact that your prediction came true doesn’t validate your entire theory behind the prediction.

    I agree that his dickishness was a major factor in what propelled him to the nomination, and that it was more effective than I and many other people expected. But I don’t think in itself it was sufficient to cause him to win. I believe there were other variables that made it possible, notably the unusually large and crowded field. I base this on the fact that he didn’t win a majority of the vote, and on polls like the one I mentioned that showed Republican voters overwhelmingly preferring Rubio to Trump in a head-to-head matchup. Now, it’s just a single poll and you might doubt its accuracy. However, the polls in the GOP primaries proved to be fairly accurate overall (in fact they tended to slightly overestimate Trump), and there’s nothing in that poll contradicting what happened, since Rubio was gone long before the field was winnowed down to a one-on-one between him and Trump. The most logical explanation is that Rubio’s potential support was bleeding out to other candidates and that Trump was benefiting from it.

    That brings us to 2012. Your explanation for why dickishness didn’t win in that cycle was because “In 2012, Rs valued elect-ability over values purity.” But that’s a circular argument. You’re assuming from the start that the outcome of the nomination contest is automatically a reflection of what R voters value–the very point I’m disputing. I don’t agree that there was any less appetite for either dickishness or purity in the 2012 GOP electorate than the 2016 one. After all, this was shortly after the Tea Party “revolution” where insurgents had successfully knocked out establishment favorites in the primaries in favor of crazies like Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Carl Paladino, and more. The reason it didn’t work in the 2012 presidential primaries isn’t because GOP voters suddenly discovered pragmatism. The problem is that presidential primaries have a unique structure in that they aren’t based on a single contest, but on a lengthy series of primaries and caucuses sprawled out over several months. If an insurgent candidate has an unexpected win (like Gingrich’s in SC), the establishment has a lot of time to regain its footing.

    Moreover, the establishment in 2012 benefited heavily from the fact that they had a single candidate to rally around–Romney. There were a few potential alternatives early on–Pawlenty and Huntsman–but they both faded quickly after failing to gain traction (in fact Pawlenty was gone months before Iowa and Huntsman shortly after NH). But the insurgent lane was clogged with candidates, several of whom enjoyed a period of time leading the field. This included Trump himself (who never entered the race but did lead polls for several months), Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum. It was reported some time later that Gingrich and Santorum had privately discussed teaming up to take on Romney one-on-one, but the deal fell through when they couldn’t agree who would be on top. There was a strong appetite for someone other than Romney, they just couldn’t agree on who that would be, and it remained fractured between multiple candidates until it was too late.

    In 2016, that dynamic was reversed. It was the largest presidential primary field in modern history. There was no equivalent to Romney in 2012, a single figure who could unite the establishment. Instead there were several choices–Jeb, Rubio, Kasich, Christie. For several months these candidates spent their time mostly ignoring Trump and tearing into each other, while the establishment basically sat on its hands and didn’t bother to get behind any one of them–until it was too late. Trump almost consistently led the field from mid-2015 onward–but it was only with a minority of the vote: at first it was about 25%, and after December it jumped to around 30%. It’s just that it was a larger percentage than any other individual candidate enjoyed, and it proved far more resilient than any other candidate’s base of support. People talk about Trump’s supposed invincibility to whatever happened, exemplified by his comment (which may be the smartest and most insightful thing he ever said) that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose any support. But what people forget is that “his support” was only a minority of the GOP electorate–it’s just that the field was large and divided enough that it made a difference.

    If you believe that Trump was destined to win the nomination due merely to his being the biggest dick, and that he even would have triumphed in a much smaller field where the establishment was unified behind a single candidate, you’re going to have provide better evidence than merely the fact that he won the nomination with a minority of the vote.

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