Vaccines: Are They Really Safe & Effective, by Neil Z Miller

First, a few words about the author and his purpose in writing this book.

The book purports to be objective. It claims to give us “information”, and “the facts”. In his preface, Miller states “I merely try to present the facts in a clear and straightforward manner.” This is a misleading pretence at neutrality.

Mr Miller does not write his book as an attempt to provide objective information but as an argument against vaccination.

He clearly has a vehement antipathy to vaccinations and a deep mistrust of the medical establishment (which he refers to as the Medical-Industrial Complex). If you have any doubt about that, you might care to look at the Secret Database section in the website he owns, runs and uses to promote his book. Here is one particularly choice passage:

Vaccine production is a disgusting procedure. [Goes on to describe certain aspects of the process and ingredients used.] What happens next, once this foul concoction — live viruses, bacteria, toxic substances, and diseased animal matter — is created? This witch’s brew is forced into the healthy child.”

So now we know where Miller is coming from. What about his book?

The main thing to strike the reader is the dense use of facts and statistics: he uses them like they are going out of fashion. I’m all for facts. The trouble is that Miller uses too many facts, and uses them very selectively, which serves to cloud the issues rather than to clarify them.

(And much of the statistical information seemed incomplete – see my blog post Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics for more about my views on the misleading use of incomplete information in the vaccination debate.)

Perhaps the statistical snowstorm is just an unfortunate effect of a somewhat cramped, fact-packed style, but perhaps not… I tried to check a few of the statistical claims made, but due to shortcomings in Miller’s list of references I kept coming up against dead ends.

For example, one astonishing claim is that “according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the chances are about 15 times greater that measles will be contracted by those vaccinated against the disease than by those who are left alone.” (p27)

Can this really be true? Is that really what the WHO think about the measles vaccine? This was a reference I just had to follow up. Sadly, the reference supposedly backing up this claim is not to any document published by the WHO, but to Robert Mendelsohn’s 1984 book, How to Raise a Healthy Child… in Spite of Your Doctor. Hmm. I doubt that Mendelsohn speaks for the WHO, so that is perplexing. Wish I had the time / energy to follow it up, but instead I tried the opposite approach and had a look to see what the WHO really think.

Here is what they say about measles in their measles factsheet: “Measles remains a leading cause of death among young children, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine for the past 40 years.” (my emphasis) (See my post Our friend, the government, for my views on the linguistic accuracy of claims that these vaccines are “safe”.)

So I still have no idea where Miller gets his remarkable claim from, and I am even less sure of the truth of that claim.

I’ll move on to my next major gripe about Miller: emotive language.

The book may be moderate in tone when compared with the website; but it is scarcely objective. We see the description of vaccinations as “injecting foreign proteins and toxic substances into the healthy bodies of innocent infants” (p89) Miller characterises doctors as “trying to frighten parents by exaggerating the risks [of an illness]” (p27). These descriptions may be in some sense accurate, who knows? But they are hardly conducive to clear and objective thought.

Moreover, what Miller is doing could equally be described as trying to frighten parents – it’s just that he is trying to frighten parents into defiance of their doctors rather than obedience to them. In my view, both approaches are wrong. Why should parents not attempt to work in partnership with the health professionals whose job it is to care for them? (I did call this blog “Touchingly Naive”…)

In the same vein are the heartrending accounts by parents and others of damage to their children as a result of what they consider (perhaps rightly – again, who knows?) to be vaccine reactions.

These accounts are included not so much for scientific merit but for emotional pulling power. They are used not only to confirm the existence of anecdotal evidence meriting scientific investigation, but to justify Miller’s own assertions. They are introduced by sentences such as “Personal stories by concerned parents confirm that the vaccine may be more detrimental than beneficial” (p59) and “Personal stories confirm a probable link to adverse reactions.” (p61) This is just untruthful. Personal stories might raise the real possibility that the vaccines may be detrimental and that they may be linked to adverse reactions. They do not and cannot “confirm” such hypotheses without rigorous scientific studies and analysis.

Miller’s book, taken as a polemic against mandatory vaccination and as a call for proper research into vaccine safety and efficacy, is arguably powerful. It certainly calls for somebody sensible to respond – or, as George R Schwartz MD puts it in his foreword, Miller is “a voice seeking dialogue and requiring counterpoint“.

However, taken as it was purportedly intended – as a helpful and objective explanation of the truth about vaccinations – it is a failure.