After a full day spent on Mother Web, trying to figure out why so many Canadians are afraid of the H1N1 vaccine and not planning to get it - as per the online poll conducted by Strategic Counsel for The Globe and published this Monday - my favourite discovery is an innocuous sounding sheet called Vaccination 101.
I found it on the Personocratia site, which features someone named Ghis, who used to be a Quebec doctor before she lost her marbles (and her licence to practise, for life) and took up the principles of Applied Idessic Consciousness.
What sounds at first blush like it might be a rudimentary pro-and-con discussion is in fact a two-page number that describes the vaccines as "biological weapons of mass destruction for targeted populations," warns they may include microchips to "facilitate mind control at a distance," and, best of all, "because of their neurotoxic effects," announces that they "produce psychopaths."
Holy Mary Mother of God: It is a miracle that anyone in the country is getting the damn shot, let alone lining up for it.
(This is where protocol dictates I must insert the standard "I don't hate the Web" disclaimer. Consider it done.)
Obviously - I pray it is obvious - Ghis is not an authoritative source for H1N1 information or anything else but idessity, which she invented, and good on her. But she is not alone out there on the fringes.
Bill Maher, the perfectly presentable host of HBO's Real Time, is out there too on the subject of vaccines.
At 3.37 p.m. on Sept. 27, he now famously Twittered, "If u get a swine flu shot ur an idiot."
On Oct. 9, he had a seven-minute on-air chat with Bill Frist, a former Republican senator, about the efficacy of the new vaccine, which began with Mr. Maher affecting puzzlement that conservatives like Mr. Frist, with their suspicions about big government, would embrace letting "the government stick a disease in your arm.... I don't trust the government, especially with my health," Mr. Maher said, to cheers from his audience.
Mr. Frist mentioned the case of a healthy 30-year-old man who had recently entered hospital and died from swine flu and who would be alive, he said, if he'd had the vaccine. "That's an anecdotal story," said Mr. Maher. "It's not typical. Let's face it, this is not a very serious flu."
Alas for Mr. Maher, in this particular battle of the Bills, Mr. Frist had the edge - he's a medical doctor. Mr. Maher is a comedian: Who are you going to believe?
It should be easy but it never is, not with the uber democracy ushered in by the Web, where it is written that a) there are no baseline facts, only opinions; b) everyone is entitled to an opinion and to express it loudly; c) all opinions are equal and d) the informed opinion, i.e. Mr. Frist's, is given no more weight than the uninformed one, i.e. Mr. Maher's or even the lunatic one, i.e. Ghis's.
By late yesterday, for instance, if you typed "flu vaccine" into the Google search engine, one of the first results, No. 2 I think, was entitled "Do Not Take a Swine Flu Vaccine!" written by one Dr. Patricia A. Doyle (she appears to be, by her own reckoning, a veterinarian at the esteemed University of West Indies, but even this wasn't immediately verifiable), whose short rant was full of such scientific gems as: "I feel the vaccine weakens our immune system."
Earlier in the day, the same search uncovered, in the Top 10, an item entitled "Swine Flu Vaccine Linked to Paralysis," by one F. William Engdahl, which blew up in hysterical fashion an already overblown story from earlier this year in the Daily Mail, which quoted a leaked warning letter from professor Elizabeth Miller of the British Health Protection Agency reminding British neurologists that the swine-flu vaccine was in 1976 linked to Guillain-Barre Syndrome and withdrawn.
(This is accurate, in that it happened, but many studies since have found no causal link between GBS and flu vaccines, and no cases of GBS in clinical trials of the H1N1 vaccines.)
In fact, Dr. Miller had also told the Mail, "We are not expecting a link to the vaccine but a link to disease, which would make having the vaccine even more important." Dr. Miller, a serious scientist, also recently presented a paper to the U.S. Congress in which she and another researcher confirmed their study shows no link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism.
Both Ms. Doyle and Mr. Engdahl appeared on the Global Research site, which purports to be an independent think tank of some sort, but appears to be home to conspiracy theorists the world over.
And then there is the Health Ranger, a guy named Mike Adams, and his NaturalNews site, also in the Top 10. Mr. Adams quotes the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi a lot, and his Health Ranger Habits include "no visits to M.D.s or western medical doctors," no prescription drugs or pharmaceuticals and no "following the ... ridiculous food guide" health agencies advocate. He is 35 and to judge by the many self-portraits on the site, a looker, which may be why a half-million people are reading him a month, as he says they are.
Mr. Adams is quoted on another "natural flu prevention" site run by Richard Seah, a "photographic artist, writer, journalist, web designer and teacher of natural health and macrobiotics" who is based in Singapore. He begins from a position of skepticism about what he calls "the germ theory of disease" and appears to believe that H1N1 is man-made.
The Strategic Counsel survey showed that only 49 per cent of Canadians wanted the new flu shot. Opposition is greatest in those under 34, those most likely, in other words, to turn to the Web for information, where the reputable and the scandalous and the ... idessic are treated with scrupulous equality. Some of the suspicious 51 per cent are in my own family. They feel the vaccine may be bad; they doubt the traditional sources. They prefer the likes of Dr. Maher, Dr. Adams and Ghis. It is to weep.
The Globe on H1N1