An Old Response to Russel Glasser Regarding Vaccinations

Hi Avicenna, great article. I’d just like to ask a question because this is definitely an area where I could stand to bone up on my technique.

“There is an absolute hand grenade of question that I have found turns the vaccination debate into an utter rout. How does the Immune System Function?”

Would you mind gaming this conversation out for me a little, either in comments or in a new posts? Let’s say the antivaxxer says either “How the hell should I know?” or gives an entirely wrong answer. Then what? Do you give this entire lecture about how it really works? Or is there a key point that will drive the point home, some major bit of information that you can use to make their ignorance really obvious?

Maybe you could provide a short Socratic dialogue of how you’ve seen this conversation go from there after you’ve tossed the grenade, or link to a forum thread or something?

This is a question from Russel Glasser (that little known blogger on a certain network!) on an old post.

Usually what happens is the anti-vax individual becomes evasive. You won’t get a solid answer from them because they simply don’t know the details of this. The more medically minded may start to answer but will emphasise the non-specific immune system and toss out a throw away “I prefer to fortify my immune system against anything rather than concentrate on specific pathogens”.

At that point you can usually say “what about HIV/AIDS patients” whose non-specific immune system is fine but specific is non-functional?

My personal favourite response was me using the word “Idiot’s guide to Immunity” to describe the level of answer I want. The individual promptly posted a wall of text to me having googled that phrase. He didn’t check the author of the work or else he would have realised he was trying to pass off my work as his own to me.

The answers are usually wrong. Most anti-vax don’t know how the human immune system works or indeed how powerful antibodies are.

In every case this question has had people becoming incredibly evasive, leaving the discussion, to the point that many anti-vax simply won’t engage any more lest this be brought up. You end up with dismissals of the question. Like “pfft! That’s so easy! Why are we even discussing immunology when we talk about vaccines!” or “that’s not important” or what have you.

Only one person has correctly answered my question “How does the human immune system function” (And for extra points, explain if vaccines don’t work how anti Rhesus factor, blood typing, pregnancy tests and anti-venom work) and they did so by trying to pass off my work as theirs. So without lying about human physiology they have no real way to explain human immune systems.


  1. katybe says

    I’ve read you mentioning this incident before, and I’m curious to read the interaction – how did they respond when you pointed out they’d quoted your own work? I don’t seem to be able to bring up the details in a search.

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