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Lately, Ethan Lindenberger has been getting a lot of attention for defying his mother and getting vaccinated against her wishes.

NPR released an article today about how Ethan testified before the senate committee on Health, Education, Labour and Pensions.

In said article, Lindenberger uses the following line to back up his belief that misinformation is being spread on social media regarding vaccinations:

Organized anti-vax groups that spread misinformation, instill fear into the public for their own gain, selfishly

Let me say, that I am a firm believer in vaccinations, and that is not what I am asking about. My question however, is:

Is Ethan Lindenberger's claim that organised anti-vaccination groups stand to gain anything factual?

The reason I ask, is because I see no commercial industry that would stand to gain, if people stopped purchasing vaccinations. Maybe Primary Care Physicians would though.

Paragraph containing the sentence in question:

I speak here today to first express this concept, that anti-vaccine parents and individuals are in no way evil. With that said, I will state that certain individuals and organizations which spread misinformation and instill fear into the public for their own gain selfishly put countless people at risk. If one agrees that vaccines are safe and substantially benefit the health and safety of the public, you’d see the anti-vaccine leaders and proponents of misinformation which knowingly lie to the American people are the real issue. Using the love, affection, and care of a parent for their children to push an agenda and create false distress is shameful. The sources which spread misinformation should be the primary concern of the American people.

YouTube link to the sentence in question.

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    Alternative medicine sellers, people writing anti-vax books, suburban moms who want to get on the local news... – Giter Mar 6 at 15:45
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    @Elmy LOL my question is related to a notable claim. Ethan Lindenburger's claim that organized anti-vax group's efforts are for their own gain and selfish. I am asking, "Is his claim that they gain anything factual?". Just because I did not word it according to what you would like, does not mean it is not a valid skeptics question. – Dylan Mar 6 at 16:55
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    @Dylan "...enough clout to organise large enough movements." The movement isn't really that large. Roughly 9% of people definitely think the MMR vaccine is unsafe, for example. As a comparison, 10% of people definitely believe Obama was born in Kenya. – Is Begot Mar 6 at 20:13
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    One thing to remember is that Alan Wakefield, who is almost singlehandedly responsible for the "Vaccines cause autism" mania, was disbarred from practicing medicine not just because of his crap methodology in his study, but because he'd failed to disclose financial ties to the manufacturer of an alternative measles vaccine. – Shadur Mar 7 at 6:00
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    If that's your answer, please post it as an answer, with an articulated explanation and proof to back up your claims. I'll give it an upvote if it's well researched and written. – Dylan Mar 11 at 13:13
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I found a paper that covers exactly what it says: Conflicts of Interest in Vaccine Safety Research (COIVSR). Significantly, mothers of children with disabilities (that appear like they were caused by vaccines) play a pretty important role in anti-vax groups. This paper lists a couple of goals that anti-vaxxers might have including the desire to pass laws, have favorable research done, and get money (specifically, e.g. from the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program):

Advocacy Groups

Some independent advocacy groups are skeptical of vaccines and are interested in exposing the dangers of vaccines. These non-profit organizations sponsor research into the possible association between vaccines and autism. Groups such as the Autism Research Institute (ARI), the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), and Sensible Action for Ending Mercury-Induced Neurological Disorders (SafeMinds) provide limited grants for the study of vaccine safety. These groups consider that vaccines or vaccine ingredients may be associated with autism and have a reputational interest in the outcome of the research. Some members of these organizations also have a legislative agenda that includes enacting laws to allow vaccination choice and allocating more resources to the study of vaccine side effects. Parents of children with autism or other neurological disorders founded many of these groups; some of the parents have filed claims under the U.S. Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Therefore, some individuals associated with these groups have a financial interest in seeing research that establishes a link between vaccines and autism. These organizations sponsor relatively small projects: ARI grants average about $20,000, and SafeMinds grants range from $5,000 to $75,000 per year; the entire research budget for NVIC is roughly $100,000. While these organizations are not as well-staffed or well-funded as government agencies or vaccine manufacturers, their main task is to generate information to refute agency or industry claims. In so doing, they are known to fund research to help bolster their position. Although there is limited oversight concerning the general information these groups disseminate, the research they sponsor goes through the same vetting process as any other research that appears in peer-reviewed journals.

As for reasoning, COIVSR mentions the fact that there are gaps in vaccine safety research and a lack of research into cases where autism was alleged to have been triggered by vaccines. No matter the reason, a lot of people don't trust vaccine safety research, with one study finding that 77% of US parents have at least one doubt about vaccine safety.

There's also the flip side of the coin: just as the claim in question implies that the motivations of anti-vaxxers are clouding what they do, the opposite is argued: the pro-vax side has conflicts of interest which can affect what they're doing. The pro-vax side of things has largely the same motivations ("pass laws, have favorable research done, and get money") except bigger. After all, pharmaceutical companies, the makers of vaccines, are (obviously) pro-vax and they have much deeper pockets (with COIVSR citing $11.5 billion as the number for sales of pediatric vaccines in 2009). Again, COIVSR goes into more detail on this.

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    FYI, that paper is likely pretty biased. Specifically, the paper you reference actually points out a conflict of interest between the author of the paper and the topic. In the "Disclosure" section it mentions that the author has two daughters with developmental disabilities, and she is pursuing compensation from the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. She was also formerly on the board of directors for Safeminds. Not to say that the information is necessarily wrong; but for a paper about conflicts of interest on both sides, the author seems to have a conflict of interest. – JMac Mar 6 at 20:35
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    Worth pointing out that while the text quoted here makes the goals and methods of the organizations seem benign (they just want to fill in perceived gaps in the research currently carried out on vaccine safety), their actual actions aren't "we have concerns and want to see vaccines made safer" but more "vaccines are poison" and "vaccines are more dangerous than the diseases they are supposed to prevent". Which is pure nuttery and a dangerous (and false) message to spread. But yeah, this answer points out two clear financial motivators - VICP payouts and donations. – cpcodes Mar 6 at 22:27
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    Might be worth as a case study discussing how Andrew Wakefield received £400,000 from a lawyer's group, the LSC, for his fraudulent (proven in court) study that kickstarted the vaccine/autism myth. They had 1,600 families lined up for what would have been an extremely lucrative lawsuit (including children used in Wakefield's study), suing vaccine manufacturers using Wakefield's research that they paid for as evidence. It fell apart as Wakefield's research did, and the LSC later admitted their effort (spending £3.4m in total) was "inappropriate". – user568458 Mar 7 at 7:55
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    A good answer, but spoiled by the rant in the last paragraph. – RedSonja Mar 8 at 7:30
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    @JMac it's most definitely biased - the author is not only a dyed-in-the-wool anti-vaxxer with a history of writing crap "papers" to push her agenda but she also claims her kids' autism gave her breast cancer! – motosubatsu Mar 19 at 16:02
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Obviously the specifics of "what they have to gain" varies from group to group and individual to individual but it mostly boils down to the time honored motive - money.

For some examples:

Andrew Wakefield

Wakefield was driven by a financial motive in undertaking his original fraudulent case series - he was being paid to attack MMR by Richard Barr. He had also filed a patent for a single vaccine against measles - had MMR been removed his vaccine would have been a candidate for replacing the Measles component, so he stood to gain a significant amount of cash were that to happen.

Fake "Autism advocacy" groups - e.g. Age of Autism

They publish books, shill for donations (AoA have a Amazon Smile page for example) - all income that is predicated on drumming up the anti-vaccination sentiment and blaming vaccines for autism.

Alt-med quacks & cranks - e.g. the Geiers, Natural News

David and Mark Geier developed their "Lupron Protocol" (where they basically combined Chelation with chemical castration to "cure" autism) - and out of the goodness of their hearts charged a mere $2,000 per shot for it.

Then you have organisations such as Mike Adams' "Natural News" - "natural" supplements and the like are pushed alongside anti-vaxx views, and he just so happens to have some to sell...

The VaXXed crew - Del Bigtree et al

They make their anti-vaxx "documentaries" with donations from the faithful, charge for tickets etc.

Anti-Vaccination Doctors - Dr Paul Thomas, "Dr Bob" Sears etc

There's not only the fact they are drumming up business for themselves - both in terms of getting the vaccine-hesitant patients on board but also in terms of things like selling "medical exemptions" to work around laws like SB 277.

Compensation from pharmaceutical companies / governments - e.g. the US National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program

The NVICP pays out substantial sums of money to those who are deemed to have what is called a table injury. It's quicker and easier than a conventional lawsuit and pays big amounts of money - if the AV groups were able to get Autism classed as a table injury then members of those groups claiming vaccines gave their child autism (either through mistaken genuine belief or deception) would be in line for substantial payouts.

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    Truly, a much better argued and researched - and on topic - answer than the one chosen. +1 – cpcodes Mar 19 at 16:09
  • the crux of the question is the 'groups' moniker - many are the equivalent of facebook groups -they cannot directly profit - but driving forces within the group may, in their own personal ventures. Good Answer, to a badly phrased question! – bukwyrm Mar 22 at 15:35
  • @bukwyrm indeed.. the "groups" aspect is something of a red herring, in many cases the rank and file of said groups are actually the marks of the people running them – motosubatsu Mar 22 at 15:38

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