The University of Google

It’s been an interesting couple of days for me. Truthfully I hadn’t realized that there were a host of people who were linking their decisions not to vaccinate to their Christian faith:

  • because some vaccines may have been developed using fetal cell lines (from several decades ago)
  • because we should trust God–not medicine
  • because the greatest good for the greatest number is “socialism”–not Christianity
  • and, of course, because of the plethora of internet articles denying vaccine’s safety and efficacy

As I type this, I have a sore arm from (yet another) vaccine in preparation for our move to Malawi, I am grateful for the advances of medical science that have made the US so safe from many infectious diseases.

In other words, I am grateful for vaccines.

At the same time, I’m sad because I do think the anti-vaccine movement has gotten out of hand. (And, yes, I probably have already seen x, y, or z website’s argument for why vaccines actually cause everything bad; please don’t send me any more!) I’m no worshiper of science and medicine–they are flawed human endeavors, too!–but I still maintain that vaccines have helped more than they’ve harmed.

Anne Hutchinson.

I’m also sad because good people like Paul Offit–a researcher, professor, and physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia–have received awful threats and slander for his good work advocating vaccines and even developing them. (You can see his books here.)

While we all have a responsibility to make good choices, I do think the anti-vaccine movement, in the main, has generated a lot of self-proclaimed graduates from the University of Google, and, by proliferating “articles” that “expose” supposed lies and conspiracies of the CDC and whomever else, muddied the conversation and made it hard for ordinary folks to distinguish between rigorous, responsible research and accumulated anecdote (these things are not. the. same.)

Yes, this is for random amusement. My son Graeme (4) was looking at the house across the street and gasped “that house! Darth Vader’s mouth!” Comparative photographic evidence.

One final thing. I keep seeing references to “Big Pharma” and the attendant insinuations that these woefully ineffective and downright dangerous drugs continue to be required for school entry simply because the companies that produce them make a lot of money on them. I don’t want an answer–comments will be closed on this one, as I think I’m tired of “discussing” this for the moment, at least in this format–but let me ask this:

If we can acknowledge (as I think we can) that self-interest and greed influence, to some extent, much of what people do (you’d have to be pretty greedy & selfish to give children dangerous shots that do no good just so you can make money) don’t we also have to acknowledge that those opposing vaccines (loudly) probably (definitely) have some self-interest in it, too? Andrew Wakefield certainly did.

And yes, I have already seen the “articles” exonerating him and restoring his “good name.” Have you seen this article, showing how anti-vaccine suspicion is spilling over into South Africa and creating public health crises?

“…In South Africa, concerns about MMR, generated by coverage in the rest of the English-speaking world – including the UK – have led to an unwillingness to receive the vaccine, and there has been an outbreak of nearly 7,000 cases of measles. For children with poor health and limited access to medical services, this decision has been disastrous. There have already been hundreds of deaths.”

But the scare tactics are powerful–

“…just five minutes spent looking at websites critical of vaccines increases your perceptions of the risks, and reduces the perceptions of the risks of not being inoculated, according to a recent paper from a German group published in the Journal of Health Psychology. “

Is self-interest, greed, deception, and suspicion part of human nature? I suppose so. But so are altruism, honesty, generosity and trust.

May God grant us all the wisdom and grace to move into that better side of our natures.

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16 thoughts on “The University of Google

  1. Beautiful and wise response to some really difficult comments, Rachel. I too get so very frustrated by the way that conversations like these get muddled by the “University of Google.” In my work looking at fertility/reproductive medicine, I have occasionally argued with folks not because I disagree with their concerns, but because they are using scientific evidence (or not, as the case may be) in inappropriate ways. And yet they are quick to blame me for buying into the conspiracy and not caring about people’s well-being, etc.–when I’m mainly trying to argue for good scientific method.

    I also struggle with those who paint modern medicine, in the form of “Big Pharma” or vaccinating pediatricians, as the enemy. Modern medicine has allowed me to live a full life with a disorder that would have left me damaged and isolated in past generations. As you say, no pursuit is without some self-interest, or misguided practitioners. But by and large, our medical advances and medications are doing a lot of good for people like me, people like the children who haven’t been crippled by polio or killed by measles due to effective vaccines. It saddens me when people make modern medicine into the enemy.

    Good work this week.

  2. I just don’t get Christians that believe in vast conspiracies. I know that belief is conspiracies is across the board. There are conspiracies on the right, the left, rich, poor, etc.

    But conspiracies seem to be antithetical to Christian trust in God. Conspiracies never are real. Those small conspiracies that are real never last long. That is the nature of sin. And we have all kinds of research into things like monopolies that show that in the end any attempts at controlling markets for one’s own benefit does not work for long.

    A belief in a vast medical conspiracy requires a belief that there are hundreds if not thousands of people that are working together to actively harm children. It just doesn’t make sense.

  3. I agree completely with Ellen: Good work this week.

    And as for the idea that the greatest good for the greatest number is “socialism”–not Christianity, how dare that young boy with five loaves and two fish give up his meal so that Jesus could use it to feed everyone? Didn’t he know this was socialism and not Christianity? Why didn’t someone set him straight?*


    *I considered resisting the temptation to indulge in sarcastic rhetoric, but then decided against.

  4. If I learned anything from studying Proverbs is that the word for discern or discernment shares the same root as “between.” Wisdom means being able to know when a seemingly good principle is not appropriate for a particular set of facts. God does not mean for us to be automatons and have knee-jerk reactions. The anti-vaccine arguments are just that — knee-jerk reactions.

  5. One thing I do is to check out what other western nations recommend. For example, we didn’t circumcise our son, for a variety of reasons, and I felt very reassured in knowing that every single western nation apart from the US clearly recommends against it. But when it came time to decide about vaccinations, I quickly realized that all western nations were on the same page in recommending them, and to me, that spoke volumes.

  6. Rachel, I have been heavy in my heart for you these last days. It’s amazing how enraged I can get from being online and how responses are as if there are not actual humans on the other end. I saw you responded like that once after the article…that you are human…and I think it is a good thing to remember for all of us in this disembodied age of the internet.

    I also think it is good for all of us to be challenged to think outside of the proverbial (and individualistic) box when it comes to decision-making in many areas of our lives. Helping to link loving our neighbors with real-life stuff in the 21st century is no small task. It takes discernment and boldness to do so. Thank you for doing that. Sincerely.

    I also feel it is easy to polarize all the naysayers into one category. I would like to suggest that not all who disagree with your post are even anti-vax, that maybe it is just that the article didn’t seem to offer it as a place to deeply examine, but rather the definitively authoritative way for loving another concerning vaccinations (I hate to say it, but even the title didn’t offer any space for consideration, it simply told “us” what to do).

    It appears that this stance made this a polarizing issue and brought out the (unfortunate) immaturity in so many on both sides. Your character was an easy target. One comment even said this was “self-righteousness”. Reading your writing could, this is just craziness. I just don’t see that. I am sorry for the maelstrom you have had to endure.

    Blessings as you prepare for Malawi.

    • Thanks, Kimberly. Your concern means a lot.

      You know, I think that I just didn’t realize how deeply anti-vaccine sentiments were held. My intention was simply to frame vaccines in a way that I’m not sure is often considered, but is, in fact, integral to how vaccines work: they work best when most people in a population have received them. I do believe that this is a serious question of responsibility to our neighbors far and near.

      A further point: I think we are, in N. America, quite lucky to live where we need not fear polio, for example. But if the anti-vaxx movement gains more and more ground–if more and more people choose not to vaccinate–this will no longer be true. I believe this firmly, as all the good science indicates it. While parents can ‘opt out’ these days, I suspect that if polio or measles or rubella were to come back in serious numbers, vaccines would no longer be something people could ‘opt out’ of. It would be a question of public health. I am not one to imagine nightmare scenarios, but things like state-border vax-record checkpoints come to mind. (I can imagine dear old NY state–my home–doing something exactly that.)

      Peace and Blessings,

  7. I think you’re right, Rachel. People don’t really fear diseases like polio because most of them have never seen it. Possible vaccine reactions are scarier to them, simply because vaccines have so successfully eradicated the diseases they immunize against. But if there was a real possibility of a child getting polio, that might change some people’s minds. I’m not sure, obviously if I were a parent of a child with autism and for whatever reason, believed vaccines caused that, I don’t know what I’d be saying on this issue.

  8. I actually didn’t graduate from the university of Google. I went to nursing school, where I was taught how to read research papers, studies, and the like. I don’t come at this out of ignorance of how to read and understand the literature.

    However, I fully respect someone who has researched the question, and makes a decision opposite mine. While I may try to inform, I can agree to disagree, at the end of the day.

    I appreciate that you actually looked up the fetal cell connection. I would just like to clarify, that, although the vaccines in question (the ones propogated along fetal cell lines) *were* created many years ago, in some cases, many decades ago… these same vaccines are still in use, today. It is not merely an ethical dilemma of yesteryear.

    Not all of my reasons for avoiding vaccines pertain to my faith, but this one, does.

    As I’ve mentioned before, my main problem with your first article, was using Scripture to say that all Christians should come to the same conclusion on this issue, an issue not directly mentioned in Scripture, the vaccine issue. When it is simply not that clear-cut. I appreciate that now, you seem to be at least considering that God-fearing Christians can come to different conclusions on this issue, even if you are a bit condescending about how they come to those conclusions.

    Thank you for the dialogue.

  9. There is a large group of people who actually *know* how to discern CORRECTLY, the data derived from scientific studies. This is not anyone “googling” information on vaccines. This is a group of HIGHLY EDUCATED people who are not out to make any money or earn fame from their opinions, especially not through writing a blog.

    Specifically, calling anyone who does not vaccinate their children graduates of “The University of Google,” is at best, unfair, and at worst, ridiculous and immature. To completely disregard a large group’s way of thinking is like saying it’s not okay for cancer patients to refuse chemotherapy. Do we all HAVE to adhere to the same way of thinking? Should we all be Christians? Should we all be white? Should we all choose to send our children to public school, as well? Questioning pharma companies is a good thing! I worked at a pharmaceutical company which manufactures vaccines for 12 years. I know how the FDA works, and I also happen to understand much of how these vaccines are “approved” through the system. The FDA is PAID money to process drug applications, including vaccines. They are paid money, not to prove that the drugs and vaccines are safe and effective, but to APPROVE the drugs and vaccines for market. There is no science involved, other than the piddly tests done by the drugs companies (who are not held liable for vaccine damage – see // if you don’t believe me. The US government compensates families of vaccine-damaged children to shield these corporations from any liability. How convenient for these corporations!).

    If anyone can cite to me a *documented* case of autism in a child who is NOT vaccinated, I’d love to hear about it. Not just some pish-posh personal account – I want to see some documentation. So far, I have never heard of an autistic child who was not vaccinated. For the parents of children who suffer from vaccine-related complications, the statistics are 100% for them. So when you read about how such a small percentage of children suffer from vaccine-related complications, try to think about it in terms of the children and families that it happens to. Why on earth would we want to inject all that garbage into our children? Our bodies are not meant to process protein via tissue and bloodstream. We process protein via our alimentary tracts. It’s no wonder that these vaccines cause auto-immune responses.

    I think your article is insulting to anyone who has the guts to question what doesn’t make sense to them.

    • “If anyone can cite to me a *documented* case of autism in a child who is NOT vaccinated, I’d love to hear about it.”

      Did the advent of autism occur after the introduction of vaccines, or did it predate vaccinations?


      • The word autism was coined over 100 year ago. Here is a decent history. //

        There has been lots of speculation about Einstein and other historical figures having high functioning autistic symptoms. But prior to the 1940s there was very little research into neurological ad psychological diseases because science was not advanced enough to be able to study them. So autism does predate modern vaccines. Although there were early vaccines that were used in the late 18th century. They were little more than intentionally exposing a person to the disease and hoping the didn’t die from the exposure.

  10. Wow. You’re really not posting anyone who disagrees with you. Just wow. I understand that this is your blog, but if you want to have a public blog, then perhaps you should allow folks from the other side of the argument to post responses, as long as they are respectful and literate. Otherwise, I can just write off everything you say as being from someone in the industry of shutting people up. Sorry, but I don’t respect a person who won’t show peoples’ responses (when different) to his/her own viewpoints. I just don’t respect that.

    • Sarah, as you can see there are three comments here that disagree with Rachel (your two and kgelyastanova’s).

      If you want to see a much more extensive forum for those disagreeing with Rachel’s view, visit her article at her.meneutics (// There are 164 comments on that page and Rachel and the moderators there allowed plenty of people to voice contrary opinions. Some of them were downright mean, though, even accusing Rachel of spreading Satan’s lies.

      For those of us who have read much of Rachel’s writing, your accusation that her opinions are not worth anything because she is not encouraging dissent are completely unfounded. We know differently. Rachel promotes thoughtful discussion and engages with those who have contrary opinions. But if people are coming to her web page and expecting that she will host accusatory and unfair criticisms, then those people are probably looking for something that no blogger should be expected to provide.


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