Best of Age of Autism: Paul Offit and the Milgram Experiment
Posted Oct 01 2011 12:00am
Managing Editor's Note: John Stone wrote this post in 2010.
By John Stone
Question: "How many vaccines is it safe for a pediatrician to give a two month old infant?" Answer: "It depends how much they are getting paid." An old joke
The Milgram experiment has long passed into modern folklore. In 1961 a 28 year-old psychologist at Yale, Stanley Milgram, devised an experiment to test the preparedness of ordinary citizens to co-operate in performing inhuman acts.
In the experiment volunteers were induced (as they believed at the time) into subjecting another party to ever larger doses of electricity “The subjects believed they were part of an experiment supposedly dealing with the relationship between punishment and learning. An experimenter—who used no coercive powers beyond a stern aura of mechanical and vacant-eyed efficiency—instructed participants to shock a learner by pressing a lever on a machine each time the learner made a mistake on a word-matching task. Each subsequent error led to an increase in the intensity of the shock in 15-volt increments, from 15 to 450 volts.
“In actuality, the shock box was a well-crafted prop and the learner an actor who did not actually get shocked. The result: A majority of the subjects continued to obey to the end—believing they were delivering 450 volt shocks—simply because the experimenter commanded them to. Although subjects were told about the deception afterward, the experience was a very real and powerful one for them during the laboratory hour itself.” ( See Psychology Today HERE )
65% of participants complied with the experiment to the bitter end. Milgram subsequently explained the experiment:
“The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous importance, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects' [participants'] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' [participants'] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.
“Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.” ( HERE )
Without commenting directly on vaccine science I believe it is possible to recognize the elements of social control here. The authoritarian construction is far more certain than the safety of the products. Offit gives us to understand that even if our children were to receive 10,000 vaccines in one go it would still be safe: therefore there can be no issue over 5 or 10 in one go, or dozens over the course of a childhood. In fact, in most cases the practitioners will know only slightly more about the products than the assenting parents. Moreover, everyone has to be persuaded that are no real long-term adverse consequences, and even where they are apparent they are coincidental.
But it is interesting to note that Offit provides a theoretical proposition which does not even depend upon the product: never mind how many there are (and how different they are) they are all safe and perfectly manufactured – it is as if they do not even have to be tested. Indeed, however dramatic the adverse effect they know in advance it wasn’t the vaccine.
Arguing with authority in the middle of the past decade in the UK it was alarming how frequently the fall-back position was Offit’s vacuous claim ( See BMJ letters HERE ). Even the UK’s vaccine supremo Prof David Salisbury could appear on television declaring it was safe to give an infant 1000 vaccines. Meanwhile, he admitted to me "Turning to my comments on Newsnight - I suggest you read Paul Offit's paper - as I have done. On page 126, he states: "Current data suggest that the theoretical capacity determined by diversity of antibody variable gene regions would allow for as many as 109 (1,000,000,000) to 1011(100,000,000,000) different antibody specificities". And "... then each infant would have the theoretical capacity to respond to about 10,000 vaccines at any one time" - not antigens. I was speaking very specifically about the infant immune system's ability to respond, in the context of the ridiculous suggestion that the new vaccine combination, containing far fewer antigens than the one it will replace, would overload the immune system. My words were "The immune system of a baby has got huge spare capacity to deal with challenge. If we didn't, the human race wouldn't survive. But let's look specifically at vaccine. This has been studied carefully. A baby's immune system could actually tolerate perfectly well 1,000 vaccines". At no point did I suggest that 1,000 vaccines would not increase the probability of adverse reactions - a quite different matter." (Email August 26, 2004 10.03 am)
We are, of course, not talking about theoretical vaccines or theoretical infants, nor is there any experimental base that he can cite. We, unfortunately, have the experimental base which is our own children and we are not being listened to - like the imaginary victim in Stanley Milgram’s experiment except that we are not imaginary and neither are our children. Nor, as the present Rotateq vaccine scandal demonstrates do we have remotest idea what is really in the vaccines.