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The Anti-Vaccine Environmentalist

by Steven Novella, Apr 12 2010

The anti-vaccine movement, as is probably typical for ideological movements, has natural enemies and allies. Once the notion that mercury in the form of thimerosal in vaccines might be responsible for neurodevelopmental disorders (it’s not) become popular in the anti-vaccine crowd, this made them natural allies with the “mercury-militia” – those who blame environmental mercury for a host of ills. That fact that some anti-vaccinationists seek to provide their children on the autism spectrum with unconventional biological treatments, based on their disproved “toxin” hypothesis, made them natural allies with the alternative medicine community. Both seek freedom from pesky regulation, and rail against the perceived deficiencies of science-based medicine.

Another ideological alliance is brewing – that between the anti-vaccine movement and extreme environmentalists. This post is not a commentary on environmentalism, and please do not take it as such – the purposes and  claims of the two movements are quite distinct. But they share a common thread: distrust of scientific experts and government regulators who reassure the public that environmental exposures are safe.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has been the most prominent environmentalist to take up the anti-vaccine cause, in several articles and speeches. While he appears to be only a part-time anti-vaccinationist, his celebrity and street cred among evnironmentalists led a great deal of weight to his paranoid musings about scientific fraud and government coverups. It seems he wants to recapitulate the moral clarity that his uncles displayed in the 1960s, defending the little guy against abuses by the powerful and privileged. He is ready to see a conspiracy, and he wants to be the crusader for environmental justice – and if kids are the alleged victims, all the better. His article in the Huffington Post – “Attack on Mothers,” says it all.

Now there appears to be another environmentalist, who is also a journalist, getting into the anti-vaccine game – one Steven Higgs who writes for The Bloomington Alternative. He came to our attention recently when he wrote a fawning piece about Generation Rescue’s J.B. Handley. David Gorski and I attempted to reason with him over e-mail, but the result indicated to us that Higgs is not an objective journalist but an anti-vaccine activist – and he came to this position largely through his environmental activism – a budding RFK Jr. (David covers this topic also over at Science-Based Medicine today.)

In a recent article Higgs wrote:

I’ve spent most of the past 28 years journalistically investigating conflicts between environmental victims and experts in the relevant fields. And, I can say without qualification, the victims have been right and the experts wrong in every significant story I’ve covered. I can’t think of a single exception.

Such a definitive statement should raise a red flag – no qualifiers or exceptions? That sounds like confirmation bias. Many of the famous environmental cases usually end ambiguously, in that there is no definitive scientific evidence of harm from the environmental exposure, but the families and activists believe they have been harmed. So I guess if someone always sides with the alleged victims, regardless of the scientific evidence, that could confirm the belief that the victims are always right and the experts always wrong.

Another source of confirmation bias is that when claims of environmental toxicity first come to light, the standard scientific approach is to be cautious but investigate. Good scientists are initially skeptical, and require a threshold of evidence before they accept a claim. So initially scientists may say, “Wait a minute, slow down, this evidence is not compelling, we need better evidence.” If eventually the evidence suggests that there was environmental toxicity, then Higgs and others can claim that the experts were wrong – but this is a gross misreading of the nature of scientific skepticism.

This article from 1980 about the Love Canal is a good example – the scientists are simply calling for better evidence, but that can be interpreted as concluded that there was no problem. Love Canal also demonstrates that these issues are complex. There were toxins being dumped into the environment by industry who tried to deny responsibility, local residents were exposed, but the actual health consequences remain a bit controversial, and were likely not as bad as the worst of the media hype suggested. But eventually the science sorted itself out and the government cleaned up the spill and relocated all the residents.

The lesson is – that environmental stories like this one are complex, and anyone who takes a one-sided position “without qualification” is either not looking into it deeply enough or has an axe to grind.

The story of thimerosal in vaccines is far more complex. When I first looked deeply into this issue I actually was not sure which way I would go – I wanted to get the bottom line correct, and did not want to commit myself without fully wrapping my head around this complex story. At points in my research I felt there might really be something going on. It wasn’t until after I fully digested all the science and all the arguments that I was convinced there is no correlation between vaccines and autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Steven Higgs claims to have done the same thing, as an environmental journalist, but he came away with the opposite conclusion. I am interested in why – how can two people look at the same information and come to opposite conclusions? Of course, I think I am correct (although I am always willing to reconsider my position in light of new information or arguments) and I detect in Higgs the tell-tale signs of bias, as I noted above. Higgs was prepared from an environmental scandal, and he found one.

I have also seen many intelligent and well-meaning people get sucked into a complex pseudoscience – essentially they are overwhelmed by misinformation in an area where they lack expertise, and therefore cannot put that information into context. When one is confronted by a large volume of information all pointing in one direction, it seems compelling. I have even known skeptics who, after watching Loose Change, thought there had to be some hanky panky going on with 9/11. I have debated creationists who are loaded with information – all subtly distorted against evolution. Sophisticated and complex pseudosciences are a nuisance in this way, and the anti-vaccine movement has now developed into just such a pseudoscience.

What is more interesting is how Higgs has responded to scientists with whom he disagrees – and this reflects the danger of “going down the rabbit hole” of a complex pseudoscience, especially those with a conspiracy angle. Higgs wrote:

And with respect to vaccines and autism, I say again, without reservation, parents like J.B. Handley and grandparents like Dan Burton are right about vaccines and autism. The experts are wrong, and their behaviors — their vitriolic attacks upon those who disagree, their underhanded political tactics — suggest they know they were wrong.

We know we are wrong? The undeniable implication (although Higgs denied this to me and David in an e-mail) is that we are lying. We are therefore complicit in a cover up. Also – look at the extreme bias. Higgs thinks that scientists are guilty of “vitriol.” Mostly, scientists will sharply but accurately criticize Handley and his ilk, and some science bloggers will get “insolent” and that can be considered vitriolic. But it is nothing – nothing – compared to personal smear campaign that Handley and others have launched against those scientists trying to educate the public about vaccines. Remember the infamous “baby-eating” Photoshop job that was published on Handley’s propaganda blog, Age of Autism (and then taken down after it disgusted even the vitriolic echochamber of that blog community). Higgs’ characterization of the situation is so out of touch with reality that it is inexcusable for a journalist.

Also note the populist anti-intellectualism of stating that the experts are always wrong. This reminds me of creationist McLeroy’s famous comment, “Somebody has to stand up to those experts.” In his e-mail to us, Higgs coupled this with the argument ad populi logical fallacy, that he must be right because the anti-vaccine movement has successfully scared much of the public about vaccines.

He also stated that what scientists do is not hard – “That,” as Yoda said, “is why you fail.” Forgive me, but science is hard. That is, doing rigorous science, or even just properly interpreted a complex set of scientific data, is complex, tedious, and exacting. There are numerous pitfalls, and even experienced scientists can get it wrong. We need a community of scientists pouring over methods and data, and correcting each other, to grind out a consensus. I’m sorry, but being a passionate journalist (or parent) does not qualify you (as Handley himself has demonstrated on numerous occasions). It is worse to not even have any pause about the fact that the scientific community disagrees with you. That is hubris.

But I am willing to believe that Higgs and others are sincere crusaders, who are just grossly mistaken in their approach and conclusions. Higgs and Handley are not willing to give us the same courtesy – they think we are lying, dishonest, and on the take. They demonstrate that personal attacks is what you do when you don’t have science or even logic on your side.

When it comes to the details of the analysis of the scientific evidence, Higgs buys the anti-vaccine propaganda down the line. Clearly he has consumed Handley’s campaign of misinformation. With regard to a large CDC study showing no correlation between thimerosal and neurodevelopmental disorders, Higgs writes:

The study, titled “Early Thimerosal Exposure and Neuropsychological Outcomes at 7 to 10 Years,” found that exposure to mercury between birth and 28 days was related to significantly poorer “speech articulation.” It also found a “significant negative association with verbal IQ” among girls.

I have dealt with this this claim here – essentially the study looked at many outcomes, and a couple (when looked at individually) were correlated greater than chance, some positive, and some negative. But when considered as a whole, this is what we expect from chance alone. In other words, the results of this study are exactly what we would predict if there were no correlation between thimerosal and any neurodevelopmental disorder. Put into scientific parlance – this study fails to reject the null hypothesis. Understanding statistic on this level is one of those things experts do that Higgs thinks is so easy.

Higgs also engages in massive cherry picking. He still thinks that thimerosal is responsible for an epidemic of autism – even though the evidence suggests there is no epidemic of autism. But more to the point – the final nail was put into the coffin of the thimerosal hypothesis when almost all of the thimerosal was removed from the vaccine schedule by 2002. The anti-vaccine crowd (most notably David Kirby – another journalist gone astray) predicted that autism rates would plummet. They didn’t – they continued to rise. I and others predicted they would continue to rise, but ultimately would have to level off once diagnostic rates reached saturation. There are some early signs that diagnoses are starting to level off, but it’s too early to say yet. But they did not plummet.

Higgs is now trying to use some recent and minor decrease in a narrow data set in the Ohio Valley to conclude that the much predicted decline in autism rates is finally here (better late than never). He does not mention that the California data, which is the data that the anti-vaccine crowd originally used to argue for a correlation – shows no decline. David takes down this argument further on SBM – for example, the rates are leveling off for all age groups, not just the youngest cohort, which is what you would predict if this were really an effect of removing thimerosal.

This episode also reminds me of David Kirby, who in 2005 was trumping a very short-term downward deflection in the California numbers and happily extrapolating to the predicted “plummet.” But short term trends cannot blithely be extrapolated – as the California data showed. It was just a fluctuation – but the trend continued upward at the same slope.


Steven Higgs appears to be another player in the anti-vaccine scene. His path to this particular pseudoscience appears to be (like RFK Jr.) through environment activism. But the intellectual failings are the same that skeptics encounter over and over again in denial and pseudoscience. Higgs is cherry picking data, dismissing experts, misunderstanding statistic, and engaging in massive confirmation bias. He then shields himself from the very people who can point out his errors by denigrating them and writing them off as tainted (the Handley method).

Meanwhile he embraces the likes of J. B. Handley and turns a blind eye to his shenanigans.

I like to examine people like Higgs the way doctors study disease – there is pathology there, and by understanding it perhaps we can get better at fighting it. I tried the “seek common ground and understanding” approach over e-mail with Higgs, but he was not interested. Maybe my observations gave him a moment of pause. I doubt it, but I try never to give up on optimism.

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38 Responses to “The Anti-Vaccine Environmentalist”

  1. Hubert Muchalski says:

    Great article. I agree with Dr. Novella. Understanding the science behind tons of data is hard and time consuming. Getting it wrong and diving into confirmation bias and pseudoscience is way easier. But we’ll keep up the good fight. Thanks for the article.

  2. I would like to popularize this site that also addresses many of the dangerous anti-vax distortions:

    Thank you.

  3. Andrew says:

    For this (mostly) liberal democrat, with Robert F. Kennedy and his anti-vaccine-nonsense, the shine has official left the Kennedy family name. RIP.
    On a side note: Steven, how the heck do you find the time to do all the work you do? A clone that sits at your computer all day while you lead a semi-normal life? Where’d you get the clone? I need one.

  4. Robo Sapien says:

    It is about time somebody stood up to Steven Novella. His incessant fact-checking and propensity toward common sense make him a true enemy of all of us who care about something. Bugger if that something is based on misinformed speculation, the point is we care. About something.

    It is no suprise to see environmentalists joining the ranks of anti-vaxxers, or vice versa. All of these anti-whatever types are just joiners, people looking for a cause without much regard for what it is.

  5. Majority of One says:

    Do you remember the movie Erin Brockovich? The same type thing bothered me about this movie. The problem, as I see it, is when people start getting sick of something in increasing numbers, it is logical to assume something is causing it. A bunch of people contracting a rare form of cancer all living in the same area, it had to be something and then when it turns out that that something might be in the water, well the local company that was most likely the culprit started doing everything in its power to prevent people from finding out which made them look guilty even if they might not have been. There really was never any proof of causation.

    It looks like to the average person, when a company brings in a bunch of “experts” and lawyers to drag out for years the findings, it does make people wonder. If the company said, “hey, you know what, we might have inadvertently sloughed off some waste that we couldn’t possibly have foreseen would cause this rare form of cancer, but we’re going to investigate and get to the root of the cause…” well already you are probably thinking “that ain’t never gonna happen”…which in turn makes them look guilty. The government is bad about this as well.

    I recently read an article that talked about the prevalence of autism in the children of women over 35. You know, this might actually be it, I thought. Women are having children at a much older age and maybe autism is “caused” by something as simple as that.

    At any rate, humans want something/someone to blame as quickly as possible for something that goes wrong. We have a bad outcome from a pregnancy, we sue the baby doctor. We get in a bad car accident, we sue the other driver. A bunch of people start getting cancer and we figure it’s the drinking water or the air…what else do we all have in common? A higher number of children are being born who develop autism? We were all getting them vaccinated, sue the vaccinators.

    I guess my point is, if companies and industries didn’t try to run and hide (with good reason I agree) the minute we want to investigate, making themselves look guilty, then we might be a little more inclined to let them hire their experts and really try to find out what is going on.

    • Max says:

      Exponent Inc. is one of those consulting firms that industry and the U.S. government hire to investigate accidents and health scares, primarily for defense testimony in lawsuits.

      Exponent’s website has a number of case studies, and I couldn’t find a single one that’s unfavorable to the client.

      The LA Times did a story on this.
      “Toyota calls in Exponent Inc. as hired gun”

      “If I were Toyota, I wouldn’t have picked somebody like Exponent to do analysis,” said Stanton Glantz, a cardiologist at UC San Francisco who runs a database on the tobacco industry that contains thousands of pages of Exponent research arguing, among other things, that secondhand smoke does not cause cancer. “I would have picked a firm with more of a reputation of neutrality.”

      • Robo Sapien says:

        Uh, second hand smoke doesn’t cause cancer, sorry. First hand smoke doesn’t cause cancer either. Seriously, check it out.

      • Max says:

        You’re serious aren’t you. First hand smoke doesn’t cause cancer? Really Robo?

      • Robo Sapien says:

        Smoking is not directly causal to cancer. Routine inhalation of toxins weakens the cells of lung tissue, increasing their risk of becoming cancerous. In a similar fashion, eating too much red meat increases your risk of heart disease.

        The “danger of second hand smoke” is just plain laughable. Just about every argument out there is based on a bogus EPA study that was thrown out by a federal court. The popular figure of “25% increased risk from exposure” is deceptive. The odds of getting cancer from second hand smoke are 12.5 in 1M. The odds of getting cancer in the absence of second hand smoke are 10 in 1M. There is your 25% “increased risk”.

      • Max says:

        “In a similar fashion, eating too much red meat increases your risk of heart disease.”

        In a similar fashion, HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, flu doesn’t cause flu symptoms, and a fatal gunshot wound doesn’t cause death. Let’s see someone argue that in court. “The bullet didn’t kill him, the blood loss did.” If you take the semantics to the extreme, the direct cause of most deaths is hypoxia.

        “The odds of getting cancer from second hand smoke are 12.5 in 1M. The odds of getting cancer in the absence of second hand smoke are 10 in 1M. There is your 25% ‘increased risk’.”

        Each year, 17000 non-smokers in the US develop lung cancer. Even if 10% are due to second hand smoke, that’s nothing to laugh at.

        But here’s something to laugh at, speaking of bias.
        “Why review articles on the health effects of passive smoking reach different conclusions”

        In multiple logistic regression analyses controlling for article quality, peer review status, article topic, and year of publication, the only factor associated with concluding that passive smoking is not harmful was whether an author was affiliated with the tobacco industry.

      • tmac57 says:

        Max, its like you are trying to say that the tobacco industry has some sort of stake in denying that their product is hazardous to health. Man, that is so out there!

      • Robo Sapien says:

        Each year, 17000 non-smokers in the US develop lung cancer. Even if 10% are due to second hand smoke, that’s nothing to laugh at.

        But 10% are NOT due to second hand smoke. Statistically, there is a greater likelihood of dying from a stray bullet. The odds of dying in a car crash are significantly higher, and that is not semantics.

      • Robo Sapien says:

        Meh, I should learn to preview before submitting.

      • Majority of One says:

        Maybe, like a good lawyer, Exponent only takes cases they know up front they can win (or at least ones with a very high possibility).

        Maybe they don’t ask a question they don’t already know the answer to.

      • Max says:

        Like a lawyer, exactly.
        Would you ever expect a lawyer to say, “My unbiased conclusion is that my client is guilty and deserves the maximum penalty”?
        No way, he wouldn’t be doing his job.

        “Maybe they don’t ask a question they don’t already know the answer to.”

        So they already knew before doing the research that secondhand smoke doesn’t cause cancer, that a double hull wouldn’t have prevented the Exxon Valdez spill, that Suzuki Samurai wouldn’t tip over during a turn, that Toyota’s sudden acceleration isn’t caused by electronics, etc.
        Is their intuition so good that they knew all the conclusions before doing the research, or do they just deliver the conclusion their client pays for?

      • Robo Sapien says:

        As I said before, it is more attributable to the intuition of the clients. They’ve already paid for the R&D and they already know the correct conclusion, they are just paying an objective 3rd party to provide proof.

        It just isn’t rational to assume that any large company would go to such great expense to push a bogus or dangerous product onto the market, then go to further expense buying bogus research. Business is risk management, and the risk involved in your implication is too great. Remember that they also have shareholders to answer to. Public scandal, even if cleared afterward, is extremely damaging to a publicly traded company. Bad news causes investors to bail out, driving stock prices down. They might come back if enough traders take positions while the price is low, but those traders will only do that with companies that show strong fundamental analysis, in which case they have enough revenue to ride out the storm anyway.

      • Max says:

        “It just isn’t rational to assume that any large company would go to such great expense to push a bogus or dangerous product onto the market, then go to further expense buying bogus research.”

        I don’t assume, I look at case studies of these exact things. Tobacco and AGW denial campaigns are prime examples. Exponent and PR consultants are brought in to do damage control once the shit hits the fan.

    • MadScientist says:

      The only problem with that is that the overwhelming majority of managers within corporations take the attitude that they will do absolutely nothing unless compelled to do so by government, and even then they will only do the absolute minimum. The managers are frequently in conflict with their own scientists. So no, you cannot rely at all on a corporation conducting an honest research program. Many years ago when I was working for a public scientific research organization there were a number of occasions where corporations asked for a “scientific assessment”, but negotiations made it clear that they only wanted an assessment which was favorable to them. I told the chief he was an idiot for wasting time negotiating with these bozos and he should tell the local newspapers about how the companies want to pretend to do legitimate research rather than actually addressing complaints. Some companies do act responsibly; I know of at least one case where a company spent quite a few tens of millions to address a problem after they had commissioned an investigation and found that they really did have some issues to address.

      • Max says:

        Evidently, some consultants like Exponent happily go along with their corporate client’s demands.

        They’re like lawyers in that their job is to defend their client, not to provide unbiased research.

      • Robo Sapien says:

        That sounds a bit presumptuous to me. I have heard not one valid criticism of Exponent, only that all of their clients got satisfactory results.

        Is it not equally feasible that these companies are right, and that their products, which have gone through millions of dollars worth of R&D, do in fact meet the safety guidelines specified by law?

        These companies pay top dollar for thorough research that will hold up to scientific and legal scrutiny. Evidence is evidence. Perhaps Exponent’s track record is so good because few would pay for that kind of service if they didn’t know their product was sound.

        I don’t know anything about the company itself, but I see a lot of baseless suspicion and nobody asking these questions. I get the very same vibe when I read all this big corporate conspiracy tripe floating around.

      • Max says:

        “Exponent has worked for clients including Boeing Co., General Electric Co. and Ford Motor Co., primarily providing research for defense testimony in lawsuits.”

        Does that sound independent and unbiased to you? Sounds as independent and unbiased as a lawyer to me.

        Exponent and ChemRisk were involved in “an industry campaign to undermine an OSHA hexavalent chromium standard”

        The corresponding author of the above paper is Prof. David Michaels, author of Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s War on Science Threatens Your Health. He heads OSHA now.

        His website has more case studies.

      • Majority of One says:

        I think the only “conspiracy” most companies have going is the “conspiracy to stay in business conspiracy” brought to you by the department of redundancy department.

        But seriously, I don’t think most corporations engage in any kind of conspiracy to pollute the world, they have to live in this world, too. I do think they tend to obfuscate when they should be more transparent. This more than anything else is what makes them look guilty until proven innocent.

      • Robo Sapien says:

        Thanks for the links, Max. Still, we cannot conflate business interest with unethical scheming. The first quote doesn’t sound biased to me, it sounds like they have a market for big companies in need of a solid defense. I also question the author’s objectivity, he brings up tobacco companies repeatedly, as if the mere mention of them is case-in-point. He writes under the assumption that smoking DOES cause cancer and that Tobaccogate affairs are routine.

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about defending health and safety, but we must be aware of our own bias. The Exponent/ChemRisk campaign against OSHA standards comes to the defense of their clients, who are the ones who have to foot the bill when standards are raised, sometimes unjustly. Don’t forget that there are large groups of highly uninformed folks that exert tremendous political pressure to reform standards based on pure ideology. Penn & Teller’s “Dihydrogen Monoxide” petition is a great example.

    • Seth Manapio says:

      I did watch Erin Brokavitch. The first thing that she did, or one of the first things she did, was go to an expert to find out what the hell hexavalent chromium was and what the health effects of hexavalent chromium in the water might be.

  6. Trimegistus says:

    Environmentalism as an ideology is pure Luddism, just like the anti-vaccine “movement.” At their heart both are anti-technology and ultimately anti-human. Apparently some people are so unhappy in modern society they dream of being beasts.

    • I wouldn’t go so far as to call all enviromentalism pure Luddism. I would contend there is a huge difference between raping your environment, and trying to utilize your environment in a smart and responsible manner. I for one am an advocate of not living in your own waste and filth. :)

      • Max says:

        Luddite anti-human beast! Don’t feed the troll.

      • MadScientist says:

        But what do I do with my bags of troll food? I paid a good price for them, I can’t let them go to waste!

      • Robo Sapien says:

        Troll food? Give it to Anita Ikonen, that would take a load off her grocery bills. I hear she’s strapped for cash after financing investigations into her own claims. Ah crap I made a ad hominem.

  7. steelsheen11b says:

    Jack and Ted Kennedy had moral clarity? huh…..who knew?

  8. Steel – I guess that sentence could be ambiguous, but what I meant was that RFK wants the moral clarity of the 60s – according to his own perception, whether or not you agree with it.

    I do think the civil rights movement had a certain amount of moral clarity. Most issue today are more complex and nuanced. Perhaps the gay rights movements is similar (pretty much dealing with pure bigotry) but not much else.

    • Robo Sapien says:

      I think moral clarity was a lot easier to come by back then, it was an era where American citizens lived in a bubble of economic superiority because the USA had little in the way of foreign competition in global markets. Everyone had a good job because the US was exporting like crazy, so life was simpler. The tax code was about 60,000 pages less than it is now, and few had cause to worry about losing their pension.

      The line between right and wrong is so much clearer when people aren’t burdened by invisible evils and doubt of their own government. With the “dog eat dog” mentality becoming more mainstream, it naturally follows that social issues become more complex as you add more and varied self-interests to the equation.

    • steelsheen11b says:

      Dr. Novella,

      thank you very much for your reply to my admittedly cheeky post(I have a problem with that especially around import and serious things) but seriously I was more reacting to the thought Of Ted Kenendy having any morals. There isn’t a world across the entire multi-verse where I could see that happening.

      I absolutely agree that RFK WAS the moral force of the Kennedy clan and it mostly died with him unfortunately. I also agree that gay “rights” which are just rights that all citizens should enjoy is a moral issue.

  9. MadScientist says:

    I recall someone who claims to be a scientist attempting to hype a scare about an alleged large increase in occurrences of breast cancer in a very small population. A number of people who understand statistics wrote back to denounce the scare tactics and what appears to be a virtually nonexistent understanding of statistics on the part of that scientist. If even scientists cannot understand such simple ideas, what hope is there of explaining complex issues to people who have decided long ago that “science is too hard, it isn’t for me” and instead wage war against the geeks that they hated so much while at school? This is beyond the realm of reason; some people simply insist on their faulty animal instincts and refuse to be educated.

  10. Max says:

    “But they share a common thread: distrust of scientific experts and government regulators who reassure the public that environmental exposures are safe.”

    Remember this?
    “Hundreds of EPA Scientists Report Political Interference Over Last Five Years”

  11. I await the return of Polio Loco.

  12. tmac57 says:

    “Maybe my observations gave him a moment of pause. I doubt it, but I try never to give up on optimism.”
    I think that optimism and tenacity are important tools in skepticism. One of the worst enemies that we face, is the tendency to see certain causes as hopeless because of the seeming intransigence of our opponents. You never know how a well thought out defense of an idea can work on your opponents mind, and subtly nudge them toward your position.

  13. Illya Leonov says:

    I see something more telling in this quote by Higgs:

    “And, I can say without qualification, the victims have been right and the experts wrong in every significant story I’ve covered.”

    He did not say “every story I have covered” but “every significant story I have covered.” Perhaps in Mr. Higgs mind the only significant ones were the ones in which he found the experts to be wrong. Conformation bias is almost explicit in such a comment.