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The burden of proof

By Martin Bouckaert - posted Friday, 1 June 2012

The scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating unexplained phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.

The chief characteristic that distinguishes a scientific method of inquiry from other methods of acquiring knowledge is that scientists seek to let reality speak for itself. Scientific research proposes hypotheses as explanations of phenomena or potential new technologies, and design experimental studies to test these hypotheses via predictions that can be derived or expected from them. These studies must be repeatable, to guard against mistake, confusion, or fraud in any particular experiment. Theories that encompass wider domains of inquiry may bind many independently derived hypotheses together in a coherent, supportive structure. Theories, in turn, may help form new hypotheses, or place groups of hypotheses into context.

Scientific inquiry is generally intended to be as objective as possible in order to reduce biased interpretations of results, which is another god reason for requiring repetition of studies. Another basic expectation is to document, archive, and share all data and methodology so they are available for careful scrutiny by other scientists and reviewing parties, giving them the opportunity to verify results by attempting to reproduce them. This practice, called full disclosure, also allows statistical measures of the reliability of these data to be established. That is, when data is sampled or compared to chance, what does the data tell us about the study conducted? Learning about the scientific method is basic high school stuff that science students learn if they’re paying attention instead of tossing paper planes with abusive messages written on them at the new kid.


Scientists know that the science of mankind is not infallible, and this process can take many years to produce results due to its thorough and methodical requirements. Throughout time, science has confirmed one thing, and then many decades or centuries later found it to be either slightly or completely wrong, or part of a bigger picture. This is because science is a method of learning new things, so throughout time, as humankind has improved its understanding of the natural world, science has integrated and corrected itself many times. However, this does not mean that because science was wrong once before it will be wrong again, because the science is there to teach us where we made our mistake, and hence we learn a new explanation for the phenomena in question.

The scientific method is always the first to admit it might be wrong, and it is in the scientific method where we find why, and correct the mistake. Without it, claiming that the world is flat, for example, would require an equal measure of evidence to that which has been acquired through the scientific method to prove that it is, in fact, spherical. When a claim is asserted without evidence, it can then be dismissed without evidence. The burden of proof is on the asserted claim, just like in a court of law where you are innocent until proven guilty, and the claims brought against you must be proven, with evidence, for you to receive sentencing.

Anti-vaccine proponents such as Meryl Dorey and Monika Milka like to peddle the classic anti-vaccine trope that “you can’t prove vaccines are safe.” This accusation, also adopted by many alternative medicine practitioners and their brainwashed clients demands that vaccine advocates demonstrate vaccines do not lead to harm effectively shifting the burden to prove that vaccines do cause harm from their own shoulders. This makes it easy for them to rely on anecdote and postulation to support the claims they make to their followers, who fall for said shift hook, line, and sinker.

The implication is that because there is no conclusive answer to certain problems, vaccines remain a plausible answer. Have you ever been told that “there is no definitive research proving a link between vaccines and autism, but there is also no definitive research ruling it out.” What about this one, “those who say autism is not linked to vaccines do now know what is causing the epidemics.” This involves arguing based on a lack of evidence – not knowing something is true is taken as proof it is false, or not knowing something is false is proof that it is true. By their own logic, failing to prove a link between autism and vaccines should be proof that it’s been ruled out.

Likewise, because there have been no studies conducted with the specific conditions anti-vaccination groups ask for, this lack of knowledge means vaccines are not safe. Lists of questions to ask vaccine proponents are circulated with the intention of stumping them, with the inability to answer taken as evidence against vaccination.

In 2010, nine questions were circulated by one David Mihalovic, ND. The ND means “natural doctor,” but can also mean “not a doctor.” Depends on your perspective, and whether or not you’ve been indoctrinated by the anti-vaccine cult. His questions, however, are not that hard to answer, so I decided to have a virtual “interview” with him.


Could you please provide one double-blind, placebo-controlled study that can prove the safety and effectiveness of vaccines?

“Actually, Dave, I can’t. There are none, but there’s a reason for this: you can’t do double-blind vaccine trials, it would require that the placebo group of the study’s population be switched with the vaccinated group. This would require the vaccinated group to have the vaccine reversed, which can’t be done. If you want randomised safety and efficacy trial results, however, done with a proper placebo control group, one only needs to look up the course of trials done for any one vaccine to find them.”

Could you please provide evidence on ANY study which can confirm the long-term safety and effectiveness of vaccines?

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About the Author

Martin Bouckaert had been involved with the Stop the AVN on Facebook. Martin is currently studying journalism at Griffith University.

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