Saturday, February 14, 2015

Quick review: Melanie's Marvelous Measles

Seriously. How fucked up do you have to be to write a book about how kids should get life threatening diseases and to outright fucking copy the title of a book written by a man whose daughter DIED from the illness you're pushing?

I discovered this piece of dangerous stupidity during the coverage of the Disneyland epidemic, where a bunch of unvaccinated kids (and adults) contracted the measles during their trip, and kindly took it around the country to share with the rest of us. The book is based on something that was probably a good-ish idea several decades ago: to have your kids get illnesses like measles and chickenpox when they're young and healthy, so they don't get them when they're adults with exhausted immune systems and potential health issues.

The problem with this? We have vaccines.

I have talked about this before: being anti-vaccine because of autism is like being anti-breathing because of arthritis. Not only is the supposed effect completely divorced from the supposed cause, but avoiding the cause does more harm than good. There's no supporting science whatsoever, the paper that kicked the whole thing off was a proven, admitted fake, even if it weren't the study group (Twelve kids) isn't nearly large enough to be statistically significant, and even if it were you are effectively telling autistic people that it'd be better to be dead or suffer horribly than to be who they are. You know, because people like this, this or this have obviously ruined lives and therefore shouldn't exist.

That last part was sarcasm, by the way.

Add in the utter necessity of herd immunity--which provides cover for people who cannot be vaccinated because their immune systems are too low to handle it--and you begin to see how utterly fucking wrong the vaccination arguement is.

But there are some people who want to have control over the uncontrollable, and that brings me to Melanie's Marvelous Measles. 

I bought it expecting a massive amount of science and medical fail. It has that. I bought it expecting it to be quite biased towards its author's POV and it is indeed. What I did not expect, however, is how absolutely terrible the book is. You know Mystery Science Theater 3000, how some of the episodes have shorts about safe driving or sales or those old Rocketman vs the Moon People shorts? Yeah, it's that kind of bad. It'd be hilarious...if it weren't setting kids up for a medical nightmare.

It was written by a woman named  Stephenie Messenger. I have no idea who this is and I don't really want to know. It was published by Trafford Publishing, which is yet another of Author Solutions many hats. This tells me exactly how good Stephenie Messenger is at her research, because if you spend three minutes researching the publishing industry you learn to stay away from Author Solutions and Publish America/American Star Books, because these are scams and you can do a better job on your own for far, far, FAR less money. Guys, do you really want to be taking medical advice from someone who can't work out what a scam looks like?

The illustrations are terrifying. Serious uncanny valley territory. In fact, it looks as if the artist ran photographs through filters, traced them, slapped some paint on top and left it.

This is the nicest one of the lot. Also, is it just me or does this kid have a serious pot belly?
The book is dedicated to the author's dead son. Nobody should lose a kid, and she has my condolances.

However, so do all the parents of kids who will die because of this book.

The story is not actually about Melanie. It's about Tina, Melanie's best friend, who discovers her friend had to stay home sick that day. The book goes out of its way to let us know that the teacher is pregnant. The teacher announces that Melanie has the measles.

In a normal school setting this would probably be met with either apathy or envy (It's a kindergarten-ish class.) but in this school it is immediately met with utter fucking terror.

Some children in the class began to worry that they might catch measles and others were getting quite scared.
Then, because the book needs a "bad" guy, and because Ms. Messenger obviously comes from the Jerry B. Jenkins school of storytelling, a little jerk in the back row starts being a pill to the other students:

Travis said that he wasn’t vaccinated, but didn’t mind, until Jared then told him angrily, “Well, you’re going to die if you don’t get vaccinated.”

..."Well, I know that isn’t true because I haven’t had any vaccinations and I am still alive!”

 Jared didn’t know what to say to that!
 I buy Jared being an asshole in class because I've worked with kids that age and that's kind of what they do, but the thing is, intellectual opponants, especially six-year-olds with that kind of self-righteous asshattery going on, don't back down because of your snappy comeback. Also: trying to prove your POV by setting up a badly thought out character to play your perfect virginal angle MC off of is very, very lazy.

Tina, meanwhile, isn't vaccinated because her brother got sick and her parents decided that

vaccination was too risky,
Yes. Because Polio, whooping cough and the lifelong complications of chicken pox (Shingles, herpes zoaster outbreaks) are fine and dandy, but flu shots are risky.

But we are quickly assured that Tina had a very healthy childhood. Yeah, kids do usually have very healthy childhoods. Right up until they get sick. Then it stops being healthy. And the great thing about living in a society with regular vaccinations is that most kids won't get sick, which in turn means the odds of your kid meeting a kid sick with something serious they can catch is usually pretty low.

Tina goes home. We get her snacking habits (HEALTH FOOD!) in great detail. Her mom asks her how her day was. She tells mom that Melanie wasn't at school because she has Measles. Then Tina gets...erm...kind of stupid.

“Will I catch measles and do they hurt when they catch me?” Tina asked.
This is accompanied by a big illustration of a spotty blob monster chasing a little girl. So this kid is bright enough to know that she's not being vaccinated but doesn't have any concept of germs.

I think I understood what germs were when I was six. Tina's school's health ed really sucks.

It also must have sucked for Tina's mom, because she explains several points that are kind of full of it. One is that measles is not a life-threatening illness for most children. This is true. But for some children it becomes life-threatening without any warning whatsoever. Roald Dahl, the dude who wrote George's Marvellous Medicine, was playing a game with his daughter when she had the measles. He noticed she wasn't playing very well and asked her if she was okay. She said she felt sleepy. An hour later, she was in a coma and twelve hours later she was dead. So her parents were attentative, they had money, and at least one of them was sitting right there when the complications began, and the kid still died. Which means that measles can go bad so fast you don't get nearly enough of a warning to save the kid.

Mom's second point is that

“Many wise people believe measles make the body stronger and more mature for the future,”

Getting measles means you will never get measles again. This ensures that you will not contract them as an adult, when the disease can be much, much worse than for a child. THAT SAID: getting sick is not like lifting weights. It's not like your body goes "Huh, we've had measles AND chickenpox, now we can bench press HIV". Your immune system is not made of magic unicorns and fairy dust.

And then Mom decides to go for Worst Parent Ever Award, 2015:

“When I was a child, if one child had measles or chicken pox, many parents would take their own children over to play with them,” Tina’s mother explained.

And the REASON they did that is 1. so the kid would get sick when their immune system and basic health is at its peak and NOT when they are an adult with all the complications you get as you get older and 2. BECAUSE THEY DID NOT HAVE THE MEASLES VACCINE WHEN YOU WERE A KID.

And what the fuck do you think a vaccine is? Straight strychnine? YOU ARE GETTING THE ILLNESS WHEN YOU GET A VACCINE. Either a dead version of the virus or an extremely weakened strain. You won't get the symptoms because the virus isn't strong enough to do anything, but you get the immunity, because the same mechanism that kicks out a live virus cleans up the dead one.

So you REALLY want me to believe that the .0000001 microns of chemicals used to kill the virus are more dangerous than the live virus itself? That the potential complications of chemical dilutions so small they measure them in millionths of a gram are more severe than the potential complications of getting a real live virus? You want me to believe that autism, a disorder that makes someone's life slightly more difficult than mine, is a worse fate than measles encephalitus, a preventable disease that can kill in twelve hours?

Fuck it. Tina and Mommie Dearest here go to Melanie's house so that Tina can catch the measles. BUT! Mom brings Melanie a melon and carrot juice! That will make everything better!

Melanie, of course, is running around like a rabbit on crack, because she's getting all that maturity pumped into her system and shit. She shows off her belly to Tina while Melanie's mom implies that Melanie was vaccinated against measles and that the vaccination failed, rather than just giving Melanie a very mild case of measles, as evidenced by her bouncing around like a ping-pong ball full of helium. Melanie's mom says that the doctor proclaimed this the worse case of measles he's seen in years.

Well, it probably is, given how fucking rare measles is now, but the fact that Melanie ain't dead and she's all energetic says that her case is not as bad as it could be (Again: See Roald Dahl's daughter)

And magically, Melanie's measles don't itch. They're just spots that, Tina assures Melanie and her audience, look really cool and are really fun to have.

BTW never google "measles scars". EVER.

THEN Tina's mom explains that if you eat a lot of vitamin A you'll never get sick. Because somehow this creates a magical force field or something against germs. Giving your immune system its basic building blocks is a real good thing. You know what else is good? Giving it a safe immunity so it doesn't get sick in the first place. Like a vaccine.

Both Melanie and Tina drink carrot juice and love the fuck out of it. Because OF COURSE no child would EVER turn their nose up at carrot juice.

Tina's mom reveals her son with the sickly immune system is off at football practice. Sounds real sick to me.

Tina does not get measles. Tina's mom proclaims this a result of her diet, but both she and Tina are deeply dissapointed that Tina did not get an illness with potentially life-threatening consequences.

Stephenie Messenger forgets midparagraph that she's writing a kid's book, not preaching, and takes a sentence to go on about "nature's gifts" because nature never came up with anything like elephantitus and AIDS.

Jared, the asshat kid who did get vaccinated, does get the measles, because proper strawman deployment is important. Tina hopes that the measles will make him more mature. The illustration with Jared has a bunch of traced over junk-food on his nightstand, including cheetoes, potato chips, a soft drink and a random-ass hamburger that's been sitting out for God only knows how long.

The book closes with a creepy picture of Tina smiling over a glass of what has to be radioactive orange sludge and this paragraph of stellar dialogue:

“Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to catch measles next time someone we know has them!” exclaimed Tina.
The entire premise of this book is wrong, but it's pretty clear that Messenger had no clue how to present her argument without insulting stuffed-shirt variations of her opponents. It's a health issue, not an us-vs-them emergency. I haven't read anything as poorly constructed since Left Behind forgot about World War Three between books.

As for the arguement itself...doctors do a lot of studies before they allow someone to eat medicine or have it injected into a body part. Sometimes they're good studies, sometimes they're bad. But most of the time the doctors look at the list of side effects, look at the thing they're trying to treat, and decide if the side effects are worth treating the illness. Doctors calculated the risk of vaccines vs. the risk of being unprotected against disease and decided a very, VERY long time ago that the risks are worth it.

The fact remains that Polio is back, Measles is back, and we are all one airplane ride away from a global pandemic every single goddamn day. The Spanish Flu killed a third of Europe back in 1918. The Bubonic plague still exists. Stating that healthy food and cheerful positivity are enough to keep the nightmare senario away is about as wise as saying that thinking happy thoughts will treat suicidal depression (SPOILER: It won't).

Vaccinate your fucking kids, and vaccinate yourselves, and if you want to self publish an irresponsible children's book, use Createspace and KDP instead of an Author Solutions tentacle. That way you won't be blowing several thousand dollars on a losing bet.


  1. I had measles as a child because there was no vaccine at the time. I got them in kindergarten and I was the sickest I've ever been. I had a fever of 105 and I was unconscious for two days. Which was kind of weird. From my perspective I went to sleep Thursday, had a very short dream and woke up on Saturday.

  2. My mother-in-law never met her maternal grandmother because she died in the 1918 flu epidemic, leaving a widower with five children under the age of fourteen. I really feel like the reason this anti-vax shit is going on now is because we're three generations removed from the time when you had a ton of kids to maximize the chances that a couple of them would live to adulthood and no one has direct experience of how destructive and tragic diseases actually are.