This has been one of the worst days to be an anti-vaccinationist ever. First, it was announced that yet another well-designed study has hit another nail in the coffin of their hypothesis that the MMR vaccine is linked with autism. Then researchers concluded that there was a lack of evidence supporting special diets for autism. And while I haven’t seen a response to these reports yet by the anti-vaccine crowd, I’m sure it will be forthcoming as certain as I am that their response will just be a lot of blanket dismissals and baseless accusations of Big Pharma corruption.
But sadly, the anti-vaccinationists have sunk to a new l–I mean are continuing to behave as slimy as ever by trying to intimidate their critics into silence with lawsuits, $cientology-style. Barbara Loe Fisher and her ironically named National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) have launched a libel lawsuit against Dr. Paul Offit, Amy Wallace, and Wired Magazine. The subject of the suit is Wallace’s superb article in Wired Magazine that quoted Offit and addressed the tactics and dangers of the anti-vaccination movement. Here is a pdf of the complaint.
Of course, unlike the British Chiropractic Association’s libel case against Simon Singh, the NVIC has the misfortunate of having to deal with the U.S. libel laws and not the British ones. While the British libel laws place the burden of proof on those charged with libel, the U.S. system makes it incredibly difficult to prove libel in order to better protect free speech from those who would attempt to exploit the law to silence speech they don’t like.
As Steven Novella points out, the U.S. legal system has a number of ways it protects speech against false libel charges:
The ability to sue for libel is an important right to redress legitimate wrongs. But this right can easily be abused to silence open discussion. For this reason many states have SLAPP laws (strategic lawsuit against public participation). Recently the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that the need for open public discussion of important issues is a legitimate defense against a libel suit.
But one way the cases are similar is that they both seem to hang on an interpretation of one word. In Singh’s case, he lost because the judge mis-interpreted the word “bogus” to mean an accusation of deliberate deception. Here, it seems like the case will hang on the usage of the phrase, “She lies.” Now that seems far more like an accusation of deliberate deception than the Singh case but keep in mind that Wallace is quoting Offit, not stating this accusation herself. So merely reporting as journalist someone else’s alleged libelous accusations seems to put her in the clear right away as far as I can tell.
But what about Offit? As I understand it, in the U.S. libel system, one has to prove not only that they’ve been harmed but that harm was intended and best of all, that the accusation made is false. It’s that final piece that I think will be next to impossible for Fisher’s lawyers to prove. Offit is among the world’s leading experts on vaccines. He knows what he’s talking about and potentially has license to pull from any publicly available verbal or written statements Fisher has made in the past in order to prove that she does indeed lie. Catching any public figure in a lie is a no-brainer, so finding examples of Fisher lying should be like shooting fish in a barrel, especially when you consider the actual charge against Offit:
“That statement comes within the context of an article that portrays those like Fisher (who oppose mandatory vaccination) as unscientific, uneducated, and harmful to society.”
She also charges that she suffered a substantial loss in her professional reputation. LOL. Oh poor, poor Fisher. It was you who has destroyed your own reputation ages ago. By the time Offit entered the scene, your reputation couldn’t get any lower. I’m reminded of Bart Simpson’s famous response to his father who after making a drunken fool of himself the night before said he hoped his son hadn’t lost any respect for him. Bart’s brilliant response was that he has as much respect for his father now as he ever did.
I really, really hope this case goes to trial and is dragged out at least as long as the Dover case over Intelligent Design because the more I think about it, the more apparent it seems that Fisher has made a colossal error that will have devastating results for herself and the whole anti-vaccination movement. If this case is dragged out, Offit’s lawyers can continue to bombard the judge and jury with Fisher’s lies (lies shared by the rest of the anti-vaccine movement) one by one by one. He’s got the technical expertise himself to expose how wrong her science is and any other legitimate expert can confirm it. For those who followed the Dover case, the judge was bombarded with mountains of science texts confirming evolution over many weeks. Just imagine weeks and weeks of dissecting Fisher’s every erroneous scientific claim. Maybe I’m just being naive or overly optimistic but I think this could be the anti-vaccinationists’ Dover if the legal team defending the accused plays their cards right.
It’s also funny how Mark Blaxilll, the editor of Age of Autism, has no trouble at all accusing his critics of being liars.
Now I’ve already linked to Steven Novella’s excellent piece on this but to learn more, Orac includes links to other great articles in his blog:
ADDENDUM: Autism News Beat, Steve Novella, and Terra Sigillata have more. ANB and Steve Novella, in particular, list all the misinformation that Barbara Loe Fisher has spread in the name of demonizing vaccines, such as the claim that the DTAP vaccine causes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), when, if anything, the evidence suggests that it is probably protective, and her deceptive fear-mongering about squalene adjuvants in the H1N1 vaccine (which, by the way, the H1N1 vaccine doesn’t contain).Finally, Kim at Countering Age of Autism, found a lovely article by Barbara Loe Fisher on the NVIC website:
The discrimination begins, always, with the majority in a society pointing the finger at a minority for somehow endangering the public health and welfare. Individuals in the minority group are singled out as different – ethnically, biologically, spiritually, morally – from the majority. The human impulse to fear, judge, marginalize or eliminate those different from the rest has left a blood soaked trail winding throughout the entire history of man from the Great Inquisition to the Holocaust; from the killing fields of Cambodia to Rwanda, Serbia and Tibet; while the persecution of those with leprosy, TB, AIDS, mental illness, and handicaps continues in every society.
Later in the same article, I found this quote by Loe Fisher:
Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel has said “When you take an idea or a concept and turn it into an abstraction, that opens the way to take human beings and turn them, also, into abstractions.”Individuals harmed by vaccines are not abstractions. They are human beings who deserve to be spared a lifetime of suffering rather than being thrown under the bus to prop up forced mass vaccination policies that fail to acknowledge biodiversity within the family of man.
Geez, was Barbara Loe Fisher really comparing criticism of the anti-vaccine movement by defenders of science-based medicine to what the Nazis did to the Jews during the Holocaust? Where’s the Hitler Zombie when you need him? Clearly, her brains have been chomped by the Undead Führer. Her hyperbole in rhetoric against defenders of mass vaccination programs also strongly belies her denial of being “anti-vaccine.”