Antivaxxers grow increasingly bolder

December 30, 2011

Over the last year, the anti-vaccination movement has grown more bold in their misinformation campaigns. It began Thanksgiving weekend of 2010, where they tried to advertise their propaganda in AMC movie theaters. This effort was thwarted however in no small part because of SkepChick activist Elyse Anders. Then months later, they succeeded in getting a commercial running on the Time Square CBS Jumbotron. And last month, they succeeded in getting Delta Airlines to air their propaganda on flights.

Each time Elyse Anders used a petition to influence those who have agreed to work with these antivaccine groups and I discussed this during my recent SkeptiCamp talk, which was focused on promoting more skeptical activism in NYC because as great as Elyse has been for NYC, she doesn’t live here and I hate needing her to fight our local battles when we have a sizable skeptical community, many of whom I suspect would be interested in skeptical activism.

Well now the inaccurately named National Vaccine Information Center is back to their old tricks and are currently, as well as during New Years, running another dishonest ad in Times Square on ABC Full Circle’s 5000 square foot TSQ Digital Screen. And the ad is scheduled to run during the New Years celebration. Also, Jenny McCarthy will be part of the televised show and has promised to try to draw attention to the ad.

And again, since there’s no organized NYC skeptical activism…yet (hopefully more on this soon!), New York’s protector, Elyse Anders, is back with another petition. Please sign this petition urging ABC to pull the ad at once.

Yay! Sweet, sweet death!

Now unfortunately, that’s not the only antivaccine news story lately. The antivaccine Australian Vaccination Network is currently promoting a children’s book that teaching kids that measles is awesome. I shit you not. The book is called Melanie’s Marvelous Measles, and it’s written by a woman named Stephanie Messenger. I’m reminded of another children’s author who wrote about measles, Roald Dahl. Though he wasn’t marveling at the disease so much as cursing it for having killed his kid. For more commentary on this sickening book, check out PZ Myers, Ophelia Benson and Reasonable Hank.

The other big news from Australia was that the head of the Australian Vaccination Network, Meryl Dorey was originally scheduled to give a talk at the Woodford Folk Festival about the evils of vaccines. After our friends at the Australian Skeptics campaigned against it, her talk transformed into a panel featuring Dorey and a bunch of actual qualified experts with the know-how to demolish her arguments. But the Australian Skeptics didn’t stop there. They amusingly paid to have an airplane fly over the Festival with a sign reading:  VACCINATION SAVES LIVES.

Bravo Australian Skeptics on a job well done. Now we just need to bring the same level of activism to NYC.

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Public school staffer boasts to me on Facebook about proselytizing to students for 30 years

December 30, 2011

For reasons that are probably related to masochism, I follow Eric Hovind on Facebook. Hovind is the son of infamous creationist and convicted felon Kent Hovind, and has chosen the stupid life path of going into the family business.

Now I never really paid much attention to Eric Hovind’s Facebook page until last night. That’s when a video he posted got my attention. Initially, I just left a short, snarky comment and expected to not return to post another comment any time soon.

But that all changed when a woman claiming to be a public elementary school teacher named Mary Mattheiss confessed to the crime of violating her students’ first amendment rights for the last 30 years by regularly proselytizing to students. And in her boasting about her attempts to bring elementary school students to Jesus, she was also good enough to mention the name of the school she works for.

That’s when the shit hit the fan. After me and one other individual named Robert K. Gjerde started calling Mattheiss out on her behavior, she began digging herself even deeper, I started getting bombarded with non-sequitur attacks against science and atheism as the Hovind hoard desperately tried to change the subject to something other than the woman confessing to occupational misconduct that’s possibly even illegal.

That’s when I had the good sense to screen capture a particularly incriminating section of the conversation and started spreading the word on Facebook and to secular bloggers with large readerships.

The first and so far only one of those bloggers to run with the story was Hemant Mehta on his Friendly Atheist blog (here). Mehta also added more to the story. After I walked away from the discussion, Mattheiss seems to have realized she said a few things she shouldn’t have and started disappearing her incriminating comments.

If only someone had preserved her thoughtless statements by screen capturing them! Oh, that’s right:

You can find a screen capture of what this section looks like now over at the Friendly Atheist post linked to above and you can find the entire exchange (as it appears currently anyway) on Eric Hovind’s Facebook page here, where my comments seem to have become super popular since the Mehta story ran.

Mehta also posted an update to the story that reports that Mattheiss is actually a staff member at the school but is not a teacher there. Of course, that detail doesn’t get Mattheiss off the hook in the slightest.

Here’s her Florida school’s website: there is an email link under the ‘staff’ tab for the principal. Its an online email form.

Thanks Hemant, and you’re welcome.

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Let’s put the Chris back into Christmas

December 20, 2011

Last week, everyone in the world seemed to be talking about Christopher Hitchens, who you probably know by now has died of cancer. My hiatus has thus made me late to the party. But there simply was no way I was going to not address this story as, for the last couple of years, he’s become one of the most influential figures in my own life.

Christopher Hitchens was a force of nature and a powerful ally in the fight against unreason. More than just one of the world’s leading intellectuals, Hitchens was one of best writers and possibly the greatest orator of our time. Until last week, he may also have been the only one in the world who literally held the title of Devil’s Advocate.

Sure, he had his faults. Namely his inexplicable views concerning the Iraq War. But when it came to religion, the topic that most defined him in his final years, he brought such an amazing combination of eloquent rhetoric, righteous anger, irreverence, and wit. Indeed, his blunt and devastating counterarguments have become so legendary they’ve gained their own nickname, the Hitchslap. A quick Google search will provide anyone with ample examples of the Hitchslap in action.

And though I’m a fan of both Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, Hitchens brought his own wholly unique quality to the religion debate, one that can never be replaced.

Of course, the man who once said upon Jerry Falwell’s death that if you’d given Falwell an enima, he’d fit in a matchbox had his enemies, particularly among what he called the “theocratic fascists”. And sure enough, as news of Hitchens’ death came out, controversy followed. To honor him, fans tweeted their appreciation using the hashtag #GodIsNotGreat. After the hashtag trended, it drove numerous threats of violence from religious people unaware it was referencing Hitchens’ best-selling book (not that that would matter). And in class corporate fashion, Twitter opted to remove the hashtag from the list of trending subjects rather than show any integrity. Moreover, right-wing radio host Bryan Fischer asserted that Hitchens was now in Hell…because “God” loves him. And not surprisingly, the Westboro Baptist Church has vowed to picket Hitchens’ funeral, an act that Hitchens would surely have appreciated.

I was fortunate enough to meet him on more than one occasion, both before and after his diagnosis. But unfortunately I never got the opportunity to share a drink with the man. Christopher Hitchens will surely be missed and I fully intend at the next Drinking Skeptically to celebrate his life with his favorite beverage, Johnny Walker Black.

Also, in his honor, I’m pushing a campaign to put the Chris back into Christmas.

Christopher Hitchens:  In memoriam

Daniel Dennett on Christopher Hitchens

Since King Jong Il’s death this week, here’s a great clip of Hitchens on religion and North Korea:

The 20 Best Christopher Hitchens Quotes

More of his best quotes

BBC News Obituary

New Yorker Obituary by Christopher Buckley

Peter Hitchens on his brother’s death

A Rap Obituary for Christopher Hitchens

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Sorry for the long hiatus

December 5, 2011

Lately, I’ve been busy with a lot of other activities and so that’s why I’ve been neglecting my blogging duties here. For instance, this weekend I presented a talk at NYC SkeptiCamp on Bringing Skeptical Activism to NYC. Add to that the birth of my niece, Thanksgiving, a new job, small participation in Occupy Wall Street, and a short film project. Oh yeah, and I participated in last month’s Anonymous “Fancy Raid” against Scientology, the events of which are discussed on Tony Ortega on The Village Voice blog. That was a fun and crazy night.

Anywho, I’ll come back as soon as I can.

In the meantime, enjoy Tim Minchin’s “White Wine in the Sun”:

And here’s also a picture of my brother and little nephew at the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia’s rally to put up their Tree of Knowledge display for the holiday season: