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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News From Around The Blogosphere 11.5.11

November 5, 2011

1. Anti-vax parents engaging in bioterrorism – If so-called “pox parties” weren’t enough, some parents have begun literally mailing chicken pox infected items for the purpose of infecting other people’s kids. And even worse, some have started mailing items infected with the far more dangerous measles. This would have made a perfect setup for the virus at the end of the recent Planet of the Apes film or for a zombie apocalypse story.

2. More anti-vaxxer propaganda – Just when I thought it was bad enough that the anti-vax propaganda film “The Greater Good” was coming to NYC’s IFC Center for a week beginning November 18, now I learn Barbara Loe Fisher and her band of cranks at the misnamed “National Vaccine Information Center” has a month-long “PSA” spot playing on Delta Airlines flights that suggests washing hands alone is an adequate substitute for a flu vaccine…cause that’s who you most want to go unvaccinated…people traveling from country to country. Argh! Fortunately, the wonderful Elyse Anders over at Skepchick is on the case and has begun a massive petition campaign to persuade Delta to cease this plot to kill us all. Also, she’s provided a handy-dandy list of contacts at Delta Airlines and its video provider.

3. Zombie worms found in fossil

Traces of bizarre, bone-eating ‘zombie’ worms have been found on a 3-million-year-old fossil whale bone from Tuscany in Italy. It is the first time the genus Osedax has been found in the Mediterranean, and suggests Osedax were widespread throughout the world’s oceans 6 million years ago.


4. Simon Singh vs. fraudulent psychic Sally Morgan’s lawyers:  part 1 and part 2 – You might remember Singh as the UK science journalist who was sued by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) for libel over his calling their chiropractic “bogus” and his subsequent victory in the appeals process. I also recently wrote about Sally Morgan’s being caught wearing an earpiece during her performance. Well, Singh’s suggested she prove her powers are real, so now she’s trying to intimidate the man who beat the BCA in court with lawyers. Boy, did she fuck with the wrong journalist.

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Vaccine denialists declare first week of November Vaccine Awareness Week

October 18, 2010

I've been infected! OH NOES!!

I just got my flu vaccination today, so that may mean the zombie apocalypse has begun. But it seems quite appropriate that the day I got my vaccine, anti-vaxxers Barbara Loe Fisher and Joe Mercola declared November 1-6 “Vaccine Awareness Week” (VAW). Of course their real agenda is to use this time as a vaccine misinformation week. But the defenders of science-based medicine are more than happy to embrace this week themselves and, thanks to Orac, are now planning to organize to take vaccine awareness back from the ideologues.

Steven Novella is also game as is PalMD. And they’re inviting other science bloggers to join in writing articles debunking anti-vaxxer bullshit.

Now they’re collecting their own army of expert bloggers but even though I’m not a medical professional or even a scientist, I’ve certainly got an intermediate understanding of many of the facts that anti-vaxxers ignore and so am more than happy to help at least drown out some of the anti-vaxxer noise that week with some good information. So stay tuned. If they want a vaccine awareness week, we’ll give ’em one.

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Anti-vaxxers showing sour grapes over Frontline’s ‘The Vaccine War’

April 28, 2010

Last night PBS aired an episode of the show Frontline titled “The Vaccine War.” The entire show is now available online here. And while not perfect, the show did a fairly good job of objectively and accurately reporting the facts. So of course the anti-vaxxers ain’t pleased.

Jay Gordon ain’t happy. How dare they not include any of his interview in the final edit? It must be a conspiracy!!!! A conspiracy, I tell you!!! Whoa there, Jay. Welcome to the world of television media, where producers have to find a way to fit many hours of content into a coherent one hour narrative. Did I bitch and complain when I never heard back from the documentarian I gave a preliminary 10-15 minute phone interview to about the Stop Jenny McCarthy site? No. I’ve logged and edited hundreds of hours of footage myself, so I realize how fucking difficult it is to figure who you want to devote time to interviewing on camera and which footage you have to unfortunately leave on the cutting room floor.

But the best hissy fit of course goes to Queen Anti-Vax herself, Jenny McCarthy. The Huffington Post, with its non-existent journalistic standards, happily posted her unstructured rant. Her main point (and I use the term “point” loosely here) seems to be that Frontline promised that they’d conduct a fair investigation and she’s interpreted this to mean that they promised her they’d interview all those actual scientists on her side of the issue instead of making it a scientists versus parents story as they did. And of course it’s an unfair stereotype, though not for the reason Jenny thinks. It’s unfair because Jenny and her anti-vaxxer cult don’t speak for all parents. In fact most parents still believe in vaccinating their children. Jenny doesn’t even speak for parents of autistic kids, as most of them hate her guts to for repeatedly describing autistic kids as soulless, broken pieces of shit. Sadly, that side of the story didn’t make it on the show either.

But as for all those “scientists” who actively support the anti-vaxxer agenda? I can pretty much count them on two hands:  Wakefield, Gordon, Tenpenny, Blaylock, Sears, Mercola. And a couple who slip mind mind at the moment. And while not interviewed, Wakefield was represented in the show. The fact is that this is a war between those on the side of science and an hysterical cult of well-meaning scientific illiterates and ideologues. The science is squarely against Jenny and the show did an fairly accurate job of showing this.

Also worth noting  is that Jenny didn’t point out a single demonstrable fact that the show got wrong. No, instead she whined about how unfairly she felt she was treated by I guess not having the whole show devoted to her interview even though anyone can watch her interview and J.B. Handley’s interview in their entirety online and even though fairness would have excluded them and Barbara Loe Fisher as interview subjects entirely given their lack of expertise.
And that brings me to another amusing element of Jenny’s rant. She’s insisting that Frontline should have interviewed scientists on her side because she, Handley, and Fisher are just parents of autistic kids turned activists. Her point is that she, Handley, and Fisher are not qualified. Funny how their lack of credentials is only an issue to vaccine deniers when the cameras are rolling.
And Jenny further shows her contempt for her readers by bringing up the whole Paul Thorsen case, insinuating the outside activities of some minor player in just one of many studies that disproves her position is somehow relevant. What does Poul Thorsen allegedly stealing money from the CDC have to do with the science that shows you’re wrong, Jenny? This is nothing but a disgraceful dodge to avoid addressing the real issue, the science. But of course Jenny doesn’t understand the science, so she’s got to resort to red herrings and ad hominems. Again, she couldn’t find a single fact presented in the show that was demonstrably wrong.

Meanwhile the show pointed out serious holes in the anti-vaxxers’ claims. Anti-vaxxers fail to consider that autism is just as prevalent among the unvaccinated as it is the vaccinated, that there are at least as many cases where early autism symptoms had no timing coincidence with vaccines at all, and that boys are four times more likely to develop autism despite both genders receiving equal numbers of vaccines. According to the anti-vaxxer position, all three of these facts are IMPOSSIBLE!

News From Around The Blogosphere 3.13.10

March 13, 2010

1. Anti-vaxxers vs. the U.S. legal system – I’d been saving this for a much longer piece I intend to write for The Gotham Skeptic this weekend but I felt it was necessary to at least mention it here. It seems that not only has the media turned on the anti-vaccine movement, but this week has been devastating to them in the courtroom. Last year, the best three cases of alleged autism due to vaccine-injury their lawyers could find had their days in court and lost miserably. Now the next three Autism Omnibus cases went before the court and. . .also lost miserably. Additionally, the contemptible Barbara Loe Fisher’s libel suit against Dr. Paul Offit, Amy Wallace, and Conde Nast was thrown out of court. It’s not a good day to be an anti-vaxxer.

2. Frying up Jesus – Jesus has finally returned. . .as bacon grease:

3. Life-enabling molecules spotted in Orion Nebula

The chemical fingerprints of potentially life-building molecules have been detected in the Orion nebula by Europe’s Herschel Space Observatory.

The Orion nebula is a nearby stellar nursery, brimming with gas, dust and infant stars. It is known to be one of the most prolific chemical factories in space, although the full extent of its chemistry and the pathways for molecule formation are not well understood.

No god required.

4. McLeroy failed to change the science textbooks but succeeded in changing the history books – Take note as this may be remembered as the day the new dark ages began:

After three days of turbulent meetings, the Texas Board of Education on Friday approved a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light.

The vote was 10 to 5 along party lines, with all the Republicans on the board voting for it.

. . .

“We are adding balance,” said Dr. Don McLeroy, the leader of the conservative faction on the board, after the vote. “History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left.”

Yes, history is too liberal. Better change it.

Cynthia Dunbar, a lawyer from Richmond who is a strict constitutionalist and thinks the nation was founded on Christian beliefs, managed to cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century, replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone. (Jefferson is not well liked among conservatives on the board because he coined the term “separation between church and state.”)

Yeah, who needs Thomas Jefferson anyway? It’s not like he did anything important in our nation’s history, right? This is an academic disgrace and I hope the school board is sued for violating the Constitution. . .unless of course there is no more constitution according to the new revisionist history.

5. Tom Cruise desperate to salvage his failing career – He seems to think that making light of his previous scandals will fix thing problem. Sorry Tom but there’s only one way to repair your reputation. Leave the cult.

Lancet retracts Wakefield’s 1998 study

February 3, 2010

After twelve years of solid debunking, the Lancet, a leading UK professional medical research journal, has finally decided to officially retract Andrew Wakefield’s disastrous fake study that is almost single-handedly responsible for the modern anti-vaccination movement and for a massive decline in MMR vaccinations as well as all other vaccinations.

From the BBC:

The medical journal which originally published the discredited research linking autism and MMR has now issued a full retraction of the paper.

The Lancet said it now accepted claims made by the researchers were “false”. It comes after Dr Andrew Wakefield, the lead researcher in the 1998 paper, was ruled last week to have broken research rules by the General Medical Council.

The publication caused vaccination rates to plummet, resulting in a rise in measles.

…Last week, the GMC ruled Dr Wakefield had shown a “callous disregard” for children and acted “dishonestly” while he carried out his research. It will decide later whether to strike him off the medical register.

And from the Lancet editorial itself:

Following the judgment of the UK General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise Panel on Jan 28, 2010, it has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al. are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation. In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were “consecutively referred” and that investigations were “approved” by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record.

Of course the anti-vaccinationists over at Age of Autism such as David Kirby, are insisting the retraction means nothing as they continue to focus their efforts EXCLUSIVELY on defending their messiah. Apparently, news that’s actually related to autism isn’t important enough to warrant coverage during The Martyrdom of St. Andy, as Orac put it. Kirby even uses the George W. Bush mantra of declaring that while disgraced now, Wakefield will be more warmly received by future generations. Yeah, keep dreaming, David.

You know, at the very beginning of January, in light of Barbara Loe Fisher’s horribly ill-conceived libel suit against Amy Wallace, Paul Offit, and Conde Nast, I expressed my feelings that it was beginning to look like the anti-vaccine movement has peeked and is finally going to begin a decline as they’ve continued to make bad decisions and the media has begun to catch onto just how crazy they are. January has been a devastating month for them and now February has already proven far worse. Now I’m not about to say it’s all over yet, but like with $cientology, lately all the relevant news has been squarely against them. So yeah, I think they’re in trouble. As much as they want to continue to preach Wakefield’s innocence, the fact is that he’s in so deep that he’ll never clear his name. And while he should be able to make a decent living out of giving lectures to fellow anti-vaccinationists and maybe even a few organizations that failed to do the proper research before agreeing to let him speak, let’s face it. No real hospital would hire someone with his reputation. His medical career (at least as far as real medicine is concerned) is officially over.

Add that to our continuing understanding of the genetic nature of autism, the possible collapse of the Australian Vaccination Network,   and the almost inevitable Dover-like outcome of Barbara Loe Fisher’s libel suit (too bad she couldn’t sue in the UK), and we’ve got a critical mass of negative publicity coming their way.So yeah, I think there’s good reason for critics of the anti-vaccine movement to look forward to the coming year.

The Skepchick lays down some facts for Barbara Loe Fisher

January 12, 2010