Antivax epidemic

By Phil Plait | August 24, 2009 12:21 pm

Geez, trying to keep up with the lies, distortions, and utter galling nonsense of the various mouthpieces of the antivax movement and their enablers in the media is so hard it’s almost like trying to stamp out a, y’know, virus. Here’s some of the latest on the War on the War on (good) Drugs… and we start off with some good news!

1) First: Autism Speaks, a group that has done much to spread the garbage that autism is linked to vaccinations — which is provably not true — has started backing off their inflammatory rhetoric. I would love to think this is because they are finally dipping a toe into reality, but given that two high-level people in their group have quit because they wouldn’t back down on their vaccine claims, I strongly suspect this is simply a PR move to quiet down all the negative (to them) attention they’re getting.

2) Second, Steve Novella has compiled a one-stop shopping list of vaccine references for anyone and everyone who needs info at their fingertips when dealing with the rabid antivaxxer. Whenever you find yourself with someone spouting the usual long-debunked "facts" from an antivaxxer, send ’em there. You can send them here as well.

3) The online paper Live news has an accurate report with a good headline: "Refusing vaccines puts kids at risk: autism expert". Yay!

Now the not-so-good stuff:

4) Another newspaper chimes in with a grossly misleading article on the safety of Gardasil: the Daily Telegraph. Feh. Feh!

5) This video plays up the antivax rhetoric as a (glurp) rap song. Whether you think it’s particularly good rap or not, it’s full of misleading nonsense. See #2 above for why.

6) Finally, the Young Australian Skeptics have issued a call to arms over a terrible, terrible interview done on an a.m. talk show on Australia’s Channel 10, where they gave an antivax pro-homeopathy mouthpiece way more time than he deserves (correct amount: 0). The YAS is asking for people to write the station and let them know the potential damage they’re doing.

Tip o’ the needle to the many, many people who sent me these links!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience

Comments (49)

  1. Nathan

    I’d just like to thank you for keeping us informed of all of the antivax dribble being spurted out by ignorant people. I wouldn’t really know much about all this if you didn’t post on it.



    “Here’s some of the latest on the War on the War on (good) Drugs…”

    I’m seeing double…

    “… interview done an an a.m. talk show…”

    I’m seeing double, again.

  3. jest

    Trying to shut down the anti-vaxxers is also a bit like playing whack-a-mole… sans fun.

  4. Nomen Publicus

    The farce will continue until some poor mother who has lost a child to a trivially avoidable disease because of the lies, sues a prominent antivaxer back into the stone age. (Which the antivaxer would love as they would get to test the effectiveness of homoeopathic cures for lion bites in world without health services.)

  5. Glurge from anti-vaxxers and brainless ninnies continues unabated. Sad. And the media continues to abet this crap.

  6. What we need is antivax vaccine.

  7. addicted to bad

    Does IVAN actually read these articles or only scan for typos? Personally, I’m more for the content.

  8. IVAN3MAN: I think the first double was on purpose :)

  9. @BA

    Hey, I thought this was an astronomy blog! (j/k!)

    Thanks for linking to my site again!


    Perhaps it would be more clearly read as the War on “the War on (good) Drugs”, where “the War on (good) Drugs” is what is being warred on.

    Hope that clears things up, and perhaps also even elucidates the issue, too.

  10. IVAN3MAN

    @ Carey,

    That’s what I thought afterwards, in which case Phil should have written it with double quotation marks around the term in question, like this: Here’s some of the latest on the War on “The War on [good] Drugs”…

    That way he would avoid any ambiguity, so that idiots like me can understand what he’s on about!

    P.S. I’ve just noticed, after posting, that Todd W. has stated the same thing! Great minds think alike…

  11. Improbus

    I am sure of the efficaciousness of vaccines. It is the pharmaceutical companies I don’t trust.

  12. IVAN3MAN

    @ addicted to bad,

    Of course I read the bloody articles! :-)

  13. Nothing pleases me more than to see blithering idiots crushed under the power of the scientific method. :)

  14. Keith

    #7: I’ve got a good antivax vaccine: 9mm of lead or copper, administered at high speed right between the eyes of the Jenny McCarthys and Meryl Doreys of the world.

  15. Bill

    @Keith, who said
    “I’ve got a good antivax vaccine: 9mm of lead or copper, administered at high speed right between the eyes of the Jenny McCarthys and Meryl Doreys of the world.”

    I know you’re trying to be funny (if morbidly so), but in a world where some fundamentalists feel justified in using that exact ‘vaccine’ against abortion doctors, I have a hard time laughing.

  16. Ginuel

    Another one for your list: Peter Mancer.

    Mancer has been campaigning quite heavily in Australia and New Zealand to get the governments to implement state-sponsored censorship of the Internet…and it just so happens that he also runs a company that supplies technical solutions for same: WatchdogNZ

    But according to, he also seems to be in charge of the “Immunisation Awareness Society”

    The Australian and New Zealand governments are already listening to him quite keenly with regard to national censorship, so it’s only a matter of time before he starts pushing his Antivax agenda as well :-(

  17. Paul M

    It might be hard, but at least we know it’s possible – we did it once with smallpox.

  18. A Nonny Moose

    I’ve been battling the Commentariat of Stoopid the last few weeks on some of my national paper’s feedback sites. My country’s main problem isn’t autism as such (tho it does crop up with annoying regularity in the conversation) – it’s that people hate having their choice taken away from them. A standard catch cry in NZ is “It’s my child, I’ll take care of them how I see fit”. It’s so damn frustrating – they’re from a generation that’s seen good health and prosperity, and they think easily eradicatable childhood disease only happen to “people over there” (read: bad, poor, or people in other countries).

    How do you argue with people who cry “Nanny State!” and “Govt/pharma conspiracy theory!” at every turn?

  19. Sir Eccles

    There was a thing in the BBC the other day which was somewhat encouraging in regards to homeopathic remedies and WHO.

  20. thaneb

    Some bizarre monitoring on HuffPost re the WHO flu announcement this past weekend. Much antivaxing, including links to Jane Burmeister and her tinfoilhat lawsuit against almost every gvt + UN for vaccine genocide conspiracy. But almost nothing about positives of vaccination, e.g., herd immunity etc. I tried to post several times but was scrubbed each time. Gave up. Cult of McCarthy gone wild on HuffPost?

  21. Alan

    More Woo I found via the AVN website. Note Osteopath not Chiropractic
    Electro Magnetic Distress
    Our bodies resonate with their own electromagnetic frequencies. This principle is used in many procedures today, such as ECG, EEG and MRI. In our modern society we are constantly exposed to frequencies which are disharmonious to our own from microwaves, computers, mobile phones, high tension power lines, television and even medical tests. This causes an array of conditions including allergies and psoriasis.

    Our primary tool in this area is BioResonance Therapy. Your body gives out electromagnetic signals in the form of oscillations. The BICOM computer receives these signals via electrodes which are applied to the body. With an internal filter system the computer electronically changes the oscillations by mirror imaging. It then relays this new information back to the body, again via electrodes and also into the medication we provide for you.

    Your body accepts these new energy signals from the computer at the time of your visit. Your medication is also charged with the same “energy”. Every time you use your medication you are updating and reminding your body of its new state and the body immediately reacts to this new information. This activates and strengthens your body’s self-healing power. Your body then regains control over its regulation and detoxification mechanisms which are vital for the immune system to remain at full strength.

  22. Pleebo

    Listen Phil, I don’t know why you bother explaining this over and over and over. Its basic natural selection. Less adapted people, and by that I mean intelligence-wise, who choose to believe this will not survive and the race as a whole will be better off; ergo you should just leave it be and let Mr. Darwin do what he is supposed to do. Save yourself the frustration.


  23. Pleebo (25), I’m trying to save the lives of innocent children who might die due to their parents’ (and other parents’) ignorance. If you prefer they die, then there isn’t much rational discourse you and I can have here.

  24. Thank you so very much for posting these invaluable links. I really want to thank Dr Novella, but his page has (wisely) no open comments. So i’ll just say thanks Dr Novella publicly, here. Grateful thanks must also go to Orac who tirelessly goes for the jugular. Thank you also Todd W. Tonight I will be putting these up on my blog. Every little bit helps. I’m also going to send it to %)*&^ing Channel Ten.

    THANK YOU!!!!!!!!

  25. I wish more skeptics actively voted down these videos and even engaged in small comment battles below them for the benefit of viewers who might be on the fence. There are so many of these anti-vaccine videos and too many anti-vaxxers rating them 5 stars. There needs to be a massive skeptical campaign to vote down this garbage. And why are there so incredibly few videos out there challenging this stuff. Science blogs are great but it’s hard to reach the masses with them. But there needs to be a strong skeptical presence on YouTube, at least as strong of a presence as the YouTube atheist community.

  26. Zucchi

    With the ant-vaxxers, it’s gotten to be like a religion. They’re emotionally invested in their claims, and cling to their position regardless of evidence or logic.

  27. Elmar_M

    There is no such thing as “good rap”…

  28. MadScientist

    Hey Phil, how about:

    1. plot of autism per 10,000 over time, with vertical lines showing events such as new popularized scheme for diagnosis. This gives an idea of the rate and any seeming increase due to change in diagnostic practice.

    2. plot of rates of MMR over the past, oh, 60 years so we have some time before the vaccines were introduced. This should show the incredible drop in infection and mortality rates.

    3. plot of rates of MMR over perhaps past 30 years. This should show how we’ve gone from very low rates since the introduction of vaccines to alarming new high rates due to the antivaxxers; it should also show the expected increase in mortality. Including the 20 to 30 years prior to that masks the effects of the antivax crowd because of all the suffering and death due to the diseases in the pre-vaccine and early vaccine eras, but plot #2 should give us some idea of what things will be like if the antivaxxers have their way – just multiply the figures by a number slightly greater than 2 to compensate for the increased population.

  29. Keith

    @Bill – I see your point. Probably not the best attempt at humor ever.

    I ran it by Andrew Dice Clay. He said, “Is this some kind of sick joke?”

  30. @Davidlpf

    What we need is antivax vaccine.

    Well, I received a series of shots of this vaccine called “critical thinking”, but I suffered some horrible side effects: an increased understanding of logic, increased appetite to learn more, and, worst of all, episodes of rationality. Why would you subject someone to that? I mean, THINK of the KIDz!!!11!1!one!

  31. ND

    I don’t think ignorance and idiocy can be selected out of our species.

  32. @A Nonny Moose,

    I’d argue that their right to parent ends where my child begins. If they don’t vaccinate their child, their child could transmit an infectious disease to my child who might not be vaccinated for a legitimate, medical reason (too young, allergies, etc). Those who aren’t vaccinated for medical reasons rely on herd immunity to stay healthy. By not vaccinating, they are not only putting their own child at risk, but other people’s kids as well.

    And, if generic arguments, don’t work, bring up the case of Dana McCaffery, the 4 week old baby who died from Whooping Cough. Because anti-vaxxers ruined herd immunity, baby Dana was exposed to a disease that she could not be immunized for and which killed her. Those same anti-vaxxers continue to argue against Whooping Cough (and other) vaccines and continue to assert that Whooping Cough doesn’t kill anyone.


    See my comments above. Even if you are ok with “natural selection” killing off kids whose parents made bad choices, are you ok with it killing off kids who happened to be around kids whose parents made bad choices?

  33. A Ninny Elk

    @ A Nonny Moose:

    My country’s main problem isn’t autism as such (tho it does crop up with annoying regularity in the conversation) – it’s that people hate having their choice taken away from them. […]

    Sigh! It’s much the same here. (Maybe we live in the same neighborhood after all?)

    Though I see the tendency to argue “conspiracy” as one weakness to exploit mercilessly. 😀

    – Torbjörn Larsson, OM

  34. Calli Arcale

    Regarding the antivaxers that claim whooping cough never kills:

    I’ve seen people argue that never kills because the cause of death is always listed as . I like to remind them that by that logic, guns don’t kill anybody. It’s exsanguination that kills them. Somehow, they still have a healthy respect for guns despite that.

  35. @Calli Arcale

    Your sentence was cut off.

  36. John

    Some good news – Maryland’s highest court just ruled that “expert” witnesses called by the plaintiffs in a vaccines-causes-autism lawsuit aren’t qualified to testify under the relevant legal standards that govern the admission of expert testimony, on the grounds that plaintiffs “failed to demonstrate that the bases of their proffered experts’ opinions, including the theory of causation and the analytical framework in support thereof, were generally accepted as reliable in the relevant scientific community”

    On those grounds, the trial court dismissed the case, and Maryland’s highest court of appeals affirmed the dismissal.

  37. John

    Sorry if this is a double post – my last comment doesn’t seem to have gone through.

    Anyway, there’s some good news on the pro-vaccine legal front.

    Maryland’s highest court has ruled that plaintiffs’ “expert” witnesses in a “vaccines-gave-my-child-autism” lawsuit are not qualified to testify on the grounds that plaintiffs “failed to demonstrate that the bases of their proffered experts’ opinions, including the theory of causation and the analytical framework in support thereof, were generally accepted as reliable in the relevant scientific community”

    Since that testimony was the basis for the plaintiffs’ entire case, the trial court dismissed it after finding that the “experts” weren’t reliable enough. The highest court in the state affirmed the dismissal.

    The full opinion can be read here:

  38. @John

    Thanks for the link. Not surprising, though. Their “expert” in epidemiology is (cue dramatic music) Dr. Geier! He’s been excluded from acting as an expert before. I also recognized Dr. Boyd Haley’s name among the list of experts.

  39. John

    I just noticed that an article written by one of my law professors was cited pretty extensively in there. Cool.

  40. @MadScientist

    I did up a couple graphs in Excel on measles cases and deaths reported in the CDCs Pink Book, but I can’t figure out how to get it onto my site. Anyone know how to insert graphs into a Drupal page?

  41. I’m sure this has been asked before, but I wonder – How many rabid antivaxxers would turn down a rabies vaccination after being bitten by a rabid animal?

  42. A Nonny Moose

    TechyDad: I’ve used all those arguments and more. Their simple reasoning seems to be “I don’t care about you or your child”. They’re in this comfortable little middle class zone with a fence up around their reasoning – they don’t see it, hasn’t happened for a couple of decades, so if it doesn’t happen to them, it doesn’t happen at all. Only to poor people. And PoC.

    They’re ridiculously confused about herd immunity. Some think that “someone else” will get vaccinated; some think the levels are ridiculously low (stats out of their arse); some think it comes from actually GETTING the disease.

    I appreciate the debate here – really helps with the argument ammunition to take back to other less civil/uninformed debates.

  43. IVAN3MAN and Todd, as one poster mentioned, and I had mentioned in an email last week to you guys, the vids and articles are great places to put some comments with a link or two in them. You know the link I am talking about, right? :)

    I like that link since it has the additional information on the number of DEATHS from these diseases with historical trends (thank you IVAN3MAN) as well as outlining the false positive hit due to coincidence, and a little more information about Autism itself.

  44. fred edison

    I could only watch a few seconds of that terrible video. It sucked! What little I could stand, I heard something about “big pharma, it’s a scam” or whatever. That tells me everything I need to know about the horrible “artist” (very loosely) and self-proclaimed health expert. He calls himself “The Health Ranger,” what a joke. A more appropriate title for him and his video would be “The Unhealthily Deranged.”

  45. By the way Todd W., Dr. Novella actually linked to your page in his article! 😀

  46. @Larian

    I noticed. I feel honored.


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