A comic takedown of antivax icon Andrew Wakefield

By Phil Plait | May 19, 2010 1:30 pm

I’ve written about the misdeeds of Andrew Wakefield, the founder of the modern antivax movement, in the past — the links in this post will give you an idea of this guy. But I’m smart enough to know that I can write until I’m blue in the face about him, and the poison antivaxxers spread will still be accepted by people.

That’s why I’m glad there are different ways of getting the truth out there. One of them is in the form of comics; somehow, adding art to the discussion makes it easier to understand, and easier to absorb.


On his LiveJournal page, Tallguywrites has created a comic book style deconstruction of the Wakefield affair. I urge you to read the whole thing, and keep it in mind when some mouthpiece like Jenny McCarthy praises what Wakefield has done. What they tend not to mention is what the antivax movement has really done: erode deserved confidence in the medical system, help cause outbreaks of measles and pertussis, and put us all in danger of contracting preventable diseases.

Tip o’ the syringe to sydk.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience

Comments (22)

Links to this Post

  1. Homeopathy made simple | Bad Astronomy | July 8, 2010
  1. Michael Swanson

    Nice comic! Thanks! I know some new moms that I want to get this to. However, let me address the inevitable complaint about this not being an astronomy-related post:

    Phil had HIS own blog on HIS own site for several years. In it, he wrote wrote about what he wanted to, which was mostly about astronomy, but frequently about other things. After all, it was HIS blog on HIS site. Discover magazine liked it enough that they said, “Hey! Phil! We like what you write on YOUR blog, and we think that it would mutually beneficial if you came to Discover and wrote about what you wanted to on YOUR blog, but over here!” Phil said something like, “Sweet!” and did just that. Here. In HIS blog.

    The End

  2. Elf Eye

    I came for the astronomy, but I stayed for the critical thinking applied to ANY subject, including denialism and conspiracy-mongering in all its manifestations.

  3. Laura

    Ha, I tweeted that at you several days ago…

    I just had a run-in with an anti-vaxxer. When I told her the truth about Wakefield she shrugged and said, “Oh, I know!” When I tried to explain about herd immunity she said, “Oh, I know!” When I told her about children who had died from measles, she called me a liar and said her father had measles as a kid and was fine.

    I’m still shaking with anger.

  4. You are right. Its a very effective way to cover the issue.

    I hope it becomes viral.

  5. Allen

    I tweeted this to @JimCarrey, I wonder if he’ll notice…

  6. Zucchi

    The link’s not currently working, but I like the idea of the comic.

    ETA: I was able to see the comic here: http://darryl-cunningham.blogspot.com/2010/05/facts-in-case-of-dr-andrew-wakefield.html

  7. Chris

    Laura, ask her if she knows what happened to Roald Dahl’s oldest daughter, Olivia.

  8. Hi Phil. I’m the cartoonist who drew this strip. I’ve been an observer of the skeptical scene for some time, and have for awhile wanted to contribute. I’m glad I did. The strip has had thousands of views and has been picked up all over the internet. Ben Goldacre tweeted about it. I even got a very complementary email from Brian Deer, the journalist who exposed Wakefield. I’m tied up doing a childrens book for a few months, but I’m certainly going to do more skeptical stuff. Watch this space.

  9. Laura

    Chris: I sincerely doubt she will ever speak to me again. She said, “My not vaccinating my kids won’t hurt anyone!” and I responded, “Yes, it will.” and she left without saying another word to me. It’s taken me an hour and a half listening to science podcasts to calm down.

  10. Chris

    I’m so sorry.

    I am unfortunately familiar with those kinds of mothers. They make parenthood a competition and refuse to listen to reason. The “Mothering” forum and magazine is their bible, and there is a reason that many of us evil pro-vax types call it sMothering.

    I ran into them when I was on an email listserv group for my oldest son’s disability (he is now 21 years old). One tried to have me banned from the group after I sent a reply to one of her emails that said to “look out for thimerosal” when the subject was the MMR. All my email said was “Just a reminder, the MMR has never contained thimerosal.”


    I quit it later when the Mercury Militia took over the group, and was no longer a source of support and information I needed.

    Though, if you go over to the Respectful Insolence blog at ScienceBlogs, you will see a post titled I’m not just “preaching to the converted”, with a very interesting video. The comments include those from folks who have actually changed their position from anti-vax to pro-science. It helps to make me feel like the world is a bit more sane. Some what.

  11. One of the best comic strips ever, not only out of those that cover medical issues but generally, is this classic about the history of polio. Trust me, you won’t regret clicking on the PDF link.

  12. Another thing I want to copy over! Will have to wait for the weekend since I am on the road. :(

  13. Laura

    Can’t sleep. The horror of having an anti-vaxxer in my home and not knowing it until conversation turned has kept me up. I had to go reread Elizabeth Moon’s essay on polio: http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/010978.html#moon

    My heart goes out to the children that don’t get vaccinated due to this insanity. So many horrible ways to die, and they are coming back rapidly due to failing herd immunity because of nutcases like Wakefield and McCarthy.

  14. @1. Michael Swanson

    I enjoy when Dr. Plait points out that non-astronomy things that are astronomically stupid. ūüėČ

  15. @8. darryl Cunningham

    Excellent work.

    Thank you for all of the time you put into this.

  16. brad tittle

    All my children are as fully vaccinated as possible, but

    The root of the autism problem is not necessarily Andrew Wakefield. He deserves every bit of the criticism laid on him, but the root problem was Epidemiology and its constant misapplication to our world. Modern medicine is a wonderful thing UNTIL you start getting into aspects affected by epidemiology, then things start to get murky. James Randi’s life was saved by modern medicine. My son came into this world with relative ease because of modern instrumentation (Doctor was able to accelerate the final birthing step after listening to the baby go into distress during each push phase). My bronchitis is treated well when it shows up with various drugs.

    Epidemiology has brought us fear of BPA, fear of many effective drugs, fear of just about everything. I fully support the debasement of Andrew Wakefield. The focus is way too narrow. Science is under attack because scientists aren’t controlling themselves. There are people out there trying to point out the failing of our prominent scientists, but they are lost in the noise. They are even being targeted by grownups as being cranks.

    It doesn’t help when a shining light in the skeptic community starts flinging fallacies around.

  17. Calli Arcale

    It’s not fair to blame epidemiology for antivaxism. People don’t become antivax because of bad epidemiology. Their reasons tend to be far more visceral. Also, the antivax movement indeed did not start with Andrew Wakefield — it started centuries earlier, with opposition to variolation. Indeed, the antivax mindset predates epidemiology itself.

    That said, I really liked the cartoon. It’s not really about the larger antivax movement; it’s about the history of Andrew Wakefield, who has characterized a significant episode in the history of vaccine refusal.

  18. barb

    Wakefield’s study was flawed… it wasn’t the MMR vaccine that causes autism, it is ALL vaccines cause autism. That has been the problem with all the vaccine/autism studies they have singled out one vaccine.

    The fat woman who eats chocolates, ice cream, and cookies all day long has proven over and over again that her diet does not cause her obesity. Every six weeks she gives up a different food and her weight stays the same. This last six weeks she gave up blueberry ice cream and she didn’t lose an ounce. – It’s the same with the vaccine studies.

    The so-called peer-reviewed scientific studies are a form of brainwashing. First, by insisting that ONLY peer-reviewed studies be given credence, you eliminate all of the studies that have not been financed directly or indirectly by Big Pharma. There are many articles on the web about the sad state of published research. The studies that are done that show the dangers of drugs are either never published or twisted to imply the opposite.

    The autism rate climbed substantially when the pharmaceutical firms got freedom from any liability, created the combination vaccines, lowered the ages of children getting vaccinated, and increased the number of recommended vaccines for children from 10 to almost 60 now.

    As the number of recommended vaccines climbed, our children became sicker and sicker. Food allergies are now potentially fatal. Highly refined peanut oil is GRAS and can be used by pharmaceutical firms without being listed on the package insert. There is a trace amount of peanut protein in the oil and when injected with an adjuvant = fatal food allergy. There is a new book on the topic “The History of the Peanut Allergy Epidemic” by Heather Fraser. Luckily, Heather is a historian so the Medical Mafia can’t take away her credentials. http://barbfeick.com/vaccinations

  19. Afi

    interesting, a friend of mine is an anti-vaxer hardcore, and his son has food allergies. Oh well, there goes that whole website and theory. Sorry, Barb.

  20. Orange Lantern

    The fat woman who eats chocolates, ice cream, and cookies all day long has proven over and over again that her diet does not cause her obesity. Every six weeks she gives up a different food and her weight stays the same. This last six weeks she gave up blueberry ice cream and she didn‚Äôt lose an ounce. ‚Äď It‚Äôs the same with the vaccine studies.

    Barb – if that woman eliminated ice cream and did not increase her chocolate or cookie consumption, her weight gain would at least measurably slow down. Likewise, if ALL vaccine cause autism, children who did not receive MMR and had no additional shot to replace it would have less autism. They don’t.

    And to quickly address your most ridiculous assertions, 1.) peer reviewed studies are the most reliable and least likely to have bias as they must pass… peer review. On the other hand, pretty much anyone can write a non-peer reviewed “research” article on anything they want. 2.) Pharmaceutical companies to not have immunity to liability, and 3.) food allergies have always been potentially fatal.

    Some amount of evidence would be appreciated the next time you try to make assertions that may put children at risk of death and disease.

  21. While I agree that the anti-science whackos are a problem, scientists themselves, in their drive to publish or to establish their reputations have long been guilty of fudging their results for their own purposes. Thomas Kuhn’s brilliant “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” illustrates how the herd mentality among scientists inhibits new discovery until the evidence becomes overwhelming and then the whole field jumps to the next level practically overnight leaving behind science’s graybeards and their now (obviously) outdated theories.

    As we consume information, we need to do so with open eyes. Today’s phlogiston is tomorrow’s bullcrap. You have to wonder about the basic assumptions behind chaos theory, quantum mechanics or even the sacrosanct theory of relativity or any one of thousands of currently mainstream scientific ideas. What light is hiding behind the whole “dark” energy whitewash (or should we say ‘blackwash’). Is it just me or does “dark energy” remind anyone of the whole “ether” theory. When are we going to be honest enough to say when we’re just guessing and quit trying to blather out way around the fact that we really don’t understand everything and we’re just a tiny little scientist in a wide universe after all?

    The problem is that a scientist that says “I don’t know” or “We don’t fully understand” too often will eventually find himself without tenure and trying to make a living writing mainstream science articles for Parade Magazine or lending his name as a “science advisor” on the new Punksatawny Pictures blockbuster “Attack of the Radioactive Mutant GroundHogs”. In his place, they’ll put someone with a better gift for covering science’s collective ignorance with flying bull pies.

    My sympathies lie with the scientists. What are they gonna do. They live in the real world with mortgages to pay and kids to send to college.

    The old Russian proverb, “Trust but Verify” applies to our science gods, possibly even more than to the junk science groupies. With the junkers, at least we expect flying bull pies and are prepared to duck.

    Just One Man’s Opinion….

    Tom King


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