Delightful Smears from the Anti-Vaccine Folks

By Chris Mooney | March 20, 2010 12:06 pm

I get smeared sometimes. As a journalist who has actually written on conflict of interest, it can be amusing to watch–but rarely this amusing:

Chris Mooney’s Pharmaceutical Influence

By Jake Crosby

He is the drug industry’s newer, trendier go-to guy in the media, replacing the role of Arthur Allen, who took a break to write about tomatoes. An ex-patriot of “Science”Blogs who now blogs for Discover, and contributing editor to Science Progress, Chris Mooney is perhaps Pharma’s newest writer who has taken on the task of spoon-feeding its message to the public.

From there it is smears all the way down. You can read the whole thing here. My favorite sentence:

Yet despite the previously described mingling with obvious denialists and plagiarists, Chris Mooney is perhaps most notorious in the autism community….

You complete the sentence. But make sure to include the word “Pharma” at least twice….

PS: Orac has more on Jake Crosby’s endeavors…..written pretty kindly, as I think this particular case deserves.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Unscientific America, vaccination

Comments (18)

  1. David


    It sounds just as stupid as when you hear people screaming that people are in the pockets of big oil if they don’t agree with the global warming crowd.

    For the sarcasm challenged:

    Why are you upset when people say you are in the pocket of the “Pharma” crowd when you are all over it when Michael Mann rants about people that disagree with him about being shills for the big oil companies?

  2. Chris Mooney

    Because there is lots of *evidence* in the big oil case, and I have reported much of it.

  3. David

    But that is the real problem. Yes, there are people trying to spin on all sides. Yes, there are industry based idiots trying to influence policy as much as everyone else. And yes, I also believe that there are researcher’s that exaggerate for effect as well (Not to re-hash old news).

    But the whole smear tactics methodology just makes everybody look like idiots.

    Should’t a hard science blog taking on real issues be above that?

    I love reading your blog and I find the topics real and interesting. That these people think that they have the right to avoid vaccines and keep the rest of us at risk for needless infection is unforgivable.

    There is however a growing disagreement about how these whole statistical studies are getting confused with real scientific observation.

    An interesting take on this was recently published at:,_Its_Wrong

  4. ET NL

    Oh, evidence is not important. We need more democracy in research and science.

    Let’s have a referendum on ID versus evolution for instance. That might clear things up. We also can ask ourselves whether the earth really goes around the sun. Maybe NASA is just a conspiracy organization.

    Vaccination causes things like measle epidemics and drug resistant microorganisms. Or was it the lack of vaccination? Never mind. We all know that the pharma industry is happy to cause diseases like autism that cannot be cured with anything they sell. That’s how money is made, isn’t it?

    Let’s not consider the fact that the label ‘autism’ is put on every child that behaves a bit ‘different’ nowadays. You know, when it is very interested in certain things, when it doesn’t want to play with ‘friends’ but with crayons, when it doesn’t like to spend whole days at crowded places while both parents are working and so on. And of course modern technology, mass communication, tons of automatic toys and a mandatory 24/7 agenda while being constantly monitored and probed, plus early intervention if something might be wrong can’t have anything to do with it either.

    In vaccinations there are much higher levels of scary components like metals than there is in an average serving of canned food. Or was it less? Complicated.. complicated.. Nah, don’t let facts bother you. Teach the controversy! Democracy now!

  5. Lindsay


    Are your Pharma overlords paying you as well as they are Orac? If so, can you get me in there? I can write OK, and jebus knows I’m a pretty poor graduate student! I could use the extra blood money!

  6. Chris Mooney

    Nope, so far, no cash from the Pharma overlords. After all, they don’t need to hire anybody on this issue. The science and the sense of outrage are enough to compel many folks, like Orac and myself, to take up the cause.

  7. Uh…. ex-patriot? Did they mean expatriate? I question that use too.

  8. Nice! I have heard you being called many things before, but not a shill for Pharma.

  9. John Kwok


    I thought many creos and New Atheist militant zealots were certifiably insane, but this vaccine denialist has just earned my “Fruitcake of the Year” award. He probably needs to read Arthur Caplan’s work as well as yours, since Caplan is highly regarded as a prominent thinker on bioethics.

    Didn’t realize you were in the pay of Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, but I’ll be sure to make a note of that, next time I look at their stock prices.


    P. S. Heard that the Huffington Post has become infested with vaccine denialists, so that’s one website you ought to avoid, along with, of course, Pharyngula.

  10. John Kwok

    @ ET NL –

    Didn’t you know that the Apollo moon landing on the Sea of Tranquility was actually photographed at Shepperton Studios, near London? How many times must I remind you of that?

    Seriously if we had to rely on public referendums to decide what is – and isn’t – valid science, we would see a swift return to the “Good Old Days”. And by that I mean of course the Dark Ages and the Spanish Inquisition.

  11. SLC

    I really get a kick out of the anti-vaxers nattering about big pharma, considering that those pharmaceutical companies don’t make much profit on vaccines. They make a lot more profit on the medicines used to treat the non-vaccinated who get diseases like measles. They are much like the Christian mafia who invoke Issac Newton as an example of a religious scientist, obviously ignorant of the fact that Newton was an Arian, which is considered heresy by most Christian churches.

  12. Andrew

    The great thing about AoA is that they are totally judgement-proof (and judgement-free of course) – to prove libel against them, you’d have to prove that anyone takes them seriously, and that is an impossible standard to met. The impotence is their greatest defense… (on the bright side, AoA couldn’t make a libel case, either – they’d have to prove that they have a reputation to be ruined…)

  13. Chris, I fail to see how anyone can possibly imagine you’re simultaneously shilling for all these ideologically opposed interest groups . . . but maybe you’re just that awesome! I think it would be cool to get all the groups of people who revile you into a large room, close the door, and wait five minutes for them to rip each other to shreds.

  14. Marion Delgado

    The best part is when they say the autism community – meaning mostly families of autistic people, cranks, celebrity hangers-on, etc. How many autistic people think Chris is a pharma shill, or care?

    And people who work on the science of autism, apparently, are out of that community.

    AREN’T there actually a lot of signs that even for family of autistic children and adults, the soi-disant voices of the autistic community aren’t representing them??

    they should be challenged more on that single point, IMO.

  15. Marion Delgado

    bioephemera’s first sentence made me laugh.

    Also: isn’t the woman who does Neurodiversity autistic?

    Are the people who do Age of Autism autistic?

    How dare they borrow their oppression!! – or whatever strident phrase of outrage is appropriate here.

  16. Marion Delgado

    For David:

    The people who politicized climate science and indulged in smears are the denialists. And their information is mostly sourced to paid denialism from the fossil fuel industry, and from the tobacco industry, because that industry is mostly run by right-wing ideologues.

    Your analogy fails because vaccines work, they don’t cause autism, and hence, there’s an enormous pool – almost the whole of medical science – to support it, and they can’t possibly all be paid shills, and moreover, they have so many sources, that those source can’t possibly all be written for hire. Moveover, attempts to link them to work for hire have fallen on their face because they were factually wrong, and the evidence showed that.

    The climate science denialism sources are few and contradictory, nearly all have provable ties to fossil fuels (or tobacco or mining or pesticides). That people choose to believe only paid sources instead of independent researchers, that they choose to reject centuries of value in peer reviewed journals, that they choose to call data gathering scientific profiteering, and that they won’t accept that “the scientific consensus is” and “science says” mean the same thing means something is going wrong – for most of them, it’s ideological, but for many – the Marc Moranos or Jennifer Marohasys or Frank Luntzes – it’s mostly that they’re paid to say X in the most believable way, and if you paid them enough to say Y – and they didn’t have a history that would be hard to overcome of saying X – they’d say Y with equal enthusiasm.

    Neither the vaccine science deniers – including the autism subset – nor the people who understand the science of epidemiology as it reflects itself in illnesses caused by vaccines, who agree that autism is not one of those – are partisan. Wakefield was clearly partly profit-motivated – the pharmaceuticals might like the security of vaccine orders, but the history is that they are very grudging and reluctant – letting the free market produce our vaccines has led to overages and shortages that more socialized vaccine production never has.

    You have Republicans and Democrats who are vaccine and autism science deniers. You have both that are science affirmers. You find Greens and Libertarians in either camp.

    WE are not the ones that politicized climate science. WE are not the ones smearing scientists. WE are the ones with the facts and history on our side – just as the people who said smoking causes cancer did. The OTHER side is the side trying to prove things that are simply not true, and using every filthy trick in the book to create DOUBT.

    David, if you won’t acknowledge that there is a “create doubt” industry, then you’re a history denialist. They’ve gone seamlessly from tobacco to climate, in some cases stopping off to lie and say that agricultural use of DDT prevented malaria and that amoebas don’t evolve.

  17. Marion Delgado

    or rather, that mosquitos don’t evolve – but again, how can anyone defend that? deliberately confusing agricultural use of DDT with anti-malarial use, deliberately ignoring the fact that indiscriminate scattered use of diluted DDT is exactly what you do (agricultural spraying) if your goal is to select for the moderately DDT resistant mosquitos.

  18. David

    For Marion:

    Do you realize that you just spent three long paragraphs defending the use of vaccines to someone who just stated that these people should not even have the right to refuse vaccines because of the need for the common good?

    Did you read the that I agreed that yes, there were people on both sides creating spin and making things up?

    I was speaking plainly and not using any analogy whatsoever.

    I made a direct comparison of in one thread of discussion, people suggesting that anyone who denied that vaccines were causing problems were in the pocket of the big drug companies and another where anyone who disagreed with the AGW proponents were in the pockets of big oil.

    The point I made was this:

    Just dismissing someone altogether with the argumentative fallacy of guilt by association is not valid. It is somewhere between covering your ears and yelling “La, La, La, I can’t hear you!!” and invoking Godwin’s Law.

    It is just ridiculous on both sides to try to shout down any disagreement by dismissing someone’s argument on the unfounded accusation of being in someone’s pocket. This is supposed to be a discussion of facts, yes, and even opinions, and their merits and not a shouting match.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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