Antivaccine movement’s bad PR hits critical mass

Six months ago we were looking at a serious flu pandemic, a very strong  and vocal campaign demonizing vaccines, as well as a growing public distrust of vaccines and the entire medical industry. But then a funny thing happened. Despite all their bark, the antivaccine movement proved to lack sufficient bite, as enough Americans still seem to have gotten vaccinated against one or both prominent strains of flu, leading to a dramatically reduced number of flu cases and flu-related deaths this season.

It also goes without saying that none of the doom-saying predictions made by the antivaccine crowd panned out either. There was no dramatic increase in autism, Guillian-Barre Syndrome, or dystonia. Nor were there many deaths or serious injuries directly linked to the vaccines. And many of the “alternative” “medicines” the antivaccine crowd flock to like homeopathy and chiropractic  also got hammered with terrible press. But that’s not all that went wrong for the antivaccine movement over the last few months. There are numerous other reasons why 2010 is already proving devastating to their entire movement. … continue reading this entry.

Dangerous Legal Games

Shackling Reason

(Image Pelham Library)

The anti-vaccine community is at it again, launching inane legal assaults in an attempt to gain a foothold in their war against science and reason. This time, Barbara Loe Fisher, infamous founder of the ironically-named National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), has launched a libel suit against Paul Offit, renowned vaccine expert and Chief of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. I can only hope some good will come of this idiocy. First, some background. … continue reading this entry.

Is this a media tipping point?

The_associated_press_building_in_new_york_city_SMI’m not sure I should be even writing this article.  I’m worried I’m going to encounter some kind of quantum news effects, where if I somehow manage to probe into the inner workings of American Media, maybe I’ll accidentally send one electron flying off in the wrong direction, letting off some cascade that erases exactly what I want to talk to you about.  So it is with great trepidation that I tell you this.  In the words of Buffalo Springfield, “There’s something happening here.  What it is ain’t exactly clear.”  In the past week, I’ve seen two stories in relatively mainstream news outlets that actually take the scientific perspective on vaccines and alternative medicine.

Please tell me the waveform didn’t just collapse. … continue reading this entry.

Media and Skepticism and Baloney

Howard Schneider, founding dean of the Stoney Brook Univeristy School of Journalism speaks at NECSS (phtot by Larry Auerbach)

Howard Schneider, founding dean of the Stony Brook University School of Journalism, speaks at NECSS (photo by Larry Auerbach)

My post on Monday addressed Dr. Paul Offit’s lecture on the anti-vaccination movement and how I felt that, even though the lecture was interesting in it’s own right, it was information already widely disseminated throughout the skeptical community and therefore, my least favorite part of last Saturday’s NECSS.  Because of this, I doubt it will come as a surprise to anyone that my favorite speaker in our entire lecture was, in fact, Professor Howard Schneider of Stony Brook University.  What I loved about listening to Professor Schneider was that he brought a different perspective to our community on the news media.  We come down fairly hard on them for spreading bad information, and Professor Schneider argued against that notion.  Professor Schneider challenged some of our assumptions, which is something that, as skeptics, we should be doing every day.

… continue reading this entry.

In this cat’s opinion

NECSS, The Northeast Conference on Science & Skepticism, was my first skeptical meeting. And since I was helping out behind the scenes, I may have a slightly biased view of the event. But I actually came away with a very different impression than that of my fellow blogger, The Quixotic Man (TQM). And since I have the floor today, I figured I would talk about it here instead of adding a comment on his post from yesterday.

Rachael Dunlop and John Snyder as part of the Skepticism & Media Panel at NECSS 2009 (photo by Mark Bellncula)

Rachael Dunlop and John Snyder as part of the Skepticism & Media Panel at NECSS 2009 (photo by Mark Bellncula)

NB: This isn’t the first time, and it certainly won’t be the last time, that TQM and I do not see eye to eye, and that is why it is so much fun to work with him!

I agree with TQM that Paul Offit gave a terrific, informational, and thorough talk on the status of the anti-vaccination movement, which is a very dangerous public health concern. It is true that the bogus claims of the anti-vaxers have been criticized, debunked, chewed up and spit back out by scientific research, medical professionals, and the skeptical community. However, I do not think it is necessarily true that everyone in the audience on Saturday were as well informed on the topic as TQM. The very reason I became interested in skeptical blogging is because I knew it would force me to look deeper into issues that I knew only a little bit about, which is time consuming to say the least.  As he said, TQM only became familiar with the topic of the anti-vax claims because he needed to research the issue for his posts at the HuffPo. … continue reading this entry.

Herding the Cats


Dr. Paul Offit - Pro-Vaccine Luminary (photo by Mark Bellncula)

In case you just stumbled upon this blog and have not checked out the website for the New York City Skeptics in the past several months, this past Saturday we held the first ever Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism, the NECSS.  I highly doubt this will be the only post on the blog this week mentioning it, all of us spent an entire day listening to lectures on skepticism, words can’t help but start percolating.

The conference was a huge success.  We packed a 400 seat auditorium, and were having to turn people away at the door.  If you missed it, we’re going to do it again next year, and you have to come.  But anyway, I should move on to something with substance.

Paul Offit is a man I have a great amount of respect for.  I don’t know how much you folks out there have stuck your toes into the waters of anti-vaccination lunacy, but Offit is a man who’s gotten out there and really stirred up the pot.  They hate him.  Really.  I had never actually heard of him until I wrote up a post on anti-vaccinationist nonsense the Huffington Post, and all of a sudden, I was inundated with accusations of being a follower of “Paul Profit;” apparently the only attack they can think of is to claim his doctoring is just for the money.  I say this to soften the fact that I’m about to make a slight criticism of Dr. Offit.  Yes.  I’m getting behind him to stab him in the back.  But just a little. I think his lecture was the weakest of the talks we had.  It’s not that it wasn’t interesting, and it’s not that I didn’t agree with every single point he had, it was the fact that I feel it was for the wrong audience. … continue reading this entry.

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