Recently, an anti vaccine cult member, who goes by the nom de plume of Megan, published a blog post called the Hate Debate, which was filled with all of the tropes, myths and outright misinformation of the anti vaccine cult. In other words, nothing new.
Except, she made this whiny, outrageous accusation:
[infobox icon=”quote-left”]I am sick of it – this vaccination debate. My convictions not to vaccinate have been firm for six years now and I was comfortable living a low-profile life and letting other more notable activists carry the torch; and then I started seeing misleading t.v. interviews, news stories, and backlash against parents and unvaccinated children.
I saw reputable medical professionals get crucified and reputations destroyed for questioning the mainstream norm. I saw laws passed in other states removing freedoms that rightfully belong to parents and individuals as a whole. I saw fear, blame, finger-pointing, lies, and flat out hate being propagated and encouraged by people, physicians, and popular media avenues towards parents who don’t vaccinate, and their children.[/infobox]
Setting aside the victimization complex that Megan is claiming, and the notable lack of any crucifixions of antivaccinationists on the news, there are a couple of larger, more important points. First, there are no debates about vaccination. These debates are an invention of anti-science people which is similar to false debates in other fields of science, like climate change, GMOs, evolution, HIV/AIDS, and many other areas.
Fake science debates
There are people who claim there is a debate about evolution–there isn’t, it’s a scientific fact. There are people who debate whether HIV does not cause AIDS–it’s a scientific fact that HIV causes AIDS. There is a political debate about human caused climate change–but 97% of peer-reviewed papers on the subject provide a bastion of scientific consensus, that global warming is true and caused by humans. There are many, mostly on my side of the political aisle, who think that there’s a debate about the safety of GMOs–there isn’t, the scientific consensus strongly supports the fact that GMOs are completely safe.
These are all manufactured debates, where the foolish and easily manipulated press create a false-balance, by giving you a one-on-one debate between someone with a science background and someone who denies science. In reality, this debate should have several thousand scientists on one side, and one fool on the other. That would probably be a fascinating debate.
The same fake debate is a part of discussions about vaccines. Let’s be perfectly clear–vaccines are generally safe, as safe or safer than any other medical procedure known to mankind. You can break an arm, and have it set and casted by an emergency room physician. You might think that setting a fracture is a safe procedure, but occasionally bad things happen, like fat embolisms which can kill. Vaccines are one of the safest medical procedures I can imagine, and I’ve seen a lot of different procedures.
Scientific facts about vaccines
There has not been one death, with a direct causal link to vaccines, found since the 1980’s at least.
In addition, vaccines are extremely effective. Smallpox is gone. Polio is just a few cases from being gone. Measles, mumps, diphtheria, whooping cough are disappearing, except in areas where parents aren’t vaccinating their children. My statements are based on the vast scientific consensus established by a long and deep tradition of peer-reviewed published articles. Short of cherry picking the tiny number of poorly written, highly-biased, low quality journal publications, there is nothing out there that can shift the consensus. Nothing.
But Megan, who has never picked up a petri dish and committed herself to real research, repeats one trope, one lie and one myth after another one. Orac picks apart her babbling one point after another, and as a bonus gives us a story about her ridiculous paranoid conspiracy theories. With all due respect to Yoda, Megan “powerful you think you have become, the Dunning-Kruger I sense in you.”
Wait, Shakespeare says it even better in As You Like It, “The Foole doth thinke he is wise, but the wiseman knowes himselfe to be a Foole.”
The anti vaccine cult Hate Debate
After quoting Yoda and Shakespeare, it’s time to move along to the more critical second point about which I want to make about this so-called Hate Debate. Who’s really doing the hate?
Let’s talk about Dorit Reiss, a frequent contributor to this blog. For those of you who don’t know her, Dr. Reiss is a Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, CA. Dorit writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination, so she’s about as much an expert on vaccine policy and law as you can find on the planet. Moreover, I count her as a friend, as much as one can be a friend through emails, messages, and discussing vaccines, and she is one of the calmest and coolest individuals in the pro-vaccine community. Her writing is dispassionately legal, and she has rarely (if ever?) lashed out at the vaccine deniers as I do.
But for some odd reason (and I can only speculate as to the reasoning), Dorit has become a target of the antivaccination lunatics, who seem to be in some competitive contest to layer one Argumentum Ad Hominem upon another regarding her. It’s laughable if it weren’t so creepy and scary, though rumor is that Dr. Reiss is actually also Lt. Dorit Rubinstein in the Israel Defense Forces. I don’t think much scares her.
I began to notice the personal attacks on Dorit with this website called UCHastingsTroll.com (a website that’s apparently long gone, given it’s hatefulness). It’s a creative website name, because if you’re trying to go to the real website of the University of California Hastings, the prestigious university at which Dr. Reiss is a faculty member, you might end up at that hate site.
The author of the website is a well-known antivaccine internet bully, who seems to have a wild imagination about conspiracies, wrote the following on the attack website:
[infobox icon=”quote-left”]Many of Dorit’s comments appear to be coming from a personality that is disoriented and confused, and her comments make no sense at all. I definitely would not even allow her to teach my dog!
At other times, Dorit Reiss appears even more disoriented, blaming and accusing grieving parents, who are trying to find closure and support with other families of deceased and injured children through the Katie Couric Show, for doing it in public, because it’s hurting MERCK’s profits. She now says that she no longer needs medical records from these grieving parents, and, as spokesperson for UCHastings School of the Law, arrogantly states that the parents are defensive and wrong.
UCHastings School of the Law Professor Dorit Reiss then demanded that these grieving parents, who faithfully vaccinated their children who all acquired virtually the same core set of symptoms, “explain to us what is the medical evidence that shows that your child’s harm is due to the vaccine”.[/infobox]
There really isn’t any way to respond to these comments except to think that the person, who is disoriented and confused, might instead be the author. And once again, the medical evidence for the safety and effectiveness of vaccines is beyond any reasonable level of criticism. Let me highlight the word reasonable. But UCHastingsTroll was just a minor attack.
The irresponsible and ignorant website, Age of Autism, that fronts for the antivaccine lunatic fringe, recently published a screed against Dr. Reiss written by Christina Waldman, who, according to Martindale (a guide to trial lawyers in the USA), works in a one-person law firm that specializes in Social Security Disability cases in Rochester, NY. So what we have here is one attorney filling out forms for Social Security Disability claimants and receiving a set fee for each case she wins vs. an faculty member in law in one of the top law schools in the country. This may not be a fair fight.
The goal of Waldman’s tedious article was a sort of open letter to Cornell University to either criticize or block the publication of an article by Dr. Reiss in the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, a rather highly respected journal. Dr. Reiss’ article, “Compensating the Victims of Failure to Vaccinate: What are the Options?”, was addressed here previously. Apparently, Waldman’s letter had little effect since Cornell did publish Dr. Reiss’ article with no comment as far as I can tell.
Of course, Waldman’s letter was really confusing. Since I’m convinced that Waldman is a real lawyer with real credentials, it is shocking that a real attorney could author such a poorly written and disorganized letter. And let’s not even get into the utter lack of logical flow.
At the start, without commentary, Waldman lists a bunch of hate attack links on Dr. Reiss, most referring back to Age of Autism itself (don’t be confused, Age of Autism doesn’t actually care about autistic children, just whining about vaccines). They all kind of complain about Dr. Reiss advocating that there might be legal recourse for parents whose children are harmed by unvaccinated children. Well, if you’re going to attack Dr. Reiss, don’t forget to go after Law and Order: Special Victims Unit–they arrested and tried a crazy antivaccination parent.
Waldman continues with several cherry picked comments from Dr. Reiss (who comments frequently on many news articles on the internet, always in a professional, logical manner). I actually can’t make heads or tails of what Waldman is trying to prove by referring to some of these comments, except to create some conspiracy theory between Merck and other pharmaceutical companies, Kaiser-Permanente (one of the highest rated managed care organizations in the USA or the world, and who has one of the best anonymized medical records database for epidemiological studies), Dr. Reiss’ employer, UC Hastings, and Dr. Reiss herself.
Apparently, because Dr. Reiss denies taking money from Big Pharma, and Waldman can invent out of the thin air some laughable conspiracy, in Waldman’s mind, Dr. Reiss is lying. Or something. I’m pretty smart, and I’ve asked others to read Waldman’s diatribe, and we all have come to the same conclusion. Huh?
Now, I cannot completely dismiss Waldman before I respond to something she wrote:
[infobox icon=”quote-left”]One of several pro-vaccination Facebook groups to which Prof. Reiss belongs is called the “Anti-Vax Wall of Shame (AVWOS).” It is a group that likes to make fun of “Anti-Vaxers,” as those who express concerns about vaccines have been labelled. Note the “Files” on the AVWOS wall which enable group members to follow “anti-vaccination” comments on the web. Note the derogatory and disrespectful way in which persons holding different beliefs on vaccine safety are described (It used to be worse; they’ve cleaned it up in the past few months.
Much of the language from the old, pinned welcoming rant is too crude to print; here is one of the more tame examples: “….We give no quarter to the douchbaggery brought by the anti-vaxxers. There is no length that we will not go to show their stupidity, their arrogance, their ignorance, and their hatred of children….” This is the crowd with which Prof. Reiss associates online, a crowd comfortable with “hate speech” when it comes to those awful “anti-vaxxers.” (Facebook, Anti-Vax Wall of Shame, as it appeared in December 2013.). Many who take the time to research vaccine safety concerns and post about them on the internet are parents of vaccine-injured children.
Intriguingly, several members of this “esteemed and exclusive crowd,” in Michael Simpson’s (sic) words, are among the people Prof. Reiss thanked in her acknowledgments to this article: the Skeptical Raptor blog to which Prof. Reiss refers readers often, affiliated with Kaiser Permanente; Allison Hagood, Facebook page administrator of AVWOS, Carolyn Bursle, Queensland pediatrician; Paul Offit, Merck vaccine inventor and pro-vaccine spokesperson, recently an advocate of putting journalists in jail who do not toe his line (David Kroll, “Dr. Paul Offit: ‘Journalism Jail’ For Faulty Medical Reporting,” 3/29/14, Forbes online.). Paul Offit is on the Scientific Advisory Board for Voices for Vaccines; Stacy Hillenburg, on the Voices for Vaccines Parent Advisory Board with Prof. Reiss; ; Will Robertson; Rene Najera; and Maggie Howell (Note: membership of Voices for Vaccines Facebook page is no longer open information, as it was in March 2014.).[/infobox]
Yes, AVWOS’ most important goal is to mock, ridicule and generally snark at some of the dumbest stuff written by antivaccination cultists across the world. And yeah, AVWOS does enjoy showing off the antivaccinationist’s stupidity, arrogance, ignorance and, let me be blunt, hatred of children. I mean why else would you deny a child a vaccine unless you don’t want them to live long? In the 1700’s, right at the advent of the first vaccines, 75% of children died before they turned five (Health, Wealth and Population in the Early Days of the Industrial Revolution (Economic History).
This isn’t “hate speech,” it is merely the conclusion one can make about individuals who consciously ignore the vast wealth of vaccine research to push an agenda that could lead to the return of diseases that we thought were historical. Of course, the only group that will get rich off of the loss of vaccines are Big Pharma, who will make so much cash from providing the products to treat vaccine preventable diseases, that I still wonder if most antivaccine whiners are actually being compensated by Big Pharma.
I hardly ever comment on what I do or don’t do in life, but let me be frank. I do not work for Kaiser Permanente. You see, Waldman worked so hard to create some crazy link between XYZ and Dr. Reiss, a random neuron must have fired off, and the good name of Skeptical Raptor was associated with the great name of Kaiser Permanente.
But the Age of Not Really Caring About Autism (once again, they’re really just an anti vaccine cult front organization) continues with other ridiculous hate words, written by one David Foster, an “engineer” (not a scientist) without one tiny bit of formal academic work in legal issues, let alone vaccines and real science. That he starts his ad hominem hate speech with “Dorit Reiss has a history of glossing over vaccine safety issues” is laughable and shows some serious Dunning Kruger effect in his simplistic brain.
The irony here is that Prof. Reiss is more supportive of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP) than many of her supporters (myself included, who wishes that the NVICP went away, and all lawsuits banned summarily without scientific evidence, but I can be tough). I daresay that Foster, who as a reminder is just an engineer, some dude who probably can write computer code on a good day, when he’s not lying on the Age of Lying About Autism, wouldn’t understand that the legal standards for the NVICP are relaxed which has the consequence of allowing “victories” for some families whose cases are not really supported by scientific causality. But that’s what you get when you allow some “engineer” to write a law article.
But let’s not stop there with anti-Reiss hatred. Take a look at a few posts about Prof. Reiss in Facebook recently.
After this article was originally posted in April 2014, ThePoxesBlog posted another article describing three threatening phone calls from anonymous individuals. The first one stated that, “I am tired of your wife harassing people about their vaccine status. It is none of her business. If I hear or see of anything written by your wife after today, I will release your phone number, your work phone number.” It isn’t all that hard to find people’s phone numbers, and they can be easily changed these days.
The second call stated that “like I said to your husband, I have all of your information. Stop it now. I mean it, or else it becomes public information. Got it? Good.” Creepy.
The third call seems to indicate that the caller is truly unhinged, “You and your wife are evil. Just evil. How dare she go after parents of vaccine injured children. Read a fucking package insert. It says right there all the freaking side…”
These attacks by phone added to the attacks on the internet appear to be a concerted effort by individuals who are racists, hate-mongers and anti-Semitic creeps. Some of it leads right back to the Age of Autism (they don’t care about autism), which has published several hate-filled rambling rants about Dr. Reiss over the past few months.
Let’s be clear what really constitutes hate speech. It’s generally a verbal attack (orally or written) on a protected group to incite harm through violence or prejudice. Vaccine deniers are not a protected group, and frankly, they would have a terribly difficult time trying to convince a real court that their anti-scientific beliefs, based on absolutely nothing, should become a protected group.
If that happens, the Flat-Earthers will want to be a protected group. But more than that, Dr. Reiss (or this website) has never attempted to incite violence, unless having people arrested or sued for harming children is an incitement for harm. That would take a amusing and scary change in criminal law to consider that change.
If there’s any “hate speech” going on here, it’s against Dr. Reiss. Anti-Semitism (and for those of you who don’t know, it’s just a form of racism) is hate speech. Crazy ad hominem attacks in attempts to damage her reputation professionally is hate speech. Pretending to be the victim, like these antivaccine types keep doing, may not be hate speech, but it’s pathetic and ignorant. Dorit Reiss can stand up for herself, so I’m not here to defend her. I’m here to point out the obvious and disgusting hypocrisy of the vast swath of the antivaccine movement that actually does engage in dangerous and harmful hate speech. They aren’t making fun of Dr. Reiss’ point of view, they are viciously attacking her, her employer, and her ethnicity. That’s offensive.
The anti vaccine cult whines, and whines loudly, that they’re being bullied, harassed and subject to some odd mutation of hate speech. But let’s be honest here. The pro-vaccine side (as if there are sides) is based on the truth, as supported by the vast mountains of evidence.
And repeating that truth, even in a mocking or derogatory way, is hardly hate speech. It’s making fun of people who have crazy ideas who actually have a serious problem–they want children to catch vaccine preventable diseases.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in April 2014. It has been completely revised and updated to include more comprehensive information, to improve readability and to add current research.
- Ehrlinger J, Johnson K, Banner M, Dunning D, Kruger J. Why the Unskilled Are Unaware: Further Explorations of (Absent) Self-Insight Among the Incompetent. Organ Behav Hum Decis Process. 2008 Jan 1;105(1):98-121. PubMed PMID: 19568317; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2702783.
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