Latest “act” from Andrew Wakefield – recycling 1986 anti-vaccine tropes

Andrew Wakefield

This article about the Andrew Wakefield movie, 1986: The Act, was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law.

Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease.

In 1986: The Act, Andrew Wakefield has created a very long parade of anti-vaccine claims from the past forty years or longer. The movie combines half-truths, facts taken out of context, and blatant misrepresentations to try and mislead people into refusing to vaccinate and protect their children.

In his post on the topic, my friend and colleague Dr. Vince Ilannelli addressed the potential motivations behind 1986: The Act from Andrew Wakefield, the problems with the credibility of the director and many of the main actors, the problematic nature of the sources in the movie, and some of the inaccuracies surrounding DTP.

In this post, I will cover some of the same ground, but my main focus will be to show why the film is unreliable. Obviously, I cannot cover every detail of the long film and keep this manageable, but I can cover many of the highlights, and I hope to make it clear why I think it’s unreliable.

Before starting on those, however, readers deserve a reminder that Andrew Wakefield, the creator of the film, has a well-earned reputation as a dishonest scientist. Wakefield misrepresented information about MMR and hid conflicts of interests, and as a result, outbreaks of measles in Europe and the United States harmed and killed children.

And Andrew Wakefield has continued to misrepresent information in ways that harm children. 

Andrew Wakefield is not a reliable source, and his previous movies show this, too. 

1986: The Act is no different.

The movie is framed as a discovery journey of a couple from the point where the woman discovers she’s pregnant to the point where she gives birth, during which they go through a lot of anti-vaccine sources and become thoroughly and extremely anti-vaccine, ending the movie as participants in an anti-vaccine event. It is, as I mentioned, a parade of greatest hits of the anti-vaccine movement – mostly claims that have been addressed again and again over the years, some twenty years old, some almost forty years old, some older still. There is little new in 1986: The Act. Continue reading “Latest “act” from Andrew Wakefield – recycling 1986 anti-vaccine tropes”

Vaccines did not cause cancer in the son of Dr. Theresa Deisher

Theresa Deisher

On April 1, 2019, Chief Special Master Nora Beth Dorsey rejected a lawsuit from Dr. Theresa Deisher before the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program for compensation for the loss of her young son (referred to as H.S.) who died on July 3, 2015, aged 14, from an aggressive cancer. It is horrible to lose a child at any age, and incredibly painful to lose a young child.

H.S.’s last year appeared to be difficult to all concerned, and I would like to offer Dr. Deisher my very sincere condolences. But there was no good basis to blame his cancer or death on vaccines, and the theories offered were very, very implausible. Continue reading “Vaccines did not cause cancer in the son of Dr. Theresa Deisher”

Polio vaccine causes cancer – a myth pushed by anti-vaccine religion

polio vaccine causes cancer

Apparently, the “polio vaccine causes cancer” zombie meme has been reanimated by the antivaccination cult. Lacking evidence for their beliefs, retreading old debunked memes is their standard operating procedure. And once again, I’m seeing it.

The interesting thing about social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Google, Reddit) is that it’s fairly easy to push pseudoscientific beliefs. The first problem is that many people read the headlines, and never the underlying discussion. If it can be said in 200 characters, or a misleading infographic, many individuals will share that across the internet as a “fact”. So, if you see a claim that “Polio vaccines infected 98 million Americans with a cancer virus,” many people will immediately see that an accept it without much criticism.

Of course, this leads to a second problem. To refute anti-vaccine claims take a lot more than 200 characters. The refutation is often complex, nuanced and highly scientific, and may take 2000 words or more to send that claim into orbit. It’s highly emotional to claim a vaccine can cause cancer. On the other hand, to say it is not isn’t emotional–it’s coldly logical. And takes a lot of words.

And the third problem is that is that social media fallacies have multiple lives, so when someone reads one of these memes a year from now, they think “yeah, this is great information”, and pass it along as if it’s the Truth™. Killing zombie anti-vaccine tropes and memes are just as difficult as killing zombies in real life, or at least, on a TV show. Debunking these anti-vaccine fake facts is a full-time job. Sadly, even after a thorough debunking, someone will call us a paid shill, ignore the evidence, and repeat the trope.

I need to create a bot that automatically refutes every repeated trope. In lieu of that, let’s just discuss the myth. And refute it once again.

Continue reading “Polio vaccine causes cancer – a myth pushed by anti-vaccine religion”

Nine vaccine questions from an anti-vaccine activist

vaccine questions

Some of you may remember the nine vaccine questions from anti vaccine activists answered so capably by Dr. Mark Crislip. Apparently, anti-vaccine activist Lowell Hubbs (who spends a lot of time trolling the comments section of this website) came up with his own set of nine new vaccine questions – which have no more validity than the original nine. In a post titled “9 Questions For The Pro-Vaxers” – to which I would rather not link here, but if you come across it, you will recognize it (we decided that few the thousand readers of this post shouldn’t have any incentive to click on a link to his website).

Let’s take a look at Hubbs’ nine vaccine questions, and provide the appropriate answers.

Continue reading “Nine vaccine questions from an anti-vaccine activist”

Polio vaccine causes cancer – myth debunked

This article has been substantially updated with more information. Please check it out by clicking here.

The interesting thing about social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Google, reddit) is that it’s fairly difficult to thoroughly and completely debunk pseudoscientific myths. The first problem is that individuals choose to accept a meme or a Tweet as factual without using any critical thinking skills (for example, not even clicking on the link to the original article to determine the veracity of it). The second problem is that social media fallacies have multiple lives, so when someone reads one of these memes a year from now, they think “yeah, this is great information”, and pass it along as if it’s the Truth. Which means we skeptics have to debunk it again and again and once more, again.

I wrote an article a while ago about some nonsense meme on Facebook that contended that eating ripe bananas cured cancer because the bananas contained a protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF). It was based on some “Japanese scientific study,” which took significant effort to find. After a critical and thorough reading of the article, I concluded that: the study made no claim that bananas made TNF, AND even if bananas did, you couldn’t ingest enough bananas to get a bioactive dose of TNF, AND even if you could, you wouldn’t absorb any TNF through the digestive tract, AND TNF doesn’t do what the meme writer thought it does (TNF is badly named, and does not directly attack cancers).

Thus, the best we skeptics can do is keep debunking these social media fables and tall tales, and move along to refuting the next one in line. At least I can save time by not having to write the article again, we can just update with any new information and re-debunk (yes, I have the absolute right to invent words). Continue reading “Polio vaccine causes cancer – myth debunked”

Polio vaccine does not cause cancer–update

This article has been substantially updated with more information. Please check it out.

Vaccine myths are annoying, not just because they are dangerous to the public health, but because they are like the diseases prevented by vaccines, because the myths keep returning to infect the public, just when you’re not watching. It’s bad enough that social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Google, reddit) continuously send out this pseudoscientific myths, but it’s the ersatz “news” sites that do the same. They retread old myths as if they are “breaking news”, which requires we skeptics and pro-science writers to jump out like a vaccine trained immune system to thoroughly destroy these antivaccine myths.

I have long ago accepted that there are just ignorant and plainly delusional people who will buy into any pseudoscience that shows up on their radar screen, without utilizing a single neuron for critical analysis. However, I also understand that there are people on the fence about vaccines (or any other issue with a pseudoscience counterargument), who will appreciate a thorough debunking of ignorant lies.

For example, I wrote an article a while ago about some nonsense meme on Facebook that contended that eating ripe bananas cured cancer because the bananas contained a protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF). It was based on some “Japanese scientific study,” which took significant effort to find. After a critical and thorough reading of the article, I concluded that: the study made no claim that bananas made TNF, AND even if bananas did, you couldn’t ingest enough bananas to get a bioactive dose of TNF, AND even if you could, you wouldn’t absorb any TNF through the digestive tract, AND TNF doesn’t do what the meme writer thought it does (TNF is badly named, and does not directly attack cancers). In other words, the myth lacks any truth, except, maybe that bananas are yellow.

This is by far the most popular article I’ve ever written with probably close to 100,000 page hits. The reason is that every 2-3 weeks, the myth about bananas arises out of the background noise of the internet, people (unknown to me) use my article to debunk the banana myth in the comments section, and the myth slowly dies. But it never really completely dies. It’s only 99% dead. It’s a zombie which keeps coming back to life.

Thus, the best we skeptics can do is keep debunking these social media fables and tall tales, and move along to refuting the next one in line. At least I can save time by not having to write the article again, we can just update with any new information and re-debunk (yes, I have the absolute right to invent words). Continue reading “Polio vaccine does not cause cancer–update”