Expelled!, anti-vaccine style, 2011 edition

It’s happened again.

Remember how I’ve said time and time again that the anti-vaccine movement is very much like a religion, a cult even? One of the key attributes of religion is an intolerance for heretics, apostates, and unbelievers. The usual approach to unbelievers is either to try to convert them and then, failing that, to shun them (fortunately in most civilized countries Inquisition-like reactions are no longer common) or to skip the attempt to convert them and jump straight to the shunning. More evidence of just how true that is was presented on a silver platter to me at the anti-vaccine quackfest Autism One that will be wrapping up today in Lombard, IL.

Yesterday afternoon, Autism One “expelled” Ken Reibel and Jamie Bernstein, the latter of whom I got to hang out with last August when I was invited to give a Skeptics in the Pub-style talk to the Chicago Skeptics and Women Thinking Free Foundation. As vice president of the WTFF, Jamie’s also involved in producing the Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated! website and a key player in skeptical activism against the anti-vaccine “protest” Autism One sponsored in Grant Park last year. In fact, she even managed to get her picture taken with Andy Wakefield himself:


She also managed to slip him this note:

Dear Andrew Wakefield,

I know that you truly believe that what you are doing is helping people and that the ends justify the means, but I just want you to know that the things you are doing — the actions you have taken in the past have hurt people — killed people. Your work has scared and manipulated parents into not vaccinating their children, putting them and their entire community at risk, all in the name of safety. Children have died because of you. I just want to make sure that you fully understand that.


Jamie live Tweeted the whole sordid affair as it was happening:

It apparently takes 3 security guards and 4 police officers to kick me out. Did I mention I did nothing wrong? #antivaxcon

The reason? Well, there was none, other than that apparently Ken Reibel, who has been “expelled” from the Autism One quackfest before was recognized:


As I’ve said time and time again. Despite the claims of the anti-vaccine movement and the sponsors of Autism One (which, as you recall, include Generation Rescue) this is not the behavior of an intellectually honest and open movement that wants to persuade based on science and reason. It is the behavior of a group that has something to hide, that prefers shunning and expelling those who aren’t afraid to criticize it to open engagement and attempts to persuade based on the evidence. It is also the behavior of a group that thinks its members can’t stand up to challenges and therefore need to be protected from criticism or contrary views.

It should also be noted that, as Sullivan has reported, Jamie and Ken weren’t doing anything. Indeed, after past instances of reporters (like Trine Tsouderos) and skeptics having been expelled from Autism One, I’d be very surprised if they weren’t being very, very careful to do nothing that could even remotely be considered disruptive or against the policy of the conference. The only reason they were kicked out is because one of them was recognized as someone who had been critical of Generation Rescue, Jenny McCarthy, Autism One, and Age of Autism. No doubt

The bottom line is that the anti-vaccine movement is like two things. First, it’s very much like a religious cult. Infidels and unbelievers, if they can’t be converted, are to be shunned, using force if necessary. Make no mistake about it, bringing in three security guards and four police officers to handle two people who showed no signs of doing anything against conference guidelines. Moreover, attempts by others to get the Lombard police to cough up the police report have been met with silence. Alternatively (or also), they are just paranoid, like Richard Nixon making up his “enemies” list. If you’re on the list (and, quite frankly, it appears not to take much to get on the anti-vaccine enemies list), you’re fair game. Either way, this sort of behavior is not indicative of a vibrant, free movement, but rather of an increasingly paranoid–dare I even say authoritarian–movement. Indeed, Reporter X caught the increasingly paranoid vibe of the conference well. As Ken Reibel described:

The conference organizer was at a loss to explain to the police why I was being asked to leave. I made sure to ask the officers to get a statement from her for the police report. If she is honest, she will say “We asked those two to leave because they write critical things about us.” If she says we were breaking conference rules, then she will be lying to the police.

No doubt the conference organizers will find a plausible lie to tell the police. In the meantime, let’s see if the police actually release the incident report about Ken’s and Jamie’s expulsion for, well, being Ken and Jamie.

Whatever happens with the police report, though, above all, the behavior of the conference organizers is indicative of fear, fear of being seen doing what they do, saying what they say, and selling what they sell. Scientific meetings are not like this. Skeptical meetings are not like this either; indeed, at last year’s TAM, a moon hoax believer managed to get to the front of the line to challenge Adam Savage about the Mythbusters episode on moon hoaxers. He was not expelled; in fact, Savage respectfully answered him and he was later seen at various other events at TAM. At the Lorne Trottier Symposium last year, a believer in Royal Rife quackery asked about it. The panel only started to ask him to leave after the man wore out his welcome by dominating and monopolizing the question and answer session to the point where people waiting in line behind him were denied an opportunity to ask their questions due to time constraints. In other words, he got his say and was not asked to leave until he had reached the point of showing an extreme lack of consideration for his fellow audience members waiting to ask questions of the panel.

Given this behavior, all I can ask is: What is Autism One afraid of, that two people who were not the least bit frightening resulted in the nuclear response of bringing in seven armed officers to escort them out of the conference?