The promotion of an antivaccine propaganda movie continues apace

I’ll give the Canary Party credit for one thing, if credit you can consider it. It’s persistent in its promotion of antivaccine pseudoscience.

Somehow, someone at Current TV decided that it would be a good idea to show an utterly unbalanced, utterly cranky, utterly propagandistic “documentary” (The Greater Good) that seeks to demonize vaccines as the cause of autism, neurodevelopmental disorders, autoimmune disease, and, apparently tooth decay, too. (I’m joking about the last one–but just barely.) I wrote about its misinformation, cherry picking, and relying on anecdotes rather than science in great depth.

In order to get parents in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District in California to watch, the Canary Party first trotted out the actual school board president, Greg Marvel, who wrote an utterly credulous letter touting the “balance” of the movie (balance that is utterly false balance). Next out of the box came a public health nurse by the name of Nancy Sheets, who wrote a similarly fawning letter about the movie. I still haven’t decided if she’s that credulous or whether she was sucking up to Marvel as the school board president. Maybe a little of both. So what’s next? Easy! Trot out a pediatrician!

The pediatrician the Canary Party trotted out is named Dr. Janet Levatin, and this is her letter:

Re: The film “The Greater Good”


To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Janet Levatin, MD, and I have been a board-certified pediatrician since 1989. I attended the George Washington University School of Medicine, graduating in 1982, and completed a pediatric residency at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. I have been practicing pediatrics as an attending-level physician since 1986, and have been following the issues of vaccinations and parental consent for many years.

I had the opportunity to see the film “The Greater Good” several months ago. I found the film very informative and thought-provoking in its discussion of the development of vaccines and vaccine policy. The information is well presented, and offers a balanced discussion of the issues. The opinions of neuroscientists and physicians who raise pertinent questions about current vaccine policy are presented; additionally, time is given to medical professionals who strongly advocate for vaccine policy as it exists.

Parents are constantly making decisions that influence the health and safety of their children. As a pediatrician I encourage all parents to inform themselves fully and to discuss many issues with their children’s health care providers, especially elective procedures such as vaccination. “The greater Good” is an excellent educational resource that parents can use as they prepare to discuss immunization plans with their pediatricians.

Janet Levatin, MD

Are these people like Fox News and the right wing media, all reading from the same talking points handed down periodically? Once again, we see a health care professional touting “balance” in the movie, when it’s the most wretched kind of false “balance,” in which pseudoscience is presented side-by-side with real science as though it were as credible as the real science, with the intent of–obviously–making the pseudoscience seem credible to people who aren’t familiar with the science behind the issues being discussed. As I pointed out at the time, The Greater Good is a lot like the anti-evolution movie Expelled! that way.

Of course, one thing that Dr. Levatin neglects to mention can be found on her website. Click on the link and you’ll see Dr. Levatin proclaim that her practice is “holistic pediatrics” and homeopathy for children and adults. Yes, Dr. Levatin is a physician who has gone over to the dark side in the worst way imaginable other than becoming a reiki master or a faith healer. She’s become a homeopath. But it’s even worse than that. Not only is she a homeopath, but she works with one of the leaders of the antivaccine movement at her “holistic” clinic in the Cleveland area. We’re talking Sherri Tenpenny, DO, baby and her Tenpenny Integrative Medical Center.

In fact, right there on Tenpenny’s website, I easily found an article by Levatin titled Why Do Doctors Push Vaccines? The article a veritable cornucopia of antivaccine tropes about pediatricians, including claims that they push vaccines because they’re too simple and lazy to learn anything but the very basics, leading the to “robotically” push vaccines. The, of course, Levatin thinks there’s a huge financial incentive. Then, of course, she can’t resist confusing correlation with causation:

Most physicians no doubt believe they are contributing to the health of vaccinated individuals and promoting the greater good of society. Few, if any, connect the deterioration of our nation’s health with the bloated vaccination schedule that now jabs 40 doses of 16 vaccines into tiny bodies by five years of age. Indeed, more recently trained doctors may look at a truly healthy child as an anomaly. Their only experience has been treating children with diseases that are vaccine-induced but somehow thought to be part of “normal development.” When did doctors start believing that speech delays, sensory-integration disorders, asthma and eczema are a normal part of childhood? Why have doctors – and parents – accepted that OT, PT and speech therapy are a “normal” part of growing up?

Or maybe, according to Levatin, it’s all fear:

Even if they are not fans of vaccines, many doctors give vaccines out of fear. They do not want to question authority or challenge professional organizations and licensing bodies, such as state medical boards. From the very beginning of medical education, bright, aspiring medical students, interns and residents are taught to do as they are told, follow orders and not confront the status quo. Doctors-in-training who challenge the system or dare to think independently are often punished with more work or publically humiliated in front of their peers. Early on, they get the message they better tow the Party Line if they want to survive. Later, when in their individual practices, doctors who buck the system and don’t vaccinate, or vaccinate less aggressively, often suffer penalties such as losing hospital privileges, being dropped from insurance company rosters or being ostracized by their peers.

Yep, according to Levitan, pediatricians push vaccines not because vaccines have arguably saved more lives than any other medical intervention–and not by a little. And it’s certainly not because vaccines are incredibly safe and effective. Oh no. Pediatricians push vaccines, according to Levitan, out of a combination of greed, blindness to The Truth, fear, adherence to the status quo, and a desire to dominate that leads them not to tolerate parents who question vaccines.

Like Marvel, Levitan is more than a little disingenuous in her letter, too. In it, she characterizes herself as “following the issues of vaccinations and parental consent for many years.” She also brags about how she “encourages all parents to inform themselves fully and to discuss many issues with their children’s health care providers.” Yet, a brief glance at her bio on Tenpenny’s website, we find that she has been a Homeopathic Master Clinician for over ten years and that she “regularly refers children for chiropractic, craniosacral therapy, allergy elimination, and other modalities.”

In other words, she’s a quack, in my not-so-humble “insolent” opinion.

More importantly, though, for purposes of this discussion, Levitan–shall we say?–understated her “skepticism” about vaccines. In fact, she didn’t mention it at all. But, right in her bio for Tenpenny’s clinic, we find:

Throughout her training Dr. Janet disagreed with much of what she observed in the conventional medical practice, including overuse of medications, unwholesome hospital nutrition, and virtually nonexistent methods for true prevention and health promotion. Since seeing more than one case of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) after infant vaccination in the 1980s, she has been an outspoken physician against the over-vaccination of children.

Funny, but we didn’t see anything about this in her letter. I wonder why. Oh, I know. Could it be because she wanted to represent herself as a completely mainstream, science-based doctor, the better to make her praise of The Greater Good and its “balance” seem to be coming from your basic conventional pediatrician rather than from an antivaccine homeopath who does not practice science-based medicine. On second thought, pointing out that a homeopath is antivaccine and doesn’t practice science-based medicine is a bit redundant. Oh, well…

Levatin’s credulous and disingenuous letter appears to be strike three by the Canary Party in its attempt to persuade the parents of San Ramon Valley Unified School District to tune in to antivaccine propaganda. But they’re not doing just that. The Canary Party appears to be pulling out all the stops in that it’s now pushing what it calls The Greater Good Recommendation Kit. In it are a bunch of PDFs and Word documents full of promotion for the movie, faux “facts” about vaccination based on cherry picked studies, confusing correlation with causation, and other favorite antivaccine tropes.

Over the last three or four days, the Canary Party has been promoting The Greater Good with increasing intensity, all in an effort to try to sell it to the parents in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District. One wonders if Kent Heckenlively, who is a science teacher there, thinks the vaccination rates in his school district are too high and is actively trying to lower them by finding like-minded people in his district and pushing this movie. At least it’s only airing once.