I must admit. No matter how long I’ve been dealing with the antivaccine movement, in particular the pseudoscience, misinformation, and sometimes outright lies they use to demonize vaccines, I can never quite understand the profound persecution complex that so many of them have. After all, they lash out with so much vehemence and outright nastiness at their perceived enemies, trying to harass them at their jobs and get them fired, for instance, and launching Internet smear campaigns against them. That is why I find it disingenuous in the extreme when they then turn around and clutch at the status of victims, trying to portray themselves to the world as poor innocents, persecuted by, well, it’s never entirely clear who is supposed to be persecuting them: pharmaceutical companies, the government (particularly the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration, the former of which promotes public health programs involving vaccination and the latter of which tries vainly to shut down the quackery to which a subset of them subject their children), and, apparently, the entire medical establishment. Of course, all that these entities are trying to do is to protect their children against infectious diseases that can cause debilitation and even death, but from their reaction you would think that they were trying to feed their children to wild animals.
Every so often, however, I find an article or a post from an antivaccinationist that limns their frequent mindset that I feel it worth examining. Just such a post appeared on the blog of the Australian equivalent of antivaccine groups, such as Generation Rescue or the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), namely the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN). It is by an anonymous guest poster who is apparently so afraid of the verbal assaults of proponents of science down under that she does not wish to reveal her name. Now, far be it from me, someone who has blogged under a pseudonym for several years, to criticize anyone for deciding not to reveal her real name online. It might well be true that right now my real identity is about the worst kept secret in the skeptical and medical blogosphere, but early in my blogging career it was not so. However, sooner or later, the Internet reveals all, and so it did with me beginning less than six months after I started this blog.
Be that as it may, the title of the post is ‘Anti Vaxxer’ the new dirty word? Of course, I would tend to answer that it is a dirty word, and that’s how it should be, for those who seek to avoid and demonize vaccination directly contribute to the degradation of public health, as well as the illness and even death of children. It is thus appropriate that “antivaxer” should be an epithet, although, as I have argued before it is an epithet that should not be used too easily and quickly. It is a term that should be reserved for those who really are antivaccine, a term that appears to apply to this anonymous poster, given her emphasis on “vaccine injury” and how dangerous she thinks vaccines are. Moreover, this “antivaxer” is very, very unhappy that anyone would call her an “antivaxer”:
Our history is full of people using terms to incite hostility, fear and resentment against other groups, and now is the age of the ‘Anti Vaxxer’ – the title given to people who question the safety and in some cases the necessity of vaccinations.
If you look in the newspapers or on the internet, you will see that people who question vaccine safety are ridiculed, condemned and discriminated against on quite a regular basis. You might think, “Surely this behaviour is not promoted by supposedly intelligent, rational beings in this day and age?”, but unfortunately you would be wrong.
I’m not exactly sure what she means by “discriminated against.” Criticism of anti-scientific and pseudoscientific views that endanger children is not the same thing as “discriminating” against her. Moreover, as is the case with everything, one reaps what one sows. Spread pseudoscience, and you will have criticism heaped upon you in proportion to the amount and ridiculousness of the pseudoscience you spread and in direct proportion to the danger and harm it can cause. That is the reason why And antivaccinationists spread misinformation that can and does cause an incredible amount of harm.
In fact, I’m rather surprised at just how mild the criticisms were that so offended this anonymous blogger. All the statements say is that babies die because of the antivaccine movement, which is true, and there’s a sarcastic statement from a pediatrician who said, “We’re appalled at how many kids are getting whooping cough because the chardonnay set and the alternatives don’t vaccinate their children.” Let’s just put it this way. Decreases in vaccine uptake degrade herd immunity and lead to outbreaks of infectious diseases. The antivaccine movement spreads fear, uncertainty, and doubt about vaccines, discouraging parents from vaccinating based on bogus claims that vaccines cause autism, asthma, chronic illnesses. Some of them even claim that shaken baby syndrome is really vaccine injury or that vaccines can cause sudden infant death syndrome. (There is, of course, no good scientific evidence to support either claim.) Yet, these simple observations lead this anonymous blogger to complain:
When did raising your child with love, respect, a healthy diet, plenty of fresh air, sunshine and exercise, while limiting their exposure to toxins become a crime?
If you listen to what these people are saying, anyone who does not vaccinate their child is a money grabbing, disease causing, child killer.
Straw man much? No one I’m aware of views “anyone” who does not vaccinate her child as a money-grubbing, disease-causing child killer. It is, however, appropriate to point out that such parents, regardless of motivation (which in most cases is genuinely out of concern for their child based on the mistaken and pseudoscientific belief that vaccines cause all sorts of horrible conditions and diseases that they do not, in fact, cause) are doing something harmful to children and public health. That is not an insult, nor is it a personal attack. It is a statement based on science and a plea to listen to reason. It is not directed at parents who “question” vaccines, particularly those who question them based on the misinformation they have encountered on the Internet or elsewhere; it is rather directed at parents who actively spread antivaccine misinformation and pseudoscience. Nor is it directed at parents who raise their children with “love, respect, a healthy diet, plenty of fresh air, sunshine, and exercise, while limiting their exposure to toxins.” Rather, it is parents who see imaginary “toxins” where they are not (as in vaccines) and as a result do not vaccinate, with some of them even trying to frighten other parents into not vaccinating.
This particular post can at first seem very damning to Bowditch, but context is everything. It is rather interesting that this anonymous blogger links to an AVN post about Peter Bowditch by Australian antivaccine maven Meryl Dorey as evidence that those of us who point out that the antivaccine movement endangers children are calling any parent who doesn’t vaccinate a “baby killer.” I find this disingenuous in the extreme, given that the post was about Peter Bowditch’s righteously harsh criticism of Meryl Dorey for having so vigorously defended a real baby killer. I’m referring to Alan Yurko, a man who shook his girlfriend’s baby to death and then became the darlin gof the antivaccine movement, who tried to argue that the cause of the baby’s injuries were not shaken baby syndrome, but rather “vaccine injury.” Meryl Dorey was one of Yurko’s most vocal supporters. No, this was not the case of “pseudoskeptics” or nasty skeptics calling antivaccinationists “baby killers” indiscriminatedly. It was a case of Peter Bowditch calling one particular group of antivaccinationists, those who went out of their way to support Alan Yurko and demonize his critics, supporters of a baby killer, which they were. They supported him with lies, pseudoscience, and misinformation.
All of this, to this anonymous blogger, apparently constitutes “discrimination” and “persecution:
Another very disturbing aspect to come out of this portrayal of ‘anti vaxxers’ is that the media, government and medical vaccine advocates are working together in promoting an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality. These groups are actively condoning discrimination and in turn, persecution of the Australian Vaccination Network, it’s founder Meryl Dorey and anyone associated with them. Is this what our true Aussie spirit is about now? Be there for your mate but only if he vaccinates.
“Persecution”? Seriously? The relentless stream of invective that emanates from the AVN and our American antivaccine groups makes what I say, anyway, seem truly tame by comparison. In fact, I used to be a lot more sarcastic, a lot more “insolent” but have apparently mellowed somewhat with age. Certainly my not-so-Respectful Insolence rarely reaches the heights (or lows) that it once did, although it appears still to be sufficiently amusing to read that I still have respectable traffic. Be that as it may, this all drips of the proverbial pot calling the kettle black. All of this criticism, apparently, is designed to lay the groundwork for…repression:
What these harassers of ‘anti-vaxxers’ do not realise (or maybe they do) is that they are laying the foundation for persecution and repression of people that are just trying to raise their families in the healthiest way possible.
The path to repression begins with many small steps. It starts with the gradual wearing away of someone else’s rights through restriction of employment, public education, and government entitlements. Then comes ostracism whilst creating fear, hostility and resentment towards the group in question from the rest of society. Not too soon after that, segregation comes in to the mix.
This anonymous blogger wants to link her “struggle” with that of oppressed minorities. There is, however, a huge difference. Antivaccinationists are being criticized not for what they are, as most minorities are, but rather for what they choose to do: Not vaccinating while spreading fear and lies about vaccination in order to persuade others not to vaccinate as well, thus decreasing vaccine uptake and chipping away at herd immunity. It is entirely legitimate to criticize people for their actions, particularly when their actions endanger public health. Yes, sometimes the discussion gets heated, but I wonder if this anonymous blogger is aware that the woman whom she seems to admire, the woman who allowed her to post her whine to the AVN blog, has advocated contacting the parents of babies who died of SIDS in order to find out if the babies had been vaccinated, all in the service of trying to “prove” that vaccines cause SIDS. This is particularly despicable in light of Dorey’s previous advocacy for a child killer, all to prove it was the evil vaccines, not the murderer, who killed the child. Yes, Dorey saw no trouble making common cause with a man as despicable as Alan Yurko or with badgering the parents of babies lost to SIDS. I wonder whether this anonymous blogger will criticize her for “persecution” and lack of civility. More importantly, will she admit that Bowditch had a point in castigating Dorey for taking this vile position?
Admittedly, the rhetoric can sometimes get heated, but in my experience the rhetoric coming from the antivaccine side tends to make the rhetoric of those supporting the science of vaccination look downright wimpy by comparison. One also wonders if this anonymous mother finds the sort of rhetoric regularly engaged in by her erstwhile allies, complete with pharma shill gambit, references to the KKK and, yes, remarks like “we don’t care if your child dies, as long as we inject” and wishes for skeptics to die, to be justified. However, the only purpose of posts like the one by the anonymous blogger is to paint the antivaccine movement as unfairly maligned to the point of being persecuted and to deflect legitimate criticism of the harm it does and deny its culpability in harming children. It’s the victim mentality writ large.