Time to rally the troops against the antivaccine movement

Every so often, I think it’s worthwhile to try to use my powers (such as they are) for good. Actually, I like to think that I’m using my powers for good each and every day, but obviously there are some who disagree. In general, these people are cranks. We’re talking quacks, pseudoscientists, antivaccinationists, and various antiscience types. But I repeat myself. Right now, I see two things going on right now that could use some help from pro-science, pro-skepticism types.

First up, I found out a couple of days ago that Brian Deer will be in the U.S. next week. Specifically, he’ll be at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, where he will be speaking as part of the Distinguished Lecture Series in Life Sciences. There, he’ll be giving two talks, one on Thursday, October 4, entitled An Elaborate Fraud: The MMR Vaccine & Autism, and a second one on Friday, October 5, entitled Stiletto Journalism: Busting the Vaccine Scare. I saw Brian speak three years ago, and he’s quite good. So if you’re interested in the antivaccine movement and can find a way to make it to La Crosse on a weekday (admittedly a problem for a lot of us, even people who, unlike me, live within a reasonable drive of the town), it would be well worth your while to check out one or both of Brian’s talks.

If that’s not enough motivation, there’s this. The Dark Lord of Antivaccine Pseudoscience himself, Andrew Wakefield, will apparently be there on Thursday to…well, it’s not clear what, other than to whine:

Some who’ve had the misfortune of meeting Deer describe him as reptilian and repulsive. Others would describe him in less flattering terms. Setting the sleaze factor aside, Deer’s legacy of slander and libel signify a far grimier, foul and filthy place than most of us would care to venture. Deer is the invention, the dark underbelly, the hideous caricature of those who deny an MMR-autism connection in order to protect themselves. He assuages the conscience of those without one, and scrubs clean the crime scene. Vicious and small, Deer’s pious position is untenable and in short order he will be hunted to ground and brought to justice.

Soon the full truth will be uncovered, revealing Deer for what he is. In January Dr. Wakefield filed a defamation lawsuit against Deer, the BMJ, and Fiona Godlee, its editor. Currently under review by the 3rd Circuit Court in Texas, the question before proceeding to trial is: Does Texas have jurisdiction? We are extremely confident the appeals court will rule in Dr. Wakefield’s favor within the next few months.

Quick to anger (as only the guilty are), Deer is easily flustered, delusional, and fancies himself a dandy in a Dickensian sort of sense. With the grace of a sloth and his own worst enemy, Deer is the wannabe bon vivant whose future claim to fame will be as a case history at Harvard Law School about how not to act in front of a jury. In court his testimony will doom the BMJ and himself, and open the floodgates of suppressed corruption.


Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s Press Conference: 1 pm Thursday, October 4, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Exact location to be provided.

Brian Deer’s presentation schedule, location, and abstracts: click here.

Join us if you can – or for more information or to volunteer, please email [email protected]

In a few weeks we will have a complete update and analysis on the lawsuit.

It might be nice if local skeptical groups (La Crosse Area Freethought Society and La Crosse Secular Student Society, here’s your chance) stepped up to the plate with a little skeptical activism. Looking at the map, I see that there are also other cities within striking distance (i.e., less than 150 miles away or so), such as Minneapolis, home to the Minnesota Skeptics, and Madison, home of, appropriately enough, Madison Skeptics. It also wouldn’t surprise me if Wakefield tried to make trouble by crashing one of Deer’s talks. Rumor has it that he’s currently involved in making an antivaccine movie, although I can’t find out anything about it, which makes me unsure of the rumors. I can totally see Wakefield using this opportunity for some “dramatic footage.”

Finally, there’s the issue of AB 2109, a bill in California that would require parents to visit a doctor or other health care provider for informed consent about the consequences of not vaccinating before they could obtain a philosophical exemption to school vaccine mandates. It’s something I’ve written about multiple times, in particular the apocalyptic language from, of all people, Rob Schneider, who has compared AB 2109 to Nazi-ism and labeled it a violation of the Nuremberg Code. In any case, the bill passed both chambers of the California legislature and has been sitting on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. For some reason, Governor Brown has not yet signed the bill, and he’s under a lot of pressure to veto it. Antivaccinationists and Tea Party “health freedom” activists have teamed up to protest, and they’re planning a rally tomorrow:

Californians, if you want to make it at least as inconvenient to get a philosophical exemption as it is to get children vaccinated, if you want to decrease the number of nonmedical exemptions and thereby prevent the degradation of herd immunity that is occurring in your very own state, now’s the time to get active. Governor Brown needs to know that there is a lot of support for the bill and that there will be political consequences for vetoing it. That can only happen if you let him know. It would also be great to have some pro-vaccine demonstrators to counter what is likely to be a whole lot of antivaccine demonstrators in Sacramento tomorrow.