An antivaccine “Thinker” calls for a boycott

There is a perception that strikes me as common enough to be considered “common wisdom” that antivaccine views are much more common on the “left” of the political spectrum than they are on the “right.” I’ve discussed on multiple occasions how this perceived common wisdom is almost certainly wrong, or at least so incomplete as to be, for all intents and purposes, wrong. Frequently, the accusation that the left is antivaccine, usually coupled with the stereotype of the crunchy, affluent, liberal elite living on the coasts being antivaccine, is often thrown back by conservatives stung by justifiable criticism that today’s conservative have a nasty antiscience streak, as evidenced by the prevalence of anthropogenic global climate change denialism, anti-evolution views, and denial of science when it comes to women’s health so common among conservatives. In essence, it’s a tu quoque response, in which conservatives retort, “You have your antiscience fringe, too,” such as antivaccinationists and anti-GMO (genetically modified organisms) nuts.

Unfortunately, as I’ve described on multiple occasions, there is no compelling evidence that antivaccine views are any more prevalent among liberals than they are among conservatives. Indeed, antivaccine beliefs span the political spectrum from left to right and everything in between. On the left, there are antivaccinationists who fall prey to the naturalistic fallacy, believing vaccines to be an affront to nature, plus a distrust of big pharma, while on the right there are antivaccinationists whose antivaccine views derive from “health freedom” beliefs that are often a combination of the naturalistic fallacy with good, old-fashioned libertarian contrariness that leads to an intense belief that the government shouldn’t be able to tell them what to do. “No forced vaccination” easily teams up with conspiracy theories about the government and suspicions about public health efforts, which is why antivaccine views are quite at home among libertarians.

The reason I briefly recapped how there is no strong predilection among liberals or conservatives, compared to each other, to fall for antivaccine views is because the stereotype that antivaccine views are more prevalent on the left serves as the basis of an unintentionally gut-bustingly funny rant from what appears to be the newest member of that wine loving, vaccine hating, coffee klatch of mommy warriors for whom the terms Dunning-Kruger effect and arrogance of ignorance were coined. I’m referring, of course, to the other wretched hive of scum and quackery, the one fueled by a combination of hubris, quackery, and wine, namely the Thinking Moms’ Revolution. In it, an apparently new member of the boozy crew who prefers Belgian ale to wine and going by the ‘nym of Karma, disappointed at finding no support for the antivaccine quackery that provides the raison d’être for TMR, demands that her fellow antivaccine moms Stand Up and Refuse To Be Counted. It’s even part 1, meaning that there’s more hilarity to come. (I can’t wait.) It’s tempting to go for the really obvious joke that Karma’s a bitch, but in reality Karma is really, really hurt that the media, particularly the left wing media, has been so very, very mean to antivaccinationists lately, eventually finding her way to the grandmommy of all liberal publications (or at least one of the most famous), Mother Jones. Karma was not pleased at what she found:

In my quest to find a progressive, non-biased media presence I went to the most notable sources of independent journalism. Mother Jones is a publication with a rich history, referenced on their website ” . . . Award-winning Mother Jones magazine is a project of the non-profit Foundation for National Progress (FNP), founded to educate the American public by investigating and reporting on important social and political issues of our time. The FNP launched Mother Jones magazine in 1976 and MotherJones.com in 1993 to bring uncompromising reporting to a broad national audience.”

Intrigued, I then did a internet search on the terms “Mother Jones vaccines” and was surprised to find a long history of negative posts that, to my dismay, did not provide a balanced, independent discussion on their pages.

Just for yucks, I did the very same search, and indeed what came up consisted mainly of solidly pro-vaccine articles. One of them included the interview with an antivaccine pediatrician in the Bay area called Dr. Stacia Kenet Lansman, which I described in a post just this month. This particular poor excuse for a pediatrician thinks that vaccines are “messing with nature.” Actually, I thought that the article, if anything, was a bit too sympathetic towards Dr. Kenet Lansman. Many of the rest of the articles appeared to share one thing in common, namely Chris Mooney’s name in the byline, either as the author or co-author (although, long before Mooney joined Mother Jones, one other was written by Arthur Allen). In any case, it is a truly welcome development that over the last couple of years, Mother Jones has been generally rational with respect to vaccines, and the “Thinking Mom” named Karma doesn’t like it at all.

Still, she does manage to come up with one rather interesting observation. She heads on over to MJ’s media kit, including this document, this document, and this document. Basically, it indicates that MJ readers are in general educated (90% attended college), pretty affluent, and are into a whole lot of woo:

  • 78% of readers buy organic and natural products
  • 43% of readers prefer using alternative methods of medicine/healing
  • 86% of readers consider healthy eating and good nutrition important
  • 45% of readers shop at natural foods or health store at least once per week
  • 84% use vitamin or mineral supplements
  • 43% prefer alternative medicine/healing over prescription medication
  • 39% use homeopathic/herbal remedies

Now, if there’s one (sort of) not nutty thing that Karma writes about MJ, it’s that she not unreasonable infers from the reader profile above that a lot of MJ readers are likely to be antivaccine like her. Given the known association between interest in “natural health” and “alternative methods of healing” and antivaccine views, it’s not such a leap to make that deduction:

Notice anything unusual? The very demographic that Mother Jones relies heavily on to attract advertising dollars is the same one they disparage on a regular basis on their website that draws 8 million views per month. According to their own research, 40% of their readers have a household income in excess of $75k, 43% prefer alternative medicine, homeopathic treatments and herbal remedies. More than likely, this coveted market share also exercises their vaccine exemption rights and are educated consumers when it comes to health-related matters.

Of course, it might just be possible—likely, even—that the antivaccine fringe that’s fringy enough to read, much less write for, TMR is such a small proportion of MJ’s readership that it doesn’t concern itself overmuch with winning their business. That would be perfectly reasonable, if true. Moreover, perhaps MJ sees part of its mission to educate its readership, even those that might have antivaccine tendencies. Given the mild tone of the articles (this is Chris Mooney, after all, and I’ve gently remonstrated with him before for being a bit to—shall we say?—optimistic about the possibility of building bridges to the antivaccine movement). MJ articles tend to be pro-vaccine these days, but they are about gentle about dealing with the antivaccine movement as you can imagine. Yet, Karma is clutching her pearls for dear life, so much so that she extends her complaints about how the mainstream media portray the antivaccine movement to other sources, such as NPR, TIME, Slate.com, Salon.com, Forbes.com, and Newsweek:

In the interest of keeping things fair and balanced, Mother Jones is not the only example of attracting an educated and desirable readership to draw advertisers only to court controversial blogging tactics that seek to control the flow of information as well as distort it. The list is actually quite long. Think NPR is above these tactics? I wagging fingerdid until I read their “Shots” blog. Financial publications including Forbes and The Wall Street Journal have joined the fray. Slate, Forbes and Salon have latched on to the subject of parents and vaccinations, wagging their collective finger at anyone that disagrees, and their elders, Time and Newsweek, are the grandparents who want an in with the cool kids and their money by upping the ante in regards to outright inflammatory hate speech as evidenced in posts during April 2014.

Hate speech? Seriously? This from someone who identifies with Generation Rescue and Age of Autism, both of which regularly lay down rhetoric far more inflammatory and insulting towards their proclaimed enemies (anyone who opposes them and their desire to demonize vaccines as harmful and a cause of autism). I mean, seriously. AoA, for instance, is a source that Photoshopped the heads of Paul Offit, Steve Novella, and other defenders of science into a painting of a Thanksgiving dinner where the main course was a baby. These are people who regularly deride Dr. Offit as Dr. PrOffit.” These are people who liken the vaccination program to the Holocaust (or the Titanic or the Oklahoma City bombing). Now, that‘s hate speech.

So what’s Karma’s answer? I’m sure we’ll hear more about it in part 2, but for now, she thinks that antivaccinationists like herself should cease to patronize media outlets that criticize the antivaccine movement. That is, of course, her right and the right of antivaccinationists everywhere. (America, dammit!) She also advocates not clicking, sharing, or commenting on such articles. Of course, that would make it a lot more difficult for, say, AoA’s “media editor” Anne Dachel, to get the message out to her flying monkey patrol to fly in and dive bomb the comments of pro-vaccine articles with the poo they fling.

Come to think of it, it might not be so bad if the “Thinkers” succeeded at this. Think of it. No more waves of antivaccine stupid flowing over the comments of pro-science articles about vaccines in online forums and comment threads! Wouldn’t that be awesome. Maybe I shouldn’t be so dismissive of Karma’s effort. After all, it’s incredibly unlikely that there are enough hard core antivaccine activists like Karma and her fellow “Thinkers” that MJ or Salon.com or NPR or Slate.com would miss them, at least from a financial standpoint. There are, however, more than enough to turn the comment threads after widely read pro-science articles into cesspits of pseudoscience and antivaccine quackery. Maybe I should encourage her. I’m sure that Dorit Reiss, lilady, and all the other commenters who have the guts and persistence to wade into those comment threads would be more than happy to apply their skills at combatting the antivaccine movement to other venues, and I wouldn’t mind not feeling obligated to blog about antivaccine pseudoscience so often. Win-win!