Antivaccine activists bully high school filmmakers over a student documentary about vaccines


There’s a certain category of posts that I like to call (to myself, anyway) “taking care of business” posts. Usually, it’s a post about something that I missed the first time around but has, for some reason, reappeared on my radar screen or something that I wish I had written about when it first showed up but didn’t to the point that I don’t care that the material is over a week old, which, let’s face it, might as well be a year old in blogging time. On the other hand, there’s still no time like the present, so let’s take care of some business. There is the added benefit that taking care of business in this case involves doing one of the things that Orac does best: opposing the antivaccine movement.

About a year and a half ago, I gave a shout out to a bunch of intrepid and talented teen film makers at Carlsbad High School (CHS) who were making a documentary about vaccines. The filmmakers were the Carlsbad High School broadcast class, and the student crew, with its producer Lisa Posard, was hard at work when last I mentioned this project. Quite predictably, the antivaccine movement was up in arms about this project, with its flying monkeys flinging their usual poo in the comments of a post on the school’s website about it. In any case, it wasn’t hard to note the contrast. I’ve blogged about some wretched antivaccine projects before. In particular, I’ve taken particular issue with The Greater Good, an antivaccine propaganda film masquerading as a “balanced” documentary. Its producer Leslie Manookian even managed to deceive Paul Offit and other pro-vaccine scientists into being interviewed for it without realizing that the final product was always intended to be antivaccine propaganda. It’s for that reason that I dubbed The Greater GoodExpelled! of the antivaccine movement.” (Expelled!, as you may recall, was a creationist attack on “Darwinism” in the form of a “documentary” whose producers managed to mask their intent so well that they got P.Z. Myers and Richard Dawkins to agree to be interviewed for the movie.)

Well, the fruits of the CHS students’ labor is finished, and if the trailer for their movie, Invisible Threat, is any indication, a bunch of teenagers got it right where a middle aged antivaccine crank got it so very, very wrong. Paul Offit approves:

The film’s student-producers came to this subject with no preconceived notions of what they would find. They interviewed experts, parents, and sometimes their own siblings, trying to get to the core of what the issue is really about and how it can reasonably be resolved.

They came to the only conclusion that one can come to when you know the science behind this issue: that the choice not to have one’s child vaccinated is a choice to put one’s child at unnecessary risk. What is interesting about this, and what distinguishes it from the other efforts to get at the same topic, is that it has a kind of “Emperor’s New Clothes” quality to it, which makes it really fresh and different.

I recommend this film. I suspect that very soon it will be available on the Internet for all to watch, but keep your eye out for Invisible Threat. Thank you very much.

There’s a famous quote by Karl Marx that says, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” Well, history is repeating itself, except that it was farce the first time, and it’s even more of a farce this time. Yes, you guessed it. Now that Invisible Threat is out and being screened, antivaccination loons are doing what they, unfortunately, do best, namely to attack these high school students as pawns of the pharmaceutical company. They do it because it’s what they do and it’s all they can do, given that they don’t have the evidence on their side and that vaccines, to the best of the ability of science to detect, do not cause autism. Last week, there appeared a press release, which was, as is so often the case, rapidly regurgitated over at that wretched hive of scum and antivaccine quackery other than The Huffington Post, namely Age of Autism. It was from Focus Autism, a group that describes itself as “dedicated to exposing the causes of the autism epidemic, specifically the role of vaccinations,” which should tell you all you need to know about it, particularly after looking at the website it sponsors, the woefully misnamed A Shot of Truth, which is chock full of the sort of pseudoscience, misinformation, and conspiracy mongering that’s par for the course among vaccine-autism cranks. Let’s just put it this way. If Jake Crosby’s newest best friend forever and antivaccine hero Brian Hooker is a “scientific advisor” for the group, you know it’s pure antivaccine pseudoscience.

So what about the press release? It’s despicable, even by antivaccine standards, and that’s saying a lot. It starts right out referencing a report from 2008 by everyone’s favorite former CBS News reporter, Sharyl Attkisson, who was known for being as antivaccine as antivaccine can be and abusing her position at CBS News to suck up to Andrew Wakefield and compete with David Kirby and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. for crankiest antivaccine crank, How independent are vaccine defenders?, which is more or less a massive pharma shill gambit writ large in neon letters. Yes, when a press release starts out citing Attkisson, you know it’s going to be bad, and this one is. And who is the evil pro-vaccine force pulling the strings of these impressionable teens? Oh, take a guess. Yep, it’s Every Child By Two (ECBT). Why? Because Paul Offit was an advisor and the producer was not one of the students. Except that much of the documentary was filmed during the summer of 2012, and the producer’s daughter, Camille Posard, graduated from CHS in 2012. So at the time of filming, her daughter was a very recent graduate of CHS and no doubt had worked on the project during her senior year in high school. I don’t see a problem with that, but then I’m not an antivaccine loon. Not any of this stops Focus Autism from attacking:

ECBT claims Invisible Threat was “produced by award-winning high school student filmmakers” associated with Carlsbad High School Television (CHSTV). However, the film’s executive producer, Lisa Posard, is not a Carlsbad student, but a parent. Film teacher Douglas Green is the film’s director and cameraman. And a woman conducting interviews for the film was “clearly not a student,” according to Dr. Shawn K. Centers, who was interviewed for the film.

Adding to the film’s controversy, Mr. Green has been accused of filming autistic children and their parents “under false pretenses.” Autism expert and pediatrician Dr. Centers said he and parents of his patients were misled to believe the purpose of the film was for students to learn about autism. “Only one student attended the shoot, and he participated very little,” said Centers. “I don’t think the student realized this was a vaccine propaganda film run by adults and that he was being used to gain entry to my office, my practice, my patients and their parents.” Dr. Centers later learned that Dr. Paul Offit­ ­­­- ECBT board member and millionaire vaccine developer for Merck, – is listed as the film’s “Scientific Technical Advisor.” Offit was also featured in the film, calling critics of vaccines “evil.”

I like it. Dr. Offit, pulling no punches. Of course, I don’t think most antivaccinationists are evil, but some of them are, and they most definitely are doing evil, most inadvertently, but evil nonetheless, which is why Barry Segal and his merry band of antivaccinationists find it necessary to attack teens and paint them as being pharma shills:

Although promoted as “unbiased” and “balanced,” Invisible Threat is “scripted with industry talking points,” according to Teri Arranga, executive director of AutismOne. Based on her viewing of the trailer, “the film appears to downplay the side effects of vaccines, which range from neurodevelopmental disorders to seizures to death.” Arranga continued, “There is no controversy that vaccines can cause injury, a fact incorporated into U.S. law and policy by the enactment of the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act.”

Barry Segal, philanthropist and founder of Focus Autism, said, “All of the deceptions involved in the making of this film are a good reminder of how the vaccine industry operates.” The film’s “national premier” in January was hosted by The Immunization Project, whose activities include pro-vaccination lobbying efforts. The film is sponsored by a local Rotary grant; Rotary International receives large grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a major investor in vaccines. The film is being promoted for student viewing and is approved by Common Core.

I love that last little flourish about how student viewing of the film is “approved by Common Core.” In fact, I chuckled out loud when I read that part. I don’t want to get into the whole issue of Common Core educational standards, as it’s complicated, and I’m not entirely sure where I stand. For my readers in other countries, though, I do feel obligated to point out that it’s an effort begun several years ago to develop, well, “common core” educational standards to be adopted by the states and somehow has become the topic of one of the biggest conspiracy theories out there about President Obama apparently wanting to “take over” education, the better to indoctrinate the next generation of leftists. Or something. I don’t want to dwell on it, but adding that little mention is, I must admit, pure genius. It’ll attract the anti-Common Core wingnuts. Of course, Segal accuses the students of being sponsored by the Gates Foundation as though that were a bad thing. It’s not.

So far, so bad, but it’s just standard antivaccine boilerplate and conspiracy mongering, and, other than the Common Core bon mot, not even particularly original or interesting antivaccine boilerplate or conspiracy mongering. What elevates what Segal has done to the level of pure despicability is this:

Focus Autism, which sponsors A Shot of Truth, is encouraging citizens to contact their legislators to counter ECBT’s public relations effort targeting legislators. An Action Alert was created by Focus Autism for this effort. Autism One joins Focus Autism in enlightening the public about Invisible Threat.

That “Action Alert” will send this text to the legislator of whoever clicks on it and then fills out some information:

You may have been asked to view Invisible Threat, a pro-vaccine film touted as having been “produced by award-winning high school student filmmakers.”

According to the film’s credits, it was directed and produced not by high school students, but by adults. Every Child By Two (ECBT), who’s hosting the screening and is aggressively promoting the film, has received millions in funding from pharmaceutical companies. The film’s ‘Scientific Technical Advisor,’ Dr. Paul Offit, is a millionaire vaccine developer and the leading spokesman for the vaccine industry. ECBT’s former treasurer was a Wyeth executive.

The film is not “unbiased” and “balanced,” as advertised. It’s sponsored by a local Rotary grant; Rotary International receives large grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a major investor in vaccines. The grant, Offit’s involvement and ECBT’s relentless promotion of the film are evidence that Invisible Threat is simply pharma’s latest PR effort.

PhD biochemist Brian Hooker said ‘Invisible Threat’ attempts to refute the vaccine-autism link and the existence of over one hundred published, peer-reviewed studies that give evidence for an association between serious vaccine complications and the development of autism in some children.”

Instead of viewing vaccine industry propaganda, I invite you to listen to an interview of a U.S. Congressman comparing corruption in the CDC’s vaccine safety studies to SEC’s handling of the Bernie Madoff scandal at the link below:

One notes that the Rotary grant used to make the film was unrestricted.

See what I mean. Focus Autism is asking antivaccine activists to complain to their legislators about the students’ efforts. These kids faced major challenges when making their film and are to be commended, while the antivaccine loons trying to harass them are nothing more than, yes, bullies trying to beat up on a bunch of high school students to promote their agenda to endanger public health.