How “they” view “us” one more time: Poor, poor, pitiful Dan Olmsted

Just three days ago, I updated my ongoing series How “They” View “Us.” This time around, I used Mike Adams’ likening of various pro-science activists, including Steve Novella and myself, among others, to Nazis and compiling what appeared to be a hit list. In the process, I also discussed the antivaccine movement, in particular Age of Autism regular Kent Heckenlively’s fantasies of being Aragorn, son of Arathorn, doing battle with the forces of Mordor at the Black Gate. (I also just recalled in the past that he’s likened his struggle to that of Ann Frank in the past as well.) In both cases, that of Mike Adams and that of Kent Heckenlively, “they” (advocates of pseudoscience and quackery) view “us” (defenders of science) as pure evil. Only the choice of metaphors differed. Adams compared us to Nazis, while Heckenlively envisioned us as the all-powerful, all-evil Dark Lord from a classic epic fantasy novel turned into a movie trilogy. Obviously, they, by contrast, were the heros.

Just yesterday, I saw more of the same from a different denizen of that wretched hive of scum and quackery, but from a different angle. Dan “Where are the autistic Amish?” Olmsted, he who appears to have made up the claim that the Amish don’t vaccinated and don’t get autism out of whole cloth based on his own faulty reporting, is apparently very, very unhappy that his fellows are being criticized for harassing a bunch of high school student moviemakers. It’s the same group of student filmmakers whom I praised for their efforts to make a film about vaccines and vaccine rejectionism and whose efforts resulted in a pro-vaccine film. That film, Invisible Threat, has riled the antivaccine movement, leading to attacks and a press release that accused the students of, basically, being tools of adults with an agenda.

Most recently, Kevin Drum noted that a screening of Invisible Threat had resulted in “a flurry of frightening phone calls and Internet comments directed at CHSTV.” As a result, Drum noted that “thanks to the McCarthyite cretins in the murderous vaccinations-cause-autism movement, to this day the documentary has barely been seen outside the confines of the school.” It was that bit about “McCarthyite cretins” (referring to Jenny McCarthy, of course) and the “murderous vaccinations-cause-autism movement” did not sit well with Olmsted, who melted down:

I’ve had it with the anti-American bile spewing from that leftist rag Mother Jones magazine – inciting murderous jihadis. These cretins need to shut up and stop killing people.

Oh wait, that’s not what I really wanted to say. I wanted to say, the language being used against vaccine safety advocates is really getting out of control, and a recent example is Mother Jones, which referred this week to the “McCarthyite cretins in the murderous vaccinations-cause-autism movement.” (Jenny, meet Joe.)

Sounds a bit harsh when their own rhetoric is flung back at ‘em, doesn’t it!

Not since the White House warned Americans to “watch what they say, watch what they do” in the wake of 9/11 – before starting the stupidest, longest, most ruinous wars in U.S. history, having cowed most of the press and Congress into submission – has there been a moment like this.

Egged on by the “vaccines uber alles” forces, know-nothing folks like Mother Jones’ blogger Kevin Drum are stepping up the intemperate language to “baby killer” levels not seen since Bill Gates laid that one on Andy Wakefield. (These levels are likely to rise again with RFK Jr.’s new book, out next week, driving them into frenzy.)

Pot, meet kettle. It’s not as though Olmsted has exactly been temperate in his vicious attacks on those whom he perceives as his enemies, such as Paul Offit, Kathleen Seidel, and others. His talent for hyperbole is undiminished as well. After all, it is a bit ridiculous to compare a writer for a magazine writing something a little over-the-top about attacks on high school students about a vaccine movie and something Bill Gates said about Andrew Wakefield to the hysteria that helped fuel one of dumbest wars in our history, but Olmsted’s only getting started:

There’s been a lot of talk recently about parallels between 1914 and now, 100 years later. Here’s another one – as war fever built, free speech was suppressed under the Espionage Act. President Wilson even tried to criminalize criticism of the president. I’m sure he thought that opposing entry into the war would cost lives. Instead it probably cost us a century more of constant war.

Calling us anti-vaccine because we want a safer, saner vaccine schedule and are highly critical of current government policy is like calling Mother Jones anti-American because it wants a safer, saner country and is highly critical of current government policy.

Olmsted might have had a germ of a point there, as overwrought as it is, except for one thing. Dan Olmsted is antivaccine. AoA is antivaccine. Jenny McCarthy is antivaccine. They might have the self-image of not being antivaccine (again, remember my whole point about how they view themselves and heroic and “us” as evil), but just because they have that self-image does not make it true. Indeed, over the years, I’ve explained time and time again why the claim, which I first heard from Jenny McCarthy, that antivaccinationists are “not antivaccine but rather “pro-safe vaccine” or “fighting for vaccine safety” are nonsensical self-delusions or outright lies. It’s one of the tactics and tropes of the antivaccine movement, repeated by everyone from Barbara Loe Fisher to Jenny McCarthy to, yes, Dan Olmsted. A variant of this is to liken vaccines to cars and say that “I’m not ‘anti-car,’ I just want safer cars.” That’s not a good analogy. A better equivalent would be if they demanded absolute safety of cars and refused to use them unless GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, et al swear that they’ll never be injured in a car crash, which is exactly what Dan Olmsted does.

As if to demonstrate the truth of that observation, Olmsted proceeds to repeat the same old antivaccine nonsense that he’s been repeating all these years, just with a new twist. For example, this time, instead of the Amish, he invokes Orthodox Jewish and Arab communities:

The evidence for lower autism rates in less vaccinated populations keeps rolling in – and rolling off the backs of the media and medical establishment.

Thanks to AOA’s Adriana Gamondes for spotting this March article in the Times of Israel: “In Israel, a lower percentage of ultra-Orthodox and Arabic children are diagnosed with autism compared with the general population — and no one is quite sure why.

“That pattern, which is mirrored in Aboriginal populations in Canada, was the subject of discussion by autism researchers from the two countries at a Hebrew University symposium this week. One thing is certain, they said — when it comes to autism in both Israel and Canada, not enough is known.”

We’ve met Adriana Gamondes. She’s basically the caricature of the libertarian who’s into “health freedom” and is rabidly antivaccine. In any case, Olmsted is clearly referring to this article, which does indeed describe how autism prevalance is much lower in areas where Orthodox Jews and Arabs live, but anyone who’s paid attention to autism prevalence would know that this could well be due to less screening, fewer services, and less awareness, plus, perhaps, diagnostic substitution. In other words, it’s the same ol’, same ol’.

In any case, to Olmsted, the pushback against antivaccine pseudoscience couldn’t possibly be because antivaccine pseudoscience has contributed to declining vaccine uptake in pockets of the country where vaccination rates have fallen low enough to degrade herd immunity sufficiently to lead to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable infectious diseases like the measles. It has to be a “hate speech.” As I’ve pointed out before, this seems to be a new trend that I’ve noticed among antivaccinationists, to label criticism as “hate speech” or to hysterically liken it to things like the hysteria over 9/11, to Nazis, or to bullying. Poor Olmsted. He views himself as persecuted and the pro-vaccine, pro-science bloggers and writers as the “persecutors,” but doesn’t seem to realize that freedom of speech does not mean freedom of consequences due to that speech.