Raging Bullsh*t, part 2: J. B. Handley enters the fray to defend Robert De Niro’s antivaccine stylings

J.B. Handley is an antivaccine activist, founder of the mercury militia “autism biomed”-loving group Generation Rescue, and apparent discoverer of the original clueless antivaccine celebrity Jenny McCarthy, who became president of the organization he had founded. It was a position from which McCarthy proceeded to do her best to drive down vaccination rates by publicly spewing antivaccine misinformation, all the while parroting the standard talking point that antivaccine activists like to trot out to counter charges that they are antivaccine. Indeed, it was arguably she who made this talking point famous: “I’m not ‘antivaccine.’ I’m pro-safe vaccine.” Many variants exist, such as, “I’m for vaccine safety,” which is the one that Robert De Niro used to defend his bypassing the rules of his own Tribeca Film Festival to have Andrew Wakefield’s now infamous propaganda-fest (or, as Skeptical Raptor likes to call it, fraudumentary), VAXXED: From Cover-up to Catastrophe screened at Tribeca. Ultimately, De Niro was forced to withdraw VAXXED from Tribeca because of the furor its inclusion caused, even admitting that he did it because he was concerned that the controversy was damaging the film festival, a move that predictably set the Internet alight with cries of “Conspiracy!” from antivaccinationists. Back in the day, J.B. Handley used to show up on this blog in the comments on a fairly regular basis, but since has simply come to hate me so much that he regularly repeats lies about me. His “bull in a china shop” demeanor in which he takes General George S. Patton’s, motto “L’attaque, toujours l’attaque” to a ridiculous (and stupid) extreme, combined with his extreme misogyny, of course, is one reason why Handley is so lovable.

For whatever reason, J. B. Handley has been relatively quiet for a long time about vaccines. Perhaps it was as a result of extreme embarrassment over the “I am Bonnie Offit” fiasco. True, he did resurface last fall with his risibly clueless series, “An Angry Father’s Guide to Vaccine-Autism Science,” in which he laid the usual misinformation and misinterpretation of studies down about the measles vaccine, vaccine-autism pseudoscience, etc., but then he went quiet again; that is, until VAXXED. The whole kerfuffle seems to have reinvigorated him, leading him to several posts over at Medium.com. (Remind me to thank my lucky stars that I turned down that invitation to blog at Medium when asked.) In any case, he seems to be on a roll, and his rants are so quintessentially J.B. Handley that I can’t resist taking a peak.

After having hosted the antivaccine stylings of Robert De Niro on Wednesday on The Today Show, apparently NBC felt it needed to provide “balance.” So on Thursday morning TODAY featured Ari Brown discussing the controversy. For some reason, the video does not appear to be on the TODAY website (at least, I can’t find it); so I can’t judge it other than by the ranting reactions on antivaccine blogs, such as at Age of Autism, where Anne Dachel characterized the segment as ‘Today’ Freaks Itself Out, Goes Running Back to Pharma, and, of course, J. B. Handley’s Medium.com blog, where Handley asked Who should parents trust, Robert DeNiro or Dr. Ari Brown? (Because one of them has to be lying). A better way to ask the question is: Who should parents trust on medical issues, Robert De Niro or Dr. Ari Brown?” Better yet, the question should be phrased, “Who should parents trust on medical issues about their children, an actor who never graduated from high school or an actual pediatrician?” Yes, De Niro is very successful—a very successful actor and businessman. The skill set to become a successful actor and businessman is not the same as the skill set needed to evaluate medical and scientific questions. Of course, Handley has long failed to understand this, because he seems to think that his skills as a businessman give him the ability to attend Google University and then understand complex science. Time and time again he’s embarrassed himself trying, but he so lacks self-awareness that he never realizes how much scientists laugh at his antics.

For instance, in the arrogance of his ignorance, Handley actually lectures scientists:

If science doesn’t ask the right question, the answer a study produces is useless. Perhaps the biggest issue with the science done to date to assess the relationship between vaccines and autism is that it doesn’t reflect the real world of how vaccines are administered and the feedback from parents on how this impacts their children.


So, of the first 20 shots given to kids, how many have been studied for their relationship to autism? The answer may surprise you: ZERO. That’s right, because only one vaccine, the MMR, has ever been studied for its relationship to autism. The MMR is a vaccine first administered to American children at 13 months of age.

But what about the 2, 4, and 6 month well-baby visits where children receive so many vaccines? The truth is they have never been studied or considered, so no one has any idea. This would be like trying to identify the source of a plane crash, suspecting mechanical failure, solely analyzing one of the wings, and then declaring the entire airplane free of culpability. But, that’s exactly what has happened.

Having spent the time to critically read every study produced to “prove” vaccines don’t cause autism, I remain dumbfounded by their inadequacy.

And personally, I remain dumbfounded at Handley’s apparently belief that he knows what he’s doing when analyzing science. Contrary to Handley’s claims, childhood vaccination schedules are evidence-based. Contrary to his claims elsewhere, the relationship between thimerosal in vaccines and autism has been studied—many times!—and no relationship to autism has been found; it is a failed hypothesis. There is no correlation between the antigen load from vaccines and the risk of autism, and there is no correlation between autism and the on-time receipt of vaccines compared to dosing vaccines later. In other words, a key antivaccine talking point, “too many too soon” is not valid. There are even monkey studies (once touted by Handley) showing no correlation between vaccines and autistic-like symptoms.

Of course, Handley just doesn’t understand basic concepts of medicine and science, as he goes on to demonstrate in attacking a study from the UK that looked at timing of vaccination doses as a risk factor for autism. This, it turns out, is a study similar to the study I mentioned abovee about on-time receipt of vaccines, except that it looked at cumulative thimerosal exposure instead of cumulative vaccine exposure in infants. Basically, it found similar results: Thimerosal-containing vaccines did not correlate with adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes. Handley thinks he’s really “got” the scientists when he notes:

If you’re a glutton, read the methods of the study for yourself to the left. It’s in code, but by the second page of the study (that journalists never read) the authors make it clear that they ONLY looked at the DPT shot that every child in the study got.

Yes, but the authors also explain why:

In the United Kingdom, the only vaccines that contain thimerosal and have been routinely used in the past 2 decades are whole-cell diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis (wDTP) vaccine or diphtheria-tetanus (DT) vaccine and any combination vaccine containing wDTP or DT.

Contrary to his self-proclaimed superior understanding, Mr. Handley doesn’t seem to realize that if the hypothesis being tested is that there is a link between mercury in vaccines and autism, then all you really need to look at are thimerosal-containing vaccines, and in the UK at that time the only thimerosal-containing vaccines administered were the wDTP vaccine or DT vaccine and any combination vaccine containing wDTP or DT.

I’m laughing at the superior science intellect.

I could go on, but I wanted to look at Handley’s other little ditty, What’s with DeNiro’s Tribeca co-founder, Jane Rosenthal? I noticed myself that in the TODAY interview, Rosenthal appeared not to be too pleased with De Niro’s antivaccine stylings and tried to shut it down. I also noticed that De Niro basically came very close to calling her a liar after she said that the Tribeca Film Festival was getting complaints, finishing with what sure sounded like a threat to me that he would “find out” who complained. Naturally, Handley is not too pleased:

Potentially making her own history and attached to DeNiro’s hip for all of his public interviews so far has been Jane Rosenthal, a co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, and a woman whose discomfort with many of the things DeNiro is publicly saying is now available for the world to witness. Frankly, Rosenthal kept her disappointment with DeNiro more in check during the Today Show interview than she did in a previous interview with Bloomberg, where she went so far as to say (when discussing the removal of the movie Vaxxed from Tribeca’s lineup):

One of the biggest lessons of any kind of leadership is to admit when you’ve made a mistake [implying screening Vaxxed would have been a mistake]

The most egregious interview I watched was on a local NY station, Fox 5, where Rosenthal literally shuts DeNiro down from speaking about Vaxxed. You have to give Ms. Rosenthal credit: she doesn’t hide her feelings!

The most likely explanation for this is that the board of the Tribeca Film Institute, which runs the Tribeca Film Festival, didn’t want De Niro to do publicity alone because it had figured out that he has become an antivaccine loon and feared what he might say unchaperoned. Actually, on TODAY, he managed to lay down quite a bit of antivaccine nonsense even with Rosenthal, who desperately tried to get back on message and largely failed. (After all, how are you going to shut down Robert De Niro when he wants to say something, particularly when the interviewers on the various shows he’s been appearing on likely want some nice, juicy quotes for publicity?) I also noticed that Rosenthal’s body language showed a hell of a lot of discomfort with what De Niro was saying, and neither of them looked pleased to be with each other on the interview.

Of course, to Handley, Rosenthal’s reaction can’t be because she is trying to keep the film festival on track and prevent damage from the controversy. It has to be this:

Jane Rosenthal is an extremely powerful and successful film producer. In 2014, she and her husband and real estate developer Craig Hatzkoff divorced, and to give you some idea of their wealth, they put their New York City co-op on the market for $39 million. Craig Hatzkoff, her now ex-husband, sits on the board of the NYU Child Study Center, and journalists Jon Rappaport explains why this matters:

Craig Hatkoff, sits on the board of the NYU Child Study Center in New York — and that major, major Center is deeply involved in the research, study, and treatment of child psychiatric disorders. In case you’ve forgotten, autism is officially listed as a psychiatric disorder…The NYU Center would never, ever, in a million years imagine that vaccines could cause autism. If they did imagine it, they’d shut up and march straight ahead with their brain imaging studies and other mainstream distractions. The Rosenthal-Hatkoff duo have been on the scene at a number of Center fundraisers and awards dinners. They’re active. They’re visible. They’re players…A film that claims to show a link between the MMR vaccine and autism would be a hideous affront to the NYU Child Study Center, where Craig Hatkoff, co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, sits on the Board…A plan to actually show Vaxxed at the Tribeca Festival, which Hatkoff and Rosenthal co-founded, would be a blow to the face of the NYU Center.

Or, more likely, because Rosenthal has been involved with actual…oh, you know…science when it comes to neurodevelopmental disorders, she knows that De Niro is spewing what I like to call “Raging Bulls*t” about vaccines and autism and doesn’t want the Tribeca Film Festival to be tainted. She’s doing her best to save the film festival that she co-founded with her ex-husband and Robert De Niro.

Interestingly (to me, anyway), there was a post a few days ago by HIV/AIDS denialist and all purpose crank Celia Farber that brought some interesting information to light. It’s now removed from her Truthbarrier website but it’s still available in Google Cache.

I can see why it wasn’t available very long, as the post documents an e-mail exchange between Grace Hightower (Grace De Niro), Robert De Niro’s wife, and Andrew Wakefield, most likely sent to her by Wakefield himself, who seems to be tight with Farber. In the exchange, Wakefield seems irritated that the private link to VAXXED had been shared so that people he didn’t want viewing it had had a chance to see it and review it:

Did Hightower and Wakefield get together to “chat” on April 4? Inquiring minds want to know!

Reading between the lines, I suspect that Robert De Niro is just as on board with Andrew Wakefield as his wife is. In any case, Wakefield probably wanted it known that Rosenthal had seen the film because De Niro had shared the private link with her. Likely he was trying to implicate Rosenthal as the source of the backlash, blaming her for actual physicians who know antivaccine nonsense when they see it. Clearly, Wakefield’s plan was that no one who wasn’t on board with him should see the film before it screened; i.e., no one who could actually pick it apart with science and knowledge of its topic. De Niro, however, shared the link with Rosenthal, who shared the link with her sister Pam Rollins, MS Ed.D, who is an actual autism researcher (Wakefield misspelled her name). No doubt Rollins was appalled, and who knows who else got to see the film?

Basically, Andy, in his usual inimitable fashion, is throwing both De Niro and Rosenthal under the bus, De Niro for having shared the private link without permission and Rosenthal for presumably having shared it with actual pro-science advocates. One can only marvel at Wakefield’s lack of self-awareness, given his propensity for sharing private information whenever he thinks he can derive an advantage from doing so. It’s just one more irony meter fried until it’s a puddle of bubbling goo with some wires sadly buzzing. I further speculate that Hightower and/or De Niro found out about Farber’s post and told her to take it down, unfortunately for them not before it was saved in Google Cache (and on my hard drive now), for anyone to see before it goes away.

J. B. Handley always amuses me. In this case, he finishes up with an open letter to Pam Rollins in which he tries to persuade her of the rightness of his cause, commenting:

Let me get something clear: from my perspective, Jane Rosenthal’s sister, Dr. Pamela Rollins, is doing great work for our kids and I’m thankful for her and her work. Our children desperately need help communicating! But, what’s generally true, and I’m only speculating here about Dr. Rollins, is that people in her position rarely, if ever, discuss causation of autism or get involved with the conflict with vaccines. Why? Well, two reason really. First, if she did she wouldn’t have the job she has. And, second, it’s been my general experience that people in the autism field who are surviving in the mainstream treatment world (where no one has discovered the cause or how to cure autism in three decades) generally accept the “consensus view” about vaccines and autism.

Handley then goes on to rant against “consensus science.” Of course, anyone who claims that “consensus science” isn’t science has no idea what he is talking about when it comes to science. Handley clearly falls into that category, as his mangling the interpretation of studies looking at vaccines and autism demonstrates. To him, if you’re not with him, you’re against him. You might be a “good person” (as opposed to someone like myself, whom Handley despises), but you’re still against him. And those who are “against him” are keeping The Truth from The People, Unfortunately, Robert De Niro and Grace De Niro are now on Handley’s side.