Jan 04 2010

Another Libel Suit – This Time Against Paul Offit

We are still in the midst of the libel suit brought by the British Chiropractic Association against Simon Singh, and now another defender of science has been targeted by such a suit. Paul Offit, Amy Wallace, and Wired Magazine have been sued for libel by Barbara Loe Fisher, the head of the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC).

Here is a pdf of the complaint.

The subject of the suit is the excellent article by Amy Wallace criticizing the anti-vaccine movement. Wallace was attacked for this piece by anti-vaccinationists – essentially because she got the story correct. Wallace pointed out that the science strongly favors vaccine effectiveness and safety, and that the anti-vaccine movement is dangerously wrong – hurting the public health with their misinformation. The anti-vaccinationists were apparently very upset over be called out by a mainstream journalist. They got a lot of bad press this year, the Chicago Tribune also did a series of articles detailing the dangerous pseudoscience of the anti-vaccine movement. Wallace’s article earned her a place in the infamous baby-eating photo (along side Offit and yours truly) that only served to further embarrass the anti-vaccine movement via the blog, Age of Autism.

The lawsuit, in this context, seems like just the next step in the campaign against Offit and Wallace.

The NVIC, despite its innocuous name, is an ideological anti-vaccination group, and they were targeted among others in the Wallace piece. Fisher found a sentence in the article that she felt she could build a libel case around.

Fisher, who has long been the media’s go-to interview for what some in the autism arena call “parents rights,” makes him particularly nuts, as in “You just want to scream.” The reason? “She lies,” he says flatly.

“She lies” will now be the subject of as much analysis as the term “bogus” was in Singh’s article about the BCA, so I might as well start. Critics often walk a fine line – we want to accurately portray the actions and claims of the targets of our criticism, without holding any punches, but we have to be clear in our terminology and careful not to inadvertently give the wrong impression. The term “lie” is problematic. It is not necessarily inaccurate, but it can carry implications not intended by the writer, because it may imply something about what another person knows or believes.

Often we speculate, when someone makes a claim that is demonstrably false, are they deliberately lying or are they grossly mistaken. But this is a false dichotomy. There is a vast gray zone in between. Making a claim without due diligence is a form of deception. Often people will make claims as if they are verified and documented truths, without acknowledging that the claim is controversial, or without really verifying the facts. People may care more about the utility of a claim and its relationship to their ideology than whether or not it is objectively true. Is making such claims lying? It is more than being wrong, but not quite a knowing lie.

However, when one is engaged in a public debate and advocacy about an important health issue, one has a responsibility to get basic information correct and to relay it in as unbiased a manner as possible. Being recklessly wrong in such a case may be the moral equivalent of lying.

On the NVIC website there are numerous examples of misinformation. For example, about squalene (a vaccine adjuvant) they write:

However, the use of squalene type vaccine adjuvants, which were allegedly added to experimental anthrax vaccines and made Gulf War soldiers sick, is controversial.

OK – they write “allegedly” so I guess they are covered. But this is still deceptive, and meant to scare people off vaccines. It turns out that there was no squalene in the anthrax vaccines given to Gulf War soldiers. And soldiers who developed unexplained symptoms in the Gulf War were not more likely to have antibodies to squalene. The anthrax vaccine-squalene-Gulf War syndrome connection has been completely demolished at every point. It is no longer “controversial” among scientists.

So is the NVIC statement above a “lie” or is it just sloppy misinformation – and is there a functional difference between the two?

The use of libel suits to intimidate critics and have a chilling effect on open discussion is an old strategy. As I said, the BCA attempted to do that by suing Simon Singh, taking advantage of the horrible English Libel laws. Uri Geller sued James Randi in the past for saying he cannot really bend spoons. Matthias Rath sued Ben Goldacre for criticizing his health claims. Skeptics have, to a degree, engaged in public criticism of pseudoscience with the constant threat of being sued. Even when such suits are legally unsuccessful, they can be financially ruinous and therefore an effective bullying tool.

The ability to sue for libel is an important right to redress legitimate wrongs. But this right can easily be abused to silence open discussion. For this reason many states have SLAPP laws (strategic lawsuit against public participation). Recently the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that the need for open public discussion of important issues is a legitimate defense against a libel suit.

This is also the point behind the Keep Libel Laws out of Science movement, which is partly a backlash against the BCA suit against Singh.

Now the anti-vaccine movement in getting in the game, using the threat of libel to place a chill on legitimate criticism of their dangerous misinformation. It is time for the scientific and skeptical communities to rally behind Paul Offit as we did Simon Singh. I suspect this lawsuit will backfire against Fisher as much as the Singh suit did against the BCA. Let’s take a close look at the claims Fisher makes and whether they constitute “lying”. I suspect she will not hold up well under close scrutiny, just as the BCA claims did not.

Skeptical analysis is all about shining the light of science into those dark places of dubious claims and ideology that fear the light. Libel suits are often used as a tool to shield against the light of open examination, but we should fight back by using them as opportunities to shine even more light. Fisher better put on her sunglasses.

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43 responses so far

43 Responses to “Another Libel Suit – This Time Against Paul Offit”

  1. CWon 04 Jan 2010 at 11:08 am

    If this lawsuit indeed goes to trial, this could have parallels to the Dover trial – in which the anti-vaccinationists will have to put their pseudo-scientific evidence up for legal scrutiny, much like the IDers had to do. Hopefully, they get a Dover-like smackdown from the judge too.

  2. Hubbubon 04 Jan 2010 at 11:28 am

    They want to bring more attention to this article? Christmas came late this year.

    I guess this is all part of their innovative strategy of throwing as much tar at Paul Offit as possible.

    I hate to count chickens, but this seems like a phenomenal tactical blunder by the anti-vaccinationists. There is a high probability, it seems, that they’ll come out egg on their face.

    Also, this isn’t just Paul Offit they’re suing… but Wired? Aren’t magazines like this specifically prepared for libel suits? Wired has also almost been bragging about all the hate mail they’re getting on this article. I doubt they’ll back down unless they’re really over a legal barrel.

    Time to trumpet this across the blogosphere.

  3. bennymayon 04 Jan 2010 at 11:47 am

    I like this article very much. Thank you.

    I aim to produce a result of unbiased thinking in my readers; and my readers read (not in a knowledge-vacuum, but) in the context of other, historical information. When I believe the historical information has prioritised only half of the significant data, then I feel no obligation to repeat the ‘other’ ‘known’ side of the argument. ie. On the one hand I want to be honest and accurate in everything; on the other, concise, and unburdened by a requirement to repeat what is already well-known.

    Accordingly I write ‘my side’, to balance the argument.

    Though, when one judges my words in isolation then I too may appear (to misrepresent the facts) to be guilty of the same error / imbalance I aimed to correct.

    So, how/where do we draw the line in this? Will it become illegal to publish 500 word document, as all statements will need 1000+ words of justification, presupposition-explanation, counter-balances, etcetera?*

    *merely rhetorical use of reductio ad absurdum for the purpose of…

    http://bennymay.wordpress.com/

  4. daedalus2uon 04 Jan 2010 at 12:04 pm

    If Fischer tries to argue that she was just being sloppy and so her disinformation wasn’t a “lie”, then Offit can say he was just being sloppy so his statement that “she lies” wasn’t libel.

  5. Steve Pageon 04 Jan 2010 at 1:15 pm

    Let’s hope that the Streisand effect does the same for anti-vax ideologues as it did for the BCA. FWIW, lying by omission is still lying, and at the very least, Fisher is guilty of this.

  6. lippardon 04 Jan 2010 at 1:27 pm

    daedalus2u’s argument shouldn’t be taken as legal advice. If Fisher is a public figure, she will have to demonstrate malicious intent on Offit’s part. Offit also has truth as a defense, but “lie” *does* mean an intent to deceive, so he’ll have to show evidence to that effect.

    I disagree with Novella’s claim that “Making a claim without due diligence is a form of deception.” Making a claim without due diligence while knowing that you are likely to be in error, or where you know that due diligence is required to have a reasonable chance of being accurate, perhaps. (It’s definitely “bullshit” in William Frankfurt’s sense of expressing a disregard for truth or falsehood.)

    Novella’s statement that “Uri Geller sued James Randi in the past for saying he cannot really bend spoons” is not accurate (and shows a lack of due diligence, but is not necessarily a form of deception!). Geller’s suits were about claims that his spoonbending was unoriginal (Randi said it was a trick from the back of cereal boxes), that he was responsible for the suicide death of Wilbur Franklin (who didn’t commit suicide), and that he had been arrested in Israel for false claims (it was a civil, not a criminal case, so there was no arrest).

  7. Steven Novellaon 04 Jan 2010 at 1:37 pm

    Lippard – I agree with the “bullshit” distinction you make, I in fact wrote a blog post about this, but I do think in this context it is a form of deception. If you publish information on a website that is promoted as a source of information on a topic, and that information is BS, the deception is that the information is reliable when it is ideological, biased, and not vetted.

    Further, I am aware of the details of the Randi suit – lack of detail is not the same thing as inaccuracy. The essence of the suit was Randi casting doubt on the legitimacy of Geller’s spoon-bending ability – the details were proxy points for legal purposes. For the purposes of this article it was not necessary to delve into the details of that case.

  8. HHCon 04 Jan 2010 at 2:21 pm

    The British use of the word “bogus” is contentious and British libel laws make the specific legal case surrounding the usage interesting. But Emord & Associates have presented a complaint in Virginia surrounding a reported desire for a scientist to scream when he hears lies. The plaintiff’s case as set forth looks like a common legal form especially from point 29 onward. The statements are sweeping and general. The use of the American English word “lies” is understandable with reference to the very public figure with which it is in reference. The damage to her public reputation is questionable but not quantifiable as proposed by Emord. Her meager funding of the small not for profit will be dissipated by the lawsuit unless a public fund-raising event is connected to her new legal case. But perhaps that’s what the plaintiff needs is more publicity for her cause. Her not for profit cause may on its own be too boring to be of public financial interest.

  9. Steven Novellaon 04 Jan 2010 at 2:24 pm

    In Europe skeptics have been sued for their use of the word “quack.” Many words can be problematic for idiosyncratic reasons.

  10. HHCon 04 Jan 2010 at 2:32 pm

    Wikipedia is not a completely accurate source for understanding legal issues. May I suggest reference to WestLaw and Lexis-Nexis which is used by legal researchers?

  11. Anthony Cochettion 04 Jan 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Are libel laws in the United States as problematic as those in the UK? Similarly to CW I hope this case has the same outcome and effect as the Dover case pertaining to creationism. The only problem I foresee is the plaintiff’s, Fischer, call for a jury rather than a judge. I would feel more comfortable with a judge rather than relying on a jury.

    I think this will backfire on Fischer and so I wish someone had brought a suit earlier, though I suppose having Wired named in the suit is a good thing since they ought to have the funds to finance their defense.

  12. artfulDon 04 Jan 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Bullshit is a deceptive means of lying to (hopefully) avoid serious consequences. It’s still an intentional method of deception (aka: lying).

  13. CWon 04 Jan 2010 at 2:59 pm

    “The only problem I foresee is the plaintiff’s, Fischer, call for a jury rather than a judge. I would feel more comfortable with a judge rather than relying on a jury.”

    Doesn’t the defendant have the right to decide jury/judge trial? Or is it different in civil court?

  14. GHcoolon 04 Jan 2010 at 3:01 pm

    I do not think that there is a continuum between lying (meaning telling a falsehood when the truth is known) and being incredibly sloppy with the facts (meaning disregarding truth and falsehood for the sake of ideology). While I agree with Steve that the two have the same effect, it is important that we not conflate the two as being “lighter” and “heavier” versions of the same thing, if only because of the possibilities of misinterpretations and lawsuits like this one.

    As skeptics, we know that even honest people often inadvertently say things that aren’t true, but that “feel” true to us. Rather than a sliding scale between lying and sloppiness, I submit that there is a sliding scale between speaking responsibly and speaking irresponsibly.

  15. artfulDon 04 Jan 2010 at 3:09 pm

    In other words bullshit can be unintentional.

  16. superdaveon 04 Jan 2010 at 3:13 pm

    from merriam webster
    Lie
    1 : to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive
    2 : to create a false or misleading impression

    certainly you can argue that Fischer lied under definition 2. However, it doesn’t matter. What is Fischer going to say, that she didn’t know what she said was wrong so it isn’t lying? She’ll win the battle but lose the war.

  17. AnneBon 04 Jan 2010 at 4:22 pm

    There’s a short summary of Virginia’s defamation law on the Citizen Media Law Project here. Although Barbara Loe Fisher brought her suit in federal court under its diversity jurisdiction, the substantive defamation law of Virginia would apply.

    As in most jurisdictions, Fisher will have to prove that the defendants made a false statement of fact about her. Because she is a public figure, she’ll also have to prove that, in making that false statement of fact, the defendants acted with “actual malice,” which means that they either knew that the statement was false, or made it with reckless disregard for the falsity of the statement.

    A plaintiff also has to prove harm to her reputation from the false statement of fact. It appears that Virginia is a jurisdiction that still has the doctrine of “defamation per se,” meaning that certain false statements are presumed to cause harm to the plaintiff. This is an old common-law doctrine that used to encompass such things as false claims that a woman was “unchaste” or that the plaintiff has a “loathesome disease.” In Virginia today, defamation per se includes a false statement of unfitness to perform the duties of an office or paid employment. Fisher is alleging defamation per se in her complaint.

    The nice thing about federal court cases is that there’s electronic public access to the court papers. So anyone with a PACER account (anyone can get one) can follow this interesting case on the court’s website here.

  18. lippardon 04 Jan 2010 at 5:08 pm

    Dr. Novella wrote: “If you publish information on a website that is promoted as a source of information on a topic, and that information is BS, the deception is that the information is reliable when it is ideological, biased, and not vetted.”

    That’s not quite the distinction I’m making. The mere fact that the information is false can be sufficient for the information to be “deception,” but “lies” requires not just deception but *intentional* deception. A knowing or reckless disregard for due diligence, when added to your “Making a claim without due diligence” suffices for “bullshit,” but that may still fall short of “lying.” And if the claimant genuinely believes it to be true, even for bad reasons, it’s neither lying nor bullshit.

    I’m not sure I agree with artfulD that bullshit can be unintentional–Frankfurt’s definition of the term is that which is uttered without regard to truth or falsity, so it’s probably unintentional whether any particular such statement is true or false, but not unintentional as to whether there’s a reckless disregard for truth or falsity (and the evidence).

  19. Steven Novellaon 04 Jan 2010 at 5:20 pm

    My point is, if you say “the following is true and accurate information from a reliable source” and then spout bullshit, the bullshit itself may not be lying, but the first claim is.

  20. artfulDon 04 Jan 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Bullshitting is intentional, but the judgement made by an audience that statements intended as factual are just so much bullshit may not be commensurate with the intent behind the act.

    Setting aside the observation that much of what Frankfurt himself has written can be a lot closer to bullshit than he seems to have intended. Read his follow-up book/pamphlet about truth and try giving that one the smell test.

  21. Draalon 04 Jan 2010 at 6:14 pm

    I find it unnerving that Amy Wallace is being held accountable for, in part, reproducing a quote from an interviewee. All over just two little word “she lies”. wow.

  22. Anthony Cochettion 04 Jan 2010 at 6:36 pm

    It’s really funny to me when anti-vaxxers or creationists try and claim that scientists try to stifle debate. How often do scientists file suit for the nonsense that these people spout?

  23. Karl Withakayon 04 Jan 2010 at 6:56 pm

    I don’t really see how a reporter can be held responsible for quoting an interviewee.

    In regards to the person who made the original statement, that’s thin gruel indeed for a libel suit.

    As others have pointed out, besides showing damage, they have to prove “in making that false statement of fact, the defendants acted with “actual malice,” which means that they either knew that the statement was false, or made it with reckless disregard for the falsity of the statement.”

    The irony is that is they show the plaintiff did not lie, then by applying the same standard, it will likely logically follow that the defendant did not lie either.

  24. daedalus2uon 04 Jan 2010 at 7:46 pm

    I think that Fisher will find herself between a rock and a hard place. She claims that she is not anti-vaccine, but is pro-safe-vaccine. OK, what criteria does she use to determine if a vaccine is safe or not?

    If she is unable to articulate a criteria for what constitutes a safe vaccine, then she is not pro-safe-vaccine, she is anti-vaccine. If she does articulate a criteria, but still holds that vaccines that meet that criteria are unsafe, then she does lie. If the criteria she establishes for what constitutes a safe vaccine is impossible, then she is lying when she says the fault of unsafe vaccines lies with the vaccine manufacturers.

    She is claiming damages to her reputation. If the only argument she has was that she was not “technically lying”, just spouting off false information that she believed to be true, what sort of “reputation” does she have that it can be damaged? A reputation for spouting off false beliefs isn’t damaged very much by the statement that those are lies.

  25. SimonWon 04 Jan 2010 at 7:54 pm

    I’m no lawyer, but I always understood you didn’t sue for libel on the grounds of something as general as “liar” because all they would have to do is demonstrate that you ever told one lie, and which of us hasn’t told even the whitest of lies.

    If all else fails the “incapable of further defamation” defence, seems to fit the bill perfectly.

  26. skepacabraon 05 Jan 2010 at 3:01 am

    I was thinking the same thing as CW.

    As I understand it, in the U.S. libel system, one has to prove not only that they’ve been harmed but that harm was intended and best of all, that the accusation made is false. It’s that final piece that I think will be next to impossible for Fisher’s lawyers to prove. Offit is among the world’s leading experts on vaccines. He knows what he’s talking about and potentially has license to pull from any publicly available verbal or written statements Fisher has made in the past in order to prove that she does indeed lie. Catching any public figure in a lie is a no-brainer, so finding examples of Fisher lying should be like shooting fish in a barrel, especially when you consider the actual charge against Offit:

    “That statement comes within the context of an article that portrays those like Fisher (who oppose mandatory vaccination) as unscientific, uneducated, and harmful to society.”

    I really, really hope this case goes to trial and is dragged out at least as long as the Dover case because the more I think about it, the more apparent it seems that Fisher has made a colossal error that will have devastating results for herself and the whole anti-vaccination movement. If this case is dragged out, Offit’s lawyers can continue to bombard the judge and jury with Fisher’s lies (lies shared by the rest of the anti-vaccine movement) one by one by one. He’s got the technical expertise himself to expose how wrong her science is and any other legitimate expert can confirm it. In the Dover case, the judge was bombarded with mountains of science texts confirming evolution over many weeks. Just imagine weeks and weeks of dissecting Fisher’s every erroneous scientific claim. Maybe I’m just being naive or overly optimistic but I think this could be the anti-vaccinationists’ Dover if the legal team defending the accused plays their cards right.

  27. eiskrystalon 05 Jan 2010 at 5:03 am

    No doubt their website will have to be purged of any ambiguous statements and half truths. Just like the chiropractors.

    There may be nothing left but the header…

    I think setting up something called the “National Vaccine Information Center” deliberately sounding like a government type agency is highly dodgy.

    They lied. They are lying for their cause. Just as creationists lie for Jesus. All much of a muchness. Call it what it is.

    This is not going to be a good year for the antivaxxers. I hope they and their “evidence” get roasted in court for all to see what they really are and the harm they have caused.

  28. bennymayon 05 Jan 2010 at 10:34 am

    I agree with GH Cool;
    (‘…there is a sliding scale between speaking responsibly and speaking irresponsibly.’ 04 Jan 2010 at 3:01 pm)

    Yet, I fear that legal system cannot—yet—establish itself on such a high moral ground.

    [Skip to next comment if you wish, I'm just a small player/novice, who's learning fast from the rest of you.] Permit this example:

    i) I quote the Australian government saying a vaccine is “perfectly safe”;
    ii) I quote the Aus’ government regulation saying brief military members ‘on the risks and benefits associated with all vaccinations’.
    (and, after reading from Steven et al yesterday, I try to acknowledge ‘another side to the story).
    http://bennymay.wordpress.com/tbms/the-bennymay-story-chapter-9/

    Now to my point: Due to both my beliefs and my own interests I am being as honest, careful, and responsible as I can (in this and other statements), yet I expect in any potential legal backlash the lawyers would build the case on other things, since past intent of responsibility must be almost impossible to assess, and since culpability for irresponsible speech would threaten us all, and since contrasting the evidence against the law is what convinces the jury (ideally). Is it not?

  29. bennymayon 05 Jan 2010 at 10:36 am

    daedalus2u says:
    ‘If [Fisher] is unable to articulate a criteria for what constitutes a safe vaccine, then she is not pro-safe-vaccine, she is anti-vaccine.’ (on 04 Jan 2010 at 7:46 pm)
    It seems ‘anti-vaccine’ is a very rude label these days (perhaps that is good and right).
    I call myself “pro-vaccine”.
    If I articulated (in my lay-person way) ‘a criteria for what constitutes a safe vaccine’ and Daedalus2u judged that I failed that test, I think it would be unfair to automatically label me ‘anti-vaccine’.
    Accordingly, I feel it is unfair to apply automatically such a label if she ‘is unable to articulate’ such a criteria well.

  30. bennymayon 05 Jan 2010 at 10:40 am

    I agree with eiskrystalon, “National Vaccine Information Center” … is highly dodgy (05 Jan 2010 at 5:03 am)
    On a lighter note, re. ‘Just as creationists lie for Jesus.’
    The Hebrew word ‘YOM’ in Genesis 1 means daylight (according to verse 4), which is a visuospatial concept, NOT a 12 hour / 24 hour / temporal concept / deictic marker. Translators from 400BC – 1600AD translated that into Greek, then Latin, then English (for the King James version), three languages that are temporal in comparison to their very spatial cousin, Hebrew. Consequence: at that time, ‘day’ was an okay translation. Subsequently, English speakers use ‘day’ in a more and more scientific/technical/mathematical way, yet many religious people / believers hold tightly to believing. My point: it is a fairly predictable and honest mistake, and we might be gentle with people who mean no harm and yet make mistakes. (Perhaps I am mistaken. Perhaps we all make mistakes.) The main point: there is no valid argument for 6x24HR period creation. Thus, creationists err; but I couldn’t say we can argue that most (or all) creationists lie—at least with respect to the present topic.

    okay, sorry to digress so far into eiskrystalon’s interesting topic. Let’s get back on point now…
    :)

  31. skepticalogicaon 05 Jan 2010 at 4:51 pm

    I think this is a blessing in disguise, assuming Paul, et al has the resources needed to fight this. Why you may ask? Because there is one thing you can do in a court of law with these charlatans that you can’t normally do: put them on the stand and publicly force them to answer questions and not just jabber their nonsense endlessly to a credulous public and media without being called to the carpet on it. This is why things went so horribly for the cdesign proponentists in Dover: when psuedo-science has to actually deliver the goods and try to explain all the data it fails and does so in a spectacular way. As the saying goes, they are “all hat, no cattle”.

    AnnB hit the nail on the head, the plaintiff will have to show actual malice in this case, which is a very difficult standard (and rightly so). For those unfamiliar, it is basically the opposite of the British standard. She will have to show as AnnB said: “they either knew that the statement was false, or made it with reckless disregard for the falsity of the statement”. Showing someone actually knew a statement was false is damn near impossible as that involves a showing of subjective knowledge, and showing that it was made with reckless disregard in this case will be equally impossible.

    What will happen if it goes to court is that the defense will demonstrate all the false claims that have been made by the plaintiff and then the plaintiff will have to basically show that the defendants were somehow reckless in determining that she was lying when she was merely being incredibly and grossly incompetent. That’s a tall order.

    My prediction is that this is a harassment suit intended to see if the defendant’s blink. I have a hard time thinking the plaintiff is really so stupid that they will willingly walk into a courtroom and permit themselves to be interrogated by a skilled attorney regarding their bogus (yes, I said it, BO-GUS) statements. But, hope springs eternal.

  32. eeanon 05 Jan 2010 at 8:33 pm

    Let’s hope they don’t settle! That’s usually how these things work. :/

  33. John Piereton 05 Jan 2010 at 9:50 pm

    The good news is that calling someone a “liar,” as long as it doesn’t involve perjury, based on disclosed information and not on an implied “allegation of undisclosed defamatory fact as the basis for the opinion,” is considered an expression of opinion that is protected by the Freedom of Speech clause of the Bill of Rights. Thus, the defendants do not necessarily have to produce evidence that she intentionally lied; merely that they did not hint that they had undisclosed information that showed she lied.

    Although I have not finished reading the entire complaint, it has more than a whiff of a SLAPP suit.

  34. susanricheyon 06 Jan 2010 at 12:08 am

    I completely support Barbara Loe Fisher. She has the right to defend herself against someone who called her a liar AND who’s intent was to ridicule her position against vaccination. She is a small righteous voice trying to make a difference in the world–she is to be praised. She is a courageous woman who has dedicated her life to trying to make vaccines safer and government officials and pharmaceuticals more accountable. A growing number of people are concerned with the lack of good safety studies on vaccination. We are concerned with the lack of systematic documentatioon of vaccine injury. We believe this “herd immunity” you hold so tightly onto is fiction. You believe it without question. We believe the American public-child, adult, and elderly–are all being harmed by vaccinations. Dumbed down. Harmed overall immunity. You cannot ignore the increasing disease in this country and we believe vaccinations are a smoking gun. And yet you resort to ridicule and personal attack in order to make your argument. Our focus is safety. I don’t know why we can’t look at the same evidence and draw the same conclusion–you are prepared to harm more innocent lives on more very flimsy evidence than I am. I think that makes me a better steward of public health than you. And its time to stop the ridicule–and allow us to bring this to a public hearing. If you believe so strongly that vaccination is a public necessity–then I urge you to join us to help PROVE they are safe and effective. And I submit that you are simply unable to accept the truth of the vaccine-injury because it would INVALIDATE you as a healthcare profession as you absorb the thousands of lives you have harmed over a lifetime holding this faulty belief.

  35. Steven Novellaon 06 Jan 2010 at 12:15 am

    susan – you just uncritically regurgitated the misinformation being spread by the antivaccine movement. But they are at odd with established facts.

    Vaccines have a very high safety record. They are extremely closely studied and monitored.

    Vaccines improve immunity, they do not harm it.

    Herd immunity is an established fact – when vaccine rates drop in communities, infectious diseases come right back. The evidence is overwhelming.

    I have written extensively on this issue – always focusing on the scientific evidence. How can you dismiss this as “ridicule” – it seems you are just making that up.

    Also – you happily assume that I have some conflict of interest. I am a neurologist – I have never prescribed vaccines in my practice. I have zero invested in vaccines, except that I care about the truth, about science, and about the public health.

    If you want to focus on the science, then do it – not anti-vaccine propaganda.

  36. zen_arcadeon 06 Jan 2010 at 12:55 am

    @susanrichey:

    “She has the right to defend herself against someone who called her a liar…”

    She sure does. The question is: can she? Has she? Or has her position been demolished by scientific facts?

    “…AND who’s intent was to ridicule her position against vaccination.”

    And why does he ridicule that position? Perhaps it is because he is a pediatrician who has studied and developed vaccines for much of his career? Because he quite obviously has far more formal education, professional experience, and knowledge of both science and immunology than a self-proclaimed “activist” who proclaimed herself an expert on the topic after her son became ill and she attributed that illness to a vast, worldwide conspiracy of doctors, scientists, and pharmaceutical companies?

    “She is a small righteous voice trying to make a difference in the world–she is to be praised.”

    Fisher is certainly (self-)righteous but what’s with all of the romantic “trying to make a difference in the world” talk? Why is such an idealistic, heroic narrative necessary? She is not a public health advocate interested in advancing health and well-being for all, she’s a rabid anti-vaccinationist wounded by her personal experience and confusion over the issue. She is far more like an anti-abortion activist on a mission, one who knows that she is right and is impervious to contradicting facts and evidence. It’s unforunate that she seems to have convinced you too that she’s merely advocating for public health when she’s clearly on a political mission and has no qualifications or education to speak of on these issues.

    She is a courageous woman who has dedicated her life to trying to make vaccines safer and government officials and pharmaceuticals more accountable.

    Please explain how vaccine manufacturers (you know, all three or so of them in the US) and the government officials who regulate them are not accountable to the public. Where is the evidence that they are not held accountable? Assertion without evidence does not translate to fact.

    “A growing number of people are concerned with the lack of good safety studies on vaccination. We are concerned with the lack of systematic documentatioon of vaccine injury.”

    First you identify the nebulous “growing number of people” who are “concerned with the lack of good safety studies on vaccination”, then you being the next sentence with “We,”. So much for disclosure. And that’s the point: there are plenty of studies on vaccine safety and efficacy. You’ve just never seen them because you have blinders on, because you’ve joined a “movement”, because you weren’t reading those journals anyway and don’t think that evidence matters (at the same time that you’re claiming a paucity of it).

    “We believe this “herd immunity” you hold so tightly onto is fiction.”

    Then you need to take some (at least) high school level biology classes. This is immunology 101…not very difficult stuff.

    “You believe it without question.”

    No, that is called dogma. That’s what your faith in what uneducated people like Fisher is: dogma. There is no evidence and there are no arguments that could convince you otherwise because you’ve entered into this debate dishonestly; you are not interested in the safety or efficacy of vaccines, you are interested in promoting the special-interest dogma of your movement. That’s not what science does. If you have evidence that vaccines are harming children in the US, do the research, publish your results in peer-reviewed legitimate journals, and change the minds of all of the doctors and scientists who are convinced otherwise. That’s what scientists do. But you, of course, are not interested in that, you merely claim it to Trojan-Horse your political/conspiracy agenda into the realm of mainstream exposure and respectability.

    “We believe the American public-child, adult, and elderly–are all being harmed by vaccinations. Dumbed down. Harmed overall immunity.”

    Yes, you believe it on faith. This is the problem. Mountains of evidence says the opposite. How can you win this argument except by revealing that you believe all of this evidence to be a vast worldwide conspiracy? But of course that’s too risky — that might make you look crazy. Some of the others in your “movement” come right out and put their cards on the table but that would jeopardize your coverage on the evening news so better keep quiet about that…right?

    “You cannot ignore the increasing disease in this country and we believe vaccinations are a smoking gun.”

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Where is this evidence?

    “And yet you resort to ridicule and personal attack in order to make your argument.”

    I believe I’ve asked some pretty great questions of you and I’m almost certain you will not address them. I’ve made no ad hominem attacks, though fools do certainly deserve our ridicule and scorn.

    “I don’t know why we can’t look at the same evidence and draw the same conclusion–you are prepared to harm more innocent lives on more very flimsy evidence than I am.”

    Perhaps because you are mistaken. Is it so hard for you to conceive of that as a possibility? Oh, and by the way, claiming that anybody who disagrees with you on this matter is “prepared to harm more innocent lives…than I am” IS an ad hominem attack…you know, the thing you just condemned your opponents for.

    “I think that makes me a better steward of public health than you. And its time to stop the ridicule–and allow us to bring this to a public hearing. If you believe so strongly that vaccination is a public necessity–then I urge you to join us to help PROVE they are safe and effective.”

    And what would be the nature of this public hearing? To bring the evidence that vaccines are overwhelmingly beneficial to public health? Do you really think that that’s up for debate? Are you so completely ignorant of the epidemiological data?

    “And I submit that you are simply unable to accept the truth of the vaccine-injury because it would INVALIDATE you as a healthcare profession as you absorb the thousands of lives you have harmed over a lifetime holding this faulty belief.”

    …and for the closer, out comes the acknowledgment that you are a conspiracy theorist who isn’t interested in public health, or reality, at all. Thanks for wasting all of our time.

  37. eiskrystalon 06 Jan 2010 at 5:05 am

    I would just like to say Zen_Arcade for the win. Collect your internets at the counter.

    On a side note BennyMay although I think Eiskrystalon is a cool name it is unfortunately not my current moniker (just so no-one gets confused).
    When I was speaking about creationists lying for Jesus I was speaking generally. There is a lot of overlap and parallels between antivaccination and religion.

    Benny -Thus, creationists err; but I couldn’t say we can argue that most (or all) creationists lie—at least with respect to the present topic.

    To err in innocence perhaps is understandable, but this is now 2010 and we still have people telling us about talking snakes and magic apple trees against evidence and facts practically handed to them on a plate.

    To hide from the truth is to lie…if only to yourself.

  38. bennymayon 06 Jan 2010 at 6:01 am

    Eiskrysal, please forgive my 2 a.m. copy-n-paste error.

    susanrichey, your main argument, it seems to me, is against (the poor argument technique of) playing the man, not the ball. However, you just did that to your opponents; viz. ‘that makes me a better steward of public health than you.’ What’s up with that?

  39. bennymayon 06 Jan 2010 at 6:03 am

    lol Eiskrystal, twas typo then. Sorry.

  40. daedalus2uon 07 Jan 2010 at 5:05 pm

    bennymay, if you say you are for “safe vaccines” but are unable to define the term, what are you actually saying? “I am for something but I don’t know what that something is?”

    People who protest against the use of vaccines divide vaccines into “unsafe” and “safe” vaccines. How do they distinguish between the two? If you are saying that there are unsafe vaccines, then you need to define the terms that you are using. If you can’t define the term “unsafe”, then you are lying if you say that vaccine xyz is “unsafe”.

  41. [...] about the science of vaccines and, utterly impervious to any science contradicting her viewpoint, spreads misinformation, so much so that whether Loe Fisher believes what she says or knows it to be false [...]

  42. tmac57on 07 Jan 2010 at 10:14 pm

    Well done Zen_Arcade! A nice point for point.

  43. bennymayon 08 Jan 2010 at 11:25 am

    >bennymay, if you say you are for “safe vaccines”
    I didn’t say that.
    I said: I call myself “pro-vaccine”.
    >but are unable to define…
    I didn’t say that either.

    For those who want my answer, I would talk of ‘safety in vaccinations’ (contra safe vaccines), as the vaccine itself is only half of issue; the way we administer it is the other half.

    I don’t protest against vaccines. A cup of water seems safe, when it’s not in someone’s lungs. Arsenic seems safe, when it’s inaccessible.

    I encourage those who assess safety to consider the scope:
    - the systematic culture that promotes rushing assessments of contraindications, to
    - the effects of the preservatives on ____, to
    - the public fear that increases, even though the stat’s show the human race is better off with vaccinations, to
    - the medico-legal system inducing fear in our medical staff, that leads them increasingly to prioritise self-protection in their workplaces (and consequently affecting how they treat patients, and how they administer vaccines, and how readily they inform patients of risks),
    - the fact the media & anti-vaxxers are so much better at getting the populace on side than the scientists (who win the argument, but 9/10 people have already switched the channel),
    and so on.

    When we cover all the bases,
    -in practice, we increase the effectiveness and safety of vaccinations,
    - in argument, we engage the anti-vaxxers who focus on anecdotes and generalities (and perhaps all society)
    - we address the issues honestly (admit there have been some problems) but start drawing the attention where it needs to go: e.g. if we promote safe administration of these things, then the science/numbers/guarantees are applicable: thus, the ball is in the healthcare court.

    “A vaccination is safe” seems a little like saying “peanut butter and bee stings are safe”. If ever we argue “vaccination is safe”, yet neglect vaccine-administration issues (such as contraindications), would it be true to say we (too) are not telling the whole truth?

    bennymay.wordpress.com/

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