5.01.2007

Violent Vaccine Denialists

Sadly, the anti-vaccination lobby seems to be growing in political influence, according to an editorial in May’s Nature Neuroscience (under firewall). The editors point out (as I did this fall in a Nature Medicine feature story about how vaccine denialists affect public health) that a host of rigorous scientific studies have debunked each and every claim of a mercury-autism link. Nevertheless, in the same insidious style as animal rights wackos, the anti-vaccers won’t back down—on Capitol Hill, in the press, or in their personal attacks. The editorial’s money quote:
People who oppose the [mercury-autism link] have been harassed with repeated calls, whether they have written a letter to their local paper or an editorial for The Wall Street Journal. The harassment includes parents of autistic children who do not align themselves with the anti-vaccine movement. Kevin Leitch reports, 'I have personally been told that because I am not chelating my daughter, I am a child abuser. That I am a murderer. I have had threats of violence made against me, and a few people have even sent personal hate mail to my seven-year-old autistic daughter.'
As Orac points out, Kevin Leitch made further comments about harassment by anti-vaccers on his blog:
I know of four scientists whom I have exchanged emails with who have been targeted by this same extreme group and who had:

1) Threats of property damage made against their homes and property
2) Threats of physical violence made against them
3) Been the victims of concerted email and telephone harassment campaigns to the point where security services have had to get involved
4) Had their associations with entities that merely sound like Pharma organisations misrepresented
5) Been accused, on no basis at all, of fraud

These scientists are staggered that merely performing accurate science has led them to having to (in three cases I know of) inform Campus Police of the places they work at of their movements in order to remain safe.
Indeed, this behavior reminds me of an act of “protest” against esteemed UCLA neuroscientist Dario Ringach. Ringach’s lab used monkeys to study information processing in the visual system. (Primates are the only animals whose eye biology/physiology is comparable to humans.) In August, after receiving several threats from the Animal Liberation Front—including a bomb on his porch—Ringach sent the ALF an email saying, “You win,” and closed up his lab.

The anti-vaccers whom I interviewed for my story presented themselves as helpless victims of some kind of medical/CDC conspiracy. I’d never suggest that any of them are instead violent manipulators. However, it’s time to start holding the activist groups they’re associated with accountable for their violent acts, regardless of their philosophical/political motivations. I thus agree whole-heartedly with the logical, if naïve, recommendation from the editorial:
In the end, these fears are driven by ideology rather than science. We urge legislators to base science policy on the best consensus among researchers in the field, rather than the emotional appeals of an agenda-driven group, especially one that attempts to bully into silence those with opposing opinions.
(Right, because our government always tries to base its science policy on sound science. Like our stance on stem cells, for instance, or the space program, or global warming. Sigh.)

12 comments:

Freelance Writer-Mother-Wife-Veteran said...

Not all anti-vaccine people are in denial.

How can you claim that I am in denial to the dangers of vaccines, when I've had two children with drastic reactions to vaccines, as well as a mother who died of ALS, which is not been proven to not come from a hidden virus within the polio vaccine?

And not all people who have stopped vaccinating are raving lunatics who make choices based on fear.

I made my choice based on watching my child in pain. No, they don't have autism, but that's not the only issue with vaccines. Vaccines are causing a myriad of issues in our children and have been successfully linked to causing/triggering many autoimmunity conditions, such as Rhuematoid (sp) Arthritis.

I for one hope that I've made the right choice for my family and I don't pretend to support the whole "movement" as you call it. It's an individual choice that parents do not take lightly.

BrainLova said...

Because of her concerns about the mercury-autism link, my mother did not vaccinate me or my sister when we were kids. I didn't have any vaccinations, in fact, until I was forced to upon entering university. So I know, firsthand, that not all anti-vaccers are raving lunatics!

In America, the choice to vaccinate your children is yours (I just hope they don't travel abroad and pick up the measles). And I think it should stay that way. It's just that, unlike the threat from animal rights activists, these deplorable anti-vaccer threats against doctors/academics are given relatively little attention by the press. So I wanted to give them some.

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