Trace BS: Science Activist Crashes an Anti-Vaxxer Party

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“Justin Bieber’s been less of an asshole lately.”

A few days after going to the premiere of Trace Amounts, I was having ice cream with some fellow #shillarmy admins (my own #SciProf, my shill army twin Modern Mainstream Mama and her husband, and one of the admins from Banned by Food Babe). Somehow this line came up in conversation, and it perfectly summed up my thoughts on meeting Dr. Jay Gordon,  Dr. Bob Sears, and Dr. Robert Kennedy, the assholes of the anti-vax apocalypse.

They’re… less of assholes in person. 

Does it in any way take away from the damage they’ve contributed to over the years?

No.

(And like Bieber, this is like comparing a turd to a shit. Something is still rotten in Denmark.)

Whatever they were like in person, however they view or present themselves, I have a lot of problems with the consequences of their collective actions.

The questions about my thoughts on this have been lingering. What happened at the movie premiere? How do they view their ideas versus their actions? I know a few pictures that I posted elicited mixed reactions, and I do offer my sincere apologies that it took a few days to write this. It’s been busy at SciBabeTopia, and you deserved a good blog entry. 

What happened at the movie premiere?

I walked in with Mark and Amanda. Mark runs Do You Even Science Bro, acted as our muscle/photographer, and he made us these awesome t-shirts. 

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Making a scene… in the most adorably punk rock way possible. #shillarmy represents.

Because if you know me, it’s become a thing to do appearances with a pink wig. It adds a touch of irreverence and it serves as a reminder not to take the “babe” title too seriously because I certainly don’t. I like my pink wig.

I also like not getting kicked out of events or otherwise landing in trouble. So we figured we’d be firm in getting some questions answered but we would be polite and try to not push to the point of an argument. It was a small venue and we were easy to spot; we didn’t want to give them reason to escort us to the door if anything became heated. This was not our event, and they went there to be amongst friends, not give me my 4,571st excuse this week to call them assholes.

(They absolutely did give me 4,571st-6,893rd excuses, so that was cool. Thanks … assholes.)

We walked in and the first person I recognized was Dr. Jay Gordon. I first came to know of Dr. Gordon from his appearance on the anti-vaccination episode of Penn and Teller’s Bullshit. He was portrayed as extremely anti-vaccine. I wasn’t sure what to say, so Mark walked over to him and told him I was a big fan and I wanted a picture.

Ahem.

He talked to us for a while. Immediately when he saw my shirt, he said “oh, you’re the other side.” I told him where I knew of him from, and he said that he thought P&T were major assholes because, of course, he was taken out of context.

Huh. Well that’s funny. Everything I’d heard from him in other media also portrayed him as anti-vax. Was he just demonized? What else did he have to say?

– He’s not anti-vax. (wait, didn’t he just say “you’re on the other side”?)

– He gave out 25 MMR shots that day. (Hmmm…)

And here’s where the conversation took a turn. 

– He didn’t fully vaccinate his own daughter and she got whooping cough when she was 9. She chose to fully vaccinate herself as an adult. 

– He still claims there’s more autism now than there was historically.

– He claims that he would receive calls from parents who were seeing symptoms of autism  after children received their shots.

– The vaccines work, but we have to be wary of the mercury in them. Even after I pointed out that the thimerisol had been largely removed from vaccines, he had his objections.

– When it was pointed out that there’s more mercury in sushi than you get in a shot, he said “it’s not injected.” We did point out that his favorite patient’s Mom, Jenny McCarthy, injects a deadly neurotoxin, botulism, right into her face. So if it’s deadly when consumed, she should be super dead by now if she keeps injecting it. His response was that he doesn’t know what Jenny does to her face. Funny that.

– Though he admits Wakefield’s study was rightly debunked, he still said “but why was it published?” He also said it should have been done with 5,000 subjects instead of a dozen. 

He then brought me over to Dr. Bob Sears, who recently said to “respect measles.” I believe I called him an asshole for this. I also believe I should have said worse.

– Sears claimed not to be anti-vax (well this is sounding familiar, isn’t it?).

– Asking about his alternative vaccine schedule, he admitted fully that it had zero backing by science.

But then why the fuck does he promote it if he’s a doctor and… reasons? His claim…

– If someone is on the fence about vaccines, presenting the alternate vaccine schedule may talk them into eventually vaccinating.

(You’re not buying it either, are you?)

– When pressed as to why he says the more outlandish things he does online, paraphrasing, he said “oh, it’s just for attention for the page.” Mmmhmmm. I always talk about measles not being that bad for you when I want attention too. I feel you, bruh.

He said his wife yells at him for some of that stuff. I may have told him (read: did tell him) that I regularly call him an asshole for it online. Crowning moment of my life. True story. 

Dr. Gordon then brought me over to Dr. Robert Kennedy Jr. I did not take a happy smiling picture with him. As opposed to the other two who, on some level, were both pleasant and realized their audience, he started talking about a CDC whistleblower, said not to trust the CDC, and that the type of mercury in the vaccines was very dangerous and linked to neurological disorders, including autism. He said that his book (that he was, of course, selling at the event) had the real science in it that the mainstream establishment had covered up.

At this point I shook his hand, thanked him for his time, and my friends and I decided to skip the movie. We’d had about as much bullshit as we could take.

Through the course of conversation, these pictures happened. Because when you crash someone else’s party wearing a t-shirt spitting in the face of their ideology, you get photographic evidence. And you tell them to fucking smile.

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Dr. Gordon. I’m cheeky as hell. And vaccinated, so all your little unvaccinated vectors? No match for my measles booster.

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Dr. Sears. I called him an asshole to his face two minutes before this. I’m in ur event, spreadin’ the word of immunity. Asshole.

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Dr. Kennedy. “So… aliens.”

So where’s the problem with them calling themselves pro-vax? Gordon gives out vaccines, and Sears reported to me that his schedule is to get parents who are undecided to at least vaccinate at some point. That counts, right? Right?

Don’t underestimate my little pink wig, gents. I didn’t come to play.

How do their perceptions differ from their actions?

I know that the images of me smiling with these people was a little troubling for some, but context matters. I was crashing their event, not making friends. My regular readers know how ardently I fight the anti-vax movement, and walked away from this more troubled by the anti-vax doctors than I was before the event. Why? 

These doctors who perpetuate the anti-vax movement don’t even recognize that their actions make them a part of the anti-vax movement, and that’s dangerous. Whether it’s because they only presented themselves this way because they knew my position or this is how they always see themselves, the three of them didn’t even cop to being anti-vax. They were anti-evil-component to the vaccine. 

Oh, that’s way different. Totes. You’d jab that needle in your flesh.

This type of middle ground is misleading. The soft position of Bill Maher wherein one proclaims that they’re not anti-vax before questioning all the components in a vaccine? Fine. It’s not that I’m against sex with Bill Maher, it’s just that I find every component of him unpronounceably bad for human health. 

Way different. Totes. You’d jab his needle into… I like over-extended metaphors.

Unfortunately, presenting as a middle ground allows them to appear reasonable while presenting completely pseudoscientific ideas. This enables and lends credence to the Dr. Jack Wolfsons and Mr. Andrew Wakefields. It’s as dangerous as the outright vaccine deniers. 

Let’s examine the track record of the three men.

Damned Lies and Statistics

Starting with Dr. Gordon, he published this open letter a few years ago that Dr. Steven Novella already kindly ripped apart for me. A quick examination: 

I don’t give a lot of vaccines.

I still give DPT vaccinations to some children, chicken pox shots to kids who haven’t been able to acquire natural immunity by age ten years or so, and I give polio vaccines very infrequently. The polio vaccines are given for what I call “emotional” reasons because my exposition of the “numbers” (2000 cases of polio out of six or seven billion people) doesn’t counteract the very strong memory of a beloved aunt or uncle who had polio in fifties or sixties. And many parents feel much more comfortable traveling to India or parts of Africa with updated polio immunity for their children and themselves. By the way, 2007-2008 statistics don’t support that discomfort, but I don’t argue much.

This is a borderline criminal misrepresentation of polio. Any takers on the reason for the low number of polio cases?

Could it be… the fucking vaccines?

He said part of what was allowing whooping cough to return was that it was a “bad vaccine” and he let his daughter get the whooping cough when she was nine. This is not a week with a bad cough. This is a rib cracking death sentence in some cases. This is three months of wishing ill on whatever asshole let you come to harm. Is it a bad vaccine? It isn’t effective for as long as initially thought, but this again shows Gordon’s lack of insight on the science, whether willful or otherwise.  He said that his daughter chose to complete her vaccinations as an adult. I’ve been through whooping cough. Her decision doesn’t surprise me.

In another post which was well torn apart by Dr. Gorski, he said 

I gave a half dozen vaccines today. I gave some reluctantly but respected parents’ wishes to vaccinate.

Reluctant?

Reluctant?

RELUCTANT?! 

That doesn’t sound very pro-vaccine. I’ve never had a “doctor” who was reluctant to give me a treatment with rare side effects that will stop me from getting deadly illnesses, but then again, most of my doctors haven’t been assholes.

As for there being more autism now, he has the best kind of data- anecdotal!

 Now, when you discuss this topic with your pediatrician, he or she will clobber my ideas and me. So be it. I have watched children getting or not getting vaccines for thirty years. I won’t publish my data because I have none suitable for “peer review.” I can tell you that my very strong impression is that children with the fewest vaccines, or no vaccines at all, get sick less frequently and are healthier in general. I truly believe they also develop less autism and other “persistent developmental delays.”

There you have it. He noticed some shit that he never wrote down. It’s not like we have a study that checked on children with different levels of vaccines, different levels of antigens, and if they did or didn’t have autism, right?

Oh, we did just that and found no relation? Huh. Funny that. Maybe Dr. Gordon needs to do more reading and less media.

And speaking of media, Dr. Gordon claimed that he was taken out of context on Penn and Teller’s Bullshit. Penn’s a friend of mine. Though I didn’t speak with him about this specific incident, I’ve talked to him about Bullshit before. They tried fairly hard not to take people out of context, and given the track record of Dr. Gordon that I’ve examined? It would be hard for me to believe that he wasn’t represented accurately to his beliefs and actions. Nice try, asshole. 

Moving onto Dr. Bob Sears, he takes this odd position that he’s trying to be the doctor for the anti-vaxxers. On some level, given that there are so many parents in this part of the world not vaccinating, there is a need for a doctor’s office who will give them medical care.

But but but…

I know, I know, pro-vaxers will say that anyone who doesn’t vaccinate is benefiting from all those who do, and I agree. They will go on to say that it’s not fair that most people accept the risk of vaccines in order to be protected from the diseases, for the good of society. To that, I will answer, “Wait, you are saying that most people will accept the WHAT of WHAT? The risk of vaccines? But wait, there is no risk, right? That’s what you’ve been preaching. So, if there’s no risk to vaccines, then there’s no problem if you get them for your child and another family doesn’t. Your child is protected.” 

Either there’s NO risk to vaccinating, so you can’t bring up such a point, OR, there IS risk to vaccinating and that’s the very thing that anti-vaxers are trying to get across in the first place. Pro-vaxers can’t make both points.

YES WE FUCKING CAN ASSHOLE.

Want to present the statistical chances of a vaccine reaction versus the chances of a complication or severe illness from a vaccine preventable disease and do it accurately? Present to your patients what the risks would look like from these diseases if we got rid of vaccines tomorrow. Then tell them what the risk of the vaccine injury is. Let them know what the risk would be if everyone took the same irresponsible action that you’re prompting them to consider. Let them know that if they get to rely on other people around them for keeping outbreaks from happening, they get to participate in that same thought experiment in reverse; what if everyone else is as much of an asshole as they are?

Lastly, Kennedy…

Ever walk into a party and you just know the friend who invited you?  They tell you to avoid that one friend and… then you unwittingly get trapped into a conversation with that one friend? Two hours later, you’ve gotten an earful on getting government out of your medicaid, why the illuminati is controlling the FDA, how Sandy Hook really was a conspiracy because they heard it on Alex Jones, and there’s a charming girl called the Food Babe who has a book they can’t wait to read?

That’s what talking to him for two minutes with Dr. Robert Kennedy was like. And by all appearances, I got the accurate impression. From a slate article

I got a taste of Kennedy’s delusions last year. After Slate’s Bad Astronomy blogger, Phil Plait, criticized Kennedy for speaking at an anti-vaccine conference, Kennedy called me to complain, and I wrote about our very one-sided conversation. He told me scientists and government agencies are conspiring with the vaccine industry to cover up the evidence that thimerosal is “the most potent brain killer imaginable,” and journalists are dupes who are afraid to question authority. He claimed that several specific scientists had admitted to him that he was right. I called these scientists up. Here’s one representative answer, from a researcher who preferred I not use his name because he gets death threats from anti-vaccine activists: “Kennedy completely misrepresented everything I said.

Yep. Not going to bother debunking. Paraphrasing George Carlin, “this is just plain fucking bullshit.” 

Gentlemen, You Have Work To Do. 

Learn what pro-vaccine means. You say things like that we need to approach this from a middle ground and with love, but I don’t think you understand what your position here is. Pro-vaccine means you pro-actively get people to vaccinate, not that you give them a safe-haven where it’s okay to be unvaccinated. If you really are the pro-vaccination doctors you think yourself to be, it’s your job not to coddle based on misrepresenting the statistical risk.It means you look at current peer reviewed data representing accurate scientific claims.

Your patients deserve you to do your damn jobs.

This pediatrician demonstrates it better than I ever could.

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Tattoo that backwards on your ass and stare in a mirror until it sinks in.

I understand that there’s a lot of money to be made on the anti-vax lecture circuit, writing the foreword for Jenny McCarthy’s next book, and being the physician of choice for Orange County’s rich and pseudoscientific. But guys… be the better asshole. Dr. Gordon, you showed me pictures of your cute dog named Buddy.  Your Buddy can hang out with my Buddy, the Science Dog if you ever come around on this. 

There might not be hope for you, but who knows, maybe Justin Bieber will come around.

 

-Science Babe

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26 Comments

  1. I love that, in the background of the first picture, it is written : go mercury free INSIDE A BENZENE. Like benzene is any less toxic that mercury.

    oh, I forgot, benzene is “natural” since it is found in crude oil… 😉

  2. Funny how anti vax and homeopathy seem to go hand in hand. Homeopathy, where the smaller the dose the more effective the cure. Anti vax, where the non-existent the proof, the greater the risk.

    Well done not slapping those bastards faces clean off.

  3. Maybe after graduate school I can work out again and join the team as “Psych-Hunk” haha. I love what you do. I am a psychology student (though I feel student is not strong enough of a title; more like psychology fanatic) and my particular area of interest is memory and misinformation. Specifically, I am interested in how people accept or reject new information and how people retain ideas in the face of retraction or opposition. One example is “the continued-influence effect” which has actually used 9/11 conspiracies, anti-vaxers, WMDs in Iraq, and other widely held specs of misinformation as test material to figure out what makes these people tick. Stephan Lewandowsky (currently moving from Australia to the UK for his research) has made some awesome contributions.
    As you are aware, however, the scientific process is agonizingly slow and even upon publication most people don’t hear about it or just simply add it to the list of ideas they deny. As such, I’m glad there’s people like you out there to get in the face of this type of dangerous misinformation.
    When it comes down to it (simply my idea based on theory, not data) I believe many of these people simply fear anything they don’t understand, be it science, government, business, or whatever. Combine this highly motivated state of fear with the manipulative public figures who profit from this (ie your bestie Food Babe) and you have a perfect storm of misinformation.
    Keep fighting the good fight

  4. While I would vaccinate my kids, on one level I agree with Dr Sears. If single dosing and spreading out the vaccines over a few weeks will get more people to vaccinate, why not?

  5. Jay Gordon, the Pontius Pilate of pediatrics, won’t vaccinate a patient in his practice unless the parents insist. Then if the child is ever diagnosed with autism or becomes ill in any way, the doctor can regretfully blame the parents for having forced him to vaccinate against his (scientifically-unsupported)better judgment.

  6. That was worth waiting for. It’s easy to call people assholes online, but..you..YOU and Mainstream Mama and ScienceBro (the pet name I’m using for “Do You Even Science, Bro?”) are my new, live action heroines/hero. The wig helps, too. 😉

  7. I was vaccinated… Had 1 of the measles as a child, the mumps too, as well as the chicken pox. I vaccinated all 3 of my kids on schedule since they were healthy. My 3rd child was diagnosed with Asperger’s Autism at 7… I just want to say he was different BEFORE he was immunized, now all you who say it is something in his vaccinations. NO IT WAS NOT. I hope the lawsuits from the Disneyland Measles outbreak rake in millions for the families of those children who were too sick to get their vaccinations … and not a cent for those who choose not to have their kid immunized. Place blame where it belongs.

  8. I think you misunderstood these gentlemen. While they perpetuate anti-vax agenda, they most likely know who you are, and they worm around you being friendly, but still not compromising their integrity towards the people who listen to them. Someone who follows them, reading your blog-post will most surely think the gentlemen were chivalrous, and that you are less so in just trying to crash their party (you gained no follower there). I agree with them, mercury is bad. I also agree that eating too much sushi is bad, in fact Japanese rarely eat sushi (funny that here in the west sushi is eating way more often than might be healthy). I don’t think it’s necessary to take a vaccine for everything, for diseases that might possibly kill another person if you contract it and spread it, definitely get a vaccine. For the regular seasonal flu, it’s really up to you whether you’ll just stay at home once/if you get it or if u wanna get a shot to avoid it. I also don’t vaccinate too often when I go abroad (against hepatitis, malaria, dengue, etc.). I’d rather take the risk than spend lots on vaccines with ~60% efficiency. It’s a bit like travel insurance, I did buy it often before, but the one time I sent in a claim I wasn’t covered because I wasn’t present when the damage happened. TL;DR: vaccines should be obligatory if they help prevent spreading disease or if they ensure (almost) immunity against life-threatening diseases. Vaccines for kids should be obligatory either way (set an age limit for when the kid gets to decide him/herself, like 16yo or somehing).

  9. Hi there. Just want to point out RFK Jr. is a lawye who is a full time conspiracy theorist. Not a doctor.

    Everyone else is selling their souls for money, but RFK is out there donating his time for the good of humanity (thankfully he has a trust fund). If he was just a lawyer names John Smith no one would listen to him and he would not have access to powerful people.

    I guess you can say he stinks.

    Love the blog! Found you via Seth Mnookin.

  10. Cool story, Umasuki. I’d really love to go on a diatribe about your lack of knowledge on the subject matter. I’d love to point out the inherent sexism of pointing out these nearly-criminal men’s “chivalry” in smiling at a public event in the face a of a woman questioning there idiocy. But most importantly, I want to say this- Next time you travel to one of the many places in the world where malaria or dengue takes countless lives, do me a favor and tell the people who live there that you refused a readily avalable vaccine. Then sit back and enjoy the machete.

  11. “their idiocy”, not “there”. I apologize to those reading my comment above. I occasionally rely on my smartphone to select words for me, but I forget that I need to check android’s grammar.

  12. I hope you’ll address the methyl mercury v. ethyl mercury issue at some point. People seem not to understand anything about chemical bonds, although I try to explain to them that they eat NaCl, and neither asphyxiate nor fizz about the room in a white-hot flame.

  13. I have a 3 year old son with autism (non-verbal) and an 18 month old son, who shows no signs of autism.
    Both have been fully vaccinated because we live in a 3rd world country (South Africa).
    Vaccinated Autistic

    People who don’t understand that correlation does not imply causation make me mad. Either way, even if it was a “cause of autism” I would rather have my gorgeous son have autism than have have measles, mumps or rubella with a high possibility of death.

  14. I can’t believe you didn’t stay and watch the movie. I thought it’d be a rehash of the same old arguments, but there was a LOT of information I hadn’t seen before, a lot of it really compelling. Things like transcripts from vaccine safety meetings and memos that are so damning I don’t know how they can be explained away. I am really eager to read a debunking of all the data presented in the movie and thought for sure I’d get it here. Are you working on it? I’d love to see you address all of the videos on their site that describe studies. Explain how they’re getting it wrong. Show them what’s up! Thanks.

  15. Unscientific proposal: perhaps the increase in diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders now is actually due to more doctors having more time outside of the polio wards and in their consulting rooms- what with preventable diseases having been largely controlled through widespreed vaccination programs …. :p 😉

  16. Hi Scibabe, I am a new mommy who adopted my son and it all happened very quickly. I didn’t have time to research things before he came home (5 days after I found out I would be his mother) and am having to figure out now if I will or will not vaccinate. I came across your page because I’m trying to learn as much as I can about why I shouldn’t trust the anti vax community and to be honest your approach in discussing this topic has actually pushed me to trust them more. This post comes across as hateful and overly opinionated and with no disrespect your over use of ignorant words comes across as uneducated. I don’t say this to put you down but as a mother who wants to do what is best for her child I want to be able to read blogs and find information from both sides and feel confident that the person posting it isn’t so over the top and so against learning new things or benine to being able to understand different sides of the argument.

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