In which Andrew Wakefield and Del Bigtree's antivaccine documentary VAXXED is reviewed...with Insolence!

Well, I've finally seen it. The things I do for my readers, the pain to which I subject myself by watching neuron-apotosing levels of pseudoscience, misinformation, and lies as antivaccine propaganda, in order to deconstruct them for your amusement and, I hope, education!

Yes, I've finally seen Andrew Wakefield and Del Bigtree's "documentary" VAXXED: From Cover-up to Catastrophe. Now, having watched Wakefield and Bigtree's "masterpiece," I can quite confidently say that it's every bit as accurate and balanced a picture of vaccine benefits and risks as Eric Merola's two movies about the quack Stanislaw Burzynski and his Second Opinion: Laetrile at Sloan-Kettering are about cancer and cancer research, The Beautiful Truth is about the Gerson protocol for cancer, Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days is about diet and diabetes, Expelled! No Intelligence Allowed is about evolution, and The Greater Good is about...vaccines! Of course, based on what I knew of the story, saw of the VAXXED trailer (which deceptively edited together statements by William Thompson), and have discussed about the efforts of Andrew Wakefield, Del Bigtree, and Polly Tommey to use VAXXED as a tool in a publicity campaign to try to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) about vaccines using the "CDC whistleblower" conspiracy theory (about which a primer can be found here), I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was actually surprised (slightly) at the manipulative depths to which this film sinks.

On the plus side, its production values are better than those Eric Merola's films (although I, with no experience, could probably make a film with better production values than Merola), but that just makes it somewhat more effective propaganda. In my review and discussion of the movie and its claims, I will discuss the claims made by Bigtree and Wakefield as well as the movie as a movie. Unfortunately, there is so much misinformation in this 91 minute documentary that I will only be able to hit the "high" points without going far, far beyond even a Gorski level of logorrhea in this post. Worse, there is a considerable amount of dishonest framing, in which actual facts and events are presented in a deceptive manner to tell a distorted narrative. Before that, though, let's meet the key players.

Dramatis personae

There are a lot of people featured in VAXXED. Some, like Andrew Wakefield, Del Bigtree, Brian Hooker, Sheila Ealey, and Polly Tommey, are featured extensively, some only briefly. It's a rag tag bunch of vaccine-autism pseudoscientists, parents who sincerely but mistakenly believe their children were rendered autistic by the MMR vaccine, and a couple of TV doctors. A more complete list can be found here, but the main players are:

The star

Andrew Wakefield: Andrew Wakefield is the director of VAXXED and, as regular readers know, a British gastroenterologist who in 1998 published a 12-patient case series in The Lancet that claimed to have found a correlation between the MMR vaccine, autism, and bowel disease. Given the amount of screen time he gets and how much the narrative keeps circling back to him, Wakefield is undeniably intended as the star and central character in VAXXED, even though the story is purportedly about Brian Hooker and William Thompson, the "CDC whistleblower". It was Wakefield's case series that launched the antivaccine fear mongering about the MMR vaccine that led to MMR uptake plummeting in the UK and the resurgence of measles in the UK and Europe. Ultimately, the General Medical Council in the UK stripped Wakefield of his medical license for research misconduct; his Lancet paper was retracted; and he has since been reduced to doing conspiracy ocean cruises along with crop circle mavens, other antivaccine luminaries, and New World Order conspiracy theorists. Clearly, directing a film in which the director is a major part of the story is rather a massive conflict of interest, and, not surprisingly, much of VAXXED regurgitates the lies and misinformation that Wakefield has been spouting for the last 18 years, while Wakefield's critics are portrayed in the most unflattering way possible or only in passing. Basically, a major theme of VAXXED is how the CDC whistleblower's revelations exonerate Andy Wakefield and his "finding" that the MMR causes autism.

Also starring

Del Bigtree: Del Bigtree is the producer of VAXXED and is also featured a great deal in the movie. (The producer and director, both showing up a lot on camera? Who'da thunk it?) It is unclear why a television producer and filmmaker with no relevant background in medicine or science is so heavily featured, although I do admit to having laughed out loud when he bragged about having been a producer of "the best medical talk show in the world" (The Doctors). Let's just put it this way: The Doctors is only slightly less quacky than The Dr. Oz Show but even more vapid. (Just check out its segment on vaccines from a few years back if you don't believe me.) The IMDB tells me that Bigtree produced 30 episodes of The Doctors between 2010 and 2015 and was a field producer for two. He also produced some segments for The Dr. Phil Show. These are hardly the qualifications I'd expect for someone to competently tackle a topic like this. Like Wakefield, Bigtree also makes the story about him by opining about how he had to make this movie because the mainstream press wasn't covering the CDC whistleblower, and the two seem to have a mutual admiration society bordering on a bromance going on.

Brian Hooker: Brian Hooker is a biochemical engineer who now fancies himself an epidemiologist. He is introduced as a scientist who's published extensively. Unfortunately, the vast majority of those publications have nothing to do with vaccines or autism and the ones that do are terrible. The best example of this is his 2014 Translational Neurodegeneration paper containing his "reanalysis" of William Thompson's data, which was ultimately retracted by the journal editor. (So Hooker and Wakefield share something in common!) He is portrayed as a "brave" scientist delving into secret CDC data (it's not so secret) with the help of William Thompson to find what "they" didn't want him to find.

William Thompson: I've written so much about William Thompson over the last two years that I'm getting tired of it. However, he is a key player in that he was a co-author on the 2004 DeStefano et al paper that failed to find a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Wakefield and Bigtree try to use Thompson's words contrasted with the negative result published in DeStefano et al as slam-dunk evidence that the CDC "covered up" data showing that vaccines cause autism in African-American children. In a fit of payback to his colleagues, Thompson had multiple conversations with Brian Hooker alleging scientific misconduct at the CDC. Unfortunately for him, Thompson did not know that Hooker secretly recorded several of these conversations. The transcripts of Thompson's conversations with Hooker (and why they don't show what antivaccine activists claim they show) are discussed in detail here. Thompson also gave a large number of documents to Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), a number that is sometimes claimed by antivaxers to be "100,000 documents" but in reality was far fewer. A detailed discussion of the documents Thompson gave to Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) can be found here, here, and here. On the other hand, all my writings and delving into how Thompson became the "CDC whistleblower" were an enormous help to me in seeing through the utter BS that VAXXED lays down in so many of its scenes, because VAXXED is basically the story of the CDC whistleblower through the lens (if you'll excuse the term) of Andrew Wakefield and his pathologic need to be “vindicated.”. Thompson is never seen on screen, other than by the occasional stock photo, which is understandable given that nothing has been heard from him since August 2014. However, inexplicably, I couldn't help but notice, as others did, that whenever Thompson speaks, this graphic of an undulating computer-generated line over a document appears on screen, with occasional key words and phrases popping out. It's very strange indeed:

Quoth William Thompson, a.k.a. the "CDC whistleblower": "Help, I'm a squiggle! Why am I a squiggle?" Quoth William Thompson, a.k.a. the "CDC whistleblower": "Help, I'm a squiggle! Why am I a squiggle?"

Co-starring: The parents

The parents, contrary to what the filmmakers want you to think, really aren’t given top billing in VAXXED. They do, however, share co-starring roles:

Polly and Jon Tommey: Polly Tommey is the editor of the magazine The Autism File, which peddles antivaccine pseudoscience and quack "autism biomed" treatments. Better known in England than the US, she has also worked closely with Wakefield on the Autism Media Channel (e.g., the deceptively told story of the murder of autistic boy Alex Spourdalakis, whose mother was heavily into “autism biomed” quackery). (As an aside, my writings on Alex Spourdalakis inspired someone to complain to my bosses. How typical.) She and her husband have an autistic son whose autism they blame on the MMR, and that is what drove her into the antivaccine camp. No mention is made in the movie that she has been a longtime collaborator with Andrew Wakefield. In the movie, she is presented just as another parent who believes her son's autism was caused by vaccines and now works for vaccine safety. In reality, she is as antivaccine as Wakefield. Some of the most exploitative footage of autistics used in VAXXED are of her son.

Sheila Ealey: Sheila Ealey is an African-American woman who believes her son's autism was caused by an inadvertent double-dose of MMR administered at 13 months. Her story has a lot of holes in it in that she claims his medical records were stolen from her evacuated apartment in New Orleans and that her lawsuit was thrown out because of Merck's machinations. These days, she's been appearing with Wakefield and Bigtree when they do appearances in communities that are predominantly African-American, like Compton. Her story emphasizes how her daughter, who did not get the MMR is an accomplished pianist and doing very well. Here is one segment featuring her:

Vaxxed Clip: Sheila Ealey, African American mother of Temple, describes how her son reacted to the MMR vaccine from Cinema Libre Studio on Vimeo.

Mark Blaxill: Mark Blaxill is an antivaccine activist associated with SafeMinds. His penchant for twisting science is well known. For inexplicable reasons he keeps showing up in the film, even though, he too has no scientific credentials to speak of.

There are also several other parents whose children are briefly featured, including one whose child is shown seizing in an (intentionally) uncomfortably long shot taken from home video.

Also appearing: The doctors and scientists

Besides Brian Hooker, three other scientists and "autism experts" are featured:

Doreen Granpeesheh: I had never heard of Doreen Granpeesheh before, but she shows up early in the movie as an autism expert. On her first go-around, she appears reasonable in discussing how autism is diagnosed, although she does repeat oft-debunked antivaccine tropes about an "autism epidemic." Later in the movie, she starts to let her antivax quack flag fly, opining about how autistic children are autistic because their "detoxification" is defective. (Remember, a lot of quack "autism biomed" therapies and concepts of "vaccine injury" blame impaired "detoxification" for autism.) She is the founder of The Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) but also worked at Thoughtful House back when Andrew Wakefield was the director. No mention is made of this prior connection.

Luc Montagnier: Winner of a Nobel Prize in Medicine (which he is shown receiving in VAXXED) for discovery of the virus that causes AIDS, Luc Montagnier has of late become the foremost example of what I like to call the "Nobel Disease"; namely, a tendency for scientists who win the Nobel Prize to descend into crankery and quackery. Of late, he's been publishing studies that seem to endorse homeopathy, appearing in an HIV/AIDS denialist film saying that HIV can be cured with supplements and diet, and presenting his work at the yearly autism biomed quackfest known as Autism One, to the point that the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism defended him. Clearly, Wakefield and Bigtree wanted him in VAXXED because his Nobel Prize adds scientific status to the antivaccine misinformation they present.

Stephanie Seneff: Stephanie Seneff is on staff at MIT and an expert in computer science, but for some strange reason is often presented as an expert on biomedical science, even though her only training in biology is a bachelor's degree from decades ago. She can't seem to make up her mind whether it's GMOs or vaccines that will ultimately make every child autistic, but that doesn't stop Wakefield from showing her repeating her risibly stupid claim that 50% of all children and 80% of all boys born in the year 2032 will be autistic. This claim is based on extrapolating current incidence trends in an exponential fashion and is about as ridiculous as claims get but is treated in the movie as a dire warning that we must "do something" (presumably stop vaccinating).

Del Bigtree also recruits two of the physicians from his old talk show The Doctors to help. More on that later.

Bookending VAXXED: The Disneyland measles outbreak

Now that we know the who, let's move on to the what. VAXXED begins with a pre-credits montage of news reports about the Disneyland outbreak and its aftermath. The outbreak, as you remember, started around the Christmas holidays in 2014 and persisted for months into 2015. It also focused the nation's attention on the problem of low vaccine uptake and the influence of the antivaccine movement, whose prominent members went into veritable contortions of logic and science to argue that the measles isn't serious and the story was overblown. The montage features reporters and pundits blaming the outbreak on low vaccine uptake. There's a clip in which Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy refers to Andrew Wakefield's long-discredited 1998 Lancet case series claiming to link the MMR vaccine to GI problems in autistic children, which Murthy quite correctly blames for launching the most recent iteration of the antivaccine movement, and one in which California Senator Dr. Richard Pan argues for the bill he co-sponsored last year, California SB 277, which ultimately passed and has eliminated nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine mandates in California. VAXXED even includes a clip from the Penn and Teller's Bullsh!t episode about the antivaccine movement and of President Obama stating how the vaccine-autism link has been debunked, to add to a clip by Dr. Murthy saying the same thing.

The reason I spent so much verbiage on the first two minutes or so of the film is to try to help you understand where Wakefield and Bigtree are coming from. The first segment on the Disneyland measles outbreak sets the stage. Wakefield, who directed the film, clearly hates scientists so routinely describing how his work has been "debunked" and at least in part wants to use VAXXED as a vehicle for his vindication. Those not familiar with Wakefield might not realize this, but I recognized it from the first minute of the film and Wakefield's choice to begin using the Disneyland measles outbreak and experts referring to his 1998 case series as having been debunked. Also, this montage segues to a shot of fingers typing on a keyboard, meant to represent CDC scientist turned "CDC whistleblower" William Thompson. The scene is dark; the contrast is high; and the voiceover is ominous. Thompson is quoted as saying "we lied about the scientific findings" and that the "CDC can't be trusted to police itself." Also, the Disneyland measles outbreak serves as bookends to the movie, as Wakefield and Bigtree circle back to the story in the last 15 minutes of the movie, portraying it as being used by the CDC and big pharma as a tool to sell vaccines and crush the CDC whistleblower conspiracy theory.

It's only after this that the title of the movie is shown, accompanied with a rather puzzling view of a syringe shooting out what looks like blue exhaust and lifting off like a rocket, behind which the letter X appears, later turning into the word "VAXXED." It looks like this poster:

VAXXED poster

What is it supposed to mean? Who knows? Vaccines as missiles? Vaccines spewing pollution? I don't know what this image is supposed to convey, but clearly it's meant to be just as ominous as the voiceover quoting William Thompson's words. The intent is clarified by the next image of a reenactment of Brian Hooker picking up his phone to answer an unexpected call from William Thompson. Soon after, Hooker tells the story of how his son regressed into autism two weeks after his 15 month shots. It's a dramatic story, a story very similar to the stories of many parents who fervently believe that vaccines caused their child's autism based on temporal correlation. Thus, the narrative is framed: Parents suffering through what is portrayed as the horrors of autism wronged by the CDC which, according to the "CDC whistleblower" covered up data showing a link between vaccines and autism.

This is a device that is used relentlessly throughout the film: interviews with parents who believe that vaccines made their child autistic interspersed with home video footage of their low functioning autistic children contrasted with earlier home video showing those same children looking happy and normal before vaccines. The message couldn't be less subtle. Worse, the shots of the autistic children are frequently nakedly exploitative, showing them at their worst. At times, the parents tear up as they tell their story. Basically, this movie uses emotional manipulation at its most naked. Indeed, it is a plea—nay, a scream—to believe the anecdotal evidence of these attractive, suffering parents over science. Wakefield and Bigtree then provide a highly slanted selection of data. It's also a powerful reinforcement of a particularly odious narrative known as the "lost child," in which the child is portrayed as perfectly normal until vaccines took that normal child away and made him autistic.

Oh, and Wakefield is vindicated. (Remember, this movie is, more than anything else, about Wakefield.) Indeed, the movie beats the viewer over the head later with Wakefield defending his retracted paper, with the clear message that the "CDC whistleblower" vindicates Wakefield, who is portrayed throughout the entire movie as the "brave" defender of children and vaccine safety advocate. Much of the first 40 minutes or so of the movie features Wakefield repeating the same lies he's been repeating for 18 years about how he came to want to investigate vaccines and autism (a parent called him out of the blue) with no mention of how he accepted large sums of money from a barrister looking to sue vaccine manufacturers. As Kathy at VaccinesWork notes, Wakefield's 1998 case series is treated as totally legitimate, with no mention of why it was retracted or that Wakefield had his medical license stripped from him. Wakefield recounts how he recommended the monovalent measles vaccine instead of the trivalent MMR, neglecting to mention that he had a patent on a competing monovalent measles vaccine. Basically, everything he says in this segment portrays Wakefield as a man willing to sacrifice all for his beliefs and vaccine safety and his detractors as motivated by ideology, greed, or part of the conspiracy between big pharma and the CDC. Oddly enough, the movie doesn't mention Brian Deer. Maybe it's because Brian Deer ripped the cover off the whole rotten edifice that was Wakefield's MMR scam and exposed it to the light of day.

I wonder why. (I know, sarcasm.)

The first holes in Brian Hooker's autism narrative

Hooker's story is dramatic and very similar to many stories of regression into autism after vaccination. It is also, as Matt Carey explains, a story that's full of holes. I don't mean to imply by this that Hooker is lying. Rather, human memory is malleable and parental recollection, when compared to objective records, is often shown to be incorrect. In this case, we have the records of Hooker's case before the Vaccine Court, for which a claim of vaccine injury was denied, to compare to what Hooker says in the film. I urge you to read Carey's post and Dorit Reiss' analysis of Hooker's case. Hooker states in VAXXED:

Two weeks after his 15 month vaccines, then he lost all language. He lost all eye contact. You would pick him up and he would just hang limp.

Yet according to court records, his son was seen by his pediatrician 19 days after his vaccination, and no such symptoms were noted, just fever, irritability, and decreased appetite. Moreover, other court records note that the Hookers had reported decreased eye contact as early as 12 months. Of course, there's no way for a viewer of VAXXED to know this or to be familiar with just how unreliable human memory can be and how easily memories over time come to conform themselves with preexisting beliefs. It is a human trait to which we are all prone. However, if VAXXED represents Hooker's story in such a slanted fashion, leaving out key pieces of information and presenting his flawed memories as fact, what else does VAXXED get wrong, intentionally or unintentionally?

Brian Hooker's incompetent "reanalysis" of DeStefano et al

I frequently refer to Brian Hooker as a biochemical engineer (which he is, by training and career) turned incompetent epidemiologist (which is what he demonstrates himself to be with every attempt at analyzing epidemiological data). In VAXXED, Thompson is portrayed as guiding Hooker, as Deep Throat guided Woodward and Bernstein during their investigation of the Watergate break-in, to the data that would reveal the conspiracy for all to see. (It's just that subtle.) The funny thing is that it is implied on more than one occasion that the dataset used by DeStefano et al was not available to the public and that Thompson was fearful of providing it to Hooker, but then it's claimed that through a "loophole" in the law through which Thompson guided Hooker, the "classified" dataset could be obtained legally.

Be that as it may, Hooker is an utterly incompetent epidemiologist. He analyzed data intended for a case-control study as a cohort study using "simple" statistical analyses. (Translation: He didn't bother to control for confounders.) Indeed, he was later featured on a video (now taken down) bragging about the "simplicity" of his statistical analysis, to which I responded: "Here's a hint. In statistics, simplicity is not beauty, nor is it rigor." Basically, Hooker tortured the data until they confessed what he wanted them to. No wonder his study was retracted by the editor of Translational Neurodegeneration, the journal that originally published it. One notes that this was a relatively new journal, likely a bit desperate for submissions, as most new journals are. That its editors decided to retract Hooker’s monumental piece of statistical malfeasance is a big deal indeed.

Ironically, Hooker's reanalysis is portrayed in the movie, as it's been portrayed all along, as "vindication" of Wakefield's finding that the MMR vaccine increases the risk of autism. It did not. Basically, it found a significantly increased risk of autism in a small subset (African-American males) of autism that was almost certainly spurious. For every other group, even Hooker's reanalysis was in line with there being no link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Of course, DeStefano et al is also presented as the be-all and end-all of studies examining whether vaccines are associated with autism, ignoring all the many other studies that have found no link. As I like to point out, even if DeStefano et al were totally discredited, the overwhelming scientific consensus would remain that the MMR vaccine does not cause autism based on many other studies, studies that VAXXED doesn't mention.

Asks VAXXED: Did the CDC commit fraud?

The answer is "no," as I've discussed time and time again, but, having set their story up in the first half of VAXXED, in the second half of the movie Wakefield and Bigtree then proceed to do their damnedest to convince you that the answer is "yes" with three "exhibits." All of these will come as no surprise to those who've followed the "CDC whistleblower" conspiracy theory, as they are claims that Wakefield and Hooker have been making ever since they first created the CDC whistleblower manufactroversy. The three "exhibits" are:

  • Exhibit #1: Deviation from the analysis plan
  • Exhibit #2: Omission of data
  • Exhibit #3: Destruction of documents

Between roughly the halfway point of the movie and the looping around again to the Disneyland measles outbreak, VAXXED makes each claim in a separate section with the title introducing it. Let's take a look at these claims individually

Exhibit #1: Deviation from the analysis plan

The first claim attributed to Thompson in this section is that the CDC scientists led by Frank DeStefano deviated from the analysis plan in order to "hide" a statistically significant association between vaccination with MMR and autism in African American children. I've discussed this issue before, as has Matt Carey long before VAXXED and in his review of VAXXED. In the VAXXED narrative, CDC scientists didn't like what they were seeing in the first analysis of the data that later formed the basis of the 2004 paper by DeStefano et al that failed to find a link between MMR and autism. The problem, as previously cited links show, is that the "race effect" was not discovered until after the final analysis plan was locked in, and no changes in the analysis plan were made after that. Moreover, the analysis plan did allow for the analyses that were ultimately performed, as Matt Carey has shown again and again.

VAXXED also claims that the CDC substituted birth certificate data in order to "hide" the association in African-Americans. I've discussed that claim in detail before, as have Matt Carey and Reuben. The bottom line is that it's a smokescreen. The birth certificate analysis was planned, and there were legitimate reasons for it.

Exhibit #2: Omission of data

The next seemingly damning claim made by Wakefield and Bigtree is that the CDC omitted data in the final published version of DeStefano et al. This claim was first trotted out in film form in a video made by Autism Media Channel (remember Wakefield and Tommey?) Specifically, it is claimed that there was a strong association between MMR and "isolated autism." What is "isolated autism"? In VAXXED, it's autism without developmental delay. In the movie, it's "just autism" and "nothing but autism"; i.e., completely normal kids with no hint of autism or autism spectrum disorders who didn't show any signs of autism until 18 months. The claim is that the CDC conspired to omit data showing a shockingly high relative risk of "isolated autism" in children vaccinated earlier. It sounds convincing if you don't know a lot about the issue. Indeed, if I were unschooled in the whole CDC whistleblower conspiracy theory, I would have been puzzled about how to explain it. Fortunately, Matt Carey is way ahead of me. First, he shows that DeStefano et al didn't "hide" the result. It's in Table 4 of the paper. What DeStefano et al did was similar, but not identical, to what Hooker claimed to have done. Instead of "isolated autism," DeStefano et al examined autism without mental retardation:

If you want to say, "well autism without MR isn't the same thing as 'isolated autism', consider this: the answer is basically unchanged from what Mr. Wakefield claims was "omitted". Take a look at the table: in the total sample, the group without MR has basically the same result as was supposedly hidden. Odds ratio 2.45 (compared to 2.48), with confidence interval from 1.20 to 5.00 (compared to 1.16 to 5.31). Which is to say: the CDC published the result that Mr. Wakefield claims was hidden.

Smoke. Mirrors. Wakefield. Hooker.

This result is 10 years old. And no one, not Wakefield, Not Hooker, not anyone in the real advocacy community has made a big deal out of it until now. I do not profess to understand how Mr. Wakefield nor Mr. Hooker think, but here's one reason why most people haven't considered this "autism without MR" result a big deal: this is a raw data result. A result unadjusted for any possible confounders. The adjusted result, also highlighted in the figure above, shows a confidence interval that spans 1. In other words, there's no suggestion of a real effect when one does a full analysis.

Which of course shows us why people do full analyses. Sometimes associations change when one controls for other factors. Sometimes associations get stronger. Sometimes they go away. Sometimes things that appear to not be associations are shown to be associations.

Yes, Hooker does love his "simple" analyses. Unfortunately, in epidemiology and statistics, "simple" usually means preliminary and not controlling for confounders. When confounders are appropriate controlled for, an analysis that is not "simple," and often those initially discovered associations go away.

Exhibit #3: Destruction of documents

The final "exhibit" seems most damning of all, but it's actually the simplest of all to deal with. When Rep. Posey gave his speech announcing the CDC whistleblower documents a year ago, he read a statement allegedly by William Thompson claiming:

The remaining four co-authors all met and brought a big garbage can into the meeting room and reviewed and went through all the hard copy documents that we had thought we should discard and put them in a huge garbage can. However, because I assumed it was illegal and would violate both FOIA and DOJ requests, I kept hard copies of all documents in my office and I retained all associated computer files. I believe we intentionally withheld controversial findings from the final draft of the Pediatrics paper.

Unfortunately, as Matt Carey and I pointed out, this story is highly unlikely as described. For one thing, as VAXXED mentions, all the remaining co-authors of the study other than Thompson have denied it (which VAXXED portrays as evidence of the conspiracy, of course), but more importantly it's just not very plausible given government data retention and computer backup policies. There is no evidence that raw data from DeStefano et al were destroyed. Yet VAXXED portrays a frenzied situation in the couple of years leading up to the publication of DeStefano et al in which, after the "race findings," the co-investigators met weekly to try to figure out a way to bury the finding, ultimately resorting to leaving out the problematic data. Wakefield also resorts to an appeal to disbelief, because he couldn’t believe that an epidemiologic study could take four years to complete and publish. Truly, it is obvious that Wakefield has not done anything resembling legitimate human subjects research since the early 1990s, if then.

Indeed, antivaccinationists seemed most displeased when the "CDC whistleblower" documents were released to the public by Carey and other bloggers because examination failed to find evidence of a coverup, no matter how much antivaccine-sympathetic journalists like Ben Swann tried to make them. We did learn from the documents that Thompson seemed to be a troubled employee back around 2004, as he complained about being placed on administrative leave for "inappropriate and unacceptable behavior in the work place."

The Doctors attack

Perhaps the unintentionally hilarious scene in VAXXED occurs near the end of the movie, right after the story loops back around to the Disneyland measles outbreak. After portraying the outbreak as a tool used by the CDC and pharma to silence those who "question" vaccines and stir fear to sell more vaccines, Bigtree is shown bringing in two of the doctors on The Doctors, Dr. Jim Sears and Dr. Rachel Ross. It's a scene that is so blatantly scripted, stilted, and fake that most reality show producers would have nixed it as being too obvious. Basically, Bigtree, after establishing that Sears and Ross have supported vaccination (which for Sears is doubtful) and administered vaccines (complete with shots of a pregnant Dr. Ross seeing patients and saying that she follows the CDC recommendations), gives them a set of documents, which he claims include the complaint about the CDC by William Thompson and the reanalysis of DeStefano et al and evidence of the CDC coverup. Shots of Ross and Sears in shock demonstrating acting more appropriate for a Telemundo soap opera follow. (All that is missing is the dramatically appropriate Latin score.) Next follow interviews, in which both state that their faith in the CDC and vaccines has been "shaken." Dr. Ross in particular states that she will be delaying the MMR for her baby and asks, "What else am I being lied to about?" She even went so far as to write an apology letter featured on the VAXXED website in which she regurgitates antivaccine lies about the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program and the CDC whistleblower and writes, "I apologize from the bottom of my heart to any children and parents that I have unknowingly harmed. I had no idea."

Truly, I believe that Dr. Ross has no idea. Actually, I should rephrase that to say that clearly she has no clue.

What's painfully hilarious about this whole sequence is how brazen it is. First, family practitioners and pediatricians (indeed, most MDs) are not scientists and lack the background to analyze the reanalysis of DeStefano et al. Second, they were only given one side of the story, with no context upon which to judge the claims made in the documents. Jim Sears, in particular, is the brother of Dr. Bob Sears, who has been discussed many times for his antivaccine-sympathetic views and his deceptive vaccine book and lately has been telling California parents how to avoid vaccinating after the passage of SB 277.

I blame Robert De Niro

I realize that documentaries are not necessarily supposed to be in any way "objective." Indeed, most documentaries have a definite point of view and are trying to convince the audience that the filmmaker’s point of view is correct. However, having a point of view, a position if you will, to argue does not give filmmakers like Bigtree and Wakefield license to present their data deceptively or dishonestly, but that's exactly what they do in VAXXED. That’s why some have referred to VAXXED, quite accurately, as a “fraudumentary.” They both present antivaccine misinformation and frame correct information in a deceptive way meant to persuade the audience that the CDC whistleblower conspiracy theory is real, that the CDC is covering up evidence that vaccines cause autism, and that vaccines are dangerous. In the process they trot out a large list of the "greatest hits" of the antivaccine movement, such as:

  1. Autism is an epidemic. Nary a mention is made of the effect of changes in diagnostic definitions in the 1990s, better screening, and diagnostic substitution that strongly suggest autism prevalence is likely not increasing.
  2. Vaccines are not tested for safety as rigorously as pharmaceutical drugs (and, oh, Vioxxx...). Wrong. They are tested at least as rigorously as than other drugs.
  3. The vaccine omnibus hearings were defeated by a single “fraudulent study” from the CDC; that is, DeStefano et al, the very study featured in VAXXED as having been revealed as “fraudulent” by William Thompson. Nope. You can also read more here. I also note that one of the children who was a test case used to establish biological plausibility, William Yates Hazlehurst, was shown in video in VAXXED without the audience being informed that this child was one of the test cases and that his parents’ complaint was denied.
  4. There has never been a “vaxxed vs. unvaxxed” study. This is a favorite antivaccine fantasy. First, the question is framed as a randomized study, like a drug study, in which one group receives a placebo. This, of course, would be unethical because one group would be left unprotected. It’s also not true that there hasn’t been a “vaxxed vs. unvaxxed” study. In fact, there have been several. They generally show at least no differences in health and often better health in the vaccinated group. Basically, the claim that there is no "vaxxed vs. unvaxxed" study is a lie, antivaccine propaganda.

Yes, VAXXED is a deceptive bit of antivaccine propaganda, but it's unfortunately become an influential piece of antivaccine propaganda. For example, Wakefield and Bigtree have actually successfully used VAXXED to win a meeting with powerful Congressmen like Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who is currently the chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (Dan Burton's old committee). Chaffetz met with Bigtree, antivaccine lawyers, and an antivaccine blogger with the 'nym Levi Quackenboss, best known for attacking a 12-year-old boy who posted a pro-vaccine video and having her posterior epically handed back to her in a hilarious manner, just a couple of weeks ago, with Chaffetz seemingly promising an "investigation" of the CDC. Meanwhile, Bigtree and Wakefield have teamed with Sheila Ealey to go into African American communities for showings of VAXXED promoting the CDC whistleblower conspiracy theory.

I blame Robert De Niro for a large percentage of the damage VAXXED can potentially do.

Why do I blame Robert De Niro? Recall that De Niro bypassed the selection process of the Tribeca Film Festival, which he co-founded, in order to get VAXXED a showing there. True, the uproar among writers and documentarians over his giving preferential treatment to VAXXED ultimately led De Niro withdraw the film, but the uproar also brought a lot of publicity to the movie, as did Robert De Niro’s outing himself as a particularly clueless antivaxer.

Unlike other antivaccine movies like The Greater Good, which found only a small audience and rapidly faded into oblivion, VAXXED stayed in the news longer than any antivaccine (or even any quack) film I remember. Bigtree, Tommey, and Wakefield launched a nationwide publicity tour, doing Q&A's after screenings all over the US, sometimes drawing decent-sized crowds. There might even be Congressional hearings (although I remain skeptical until I actually see it happening). Some African-American communities, communities that can least afford a decline in vaccination rates, have become more suspicious of vaccines, thanks to the CDC whistleblower conspiracy theory. There's almost certainly no way this would have happened if Robert De Niro hadn't given VAXXED a leg up by inserting it into the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival lineup. Even if there hadn't been such an uproar that forced De Niro to retreat, VAXXED could still have been marketed as having been selected for screening at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival.

Thanks, Mr. De Niro. Thanks for making a weak weapon for antivaccine activists much stronger than it had to be.


More like this

When last we left Andrew Wakefield, hero to the antivaccine movement, he was a headliner on the Conspira-Sea Cruise, a cruise filled with conspiracy theorists, crop circle chasers, cranks, quacks, and antivaccine activists. It was a huge come down from his formerly exalted position as chief…
Ben Swann, anchor of the evening news for the local Atlanta CBS affiliate and the face of his Truth In Media series of videos, thinks himself an investigative journalist and a truth teller, but much of what I see him reporting more closely resembles reporting as though done by a cross between Ted…
There is a disturbance in the antivaccine Force. I can sense it. Actually, it doesn’t take any special talent to detect this. You don't have to be some sort of pro-science Jedi. The evidence is everywhere. The most prominent examples of posts in the antivaccine crankosphere that tipped me off are…
There's always been a major thread of distrust of the medical profession in the African-American community, understandably so given the history of abuses such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, in which the natural progression of untreated syphilis was studied in African-American men for 40 years…

You will say again that it is out of topic, but I am not convinced of the existence of the "Nobel disease". A "Nobel disease" would mean that the scientists were sensible before getting the Nobel prize, and mad after getting it, with a higher incidence that in the general scientist population. This view stems from an irrational view of science, based on conformism, belief in authority, rewards and mismeasurement. There is a lot of evidence that Montagnier had silly ideas before getting the Nobel prize. The discovery of HIV relied mainly on the idea of Willy Rozenbaum, and Montagnier did a really good job in managing the project with many talented scientists. Good management is not incompatible with silly ideas.

By Daniel Corcos (not verified) on 17 Jul 2016 #permalink

"These are hardly the qualifications I’d expect for someone to competently tackle a topic like this."

I guess it depends what competently means. If it means "able to present Andrew Wakefield's version of events in a slick package and make an emotionally manipulative movie that may sway people," it seems he's competent.

If competent means "understand the science and present the facts not only in an engaging manner but also accurately," he is not.

By Dorit Reiss (not verified) on 17 Jul 2016 #permalink

Are you talkin' to me?

One of the amazing things about the #CDCwhistleblower manufactroversy - as you highlighted here, and aside from all the other problems you describe so well - is that the whole scandal is about what is, in essence, a relatively small study about MMR and autism, far from a centerpiece. In fact, it's not even part of the recent IOM assessment of the evidence on the issue, as part of its review of adverse events: "Five controlled studies (DeStefano et al., 2004; Richler et al., 2006; Schultz et al., 2008; Taylor et al., 2002; Uchiyama et al., 2007) had very serious methodological limitations that precluded their inclusion in this assessment. "

I think your point that even if everything Wakefield et al claim the evidence is still very, very strong that MMR does not cause autism is a really crucial one. Not only is there nothing to the story, but even if there was, it would not make the stories Vaxxed gives so much weight to any less counter-evidence.

By Dorit Reiss (not verified) on 17 Jul 2016 #permalink

Orac's review interestingly has more information about the filmmaking in Vaxxed than anything written by 'professional' film reviewers, who seem to have thought talking about the filmic aspects wasn't worth their time. And most of them bought into the 'heartbreaking' footage of the ASD kids, without noting how demeaning it is. (Sigh...)

Orac doesn't analyze the 'bookending' with Disneyland, other than to note it helps establish a frame for vindicating AJW. i suspect it does more than that, but I'll to wait until someone posts a pirate copy online, and I can actually see it to comment. I was surprised they did it that way, because it's a smart move...

And I'm pretty sure that's Bigtree's hand. If Andy is the 'director' of this in more than name, I'll eat Werner Herzog's other shoe. And while the interviews with Sears and Ross may draw derisive laughter from the blinking box, they sound like the intended audience will eat them up -- that is, this is the kind of thing tabloid TV shows like Dr. Phil and The Doctors do all the time, and usually 'work' like a charm for their millions of viewers.

As for De Niro, he got conned by slick grifter, and he's more victim than villain. So many different factors go into how a film gets dispersed and received – and this turkey in particular -- that's its ridiculous to single out any one of them for "blame". An out-of-competition, off-time, peripheral venue screening at Tribeca isn't even a toenail up, much less a leg. Vaxxed had lots of things going it's way that other AV films like The Greater Good didn't. Take away any one of these things (including, no doubt, lucky timing) and it wouldn't have made as much of a splash. But even w/o the Tribeca flap, it would have gotten out, gotten a fair bit of press, and lip-service from Jason Chaffetz... and no, he's not going to follow through on a hearing any more than Bill Posey is. As for the African-American communities... I'm not sure they're going to be more any more suspicious after Vaxxed than they were after Minister Tony got chummy with Andy's Gang, and I'm not sure that that's much more than they were before. I doubt inner-city vax rates will change much. We'll see, I guess.

Just a couple things about documentary in general: "Balance" is not an expectation, and whether "accuracy" is a valid criteria depends on how you define the term. There aren't simple "objective" criteria for when documentaries cross the line that Vaxxed apparently goes so very far over. For example, it's simply not true that its a COI for someone who's been a major part of a story to direct a film about it. Yes, the way AJW and Bigtree present themselves is by all accounts utterly bogus, but just being in the film they've made isn't a problem in-and-of-itself (see, Spurlock, Morgan; Moore, Michael, etc. etc.)

What I expect to find when I can finally get to see this thing w/o spending anything is exactly what Orac notes, something that taken in toto is a work of dishonesty. Matt has all the documents. Skyhorse published the most 'ominous' seeming parts of the Hooker-Thompson transcripts. And there's nothing there that supports the whole way they're selling 'CDC Whistleblower' at all. So, yeah, I'm guessing Raptor's label of "fraudumentary" has it exactly right.

I'm sure I'll grimace my way through it eventually, when it floats up with the rest of the flotsam of the Web. That it hasn't yet it is a sign that very few people, other than the ones who have already bought tickets, have any great desire to see it. The biggest AV film yet is still pretty miniscule in the big scheme of things. Which may be the only comforting thought I get this week...

Thank you, Sadmar - I don't know anything about film making, and your comments in the past about it in this context were really interesting and helpful.

By Dorit Reiss (not verified) on 17 Jul 2016 #permalink

In reply to by sadmar (not verified)

OK, I have to disagree with Orac and Prof. Reiss on something. I'm guessing a professional TV producer like Del Bigtree is 'competent' to "“understand the science and present the facts accurately,” It's not about competence. It's about motives. The scorpion has the competence to know he can't sting the frog. It's just not in his nature.

I don't think Mr. Bigtree understands the facts about vaccines. I agree his background alone does not mean he doesn't have the competence. But his many comments on the topic don't show understanding. He describes the Hepatitis B vaccine as injecting a sexually transmitted disease - which is wrong on multiple levels. When it was pointed out to him he ignored many studies about MMR his answer was that the DeStefano study was the last CDC funded - as if that's a reason it should be more powerful than much larger studies.

He simply doesn't show that he's competent to understand the topic. If he's trying to manipulate, I'd expect higher-level wrong answers.

By Dorit Reiss (not verified) on 17 Jul 2016 #permalink

In reply to by sadmar (not verified)

And to be clear - I agree there are real questions about his motives. It's not an either/or.

By Dorit Reiss (not verified) on 17 Jul 2016 #permalink

In reply to by sadmar (not verified)

Some are questioning your motives Madame Reiss.

By R.P. McMurphy (not verified) on 17 Jul 2016 #permalink

The bit that kills me is when Wakefield alters the content of the analysis plan. This is vintage Wakefield: he sees what he wants to see, and alters the content of document:

So, he complains to CDC, alleging fraud, and posts the following on the Vaxxed website as the critical sentence from the analysis plan. This is the plan that Bigtree opines on, in lieu of an expert:

“The only variable that will be assessed as a potential confounder using the entire sample will be the child’s race.”

And then you go back to the analysis plan, shown on screen but not so that you can read. Here is the document from which Wakefield purports to take the sentence:

“The only variable available to be assessed as a potential confounder using the entire sample is child’s race.”

This guy never stops. As I've said many times, if he told me the Earth went round the Sun, I'd check my wallet was still in my pocket.

He knows he's done that. Has he taken it down? Corrected it? Nope.

What a wretched individual.

By Brian Deer (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

Yes, no doubt because they cannot question her reasoning or facts.

My previous comment in response to R. P. McMurphy, somehow misplaced the quote.

This is curious how Dorit Reiss commented to this article within minutes of its' publication. She must be somehow allied with the publisher. This is the only logical conclusion.

By Sir Hubert McC… (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

@#15:When you comment on the blog post, you will see below the commenting box a number of options and boxes you can click. One of them is "Notify me of new posts by email." If you click that box, when a new post goes up, you can get a notification. If you're in the right time zone, you can read the post very shortly after it's up, and comment.

I hope that helps.

By Dorit Reiss (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

In reply to by Sir Hubert McC… (not verified)

Wakefield has found his con-man niche in the US with Vaxxed and its marketing machine--that of the seemingly concerned academic surrounded by an entourage of peeps (Tommey and Bigtree) more than happy to say the more inflammatory AV lies while Wakefield sits back projecting an aura of deep thought. He can walk back what any of his peeps say as needed, but he doesn't have to come across as the outcast he was in the UK after his exposure by Brian Deer. It's disappointing that Wakefield's downfall in the UK does not appear to be carrying the stigma it should in the US.

(I write this after seeing how Vaxxed (via Gathr) is now not only going to show in 4 Phoenix theaters, but also one in Tucson).

By Chris Hickie (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

@ #15: Your "only logical conclusion" is not logical. A more logical conclusion is that you habitually underestimate the intelligence and ability of those with whom you disagree.

By Chris Hickie (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

Ms. Dorit, please don't do that.

You had posted the first post. The notify me of new posts option would not have been in effect.

By Sir Hubert McC… (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

This is not the first blog post our host has posted in his long, productive career as blogger. This is not the first post I commented on. The notify me of new posts option has existed in the past, and since I love this blog, I opted to be notified.

No mystery.

By Dorit Reiss (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

In reply to by Sir Hubert McC… (not verified)


The only logical conclusion of what you find logical about my only logical conclusion, is that you are inept at formal logic.

By Sir Hubert McC… (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink


While your motives are pretty damn' clear...

@Dorit Reiss

The button is labeled notify me of new posts,;and not notify me of new articles.

By Sir Hubert McC… (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

@#23: This is a blog post.

Our talented host puts up posts on his blog.

The first option below the commenting box is to be notified of follow-up comments. The second is to be notified of new posts put up on this blog.

I hope that clarifies it.

By Dorit Reiss (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

In reply to by Sir Hubert McC… (not verified)

You talkin' to me?

And somehow I have managed to be the first to comment on a couple of Orac's posts...

Does this mean that I'm implicated in yet another conspiracy?

I'm surprised I have time for anything these days...

@ Sir Hubert McCarrison III #15
I commented first. The only logical conclusion is that I must be somehow allied with the publisher. Actually, we have an agreement on mammography induced cancer.

By Daniel Corcos (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

You have an agreement that mammography induces cancer, or you also have an agreement to cause cancer via mammography in practice?

By Dorit Reiss (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

In reply to by Daniel Corcos (not verified)

@Ms. Reiss I hope that clarifies it.

Not at all. You have just muddied the waters with that comment.

I'm never the first to comment, but occasionally I see a new article by our beloved host, before even a RSS feed has gone out. There is no plot involved.

The notify me of new posts button would not have worked unless someone had posted before you.

By Sir Hubert McC… (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

@Sir Hubert (by the way..."praise from Sir Hubert is praise indeed"): Quit digging. Orac's POST came up, Dorit was notified by email and placed a COMMENT to the POST. If you don't know the difference between a post and a comment, then you need to go back to Internet 101.

Can we get a better quality of trolls? These are almost too unintelligent to deal with. I miss the good old days when they at least tried to show they had some brains.

So you are saying that a new publication, a new article, is considered a post?

By Sir Hubert McC… (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

Alright. I will click the button and see what happens.

I disagree with the term post applied to new articles, but this may just be a mental shortcoming of the programmers.

By Sir Hubert McC… (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

I can't tell if the trolls are actually devolving or just resigned and not making any effort...

Sir Hubert Mcmoron

Actually, there is more than one option.

One; Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Which is what you get if someone comments in a post (a new topic by Orac is termed a post while replies are termend comments) you have already commented in. I.E. Comments following on from yours.

Two; Notify me of new posts by email. Which is what you get any time Orac posts on a new topic and before anyone has yet replied or commented.

If the above is too complicated I'll see if I can get my 5 year old godson to explain it to you in crayon.

By John Phillips (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

I see the trolls are already out in force on this one, and that their understanding of the notification check boxes is no better than their understanding of vaccination issues. There are two check boxes (actually three, but one of them is a duplicate) for notification: one for follow-up comments on a particular post, and one for subsequent posts by the same blogger. The former applies for a given comment thread only. The latter applies for any subsequent post by the blogger.

To the post topic: The question is how effective this film will be at persuading the people who aren't already firmly anti-vax but aren't as aware of the issues of most of this blog's non-troll commenters. Of course the documentary will push the producer's and director's point of view.

The last documentary that I saw in a theater, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911, had a point of view as well (and also featured Moore prominently). But I don't think it convinced anybody who wasn't already sympathetic to Moore's premise that W was asleep at the switch regarding potential Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks in the US, or that the attack was used as a pretext to go to war against Iraq, which had nothing to do with the attacks. The film was released in 2004, several months before the election, and W was re-elected.

I haven't seen Vaxxed (and given my low tolerance for weapons-grade stupid, will take Orac's word for it that there is a lot of it in this film), so I won't guess whether it is more effective than Fahrenheit 911.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

Yes. Be aware if you click the "Notify me of new POSTS" button, you won't get an email until tomorrow, most commonly. It's extremely rare for Orac to put up a new post more than once a day or on weekends. Not that it hasn't happened, but it is rare.

If you click "Notify me of Follow-up COMMENTS" button, you may get a deluge of emails, depending on how comments on this POST come.

As for the movie: I haven't seen Vaxxed. I won't see it unless it's free, and I can screen it in my own house where I can scream and throw stuff at the TV. I really dislike dishonesty, and the splicing of Mr Thompson's comments that Bigtree and Wakerfraud did angers me no end. And I'd REALLY like them to look at my family, where we have (undiagnosed, probable) family members with ASD and autism going back many generations. I have more family stories of the "weird" cousins who had trouble in school, married VERY late in life, were "so very intelligent but so naughty", who had to live their lives according to a very regimented schedule. And we're talking back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Can't blame the vaccines!

I fully understand now.

I disagree with the term, but I understood before your insulting explanation.

I just found it odd how the most notorious pro-vaccine bloggers somehow found this article, sorry post, within minutes of its' publication.

By Sir Hubert McC… (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

Where is the Notify me of John Phillips' death via E-mail button?

By Sir Hubert McC… (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

@ Sir Hubub McCarrion Nth--I doubt you understand much of *anything* given your postings.

By Chris Hickie (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

Big words for a reptile.

If you don't understand the ambiguity of the word post, then you are partially exonerated

By Sir Hubert McC… (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

You are cold-blooded Chris Hickie.

By Sir Hubert McC… (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

... Christ, could you guys actually comment on the article / post's content instead of nitpicking on the timing of a commenter and the use of a button ?

People claim to have been hurt by vaccines, and you making a mockery out of that.

By Sir Hubert McC… (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

I'll read the article when I sober up. Good night.

By Sir Hubert McC… (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

@ Sir Hubert Mcmoron. P.S. adding a new topic to a blog is commonly referred to as posting. Hence the oft used abbreviation in comments or replies, OP, standing for Original Poster or Original Post and referring to either the author that started this particular topic thread or the post that did. Context will usually help differentiate betwee the two in a reply or comment. E.G. 'the OP is obviously well read...' obviously refers to the poster, while 'the OP is well written...' refers to the post itself.

P.P.S. as to a death to John Phillips button, not only a moron but a nasty bit of work with it. However, no doubt you will be disappointed to learn that far better than you have wanted the same yet I'm still here.

By John Phillips (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

Sir Hubert McCarrison III, R.P. McMurphy, Alfred Huxley, "De Niro," Del Monte, WeberShandwick, and HillandKnowlton (at least) are sock puppets. That is a bannable offense, and the ban hammer is hereby brought down. Clearly, I haven't been paying enough attention to the comments, to allow one commenter to take so many sock puppets over the last few days. Sorry about that.

This is curious how Dorit Reiss commented to this article within minutes of its' publication. She must be somehow allied with the publisher. This is the only logical conclusion.

Or she could simply have observed my posting patterns and divined that I very commonly post at 3 AM Eastern time. She's in California; so that's midnight there.

The anti-science crowd... quantity over quality, every time.

By shay simmons (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

@Orac: Thanks. I wondered if some were socks but didn't realize all of them were.

What I can't understand is how parents are so willing to exploit their children as the parents in the movie do. There is no amount of money for which I would allow someone to film my child on a bad day and put it into a movie. And to show all bad with no good...I don't get it. Are they claiming their child NEVER has a good day, that they never enjoy being with that child? (PGP, I already know your answer, please don't respond.)

You can't debate (as usual with AVers) regarding Vaxxed. If you haven't seen it, you are not worthy to comment. If you have seen it, you cannot post anything critical of Vaxxed. Doing so results in immediate assignment by AVers to the categories of shill/baby killer/war criminal/nanobot swarm/etc. I'd sooner deal with a room full of melting down 3-year olds having a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

By Chris Hickie (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

Orac@49: Cheers for that. I hope the hammer made a satisfying squishy sound when it came down.

p.s. To all the altmed and antivax cretins who believe that pretending to be six different people makes their arguments six times more Truthy:

Oddly enough, that's not how honesty works!

All it does do is take whatever attention and credibility you might have gained and flush it so far down the sewer it will take the next million years just for it to crawl back out again. So are you sure you're not really highly-paid double-agents in secret employ of His Scaliness Lord Draconis himself? 'Cos you couldn't find an easier and quicker way to totally torpedo your entire cause if you tried. Brilliant job, keep it up!

MI Dawn@52: Considering all the other unspeakable torture and abuse such parents inflict on their own children in the name of MAKING THEM NORMAL, displaying them in this twisted Triump of the Will(ingly Mendacious) is small, small beans indeeed. Next to such unhinged lunatics, even the most deeply autistic child is a shining beacon of neurotypicality by comparison! Alas, I fear the only effective ABA for such far-gone nutbars is that which comes ready-wrapped round a large gold brick—and fuxxing Andy would just steal the brick first anyway.


In the end, only the full and hideous truth about what these people truly are will stop them: making everyone else in the world realize just how utterly perverted and twisted this poisoned cult of child abusers really is, and so end its influx of new blood for good. Mad props to all the shills and minions who really stand up for these kids, and may your unrelenting honest hard work yield the greatest reward of all (and I don't mean filthy checks either;p).

Chris Hickie@53: My personal favorite is when they reject all such criticisms as "Shooting the Messenger", while oddly forgetting to mention that Messenger, Message, and Source are all one and the same—Brilliants!!!!1!!

Oh, and don't feel bad: you folks were around way before us homeotherms arrived, and by looks of it you'll be around a lot longer afterwards too.

MI Dawn bemoans the poor quality of trolls at RI.

Oh I agree.
I had such hope that Jake would continue on at the other post but Alas!- he left. I suppose PGP was too much for him.

At any rate, he currently is lauding a monstrous, orange-hued political demagogue at his own blog.

I notice that some of the OTHER loons I survey support either the Orange One himself or a third party choice who will enable him to possibly ((shudder)) win.**
I know 538's Silver seems to think otherwise.

Don't forget, polls said Brexit wouldn't win either.

I need a drink.

** instant analysis:
they have high income and want low taxes/ low services.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

Orac@49: Thanks. I wondered why there was such an onslaught of trolls this morning. I don't know if all of those pseudonyms are meaningful, but "HillandKnowlton" caught my eye: Wikipedia confirms my recollection that that was the name of a PR firm with a history of dubious clients (they now call themselves "Hill+Knowlton Strategies").

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

MI Dawn on her weird relatives:
"And we’re talking back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Can’t blame the vaccines!"

But of course we can - it was the smallpox vaccine. No one had oddball relatives before Jenner mucked things up.

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

@DB: Sorry to disabuse you, but the first person to be vaccinated in that family bunch was my great-uncle when he was drafted for WWI. No one before that (very small town Ohio) had the vaccine.

His youngest brother, my grandfather (by 16 years), often told the story of the town outcry when they heard about the vaccine. Apparently, they misunderstood what the vaccine did, and thought that the Army, for some reason, was giving all the draftees the smallpox disease, and it was a plot by the "Huns" to kill them all before they could go fight.

I wondered why there was such an onslaught of trolls this morning.

Worse, there are trolls who take advantage of the fact that even I require sleep to run wild while I'm sleeping. They're usually in far removed time zones and so are awake when I'm asleep, but sometimes they're just night owls. Whatever the reason, they know that, at the minimum, between the hours of around midnight and 5:30 AM, I'm not likely to see what they are posting.

Thank you for a well-presented critique of the [dis]information presented in this "documentary". Unfortunately, though, I suspect that - by critiquing it - there are those who will see this as "validation" that there is something to the whole AV movement. Alas, one cannot cure stupid.

By Selena Wolf (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

Due to personal circumstances I have spent many years researching information about the Urabe mumps vaccine. During this time I have had to endure a significant number of individuals spreading misinformation and dodgy facts in an attempt to manipulate the Urabe 'story' into something it never was.This is entirely disingenuous to those who did suffer aseptic meningitis and lasting neurological conditions as a result of having received Urabe containing vaccines. To be absolutely clear, the Trivirix urabe containing MMR vaccine was withdrawn in Ontario following a circulated memo to healthcare practitioners on 18th July 1988 (Canada Diseases Weekly report November 19th 1988). Pluserix, the UK brand of Urabe containing MMR was granted it's product licence on 17th June 1988, a month BEFORE Trivirix was withdrawn in Ontario. It was not the same month as stated in the film.

By Wendy Stephen (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

What I can’t understand is how parents are so willing to exploit their children as the parents in the movie do.

I see has has channeled "the PGP comment" @55. Wicked Swiftian satire, perhaps? Let me offer another understanding:

Orac reports some of the most exploitative footage is of Tommey's son. For her, the ends justify the means. The way she's willing to have her son represented may not reflect the way she actually treats him. Any parents who aren't full-on AV partisans whose kids appear in Vaxxed almost certainly weren't willing to exploit their kids as the film does. They would have been recruited and interviewed under deceptive pretenses. (This is SOP in documentary, actually. Again, it's the specific context that makes these things either 'bogus' or 'OK'.) The clips that appear in the film will have been 'cherry picked' from hours of raw footage

Filmmakers use the term 'shooting ratio', which means the time length of all the raw footage over the total run time of the finished piece. In the video era, that will run between 30:1 and 120:1 for a documentary.

'Regular people' who appear in documentaries tend to view the finished works through their own biaes. If the maker shows them the film before release, they almost always say, 'yes that's a fair depiction of me', no matter how they've been portrayed. They don't see the subtleties created by editing. What often happens is the films get seen in public, the people on screen get some kind of coverage they don't like, and then turn on the filmmakers, accuse them of exploiting them and lying, disowning the film. This happens with great films, not just trash. Given that the published reviews have not criticized the way the ASD are portrayed, and the reviewers have mainly just expressed sympathy for the parents, any of them who aren't Tommey-ites just won't see how Bigtree et. al. have used them.

Which is not to say they're all great parents. It's just to say Vaxxed won't give an accurate take on their everyday relationships with their kids. The kids may have good days, and the parents may have rewarding times with their kids. There may be actualities of the good days/rewarding interactions, and substantive stretches of interview footage where the parents talk about them.

In short, you're not seeing the parents or kids, you're seeing a rhetorical construction made out of selected bits of their realities, all captured from some point of view that frames them in certain ways even before their edited. Which is all true in any documentary, regardless of how fair and noble the intent of the makers may be.

@ Prof. Reiss #9:

"His many comments on the topic don’t show understanding." And then you patiently and calmly try to explain the post notification system to a sock puppet who DOES know exactly how it works (how do you think he got here @ #3?). Such charming naivete! Dude understands the Web well enough to create multiple false identities, yet 'his many comments on the topic don’t show understanding'. Of course they don't. Its called 'trolling'.

Bigtree is a troll. Professionally. He's a 'creative' in the world of tabloid media, which we might as well call 'troll media'. If you were expecting higher-level wrong answers, you obviously haven't watched Nancy Grace, Geraldo, The Apprentice... or the 2016 Presidential campaign.

Selena Wolf@62: Not stupid. Stupid is fixable, given a willingness to learn (including learning how to learn). The antivax movement is very deliberately self-deceiving: a truckload of Dunning-Kruger tipped into a lake of motivated reasoning and all topped off with a toxic cult of personality bloom.

What's missing is not intelligence—without which such an expansive and resilient alt-reality couldn't be crafter—but any sort of ethics, intellectual integrity, or basic self-honesty; because all but the most evil acolyte wouldn't be able to stomach such malicious mendacity for long. And a belief without believers is nothing, just as these believers have long ceased to be anything except their belief.

That makes them a lot more dangerous, because as their beliefs—and thus their entire egos, status, and income—are backed into a corner, they can only become more vicious and unrestrained, because the thought of losing everything they have become, and being nothing, is utterly anathema. And while stupidity tends to be self-limiting in the scale and quantity of damage they can cause, intelligent people are restrained only by the size of their imagination and their willingness to discard even the most fundamental societal restraints in order to destroy their deadly foe before it destroys them. Look at Poland invading Germany; look at Daesh; look at the Lord's Resistance Army; look at Jim Jones.

To quote Steven Weinberg: “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” And this anti-vax movement is religious extremism through and through.

sadmar@63: Not really in a Swift mood today. But while I may be ten times the misanthrope PGP will ever be, there are certain things which just push my buttons more than anything else; and allowing one's own desperate self-delusion to get to the point where it actively harms others positively mallets them.

Why? Because I know from first-hand experience the pain and damage my own desperate self-delusion has done to other people around me, and that is something I absolutely cannot accept or forgive of myself—and yet even that's nothing next to what these people have already done and continue do. So why should I bend over backwards to rationalize or excuse their actions when I absolutely refuse to do so for myself?

Now, if you can show evidence that any of these parents were not already way down the rabid hole of antivax, altmed, and autisim curebies, but were in fact completely duped as to the purpose and involvement of this film, then please bring it. Absent that, I see no reason to grant any of them any more benefit of the doubt, because after 20 years of this shit I do not believe any parent of an autistic child does not know more than enough about the entire autism ecosystem to recognize the difference between the Cult of Andrew and fucking reality.

Do not attribute to innocence and gullibility what can be more than adequately explained by motivated reasoning and depraved indifference to truth and morality. Not when other people's bodies and minds are on the line; least of all such frighteningly vulnerable kids.

What's up with the non-African American parents features in this film? Even Hooker's reanalysis showed no correlation for them...

Brian Deer@12

The bit that kills me is when Wakefield alters the content of the analysis plan. This is vintage Wakefield: he sees what he wants to see, and alters the content of document:

Thanks Brian. This is a great example. Plain old dishonesty (as opposed to the academic flavor) is something everyone can understand.

By capnkrunch (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink


This heavily insolent review of Vaxxed was an easy speed- read and at times very funny (e.g., vaccine FUD).

Thanks for the one-of-a-kind Oracian perspective. :-)

By Michael J. Dochniak (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

Some are questioning your motives Madame Reiss.

No one of any importance is.

By Science Mom (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

OT but are potentially actionable posts by Mikey's minions EVER truly OT @ RI?

I would think not.

SD Wells again attacks our most amiable, brilliant and magnanimous host at Natural News ( yesterday) by ( free) associating him with a convicted criminal doctor who lived/ worked in the same city.

Nothing new but interestingly, his sources include well-known news outlets AND ( obviously) Natural News in its many guises. Funny, how he lists those with the more respectable ones listed first.

It would be like listing NYT, BBC and in the same breath.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

@ sadmar # 65:

Professional troll. What a concept!
You're probably right.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

Andrew Wakefield?

How about Andrew Fakefield!

God! Is't homeopathy stupid! Why don't all these anti-vaxxers eat a giant penis!

Right people???

By DangerousAcorn (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

@Dangerous Bacon #59:

But of course we can – it was the smallpox vaccine. No one had oddball relatives before Jenner mucked things up.

I used to live opposite the clinic where Jenner distributed his vaccine to the poor for free. 'Oddball' wouldn't begin to describe the behaviour of some of their descendants at that end of town...

By Rich Woods (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink


Obvious troll is obvious.

"Right people???"

We are the right people. Thank you for noticing. You on the other hand appear to have a problematic self-image problem that you project onto us, and then seem confused when the results don't match your distorted perception. As noted by Johnny on another thread the sock drawer may indeed have been inadvertently left open.

People claim to have been hurt by vaccines, and you making a mockery out of that.

If you don't make fun of eedjits and their delusions, they'll never learn any better.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

This is curious how Dorit Reiss commented to this article within minutes of its’ publication. She must be somehow allied with the publisher. This is the only logical conclusion.

I'm kind of surprised that, rather than arguing about radio boxes, nobody either made the simple observation that Daniel Corcos posted first or asked "how many minutes?"

From the main article:Perhaps the unintentionally hilarious scene in VAXXED occurs near the end of the movie

There seems to be slightly ungrammatical. I am just trying to be helpful here.

I wonder how they created the photograph of the the smoke-filled syringe seen on the cover of the film "Vaxxed"? Perhaps Wakefeild drew it out of Hooker's plastic marijuana-smoke-filled-bong while Montagnier was taking a puff?

I makes you wonder?

@ has #67:

I'll have to see the thing before commented specifically on the parents not named Polly Tommey or Brian Hooker who appear in the film. You might find it hard to believe ASD parents don't know the scoop on AJW, but I know several of them and not a one of them have heard of Andy or have any real knowledge of anti-vax. I also know from first hand experience how easy it is for filmmakers to cloak their agendas, and get people to agree to appear in a film (you might ask Paul Offit about that, IIRC). And I know, again from firsthand experience on both sides of the camera, how far the way someone can appear in a film can be from who they really are, even when the filmmakers are earnest and ethical and doing-the-best they-can -- which Del certainly wasn't.

Again, think tabloid TV. Nancy Grace's staff has been able to sucker people who have no clue what they're in for onto her show for years on end. After one mom she grilled committed suicide with a gun in 2006, another mom got a similar treatment in 2012, went home, poured gasoline over herself, lit it off, and burned to death. And all this after the infamous incident in 1995 of the guy who so mortified that Jenny Jones introduced him on-air to someone with 'a secret crush' on him, who turned out to be a male friend, that he murdered his admirer after the show.

FWIW: When I started writing #6, there were no comments yet. I just happened to refresh a page and see the new post. I don't get any kind of notifications, and I'm sure Orac would be amused at the thought that the only logical conclusion from a time stamp on one of my comments would be that I'm one of his inner circle factotums (Daniel, too,methinks...).

But the troll knows that, and is just trying to bait and infuriate , derail the discussion, and clog up the bandwidth. Alas, the score in this game was Troll 10, Minions 0.

Yet VAXXED portrays a frenzied situation in the couple of years leading up to the publication of DeStefano et al in which, after the “race findings,” the co-investigators met weekly to try to figure out a way to bury the finding, ultimately resorting to leaving out the problematic data

This is one claim that never completely makes sense to me. If a powerful organization wanted to suppress a particularly damning bit of data over which they had exclusive control, why would they go ahead and publish anyway? The best way to keep news from getting out would be to not write scientific papers about the work. That they bothered to write a journal article, of all things, shows that they had no interest in subterfuge. If they were in the business of manufacturing a result, there's no reason to think they would do such a sloppy job at it --not like the CDC is under threat of publish or perish! If the article doesn't show what they *want* it to, they could just never submit it.

Ah, but viggen @82, you're thinking like a normal person, not like a conspiracy theorist. Therein lies the difference.

Thankfully it *is* the kind of argument that will sway some fence-sitters, sort of like how the "the Soviets watched the whole moon landing and totally would have called a fake" argument sways a lot of people (before they have to be punched by an octogenarian astronaut).

By JustaTech (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

DW:Hah! Jake and the Orange one deserve each other. Sadly, I think Nate Silver's wrong on this one. Trump will win. US citizens don't want parks, clean air, science, rights or immigrants anymore.

The economy's been bad for so long (in theory, I know it's in recovery, but no one who's earning under a million is seeing a penny of that recovery.), that everyone is looking for scapegoats, and as a result of Obergefell, they want blood. If you give rights to one minority group all the others are going to have fewer rights.

By Politicalguineapig (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

Now that Bigtree is calling on supporters to go for their weapons, I wonder how Congressman Chaffetz feels about allying himself with their cause.

I can see this sort of thing going over in parts of Idaho, but Utah should be a little more sane.

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

Despite Matt's statement that "this is no joking matter," I think that persistently asking Del what the hell the statement was supposed to mean could be extraordinarily entertaining.

This is not exactly the Panthers and Sacramento, and I tend to doubt that anyone is going to get more crazy-dangerous by virtue of Del Bigboote (who seemed to be sweating heavily)* pausing for effect in what was likely a rather tedious Q&A** while seated next to a bored-looking Tommey*** after a random Pittsburgh screening.

* I think he's on the stuff.
** No, I only watched the clip, not the whole thing.
*** I've seen that outfit before.

^ Right, not an actual sentence in that second paragraph. Please imagine "and issuing a call to arms" at the end.

BTW, Dorothy Spourdalakis's next court date is July 27. I have exactly no idea what's going on with this case. (Competence, maybe?) Apropos of Del, though, I have previously wondered whether any of the other actors would be interviewed by the police. My completely uninformed sense is that there's just not going to be a trial here.

Dangerous Bacon: I can see this sort of thing going over in parts of Idaho, but Utah should be a little more sane.


By Politicalguineapig (not verified) on 18 Jul 2016 #permalink

@Mom #70:

I went to the bother of actually looking into those accusations. Just ever more boring "six degrees of Big Pharma" at play. Apparently you can't comment on health issues you have ever worked for or studied at a university that currently or formerly had a contract with a pharmaceutical company. So...every doctor and scientist ever.

I have never seen the antivaxxers come up with a reason their own prophets are forgiven for profiting from their activities.

I've always ignored the boxes at the bottom of the page since they say something about email and I already get quite enough of that, thank you very much. But even a bear of such little brain as myself know that Orac posts regularly and usually sets the posts to appear at midnight by my local time, so I frequently tune in then and find a fresh post to read with at most a few comments.

And what do you know? It's quarter past midnight and we've been blessed with a new post, which at the moment has just a single comment. I'm psychic!

By weirdnoise (not verified) on 19 Jul 2016 #permalink

"I’m psychic!"

Technically you're a rabbit playing a bugle, which is awesome enough as it is. Uncanny predictive powers are just a neat bonus.

Meantime, while minions here are still crawling to #100, the NotSoSecretOtherBlog is teetering on the 2000 mark(!) as we speak. Oh Insolence, why hast thou forsaken us? Even with the bulging sock drawer, that's no way to compete.

@has (95): Over here, we get fresh Insolence almost every day (weekends usually excepted, as our gracious host takes well-deserved time off). At the NSSOB, it's usually only once a week, so the comments here get more spread out (usually) between related posts.

In regard to Dr. Andrew Wakefield, Del Bigtree, and the movie "VAXXED", this quote from Rob Siltanen says it all:

"Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do."


At least you didn't say changed the world for the better. Mr. Wakefield (he has no right to MD Dr.) has indirectly killed more people than most serial killers; Bigtree is inciting people to use firearms against others and the Vaxxed the vomitmentary will cause even people (yes, children are people) to be harmed.

that should be: more people

Kathy @97: Yup, they can sure change it for the worse!

By JustaTech (not verified) on 20 Jul 2016 #permalink

Yes, Montagnier is not anymore France's best scientist. He thinks wrong ideas to make money. He has always been like this.

Real scientist puts science first and money second.

By Tenfold Shrew (not verified) on 09 Aug 2016 #permalink

Some interesting details of Del Bigtwig's background just popped up from casual reading of the woo sites:
VaxXed August 18 at 5:44pm ·

Del's family!
#Vaxxed in Boulder
Unity of Boulder Spiritual Center

In the vid we get to meet Del's family -
His father, his mother, and a sister.
They run/own the Unity Church of Boulder:
Note the winged sun symbol from ancient Egypt. I believe it is one of the Ra symbols.
Note one of the upcoming events - Sacred Feminine Circle.
Note a recent post by Norma Groverland, Del's mother: 5 Essential Oils You Need for Your Emergency Kit
Note a recent "sermon" by Jack Groverland, Del's father: The Master’s Yoga

The family:
Apparently the Unity Church is a New Age Church embracing various NuAge beliefs similar to The Secret, The Ra Material, etc.
They claim to be Christian but I think most Christians would balk at the concept.
- Spirit-Led–We are centered in God. Spirit leads our thoughts and actions as we co-create a world that works for all."

Mmmm-hmmm. The NuAge concept that the believer is a co-God, co-creating reality (presumably by intention = wishing). Not a very Christian concept, but a firmly NuAge, SciFi, woo-woo concept.

So, to me, this explains Del's genesis into the world of woo. He grew up immersed in NuAge woo-woo.
He's just another crystal clutching NuAge kook.

News4 San Antonio, an NBC affiliate actively promoting the film DVD release having district attorney speak:…

The false (im)balance of the news report last night about the science involved with infectious disease was a head shaker, incredulous. It had all of about ten seconds for a medical practitioner to explain the value of vaccines and why there was no CDC "cover-up".....versus 95% of the media time devoted to the political points needing to be scored by the attorney, and of course, promoting the release of the DVD for purchase.