For shame, NPR, for falling for false "balance" about vaccines!

This is going to be uncharacteristically short, for me that is. I sometimes listen to NPR as I drive home from work, and I happened to be doing just that yesterday evening when I heard a story about the new Institute of Medicine report on vaccines and the vaccine schedule. (Stay tuned for my post on that in a few hours.) The report was crisp and summarized the findings of the report quite well. Then, at around what I know to be the three minute mark (now that the audio is up) I heard something most dismaying. Yes, believe it or not, for the "other side" of an issue for which there is no other side, NPR interviewed the grande dame of the antivaccine movement and founder of the virulently antivaccine group the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), Barbara Loe Fisher. Seriously. NPR did, but it's worse than that. NPR didn't describe NVIC as what it is, antivaccine, it simply described it as a "nonprofit advocacy group," who let loose with her usual antivaccine misinformation.

Stunned, I immediately looked for the audio online and, as I said above, found it. All I can say is For shame! For shame, NPR! Just as I've noticed journalists not falling for false "balance" between antivaccine quacks and real scientists, what does NPR do? It falls for false "balance" between and antivaccine quackery supporter like Barbara Loe Fisher and the real scientists of the IOM.

Get in the sack, Barbara Loe Fisher. You too, NPR!

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That definitely deserves a letter - consider it sent, Orac.


I'll send a note to each of my two local NPR stations and to the HQ as well.

If they must interview an evidence free source, they should label it as an evidence free source.

Even Science Friday does the same. Completely unquestioning acceptance of whatever drivel the guest chooses to spout. AND Ira tries to turn everything into a story about global warming. I've almost stopped listening because it's ceasing to be a credible source.

I was just commenting the other day on Twitter how I wish U.S. media could be as savvy as Australia, where anti-vaccine cranks are called anti-vaccine cranks.

I sometimes listen to NPR as I drive home from work

There's your problem right there. Over the years NPR has acquired a reputation of being one of the most heinous promoters of false balance (on political blogs they are sometimes called Nice Polite Republicans, for reasons that will be obvious if you are familiar with such blogs). I, for one, don't have the time or patience anymore for negative value added information sources like that.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 17 Jan 2013 #permalink

It is because of events like this and the overwhelming woo presented on PBS, that I have decided to cease supporting NPR and PBS. This was a difficult decision, as I have been giving to public broadcasting for 47 years, but they've crossed the line. BTW, I've written, expressing my dismay, but have never received a response.

I heard it last night too, and my 13-yr-old-who's-going-to-be-a-doctor called out from the back seat: "I can't believe they're letting that woman (Loe Fisher) talk on NPR! That's not scientific!" Good girl.

It's a bit worse than this. As I wrote in DoubtfulNews, NVIC was consulted as a source for this story across the board. I traced the MSNBC piece back to a syndication from Health Day. I can't tell for sure but I think everyone just followed off of that story. I saw the NPR story later in the day. The time stamp is 6:52 PM.

I posted this story at 2:53 PM.…

I often link to rebuttal pieces posted from this blog or SBM when they address news stories so people get the informed view.

By Sharon Hill (not verified) on 17 Jan 2013 #permalink

On the bright (?) side, this story caught my eye on the Yahoo News page:

13 Things 'Linked' to Autism


Among the more speculative sounding 'links:'

Vitamin D deficiency - because autism has risen as people are encouraged to keep out of the sun

High Fructose Corn Syrup

What did it say about vaccines? Only that they have "effectively been debunked."

It's a pretty bad day when your woo du jour has dropped below high fructose corn syrup on a Yahoo News page!

*shakes head* Ahter the sh*tstorm they created for NASA by misquoting a scientist and then doing absolutely nothing to correct the error, leading to many people thinking NASA had discovered something huge on Mars and then assuming a conspiracy when it hadn't, I am not at all surprised. Fact-checking can't be a priority if you're an organization that doesn't even respond to the person you've drastically misquoted trying politely to inform you of the fact.

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 17 Jan 2013 #permalink

@Todd W

I was just commenting the other day on Twitter how I wish U.S. media could be as savvy as Australia, where anti-vaccine cranks are called anti-vaccine cranks.

Give us time and we'll end up more like you. Murdoch is one of ours after all, and our news/media is considerably less diverse. (Compare your hundreds of TV channels vs our less than 20) I guarantee that if vaccines are reported by anyone other than our government-controlled ABC, then it will be more 'balanced'.


I've taken the view that if you want news, you avoid Yahoo at all cost. It's terrible, not just in terms of medical/science info.

@Jake - you finished your 666 degrees of separation between everyone on the planet (except yourself, of course) and the vaccine industry?

Hey, Jake. Link spamming? Or are you just so proud of the fiction on AOA that you have to post it on both of Orac's posts?

What a load of steaming crap conspiracy, Jake.

Every time I think you've hit new highs (or new lows), you manage to top your own personal best.

Thanks for the laughs.

@ Todd W. & @flip

There are still big pockets of credulous media here in Aus :)
However, when it comes to the subject of vaccination all of us at SAVN have been working very hard behind the scenes to identify false balance and call the media on it. It is one of SAVN's successes that anti-vaccination organisations are called that now, particularly the AVN. The majority of the media no longer fall for the 'pro choice' tripe, and when they do SAVN is listening :)


"I’ve posted at the blog…does anyone else want to come out and play?"

I was hoping I'd find time (unlikely) to write about the research paper that I suspect is behind that blog...!

Maybe I'll wander over, but don't expect me to comment...

@ lilady, I already blogged about this test:…
It's a good test that has a lot of potential, not just the test itself but the way the scientists broached the genetics of autism, as gene expression, not just mutations. No wonder those braintrusts don't get it, between the subject matter and the fact that it focuses on genetics is enough to make their wee heads go explody.

By Science Mom (not verified) on 18 Jan 2013 #permalink

John Best is now infesting He has posted a definition of autism in response to a neurodiversity article that is mega-idiotic, if that's a word.


I agree, but in general I consider ABC to be very good and the rest to be rather crap. In particular, the ratings war between 9 and 7 makes for sensationalistic 'news' (media releases regurgitated) rather than actual investigation. Plus, I really didn't include newspapers in my thinking, of which there are far better reporters/reporting than on TV.

And thank you - and to the others - for SAVN and the hard work you guys do.

@ Ellie

I feel the same way and have also stopped contributing (or listening/watching) to PBS/NPR. I would point out that the really awful woo shows they use for pledge drives are not produced by PBS, but by some woo consortium. Each PBS station is completely independent and makes its own programming decisions. I've complained to stations in various places to little avail, so quit giving.

Sadly even my fall-back BBC has been trending to false equivalency reporting-- even after they cleaned up their act on fax following Wakefield's fall from grace. I hope I'm just noticing a couple of lapses and that it won't become a deluge!

By brainmatters (not verified) on 19 Jan 2013 #permalink