The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Skeptics PWN Anti-Vax Scumbag Wakefield at His Own Rally

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 27, 2010

**Update: Check out my follow-up post for more news, photos, and video of this event.

============

Well, congratulate me folks – I’m now officially part of a squad of skeptical ninjas :)

Today, there was an anti-vaccination rally in Chicago, and the king of anti-vax woo & nonsenseAndrew Wakefield himself – showed up.  I suppose he decided to hang with his anti-vax homies here in the U.S. seeing as how he’s essentially lost his license to practice medicine in the United Kingdom because of his fraudulent work there.

Anyway, the new skeptical group I’m part of, the Women Thinking Free Foundation (WTFF), caught wind of this wave of woo headed our way (we’re based in Chicago) and we decided, with two days notice, to mobilize and counter protest… and we did!  I did not personally attend the counter protest, as I had to teach today, but I and many others were working behind the scenes to help organize it.

The word went out like wildfire across the Internet – via email, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and message boards – and we were able to gather a group of about 10 people there.  In addition, our WTFF ninjas were able to hand out plenty of pro-vaccine literature to passers-by who might have otherwise thought that Wakefield and his ilk weren’t batcrap crazy.  Here are some examples of our handouts we whipped up as part of WTFF’s new “Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated!” campaign…

It went really well. Apparently, a whopping 50-100 anti-vaxxers showed up; ironically, with just a couple of more days of prep & organization, we might have been able to have almost as many pro-science people there. In addition to handing out literature, our skeptical ninjas also took some photos & video, which I will share with you after it is all processed.  Until then, I leave you with this little gem…


That’s Wakefield in the middle, unwittingly posing with two of our skeptical ninjas who infiltrated his rally. In fact, the girl is wearing a Surlyramics necklace that says “Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated!” and moments before this snapshot was taken she handed him a note. It said how much of a horrible person he is for spreading anti-vax nonsense and scaring people out of vaccinating their children. She told me that he didn’t look at it & just put it in his pocket, thinking that he got the phone number from some hot young lady.  Here is the text of what she wrote:

Dear Andrew Wakefield,

I know that you truly believe that what you are doing is helping people and that the ends justify the means, but I just want you to know that the things you are doing – the actions you have taken in the past have hurt people – killed people. Your work has scared and manipulated parents into not vaccinating their children, putting them and their entire community at risk, all in the name of safety. Children have died because of you. I just want to make sure that you fully understand that.

Sincerely,

**********

Message to Wakefield and the anti-vax woosters:


Btw, we also got some press from a Chicago news outlet

I’m reasonably sure there will be more photos & video to follow. Watch this space for updates.

This whole affair was, in my humble opinion, an outstanding success.  In this “Hug Me!” event, we have officially put Wakefield and his ilk on notice that anywhere they go, they’re likely to be confronted by skeptics who are willing to stand up to their nonsense & fear-mongering woo.  We at WTFF hope that this event will serve as a template for other skeptical & pro-science groups to follow in monitoring & holding pseudoscientific folk like Wakefield accountable in the court of public opinion.

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33 Responses to “Skeptics PWN Anti-Vax Scumbag Wakefield at His Own Rally”

  1. I was at the rally as well, and have video of Wakefield talking to the ninja in the sunglasses. Funny. I’ll have video up in a day or two.

    Did anybody catch Wakefield’s story about the mother with an autistic child who said that when she dies, she wants to take her child with her? He seemed to approve of the sentiment, but I need to check the video to confirm what he said next.

    • SkepticaLurv said

      Oh he absolutely did! I don’t have his wording memorized, but he admitted that he admired the woman whose ‘love’ was so great she was willing to kill her own child so that she could ‘spare’ him from living in a world that did not care about him or his plight. He honestly claimed that he admired her. It was quite astonishing.

  2. [...] And here’s an hilarious report from a skeptical group that attended the Chicago rally…and got their pictures taken with Mr. Wakefield…while handing him a note telling him what a scumbag he is: Dear Andrew Wakefield, [...]

  3. [...] anti-vaccine rally) held between 3pm and 5pm in a park in Chicago, US. In attendance was ex-doctor Andrew Wakefield in whose honour the rally was [...]

  4. Jamie said

    Thanks for the post Matt! (not to mention for calling me hot!) But seriously, I think my name is out there enough attached to the picture. You have permission to not bother with censoring. =)

  5. Way to kick some woo butt guys! Wonderful job. As soon as I get off my business trip, I need to report this fantastic ninja work over at http://factsnotfantasy.com since I do also have the giant page debunking many of the anti-vax pro-disease LIES. Again, you rock!

  6. crommunist said

    Ha!

    Chopra is coming to Vancouver next Friday. We’re stealing your idea.

  7. [...] Skeptics PWN Anti-Vax Scumbag Wakefield at His Own Rally [...]

  8. Amy said

    Great job!!

  9. I don’t like that the flyer said vaccines are “completely safe”. Sure, you could say “very safe”, but let’s not overstate things so much that we look like liars. I’ve just got back from my flu shot and I have a flyer with possible side effects and contra-indications. Proper informed consent, that is.

    • SkepticaLurv said

      Thanks for the feedback Cath. Due to tight timetables we weren’t able scrutinize the language of the handouts too extensively before printing them, but feedback is always good! Unlike many of the antivaxxers, we are more than willing to update our materials to fit the science.

      • ChrisKid said

        And that exchange right there is the difference they can’t see. True science is willing to change to get it right.

  10. Brian Deer said

    “She told me that he didn’t look at it & just put it in his pocket, thinking that he got the phone number from some hot young lady.”

    I get emails about stuff like that involving him. In lower class English circles we have an expression: “He’s having a laugh.”

  11. [...] Skeptical Teacher posted here and [...]

  12. A Guy said

    I know most of the protesters were bussed to the rally from a conference, so I wouldn’t feel too bad about not being able to match the number of people they gathered for the rally. Someone remarked early on that they were expecting around 1500 people, so the low attendance must have been a bit of a shock.

  13. [...] you don't think he means li'l ol' Orac (among others), do you? Skeptical Teacher, Autism News Beat, Jeremy Witteveen and Jamie Bernstein, take a bow too, you "unscrupulous" [...]

  14. Another guy said

    There is plenty of deluded thinking in the alternative health crowd, for sure. Unfortunately, this is also the case with the other side.

    I have to say this leaflet is quite terrible. Claiming that vaccines are completely safe, while goverment funds are quietly paying out many millions of dollars to vaccine-damaged children is highly irresponsible and either disingenuous or comes from a very naive appreciation of the matter.

    Long term studies with unvaccinated controls are not performed, there is really little epidemiology on which one can claim that it is ‘undeniable’ that vaccines do not cause your quoted range of syndromes. What one hears in the science is the weaker ‘the evidence does not support a link’ (the anti crowd will claim that is because one is not looked for, or that the evidence does support it). It’s a very complex area.

    In particular, the claim that vaccines do not cause Guillan-Barre syndrome is pretty breathtaking when the 1976 swine flu vaccination campaign was withdrawn precisely because of patients coming down with Guillan-Barre.

    • There hasn’t been a vaccine related outbreak of Guillan-Barre since 1976. Scientists are not sure what caused it, but one theory suggests that a batch was contaminated with bacteria. http://www.lvrj.com/news/45975417.html. Since 1976, quality control in the manufacture of vaccines has greatly improved. Today you are more likely to get Guillan-Barre if you don’t get vaccinated.

      Dr. David Gorski wrote this article about controlled studies with un-vaccinated children. http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=939 Basically he says that there are not enough un-vaccinated children in the US to do a reliable study, even if most of them participated. I certainly hope you aren’t suggesting that we deliberately not vaccinate infants to create a control group.

      There are risks with vaccines, and future leaflets will reflect this. Nothing in medicine is 100% safe. Even high doses of water can kill.

      Yet study after study after study shows that vaccines do not cause autism. Changes have been been vaccines, and the rate of autism is unchanged. Still the anti-vaccination groups will not change their literature, their speeches, or their web sites to reflect this.

    • mattusmaximus said

      I would like to second William’s comments, as he outlines some of the misconceptions you have quite clearly. The only thing I’d like to add is that I take issue with this particular statement of yours:

      Another guy said:

      There is plenty of deluded thinking in the alternative health crowd, for sure. Unfortunately, this is also the case with the other side.

      This kind of statement smacks of a similar argument put forth by creationists, often referred to as “teach the controversy.” The implication from creationists goes something like this: “yeah, there may be problems with ID/creationism, but there are also problems with evolution, so let’s talk about that” – as if creationism & evolution are somehow on equal scientific footing, when they clearly are not. This is simply a tactic to get people to doubt the validity of evolutionary science.

      Your statement seems to be doing the same thing with vaccines. It appears to make use of the same fallacious “teach the controversy” argument, in an attempt to get people to distrust vaccines – which is the entire agenda of the hardcore anti-vax loonies.

      Bottom line: vaccines are safe. Maybe not 100% iron-clad safe, but then nothing in life is 100%… and it’s a hell of a lot better to have your kids vaccinated than not.

  15. Wakefield Supporter said

    ‘“She told me that he didn’t look at it & just put it in his pocket, thinking that he got the phone number from some hot young lady.”

    I get emails about stuff like that involving him. In lower class English circles we have an expression: “He’s having a laugh.”’

    I hope this isn’t true. I don’t even know why.

  16. [...] Excellent article on skeptics who mounted a counter-protest and got their photo taken with Wakefield can  be found here. [...]

  17. [...] the collapse perhaps, is imminent. Skeptical Teacher has the story of a recent antivax rally to support Wakefield. Several skeptics showed up at this event, including [...]

  18. Mother of two said

    I”m sad to see that you think its funny to mock parents who are dealing with real issues, and you boast about getting it to Brian Deer, the man who tells parents that they have no intestinal problems…. really where did he get his medical license from? Just because you study science doesn’t make you an expert in the world of autism and what its like to parent children with autism. Why don’t you act like grown ups and go and speak with the parents rather than sneak into their rally’s. Is it that difficult to have a discussion with other adults about what you do or do not agree with?

    • mattusmaximus said

      Who said anything about mocking parents & autistic kids? I’m mocking Wakefield for spreading pseudoscientific nonsense which is killing some kids. There is just a slight difference between those two things, you know.

  19. BobBL said

    Great page. The picture is just great. The charlatan Wakefield is so used to overwrought individuals who tell lies, like ‘Mother of Two’ above, that he couldn’t see it coming. Have a discussion? Some chance. Look at Aghe of Autism, which is choc full of the most foul abuse, and really not much else, to see what kind of discussion you would get. Unless you are one of the foul abusers, who want to pour your bile on Paul offit or Brian Deer, you won’t even be allowed to post

  20. [...] who were actually there that back up the sad and utterly pathetic nature of the rally. First up, The Skeptical Teacher describing a picture taken with Andrew Wakefield [...]

  21. [...] wait is finally over… notwithstanding our “informal” launch last May with the skeptical ninja-ing of anti-vax scumbag Andrew Wakefield, I am pleased to let you all know that the Women Thinking Free Foundation and Skepchick are [...]

  22. Good Interview said

    Here is a great interview that played on a local PBS station discussing the Wakefield fraud vs. the actual facts. It may be something that warrants it’s own post since this blog post is so old, but thought I would put it here for you to see.

    Here is the link:
    Click Here – A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear

    It is great to hear a mainstream show devote an entire hour talking about factual information in regards to this topic instead of woo or hype. I was impressed with the person they interviewed and his book sounds like a good read and a place for those interested in ready the actual facts to get them.

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