The Skeptical Teacher

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

Why We Need to Fight the Anti-Vaccinationists

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 4, 2011

[**Note: This is a guest post I made over at the Women Thinking Free Foundation’s blog, WTF Is Going On?!, and I thought I would share it with you]

by Matt Lowry, WTFF Secretary

As another part of the WTFF’s effort to simultaneously inform the public about the benefits of vaccines while also countering anti-vaccinationist propaganda, we make an effort to keep tabs on what the anti-vaccination movement is doing.  This includes having some of our Skeptical Ninjas attend anti-vaccinationist conferences, such as last week’s Autism One Conference in Lombard, Illinois.

You know how we often hear pseudoscientists and other folks make the claim that skeptics are not interested in allowing dissenting views or that “they” (academia, the establishment, Big Pharma, whatever) are “expelling” those brave scientists and activists who dare to challenge the orthodoxy of scientists, etc?  Yes, we’ve all heard this tired old argument many, many times and rolled our eyes at the overly melodramatic and irrational nature of it (which is simply a blatant attempt to avoid the facts of the argument in favor of making an emotional appeal).  Well, the interesting thing is that some pseudoscientists, such as the anti-vaccintationists, appear to want to have it both ways: they wish to make this argument while simultaneously “expelling” their critics.

Case in point: two Skeptical Ninjas – the WTFF’s very own VP Jamie Bernstein and journalist Ken Reibel – were “expelled” from the Autism One Conference because… they paid for their registration and showed up.  Yup, that’s it – these anti-vaccination loons kicked them out of the conference, even though they had paid to be there and were not causing any disruptions whatsoever.  In fact, they not only kicked them out, but the organizers actually had seven (seven!) security personnel escort Jamie and Ken off the premises – the hypocrisy is so thick you can cut it with a knife!

To read more about the incident in question, here are a variety of perspectives from various skeptical blogs on the matter:

Jamie’s views — Skeptics will be Prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law (via Skepchick) and How I Got Kicked Out of the AutismOne Con: Part 2 (at The Friendly Atheist blog)

Ken Reibel’s perspective — Expelled 2.0

Orac of Respectful Insolence blogs here — Expelled!, anti-vaccine style, 2011 edition

Jamie is interviewed by the SGU Rogues

Now, I’ve never met Ken Reibel, but I personally know Jamie Bernstein and I have to say that she is about the most least intimidating person I know.  In fact, here is a photo of her standing next to James Randi (who is about 5 feet tall)…

The ultra-menacing Jamie Bernstein next to James Randi – if you add their heights together, they might reach up to the usual person’s knee ;)

So the obvious question is: WTF Autism One?!!  Why are you throwing Jamie and Ken out simply because they attended the conference?  Folks, this sort of mindless Orwellian crap doesn’t occur at skeptics’ conferences, I know that for a fact.  Last year at TAM8 I met both a renowned self-declared psychic and one of the world’s leading Moon hoax conspiracy theorists.  Both were perfectly welcome at TAM8 and, while there were understandably a lot of skeptics rolling their eyes and laughing at these folks, nobody was entertaining the idea of having them thrown out.  We don’t play that game.

And there’s the rub: when it comes to questions of real free inquiry and open discussion, the skeptics such as those represented by the JREF and WTFF practice what they preach.  While we may not agree with them, we welcome our critics and allow them to participate within our discussions.  On the flip side, pseudoscientific scare-mongers like the anti-vaccinationists at Autism One openly display their hyprocrisy by saying one thing and doing another, and in so doing they show that they’re not driven by an objective search for truth but rather an ideological zeal which is dangerously disconnected from reality.

And that is why they must be opposed at every turn: because in the distorted reality-challenged worldview of the anti-vaccinationists, a lot of innocent people will die of perfectly treatable and curable diseases if they get their way.

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