The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘anti-vaccination movement’

Denying Evolution and Climate Science Panel at DragonCon 2014 Video!

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 26, 2014

*Note: This is essentially a re-post of this previous post, only including video 🙂

This past DragonCon, I moderated one panel at the Skeptrack titled “Denying Evolution and Climate Science” which was meant to address the issue of science denial in modern society.  We all know that for decades science deniers (most notably creationists and climate science deniers) have done all they can to sow confusion and doubt on key topics in science.  Throughout the years, they have “evolved” a number of tactics for doing so, and now it appears there is a new one on the horizon.  Recently they have begun to explicitly acknowledge that they aren’t scientists, but that it shouldn’t matter because “why should we listen to those scientists anyway?”  This panel discussed this trend, its implications for science in general, and how to respond to science denial.

Participating with me in this panel was Skepticality’s Derek Colanduno, the SGU’s Dr. Steven Novella, David DiSalvo, and Barbara Drescher.  And thanks to the fine folks at AbruptMedia, we have the video of the entire panel discussion:

DragonCon Science Denial Panel 2014

Click here to access the video!

Posted in creationism, global warming denial, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Denying Evolution and Climate Science Panel at DragonCon 2014

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 20, 2014

This past DragonCon, I moderated one panel at the Skeptrack titled “Denying Evolution and Climate Science” which was meant to address the issue of science denial in modern society.  We all know that for decades science deniers (most notably creationists and climate science deniers) have done all they can to sow confusion and doubt on key topics in science.  Throughout the years, they have “evolved” a number of tactics for doing so, and now it appears there is a new one on the horizon.  Recently they have begun to explicitly acknowledge that they aren’t scientists, but that it shouldn’t matter because “why should we listen to those scientists anyway?”  This panel discussed this trend, its implications for science in general, and how to respond to science denial.

Participating with me in this panel was Skepticality’s Derek Colanduno, the SGU’s Dr. Steven Novella, David DiSalvo, and Barbara Drescher.  And, thanks to Derek, we have an excellent audio recording of the panel courtesy of the Skepticality podcast – forward to the 33:40 mark to get started…


Image Source

Posted in creationism, global warming denial, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

What If We Extended Anti-Vaccine Arguments to Other Technologies?

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 9, 2014

I saw a great meme going around Facebook the other day and thought I should share it here.  Often anti-vaccination activists make loaded claims about how vaccines are “toxic” and whatnot; of course they are playing fast and loose with the facts, and they are trying to use loaded language in an attempt to scare people from vaccinating their children.  When confronted with such nonsense, I often tell on-the-fence parents “You wouldn’t put your child into a car without securing them in a car seat, would you?”  It’s a pretty effective message for playing the odds and protecting your kids by vaccinating them.

Of course, here’s another way to counter anti-vax propaganda: apply their same ludicrous arguments to all kinds of other technologies, and see how quickly it all descends down the rabbit hole of stupidity.  Here you go (make sure you read the entire graphic; my personal favorite is the one about the fire-ax)…



Image source

Posted in medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Anti-Science and Science Denial: It Isn’t Just for the Political Right?

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 4, 2014

I have used up many electrons on this blog discussing the problem of anti-science and science denial regarding creationist and climate science denier movements.  I have also discussed many times about how those movements seek to destroy the credibility of science in order to prop up either their religious or political worldviews, which usually tend to be quite right-wing in nature.

However, lest we cease to be critical thinkers about the problem of anti-science and science denial, let us not over simplify the issue in to being a problem of only the political right.  Case in point: many of the worst of the anti-vaccination movement (AVM) are strongly left-leaning in their politics.  This is emphasized rather hilariously in this recent Daily Show segment:

An Outbreak of Liberal Idiocy


 No, this chart isn’t the idiocy.  The idiotic part is that anyone would seriously deny that vaccinations are the reason why these deadly diseases went away.

In the segment, the Daily Show interviewer discusses the topic of vaccines with someone who can only be described as an ideological science-denier… who is on the political left.  I really like how Orac at Respectful Insolence breaks this down:

In the piece, in particular Bee makes fun of a crunchy lifestyle blogger, Sarah Pope, who, after establishing her liberal-crunchy bona fides (after Bee’s amusing prompts, of course), rattles off pretty much every antivaccine trope and bit of misinformation and pseudoscience in the antivaccine canon, claiming herd immunity is myth, that vaccines cause autism, that they don’t work, etc., etc., ad nauseam. Yesterday, Pope wrote about the interview thusly:

” “The Epidemic of Idiocy” that The Daily Show segment labels the no-vaccination movement is head scratching given that the anti-vaccine movement is being led by the most educated in our society.

Are all those parents with college degrees, master’s degrees, PhDs and, yes, even many MDs that are saying no to shots for their kids complete idiots?

Highly doubtful!

No-vax parents aren’t the real “science deniers”. In fact, they the ones most interested in the science because they are digging into the research and demanding unbiased, objective data to support vaccination, not the slanted version presented by the CDC and conventional pediatricians like Dr. Offit who makes millions supporting the very industry that handsomely maintains his lifestyle.”

Uh, no.

No matter how much Ms. Pope wants to claim the mantle of science through the University of Google, she and her fellow antivaccine activists are just as antiscience as anthropogenic global climate change denialists and creationists (a.k.a., evolution denialists). They also share another important trait with people holding those antiscience beliefs. They’re just really, really good atmotivated reasoning, and one reason they’re so good at motivated reasoning is because they are educated and smart, which is why vaccine denialists and other science denialists are sometimes referred to as “smart idiots.” It’s a very apt term. I do, however thank The Daily Showfor making me aware of Ms. Pope. Her blog looks like—shall we say?—a highly “target-rich” environment for potential future blog posts.

However, we should take care to not oversimplify the AVM and the political affiliations of its adherents, because while there are many AVMers who are left-wing, there is also a strong (and apparently growing) right-wing element to vaccine denial.  More from Orac:

However, there is also a very strong strain of antivaccine views on the right as well, including General Bert Stubblebine III’s Natural Solutions Foundation, far right libertarians, and others who distrust the government, including government-recommended vaccine schedules.

Indeed, many of the the antivaccine people and groups whom I monitor tend to be anything but liberal politically. For example, The Canary Party, a rabidly antivaccine group that pushes the idea that toxins in vaccines are responsible for autism and all sorts of health issues and that autism “biomed” quackery is the way to cure vaccine injury recently teamed up with the East Bay Tea Party to oppose vaccine mandates in California. Moreover, the Canary Party has also recently been sucking up to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), with one of its major financial backers, Jennifer Larson, contributing a lot of money to Issa’s campaign (indirectly, of course) in order to buy influence and win a hearing by his committee examining autism and focused on vaccines as one potential cause. Fortunately, Issa’s hearing in 2012 was a bust.

So what are we to conclude about this question of anti-vaccination and political affiliation?  Well, the answer appears to be “not much” because it seems the question hasn’t been rigorously studied…

Unfortunately, there aren’t actually a lot of good data examining whether there is a correlation between political affiliation and anti-vaccine views. I blogged about this very issue a three years ago, discussing an article by Chris Mooney looking at polling data and doing the best he could to characterize the politics of vaccine denialism.

At this point, about the only thing I can say is that regardless of the political motivations of those who buy into and promote the dangerous nonsense espoused by the AVM, their lies and pseudoscience must be countered.  So how do we do that?  How do we in the skeptical and pro-science movement formulate an effective message to counter the AVM’s noise and misinformation?  Well, I am happy to say that last year a study was published (via the JREF and Women Thinking, Inc.) on this very question.  Please give it a look 🙂

Posted in medical woo, politics, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

When Faith Fails: Vaccine-Denial Gets Religion

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 27, 2013

Many times we think of vaccine deniers and picture Jenny McCarthy as the spokesperson for the anti-vaccine movement.  She goes on and on about how her “mommy instinct” trumps all of modern medicine and insists it’s acceptable to prevent them from getting vaccinated; this despite the fact that kids can die without their vaccines.

Well, there is a disturbing new trend in the anti-vaccine movement: some parts of it have gotten religion… literally.  Apparently there is now a confluence of faith-healing with anti-vaccine sentiment, and it has gotten popular enough in some circles that it is – surprise – causing the outbreak of diseases such as the measles which were once thought to be practically wiped out.

Read on for more information:

There’s a Measles Outbreak at Vaccine-Denying Pastor Kenneth Copeland’s Fort Worth Church


Image source

For several days now, state health officials have been sounding the alarm about a nascent measles outbreak in North Texas. As of Friday, there had been nine confirmed cases, a number that will grow as new reports from local health agencies filter up to the state.

The epicenter of the outbreak is Tarrant County, which has now confirmed 10 cases, and the epicenter of cases in Tarrant County seems to be at Eagle Mountain International Church.

Pastor Terri Copeland Pearsons delivered the news in a sermon last Wednesday:

“There has been a … confirmed case of the measles from the Tarrant County Public Health Department. And that is a really big deal in that America, the United States has been essentially measles free for I think it’s 10 years. And so when measles pops up anywhere else in the United States, the health department — well, you know, it excites them. You know what I mean I don’t mean. I don’t mean they’re happy about it, but they get very excited and respond to it because it doesn’t take much for things like that to spread.”

The sermon was awkward, to say the least. Pearsons is the eldest daughter of megapastor Kenneth Copeland, and her church is one of the cornerstones of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, his sprawling evangelical empire. He’s far from the most vocal proponent of the discredited theory that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine causes autism, but, between his advocacy of faith healing and his promotion of the vaccine-autism link on his online talk show, he’s not exactly urging his flock to get their recommended shots. …

Hmm… a plague has struck these supposed chosen people.  The way I see it, you can have all the faith you want, but the infectious diseases out there don’t give a crap how devoted you are to your particular religion and/or god; it’s that simple.

In closing, if you’ll permit me a snarky comment directed towards the faith-healing crowd: perhaps this plague a sign from God, people… that you should vaccinate yourselves and your children!!!

Posted in medical woo, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Confronting Anti-Vaccine Nonsense Effectively

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 8, 2012

I’m a bit late in posting this, seeing as how it was time-sensitive, but I would still like to share it because it is an excellent example of how to engage in effective skeptical activism.  My skeptical colleague – and general badass mofo – Elyse Anders, recently wrote an article at Skepchick regarding the appearance of actor Rob Schneider on a radio show.  Who cares about Rob Schneider? (It’s an honest question, in one sense, because I’ve never been a fan, but I digress)

Well, in this case we skeptics should care about Schneider, because it seems he has become one of the newest celebrity darlings and spokesmen for the anti-vaccination movement.  Elyse elaborates in her Skepchick post…

… Tomorrow [this was Friday, Oct. 5th], he’s going to be on the KXRK 96.3 in Salt Lake City to promote his new… oh, I honestly don’t know. Who cares? It’s probably more awful than measles. But the measles thing we can at least do something about.

Last time he was on the show, he was promoting something related to his “career” and decided the best way to fill that time was to start yelling about how Big Vax is in bed with Big Brother. Full-on foil hat style.

Reader Atropos provided a clip of the show you can listen to here (or by clicking the poster from his Oscar Winning Drama Hot Chicks which I’ve provided in place of an embedded player.)

Favorite points/quick and dirty highlights:

  • Polio just runs its course. It infects a few million people, gets bored, then stops infecting people. And eradicates itself. But then comes back again… maybe to avenge it’s eradication. Exactly how evolution works.
  • Vaccines are not tested. Ever. On anyone.  Or anything. A bunch of wild-haired men in lab coats run around making vats of Big Pharma’s HAHAHA WHATEVER patented mix then they stick it into vials and inject it into you then PROFIT!
  • Vaccines are not tested. And don’t work. And we know they don’t work despite not testing. Ever. On anyone. Or anything.
  • THE GOVERNMENT PAYS YOU TO GET AUTISM! Because??? Autistic people are easy to control? It seems like a poor long term government investment.
  • Rob Schneider can read. Why is no one talking about this? …

Yup, a lot of the usual anti-vax talking points and conspiracy mongering.  But what I wanted to point out isn’t so much that Elyse was venting her spleen about some idiot celebrity spewing nonsense on the radio, it was that she was willing to DO SOMETHING about it!!! (Which is one reason I love her 🙂 )

… If you’re local, tune into X 96 (96.3 FM) tomorrow morning at 7 am local time. If you’re not near Salt Lake City, listen online at 7 am MDT which is 10 am 9 am EDT. Call in during the show to talk to Mr. Schneider* and confront him with weird ass facts that he’s discussing.  877-602-9696

Brush up on your anti-vax arguments here:

CDC’s common vaccine misconceptions

Google Scholar: vaccine clinical trials (for reference, not for reading)

Anti-Anti-Vax’s The Truth About The Evils Of Vaccination and the Costs of Treating Vaccine Preventable Diseases

Oh… and a little site I like Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated.

So yeah, I missed the boat on this one.  But take a moment to learn from Elyse’s activism, and read her links.  The next time you hear that Rob Schneider (or Jim Carrey or Jenny McCarthy or any celebrity whack-a-loon) is going to be on a program where he could spew his anti-vaccine garbage, consider calling/emailing/texting in and holding him accountable.  If more and more skeptics take their cue from Elyse and act in a like manner more often when some pseudoscientist or conspiracy theorist spews their nonsense in a public forum, it will help go a long way towards countering that nonsense.

Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Resolve to Fight Deadly Anti-Vaccine Propaganda: Start with the NVIC’s New Years Ad

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 28, 2011

Just yesterday I learned that the National Vaccine Information Center, a deceptive title for one of the worst anti-vaccine propaganda groups out there, has a new ad playing in New York City’s Times Square.  Worse yet, this ad is going to be playing on the megatron screen there during the New Year’s Eve celebration on Dec. 31st!  Folks, this is bad, not just because of the content of the ad, which plays on the “pro-choice” mentality that parents are better equipped to make medical decisions than doctors and also directs viewers to the NVIC’s website, but because of the timing: due to the fact that millions (perhaps even billions) of people watch the Times Square festivities on television, this ad could easily get worldwide exposure.

The NVIC and other anti-vax groups would rather this kid get whooping cough or another deadly disease than take a life-saving vaccine.

We need to fight back, and we’ve already started.  Elyse Anders has already written a post at Skepchick on this, and I’ve also blown the whistle via the JREF Swift blog.  But more needs to be done, so here’s what you can do:

1. Direct people to reliable and trustworthy outlets for vaccine information – a quick and handy one is the Women Thinking Free Foundation’s Hug Me I’m Vaccinated FAQ.

2. Sign the new petition demanding that ABC Full Circle pull the NVIC Times Square ad.

3. Join our Twitter campaign: Tweet @DisneyChannelPR using #ABCsSickNYE. You can copy/paste one of these or write your own:

I resolve to end deadly anti-vaccine propaganda. @DisneyChannelPR Pull NVIC’s anti-vax Times Square ad  #ABCsSickNYE

Whooping cough is on the rise thanks to things like NVIC advertising on @DisneyChannelPR screens in NYC. #ABCsSickNYE

4. Go to the NVIC YouTube video link and “dislike” the video.

5. Share this information on Facebook and other social media outlets.

6. Contact Gerald Griffin at ABC Full Circle by emailing or calling 212.456.7389 to voice your displeasure with them playing the NVIC ad.

And this campaign needs to be mounted from the inside as well as the outside: it seems we in the skeptical and pro-science community need media connections within the companies which rent out space for these high-profile ads.  We need to inform and educate these companies about the part they are playing in spreading this dangerous anti-vaccination misinformation, and we need to raise such a fuss that they’ll simply refuse the NVIC the next time they come wanting to rent the space.

Of course, none of this will work without you, because we are going up against an organization that has literally hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on anti-vaccine propaganda.  So please take some time to get involved and take action now – it really is a matter of life or death.

Posted in environmental hysteria, media woo, medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Update on the Delta Airlines Anti-Vaccine Ad

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 19, 2011

In a recent blog post – Deceptive Anti-Vaccination Ad by the NVIC on Delta Airlines – I mentioned an online petition at that is gathering signatures to convince Delta Airlines to pull the deceptive anti-vaccine ad being run on some of their flights.  I wanted to pass along to you a recent update I received about this situation from my friend and skeptical colleague, Elyse Anders:

Update about ‘Tell Delta to Stop Putting their Passengers’ Health at Risk’ on


Thank you so much for signing the petition, “Tell Delta to Stop Putting Passengers’ Health At Risk.” Delta has already committed to make some big changes: they are instituting a new review policies for future ads and will be showing a pro-vaccine Public Service Announcement beginning in December.

But we think they can do better. Do you think Delta should pull their anti-vaccine ad immediately? If so, here’s how you can help keep on the pressure:

1) Share the petition with your friends. Here’s the link to share on your Facebook wall –

2) Are you on Twitter? Delta sure is. They invest a lot of resources to customer service on Twitter, and this is a great way to get Delta’s attention. Here are some ideas for tweets. Feel free to write your own, just be sure to mention #fludelta and @delta or @deltaassist:

#FluDelta @DeltaAssist @Delta Thank you for changing your review process. Please, stop airing the anti-vaccine ad now!

When you fly, you shouldn’t have to worry about the flu. Tell @Delta to drop the anti-flu #vaccination in-flight ad now. #FluDelta

Thanks so much for supporting this important campaign,

Elyse Anders (@dELYSEious)


Posted in media woo, medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Deceptive Anti-Vaccination Ad by the NVIC on Delta Airlines

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 5, 2011

It’s like playing a game of Whack-A-Mole sometimes… the anti-vaccine movement is back at it again, this time with a deceptive ad on Delta Airlines flights by the National Vaccine Information Center directing people to their website for “accurate information” on the influenza vaccine.  The NVIC is the same outfit which ran another anti-vaccine ad in New York’s Times Square earlier this year.

Here’s the NVIC’s advertisement:

For the most part, it seems pretty much okay, until you hit the 1:56 mark in the video and they start discussing the influenza vaccine.  At that point, they flash a couple of shots of the NVIC website…

And here is where the real problem lies: the fact that the NVIC wants to use this seemingly innocuous ad to direct people to their website (which they would like people to think is a valid clearinghouse on vaccines) which contains all manner of dangerous nonsense and pseudoscience regarding vaccination.  I think my skeptical colleague, Elyse Anders of Skepchick, says it very well…

And let’s not forget that NVIC’s ultimate goal here is not to get people to opt out of just the flu shot. The ultimate goal of this ad is to get people to visit the NVIC website, trick them into thinking they’re looking at a legitimate government website, and get them to stop vaccinating altogether. And then put those people on planes. Which is how many vaccine-preventable outbreaks happen in the US.

The bad news is that these anti-vax loons have gotten their sneaky ad onto Delta Airlines; the good news is that the skeptical community is all over it, and a hard response is swinging into action.  Here are some things you can do to help (stolen from Elyse Anders’s post on Skepchick, btw)…

  1. Sign this petition from demanding the Delta Airlines yank the NVIC ad

  2. Tweet: “#fludelta @DeltaAssist @Delta If you’re so concerned about safety, stop running potentially deadly anti-vaccine ads
  3. Comment on the video on Facebook (this video has since been removed, probably due to too many negative comments 🙂 )
  4. Share this post on Facebook and Twitter.
  5. Encourage your friends to join this campaign.
  6. Tell Delta that it’s irresponsible to encourage anti vaccination rhetoric (you can also tell In-Flight Media the same thing).  Let them know that you are not willing to support their decision to risk your health for advertising dollars. Ask them if they’re willing to add to the anti-vax body count.
  7. Last, but definitely not least, if you communicate with the people at Delta Airlines, tell them that you will take your business elsewhere, like to airlines that communicate responsible information regarding vaccines (because money talks and bullshit walks).  For more information on this, take a look at this PSA by Every Child By Two, a pro-vaccine group, which is running on US Airways and American Airlines through the month of November:

Posted in media woo, medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Medical Professors to Bachmann: “Put Up or Shut Up” on Vaccine Claims

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 15, 2011

Well, it seems that GOP/Tea Party presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann’s recent anti-vaccine comments at Monday night’s Republican debate have gotten her into some pretty hot water.  Good!  Someone who is that out to lunch on such a core issue of science, medicine, and public health needs to be seriously criticized and derided in the public square, because they certainly have no place in being anywhere near holding public office, in my opinion.

Message to Michelle Bachmann…

One of the most wonderful bits of blowback against Bachmann was in reference to a truly outlandish claim she made in a Fox News interview:

“There’s a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate,” Bachmann said. “She said her daughter was given that vaccine. She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result of that vaccine. There are very dangerous consequences.” [emphasis added]

That stupid claim was just too much for some bioethicists who have expressed their skepticism by quite literally putting their money where their mouths are:

Professors offer more than $10,000 for proof that Bachmann’s story about HPV is true

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann’s story about a woman who claimed that her daughter suffered “mental retardation” after receiving a vaccine against HPV could fetch the woman’s family thousands of dollars. But the family can only collect if Bachmann or the unnamed woman can prove the story is true.

Two bioethics professors have offered to pay more than $10,000 for medical records that prove the anecdote Bachmann told after Monday night’s Republican presidential debate is true, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

Folks, this is precisely the kind of thing which needs to be done when someone who is as high profile as Bachmann (a potential presidential contender, for frak’s sake!) makes as stupid and dangerous a claim as she made.  The mere fact that she made this dubious claim to begin with is bad enough, because it will undoubtedly scare already nervous parents into not getting their kids vaccinated.  I would love to see more skeptical activism of this kind in the future – perhaps it is the start of a trend? 🙂

While I’m at it, I should also report about how Bachmann herself is publicly responding to the whole fracas.  Well, at least I’d like to report on what she has to say, but apparently her campaign is going mum on the issue.  Perhaps that’s for the best – I think it would be preferable if Michelle Bachmann just kept her mouth shut for good.

Posted in medical woo, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

%d bloggers like this: