The Rorschach Test of anti-vaccine beliefs

You have probably heard by now about a documentary spliced together by known anti-vaccine fraud Andrew Wakefield. I write that it was “spliced together” because so much of it is non-linear. There’s no introduction, thesis statement, and supporting facts. It’s all a hodge podge of talking heads, testimonials, spliced sampling of a recorded conversation of a CDC scientist who never steps in front of the camera, and plenty of imagery of how evil vaccines can be.

It’s like having a fever and having a nightmare where Andrew Wakefield’s feet chase you around to shove something in your brain.

I had a chance to watch the documentary the other day, and let me just say the following: You get from it what you go into it with. That is, if you are a rational human being who has some understanding of basic science and can see bullshit when it is being served to you, then you see the documentary for the filth that it is. If you, on the other hand, are the kind of person who believes in monsters under the bed, massive government conspiracies from a government that can’t fix potholes or respond well to a natural disaster, and believe in the appeal to ignorance (if we don’t know it’s safe, then it must be unsafe), then you see Andrew Wakefield’s and Del Bigtree’s documentary as the seminal documentary to end the debate over the association between vaccines and autism.

Except that it’s not evidence. There’s nothing there. Nothing from that documentary holds up to what we know about vaccines and/or autism. If there is such a thing as “click bait” for the real world, where instead of page views you get cash from ticket sales, this is it. The documentary is sold and presented for parents who are frustrated about their children having a medical condition or their children being autistic (autism is not a medical condition). They want someone to pay for what, in their mind, is a “curse,” and they want vaccines to be the culprit because vaccines are so ubiquitous in the United States that almost everyone who is autistic or has one of those medical conditions has been vaccinated.

The documentary is kind of a Rorschach Test for the viewer. You really do see what your mind wants you to see. As an epidemiologist, there was no evidence there — nor has there ever really been — of a causal association between vaccines and autism. As a person with a college degree and a master’s degree, the science doesn’t hold up. I’m not going to lie to you to tell you that there were plenty of times when I just rolled my eyes, and there were others when I wanted to reach through the screen and put my finger to the mouths of the talking heads and say, “Shh! Shh! You don’t have to keep lying. You have your cash.”

As a non-sociopath, it hurt me to see so many parents being lied to. They were allowed to continue to believe that the best public health intervention of our era is what is causing them distress. (Because it is all about the parents. How the children feel being called, well, being called ugly names, that was all left out.) These parents keep being fed lies in the hope of an eventual cure that is not coming. People that sell fake cures in the United States and elsewhere are known as frauds, and there are legal consequences to what they do. Yet Andrew Wakefield and others continue to sell fake medicine, or fake hope. It’s all fake, all of it.

You know what, on second thought, there is a method to this madness. As I wrote above, this is real-life click bait. The imagery, the splicing of audio recordings, the careful selection of who says what… All of that is intended to get people to pay cold, hard cash to get into theaters to watch this. It is not intended to give anyone hope, even if it does. It is not intended to reveal some grand conspiracy, because there is none. And it is not intended to inform science and medicine about a link between vaccines and autism, because all possible combinations of research into the subject are pretty much done.

Cash is what these people wanted, and cash is what they got from my friend who paid for my ticket in the hopes of convincing me of that link. Sorry, dude, there is none. As I and others have pointed out, we will continue to vaccinate in order to protect the youngest and most vulnerable among us. Furthermore, we will continue our collective efforts to make people understand that autism is not a curse or a disease, and that autistics have always and will always be part of our lives.

Then again, you don’t have to take my word for it. Here are other reviews of the mockumentary:

Left Brain/Right Brain

Skeptical Raptor

The Portland Mercury

The Washington Post

The Guardian


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