(II) Anti-Vaxxers

Would you believe anti-vaxxers have been around since before there were vaccines? Long before Edward Jenner began working on a smallpox vaccine in the 1790s?

Centuries ago, in a procedure known as variolation, healthy people would be deliberately infected by blowing powdered smallpox scabs up their noses or rubbing fluid from pustules into superficial scratches on their skin. Upon recovery from a generally mild form of the disease, the individual was immune to smallpox. Between 1% to 2% of those variolated died as compared to 30% who died when they contracted the disease naturally.

Not everyone was happy with this kind of inoculation.

It is reported that pro-inoculators tended to write in cool and factual tones with frequent appeals to reason, while anti-inoculators “wrote like demagogues, using heated tones and lurid scare stories to promote paranoia.”

Some tactics never change.

The impulse to protect the healthy from disease was born alongside protest movements, and the two have marched in lockstep down through the centuries.

🙂 🙂 🙂

The study that turned the anti-vaccine movement into a veritable crusade was a 1998 publication by British gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield. He and his colleagues raised the possibility that a syndrome involving autism may be associated with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Disgraced & banned from practicing medicine, Andrew Wakefield relocated from the UK to Texas & is involved in GOP politics

Seldom in the history of science has a study been so thoroughly discredited.

METHODOLOGICALLY, Wakefield’s study:

  • involved only 8 children
  • falsified data
  • fraudulently manufactured conclusions

ETHICALLY, Wakefield had a “fatal conflict of interest”:

  • he had been paid by a law board to find out if there was evidence to support a litigation case by parents who believed that the vaccine had harmed their children
  • he secretly invested in the development of a solo measles vaccine

SUBSEQUENTLY, Wakefield’s creditability quickly unraveled:


  • Most of Wakefield’s co-authors started to lose faith in their study. Ten of them formally retracted the “interpretations” section of the 1998 paper
  • The Lancet, the journal that originally published Wakefield’s work, admitted that it should not have published the paper


  • The Lancet formally retracted the paper
  • Wakefield was found guilty of serious professional misconduct by Britain’s General Medical Council, including subjecting his patients to unnecessary and invasive medical procedures (colonoscopy and lumbar puncture)
  • Wakefield’s license to practice medicine in the UK was revoked


  • British Medical Journal editor-in-chief Fiona Godlee formally declared the original study to be a fraud
  • She argued that there must have been intent to deceive; mere incompetence could not explain the numerous issues surrounding the paper.

But these transgressions are not the strongest evidence against Wakefield’s claim of an autism-vaccine link.

  • yes, his evidence may have been insufficient to justify his conclusions
  • yes, his handling of the data may have been sloppy or worse
  • yes, his failure to follow the ethics of his profession may have been egregious

The whole research paper, in fact, may have indeed been an “elaborate fraud” rife with conflicts of interest and fabricated findings. And yet, in principle Wakefield’s claim could still have been correct.

But it isn’t.

We know this because of careful scientific studies carried out on a massive scale. It is not the weaknesses in Wakefield’s paper that prove there is no autism-vaccine link: it is the overwhelming weight of subsequent scientific evidence.

Except, of course, that anti-vaxxers shun evidentiary thinking and reject facts.

In 2016, after disgraced Dr. Wakefield’s frightening conclusions had been definitively disproven, he directed a film (“Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe”) in which he invents a story about a Big Pharma conspiracy to hide the truth.

Vaxxed was initially welcomed into the Tribeca Film Festival and defended by festival cofounder Robert De Niro, himself the father of an autistic child. But in light of the resulting controversy he had second thoughts and withdrew the invitation.

In 2019, the film inspired a sequel, Vaxxed II: The People’s Truth, with anti-vax activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as executive producer. In February of this year Kennedy’s Instagram account was removed “for repeatedly sharing debunked claims about the coronavirus or vaccines.”

TODAY, Wakefield’s fraudulent paper:

  • continues to galvanize the contemporary anti-vax movement
  • has created a remarkably enduring fear of vaccines
  • is contributing to the world-wise resurgence of a once-eradicated disease (measles).
  • has sparked conspiracy theorists to morph anti-vax elements into complex hoaxes riddled with dangerous disinformation



Part I   – 9/11 Conspiracies

Part II  – Anti-Vaccination Conspiracies

Part III – Inside The Mind of a Conspiracy Theorist


Bergstrom, Carl T. and Jevin D. West. Calling Bullshit. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s