In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. I write that movies and television shows have popularized the idea:
In a 2005 episode of “The Shield,” a police detective and his ex-wife contemplated joining a vaccine lawsuit after their two of their children got a diagnosis. They talked to a pediatrician, who refused to help them with the suit because the science does not support the vaccine theory. The detective smelled an ulterior motive: “How many shots with thimerosal have you prescribed to kids? Saying that they’ve been poisoning our kids is just like admitting you've been doing it all along, right?” The 2008 premiere of the short-lived ABC series “Eli Stone” was about a child who had become autistic because of “mercuritol” – a fictional name for thimerosal.Robert DeNiro, an autism dad, is giving a platform to discredited antivax doctor Andrew Wakefield.
Tara Haelle writes at Forbes:
The Tribeca Film Festival, cofounded by DeNiro, will be screening the anti-vaccine “documentary” Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, a film made by Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced gastroenterologist who fraudulently attempted to link autism to vaccines and became the father of the modern-day anti-vaccine movement. Wakefield, who lost his medical license and was officially sanctioned for doctored results in his now-retracted study, has played a major role in the fear that led vaccination rates to drop, thereby bringing back diseases in outbreaks such as the Disneyland measles outbreak last year.
And now Robert DeNiro is giving this man a platform — a platform to promote a narrative that has harmed and will continue to harm autistic children and the thousands of children denied vaccines by their parents out of misguided fear.Pam Belluck and Melena Ryzik report at The New York Times:
The plan to show the film has unnerved and angered doctors, infectious disease experts and even other filmmakers.
“Unless the Tribeca Film Festival plans to definitively unmask Andrew Wakefield, it will be yet another disheartening chapter where a scientific fraud continues to occupy a spotlight and overshadows the damage he has left behind in the important story of vaccine safety and success,” Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said in an email.
The documentary filmmaker Penny Lane (“Our Nixon”) published on Thursday an open letter to the festival’s organizers in Filmmaker Magazine, suggesting that including “Vaxxed” in the documentary section “threatens the credibility of not just the other filmmakers in your doc slate, but the field in general.”Katey Rich reports at Vanity Fair:
Variety even reported on the general political leanings of film-festival programming in 2014, with Toronto programmer Thom Powers saying he saw “a lot more of what I describe as left-wing propaganda films.” The conversation around autism and vaccines is not nearly as partisan as most hot topics in this country, though; anti-vaxxers are as likely to be libertarians in the heartland as they are to be crunchy San Francisco parents.
People who believe in Wakefield’s claims—or in the story that Vaxxed tells, about “whistle-blower” C.D.C. scientist William Thompson—do remain in the vast minority, which is how Vaxxed has come up for such sharp criticism. De Niro’s statement, while theoretically just asking that “all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined,” is for vaccine supporters a call for debate where none exists. The C.D.C. and all reputable science says that vaccines don’t cause autism. The Tribeca Film Festival has chosen to program a film that says they do, and is lending a microphone to the loudest proponent of that discredited idea.