Antivaxxers are sometimes violent, often abusive, and always wrong. A leading anti-vaxxer is presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. He has repeatedly compared vaccine mandates to the Holocaust. Rolling Stone and Salon retracted an RFK article linking vaccines to autism.
Several years ago, I debated David Kirby, author of the 2006 book "Evidence of Harm," in a public forum for PBS. The subject was vaccine safety and whether mercury in vaccines somehow caused autism. It was a spirited debate, during which I maintained that the causal link among vaccines, the mercury-containing additive thimerosal and autism had never been shown.
After the debate, Kirby surprised me by agreeing that the link had not been proved. “But it was worth the investigation,” he said.
I disagreed. “Billions of dollars that could have been spent determining what really causes autism were used up on this effort,” I replied.
Now, Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. continues to try to make the connection between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism, despite the fact that studies involving millions of children have shown no connection.
Antivaccine activists have demanded that vaccine scientists debate their champion, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. That’s only the beginning. One can picture future debates over gravity.
MODERATOR: Welcome to our studio audience and millions watching online. We are pleased to have a debate about gravity between a distinguished professor of physics at CalTech and the president of the Gravity Truther Society. Professor, could you start by telling us what you think gravity is?
PROFESSOR: Well, according to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, gravity is the curvature of spacetime caused by the presence of matter.
TRUTHER: There you have it! The whole thing is just a theory cooked up more than a hundred years ago by a Jewish patent clerk. It’s been perpetuated by the Gravity Industrial Complex, or as we call it, Big Grav. They make billions of dollars selling things like parachutes. And speaking of which, where are the randomized double-blind control studies of parachutes, huh?
PROFESSOR: Come on, we would not push blindfolded people out of planes without parachutes.
TRUTHER: So no double-blind experiments! Big Grav bankrolls the fake “research” [AIR QUOTES] by so-called scientists like you.
PROFESSOR: I have to object to this conspiracy theory. I’ve had a long career, starting with a Ph.D. from MIT.
TRUTHER: Forgive me for not bending the knee to wealthy schools in California and Massachusetts. I have a Ph.D., too! It’s from the Tampa Institute of Antigravity Studies.
PROFESSOR: That’s not even an accredited…
TRUTHER: Accredited? As Governor DeSantis says, these private accrediting outfits are part of the problem. They push their destructive ideologies and don’t let students hear alternative points of view. During all your years at MIT and CalTech, did you ever once question gravity?
PROFESSOR: Of course not. Gravity is real. There is no alternative point of view here.
TRUTHER: So you admit that you are biased. That totally wins my case.
PROFESSOR: There is a vast scientific literature on the subject, and I will gladly share citations with anyone who wants to read them.
TRUTHER: Typical establishment arrogance. The elitists have their literature, and we the people have ours. Just check out scientific accounts of levitation at our website or The National Enquirer. The most important thing is this: I know I’m right because I levitate every day.
PROFESSOR: What? Wait, can you prove that you levitate?
TRUTHER: Can you prove that I don’t?
MODERATOR: Good point. Our studio audience is very interested in this subject. So this is an excellent time to hear from one of them. Yes, ma’am?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I have a simple question for the professor. If gravity exists, how come there is not one single word about it in the Bible?
PROFESSOR: Many true things aren’t in the Bible, such as dinosaurs.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: How do you know there were dinosaurs? Were you there?
PROFESSOR: No, but the fossils…
AUDIENCE MEMBER: The fossils were just dogs and elephants with bone disease.
TRUTHER: You’re correct, ma’am. Scripture raises fundamental questions about gravity. Elijah had a chariot of fire, right? Why didn’t it burn up on the ground instead of going to Heaven?
MODERATOR: That’s a fascinating point of theology.
TRUTHER: You don’t have to be religious to realize that gravity is fake. The Chinese communists know that better than anybody. Just look at that giant balloon they sent over America. If gravity existed, how come it stayed up in the sky, huh?
PROFESSOR: That’s silly. It was merely a matter of air pressure…
TRUTHER: Wrong! Other things stay up in the sky, too: birds, planes, Superman.
PROFESSOR: Wait a minute, Superman is just special effects done by a Hollywood computer.
TRUTHER: Oh yeah? What’s next? Are you going to tell us that Stanley Kubrick faked the moon landing in his studio? Who’s the conspiracy theorist now?
[LAUGHTER AND THUNDEROUS APPLAUSE FROM THE STUDIO AUDIENCE]
MODERATOR: That’s that. We’re out of time. Our guests will just have to agree to disagree. Thanks for watching.
John J. Pitney, Jr. is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and the author of The Politics of Autism.