Note: There is an update to this story; see below.
~CC, 13 April 2016
Even as this isn't normally a political blog (except when it is), it's also not your average skeptical/pro-science blog, though I pretty much lean towards those camps on most issues. Clearly I am not a scientist, professional researcher or medical practitioner of any type, so when I snark about scammers who claim expertise in these areas, my focus is generally on the Scamworld aspect of their shenanigans rather than on a deconstruction of the claims they make regarding health and science issues. Write what you know, in other words, and even though I don't have the deep knowledge of how Scamworld works that, say, Salty Droid does, I can pretty much tell a scam or scammer in the New-Wage/selfish-help/McSpirituality/alt-health areas when I see one.
That said, one current story with a strong scientific/health angle has grabbed my attention: the anti-vaccination or anti-vax movement's attacks on actor Robert De Niro. De Niro is being lauded as a hero by some for making the decision not to air the discredited anti-vax flick Vaxxed at his Tribeca Film Festival, apparently making that decision based upon some rational input. Or maybe he was kinda shamed into his decision (which is not the same as intimidation)... but he should be ashamed for pushing the film before he did any research. Regardless of his motivation, I'm pretty much leaning towards the "hero" p.o.v. where he's concerned. [NOTE: I have since changed my mind. ~CC, May 2016]
As per usual in cases like this, some very stupid and/or irresponsible people are slamming De Niro for his decision. Not surprisingly the incident has added new fuel to the already raging anti-vax conspiracy fires... or perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that it has given a shot in the arm to the conspiracy theorists, giving rise to a whole Internet full of whining about "censorship" and even more dastardly deeds.
There's this, for instance, in which the writer speculates that De Niro was "threatened."
And this bit from the ill-named "Truth Kings" blog, speculating about an elaborate conspiracy that even includes Hillary Clinton.
There are dozens more examples on the Interwebz; you can easily find them.
I find it endlessly amusing, though also annoying, that whenever someone says or does something that the fanatics don't agree with, they automatically assume that the person is either being paid off or that he or she was intimidated/threatened. The facts don't matter if the story is good.
I also find it amusing that Loony Leonard Coldwell has accused De Niro of being a "coward," when Coldwell has displayed nothing but cowardice in his efforts to silence his critics -- suing them, lying about them, and doxing them in an attempt to get others to harm them on his behalf, while remaining in hiding himself. Or, as UK blogger Longdog so aptly put it in a recent post, "...Lenny YOU are the spineless coward."
Not surprisingly Coldwell is a virulent anti-vaxxer, just like his current political idol Donald Drumpf, who has said some truly idiotic things about vaccinations and autism. Coldwell himself has frequently claimed that there is no such thing as a safe or effective vaccine, and has even suggested that doctors and parents who insist on vaccinating kids should be tried for attempted murder.
Coldwell has no medical or scientific credentials at all, but that has never stopped him from making the most outrageously stupid declarations about health and science matters.
On the other hand, here's a truly qualified professional's view about the Tribeca/Vaxxed drama. The author is Orac, aka Dr. David Gorski, who has been patiently reporting and debunking the anti-vaxxers for years.
And here's an earlier post from Orac, focusing on the hysterical coverage of the De Niro drama by Mike "The Health Ranger" Adams, who is bigger on sensationalism than he is on nuanced truth.
But I don't expect the conspiracy fires around this one to go out any time soon. Because, you know...the facts don't matter...
PS ~ Have I mentioned lately how great it is to have Salty Droid back in operation?
- On this Whirled: Snopes v dopes (and the "dead holistic doctors" conspiracy drama)
- On RationalWiki: Big Pharma (esp. the phenomenon of the Brave Maverick Doctor)
Update 13 April 2016: Maybe he's just bowing to pressure from nutcakes and trying to play both sides, but Robert De Niro went on NBC's Today show this morning and seemed to try to score a point or two for the nutty side. Even though he stated that he is not anti-vaccine (he's just "pro-safe vaccine"), he says he now sort of regrets pulling Vaxxed from the Tribeca Film Festival, and he thinks people should see it and make up their own minds. The father of an autistic son, DeNiro cited tales of parents of autistic kids who seemed all right until getting vaccinated, and then "something just changed overnight."
When one of the interviewers asked him if that had been the experience with his son (who is now eighteen), De Niro hedged and said he didn't really remember, but that his wife sure noticed something. In essence he said he pulled the film from the festival because he didn't have time or energy to deal with the controversy, but will revisit it when he has time. Overall, despite the interviewers pointing out that the anti-vax p.o.v. -- and the film, as well as Andrew Wakefield -- had been discredited, De Niro seemed to be leaning in favor of the anti-vaxxers, mentioning "hysteria" and "knee jerk reactions" from the scientific community, without saying anything about the hysteria and knee jerk reactions of the anti-vax contingent. But at least maybe he'll win the praise of idiots like LoonyC. Nice work, Bob. Here's a link to a vid of the interview. The Vaxxed part begins at about 2:15.
Update 25 May 2016: It appears that my wordplay with De Niro's name in this post's title is increasingly inaccurate. Here's Orac at Respectful Insolence.