To hear his enemies talk, you might think Paul Offit is the most hated man in America. A pediatrician in Philadelphia, he is the coinventor of a rotavirus vaccine that could save tens of thousands of lives every year. Yet environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. slams Offit as a “biostitute” who whores for the pharmaceutical industry. Actor Jim Carrey calls him a profiteer and distills the doctor’s attitude toward childhood vaccination down to this chilling mantra: “Grab ‘em and stab ‘em.” Recently, Carrey and his girlfriend, Jenny McCarthy, went on CNN’s Larry Kind Live and singled out Offit’s vaccine, RotaTeq, as one of many unnecessary vaccines, all administered, they said, for just one reason: “Greed.”
The story goes on to describe how Offit, whose 2008 book “Autism’s False Prophets” debunks the idea that childhood vaccines cause autism or auto-immune disorders, has received hate mail and death threats.
What’s quite fascinating about this is that the anti-vaccine movement crosses ideological boundaries. As Wallace puts it:
This isn’t a religious dispute, like the debate over creationism and intelligent design. It’s a challenge to traditional science that crosses party, class, and religious lines. It is partly a reaction to Big Pharma’s blunders and PR missteps, from Vioxx to illegal marketing ploys, which have encouraged a distrust of experts. It is also, ironically, a product of the era of instant communication and easy access to information. The doubters and deniers are empowered by the Internet (online, nobody knows you’re not a doctor) and helped by the mainstream media, which has an interest in pumping up bad science to create a “debate” where there should be none.
But has this epidemic of fear been triggered just by the pharmaceutical industry’s blunders and the instant communication made possible by the Internet? Or is there something deeper going on too — a current of anti-scientific sentiment combined with that good old fashioned “paranoid style in American politics” that Richard Hofstadter wrote about back in the 1960s?
Hofstadter came to mind while I was listening to the Alex Jones radio show on my drive in to work this morning. For those of you who have not heard of Jones, you might check out his Infowars and Prison Planet Web sites. Suffice it to say that on the radio program, he warned his listeners about what he said was a rising tide of deaths from the H1N1 vaccine, and he claimed that the Obama administration was preparing to declare marshall law to contain the epidemic.
Here’s the banner that shows up on the Infowars and Prison Planet Web sites for a couple of seconds before flipping to another image:
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Jim Carrey, former Playboy bunny Jenny McCarthy, and the man responsible for this banner make for very strange bedfellows, don’t you think?