Everyone knows by now that the show Eli Stone misrepresents the facts about thimerosal and autism in it’s fictional story of a lawyer going after a pharmaceutical after they put “mercuritol” in vaccines. It’s clear that the story is supposed to mimic the thimerosal issue but as some defenders of the show say, hey, it’s fiction.
So, when is fiction allowed to be fiction and when is it not? For example, look at The Da Vinci Code. Most of it is made up crap but even though it’s fiction, people believed the ‘facts’ used in the book. Should that be permisible? The Dan Brown book is different in two ways, 1) it was good entertainment 2) it people it misrepresented were mostly Catholics and therefore not a public safety matter. But still, under the same thinking for demanding that Eli Stone be taken off the air, The Da Vinci Code would be libelous and should have been taken off the shelves.
From another angle, take ’24’. It’s good entertainment but it reinforces ideas about terrorism that many would say are harmful both in the fight against terrorism and for the national psyche. But that really depends what you think about that issue in the first place. Even so, I doubt ’24’ gets many letters telling them they are harming the public good.
I don’t really have any conclusions on this matter, but I do think that if writers (shows or books) are going to place their story in a real world context, they have some responsibility to facts. How much? I don’t know. I do know this:
1) People up in arms about Eli Stone should calm down about three levels (currently they are sending out the threat level ‘red’. It’s just a show. It’s not going to enlarge the thimerosal-autism link contingent. It may cause some entrenchment of those already there, but c’mon, did you really think they were going to change their minds if they hadn’t already? If your kid has autism, you know about the controversy already and have made up your mind one way or the other (and most don’t think there is a link, either). A silly ABC drama isn’t going to change anyone’s mind. It’s entertainment; we know that. Also, what’s the alternative? Making sure every piece of art out there is accurate according to some chosen facts and not harmful to the public? Some people will be wrong and make bad decisions; so be it. We live in a culture where we assume that people are smart and make good decisions for themselves*. That is the basis of democracy and the economic system of the entire western world. I’m sick and tired of people saying that the public is too stupid to firgure things out for themselves. Stop your paternalism and get out of public health if you have no repsect for people.
2) ABC should have known better. This was stupid.
*Sorry to get all James Madison on you. The old boy had some good points, even if he didn’t want a bill of rights…
“A man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them.”
“As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. “