Last week, I did one of my inimitable rants about an ABC television show set to air on Thursday called Eli Stone, in which a lawyer sues a pharmaceutical company for “mercuritol” (an obvious allusion to thimerosal) in vaccines and how it supposedly caused a child’s autism. Basically, I called it an irresponsible bit of antivaccination propaganda, given that in the story the jury awards the child $5.2 million, while the lawyer (Eli Stone) is portrayed as a “prophet” crusading for the “little guy.”

Now Steve Novella weighs in. In the process, he can’t resist doing in his much less–shall we say?–insolent manner than what I did to David Kirby’s idiotic response to the uproar over this show’s antivaccination misinformation.


  1. #1 Uncle Dave
    January 29, 2008

    News flash!
    I caught the news this AM and apparently ABC decided to not air the story due to (correct me if I am wrong because I did not catch the beginning of the story) a group (American Academy of Pediatrics?) of Doctors making formal complaints to the network concerning the irresponsible nature of the subject theme.
    Congratulations to the group of doctors that managed to penetrate the inner sanctum of Hollywood management about the potential public health danger in this for storyline.

    I would assume that Orac could be held culpable for this as well, given his well known blog of scientific critical thinking challenging the constant crashing tide of the moronic panic sricken.

    Who was it (author of the 1800’s) that said something about a lie traveling around the earth in a few days while the truth is still putting on its shoes?

  2. #2 madder
    January 29, 2008

    @ Uncle Dave:

    I think that would be Mark Twain.

  3. #3 Orac
    January 29, 2008

    I caught the news this AM and apparently ABC decided to not air the story due to (correct me if I am wrong because I did not catch the beginning of the story) a group (American Academy of Pediatrics?) of Doctors making formal complaints to the network concerning the irresponsible nature of the subject theme.

    Got a link to a story? I hadn’t heard this, and I’ve been working in my office all day with the radio on…

  4. #4 Regan
    January 29, 2008

    If they dropped the episode, there’s nothing on the news wires that I can find and I haven’t heard it on the radio.
    However, the March of Dimes has issued a press release cautioning parents on the value of vaccinations as a response to the scheduled airing.
    Steve Novella did a nice job on the article, and I appreciated his note about *remembering* information, but not the source.

  5. #5 Tyler DiPietro
    January 29, 2008

    The AAP has filed formal complaints against the network, but I haven’t heard anything about the story being pulled either. It would however be welcome news if true.

  6. #6 Graham
    January 29, 2008

    I’ve heard that they are going to run a verbal disclaimer at the start of the episode.

    But even if they did pull the episode they’d just wait until the fuss died down and slip it back in.

  7. #7 Rick
    January 29, 2008

    NY Times story here

    Apparantly, they aren’t cancelling the episode and is, instead, running a disclaimer.

  8. #8 Evinfuilt
    January 29, 2008

    So they add a vague disclaimer saying this is fiction.

    But they aren’t saying “The science in this fictional show is wrong and dangerous if followed.”

    So people will just assume no case like this took place, but is still true.

    Basically the disclaimer is useless.

  9. #9 daedalus2u
    January 29, 2008

    At least now there will be a “deep pockets” to sue if the EoH wackos injure anyone. It has been widely publicized that there have been threats, even death threats against researchers who have found results other that what the EoH wackos “believe”. There have been threats even against bloggers. With ABC throwing gasoline on that fire, if some wacko does something wacko, it is a foreseeable consequence.

  10. #10 isles
    January 29, 2008

    Of course ABC is in the wrong morally, but as a liability matter, the connection is too remote, I’m pretty sure.

    I thought it was astounding that SEVEN former CDC directors joined together to denounce this show.

    But nooooo, ABC knows better than all of those fuddy-duddy public health types.

  11. #11 Uncle Dave
    January 30, 2008

    My sincere apologies. I have no link since it was a short television spot I caught while getting ready for work in the morning.

    Aparently, the story I got on the morning news 1-28-08 (do not recall which network, ABC I believe) ran a spot about ABC reviewing the cancellation that episode of the show.
    In all the excitement of the news piece, which was flavored with a strong element of iminent cancellation I likely assumed that they had decided to cancel.

    Again, I apologise for perpetuating the very problem you are attempting to resolve “Jumping to conclusions”

  12. #12 DT35
    January 30, 2008

    Sorry, daedalus, but isles is right; it is unlikely such a case would survive the first summary disposition motions.

    Plaintiff: “I learned from Eli Stone that vaccines cause autism, so I didn’t vaccinate my child, who then died of diphtheria/whooping cough/measles/other vaccine-preventable disease. I want a bazillion dollars from ABC.”

    Attorney for ABC: “Eli Stone is a fictional TV character whose actions are guided by hallucinations no one else can see. You really thought that was the best information available on which to base health care decisions for your child? Are you nuts?”

    Even an extremely pro-plaintiff judge would have a hard time ruling that ABC violated some legal duty to the public by presenting shoddy science — the show is clearly fiction, after all.

  13. #13 Interrobang
    January 30, 2008

    Even an extremely pro-plaintiff judge would have a hard time ruling that ABC violated some legal duty to the public by presenting shoddy science — the show is clearly fiction, after all.

    That’s still not going to bring some poor kid back to life, ifwhen the worst case scenario happens. Berlanti and Guggenheim seem to have written the pilot, so all opprobrium related to their promotion of woo (apparently there’s a “Chinese medicine doctor” in the pilot too) goes to them.

    I will say this: The show, as written up in synopsis on the official web page, seems to perfectly capture the truculent “Science doesn’t explain everything! You need faiiiith!” cargo-cult scientistic tenor of the times…

  14. #14 Prometheus
    January 30, 2008

    I think that the telling part of this series is that the title character is having hallucinations that lead him to sue a vaccine manufacturer.

    Outside of certain Pentacostal sects, people who have “visions” are generally thought to be in need of psychiatric help (and medication). They are not currently (although this may change, given the current anti-scientific bent of the “Western” world) viewed as reliable sources of information.

    In what way is “Eli Stone” (the character) different from the homeless fellow shouting insults at invisible persecutors? Apart from the externals – better clothes, better diet, better housing – his mental state is no different.

    Perhaps this is what we should be emphasizing.

    I have found it most amusing that ABC apparently has decided that a lawyer would have to be insane to believe that a mercury-containing preservative could cause autism.

    I wonder what Freud would have made of that?


  15. #15 Wes
    January 30, 2008
  16. #16 wfjag
    January 30, 2008

    Dr. Novella replied to one of the comments to his blog:

    “# Steven Novellaon 30 Jan 2008 at 8:55 am
    My point is that requesting responsibility on the part of mass media is not censorship. The AAP does not have the power to pull the plug on this program. I know such statements depend on the definition of “censorship” and I don’t want to get into a semantic argument. The point is that those like Kirby are using the word “censorhip” as a pejorative to imply that the AAP is trying to stifle creativity and free expression. This is hogwash. They are simply calling for responsibility – exactly like counseling against the shouting of “fire” in a crowded building.”

    which is a completely accurate statement. There is no First Amendment protection to spreading misinformation or being called to task for doing so. Freedom of speech in no way implies freedom from the consequences of what you say. Further, ABC is a private company. If, in response to the uproar over the misinformation in its program, decides to pull the program, that isn’t censorship. It’s ABC reacting to being called to task by the public, a type of business decision.

    DT35 — your response to daedalus is right. A very similar case was decided by the US 6th Circuit in James v Meow Media. It arose out of one of the school shootings. The parents of a dead child sued a video game maker, alleging that the violent game had inspired the perps. Suit was dismissed by the US District Court on the grounds that the game maker owed the dead child no duty, as the perps’ action was not reasonably foreseeable. The 6th Circuit affirmed the dismissal.

    The threat of a civil law suit against ABC by anyone damaged by relying on the misinformation it is putting out in its fictional TV show is an empty threat.

  17. #17 rrt
    January 31, 2008

    Well, I admit I was a little distracted at the beginning of the episode, but I’m 15 minutes in and pretty sure there was no disclaimer, either.

    At lest it’s looking like this thing won’t make it through the first season. It’s coming off as a (gag) Bruce Almighty ripoff (as if Bruce Almighty was original, and yeah, I know, now I’ve gone and done it…it’ll run for a decade…)

  18. #18 rrt
    January 31, 2008

    Ahem. EVAN Almighty ripoff…

  19. #19 decrepitoldfool
    February 2, 2008

    I saw most of it including the exciting conclusion. The sense of moral justice when the award was given for autism caused by “mecurisol” preservative in a vaccine could be cut with a knife. Yes, they had a squishy disclaimer, but so what? Who’s going to pay attention to it when the fictional story plays right into frightened parents’ expectations? Give me Gregory House anyday telling some hippie mom that another good business is teeny tiny baby coffins for unvaccinated kids.

  20. #20 yoyo
    February 4, 2008

    Our “good quality” sunday paper in melbourne published an article on Sun 27th where they argued that “green” and cost conscious mothers should use homeopathic medicines instead of vaccines!!! when will this woo stop!

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