Amy Wallace was the author of the centerpiece article in a Wired magazine feature on how antivaccination activists create fear and confusion by distorting and misrepresenting facts about vaccines. This article “An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All,” was discussed in detail here back in October.
Two days before Christmas one of those individuals, Barbara Loe Fisher (also Arthur), filed a $1 million claim that Dr. Offit had libeled her in Wallace’s article by saying, “She lies,” in reference to Ms. Fisher. Condé Nast, the publisher of Wired, was also named in the suit.
Orac at Respectful Insolence wrote a very detailed post a week later explaining how Loe Fisher and other anti-science activists use the threat of legal action to suppress criticism since they can’t rely on the science.
While dismissed, this legal action has certainly created financial and emotional distress for Ms. Wallace who, unlike Dr. Offit, had no experience in dealing with the level of hostility that can be dished out by the antivaccination movement. As a freelance writer, Ms. Wallace probably also lacks the financial backstop that Dr. Offit has. In effect, I am concerned that a writer like Ms. Wallace, who wrote one of the best articles in recent memory on the antivaccinationist movement, will never take another assignment on such an issue because it is just not worth the aggravation. Even prior to the suit, Wallace noted that she had never before received such hateful letters and e-mails on any other topic in her 25 years of writing professionally. Much of the opposing correspondence made lewd sexual comments about Ms. Wallace rather than engage in a debate about the content of her article.
If my prediction is true, Orac is correct: the simple threat of legal action can be used to suppress criticism of anti-science and pseudoscience nonsense that threatens society (unlike taking a heavy metal-laden supplement product that harms only the user, withholding vaccines from children compromises herd immunity in society.)
On the other hand, this episode may embolden Ms. Wallace and encourage other writers to speak more extensively on the house of cards that lies behind antivaccinationists faulty assumptions on causality and search for true causes of autistic spectrum disorders.