Barbara Loe Fisher: Hypocritical, not "fearless"

I've been criticizing the grande dame of the anti-vaccine movement, Barbara Loe Fisher, for her cowardly attempt to shut up vaccine expert Dr. Paul Offit and to intimidate journalists into not writing exposes of the anti-vaccine movement by suing Dr. Offit, Amy Wallace, and WIRED Magazine for Wallace's excellent article in which Dr. Offit was quoted as saying "She lies" about Loe Fisher. Such is her commitment to free speech that she is trying to shut down criticism through legal bullying.

That's why Barbara Loe Fisher's latest screed overloaded yet another of my irony meters and sizzled that sucker into a molten pile of metal and rubber, sputtering pathetically, "¡No mas, no mas!" The article, entitled 2010 Needs a Fearless Conversation About Vaccination appeared on the NVIC website (which appears to allow comments), on BLF's blog (which also actually allows comments, if you know what I mean, nudge, nudge, wink wink), and on the anti-vaccine crank blog Age of Autism (where you shouldn't bother commenting due to the ruthless censorship of dissenting views practiced there, unless you like wasting your time).

The whole screed is just more of the same, full of conspiracy-mongering and despicably trying to link "forced vaccination" to 9/11:

Those who criticized the quality and quantity of government regulated vaccine science or questioned the ethics of mandatory vaccination laws were marginalized by those in positions of authority, who defended the status quo. The fear, prejudice and intolerance defining the first decade of the 21st century was eventually turned on parents of vaccine injured children, who were asking doctors and public health authorities how many vaccines their children were going to be forced to take in the name of protecting national security and the public health.

September 11, 2001 was a day of indescribable loss. And the losses America suffered that day have been magnified by the losses we have suffered since that day because some have used fear as a political tool to silence criticism of government policy.

Poor, poor, pitiful Barbara! Nice attempt, though, to paint herself as the brave, put-upon opponent of overreaching government and creeping fascism. Whatever the depredations committed by the government on our civil liberties in the wake of 9/11, trying to prepare the nation for bioterrorism attacks probably wasn't among them, nor was trying to beef up the nation's vaccination system in order to be prepared for bioterrorism or pandemics. Moreover, laws passed to protect vaccine manufacturers would probably not have been so necessary were it not for the threat of anti-vaccine advocates like Barbara Loe Fisher trying to sue vaccine manufacturers into bankruptcy.

In any case, this is standard boilerplate BLF anti-vaccine nonsense. Here's the part where she destroyed that poor irony meter of mine:

We, who are critical of one-size-fits all mandatory vaccination policies because those policies fail to acknowledge biodiversity and do not respect the informed consent ethic, welcome a new, more rational and substantive conversation about vaccination in 2010. As President Franklin Roosevelt said "The truth is found when men are free to pursue it."

Hopefully, 2010 will be the beginning of a fearless and fierce search for the truth about health and vaccination that will enlighten us all.

Apparently BLF's definition of a "fearless" is different what one normally thinks of as "fearless." It is anything but "fearless" to try to shut up your ideological opponents with frivolous lawsuits. It is anything but "fearless" to use lawsuits to try to frighten off journalists by leading them to conclude that the chance of being sued if they criticize the anti-vaccine movement is too high to be worth the bother. It is anything but "fearless" to hide behind libel law because you don't have the goods when it comes to science. "Fierce" it may be.

"Fearless"? Not so much.

Actually, I kind of agree with BLF on one thing, but not in the way she thinks. We do need a fearless conversation about vaccines. It needs to be a conversation free of the fear of the anti-vaccine movement filing lawsuits against its critics, free of the fear of harassment by the anti-vaccine movement, and with scientists being free of the fear that their work will be hijacked and misrepresented as supporting the pseudoscience of the anti-vaccine movement.

Hey, maybe we do need a 'fearless" conversation about vaccines after all.

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Well, they skew "fearless" as much as they skew other words, like "evidence", "undeniable", and "immunity"... Oh, and, lest we forget, "common sense".

Seems like she is screening comments, I guess her truthiness can't handle a fearless conversation.


I have just posted the following to the NVIC blog, BLF's blog and Age of Awfulness. I eagerly await approval by the respective moderators. (By the way, the captcha code I had to enter at AoA contained the letters "xpew". I wonder how you you would pronounce that.)

A question, Barbara - how does your suing a doctor, a journalist and a news publisher fit in with your need for a "fearless conversation"? You must be fearful of something, or are you just a hypocrite who wants different rules to apply to different people?

Hahahahaha. :-) Like minds! I posted on this yesterday; used the same two paragraphs of Fisher's and closed with this:

I call Fisher out on the bullshit this is. If she meant that she wouldn't be engaged in the lawsuit she's in now. If she were really about the truth, then she wouldn't be trying to silence Offit and doctors willing to speak, the journalists willing to report, or the publishing companies willing to print.

I'd argue, having looked at the 2007 tax return for NVIC, that what she really wants is an influx of cash. She seems to be making her living off the back of people willing to support an anti-vaccine stance. Now, admittedly, it is not the cash cow that Autism Speaks is, but still, I cannot see where NVIC did anything good, anything charitable. It took in money, it paid Fisher, the vice president, and employees, it maintained an office and a website and it printed out materials. Nice. Also, it would be interesting to know just how much she makes from speaking engagements.

I'm not suggesting that people shouldn't take salaries from non-profits. People need to pay bills, need to eat. I'm just saying that when you're the head of the nonprofit and it looks like you've found a way to make a living off of peddling fear, well, your altruism is suspect. That's all. Just suggesting. Sort of like how I might be skeptical of a particular editor of Aoa plugging her sponsors' products. Just putting that idea out there that if your very livelihood depends on feeding and adding to the fear of vaccines, that you've got a huge, biased incentive to increase that fear and ignore facts.

And lastly, and all that decent, rational people should have to know:

Biodiversity?! i do not think it means what she thinks it means. Measles is being oppressed! it's biodiverse! let it thrive!.
How does informed consent work if you tell lies about vaccines?. If you neglect to mention the huge risks of vaccine preventable illnesses ( death, disability etc) and lie about the risks of vaccinating ( teh autism!, diabetes!) how exactly is that "informed"?.

By flim flam (not verified) on 07 Jan 2010 #permalink

Ooh look: she's pitching her tent next to the 9/11 troofers.

"Fearless"? I think not. People like her are not fearless. People like her are aware that they are wrong, they have been exposed to the evidence but they fear being wrong so they will deny the evidence and will stick to their story because no matter how much damage it does.

We need to have a talk about vaccines--
The evidence is right before your eyes,
And everybody knows just what that means

When journalists can peek behind the scenes
And see the anti-vaxxers through disguise
We need to have a talk about vaccines.

Their science isnât worth a hill of beans
And so the anti-vaxxers turn to lies
And everybody knows. Just what that means

May not be clear. The argument careens
From point to point, and if you cross your eyes,
We need to have a talk about vaccines.

But if you look more clearly, through the screens
And clouds, their falsehood dies,
And everybody knows just what that means.

They use, instead, publicity machines
Which amplify their pseudoscience cries:
âWe need to have a talk about vaccines!â
And everybody knows just what that means.…

I have been irritated by BLF (and other anti-vaxers) who use the "one-size-fits all mandatory vaccine policy" canard.

First off, what does Fisher expect? Homeopathic vaccines tailored to each person's aura?

Secondly, she refuses to acknowledge that immunization policies already exempt groups of people who legitimately cannot be vaccinated. Nor does she acknowledge that there is such a thing as "informed consent" when it comes to vaccines.

Here's the reality. I'm pretty sure that Fisher doesn't support vaccination at all, but she cannot say that and have any shred of mainstream credibility. So she plays the safety and choice choice" cards while supporting mandates and legislation that would basically neuter herd immunity and cripple vaccine manufacturers.

As President Franklin Roosevelt said "The truth is found when men are free to pursue it."

However, Babs would have told ol' FDR to stay away from that awful mandatory polio vaccination, it's full of Teh Toxins.

I tried out my new IroniShield⢠Centurion XVII DL 3.0 with the new lexicapacitor induction flux, but she managed to completely fry the sucker with her splendidly wooden delivery of a totally fearmongering speech about how we shouldn't live in a climate of gummint induced fearmongering.

Now I have to open all the windows to get this burnt electrical smell out of the house and it's freezing out.

By Pareidolius (not verified) on 07 Jan 2010 #permalink

Scores so far today for getting blog comments past moderators:

Scienceblogs 100%
Fisher's blog 0%
AoA 0%

I must be doing something wrong. I've been told that all the 0% places are strong supporters of free speech and open debate. Perhaps they lied.

Strike out the word "Perhaps". Sue me, Barbara.

I LOVED that she quoted FDR who spent his adulthood in a wheelchair because of POLIO.

"We, who are critical of one-size-fits all mandatory vaccination policies because those policies fail to acknowledge biodiversity"

Has anyone else ever noticed that quacks always give the bit about doing your own thing (and whatever flavor of 'the man' they're railing against is trying to stop them, naturally) while basically saying everyone should have to do what they think?

By Party Cactus (not verified) on 07 Jan 2010 #permalink

flim flam - maybe she is claiming biodiversity for herself.
"I am different" ( not like ordinary human beings . My fearless speech must be protected from anasty people.

One could of course demand proof that she is different. [ I leave out a discussion the traditional qualities ascribed to special beings as too vulgar on the net ]
And if she is different the next question should be if she is human enough in the eye of the law to have a driving licence, own property, vote in elections, being married to a human and so on. ( we don't usually grant those civil rights to not-humans. )

On the other hand demanding different rules is not hypocritical if they are applied to diffeerent subjects . Demanding that dogs not be treated like horses is reasonable. Presumably demanding that Neanderthals should be treated differently from ordinary humans would be ok too.

It's only tangentally related to the topic, but has anyone else mentioned here that the gmc is deliberating on Andrew Wakefield right now, and is due to report by the end of the month?

By Elihphile (not verified) on 08 Jan 2010 #permalink

Great as usual, Cuttlefish. The sad thing is there is no lack of stupidity for you to create poems from (antivax, creationism...). But I love your other poems too, on Digital Cuttlefish.

Given her comment policy it should be pretty easy to demonstrate that "she lies".

She is calling for a "fearless conversation". She says her website is a source of information. Submit comments providing truthful, factual information, have those comments censored, then ask her under oath why she censors truthful and factual information when she is calling for a "fearless conversation"?

It will catch her in a lie.

One of the many jaw dropping ironies is that while it is true that the paranoid maniacal Dick Cheney had decided to vaccinate the total US population against smallpox, it was doctors and scientists who support current vaccination policies that went directly to Bush Jr and stopped the insanity before it started. Ira Flatow did a great segment on this on Science Friday recently.

By mayhempix (not verified) on 08 Jan 2010 #permalink

I find it staggeringly ironic that the dispensers & popularizers of dangerous quasi-medical(sorry, I can't call it *medical*) advice about either vaccines or HIV/AIDS are the ones *doing* the suing, not the ones *being* sued.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 08 Jan 2010 #permalink

I find it staggeringly ironic that the dispensers & popularizers of dangerous quasi-medical(sorry, I can't call it *medical*) advice about either vaccines or HIV/AIDS are the ones *doing* the suing, not the ones *being* sued.

See my recent comment in another thread. It's bad enough when general loons give the bad advice, but when actual doctors advise their patients against the standard practice of vaccination, and then those patients subsequently come down with a vaccine-preventable disease with serious complications, then it is the very definition of medical malpractice.

@ Pablo: Of course. I *was* however, speaking of the general loons about whom I'm commented lately.(General Loon? sounds like an eccentric character in a Gilbert & Sullivan piece)

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 08 Jan 2010 #permalink

@ Pablo: Of course. I *was* however, speaking of the general loons about whom I'm commented lately.

My point was supposed to be that we aren't even seeing lawsuits against those blatently obvious situations, much less with the general loons.

Somebody came up with the perfect descriptor for Barbara Loe Fisher recently - I think it was kwombles - something about her martyr complex. She really seems to think she is the heroic defender of little babies - nay, the very American Way itself!

Looks more like a fearless monologue to me....

@19 - I subscribe to Science Friday podcasts, and haven't heard this, and a quick google doesn't turn up anything. Do you have a link?

"As President Franklin Roosevelt said 'The truth is found when men are free to pursue it.'"

What if you don't like the truth when it is found? "I reject your reality and substitute my own" doesn't seem like a good foundation for a Standard of Care.

I thought the "campaign of fear" began in February of 1998 by Andy "Wack-a-Doo" Wakefield.

The irony in this video is overwhelming me...must...lay...down. Feeling....dizzy....

@Tina re. post 12: actually there is a theory that Roosevelt suffered not from polio but guillaume barre.

By Anne Margrock (not verified) on 08 Jan 2010 #permalink

Orac, in common conversation, "theory" can mean guess. So saying "there is a theory that Roosevelt suffered not from polio but guillaume barre" is not an incorrect usage.

Well, firstly, it's Guillain-Barré syndrome, not "guillaume barre".

By Sean Case (not verified) on 08 Jan 2010 #permalink

From the horse's mouth...

"..some have used fear - as a political tool - to silence criticism.."


Since the dialogue is always (ALWAYS!) one-way, we'll probably never know how Ms Loe Fisher manages her cognitive dissonces in general, and this one in particular.


Oh Michael, you did not just . . . well, you did, did'nt you (grabs dog, shuts laptop and runs for cover).

By Pareidolius (not verified) on 08 Jan 2010 #permalink

Actually, a conversation is not what we need. What we need is one single fictional episode on a police procedural show. CSI or Law & Order will do very nicely.

Starts very simple: a kid dies, either of chelation's side effects or when a hyperbaric oxygen pressure chamber blows up. The intrepid investigators dig deeper into why he was undergoing it, and soon home in on the corrupt quack who applied this therapy. The usual plot twists come in, including the estranged divorced parent who shows up to find out his worst fears have been realized vis a vis quackery and his child. Or maybe it turns out the kid's autistic symptoms are within the range we see in those who gow up to be high-functioning types.

Quack gets frogmarched. Credits roll.

And in real life, public opinion shifts towards fewer kids getting killed by the measles.

There is little hope of a "conversation" of any kind happening, because a genuine debate over scientific matters cannot happen when one side is actively antiscientific. This is war.

It's an irregular verb:

I converse fearlessly,
You're mean,
He's being sued for libel.

By stripey_cat (not verified) on 08 Jan 2010 #permalink

Becca @26, it was from Science Friday 11/20/09 "In Smallpox: The Death of a Disease, Dr. D.A. Henderson recounts the history of the deadly virus, from the development of the first vaccine in the late 18th century to his involvement in the successful global eradication campaign in the 1960s and 70s." In the segment Henderson talks about Cheney's determination to vaccinate everyone after 9/11 and his encounter with W.

I subscribe to Science Friday podcasts via iTunes and do not delete them. Whether it is still available for download there I'm not sure but perhaps it is archived at the show's site.

By mayhempix (not verified) on 08 Jan 2010 #permalink

Unsurprisingly, I tried posting the Science Friday/Cheney story on both NVIC and AoA and they have never appeared.

By mayhempix (not verified) on 08 Jan 2010 #permalink

Does anyone want to start a website where we can all post responses to articles and comments on the AoA site?

Comments like this one are particularly annoying:

"Pharma's next move will be to attempt a shut-down of free speech on the internet."

Pretty rich from the site that moderates out the slightest hint of opposition.

My point was just that I have no problem with people using "theory" instead of "guess" or "hypothesis" in common conversation- as opposed to the "evolution is a theory and not a fact" crap.

I tried to post a comment to the entry on AoA regarding this topic. Since I feel like I try to be fair to both sides, I tried making some minor corrections to previous comments under the post and also addressed a link to an ID community that discussed that author's irritation with Orac.

I simply said that BLF should address her role in the passage of the 1986 legislation that shielded vaccine makers from liability, and that she should make a public statement regarding her lawsuit against Paul Offit. I tried to correct a commenter that stated formaldehyde was injected directly into our bloodstreams, and tried to tell another commenter that linking an ID site is ill-advised, since the skeptical community is content to lump anti-vaxxers in with creationists and banding together just furthers their point that the majority opposing vaccine programs are scientifically illiterate.

It was censored. Once again, in defense of Science Blogs and SBM, I have never been censored.