Antivaccine cranks in Michigan: gives Mary Tocco a platform


I come across antivaccine editorials all the time. Usually, some editor ignorant of the issues involved is duped by antivaccine arguments or succumbs to the annoying journalistic fallacy (with respect to science) of “telling both sides.” Either that, or the editor has antivaccine proclivities himself. Either way, the result is an op-ed by someone like Barbara Loe Fisher, one of the clown car crew over at at the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism, or one of the drinking moms over at the horribly misnamed “The Thinking Moms’ Revolution.” I’ve seen so many of them and dealt with the same misinformation and the same old lies that I’ve deconstructed, debunked, and applied the clue by four of science and skepticism that I ignore the vast majority of them. However, there’s something different when they hit close to home, as in my state. My state!

That, I cannot ignore, particularly when such articles come from the likes of Mary Tocco—no, not even when Steve Novella has already taken a look at the post. Steve’s good, as always, but, again, this is my state. Besides, I can always bring my style of not-so-Respectful Insolence that this sort of thing deserves and that Steve is to nice to apply with such tender loving care.

Apparently it was an editor who foolishly thought that “tell both sides” applies to countering science with pseudoscience over at MLive, a state-wide news site. Two weeks ago, Dr. Anthony F. Ognjan, chief of infectious diseases for McLaren Macomb, and Dr. Sandro Cinti, associate professor of Infectious Disease at the University of Michigan and chair of the Michigan State Medical Society's Public Health Committee, wrote an excellent article entitled Anti-vaccination movement threatens the health, safety and well-being of Michigan children. Basically, it was an op-ed criticizing our very own state’s antivaccine group, Michigan Opposing Mandatory Vaccines (MOMV) with science and facts. Kudos were sent to (and deserved by) MLive for publishing such an article. Unfortunately, Jane Eyer, director of community engagement, couldn’t leave well enough alone.

Let’s just put it this way. “Community engagement” does not mean letting any old crank who wants a voice on MLive to publish an op-ed. Does Ms. Eyer allow 9/11 Truthers a forum? Holocaust deniers? Moon landing hoaxers? Bigfoot believers? Then why on earth did she allow an antivaccine crank like Mary Tocco to write a response entitled No one should be forced to vaccinate their children?

Tocco’s article is so chock full of hoary old antivaccine tropes that I was half-tempted to leave it as an exercise for the reader to dismantle them. But, hey, it’s me. You know I can’t do that, particularly because I’ve only just hit around the 500 word mark at this point. So here we go.

First off, I’m ashamed to have to admit that, until recently, Mary Tocco was Michigan’s very own Barbara Loe Fisher Jenny McCarthy (only without the fame) rolled into one. She claims the hilarious title of director of vaccine research and education for MOMV. “Research.” You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. You’ll see what I mean if you wander over to what MOMV considers to be “vaccine research,” complete with links to antivaccine sites whose excretions I’ve dealt with many times before on this blog, such as Medical Voices, the Orwellian-named National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC, which really should be called the National Vaccine Misinformation Center), antivaccine attorney Patricia Finn, ThinkTwice, and others—including, of course, Tocco’s own site, She used to be Michigan’s own antivaccine loon, being married to a chiropractor in Clawson, but has lived in Charleston, SC for quite a while now. Still, she seems to remain heavily involved in Michigan’s antivaccine movement. Why? I don’t know.

Be that as it may, let’s take a look at her article. She begins with a statement virtually all antivaccine groups make at some point in any article they produce for a mainstream news source, with the uncommon exception of the occasional antivaccinationist who is proud of being antivaccine:

The authors labeled Michigan Opposing Mandatory Vaccines an anti-vaccine group. Our organization is about protecting parental right to choose whether or not to use vaccines as a method of health care for themselves and their children.

We have protected the rights of parents in Michigan since defeating a bill back in September 1995 that would have eliminated the philosophical exemption to vaccinations and are a voice for thousands of parents who support transparent information about the known safety risks of vaccines. MOM encourages informed vaccine decisions and do not tell people how to decide or whether or not to vaccinate. No one should be forced to take a drug.

Ah, yes. The old “I’m not ‘anti-vaccine’; I’m a vaccine safety advocate” gambit! No doubt many antivaccinationists believe that they really are vaccine safety advocates. They can delude themselves to believe they are virtually anything, but that doesn’t make it so, any more than I could turn myself into a major league pitcher by believing I’m a great baseball player. For instance, on the MOMV website, there is a story of Brynn Fischer,who in a divorce battle is fighting the father, who, quite reasonably, wants their children vaccinated. There’s a FAQ that asks the question, “Isn't it really dangerous if a person, especially a child, gets any of these communicable diseases, like whooping cough, diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, and polio?” and answers it, “No,” citing the ultimate in intellectually dishonest antivaccine talking points, the claim that death rates for these diseases were falling before the introduction of vaccines. In response to another question, “Haven't vaccines been responsible for reducing the number of cases of communicable diseases, like whooping cough, diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella, and polio?” the usefulness of vaccines is downplayed in favor of better nutrition and sanitation and noting that these diseases have affected less than 1% of the population of Michigan for the last 100 years?


Michigan’s population is just under 10 million based on the last census. It was 2.4 million in 1900. One percent of the population would thus range from 24,000 to 100,000 people between 1900 and now. A dumber argument for not vaccinating or for the “ineffectiveness” of vaccines I have seldom seen, and I’ve seen a lot over the last decade. Let’s put it this way. There were 951 traffic fatalities in Michigan in 2013. That’s 0.0095%. Clearly, we don’t need to do anything to decrease traffic fatalities, do we? By Tocco’s logic we’re doing just fine! Let’s abolish seat belt laws! Especially since traffic fatalities aren’t contagious, although, as in the case of vaccine-preventable diseases, innocent people who have done nothing to increase their risk or bring misfortune on themselves suffer.

Another astoundingly stupid argument, along the same lines, is that the total number of vaccine-preventable disease cases in Michigan were low. No kidding! That’s because vaccines work!

None of this stops Tocco from plunging headlong into more misplaced self-righteousness:

The authors criticized the Candidate Questionnaire MOM mails out regularly to candidates running for federal and state political office. Two questions ask candidates if they support vaccine decision rights and one asks if they support independent scientific research. As Michigan citizens, we have the right to ask where the candidates stand on this important rights and health issue.

Sure, and Michigan citizens also have the right to ask where the candidates stand on Bigfoot, whether 9/11 was an inside job, or whether humans ever actually landed on the moon, but that doesn’t mean they should or that we shouldn’t criticize them when they do. Remember, “vaccine decision rights” is code for undermining school vaccine mandates, frequently based on pseudoscientific fears of non-existent vaccine “injury” in the form of autism and other conditions not caused by vaccines. Let’s just put it this way, if Tocco isn’t antivaccine, why is the website she recommends called In any case, as Steve Novella and I have noted, it’s better to be for freedom than against science, which is why antivaccine groups cloak themselves in “health freedom” rhetoric. It’s very clear, however, that these groups only want the freedom to be antiscience.

Here, perhaps, is Tocco’s greatest howler, though:

The authors claim that Michigan’s unvaccinated rates are a health risk. I have not seen any studies proving that those who are unvaccinated or lacking in all of their vaccines have shown a reduction in health. There has never been a study comparing the unvaccinated with the fully vaccinated, which I believe is the only way we can compare health outcomes. It is a fact that when a child recovers from these infectious illness, they obtain life-long immunity as a benefit.

First off, the “vaccinated/unvaccinated” study trope is a favorite of the antivaccine movement. It’s without merit. Second, Tocco seems unaware of the research that the unvaccinated are more prone to—you guessed it!—vaccine preventable diseases. For instance, children not vaccinated against pertussis are at a 23-fold increased risk of getting pertussis. That’s a a reduction in health! There’s a reason pertussis has returned to Michigan! Basically, there’s only one difference in health between vaccinated and unvaccinated children, and that’s that unvaccinated children suffer from vaccine-preventable diseases at a much higher rate! There you go, Ms. Tocco!

Tocco trots out a couple of more antivaccine lies:

The science “is not settled” on vaccine safety or efficacy. The United States Vaccine Court has settled over 85 cases where children are injured with neurological injuries from vaccines since 2000.

No. Not exactly. Try again. In reality, yes, there are “table injuries” for which the Vaccine Court automatically grants compensation. No one denies that vaccines can injury, but serious vaccine injury is incredibly rare and the benefits of vaccines far outweigh the tiny risks.

Next up:

As I travel the country speaking with parents, the #1 concern is vaccine ingredients. Many are not meant to eat and yet we inject them via vaccination! For more ingredient information see

You know, there ought to be a law, similar to Godwin’s law and Nazi analogies, that says that the longer a vaccine “discussion” goes on the chances of the “toxins gambit” being brought up approaches one. We ought to have a similar corollary to this law as there is to Godwin’s law that states that the first person to bring up the “toxins gambit” automatically loses the debate. Mary Tocco loses.

I will admit to amusement at Tocco’s last line:

Regarding the reference to Jenny McCarthy, I have been independently researching vaccines since before Jenny was out of diapers, and she has not influenced me at all.

Congratulations, then! You imbibed the pseudoscience of the antivaccine movement decades ago all on your own! That’s something to be proud of, for sure! Of course, in this video (which is a truly hilarious slice of antivaccine pseudoscience that might require a little of the ol' Insolence directed at it sometime in the future), Tocco says she's been at this since 1994. A quick look at Wikipedia reveals that Jenny McCarthy is 41 years old and first posed in PLAYBOY in 1993; so unless Tocco knows something about Jenny McCarthy's continence as a young adult that we don't know about, she's full of what adult diapers are basically designed to catch.

The bottom line is that Mary Tocco is an antivaccine crank, promoting nothing but pure pseudoscience. For shame, Jane Eyer, for giving her a platform on! Michigan has enough problems without having to put up with the ignorant opinions of antivaccine activists being given a statewide platform.


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Well, the "Flying Monkey Squad" seems to have missed that particular editorial....the author is getting her ass handed to her in the comments.

Good to see a lot of rational people still live in Michigan.

If I wasted 35 minutes viewing her road show video (February 2014)...the least you all could do is view it.

Alternatively, I could provide some of the statements she made, during her presentation.

- She admits she has no education in any science fields...but is a "self taught vaccine researcher".

- She and her ex-husband "avoided the medical model" completely; never took any of her five children to a pediatrician for check-ups, for sick visits (or for vaccines).

- Her children were born at home and she home-schooled them and is immensely proud that two of her children are chiroquackers like their father.

- Doctors never knew about the immune system (they thought it was a "little pocket" in the belly...points to her own belly), before 1985, when those ignorant doctors found out by T1 and T 2 cells while learning about AIDS.

- All the medical textbooks had to be rewritten in 1995, to reflect their newly gained knowledge about the immune system.

- Once "they' were forced to remove most of the toxic mercury adjuvants from vaccines, "they" had to add additional aluminum adjuvants. (Aluminum being "one" of the adjuvants used in vaccines).

- Other adjuvants are peanut oil adjuvants (yikes !!), which are, of course, responsible for peanut allergies, asthma...etc.

Cripes, she's about the dumbest anti-vaxxer I've heard of (with the exception of the AoA journalists/commenters), in a very long time.

As I pointed out over at the "Wretched Hive" - any anti-vaccine statement is immediately accepted as fact, without any evidence regarding biological plausibility (usually there is none), no matter how ludicrous (like doctors routinely giving the HepB vaccine without permission), or non-nonsensical - like declaring peanut oil being used in all vaccines & using the lack of any evidence as "proof-positive" that it is being done.

Grade A crazy is all I can say - if someone declared that vaccines caused 9/11, I'm sure the commenters at AoA would accept it as the gospel truth.

Oops - please ignore my stupid double-negative.

Sigh. First I'm scooped by Steve. Then by Orac. I guess I can let it slide, though, considering it's in your state, but man I wanted to address her nonsense. Instead I got side-tracked by another media outlet giving a platform to anti-vaxxer Becky Estepp. Maybe I'll still write something up about Ms. Tocco.

I just had to read both Orac's and Steve Novella's blogs on this. Both excellent.

However I disagree with Orac when he says his blog is more insolent. I think Steve's was actually more insolent (in a good way) than Orac's. As an example he outright accuses the Toccos of this world of being anti-science just to make money. Orac just thinks they are pretty stupid. Also there are subtle digs throughout Steve's post.

I don't want to create any friction between you guys as to who is the more abrasive but I'm just saying.

By Fergus Glencross (not verified) on 13 Aug 2014 #permalink

There’s a FAQ that asks the question, “Isn’t it really dangerous if a person, especially a child, gets any of these communicable diseases, like whooping cough, diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, and polio?” and answers it, “No”

This is evidently some usage of "not dangerous" of which I was previously unaware. Several of those diseases are known to cause death, including whooping cough, which has done so recently in this country.

There isn't enough facepalm for this level of thermonuclear stoopid.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 13 Aug 2014 #permalink

I guess it all depends on one's definition of "really dangerous". Clearly it's really dangerous to let your child play with a hungry leopard. It's really dangerous to try to jump across the Grand Canyon. Some argue that a fatality rate of <1% and a serious complications rate of < 2% doesn't count as "really dangerous", merely "dangerous" or possibly even "an acceptable risk."

Needless to say, I am not one of those people.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 13 Aug 2014 #permalink

The mealy-mouthed justifications from Jane Eyre who wrote this are just as pathetic as Tocco's tosh:

Jen Eyer | 1 day ago

@EAB Since the original guest column sharply criticized the MOM organization, we gave them the ability to respond. However, please be aware that the final version you see here is drastically different from what was initially submitted. We required that many claims unsupported by science be removed, and the rest is presented as Tocco's opinion.

Our goal is to foster debate. I understand that in the minds of many, as well as the medical establishment, there is no debate here. But the fact remains that our state law allows parents to opt out of vaccinating their children for "philosophical" reasons, and a growing number of parents are choosing to do so. As a news organization, we do need to show both sides, but we must do so responsibly. By not allowing unsupported claims to be stated as fact, that is what we've done here.

I don't expect readers to necessarily agree, but I do feel it's important that people understand that we operate based on principles of fairness and truth.

Jen Eyer | 1 day ago

This column has generated a lot of passionate responses. It's important to note that it's not MLive, but rather state law that "legitimizes" Ms. Tocco's point of view, by allowing parents to opt out of vaccinating their children for "philosophical" reasons. That exemption was the basis for the initial guest column as well as this response. As long as that exemption is in place, the question remains open for public debate. Those who strongly object may wish to channel that passion into effecting a change in that law.

By Science Mom (not verified) on 13 Aug 2014 #permalink

"Fairness & Truth?" I don't think those words mean what she thinks they mean.....

Eric, of course getting those diseases is not dangerous. That's what ERs are for. With the added benefit that you get to share the future natural immunity with the rest of the patients while waiting.

" It’s important to note that it’s not MLive, but rather state law that “legitimizes” Ms. Tocco’s point of view, by allowing parents to opt out of vaccinating their children for “philosophical” reasons."

Oh, horse manure. The law merely permits parents to get out of vaccinating their kids based on personal beliefs, but it does not "legimitize" any such beliefs.

I wonder if ol' Jen would allow a Stormfront spokesman a full-length rebuttal to an article condemning racism, on the grounds that the Bill of Rights "legitimizes" Stormfront's beliefs.

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 13 Aug 2014 #permalink

*facepalm* at the FAQ. Well yeah, most people through most of history fell ill with some if not most of those diseases and enough people still survived to reproduce, so wipe out civilization or on a broad statistical level? They may not be that dangerous (I mean they aren't start digging a mass grave on the edge of town when the next town over falls ill kinda outbreaks).

However, like most things, population statistics mean nothing at the level of the individual. I'm sure people who lived out their lives in iron lungs would have preferred not to get polio.

It is funny how humans process risk when you look at the "means nothing at the level of the individual" for risks you accept and risks you fear. In the anti-vaxxers case the risk (real or imagined) from vaccine damage to an individual stirs something up that the risks (real or imagined) from the disease do not.

Maybe it is because my parents lived with the summer's of fear during polio outbreaks (my brothers were in the vaccine trials) and while I did not I really wonder if these people would have been sending their kids to the playground and the local swimming hole because polio is essentially risk free and they need the natural immunity.

I really do hope polio stays damped down to a few countries and stays far away. Although the primitive schadenfreude part of my brain really wants to see one of the prominent anti-vaxxer's kids end up in an iron lung to see what they say about the risk-free natural immunity their kid now has.

Oy. Jane Eyer. The stupid, it burns. Stormfront is a good example. I also mentioned in my post asking whether Eyer would allow 9/11 Truthers, Holocaust deniers, or moon hoaxers a platform, but, i admit, I didn't think to say because the constitution "legitimizes" these points of view at least to the point of allowing them?

As a news organization, we do need to show both sides, but we must do so responsibly.

And the way you do that, Ms. Eyer, is to present the facts. Which, your protestations notwithstanding, you failed to do here.

Which is why, if I were world dictator for one day, I would issue lifetime bans to editors and journalists who, like Ms. Eyer, present "both sides" of the story without stating what the facts are. (It's not confined to science, either; for many so-called news organizations, it's standard practice.) When the facts overwhelmingly support one side of what you want to call a debate, you aren't doing your audience any favors by pretending that it's an actual debate.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 13 Aug 2014 #permalink

Speaking of cranks, I'm pretty sure Elizabeth Hart has just earned herself a spot in the Circular File Hall of Fame with this demand for a retraction of a Cochrane review by Lancet Infectious Diseases.

(Apparently, the whole "behind the paywall" trip has to do being unable to figure out how to "submit a criticism" without getting off her ass.)

Eric, presenting "both sides" but leaving out the facts generates lots and lots of page hits, ad impressions, and therefore, ka-ching.

By weirdnoise (not verified) on 13 Aug 2014 #permalink

Who or what is Elizabeth Hart? She is a new one to me. Seems quite looney though. Don't know how I missed her....

By Kelly M Bray (not verified) on 13 Aug 2014 #permalink

Sir, you cannot be serious! Are you accusing Mlive of being...of being click-whores??? Perish the thought!

By Kelly M Bray (not verified) on 13 Aug 2014 #permalink

Who or what is Elizabeth Hart?

Australian antivaccine crank. Conveniently self-archived here.

@weirdnoise: Except that if they've gone to a subscriber model, as many local news sites (including the websites of my local fishwrap, Foster's Daily Democrat [sic], and my other local fishwrap, the Portsmouth Herald, have done) have done, then they are just giving people yet another reason not to subscribe. Of course, it generally takes more than one quarter for this effect to show up, which to your average brainiac MBA is long term.

I've never lived in Michigan[1], and none of my relatives live there, so the only reason I would patronize MLive would be if they earned a reputation as a reliable news source (the two newspapers I mentioned in the previous paragraph at least cover local/regional news in the place where I live). Publishing Ms. Tocco's opinion piece is evidence that they are not a reliable news source.

[1]In fact, I've visited Michigan exactly once, and that because of a missed connection at DTW.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 13 Aug 2014 #permalink

Should someone notify Elizabeth Hart that someone has been sending out nonsense in her name?

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 13 Aug 2014 #permalink

Speaking of cranks, I’m pretty sure Elizabeth Hart has just earned herself a spot in the Circular File Hall of Fame with this demand for a retraction of a Cochrane review by Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Good grief is there anyone she didn't cc her retraction demand to?

By Science Mom (not verified) on 13 Aug 2014 #permalink

BORAC once again serves his masters at Big Pharma. And the minions baa baa after him.

By Science Dad (not verified) on 13 Aug 2014 #permalink

I find it somewhat disconcerting to read bizarre, brain-dead antivax screeds (at which point you envision the writer as a bug-eyed drooling crazy), only to see a photo which reveals the author to be reasonably normal-looking.

Mary Tocco for instance looks kind of like your average real estate agent.

Bo Diddley had it right - you can't judge a book by its cover.

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 13 Aug 2014 #permalink

Science Dad, try something more original than boring tired insults and the Pharma Shill Gambit. Perhaps you might try to actually bring some science into the discussion. Surprise us.

Coincidentally I was looking at one of Mihalovic's foamy screeds and found another antivaccine front

The World Association for Vaccine Education (WAVE) is globally focused, non-profit, educational institution advocating reformation of the mass vaccination systems. To this effect, WAVE provides an avenue for a public exchange of non-medical vaccine information, ideas and a continuously updated database of documents that concern vaccine risk and uselessness. It’s intent is to redress the balance of information available to parents on vaccination issues, acknowledge people who experience vaccine reactions, and adamantly advocate and maintain freedom of choice.

Our Mission

The World Association for Vaccine Education (WAVE) promotes independent thinking, personal responsibility, and social evolution. We are dedicated to the prevention of vaccine injuries and deaths through public education and awareness.

Board of Directors
Marc Girard, Msc, MD
Boyd Haley, PhD
Andrew Maniotis, PhD
Alan Phillips, J.D.
Tim O' Shea, DC
Dan N. Schultz, DC
Eileen Nicole Simon, PhD, RN
KP Stoller MD
Sherri J. Tenpenny, D.O.
Mary Tocco

Seems to be 100% Renee Tocco-Hunter's little organization.

Thank you for supporting WAVE. Our goal is to provide the most comprehensive online resource for vaccine related information and this would not be possible without donations from people like you!

WAVE is sponsored by a 501C3 non-profit charity, Heart For Autism.

For more information please visit Heart For Autism.

Heart for Autism

Dr. Renee Tocco-Hunter is the founder of Hope For Autism and Heart For Autism. She started her distinguished career at Sherman College where she earned her doctorate degree. After attending the Autism Research Institute’s “Defeat Autism Now” conference, Dr. Tocco-Hunter felt compelled to focus her career on autism and other chronic childhood illnesses. In 2008, she founded the American Chiropractic Autism Board and Hope For Autism. In 2009, she founded Heart For Autism. She is a national public speaker, trainer and consultant on methods to help children and adults recover from chronic illness. In 2010, she released an educational DVD for families, “The Explosion of Childhood Illness Explained”. She is also the Hope For Autism Conference coordinator.

Mary Tocco is the host of internet and satellite radio program, Healing Our World, heard every Saturday 4:00-5:00 (EST) Republic Broadcasting Network. She is the co-founder and currently on the board of the American Chiropractic Autism Board (ACAB), and helping to manage Hope For Autism. Mary is also the Vice-president of Heart For Autism, a charitable organization that raises funds for families who are working to recover their children from autism. She has been a natural health educator and advocate for almost 20 years.

Oh my . Sigh.

@Liz Ditz

I took a look at the WAVE site that Tocco linked to in her letter. Wow. There is so much that is just outright wrong there, the mind boggles. If I didn't know better, I'd think it was a very dedicated Poe. It's just asking for Oracian insolence. It is a very target-rich environment.

Our work is done here:

The autism epidemic is over

After accounting for methodological variations, there was no clear evidence of a change in prevalence for autistic disorder or other ASDs between 1990 and 2010.

Oh and Elizabeth Hart, yes she is a home grown anti-vax crank, not as harmful as Meryl Dorey, as she spends most of her time writing long letters to regulators, researchers and politicians.

And given that there is no such thing this PR-invented "movement," there would be no possible reason for, I dunno, people in executive positions in organizations that are not antivaccine – because there's no such thing – to conceal their very respectable identities and generally skulk around, now is there?

^ "now would there?"

Not that that would be, like, astroturfing or anything.

Orac asks:
"Does Ms. Eyer allow 9/11 Truthers a forum? Holocaust deniers? Moon landing hoaxers? Bigfoot believers? Why on earth did Eyer allow an antivaccine crank like Mary Tocco to write a response entitled No one should be forced to vaccinate their children?"

It seems to me the answer should be pretty f-ing obvious. But perhaps not to the science-based mind. So I shall expound.

Tocco and Eyer themselves provide hints:
MT: "As I travel the country speaking with parents, the #1 concern is vaccine ingredients. "
JE: "state law allows parents to opt out of vaccinating their, and a growing number of parents are choosing to do so."

It's numbers peeps. Not the numbers of hard-core antivaxers vs. truthers, deniers, hoaxers, etc., but the numbers of folks who are concerned enough to click on a link labeled " No one should be forced to vaccinate their children." it's about the numbers of clicks, which is the metric MLlve sells to advertisers to improve the numbers on it's bottom line, which may well be in need of a boost given the economic state of traditional news outlets these days, which may well be sparking Ms. Eyer's fears about joining the numbers of the unemployed, which is especially a bitch in Michigan.

Debate? Fairness? Truth? Constitutional legitimation? No. We're nowhere near that high on Maslow's heirarchy. We're talking about rent, food-on-the-table, and the vig on Eyer's student loans from J-School.

There's SOMETHING IMPORTANT HERE. The scientist may be equally repelled by different instances of woo, as they present roughly equivalent travesties of valid scientific inquiry. But the main reason any of this matters is that actual harm occurs as a result. The more harm, the more we ought to be concerned.

I can't think of a more pernicious form of pseudo-science than the antivax 'movement.' First, it seems to influence the most people, as it works on two very primal emotions: the protective paternal instinct activated by 'this a threat to YOUR KID,' and the self-interest activated by the thought of how YOUR life would be fucked-up by the burden of parenting an austistic child. Second, these motives are powerful enough that people don't have to be that woo-receptive in general to think 'maybe there's something to that.' And they don't have to buy into the woo all the way to have harm follow. They just have to doubt enough to hesitate enough to keep putting off their kids' vaccination visits. Third, the consequences are extremely harmful: not just a handful of dead kids from resurgent measles strains, which would be bad enough, but enough to really make we want to puke and with more to come.

You'd think the stakes of this harm would make Tocco MORE unpublishable than a Holocaust denier, but obviously the reverse is actually the case.

Stormfront is NOT a good example. The reason MLive won't touch Stormfront with a 10 ft. pole is not because Stormfront is full of crap, but because they would lose money by doing so due to the offense people would take. The reason MLive won't give Truthers and Hoaxers a platform is that doing so won't MAKE them any money. And, yes, there is virtually ZERO chance they will publish a hoaxer piece, despite the fact that compared to antivaxers the hoaxers are essentially socially benign, down there with Elwood P. Dowd and the giant rabbit in harmless eccentric-land. By publishing Tocco they are telling you what their readers are interested in, and what their readers AND ADVERTISERS consider legitimate grist for 'real' journalism pretending to deal in debate, fairness, truth, or anything beyond who Kim Kardashian made a sex-tape with last week.

It's not senseless for Eyer to publish Tocco. It makes PERFECT sense. No, they're not going to publish a Nazi-analogy screed against Monsanto. No, they're not going to publish a "guest column" that takes shots at pharmaceutical companies (if the piece Tocco submitted contained any Big Pharma smack that would have been among the "many claims unsupported by science" that Eyer "required be removed.") And yes, if this was ILive coming out of Indianapolis instead of MLive coming out of Ann Arbor the piece wouldn't have been published at all.

But, woot, there it is. "Give the people what they want." (as long as it OK with the publisher and the ad sales departent).

If you want a comparison, I'd check for 'guest columns' on Intelligent-Design-as-open-mindedness or 'teaching the evolution controversy" or 'science proves life begins at conception" or similar BS apologetics that can be comfortably wrapped in the ideology of 'debate on issues legitimated by law' yadda, yadda, yadda. I'll bet they've published those, since I've seen that stuff as 'guest op-ed' pieces in big city papers way up the journalistic food-chain from The Ann Arbor Times.

Sure, it would be nice if antivax rhetoric was as culturally vulnerable as it is scientifically vulnerable, but it ain't. It's dug in good, deeper already than the wildest dreams of any sane person could imagine Trutherism attaining.

Eyer has just showed Orac exactly what he is up against. In the short run anyway, science always yields to power. That burns.

A little off topic, but hey - when is yet more information which can be used to hand an anti-vaxer their own arse on a plate ever really OT? (Sorry if this has been mentioned before)

It seems that there's been no real increase in autism between 1990 and 2010.;jsessionid=6E76F07…

After accounting for methodological variations, there was no clear evidence of a change in prevalence for autistic disorder or other ASDs between 1990 and 2010. Worldwide, there was little regional variation in the prevalence of ASDs.

Who'd've thunk it eh? No "autism tsunami / holocaust" after all. Tsk.

By Rebecca Fisher (not verified) on 13 Aug 2014 #permalink

Becky, the new paper was linked to up the page.

Can't point out the results too many times.

I've been waiting for a systematic examination of the evidence - to see if (if you retroactively apply the various diagnosis-criteria of the DSM) there would be any change in the prevalence of autism over the this it?


Yes. Of course it was. I was, um, just checking that you were all paying attention. Or something. *cough* Nothing to see here, move along...

*runs away, hideously embarrassed*

By Rebecca Fisher (not verified) on 14 Aug 2014 #permalink

And yes, if this was ILive coming out of Indianapolis instead of MLive coming out of Ann Arbor the piece wouldn’t have been published at all.

Wisconsin Public Radio is fixing to do their second segment on vaccines in a week. The first (the program is "focused on leading balanced discussions") was about pricing and explicitly told the antivaccine crowd that their calls were not going to be welcome. The second doesn't sound like it's going to be too crank-friendly, either, but time will tell.
I think Dunn is in the Milwaukee studios, Meiller in Madison.

I appreciate the criticism of the article in my local rag, which I was amazed to see, cause the piece was so terrible I wasn't thinking anyone would bother to write about it. I also appreciate criticism of the journalism problem there. I have found it also common lately that folks will quote people saying things that are obviously lies (or perhaps speaker is so ignorant that it's merely a falsehood) , but then fail to note that they are lies, not that it happened in that particular article. It's a controversy-helping practice of journalist.

After a long day of attempting to assist clients, taking care of household duties and making sure that the living creatures in my care are not experiencing any lack,
I like to sit down and read extremely nonsensical and irresponsible tripe and I know exactly where to look:

Kent Heckenlively ( @ AoA) compares his fellow anti-vax
travellers to the Knights Templar for they are courageous and always tell the truth as they protect the helpless. He lists them and their works. They are today's
Guardians of the Galaxy as well.

TMR is sponsoring another e-conference about 'GMOs, organics and food allergies' which will enable an international cast including Jeffrey Smith and other cranks we have come to know and dislike intensely. Like their previous effort, talk at TMR is never cheap.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 14 Aug 2014 #permalink

Knights Templar--oh yeah, gotta love those Crusades. I love how he blew off any sort of moral assessment of the Knights Templar. To them the ends justify the means. Hey, lets be like those knights and do whatever we need to against our opposition.

By Chris Hickie (not verified) on 14 Aug 2014 #permalink

@ Chris Hickey:

I swear, Dr Chris, in the past few weeks he has over-identified with at least 3 fictional characters ( a psychic detective, Aragorn and Guardians of the Galaxy) and now it's Mediaeval quasi-legends!

I would say that his self-concept is a bit too fluid for my taste and he maintains a very juvenile black-and-white view of reality as he roleplays heroes. I doubt he understands much about the Templars' place in history. He has however mentioned reading Dan Brown's so-called novels.

Maybe he just like the costumes.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 14 Aug 2014 #permalink

@ Dr. Chris @ Denice Walter: Heckenlively also identifies with a historical figure; Martin Luther, whose daughter, according to family lore, married into Heckenlively's family:

(Note the Superman costume illustration and note that the "Here I Stand" blog was posted on Father's Day...because Kent is a super dad)…

Dr. Hickie, I think this pre-dates your presence here but another of Kent Heckenlively's "fantasies":…

Denice is spot-on with her characterisation of him. I can only wonder about the next Sky Horse instalment by Heckenlively. I was going to start with a lame title but there are cleverer people here who could do it justice.

By Science Mom (not verified) on 14 Aug 2014 #permalink

@ Denice, Lilady and Science Mom--"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" fits Kant Hackitblithely's persona, especially where Thurber uses all the fake medical terms.

By Chris Hickie (not verified) on 14 Aug 2014 #permalink

Dr Chris: I don't recall that Walter Mitty actually put his child in danger, as Heckenlively did...with those gawd-knows-what-substances which were infused intrathecally in that *"filthy, unregulated offshore clinic".

* If you follow my posts at the anti-vaxxers on other blogs, you know that I am referring to Kent Heckenlively.

Lilady--very true. I couldn't think of a fictional character who concurrently fit the description of delusional dullard and child abuser.

By Chris Hickie (not verified) on 14 Aug 2014 #permalink

I thought that after Anders Breivik comparisons to the Knights Templar might have fallen out of favour for would-be modern heroes.

By The Grouchybeast (not verified) on 14 Aug 2014 #permalink

@ lilady:

The most hilarious phrase in Heckenlively's collection of verbal detritus is *always telling the truth* THEN he lists Andy, Mikovits and his AoA colleagues. It's just astounding!
Look at his list!

Which puts him in the same camp as woo-meisters- they lie cavalierly- perhaps some of them don't even realise that their confabulations are not veridical because they match up with their innermost wishes.

I listen to a woo-meister narrate his storied past as a researcher, inventer, academic, adviser to the stars, master debater, world traveller, counsellor, humanitarian, investigative reporter par excellence and fabulous athlete-champion. Each time, the tales expand to include new details that line up with his current pet topics and most recent enemies list. His tales of incredible healing usually wind up with amazed orthodox doctors admitting their ignorance and then following his lead in humble devotion.

AoA and TMR writers also have created a mythology wherein they envision themselves as the cutting edge of the new wave ( that's a deliberate mixed metaphor- btw-) who boldly challenge the morally compromised authorities and win the people's admiration and loyalty because their work has saved millions from suffering.

It resembles the saviour myth as well as heroic epics all rolled into one into a roleplaying dream where one persona's attributes shade into the next one's seamlessly. Notice how they admit NO error ever and never present articulated realistic personalities when discussing their heroes and villians- it's all good or all bad dichotomously unrelated to real life. Which wouldn't mean much if they were pre-adolescents but they aren't.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 15 Aug 2014 #permalink

I listen to a woo-meister narrate his storied past as a researcher, inventer, academic, adviser to the stars, master debater, world traveller, counsellor, humanitarian, investigative reporter par excellence and fabulous athlete-champion. Each time, the tales expand to include new details that line up with his current pet topics and most recent enemies list. His tales of incredible healing usually wind up with amazed orthodox doctors admitting their ignorance and then following his lead in humble devotion.