In Praise of Robert De Niro

I just wanted to say how amazingly brave and admirable I believe Robert De Niro's recent decisions have been regarding the screening of the anti-vaccination film "Vaxxed" at his Tribeca Film Festival. As this was apparently one of his first revelations of having an autistic child, his actions are all that more brave and admirable in my opinion (for whatever little my opinion is worth on this matter). To be searching for answers to how? and why? a member of your own family has autism has got to be unbelievably frustrating. To have a member of your family who has autism has got to be a lifelong experience of learning how to love and accept and cope.

So when someone with the celebrity status of De Niro has the ability to influence a public debate by including a film in the Tribeca Film Festival that purports to discuss the origins of autism, and then to publicly change his mind when scientists and his colleagues persuade him that this film is a well established pack of fabrications and a dangerous anti-science piece of propaganda - that seems to me to be worthy of extreme gratitude and praise.

For better or worse, and usually worse, our public debate on extremely important issues continues to be more and more influenced by the opinions of celebrities. Some celebrities take this role seriously, some do not. None are really prepared for it. Robert De Niro has an autistic child, is one of the best actors in the history of the profession, but is not a scientist nor a physician. He co-founded and co-runs the Tribeca Film Festival. He doesn't need to listen to anyone regarding what is shown in the festival. But his very public attempt to further the dialogue on autism, followed by his very public acknowledgement that the film "Vaxxed" is not the way to further that dialogue, is an amazingly wonderful example of being able to watch a super-celebrity making a real-time intellectual decision based on facts and science from within a highly charged emotional space.

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