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Stand up for science against anti-vaccine fear today in Chicago

As I’ve pointed out numerous times this week, anti-vaccine loons, led by Generation Rescue and a “health freedom” group, have organized an anti-vaccine rally in Grant Park in Chicago from 3 PM to 5 PM CDT. Anti-vaccine martyr Andrew Wakefield himself will be the keynote speaker, and there will even be very bad music promoting the anti-vaccine message. The rally, with its wonderfully Orwellian title, The American Rally for Personal Rights, will be pure crankery on display.

Those supporting science-based medicine plan, led by Skepchick Elyse Anders, to be there to promote science over the conspiracy theories and fear mongering that the anti-vaccine movement uses to frighten parents out of vaccinating their children. I realize it’s short notice. I realize that you very likely will be outnumbered, given the combination of short notice and the fact that the anti-vaccine zealots have been organizing and promoting this rally for weeks, if not months. Nonetheless, you’ll be doing Orac a particular solid if you can show up there. Details are here. There are also going to be satellite rallies in New Jersey, Washington, and New York. They look as though they’ll be much smaller; so, as P.Z. Myers points out, even if a couple of people can go it could have an effect.

Oh, and if you see J.B. Handley, Jenny McCarthy (I don’t know if she’ll be there or not but thought I’d mention her anyway), Andrew Wakefield, Kim Stagliano, or any other prominent anti-vaccine loon to whom I’ve applied some not-so-Respectful Insolence on a regular basis, please tap him or her on the shoulder, smile broadly, and tell ’em Orac says hi. (If you manage to pull this off, please let me know, either here or by e-mail, what the reaction was.)

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

52 replies on “Stand up for science against anti-vaccine fear today in Chicago”

After you tap Ms. Stagliano on the shoulder and say Orac says hi, say that JohnV is curious why there isn’t an epidemic of the infectious autism* since those are things virtually every parent has yet she’s the only one claiming to have a child who caught autism from them.

Ok that’s a bit of a mouthful and I doubt someone would actually be able to ask her that, but I can dream.

*(vector being parental vaccines, fillings and tuna consumption)

We’re often portrayed as being a vast,invisible network of motivated operatives(a/k/a,”Pharma shills”,agents of Almighty Governmental Control, a “Secret Society”,”True Acolytes of the Cult of Scientism”- sic-, a group Dan Brown might describe in his writing), but you know, in some bizarre sense:*we are*.United by priciples.Living *all over the world*.With lightning fast communications. Capable of immediate (often witty) response.I think we need to get a Guy Fawkes mask for our esteemed leader.

Wish I could go and take my 14m old with me, but all locations are too far from my area. I could show him off, as he is fully vaxed and he still has the soul in his eyes. I was worried it might disappear after his shots, as I’ve read that can happen.

Can’t go, unfortunately (would definitely be more fun than working), but have a suggestion for a sign for anyone who would like to use it: Arrow pointing toward anti-vax rally with the text “You guys make me sick!”

@denice – what, Scienceblogs should turn into 4chan Anonymous /b/ros?

@ Melkor:I’m feeling more inspired by Hugo Weaving’s art than by Murakami’s today.

Orac, it’s funny how you keep trying to convince yourself that Generation Rescue and others are anti-vaccine, it’s actually hilarious how you keep saying it over and over and over trying to get your “don’t have a brain for themselves” followers to believe it too. To even think that they are “anti-vaccine” is rediculous. Keep up the propaganda that you are so good at douche bag!!! In the meantime many parents are recovering their kids from autism. How is the recovery coming for your followers ORAC? Ha, what recovery!!!

Hey, whoever has the brain, could I use it for a sec?


STY, if GR/Age of Autism is not anti-vaccine, please explain why they perseverate on vaccines like Gardasil, which is not at all tied to autism, in any regard. Show me how the majority of their articles do not focus on vaccines and how they are bad and cause all kinds of ills like autism, allergies, etc. Demonstrate for us mindless drones that GR/AoA and their like are not anti-vaccine. Give us some evidence.

Oh, and stay classy!

Okay, who’d turn is it next to use the brain?

Orac, it’s funny how you keep trying to convince yourself that Generation Rescue and others are anti-vaccine…

No need to “convince myself.” GR and AoA are anti-vaccine. The evidence is incontrovertible. Thanks for playing, though.


Cue flame war between “Smarter Than You” and a host of people who are smarter than him/her in 3… 2… 1…

As an aside–

did anyone else notice that the big rally to support Mr. Wakefield after his appearance on the Today show seems to have fizzled? No comments to Age of Autism about it after the fact (at least that I can see).

I wish I could have been there with a camera.

To even think that they are “anti-vaccine” is rediculous.

Uh, Dumber than Everyone, aside from the poor spelling, have you looked at the recent posts on these websites? Further, look at the comments. You couldn’t find a more anti-vax set of opinions.

GR isn’t anti-vax like Ted Haggard isn’t homosexually inclined.

That characterization may be a bit skewed. GR is 100% anti-vax. It is their goal to provide wrong or distorted information to parents so that they will be too afraid to immunize and therefore will need to buy woo conveniently linked on the GR site.

The vaccine link at the top of the GR page takes you to some wishy-washy crap that is deceptive at best, lying at worst. No scientific support exists for delaying immunization until the child is 18-24 months old. Toxic load is minuscule so that the quest for greening is fear mongering, not fact based. This is how anti-vaxers talk and express their ideas.

Why is it so important that you push the idea that you are something other than what you are? Know thyself.

It is my experience that it is best to let some dogs bark. Not only does it provide you an auditory cue that you are, indeed, moving forward, but it allows the barker to be identified as such. I mean, we can bark and bark and bark, and that doesn’t make us right. So why bark?

(Standard disclaimer here.)

So I see Jenny McCarthy is posting here now…

Nah, not even she can manage STY’s depths of idiocy.

And all this time I thought Autism One was Jenny McCarthy’s private plane (and she based it at the Palindrome). Glad to be set straight.
Oh, by the way, is there any truth to the rumor that Jenny McCarthy is the illegitimate child of Charlie McCarthy?

I’m too lazy/busy to research it now, but WTF is up with a rally being held in Edison? I get NYC and Chicago as they’re major cities, but Edison? Wonder if some pharma corp is based there. Seems like we have a ton here in NJ.

I say this as someone who considers themselves relatively progressive/libertarian- but the cities in which these bizarre events are occurring solidifies in my mind the feeling that anti-vax movement is primary a left-wing sentiment. All three are major, liberal cities centers (Seattle, Chicago, New York). New York and Seattle are generally considered number 1 and 2 in most liberal large cities. We aren’t seeing these events being orchestrated in Salt Lake, Indianapolis or Phoenix.

If we go beyond the more recent, tea-partyesque talking points of the anti-vax movement relating to “health freedom” and “two sides”- the vast majority of the movement’s intellectual underpinnings are left-wing oriented. It really reminds me of my old college marxism- conspiracy driven, extremely anti-authority, and the intellectual distinction that anyone in the business/corporate world could be automatically discounted as intellectual dishonest shrill for the bourgeois class. Intent was all that mattered. No argument was required, no evidence needed to be presented. We had the truth.

That doesn’t even to begin to go into the connection that Steve Novella has pointed out between the environmental movement’s philosophical tenants (and the subsequent chemical paranoia and “natural is good” fallacy) and the anti-vax movement.

The Far Right & Far Left actually have a lot in common (including a major distruct of authority).

That may be true but the far right has most of the guns & ammo.

@12 – Sullivan – there was a report posted to EoH, below. When they say there were 20 – 25, I imagine that really were 10 – 15.

Very satisfying … personally … to be among the small group of supporters of Dr. Andrew Wakefield that had gathered outside the NBC studios where Matt Lauer interviewed Dr. Wakefield.

There were only about 20 – 25 people supporting Dr. Wakefield .. but .. we were gathered alongside NBC’s much larger crowd of tourists that gather each day at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Most of those people took the time to read our various signs .. some approached and asked for information as to why we had gathered there.

After the show .. Dr. Wakefield graciously walked among our small gathering and we all had opportunity to shake his hand .. and .. I greatly appreciated having the opportunity to tell him that I consider him a hero .. thanking him for his courage in putting fourth his research regarding the “gut issues” so many of our children have. They can say what they want .. but .. I know many of my grandson’s bizarre (neurological?) behaviors diminished greatly after we began treating him for painful colitis, gastritis .. with highly inflamed upper and lower intestinal tracts.

There was one “young” reporter who .. judging by his accent .. was from Great Britain. This guy was taping himself as he shouted questions at Dr. Wakefield outside the studio where he had graciously stopped among us.

I waited until I had opportunity and approached this reporter to ask him if he had any children himself .. because I though his “questions” were not really “questions”… they were actually “accusations” hurled at Dr. Wakefield. You know .. something on the order of “Have you stopped beating your wife?” Admitting he did not have any children as yet .. he told me that Dr. Wakefield is despised in England. When I asked him “who” despises him because .. surely it is not the parents of the children he treated .. he sheepishly admitted the “media”.

Yes .. we were a small group. But .. all in all .. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else this morning.


I think it’s difficult to distill this issue into left and right. Your example of the environmental movement’s gravitation toward anti-vax nonsense is a good illustration of that. I’d imagine that the important thing is why and how you arrive at your political beliefs. Bill Maher is a good example – he’s an atheist because he likes pissing off conservatives, not because he’s a logical positivist in general. Two people might vote Republican, but one does so because she’s very wealthy and wishes to see more tax breaks, whereas the other does so because he’s very anti-abortion. The why is important, because grouping people who share a political ideology along characteristics they do not necessarily share may forge a false equivalence.

People on the left and the right are anti-vaccine, but for very different reasons. And since nobody is (honestly) suggesting that guns and ammo be used to prevent vaccinations, we can probably avoid a 2nd amendment fight.

@Broken Link
I’d say that the small group of St Andy worshipers is a positive sign but there might have been more had they not been headed to Grant Park in Chicago to celebrate the woo-fest where wankers is headlining.

Poor deluded worshipers. At least when you back a losing horse, you know it when the race is over.

Orac, why have someone else do your dirty work?

I’m sure you’d travel to Chicago dressed up for a Star Trek convention. Why not do the tapping yourself – are you introverted, insecure, or just plain skerred?

With all your vaccine knowledge, seems a public challenge to Andy Wakefield (at least by phone, so you can still make your D&D game with friends later).

I really don’t think you’d match up, your strength is arrogant sarcasm developed through years of having an inferiority complex.

I’m sure just knowing a celebrity may know about your ‘alias’ would really get you off, but seriously – have the discussion, have the debate, show off your intelligence. This can easily be arranged.

I must apologize. Minnesotans in general are not rude like the poster at #26. We really do try to be nice to others. Please view #26 as an anomaly.

I would go to the one Kent but to paraphrase Jon Stewart, “Extremists have time to go do things like that, while moderates have !@#$ to do.”

Also I would be the only one there.


Gee, the Star Trek and D&D references are really original. Is that the best you can come up with?

The reason I can’t make it to Chicago this week is that I have this thing called…you know (or maybe you don’t know)…a job. I also have these people called patients. They depend on me. Those two reasons are why I can’t just up and leave town–especially smack dab in the middle of the week–without getting one of my partners to cover for me. It’s also too close to another trip I have to make for…you know, that work thing again. That means my partners are already going to be covering for me June 4-8, when I will be going to present a poster at the ASCO meeting, which will be, ironically enough, in Chicago.


Wasn’t going for original, I was stereotyping – I think you’re pretty familiar with that.

How about the Andy Wakefield challenge? Choose a moderator, have the debate on immunology and vaccines.

Sounds simple enough, would help you get some exposure and beef up that ego you’ve been working on for so long.

Call him out, challenge him and put your vaccine intelligence where your mouth is. This has obviously been your bread and butter topic to help you get more flashy red dots on your website meter, what better way to kill two anti-vaxxers / denialists with one stone.

Could be your shining moment, you could slay the anti-vax beast with your dragon ring or whatever analogy works for ya.


Not only did I give a pleasant ‘Orac says hi’ to Dr/Mr Wakefield, but I did you one better: I got a handshake photo with him in an AutismOne shirt, myself in EMS pants and a Richard Dawkins Foundation Non-Believers Giving Aid shirt. Muahaha. I’ll send the picture to your inbox.

His response to the polite greeting from the vengeful sceptics of the internet? Smile vanished from his face faster than you can say ‘boo’.

Made up for all the haranguing I did with the anti-vaxxer nonces. Happy Day.

Oh, by the way, is there any truth to the rumor that Jenny McCarthy is the illegitimate child of Charlie McCarthy?

Only from the neck up.


Again, please stop bringing shame upon my home state. For what it’s worth, questions of science are best addressed in print, rather than live debate. Live debate is more the realm of politicians and hucksters, since such debates tend to lend themselves to tactics like the Gish Gallop.

“Gee, the Star Trek and D&D references are really original.”

Yes, you can almost see Ogre looking into the camera screaming “NEEEERRDDDSSS!!!!” Why do I get the feeling that Minnesota was a little jealous of those who were a bit smarter than him in college and high school? But then again, he could be from St. Olaf…not the brightest town in America (ask Betty White).

“The Far Right & Far Left actually have a lot in common (including a major distruct of authority).”

I once saw someone on HP comment section who had a really good quote about this. It was something like, “The political spectrum isn’t a straight line, but actually the far left and the far right eventually circle way back around and meet….and Dana Ullman set up a clinic there.” It was way funnier than that, but you get the general idea.

I wish I’d seen this before I went, but I’m not sure I would have had the nerve anyway. I did come home with one of those free CDs though. I told the “Refusers” it was ‘interesting’ music. He said thank you because he doesn’t know I often use ‘interesting’ for things I really think are stupid. Or weird.

They were obviously planning for a much larger crowd, since the tables defining the area were spread out in a big circle, which was at least 2/3 empty. I’d estimate not more than 250 people there, including staff and speakers.

Dude, I totally would have followed you into the lions den if you hadn’t had such big balls and run in while we were looking for Wakefield. It meant that I caught my train, but it also meant that I didn’t get a chance to pass along the good tidings.

I walked up to the lead singer of The Refusers before the rally started, and asked him if he was the one with the cds. He started to hand me the box while saying, “Are you the guy distributing them?”
“No” I quickly replied, “I’m just getting one for a friend”. The next thing out of his mouth: “Are you from the CDC?” Talk about paranoia.
“No” I replied, “I’m just getting it for a friend.”
“Is he a scientist?” he asked, his voice filled with contempt.
“No, just a friend who couldn’t make it.” He finally handed over the CD. I wish I’d had the balls to take the whole case right there on the spot. If I hadn’t planned on hanging out and waiting for the Skepchicks, I could have thrown quite the wooden shoe into their gears.

Ah, well. I guess it’s better than getting arrested, right?

“myself in EMS pants and a Richard Dawkins Foundation Non-Believers Giving Aid shirt. Muahaha. I’ll send the picture to your inbox.”

Why not your jesus shirt? Would Orac be proud of that?

Ben: “I wish I’d had the balls to take the whole case right there on the spot.”

Talk about being a sterotypical nerd. No balls. No balls. You could’ve gotten your ass kicked.

“Ah, well. I guess it’s better than getting arrested, right?”

But he handed them right to you, right? And they were giving them away free, right? Maybe you just have a lot of friends.

There were live tweets from the rally. One of the funniest was:

Andrew Wakefield, upon meeting @UAJamie thought, “Finally! A hot chick that’s vaccinated against HPV!”

I wouldn’t worry too much. I went over to the NYC one and was planning on just recording whatever lecture they had planned and trying to get some short interviews with people in a non-antagonistic way. But when I found the place, they kept one of the doors open and I could plainly see that there were only about ten people there. This was a half hour after it was supposed to start and I hung out outside for a little while. No one else seemed to show up, so I didn’t even bother. I just left. Now maybe this just wasn’t very well publicized. Or maybe they just don’t have the numbers we all feared they had.

Old Rockin’ Dave @18

Oh, by the way, is there any truth to the rumor that Jenny McCarthy is the illegitimate child of Charlie McCarthy?

Intellectually she is closer to Mortimer Snerd.

At the rate she is injecting Botox, she may end with a face like a ventriloquist’s dummy.


You sir, are my hero. That’s /fantastic/ and will have me giggling all day.

As time passes, the pain of getting your ass handed to you intellectually by the “nerds” will fade. I have a feeling you are accustomed to being outsmarted.

augustine writes,

Talk about being a sterotypical nerd. No balls. No balls. You could’ve gotten your ass kicked.

Wow, getting a bit tense, are we? Such profound intellect (and impeccable spelling). Augustine truly deserves to be taken seriously.

You are now my hero also. I would give my Big Pharma™ Shill minion allowance for the next month for a glance at that picture.

It would appear that a few blocks from the “small but boisterous” Grant Park rally, a similar number of public health advocates were meeting to discuss boosting immunization rates. Chicago Tribune link.

I must admit, though, I’m totally regretting that I didn’t have him sign my very special book– It was right in my satchel the whole time:

Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science. D’oh.

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