Earlier this year the founder of the anti-vaccination movement, Andrew Wakefield, premiered his “documentary” called Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe. It has been subjected to extremely valid criticism from a large number of skeptics and advocates for Autism.
One such critic is Fiona Pettit O’Leary, founder of Autistic Rights Together (ART). She created ART to empower those diagnosed with Autism and to give them a positive voice to curb the negative stigma often associated with Autism. Fiona has been an outspoken critic of the film, and rightfully so. The film preys on parents of Autistic children, exploiting them in a shameful attempt to incite fear and controversy around vaccines. The fact is that while we’re getting a better understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder, we don’t fully understand what causes it. However, what we do know is that Autism is not caused by childhood vaccinations.
Anytime you are faced with valid criticism, you have three options. You can ignore it, address it, or try to bully the critic into being quiet. If you’ve spent any time dealing with anti-vaxxers, you can probably guess which route the makers of Vaxxed took.
Part of the letter Fiona received reads:
Your comments regarding the film are defamatory and with regard to the filmmakers are libelous per se. Demand is made that you immediately cease and desist from interfering with the distribution of the film as well as making any statement to any person with regard to the film, Cinema Libre Studio and/or Autism Media Channel, its agents, representatives, and/or employees, including Dr. Andrew Wakefield, Del Bigtree, and Polly Tommey. In the event that you do not comply with this demand, we intend to file an action against you. We will ask for punitive damages and financial compensation for all losses to our business directly resulting from your actions.
The “file an action against you” phrase is probably my favorite part of the letter. It’s intended to sound scary, but is so vague and non-descriptive that it comes off sounding like an angry six year old who didn’t get to have ice cream.
A false statement purporting to be fact
Publication or communication of that statement to a third person
Fault amounting to at least negligence
Damages, or some harm caused to the person or entity who is the subject of the statement.
Fiona has not said anything untrue, so the cries for libel are invalid. Also, Cinema Libre Studios is based in California and Fiona lives in Ireland, so there’s that.
Second, going to court is expensive. In civil matters like this, most people want to avoid court to save money. I highly doubt that the makers of Vaxxed have any real intention of pursuing legal action here. Their real intent is to scare Fiona (and others) into silence by the threat of a lawsuit.
This is completely consistent with how the anti-vaccination movement operates. Their only option is to use threats and misinformation to incite fear.
A recent example I encountered was in the anti-vax Facebook group “Wrong Vaccines”. When you challenge nearly anything an anti-vaxxer says, or offer any semblance of evidence to support your own statement, you are likely to be met with hostility and anger.
I think many anti-vaxxers are quick to become hostile because they know that they are wrong. They know that they have little or no actual evidence to support their statements. They’re scared. They’ve been backed into a corner using actual science, and they don’t know how else to react. Their views are based in emotion, rather than evidence, so their natural reaction when faced with evidence is to become emotional. This is indeed the case with the makers of Vaxxed. They are scared of being exposed for what they are: liars.
Third, how is this not an attempt of censorship on the part of Vaxxed? Aren’t they the ones who cried out that they were being censored when their film was pulled from the Tribeca Film Festival? While Wakefield was un-invited from DeNiro & Co’s private party, he is still free to screen his film anywhere that will allow him. Hell, he could rent a projector and show it in a public area if he wanted to. Oddly enough, he’s not doing that. So what’s the real motivator behind Wakefield threatening the lawsuit?
Wakefield has never actually cared about reporting factual, truthful information. Wakefield only cares about Wakefield. They even played their hand themselves – they referred to their film as a business. If his primary motivator in all this wasn’t money, he would have already posted the film to YouTube so that anyone who wants to watch it would be able to.
Wakefield demonstrated that all he cares about is money when he falsified his original research that linked the MMR vaccine to Autism in an attempt to sell his own version of the vaccine.
He has no credibility and is trying to silence the voices who are stating factual information
You can show Fiona, and Autism advocates everywhere, your support by re-tweeting Fiona. You can also tweet this article to @DrWakefield, @DelBigtree, and @PollyTommey.
h/t Skeptical Parenting