Walgreens: Not Marco’s Puppetmaster

At some point last week, anti-vaccine crusaders decided that picking on a child was only so much fun, so they turned their sights on Walgreens:

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Multiply that times a hundred, and you get a taste of what Walgreens’ social media managers are dealing with. Why are they upset with Walgreens? Apparently, Walgreens’ name appeared in an ad on A Plus media (Ashton Kutcher’s site) in a post about Marco Arturo and his vaccine/autism video. The anti-vaaxxers claim? That Walgreens isn’t just advertising on the A Plus website Wellness section, but that they were creating this content and that Marco is just a puppet in the nefarious scheme to push vaccines for evil reasons. And of course, videos were created to promote the idea. Here is Forrest Maready’s contribution:

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A Plus, Marco, and Walgreens. Maniacal Laugh

What do they make of Walgreens advertising on the entire Wellness section of A Plus? Facts schmacts. Who needs them.

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Spot the Walgreens logos

And then, just like that, the banner ad on the A Plus post about Marco disappeared. Almost as though the internet were not made of paper and banner ads could be cycled through.

But not so soon. A Facebook page named Hear This Well declared victory! Finally, anti-vaxxers are being heard! Only moments from now will Walgreens and the government and the lizard people finally admit that vaccines do cause autism!

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Hear This Well was a campaign started by anti-vaccine parents of autistic children. Never heard of it? Ironic.

Because I never take anything at face value, it was that point I decided to write an email to Walgreens and ask them what was up. They sent me this official reply:

We had no knowledge of, nor connection to the development of this video.  Walgreens has been an advertiser on the website only in conjunction with the Vitamin Angels program, and again we were unaware of the video’s placement on our sponsored page.

While I would have preferred a statement which would have gone on to declare that the video was awesome and anti-vaxxers can scram, this response seemed pretty corporate and normal.

Forrest Maready (who made the video alluded to above), started to change his tune. Kind of. He issued this partial retraction on his Facebook page:

I don’t believe the APlus media writer knew about the video before it went up. I spoke at length with her, twice over the past two days and she has convinced me she found the post organically through a Facebook group she follows (not a member of) called A Science Enthusiast. She is an avowed Believer, I realize. She could be lying to protect an elaborate PR set up, but I think she is telling me the truth.

Of course, he went on to add that Marco’s video is still suspicious because of Marco’s shirt and because the Google dates don’t make sense to him. The retraction, then, is just that A Plus media isn’t part of some conspiracy, not that Marco could really be awesomely intelligence and well-spoken. If you are an anti-vaxxer, you have to feed the conspiracy theorists, after all.

If pro-vaxxers were conspiracy theorists, we would be all in a tizzy about the fact that the Hear This Well Facebook page disappeared.* But then, we know that Facebook pages, like banner ads, are hardly a constant in life and that there is no point getting wound up about it. I guess no one is hearing them at all any more.

*UPDATE: They’re back.

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Anti-Vaxxers Defeated by Twelve-Year-Old Whiz Kid

And they know they’ve been defeated. Do you want to know how we can tell? Because they are spending their time trying to tear this kid down.

Perhaps you are the last person in the world who hasn’t seen the phenomenal video by science whiz kid Marco Arturo. Marco presents all the evidence that vaccines cause autism–in a folder full of nothing. (I’m embedding the video at the bottom of this post–please watch it an up-vote it!)

The anti-vaxxers sure haven’t missed it. Some of our favorites have written rebuttals. Let me type that again so we can all understand what they are doing. The anti-vaxxers are rebutting a satirical video made by a 12-year-old. Surely they are taking this video in stride, right?

Uh, no. No they are not. They are losing their minds.

Blogger and salesperson Kate, who runs Modern Alternative Health, claims the video is “devoid of facts and amounts to little more than uninformed bullying” [emphasis hers]. Really, Kate? A 12-year-old is bullying you? I know a lot about bullying, about how people use their social power to make you feel excluded and to gain control over you. What kind of small person are you that a 12-year-old you have never met has social power over you? But she’s not done. Immediately after claiming that she is being bullied, she resorts to this classless diatribe:

Naturally, it’s being heralded by the kind of brain-dead pro-vaccine nut jobs that the internet regularly produces.  The kind of people who don’t understand the importance of actually examining new scientific information critically and having an honest conversation. . . . I kind of imagine them as “cavemen” of sorts — pounding on their keyboards, drooling, and thinking that they have won, while all of the actual intelligent people are smirking and shaking their heads at how painfully, obviously ignorant they are.

In the world of Kate (MAM) and other anti-vaxxers, a 12-year-old is a bully, pro-vaxxers don’t understand science, and only anti-vaxxers are intelligent (and smugly so). Also, up is down, black is white, and the sky is green.

From there, Kate’s post goes nowhere, repeating that the kid is a bully and that pro-vaxxers are terrible and dumb in all ways. It also doesn’t actually present any science showing that vaccines cause autism. In other words, she kind of proves Marco’s point.

By the way, here’s some evidence (okay lots of evidence) showing that vaccines DO NOT cause autism.

But MAMKate is not alone. National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) is getting in on the act of rebutting a 12-year-old’s satirical video. (Because NO voices must ever say anything positive about vaccines without being actively shouted down.)

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NVIC has a history of classless, terrible behavior, including promoting the harassment of children. This time, they are getting in on the “take Marco down” campaign by posting a hit piece written by “Levi Quackenboss.”

The Quackenboss piece begins by claiming scientific pursuits concerning vaccines are a religious belief and intimates that Marco shouldn’t even be on Facebook because he is not the requisite 13-years-old yet. So actually, the piece begins by slamming Marco for being young and influenced by his parents (and science).

Then, in anti-vaccine style, she (Quackenboss) picks up the goalposts and moves them downfield. SV-40! Acellular pertussis! HPV! Monkey pox! Faked moon landings! Spaghetti at the ceiling! She discusses anything except, you know, how vaccines don’t cause autism–the actual topic of the video. It’s pure throat clearing written by someone who loves her own voice.

Then she goes on with a condescending and easily refutable diatribe, writing:

Little dude, I totally get that you love science but I’ve got some sad news for you: there’s very little science in vaccine science.

And following with every possible anti-vaccine trope she can find. Here are some answers for her:

After all these myths, Quackenboss ends with a smug little kicker, something meant to put a 12-year-old in his place:

Look, clearly you’re a smart kid in your knockoff Polo shirt and your eyeglasses that look like wraparound safety goggles.  I trust that one day you’re going to figure out that you’ve been lied to, not only by your parents but by your government and the leaders of this world, and you’re going to look back on this insulting video and say, “God, what a little prick I was.”

And that’s OK, Marco.  We’ll be here for you when you do.

But you know what, anti-vaxxers? Marco doesn’t need you and he isn’t interested in you waiting for him. One of you visited him, and he was ready for you.

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Credit: Karen Halabura

A final piece of advice for anti-vaxxers: pick on someone your own size. I mean that two ways: while Marco is smaller than you in stature, he is far larger than you when it comes to class and intellect.

Here’s Marco’s video. Please give it a watch. It will restore your faith in our future.

 

Why doesn’t Age of Autism like me?

Everyone is talking about the movie produced by, funded by, directed by, and starring Andrew Wakefield. And while Andrew Wakefield doesn’t need anyone’s help with promotion (he is the master of self-promotion), we all became enraged when Robert De Niro used his non-existent medical degree to almost every media outlet in the country in order to say that maybe the film has a point that maybe vaccines cause autism.

I mean, science? Pfffft. Who wants to listen to science when the actor whom I confuse almost always with Al Pacino says that he wants studies done and people to look into. (Apparently, while I was busy confusing De Niro with Pacino, he was busy reading absolutely none of the 107 studies that show that SERIOUSLY VACCINES DON’T CAUSE AUTISM.) But whatever. Today show and stuff.

And actually, that’s where I’d like to begin my tale. For me, it wasn’t just De Niro needing to put a sock in that nonsense that had me going bananas. It was also an NBC interview with Autism Speaks’ Bob Wright and former NBC guy Tom Brokaw on the radio, both spouting nonsense about vaccine injuries and autism and whateverwhoneedsfacts.

So I tweeted this:

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And thus, I drew the ire of anti-vaccine, biomeddling conspiracy site Age of Autism once again, as you can see with this snippet from their most recent post:

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No response? That is really unfair, because Wayne Rohde (the author of the above piece), and I had an exchange which ended in him inviting me to the movies. And so I left a comment:

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But I have little faith that this will all turn out with mutual understanding and mended fences. I guess I’ll have to go see a different movie in June. I’ve been waiting to see Me Before You.

 

The Conspiracy Theorists Were Right!

The latest episode of the X-Files touches on all the possible favorite anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. This post will contain spoilers, so if you want to watch the episode first, stop reading now.

Of course, the episode is all about the vaccines. It appears that the smallpox vaccine has given the human race the Spartan Virus, a virus which is unleashed by (of course) aluminum in the chemtrails overhead and by microwave radiation transmitted by those nefarious towers everywhere. The reason? The Smoking Man is mad at us about global climate change and wants to depopulate the planet. Fortunately, Agent Scully’s DNA has been altered and contains protective alien DNA. She uses her own genomes to make a vaccine in an attempt to save the human race.

Despite the fact that a vaccine is going to save the human race, the anti-vaxxers love this episode because it reinforces a number of their beliefs–that:

  1. Chemtrails are a thing
  2. The vaccinated spread disease
  3. “The science that we were taught will take us but a distance to the truth.”
  4. Vaccine programs have been “an unprecedented violation of the public trust”
  5. Aluminum is evil
  6. People who believe in climate change have nefarious plans
  7. There is a plot underway to depopulate the planet

All poppycock, of course, but studies have shown that people who are anti-vaccine are also prone to believing all manner of conspiracy theories, such as the moon landing being a hoax, because you are prone to believing that something is being hidden by those who are supposed to protect.

And that is why the topic of the smallpox vaccine being part of a plot to depopulate the planet makes for great science fiction television. The key word being, of course, fiction. I struggled with whether or not to expose what the anti-vaxxers were saying about this episode because it could be construed as mean-spirited, but my intent is rather to show that being anti-vaccine is predicated on believing the most spurious conspiracy theories possible.

In one anti-vaccine Facebook group, a discussion about how this X-Files episode exposed the truth was not limited to vaccines, but that was the basis for one person’s love of this episode: “loved it….chemtrails, vaccines loaded w/? for decades…++++ GREAT show tonite!” However, another commented warned that television like this serves to make people feel dismissive of the Truth:

My hubby reckons it’s just the way media tries to desensitize people to these issues. Then when you bring up the issues (that are very real!) most often times the ‘sheep’ just say things like ‘oh, god…this isn’t a movie you know!’ He’s right I think…
BUT it’s great to see storylines like this, might get some people thinking at least!

One blogger* discusses how the episode underscored everything those in the know have been saying about vaccines for decades:

Everything that has been said about weaponized vaccines leading to pandemics was presented in a telescoped fashion, with the timeline from “Case Zero” to full pandemic seemingly only a few hours: anthrax, bubonic plague, ramped-up influenza…

A simple search for vaccines will turn up all sorts of these conspiracy theories because anti-vaxxers believe that vaccines are a weapon used against people in order to enact all sorts of so-called awful ends, from autism to complete depopulation of the planet a la Plague, Inc.

They believe the conspiracy theories because they have to. Because either the scientists, corporations, and governments of the world are telling the truth that vaccines are safe and save lives or someone along the chain is wrong or stupid. And once one person is wrong or stupid, a bunch of other people have to come along and actively hide their wrongness and stupidness–and the only reason to do that is some sort of evil or greedy plot. Once you believe that you should disbelieve the experts, the next step is to accept that the experts are actively hiding information from you because they are trying to hurt you. And when you believe that, a show like the latest X-Files episode seems less like science fiction and more like your darkest fears being exposed before you.

The problem is two-fold: that’s not how fiction works and that conspiracy theory is untenable.

I can’t dissect the anti-vaccine reaction to the X-Files without digging into my past as an English teacher (my MA is in English literature and writing). One of my favorite units to teach was science fiction because it is a bold and audacious genre. It speaks to us so much about our fears and about what we refuse to see, but it isn’t meant to be a documentary.

One of the main fears science fiction exposes is how the technology we create will end up destroying us. Think Terminator and Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, for you purists). However, watching Terminator should not make someone go out and destroy all robot technology because it is bound to wage war against us one day. The idea behind science fiction such as these is that as people, we do not want to lose our humanity to our technology. As far as the X-Files, we now fear the things we cannot see (alien DNA, viruses) more than robots, and so we want to make sure that we retain our humanity even as we look to alien technologies to save ourselves. Oh, it’s not a documentary at all.

To the second point, a conspiracy theory to hide the evils of vaccines would never hold. One physicist actually did the calculations showing that a conspiracy concerning vaccines would unravel within 3.2 years:

[E]ven if a small devious cohort of rouge [sic] scientists falsified data for climate change or attempted to cover-up vaccine information, examination by other scientists would fatally undermine the nascent conspiracy. To circumvent this, the vast majority of scientists in a field would have to mutually conspire—a circumstance the model predicts is exceptionally unlikely to be viable. . . .

So where does that leave us? Well, it’s all a matter of taste. If you enjoy the escapism and intellectual intricacies of science fiction, you probably enjoyed this X-Files episode (because, let’s face it, it is a heck of a lot better than that wretched last season we thought ended it all before). And if you are a conspiracy theorist, you probably take the entire thing, wrongly, at face value and there is no hope for you at all.

Are Vaccines the Real Microcephaly Culprit?

No. They are not. Vaccines are not causing microcephaly in Brazil.

If you have no idea what I am talking about, count yourself lucky and thank your friends for not bringing crazy to your social media feed. But since you are probably curious, here is a sample:

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Dr. Tenpenny, the Ohio anti-vaccine activists behind sites like All About Breast Health and TruthKings has joined the conspiracy bandwagon in insisting that the Tdap vaccine given in pregnancy to prevent pertussis in mothers and their newborn babies, is the real cause of microcephaly, and not the Zika virus.

Their overly simplistic thought process is not new. These are the people who brought us “vaccines cause autism” and “the HPV vaccine causes ovarian failure,” which require the same “We did X and Y happened” thinking. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Except that the connection between Zika virus and microcephaly is established, unlike the uncertain causes of autism. Yet, organizations like the poorly-named National Vaccine Information Center and Natural News continue to promote this obviously wrong and crazy theory.

And like autism, there isn’t even a correlation. If there were a correlation between the Tdap vaccine given in pregnancy and microcephaly, we would see an epidemic of microcephaly in the United States, where the recommendation for this maternal vaccine has been in place since 2013 (one year before the Brazilian recommendation), and in Australia where a similar recommendation is in place. In other words, there isn’t a propter hoc to connect the post hoc to. There are simply conspiracy theorists throwing their darts at the vaccine target to see what sticks.

Let’s hope this dart doesn’t stick. While I would love to believe that pregnant women will shake their heads in disbelief over how outrageous these claims are, I know how vulnerable a woman can be to bad information while she is expecting a baby. And so we remind people that pertussis in an infant is terrifying, and the Tdap in pregnancy is safe.

And then file this post under “Things I can’t even believe I have to write.”

 

No, MLK Jr Wasn’t Talking About Vaccines

The anti-vaccine movement has a history of couching their concerns callously and ridiculously as civil rights issues. Of course, purposely leaving a child unprotected against a potentially dangerous disease is not a civil right.

So I wasn’t surprised to see them co-opt Martin Luther King Jr. day for their own agenda.

 

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Immediately assuming he is talking about your pet cause does not count as thinking.

There were several other similar posts, including this one, from one prominent California activist, claiming that being required to vaccinate your child before enrolling them in school is the equivalent to being denied the right to vote and use public facilities because of the color of your skin:

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When I saw those posts, I wondered why they were not connecting MLK Jr. to any race issue at all, including their newest claims that a CDC Whistleblower has revealed that the MMR vaccine causes autism in black, male preschoolers. (Spoiler alert: he didn’t and it doesn’t.) Considering this accusation, you would think that when talking about their CDC Whistleblower hubbub they would invoke race and MLK on a day about race and MLK, right?

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Posted on MLK day, this literally says nothing about MLK or race or their main CDC Whistleblower thesis.

Faux-journalist Ben Swann, who works for the CBS affiliate in Atlanta, is coming out with a bombshell documentary (on his own website) about the CDC Whistleblower documents–the ones that claim that there is an increased risk of autism for black males who receive the MMR–and he says nothing about race at all. (Note: these assertions are bunk.)

So much for civil rights, huh?

I combed Facebook to see if others, who were working to promote Ben Swann’s report, but I couldn’t find mention of race at all. I found the Canary Party’s Ginger Taylor’s missive about why God is on their side and how Ben Swann is going to expose the Truth. The Thinking Moms’ Revolution was excited about exposing the CDC for something. Age of Autism discussed how bad the media is and how good Ben Swann is. But I couldn’t find anyone talking about the main Whistleblower hypothesis as it concerned race. And that was on the day many specifically think about race and civil rights.

It is likely just an oversight, but the anti-vaccine activists have been exploiting the idea of race, such as Robert F Kennedy Jr. did in this interview with Tavis Smiley. It’s not that they don’t know race exists. It’s just that they think their rights trump not only their children’s rights but also the struggle for actual civil rights and racial equality.

And let’s not forget the demographic we are discussing. Parents who refuse to protect their children through immunization are often wealthy, well-educated, and white. Despite all of their privilege, they think Martin Luther King, Jr. was talking about them and their supposed right to leave their children vulnerable to disease and to endanger their broader community. And that’s kind of awful.

The Cancer Kids are Taking Over

I frequent Dr. Tenpenny’s Facebook page because it is amusing but also because it helps me understand the marketing being used to make parents afraid of vaccines. Because I keep tabs on Tenpenny, I’ve also taken note of the revolving websites she has attached herself to, from Vaxxter to All About Breast Health. That’s where I found TruthKings.

It sounded promising but also slightly frightening. We all know the spurious ways people like Tenpenny use the term truth, after all. But today I noticed a post about why it is okay to endanger the health of vulnerable children undergoing chemotherapy.

Of course, that’s not how my new favorite truthers framed it, though. They titled their post, “Your Child Having Cancer Doesn’t Mean My Child Should Be Forced Dangerous Vaccines.” The title alone is poppycock. Let’s review in bulleted points:

  • No one is forcing vaccines upon anyone. To force a vaccine would mean to hold a child down and physically inject it into a child. Instead, reasonable safeguards are put on schools, including the safeguard against infectious disease. If you don’t want to participate in helping schools be safe from infectious diseases, you bear the consequences.
  • Vaccines are not dangerous. Millions of vaccines are given every day. 95% of parents choose to fully vaccinate their children. If vaccines were dangerous, pretty much every child in this country would be worse off for being vaccinated. Instead, they are free of diphtheria, polio, Hib, measles, and so forth.
  • Of course it is your responsibility to take reasonable precautions to help other children. That’s why you can’t drive drunk or text while driving. In fact, the law books are filled with things you can’t do because it would endanger others. And Laura Bredesen, mother of a cancer patient exposed to measles, will tell you that leaving your child unvaccinated is a direct threat to the children around him/her who are cancer patients.

Why are these TruthKings taking on the ever threatening pediatric cancer patient? What did these cancer kids ever do to them?

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Don’t worry, cancer kids; you aren’t the only threat. It seems that fluoride, GMOs, education, and the Islamics are all taking over. Or at least the Islamics are.

Fear of the other is the most common cause of bigotry and prejudice. For a TruthKing, you are a threat if you are a Muslim or if you are receiving chemotherapy because your existence means that their freedom might be curtailed. Both cancer patients and Muslims are turned into the enemy by refusing to actually get to know anyone who fits those categories.

After all, Ben Bredesen can’t be your enemy once you get to know him because he’s a sweet kid. And he’s a child. How can a kid be an enemy, and on what planet to you refuse to protect a child?

And that’s just my reaction to the headline. In fact, the entire post is a deep conspiracy about how the government is using pediatric cancer patients to take away our freedom. And you and I are apparently part of the conspiracy:

The Government has pulled at the very fibers which inspire you, cause you to be passionate, make you laugh and make you enraged. They’ve convinced you that myself and my child are here on earth to do harm to your child. And they’ve done this as a way to recruit an army of mothers and fathers to take the helm and become soldiers in a way to fight against parental rights.

In this battle, of course, the rights of the parent trump the rights of the child. People who use terms like “truth” and “parental rights” believe that they own their children, that their decisions are paramount whether or not these decisions are wise. They give no consideration to how children have been historically used by those who believe they own them, children who have worked in sweatshops and have been physically abused. The history of children’s rights is expunged in favor of a new liberty for parent/owners of children.

Of course, you ask, the war metaphor is just a metaphor right? (Okay, maybe you didn’t ask that, but you should.) No. Not at all. Remember these are people who think we are on the brink of an Islamic takeover. Their fears are about something sadistic and nefarious:

When you take the bait by the Government to diminish these very basic human, parental rights, you allow the Government to play to your sadness and despair. They have you at your weakest moment, compromised in your soul. When you really consider what they are doing, using your sick child as bait for your impassioned plea to support the army who is going to go door to door and remove rights, you begin to see how disturbing and disingenuous it all really is.

Going door to door to remove your rights. Sounds frightening doesn’t it?

But again, nothing of the sort is happening or is going to happen. At worst, you might be required to homeschool your child, as is now the case in California. Ironically, of course, asking that you opt for homeschooling instead of government-funded schooling is really the opposite of the foot soldiers coming to your door to remove your rights. It is keeping children closer to the adults who have bought into the fear mongering of the anti-vaccine movement.

Of course someone like Tenpenny shares the heck out of TruthKings on her page. This fear-based marketing, stirring distrust in the government and asking people to cloister against some imaginary army. The purpose of this marketing scheme is to sell her own wares. But real people are being harmed with this marketing strategy, whether these people are Ben Bredesen or our Muslim friends and neighbors. It’s unconscionable that a grifter like Tenpenny make them into the enemies in order to turn a profit. She will never change, but we can make sure our friends and family do not fall prey to these cynical strategies.