Netroots Nation '08 was just a tremendous experience (once again). We met our friends, we got new tools for our activism toolboxes, and there was some aerobic exercise involved....you may see a photo of me in a certain conga line.
There was, however, one seriously distressing item in this otherwise mostly reality-based community. There was a troll booth.
I don't want to use their name, and I do not want to provide a link to them. They were anti-vaccination trolls, a serious danger to the public health. They had a booth that was a tall beacon of idiocy to be seen all across the vendor area. They claim to not be "anti-vaccination" but they are engaged in a greenwashing strategy that you need to understand.
They have every right to pay the money and be there--I am not censoring their speech. I hope it cost them a lot, actually, so they can't spend that money to reach susceptible people. And I used my free speech to tell them that they were a danger to the public health. However, I was so repulsed by them that I didn't go into the vendor area much, I have to admit. I felt bad for the guy who had a booth and said traffic was low--this was part of why I stayed out.
I am not the only one who noticed this well-funded denier group. Amanda at Pandagon commented on them as well. Her post is called Travesty! and she is absolutely right.
At Netroots Nation, the most expensive booth---easily the most expensive booth---in the exhibit hall was an anti-vaccination booth. It was tall, and they had a set of volunteers in matching uniforms, and the booth had a number of widescreen HD TVs blasting anti-vaccination crankery about how mercury in vaccinations causes autism. It doesn’t.
Here is a photo I took of their sparsely attended booth. I would have given it an HR if there was a way to do that. As it was all I could do was give a quick listen to one of the representatives to be sure that it was what I thought it was--an antivaccination troupe with a coat of greenwashing. And it definitely was.
I've been following the anti-vax strategies largely from a great blog in the Science Blogs family: Orac at Respectful Insolence regularly smacks down the claims of these dangerous individuals with facts and data. You may follow this with the posts tagged: antivaccination lunacy.
A particularly good post that is suited to these folks would be: Cries the antivaccinationist: Why are we injecting TOXINS into our babies? You may see that part of their booth is about the toxins in vaccines--under the TV the second bullet point is:
- Toxic Vaccine Ingredients
This is part of the "Green our Vaccines" campaign led by Jenny McCarthy. Jenny appears to have a degree from Google U, and is currently organizing her minions using this greenwashing strategy as the new tactic for the antivaccination movement. Check out some of the signs they use: The Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey rally to "Green Our Vaccines": Anti-vaccine, not "pro-safe vaccine"! As you might guess--and many of you who have spent time in labs will know--this is an utter mis-representation of the reality of vaccine ingredients. Some are just bizarre--like the tissue culture cells and media used to grow the virus particles required for the immune response, which do not end up in the final product.
If they were really after some of these ingredients in the compounds, they ought to be going after antibiotics as well. And any other medication their kids might be on. Some of them contain dead cow materials (gelatin!) and that dreaded sucrose, too--so that kids will actually take them--among the preservatives and other things they claim are toxic in the vaccines. Are they ready to go there--to have their kids suffer from those painful ear infections by withholding antibiotics? Or worse--actually die from preventable illness? It looks that way.
The reason they are doing the greenwashing is because none of the other strategies to prove their non-science-based claims are working out. It is a new way to move the goalposts as their theories are disproved by peer-reviewed science. And the doubt that is being sown by these science deniers is dangerous. Unvaccinated kids are getting sick and are some are dying. Rates for measles are increasing here and in the UK:
Measles Outbreak Hits 127 People in 15 States
Federal Health Officials Call Outbreak Biggest Since 1997
British health officials said last month that measles had again become endemic in that country for the first time since the mid-1990s due to parents declining to get their children vaccinated.
Denying science has consequences. Vaccination has been a hugely successful aspect of the public health programs that enable us to expand our lifespans and reduce the suffering from the consequences of illnesses like measles and polio and others. It is a shame that some people want to put that success at risk. And it is dangerous. To everyone.
This was a well-funded and well organized group. From Denialism Blog, an excellent point: Do the antivaxers have a fund set up for victims of pertussis? Polio? Measles?
Watch out for greenwashing, in all its manifestations. It is unhealthy.
I understand that families with autistic family members are seeking answers. And the pace of good science is frustratingly slow--especially for complicated situations like autism that may have several different causes lumped in to one diagnosis. But progress is being made now that we have the human genome sequence and many new techniques to look in the genes for possible causes. Recently a couple of papers have presented genes and genomic regions that need to be studied further--one in the New England Journal of Medicine (Association between Microdeletion and Microduplication at 16p11.2 and Autism, L. A. Weiss and Others - 14 Feb, 2008) and another recently in Science Identifying Autism Loci and Genes by Tracing Recent Shared Ancestry (Morrow et al, Science 11 July 2008: Vol. 321. no. 5886, pp. 218-223). I hope we will get some answers from this work and make progress on effective strategies and treatments.
Science goes on, and real answers will come. Hopefully the next administration will value science more than they value deniers in all their manifestations.
If you care about science and science policy, please contribute to the Netroots Platform effort! There is a Science and Technology plank waiting for your input.
I wish for all of us that we don't have to see rampant infectious disease in the years to come.