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Penn and Teller drop a dime
on the anti-vaccine movement

August 13th, 2010 · 23 Comments · Critical thinking

OK, it’s funny and entertaining. But Penn and Teller’s skewed take on the phony vaccine/autism controversy sure beats the false balance that dominates the news and entertainment industry these days.

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23 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Chris // Aug 14, 2010 at 12:08 am

    It was a wonderful video. Now I feel really bad about the force march I made you do in my city!

  • 2 Chris // Aug 14, 2010 at 12:11 am

    (how to play this hint: Just hit the “play” button and nothing else!)

  • 3 KWombles // Aug 14, 2010 at 5:28 am

    I shamelessly copied the embed code and posted it on Countering , too.

  • 4 Prometheus // Aug 14, 2010 at 9:37 am

    Amazingly good piece, especially the interview of that Reibel fellow. What a handsome guy, and such a lovely family!

    “Dr. Jay” came off better on “Bullshit” that he has during the several ‘blogsite “debates” in which he has engaged over the years. Of course, now he’s on record as accepting responsibility for the consequences of not vaccinating children in his practice. I hope his malpractice carrier is “on board” with that.

    The real pity is that “Bullshit” couldn’t get some of the real hard-core anti-vaccination or vaccines-cause-autism loons on camera. I suspect that they knew their arguments wouldn’t play well in a skeptical forum.

    All in all, it was a blow for freedom (from irrational fear-mongering), but only one of many blows that will be required.

    Prometheus

  • 5 Tom // Aug 14, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    Great to see your family Ken. Also nice to see all the hugs, especially with a teenager. Great job.

  • 6 HereWeGoAJen // Aug 14, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    My husband always says “Jenny McCarthy took her shirt off in Playboy. We’ve got to listen to that woman, she knows what she’s talking about!” Hehe.

    Didn’t she just change her mind and declare that her son never actually had autism in the first place?

  • 7 autblog // Aug 14, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    The real pity is that “Bullshit” couldn’t get some of the real hard-core anti-vaccination or vaccines-cause-autism loons on camera.

    The producers were turned down by the usual suspects, including Jock Doubleday, Len Horowitz, and the brain trust at Age of Autism.

  • 8 Jay Gordon // Aug 14, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    I was born in Milwaukee, grew up in Green Bay in the Lombardi years, went to the UW and MCOW. Hello, old friend.
    I was disappointed. I was asked to do the interview because . . . someone had to. They wanted a doctor from “our” side to discuss what the Whiz had to say.

    I spoke moderately, listened to their promises about how the issue would be presented and felt sad that they cut off the beginning of my sentence: “[I’m certainly not saying that) children should not be vaccinated.” I’m not thrilled with Andy Wakefield’s choosing his control subjects from a birthday party or some of my allies repeating “antifreeze” comments. I have very high regard for what you do and the thrust of my writing these days, as you mayhave noticed, is looking at environmental triggers to genetic predisposition to autism, diabetes, and more. I still feel–unlike you, I guess–that vaccines are probably one of those triggers, but I can’t prove anything so I’d like to tone down the dfiscussion. Instead, I want to focus on the lack of respect and financial support for families who must deal with the costs of raising a child with autism.

    If you have a look at Penn’s Internet presence this month, you’ll see that he holds a long discussion about the three most under-rated things in the world: French dressing, butterscotch pudding and hand jobs. The man is not a paradigm of either scientific exposition or good taste.

    The producers of Penn and Teller are dishonest. No, I will not be writing about my experience. I’m deeply embarrassed that I trusted them. Below is a portion of Tim Rogan’s email prior to the show:

    **” It’s our policy to let our interviewers make their cases in full statments, not in “frankenbites” that are created in the editing room. “Vaccinations” is a topic that lends itself to a very spirited debate. Unexpected issues, the gray areas of the subject and controversial perspectives are going to be raised in this episode. Both you and Dr. Gordon present a parent and an MD’s point-of-view that need to be part of this episode. Neither of you will be taken out of context and I am certain that both of you will hold your own in the show. “**

    He lied.

    All My Best to You and Your Family,

    Jay

  • 9 Clay // Aug 14, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    Yup, great job! Could have gotten JB Jr. for an opposing viewpoint. It would be a hoot if someone dropped the link for it over at Evidence of Harm. (I’ve done that a few times, and have been banned there twice.) It would simply never be published on AoA.

  • 10 Chris // Aug 15, 2010 at 10:05 am

    Dr. Jay, what you have done is revealed that you are very naive. It is probably your own fault for not even doing basic research on the tone and character of Penn and Teller.

    As far as your statement:

    Instead, I want to focus on the lack of respect and financial support for families who must deal with the costs of raising a child with autism.

    I would like to call you out on that. Because as a parent of a child who spent his first week in a Children’s Hospital, was not protected from pertussis in the late 1980s because of the hysteria brought about by Barbara Loe Fisher (and the county’s pertussis epidemic at the same time, thanks BLF again!), then in and out of the hospital before he turned three years old… including a seizure from dehydration due to a possible rotavirus infection — I get absolutely no respect from you, or the AoA crowd.

    I actually experience “blame the victim” attitude by you and your cronies. Very much like the crap given to the McCafferys by Meryl Dorey and cohorts in Australia after their baby died from pertussis (I also got crap like if I had an epidural (no) or did other things that super-moms are supposed to do so that their child deserved health, because if you deviate the sMothering crowd believes it is okay the child is injured or died).

    What you and the Mercury Militia have done is to detract from the real needs of disabled children, including siphoning off research money from studying real therapies to vacuous vaccine fallacies. Also, it leaves me with a disabled adult child with no more resources to access. Thanks for that. (not)

    Also, you and the Mercury Militia are being hypocrites about the costs of raising a disabled child if you encourage the selling of dubious tests and treatments. These include the urine and hair tests, limited diets, supplements, chelation (OSR!), cranial sacral therapy, chemical castration and on and on. If you were really concerned about the costs, you should have looked at the camera and said that parents of disabled children are victims of scam artists like the Geiers, Boyd Haley, Amy Yasko, Jeff Bradstreet, Doctor’s Data, and others (including every product on Jenny McCarthy’s “Let’s Go Shopping” page at Generation Rescue).

    Dr. Jay, when will you ever learn? And if you can’t learn, when will you please retire?

  • 11 Ken Reibel // Aug 15, 2010 at 10:46 am

    I still feel–unlike you, I guess–that vaccines are probably one of those triggers, but I can’t prove anything so I’d like to tone down the discussion.

    It’s possible that some autism is precipitated by vaccines, but that it is so rare that we lack the tools to detect it. I can’t go as far as to say vaccines are “probably” a trigger, but no reasonable person can say with certainty that it never happens, either. Where we do agree, apparently, is that there is no credible evidence for the association.

  • 12 Todd W. // Aug 15, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    But, Dr. Jay, following that line, you say, “This is very much at odds with the mainstream medical point of view.” That does not seem to fit with your claim that you said, “I’m certainly not saying that children should not be vaccinated.” If you are not saying that children should not be vaccinated, then what is very much at odds with the mainstream medical point of view?

    You may be telling the truth, but it really does not seem to parse with the sentence that immediately follows, as well as saying that it is “a flat out lie” that there is no connection, which seems to be that you believe there is definitely a connection. At any rate, unless P&T release the raw footage, we’ll be unable to determine whether you were improperly edited or not.

  • 13 Science Mom // Aug 15, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    I spoke moderately, listened to their promises about how the issue would be presented and felt sad that they cut off the beginning of my sentence: “[I’m certainly not saying that) children should not be vaccinated.” I’m not thrilled with Andy Wakefield’s choosing his control subjects from a birthday party or some of my allies repeating “antifreeze” comments.

    Dr. Gordon, your statement belies what can be viewed at 11:00 minutes into the show. You say (unedited), "Children should not be vaccinated; this is very much at odds with the mainstream medical point of view which says that there is no connection between vaccines and autism and I think that is a flat-out lie." As Todd pointed out, saying that you're not saying children should not be vaccinated is not against the 'mainstream medical point of view'.

    Did you not receive a letter similar to Neil Miller's? Which stated, unequivocally, what the thrust of their presentation would be? Being the media strut that you are, you simply chose to deceive yourself and now cry foul.

    About Andy Wakefield, don't you now fully support him?

    Also of interest is your statement immediately following the aforementioned is this, "I have seen children, face to face who were developing normally until they got shots, at least a few times it happened in my office, where very shortly after they received a vaccine, they developed symptoms of autism and then became autistic."

    Really really Dr. Gordon? Would one of them be like that chatty 8 month-old? Did you even bother to submit case reports about this phenomena?

    I have very high regard for what you do and the thrust of my writing these days, as you mayhave [sic] noticed, is looking at environmental triggers to genetic predisposition to autism, diabetes, and more. I still feel–unlike you, I guess–that vaccines are probably one of those triggers, but I can’t prove anything so I’d like to tone down the dfiscussion. [sic]

    What writings would these be? What publications are they printed in? If you are unable to prove anything, then why do you continue to go on the record as witnessing autistic regression ‘right before your very eyes’? Do you really think that people won’t notice how you try and speak out of both sides of your mouth?

  • 14 Esattezza // Aug 15, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    @ Science Mom: Not that I really want to be on the record as supporting Dr. Gordon, but based on his unedited statement: “Children should not be vaccinated; this is very much at odds with the mainstream medical point of view which says that there is no connection between vaccines and autism and I think that is a flat-out lie.” it actually is clear to me that what we hear is the middle of a chain of thought. The medical establishment idea “that there is no connection between vaccines and autism” is not directly related to “Children should not be vaccinated”, so there was likely an earlier sentence about Dr. Gordon’s belief that vaccines cause autism. Therefore it is plausible he said something like “I do not believe vaccines are without risks. That’s not to say I believe children should not be vaccinated…” if we are to believe the commenter. However, from the footage we have, he just as easily could have said: “Since autism is caused by vaccines, children should not be vaccinated…” There’s no way of knowing without the unedited footage, which I think we should petition P&T to release. If what Jay Gordon said is true, it’s really bad form to warp a statement like that, if it’s not, then we finally have irrefutable proof that Dr. Jay is truly “anti-vaccine” in the purest sense of the word.

  • 15 Do'C // Aug 15, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    I enjoyed this P&T episode – it wasn’t particularly scientifically hard-hitting, but I supposed that’s not necessarily the point (Bullshit! seems thought-provoking, but also focused on entertaining). I especially enjoyed the time spent with the Reibel family.

    Admittedly, it was also nice to have a visit from good old Dr. Jay and what appears to be his unwavering persistence in autism epidemiology buffoonery, starting with an argument from ignorance:

    “I started practicing pediatrics in 1979, and, I didn’t see kids with autism”.

    No examination of alternative explanation whatsoever by Dr. Gordon (at least none that made it in to the episode). This was almost immediately followed by assertion supported with an appeal to popularity:

    “Many of my colleagues who’ve been practicing for 20, 25, 30 years will tell you exactly the same thing, there’s been a big change. There’s much much more autism.”

    It’s obvious that Dr. Jay clings to his fondness of anecdote over actual science, and even claims that the idea is popular among his colleagues.

    I’d wager that any board-certified pediatricians worth their salt with whom Dr. Jay claims relationship as a “colleague”, would actually say there are more “autism diagnoses”. They’d probably be able to explain some of the reasons, and some of the related science. Undoubtedly, there are probably a few who would parrot autism epidemic rhetoric just like Dr. Jay does – also like Dr. Jay, they will fall way short in any ability to support their contentions with actual scientific evidence.

    I can almost sympathize with Dr. Jay’s sentiment here:

    “The producers of Penn and Teller are dishonest. No, I will not be writing about my experience. I’m deeply embarrassed that I trusted them.”

    I don’t know what didn’t make it into the episode that he had to say. I’m not necessarily convinced that he had anything to offer that was particularly important or accurate about autism or vaccines, but edited excerpts do present the potential to lose some context or accuracy. In thinking about his apparent sentiment, and about Dr. Jay’s take on autism epidemiology, as well as his numerous comments on the internet elsewhere, I can’t help but be reminded of that old saying:

    “It’s better to keep silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.”

  • 16 Science Mom // Aug 15, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    The medical establishment idea “that there is no connection between vaccines and autism” is not directly related to “Children should not be vaccinated”, so there was likely an earlier sentence about Dr. Gordon’s belief that vaccines cause autism.

    @ Esattezza, I agree that there was a more contextual statement made prior to that. However, I have no doubt that Dr. Gordon is saying something foolish since he didn’t provide the full statement himself, as what he did provide still doesn’t mesh with the rest of his statement. Then again, it may be, “Hey guys, is my make-up OK?” I also agree that it would be extremely illuminating if P&T would release, at least, that portion of the raw footage.

  • 17 Chris // Aug 15, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    Dr. Jay intoned:

    “I started practicing pediatrics in 1979, and, I didn’t see kids with autism”.

    Did he never see a child with a seizure disorder? Or cerebral palsy? Or ADD? Or any other childhood disorder thirty years ago?

  • 18 Choupal India » Blog Archive » Penn & Teller deconstruct the anti-vaccine movement, not to mention an old friend of the blog, Dr. Jay Gordon // Aug 16, 2010 at 1:20 am

    [...] to Autism News Beat, I’ve found the Penn & Teller: Bullshit! episode Vaccination in a streaming form. I have [...]

  • 19 RadarLake » How pharmaceutical companies cheat at backgammon // Aug 18, 2010 at 3:53 am

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  • 20 Penn &Teller « Countering… // Aug 22, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    [...] 14, 2010 in Ken Reibel, Penn and Teller, anti-vaxxers Thanks to Ken for finding the video and posting it on his blog! Just push the play button; if you push anywhere [...]

  • 21 David N. Brown // Sep 23, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    Completely off topic, but Tim Bolen has claimed that “Orac” and Liz Ditz will be added as defendants in the DDI v. Barrett lawsuit. I have been covering his attempts to use the lawsuit to intimidate third parties since July. I’m now going to call for a general counteroffensive, to refute,expose, complain about and/or mock Bolen and ESPECIALLY anyone who reposts his material nonstop.

  • 22 Chris // Sep 24, 2010 at 9:37 am

    David, wasn’t that a joke tweet that led to a satirical website: http://tinyurl.com/docsdata ?

    One the bottom it says “This is a non-commerical site designed for parody, criticism and commentary. “

  • 23 Sharron Clemons // Dec 21, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Completely off topic, but Tim Bolen has claimed that “Orac” and Liz Ditz will be added as defendants in the DDI v. Barrett lawsuit. I have been covering his attempts to use the lawsuit to intimidate third parties since July. I’m now going to call for a general counteroffensive, to refute,expose, complain about and/or mock Bolen and ESPECIALLY anyone who reposts his material nonstop.

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