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The man who wasn’t there

April 6th, 2010 · 10 Comments · Easy marks

Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away*

JB Handley used to be the news and entertainment media’s go-t0 guy for acerbic quotes about vaccines and autism, or what editors call “balance”.  The founder of Generation Rescue, arguably the largest, best-funded anti-vaccine group in the world, was adept at playing reporters and credulous talk-show hosts.

But those days are gone.  As an unrelenting stream of scientific and legal setbacks rocks the anti-vaccine movement, fewer journalists feel an obligation to balance the consensus of medical science with the unhinged rants of the nation’s number one vaccine rejectionist. A case in point: a Google News search of “World Autism  Awareness Day” and “vaccines” for the first three days of April yields zero hits. The old media narrative of “some people think vaccines might cause autism” has given way to “vaccine rejectionism puts children at risk.”

The purported vaccine-autism link is dead. Survivors include Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, and Alien Elvis. Interment will be held in Area 51. In lieu of flowers, mourners can send contributions to Unicorn Rescue.

But Handley isn’t going down without a fight, and in a fawning, two-part interview on a fringe “progressive” blog, he attacks the media for ignoring him. Progressive politics has a long, proud history in the US, and its accomplishments include a 40-hour work week, minimum wage laws, civil rights, and national parks. Absent from the list are measles, mumps, pertussis, and a other vaccine-preventable diseases.

Among the subjects that inflate Handley’s voice is the mainstream media and “how ignorant they are” when they report on vaccines and autism. They don’t even know how many shots kids get, he said, citing coverage of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines as the classic case in point.

He tells his interviewer, Steven Higgs, an adjunct professor at Indiana University, of an “emerging consensus that the autism epidemic is real and caused by environmental toxins.” In fact, scientific consensus tells us there are no reliable data for or against an autism epidemic. The point apparently escapes Higgs.

Remarkably, Handley “repeatedly emphasized that he has no idea what causes autism,” and that he “couldn’t prove vaccines contributed to his son’s (autism)in a court of law.” But only a week ago Handley boasted that he would “bring the US vaccine program to its knees,” apparently over an unproven hunch.

* Antigonish, by Williams Hughes Mearns

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10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Norwegian Shooter // Apr 6, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    Hallelujah! But don’t get too complacent, Oprah and HuffPo are still lurking out there.

    As for the poem, which is great, I guess Auden.

  • 2 ebohlman // Apr 6, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Progressive politics has a long, proud history in the US, and its accomplishments include a 40-hour work week, minimum wage laws, civil rights, and national parks. Absent from the list are measles, mumps, pertussis, and a other vaccine-preventable diseases.

    Since public health infrastructure is also an accomplishment of progressive politics, you could make that statement even stronger.

  • 3 autblog // Apr 6, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Thanks. I added an attribution for the poem.

  • 4 livsparents // Apr 6, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    Hey, just because he can’t prove it, his epidemic arguments have more holes in it than a wheel of Jarlsberg, his ‘cured’ kids are still autistic and the medical protocols that provide this ‘cure’ are hypothesis built on theory on top of conjecture, we should still allow him to present it all as irrefutable fact. It’s an unwritten Bill of Rights: The right to bear opinions as fact. And we bear it quite well thankyouverymuch.
    As Yakov Smirnoff says “WHAT A COUNTRY”

  • 5 Russel Twain // Apr 6, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    What kind of professor is Mr. Higgs? I hope it’s not journalism.

  • 6 Science-Based Medicine » Steven Higgs: Another antivaccine reporter like Dan Olmsted in the making? // Apr 12, 2010 at 3:50 am

    [...] year? Nothing. J.B. Handley seems to be the man who wasn’t there. Well, not quite: it turns out that J.B. Handley has managed to get a little bit of fawning media [...]

  • 7 Orange Lantern // Apr 12, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    Even HuffPo has had a few (admittedly lower-profile) counter-attacks, such as:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/iris-lee/who-indeed-is-afraid-of-t_b_515783.html

    But if Oprah sets her benevolent gaze on the topic again, anything could happen.

  • 8 Julian Frost // May 14, 2010 at 5:45 am

    The US Supreme Court just turned down the Hazelhurst Appeal.
    http://www.leagle.com/unsecure/page.htm?shortname=infco20100513188

  • 9 Julian Frost // May 14, 2010 at 6:37 am

    Sorry, my error. It’s the Federal Court of Appeals that turned down the Appeal.

  • 10 Harriet // Sep 2, 2014 at 12:22 am

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