Anti-Science

Robert DeNiro Personally Contributes to the Spread of Measles

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This year, the Tribeca Film Festival nearly featured an anti-vaccination documentary called Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, directed and co-written by disgraced former doctor Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield is almost single-handedly responsible for spawning the completely false, repeatedly disproved idea that vaccines cause autism — considering that his unethical, poorly conducted, and since retracted research is the only thing that made him famous, it’s understandable that he’s still trying to push his dangerous narrative in new arenas, like the film world. When this fails, I hope to see him take up street preaching with a sandwich board reading “GOD HATES VACCINES.”

What’s not understandable is why anyone at this point would give him the platform he wants, but sure enough Robert DeNiro, co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, vociferously defended the inclusion of Vaxxed even as the pressure from actual doctors became so great that it was eventually dropped. The film claims to have new evidence to support the idea that vaccines cause autism, pointing to a “CDC whistleblower” who is never shown and who provides zero evidence to support what he’s saying, which is that the CDC conducted a study that linked autism and vaccines but the report was buried. There’s also no attempt in the film to explain the dozens of other large, peer-reviewed studies with zero CDC input that have found no such link.

Despite the film being pulled from the festival, Robert DeNiro himself is continuing to defend it. He went on The Today Show this week to “just ask questions” and say he’s not anti-vaccine, just “safe vaccine.” Considering how well he’s been practicing those tried-and-true lines, he’ll be starring in a Lifetime Original Movie alongside Jenny McCarthy in no time at all.

In the interview, DeNiro makes it clear why he’s so passionately ignorant about this subject: he has a child with autism. It’s understandable why a parent might be convinced to drop all reason and logic when their child becomes ill for mysterious reasons. They just panic. Only, DeNiro says that he doesn’t actually remember his kid getting sick soon after being vaccinated. He doesn’t remember. It wasn’t a big deal to him. But his wife remembers, so it must have happened.

The cause (or more likely causes) of autism are still not 100% clear, but while vaccines have been completely ruled out, there are other risk factors that do seem to make a difference. For instance, last year a large study showed that the risk of having an autistic child significantly increase if the father is older than 50, the mother is older than 40, and the difference between the two is more than ten years. DeNiro was 54 when his son was born, and the mother was 43.

Is that why they had an autistic son? We don’t know! But we do know that that is more likely to be related than anything to do with vaccines, since again, the chance that he got autism from a vaccine is 0%.

DeNiro says he just wants people to watch the film and consider how complicated vaccines are. If that’s the case, rather than showcase a film made by a man who lost his license to practice medicine in part because he falsified data to produce a bullshit study for which he failed to disclose he was paid more than $800,000, maybe next year’s Tribeca Film Festival should show a documentary based on actual science. I recommend Jabbed: Love, Fear, and Vaccines, an excellent film that actually explores the previously known dangers of vaccines while highlighting the good they’ve done for society. And maybe then DeNiro will appreciate that one of the reasons he didn’t die of polio as a child was thanks to vaccines.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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