Vaccines on Penn & Teller’s Bullshit

For those of you who aren’t in the US and can’t see Showtime, Orac has found the full episode online complete with his expert commentary (NSFW video at times):

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Awesome. I’ve had extensive interaction with Wendy Callahan. She is hands-down completely unreceptive to real science and immediate to react positively to any low-quality publication or anecdote that indicates the vaccine-autism connection. She has endless time to seek and extrapolate low-quality information, but refuses to invoke any scientific rigor or recognize studies that employ it.

    That said, she is usually pleasant to interact with (until you out-science her and she gets really mean and personal) and persuasive. I could see how parents would fall for her lies and distortions.

    I’m glad that Bullshit gave her a good spanking. Down in Florida she gets on the local radio stations and rants without anyone to balance her bullshit. I hope that parents hold her accountable when they realize the truth, especially if their children are harmed.

    Her website is . Check out the craziness, and tell her I said hello.

  2. I don’t get Showtime, so I’m glad I finally got to watch this episode. It was great, although it suddenly went NSFW at the end and I had to scramble for the minimize button.

  3. I wasn’t convinced until I saw Natasha in the last segment of the report. ;-)

    Seriously: the humor that P&T had with their big-ass chart and the Playboy models are very important. They allow people to see the smoke and mirrors. I most fondly hope that people will become sensitized to the smoke and mirrors in all sorts of presentations. You could think of this episode as a kind of … vaccination!

    I hope that Showtime has enough sense to allow this free video to stay online. It’s one hell of a promo for their show and for Showtime.

  4. I watched this weekend and I feel like while the opening was very illustrative, P & T could have done a more thorough job of wiping the floor with the anti-vaxxers. More science, less background woo.

    Also, fewer boobies than in most episodes…just sayin’.

  5. @faith: I disagree. I think it’s important to understand both the motivation and the modus operandi of the junk-science crowd. Once you understand the nature of the information and disinformation, it’s easy to go find the science on your own.

    Give a man the facts on one science topic, and they’ll know about that one topic. Give a man the tools to think and approach science topics, and they can teach themselves about anything.

    They can even teach themselves how to catch fish.

  6. I’ll say this; the opening demonstration with the Plexiglas has to be one of the clearest illustrations of the benefits of vaccines that I’ve ever seen. Bravo.

  7. They really could just do a whole episode on Jenny, first she thinks her kid is magic, then she thinks the kid has autism, now she thinks the kid is cured…..

  8. After 19 years of practicing BOTH internal medicine and pediatrics, I leave pediatrics behind at the end of this month for a number of reasons. I leave with so many great memories. I shall miss office based pediatrics very much.

    One of the most rewarding, yet frustrating things I’ve had to do over the years has been to provide education and guidance regarding vaccines.

    No patient has to do exactly as I say. I am caring FOR them. I am working WITH my patients. But conversely, if I feel what a patient is doing is either detrimental to themselves or others, then I do not have to do what they desire as well. They are free to find another physician.

    But my patients, obviously, do want my opinion, my presentation of clinical guidelines, my expertise – and if I do not know something ( usually something obscure or VERY recent ) I always offer to research the topic and quickly get back to them. This is what a patient is paying for, hopefully wrapped up in a bouquet of empathy and compassion. But if a patient chooses to jeopardize their children , and the community at large’s children, I think it is wrong to be passive, be it by allowing one to avoid vaccines, engage in munchausen by proxy, or to seek out bogus therapy instead of evidence based therapy.

    All patients have options, but as physicians, we do NOT have to be an active participant in bad options. In closing, McCarthy’s pediatrician should have his hippocratic oath shoved up his ass.

    Here is that oath ( modern version ):

    “I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
    I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

    I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

    I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

    I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

    I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given to me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

    I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

    I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

    I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

    If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.”

    Practicing artful, conservative, empathetic medicine is always a goal when possible, but never at the expense of undermining the scientific foundation upon which it’s built.

  9. There’s an argument that is terribly obvious to those of us living outside the US that the vaccination debate seems to miss rather badly:

    Countries with socialized medicine vaccinates their kids. Why would we do that? If we follow the money we find our government spending it when there’s all sorts of pressure to cut back.

    Our doctors aren’t funded by big pharma or their patients so what incentive would they have to vaccinate besides it actually doing what it claims?

    There are publicly supported programs for autistic children. Why would we knowingly create a strain on them?

    The conspiracy breaks down when you leave the USA.

    Maybe I should point this out somewhere people actually might disagree with me.

  10. @Daemon: excellent point, but as a clarification I want to point out that 99% ( or some other very big number percentage-wise ) of US physicians aren’t funded by big Pharma either.

  11. @halincoh:

    Not to divert this argument, but recently I’ve started going to a free clinic sponsored by my local catholic church. This clinic which needs the money obviously is not funded by big pharma, there are no posters with from pharmaceutical companies, the pens are plain old black bic pens that someone had to buy, the clipboards don’t tell me to ask the doctor about some new drug.

    While doctors are not getting rich from big pharma, they certainly are supported by it.

    Not saying your point is wrong just pointing out that to say Doctors in the US get nothing from big pharma often comes off disingenuous because we can see there influence everywhere in the doctors office.

  12. Aye, the point that I was trying to make is that the appearance of conspiracy falls apart.

    I actually believe that the vast majority of doctors actually want to do what is best for their patients. I know, I’m a dupe.

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