Mailbag: The one where I hate free speech and love drunk drivers

We get lots of mail. Lots of links. Lots of love. And occasionally, we get mail from someone who accidentally stumbled upon Skepchick and, discovering we have a comment form, are incapable of stopping themselves from using it before reading anything else on the site. The other day we received such a letter from Lisa. I decided to respond publicly in hopes that it would encourage her to check out the rest of the site for clarification on all sorts of things she doesn’t understand.

I didn’t want to sign in to leave a comment.  I hope you support free speech.  Mercola and NVIC have the right to pay for any advertising they like.  My son is unvaccinated and very healthy.  You are advocating people receive medicine against their will, or just keep them in the dark so they can’t make an informed choice

Lisa is upset that I launched a campaign to get anti-vaccine advertisements off of the CBS Outdoor JumboTron in New York City’s Times Square where it’s being seen by hundreds of thousands (if not over a million) people. The ad is scheduled to run through April 26, 2011. If you’d like to do something about this, you can contact CBS Outdoor via Twitter and using hashtag #VaxCBS, signing this petition at and/or emailing a letter stating your thoughts to CBS Outdoor.

What impressed me about Lisa’s letter was how wrong someone could be in just 5 sentences.

I didn’t want to sign in to leave a comment.  I hope you support free speech.

I do support free speech. I even support your right to sign in and voice that opinion on a blog. This blog even. And that’s not even a right! It’s something nice that we do… so you have the option to speak freely. And if you don’t want to speak freely and publicly, we offer you the option to speak privately, and freely. But most of all, I hope you support my freedom to speak against what is being said. Because you see, Lisa, “free speech” is not limited to the one who speaks first. Others are allowed to disagree with that first person. They get free speech, too. I hope you support that.

Otherwise, you sending this email infringes on my right to free speech that I earned by writing the blog post before you emailed me about it. You don’t hate free speech, do you, Lisa?

Mercola and NVIC have the right to pay for any advertising they like.

They do.  And they did. And CBS is running it. And this makes me angry. And it’s my right to speak out against it. Because their message is dangerous.

I also have the right to buy an advertisement that says, “Driving sober, know the risks!” Then point people to a site that shows all the statistics for sobriety-related accidents. Like that 73% of fatal car accidents are the result of people not driving while drunk. Because driving sober is a choice and you should be aware of the dangers. See? It’s totally my right to pay for that ad. But the reality is that if CBS Outdoor ran that ad, people would be outraged. As they should be. Because driving drunk kills people, and to claim otherwise is irresponsible and deadly. Similarly, not vaccinating children kills people, and to claim otherwise is irresponsible and deadly.

My son is unvaccinated and very healthy.

Good for your son.

I’m happy he’s healthy.

But lots of unvaccinated people are not healthy. Like the 200,000 people who die every year from measles. And the 10 children who have been hospitalized in MN this year with measles. And the 10 babies who died from whooping cough last year in California. And the school in Roanoke that was shut down because over half of the students contracted whooping cough. And the 77,000 other people who have gotten sick and/or died from vaccine preventable diseases over the last 4 years in the US alone.

The reality is that while your son is healthy, that can change in an instant and if he gets sick, he can spread the disease to others who are unprotected because of health or because they’ve opted out of vaccinating. That’s simply not responsible. It’s dangerous. It’s deadly.

Pointing out that your son is healthy is like pointing out all the drunks who don’t kill people on the road and don’t get into accidents and don’t get arrested. There’s easily 10 times more.

And even when a drunk driver does get into an accident and hurts someone, think of all the people they didn’t hurt. They probably drove past 100 other people on the road… and yet, they only killed one or maybe a family of four. But that’s just a one in a thousand plus chance, right? It’s pretty negligible.

What’s a few people dead compared to my right to choose how to drive around? Really, it’s my car and it’s my body and it’s my choice what I want to do with those things.


You are advocating people receive medicine against their will, or just keep them in the dark so they can’t make an informed choice

It’s interesting that I say, “Remove a dangerous message” and you hear, “Strap people to chairs and force them to be medicated! BECAUSE I SAID SO MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH! You want information? YOU GET NOTHING!”

Because what I’m advocating is that people make an informed choice. And I’m advocating that they don’t get bogged down with bullshit “drunk driving is safe” type arguments that scare parents into thinking that their children are going to be destroyed by vaccines.

Are there dangers? Yes. There are.

Are they what NVIC and Mercola claim? No. Not even close. Not even as close as “73% of accidents are caused by people not driving drunk.” They’re not even distorting the facts. They’re making them the fuck up.

And the dangers of vaccines are nowhere near the dangers of not vaccinating.

Remember when PSAs like these were in all the comic books?

What to do if your kid gets fucking polio.

No? Do you know why you don’t remember? Because of vaccines.


Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

Related Articles


  1. I see messages and comments like the one Lisa sent you. A lot. :( I was diagnosed with Wegener’s Syndrome, a rare immune system condition, a few years ago – thankfully, the treatment for it has been successful, and I’m now in remission, but it means that I’m at increased risk of infection due to the drugs keeping my immune system from going into overdrive. Comments like Lisa’s really scare me. She’s risking her health, her son’s health and the health of other kids, as well as folks like myself in at-risk groups – and doing so based on fear and misinformation.

  2. If anyone else is having a statistical disconnect like I did, the 200,000 measles deaths last year are world-wide. (The WHO says 164,000 in 2008.) The 77,000 who got sick or died over 4 years appears to be the sum of the weekly stats from the CDC for the US only.

    (I didn’t add up all the weekly stats, but 4 years is about 200 weeks, the numbers range from about 200 to 800, mostly in the lower part of that range. Taking 400/week as a rough average, times 200 weeks = 80,000 cases, pretty close to 77,441, the current total.)

    About 1% of these people died.

      1. There go those skeptics again, changing stuff just because it was slightly incorrect. ;-)

        1. To be fair, it wasn’t technically incorrect. It just didn’t make any sense and made me look like a crazy lady making up numbers.

          Usually, I leave the making stuff up to Andrew Wakefield.

          1. Yes… but not because of the fucked up number thing. That’s just me being bad at writing and math…. and maybe a little crazy.


          2. Originally, I wrote “wrong”, but then I thought “It’s not really wrong, just not properly described” and so I changed it to “slightly incorrect.” Maybe “insufficiently qualified” would have been better.

            Your turn.

            P.S. Thanks for bringing up Wakefield. I’m learning from experience how much work getting this blogging stuff right is. I attended his talk at Brandeis last week and it took about a whole day to write up my notes, and there are dozens of things I really need to look into, and probably loads of things I got wrong or scrambled or just didn’t understand or accidentally omitted. I really appreciate the effort you and all the skeptical bloggers out there (the rest of the Skepchicks, Steve Novella and the others at SGU and SBM, Orac, Phil Plait, PZ, Todd W who provided me with the forum and helped a lot with the mechanics of it, and many more) put in, day in and day out, to put out correct information. It’s so much more work than just making shit up.

  3. “Remember when PSAs like these were in all the comic books? … No? Do you know why you don’t remember? Because of vaccines.”


    Game over.

  4. My Uncle had Polio. He was one of the fortunate few people that recovered completely. We went sking together last month. He is 74 and I am 67 and remember getting the first experimental vaccine for polio. First the shot, and then the oral.

    The anti-vax crowd thinks 10 kids dying is reason to allow hundreds of thousands to die needlessly. These include a lot of the children of their friends who they have misled.

    Perhaps it is ghastly ironic, but the gene pool has fewer credulous people.

  5. @Buzz, @Elyse:
    Thanks for that clarification, I see now that the figures were correct, just not in consistent units. There is an assumed “per” in there as in “per 100,000” or “per population of the US” or “per population of the world”. Even intelligent and honest people fuck up units all the time, particularly with percentages (percent of what, you need to ask). I recall a certain Mars probe missed the target due to use of inconsistent units (metric vs Imperial)in calculations.
    When the proponent is dishonest and the target audience is dumb, there is the potential for a problem. When both the proponent and target audience are both dishonest and stupid… look at politics!
    So yeah, for technical and scientific writing, you need to be quite obsessive to keep the units consistent.
    (Just musing, not preaching, and certainly not suggesting either of you were being dumb or dishonest)

  6. Ack – polio ads! I’m old enough to have known a fairly large number of polio survivors. In fact, I probably had every variant of polio vaccine going, because my parents’ friends’ daughter came down with polio on the day the Salk vaccine was approved. If there was a needle or sugar cube around, my sister and I got it.

  7. drdave: My uncle had polio as a child. He recovered, and seemed fine, though he ran out of breath easily.

    When he started his career, his employer gave him a routine exam, and the doctor asked him why he didn’t have a left lung.

  8. Ha! Finally got my shit together with an avatar! (thx QA!)
    @mcskeptic: I like your thinking! A couple of obvious questions to all:
    1 Has anybody checked out how much an identical counter campaign on the jumbotron would cost? Is it feasible?
    2 Why do professional bodies and public officials such as the AMA or the Surgeon General not do their jobs by issuing a public statement reiterating the facts re vaccination?

  9. Hmm. Y’know, it occurs to me that I got lots of vaccines on sugar cubes as a kid, and now I’m diabetic. Coincidence?

    Well, yeah, probably.

  10. Lisa (as quoted by Elyse):

    My son is unvaccinated and very healthy

    Only because he is being a parasite, taking advantage of the herd immunity by the rest of us vaccinating our kids.

    Buzz Parsec, I can also show off a smallpox vaccine scar! I going to TAM 9, where we need an old folks showing of the upper arm smallpox scar photo!

  11. Um… blockquote not working (yet it works in the cut and paste, weird)…

    My comment should be:
    Lisa (as quoted by Elyse):

    “My son is unvaccinated and very healthy”.

    Only because he is being a parasite, taking advantage of the herd immunity by the rest of us vaccinating our kids.

    Buzz Parsec, I can also show off a smallpox vaccine scar! I going to TAM 9, where we need an old folks showing of the upper arm smallpox scar photo!

  12. Elise, as a longtime Pediatric ICU nurse who has taken care of her share of children who either died or were debilitated by preventable childhood diseases, I absolutely LOVE this essay!! I was born the year the year the first polio vaccine was publicly distributed. My mom used to talk about how the pools and other gathering places were closed in the summer to prevent the spread of this deadly disease. I attended school with kids who were not so lucky and had residual effects of their bout with polio. Chris H.; I proudly wear my smallpox vaccine scar!

  13. It’s appalling how often I have to remind people here that freedom of speech is not a mandate to be heard.

    Some asshats on my local CFI list were using the “free speech” card recently as to why they’re allowed to say horrible things about all Christians.

    More people need to understand that being free to say something does not mean anybody has to pay attention, or if they do, that they can’t contradict. Free speech directed in a negative fashion is bound to inspire negative feedback. I’ll gladly support the right of any bigot to say, “I hate [x] people!” but I’ll also more gladly point out what an ass they are for saying it. They’re free to criticize me back. I’m free to ignore that.

    1. Free speech isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In Canada we have hate speech laws that prevent people from spreading lies that are hurtful. Those westboro baptist clowns, for example, would be thrown in jail if they tried their shit here. In fact, they were denied entry into the country when they wanted to protest the funeral of a Vancouver man who was gay bashed to death.
      I don’t know if it’s connected to our speech laws but I haven’t seen any anti-vax advertising ’round here.

  14. Elyse,

    A quick correction: You mentioned that a school in Roanoke was closed when its students contracted pertussis. If you were referring to the private Blue Mountain school in Virginia, the school is actually in Floyd County. The regional newspaper is the Roanoke Times. I grew up in Floyd, and, like many of my friends and family, I was not surprised to hear that the new age-y hippies at Blue Mountain are anti-vaxxers.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button