Cervical Cancer is my Cup of Tea: guest post by Jamie Bernstein

While I’ve been busy uprooting my family and replanting them in Texas, I’ve put Jamie Bernstein in charge of all my duties. As VP of the Women Thinking Free Foundation, she is in charge of all of skepticism when I am away from my computer. This includes breaking into Sylvia Browne’s house and reporting on what she uses on her bunions. And next time Jamie accepts such a position, she’ll read the organization’s bylaws first.

This week, she was assigned to Tea Party coverage duty and blogging on my behalf about the anti-vax bullshit spewed by Michelle Bachmann and friends. So while get back to shopping for hats and gun holsters to match my boots, here’s a guest post:

Jamie Bernstein vs Michelle Bachmann vs HPV

Monday night Wolf Blitzer hosted the US Tea Party Republican Primary Debate on CNN. I generally enjoy watching debates while following all the ensuing snarky comments about it on twitter, but recently moved and don’t yet have cable. I tried going to the laundromat hoping they might be playing it there, but instead the laundromat TV’s were tuned to a Telemundo talk show. Defeated, I resolved to merely read about the debate after the fact rather than watching it live. Besides, what could really go on there that is all that different from previous debates?

Now, I’ve come to have a reputation as the girl who talks about vaccines all the time, so when the candidates started discussing the HPV vaccine during the debate, my twitter followers made sure I knew about it (thanks @joqatana!). Luckily for me, the video was soon up on the Internet so I could watch for myself the ensuing anti-science catastrophe.

Just take 5 minutes right now to go watch this video of Bachmann and Perry arguing over the merits of mandating the HPV vaccine for 6th grade girls.
(Unfortunately it doesn’t look like the video can be embedded.)

For those who don’t watch it, here’s what goes down:

Wolf Blitzer asks Rick Perry if the time he signed an executive order to require HPV vaccines in 11 and 12 year old girls in Texas was a mistake. Perry responds by saying that passing the policy via executive order was a mistake and he should have gone through ta legislative path instead, but that he still stands by the policy itself because the vaccine prevents cervical cancer. He also points out that Texas parents could choose to opt-out of the mandate and that all he did was add one more vaccine to the list of vaccines required for public school.

This is when things start to go downhill. Blitzer asks Michelle Bachmann for a response because she’s a mom. Seriously. He flat out states that Bachmann might have a problem with Perry’s HPV vaccine mandate because she’s a mom. Bachmann then clarifies by stating that she is a mom of three children, which I can only assume means that she has 3 times the authority to talk about vaccines. She then proceeds to state her opinion, which is basically just pure stupidity melted into a pile of words:

“To have innocent little 12-year old girls be forced to have a government injection
through an executive order is just flat out wrong.” – Michelle Bachmann

Giant syringe with the words "uncertain safety" "erosion of parental rights" and "corruption" about to inject a young girl. Caption reads "This new STD vaccine shouldn't hurt a bit"... from the now defunct NWOfighters.orgThat’s right. Vaccines can take the innocence of a child! According to Bachmann, mandating the HPV vaccine for girls in public schools, even with the option to opt-out, is equivalent to an army of bureaucrats roaming from school to school raping innocent little girls with socialism-filled syringes. Thank you for that Bachmann.

And, just in case you still weren’t quite sure what her stance on vaccines is, Bachmann follows up this statement by calling Gardisil, the HPV vaccine, a “potentially dangerous drug” and bringing up the imagery of “little girls who have negative reactions” to the vaccine. She then ends her statement by comparing the HPV vaccine to the “Abortion Pill” (otherwise known as the “Morning-After Pill” for those who don’t speak Tea Party).

Perry then responds with what was likely the most rational statement in the entire debate:
“At the end of the day, this was about trying to stop a cancer and giving the parental option to opt out of that. And, at the end of the day, you may criticize me about the way that I went about it, but at the end of the day I am always going to err on the side of life, and that’s what this was really all about.”

The rest of the video consists of Bachmann bringing up Big Pharma and Rick Santorum chiming in to say that HPV vaccines are not needed in public schools because it’s not a communicable disease. That’s right. According to Santorum, since HPV is spread through sexual contact and we all know that kids don’t have sex, it’s clearly not communicable in schools. Please excuse me while I go scream and hit my head against the wall a couple times. Maybe this statement will make more sense then.

Even after the debate, Bachmann not only stuck by her statements on the dangers of the HPV vaccine, but also added that the vaccine can cause mental retardation. She knows this because a mother in the audience told her after the debate that it happened to her daughter. That is all the proof you need!

This certainly isn’t the first time vaccines were brought up in a presidential debate. The last US presidential election had many candidates, including both Obama and McCain, making statements suggesting that they believe that vaccines may cause autism. However, the previous occasions always seemed more like just plain ignorance of the topic. This time, Bachmann seems to clearly be taking a page from the anti-vax crowd, framing the scientific issue of vaccine safety into an ideological debate between loving mothers who just want to make their own choices and know what’s best for their children against big pharma and their dangerous chemical toxins that they want to inject in our children with the help of socialist bureaucrats.

Rick Perry certainly does not have a record of being a friend to science or skepticism. He doesn’t believe in anthropogenic climate change, is anti-abortion, is anti-gay marriage , anti-embryonic stem cell research , believes creationism should be taught in public schools , believes that the Southwest drought can be ended merely by praying, and held that large (and un-constitutional) prayer rally in Texas last month.

However, as we skeptics know, just because a person is wrong in one way (or in this case, many ways!), doesn’t mean s/he is wrong in every way. In Monday’s debate over the merits of the HPV vaccine, Rick Perry stuck it out on the pro-science side even to boo’s from his Tea Party audience. He defended his pro-vaccine policy by reminding everyone that saving lives is more important than political ideology. It’s too bad he can’t apply this rare rationalism in other policy areas as well, but as the republican candidates increasingly turn against science as they vow for the heart of the Tea Party, I’ll take what I can get. So here’s to you, Rick Perry, a well-deserved, rare, and likely very temporary, approval from yours truly.

Jamie Bernstein is a skeptical policy wonk who recently converted from Southwesterner to Midwesterner. She is the Vice President and Skeptical Ninja of the Women Thinking Free Foundation where she helps save the world using 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.

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  1. I think we need a “Don’t Vote for Michelle Bachman” video.

    I couldn’t believe I actually heard someone purported to be “intelligent”, say that Gardisil caused mental retardation.

    The entire outrage, to me, was unfounded to begin with.

    Yes, I can understand that parents may want to have a say in their childrens lives and also want to be informed about the various vaccines that their children receive – from a doctor though, not a politician or pundit.

  2. Elyse – Her last name is spelled either “Bachmann” (two Ns) or “Bat-Shit-Crazy”.

    And I think we will soon see that Perry is not actually being benign and loving to the children on this issue.

  3. Also, the truly alarming thing about Bachmann is her savage certainty about everything she says, even the stuff she makes up as she is speaking. And then her rabid fan base treats it all as gospel truth, without ever bothering to research it at all.

    The tea party is truly the know-nothing party. But what’s frightening about it is how very proud they are of their own ignorance.

  4. Ok, a bit of genuine ignorance, here: Men obviously can’t get cervical cancer, but we can carry the HPV, right? Would likewise requiring (or offering) the HPV vaccine to men be in any way useful?

    1. The HPV vax was not approved for use in boys/men until recently. I’m not sure of the date the executive order was issued, but it was probably while Gardasil was a women/girls-only vaccine.

    2. I recently saw a lecture about that at Karolinska Insitutet, in Stockholm. I can’t give you the actual numbers, but according to models vaccinating boys would have a very minor contribution to diminishing prevalence of cervical cancer, while doubling the costs. The recommendation on that study was thus that public vaccination campaigns should only target girls.
      That having been said, HPV is lately being correlated to other types of cancer as well (colon, breast, maybe others), so I’d say AT LEAST gay men should get vaccinated. But that’s totally unofficial.

      1. Does the risk of developing cancers as a result of HPV increase if you have sex with men? I’m actually kind of curious about this… who *exactly* is and isn’t at risk and should get the vaccine, beyond just the rather vague “girls” vs “boys” thing?

  5. I live by that woman. Seriously. Do you know how palpable the stupid is?? My plants wilt. I can hear them gasping “Bachmann…*cough cough* Bachmaaaann”

  6. okay, seriously? kids don’t have sex? at eight my friends were talking about blow jobs, and at twelve half of the girls in my school were on birth control.

  7. Dammit! Everytime I read an article about Michelle Bachmann I lose two IQ points! Can I get a vaccine for that?

  8. Thank you to CNN and MSNBC for jumping all over this the past 2 days. Lots of qualified experts calling out Bachmann on this!

    I tried to play “Name That Logical Fallacy” while watching the debate, I couldnt decide if it was an Argument from Absurdity or Idiocy!!

  9. Wonderful blog post – right up until the point where you say Rick Perry isn’t a friend to science/skepticism because (among other things) he’s anti-gay marriage and anti-abortion.

    Did I miss a memo? When did those two political/public policy issues become skeptic litmus tests?

    And I hope this sentence was intended as tongue-in-cheek: Perry “believes that the Southwest drought can be ended merely by praying, and held that large (and un-constitutional) prayer rally in Texas last month.”

    There’s no evidence Perry believes the drought can be ended merely by praying, he simply asked Texans to pray for rain. The same way Obama asked people to pray for those affected by the oil spill in LA. The same way Clinton asked people to pray that his wife be elected President. I eagerly await your characterization of those two political figures as anti-science.

    And not even the NYT article you cite mentions that the prayer rally was unconstitutional. Certainly if it were they would have grabbed hold of that, they’re no fans of Perry.

    I get a kick out of the comments as well. The Tea Party formed pretty much of its own accord as a protest of more and bigger federal government, higher taxes, and increasing regulation. To the extent they have a platform, its limited to these issues. What’s frightening to me is that professed skeptics who like to deal with science and evidence and stuff, still try to say Tea Party members are idiots because Bachmann says ignorant things like this. She’s as conservative as Nancy Pelosi is liberal, and I don’t read on this site how all left-wingers are idiots because Pelosi says stupid things.

    In addition, the guy most popular with Tea Party members is the same guy this blog post complements for taking a pro-science stance…so I’m not sure I understand the point of some of the comments.

  10. The Tea Party formed pretty much of its own accord as a protest of more and bigger federal government, higher taxes, and increasing regulation.

    HA! This is rich! We are being called unskeptical by someone who believes the Tea Party is not a Astroturf organization financed by the Koch brothers.

    One of the funniest things I’ve heard in a long time.

    1. This is what happens when you bring politics into a skeptical forum…

      I assume, by implication, that you do believe the Tea Party is an ‘astroturf’ organization financed by the Koch brothers. As a skeptic, I expect you to back up that assertion with evidence.

      Evidence from legitimate news outlets, not left-wing activist websites like Think Progress. That would be like trying to defend intelligent design by citing articles published by the discovery institute.

      I’ve seen astroturf defined as a “grassroots program that involves the instant manufacturing of public support for a point of view in which either uninformed activists are recruited or means of deception are used to recruit them.”

      That definition is the exact opposite of pretty much every news story I’ve ever seen on the Tea Party movement, and to my knowledge no major news outlet or serious political journalist has made the case that the Tea Party was ‘manufactured’ deceptively by the Koch brothers.

      You just made a big claim, please back it up with overwhelming evidence.

  11. Ok, here from The Guardian and The Atlantic show that the Koch brother have admitted that they were behind the financing of Americans for Prosperity and they are were a major force behind the early Tea Party.

    You are free to not believe it, or to complain that the sources are biased but please stop telling us what we are allowed to include in our skepticm when you are cleary able to exclude those thing you wish to exclude.

    Thank you very much.

    1. No, thank you. I asked for evidence and you provided it, although I will argue that both of these articles actually support my point.

      Before I begin – I won’t dispute that the Guardian is a legitimate news outlet, but I would dispute a claim that George Monbiot is a balanced journalist without an agenda. He is comfortably on the far left side of the political spectrum.

      Given that, even Monbiot writes that the Tea Party is a “real mobilization.” His thesis is that, while it is a grass roots effort, the Koch brothers “have constructed the philosophy that informs the Tea Party movement: its members mobilise for freedom, unaware that the freedom they demand is freedom for corporations to trample them into the dirt.”

      In short – Monbiot says Tea Party members are too dumb to realize they’re being used by big corporations…to what end I’m not sure.

      The Atlantic article says essentially that three conservative groups ‘guide’ the Tea Party (only one of which is Americans for Prosperity). It then has a bunch of quotes from those groups saying that, indeed, it’s a grass roots effort: “The movement, they say, is entirely organic: [conservative groups] are mostly providing help and resources to this new class of outraged conservative free-market populists, some of whom are their own members and some of whom are outsiders to politics with whom they’ve never communicated before.”

      Based on this, how is what I originally wrote incorrect, much less one of the funniest things you’ve heard in a long time?

      Finally, your original quote was “We are being called unskeptical by someone who believes the Tea Party is not a Astroturf organization financed by the Koch brothers.”

      If your position, based on the evidence you provided, has now changed into this – the early Tea Party was a grass roots effort partly guided by, among others, a group called Americans for Prosperity, which was funded by the Koch brothers – then I won’t disagree.

      But that doesn’t alter my original point, and you can’t use the cool word ‘astroturf’ to describe it unless you redefine the word…

  12. Semantics.
    It is clear that you have no problem allowing ideology and politics to influence your personal skepticism but feel that you need to pop up here every time the subject venture too far to the left for you liking to tell us we shouldn’t be allowing ideology or politics to influence our skepticism.
    This is a feminist, skeptical, and science oriented blog; those topic tend to skew leberal, like it or not. If those topics are going to bother you so much why read them?

    1. Lol…thanks for that.

      I pop up here because none of the things you mentioned need to skew liberal, especially the last two, which are entirely fact-based. It bothers me when skeptics, who pride themselves on their ability to change their minds when presented with facts (see, for example, the first post on your own blog), refuse to use that same skill set when writing about politics.

      I challenged a very limited set of points in this blog post where I felt the author crossed that line. You challenged (laughed at, actually) an assertion I made and when I made my case using the evidence you provided you called it “semantics”.

      That’s what bugs me, the fact that you wouldn’t, when presented with contradictory evidence, change your mind or even allow that I might have a point. And to top it all off, you say I’m the one allowing ideology to influence my skepticism…

      That’s why I pop up here from time to time. I don’t try this at Daily Kos or Red State or places like that. I won’t get any traction because hardened ideologues on the left and right don’t really care about facts.

      But we’re supposed to care about them here. Right?

      1. Good to know you don’t think feminism is fact based, that’s an interesting opinion; as for skepticism and science skewing left, you are right that they shouldn’t since they are based on facts but there is a large part of the right that have decided that facts, at least those that are inconvenient to their viewpoint, aren’t necessary which tends to make those subject skew left.

        We have no problem taking on those on the left that feel facts aren’t important (anti-vaxxers, truthers, enviro-terrorists) and you don’t seem to have a problem with that.

        Actually it’s real simple, feel free to disagree with whatever is said here, give arguments against it, or give another point-of-view, but don’t start your post with “I thought this was a skeptical blog” or “aren’t you supposed to be freethinkers” unless you can demonstrate that the person in question is not being skeptical. So far the only thing you have demonstrated is that politics have been injected into an issue and you haven’t shown that to be unskeptical beyond an assertion that it shouldn’t be done. That is your contention, no one here made it.

        1. Dude – a rational argument normally involves acknowledging what the other person has written and either accepting it or making your own case and backing it up with facts or assertions.

          Let me re-post a paragraph I wrote above: I challenged a very limited set of points in this blog post where I felt the author had crossed that line. You challenged (laughed at actually) an assertion I made and when I made my case using the evidence you provided you called it “semantics.”

          Even when dealing with politics, skeptics should stick to the facts wouldn’t you agree? So calling the Tea Party an astroturf organization funded by the Koch brothers was incorrect and therefor not skeptical, right?

          We haven’t even dug into the other points I brought up originally: abortion and gay marriage aren’t skeptical/science based issues, all politicians (even the last two Democratic presidents) ask people to pray at some point, and the prayer rally Perry attended was constitutional.

          So you’re right it is real simple – when you talk about politics you’d better use facts as a starting point. You’ve failed to demonstrate a single thing I’ve said in this thread which is incorrect – if you do, I’ll correct it, even though you have not given me the same courtesy.

          You seem to think I have a problem with left wing liberals – I don’t. I have a problem with people who use ideology to justify false claims against their political opponents. I.e., Perry is anti-science because he’s anti-abortion. Unfortunately, the only people on this site who are not sticking to facts are liberals. I’m probably the only conservative here.

          If thats what you call goalpost moving, or making myself feel superior then I’m not sure we’re able to have a rationial discussion. But until I get bored, or determine that it’s a lost cause, I will continue to pop in whenever you or anyone else here decides to talk politics without reasoned, rational, evidence based arguments.

          One final point – you’re right that this and many other skeptical sites do take on leftists (I would add 9/11 truthers to your list as well). But in doing that, no one (that I’ve seen) then goes the next step and says “radical environmentalists are idiots” or “the Democratic party is morally bankrupt” and no one makes videos with the title “don’t vote for Barbara Boxer”. Yet that rhetoric is common when speaking on this site and others about the right.

          I don’t happen to agree that there are more idiots on the right than there are on the left – I think the idiot ratio is fairly even. But I’ve gone too long already and that can be an argument for another day.

  13. I’m clearly very late to this discussion but it’s been a busy week and this is the first I’m hearing of this debate nonsense. I hope that maybe some good can come of this- at least additional awareness. I’m constantly surprised how many young women don’t know about the hpv vaccines. It’s always rewarding when I tell a woman that I have a vaccine that can prevent cervical cancer- just this week I saw a woman light up when she heard.

    As an aside, it goes without saying that cervical cancer is a terrible thing but I’ll say it anyway: this is a truly horrific way to die. Young women (30s and 40s) die painful deaths. I just saw someone this week whose entire cervix was replaced with about 8cm of tumor. It’s likely that it has metastasized and that it will kill her. She’s 40. If we can prevent this, why wouldn’t we as a community?

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