Anti-Vaccine Activist Cancels Tour Over Bomb Threat (So She Says)

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Sort-of transcript follows:

Dr. Sherry Tenpenny is an osteopath who spends most of her time these days preaching against safe and effective vaccines, encouraging people to not vaccinate their children, which leads to outcomes like the current “Disneyland” measles outbreak that California is currently dealing with. Thanks Dr. Tenpenny, and thanks Dr. Oz for promoting her!

Tenpenny came to my attention recently because she was due to tour Australia spreading her misinformation, but has now canceled the tour due to “security concerns.”

When I first read that headline, I assumed that the concern was that Tenpenny would be like that one lab monkey from Planet of the Apes who bit that guy before he got on that plane and spread that monkey disease all over the planet. We don’t want your monkey diseases, Dr. Tenpenny! Just stay inside please.

But no, it turns out that Tenpenny claims vaccine proponents are sending violent threats to organizers of her speaking tour. This is awful, and as a vaccine proponent I’d like to go on record as saying I condemn any threats of violence against anti-vaccinationists. I believe that people like Tenpenny cause immeasurable harm to the health and safety of society’s most at-risk people, like infants and immunocompromised patients, but the way to fight them is using education and compassion.

I’m really upset to think that other people who understand the effectiveness of vaccines would do such a thing as threaten anyone. And that’s why I’m relieved to be able to report that in actuality, there was only one bomb threat and it came from an anti-vaccination activist who wanted to scare the venue into going forward with Tenpenny’s lecture despite peaceful public pressure to cancel.

That movement isn’t long for the world anyway, but I’d rather it go away before diseases like polio make such a comeback in the western world that wealthy hippies and libertarians are forced to acknowledge the horrific consequences of allowing these diseases to run rampant.

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 mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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  1. Rebecca, thanks for giving this story wider circulation as it seems to have gone off the front page here.

    I was interested to learn that osteopathy is dignified in the US by inclusion in the medical profession, whilst everywhere else it is relegated to the alternative margins.

    It is not surprising that antivax and anti fluoridation get greatest traction in Queensland. Not for nothing do we call it the Deep North – as you say, Hippies! Libertarians!
    (Also a lot of really great friendly people and a beautiful place to visit, but the dental caries figures are informative)

  2. Ms Tenpenny is being very disingenuous:

    1. She originally said she was coming to Australia for a holiday and was then asked to give some talks. Then why has she now cancelled the trip given the talks have talks have been cancelled?

    2. The threats are being made by the anti-vaccine supporters (ie her supporters); they threatened the person that started a change.org petition and bomb threats were made against a venue if they cancelled and another was threatened to be burnt down if they cancelled. There are plenty of screen shots of these threats to show that they were from her supporters. There is even a statement from the police that they were from the anti-vaccinate side. Ms Tenpenny knows this and is deliberately misleading people.

    3. She preaches free speech, but anyone posting a pro-vaccine comment or the screenshots of the threats to prove who they are from on her Facebook page, gets them deleted. Is that not the antipathy of free speech that she preaches?

    1. “She preaches free speech, but anyone posting a pro-vaccine comment or the screenshots of the threats to prove who they are from on her Facebook page, gets them deleted. Is that not the antipathy of free speech that she preaches?”

      No, it’s not. Editing the content of people who post in one’s own space is just that. She’s not disparaging anyone’s right to free speech, nor is she required to host anyone elses free speech.

      Kudos on the 1st 2 points, but you need to have more integrity than the troll/gamergate crowd who try to shame people with a bunch of “free speech” fallacies.

      1. Yep, you have every right to tell someone, “You may have free speech, but not on my lawn.” This, however, does not absolve you of the **responsibility**, nor does it suggest a strong sense of either ethics, or morals, if your method of handling someone who does show up to speak is to not merely tell them to leave, but to erase the existence of what they have said (and, as is often the case, leaving behind the remnants of supposed replies, where those replies amplify your own position, or distort that of the person whose words you erased). Denying that someone, in essence, even had a point, or attempted to make one, is not integrity either, its megalomania.

        Because of this, I have never been comfortable with any place that opted to delete someone else’s words, regardless of what those words are. If they are fools, their own words and actions prove it. If the only means by which you can defend your own is by deleting theirs…. its just possible that your own argument is unsupportable, and impossible to defend.

        1. In Australia, the situation is somewhat interesting. There are no rights to free speech enshrined anywhere; but there is a ‘freedom of expression’ that is somewhere in the law. But that ‘freedom of expression’ does not extend to issues of public order and public health.

          I not that familiar with the laws etc, but from what I understand no one has tested the law …. apparently, she could have had her ‘freedom to expression’ curtailed as what she was saying would endanger public health …. interesting permutations if this was pursued!

        2. Sorry, but that position is total, privileged horseshit. If I have a space dedicated to what I believe/practice/etc. I am in no way responsible for holding up your entitled interpretation of what free speech means to you (namely that you have the right to blather about whatever you want wherever you darn well feel like).

          Suggesting that one’s desire to disallow you to post whatever you feel like to their forum makes them immoral, unethical, or, bizarrely, megalomaniacal follows absolutely no logical line of thought. It’s like you’re just ranting; nothing about the act of deleting someone’s posts on one’s own forum implies or allows a rational person to infer a lack of ethics.

          Be bitter and angry about it, sure, but it’s not immoral for cracker’s sake. I personally have never been comfortable posting in forums that allow any yahoo to post whatever they like. I prefer a gentle but consistent moderator to make reading the forum worth my time such as This Forum You Are Posting To Right Now, oh Uncomfortable One.

          1. Wow… See, I have no problem with banning someone who is persistently ranting, or posting irrelevant things, or disruptive, etc., as long as the “reason” they get banned is still there. My *problem*, and the reason I find a blanket deletion, or denial, of a person’s posts abhorent is that, yes, I am in the rather privileged position of actually having a clue, most of the time, about what the F I am talking about, instead of being an anti-vax nut, or someone promoting homeopathy, or claiming that god is all about love, or that UFOs are real, or that there really is a Big Foot, or ten thousand other insanities – damn near every single member of which seem to think that *their* opinion on the subject does not simply allow them to express their own opinions on the subject, in the safety of a nice little box, in which no one seems to refute them, but that they can structure this silly little box of theirs in such a manner that they don’t just deny alternative views, but lie about, distort, and even flat deny the existence of, different views, one tool of which they use is – deleting anything that seems to contradict them.

            You are not going to find a whole hell of a lot of people who take knowledge, and facts, instead of pure opinion and self obsession, who agree with the idea that the best defense of *our* position is to shut someone else up, or down, then lie about why, or even that we did it. That is the “ethics” I speak of.

          2. Case in point, The Food Babe.

            Dare to disagree and your post will disappear but the “refutation” of your point will not. While technically not a violation of your freedom of speech it is most definitely unethical and cowardly cowardly to boot.

          3. Kagehi: “I am in the rather privileged position of actually having a clue, most of the time,”

            I’m sure you do, but so do most people who feel entitled to speak wherever and whenever they feel. I’m sure you and the crazy Jesus guys on Union Square (sf) can go back and forth all day over who actually is more entitled to spread the Clue, but all it makes is noise. Further, it’s been empirically shown to further entrench incorrect notions, so there’s neither a Freedom Of Speech argument, nor a rationalist argument for your attempt to force other people to consider your opinion.

            It’s also no less ethical to delete people’s posts who responded to you in good faith than it is to delete a post that, in all likelihood, had no business being posted to that forum in the first place.

          4. mrmisconception: “Case in point, The Food Babe.”

            Another case in point: Anita Sarkeesian. Amanda Marcotte. These are women who for a variety of reasons moderate or disallow any discussion in their spaces because of the outrageous behavior of the posters who feel entitled to say whatever they want however they want. They’re also called unethical by the trolls that threaten and bully them.

            It’s not cowardly to delete posts by people who are determined to shut you up or who threaten your life, is it? Where do you get to draw the line then? Why do you get to decide if you crossed the line, rather than the person who set up the forum for their own purposes.

            I know you don’t like being sidelined, but it’s not unethical, and it’s only cowardly if you think locking your door against strangers who want to steal your stuff is cowardly too.

          5. So, would it be ethical to remove poor reviews from your website? How about removing only reviews that would poorly affect your product or products that you like but not for those of competitors or those that you don’t like? Would it matter how big your website is? And if so where does the file drawer effect lie?

            Just trying to figure out where that bright line lies, or maybe black and white thinking isn’t realistic.

          6. mrmisconception

            Making a Manichean argument then accusing your opponent of thinking in black and white is not going to get you the ‘Good Faith’ award for argument.

            You are either for the arbitrary imposition of speech into whatever space the speaker feels the need to speak in or you’re not. Since you are arguing for the former I’d call you a hypocrite if I thought you were actually taking the time to think these things out.

            At any rate, that’s just you changing the subject. It’s not your place to tell anyone else what kind of discussion they must host in their space. Nor is it your place to determine what is and isn’t attacking. I’ve venture, based on their own accounts, that most #gg trolls don’t think that they’re attacking female gamers–rather they are discussing ethics, like you are.

          7. Interesting, you have just called me a hypocrite for making an argument I didn’t make and then said that I accused my opponents (believing that to be you perhaps?) of thinking in black and white. I actual said that things aren’t black and white so I’m really not sure what you’re on about with that.

            Could you please show where I said that site owners do not have the right to remove comments? I did say that removing opposing viewpoints while leaving their refutations is unethical and cowardly which is an opinion, and one I will reiterate here. I did not however say they weren’t within their rights.

            If you wish to hold a tight bubble over what subjects are allowed to be discussed on your site you should approve comments, at least on a first comment or two basis, but if your viewpoint is so fragile that it can’t stand up to discussion then you should shut down the discussion before it starts rather than allow only one side to be aired.

            And I never once said that removing threats or disruptions was cowardly so the Anita Sarkeesian and Amanda Marcotte examples are complete non sequiturs, apples and oranges my friend, apples and oranges.

            You are allowed to remove or keep from posting any comments you wish as a site owner, absolutely. However allowing comments that disagree with your viewpoint and removing them only after they are refuted while leaving those refutations is cowardly and you are not going to make me believe that it isn’t.

          8. mrmisconception: “Could you please show where I said that site owners do not have the right to remove comments?”

            Could you please show me where I said that you said that? Don’t put words in my mouth and don’t build straw men to topple because you can’t defend your own arguments. If you can’t be bothered to check to see if what you are writing jives with what I have written to you I can’t be arsed to interpret the numerous ways you are manipulating this argument to get Win Points rather than trying to elucidate a point, which at least the other guy in this tangent of the thread is trying to do.

          9. Snort.. Yeah, real convenient for you – you have no F-ing clue, at all, what I know, or may have expertise on, where, or what I have ever posted, what sort of comments I normally make, or even if, other than in this one case, I would be in total agreement of you, but.. because I disagree with your absurd assertion that post deletions, especially when they are done to “intentionally” mislead people about what took place, or was otherwise said said, *have a non-neutral, and therefor deleterious effect on knowledge and understanding of the situation*, while you seem to think its some sort of wonderous positive for the person doing it, and the other members of their echo chamber, or something.. I get tagged as being the same as the crazy Jesus dude on a soup box…

            Either we are talking past each other, which your later comment on removal of **disruptive posts, which contain no useful content** would seem to imply, or you are a bloody moron. I am not sure I should, at this point, give you any benefit of the doubt.

          10. “you have no F-ing clue, at all, what I know, or may have expertise on…”

            Irrelevant. I didn’t even insinuate that you’re not the smartest person in the room, rather I inferred and wrote that you do, in fact, have a clue. What I suggested was that you’re asking for a world where you can shove your opinions on everybody, just like the Jesus guy. It doesn’t matter how intelligent your opinions are, the fact is that I have a Right to not have to listen to them and you have Zero right to force me to host them.

            If you’re too thick to understand that then perhaps you are the crazy Jesus guy on the sidewalk, you certainly don’t listen any better than he does.

          11. variable – Wow, so you’ve called me a hypocrite (or the more passive/aggressive “I’d call you a hypocrite if I thought you were actually taking the time to think these things out”), said I put words in your mouth, and threw out the “I wins the internet” trump card of straw man; you are projecting big time here.

            I made a comment about how I feel it is cowardly to remove posts that disagree with you while leaving the refutation of said posts (an opinion, once again) and that turned into me saying that women (in particular Anita Sarkeesian and Amanda Marcotte) aren’t allowed to remove threats from their blogs. And yes you said that by pointing to them as counterpoints to my original example of The Food Babe and then going on about how they have to be able to defend themselves. I even pointed out that I agreed with that, but somehow this has become some kind of debate club of the internet and I’m trying to get Win Points.

            I didn’t make a straw man because I didn’t restate your opinion, I have only clarified my own. Feel free to disagree with it but don’t make this into some sort of pissing contest about whether I’m “for the arbitrary imposition of speech into whatever space the speaker feels the need to speak in or you’re not”. I have reiterated that I am a firm believer in people being able to control their own spaces on the internet and that removing content does not violate free speech. But someone can be wrong and cowardly and unethical all at the same time, this is a complex universe.

            You are refusing to acknowledge my viewpoint and instead imposing upon me the point you believe I am trying to make. I would say that it sounds like you’re putting words in my mouth and building a straw man of my actual opinion, but then this isn’t debate club and I wouldn’t want to look like a hypocrite who is out to get Win Points.

            Removing posts that disagree is cowardly but well within your rights. Nothing more, nothing less.

          12. Irrelevant. I didn’t even insinuate that you’re not the smartest person in the room, rather I inferred and wrote that you do, in fact, have a clue. What I suggested was that you’re asking for a world where you can shove your opinions on everybody, just like the Jesus guy.

            So.. You intentionally interpreted what I said in the worst possible way you could, so as to make it seem as though I was saying something radically outside the purview of what I intended, because you what… thought it was a convenient foil to show how strongly you support people’s right to deny reality, even to the point of denying that someone had attempted to correct them, and there is no ethical, or moral, component to, basically, doing the same thing on their blog as a history revisionist might do in a text book, to distort the facts of what took place? Glad we got that cleared up…

          13. You’ve gone from my objection to this: “I have never been comfortable with any place that opted to delete someone else’s words, regardless of what those words are,” to saying I “intentionally interpreted what I said in the worst possible way you could,” even though every example I gave falls explicitly under the umbrella of your statement.

            Perhaps if you focused on making a consistent argument you’d see the point of my statements.

          14. I didn’t change my stance at all. You, right from the start, misinterpreted my meaning.

          15. Kagehi, Feb 1: “Because of this, I have never been comfortable with any place that opted to delete someone else’s words,”

            Kahegi Feb 7: “I am not “uncomfortable” with people doing such a thing,”

            You bring considerable heft to an intellectual discussion Comrade Kagehi.

          16. In fact, you still don’t get my meaning. I am not “uncomfortable” with people doing such a thing, I think its morally repugnant that they do so.

          17. Well, gosh, I changed my statement from “uncomfortable” to “morally repulsed by”.. I am so sorry for failing to be clear about it… What was you point again, because… it seemed to be accusing me of wanted to force feed others opinion, when my objection was that some people deny, with every method at their disposal, the existence of anyone with a different opinion.

            But, maybe you just haven’t seen some of those cess pools. Here is a hint – they erase the posts challenging their views, then claim that the people who made said post, when acknowledging them at all, believe, or said, or did, things that reflect the lies, hate, and intentional distortions which they just deleted the refutation of. Or, if that is too confusing, then.. how about this – on such a site you could expect, for example, a women to show up at some misogynists site, write a clear statement of how she doesn’t hate men, she isn’t out to rob them, doesn’t want to deny them their kids, or any of a thousand other absurdities. Two minutes later, her post would be gone, and the only mention of her would be a long rant, and a mass of hate mail, claiming she was a radical feminist, who wanted to cut men’s balls off, rob their bank accounts, and send every man who stood up for himself to a concentration camp. All sign, suspicion, or tiniest iota of evidence to the contrary, or what she really posted, or meant, or said, or thinks, would be gone. All that remained in place would be the ranting, hate filled, spewings of the trolls, in their private little cave. And.. this is the “morally reprehensible” part – they would show this off as evidence of the truth of what this woman, and perhaps women in general, think, to anyone stupid enough to listen to them, and clueless enough to not bother checking the facts.

            We are lucky that, for the most part, this sort of vile stuff is not in the top google searches. But.. what is, can be just as bad. Fad medicines, millions of “top” searches that lie about what science says about certain subjects, etc. Turns out.. when you have spiders, hunting the net for “information”, what you get isn’t what is right, what is sane, or even what is good for the public, instead of hurtful, and stupid. What you get is what is “popular”. And, if tomorrow it became popular to shoot celebrities, or puppies, or scream obscenities at people wearing hats – that is all that would rise to the surface. The other side would be lost in the noise, because the “popular search results” will be those which link to gibberish, and the promoters of gibberish **despise** have people challenge their perspectives. Its gibberish after all, it can only defend itself by hiding from, burying, deleting, derailing, or denigrating information that apposes it. And.. the best, simplest, easiest, and most direct means to do this is the morally repugnant method of a) deleting the rebuttal, b) burying anything that suggest support for it, c) derailing the discussion into something else, which happens to, usually, be d) the debasement and denigration of either the opposing idea, or those who presented it, while given them no means, or right, to defend against the assault.

            To me, the assertion, quite correct, that people have the “right” to do this… yep, they certainly do, but applying that right, in such a context, has the same “moral” result as shooting a child who comes on your property, or killing someone who is already dying, then claiming you where “defending yourself”. Its not enough, sometimes, to have a right – you have to also **be right**, or, at the very bloody least, comprehend social responsibility, other people’s basic humanity, or just plain compassion, and that some lines should not be crossed, lest you become one of the monsters. Except.. how many of the people that do this, really.. comprehend that they are the monsters?

            I repeat – deleting posts, for the wrong reasons, its morally reprehensible. F what “rights” they may have to do so, and their choice to misuse them.

    2. 3. I don’t think either of you have a strong hold on what free speech is, to be perfectly honest. That’s not really the point here, anyway.

  3. Never underestimate the capacity to rationalize away negative evidence. Anti-vaxx nuts already claim that ‘polio’ isn’t really the same illness. According to Peter Bowditch, in Australia, ALL of Tenpenny’s venues cancelled her appearances when they learned of her reputation.

    And Bowditch fails to grasp that, in the US, Osteopaths are recognized as legitimate physicians, despite their link to a loony like Andrew Taylor Still. When I was forced onto public assistance, the first two Drs I was referred to as Primary Care Physicians were both…Osteopaths.

  4. You know.. I can’t see the value of a “zombie” plague to cure people of this sort of stupidity, but… if anything like it was possible, I could sure go for like someone accidentally releasing Lyc-V, then these idiots deciding that “their kid would never possibly be turned into a werewolf from a bite, so I don’t need to vaccinate them for that, since vaccines don’t work anyway!” lol But.. stuff that causes real, long term, problems, or even death, and no one comes out the other end “better” than they started out… just isn’t funny at all…

  5. Thank you for posting. I hope that the upside to this measles outbreak does encourage others to change their mind and vaccinate. Unfortunately, many seem to move the goalposts to cling to these antivax beliefs.

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