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A dialogue between me, an Anti-Vaxxer, and Monsanto

91px-Dna-splitBackground: the virulence of the anti-vaccination movement in recent years has been matched only by the ferocity of the backlash to it. This is understandable: people don’t like the idea that other people’s kids might be exposing their own children to diseases that should really be unheard of in developed countries. And the ‘science’ of the anti-vaccine crowd is pretty questionable, leading the pro-vaccine folks to believe themselves partisans of Real Science. Monsanto, famous as a leader in pesticides and genetic modification, has very cleverly, to my thinking, taken up this banner of Science to paint anti-vaxxers, organic farmers, and opponents of its particular GMO practices with the same ‘anti science’ brush. Here is the approximate result (dramatized):

Anti-vaccination Activist: Vaccines cause autism. Jenny McCarthy said so, and I don’t want my kid to be vaccine injured!

The rest of the World
: Please, read all of these meta-studies. Studies finding large harms from vaccines are generally not able to be replicated and use worse methodology than the more numerous studies finding vaccines safe.

Anti-vaxxers: Meh. I saw a bunch of stuff on Facebook, so I’m not vaccinating my kids.

The world: Okay, but see, that’s not acceptable if you’re sending your kid into public places. Please, please read this research.

Anti-vaxxers: Look, I don’t trust that science. My worldview dictates that anything from Official Sources is probably corrupted by giant corporations.

Most of the world: Like, that’s understandable, because corporations do…

Monsanto: Ho ho! Look at these anti-vaxxers, hating science and corporations and giving your kids measles! They are truly villainous! And given that they hate corporations and Science, a corporation that specializes in Science must truly be the hero of this story!

Me: I mean, vaccination is good and all, but Monsanto, you’re a little villainous yourself!

Monsanto: Nonsense! Why do you hate children and cause them blindness with your anti-GMO radicalism?

Me: I don’t oppose your science! And I love vaccines. But sometimes you do pretty questionable things too, like patenting crops and then collecting royalties on products that auto-reproduce, and suing farmers who fail to pay? Isn’t that a little like creating a computer program that self-replicates (also called a computer virus), and then suing people for not deleting the extra copies?

Monsanto: Why do you have to hate Science so much? How are you questioning me without any degree in Science? We even have Babes with degrees in Science!

Me: I’m not arguing about Science! I just mean, maybe there’s more to understanding a situation than knowing all the right sequences of A, T
(U in RNA), C, and G. Like, how your business decisions and legal precedents effect other…

Monsanto: Mumbo Jumbo! SCIENCE will save you. Don’t get caught up in all that other woo.

Me: I’m not doubting your chemistry or genetics – but these also affect humans. Look at pharmaceuticals and how they are patented. In the US, it’s possible to patent chemicals, whereas in India and Brazil, one can only patent processes for producing them. Doesn’t that seem more reasonable? Why not apply the same standard to genomes? If everything is a chemical and every domestic organism is genetically modified, as you so like to remind me, why are you the only ones who get to collect royalties on chemicals and organisms?

Monsanto: Look – we don’t have time for all of your non-Science. Go hang out with the anti-vaxxers.

Enter an enormous crowed of pro-vaccine activists; pan out on shouting and ALL CAPS conversation

Epilogue: since the vaccine debate, I’ve seen approximately 10,000% more positive posts about Monsanto and genetic engineering than I did before. Well played, Monsanto, well played.

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The Polish Wolf


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  • I was surprised to learn that the vaccination debate is quite different than I was led to believe by my brief exposure to it via mainstream media. I thought it was a bimbo playboy bunny upset because her son was autistic, blaming his vaccines. It’s actually much more.

    Corporations, this time those comprising PhRMA, like to control debates from all angles to control the outcome. They hire PR firms to confuse us with images and symbols. they use shills as controlled opposition. Jenny M might be such a shill, but that cannot be known. But once she was highlighted as the spokesperson for the people who are fighting the massive new wave of vaccinations sponsored by PhRMA in the last 20 years or so, it lost credibility. She is, after all, a woman, blond, and posed nude for Playboy.

    I was surprised to learn that even JM is not opposed to the basic vaccines that have been in use for decades, such as polio and MMR. It is the new wave of untested vaccines being mandated now by school districts at high cost that has her and others upset. It is another profit center for PhRMA, but as to medical necessity, there are great unknowns. PhRMA currently has a fund to cover its liability, but wants legislation passed to immunize itself. California is the hottest battlefield right now.

    So I suggest, PW, that you give the matter a little more than a cursory once-over before using smear tactics to impugn people’s intelligence and integrity. (I find myself wondering if you indeed did some wider reading and found the issue far more complicated than you originally thought, would you have the courage to say so? Hmmmm.)

    I would suggest some non-JM sources on this matter, but it is my impression that confirmation bias rules the world. There is lots of information available, but it will not fall in your lap via MSM. You have to look for it.

    • It is in fact more complicated than it looks; as i told JC on his blog, it’s pretty clear the initial absurdity behind the anti-vaxx movement, and ensuing backlash, was definitely used to push through an enormous ammount of over reach, including mandatory vaccines. However, working in the Bay area I’ve also seen the absurd lows the anti-vax movement has hit scientifically, doubting not only the safety but the efficacy of MMR, Polio, etc. vaccinations. Simply asking whether vaccines could be made safer, or whether vaccinations for very rare diseases are worth even the minor proven risks, is not what spurred the backlash (indeed, I recall almost a decade ago Mother Jones, pretty solidly respectable liberal journalism, ran a very long article about how vaccine makers cut corners and potentially reduce vaccine safety – even at that point, though, the acknowledged that much of the fringe anti-vax movement was discrediting legitimate research). And that backlash has apparently been enough to convince a lot of Americans to disregard their healthy skeptisism of living organisms as intellectual property.

      • My point was that in the PR business, you control both the pro and anti sides of a debate, and thereby control it. Your statement the “absurdity” you found in the anti-vaxx was exactly that, a PR movement designed to discredit the serious people who were opposed to the influx of new and unnecessary, untested and perhaps dangerous vaccinations. You bought in. That is how PR works. That is what “controlled opposition” means!

        The same thing happened to the antiwar movement in the sixties, largely campus based, became, in the public mind, long-haired hippy free sex drug users. It is the same formula, used again and again.

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