Sunday, March 27, 2016


Facing a storm of criticism over its plan to show a documentary about the widely debunked link between vaccines and autism, the Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday pulled the film from its schedule next month.
In a statement, Robert De Niro, a founder of the festival, wrote: “My intent in screening this film was to provide an opportunity for conversation around an issue that is deeply personal to me and my family. But after reviewing it over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for.”
The film, “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe,” was directed and co-written by Andrew Wakefield, the author of a study that was published in the British medical journal The Lancet and then retracted in 2010. Mr. Wakefield’s medical license was also revoked over his failure to disclose financial conflicts of interest and ethics violations.
Information about the film no longer appears on the festival’s website, but on Friday, the site,, did not mention Mr. Wakefield’s revoked license or the 2010 retraction, saying instead that the study “would catapult Wakefield into becoming one of the most controversial figures in the history of medicine.” And on Twitter, Mr. Wakefield described the film as a “whistle-blower documentary.”
A festival spokeswoman said on Saturday that she had no further comment about what specifically in the film raised concerns for Mr. De Niro after he initially added it to the festival. The film was to have been shown just once, on April 24, and was to be followed by a discussion with the director and subjects of the film.
Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said on Saturday that he believed “the entire board as well as Mr. De Niro have learned a lot in the last several days.”
“My hat is off to them for listening, thinking about it, discussing it and responding,” he said.


  1. The damage done to public health by the British ex-physician Andrew Wakefield, who was stripped of his license for falsifying a study linking the MMR vaccine (for measles, mumps and rubella) to autism, has been incalculable. Wakefield's claims have been conclusively discredited everywhere but in the fever swamp of the anti-vaccine movement -- and now in the glamorous environment of the Tribeca Film Festival.

    The festival, which was co-founded by Robert De Niro in 2002, has placed a film purporting to defend Wakefield and accusing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of a cover-up on its program this spring. The film is called "Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Conspiracy." Its director: Andrew Wakefield.

    [UPDATE 2: TheTribeca Film Festival has canceled its showing of Andrew Wakefield's documentary "Vaxxed," following widespread condemnation of its plans. In an emailed statement, Robert De Niro, the festival's co-founder, said: "My intent in screening this film was to provide an opportunity for conversation around an issue that is deeply personal to me and my family. But after reviewing it over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for." De Niro, who earlier acknowledged that he was responsible for placing the film on the festival schedule and defended it for contributing to a "discussion" of the purported link between the MMR vaccine and autism, now says "we have concerns with certain things in this film that we feel prevent us from presenting it in the Festival program."...(continued)

  2. (continued)"The most vitriolic debate in medical history takes a dramatic turn when senior-scientist-turned-whistleblower Dr. William Thompson of the Centers for Disease Control turns over secret documents, data and internal emails confirming what millions of devastated parents and 'discredited' doctors have long-suspected." You would think it's the second coming of "The China Syndrome."

    But it's nothing of the kind. Wakefield's work, and the "conspiracy" theory of Thompson, have been thoroughly debunked.

    Let's be absolutely plain about this: There is absolutely no evidence of any link between the MMR vaccine and autism. In a 2014 survey of scientific studies covering 1.26 million children, researchers stated bluntly that "vaccinations are not associated with the development of autism or autism spectrum disorder. Furthermore, the components of the vaccines (thimerosal or mercury) or multiple vaccines (MMR) are not associated with the development of autism or autism spectrum disorder." That's just one example of the many studies finding no link. Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative that was used until 1999 in the MMR vaccine...

    [UPDATE: De Niro on Friday issued a statement defending the screening of "Vaxxed." He said, “Grace and I have a child with autism and we believe it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined. In the 15 years since the Tribeca Film Festival was founded, I have never asked for a film to be screened or gotten involved in the programming. However this is very personal to me and my family and I want there to be a discussion, which is why we will be screening VAXXED. I am not personally endorsing the film, nor am I anti-vaccination; I am only providing the opportunity for a conversation around the issue.” Grace Hightower is De Niro's wife.

    [Deconstructed, the statement seems to indicate that De Niro wants to have things both ways. He says he's not "anti-vaccination," but to assert that examining "all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism" requires giving a platform to the most notorious and discredited critic of vaccination in the autism community, Andrew Wakefield, is tantamount to taking an anti-vaccination stand. De Niro, like the anti-vaccination camp, treats the supposed link between the MMR vaccine and autism as an issue still under discussion. In the scientific and medical communities, it's not; extensive studies have established no link, whatsoever.]

  3. When last we left Andrew Wakefield, hero to the antivaccine movement, he was a headliner on the Conspira-Sea Cruise, a cruise filled with conspiracy theorists, crop circle chasers, cranks, quacks, and antivaccine activists. It was a huge come down from his formerly exalted position as chief spokesman and “scientist” for the antivaccine movement, a position he enjoyed for many years before he was struck off (i.e., had his medical license stripped from him) in the UK and later had his scientific fraud documented so thoroughly by investigative reporter Brian Deer. Since then, it’s all been downhill. In January, it looked as though Wakefield had hit bottom.

    Maybe he did, because, unfortunately, things appear to be looking up for him, at least somewhat. Here’s what I mean. Regular readers might remember my mentioning the documentary Andrew Wakefield was working on. It was going to be about the latest conspiracy theory coming out of the fever swamp of antivaccine pseudoscience, the so-called “CDC Whistleblower” William W. Thompson. Thompson, as you recall, is a the CDC scientist who complained to Brian Hooker, a biochemical engineer turned incompetent antivaccine epidemiologist, that the analysis of important study done by his colleagues at the CDC in 2004 and him (DeStefano et al) was manipulated to hide a real positive result correlating MMR vaccination with autism in African-Americans. As I said at the time, Hooker’s “reanalysis” of the DeStefano et al study basically proved Andrew Wakefield wrong in that, other than for a very small subgroup, there wasn’t a hint of a whiff of a whisper of a positive correlation between the MMR vaccine and autism, and the one seemingly positive result was almost certainly spurious. It was only because of Hooker’s utter incompetence at epidemiology and statistics that he foolishly inferred an actual result from his “reanalysis.” (continued)

  4. (continued)Because this story seemed to confirm what I like to call the central conspiracy theory of the antivaccine movement, namely that the CDC or other government agencies “knew” that vaccines cause autism but hid it from the people. Of course, only antivaccine activists are not “sheeple.” Only they know The Truth. Only they have figured the conspiracy out. Only they are not sheeple. And now Andrew Wakefield has made a movie about it, called Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe.

    The film is described thusly on the Vaxxed website:

    In 2014, biologist Dr. Brian Hooker received a call from a Senior Scientist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who led the agency’s 2004 study on the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine and its link to autism. The scientist, Dr. William Thompson, confessed that the CDC had omitted crucial data in their final report that revealed a causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism...

    Over several months, Dr. Hooker records the phone calls made to him by Dr. Thompson who provides the confidential data destroyed by his colleagues at the CDC. Dr. Hooker enlists the help of Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the British gastroenterologist falsely accused of starting the anti-vax movement when he first reported in 1998 that the MMR vaccine may cause autism. In his ongoing effort to advocate for children’s health, Wakefield directs this documentary examining the evidence behind an appalling cover-up committed by the government agency charged with protecting the health of American citizens. Interviews with pharmaceutical insiders, doctors, politicians, and parents of vaccine-injured children reveal an alarming deception that has contributed to the skyrocketing increase of autism and potentially the most catastrophic epidemic of our lifetime.

    Hoo boy. The trailer, as you might expect, is a greatest hits of “CDC Whistleblower” nonsense, beginning with a reenactment of Brian Hooker receiving a phone call form William Thompson and then a “medical journalist” Del Bigtree starts bloviating about how Thompson told Hooker that the his coauthors, Frank DeStefano et al, had committed scientific fraud in its analysis of the data for their study. Of course, we all know now that nothing of the sort happened and that Thompson never accused his co-authors of fraud, at least not explicitly, although he sure did make it sound as though there was something not quite on the up and up about the way they analyzed their data. Unfortunately, conspiracy-friendly journalists ate it up. Meanwhile Hooker’s “reanalysis” was so bad that the paper reporting it was retracted, even by a new journal...

    Then, to my surprise, Dr. Jim Sears shows up at around the 2:00 mark, thus shattering any of his claims that he isn’t antivaccine yet again. (Usually it’s “Dr. Bob” Sears who’s spewing the antivaccine misinformation.) After all, you don’t appear in a movie directed by Andrew Wakefield saying that Wakefield was right after all if you have a shred of scientific knowledge—or dignity—left or if you are not at least antivaccine-sympathetic, if not outright antivaccine. Sears is followed by Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), whose swallowing of the misinformation promoted by Hooker and Thompson helped perpetuate the whole “CDC whistleblower” urban myth. He’s rapidly followed by Stephanie Seneff, someone with no expertise in epidemiology who thinks she can do autism epidemiology. Hilariously (to me), she claims that, if we extrapolate current trends, by 2032 80% of boys will be autistic. What’s particularly silly is that Seneff isn’t even an MMR crank. She’s a GMO crank, the author of a risibly bad paper blaming autism on glyphosate and another blaming it on aluminum adjuvants.