• Tue, Oct 21 2008

Is it worth it for pro-vaccine advocates to appear on Oprah?

As you’ve probably heard by now, Every Child By Two has been sending an email out requesting people  ask Oprah to “dedicate a show to the science behind the question of whether vaccines cause autism.” Some (“an excellent idea”—Kev at Left Brain/Right Brain) are in favor of calling for such. Others are not (“It’s highly unlikely that, even if Oprah did give a platform to ECBT, it would end up promoting vaccination in the way that ECBT desires”—-Orac at Respectful Insolence). I kind of suspect that a TV show like Oprah might try to frame the purported (not-supported-by-the-science) vaccine-autism link as a “debate”—-between, for instance, scientists vs. parents—-when there is no debate about the science.

There is plenty to discuss about why some parents feel they deserve a choice about whether or not to vaccinate their children, and why they feel so unconvinced and at odds with science. But can a show like Oprah really present, in a properly accurate manner, the science of vaccines, without falling prey to parents’ fears and emotions?

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  • http://lizditz.typepad.com/ Liz Ditz

    Orac may be correct in his assessment that Winfrey would torpedo any effort to present the pro-vaccine viewpoint as reasonable.

    And as you observe,

    I kind of suspect that a TV show like Oprah might try to frame the purported (not-supported-by-the-science) vaccine-autism link as a “debate”—-between, for instance, scientists vs. parents—-when there is no debate about the science.

    That “framing” is exactly what Ginger Taylor, anti-vaccinationist advocate, proposed in her blog post.

    All that said, I still think it is worth the effort for people to write into the Oprah program, to show the flag, so to speak: that there are many, many parents

    of an autistic child who can speak on behalf of the many families that are frustrated over the continued focus on vaccines and their supposed link to autism and the therapies that focus on “repairing vaccine damage”.

    If such parents don’t speak up, only the mercury militia will be heard.

    That was phrased badly. Of course, there are many such parents who do speak up — go read the Autism Hub for examples.

    What I meant to say, this campaign is both a prompt and opportunity for parents to let the Winfrey organization know that there are differing points of view out there.

  • http://hammie-hammiesays.blogspot.com/ hammie

    TV is supposed to be balanced. The only problem is: do you have an ex-playboy model with an actor boyfriend to promote the cause?

    I could try it but I am only an A cup, and a little past my prime. (Mr Hammie hasnt been in any movies yet either)

    Why not try and find a pop star or movie star who believes in evidence based intervention and promote that cause.

    We have Keith Duffy from a Boyband called Boyzone in Ireland, whose daughter Mia recieved an early diagnosis and early intervention in a parent driven but state funded Applied Behavioral analyis school.
    She attends a mainstream class now with an aid having graduated from her special school a year ago. But Keith still campaigns on our behalf and almost single handedly gets us the media coverage it took, to sway the public vote and get 14 of our 24 schools recognised and state funded.
    He also raises money for our early diagnosis centre, which gets parents an answer within 3 months, compared to the average 2 years that it takes through the state system in Ireland.

    Positive media is so much more powerful than negative. Not as easily spread but much more encouraging for any worried parent who might have a child who wont make eye contact, or is lining up toys, or is late talking. When they start to panic that something is wrong and they need to get it looked at, it will be so much easier if they have someone telling them “did you see the thing about early intervention on Oprah? it was brilliant, you can learn about it yourself in this brilliant Catherine Maurice book etc……”

    Rather than hating themselves for daring to protect their kid against polio and menengitus and all the other stuff that shouldn’t have followed us into the 21st century.

    I am a round earth, Darwinian, evolutionist, Show me the Data! type of girl. Can’t really do the snake oil faith based stuff meself. So I would rather not entertain them or give them a platform for their travelling caravan road show.

    Roll up roll up; get your evidence based peer reviewed intervention here!

    hehe, xx

  • http://timandaritter.blogspot.com Amanda

    In answer to your last question: No. Oprah’s show’s are usually based on fear and emotion about something.


  • siliconmom

    I have to agree with Liz. Even if it doesn’t do any good, it’s important for us to speak up. If we don’t then we deserve the perceptions of autism and the legislation that follows.

  • http://rgeraldlovejoy.blogspot.com rglovejoy

    Like other posters, I am concerned that Oprah’s producers would try to frame it as a “debate”, implying that science is a democracy whose theories are up for a vote.

    I am reminded of the time Michael Shermer appeared on the old Phil Donahue show to talk about Holocaust denial. Donahue’s producers blindsided him by also inviting a Holocaust “revisionist” to the taping. Needless to say, the show degenerated into a fiasco, with the producers trying to get Shermer to “mix it up” with the Holocaust denier.

    Although Oprah doesn’t have much confrontation on her show these days, I am concerned that her producers will turn the discussion into some sort of farce, with a lot of ringers placed in the audience to give the pro-vaccine guest a hard time.

  • http://spockisanautist.blogspot.com/ Shawn3k

    Good points made…her show probably would not. What then, would be a more receptive television program? I think a lot has to do with ratings…there is more “drama” in the vaccs cause autism. Not so much in “this is how nature works sometimes.” The latter would have made for a very dull series premiere of Eli Stone…(but I still turned off the show when it became all to clear where they were heading with the premiere…). But I digress…

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    And framing the issue as a “debate” (by the media and others) only continues misunderstanding about the issue……..

  • http://rgeraldlovejoy.blogspot.com rglovejoy

    A better, more receptive show would be something like “The Charlie Rose Show” or “Frontline” on PBS, or “Fresh Air” on NPR. The only trouble with these shows is their limited audience. A segment on “60 Minutes” would get a much wider viewership and be far better than “Dateline” or “20/20″, both of which tend towards sensationalism.

  • http://spockisanautist.blogspot.com/ Shawn3k

    20/20 would be great though, esp. if John Stossel had the segment.

  • http://chaosandjoy.blogspot.com Jen

    From talking to friends who have appeared on Oprah with their quadruplets or more, I’d be pretty sure that the show would be edited fairly heavily to support her specific point of view. While it would be nice to have a major television show that would actually present the science, I’m not sure that it would be “ratings grabbing” enough to get a wide enough audience. I’d also agree with Frontline…I’m not sure, but hasn’t NPR done a few pieces already?

  • http://navimama.blogspot.com Navi

    some of the reality shows have explored families with multiple autistic children… I from what I’ve heard they actually aren’t antivaxx, but I haven’t seen them.

    But basically you show the struggle and drama and love involved with raising a kid with autism and that would help. You can invoke emotion and drama without vaccines. If only those British celebrities with autistic children would write a book and market it here…

  • http://www.cafeautism.com Nancy Nally

    I hope the pro-science, pro-vac folks don’t touch the Oprah show with a ten foot pole if they are going to be put on along with people who are anti-vaccine.

    Because cold, hard science just can’t win the battle for people’s minds when it is on the same stage with anguished mommies pointing to their precious “injured” children. Logic goes right out the window for most viewers and emotion takes over.

  • http://ppdnos.blogspot.com/ Another Laura

    I’m with Orac. I have no respect for Winfrey and don’t trust her with the subject matter. Remember, she thinks her hypothyroidism was cured by a trip to Hawaii and tea. Take a gander if you’re curious: http://www.salon.com/mwt/broadsheet/2007/10/25/thyroid/

    She’s anti-science and anti-intellectual. I mourn the day Donahue went into retirement.

  • http://daisymayfattypants.blogspot.com Emily

    Agreed about Oprah. She’s a flake and a narcissist, and that show exists for drama and fanning flames. No one gives a sh*t about the actual science. If they did, we wouldn’t be having this discussion, and Oprah wouldn’t be such an enormous success. It’s all about emotion over facts, and I, for one, find that oh-so-ironic given the context.

  • Regan

    It’s a laudable idea to do outreach to the public, but could be a null game or negative depending on how it is produced,
    “An Oprah Fiasco”

    A more sympathetic or, at least, predictably fair-minded program, as others have already suggested, might be a better starting place, unless ECBT has very media-savvy advisors working with them to be prepped for presentation on a daytime talk show and last minute curveballs.

    But Liz’s point is taken to register that there are alternative opinions.

  • Nicole

    Oprah, despite the many good things she has done, has no concept of what is good science and what is blatant fraud. This has been repeated dozens of times throughout the years. I honestly would like to see parents and caregivers of children on the spectrum rise up and insist on an end to this nonsense. Stop spending time and resources on pseudoscience, and start helping people for a change.