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The Greater Good: Pure, unadulterated anti-vaccine propaganda masquerading as a “balanced” documentary

I’ve heard it said (actually, I’ve said it myself) that if you don’t have the science and evidence to back up your point of view, in order to persuade someone, make a movie. At least, this seems to be the philosophy of a number of cranks who have produced movies promoting pseudoscience over the last five years or so. The first one of these movies that really caught my attention was an anti-evolution, pro-”intelligent design” creationism documentary narrated by Ben Stein and released in 2008, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The movie was pure creationist propaganda, complete with Ben Stein visiting Auschwitz and Dachau, the better to try to link “Darwinism” to the Holocaust.

Movies promoting religious pseudoscience such as intelligent design creationism are not the only kinds of pseudoscience propaganda films. Indeed, medicine is rife with them, and Wally Sampson has referred to this particularly pernicious genre of documentary as “medical propaganda films.” During the existence of this blog, we’ve reviewed a few such films (or at least written about what we could find out about them without paying for the DVD). For example, I’ve written about The Beautiful Truth, a paean to the Gerson protocol for cancer, complete with coffee enemas, and reviewed Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days, a film dedicated to the claim that you can cure almost everything (including not just type II but type I diabetes) with a raw vegan diet. Harriet reviewed The Living Matrix: A Film on the New Science of Healing, a movie promoting “energy medicine” quackery. There’s even a film out now praising Stanley Burzynski and his highly dubious “antineoplaston” therapy that I’ve been meaning to review. I finally found a free copy of it to watch, and perhaps I’ll get to it before the end of the month. In the meantime, there’s a documentary people have been begging me to check out called The Greater Good that has been making the rounds of various film festivals and will be debuting at the IFC Center in New York on November 18. The very fact that Joe Mercola has hosted the movie streaming on his website in celebration of what he and Barbara Loe Fisher have dubbed “Vaccine Awareness Week” should tell you all you need to know about the movie.

I’m going to tell you more, though, because I’ve actually managed to sit through the whole thing. The things I do for my readers! To give you an idea of what you’re in for (in case the video is no longer available by the time that you read this), here’s the trailer:

The first thing I noticed about The Greater Good is that it’s slick and very well produced—considerably better produced, I think, than Expelled! The only aspect of it that I found annoying (besides the sheer quantity of anti-vaccine misinformation, pseudoscience, talking points, and distortions, all of which were plenty annoying) was the little animated segments. (Well, the little animated segments and any segment featuring Dr. Bob Sears.) However, given the sheer mass of anti-vaccine propaganda contained within this documentary, quibbling about a stylistic element like that is rather like quibbling about the arrangement of the deck chairs on the Titanic.

The documentary is structured, as many documentaries are, around three families, the better to provide the human interest “hook” for the rest of the story. Interspersed with segments about each family are interviews with various experts. Perhaps I should say two experts arrayed against a whole lot of “experts,” because defending vaccines we have real experts like Dr. Paul Offit; Dr. Melinda Wharton of the CDC; Dr. Norman Baylor, who is Director of the Office of Vaccines Research and Review in the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research; and Dr. Mark B. Feinberg, Vice President for Medical Affairs and Policy for Merck Vaccines and Infectious Diseases at Merck & Co., Inc. Arrayed against them we have a whole lot of anti-vaccine pseudoexperts, such as Barbara Loe Fisher, grande dame of the anti-vaccine movement and founder of the Orwellian-named National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC); Dr. Bob Sears, a pediatrician known for his non-science-based “alternative” vaccination schedule, who of late appears to have ceased mere flirting with the anti-vaccine movement and thrown his lot in with it; Dr. Lawrence Palevsky, a “wholistic” pediatrician; Dr. John Green III, who is described as a “specialist in clinical ecology and nutritional medicine“; and several trial lawyers known for representing parents suing for “vaccine injury,” lawyers such as Clifford Shoemaker, Kevin Conway, and Renee Gentry.

The Children and Their Families

Who are these families? All of them provide heart-wrenching stories of suffering, and one has suffered through the death of a baby. No one with an ounce of empathy could fail to be moved by at least two of these stories, if not all three. Unfortunately, it’s clear that the producers know that and use these sad tales intentionally to manipulate the emotions of the viewer. Early in the film we are introduced to Gabi Swank and her family. Gabi is a teen whose family, herself included, believes she was injured by the Gardasil vaccine. She is shown being a healthy, energetic cheerleader and then portrayed as having descended into a mass of medical problems, including seizures, neurological complaints, and many others, all as a result of the Gardasil vaccine. What’s rather interesting is that, nowhere in the film do they really state with much clarity exactly what it is that Gabi has, other than “vasculitis” and, more importantly, when her symptoms began relative to vaccination. I had to go searching, and I found that two years ago at the NVIC conference Barbara Loe Fisher and Gabi’s mother Shannon Schrag stated that Gabi was diagnosed with “central nervous system vasculitis and central nervous system lupus after receiving the third Gardasil injection.” I also found a YouTube video made about Gabi a while ago:

Throughout the film, Gabi is portrayed going to visits to doctors, going through all of her medications, looking ill. Perhaps the most heartbreaking segment of all portrays Gabi trying on various prom dresses, a huge smile on her face, only to develop severe back pain as she’s getting ready to actually go to the prom, necessitating a trip to the emergency room. Gabi laments during the car ride to the hospital how she has the “worst luck in the world,” and it’s hard not to agree. At the hospital, she is diagnosed with a kidney stone, which is presumed to be due to one of her medications. As a result, Gabi misses her prom and is devastated by it, saying to her mother that she is really sad that she has gone from being a princess to “look where I am now.” Who could help but feel for a girl in such a situation? Certainly not me. Later, as if things weren’t bad enough for Gabi, her mother is shown being forced to give up her house and describing how she’s getting a divorce, all because Gabi’s illness has left them with $100,000 in unpaid medical bills and placed so much stress on her marriage that her husband couldn’t take it anymore. The implication, of course, is that all of this is due to vaccines given to Gabi “for the greater good.”

Not surprisingly none of the questions over the timing of the development of Gabi’s symptoms are mentioned, which have been described in various news reports as beginning “within weeks” of her having received the third dose. Correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation, but in Gabi’s case it’s hard not to note that even the correlation seems pretty darned weak, maybe nonexistent. None of this, of course, is mentioned in the movie; Gabi’s and her mother’s unwavering belief that Gardasil caused her illness is accepted as Gospel, and it is pointed out that Gabi’s neurologist Dr. Dwight Lindholm has stated publicly that Gabi’s illness is due to Gardasil. How did Dr. Lindhlom come to that conclusion? It’s never really explained in the movie (or anywhere else that I could find), and apparently the filmmakers are hoping that no one realizes that just because a neurologist thinks that the vaccine caused Gabi’s illness doesn’t make it so. I feel sorry for Gabi because she has horrible health problems. I really do. No one should have to have such horrible health problems at such a young age. However, I just don’t see any good evidence that her current health problems are due to Gardasil.

Next up is Jordan King. Jordan is a 12-year-old boy with autism that his parents blame on vaccination. Even more than that, Jordan’s was one of the test cases for the Autism Omnibus proceedings. Even under the looser rules of evidence of the Vaccine Court, the Special Masters rejected the Kings’ claims of causation of Jordan’s autism by vaccines and rejected it conclusively in a well-written, well-reasoned decision. Indeed, the Special Master concluded:

This case, however, is not a close case. The overall weight of the evidence is overwhelmingly contrary to the petitioners’ causation theories. The result of this case would be the same even if I totally ignored the epidemiologic evidence. The result would be the same if I restricted my consideration to the evidence originally filed into the record of this King case, disregarding the additional “general causation” evidence imported from the Dwyer case. The petitioners’ evidence has been unpersuasive on many different points, concerning virtually all aspects of their causation theories, with each such deficiency having been discussed in detail above. The petitioners have failed to persuade me that there is validity to any of their general causation arguments, and have also failed to persuade me that there is any likelihood that Jordan’s thimerosal-containing vaccines contributed in any way to the causation of Jordan’s own autism. To the contrary, based upon all the evidence that I have reviewed, I find that it is extremely unlikely that Jordan’s autism was in any way causally connected to his thimerosal-containing vaccines.

In short, this is a case in which the evidence is so one-sided that any nuances in the interpretation of the causation case law would make no difference to the outcome of the case.

The filmmakers, although they mention that the Kings lost their case, downplay just how badly they lost and portray their defeat as part of the “conspiracy” to cover up vaccine injuries. This is true even though the Special Master pointed out:

I have kept all of these points in mind in deciding this case. I have not required a level of proof greater than “more probable than not,” which has also been described as “50 percent plus a feather.” I understand fully that petitioners are not claiming that Jordan’s thimerosal-containing vaccines were the sole cause of his autism, but are alleging only that such vaccines contributed to the causation of his autism, allegedly in concert with an underlying genetic vulnerability. I have looked beyond the epidemiologic evidence to determine whether the overall evidence — i.e., medical opinion, circumstantial evidence, and other evidence considered as a whole — tips the balance even slightly in favor of a causation showing as to Jordan’s autism.

Worse, in the documentary itself, the Kings describe how they took Jordan to a DAN! doctor, who did provoked urine heavy metal testing and claimed to find that Jordan’s mercury levels were very high. This doctor then told them that he was “mercury toxic” due to vaccines, an account that can also be found in the judgment.

The truth is that the Special Master went out of his way to be sympathetic to the Kings in his ruling, and it’s hard not to be sympathetic to them. They clearly love Jordan and have done the best they can to raise him, even with his autism and medical problems. In the documentary, they openly worry about what will become of Jordan after they die. Who will take care of him? What parent of a child with developmental disorders doesn’t wonder that? As loving and struggling as they are, though, the Kings are mistaken. They might believe that vaccines caused Jordan’s autism, but there is simply no evidence to support such a view.

Finally, the most difficult of all is the case of Dr. Stephanie Christner and her daughter Victoria Grace Boyd Christner, who died at five months of age. Again, it’s a horrible, horrible thing to lose a baby like this, one of the most horrible things in the world. However, as much as we might feel saddened by the story and sorry for the Christners, we have to stay as objective as possible when it comes to their claim of what killed their baby; i.e., vaccines. To put it simply, there just isn’t any evidence that vaccines led to the death of their child. Dr. Christner blames the death of her baby on a “slow reaction over time” to vaccines causing “chronic inflammation.” Christner tells a story of her child being vaccinated with “all the usual vaccines” at the age of two months and then “never being the same after that” within a week. Apparently, Victoria started to become more withdrawn, stop eating regularly, and ultimately had a seizure on December 15, 2008. From the obituary we can make some inferences. Victoria was born on August 22, 2008, meaning that her two month shots would have been administered in late October. So the seizure occurred nearly two months after vaccination. On December 23, Victoria received her next round of vaccinations, and then the movie jumps forward nearly two more months to the weekend of Valentine’s day, which is when Victoria, for unclear reasons, suddenly stopped breathing and died in what sounds rather like SIDS, although not enough information to know is presented.

This happened more than a month and a half after her last round of vaccines.

The scenes in which the Christners describe the death of their daughter are the most harrowing in the film. I almost cried while watching them describe the death of their daughter. However, that emotional reaction did not keep me from noticing that their story was also not particularly convincing even for a correlation between vaccination and the death of their baby, much less convincing for causation. We’re left with the Christners lamenting how they had “followed the rules” and ended up with a dead baby, interspersed with photos and home videos of a cherubic, happy baby, followed by Dr. Bob Sears claiming that a lot of doctors try to convince their patients that vaccines are 100% safe.

Truly, the cynicism of the filmmakers (and Dr. Sears) is beyond belief.

The “Experts” vs. the Experts

Interspersed between the vignettes from the families, we find the classic battle of “experts” versus experts; i.e., pseudoexperts versus real experts. On the real expert side, we have people like Dr. Paul Offit, who is, as I like to say, known among anti-vaccine activists as the Dark Lord of Vaccination; Dr. Melinda Wharton of the CDC, and others who valiantly try to promote the science-based view of vaccines. They are, unfortunately, overwhelmed by anti-vaccine propaganda. In fact, the film is a classic case of a “manufactroversy,” which is a favorite denialist technique to give the impression that there is a legitimate scientific controversy when in fact there is none. The questions about whether vaccines are safe and effective, whether vaccines cause autism, whether they cause all the neurological and developmental disorders attributed to them, and whether they cause asthma and other diseases related to the immune system are not controversial in science. They don’t. However, by pairing anti-vaccine doctors and one anti-vaccine scientist with scientists who support current science, the filmmakers, quite intentionally I believe, give the viewer the impression that there is a real scientific controversy over these issues, as much as Dr. Offit, Dr. Wharton, and others labor to try to explain that there is not. Add to that the nakedly emotionally manipulative use of Gabi Swank, Jordan King, and the Christners mourning their dead baby, and it is very clear what the filmmakers’ message is. It’s not a message based on good science, particularly given how often hoary old straw men are trotted out to be knocked down, strawmen like the complaint that “vaccines can’t be questioned,” which is utter nonsense that is easily debunked simply by pointing to the conflicting scientific literature on the efficacy flu vaccines in the elderly.

Indeed, the movie is could easily be described as an anti-vaccine talking points greatest hits. At various points in the movie, “experts” call for a “vaxed versus unvaxed” study, even a randomized study of vaccinated children versus those receiving placebos. I kid you not. No less a luminary than Dr. Sears himself called for this in the movie, but he was not alone. Many, but by no means all, of these anti-vaccine talking points come from a “holistic” pediatrician named Dr. Lawrence B. Palesky, whose website touts his “holistic advantage” and describes Dr. Palevsky thusly:

In using his “whole child” wellness philosophy, Dr. Palevsky recommends and incorporates the teachings and therapies of nutritional science, acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, chiropractic, osteopathy, cranial-sacral therapy, environmental medicine, homeopathy, and essential oils, along with natural healing modalities such as aromatherapy, yoga, Reiki, meditation, reflexology, and mindfulness.

Is it any surprise that Dr. Palevsky comes across in the movie very much as being “anti-vaccine”? Of course not. He even writes articles for the NVIC. It’s also no surprise that Dr. Palevsky spends much of his time on The Greater Good promoting a litany of anti-vaccine pseudoscience, including the “toxins” gambit, conspiracy mongering about pharmaceutical companies, and claims that vaccines aren’t adequately tested. Late in the movie, he’s even shown speaking to the American College for Advancement in Medicine (ACAM) and using the most brain dead of anti-vaccine gambits, namely claiming that because mortality from various infectious diseases was falling before vaccines for those diseases were introduced it must mean that vaccines are useless. It’s the very same intellectually dishonest gambit that Raymond Obomsawin made himself famous for. Elsewhere in the film, Dr. Palevsky is shown speaking to a bunch of parents talking about how amazed he was to discover that there was mercury, aluminum, formaldehyde, antibiotics, and preservatives in vaccines, all gambits that we’ve discussed many, many times on this blog.

In fact, if there are any remaining doubts that Dr. Sears has finally allied himself with the anti-vaccine camp (we gave him the benefit of the doubt when Dr. Snyder deconstructed his Vaccine Book a while back), this documentary should put them to rest, because right after the scene with Dr. Palevsky promoting the “toxin” gambit to parents we’re treated to Dr. Bob saying:

You would think that the FDA would take each of those ingredients and then study them in human infants to make sure that each of those ingredients is safe. Well, they haven’t done that. They’ve never taken vaccine quantities of each of those ingredients and done the safety testing to confirm that each one of those ingredients is safe.

Given that vaccines as a whole are extensively studied in infants and that we have longstanding historical evidence of vaccine safety, this “toxins” gambit is nothing more than a ploy that (1) appeals to the fear of chemicals with complicated, nasty-sounding names; (2) plays on the scientific ignorance of the American public, many of whom don’t understand the concept of dose-response and think that it’s possible to eliminate nasty chemicals completely; and (3) produces an intentionally impractical regulatory hurdle that vaccines must overcome, as each and every component, seemingly, must be studied individually in individual clinical trials, regardless of existing evidence. One wonders if Sears realizes the implication of his argument. Would we have to test the buffer solution that is used for safety, even though it’s usually something like phosphate-buffered normal saline? Or what about formaldehyde, which is a normal byproduct of metabolism and is present in vaccines at levels far below what is already in the infant’s body to begin with? Sears, whether he realizes it or not, is parroting a common anti-vaccine talking point that screams “vaccines contain ingredients known to cause cancer and death.”

Another doctor trotted out in this documentary as an “expert” is Dr. John Green III, who is described as having been “been in medical practice for 36 years with a background in emergency, family practice, environmental and holistic medicine and allergies.” He embarrasses himself by whining about how producers from FRONTLINE didn’t use any of the footage of his interview for The Vaccine War. In this, he sounds very much like Dr. Jay Gordon. In fact, one wonders why Dr. Jay didn’t show up as one of the anti-vaccine “experts” used by the filmmakers. Later, a neuroscientist named Christopher Shaw, who is apparently revered in anti-vaccine circles for doing experiments in mice that suggest that aluminum is toxic, is shown saying that we’re all living in a “toxic” soup and that vaccines are part of that soup, all overlaid with a cartoon, a couple of images from which I’ve captured as screen shots:

Other “experts” fall more into a gray area. For example, Diane Harper is well known in anti-vaccine circles. An investigator in the original clinical trials for Gardasil, she has apparently turned against the Gardasil vaccine. Although she was apparently misquoted in the past, as reported by Ben Goldacre, in this movie, the mask appears to drop, with Harper castigating Merck and speaking at the NVIC conference in 2009, telling the audience she will “show you the science.” Particularly annoying is how she is represented as the “lead researcher” for the Gardasil trials when in fact she was simply an investigator at one of the sites at which the original trials of Gardasil were conducted. There is a huge difference. Dr. Harper has also stated unequivocally in the past that “I fully support the HPV vaccines. I believe that in general they are safe in most women.” One can’t help but wonder whether she’s now changed her mind. At least, I wonder based on the segments of her interview that made the final cut, whether she still believes this, as her statements in the movie appear to go far beyond her previous mostly reasonable complaints that the vaccine has been “over-marketed” by Merck.

Finally, there’s Barbara Loe Fisher, the grande dame of anti-vaccinationism herself, who probably gets more screen time than just about anyone else. She tries to portray herself as being “moderate,” and I suppose that, compared to the more radical anti-vaccine zealots, she might be described that way, but that’s not saying much. As I’ve documented before, her website and her vaccine conferences are cesspools of anti-vaccine pseudoscience, and so is the vast majority of what she says in this documentary. Basically, she repeats the same anti-vaccine nonsense that she’s been repeating for nearly 30 years, all while laboring mightily to try to present herself as a “moderate” who is “attacked by both sides” and complaining that “advocates like myself” are “demonized.”

There might have been a time back in the 1980s when Barbara Loe Fisher was not truly anti-vaccine and really was a “vaccine safety advocate.” That day is long past. All it takes is a look at her website to demonstrate that. In fact, I’d love to ask Fisher personally what specific vaccines she recommends. If she were truly a “vaccine safety advocate,” she’d have ideas of which vaccines are safe and which ones aren’t. Never is heard from her, anymore anyway, anything other than attacks on each and every vaccine. None of them, apparently, are “safe enough” to earn the NVIC seal of approval and all of them, to the NVIC, cause horrific complications. Perhaps that’s why ambulance-chasing “vaccine injury” attorneys like Kevin Conway and Clifford Shoemaker are featured, the latter of whom is known for raking in money hand over fist from the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program and threatening bloggers who point out that he makes tons of money from the VICP.

Speaking of trial lawyers, they are also prominently featured in this movie. In fact, another particularly revealing scene takes place near the one hour mark in the movie. In this scene, several of the lawyers featured in the documentary are filmed in a restaurant discussing the VICP. The scene is preceded by complaints from various principals about how the VICP protects vaccine manufacturers from legal liability by forcing litigants to go through the Vaccine Court first, including a scene in which Fisher laments how vaccine manufacturers have “no accountability.” Then we see Kevin Conway holding court with his fellow trial lawyers, saying:

It just amazes me what the government does to protect the integrity of vaccines. It can be anything but the vaccine. They feel as though their job is to keep immunization rates up, and if you legitimize vaccine claims, then you’re saying, yeah, there are vaccine injuries, and they can never say that.

Of course, the very existence of the VICP is an admission that there are sometimes vaccine injuries, as is the existence of so-called “table injuries,” which, if a child demonstrates one of these conditions in close temporal association with vaccination, result in automatic compensation. To the lawyers, the problem is not that the government doesn’t concede that there are vaccine injuries. If that were the case, then the VICP wouldn’t exist and no one would ever receive compensation. The problem is that the government insists that complainants use a special court in which lawyers can’t go for huge contingency payoffs and, even worse to the lawyers, that there be some science behind claims of vaccine injury. These lawyers are in my opinion notorious for relying on bad science and pseudoscience to try to win their claims. None of this prevents Conway from stating baldly that he believes that it’s all a “conspiracy,” although he concedes that “it’s a conspiracy to do good” by keeping vaccination rates up.

Finally, if you want to see additional “experts,” the ones who apparently were responsible for the medical and scientific content of the film, all you have to do is to wait until the very end of the closing credits, where it is stated that “this film was vetted by Dr. Lawrence D. Rosen, MD, FAAP and Dr. Yehuda Shoenfeld, MD, FRCP for scientific and medical accuracy.”

This explains a lot.

Who is Dr. Rosen? He’s an “integrative” pediatrician who is chair-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Complementary and Integrative Medicine, Clinical Assistant Professor in Pediatrics at UMDNJ/New Jersey Medical School (ack, my old stomping grounds!), and Chief of Pediatric Integrative Medicine at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center, as well as medical advisor to the Deirdre Imus Environmental Center. He also writes The Whole Child blog. All one has to do is to search his blog, and one will find that Dr. Rosen opposes vaccine mandates, in particular mandates for the flu vaccine and Gardasil and appears to believe that thimerosal causes autism (although he is very careful to be vague on this issue). Worse, he was a featured speaker at a notorious anti-vaccine conference in Jamaica in January, sharing the bill with the likes of fellow “experts” Barbara Loe Fisher, Dr. Palevsky, Dr. Russell Blaylock (who is an all purpose medical crank and, like many all purpose medical cranks, anti-vaccine), Dr. Shiv Chopra (who is anti-vaccine to the core), Dr. Richard Deth (who was an expert witness for the plaintiffs at the Autism Omnibus proceeding), Raymond Obamsawin (mentioned above), and, yes, Andrew Wakefield himself. It turns out that Dr. Yehuda Schoenfeld spoke at the very same conference with Dr. Rosen and has himself been involved in dubious vaccine-autism science, in particular involving Mark and David Geier in his journal.

It all makes sense now why this movie is so bad.

Whither autism?

For all its anti-vaccine talking points, The Greater Good does bring up an issue that I find rather curious and, quite frankly, amusing, and this issue comes from Barbara Loe Fisher herself. This most revealing statement from her comes twice, first early in the movie and then late in the movie, when she repeats it. Basically, Fisher argues that vaccine injury is “not just about autism” and late in the movie even goes so far as to say:

In the last decade, the conversation has shifted from one looking at the broad issues concerned with vaccine safety and vaccine policies to focusing on autism. And I believe it was an error that’s had serious consequences. The truth is, it’s become very easy to dismiss the entire vaccine safety issue by focusing on autism and vaccines.

While she says this, an image of Jenny McCarthy on Larry King Live! is briefly flashed on the screen coincident with the phrase “serious consequences.” Besides wondering if Barbara Loe Fisher is exhibiting a bit of envy over how McCarthy and Generation Rescue have grabbed the spotlight, I also wonder if Fisher realizes that she is implicitly admitting that vaccines do not cause autism. After all, if there were strong scientific, clinical, and epidemiological evidence in existence that vaccines do cause autism, then I fail to see how focusing on autism would make it “very easy” to dismiss the entire vaccine safety issue. In fact, if I were anti-vaccine and such evidence existed, I’d trumpet it to high heaven as my strongest argument that vaccines were harmful. Yet, here we have Fisher bemoaning how the vaccine/autism connection has taken over and made it easy to dismiss her and her fellow anti-vaccine activists as cranks. The amusing thing (to me, at least) is that Fisher apparently doesn’t recognize that her argument implicitly admits that the evidence that vaccines, or components of vaccines, cause autism is nonexistent or at best incredibly weak and that there is lots of evidence that they do not.

The Filmmaker

Finally, it’s interesting to take a look at the filmmaker, namely producer Leslie Manookian Bradshaw, who appears to have dropped the “Bradshaw” of late. It turns out that Bradshaw appears to be a homeopath, as I discovered when I first heard of this movie several months ago. At least, that’s what she lists her occupation as in her political campaign contributions. Interestingly, I distinctly remember that she used to have her training in homeopathy listed in her filmmaker bio page several months ago, but it’s not there anymore. Unfortunately, I didn’t save it. Whether she is a homeopath or not (it would be very coincidental if there were another Leslie Bradshaw in Ketchum, ID who just so happens to list her profession as a “self-employed homeopath, but you never know), Manookian has been known to show up at other blogs to post anti-vaccine views, as she did here and here. Perhaps SBM will be fortunate enough for her to do the same here. Interestingly, now that the movie is out, Manookian appears to be trying to hide her previous activity. Gone are any references to homeopathy on her website. Gone in particular is the “take action” page, which is now no longer publicly accessible, but used to contain content like:

Take Action/Goals of the Film:

  1. Open the hearts and minds of individuals to the reality that vaccine injuries occur.
  2. Encourage parents to talk with doctors about vaccine safety before making informed decisions.
  3. Demand independent vaccine safety research before approval and licensure by the FDA.
  4. Hold pharmaceutical companies accountable when vaccines cause harm.
  5. Petition for philosophical exemptions from mandatory vaccinations in all 50 states.
  6. End the FDA’s fast-tracking of childhood vaccinations.

VACCINE INFORMATION SOURCES:

  • Mercola.com
  • Mothering.com
  • NVIC – National Vaccine Information Center
  • Pathways to Family Wellness
  • The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
  • TheVaccineBook.com by Dr. Bob Sears
  • GOVERNMENT AGENCIES:
  • ACIP – Advisory Committee On Immunization Practices- Creates the CDC’s recommended vaccine schedule and promotes the increased use of vaccines.
  • CDC – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention- Protects the public health, promotes vaccines and monitors safety of vaccines.
  • FDA – Food and Drug Administration- Regulates all pharmaceutical products including vaccines to protect public health.
  • NVICP – National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program- Compensates those injured or killed by a vaccines.
  • VAERS – Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System National vaccine safety surveillance program.

Yes, Manookian used to list Mercola.com as the very first source for vaccine information, along with Mothering.com. Now, its resource page lists the American Academy of Pediatrics first, but still lists Mercola.com, Mothering.com, and the NVIC website.

Unfortunately, The Greater Good, which could have been a provocative debate about current vaccine policy based on asking which vaccines are necessary and why, in the end opts to be nothing more than pure anti-vaccine propaganda of the lowest and most vile sort. It give the pretense of “balance” by including prominent pro-vaccine scientists, but in the end it is very clear where the message of the movie lies, particularly given the three main families profiled in the film. Worse, from correspondence with a couple of the pro-vaccine doctors interviewed in the movie, to me it appears that the resemblance between this movie and Expelled! is more than just its denialist tendencies in that the filmmakers apparently were less than straightforward with scientists about their viewpoint when interviewing them. All of this leads me to conclude that The Greater Good is to vaccines what Expelled! was to evolution: Science denialist propaganda of the most blatant sort.

Posted in: Science and the Media, Vaccines

Leave a Comment (25) ↓

25 thoughts on “The Greater Good: Pure, unadulterated anti-vaccine propaganda masquerading as a “balanced” documentary

  1. kathy says:

    Any more news about that anti-vaccination advert on Delta Airlines? I’ve posted my reaction to it as well as the link on Facebook, so my friends at least will be exposed to a critical reaction from someone they know (and hopefully trust!). I’d suggest everyone that uses Facebook do the same.

  2. I’m hoping someone can provide me with more details regarding the “slow reaction over time” in the case of the 5 month old. Can someone please explain to me exactly why this isn’t possible and how soon does a reaction have to happen in order to be considered a “vaccine injury”?

    I’m VERY VERY glad this rebuttal was posted, a friend sent me this video and it honestly scared me because it was SO slick at appearing to be neutral, I can see that anyone who isn’t well-versed in the science behind vaccines can be taken in by this video. It’s very scary. Thank you!

  3. geack says:

    @angie,

    If you click the “SBM TOPIC-BASED REFERENCE” tab at the top right of this page, and then browse through the Vaccines and Vaccines and Autism sections, you’ll find a ton of information about the different types of bad reasoning that lead to needless fears about vaccines.

    A partial answer to your “slow reaction over time” question is “No”, no one can explain exactly why this isn’t possible. What you must remember is that no one can explain why it IS possible, either. That poor doctor who lost her child has basically invented an explanation for the child’s death with zero evidence for her explanation. I haven’t seen the movie, but similar arguments are made by other anti-vax people, and so far none of them have provided any useful explanation of how these cumulative or time-delayed reactions are supposed to occur within the body.

    Probably the most basic and important concept taught here (and in science in general) is that an argument presented without evidence (or at least a plausible explanation of how one would obtain evidence) is useless if we’re trying to get to the truth of what really DOES happen. What we know for sure is that vaccines have been used on huge numbers of people for a very long time, the overall impact on our health has been hugely positive, and there are mechanisms in place to identify and help with the rare situations in which legitimate bad reactions occur. No one is being muzzled, no truths are being hidden.

    I’ve learned an enormous amount on this site; hopefully you will, too. Once you get a sense here of how people interested in the truth assess various arguments and what to look for in evaluating whether a particular piece of information is trustworthy, you’ll find that the internet is a much less scary (but maybe more dishonest-looking) place.

  4. They had the immortal cheek to try and get funding for this via Kickstarter too, while genuine documentaries were getting refused by Kickstarter (can’t remember which film, unfortunately). The trailer there was even more sickeningly anti-vax, with the girl being presented unquestioningly as a Gardasil victim.

  5. Quill says:

    How charming! A perfect holiday film to show at a “pox party.” The homeopropagandist filmaker seems particularly sneaky using things like that screen capture of “toxic soup” to drive points that otherwise could not exist in reality. When science and reality don’t support your notions, draw a cartoon! If you can’t find it out in the world or under a microscope, make a cutesy animation every kid will love!

    The other folks that made this disinformation were mighty impressed with things like Star Wars, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Not being able to gin up any evidence in this universe, they decided to create an alternate one, in which Ms. Fisher is a “moderate,” Barry Sears is an “expert” and only natural goodness and purity are allowed while all “toxins” are removed from nose (“immune-supporting” nasal sprays) to tail (colon cleansing.) Oh, and of course, jabs/shots/immunizations are part of the Evil Empire, Voldermort’s plan to kill the muggles, and/or Made in Mordor by the One Big Pharma Ring to Poison Them All.

    I’ve heard it said (actually, I’ve said it myself) that if you don’t have the science and evidence to back up your point of view, in order to persuade someone, make a movie.

    I’ve head this notion is being added to many a truism, including the law. “If you can’t argue the law, argue the facts. If you can’t argue the facts, argue the law. If you can’t do either, make a movie.”

  6. ConspicuousCarl says:

    Barbara Loe Fisher said:

    In the last decade, the conversation has shifted from one looking at the broad issues concerned with vaccine safety and vaccine policies to focusing on autism. And I believe it was an error that’s had serious consequences. The truth is, it’s become very easy to dismiss the entire vaccine safety issue by focusing on autism and vaccines.

    It sounds like B-Lo might be blundering her way into writing a guide to making untestable claims. How strange it is that when you are nailed to a specific claim, you look like an idiot, but when you stick to “broad issues” you can avoid being proved wrong.

  7. ConspicuousCarl says:

    And yes, I will be calling her B-Lo indefinitely.

  8. stanmrak says:

    classic pot vs. kettle.

  9. David Gorski says:

    Says our “anti aging, nutrition, and disease prevention” guru, whose mentors are “Dr. Richard Passwater, Gary Null, Dr. Joseph Mercola, Mike Adams at Natural News and Dr. Russell Blaylock.”

  10. ConspicuousCarl says:

    “stanmrak” also shows up to peddle nonsense every time someone on the Internet mentions WiFi. In case anyone is keeping a list.

  11. Braxton611 says:

    Yesterday I actually watched this horrible thing. My first face-palm occurred when Dr. Palevsky claimed that there was no way for a newborn to get hepatitis B. That was only five minutes in. I don’t know how I made it through with my sanity intact. I told my wife that if I watched it with no prior knowledge I would be terrified. Luckily there are sites like this that set the record straight.

    I decided to visit the official facebook page for the movie, and it looks like it is a case of preaching to the converted, because with the exception of my self and one or two others, it is all people who were already strongly anti-vaccine when they watched it. I linked to this article a couple of times, but I doubt any of them will step outside the echo chamber long enough to read it.

    The link if anyone is interested:http://www.facebook.com/greatergoodmovie

    To anyone else that watched this, were you as distracted by Barbara Loe Fisher’s crazy eyes as I was? yowzers

  12. ConspicuousCarl says:

    I haven’t watched it yet. I usually try to watch and read the full version of most nutty things so I can feel like I know everything they have to say, instead of just going by other people’s summaries.

    But I am dreading this one more than usual. Somehow the anti-vaccine people make me want to punch a duck more than other nutters. It would make sense if they angered me more because of the fact that their nonsense kills babies, but I don’t think that really explains it all. I think they have a unique style which irks me so.

  13. Braxton611 says:

    I’m the same way with looking at the stuff from both sides. It’s easier to argue when you already know what they are going to say.

    The ant-vaxers really get to me, too. It frustrates me how they can have hard facts in front of them and still fall back to the same arguments. I don’t know haw many times I have explained that there is a difference between ethyl and methyl mercury, and it is ignored every time.

    I think what irks me the most is when they say things like “I don’t care about the science, I still believe vaccines are harmful.”. What they can’t seem to grasp is belief shouldn’t be a factor in a scientific argument. Either the evidence supports it or it doesn’t.

  14. stanmrak says:

    Actually, I usually come here when I need a good laugh.

  15. Chris says:

    Which you often provide in great quantity, dear supplement shill.

  16. Concerning the baby with chronic inflammation: the big question is: if the shots cause chronic inflammation, why don’t all infants get chronic inflammation?

  17. lizditz says:

    Oh boy. I think Jeannette Catsoulis at the New York Times might have read this post

    This is the film’s fundamental flaw. Though appearing to present both sides of the debate — with most of the scientific water being carried by the infectious disease specialist Dr. Paul Offit — a cost-benefit analysis is completely ignored. Also elided are the mostly forgotten horrors of measles, mumps, chickenpox and polio: instead of lingering at a graveside with grieving parents who believe vaccines killed their baby girl, perhaps the filmmakers could have unearthed some footage of children encased in iron lungs.

    Such images would have been consistent with their strategy, though not their emotional agenda, which relies heavily on fudging, anecdotal evidence and blatant grandstanding. Carefully excluding critical information that might challenge its sympathies, “The Greater Good” does a disservice both to the suffering of the few and to the public health needs of the many.

  18. kainos says:

    This is a must-see rap video made by some docs about vaccines:
    http://zdoggmd.com/2011/02/immunize/

    I love all his videos. He even has one about Dr. Oz :)

  19. rork says:

    http://www.omsj.org/ put up a review of this film that is way over the top in the opposite direction, and may make interesting reading for students of propaganda, or those wishing to write satire. The author, Celia Farber, who maybe famous as a HIV denialist, is battling totalitarianism, you see. Her logical and factual errors are many and great, but there’s no use commenting I figure.

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