Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Courts Immune to Anti-Vaccine Lobby

Girl receiving injection

The anti-vaccination lobby has been dealt some crucial blows in the US courts.

By Peter Bowditch

The anti-vaccination lobby has been dealt some crucial blows in the US courts.

Two days before Christmas last year, Barbara Loe Fisher of the National Vaccination Information Center (NVIC) sued Dr Paul Offit, journalist Amy Wallace and publisher Condé Nast because an article in Wired magazine had hurt her feelings by suggesting that she is sometimes careless about the truth.

It is worth mentioning that on many occasions she has accused Dr Offit of being corrupt and caring more about money than the health of children. In a bizarre example of irony, she followed up 3 weeks later by calling for a free discussion of vaccination issues in an apparent attempt to redefine the meaning of the word “free” in the context of free speech

It was fully expected that the law would move at its normal glacial pace, but in the middle of March this year the court dismissed the action because Fisher and her powerful lawyer were not able to even establish that any cause for the suit existed. In the words of the court, she couldn’t produce a “statement of fact that is capable of being proven true or false”.

At the time of writing, no mention of the case’s dismissal has appeared on the NVIC website or in any of the forums where Fisher announced the suit. However, the NVIC site still contained prominent misinformation about the dangers of vaccines – the reason for the original comments in Wired.

In another case of the law moving faster than anyone expected, in March the United States Court of Federal Claims – Office of Special Masters handed down decisions related to three rulings made by Special Masters in February 2009. The cases involved almost 5000 claims for compensation for damage caused by vaccination.

Apart from the enrichment of lawyers, the huge number of claims lodged had two objectives. The first was to tie the courts up for years, during which time anti-vaccination liars could continually bleat about how the evil pharmaceutical companies were being sued. The second objective was based on the assumption that the courts would be influenced by sad tales of broken children and would award huge amounts of compensation, further enriching lawyers while simultaneously bankrupting the US vaccine compensation scheme (and providing much fodder for lying media campaigns).

The courts saw through these objectives, and in what became known as the Autism Omnibus Case, asked the lawyers to nominate the three best cases they had, cases which were so obviously winners that the courts would accept them. These cases were then each assigned to a Special Master, with the understanding that these test cases must be found to show scientific evidence of a connection between vaccination and autism before any other case would be heard.

In February 2009 all three test cases were rejected by the Special Masters, effectively ending the attempt to abuse the courts to further the agenda of the antivaccination industry. Special mention was made of the incompetence and mendacity of several of the witnesses proposed and called by the claimants, with several heroes of the anti-vaccination movement declared to be deceitful and/or acting well outside their areas of expertise and competence.

The reaction of the ant-vaccinationists was predictable, ranging from ridiculing and defaming the Special Masters to simply ignoring the fact that any rulings had been made or any criticism of the “scientific” heroes offered. It was business-as-usual in the anti-vaccination trade.

In March 2010 all appeals were rejected. If people want to prove that vaccinations cause autism they have to produce more scientific evidence than they brought into these court sessions. Courts are often influenced by sentiment and public opinion in cases involving sick children, but in these cases the courts ruled that the kids might have problems but nobody was going to get money by claiming that the vaccinations caused the problems.

And what are the anti-vaccination liars saying about this latest slap-down? Well, so far I have been told that the courts are obviously in the pay of Big Pharma and that anybody who trusts the government is a fool because everybody knows that mercury in vaccines causes autism.

Like I said, it’s business as usual, but that’s what happens when people don’t care even a little bit about the truth.

Peter Bowditch is Immediate Past President of Australian
Skeptics Inc. (www.skeptics.com.au).