The XX Factor

Libel Laws Will Protect “Wired”-So Why Would Anti-Vaccers Sue?

Amanda , I absolutely agree with you that it will be a disaster if Barbara Fisher’s lawsuit against Wired magazine, Dr. Offit, and Amy Wallace succeeds in court. Happily, it’s not likely-our libel laws grow out of a very different legal philosophy from those in the U.K., and if anything, it looks like Britain might be changing . What worries me is that the lawsuit might succeed in silencing the debate regardless of the verdict, and that’s why I think Fisher-whether she means well or not-should, as one commenter said, ” regret opening this Pandora’s box .”

There are three kinds of people interested in the discussion over the safety of vaccinations: those who feel strongly one way or the other already (that would be, I believe, the airhead zealots and the scare-tactic wielding minions of Uncle Sam) and those who-because they have very young children, because they’re about to have very young children or for other reasons, are trying to make a decision. What helps? Articles like the Wired piece that’s the subject of this lawsuit, Time magazine’s debate between their science editor and Jenny McCarthy, or CBS News’ look at who funds the most commonly quoted vaccination advocates . What doesn’t help? Lawsuits.

In all honesty, I probably bent over backwards trying not to promote a flame war so that we could talk about the lawsuit, not vaccinations. (Full disclosure: Not only are all of my kids fully vaccinated, but we went in for flu and H1N1 shots too, and if it were up to me, everybody else would too. Vaccinations don’t cause autism . But after Vioxx and thalidomide, I’d never argue that the FDA and pharmaceutical companies are enough to keep drugs safe and I want Fisher to be heard, too.)

You picked up an important point: Why is Fisher bothering, and who has enough financial interest to support her in making this case? But I don’t think we know the answer. I have copped before to being willing to think well of people and I want to think Fisher and her lawyer are true believers with the best interest of children at heart. Plus, I can’t find any sign of either of them being involved, as commenter ZoeCat suggested , in making money off anti-vaccination products. But without some motive I can’t see, I don’t get this. Fisher needs the likes of Paul Offit and Wired to add fuel to her fire, and she needs mainstream media to cover this issue, so using that Brit tactic is bound to backfire for her.