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The Anti-Vaccine Playbook: Freedom of Speech

by Eric Hall

October 4, 2014

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Donate Writer's Note: I wanted to write my own collection of nonsense spewed by pseudoscience peddlers. I will be starting with vaccines, but I may expand it into other topics as well at some point. I want to provide short examples of the arguments made by those who don't understand science, and I will compile the links into a separate post after I get a few done, and then continue to add links to that post as I add more. I hope it is helpful!

The loudest voices, no matter how few, are often the ones that get heard the most. In the world of vaccines, celebrities who blame vaccines for all sorts of conditions are given an disproportionately largeplatform fromwhich to speak about their denial of science. Social media also gives a large presence, with people like the Food Babe, Natural News, Mercola, and others watching their message of fear spread like wildfire. Occasionally, the science side does speak up, like in the case of the insurance company State Farm dropping ads featuring anti-vaccine actor Rob Schneider.

When someone from the anti-vaccine position is denied a platform to speak, or has one taken from them due to the protests of science supporters, one of the claims made by some is that such censuresconstitute a violation of someone's right to free speech. Most of you know this isn't the case, but let's review the amendment in its entirety just so we can be clear:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
I do not have to let you speak in my home. A journalist is not obligated tointerview you, nor broadcast or print your message simply because you request it. Free speech only means the government cannot tell you as an individual what you can say, it doesn't mean it can force someone to listen.

While the freedom to speak by the Constitution only concerns government involvement, an interesting point comes out concerning platforms, especially in the age of modern communication. Websites are very inexpensive, and there are several free blogging platforms that only require Internet access for one to get started. If you really want a platform to express your views, that's easy. But what about the conversation between opposing viewpoints? Isn't that one of the best ways to learn and uncover biases in the interpretation of information? Should people with other views be allowed to speak on a platform where the opposite viewpoint is largely held?

Take a look at other posts on the Skeptoid Blog. Check out other science-based and skepticism-based blogs such as Science Based Medicine, Bad Astronomy, or Skeptical Science(and many others). Go to the comments section. What you will notice on these pages is comments that will disagree with the science discussed in the various blogs. Most comments with the opposite viewpoint are addressed by the author or other commenters. A few are left to stand on their own. At Skeptoid, we rarely delete comments unless they are a personal attack or similar without anything which addresses the original post or another comment. Even though we are not required to allow these viewpoints to be hosted on theseplatforms, most science blogs allow them so the science can help show us a better estimation of the truth.

Now look at the Food Babe, Modern Alternative Mama, Natural News, and Mercola sites (if you dare). Look at their social media channels. Comments thatdisagree with their viewpoint are removed, usually pretty quickly. Wouldn't this raise a red flag? Yet there are not cries of allowing the free speech of dissenting views on those sites.

I personally have been banned from commenting on Mercola's site, because I politely suggested that his article on the vaccine-autism link was mistaken and posted links to several studies which showed pretty definitively that there is no link. My comments were removed and I was banned from commenting. Rather than make fake profiles and continue to post, I wrote the editor of the website and asked why I was removed and what I needed to do if I wanted to comment again. I was told my comments were not contributing to the conversation, and if I wanted to comment I could e-mail my messageto them and they would consider posting itif it was deemed helpful to the discussion. I didn't ever try this method; I can say with a high degree of certainty it would be a waste of time.

Free speech is not the same as being free to say whatever you wantwherever you desire. Removing a person from an ad, not running an ad, not allowing a comment, or any other form of platform control by an individual or organization does not constitute a first amendment violation. My stopping you from using my platform to speak your mind is a form of speech for me.

However, more communication, not less is the key to learning. The anti-science crowd should look really hard at their echo-chambers. Why is it only the pro-science side that shows comments that do not support the scientific position? If you really want to support free speech, you should seek out more open forums, not ones thatonly reflect your currently formed opinion. Only then can you either strengthen your opinion, or change it in the face of new evidence. Welcome to the world of science.

by Eric Hall

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