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Anus MaximusComment and Opinion

National Vaccine Information Center

The National Vaccine Information Center and its founder, Barbara Loe Fisher, took out the prestigious Anus Maximus Award for 2009 in the 2009 Millenium Awards. The award citation read:

Competition was intense for the top award in 2009, but the victory and the Anus Maximus Award finally went to Barbara Loe Fisher and NVIC in recognition of the many tears of service Ms Fisher has put into the campaign to harm children by putting them at risk of deadly and disabling diseases. Her efforts are not restricted to endangering children, though. A few years back she was leading the effort to prevent research into a vaccine to prevent AIDS and she has been very vocal recently in the lying campaign to discredit the vaccine against the human papilloma virus, so she has no problem sentencing gay men or mature women to death. They can be added to the collateral damage of the children who would die if she were to have her wishes granted. The NVIC regularly holds public meetings which feature the luminaries of anti-vaccination lying like the discredited Andrew Wakefield and the incompetent chemist Boyd Haley and these people are treated as authorities who might have something worthwhile to say.

The final thing which caused the judges to put Ms Fisher into first place was her reaction to a magazine article in which her truthfulness was questioned. Her reaction was not to provide evidence to refute the claim but to sue the magazine publisher, the article author and a prominent doctor. She followed this action by an appeal for a frank and open conversation between vaccine supporters and opponents. Hypocrisy like this should not go unrewarded, and this action convinced the judges that she and her organisation were worthy winners of the 2009 Anus Maximus Award.

Dear Ms Fisher,

Congratulations. You and the NVIC have won the Anus Maximus Award for 2009, the highest award presented annually by The Millenium Project. You are in excellent company, as previous winners include Dr Joe Mercola, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights and Benny Hinn Ministries. The judges were particularly impressed by your call for a free and open dialogue just after you sued someone for hurting your feelings. The award citation read:

[see above]

Please feel free to publicise your award and display the award logo on your web site. If you wish to collect the physical prize (a tube of haemorrhoid cream and a wire brush applicator) you can do so at your own expense, but please give me sufficient notice so that I can organise the location for the public application of the cream and the accompanying media coverage.

You can see the other award winners at

Anti-vaccination liar sues (4/1/2010)
When your argument is poor or backed by no science or truth, a useful way of responding to criticism is to attempt to stifle the criticism. It is axiomatic that the arguments put forward by anti-vaccination liars are poor and unscientific, so it comes as no surprise to find that Barbara Loe Fisher of the deceptively-named National Vaccine Information Center should respond to criticism of her and her child-endangering activities by calling in the lawyers. She is suing Dr Paul Offit, journalist Amy Wallace and Condé Nast (publishers of Wired magazine) for telling the truth about vaccines. You can read the legal filing here. The article in Wired which so offended Ms Fisher can be seen here.

I'm not a lawyer, but I suspect that Ms Fisher is not taking action to recover damages or to protect her reputation (which is that of a promoter of disease, death and disability anyway), but to silence the defendants, cost them money, and divert their time from their real jobs to spending time in court.

I have been told that people classified as "public figures" have a limited ability to sue for defamation in the US, and this fact (if it is a fact) is continually presented to me by quackonauts as a reason for certain opponents of quackery losing defamation actions they have brought against those who would prefer to attack them rather than debate them. If "comment about a public figure" is really a useful defence tactic, then Ms Fisher could be setting herself up to lose by explicitly declaring herself to be a public figure. Consider these words from Paragraph 1 of the complaint:

Plaintiff Barbara Loe Fisher is the cofounder and acting president of the National Vaccine Information Center ("NVIC"). NVIC is a non-profit organization founded in 1982 and dedicated to the prevention of vaccine injuries and deaths through public education and to defending each patient's right to voluntary, fully informed consent to vaccination. Publicly active on issues concerning mandatory vaccination and harms linked to vaccines for the past 28 years, Plaintiff Fisher is a public interest advocate, public speaker, media source for information about mandatory vaccination and harms linked to vaccines, and author of books and articles. She has been consulted repeatedly by public health agencies, including those of the federal government agencies, on those same issues.

That certainly sounds like a prominent public figure to me.

Then there's the matter of jurisdiction. Ms Fisher is suing in the state of Virginia despite the fact that the defendants are all elsewhere. To achieve this she has plucked a figure of $1,000,000 out of the air as an amount of damages claimed (there is no way she could have incurred a million dollars worth of loss from the article in Wired, so add this to the lies that Ms Fisher is prepared to tell), thus bringing the suit within the reach of the Federal court system. (Claiming the minimum of $75,000 would have made the strategy too obvious.) Of course she didn't have to do that in the case of Condé Nast, because web sites can be read anywhere. Perhaps she might consider suing them in England if she loses this case; apparently defamation jurisdiction shopping is big business there. As I said, the figure of $1,000,000 was just made up, but as long as it exceeds the $75,000 necessary to bring the suit within Federal jurisdiction she forces the defendants to travel to hearings and to employ local lawyers who are licensed to practise in Virginia (which means travel for legal consultations as well as court appearances). All of this adds to the defendants' costs and inconvenience and extends the time that the action is alive, time which can be used by anti-vaccination liars to scream about how Dr Offit and Ms Wallace are being sued. Normal practice would also be for the defendants to be restrained from talking about Ms Fisher during the duration of the trial, and while Ms Fisher would be under similar restraint this will not stop her friends from using the fact of the case to demean and attack Dr Offit and Ms Wallace. (I have had personal experience of this when I was sued and could not talk about the plaintiff but the plaintiff's "friends" were able to lie remorselessly about the case and even widely distribute email messages headed by titles like "Death to Ratbags".)

The other thing I have been told about US defamation law is that truth is a defence. If Ms Fisher doesn't like being called a liar and someone who endangers the lives of children then she should stop publishing lies about vaccines. Does she really want her dubious "science" to be closely examined in court? Somehow I don't think so.

My prediction is that this action might never get to court but will take a long time before it is withdrawn, a long time during which Dr Offit and Ms Wallace can be attacked over it. (Again, I have had this experience personally, where there are still web sites displaying the original legal claim but almost none displaying the withdrawal.) If it does get to court it will fail, but the objective of disadvantaging the defendants will have been achieved, and in any case, the anti-vaccination liars will simply "forget" to mention the decision. (Yet again, this has happened to me.)

So here are some points for Barbara Loe Fisher to consider:

Anti-vax hypocrisy (9/1/2010)
Irony meters were shattered across the Internet when Barbara Loe Fisher from the National Vaccine Information Center published a screed on the NVIC site and elsewhere headed "2010 Needs a Fearless Conversation About Vaccination". I will remind you that it has been less than three weeks since Fisher sued Dr Paul Offit, journalist Amy Wallace and publisher Condé Nast because she was afraid of their conversation. Even I was amazed at the blatant hypocrisy of someone asking for a free exchange of ideas while suing someone for expressing ideas. I wasn't too amazed, of course, because long experience has taught me that pragmatism always overcomes society's principles with anti-vaccination liars. I was also less than amazed that Fisher would hijack the tragedy of September 11, 2001, to her deranged cause, or that she would invoke the name of Franklin D Roosevelt while ignoring the fact that vaccines prevent the disease which crippled him.

As my comments about the article posted on the NVIC site, Age of Autism and Fisher's own blog didn't manage to get through the approval process and as I just happen to have an email address for Fisher, I thought a Kind and Gentle email was in order.

Dear Ms Fisher,

I am writing to you about your article "2010 Needs a Fearless Conversation About Vaccination" which has appeared in several places. I am emailing you directly because there seems to be technical problems at the NVIC site, Age of Autism and your blog which have prevented my comments from being published. I assume that the problems are technical as I understand your want "fearless conversation" and are therefore opposed to censoring contrary views.

This brings me to my question. There is much publicity about your lawsuit against Dr Paul Offit, Amy Wallace and Condé Nast. How does your suing a doctor, a journalist and a news publisher fit in with your need for a "fearless conversation"? It seems to suggest that you must be fearful of something. I would hate to think that you are just a hypocrite who wants different rules to apply to different people.

As is my normal policy, this email and any reply will be published on my web site at

Thank you.

While I'm in a Kind and Gentle mood, I thought I would get in touch with the lawyer handling the case against Dr Offit et al. His name is Jonathon Emord, and on his web site he lists a lot of papers he has published about freedom of speech and unequivocally states "Emord has maintained an abiding conviction to achieve full First Amendment protection for the freedoms of speech and press". That seems rather clear to me, but it doesn't seem to fit in with initiating court cases which attempt to stifle "freedoms of speech and the press".

Dear Mr Emord,

I see on your web site that you have "maintained an abiding conviction to achieve full First Amendment protection for the freedoms of speech and press". This seems strangely inconsistent with the fact that you appear to be the lawyer acting for Ms Barbara Loe Fisher in her attempt to silence the press and her critics. I realise that there are subtle nuances in the law that might not be apparent to a layman, but there does seem to be a contradiction between your expressed enthusiasm for free speech and your active involvement in Ms Fisher's case against Dr Offit et al. I know that lawyers often have to take on matters which are distasteful (particularly in criminal cases), but surely you should have been able to find a lawyer with less commitment to the ideals of free speech than yourself to handle Ms Fisher's assault on the principle.

As is my normal policy, this email and any reply will be published on my web site at

Thank you.

Here comes de judge! There go the anti-vaccination liars (13/3/2010)
In January I reported that Barbara Loe Fisher of the National Vaccine (dis)Information Center had sued Dr Paul Offit, journalist Amy Wallace and publisher Condé Nast because an article in Wired magazine had hurt her feelings by suggesting that when she tells lies she is not telling the truth. To make her point more forcibly she followed up three 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. These actions led directly to NVIC and her sharing the Anus Maximus Award in the 2009 Millenium Awards. She was ably assisted in her attempt to stifle Dr Offit's and Ms Wallace's freedom of speech by absolute free speech advocate Jonathon Emord, who also picked up a Millenium Award for his efforts.

Well, here it is only half-way through March and the legal system has moved with unusual alacrity and tossed Ms Fisher's suit into the garbage where it belongs. You can read the full opinion of the Judge here, and note that the case was dismissed because Fisher and her powerful lawyer were not able to even establish that any cause for the suit existed. In lawyer speak they "Failed to make a claim". As I had suggested to Ms Fisher that she might like to produce some proof that she wasn't lying, such as some science, I particularly liked the final paragraph in the opinion:

Plaintiff may wish to defend in court the credibility of her conclusions about the dangers of vaccines, the validity of the evidence she offers in support of those theories, and the policy choices that flow from those views - as well as her own credibility for having advanced those positions. These, however, are academic questions that are not the sort of thing that courts or juries resolve in the context of a defamation action. Rather, an actual statement of fact that is capable of being proven true or false is required as a matter of law. In this context, Plaintiff has not alleged such a statement and has therefore failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. An appropriate Order shall issue.

She couldn't produce a "statement of fact that is capable of being proven true or false". Perhaps she needs to get a new lawyer.

In the sprit of generosity that I like to show even to people with whom I disagree, I sent the following Kind and Gentle email to Ms Fisher and Mr Emord.

Dear Ms Fisher and Mr Emord,

I was teaching a class today and the matter of people suing other people to shut them up arose. I immediately thought of the frivolous action that Ms Fisher had brought against Dr Paul Offit, Amy Wallace and Condé Nast. You can imagine my surprise when I got home and checked my email to find that Judge Hilton had thrown the suit into the rubbish bin where it belonged. People often say that the legal system moves at glacial speed, but in this case the court obviously felt that having a case as transparently silly as this one on the active list was an embarrassment to the law.

I assume that the judge's opinion will be given prominence on the web sites of both the NVIC and Mr Emord's law firm, as it will be on my site. Perhaps the opinion could be featured next to the awards that both of you won in the 2009 Millenium Awards.

As is my normal policy, this email and any reply will be published on my web site at

Thank you.

Never an idle moment (1/5/2010)
TheAustralasian Science May edition of the excellent magazine Australasian Science is now on the newsstands, and I encourage you buy a copy. If your newsagent doesn't carry it you should ask him to get it in, but if he won't (or you don't live in Australia) you should subscribe. I don't say this just because I have a regular column in the magazine - each month has a range of excellent articles about science, written by knowledgeable people who not only know science but how to communicate it. The magazine's new web site is very nice, too.

Writing for the magazine is one of the things I do to make sure that I never have idle hands to do the Devil's work, and as usual there is a Naked Skeptic column by me in the latest issue, which you can read here. It's about the way that quacks (in this specific case, anti-vaccination liars) resort to the courts when (not if) they can't come up with science to back their claims. It was inspired by the loss in court for Barbara Loe Fisher from the National Vaccine Information Center when she sued Dr Paul Offit and others for defamation, and the total collapse of the Autism Omnibus case in which an attempt was made to apply a legal equivalent of the Internet's "denial of service attack" on the court system.

And that column title - "Naked Skeptic". I try to dress appropriately while I am writing it but it can get a bit cold where I live so sometimes I have to leave my underwear on. I hope nobody minds or thinks that this minor piece of deception detracts from the quality of the work

Some people have no right to live (20/9/2014)
This advertisement is one of a series appearing on public transport in Concord, New Hampshire. Except for the fact that it is almost impossible to grade anti-vaccination liars because they are all as bad as each other, the National Vaccine Information Center probably ranks near the bottom because of the word "Information" in their lying name.

Here's another image that Barbara Loe Fisher of NVIC and her fellow anti-vaccination liars might like to consider.

When you reach the nadir, keep digging (1/11/2014)
In September I mentioned how the National Vaccine Information Center had made a leap to the bottom by buying advertising space in buses. They rose towards the top of the swamp again in the last couple of weeks. The first was when they asked people to review their Facebook page. After a short period they noticed that the reviews were not as fawning as they would like so they sent out a mass appeal for people to rate the page highly and submit glowing reviews. I was only too pleased to oblige:

Unfortunately it's not possible to vote zero stars for a Facebook page of an organisation devoted to increasing the number of dead and disabled children. People often ask me how anti-vaccination liars like Barbara Loe Fisher can sleep at night when they think of the consequences of their actions and my usual reply is that people without either morals or consciences don't care. The only thing that would stop them sleeping well is too much excitement at the thought of more dead children.

Shortly afterwards the link to add page reviews was disabled. I directed a couple of Twitter messages to Barbara Loe Fisher asking her for clarification but I got no answer. (From her, at least - an anonymous anti-vaccination liar went into "screech incoherently" mode, but who cares what anonymous people think or say?)

My work there was done.

Fresh from that retreat, the following picture was posted to the NVIC page.

It was received with much appreciation by the denizens of the page, with people offering suggestions about the correct size labels to use and others offering to create MS Word templates for printing them. The idea was to stick the labels on sweets to be handed out to children on Halloween. Now Halloween is about pretending to be scared of goblins and witches, but imagine how really alarmed you would be if you found out that there was someone in your street who was insane enough to give things like this to your children. (I suggested to Barbara Loe Fisher that razor blades with the same message on them could be placed in fruit and sweets but she didn't reply to my suggestion for a marketing campaign.)

I wasn't the only person enraged by a proposal to vandalise sweets in order to spread lies, so several people contacted the manufacturers and distributors of the sweets in the picture to inform them of what was happening. Here is the nice email I received from Nestlé:

Hi Peter,
Thank you for taking the time to contact us about NESTLÉ KIT KAT.
We appreciate you bringing this to our attention.
Thank you again for your email and if you have any further questions, please feel free to contact us

After running away from Facebook page reviews and energising and antagonising the legal department of one of the world's largest food manufacturing corporations, most people would retreat into their burrows and keep quiet about losing. but apparently all this was a victory for NVIC. Because Tim Bolen said so!

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