Maintenance Phase

RFK Jr. and The Rise of the Anti-Vaxx Movement

July 18, 2023
RFK Jr. and The Rise of the Anti-Vaxx Movement
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Show Notes Transcript

Michael: My throat is sore, Aubrey. I've been talking for three and a half hours. 

Aubrey: You've been talking a lot. 

Michael: I've been talking a lot. I got very animated. I've got very animated. 

Aubrey: [laughs] I like your weird ASMR voice. 

Michael: Oh.

Aubrey: Your little Kathleen Turner voice. 

Michael: Just eating some pickles. 

Aubrey: "I got very animated."

[Maintenance Phase theme]

Aubrey: Hi, everybody, and welcome to Maintenance Phase, the podcast that's finally wading into nepo baby discourse. 

Michael: Oh, with the ultimate nepo baby.

Aubrey: A solid two years after it's relevant.


Michael: Which is actually pretty short for us. 

Aubrey: I'm Aubrey Gordon. 

Michael: I'm Michael Hobbes. 

Aubrey: If you would like to support the show, you can do that at You can get t-shirts, totes, mugs, all kinds of things at TeePublic. And you can subscribe through Apple podcasts and get the same audio as our Patreon feed. 

Michael: You can totes do that. 

Aubrey: Okay. 

Michael: How did it take me three years to come up with that? That's absurd. 

Aubrey: Today, we are talking about a conspiracy theorist about whom I actually know very little. 

Michael: Oh, okay. I was going to ask you about this. 

Aubrey: I have a broad sense of RFK Jr. I know that his late beloved father was Bobby Kennedy, that his uncle was JFK, the President. All I generally know is, anti-vax? 

Michael: Yeah, it's more like anti-vax interrobang. 

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Michael: It's like, very emphatically, an anti-vax episode. 

Aubrey: Okay. [laughs] 

Michael: This is why I wanted to do this. So, like you, I didn't really know anything about this guy. He's essentially found a loophole. He has, over the years, been kicked off of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, everywhere because of his anti-vax bullshit. So, he really can't get an audience. But then there's this thing where if you run for President, everyone has to pay attention to you. 

Aubrey: He's Connor Roy, looking for the con heads.

Michael: [laughs] Only less likable. 

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Michael: Yes, I was not expecting to do an episode on this man, but then due to my personality, I listened to [Aubrey laughs] the entire Joe Rogan episode with him, which is-

Aubrey: Oh, no.

Michael: -fucking three hours long, because he's anti-vaxxer. It also struck me that we haven't really covered anti-vaxxers.

Aubrey: Yeah.

Michael: And it felt like, "Okay, let's do it." I don't find this guy all that interesting, but he's an entry point into how did the anti-vax movement get to the place where we now have a scion of this political dynasty and presidential candidate just openly expressing anti-vax nonsense.

Aubrey: Really giving the listeners the hard sell. Not very interesting. [laughs] 

Michael: Yeah, I know. I'm going to tell you over and over again that this man is boring. You're in for whatever the opposite of a treat is. So, we will be going into more of his biography, and how he intersects with the rise of the anti-vax movement in the 1990s. I want to start though by just establishing the fact that this dude is cuckoo bananas. So, he thinks that the CIA was involved in the assassination of his uncle. He thinks that the wrong person was convicted of killing his father. He says that mass shootings are caused by everybody being on antidepressants. So, he says, "Prior to the introduction of Prozac, we had almost none of these events." 

Aubrey: What? 

Michael: We also have a lot more mass shootings since the introduction of Blu-ray DVDs and the Toyota Prius. We have a lot more mass shootings since many things happened.

Aubrey: Presumably, we also have health records for mass shooters and some awareness of, not 100% of them were on Prozac at the time, what? 

Michael: In fact, one of the main problems is that they weren't medicated for many [crosstalk] people. 

Aubrey: Yeah. Correct.

Michael: So, it just doesn't make any sense. He's obviously a lab leak guy. 

Aubrey: Lab leak stuff is absolutely your kink. That's what's happening here. 

Michael: I finally get to talk about the lab leak. 

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Michael: What's funny about the lab leak discourse is that I feel like most people do not know what they're actually proposing because nobody gives a shit about the actual facts of the case. So, in RFK Jr's book, he says, "Anthony Fauci partnered with the Pentagon to approve taxpayer funded gain of function experiments to breed pandemic superbugs in poorly regulated labs in Wuhan, China, and elsewhere, under conditions that almost certainly guaranteed the escape of weaponized microbes like SARS-CoV-2." 

Aubrey: What the fuck are you talking about? 

Michael: It's my favorite shit because he's not just saying that China designed a superbug in a lab, which is the far right conspiracy version of it. He's saying, the US funded China to create a super weapon. 

Aubrey: This is just someone who got high and watched the Oppenheimer trailer and was like, "I know what's really going on."


Michael: I don't even need to tell you this at this point, but he's an ivermectin guy.

Aubrey: Of course. 

Michael: He's hydroxychloroquine guy. He's a fucking vitamin D truther, which we will get into in great detail. This is my favorite. 

Aubrey: Wait, I don't know what that means to be a vitamin D truther. 

Michael: Oh, Aubrey, you're going to learn. You're going to learn so much.

Aubrey: Okay. I'm not googling. I'm not googling. It's going to be fine. I'm not googling. 

Michael: He also thinks that chemicals in the water are the reason for transgender people. 

Aubrey: Oh, my God, is this, I don't want them putting it in the water and turning the frogs gay? Are we getting into Alex Jones territory? 

Michael: It's literally the same study. 

Aubrey: Wow. 

Michael: There is a study about frogs growing ovaries or something. It's not clear that it's chemical. Obviously, they've taken this and really ran with it far beyond the facts. He also wrote a book, which, for the love of fucking God, I read because it's very short and is mostly footnotes, but like janky footnotes called-- Do you know what his book is called? 

Aubrey: No. 

Michael: As soon as I saw it, I was like, "I have to read this for the show." It's called Real Anthony Fauci: Bill Gates, Big Pharma, and the Global War on Democracy and Public Health

Aubrey: Oh, wow. 

Michael: It's like, put fucking everything in there, man. 

Aubrey: Based on that title, I'm guessing he's also a Soros truther guy. 

Michael: He weirdly doesn't, because I actually control F'ed for Soros in the book and didn't find it. 

Aubrey: [laughs] Of course, you did.

Michael: So, I was like, "Here it comes. He's a Soros guy." Somehow, for some reason, that's where he draws the line. The book has blurbs from, listen to this cursed fucking list of public figures. 

Aubrey: Oh, my God.

Michael: Tucker Carlson, Tony Robbins, the self-help guy, Alan Dershowitz, Joseph Mercola, future subject of a Maintenance Phase episode-- [crosstalk] 

Aubrey: Yeah, absolutely no question. 

Michael: Rob Schneider, [Aubrey laughs] he's a comedian who's now a super-duper far right guy, and obviously, Oliver Stone and Naomi Wolf. 

Aubrey: Just like absolute cuckoo bird. 

Michael: People who just have no credibility whatsoever in whatever field they're in. Like, Rob Schneider is not a well-respected actor. 

Aubrey: Sure, he is. He's making copies. Come on. 


Michael: Now we're back to our comfort zone, 90s references. 30-year-old references. 

Aubrey: [laughs] 30-year-old SNL sketches. 

Michael: We need a lyrics genius page for this fucking podcast. 

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Michael: All the Zoomers be like, "What the fuck is that a reference to?" 

Aubrey: Start that Wiki. Yeah. 

Michael: Okay. We badly need to do an episode on this, but he also is an HIV truther. Are you aware of that? 

Aubrey: Oh, no. Michael, here's what I know. I know that there are people who think that HIV is a sham, and I also know that there are people who think that HIV can be cured by a macrobiotic diet, and I could see either one of those coming into play here. 

Michael: This basically was taken up by the President of South Africa for many years, and he wouldn't import anti-retrovirals into the country, which cost many-

Aubrey: Oh, God.

Michael: -tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of lives, potentially. So, it's a really, really consequential, horrible conspiracy theory. But the conspiracy theory is so fucking stupid, Aubrey, that it's almost hard to talk about. It's basically that HIV doesn't cause AIDS. 

Aubrey: What? 

Michael: It's like, someone saying like the sky is green. 

Aubrey: Yeah, totally. 

Michael: You're just like, "No, it's not."

Aubrey: It also makes me uncomfortable because so many of the arguments around anti-fatness, around wellness stuff, any conclusions that allow us to reinforce our existing biases. When we're asked to prove why those conclusions are true, we often go, "That's just how it is." 

Michael: Oh, totally. 

Aubrey: Because it absolutely doesn't have to be that way. But in this case, I'm like, "No, that's just how it fucking is." God, what? 

Michael: So, okay, we are going to watch a clip with his wildest conspiracy theory. This is from the Joe Rogan podcast. 

RFK Jr.: Wi-fi radiation does all kinds of bad things, including causing cancer. 

Michael: Wi-fi. 

Joe: Wi-fi radiation causes cancer?

RFK Jr.: Yeah, from your cell phone. There are cell phone tumors. 

Michael: Cell phones. 

RFK Jr.: I'm representing hundreds of people who have cell phone tumors behind the ear. It's always on the ear that you favor with your cell phone. But cancer is not the worst thing. Wi-fi radiation opens up your blood brain barrier. And so, all these toxins that are in your body can now go into your brain. 

Joe: How does Wi-fi radiation open up your blood brain barrier? 

RFK Jr.: Yeah. Now you're gone beyond my expertise. I'm going to use a number here, and you're going to think it's hyperbole, but it's not. There are tens of thousands of studies that show the horrendous danger of Wi-Fi radiation. You got Russians know more about Wi-Fi radiation than anything they developed as a weapon. 

Aubrey: Oh, my God.

RFK Jr.: A lot of the really good science came out of the Russians. The Russians won't let kids use cell phones in kindergarten or in grade school. A lot of the schools in Russia don't let cell phones in there because of the danger. 

Michael: You learned so much in that clip, Aubrey. It's dense with information. It's densely packed.

Aubrey: Oh, so many things. I learned that there are literally tens of thousands of studies on any one topic. 

Michael: You also learned that the Russians invented Wi-Fi radiation, famously.

Aubrey: And they don't let kids use cell phones in kindergarten, which apparently, I guess, we're doing in classrooms in the US, what? 

Michael: That's why the kids are trans because of the frogs and the cell phones.

Aubrey: Also, CRT. 

Michael: My favorite little interaction is when he's like, "Did you know it opens up the blood brain barrier?" And Joe Rogan famously skeptical journalist. Joe Rogan is like, "How does it open up the blood brain barrier?" And he's like, "That's beyond my expertise."

Aubrey: So, early on when you and I first started talking and hanging out, you were talking about the best follow up question you can ask as an interviewer is just like, "Say more about that."

Michael: Yeah. How so? 

Aubrey: Or, like, "Explain." 

Michael: Yeah. 

Aubrey: That is exactly what Joe Rogan did is just like, ask the next clarifying question that's sitting in front of him and just immediate stumper. 

Michael: "Sorry, can you say a little bit more about that?" And then he just immediately fucking punts. 

Aubrey: Yeah, blood brain barrier, normal. 

Michael: So, then another thing that you might notice about this clip is that his voice sounds a little bit weird. So, in his 40s, he developed a condition called spasmodic dysphonia. There is a very interesting and telling excerpt from a very good NBC News article about him, which I am going to send to you. 

Aubrey: "His voice is gravelly and strained. It’s gotten progressively worse since the ’90s when Kennedy was diagnosed with spasmodic dysphonia, a rare neurological disorder that causes his larynx to tighten uncontrollably and his voice to halt and tremor. The cause of spasmodic dysphonia isn’t known. Researchers think it might be genetic, or a leftover disability from a respiratory infection, or even stress. Kennedy, though, suspects a flu vaccine may be to blame. 'I haven’t been able to figure out any other cause,' he told a podcaster in 2021.'

In a follow-up email, Kennedy said he wasn’t sure of the connection, calling it 'my own speculation.' His press person sent links to fact sheets included in manufacturer packaging of more recent flu vaccines that list dysphonia among dozens of reported 'adverse reactions.' The adverse reactions in those package inserts which are legal, not medical documents are based on unverified observations, and, as they make clear, don’t suggest the vaccine necessarily caused the reaction." Yeah, this is like lawyer 'don't get us sued' paper that gets put in. 

Michael: This is a pattern that we will see throughout this episode where it's like, he makes this wildly overblown claim, "I got this from the flu vaccine." And then someone is like, "Sorry, can you support this at all?" And he's like, "Yes, of course." And then he sends a bunch of fucking gibberish. And then when you press him more, he's like, "Oh, well, I never really said it was vaccine. I'm just speculating." 

Aubrey: Michael, I just looked in the sidebar next to this clip that we just watched. 

Michael: My algorithm fully thinks I'm Jenny McCarthy "doing my own research at this point." 

Aubrey: [laughs] No, the one that really got me, I was like, woof, is Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on club random with Bill Maher. 

Michael: Yeah, I know, I watched that one too. 

Aubrey: Oh, God, buddy.

Michael: Why is this happening to me? Although I also learned, researching this episode, that Spotify allows you to play podcasts at up to 3.5x speed, [Aubrey laughs] bless Spotify. Fucking YouTube 2x is not fast enough for me. My brain is so broken by watching these fucking clips. I'm like, "Speed it up, man. Get me to the gay frogs."

Aubrey: Yeah. So, this stipulated. This dude is a full cuckoo bird. 

Michael: Yeah, so, thank you. That was the reason for all that. Thank you for pulling me back to my notes. 

Aubrey: Sure.

Michael: This is the whole reason for that little section. So, there's a couple of factors in his life that led him to become the conspiracy theorist that he is today. The first are his personal circumstances, like, just everything that happened to him growing up. So, this is from a very good Rebecca Traister article about him. 

Aubrey: Oh, I like Rebecca Traister. 

Michael: I know, right? She's good.

Aubrey: She's good. 

Michael: She says, "If he were your uncle, you would likely consider that he is fighting some serious psychological headwinds. His own uncle was assassinated when Bobby was nine. He was pulled from school at 14 and flown to the deathbed of his father, also assassinated. His cousin drove a plane into the sea on the way to Bobby's sister's wedding. One brother died in a skiing accident, another of a drug overdose. His wife died by suicide. All this in a family in which his grandfather's dictum was, there will be no crying in this house."

Aubrey: Ooh. 

Michael: When his father was killed, his mother was pregnant with her 11th child? They had always had a tumultuous relationship. He talks in his autobiography about begging to be sent off to boarding school, just like to get out of the house because they were fighting so much. After RFK Sr. is killed, it seems like his mom just gave up and foisted him off onto the rest of the family, onto family friends. It's this really interesting upbringing where he's raised by a village. He also talks in his autobiography about starting drugs very young. He is later diagnosed with ADHD. So, he's self-medicating. It starts with weed and alcohol, and then it graduates to coke and LSD and eventually heroin. He is eventually arrested for possession in 1983 in South Dakota. He continues to attend AA meetings to this day. It's something he talks about fairly movingly, honestly. Being in recovery is still like a really big part of his life. 

Aubrey: Addiction makes sense as a reasonable coping mechanism to deal with all of this. 

Michael: Oh, yeah.

Aubrey: You are losing both of your parents in some fashion. 

Michael: Exactly. And so, the other way that he comes to these conspiratorial views, and I think this is actually very important is that he starts from genuinely being correct. So, in the 1980s, after he is arrested for heroin possession, he has to do 800 hours of community service. He is scooped up by this guy who works for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which is a legal clinic that basically sues governments for polluting the environment. He starts working at this organization and eventually rises up through the ranks. He is one of the people generally credited with cleaning up the Hudson River. This becomes a big deal in his life. He's a big nature enthusiast. He starts doing falconry when he's a little kid, which is such a rich people habit, but whatever, it's a nature thing. He loves being outside fishing, hunting, all this kind of stuff. 

Aubrey: Sure. Falconry, dressage.

Michael: Hunting poor people for sport.

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Michael: He's really on the side of justice. He's like a big climate change guy. The earliest interviews you can find of him on the internet are him talking about the fossil fuel industry and how they've captured the EPA, and a lot of stuff is fucking true. I think that kind of crusader personality type combined with all of the other stuff that he's been through just makes him more susceptible to this anti-establishment, everything is a conspiracy type of thinking. 

Aubrey: That makes sense to me. And also, it sounds like this is not a story of someone who is revealing themselves to be a cuckoo bird. This isn't like a Scooby-Doo villain peeling off their mask and being like, "Ha-ha, it was me all along." This sounds like a case of genuine, an unstable core sort of issue. This is a guy who has not had a steady environment and has not had relationships that stick around regardless. You know what I mean? He has just had a tough road to hoe. 

Michael: Also, there's various reports from friends, some of which are rumors. So, I don't know how seriously to take this, but people say that he's always been insecure about his intellect and insecure about being one of the lesser Kennedys. The shadow that his father casts is so large, and I think he's always been aware of the need to live up to that, and a little bit insecure about his ability to do so. And I also understand why that would give you a little bit of a chip on your shoulder, when people are criticizing you or saying like, "I don't know about the science on that." You're like, "Oh, are you saying I'm not good enough?"

Aubrey: Yeah. 

Michael: Not that I'm expressing a huge amount of sympathy with nepo babies, but there is the thing of like, you're aware of the fact that you've gotten this push into these upper echelons. I think there's an insecurity that comes along with that. 

Aubrey: Yeah, absolutely. I think if you think about what are the life choices for someone with very notable or exceptional or well-known parents, their options are go into that same line of work as your parents and get compared to them forever. Go into a different line of work that's like a little bit more normie and have people roll their eyes at you doing some kind of tourism or not really having the same experience as everyone else or what have you. So, I'm just like, I do actually have empathy for that. That seems like a tough position to be in, and it makes sense that people would act out in weird ways, if it feels like all of their choices are going to be that heavily judged based on someone else's actions. I get that.

Michael: I had a thing a couple of years ago where my dad asked me to make him a mixtape. I put a bunch of Amy Winehouse songs on there because I thought my dad would like her. My dad was like, "This woman has this beautiful voice. What's her story?" He had never heard of her. I told him her struggles with addiction and how her life ended, and everything else. My dad, who's the kindest guy, he's like, "Mike, I'm so glad you never had any big talents because it makes it so hard [Aubrey laughs] when you're really talented." I'm like, "Dad, there's probably another way you could have said that. I know what you mean. [laughs] Let's workshop the phrasing of that, dad."

Aubrey: Famously talentless, Michael Hobbes. [laughs] 

Michael: Look, as a member of the mediocre white guy community, I am glad for my lack of privilege. 

Aubrey: You were not a tag kid. I would assume you were a tag kid. 

Michael: Oh, is that like a pro? We didn't have that. 

Aubrey: Oh, talented and gifted. 

Michael: Oh, no, I was not. I was and am neither, Aubrey. 

Aubrey: [laughs] Okay. Just ask my dad. 

Michael: When I was reading about RFK Jr. and about the rise of the anti-vax movement, I was like, "Okay, we can do a whole episode just dunking on this guy, and this is what he says, it's wrong. This is what he says, it's wrong." That's not going to be very interesting for us. That's not going to be very interesting for other people. And so, I want to talk about the tactics of conspiracy theorists, and how to recognize conspiracy thinking structurally. 

Aubrey: Ooh.

Michael: So, the first thing that conspiracy theorists do, and I think it's very important to start with this is that they fucking lie. So, I'm sending you another clip. From now on, I'm speeding up the clips slightly, just because I had to watch so many hours of this man, and I feel like the least I can do is speed through the clips that we have. So, this is at one and a half speed. 

RFK Jr.: I think most people don't know what my stance is on vaccines. I've never been antivaccine using that pejorative to describe me as a way of silencing or marginalizing me. 

Michael: Marginalizing. 

RFK Jr.: Virtually, every American would agree with my stance on vaccines, which is that vaccines should be tested like other medicines. They should be safety tested. And unfortunately, the vaccines are not safety tested. Of the 72 vaccine doses now, essentially mandated, they're recommended, but they're really mandated. American children, none of them, not one, has ever been subject to a pre-licensing, placebo controlled trial. 

Interviewer: Yes, they have. 

RFK Jr.: No. 

Interviewer: Yeah, they have. 

RFK Jr.: Okay. Let me just say something. Dr. Fauci and many other people for many years said this, Bobby Kennedy, when he says that is wrong. So, I met with Dr. Fauci in 2016. I agreed to go on Trump's Vaccine Safety Commission, and I was with Aaron Siri and Lyn Redwood and a number of other people, and we said to him, "Can you show us one test from any vaccine pre-licensing safety test?" And he said, "I'll send it to you. I can't find one now." He never did. So, we sued him. We sued Aaron Siri and sued HHS. And after a year of litigation and stonewalling, they said that they could not provide a single safety study for any vaccine that is on the childhood schedule, pre-licensing safety study. So, anybody who wants to read that can go to Children's Health Defense website, and you can read HHS's admission that not a single one has ever been safety tested pre-licensing. 

Aubrey: Boy, oh, boy. 

Michael: I just think we should safety test the vaccines. 

Aubrey: It's really amazing, as we're going through all of this, how much the style of talking here reminds me of watching so much of the Montana state legislature this year. 

Michael: Oh, really? 

Aubrey: Yeah. That's like, there was a guy who sponsored their dragged ban[?] and his whole thing was like, "Just google it. They're sexualizing our children. Just google it."

Michael: Yeah. Here's a 200-page PDF that you can read that may or may not confirm my views, but we all know you're not going to fucking do that. [laughs] 

Aubrey: Right. Either it does confirm my views and it's from a totally uncredited source/I just personally wrote it, or it's not going to confirm my views and I'm just counting on you not reading it to not know that it counters my views. 

Michael: And also, this thing of like, "I talked to Dr. Fauci and he never got back to me." Does that actually mean anything significantly? There's probably many people that Fauci talks to and doesn't email back. 

Aubrey: I called Beyoncé, and she never called me back. 

Michael: So, if you watch a lot of interviews with him, you find that he just plays the same tapes over and over again. So, this is like a spiel that he goes on almost word for word the same. The claim is that the vaccines that we have now have not been tested against placebos. So, I started looking into the history of the anti-vax movement, and what you find is that the minute that we had vaccines, we had anti-vaxxers. So, the first vaccine for smallpox is invented or they're testing out early versions of it in 1721. The doctor who's working on this in Boston has to stop the work because he's getting so many threats. 

Aubrey: Wow. What? 

Michael: We eventually in the 1800s get good vaccines for smallpox because this guy, Edward Jenner has the extremely disgusting idea of injecting people with pus from sores of milkmaids that had cowpox. It's like this milder form of smallpox, but he's like, "Why aren't the milkmaids getting smallpox? That's weird." It's because they got this cowpox thing, which is like not that bad, but also provides inoculation. 

Aubrey: Boy, oh, boy.

Michael: To be fair to the early anti-vaxxers, vaccines were fucking disgusting. 

Aubrey: Yeah, I was going to say content note for pus injections, I guess. Fuck.

Michael: I know, Aubrey. You have no idea the stuff that I had to read and watch for this. It's so fucking gross. But anyway, the first vaccine mandate in the United States was in 1853. There's a huge anti-vax movement. There's a very good Behind the Bastards podcast on this. There's a book called Pox about this. And then I also read a book called Anti-vaxxers: How to Challenge a Misinformed Movement by Jonathan Berman. Terrible title, very good book. 

Aubrey: Oh, good. 

Michael: So, he talks about the earliest, like, the first anti-vaxxers in the United States. Actually, this is long. Why don't I send it to you? 

Aubrey: Great. "Much of the prevalent antivaccine sentiment of the era was laid out in 1854 when John Gibbs published the booklet, Our Medical Liberties, Or The Personal Rights of the Subject, as Infringed by Recent and Proposed Legislation: Compromising Observations on the Compulsory Vaccination Act, the Medical Registration and Reform Bills, and the Maine Law. End of title. Gibbs attacked the Vaccination Act of 1853 on several fronts complaining that it was an intrusion on personal rights, that it was written to benefit the medical trade, that it treated the populace as too stupid to make their own health decisions, that it mandated a practice that was not universally accepted among physicians, and that it had failed in some individual cases. 

Michael: I want to point out here, the arguments of anti-vaxxers have not changed for 170 years. This is exactly what we have now. "What about my rights? It's benefiting Big Pharma. People should make their own decisions. There's a debate within medicine about whether they work and look at this anecdote of something bad that happened to somebody who got a vaccine." The same shit forever. 

Aubrey: His complaint that vaccination benefited the medical trade may have been related to his own occupation in hydrotherapy, a kind of quack medicine that involved treatment by bathing in drinking or injecting water-

Michael: Giver of life.

Aubrey: -and applying it to various parts of the body. Given the hygiene practices of the era, promoting bathing was perhaps not the worst idea that he had, but it was not an effective means of preventing smallpox infection. I bet. 

Michael: So, we have someone who is making these high-level philosophical objections to vaccines like, "Oh, isn't it about my personal liberties?" When it turns out they're just a fucking grifter who wants to sell you some bullshit. 

Aubrey: Yeah, totally.

Michael: That's the actual heart of their complaint. Last time, we're going to see this in the anti-vax story. I just wanted to put it here because it's the only time this has ever happened. 

Aubrey: Yes, totally. It never will happen again. Got it. Check. Got it. Okay. 

Michael: So, what we have over the course of the next hundred years as more vaccines develop is this cycle emerges where there's compulsory vaccination. A ton of people get vaccinated. The disease disappears. And then after it disappears for a while, people forget how bad it was. Then you get the rise of these anti-vax orgs of like, "it's about my rights," blah, blah, blah. Vaccination rates fall, and then an outbreak happens. It's like, "Oh, fuck, we have smallpox again. Look how terrible this is. My God, we forgot how bad it is." Then you get people getting vaccinated again. This is the cycle that we're in now, just to spoil the ending. This is what we're seeing now with measles. 

Aubrey: Yeah, absolutely. 

Michael: So, this cycle continues until the emergence of polio in the early 1900s. Polio is a poop spreading disease. It's one of the poop diseases. 

Aubrey: Oh, congratulations. 

Michael: I know. I have to look into poop again. 

Aubrey: You keep picking topics-

Michael: I know.

Aubrey: -that lead you back to poop. 

Michael: I thought it was airborne, but it turns out it is poop and I had to read about poop forever. 

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Michael: Polio, another thing that has been memory hold about polio is that the vaccine rollout for polio was a huge fucking disaster. 

Aubrey: Really?

Michael: So, in the 1940s and 1950s, there's a bunch of outbreaks of polio. We had 58,000 cases in 1955. In the early 1950s, they start testing a polio vaccine. So, the way the vaccines work is they have virus material, and then they blast the virus with formaldehyde, which kills the virus. So, it's not live virus anymore, but it is still virus material. And basically, your body recognizes it enough, so that next time it knocks on the door, your immune system is like, "I know you. Fuck off."

Aubrey: Yeah. 

Michael: But what happens in 1955 as they're rolling out this mass polio vaccination is one of the batches, they forgot to add formaldehyde. 

Aubrey: What? 

Michael: So, 100,000 batches of vaccine were just straight up injecting kids with polio.

Aubrey: God. So, then this just becomes proof positive for anti-vax people, that was like, "You were right all along."

Michael: Exactly. Not to give the anti-vax people very much credit, but also people just in general are weirded out by vaccines, I think, because you're sticking a needle, sometimes in an infant. I think a lot of people are scared of needles in a way that they don't necessarily realize or admit to. Most people don't know how vaccines work. It's like this weird clear liquid that's magical, and you inject it in me and like, "Maybe I feel kind of crappy for a day, but then I'm immune to this disease that maybe I haven't even really heard of, like, rubella. I guess, I can't rubella now. I don't know what that is, but okay." There's a huge amount of trust in the medical system that is required for these things. I get on a gut level why people just think it's weird. 

Aubrey: Well, also, even if you know what you're up against, it's still injecting yourself with something you're trying not to get. 

Michael: Exactly. It freaks people out. 

Aubrey: I think that's just a little bit of a mind fuck. 

Michael: So, this incident in 1955 was a huge deal. 

Aubrey: Yeah, horror show. 

Michael: There's lawsuits. There's, again, another wave of organized anti-vaccine sentiment. So, in 1973, we get the foundation of The Association of Parents of Vaccine Damaged Children. And so, to return to the RFK Jr. clip that we just watched, he says that vaccines are not tested on placebos. This is, again a fucking lie. I googled measles vaccine placebo and found many studies. There's one in 1963 where they test the measles vaccine against three different kinds of placebo. There's one in 1986, this is actually pretty cool, where they tested the measles vaccine on identical twins. 

Aubrey: Oh, wow. 

Michael: One got a placebo, one didn't. All of the COVID vaccines were tested against placebo. Rotavirus tested against placebos for years. It was like 70,000 people. It was like a bunch of different countries, four years. The fucking polio vaccine was tested against saline in 1952. 

Aubrey: Yeah.

Michael: When RFK Jr. says that none of the vaccines have been tested against placebos, what he means is that none of the current brand name vaccines have been tested against placebos. So, over the years, the pharmaceutical companies will update the vaccines for various reasons, for technical reasons, or this one preserves longer, it's easier to ship or whatever, there's various reasons that they change the formulation of the vaccines. When they do that, they test the new vaccines against the old vaccines. 

If you're making some technical tweak to the measles vaccine, it doesn't make sense to test it against a placebo. First of all, because what you want to know is whether it's as effective as the older formulation. Secondly, it's really unethical to give people placebo vaccines, because they might get fucking measles. 

Aubrey: But, Michael, he didn't return his call. Smoking gun. 

Michael: I know. 

Aubrey: Good Lord. 

Michael: So, are you ready for our next clip, our next category-

Aubrey: Yes, let's clip it up.

Michael: -of information? 

Aubrey: Clip-clip. Snip-snip. 

Michael: The next thing that conspiracy theorists do is they deliberately remove context. 

Aubrey: Okay.

Michael: So, this is another clip from RFK Jr's appearance on Joe Rogan. 

RFK Jr.: They passed the Vaccine Act in 1986, and the Vaccine Act gave immunity from liability to all vaccine companies for any injury, for negligence. No matter how negligent you are, no matter how reckless your conduct, no matter how toxic the agreement, how shoddily tested or manufactured the product, no matter how grievous your injury, your vaccine company, you cannot be sued. This was a huge gift for this industry because the biggest cost for every medical product is downstream liabilities. And all of a sudden, those have disappeared. So, you're not only taking away that cost, but you're an incentivizing production of many new vaccines. You're removing the incentive to make them safe because no matter how dangerous there are, they don't care because they can't be sued. 

Aubrey: I can't fathom that this is in any way accurate. 

Michael: Well, you don't think it's true that no one cares? We're just injecting just pure mercury into children, you can't file a lawsuit? You don't think that's true, Aubrey? Wow. 

Aubrey: Look, that's not coming from a place of, I have a great deal of faith in institutional public health systems, whatever.

Michael: Yeah.

Aubrey: That's coming from a place of, we're in a country where anyone can sue anyone for anything. I do not believe that there would be this kind of blanket immunity for an entire industry. That seems wackadoo. 

Michael: I can't believe you're spoiling the next six minutes.

Aubrey: Oh, no. Michael, I'm so sorry. I'm fired. 

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] 

Aubrey: She's turned the pink slip on herself. 

Michael: So, we are fast forwarding slightly to 1982. There's new vaccines being introduced, and we have this uptake of them, and then people get nervous, and then it goes down, and then we get an outbreak. So, in the 1970s and 1980s, there's a couple of outbreaks of pertussis, which is whooping cough. So, in the midst of this kind of vaccination and outbreak cycle, in 1982, we get a TV news special called DPT: Vaccine Roulette. 

Aubrey: Oh, no. 

Michael: We are going to watch the first two minutes. So, this was originally broadcast on an affiliate in Washington, D.C., but it becomes a big deal nationally. 

TV Reporter: It's a fact of life. All children must get four DPT shots to go to school. Shots, we are told, will keep our children healthy. Shots, we are told, will protect every child from a dread disease, pertussis. It's whooping cough. But the DPT shot can also damage to a devastating degree. 

[heart beating sound]

Speaker: It's probably the poorest and the most dangerous vaccine that we now have. 

Aubrey: Oh, cripes.

Michael: It's so bad, right? 

Aubrey: Yeah. So, the images are of disabled kids. 

Michael: This is horrible heart effect, like, horror movie sound above kids with down syndrome. 

Aubrey: Grotesque. 

Michael: Yeah, really grotesque. 

Aubrey: Absolutely fucking reprehensible. 

Michael: So, most of the special is anecdotes of parents who are like, "Lucy was fine, and then we took her to get her DPT shot, and then immediately she had all of these developmental delays." It's basically anecdote after anecdote after anecdote. The HHS, what she calls, the medical establishment is not really given any ability to respond. It's just like, "HHS said that there was no evidence of this" or something, but it doesn't really dwell on it. And then anyone who tries to say that there's no evidence that the vaccines actually do this, it's like, "Someone in a lab coat sitting at a desk and there isn't really a visual associated with it," whereas just the visual of as we saw in that clip, it's like a baby being injected and immediately crying. That's what sticks with you from this. 

Aubrey: This is big apple morphing into a skull and crossbones territory. 

Michael: It really is.

Aubrey: This early 1980s special report news magazine kind of stuff was really working overtime on that front. 

Michael: Yeah. And of course, later on, far after there's any real ability to do anything about it, people look into the details of this documentary and they find that a lot of the numbers were wrong, a lot of the researchers whose work was cited in this report are like, "That's not what our study says."

Aubrey: Yeah, it's anecdotal and it's all correlation.

Michael: Yeah, the primary structural problem with vaccines is the scale. You have millions of children every year being injected with vaccines. Something that happens in one out of 10,000 kids is going to happen a couple of thousand times because so many kids are getting the vaccines. 

Aubrey: Yeah, totally. 

Michael: The vaccine schedule, there's quite a few vaccines, even in 1982, that kids had to get. These are also the time of development between 6 months and 18 months when disabilities start to appear in kids. You start to notice speech delays. You start to notice vision impairments, hearing impairments. And so, given the number of shots that kids are getting and given the way that humans form patterns, we look for patterns in our brains without really realizing that's what we're doing. Of course, you're going to put these two things together and be like, "Oh, my God, her hearing issues started the week after she got the vaccine."

Aubrey: It feels a little bit like my phone is listening to me, crowd. When people are like, "I was just talking to my friend about this, and then I got an ad for it on my phone." And I'm like, "Did you google it though?"

Michael: Dude, I used to think that I had ESP, because I could very reliably predict which song was going to come on shuffle. I thought I had the gift. 

Aubrey: It's like, of the 12 tracks on this thing, which one's coming next. That's amazing. 

Michael: So, another very good book that I read for this is The Panic Virus by Seth Mnookin. He talks about how just this documentary results in another increase in the size of the organized anti-vax movement. A bunch of parents start getting together in these organized groups. They start doing newsletters and much more political lobbying, and eventually they get together a bunch of lawsuits. So, in 1978, there were two lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers. In 1986, four years after this documentary, there were 250 lawsuits, and they were totaling 3 billion in damages. Some of these cases won. Vaccines are not particularly profitable. They're mostly being bought in very large quantities by municipal governments and stuff. The drug makers are basically like, "This is not worth it for us." 

What starts happening in the 1980s is the number of companies that make vaccines goes from over 20 to less than 4, because they're like, "We can't afford the litigation." So, in 1986, Congress passes a law with a name that will ring in the fucking ears of the anti-vax. The anti-vax people love the fucking name of this law. It's called the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act. 

Aubrey: Okay.

Michael: Which makes it sound like, "Ooh, kids are being--" 

Michael and Aubrey: "Injured by vaccines." 

Aubrey: Yeah-- [crosstalk] 

Michael: The minute you talk about this, they'll be like, "Well, then why is it called the Injury Act then?"

Aubrey: Oh, God.

Michael: Basically, what this does is is it sets up this compensation scheme that RFK Jr. mentioned obliquely in his clip. There is actually a mechanism now that if you believe your child is harmed by a vaccine, you can take your case to this compensation scheme. It will be heard by a panel of judges, and it may or may not pay out awards. So, this does actually happen in the same way that-- Did you get side effects from the COVID vaccine? 

Aubrey: Not really. My arm kind of ached. How about you? 

Michael: I have had a bunch of them by now, but in general, I had one or two days of feeling fluey. But again, with the scale, there are side effects of vaccines. And if you think about this is being given to tens of millions of people in the bell curve of side effects of vaccines, some people really are going to be at the far tail end. So, there are cases of kids fainting after they get vaccines, kids vomit after they get vaccines. Vaccines have side effects and risks. They're very small, and they're extremely small compared to the risk of not getting vaccinated, i.e., getting measles or whatever else. But people really do have side effects. 

So, when RFK Jr. says that there is this compensation scheme that protects Big Pharma from some liability for vaccines, he is telling the truth. However, he is also leaving out three critical pieces of context. First of all, he's ignoring all of the history that we just went over. The precipitating incident of this Injury Act was that there was only one producer of the pertussis vaccine left. It's easy to forget this now, but before, we had a vaccine against whooping cough, it killed 9,000 kids a year. So, Congress was looking at a context in which the options were, either have no pertussis vaccine or set up this injury compensation scheme. 

Aubrey: Yeah.

Michael: The second piece of context that he's leaving out is that these kinds of injury compensation schemes are really standard throughout the developed world. Vaccines aren't like running shoes or something, where if you buy it and it sucks or it harms you, you sue the manufacturer. Vaccines are mandated by federal and state governments. So, around the world, what governments have done is basically said, "Look, we are making kids take this, so it makes sense that we would take on the liability." 

The third, and by far the most important piece of context that he's leaving out is that this injury compensation scheme, which we've now had for a couple of decades has lower standards than legal standards. This actually makes it easier for parents to get compensation when their kids are harmed by vaccines in these rare cases. People have, in fact, gone to this compensation scheme and gotten payouts for harms of vaccines that are basically biologically implausible. Scientists look at this and they're like, "There's really no way that a vaccine could have done this, but we can't really prove that a vaccine didn't cause this disability or this harm. And so, we're going to pay this person out." That's something that would never happen if these parents were forced to come together as a group, file a class action lawsuit, go through this whole years long process, finally get into war, there's then an appeal, etc. This is actually a better process, if you believe that your children were harmed by vaccines. 

Aubrey: Man, I'm hearing you say all of this and I'm also staring at this screen of YouTube. And the very first comment is, "I am by no means a scientist, but the second I saw they didn't have any liability, I knew I wouldn't be taking it." 

Michael: There you go. 

Aubrey: 1,000 likes. 

Michael: Yeah, this whole episode is just an exercise in how much longer it takes to debunk this bullshit than it does to say it. Even this, his interview with Joe Rogan was three hours long, we're going to do a fucking two-part episode. We've already been recording for like two and a half hours. We will get to 5% of the bullshit that he's-- [crosstalk] 

Aubrey: Oh, my God. 

Michael: Just the flood, the fire hose of nonsense. At a certain point, you just need to be like, "This is not a person who is connected with reality." Everything that he says, you should assume that it is false. Unless somebody else, somebody credible, somebody with a podcast says that it is true. 

Aubrey: Somebody with a pod-- you know. 

Michael: Look at a podcast.

Aubrey: That credibility factory that is having a USB mic. 

Michael: All right. We have one more section. The third thing that conspiracy theorists do, they are obsessed with being silenced by the scientific establishment. 

Aubrey: Oh, my God. So, the image that just popped into my mind when you said that was Marjorie Taylor Greene speaking on the floor of Congress with a mask on that said censored. 

Michael: Oh, yeah. Jesus Christ. 

Aubrey: You're a sitting congressperson. 

Michael: I know.

Aubrey: Speaking in Congress, who's censoring you. 

Michael: Thank you and fuck you for bringing that back into my brain. 

Aubrey: Sorry. You are welcome. 

Michael: [crosstalk] But actually, this clip does not deal with Marjorie Taylor Greene. This deals with Nicki Minaj being silenced.

Aubrey: Oh, no. Is it about her cousin's testicles? 

Michael: We're mostly reading this because I think it's funny, but I'm going to bring it back to theme. Don't worry. So, this is from his Anthony Fauci book. 

Aubrey: "By September of 2021, Dr. Fauci's power to muzzle his critics had achieved a mastery over free expression unprecedented in human history." 

Michael: Unprecedented. 

Aubrey: "That month, with a single phrase, Dr. Fauci silenced pop icon, Nicki Minaj, after she questioned whether COVID vaccines might be causing problems involving testicular swelling. When CNN's Jake Tapper, asked him about Minaj's claim, Dr. Fauci simply declared, the answer to that, Jake is a resounding no. As usual, he cited no study to support this assertion."

Michael: Where's the study showing it doesn't expand balls?

Aubrey: Unlike RFK Jr. who cites literally tens of thousands of studies. 

Michael: [laughs] I also love that he's saying that Dr. Fauci is silencing her when all that happened was he went on CNN and they're like, "Is she right?" And he's like, "Nah."

Aubrey: I also really enjoy him referring to her as pop icon, Nicki Minaj,-

Michael: Pop icon? It's true.

Aubrey: -because I am certain that he had not heard of her. 

Michael: Ninki Minjaj. 

Aubrey: "Based on Dr. Fauci's word alone, Twitter immediately evicted Minaj from its platform, censoring her communication with her 22 million followers. Pharma's obedient attack dogs, CNN, CBS, and NBC rushed onto the dogpile to defame and discredit the rapper and to assure the public that Minaj was wrong. Dr. Fauci, after all, had spoken!" 

Michael: Also, do you want to read the actual tweet, Aubrey?

Aubrey: Sure. Sure, sure.

Michael: This is the Nicki Minaj tweet that Dr. Fauci so cruelly silenced. 

Aubrey: "My cousin in Trinidad won't get the vaccine because his friend got it and became impotent. His testicles became swollen. His friend was weeks away from getting married. Now the girl called off the wedding. So, just prey on it and make sure you're comfortable with your decision, not bullied." 

Michael: Think about your testicles. 

Aubrey: There was a lot made of this at the time. Like, Nicki Minaj's cousin's friend was the full title of this whole thing. She's gesturing at something, which is not great. I don't love the gesturing that she's doing here, but she's not saying, "These vaccines are unsafe. I have the proof."

Michael: But this is also the thing that anti-vaxxers always do, where they keep this distance, where they can say something and then immediately be like, "Oh, I never said that. I never said nobody should get the vaccine. I merely said that it's harming millions of children."

Aubrey: Yeah.

Michael: "I never said you shouldn't get it." So, for this, I spoke to friend of the show, Eric Garcia and read his book, We're Not Broken, which was really good. 

Aubrey: Yay, Eric. 

Michael: He went on [unintelligible [00:48:53] podcast to describe the genesis of the modern anti-vax movement, which is what we're going to cover now. This is like when me and you started hearing about the anti-vax movement, it's like, what's about to happen? I'm not going to go through every minute detail, because this has been covered pretty extensively elsewhere. But one thing that I do think is really interesting to note and I noticed in the reading for this is that a word that has not come up in any of the anti-vax movements so far throughout the 1970s and 1980s is autism. 

Aubrey: Oh, interesting. 

Michael: The specific link between the MMR vaccine and autism has not been made yet. This is something that is totally constructed in the 1990s.

Aubrey: Which is wild because that is the leading claim at this point. 

Michael: At this point, yes.

Aubrey: If you asked me to characterize what are the values of anti-vax movements in the US, I'd be like, "Well, they don't want there to be any autistic people." Step one. 

Michael: So, most of this, I'm getting from Brian Deer's book, The Doctor Who Fooled the World. But I'm also pulling from NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman and Paul Offit's book Autism's False Prophets. I really started understanding this chapter of the story once I learned that there had been all of these waves of organized anti-vax movements. So, as the attention on this DPT documentary wanes, in the UK, there's a couple of scandals related to vaccines. So, there was some sort of contamination thing where the mumps vaccine in 1992 ended up causing some cases of mumps, relatively small outbreak, but the right-wing tabloids, which you know I love in Britain, just very responsible institutions. 

Aubrey: Daily Mail hive. 

Michael: Yeah, exactly. That's us. They start whipping up a panic about all of the vaccines that kids are taking. So, famously, one of the stories has the headline, "Why another needle, Mummy?" Seen as big government overreach whatever. So, there's a whole big swirling panic about vaccines in the 1990s in the UK. There's this woman named Jackie Fletcher who starts showing up in the tabloids giving interviews. She has a son who she says was totally normal. He's one year old. He then gets the MMR shot and almost immediately starts having seizures. 

Aubrey: Oh.

Michael: She then starts gathering up other mothers, other people around her. This then becomes an organized political movement. She and another mother of a kid who blames her kid's developmental delays on vaccines, they start placing ads in the newspaper to be like, "Are you a parent who blames your kid's condition on the vaccines? Come and find us." In 1992, they found something called Justice Awareness and Basic Support, which is J.A.B.S for short. Actually, pretty good. 

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Michael: Good work. It's actually pretty good work. 

Aubrey: I like that. 

Michael: They start working on a legal case. So, the standards are very different in the UK. It's much harder to sue companies, but they are convinced that this technological product produced by a pharmaceutical manufacturer harmed their children. So, they are very enthusiastic about getting together a legal case and doing some sort of the equivalent of a class action suit against one of these vaccine manufacturers. 

In 1995, they hire a lawyer named Richard Barr, who is going to organize this. There's a lot of technical criteria. He's going to sue under this weird EU law, and he has to meet all of these criteria for actually getting the case to go forward. The problem that he has is that there's no actual proof of this. He has to gin up some actual evidence that these people were harmed from the vaccines, rather than just like, "Oh, they say that they were harmed by the vaccines." So, he finds a researcher named Andrew Wakefield. 

Aubrey: Oh, I know this name. 

Michael: So, Andrew Wakefield is originally like a bowel surgeon. He's described as a doctor, which makes you think that he's a research scientist, but he's a doctor-doctor. He in the 80s, becomes very interested in Crohn's disease, which is this autoimmune disorder that causes all kinds of stomach problems. He really wants to understand like, why do I have so many more patients with Crohn's disease these days? In the early 1990s, he says that he has this eureka moment. He's in the library, he's reading all these old books, he finds that measles, the measles virus, can cause, in rare cases, ulcers in people's stomach and bowels, in their digestive system. Measles can cause this. And so, he then becomes convinced that the measles--

Aubrey: Vaccine?

Michael: Exactly. So, he is like, "Well, where are kids getting exposed to the measles virus at this point? Aha, it's in the vaccines."

Aubrey: Yup.

Michael:  In 1993, he publishes a very janky study, "proving this link," which is published, but then almost immediately, people start looking at it and are like, "This is just wrong." This would be a really big deal if this was true. And they look into it and they're like, "This is just janky as fuck." But even though the study is not seen as particularly credible by researchers, he starts becoming a media darling. So, he starts showing up in these right-wing scare stories about, "Not another needle, Mummy." And they'll interview this guy who's like, "I'm within the medical establishment, but I'm pushing back." He has this great forbidden knowledge story about himself. So, he becomes a media figure. 

In 1995, this lawyer for the moms finds him in one of these articles and is like, "Aha, this guy might be my ticket to ginning up some proof for the fact that vaccines are causing developmental delays."

Aubrey: Yeah. 

Michael: So, Richard Barr hires Andrew Wakefield. He will eventually be paid, adjusted for inflation, more than $1 million over the course of the next decade. They then start putting out calls to parents. So, you can actually go back and see in the newsletter for this J.A.B.S organization, Richard Barr is like, "Hey, if you think your kid has been harmed by the vaccine, get in touch with this Andrew Wakefield guy. He's putting together a study." So, in 1998, he publishes his study. I'm going to send you the title, because it is a nightmare and I want to hear you try to pronounce it. 

Aubrey: No.

Michael: You go, one try. 

Aubrey: Are you going to go like, "Eh," as soon as I get something wrong? [laughs] 

Michael: I don't know either, so your guess is as good as mine. 

Aubrey: All right, I'm taking it slow. 

Michael: All right. 

Aubrey: Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. 

Michael: Pure clickbait. [unintelligible [00:55:34] Wow. 

Aubrey: Yeah. When I see nonspecific colitis, I got to click. 

Michael: They started on Ileal. "Oh, yeah, give it to me."

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Michael: What this study purports to be is like, we're at a hospital in London, and over the course of the last couple of months, we've had 12 kids come in with autism, 8 of them got autism very rapidly, almost immediately after receiving the MMR vaccine. So, six days after receiving the MMR vaccine, they all get both this tummy trouble, which they're calling nonspecific colitis, but basically constipation and all kinds of [unintelligible [00:56:12] stuff, basically. They have very rapid disintegration of developmental markers. They become nonverbal, they have twitches, all kinds of symptoms of something much greater, almost immediately. They run all kinds of tests on the kids and show that there's ulcers and stuff. There's all kinds of technical bowel stuff. Most of the paper is totally unreadable because it's all this super technical shit. 

The paper basically puts forward this theory that there's something in the vaccines that is swamping the brain, and crossing the blood brain barrier, and is causing some sort of bowel disintegration, and then the bowel disintegration is somehow causing autism. People point out later that this is very important for the paper to include this because to get legal compensation under the UK and EU product liability laws, you have to show that the product caused a unique condition, and you have to show that it was rapid onset. You can't just be like, "My kid got a vaccine and a year later, he started having headaches."

Aubrey: Right. 

Michael: So, lo and behold, this guy who was hired by a lawyer to give ammunition to a class action lawsuit, huh, produces perfect evidence of something that matches the legal standard for liability. 

Aubrey: Yeah.

Michael: Interesting stuff. What a coincidence. 

Aubrey: Shocking. 

Michael: So, when this paper is published-- The paper is published in The Lancet, which is one of the most prestigious medical journals in the UK. The Royal Free Hospital, which is where he works at the time, holds a press conference where Andrew Wakefield announces this to the press. He immediately goes off script. So, of course reporters are going to be like, "Well, what does this mean about getting a vaccine?" He says, "I cannot support the continued use of the three vaccines given together. We need to know what the role of gut inflammation is in autism." His boss is like, "Ah, that's not justified at all. This is a super preliminary report." But, of course, that clip doesn't make it on the news. What makes it on the news is, "Oh, my God, there's these kids that immediately came down with autism after getting the vaccine," and the researcher is like, "Oh, we should think about changing the vaccine schedule."

Aubrey: As you're talking about this, I'm just thinking about how much of a theme it is on the show for the place where it was possible to make things go differently was the point between researchers and media, right? 

Michael: Yeah. 

Aubrey: But that is really the point at which folks are getting rocket fuel for their weird and baseless claims, or they're being checked in a way that makes them uncomfortable and forces them to sit with it a little bit. It just feels like had there been the same kind of journalistic energy channeled towards what's going on with Wakefield and all of this as it was happening, as there was devoted to the DPT vaccine story that we would have a really, really different story of this movement happening. 

Michael: It's also it's so predictable. Again, the UK has been in a constant right-wing panic about vaccines for nearly a decade at this point. We know that these movements exist. We know that this narrative is out there. They also publish a critique of the article in the same issue that is like, "Look, this is just 12 cases. We don't really know anything. It's super-duper preliminary." But it's like, you didn't think to just not publish it or wait and fucking stress test it at all? You just be like, "Oh, well, we're just going to print both perspectives with no acknowledgment" that you know which perspective is going to end up in the fucking tabloids.

Aubrey: Right. Well, that's the other point of intervention that we come up against all the time is this deep desire for science to be apolitical or to exist in an apolitical landscape, which it absolutely never does. 

Michael: We're talking about the safety of people's kids. Do you think people don’t care about this stuff? People are going to err on the side of caution with this stuff, especially when it comes down to like, "My kid is about to be harmed in this extremely proximate way by getting a vaccine," versus, "If my kid doesn't get vaccines, they might get rubella." 

Aubrey: Totally. 

Michael: Which I've never heard of or pertussis, which doesn't feel real to people. 

Aubrey: Yeah. 

Michael: I was actually looking at statistics of various countries and vaccination rates over time. You can see a fucking dip in 1998. It's wild in the UK. It's like craters. 

Aubrey: Good Lord.

Michael: Then, of course, there's a bunch of outbreaks of various things and there's all kinds of other media stuff. And then the vaccination rate goes up. But it's like, even zooming out to the century level of like, "Okay, what were the vaccinations--?" [crosstalk] 

Aubrey: Right. You're like, "Hey, what's that divot in the--?" [crosstalk] 

Michael: Yeah, you can see the fucking Wakefield divot. It's fucking wild. And of course, this was going to fucking happen. What drives me absolutely nuts is that in this evisceration of the paper that runs alongside the paper, people do point out that this is only based on 12 kids at one hospital. This is based exclusively on the memories of the parents. So, it's not medical records. And also, what I still feel like has not really been conveyed to the British public at the time or even fucking now is that if kids were coming down with very severe digestive issues and autism within a fucking week of getting the vaccine, we would know. Different countries have very different vaccination rates, and different parts of different countries-- 

Some Indian states have much higher vaccination rates than other Indian states. Do you know how fucking easy it would be to look at this and be like, "Oh, okay, this part of India has really high rates of bowel problems of kids. This part has much lower. Oh, weird, it matches up perfectly with the vaccines." In the years after this, people go back-- There's a study that actually finds every single kid diagnosed with autism in a particular region of the UK, no link between symptoms of autism and vaccination. There are huge country studies of like, okay, the vaccination rate, vaccinations became mandatory in this year. So, the vaccination rate went from 15% to 99%. Did we see any increase in bowel stuff? Did we see any significant explosion in autism rates? No. People have looked for this for years and have found nothing. 

Aubrey: Can I ask about that? The scientific establishment wants to silence me, on the nobody cares about the welfare of white wealthy children, does RFK Jr. or does the anti-vax movement writ large offer a motivation for that? 

Michael: Oh, Big Pharma. 

Aubrey: Oh, just straight up, like, they're getting payoffs or whatever?

Michael: [unintelligible [01:02:52] the pocket of Big Pharma, which I actually-- Again, the best rebuttal to any conspiracy theory is to ask yourself like, how many people would have to be in on the conspiracy for this to work? And so, even if you want to say, okay, America is lost. America has totally fallen to Big Pharma or whatever. There are vaccination programs worldwide. Why would thousands of researchers in Pakistan be willing to lie about the symptoms of vaccines, so that American companies can get rich? If vaccines are obviously harmful, we're talking about a conspiracy that involves easily 100,000 researchers. The Public Health Ministry of Bangladesh has to be in on it. Why the fuck would they care what Big Pharma does? It doesn't make any sense. The minute you get into the specifics of how the global vaccination distribution system works.

Aubrey: Yeah, that was my Rogan question. Say more about that. Why? 

Michael: Yeah, ooh--[crosstalk] 

Aubrey: Why would they do that? 

Michael: What do you mean? 

Aubrey: Yeah. 

Michael: Okay. There's all kinds of problems with the paper itself. It basically never should have been published. Six years later, in 2004, a journalist named Brian Deer, who wrote a very good book about this entire thing, starts looking into the background of this study. Nobody knows any of this stuff at the time about-- The parents are specifically being recruited because they're already anti-vaxxers. Nobody knows about the funding. He starts looking into it and he finds all of it. He eventually tracks down the parents of all 12 of the kids who participate in the study, and he reads them the description, okay, there's patient, 11. "Okay, your child is patient 11. These are his symptoms. This is when he got vaccinated." And over and over again, the parents are like, "That's not true." 

He finds out a huge number of the kids had symptoms of autism before they got vaccinated. Other kids had symptoms of autism eight months after they were vaccinated. This whole thing of a case study, 12 random kids happen to have come into our clinic over the last couple of months, and they all have these same symptoms. That's not true. These kids were brought in to the clinic. Specifically, one kid was flown there from the Bay Area of the United States. 

Aubrey: What? 

Michael: A lot of these kids have conditions that make it very difficult for them to be taken out of comfortable environments. It's really stressful on these kids to travel. Much less, go into a clinic where a bunch of tests are going to be done on them. So, this is super fucked up. But the kids are given spinal taps which are very painful. A lot of the kids have to be held down by three people to get just to draw blood. 

Aubrey: Jesus. God.

Michael: There's never an ethics board that looks at this. There's eventually a trial. It's a medical licensing board trial. It's the longest trial of this nature of its type in the UK ever. It goes on for more than two years, I believe. And eventually, Wakefield is stripped of his medical license. 

Aubrey: Oh, wow. 

Michael: The reason why I wanted to talk about this thing of, the scientific establishment is trying to silence me, is that the story of Andrew Wakefield is not a story of the scientific establishment being too mean to somebody. This is a story of the scientific establishment being too nice. 

Aubrey: Yeah, totally. 

Michael: One of the things that Brian Deer mentions numerous times in his book is how long it took him to get other scientists to admit that Wakefield was acting in bad faith, and this was a fraudulent paper. Everybody was like, "No, he really believes this. He's doing his best. He may have just stepped over the line in a couple of places." And Deer is like, "Dude, he's lying to you about his finances. He's lying about the basic chronology of these kids. He's lying about where they're based." It takes 12 years for The Lancet to retract this paper. 

Aubrey: What? 

Michael: Brian Deer figures out all this funding, all this recruitment of the parents and shit in 2004, they don't retract the paper until 2010. 

Aubrey: Oh, my God. 

Michael: Also, keep in mind, not only was this extremely janky balls paper published in the first place, but it was published with a fucking press conference by his employer. The scientific establishment was coddling this fucking guy and was accepting just on its face shoddy work, I mean, it was a shoddy paper to begin with. 

Aubrey: Yeah, good Lord. 

Michael: What we see in the story over and over again is the scientific establishment not being mean enough to anti-vaxxers, and fucking taking them at their word, and taking them in good faith over and over again, even long after they have ceased deserving any assumption of good faith. 

Aubrey: Yeah, we've gotten a number of emails as a podcast from researchers, and from professors, and folks who've served as the peer review part of the research world, who have spoken very articulately and passionately about how deeply flawed the peer review system is currently that it's on a volunteer basis, and there's a lot of bias that comes into play in reviewing different people's work and different subjects of work. It makes sense to me that a system that has that many things fall through the cracks, including findings that strain credulity and don't really even pass the sniff test. 

Michael: Yeah.

Aubrey: It makes sense to me that to hold folks to account would require a great deal of time and energy and effort and people power that I'm guessing these journals just don't have. 

Michael: Yeah. One of the reasons I wanted to do this episode is, is the anti-vax story is a story where science gets to be the good guy, despite the rest of the episodes of the show. I'm actually a huge believer in science and a huge believer in the mission of public health. I think that this is something government has to do. This is something that we do together. I think it's extremely important. One of the main blind spots in science that we saw back then and we still see now is they want science not to be released into a political and social context. It's something you hear all the time. Climate change shouldn't be a political issue. 

Aubrey: Yeah.

Michael: Totally agree. I'd love it if it wasn't, but it is. 

Aubrey: Yeah, it's such a tough one because it is like, there's one side that's grounded in science and there's one side that's spouting nonsense. I would argue it's even bigger than that, which is like, there are claims that are based in scientific observance. And on the other side, there is profound anxiety. 

Michael: Oh, yeah. 

Aubrey: So, it's not even someone's making good points and someone's making bad points. It's someone's having a conversation about information and someone else is having a conversation about feelings. 

Michael: Yeah, that's a good way to put it. 

Aubrey: So, we're just like not ever going to meet, if that remains the case.

Michael: I want to end by circling back to RFK Jr. So, it's now 1998. Things are starting to happen in the UK. There's this huge wave of both sides' media. It's like, "Well, there's a debate about whether the vaccines cause autism," which there never really meaningfully was, but this is the message that people are getting. This also is a key moment in the radicalization of RFK Jr. So, we've talked about some of the factors, the larger biographical factors that made him susceptible to conspiracy theories. But in the early 1990s, he has a kid who has severe allergies, and this ends up being a major component of his radicalization. So, I am going to send you an excerpt from the foreword to a book called The Peanut Allergy Epidemic, which is this really weird, crank, conspiracy book. But they ask RFK Jr. to write the foreword to it in the second edition or something. I'm going to send this to you. 

Aubrey: "My son, Connor, was born in 1994. He developed chronic asthma, food allergies, and anaphylaxis that required 29 emergency room visits before he was three years old. His brother, Finn, born four years later also developed anaphylaxis. What were the chances? In 1998, I was among a group of New York parents who cofounded the Food Allergy Initiative to research cures for food allergies. In my own research, I learned that a host of other childhood epidemics autism, ADD, ADHD, SIDS, OCD, ASD, narcolepsy, sleep and seizure disorders, neurodevelopmental delays, autoimmune diseases, and ticks, all began rising in the early 1990s. Coincidentally, this is the time period during which the CDC dramatically expanded the vaccine schedule raising children's exposure to mercury, aluminum, and other toxic vaccine ingredients." 

Michael: So, RFK Jr. is one of these parents who's radicalized by the experience of having kids with various medical stuff, and he somehow finds this link to vaccines and becomes radicalized like, this is where it comes from.

Aubrey: This is his radioactive spider. 

Michael: Yeah. He doesn't talk about it that much, which is weird now.

Aubrey: It makes sense as a source code for folks like level of feelings and depth of feelings on this issue. It would make sense that one of the only places that that would come from is your kids and how you feel about your kids. That is the time and the place that people will go to lengths that they wouldn't necessarily otherwise go to. 

Michael: He's also doing the thing that we see in all forms of health grifting, where he's just throwing the kitchen sink at it. He's like, "Oh, the vaccines cause autism, but also ADHD and SIDS and OCD and narcolepsy." This is something I've seen him do in a million interviews, where he just lists off a bunch of conditions that have no biological mechanism similar to each other. It would be really weird if the same thing was causing ADHD and sudden infant death. And then, as you saw a little bit of in that clip that we watched, people try to push back. They're just like, "No, it's not."

Aubrey: Yeah.

Michael: This is like, if you've had conversations with conspiracy theorists, this is every conversation where you're like, "How do you know that?" And they're like, "Well, I just think you should be able to say it."

Aubrey: This is the voice of experience chiming in here, when you were like, "If you've ever talked to a conspiracy theorist,-" 

Michael: Oh, yeah. 

Aubrey: -and then just dropped into some deep, real stuff. 

Michael: I am sub-tweeting some very specific people in- 

Aubrey: Yeah, there you go. 

Michael: -this entire episode, and in some ways, with this entire show. 

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Michael: So, glad that you've called me out for that. 

Aubrey: Yeah, you're welcome. 

Michael: You're calling me in. 

Aubrey: Listen, our whole show is just a series of sub-tweets. 

Michael: That's the only reason anyone becomes a journalist.

Aubrey: [laughs] Yeah. Okay.

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