Mnookin: Jail for Wakefield?
By Staff News & Analysis - January 11, 2011

Q. How has the anti-vaccine community, which you got to know in depth while reporting The Panic Virus, [a book by Seth Mnooken] been reacting to the latest news? … Seth Mnookin: A large part of the community that feels most strongly that vaccines have damaged their children are parents whose children are very sick. They are families who've dealt with an enormous amount, and often don't get the support they need. That's often lost in the debate. So it's very understandable to me that if you have subscribed to [the theory that vaccines cause autism] for a while, this news is not going to matter much. You see that reaction this week: new information is, for many of them, just part of a huge conspiracy between the media, government, and drug companies. This new report is an issue because the vast majority of people do not fall into one of the two camps, those who are against the vaccines and those who are for them. There's a kind of great middle that is somewhat undecided. That's one of the reasons why I find this new accusation of "fraud" troubling: it reintroduces this as a controversy. The irony is that the more it's talked about, the more people are going think that it's still an issue. – Time Magazine/Healthland

Dominant Social Theme: Don't pay attention to the Internet, please.

Free-Market Analysis: We hoped to pull away from covering the current vaccine controversy, but Time Magazine has published a truly remarkable interview with Seth Mnookin, author of The Panic Virus. We want to analyze the interview because we believe it sheds a bright light on the struggle that the elite is having when it comes to supporting the one-size-fits-all approach to vaccination. It also points up the elite's larger fight to maintain the credibility, generally, of its dominant social themes in the Internet era.

Mnookin, a Harvard graduate and contributing editor to Vanity Fair magazine, is the author of two successful books on non-medical-related themes (sports and media). It must be said, however, that he has perfect timing. His new book on vaccines and their sociopolitical impact (and the Internet's larger ability to recycle "disinformation") has been issued just as Andrew Wakefield (above left) is again under attack for a paper suggesting however vaguely a link between autism and vaccines.

Dr. Wakefield is now being accused of faking his paper purposefully; the resultant coverage has reignited the controversy all over again. And while Mnookin's new book has been both well-received and well-reviewed, Wakefield is having a tougher time of it, appearing on various programs to defend himself. In the past few days, therefore, we've covered the Andrew Wakefield/vaccine controversy from several angles. First we analyzed it from the point of view of the news itself. Then in another article we pointed out that while the power elite was protecting its vaccine-promotion as best it could, it was running up against something we called "meme nullification."

This is certainly a problem for the powers-that-be. Because the Anglosphere does not control all channels of communication anymore, every time it introduces or reaffirms a dominant social theme, it runs the real risk of injury; people now have the resources and knowledge to go online and absorb alternative opinions. Because of the Internet, the very act of propaganda becomes anti-propaganda. Yesterday we cited the following article (Andrew Wakefield's Lethal Legacy) that appeared in the American Spectator to further buttress this observation:

The Wakefield formula of hijacking medical science by spreading flimsy fears through the Web is now mainstream. Today, anyone willing to pay for newsfeeds that continually distribute and obtain prominent placement in Google searches can have their medical scare stories and half-baked research virtually circle the globe ten times over before the truth takes its first step. Rest assured, unbalanced media reporting, biased researchers and publicity-seeking medical professionals will spread panic for their own gain.

We can see in this angry observation the admission that the elite has in many ways already lost control of its narrative. The Mnookin interview is of interest because it makes the same sort of point; and suggests disturbing solutions besides. Mnookin states: "I find this new [Wakefield] accusation of ‘fraud' troubling: it reintroduces this as a controversy. The irony is that the more it's talked about, the more people are going think that it's still an issue."

This is an enlightening comment. Mnookin is actually rephrasing our perspective: that in an Internet era the promotions of the elite, when not properly presented, can backfire considerably. Later on, Mnookin adds, "When I started researching this book, I thought, the science is so clear. This should be straightforward. But there is incredible controversy there. We see controversies all the time in society about things over which there should be no debate. Obama is not a Muslim. He was not born in Kenya. George W. Bush did not plan 9/11. But still, you can surround yourself with those views if you want. The cumulative effect of that makes you more and more convinced that's true. The boundary between what is real, and what you feel is real, is porous."

Quite insightful. Those who believe otherwise (regarding Osama and 9/11) might be most upset with Mnookin's commentary, but his larger point is well taken. What Mnookin is suggesting is that there is a whole world-view that exists outside of mainstream orthodoxy, and a convincing one. He is even courageous enough to suggest that the powers-that-be have little influence over it – hence his point that the more a specific controversy is "talked about" the more "people are going think that it's still an issue."

Mnookin's perception of the dilemma is so acute that he goes even further in this groundbreaking interview. He states, "What parents should NOT do [emphasis ours] is go online and type in ‘autism vaccines' or go to parents' chat rooms. If you Google ‘headache brain tumor', you will come away convinced that your headache is actually cancer. It's the same with searching for information on autism-vaccine links."

Again, most interesting. Mnooken understands there is no real way to counteract the Internet's alternative narrative. The ONLY way, he proposes, is to remove oneself from its messaging. He does not suggest outright (government) censorship, but he does suggest SELF-censorship. People should not seek out their information – certainly not electronically.

For Mnookin, the alternatives are fairly clear: pursue a do-it-yourself approach on the Internet or find a trusted medical expert who can properly present the view of mainstream science. He states: "If you don't trust your pediatrician enough to have a conversation and take their advice about this, you need to find another pediatrician. You entrust your kid's life to this person."

Of course, here at the Bell, we believe people SHOULD think for themselves, and even be distrustful of authority figures generally. But for the elite and those comfortable with elite paradigms, the most threatening thing is a credible counter-narrative that attracts supporters. It is another reason why Wakefield has been attacked so viciously – though having interviewed him we can say with some certainty that likely he does not fully understand the sociopolitical impact of his actions. Mnookin, meanwhile, (a skilled communicator) finally admits that there is perhaps only one solution to the alternative narratives of the Internet.

He tells his interviewer (who has just put forth the idea that Wakefield needs further punishment), "With the vaccine debate, we're seeing that more and more as more children are getting sick and they're dying. I think we're not far from the point at which we start having real discussions about consequences for people who don't vaccinate and end up bringing in disease. I don't have a background in the law, of course, but I do think the conversation is going to pivot in that direction."

What Mnookin reveals in this interview is a fairly strong validation of the Bell's point of view – which is why we wished to present it even though there are other things to write about. Having perceived the power of the alternative, electronic narrative, Mnookin suggests that people simply not avail themselves of it. But obviously he holds out little hope for this solution. The final resort, then, is to use the power of the state – its ability to punish people through incarceration. "The conversation is going to pivot in that direction," he warns.

Editor's Note: We had hoped in this article to cover an additional interesting perspective, which is that the controversy over Wakefield and vaccines is apparently uncovering a deeper issue having to do with the whole idea of the germ theory of medicine. The Bell feedback threads have received in the past few days enormously interesting comments from a variety of sources regarding what seems to be a resurgence of what we might call "environmental" – or "natural" – medicine, which Pasteur apparently endorsed on his deathbed. These feedbacks in aggregate seem to hold that germs and sickness have more to do with the person's own physical and psychological wellbeing than susceptibility to outside infection. We hope to delve into this issue in more detail soon.

After Thoughts

From Mnookin's point of view, then, Wakefield, or someone holding Wakefield's views, may end up in jail. Yet as we have pointed out before, authoritarianism in the face of a compelling alternative narrative is no solution at all. The whole point of the elite's fear-based promotions was to manipulate the larger population without their knowledge. There are billions on the planet today; the elite simply cannot put everyone in the pokey. There are alternatives of course: war, genocide, etc. But absent these more Draconian solutions – or even if they are attempted – the elite may find it necessary, after all, to slow its mad rush towards one-world government with the centralizing of thought and behavior that implies.

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