When the Audience Becomes the Publisher

August 3, 2013

This week 8NewsNow Las Vegas aired a segment on childhood immunizations.  The segment is worth a look only as a means of showcasing how biased, poorly researched reporting can potentially influence the thinking of anxious parents.  The piece opens by spontaneously entertaining the question about whether children even need immunizations and goes on to offer the irresponsible suggestion that deadly childhood infections might be preventable with diet.

Feeling some responsibility to join the conversation, I posted the following comment on 8NewsNow’s site which they refused to publish.  Beyond suppression of the facts, it would seem that suppression of dialog is another way to shape how a story unfolds.  What those at 8NewsNow who elected to disallow my participation don’t understand is that (in the words of Jay Rosen) the audience has now become the publisher.  Despite their best efforts, they can’t stop the conversation about what parents need and want to understand.

While this story offers equal time between a chiropractor (represented as a ‘holistic doctor’) and a pediatrician, altered immunization schedules concocted by non-physicians aren’t worthy of equal time. While your story has viewers believing that every parent has the knowledge to implement an individualized approach to childhood immunization, this simply isn’t the case. The development and safe scheduling of vaccines to reliably prevent devastating childhood disease is based on our understanding of specific infectious diseases, years of accumulated research as well as the consensus of many of the country’s greatest infectious disease minds. The prevention of childhood disease is not a democratic process where we pick and choose what’s popular or fashionable.

It should also be noted there isn’t a single reference demonstrating that an “alternate vaccine schedule” is actually beneficial for children. This slanted bit of ‘reporting’ promulgates the ideology of a vocal, but deluded, minority.

Pediatricians – those best positioned to advocate for children – understand the basis for our current immunization schedule and use it in their practices. These pediatricians understand that the “alternative vaccine schedule” has never been endorsed, approved, or recognized by any body of physicians. And to suggest that your story offers a ‘debate between doctors’ should be seen as an embarrassment for any news organization.

Your piece misrepresents and sets back two generations of work by tireless child health advocates who have worked to eradicate deadly childhood disease. Diane Tuazon, as well as the producers who left her unsupervised, should be ashamed of themselves for fueling the fires of vaccine hesitancy and putting those unable to advocate for themselves at further risk. Channel 8 should take steps to remove this segment. Going forward, 8NewsNow should work harder to create reporting that’s in line with evidence-based medicine.

This situation illustrates why every physician needs to be part of the public dialog.

Addendum August 5, 2 PM CST: My comment was released and now available on the 8NewsNow site.  The explanation offered is that there was no one available over the weekend to moderate comments that were received late Friday evening.  My comment was submitted on Thursday August 1, the day after the story was posted.  Apparently it was a really long weekend.


Katie McCurdy August 3, 2013 at 9:09 am

Well put, Dr V! Thank you for this post. I have many friends who have refused vaccines for their children, and I have yet to hear any sound scientific argument for doing so. I find it a disturbing trend.

Simon August 3, 2013 at 10:44 am

Good one, Dr V. Slowly, but oh-so-slowly, we are turning the tide against non-evidence-based, fankly dangerous, quasi-medical claptrap here in England, but we have a way to go: still a man hears want he wants to hear and disregards the rest…

Jay Hochman August 3, 2013 at 11:49 am

I agree fully. One of the reasons I started to blog and to participate in activities like twitter is to offer a physician’s perspective to these issues and others. If parents want to follow the advice of “quacks,” I cannot stop them. Though, it is worrisome when media outlets provide equal time to views that are quite dangerous and undermine vaccines which are one of the greatest medical advances. As antibiotic resistance becomes an ever-growing threat, prevention of illnesses with vaccines offers the best hope of avoiding severe epidemics.

Kendra August 3, 2013 at 6:19 pm

I was hoping the lack of credentials beyond motherhood would qualify me as an expert and therefore prevent silencing of my voice. Alas, that does not appear to be the case. Perhaps suggesting that a piece lacking actual facts should be moved to the Opinion section was considered abusive…

Regardless, I am glad that you decided to publish your response, Dr. V. At the very least, it is available for reference as you intended. Your electronic presence (and yours, Dr. Hochman) is appreciated by those who choose to seek factual information in the midst of so many ill-researched articles published by the professional reporters.

Catherine Rose August 4, 2013 at 8:08 am

Dr V – wait to go. Thank you for sharing this! As a parent with 1 medically complex daughter and another who required open heart surgery, we exclude from our list of play-pals anyone who isn’t current on immunizations. It’s just not worth the risk for my children who have fought to hard medically to be here.

Scott August 4, 2013 at 9:43 am

As a parent of two children with ASD, I’m always wondering if vaccines “caused” their autism. That’s a natural parental response and sciencic fact does little to alleviate my instinct to protect my children. Frankly, I don’t have the luxury – nor the data, to debate vaccines. My job is to help my children and to deal with their reality, regardless of what caused it.

Parents do the best they can with the information they have. My parents used to smoke in the home. I don’t smoke at all. Science took care of that – and I trust science to one day (hopefully soon) to tell us why ASD rates are skyrocketing.

Logic tells me there’s no scientific evidence of a link … Emotion demands to know why my kids have autism. I may never know. But here’s what I do know.

I do know that it’s a violation of the trust my children have placed in me to not protect them. It’s irresponsible for me to not protect them from the known threat of childhood disease in the name of some perceived link. I don’t blame parents who don’t see it this way, they’re doing the best they can.

But I do blame those who misrepesent the facts. Or use their celebrity status to advance an opinion as fact. Worst of all, I blame the media who perpetuate a myth in their quest for idolization and ratings.

Future science might even prove them right … But until it does, they have a duty to not make things worse. They have a duty to raise the level of debate without ignoring what we do know. Science has always challenged fact with theory but it has also scrutined itself without bias before accepting change. That’s why I trust science. And why I listen to anecdotes.

Thank you Dr. V for calling them on it.

Mighty Casey August 4, 2013 at 10:36 am

Junk science has blood on its hands, and the anti-vax wing nuts are among the most dangerous. Adults making foolish decisions about their own health/medical care based on spurious, non- evidence-based ideas is one thing. Those same adults putting their children at risk for childhood diseases that can either kill or seriously injure them is, IMO, approaching felony child abuse.

Glad you posted this somewhere, Dr. V – the folks at 8NewsNow obviously care more about ratings than facts, or the lives of the kids in their community.

Gary Levin MD August 4, 2013 at 11:54 am

The advent of social media networks, twitter, facebook, Google + and blogs allows readers to become active publisher, not to just disagree but to lend support to things we agree with. Public opinion has become much mportant. That is why Physicians must participate actively to insert truth and fact into the sometimes fallacious and unproven statements made in all forms of media, not just the internet. Network your comments on Pinterest, Networked blogs, Healthworks Collective, Digg, Stumble upon, twitter, google plus. The more you publish the higher your search rank will be on search engines. Thanks Dr V and 33 charts

Peter Stokes August 4, 2013 at 10:58 pm

I don’t understand why a lot of parents refuse to have their children vaccinated. I haven’t heard a good reason, too. Plus, why deny your children the best? I just don’t get it.

Dexter Van Zile August 9, 2013 at 9:04 am

As a former Peace Corps volunteer in Africa who worked in public health, I am very grateful to see Dr. Vartabedian’s activism on this issue. I know the value of vaccines.

I once saw a child die of measles right before my eyes. It was a completely preventable disease and the death was entirely avoidable. I am outraged that a responsible news station would promote an anti-vaccine agenda. Just outraged.

I’ve known Dr. Vartabedian for a long time and am glad to see him take this stand.

joannevalentinesimson August 12, 2013 at 9:26 am

I am being only partly facetious with the following questions.
Is it possible that this failure on the part of some parents to face objective reality could ultimately serve a positive evolutionary purpose? In our society, people can chose to kill themselves and their children in many ways – having guns around the house, doing alcohol and drugs, refusing vaccinations. Is our contemporary culture too complex for a large part of the population? How many generations will it take to sort this all out?
Should we be on a campaign to preserve the lives of those who choose to be ignorant? You tried to point out the ignorance and even were blocked for doing that.

kitty August 15, 2013 at 10:23 am

“Is it possible that this failure on the part of some parents to face objective reality could ultimately serve a positive evolutionary purpose?”

The problem is they are endangering others. Vaccines are not 100% effective and you need herd immunity – the majority of people vaccinated – to protect those in whom vaccines failed to elicit immunity. A non-vaccinated kid can infect others.

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