In the ongoing clash of science and celebrity, score the latest round to the nerds.
The most recent dust-up happened last month when the Tribeca Film Festival in New York pulled a documentary by a discredited ex-doctor whose research into the connection between vaccines and autism has been debunked. After festival co-founder and silver screen icon Robert De Niro initially defended the film’s inclusion, Tribeca—facing an uproar from doctors and experts—pulled it.
The film, “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe,” is directed by Andrew Wakefield, a former British gastroenterologist who was stripped of his medical license in 2010. The British medical journal BMJ called Wakefield’s study connecting autism and vaccines—which was retracted by medical journal the Lancet—an “elaborate fraud.”
Scientific research has consistently found the MMR vaccine (given to children for measles, mumps and rubella) to be safe and to have no link to autism.
De Niro, who has an autistic teenage son, acknowledged he personally chose to schedule the film at the festival, which begins April 13.
It’s just the latest instance of the medical community butting heads with a celeb flogging dubious science.
Questions over vaccinations have been particularly bedeviling. Naysayers from the A-list (on down to the D-list) have touted their own theories, most prominently with the anti-vaccination advocacy of TV personality Jenny McCarthy.
“Celebrities have had an out-of-proportion impact on the public’s understanding of vaccine risk,” New York University medical ethicist Arthur Caplan told the Associated Press. “I don’t want to overplay it; most people vaccinate. It’s not like hordes of people are listening to Jenny McCarthy and saying, ‘Forget the American Academy of Pediatrics, I’m going with the former Playboy Bunny.’ ”
“It’s part of the general impact celebrities are having on health,” Caplan said. “Gwyneth Paltrow is certainly emitting an unceasing stream of hot air about many health practices, from colonics to who knows what. It’s a constant battle to try to correct misperceptions.”