With push from Robert De Niro, Tribeca film festival screens Andrew Wakefield’s anti-vaxer movie

Get this: a new film about the dangers of vaccination,“Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe,” has been co-written and directed by none other than Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield, of course, is the discredited doctor whose duplicity and fraud in connecting the MMR vaccine with autism led to his downfall, and to the revocation of his license to practice medicine. Of course none of this is mentioned on the film’s website (I haven’t seen the film, but given that it’s directed by Wakefield, you can imagine what’s in it). As the New York Times notes:

On the festival’s website, the biographical material about Mr. Wakefield does not mention that he was stripped of his license or that his Lancet study was retracted. Rather, it says that the Lancet study “would catapult Wakefield into becoming one of the most controversial figures in the history of medicine.”

Here’s the trailer, which shows what a sham and a fraud this movie is:

Why is De Niro, who doesn’t have a history of loonery, promoting this movie?

On Friday, Robert De Niro, one of the festival’s founders, said in a statement issued through the festival’s publicists that he supported the plan to show the movie next month, although he said he was “not personally endorsing the film,” nor was he against vaccination.

Mr. De Niro’s statement seemed to suggest that this was the first time he has expressed a preference that a particular film be shown at the festival.

“Grace and I have a child with autism,” he wrote, referring to his wife, Grace Hightower De Niro, “and we believe it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined. In the 15 years since the Tribeca Film Festival was founded, I have never asked for a film to be screened or gotten involved in the programming. However this is very personal to me and my family and I want there to be a discussion, which is why we will be screening VAXXED.”

It’s personal! Clearly, De Niro agrees that the investigation of Wakefield, and the multifarious subsequent work showing no connection between vaccination and autism, are irrelevant, for his child is afflicted. I feel for his sorrow about his child, but what De Niro is doing in promoting this film is nothing less than dangerous. He’s spreading the message that vaccination can cause autism, and that the medical establishment has covered this up. And judging by the ratings on the YouTube trailer, people are agreeing.

Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 7.14.00 PM

You might want to add your own ranking. . . .


  1. Posted March 26, 2016 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    My sympathies to Robert DeNiro and his wife on the autism of their son. There are so many of us who have autistic family members. My grandson is autistic.

    I would hope that the movie would generate discussion, but since it is showing only one side of the issue without telling the truth about the doctor/director, I fear it won’t.
    People tend to believe what they see and hear,
    particularly if no other evidence is presented.

    There is so much legitimate scientific investigation going on right now about the causes of autism. Certain genes missing or mutated in the autistic person’s DNA seems to be implicated. Scientists will get to the truth about autism. Soon, I hope. I wish that this side of the issue were presented at the showing to balance out the film.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 26, 2016 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      In my experience movies or literature which presents a fringe conspiracy theory are only supposed to provoke discussions which amount to either joining in and endorsing them, or passively agreeing that while you’re not necessarily convinced, you respect that someone felt strongly enough to put it out there. You then don’t engage with the topic in any detail. If you do, then you’re angry, closed-minded, and hurting people’s feelings. You’re not having a “conversation” if you’re criticizing.

      It’s like when people ‘share’ something religious with you. “Discussions” aren’t supposed to resemble debates; they’re supposed to be more like show-and-tell. Or, perhaps, support groups.

    • Wunold
      Posted March 27, 2016 at 3:41 am | Permalink

      Which kind of discussion do you hope for about an assertion that has been effectively disproven?

      That seems to me like Star Wars generating a discussion about the risks of using the Force.

      A movie about the present state of scientific Autism research would be great, but vaccination conspiracy theories have no place there, just as little as Autism caused by aliens or demons.

  2. Derek Freyberg
    Posted March 26, 2016 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    For more criticism of the movie, readers might consult the four posts about it on the science-based medicine blog “Respectful Insolence” (http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/), and Matt Carey’s analysis of the dishonest quote fabrication in the trailer at http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/2016/03/22/andrew-wakefield-releases-the-trailer-for-his-william-thompson-video-slick-production-and-dishonesty/.
    There’s plenty more elsewhere, I’m sure.

  3. Randy Schenck
    Posted March 26, 2016 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Never been a follower of De Niro really but surprised to hear this. How do you embarrass a believer? Kind of in the same class as the religious movie previewed recently.

  4. Somer
    Posted March 26, 2016 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    What is it with Hollywood – it seems to be a mill of conspiracy theories.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted March 26, 2016 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think Hollywood has much to do with either this film or the festival screening it.

    • gluonspring
      Posted March 26, 2016 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

      What they are failing to realize is that they’ve only peeled away the first layer of the conspiracy. That vaccines are to blame for autism is exactly what they want you to believe. That’s just the diversion. Follow the money! The most profitable drug in the US is Abilify. Perhaps that is the real cause, eh? Pretty smart of them to throw everyone off the scent with the vaccination scare. And everyone took the bait! The second most profitable drug is Nexium! If Nexium is the real cause, we could be witnessing a conspiracy between the drug industry and the spicy foods industry, since both would be devastated by the discontinuation of this drug.

      People are smart enough to smell the conspiracy, but not quite smart enough to follow the money to it’s source. Sad!

      • Kevin
        Posted March 26, 2016 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

        Bipolar and heartburn? Those are the two most popular drugs? I’ve never heard of them til now. We are doomed. Forget autism.

        • gluonspring
          Posted March 27, 2016 at 12:46 am | Permalink

          Profitable. I doubt they are the most popular in terms of pills prescribed but they make the most money.

          • Diane G.
            Posted March 27, 2016 at 5:14 am | Permalink

            Tho Nexium, of course, is OTC now.

            • gluonspring
              Posted March 27, 2016 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

              Yes. Also, the Q&D research I did on this topic cited a study from 2012, so it’s old info. But, hey, it’s a conspiracy theory, what do you expect?

              • Diane G.
                Posted March 28, 2016 at 2:47 am | Permalink


  5. debneill
    Posted March 26, 2016 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Very disappointing! He says he wants a discussion. Where has he been for the last ten years?

  6. Posted March 26, 2016 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    I did comment. And then I read the consistently hysterical commentary by the tin foil hat brigade. I will never be able to.understand or directly relate to the excruciating pain parents must feel when they lose a child, or the despair and confusion they feel sometimes loving a child with autism. It makes sense to desperately want an explanation, a cause, or in this case, a scapegoat. Even so, I cannot abide by subscribing to a thoroughly disbelief, the practice of which ironically endangers more children. We all want answers which explain why our worst pain happens to US. It is a terrible existential bind to continually lack such answers, as parents of autistic children go through. But they aren’t alone in that experience.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 27, 2016 at 5:21 am | Permalink

      It’s quite possible that those who aren’t in the practice of seeking out and discrediting woo or faux science (i.e., most of the public) only start investigating a problem once it personally affects them. It can take quite a while, especially for those less science-literate, to sort out the grain from the chaff.

      Meanwhile, De Niro’s changed his mind and knowledge had triumphed yet again.

      • somer
        Posted March 27, 2016 at 5:54 am | Permalink

        Yes he’s considered it and pulled support – good for him –


        Robert De Niro and the Tribeca Film Festival have reversed their decision to screen Vaxxed: From Cover-Up To Catastrophe, now saying the anti-vaccine film does not contribute to the discussion De Niro had hoped for.

        “My intent in screening this film was to provide an opportunity for conversation around an issue that is deeply personal to me and my family,” De Niro said in a statement. “But after reviewing it over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for.”

        • Diane G.
          Posted March 27, 2016 at 6:06 am | Permalink

          And isn’t that exactly the conclusion we’d have hoped he’d arrive at? Yay!

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted March 27, 2016 at 10:45 am | Permalink

            Great news, relieving what had been an unrelieved sadness since I heard about this.

            The man’s a national treasure. I’ve been knowing him since “Johnny Boy” in Mean Streets in ’73. It pains me to hear him called a mook.

            • Diane G.
              Posted March 28, 2016 at 2:28 am | Permalink

              LOL, gotta love the soundtrack! 😀

  7. Les
    Posted March 26, 2016 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    They should play these Khan Academy lectures
    before the movie

    Vaccines and the Autism Myth

    Wakefield’s fraud

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted March 26, 2016 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I know about those, and they are very digestible summaries of the story. The comments in the links illustrate a titanic struggle between two seemingly immovable forces.

      • Wunold
        Posted March 27, 2016 at 3:55 am | Permalink

        With one immovable force backed by an immense amount of scientific evidence.

  8. Posted March 26, 2016 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    I can’t wait for De Niro to push for “Climate Change: The Big Hoax” by James Inhofe and the Koch brothers. You know, for the conversation.

    • Posted March 29, 2016 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      De Niro aside, making a movie about that would complete the quadruple: Ben Stein’s _Expelled_ being the first of the four, and there’s _God is Not Dead_ (with Kevin Sorbo) …


  9. Posted March 26, 2016 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    There’s been quite a pushback. The movie has now been removed from the official schedule – it’s not clear if they still plan to screen it. I know someone who helps organize the film festival. He said it was basically put in entirely at DeNiro’s request. They scheduled it to be shown at the same time as the awards presentation and in a relatively small theater. The organizers were trying to minimize the damage without pissing off DeNiro too much. Now it looks like it might have gotten pulled, though. I’m not sure.

  10. Curt Nelson
    Posted March 26, 2016 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    I’m feeling excruciating pain over an issue that’s NOYB and I’m probably going to be lashing out over it for some time. Generous displays of sympathy and kindness directed my way on account of it do not seem inappropriate.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 26, 2016 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

      Sympathy and kindness, Curt. I’m not sure that’s generous, but it’s well-intentioned.

  11. Tom
    Posted March 26, 2016 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    How much longer can Wakefield continue spouting this rubbish whilst staying out of a Courtroom?
    To me, the similarities of Wakefield to David Irving the lying historian should long ago have put him in the dock and exposed him as a purveyor of half truths and lies.
    Surely there is a journalist or academic willing to take him on in the same way Deborah Lipstadt called out Irving

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted March 26, 2016 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

      Wasn’t Irving in court over specific German anti-Holocaust-Denial and/or anti-Nazi-symbology laws, not the much wider question of lying to the public?
      If he is just simply lying or telling half-truths, then I’m not sure there are any laws that would apply. Unless he quote-mines or misrepresents what someone else says and causes them noticeable reputation harm, the I don’t think there is anything that can be done to stop him saying what he wants.
      Isn’t that what the that n’th Amendmant thing is about – for a low ‘n’.

      • Somer
        Posted March 27, 2016 at 5:20 am | Permalink

        Irving has a reputation for suing anyone who criticises him in print. He couldn’t get Lipstadt for her book on American reactions to ghettoisation and the Holocaust during and in lead up to WWII where it was published in America because of the 1st amendment but because she was also published in the UK he was able to sue her under the UK Libel laws, because she criticised his stance on the holocaust in the book. Under UK libel laws at least at that time she had to prove that what she said about Irving and holocaust denial was true – the onus was put on her to prove it.

        She raised money from the Jewish community because it cost an absolute fortune for her to make the case in the UK Court over a number of years that the Holocaust did indeed happen. She had to give up her work in the US for a few years to do so. She did win but Irving refused to pay other than a small fraction of the damages. She wrote a book about it published, in 2004 or 2005
        Deborah Lipstadt, History on Trial.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted March 27, 2016 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

          but because she was also published in the UK he was able to sue her under the UK Libel laws, because she criticised his stance on the holocaust in the book. Under UK libel laws at least at that time she had to prove that what she said about Irving and holocaust denial was true – the onus was put on her to prove it.

          Hmmm, not being a libel lawyer, or indeed a land-shark of any sort I can see why that would be an expensive challenge. Mostly because, as I understand it, whether or not the assertions in an allegedly libellous publication are true is not a defence under UK law. They can be as true as you like, and remain libellous. The only criterion is whether the publication of the claims has harmed the “victim’s” “reputation”.
          Lipstadt may have managed to find a hole in this. IANAL. But the insanity of the UK’s libel laws has long been known.
          Actually, I think that she could have been successfully sued even if she hadn’t been published in the UK. All it would have taken was for people in Britain to have read the claims in Britain, and for the “victim” to then have a harmed reputation.
          I’m surprised that they couldn’t enforce payment of any settlement though. There are enough ways, if you’re vindictive enough. But it may have cost more than it was worth.

  12. Posted March 26, 2016 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    Being a free-speech absolutist, I think it’s a good thing the film is being screened. Conspiracy theories like this prosper when they’re driven underground, and it looks they’re being suppressed. Get this stuff out there in bright lights, so that it can get the ridicule it so richly deserves. The NYT article is already a good start.

    • Wunold
      Posted March 27, 2016 at 4:09 am | Permalink

      The common audience doesn’t have the knowledge to separate fallacious documentaries from science-based ones.

      A well-researched documentary about Wakefield and the anti-vaccination movement would be better than their uncommented products.

      Free Speech is not impeded if film festivals choose the best content for their audience. The anti-vaxxers are completely free to finance their own festivals.

  13. gluonspring
    Posted March 26, 2016 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    It’s like a bad crime show, where some innocent guy is railroaded while the real killer goes free. Autism has some kind of cause. Do these people who want “discussion” ever support actual research into what that might be?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted March 26, 2016 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

      Autism has some kind of cause.

      Knowing almost nothing about autism (though I do have suspicions about several relatives), do you have any grounds to believe that “autism” has fewer component diseases and causes than, say, cancer?

      • Posted March 26, 2016 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

        There is a *strong* genetic component to autism. See this abstract that points to the discovery that rare variants that truncate proteins are more common in children with autism than their un-affected siblings. Intriguingly, they also find a bias of maternal transmission to sons.

        Nat Genet. 2015
        Excess of rare, inherited truncating mutations in autism.

        Krumm N1, Turner TN1, Baker C1, Vives L1, Mohajeri K1, Witherspoon K1, Raja A2, Coe BP1, Stessman HA1, He ZX3, Leal SM3, Bernier R4, Eichler EE2.

        Author information

        To assess the relative impact of inherited and de novo variants on autism risk, we generated a comprehensive set of exonic single-nucleotide variants (SNVs) and copy number variants (CNVs) from 2,377 families with autism. We find that private, inherited truncating SNVs in conserved genes are enriched in probands (odds ratio = 1.14, P = 0.0002) in comparison to unaffected siblings, an effect involving significant maternal transmission bias to sons. We also observe a bias for inherited CNVs, specifically for small (<100 kb), maternally inherited events (P = 0.01) that are enriched in CHD8 target genes (P = 7.4 × 10(-3)). Using a logistic regression model, we show that private truncating SNVs and rare, inherited CNVs are statistically independent risk factors for autism, with odds ratios of 1.11 (P = 0.0002) and 1.23 (P = 0.01), respectively. This analysis identifies a second class of candidate genes (for example, RIMS1, CUL7 and LZTR1) where transmitted mutations may create a sensitized background but are unlikely to be completely penetrant.


        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted March 27, 2016 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

          There is a *strong* genetic component to autism.

          Implying that there are also non-genetic (i.e. environmental) components to autism, meaning that, like most diseases and disorders, it’s multi-factorial.
          And that’s Wakefield’s thesis and the whole of the antivaxx movement blown out of the water.

      • Kevin
        Posted March 26, 2016 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

        I live in a community with lots of smart people…many have some characteristics of autism or borderline Asperger’s. Maybe this just means that some autistic traits can also lead to higher thinking skills in other areas.

        • Diane G.
          Posted March 27, 2016 at 5:28 am | Permalink

          Yeah, I read somewhere (so, really reliable, eh?) that several Cal. Poly. theoretical physicists were deemed to be somewhere on the Asperger’s spectrum, after that diagnosis actually became a thing.

          (And has subsequently become an un-thing, I believe? Didn’t the most recent DSM eliminate it? So hard to keep up….)

      • gluonspring
        Posted March 27, 2016 at 12:46 am | Permalink

        I know very little about it. I should have said cause(s), because of course it might be a multifactorial thing. I know more about cancer, and of course cancer has causes. Some of those causes amount to time and chance, the accumulation of mutations, but they are still causes and knowing what they are puts you on the path to doing something about it.

        But my main point is, it’s not vaccination. Whatever is going on with autism, if you care about that you should be investing in research on autism. I don’t get the impression that people who want to “discuss” autism are doing that, which is doubly unfortunate.

  14. Henry Fitzgerald
    Posted March 26, 2016 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    This kind of thing makes me against screening any documentaries at all during film festivals. Festivals are simply not the right venue. Fictional films and non-fiction documentaries are different kinds of things, screened to different audiences, for different purposes.

    Most film festivals are set up primarily to deal with fiction – art films, as it were – and are run by a committee or festival director competent to put together a program of these, but not competent to judge the merits of documentaries (with some exceptions: I’m excluding here “documentaries” that are essentially meditations or tone-poems – stuff like Koyaanisqatsi or Microcosmos or À propos de Nice).

    At the very least, if a festival board want to run a sideline in documentaries, this should be treated as a separate enterprise – like the souvenir stand – and should employ fact-checkers and expert consultants.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted March 26, 2016 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

      This kind of thing makes me against screening any documentaries at all during film festivals.

      Man on wire?
      Cave of Forgotten Dreams?
      What was that one about the man with the trapped arm? “127 hours,” or something like that.
      To quote a legislator some decades ago, “hard cases make bad laws”.

      • Henry Fitzgerald
        Posted March 28, 2016 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

        Hard cases may make bad laws, but I’m not proposing legislation. And I overstated my position (as I admitted later in the post) saying no documentaries whatever.

        What I’m really against is the inclusion of documentaries as a matter of course, as though they’re just another genre, in a setting where they don’t really fit in.

        My weaker positioned would be this – and it’s just a recommendation, what I would do if I were in charge of a festival: (1) assume no documentaries as a default position; (2) allow automatic exceptions when the answer to the question “Is this documentary really making any claims about the way the world is?” is “No”; and maybe (3) for all further exceptions treat documentaries differently, and insist on independent fact-checking.

        PS: 127 Hours wasn’t a documentary.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted March 29, 2016 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

          Well, horses for courses. but I quite like documentaries. I’d probably not bother to attend your film festival. not that I bother to attend other film festivals either. Too much fiction.
          I thought that the “127 Hours” film was a “based on reality” screenplay. “docudrama”, whatever you want to call it. The basic facts of the film and of the real events are closely related.

  15. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 26, 2016 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    “Why? Why? Why?…Why’d you do it? Why? You’re so stupid…I’m not an animal. Why do you treat me like this? I’m not so bad.”

    — Robert De Niro (as Jake LaMotta, to himself, in despair, after being confined to an isolation cell, upon his imprisonment for contributing to the delinquency of a minor), Raging Bull, 1980.

    Best wishes to you and your son, Bob. Hope you’re both as well as can be, as soon as possible.

  16. Posted March 26, 2016 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    I just saw this headline in the Business Insider: “A documentary from the man who started the anti-vaccine hysteria has been removed from the Tribeca Film Festival lineup”


  17. Adam M.
    Posted March 26, 2016 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    I’m not against them showing it – in fact I oppose them no-platforming this film in the same way that I oppose no-platforming in universities – but they should definitely preface it with a disclaimer giving the audience the truth about Wakefield’s fraud, the retraction of his paper, the subsequent demolition of his paper in the scientific community, and the current scientific consensus.

  18. Ionian Wonder
    Posted March 27, 2016 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    Would it surprise anyone that Putin is against GMOs, fast food, Western pharmaceuticals and vaccines?

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 27, 2016 at 6:08 am | Permalink

      Ah, now that would seem to be a nice vulnerability of his to attack!

      • Posted March 27, 2016 at 6:33 am | Permalink

        Yeah, I guess we’ll see – or our grandchildren anyway will see. Russia is ranked way behind the USA in health ratings but, at position 37, the USA is far from the best. France, where I live, is ranked number 1 by the WHO. And yet we don’t have massive vaccines for children.

  19. Posted March 27, 2016 at 5:58 am | Permalink

    Would it surprise anyone that Putin is against GMOs, fast food, Western pharmaceuticals and vaccines?

  20. Another Tom
    Posted March 27, 2016 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    If I remember correctly, Wakefield didn’t lose his medical license over the vaccine/autism nonsense. Wakefield lost it because of his habit of proscribing expensive procedures to children that were unnecessary and dangerous. I remember reading that he was inordinately fond of doing spinal taps on children.

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