Follow-Up: No, the Anti-Vaccine Autism Group Protest Didn’t Draw Only 18 People

Health Internet People

Cowpox vaccine cartoonCowpox vaccine cartoon

A political cartoon from 1802 makes fun of the anti-cowpox vaccine movement. The more things change… Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Based on the quantity of emails on the subject I’ve been receiving, and comments I’ve seen in various places on the web, I think it’s necessary to clear something up. This is particularly true because I may be partly responsible for spreading the misinformation in question.

Last Thursday, an article of mine was published on GeekDad about Bill Gates’s statements on anti-vaccine autism groups and the dangers they pose to kids. A “rewind” article was published yesterday, reprinting part of the original piece and linking to it. Several hours after publishing the original piece on Thursday, I published an article on GeekDad titled “‘50,000-Parent’ Autism Anti-Vaccine Group Protest Draws Just 18,” based on reports that only 18 people had showed up for the protest that was supposed to attract 50,000.

That article, however, was in error, and was therefore pulled 15 minutes or so after its publication. The eagle eye of GeekDad Dave Banks spotted the mistake in reading the original press release that I, along with many others, had made: It wasn’t the protest that was supposed to be on Thursday, but rather the press conference announcing the protest. The exact wording:

Autism advocates and authors Mary Holland, Esq. and Louise Kuo Habakus will join dozens of autism organization and group officials in a press conference on Thursday, February 24, 2011 at 12:00 noon [emphasis in the original] to announce a major protest and rally with 50,000 parents of children with autism against Microsoft founder and Chairman Bill Gates after his remarks that deemed those who don’t get vaccinations “child killers.”

It certainly could have been worded better, to make its meaning a little plainer up front, since so many people — myself included — misinterpreted it. Had I given it more thought, I would have realized that even people foolish enough to believe that vaccines cause autism would not be stupid enough to announce a protest rally the day before it was to happen, not to mention the fact that you can’t exactly organize a 50,000-person rally in midtown Manhattan without arranging for the streets around it to be blocked off by the police. Surely that would have been noticed by those witnesses who reported the 18-person attendance.

In a nutshell: As much as I would love for the story to be true, it’s not. Please accept our apologies for having (however briefly) published misinformation, and please let others know what the truth of the matter is. There are enough legitimate ways to combat the anti-vaccine movement without our having to invent one.

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