Amanda Peet and the Streisand Effect

16 Jul

I had never heard of the “Streisand Effect” until a few months ago. That’s when Clifford Shoemaker subpoenaed.

The basic idea is simple: someone tries to censor or remove some piece of information from the internet, and, instead, the actions cause the information to be much more widely spread than it would have been otherwise.

In the case of the subpoena, many (MANY) people heard about the site and, especially, some of the actions of Mr. Shoemaker, than would have happened had the subpoena not been issued.

I was reminded of this phenomenon today when I found that the Amanda Peet story has started to catch on big. Amanda Peet was quoted in Cookie Magazine with a very pro-vaccine stance. She had been scared by…

….the amount of misinformation floating around, particularly in Hollywood

So, what did she do? She asked a medical professional for advice. Dang, what a concept! She was very fortunate that her brother in law is a doctor and, even more luckily, he works at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) where Paul Offit works.

Dr. Offit knows vaccines. Not in the, “I’ve read a ton in the internet” version of “knows” vaccines. No, He researches and develops vaccines. He is also a vocal spokesperson against the idea that vaccines cause autism. That, as you can imagine, makes him very unpopular with some segments of the autism community.

So, you can imagine what happened when Amanda Peet came out pro vaccine, against the vaccine-autism connection and stated that she got information from Dr. Offit. Yes, she got the usual hate-filled reception. And make no mistake, I am not downplaying that. I would not be surprised if she, like others before her, have had to forward emails or phone calls to the authorities because they seem threatening.

But, as time goes on, the message isn’t getting quashed. picked up the story today and stated,

Now, Peet vs. McCarthy is the celebrity smackdown du jour. Sure, we’d all be better off taking our medical advice from doctors and nurses rather than celebrities. Yet, everyone from the American Academy of Pediatrics to Salon columnist Dr. Rahul Parikh has tried to reassure parents that vaccines don’t cause autism. Meanwhile, public health officials worry when public confidence in vaccinations continues to erode, in part because of high-profile celebrity advocacy, like McCarthy’s Green Our Vaccines march and rally held in Washington, D.C., in June.

And, what was that “smackdown du jour”? Looks like E! picked up the story as well.

All these web stories give the usual crowd an opportunity to add comments. The forums and comment sections for those stories are filled with people trashing Amanda Peet. I wish those people would catch a clue–have someone outside the autism community read what they write. The comments are strident, rude and, in general, really make the autism community as a whole look bad. It’s one thing to rant away in a closed yahoo group or in the comment section of the Age of Autism blog, but the public doesn’t know (and I wish they didn’t) just how mean and nasty these “advocacy” groups can be.

This story isn’t going away. Amanda Peet is now a spokesperson for Every Child By Two, a pro-vaccine organization founded by former first lady Rosalynn Carter. (as an aside–the Carters are one of the best ex-first-families the U.S. has seen).

Now that Amanda Peet has come down against the idea that vaccines cause autism, pretty much everything she says will be picked apart and analyzed. One comment that is giving a lot of ammunition to her detractors is this: “Frankly, I feel that parents who don’t vaccinate their children are parasites.”

Read the comments and how many people try to make it sound like Amanda Peet is calling autism parents “parasites”. (Hint, she didn’t).

Let’s take a quick look at that term, parasite.

a person who receives support, advantage, or the like, from another or others without giving any useful or proper return, as one who lives on the hospitality of others.

Now, let’s take a look at what Dr. Sears, one of the people often quoted by vaccine rejectionists, has to say about the MMR vaccine:

“I also warn them not to share their fears with other neighbors, because if too many people avoid the MMR, we’ll likely see the diseases increase significantly.”

So, he appears to this reader to be telling parents who don’t give the MMR vaccination to their children to keep mum, or the herd immunity will be compromised and the advantage to those parents will be lost.

Sweet. That doesn’t sound like “receiving advantage” without giving anything useful in return, does it?

Don’t get me wrong. For people with real reasons to avoid some or all vaccines (one regular commenter on this blog comes to mind). But, “I am scared of MMR causing autism so I am not going to vaccinate my kid, but I’ll hide in the herd immunity” doesn’t sit very well.

Also, where is the compassion for those who really need the protection of herd immunity? Where is the “Consider that your neighbor’s kids could use the advantage of your child’s immunity”?

But, to bring this back to where we started: Amanda Peet has hit the scene. She has jumped in with both feet, and appears to be staying for a while. A lot of voices appear to be trying to shout her down. Instead, they just seem to be giving Amada Peet’s message more coverage.

13 Responses to “Amanda Peet and the Streisand Effect”

  1. Catherina July 16, 2008 at 09:27 #

    To be fair, Bob Sears is acknowledging in that snippet that his advice is eroding herd immunity and that someone who follows it is relying on herd immunity for their protection.

    Kudos to Amanda Peet – I read the whole piece at the airport in the US – she did well, and she deserves respect for exposing herself to the anti-vaccine fringe.

  2. Jen July 16, 2008 at 12:13 #

    Although I was happy to see an actor speaking out for vaccines, I hope that she is prepared for what’s going to come her way. I wish her all the best.

    I’m one of those people who does actually think that anti-vaccinationists are parasites- I’m vaccine resistant, (so I have no protection no matter how many immunizations I’ve had, and I’ve had quite a few) and it’s very difficult to live in my community right now as we’ve got a measles outbreak. Fortunately my kids didn’t inherit my resistance, but it’s scary when my doctors are telling me to restrict my outside activities to close friends and families who I know are vaccinated. I’m not thrilled about the idea of living my life inside my house, or not being able to participate in all of my kids’ activities. Our pediatrician has already suggested that I come in after hours with my kids so that I won’t be exposed to anything- after living housebound for 4 months when I was pregnant due to a rubella outbreak in that city, it’s getting extremely frustrating. I depend on herd immunity to be able to live my life, and I know that I’m not the only one.

  3. Kelli Ann Davis July 16, 2008 at 14:58 #

    “This story isn’t going away.”

    Finally, something we can agree on. You’re right. It’s not going away.

    “Instead, they just seem to be giving Amada Peet’s message more coverage.”

    Which of course gives our message coverage as well (at least when the reporter is doing his/her job and reporting *both sides* of a story).

    Kind of cool the way that works, isn’t it?

  4. Catherina July 16, 2008 at 15:22 #

    “our message” as in “I don’t give a toss about my neighbor’s children as long as they are vaccinated and protect my unvaccinated child” or the (Sear’s) message “we don’t see measles here in the US anymore which is why tend to think of measles as harmless”?

    The nice thing about the controversy is that you can go back to predictions when they have come true. Mine is: within the next 5 years, we are going to see measles and pertussis soar in the US and we are going to see a lot of bewildered middle class white American parents faced with the truth of “harmless” measles/pertussis and we are going to see VPD deaths. The anti-vaccine movement is going to backfire and lead to more disease and a more rigorous vaccination mandate. It will be a bitter “told ya”…

  5. Sullivan July 16, 2008 at 17:09 #

    Kelli Ann,

    The “Here is Amanda Peet saying vaccines are good” story isn’t going away, because it’s true.

    The “vaccines and mercury are the cause of autism” story is going away. It may take a while. Your friends may never agree. But, look, the thimerosal story is already closing.

    The vaccine rejectionism side of the story will likely never go away. That isn’t a statement that it’s right. Our good friend at AutismNewsBeat can point you to a number of stories which float around still, even though they have long since been discredited.

    But, back to autism and vaccines, there are two sides to this story and if a reporter wants to cover both sides, she/he is welcome to note that there is a science based side and a side which would like to be considered science based. But I don’t think that even that doesn’t have to be covered.

    There are even more than two sides to this story. I look forward to reading this account.

  6. Evonne July 16, 2008 at 17:48 #

    I just wish more of the media, when referring to Jenny McCarthy’s take on *anything*, would drop in a little tidbit on how she believes in that Indigo crap. Exposing the total ridiculousness of the anti-vax phenomenon may help stop all the needless research to prove again and again and again what real science already knows to be the truth.

    ‘Hmm, I think ice cream cones cause autism!’

    ‘No, ma’am, we’ve done research and they don’t.’

    ‘But Billy didn’t start being autistic until I gave him that ice cream cone!’

    ‘No, ma’am, the ice cream cone is not the cause of him being autistic. We’ve done dozens of multicenter studies and there is no evidence of that.’

    ‘But I’ve been taking him to a certified healer at a very important institution for ice cream-removing treatments for a month and he’s making so much more eye contact now!’

    ‘But ma’am, we tested his ice cream levels and they were normal.’

    ‘Oh, but that’s because you didn’t test them for when they were not not normal based on a not-normal-to-normal level and that was before the treatment!’


    ‘Exactly. You should definitely do more tests. They’re poisoning our children! Billy is recovered! I mean he’s a spirit guide! I mean, they’re poisoning our children!’

  7. Evonne July 16, 2008 at 18:12 #

    Hm. Now, for some reason, I feel bad about the comment I just posted. LB/RB, your call.

  8. Catherina July 16, 2008 at 18:33 #

    I found it hilarious, but then, I am in that mood today.

  9. Kev July 16, 2008 at 19:10 #

    I call ‘good’ 🙂

  10. Sullivan July 17, 2008 at 00:45 #

    Amongst the places this is also being discussed:

  11. kristina July 17, 2008 at 03:54 #

    ….course them ice cream cones cause autism—-casein and gluten fest all in one drippy dessert.


  1. Vaccination wars « Later On - July 16, 2008

    […] and her decision to do a pro-vaccine promotional ad infuriated the vaccine skeptics, some of whom wrote menacing letters to Peet and her retinue. Has the public zeitgeist turned on the activists who, blaming vaccines for […]

  2. Autism Blog - Cookie Mag talks to the expert (not plural) | Left Brain/Right Brain - July 18, 2008

    […] story short, after statements, an apology (but not backpedaling!), lots of internet discussion, a threat here and there, Cookie Magazine now has posted some interviews with Dr. Offit (vaccine […]

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