Wikipedia Skeptics Attack on Truth in Journalism

Wikipedia Skeptics Attack on Truth in Journalism

Richard Gale and Gary Null PhD

Progressive Radio Network, September 5, 2019


There are thousands of American journalists. The public expects them to be independent of political, financial and ideological biases. Indeed there are multiple examples. But there are very few journalists in the mainstream media who have investigated the truth behind the efficacy and safety of vaccines. More often than not the media simply accepts the CDC’s talking points and conveys that to its viewers. One journalist, Sharyl Attkisson has chosen to be different. She has not been afraid to ask tough questions otherwise anathema to the corporate media and to introduce different and often controversial perspectives that challenge the official status quo about a story.  For that reason, Attkisson has earned five Emmy Awards and the prestigious Edward R Murrow Award for outstanding broadcast journalism. 

Consequently, efforts to go on the offensive to discredit Attkisson’s accomplishments come up empty handed.  Except on the issue of vaccination. Over the years and before leaving CBS, she was the sole major media voice to conduct serious research into the vaccine safety controversies. 

In 2009, we were repeatedly bombarded with fearmongering from the CDC and other federal health agencies about the Swine Flu (H1N1) pandemic. Once the flu season kicked into full force, across the mainstream newspapers and television channels, we heard of the seriousness of the infection and reported deaths.  However, while working with CBS News, Attkisson tried to get exact figures for the actual number of confirmed Swine Flu cases from government agencies. Putting in a request to the CDC, the agency replied it was “no longer reporting case counts for novel H1N1” and would post its rationale the following day. The agency failed to do so. Attkisson wrote on the CBS website,  

“When the CDC did not provide us with the material, we filed a Freedom of Information request with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). More than two months later, the request has not been fulfilled. We also asked CDC for state-by-state test results prior to halting of testing and tracking, but CDC was again, initially, unresponsive.”

Rather than waiting endlessly, likely well beyond the uneventful flu season, for the CDC to get its act together, Attkisson, like any other journalist worthy of the title, investigated other avenues to get at the truth of the matter. She approached each of the 50 states’ health departments to gain access to “their statistics on state lab-confirmed H1N1 prior to the halt of individual testing and counting.” The results from her inquiry were shocking and in direct contradiction to the government’s media scare tactics about a deadly pandemic. Instead, “the vast majority of cases were negative for H1N1 as well as seasonal flu, despite the fact that many states were specifically testing patients deemed to be most likely to have H1N1 flu.” Seemingly, even with supposed swine flu outbreaks such as on Georgetown University’s campus, no actual lab tests had been performed to determine whether it was a flu strain or not, let alone the swine flu. But that is not how the federal agencies and mainstream media reported it. 

The 2009 Swine Flu scare was an enormous miscalculation and debacle by the US and international health agencies, including the World Health Organization. Wikipedia fails to include Attkisson’s important story on its entry “2009 Flu Pandemic” and instead provides only the CDC’s fraudulent and imaginary storyline.  On the other hand, the online encyclopedia is not shy about ruthlessly disparaging Attkisson for her reporting on the plausibility of a vaccine-autism link. She also reported on CBS stories about the tragic death of 7 year old Elias Tembeinis due to the DTaP vaccine, the National Institutes of Health’s top official Dr. Bernadine Healy’s surprising discovery that the CDC had failed to investigate “some of the most basic research that could help answer the question of a [vaccine-autism] link,” and the federal Vaccine Injury Court’s awarding the family of Hannah Poling $1.5 million for autism damage after receiving vaccines for nine different diseases during a single pediatric visit. 

Wikipedia’s smearing of Attkisson about her vaccine reporting has all the fingerprints of Skeptic editors:  references to Paul Offit’s sycophant Seth Mnookin, Science Based Medicine blogger David Gorski, and various opinionated, non-science sources such as the pharmaceutical-friendly publications of Forbes, Politico, the Daily Beast and Salon. One consistent characteristic to accurately identify Skeptic editing on Wikipedia pages related to vaccines, GMOs, alternative health and its practitioners is the habitual absence of references sourced from peer-reviewed independent scientific literature. Instead Skeptics overly rely upon their own network of extremely biased Skeptic publications, blogs and popular magazine op-eds. Although some of these sources are in direct violation of Wikipedia’s own editorial definitions, which should disqualify them as reliable resources for biographical entries about “living persons,” Skeptics entrust them profusely. And Wikipedia’s co-founder Jimmy Wales has given Skeptics his blessing to do whatever is necessary to discredit and destroy complementary and alternative health therapies. In fact, Skeptic literature is highly prejudiced, poorly referenced and should more properly be categorized as conspiratorial hate literature rather than authentic skeptical inquiry. For Skeptic groups such as Stephen Barrett’s Quackwatch, Science-Based Medicine and publications coming out of the Center for Inquiry, practitioners of alternative medical practices, such as Chiropractic, homeopathy, acupuncture, Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, etc. are nothing more than charlatans out to cheat and profit from patients. Yet these medical disciplines have been practiced in the world far longer than what we today refer to as conventional allopathic medicine.  

Quoting Anna Kata, a pro-vaccine advocate at McMaster University in Ontario, Wikipedia accuses Attkisson of “imply[ing] that because there is no conclusive answer to certain problems [i.e., vaccine’s potential to cause neurological damage including conditions leading to autism], vaccines remain a plausible culprit.” The paragraph continues that Attkisson “suggests that a small number of children have immune deficiencies that might make their brains vulnerable to vaccines.”  However, Attkisson did not pull this opinion out of the ethers. In fact, it was the former NIH Director, Dr. Bernardine Healy, who stated as much during a 2008 CBS interview with Attkisson. That same year, in an article published in the US News and World Report, “Fighting the Autism-Vaccine War,” Dr Healy wrote, 

“… vaccine experts tend to look at the population as a whole, not at individual patients. And population studies are not granular enough to detect individual metabolic, genetic or immunological variation that might make some children under certain circumstances susceptible to neurological complications after vaccination.”

Despite the evidence that autism rates continued to climb after the removal of thimerosal mercury from most vaccines – the influenza vaccine being the exception – Healy kept the plausibility argument open. “After all,” Healy writes, “thimerosal crosses the placenta and pregnant women are advised to get flu shots, which often contain it.”

Why does Wikipedia refuse to present a more accurate and fairer picture of Attkisson’s vaccine position?  Simply, those who challenge the “most sacred medical dogma” – Dr. Healy’s words – are subject to the fiercest scorn and persecution on Wikipedia. 

Wikipedia quotes David Gorski’s accusation against an episode of Attkisson’s program Full Measure as a “propaganda piece” and “a conspiracy theory.”  These are among Gorski’s favorite tropes. But then when has Gorski not written a “propaganda piece” with the intent to tighten Skepticism’s straightjacket around the neck of citizens who question the failing conventional medical paradigm he defends?

Gorski has shown a penchant for publishing long winded diatribes peppered with misleading accusations, hostility and mockery, and rarely ever cites peer-reviewed research to support his cynicism against those who challenge vaccine safety. For anyone who follows the derisive debates online between vaccine advocates and their opponents, it becomes quickly apparent that the latter more frequently lean upon peer-reviewed literature to support arguments that question vaccine safety and efficacy. Skeptics, on the other hand, more often than not rely on a broad burlesque of sweeping generalizations and ridicule. 

Skepticism’s ideological embrace of vaccine safety is the antithesis of real science, even when there might be the slightest plausibility that vaccines can cause autism and other behavioral problems including today’s epidemic of ADHD. But the greatest fear of dogmatists is having their doctrines proven erroneous. Dr. Healy could have just as easily had the Skeptics and Jimmy Wales in mind when she told Attkisson, “I don’t think you should ever turn your back on any scientific hypothesis because you’re afraid of what it might show.”

Not only was Sharyl Attkisson correct in her reporting on vaccines, and Wikipedia has been grossly wrong, but the encyclopedia, its advocates and Skeptics have been intentionally deceiving the public about the truth of complementary and alternative medical systems as we well as those who challenge the safety of pesticides, GMOs, vaccines, and commercial toxic chemicals. To the best of our knowledge, we therefore would equate Wikipedia with Orwell’s Ministry of Truth.