In his review of Paul Offit’s new book, “Bad Faith,” New York Times columnist Mark Oppenheimer slams Offit’s reasoning and scholarship, likening the book to “a fervent attack job [that] is thinly sourced and poorly researched, seeming at times as if he began with a conclusion and then went in search of evidence.”
Oppenheimer describes Offit as unable to provide context, as someone whose “anger blinds him,” who is prone to being “broad and imprecise” and capable of “extraordinary overstatement.” Offit’s examples “make little sense,” he indulges in “confusing digression” and in explanations subject to factual errors based on shoddy sources.
Offit “doesn’t bolster one’s confidence” when he relies on an outdated article in the journal Pediatrics for a list of faith-healing churches, citing information both trivial and defunct, Oppenheimer writes, also making it clear that he considers Offit mean-spirited “to pathologize those who think they know God’s will” and out of his depth in trying to understand the role of religion in modern medicine. “It’s a crude, oversimplified argument,” Oppenheimer writes of Offit.
My question for Oppenheimer, who writes with authority given his impressive scholarship in the field of religion and culture: You have unambiguously established that Offit is untrustworthy, blinded by anger and a shoddy thinker and researcher whose reasoning can’t be trusted. Why would you think this same thinker, who can’t get his facts straight and who prejudges the evidence, becomes suddenly trustworthy when promoting vaccines?
In one respect, Oppenheimer is himself shoddy and pejorative, not to Offit but to those Offit attacks, people both inaccurately deem “anti-vaxxers.” Most people who question the conventional wisdom on vaccines are not opposed to vaccines on religious or ideological grounds, or any grounds at all. Most are grateful that vaccines exist, just as they are grateful other pharmaceuticals exist. They are just not grateful at being denied the same choice in their use of vaccines that they exercise in other pharmaceuticals.
In the much more civil debate over another hot-button issue, abortion rights, the media generally treats the two camps — pro-choice and pro-life — with a degree of respect, allowing each to name itself. The “anti-vaccine movement” doesn’t see itself as anti-anything, rather it lobbies for better research and safer vaccines. In the interests of elevating this debate, Oppenheimer might in future call it the “Safer Vaccine Movement.”
The New York Times and Oppenheimer require one Band-Aid for their misunderstanding and mislabeling of the “anti-vaccine movement.”