Victorian film festival embroiled in anti-vaccination, social media trainwreck

On Friday September 16 2016, a little before lunchtime, I was alerted to an upcoming showing of Andrew Wakefield’s dishonest, anti-vaccination vanity-film, Vaxxed, at a Victorian regional film festival called CLIFF (Castlemaine Local and International Film Festival).

The festival had been promoted by the president of the discredited Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network, Tasha David, on the No Jab No Pay No Way anti-vaccination protest’s event page:


I tweeted that screenshot, along with the following screenshot of the CLIFF webpage featuring the anti-vaccine film. Of note, see the “Who is CLIFF” tab at the top of this screenshot. We’ll need that for later:


Tasha David also promoted the festival on the Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network Facebook page, on Friday:


David shared it on the AVN Facebook page, on Saturday:


David also promoted the event in the Vaxxed Australia Facebook group:


When the president of a disreputable, callous, anti-vaccination organisation – which is the recipient of a public health warning – is your fiercest ally in the promotion of one of your films, you really need to sit back and introspect. You’d think that, wouldn’t you.

That Vaxxed is a dishonest exposition is not news to evidence-based researchers, health professionals, and journalists. For an exquisite explanation of the ‘CDC whistleblower’ manufactroversy, which is at the heart of the subject matter, please refer to this post: MMR, the CDC and Brian Hooker: A Guide for Parents and the Media. 

In a film review for The Hollywood Reporter, infectious disease specialist Dr Paul Offit wrote:

If MMR really does cause autism, why hadn’t the link been found in 15 other studies, many of which included African-Americans and almost all of which didn’t involve the CDC? Are there other whistleblowers who just haven’t come forward yet? The real explanation for Vaxxed‘s “revelation” isn’t conspiracy or hidden data; it’s something else. When compared with their Caucasian counterparts, African-American boys in Atlanta in 1994 were under-vaccinated. In order to qualify for autism-support programs, this subset of under-vaccinated children with autism had to get vaccinated. In other words, it wasn’t that MMR had caused autism; it was that the diagnosis of autism had caused them to get MMR. Not surprisingly, this is never explained in the film.


For people who believe that President Barack Obama is not a U.S. citizen, that the moon landing was filmed on a Hollywood soundstage and that an intergalactic board of elves and fairies are trying to get the IRS out of Puerto Rico, this movie is for you. For the rest, I would recommend waiting for a film that explains what internal demons drive a man from a field that demands logic and reason into a world where logic and reason are the enemy.

In the Australia media, Sarah Gill wrote in The Age newspaper:

Apparently undeterred by this litany of prior misdemeanours, Wakefield’s film – Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe – simply sidesteps his past and reprises the causal link between the MMR vaccine and autism, this time accusing the US Centre for Disease Control of scientific fraud by manipulating data to conceal the correlation between the triple shot and autism. Pot, kettle, black?


Don’t be fooled – Wakefield’s story is not the tale of a man wronged by powerful corporations or the medical establishment, which, in fact, closed ranks to protect him. It’s the story of a physician who set out to cast doubt on vaccine safety before he’d even gathered the evidence, and he did so not for the public good, but for private gain.

If this sounds personal, that’s because it is. Scores of parents in the early 2000s, myself included, harboured a deep sense of unease about the 18-month MMR, and solely because of a small and inconclusive – but nonetheless troubling – study by a man uniquely positioned to exploit our greatest fears. Wakefield’s hunger for media attention, his ferocious personal ambition and cunning business dealings – including a patent filed in 1997 for a vaccine to replace the triple shot and generate millions of pounds in annual revenue – were a toxic mix. And not much, it seems, has changed.

If you scratch the surface of Vaxxed, it’s hardly surprising to discover that the whole thing starts to disintegrate. The “re-analysis” of the CDC dataset – alleging a correlation between the MMR vaccine and autism in African American males – published in 2014, has now been retracted with the journal editor citing questionable methods and “undeclared competing interests on the part of the author”. Lamentably, that hasn’t stopped it going viral online or prompting mass rallies like the one which took place at the CDC in Atlanta last weekend – a symptom, perhaps, of our enduring fascination for conspiracy theories.

On Friday, I tagged CLIFF in a tweet, after finding their handle (CLIFF deleted their Twitter account within the two following days). Many others also tweeted their displeasure at the festival organisers:


CLIFF responded to both me, and my friend, Shelley, with the same response, which was aimed at claiming disinterest in the subject matter of Wakefield’s fraudulent film:


Those of us who have been following the tactics of anti-vaccinationists and their apologists for some time knew precisely what was at play: an attempt to frame the film’s viewing as a legitimate debate between equal, opposing camps; which it is not. Philosopher, Dr Patrick Stokes, is one of those who is well-versed in the tactics of the anti-vaccination lobby and its supporters:


What followed was a social media trainwreck, which was played out in an attempt to erase questions of organiser bias, which would cast doubt on CLIFF’s attempt to appear to be merely a disinterested player; a provocateur of uneasy discourse.

This screenshot is taken from a Wayback Machine snapshot, of August 13 2016. As we can see, the “Who is CLIFF” tab clearly shows that the leading organiser – or at least the top position in the list of organisers – is Nikki Valentini:


After me and many friends started looking into the organisers, the “Who is CLIFF” page was deleted from the CLIFF website:


Thanks to friends with swift minds and quick fingers we were also able to retain this screenshot of an anti-vaccination post, promoting Tasha David’s antivax petition*, from the Facebook profile of CLIFF organiser, Nikki Valentini:


The profile – and therefore the anti-vaccination post, as well – has been deleted from Facebook. But, it wasn’t deleted before Valentini attempted to hide her anti-vaccination affiliations with a quick attempt at a name-change:


We expect this behaviour. In fact, we are surprised when an organiser, or a venue, holds up their hands immediately and says, “fair cop; we were wrong.” It doesn’t happen very often.

Sometimes it takes a while for a venue, or an organiser, to acquaint themselves with the subject matter, before making a decision in the interests of public health**, and babies**.

Usually, once a venue works out that they have been taken for chumps by anti-vaccination activists – like the venues who all cancelled events for the 2015 speaking tour of public health enemy, Sherri Tenpenny – they will do the right thing; especially when it starts looking awkward for public relations and the shareholders.

But, we are very used to anti-vaccination apologists trying to treat everyone like chumps; like they don’t have any skin in their particular game. They do. They just know how bad it looks; so they attempt to hide it.

And the babies can go to hell…

*Tasha David promoted her misleading petition, again, on Sunday, in the Vaxxed Australia Facebook group:


**One of the partners of the film festival is Mount Alexander Shire Council. The Mount Alexander Shire Council immunisation page is here. The Mount Alexander Shire Council contact page is here.


Thank you so much to my friends who kept the screenshots which made this post possible.

About reasonable hank

I'm reasonable, mostly.
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5 Responses to Victorian film festival embroiled in anti-vaccination, social media trainwreck

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