A film by disgraced researcher Andrew Wakefield, who ignited fears of a link between autism and childhood vaccinations with a fraudulent 1998 study, was almost given a berth at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival.
Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe was scheduled to be shown on the festival’s closing day in April. Then, after outrage from the scientific community, it was pulled.
Before canceling the screening, actor Robert De Niro had defended the festival’s choice to include the film. “We believe it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined,” De Niro, who has a child with autism, said in a statement last Friday. The film appears to paint a picture of a government conspiracy to hide the connection between early childhood vaccines and the onset of autism — claims that have been widely debunked.
By Saturday it was a different story. “My intent in screening this film was to provide an opportunity for conversation around an issue that is deeply personal to me and my family,” De Niro said. “But after reviewing it over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for.”
We’ve written about Andrew Wakefield before, shortly after his original study was retracted. Wakefield’s dishonesty aside, the sentiment behind De Niro’s original statement is understandable: families affected by autism desperately want to know what causes it, and answers from the mainstream scientific community have been slow to emerge. We’re happy that the Tribeca Film Festival is no longer lending its name to the propaganda of a widely reviled figure. But the fact that a man who had his medical license revoked — whose claims have contributed to outbreaks of whooping cough and the measles — is still in the public eye is shocking, and indicates we must do more to produce real, helpful answers for the autism community.