Doyen of the anti-vaxxer movement post ban on Youtube and Facebook
Someone close asked me to goto a prominent anti-vaxxer’s website, the High Wire, and give them my view. I checked it out and this was my response to them. It’s a little half baked but might help others.
Ok just a quick reply from me [ok it got bigger since I wrote that lol], I’ve taken a deep dive into this stuff before and written about it on my blog. See the bottom of the blog post here. I’ll look at the context for Del and the website site High Wire because it shows how facile it is, then look at some content with fact checks.
Del Bigtree is not credible and has a long history of “fear mongering based on misinformation,” he has no medical qualifications, he attended the Vancouver Film School and biggest claim to fame was producing a number of Dr Phil episodes. He said “Now’s the time” for guns in 2016, meaning people should rise up against the government for his bankrupt conspiracy theories. The site, thehighwire.com, has been designated as “Extreme Pseudoscience & Conspiracy” in this preprint academic journal article; as having a strong conspiracy-pseudoscience level by the Media Bias Fact Check and a low level of factual reporting. It’s listed as “problematic” by Iffy Index of Unreliable Sources. His website Highwire has been looked at in scholarly research see Digging the rabbit hole, COVID-19 edition: anti-vaccine themes and the discourse around COVID-19.
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“Overall, we rate The Highwire a Strong Conspiracy and a Quackery level Pseudoscience site based on the routine promotion of unproven claims. We also rate them Low for factual reporting due to promoting propaganda not aligned with the consensus of science and several failed fact checks.”– Summary from Media Bias Fact Check.
He made $3.5 million in one year (see p.23 of the report ‘Pandemic Profiteers: The business of anti-vaxx’). Profiteering off people’s fear is big business.
“A wealthy Manhattan couple has emerged as significant financiers of the anti-vaccine movement, contributing more than $3 million USD in recent years to groups that stoke fears about immunizations online and at live events — including two forums this year at the epicentre of measles outbreaks in New York’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
The Selz Foundation provides roughly three-fourths of the funding for the Informed Consent Action Network, a three-year-old charity that describes its mission as promoting drug and vaccine safety and parental choice in vaccine decisions.
Lisa Selz serves as the group’s president, but its public face and chief executive is Del Bigtree, a former daytime television show producer who draws big crowds to public events. Bigtree has no medical credentials but holds himself out as an expert on vaccine safety and promotes the idea that government officials have colluded with the pharmaceutical industry to cover up grievous harms from the drugs.National Post, One wealthy New York couple is supporting the anti-vax movement through more than $3 million in donations
The same couple financed the film vaxxed they are big backers of Del Bigtree: tax the rich!!!…
His/Highwire’s strategy is this:
“What you’ll see is a combination of citations from legitimate work that are twisted and taken out of context, or citations from sham journals of poorly done studies,” says Sean O’Leary, practicing pediatrician in Colorado and a member of the infectious diseases committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Then the other thing you see [is] they’ll cite work that is simply opinion pieces.”
A quote from Fact-Checking An Anti-Vax ‘Vaccine Symposium.’ He also uses anecdotes which are used as anecdata. Many of the Gish Gallop arguments/JAQs/claims have been covered here so I won’t but could if worthwhile. Another thing he does is shift the goal posts constantly.
Del Bigtree was caught strategizing how to leverage Covid pandemic:
In October, leading anti-vaccine activists held a private online conference to strategize on how to use the public’s fears during the coronavirus pandemic to spread skepticism about vaccines, according to CCDH, which documented the conference speeches and conversations in a December report. At the conference, Del Bigtree, a prominent US anti-vaxx activist, summarized a three-point strategy for undermining public faith: “It’s dangerous. You don’t need it. And herd immunity is your friend,” he said, according to the report.
And spread fear he has done, see the list below for a small sample of the false claims he’s used his platform to spread.
His Highwire videos have extensively been fact checked, see the list in the link.
Claim: CO2 is dangerous
For example here’s an AFP factcheck, Flawed experiments exaggerate risk from CO2 concentration in masks. He claimed that wearing a mask is dangerous because of CO2 poisoning even though healthcare workers regularly wear masks. Bigtree did this by using:
“a carbon dioxide sensor to measure the amount of CO2 in particles per million (ppm) that were concentrated under masks worn by his son. The sensor showed levels of 8,486 ppm with an N95 respirator, 8,934 ppm with a surgical mask, and 9,129 ppm with a cloth mask.”
Why is this claim false?
They are using the wrong device and they are trying to compare the wrong numbers,” explained Hyo-Jick Choi, a researcher at the University of Alberta, who designed surgical masks and respirator filters that deactivate certain viral strains.
“Their numbers should be the complete opposite,” Choi told AFP by phone, pointing out that in a proper experiment, carbon dioxide levels should be highest with an N95 mask and lowest with a cloth mask, because the latter filters less.
A study on health care workers exercising with a mask concluded that the N95 mask, “did not impose any important physiological burden during one hour of use”,
Also, another claim re Trump’s favorite hydroxychloroquine (which he didn’t use when he got Cvoid),
He “consistently picks experts and data he likes rather than looking at a full picture,” Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, PhD, a professor of law at the University of California Hastings College of Law, said in the journal Elsevier.
She and a colleague watched weekly episodes of The Highwire with Del Bigtree from Jan. 30, 2020, to April 2, 2020. They identified six consistent themes and compared them to the anti-vaccine movement.
Anti-vaccine activists also skew the science by rejecting studies that do not fit their views and by latching onto studies and experts that support them, says Reiss.
Bigtree also criticized the government for not funding more COVID-19 treatments like the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, “which would have been the fastest way out of this.”
But results from the interim SOLIDARITY study, published last October, show that hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir/ritonavir had little to no reduction in the deaths of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, compared to the standard of care.
Claim: Covid vaccine makes virus mutate
Another guest on the show whose claims Del blasts is Vanden Boscche who’s claims have also been fact checked by McGill University see The Doomsday Prophecy of Dr. Geert Vanden Bossche which summarises the issue nicly:
- Dr. Geert Vanden Bossche is a veterinarian who recently released an open letter boldly claiming that the COVID-19 vaccines will be harmful to humanity by allowing the virus to mutate in dangerous ways
- If we are worried about dangerous variants emerging, it is much riskier to allow the virus to spread between unvaccinated people
- If coronavirus variants emerge for which the current vaccines offer little to no protection, the vaccines can be reformulated to be a better fit, much like the annual flu vaccine
- Dr. Bossche proposes the use of a new type of vaccine based on natural killer cells, which he claims he is working on but for which there is no published evidence
They’ve also been fact checked by site Science Based Medicine Countering Geert Vanden Bossche’s dubious viral open letter warning against mass COVID-19 vaccination or Fact-Checking Geert Vanden Bossche. Cashing in on Covid Misinformation or the Youtuber/MD ZdogMD Why This Guy Is Dead Wrong About COVID Vaccines | Bossche Debunked.
Claim: Great Reset
Another claim about the Great Reset has been fact checked by Reuters here, Fact check: Video makes several misleading claims over COVID-19 vaccine development:
“False. The claims in this video around vaccine effectiveness and safety are not supported by evidence. The idea of a “great reset” was pitched earlier this year by the World Economic Forum as a way to shrink inequality caused by the pandemic. It is not a global plan for a new world order.”
Claim: Vaccines cause autism
Another claim on Highwire was vaccines cause autism, fact checked! Contrary to viral Facebook claim, numerous studies show vaccines don’t cause autism
Another Fact Check of the claim that there’s no need for masks or social distancing, To date, no therapy has been proven effective for preventing or treating COVID-19, contrary to claim by Dolores Cahill
“This video, published on 19 May 2020 on Facebook page The HighWire, features an interview between Del Bigtree and Dolores Cahill, a professor at University College Dublin who specializes in proteomics and the chairperson of the Irish Freedom Party. Cahill claims that “we have a preventive strategy and we have a treatment” for COVID-19, so “there is no need for social distancing, there is no need for masks.””
“Cahill’s claim that there is no need for social distancing and masks is broadly based on inaccurate and incorrect data. One study, recently published in PNAS, showed that, in a closed environment, the small droplets of fluid emitted when a person speaks can remain suspended for tens of minutes6. Considering that high viral loads have been detected in saliva of both symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID-19 patients7, speech droplets arise as a very likely mode of COVID-19 transmission. Covering the mouth with a wet washcloth has been shown to dramatically reduce the number of droplets8 and proven effective in preventing transmission of other respiratory diseases9. Jeremy Howard, a research scientist at the University of San Francisco, and other scientists have also compiled a list of research publicationssupporting the use of face coverings for reducing disease transmission. All this evidence supports the use of masks and social distancing as valuable tools to reduce community transmission of COVID-19.”
Claim: influenza vaccine Fluzone is more deadly than Covid-19
AFP writes “This is false; the posts have misinterpreted data on the immunization, and the Public Health Agency of Canada said flu vaccines are a safe, important means of preventing illness and avoiding additional burdens being placed on the health care system during the coronavirus pandemic.” Seasonal flu vaccines are safe, needed during Covid-19 pandemic
Claim: harm caused by vaccine citing The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS)
Del claimed in the Episode 224: THE COVID CARTEL that there was evidence of harm from experimental covid vaccines that needs to be investigated by citing VAERS data.
“This database, jointly run by the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration, records voluntary reports of adverse events following vaccinations. An official description of the system makes clear that the reports are not proof of a vaccine causing harm.”
Claims: Many insane claims documented by media Matters (full list at end of document or here)
Media Matters has a list of other baseless and false claims including:
- February 27: Bigtree baselessly suggested that severe coronavirus cases are caused if people have received a SARS vaccine and that vaccines can be weapons used to target people on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation.
- March 5: Bigtree falsely characterized the novel coronavirus as a “common cold” and suggested it could be cured with vitamin C.
- March 12: Bigtree pushed a Bill Gates vaccine depopulation conspiracy theory.
- March 27: Bigtree declared the coronavirus outbreak over and said “people should be charging out in the streets.”
- April 6: After the death toll soared, Bigtree pivoted to questioning the coronavirus death reports.
- April 17: Bigtree hosted holistic medicine practitioners who told viewers suspecting they have the coronavirus to take vitamin C until they have diarrhea.
- April 23: While hosting a physician who is now under investigation by the Minnesota state medical board, Bigtree suggested healthy people should intentionally expose themselves to the coronavirus.
- May 4: Bigtree pushed the coronavirus vaccine microchip conspiracy theory and suggesting hugging and kissing may be made illegal.
- May 15: Bigtree promoted the false claim that face masks pose a health danger to wearers.
- May 19: Bigtree pushed the false claim that the flu shot contains the coronavirus.
- May 22: Bigtree continued to attack mask wearing while repeating medical falsehoods.
- June 19: Bigtree encouraged people to take off their masks and intentionally get infected with COVID-19.
- June 21: Bigtree told Black Americans that receiving a coronavirus vaccine might be the second coming of the Tuskegee experiment.
Claim: People should get Covid
“Following Media Matters’ reporting, YouTube terminated the account for anti-vaccine figure Del Bigtree’s online show The HighWire, where he had repeatedly encouraged viewers to intentionally contract COVID-19 and pushed other dangerous medical misinformation.”
Highwire got banned from Youtube and Facebook for spreading “Covid misinformation”, both key planks of his business so now he needs viewers and potential donors to his website by word of mouth.
See her linktree for more references.
His genesis: Wakefield
“Deer has reported indefatigably throughout, including on Wakefield’s move to the United States, where he convinced an ever-expanding list of benefactors to support his various ventures. Among them was two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro — who has spoken up for the 2016 film Vaxxed made by Wakefield and producer Del Bigtree.
As with all good biographies, The Doctor Who Fooled the World is about more than the life it covers. Written pre-pandemic, it is a timely warning for the rest of us. It shows how self-importance can be self-destructive and harmful to others. The Herculean efforts of so many researchers during COVID-19 have been marred by a few individuals going well beyond their areas of expertise and endorsing outlandish hypotheses. As Deer writes: “Courage in science isn’t proving yourself right. It’s in your efforts to prove yourself wrong.” More than anything, we are reminded that investigative reporting is worth paying for, whether it is by subscribing to a local newspaper or through buying a book written by a journalist who asked the right questions.”
There’s a great video about the journalists who took great risks to investigate Lance Armstong and Wakefield – both men who knew how to sue for defamation. Both Journalists were vindicated. It’s also the reason that Wakefield went to US which culminated in Trump’s election (Wakefield endorsed Trump), see here Andrew Wakefield and Lance Armstrong.
The anti-vaxx movement got a big boost from Trump who almost died from Covid, only survived because he had access to some expensive treatment, that didn’t include injecting bleach or hydroxychloroquine which he advocated for previously. Naturally, Del Bigtree and prominent anti-vaxxers are pro trump. Del Bigtree and other prominent anti-vaxxers, like Mikki Willis, were at the capitol riots and now the right wing/Qanon is specifically mobilising around anti-vaxxers post Capitol riot.
People like Del take away the amazing immigrant and scientific success story of the inventors of Pfizer that should be celebrated The Husband-and-Wife Team Behind the Leading Vaccine to Solve Covid-19.
In summary, he’s a dangerous scammer. Why does this matter? Because anti-science kills.
“The devastating COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 will soon exceed 100 million global cases and 2 million deaths. We must recognize how the virus had considerable help launching a broadside attack on our global health. An anti-science disinformation campaign of unprecedented magnitude and led by both multinational corporations and some governments, especially the Russian and US Governments, fuels the pandemic. It represents a legacy going back to Russia since the Great Purge of the 1930s to 1940s , unraveling great accomplishments in biomedicine that include Russia’s only 2 Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine awarded during the first decade of the 1900s . There is now urgency to develop an array of COVID-19 vaccines and other biomedical interventions. But ultimately, solutions through biomedicine won’t be sufficient to halt the spread of COVID-19. We must simultaneously dismantle anti-science.”Hotez PJ (2021) Anti-science kills: From Soviet embrace of pseudoscience to accelerated attacks on US biomedicine. PLoS Biol 19(1): e3001068. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3001068
Saying all that on an individual level he seems really smarmy and he disgusts me, his loud diatribes on his videos seems like he’s crossed between a used car salesman and Pentecostal minister (which his dad is, this is him, his mother is also an entertainer). The slick advertorial clips for his show have loud hip hop beats accompanied by the urgency and tenor of a televangelists or infomercial hosts, the style is much like Fox News. It’s blatantly a con!!!
He helped cause a measles outbreak in the Jewish community, here he is appropriating the Star of David ADL.
“This is predatory behavior specifically targeted at Jews and at Jewish children,” Hotez said. “The anti-vaccine movement is now very opportunistic. They’ll identify groups where they think they can make progress in stopping vaccinations; and then are very predatory and unfortunately…they’ve chosen now to target the Orthodox Jewish community.”