There’s a new movie out, The Pathological Optimist, about Andrew Wakefield. I agree with the adjective, at least.
The blurb for the movie includes a notorious phrase.
THE PATHOLOGICAL OPTIMIST takes no sides, instead letting Wakefield and the battles he fought speak for themselves.
There are questions on which it is fair to give equal attention to both sides. “Is football a better game than baseball?” “Which is better on a pizza, pineapple or jalapenos, or both?” There are some things where the evidence hasn’t settled one way or another, and we should pursue alternatives, but there are others where there is no controversy. “Is the Earth flat?” “Is the earth about 6000 years old?” “Are black people and women as deserving of rights as white men?” If you’re going to address those questions honestly, taking no sides is dishonest and biases the argument in favor of the untenable side.
Orac is having none of that nonsense, and reviews The Pathological Optimist.
The “take no sides” claim sends up huge red flags for me. My retort to this is that, when it comes to pseudoscience, “not taking a side” is taking a side, the side of giving that pseudoscience far more believability and stature than it deserves. It’s also utter nonsense to claim that “letting Wakefield and the battles he fought speak for themselves.” If there’s one misconception about documentaries, it’s that they are (or should be) objective. They’re not. A documentary filmmaker has a story to tell, and that story is very much colored by how she chooses to frame it, what she decides to show (and, equally importantly, not to show), what order scenes are shown in, who is interviewed and who isn’t, and even the music and narration used. Bailey’s film no more “lets Wakefield and the battles he fought” speak for themselves than Wakefield’s VAXXED is an objective portrait of a CDC “conspiracy.” It is how Miranda Bailey chose to tell Wakefield’s story. Indeed, it’s hard not to note that the only people directly interviewed for the film are Andrew Wakefield, his family, and his supporters. All criticism of Wakefield comes in the form of grainy archival footage from TV news interviews, which Wakefield or one of his supporters gets to answer.
Taking no sides is intellectually vacuous and dishonest. The one thing they could to make it worse is to have somewhere in it the odious phrase, “agree to disagree”.