The anti-Rob Schneider crusade: inoculating the public from debate

Neil Ross

Topics Science & Tech

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Rob Schneider has become the latest celebrity to get on the wrong side of the Twitter mob. The former Saturday Night Live actor, and star of such film classics as Hot Chick and Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, recently revived his SNL character ‘Richmeister’ for a TV commercial for State Farm Insurance. The commercial, which combines Schneider’s inane and irritating office persona with a pitch for insurance coverage, is innocuous enough. It is Schneider’s opinion on vaccinations, however, which is not related to or mentioned in the commercial at all, which stirred the ire of the right-on netizens of science blogs, Facebook and Twitter.

Schneider is an outspoken proponent of the anti-vaccine movement, which publicly opposes a California Bill mandating vaccinations for school kids. Ever prone to hyperbole, Schneider described the legislation as ‘something out of an Orwellian nightmare or Nazi Germany’ in a 2012 post on the notorious anti-vaccine website, Age of Autism.

After the commercial was released, many viewers voiced their outrage. Social media pages devoted to refuting pseudoscience, including Food Hunk, Science Babe and Chow Babe, launched a campaign, encouraging State Farm customers to contact their agents to express their concern that ‘someone who publicly states dangerous opinions should not be a spokesperson for a health-insurance company’. It wasn’t long before State Farm acquiesced and pulled the ad.

To most people with half a brain, this sort of groundless scaremongering can be filed neatly under ‘nonsense’ – along with much that comes out of the anti-vaccine movement. Scientists, medical professionals and parents have, thankfully, come to the conclusion that vaccinations are the best way to protect us and our children from a plethora of diseases and viruses. These sound, scientific and rational arguments have won against the anti-vaccine movement’s blather.

Indeed, the most troubling issue in this case is not Schneider’s views on vaccinations; it is the response from his opponents. Rather than argue against his position, this vocal minority has called for Schneider to be cast out for his heretical views. As with many other recent cases where a celebrity figure breaks from the ‘progressive dinner-party position’ (think of former Mozilla boss Brendan Eich’s opposition to gay marriage), this intolerant reaction is far more concerning than the supposedly abhorrent views being attacked.

Rather than face the anti-vaccination brigade head-on, with vigorous arguments making a reasoned case for vaccinations, this loud and intolerant mob have demanded Schneider’s image be removed from our TV screens for fear that even a glimpse of him may convince the masses that the US government is trying to poison us all with autism-laced flu jabs. It is this infantilising and patronising outlook that is creating a situation in which debate is painted as something to be feared, and scientifically determined ‘truth’ cannot be questioned.

Now more than ever, as more and more ideas are marked as ‘off the table’ and dissident ideas are casually silenced, we need to reinvigorate public debate. This will, of course, mean that quackery and nonsensical ideas will get an airing, but this will also provide a platform in which these ideas can be challenged and confronted. The last thing we need today is to inoculate ourselves from the free exchange of ideas.

Neil Ross is a writer based in New York.

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Topics Science & Tech


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