American Airlines to air dangerous antivax propaganda

The entire universe in blog form
April 23 2012 6:30 AM

American Airlines to air dangerous antivax propaganda

[UPDATE: American Airlines has agreed not to run the interview! That includes both the audio and print versions.]


Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death from the Skies!  

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[Note: This post contains numerous links to articles showing antivax claims are misleading at best, and pose a huge health risk. I strongly urge you to read those links before leaving a comment.]

In May 2011, an unvaccinated infant infected with measles was brought on board American Airlines flight 3965. Measles is a highly contagious, dangerous, and potentially fatal disease, and because of this public health emergency officials had to track down 100 passengers and quarantine quite a few of them.

This event was not American Airlines' fault. However, it's hard to see what they learned from it, since they plan on printing and airing an interview with a notorious antivaxxer who makes provably false and incredibly dangerous claims about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases.

The antivaxxer in question is Meryl Dorey, an American living in Australia who has made it her life's work to spread misinformation about vaccines. Her ability to distort the truth -- to phrase it kindly -- is nothing short of herculean. As I wrote about her in 2010:

She has said no one dies from pertussis anymore... when little four-week-old Dana McCaffery died of that very disease, because herd immunity in her area of Australia was so low. Dorey is an HIV denier. She thinks doctors lie and poison babies. [...] It goes on and on.

So why on Earth would American Airlines choose to run an interview with her in their in-flight magazine and air that interview on the in-flight TVs?

The interview is her usual passel of untruths about vaccinations: she tries to tie them to worsening diseases and autism -- neither of which is remotely true -- and then relies on the discredited research of a man the British Medical Journal outright called a "fraud".

Bizarrely, the interviewer for the American Airlines piece apparently didn't even contact an actual doctor to get professional information on this topic. At the very least (the very least) the ability to show Meryl Dorey's claims to be completely wrong is a Google search away, a trivial amount of work for an interviewer to do. Her horrid behavior towards Toni and David McCaffery -- little Dana's parents, who had to suffer through Dorey's attacks while still grieving over their daughter -- is also out there for all to see.

So again, why on Earth would American Airlines choose to run an interview with her in their in-flight magazine and air that interview on the in-flight TVs?

I don't think they should. That's why I signed a petition asking American Airlines to not run the interview. I added a note to it, saying in part:

"I will not fly AA ever again if they run this interview, and I will make very sure the thousands of people who read my blog know about my decision."

LizDitz at I Speak of Dreams has more information, and also downloadable letters you can send to American Airlines. She took the time to analyze the interview of Dorey and debunk it, too.

And I have one more thing to note. When Twitter user Reasonable_Hank sent several tweets to American Airlines about this, here was their response (which they sent out a dozen times at least to people asking them about this)... you may want to fasten your seatbelt for this bit of turbulence:

Holy. Crap.

Seriously, American Airlines? Seriously? Where do I even start with this notpology?

Maybe I could start with the fact that they want to wash their hands of any blame for passing on misleading and dangerous health messages by saying, "Hey, it's someone else's words!"

Maybe I could start by wondering how they'd feel if this message instead were telling people that smoking is good for them, or that meth is just great! Would they then tell passengers they don't have to listen?

Or maybe I could start by telling them that blowing off customer concern with a dismissive statement like that is a major public relations fail, and when you do it on Twitter you're essentially begging for a huge backlash. When will companies learn this? Or maybe I could simply point out to them that something else is optional, too: what airline we choose to fly with.

So again: I will not fly on American Airlines until they a) dump this ad, and b) publicly apologize for it.