Chili’s Reception: Restaurant Cancels Event With Anti-Vax Group

Bad Astronomy
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April 9 2014 7:45 AM

Chili’s Reception: Restaurant Cancels Event With Anti-Vax Group

no virus
Just say no to anti-vaxxers.

Photo by Peeradach Rattanakoses/Shutterstock. Modified by Phil Plait.

Last week, Chili’s made a mistake. The good news? They listened to reason and fixed it. The best news? It shows that reality can win out over nonsense if people speak up.

The family restaurant Chili’s has a series of goodwill campaigns called “Give Back Events,” where it does something nice for the community. Chili’s recently announced that it would do one in partnership with the National Autism Association, with the idea that the funds raised would go toward autism safety for kids, specifically for programs to prevent children with autism from wandering off, a common and dangerous phenomenon.

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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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Let me be clear: I think it’s great that Chili’s does these events, and even better that it wants to take on something to do with autism. This is a serious issue, and a little more public awareness and funding isn’t a bad thing.

The problem was whom Chili’s chose as a partner. While the National Autism Association does some good work for families touched by autism, the group is also pretty clearly anti-vaccination.

Again, let me be clear: Vaccines do not cause autism. This has been shown over and again, and no credible medical organization thinks they are connected. The only groups promoting this imagined link are ideologically based, not evidence based.

The NAA makes it quite clear how it feels about vaccinations. Its page “Causes of Autism” points a finger right at vaccines, saying “The National Autism Association believes … vaccinations can trigger or exacerbate autism in some, if not many, children, especially those who are genetically predisposed to immune, autoimmune, or inflammatory conditions.” This statement about vaccines is profoundly false.

Another page also connects vaccines and autism. The FAQ has a question about vaccines, and it points people to NVIC, a notoriously anti-vax group. Many members of NAA’s board of directors have direct links with anti-vax groups like SafeMinds and Generation Rescue (its president is Jenny McCarthy, so there you go).

When this news got out to the ‘Net, the reaction was pretty strong. A lot of people hit the social media to let Chili’s know this was a mistake, and many media venues picked the story up. (This happened quickly enough and while I was working on other big stories that I let it pass for a day … and then it was over before I could say anything, which is why I’m writing this story now.)

Then a wonderful thing happened: Chili’s listened. And it canceled the event:

Chili’s is committed to giving back to the communities in which our guests live and work through local and national Give Back Events. While we remain committed to supporting the children and families affected by autism, we are canceling Monday’s Give Back Event based on the feedback we heard from our guests.
We believe autism awareness continues to be an important cause to our guests and team members, and we will find another way to support this worthy effort in the future with again our sole intention being to help families affected by autism. At Chili’s, we want to make every guest feel special and we thank all of our loyal guests for your thoughtful questions and comments.
We’d love to hear your continued feedback on our Facebook page.

I think this is fantastic. Voices of reason shone through! And because I think it’s important to leave positive feedback when people make the right choice, I left this note on Chili’s Facebook page:

Dear folks at Chili's - Thank you for listening and reconsidering; NAA, like many such groups, has their heart in the right place but have gone in a very wrong direction with their efforts. As someone who has done extensive research (and writing) about the anti-vax efforts, I urge you to look into the Autism Science Foundation, which uses evidence-based work for their efforts. They understand the need for vaccines and the fact that there is no connection between vaccines and autism.

If you get a chance, please send them a thanks, too.

Of course, not everyone is happy. As a not-so-random example, the monumentally anti-science website Natural News has a screed penned by its creator Mike Adams, who, to be kind, is not exactly reality-based. He is a supporter of astrology, for example (!!), and also claims that chemotherapy is what killed Patrick Swayze and other celebrities who were suffering from cancer.

Adams was not pleased that Chili’s “caved to the medical mafia.” The number of straight-up fallacies in his article is almost impressive. He links vaccines to autism (nope), talks about courts admitting vaccines cause autism (grossly misleading), goes on about toxins in vaccines (also grossly misleading), and claims the people making up the “medical mafia” (which I suppose includes me) are brain damaged. Nice, eh?

But that reaction is not at all surprising from groups who deny all the real evidence and continue to claim that vaccines are evil. As a parent myself, I (with my wife) did the research at the time and decided to have our daughter get her full schedule of vaccinations. All three of us continue to get boosters when needed, too.

Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. The life you save may not be your own, but an innocent infant too young to get vaccinations herself.

So kudos to Chili’s for doing the right thing and not supporting an anti-vaccination group. I hope that it does eventually have its event and gives its money to a group (like the Autism Science Foundation) that understands the reality of the importance of vaccinations, as well as does good work with families touched by autism.