William Joseph Posey is the U.S. Representative for Florida’s 8th congressional district, member of the Freedom Caucus and Congress’s resident (main) anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist after the departure of Dan Burton.
Together with Carolyn Maloney, Posey – who has received significant donations from the anti-vaccine movement – sponsored “The Vaccine Safety Study Act”, which would direct the National Institutes of Health to conduct a retrospective study of health outcomes, including autism, of vaccinated-versus-unvaccinated children, and to determine whether exposure to vaccines or vaccine components are associated with autism spectrum disorders, chronic illnesses, or other neurological conditions. The bill should, according to Posey, “bring an answer to this decades-long question.” Of course it won’t, and of course Posey knows that it couldn’t. For, of course, the “decades-long question” has long been settled; there is accordingly no scientific rationale for the suggested studies, in particular since there is no evidence suggesting that the problem exists (but plenty showing it doesn’t) – antivaxx delusions really don’t count. The purpose of the bill was, in other words, not to settle anything but to legitimize antivaxx conspiracy theories by suggesting otherwise. Posey has been pushing similar resolutions for a long time.
He is, however, particularly famous for pushing the utterly debunked CDC whistleblower conspiracy theory (still popular in antivaxx circles) in Congress, attempting to initiate apparently formal investigations, without providing any documentation whatsoever of any wrongdoing to be investigated, for obvious reasons; he claimed to have a bunch of documents, but it quickly became clear that there was nothing interesting in any of them – no whistle to blow, in other words. Posey also suggested that there is – despite near-conclusive evidence to the contrary – a link between vaccines and autism (it is worth pointing out that Posey doesn’t care one whit about autism, however). He has also pushed the Poul Thorsen gambit, which is pretty ridiculous (a Danish coauthor on one of numerous studies showing that vaccines are safe once misused grant money to cover personal expenses; therefore all research showing that vaccines are safe is invalidated). Posey denies being anti-vaccine, however; he just pushes antivaxx conspiracy theories and anti-vaccine legislation.
Now, pseudoscience and conspiracy theorizing rarely come in isolation, and Posey is also a climate change denialist. At a 2018 hearing in the Science, Space and Technology Committee, Posey claimed that climate scientists in the 1970s believed that the Earth was cooling, which is a myth but at least shows what kinds of sources Posey is using to inform his policy decisions. At the hearing Posey expressed skepticism that humans contributed to climate change, asked whether climate change was occurring because carbon dioxide captured in permafrost was now leaking out, and suggested that global warming would be being beneficial (it won’t). “I don’t think anybody disputes that the Earth is getting warmer,” said Posey, but “I think what’s not clear is the exact amount of who caused what, and getting to that is, I think, where we’re trying to go with this committee.” God forbid that the question is left to scientists, who, unlike Posey, have some ineffable agenda. It really isn’t not clear.
He is also consistently opposed to gay rights or legal protection from discrimination. And to top it all, Posey was the sponsor of H.R. 1503 to amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 requiring the campaign committee to give documents proving that a candidate for president is actually eligible for the office – yes, if not a birther himself, Posey was one of the major birther conspiracy theory enablers in Congress. He declined to provide documents to disprove rumors about his own past, however.
Diagnosis: Perhaps the leading conspiracy theorist in Congress at the moment, and that says quite a bit. Posey is anti-science and pro-pseudoscience to the core, and if you scratch any denialist position even superficially, a deranged conspiracy theory appears. But Posey also wields quite a lot of influence and power, and though his wild-eyed conspiracy rants still appear to be mostly ignored, he may cause serious damage to civilization.