Wednesday, December 16, 2020

#2419: Steve Wilson

Steve Wilson is an investigative reporter who became a bit of a celebrity in the early 2000s for his attacks on Monsanto and for painting himself as a whistleblower and victim when his then-employer WTVT refused to run the story the way he wanted: the conflict that led to Wilson’s contract not being renewed and several court cases (that Wilson lost). His story was picked up and portrayed as a conspiracy e.g. by antivaccine star Robert F. Kennedy jr. Until 2010 Wilson also served as Chief Investigative Reporter for WXYZ-TV, Detroit.


Wilson is an antivaccine crank and conspiracy theorist, and he has a long and notoriously difficult relationship with truth, accuracy and science; several of his “investigative” reports – also when he worked for WXYZ-TV – have been crammed with antivaccine misinformation. Here, for instance, is a deconstruction of one of his “news articles”: Starting from the false premise that autism rates have been skyrocketing, Wilson goes on to quote antivaccine parents and quote-mine statements from doctors to conclude that vaccines (which demonstrably do not cause autism) are to blame – thimerosal, to be specific (which isn’t even in childhood vaccines) – and suggests that “there’s a big incentive for industry and government to cover up the truth” (precisely what that incentive might be is left open, however). To bolster the conclusion, Wilson cites Boyd Haley, whom Wilson calls “a scientist and pioneer in the study of this issue” (Haley has no relevant credentials or scientific or research background on the issues), and pulls an impressive array of antivaccine canards, including Andrew Wakefield’s infamous “monkey study”, the claim that the Amish don’t vaccinate (false) and have a much lower incidence of autism (false) and the Hannah Poling case. There is a detailed breakdown of Wilson’s antivaccine reporting and the canards he employs here; also here.


And lest you make the mistake of thinking that Wilson is just a na├»ve journalist JAQing off or trying to present “both sides”: Wilson is hardcore antivaccine, and doesn’t respond particularly well to criticism of his errors. The argument that “yes, there are studies suggesting that vaccines are safe, but those are criticized by anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists, and anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists have their own lists of irrelevant, terrible and refuted studies, so therefore the science isn’t settled, so therefore vaccines are dangerous” does not qualify even as a balance fallacy.


Diagnosis: The kind of crank who gives “investigative reporting” a bad name: promoting conspiracy theories and pseudoscience as news is not investigative reporting.

1 comment:

  1. Hmm...Maybe he should collaborate on Gary Null's "documentaries."