An upcoming book by an anti-vaxxer has spawned two online petitions—one calling for Amazon to ban it and the other calling for the retailer to sell it.
But so far, Amazon—which has been criticized for giving anti-vaccine bunk higher billing on the site—won’t say if it plans to stock The Autism Vaccine: The Story of Modern Medicine’s Greatest Tragedy by Forrest Maready.
Maready, who has pushed the scientifically unsound theory that metal in vaccines causes football players’ chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is self-publishing his book on May 1 through his own company, Feels Like Fire.
Last month, a petition under the user name Real Truther went up on Change.org urging Amazon and Apple not to offer the book. Soon after, a counter-petition was posted on Change.org by an anti-vaxxer with the user named Scientific Mama, pushing for the book be sold on the two sites; it was later retweeted by noted anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
Real Truther, a father of two in California, said that he was compelled to create the petition because of the book’s positioning of autism as “modern medicine’s greatest tragedy.”
“This ultimately disturbed me because he wasn’t just claiming vaccines cause autism but also that autism was ‘modern medicine’s greatest tragedy,’” Real Truther, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of being doxxed, told The Daily Beast via email. “I found this language and rhetoric extremely offensive.”
As of Friday afternoon, the petition in support of Maready’s book had a few thousand more signatures than the pro-vaccine one.
David Barre, a spokesman for Change.org, said complaints were lodged about both petitions but were deemed “fit to remain on the platform based on our published guidelines.”
Multiple measles outbreaks across the country have been blamed on vaccine skepticism and avoidance that persists despite an avalanche of studies showing vaccines save lives and serious side effects are rare.
Retailers, media outlets, and social media companies have been under fire for allowing anti-vaxxers to spread their debunked theories.
Facebook has been cracking down on ads that perpetuate vaccine misinformation. And Amazon, which has drawn fire for an algorithm that rewards books linking vaccines to autism, pulled at least two books off its site.
But it’s not clear if Maready’s book will get the same treatment. His website carries the logos of Amazon, Apple and Audible—but he put them there himself. And the companies simply won’t say what they plan to do.
Peter Hotez, professor and dean at the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, calls Amazon “the single biggest purveyor of phony anti-vaccine books.”
“They are a huge promoter of the anti-vaccine lobby… That’s all that they seem to be coming out with,” he told The Daily Beast.
Hotez is a vaccinologist, a pediatrician, and the author of the pro-vaccine book, Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel’s Autism: My Journey as a Vaccine Scientist, Pediatrician, and Autism Dad.
Hotez’s book hovers in the teens on Amazon’s list of best-sellers about vaccines; every book ahead of his questions vaccines.
That may be because Amazon’s algorithm vaults books with positive reviews and ratings to the top of its lists, and Hotez’s book has been bombarded with 1-star ratings from anti-vaxxers.
“Remember, the anti-vaccine lobby is first and foremost a media empire,” he said. “It’s got almost 500 anti-vaccine websites. It amplifies on Facebook and other forms of social media. And it’s weaponized this.”
Maready said his book is “basically a history book” and expressed optimism that it would eventually be sold on Amazon and as an iTunes audiobook.
“I’m not misleading anyone in any way,” he said. “For Amazon to ban my book… There is no reason for them to get involved.”
At recent Congressional hearings on the comeback of measles, Hotez suggested building public-private partnerships between the medical community, the Department of Health and Human Service, and Silicon Valley companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook to develop guidelines for anti-vaxxer propaganda.
In the meantime, he said, Amazon should not worry that banning Maready’s book would be First Amendment infringement.
“It’s a false argument,” he said. “The First Amendment doesn’t allow you to scream fire in a crowded movie theater. They [Amazon] are putting children in direct harm’s way for their own political gain. The fact that it’s directly harming children… Amazon has an obligation.”