Marianne Williamson’s vaccine woo

August 2, 2019 • 12:45 pm

I have to admit that when I first saw Marianne Williamson in the Democratic debates my jaw dropped. How did this woomeister, who doesn’t hold elective office and never did, manage to get on stage with credible candidates? I did know about her history of anti-vaccination efforts as well as denial of depression and other mental illnesses, as well as her attacks on “Big Pharma,” but I didn’t comport that with her being on the Big Stage with real candidates. And yet some people like her! One of them is the ever-cringeworthy David Brooks, who wrote this editorial in today’s New York Times (click on screenshot). The title alone is astounding!

How does she know how to beat Trump? With a moral uprising! By defeating the dark psychic force of collectivized hatred! Well, Ms. Williamson (and Mr. Brooks), that’s easier said than done. Where would you propose that we begin?

Here’s Brooks:

It is no accident that the Democratic candidate with the best grasp of this election is the one running a spiritual crusade, not an economic redistribution effort. Many of her ideas are wackadoodle, but Marianne Williamson is right about this: “This is part of the dark underbelly of American society: the racism, the bigotry and the entire conversation that we’re having here tonight. If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days.”

And she is right about this: “We’ve never dealt with a figure like this in American history before. This man, our president, is not just a politician; he’s a phenomenon. And an insider political game will not be able to defeat it. … The only thing that will defeat him is if we have a phenomenon of equal force, and that phenomenon is a moral uprising of the American people.”

A moral uprising of the American people might also include criticizing of those like Williamson whose anti-vaxer views would lead to the death of children.  And this is what the no-punch-pulling Orac (a surgeon) does in this new article at Respectful Insolence (click on screenshot):

In case you’re wondering about Orac’s title, first, he appears to have gotten her name wrong (I’ve made a comment on his site to that effect), though in the rest of the article he gets it right. More important, part of his article is a criticism of a somewhat exculpatory article about Williamson by science writer Faye Flam at (click on screenshot):

Faye is a friend of mine, so this hurts doubly, but I think Orac rightly rakes her over the coals for casting Williamson as a misunderstood “science skeptic” rather as a science denialist. Here’s how Faye gives Williamson a pass:

The accusation of being “anti-science” has become a popular and effective way to discredit people, at least in certain circles. Self-help guru turned presidential candidate Marianne Williamson is learning that after her debate performances.

People often end up accused of being “anti-science” when they question scientific dogma, but questioning dogma is what science is all about. Donald Trump could be more accurately labelled as anti-science for the blatant cutting of funds for important scientific studies – though even he may not be opposed to the scientific enterprise so much as he is trying to protect his friends in industry at the expense of science and people exposed to pollution.

A particularly scathing anti-Williamson critique appeared in the Daily Beast, though the author couldn’t seem to find much fault with anything said in this week’s debate, instead digging up past statements. Indeed, she has dealt with some new-age ideas that are unscientific or even antithetical to science, but not more so than much organized religion is.

Williamson seems likely to disappear from the national conversation soon, and critics are right to go after her lack of policy experience. Criticizing her, or any other candidate, on the basis of ideas and experience makes perfect sense. But trying to discredit skeptics with the label of “anti-science” is not very scientific.

Well, the response to this, especially if you know Williamson’s history as well as her weaving-and-bobbing views now that she’s been called out for her anti-vaxerism and wonky views on mental illness, is this:

Here’s the thing about science (and being “antiscience”). There’s a hierarchy, gradations, if you will, of how unscientific or antiscientific your beliefs are. Believing something for which there is no scientific evidence and, in fact, there is plenty of scientific evidence that refutes that belief is on the extreme end, as is believing such things based on conspiratorial thinking. That’s what Williamson has a long history of doing with respect to vaccines. Remember what she has said on more than one occasion?

And here’s one of MW’s tweets (and a response):

Orac also dismantles Wiliamson’s claim that chronic illnesses in children have risen to 54%, which is simply a lie. When pressed on this, or on her views that mental illness is just reified “sadness”, she tends to revert to her attacks on “Big Pharma”. Now Orac isn’t a huge fan of the pharmaceutical industry, but for Williamson it’s a displacement activity, designed to divert attention from her profoundly antiscientific views when she’s called out for lying:

Yes, it must be conceded that there is a legitimate debate to be had over the treatment of mental health and the issue of regulatory capture in the regulation of pharmaceutical companies and their products, but Williamson’s dismissal of so much depression as “medicalizing normal grief” is a vast oversimplification and exaggeration. Of course, when Melber gets around to the issue of “skepticism” on vaccinations (a horrible horrible, horrible choice of a word for this) and tries to press her on it, we see her lay down this “I’m not antivaccine” antivaccine patter:

I think it’s an overstatement to say that I cast skepticism on vaccination. [Orac note: Actually, it’s an understatement.] On the issue of vaccinations I’m pro-vaccination, I’m pro-medicine, I’m pro-science. On all of these issues, what I’m bringing up that I think is very legitimate and should not be derided and should not be marginalized, particularly in a free society, is questions about the role of predatory Big Pharma.

I’ll take “I’m not antivaccine, I just question big pharma” for $800, Alex.

Orac has a lot to say, but even if you just skim his piece and just listen to Williamson’s flaky lucubrations, you’ll wonder why anyone takes her seriously. Is it because Americans don’t know how settled the question of vaccination safety and efficacy really is? I don’t know.

Here’s one more bit from Orac’s piece, but you should watch this video of her with Anderson Cooper first (this was posted yesterday):

Orac’s take on this:

In this segment, Anderson Cooper focused primarily on Williamson’s past statements about antidepressants and psychiatric drugs. Cooper pressed her on her past statements about antidepressants “numbing” people, pointing out quite reasonably that depression itself numbs people. In responses, Williamson goes full woo, denying that she’d ever said what she’s been documented saying and then going on:

What I’ve talked about is a normal spectrum of human despair, normal human despair, which traditionally was seen as the purview of spirituality and religion, that which gave people comfort. gave people hope and inspiration in their time of pain. And with the advent of modern psychotherapy, a lot of the baton passed from religion and spirituality to modern psychotherapy, which was an interesting transition. Then, over the last few years, very very quickly, the baton was passed again to psychopharmacology, and so a nuanced conversation was lost regarding the nature of human despair.

Holy hell. Marianne Williamson’s entire objection to modern psychopharmacology for depression is that it has pushed aside religion and spirituality as the primary means of dealing with “human despair.” Given that she’s a New Age grifter, one shouldn’t be surprised. She doesn’t like a disease-based model of clinical depression because it cuts into her grift. She even goes on to suggest that the treatment of depression is seeking to keep us from feeling normal sadness after, for instance, the death of a loved one, which is a complete mischaracterization of modern psychotherapy.

If that isn’t antiscience, I don’t know what is.

Williamson, of course, got her start by coddling religion, and has simply leveraged that into her non-goddy but still wooey spirituality.

In this case, I think that Faye’s piece is off the mark, for it does conflate healthy skepticism with bald-faced denialism. There’s a huge difference, and Faye’s conflation of these damages the public understanding of science.

And nobody should view Williamson as a viable Presidential candidate, much less a thoughtful human being.



h/t: Michael

40 thoughts on “Marianne Williamson’s vaccine woo

    1. ‘Crank Magnatisim’ (E.g. the way in which one form of woo predisposes one to other forms of woo.) at it’s finest.

      Sadly there are a lot of people out there who think that Marianne Williamson has the most important (Indeed only) qualification needed to defeat Trump, her gender…

  1. Aaarrrggghhh. I don’t have as much disdain for David Brooks as you do but this certainly brings him down a notch in my estimation. Spiritual schmiritual🤮

  2. I watched Anderson Cooper’s interview of Williamson last night. It became clear to me that Williamson is going nowhere. Several times she said “Let me speak! Let me speak!” because she hated that Anderson wouldn’t let her spin her way out of acknowledging her past statements. She has some ability to craft soundbites but little skill in dealing with an adversary. She survived the debates only because none of the other candidates felt the need to go after her.

    1. ‘Several times she said “Let me speak! Let me speak!” because she hated that Anderson wouldn’t let her spin her way out of acknowledging her past statements.’

      I haven’t watched it. Was he (like a campus SJW intent on de-platforming a speaker?) interrupting her and cutting her off? That seems to be the dominant, admirable mode of discourse across much of the planet.

      1. Well, Anderson did interrupt her but, IMHO, it was more than justified. Williamson clearly wanted to avoid the questions and take as much free air time as possible to lay out her platform and promote herself. Once she got started, she didn’t pause for breath. Anderson just had to keep interjecting versions of “Yeah, but that doesn’t address my question.”

  3. It’s astonishing to me that David Brooks hasn’t collapsed under the weight of his own hypocrisy and turned into a conservative black hole. He’s almost the last person who should be pontificating about anyone’s morality.

    1. Can it possibly be that he has changed his views? When’s the last time he supported a conservative candidate? Or even wrote a very conservative article?

      If we don’t allow people to change and/or give them credit for it, they’ll be far less likely to do so.

      1. Very good. PJ. Brooks is no longer super conservative. He hates Trump. But he hasverged just a bit into the woo lane.

        1. What can you expect from a Jew converted to Catholicism. But, he often says things that are quite cogent, so, I keep listening to Shields and Brooks.

          1. Are you sure converted to Catholicism rick? I was under the impression that his first wife converted to Judaism in the Brooks became more Jewish religion wise in the process. He is now married as much younger assistant And I thought he had just become spiritual with quotes around it. Mark Shields is Catholic. I too will be listening to their
            words of wisdom tonight. Will also watch Washington week later. Costa often has very good guests. Speaking of PBS, you know the poor White House correspondent yummy awesome door:i.Siri’s version of Yamiche Alcindor? Today I was at the fracture clinic at the hospital and the woman ahead of me was named alcindor. She was from St. Lucia, and I think Yamiche is of Haitian extraction. A Spanish name from two French speaking island.

            1. I am recalling Brooks’ history from a WEIT post a few weeks ago. I could be mistaken. I have not watched Washington Week for many years…from back when it was a TV panel show. I’ll check it out and see what it’s like.

              1. Thanks, Merilee, for the update. I was wrong about him being Catholic. Just Christian.

                Let us pray…

      2. “The big Republican accomplishment is that they have detoxified their brand. Four years ago they seemed scary and extreme to a lot of people. They no longer seem that way. The wins in purple states like North Carolina, Iowa and Colorado are clear indications that the party can at least gain a hearing among swing voters. And if the G.O.P. presents a reasonable candidate (and this year’s crop was very good), then Republicans can win anywhere. I think we’ve left the Sarah Palin phase and entered the Tom Cotton phase.”
        — David Brooks, November 5, 2014.

        One might wonder whatever happened to that detoxification, if it ever happened (it didn’t), if one’s name were not David Brooks, because in his recent “Donald Trump Hates America” column he doesn’t mention the GOP once.

        Add to that his persistent both siderism and his smug moralizing (despite divorcing his wife of 28 yr and marrying his assistant, 20 years his junior, with whom he coincidentally worked closely on his book while still married) and you get a very toxic combination. Yet somehow he’s still widely read and admired. We truly live in a dark timeline.

        Driftglass (check him out) writes much more entertainingly about the execrable Mr. Brooks.

    2. Bravo, Kurt. I can no longer tolerate Brooks. So much of his writing now is a flash of his moderate/thoughtful-Republican badge in a vain attempt to placate political centrists. Rather than conveying “fair and balanced,” I think his pieces sound like hypocrisy, babbled in doublespeak, from out of both sides of his mouth. I am constantly left with the thought ‘do you even believe this shit?’

  4. She (and a lot of other candidates) need to drop out already. For the good of the party; we need a focused debate where candidates have time to tell their anecdotes and lay out their policies. Hopefully ABC’s debate won’t be focused on the spectacle as if it were a World Wide Wrestling match. CNN was a frickin’ disaster.

    1. I read somewhere the number of candidates was about to drop dramatically for the next debate. I’m sure Williamson will not be missed.

      1. Yeah, the other day I heard that only 7 are qualified for the debate at this time. The rest have until September to get the signatures and raise the dough.

  5. Goes to show the depths to which the pressure of a twice-a-week deadline at the NYT will drive an ur-centrist-Republican like Brooks.

  6. I guess a Marianne Williamson presidential candidacy was in the stars, given that Oprah declined and Chopra was born in India.

    She’s the politician who would fight fire with fire, taking on the self-absorbed, delusional, fantasy-prone, conspiratorial attitude of Christian prosperity gospel with the equally self-absorbed, delusional, fantasy-prone, conspiratorial approach of New Age Spirituality. The result, however, would just be a bigger fire.

  7. The only thing that will defeat him [Trump] is if we have a phenomenon of equal force[.]

    Nuthin’ that a jade egg in the hoo-ha can’t cure.

  8. If Brooks has to refer to her ideas as “whackadoodle” in the same breath he says she’s the only who can beat Trump (she’s not), then he’s clearly gone off the rails.

  9. “What could be more scientific than questioning dogma and calling for more inquiry?”

    I know, right? Us creationists* have been saying this for years!

    And what could be more scientific than drawing conclusions from the most tenuous of correlations? Did you know that, since the “Vaccine Protection Law” of 1986, North Korea has gained nuclear weapons? And that multiple civil wars like those in Rwanda, Syria, etc. have occurred? All I’m saying is we should look into this!

    * No, I’m not really a creationist 😛

  10. Obama sold hope and Trump sold fear. Williamson who is selling ‘love’ could very well win some hearts

    Her responses in the debate make me chuckle. She added some fun to it. I rather listen to her than to Bernie who shouts too much and is just crazy in a different way imo.

    (She and Bernie are not on my short list.)

    1. My mom and I were talking today and she said (as I’m sure many others have) that Bernie is the uncle you don’t invite to any of the holidays anymore because he just shouts at everyone about politics all night. And when you finally stop inviting him the holidays become far more enjoyable than you ever realized they could be.

    2. Shouting seems to be one strategy for keeping other candidates from interrupting and cutting one off in mid-sentence.

    3. Obama sold hope and Trump sold fear. Williamson who is selling ‘love’ could very well win some hearts

      The success of the US murder industry strongly suggests which way that contest is going to end.
      Or do you mean an impending post-in campaign?
      (Bloody hell, that’s pricy! It’s a lot cheaper at the chop-shop here.)

Leave a Reply