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Straight from the source’s mouth

November 17th, 2007 · 26 Comments · Junk science, Useful idiots

“Things are seldom what they seem, Skim milk masquerades as cream,” sing two disenchanted characters in Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore. Things are rarely as they seem in the autism wars, where agenda-driven groups with strong, anti-science biases spin unproven claims for credulous ears. Anyone reporting from the front lines needs to be familiar with the science and politics of autism, or risk being duped.

The AP’s Matthew Barakat recently covered anti-vaccination protests outside a St. George’s County courthouse, where a Maryland judge is enforcing a state law which says schoolchildren must be vaccinated against dangerous diseases. The story appeared in the Baltimore Sun and other major news outlets.

Maryland health officials had become alarmed at large numbers of schoolchildren who had skipped some or all of their scheduled vaccinations. It was was one of the strongest efforts made by a U.S. school system to ensure kids receive their shots.

While children received their court-ordered vaccinations inside the courthouse, a noisy throng of demonstrators gathered outside. About one protester, Barakat wrote:

Several organizations opposed to mass vaccinations protested outside the courthouse. While the medical consensus is that vaccines are safe and effective, some parents and researchers believe immunizations are responsible for a rise in autism and other medical problems.

“People should have a choice” in getting their children immunized, said Charles Frohman, representing a physicians’ group opposed to vaccines.

Things are seldom what they seem. Charles Frohman is not a researcher, nor does the “physician’s group” he represents do credible research. Frohman is a paid lobbyist for a fringe anti-vaccine group with the Orwellian name Health Freedom. To Mr. Frohman, this means the freedom to sell untested potions free of health and safety regulations which require conventional medical treatments be proven safe and effective.

Barakat is not the first reporter to be played by a lobbyist, but he could have avoided being duped if he had exercised some basic critical thinking skills by keeping a few simple questions in mind.

First, what is the evidence for the claim? Barakat already knew that “the medical consensus is that vaccines are safe and effective.” That alone makes Frohman’s claim extremely suspect.

Also, what motivates the demonstrators? This is a far more interesting story than the mere presence of protesters on the courthouse steps. Frohman’s motivation is money – he works for a group that wants government out of the way so it can sell suspect potions to an unsuspecting public. But what of the others? What motivates parents’ groups to expose their children to hepatitis and polio and diphtheria?

We already know that the science tells us.

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26 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Andrew Cronyn, MD // Nov 17, 2007 at 9:10 pm

    It wouldn’t even have taken critical thinking skills for the reporter to figure this out. I saw the story on Yahoo…read this comment… and then Googled the name. When I saw that he is not a doctor or any sort, nor could I find what ‘physicians group’ he is with, I thought “aha, a fake.” Too bad the reporter wasn’t equally diligent (it took less than 10 minutes).

  • 2 NNM // Nov 17, 2007 at 9:51 pm

    Really interesting blog. Your “Archives” and “About” links up there are broken.

    As to why reporters are so lazy, 98% of them have no science background and of those 98% just want to get the story done as quickly as possible which means minimal fact checking. Whoever is the first quotable person they can reach usually gets the most ink although there will always be some token “from the other side.” So that pits a person paid to be a public advocate against a busy scientist or physician with little time or interest in sharing anecdotes.

  • 3 Kathleen Seidel // Nov 17, 2007 at 10:01 pm

    No, Frohman is no doctor. According to his bio, he’s got a B.A. in government, and is also a certified kundalini yoga teacher.

    Pretty slack of Barakat — and his editors.

  • 4 Kristina Chew // Nov 17, 2007 at 10:04 pm

    And what motivates the parents’ groups to expose other people’s children to those diseases?

  • 5 Ms. Clark // Nov 17, 2007 at 10:31 pm

    I was listening to a medical school lecture about vaccines on a podcast. The lecturer said that there was a measles outbreak a few years ago in Arizona and the health dept. was trying to get all the school aged kids caught up on their shots. They put out nice informative literature and no one showed up for the vaccine clinics. So the health dept worked with the schools, they schools said, “your kid can’t come to school unless he’s vaccinated.”

    The problem was not that the unvaxed kids had parents who were against vaccines, but that the parents had gotten slack and were putting it off until later (something most of us are likely to do, that is, procrastinate).

    When they told the parents that the kids couldn’t go back to school until they were vaccinated, suddenly parents had time to get to the clinics and get the kids caught up on their vaccines. No doubt, it being Arizona there were exemptions for religious reasons. The main problem was not a fear of vaccines but just busy schedules, etc, of the parents.

    I would bet that this is the situation in Maryland, but the antivax lunatics are painting it as if all these parents had made a choice not to vaccinate and now were being rounded up and forced against their will …. typical antivax lies, and typical of SAFE MINDS to be right in the middle of it with Jim Moody. So how many teenagers are going to become autistic after these vaccines, Mr. Moody?

  • 6 Schwartz // Nov 18, 2007 at 2:00 am

    I agree with Ms. Clarks assessment that most of the parents were likely too lazy or busy to get it done.

    However, threatening the parents with jail time, is not anywhere near an appropriate way to get lazy parents to vaccinate their children.

    1) There was no medical emergency or even threat to the school or general population since the majority of these children were missing their Heb B or Chicken Pox vaccines. Neither of these is a credible threat to society justifying jail time.

    Even the Physicians think that such a heavy handed tactic is stupid and counterproductive in the long term.

    2) It is perfectly acceptable for a concerned school system to threaten to send the students home for breaking the rules. I guarantee that would have been equally effective in getting lazy parents to act — either get their children vaccinated or get an exemption.

    3) There are accusations that the school system has lost the vaccination records of children forcing them to be vaccinated again. If that is the case, then it is pure negligence on the part of the school board for putting those students at extra risk.

    And if Ms. Clark is so aghast at the way the anti-Thimerosal lobby is painting the situation, I wonder why we don’t hear the same disgust with the way the DA and judge have portrayed the situation? There was no credible threat to the health of the school or to the population from lack of Heb B and Chickenpox vaccines.

    And just out of curiousity, how many children died in that measles outbreak in Arizona? And how many of the affected children had been vaccinated?

  • 7 mike stanton // Nov 18, 2007 at 5:29 am

    Schwartz

    How many died? I do not know. As a child of the 50′s I do know the misery of contracting measles, chicken pox and whooping cough and other childhood diseases that are largely a thing of the past thanks to vaccines.

    I also remember my parents joining the queues at our local surgery to have us vaccinated against polio, smallpox and diptheria. They remembered the impact of these diseases from their pre-vaccination childhood years.

  • 8 Vince // Nov 18, 2007 at 10:15 am

    As a parent considering raising a vaccine-free child, I find the Maryland story very interesting, and then found this site and all the commentary. I have to say the only thing you offer here is big-pharma’s position on mass vaccination.

    If any journalist out there is brave enough to honestly consider the other argument, please take a look at Wendy Lydall’s book, raising a vaccine free child.

    Sincerely,
    Vince (A Canadian citizen, with a democratic right to vaccination exemption)

  • 9 isles // Nov 18, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    The thing that justifies jail time, to me, is not the immediate threat of a chickenpox outbreak, but rather the blatant disregard of the law which is evinced by these parents’ failure to comply with a rule which exists to protect the safety of others.

    What is the immediate threat posed by prostitution? Tax evasion? Drug distribution? We put people in prison for all of these. The reason is that they DO have a real effect on the welfare of society, and immunization is no different. People think their decision is their own business because it only affects their own children, but they’re wrong. And in this case, the parents weren’t even thinking that at all. They were simply negligent.

    Schwartz writes: “Even the Physicians think that such a heavy handed tactic is stupid…”

    Evidence? I have seen no such reaction. On the contrary, the reaction I’ve seen is delight that the State is taking vaccination as seriously as its public health value actually warrants.

    Schwartz writes: “It is perfectly acceptable for a concerned school system to send the students home for breaking the rules.”

    It’s not students who are in charge of getting themselves vaccinated. And frankly, children of parents who can’t be bothered to follow the simplest of preventive healthcare are likely better off in school than at home.

    Schwartz says: “There are accusations that the school district has lost the vaccination records of children forcing them to be vaccinated again.”

    Anybody can make an accusation based on exactly zero evidence. The anti-vaccine whackjobs’ paid lobbyist, for instance.

  • 10 mike // Nov 18, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    The thing I don’t get about the whole vaccination thing is this: If those who get vaccinated are protected, then how are the unvaccinated putting anyone except other unvaccinated kids at risk? Let people who don’t want to vaccinate do so. The only ones they’re putting at risk are themselves, unless, of course, vaccines really aren’t effective.

  • 11 Timelord // Nov 18, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    Australia has had compulsory vaccinations since it was announced by former federal Health Minister, Dr. Michael Woolridge in about 1999 or 2000. With the full support of the opposition Labour Party – and not a bleep of protest from parents.

    My point is that as long as the scientific charlatans are kept out of the press (paper and electronic) there are no protests. Because there is no panic, and no panic merchants preying on said panic, there is no problem.

    This is a very good reflection on the effects of America’s first amendment rights. I would have challenged the protestors to provide evidence of their claims – and then put them all down for what they are. Panic based paranoia that is a bigger threat to public health than Autism ever could be.

    I fully support the Maryland efforts. There is no proof that vaccines are dangerous, and until credible properly peer reviewed evidence is presented and agreed to – that’s the way it should stay. Anyone who says otherwise is anti vaccine no matter how they present their argument. Jenny McCarthy is at the top of the list in that department.

    Schwartz, where does it say the court is threatening jail time? From what I can tell, they’re simply issuing court orders. Non compliance is more likely to attract a heavy fine than an automatic jail term. Having said that – I prefer the line from Arizona that Camille mentioned. That’s what we’re doing in Australia as I recall – as well as threatening the child payments that all parents get to help raising their kids from the government. But then again, Isles also has a point.

  • 12 Schwartz // Nov 18, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    Mike S,

    I know of many stories of disease in the past and I know of lots of anecdotal evidence of children damaged from vaccines. A story was presented by Ms. Clark to make a point, but none of the associated facts were included. I was just curious as to what the full account of facts were.

    Isles,

    As far as I understand the law in the US, the state can only impose manditory medication if there is an immediate threat to the state. That is clearly not the case with Hep B and Chicken Pox, so by law, there is very little to stand on from that perspective.

    I suspect they’re dealing with a poor neighbourhood here, but if this were really to get debated in court, I also suspect the order would never stand as brought forth.

    “It’s not students who are in charge of getting themselves vaccinated. And frankly, children of parents who can’t be bothered to follow the simplest of preventive healthcare are likely better off in school than at home.”

    Isles,

    Again, by law, parents are responsible for the well-being of their children, and they are also responsible for the outcomes of any decisions they are required to make. Since the state refuses to accept responsibility for the outcome of vaccination, it is still the parent’s responsibility, and their decision to make.

    Your opinions on that choice are perfectly valid for yourself, but they don’t hold any legal standing, don’t really matter in the courts, and frankly don’t really matter to those who choose not to vaccinate.

    From what I understand, unless the state is moving to remove custody of the children from the parents, there is no legal standing to throw the parents in jail and frankly is pretty stupid. How are you protecting students by putting their parents in jail?

    Now it is perfectly appropriate for the state to determine that a parent who is being lazy is being negligent in taking care of their child because they can’t go to school as a result of not getting a record of vaccination or of an exemption. In that case, they can move to have the parent brought before the courts on those charges. However, that argument would not be based on their decision to vaccinate or not, it would be based on their lack of diligence in assuring their child can go to school.

    One could also question the overall benefit of removing those students from parently custody into state custody and whether the state would provide better care over a Heb B or Chicken Pox vaccine. That scenario doesn’t sound too logical either.

    So you’ve really got your laws and legal rights all mixed up. Either that, or you’re purposefully ignoring civil rights in favour of your opinion. From that perspective, one might say you’re acting as irresponsibly as some of those parents.

    I haven’t seen a lot of evidence supporting anything in this whole bruhaha. All we have are individual accounts from the individuals involved and a handful of statements from local officials. I guess we’re limited to debating nothing, because we have no scientific evidence of anything. I’m going to guess that most of these local officials doing this are of the elected type? I can think of many non health related motivations of elected officials so we can’t even assume motivations at this point. If the motivation were truly the health and welfare of the students, then this surely was not a wise course of action as the outcome is not likely to be positive overall. If you choose to take locally elected officials at their word, then that is your perogative, but it is hardly based on evidence or fact.

    As for calling people names, ad hom arguments aren’t considered scientific so I’ll just ignore that part.

  • 13 Schwartz // Nov 18, 2007 at 4:11 pm

    Mike,

    The argument you will get in response to your question, is that a percentage of the population is not protected by vaccines (because it won’t work for them) and that they have to rely on “herd immunity” for protection.

    I do not know the herd immunity percentage requirements are for Heb B or chicken pox. I would say that the herd immunity requirement for chicken pox might be difficult since the efficacy parameters around the vaccine are not really known over the long term.

  • 14 HCN // Nov 18, 2007 at 9:13 pm

    Mike said “The thing I don’t get about the whole vaccination thing is this: If those who get vaccinated are protected, then how are the unvaccinated putting anyone except other unvaccinated kids at risk?”

    First off, vaccines are at most 90% effective. There will always be someone who cannot be protected by vaccines. Then there are the ones who for valid medical reasons canNOT be vaccinated:
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1055533.ece

  • 15 dr john // Nov 18, 2007 at 9:27 pm

    Do some research… Laugh at everyone who really believes that everything the medical community says is safe is really safe for everybody. Look at the statistics and find that nearly the same number of vaccinated people contract these deadly diseases as do non-vaccinated.
    Teach yourselves how to live healthy instead of relying on magic medicine that supposedly has no ill effects and is 100% safe. I challenge any medical doctor to sign an agreement that says that they will take full responsibility if the child they are injecting with a vaccine has an “unsafe reaction” and suffers permanent damage from that vaccine…

  • 16 mike // Nov 19, 2007 at 12:45 am

    timelord,

    it is naive to think that peer-reviewed evidence is needed to prove anything negative about vaccination. Who’s going to fund THAT research? The manufacturer?

    Consider this: DTP was pulled off the market in the US in 1991 and was replaced by the DTaP, which is supposed to be safer. However, no one ever admitted DTP was unsafe. But if DTP was perfectly safe, why were millions spent coming up with a safer alternative?

    And this: The US government has a fund set up specifically to compensate the families of children harmed by vaccinations, brain damage in most cases, but SIDS as well. Does this sound perfectly safe to you?

  • 17 Timelord // Nov 19, 2007 at 4:14 am

    Mike, nothing in medicine is 100 percent cast iron safe. There will always be accidents. When you undergo an operation there is a chance something could go wrong. It’s remote but there’s a chance.

    It’s the same with vaccines (and DTP/DTaP).

    If someone is careless or at best not careful enough along the way, one could ened up with a vaccine that is not sterile (for want of a better word) and the result could be brain damage or whatever else as a result of the vaccine. That’s why it’s there.

    But it’s naive to think that the lack of a peer review is going to make no difference to the mentality of panic merchants who run around and take advantage of desperate parents. We need it because it’s now the only way to silence the mercury militia – and get a positive statement regarding the issue of thiomersal and Autism at least.

    This research should be funded by the WHO (because both the US and the UK have had issues with panic merchants) to resolve this thing once and for all.

  • 18 Orac // Nov 19, 2007 at 9:00 am

    When I saw that he is not a doctor or any sort, nor could I find what ‘physicians group’ he is with, I thought “aha, a fake.”

    According to the NYT, he represents American Association for Physicians and Scientists, the very organization that publishes the crank journal JPANDS.

  • 19 mike // Nov 19, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    timelord,

    the WHO, US, and UK all have huge vaccination programs and would thus implicate themselves in the deaths of thousands of children if a study found any correlation between vaccines and anything bad. So I ask you again, who’s going to fund the research?

    I’m a scientist myself, so I’m all too aware of the pros and cons of the current system. While agree that the peer-review system is the best we have, lots of bad studies still get published. As for funding, science is driven by those with money and the questions they’re willing to have answered. No organization stands to gain anything by doing these studies.

  • 20 Patrick // Nov 20, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    I haven’t taken a ‘blatant’ stand on either side of the vaccination argument at this point. But I can see that NIH says they are safe.

    However, should the Omnibus group get their act together and Show by means of Credible Evidence that vaccines Do cause some autism problems then I would at least be a bit happier knowing that I could probably sue for damages.

    I will however probably remain unswayed by the anti-vax groups Scare Tactics, as they are just Tacky.

    If there is something in our society right now that really needs to be addressed in vehement mode why don’t they get their stuff together and work to expose the Propaganda from Taser International about how ‘other factors’ keep being the main reason for post-Taser death, instead of trying to admit the fact that if their device was not in use more than 150 people (since 2001) in the U.S alone would still be alive if they weren’t exposed to that peice of $hit device. Which is just about as bad (if not worse) than what the Judge Rottenburg Center uses… GED/CES.

  • 21 Prometheus // Nov 20, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    As it is with many things, the safety of vaccines depends a lot on what you compare it to.

    Are vaccines safer than the diseases they prevent?

    YES!

    Is your risk of a “vaccine injury” greater than your risk from the disease if you live in a country where that disease is either rare or non-existent?

    YES! That’s why we don’t vaccinate against Yellow Fever in the US, Canada or the UK. That’s why the oral polio vaccine was stopped in the US in favor of the injectible – because the risks from the vaccine (oral polio – OPV) had become greater than the risks of the disease.

    This was not because the OPV had become more dangerous or because of some dark revelation about the true hazards of the OPV; it was because the incidence of polio had dropped so low in the US, largely because of the sucess of the OPV.

    To address Patrick’s concerns about the Taser, you have to look at the alternative. How many of the thousands of people “Tasered” in the US (since 2001) would have been shot if the Taser had not been available? I don’t know the answer to that question, but it certainly brings the figure of 150 deaths since 2001 into a different light.

    Volvos are considered to be “safe” – and they have the statistics to prove it – but people are killed in Volvos every year. Does that mean that the Volvo company is “lying” about their safety?

    It’s all a matter of context.

    Prometheus

  • 22 Prometheus // Nov 20, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    Speaking of context.

    I just checked with the US Census Bureau and founs that there are estimated to be about 174,000 children between the ages of 6 and 18 years in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

    According to media reports (always a questionable source), there were about 2300 children with incomplete vaccination records (lacking either vaccinations or a statement of medical or religious exemption) that triggered the county’s response.

    This works out to 1.3% of all school-age children in the county were lacking proper documentation.

    Given that all the parents had to do was fill out the form they were given and state that they had religious or philosophical objections to vaccination, the resistance seems puzzling.

    Perhaps the story isn’t about “forced vaccination” so much as it is really about parents who are “too busy” to fill out yet another meaningly (to them) form.

    Maybe the issue has been taken up, not as a cause juste – a “just cause” for action – but as a “cause celebre” – a means of getting attention.

    Just maybe.

    Prometheus

  • 23 Patrick // Nov 20, 2007 at 4:11 pm

    Prometheus,
    I don’t really want to squabble. But sometimes people oversimplify.

    Perhaps you haven’t heard about the Polish guy who was Tasered in the Vancouver B.C. airport?, who had done nothing more than throw a computer or move a table?

    (These devices are not being used only in response to Lethal Force requiring situations is my point, and yes I do realize that Vancouver B.C. is not U.S.)

    Here in Spokane (/wave Kassi, though I know we don’t know each other personally) a lady (or was it a guy, I don’t remember) was Tasered in the back, while not con”fronting” an officer.

    So sorry, but don’t try to minimize my complaint please.

  • 24 Schwartz // Nov 20, 2007 at 11:16 pm

    Prometheus,

    I agree that the real reason is likely “too busy” or “Don’t care” parents. However, the reason they don’t vaccinate their kids is not that important. What is important is if their rights are being abused by the state based on it’s reaction regardless of the reason. That is why the lobby groups are justified in objecting to the treatment.

    I am all for punishing lazy or “don’t care” parents. But the punishment must be done within the context of existing rights.

    Patrick,

  • 25 Schwartz // Nov 20, 2007 at 11:20 pm

    Patrick,

    Living in Canada and being very familiar with the RCMP and it’s problems, the very tragic death of Mr. Dziekanski is very likely not the result of the tasering. It is much more likely due to his distressed condition combined with the application of force against him while he was being subdued after being tasered. If you watch the video, it is clear that the young officers involved, were completely untrained for this type of confrontation, and they also were kneeling heavily on his neck and back while he was being subdued. Combine that with his physical distress at the time of the incident, and I’ll be surprised if the cause of death isn’t found to be related to that.

    The focus on Tasers really baffles me in this case. There were so many other contributing factors here, but a story about tasers is certainly more sensational.

  • 26 Timelord // Nov 28, 2007 at 4:32 am

    Mike, your response in incredibly naive and presumptious.

    “No organization stands to gain anything by doing these studies.”

    Yes they would. The silence of the panic merchants, and subsequently the protection of the vast majority of vaccine recipients. This scare campaign has to be stopped because it is a much bigger threat to public health than the minor risk factor I spoke of that applies to all medicine.

    I answer again – the WHO should fund it. If they don’t then they aren’t doing their job. The risk MUST be taken if one exists. And I for one am confident that it will be the panic merchants who lose and the vaccine makers win.

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