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Keep your expectations low for autism hearing

November 28th, 2012 · 1 Comment · Junk science

C-SPAN 3 will broadcast today’s autism hearing live at 2 pm ET.  You can watch the House Committee on Government Operations and Reform online HERE.

Here is the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee list of witnesses. Each will have five minutes to present.

  • Coleen Boyle, Ph.D., Director of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Mr. Bob Wright, Co-Founder, Autism Speaks
  • Mr. Scott Badesch, President, Autism Society
  • Mr. Mark Blaxill, Board Member of SafeMinds, an anti-vaccine advocacy group
  • Mr. Bradley McGarry, Coordinator of the Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst, Mercyhurst University
  • Mr. Michael John Carley, Executive Director, Global & Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership
  • Mr. Ari Ne’eman, President, Autistic Self Advocacy Network

There are so many things wrong with this hearing. First and foremost is the assumption by Rep. Dan Burton and others that autism is an epidemic. The title of the hearing, 1 in 88 Children: A Look Into the Federal Response to Rising Rates of Autism, assumes something for which there is no evidence. In epidemiology, the word “rates” refers to disease incidence, or an increase in the actual number of cases. This is not the same as the number of diagnoses, or prevalence. But Burton cluelessly conflates the two words, using them interchangeably to spread fear about a people like his grandchild.

So we have a congressional hearing predicated on a unproven notion, and a government scientist has five minutes to school a room full of politicians in the math-intensive science of epidemiology. But that doesn’t stop another committee member, U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Penn), from calling the hearing “an opportunity to raise awareness about autism.”

“Autism is something that affects a lot of families,” Kelly recently told the Erie Times-News. “This is a chance to educate ourselves about ASD and then educate our colleagues.”

Inviting Mark Blaxill of SAFE MINDS to educate Congress is like giving a creationist a seat at a science education hearing. Blaxill, who is not a scientist or a doctor, formed his conclusions about vaccines and autism some 13 years ago, and has been looking for evidence to support his beliefs ever since. That is the opposite of how science works. In 2000, he co-wrote a pseudo-scientific paper titled “Autism: A Novel Form of Mercury Poisoning.” To my knowledge, he has never admitted that his novel hypothesis has failed in every way. But he doesn’t have to, as long as grandstanding politicians such as Rep. Burton confer the title of “expert” on him.

Burton can’t even makes himself sound knowledgeable. He recently told a Roll Call reporter “If you get one shot and it has mercury in it, you get maybe a little bit of mercury in there that may not affect you neurologically. But it stays there, at least a part of it does. So when you have a number of shots, there’s an accumulation of it, and that’s when I think it can be real damaging.”

There are entire books filled with things Burton doesn’t understand about vaccines. For instance: thimerosal, once used as a vaccine preservative, has been absent from the pediatric schedule for ten years. A thimerosal molecule contains a single mercury atom. It is water soluble, and clears the body in about ten days. There is no evidence it accumulates in the brain. Elemental mercury, on the other hand, is found in everything we eat and drink, and our bodies have evolved (a controversial idea for Burton, I am sure) to deal with minute amounts of mercury and other potentially toxic substances. And then there’s this: the symptoms of mercury poisoning are not the same as symptoms of autism.

Rep. Burton has no doubt been told these things over and over, but as any true believer, he just doesn’t care. He formed his conclusion shortly after his grandson was born, and has been looking for confirming evidence ever since.

This man was re-elected to his house seat 14 times. Think about it.


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Dear Chicago Sun-Times

November 13th, 2012 · 5 Comments · Miseducation

This is how the Chicago Sun-Times quells criticism of the paper’s decision to feature Jenny McCarthy as a family advice columnist.

Dear xxx
I would like to reach out as part of the communications team for the Chicago Sun-Times and Splash publications, to share with you the Sun-Times’ statement regarding concerns specifically about the focus of Jenny McCarthy’s column:

“Jenny McCarthy has signed on to share her special brand of humor with fans through her Splash column and daily blog. As our readers know, Jenny’s contributions are lifestyle focused and light-hearted. The vision for the column is not medical advice, therefore medical topics, like vaccination, are not within the scope of the column and will not be addressed.”


Kayla Weems


This is our response:

Kayla Weems
Assistant, Public Relations
Wrapports / Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago, IL

Dear Ms. Weems,

Could Jenny McCarthy’s light-hearted personality make it less likely that the Sun-Times would publish something critical about her, such as how she has persuaded parents to leave their children vulnerable to preventable diseases? Or that her annual AutismOne conference promotes bleach enemas as a treatment for autism? Are you concerned that your newspaper’s de facto endorsement of Jenny McCarthy’s infectious brand of humor may confer legitimacy on vaccine rejectionism and unproven autism treatments? Are you aware that McCarthy’s organization excludes and even expels those who report critically about her autism conference, including newspaper reporters?

Have you seen this?

You may think your readership doesn’t know McCarthy’s back story, or care. But that will change. Your ill-considered decision to embrace McCarthy’s special brand of humor does not sit well with thousands of medical professionals, parents, academics, child health advocates, bloggers, and others who think McCarthy has much to answer for. Their simmering disappointment is very real. Is the Sun-Times willing to risk alienating so many people, in all walks of life, from coast to coast, just to attract readers who will soon learn of Jenny McCarthy’s special brand of child abuse?

Please reconsider your relationship with home-town girl Jenny McCarthy. Severing ties would be more than just a smart business decision, even if that’s your only concern.


Ken Reibel

* * *

EveryChildByTwo is asking parents and others to send their own message to the Sun-Times editor-in-chief James Kirk, expressing concern about his paper’s cozy relationship with McCarthy. Here is a sample message:

Dear Mr. Kirk,

It has recently come to my attention that you have hired actress Jenny McCarthy to write a daily blog on parenting, dating and family advice. Jenny McCarthy’s claims that her son became autistic after being vaccinated have resulted in a major decline in the public’s confidence in vaccines. These claims were highly publicized, despite having no scientific merit and were countered by the worldwide scientific community. Families have chosen not to vaccinate their children because of the “advice” provided by Ms. McCarthy, and children have died as a consequence. Our country faces the largest outbreaks of whooping cough in decades and recent outbreaks of measles have een traced back to families who did not vaccinate their children.

[insert personal anecdote here]

I ask you to seriously reconsider your decision to provide a forum for Jenny McCarthy’s unsound beliefs. There are certainly better qualified candidates for this important position.


[insert name]

Mr. Kirk can be reached at .

Get busy. You know the drill.

The varicella virus’ special brand of humor is reflected on the face of this light-hearted toddler.


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Meet the new parent advice columnist
for the Chicago Sun Times

November 9th, 2012 · No Comments · Facepalm

From the UK’s Sun, we learn that “PLAYBOY babe Jenny McCarthy has revealed she was once so high on drugs she tried to have sex with a TREE.”

And from the Chicago Sun-Times we learn that McCarthy’s Google PhD is good enough to land a gig as that paper’s parent advice columnist. Talk about going out on a limb.


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Dan Burton is only trying to help

November 2nd, 2012 · No Comments · Serious overreach

We have learned that Rep. Dan Burton (R-Pompous) has been given the go-ahead to hold hearings on vaccines and autism before the House Oversight Committee. Congressional attention, even from someone as unhinged as Burton, gives anti-vaccine groups the vapors. One group, SAFEMINDS, sent out a press release in August claiming “Congressman Darrell Issa, Chair of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, has promised a hearing on the problems with the Vaccine Court and at the CDC regarding autism/vaccine research,” and urged fellow travelers to contact their representatives. Now Issa has told Burton he can have his hearing.

This is Burton’s last term representing a district that encompasses central Indiana. He was first elected in 1982. Whether Burton seizes the brass ring and schedules a hearing is yet to be seen.

Rep. Dan Burton, R-Indiana

When we last heard from Burton, he was overseeing six separate congressional hearings on vaccines an autism, between 2000 and 2003. A star-studded line up of anti-vaccine quacks and misfits answered the call, including Andrew Wakefield, Boyd Haley, and Jeff  Bradstreet. Die-hard political junkies remember Burton from 1994 when he invited reporters to his backyard to watch him shoot a pumpkin. Why, you might ask, was the honorable Congressman from Indiana shooting a pumpkin? Why, to prove that Bill Clinton murdered Vince Foster! Burton publicly referred to Bill Clinton a “scumbag”, even though Burton himself had fathered a child out of wedlock in 1983.

In 1995, during congressional hearings on the US War on Drugs, Burton suggested that the US “should place an aircraft carrier off the coast of Bolivia and crop dust the coca fields.” This plan proved to be unworkable primarily because (1) Bolivia is landlocked and thus has no coast (Burton was chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee at the time); 2) the Andes mountain range is in the way; and 3) F-18s are not crop dusters. When Bolivians heard Burton’s suggestion, they dragged their feet on US drug eradication efforts, which means Burton actually hurt the very cause he was trying to help.

Sound familiar? Burton, who has a grandson with autism, was also trying to help when he gave Congressional imprimatur to the unproven and implausible vaccine-autism connection. Anti-vaccine groups have been drawing on Burton’s hearing ever since for inspiration, and citing quotes such as:

“Whether it was the MMR shot or the mercury that was in these other vaccines, or a combination of the two, I do not know. But I do know that hundreds of thousands of children in this country and around the world are suffering because of autism, and many of them are suffering from autism shortly after having received one or more of these vaccines”

One academic, studying how anti-vaccine myths resonate, also noticed Rep. Burton. In Vying for credibility in the US Congress: legitimating symbols in the debate over immunization and autism, medical anthropologist Maya Ponte wrote:

In Burton’s rhetoric, the eyes play an important role as the purveyors of truth. He often makes evidentiary statements that turn on the use of this sensory organ: “I saw it with my own eyes, so something happened” (US House of Representatives 2001), or “My only grandson became autistic right before my eyes” (US House of Representatives 2002a). To Burton, seeing, in a simple and straightforward sense, is believing. He ties the evidentiary legitimacy of sight to his religious tradition: “I do not like to quote scripture very often, but there is none so blind as those that will not see” (US House of Representatives 2002b)

Burton’s hearing would be more than just his second bite at the mercury-laced apple. The timing is important to those with an anti-vaccine agenda. It’s been over a year since Fox News was trumpeting a new “study” that supposedly shows the US government has been quietly paying off victims of vaccine-induced autism. Soon after, the authors held court at a Congressional briefing attending by nine staffers, and credulous media followed along: a Boston Fox News affiliate called the coffee klatsch a “congressional hearing”, and Fox and Friends called the paper “an important study.” So the folks who want to leave our children vulnerable to preventable diseases, while dehumanizing persons with autism, think they have momentum on their side.

The anti-vaccine movement has little to cheer about these days. Its hero. Mr. Andrew Wakefield, is holding press conferences in gun club shelters, and sharing the stage with 9/11 Truthers. Jenny McCarthy has gone silent on vaccines, and can only write for the Chicago Sun Times on the condition that she avoids dishing medical advice. Dan Burton, once the poster child for right-wing zealotry and 20th century Know Nothingness, will be in fine company.


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Donald Trump’s monster shot

April 2nd, 2012 · 4 Comments · anecdotes, Serious overreach

Just in time for World Autism Awareness Day, but too late for April Fools Day, Donald Trump tells us what he knows about vaccines and autism.

Speaking by telephone from his underground hair bunker, Donald Trump told the Fox and Friends couch potatoes this morning:

“I have a theory, and it’s a theory that some people believe in and that’s the vaccinations…When you take a little baby that weighs like 12 pounds into a doctor’s office, and they pump them with many, many simultaneous vaccinations, and I’m all for vaccinations, but when you add all these vaccinations together, and then two months later the baby is so different, and I’ve known cases. I knew a case, a two year old child, went for the vaccination the child was fine, a month later the parent was up in arms, didn’t know what was going on because the baby had just lost it.”

But most physicians say vaccines don’t cause autism, said Fox Friend number two. What say you, Donald?

“It’s very controversial to even say, but I couldn’t care less,” said the man who says Barack Obama is a Kenya national. “It happened to somebody that worked for me recently. They had this beautiful child, not a problem in the world, and all of a sudden they go in, they get this monster shot. Did you ever see the size of it? It’s like they’re pumping in, you know, it’s terrible, the amount, and they pump it into this little body, and then all of a sudden the child is different a month later.”


Trump prefaced his remarks by reminding America that he is great friends with Bob and Suzanne Wright, the couple who founded Autism Speaks in 2005. When the Donald held a fundraiser for Autism Speaks in December, 2007, he told a reporter that vaccines cause autism.

“When I was growing up, autism wasn’t really a factor,” he said. “And now all of a sudden, it’s an epidemic. Everybody has their theory, and my theory is the shots. They’re getting these massive injections at one time. I think it’s the vaccinations.”

The man is beyond parody.


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Autism Speaks and the epidemic of self interest

March 30th, 2012 · 9 Comments · Serious overreach

One out of every 88 children in the US meets the criteria for an autism diagnosis, according to data released Thursday by the CDC. Two years ago the figure was 1:110. Two years before that 1:150.

It’s reasonable to ask what these numbers mean. Are more persons being affected by autism than before, or are more being detected? Has autism always been with us at the numbers we see today, or is there actually more of it?

It’s a complicated question, and one that will be answered with data and research. But Autism Speaks, the largest autism advocacy organization in the world, prefers the dictionary.

“According to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of epidemic is “excessively prevalent, affecting a disproportionately large number of individuals within a population at the same time,” AS President Mark Roithmayr told reporters during a CDC conference call.

The epidemiologists who labored to produce this study would disagree, and Roithmayr knows better. But as president of the largest and best funded autism advocacy group in the world, it’s his job to keep the public alarmed. Autism Speaks has poured more than $173 million into scientific research and fellowships since 2005. Nothing attracts donors like an emergency.

“Exploiting statistics for financial gain is the name of the game, after all, and it’s what they do–the more they get the more they give to research,” writes Kim Wombles at Science 2.0.  “Imagine if that call for money was about helping actual families now. Talking about family devastation and then asking for research money rather than money to help actual families right now misses the mark by a wide margin.”

Roithmayr’s lieutenants know the game. Peter Bell, AS’s vice president of programs, recently told a congressional appropriations subcommittee that “Twenty years ago, the experts estimated that one of every 2,500 children had autism,” and “Increasingly we hear the work epidemic associated with autism in America.”

Bell also knows better. Prevalence amongst 6 year olds in 1992 in the US was 19.1 in 10,000. That was the first year that collecting data on autism was mandated by statute.  Bell’s 4:10,000 rate was reported in 1966, and then only for a small segment of the autism spectrum.

Autism Speaks head boffin, Dr. Geraldine Dawson, repeated her organization’s epidemic talking point on the Today Show just this morning. “We now have an epidemic of autism in the United States,” she said, “It’s very important that we have a national plan to address this public health crisis.”

Exploiting statistics for financial gain is the name of the game, after all, and it’s what they do–the more they get the more they give to research. Imagine if that call for money was about helping actual families now. Talking about family devastation and then asking for research money rather than money to help actual families right now misses the mark by a wide margin.

But facts and details only slow down the Autism Speaks fundraising machine. The truth about the new prevalence numbers may not be alarming, but it does reveal much about how autism is identified and tallied.

Counting autistic children is costly and time consuming. The CDC collects data from existing records in 14 sites (Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin) to identify eight-year-old children with an actual autism diagnosis. Then the researchers comb over those same records looking for language that suggests a development disorder –  “repetitive and stereotyped behaviors,” “poor eye gaze,” and “delayed speech” – are examples.

In the latest survey, 21% of the children identified with an autism spectrum disorder had no such diagnosis before the survey. In the 2006 cohort, that number was 23%.

In other words, 1:88 children is not diagnosed with autism. In the recent survey, it’s more like 1:115. This speaks to a large, undiagnosed population whose needs are not being met.

A more exhaustive 2011 study from South Korea, funded by Autism Speaks, used standardized diagnostic instruments for children who screened positive and reported a prevalence 1 in 38 children. Of that number, two-thirds had never received a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

With all due respect to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, this is not what an epidemic looks like.

Instead of inventing definitions and misleading congress, responsible advocacy groups focus on meeting needs. “These are not just numbers, these are real people with real needs” said Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation.  “We have to focus on building the infrastructure to provide education and services to all of these people and their families.”



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Embargo? What embargo?

March 28th, 2012 · 2 Comments · Careless sourcing, Miseducation

An anti-vaccine group masquerading as an autism advocacy organization broke an embargo of the CDC’s latest autism prevalence numbers, which will be officially released this Friday.

The “Autism Action Network” – A-CHAMP – blasted the following email about one hour ago:

Rumors are swirling that the federal government will release this Friday the next round of official autism prevalence statistics and the news will be grim, the “official” autism rate is expected to be 1 in 88, up from 1 in 110 in 2010, which was up from the 1 in 166 rate in 2008.  Given the 4 to 1 ratio of boys to girls, the rate for boys is probably in the neighborhood of 1 in 48. The autism rate has doubled in four years. This is a public health catastrophe. And what is the federal government doing about this? Not much.

The new rate comes from a 2008 survey of eight-year-olds.. The 1:110 rate released in 2010 was from a 2006 survey. The 1:166 rate was from a 2004 survey.

What A-CHAMP conveniently omits is that the children surveyed in the latest report were born in 2000 – one year after vaccine manufacturers announced plans to phase out thimerosal from scheduled pediatric vaccines. If A-CHAMP’s vaccine/autism hypothesis held water, then we would see a decline in Friday’s numbers, since thimerosal was nearly absent from vaccine stockpiles by 2002. There is no decline, but A-CHAMP still thinks the nation is ignoring a catastrophe. It’s all in a day’s work for the folks that once called  California’s Assembly Bill 499 the “California Pedophile Protection Act of 2011?”

It’s a shame that some news outlets will repeat A-CHAMP’s autism rumor without reference to the paper that accompanies the survey. In the 2006 study, 23% of the children determined to have an ASD had no known previous autism diagnosis before the CDC team evaluated administrative records in 12 states. Is it really a catastrophe when developmentally disabled children are finally identified, and receive the services they need?

When reporting on Friday’s numbers, also keep in mind:

  • Researchers have known for at least 15 years that the prevalence of ASD – when you combine severe cases of autism with the “higher functioning” forms – is close to 1:90.
  • It is important to identify children and adults with autism who need support, but are currently being overlooked. When the story is framed this way, the higher rate is a good thing – more autism identified means more people are receiving services.
  • “Autism” exists on a spectrum, and most of the increase is being seen among the less severe cases.
  • The more people are aware of autism, the more people with autism will appear in records, which is how the CDC makes its count.

As awareness grows, educators and mental health professionals are more likely to use terms in their reports like ‘stereotypical and repetitive behaviors’ and ‘poor joint attention. “These are code words for the records reviews people at CDC,” says Dr. Richard Grinker. George Washington University professor and author.

The growth in autism programs also leads to more diagnoses.  “As the services increase, so does the range of programs designed for the spectrum,” says Grinker.  “That leads to more cases because families need a diagnosis to qualify for these new programs.”


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About that DSM 5 story

January 24th, 2012 · 8 Comments · Easy marks, Research

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) is sometimes called the Bible of modern psychiatry. First published in 1952 as DSM I, the reference book lays out the diagnostic criteria for most psychiatric conditions and illnesses.

The current DSM IV was published in 1994, then revised in 2000. And now it’s due for a rewrite. The DSM 5 (they dropped the Roman numerology) is expected to be released in May, 2013. Now this may not be as big news as, say, a Duran Duran reunion tour, or Kate Middleton’s anticipated baby bump, but it’s still creating a buzz among those who advocate for persons with autism. That’s no small constituency – 800,000 or more children and young adults have an autism spectrum diagnoses. When you add up all the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, you have an army of confused and anxious people.

The buzz kicked off last week with some news out of Iceland – an unpublished study looked at how proposed changes to the way autism is diagnosed might affect rates of diagnosis, and possibly treatment and services. The prognosis could be grim, according to the New York Times:

Proposed changes in the definition of autism would sharply reduce the skyrocketing rate at which the disorder is diagnosed and might make it harder for many people who would no longer meet the criteria to get health, educational and social services, a new analysis suggests.

The autism advocacy movement is a diverse crowd, and the report predictably set off howls of protest from some quarters. “The American Psychiatric Association did something very similar to this back in 1973 when they voted at their annual convention to remove homosexuality from the DSM,” was a comment left on one website. The implication, I guess, is that’s why we don’t have gay people anymore.

The silliness is endemic. An anti-vaccine guest columnist slipped by the gatekeepers at, to tie her cause to the proposed changes.  “So why exactly is the APA changing what we call autism? How is this going to benefit children?” wrote the “media editor” for Age of Autism, a fringe anti-vaccine website associated with Jenny McCarthy’s Generation Rescue. “In the last 20 years, we’ve seen a 600 percent increase in a serious neurological disorder.  No one at the APA is able to tell us what causes autism, how to cure it, or how to prevent it, but they seem happy to again play with the definition.  We need to ask why this is happening.”

The autism news beat is a target-rich environment for any reporter willing to wade into the  esoterica of psychiatry, epidemiology, and special education law. That’s one reason most autism coverage falls flat. In a time with when your typical Action News health reporter is underpaid and overworked, it’s not surprising that most autism coverage suffers from news attention deficit disorder. Autism reporting, much like autism itself, falls along a spectrum, from interesting and informative on one end, to shallow and meaningless on the other.

So how to cover autism, or more specifically, the impending rollout of how autism is diagnosed in DSM 5? Here are some tips.

Don’t assume an autism epidemic. The anti-vaccine movement pushes the epidemic angle to create fear, uncertainty, and doubt. But there is no evidence for an epidemic, and the increase in diagnoses over the last 50 years can be largely explained in ways that don’t presume a global conspiracy to poison children. “The high rates of prevalence and diagnoses today are instead evidence that scientists are finally counting cases correctly,” says Dr. Richard Grinker, author of Unstrange Minds (Basic Books, 2007). “This is a good thing, not only for the US but for the world, including cultures that have only just begun to learn about autism.” Grinker’s website is a great place to learn how the definition of autism has changed over the last six decades.

Be skeptical of any paper, especially ones that are unpublished. The New York Times article was largely based on an unpublished study by Dr. Fred R. Volkmar, director of the Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine . Volkmar once sat on the American Psychiatric Association panel that is writing DSM 5. He resigned, and may have an axe to grind with the APA. Beware of personal agendas. Dr. David Kupfer, chair of the DSM 5 committee, has publicly expressed concern about the “cost” of so many people (children) qualifying for mandated services.

A disability by any other name is still a disability. Federal special education law, specifically the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), doesn’t rely solely on the DSM. “That (autism) diagnosis may have some bearing, but it’s not the sole determining factor,” says Sonja Trainor, a senior staff attorney at the National School Boards Association. A diagnosis is not the same as a determination about whether a student needs special education.

Autism is currently defined by a “triad of impairment.” They are, simply put, deficits in socialization, narrow interests, and impaired communication. But the proposed criteria emphasize deficits in social interaction, along with restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities,  with far less emphasis on communication deficits. This leads to concerns that a child whose communication deficits eclipse his/her other issues may be passed over. But the argument makes little sense. Even if a child slips through the DSM 5 text, he/she could still qualify for services under a different diagnosis, such as communication disorder. Again, what matters is not the label, but whether a child’s disabilities are severe enough to warrant special education.

The IDEA Act was written for children. For adults with autism, services do depend on diagnosis, and that varies by state. Adults with autism are an under-reported story. Those who push the autism epidemic angle prefer to keep it that way.

Choose your sources carefully. Not every story has two legitimate sides, especially when the scientific evidence is heavily weighted to one side. Develop trusted sources who are familiar with those who are competing to have their voices heard. Case in point: the unpublished study that triggered two New York Times stories is based on the same data set which was exploited by anti-vaccine publicist David Kirby, who used the numbers to claim that “one-third of autistics recover!” This was supposedly evidence that the shadowy autism cure industry was on to something.

But the devil is always in the details. The children involved in that data set, which was collected from phone interviews, didn’t have confirmed diagnoses. Their parents merely answered questions such as “Has any medical person ever told you your child has an ASD?” and “Does your kid have an ASD now?” So the impressions of a school nurse, coupled with a parent’s incomplete understanding of a very complicated disorder, could easily lead to a wrong diagnosis. And when the diagnosis is corrected, years later, some will call it a “recovery”, or even a “cure.”

If I had to guess, I’d say the Volkmar study will stay unpublished. It’s too late to say that about fear mongering news accounts.


Cross-posted at


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Is Chuck Norris the new Jenny McCarthy?

November 6th, 2011 · 3 Comments · Critical thinking, Useful idiots

You may know him as TV’s Walker, Texas Ranger, or the star of low-budget shoot-em-ups. Now Chuck Norris is venturing into new territory – self-appointed anti-vaccine spokesperson.

Blogging on the right-wing website World Net Daily, Norris takes aim at the CDC, IOM, and the FDA  in an article clumsily titled The Venom in Fed’s Vaccinations:

While most mainstream news covers presidential campaigns or economic conditions, the feds are going under the radar and your skin – literally – with something that could be detrimental to your children’s and your health. And news just broke about the cover-up, but few, if any, agencies passed along the wire.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, one in 110 children have autism spectrum disorders, or ASDs, which is strikingly higher than ratios just two decades ago. (ASDs are a group of developmental disabilities that can cause communication, behavioral and social challenges.) The National Autism Association, or NAA, calls the 644 percent increase of ASDs among all U.S. children since the early 1990s “a tragic epidemic of autism.”

The rest of his article is a potpourri of anti-vaccine urban legends and fever dreams. He quotes a press release issued by Mark Geier, the Maryland doctor known for chemically castrating disabled children, and approvingly cites the crank National Autism Association’s warning about flu vaccines. The tone is as frantic as any anti-vaccine screed, right down to the mangled syntax:

To regress, the latest correlation revelation between vaccines and autism will fly in the face (or at least may cause some confusion) because of a 2011 August report from the Institute of Medicine, the nation’s bastion of authoritative health and medicine advice, just cleared children vaccines as autism culprits.

Chuck Norris doesn’t need language. Language needs him.

In a way, Norris’ D-list movie career has prepared him well for this new role. Oddly, his film titles echo the mindset of his fellow travelers in the anti-vaccine movement: Silent Rage, Invasion USA, Code of Silence, Missing in Action. It’s as if Norris emerged fully-formed from a Generation Rescue focus group, a grotesque cartoon character ready to spread the gospel of anti-science hysteria.

None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who’s been following vaccine rejectionism over the years. To call the movement fragmented doesn’t begin to describe the hodgepodge of half-baked hypotheses, misguided beliefs, internet rumors, and double-bank shot conspiracies that have led to a resurgence of whooping cough and measles. The anti-vaccine script is a perfect fit for tough guy Norris, the story arc familiar to generations of movie goers – somebody does somebody wrong, and a reluctant, troubled hero sets things right.

It’s all so perfect. Except that we go to the movies to escape reality.


"Real men stare down contagion"



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A video dramatization
of the Wakefield scandal

September 13th, 2011 · 9 Comments · Narrative

Much has been written about Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent Lancet study.  This is the first video dramatization I’ve seen. In two parts, from Vaccines: Getting to the Point, by FAIR Media, 2011.

Disclosure: I was interviewed for the video, but alas, my face didn’t make the final cut.



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