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Opinion collides with science at Fox News

October 2nd, 2010 · 2 Comments · Careless sourcing, Easy marks, Junk science, Miseducation, Useful idiots

On September 25, America’s favorite daytime think tank, Fox and Friends, alleged that vaccines cause autism, and that the US government is covering it up. And because this is Fox News, the story comes packaged in outrage: the US Federal Court of Claims is asking parents for a medical expert’s opinion of how the injury may have occurred. Apparently, it’s not enough to merely allege injury in court – one must offer a rational explanation for how it could have happened.

“The letter basically asked us to provide them with a theory of why we believe the vaccines caused the autism, and to provide them with a medical expert’s opinion, which is the difficult part,” explained Dana Hall, who appears to be speaking for all 5,000 petitioners in the Autism Omnibus Proceedings, to outraged Fox Friend Alisyn Camerota. “We have the theories. We are not able to find medical experts who are willing to come forth and risk losing their medical license and to help our children.” Furthermore, said Hall, the evidence exists to link vaccines to autism – “it’s just a matter of looking in the right places.” Because Hall took her case to Fox News, there was no attempt to follow up with fair and balanced questions, such as “Why would a medical expert face professional sanctions for giving an evidence-based opinion?”, or “Why didn’t the petitioners’ attorneys and medical experts look in the right places for the evidence that vaccines cause autism?”

Camerota, in full mama grizzly mode, brought on Mary Holland, who advocates for the ironically-named National Vaccine Information Center. The letter was “the end of the line”, she said, for the 5,000 parents who saw their children regress into autism following vaccination.

“The Autism Omnibus Proceeding has been going on for over eight years with these 5,000 claims,” she explained. “They tested two theories (sic) – one that mercury in vaccines causes autism, and one that MMR causes autism. And they decided in six test cases no. Two of those cases were appealed, and the court of appeals affirmed those decisions.” The letter that went to parents, said Holland, said “look, if you don’t have something different from these six test cases, let us know. Give us medical evidence.”

In reality, the petitioners’ lawyers chose their strongest cases from 5,000 claims, and were allowed to bring in as many experts as they needed to make their strongest arguments.

“It sounds like they are making the families jump through almost impossible legal hoops,” said Camerota. “They want parents to go out an hire their own experts, come up with a new medical theory. Why are they making it so tough?”

Yeah. What ever happened to personal responsibility? One more thing to blame the socialists for.

“The court of federal claims believes that it went through the steps it needed to go through. I don’t see it that way,” said Holland, who has written guest editorials for the Age of Autism, a fringe anti-vaccine website. “We don’t think the process is fair. It is not a normal court. No normal judge, no normal jury, no rules of evidence, no rules of civil procedure. It was set up to be an administrative proceeding, and now it’s trying to act like a court.”

If Camerota had done her homework, she would have known that “vaccine court” was created during the Reagan Administration because the “nearly impossible legal hoops” that parents faced in vaccine injury cases were clogging up courts and forcing manufacturers out of the business.  The “not normal” rules that Holland excoriates work in favor of parents. Simply put, if vaccine A is known to cause side effect B within X days following vaccination (called a table injury), and the facts of a case line up with the table injury, the case is usually settled. It’s a “more likely than not” standard of evidence that is nowhere near what plaintiffs face in civil court. In addition, plaintiff’s legal costs are covered win or lose, and decisions are reached much faster than would occur in civil court.

In short, few if any of the 5,000 claims would have stood a chance in civil court, where parents pay huge legal bills, and judges are bound by far tougher rules of evidence.

Camerota, stepping out of character, did ask Holland one intelligent question: “We’ve heard from medical experts on this show who say that vaccines don’t cause autism. Why do you think the federal government found that when so many parents feel differently?”

But Holland easily wriggled off the hook – “In this proceeding (the court) didn’t find the evidence convincing,” which is like saying “We lost because the other side scored more points.”

“This story is not over,” Holland continued. “The science is going forward. One day we will look back at this proceeding in shame. It was not a fair trial.”

Taking this tale of woe to Fox & Friends doesn’t make it anymore so.



2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 ebohlman // Oct 4, 2010 at 3:53 am

    I’m seriously reminded of the (hilarious) appelants’ brief in Perry v. Schwartzenegger (the Prop 8 case) where they argue that the trial judge ignored a vast amount of evidence which, for some odd reason, the Prop 8 proponents completely neglected to submit to the court (in that same case, one of the proponents, asked to source his claim that gay people do all sorts of nefarious things, cited “the internet”).

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