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May 26th, 2008 · 64 Comments · Critical thinking, Easy marks


The annual AutismOne conference is part trade fair, part revival meeting. This year’s event featured comedienne and Autism mom Jenny McCarthy, and dozens of autism “researchers” whose words are apparently digested salt free by the 2,000 parents who gathered at the Westin O’Hare Hotel in Chicago. Dozens of vendors filled one large meeting room and lined the carpeted hallways. Dietary supplements, gluten free snacks, hyperbaric chambers, homeopathic clinics, testing labs. One vendor’s display read “No More Guilty Parenting”, which could have doubled as the convention’s theme. Guilt is like oxygen to the alt-med autism cure culture; it hangs in the air like an invisible draft from Bruno Bettelheim’s refrigerator. You could feel the chill in every corner of the Westin O’Hare’s spacious convention facility. Guilt, and hope that the most widely accepted science on autism is wrong, that autism can be reversed, that recovery from autism happens all the time, and it can happen for you.

A panel discussion on Autism and the Media drew one of two invited Chicago Tribune reporters, Julie Deardorff; along with Peoria news anchor Jen Christensen; and Ashley Reynolds, a journalism student from KOMU-TV in Columbia, MO. Three editors from, a fringe anti-vaccine website hosted the discussion. Here’s a portion:

I also attended a Q&A with Jon Poling, MD, PhD, and his wife, Terry. The Polings have been on a media blitzkrieg since March when they were identified as test case petitioners in the Vaccine Omnibus hearings. The details of the case are shrouded in speculation, since the Polings have not publicly released their daughter’s relevant medical records. I asked the Polings if they plan to release those records soon. Terry Poling said she and her husband would not discuss their daughter’s case as long as there was ongoing litigation.

Soon after I asked my question, a hotel security official asked me to turn off my video camera. At the conclusion of the Q&A, 15 minutes later, I was surrounded by hotel security and escorted out of the building. I had registered six weeks earlier as media, and received a confirming email. I was handed a press pass and told to fill it out myself at the registration desk Friday morning, after being told the computer system was down and my name could not be pulled up. But the conference organizers were having none of it, although by now Westin security no doubt realizes I was totally truthful and cooperative, even turning over my driver’s license for photocopying.

But I had committed an unpardonable sin in AutismCureLand. I asked a question that could be answered. The case against vaccines is made in the shadows, in restricted venues such as AutismOne and on fringe websites and internet chatrooms. Anti-vaccine activists speak in generalities, relying on the conditional and subjunctive tense to avoid confronting what modern man has known for centuries: that we’re better off listening to best available evidence rather than dogma and fear. I was asking for evidence. Shame on me.

On my way out, an AutismOne organizer told me “This is supposed to be a positive thing, and you’re making it negative.” It was his parting shot as I was led out the door, into the parking lot, where the air was warm.



64 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Bev // May 26, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    Thanks for the inside view, since I doubt I’ll ever have the stomach to attend an Autism One conference. Beautifully written, entertaining and enlightening (without being surprising) post.

  • 2 Matt // May 26, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    For months (even before they went public) I kept reading on the net about how people wanted to see more specifics about miss Poling. It was always phrased that the government was somehow keeping the Polings from releasing their own information.

    Now, you ask the same question: are/when are we going to get more information. However, since it is now known that the government is not keeping the Polings from releasing the information, it is considered ‘negative’.

    Did they give you any instructions or restrictions with the press pass or the email confirmation? It seems to me that the conference organizers acted improperly in asking you to leave. Of course, they probably have some blanket statement about being able to reject any one at any time for any reason…but they really should have had a valid reason.

    “We don’t like your questions” does not strike me as valid.

  • 3 Joseph // May 26, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    There was dead silence after Olmsted’s and Kirby’s response? That’s just false. I wrote about it, and there was discussion in my blog. Orac wrote about it, and there was discussion in his. Kev wrote about it and linked to Orac’s. S.L. (Stop. Think. Autism.) wrote about it.

    I’m guessing Olmsted just went and asked a water purifier salesman if he’d seen any responses, and the salesman said no, so Olmsted concluded said responses did not exist in the Autism Hub.

  • 4 Matt // May 26, 2008 at 5:58 pm


    The “silence” comment is very strange. Looking at the post on Orac’s blog

    He posted the email response at 12:15 am. By 1:54am, the first response stating that the Kirby/Olmsted response was a good thing was logged.

    There was some dissent as to whether this was a good response. However if I recall correctly, you me and Kev (amongst others) made very clear statemens that the response from Mr. Kirby and Mr. Olmsted were good.

    I appreciated that they did that, and that it was not a trivial move on their parts.

    Now, I will point out that in this video clip Mr. Olmsted makes a statement that Orac’s open letter that Orac said something to the effect of “..and I bet you won’t do it” (i.e. that Orac was telling Mr. Olmsted that he wouldn’t come through on a statement condemning the subpoena.

    Can someone point me to the language in the open letter that Mr. Kirby is referring to? I don’t recall this and I don’t see it on a quick reading just now. I could be wrong, or maybe it is in the comments somewhere, but I don’t see this message from Orac.

  • 5 Joseph // May 26, 2008 at 6:20 pm

    I think some commenters said they wouldn’t do it. I had my doubts they had it in them, and I admitted to that in my follow-up post.

  • 6 Ms. Clark // May 26, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    I think it says a lot about the cult-like nature of autism-biomed. They can’t stand any challenge, not even a tiny one. I’m looking forward to seeing more of your video.

  • 7 Orac // May 26, 2008 at 9:17 pm

    Here is the text of my open letter to David Kirby and Dan Olmsted. I’m a little annoyed at Olmsted’s characterization of it.

  • 8 Club 166 // May 26, 2008 at 10:25 pm

    Thanks for your comments and video.

    Two interesting things. One, how Kim Stagliano drops any hint of objectivity in this venue and rails against “mainstream doctors” like Orac (with Dierdorff piping in), and two, how letters to the Chicago Tribs editors about some of her outrageous statements actually resulted in some pressure brought to bear upon her.

    I’m not the one she refers to, but I’m glad that I also wrote the Trib’s editors on some of the stuff she’s written.


  • 9 Matt // May 26, 2008 at 10:40 pm

    What’s up with this “book project” that Mr. Blaxill and Mr. Olmsted are working on?

  • 10 Matt // May 26, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    By the way–I like your other video as well.

    The Chicago Trib blogger (who is making up the rules as she goes along? Did I hear that correct 7:30 in the video above.) stated that she can’t “attack” vaccines.

    Why would she want to “attack” vaccines? Why not “discuss” vaccines? Why not present a “reasoned debate” using “facts”?

  • 11 Kev // May 27, 2008 at 3:15 am

    Julie Deardorff is a journalist isn’t she? She doesn’t seem particularly balanced in her reporting. Shouldn’t she be asking questions of that panel rather than on it?

    In fact, I wondered about this so much I emailed the editorial board of the Trib to ask them.

    Well done on attending. The Poling’s and the organisers reaction is very telling.

  • 12 autism intrigue // May 27, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    You registered 6 weeks in advance? Really? Care to share that registration? Wondering why you were escorted out…..

  • 13 HCN // May 27, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    Read the second to the last paragraph of this blog posting.

  • 14 autblog // May 27, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    Great question, AU. Since I was registered, I can only surmise I was expelled for asking a question. The very nature of the anti-vaccine movement relies on universal acquiescence for its existence.

  • 15 HCN // May 27, 2008 at 8:08 pm

    Or, as many have experienced on CureZone, Homeopathy forums (HPathy), MotheringDotCom, JABS forums, AgeOfAutism blog, LooseChange, and elsewhere:

    Dissent is not tolerated!

    (note I’ve been banned from HPathy, and MotheringDotCommune, and AoA has decided most of my comments should not be posted0

  • 16 autism intrigue // May 27, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    I just find it hard to believe you were expelled for asking a mere question. Thats typically not how the media are dealt with in my experience…even at these conferences. I am wondering if you were expelled due to illegal entry or swiping someones badge? Can you scan in your registration?

  • 17 autism intrigue // May 27, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    or maybe you were aksed to leave for video taping. Conferences typically hire professionals so they can profit from dvd sales. Maybe your question called attention to the fact you were taping

  • 18 YLJ // May 27, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    Maybe you were a very obvious over opinionated outcast that drew attention to yourself from the get go?

    Come’on silly …maybe???

  • 19 HCN // May 27, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    YLJ, if ANB had drawn attention to himself from the “get go”, how did he manage to get so much video?

  • 20 Expelled! from AutismOne [Respectful Insolence] // May 28, 2008 at 1:00 am

    […] Shortly thereafter, he was Expelled! […]

  • 21 Woobegone // May 28, 2008 at 2:09 am

    “Maybe you were a very obvious over opinionated outcast that drew attention to yourself from the get go?”

    So he was obvious from the get-go but they just happened to throw him out when he asked an awkward question? Come you, you can do better than that. How about saying he was “hassling” people, a la Expelled?

  • 22 Craig // May 28, 2008 at 2:39 am

    Or maybe you had an army of knife-wielding chimps dressed as Nazis threatening everyone in sight? Maybe that, huh?

    Maybe you were running around unclothed with your private parts covered only with a coating of mild salsa? Huh? Maybe?

    Maybe you accidentally slipped through a wormhole and were actually only tossed out of an alternate-reality autism conference? Maybe?

  • 23 Woobegone // May 28, 2008 at 3:26 am

    Maybe he was eating a tuna sandwich and they threw him out to avoid getting autism from the mercury in it?

  • 24 Sharon // May 28, 2008 at 10:20 am

    You must have a strong stomach.

    Well done for braving the festival of silliness. Some of the comments included in part 2 of your video are just out of order. There’s a woman railing about how we “ain’t seen nothing”. What?! There’s laughing and approval for the comments that the light at the end of the tunnel is a train. What?!
    Someone asides, “I hate the flu vaccine.” EH?!

    I am still shocked that you were turfed out for asking a question. That is telling and terrible.

  • 25 Erik // May 28, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    Ken, assuming you legitimately registered… you had every right to be there… because it’s an informational conference and it would do you good to learn a thing or two… but you can’t go and behave badly with a divisive agenda. You sit and listen… or ask questions in earnest that aren’t accusatory or designed to inflame. If you got yourself kicked out… you probably deserved it. Ed & Teri Arranga and their helpers are among the nicest people I’ve ever known.


  • 26 autblog // May 28, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    Erik, I visited your booth and we spoke about Dr. Ayoub’s research. Was I acting divisively? Did I inflame our conversation? Did I accuse you of anything? I remember only a pleasant conversation. Is your recollection any different?

    When you tell me I “got myself kicked out”, with zero evidence to back up your claim, can I assume that you are acting divisively, or attempting to inflame?

    If I mark your comment as spam, can I say “you got yourself kicked out”?

  • 27 Erik // May 28, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    Ken, you and I had a nice discussion, no question. I suppose I have a bias toward trusting people I know. I know Ed & Teri but I don’t really know you (beyond your reputation in the biomed community). I can’t take our brief & civil conversation as evidence of your proper behavior at the time you were ejected. However, I wasn’t there… so you might deserve the benefit of the doubt… that is until I get the whole story from both sides and decide who I trust is giving a more accurate portrayal.

  • 28 Albert // May 28, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    No idea how Blaxill now calls it “their” book. Olmsted is the one who got the contract from Dunne at St. Martins for “Mercury Rising.” Original title, huh? But who knows how these people work together behind the scenes. Definitely no transparency when it comes to Blaxill et al.

  • 29 autblog // May 28, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    Erik, I appreciate you holding off like that.

    A woman (I’m assuming she was a supervisor) from hotel security said she would check the computers to confirm my registration, and that she would call me on my cell phone if my story checked out. Since my registration was confirmed via email, I must assume my name was in the computer. Since I was never called, I can assume somebody from AutismOne said I was persona non grata. But I’ll hold off on that conclusion until I hear from both sides.

    If you’re interested in the story from both sides, you could call Westin O’Hare security and ask why I wasn’t called back.

    You could also check with the volunteers behind the registration desk at 9:30 am Friday and ask if the computers were down, as one of the AutOne volunteers told me at the time.

  • 30 NewsAnchorMom // May 28, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    I have focused my efforts on trying to educate parents, daycare providers and teachers about the signs and symptoms of autism. I did a half hour special looking at this. I really think it has helped a lot of kids. I was invited to be on the journalism panel because of this. This blog and all the others I was told about are very interesting. I didn’t realize how intense this controvery gets.

  • 31 Tim Kasemodel // May 28, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    “I had registered six weeks earlier as media, and received a confirming email. I was handed a press pass and told to fill it out myself at the registration desk Friday morning, after being told the computer system was down and my name could not be pulled up. But the conference organizers were having none of it, although by now Westin security no doubt realizes I was totally truthful and cooperative, even turning over my driver’s license for photocopying.”

    Wow Ken, that is a sad state of affairs….

    poor you…..

    I can only magine how it must feel, so humiliatied. All that effort on your part, and I was able to get a legitimate pass with only a couple weeks registration…..

    I was at the media roundtable and had some very relavant discussion on the case of the 13 year old who was kicked out of church – which would seem to be right up your alley on this website when it comes to sticking up for people who exhibit autistic behavior – yet you chose your time there to focus on henpecking Teri Poling for doing what she CHOSE to do??????

    If you really cared about demanding equal rights and understanding for children with autism, those even as severe as my child, you would focus on that.

    But yet, you chose to do a video on your “opposition” – those who want to understand how we can help our kids heal their guts, stop their rollercoaster ride of health issues.

    Please get back to focusing on how we can get our KIDS, those many hundreds of thousands who ARE YET to become adults, equal rights under the law. I am very worried that my severly autistic son will become an unwilling customer of the very companies that I BELIEVE caused his symptoms in the first place. I think that the plan is to VOTE THEM OUT OF CLASS,
    kick them out of churches, then the playgrounds, supermarkets, and all public areas.

    And here you sit, complaining about not getting to harrass a parent of an autistic child.

    You should be ashamed………..

  • 32 autblog // May 29, 2008 at 5:02 am

    You’re half right counselor. It is a sad state of affairs, but your sympathy is misdirected.

  • 33 isles // May 29, 2008 at 8:50 am

    Tim Kasemodel is not as smart as he thinks he is.

    It’s a big eye-roller that the Polings can go around railing about wanting the government to give out more information when THEY are the ones who have refused to agree to it.

  • 34 Craig Willoughby // May 29, 2008 at 10:32 am

    I wasn’t there, nor did I hear the conversation, but if you had registered as media and you were being polite (again, I wasn’t there, so I don’t know), then you had every right to be there. I just wanted to let you know that.

    Most of the people over at AoA didn’t know you were even there until after you were escorted out.

    I wrote this over on Orac’s blog, too. I personally don’t think it was right for you to be escorted out for asking a question. And I’m letting you know that I’m being sincere in this; you had as much a right to be there as anyone.


  • 35 autblog // May 29, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    Thanks, Craig, I appreciate that.

  • 36 Orac // May 30, 2008 at 6:17 am

    I wrote this over on Orac’s blog, too. I personally don’t think it was right for you to be escorted out for asking a question. And I’m letting you know that I’m being sincere in this; you had as much a right to be there as anyone.

    Out of curiosity, I wonder what you think of J.B. Handley’s little temper tantrum at me at AoA yesterday. Say what you will about me, I’ve never stooped to making fun of a person’s looks, as Handley did with such relish, and Kim Stagliano’s bit about Eniac porn was about as Beavis and Butthead-level as I’ve ever seen. Handley, I knew to be capable of such infantile behavior, but I now realize that I was perhaps too easy on Stagliano.

    Given Handley’s post, I was half tempted to Photoshop that picture of me (an admittedly bad one) into Lurch or send JB other pictures and invite him to draw Hitler mustaches on them. That was about the level of his discourse. By the way, since JB is so enamored of authority and won’t take what I say about the Hannah Poling case seriously, perhaps he’d be interested in what a real, honest-to-God academic neurologist said about the case.

    Finally, my irony meter broke when I saw Handley mention that a “bully” (presumably me) needs to get punched in the nose. Handley clearly thought he would intimidate me into silence by “outing” me. (He won’t.) In fact, JB can join the long line of “outings” in the past, which, not surprisingly, started with an antivaccinationist like J.B. Handley (if not JB himself, as I have suspected) back in 2005. Since then, I’ve been “outed” by creationists, cancer quacks, and people who don’t believe that HIV causes AIDS. Truly, JB keeps excellent company as far as scientific credibility goes!

  • 37 Matt // May 30, 2008 at 10:33 am


    It sounds you got a good laugh out of Mr. Handley.

    We are very unfortunate to have him as a voice in the autism community. Luckily, so far that voice has been pretty feeble.

  • 38 Craig Willoughby // May 30, 2008 at 10:41 am

    Since you asked me respectfully, I will respond in kind. If something I write here seems disrespectful, please take my apology beforehand.

    I’m of 2 minds about his post. I have a great deal of respect for the people over at AoA, and while I don’t know JB that well, I admire him. Kim was very compassionate to me a few weeks ago when my family had a medical scare concerning my autistic son. For that, I am very grateful to her, and I hope she realizes just how much her words of comfort meant to myself and my wife. I consider AoA my friends, and I hope they see me the same way. However, friends can disagree.

    On the one hand, I respect what JB did, especially considering that I would have done the same. I tend to lash out at something I perceive as an injustice (a mark of wisdom is to acknowledge your character flaws. A mark of an a-hole is to know you have these flaws and not give a damn about it…that pretty much sums me up ;)). On the other hand, I am slightly disappointed that he would bring himself down to that level (if you read this, JB, please don’t take it as negative criticism, I’m just saying that it was a bit unexpected of you. Would I do something like that? Hell yes!). I posted in the article that I didn’t think it was entirely appropriate (in my own, usual sacastic way…I make no apologies to Orac about the content of those posts), and I hope that JB or Kim doesn’t lose respect for me because I disagree with them.

    Our community, in general, is greatly divided. For some reason, neither side can compromise, and it somewhat saddens me that both sides (mine included) can’t see the valid points on either side of the argument. I truly believe that my son had an adverse reaction to a vaccine, and I have the medical documentation to prove it. Do I think that all autistic children are the result of vaccines? Absolutely not. Do I think that vaccines are bad? Again, absolutely not; I wouldn’t have vaccinated my children if I did. Do I think Autism is genetic? Absolutely! I feel that his adverse reaction is because of genetics.

    While you, Orac, tend to be very scathing in your dislike of our beliefs, I respect your right to do that. I also respect Ken’s right to ask questions, and I’m genuinely confused as to why he was removed from the Autism One conference. He asked a question that I myself wanted to know, and as far as I can tell, he asked it very politely.

    I sometimes lurk over at Orac’s site because I find some of the comments funny. Admitedly, some of my laughter is derisive towards you guys, but there are times that I find myself having a genuine and heart-felt laugh at Orac’s articles (it shames me, I know, but I’ve noticed that Orac and I have similar senses of humor).

    I hope that all of us can set aside our differences. I realize that the majority of the time, you guys mean well (for the most part), and that you have a genuine interest in helping our children. Please realize that I, and many people like me, want the same thing; to help our children.

    Anyhow, hope this answered your question.


  • 39 HCN // May 30, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    One of the panel members “Ashley Reynolds, a journalism student from KOMU-TV in Columbia, MO.” has posted many more videos of the conference, including a the panel discussion filmed at another part of the room, on her blog:

  • 40 Matt // May 30, 2008 at 9:58 pm



    I have a lot of respect for that post.

  • 41 Joseph // May 31, 2008 at 8:45 am

    I also have no problem with Craig’s comment. But I suspect Craig is not very representative of the AoA crowd.

    JB Handley’s attack was quite immature. It’s fine to disagree with other bloggers. In such cases what you can do is pick apart their arguments and even their actions. But making fun of their looks or their personality is over the top.

    There’s also this thing Mark Blaxill has decided is a good idea to do, which is to call Autism Hub and skeptical bloggers “wackos” whenever he has a chance. I think that’s not only rude, but also inappropriate, considering that many Autism Hub bloggers are autistic.

  • 42 blog-thing : Questions for David Kirby // May 31, 2008 at 10:52 am

    […] based solely on your speculations and the public statements of the Polings. When journalist Ken Reibel asked the Polings at the Autism One conference last month if they were prepared to release […]

  • 43 Orac // May 31, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    While you, Orac, tend to be very scathing in your dislike of our beliefs, I respect your right to do that.

    Part of the reason I’m so scathing is described here. The other part of the reason I’m so scathing is because I’ve become frustrated at the tenacity with which antivaccinationists cling to pseudoscience and sometimes am of the mind that it’s just not worth the effort to be “nice” about it anymore. I used to be less sarcastic when I first started blogging, but over time I have realized that the targets of my criticism are virtually ineducable and therefore their message must simply be countered. As Thomas Jefferson once said:

    Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them…

    Or as Thomas Paine once said:

    To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.

    One thing I’ve learned after three years at this is that J.B. Handley in particular and many on the antivaccine fringe as well have clearly renounced the use of reason and science. They also play a “heads I win, tails I lose” sort of game. If you’re all nice and likable, they see you as wimpy and unthreatening, someone that they can either ignore or walk all over. If you’re strident and take no prisoners in your criticism, they castigate you as “arrogant,” uncompassionate, or otherwise unlikable. In other words, nice guys aren’t hated, but they often aren’t listened to either. In such a case, what’s the solution? First, I realized that, no matter what I did, antivaccinationists are never going to like me and in fact would either have contempt for me (the nice option) or hate me (the strident option).

    Actually, I think PZ Myers got it pretty close to correct in the context of an entirely different issue: creationism. Here’s what he said:

    One thing Olson is entirely correct on is that likability is important. I have no illusions that I’m a charming fellow, but in my public talks you may have noticed that everyone complains that I don’t breathe fire or eviscerate any creationists on the podium. That’s intentional — going all Lewis Black only works when you’ve got an audience that already agrees with you. However, the other essential component of a successful media strategy has got to be strength. Haven’t we learned that yet from years of watching Republican political tactics? They don’t win on just presenting perspectives agreeable to their electorate, but by being vicious bastards who won’t compromise. Olson is telling us to be like Jimmy Carter, and ignoring the fact that the environment right now is dominated by the likes of Dick Cheney, unlikable thug. Even worse is that he’s forgetting that it was Carter vs. Reagan, who was both likable and put up a good illusion of strength.

    What we really need is someone who is fiercely likable, someone who can be admired while they’re fighting for science. I fear that what everyone else is calling for is the scientist as friendly, unchallenging wimp who will make the public feel safe and able to go on believing whatever nonsense they want … when what we really need is someone to shake up the bogosity of the general public’s delusions.

    I’m almost certainly not that guy, but given that J.B. Handley is clearly going for the Cheney gambit in fighting, including fighting dirty, I’ve decided that there’s little to lose in holding nothing back and much to gain. This is especially true given that J.B., Jenny McCarthy (who’s, quite frankly, so idiotic in her statements about autism that her ignorance simply must be pointed out), and their fellow antivaccinationists can do real harm to public health by scaring parents into not vaccinating. This doesn’t just hurt the unvaccinated. It endangers herd immunity and thus endanger us all–including me.

  • 44 Orac // May 31, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    Oh, one other thing. No matter how sarcastic I become, I never make fun of a person’s appearance, as JB did, nor do I make insinuations that someone must be into “dork porn,” as Kim did with her “naked women on Eniacs” comment. Really, that’s about as low rent as you can get. Beavis and Butthead made more cogent criticisms.

  • 45 autblog // May 31, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    I’ve noticed that many on the anti-vaccine side can’t or wont’ distinguish between criticism of an idea, and criticism of the person advocating for the idea. If I write that an idea (i.e., that all autism is caused by mercury) is unsupportable, that’s not an attack on the person making the claim. If more anti-vaccine activists recognized the distinction, it would greatly improve the tone of our discussions.

  • 46 Orac // May 31, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    Indeed. I will admit to attacking JM for her ignorance, but that’s because it’s ignorance with arrogance. After doing a bunch of Google searches and consorting with a bunch of antivaccinationists, she somehow thinks she’s enough of an “expert” to feel justified in interrupting and dissing real experts on Larry King Live. She also says things that are just so beyond the pale in terms of ignorance that sarcasm is really justified. Respect is earned. People who might be inclined to believer JM because of her celebrity and appealingly sassy manner really need to be made aware in no uncertain terms that the emperor has no clothes, that this new “spokeswoman” against “toxins” in vaccines hasn’t a clue what she’s talking about–in fact that she is not just ignorant but extravagantly ignorant of science.

  • 47 Matt // Jun 1, 2008 at 8:28 am

    “They also play a “heads I win, tails I lose” sort of game.”

    I’ll bet you meant to say, “heads I win, tails you lose”

  • 48 Orac // Jun 1, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    Yeah, I did…

  • 49 Craig Willoughby // Jun 1, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    Orac and Ken,
    I’m not in the least offended by your previous comments. Believe it or not, I actually understand where you are coming from. And you are right, I’ve never read any of your posts where you make fun of someone’s appearance.

    Ken, in answer to your post about criticism of an idea and criticism of the person advocating an idea; many of them get offended when they are called idiots. No one likes to be called an idiot or a moron, so that is where a lot of the anger toward you and Orac comes from. I’m not knocking you here, I’m just bringing up an observation. Have I been offended from a few of your comments? Yes, but over the course of the past few months, I’ve also learned a bit of your personalities and I’ve come to discover that you are, indeed, attacking the idea and not the person. Which is one of the reasons, I think, that this conversation is going so well.

    Another observation, Orac. Again, I’m not knocking you, I’m just giving you an observation from the other side of the fence, so to speak. Many of the Green-vaccine parents perceive you to be ineducable. Sadly, this is the way of this debate that neither side will sit and listen to the valid points (and there are valid points on both sides) that the other side has to offer. From our perspective, we feel that there is a valid reason to persue individual children who have what we call regressive autism. We feel that the debate is not over; that there is a reason to look at the possiblility that vaccines may have injured some children. Many of us are tired of being ignored and dismissed (or ridiculued) when we bring up this point of view. I understand that you think the debate is over, but I think Einstein said it best, “No number of experiments can prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.” I understand that there are numerous experiments out there that have proven that vaccines are safe, but many feel that these experiments may have been tainted by a conflict of interest. Maurice Maeterlinck once gave a very poignant statement in “Our Social Duty”; “At every crossway on the road that leads to the future, each progressive spirit is opposed by a thousand men appointed to guard the past.”

    Please don’t take my comment here as arguing or bashing you guys, again, I understand where you are coming from, and I’m only wishing to give you a little bit of my perspective. Believe it or not, I’ve been enjoying this conversation, and it has been refreshing to actually discuss this with a minimum amount of antagonism. Anyhow, all of you take care, and we will hopefully have another conversation soon.


  • 50 Albert // Jun 1, 2008 at 9:11 pm

    “We feel that the debate is not over; that there is a reason to look at the possibility that vaccines may have injured some children.”

    I guess the question is: at what point does the scientific evidence (by which I mean the opinion of the leading experts in the field — not people who are on the margins and whose research has neither been accepted nor replicated by other scientists) become so overwhelming that it is time to move on. There are only so many scientists, so many dollars. Think of what the dollars spent on generation rescue ads in USA Today could have done in terms of research on services. 500,000 people die from measles every year, let alone the other diseases for which we have vaccinations. Are we going to listen to people on the margins of the field with little or no expertise, or are we going to listen to the real experts. At some point you just have to stop and say, “You know, we will never be able to PROVE that vaccines don’t cause autism because it is almost impossible to prove a negative; but the science has spoken and it is time to move on.”

  • 51 AutismNewsBeat // Jun 2, 2008 at 5:51 am

    Exactly, and I think Craig’s comment highlights a major difference between the approaches of both sides. The pro-vaccine side is practical, and adheres to scientific standards, recognizing that this is an issue of science. The anti-vaccine side pretends to science, but plays a political game, since its scientific options have long been exhausted. While it may be true that some parents are concerned over vaccine injury, the best available evidence sees no link between vaccines and autism, and that although vaccine injury does occur, it is rare, and must be weighed against the very real risks of preventable disease outbreaks.

  • 52 Craig Willoughby // Jun 2, 2008 at 10:14 am

    Albert, that is a very good question, and honestly, I don’t have an answer for you. The only thing I can tell you is that it will be extremely difficult to convince me that vaccines do not contribute to autism. There are 2 reasons.

    One: I am convinced that the Medical and Pharmacy industries have been dishonest in their portrayal of the safety of vaccines; we know they have been dishonest in the recent past.

    And even if they are being honest, then there is the evidence of my own son’s experience and the documented medical report of my son’s hospital visit on the day of his DTaP vaccination. That morning, he was walking, talking (for an 18 month old baby, he had a respectable vocabulary of around 30 words), and being a normal 1 year old toddler. After his shot, around 5 hours later, he began a really high fever, terrible high-pitched shrieks and back arching. We brought him in to the ER, where we were told that this is “normal” after a vaccine (!) We asked that he be thoroughly examined, and after several tests, including a CAT scan, they were able to determine what was wrong. The official medical report from my son’s visit says, “Encepalopathy due to vaccine induced fever.” In other words, my son developed a fever that caused his brain to swell. He hasn’t spoken since, and 6 months after his vaccination, he was diagnosed with ASD.

    Does what happened to my child happen to all Autistic children? I seriously doubt it. I began doing research right after my son’s diagnosis, and I was chilled at how many stories echoed my own. I am willing to concede, however, that some parents may have read these stories and thought, in desperation, that this could have happened to their autistic child. I know, though, that my son had an adverse reaction to a vaccine, and that it resulted in brain damage that is recognized as autism. And it offends me greatly when people either dismiss me as a kook or call me a lier (and no one here has done that during this discussion, and for that, I thank all of you).

    Ken, I agree that the debate for the Green Vacciners has gone political, but I think that this is because we are seriously afraid that something is being overlooked, that if science continues do dismiss this possibility, then more children may get this debilitating condition. Many of us are afraid that there are quite a few children who may be susceptible to adverse effects.

    I have never once denied the benefits of vaccinations, but I think that science has been dismissive of this small subset of children who have what is known as regressive autism, and that perhaps they should look at these children to see if there is a susceptibility group, and then change the vaccinations accordingly. This, I think, would assure parents that steps are being taken to protect this (possible) small subset of children. This would also, potentially, help herd immunity by allowing this small subset to vaccinate on a different schedule or with a different formula.

    Again, thank all of you for hearing me out, and I greatly appreciate the respectful tone that you have shown me in this discussion.

  • 53 Orac // Jun 2, 2008 at 11:11 am

    The pro-vaccine side is practical, and adheres to scientific standards, recognizing that this is an issue of science. The anti-vaccine side pretends to science, but is plays a political game, since its scientific options have long been exhausted

    Exactly. This is probably going to piss Craig off a bit, but it must be said: Antivaccinationists (and make no mistake about it, Generation Rescue, J.B. Handley, Jenny McCarthy, Kim Stagliano, David Kirby, Dan Olmsted, and their fellow travelers at the Age of Autism are antivaccinationists, their bogus “Green Our Vaccines” slogan notwithstanding) have become just like any other group of cranks that attack the scientific consensus based either on no data or on data from really bad (or even pseudoscientific) studies. They’ve become just like people who deny that HIV causes AIDS, people who believe that homeopathy or Hoxsey therapy can cure cancer, creationists who deny the theory of evolution, and even Holocaust deniers. (No, I’m not in any way implying that antivaccinationists are neo-Nazis or Hitler sympathizers, only that they use similar rhetorical tactics and distortions of evidence that Holocaust deniers do.)

    These cranks all share a common set of tactics in that they cherry-pick the rare study that seems to support their point of view (which upon reading often don’t), confuse correlation with causation, impute dire conspiracies to those who speak for science and medicine to “cover up” dangers that only they can see, and rely on pseudoscience and emotion rather than science to promote their agenda. (This will be on full display in Washington, D.C. in less than two days.)

    Another aspect of cranks is an inordinate deference to what they perceive as “experts.” Why else do you think that my pseudonym drove J. B. Handley and others so crazy? My arguments should stand and fall on their own regardless of who I am, which, believe it or not, was one reason (but not the only reason) I adopted the pseudonym lo those many years ago. Yet, antivaccinationists and other cranks went to great lengths to find out who I am in order to attack me.

    Indeed, it was an antivaccinationist “named” Ashleigh Anderson who first “outed” me in on the EOH list and then was parroted by another antivaccinationist named Pat Sullivan, who “outed” me to the blogsophere. (I still have a nagging suspicion that “Ashleigh” might have been in reality J.B. Handley, but have no hard evidence to support that suspicion.) Since, then, I’ve been “outed” by HIV/AIDS denialists, cancer quacks, and creationists. Truly J.B. Handley is in fine company, scientifically speaking, in his piling on to this “out”-train, and if he thinks his “punching me in the nose” will make one whit of difference he is sadly mistaken. There have been at least five or six such “punches” in the last three years, and I’m still here. On the other hand, it does reveal to all the world his Beavis and Butthead-level mentality, for which I’m grateful.

    Another aspect of this is that there are a lot of quacks making a lot of money off of “biomedical interventions” designed to “reverse vaccine injury” in autistic children. If parents susceptible to their blandishments were to be convinced that vaccine injury did not cause their child’s autism, then their profit train is seriously endangered. Ditto the quacks like Dr. Mark Geier who make a living testifying as “expert” witnesses for plaintiffs in vaccine injury cases. It never ceases to amaze me how parents who claim that big pharma profit considerations and concern about the cash flow of pediatricians are behind the defense of vaccines are blind to just how profit-driven the entire autism biomedical industry is, especially when the vast majority of vaccines are not particularly profitable (particularly given the liability considerations, which have led many pharmaceutical companies to drop out of the vaccine business) and that pediatricians make little or no money giving vaccines.

    Once again, the “debate” over vaccines is really a pseudodebate, also known as a manufactured controversy, or, colloquially, a manufactroversy. There isn’t really a scientific debate anymore. Ideologues, however, continue to stir up a political and emotional debate. Unfortunately, antivaccinationists have been very successful of late. They appear to be winning. I very much fear that we are going to experience a resurgence of morbidity and even mortality from vaccine-preventable diseases as vaccination rates fall and herd immunity wanes. If that happens, and I sincerely hope that it does not, I will not hesitate in laying it all at the feet of pseudoscientists like Dr. Geier, activists like J.B. Handley, and useful celebrity idiots like Jenny McCarthy.

  • 54 Craig Willoughby // Jun 2, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    No, Orac, it doesn’t piss me off in the least, because I completely understand the position you are coming from. You perceive the Green Vacciners as a genuine threat to the medical community. While I may not agree with you, I understand your concerns and I also understand that you are genuinely worried about public health. I appreciate that concern, and I have a great deal of respect for your views. However, I have proof of my son’s injuries, and sadly, I get no help form my insurance or the government to treat his condition. I can’t afford alternative treatments, so my son remains in limbo, unable to speak and unable to function in a normal world. One reason I am so vehement in my views is not because I want money (I was brought up with the belief that you need to earn what you get), but because my son needs help with his condition. I would be more than willing to try standard medical practices with my son if I could afford it or if the government would pay for it (FYI, Medicaid was denied for my son because I “make too much money.” My insurance company refuses to pay because it’s “a pre-existing condition”). I was once like you guys, dead set on the fact that one of the greatest medical advances in human history could not possibly be responsible for Autism. That is, until I saw it happen to my son. I cannot and will not deny the evidence of what I have seen, nor will I deny the medical documentation that states that my son received a fever from a vaccination that caused his brain to swell, resulting in autism. I understand the concept of correlation not equalling causation. However, when we have so many of these parents all saying the same thing, wouldn’t it be prudent to investigate it thoroughly instead of dismissing their claims as being hysterical parents (I ask this with another question: In our discussion here, have I seemed in any way hysterical or irrational)? I would like to ask you, respectfully, if you know the reason why the powers that be are rejecting investigation into possible susceptible groups of children? Why haven’t the cumulative effects of multiple vaccines ever been tested? Is it possible for a small subset of children to be susceptible to neurological damage associated with vaccines? And if there are a small subset of children that are susceptible, shouldn’t the government do something to help these families? If there is a subset, shouldn’t there be screening or testing so that changes to the schedule or formula can be made to protect the child?

    I am genuinely interested in hearing your opinions. Again, it has been quite pleasant talking to all of you without the vitriole and venom normally associated with this debate.

  • 55 Prometheus // Jun 2, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    Craig asserts that “You [Orac] perceive the Green Vacciners [sic] as a genuine threat to the medical community…”

    How would that be?

    Except to the extent that “green vaccines” (which currently equate to “no vaccines”, since they would apparently have to be completely free of “bacteria and viruses”) will contribute to the decline of “herd immunity” and thus increase the risk that members of the “medical community” (and their families) will catch a vaccine-preventable disease, I don’t see how this is a “threat” to the “medical community”.

    On the financial side, fewer vaccinations will lead to a rise in vaccine-preventable diseases – that’s been shown already in the US, UK and other countries. More vaccine-preventable diseases mean more visits to the doctor’s office, more hospital admissions, more specialist consultations, more diagnostic tests, and perhaps even more surgical interventions. All of that adds up to a rise in physician income.

    Administering vaccines in the office (or Emergency Department) is not a money-making proposition. In most cases, the reimbursment barely covers the cost.

    So, fewer vaccinations means fewer low-profit office visits (well child, vaccination, etc.) and more high-profit office visits, not to mention rounding on hospitalized patients (which often pays more than an office visit), more tests, more procedures, etc. The whole “medical community” profits as a result.

    About the only “downside” I see for the “medical community” is that most of them – in fact, nearly all of them – truly hate to see people ill and suffering. That’s why most of them went into the “healthcare business” in the first place. And fewer vaccinations will lead to more illness, more suffering, more death and more disability. We don’t have to guess about this, all we have to do is look at fairly recent history.

    The connection between vaccines and autism is based on extremely poor data. While it is impossible to say that vaccines don’t cause any autism, it is possible to say that the number of cases of autism that could possibly be attributed to vaccines is very small – less than the number of cases of severe brain injury that used to be caused by measles alone.

    Even the lawyers in the Autism Omnibus hearings are coming around to this line of reasoning, slowly whittling down the maximum prevalence of vaccine-caused autism. Craig reflects this shift in rhetoric in his last comment.

    So, what are we supposed to do? We already know what the vaccine-preventable illnesses can do. That’s a matter of historical record. We don’t know that vaccines can’t cause autism, but we also don’t have any good data that they do.

    On the one hand we have a well-known and well-documented risk (vaccine-preventable illnesses) and on the other hand we have a vague and poorly supported possibility that something in vaccines might be causing autism in some children.

    To me, the choice seems obvious.


  • 56 Orac // Jun 2, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    Prometheus beat me to it, summing up the situation at least as well and probably better than I could have. There is no compelling evidence to suggest that vaccines are a major contributor to autism, and in fact there is no compelling evidence that they are a minor contributor to autism. Moreover, there isn’t even particularly good evidence to support that the apparent increase in autism prevalence is due to anything more than increased awareness, broadening of the diagnostic criteria in the early 1990s, and diagnostic substitution.

    Another point: Humans like personal anecdotes better than cold, impersonal science when deciding what to believe, but anecdotes are not very good evidence because humans have a number of cognitive quirks that lead them to be too quick to conclude causation from temporal correlation. At best, anecdotes can be the basis for forming a hypothesis to test with more rigorous study, but only if the anecdotes themselves are rigorously documented; that’s because of those aforementioned cognitive quirks and the fallibility of human memory that we all suffer from and that can lead even really intelligent people who are unaware of them astray.

    Finally, I have to ask: Which specific “toxins” in vaccines would have to be removed to make them sufficiently “green”? After all, children are now exposed to less thimerosal than any time since the 1980s, but autism prevalence hasn’t dropped. Despite more vaccines, children are actually exposed to many fewer antigens in vaccines than they were 20 years ago, thanks to better design of vaccines, but autism prevalence hasn’t budged. So now “toxins” become the issue, but it’s a canard. The dose makes the poison. Botox, for instance, is one of the deadliest chemicals on earth, but at low doses it can smooth wrinkles, stop excessive sweating, relieve esophogeal spasms, and a number of other potential therapeutic effects being explored. I once observed:

    I’d love to get an antivaccinationist like Jenny McCarthy who makes the claim that she is not “antivaccine” but “antitoxin” or “pro-vaccine safety” into a discussion and ask her this hypothetical question: If formaldehyde, “antifreeze,” aluminum, thimerosal, and every chemical in vaccines circulating in all those lists on antivaccination websites that so scare you were somehow absolutely removed from the standard childhood vaccines so that not a single molecule remained (just like homeopathy), would you then vaccinate your child? The only thing that would remain is buffered salt water and the necessary antigens, be they killed virus or bacterial proteins, or whatever.

    My guess is that she’d say no.

    And that’s that–because it’s the “toxin” that makes vaccines work that really scares her.

    Today, I’m more convinced than ever that I was correct in my assessment, bolstered by having lurked on the discussion boards at and other sites hostile to vaccines. It’s not any “toxins” in the vaccine that antivaccinationists don’t want. it’s the “toxin” that make the vaccines work, the very process of vaccination itself, that antivaccinationists don’t like.

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