Autism News Beat

An evidence-based resource for journalists

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CBS News unearths evidence
that people are paid for work

July 26th, 2008 · 26 Comments · Careless sourcing, Critical thinking

What exactly did the CBS Evening News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson uncover in her Friday report? Though the title of the three minute hit piece was How Independent Are Vaccine Defenders?, it could have been called How Dependent is CBS News on Innuendo and Baseless Accusations?

The report fails to present a single piece of evidence that undue influence by pharmaceutical companies has endangered public health or the vaccine program. It’s Law and Order without a body, much less a crime.

But Attkisson presses on with file footage of the anti-vaccine activists’ favorite punching bag, Dr. Paul Offit, who (gasp) recites his name and job title. It’s the perfect intro to what follows next, if your thing is character assassination:

Offit was not willing to be interviewed on this subject but like others in this CBS News investigation, he has strong industry ties. In fact, he’s a vaccine industry insider.

Offit holds a $1.5 million dollar research chair at Children’s Hospital, funded by Merck. He holds the patent on an anti-diarrhea vaccine he developed with Merck, Rotateq, which has prevented thousands of hospitalizations.

And future royalties for the vaccine were just sold for $182 million cash. Dr. Offit’s share of vaccine profits? Unknown.

Also unknown – the point of the broadcast.

CBS Evening News didn’t report one single piece of information that isn’t publicly available. Offit and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have previously disclosed royalties from a rotavirus vaccine. But Attkisson is shocked, shocked I tell you, that people who research and bring life-saving vaccines to market get paid for their efforts.

Attkisson would rather we believe that Offit worked for 25 years studying rotaviruses, produced a vaccine that could save 2,000 lives a day, just so he can lie about vaccine safety issues because he wants to harm kids. One has to wonder if Attkisson is independent of the autism cure industry that long ago jettisoned evidence and reason to make room for their own double-bank shot conspiracies.

Can perceived conflicts of interest be a problem? Of course, but the problem is compounded one hundred fold by the conflicts that aren’t disclosed. Can we expect another cutting-edge Attkisson investigation into Dr. Mark Geier and his Lupron protocol? Or about Dr. Jon Poling, who failed to disclose that he is the plaintiff in a vaccine-related lawsuit when he wrote the 2006 case report about his daughter in the Journal of Pediatric Neurology? Or how about other vaccine plaintiffs who sit on the boards of anti-vaccine “autism advocacy” organizations?

Or CBS Evening News could train its omniscient eye on how the Petitioner’s Steering Committee paid Mark Geier and Laura Hewitson for a questionable study that links vaccines and autism, without disclosing its own conflict of interest, or that of Hewitson who is herself a plaintiff. Or disgraced British physician Andrew Wakefield, the father of anti-vaccine hysteria. He took hundreds of thousands of dollars from law firms, then produced a “study” that linked the MMR shot to autism. You can still catch Wakefield’s act at Thoughtful House in Austin, Texas. Don’t forget to tip your waitress.

And then there’s the whole autism cure industry, with its laboratories that churn out flawed test results to keep parents chained to the treat-and-test treadmill. Surely Ms. Attkisson, you could train your investigative acumen on those who exploit and stigmatize autistic children?

That’s just the kind of thing what you’re paid for.


Kev lists a few more undisclosed COIs from the anti-vaccine activists

Orac opens a can of Respectful Insolence



26 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Joseph // Jul 26, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    I agree. Conflicts of interest matter. But undisclosed/hidden conflicts of interest are fundamental indicators that something is not right.

  • 2 infuriated // Jul 26, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    Where was Sheryl Atkisson when Kathleen Seidel was uncovering the fact that Geier created his own IRB after he had begun experimenting on children with a dangerous drug and loaded it to the gills with people with conflicts of interest? His wife? His son? His business partner? A patient’s mother? Sheryl’s been so busy sucking down conspiracy Kool Ade she’s missed all the glaring fraud that has been exposed by the Omnibus Autism hearing. Hey CBS, have you ever looked into the fraudulent consumer labs whose reports Sheryl believes in wholeheartedly? What happened to TV news being obliged to help the community?

  • 3 chaoticidealism // Jul 26, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    So CBS is saying that someone who developed a vaccine shouldn’t be allowed to defend its safety and efficacy because he’s paid for its sales? It’s a lot like saying that the manufacturer of a fire alarm shouldn’t be allowed to advertise that fire alarms prevent fire deaths…

    That’s what he’s doing, isn’t it–advertising? And isn’t that what every industry in the country does?

    I don’t get it… wouldn’t it be better to simply give equal time to his opponents, assuming that said opponents aren’t wearing tin-foil hats and displaying Google doctorates?

  • 4 isles // Jul 26, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    Actually, chaoticidealism, people like Sharyl Attkisson believe that a scientist who developed one vaccine should be forever barred from recommending ANY vaccines.

    Because once you’re in the vaccine inventor club, every time someone gets a flu shot, they ring the bell over the bar and everybody gets a free round, or something like that, I guess.

  • 5 laurentius-rex // Jul 27, 2008 at 3:47 am

    If you can’t discredit the research, discredit the researcher, creating a smoke screen to cover your intellectual nakedness.

    Yep that is the way these people work.

  • 6 Kathleen Seidel // Jul 27, 2008 at 6:18 am

    Alternate titles for Attkisson’s article might include, “Evidence of Effective Fundraising by Not-for-Profit Organizations,” or “Evidence of Corporate Responsibility Initiatives by For-Profit Entities.” Too bad that neither sound scandalous enough.

  • 7 Stephen Becker // Jul 27, 2008 at 7:30 am

    Rotavirus vaccine “saves 2000 lives a day’ is a completely made up number. The Rotavirus vaccine is a dangerous prevention with little or no benefit. Around a hundred children a year die with the Rotavirus as one of the causes. Oh, and you forgot to mention the number of children that had developed intestinal disorders so bad that the first version of the Rotavirus vaccine had to be withdrawn.
    You are funded by the pharmaceutical industry, aren’t you?

  • 8 Joseph // Jul 27, 2008 at 7:43 am

    Stephen Becker: You are in the pockets of vaccine injury lawyers, aren’t you? I have absolutely no evidence of this, but I’m just going to assume so, because I want to. It simply sounds good to me. It doesn’t matter how many times you deny it, it’s impossible for you to disprove it, so I’ll just continue to believe it.

  • 9 isles // Jul 27, 2008 at 7:52 am

    Global rotavirus mortality is apx 600,000 per year. Per the largest clinical vaccine trial since polio, Rotateq is 98% effective in preventing serious illness from rotavirus. Thus, in round numbers, full deployment of Rotateq would have the potential to save 2,000 babies a day.

    Is that such a horrible thought to you?

    Rotashield, the first rotavirus vaccine, was associated with the side effect of intussusception, but this effect was so rare (so difficult to determine whether the rate in recipients was greater than the rate that would have occurred without vaccine) that it could only be detected in postmarketing surveillance. That is why the Rotateq trial had to be so unusually large. This is an excellent example of the vaccine safety system working the way it should.

  • 10 daedalus2u // Jul 27, 2008 at 9:40 am

    Steven Becker, huh? How about 527,000 children under 5 died of rotavirus infection in 2007? I admit that is only 1,443 per day and not 2,000 but there likely were some children older than 5 that died too.

    Or is there something about those children who died of rotavirus infection that makes them not important enough to count?

  • 11 John Blest // Jul 27, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    Hay Autism Propaganda Beat, Will conserns about over and over disingenus argments make the argments more better with no “evidenece”?

  • 12 HCN // Jul 27, 2008 at 10:47 pm


    Can you translate that into English please?

  • 13 John Best // Jul 28, 2008 at 6:02 am

    Autism Propaganda Beat,
    And you probably wonder why I call you neuroinsane nitwits.

  • 14 Joseph // Jul 28, 2008 at 7:19 am

    And you probably wonder why I call you neuroinsane nitwits.


  • 15 Kevin // Jul 28, 2008 at 9:21 am

    This is just humorous – the comments here. You are all so busy bashing each other that you miss the point of the blog. So much for “an evidence based resource for journalists”.

    But let’s be honest, just for a minute. Can so many parents be wrong? Can’t pharma, AAP, CDC and some doctors be incorrect?

    Let’s say its a combination of factors – genetic, environmental and vaccinations – and research based on that…we all know it’s NOT just genetics. One must be predisposed genetically to reactions of the vaccinations…

    Can’t someone just step up to the plate and research these in combination?

    I, for one, will never be back to this website. It’s not based on science or facts, it based on ridicule and conjecture.

  • 16 autblog // Jul 28, 2008 at 9:45 am

    Conjecture? Is that the same thing as saying:

    “Let’s say its a combination of factors – genetic, environmental and vaccinations – and research based on that…we all know it’s NOT just genetics. One must be predisposed genetically to reactions of the vaccinations…”?

  • 17 Orac // Jul 28, 2008 at 10:05 am

    But let’s be honest, just for a minute. Can so many parents be wrong?

    Yes, they can. Personal experience and anecdotes can be very deceptive. If such weren’t the case, we wouldn’t need science or epidemiology.

    Can’t pharma, AAP, CDC and some doctors be incorrect?

    Possible, but unlikely in this case based on the existing evidence.

  • 18 autblog // Jul 28, 2008 at 11:08 am

    Real science is self correcting. The alt-med anti-vaccine movement lacks a mechanism for self correction. That’s why Jenny McCarthy still says that vaccines contain anti-freeze – her movement doesn’t care about the truth, only about what can be achieved by distorting the truth.

  • 19 Joseph // Jul 28, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    Let’s say its a combination of factors – genetic, environmental and vaccinations – and research based on that…we all know it’s NOT just genetics. One must be predisposed genetically to reactions of the vaccinations…

    The factors are genetic and environmental. Only someone with an agenda would say genetic, environmental and vaccinations. Why should vaccinations be considered special compared to any random environmental factor? Because you want to? Good try though.

  • 20 Autism Blog - Conflicts of interest, whats good for the goose… | Left Brain/Right Brain // Jul 28, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    [...] recently blogged by Autism News Beat, CBS Evening News (an American news outlet) recently performed an investigation [...]

  • 21 bones // Jul 29, 2008 at 6:54 am

    “Hay Autism Propaganda Beat, Will conserns about over and over disingenus argments make the argments more better with no “evidenece”?”

    Good God, man! I have a brain bleed from attempting to translate that.

  • 22 mike stanton // Jul 29, 2008 at 11:40 am

    There is probably no hope for Attkisson. But presumably she has an editor. Is there no redress for the people she has maligned?

  • 23 blog-thing : The unjustified abuse of Paul Offit // Jul 31, 2008 at 3:07 am

    [...] execrable piece of journalism that has been roundly condemned by my fellow bloggers Orac, Kev and Autism Newsbeat as [...]

  • 24 blog-thing : Voices for Vaccines // Jul 31, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    [...] truth is somewhat different. As my fellow bloggers Orac, Kev and Autism Newsbeat have already pointed out, the reporter on this case, Sharyl Attkisson, provided no new [...]

  • 25 The Curious Reports of Vaccines and Autism on CBS // Jul 31, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    [...] has been pointed out, the big story that CBS News is unearthing here is that (says Autism News Beat): evidence that [...]

  • 26 Autism Blog - Conflicts, then and now | Left Brain/Right Brain // Sep 3, 2008 at 9:35 am

    [...] people people (and Orac, and Kev, and AutismNewsBeat, to name a few) have gotten it right already, so I shouldn’t be too worried about it. But, as [...]

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