The Juices, They Flow
So I admit that I have been in a bit of a slump lately. I’ve been working on a couple of other things, and have had a massive case of skeptical writer’s block. Every time I sat down to write something, it just didn’t seem worth writing. I almost wrote a post about 9/11 “Truthers”. Then I almost wrote something about UFOs. It seemed as if my writer’s block would never end.
And then, there was David Kirby.
I decided to pay his blog a visit, and lo-and-behold, he’s mouthing such stupid bullshit (as he usually does) that I just found myself chomping at the bit to post about it. Thank you, David Kirby!
In his latest missive Amanda Peet vs. the Medical Establishment, Kirby sets out to yell at Amanda Peet for being scientifically literate…and does a pretty terrible job at it (again, as he usually does).By the way, you can read about what Kirby is referring to here.
Kirby gets off on the wrong foot immediately with the title: Amanda Peet vs. the Medical Establishment? Seeing as how Peet is actually in agreement with the “medical establishment” with regards to vaccines and autism, it seems a strange way to frame the piece, but then again, David Kirby is a strange, strange man.
Anyway, let the fun begin!
This week, actress Amanda Peet called parents who don’t vaccinate their kids “parasites,” and then essentially went on to lie when she announced that scientists have concluded there is “no association between autism and vaccines.”
Well, they are parasites. They get to benefit from the herd immunity (thanks to the multitude of other parents who decide, wisely, to vaccinate their children) without contributing anything useful themselves. In fact, one definition of parasite is “one who habitually takes advantage of the generosity of others without making any useful return.” Seems pretty accurate to me.
Oh, and Peet was not lying when scientists concluded that there is no association. That is the conclusion. Vaccines don’t cause autism. I mean, not that I think Kirby would know the difference between telling the truth and telling a lie, but it seems to me that accusing someone of lying when they’re actually not is a pretty big gaffe (well, maybe not for Kirby).
I thought that Ms. Peet (and her ill-advised advisors such as Dr. Paul Offit) might want to see from whence these parasitic, fringey parents and doctors have been getting their cues of late.
Here are just a few recent examples:
July 15, 2008 – A workgroup report of the IACC (the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, which includes HHS, CDC, NIH and others) says that some members want “specific objectives on vaccine research” included in the new, multimillion-dollar national autism research program, as mandated by Congress in the Combatting Autism Act.
Notes from the meeting indicate that workgroup members want federal researchers to consider “shortfalls” in epidemiological studies cited as proof against a vaccine-autism association (by Offit, Peet, et al); as well as a specific plan “for researching vaccines as a potential cause of autism.” The workgroup also says that the final research agenda should “state that the issue is open.”
Specific objectives? Shortfalls? Sounds pretty spooky. Given Kirby’s last treatise, though, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if these “notes” were taken completely out of context and twisted to sound more sinister than they actually are. Even if you take away the epidemological studies that have failed to show any connection, you still have zero credible studies that do show any connection. Moving along…
July 14, 2008 – Rep. Brad Miller (R-NC), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, (Committe on Science and Technology) writes to HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt to complain that current federal autism research “shows a strong preference to fund genetic-based studies,” even though there is, “growing evidence that suggests a wide range of conditions or environmental exposures may play a role” in autism. He cites a recent study on vaccines and monkeys, presented as a poster (unreviewed) at the International Society for Autism Research, which, “suggests that research on primates is about to emerge that will provide additional evidence of environmental contributions to ASD.”
Rep. Miller specifically cites the case of Hannah Poling as “just one example that is suggestive of very important lines of inquiry,” and he recommends some “very suggestive writings along these lines,” such as the April 5, 2008 letter from Terry Poling, (Hannah’s mother, an attorney and former nurse) to The New York Times titled, “Vaccines, Autism and Our Daughter, Hannah.”
Finally, Rep Miller writes that HHS “has lost much of the public’s trust,” and urges Mr. Leavitt to form a Secretarial-level Autism Advisory Board to provide public feedback, liaise with parents groups, and “assist in reestablishing the public trust” that Ms. Peet herself said was lagging. Miller recommends tapping groups such as Safe Minds, Generation Rescue, Autism Speaks and the Autism Research Institute for their, “experience evaluating research’ and an “in-depth knowledge of the current body of ASD research.” All four groups support vaccine-autism research, and thus presumably fall within the rubric of what Ms. Peet terms as “fringe.”
Rep Miller, well-intentioned as he may be, is not a scientist. He’s a politician. Given the popularity of vaccine-hysteria these days, it wouldn’t surprise me that he would pander to his constituents that would believe in such a hypothesis.
May 12, 2008 – Dr. Bernadine Healy, former head of the NIH and the American Red Cross and current Health Editor of US News & World Report tells CBS News that, “Officials have been too quick to dismiss the hypothesis as irrational,” and says they “don’t want to pursue a hypothesis because that hypothesis could be damaging to the public health community at large by scaring people.”
But, unlike Amanda Peet, Dr. Healy believes that, “the public’s smarter than that. The public values vaccines. But more importantly, I don’t think you should ever turn your back on any scientific hypothesis because you’re afraid of what it might show.”
Dr. Healy is kind of a crank, among other things. Also, I contend that Dr. Healy is naive when it comes to the intelligence of the public. The public, quite frankly, is borderline retarded; especially when it comes to medical / science news. A lot of that has to do with the lackluster standards in scientific journalism, but that’s just my opinion.
April 21, 2008 – Presidential Candidate Sen. Barack Obama, speaking at a rally in Pennsylvania, answers a question about autism by saying: “We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it.”
Obama gets it wrong right out of the gate. Autism rates have not been increasing, or rather they have but it is not due to more people being autistic. Rather, it has more to do with the fact that diagnostic critera have expanded and surveillance has increased. Also, the science is fairly conclusive. Study after study after study have failed to find any connection between vaccines and autism. Also, thimerosal (the boogey-man preservative in vaccines that pseudoscientific scaremongers pointed to as being the autism culprit) was removed from vaccines in 2001, but yet autism rates continued to climb without so much as a pause.
April 11, 2008 – The HHS Vaccine Safety Working Group (comprised of the nation’s leading vaccine experts) meets to review the CDC’s draft research proposal for vaccine safety issues. Among the top vaccine questions that CDC wants answered: “Are neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism, clinical outcomes of vaccine injury?” And, “Is immunization associated with increased risk for neurological deterioration in children with mitochondrial dysfunction?”
March 29, 2008 – Dr. Julie Gerberding, Director of the CDC, speaking about the Hannah Poling case on CNN says: “If a child was immunized, got a fever, had other complications from the vaccines, and was pre-disposed with the mitochondrial disorder, it can certainly set off some damage (including) symptoms that have characteristics of autism.” And she adds: “I think we have to have an open mind about this.” Meanwhile, the CDC website lists autism studies it currently funds on thimerosal and the MMR vaccine.
Of course, the key is the mitochondrial disorder, not the vaccine. The vaccine was just a stressor, and it could’ve likely been anything that came along later.
March 11, 2008 – The CISA Network (Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment), headed by the CDC, receives a report from top researchers at Johns Hopkins University that 30 typically developing children with mitochondrial dysfunction all regressed into autism between 12 and 24 months of life. At least two of them (6%) showed brain damage within one week of receiving simultaneous multiple vaccinations.
Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.
February 25, 2008 – Presidential Candidate Sen. John McCain says at a rally in Texas that “It’s indisputable that (autism) is on the rise amongst children, the question is what’s causing it. And we go back and forth and there’s strong evidence that indicates that it’s got to do with a preservative in vaccines.” McCain notes that there’s “divided scientific opinion” on the matter, with “many on the other side that are credible scientists that are saying that’s not the cause of it.”
Wrong. See above.
February 22, 2008 – Medical Personnel at HHS concede an autism case filed by the family of Hannah Poling in the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, before the claim can go to trial as a “test case” of the theory that thimerosal causes autism. Though portrayed by some (ie, Dr. Offit) as a legal decision, it is in fact a medical decision. HHS doctors admit that the “cause” of Hannah’s “autistic encephalopathy” was “vaccine-induced fever and immune stimulation that exceeded metabolic reserves,” which exacerbated her underlying mitochondrial dysfunction. At 19 months of age, Hannah was given 5 injections containing nine vaccines.
The Poling case has been blogged about a bunch by bloggers much more capable than I. If you want to read up on it, I recommend Orac’s work over at Respectful Insolence (check my blogroll).
January, 2008 – Presidential Candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton, responding to a questionnaire, says that autism is “epidemic,” and that she is, “committed to make investments to find the causes of autism, including possible environmental causes like vaccines.” When asked if she will support an autism study of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated children, she replies: “Yes. We don’t know what, if any, kind of link there is between vaccines and autism – but we should find out.”
Wrong. See above.
I am not a parent, and I am not anti-vaccine. But if I were going to listen to experts on this subject, I would be more likely to consult some of these people, rather than a well-meaning but grossly misinformed actress who is guided by a doctor who will likely make money from his own work helping to develop a childhood vaccine.
Yes you are anti-vaccine, Kirby. Saying you’re not does not make it so. Your book is called “Evidence of Harm”, and it is all about how vaccines are teh evul.
You also seem to think that it’s just Amanda Peet and Offit who think that the mercury / autism hypothesis is quackers, but it’s not. That is, in fact, the position of most scientists (save the few, like the Geiers, who seem to make a lot of money off of pushing their brand of nonsense).
The vaccine-autism debate may be over in the firmly closed minds of Peet and Offit, but for serious, rational thinkers such as those listed above, this debate (and the real work that lies ahead) has only just begun.
Serious, rational thinkers? Is Kirby somehow an authority on serious, rational thinkers? I didn’t think so.
So anyway, thank you David Kirby, for spewing your crappy anti-vaccination propaganda. It got me riled up enough to get to writing again.