The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) is group of government employees and autism community stakeholders who are chartered with coordinating research activities within the U.S. government’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (Committee) shall coordinate all efforts within the Department of Health and Human Services concerning autism spectrum disorder to combat autism through research, screening, intervention and education. The Committee’s primary mission is to facilitate the efficient and effective exchange of information on autism activities among the member agencies, and to coordinate autism-related programs and initiatives. The Committee will serve as a forum and assist in increasing public understanding of the member agencies’ activities, programs, policies, and research, and in bringing important matters of interest forward for discussion.
The IACC predates the Combating Autism Act (CAA), but has taken on the role of coodination and strategic planning for the CAA.
This is no small effort. We are talking about a group that helps to set the goals for about $100M in research funding a year. The U.S. government’s research efforts into autism are the largest in the world. The research portfolio covers causation through supports for autistic adults.
I don’t think I will surprise anyone when I say that the autism communities, like any communities, have many different ideas of what focus should be placed on autism research. I would also expect little argument that the loudest voice in that discussion comes from the groups promoting the notion that vaccines caused an autism epidemic. Most of these groups are sponsors of the Age of Autism blog.
These groups lobbied hard to get vaccine research included in the Combating Autism Act. The failed. They did manage to get some senators to mention vaccines in the “colloquy“. These were statements made by senators when the Act was passed. Basically, these are speeches, not law. These statements were also not very strong. Consider this statement by Senator Enzi:
However, I want to be clear that, for the purposes of biomedical research, no research avenue should be eliminated, including biomedical research examining potential links between vaccines, vaccine components, and autism spectrum disorder. Thus, I hope that the National Institutes of Health will consider broad research avenues into this critical area, within the Autism Centers of Excellence as well as the Centers of Excellence for Environmental Health and Autism. No stone should remain unturned in trying to learn more about this baffling disorder, especially given how little we know.
The strongest argument that can be made is that three senators made a nonbinding statement that the National Institutes of Health should “consider” research on vaccines.
The Combating Autism Act was signed over three years ago. Since that time it has become even more clear that vaccines are not a primary cause of autism. The two major theories that the MMR vaccine or that Thimerosal cause autism have been shown to have very little scientific basis. Both were discussed at length in the Autism Omnibus Proceedings. The MMR causation theory has already been rejected as “not even close” and upheld by three separate appellate judges. The thimerosal theory has not been decided as yet, but the science was no better than that used for MMR. I expect that the Thimerosal theory will suffer the same fate as the MMR theory.
The number of people applying to the “vaccine court” for compensation for autism peaked six years ago. 2,437 families petitioned the Court for hearings alleging autism as a vaccine injury in 2003. In 2008 that number shrank to 253. The vaccines-cause-autism theory is clearly losing ground even within the autism community.
That doesn’t mean that the vaccines-cause-autism organizations are giving up. Quite the opposite. They are ratcheting up the pressure, focusing on individuals.
I actually find it hard to consider the vaccine/autism groups to be separate entities. These groups are SafeMinds, Talk About Curing Autism (TACA), the Autism Research Institute (ARI), Generation Rescue, and The National Autism Association (NAA). They do vary in their approaches to some topics. For example, TACA and Generation Rescue put more resources into direct contact with families than, say, SafeMinds. But, when it comes to lobbying about vaccines, they are pretty much a single organization, sharing a significant amount of key personnel.
These organizations are represented on the IACC by Lyn Redwood of SafeMinds. The grassroots activist efforts of the organizations is coordinated through their blog, the Age of Autism. It is a particularly clever and effective construct: the advocacy organizations can claim to be separate from the particularly nasty rhetoric of their own blog. As a separate entity, the finances of the Age of Autism blog will not be made public.
That all said, the Age of Autism should be considered the voice of these organizations and the actions coordinated on that blog are the actions of its parent organizations.
I can understand why groups such as SafeMinds or Generation Rescue would want to be able to claim some distance from the Age of Autism (AoA). AoA is used to coordinate serious intimidation efforts.
The recent departure of Dr. Story Landis from the IACC was engineered by AoA. They found notes made during an IACC meeting and planned a surprise attack to coincide with an IACC meeting. As an ironic twist, AoA got someone sympathetic to their cause to resign the IACC.
AoA has also targeted IACC member Yvette M. Janvier, M.D., twisting her words “the idea that autistic kids are sick offends me!” into “I am offended by sick autistic kids”.
AoA launched an attack on IACC coordinator Joyce Chung. This coincided with a week long IACC meeting to iron out the Strategic Plan. Her “crime”? She is married to Richard Grinker, author of Unstrange Minds. Dr. Grinker is public in his belief that there has not been an epidemic of vaccine-induced autism, a belief held by the vast majority of the autism research community. What does Dr. Chung have to say publicly on the subject? Nothing as far as I can see. What actions did she take that warranted an attack? None.
The good people at AoA have attempted legal intimidation as well. They got a Congressional Oversight Committee to investigate the IACC. When that didn’t pan out, they sought “legal advice” on alleged FACA violations. No word on what, if anything, became of that effort either. The Age of Autism isn’t shy about touting their attacks. It would seem safe to assume this one failed.
AoA has recently set their sights on the IACC’s chair, Dr. Tom Insel. I am sure this came as no surprise to Dr. Insel. Earlier this year he called for a re-vote on a proposal to add a vaccine study to the IACC’s Strategic Plan, and later made public statements in a congressional hearing that there wasn’t enough data to warrant a vaccine-autism study.
Other than being bold enough to discuss the view held by the vast majority of autism researchers, what is Dr. Insel’s greatest crime? His brother invented a vaccine. Yes, Dr. Richard Insel helped develop a vaccine for Haemophilus influenza B (Hib). This vaccine has been quite effective in reducing Hib infections. But, any contact with vaccine research or company is considered a fatal conflict of interest to the bloggers at the Age of Autism.
I’m sure that there is more going on behind the scenes.
If this were all to the story, it would be sad but uninteresting. Unfortunately, there is fallout from all of this intimidation. I already know that good researchers have avoided autism as a subject in order to avoid the groups represented by the Age of Autism. I suspect that good people are avoiding participating in the IACC meetings as well. But, the most direct fallout is that the IACC members are unable to speak their minds on the subject of vaccines. Beyond vaccines, they have to live in fear of any possible infraction of the rules or any statement that could be misinterpreted will be used against them. A prime example was given above where “the idea that autistic kids are sick offends me!” was warped into “I am offended by sick autistic kids”.
If this were some minor, make-work bureaucratic committee with no real impact I wouldn’t care. But this is the group that sets the plan for the largest autism research in the world. Not only is this sort of intimidation a crime in general, it is hurting my kid’s chances at a better life.
It is time for the intimidation to stop. The Age of Autism bloggers should learn a lesson from their recent, childish attack. Acting out without thinking can hurt even them. This event is being noticed. Both the journals Nature and Science have blog posts about this recent debacle. The Simons Foundation interviewed the director of the NIH on the subject.
I’ll say it again: it is time for the intimidation to stop.