Should Parents With a Stake in Vaccine Litigation be Disallowed From Commenting?

17 May

As I’d imagine most readers would agree, no, parents with a stake in vaccine litigation should not be disallowed from commenting simply on the basis that they have a conflict of interest. It doesn’t matter if the conflict of interest runs in the millions of dollars. Should Jon Poling, for example, be disallowed from commenting? I don’t think so in the least. In fact, some of us wish he’d be more forthcoming with information about his daughter’s case.

So why am I bringing this up? Apparently, Kim Stagliano does think it is a good idea for people with conflicts of interest in this debate to shut up, judging from a recent post of hers.


(See also Orac’s take)

For those who aren’t familiar with Kim Stagliano, she’s the parent of two autistic little girls, one of whom, I understand, has never been vaccinated. Some call Kim the poster child of autism genetics. But I digress.

All of this got me thinking about conflicts of interest, though, and I’ve come to the conclusion that not all conflicts of interest are created equal. Let’s take monetary conflicts of interest, for starters. I can identify 3 groups in the autism community that do not have monetary conflicts of interest.

  1. Parents with no stake in vaccine litigation.
  2. Autistic people with no stake in vaccine litigation (which would include all autistic adults).
  3. Scientists and professionals who do not make a living from research or litigation on autism or related matters.

This is a rough characterization, of course. It’s always possible for parents or autistic adults to have conflicts of interest through their employment, for example. I doubt this is usually the case, nevertheless.

Some might say I’m biased, as I have basically identified the Autism Hub and friends as not having significant monetary conflicts of interest. Be that as it may, I believe it’s a roughly accurate characterization, and I’m willing to listen to arguments to the contrary.

But let’s face it. None of us are free of conflicts of interest in general. We might oppose attempts to stigmatize us, especially if said stigmatization is based on almost certainly false claims. We might have a huge emotional investment in the outcome of our kids. We might see litigation-motivated alt-med as a threat to the integrity of science, and so forth.

The point is that if Kim were right, then none of us, from any side of the debate, should be allowed to comment. Beyond arguments about freedom of speech, this is obviously nonsensical. Kim Stagliano should reconsider her statement.

A secondary point is that there are conflicts of interest and there are conflicts of interest. It seems to me that someone attempting to make millions in court, or someone who has been actually payed nearly millions to produce evidence of causation (which is not speculation on my part) has a much bigger conflict of interest than, say, someone who is employed by the government or someone who has served in the advisory panel of a pharmaceutical company. But again, none of this should disallow someone from commenting. It can be used to make a judgement about trustworthiness, sure.

10 Responses to “Should Parents With a Stake in Vaccine Litigation be Disallowed From Commenting?”

  1. kristina May 18, 2008 at 00:27 #

    If people have conflicts of interest and wish to comment, one hopes that they might note these somewhere in their comment.

    The obsession with “conflicts of interest” strikes me as part of the general tendency towards paranoia among the “mercury/vaccine” set. I’m always glad for as much discussion as possible and the truth does out.

  2. Schwartz May 18, 2008 at 02:23 #


    I think you’re right. I’ve always taken the position that anyone should be able to comment but the conflict of interest should be stated up front so that people are aware of the conflict of interest.

    IMO, having a conflict of interest does not disqualify one’s comments so I disagree with Kim. People just have to be aware of the high risk of bias. But as you stated, there are bias’ in everyone even without financial conflicts of interest.

    Where I do draw the line however, is when people having a conflict of interest are functioning in a decision making capacity with the COI. Dr. Offit falls in that category as well.

    The only comment on your Autism groups is that parents of Autistic children not engaged in the courts still have a financial interest in the outcome of certain government decisions to provide money for services — something I strongly support. I guess in that case, every taxpayer would have some sort of interest as well. I would never use that kind of financial interest to silence commentary from these parents.

  3. Schwartz May 18, 2008 at 02:27 #


    “The obsession with “conflicts of interest” strikes me as part of the general tendency towards paranoia among the “mercury/vaccine” set.”

    I think that’s a very unfair stereotype. In the medical field, financial conflicts of interest have proven over and over to affect the outcome of scientific study and financing. Financial conflicts of interest in pharmaceutical industry have also consistently proven over time to lead to behaviour that is contrary to the public good. There is no conspiracy, the historical evidence is quite clear on this topic. It’s even been studied extensively in peer-reviewed journals, almost always with the same outcome.

  4. Joseph May 18, 2008 at 02:56 #

    I should put my name at the bottom of the posts I write. Swartz, this was by me.

    In regards to your answer to Kristina, it’s obvious that the way the merc militia sees conflict of interest is not as a theoretical bias that can be studied. They really do think there’s a conspiracy.

  5. Kristina May 18, 2008 at 04:25 #

    My general position is that everyone inevitably has conflicts and biases, consciously known and not so consciously known. Having followed the sorts of “information” and the writings of those who think that a vaccine or something in a vaccine causes autism, there does seem to be a general tendency towards conspiracy-mongering—-kind of a great American tradition.

  6. Brian May 18, 2008 at 06:04 #

    I don’t believe that anyone needs to be prevented from posting on any blog due to their biases or conflicts of interest. Those conflicts don’t even need to be listed, as most people display their biases rather openly, and likewise most professional people are quite proud of both their letters of degree and their corporate affiliations. Of course, dishonesty is always a possibility, such as someone with a court case that doesn’t reveal that fact, or someone who posts from a particular point of view for payment by a third party. I think there are relatively few of those, though, so their impact on any debate should be minimal.

    I found Kristina and Joseph’s comments on conspiracy (in the derisive sense of the word) interesting. I understand that these are simply their opinions, and of course they have the right to state them, but I feel the need to answer with an opinion of my own.

    When the facts do bear witness to the negative impact of financial COI on the public good, and those COIs are shared by an advisory body with influence over medical policy, then this is the very definition of a conspiracy in the non-derisive sense. So that would mean that those who consider such institutionalized COIs a “conspiracy” are in fact absolutely correct in every way–by definition.

    And conspiracies are a great American tradition, considering the fact that the country was founded upon a conspiracy by the Founding Fathers to overthrow the legal rule of King George over the colonies. More recently, US Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy all delivered public or private invectives against conspiracies by small powerful groups of men who were more in control of the government than either the people or their elected representatives. Only after the Kennedy assassinations did Presidents stop talking about conspiracies in America.

    Now I suppose it could be that as the corporations of the industrial-military complex grew into multi-national corporations that these conspiracies just stopped occurring, or it could be that those same multinational corps, having bought and consolidated more and more print and broadcast media, now can control public opinion more effectively and have greatly reinforced the opinion that conspiracies at the corporate and government levels of society just don’t occur anymore.

    Main Entry:
    Inflected Form(s):
    con·spired; con·spir·ing
    Middle English, from Anglo-French conspirer, from Latin conspirare to be in harmony, conspire, from com- + spirare to breathe
    14th century

    transitive verb: plot, contrive
    intransitive verb:
    1 a: to join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or an act which becomes unlawful as a result of the secret agreement
    1 b: scheme
    2: to act in harmony toward a common end

  7. Ms. Clark May 18, 2008 at 06:53 #

    Joseph your name is at the top of the post. I don’t think you need to sign it.

  8. Ms. Clark May 18, 2008 at 06:59 #

    I think Li’l Kim has three autistic girls and they are pre-teen and teenage I’m pretty sure. She has identified one of them as being totally unvaccinated. She describes their autism as being “ear wax/vomit/dog poop” flavored. I always assume that she had assigned one “flavor” for each child’s autism. :-/

  9. Schwartz May 18, 2008 at 08:14 #


    Sorry about that. I rarely notice the name at the top. My bad.


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