Who carries the authority?

19 Feb

The recent Omnibus decisions are hoped by some to stem the tide of rabid anti-vaccine beliefs espoused by people who shame the name of autism advocacy. On Salon, Rahul K. Parikh says:

In the case of autism, science and reason have too often failed to reach people. And consequently they have turned to the courts. For those of us who believe in the scientific method, the autism trials have not been necessary. But judges, unlike doctors in their cold white coats, still command a great deal of respect, and so perhaps the court’s recent ruling will sink in and finally persuade parents to regain their confidence in vaccines.

Never happen Rahul, never happen. These same anti-vaxxers have already began spin campaigns not only against the legality of the verdicts but against the three Special Masters themselves. To this group, the Special Masters command no respect whatsoever and neither do their verdicts. Take this piece of rampant stupidity from Barbara Loe Fisher:

The U.S. Court of Claims special masters are hampered from considering evidence which has not yet been published in the medical literature regarding potential associations between vaccines and the development of regressive autism

I don’t see how it is possible to make a dumber statement. What she’s saying is she wanted the Special Masters to look at unpublished science. As is well known, unpublished science is not like an unpublished novel. Unpublished science means its science that has not been put through the rigour of peer review, not had its methods examined to ensure they are transparent and reproducable, not had its conclusions reviewd to see iof they are accurate and not had its data examined to see if it is usable. This unreviewed, unpublished ‘science’ is what got us to this stage in the first place. A ten year multi-million pound, dollar and euro effort to close down bad science.

So how does she and people like her get away with saying such things? *Just because they can* . Because people believe extremes and people believe celebrities. People believe bloggers and people believe those who have shared (or think they have) experiences. I’m not saying its right but its true. If anyone genuinely believes this ruling will shut the door on these people they’re wrong. For confirmation of that you need look no further than Rolf Hazlehurt, father of one of the kids who made up the three test cases from the Autism Omnibus.

If we win, we keep going.
If we lose, we keep going.
If we win, the going will be easier.
If we lose, the going will be more difficult.
However, the Court rules, we will keep going.

You have to understand. This is not about scientific truth – or even truth at all – to these people. Its about winning and its about pushing their antivaccine beliefs as fast and far as they can. Even as they claim to not be anti-vaccine they write emails to others clearly showing they are. One of these emails will come to light very soon I believe. Expect to see very familiar names on it.

To these people science has no authority. Doctors have no authority. The Special Masters have no authority. The only people who have authority – real authority – can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. David Kirby. Jenny McCarthy. Maybe Dan Olmsted. If one of these people were to bow to the obvious and say so publicly then we might have a very different scenario. But they won’t. They have too much invested in esposuing the anti-vaccine line.

Mainstream media have a lot to apologise for also. The red tops, the broadsheets and all those hundreds of little bitty TV channels all over the US that gave the anti-vaxxers airtime in the name of impartiality and allowed them to scare away facts and reason, they need to reverse that policy.

But more than that, scientists and doctors need to get online and blog, get on Twitter and use them. Talk to people in their own language. Screw decorum. Ask people who’ve been using their blogs to support vaccines for _years_ what to do and how to do it. People like Oracand Ben Goldacre are prime examples.

This needs to happen because we’ve already lost one generation of kids to their loony parents. The loony parents who only recognise the authority of celebs, authors and each other in nests of email lists and blogs. If we want to give up another generation to the reach of the internet then keep on keeping on and hope that Rahul K. Parikh is right. But he’s not.

14 Responses to “Who carries the authority?”

  1. Socrates February 19, 2009 at 10:58 #

    But more than that, scientists and doctors need to get online and blog

    but, but, but…

    how would the average scientist, so well schooled in rational, impartial, debate cope with the never ending tsunami of bollox spouted by Them?

    When EpiWonk started entered the debate, his former colleagues expressed surprise that he would waste time on what for them, is a done deal.

    It needs forensic psychologists to deal with this lot. Their arguments fundamentally have an emotional genesis.

    It’s not a scientific debate – it’s an onanistic pr campaign, conducted with little concern for the long term effects of their actions.

  2. David N. Andrews M. Ed. (Distinction) February 19, 2009 at 11:43 #

    “It needs forensic psychologists to deal with this lot.”

    I’d do the job but I’m not trained as a forensic psychologist (yet). But, even if I was trained for that, I’d want danger money: some of those idiots are seriously criminally psychopathic.

  3. daedalus2u February 19, 2009 at 15:51 #

    The special masters could accept unpublished science, i.e. data and ideas that are not published, but they need to be presented as evidence which means those presenting the ideas and data as evidence are subject to cross examination under oath.

    Lying in a scientific paper is committing scientific fraud, the most grievous crime a scientist can commit, but one which doesn’t carry any jail time. Lying under oath in court is perjury, a crime that can carry jail time. Not a surprise that Wakefield would rather lie in scientific journals than in court. Not a surprise that Wakefield was not available to testify (under oath) about how MMR causes autism and about how everything in his Lancet paper was completely accurate. Not a surprise that all the other usual “experts” on how mercury causes autism and how chelation cures it were not available to testify under oath either. Lying to your victims is one thing. Most of them can be placated with still more lies. Lying under oath to the court is something completely different.

  4. Joseph February 19, 2009 at 16:54 #

    Where is Harold, BTW? Shouldn’t he be lecturing the anti-vaxers about the importance of accepting the opinions of authority (regardless of anything else) just about now?

    /sarcasm – I know he’s disingenuous about that.

  5. RJ February 19, 2009 at 17:52 #

    I understand why people like Kirby continue to push this issue. He put all his chips on this bet years ago (joining the RFKjr tort crew) thinking he was on to something. This is what he’s built his career on. Now, years later, the scientific evidence says otherwise. But he’s painted into a corner. It’s not as simple as saying “uh, I was wrong, sorry” and move on. Instead, he continues to participate and promote. He’s the go-to-guy and there’s no reason to lose that distinction.

    Olmstead is just trying to ride on his coattails. He’s hardly a genius and not very knowledgeable. In fact, his writing style is stinks. But again, that’s what he’s known for, why change.

    As for Stagliano, Fisher, Imus, McCarthy, K.A. Davis, Dachel (sp?) and a few others, I would say it is something else…even more pathological. It has more to do with narcissism that anything. They know what the answers are and they are right! No evidence that you’ve concocted through your collusion with big pharma will sway them. How could they…the all knowledgeable…possibly be the cause of their children “damage”. There’s no way it’s genes! Even though they’ve never volunteered for a study, they know! What could science have to offer over their commanding insights on how MMR…no wait…thimerosal…no wait….too many too soon….no wait! Well, whatever, what could science have to offer that they already know.

    Everything they say demonstrates a complete disregard and a misunderstanding about how science and the rational thought process works. Forget evidence. It’s all about them. They know. And what everyone else thinks be damned. And that includes the children, including theirs.

    Just remember when talking to them, your dealing with someone who is a narcissist and irrational. Apply that to your approach.

  6. Another Voice February 19, 2009 at 18:08 #

    This post states “scientists and doctors need to get online and blog”. I am sure that many doctors just can’t wait to be called ugly names in public by people using pseudonyms who end up threatening them.

    Think of the decision process – stay at the office and see another 4 or 5 patients, who say “Thank You” or go home and try to make sense out of the slurs from mercury land.

    I do agree that their organizations and associations should be out there on the net and blogging, providing factual updates and offering presentations about what is known.

  7. Leila February 19, 2009 at 20:04 #

    You nailed it, RJ!

  8. kathleen February 20, 2009 at 02:47 #

    I am not a scientist.I’m just a mom who has two kids on the spectrum…so I can’t really add to the scientific discussion. I have never believed that vaccines caused autism. My question is this..what is it that the vaccine debators want? In other words..what if it were proven that vaccines caused autism…what would they win? vindication? money? Self righteous justification? In the end, they would still have a child with autism. It would just appear that finding something to blame has become more important than the people who are here now…with autism.Kind of like missing the forest for the trees.

  9. mayfly February 20, 2009 at 04:00 #

    Preprints are the order of the day in many areas where researchers want to exchange results or be recognized or have their institution recognized as the first to arrive at those results. The preprints have not yet been peer reviewed, but are awaiting that process.

  10. storkdok February 20, 2009 at 13:41 #

    I can tell you several reasons why physicians and scientists are not blogging en masse. One reason is they don’t know about how big the anti-vax voice is online. Most don’t have the time to cruise the internet. When I worked, a short week was maybe 80 hours, I didn’t have time or energy to see what was going on on the internet. They also want to spend what little time they have off work with their families. Our developmental pedi had no idea how vitriolic and large the problem was until she told me about an upcoming conference someone arranged through the Maine CDC, with Kenneth Bock and Jon Poling topping the list of invited speakers. I had to educate her, I referred her to certain websites and books, which she passed onto the head of the ME CDC. Bock was uninvited, unfortunately they didn’t uninvite Poling. She and her partner will speak, and Dr. Tim Buie, who helped debunk Wakefield’s theory with many others in the fall article they published. It could still be very dicey. I don’t think that the ME CDC fully knows what they are getting into. This has been pushed by a woman, an ardent anti-vaxxer here, who works in the ME CDC office. I know the anti-vaxxers here in ME are going to push the vaccine agenda big time, I am already getting messages on my list-serves.

    Another reason is, some of these people are so nutty, I wouldn’t be surprised if they stalked, harrassed, or even tried to harm a more public figure and their family, like they have several already, enough so FBI protection is necessary for Dr. Offit. Who wants that? I have a particularly nasty one in my town, which is why I am not more aggressive online, because she could make my life and my son’s life miserable. You know her as Ginger. It is hard enough for me to deal with the DHHS and school stuff, I had to quite my job to provide the support my son and family needed.

    I think the medical organizations and governmental agencies need to get a public campaign going to inform the public of the truth about the science, educate them. More physicians would then possibly step forward. It seems to me that the organizations and government sort of pushed Dr. Offit to the front of the podium and stepped back, leaving him hanging. I am thankful he has taken this on.

    I’m surprised more reporters haven’t been willing to take on the autism quackery underground, and reported on it. It would make a good story, exposing the abuse these parents and quacks subject their children to.

  11. RJ February 20, 2009 at 19:32 #

    “what would they win? vindication? money? Self righteous justification? In the end, they would still have a child with autism.”

    That’s exactly it! They, the all-knowing ones, who’s knowledge base goes far beyond those of trained medical, psychological, and scientific experts are not responsible for their ‘damaged’ children. It is someone else’s fault.

    Many (not all, not most) are looking for someone to blame for the tragedy of their lives…the curse of having to raise a child with autism.

  12. mayfly February 21, 2009 at 18:30 #


    I don’t see a connection between autism and vaccinations, but if one can be shown then compensation is deserved for the harm done.

    You seem to be blaming autism on the parents of the child, very bizzare.

    Autism happens, it’s no ones fault. The parent’s job is to ensure their child as the best quality of life achievable

  13. Matthew Cline February 24, 2009 at 14:05 #

    My question is this..what is it that the vaccine debators want? In other words..what if it were proven that vaccines caused autism…what would they win? vindication? money? Self righteous justification?

    1) If vaccines did cause autism, and this were proved, then they’d have helped to prevent other children from becoming autistic.

    2) If vaccines were the cause of the autism, then maybe whatever the cause was can be reversed, thus curing their children. If the cause is genetic, then there’s no cure.


  1. Science-Based Medicine » 2009: Shaping up to be a really bad year for antivaccinationists - February 23, 2009

    […] idea that vaccines cause autism against the mountains of evidence that do not support it, as Kev points out, it is not about science. It is about winning and convincing people that they are right. It is […]

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