Bad Spin, bad interpretations, bad for the community

20 Feb

I was hoping to move on from the Omnibus decisions. Let’s face it, it’s hard on that fraction of our community that believes in vaccine causation. Also. let’s face it, the decision is so clear and decisive that it is hard to add anything to it or complain about any parts.

But then Barbara Fisher Fischkin chimed in. Her spin is just plain amazing. The comments she makes are exactly (and I do mean exactly) the sort of thing bloggers like David Kirby would tear apart if he were even close to impartial.

You know from the fist sentence that her piece, “Bad Justice, Bad Journalism, A Maligned Doctor And A Dead Mother” is going to be bad:

As an Autism Mom, I spent last week with my head spinning.

You left out some important descriptive words, Ms. Fisher. “As an Autism Mom who believes in vaccine causation…”

Just because you are an autism mom doesn’t mean your head is spinning. I know lots of autism moms whose heads aren’t spinning. In fact, I’ve been watching my local yahoo groups and, guess what, people aren’t talking about the Omnibus decisions.

In America last week, our Vaccine Court very curiously threw a hearty dose of cold water over the widely reported connection between autism and vaccines.

Very curiously? Nice way to diminish what they did. They very carefully and thoroughly splashed an entire swimming pool of cold water on the widely reported belief that there is a connection between autism and vaccines.

She then spends some time on the fact that it is “widely reported”. Sorry, just because you can pull people like David Kirby, Dan Olmsted and that journalism student Ashley Reynolds to tell your story doesn’t make the story true.

I also appreciate the vague nature of “reported”. Reported where? Local newspapers in Hawaii that will accept just about anything and get it on to the news wire? How about reported in the medical literature?

There’s more cold water that can be thrown, but let’s move on.

Now, here’s the comment that got me to blog this:

The Vaccine Court’s decision, like so many complicated matters can be obscured by too much information and, alternately, clarified with a dose of simplicity. So here goes: This year the Vaccine Court, in looking at three specific cases, ruled that, in effect, vaccines and/or their ancillary, toxic ingredients do not cause autism. But last year – with evidence produced by a neurologist father and a mother who is a nurse and an attorney – the court ruled that, in effect vaccines could cause autism. Thousands more cases are pending which it why I believe this matter is far from settled. Ask any bookie: Second guessing an outcome with as many variables as this one is risky business.

After the Hannah Poling story broke, David Kirby and I used to take turns pointing out the misstatements made about the court. Mr. Kirby made a LOT of misstatements. And now, here we have a big one from Ms. Fisher. Care to blog it Mr. Kirby? I know you see it.

The court did not rule on the Hannah Poling case. HHS conceded the case. BIG difference. The Court did not consider the evidence, the court did not make a decision based on the evidence, nothing like what Ms. Fisher is presenting.

Mr. Kirby, if Paul Offit said that, you’d already have a scathing blog post up.

Also, she is misrepresenting the whole point of the Omnibus. “Thousands more cases are pending….”.

Does she have no idea of what is going on with the Omnibus? Here’s a definition of “Omnibus”

pertaining to, including, or dealing with numerous objects or items at once

The whole point of using an Omnibus Proceeding and test cases was so that a few cases could be heard with very detailed evidence and general causation could be applied to the thousands of other cases waiting.

Or, to put it another way, any of the thousands of other cases waiting which are contending MMR caused autism are basically over.

And, guess what, the Petitioner’s lawyers only presented two “theories of causation”. It isn’t like there are that many “variables” as she would like to assert. Each of the thousands of cases is not an individual variable.

Ms. Fisher then moves into the Wakefield/Brian Deer story with

As this was happening in the United States, in England a journalist reported that a certain gastroenterologist who treats children with autism – and whose license over there is under intense judicial scrutiny — fabricated his data. There are, not surprisingly, counter allegations that the journalist strategically created some of the controversy himself so that his story would get more play. This does not surprise me.

It doesn’t surprise me either. Instead, it saddens me that a fraction of my community has acted so harshly towards Mr. Deer in what appears to this reader be an attempt at a smokescreen–an attempt to divert attention away from the possibly very damaging findings Mr. Deer has uncovered about Dr. Wakefield’s work.

Notice that Ms. Fisher avoids entirely the crux of the entire story by Mr. Deer: if the information Mr. Deer has presented is true, is there anything left of Dr. Wakefield’s study to support his idea that MMR causes autism?

Take away even the question of whether Dr. Wakefield knew or should have known the details Mr. Deer presented. If those details are true, even the very weak evidence that Dr. Wakefield presented on MMR causing autism is worthless.

The spin will continue. I believe strongly that fewer and fewer real journalists are going to listen and report it.

[note, I modified this post slightly shortly after publishing it. Substance was not changed]

8 Responses to “Bad Spin, bad interpretations, bad for the community”

  1. alyric February 21, 2009 at 01:54 #


    Her name is Fischkin not Fisher. She writes the usual anti-vaxx spiel for AoA, though not regularly. I’d say her article is what you would expect – never let the facts disturb this world view I’ve spent years carefully constructing. They’re like a bunch of children.

  2. Sullivan February 21, 2009 at 02:10 #


    thanks for the correction! I guess I’m as bad as Dan Olmsted, who complained that his name was spelled wrong in Offit’s book, but can’t seem to tell the difference between Deer and Deere.

  3. autismnostrum February 21, 2009 at 08:04 #

    I for one am an “Autism Mom” that was glad to hear the Omnibus decision. Now maybe we could focus on things that matter, like adequately funded special education services and research on matters that aren’t settled science.

    Too bad it would take falling from a donkey on the way to Damascus to get some people to reconsider their position on the matter.

  4. alyric February 21, 2009 at 16:11 #

    Glad you wrote on this one Sullivan. Barbara Fischkin could stand for the non crank anti-vaxxer archetype. She is dishonest but not malicious and the cranks I’ve noted don’t seem to go anywhere without malice.

    She hasn’t read the decisions of the special masters and though she teaches journalism doesn’t think she has to and she can comment quite well. So she can as long as it’s in a protected environment like AoA where criticism is censored. What sort of journalist does that make her?

    She repeats the lie that Hannah Polings autism was caused by vaccines – not honest journalism. She states as fact that Brian Deer’s investigations are just to make the story sell. Again, very poor journalism. When you have the credibility of a Brian Deer, you don’t exactly need that cub reporter stuff. Fischkin herself could do with some credibility but it doesn’t look like happening any time soon based on the quality of her writing.

    Ah well at least she’s not malicious. We’ve had quite enough of that recently.

  5. John Fryer February 22, 2009 at 19:16 #

    Evidence from case studies; for example the death six hours after a mercury vaccine for the likes of Harry Clark and more than a million others are to be put down as friendly fire then?

    In the event Mrs Clark got the bad deal from 21st century science which eventually was played out as ideopathic death with the death hot on the heels of a toxic vaccine to a universally agreed 100 per cent healthy lad as non culpable.

    Barbara and whatever you deicde her surname is has worked for more than two decades on the vaccine health issue and probably knows more about the genuine risks than all of the rest of us put together including me.

    From 1995 through to 2000 full time research by me which totally denied ANY vaccine harm into which brain toxin in the environment was brought to a head when USA vaccine regulators told one silly Chemistry Professor that no one would ever put mercury in childrens vaccines and he must be off his rocker.

    Looks like Barbara and Boyd are two peas from the same pod.

    Put me in and that makes three.

    Dr Torch was one of thousands of others that discovered harm from vaccines back in the 80’s and was promptly rounded on.

    Why is everyone so scary about science, experiment and case studies?

    I see evidence every day that puts parents away in jail after their kids die but this evidence is misread as parent culpability but to me shows total malice or incompetence on the part of experts and police.

    Vaccines are needed especially the older safer ones.

  6. Sullivan February 22, 2009 at 19:55 #

    Barbara and whatever you deicde her surname is has worked for more than two decades on the vaccine health issue and probably knows more about the genuine risks than all of the rest of us put together including me.

    Then how did she make such glaring errors in her piece?

    Somehow, I think people who work with vaccines actually know more that all of us put together. Would you like to pull Paul Offit’s opinions into the discussion? Not that his opinions are unique amongst vaccine researchers, either.

  7. Kev February 22, 2009 at 20:14 #

    John F – thank you for that totally autism-free comment. I’ll put you down as contender for irrelevant commenter of 2009.

  8. Dedj February 22, 2009 at 20:52 #

    I’m always dubious when people claim information is being surpressed.

    Not because I don’t think it happens, but because the people who somehow manage to get access to this ‘supressed’ information often demonstrate that they have difficulty in attaining and understanding publically available information, yet have managed to come across information that is alledgely kept from the hands of the mainstream medical world – including people who have institutional access to huge databases of research.

    The other fact is that I – a non-medical student – can often* find this ‘hidden’ information, often including several other pieces like it and numerous discussion articles about it, using the standard methods available to the everyday university student.

    *as in I’m not aware of any time that I’ve failed to obtain the information, supposedly ‘hidden’.

    They never seem to ask themselves “How come I have this information yet my Dr/GP doesn’t?”. They will never answer that question “Because it’s outdated/ill researched/wrong”.

    Sometimes the reason why something isn’t well known is because it’s shite.

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