Jake Crosby’s great big straw man

10 Jun

I’ve said it before—a blogger could spend his entire online time debunking blog posts from the Age of Autism. Between the pseudoscience and the bad policy promoted on that site, it is draining to just read it on a regular basis, much less respond. A few weeks ago a particularly bad post came through and I wanted to respond but, frankly, I just didn’t have time. The post was by Jake Crosby about a (then) upcoming article in Newsweek about Ari Ne’eman.

It is no secret to people who read this blog that I admire Mr. Ne’eman. A rough analogy is that Ari Ne’eman is to autism advocacy what David Mandell is (in my mind) to autism science: a person who is asking the right questions and staying above the vaccine debates. Mr. Ne’eman founded the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN).

It really is worth taking a few minutes to read the Newsweek article. I read it online, read Kev’s blog post, and then stumbled upon it in my doctor’s office last Friday.

Erasing Autism

Scientists are closing in on the genes linked to autism. So why is Ari Ne’eman so worried?

Since I am discussing Mr. Crosby’s blog post, you should read that as well. The history leading to that post is somewhat sad. A reliable source I know says that prior to the publication of the Newsweek article, Stephen Shore leaked the information. This led to a blog post by John Best, including death threats. Jake Crosby at the Age of Autism decided to blog his own misconceptions about it. Here’s one bit of advice for Mr. Crosby: when you are pickup up stories from John Best, fired Generation Rescue “Rescue Angel”, you are putting yourself in really bad company**. I am sure Mr. Shore did not intend to precipitate a blog post by John Best. At the same time, I hope Mr. Shore is somewhat chagrined to realize that this happened.

Mr. Crosby’s blog piece had a fairly simple theme: “don’t publish the Ari Ne’eman article; interview me instead”. Or, failing that, “Give me equal time”. We all knew (and I assume Mr. Crosby is intelligent enough to know as well) that his was an empty commentary: the article was already in press. There was no way to either pull it or to add Mr. Crosby’s comments*. But, it makes good blog fodder and may get Mr. Crosby’s foot in the door for future articles by Newsweek. Somehow I doubt Newsweek is impressed by strawman arguments, but, who knows, Mr. Crosby might appear on their radar now.

Let’s do what Mr. Crosby didn’t do. Let’s really look at what is being said and done by Mr. Crosby, Mr. Ne’eman, ASAN, Newsweek…you know, let’s discuss some facts.

Mr. Crosby has taken on one of the Age of Autism’s favorite tactics: the “straw man argument”. He pretends that Ari Ne’eman promotes the idea that autism is not a disability. There is a common tactic amongst those who dislike Neurodiversity: try to define it to be something it isn’t. I understand the motivation: it is really hard to go out in public as an autistic or the parent of an autistic and say “I am against a movement that thinks autistics deserve civil rights”. But, they people try this argument all the time. Case in point, Mr. Crosby’s blog post:

Neurodiversity is an ideology supported primarily by some autistic individuals and parents who do not believe that autism is a disability, and opposes any potential cure.

The statement was clearly false when Mr. Crosby wrote it. Mr. Ne’eman clearly considers autism to be a disability. I hope that Mr. Crosby was duly embarrassed when the Newsweek article was published, including a simple statement outlining Mr. Ne’eman’s position on the autism spectrum:

It’s a disability, yes, but it’s also a different way of being, and “neurodiversity” should be accepted by society. Autistic people (he prefers this wording to “people with autism,” a term many parents use, because he considers the condition intrinsic to a person’s makeup) must be accommodated in the classroom and workplace and helped to live independently as adults—and he is pushing to make this happen for everyone on the spectrum. They should also be listened to.

See what I mean? I find it amazing that a person with an ASD like Mr. Crosby could be against accommodations, independent living, and acceptance as people. So, rather than address this issue head on, he builds his straw man.

The real argument, we all know, is about the “cure” question. Mr. Ne’eman believes that Autistics should be allowed to say, “I don’t want a cure” and “please respect me as for who I am: autistic.” For those using pity politics to promote a cure agenda, people like Mr. Ne’eman are very tough obstacle to overcome. Case in point, a quote from the Newsweek article:

“There’s a misperception that autism is some thief in the night that takes a normal child and places an autistic child in its place,” he says. “That’s not true.”

Mr. Crosby has cast his lot with the pity-politics groups represented at the Age of Autism blog. That’s fine, it is his right. He is even within his rights to misrepresent other people and organizations in order to further his own ideology. I don’t think it is a good idea, or that it makes sense, but it is his right.

Mr. Crosby makes a number of completely unsupported assertions.

Yet, it appears there has been a mainstream media blackout on those of us within the community who publicly disagree with that point of view.

When I first read “Media blackout” all I could think was: do a Google news search for Jenny McCarthy and for Ari Ne’eman and get back to me on that one, would you Mr. Crosby? But, Mr. Crosby is lamenting the fact that autistic voices that dissent with Mr. Ne’eman are not heard. Well, perhaps that would change if, say, Generation Rescue or any of the other organizations who sponsor Mr. Crosby’s blog writing would put autistic people in prominent positions? Isn’t it ironic that this is exactly the sort of thing ASAN is promoting? Nothing about us without us. If Generation Rescue would listen to ASAN, perhaps Jake Crosby would have his platform. Instead, he supports groups that have no autistic representation.

Mr. Crosby uses another common Age of Autism tactic: use every chance possible to promote the “epidemic”. He argues against the “epidemic denialists” who don’t agree with the mercury-autism hypothesis. One thing I admire about Mr. Ne’eman is that he doesn’t spend much (if any) time on the “epidemic” and, instead, fights for the rights of people with disabilities.

Jake Crosby has to dig deep in order to find reasons to criticize Ari Ne’eman. Case in point, from a second blog piece by Mr. Crosby:

Then the Ari Ne’eman piece ran online a week later and then in the May 25th issue, where he professed his anti-cure views while expressing an unfounded fear of the unproven idea that autism can be prevented through eugenics.

Mr. Crosby plainly gets it wrong. The argument isn’t that autism can be prevented through eugenics. The argument is that with a good genetic test, one might in the future prevent autism through eugenics.

If one can find anything amusing about eugenics discussions, it might be this: Jake Crosby disagrees with JB Handley…and JB Handley agrees with Ari Ne’eman. You see, JB Handley has also raised the worry about genetic testing leading to a form of eugenics in a piece Autism Speaks: The Abortion Industry’s Best Friend.

Mr. Crosby closed his first blog post with this lament:

Unfortunately, I have not been as active as I would have liked since I am in college and just declared my major in history

Let me just point a few things out to Mr. Crosby: While an undergraduate, Ari Ne’eman has founded ASAN, worked in numerous states on bullying issues, special education reform, assisted living supports, issues for adults with autism and he was instrumental in getting the “Ransom Notes” ad campaign pulled. Mr. Ne’eman works with other disability groups to give advice to the federal government at high levels.

I don’t think he got where he is by making obvious staw man arguments about people he disagrees with.

Perhaps that is why Newsweek wants to talk to Ari Ne’eman and people like Mr. Crosby and myself are just blogging.

*Mr. Crosby has noted that he did not know that it would be difficult or impossible to pull or change an existing story. He also did not know beyond a vague “couple of weeks” how soon the article would be published.

**Mr Crosby states that his information did not come through John Best. I take him at his word and appreciate the fact that he doesn’t want to be associated with Mr. Best.

9 Responses to “Jake Crosby’s great big straw man”

  1. Robin Henley June 10, 2009 at 03:27 #

    Hi, Sullivan.

    I’ve had my run ins with Jake. He’s a kid, and there’s nothing wrong with that. He’s wrong when it comes to autism, and he has nothing new to say that isn’t ideological and nonsense. He needs to be studying and having fun, and leave the innertoobz alone for a while.

    I don’t get the “other side” either. They are so deaf to what the neurodiversity movement is saying, they really don’t know what we’re saying. So odd.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Ivar T June 10, 2009 at 09:35 #

    I believe “Nothing for us, without us,” should be “Nothing about us, without us.”

    Autistics wanting a cure appears to have become much more visible lately. From what I’ve read they appear to believe that a cure would solve all kinds of issues with economy, job and romantic relations.

    Somewhat far fetched I’d say. Otherwise though, their feeling that some important concerns have been neglected by other could be valid – like raising awareness of practical difficulties autistics face in daily living.

    Perhaps collecting literature from neurodiversity proponents, that could be called authorative and which explore different neurodiversity-related views of autism, could counter a lot of the misrepresentations.

  3. Joseph June 10, 2009 at 15:27 #

    He argues against the “epidemic denialists” who don’t agree with the mercury-autism hypothesis.

    That’s a device invented by Mark Blaxill, I believe. I’m sure he knows better than Jake, but thinks it’s a clever argumentative device either way.

    In reality, it makes no sense. The word “denialist” should be reserved for denialists of established scientific theories or fact-based knowledge, e.g. global warming or evolution.

    The “autism epidemic” is nothing but a hypothesis. In fact, no one has ever brought forth any convincing evidence that demonstrates this is a viable hypothesis, even though they have tried. If it’s self-evident, why do they keep trying so hard?

    It’s a lot like saying “TV causation denialists” or “vitamin D denialists.”

  4. Roger June 11, 2009 at 21:27 #

    Ivar T
    June 10th, 2009
    09:35:34

    Autistics wanting a cure appears to have become much more visible lately. From what I’ve read they appear to believe that a cure would solve all kinds of issues with economy, job and romantic relations.

    Could you provide me some examples of “autistics wanting a cure” who have gotten the media exposure that Ari Ne’eman has?Not Jenny McCarthy,but a pro-cure autistic.How many have had the equivalent of articles published in “Newsweek” ?Even as big as it is in the blogosphere AoA is pretty rinky dink in the world at large. It ain’t CNN or The New York Times

    Pro ND researchers,like Dr. Laurent Mottron have been covered quite a bit in major media outlets as well of late.

    Has there been any followup on just how much airtime Ne’eman/ASAN’s TV spots have gotten?Do you see any counter spots from pro-cure autistics ?Please tell me who is producing them.

    To Robin,and the rest of you,let me ask you this.Why is Mr.Crosby less qualified to comment than Mr.Ne’eman?Is it simply because you don’t like what he has to say?Neurodiversity is about freedom of speach after all.Or is it because you expect all autistics to be as active as Mr.Ne’eman ?

    Dr.Mottron’s recent grant from AS,as well as the work of the AS funded IAN program at Kennedy-Kreiger.Their newest study,about working autistics,that you ought to praising to the heavens,springs to mind,all lead me to believe AS is morphing into quite a friend of neurodiversity.

  5. Joseph June 11, 2009 at 22:03 #

    How many have had the equivalent of articles published in “Newsweek” ?Even as big as it is in the blogosphere AoA is pretty rinky dink in the world at large. It ain’t CNN or The New York Times

    You mean like Sue Rubin on CNN? (Full of inaccuracies, BTW.)

    I don’t think there’s less media coverage. There just aren’t as many of them.

  6. Mike Stanton June 12, 2009 at 23:45 #

    To understand media coverage of the autism debate you have to understand that the media does not necessarily share the same agenda as the participants in that debate.

    Conflict and drama are a lot more interesting than the truth. Given that the preponderance of autism coverage is about “this devastating disorder” and is told from the parents’ point of view, an alternative narrative from autistic adults is going to attract a lot of media attention. One might reasonably ask not why this is happening, but why it has taken so long to happen. We have endured a very one sided narrative in the media for far too long.

    In this context the voices of autistic adults who echo the dominant parent based narrative are not going to attract too much media attention for the time being. Just wait until the neurodiversity agenda is achieving some sort of media balance with the cure autism agenda. I predict that pro-cure autistics will then enjoy their day in the sun.

    The point being that we should not measure the value of an idea based upon its media coverage. The media reflects public opinion. It prints what will sell.

    To take a totally non-autistic example: In 1972 Idi Amin threatened to expel 60000 Ugandan Asians. The government and most of the UK media were gripped by a moral paralysis. We were supposed to feel threatened by this “influx” of doctors and dentists and teachers and entrepreneurs and various tradespeople of asian origin. Only one newspaper led with the headline “They are welcome here.” I proudly sold that newspaper on the streets that weekend.

  7. Sullivan June 13, 2009 at 04:20 #

    Why is Mr.Crosby less qualified to comment than Mr.Ne’eman

    In general, Mr Crosby is definitely qualified to comment.

    But, should he have given equal time in this Newsweek article? I don’t think so. I had hoped I made this and my reasons clear.

    First, Mr. Crosby’s letter had as a main theme a false statement: that Mr. Ne’eman doesn’t think autism is a disability. Given the amount of work Mr. Ne’eman has done in the disability field for autistics, I can fully understand why the editors at Newsweek chose to ignore Mr. Crosby’s letter.

    Second, Mr. Crosby sent the letter very close to the publication time–it was pretty clear that the article wouldn’t be changed.

    Mr. Crosby has a forum to air his opinions: the age of autism blog.

  8. Another Voice June 14, 2009 at 14:33 #

    The Newsweek article attributes the following statement of beliefs to Ari Ne’eman:

    He doesn’t believe autism can be, or should be, cured. His ultimate fear is this: a prenatal test for autism, leading to “eugenic elimination”.

    While I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Ne’eman and support many of the causes he undertakes; this statement leaves me cold. I can understand that Mr. Ne’eman, personally, may not want a cure; however, I disagree with the statement that autism should not be cured. I feel that advocates should be encouraging professional main stream research directed at finding a cure or at least avenues to improve some of the more debilitating aspects of autism.

    I may share Mr. Ne’eman’s concern that genetic testing will lead to the abortion of potentially autistic children. I am not sure how credible he is on that subject and would like to hear how he feels about genetic testing being used to identify and abort children with Down syndrome.

  9. AnneB June 14, 2009 at 19:18 #

    The mainstream media has a general audience and wants articles that would be of interest to them. Also, as print publications, they have to worry about their own liability for defamation. I doubt very much a the general audience would be interested in reading about sniping and petty personal bickering between factions of a small minority group, or that mainstream publications would want to take on the responsibility of republishing the personal insults that Jake Crosby and Jonathan Mitchell publish on their respective websites.

    If you look at the neurodiversity articles that do get published, you won’t see that kind of stuff in them. I think that if “pro-cure” autistic people are serious about getting their views published, they would have a better chance if they stuck to their ideas about why a cure is desirable instead of trying to attack other people in making their point.

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