Dr. Landis resigns from IACC: Vaccine-autism lobby shot themselves in the foot

19 Oct

Here’s a big “oops” moment for the good people at the Age of Autism blog and the organizations it represents.

They may have forced the resignation of someone sympathetic to their cause.

Here’s the back story. Dr. Story Landis is one of the government’s representatives on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC). She wrote some notes during a past meeting. After the meeting, someone found the notes and passed them to a blogger at the Age of Autism, who published one of them with a scathing blog post calling for her resignation.

Dr. Landis has resigned.

Note that the blog post was timed to coincide with last week’s IACC meeting. Also note that no one appears to have contacted Dr. Landis prior to posting the blog piece. For that matter, no one appears to have contacted her prior to her resignation.

Here’s what the note read:

I wonder if Lyn Redwood is pushing autism as multisystem disorder to feed into vaccine injury?

Would be a good justification for looking at vaccine injured kids who have gotten awards.

Mr. Kirby has blogged the incident. He includes an email he received from Dr. Landis, quoted below:

I can understand people’s reaction seeing just the note that I wrote during the recent IACC scientific workshop. I felt it important to apologize immediately to the autism community, which I did at yesterday’s IACC, subcommittee meeting. Let me repeat my apology for the record: “I have seen some thoughts that I jotted down during the recent IACC meeting posted on Katie Wright’s blog. I am very sorry that my personal reflections during the meeting have been taken out of context and have been interpreted by the community in ways that I would never intend. As a responsible and committed member of the IACC I am sorry for the upset that it has caused and the concerns that it has raised.”

The other part of my note addressed the fact that it is important for autism researchers to study the children who have been most profoundly affected by their response to vaccines. That in no way mitigates my sincere apology to the families who interpreted my note to be uncaring and disrespectful.

Repeated for emphasis: “The other part of my note addressed the fact that it is important for autism researchers to study the children who have been most profoundly affected by their response to vaccines. ”

If things are as they appear, the Age of Autism bloggers may have just gotten someone sympathetic to their goals to resign from the IACC.

Mr. Kirby’s comment about this explanation set of an irony meter:

A lot of people I have spoken with were also surprised by the statement, given the general hostility toward vaccine research they have encountered at the IACC.

Hostility? When it comes to the IACC there is a lot of hostility, I will grant that. But it flows from certain autism groups and the Age of Autism blog in particular towards the IACC. Mr. Kirby has joined his fellow Age of Autism bloggers in the intense hostility shown towards the IACC and its chair, Dr. Thomas Insel. Watch the recent interview that Mr. Kirby did with Sharyl Attkisson if you would like to confirm this.

I realize that many people are upset that the IACC is not funding vaccine research (even though I am not one of them). But, “hostility”? No. The IACC and Dr. Insel have remained respectful on the subject.

Let’s recap many of the mistakes made in this story

1) Dr. Landis should have been more careful with her private questions and not left the notes behind

2) Whoever did the “dumpster dive” embarrassed the autism community. I’m sure it would have been considered justified if they hadn’t screwed up and forced the resignation of someone sympathetic to their cause. But that leads us to:

3) The Age of Autism decided that a surprise attack was more important that gathering all the facts and published the blog piece without comment from Dr. Landis.

4) Bloggers, including myself, didn’t step forward to defend Dr. Landis’ right to pose reasonable questions.

5) Dr. Landis didn’t defend her own right to pose reasonable questions.

6) Dr. Landis resigned. Yes, I consider that a mistake.

7) Apparently Dr. Insel accepted her resignation. I consider that a mistake as well.

Let’s take a look again at the question Dr. Landis posed that caused such a stir: “I wonder if Lyn Redwood is pushing autism as multisystem disorder to feed into vaccine injury?”

Why is this such an outlandish question? Ms. Redwood represents SafeMinds, an organization which promotes the idea that vaccines caused an epidemic of autism. In their web page on Ms. Redwood’s activities on the IACC, SafeMinds made it extremely clear that autism as vaccine injury was the number one priority for the meeting where Dr. Landis wrote her note. It was perfectly reasonable for Dr. Landis to wonder how the idea of multi-system disorder ties into the idea of autism as vaccine injury. It could have been phrased better. Better yet, it could have been phrased better and posed as a question directly to Lyn Redwood. Unfortunately, the very same hostility that the bloggers Lyn Redwood’s organization sponsors make that nearly impossible. The same politicization of any statement about vaccines and autism that her organziation and Mr. Kirby, their publicist, make it nearly impossible to have that discussion.

Yes, there were people who thought the Age of Autism blog post was a good idea. Many probably still do. The same people are likely writing this post off as gloating at their mistake. This isn’t gloating. This is disgust. This is anger that a bunch of people have ratcheted up the hostility towards the IACC to a level that impedes discussion and progress, and then have the gall to blame the IACC for the hostility.

The fact that you guys shot yourselves in the foot in the process only serves to prove my point.

34 Responses to “Dr. Landis resigns from IACC: Vaccine-autism lobby shot themselves in the foot”

  1. Sullivan October 19, 2009 at 19:33 #

    bensmyson,

    I deleted your comment. Your last sentence was out of line.

  2. Jake Crosby October 19, 2009 at 19:44 #

    The more I read this blog, the more shocked I am to see how you and lb/rb in general spins every autism-related story to fit your agenda. Dr. Landis’s claim that in her note she was taking such research is nothing but a cheap defense mechanism. The context, to me at least, was clear that she was not taking it seriously at all, but rather brought up compensation to support her conspiracy theory that viewing autism this way was for the purpose of these families winning lawsuits rather than helping their sick kids. So this resignation is not of someone “sympathetic to our cause,” quite the opposite, actually. This is not to say that I do not accept her apology however. I do, because she’s gone.

  3. Sullivan October 19, 2009 at 19:53 #

    Jake Crosby,

    Rather than contact Dr. Landis, you folks at AoA decided to launch an attack coincident with the IACC meeting.

    Is that spin?

    You guys may have played a part in getting her to resign.

    Is that spin?

    She stated in her email to David Kirby: “The other part of my note addressed the fact that it is important for autism researchers to study the children who have been most profoundly affected by their response to vaccines.”

    A statement like that from a government official, especially on on the IACC, would be MAJOR news on your blog. MAJOR.

    You guys are too busy displaying your trophy to see the damage you caused yourself.

    Don’t lecture me on spin.

  4. Sullivan October 19, 2009 at 19:55 #

    This is not to say that I do not accept her apology however. I do, because she’s gone.

    pretty much sums it up. All you guys want is to intimidate the IACC into doing what you want. The apology should stand on its own–whether she stayed or left.

    The people on the IACC are not your enemy. The data is your enemy.

  5. Jake Crosby October 19, 2009 at 20:11 #

    And this is not intimidation?

    And you say the data in Landis’s own note is our “enemy” because it shows AoA caused her resignation(we didn’t, it was her decision based on her own actions, AoA just brought it to her attention), because it shows we caused a sympathetic listener to resign(she wasn’t sympathetic, not by a long shot)? Well there’s some data right there on YouTube that you NDs proudly posted yourselves that shows you NDs resort to the same level of abuse and intimidation that you accuse me of. You should should think twice about vilifying your opponents for alleging that they take part in these tactics when you take pride in engaging in that very same level abuse.

  6. Sullivan October 19, 2009 at 20:30 #

    “And you say the data in Landis’s own note is our “enemy””

    No. I stated that the data is your enemy. There was no data in the note. The data–the data against the vaccine/autism hypothesis and the lack of data supporting it–that is your enemy.

    Perhaps you could suggest what part of that video is intimidation? Was it when Katie asked for autistic representation on the IACC? When she asked for autistics to be supported so they can live in the community rather than be housed in institutions?

    Nice attempt at diverting the conversation, though.

    Face it, you guys should have acted like adults and journalists and approached Dr. Landis before putting your piece out.

  7. Dedj October 19, 2009 at 21:27 #

    There is no evidence to suggest that any person at AoA attempted, by any method, at any time, to ‘bring it to the attention of Dr Landis’ that she had left potentially embarassing notes behind.

    Niether note is signed, so anyone who identified the notes either saw the notes being passed or has spent enough time being sufficiently close to Dr Landis to be able to identify her handwriting from sight.

    That means that someone in the chain of possession of the notes knew the notes belonged to her, and decided not to hand them in, something that is considered basic etiquette.

    To question why Redwood regards autism as a multi-system disorder (a legitimate, if poorly supported, viewpoint on aetiology imo) is not the same as questioning whether Redwood was using her floortime to push the idea in relation to vaccine injury.

    I’m not sure where Katie Miller ‘intimidated’ anyone in that video.

    On the other hand, publically identifying a person as the authour of a note; attributing offensive, derogatory and unprofessional ‘implied’ beliefs to the authour of that note which are in no way implied by that note, then requesting that the authour should resign, knowing full well that the response of the readership would be outrage towards the authour, certainly is aggresive and potentially intimidating behaviour.

    I fail to see how any reasonable person could see Katie Millar as ‘intimidating’ yet fail to see the that Dr Landis was forced into an untenable posistion over something she clearly did not say.

    Then I remember that I’m talking to Jake. The members of the IACC and other contributors are repeatedly slated as ‘frightening, ‘bankrupt’, ‘a sham’, and have their expertise and experiences totally dismissed, often from the same people that laud a semi-retired cardiologist as a current and relevant expert.

    Jake will provide:

    evidence of AoA or the ‘friendly forces’ attempt to contact Dr Landis before publication
    the timestamp of the ‘intimidation’ by Katie Millar.

    No other responses will be accepted.

  8. RAJ October 19, 2009 at 21:35 #

    You could have pasted the entire notes.

    Dr.Landis, rightfully or wrongly, insulted those at AOA. The insults didn’t end there either. She also mentioned the ‘fetal testesterone’ theory as being promoted as a link between autism and homosexuality by another autism conspiricy group:

    “There are advocacy groups claiming its more like homosexuality”

    Perhaps the reason the neurodiversity groups didn’t complain is because she also took a lefthanded swipe at neurodiversity:

    “This is like the controversy over cochlear implants”

    Cochlear implants in deaf children under one year of age has been shown to help normalize deaf children’s speech. In other words, a cure!

    There is a neurodiversity crowd in the deaf community that has vilified this surgical procedure as insulting to the deaf culture and community and they don’t want a cure and the destruction of their culture and the elimination of sign language.

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19225795.000-ear-implant-success-sparks-culture-war.html

    Whether anyone agrees with Dr. Landis opinions or not, she is certainly an equal opportunity insulter.

  9. bensmyson October 19, 2009 at 21:37 #

    The edit it out, I have no idea what it said any longer.

  10. Mildred October 19, 2009 at 21:56 #

    “All you guys want is to intimidate the IACC into doing what you want”. (Sullivan)

    In an article by Katie Wright,on the 30th September, over on the AoA site, it’s clear that, on that particular occasion, they hadn’t got what they wanted, and a portion of blame, was laid squarely on the shoulders of Dr Landis.

    http://www.ageofautism.com/2009/09/iacc-they-had-to-have-it-their-way.html#more

    Dr Bryan Jepson, an “author”, “published researcher” and “full time clinician at Thoughtful House” was nominated by Lyn Redwood and Lee Grossman for the “what is causing autism committee” but lost out to Dr Matt State and Dr Lars Perner. According to Ms Wright, Story Landis, the panel chair was a ” very poor choice” and she could have “seriously used the help of Bryan Jepson”.

  11. Joseph October 19, 2009 at 22:57 #

    David Kirby explains the hoopla as follows:

    To many parents, it seemed that Dr. Landis suspected Redwood of “pushing” the study of these multisystem problems merely to boost the number of autism cases filed in vaccine court (the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program), and to increase their chances for victory.

    But as well all know, Redwood’s only interest in that is the advancement of science 🙂

  12. bensmyson October 20, 2009 at 00:11 #

    “But as well all know, Redwood’s only interest in that is the advancement of science :)”

    What’s that supposed to mean? Is her participation on the committee a science one or that of a parent?

    • Sullivan October 20, 2009 at 04:04 #

      “What’s that supposed to mean? Is her participation on the committee a science one or that of a parent?”

      Both. She represents herself and SafeMinds–and, at least in my view–all of the autism-is-caused-by-vaccines groups.

      That said, the science she represents is junk.

  13. Lisa October 20, 2009 at 00:31 #

    Just curious: is there any legal issue with publishing someone’s private notes without permission? I mean, granted they shouldn’t have been dumped and left behind… Just wondering.

    Lisa

    • Sullivan October 20, 2009 at 04:03 #

      Lisa,

      no, there is nothing illegal about what was done. I don’t underestimate that Dr. Landis made a big mistake leaving those notes behind. I don’t think they can be considered “private” when you abandon them like that.

  14. Joseph October 20, 2009 at 01:41 #

    is there any legal issue with publishing someone’s private notes without permission?

    I don’t think there’s a legal issue with that, just like it’s not illegal to publish emails someone has sent privately.

    Whether it’s ethical is another matter.

  15. Vindaloo October 20, 2009 at 03:23 #

    Jake, thanks for the link, I hadn’t seen that before. Katie Miller’s great presentation was positive, precise, and on target. Awesome!

  16. ebohlman October 20, 2009 at 07:49 #

    Strictly speaking, they violated her copyright by publishing her notes; as long as they amounted to more than a word or short phrase and weren’t the only possible way to express a particular idea, they were her intellectual property and can’t legally be reproduced without her permission.

    In reality, though, it’s very close to, if not actually, de minimis infringement and it’s very unlikely that she’d be able to get any lawyer saner than Orly Taitz to take on her case. It is, however, a gross violation of journalistic ethics on AoA’s part, tending to confirm that there’s no serious journalism taking place there.

  17. David N. Brown October 20, 2009 at 08:15 #

    Speaking of journalism, I’ll take this opportunity to share my latest research into Olmsted:
    1. Almost all the persons interviewed for his Amish articles were involved with the anti-vaccine and/or alternative health communities.
    2. He appears to confuse or willfully conflate Mennonites with Amish.
    3. As far as I can determine, these articles were his FIRST attempt at solo investigative journalism in the national press. Prior to that time, his duties were mostly editorial.

  18. bensmyson October 20, 2009 at 11:26 #

    ebohlman

    You might want to read the law, first it was trash, intentionally left behind, second, she was working as a public official, she was at a meeting that was open to the public. The mere fact that she was passing notes is an ethical violation. Everything is public in a public meeting, even the notes.

  19. Joseph October 20, 2009 at 13:38 #

    Both. She represents herself and SafeMinds—and, at least in my view—all of the autism-is-caused-by-vaccines groups.

    SafeMinds is not just a “science” organization, btw. Check out this web page of theirs from 2002:

    If you believe that either yourself, or a loved one, has been injured by the thimerosal contained in vaccines, you are encouraged to contact Waters & Kraus so that the attorneys specializing in these types of actions can evaluate the potential of your case. You can reach the firm by telephone using the toll free number 1-866-NO-HGVAX (866-664-4829) or by clicking on the “Communicate” button to send an email.

    The “Communicate” URL has the following path: /safeminds/communicate.asp. The last archived copy can be found here. To spell it out: SafeMinds has or had a relationship with Waters & Kraus.

    • Sullivan October 20, 2009 at 16:08 #

      Joseph,

      “SafeMinds is not just a “science” organization, btw. ”

      I appreciate the quotes around “science”. While they represent themselves as partially a science organization, their cornerstone is an article in the pseudo-journal “Medical Hypotheses”. “Autism, A Novel Form of Mercury Poisoning.” Not very good science credntials.

  20. Leila October 20, 2009 at 20:49 #

    Sounds like they’re trying to get Tom Insel to resign now. Demon du jour… Something about refusing to ride with an autism family in the elevator. AoA is becoming so US Weekly…

  21. Anne October 20, 2009 at 22:43 #

    Jake, I suggest that you take a look at the materials from last month’s sessions of the IACC Workshop Panel III, which was working on the question of researching autism causation and was co-chaired by Dr. Landis and Lee Grossman from ASA. They had sessions on September 16 and September 23, 2009. The materials from those sessions are available here and here. You’ll see that Dr. Landis was recommending a vaccinated/unvaccinated study and was in the process of assembling research that collected vaccine data. I don’t follow AoA too closely, but from your reaction, it doesn’t appear that AoA was following the IACC activities closely enough that you’d know what Dr. Landis was actually doing. If they had, there probably would have been a big headline saying “NINDS REPRESENTATIVE BACKS VAXED/UNVAXED STUDY AND WANTS RESEARCH INTO VACCINES AS A CAUSE OF AUTISM” or something.

  22. Sullivan October 20, 2009 at 23:04 #

    Anne,

    Thank you very much for your comment. I wish I had caught that!

    Here is another link on that:

    Click to access sw_p3c2_20090924_call_summary.pdf

  23. Dedj October 20, 2009 at 23:21 #

    “You might want to read the law, first it was trash, intentionally left behind,”

    First, we don’t know this. Second, if true, it means that the ‘friendly forces’ removed public material from the meeting, thereby preventing it from being available through the usual public channels.

    “second, she was working as a public official, she was at a meeting that was open to the public. The mere fact that she was passing notes is an ethical violation. Everything is public in a public meeting, even the notes.”

    Firstly, there is a huge exclusion list in the Code that these public meetings must adhere to, as refered to on the IACC website.

    Secondly, in order to apply the Code, one would have to show that the notes concerned agency business, not personal thoughts.

    ebohlman is understating the case. This could be not just a copyright issue, but theft of public property by the ‘friendly forces’ not to mention a huge breach of trust.

  24. Dedj October 20, 2009 at 23:27 #

    As an aside, I’m amazed at some of the remarks that have been directed at the IACC during some of the meetings by some of the members, and the ease with which these appear to have been delivered. The IACC members must have nerves of steel to willfully remain whilst someone stands there making snide insinuations about them.

    I’ll leave you to guess which members are the ones that do this.

  25. bensmyson October 21, 2009 at 03:42 #

    “This could be not just a copyright issue, but theft of public property by the ‘friendly forces’ not to mention a huge breach of trust.”

    It also could be marmalade but it’s not now is it?

    “Secondly, in order to apply the Code, one would have to show that the notes concerned agency business, not personal thoughts.”

    In the US an ethical violation can be solely the appearance of impropriety.

    • Sullivan October 21, 2009 at 05:19 #

      Bensmyson–

      I don’t really care if the notes were taken legally or not. It is a big breach of trust, as already noted in this thread. It goes directly to the tactics of intimidation being brought to bear by the Age of Autism blog and the organizations it represents.

      I am sick of it. They play “bogey-man” politics where anyone who isn’t 100% for them is the enemy. Anyone remotely associated with an “enemy” is also under attack.

      Well, this time they screwed up. This is a “friendly fire” incident. In their zeal to take down anyone on the IACC, the Age of Autism blogger made someone resign who was in no way their enemy. The AoA blogger didn’t do her homework–she wasn’t paying attention to the happenings on the most critical subcommittee of the IACC for her cause.

      If this didn’t cost all of us it might actually be funny. I wish I could laugh. Instead, I think of the good researchers who refuse to work on autism projects. I think of good people who refuse to work on the IACC or have been pushed out. I think of the fact that critically important resources on the IACC are spent fighting off intimidation tactics by the very people who pretend to be advocating for my kid.

      I’m sick of it.

  26. bensmyson October 21, 2009 at 11:53 #

    And Im sick a committee member of speculating on the motives of an autism mother and IACC member, Lyn Redwood – who wanted research into autism as a multisystem biological disorder, as opposed to a purely mental health disorder.

    Im sick of Dr. Thomas Insel.

    Im sick of other powerful people who have the ability to work for us and seem to ignore our pleas, people such as Obama who said he “bowls like someone from the Special Olympics,” and people like Dr, Francis Collins, head of the NIH called autism a “disease” (as opposed to a disorder) that “ravages” children with autism. Since when has autism been diagnosed as a disease? Did I miss the memo on that?

    Please tell me this is the best there is, given all the people in this world, these are the people you would pick to head your efforts to help fight autism.

  27. Dedj October 21, 2009 at 16:39 #

    “It also could be marmalade but it’s not now is it?”

    Irrelevant. Please stick to the content of the comments you are addressing.

    “In the US an ethical violation can be solely the appearance of impropriety.”

    And in the UK too (suprisingly, we also have professions and professionals)

    This in no way ansered any points raised.

    “and people like Dr, Francis Collins, head of the NIH called autism a “disease” (as opposed to a disorder) that “ravages” children with autism”

    Indeed, it was a most insensitive choice of words. It would also not have looked out of place coming from the mouths of many on the vaxx-skeptic side. There are reports of autism being termed a disease by entire contigents of parents of children with autism.

    This is, of course, irrelevant to the thread content.

    • Sullivan October 21, 2009 at 16:49 #

      Indeed, it was a most insensitive choice of words. It would also not have looked out of place coming from the mouths of many on the vaxx-skeptic side. There are reports of autism being termed a disease by entire contigents of parents of children with autism.

      My guess is that bensmyson misread the intent of Mr. Kirby’s blog post on this.

      Kirby is stating that the head of the NIH agrees with the prevailing thought at the Age of Autism blog that autism is a “disease” that “ravages” children with autism.

  28. daedalus2u October 22, 2009 at 23:19 #

    What about the idea that it was just a private note to herself to help her remember an idea she had so she could think about it later? That is the usual reason that people take notes in meetings. Writing something down so it can be thought about later. If that was the first time Dr Landis had that idea, then she is pretty naive. But apparrently the note “hit a nerve”, so there is likely more than a grain of truth to it. What is wrong with trying to understand someone’s motivation? Why can AoA speculate about the motivation of researchers and call them “pharma shills” with no evidence what-so-ever and when there is speculation on the motives of those at AoA it is “off with their heads”?

    What this episode shows is that the folks over at AoA are not interested in science, or research, civil debate or even services for people with autism. What they are interested in is power. Cross them, and they will seek to destroy you. Raw power, the power to sic their minions on you and make your life hell with threats and intimidation. Not a surprise that people don’t want to play that game.

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