Reading Age of Autism Part 6 – everything old is new again

21 Oct

If I had to take a guess I’d say Part I of Age of Autism was written primarily by Dan Olmsted and (so far) Part II is written primarily by Mark Blaxill. Why? Well, Part I is well written bullshit with a decent narrative flow and is full of new (if wrong) ideas. Part II has so far regurgitated the Amish and Somali episodes and I’m in the middle right now of a really dragging account of how Andrew Wakefield got into the game during which I have actually groaned aloud twice and had to put down a few times and watch something more intelligent on TV – something like When Stunts Go Bad for example. A decent writer Mark Blaxill is not.

Part II is also very much more heavy on the out-and-out anti-vaccination rhetoric and if I want to give a dispassionate, honest review I’d have to say that the differences between Part’s I & II are more than glaringly obvious – they’re more obvious than a fluorescent painted whore in a Kansas Church. Its a shame really as I have a penchant for well put together bullshit and Part I was exactly that. Part II is badly constructed bullshit. Imagine a shanty town constructed next to St. Paul’s Cathedral and thats what Parts I & II of Age of Autism stand together like.

So everything old is new again, its like taking a trip back in time as we see Simon Murch et al get introduced and the concept of Crohn’s Disease being marketed as vaccine caused being touted around as a viable hypothesis (I’m not up to the MMR/autism thing yet).

Now don’t get me wrong I’ve nothing against a trip down memory lane but all the hallmarks of a bad writer and worse editing are here aplenty and its really not much fun reading about how Simon Murch is the leading etc etc. I’m sure he is – in fact I _know_ he is but I can’t help but imagine the uninvested reader would find this focussing on frankly dull fact as exactly that – dull.

So basically same old same old so far. I’m moving house soon and won’t have web access for a week (eek!) but I’ll be reading and note taking don’t you worry. To be continued.

21 Responses to “Reading Age of Autism Part 6 – everything old is new again”

  1. John Fryer Chemist October 21, 2010 at 17:42 #

    everything old is new again

    looking at the verstraeten episode from his results he manages to find 67 autism people in the USA from 1991 to 1997.

    So is this 67 the extent of autism in USA?

  2. ANB October 21, 2010 at 18:16 #

    That was a typo. Verstaeten was looking for “artism”, which is defined as an persistent preoccupation with Andy Warhol.

  3. Chris October 21, 2010 at 18:25 #

    Mr. Fryer, you seem to be making stuff up again. Which is why we ignore you.

  4. Sullivan October 21, 2010 at 18:51 #


    Your fluorescent comment may itself stand out in this post. That said, if you find the writing in “The Age of Autism” to be painful, try reading “Callous Disregard”. You can download the introduction for free. There is a semi-fictionalized story in that intro that is an example of truly bad writing.

    As to “The Age of Autism”, I was pleasantly surprised by the sections I have read in that they do not suffer from the extreme verbosity that the Olmsted/Blaxill posts at the AoA blog often suffer from.

  5. Prometheus October 21, 2010 at 19:46 #

    “John Fryer Chemist” (is “Chemist” a job title or is it actually his family name?) states:

    “looking at the verstraeten episode from his results he manages to find 67 autism people in the USA from 1991 to 1997. So is this 67 the extent of autism in USA?”

    Leaving aside the ambiguity of the pronouns in “his results” and “he manages” (and the fact that this seemingly random comment has no discernible connection to the post), Mr. Fryer (or is it Mr. Chemist?) seems unaware that prevalence – even autism prevalence – requires a denominator.

    Perhaps Mr. Fryer will expand on his rather cryptic comment when he is not so affected by his medication (or, if we’re lucky, he will simply retire in embarassment). As it stands, it only serves to further point out his lamentable reasoning skills.

    Kev, thanks for “taking one for the team” – I have read part of “Age of Autism” and I found even the writing of part 1 to be overwrought and histrionic. When I reached part 2, I felt like I was reading a freshman composition – a bad freshman composition that got a failing grade. The prose was dense and thudding, like a poorly written quarterly earnings report (not surprising, considering the source). If it hadn’t been a borrowed book (loaned to me by a well-meaning but clueless acquaintance), I would have hurled it across the room (into the fireplace, perhaps?) out of frustration.

    Having read some of the “reviews” on Amazon, I can only conclude that the positive ones were from people who hadn’t read the book.

    BTW, if you’re interested in some more “deathless prose” (in the sense of “prose that will leave you longing for the release of death”), read Andy Wakefield’s “Callous Disregard”. I’d advise him to “keep the day job”, but he’s already lost it.


  6. Dawn October 22, 2010 at 12:53 #

    @Prometheus: Mr Fryer is so impressed with his title of “Chemist” that he has to put it with all his posts.

    I am greatly impressed with those of you who can read “Callous Disregard” or “Age of Autism”….I have a lot of trouble coping with books that spout nonsense unless I’m reading to an infant.

  7. Prometheus October 22, 2010 at 21:29 #


    I read Dr. Seuss to my kids so often that I can recite some of the books from memory even today (my youngest is a teenager). Compared to “Callous Disregard”, “Green Eggs and Ham” is a doctoral thesis. Andy Wakefield has several sentences that are serious contenders for the Bulwer-Lytton Award. On several occasions, I had to actually diagram sentences in his book in order to decipher their meaning.

    As for “Age of Autism”, I couldn’t finish it because I kept alternating between outrage at outright factual errors (a less optimistic person might call them “lies”) and a near-comatose state (I actually lost my corneal reflex at one point) from the wooden writing style. I hope that Kev hasn’t shortened his lifespan by reading this hard-cover compost pile.


  8. Orange Lantern October 23, 2010 at 02:39 #

    I’m slogging through Callous right now. This paragraph in the intro pretty much sums it up:

    “What follows is dry, factual, and unbecoming prose. There is not the luxury for anything more in the teeth of the storm. it might have been the log of a doomed captain written in the cabin of a war-torn frigate, tacking on shredded sails, running form another – perhaps final – broadside. But it is not; it was written from the bridge, the helm secure, the wind at our backs, and the sails full a sthe aggressor slips back below an uncertian horizon. The day will belong to Reason.”


    “Dry, factual, and unbecoming.” Huh. Well, he got two out of three right.

  9. Barbara October 23, 2010 at 12:04 #

    OH MY GAWD!!! That prose is so purple that it’s aubergine!

  10. ANB October 23, 2010 at 16:26 #

    It almost begs for a “Write Like Andrew Wakefield” contest.

  11. Barbara November 30, 2010 at 16:10 #

    Yesterday, the AoA ran an editorial on the book, in which they mentioned Case 7, ‘John T’. I posted to correct them that ‘John T’ was not case 7, nor was he in the first 11 students. Instead, he appears in another paper, ‘Notes on the Follow-up Studies’by Kanner and Eisenberg, in 1955. Case 7 in the original 11 was Herbert B. All I said was to offer this information and to add that as a journalist myself and an academic, it’s always best when you want to make a point, to get total accuracy in regard to the FACTS. The post was moderated out.

    It made me for a fleeting moment, want to access the book so as to find what other misinformation they’d been peddling as to Kanner’s studies. But then I thought, ‘Nah! when you deal in such a hugely misinformed agenda, why should what Kanner said actually make any difference to the overall ignorance?’

    I just can’t understand why no one else picked that blunder up. Oh yes I can! No one else besides the ignorant and the brainwashed will have read the book. And they won’t have read Kanner. Simples.

    • Sullivan November 30, 2010 at 19:05 #


      according to Mark Blaxill and Dan Olmsted, Herbert B. and John Trevett were the same person.

      “We were able to identify seven of the 11 children described in Johns Hopkins psychiatrist Leo Kanner’s landmark 1943 report (John Trevett, disguised as “Herbert B., was Case 7 in this series);”

  12. Prometheus November 30, 2010 at 22:14 #

    OK, now I’m really confused. Why would Leo Kanner “disguise” a patient’s name when he didn’t give the last (family) name? Wouldn’t “John T.” have been just as untraceable as “Herbert B.”?

    I’ll admit to being too lazy to check this, but did Olmsted claim that any of the other seven “Kanner patients” he tracked down had their names “disguised” in the original paper? If so, what reassurance do we have that Olmsted didn’t just randomly pick someone of the right age who had a history of “autism”? After all, this was the same “reporter” who could find only one autistic Amish person despite being less than an hour’s drive from The Clinic for Special Children.

    It’s beginning to appear that Age of Autism has equal amounts of fact and curry recipes.


  13. Brian Deer November 30, 2010 at 22:28 #

    John Trevett disguised as Herbert B?

    Hilarious. I love these people.

  14. ANB November 30, 2010 at 22:48 #

    I thought Sullivan was John Trevett.

  15. Barbara December 1, 2010 at 00:29 #

    John T? Not Bonnie O?

    If John T was Herbert B, why would Kanner and Eisenberg decide to change his name without telling us? These researchers were pretty kosher. Yet, you know what, B&O may be right. Hands up. It could be a good call. John T and Herbert B have very similar case notes and backgrounds and undescended testicles and vomiting for the first 3 months. The guy (Herbert B) ended up remaining mute and on a farm which had been converted to a residential home for the elderly.

    That’s interesting. So why didn’t Lee O’Connor and Eisenberg, or B&O tell us clearly what was what and why?

  16. Barbara December 1, 2010 at 16:09 #

    Another interesting point is that it’s only in a small study within a study, writing briefly about 19 children who were mute or had very limited speech, that John T is mentioned in 1955, with a similar but shortened profile to that of Herbert B. Yet in 1972, when Kanner did the final follow-up, John T has become Herbert B again. It seems to me that Eisenberg wrote the couple of pages on mutism, and this may be the problem, that he used the child’s real name, as Kanner generally did. But I can’t work out why Kanner changed the name to Herbert B, except that there was another ‘John’ as case 10. All a bit confusing.

    Anyway, should we tell B&O that Hans Asperger was using the word ‘autism’ and lecturing on it in 1938? I wonder what the vaccination program and mercury overload was like in Austria?

  17. Joseph December 1, 2010 at 17:24 #

    Kanner saw 96 or so autistic children (or at least that’s how many were diagnosed at The John Hopkins Hospital prior to 1956.) I see no reason why they would’ve changed the name, which is reasonably anonymized, like it was for all the other children.

    Here’s a description of Herbert B’s father:

    The father, a psychiatrist, was described as “unusually intelligent, sensitive, restless, serious-minded, not interested in people, mostly living within himself.”

    I bet, according to Olmsted, some sort of mercury exposure is what made the dad that way.

    Herbert, BTW, didn’t have anything near the horrible outcome that the 4 children who were institutionalized young had.

  18. Barbara December 1, 2010 at 18:36 #

    Herbert actually had a good outcome, I think, and a happy life on the farm, so I added him to Kanner’s list of ’emergers’ both in my PhD and in the book I’m writing now. Incidentally Kanner’s 96 had a better percentage outcome than any RCT on ABA (yeah, trick analysis, as there was only one true RCT on ABA (Smith Groen and Wynn, 2001)

    Olmsted’s position on Herbert/John is that it was mum’s fault. Mum was a paediatrician, and B&O say that she must have given her son vaccines!

    Ah well.

  19. Barbara December 1, 2010 at 18:39 #

    My favourite Kanner quote:

    They made the compromise of being, yet not appearing, alone and discovered means of interaction by joining groups in which they could make use of their preoccupations, previously inured in self-limited stereotypies, as shared ‘hobbies’ in the company of others. In the club to which they ‘belonged’, they received – and enjoyed – the recognition earned by detailed knowledge they had stored up in years of obsessive rumination of specific topics….Life among people thus lost its former menacing aspects. Nobody had shoved them forcibly through a gate which others had tried to unlock for them; it was they who, at first timidly and experimentally, then more resolutely, paved their way to it and walked through. (Kanner, 1973: 211)


  1. Tweets that mention Autism Blog - Reading Age of Autism Part 6 – everything old is new again « Left Brain/Right Brain -- - October 21, 2010

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