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Book Review: Do you believe in magic? The science and nonsense of alternative medicine.

26 Jun

The name Paul Offit is fairly well known in the autism communities. He has spent considerable time countering the false idea that the rise in autism diagnoses seen in the past is due to an epidemic of vaccine injury. He spends most of his time as Chief of Infectious Diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He is co-inventor of a vaccine which protects infants against rotavirus. Dr. Offit has written a number of books including one on autism: Autism’s False Prophets and one on the anti vaccine movements, which includes large sections on autism: Deadly Choices, How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All. And now he has a new book on alternative medicine: Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine.


There are two phrases which come to my mind when I hear about alternative medicine. First is a question: what do you call alternative medicine that works? Answer: medicine. The second phrase is more dark: medical fraud is a multi billion dollar business, and the bad guys know about autism.

Alternative medicine is big. Big as in a large fraction of the populations partakes in alt med in one form or another. Big as in it is big business. And, in terms of the subject of this site, big as in alt med is strongly promoted to and popular with the autism communities. Particularly the autism parent community.

As with other books by Dr. Offit, Do You Believe in Magic gives both sides of the various stories presented. He usually starts by giving the pro side, in this case the pro side of alternative medicine. For example, he presents the success stories of various alt-med practioners like chelationist Rashid Buttar and faux cancer therapist Stanislaw Burzynski. If you know the background behind a given story (say, Buttar) it can be quite jarring. You know that the claims aren’t true but you read Dr. Offit presenting them like they are. But when you get to the rebuttal it makes it very powerful.

The media has focused largely on the topic of vitamins–which does get a lot of play in the book. Dr. Offit points out how they supplement industry got a major boost from legislation which removed oversight on the industry. He also points out examples of how the claims for many supplements are either false (they don’t work) or worse (people on supplements live shorter lives than those with the same conditions who do not take supplements). As this is an autism focused site, I’ll point out the two chapters which focus on autism. The chapters largely center around various personalities and for autism the chapter focuses on Jenny McCarthy–the “pied piper of autism”. The chapter goes into detail–as in three page–listing the various theories of what causes autism (heavy metals, vaccines, misaligned spines, etc.) and the various therapies which are purported cures. Three pages. It’s amazing to see it laid out like that–showing that the alt-med community doesn’t have a real idea of what causes autism. Instead, they have dozens of ideas, sometimes contradictory, sometimes disproved, sometimes just without scientific merit. The second chapter with an autism focus is that on Rashid Buttar. He is a chelationist who includes autism as one of the many conditions he “treats”. He also came to fame recently as the doctor (recommended by Jenny McCarthy) chosen to treat Desiree Jennings, whose story of faux vaccine injury became a YouTube phenomenon.

In case you don’t recall him, here is Rashid Buttar’s IV chelation suite for children, complete with Disney characters painted on the walls.


Yes, there is room for 10 kids to receive IV chelation at the same time. Which is a small example of how this is big business. Dr. Offit makes the point even more clearly, with Dr. Buttar as one example. Many millions of dollars have been spent by patients on Dr. Buttar’s concoctions–some of which have been clearly shown to do nothing. Some people are getting very rich in the alt-med business. Very rich. Rashid Buttar is one. Stanislaw Burzynski is another. His cancer therapies are amazingly expensive, make no sense and are a grand example of selling false hope.

Bookstores are filled with books on alternative medicine. There are very few books which take a critical look at this industry. Do You Believe in Magic is a welcome addition. Unfortunately, it will likely never sell as well as false hope.

I recently had the opportunity to meet Dr. Offit. One question I posed to him was simply, why does he stay at a teaching hospital? Given his successes, he could do pretty much anything he wants. His answer boiled down to simply–he is doing what he wants. He has the freedom to say what he wants. On more than one occasion this has led to frivolous lawsuits, and even those haven’t shut him up. In his latest book he takes on faux medicine, practitioners who are making huge profits from it and the leglistors who facilitated the industry. One could ponder who will sue him first except that facts are laid out so clearly as to make it difficult for anyone to do so.

By Matt Carey

BMJ, Brian Deer file anti-SLAPP motion against Andrew Wakefield

11 Mar

About 2 months ago Andrew Wakefield filed a defamation lawsuit against the British Medical Journal, Brian Deer and Fiona Godlee for the series of three articles “The Secrets of the MMR Scare” and public comments made since. In particular, Mr. Wakefield took issue with statements about his research being fraudulent (and variations on that term like “fraudster”, “bullshit” etc.). Mr. Wakefield claimed that the facts presented by the BMJ articles were incorrect and based on information not available to him at the time he wrote his Lancet article.

Mr. Wakefield chose to file his defamation suit in Texas (his home state). This presented him immediately with two hurdles. First he has to show that the court has jurisdiction over primarily UK entities. Second he faced the possibility of an anti-SLAPP motion. SLAPP stands for “Strategic lawsuit against public participation“. Per Wikipedia:

A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.

The typical SLAPP plaintiff does not normally expect to win the lawsuit. The plaintiff’s goals are accomplished if the defendant succumbs to fear, intimidation, mounting legal costs or simple exhaustion and abandons the criticism. A SLAPP may also intimidate others from participating in the debate. A SLAPP is often preceded by a legal threat. The difficulty, of course, is that plaintiffs do not present themselves to the Court admitting that their intent is to censor, intimidate or silence their critics. Hence, the difficulty in drafting SLAPP legislation, and in applying it, is to craft an approach which affords an early termination to invalid abusive suits, without denying a legitimate day in court to valid good faith claims.

Many states in the U.S. have enacted anti-SLAPP legislation. Texas enacted a law fairly recently and this motion could be the first major test of that law. I say “could” because of the first hurdle: jurisdiction. As Popehat has already noted, the plaintiffs in the anti-SLAPP motion “specially appear”. I.e. they keep the right to fight on jurisdictional grounds.

The motion and Mr. Deer’s supporting declaration can be found on Mr. Deer’s website. Mr. Deer’s declaration goes through the full history of his involvement with Mr. Wakefield’s research.

As Popehat notes, the motion appears quite strong. As is the case with legal motions, it covers multiple arguments. For example, they not only argue that the statements on their own are permissible speech, but they argue that the statements themselves are accurate.

Here is a section of the table-of-contents for the motion:



A. Dr. Wakefield Must Prove that Defendants’ Statements Are Not Substantially True.
B. Dr. Wakefield Is Precluded from Re-litigating the GMC’s Findings, Which Establish the Substantial Truth of the Challenged Statements.
C. The Undisputed Evidence Also Establishes the Substantial Truth of the Challenged Statements.

1. Dr. Wakefield’s Misreporting and Falsification Permeated His Research.

2. Dr. Wakefield’s Undisclosed Conflicts of Interest.
3. Dr. Wakefield’s Review of the GP Records

A. Several of Defendants’ Statements, Including that Dr. Wakefield’s Research Must Have Been “Fraud,” Are Nonactionable Expressions of Opinion.
B. Defendants’ Expressions of Rhetorical Hyperbole and Colorful Language Are Not Actionable.

A. Dr. Wakefield Is a Public Figure.
1. The “MMR Scare” Is a Public Controversy.
2. Dr. Wakefield Had More than a Trivial or Tangential Role in the
3. Dr. Wakefield’s Claims Are Germane to His Participation in the
B. Defendants Did Not Act with Actual Malice.

1. Actual Malice Is an Exceedingly Difficult Standard to Satisfy.
2. The Evidence Here Precludes a Finding of Actual Malice.

Mr. Wakefield faces a number of burdens to overcome this motion. He must show that the statements made were more damaging that the truth. He must show that the statements are false–not just minor wording differences but that the “gist” of the truth is missing from the statements made. He must show that either he is not a public figure (very difficult for a doctor who has had a publicist for at least 10 years and has certainly put himself into the public sphere). He must show that Brian Deer, Fiona Godlee and the BMJ acted with actual malice.

He must present substantive evidence for each of these before he can go to trial. If he fails, he faces not only payment of reasonable legal fees and costs, but also the possibility of a penalty to deter future frivolous lawsuits. In that regard, the motion puts forth the history of Mr. Wakefield’s previous legal threats and lawsuits.

The most famous instance of Mr. Wakefield’s litigious history is his lawsuit against Brian Deer in 2004. Justice Eady made very clear statements on that:

[Dr. Wakefield] wished to use the existence of libel proceedings for public relations purposes, and to deter critics, while at the same time isolating himself from the ‘downside’ of such litigation, in having to answer a substantial defence of justification.

To put this in perspective–such a statement by the judge in Texas would almost certainly be followed by not only a dismissal of the case, but a financial judgement in favor of Mr. Deer, Ms. Godlee and the BMJ.

The motion makes it clear that Mr. Wakefield has faced negative commentary on his work and his character from many quarters in the past few years. From their introduction:

Two months ago, Dr. Andrew Wakefield was named by Time magazine as one of the “Great Science Frauds” of modern history. Last April, the New York Times described him as “one of the most reviled doctors of his generation.” In 2009, a Special Master presiding over vaccine litigation in the United States Court of Federal Claims recognized that Wakefield’s 1998 paper in The Lancet medical journal, which suggested a possible link between the lifesaving Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (“MMR”) vaccine and the development of autism in children, was considered a “scientific fraud.”

The Lancet has now fully retracted Wakefield’s paper, and its editor has state publicly that the paper was “utterly false” and that Wakefield “deceived the journal.” Wakefield’s home country’s medical board, the United Kingdom’s General Medical Council (“GMC”), convicted him in 2010 of multiple charges of “serious professional misconduct,” including “dishonesty” and “unethical conduct.” It further held that his misconduct had been so severe and extensive that the only punishment that would adequately protect the public from him was the permanent revocation of his medical license. As the New York Daily News put it, “Hippocrates would puke.”

As to specific instances of calling Mr. Wakefield’s work fraudulent, they quote multiple instances of the term being used. As noted above, one of the Special Masters in the Omnibus Autism Proceeding (vaccine court) called the work “scientific fraud”. Probably the most damaging instance for Mr. Wakefield are quotes from his own attorney in the General Medical Council (GMC) hearings who stated that some of the charges, if found proved, would amount to charges of fraud. Those charges were found proved.

There is definitely a movement amongst Mr. Wakefield’s supporters to recast his defamation suit as a retrial of not only his Fitness to Practice hearing before the GMC, but as a legal test of the validity of his MMR/autism hypothesis. Even just within the past couple of days Jenny McCarthy re-emerged in her role as a vocal Wakefield supporter with this (and other) erroneous arguments.

Courts are well aware of attempts for people to use defamation cases as a proxy for fighting other arguments. For example, readers might recall a recent defamation case where Barbara Loe Fisher (of the self-named National Vaccine Information Center) sued Dr. Paul Offit, writer Amy Wallace and Conde Nast publications for two words in an article: “she lies”. In the decision dismissing the defamation suit the judge noted:

Not only does Plaintiff’s claim of the statement’s falsity invite an open ended inquiry into Plaintiff’s veracity, it also threatens to ensnare the Court in the thorny and extremely contentious debate over the perceived risks of certain vaccines….and, at the bottom, which side has the truth on its side. This is hardly the sort of issue which would be subject to verification based on a core of “objective evidence”


Courts have a justifiable reticence about venturing into a thicket of scientific debate, especially in the defamation context

However, one must note that Mr. Wakefield’s defamation suit does *not* involve the issues of his research conclusions/findings (or non-findings as they have been retracted from the public sphere). The question put forth by Mr. Wakefield was whether statements such as “fraud”, “fraudster”, “determined cheat” are actionable defamation and whether these are based on allegedly misrepresented details from the research–such as diagnoses of the children and when symptoms appeared. Mr. Deer shows in his declaration that the facts presented in the BMJ studies are accurate.

On the “weight of evidence” front, consider this: Mr. Wakefield submitted a 17 page defamation claim. The defendants have responded with a 53 page anti-SLAPP motion and 5 declarations. The declarations include one from Mr. Deer with 101 pages and 104 exhibits. Where Mr. Wakefield is using a neighbor as his attorney, one who is not a specialist in health, media or defamation cases, the BMJ team are using a top Texas law firm and a total of seven attorneys. The lead attorney is listed as having experience with healthcare and publishers:

Tom has a wide range of experience in state and federal appeals and trials. His experience includes commercial, intellectual property, and healthcare litigation, and class actions. He has represented publishers and broadcasters in all aspects of media litigation throughout his career.

the second attorney listed has direct experience on defamation:

Marc’s practice focuses on media and privacy law, class actions, and general commercial litigation. His media law experience includes representing publishers in litigation involving claims for defamation, invasion of privacy, misappropriation, copyright, and related causes of action. In addition, he has defended companies in consumer class actions across the country relating to advertising and digital privacy. He regularly provides advice regarding website terms of service, arbitration agreements, and privacy law.

According to the BMJ’s motion, ” To avoid dismissal, the plaintiff [Mr. Wakefield] must submit “clear and specific evidence” to support each essential element of his claims.”

I suspect that Mr. Wakefield will have a meeting with his attorney very soon to discuss strategy. They are outclassed on the facts of the case, on the manpower and expertise of the attorneys and the credibility of the witnesses. They will discuss “each essential element of his claims” and how they stack up against the evidence presented. One might suspect that Mr. Wakefield’s attorney was unaware of how shaky their position was at the start, getting his facts from Mr. Wakefield. They now know, through hundreds of pages of arguments and evidence, how the defense can answer the “essential claims”.

If they can dismiss before the jurisdiction question is addressed and avoid the anti-SLAPP motion, they might be well advised to do so. The “reasonable costs” the BMJ are incurring are sure to be sizable. And the litigious history of Mr. Wakefield will surely play into a determination of whether to impose penalties on top of those.

From where I sit, Mr. Wakefield just doesn’t have the facts on his side. Nor does he have the law on his side. The jurisdiction question may be a blessing in disguise for Mr. Wakefield: giving him the opportunity to bow out before the anti-SLAPP motion goes into effect.

ASF Founding Board Member Dr. Paul Offit Elected to the Institute of Medicine

19 Oct

Dr. Paul Offit, founding board member of the Autism Science Foundation, has been elected to the Institute of Medicine.

From the Autism Science Foundation Blog:

Autism Science Foundation Founding Board Member Dr. Paul Offit has been elected to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) at the Academy of Natural Sciences. For three decades, Dr. Offit has been a leading researcher in the fields of virology and immunology, and a well-respected and outspoken voice on the science, safety and value of childhood vaccinations. He is also one of the most public faces of the scientific consensus that vaccines have no association with autism.

The IOM is part of the National Academies:

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) is an independent, nonprofit organization that works outside of government to provide unbiased and authoritative advice to decision makers and the public.

Established in 1970, the IOM is the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, which was chartered under President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Nearly 150 years later, the National Academy of Sciences has expanded into what is collectively known as the National Academies, which comprises the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the National Research Council, and the IOM.

Also elected this year is autism researcher Dr. Daniel Geshwind:

Daniel H. Geschwind, M.D., Ph.D., Gordon and Virginia MacDonald Distinguished Professor, departments of neurology, psychiatry, and human genetics, and director, program in neurogenetics and Center for Autism Research and Treatment, Semel Institute, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, a tempest in a teapot

28 May

A month or so back, I stepped forward to state that I, Matt Carey, have been posting as Sullivan here on Left Brain/Right Brain. Mr. J.B. Handley of the Age of Autism blog and Generation Rescue had made a commitment to transfer the domain and to stop commenting on Dr. Offit should it be demonstrated that Sullivan was not Bonnie Offit, wife of Paul Offit.

The domain was not transferred until yesterday. In the time that has transpired, tempers have raised. The last comment in the string below should be taken as a sign of the frustration level and not as an opening for critique, in my opinion. I considered leaving it out for that reason.

I generally do not like to post emails. However, as Mr. Handley has already posted some of these exchanges, I feel that it is appropriate to post the full exchange at this time. Here are the emails which I have found in my inbox. If any are missing, I feel sure that will be brought to my attention and I will add them. I do not have access to the emails or other communications between Mr. Handley or his agent and the domain registration company I can’t tell if the request to email Dr. Offit was made or not. I can’t tell if bungled the communication. I just don’t have that data.

At one place on the web (at least) I commented that Mr. Handley emailed me first. That he did not do. He made the offer to complete the deal on his blog.

April 29:

Matt:I’ll take care of it early next week, thanks for the guidance.

On a separate note, I wanted to ask you to submit to an interview via email for publication at AoA. I will generate the questions, you answer them, and I publish them in totality without editorializing. The topics will exclusively cover the science of autism, known and unknown, and include prevalence, vaccines, and medical issues.

My reason for asking is that you are really the first well-educated parent (although Harvey Mudd is no Stanford 🙂 I have encountered on the other side of this topic who doesn’t seem to be a nut job (Kevin Leitch, Autism Diva, etc.).

I honestly do not understand how you have looked at the same published research I have looked at and concluded that vaccines have been exonerated from causing a majority of today’s autism. I really, truly do believe that the large-scale epidemiological studies that are constantly cited as “proof” are garbage, have yet to ask the right questions, and are typically managed to produce a previously determined outcome. I believe Allison ISnger and Paul Offit consistently and knowingly misrepresent what has been studied in public statements, and it really drives me nuts.

As a Ph.D. scientist, I think your answers will be thought-provoking. I’d like to ask you pointed questions and let you answer them. Your writing has shown me you aren’t a spin doctor and will answer things like a scientist, not a partisan. Despite my delight in provoking people I consider to be idiots (Orac), I actually do enjoy debating this issue, because my only genuine interest in all this is helping my son. If it really wasn’t the antibiotics and vaccines that got him, I’m wasting a hell of a lot of time and money treating the wrong things.

My request for the interview has nothing to do with Offit’s website, so no conditions here, I just hope you’ll consider the interview for its own sake. There are a lot of extremely smart parents on our side of the table, and I’d like to see the different reactions a thorough and measured interview with an “opposition figure” brings.

Ball is in your court,

JB Handley

On Apr 29, 2011, at 2:36 PM, Matt Carey wrote:Mr. Handley,

A few people have forwarded your piece to me today. I appreciate what you have said and I have offered a public apology on LeftBrainRightBrain for questioning your integrity in honoring your commitments.

As far as the domain, you can transfer that directly to the Offits. I believe you have his contact information. If not, it can be found on his website:

Matt Carey

May 2nd:

Are you going to take 5 months to respond again?JB Handley

May 5th:

Just an fyi that was unlocked and an email sent to Dr. Offit making it available to him was sent Tuesday afternoon this week. Case closed. The offer stands for an interview to be posted at AoA, thanks, JBJB Handley

May 13th: I added this comment to the blog post:

He replied that he would “take care of it early next week”That was April 29th. He never contacted Dr. Offit, and the site has been merely redesigned.

The apology was premature.

May 13th:

Matt:The site was offered to Paul Offit. It was also unlocked. After 3 days, apparently no one had claimed it, at which point anyone could. I can’t make Offit take it, maybe he didn’t so you guys could say I re-traded. Whatever, I did my part. Offit could confirm he received an email offering it to him. Don’t bother writing back, I have conceded I was wrong, and honored my end of the deal, JB

My email to owner of domain:

On Mon, May 2, 2011 at 10:23 PM, JB Handley <[redacted]> wrote:


– Give the site back to Paul Offit, or at least give him the right to register the domain name. Can you do that?Please email the right to the domain to:

It’s a long story, but basically I lost a bet. JB

From: [redacted]
To: JB Handley <[redacted]>
Subject: Re: Do you have anytime in the next few days?
Date: May 3, 2011 9:32:08 AM PDT
Hi JB -Step 1 of 3 is done:

The site has been updated.

The domain is unlocked and anyone can request a transfer. Once that request is submitted, you’ll get an email at “[redacted]” to confirm that transfer. Additionally, I used’s transfer process, using the “” email address below that you gave me.

– [redacted]

JB Handley

May 14th (comment posted on a few blogs, including here)

Todd:Dr. Offit is lying, as usual. On may 3rd, Dr. Offit received an email from offering the transfer of the site to him. After 72 hours, Dr. Offit had not claimed it and the site was available to anyone to register. The email where the transfer was sent was provided to me by Matt Carey, who directed me here to find it:

I even sent Mr. Carey a note on May 6th advising him of that and offering to interview him for AoA, in the spirit of closing the gap between us, to which he has never responded, here’s the contents of that email:

Just an fyi that was unlocked and an email sent to Dr. Offit making it available to him was sent Tuesday afternoon this week. Case closed. The offer stands for an interview to be posted at AoA, thanks, JB

Someone is lying to you, JB Handley

May 15th:

Matt:Below is completed transfer. I sent Offit first notice on May 3rd, 12 days ago – FUCK YOU for publicly saying I didn’t!!

“After Mr. Handley emailed me I replied that he could transfer the domain directly to the Offits. He never contacted them.”

When I say I am going to do something, I do it.

And, you don’t even have the courtesy to respond to my emails or interview request. Man up,

JB Handley

Begin forwarded message:From: “J.B. Handley” <[redacted]>
Date: May 15, 2011 6:02:29 PM PDT
To: “’[redacted]’” <[redacted]>
Subject: FW: – Transfer of Registrant is completed

J.B. Handley
——-Original Message——-
From: []
Sent: Sunday, May 15, 2011 1:01 PM
To: J.B. Handley
Subject: – Transfer of Registrant is completed

Dear Valued Customer,

This email serves as a notification that the Transfer of Registrant for from JB Handley to Paul Offit has been confirmed and processed successfully. Please note that the services associated with the domain are not transferable when a Transfer of Registrant takes place, any service previously in place for the domain must be repurchased if you wish for it to be reinstated.

If you have any further questions about this process and wish to consult with a Customer Service Representative you can contact us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, by submitting a request online at or by contacting one of the numbers below.

Thank you for choosing

Note that this last email was sent just yesterday. The previous one was sent Friday. I was at IMFAR then, and have been either at the conference, traveling, or getting caught up at work since.

I can be pedantic and stand by my statement on May 13th: Did Mr. Handley contact Dr. Offit in early May? No. Are there other inconsistencies in the above set of exchanges? Yes. Is there value in stressing that point? No.

Mr. Handley chose a third person, who chose to contact Dr. Offit. Is it possible that Mr. Handley and whoever was running are not aware of that “unlocked” doesn’t have to mean “available for anyone to register”? There should be a key to effect the transfer. There’s a lot of chance there for the ball to be dropped. Neither Mr. Handley nor myself has access to Paul Offit’s email to confirm what did or did not get through. We can say that Dr. Offit has commented that he was not contacted. Given his interest in obtaining this domain, I don’t see the need to question that he would have acted on an email if it came.

I think many people, myself included, thought that a third person had grabbed the domain and that it was lost. At one point I did try to check on the registration status of the site, and I found that it was not available. If it did stay in Mr. Handley’s (or his agent’s) possession this whole time, it strikes me odd (to say the least) that the site was redesigned given the commitment that Mr. Handley made to stop commenting about Dr. Offit.

Earlier today I participated in a chat session with someone at I was still a bit confused about everything, so I would ask better questions if I had another opportunity. For one thing, I was under the impression that the site had been transferred to someone other than Mr. Handley (or his agent) and Dr. Offit. Here is that exchange:

Rob A.: Hi, my name is Rob A.. How may I help you?
Matt Carey: I’m looking for information about how transfers domains
Matt Carey: I was involved in a recent transfer. The original owner of the domain set up the transfer by email with your team, who contacted the person to receive the domain. When no response was received by register, the domain was unlocked and someone else took the domain.
Matt Carey: Is this standard practice with Domain? It seems odd that the domain would be just unlocked
Rob A.: Could I get the dom,ain name in question pelase?
Matt Carey: Here is what I was told: the recipient “…received an email from offering the transfer of the site to him. After 72 hours, [the recipient] had not claimed it and the site was available to anyone to register. ”
Matt Carey:
Rob A.: Thank you
Matt Carey: The domain is now, finally, been transferred to the correct person. But originally, we were told that the domain had been unlocked and transferred to a third party.
Rob A.: I see that the transfer was successful from one account to the other
Rob A.: That may have been send in error as I do not see that in our system
Rob A.: Sorry
Matt Carey: Is it the policy of to simply unlock a domain after 72 hours?
Rob A.: no.
Matt Carey: Is it possible to tell me if a third party did posses the domain for a short period? Someone other than Mr. Handley (the original owner) and Dr. Offit, the current owner?
Rob A.: Not according to our system
Rob A.: It went from one account to the other
Matt Carey: Thank you very much for your time.
Rob A.: Thank you for visiting – Don’t just make a website – Make an Impact!
Rob A. has disconnected.

Are Mr. Handley’s statements accurate? No. For one thing, the site was not left open for anyone to register. Is that a lie? Not in my book. Let’s just say that Mr. Handley and his agent didn’t understand how domain registration transfers work. I certainly didn’t a few days ago.

Mr Handley stated on his blog: “I kept a screen shot of the confirmation of emails sent from” He has not shared those with me.

Mr. Handley is correct that I should have responded to his request for an interview. For that, I do apologize. I could brush it off as being due to Mr. Handley’s demeanor which, frankly, I do not care for. However, that would be blameshifting. Crafting a response was not straightforward as it may seem. I try to keep the exchanges respectful, if sometimes critical. Given that this is overdue, let me post my response here:

Mr. Handley,I appreciate your offer of an interview with your blog. I believe that in my many posts I have made my positions quite clear. It is very difficult to craft a response that would not come across as a slam. Suffice it to say, I would not willingly add my name to the Age of Autism blog. If at some point in the future, the focus of the Age of Autism were to shift to one which actually advances the needs of children like mine, and the adults whom I see as allies, I would be happy to consent to an interview. Until that time, I consider this matter closed.

Matt Carey

To respond to the obvious criticism: I have still not responded to Mr. Handley by email. I leave it up to you, the reader, to tell me if you would respond to the emails of the tone above. I feel quite comfortable with my decision.

This response by Mr. Handley puts a major damper on the optimism I felt coming from IMFAR. I spent a lot of time with people, a few of whom are on “the other side of the fence”. It was very refreshing to sit down with people, disagree and still feel kinship for those people. There was at least one person whom I wish I had approached and spoken to, if only to express the fact that I hold that person in high regard, even though we have disagreed. But, on the whole, I came away with something I didn’t expect: a sense of hope. It isn’t about people agreeing. It’s about people of differing opinions working as allies. It is also about accepting the science. Accepting the facts as they come in. It’s also about not causing harm to the autism communities and to public health.

Note: this article originally ran on May 17th. In our transition to a new hosting service, the post was lost. I’ve copied it over from the Google Cache version.

Sullivan outs himself

27 Apr

Back in 2010, Age of Autism’s Inspector Clouseau, summed up the following about Sullivan:

1) Female
2) American
3) A doctor or scientist
4) Not the parent of an autistic child.
5) Is actually Paul Offit’s wife Bonnie.

And followed up with this promise:

If you can produce a dad with a child with autism with a remarkable grasp of the medical and scientific literature who blogs under the name Sullivan, a man who has an inordinate grasp of the details of your husband’s patents, lawsuits, published studies, and web habits, I will make sure that the website is given to you and your husband for good.

In fact, if you can produce this father, I promise to never, ever publicly write about or utter the name “Paul Offit” again.

As blogged by Sullivan, he will be attending IMFAR as a contributor:

I have written in the past that I will be attending IMFAR, the International Meeting For Autism Research. I will be supported by a stakeholder travel grant from the Autism Science Foundation, for which I am very grateful. What I haven’t mentioned before is that I was planning to attend IMFAR even before applying for the stakeholder grant. I’ve been planning on attending since I submitted an abstract: Parent Reported Status and Expectations for Their Autistic Student Children: An Analysis of the 2007 National Household Education Survey.

The abstract in question is:

Parent Reported Status and Expectations for Their Autistic Student Children: An Analysis of the 2007 National Household Education Survey. M. J. Carey

M.J. Carey, of course being LB/RB’s own Matt Carey.

So, now we turn back to JB Handley – are you ready to both hand over both the domain and your word to never mention in word or speech the name Paul Offit again JB?

Dr. Paul Offit on The Colbert Report

1 Feb

Untitled from lbrbsullivav on Vimeo.

Paul Offit responds to Mark Blaxill

5 Jan

Over at Age of Autism today, financial whizz Mark Blaxill subjected Paul Offit’s finances to his usual searing intellect. I can’t quote from his post because its just to smart for me to understand!

Anyway, his conclusion has drawn the following response from Paul Offit in an email:

Just for the record: I no longer financially benefit from the sales of RotaTeq. My financial interests in that vaccine have been sold out by either The Wistar Institute, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, or me. I will, however, continue to stand up for the science of vaccines because unfounded fears about vaccines have hurt children. That is why I do what I do and why I have always done it. And I will continue to closely follow the distribution of rotavirus vaccines because these vaccines have the potential to save as many as 2,000 children a day, which is why I joined the research team at Children’s Hospital.

Seems pretty clear to me 🙂

The past is present (non autism related post)

5 Jan

Kev has recently discussed the book, Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All. Besides discussing the dangers the movement poses in its current form, Dr. Offit puts the anti-vaccine movement into historical perspective.

Ever since there was vaccination, there was a resistance to the practice. One of the easiest hooks is to discuss the ingredients. In the case of the original vaccine (which used the cowpox virus to protect humans against smallpox), the target was clear: it comes from cows. One of the more famous images was a cartoon made by James Gillray, showing people growing cow parts after vaccination (click image to enlarge):

It’s so 19th century. Or, is it?

I wasn’t aware of this image (or didn’t remember it) before I read the book. I was taken aback by the similarity to recent imagery used to frighten people about the rotavirus vaccine. If you recall, fragments of a pig virus were found in one of the rotavirus vaccine brands. This was a time for a reasoned, serious discussion. Was there potential for these virus fragments to be harmful? (as it turns out, the virus does not infect humans. It is even found in the fecal matter of humans who have recently eaten pig products).

Here’s one image:

Yeah, kinda cute and funny. The text of the post has headings like “Rotavirus Vaccines Use Monkey, Cow, Pig Materials for Production” and, for some odd reason, “Using Cancer Cells to Produce Vaccines? ” What this has to do with pig virus fragments in rotavirus vaccine is beyond me. The post goes on to link to a video by Barbara Loe Fisher, who discusses “fatal pig viruses”. Fatal to infant pigs, yes. Fatal to humans, no. But, Ms. Fisher doesn’t make that distinction.

Here’s another image, this time from the Age of Autism blog:

There is room for a real vaccine safety movement. In fact, vaccine safety advocates have been successful in creating real change. Dr. Offit makes this clear in his book. But scaring people with these images isn’t helping anyone.

Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All

4 Jan

I mentioned in a previous post that I was reading Deadly Choices and used it as the basis for a post on how much of a myth the idea of there being ‘mild’ diseases is.

I’ve (literally) just finished reading the book so I want to give it a review. I should be clear up front, I liked the book very much and I like Paul Offit too so you’re not going to find much negativity here.

The book is a clear and coherent look back at the roots of the modern anti-vaccine movement (mostly in the US but we get a sadly necessary large mention too), its leading proponents and figures. It also swings up to the modern day and looks at the contemporary anti-vaxxers such as Jenny McCarthy etc.

Sadly (from my point of view) it makes the role of modern day anti-vaccinationism clear: its mainly due to the confluence of vaccines and autism that has given rise to a politically motivated type of anti-vaxxer. To give examples we’re all familiar with its like when an out n out anti-vaxxer like the owner of the website became friends with the leaders of Generation Rescue that the initial overlap first occurred – first they borrowed material from each other then they become supporters of each other and now they follow the common goal of destroying the vaccine program in the West. That might sound a little over the top but its nonetheless true. Ask any anti-vaxxer what their goal is and that goal will be the eradication of vaccines.

Offit’s book is also a study of some of the incidents where vaccines _have_ been at fault and details how these rare occurrences are used to chronicle the side effects of vaccines and direct future safety testing. The first few chapters of the book make it clear just how important some of these tragic incidents have been to today’s safety testing. Another upcoming book that tackles this subject is Seth Monookin’s The Panic Virus and of course Offit’s own book The Cutter Incident details one such incident in great detail.

According to Offit himself:

I wrote this book for children; Deadly Choices is an attempt to stand up for them. A child’s vaccination decisions are made by his or her parents. If an adult chooses not to be vaccinated from Hepatitis B and she dies, that was her own choice to not be vaccinated. What bothers me is that children aren’t making that choice. Who represents the children?

And he’s absolutely right. In the same vein, whilst Deadly Choices is not an autism book per se, it should be the responsibility of the autism community to spread its message far and wide, partly because its the right thing to do and partly because its the modern day autism community that has spearheaded and led the contemporary anti-vaccine message. We have some wrongs to right.

Deadly Choices: The myth of the mild disease

29 Dec

I’ve started reading Deadly Choices and goodness me its a breath of fresh air in terms of factual analysis and also writing skill. The last autism book I read was Age of Autism so you’ll appreciate how great the difference is.

I’ll be blogging about Deadly Choices a fair bit I guess and I guess Sullivan will too (after all he is Bonnie Offit) and in this first blog post I want to discuss why the idea that certain illnesses are perceived (and indeed promoted) by the anti-vaccine lobby as mild and therefore of no risk – just another excuse to stick us all with another needle containing who knows what!!

The book Deadly Choices, makes this point crystal clear in the Introduction. Regarding a Hib outbreak in Minnesota:

[parents]…were afraid that vaccines contained dangerous additives, or that children received too many vaccines too soon; or that vaccines caused autism

…one mother reconsidered her decision: ” the doctor looked at me and said, ‘Your son is going to die, he doesn’t have much time.’ Honestly, I never really understood how severe the risk [was] that we put our son at.”

Deadly choices indeed.

And what about mumps? In 2009, an outbreak caused by an unvaccinated traveller coming back from England caused a chain reaction that infected over 1500 people in 8 months. The end result?

When it was over, mumps was found to have caused pancreatitis, meningitis, deafness, facial paralysis or inflammation of the ovaries in sixty-five people, nineteen were hospitalised.

Hib and mumps are just two of the diseases previously easily controlled by vaccines that are now becoming rampant again due to poor vaccination rates and the fact that such deadly and crippling diseases are now just a plane ride away.