Archive | Paul Offit RSS feed for this section

Christmas break reading list

29 Dec

Mine is too big (pages and content, not number of books), and a good chunk of Christmas break has already past. That said, I set a goal for myself to read more books. And to read better books. Reading “The Age of Autism” and “Callous Disregard” had some small value. It is good to challenge one’s ideas. But these books are just poorly done and poorly written. I figured it’s time to devote some time to something that could be a bit of a benefit in education, entertainment or both.

The two main books on my shelf right now are
The Developing Human. Clinically Oriented Embryology“.


Send in the Idiots

The first was suggested to me when I expressed an interest in learning more about human development, especially very early development and the brain. I got a copy very cheap, somewhat used. As long as I was perusing used books, I picked up a copy of “Send in the Idiots” as well. That one is new, with the exception of the tag put on it by the used bookstore. Send in the Idiots has been in the back of my mind since I heard the author interviewed on the NPR program “Fresh Air”.

Another book on my shelf, which will come as no surprise, is “Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All”. This is Paul Offit’s new book. I’ve read that already and will be discussing it here on LeftBrainRightBrain soon.

While I feel like I should be virtuous and read “The Developing Human”, I started on “Send in the Idiots” first. I don’t know if I will finish anything before I head back to work, but if I finish that I will write about it here.

Reading Age of Autism – All I can handle, I’m no Vladimir Nabokov

13 Nov

I read Dan Olmsted’s latest post on Age of Autism and was reminded I had yet to publish a closing post on my experiences with the book. Here’s a quote from Dan:

It’s doubly disappointing to see traditionally progressive outlets – from Salon to Daily Kos to The Atlantic to National Public Radio and PBS – ignore the evidence presented in our book and so many other places, twist the facts they can’t deny, belittle those who believe otherwise including beleaguered autism parents, and glibly trumpet tired reassurances that the concern over vaccines has been “asked and answered,” that “study after study” has refuted any relation, and that continuing to point out disturbing patterns of evidence to the contrary endangers children and infants.

Quick translation for you: “Waaah, nobody liked our book or thought it was valid. What a bunch of pooh-pooh heads!”

The embarrassing truth for Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill is that their book has been still-born. Take a look at the Amazon rankings compiled by Broken Link and its hard to come to any other conclusion. But why has this happened?

First off, the book is badly written. Its not an easy read in the way that Evidence of Harm was. Of course the style is different but Age of Autism is not even a well written poor story.

Secondly, the content is – well – embarrassingly one sided. Whilst B & O claim to be not anti-vaccine, the whole book – particularly part II is rife with anti-vaccine sentiments designed not so much to lead the reader to a conclusion but to batter the reader over the head with the conclusion B & O reached before sitting down to write even.

Thirdly, the content is old hat. There is literally nothing new in the book. For those of us who have followed the the whole story, AoA has nothing _new_ to add to the overall scenario. Whereas Defeating Autism, Autism’s False Prophets and Evidence of Harm all had something _new_ to add to the story, AoA merely dully repeats truthiness from 3 or 4 years ago and couples it with a retelling of historical speculation that simply reiterates what everyone already knew – mercury isn’t so good for you.

So thats that for me reading purgatory. I’m reading something very much better now that I think Sullivan and I will be blogging at length in the new year.

Autism-vaccine books, an indication that the tide has turned?

13 Nov

We recently discussed here on LeftbrainRightBrain two books, both due out in January. The first, The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear, is by a new name to the discussion, Seth Mnookin. The second book, Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, is by Dr. Paul Offit, a name well known in the autism/vaccine discussion.

With these two books due out in the near future, it is only natural to look back at the recent past. I am thinking of two other books on autism and vaccines, Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill’s “The Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-made Epidemic“, and Andrew Wakefield’s “Callous Disregard: Autism and Vaccines: The Truth Behind a Tragedy. Both of these books continue the old story of autism caused by mercury in vaccines and autism caused by the MMR vaccine. There is really no new science and there never was much in the first place. Sure, Age of Autism tries to apply their same “correlation is causation” arguments about mercury to other medical conditions in history, but that isn’t science. Callous Disregard is more about Andrew Wakefield’s excuses for his own misdeeds than about the science anyway. The books have been given a lukewarm reception by their target audience (neither has really sold in large numbers, and the trends are clear that the books are selling through the promotion by “friendly” blogs and book signings). Even Dan Olmsted himself recently blogged about how the formerly friendly press is now ignoring his book.

Jenny McCarthy has moved on, at least for now. The same can be said for David Kirby (but he is still giving appearances at autism-parent conventions as some sort of expert.) But, the days when Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy could hit the New York Times best seller list are in the past.

This isn’t about some sense of schadenfreude or an “our author’s books are doing better than your author’s books” sort of competition. Rather, this is a time to ask (once again), has the tide turned? Do two flops tell us that the heyday of the movement over?

Sure, there will always be a SafeMinds and a Generation Rescue out there pushing the idea of a vaccine-induced autism epidemic. But one researcher I know has told me that vaccines just aren’t even coming up as a point of discussion any more. Not in conferences (the real kind, not the parent-convention kind). Not even in public lectures.

Has the tide turned? I hope so. I really do.

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

13 Nov

I recently wrote about the book, Panic Virus, which is set to come out in January, 2011. Another book which includes sections on the autism/vaccine story is also scheduled for January: Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, by Paul Offit.

The “product description” is very brief:

How did we get to a place where vaccines are viewed with horror rather than as life-saving medicine? The answer is rooted in one of the most powerful and disturbing citizen activist movements in our nation’s history—a movement that, despite recent epidemics and deaths, continues to grow. Deadly Choices is the story of anti-vaccine activity in America—its origins, leaders, influences, and impact—and is a powerful defense of science in the face of fear.

While the word “autism” doesn’t appear at all on the page for the book, it will come as no surprise that the autism/vaccine parent groups play a prominent role in the book’s discussion of the modern anti-vaccine movement.

Dr. Offit’s books get read. By important people. I have little doubt this one will too.

As I said with my discussion of Panic Virus, there is no joy in realizing that some of the vocal autism-parent groups are being chronicled in this way. There is, however, relief that books such as these signal that perhaps the worst is over. The public and the press are no longer giving the idea of the vaccine-induced-autism-epidemic the credibility it enjoyed only a year or two ago.

Barbara Loe Fisher discusses her failed lawsuit against Paul Offit and Amy Wallace

22 Sep

Amy Wallace wrote an article on the vaccine/autism discussion entitled An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All. In it she quotes both Dr. Paul Offit of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Barbara Loe Fisher of the National Vaccine Information Center. As part of that article, Ms. Wallace quoted Dr. Offit discussing Ms. Fisher:

Offit is quick-witted, funny, and — despite a generally mild-mannered mien — sometimes so assertive as to seem brash. “Scientists, bound only by reason, are society’s true anarchists,” he has written — and he clearly sees himself as one. “Kaflooey theories” make him crazy, especially if they catch on. Fisher, who has long been the media’s go-to interview for what some in the autism arena call “parents rights,” makes him particularly nuts, as in “You just want to scream.” The reason? “She lies,” he says flatly.

Ms. Fisher sued Dr. Offit, Amy Wallace and Conde Nast Publications (who publishes Wired) over the statement “she lies”, claiming it was defamatory.

Ms. Fisher’s suit was dismissed before it could be heard. Ms. Fisher has now blogged her experiences as Amy Wallace & Yellow Journalism.

Much of that account struck me, but allow me to discuss a few here:

Ms. Fisher states in regard to Ms. Wallace’s response to the suit: Instead of providing one piece of solid evidence to support Offit’s defamatory statement, Wallace claimed I could not sue her because she is a resident of California.

Well, I looked up the MOTION TO DISMISS BY AMY WALLACE AND CONDÉ NAST PUBLICATIONS INC.. Yes, in point 4 they do state that there is a problem with jurisdiction. But that is not the whole story. Ms. Fisher seems to have forgotten point 3 of the “Motion to Dismiss”. I’ll quote it below:

It is evident, however, that plaintiff cannot obtain the relief she seeks even if all well-pleaded factual allegations are accepted as true and the reasonable inferences derived therefrom are viewed in the light most favorable her. Under controlling state and federal law in this jurisdiction, the challenged remark by Dr. Offit, about a matter of substantial public concern, is not actionable as defamation because it is neither capable of being understood as stating actual facts nor of being proven true or false. It is, therefore, an expression of opinion that is immune from civil liability under the common law of Virginia, the Constitution of this Commonwealth, and the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Ms. Wallace’s defense was not just that she is a resident of California.

Ms. Fisher conitinues:

And Offit, who has no trouble keeping a straight face when he states flatly that it is absolutely safe for a child to get 10,000 vaccines at once and 100,000 vaccines in a lifetime, claimed he was simply having an emotional meltdown when he hysterically told Wallace “flatly” that I lie. And to draw attention away from the seriousness of engaging in libel per se, the defendants’ attorneys argued that “the quoted remark ‘she lies’ is not capable of being proven true or false” because the civil court system cannot prove whether vaccines do or do not cause harm.

I don’t know what video Ms. Fisher is referencing when she states that Dr. Offit can’t keep a straight face. I mean, she wouldn’t say that unless she actually saw him talking (each and every time he has done it) and noticed that he had such troubles, would she? In Dr. Offit’s Motion to Dismiss, I don’t see any mention of the words “emotional meltdown”. Perhaps it was in some other document I was unable to pick up from PACER? I don’t recall the Wired article claiming that Dr. Offit was “hysterical”. I mean, this couldn’t possibly be an expression of opinion of Ms. Fisher in a heated debate and not a statement of actual facts? As such, wouldn’t Ms. Fisher’s statements be protected speech, even if they aren’t completely factual?

As to the actual statement “She lies” that is the basis for Ms. Fisher’s failed suit? In her blog piece Ms. Fisher writes:

Third, Hilton offered the opinion that Offit’s allegation “cannot be reasonably understood to suggest” that I am “a person lacking honesty and integrity” and that Wallace and Wired magazine were only reporting Offit’s “personal opinion” about my “views” and none of the defendants intended to make a “literal assertion of fact” that I lie.

In other words, they really didn’t mean it.

Is that really what was argued and decided? From a response Dr. Offit filed with the court:

Accordingly, the question is not whether Dr. Offit could provide a list of specific “lies” stated by Plaintiff in the past – an exercise he will undergo to establish “truth” if this case is not dismissed on this initial motion – but whether Dr. Offit’s vague statement in the context of the Article will merely be understood as a loose expression of disagreement with Plaintiff, not an assertion of specific actual fact, and thus constitutes protected opinion immune from suit.

He seems to be willing to provide a list of specific “lies” stated by [Ms. Fisher] in the past. I don’t see that as the same thing as “they didn’t really mean it.” (as an aside, why “they”? Amy Wallace wasn’t saying that Ms. Fisher lies. She was reporting what Dr. Offit said.)

In response to Ms. Wallace’s argument that Virginia was the incorrect jurisdiction, Ms. Fisher requested discovery information:

Plaintiff requests discovery concerning all facts germane to personal jurisdiction including, but not limited to, traffic on the defendants’ various websites, including, for example, the geographic locations of all who have transmitted comments in association with those websites; all who have sent correspondence in response to Wallace’s Wired article; the Virginia state Wired magazine subscriptions obtained through; and Wallace’s communications with CNP concerning the blog, as well as any and all interactions between Wallace and Virginia sources, Virginia media, and Virginia readers.

Yep. Any and all interactions between Amy Wallace and people in Virginia (the state of jurisdiction for this case) and all communications with CNP (Conde Naste Publications. Essentially her employer on this piece).

This sounds like a fishing expedition to me (is that protected speech?). Especially the part about “Wallace’s communications with CNP concerning the blog.”

Ms. Fisher notes in her piece that she has been a proponent of vaccine education for many years. Earlier this year she put out a YouTube video discussing the presence of “fatal pig viruses” in the rotavirus vaccines. At that time I emailed them, seeking some education on the subject. I asked a simple question:

I saw your recent video. You mention “fatal pig viruses”. Could you please point me to your data indicating that these viruses are fatal in humans?

The email remains unanswered.

Storm in a teacup

15 May

A piece from the Philadelphia Inquirer demonstrates how various vaccine scares begin.

Using powerful new DNA technology, Delwart’s San Francisco team detected fragments of a pig virus in GlaxoSmithKline’s Rotarix, which protects babies from a diarrhea-causing infection. The pig virus is common in pork products and is not known to cause disease in animals or humans.

We expected to reassure; we ended up not reassuring,” Delwart, a virologist with the Blood Systems Research Institute, said this week. “We ended up creating quite a bit of a storm.

Yet of course the usual suspects used this total non-entity of a story to further their own anti-vaccine agenda:

This “is an important wake-up call for industry and government,” said Barbara Loe Fisher, president of the National Vaccine Information Center.

How exactly isn’t explained. This is after all a story where a vaccine carries a component that *is not known to cause disease* . Neither the FDA or the European Health Agency said the vaccines containing the component shouldn’t be used. As Paul Offit said:

“You could apply this new technology to things gummed by a 6-month-old – a Cheeto, a piece of apple – and find much worse” microbes than the pig virus, Offit said. “How does it help to find things that are not known to be harmful? It’s like taking thimerosal out of vaccines. Has that made vaccines safer? No.”

Or more dangerous.

We *have* to start getting over our collective heebie-jeebies every time something perfectly safe is found in a vaccine and start realising that the people who are advocating that we _do_ have an attack of the heebie-jeebies are those who have a single item agenda – promoting anti-vaccineism.

Review of Frontline’s The Vaccine War

29 Apr

The Vaccine War has aired. Judging by the responses, one might consider it a success. Pro vaccine groups like Every Child By Two were telling people to watch it. The Autism Science Foundationhighly recommends” watching it. On the other side, the organizations represented by the Age of Autism blog (Generation Rescue, the National Autism Association, SafeMinds, the Autism Research Institute and TACA) are very upset. Jenny McCarthy has gone to the Huffington Post with her side of the story, as has Dr. Jay Gordon, whose entire interview was cut from the program.

An unofficial (and incomplete) transcript is here

That all said, I both appreciated the program and had my fears realized. In this case, my fears were that people would be given a platform to spread misinformation. And it happened. Jenny McCarthy and others made statements that were, in my view, misinformation. But, I appreciated the fact that Frontline took the time to counter much of the misinformation with actual experts discussing real science.

Frontline describes the show as:

In The Vaccine War, FRONTLINE lays bare the science of vaccine safety and examines the increasingly bitter debate between the public health establishment and a formidable populist coalition of parents, celebrities, politicians and activists who are armed with the latest social media tools — including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter — and are determined to resist pressure from the medical and public health establishments to vaccinate, despite established scientific consensus about vaccine safety.

I think the show accomplished this. There was some cost in terms of allowing Generation Rescue’s misinformation message in TV once again. But, this time, this time they are the problem.

If you watch the introductory 2 minutes of this video, you will get some idea of how the show is presented

Parents, both pro vaccine and not, activists, public health workers and researchers like Dr. Offit telling various sides of the story, with the narrator tying it together.

Narrator: Tonight on Frontline: They’re hailed as medicine’s greatest triumph: conquering smallpox, diphtheria, polio and more. But today, some Americans question if all those vaccines are worth the risk.

The show is in four segments. The titles for these segments should, again, give you an idea of the tone of the show.

1. A visit to Ashland, Oregon. In some American communities like this one, parents are hesitating to vaccinate their children, despite their doctor’s advice.

2. Eroding faith in vaccines. Skeptics target Paul Offit, inventor of the rotavirus vaccine. And many parents are wary of vaccines because they no longer see the diseases.

3. Fearing vaccine risks, especially autism.. Vaccine skeptics like celebrity Jenny McCarthy have organized a community of parents concerned about a vaccine-autism link.

4. The science that launched the movement. A British doctors ’98 study theorized that the measles vaccine causes autism. Soon vaccine critics began questioning other additives in vaccines.

5. What epidemiological studies reveal. No link is found between autism and the MMR shot or thimerosal. And the British doctor’s ’98 study is discredited, but critics demand more studies.

6. Vaccines, what’s at stake. The debate goes beyond the medical risks-benefits: it involves parents’ rights to make choices v. the needs of the community.

In the first segment, they interview a pro-vaccine mother in Ashland. She notes that if there is an outbreak, the response may get contentious. It may get ugly.

Beyond the direct human cost, one of my worries: how much blowback will there be to the autism communities? How much blame will be applied and what will it cost?

As part of the introduction, The Vaccine War discusses the story of Desiree Jennings. She was a Washington Redskins cheerleader who claimed dystonia as an adverse reaction to her vaccine. Her story broke out not through the TV news show that covered her story, but through YouTube. Jenny McCarthy is quoted about how Generation Rescue took Ms. Jennings to see Dr. Rashid Buttar and how chelation and HBOT cured her.

What makes the Desiree Jennings story even more interesting is the possibility that the vaccine-injury/dystonia story may not be real. As noted on LeftBrainRightBrain, Ms. Jennings was later followed by cameras from a TV program and shown to be driving and walking normally.

The possibility that Generation Rescue is using the story even though it may not be true was probed by Frontline. Here is a part of an interview from Frontline with one of Generation Rescue’s founders:

[Frontline]Talk about the viral spread of an image over the Internet, like [Redskins cheerleader] Desiree Jennings’ flu shot story, for example.

It’s remarkably powerful what an image or an idea can do in today’s day and age, and for a group of parents who feel completely outmatched — because think for a moment about who our enemy is; our enemies are the largest pharmaceutical companies on the planet, making billions of dollars in net profit a year — you’d think that we could never compete with that. But an idea can transmit itself powerfully and very cheaply for millions to see.

So in the case of Desiree, here you have an image of this beautiful woman who’s been severely disabled that literally tens of millions of people view overnight, and imagine the chilling effect that has on a flu vaccine that she attributes as the cause of her condition. It’s remarkably powerful.

[Frontline] Does it matter whether it’s true or not?

Truth always bears out in the end, so I’m a firm believer in that. Are there moments in time where truth is exaggerated or expanded? Absolutely. But truth bears out in the end. …

Perhaps I missed it, but it appears to this reader that Frontline’s question was completely dodged. Does it matter whether the Desiree Jennings story is true or not? I think so. But what seems important to Generation Rescue is not the truth of the story, but the fact that it is a gripping narrative that sells their message.

The Vaccine War has a rather large cast, if I may call them that. Parents both pro and anti vaccine, a writer from Ashland who is anti-vaccine, Paul Offit, bioethicist (and polio survivor) Arthur Caplan, Jenny McCarthy, Anthony S. Fauci (immunologist from NIAID), Cynthia Cristofani (pediatric intensivist), Alvaro and Myrian Fontan (a family who almost lost their daughter to whooping cough) and J.B. Handley, Barbara Loe Fisher–plus more.

In some ways, “The Vaccine War” takes the same approach that Dr. Offit uses in books like “Autism’s False Prophets”. Let the skeptics make their points, ask their questions, then respond. Sometimes this is quite jarring.It is tough to sit back and listen to someone spread information and wait for the response.

The Vaccine War is well researched. Even though people like Jenny McCarthy got some air time for their ideas, they are quite upset about the Frontline episode.

Perhaps I am the only one who will find this ironic. In response to this episode, one which discusses how groups like Generation Rescue use social networking on the internet to get their message out, they are taking to social networking. Twitter, blogging…

As noted above Jenny McCarthy and Dr. Jay Gordon have taken to the Huffington Post to respond to the show. the Age of Autism is being very critical. They are attempting to “poll mob” the Frontline website. (humorous aside–they haven’t figured out that the survey doesn’t record their answers. It only shows you how your responses compare to the actual survey.)

If you have friends, family who are wondering about the vaccine/autism “controversy”, this is a good show to refer them to. It gives both sides. It allows people like Jenny McCarthy to give her viewpoint–and it gives the response.

PBS Frontline: The Vaccine War

16 Apr

I first heard that the show Frontline, from the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), would be doing a show on “The Vaccine Wars” by reading comments posted online by supporters of groups like Generation Rescue. I was somewhat taken aback that they were happy to hear this was coming as Frontline is a very evidence-based show. I couldn’t see it being very supportive of Jenny McCarthy.

Frontline’s website had this to say about the show:

Public health scientists and clinicians tout vaccines as one of the greatest achievements of modern medicine. But for many ordinary Americans vaccines have become controversial. Young parents are concerned at the sheer number of shots–some 26 inoculations for 14 different diseases by age 6–and follow alternative vaccination schedules advocated by gurus like Dr. Robert Sears. Other parents go further. In communities like Ashland, Oregon, up to one-third of parents are choosing not to vaccinate their kids at all. And some advocacy groups, like Generation Rescue, argue that vaccines are no longer a public health miracle but a scourge; they view vaccines as responsible for alarming rises in certain disorders, including ADHD and autism. This is the vaccine war: On one side sits scientific medicine and the public health establishment; on the other a populist coalition of parents, celebrities (like Jenny McCarthy), politicians and activists. It’s a war that increasingly takes place on the Internet with both sides using the latest social media tools, including Facebook and Twitter, to win the hearts and minds of the public.

I guess I am not on the “latest” social media tools, but I am blogging on the topic so I figure I count as a small part of the “war”.

Reading the above I felt that “The Vaccine Wars” was not going to be the Jenny McCarthy friendly show some were expecting. Being put on the side against “scientific medicine” is usually not a good thing. Also, Generation Rescue tries to pitch itself as being “pro safe vaccine” rather than anti vaccine. I doubt they would like to see themselves as being characterized as arguing “that vaccines are no longer a public health miracle but a scourge”. Then again, times may be changing with the founder of Generation Rescue stating:

With less than a half-dozen full-time activists, annual budgets of six figures or less, and umpteen thousand courageous, undaunted, and selfless volunteer parents, our community, held together with duct tape and bailing wire, is in the early to middle stages of bringing the U.S. vaccine program to its knees.

That’s hard to fit into a “pro safe vaccine” image.

One way to tell for certain if Generation Rescue and other groups are afraid of upcoming media attention is when they start attacking spokespeople like Paul Offit (chief of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and co-inventor of the RotaTeq vaccine against rotavirus). When that happened (recent blog posts on the Age of Autism, resurrecting old, incorrect information) I knew it was likely that “The Vaccine Wars” was not going to be a pro-Jenny program.

As it turns out, a video clip has been added to the Frontline website for “The Vaccine Wars”:

And, guess what, Dr. Offit was interviewed by Frontline for the piece.

The show airs on April 27th, and will be available online then as well.

Perhaps it is time for those who support the vaccine-causation idea to re-evaluate their position. I can’t tell how many times I’ve been told I need to be “open minded” about the subject. Open minded includes being willing to admit that your ideas on vaccines-causing-autism were wrong.

Let’s see–

One of the main proponents of the idea, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, was found to be unethical and dishonest
The two main theories, really the only two theories, have failed (“not even close”) in the courts
The media is moving away from giving the vaccine-causation idea much weight.

Of course, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe FrontLine will finally tell the story the vaccine-causation groups believe. Maybe they will uncover the vast conspiracies that are hiding the truth. Maybe. I doubt it.

Barbara Loe Fisher’s lawsuit against Paul Offit dismissed

11 Mar

If you recall, last October Wired Magazine had an article: An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All. Barbara Loe Fisher of the self-named National Vaccine Information Center took issue with a section of that article and sued Dr. Paul Offit. The complaint is here.

Ms. Fisher was suing Dr. Offit, Amy Wallace (who wrote the story for Wired) and Conde Nast Publishing (who publish Wired).

For background, you can read Respectful Insolence Suppression of speech through legal intimidation, anti-vaccine edition: Barbara Loe Fisher sues Dr. Paul Offit, Amy Wallace, and Condé Nast for libel, as well as One possible reason why Barbara Loe Fisher chose to sue Paul Offit in Virginia?

Autism News Beats “Barbara Loe Fisher: “Not a person to be believed””

SkepticBlog (Steve Novella) Another Libel Suit – This Time Against Paul Offit ,

And Terra Sigillata’s Paul Offit, Amy Wallace, and Conde Nast being sued by anti-vaccinationist

The complaint centers around this section of the Wired story:

Paul Offit has a slightly nasal voice and a forceful delivery that conspire to make him sound remarkably like Hawkeye Pierce, the cantankerous doctor played by Alan Alda on the TV series M*A*S*H. As a young man, Offit was a big fan of the show (though he felt then, and does now, that Hawkeye was “much cooler than me”). Offit is quick-witted, funny, and — despite a generally mild-mannered mien — sometimes so assertive as to seem brash. “Scientists, bound only by reason, are society’s true anarchists,” he has written — and he clearly sees himself as one. “Kaflooey theories” make him crazy, especially if they catch on. Fisher, who has long been the media’s go-to interview for what some in the autism arena call “parents rights,” makes him particularly nuts, as in “You just want to scream.” The reason? “She lies,” he says flatly.

“Barbara Loe Fisher inflames people against me. And wrongly. I’m in this for the same reason she is. I care about kids. Does she think Merck is paying me to speak about vaccines? Is that the logic?” he asks, exasperated. (Merck is doing no such thing). But when it comes to mandating vaccinations, Offit says, Fisher is right about him: He is an adamant supporter.

Ms. Fisher argued:

“If defendants are correct, Plaintiff Fisher is not a person to be believed and because her stock and trade is information and opinion derived from it, she has no business worthy of acceptance and use, honesty being the foundation of every such reliance.”

The court’s decision is online.

The decision is quite clear. Ms. Fisher has no case against Dr. Offit, Amy Wallace or Conde Nast.

In this case, the article’s quotation of Defendant Offit’s comment that Plaintiff “lies” cannot reasonably be understood to suggest, as the Complaint alleges, that Plaintiff is “a person lacking honesty and integrity . . . [who should be] shunned or excluded by those who seek information and opinion upon which to rely.” Rather, the context of the remark – in a lengthy article describing an emotional and highly charged debate about an important public issue over which Defendant Offit and Plaintiff have diametrically opposed views – plainly signals to readers that plainly signals to readers that they should expect emphatic language on both sides and should accordingly understand that the magazine is merely reporting Defendant Offit’s personal opinion of Ms. Arthur’s [Barbara Loe Fisher’s] views.

In my opinion, this case was an attempt to shut Dr. Offit up, restrict his right to free speech by forcing him into costly litigation. In my opinion, the key section of the Wired article was this paragraph:

[Dr. Offit], meanwhile, still rises every morning at 4 am and heads to his small, tidy study in a spare bedroom. Every morning, he spends a couple of hours working on what will be his sixth book, a history of the anti-vaccine movement. Offit gets excited when he talks about it.

I wish Dr. Offit well in his next book. I thank him for standing up for free speech. In my view, Barbara Loe Fisher and the organizations that ally with her are very dependent on the very right that Dr. Offit just defended. They have the ability to voice opinions which are in direct contradiction to established science. I would think they would cherish the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Autism Epidemic Talk

20 Jan

A couple of slap dash blog pieces appeared today both on the same subject – the so called autism epidemic. First off is Harold who writes about a series of interviews with David Kirby. David says:

<blockquote>It’s crazy that in this debate, we’re still debating whether autism numbers are actually going up or not, which is insanity to me. It’s people desperately clinging to this belief that autism is genetic, that it’s always been with us at this rate, that we’re just better at counting it, better at diagnosing it.</blockquote>

Harold claims David has ‘hit the nail on the head’ with this quote. I disagree with Harold and I disagree with David. Its far from insanity to examine a perfectly valid hypothesis. More later.

Anne Dachel at the Age of Autism writes :

<blockquote>Why do I personally know so many young people with severe autism, whose symptoms can’t be ignored?  How could we have just ignored these people in the past?  Where are those misdiagnosed adults with classic autism—those with the same symptoms we see in so many children today?

I’m not talking about [Kristina] Chew’s autistic neighbor who was able to have a conversation with her, or [Paul] Offit’s people who are kind of ‘quirky.’  I mean adults who can’t talk, those in diapers, people who scream for hours and pound hours in walls and who constantly rock back and forth.</blockquote>

Dachel goes on to list several news reports which question the idea of there not being some kind of an epidemic. I disagree with her view and I disagree with the way she has reached her view.

Both Dachel and Harold (and David Kirby come to that) are claiming that epidemiology can be ursurped by individual experience – Dachel’s individual experience with ‘so many young people’ and David’s individual experience with the idea that people are desperately clinging on to some sort of belief in a genetic form of autism.

Now, casting aside the fact that the some of the forms of autism that we know about (Rett Syndrome etc) _are_ solely genetic we have to – as we do with _all_ forms of science, cast aside personal anecdote when making sweeping statements about a very large group of people. What we need to do instead is look at the science. So what does the science say?

Nothing. As far as I can see no firm case has been made that there either is or is not an autism epidemic. Why? Because the science hasn’t been done. It is maybe worth noting that it is the firm opinion of autism experts that a large part of any possible rise is due to:

a) Better diagnostic tools

b) More places at which to recieve a diagnosis

c) More awareness amongst clinicians of autism

d) Earlier diagnosis

e) Diagnostic substitution

f) Widening of diagnostic criteria

Experts such as Eric Fombonne, Roy Richard Grinker and Simon Baron-Cohen have all spoken about these ideas at length. However, that doesn’t make them right. There still seems to be no hard and fast science that says there is an autism epidemic or not.