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Reconsidering the Nature of Autism

8 Apr

Todd Drezner has a new piece up on the Huffington Post: Reconsidering the Nature of Autism. He starts out by quoting the forward to one of Jenny McCarthy’s books. The forward is by alternative medical practitioner Jerry Kartzinel.

Here is what Mr. Drezner wrote in his introduction:

“Autism … steals the soul from a child; then, if allowed, relentlessly sucks life’s marrow out of the family members, one by one.” So wrote Dr. Jerry Kartzinel in the introduction to Jenny McCarthy’s bestselling “Louder Than Words.” No wonder, then, that the concept of neurodiversity– the idea that we should understand and accept autistic people as a group that thinks differently from the majority — has proven to be so controversial.

The quote takes me back. Back to when I was starting to look online for information about autism. I remember when Jenny McCarthy hit the scene. Kev responded here with his blogging. The blog might have been then, not LeftBrainRightBrain. I remember that Kev’s blog went down: the traffic was so high that he hit his bandwidth quota. I remember that he responded to the forward from Jerry Kartzinel. He responded with words and, a little later, with video:

I don’t bring this up just for some sort of nostalgia. But this reminds me of two major themes. First: words hurt. What Dr. Kartzinel wrote, and Jenny McCarthy published, hurt. It hurt a lot of people. It added to the stigma of autism and disability. Second: words can be powerful. Kev fought back, as did many others. How or if this was an influence on Todd Drezner, I can’t say. It influenced me as I still remember it.

We can’t sit back and let people stigmatize others, for whatever reason they may have. Kim Wombles shows that almost every day with her blog Countering. Bev did it with a humor and keen perspective on Asperger Square 8. Corina Becker is taking up the task with No Stereotypes Here. And this is just a few of the many voices, autistic and non, out there.

Having said this, I will bring up one message that I’ve felt needed to be countered for some time. Here is a screenshot of a page from the book “the Age of Autism” by Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill. Both write for the Age of Autism Blog (Dan Olmsted appears to be the proprietor). Mark Blaxill is a member of the organization SafeMinds. Both promote the idea of autism as vaccine injury and, more specifically, the failed mercury hypothesis. (click to enlarge)

To pull but one disturbing quote: “As one of the first parents to observe an autistic child, Muncie learned how well autism targets ‘those functions distinctly human’ “. Yes, I have spent quite a lot of time fighting bad science like the first part in that sentence: the idea that autism is new/the kids in Kanner’s study were the first autistics ever. But what about the second part: that autistics are missing or have impaired “distinctly human” functions? Yes, I’ve also responded to that sentiment in the past and I plan to continue to do so. And that is much more important than the fight against bad science.

Words hurt. Jerry Kartzinel’s words hurt. Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill’s words hurt. They hurt and they are wrong. Plain and simple.

Another phrase from the above paragraph: “autism brutally restricts the interests of the affected”. So say the team that has one interest: pushing mercury in vaccines as a cause of autism. A little ironic?

Reading their writing, I am reminded of one of Bev’s amazing videos:

Back to the paragraph from “The Age of Autism”. Dan, Mark: You don’t think autistics made tools, explored the globe, invented new technologies? The sad thing is, it seems like you don’t.

Yeah, a lot of kids, kids like mine, aren’t in the world explorer/inventor categories. And even kids like mine are still as human as you or I. They are not missing anything “distinctly human”.

Paul Offit explains the money side of the rotavirus vaccine he worked on

14 Sep

Misinformationists love a vacuum. Unfortunately, Dr. Paul Offit left them a big opening by not disclosing how much his hospital, the Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), paid him as his share of the royalties from the sale of the rights to his rotavirus vaccine invention.

Dr. Offit invented a rotavirus vaccine, together with CHOP faculty members Dr. Stanley Plotkin and Dr. Fred Clark. This vaccine was commercialized as RotaTeq. CHOP is reported to have been paid $182M, with a net income of $153M.

From that, Doctors Offit, Plotkin and Clark would have been paid an inventor’s share.

In my opinion, it was sufficient for Dr. Offit to acknowledge that it was a significant amount of money.

Mr. Mark Blaxill and Mr. Dan Olmsted of the Age of Autism blog felt differently. They felt it necessary to put an number to Dr. Offit’s royalty payment from CHOP.

Dr. Offit and CHOP declined to respond to their request for information on this subject.

As a point of interest: CHOP didn’t respond to my request, made at that time, either.

In this information vacuum, Misters Blaxill and Olmsted used public information from a scattering of sources to estimate that Dr. Offit was payed between $29M and $55M.

They were off by about a factor of 10.

As noted in a recent post
, I showed how one could easily make an accurate estimate of the royalty payment from that sale, and it was about $6M. Misters Olmsted and Blaxill, who spent a considerable amount of time scouring information from the University of Arkansas to the University of California missed the easily obtainable public information on the CHOP website.

Before I wrote that piece, I contacted Misters Blaxill and Olmsted with the correct information, even including a statement that Dr. Offit had acknowledged that the estimate I came up with was accurate. I was informed that a public statement was necessary by Dr. Offit.

I found this odd because on Sept. 9, a statement by Dr. Offit was reported.

This was originally run on the blog “Countering the Age of Autism” as Paul Offit explains the money side of the rotavirus vaccine he worked on, by David N. Brown, frequent poster to this site and owner of the Evil Possum website.

In an email correspondence with David Brown August 18, 2009, Dr. Paul Offit writes:


CHOP sold its patent for $182 million. This information was made publicly available and was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer at the time. The inventors, Fred Clark, Stan Plotkin, and me split 10 percent of that three ways. This means that we each received about $6 million. It was a ridiculous amont of money and certainly far more than any of us needs, but it is also a far cry from what has been claimed.

But the part that hurts the most is the continued claim that we did this for the money. I don’t know any scientist who does it for the money (you certainly don’t make much in salary). You do it because it’s fun and because you think you can contribute. And the reward for creating a vaccine was also never financial. The reward was watching this vaccine dramatically reduce the incidence of rotavirus hospitalizations in the US and now getting to watch the vaccine enter the developing world in countries like Mali, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Ghana, and Nicaragua. That’s why we did it.

It hurts to watch people slander me the way they do. They just don’t know me. Or any of us that work so hard to get a technology like the rotavirus vaccine to the countries where it will save the most lives.


Reprinted with permission from David Brown and Dr. Paul Offit.

Paul Offit responds to the press release by NAA (and carried by AoA)

14 Sep

The National Autism Association put out a press release last week that was an amazing piece of work. Just not in a good way.

I was not the first to comment on it. Below is a post from the Countering Age of Autism blog that I asked to rerun here.

So, with permission:

On the 8th, NAA sent out a press release rehashing the same misinformation that AoA habitually runs (it’s almost like they got it right from them and Wakefield. They probably did). AoA picked it up and ran with it, and I spent a fair portion of my day trying to figure out who NAA was as well as mount an adequate rebuttal. I don’t know that it’s an adequate rebuttal, but it is what I can do.

I appreciate the researchers who work tirelessly in labs trying to figure out ways to save lives. I admire the diligence and commitment it takes to work for over two decades on one vaccine because you believe in it that strongly. Now, I don’t reach the level of adoring fan like Wakefield’s groupies apparently do (if you saw the Friday morning piece on the Today show before the Sunday Dateline, you know what I’m talking about), but I’m not a groupie kind of gal. Maybe those women are. My point is, this isn’t blind adoration speaking. I’ve read Dr. Offit’s books, all of them, because I wanted to know more about vaccines (read those first), and I read Autism’s False Prophets, as well, because I wanted to see what he’d found out.

For most of my son’s (who will be 20 this year) life, I have been focused on HIM. I homeschooled him for ten years, I spent the years before that often all day in the school system with him. He was the center of my world as I worked with him to help him. I didn’t join support groups; I didn’t talk to a lot of parents with autistic children. My husband and I labored alone for the most part. I wasn’t desperate; I was determined. I read everything I could on autism, mostly the science because I am so not into the woo. If it was woo, I stayed away from it. Until March of this year when I realized how much was out there.

Why did I start looking, now, after all these years? My daughters are on the spectrum as well. They are 12 and 14 years younger than their brother and it seemed like I needed to see what was out there. Especially since I have students who ask about vaccines and autism. I delved deep into the science of it, and then into the woo. Not all the woo, mostly the easy access free stuff at Huff and AoA and like autism organizations. Gods, but there is a frakload of woo out there. And really nasty behavior on the part of the woo-ites. Like the threats that Dr. Offit receives. Not acceptable behavior period.

So, when this stuff hit, I emailed Dr Offit to ask if he’d like to rebut this latest round of trash talk. And, thankfully, he did.

And here is the email that Countering Age of Autism posted:

Run with the permission of Dr. Offit:

Dear Kim,

Thanks for the support. At some point those who believe that vaccines cause autism will realize that I’m not their problem. The data are their problem. But I guess, absent supportive data, it’s easier and more satifying to attack me (I would also like to point out that I didn’t do any of these studies that exonerated vaccines as a cause of autism; I just explain them to the media).

Although it might sound crazy, I take some solace in the fact that those who oppose vaccines continue to get the facts wrong. It’s somewhat reassuring to know that they hate me for the wrong reasons. And the Huffington Post blog by James Moore, a well-respected journalist, is completely off the mark. I would have expected more.

1) I am not a paid consultant to Merck.

2) I never “voted myself rich” while I was on the ACIP. RotaTeq came up for a vote in 2006, three years after I was no longer a voting member. And even if I were a member, I wouldn’t have been allowed to vote. Further, I consistently declared my potential conflict. Although some people may find this hard to believe, I’m actually proud to be the co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine and was more than happy to declare this at the beginning of every meeting.

3) What (the hell) does being the co-inventor of a vaccine have to do with standing up for the science of vaccine safety. It certainly doesn’t affect my financial position one way or the other. I do it because I think that children are getting hurt by all of this (the same reason I went into pediatrics and worked on vaccines). The logic of the anti-vaccine folks escapes me here. Let me see if I’ve got this right; I invent a vaccine that can save as many as 2,000 lives a day so that I can make money so that I can lie about vaccine safety so I can hurt children.

4) I do not receive salary support or laboratory support from the Hilleman endowed chair. Five percent of that endowment does go to support members of our division, but not me.

5) I never received one penny of the $350,000 claimed in the Burton report. All of that money went to Dr. Fred Clark. I was totally supported by grants to NIH.

I really do appreciate your support, Kim. Few seem to be willing to stand up for me. And it does occasionally get me down. But mostly it just makes me angrier and more determined to hang in there.