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Trump is only the latest charlatan to use the anti-vaccine community

15 May

When Donald Trump was running for president (has he ever stopped running for president and started governing?) the anti-vaccine community threw full support behind him. They were excited because here was a candidate who publicly accepted and promoted the fake and damaging idea that vaccines cause autism.

Before running, Trump supported the idea that vaccines cause autism in twitter. During the campaign he stated his support for this failed idea clearly in a debate. So it’s no wonder that the anti-vaccine community backed him.

Then, a few weeks ago Trump said this, in response to the recent measles outbreak:

“They have to get the shots. The vaccinations are so important. This is really going around now. They have to get their shots.”

That didn’t sit well with the various anti-vaccine groups. But allow me to take a moment to look at the viewpoint during the campaign. In specific, think about this–while campaigning did Donald Trump appear to be a candidate who would do well by the disability communities? Would someone like my kid benefit from a Trump presidency?

Clearly not. It’s not even a close question. And yet, even autism-parent anti-vaccine activists were pro Trump. Even though life would be harder for their kids after Trump. Even though there would be less support for their kids. Even though Trump would heighten stigma of disability.

One would think that parents of disabled children would run to vote for anyone else. Anyone who even paid lip service to supporting their children.

But the anti-vaccine autism parents didn’t. And I wasn’t surprised.

These are the same parents who:

chelated their kids (even though autism looks nothing like mercury intoxication, could cause harm and in at least one case did cause death)

dumped synthetic chemicals mislabeled as as “supplement” on their kids’ gluten free waffles.

promoted bleach enemas for “treating” autism

injected children with filtered urine

chemical castration of disabled children as a purported “cure”

The list goes on and on. But what do all of the above “therapies” have in common? OK, what do they have in common besides being bogus? They are all promoted by people who say vaccines cause autism.

So I wasn’t the least bit surprised that the anti-vaccine autism-parent community backed Trump. Not for a moment.

Remember back during the campaign when JB Handley (anti-vaccine activist founder of the Age of Autism blog) wrote Trumps Stands with my Son, I Stand with Trump

In it he stated:

But, I will make the point to you anyway: Donald Trump is the best thing that has happened to our kids in a very long time and I hope we can all lay down our issues and stand with him.

Because Handley is a “one issue voter” and that issue is the (failed) idea that vaccines cause autism

Did it matter that Trump had no plan for supporting people with disabilities?

Did it matter that Trump openly mocked people with disabilities?

Did it matter that Trump didn’t have the backbone to actually apologize for such a crude attack, stigmatizing disability?

Did it matter that Trump was pushing to remove the Affordable Care Act, which has allowed many autistics to get medical insurance? As part of that push Trump wanted to remove coverage for people with pre-existing conditions? One would think that pre-existing condition coverage would be a priority for Handley and the anti-vaccine community.

Did it matter that Trump was planning to gut funding for support services for people with disabilities?

Or, to put it simply, did the anti-vaccine community actually put people with disabilities in into their decision to support Trump? No. Not even close.

Trump said vaccines cause autism. And with that Trump got their vote.

Did Trump ever stand with any autistic? Anyone’s child? Anyone’s son? Nope. Trump stood with the anti-vaccine activists themselves.

And now Trump has abandoned them. It may only be for now. But the anti-vaccine community isn’t large enough and the sentiment against them is rising.

Here’s a response to Trump from Kim Rossi at the Age of Autism blog:

From an MSNBC report yesterday: President Donald Trump commented on the recent measles outbreaks, saying that people “have to get their shots” and called vaccinations “important.”

Will the First Lady share her children’s vaccination status, please? We would have like to have seen the Obama girls’ records too. No partisanship here at AofA. Both sides of a rotten apple with a pharma profit core.

Trump is now part of the “rotten apple with a Pharma profit core”.

No partisanship, eh Kim? I guess you finally realized that being a charity (the Age of Autism converted to a charity a few years ago–before the election) actually means having to follow the laws imposed on charities. Like abandoning the clear partisanship you showed in promoting Trump’s candidacy.

So Kim…JB…and the rest of you: Trump fooled you. Did you stop for a moment and think, “wow, I can be fooled. I wonder who else has fooled me in the past and who is still fooling me now?”

I doubt it. And that’s too bad. You all could do a lot to undo the harm you’ve caused.


By Matt Carey

Today’s measles outbreak, brought to you by Generation Rescue and other anti-vaccine misinformation sources

1 May

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.

–J.B. Handley. Founder of Generation Rescue and the Age of Autism Blog.
March 17, 2010

Kelli Ann Davis. Anyone remember that name? She was a spokesperson and political liaison (or something like that) for Generation Rescue back in the day. As in 10 years ago or so.

I’d be amazed if anyone actually remembered her name. It took me a while to remember her name, but I remembered her. She was a frequent commenter in online discussions on vaccines. News stories and blogs. She really liked to point out that there were pockets of under vaccinated people. Schools and communities with low vaccine uptakes. And there weren’t outbreaks of diseases. This, in her mind, seemed to be evidence that herd immunity was a fake idea. Worthy of scare quotes (“herd immunity”).

Here’s an example I dug up from the Age of Autism blog, circa 2009:

She stuck in my mind. She was so arrogant in her ignorance. So full of her self with her bad logic. And she was spreading misinformation.

I knew it was only a matter of time before the outbreaks did come. Before someone imported something like measles into one or more of these under-protected communities.

I won’t hold my breath waiting for her to come back and take responsibility. I won’t wait for Generation Rescue to accept its role in causing suffering. I won’t expect other purveyors of misinformation to show the backbone needed to admit a mistake.

I will admit I was wrong in one area–I worried that eventually the press would start to realize that a great deal of the misinformation campaign has been waged by a vocal minority of autism parents. That is why I remembered Kelli Ann. Not for the chance to one day say, “I told you so”. I knew that these outbreaks would come. The outbreaks would cause people to suffer, some to possibly endure lasting harm and, let’s hope this doesn’t happen, death. While slowing or blunting the harm from these inevitable outbreaks was a worthy goal in and of itself, I was worried that the autism community would take the blame for people like Kelli Ann. JB Handley. Jenny McCarthy.

I am grateful that this hasn’t happened. So far. But I also think it’s on us, autism parents, to call out the behavior of our own. We need to reduce the misinformation that comes from our community. Be it vaccine misinformation, disrespect of people with disabilities or spreading medical pseudoscience.


By Matt Carey

p.s. Yes, I realize that “anti-vaccination” and “misinformation source” are largely redundant.

Anti vaccine activists are angry about a new study…and they didn’t even bother to read it

14 Mar

This is a big piece of what the “vaccines-cause-autism” idea is built on. Really bad analyses. Another study shows up showing that vaccines don’t cause autism. People immediately jump to give talking points to their community: “ignore this study! In fact, it’s just another conspiracy to defraud you!!!!!”*

But they know from history, their community doesn’t check. They don’t test whether the talking points hold up. Either that, or they really are this bad at simple math.

One reason I slowed down a lot on writing debunks of the “vaccines cause autism” community is that it’s very repetitive. It only takes a few minutes to see where they make their mistakes. I admit, I have the training and the time to do that checking, but it leaves me wondering. As in, it’s hard to not ask: “are they really this bad at science? Are they so biased they don’t know they are wrong? Or, are they lying?” I don’t know. What matters most is they are wrong. I am grateful that I had the time to spend checking their claims and was able to not get sucked into that world.

That intro aside, there was a recent study that, once again, shows that the MMR vaccine doesn’t increase autism risk. 21 years since Wakefield’s junk study and we are still spending time and money countering his misinformation. When you look at what the autism community needs, it’s just sad to see resources used this way. But I get it. The anti-vaccine community is doing real harm (note the rise in measles in the US and elsewhere). But, dang, I’d like more work done to help my kid.

So, what’s this new study? Measles, Mumps, Rubella Vaccination and Autism: A Nationwide Cohort Study. With the conclusion:

The study strongly supports that MMR vaccination does not increase the risk for autism, does not trigger autism in susceptible children, and is not associated with clustering of autism cases after vaccination. It adds to previous studies through significant additional statistical power and by addressing hypotheses of susceptible subgroups and clustering of cases.

Thanks for doing this, but, again, the results are not surprising in the least.

Naturally this brought about a big response from the anti-vaccine community. The go-to place for defense of “vaccines cause autism” used to be the Age of Autism blog. I went there and found they just recycled a piece from a guy named James Lyons Wieler. Apparently he was once a scientist, but he now seems to be a guy asking autism parents for money to write bad articles about how vaccines cause autism. In this case has found the “Smoking Gun” for why the MMR study is so wrong.

(1) The smoking gun is the study-wide autism rate of 0.9-1%. The rate of ASD in Denmark is 1.65%. Where are the missing cases of ASD? Given past allegations of this group’s malfeasance and fraud, the rest of the study cannot be accepted based on this disparity alone: the study group is not representative of the population being studied.

Clearly they must be fudging the data!!!!!

This appears to have become the talking point that the anti-vaccine community is passing around. It was picked up by Brian Hooker. He wrote “A Scientist’s Rebuttal to the Danish Cohort Study“:

1. Children were notably missing from the study sample:

First and foremost is the underascertainment of autism cases within their data sample. The study authors used Denmark population registries of children born in Denmark of Danish-born mothers which should reflect the current reported autism incidence in Denmark at 1.65% (Schendel et al. 2018, JAMA). However, the autism incidence within the sample of the Hviid et al. paper is 0.98%, meaning that approximately 4,400 autistic children are missing from this study. The authors do not discuss the discrepancy in the number of cases.

Again, his number 1 point, the missing children!

Even JB Handley (remember him? Yes, he’s back) wrote about this. Focusing his whole piece on this “missing” group in the MMR study: New Danish MMR study shows autism rate of 1 in 100—CDC should rush to Denmark!

2. The most compelling data in the study will never get covered: why is the autism rate in this study only 1 in 100?

Here in the U.S. we’re at 1 in 36! Shouldn’t CDC researchers rush to Denmark to figure out why their autism rate is so much lower than ours? For every 1,000 Danish kids, only 10 have autism. But here in the U.S., we have 28 per 1,000, that’s 177% more autism! I thought Paul Offit wanted everyone to believe the autism rate was the same everywhere? What gives?

Hold on to your seat, Handley. It’s about to get discussed.

I had thought I’d take the easy route and just email the study author for an explanation. That could have answered the big question for Handley, Weiler, and Hooker. But that would take a day or two to get a response from Denmark. Why not just, you know, read the paper? Or, just the introduction?

Under the “Abstract” section of the MMR paper, which has the “missing” autistic kids and a lower prevalence rate:

Participants: 657 461 children born in Denmark from 1999 through 31 December 2010, with follow-up from 1 year of age and through 31 August 2013.

Under the methods section for the earlier Denmark paper, which has the higher prevalence rate:

All live births in Denmark between 1980 and 2012 were identified in the Central Person Register and followed through 2016 for an ASD diagnosis

It’s not that hard to compare the two studies.

One study looked at Danes born from 1999 to 2010. And took data from 2013. This is the MMR study.

The other study looked at Danes born from 1980 and 2012. And took data in 2016.

Apples, meet Oranges.

Seriously, people are surprised that they came to different answers as to the overall prevalence? I mean, this is your “smoking gun”? This is the best the “vaccines cause autism” community can do? If nothing else, one study took data later than the other. You are the “it’s an epidemic!” team, surely you accept that the autism rate is higher in the later dataset.

But, hey, this didn’t take the full 5 minutes I allocated to check the claims of this “smoking gun” against this new study. I still had 4.5 minutes.

So, let’s see if the data really are compatible. Can we take the data from the prevalence study and get the same number as in the MMR study? Yes, I’m a geek and this is what I do. But we just saw that 2 Ph.D.’s (Hooker and Wieler) and a business guy (Handley) didn’t think to do that. Is it really that hard? (I do wonder how Handley made money. Seems like he must have relied on someone else to do the numbers.)

I just wrote about the autism prevalence study: Yes, there are a lot more adult autistics than commonly thought. The real question is what we do with this information. I have the graph from the prevalence study, so I ran the numbers quickly. If we limit ourselves to the autistics in the MMR study (born 1999 to 2010) and take data in 2013, we get a prevalence value of 1.02%.

1.02% using the prevalence study. Compared to 1% in the MMR study.

They are the same. No “malfeasance”. No “fraud”. No “discrepancy”. And, Mr. Handley, no evidence you can use to blame the HepB vaccine for autism.

Now for the dull part. Here’s my math.

Step 1: I digitized the graph. The red points are where I took prevalence data from the graphs. Each line represents 2 birth years, so I took points where for the age of the average kid in each cohort in 2013.

Here’s the summary table from those data points.

I did this fast. Let me know if I made a mistake. That’s why I’m showing my work. It’s not precise because, well, it’s done by hand. Also, there’s the fact that the MMR paper was for kids born from 1999 to 2010. The prevalence study has kids grouped by 2 years. So I have data for 1998-99 where I only really want 1999. It’s good enough. The “age in 2013” is what the digitizer gave me for the datapoint positions I chose. I can’t get exactly, say, 10.5. But, again, it’s good enough.

Anyway, there’s no “smoking gun” as James Lyons Weiler says. There aren’t children “notably missing” as Brian Hooker claims. And the “most compelling data” according to JB Handley is just that he can’t read a scientific paper.

This is a big piece of what the “vaccines-cause-autism” idea is built on. Really bad analyses. Another study shows up showing that vaccines don’t cause autism. People immediately jump to give talking points to their community: “ignore this study! In fact, it’s just another conspiracy to defraud you!!!!!”*

But they know from history, their community doesn’t check. They don’t test whether the talking points hold up. Either that, or they (people like Handley, Hooker and the rest) really are this bad at simple math.


By Matt Carey.

*Yeah, you guys are pushing a conspiracy theory. I know you like to say “oh, he called us conspiracy theorists, therefore we don’t have to listen to him.” Surprise me. Grow a backbone and defend the points in this commentary rather than either (a) ignoring it or (b) dismissing it because I pointed out that you are claiming scientists conspired to fool the world.

Jim Carrey, you are part of the problem for us in the Autism Community

15 Jul

Years back Jim Carrey was and autism were mentioned together regularly in the news.  This was at the height of the vaccine misinformation campaign of his then partner, Jenny McCarthy.  Mr. Carrey went so far as to be a speaker at the “Green Our Vaccines” rally in Washington.  That was 2008. Since then the Green Our Vaccines as a movement has died, Jenny McCarthy has tried to distance herself from her very vocal stance on vaccines, and given that Mr. Carrey and Ms. McCarthy split, it seemed like we had seen the last of Mr. Carrey.

Until recently.

You see Mr. Carrey took offense to new legislation in California.  A bill that will roll back vaccine exemptions to where personal belief exemptions will no longer be accepted in the schools here.  In other words, for the most part one will now need an actual medical reason to avoid vaccination in order to register for public school.

Mr. Carrey took to twitter with his complaints about the new law.  All well and good, free speech and all.  But Mr. Carrey went too far. He decided to take pictures of kids in distress and the implication that this is what happens when you vaccinate your kids. One tweet read ““A trillion dollars buys a lot of expert opinions. Will it buy you? TOXIN FREE VACCINES, A REASONABLE REQUEST!”” and included a picture of an autistic kid (the other pictures he used appear to have been stock images). The story is discussed by Emily Willingham as Jim Carrey Unwittingly Brings Attention To Something Actually Linked To Autism

And Time Magazine in Jim Carrey Apologizes for Using Photo of Autistic Boy in Anti-Vaccination Tweet.

Because, to give him credit, Mr. Carrey did apologize to that family. (Ironically, it turns out that the kid was unvaccinated when he was first diagnosed autistic).

I harken back to Mr. Carrey’s time with the autism community (remember when Generation Rescue was tagged as “Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey’s Autism Organization”?). At one speech, probably the Green Our Vaccines Rally, Mr. Carrey made the pseduo-profound statement, “We are not the problem. The problem is the problem.”

So while I do appreciate Mr. Carrey stepping up and apologizing to one family, I do want to point out: Mr. Carrey, you were one of the problems for the autism community. And you apparently still are.

Ms. McCarthy introduced you to a closed group of people, a small sampling of the autism community. You likely came away thinking that they *are* the autism community, because that’s how they think of themselves.

They aren’t.

Most of us autism parents don’t subscribe to the vaccine causation idea. I can provide the links to multiple studies if you like, but it’s just the way things are.

And autism parents are not the autism community. One thing that Generation Rescue and like organizations have done is act like autistics are some sort of second class citizens in the community. Who do you think the community primarily is, autistics or parents?

Here’s the thing: the vaccine-causation idea is probably the most damaging notion to have hit the autism community. Did you hear about the “refrigerator mother” theory during your time at Generation Rescue? It’s second to the vaccine causation theory. Telling generations of disabled kids that they are less than they are, that they should be someone else, is damaging. Mr. Carrey, did you attend any of those parent conventions, like AutismOne? Perhaps you look at alternative medicine favorably. Well, the vaccine causation idea is used to sell “therapies” that aren’t close to being “alternative”. They are just wrong. And, frankly, abusive. Chemical castration of disabled children? This was promoted multiple times at conventions where your former partner was a keynote speaker. Fake diagnoses of mercury poisoning, followed by chelation? Same. And even a major promoter of chelation has a new study showing it doesn’t work. Did anyone tell you why the NIH autism/chelation trial was stopped? Because if you chelate test animals who do not have mercury intoxication, they go down cognitively. If the same happens in humans, tens of thousands of autistic children lost some IQ due to chelation. Think that one over, since GR started out as primarily an org promoting chelation. Daily bleach drinks and bleach enemas? That one is probably new since you dropped out. But, yep, that gets sold as a cure for “vaccine injury”. Shall I go on? Because I can. The autism=vaccine injury idea sells junk medicine which is subjected upon disabled children.

And you added your voice to the vaccine-causation idea.

You’ve apologized to one family. That took guts. Now step up and start making amends to the rest of us. Parents and, especially, autistics.


By Matt Carey

National Geographic, “The War on Science”, includes discussion of vaccines and autism

19 Feb

I just got my copy of the March 2015 issue of National Geographic a couple of days ago. Imagine my reaction when I saw this cover (click to enlarge):

natgeo

In case you are having trouble imagining my reaction–it includes a big THANK YOU to National Geographic.

Yes, they put “vaccinations can lead to autism” up there with “evolution never happened” and “the moon landing was fake”.

This paragraph includes references to Jenny McCarthy (anti-vaccine activist and actress Jenny McCarthy) and Andrew Wakefield’s Lancet article.

Doubting science also has consequences. The people who believe vaccines cause autism—often well educated and affluent, by the way—are undermining “herd immunity” to such diseases as whooping cough and measles. The anti-vaccine movement has been going strong since the prestigious British medical journal the Lancet published a study in 1998 linking a common vaccine to autism. The journal later retracted the study, which was thoroughly discredited. But the notion of a vaccine-autism connection has been endorsed by celebrities and reinforced through the usual Internet filters. (Anti-vaccine activist and actress Jenny McCarthy famously said on the Oprah Winfrey Show, “The University of Google is where I got my degree from.”)


By Matt Carey

CNN: The money behind the vaccine skeptics

6 Feb

CNN Money has a short video up that makes a point that a few of us have been making for the past few years: much of the vaccine antagonistic message is funded by a few wealthy people. A good discussion can be found at A Snapshot of the Deep Pockets of the Anti-Vaccine Movement on Haprocrates Speaks. The CNN piece is called “The money behind the vaccine skeptics“. I can’t get the video to embed here, but one can find it here.

Here’s a screenshot from CNN showing the organizations, people and money that CNN discusses (click to enlarge)

cnn money

CNN points out that the self-styled National Vaccine Information Center and others (such as Chris Shaw’s group at the University of British Columbia) get a lot of money from the Dwoskin family. The Dwoskin Family Foundation told CNN that they are not antivaccine but are, instead, advocates for safer vaccines. It’s a story we hear a lot.

Claire Dwoskin is or was a board member of the NVIC and made this statement about vaccines. John Stossel had aired a piece about how his daughter had fought off a whooping cough infection and in her response to one of his producers she stated:

What his daughter went through is NOTHING compared to what the families of autistic children go through every day of their lives. No disease can match this record of human devastation. Vaccines are a holocaust of poison on our children’s brains and immune systems. Shame on you all.

I’m not sure how that sentiment fits in with being “advocates for safer vaccines”. One has to accept that vaccines are safe before advocating for safer vaccines.

Also mentioned is Barry Segal who funds Focus Autism (now Focus for Health) and A Shot of Truth. And Generation Rescue’s JB Handley and Jenny McCarthy. Both Focus Autism and Generation Rescue are noted for funding Andrew Wakefield’s “Strategic Autism Initiative”. All these groups are discussed in previous articles here at Left Brain/Right Brain.

The piece is short and perhaps that’s why they don’t mention Generation Rescue’s hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on full page ads claiming vaccines cause autism, or their poorly performed phone survey on vaccines. Lots of money spent on promoting fear and distrust of vaccines.

I’ve never seen evidence of these groups actually funding work into safer vaccines. I’ve never seen, say, funding for research into a new vaccine or even something simple like improved storage and transportation for vaccines into the developing world to reduce the use of thimerosal, a preservative these groups claim (without good evidence) cause autism and other disabilities.


Matt Carey

Jenny McCarthy tells the story two different ways…again

29 Jan

Yep, this doesn’t have anything to do with autism. Well, aside from the fact that we will discuss how one public face for autism is once again showing that her stories don’t match over time. You see, Jenny McCarthy has a reality TV show now and the story of her divorce presented in that show doesn’t match what she wrote in her book 8 years ago. I found the new story in a recent article in the Washington Post: Jenny McCarthy tries to mend her anti-vaccine reputation with reality TV. It’s too little, too late in which Emily Yahr writes:

The show is filled with such heart-to-hearts, with McCarthy recounting her ordeals as a single mom, starting with her ex filing for divorce in 2005 the same week that Evan was diagnosed with autism.

Now, it’s been a while since I read Jenny McCarthy’s “Louder than words” book. A long while, but that statement didn’t strike me as consistent with what she wrote in her book. The sentiment is the same: harsh on her kid’s father while putting herself in a good light, but the details didn’t match.

What did she say in her 2007 book? She says that she asked for the divorce. She was the mommy warrior, taking charge in that book. Now in her reality show she’s the object of sympathy, dumped by her husband just when she needed him most.

LTW-divorce

In fact, if you read the book, she talks about thinking about divorce for some time before she finally asked for it. Because that whole “same week as the diagnosis” thing in the TV show isn’t what she wrote in 2007 either. Between the autism diagnosis and her asking for a divorce, there are weeks, if not months of stories in her book. Stories that include Ms. McCarthy asking her husband to leave, and him refusing.

Who knows what the actual story was. All we hear is the story that fits the image she wants to portray at the moment. Her ex husband is taking the high road and not returning fire.

Oh, and if you are worried about how her son took the divorce, don’t. According to Ms. McCarthy, autism renders one incapable “emotionally connecting” with such events.

LTW-downplay-evan-reaction

Sorry to be sarcastic there. But, really, Ms. McCarthy? Autism renders one incapable of emotionally connecting with what was going on? Couldn’t be that the kid was unable to understand why his mother was making his father leave, just as any kid would?

No real surprises here. Ms. McCarthy has been inconsistent over the years. She had multiple stories of her first encounter with Barbara Walters when Ms. McCarthy was a guest on The View. She has informed us that her son is no longer autistic. Then, a few years later, she tells us that he is. (Jenny McCarthy Slams Rumor That Her 11-Year-Old Son Evan Doesn’t Have Autism). She hammers away at vaccines, but tells us she’s pro-vaccine. And to cap it all, she heads an autism charity that focuses on treatment, but won’t speak out against the faux treatments (like bleach enemas) that are promoted at her orgs conventions.


by Matt Carey