Archive | Jenny McCarthy RSS feed for this section

Jenny McCarthy, shilling for big tobacco

10 Aug

Not my usual style for an article title, I know, but I couldn’t think of any other way to say this.  Jenny McCarthy is now advertising for Blu e-cigarettes. Blu is owned by Lorillard, a major tobacco company.

“All the fun and none of the guilt of having a cigarette”, she says in one video. Yes, children, smoking is fun. And sexy.  Smoke an e-cigarette and you can get a date.

Fun and sexy.  Anyone else feel like we are watching an episode of Mad Men (a show about advertising in the 1960’s)?

image

After her stance on vaccines, Jenny McCarthy wouldn’t promote something that is toxic, right? Of course the health aspects have been tested, right?

Here’s a bit from the Blu FAQ.

Is blu better for me than traditional cigarettes?

blu liquid is made in the U.S. with domestic and imported ingredients by Johnson Creek Enterprises in Hartland Wisconsin; we maintain an organization that inspects product lines at all facilities daily. blu simulates the smoking experience without the tobacco smoke, ash and smell associated with traditional tobacco cigarettes. blu should not be used as a quit smoking device as it has not been approved by the FDA as a cessation device. blu eCigs are not a smoking cessation product and have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, nor are they intended to treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition.

Did you catch where they address the question of whether the health risks are reduced in e-cigarettes? That’s right, they didn’t. They didn’t point out that there are no safety studies.  You know, long term health outcomes of the sort that Jenny McCarthy says are lacking in vaccine research making such research in her view — yes — tobacco science.

What’s in the “smoke juice” used in Blu? I didn’t find it easily on their website, but here’s what the manufacturer of the liquid says

Johnson Creek Original Smoke Juice is happy to furnish our ingredient list! In fact, we list our ingredients right on the bottle. USP Grade Propylene Glycol (not in Red Oak Smoke Juice Recipe) USP Grade Vegetable Glycerin USP Grade Glycerol USP Grade Deionized water USP Grade Nicotine (except in Zero Nicotine recipe) Natural Flavors Artificial flavors USP Grade Citric Acid

Propylene Glycol“. That’s a form of antifreeze. A form that has been approved by the FDA for some food uses. Ms. McCarthy and her team falsely claimed that vaccines contain “antifreeze”. It’s scary in vaccines but OK in an e-cigarette. Is propylene glycol scary? No. But there is heavy irony in her promoting a product using an antifreeze after using this term (falsely) as a scare tactic about vaccines.

Edit to add: The Blu website does include the ingredients and Propylene Glycol isn’t in them.

Ingredients: blu™ flavor cartridges are propylene glycol-free with six (6) key ingredients: distilled water, nicotine (when applicable), FCC grade vegetable glycerin, natural flavors, artificial flavors, and citric acid.

I’m so glad that they use high grade (USP Grade) nicotine. Only the best, right?

Here’s the proposition 65 warning on the Blu website;

| CALIFORNIA PROPOSITION 65 – Warning: This product contains nicotine, a chemical known to the state of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.

I seem to recall Jenny McCarthy telling the story of how she locked herself in a hotel room so she could quit smoking when she learned she was pregnant. She believed that tobacco ingredients were harmful then. Now she’s selling a nicotine delivery system.

Jenny MCarthy is not new to promoting toxins. Back in her vaccine campaign heyday she touted the benefits of botox. In 2008 she only got a little bit (every two months). Now she’s “Team Botox“.

I will say, her move to promote e-cigarettes was unexpected. Which is different from saying I’m surprised. If someone had said, “do you think Jenny McCarthy would accept money to promote an e-cigarette nicotine delivery system”, I’d have said yes. Jenny McCarthy may not be consistent on her stories and beliefs, but she is consistent in promoting Jenny McCarthy and taking opportunities to make money.


By Matt Carey

Note–I posted an early draft of this article which contains errors. The original paragraph is below

“Propylene Glycol”. That would be the same substance used in vaccines that Ms. McCarthy and her team mislabelled “antifreeze”. It’s scary in vaccines but OK in an e-cigarette. Which do you think contains the greater exposure? (Hint, infants don’t carry packs of vaccines every day). Is propylene glycol scary? No. But there is heavy irony in her promoting a product using it after using this substance as a scare tactic about vaccines.

Jenny McCarthy angling for a spot on The View?

15 Jul

I don’t spend much time following celebrities. Jenny McCarthy was, for a time, an exception. She became the number one spokesperson for the idea that vaccines cause autism as well as for unproven and sometimes dangerous “therapies” for autism. She made a lot of money from autism, autism kept her name in the press and, as the money dried up, Ms. McCarthy quieted down on the topics that only a short time before she was so passionate about. Jenny McCarthy now makes news for topic like, “Jenny McCarthy ‘dating’ Donnie Wahlberg“.

New reports recently came out that Jenny McCarthy is being considered for a spot on the TV show “The View”. I saw a number of these sorts of news stories before I cancelled my news alerts. “Jenny McCarthy in talks with….for a job” They struck me as publicity and trial balloons. Attempts to get buzz going to help get the job.

If Jenny McCarthy’s publicity team are floating this as a trial balloon, they should have known the response they would get:

U.S. News and World Report: Jenny McCarthy’s Pseudoscience Has No Place on ‘The View

Slate: The View of Jenny McCarthy

Salon: Don’t put Jenny McCarthy on “The View” The “warrior mother” is dangerous for television

Atlantic: Destabilizing the Jenny McCarthy Public-Health Industrial Complex

Most discussions focus on Jenny McCarthy’s views on vaccines. She adheres to the idea that vaccines cause autism. It’s good to point out this stance but, as I’ll discuss below, I personally question why The View would be considering Jenny McCarthy given her unprofessional attitude and lack of integrity in regards to her visits on The View.

The vaccine stance has been a bit of a liability for Ms. McCarthy and her organization (Generation Rescue). They have toned down their message a great deal over recent years. Back at the time when Generation Rescue was founded, they were very upfront:

Generation Rescue believes that childhood neurological disorders such as autism, Asperger’s, ADHD/ADD, speech delay, and many other developmental delays are all misdiagnoses for mercury poisoning.

With the number 1 reason for “How was my child poisoned” being thimerosal in vaccines.

The founder of Jenny McCarthy’s autism charity famously wrote once:

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.

Generation Rescue both before and since Jenny McCarthy has had a focus on various “cures” for autism. They range from relatively harmless (homeopathy) to dangerous and clearly ill founded (Lupron), promoted at their parent conventions like AutismOne.

Jenny McCarthy not only promotes subjecting disabled children to dangerous therapies, she attacks those parents who don’t accept her advice in this regard.

What’s very interesting with the possible gig on The View is the fact that Jenny McCarthy has a very checkered past with that show. In her first autism book tour, the one person who had the guts to challenge Jenny McCarthy was Barbara Walters on The View. Jenny McCarthy was so angered by this that she reportedly told a rally of her supporters exactly where Barbara Walters could “stick her microphone”. (On a local autism news group, when some people proposed putting video of this event on YouTube they were discouraged from doing so. Even then people realized this was not a good move by Ms. McCarthy.)

In a later book, Jenny McCarthy told the story of her confrontation with Barbara Walters on The View, making herself into a brave “warrior” mom. Only, the story that she gave in the book was very different from the version she gave in a televised interview. In other words, at least one of the stories appears fabricated.

She also posited that Barbara Walters was jealous of Jenny McCarthy and that was the reason why Ms. Walters challenged her. Ms. McCarthy even “forgave” Ms. Walters for the incident. Barbara Walters acted like a journalist and asked Jenny McCarthy to back up her statements. Jenny McCarthy slammed Ms. Walters publicly and quite rudely. And Jenny McCarthy forgave Ms. Walters.

Seemed at the time, and still does, that Ms. McCarthy should have been apologizing, not forgiving.

In the time between the incident on The View and Ms. McCarthy offering “forgiveness”, Ms. Walters had published her biography. In it Ms. Walters disclosed that her sister was intellectually disabled. Jenny McCarthy then “understood” that Ms. Walters was jealous of the fact that she had recovered her son, while Ms. Walters’s sister did not have that opportunity. Forgiveness with a side order of condescension.

An interesting point in the “forgiveness” story. Jenny McCarthy didn’t offer forgiveness when Ms. Walters made the disclosure in her biography. No, Ms. McCarthy waited four months until her own book tour to make the statement. It doesn’t strike this observer as anything beyond a cheap publicity stunt by Ms. McCarthy.

Another interesting point is that it has since been reported that Jenny McCarthy’s “recovered” son needs a $100,000 per year school. So, tales of “forgiveness” because she had recovered her kid while Ms. Walters’s sister remained disabled her whole life fall rather flat.

I did find it interesting that when Jenny McCarthy returned years later to The View for another book tour, it was on a day when Barbara Walters was not present.

Barbara Walters is still active onscreen and behind the scenes at The View. Ms. Walters is a true pioneer of journalism. She didn’t last this long without a very thick skin, so I doubt any of the childish antics from Jenny McCarthy bother her personally. On the other hand, Ms. Walters has been able to see first hand how Jenny McCarthy puts integrity aside in favor of self promotion.

The View is not the sort of hard journalism that is the backbone of Ms. Walters’ legacy. But, one does wonder why Ms. Walters (co-producer and co-owner of The View) would take on Ms. McCarthy. Jenny McCarthy is not and never will be on par with Barbara Walters. Few of us are. But bringing Jenny McCarthy into The View would cheapen, just a bit, a lifetime of hard work and excellence by Ms. Walters.


By Matt Carey

Why does Jenny McCarthy need Miss Montana?

16 May

From the bottom of the ocean
To the mountains on the moon
Won’t you please come to Chicago
No one else can take your place

-Graham Nash, “Chicago”

* * *

The first autistic Miss America contestant is a cheerful 19-year-old with heart-breaking beauty and a refreshing message. She celebrates her autism, telling reporters and talk show hosts that “Being on the spectrum is not a death sentence, but a life adventure, and one that I realize has been given to me for a reason,” and “It’s amazing how people don’t accept other people just because they’re different. Being different is not something to look down on, but to be embraced. People need to understand.”

She once told Jeff Probst “There is nothing wrong with being autistic,” and “My autism doesn’t define who I am, I define my autism.”

So why has Alexis Wineman accepted Jenny McCarthy’s invitation to join a “celebrity panel” at a notorious anti-vaccine conference, breaking gluten-free bread with people who compare autism to a death sentence, and something to be despised? One possible answer can be found in her interview published on Disability Scoop last October:

‘Socializing with my classmates, even when I wanted to, was awkward to say the least. I wouldn’t get their jokes half the time. I took everything so literally,’ she told the site.

Here’s what Alexis posted on her Facebook page in January, after receiving a phone call from McCarthy:

Could it be that Alexis is following mean girl McCarthy into the lavatory for a humiliating makeover? Does she literally believe that autistic children can be “rescued” with bleach enemas, chelation, and chemical castration, all of which are “treatments” promoted by other invited speakers the AutismOne conference?

Wineman grew up in Cut Bank, Montana, one square mile of treeless plain and 2,800 hopeful souls. After second grade, Alexis’s twin sister, Amanda skipped ahead into fourth, but not Alexis. “That’s enough to make anyone feel dumb. But I got called “retarded” a lot. I really hate that word,” Alexis told Glamour Magazine. Her behavior deteriorated.

“The meltdowns lasted hours and became more frequent,” says her mother, Kim Butterworth. “We’d have to grab and hold her; she’d be as stiff as a board. It was scary. And she started melting down at school. I’d get the call: ‘We’re having a problem.'”

At age 11 she was diagnosed with PDD-NOS, after the family consulted their pastor and a therapist. “I felt so alone growing up, and I still do at times,” she told a conference on autism at the Montana State University Billings last fall. “Nobody understood what I was going through. I separated myself from my classmates and spent most of my time alone. I stayed quiet to hide my speech problems. Due to these overwhelming and daily struggles, I looked at myself as a punching bag for others, and a burden to my family.”

Her turnaround came in high school, where Alexis ran cross country, joined the drama club, and became a cheerleader. At 18, she entered the Miss Montana contest and won.

Alexis Wineman

Alexis wears her celebrity well. “We cannot cure what is not a sickness,” Miss Montana said in the video shown at the pageant. “But we can begin to understand autism, and help those with the condition to unlock the potential that lies within all of us.”

McCarthy and her business partners disagree. The AutismOne conference is a veritable trade show of unproven and questionable autism “cures”, where the hiss of hyperbaric oxygen chambers lures the credulous, and Mr. Andrew Wakefield tells starry-eyed mothers that “recovery is possible.”

So why did McCarthy reach out to Alexis? Could the invitation be part of McCarthy’s 12-step anger recovery program? The nursing school drop out and ex-MTV host is desperate to shed her anti-vaccine past, which means dissing the “angry mob” she once bragged about. She told the AP in January that she hasn’t publicly commented on vaccines in four years (it was more like two years, but oh well). Her 2011 AutismOne keynote address barely mentioned vaccines. In her 2012 speech, she was introduced by a plaintiff’s attorney who told parents “the claim that mercury doesn’t cause autism is a lie,” but McCarthy herself stayed away from the V word. Meanwhile, when she speaks of Generation Rescue (“my foundation!”), she stresses assistance to parents.

All of which raises (not begs) a serious question: Is the anti-vaccine movement growing up? Can the acceptance-and-accommodation virus find willing hosts in McCarthy’s mob? Can Alexis Wineman from Cut Bank, Montana, attract enough autism parents, and generate enough buzz, to turn Generation Rescue into a responsible and respected advocacy group?

Does McCarthy need Miss Montana? Or is the invitation as dishonest and manipulative as it appears?

 

Cross-posted at AutismNewsBeat.com

No, the autism “rate” in California did not go down after removing thimerosal from vaccines

26 Feb

I recently attended a talk where the speaker showed autism prevalence by age group for a large HMO in California. The administrative prevalence (fraction of people in the HMO identified autistic) was still going up as of 2010, and the speaker indicated this trend continued to 2012. California is an interesting case study because not only was thimerosal removed from vaccines along with the rest of the U.S. starting in the late 1990’s, but the state enacted a law which required that pregnant women and children under three be given thimerosal free vaccines from 2006 onward. So, with the exception of an an exemption in 2009 and another one right now, even the influenza vaccine in thimerosal free. I bring this up because it is a common argument that somehow the exposure from the flu vaccine is keeping the rate climbing, even though at most this is a lower exposure than that from the 1990’s pediatric vaccine schedule.

This all said, the talk made me dive back into looking at autism prevalence. I decided to finally write about the fact that the autism prevalence in Denmark is higher post thimerosal than while thimerosal containing vaccines were in use. This is completely unsurprising, but a myth has been propogating that it came down and that fact was being hidden.

As it turns out I also checked back with what once was the most common source of autism data for the armchair epidemiologist: the California Department of Developmental Services (CDDS). (I admit one could argue that Special Education data are the most common source for the armchair epidemiologist). The CDDS provides services to disabled Californians and keeps and makes public statistics on their client base. For a long time, every quarter they would come out with a report. For a long time, every quarter these reports would be followed by announcements about how the data showed that vaccines cause autism. One of the people you could always count on was David Kirby (author of the book, Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy, and basically a PR man for some of the vaccine-causation groups). Mr. Kirby went so far as to claim that these data were the “gold standard of autism epidemiology”. Well, the data had their uses (such as identifying and quantifying some of the social influences behind the increase) but it is not an easy task to get results from them. The idea that they represent an accurate count of all those with ASD’s (or even accurately account for all individuals with autistic disorder) is a stretch.

But this didn’t stop David Kirby. Back in 2005, David Kirby was claiming that there was an indication that the administrative prevalence in California was starting to drop, and if the trend continued this was a sign that the removal of thimerosal was having an effect:

Stay tuned. If the numbers in California and elsewhere continue to drop – and that still is a big if — the implication of thimerosal in the autism epidemic will be practically undeniable.

Well, by 2007 it was clear that the California data were not really showing a drop. In addition, the lack of a drop was published in 2008 as Continuing increases in autism reported to California’s developmental services system: mercury in retrograde.\

The rise in the number of autism clients in the CDDS database was key to the idea of the mercury-induced epidemic. David Kirby (and others) relied on these data and Mr. Kirby even acknowledged that the data should start showing a drop (statement from 2005):

If the total number of 3-5 year olds in the California DDS system has not declined by 2007, that would deal a severe blow to the autism-thimerosal hypothesis.

The reason is that 5 year olds in 2007 were born after the removal of thimerosal from vaccines. Their exposure to thimerosal was much less than kids in the 1990’s. If the “thimerosal caused an autism epidemic” idea were true, the rates would have to drop. They should drop back to pre-1990 (actually pre 1980) levels if thimerosal were the main, or even a main, cause of the rise.

My recollection is that Mr. Kirby did later backpedal and claim that we would have to wait until some much later date, but it was a weak argument (even by David Kirby standards).

Sorry to keep diving into past history, but one of the strangest moments in the mecury debate (and I can use the term this time, because there was a debate) came in San Diego in 2007. David Kirby debated Arthur Allen in the UCSD Price Center (about 100 yards from my old office, as it turns out). Presented with the fact that even though thimerosal exposure from vaccines had gone down, the California numbers kept going up, David Kirby presented (in something like 100 power point slides!) a four pronged response. First was a claim that California HMO’s had stockpiled thimerosal containing vaccines, so the exposure from vaccines didn’t really go down as much as reports were claiming. Then:

1) A gigantic plume of coal smoke from Chinese power plants has settled on California, depositing lots of mercury and therefore causing the autism numbers in the state to continue to grow.

2) Bad forest fires have put tons of mercury into the air, depositing lots of mercury etc…

3) Cremations (!). The burning of dead bodies with mercury amalgam in their mouths has added even more mercury to the air.

It was a hail Mary pass, to be blunt. Lot’s of handwaving and ignoring the facts.

In 2007, the CDDS changed the way they assessed and counted their clients and they stopped publishing the quarterly reports. As you can imagine, many claimed this was part of a conspiracy to hide the fact that the autism rates were declining in California. And with that the quarterly ritual of misinterpreting and deconstrucing the data came to an end.

All amusing history, sure, but one might ask, why bring all this up again? Well, because it turns out that the CDDS started putting out quarterly reports again in 2011. Yes, there’s a gap of a few years in the data. Yes, some things changed (for example, the CDDS now shows the PDD fraction of autism client base). Given these limitations–and the other limitations in the CDDS data (i.e. they are *not* the “gold standard” of autism epidemiology), what do these data show? The upward trends continue. More individuals served by the CDDS with autism, even though thimerosal was removed from vaccines. Here’s the total–all ages–count for CDDS clients in the autism category (click to enlarge):

CDDS total

Looking at the younger age groups, those whose exposure to thimerosal is much lower than for kids born in the 1990s, there is also an increase. Here is the age 3-5 age group (click to enlarge)

CDDS 3-5

and the 6-9 age group (click to enlarge):

CDDS 6-9

9 year olds in 2012 were born in 2003. Post the removal of thimerosal nationwide. 5 year olds were born in 2007, post thimerosal nationwide and post the California law prohibiting mercury in vaccines for pregnant women and small children. In both groups, the CDDS autism counts are higher than they were in 2002 (the earliest date in the currently available data). Which, in turn, was much higher than the counts from the 1990’s. Here is a figure from the Schechter-Grether paper refenced above:

S-G CDDS paper figure

Which is all a very long way of saying: years ago the evidence was against the thimerosal/epidemic idea; it is even more clear now. For years we heard Mr. Kirby and others talk about how those responsible should step up and admit what happened. Well, the fact is they did. Now it is time for those who promoted the mercury notion to step forward and show they have the guts to admit they were wrong. Because they were. Clearly wrong. It would take a lot of guts to step forward and admit the mistakes. Even though their influence has waned, it would help the autism communities. While I have focused on David Kirby in this discussion, the list is much longer of people who should step forward. I’m not going to hold my breath.


By Matt Carey

Jenny McCarthy loses gig for health-related fundraiser

3 Feb

I haven’t spent much time discussing Jenny McCarthy in a while. The reason is pretty simple, aside from her annual presentation at the AutismOne parent convention (where she criticizes parents who don’t use alternative medicine), she’s basically dropped out of the public discussion on autism. Years back she stopped expressing her views on vaccines publicly. Gone are the days of shouting “bullshit” at pediatricians on national TV and leading “green our vaccines” demonstrations in Washington DC.

So when I heard that she was going to headline a fundraiser for a cancer charity in Ottawa, I didn’t feel any need to write about it. Sure, it was a bad decision on the charity’s part. Why spend some of their credibility on Ms. McCarthy?

We are talking a cancer charity. Cancer patients often have reduced immune systems due to treatments they receive. They are highly dependent on the rest of us providing protection from serious vaccine-preventable diseases. The efforts of Ms. McCarthy and her organization have, by their own words, reduced vaccine uptake, endangering the very population the charity seeks to serve.

The Ottowa Citizen is reporting that Ms. McCarthy has been replaced for the event. I thank the charity for that. Ms. McCarthy is tweeting that she has a conflict and had to pull out. If this is true, perhaps she could return the “financial settlement” she is reportedly still being paid. In other words, I’m finding it hard to believe her tweet. If she wants to save face, she can save the charity money at the same time.

With luck, this will be the only Jenny McCarthy article here this year. Her time came and passed. We will be feeling the damage of her efforts for years to come. I’m not feeling much sympathy that she has to accept some consenquences.


By Matt Carey

Jenny McCarthy: Autism Moms “Fall in the the victim role…and they are loving it”

14 Jun

Jenny McCarthy is the head of Generation Rescue, a charity which promotes the idea that there is an epidemic of autism caused by vaccines. Ms. McCarthy has been the keynote speaker at the AutismOne conference (which is now co-hosted by Generation Rescue) every year for the past five years.

At this year’s AutismOne keynote, she spoke about the difference between the parents who use alternative medicine on their children (“Warrior Moms”) and those who don’t (“Victim Moms”). Here is the video. At about seven minutes in she talks about the moms who “fall into this victim role, and they like it”

“They didn’t get attention in their lives and then this incredible door opens…and they’re loving it”

This isn’t a new message for her. In her first book (Louder than Words) she’s had a similar message. From Louder than Words:

As we continued to talk about alternative treatments for our children, I noticed the room separating into two sides. We were no longer talking as a whole anymore. There was a group of moms who didn’t want anything to do with what we were talking about. They slumped into a corner and had a “woe is me” attitude. I decided to eavesdrop on both conversations.

The “woe is me” moms were talking about how they didn’t get to shop or go to the beach with their friends anymore, and the “I’ll try anything if it will help my kid recover” moms were trading success stories about the latest treatments.

And, later…

“My other theory was that they enjoyed the victim role. I know that might sound mean, but I’m sure you’ve met people who are constantly having shit go wrong in their life. They complain and play the “don’t you feel sorry for me” game.

For this observer, this is some combination of sales-pitch/motivational-speaker. Ironically, Ms. McCarthy’s followers like to portray themselves as non-judgmental.

An Autism Dad takes on this “victim” vs. “warrior” stance Jenny McCarthy creates in A Note to Jenny McCarthy

Jenny McCarthy has been back in the news lately. Partly because she’s going to do another photo shoot for Playboy. The reason? To make money to help pay for her son’s school. I’ve seen reports that she told people at AutismOne that the tuition is $3,000/month, and Howard Stern that it is over $100,000 per year.

I wish that kid all the best. I wish him well. I also wish that perhaps when people throw out terms like “recovered” and “no longer autistic” to promote the vaccine-hypothesis and alternative therapies, that those people would give more details about how far “recovered” is from “cured”.

Here’s how she characterized her son’s recovery on the Larry King Live show

MCCARTHY: A lot of these kids have Candida, which is yeast — overgrowth of yeast. By giving them anti-fungals, like Diflucan. After I cleaned out Evan’s Candida — and I’m going to say this very clearly — he became typical. He started speaking completely. His social development was back on. He’s now in a typical school. He got that much better. And my story is not alone. I have — recoveryvideos.com, by the way, has pictures and stories.

In 2007, her son “became typical” and now he needs a $100,000+/year special school? I wish him well. I also wish that there was more transparency and accurate information from his mother.

Perhaps she could drop the victim mom/warrior mom schtick and give us honest mom.

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:

V. TEXAS’S NEW ANTI-SLAPP STATUTE APPLIES TO DR. WAKEFIELD’S CLAIMS.

VI. DR. WAKEFIELD’S CLAIMS FAIL BECAUSE HE CANNOT SHOW THAT THE CHALLENGED STATEMENTS ARE FALSE

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

VII DEFENDANTS’ STATEMENTS OF OPINION AND RHETORICAL HYPERBOLE ARE NOT ACTIONABLE.
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.

VIII DR. WAKEFIELD’S CLAIMS BASED ON BRIAN DEER’S WEBSITE PUBLICATIONS ARE BARRED BY THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS.
DR. WAKEFIELD IS A PUBLIC FIGURE, AND HE CANNOT SHOW ACTUAL MALICE.
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
Scare.
3. Dr. Wakefield’s Claims Are Germane to His Participation in the
Controversy.
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”

and

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.

Why are some autism groups silent on the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act?

29 May

Last week, the Combating Autism Reathorization Act was introduced into the U.S. legislature last week. Many organizations were ready with quick responses: the Autism Science Foundation, ASAN, and Autism Speaks to name a few.

How about the organizations which promote the idea that autism is a vaccine injury? Organizations like Generation Rescue, the National Autism Association and SafeMinds, and Talk About Curing Autism?

A quick survey of their websites shows nothing. Nothing on the front pages that I can see. Nothing on their news pages. If I’ve missed it, let me know.

Sure, you can find great information on their sites. Like “Vaccine Injury/Autism Study, A Federal Cover-Up?” or how to buy compounded drugs or sunglasses. Or “Jenny McCarthy” in big letters. But on a key piece of legislation comes through and there’s essentially silence.

Just an observation.

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 kevleitch.co.uk 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”.

Age of Autism threaten doctors and also make clear how anti-vaccine they are

12 Mar

On a Facebook page entitled ‘Fan photos from Age of Autism‘ you will find this (click for bigger):

Lets not kid around here, this is a direct threat of violence towards people carrying ‘syringes’ i.e. people who might want to vaccinate children. I have no idea if Jenny McCarthy has any knowledge of this photo but its clear from the title ‘fan photos _from_ the Age of Autism, that Age of Autism clearly do.

Lets also be clear about the utterly anti-vaccine message of this image. The editors continually describe themselves as ‘pro-vaccine safety’. Let me suggest to them that creating a picture of Jenny McCarthy threatening people carrying syringes in a medical setting isn’t pro-vaccine safety. Its anti-vaccine pure and simple.