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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.

Generation Rescue and Change.Gov

2 Jan

Sometimes you put off a project and it goes stale.  The moment has passed, the project never gets done.  Then again, sometimes you put off a project and it gets more interesting

Such is the case of a comment I saw on Change.Gov. I saw it and thought I’d include it in a future blog post I am considering (let’s see if I write it before it goes stale!). But, instead of missing the window to blog it, enough has happened that it is even more interesting.

Change.Gov
is the Obama transition team’s website. In the spirit of open government, they are allowing people to submit questions for review. Other citizens (not only US, by the way) can vote on how important a topic is and, one assumes, the subjects with a lot of votes will get noticed by the transition team.

Given that, I was not surprised to find a question submitted by Generation Rescue’s Kelli Ann Davis. The question is copied below:

“Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey were named 2008 Couple of the Year (www.ageofautism.com) due to their advocacy work for Generation Rescue. Why hasn’t the Transistion Team made autism a top priority and sat down with the leaders of this organization?”
Kelli Ann Davis, Reno, Nevada

Since I first saw this, Orac has blogged about it. Not only did he blog it, but he did a very uncharacteristic move: he called for a poll mob ala P.Z. Myers. Yep, Orac got people to log in to Change.Gov and vote on Ms. Davis’ question. Given that one has to actually register before voting, the effect is impressive. At this point, 200 people are voting against Ms. Davis’ comment vs. 137 pro. I don’t recall the numbers from when I first saw it, but I do know that the votes were more “pro” than “con” when I first saw it.

This has not gone unnoticed by the good people at Generation Rescue. Kim Stagliano recycled not only the Age of Autism’s methods (name calling) but recycled an old post by Mark Blaxill as well. Frankly, I am amused. I found the original post by Mr. Blaxill amusing (not in the way he intended, I am sure), and I find it amusing still.

But, that is not enough to really blog about, at least in my book. Rather, I think it is worth taking the time to put in public why I opposed Ms. Davis’ comment.

Go back and read it again. The first thing that strikes this reader is the disingenuous nature of the comment. Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey were named couple of the year by the Age of Autism? Huh? I guess if they figure that the Obama (or, as Ms. Davis spelled it for some time, “O’Bama”) team doesn’t know the history of their blog, that might work. However, for those of us who know the Age of Autism as a rebranded “Rescue Post”–the blog of Generation Rescue–it is an odd move, to say the least:

Generation Rescue, which they call “Jenny McCarthy’s Autism Organization” voted Jenny McCarthy and her boyfriend “Couple of the Year”. Were I, a blogger on LeftBrain/RightBrain, to name Kev “LeftBrain/RightBrain’s pick of autism leader of 2008”, would you be impressed? See what I mean?

But, the disingenuous nature of Ms. Davis’ question is just the symptom, not the real problem. Actually, I see two big problems with Ms. Davis’ proposal. (1) It has all the appearance of self promotion, both for Generation Rescue and for Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey. And, (2) No surprise, I am sure, but I find Generation Rescue’s “Couple of the Year” to be highly inappropriate representatives of the “autism community”.

Let’s look a bit closer at these concerns, shall we?

First, keep in mind that Generation Rescue is an organization led by business people and PR people. Even without that, it’s pretty clear that they want to break out into being accepted as a mainstream autism organization. What better way than to say that they are advising the administration on autism issues? As to Jenny McCarthy, is there anyone who doubts that she has been rebranding herself as an autism “activist”?

Still wondering about the self promotion angle? Imagine the talk show circuit next year (and as many years into the future as Jenny McCarthy autism books sell):

“Oh, yes, Oprah, as I was just saying to Barack….”

In addition to Jenny McCarthy potentially cashing in on any meeting, how long before Generation Rescue would be touting themselves as advisers to the administration?

We are talking about the people who grossly inflated the number of people who attended the Green Our Vaccine Rally for effect. I’ve heard estimates of 500 to 1,500 attendees from people who were actually there. GR claims 8,000. If they would do that, they would play a meeting with the Obama team to the hilt.

Keep in mind, these are the people who publish blog posts claiming that HHS Secretary Leavitt stated in public that of course the government knows vaccines cause autism. To back that up, they claimed that someone overheard a conversation outside a church (if I recall correctly). If it were journalism rather than cheap blogging, that would be in the running for irresponsible story of the year. But, instead, it is just an example of the extreme lengths Generation Rescue and their team are willing to go to in order to keep their story alive. What would happen if they were able to talk about closed door meetings with people close to the Obama administration?

Moving on to my second concern: are Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey really appropriate as advisers to the transition team? Leave out the obvious questions of the whether people who propagate bad science and, in so doing, are endangering public health. I don’t have the space here to go into what has already been covered so well by Kev on this blog (and many, many others on other blogs, e.g. AutismVox or I Speak of Dreams ). Let’s just say I’d rather have Mr. Obama listening to the sources Mr. Bush used to formulate the decision to go to war with Iraq than listening to Jenny McCarthy on autism.

For example, remember how Jenny McCarthy’s story about her encounter with Barbara Walters changed dramatically between her book version and her interview version? Can we really have someone talking to advisers to the President of the United States and then “remembering” the exchange in whatever way puts her in the best light?

Consider that hypothetical Oprah show quote I had above. Flesh it out:

“Oh, yes, Oprah, as I was just saying to Barack, vaccines caused an epidemic of autism. I could tell he was listening and understood all too well, but I think that even he is afraid to admit the truth in public”.

As to Jim Carrey…well, remember his major stumble at the Green Our Vaccines rally? When asked what vaccines could be left out of the schedule, he said “tetanus”. Seriously, he had just spoken at a rally, but he hadn’t even done the homework as to what his own side thought. Sorry, he isn’t an expert who should be advising the administration, he is still at the level where Generation Rescue people should be being coaching him on what to say. Somehow I am flashing on the stories that have been leaked about coaching sessions with Sara Palin (Africa is a continent?). No, no, no. This is not a man I would want representing me even if I did subscribe to the Generation Rescue story. He just doesn’t have the depth of knowledge to meet the task.

To conclude, let’s answer one of the questions implicitly raised by Kim Stagliano’s blog post–why are people voting against Ms. Davis’ question? My answer: people aren’t voting against Ms. Davis’ question because it’s Kelli Ann Davis. They aren’t voting against it because it is promoting Generation Rescue or Jenny McCarthy (even though those are valid reasons). They aren’t voting against it because Orac told them too. They are voting against it because what Ms. Davis is proposing is a bad idea.

At least, that was my reason.

[Note: I made minor changes in this post shortly after publishing it]

Kelli Ann Davis doesn't get it

23 Aug

Over on Orac’s blog, a discussion is ongoing about (you guessed it) thiomersal.

One of the usual antivax canards is played beautifully by Kelli Ann Davis when she says:

So Phoenix Woman [another commenter], can you explain to me what the skull and crossbones is doing on the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) if thimerosal is not a poison

This is top notch antivax stupidity. Not only does she entirely miss the point of ‘Phoenix Woman’s’ comment (which was not that thiomersal was not a poison) she also infers that the fact that thiomersal is a poison means that its automatically going to cause damage. She conveniently forgets – or doesn’t care – that the adage ‘the dose makes the poison‘ always applies.

And of course we have the scare tactic of mentioning the skull and crossbones.

Thing is, there are plenty of other Toxic substances used routinely in medicine. Lets have a look at Warafrin – which is at one level rat poison and at another level an anticoagulant. And hey – look at that – the MSDS sheet has a skull and crossbones on it.

Common clinical indications for warfarin use are atrial fibrillation, the presence of artificial heart valves, deep venous thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, antiphospholipid syndrome and, occasionally, after myocardial infarction.

And also

To this day, coumarins are used as rodenticides for controlling rats and mice in residential, industrial, and agricultural areas. Warfarin is both odorless and tasteless, and is effective when mixed with food bait, because the rodents will return to the bait and continue to feed over a period of days until a lethal dose is accumulated.

So, lets spell it out nice and slow for Kelli Ann – the dose makes the poison.

And so, lets have a look at the current dose levels of thiomersal in vaccine shall we?

For an ‘average’ person of 154 pounds, there is 6mg (miligrams) – or 6000 micrograms(µg)) of mercury occurring naturally in the body. So, roughly, a person of 25 pounds has 1mg (1000µg) of mercury (or, to put it another way, 1 pound of body mass gives us 40µg). A healthy newborn weighs on average about 7.5 pounds which gives a mercury body burden of approximately 303µg of mercury.

When we look at the FDA thimerosal content of vaccines currently mandated and add them all up we see that we get 239.2µg of mercury – way under what occurs naturally in the body of a healthy 7.5 pound newborn.

Now, this is not even a fair comparison. I have added up all the vaccines for a child of 6. Including doubling up on doses of a vaccine made by different manufacturers. Quite obviously a child won’t get a Td jab from two different manufacturers at one time. I have also included all the flu jabs – again, no one will get all flu jabs in a single flu season.

The maths is quite clear. There is more mercury existing naturally in our bodies – even those of a 7.5 pound newborn – than the combined total of every single thiomersal containing vaccine on the market.