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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

So, the National Vaccine Information Center has a Twitter bot?

20 Jan

Nonprofit organizations’ tax forms are public records. One can find them on many sites, and most nonprofits even host them on their own website. I was looking over the 2012 tax form for the National Vaccine Information Center recently and found something very interesting. The NVIC is one of the organizations that continues to push the failed idea that vaccines cause autism. This idea has caused a great deal of harm in the autism communities, but we get to be their hammer against vaccines.

The NVIC has a “vaccine ingredient calculator” or VIC (The NVIC Vaccine Ingredient Calculator: A disingenuous deceptive instrument of vaccine fear mongering).

Lately I’ve seen a lot of social media chatter where vaccine antagonistic people and groups are claiming that any opposition they see is being coordinated by “twitter bots”. Programs designed to create tweets.

So, imagine my response when I saw this on the NVIC 2012 tax form (click to enlarge):

NVIC tweet machine

Yes, the NVIC created a “Tweet Machine” which produced 8,760 tweets in one year. That’s one an hour over a 365 day year.

I am assuming that is this Twitter account.

VIC twit

See how they are still pounding the old, failed “autism is mercury poisoning” idea? That idea led to many kids being subjected to unnecessary chelation and other alternative treatments that range from useless to harmful.

Also, they want a stop to robocalls. Because that’s on topic for a vaccine discussion. And not at all ironic given the NVIC’s “Tweet Machine”


By Matt Carey

Is there a split in the autism-vaccine groups?

1 Mar

For people who watch the public discussion of autism and vaccines, organizations like Generation Rescue, SafeMinds, the National Autism Association and TACA (and others) come to mind. One less public organization is Focus Autism. Focus Autism is a private foundation. In other words, they don’t accept donations from people outside the foundation. Here are tax forms submitted by Focus Autism in 2010 and 2011:

2010 tax form 990
2011 tax form 990

In 2011, Focus Autism pulled in $1.7M, which makes it as big or bigger than most of the other groups named above. If you peruse their website, it is clear that they have promote the vaccine-epidemic idea. Their “about” statement is:

FOCUS AUTISM is dedicated to finding answers about autism causation, no matter how inconvenient it might be. We believe in accountability, transparency and above all, a sense of urgency.

Childhood vaccine policies must be carefully administered. We demand strict avoidance of neonatal vaccination and vaccination of vulnerable children.

We must hold leaders of government, corporations, and the medical establishment accountable for failures that have led to the autism epidemic.

Leaders in the field agree there is a subset of vulnerable children who are predisposed to vaccine-related injury. We want those children identified, so that we do not needlessly harm innocent children.

Millions of dollars have been funnelled into genetic research in a frantic search for the single gene or a small number of genes responsible for the autism epidemic. Emerging consensus rejects a purely genetic cause. Most experts now agree that the primary causes must be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

They have funded a mix of projects and groups. In 2010, most projects were not vaccine-focused. In 2011 they funded: Autism Speaks ($51,000), the Marcus Autism Center ($50,000), projects in Africa and many other non-vaccine focused projects. In 2011, Focus Autism funded vaccine-oriented groups such as the National Vaccine Information Center ($37,500), SafeMinds ($70,000), Generation Rescue ($40,000).

In 2011, Focus Autism added to its board Louise Kuo Habakis and Katie Wright, both vocal proponents of the vaccine-causation idea. The board currently includes Brian Hooker, who is also a vocal proponent of the idea. There has been some discussion lately about Mr. Hooker’s involvement with the autism hearing held by the Committee on Government Oversight and Reform last year. The idea being presented that Mr. Hooker, lone citizen, made contact with members of congress and got the hearing moving.

Consider that Focus Autism was founded and is apparently run by Barry Segal. Mr. Segal’s family foundation has over $50M in assets, and seems to be doing a great deal of good work, especially in sub-saharan Africa. Mr. Segal’s company sold for an undisclosed amount, but had sales of $1.7B (yes B) in 2006.

Here is a picture from Facebook showing Mr. Hooker in the audience of the congressional hearing from Focus Autism’s facebook page. Sitting next to him is Mr. Segal’s wife, then Mr. Segal.

Hooker-Segal 2

I consider it possible he had a bit more support in his efforts than, say, I might have.

Focus Autism includes in its list of partners: Age of Autism, EBCALA, the National Vaccine Information Center, the Canary Party and the Dwoskin Family Foundation. All groups promoting the idea that vaccines cause autism.

As to the split mentioned in the title of this article, consider this short blog post on the Focus Autism website: The Fragmented Autism Community:

The so called autism community is represented by:

#1 Autism Speaks, which because of Bernie-Julie thing refuses to meaningfully go after environmental issues, especially vaccines.

#2 Safe Minds, another disaster and I don’t know (or care) what their agenda is.

The rest of the community is fragmented, acts like our congress, accomplishes nothing and has an approval rating similar to congress. In both cases we need to change.

“Bernie” is most likely Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot and founder of the Marcus Autism Center. I’m not sure who “Julie” refers to. SafeMinds, well that reference is clear. It is also interesting in that Focus Autism donated money to both the Marcus Autism Center and SafeMinds in 2011. Somewhere in the past couple of years, there seems to have been a falling out.

Given some of the current discussion about the way the congressional hearing was put together, specifically Mr. Hooker’s and SafeMinds’ roles (see here, here and here), it is interesting to see the organization he works with taking such a harsh stance on SafeMinds.

The name Barry Segal was familiar to me, and it took me a few days to recall where I saw it before. It was on a discussion at the Forbes website. I usually avoid bringing discussions held on other sites to this blog, but I think these statements show the possibility of further rifts, both between autism organizations and within organizations. Here are the statements made by Mr. Segal (or someone using his name, but I have no reason otherwise) at Forbes:

First this one (actually two, it was repeated):

I guess you are aware that in 1960, 3 years before the measles shot, 100 people died of measles. In 2012 over 80,000 of the babies born that year will end up on the spectrum. Bob Wright knows certain children are vulnerable to vaccines but Bernie Marcus won’t let him go there. Do you really give your child or grandchildren a Hep b shot at birth, or do you have them practice safe sex till they are 6 years old. (That is when the shot wears off)

Indicating his opinion that Bob Wright (founder of Autism Speaks) wants more vaccine research but that Bernie Marcus (Marcus Autism Center and Autism Speaks) is blocking it.

Mr. Segal went on:

I won’t discuss Hepatitis B with you except that the following five countries, Denmark, Sweden, France, Germany and Japan only give the Hepatitis B vaccination to children whose mothers test positive.

As far as Bob Wright, I have met with him and he shared with me, the following thoughts:
1.That there needs to be more vaccine research
2.That there should be no more thimerosal in any vaccines or medicines

I had dinner with Bernie Marcus in Florida. Towards dessert, I mentioned what Bob Wright had said and he told me, “There is no thimerosal in this country today,” to which I replied, “ You’ve got to be kidding me, you can go to your local drug store and get a shot of thimerosal in your flu injection.” He is clueless and after starting the Marcus Autism Center and hearing Bob Wright had an autistic grandchild, he reached out to Bob Wright to form Autism Speaks with the intent that they do not address the vaccine issue. Peter Bell and Holly Peete both have vaccine injured children and will not vaccinate their subsequent children as mandated.

And this:

I had breakfast with Peter Bell on 12/8/11. He explained to me that the increase in the vaccinations alters the immune system. When he lived in CA, he didn’t have to vaccinate his children (philosophical exemption is available in CA) but when he came to NJ, he slowed it down as much as possible. Peter suggested Tylenol could be part of the problem.

Rodney Peete said in his book, “NOT MY BOY!” co-authored by Danelle Morton:

“At home that night, R.J. had a terrible fever and started shaking violently, just short of something like a seizure. Holly called the pediatrician to ask him what could have caused this. Should we take R.J. to the hospital? The doctor was unruffled and told us it was not a reaction to the shots. He recommended that we give R.J. some Tylenol to help him with the fever and he promised that R.J. would be fine. R.J. had a terrible reaction to the Tylenol and we rushed him to the emergency room late that night. We believe he went into some kind of toxic overload shock. After that, we didn’t hear the words “Mommy” or “No” for about four years.”

As far as vaccine safety, the problem is much more than just thimerosol. Today, the autism incidence rate is 1 in 88 and this is for children born in 2000. If we apply a more conservative 8% growth rate to this rate, we’re looking at over 80,000 children born this year being on the spectrum!

In these two suggesting that Peter Bell (Autism Speaks), Holly Robinson Peete and her husband Rodney Peete (HollyRod foundation, Autism Speaks) are also proponents of the vaccine-causation idea.

All this again indicating tensions between and within autism orgs over the topic.

For anyone who thinks the vaccine-autism-epidemic idea is going away from the public discouse any time soon, keep in mind that this is not a grass roots movement. There are millions of dollars being spent by these groups every year. Much of it from wealthy donors.

Mr. Segal had some very interesting things to say about the departure from Autism Speaks of their previous president. That is discussed in Was Mark Roithmayr pushed out of Autism Speaks over vaccines?


By Matt Carey

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

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.

NVIC claims “intimidation” and “censorship” over Delta videos

16 Nov

The National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) is angry with the American Academy of Pediatrics. It is very hard not to follow up a sentence like that with “so, what else is new?” The AAP promotes vaccines and vaccine safety. NVIC, not so much. What caused the present altercation? Both organizations were invited to place advertisements/information segments on Delta Airlines in flight entertainment for this month. After finding out that Delta would also host ads by NVIC, the AAP sent a letter to Delta.

In response, NVIC has issued a press release: “National Vaccine Information Center Calls Out AAP for Using Public Intimidation to Censor NVIC Flu Prevention Video Offered to Delta Travelers”

“Public Intimidation”? AAP sent a letter to Delta. That’s public intimidation? I (and others) obtained a copy of the letter and made it public. I guess that’s the “public” part. A weak argument. “Intimidation”? Sorry, just no evidence to support that word.

“Censor”? Strong words from Barbara Loe Fisher, who attempted to quash public discussion with her lawsuit against Paul Offit, Amy Wallace and Conde Nast. (a lawsuit she lost, just to remind you that free speech is still protected in the U.S.).

So, on the one hand we have NVIC and Barbara Loe Fisher who use lawsuits to try to change the public discourse, and the AAP who send letters on the other hand. And we are to believe it is the AAP who are promoting censorship?

Before we get to the NVIC press release, here is the letter that In Flight Media sent to organizations asking them to buy space for their “Lifestlye365-Cold, Flu, and Fall Allergy Season” series. Part of the offer by In Flight Media was the chance to advertise the organization.

Subject: IMA/Delta Air Lines Present “Lifestlye365-Cold, Flu, and Fall Allergy Season” Featuring [REDACTED]

Dear [REDACTED]

We would like to invite [REDACTED] to participate in our in-flight video series called Lifestyle 365, now airing on Delta Air Lines and Virgin America. We work with organizations around the globe creating in-flight video features that raise the profile on important topics affecting every ones lives. “Where you Live”…“How you Live”…and “What you Do”…it’s your Lifestyle 365.

For our November 2011 video segment we are producing a special health spotlight just in time for “Cold, Flu and Fall Allergy Season.” At a time of year when the weather is changing, kids are going back to school, and families are traveling for the holidays, it is important to raise awareness on the latest resources available for preventing and treating cold, flu and allergy symptoms. This is also a perfect time to remind our audience of the importance of adult and childhood vaccination by showing them when and where to go to get caught up on regular immunizations as well as this years’ flu vaccine. Why not take this opportunity to showcase your organization or product in front of millions of captive airline passengers!

We are proud to extend this opportunity to your organization and have attached additional details regarding pricing and exposure options for each airline. We are offering an exclusive 5-minute option for a rate of $49,500 (Standard is $75,000) with commitment by May 30, 2011.

Here’s a bit more on what you can expect by joining us in this program:

·Placement and production of content utilizing your raw footage within our Lifestyle365 program

·IMA to provide script, voice over and video production creative services at no additional charge, excluding all on- location shoot services.

·Delta Air Lines: Segment to air for a full calendar month on over 17,375 flights in front of an average of 2.5 million passengers

·Virgin America: Segment to air for 60 consecutive days, in front of 880,000 passengers on 7,500 flights

·Delta and Virgin America’s fleets are equipped with WIFI, passengers watching the program can log into your website right from their seat using their laptops or smart phones and instantly make a donation and learn more about your cause

·Show reference in Sky magazine and http://entertainment.delta.com/television/ (would link directly to your website).

·Your organization will maintain the rights to the completed piece to use in future marketing initiatives.

·Video placement on IMA’s YouTube channel, Facebook, and other social media sites

For more than a decade in the airline industry, In-Flight Media Associates (IMA) continues to bring the utmost level of innovation and creativity to organizations around the globe looking to reach the captive airline audience. With a core philosophy that entertainment attracts attention…advertising may not; they create and deliver messages that resonate with passengers in a non-intrusive way.

Our portfolio can be viewed at http://www.in-flightmedia.com. I will contact you in a few days to add more details, but please feel free to contact me at 760-944-6575, or via email at allison@in-flightmedia.com should you have any questions.

Thanks in advance for your consideration. We look forward to helping build Your Image in the Sky®.

Sincerely,

Let me draw your attention to two statements in the above:

“Why not take this opportunity to showcase your organization or product in front of millions of captive airline passengers!”

and

Delta and Virgin America’s fleets are equipped with WIFI, passengers watching the program can log into your website right from their seat using their laptops or smart phones and instantly make a donation and learn more about your cause

Clearly, a big piece of the motivation for organizations (NVIC included) to purchase time was to advertise themselves. NVIC acts as though the complaints (including mine) were not about this at all. How can I tell? Well, the NVIC has responded with a press release. A press release quite full of straw-man arguments:

WASHINGTON, Nov 15, 2011 (BUSINESS WIRE) — The non-profit National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) is calling public pressure placed on Delta Air Lines by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to censor an NVIC video about flu prevention an “act of intimidation” to block public access to full and accurate health information about influenza.

NVIC was offered the opportunity to be a paid sponsor of a video about staying well during the flu season that would be included in Delta’s in-flight programming during November 2011. On Nov. 7, Forbes magazine published an article with a copy of a letter signed by the AAP President Robert Block, MD, accusing Delta of “putting children’s lives at risk” by showing travelers the NVIC sponsored video because it contains “harmful messages.”

In the AAP letter, the Pharma-funded medical trade association alleged that “The [NVIC] ad urges viewers to become informed about influenza and how to stay well during the flu season without resorting to the influenza vaccine.”

NVIC co-founder and president Barbara Loe Fisher responded, “Without cause, the AAP has used their considerable financial resources and political influence to intimidate Delta for simply showing a video that offers accurate information about ways to stay healthy during the flu season, including talking with doctors about getting a flu shot. Censorship and attacks on consumer advocacy groups working to institute informed consent protections in public health policies should not be tolerated in this or any society that cherishes free speech and the right to self determination.”

The AAP letter stated that “influenza vaccine continues to be the best way to protect against the disease,” without acknowledging that a recently published scientific study found that the flu vaccine is less than 70 percent effective in preventing influenza, which confirms previous studies questioning influenza vaccine efficacy and effectiveness. A top flu expert at the CDC has said that about 80 percent of flu-like illness reported in the U.S. every year is not influenza but is caused by other viruses and bacteria.

“The AAP’s leadership is clearly threatened by educated consumers, who have every right to engage in critical thinking when making choices about how to stay healthy,” said Fisher. “Why is the AAP so afraid to admit that washing our hands, covering our mouths when coughing, eating nutritious foods, getting enough sleep, exercising, and lowering stress are also important ways to stay well during the flu season and all year around?”

In the letter to Delta, the AAP alleged that NVIC “opposes the nation’s recommended childhood immunization schedule and promotes the unscientific practice of delaying or skipping vaccines altogether.” During NVIC’s three-decades of work to secure vaccine safety and informed consent protections in U.S. public health laws, NVIC has criticized one-size-fits-all vaccine mandates and advocated for more and better quality vaccine safety science but has not told individuals to use a particular vaccine schedule or told them not to get vaccinated.

“NVIC is a non-profit charity led by educated health care consumers. We are not doctors and do not tell people how or when to vaccinate or advise people not to vaccinate,” said NVIC’s Fisher. “We have a long public record of promoting well-informed, voluntary health care decision-making.”

This is the second time this year that the AAP has publicly attacked NVIC and taken action to censor information NVIC has made available to the public. In April, the AAP publicized a similar letter sent to CBS in an unsuccessful attempt to strong arm CBS into removing NVIC’s 15-second message shown on the Jumbotron in Times Square through the month of April.

Parent co-founders of NVIC worked with Congress on the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 and were responsible for securing historic informing, recording and reporting safety provisions in that law. The AAP and vaccine manufacturers lobbied Congress to secure a shield from civil liability for vaccine injuries and deaths in the 1986 law.

“Twenty five years ago, the AAP got liability protection for their pediatrician members, who are no longer accountable in a court of law when the liability-free vaccines they give ending up hurting a child,” said Fisher. “Almost immediately following the 1986 law’s passage, the AAP narrowed medical contraindications to vaccination so that, today, almost no child qualifies for a medical exemption to vaccination. Now, the powerful AAP is lobbying in states like California and Washington to strip parents of the legal right to exercise informed consent to medical risk taking for their children or file non-medical vaccine exemptions. This is becoming a civil and human rights issue involving censorship, inequality, discrimination and persecution of citizens by medical doctors wielding too much power.”

The National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC.org) is a 501C3 charity founded in 1982 by parents of vaccine injured children and is dedicated to preventing vaccine injuries and deaths through public education and protecting the informed consent ethic in medicine.

I will say I found this statement amusing: “Without cause, the AAP has used their considerable financial resources and political influence to intimidate Delta …”

Yes, the AAP used “considerable financial resources and political influence”. No ordinary organization could send a letter! Why, they used the United States Government in the form of the Postal Service to deliver their message. Would that I could tap into that sort of “political influence”.

Without cause? Perhaps NVIC could review the AAP letter, or the many complaints others have made about Delta’s decision to host the NVIC video.

Let me put it simply: Delta should consider seriously whether they wish to promote an organization like the NVIC. Playing these advertisements was clearly a promotion of the organization, as spelled out in the letter In Flight Media sent.

“Censorship and attacks on consumer advocacy groups working to institute informed consent protections in public health policies should not be tolerated in this or any society that cherishes free speech and the right to self determination”

I find it hard to give Ms. Fisher the moral high ground on free speech issues after she sued Paul Offit (and lost), Wired Magazine and Conde Nast.

That said, why do I think that Delta should reconsider supporting NVIC? How about the NVIC press release?

The AAP letter stated that “influenza vaccine continues to be the best way to protect against the disease,” without acknowledging that a recently published scientific study found that the flu vaccine is less than 70 percent effective in preventing influenza, which confirms previous studies questioning influenza vaccine efficacy and effectiveness. A top flu expert at the CDC has said that about 80 percent of flu-like illness reported in the U.S. every year is not influenza but is caused by other viruses and bacteria.

First off, notice how NVIC glossed over the statement by the AAP that “influenza vaccine continues to be the best way to protect against the disease”? They don’t come out and say AAP is right or wrong. What they do is follow it with nonsequiturs which downplay the need for the vaccine.

It’s pretty slick. They get to give the impression that the AAP is incorrect about the statement, and retain deniability.

NVIC: how about a simple statement. Is the flu vaccine the best way to protect against the disease or not?

On with the paragraph. NVIC pose that the 70% efficacy of the flu vaccine as a bad thing that is being kept hidden. Hey, I’d like a flu vaccine that was more than 70% effective, but, 70% is well worth it. 70% less chance of being sick with the flu? 70% less chance of passing the flu on to someone who is vulnerable to injury or death from the illness? I’d say “sign me up” except that I already got my shot this year.

That said, can NVIC offer an alternative which is proven better than 70%? Can they provide a method which is better than the combination of taking care of one’s self, attention to hygiene, plus the vaccine?

The second sentence in that paragraph is also troubling. “A top flu expert at the CDC has said that about 80 percent of flu-like illness reported in the U.S. every year is not influenza but is caused by other viruses and bacteria.” So? The statement was “influenza vaccine continues to be the best way to protect against the disease”, not “influenza vaccine continues to be the best way to protect against the disease and every other disease which is similar.”

This is exactly the sort of message I disagree with NVIC about. Downplaying the need for vaccines. Does NVIC say, “80% of flu-like illnesses might be caused by other disease–so, we should be looking for vaccines to protect against those viruses and bacteria as well”? Or, “Influenza vaccines might be only 70% effective, so we want research into a more effective vaccine”? Hardly.

NVIC claims that the AAP is “accusing Delta of “putting children’s lives at risk” by showing travelers the NVIC sponsored video because it contains “harmful messages.”

See how they want to ignore anything outside of their video? Let’s take a look at the paragraph with the “putting children’s lives at risk” phrase:

By providing advertising space to an organization like the NVIC, which opposes the nation’s recommended childhood immunization schedule and promotes the unscientific practice of delaying or skipping vaccines altogether, you are putting the lives of children at risk, leaving them unprotected from vaccine-preventable diseases.

AAP are objecting to promotion of the NVIC in general, not just the video. I guess NVIC didn’t want to address the question of whether they promote delaying or skipping vaccines, and whether this is unscientific.

NVIC tries to frame itself as a “vaccine safety” organization, asking only for “safer vaccines”. As I pointed out in an earlier post, they never define “safe”. They don’t seem to have called any vaccine “safe”.

Frankly, this looks like an effort for NVIC to try to get more publicity. In doing so, they are probably guaranteeing that Delta will not accept their advertisements in the future (or they have given up on any future spots) .This is a public relations nightmare for Delta. Last thing they want is a public debate about how they are contributing to a group who is putting children’s lives at risk. And, let’s face it, the American Academy of Pediatrics is well respected.

I’ll close by responding to a statement in the press release: “NVIC is a non-profit charity led by educated health care consumers’

Left Brain/Right Brain is also a group of educated health care consumers. Educated enough to reject the NVIC’s message. The real message, not the one they hide behind. The message of a group that thinks that vaccines are a “holocaust of poison“.

In which I agree with Barbara Loe Fisher…

12 Nov

The response to the decision by Delta Air Lines to air a commercial by the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) has been much larger than I would have predicted. Case in point, the Atlanta Journal Constitution has an article, Delta in-flight ad opposed; airline considers video change, discussing the reaction to the NVIC advertisement. This article notes:

Delta Air Lines will change its approval process for in-flight programming after a video advertisement drew opposition, leading to an online petition calling for its removal.

They note the online petition, “Tell Delta to Stop Putting their Passengers’ Health at Risk” (at over 2400 signatures so far).

The AJC also quotes Barbara Loe Fisher of NVIC:

“I don’t understand why there’s this controversy,” she said. “We need to be able to criticize organizations that we think could do a better job. … For the people who want to use vaccines, we are fighting for safer vaccine policies and safer vaccines. I don’t see what’s wrong with that.”

And this is where I agree with Ms. Fisher. We do need to be able to criticize organizations that we think could do a better job. She seems unaware that this is precisely what a number of us who are doing in discussing Delta’s decision to host this video. Criticizing NVIC, whom we feel could do a (much) better job.

I will note I find that quote very strange indeed. I wonder if she realizes the strawman argument she has created? People are not criticizing NVIC about “fighting for safer vaccine policies and safer vaccines.”

For example, I count myself amongst those who want to use vaccines. In that effortI do not want the sort of support that NVIC offers in working towards safer vaccines. For example, I don’t want the spread of misinformation about vaccine-induced epidemics of autism, which NVIC promotes. It is a message which has caused and continues to cause harm in the autism communities.

Oddly enough, in a quick search for “safer vaccine” on the NVIC.org website, I found no examples of a statement of the type, “this new vaccine is a safer vaccine” or anything which actually calls a vaccine “safer”.

There were only four hits for the phrase “safe vaccine” on the NVIC website. Those links are mostly to comments on blog posts. No statements by NVIC saying, “here is a safe vaccine” or “here is our definition of a safe vaccine”. The one hit for something actually posted by NVIC was from a testimonial, where safe was put in quotes: “…and the doctor suggested she have this “safe” vaccine…”

I am very interested in the continued effort to improve vaccines, including improving safety. I do not feel that NVIC represents my views in any way. I do not find their brand of “information” to be the sort I would recommend to anyone looking to educate themselves on vaccines.

I do agree with Ms. Fisher: we should be able to criticize those groups whom we feel could do better. Do better NVIC, or you will continue to be criticized.