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Time for a cordon sanitaire?

28 Jun

The politics of autism are enmeshed in the debate about vaccine safety over the past ten years, and will take years to be disentangled. In the UK things might be changing, but in the US high profile celebrities have given a late push to fears that by now should be consigned to history. The BMJ have run a feature piece on the “Vaccine Disputes” currently running, focusing on both the UK and US experience. Here are some points made about the UK’s anti-vaccine movements, that both highlight the problems these groups pose for vaccination policies and autism, and their weaknesses.

One of the main drivers of the safety fears are antivaccine groups. Prominent among the UK groups is Warrington based JABS, whose website still maintains that “some children have and will continue to be damaged by combined and single dose vaccines.” Founder Jackie Fletcher has a son with epilepsy and brain damage, which she blames on the MMR vaccine. Her views are widely quoted by the mainstream media.

Another group is the One Click Group, whose tactic is to circulate by email a digest of antivaccination press cuttings, “Mother wants answers as baby dies from vaccine,” is one recent headline taken from a local paper in Trinidad and Tobago. The group has emailed several members of BMJ staff, all of whom found themselves unable to unsubscribe from the unsolicited email. The group, run by a former public relations worker, Jane Bryant, is especially uncompromising in its message. Ms Bryant first came to prominence campaigning to get chronic fatigue syndrome treated as a medical condition.

[…]

Pru Hobson-West, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Applied Bioethics, University of Nottingham, has identified and studied 19 groups in the UK that are critical of vaccinations.5 They included Action against Autism in Glasgow and the London based vaccination.co.uk. She found the groups were all relatively small and led by one or two parents, with a membership base ranging from 60 to 2000.

Ms Hobson-West discovered the more radical groups didn’t necessarily have personal experience of vaccine damage but were often seasoned campaigners for causes such as alternative health and animal testing.

Pru-Hobson-West’s comments ring perfectly true. The same names tend to reappear like weeds in pavement slabs, and a degree of cross-over of key individuals between organisations seems apparent. What we have are highly motivated axe-grinders, some of whom may be motivated because they feel they have genuine grievances. Some, however, are complete crackpots with no stake in either vaccine safety or autism, apart from slightly unhinged views on a variety of subjects. These lead them to take an anti-vaccine stance. So, we have alternative health practitioners with a ideological opposition to vaccines, obsessional individuals who think Roy Meadows is part of a huge establishment conspiracy, and the author of a website that believes vaccines are part of a genocidal plan, while at the same time promoting holocaust denial material. The One Click Group has even resorted to homophobic arguments. These are not people to be taken seriously. In fact, these are people to studiously avoid. Any autism organisation would do well to throw up a cordon sanitairearound such parties and their associates. Here’s how they treat individuals.

David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the Department of Health, says he has received threats at home and at work from activists. He says the “degree of anger” seems similar to that of animal rights activists. “One GP who used to be connected to JABS recommended that capital punishment was appropriate for me. Why should I accept it? This degree of personalisation.”

Neither Generation Rescue nor JABS replied to my questions.

The One Click Group was hostile when I approached them with some straightforward questions. I was directed to another charity and, bizarrely, Peter Fletcher, former chief scientific officer at the Department of Health. When I asked to be taken off its mailing list I was told: “Unsubscribing from the One Click News Alerts requires one mouse click. If this is beyond you, never mind eh?”

And yet the media (including the BBC and broadsheets) continue to give these organisations publicity.

Professor Salisbury says: “There is no doubt that the media give disproportionate weight to the [antivaccine position]. Look at the frequency that journalists writing articles about immunisation go to Jackie Fletcher for a comment.”

“For some campaigners no study is acceptable if it continues to show no link—you get answers by rote: the study was weak, didn’t look at the right children, didn’t use the right method. It’s like AIDS denialists, and there are evidence denialists. The constituency base [of these groups] has got narrower and narrower. There are a diminishing number of people who think [there is a link]. Look at the number of people who contribute to the JABS website; it’s down to a tiny number.”

He’s right. These groups are increasingly talking to themselves (at least in the UK). They have nothing to offer.

One Click Hacks and Homophobes

22 Feb

As blogged by Anthony at Black Triangle the One Click Group – who say they are:

…a British-based international health advocacy pressure group and worldwide raw news hub…

described Brian Deer and his involvement with the MMR case thusly:

By all accounts a gay man and therefore unlikely ever to have to face the multiple vaccine risk agonised over by parents from around the world in relation to their children…

Nice. Sounds to me like they’re a bunch of homophobic stupidniks to me. As Anthony says:

Even if Deer is homosexual, it does not necessarily mean he has no stake in vaccine safety. Homosexuals are not some mysterious alien presence in our society, they have families which include small children. Homosexuals can even adopt children.

Unless you’re a Daily Mail reading OneClickTwit of course.

They are anti-vaxxers of course and really really don’t like Brain Deer much at all. This makes the JABS loonies recently in evidence in the monumental ‘Wakefield‘ post on this blog big, big fans of theirs naturally. Amusingly, these same JABS loonies have been complaining about the horror of Brian Deer _making_ the news and then _reporting_ on the news regarding Wakefield. Not that he has, but thats how they see it. The amusing thing is that one of the straplines of the OneClickGroup is:

We not only break the news, we also make it.

They also proudly boast of receiving ‘7,000 – 33,000 hits per day’…..woah…big time baby!

Just for fun, I ran LB/RB, JABS and OneClickGroup through the Compete analyser which analyses Unique Visitors (a much more reliable indicator of traffic than ‘hits’):

Sadly, you’ll notice only two lines there. OneClickGroup didn’t generate enough statistics to be measurable.

So, this member of the antivaxosphere, carried on from homophobic attacks on Brian to carrying an alleged ‘out of control’ attack from Brian on their owner/Director/whatever – one Jane Bryant. Here’s how its ‘reported’ on the OneClickGroup website:

Brian Deer Is Out Of Control

On Monday 7 April 2008, with the Defence presentation for Dr Andrew Wakefield at the General Medical Council MMR Vaccine Trial UK concluded, Brian Deer went berserk in the Press Room of the General Medical Council. This incredible aggressive behaviour is not that of a responsible and objective journalist with ethics covering a story in the public interest….I entered the GMC Press Room to discover Deer holding court over what he clearly perceived to be his case with the assembled media. Comfortably sprawled in lounging lizard position

Out of control…went berserk…incredible aggressive…holding court…lounging lizard…

and these descriptives are used before Bryant even _begins_ her description of Brian’s behaviour. Thank goodness for impartial media!

When she does get to that transcript (which has clearly been edited) it reveals _more_ editorialising and less fact.

When asked if Deer was the complainant and if this was his case with the GMC, Deer simply exploded. Springing to his feet, placing his body inches from mine and invading my space, Deer proceeded to threaten, to rant and to jab his fingers close to my face.

Brian Deer: “No! I’ve not complained! I’ve got letters from the GMC saying I’m not the complainant! Ask me the question again! Ask me and I’ll tell you!”

Deer continued ranting: “So, you’ve this, um, dribbling idiot here,” gesturing towards investigative writer Martin J Walker who has exposed Deer’s vaccine activities in the aforementioned Complainant, “pumping out this information and you believe it and this is what this whole MMR thing has been about! Andrew Wakefield enjoys giving evidence! You get these CLOWNS who just MAKE THNGS UP as they go along!”

I wondered if any other members of the press ( the ones Brian Deer was holding court over) had reported on this behaviour from Brian. That of threats, invasion of body space and jabbing his fingers close to Bryant’s face. Funnily enough, the answer is ‘no’ – nobody from the other members of the press Brian was apparently ‘holding court’ over when Bryant arrived noticed this. I can find no record of this behaviour in any mainstream media. And there were plenty there. How odd.

Its also worth noting that Brian was right. He is _not_ the complainant and he _does_ have letters from the GMC to establish that fact.

Next in Bryant’s highly selective account was the issue of who was paying Brian. At the end of which despite not mentioning any intimidation she reports:

At this point, people in the foyer piled in to the doorway of the Press Room to witness a fully grown male journalist attempting to intimidate a press colleague and deploying classic bully boy techniques against a very small woman on her own.

What bully boy techniques exactly? Answering her questions? Or is this more of the finger jabbing and space invasion that only Bryant witnessed and reported on? Lets not forget that Bryant also directly accused Brian of threats (‘Deer proceeded to threaten’) – no sign of a threat so far…lets continue.

Jane Bryant: “Why are you being so abusive?”

Brian Deer: “Of who?”

Jane Bryant: “Of the parents, of the children…”

Brian Deer: “What parents have I been abusive to?”

Jane Bryant: “You have just been abusive to me.”

Brian Deer: “Are you a parent?”

Jane Bryant: “Yes, I am a parent, I’m also press. Why are you being so abusive? Get away from me, Brian! Stay away from me.”

With Brian Deer out of control, Editor Polly Tommey of The Autism File showed support.

Polly Tommey: “Stay away from her Brian, keep away. Look, you’re a journalist, give her some space.”

Is Bryant parent to an autistic child? I can’t find anywhere that says she is.

Anyway, notice how Tommey of the antivax magazine ‘The Autism File’ also chimes in. These two poor cowering ladies who are in terror of a man answering their questions. I’ll say it again. I can find nowhere else that reports on the eminently newsworthy story of two women being threatened by an out of control Brian Deer – other than OneClickGroup itself. In a room full of the media no one takes notes, no one turns on their dictaphones and no one turns on their cameras. The _only people_ who capture this threatening, out of control Brian Deer are a couple of anti-vaxxers. What an amazing coincidence.

At this point in the proceeding, Brain Deer calls for security. He has to call them again later that day.

Later on in her piece, Bryant accuses Brain Deer of damaging the equipment of Polly Tommey.

Interestingly, the only person’s equipment that got damaged that day was that of Polly Tommey, Editor of The Autism File. Having left her belongings in the Press Room whilst she went to conduct an interview in the foyer, two of the recordings destined for Autism One Radio were purposefully deleted by someone. I will leave One Click readers to surmise just who the perpetrator might be, who had the access and the motive.

She also says:

The GMC has now categorically on the record refused to deny Brian Deer’s complainant status. They will simply not comment on Deer. So much for Deer’s GMC back up

Which, as we know is simply incorrect. I look forward to Bryant’s correction on her massively popular website.

If you want to see the depths and lengths that St Andy’s fan Club will stoop to, look no further than this. The word of a homophobic woman who seems to mislead people about her status as parent to an autistic person (assuming I’m right about that) and who wants to paint a man as an out of control tyrant when I suspect he was just a bit pissed off.