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What you talking about, TACA?

13 Feb

TACA have issued a statement on the Omnibus decisions. We’ve already discussed some of this, but there is something in the TACA statment that is sooo bad that it needs to be pointed out.

TACA states

The VICP was set up for individuals that suffered an “on the table” vaccine injury. That is, an injury that happened within minutes or hours after receiving a vaccine.


But, more importantly…What?

An injury has to be suffered “on the table”? That’s what they think a “table injury” is?

Once again….What?!?

You’d expect TACA to understand that better than I, since I am not involved in the litigation. Sadly, this is not true.

A “Table Injury” is described thus:

The Vaccine Injury Table (Table) makes it easier for some people to get compensation. The Table lists and explains injuries/conditions that are presumed to be caused by vaccines. It also lists time periods in which the first symptom of these injuries/conditions must occur after receiving the vaccine. If the first symptom of these injuries/conditions occurs within the listed time periods, it is presumed that the vaccine was the cause of the injury or condition unless another cause is found. For example, if you received the tetanus vaccines and had a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) within 4 hours after receiving the vaccine, then it is presumed that the tetanus vaccine caused the injury if no other cause is found.

Granted, the definition of “table” in this case is not the most common. It is, in fact, #8 or #9 on the list:

an arrangement of words, numbers, or signs, or combinations of them, as in parallel columns, to exhibit a set of facts or relations in a definite, compact, and comprehensive form; a synopsis or scheme.

So, that was a bit of an “oops” from our good friends at TACA.

Just to be more precise, the VICP was not built just around “table” injuries. Instead, anyone who has read the decisions will be able to tell you that much time is spent deciding cases of possible non-table injuries.

There are more errors in the TACA statement. But, the main one we have already discussed–the fact that the court was very decisive in what they wrote.

The vaccine-autism org spin on the IACC

2 Feb

The vaccine-oriented autism orgs are claiming that the IACC acted improperly when they removed the vaccine initiatives from the Strategic Plan. They claim that this wasn’t on the agenda. Uh, yeah.

Let’s take a second look at this, eh? Because, from what I can see, not only is there a lot of spin being added to this story, the spin is filled with hypocrisy.

These vaccine initiatives were added at the December IACC meeting. Here’s the agenda for that meeting. I don’t see where it says, “Add new initiatives”.  And, yet, here they are in the draft of the Plan.  Note that the vaccine initiatives are in all red–they were added at that meeting.

That’s not “according to procedure”, if we take the SafeMinds/TACA/GR/NAA spin where it has to be clearly in the agenda.

It isn’t even “according to procedure” in the real sense.  Science based initiatives are supposed to be generated by subcommittees who vet them based on need and whether they have a reasonable scientific basis.

Or, to put it another way–vaccines were added to the Plan at the last minute as part of an end-run around the system by Lyn Redwood. And, now, she and the vaccine-orgs are complaining that the removal of these initiatives is part of a “improper action” or some such nonsense because it wasn’t in the agenda.

Not merely a weak argument, but hypocritical as well.

Let’s take a look at some similar actions.  The January IACC meeting included an attempt by Lyn Redwood to basically rewrite the introduction to the Plan. (By the way, one of the IACC members called Lyn Redwood out (politely) on her constant attempts to rewrite the Plan, noting how this has delayed the entire process considerably. Thank you, whoever you are.)

Let’s take a look at the agenda for the January meeting. Do you see any mention of rewriting the introduction in there? I don’t. So, what do we have here? We have Lyn Redwood attempting to circumvent the procedure and introduce new initiatives outside of the process. Then, when they are removed, she cries foul, claiming that others are working outside of the process?!?

Clearly, this is a political move.  Adding vaccines to the Plan was a political move, not a scientific move.   The complaints lodged against the removal of the vaccine initiatives are political, not reality based.

And, while all this plays out, good research is stalled.

That’s a complete shame.

Strategic Plan: fact and fiction

2 Feb

If you’ve been reading some of the autism blogs lately, you’d think that the only question that the NIH has to consider on autism is whether to study vaccines. That’s because, it’s all the autism organizations seem to be talking about with respect to the IACC and the NIH.

Yes, I’ll admit I’ve contributed to the pervasiveness of the vaccine discussion by responding to those blogs. Just to get that out.

The big stink lately is the fact that the vaccine-specific initiatives were voted out of the IACC’s Strategic Plan in January. Autism Speaks and the small groups like Generation Rescue, NAA, TACA and SafeMinds (as an aside—why are there so many clone orgs? Do they really represent different views?) all issued statements or harsh words about this change.

The story being propagated is basically this: “All the money is going into genetic research. We asked for this small thing and they blocked it”

So, let’s do something different than the vaccine-orgs, eh? Let’s look at some of the initiatives that are still in the Plan. Let’s discuss what is really happening on that front. There is a lot more to discuss about the reality of the Plan, but I figure since no one wants to actually look at the initiatives, it’s fertile ground.

The Plan is divided into section (think chapters) according to “questions”. Let’s look at a few sections and pick a few initiatives out to consider.

Question 1: When should I be concerned?

Identify a panel of biomarkers that separately, or in combination with behavioral measures, accurately identify, before age 2, one or more subtypes of children at risk for developing ASD by 2014. Estimated cost: $30,000,000 over 5 years.

Develop at least five measures of behavioral and/or biological heterogeneity in children or adults with ASD, beyond variation in intellectual disability, that clearly relate to etiology and risk, treatment response and/or outcome by 2015. Estimated cost: $40,000,000 over 5 years.

Holy Moly! I’d expect end-zone victory dances over something like that–$30M for biomarkers? Another $40M that includes biological heterogeneity? Isn’t this exactly what these organizations claim they want—recognition and research into the biological underpinnings of autism?

Instead of victory dances, we get silence from the vaccine-orgs on these initiatives. It’s all “what happened to vaccines!”

Here’s one that I wouldn’t expect them to trumpet, but my eye was captured by this:

Validate and improve the sensitivity and specificity of new or existing screening tools for detecting ASD through studies of the following community populations that are diverse in terms of age, socio-economic status, race, ethnicity and level of functioning by 2012. Estimated cost: $5,000,000 over 3 years.

My eye was captured, but that’s because I am really into the idea of identifying underserved populations like adults, and racial and ethnic minorities. I don’t expect the vaccine-orgs to support this since admitting there are underserved populations threatens the “epidemic”, so I didn’t expect the vaccine-oriented organizations to comment on that.

OK, let’s move on to the next “question”:

Question 2: How can I understand what is happening?

Support at least four research projects to identify mechanisms of metabolic and/or immune system interactions with the central nervous system that may underlie the development of ASD during prenatal-postnatal life by 2010. Estimated cost: $6,000,000 over 4 years.

Whoa! Did I read that correctly? $6M for studies on immune system interactions in the development of ASD? And, from the vaccine-orgs that called for this research? The sound of one hand clapping?

OK, the really big study for this section is this one:

Complete a large-scale, multi-disciplinary, collaborative project that longitudinally and comprehensively examines how the biological, clinical, and developmental profiles of children, with a special emphasis on females, youths, and adults with ASD change over time as compared to typically developing individuals by 2020. Estimated cost: $50,000,000 – $100,000,000 over 12 years.

Again, they are tracking the “biological” side of autism. Not a word of welcome from the vaccine-orgs.

The study above is one of the most critical that the Plan can call for, in my most humble opinion. How many times have we all asked or read others ask, “how will things look into the future?” Wouldn’t that really help answer questions about who “recovers”? Won’t Seriously, wouldn’t it be nice to understand how many people show large gains? Although lets face it, it happens even without “biomed”.

And, yes, I am very glad to see the extra emphasis on adults and females as well, by the way.

Question 3: What caused this to happen and how can it be prevented

This is the section where the vaccine initiatives were shoehorned in. Let’s take a look at what is still in.

Check out this big one:

Support ancillary studies within one or more large-scale, population-based surveillance and epidemiological studies, including U.S. populations, to collect nested, case-control data on environmental factors during preconception, and during prenatal and early postnatal development, as well as genetic data, that could be pooled (as needed), to analyze targets for potential gene/environment interactions by 2015. Estimated cost: $40,000,000 over 5 years.

Wow! $40M in gene/environment interactions. How much closer to the supposed agenda of the vaccine-orgs can one get? And yet, once again, the vaccine-orgs aren’t talking about it.

How about two more initiatives:

Determine the effect of at least five environmental factors on the risk for subtypes of ASD in the pre- and early postnatal period of development by 2015. Estimated cost: $10,000,000 over 5 years.

Conduct a multi-site study of the subsequent pregnancies of 1000 women with a child with ASD to assess the impact of environmental factors in a period most relevant to the progression of ASD by 2014. Estimated cost: $10,000,000 over 5 years.

Another $20M on environmental issues.

I think the point is made—just in this list there are something like $100M to $200M in funding for the biology of autism and environmental factors.

Why don’t the vaccine-orgs talk about these initiatives? One could speculate that it hurts their political maneuvering complaining about the removal of the vaccine initiatives. “Senator, they gave us $100M for exactly what we asked for, but we didn’t get everything”. Doesn’t sound so good, does it?

But, and this is important, these same vaccine orgs weren’t trumpeting the inclusion of all these biology and environment initiatives even before the vaccine initiatives were removed.

That’s why I keep referring to them as “vaccine-orgs”. It seems vaccines are the one and only issue they care about. Sure, they gave some lip-service to environment and biology. But now it’s as if these initiatives don’t exist and aren’t important. If you listen to their spiel: “Poor us, we asked for this small vaccine initiative, but all we got was genetics”.

Genetics? Yep, it is in the Plan. And rightly so, I will add. There is real evidence for genetic links to autism. If we are to understand autism, even environmental causes, we need to have the genetic information. Take this initiative, for example:

Identify genetic risk factors in at least 50% of people with ASD by 2014. Estimated cost: $30,000,000 over 6 years.

That’s a big project, and that’s what the vaccine-orgs would like everyone to think is the core of the Strategic Plan. But, as we’ve seen, it just isn’t fair to paint the Plan as emphasizing genetics while ignoring environment and biology.

There is a big push right now to stall the Strategic Plan (as though it hasn’t been delayed enough already by the constant attempts to rewrite the Plan by Lyn Redwood. If you think I am the only one who thinks this, listen to the last IACC meeting.) Yes, the same organizations who called for research into the environment and gene-environment interactions are willing to stall that research for one reason: vaccines.

Who thinks that TACA or Generation Rescue or any of the other small orgs would sit quietly by and see all this research stalled if it weren’t for the possibility of getting vaccines into the Plan?

Why should the rest of us sit quietly and let them stall progress towards a Strategic Plan that includes good research projects on topics like lifespan issues?

We shouldn’t.

Are autism organizations acting in good faith?

19 Jan

As one might imagine, this is a follow up post to Kev’s post, Did the IACC act in bad faith?

Obviously, much damage control is ongoing right now. Some autism organizations were hoping for a document from the U.S. Federal Government indicating that vaccines might be implicated as a causal factor in autism. No surprises there. They managed to get some language and a possible research project into an early approval stage for inclusion in the IACC’s Strategic Plan.

Now, these same autism organizations are crying foul that the vaccine language was removed. Autism Speaks has pulled support for the Plan under the cover story that they are upset at the process–that a “previously voted-on decision” was revisited without “forewarning”.

Autism Speaks today decried a vote by the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) to reverse a previously voted-on decision to approve objectives relating to vaccine safety research as part of its deliberations for the Strategic Plan for Autism Research. The decision to debate removing these objectives was not posted on the meeting’s agenda, nor were the public members given any forewarning that this section of the plan – which was resolved at the previous IACC meeting in December—would be revisited. As a result, Autism Speaks is withdrawing its support for the Strategic Plan.

Bob Wright, founder of Autism Speaks, stated “Because of this surprise tactic, we now have a plan that is tainted and cannot be supported by the autism community.”

So, this wasn’t on the agenda, so it is a “surprise tactic” and this is why the process is “tainted”. Somehow, this just didn’t ring true to me when I read it.

Anyone else check the actual agenda? In case you don’t want to click on the link, here it is:

Time Event
8:00 Registration
9:00 Call to Order and Opening Remarks
Thomas Insel, M.D.
Director, National Institute of Mental Health and Chair, IACC
9:05 Brief Introductions of IACC Members
9:10 Review and Decisions: IACC Strategic Plan for ASD Research: Introduction
Thomas Insel, M.D.
Director, National Institute of Mental Health and Chair, IACC
10:40 Break
10:45 Continuation – Review and Desicisons: IACC Strategic Plan: Budget Recommendations
12:15 Lunch
12:45 Continuation – Review and Decisions: IACC Strategic Plan: Budget Recommendations
1:15 Review and Decisions: IACC Strategic Plan: Finalizing the Plan
2:00 Break
2:10 Open Session for Public Comment
2:30 Closing Comments and Adjournment

What are the main parts of the agenda? “Review and Desicisons: IACC Strategic Plan: Budget Recommendations” and “Review and Decisions: IACC Strategic Plan: Finalizing the Plan”

Pretty broad agenda item there. Definitely broad enough to cover revisiting the vaccine proposals. Not a “surprise tactic”, not something outside the agenda. Just an action that probably saved the Strategic Plan from being voted down.

TACA is stating that the IACC “rescinds vaccine research initiatives”. Makes it sound like there was a hard commitment to the research initiatives. There wasn’t: the Strategic Plan wasn’t finalized. They also play the “it wasn’t on the agenda” card, like Mr. Wright.

SafeMinds is stating that the action by the IACC defies “wishes of its own scientists”. No kidding, they say that. They say that it also defies the wishes of “Congress”. As Kev has already pointed out, where does the Combating Autism Act state that vaccines should be researched? (hint, it doesn’t). I guess a couple of people speaking in a Colloquy are all of Congress? Because, that’s the only place where this vaccine language is included related to the CAA–the Colloquy–a couple of short speeches given after the Act was voted upon. There were also arguments made before the CAA was voted on about vaccines, including a lot of lobbying by these same autism organizations that are now crying “foul!”

That tells this reader one very important fact: Congress specifically did not include vaccine language in the Combating Autism Act. Seriously, we likely wouldn’t have a CAA if the vaccine language was included. They wouldn’t have had the votes to get it passed. But, hey, that doesn’t make a good press release, does it?

SafeMinds has gone so far as to pull its support for the Strategic Plan. If SafeMinds’ very own Lyn Redwood would like to follow the example set by Alison Tepper Singer and resign (in this case, from the IACC), I’ve got a few really good suggestions for who could fill the seat.

But pull it all together: Autism Speaks, TACA, NAA…all these press releases are damage control. OK, that and they are jockeying for position to complain to the new U.S. administration about how they have been “marginalized”. But, are they being truthful? Are they, as supposed representatives of the “Autism Community”, using their position wisely?

Let’s face facts: the Strategic Plan was going to be voted down. The majority of the members didn’t want the vaccine language included. The options were simple: revisit the sections on vaccines now and get the Plan passed or have the Plan go down in flames now and rewrite the sections on vaccines later.

Either way, the vaccine language was going to be out.

Doesn’t make a good press release, though, does it? “We were going to lose anyway, but we want to pretend like they acted improperly”. Somehow I don’t see Generation Rescue, TACA, SafeMinds, or the NAA issuing such a simple, truthful statement.

I object! (Part 3)

20 Nov

If you’ve been reading these past few days, you know that I find a recent letter sent to the IACC by a number of autism organizations to be, well, objectionable (hence the post titles!). I’ve noted that I don’t like the way they claim backing from a united “autism community”. I don’t like the way they are presenting their arguments in their letter (here and here).

And now, for the last part of their letter.

Bullet point (d), or, we want a bigger say

Provisions for accountability and evaluation for the research spending are absent. Adoption of oversight, review and evaluation mechanisms, such as an Autism Advisory Board and a Department of Defense grant review model, should be added to the plan.

They are asking for an “advisory board” or AAB and a grant review system. Generation Rescue attempted (and apparantly failed) to get an AAB put in place by lobbying he Secretary of Health and Human Services. Now they are pushing the IACC to institute an AAB and also add DoD grant review model.

Let’s look at these proposals one at a time, starting with the AAB.

This is not the time to institute the Autism Advisory Board. President-elect Obama will soon be in office. He has specific ideas on autism and disabilities in general. These include an “autism czar” to coordinate autism activities. Let Mr. Obama and his team make the next changes in the structure of how autism research activities are conducted.

Second, the IACC is already an advisory board. Why are people asking for a second layer, when the IACC process has been working well? OK, you got me, it’s a good bet that these people don’t think the process has been working well. If I were to venture a guess, they are unhappy about the lack of a prominent statement about the “epidemic” and/or “vaccines” within the Plan.

Would an Advisory Board change that? Let’s look at how the Advisory Board is mentioned in the report that accompanied the CAA (note that the “autism advisory board is not mentioned within the CAA language itself):

[congressional report] The committee further re-examined the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC). In particular, the committee wanted to increase the amount of public participation (from two individuals) to at least six. In addition, the IACC has been tasked to make recommendations to the Secretary regarding the public participation in decisions relating to autism spectrum disorder. For instance, the committee notes that the IACC may recommend providing other, additional, formal mechanisms, such as an Autism Advisory Board, to provide additional public feedback and interaction. Further, the Secretary may opt to provide such a mechanism without the recommendation of the IACC.

The committee expects that the IACC will be the primary mechanism for the coordination of all research, surveillance, and early detection activities within the Department of Health and Human Services. As agencies implement specific activities related to autism spectrum disorder, they should strongly consider those activities outlined in the Autism Research Matrix.

So, even if an Advisory Board were formed, it would still be the IACC that has the task of coordinating autism activities within HHS.

That would seem to me to be a potential reason why they are now asking for something akin to the DoD grant review process–to add some actual power–oversight and control–to the new “advisory” groups they are proposing.

Again, perhaps someone can correct me here in what I am about to say. But from my perspective I can’t see why the NIH needs a second layer of grant review. For the DoD, an agency that is not primarily involved in medical research, I can see a review board. For the NIH, an agency whose functions already include a peer-review grant process, I don’t see that the case is very clear at all for an additional review board. Let the NIH do what it is chartered to do.

Let’s look at that last bullet point from the letter:

[Letter]The planning process diminished the voices of important segments in the autism community. Future activities related to the SP should ensure integral participation of the diverse community representing families and individuals with autism.

First, I’d switch the wording in that last sentence to “….representing individuals with autism and their families.” (and I wouldn’t object at all to people who would change it to “…representing autistics and their families”)

Second, the very segments of the autism community who are signing this letter were given ample opportunities to be heard. IACC meetings have been dominated by a very few with a vary narrow message. An entire “Town Hall” meeting was held on the West Coast to obtain more input. Letters have been sent, investigations mounted and pressure applied. It is quite a stretch to state that voices were “diminished”.

Having your voice “heard” and having your requests acted upon are very different things, however. And that is the flaw in the logic of this letter: the voices were heard, but it appears that they carried a message that didn’t meet the basic criteria for inclusion in the Strategic Plan: a basis in sound science.

To take a recent example: People can say over and over, “we want research into chelation”. But, if (a) there is no reason to suspect chelation would help as autism is not heavy metal poisoning, (b) there is a possibility that chelation could hurt as demonstrated by recent rodent studies

Conclusion, or, tell them again

[letter]We ask that the IACC approve these specific action items: (a) adoption of amendments to the plan responsive to the above 5 concerns; (b) specification that research spending be at least the CAA minimum and establishment of a workgroup to be convened in January 2009 to develop recommendations to the IACC for increasing the research spending to at least that minimum and adding objectives which will bolster research on the environment, gene-environment and treatment; (c) inclusion of oversight provisions including an AAB and DOD-model review process; and (d) specification that oversight bodies and workgroups have strong and diverse community representation.

Which pretty much summarizes the bullet points above. My eye was drawn to the idea that a workgroup be convened in January 2009. Why? Could it be that they would like this workgroup to be a fait accompli when President Obama takes office? Again, let Mr. Obama put his plans into action.

The final short paragraph caught my eye as well:

[letter]Each day, decisions are being made on autism research by NIH and other federal agencies which are outside of the SP. It is imperative that the plan be improved in the areas noted above at the November 21, 2008 IACC meeting.

The strategic plan (SP) is not approved yet. By definition, decisions are being made that are outside of the Plan. Also, I sincerely hope that decisions continue to be made outside of the Plan. Who can predict what may happen in the next few years that may require action outside of the Plan? As the old saying goes, if we knew what the answers were going to be, it wouldn’t be “research”. I really have a hard time figuring out why they included that sentence in this paragraph.

The letter is then signed:

Autism New Jersey (formerly COSAC)
Autism Research Institute
Autism Society of America
Autism Speaks
Generation Rescue
National Autism Association
Organization for Autism Research (OAR)
Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC)
Talk About Curing Autism (TACA)
Unlocking Autism

Much speculation could be had about what tradeoffs were made in order to get all these groups to sign the above letter. It isn’t much of a stretch to say that the letter doesn’t go nearly as far as many of the signatories would have gone on their own in the area of mercury and vaccines.

It is notable that Autism Speaks signed on to a letter with a number of groups that have been quite negative towards AS (to put it mildly). It is also notable that at least one, and this one major, autism research organization is not represented on this list.

I realize it is just one rather short letter, and my responses have been rather long in comparison. I also realize that many of these points are probably obvious to those at NIH and/or working on the IACC. And, yet, I somehow had to do this!

On to more important topics soon!

I Object! (Part 2)

19 Nov

It’s amazing that a relatively short letter could be so objectionable as to take multiple blog posts to discuss.

And, yet, here I am, on my third post. You can read the other two, I Object (Part 1) and Why should the Strategic Plan include vaccines.

Continuing on with bullet points (b) and (c)…

Bullet point (b), or “you are leaving money on the table”

[Letter](b) The plan fails to allocate commensurate resources. The CAA authorized $645 million for NIH research over five years. The plan falls short by close to $200 million. Given the urgent situation, we consider the CAA allocation to be a minimum requirement for federal agencies and feel that even greater resources are needed.

Who is going to say no to “we should apply more resources to the situation”? Certainly not I. But I’m not an MBA. I count resources in terms of how many good research groups are doing quality research in relevant areas. Counting the money, that comes second.

This is similar to the method used by the IACC. People tend to think–and this letter helps perpetuate–the idea that the CAA appropriated money and that the IACC worked from that budget to create the Plan.

Both ideas are incorrect.

First, in admittedly confusing language, the CAA authorized the appropriations. The CAA states, “…there is authorized to be appropriated..”, not, “this amount is appropriated”. Another way to look at it is to see how often “subject to the availability of appropriations” is used in the text of the CAA. It isn’t as though there is a bank account with $645M waiting to be tapped into.

Second, the IACC did not work from a budget and then decide on a Plan. They didn’t say, “Well, we’ve got $645 million, how will we spend it?” What they did was say, “what needs to get done?”. Near the end of the process, they passed the Plan on to the implementation subcommittee to draft the budgets for the various projects.

This sounds like the much more defensible method. The IACC can go to congress and say, “this is what we need to get the job done.” Had they come up with a budget higher than the CAA allocated, they would have been in a good position to ask for more. They are (I hope) in a good position to get their budget fully funded–they can defend why they came to the total cost in their budget.

That said, of course I’d like to see more research funded. But, I’d like to stay on a friendly partnership with the NIH too. Presenting their actions inaccurately (as this letter appears to do) doesn’t accomplish that in my mind.

let’s look at what the CAA authorized to be “appropriated“:

(a) Developmental Disabilities Surveillance and Research Program- To carry out section 399AA, there are authorized to be appropriated the following:

`(1) For fiscal year 2007, $15,000,000.
`(2) For fiscal year 2008, $16,500,000.
`(3) For fiscal year 2009, $18,000,000.
`(4) For fiscal year 2010, $19,500,000.
`(5) For fiscal year 2011, $21,000,000.

`(b) Autism Education, Early Detection, and Intervention- To carry out section 399BB, there are authorized to be appropriated the following:

`(1) For fiscal year 2007, $32,000,000.
`(2) For fiscal year 2008, $37,000,000.
`(3) For fiscal year 2009, $42,000,000.
`(4) For fiscal year 2010, $47,000,000.
`(5) For fiscal year 2011, $52,000,000.

`(c) Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee; Certain Other Programs- To carry out section 399CC, 409C, and section 404H, there are authorized to be appropriated the following:

`(1) For fiscal year 2007, $100,000,000.
`(2) For fiscal year 2008, $114,500,000.
`(3) For fiscal year 2009, $129,000,000.
`(4) For fiscal year 2010, $143,500,000.
`(5) For fiscal year 2011, $158,000,000.’.

So, the $645 million number comes from section c. Two things to notice. First, there are large sums in sections (a) and (b) as well. I hope they are getting appropriated. Second, notice that there is money budgeted for 2007 and 2008 in that number. Remember that the CAA hasn’t been funded yet? Has NIH been sitting on their hands, waiting for the budget before they do autism research? Hardly.

The NIH budget for autism in 2007 is estimated at $127 million ($27M more than the CAA called for all IACC sponsored research, which includes CDC and other agencies). Similarly, $128M is the estimated budget for 2008 ($14M above the IACC budget).

Perhaps I am missing something. It is quite possible. But it appears to me that the NIH is working in good faith here.

Again, given the urgent need–to identify and serve the underserved in this country–I would consider there to be a great reason to increase resources applied by the IACC. I just don’t think that is want the signators of that letter had in mind. Consider the next point they make:

Bullet point c, More environmental research, or, what happened to the “V” word?

[Letter]Research on the environment, gene-environment interaction, and treatment are underrepresented in the draft plan. The plan should apply additional resources to these areas.

As already discussed, I found this statement interesting for what it doesn’t say, far more than what it says. What it doesn’t say explicitly is “mercury” or “vaccines”. As noted in that previous blog post: if the signatories of that letter are OK with this wording, it should be OK in the Strategic Plan.

Sullivan’s take

The order of these two bullet points sends a clear message: The Plan doesn’t use all the money “appropriated” and, yet, the Plan should put additional resources into environment and treatment.

Or, “why don’t you take some of the $200 million and spend it on these areas?”

It would be a good question if that was the way the process worked. (A) the money wasn’t appropriated (so there isn’t $200M sitting unused) and (b) the Plan was built on a “what needs to be done” basis, not “how much do we have to spend” basis. The push for more environment/treatment really needs to be justified in terms of “what needs to be done”.

But, again, I’d agree that more resources would be welcome. And, again, I would suggest attempting to meet the great need of serving the underserved. Research into services like the Taft Transition to Independent Living program comes to mind.

more to follow…

I object! (Part 1)

18 Nov

If you’ve been reading LeftBrainRightBrain lately, you know about “The Letter“. If you haven’t, here’s a quick introduction: A number of autism organizations drafted a letter and submitted it to the members of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC). The letter attempted to invoke “the autism community” (see the AoA blog post for more on that) and that was objectionable to me. Kev took up the idea of Who makes up the autism community. It is clearly an important discussion–there are over 100 comments for those two blog posts.

I’ve been told that the letter marks an achievement in advocacy–bringing together all these groups. And it was–someone got Generation Rescue to accept a document that didn’t explicitly call for research on vaccines. Whatever underling who told the top people there, “this is the best you are going to get” was pretty brave.

But, Let’s get back to the letter itself. Because, believe me, I for one have many more objections to that letter. Going through point-by-point takes some, but I present below my views. I’d suggest this: take a look at the letter, see what you may agree with or disagree with, and check back here to see if you agree or disagree with my take.

I’ll be frank. Every section had something objectionable in it.

Let’s take a closer look at the letter, shall we? I’ll add my thoughts section by section, starting in this post with the introduction and the first bullet point.

Introduction, or, “we are united”

[Letter]November 12, 2008

RE: Concerns on Draft IACC Strategic Plan

Dear Members of the IACC:

The Combating Autism Act required the IACC to prepare a strategic plan for autism research in order to enhance the quality, effectiveness, and overall benefits of autism research spending within HHS agencies. While the 2008 planning activities reflect improvements relative to earlier Autism Matrix efforts, ultimately the draft plan and the planning process have fallen short. Autism advocates have identified a range of deficiencies and each may place priorities on different concerns. Nevertheless, as a community we are united in expressing our disapproval of the draft plan for the reasons outlined here.

Ouch–there it is: “Nevertheless, as a community we are united in expressing our disapproval of the draft plan for the reasons outlined here”. For any confused as to what “community” means can read the title of the Age of Autism blog post, “Autism Community “United in Expressing Our Disapproval” of the NIH Strategic Plan for Autism Research.”

That’s been discussed a lot (feel free to join in) here and here.

But, let’s look at the substance of the Letter. They make a number of bullet points, (a) through (e).

Bullet Point (a), or “no Urgency”

[Letter](a) The plan fails to communicate a sense of urgency reflecting the alarming increase in prevalence and autism as a national health emergency. The beginning pages of the plan should embody urgency and the critical need of the government to apply the resources to address a crisis situation.

Variations on the word “urgent” are used at least 5 times in the Draft Strategic Plan.

What do they want? They want the Plan to specifically state that autism causes “considerable human and financial toll”, as support for the greater need for “prevention and treatment”. Those are speculations, those are statements from SafeMinds in complaining about the “Strategic Plan” in a previous letter.

Sullivan’s take on “urgency”
When I think of “urgent” in regards to autism, claiming an epidemic is not high (or anywhere) on the list. Finding better ways to help people with autism, yes, that would be high. In terms of the “alarming increase in the prevalence of autism”, I also see things differently that the authors of this letter. I see great strides in identification more people with autism. But, I see a job that is not complete. Racial and ethnic minorities are vastly under-represented in the current autism counts. Autism counts vary significantly by geography. Lastly, but certainly not least in importance, there is likely a vast pool of undiagnosed, underserved adults in this country. But, that is a topic where the mantra “absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence” is ignored in place of promoting an epidemic.

Ignoring the underserved is a truly shameful position that these organizations have taken.

However, I am pleased to see that within the Plan, ethnicity, race and lifespan issues are prominent. There is even a prominent statement in the introduction of the Plan on lifespan issues:

[Strategic Plan] Lifespan Perspective: Historically, ASD has been characterized as a disorder of childhood. Although most individuals with ASD will not outgrow their diagnosis, their symptoms will change in form and severity over time. There was great support during the development of this Plan for more research on ASD in older individuals, especially the need for practical strategies for increasing the quality of life and functioning of adolescents and adults with ASD. As individuals with ASD advocate for themselves and expand our knowledge of their experiences and needs, they become partners in the research effort.

Does that rise to the level of “urgency”? I don’t know, I’ll take “great deal of support” happily.

Urgency or politics?
The issues noted above highlight what I see as a big problem with this letter: it is attempting to make the Plan a political document, possibly acknowledging the “epidemic” of “vaccine injury” autism. I am not naive enough to think that there are no politics involved in government sponsored medical research, but the backbone of the NIH process is scientific peer review of research proposals. I’d rather see the Plan document stay closer to that ideal than become political fodder in a struggle that is ripping our community apart.

Such a short letter, so much to discuss. And, we are only at the first bullet point! But, even at this point, it is clear that this is a letter that doesn’t come close to representing the views of this member of the greater autism community.

More to follow…

Who makes up the autism community?

16 Nov

On a recent post, Sullivan asks why vaccines should be included in any strategic plan when ‘vaccines-cause-autism advocacy organizations can’t ask for it?’

Its a good point. What _I_ want to pick up on is the claim that some of the groups who co-signed the letter Sullivan refers to are in any way (as they claim to be) ‘the autism community’. Lets take a look at some of the biggest news events of the last five years related to autism.

The top stories from 2003 came in July of that year. Of the top 100, less than 10 mentioned vaccines. Of the other 90% of stories Generation Rescue mention none, SafeMinds mention none, ARI mention none, NAA mention none, OAR mention none, TACA mention none, Unlocking Autism mention none.

The biggest month for 2004 autism news was May. Non-vaccine stories (on page 1) accounted for 87%. Again, none of the above organisations discussed any of these stories.

The biggest month for autism news in 2005 was August. Of page 1 results, 19% mentioned vaccines (4 were from AoA and about 6 were about the death of Abubakar Nadama). Of the other 81%, none were mentioned by the above groups.

2006 and October is the busiest news month. 3% mention vaccines. Of the 97% of stories that don’t, the organisations above mention none.

2007 sees the busiest news month as April. Of the 93% that do not talk about vaccines, none of the above groups comment on their websites.

2008 – so far April is the busiest news month with 9 mentions of vaccines in the top 100 stories. Of the 91% not talking about vaccines, yep, you guessed it, none of the above organisations talk about the stories.

The single top story regarding autism this year was World Autism day. No mention of this on the websites of Generation Rescue, SafeMinds, NAA, ARI, OAR, TACA or Unlocking Autism.

And these are the people who claim to be the autism community?

The truth is that these people are a series of single issue groups concentrating on vaccines and autism. The truth is that fully 7 out of the 11 (63%) groups who co-signed this letter have no interest in autism beyond vaccines/toxins.

These groups do not, in any way shape or form represent the autism community. I hope the IACC see this clearly.

Why should the strategic plan include vaccines…

14 Nov

…if all the vaccines-cause-autism advocacy organizations can’t ask for it?

I’ve been watching the process for the IACC fairly closely. You may have noticed my obsession. One issue that has come up is…you guessed it, vaccines. IACC meetings have been available to listen to by phone. (thank you NIH!) I’ve listened to long…long…long…speeches about the importance of research on vaccines and mercury. It’s had very broad support from…well…Lyn Redwood and Mark Blaxill. Pretty much silence from the rest of the IACC.

That said, I can’t say I am not surprised that an 11th hour attempt to change the process. Yes, according to a letter sent to members of the IACC, “we as a community community” are “united” expressing disapproval for for the Strategic Plan in the current form. This isn’t new. In person and in letters, members of these organization have co-opted my rights into an “autism community” that supports their vaccine/mercury agenda.

But, it’s worth taking a look at the letter. Alternatively, you could trust me to tell you what I found. Better yet, let me tell you what I didn’t find: vaccines. No mention of the word vaccines…or mercury…or thimerosal…or immunization…or epidemic. I seriously had to check that the search function was working as I read that document.

Why point this out? To jab a little fun at our good friends? No, there is a much more important message here:

Take a look at the organizations that signed this letter:

Autism New Jersey
Autism Research Institute
Autism Society of America
Autism Speaks
Generation Rescue
National Autism Association
Organization for Autism Research (OAR)
Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC)
Talk About Curing Autism (TACA)
Unlocking Autism

If they can’t agree on including “vaccine”, “mercury”, “epidemic” or any variation of those words—


Seriously, there has been a big push to get the IACC to make a strong statement on the vaccine issue. And yet, these words are missing from their own letter.

So, I’ll say it again: if Generation Rescue, SafeMinds and the rest can’t agree to put “vaccines” or “epidemic” in a letter, why should the IACC bow to their wishes and include these terms in the Strategic Plan?

Why now, Jenny?

6 Oct

I try to stay away from mind reading. It is all too prevalent on the internet: “I know why so and so did such and such.” That said, who didn’t find the timing odd of Jenny McCarthy’s Amanda Peet attack and that really strange interview where Ms. McCarthy “forgives” Barbara Walters?

For those who have been lucky enough to miss this mess, here are brief timelines.

Amanda Peet gave an interview to Cookie Magazine for their August issue. It went online about July 10th. In that interview, she commented that people who don’t vaccinate are parasites. A week later (about July 17), Ms. Peet came out with an apology. I thought it was very well written, and have since been pleased to confirm that yes, indeed, Ms. Peet wrote it herself.

Fast-forward to September 30. That’s when Jenny McCarthy decided that it was time to make a public statement about the apology. That’s what, 7 weeks later? Of course, it’s also a week after Jenny’s book debuted.

Story line two: Let’s go all the way back to September, 2007. Jenny McCarthy is on “The View” for her first autism-book tour. Barbara Walters committed a terrible “sin”: she actually treated it like an interview and questioned Jenny McCarthy. I’d like to show you the video, but the video is now pulled from YouTube and the link to the video from the more recent story (which included the bit from “The View” also doesn’t seem to work anymore.)

Some short time after taping “The View” Ms. McCarthy was at a TACA picnic where she is said to have made some rather rude suggestions towards Ms. Walters.

Fast-forward to the present. On September 29th, Ms. McCarthy “forgave” Barbara Walters.

No, really. After Ms. McCarthy got a bit cross on the show and then took it out on Barbara Walters at the TACA picnic, she “forgives” Barbara Walters.

Boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

In that same interview, according to Ms. McCarthy (and only according to her, since Ms. Walters seems above responding to this), there was a bit of a heated exchange backstage with Ms. Walters after taping “The View”. Ms. McCarthy gives no indication of whether she (Ms. McCarthy) lost her cool at all.

But now, you see Ms. McCarthy understands what was going on with Barbara Walters. Remember that intro about “reading people’s minds”? Well, missing from the timeline above is the fact that Barbara Walters came out with, Audtion, a Memoir. In Audition, Ms. Walters discusses her life growing up with a special needs sister. Soooo, back to the mind-reading: Jenny McCarthy says that Barbara Walters was angry that she (Jenny) cured her son, while Barbara Walters had to go through tough times with her sister.


Of course, did this “forgiveness” come out say, in May, when Audtion came out? No. Jenny McCarthy waited 4 months and “forgave” Ms. Walters…during the book tour for Warrior Mothers. (and after it was pretty clear that she wasn’t going to be a guest on “The View” this time).

Anyone want to guess how long before Jenny McCarthy apologizes to Ms. Walters for the rude statements?

Somehow I don’t think it’s going to happen. If I put on my mind-reading hat, I would say that these recent publicity events were, well, just that: publicity. Staged for the time when it benefited Ms. McCarthy.

I’m not shocked by the idea that a celebrity would work the press. Would anyone?

Let’s take another look at the timeline, shall we? Let’s take a look at how Jenny McCarthy’s book tours have created a buzz. As a measure, let’s use Google Trends. Google Trends gives you a rough idea of search engine traffic for specific terms. In this case, I chose “Jenny McCarthy” as the search term.

Let’s look back when Ms. McCarthy was doing the “Louder than Words” book tour, shall we? (click to enlarge)

It’s pretty impressive. For about 2 weeks, the search traffic was much higher than the average, reaching a peak of about 14 times the normal traffic for Jenny McCarthy.

Let’s expand this so we can see from 2007 to the present, shall we? (click to enlarge)

Google Trends for Jenny McCarthy 2007-2008

Google Trends for Jenny McCarthy 2007-2008

First, note that these data are week-by-week, not the day-by-day of the first figure. This smooths things out some, so the 14x peek we saw before is only about 7x in this graph. Still impressive. So, how about the traffic for “Mother Warriors”? I don’t see it either. Let’s zoom back in, but on the last 30 days. (click to enlarge)

Last 30 days Google Trends for Jenny McCarthy

Last 30 days Google Trends for Jenny McCarthy

(here’s the original graph from Google if you want to see it).

Warrior Mothers came out on the 23rd. See that little blip? This is a day-by-day trend, so we can compare to the first graph that showed a 14x spike in search traffic and a two-week increase. Instead, looks like it went up to about 1.7 and came back down fast.

But, wait, there’s another peak in early October? It goes to 4.

Remember those media events described above: the attack on Amanda Peet and the “forgiving” of Barbara Walters? Those happened on the 29th and 30th of September. After attacking Amanda Peet in the press, the Jenny McCarthy “buzz” went up.

Again, the timing is just too coincidental to suggest anything by a calculated decision by Ms. McCarthy.

Even though the buzz was low for Mother Warriors, this doesn’t mean that “Mother Warriors” is a flop. Supposedly it made “best seller” status.

As a rule of thumb, it takes about 100,000 copies of a book sold to get to be a “Best Seller”. As a second rule of thumb, that means about $350,000 for the author.

For “Louder than Words” Jenny McCarthy stated (if I recall correctly) that a portion of the proceeds would go to the UCLA autism program, if I recall correctly. I haven’t heard such a statement, or any statement about “Mother Warriors”.

Of course, she and Jim Carrey have been (and will almost certainly continue to be) proud supporters of Generation Rescue. They paid for a full page ad in USA Today–which I seem to recall being about $200,000. The thing is, I don’t consider that benefiting the autism community–or the community at large.

Jenny McCarthy’s potential for book profits are obvious. By improving her “brand” she also stands to gain from sales of her educational DVD’s and her soon to roll-out “Too Good by Jenny” products. That’s enough to set off conflict-of-interest alarm bells for many in the vaccines-cause-autism community. OK, that sets a pretty low bar, but you get the idea.

This sort of observation begs for comparison. As long as Jenny McCarthy is attacking Amanda Peet, let’s take a look at how much Amanda Peet makes from being a spokesperson for Every Child By Two and their Vaccinate Your Baby campaign.


Yes, that would be zero. As in nothing. As in she’s doing it because she thinks it’s the right thing to do. I somehow doubt the Generation Rescue crowd will believe that (or the fact that Amanda Peet wrote her own apology). They don’t seem to believe that anyone would act except out of financial self interest…well, except Ms. McCarthy. They also don’t want to admit that Paul Offit has no more conflict of interest, or acknowledge that he isn’t going to profit from Autism’s False Prophets. Seriously, I’ve seen them challenge whether he will actually donate the money.

A statement above sticks with me as I finish this post: Setting the Bar Low. When it comes to standards of behavior, yes, I think Ms. McCarthy has set the bar low. The question in my mind is this: Is she taking on the standards set by her organization or does she fit the organization because they have similar standards?