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Conflicts of interest, whats good for the goose…

28 Jul

As recently blogged by Autism News Beat, CBS Evening News (an American news outlet) recently performed an investigation into ‘how independent are vaccine defenders’? Something of an exercise in futility, it concluded that:

Ideally, it [vaccines] makes for a healthier society. But critics worry that industry ties could impact the advice given to the public about all those vaccines.

So, CBS say that the vaccine schedule makes for a healthier society but that the advice given about vaccines could impact the advice given.

Uh…so? Lets go through that again. It makes for a healthier society. Would CBS rather it didn’t? Bizarre.

Specifically, they attack the AAP, the Every Child By Two website and Paul Offit. The AAP has conferences funded by vaccine manufacturers, ECBT takes money from the vaccines industry….in fact, hold on…CBS say in their report (assume breathless excitement reporter voice)

Every Child By Two, a group that promotes early immunization for all children, admits the group takes money from the vaccine industry, too…

Oh do they? They admit it do they? Under the rigour of your intrepid journalism no doubt? Except that information is clearly available for all on their website. I do wonder if anyone from CBS even spoke to ECBT.

And of course there is Paul Offit – the official poster boo-boy for anti-vaccinationists everywhere. The man who dares to make a profit from his inventions! CBS took him to task for holding a patent on a vaccine. Shall we look at another man who made a patent application for a vaccine? That’s right – Andrew Wakefield. Except, unlike Dr Offit, who made no attempt to hide his association with the vaccine he was responsible for, Andrew Wakefield’s solicitors said that ‘Dr Wakefield did not plan a rival vaccine’.

How about other people who make a tidy income from the anti-vaccine industry? The Geier’s maybe who invented their own IRB to make sure that their ‘science’ was unhindered by ethical considerations…..or maybe Dr. Jay Gordon who thinks that the Polio vaccine could be replaced by simply not eating cheese. How much do you charge your clients Dr Jay? How about Laura Hewitson who’s husband works for the Wakefield owned Thoughtful House and who seems to be part of the Autism Omnibus hearings….how independent can her science be? How about the ARI/DAN group who are led by people who clearly have no clue at all as to the medical science they are making a large profit on. How much do each of these people make? How about Rashid Buttar who lists non-existent memberships on his CV and who charges upwards of $800 for a 1 hour consultation fee and who’s ex-patients report being out of pocket by about $20,000 in about a year.

Its up to you Dear Reader – are these things we should be worried about? Are these things CBS should be worried about? Are these conflicts of interest? Does the act of making any sort of money either from treating people or from existing business interests mean you cannot and should not talk about these things? Should we assume that only certain people have an agenda?

In my humble opinion, it should only become an issue when attempts are made to hide these things. Or deny them when they are clearly true. That cannot be said of the AAP, ECBT or Paul Offit. Maybe CBS should be asking to see the balance sheets of DAN doctors or vaccine litigation specialists. What have they got to hide? Maybe CBS should be inspecting the credentials of people who claim to be able to cure autism and reverse old age. Maybe CBS should be looking at the disturbing increase in ties between autism/anti-vaccinationists and scientology.

But I would think in the meantime that CBS will take the easy route of producing crap that informs no one about anything. Lets hope it doesn’t turn around and bite them on the arse eh?

Orac weighs in too.

Age of Autism still don't get it

15 Jul

Over on our favourite pompous blog, the authors and readers still seem to have trouble processing their collective importance to autism related science (none at all) as well as how successful politicians are at directing science (not at all).

They flourish a letter from the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight of the House Science and Technology Committee (long enough name fellers?) which is itself breathtaking in its dumbness.

In the Combating Autism Act, Congress directed DHHS to conduct research into screening, diagnosis, treatment and medical care for individuals with autism. These areas of research are essential to a balanced approach. In addition to these areas, I strongly encourage the IACC to promote a balanced research portfolio when examining the underlying causes of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). An examination of the FY07 ASD Research Portfolio shows a strong preference to fund genetic-based studies related to autism. There is growing evidence that suggests a wide range of conditions or environmental exposures may play a role in the emergence of ASD.

So, they firstly admit the role of CAA did not ask DHHS to examine the causes of autism but then ask the IACC (a committee appointed as a result of the CAA) to do it anyway. They then tick the IACC off for having a preference for genetic based studies and say there’s growing evidence that a ‘wide range’ of things cause autism. Possibly thats true, but the reference they provide to support that statement belies their beliefs. They reference the recent IMFAR poster presentation of Laura Hewitson. A study that has not even been published. This _is_ a science committee right?

They then go on to repeat a number of anti-vaccinationist talking points (Hannah Poling, biomedical treatment etc etc) and then make their recommendation:

I urge you to consider forming a Secretarial-level Autism Advisory Board (AAB). While the IACC is the primary mechanism for the coordination of research, surveillance, and early detection activities within the Department of Health and Human Services, an AAB could provide additional public feedback and serve as a liaison between parents, individuals with ASD, advocacy groups and the Department of Health and Human Services, and would assist in reestablishing public confidence

and whom might be on such a board I wonder?

Groups such as SafeMinds, Generation Rescue, Autism Speaks, the Simons Institute, the National Autism Alliance, and the Autism Research Institute all have or are currently supporting research. Such groups have experience evaluating research, an in-depth knowledge of the current body of ASD research, and an appreciation of the new questions that may need to be examined in order to move our understanding of ASD forward.

This is a bad joke, surely. What is driving this is the fact that some IACC members are annoyed that the IACC didn’t immediately capitulate to their demands to study vaccines and vaccines only. There was a good reason why they didn’t. Its already been done. No association. Move on.

I have to say the idea of SafeMinds and Generation Rescue being on a board that is to restore public confidence to “parents [and] individuals with ASD” amuses and scares me in equal part. Maybe Mr Miller hasn’t seen founding members of Generation Rescue calling autistic people ‘trailor dwelling coo-coos’ or founder members of SafeMinds referring to blogs authored by autistic people and parents of autistic people as part of a ‘Wackosphere’? I think once he has (and he will, as will Secretary Leavitt and Dr Insel) he might stop and think futher.

Anyway, I digress, back to AoA. They employ a clever bit of deviousness to try and lever vaccines into the CAA:

The CAA listed 13 scientific fields but the only specific research topic mentioned in the legislative history was vaccines and their preservations as a possible cause of autism.

Hey, why would they need to? The Omnibus Autism hearings are doing that right?

But read carefully. It looks on a quick pass like vaccines are mentioned in the CAA. But they aren’t. They are mentioned in the ‘legislative history’. What that means is that there is no mention of vaccines in the CAA (and there isn’t. Read for yourself.)

Another word that would equate with ‘legislative history’ is ‘rubbish’ meaning ‘that which has been thrown away’. AoA – or in this instance Kelli Anne Davis (apparently the DC Political Liaison for Generation Rescue) – will be using the phrase ‘legislative history’ to try and afford some weight to the idea of vaccines being in drafts of the CAA. I really doubt anyone is going to fall for that little sleight of hand Kelli Ann.

And here’s the kicker:

This letter is the result of a year-long, collaborative effort between Generation Rescue, SafeMinds and the Investigation and Oversight Subcommittee.

I’ll bet it is.

Just this week, yet more genetic evidence was uncovered into the aetiology of autism. Y’know, the kind of evidence AoA et al are saying is useless and there’s too much of.

Let this be a marking point. Let us all remember that this is the week that the political process was co-opted in order to achieve a useless goal. The results of that, if successful, will be even less research into what could be vital therapies, educational strategies, residential innovations and means of garnering respect for autistic people.

Laura Hewitson’s Stinker

18 May

Sorry about the title, I couldn’t find a word to rhyme with her last name to infer wrong-doing a la Age of Autism’s ‘Grinker’s Stinker. Anyway….

Meet Laura Hewitson. Laura is the lead and joint author of a trio of papers presented at this years IMFAR as posters.

These papers (also shredded by Orac) purport to show how it is possible to mimic the 1999 US vaccine schedule and give monkeys autism as a reult. Never mind the fact that the results reported don’t sound or present anything like autism (<em>”survival reflexes, tests of color discrimination and reversal, and learning sets”</em> huh??), lets look at Laura Hewitson a bit more closely then I managed to in a quick 10 min post last time.

As I mentioned at the time, Laura Hewitson claims affiliation with DAN! Thats enough in my book to place a rather large red flag against her impartiality.

Now I’ve learnt that her entanglement with the vaccine/autism hypotheses goes very much further than that.

It turns out that Hewitson’s partner is Dan Hollenbeck, an Age of Autism contributor. Hollenbeck owns the website and in the top right hand corner of the FightingAutism website are the words:

FightingAutism is now part of Thoughtful House Center for Children.

And we all know who is the big cheese at THoughtful House don’t we? That’s right – one Andrew Wakefield. He’s also the co-author to the three studies poster presented at IMFAR.

Hollenbeck’s asociation with Thoughtful House goes beyond just having a website affiliated with them however. He’s also an employee of Thoughtful House.

Director of Information Technology for Thoughtful House, Dan Hollenbeck received his Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1992


When their son was diagnosed with autism in 2001, the Hollenbecks relocated from Oregon to Pittsburgh in order to accept employment as an Information Technology Manager for a large NIH (National Institutes of Health)-funded medical research organization


He is also on the Board of Directors, as well as the Research Committee, for SafeMinds…

So, here we are with three poster presentations from a woman who has an autistic son, affiliated with DAN!, is married to the Thoughtful House IT guy (who also happens to be on the Board of Directors of SafeMinds) and these afore-mentioned poster presentations are also co-authored by Andrew Wakefield.

I wonder just how impartial this science can be?

How about when we throw one more fact into the equation?

437. Laura Hewiston (sic) and Dan Hollenbeck on behalf of Joshua Hollenbeck, Dallas, Texas, Court of Federal Claims Number 03-1166V

That’s right. Hewitson and Hollenbeck are suing HHS for vaccine injury visited upon their son Joshua.

Now, lets turn our attention to IMFAR where Hewitson made her three poster presentations. INSAR have regulations governing the papers and abstracts submitted.

INSAR requires authors to disclose their sources of contributed support (commercial, public, or private foundation grants, and off-label use of drugs, if any). INSAR also requires authors to signify whether there may be a real or perceived conflict of interest. Any potential for financial gain that may be derived from reported work may constitute a potential conflict of interest.”

Now, maybe Hewitson did note the fact that:

a) Her husband is an employee of an organisation that makes money from treating what they allege is vaccine caused autism.

b) She has an autistic child.

c) Said child has been registered for compensation for alleged vaccine damage resulting in autism (I assume they’re part of the Omnibus proceedings then?)

But if she did, then it isn’t recorded in the abstracts posted on the Age of Autism website.