Respectful Insolence

With the Autism Omnibus trial having finished its first week looking at the first test case of Michelle Cedillo, a very unfortunate girl with multiple medical problems and autism, for whose “vaccine injury” her parents are seeking compensation, it’s not surprising that we’d find some slime bubbling up to the surface. First off, we have the ludicrous spectacle of a website that’s allegedly supposed to be a source of good information about autism providing a forum for a lawyer named Robert J. Krakow looking to encourage parents of children with autism to sue. Negative comments over his being allowed to advertise led to Mr, Krakow’s popping up to defend himself thusly:

…it is highly presumptuous for anyone to determine that these claims are “frivolous.” There is subtantial scientific support for the claim. As an attorney, I would never accept a claim that is “frivolous.” In fact, I refuse to accept the majority of cases that parents contact me about. Unfortunately, most of the claims are not timely because the parents had no idea about the possibility of the claim until it is too late to file.

I believe the reason about.com posted the information about vaccine court is that many parents were submitting questions about the proceedings. As for “free advertising” about.com contacted me. It is not financially advantageous for any lawyer, or me, to accept these cases. Frankly, I am answering questions and speaking to parents because I care very deeply about the rights of children with disabilities. I donate hundreds of hours per year without compensation to advocate for the welfare of children and adults with disabilities, at great financial hardship to myself and my family.

Some out there may have biases against trial lawyers or the litigation system. Your biases are misplaced. Not every lawyer who tries to work within the legal system – and it is very difficult to do so – is engaged in frivolous activity, notwithstanding the spin put out there by special interest groups supported by business or the US Chamber of Commerce, like the American Tort Reform Association.

The vaccine injury claims made by children with neurodovelopmental disorders including autism are valid and real casses, supported by substantial medical and scientific evidence. These children deserve their day in court and more. That is what America is all about. That is why the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program was established.


Typical lawyer-speak about “deserving their day in court,” which in lawyer-speak is code for “with 4,800 cases, maybe one will stick.” My retort is that it is not at all presumptuous to argue that these cases are frivolous. On a scientific basis, they clearly are. Were it not for the fact that the usual Daubert standard was not applied to the testimony allowed, most of it would probably never have been permitted. Examples include, in particular, that of Dr. H. Vasken Aposhian and Dr. Vera Byers, both of whose testimony was incredibly embarrassing in the level of its pseudoscience. Indeed, thus far the plantiff’s case is an utter fiasco, nothing but pseudoscience and downright silly speculation. Particularly risible was Krakow’s claim that cases in which it is claimed that the MMR vaccine or the thimerosal preservative in vaccines caused these children’s autism are “valid and real cases, supported by substantial medical and scientific evidence” and that there is “subtantial scientific support for the claim.” There isn’t, as I’ve discussed time and time again. Even more hilarious is Krakow’s characterization of the credentials of the plaintiff’s witnesses as “outstanding, and their work is sound.” They are not, nor is their science “sound.” Aposhian, in particular, basically admitted that he made up his “hypothesis” around three to four weeks before the trial. Shame on Lisa Jo Rudy for promoting Mr. Krakow and the scientifically discredited concept that MMR or thimerosal in vaccines causes autism.

Worse by far, however, is David Kirby, who posted a truly despicable article to that repository of antivax looniness (with the notable exception of Arthur Allen, of course), The Huffington Post. In addition to his usual conspiracy-mongering and logical fallacies, not to mention the usual ad hominem against those who argue against the MMR-autism and thimerosal-autism links:

Critics of the autism claims also contend that a victory in court by any of the families would drive panicked parents away from immunizing their children at all, resulting in new epidemics of infectious disease and lots of sick and dying youngsters

Maybe that’s why Dr. Offit — who incidentally stands to make some money from the recently approved rotavirus vaccine he co-developed with Merck — referred to the court as a “circus” in his Boston Globe Op-Ed.

While this gives us insight into one pediatrician’s contempt for the American legal system, it is somewhat puzzling, given that the first “test case” has proceeded with nothing but respect, decorum and a sobering sense of the Herculean task at hand.

Oh, please. The Special Masters may have bent over backwards to be respectful to the plaintiffs (and appropriately so, I might add). How could they do otherwise, given the seriousness of the medical problems their children have? It would take a cold heart indeed not to feel sympathy for the parents and give them our every respect. Our sympathy and respect, however, do not mean that we have to grant the same respect to the scientifically dubious “arguments” presented on their behalf thus far by pseudo-experts. In science, arguments earn respect in direct proportion to the scientific and experimental evidence that back them up. In this case, arguments presented thus far by Vera Byers, H. Vasken Aposhian, Ronald Kennedy, and Arthur Krigsman have thus far utterly failed to earn my respect, because they are without scientific foundation. In fact, I’m half wondering whether the plaintiffs are truly trying to win this case, given that they can sue in regular court if the vaccine court rules against them and am left wondering: Five years, and this is the best they could come up with?

Kirby then tries to downplay the possibility that a plaintiff victory in the Omnibus would risk causing vaccination rates to plummet, with the attendant return of once-vanquished diseases. Given how Wakefield almost single-handedly caused vaccination rates in the U.K. to fall dramatically, with the return of measles and the recent death of a 14-year-old from it. In the U.S., to a lesser extent, the same thing is already happening, as Kevin Leitch points out. Kirby claims that the U.S. will never entirely ban thimerosal because the WHO is against it. The reason, of course, is two-fold. First, there is no good scientific evidence that thimerosal at the doses used in vaccines causes harm. Second, thimerosal preservative makes multi-use vials possible for vaccines. These are less expensive and allow more children in poor countries to be vaccinated at a lower cost. Kirby probably has a point that if the plaintiffs prevail it could lead to charges of “hypocrisy” that the U.S. no longer has thimerosal in its vaccines but is encouraging with the WHO the use of thimerosal-containing vaccines in Third World countries, but this has nothing to do with the scientific argument of whether thimerosal causes harm. Even David Kirby and the formerly biggest booster of the “mercury causes autism” brigade, J. B. Handley, are having trouble defending the concept anymore and have been backpedaling considerably of late. Of course, Kirby’s disingenuous question (“Oh, what will they think of us if the legal system gives the vaccine-autism link its imprimatur of acceptance?) is an even stronger argument that the results of the Autism Omnibus will likely have far-reaching repercussions, undermining Kirby’s “don’t worry, be happy” argument. If pseudoscience and unscientific speculation win out over science, vaccination acceptance won’t be endangered only in the U.S., but all over the world.

That’s not as low as Kirby sinks, however. He saves the slimiest part of his editorial for last, where he gets truly vile:

And then there is the Middle East.

Osama, for one, has a very extended family. We are exporting thimerosal containing vaccines to many Muslim nations. Some vaccines contain not only mercury, but products derived from pigs.

I don’t need to tell you where I am going with this train of thought. You already know.

No, Mr. Kirby, you don’t have to spell it out for us at all where your fear-mongering and racist line of thought is going. You’re insinuating that our exporting of vaccines with thimerosal and “pig components” will bring down the wrath of radical Muslims like al Qaeda on us. (One also has to wonder where you found that “products derived from pigs” are in vaccines; I cannot find a source that supports that claim.) Naturally, Kirby presents this as a “what if” scenario, as something we will have to deal with if the parents win in court, but Kirby’s implication is all too clear: If the parents win and we don’t remove thimerosal from all vaccines, even the ones we export, the terrorists will be out to get us because of our “hypocrisy”–as if al Qaeda isn’t already out to get us.

David Kirby now officially nauseates me.

Comments

  1. #1 js
    June 16, 2007

    Ugh. I don’t know how you can bear to follow this so closely, but thanks for the update.

  2. #2 sailor
    June 16, 2007

    “And then there is the Middle East.
    Osama, for one, has a very extended family. We are exporting thimerosal containing vaccines to many Muslim nations. Some vaccines contain not only mercury, but products derived from pigs.”

    Unless he has something to back this up (which he does not in his article) it is totally irresponsible journalism, just designed to inflame, and if it took off it could result in deaths of unvaccinated kids. The reader commentators there are largely very ignorant. Very different from the lot who commented on deepockets chopra. They need to visit your site! (I cannot be bothered to register to comment).

  3. #3 Kristina Chew
    June 16, 2007

    I was more offended than usual by Kirby’s latest—-there are too many sparks of fear of _other_ all over his pieces—-and puzzled at the stance About.com is taking on the “vaccine court”–seemingly calling on parents to hurry and get in their claim too.

    Uglier and uglier.

  4. #4 Andrew Wade
    June 16, 2007

    No, Mr. Kirby, you don’t have to spell it out for us at all where your fear-mongering and racist line of thought is going.

    I must be tired; all I could tell about where his train of thought was leading was that it would be somewhere stupid.

  5. #5 Bartholomew Cubbins
    June 17, 2007

    Time to fire up the Osama Zombie!

    What’s up with his “pig products” in vaccines rant? I’ve never worked with any pig cell lines. I’m pretty sure that pigs aren’t used as a protein overexpression system (can’t even type that w/o laughing).

    It would take a cold heart indeed not to feel sympathy for the parents and give them our every respect.

    To beat the horse, respecting both sides of an argument is something only charlatans and fools demand. The government attorneys can act quite respectful to the children, the parents, and even the incompetent law team and un-expert witnesses without respecting the science- and evidence-free opinions of those panning for gold.

  6. #6 Lisa Rudy
    June 17, 2007

    Just for the record (and I’ll say this many times on my own site!) – I am not attempting to take sides on the vaccine issue. I am not a research scientist, and I do not claim to have a vaccine-injured child.

    What I AM trying to do is provide parents who are concerned about the possibility of vaccine injury with the resources to take part in the vaccine trial process. It seems to me to be an important part of the scientific and American process.

    If the special masters determine that there is no link, so be it. I agree that they have done a terrific job so far – but surely that doesn’t mean that parents should not be offered the opportunity to take part in the process.

    Thanks.

    Lisa Rudy
    (autism.about.com)

  7. #7 Justin Moretti
    June 17, 2007

    Lisa, I agree with you, except for one thing. If this first test case means that the thimerosal-autism and MMR-autism links get racked, flayed and crucified (as the dismal testimony of the pro-link ‘experts’ seems to indicate), there will be nothing left for them to participate in.

    If you want to give parents with concerns a window into what’s happening, post the trial transcripts, or point them to this site. But just because both sides have an equal right to state their viewpoint does not mean that both sides have equivalent chances of being right.

  8. #8 Orac
    June 17, 2007

    What I AM trying to do is provide parents who are concerned about the possibility of vaccine injury with the resources to take part in the vaccine trial process. It seems to me to be an important part of the scientific and American process.

    If the special masters determine that there is no link, so be it. I agree that they have done a terrific job so far – but surely that doesn’t mean that parents should not be offered the opportunity to take part in the process.

    I never said that they shouldn’t “be allowed to take part in the process.” My point is that parents contemplating getting into this process should know the real science behind such claims, namely that there is no good science to support such claims. You didn’t help that at all by irresponsibly allowing a shill for pseudoscience a forum on a website dedicated to autism advocacy. To whom will you give the forum next? J. B. Handley of Generation Rescue? Mark and David Geier, who are presently giving the powerful anti-androgen drug Lupron to autistic children to “make the mercury easier to chelate”?

    What I was criticizing you for was giving a forum to a lawyer who spewed misinformation about the “science” behind the claim that vaccines cause autism. Moreover, what you did was worse than just saying “I’m just presenting both sides and letting the reader decide,” which I consider intellectually lazy. You gave a widely read forum to an advocate for pseudoscience without even presenting the scientific viewpoint.

    You say you’re not a research scientist. Fair enough. However, the issues here are not beyond the pale of an educated lay person. You yourself were able to discern that the “experts” being put on the stand by the plaintiffs are doing a pretty lousy job. There’s a reason for that: They’re hacks and pseudoscientists on the issue of vaccines and autism. They have no compelling scientific evidence (or, arguably any halfway decent scientific evidence at all) on their side.

    Open your eyes and see!

  9. #9 Lisa Rudy
    June 17, 2007

    Actually, the trial transcripts are on various sites for anyone to read – and I’d be glad to once again put up the links. Kristina Chew is providing a terrific analysis from a more mainstream science perspective – and tomorrow a.m. I will add links to her site and her analysis. For more, I’ll also add links to the CDC’s vaccine site (even though I do have those links on my site already).

    As regards opening my eyes – perhaps I’m naive, but it does trouble me a bit that signficant data is not being made available to the plaintiffs in the vaccine trials, and a fair amount of CDC data is also being held back. For years, I’ve seen the idea of vaccines as a cause of autism to be just what you called it, “pseudoscience.” But now, because of information withheld, I’m a little less sure.

    While I certainly don’t know what’s in that data, I can’t help but feel that there must be a reason for making that data unavailable. The reasons may be absolutely above board, in which case it would be terrific to know what they are!

    I think one of the toughest issues here is that, while vaccinations overall are a major public health issue – parents in the vaccine trials are most interested in very private health issues (eg, those of their own kids). In some ways, I think the medical establishment and the generation rescue type parents are speaking different languages… And it’s very tough to find translators.

    Lisa

  10. #10 Lisa Rudy
    June 17, 2007

    Oops – though Kristina’s blog is always terrific, I was thinking of the AutismDiva blog for analysis of the trials. Other thoughts on what I should include in a list of relevant links in tomorrow’s blog? Please email me (autism.guide@about.com).

    Thanks so much.

    Lisa

  11. #11 Kev
    June 17, 2007

    Hi Lisa,

    As I noted in the Krakow post, I would like to see an interview post with a lawyer from respondents side. I agree that giving info is no bad thing, but giving only biased one sided info _is_ a bad thing.

  12. #12 Lisa Rudy
    June 17, 2007

    Kevin – if you would be able to pass along contact info for such a person (respondent lawyer) I’d be very glad to interview them. So far my own contacts have turned up just the two lawyers for the plaintiff – and I felt their comments were helpful in that they explained the process and the purpose of the trials and did not specifically focus on their case.

    Honestly, I don’t want my site to get too bound up in the respective studies of “battling researchers.” Several sites do do this, and I can point to them. But fact is I personally don’t have enough knowledge of research design and protocols to effectly compare and contrast one individual study with another in terms of its quality (though of course I can and do point out the distinction between epidemiological versus biological studies).

    Thanks so much,

    Lisa (autism.guide@about.com)

  13. #13 Joe
    June 17, 2007

    Kev,

    I disagree that “giving info is no bad thing” when it is not factual and could lead someone to make a deadly mistake (in this case, refusing to have kids vaccinated). Disputes in science are settled with data, not persuasion. In this case, the Institute of Medicine examined the data and issued a report in 2004 that concluded that antivax arguments have no basis in fact. Putting them on an apparently equal footing with medical professionals (the “opposing viewpoints” format) is dangerously misleading.

  14. #14 Orac
    June 17, 2007

    Indeed.

    In my mind, when you boil it down, it’s little different that “presenting both sides” of the evolution vs. creationism “debate” or “presenting both sides” of the “debate” about whether the Holocaust happened.

  15. #15 _Arthur
    June 17, 2007

    Orac,
    if one of the Respondants experts was to show that Baby Michelle C. suffer from Cronh’s disease, wouldn’t that entirely kill the whole of the Petitioners’ case ?

    After all, they don’t affirm that vaccines caused Cronh’s disease and autism in Michelle, they label her terrible colitis “autistic enterocolitis”, an unknown and unrecognized condition, based entirely on their discovery of traces of measles RNA in a biopsy sample.

    What say you ?

  16. #16 qetzal
    June 17, 2007

    Lisa Rudy wrote:

    As regards opening my eyes – perhaps I’m naive, but it does trouble me a bit that signficant data is not being made available to the plaintiffs in the vaccine trials, and a fair amount of CDC data is also being held back.

    That sounds like a potentially serious allegation, Lisa. A link, or at least a little more info, would be nice.

  17. #17 qetzal
    June 17, 2007

    After posting the above, I went to Lisa Rudy’s site, just in case there was an obvious explanation for her allegations. Maybe it’s there somewhere, but I didn’t see it on the front page.

    Lisa, if you’re truly not attempting to take sides, why make such unsupported allegations? Do you know for a fact that significant data is being withheld? If so, please explain.

  18. #18 Prometheus
    June 17, 2007

    Arthur,

    Just to be clear about the “measles RNA” issue, the recent D’Souza et al study showed that the primers that Wakefield’s researchers used would react with mitochondrial RNA as well as measles RNA.

    As a result, it seems that Wakefield and the other “measles RNA” claimants have identified the presence of mitochondria in the intestines of autistic children. Since mitochondria are a normal (and essential) component of intestinal cells, it would appear that Wakefield and his collaborators have failed to show anything at all – except the importance of checking negative controls.

    Sloppy science rules in the vaccines-cause-autism camp, it would appear.

    Prometheus

  19. #19 anonimouse
    June 17, 2007

    Lisa,

    The “CDC is withholding information” gambit is a tired, pathetic attempt by the mercury loons to insinuate that the truth is somehow out there, but the CDC and the government are preventing it from being revealed. Anyone with a few bucks and reasonbhle scientific credentials can access the Vaccine Safety Datalink, for example, yet none of the so-called experts who promote the theory have done so. (and no, I don’t count the Geiers’ attempt to plagiarize the work of Tom Verstraeten a few years back)

    Doesn’t that make you wonder a little bit about the REAL motivies of the mercury militia?

  20. #20 _Arthur
    June 17, 2007

    Yes, Prometheus., I fully expect that the “Measles RNA” evidence be discredited.
    But, separately from that, what if Michelle C. is shown to suffer from Cronh’s ?
    Their case would fall flat on its face right then.
    Since they have NOT argued that Cronh’s sufferers are at increased risk from vaccines. (Or that vaccines are causing Cronh’s).

  21. #21 Calli Arcale
    June 18, 2007

    As regards opening my eyes – perhaps I’m naive, but it does trouble me a bit that signficant data is not being made available to the plaintiffs in the vaccine trials, and a fair amount of CDC data is also being held back

    With all due respect, Lisa, just because a particular set of data is not provided does not (in and of itself) mean that it is being withheld maliciously, or that the absence of the data indicates a conspiracy, or that the vaccines-cause-autism claim has any merit whatsoever. I do not know anything about the withheld data to which you refer, so I cannot address that claim properly. However, I have seen such claims used in other contexts where a group of people espouse a conspiracy theory and wish “their side of the debate” to get equal time to the mainstream argument, when in fact their side is so weak it doesn’t really merit equal time. For instance: the people who think NASA hoaxed the Apollo program use this tactic all the time. They give themselves a veneer of legitimacy by saying “Well, I used to think you were right, but then I found out that NASA was withholding data, so I’m not so sure.” They use this to justify their uncritical acceptance and parroting of absurd claims. Hoagland does it with regards to the Face on Mars non-controversy and a few other supposed alien artifacts. The 9/11 Truthers do it.

    And now you are doing it. I know, you might well be the one who is right, but you have to understand that for those of us who’ve seen a few too many cockamamie conspiracy theories, it’s a big red flag when somebody uses that sort of logic.