Respectful Insolence

Expelled! from AutismOne

If there’s one thing that quacks and cranks share in common, it’s that they do not like scrutiny, particularly by people with some scientific knowledge. Indeed, when confronted with scientists or educated lay people who can challenge their crankery, it’s amazing how they react the same way almost every time; they try to silence or–if you will–expel the person who challenges their world view. That’s because they want to control their message and operate within the confines of their cozy world, where never is heard a discouraging–and especially never critical–word. Most of all, they never, ever want their true agenda to see the light of day.

Nowhere is more true in my experience than the antivaccinationist movement. Its members will repeatedly and piously opine that they are, really, truly, and honestly “not antivaccine” when they are in public. Heck, they might even believe it. But when you take some time to hear what they say when it’s not for public consumption, it’s obvious that nothing could be further from the truth. A great example of this was brought to light last weekend at AutismOne in Chicago, that yearly quackfest that is seemingly organized around the principle that vaccines (and other unnamed “environmental factors” but above all vaccines) cause autism. Truly, no woo is too extreme, and many of the luminaries of the antivaccination movement (even Jenny McCarthy this year!) routinely make a pilgrimage to this conference of woo that brings shame on my favorite city every year, including Mark and David Geier, Boyd Haley, and Frank Engley, plus the entire Age of Autism crew, and many, many others. It’s an antivaccination woo-fest of such magnitude that it threatens to rend the very fabric of the space-time continuum with the force of its pseudoscience.

Into this maelstrom of irrationality bravely strode a member of the reality-based community, a father of an autistic son and the man responsible for maintaining Autism News Beat. Two months before, he had registered and received a press pass to attend this quackfest. A lesser man might have quailed at the prospect. I don’t know if I could have pulled it off. For one thing, too many of those in attendance know my “real” name and have seen my picture (and I don’t mean the one with the clear plastic box full of blinking lights), but, even worse, exposure to such astronomically high levels of neurotoxic woo would do to my neurons what the mercury militia claims thimerosal from vaccines does to babies’ neurons. Even worse still, AutismOne wasn’t even held at a downtown hotel, but rather at the Westin out by O’Hare! (The horror, the horror!) So, into the lion’s den went our intrepid investigator, the better to see what the mercury glitterati were up to. Then, on Saturday, he decided to ask a question that many of us have been wondering. He asked it in a totally polite, nonconfrontational tone.

Shortly thereafter, he was Expelled!

Here’s his account:

I also attended a Q&A with Dr. Jon Poling, MD, PhD, and his wife, Terry. The Polings have been on a media blitzkrieg since March when they were identified as test case petitioners in the Vaccine Omnibus hearings. The details of the case are shrouded in speculation, since the Polings have not publicly released their daughter’s relevant medical records. I asked the Polings if they plan to release those records soon. Terry Poling said she and her husband would not discuss their daughter’s case as long as there was ongoing litigation.

Soon after I asked my question, a hotel security official asked me to turn off my video camera. At the conclusion of the Q&A, 15 minutes later, I was surrounded by hotel security and escorted out of the building. I had registered six weeks earlier as media, and received a confirming email. I was handed a press pass and told to fill it out myself at the registration desk Friday morning, after being told the computer system was down and my name could not be pulled up. But the conference organizers were having none of it, although by now Westin security no doubt realizes I was totally truthful and cooperative, even turning over my driver’s license for photocopying.

Sound familiar?

Moreover, as far as could be told there was no prohibition against videotaping or recording the proceedings for the press. At least I couldn’t find one mentioned in the program or literature contained on the AutismOne website. What our intrepid reality-based father (RBF) had discovered, unfortunately, is that when it comes to open debate and answering uncomfortable questions, the cranks at AutismOne reacted in exactly the same way that the cranks making the movie Expelled! did. As our RBF put it:

But I had committed an unpardonable sin in AutismCureLand. I asked a question that could be answered. The case against vaccines is made in the shadows, in restricted venues such as AutismOne and on fringe websites and internet chatrooms. Anti-vaccine activists speak in generalities, relying on the conditional and subjunctive tense to avoid confronting what modern man has known for centuries: that we’re better off listening to best available evidence rather than dogma and fear. I was asking for evidence. Shame on me.

Shame on you indeed. But good on you for going right into the very heart of darkness, so to speak, and asking a very reasonable question of the Polings, who have been all over the media since they revealed their identity making the claim that their daughter’s case is an “admission” by the government that vaccines cause autism when it most definitely is not. Meanwhile, those who know enough about the Poling case to tell us whether or not the story being spun to the media is true or not are bound by HIPAA and medical ethics not to discuss the case.

Meanwhile, the first installment of video from the conference has been posted. The following is from Autism and the Media, a “roundtable discussion” packed with some of the most biased “journalists” you could ever see, including Age of Autism editors Dan “the Amish don’t vaccinate or get autism” Olmsted, Kim “shut ‘em up” Stagliano, bolstered by woo-loving Julie “I’m not antivaccine, I’m just too lazy to get my child vaccinated” Deardorff. Talk about your Confederation of Dunces! Just look:

What really warms the cockles of my heart here is to see that my humble efforts are having an effect. Dan Olmsted, Kim Stagliano, and Julie Deardorff all appear not to like me very much. I’m crushed. They also appear to have what I like to refer to as an “alternate” view of reality. Dan Olmsted, for example, seems proud of himself for responding to my open letter and condemning Clifford Shoemaker, even seeming to claim that I said I bet he wouldn’t do it (I said no such thing). I only wish he had explained why it apparently hadn’t occurred to him without my prodding to condemn Clifford Shoemaker’s fishing expedition of a subpoena or why he and David Kirby didn’t publish their condemnation on the Age of Autism site, where far more people who needed to see it would have seen it, instead of asking me to post it here on my blog. He also claimed that the blogosphere responded to his and Kirby’s condemnation by saying that it was not enough. That’s only partially true. Some said that, but most (myself included) were pleasantly surprised that the dynamic duo of antivaccination “journalism” went as far as they did and said so openly. Most hilariously to me, it turns out that the person who was most critical of their reaction (and has been particularly vicious towards Dan Olmsted in particular) is a card carrying member of the mercury militia, namely our old friend John Best.

More amazing to me was Julie Deardorff. Listen to her whine about bloggers (myself included) having been so mean and nasty to her when we criticized her for irresponsible journalism (an entirely legitimate criticism, by the way). Notice how she tries to excuse her support of antivaccinationism by using the highly disingenuous “it’s just a blog” gambit because most of the offending pieces were blog posts and complaining that it’s not journalism, just her opinion. Look at how Julie Deardorff’s blog is a Chicago Tribune blog, with the Trib logo prominently displayed and how her blog linked to from various Trib web pages. Apparently Deardorff thinks that complaining to her bosses when she spews antivaccinationist canards on a Trib-hosted blog is being horribly, horribly unfair to her. If it bugs her so much, perhaps she should remember that it’s incredibly easy to start up a free blog using WordPress or Blogger, a simple action that would separate her blogging activity from her professional activity. Of course, Deardorff almost certainly likes having her blog appear under the Trib logo (perhaps almost as much as I like having mine under the Seed logo) because it imbues her with respectability that a generic Blogger template wouldn’t. Too bad in her case that the respectability doesn’t go both ways, as her presence under the Trib logo definitely detracts from the respectability of the Chicago Tribune, at least on health matters.

Still, if you want to see something really sad, check out part 2, where you’ll see a rant about all those scary autistic people maturing into teenagers and adults, with a “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet” flourish:

If you want to know the difference between science and pseudoscience, the AutismOne conference is a great example. In science, evidence and experimentation rule. Scientists are always looking for ways to poke holes in the prevailing hypotheses. True, we scientists don’t always live up to that ideal, and some of us may be too comfortable, but nonetheless the real way to glory in science is to shoot down an accepted hypothesis and replace it with one of your own–all through evidence of course. No one ever won a Nobel Prize for incrementally supporting the existing paradigm. In pseudoscience, on the other hand, we see people safely wrapped in a cocoon of their own groupthink, blissfully oblivious to contradicting evidence and not caring that not only are the scientific consensus and multiple large, well-designed epidemiological studies against them but that no one on “their” side has been able to produce any scientifically compelling evidence to support the vaccine hypothesis. Instead we get the Geiers and their incompetent epidemiology or Dr. Laura Hewitson and her poorly designed monkey studies, along with glaring conflicts of interest. For daring to subject himself to the presence of pseudoscientists and to the indignity of being Expelled! our intrepid Autism News Beat blogger deserves our gratitude, especially since he has lots more material where the two videos above came from, videos I can’t wait to see. On the other hand, I’m a bit frightened by the prospect of coming installments.

The two videos above, according to what I’ve heard, show some of the more sane moments at AutismOne.

Comments

  1. #1 Joseph
    May 28, 2008

    I think AutismOne should give a formal explanation as to why they threw ANB out. If it’s something to the effect that they can do whatever they please, then they should state that, just so everyone knows what sort of conference we’re dealing with.

  2. #2 Dr Aust
    May 28, 2008

    Crikey. No surprise, of course, given the cult-ish nature of the Antivaccine-Autism crew, but amazing they would be so overt about it. Let’s hope it gets wide publicity. I suppose a national network is too much to hope for?

    On a separate issue, what is up with Dr Poling? First the slightly peculiar (to put it mildly) decision to co-author a case report on his daughter, and now doing a star turn at a conference full of people keen to mis-use his daughter’s case to feed their delusions…

    Has the good doctor lost the plot? Perhaps he needs to read your last post, or Prometheus’ excellent one on “Brave maverick doctors”, to see the dangers of becoming a lone crusader and/or poster boy for the nutjobs.

  3. #3 DLC
    May 28, 2008

    Apparently he wasn’t one of the in crowd.
    Hmm… what other groups in history go out of their way to quash dissent or criticism ?

  4. #4 Paul
    May 28, 2008

    Has anyone been able to find out who funded Laura Hewitson’s monkey research?

  5. #5 Sick of the mercury crazies
    May 28, 2008

    Re. Hewitson – I’m betting a little bit of her institutional funds plus Thoughtful House or a donation linked to it.

    The funding source might have been on the abstract, and certainly should have been on the poster if it was presented as a poster at a meeting. Anyone attended? Or got the abstract book?

  6. #6 The laughter continues
    May 28, 2008

    They threw ANB out because he’s an ass…plain and simple. No further explaination needed.

  7. #7 Plutarch
    May 28, 2008

    Reading this kind of crankery on blogs is neuron-apoptosing enough, but hearing actual people parrot this garbage is downright terrifying. The stupid, it burns with the radiance of a thousand suns.

  8. #8 Prometheus
    May 28, 2008

    Wow! “Big Autism” is acting just like “Big Pharma”, “Big Tobacco” and “Big Oil”.

    Imagine that! Kicking someone out of a conference – a member of the press, no less – because they asked a question! He wasn’t carrying a sign or yelling threats or obscenities and his question was respectfully phrased. If the “panel” found it uncomfortable or “unfriendly”, well, isn’t that how the press is supposed to act? Aren’t they supposed to ask the hard questions and get to the bottom of things?

    Seriously, between the threats of legal action and throwing reporters out of conferences for asking hard-ball questions, this is looking like a replay of Erin Brockovich…with “Big Autism” playing the role of Pacific Gas and Electric.

    More and more it seems that the parents and – more importantly – the autistic kids are just pawns in some sort of power play by the higher-ups in “Big Autism”. Power, glory, political influence and microcelebrity status seem to be trumping the interests of the parents and the children.

    Why else would they be so threatened when people ask questions?

    Maybe it’s time for the parents – who give “Big Autism” its only real claim to power – to shine a little light under the rocks. Maybe it’s time for them to ask “Big Autism” to be as transparent and open as they want “Big Pharma” and “The Government” to be. After all, shouldn’t “Big Autism” be setting an example?

    Maybe it is – just not the sort of example it should be.

    Prometheus

  9. #9 Robyne Rohde
    May 28, 2008

    Talk about quacks…this blog is at the top of the heap!

  10. #10 Ms.Clark
    May 28, 2008

    “Autism News Beat” isn’t just a reporter, he’s a parent. The organizers of Autism One threw a **parent** of an autistic child out of their conference for asking a question that any one of them might have asked and for asking it in a very polite, very non-confrontational manner (I heard audio tape of him asking the question.)

    Sure sounds like a cult, to me.

  11. #11 Sick of the mercury crazies
    May 28, 2008

    Re. the earlier Q about the Hewitson monkey study, no info on the funding but there is a very enlightening post discussing Hewitson’s interest in MMR and autism over at Left Brain/Right Brain.

    Apologies if this has been linked here before, but as it came up…

  12. #12 kristina
    May 28, 2008

    If I was the Autism One folks, I’d be saying “oops, we should have just have just let him be”…….. funny but doesn’t AOA have a “thing” about “freedom of information”?

  13. #13 Craig
    May 28, 2008

    My understanding is that few over at AOA even knew about Ken being there until after the fact.

    However, you guys are correct. If Ken was being polite and asked a genuine question (I don’t know, I didn’t hear the question, nor was I there), then he had every right to remain. To be honest, I’m curious about Hannah Poling’s records as well. I’m uncertain why he was escorted out.

    Ken, so you know, I’m being sincere; you had as much right to be there as anyone.

  14. #14 Screechy Monkey
    May 28, 2008

    I’m waiting for Matt Nisbet and Chris Mooney to come along and explain how this post helps the antivaxers.

  15. #15 John Best
    May 28, 2008

    How come Olmsted didn’t defend this guy’s right to free speech? I think you people should bait him and Kirby again to see if they’ll oppose Autism One the way they opposed Shoemaker.

  16. #16 Jimbo
    May 28, 2008

    The you tube videos are gone. Wonder what that is all about?

  17. #17 HCN
    May 28, 2008

    Jimbo, the youtube videos were working for me.

    I suspect you may be having issues with your ISP.

  18. #18 Jimbo
    May 28, 2008

    They work now. Thanks. Must have been me… And regarding the comment above about the Erin Brokovich film, that film is a dramatization. Please keep that in mind. You would be better off using it as an example of how the media or the courts generally get the science wrong than using it to bolster the argument that reporters should not be kicked out of a conference. That makes no sense.

  19. #19 Albert
    May 29, 2008

    What AutismOne did to the reporter is quite in line with what Age of Autism does too. They do not want anyone to dissent. And they do not want anyone to know exactly what conversations they are having. And yet they scream about how the government — e.g. the CDC — is not transparent! This is not surprising. They know they are isolated from the center of everything important and exciting going on in science and so they feel threatened. As a result, they seem to feel no remorse about character assassination, silencing voices, and maintaining their club at the expense of open discussion.

  20. #20 Pat
    May 29, 2008

    Um, it seems like a giant wasted opportunity in general, in that I would figure an “AutismOne” conference would be dedicated to, oh, helping people with the problem at hand rather than ranting about phantom causes.

    I know I could use some help in dealing with people like the after school worker who singled out my son for complaint because she apparently was “uncomfortable” with an autistic child. Other children throw things at other children, he plays quietly with girls toys. Apparently he’s the problem? How do you confront that kind of “soft” discrimination?

    There’s no causative mechanism, nor any “curing” mechanism, but there’s plenty of evidence that remaining engaged with your child will help them improve on their own, which happens regardless of what chelation therapy they do or do not get. ASD with measured IQ 70 or above improve over time, period.

    Time is the only “curative”; engagement the only “therapy” that really has anything to back it up.

  21. #21 Helena Constantine
    May 29, 2008

    In as mush as “conditional an subjunctive tenses” is gibberish, I suppose he meant conditional clauses and the subjunctive mood.

  22. #22 John Best
    May 29, 2008

    Pat,
    “Time is the only “curative”; engagement the only “therapy” that really has anything to back it up.”

    This makes sense and fits in with the fact that some kids who have the APO-E3 protein would be able to rid themselves of some mercury over time. However, kids with the APO-E4 protein could never rid themselves of any mercury and I think that explains why my kid was a “vegetable” for 7 years until I chelated him and he began to improve. Kids like mine do not respond to any sort of behavioral therapy, that is, until you can remove some of the mercury.

    I think it would be a good idea to test some of these kids who show impropvement without chelation to see if they have the APO-E3. What do you think?

  23. #23 Lucas McCarty
    May 29, 2008

    If even part of what you said was true Mr Best, someone who could not excrete Mercury would simply be dead.

  24. #24 John Best
    May 29, 2008

    Lucas, That’s a good point, and that’s why we have so many infants who died from mercury poisoning misdiagnosed as SIDS. It’s also why lots of kids died from that teething powder years ago.

    All those with autism were better off dead until now that we have the knowledge to cure them. Why don’t you show us how brilliant you are and be the first neurodiverse knucklehead to be cured?

  25. #25 Lucas McCarty
    May 30, 2008

    Because you have absolutely no evidence?

    Seriously, if what the Mercury Militia said was true, it would be VERY easy to prove to the standards to be splattered all over every scientific journal.

    The only reason this hasn’t happened is because the claims aren’t true. They’re bonkers. A claim is made, evidence is asked for, another unsubstantiated claim is made to support the previous one.

    If I’m not excreting Mercury, when am I going to drop dead from it Mr Best?

  26. #26 John Best
    May 31, 2008

    Put all the evidence together and the proof is undeniable. You ain’t gonna see that in any publication that’s paid for by drug company advertising. I thought you were intelligent enough to understand that.

  27. #27 notmercury
    May 31, 2008

    Lucas is absolutely correct, John. Not only are you unable to produce evidence to back up your assertions, you refuse to acknowledge evidence to the contrary.

    Let’s take your APO-E3 idea. Are you able to present anything to support the notion that apolipoproteins are involved in mercury excretion, that one form would be more efficient at the task, or that one version is more common in autism? Don’t cough up the link to Miller’s website, his assertions carry no more weight than your own.

    How many years have you been scripting this APO-E nonsense and what will it take to make you stop? Once a little sciencey sounding jargon gets absorbed by that brain of yours, it’s stuck there longer than any known mercury compound.

  28. #28 John Best
    May 31, 2008

    Notmercury, Miller’s an MD. He obviously cares more about afflicted kids than the bonehead MD’s who post here. It’s called truth.

  29. #29 Quietlaugh
    June 2, 2008
  30. #30 truthsayer
    June 2, 2008

    “http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20080505/hl_afp/healthmindresearchautismus

    Sorry, could not resist….”

    John Best seems like he may fit the profile of “grandiosity” found in Bipolar (that is from one plain ol’ parent of an aspie who’s son, DOES NOT HAVE MERCURY POISIONIG, you moron)! A fifth grader could understand the data that CLEARLY, shows that mercury is not the cause, and never has been, of Autism. Why don’t you stop pointing fingers at the who, what, and where that you blame for this condition, and turn some of that passion towards getting more REAL research projects started.

  31. #31 isles
    June 3, 2008

    I happen to know someone who is in a position where xe takes phone calls just about every day from people who believe vaccines cause autism. This person patiently addresses the callers’ questions, even though they are often accompanied by vitriol.

    The organizers of Autism One couldn’t tolerate one polite question.

    Who’s got the facts on their side?

  32. #32 Dr Benway
    June 5, 2008

    Yesterday the mother of one of my developmentally delayed patients asked me if “doctor were doing more chelation therapy now for autism.”

    I said, “I certainly hope not,” which invited a long reply about a radiologist friend in NY with an autistic child who got better with chelation. The story didn’t surprise me as much as the confidence behind it.

    Doctors pimping dodgy treatments create the false appearance of scientific controversy, which really confuses the public and makes my difficult job more difficult.