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.
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.
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.