Respectful Insolence

Color me unimpressed.

As I mentioned last week, that opportunist who has apparently become a paid shill for the hardcore antivaccination movement (namely Generation Rescue, Autism Research Institute, National Autism Association, Coalition for SAFE MINDS, and Talk About Curing Autism, all of whom helped to fund his recent trip to the U.K. and, according to Kirby’s announcements and advertisements, appear to be funding his speaking engagements), David Kirby, is making a tour of the Northeast to spew his special brand of credulous idiocy about vaccines and autism hither and yon. I listed his schedule thus far in a previous post. It turns out that the other day David Kirby called out “all vaccine-autism critics” thusly:

In the next two weeks, I will give three public lectures and Q&A sessions, free and open to the public, at Brown University in Providence, NYU Law School in Manhattan, and Northeastern University in Boston. (Other events are to be announced soon for New Jersey, Long Island and Southern California).

I sincerely encourage any and all vaccine-autism skeptics, critics, agnostics and cynics living in the northeastern US to please consider attending one of these talks, armed with all of your most pointed, difficult and critical questions.

Anyone in these cities, I urge you to give Mr. Kirby exactly what he wants, especially in light of this bit, which shows just how utterly ignorant of the scientific method Kirby is (the kind explanation) or how utterly disingenuous he is (the more likely explanation, assuming he knows damned well what he is doing):

My only arguments will be that the evidence is NOT conclusive against a link, and it is premature to declare that vaccines and their ingredients have been 100% exonerated as environmental contributors to autism.

That’s right. Kirby is pulling a classic argumentum ad ignorantiam, also known as an “argument to ignorance.” Science can never completely prove a negative. No matter how many studies fail to find a link between vaccines and autism or thimerosal in vaccines and autism, there is still a small chance that there is an effect that was missed. True, with each large study, the likelihood of an effect being missed grows ever smaller, along with the size of such an effect, if an effect exists. By now, based on what we know from multiple large studies that have examined the relationship between vaccines and autism and failed to find even a whiff of a correlation, we can say quite confidently that (1) the odds that vaccines cause autism at a significant rate are vanishingly small and (2) if they do (unlikely) they do so in an incredibly tiny number of children. Add to this the overwhelming epidemiological evidence showing that, despite the fact that thimerosal exposure in infants is lower than it has been since the 1970s and 1980s, before the “autism epidemic” that isn’t, autism prevalence shows no signs of decreasing. That’s about as strong epidemiological evidence as one can hope to find refuting a link between vaccines and autism. It may be impossible ever to “exonerate” thimerosal or vaccines with 100% certainty (something I suspect that David Kirby is well aware of), but it is certainly possible to produce such a preponderance of evidence that does not support a link that it no longer makes sense to keep spending large sums of money asking the same question (and getting the same answer) again and again. After a certain point, doing so is a waste of finite resources.

Of course, antivaccinationists implicitly acknowledge this by their harping on the Hannah Poling case, which is nothing more than the implicit admission that the claim that vaccines cause autism is the incredible shrinking hypothesis.

So, once again, all we have is David Kirby’s bluster. Does anyone really think that these events won’t be packed mainly with antivaccinationists who view Kirby as a hero and who will look very dimly upon any skeptic who gets a bit too–shall we say?–pointed in his or her questioning of Kirby? Besides, as the experience with David Kirby’s “debate” with Arthur Allen shows, Kirby’s a master of the “Gish gallop,” which is why I consider any face-to-face debate with him by a scientist to be pointless.

Still, it might not be pointless for attendees to make his lecture experience as uncomfortable as possible with some tough questions, if only because David Kirby’s smugness is so insufferable that it would be highly enjoyable to observe its puncturing. That’s why I hereby leave open the comments for you, my readers, to suggest questions for attendees to one of Kirby’s vaccine crank-fests to ask him, for the edification and education of anyone who might be able to attend one of Kirby’s crank-fests. Kevin Leitch has even been kind enough to start you off.

Comments

  1. #1 Dr Kilovolt
    June 18, 2008

    Slightly OT, but I thought you’d be happy to see this, if you haven’t already:
    http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/06/18/fda-takes-aim-at-herbal-cancer-cures/index.html

    PS Dr Kilovolt is not really a doctor.

  2. #2 anon
    June 18, 2008

    David Kirby,

    If there has been NO viable scientific evidence showing a link between vaccines and autism, and no valid scientific study suggesting it, what are you standing on? Parental Anecdotes? How do you respond to studies, and the scientists that conduct them, that find no link between autism and vaccines?

    Maybe someone (Orac) can post a list of peer-reviewed papers regarding the link of autism and vaccines?

  3. #3 wfjag
    June 18, 2008

    “My only arguments will be that the evidence is NOT conclusive against a link”

    OMG! Be charitable Orac. Copy and send him from any standard dictionary the definition of “Clueless”.

  4. #4 anon
    June 18, 2008

    *valid, not viable.

  5. #5 PalMD
    June 18, 2008

    Hey, why not come to the Midwest, Kirby?

  6. #6 _Arthur
    June 18, 2008

    Kirby might acknowledge that is EVIDENCE OF HARM is woefully inconclusive, too.

  7. #7 daedalus2u
    June 18, 2008

    I will be at the one at Northeastern in Boston. Anyone want to join me we can deliver up some Respectful Insolence.

  8. #8 Sarah
    June 18, 2008

    This is off topic but too much to believe.

    SO without further ado….(cue the X-Files music)

    http://www.citynews.ca/news/news_23845.aspx
    CityNews: CityNews Exclusive: The Mother, The Child, The School Board And The Psychic

    Yep, a psychic told a school employee that an Autistic girl was being sexually molested and the school called protective custody.

    They blamed the mom’s boyfriend ect until the mom pulled out the GPS and 24 hour recording device her daughter wears in a backpack. Apparently the school as lost the child a few times. So the mom ‘lojacked’ the girl.

    This school is in dire need of some respectful insolence.

    They are in Canada-I pity those Canucks whose tax dollars pay for that!

    ~Sarah

  9. #9 wfjag
    June 18, 2008

    Dear Sarah:

    See the Toronto Sun story, too:

    “Board use of psychic blasted
    Allegation of sex abuse stems from ‘vision’ of letter V”
    Toronto Sun, Wed. June 18, 2008

    http://www.torontosun.com/News/Canada/2008/06/18/5910691-sun.html

  10. #10 kristina
    June 18, 2008

    bluster and braggadocio—-pity the 3 schools listed are not more aware of the threat to their reputations.

  11. #11 Prometheus
    June 18, 2008

    “Debating” with Kirby is a pointless exercise – we have to stick to the data yet he gets to make up his “facts” as he goes along. If it could be stipulated that Kirby had to stick to statements supported by data, then a true debate wold be possible, although that would limit Kirby to about three sentences.

    Asking Kirby to answer questions is equally without point. He has no information to provide, apart from inuendo, gossip and rumor. He has no data, he understands the topic in only the most superficial fashion, and he dismisses anyone who disagrees with him as “deluded”, “corrupt” or “biased”.

    Showing up at his “lectures” will only serve to reinforce Kirby’s delusional beliefs about his own importance. Face it, he’s a bottom-feeding ex-reporter who has found a small piece of “fame” by telling a group of desperate parents the stories that feed into their own beliefs about how their children’s autism is due to government negligence and callous disregard for safety. This “fame” will only last only as long as he continues to feed them the misinformation they crave.

    Prometheus (who WON’T be there)

  12. #12 Jason S.
    June 18, 2008

    The problem isn’t with proving a negative. A statement like “all swans are white” is just as tough as it’s mirror negatives. The problem with proving a universal. The problem of induction prevents 100% certainty in any scientific conclusion.

  13. #13 barbie123
    June 18, 2008

    Hi David Kirby! I am still waiting for an answer to my question posted to you on the denialism blog: can you please tell us all how much money you have made on your books, speaking engagements, etc., to date since beginning your anti-vaccine crusade? how much of this money is donated to any autism support or other groups?

    Thanks!

  14. #14 AndyD
    June 19, 2008

    “Debating” with Kirby is a pointless exercise – we have to stick to the data yet he gets to make up his “facts” as he goes along.

    Then make stuff up instead. Not facts, just possibilities. For example, shoes today contain far more synthetic material than they used to. Especially those cute little baby shoes. Shoes used to contain leather and cotton but now are largely made of things like vinyl, polyester and nylon. So, if/when he uses the “hasn’t been disproved” argument, ask Kirby if he is aware of the fundamental changes in the materials used to make shoes and if he or anyone else has disproved a link between this change and autism? If he says no such link has been suggested, say it has (I’m suggesting it now) and that it’s never been disproved.

    Or use an accepted bogeyman like house paint, plastic laminates, composite wood (particleboard), lead, general pollution, pesticide drift, CCA treated timber, etc. We can all be certain none of these has been disproved as a cause of autism – if any have even been investigated.

    Or make up your own semi-plausible (non-exaggerated) link and ask for the same proof that it wasn’t the cause. Stay rational and display absolute belief in your “suspected cause” to avoid being presumed a loon by all and sundry.

    As for the Hannah Poling case, just because one person gets bruised when allegedly hit by a tennis ball does not mean all similar bruises are caused by tennis balls or that such balls present any real danger to the wider community.

    But seriously, who expects any dissenting voice to get much time to argue a point at one of these talks? Chances are the reason skeptics are invited is as a means for Kirby to confirm that skeptics are trying to poison the debate with distractions and mis-truths. You’ll need a pretty good constitution to be able to hold your own in what might well be “enemy territory”.

  15. #15 Ane C Dote
    June 19, 2008

    “..a paid shill for the hardcore antivaccination movement..”

    That’s rich coming from you Orac ;)

  16. #16 Orac
    June 19, 2008

    Thanks. It was meant to be. :-)

  17. #17 Jason S.
    June 19, 2008

    I’d add that you can prove mercury in vaccines does not cause autism with the same kind of certainty you can achieve with thinking dodos went extinct. If that isn’t enough – not 100% bonafied certainty – then I’d challenge the person to prove the sun exists with 100% certainty. They can’t. Yay problem of induction.

  18. #18 Matt
    June 19, 2008

    The point of having people ask him opposing questions is to help solidify the image that Mr. Kirby is an expert in autism.

    If I have questions about Mr. Kirby’s science, I either obtain the same data he does, or I ask real experts.

    That is how I came to the conclusion of skepticism about Mr. Kirby’s viewpoints.

    Besides, if he wants to answer questions, what’s stopping him? He’s a blogger, right? Yo, Orac, why don’t you stop answering questions here and only answer them in your speaking enagements?

  19. #19 Dana K
    June 19, 2008

    I love Dr. Kirby… his book “Evidence of Harm” was eye opening! How can all the evidence and all the stories of children that recieve there MMR shot and the next few days they are diagnosed with Autism be ignored? HELLO!! I dont think the vaccines CAUSE autism, I think it can TRIGGER autism! How can every child have the same immune system? Why was it 10 shots in 1984 and now its 34 shots? Polio hasnt been in the US in almost 30 years but they have still added more of the polio vaccine to the schedule! Also the vaccines havent even been proven to be 100% safe…CDC admits, April 2008: “Usually simultaneous vaccination is incompletely studied at time of licensure.” If simultaneous vaccination has not been adequately safety tested, how can CDC/ACIP recommend it?

  20. #20 HCN
    June 19, 2008

    Dana K, wasn’t Kirby’s book about thimerosal in vaccines, not the MMR? (the subtital is “mercury in vaccines”, and the MMR has never contained mercury)

    The last time I checked, Minnesota was still part of the United States, and 2005 is less than 30 years ago ( http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5441a6.htm ). There has not been an increase in polio vaccination, just a change to a safer vaccine from the OPV to the IPV.

    Also, as has been demonstrated with the polio in 2005, the over 100 cases of measles this year in the USA there will still be a need to vaccinate… unless this country closes its borders. Somehow, I do not see that happening.

    Now tell us, since you are so educated about the subject, which of the following vaccines would you decide to remove from the schedule for children under the age of one year?:

    Pertussis
    diphtheria
    tetanus
    Haemophilus influenzae type b
    polio
    HepB
    Pneumococcal

    And for children over a year old, which ones would you eliminate:

    measles
    mumps
    rubella
    varicella
    HepA

    Be sure to give us the scientific reasons why, like how the risks of the vaccine far outweigh the risks of the disease. Be sure to use real references that are indexed at PubMed. Thank you.

  21. #21 HCN
    June 19, 2008

    Another question for Dana K: You called him “Dr. Kirby”… what is his doctorate in? Before writing his book he was a travel writer:
    http://travel2.nytimes.com/gst/travel/travsearch.html?term=byline%3ABy%20DAVID%20KIRBY

  22. #22 Bronze Dog
    June 19, 2008

    How can all the evidence and all the stories of children that recieve there MMR shot and the next few days they are diagnosed with Autism be ignored?

    We can ignore it for the same reason that we can ignore the decline in piracy allegedly causing global warming. The injections are just something that happen at roughly the same time we’re able to recognize autism. It’s called the post hoc fallacy. There are millions of other things that kids go through that don’t get blamed despite having equal evidence (and no negative evidence).

    Oh, and about the increase in vaccines, it’s because we can prevent more diseases with new ones. The risk-benefit ratio is favorable, backed up by history.

    The anti-vaxxers change their story on weekly basis. Many of them try to engage in legal action against critics instead of dealing with arguments by using the scientific method.

  23. #23 Mary
    June 20, 2008

    Many vaccine advocates are sarcastic, angry and disparaging to the other school of thought. I’m not sure why because it seems to me we should all be curious about poisons that enter the bodies of our children and the motivation of big gov’t and big business. Focusing on the avarice or malevolence of David Kirby is pointless– he has neither trait and this issue is not about him. We should all work together to look at the big picture and answer the compelling and valid questions that parents and many health professionals have. This is the way to move towards a solution.

  24. #24 Orac
    June 20, 2008

    How about focusing on the scientific ignorance, shifting of the goalposts, and downright crankery of the antivaccinationist side? By the way, the dose makes the poison, and there is nothing in vaccines that is toxic at the amount given.

    Re: financial matters. Tell you what. If antivaccinationists stop focusing on the supposed avarice and malevolence of anyone who criticizes their bad science (I long ago lost count of how many times I’ve been labeled a “pharma shill”) and focus instead on coming up with actual science that stands up to scrutiny, they wouldn’t be worthy–nay, demanding–of such sarcasm and disparagement.

  25. #25 Mary
    June 20, 2008

    Orac,
    If your views are solid and founded, why can’t you present them in a way that does not include sarcasm and nastiness? Do you want to turn off the people who are on the fence with this issue? I think the most reasonable route to take is for each parent to read, learn, understand, inquire and then decide what to do with their spouse. It seems many parents are either designing their own schedules and their own time frames or picking and choosing the vaccines that they feel prevent diseases for their kids. Whether it’s based on soul-searching or researching, a parent should have the right to choose, because vaccines, indisputably, damage and kill. There is no gov’t official, no meduical professional and certainly no one offering comments here, that can guarantee vaccines will not harm or kill a given child. Vaccine injuries are not ‘extremely rare’– they are all around us. And none, in my opinion, are acceptable.

  26. #26 rmp
    June 20, 2008

    Mary, it seems that you’re advocating that parents should have the right to choose bringing a measles epidemic to this country?

  27. #27 Magpie
    June 20, 2008

    Mary: nastiness? If anti-vaccinationists have their way, kids will die. Based on ZERO science, just hand waving and bullshit. You don’t think this is worth “nastiness”?

    No, it can’t be guaranteed that no adverse reactions will occur. What we CAN say is that this risk is vastly VASTLY less than the risk of a generally unvaccinated population. We know the death rates before vaccinations, and even allowing for a healthier population we are still talking a massive number of deaths, and an even larger one of terrible complications. We know the stats. Vaccination is overwhelmingly better. If you have some secret statistics that no-one knows about, then I suggest you share them.

    …what’s more, the folk who don’t vaccinate their kids right now can only do so with little risk thanks to the rest of the population being vaccinated. That is, parents who choose to avoid vaccines for their kids are not only risking other people’s children during an outbreak, but are cynically taking advantage of the risks OTHERS have taken, however small that risk is. That’s contemptible.

    Let me just repeat: Kirby is spouting nonsense that COULD GET KIDS KILLED. It’s pretty clear that not even he believes it. And you think “sarcasm” is too harsh?

    The argument – can you prove with 100% certainty that vaccines never do harm, ever? – is stupid and Kirby must know it. Can YOU prove with 100% certainty that wearing shoes doesn’t cause autism? No? Well lets BAN SHOES. Repeat for pretty much every event that occurs in early childhood. No, it’s worse than that, because shoes aren’t life saving. Vaccines are.

    Vaccine injuries are not ‘extremely rare’– they are all around us. And none, in my opinion, are acceptable.

    Imagine you have two options: 1. 100 kids will die from disease; 2. a single child will die from a vaccine. Which do you choose? Because that’s basically the way it works here. But NO adverse reactions are acceptable to you, right? So you’re picking #1. Which is pure, solid gold BULLSHIT, and is the reason people show such contempt to your position – it deserves it.

    And if I’m harsh, it’s because I’m angry. People who want kids to die for their own idiot ideology do that to me.

  28. #28 Mary
    June 20, 2008

    I tell my kids that if the only way you can express yourself is with profanity, you have nothing worthwhile to say. I’m sad for you and your anger.
    I think both sides of this debate have points that need to be looked at. Throwing stones and insults is counterproductive but perhaps that is a step that needs be completed before a solution is reached.
    Read, Mom and Dads! It’s the best way to address your concerns and reach a decision your family is comfortable with. Good luck! There’s a website, http://www.mykidsmychoice.com that may be helpful for researching.

  29. #29 Matt
    June 20, 2008

    The point of having people ask him opposing questions is to help solidify the image that Mr. Kirby is an expert in autism.

    If I have questions about Mr. Kirby’s science, I either obtain the same data he does, or I ask real experts. Which is exactly how I came to the conclusion of skepticism about Mr. Kirby’s viewpoints.

    Besides, if he wants to answer questions, what’s stopping him? He’s a blogger, right? Yo, Orac, why don’t you stop answering questions here and only answer them in your speaking enagements?

  30. #30 ozzy
    June 20, 2008

    mykidsmychoice.com? Yeah, real education. The site starts out with:
    This site is dedicated to helping parents legally and effectively refuse vaccines for their children.
    Really unbiased and educational…

    I have a few questions for some of these parents who are “researching their vaccination schedule” (code for refusing vaccination).

    1. Are you willing to accept financial liability when your unvaccinated kid gets infected and spreads a vaccine preventable disease?
    2. Why would you trust a Reverend, journalist, self-proclaimed “nutritionist” to give you advice on science over thousands of scientists who go through rigorous training to gain expertise in a field?
    3. If you were thrown in jail for something you didn’t do would you call a landscaper instead of a lawyer to devise a legal strategy to get you out?

  31. #31 Magpie
    June 20, 2008

    I tell my kids that if the only way you can express yourself is with profanity, you have nothing worthwhile to say

    Do you? I tell my kids that people from different backgrounds express themselves differently, so don’t make fun of the stuck up wowsers. I don’t CALL them stuck up wowsers, of course. That would be rude. I sugar coat it.

    Throwing stones and insults is counterproductive but perhaps that is a step that needs be completed before a solution is reached.

    If it’s rude to point out that dangerous stupidity is, in fact, dangerous stupidity, then I am guilty as charged. I note that you have written NOT ONE WORD to refute any argument of substance. No statistics, no science, nothing to put against the overwhelming findings of the world’s medical community. Nothing to justify promotion of a course of action that WILL KILL PEOPLE if the population in general is silly enough to follow it. You have chosen to wring your hands and focus on inconsequentialities instead. Why is that?

    Because you know that the evidence refutes your viewpoint?

    I’m sad for you and your anger.

    Antivaccinationists are risking my life, my children’s lives, and the lives of many other people, mostly kids. If that’s not worth anger, then I don’t know what is.

    Sometimes anger is appropriate. This is one of those times. So don’t be sad. Be reflective.

  32. #32 rmp
    June 20, 2008

    If Mary isn’t the definition of a concern troll I don’t know what is.

  33. #33 Bronze Dog
    June 20, 2008

    I’m finding Mary quite vile, now. Especially since she whines about style over substance. Grow up, Mary.

  34. #34 HCN
    June 21, 2008

    Magpie said “Let me just repeat: Kirby is spouting nonsense that COULD GET KIDS KILLED. It’s pretty clear that not even he believes it. And you think “sarcasm” is too harsh?”

    “Teenage dies of measles”:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/2166778/Teenager-dies-of-measles-as-cases-continue-to-rise,-Government-officials-say.html

    “The teenager, from West Yorkshire, who has not been named, had been born with a poor immune system, leaving him susceptible to infections and unlikely to have been able to be immunised. However, he would have been protected if there had been high vaccination rates in the community.”

  35. #35 Magpie
    June 21, 2008

    HCN: ok, maybe it’s time to go past the sarcasm stage. Maybe it’s time to be peeved. I can only be concerned about Mary’s reaction, though, if sarcasm has her waving a limp hankie.

    Kirby is alrady on my “people to punch in the face if the opportunity ever presents itself” list, so there’s not much more I can do.

    Frankly I think the UK press shares the blame here. Utter drek. It’s like a thousand Marys, all hammering away at their keyboards like so many monkeys to whip up the perfect hysterical front page. The Meta Mary.

    Not all of ‘em, obviously, but it’s a ghastly spectacle overall. Media should be required to print / broadcast retractions, where warranted, with exactly the same prominence as the false story. That’d encourage a little more accuracy, I think.

  36. #36 HCN
    June 21, 2008

    Magpie, I passed “peeved” a long time ago. I actually get angry when some idiot says “healthy individuals do not die from measles”, see:
    http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/?p=788#comment-50237

  37. #37 Prometheus
    June 23, 2008

    Mary,

    In the United States, parents do have the “right to choose” when it comes to vaccines. And, like all choices, that choice has consequences.

    One of those consequences is that you might be asked to sign a form stating that you have either religious or philosophical objections to vaccination in order to have your child attend public school. Actually, that’s about the extent of “consequences” that the federal, state, county or municipal governments visit on parents who refuse to vaccinate (or who “selectively” vaccinate) their children.

    The rest of the consequences of parents not vaccinating their children are “enforced” by nature itself. Disease, disability and death are all consequences of not vaccinating. Vaccines may not (are not) “100% safe”, but they are a darn sight safer than the diseases they were developed to prevent.

    As for the disdain that many of the commenters (and the ‘blog master) on this ‘blog hold for the anti-vaccinationists, I believe that it has to do with the deception and dishonesty (as well as plain, old stupidity) shown by many of the “Indigo Our Vaccines” crowd.

    A person – no matter how rational and science-based – can only take so much of the truth-twisting, the name-calling and the mud-splattering before they start to respond in kind. If that “turns off” some people who are “on the fence”, that’s one of the consequences for people who can’t make the correct decision when presented with a choice between the considered opinion of actual experts and the rage-based rantings of Google PhD’s.

    I’m all for people being allowed to choose for themselves and their children. I’m also all for calling a spade a spade – and not vaccinating your children is not only a bad idea for them, it’s a bad idea for your community.

    Prometheus