Respectful Insolence

I can only guess that being voted Age of Autism’s “Reporter of the Year” went to David Kirby’s head. Of course, the only real competition was Dan Olmsted, who apparently couldn’t find the Clinic for Special Children in Amish country (or, more likely, didn’t bother to look for it) yet bravely claims there are no autistic Amish (which probably explains why he no longer works for UPI); Steve Wilson of WXYZ News in Detroit, who trotted out long-discredited canards about mercury in vaccines to produce a dishonest, fear mongering report and then showed up in the comments of a blog to make a fool of himself; or Sharyl Attkisson, whose bias against vaccines and Kool Aid addiction that leads her never to find a story with an antivaccine slant she didn’t like and whose being in bed with Age of Autism and Generation Rescue shows what sources she values, led her to trash Paul Offit based on dubious information. That’s not much of a field.

In any event, David Kirby has once again demonstrated his mad reporting skillz in a post on that repository of antivaccine pseudoscience and quackery, The Huffington Post, entitled Obama Transition Website: “Recovery from autism is neither possible, nor desirable.”

There’s just one problem. No such thing appears on the Obama Transition Team website, Change.gov. The statement appears in this post, 10 Autism Controversies by Kristina Chew (who also blogs at Autism Vox), on Change.org.

No wonder David Kirby blogs for Age of Autism and The Huffington Post instead of having a real job at a real newspaper or magazine. He can’t tell the difference between the official Obama Team Transition website and blog and a political and social networking blog that predates Obama’s election and has nothing to do with Barack Obama or his transition team! Indeed, a quick look at the site should have made that evident, which makes me wonder if David Kirby even did the most rudimentary poking around on Change.org. Indeed, given that he munged the URL in his link, one guess that perhaps he did not. Be that as it may, as Kevin Leitch notes, Kristina Chew and Dora Raymaker have been appointed as the resident autism bloggers for Change.org.

Indeed, Kirby even gets himself into a high and mighty lather over Kristina’s observation:

“Recovery from autism is neither possible, nor desirable”

It’s hard to believe that those words would appear anywhere on an official website of the United States Government. But there they are, on the new Autism Blog of President Elect Obama’s transition team at www.change.gov.

They were written by the two women the Obama people hired to head up what could ostensibly be described as the “National Autism Blog” – Kristina Chew, who has a son with autism, and Dora Raymaker, an adult on the autism spectrum.

Personally, I’d be overjoyed if the Obama Transition Team hired Kristina to do a “National Autism Blog.”

He then spouts the usual claim that all these “biomedical treatments,” the vast majority of which are the rankest quackery, have “recovered” many autistic children:

Based on my personal experience over the past five years, it is. I have met dozens of children who are now completely, or almost completely “recovered” from the disorder. They have had their diagnoses taken away. Their state-sponsored services have been happily jettisoned.

These kids are virtually indistinguishable from their peers – with girlfriends and boyfriends, teammates and college plans.

But they did not just spontaneously recover – they were recovered, through behavioral therapies, dietary changes, vitamins, biomedical interventions, or various combinations thereof.

So, the people who were chosen to run Obama’s autism blog don’t want to find treatments for autism. They don’t believe that autism is epidemic, and don’t think there are environmental factors involved in its cause.

In fact, they are not particularly interested in even finding out why children have autism in the first place.

There’s just one problem. As pointed out by Prometheus, autism is highly variable in its course. There are often periods of no progress followed by periods of rapid progress, at variable intervals. As many as 19% of children may progress so much that they lose their diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder. If a parent keeps trying different interventions, it’s almost inevitable that one or more of them will coincide with periods of rapid improvement, leading the parent to think that the treatment “worked.” It’s also likely that a significant number of these children would have lost their diagnosis of ASD anyway. That’s why it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to tell if an intervention for autism is effective without good randomized, double-blinded clinical trials. In any case, those making the claims of “hundreds” or “thousands” of “recovered children” can never seem to produce any good case studies. Certainly a convincing case study, documented meticulously, would be publishable in the peer-reviewed medical literature. Why is it impossible to find any such case reports in reputable journals when searching PubMed?

Here’s the best part of Kirby’s post, too:

I have written to Change.org and asked them if Mr. Obama shares the view that autism is purely genetic, and that it is not only impossible, but “undesirable” to try to recover children from its grips.

Parents such as Dr. Chew have the right to withhold autism treatments from their son. And they have every right to question – and even criticize – those parents who do want to treat and recover their children.

And I understand that this is a blog – it does not necessarily reflect the official thinking of the incoming Administration.

But it is fair to ask where Barack Obama and his health team come down on this important issue – Do we as a nation try to “recover” children from autism, or do we not?

[...]

I will let you know if I hear back from the Transition press office.

Please do, Mr. Kirby. Please do. I’d be most interested in seeing the response

I’m sure some poor low level flack got Kirby’s note and is scratching his head. He’ll then do a little digging and find that you messed up Change.org and Change.gov. He’ll be highly tempted to tell Kirby what an idiot he is, but political organizations and press offices just can’t do that to reporters, even one as dubious as David Kirby. Instead will, if the Obama Transition Team Press Office responds at all, send Kirby some polite boilerplate about wanting to hear all sides and how Kristina’s view does not represent the view of the Obama Transition Team (because it was never sanctioned by the Obama Transition Team in the first place, something that should have been obvious to a reporter with the mad reporting skillz of David Kirby). Kirby will then gleefully post it as “proof” that Barack Obama is down with Jenny McCarthy, J.B. Handley, and the whole Generation Rescue and Age of Autism crew that the government should waste millions or billions of dollars researching Jenny’s favorite quackery. (He won’t say it that way; Kirby’s far too slick and unctuous. I’ve just taken the liberty of pre-emptively translating what Kirby is likely to say.)

I can only wonder how long it will be before Kirby realizes what an utter fool he’s made of himself (yet again) and drops this post down the memory hole, along with all the comments chastising Kirby for his error. Don’t worry, though. I won’t let him. I’ve saved a web archive of the post, as well as its text and a screenshot. We wouldn’t want the Ministry of Truth over at AoA to rewrite history, would we?

Generous and benevolent blogger that I am, I’ll also give David Kirby a word of advice. It’s very dangerous to post late at night and then go to bed. If you’ve screwed up big time (as you did here), there will then be several hours where you won’t be monitoring comments and e-mails to you telling you that you’ve screwed up will not be seen. It will be several hours during which commenters will have fun at your expense and during which other bloggers (like me) can notice your screw up and respond before you can send the post down the memory hole or post an addendum correcting your mistake.

Just a word of friendly advice…

ADDENDUM: Liz Ditz and Kevin Leitch have also had a bit of fun at David Kirby’s blunder. Kev nails it when he points out Kirby’s hubris at putting words in Obama’s mouth and that it appears to be AoA’s animus at Kristina that shines through more than anything else in his post.

Comments

  1. #1 Joseph
    January 3, 2009

    These kids are virtually indistinguishable from their peers – with girlfriends and boyfriends, teammates and college plans.

    Ok, it’s true that some kids who had an autism label at one time (typically very early in life) may not have it later. As subjective diagnoses of autism are done earlier, obviously the label becomes less stable. That’s not really surprising. (Imagine if diagnoses were attempted at 6 months of age – what would be the result?)

    But I have to take issue with the stuff about girlfriends and boyfriends. And it’s not just because I’m married, and had at least 2 girlfriends prior to being married. My step daughter, who is non-autistic, had an autistic boyfriend. I wouldn’t say the kid is “just a little” autistic. (I’m sure it helps that she has a few relatives who are autistic, and we’ve probably taught her well about respecting differences).

  2. #2 storkdok
    January 3, 2009

    Looks like he disabled the link. I don’t know if he changed anything else, but it doesn’t sound like he probably changed anything yet.

    Kristina did a bang up job! I would love it if the Obama team included her.

  3. #3 blf
    January 3, 2009

    I have written to Change.org …
    I will let you know if I hear back from the Transition press office.

    If the doofus has really written to change.org it’s very unlikely to be seen by “some poor low level flack” or for there to be any reply from the transition team.

  4. #4 Harold L Doherty
    January 3, 2009

    Congratulations, the efforts by yourself and your fellow ND bloggers to highlight trivial blunders has really helped advance the cause of autistic children and adults around the world. The lives of many persons with autism have been enriched by your efforts.

    And no doubt the cause of autistic children will also be advanced by having two anti-treatment, anti-cure Neurodiversity bloggers like Dora Raymaker and Dr. Chew, professor of Greek and Latin classics, on Change.org when there are so many misguided parents, carers and professionals fighting wrongfully to help improve their lives through treatment and seeking research into cures.

    Keep up your … uh … good works.

  5. #5 Orac
    January 3, 2009

    If the doofus has really written to change.org it’s very unlikely to be seen by “some poor low level flack” or for there to be any reply from the transition team.

    Doooh! I guess I just assumed that Kirby knew how to contact the Obama Transition Team. I probably gave him too much credit. Oh, well.

    In any case, what you say is just too true. Then Kirby’ll complain that the Obama Transition Team is ignoring him.

  6. #6 Joseph
    January 3, 2009

    @Harold: I’m sure your hit-and-run blog trolling is very useful to the autism community.

  7. #7 DLC
    January 3, 2009

    Harold: “Congratulations, the efforts by yourself and your fellow ND bloggers to highlight trivial blunders. . . ”

    Trivial? the man’s accusing the Obama transition team of writing Dr Chew’s blog entry. As you appear to like irony, I’ll serve you some back.
    “How Dare William Paley write such a horrible screed as Origin of Species!”

  8. #8 Harold L Doherty
    January 3, 2009

    Joseph

    Your comment is silly … again. And as your friend DLC might point out …

    DLC

    As an atheist I did enjoy your Paley humor but accepting your characterization of Kirby’s blunder, does that really have ANY impact on the lives of autistic children and adults?

    Isn’t it time for autism bloggers to move away from cheap insults towards serious efforts to address issues confronting autistic children and adults … including those autistic people who DO want treatment and cure?

  9. #9 DLC
    January 3, 2009

    Doesn’t change my point. Kirby’s entire article assumes that the Obama transition team wrote it or in some way sponsors or approves of the piece written by someone not connected to them. This is not a minor error.

  10. #10 Danio
    January 3, 2009

    Isn’t it time for autism bloggers to move away from cheap insults towards serious efforts to address issues confronting autistic children and adults … including those autistic people who DO want treatment and cure?

    Oh, it’s a concern troll. WTF, Harold? Two minutes searching this or any of the ‘ND’ blogs you seem so quick to vilify should net you a whole hatful of ‘serious efforts to address issues confronting autistic children and adults’. Regrettably, one such ‘serious issue’ is the sheer number of nutjobs with ersatz authority and well-funded misinformation campaigns. This practice is harmful to families coping with autism. We’d like to see that stopped.

    Blogging and other writing efforts (e.g. Offit’s new book) from those on the side of science have, in fact, spared a number of autistic children from being subjected to these ineffectual and often dangerous ‘cures’. If pointing out David Kirby’s absurdly impoverished journalistic integrity and reasoning skills causes even one family to question the validity of their information sources, what the hell is wrong with that?

    You claim to be an atheist. Do you voice similar concerns about ‘cheap insults’ when you read a science-based deconstruction of the numerous factual errors made by Ray Comfort or Casey Luskin? There’s no difference here. Just like the creationists, the AoA folks are preaching wholesale unfounded bullshit. Ridicule is often the only appropriate response to such spewings.

  11. #11 JustADad
    January 3, 2009

    Isn’t it time for autism bloggers to move away from cheap insults towards serious efforts to address issues confronting autistic children and adults

    Pot, meet kettle. Harold, you should post this comment on Kirby’s blog and at AoA.

    Kirby’s erroneous post is a transparently obvious pre-formulated attack on Chew that was just lying in wait for an opportunity. That he was apparently so giddy over it that he didn’t do the most basic of fact checking just serves to highlight what an utter fool the man is. Why anyone would listen to a thing he says is beyond me.

  12. #12 Dave W.
    January 3, 2009

    Harold L. Doherty wrote:

    Isn’t it time for autism bloggers to move away from cheap insults towards serious efforts to address issues confronting autistic children and adults…

    People like David Kirby are cheap insults, and that is an issue which confronts the autistic and those who love them.

    Kirby is an embarrassment to anyone who is serious about autism. Laughing at him might (just might) help Kirby to exit the stage – a benefit to autistic people worldwide – and does nothing at all to stop or delay the on-going serious efforts to address the issues of autism.

    Or do you think that Orac and other commenters here are the only people who can do so? I think highly of Orac, but not that highly.

  13. #13 jypsyj
    January 3, 2009

    “Isn’t it time for autism bloggers to move away from cheap insults towards serious efforts to address issues confronting autistic children and adults”

    Oh, that’s rich. Take a look at your own blog. You not only insult, you “award” people with insults.

  14. #14 jypsy
    January 3, 2009

    It’s now on AoA

  15. #15 jypsy
    January 3, 2009

    AoA caught on and removed their post

  16. #16 Dedj
    January 3, 2009

    “Isn’t it time for autism bloggers to move away from cheap insults towards serious efforts to address issues confronting autistic children and adults”

    You mean like the social, institutional and educational factors surrounding autism?

    Sorry, Harold, you didn’t even lift a finger to help until you were affected personally. People like Mike Stanton were slogging away on things like this because they thought it was the right thing to do, even before they had personal reasons.

  17. #17 Dave W.
    January 3, 2009

    Will the commenters on AoA – who were expressing their shock and outrage at “Obama’s” position – ever learn the truth?

  18. #18 Kev
    January 3, 2009
  19. #19 Ramel
    January 3, 2009

    Kirby has put a correction of the “I was sort of wrong but not really” kind at the top of his article. He’s still talking crap though.

  20. #20 Danio
    January 3, 2009

    Damn, I tried to ding Harold for his ignorant concern trolling earlier, but my comment is still being held in moderation, apparently. Everyone else who took a whack at him performed admirably, however, so when the comment does show up it will be quite redundant.

    Ramel: I noticed that too. Perhaps HuffPo doesn’t have the “we’ll immediately pull down any article that, in hindsight, makes us look stupid, and thereafter pretend it never existed” policy that seems to serve AoA so well.

  21. #21 i
    January 3, 2009

    Handley should ask for his money back. Kirby isn’t even doing a good job of pretending to be a journalist anymore.

  22. #22 Andrew Wade
    January 3, 2009

    Harold L Doherty,

    And no doubt the cause of autistic children will also be advanced by having two anti-treatment, anti-cure Neurodiversity bloggers like Dora Raymaker and Dr. Chew, professor of Greek and Latin classics, on Change.org

    The bloggers are not anti-treatment, a careful reading of the blog entry will show that David Kirby is wrong on that point. What they are against is “recovery” or a “cure” being the aim of treatment. The charitable interpretation is that Kirby misrepresented their position due to journalistic sloppiness and his focus on “curing” autism. But he may simply be a liar.

  23. #23 trrll
    January 3, 2009

    As an atheist I did enjoy your Paley humor but accepting your characterization of Kirby’s blunder, does that really have ANY impact on the lives of autistic children and adults?

    It certainly illuminates the sort of slipshod standards that have characterized Kirby’s reporting in general. Certainly, if it causes even one parent to have second thoughts about the sort of dangerous and useless quack “therapies” espoused by Kirby and his ilk, it will have had a meaningful attack on the lives of autistic children.

  24. #24 The Perky Skeptic
    January 3, 2009

    LOLKirby!

    “I made u some schadenfreude but I eated it.”

  25. #25 Phoenix Woman
    January 3, 2009

    Funny thing about Killfile: Blocking “Harold L. Doherty” also blocks “DLC”. Nice sockpuppetry you got going there, dude.

  26. #26 Frasque
    January 3, 2009

    Harold L Doherty, as an autistic person who managed quite well without quack treatments, on behalf of other autistics please STFU.

  27. #27 Michael
    January 4, 2009

    Kirby officially wins the “Worst Factchecker EVER Award.”

    Hey Orac, any chance we’ll be seeing a blog in the next few days addressing the possible role Scientology’s anti-drug pseudoscience may have played in the death of John Travolta’s son along with more information about Kawasaki disease, which was the condition his son suffered from. Wikipedia suggests that even simple asperin used carefully in high doses is one important treatment.

  28. “You mean like the social, institutional and educational factors surrounding autism?”

    Nice one, dedj. As an educational psychologist, I feel that these are seriously important issues. Certainly worthy of a lot more research than they seem to be getting.

  29. #29 Jim Ramsey
    January 4, 2009

    I think we’re be too picky here.

    .gov — .org what’s the difference.

    Look at whitehouse.org and whitehouse.gov.

    Oh, yeah, there is that.

  30. #30 DLC
    January 4, 2009

    Funny thing about Killfile: Blocking “Harold L. Doherty” also blocks “DLC”. Nice sockpuppetry you got going there, dude.

    Posted by: Phoenix Woman | January 3, 2009 10:00 PM

    Get your Killfile checked. I am not Harold L Doherty.

  31. #31 DLC
    January 4, 2009

    Addendum to the above, re “I am not Harold L. . . ”
    I don’t sockpuppet. I’ve been posting here for about a year under my initials, and only under my initials.
    I also post under the same initials at Pharyngula, Science Based Medicine, Bad Astronomy, The Rogues Gallery, Neurologica, Stranger Fruit and sometimes Denialism.
    Yes, I’m the same initials there too.

  32. #32 Robster, FCD
    January 4, 2009

    Depending on how killfile works, it may be blocking IPs based on how an ISP assigns them. It isn’t unheard of for two people in the same area to find themselves blocked by IP methods.

  33. #33 Adam Cuerden
    January 4, 2009

    Even more interesting is the cherry-picking. A single, perhaps poorly-stated sentence out of the entire post is taken out of context and talked about exclusively.

  34. #34 Phoenix Woman
    January 4, 2009

    Depending on how killfile works, it may be blocking IPs based on how an ISP assigns them. It isn’t unheard of for two people in the same area to find themselves blocked by IP methods.

    Ah. I was wondering if DLC was going Poe’s Law on us.

  35. #35 DLC
    January 5, 2009

    Phoenix Woman: I don’t usually do Poes, but when I do it’s under DLC and I include notes that it’s a poe or other type of humor. This time, some guy dropped a blatant bit of bait into the comments and I just couldn’t resist responding.
    In my opinion, claiming Kirby made a “trivial error” in this case was akin to someone making a “trivial error” and assigning authorship of On The Origin of Species to William Paley. By the way, there’s a lovely new (fully illustrated ) edition out for Darwin’s 200th birthday. I have a copy and I recommend it highly.

  36. #36 Broken Link
    January 5, 2009

    Heh. Over on Environment O’ Harm, Lenny is going on about how change.org is really essentially the same as change.gov because: “Change.org is functionally a community organizing arm of the Democratic Party (left faction), if not directly connected.”

    I guess it’s never possible for these people to admit that they made an error.

  37. #37 anonimouse
    January 7, 2009

    Remember this credo: in the mercury militia world, the only mistakes that are made are by the opposition.

    That’s why the vacuum cleaner won’t admit his error.

  38. #38 zayıflama
    June 8, 2009

    I don’t sockpuppet. I’ve been posting here for about a year under my initials, and only under my initials.

  39. #39 Chris
    June 8, 2009

    The weirdness of zayiflama’s comment, is because it is spam. It is quoting part of an earlier comment by DLC.

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