Respectful Insolence

Last night, I received an e-mail from a fairly well-known atheist (no, it wasn’t Richard Dawkins, although that would have been totally cool) criticizing me for my post about Bill Maher’s complete unsuitability for the Richard Dawkins Award. I’m not going to reprint my response to that part, because, well, his criticisms were pretty much a boilerplate of other blowback I’ve received from the post. What caught my attention more was that he noticed a couple of posts of mine about Jenny McCarthy.

I’ll paraphrase, because I don’t have this person’s permission to post his e-mail. Not that that would necessarily stop me, as my e-mail policy clearly says that I retain the right to post any blog-related e-mail solely at my discretion. However, in this particular case I thought that would be totally uncool; I usually only invoke that policy for abusive or insulting e-mails. In any case, specifically he was unhappy over the “harshness” of my tone, pointing out that she was a mother of an autistic child, motivated by good intentions, and all the usual defenses I hear. He said that, even though he agrees with me my nastiness made him unlikely to want to read any further. As I responded, my e-mail got longer and longer, to the point where I thought: Why waste this? This is good stuff, man. It should go on the blog. I’m also really busy working on a grant this weekend; so wasting all that brilliance on one person seemed….well, wrong.

So I decided to post an edited version of my response that leaves out my defense of my post about Bill Maher and addresses only the Jenny McCarthy issue. I do this mainly because the Bill Maher part might reveal more than I want to about who wrote to me:

Dear Reader,

Your knowledge of my blog is indeed superficial, but I won’t hold that against you. I get newbies all the time making the same sorts of complaints. Hang around, and you’ll soon see the error of your initial impression. Seriously. For example:

There’s a lot more to Respectful Insolence other than insolence, be it respectful or not-so-respectful.

End of shameless self-promotion.

I was most interested in your defense of Jenny McCarthy. Sorry, but when it comes to Jenny McCarthy, I make no apologies. Indeed, your criticism (1) strikes me as concern trolling and (2) shows me that you have no experience dealing with the lunacy of the anti-vaccine movement, of which McCarthy is currently the celebrity face. Suffice it to say, I’ve been following the anti-vaccine movement for a long time now (and, yes, Jenny McCarthy is definitely anti-vaccine, her protestations otherwise notwithstanding). One thing I’ve learned is that she is not an autism advocate. She is an advocate for quackery for autistic children, and she is an anti-vaccine advocate. It is a view of autistic children that dehumanizes them. They are portrayed as “toxic,” “damaged,” poisoned,” and “lost,” among other things, with stories of the “light going out of their eyes” after a vaccination. To “recover” their “true” child, these parents will subject their children to all manner of quackery, including chelation (from which at least one child has died), massive doses of supplements, hyperbaric oxygen (just like Michael Jackson!), and various other nonsense. One parent that I’m aware of even took his autistic daughter down to Costa Rica for “stem cell” treatment. I highly doubt there were any actual stem cells in whatever concoction they injected into her, but whatever it was they injected these “stem cells” into the girls’ cerebrospinal fluid by lumbar puncture (a.k.a. spinal tap). This guy also blogs for Age of Autism, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Generation Rescue, which is now “Jenny McCarthy’s autism charity.” Add to that all the autistic children who have been subjected to unnecessary colonoscopies thanks to Andrew Wakefield, and there is real harm being done. Moreover, Jenny McCarthy has been corrected many times; it doesn’t take. Truly she is the primary example of hubris the arrogance of ignorance.

But don’t listen to me. Listen to real parents of children with autism:

I could produce many more such posts.

And Jenny McCarthy is ignorantly promoting it all, quackery, the image of autistics as “damaged” and “poisoned,” the whole toxic mess. No, she’s enthusiastically promoting it all, and happily being used by the quacks. Of course, at the risk of compounding the nastiness you perceive in me, she’s also resurrected her career in the process. Do you honestly think Oprah would have given her her own show if it weren’t for her “autism” books in which she blames vaccines for her son’s autism and describes her experimentation with different forms of quackery to “cure” him.

I’m sorry. I’ve said it before, and I realize that McCarthy probably thinks she’s doing good. However, to borrow a religious phrase, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. How bad do someone’s actions have to be before the “good intentions” and “mother warrior” excuses no longer excuse them? IMHO, McCarthy’s actions long ago passed that point, particularly after she led that antivaccine march on Washington in June 2008. She also waves her new “warrior mom” persona in front of her like a talisman to deflect criticism. Once, when it was pointed out that her activities are contributing to the lowering of the vaccination rate, this is what she said in an interview with TIME Magazine:

TIME: Your collaborator recommends that parents accept only the haemophilus influenzae type B (HIB) and tetanus vaccine for newborns and then think about the rest. Not polio? What about the polio clusters in unvaccinated communities like the Amish in the U.S.? What about the 2004 outbreak that swept across Africa and Southeast Asia after a single province in northern Nigeria banned vaccines?

JM: I do believe sadly it’s going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe. If the vaccine companies are not listening to us, it’s their fucking fault that the diseases are coming back. They’re making a product that’s shit. If you give us a safe vaccine, we’ll use it. It shouldn’t be polio versus autism.

I’m sorry if you were offended by my being ever so mean to Jenny McCarthy, but think of it this way. You signed off by saying “respectfully shitting on all gods, divine or divined.” Surely you know that the religious are just as motivated by doing good as you say Jenny McCarthy is, and shitting on their god is really, really mean. When Richard Dawkins says that religious indoctrination of children is child abuse, that’s really, really mean. When Bill Maher mocks the religious in a major motion picture, that’s really, really mean.

When I mock the cultish religious beliefs of the anti-vaccine movement (which one parent of a child with autism has referred to as “McCarthygeddon“) I guess I’m really mean too. Make no mistake about it, though. Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vaccine beliefs are every bit as cultish and immune to reason as any religion, and they are harmful. Vaccine-preventable diseases are making a comeback.

I’m sorry if you don’t like my tone, but I think I know a bit more about this than you do, and nice just doesn’t work. Indeed, the anti-vaccine movement thrives on nice, because it gives the false impression that their views are in the same universe when it comes to science. Besides, as Thomas Jefferson once said, “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them…”

Respectfully insolently yours,

Orac

Comments

  1. #1 Ramel
    July 25, 2009

    “Surely you know that the religious are just as motivated by doing good as you say Jenny McCarthy is, and shitting on their god is really, really mean.”

    Even fairly well-known atheists (Damn, I’m curious now) can be hypocrites.

  2. #2 Orac
    July 25, 2009

    I don’t think it was hypocrisy (or I would have said so in my reply). Rather, I thought it was more a failure to understand that the anti-vaccine movement is just as much a magical belief system immune to reason as any religion. All he sees is a mother fighting for her child.

    As for who it is, I won’t say unless given permission, but he/she’s fairly well known (I had heard of him/her before). I don’t know, however, how much he/she’s spoken out publicly against religion in terms like Richard Dawkins or PZ Myers. He might be an “accommodationist.” :-)

  3. #3 Azkyroth
    July 25, 2009

    As far as I can tell, McCarthy’s participation in the anti-vaccine kookfest is motivated by self-aggrandizement and the attention she gets for posing as an “idealistic rebel crusader” “fighting The Man” for her child, rather than by any genuine concern for the child’s welfare.

    Stupidity is inherently a premeditated crime.

  4. #4 Ramel
    July 25, 2009

    Hypocracy, like bogus, does not neccessarily imply intent to hold a double standard. I have to wonder how your mystery correspondent feels about critisism of the pope or Ken Ham, after all they aren’t they only trying to save peoples souls? Like most athiests I try to base my position on logic and emperical reality, but it does bug me when others attack religion on this basis but then fail to apply it to other beliefs. It’s like like Bill Maher, critisising religion for having no base in reality while embacing anti-vax bollocks and rejectic western medicine.

    And “respectfully shitting on all gods, divine or divined.” Does not sound excessivly accomodationist to me.

  5. #5 Ramel
    July 25, 2009

    Oh and you make references to he/she and him/her in you comment, while refering to your writer as he twice in the same comment and him and he in the first paragraph of your post. Gender obfuscation fail. Damn, a week of nothing to do sounds great in theory but I thik the boredom is starting to get to me…

  6. #6 JLT
    July 25, 2009

    If McCarthy was a mother who simply cared for her child, if she just fell for the lies of quackery peddlers, and believed in the “it’s the vaccine’s fault”-lie because she just desperately needs to know a reason why that happened to her and her child – I would agree with the anonymous email writer. But she promotes herself as someone who is an expert on the subject. She is spreading dangerous lies that are harming other children. IMO, although I’m an atheist and agree that religion can be a dangerous thing, the more immediate harm is done by people like Jenny McCarthy. She’s earned every bit of not-so-respectful insolence that you’ve hurled at her.
    People like her, who are (semi-) popular, are even more at fault than “normal” people if they spread misinformation. They have the time and the money to get the best information possible. If I wasn’t working at a university and didn’t have free access to a lot of scientific journals anyway I probably wouldn’t spend money on getting all the research articles to find out for myself why anti-vaccinationists are wrong on almost everything they say. But if you have enough money *and* the additional incentive of having an ill child, there’s no excuse if you don’t get the best information available, from the most expert people in the field, even more so if you are going to use your popularity to spread whatever you’ve learned.

  7. #7 Chayanov
    July 25, 2009

    It is a view of autistic children that dehumanizes them. They are portrayed as “toxic,” “damaged,” poisoned,” and “lost,” among other things, with stories of the “light going out of their eyes” after a vaccination.

    It’s clear that McCarthy and her fellow anti-vaxxers would much rather have a dead child than an “imperfect” child, which is bad enough, but then they also want to make that choice for other parents by promoting their anti-vaccination nonsense.

  8. #8 Chris
    July 25, 2009

    Did Phil Plait get the same email for his similar posts on Jenny McCarthy at the BadAstronomy blog? What about Steven Novella on his NeuroLogica blog, or the posts on ScienceBasedMedicine? Or even what he and his co-hosts have said about Jenny McCarthy on the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcasts?

    What about the authors of these websites:
    http://www.jennymccarthybodycount.com/Jenny_McCarthy_Body_Count/Home.html

    and
    http://www.stopjenny.com/

    By the way, why am I always painted as the bad person when I try to explain that my son’s seizures were not connected to any vaccine, and that her son’s seizures were more than a year after he had the MMR vaccine? Do I not count as a parent of a disabled child because the seizures were in no way temporally associated with a vaccine, and may have actually been to a real disease?

  9. #9 Jennifer B. Phillips
    July 25, 2009

    Nice response, Orac. But wow, how frustrating that so many people, including ‘famous atheists’, it would seem, are failing to see the important parallels between rejecting religion based on lack of evidence and rejecting other types of woo for the same reasons. It’s a real eye opener for me as to how far from over this fight really is.

  10. #10 James Sweet
    July 25, 2009

    Argh, you have to tell us, this is driving me crazy! My first thought was “Mooney?” but then I figured that was just my personal bias because I’m irritated at Mooney right now. Then you say this cryptic “He might be an accomodationist” and I am going bonkers!

    Ethics and courtesy be damned, you must spill the beans! ;D

  11. #11 Travis
    July 25, 2009

    I am also shocked someone who is a prominent atheist would not be able to see the strong parallels that crop up in rejecting religion, as well as other forms of denialism, and the anti-evolution movement.

    Maybe I am just a cold hearted bastard though, perhaps this is why “good intentions” do not win me over very often or make me put on my kid gloves.

  12. #12 Travis
    July 25, 2009

    Actually, shocked is the wrong word. I am frustrated by it, I am not actually all that surprised.

  13. #13 Jennifer B. Phillips
    July 25, 2009

    @James Sweet:

    My first thought was “Mooney?” but then I figured that was just my personal bias because I’m irritated at Mooney right now.

    Chris Mooney signing a letter “respectfully shitting on all gods, divine or divined” ? The hell you say!

  14. #14 sirenity
    July 25, 2009

    Good job! Jenny McQuacky most certainly does deserve every debunking she gets!

  15. #15 LAB
    July 25, 2009

    As a stark raving atheist myself, I am shocked to hear that any “high profile” non-believer would fall for Jenny McCarthy’s magical thinking and illogical everything. Does this guy know about the Indigo/Crystal “religion” Jenny subscribed to prior to the her son’s autism diagnosis?

    Jenny’s story is a classic case of a mother knowing something is wrong with her child, grasping at all the “positive” straws first (there’s nothing wrong, he’s actually just a more highly evolved being!), and eventually finding out the (possibly) true diagnosis (but not accepting it). Because she set out to refute her own doubts about her son’s condition well before the autism diagnosis, I am even more certain her kid was not “vaccine damaged.” She knew something was wrong for a long time, but eventually convinced herself that everything was fine until that shot…

  16. #16 Chris
    July 25, 2009

    LAB:

    She knew something was wrong for a long time, but eventually convinced herself that everything was fine until that shot…

    Except that her story is not consistent. First she claims she saw something when he got the MMR shot, then she claimed it caused his seizures over a year later! This was discussed in this blog:
    http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/?p=2360

    A commenter on that blog has posted an essay on his website saying she cannot get her story straight: http://evilpossum.weebly.com/

  17. #17 Ticktock
    July 25, 2009

    My guess is julia sweeney based on the fact that she would have sympathy for fellow comedian maher & fellow mother mccarthy. The gender slip earlier in the comments was purposeful.

  18. #18 Doazic
    July 25, 2009

    There are plenty of atheists with weird beliefs. Hitchens said it best:

    “The rejection of the man-made concept of god is not a sufficient condition for intellectual or moral emancipation. Atheists have no right to go around looking superior.”

    AAI needs to check their priorities. Is being Atheist enough to cancel out the stupidity of denying Germ Theory?

  19. #19 BlueMonday
    July 25, 2009

    Chris,
    Thanks for sharing the link to the essay about Jenny McCarthy’s inconsistencies. It made me shudder to read in her own words her description of the moment Evan was diagnosed. All of the things she thought were cute aspects of his personality were really only traits of autism. News flash: parents everywhere think that their children are unique, when in fact most behaviors of early childhood are quite common across the board. Most “normal” children also behave in certain ways. Her son is a unique individual because he is the only one of himself, not because of idiosyncratic behaviors she may have imagined. Just because something is commonplace does not destroy its beauty: the sun sets every day; babies take those first steps all of the time. Those are common occurrences that are equally moving every single time they happen.

    It saddened and angered me to read her description of how she lost love and respect for her son as a human being in the moment she heard the sentence, “Your son has autism.” Of course, now she tries to say she fights for him. She vehemently declares a love-that-conquers-reason for her son. But that is not what her own description of discovering his diagnosis leads me to believe. It shows to me that in that moment she stopped loving her son for who he was and starting trying to make him into something more acceptable. She loves the false notion of Evan, not Evan himself. She’s an advocate of lies, not just in her anti-vax lunacy, but in her declarations of bettering her child. How a mother can be so out of touch with her child’s humanity is beyond me, but I sincerely hope that people recognize her for what she is: a heartless harpy seeking self-fulfillment through the suffering of another human being.

  20. #20 Anthro
    July 25, 2009

    It is really mean of you to turn this into a mystery-person guessing game. You have to know we will try to guess! Please try to get permission; this is AGONY.

  21. #21 Chris
    July 25, 2009

    Exactly, BlueMonday.

    While I understand that finding a child is disabled can be blow, it does not mean a death sentence or that the child is worth less love. Our son is now an adult and has several issues, and is definitely not cured.

    He has taught us several valuable lessons on humility, the vast variety of joy and disappointments, and how to face new challenges. (plus getting familiar with the emergency department of the children’s hospital, the variety and character of several different neurologists, speech therapists, other health professionals for illnesses, psychologists, special ed. programs and on and on… and it is not over yet).

    Jenny McCarthy and those of her ilk at Age of Autism are not doing disabled children and their families any favors.

  22. #22 T. Bruce McNeely
    July 25, 2009

    Ticktock @ 17:
    It couldn’t be Julia Sweeney. After all, she did say: “Deepak Chopra is full of shit!”
    http://theatheistnextdoor.com/2009/07/18/julia-sweeney-on-deepak-chopra/

  23. #23 LetMeTeachYou
    July 25, 2009

    Hey guys. I could talk to you about Yin all day and it won’t do any good. So how about if I show you what Yin looks like? The video in the link below shows a man with strong Yin. Watch how the man moves in the video. I can give you all kinds of guidance, or you could just look and observe like scientists are supposed to do.

    This video demonstrates/proves/provides evidence for the existence of the Yin part of the body. Just because you do not understand what you are seeing, that does not mean it is not real and it does exist.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0cIDBAN_5I&feature=PlayList&p=2298B27047FB6B6D&index=69

  24. #24 Chris
    July 25, 2009

    Whoa! Do you idiot spammers even look at the posts you are spamming. Mr. Yin teacher, you are way off base and an insult to the human race.

  25. #25 DebinOz
    July 26, 2009

    I thought happehdaze was banned.

  26. #26 Ticker
    July 26, 2009

    You’d be amazed at the reams and reams of parents who deeply love what their children ought to be. Or, if you’re like me, just very sad at the thought of it.

    The people who reject religion and embrace a bunch of replacement dogmas are pretty poor, too. You figure out that religion is not a reliable source of absolute truths (good) and then you run on off and decide to adhere another source of absolute truth (bad).

    I guess it’s just too frightening to make up your own mind, by yourself, based on facts, whenever you run into a question you care about. It’s so very much nicer to have someone tell you what you should conclude, and praise you when you do.

  27. @8, as far as I know, Stop Jenny hasn’t heard from this “famous atheist” but I’d have to confer with my partners on the site to be absolutely sure. Though if a “famous atheist” wrote us, I’d think they’d have forwarded the email by now.

    I’m assuming it’s a male based on the chosen pronoun. Well I think it’s safe to say it isn’t Hitchens because if it were, that’d be waaaaaaay hypocritical. Maybe Sam Harris, but it’d be pretty surprising. Matt Dilahunty? I doubt it because he’s usually pretty brutal to the religious too. Dennett? Possibly. I haven’t read him and have only seen a few of his lectures/debates. No freakin’ way it’s PZ. That goes without saying. I’d consider Mooney except that I doubt Orac would have chosen to label him as a “famous atheist” and also because I’ve at least heard Mooney criticize the anti-vaccinationists a little bit. And I’d expect this would be someone who wouldn’t have dealt with them much in the past, if at all. And as recently as yesterday, The Friendly Atheist posted a story that mocked Jenny, so he’s out.

    While there are plenty of people I haven’t yet considered, if I had to guess from this short list of famous atheists, I’d maybe go with Harris or Dennett. I’d hate for it to be either one of them though. Please be someone I’m only vaguely familiar with or haven’t heard of at all.

  28. #28 MadScientist
    July 26, 2009

    I wouldn’t say hypocritical either, but certainly confused or misguided. Is it OK to sit quite while McCarthy spreads lies and endangers the public? Is it OK to sit quiet while religions spread lies and stupefy the hordes? Should godless people not care about the world they live in and let religious people get away with whatever they wish? What would we get from being nice to McCarthy? A damn lot of very sick and seriously permanently debilitated kids.

    McCarthy is fair game, and since she’s loud, foul, and proudly ignorant, I’ve got nothing at all against being verbally nasty to her. Why doesn’t McCarthy educate herself? She doesn’t want to be educated, that’s why; she feels good being on her holy crusade, it makes her feel important, and that’s really all that matters.

  29. #29 Azkyroth
    July 26, 2009

    I realize that McCarthy probably thinks she’s doing good.

    She probably does. How to adequately address the fallacy of pretending that “thinking one is doing good” excuses anything without waking the Hitler Zombie is difficult, though.

  30. #30 Russell Blackford
    July 26, 2009

    Why accuse this person of concern trolling? That expression has a fairly specific meaning, and it’s a nasty enough accusation to save for when it’s actually likely to be true.

    It sounds as if he or she raised a genuine concern with you in private. Concern trolling is a special kind of trolling that involves insincere expressions of “concern” from someone who affects to be an ally but isn’t … with the intention of creating problems in a public forum like this. From the description, the person didn’t engage in concern trolling at all but acted entirely properly.

    I suppose I’ll now be accused of concern trolling by some idiot or other who doesn’t understand what the expression really means.

  31. #31 Rorschach
    July 26, 2009

    Orac,

    disagreeing with your viewpoint != concern trolling .

    And what’s this about sending a letter/mail to you concerning statements you make on your blog,but with a “dont tell anyone” disclaimer? How do I know there was in fact such a letter from a “well-known atheist” ?
    Who was it then, Looney?

  32. #32 Pareidolius
    July 26, 2009

    You signed off by saying “respectfully shitting on all gods, divine or divined.”

    That’s quite a turn of phrase. I didn’t know there were any famous junior high school atheists.

  33. #33 Rorschach
    July 26, 2009

    Hmmm,it was Maher who wrote to you,wasnt it….
    He aint no atheist by the way,agnostic at best.

  34. #34 David
    July 26, 2009

    Orac, I agree with you as far as “can’t be too harsh on Jenny” – she exploited her fame, set herself up as an expert, and advocates for a position that will harm if not kill many children.

    But you mentioned hyperbaric oxygen on the list of woos. Do you know this paper: Rossignol, et al BMC Pediatr. 2009 v9:21 ? Double-blind, randomized trial showing improved functioning in autistic kids treated with hyperbaric O2.

    I don’t consider the paper iron-clad, and have some questions about the blinding methods and the sham treatment. But still, it’s a pretty good stab at real evidence. I’ve seen surgical procedures in breast cancer care supported by far less.

  35. #35 Blake Stacey
    July 26, 2009

    It sounds as if he or she raised a genuine concern with you in private. Concern trolling is a special kind of trolling that involves insincere expressions of “concern” from someone who affects to be an ally but isn’t … with the intention of creating problems in a public forum like this. From the description, the person didn’t engage in concern trolling at all but acted entirely properly.

    I agree. It’s hard to troll someone via private e-mail. I’ve had someone try to do it to me in the past, so I won’t say it’s impossible, but it ain’t easy.

  36. #36 Chris
    July 26, 2009

    David:

    But you mentioned hyperbaric oxygen on the list of woos. Do you know this paper: Rossignol, et al BMC Pediatr. 2009 v9:21 ? Double-blind, randomized trial showing improved functioning in autistic kids treated with hyperbaric O2.

    See More Hot Air about HBOT. As the blog author said “The only real effect of this study was to give a cover of legitimacy to practitioners who are already using HBOT to “treat” autism.”

    Also, on that same note, some of the HBOT chambers are old, and there is a danger of concentrated oxygen causing fire. A child and his grandmother are two victims of an old HBOT chamber.

  37. #37 David
    July 26, 2009

    Chris, thanks

  38. #38 Pablo
    July 26, 2009

    I am confused about “hybaric oxygen.” From what it says in the link, all that means is a little higher pressure of air – still 24% oxygen, but just at a little elevated pressure. I always assumed (apparently incorrectly) that hyperbaric oxygen meant an actual enriched oxygen environment – like an oxygen tent. But what is that, 1.3 bar of 24% oxygen? That is just 1.3 atm of air. I realize that means that the partial pressure of oxygen is higher than at atmospheric pressure, but it doesn’t mean that you are getting any more oxygen in your lungs, does it? Regardless of your lung capacity, you still are only getting the same % of oxygen in each breathe.

    More importantly, if a 30% increase in the pressure of oxygen is significant, then shouldn’t a 30% decrease also matter? If that is the case, we have the perfect experiment taking place. What is the autism rate in Denver, or other high elevation cities? Atmospheric pressure in Denver is about 25% lower than that of sea level. So autism there should be worse, right?

  39. #39 Azkyroth
    July 26, 2009

    Why accuse this person of concern trolling? That expression has a fairly specific meaning, and it’s a nasty enough accusation to save for when it’s actually likely to be true.

    It sounds as if he or she raised a genuine concern with you in private. Concern trolling is a special kind of trolling that involves insincere expressions of “concern” from someone who affects to be an ally but isn’t … with the intention of creating problems in a public forum like this. From the description, the person didn’t engage in concern trolling at all but acted entirely properly.

    I suppose I’ll now be accused of concern trolling by some idiot or other who doesn’t understand what the expression really means.

    So, basically, a concern troll is somewhat who acts like this anonymous responder out of malice, rather than stupidity as the responder did.

    Well, any sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice.

  40. #40 diatom
    July 26, 2009

    “Concern trolling is a special kind of trolling that involves insincere expressions of “concern” from someone who affects to be an ally but isn’t … with the intention of creating problems in a public forum like this.”

    How exactly does one distinguish sincere concern from insincere concern via email?

    How does the expression of divergent opinions “create problems in a public forum”?

    Isn’t the purpose of a public forum to examine and explore varying opinions? If the purpose of a forum is to allow only similar views then communication becomes merely another dull exercise in promoting mutual admiration within a narrow intellectual comfort zone.

  41. #41 Prometheus
    July 26, 2009

    Pablo (#38),

    Technically, breathing oxygen at elevated pressure and elevated partial pressure (greater than breathing air at sea level pressure) – to any degree – can be defined as “hyperbaric oxygen therapy”. This is certainly how the “practitioners” hawking “HBOT” for autism, stroke, cerebral palsy, etc. are defining it.

    Air at sea level pressure currently contains 21% (v/v) oxygen at one atmosphere (atm) pressure – an oxygen partial pressure of 0.21 atm. The “hyperbaric oxygen therapy” of Rossignol et al is 24% oxygen at 1.3 atm, giving an oxygen partial pressure of 0.31 atm. This level of oxygen can be easily achieved by giving 31% oxygen at sea level (a concentration that can be attained by giving oxygen through nasal cannulae) – or 37% in Denver, Colorado.

    Real hyperbaric oxygen therapy consists of giving oxygen at partial pressures that cannot be achieved at sea level pressure. This means oxygen partial pressures greater than 1.0 atm and is dangerous business because of the risk of oxygen toxicity and a significant risk of fire (see: Apollo Fire).

    There are rumors that some of the folks giving HBOT for autism are using 100% oxygen in their fabric “hyperbaric” chambers (which are NOT certified for use with any supplemental oxygen due to the risk of fire). The child who died in Florida during HBOT for cerebral palsy was apparently receiving 100% oxygen, which led to a catastrophic fire.

    Here is the bind: the homeopathic hyperbaric oxygen therapy (hHBOT) used in the Rossignol et al study does not generate oxygen partial pressures that are significantly higher than can be reached with the simplest of oxygen delivery systems (i.e. nasal cannulae or “prongs”). Using higher pressures and/or higher oxygen concentrations dramatically increases the risk of something very bad (e.g. death by fire, seizures, etc.) happening.

    In short, while “mild HBOT” (hHBOT) has little risk of harm, it is equally likely that there can be no chance of any help. On the other hand, nobody has shown that hHBOT (or even real HBOT) “helps” autism. The best studies so far have shown that even real HBOT is of no use in cerebral palsy or late in stroke (and no physiological reason to suspect it might be), so it is unlikely it will be of any use in autism, either.

    Of course, if anybody produces valid data showing that hHBOT is of benefit in autism (note to future researchers: correct for multiple comparisons), I will be more than willing to change my mind.

    Until then….

    Prometheus

  42. #42 Isabel
    July 26, 2009

    “I am also shocked someone who is a prominent atheist would not be able to see the strong parallels that crop up in rejecting religion, as well as other forms of denialism, and the anti-evolution movement.”

    There’s no indication in the post that he agreed with JM, he just didn’t like Orac’s tone.

    “He said that, even though he agrees with me my nastiness made him unlikely to want to read any further.”

    And your suggestion to him is to read even more?

    I agree with him, as I’ve said before. JM is obnoxious but she’s obviously not very intelligent and she’s being enabled by some really smart people. She’s just an easier target, but really smart people continually mocking a stupid person who’s being supported by Oprah & friends turns me off as well. Sorry.

    BTW has this “harsh” approach of yours proved to be effective?

  43. #43 LAB
    July 26, 2009

    Chris:

    You’re right–Jenny’s story jumps around. I’m a big Left Brain/Right Brain fan, BTW.

    It’s been a while since I’ve read Jenny’s tales, but she gave at least one interview where she said that prior to any diagnosis, her son flapped his hands, was obsessed with door hinges, didn’t react normally to other kids in his playgroup, and had little original speech but could sing whole Dave Matthews Band songs verbatim. None of that seemed odd to her. It was only after the child had seizures that Jenny consulted a professional.

    The one thing I don’t know is at what age all this stuff was going on. Since the child was of playgroup age and able to articulate song lyrics, I’d guess he was at least 18 months old. If these things had come on suddenly, like immediately following an MMR shot, Jenny would have panicked, or at least asked around about what was happening. A mother would become alarmed if her child was behaving completely “normally” one minute, then out of nowhere began flapping his hands, echoing things he heard verbatim, and obsessing over door hinges. The likely story is that the child was born autistic and Jenny didn’t know enough about autism to realize it.

    I can relate to Jenny’s story in that we both have autistic children quite close in age. The only difference is that I was aware almost from the day my son was born that he was different from other kids. You had to pay close attention, though, and you had to understand what you were seeing.

    In several interviews, Jenny admits that she didn’t really notice how affectionate Evan was or was not as a toddler, essentially because she loved him so much and felt love from him all the time, even if he wasn’t demonstrative. To me that is a healthy attitude, one that Jenny appears to eventually have lost. Every child is not the same. If a child does not hug and does not say “I love you, mommy!”, that doesn’t mean the child doesn’t love. All it means is that he doesn’t hug and he doesn’t say “I love you, mommy!” I refuse to chelate my son just to get him to say “I love you, mommy!” He can love me in his own way, and he does.

    I disagree with the atheist. Jenny McCarthy is a destructive force in the world of autism and this needs to be made clear to the general public.

  44. #44 M. Brazeau
    July 26, 2009

    Once again, evidence that atheism != skepticism.

  45. #45 Jennifer B. Phillips
    July 26, 2009

    Isabel @#42:

    The important parallels are that The Atheist is someone who evidently supports Bill Maher’s AAI award, and by the sign off “respectfully shitting on all gods…” we can probably deduce that he/she is a fan of the (shudder) “New Atheist” M.O. of Dawkins et al. A strong, unapologetically critical stance against religion, therefore, seems acceptable to this person whereas a strong, unapologetically critical stance against the toxic woo Jenny is peddling is, evidently, not. That the ‘tone’ is acceptable in one situation and not the other is quite telling.

    And yes, I do think that if anyone were to read the more complete works of Orac, he or she would almost certainly develop a greater understanding of his style. He’s not a reactionary saber-rattling asshole. He’s an skilled analyst, adept at spotting and deconstructing logical fallacies, and nearly unrivaled in his ability to offer comprehensive and lucid explanations of medical/altmed practices and claims. One must read more than just the McCarthy posts to gain this perspective, but I would heartily encourage anyone to do so–it is well worth the time.

  46. #46 Brandon Keim
    July 26, 2009

    We’ve had a few arguments in the past, but tip o’ the hat on this post.

  47. #47 Melissa
    July 27, 2009

    I worked in speech therapy for many years. One thing that I can say about autism is that there were no more autistic children who were vaccinated than not. Treated two brothers, both with autism. One received vaccinations, the other did not. In this case, there was a family history of autism. In most cases, when doing family backgrounds, I noted that there was at least one family member in the child’s family (two generations up) that suffered from autism, be it a second cousin, great aunt, etc.

    Most parents don’t notice autism until their child fails to speak when verbal skills should already have been acquired. An autistic child has very specific behaviors (e.g., eye contact, babbling patterns) that parents don’t notice that objective third parties do — long before a differential diagnosis is made.

  48. #48 Ramel
    July 27, 2009

    @Pablo #38:- PalMD covered the basics of breathing here: http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/2008/10/breathing_for_dummies.php
    And covers hyperbaric woo here:
    http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/2008/10/breathing_102.php

  49. #49 Rev Matt
    July 27, 2009

    Does it matter who the famous atheist was? There’s a whole lot of them, any one of whom may have a variety of reasons for wanting to take it easy on McCarthy (some possibly more defensible than others). More important I think is the excellent summary Orac provides that we all can now link back to each time the topic comes up.

    For the record, the famous atheist who wrote him wasn’t me :)

  50. #50 James Sweet
    July 27, 2009

    Does it matter who the famous atheist was?

    Yes, because I am burningly curious! No it doesn’t mater for practical reasons, but this is killing me! heh…

    Clearly Mooney was a bad guess, because of the sign-off. (Which I have to say, even as a fairly extreme antitheist I found a little distasteful… I don’t really like to talk or hear talk about “shitting on” anything, unless I’ve had a few beers first — in which case that kind of humor is hilarious, but you know… sober, it’s a little nasty) Sweeney seems like a good guess…

    So yeah, it doesn’t “matter”, but I really want to know anyway! hehehe…

  51. #51 Ramel
    July 27, 2009

    Sad that whoever he is lacks the testicular fortitude to defend their position in public…

  52. #52 Interrobang
    July 27, 2009

    Jennifer M. Phillips, have you ever read any Dawkins? He’s as polite as a prelate at breakfast. If that’s shudder-worthy to you, don’t read Pharyngula. Ever. Holbach in particular will cause you to stroke out.

  53. #53 Jennifer B. Phillips
    July 27, 2009

    Interrobang, I was shuddering at the handle “new atheists”, which I loathe, not the group itself. I’m as uppity as they come, and have been a regular commenter (and occasional guest blogger) on Pharyngula for several years now. I appreciate your concern for my cardiovascular health, however ;)

  54. #54 Read it and weep
    July 27, 2009
  55. #55 Chris
    July 28, 2009

    Mercola is a quack who cannot make up his mind as to what causes autism. Is it vaccines? Is it milk? Or is it fluoride?

    All sorts of questionable information you can get for a small fee.

    From Old Time Sales Tricks on the Net:

    BIG BUSINESS. … snip…
    His site sells books, how-to guides, protein powders, juicers, coconut oil, and nutritional supplements and, according to an article in a Chicago paper last year, employs 45 employees and freelancers. And, oh yes, he sees patients. (Both Dr. Mercola and the top executive of his Web site declined to be interviewed for this article.)

    So, Mr/Ms “Read it and weep”, do you work for Merola? Are you employed to push his webpage so that folks will pay for his newsletter and buy his crap? (by the way, the other webpage the Mercola shill linked to was the same article)

    The shill gambit works both ways, don’t you know!

  56. #56 Joseph C.
    July 28, 2009

    Wow, that Mercola article is kooktastic. I had always thought that Mercola was a softer woo that focused on lifestyle issues. But it turns out that he’s no better than Gary Null:

    http://www.mercola.com/article/vaccines/immune_suppression.htm

    Vaccinations and AIDS are clearly related, and the medical literature shows us many links to AIDS. The first Hepatitis vaccines made were notorious for causing AIDS and were made from the blood of the gay populations, who had high levels of hepatitis and AIDS. Links of AIDS to the hepatitis vaccines were numerous in the medical literature at the time (the 1970s) of the first hepatitis vaccines and people were afraid to take them for that reason. Yes, one may fear hepatitis, but we also had a greater fear of AIDS, which was more deadly and serious a condition, although many more people experienced hepatitis each year.

  57. #57 Jenny Doyle
    July 28, 2009

    you did see the paper by the costa rican stem cell group on stem cells for autism, right? here is a link http://www.translational-medicine.com/content/pdf/1479-5876-5-30.pdf whatever you may think of the procedure, it does seem to be based on open scientific facts

  58. #58 Chris
    July 28, 2009

    Jenny Doyle, that is only on topic if you have proof that Jenny McCarthy dragged her son there. Until then, check the search box on the upper left hand side of this blog for opinions on that.

  59. #59 Chris
    July 28, 2009

    Here is one of the more important of the many links you will get:
    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2008/12/the_price_of_antivaccination_fanaticism.php

  60. #60 Prometheus
    July 28, 2009

    Ms. Doyle (#56) points out the use of “stem cells” by a Costa Rican clinic in the treatment of autism (they also use them for multiple sclerosis, type 2 diabetes and even cerebral palsy). The paper cited is a “what if” paper written by a group of authors who hope to make a profit on their stem cell technology – it has NO data supporting the efficacy (or even safety) of stem cell therapy in autism.

    Until some data appears that supports the use of stem cells in autism (none is yet available), this treatment is not “…based on open scientific facts”. Until then, it is simply conjecture and hypothesis.

    Prometheus

  61. #61 Vaccine THIS!
    July 28, 2009

    Well, get one thing straight. There is no way in hell I will take another vaccine for some kooky preventable disease.

    Swine Flu vaccine? Hell no. The whol swine flu thing was a manufactured virus to start with. What is in that vaccine?

    I suppose you all want a biochip impant now too?

    You put a biochip into me and I’ll put something into you and it will most likely be a combination of Chlorine and anti-freeze vaccination.

    I have never had a flu shot in my life and refuse to take one. I can get my doctor to write up a report saying I had if I have to, but that’s as far as it goes. swine flu vaccine? hell no!

  62. #62 Tyler DiPietro
    July 28, 2009

    I honestly can’t tell whether Vaccine THIS! is a parody.

  63. #63 Chris
    July 28, 2009

    Do you just make up conspiracy theories in your spare time? Is it a form of entertainment?

    What on this blog posting was about swine flu? Which vaccine has anti-freeze?

    Do you also request chlorine free table salt?

  64. #64 wfjag
    July 29, 2009

    On Monday, Popehat said it all:

    “I love stupid people. Stupid people are my lifeblood. Stupid people pay my mortgage and will be putting my kids through college. And stupid people ward off monotony. No matter what bizarre array of stupid behavior you’ve seen in your career, you can always count on stupid people to do something new — something floridly, innovatively stupid — that takes your breath away.”

    http://www.popehat.com/2009/07/27/acts-of-lust-at-comic-con-electronic-arts-wants-to-make-some-lawyers-very-happy/

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