Respectful Insolence

R.I.P. Bernadine Healy

It came as a shock to me to find out yesterday that former director of the American Red Cross and former director of the NIH Bernadine Healy died. Chalk it up to my simply being ignorant of the fact, but I didn’t know, or had forgotten, that she had brain cancer. Interestingly, she had had this glioma and survived 13 years. Compare that to David Servan-Schreiber, who survived his brain tumor for 20 years and attributed much of it not just to medical science, but to all the woo he came to believe in and practice.

For purposes of this blog, the reason her death is even worth noting briefly is not so much because of her role as NIH director. Quite frankly, I thought she did a mediocre job at best at the time, nor was I particularly impressed by her tenure at the American Red Cross. Nor is it because of her political career. Also, I lived in Cleveland from 1988-1996; so I followed her political career and run for U.S. Senate. That wasn’t so impressive, either. Rather, I mention her because in her later years she aligned herself with the anti-vaccine movement, so much so that the anti-vaccine crank blog Age of Autism named her its Person of the Year for 2008 and posted along with her death notice a video of her conspiracy-mongering about vaccines. In her time flirting with the anti-vaccine movement (and even seeming to embrace it at times), she parroted the same misinformation, the same pseudoscience, and the same nonsense that many anti-vaccine activists promoted. Worse, by doing so, she gave the imprimatur of her previous position as NIH director to that nonsense. Whenever AoA or other anti-vaccine websites noted Dr. Healy’s “concern” about vaccines, they always prominently mentioned her role nearly 20 years ago as NIH director, as if that authority carried over to her claims. Not surprisingly, none of the obituaries I’ve read about her thus far has mentioned her later flirtation with anti-vaccine quackery.

Here scientific missteps notwithstanding, though, Healy did deal with her life-threatening disease admirably, and it is saddening to see her go. As much as I’d like to, I can’t, however, think of her without remembering how she used and abused her authority in the public eye as a former director of the NIH to promote anti-vaccine pseudoscience. No doubt AoA will be using her words beyond the grave to promote its anti-vaccine message for many years to come. It’s a shame.

ADDENDUM:

Now the “vaccine/autism” propaganda group A-CHAMP is getting in on the act. From an e-mail I just received:

Bernandine Healy Passes

More Info

A friend of scientific integrity and the autism community

The autism community lost a true friend on Monday with the passing of Bernadine Healy on Saturday from brain cancer. Healy was 67.

Healy had a distinguished career as a cardiologist, Chair of the Cleveland Clinic, head of the Red Cross and Director of the National Institutes of Health. Healy was a principled, and lonely voice in the medical establishment who repeatedly voiced her opinion that research was insufficient to conclude that vaccines do not cause autism.

We have seen the fury orthodox medicine will unleash upon those who question the status quo and Healy bravely put rational examination of the evidence ahead of the supporting a scientifically invalid establishment position.

Dr. Healy’s death is not only a loss to the autism community but to the principle that scientific inquiry should follow honest examination of objective data.

CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson conducted an extraordinary interview with Healy here:

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/05/12/cbsnews_investigates/main4086809.shtml

Please share this email with friends and family and if you support the work of the Autism Action Network please consider making a donation at www.autismactionnetwork.org/donate.html

I wonder which anti-vaccine group will provide posthumous praise for Dr. Healy next?

Of course, the problem with Dr. Healy was not that she championed the “principle that scientific inquiry should follow honest examination of objective data.” The problem was that she fell for a line of inquiry (“anti-vaccinationism”) that is the very epitome of “motivated reasoning,” wherein the conclusion comes first and data designed to support it is cherry picked or manufactured.

Comments

  1. #1 augustine
    August 9, 2011

    “Hey beaner” ring a bell?

    Got that one from Carlos Mencia.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bqzWsmq7mw&feature=related

    BTW is Rene Najera dead?

  2. #2 Denice Walter
    August 9, 2011

    AoA already has its notice about her death including quotes.

    I was always taught that it was wrong to speak ill of the dead however she was someone who should have known better who made statements that fanned the already roaring flames of anti-vaccination hysteria which could have societal consequences. She appeared on alt med venues ( like Gary Null’s radio show), was widely praised by other web woo-meisters ( featured on NaturalNews- she didn’t object), and didn’t seem to mind being used by outlets like AoA as their “respectable” connection to the general public. What you say has consequences especially if you have made use of your public position- that doesn’t change because you died.

    True, it’s sad when anyone dies and I hope that she also used her position to help people.

  3. #3 augustine
    August 9, 2011

    The Oracle

    “As much as I’d like to, I can’t, however, think of her without remembering how she used and abused her authority in the public eye as a former director of the NIH to promote anti-vaccine pseudoscience.”

    “Quite frankly, I thought she did a mediocre job at best at the time, nor was I particularly impressed by her tenure at the American Red Cross.”

    Just pure lack of class. Plain and simple. 2x in a week is Classless.

    Don’t worry, when you die, your words will be twisted too. You’ll be attacked in the grave. But only as a blogger. Not as a scientist. They’ll be no meaningful contribution there.LOL. Nobody remembers failed scientists.

  4. #4 augustine
    August 9, 2011

    “The question has not been answered.” It doesn’t get much clearer than that. The question of whether vaccines can trigger autism in a susceptible subgroup has not been answered. Let’s repeat for emphasis: The question has not been answered.

    Bernadine Healy

  5. #5 Orac
    August 9, 2011

    And Healy was wrong when she said that. She didn’t know what she was talking about.

  6. #6 augustine
    August 9, 2011

    And Healy was wrong when she said that. She didn’t know what she was talking about.

    Oh, OK ;). Since YOU said so!

  7. #7 Orac
    August 9, 2011

    No, since science says so.

  8. #8 augustine
    August 9, 2011

    Apparently science is a sock puppet! Maybe it’s owner lays it down beside Lambchops at night.

  9. #9 rhye
    August 9, 2011

    Just pure lack of class. Plain and simple. 2x in a week is Classless.

    Don’t worry, when you die, your words will be twisted too. You’ll be attacked in the grave. But only as a blogger. Not as a scientist. They’ll be no meaningful contribution there.LOL. Nobody remembers failed scientists.

    Speaking of lack of class…

    I appreciate the impulse de mortuis nihil nisi bonum, and certainly Orac’s post would be inappropriate at Ms. Healy’s funeral. At the same time, though, a fair accounting of the deceased’s life and works is not out of the question, especially when that person’s works are still dangerous, and when the promulgators of such dangerous, anti-scientific beliefs are using her life and death to promote their quackery.

    And I’m not certain what your complaint is about ‘mediocre’. Most people are mediocre in most jobs they perform; it just means they do their jobs quietly and competently but without any flashes of stellar genius. Which is fine for a bureaucratic post. I far prefer a bureaucrat who quietly does her job to one who aggressively pushes an agenda.

    (By the way, it would behoove you to choose a different pseudonym. Naming yourself after the Church Father who taught that Christians needed a proper understanding of science makes your ignorance that much more embarrassing.)

  10. #10 DT35
    August 9, 2011

    Wow, exploding irony meters all around! Augustine rebukes Orac for a lack of class, then goes directly to the “Tell both sides” thread and calls a commenter with a Hispanic name a “beaner.” That’s some classy there, all right.

  11. #11 TBruce
    August 9, 2011

    Just pure lack of class. Plain and simple.

    You’re clearly an expert on this topic. “Hey beaner” ring a bell?

  12. #12 Harold L Doherty
    August 9, 2011

    augustine

    Surely you know that when Dr. D H Oracle speaks “science” is speaking. And surely you did not expect the the Oracle to display any human decency?

  13. #13 Edith Prickly
    August 9, 2011

    I’m detecting a whiff of unwashed sockpuppets…

  14. #14 Denice Walter
    August 9, 2011

    @ DT35 & TBruce:

    The troubled ( and troubling) child chose to hurl despicable, ethnic invective at Rene although he is usually content to shriek- ironically-”unintelligent”, “unscientific”, “uneducated”, “mean”, and nonsense about “transgender”, at other commenters ( especially women) as well as at our esteemed host. I wonder why? I guess that we tighty whities get a partial pass because of our lovely skin tone- although we don’t quite measure up to his standards in other ways. Especially atheists and liberals: I think I hit the trifecta here!

  15. #15 David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E.
    August 9, 2011

    Classless bastard said: “Since YOU said so!”

    Actually, Classless Bastard, you are the one who insists that things are true because you say they are. Orac is a scientist, who assesses the truth value of any proposition experimentally and objectively. The correct way, in other words. Something you are incapable of understanding because your stupid parents could not be arsed to spend any money on getting you a proper education, and instead taught you how to be a classless bastard. Of course, your responsibility in this whole stupid process is that you chose not to rectify their grossly irresponsible omission and get yourself an education when you supposedly became an adult.

    The diarrhoea that I flushed down the lavvy this morning had more class than you do. Why can’t we flush shit like you away, eh?

  16. #16 cervantes
    August 9, 2011

    OT, but Orac will love this new NCCAM funding opportunity:

    “This Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), issued by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, seeks to support a research resource consisting of a database of primary reports of the full spectrum of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) controlled clinical trials. This resource will facilitate the conduct of high quality systematic reviews and when possible meta-analyses of published reports of clinical trials of CAM treatments and interventions. The review of all published controlled clinical trials on a given topic and summary of the results in a systematic and unbiased manner provide a ‘current best evidence’ for health care practitioners, patients, health care policy and research administration. In addition, the application must describe how the investigators will ensure access and availability of the resource to the broader scientific community and provide editorial, methodological and technical support to those utilizing the resource for systematic reviews. Applications will be considered non-responsive if they do not include plans for development and/or maintenance of a research resource consisting of a CAM clinical trial database; and conduct of a minimum of two to three systematic reviews per year and when possible meta-analyses.”

    No comment.

  17. #17 René Najera
    August 9, 2011

    I read about her death yesterday. It’s sad that she passed, and my condolences to the family. As to her statements… Well, you know how it goes. Opinions are like belly buttons in that everyone has one.

    The sad thing is that matters of scientific fact get tossed around like opinions so much. And some of those opinions put Ms. Healy in a bad light, from my point of view and that of others.

    Sure, not all the questions about the how and why of the human anatomy and physiology have been answered, but the basic principles are there: Vaccines convey immunity to most (not all) people who take them, more immune people mean less susceptibles to kick-off outbreaks, and less outbreaks and overall cases mean less death and certainly much less disability. Those are immutable facts that are not in question any more. Maybe when Jenner did his thing, or Pasteur, but not any more.

    When they ask you in any college course on immunology whether or not vaccines cause autism, it’s not an essay question; it’s a simple yes or no or multiple choice answer.

    Hopefully, the “opinion”, the “feel it with every fiber of my being” thing about vaccines and autism will go the way of the Flat Earth…

  18. #18 Dangerous Bacon
    August 9, 2011

    It’d be nice to think that prominent figures in medicine and science will be remembered only for their good works, but sadly forays into pseudoscience and quackery will dominate memories of some, in large part because purveyors of quackery and misinformation put them on pedestals.

    In this fashion, Linus Pauling will be remembered largely for his promotion of vitamin C megadosing, Luc Montagnier likely will be notorious for his homeopathic-style pseudoscience, and Bernadine Healy’s name will live on in the writings of antivaxers.

    By the way, speaking of exploding irony meters, there’s a current article on NaturalNews explaining how Americans are “emotionally immature”. Please shield your meters before reading the following excerpt:

    “And so goes the sad tale of a current culture that abhors the idea of making sacrifices, compromising with others, learning to be graceful, being willing to admit when we are wrong and the list goes on. What is to be done?”

    Grace, compromise and willingness to admit error are not the prime attributes I’d associate with Mike Adams and NaturalNews.

  19. #19 Nonesense On Stilts
    August 9, 2011

    Orac,
    Please cut B Healy some slack. She had a brain injury! She had a tumor that destroys the brain. She also probably had surgery and radiation therapy, both of which cause further impairment. Almost all long term surviviors of primary CNS malignancies have some degree of organic brain syndrome due to their disease and the treatment. I’m not trying to make excuses, but of all the anti-vacc crowd, B Healy may not have been in her right mind.

    Just saying …

  20. #20 Orac
    August 9, 2011

    Actually, I intentionally stayed away from the issue of her brain tumor; there was no evidence over the 13 years she had it that it had affected her to the point of impairing her judgment substantially.

  21. #21 Nonsense on Stilts
    August 9, 2011

    I’m not sure that’s fair. Did she have brain irradiation? Or surgery? The long term sequelae of brain irradiation are well known. Changes in cognition and reasoning are common, and they can be subtle. Your assesment of her life was otherwise fair. I bears considering that her ability to reason was actually impaired.

    Now stop distracting me from seeing patients!

  22. #22 Rohan G
    August 9, 2011

    Someone in government blurring the lines with quackery is pertinent to my discovery today that the Victorian Health Department has got well and truely into bed with the Australian Homeopathic Association to produce government website health “information”.

    Official government webpages that carry the .gov.au extension are generally speaking very reliable. So it was something of a shock for me to read the following 14 words: “This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by: Australian Homeopathic Association”

    http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/Bhcv2/bhcArticles.nsf/pages/Homeopathy?open

  23. #23 Science Mom
    August 9, 2011

    I’m not sure that’s fair. Did she have brain irradiation? Or surgery? The long term sequelae of brain irradiation are well known. Changes in cognition and reasoning are common, and they can be subtle. Your assesment of her life was otherwise fair. I bears considering that her ability to reason was actually impaired.

    It would be unfair to speculate about any neurological impairment and attribute her statements to that. Don’ you think?

  24. #24 Militant Agnostic
    August 9, 2011

    Rohan G@20 – I am getting Richard Saunders and Dr. Rachie of the Skeptic Zone Podcast on the case.

    If the page was blank I would be OK with it.

  25. #25 herr doktor bimler
    August 9, 2011

    The question of whether vaccines can trigger autism in a susceptible subgroup has not been answered.

    Stupid questions do not deserve an answer. It is a stupid question because the size and nature of the “susceptible subgroup” can always be redefined, or defined in retrospect, to keep the hypothesis alive in the face of negative evidence.

  26. #26 HmWonderWhatOracsBrainScanLooksLike
    August 9, 2011

    “Psychiatrists and neuroscientists are making extraordinary advances in understanding the psychopathic or sociopathic mind, a mind that lacks empathy, compassion, fear, or remorse. In some of the most exciting research, advanced brain-imaging techniques are revealing that certain sections of psychopaths’ brains seem to be misfiring.” Technology Review

    Sociopaths make terrific cult leaders. Hm… What does that say of all your followers, then?

  27. #27 Inspector 16, US Bureau of Content
    August 9, 2011

    Notice – Comment #24 is hereby certified to be content-free.

  28. #28 Militant Agnostic
    August 9, 2011

    @25 – and it smells like old socks.

  29. #29 Colin Day
    August 9, 2011

    @augustine
    #3

    “The question has not been answered.” It doesn’t get much clearer than that. The question of whether vaccines can trigger autism in a susceptible subgroup has not been answered. Let’s repeat for emphasis: The question has not been answered.”

    Bernadine Healy

    Neither has the question of whether vaccines can prevent autism or not.

  30. #30 redacted
    August 10, 2011

    @27

    Without launching into a rant about “diagnostic change”, if this abomination can be called that, since MMR prevents congenital rubella syndrome then it prevents “autism.” So it can be said to functionality wise which I believe was supported by some studies mentioned earlier on this blog.

  31. #31 marty
    August 10, 2011

    @27 Neither has the question of whether vaccines can prevent autism or not.

    If someone ever comes up with a vaccine to prevent autism, would the anti-vaxxers’ heads implode?

  32. #32 lilady
    August 10, 2011

    @ Marty:

    @27 Neither has the question of whether vaccines can prevent autism or not.

    If someone ever comes up with a vaccine to prevent autism, would the anti-vaxxers’ heads implode?

    Posted by: marty | August 10, 2011 2:56 AM

    But, someone has invented a vaccine to prevent autism, and deafness, blindness, mental retardation etc. An new study has been released detailed the numbers of children who would have been born in the United States 2001-2010 and later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders associated with congenital rubella syndrome:

    Congenital Rubella Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorders Prevented By Rubella Vaccination, 2001-2010 (PMID 21592401)

    The PMID citation also provides access to the full report

    Let’s wait for the “Vaccines Cause Infection Troll” to comment so that we can have some fun.

  33. #33 augustine
    August 14, 2011

    Lilady

    But, someone has invented a vaccine to prevent autism, and deafness, blindness, mental retardation etc.

    I can’t wait to see that RCT come out. Can’t you? What do you think they’ll use for the placebo?

    If you knew science, lilady, you’d know that article isn’t science. It’s crap.

    It’s a propaganda piece put out to combat objections to vaccine compliance.

    BTW the MMR didn’t help Hannah Poling did it?

  34. #34 lilady
    August 17, 2011

    @ Ugh Troll: “If you knew science, lilady, you’d know that article isn’t science. It’s crap.”

    Let me fix that for you:

    If you weren’t a high school drop-out, if you continued your education and really knew science, if you were gainfully employed-and not on the dole, you’d know that your comments aren’t science. They’re crap.

    (Orac should have kept you in moderation purdah)