Respectful Insolence

Manufactroversy.

It’s wonderful, made-up word that describes a phenomenon so aptly, so brilliantly, that I like to use it all the time. Basically the word describes a manufactured controversy that is motivated by either extreme ideology (virtually always crank ideology) and/or profit that is intentionally stoked to create public confusion about a scientific issue that is not in dispute. Such efforts are often accompanied by conspiracy theories involving deception and polemic rhetoric (and sometimes fraud). There’s also another term that is related to the word “manufactroversy,” and that’s “denialism,” which is used to describe the phenomenon that is behind manufactroversies: The denial of science that is not in major dispute. Examples abound: Anthropogenic global climate change denialism, evolution denialism, and, of course, vaccine denialism, a frequent topic of this blog. Vaccine denialism involves n unshakeable belief not based in evidence that vaccines cause autism and has resulted in direct threats to public health through fear mongering that has had the effect in some areas of causing vaccine uptake rates to plummet. Perhaps the most famous example is Andrew Wakefield’s bogus study from 1998 that he used, sadly aided and abetted by the U.K. press looking for sensationalistic stories and opportunistic politicians, to fuel a fear of the MMR vaccine that led MMR uptake to plummet. The result was entirely predictable, namely the resurgence of measles in the U.K., with outbreaks that continue even to today. Only now are MMR uptake rates recovering.

All of this points to the critical role of the press in either aiding and abetting denialist manufactroversies, such as antivaccine fear mongering, or countering them, which is why it’s good to see an article in the Columbia Journalism Review by Curtis Brainard entitled Sticking with the truth: How ‘balanced’ coverage helped sustain the bogus claim that childhood vaccines can cause autism. The article basically says something that I’ve been saying all along, namely that the journalistic fetish for “balance,” which is fine for political and policy debates, can be utterly harmful when it comes to denialist campaigns because it gives the false impression that pseudoscience is on par with science. Brainard uses, appropriately enough, the example of Andrew Wakefield, pointing out that the manufactroversy played out in the press for over 15 years and, in fact, continues to do so, and then writes:

Among scientists, however, there really was never much of a debate; only a small group of researchers ever even entertained the theory about autism. The coverage rarely emphasized this, if it noted it at all, and instead propagated misunderstanding about vaccines and autism and gave credence to what was largely a manufactured controversy. As Ben Goldacre, a British doctor and media critic, wrote in his 2008 bestseller, Bad Science: “[Y]ou will see news reporters, including the BBC, saying stupid things like ‘The research has since been debunked.’ Wrong. The research never justified the media’s ludicrous over-interpretation. If they had paid attention, the scare would never have even started.”

The consequences of this coverage go beyond squandering journalistic resources on a bogus story. There is evidence that fear of a link between vaccines and autism, stoked by press coverage, caused some parents to either delay vaccinations for their children or decline them altogether. To be sure, more than 90 percent of children in both the US and the UK receive the recommended shots according to schedule, but in 2012, measles infections were at an 18-year high in the UK, reflecting low and bypassed immunization in some areas. In the US, vaccine-preventable diseases reached an all-time low in 2011, but the roughly one in 10 children who get their shots over a different timeframe than the one recommended by the medical establishment, and the less than 1 percent who go entirely unvaccinated, are enough to endanger some communities. And American and British authorities have blamed recent outbreaks of measles and whooping cough on decisions to delay or decline vaccination.

The rest of the article is a depressing account of how the manufactroversy over vaccines and autism has spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) over vaccines, as all manufactroversies are meant to, mentioning some key “journalists” who fed the story: David Kirby, with whom we’re all familiar, who wrote Evidence of Harm, a book “exposing” how the mercury in the thimerosal preservative that was used in some childhood vaccines in the US until around 2002 causes the “autism epidemic.” It didn’t. Then there was our old “friend” Dan Olmsted, now the “managing editor” of the antivaccine crank propaganda blog, Age of Autism, promoting his “Where are the autistic Amish?” bit of nonsense. Unfortunately, the false “balance” continues even to today, with Brian Lehrer having included his daughter, a noted vaccine-autism crank:

In part one, MacNeil interviewed his daughter, Alison, whose son has autism, and let her make unfounded claims about vaccines. MacNeil, who narrated the series, told viewers there was no scientific evidence to support those claims, but it was a throwaway line that allowed MacNeil to claim “balance” while sowing serious misunderstanding about vaccines.

Elsewhere, Brainard notes:

While it’s somewhat reassuring that almost half the US stories (41 percent) tried, to varying degrees, to rebut the vaccine-autism connection, the study raises the problem of “objectivity” in stories for which a preponderance of evidence is on one side of a “debate.” In such cases, “balanced” coverage can be irresponsible, because it suggests a controversy where none really exists. (Think climate change, and how such he-said-she-said coverage helped sustain the illusion of a genuine debate within the science community.) A follow-up study by Clarke and Graham Dixon, published in November 2012, makes this point. The two scholars assigned 320 undergrads to read either a “balanced” article or one that was one-sided for or against a link between vaccines and autism. Those students who read the “balanced” articles were far more likely to believe that a link existed than those who read articles that said no link exits.

Which is exactly why, when it comes to science journalism, “balance” with respect to pseudoscience and quackery like vaccine denialism is no balance at all. It’s false balance that inflates the seeming plausibility of pseudoscientific claims. In other words, it matters. Fortunately, as Brainard notes, journalists seem to be starting to “get it” a bit more, and there are now a large number of watchdogs (mostly bloggers) who didn’t exist 15 years ago to pounce on examples of false balance. Still, the problem persists.

One area where Brainard gets it wrong is an example he chooses to conclude the story with to illustrate how the principle of “once bitten, twice shy” might cause journalists to be wary of covering real vaccine safety stories. It’s potentially a legitimate concern, but he uses the example of Pandemrix and narcolepsy in Sweden and Finland, for which the evidence, while suggestive, is not nearly as slam-dunk as he makes it sound and is, in fact, a complex situation that might involve multiple factors. Basically, the point strikes me as overplayed and, ironically enough, an attempt to insert a little “balance” into Brainard’s story.

Not surprisingly, Anne Dachel, Age of Autism’s “media editor” (which in most cases means posting links to stories critical of vaccine-autism pseudoscience, the better to alert her flying monkey patrol to swoop down on the comments of the articles and let fly their poo), is very unhappy at Brainard’s article, using her usual Orwellian turn of phrase to entitle it Columbia Journalism Review Casts Eye on Vaccine Safety Writers. No, Ms. Dachel. You are not a “vaccine safety writer.” You are a crank who refuses to face reality. But, then, we all knew that. Nice try, though.

Dachel trots out the usual canards, of course:

Do those high journalistic standards include blindly trusting health officials and medical journals? Did Brainard ever once consider that citing studies and claims from the agency that runs the vaccine program isn’t real proof of anything? Was Brainard aware that hundreds of individuals at the CDC have conflict of interest waivers because they have financial ties to the vaccine makers? Did he know that the last head of the CDC, Dr. Julie Gerberding, a longtime denier of any link, is now the head of the vaccine division at Merck?

Didn’t it tell Brainard something that when undergrads heard arguments on both sides of the vaccine-autism debate, they were more likely to believe there is a link?

Uh, Ms. Dachel. It’s psychology. If two conflicting viewpoints are placed side-by-side as apparently equal, of course more people will believe there is a link. That was the entire point of Brainard’s criticism of false “balance.” Ms. Dachel, of course, will have none of that:

I’ve monitored how the press covers autism for over ten years and almost nothing has changed. No matter how bad the numbers get, how clueless officials are or how much science disproves it, THERE IS NO LINK.

Brainard thinks that the coverage has been too balanced? In truth, we’ve never had real fair and balanced coverage of this issue. We never hear about the independent researchers raising serious concerns over vaccine safety or about the more than 200 studies that they’ve produced. I’ve personally seen hundreds of times where the press failed to cover this issue honestly and thoroughly from both sides Because reporters are gullible, ignorant, conflicted, frightened, or just plain lazy, we’ve not been told the truth about what vaccines are doing to our children.

Or maybe it’s that many journalists can recognize cranks when they see them, as encountering cranks is an occupational hazard, or that the reason “THERE IS NO LINK” is not because there is a coverup but because that’s what the data show (or, more specifically, the data fail to show a link). Of course, Ms. Dachel’s idea of “balanced” coverage would be to give credence to very vaccine-autism crank who crawls out from under a rock and declares that vaccines are The One True Cause of Autism.

Amusingly, elsewhere, Ms. Dachel cites some old articles by the CJR about the alleged “vaccine autism link” to conclude that Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) Was For Free Speech Before They Were Against It. Of course, that’s also part of the point of Brainard’s article. The CJR did publish some bad articles with false “balance,” and Brainard explicitly acknowledged that fact, noting that “CJR, too, played a role in sustaining the vaccine story,” before launching into praise for Brian Deer, the journalist who got it right with respect to Wakefield and without whom Wakefield might never have been exposed as having been a scientific fraud in the pay of trial lawyers seeking to sue over vaccine injury. More importantly, there is nothing wrong with changing one’s mind if one realizes he has been mistaken. Insistence on rigid consistency, particularly when it comes to science, is the mark of a crank, not a scientist or, I hope, a journalist or news organization.

No wonder Ms. Dachel insists on it. To her, changing one’s mind in the face of evidence is something that is just not done. If it were, she wouldn’t still be using AoA to send her flying monkeys hither, thither, and yon to contaminate comment threads with pseudoscience and quackery.

Comments

  1. #1 Dangerous Bacon
    May 17, 2013

    Orac: “Or maybe it’s that many journalists can recognize cranks when they see them”

    One clue is when the crank refers to the CDC as “the agency that runs the vaccine program”.

    C’mon, we know antivaxers regard the CDC as the root of all Evil, but it doesn’t have imperial powers to decide who gets immunized.

    While misguided efforts at balance still sway some reporting, we shouldn’t forget that sensationalism brings in readers. A current example – the Birmingham Mail’s story about a young girl supposedly murdered in India so her organs could be harvested:

    http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/local-news/birmingham-schoolgirl-murdered-bid-harvest-3664848

    It should be obvious to any reporter who consulted knowledgeable sources that this death could not have been used to harvest organs, and that they were removed from the body as part of standard autopsy procedure. But the parents’ heartrending tale makes for better copy.

  2. #2 Lawrence
    May 17, 2013

    @DB – there are still journalists out there that want to emulate Woodward & Bernstein, be the ones that uncover the next great scandal or cover-up…..vaccines are an easy target, because of groups like AoA that are more than happy to provide “good sounding” arguments, though without any evidence to back it up.

    You’d also think, that with government agencies and employees pretty much willing to leak any and all information to the press, that any vaccine cover-ups would have been exposed a long time ago….

  3. #3 I. Rony Meter
    May 17, 2013

    Well, at least we have the Age of Autism blog as a last bastion of balanced coverage of vaccines. They give their readers all sides, right?

  4. #4 Autismum
    http://autismum.com/
    May 17, 2013

    They scream about balance but when an attempt at real balance is made – i.e. countering the notion that all parents with autistic children adore Andrew Wakefield – their response is frantic.
    I was interviewed by our local paper (I’m in South Wales) precisely to another perspective as an autism parent.
    http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/health/martine-ocallaghan-encourages-parents-children-3569446
    Of course, my story couldn’t be genuine and my son can’t be real. *SMH* I’ve even been accused of being a politician which is laughable given my “other life”
    http://thecwtchnetwork.org/

  5. #5 Eric Lund
    May 17, 2013

    In principle, I have no issue with a paradigm of reporting along the lines of, “Team A says X; team B says Y; here are the facts.” The problem (and unfortunately, it occurs in articles about political and policy debates as well) is that the “balanced” journalism paradigm omits that part about “here are the facts.” As Stephen Colbert noted with respect to the political realm, “Facts have a well-known liberal bias.” Likewise with the alleged vaccine-autism link, where the facts are on the side of those who say there is no such link, or climate change, where the facts are on the side of those who say that humans are causing the average temperature of the Earth’s surface to increase. If the stories included the facts, then readers would have a basis for judging for themselves which side was right. Instead we live in a world where, as the joke goes, a prominent person could claim that the Earth was flat, and the pronouncement would be covered under the headline “Opinions Differ Regarding Shape of Earth”.

  6. #6 lilady
    May 17, 2013

    Yeah, and I’m right behinds those flying monkeys when they post their lies on blogs.

    I off to get my heart “echoed”…catch you all later.

  7. #7 Shay
    May 17, 2013

    Salutamus, lilady.

    What kills me (as a non-medical layperson who just happens to work in public health) is the small but vocal number of licensed medical professionals who either wholeheartedly support this falsehood, or sit on the fence and gravely stroke their beards (metaphorically speaking) while advising parents to “have all the evidence.”

    I have a lot of respect for RN’s (I work with dozens plus my youngest sister is one) but how can you possibly graduate from nursing school and not be a supporter of childhood vaccinations?

  8. #8 MI Dawn
    May 17, 2013

    @Autismum: Just read your interview and saw the pictures. OH MY GOSH is he ever adorable!!! LIke you, I’d rather have a live, totally adorable (if a lot of work) child than a dead one.

  9. #9 Autismum
    http://autismum.com/
    May 17, 2013

    Pob lwc, Lilady xx

  10. #10 Autismum
    http://autismum.com/
    May 17, 2013

    Thank you MI Dawn. Some Avers have suggested he’s a child model – for once I can see where they might be coming from

  11. #11 kruuth
    May 17, 2013

    Brainard thinks that the coverage has been too balanced? In truth, we’ve never had real fair and balanced coverage of this issue. We never hear about the independent researchers raising serious concerns over vaccine safety or about the more than 200 studies that they’ve produced.

    Your commentary is spot on Orac. It’s hard to take into account “more than 200 studies” when they’re either all the same flawed, cherry-picked trash. Often made by the same woo-meisters that champion some insane regimen(Geirs)

  12. #12 Denice Walter
    May 17, 2013

    I believe that alt med/ anti-vax/ pseudoscience require conspiracy mongering- the two fit together like puzzle pieces and function symbiotically, nurturing each other because:

    woo purports to be cutting-edge advanced science- even the dreaded paradigm shift itself- HOWEVER ( big ‘however’) it is not accepted by expert consensus and not widely in use, therefore its supporters need to explain *why* it is not the status quo, or indeed, the *ne plus ultra* gold standard.

    This is where the conspiracy rankling commences: a twisted imbroglio of the powers-that-be finagling to countervene against innovators is untwined for the reader/ listener/ viewer in a tale that implicates government, corporations, universities and the media- i.e. everyone who could possibly explain why the woo couldn’t fly or why it is nonsense.

    When anti-vaxxers descend upon comment sections of reasonably neutral or public outlets ( as described above), they usually present their pseudo-science along with many scurrilous factoids and proto-theoretical meanderings ( I’m sure you know to what I’m referring – the anti-vax “ramble”), here’s a suggestion that may stop them in their deeply time-worn tracks:

    “If your theory is so great why don’t experts believe in it?”-

    which will challenge them to present their underlying conspiratorial foundations and reveal themselves publicly to a GENERAL AUDIENCE.

    Usually, they attempt to hide their true nature by talking about science, research and public health, adorning themselves in all of the trappings of reality- when truly their thinking is as wildly undisciplined as UFO convention attendees after several stiff drinks..
    but not as harmless.

  13. #13 lilady
    May 17, 2013

    Well I’m back from my appointment. I see Autismum is posting here. I’m so impressed with all her work and delighted to see she is the “go-to-gal” now in Wales, that journalists contact about autism and vaccines.

    Autismum also writes for Skeptoid. Take a look at the video for the Virgin Mary statue who’s driving around town.

    http://skeptoid.com/blog/2013/05/16/i-predict-the-mother-of-all-comebacks/

    Ac, Rwyf wrth fy modd i chi hefyd, Autismum.

  14. #14 elburto
    May 17, 2013

    Autismum – You’re not real? And Pwd’s a model? Wah. My world has been flip-flopped.

    Is the Virgin Mary vid the Chris Morris one? I love Brass Eye and TDT so much. The bit where Confiteor O’Daly (I think) says “They’re after testing the plastor, and it had vorjin DNA in it” cracks me up.

    As for Anne Dachel, she’d fit nicely into the last line of that sketch. “As for getting sense from Anne Dachel, you’ve got more chance of getting a bl*wj*b from the Pope”.

  15. #15 Stacy Herlihy
    NJ
    May 17, 2013

    As the co-author of a book on vaccines, this issue is one I have seen firsthand. I’ve been repeatedly censored when I’ve tried to speak about this issue in public.

    Officials at the West Orange NJ library would literally not let me speak at the library because they were unable to find someone on the anti-vaccine side for “balance.” I am left to wonder if they would ask for a flat earther if an astronaut wanted to speak or a holocaust denier to “counterbalance” the statements of a historian.

  16. #16 lilady
    May 17, 2013

    @ Elburto: That’s the video…with that marvelous punch line at the end. :-)

  17. #17 Autismum
    May 17, 2013

    Elburto it’s absolutely Chris Morris. Best satire ever.
    And thanks for the plug, Lilady.

  18. #18 Carolyn
    May 17, 2013

    The umpteenth time it’s been posted, I’m sure, but it still cracks me up!

    http://youtu.be/YMvMb90hem8

  19. #19 Denice Walter
    May 17, 2013

    @ Autismum:
    @ lilady:
    @ elburto:

    You are all worse than I am.
    And that’s saying a lot.

    I recuse myself from commentary on that video because of:

    1. my many familial, friendly and *other* relationships with people from Ireland who appear to think that I am truly a lost daughter of that proud land and therefore really great. Despite the atheism… ( altho’ one of them is also a scoffer).
    2. Catholic people will get angry and yell at Orac
    3. Religious people will get upset and yell at all of us.

    I mean, seriously isn’t it bad enough that I call Andy the Holy Martyred Son of Bath or suchlike? Or that I once suggested tthat he could be compared to St Sebastian ( a hot-looking dude pierced with arrows)**?
    Or that I call woo religion?
    Or that trolls characterise us all ( even the religious ones) as craven atheists and tools of PZ or Randi?
    Or that I talk about magic …. ooops! I better stop…

    You are all in BIG elburto, now.
    Tread cautiously, oh my sisters, Mike Adams will d-mn us all to internet hades for our lack of spirituality.

    ** -btw- Orac later found an apropo Renaissance image. It’s here somewhere.

  20. #20 Spectator
    May 17, 2013

    @Stacy
    “Officials at the West Orange NJ library would literally not let me speak at the library because they were unable to find someone on the anti-vaccine side for “balance.”

    Their statement is disingenuous. There is no requirement that a talk on a public issue requires an equal and opposite viewpoint. If the library gives a talk on the Civil War… prove there was a Civil War! Those supposed Civil War photos all look vaguely similar. And the faked mass war fatalities super-thermite zargbarglespplluugr’u£*Ω^۩ 1!1

    It’s more likely the local library drone is a loon or has a part-time supplement biz. It looks like they’re not doing their job but are they’re using it for a personal agenda. It’s worth 15 minutes to compose a complaint letter to the local paper, cc whoever oversees the town library system.

  21. #21 sheepmilker
    May 17, 2013

    Thanks, Carolyn!

    Hadn’t seen it before, and it made my day.

  22. #22 lilady
    May 17, 2013

    @ Carolyn: Dara O’Briain’s video *gets better* every time I view it.

    @ Denice Walter: Thanks for grouping me with Autismum and Elburto; I’m honored.

    Scroll on down this Ho-Po article to see examples of “bird turd Jesus”, “kudzu Jesus”, “grilled cheese sandwich Jesus” and forty-three other Jesus apparitions:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/14/jesus-ink-blot_n_3272757.html#slide=2153366

    How about J. B. Handley’s comparison of St. Andy to Nelson Mandela and Jesus?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/24/magazine/mag-24Autism-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    “To our community, Andrew Wakefield is Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ rolled up into one,” says J. B. Handley, co-founder of Generation Rescue, a group that disputes vaccine safety. “He’s a symbol of how all of us feel.”

  23. #23 Autismum
    May 17, 2013

    @Denice Walter, I’m married to an Irish man. I remember watching an episode of Father Ted and learning from DH that all priest talent shows are really a thing.

  24. #24 Denice Walter
    May 17, 2013

    @ Autismum:
    I know about your DH.
    @ lilady:
    You’re welcome.

    I was just joining in the fun after you three set off the first rumblings of the apocalypse.

  25. #25 Autismum
    May 17, 2013

    @Denice, I didn’t think you were serious. The priest talent show thing always makes me giggle. I thought DH was teasing me when he told me his mum used to go to them.

  26. #26 Krebiozen
    May 17, 2013

    Ah yes, Chris Morris, the man who somehow turned suicide bombers into comedy, of sorts, and risked the wrath or worse of religious fanatics. I wasn’t particularly taken with the film, but kudos to him for daring to make it.

  27. #27 Khani
    May 18, 2013

    “Or maybe it’s that many journalists can recognize cranks when they see them, as encountering cranks is an occupational hazard…”

    Yes. It is. We hear many of them, and very often. You do get a BS-detector, but it’s not foolproof, unfortunately. I’ve seen (otherwise smart and savvy) journalists believe some very silly things.

    It’s the conspiracy theorists that are easy to recognize. Would that they would all start talking about chemtrails early on so we could listen politely and then nod and smile and then suddenly remember a more important appointment…

  28. #28 Khani
    May 18, 2013

    #2 “…there are still journalists out there that want to emulate Woodward & Bernstein, be the ones that uncover the next great scandal or cover-up…”

    And that’s why I prefer the word “reporter.” People that want to be famous or change the world should do something else for a living. We just write things down. Things happen, and we write them down. That’s all.

    #19 Actually I think most Catholics here would probably happily go with the metaphor of Wakefield as St. Sebastian, if it meant they could shoot him with metaphoric arrows…

  29. #29 AdamG
    May 18, 2013

    oh good lord, he’s also a truther.

  30. #30 Pareidolius
    May 18, 2013

    The awesomeness of crank magnetism strikes again. What do you want to bet he’s an HIV denialst too?

  31. #31 lilady
    May 18, 2013

    @ Pareidolius: Wanna bet that HIV was a man-made disaster, manufactured in a lab? :-)

    https://twitter.com/matthewloop/status/276172297969213441

  32. #32 elburto
    May 18, 2013

    @Denice – That sketch (alongside others throughout the series) was really heavily censored when it first aired, because Channel 4 didn’t want to cause religious elburto either.

    The writer/producer/star got his own back. Messages targeting the then head of C4 were hidden between frames, and the show aired with them intact.

    One of the conditions of the release of the original, untouched episodes on DVD, was that all hidden and subliminal messages be removed.

    Autismum- (or whoever you are!)
    I still frequently listen to On the Hour, and re-watch The Day Today and Brass Eye. I counter-trolled on the SBM site once, by referring a troll to GEFAFWISP. I gave a warning that what happens in Upurvelli today, could happen anywhere tomorrow. Who wants to be crushed by the invisible lead soup of heavy electricity? Not me!

  33. #33 lilady
    May 18, 2013

    Here’s (perhaps), St. Andy’s final points that he would have like to have raised in the “debate” that never was. Still the disgraced and discredited former doctor, whose next “public appearance” will be in a Texas courtroom on May 22nd.

    http://www.ageofautism.com/2013/05/autism-and-mmr-before-the-lancet-paper-mumps-marketing-and-monopoly.html

  34. #34 Scottynuke
    May 18, 2013

    @ Khani #28 —

    Oh, as a former reporter/editor who now attempts to help journalists stick to reality on a very technical subject, don’t get me started on “investigative reporters…”

    *SIGH*

  35. #35 Greg
    May 18, 2013

    Yeah Orac,

    I hear you. Why don’t we just do the vaxed/unvaxed study that will show that the two groups have the same autism rate, or one of an unvaxed population showing that they too have a 1 in 50 autism rate. Such studies would shut those ‘quacks’, ‘scums’ up for good. What — we might not want to push our luck by going there with such studies? Never mind then, Orac. Never mind. Hee, hee, hee….

  36. #36 Julian Frost
    Gauteng East Rand
    May 18, 2013

    Greg:

    Why don’t we just do the vaxed/unvaxed study that will show that the two groups have the same autism rate, or one of an unvaxed population showing that they too have a 1 in 50 autism rate[?]

    Because, as we keep telling you, such a study would be UNETHICAL. It would be thrown out at the first review.

  37. #37 Khani
    May 18, 2013

    Well, at least it’s fairly obvious to any undecided lurkers reading this that we’re the ones concerned about ethics.

  38. #38 herr doktor bimler
    May 18, 2013

    “To our community, Andrew Wakefield is Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ rolled up into one,” says J. B. Handley, co-founder of Generation Rescue, a group that disputes vaccine safety. “He’s a symbol of how all of us feel.”

    This always ends badly.

  39. #39 herr doktor bimler
    May 18, 2013
  40. #40 Julian Frost
    Gauteng East Rand
    May 18, 2013

    Orac, I know this is off-topic, but I was in a fight with an anti-vaxxer named Anthony Rees. He posted this study as evidence. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23016780
    Then I had a look at the names of the authors: Tomljenovic L, and Shaw CA.
    I would appreciate it if you would administer a heapin’ helpin’ of Insolence to it so that if Mr Rees shows up and posts it again, I could tear him apart.

  41. #41 Greg
    May 18, 2013

    @Herr Doktor Bimler,

    Who is the hero for your group?

  42. #42 flip
    May 18, 2013

    @Julian

    If you stick the name Tomljenovic into the search function here on RI, you’ll get a few hits.

    @Eric

    In principle, I have no issue with a paradigm of reporting along the lines of, “Team A says X; team B says Y; here are the facts.” The problem (and unfortunately, it occurs in articles about political and policy debates as well) is that the “balanced” journalism paradigm omits that part about “here are the facts.”

    I think the issue is it’s more “team A says X; team B says Y; now make up your own mind because it’s your opinion that matters”. I think we spend too much time saying that all opinions are valid, and creating the idea that criticism is offensive or hurtful or censorship. A sort of “different ways of knowing” fallacy, but for journalism.

    @Lilady

    May 22nd? That’s convenient, I was wondering while reading the comments what was up with the court case.

  43. #43 Krebiozen
    May 18, 2013

    Julian Frost,
    I see that the Shaw study you mentioned states:

    the claim that HPV vaccination will result in approximately 70% reduction of cervical cancers is made despite the fact that the clinical trials data have not demonstrated to date that the vaccines have actually prevented a single case of cervical cancer (let alone cervical cancer death), nor that the current overly optimistic surrogate marker-based extrapolations are justified.

    This claim is extremely disingenuous. The vaccine has not been around for long enough to show a reduction in cervical cancer deaths. It takes several years to get from HPV infection to cervical cancer, and even more to death.

    We do know that surgical removal of low grade cervical intraepithelial neoplasia prevents cancer, and we know that HPV vaccines greatly reduces the incidence of low grade cervical intraepithelial neoplasia. It seems greatly preferable to prevent neoplasia in the first place instead of relying on early enough detection and treatment to prevent cancer. Given the remarkable safety record of these vaccines, I don’t see how it could be possible for HPV vaccines to be found not to prevent cervical cancer and deaths in the long term.

  44. #44 Narad
    May 18, 2013

    Why don’t we just do the vaxed/unvaxed study that will show that the two groups have the same autism rate, or one of an unvaxed population showing that they too have a 1 in 50 autism rate.

    Why don’t you just get around to specifying the confidence level, power, and signal threshold that you’d accept, something that you were asked long ago?

  45. #45 Chris
    May 19, 2013

    Greg:

    Why don’t we just do the vaxed/unvaxed study that will show that the two groups have the same autism rate, or one of an unvaxed population showing that they too have a 1 in 50 autism rate.

    Why don’t you do that? Design the study, make sure it conforms to the Belmont Report, get it reviewed by an Independent Review Board (IRB), then write a grant for funding. Submit that grant to SafeMinds, Generation Rescue, Autism Speaks, etc, and then go and do it. What are you waiting for?

  46. #46 Julian Frost
    Gauteng East Rand
    May 19, 2013

    @flip: that was the first thing I did. I probably could deconstruct it on my own, but IANAD.
    @Krebiozen: given that it’s Tomljenovic and Shaw, I’d be more surprised if it wasn’t disingenuous. ;)

  47. #47 flip
    May 19, 2013

    IANAD either, which is why I tried putting the name into the search box. ;)

  48. #48 lilady
    May 19, 2013

    Gawd almighty, I reduced to duking it out with the “Schnaut” on the CJR review. I’ve asked the Schnaut to relay an invitation to Olmsted on my behalf, to come and post:

    http://www.cjr.org/feature/sticking_with_the_truth.php

    In other AoA “news”, guest blogger Babs from the NVIC, seems to think these are “desperate times” for the pro-vaccine, pro-science bloggers and their supporters:

    http://www.ageofautism.com/2013/05/barbara-loe-fisher-desperate-times-for-vaccine-risk-denialism.html

    Ha, ha, Babs; see a neurologist to check if you are in the early stages of dementia.

  49. #49 imsd007
    May 19, 2013

    I always thought the autism-vaccine link was far-fetched until I saw this paper:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23602537
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130424112309.htm
    “First Vaccine to Help Control Some Autism Symptoms”
    There may be a link after all…..

  50. #50 Greg
    May 19, 2013

    @Lilady,

    Yeah Lilady, their delusion never ceases to amaze. We are desperate? Desperate about what? We spent over a billion dollars on autism research over the past decades and look at all the things we know about autism and the info we can provide parents about how their kids can avoid autism. We put so much effort and time into convincing parents that vaccines are safe and all signals indicate that the public’s trust in vaccines is increasing. Also, they kept asking for a vaxed/unvaxed study and boy did we shut them up with our latest vaxed/vaxed study that looked into antigens and autism. Those quacks are absolutely hilarious.

  51. #51 herr doktor bimler
    May 19, 2013

    He posted this study as evidence. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23016780
    Then I had a look at the names of the authors: Tomljenovic L, and Shaw CA.

    The journal comes from the Bentham Science stable FWIW.
    RationalWiki is ascerbic on Bentham Science:
    List of Bentham journals, some of which might actually be peer-reviewed by people other than Accounts Receivable.

  52. #52 Greg
    May 19, 2013

    @imsd007,

    You ignorant troll! How dare you come on here and say anything negative about vaccines. A thousand plagues on your house!! May you catch the worst bout of venereal disease and writher in eternal, agonizing pain. I spit at you: AHH-TOOO!. I double spit at you: AHH-TOOO, AHH-TOOO!! Go back to AoA you ignorant troll!!

    (Hey Guys, did you like how I cursed imsd007 out?)

  53. #53 Thomas
    May 19, 2013

    Lilady: Of course we on the pro-children side must be desperate. We allow the antivaxxers to make their best cases (the mock-spitting was a rhetorical triumph), while the antivaxxers censor their blogs ruthlessly – if that’s not a sign of the desperation of the parents, doctors and scientists who post here, I don’t know what is.

  54. #54 Rumtopf
    May 19, 2013

    Greg’s a little bit useful, in a way; he really demonstrates exactly how ridiculous the anti-vax side are.

  55. #55 Chris,
    May 19, 2013

    Greg:

    You ignorant troll! How dare you come on here and say anything negative about vaccines.

    Greg, you are revealing your issues with reading comprehension. He did not say anything negative about vaccines. So what was the last year of school you attended? Fifth grade?

  56. #56 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    May 19, 2013

    Greg – dude, you might want to actually read the links that imsd007 provided before saying something,er, that makes you appear foolish. Here’s a summary – there’s the possibility of a vaccine to control constipation and nausea that apparently are common in people with autism.

  57. #57 lilady
    May 19, 2013

    And, in other breaking news…Lyme disease does not cause autism. ASDS must be caused by *teh ebil vaccines*.

    http://www.medpagetoday.com/Pediatrics/Autism/38750

  58. #58 imsd007
    May 19, 2013

    @ Greg

    I am confused….. What part of “First Vaccine to Help Control Some Autism Symptoms” did you not understand?

  59. #59 ChrisP
    May 19, 2013

    Greg is just a troll. His arguments are so pathetic and prejudiced that it is possibly best for us to ignore him. He is so pathetic that he doesn’t understand when his arguments have been exposed as fabrication and lies.

  60. #60 lilady
    May 20, 2013

    @ Chris P: I stated that same impression of Greg weeks ago…on another thread. He’s in my *ignore bin*. :-)

  61. #61 Shay
    May 20, 2013

    @imsd007

  62. #62 Shay
    hitting "enter" too soon
    May 20, 2013

    @imsd007

    What part of “First Vaccine to Help Control Some Autism Symptoms” did you not understand?

    All of it.

  63. #63 lilady
    May 20, 2013

    @ Shay: That statement raised some red flags for me. There is a vaccine supposedly in early development, to prevent overgrowth of C. bolteae bacterium in the gut. However, it is being *touted* as an anti-autism vaccine, based on some faulty assumptions and dodgy research:

    http://beforeitsnews.com/environment/2013/04/no-there-is-not-a-vaccine-for-autism-2467802.html

  64. #64 The Smith of Lie
    May 20, 2013

    @Greg

    About that vaxed/unvaxed study. There is a similar study I’d like to conduct to disprove one of the other points touted by those Godless skeptics. You see it is about gravity. I belive the whole concept is humbug and to prove it I need to conduct comparison study of how 2 groups of people fall from 10.000 feet when thrown from the airplane – parachute equipped vs place parachute and of course control group without intervention.

    Will you volunteer? Since it’d be randomised you’d even have 1 chance in three in being the parachute group!

  65. #65 The Smith of Lie
    May 20, 2013

    Even better idea! Instead of 3 groups (real parachute, placebo parachute and control) let’s make it 4 groups and add homepathic parachute group. Homeopathic parachute is just like normal one, only with surface area 10^60 times smaller (and it is vigorously shaken each time a part of original full sized parachute is cut away).

    It has added advantage of turning Greg’s chances, if he is willing to participate, of having real parachute to 1 chance in 4.

  66. #66 puppygod
    May 20, 2013

    Again, such glaring ignorance about homeopathy. It’s not just succusions and dilutions. There is “like cures like” rule there, too. Homeopathic parachute would be dew collected from the lead weight.
    /irony off

  67. #67 The Smith of Lie
    May 20, 2013

    I admit, I made a blunder here. I concentrated on the dillution increasing potency of the intervention. So, if normal parachute is potent, the one I described above should be even better, possibly it would be an outright flying device!

    Still, the idea of lead weight dew is perfectly interesting and validates the need of 5th experimental group.

  68. #68 imsd007
    May 20, 2013

    @ lilady

    Hyperbolic press releases of universities raise red flags all the time, but they are typically not written by the scientists who authored the study.
    Direct link to paper:
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264410X13004532

  69. #69 Autismum
    http://autismum.com/
    May 20, 2013
  70. #70 The Smith of Lie
    May 20, 2013

    @ Autismum

    Wait a second now, lady! If lead causes autism it only means that vaccines are full of the stuff (lead that is), not that there is no proven causal link between the two.

    Seriously, how can you not see the connection people…

  71. #71 Denice Walter
    May 20, 2013

    Or as the woo-entranced would have it:
    Autism is a fx of whatever variables I don’t like/ think unnatural and
    those variables are weighted so as to reflect the degree of dislike I have for them.

  72. #72 Mewens
    May 21, 2013

    I’m a copy editor, and the false balance is a very real phenomenon. It’s not the only contributing factor, though; many reporters are allergic to numbers and imagine science is about mixing bubbling flasks and screaming “Eureka”.

    There’s a few of us with a decent-to-strong math or science background – one of my colleagues has a biology major, for example – but many journalists are liberal arts types through-and-through. I’ve had to remove references to “chemical-free dyes,” for example.

    I guess what I’m saying is that you really can’t discount simple ignorance in situations like this; it’s one of the reasons why I think it’s critical that science be explained cleanly to lay people.

  73. #73 Julian Frost
    Gauteng East Rand
    June 2, 2013

    I have a slight problem. You know I mentioned that “study” by Shaw and Tomljenovic? http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23016780
    Well, I decided to deconstruct it but I ran into a problem. I only get the abstract. When I went to the original the listed price was $58. If anybody can find a full copy of this “work” I would be grateful.

  74. #74 Narad
    June 2, 2013

    If anybody can find a full copy of this “work” I would be grateful.

    A PDF is the second Google hit for me. Looks like an uncorrected proof (prepagination, certainly).

  75. #75 Narad
    June 2, 2013

    (And if this is representative of the final product, Bentham can’t competently set a table.)

  76. #76 Chris,
    June 2, 2013

    From that pdf you linked to Narad:

    CONFLICT OF INTEREST
    The authors confirm that this article content has no conflicts of interest.
    ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
    This work was supported by the Dwoskin, Lotus and Katlyn Fox Family Foundations. LT and CAS conducted a histological analysis of autopsy brain samples from a Gardasil-suspected death case.

    At least one of the authors of that paper were guests at a “vaccine safety” conference in Jamaica:
    http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/2011/10/06/the-2011-vaccine-safety-conference-in-jamaica/

  77. #77 Narad
    June 2, 2013

    Yah, Shaw’s involvement with the Jasmine Renata case, which is presumably being directly referred to here, might strike some as a conflict of interest. However, I am one to be easily distracted by abysmal typesetting (check out the references). I’d say the editing is equally bad, but my default assumption these days is that there wasn’t any.

  78. #78 Narad
    June 2, 2013

    I seem to recall that T&S have committed the “ASO4″ blunder in the past, as well (it should be “AS04″). You’d think that putative experts on aluminum adjuvants could get this little detail of the name of what they’re talking about straight.

  79. #79 Chris,
    June 2, 2013

    My issue is that the AoA group will reject any vaccine safety paper by unilaterally claiming it was funded by “Big Pharma”, when in fact it is a study done by the UK’s National Health Service, the USA’s Centers for Disease Control, or even the health maintenance organization Kaiser Permanente (whose main goal is to spend as few dollars to Big Pharma as possible).

    But yet, they will gladly embrace studies funded by groups who have ties with anti-vaccine groups like NVIC, like the Dwoskin Familly Foundation. And the Katlyn Fox Family Foundations seems to have set bias:
    http://katlynfoxfoundation.com/

    Unfortunately, since the word is so common, I can’t find anything on the “Lotus Family” foundation. There was a website that was registered, but it expired and you can buy it at GoDaddy: http://web.archive.org/liveweb/http://lotusfamilyfoundation.com?nr=0

  80. #80 Khani
    June 2, 2013

    #72 I’m a liberal arts-educated reporter too. That’s no excuse. If you don’t know anything about science you need to get educated, and learn to critically think. Otherwise, you really have no business being a reporter anyway.

  81. #81 herr doktor bimler
    June 3, 2013
  82. #82 lilady
    June 3, 2013

    @ herr doktor bimler: Not according to his ex-wife…

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/03/michael-douglas-oral-sex-_0_n_3380751.html

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