Pharyngula

Attempted suppression of Seidel

The Sykes family has my sympathy — they have an autistic child, and that has to be difficult. My sympathy is limited, however, by the fact that are lashing out seeking to blame someone, have bought into the thimerosal hysteria, have hired a bottom-feeding shyster to sue various pharmaceutical companies, and said unethical ambulance-chaser is now using the power of the subpoena to harrass and intimidate bloggers who aren’t at all involved in the case, but have simply written about the absence of a thimerosal-autism link.

They have subpoenaed Kathleen Seidel of the Neurodiversity blog for, well, just about anything they can think of. She isn’t involved in the trial otherwise; she is a knowledgeable person with no special inside information on either the Sykes or the drug company, but has only written critically about the case as an outsider. For that, her reward is that a lawyer with a history of attempts to use bad science in legal cases wants to silence her.

There’s more on the case at Pure Pedantry and Overlawyered.

Comments

  1. #1 Michelle
    April 4, 2008

    The best thing she can do is not back down. Internet is a free country. And seriously, FUCK them. Pharmaceuticals have nothing to do with their poor child’s state.

    It’s terrible but there is no one to blame. It happens.

  2. #2 wazza
    April 4, 2008

    What grounds does he have to do anything to anyone apart from the manufacturers of thimerosal?

    Anyway, autism is awful for the family, but there’s a growing movement now amongst adult autism sufferers to promote actual understanding, rather than a search for a “cure”.

  3. #3 Armchair Dissident
    April 4, 2008

    I’m clearly not a lawyer, because this just seems screwed. How is it that a lawyer can just arbitrarily “command” someone to give deposition in a civil case? Even overlooking that fact that the parent’s are barking up the wrong tree, Kathleen is a private individual – this seems like a horribly intrusive way to run a civil legal system.

  4. #4 Dan
    April 4, 2008

    Oy! America certainly is a childish place.

  5. #5 Kyle
    April 4, 2008

    She isn’t being sued, she’s being subpoenaed, which is will within the plaintiffs’ right to do. If she doesn’t want to to testify or turn over documents, she probably won’t have to: I doubt there are many judges in this country who would uphold such a demanding subpoena for someone completely unrelated. If it weren’t for the demands of materials, the subpoena would hold up easily, I believe.

    I would just be careful about blaming the legal system and starting to scream “frivolous!”, it’s just an overzealous lawyer. I work with lawyers a lot (my job entails it) and while I know that they are greedy and make too much money, they are one of the only groups of people standing between the American people and a corporate world where an individual-vs-corporation lawsuit is a thing of the past. Those goons at Overlawyered.com want “tort reform” and they want it in copious amounts. And that’s not a conspiracy: Ted Frank from overlawyered heads up (or used to) the “liability project” at the American Enterprise Institute. Walter Olson from overlawyered is a “tort reform advocate” (or “corporate puppet”) as well.

  6. #6 sharon
    April 4, 2008

    Despite what you might have seen on TV over the past few days thanks to the pity party of a portion of autism advocates, autism is not necessarily “awful for the family” and I speak as the mum to a very autistic boy. It helps to understand the different wiring he’s inherited and to adapt our life style to suit his needs and preferences. As such, having a disabled son has made me and many parents I know, rethink much of what they previously thought about science, disability, the meaning of ‘normal’ and even faith issues. Kathleen Seidel is herself, mother to an autistic child.

    Right, now I’ve got that off my chest, this subpoena appears to be a disgraceful attempt to suppress Kathleen’s discussions on Shoemaker and the Rev. Sykes. She has pointed out the extent of Shoemaker’s earnings on vaccine litigations, and has described Sykes’ collaboration with the Griers and their “research” of a chemical castration agent as a treatment for autism. Yes really.

    I have a list of the blogs discussing this.

  7. #7 Dan
    April 4, 2008

    Oy! America certainly is a childish place.

  8. #8 raven
    April 4, 2008

    There is a lot of evidence now that autism has a strong genetic component. Ditto schizophrenia.

    The parents should sue themselves or rather their genetic material.

  9. #9 Dan
    April 4, 2008

    Whoa… Scienceblogs seems to be a little glitchy today. Sorry about the double post. I had… ummm… an error –a 500 error which is considerably more serious than a 400, or paltry 300 error.

    500 is the stuff dreams are made of.

  10. #10 baley
    April 4, 2008

    It has to be someone’s fault or they would be forced to sue God. But they are too religious to do that my guess is!

  11. #11 wazza
    April 4, 2008

    Uh, yeah, perhaps I should have put that better…

    Autism can be awful for the family if they have trouble communicating due to their child’s different wiring

    that said, family friends with lots of kids, and one of twins with Asbergers = not good. The other kids started using her strategies to get things they wanted, but in a more obnoxious way.

  12. #12 Clan:Rewired
    April 4, 2008

    Is there anyone who can explain what the motives are that drives these people to so rabidly attack pharmacutical companies for causing autism, where did that come from? And why does it often go hand in hand with the religious right? I really don’t get it and haven’t read much about it besides on these blogs, it seems to be a problem mostly situated in the US. I get the suspician towards pharmaceutical companies, it is not in their interest to completely cure people as that would put them out of business. But a conspirancy so big, with so many involved, the proof to support such a conspirancy should be overwhelming, no way people are going to shut up about it, too much money and fame to be made by opening the case wide open. And what would be the argument for willingly causing autism? Really nobody has benefit from having masses of autistic people that need looking after to and taken care of. And again, why the fanaticism to go after people that report on the cases that simply have a different opinion of it? It really does feels like the antics usually subscribed to by the religious fundies.

  13. #13 davem
    April 4, 2008

    Your bottom feeders have set up a a poll. Anyone can vote – and as I discovered, can vote often. Six or seven others doing same can reverse the trend…

  14. #14 Phoenix Woman
    April 4, 2008

    The “subpoena” is a joke. I’ve seen huff-and-puff letters that were better constructed.

    I expect that $50,000 plus court costs for burdening the judicial system with this frivolity will make S&S back off right quick.

  15. #15 Fire Ant
    April 4, 2008

    Here’s a couple of good articles on this issue from the Skeptical Inquirer:
    http://www.csicop.org/si/2007-06/novella.html
    http://www.csicop.org/si/2007-06/judelsohn.html

  16. #16 Schmeer
    April 4, 2008

    After reading the summary of legal proceedings up to this point and the ever changing claims made by the plaintiffs it seems to me that this lawyer is one scum-bag mother fucker.

    Doesn’t this subpoena constitute harrassment of Kathleen? She is just an observer on the sidelines and now the lawyer seems to be unfairly targeting her and prying into all sorts of irrelevant aspects of her life.

    This prick deserves to have his license to practice law revoked.

  17. #17 James T.
    April 4, 2008

    Ewww, you linked to overlawyered?

    I’m sure they’ll be surprised at all the liberals suddenly visiting their website; it’s basically a front for the AEI and other conservative think tanks to voice their “concern about frivolous lawsuits.”

    Which is code for “concern about corporate bottom lines.”

    That being said, the lawyer is extremely out of line and the judge will tell Seidel to ignore it. I don’t know if it’s an attempt to intimidate, though, because it wouldn’t really serve his purpose. Someone accuses you of something on a blog, so you subpoena them to talk about it in court? In front of a judge or possibly a jury? Is that the best way to uphold your reputation as a lawyer, if you plan on winning cases? I think the guy’s just an idiot.

  18. #18 raven
    April 4, 2008

    She should file a Motion to Quash. No lawyers cannot just subpoena anyone and get away with it. Or rather they can and people are free to dispute their subpoena and without probable legal justification it is thrown out.

    Alternatively she could just testify and ask for witness fees and travel time. Happened to me once in a civil case and I told them they had to reimburse me for witness fees, travel expenses, and time for a document search. The lawyers grudgingly agreed to do so.

    Never happened. They also figured out it wasn’t going to help their case and dropped it.

  19. #19 Schmeer
    April 4, 2008

    Your bottom feeders have set up a a poll.

    Voting (particularly in unscientific polls) is fun!

  20. #20 Ruth
    April 4, 2008

    When my daughter was diagnosed with PDD-NOS (part of autism spectrum), Kathleen’s blog was a source of science-based information that helped me. I realize I probably have Asperger’s.

    The anti-vaxers range from granola moms concerned about traces of toxins to Phyllis Schafly. ERV reported on an anti-vax talk she attended in a whole foods store. The problem is elevating feelings over facts. Jenny McCarthy will get more sympathy than any dose-response curves I can draw.

  21. #21 Glen Davidson
    April 4, 2008

    It’s the old situation where something goes very badly, and they have to blame someone.

    Well, it can’t be atheists this time, so it’s thimerosal. Which isn’t used any more (probably that’s for the best), and yet autism doesn’t decrease (the count continues to go up, probably due to greater awareness).

    There’s never been more than the slightest evidence that thimerosal could be to blame, but what’s evidence when you are out to blame somebody?

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  22. #22 Glen Davidson
    April 4, 2008

    Jenny McCarthy will get more sympathy than any dose-response curves I can draw.

    I noticed that recently she’s claiming that she cured her son with diet. And, using her as the source again, others say that he must have never had it, but she’s sure that’s simply an excuse for those who believe it never goes away.

    Count me among the skeptics (not a naysayer, I’m waiting on better evidence), but if her son has dramatically improved it’s certainly a personal triumph for them.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  23. #23 wazza
    April 4, 2008

    Not just out to blame someone, Glen, but out to blame them and take their money!

    muahahahahahahahaha!

  24. #24 Peter
    April 4, 2008

    Ruth#22
    don’t overanalyse yourself: the pathologisation (hope I got that right) of personality traits is a game that even more respectable science commentators play. Real Aspergers is a crippling condition, which you almost certainly don’t have.

    In the UK there are also big problems with the parents of Autistic children, egged on by elements on the left or in the media, blaming it on the MMR innoculation. The balance of scientific opinion is overwhelmingly that it’s nothing to do with MMR, and the consequence is that many children are suffering infections, sometimes with serious results, because of all the publicity.

    My heart goes out to the parents of handicapped children, and I can almost understand them suing left right and centre to try to get some financial support. But the consequences for society and the development of drugs are absolutely dire.

    Peter

  25. #25 Orac
    April 4, 2008

    Ewww, you linked to overlawyered?
    I’m sure they’ll be surprised at all the liberals suddenly visiting their website; it’s basically a front for the AEI and other conservative think tanks to voice their “concern about frivolous lawsuits.”

    Whatever your opinion of Overlawyered’s other commentary, on the issue of vaccines and autism and the frivolous lawsuits spawned by a scientifically discredited concept, Overlawyered is right on. These “vaccine injury” suits are frivolous lawsuits, and this subpoena is clearly issued with the intent to punish Kathleen for her previous blog posts by going on an open-ended fishing expedition designed to dig up dirt and intimidated. Olson called it like it was, and he was right to do so.

    I linked to Overlawyered too, over this issue and make no apologies for it. The post there hits the nail squarely on the head.

  26. #26 AK47
    April 4, 2008

    As a parent of a kid with autism, I meet a fair number of other parents in my situation. And I see a fair amount of denial around the time when the initial diagnosis comes around (and in some cases, for a long time afterwards). I think that the urge to find a culprit and make them pay is just a part of the denial. It’s not rational and it’s not helpful, but it’s understandable.

  27. #27 lytefoot
    April 4, 2008

    Some friends of my family have a child who had a genuine, severe allergic reaction to early infancy vaccines. It happens, though rarely. After conference with their pediatrician, they decided their other children had too high a chance of a similar adverse reaction, and not to vaccinate them as infants. This is a perfectly rational decision, one I think most of us can get behind, based on the relative likelihood of an adverse reaction and actual exposure to the diseases in question.

    Unfortunately, they didn’t stop there. They’ve jumped on this entire anti-vax bandwagon, and jumped hard. The worst of it is, they’re very active in the neighborhood, and they’re pitching it to the neighbors. Many of these people can’t afford to care for a child with, say, scarlet fever, either from the standpoint of health care spending or on a time front; many of these people have lots of children. Trying to talk low-income families, many of whom are already suspicious of the child services infrastructure, OUT of getting their infants vaccinated (a free service in my city) has got to be Evil.

  28. #28 Damian
    April 4, 2008

    In case people don’t bother to read further, this is what the subpoena demands:

    9. The subpoena commands production of “all documents pertaining to the setup, financing, running, research, maintaining the website http://www.neurodiversity.com” – including but not limited to material mentioning the plaintiffs – and the names of all persons “helping, paying or facilitating in any fashion” my endeavors. The subpoena demands bank statements, cancelled checks, donation records, tax returns, Freedom of Information Act requests, LexisNexis® and PACER usage records. The subpoena demands copies of all of my communications concerning any issue which is included on my website, including communications with representatives of the federal government, the pharmaceutical industry, advocacy groups, non-governmental organizations, political action groups, profit or non-profit entities, journals, editorial boards, scientific boards, academic boards, medical licensing boards, any “religious groups (Muslim or otherwise), or individuals with religious affiliations,” and any other “concerned individuals.”

    From someone who has nothing to do with the case! This is clearly an attempt at intimidation. Holy Freakin’ Moly!

  29. #29 Glen Davidson
    April 4, 2008

    Good point, wazza.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  30. #30 Ruth
    April 4, 2008

    Peter-#24
    When I was a child, I would not make eye contact, and avoided people-my parents said I was just very shy. That and some sensory issues and obsessive interests would probably meet DSM-IV criteria. I don’t think everyone with social problems is autistic. Humans have a range of traits, and all of us have some of the traits labeled as autism. Many people who were odd like me grew up to be sort-of-functioning adults, without the quack cures being marketed now. Just because I can type doesn’t mean I haven’t experienced depression and missed social cues that affected my day-to-day functioning.
    My brother is face-blind, but was not diagnosed until age 45. I respect your point that Asperger’s should not be treated flipantly, but the broadened diagnostic criteria is likely how we reached the 1 in 150 having autism.

  31. #31 wÒÓ†
    April 4, 2008
  32. #32 Krubozumo Nyankoye
    April 4, 2008

    For more background from Britain take a look over at

    http://briandeer.com/mmr-lancet.htm

  33. #33 MAC
    April 4, 2008

    Is there anyone who can explain what the motives are that drives these people to so rabidly attack pharmacutical companies for causing autism, where did that come from? And why does it often go hand in hand with the religious right?
    I think it’s pretty understandable- it’s about people looking for a reason Why Bad Things Happen. If there’s a *reason*- whether it’s a drug gone wrong, or a vengeful God, or bad Karma, or Mercury in retrograde- whatever- it means there’s some *sense* to it, it gives you a bit of control. It means there are rules, it means maybe you could have prevented it, or can keep it from happening again. There’s some comfort in that.

    The truth- that sometimes bad things happen for no reason- not because you’re a bad person, not because it’s someone’s fault- can be pretty damn terrifying, and I can understand why people grasp at desperate things to give life structure.

  34. #34 Dianne
    April 4, 2008

    Ruth and Peter: I’m also not convinced that Asperger’s syndrome is a unitary entity in which people are equally effected by all of the possible manifestations. For example, by the ability to read people’s emotions from their expressions test, I have severe AS: my score was just barely outside the CI for random. OTOH, I’m able to maintain a relationship and career, which suggests a fairly neurotypical pattern. Is this AS or some variant thereof or just mildly eccentric brain wiring? Go figure.

    Personally, I think that the Sykes family would be best off if they admitted that they were upset and angry that their child was autistic, genuinely mourned the loss of the imagined “perfect child” and started working on loving and appreciating the child that they do have instead of looking for someone to blame and hoping that suing the right person will somehow turn their autistic child into the neurotypical child of their dreams. As far as anyone knows, it’s just bad luck or maybe poor choice of grandparents. It’s unfair and I hope that they get every form of aid they can to help the child live as happy and independent life as possible, but sometimes life is unfair and there’s just no one to blame.

  35. #35 SteveM
    April 4, 2008

    I hope that they get every form of aid they can to help the child live as happy and independent life as possible,

    Seems like this is exactly what they are trying to do; in the form of a large monetary settlement. I’m sure they realize the suit will not “correct” the autism, they just want the money and the right to place blame.

  36. #36 Sastra
    April 4, 2008

    The anti-vaxers share several characteristics with creationists, including a deep suspicion of science in general, and a strong respect for Other Ways of Knowing — personal experience, trusting God, nature’s intuition, ancient wisdom, folk knowledge, and/or “the mommy instinct.” As Ruth #20 put it, both groups have a tendency to go with feelings over facts. As a parent, you “just know” that your child would have been fine if they hadn’t had that shot. As a parent, you’re more than competent enough to decide if the science behind what they’re going to teach your child is True. The process of scientific investigation and testing isn’t seen as innovative, adversarial and competitive, but more like a church or exclusive club, where scientists get together at their conventions and journals to stand in circles, hold hands, and reinforce their beliefs (projection anyone?)

    Both anti-vax and creationists also seem to buy into a similar counterculture hero mindset, where the scenario pits simple piety against Big Science.

    It’s interesting that Clan:rewired in #12 identifies the anti-vaxxers with the Religious Right. Usually they tend to be identified with the Spiritual Left, and their belief that Nature wants what is best for us, so we should not interfere. But of course it draws from both sides — just as creationism also includes plenty of religious people on the ‘left’ side of the spectrum. Those would be the folks who see evolution as progressive and driven by Consciousness, with frequent miraculous punctuations helping the Life Force manifest itself into higher and higher levels of Spiritual Awareness.

  37. #37 Orac
    April 4, 2008

    Seems like this is exactly what they are trying to do; in the form of a large monetary settlement. I’m sure they realize the suit will not “correct” the autism, they just want the money and the right to place blame.

    Except that they are aiming at the wrong target and trying to lay the blame there. Neither the mercury in thimerosal-containing vaccines nor vaccines themselves are the cause of their child’s autism. The science is quite clear on this. Like creationist attacks on evolution, it is not a scientific controversy. The issue of whether vaccines cause autism or not is kept alive primarily by antivaccinationists who mistakenly believe that vaccines caused their children’s autism, facilitated by pseudoscientists like Dr. Mark Geier and Boyd Haley, who produce dubious studies, usually in dubious journals but occasionally they manage to slip one in a real peer-reviewed journal, claiming to support such a link; celebrity morons like Jenny McCarthy and her boyfriend Jim Carrey; and Kool Aid-drinking “journalists” like David Kirby and Dan Olmsted.

    Although I always have sympathy for parents raising autistic children, given how difficult it is, the Sykes lost any respect or sympathy I may have had remaining for them, even after their dubious lawsuits, when they decided to let their lawyer try to intimidate Kathleen Seidel. They no longer deserve my sympathy, only my contempt, and my contempt goes double for their lawyer, Clifford Shoemaker.

  38. #38 Umilik
    April 4, 2008

    Let’s just assume there’s a genetic component to autism and sue the parents.

  39. #39 Dianne
    April 4, 2008

    Seems like this is exactly what they are trying to do; in the form of a large monetary settlement. I’m sure they realize the suit will not “correct” the autism, they just want the money and the right to place blame.

    I’m not convinced. They’ve put their son through a series of poorly supported or completely discredited “treatments” all of which promise (without foundation) that they will cure autism. I think that the Sykes are convinced that if they just do the right thing, sue the right person, place the blame where it should be, their son will magically become neurotypical. Their approach is slightly more reality based than that of the family that prayed their diabetic daughter to death, but not much. There is no way currently to cure autism. There are behavioral techniques that can make life easier for autistic people and their families, but a cure is not available and endangering the kid with lupron and chelation is not going to make him not autistic. Nor is suing the makers of vaccines.

  40. #40 Dr Aust
    April 4, 2008

    PZ:

    When you were the recipient of some equally idiotic and blustering “legal chill” a while back, don’t I remember some civil liberties / right-to-free-speech-minded law Profs and/or lawyers offering pro bono help and advice? Perhaps you could refer them on to Kathleen.

  41. #41 brian
    April 4, 2008

    hey pz,

    i’m a big fan of the site, thought i’ve never commented. just might wanna change “shyster”. i know it’s not really a jewish thing anymore, but the word definitely has anti-semitic connotations. like, when i saw it, i was kind of taken back. i know you aren’t anti-semitic, but i might switch that up.

    -brian.

  42. #42 DanioPhD
    April 4, 2008

    Seems like this is exactly what they are trying to do; in the form of a large monetary settlement. I’m sure they realize the suit will not “correct” the autism, they just want the money and the right to place blame.

    A settlement for what? There is no scientific or medical data to back any claim that vaccine ingredients are in any way causative of ASD. As a parent, I can completely appreciate that a diagnosis of this nature would be really devastating. But rational thought has to kick in at some point. The frustration and sorrow these parents undoubtedly feel is no excuse for lashing out at the pharmaceutical industry, and certainly does not forgive the harrassment of an innocent third party like Kathleen. In this case they do NOT have the ‘right to place the blame’ anywhere but on bad, dumb, luck, and probably genetics.

    The parents, however misguided, at least have the excuse of emotion-driven decisions. The people involved like Geier, JB Handley, and David Kirby, who are fanning the flames of this pseudoscientific panic to the extent that we could see a resurgence of childhood diseases that have been all but eradicated in the last 50 years of the vaccine program, have no excuse. They are contemptible, fear-mongering bastards. And hand in hand with them are the myriad of quacks offering bogus ‘cures’ and ‘treatments’ for autism, capitalizing on the fear and desperation of the parents like parasites. They are ghouls, pure and simple.

  43. #43 Sastra
    April 4, 2008

    brian #41:
    Interesting — I didn’t know the word “shyster” ever had Jewish connotations in the first place. It just sounds like tough urban slang to me.

  44. #44 negentropyeater
    April 4, 2008

    It’s interesting that Shoemakers Ass. have a poll(?) asking people “Do you believe that thimerosol in vaccines has contributed to the autism epidemic?”
    Results are 71% No, 29% Yes

    Is this a new thing in the USA, where the validity of Scientific claims are determined through opinion polls ?

  45. #45 Glen Davidson
    April 4, 2008

    Interesting — I didn’t know the word “shyster” ever had Jewish connotations in the first place. It just sounds like tough urban slang to me.

    Well in fact it most likely come from the German, the root word being “Scheiss” (the “Scheiss-ter” being a shitty person–to deal with, in particular).

    Some people think it had something to do with Jews because of Shylock, the Jew in the Merchant of Venice. And of course there might have been association of “shyster” with Shylock since Shakespeare wrote it, but it’s apparently a “false association.”

    Can’t say whether it should be used or not. Seems a shame to give it up over an incorrect etymology, but on the other hand, I wouldn’t use it if people are offended by it (think of “niggard,” which has nothing to do with “nigger,” but sounds so close that it’s virtually unused today, save in discussing historical works). I don’t hear or see it often, for what it’s worth.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  46. #46 Midnight Rambler
    April 4, 2008

    Is this a new thing in the USA, where the validity of Scientific claims are determined through opinion polls ?

    No, actually it’s been the standard way of determination for quite some time.

  47. #47 I am Kathleen
    April 4, 2008

    “LexisNexis and PACER usage records”

    That was Kathleen’s correction.
    The actual subpoena demanded “Lexus Nexus” usage records.

    I think they should have asked about Ferraris too.

    You just can’t make this shit up.

  48. #48 David HM Spector
    April 4, 2008

    Hi PZ,

    My kid’s pediatrician had an interesting take on this whole fiasco, and given I am a computer scientist and not a pediatrician, geneticist, or an evolutionary biologist I’d love to get your take on it:

    His thoughts:

    As a physician for > 40 yrs he could not think of a single instance of a poison that that selects by gender. He suggested that if Thermisol were the culprit, shouldn’t the autism rates between boys and girls be roughly equal or even stilted towards girls since they represent the larger population? (I believe the numbers are somewhere around 4:1 in terms of boys with autism versus girls.)

    He thought that perhaps environmental exposure to some genetically damaging toxin or perhaps past paternal drug use was causing X chromosome damage passed on to the boys that is perhaps being counteracted in girls by redundant non-damaged genes.

    I am paraphrasing of course, but does this strike you as a more logical explanation or atl east a more logical line of argument..?

    regards,
    David

  49. #49 Liz Ditz
    April 4, 2008

    PZ, thank you for picking up on this issue. I fear that if the subpoena is not quashed, it will have a chilling effect on the blogosphere.

    I am one of the 100+ bloggers named in item 5 of the subpoena. I suspect that Shoemaker’s office just listed everybody on the Neurodiversity blogroll. I do write about autism and anti-vaccination lunacy, but it is a small part of my topic list.

    For those interested in following the discussion, I’m keeping a running list of blog comments at I Speak of Dreams.

  50. #50 gregor
    April 4, 2008

    Are scientific claims are determined through opinion polls?

    Silent Spring, anyone?

  51. #51 DanioPhD
    April 4, 2008

    David @#48: It’s a good question, but genetics is rarely that clear-cut. So far, to my knowledge, at least twelve different genes have been implicated in Autism Spectrum Disorders. At least two of these are on the X chromosome, but that leaves many more on the autosomal chromosomes common to males and females. Such clinically and genetically heterogeneous diseases usually take a great deal of time and effort to study, so it is frustrating for all concerned–parents, clinicians, and researchers–in the interim.

  52. #52 True Bob
    April 4, 2008

    Personally, I think that the Sykes family would be best off if they admitted that they were upset and angry that their child was autistic, genuinely mourned the loss of the imagined “perfect child” and started working on loving and appreciating the child that they do have instead of looking for someone to blame and hoping that suing the right person will somehow turn their autistic child into the neurotypical child of their dreams.

    Spot on. Our son has Asperger’s, and we were actually relieved to get such a diagnosis. Until that point, we were battling Occam (he was diagnosed as ADHD, oh add General Anxiety Disorder, a touch of OCD,…). We read about the claims wrt Thimerosal (a mercury-based preservative for vaccines? That just sounds reckless), but realized that what was important wasn’t assigning blame, but getting him the help, counseling, and training he needs, as well as the training and such for us. He has come leaps and bounds in progress, and deserves a huge amount of credit for all the work he’s done. NOT helped by a distracting and malicious lawsuit, regardless of the potential cash payout.

  53. #53 David HM Spector
    April 4, 2008

    DanioPhD @ #51

    I should have been a little more clear in my paraphrasing: He though perhaps one explanation for the higher prevalence among boys might be some X chromosome issue … but his over arching point was the issue that this is a really complex genetic issue and that the Thermisol debate should be a non-starter given the ratio which is completely off given that boys and girls are vaccinated equally.

    On the slapping down this as an issue, I do wonder why I haven’t seen anyone raise the ratio issue at all… it would seem to be a coupe de grace for the whole argument against Thermisol.

    _David

  54. #54 angrynight
    April 4, 2008

    I wonder if the relevant jurisdiction in this case has anti-SLAPP statutes.

  55. #55 raven
    April 4, 2008

    It now looks like genetics account for most autistic cases. There are probably dozens or hundreds of alleles that each have a small effect, like SZ, rather than a few autism genes.

    Thimerosol was taken out of vaccines years ago. Probably a good idea. Few if any vaccines these days contain thimerosol. The incidence of autism just keeps going up anyway. So much for that theory.

    Pediatrics. 2004 May;113(5):e472-86. Links
    The genetics of autism.Muhle R, Trentacoste SV, Rapin I.
    Class of 2004, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York 10461, USA.

    Autism is a complex, behaviorally defined, static disorder of the immature brain that is of great concern to the practicing pediatrician because of an astonishing 556% reported increase in pediatric prevalence between 1991 and 1997, to a prevalence higher than that of spina bifida, cancer, or Down syndrome. This jump is probably attributable to heightened awareness and changing diagnostic criteria rather than to new environmental influences. Autism is not a disease but a syndrome with multiple nongenetic and genetic causes. By autism (the autistic spectrum disorders [ASDs]), we mean the wide spectrum of developmental disorders characterized by impairments in 3 behavioral domains: 1) social interaction; 2) language, communication, and imaginative play; and 3) range of interests and activities. Autism corresponds in this article to pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition and International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision. Except for Rett syndrome–attributable in most affected individuals to mutations of the methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 (MeCP2) gene–the other PDD subtypes (autistic disorder, Asperger disorder, disintegrative disorder, and PDD Not Otherwise Specified [PDD-NOS]) are not linked to any particular genetic or nongenetic cause. Review of 2 major textbooks on autism and of papers published between 1961 and 2003 yields convincing evidence for multiple interacting genetic factors as the main causative determinants of autism.

  56. #56 SteveM
    April 4, 2008

    I wrote:

    Seems like this is exactly what they are trying to do; in the form of a large monetary settlement. I’m sure they realize the suit will not “correct” the autism, they just want the money and the right to place blame.

    A settlement for what? There is no scientific or medical data to back any claim that vaccine ingredients are in any way causative of ASD.

    I agree completely, but what is the purpose of a lawsuit? To place blame and be compensated with money. That is their hope, whether they actually have a case or not is a seperate issue. I am not claiming they have a case, I’m just saying that they are trying to “ease their pain” with money. Also, no matter how ill informed their understanding of medicine and science (which led them to quack cures) I can’t believe they think that the result of the lawsuit would be a “cure” for their son’s autism. Does anybody believe a “wrongful death” suit will bring their loved one back to life or that a malpractice suit will heal their injury? Of course not, but they do want to be compensated for their suffering and the only possible remedy is money.

    In no way do I believe they have a valid case, but I still say the lawsuit is about laying blame and monetary compensation, not curing the condition.

  57. #57 raven
    April 4, 2008

    PZ, thank you for picking up on this issue. I fear that if the subpoena is not quashed, it will have a chilling effect on the blogosphere.

    I am one of the 100+ bloggers named in item 5 of the subpoena. I suspect that Shoemaker’s office just listed everybody on the Neurodiversity blogroll. I do write about autism and anti-vaccination lunacy, but it is a small part of my topic list.

    Just file a Motion to Quash. For the 100 bloggers, dragnet subpoenas are illegal.

    What is illegal are frivolous and malicious lawsuits and abuse of process, both can be civil torts and abuse of process can also be a criminal violation in some jurisdictions. The lawyer is just thrashing around trying to look busy and huffing and puffing. I hope the parents aren’t paying him upfront or they are wasting their money.

    It is worth paying attention to but not worth worrying much about. Unless someone with a blog was secretly putting massive amounts of thimerosol in vaccines as a hobby [and got caught!], their liability is about zero.

    I’d be far more concerned about going through the subpoena motions and not getting witness fees, travel costs, and document search time. Do you know how long it can take to search a filing cabinent for a lawyer you don’t much like?

  58. #58 Schmeer
    April 4, 2008

    Results are 71% No, 29% Yes

    That’s funny. When I first went to that site the results were skewed much more in favor of pseudo science.

    I have no idea how that might have happened!

  59. #59 SC
    April 4, 2008

    raven,

    She has already filed a Motion to Quash. It’s linked to above in the original post (“subpoenaed…”).

  60. #60 DanioPhD
    April 4, 2008

    On the slapping down this as an issue, I do wonder why I haven’t seen anyone raise the ratio issue at all… it would seem to be a coupe de grace for the whole argument against Thermisol.

    Unfortunately, the only people who seem to have taken this out for a spin are the Mercury Militia, and they’ve taken it to a very scary place.

    SteveM:

    In no way do I believe they have a valid case, but I still say the lawsuit is about laying blame and monetary compensation, not curing the condition.

    Ok, yes, this is in fact the motivation behind most such cases. But as you originally posted this in response to an excerpt from Dianne’s comment, specifically : “I hope that they get every form of aid they can to help the child live as happy and independent life as possible”, perhaps you can understand the wish of the collective to clarify the validity of the case.

    Whatever the motivations of the Sykes and their representatives may be, they are misdirected and deluded. And, with people like Jenny McCarthy spewing lies about the evil medical/pharma conspiracy to harm children, and how she ‘cured’ her son with various medically baseless (and likely very spendy, only-a-D-list-star-with-an-A-list-boyfriend-can-afford-them) therapies, it’s not as much of a stretch to imagine monetary compensation being parlayed into a ‘cure’ as it might first appear.

  61. #61 Tom Marking
    April 4, 2008

    “Is there anyone who can explain what the motives are that drives these people to so rabidly attack pharmacutical companies for causing autism, where did that come from?”

    It’s being pushed by two well organized and well funded autism organizations in the United States. The first is ASA:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autism_Society_of_America

    The second is DAN!:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defeat_Autism_Now%21

    Both were founded by Dr. Bernard Rimland who recently died. He was a very powerful figure in the autism community since he was the one who debunked the “refrigerator mother” hypothesis concerning autism which was proposed by Bruno Bettelheim. Unfortunately Rimland became a strong backer of the vaccine theory of autism.

  62. #62 MartinM
    April 4, 2008

    Results are 71% No, 29% Yes

    Current results make no damn sense whatsoever:

    YES
    94 24.3%

    NO
    9 2.3%

    Number of Voters : 387

    What the hell?

  63. #63 MartinM
    April 4, 2008

    Ah, never mind, it’s now at roughly a 90/10 split, with sensible numbers. I suspect they removed a load of votes from the ‘no’ option and neglected to correct the total.

  64. #64 DanioPhD
    April 4, 2008

    And now it’s:
    YES
    95 88.8%
    NO
    12 11.2%

    Number of Voters : 107
    First Vote : Saturday, 15 March 2008 11:10
    Last Vote : Friday, 04 April 2008 09:32

    Hmmm…perhaps not such a bullet-proof method of determining science policy after all.

  65. #65 SteveM
    April 4, 2008

    Ok, yes, this is in fact the motivation behind most such cases. But as you originally posted this in response to an excerpt from Dianne’s comment, specifically : “I hope that they get every form of aid they can to help the child live as happy and independent life as possible”, perhaps you can understand the wish of the collective to clarify the validity of the case.

    True, I am often guilty of leaving too much implied and therefore easily misunderstood. What I was trying to say is that a large cash settlement would certainly help him live as happy and as independant as possible. It was not meant to endorse the validity of their claims, just recognition that money would certainly help them cope and possibly support him for the rest of his life.

  66. #66 Maria
    April 4, 2008

    Is it wrong if I find one redeeming quality of the original subpoena?

    It actually has the words “meow meow meow… blah blah blah”
    (I’m still giggling)

  67. #67 Schmeer
    April 4, 2008

    NO 96 50.3%
    YES 95 49.7%
    Number of Voters : 191

    Hmmm… that seems better.

  68. #68 Bureaucratus Minimis
    April 4, 2008

    Glen @ 45:

    According to my Merriam-Webster Collegiate, the etymology of “Shyster” is: prob fr. Scheuster fl1840 Am attorney frequently rebuked in a New York Court for pettifoggery. It says nothing of Scheuster’s ethno-religous identity.

  69. #69 Azkyroth
    April 4, 2008

    I noticed that recently she’s claiming that she cured her son with diet. And, using her as the source again, others say that he must have never had it, but she’s sure that’s simply an excuse for those who believe it never goes away.

    Count me among the skeptics (not a naysayer, I’m waiting on better evidence), but if her son has dramatically improved it’s certainly a personal triumph for them.

    I’m extremely skeptical of dietary claims for “curing” autism, since there’s no solid science establishing that anything which diet could address is even part of the problem, much less that these particular diets actually help. “Results” like this are most likely the products of confirmation bias, selective memory, and the fact that autistic children will often improve somewhat over time – the condition is a disability, not a complete developmental flatline.

    More later.

  70. #70 Mikewot
    April 4, 2008

    Strangely the poll appears to have disappeared. wonder why? 😉

  71. #71 Rebecca
    April 4, 2008

    Peter (and Ruth):

    That is why they call it an autism spectrum disorder rather than just “autism.” I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but even a friend who lived with me for two years didn’t know it. And yes, I’ve got it moderate-to-severe (depending on if I’m on the proper meds or not).

    My brother has it also. It destroyed his relationship with his ex-fiancee. I, on the other hand, have been married for the last 9 years (as of this past week) and with my husband for 11 years. Luckily, he’s an understanding (and infinitely patient) guy. The same disorder may not manifest the same way in every individual. My mother is schizophrenic and just able to live “on her own” with supervision in an apartment. I know another friend who is schizophrenic but who can hold down a job, a relationship, and function “mostly normally,” yet still has hallucinations that she is careful not to let other people on to.

    Autism is a continuum, not a discrete entity. Please remove the “Real Asperger’s” label from your head. 😉

  72. #72 Glen Davidson
    April 4, 2008

    According to my Merriam-Webster Collegiate, the etymology of “Shyster” is: prob fr. Scheuster fl1840 Am attorney frequently rebuked in a New York Court for pettifoggery. It says nothing of Scheuster’s ethno-religous identity.

    I have seen that one, but thought the other more convincing:

    shyster
    “unscrupulous lawyer,” 1843, U.S. slang, probably altered from Ger. Scheisser “incompetent worthless person,” from Scheisse “shit,” from O.H.G. skizzan “to defecate” (see shit).

    http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?l=s&p=20

    In any case, none of the commonly accepted etymologies for it have connections to Jews.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  73. #73 ungtss
    April 4, 2008

    Not a big fan of litigation for crap like this (particularly before there’s a proven link between the two), and big fan of the maxim that “correlation does not equal causation,” especially in cases like these.

    However, to say that the link is an “overwhelmingly discredited hypothesis” based on the “studies” she cites is ridiculous. The argument she’s making is that “there is no link because reported cases continued to go up after use went down.” But autism has become a “fad condition,” like ADD — overly anxious parents see some of the symptoms (which most of us normal people have from time to time) and get the doc to prescribe a treatment!

    The point is this: Just because more cases are being diagnosed doesn’t mean there isn’t a link between the mercury and autism. Increased cases could be caused by any number of things IN ADDITION to the mercury, to include its having become a “fad condition.” It’s possible that the cases DUE TO MERCURY are decreasing, while the cases due to “OMG my baby’s really focused on those blocks and I heard about autism on the news!” are increasing. We don’t know.

    Of all people to be aware of this fact, you’d think an advocate of “diversity in human wiring” would be one of them. But she seems to conveniently forget that point when it comes to using the “study” to aid her argument.

    Real scientists would actually study the effect of mercury on the brain. But renaming your biases “science” is cheaper and easier, I guess.

  74. #74 Torbjrn Larsson, OM
    April 4, 2008

    Another attempted suppression is PZ’s expelling from Expelled. Now the journalist showings have started.

    Dave Mosher, LiveScience Staff Writer:

    “Expelled” is smattered with gloomy scenes of the Berlin Wall’s construction, the Holocaust and other World War II-era footage, with Stein arguing during the course of it that a handful of academics have been persecuted for their beliefs that run counter to the scientific establishment.

    Many of the ID supporters and sympathizers Stein interviews in the movie, however, were let go, not offered tenure or other career incentives because of expired contracts, improper publishing ethics and other conduct unrelated to their religious views, according to university and institution spokespeople who appeared in “Expelled.”

    Stein claims he “encountered many more [academics] who didn’t want to appear on film,” because of their fear of being persecuted.

    But among the millions of scientists currently working in schools and institutions across the world, thousands of whom are trained evolutionary biologists, the overwhelming consensus is that evolution is a well-supported theory backed by observations in several fields using multiple lines of evidence.

    In a press release issued by Premise Media, which has also helped finance “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” movies, film producer Walt Ruloff claims the makers avoided distorting interviews.

    “The incredible thing about ‘Expelled’ is that we don’t resort to manipulating our interviews for the purpose of achieving the ‘shock effect,'” Ruloff said.

    But Michael Schermer, editor of “Skeptic Magazine” and an on-screen interview in the movie, said Stein and Mathis asked him the same question a dozen times during his interview for the film to extract an answer they were looking for.

    “In frustration I finally said something like ‘Do you have any other questions to ask me or do you keep asking me this question in hopes that I’ll give a different answer?'” according to a statement by Schermer on richarddawkins.net.

    During a March 20 screening of “Expelled” at the Mall of America in Minneapolis, which Myers registered to attend via a public Web site with his family, he was asked to leave by security while standing in line.

    The security guard said a film producer gave the orders to remove Myers from the theater.

    According to various news reports, producers accused Myers of being a “gatecrasher” — someone trying to attend an event uninvited — but he was registered for the event via the open, online registration process. Dawkins, who also registered to attend the screening, saw the documentary without incident along with Myers’ family.

    “It’s an incredible piece of inept public relations to expel somebody … from a film about expelling people for their opinions,” Dawkins said during a videotaped discussion with Myers, “a film in which [Myers is] present, and acknowledged and thanked in the acknowledgements at the end of the film.”

    “Expelled” opens in theaters nationwide starting on April 18.

    [My emphasis.]

    Damn, PZ is becoming as famous for where he is not as for where he stands.

  75. #75 Torbjrn Larsson, OM
    April 4, 2008

    Another attempted suppression is PZ’s expelling from Expelled. Now the journalist showings have started.

    Dave Mosher, LiveScience Staff Writer:

    “Expelled” is smattered with gloomy scenes of the Berlin Wall’s construction, the Holocaust and other World War II-era footage, with Stein arguing during the course of it that a handful of academics have been persecuted for their beliefs that run counter to the scientific establishment.

    Many of the ID supporters and sympathizers Stein interviews in the movie, however, were let go, not offered tenure or other career incentives because of expired contracts, improper publishing ethics and other conduct unrelated to their religious views, according to university and institution spokespeople who appeared in “Expelled.”

    Stein claims he “encountered many more [academics] who didn’t want to appear on film,” because of their fear of being persecuted.

    But among the millions of scientists currently working in schools and institutions across the world, thousands of whom are trained evolutionary biologists, the overwhelming consensus is that evolution is a well-supported theory backed by observations in several fields using multiple lines of evidence.

    In a press release issued by Premise Media, which has also helped finance “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” movies, film producer Walt Ruloff claims the makers avoided distorting interviews.

    “The incredible thing about ‘Expelled’ is that we don’t resort to manipulating our interviews for the purpose of achieving the ‘shock effect,'” Ruloff said.

    But Michael Schermer, editor of “Skeptic Magazine” and an on-screen interview in the movie, said Stein and Mathis asked him the same question a dozen times during his interview for the film to extract an answer they were looking for.

    “In frustration I finally said something like ‘Do you have any other questions to ask me or do you keep asking me this question in hopes that I’ll give a different answer?'” according to a statement by Schermer on richarddawkins.net.

    During a March 20 screening of “Expelled” at the Mall of America in Minneapolis, which Myers registered to attend via a public Web site with his family, he was asked to leave by security while standing in line.

    The security guard said a film producer gave the orders to remove Myers from the theater.

    According to various news reports, producers accused Myers of being a “gatecrasher” — someone trying to attend an event uninvited — but he was registered for the event via the open, online registration process. Dawkins, who also registered to attend the screening, saw the documentary without incident along with Myers’ family.

    “It’s an incredible piece of inept public relations to expel somebody … from a film about expelling people for their opinions,” Dawkins said during a videotaped discussion with Myers, “a film in which [Myers is] present, and acknowledged and thanked in the acknowledgements at the end of the film.”

    “Expelled” opens in theaters nationwide starting on April 18.

    [My emphasis.]

    Damn, PZ is becoming as famous for where he is not as for where he stands.

  76. #76 Josh
    April 4, 2008

    Lawyers take an oath to be zealous advocates for their clients, not to play fair. When a lawyer gets overzealous and files frivolous pleadings, the penalty is usually no more than a sanction from the judge. On the other hand, if he fails to do something that he should have done to win, he could lose his shirt in a malpractice suit.

  77. #77 Kseniya
    April 4, 2008

    I think the perceived (but apparently baseless) Jewish overtones of “Shyster” come from the subconscious, phonetical association one is apt to draw between “Shyster” and Shakespeare’s “Shylock”.

  78. #78 Azkyroth
    April 4, 2008

    Ruth#22
    don’t overanalyse yourself: the pathologisation (hope I got that right) of personality traits is a game that even more respectable science commentators play. Real Aspergers is a crippling condition, which you almost certainly don’t have.

    The severity of ASDs varies significantly; that’s why they’re referred to as SPECTRUM disorders. A surprising number of people don’t understand this, which is apparently why our daughter’s first pediatrician summarily blew off her diagnosis of high-functioning autism (essentially because Joey did not display a complete and total emotional and interactional flatline – I wonder if she was confusing HFA with PVS); why the psychiatrists summarily refused to consider either Asperger’s as a possibile explanation for my peculiarities as a teenager or my repeatedly voiced observation that the description of the bipolar-variant they diagnosed me with – especially the cyclical element – was a very poor description of my actual symptoms; and probably why even today my psychiatrist has shied away from an actual Asperger’s diagnosis (PDD-NOS), essentially on the basis that the “narrow interests” component of my behavior wasn’t quite as pronounced as it was in some other patients (and in my childhood) and because I had “learned-like-you-learn-long-division” and trained myself to the point where, with a constant effort, I can cope with neurotypicals in social situations at all.

    Summarily blowing off everyone who displays and struggles with, but is not completely and irrevocably crippled by, the symptoms of autism-spectrum disorders does violence to reason and science, and a severe disservice to those struggling.

  79. #79 Kseniya
    April 4, 2008

    Oops, Glen already covered that! How’d I miss the Shylock reference? D’oh!

    Serves me right for feeling clever, and for not searching the thread until after posting my “insight” – LOL!

  80. #80 Azkyroth
    April 4, 2008

    The parents, however misguided, at least have the excuse of emotion-driven decisions.

    Emotion-driven decisions, by adults of sound mind, which cause harm to innocent parties, are not excusable.

  81. #81 Tom Marking
    April 4, 2008

    “Seems like this is exactly what they are trying to do; in the form of a large monetary settlement. I’m sure they realize the suit will not “correct” the autism, they just want the money and the right to place blame.”

    They may not even believe in the merits of their legal case. They may be going after anyone with deep pockets. As the parent of a child with autism (Zachary, age 5) I can tell you that even the most proven therapy (i.e., Applied Behavior Analysis) does not come cheap. At $30 per hour how many parents can afford the recommended 40 hours per week of this therapy? That’s $5,200 per month. There are very few middle class families that can afford such a therapy. It is not covered by most medical insurance and special ed in public schools don’t provide ABA in most states. If there was someone with deep pockets that I could go after I’d probably do the same damn thing just to get back at the system that has screwed me and my family over.

  82. #82 Carlie
    April 4, 2008

    The fact that it is a spectrum supports the idea that there may be multiple causes or interactions of causes. Even genetics isn’t a sure thing; there are several known cases of identical twins, one neurotypically average and one with severe autism. Needless to say, they also shared the same environment, diet, vaccines, etc.
    I sympathize with those parents, I really do. When my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s it was a combination of relief and anxiety and completely stunned, and I still can’t browse the special needs section at the bookstore without getting weepy and then being mad at myself for feeling bad about it. I guess where we differ is that my conclusion was “Ok, so now we know how to focus to help him through the world”, not “Ok, who can we sue for doing this to him?” People are different. Some people need more assistance in coping with the world than others. A million factors influence brain development. Anyone looking for a quick fix in this is tilting at windmills, and I’d say by the actions of these people, they are spending a hell of a lot more time being bitter and having the mindset that their child is “broken” than actually treating him as a person and trying their best to help him.

  83. #83 DanioPhD
    April 4, 2008

    Emotion-driven decisions, by adults of sound mind, which cause harm to innocent parties, are not excusable.

    Agreed–I personally don’t feel that their actions in this matter are excuseable, but I do feel that their circumstances–as the parents of an autistic child–are somewhat mitigating WHEN COMPARED TO the black-hearted bottom-feeding con artists and legal scum who are making money by exploiting the suffering of sick kids and their stricken families. They are all in the wrong, but there’s a distinction to be made, IMO, based on motive.

  84. #84 Moggie
    April 4, 2008

    Some people need more assistance in coping with the world than others.

    Indeed. But one of the plaintiffs is a pastor: she pretty much needs the ultimate assistance.

  85. #85 Ryan
    April 4, 2008

    I think Clifford Shoemaker is the leading cause of autism in American’s youth. Why are we injecting our children with this man?

  86. #86 Azkyroth
    April 4, 2008

    We read about the claims wrt Thimerosal (a mercury-based preservative for vaccines? That just sounds reckless)

    Intuitively, it would seem that way. But does it seem any more reckless than a food additive formed from a metal that reacts explosively with water (the human body is what, 85% water by weight?) and a deadly poison gas used as a chemical weapon in World War I?

  87. #87 Azkyroth
    April 4, 2008

    But autism has become a “fad condition,” like ADD — overly anxious parents see some of the symptoms (which most of us normal people have from time to time) and get the doc to prescribe a treatment!

    Do you have a single fact to back that up? Because considering the trouble I had to go to in order to get psychiatric professionals to even take ASD seriously as a possible explanation for my symptoms, I’m calling bullshit.

  88. #88 True Bob
    April 4, 2008

    Thanks Az, I know about NaCl (or more recently NaCL). Lead and mercury compounds are often poisonous and not so ubiquitous, even if there are harmless ones. I understand the desire to prevent tainting of vaccine stocks, but still …

    Anyway, I’ll also be watching out for that horrid near-universal solvent, dihydrogen oxide (shudder).

  89. #89 Azkyroth
    April 4, 2008

    My point was just that chemistry doesn’t always behave the way we intuitively expect it to.

  90. #90 True Bob
    April 4, 2008

    With you again on #86, Azkyroth. Since we had a series of accumulated diagnoses (Hiya, Occam!) from an actual Doctor, it was like pulling teeth to get alternatives considered. We eventually contacted some neurologists (not partners) who confirmed Asperger’s.

    I’ll also second or third or nth the remarks about spectrum. Some folks on the high end will just seem kind of quirky, and those on the low end will show the stereotypical “not in this reality” mode.

  91. #91 T. Bruce McNeely
    April 4, 2008

    Kyle comments:
    I would just be careful about blaming the legal system and starting to scream “frivolous!”, it’s just an overzealous lawyer. I work with lawyers a lot (my job entails it) and while I know that they are greedy and make too much money, they are one of the only groups of people standing between the American people and a corporate world where an individual-vs-corporation lawsuit is a thing of the past.

    That’s as may be, but who besides the “goons” at Overlawyered are standing between the American people and “overzealous” lawyers?

  92. #92 freelunch
    April 4, 2008

    I wonder if the relevant jurisdiction in this case has anti-SLAPP statutes.

    It’s Federal. There are many ways to quash a subpoena, but anti-SLAPP isn’t one of them.

    That said. Mr. Shoemaker would not be sanctioned too severely if he ended up disbarred. He knows that he is milking the suffering of others by telling appealing lies that might manage to con a jury.

  93. #93 rp
    April 4, 2008

    The other thing I don’t think these parents are taking into account is that dragging their child from one quack to another to another, trying every treatment they hear of, suing anybody they can think of, is going to reinforce to the child that he is badly broken and needs fixing. That’s a terrible message to live with from such a young age, especially since they never are ‘fixed’. However much the parents tell the child that that’s not the case, their actions speak much louder than words.

  94. #94 Dee
    April 4, 2008

    #87 “I know about NaCl (or more recently NaCL)…..that horrid near-universal solvent, dihydrogen oxide (shudder).”

    *Snicker*

  95. #95 Russell Blackford
    April 4, 2008

    The subpoena will be thrown out. You can’t get away with issuing a subpoena to a third party seeking access to a whole lot of documents that don’t relate to facts that are in dispute in the case. She could, of course, give evidence as an expert, charging an appropriate fee, but her evidence would be hostile to the interests of the party that has issued the subpoena … so there’s no way that will happen.

    Unfortunately, she’s probably going to have to pay to get legal representation to help her get this thrown out. She’d probably get costs against the plaintiff if this were happening in the UK or Australia – at least, I can’t imagine a court not awarding costs in her favour – but I don’t know the situation in the US with costs in interlocutory proceedings like these.

  96. #96 Citizen Z
    April 4, 2008

    However, to say that the link is an “overwhelmingly discredited hypothesis” based on the “studies” she cites is ridiculous. The argument she’s making is that “there is no link because reported cases continued to go up after use went down.” But autism has become a “fad condition,” like ADD — overly anxious parents see some of the symptoms (which most of us normal people have from time to time) and get the doc to prescribe a treatment!

    The problem with your idea is this: the amount of thimerosol in vaccines has been reduced dramatically, from 50 micrograms of thimerosal per dose or approximately 25 micrograms of mercury per 0.5 mL dose to either no thimerosal or 1 microgram or less mercury per dose (per the FDA). You can also note many vaccines with zero thimerosal content (Table 1).

    The point is this: Just because more cases are being diagnosed doesn’t mean there isn’t a link between the mercury and autism. Increased cases could be caused by any number of things IN ADDITION to the mercury, to include its having become a “fad condition.”

    You’ve got a more than 25 fold reduction in the amount of exposure to mercury. And you’ve got autism increasing. This means that these “any number of things IN ADDITION to the mercury” would have to increase the rate of autism at an incredible rate to make up for the lack of exposure to mercury. Even if we were to assume, for the sake of argument, and despite all evidence to the contrary, that mercury increases the rate of autism, what would that mean? It would mean that the amount of increase caused by mercury is positively dwarfed by those other things. Which means there are other things that are much, much more likely to cause autism than mercury.

    It’s possible that the cases DUE TO MERCURY are decreasing, while the cases due to “OMG my baby’s really focused on those blocks and I heard about autism on the news!” are increasing. We don’t know.

    That’s why we have scientists do studies.

    Of all people to be aware of this fact, you’d think an advocate of “diversity in human wiring” would be one of them. But she seems to conveniently forget that point when it comes to using the “study” to aid her argument.

    She cites 3 studies in the phrase “overwhelmingly discredited scientific hypothesis”, which are 3 more studies than you have cited for your “fad” hypothesis.

    Real scientists would actually study the effect of mercury on the brain. But renaming your biases “science” is cheaper and easier, I guess.

    They could study the effect of mercury on the brain*. If they are interested in what causes autism, however, it would be a waste of time.

    *In fact, I’m pretty sure they do.

    P.S. Don’t forget to check out the next season of The Sarah Connor Chronicles on Fox!

  97. #97 True Bob
    April 4, 2008

    Thanks Citizen Z, you reminded me of another complicator. To whit:

    From FDA (http://www.fda.gov/ola/2002/vaccinesautism1210.html)

    … it is possible in the U.S. to replace multi-dose vials with single dose vials, which do not require a preservative.

    Which of course means you need to know the specific storage/transport mode for the dose received. If you got your vaccine from a single dose vial (and how would you know) there would be no thimerosal to blame. All you can do is guess that yours came from a multi-dose vial.

  98. #98 TX CHL Instructor
    April 4, 2008

    The one variable that I keep running into most often as being associated with autism is gluten. That’s not likely to be the only cause, but I wouldn’t be surprised if autism is primarily diet-related (sugar, trans-fats, antibiotics, and preservatives are also likely suspects).

  99. #99 genesgalore
    April 4, 2008

    we don’t know shit, that’s the problem.

  100. #100 genesgalore
    April 4, 2008

    grandma used to say: “damn, jimmy is one hell of a berry picker”. today, the teach says: “you’re kid, jimmy, is disruptive”.

  101. #101 SEF
    April 4, 2008

    Do you know how long it can take to search a filing cabinent for a lawyer you don’t much like?

    No, but it sounds like a very cunning plan to put such lawyers into filing cabinets in the first place. How does one go about nominating a new candidate for your filing cabinet treatment (and are there any size restrictions)? 😉

  102. #102 genesgalore
    April 4, 2008

    who knows? my best guess is that thimerosal may exacebate autism. but we don’t know shit. take folate, that little “zipper” vitamin: too little and neurotubes may not close and palates left open. too much and you die from years of eating wonderbread. H2S, essential for life, too much, you die. Fossil fuel, rotf. CH4 and sweet crude, not from planetary formation: what the hell is Saturn’s Titan, a fluke?? WHEN DON’T KNOW SHIT.

  103. #103 genegalore
    April 4, 2008

    lol. if you are given less than fresh blood, you can die.

  104. #104 genesgalore
    April 4, 2008

    the point being: regardless of the thought; it can be advantageous to be skeptical without regard to certitude.

  105. #105 genesgalore
    April 4, 2008

    and huns before you all get too excited: NO, you can’t have my junk DNA cus i’m using it. and while we are at it, i’ll bet you money on a dollar that RNA created DNA. peace out. xo

  106. #106 genesgalore
    April 4, 2008

    so smart guys out there. this has always bugged me. did penguins ever really fly??? or did they just flipper???

  107. #107 CalGeorge
    April 4, 2008

    Off-topic:

    PZ, you need to do more cussin’!

    “Around 4.6% of the pages on your website contain cussing.This is 43% LESS than other websites who took this test.”

    http://www.oneplusyou.com/q/v/blog_cuss

    Try the Cuss-O-Meter!

  108. #108 HDB
    April 5, 2008

    In some impoverished countries where they see every day the suffering and death that diseases like measles and polio can cause, parents will do anything they can to get their kids immunized. In these countries, they sometimes have “National Vaccination Days” where health workers fan out across the country and people wait for hours in long lines to get immunized. Meanwhile, in more
    affluent countries some parents rely on no-talent actors and insipid talk show hosts (and the Internet, of course) for their health information. And of course it’s all a big conspiracy by Big Pharma, Big Government and the Evil Medical Establishment.

    Why am I surprised at all this? Don’t I know better by now? What’s wrong with me?

  109. #109 wazza
    April 5, 2008

    Who is genesgalore?

    Does it belong to anyone?

    Someone has to take responsibility…

    Methane is often outgassed early in the history of planets, but where life develops it should disappear due to photosynthesis giving off oxygen, which reacts with methane to produce CO2 and H2O

    Penguins evolved from flying birds, but these days they’re flightless, and that’s one of the definitions of penguins, so no, penguins, as fully evolved penguins, never flew except when used as footballs by bored whalers.

    Of course “less than fresh” blood can kill you. So can eating “less than fresh” meat, and that can’t get into your bloodstream so easily.

    As for RNA making DNA, it’s possible, but from what I understand, unlikely.

  110. #110 Alan Kellogg
    April 5, 2008

    wazza, #108

    The flying penguins remark refers to a BBC promo video available via You Tube. The keywords are “flying penguins”. It’s a nice blend of editing and special effects.

  111. #111 wazza
    April 5, 2008

    Alan: I’ve seen it. My answer is also correct, particularly since he uses the past tense. But thank you for correcting me in any case.

  112. #112 Azkyroth
    April 5, 2008

    we don’t know shit, that’s the problem.

    -genesgalore

    Speaking as a parent of an autistic child who’s actually read a fair amount of the research on the phenomenon, it’s obvious from your subsequent comments that you’re using the “royal ‘we’” here.

  113. #113 wazza
    April 5, 2008

    The editorial we, man!

  114. #114 The Enquierer
    April 5, 2008

    The pharmaceutical companises have blood on their hands, PZ, and you know it.

    Are you getting any money from them?

  115. #115 Mikewot
    April 5, 2008

    The Enquierer
    [quote]The pharmaceutical companises have blood on their hands, PZ, and you know it.[/quote]
    I don’t know it. have you got anything that might give us a hint about this blood on their hands. You know something that might give us some facts, or maybe even som (gulp) proof?

  116. #116 genesgalore
    April 5, 2008

    Penguins evolved from flying birds, but these days they’re flightless, and that’s one of the definitions of penguins, so no, penguins, as fully evolved penguins, never flew except when used as footballs by bored whalers.

    prove it.

  117. #117 wazza
    April 5, 2008

    Prove what? That they used to fly? Their anatomy and (I presume) fossil record bear out that they’re descended from flying birds.

    That they can’t fly? Their wings are too small to fly in air, though some have noted that in a denser medium, they can fly, and that’s how they swim underwater.

    That they were used as footballs by bored whalers? No way to prove it, but I know the sorts of ways men like that behave.

  118. #118 Monado, FCD
    April 5, 2008

    If one prays for a cure and doesn’t get it, can one sue the church?

  119. #119 David Marjanovi?, OM
    April 5, 2008

    H2S, essential for life, too much, you die.

    Essential for certain bacteria, but not for us. For us it’s as useless as hydrogen cyanide.

    Fossil fuel, rotf. CH4 and sweet crude, not from planetary formation: what the hell is Saturn’s Titan, a fluke??

    Huh? Methane is common in the solar system, especially this far out. When the sun shines (UV), some of that falls apart, and that’s why Titan has ethane and suchlike, too.

    WHEN DON’T KNOW SHIT.

    Stop assuming that everyone is as ignorant as you.

    (And stop using a spellchecker. Spellcheckers are counterproductive.)

    #104and huns before you all get too excited: NO, you can’t have my junk DNA cus i’m using it.

    As anything other than filler material to ensure your cells don’t get too small, you mean? Evidence?

  120. #120 David Marjanovi?, OM
    April 5, 2008

    H2S, essential for life, too much, you die.

    Essential for certain bacteria, but not for us. For us it’s as useless as hydrogen cyanide.

    Fossil fuel, rotf. CH4 and sweet crude, not from planetary formation: what the hell is Saturn’s Titan, a fluke??

    Huh? Methane is common in the solar system, especially this far out. When the sun shines (UV), some of that falls apart, and that’s why Titan has ethane and suchlike, too.

    WHEN DON’T KNOW SHIT.

    Stop assuming that everyone is as ignorant as you.

    (And stop using a spellchecker. Spellcheckers are counterproductive.)

    #104and huns before you all get too excited: NO, you can’t have my junk DNA cus i’m using it.

    As anything other than filler material to ensure your cells don’t get too small, you mean? Evidence?

  121. #121 Azkyroth
    April 5, 2008

    The pharmaceutical companises have blood on their hands, PZ, and you know it.

    Are you getting any money from them?

    Why are you anti-vaxers so eager to reintroduce horrific diseases and make children suffer? Are you simply sadists? Do you masturbate to the thought of children being crippled by polio?

    (Comments like this are kind of annoying, aren’t they?)

  122. #122 mothra
    April 5, 2008

    @Genesgalore

    You said ‘prove it.’ Surely you are not so foolish as to not know that what science does is compile evidence about how reality works. No one can ‘prove’ penquins once flew, but here is a quick overview of the evidence:

    Penguins do have the morphological specializations for flight (along with atrophied wings).

    The feather tracts showing the position of the covers, primary and secondary wing feathers are present in penguins and flying birds- absent in Emus and Kiwis (and I am not sure about Ostriches. A real ornithologist should be compiling this list.

    Based upon morphology, penguins were thought to share a common ancestor with the Procellariformes- Petrels, Albatrosses, etc. DNA hybridization evidence, Sibley & Ahlquist 1990, buries them in a clade which also includes Loons and Grebes. Either way, they are nested within the Neognathae rather than the Paleognathae with the Rattites- birds that never flew such as Ostriches, Emus, Kiwis, Rheas and Moas. In other words both morphological and DNA evidence indicates they had flying ancestors.

    In the northern hemisphere there is convergent evolution with the penguins- the alcids or Auks, Murres, Gullimots and Puffins. The Great Auk, now extinct, was a flightless alcid. While phylogenetically not a penguin, it had the penguin ‘lifestyle’ So we have a similar process in another group of birds. Incidentally, the term penguin was first applied to the Great Auk, and transferred later to the southern hemisphere birds.

    Genesgalore- too bad its all junk DNA

  123. #123 Mark E.
    April 5, 2008

    PZ,

    I love the site, but did you have to use the term “shyster”? That term has always carried with it some pretty strong anti-semetic connotations when I’ve heard it. I’m sure you weren’t implying anything anti-semetic by the comment, but it was certainly unnerving see you use it in your blog post.

  124. #124 wazza
    April 5, 2008

    Mark: read up the comments. We’ve covered the etymology (Well, they’ve covered it – I wasn’t here for that bit) and it’s not anti-semitic at all. Though it is from the german.

    I certainly wouldn’t think of it as anti-semitic. I’d apply it to any unscrupulous lawyer regardless of race.

  125. #125 genesgalore
    April 5, 2008

    H2S, essential for life, too much, you die.
    Essential for certain bacteria, but not for us. For us it’s as useless as hydrogen cyanide.

    oh really, so what the hell is it functioning as a gasotransmitter in your body.

  126. #126 wazza
    April 5, 2008

    Mothra, I should point out that Ratites did fly – I believe there are flying members of the group even today – it’s just that their development places the flight muscles and wings especially late in the sequence, so it’s easy to ditch them when they aren’t needed, which is why they’re overrepresented in the flightless birds

  127. #127 genesgalore
    April 5, 2008

    Genesgalore- too bad its all junk DNA

    Posted by: mothra | April 5, 2008 8:28 PM

    this one’s junk DNA is dysfunctional, rotf. why is it so difficult to imagine that the niche of air was filled from more than one source??? you are so linear.

  128. #128 genesgalore
    April 5, 2008

    Methane is often outgassed early in the history of planets, but where life develops it should disappear due to photosynthesis giving off oxygen, which reacts with methane to produce CO2 and H2O

    a long, long time ago a massive eruption of methane scorched this planet. kaboom. wonder where it came from??? oh that right, fossil fuel. btw, a billion years is a long, long time.

  129. #129 Azkyroth
    April 5, 2008

    why is it so difficult to imagine that the niche of air was filled from more than one source???

    Occam’s Razor?

  130. #130 Physicalist
    April 5, 2008

    Some people think it had something to do with Jews because of Shylock, the Jew in the Merchant of Venice.

    Aha! So it was Shakespeare who caused the Holocaust. (Well, he was at least a necessary condition, as the Expelled folks put it.) Time to purge our English Lit. departments!

  131. #131 shonny
    April 5, 2008

    It looks like the sewer rat of a lawyer dropped himself into a mine field when he tried to subpoena Kathleen ‘not-so-meek-and-mild’ Seidel.
    When one despairs of idiocy found in the US population, considering its influence in the world, it is good to see that it is not only the village idiots’ village idiot and his GFing mob that populate US, Thankfully, there are intelligent people with integrity who are willing to stand up for reason and decency.
    May more fall into your ranks!

  132. #132 genesgalore
    April 5, 2008

    Occam’s Razor?

    Posted by: Azkyroth | April 5, 2008 10:07 PM

    Occam? who’s Occam???? Things aren’t more complex than we think, they are more complex than we can think. Seen your dark matter today?? thank “GOD” for computers, goddiditgoddammit.

  133. #133 wazza
    April 5, 2008

    Isn’t shylock the one who says “If you cut me, do I not bleed?”

    Anyway, shyster comes from the german, as is detailed above

  134. #134 Owlmirror
    April 5, 2008

    Occam? who’s Occam???? Things aren’t more complex than we think, they are more complex than we can think.

    That’s not Occam’s Razor, nor is your statement a negation of Occam’s principles.

  135. #135 genesgalore
    April 5, 2008

    no one has stated Occam’s Razor. secondly, there are times when the razor applies and times when not. that’s is why thing can be complex.

  136. #136 genesgalore
    April 5, 2008

    or simple.

  137. #137 wazza
    April 5, 2008

    No, Genesgalore. The Razor ALWAYS applies. It’s just that sometimes the simpler explanation doesn’t fit all the facts.

  138. #138 Alan Kellogg
    April 5, 2008

    Genesgalore is a prime example of why we don’t let 14 year olds vote.

  139. #139 Kseniya
    April 5, 2008

    Genesgalore is a prime example of why we don’t let 14 year olds vote…

    …or play with razors.

  140. #140 Azkyroth
    April 5, 2008

    Genesgalore is a prime example of why we don’t let 14 year olds vote.

    Err, I don’t see how you could have made that typo; the 1 and 4 keys are nowhere near each other. 😛

  141. #141 mothra
    April 6, 2008

    Your’re right Wazza, I complety forgot about tinamous. Lesson for me- never compose an answer in haste. Lesson for Genes galore- lurk more, read more, learn more. The discussion you started was penguin flight, it has now been explained to you. I just cited the evidence, you are free to disagree with it, but you might wish to spend about 15 years compiling a DNA data set at odds with evidence in Sibley and Ahlquist as well as finding a complete parallel set of synapomorphies to counter the morphological evidence. You are welcome to question, but bring the evidence to the table otherwise you appear a world wide fool on the worl wide web- your choice of course.

  142. #142 cas
    April 6, 2008

    Continuing an off-topic thread – just because the etymology isn’t anti-Semitic or you in particular don’t use it that way doesn’t mean the word isn’t now 1) anti-Semitic or 2) used mostly against Jewish people or 3) used in a way that tries to harness negative stereotypes of Jews (perhaps without conscious intent).

    I don’t know, myself – haven’t studied the word or lawyers – but trying to convince people out of being offended by using etymological or anecdotal arguments seems like it’d only compound the offense. There are more dimensions to words than their pasts and your own personal use, and your being unaware of them does not make them non-existant or unimportant.

  143. #143 Rrr
    April 6, 2008

    @”geniousgalore”: H2S is IIRC approximately a thousand times more toxic (acutely so) than HCN. Both bind hard to sites meant for moving good stuff around, so the good stuff doesn’t get moved around and you snuff it, quickly. CO is just a mild breeze in comparison.

    I don’t know where you invented the thesis that H2S is essential for human life. On the other hand, who can say where you found inspiration for the rest of your emanations?

    Disclaimer: I’m not A Biologist, Chemist, Deist, Etc. Feeder-of-trolls, God-knows. Help.

  144. #144 Glen Davidson
    April 6, 2008

    1) anti-Semitic or 2) used mostly against Jewish people or 3) used in a way that tries to harness negative stereotypes of Jews (perhaps without conscious intent).

    So let’s see, your points are covered early on, but you just have to put in that claptrap anyhow. I wrote @ 45:

    Can’t say whether it should be used or not. Seems a shame to give it up over an incorrect etymology, but on the other hand, I wouldn’t use it if people are offended by it (think of “niggard,” which has nothing to do with “nigger,” but sounds so close that it’s virtually unused today, save in discussing historical works). I don’t hear or see it often, for what it’s worth.

    Now you act as if no one understood or addressed the issues in your insipid boilerplate sermon. Pay attention.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  145. #145 True Bob
    April 6, 2008

    Glen, ignorami in DC got a teacher fired for using, correctly, “niggardly” in a sentence. sheesh.

  146. #146 wazza
    April 6, 2008

    Well, dammit, lawyers should reclaim the word so we’re allowed to use it again!

    It worked for “queer”, right?

    (my vote – not that I had one, but if I were gay this is where I would have placed my vote – was on “fagatini”. “Queer” just seems kind of boring)

  147. #147 genesgalore
    April 6, 2008

    Posted by: Kseniya | April 5, 2008 11:36 PM

    oh my.i’ll bet your mom is proud of you.

  148. #148 Kseniya
    April 7, 2008

    Leave my mother out of this. Of all the comments posted since your last one, you chose to respond to mine? It was an “Occam’s Razor” joke, nothing more. What’s your point?

  149. “endangering the kid with lupron and chelation is not going to make him not autistic.”

    Indeed they won’t.

    They might make him dead, though.

  150. “endangering the kid with lupron and chelation is not going to make him not autistic.”

    Indeed they won’t.

    They might make him dead, though.

  151. #151 amy
    April 9, 2008

    Katherine might have a claim for abuse of process . . .

    In general, a plaintiff must prove two elements to recover for a claim of abuse of process:

    (1) a willful act in the use of process not proper in the regular conduct or prosecution of the proceedings; and

    (2) an ulterior motive or purpose on the part of the person causing the process to issue.

  152. #152 amy
    April 9, 2008

    oops Kathleen

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