The "no debate" debate

I like the word "manufactroversy."

It's a lovely made up word that combines the two words "manufactured controversy" and is, to boil it down, defined as the art of creating a controversy where none really exists. In the case of science, it's the concerted effort to make it seem as though there is a legitimate scientific controversy when in reality there is not. Indeed, one might say that the very purpose (or at least the main purpose) of this blog is to discuss manufactroversies. These include issues such as quackery, where promoters of pseudoscientific, unscientific, and prescientific treatment modalities try to convince you that there is a scientific controversy over whether their quackery does any good whatsoever.

Homeopathy is, of course, the best example because from basic science considerations alone it is quite possible to conclude that there is no known mechanism by which homeopathy could work. Indeed, or homeopathy to "work," so much of what we know about physics, chemistry, and biology would have to be not just wrong but spectacularly wrong, so much so that it would take a hell of a lot more than just a few questionable clinical trials with modest effects that could easily be explained by random noise, publication bias, poor experimental design, or other confounders to "prove" that homeopathy works. Let's just put it this way: When faced with a seemingly positive result of a homeopathy trial, given that most homeopathic remedies are diluted to the point that it is exceedingly unlikely that even a single molecule of the original substance remains in the remedy, what is the more parsimonious explanation? That much of what we know about chemistry and physics is wrong? Or that it's random noise, poor design, or bias? Before you answer, consider that these trials usually demonstrate effects (if you can call them that) barely greater than placebo and that huge swaths of basic science tell us that homeopathy can't work.

That was just one example. I could give a lot of others, but what I really want to discuss is how cranks, quacks, pseudoscientists, and denialists try to gin up manufactroversies in order to convince the unwary that there might just be something to what they're promoting. Take the antivaccine movement (please). The contingent of cranks who want to convince you that vaccines don't work, that they cause autism, and that they cause all sorts of horrific health problems want you to believe that there is actually a scientific controversy about this, and nothing enrages them more than to have it pointed out to them that such is not the case. For instance, take Dan Olmsted, editor of the antivaccine propaganda crank blog, Age of Autism. Last week, he was in a fine lather about this very issue, which he called the "no debate" debate. He begins by expressing his outrage about something that happened four years ago. Yes, four years:

One of the great televised moments in vaccine-autism history (right up there with “the problem is the problem”) occurred on The Today Show a few years back when Matt Lauer said “there is controversy” over a link and Dr. Nancy shot back: “Not controversial subject, Matt.”

Matt: “Well, controversial for parents who still believe ...”

Dr. Nancy: “It is not controversial Matt. It's time for kids to get their vaccines.”

It’s less what Matt says, and more the look on his face and the sound of his rather emphatic setting down of interview notes, reflecting the fact “parents who still believe” include someone in his own circle who blames a child’s autism on the MMR.

Yes, it’s controversial. And it’s only gotten more so.

Well, actually, no it hasn't. Olmsted tries mightily to make it seem as though the manufactroversy has become more intense, but, if anything, it's become less so. Remember, since 2008 the "champion" of the MMR-autism link, Andrew Wakefield, had his license to practice medicine in the UK revoked (in other words, he was "struck off"), his most famous paper (the 1998 case series from The Lancet that got the whole MMR-autism manufactroversy rolling in a big way in the UK) retracted, and his reputation destroyed by strong evidence that he falsified data for that original paper. As much as I would have preferred it that the science alone had won out as sufficient reason to reject Wakefield's MMR fear mongering, it turned out that the discrediting of Wakefield in the eyes of the press and the public was what it took. I suppose it's much easier to point out that Wakefield was struck off the UK medical record for his unethical research behavior and that he committed research fraud than it is to explain exactly why he was wrong based on the science and evidence. Be that as it may, in the wake of Wakefield's downfall, more and more the media seem to be a bit less credulous about antivaccine claims and, more importantly, less willing to give the pseudoscience of the antivaccine movement equal time, as though it was a reasonable alternative viewpoint to the scientific consensus regarding vaccines. There is a reason we don't see Jenny McCarthy spewing her ignorant blather about vaccines as often as we did four years ago. Heck, J.B. Handley, the founder of Generation Rescue, hasn't been seen or heard from in the national media for a very long time now, and he used to be a regular on TV every Autism Awareness Month.

I don't know about you, but think about news coverage about vaccines over the last five years or so. Five years ago, I remember that every story on vaccines seemed to feature someone who thought vaccines caused autism or that they were otherwise unsafe. I can't quantify it, and it's possible my impression is due to confirmation bias, but my personal viewpoint suggests to me that the tide has turned. The media are no longer willing to give antivaccinationists equal time with scientists, and that's a good thing. Whether this has anything to do with Jenny McCarthy's having soft pedaled her antivaccine views lately because she seems to have made a decision that it was hurting her career. Rob Schneider might have recently leapt into the breach with his brain dead opposition to California Bill AB 2109, but he hasn't made the splash that Jenny McCarthy did four years ago, such as when she led an antivaccine demonstration in Washington, DC, which led me to liken her efforts to Dumb & Dumber.

But back to Olmsted. You might wonder why he dredged up a TV spot from four years ago. The reason, it turns out, is that Brian Deer, the investigative journalist who nailed Andrew Wakefield for his conflicts of interest, unethical behavior, and outright scientific fraud used the same argument that Nancy Snyderman and Matt Lauer used four years ago. When the AoA cranks complained that Deer was speaking without anyone to present "the other side," they got a response that was scientifically correct but of the sort that infuriated them:

The "no debate" argument surfaced again this past week, as Brian Deer was given free rein at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse to peddle his views as though they were carried down the mountain by Dr. Moses. As our own Anne Dachel reported:

"The University of WI-La Crosse made their position clear in the opening remarks of professor of immunology, Bernadette Taylor, before an audience of hundreds of UWL students. “There is no debate… This University did not invite a debate on that issue."

“Case closed: the University would not allow for a free exchange of ideas so informed, intelligent students could make up their own minds.

Well, not exactly. From a scientific standpoint, there isn't a controversy, as much as Olmsted might fervently try to make it seem as though there is. Numerous well-designed studies have been carried out since 1998, and they have failed to find a whiff of a hint of a correlation between MMR and autism, and, from a broader standpoint, no good study has found a convincing link between vaccines and autism or between mercury-containing thimerosal in vaccines and autism. There is no evidence that vaccines cause autism or any of the other conditions ascribed to them by antivaccinationists. What does that mean? Well, it doesn't mean what Olmsted thinks it means:

This idea that “the science” has spoken is profoundly unscientific, of course. Rather, it’s the gutless whimpering sound of a dying paradigm. Putting the kabbosh on disagreement is a sign of deep anxiety about the real facts. And, of course, it’s fundamentally undemocratic to attempt to stifle dissent by claiming it’s too dangerous – kids will die if you disagree! A mushroom cloud will explode over New York if you don’t agree Iraq has weapons of mass destruction! The world will be more dangerous if you don’t quit pushing this Watergate thing! (“One year of Watergate is enough,” as Nixon famously proclaimed.)

Notice the appeal not to science but to politics, in which Olmsted likens scientists quite reasonably pointing out that the vast preponderance of existing science doesn't support the idea that vaccines cause autism to George W. Bush and crew agitating to invade Iraq and Richard Nixon telling people to stop pursuing investigations into Watergate. Here's a hint, Danny boy: Neither of these is science. Here's another hint: Science is not a democracy. Data matter, not opinions—unless, of course, those opinions are backed up by data, experiments, and basic science. The fantasy that vaccines cause autism is not backed up by any of these things.

This form of argumentation is much beloved of cranks of all types, by they quacks, antivaccinationists, creationists, or anthropogenic global warming denialists. As much as cranks might hate it, there does come a point where the science and evidence are so overwhelming that, for all intents and purposes, the case is closed. That's definitely the case with respect to the question of whether vaccines can cause autism. Let's put it this way. Edzard Ernst had it right when he asked rhetorically, "Should we keep an open mind about astrology, perpetual motion, alchemy, alien abduction, and sightings of Elvis Presley?" The vaccine-autism link is rapidly approaching the same territory. If antivaccinationists think otherwise, it is up to them to show the evidence.

This brings me to my final point. The beauty of science is that even "closed cases" can be reopened. However, to reopen such cases requires something that antivaccinationists don't have, and that's strong evidence. To reopen the case for vaccines as a cause or contributor to autism would require new evidence for a vaccine-autism link that is of sufficient quantity and quality to cast doubt on the existing body of evidence that is consistent with no causation. Whining about the existing state of evidence, which, let's face it, is all that Olmsted is doing, won't cut it, particularly given that he can't produce any substantive criticisms of existing studies sufficient refute them as unreliable. Neither will crying that it's "not fair" not to let the cranks in. There's a price of entry for this particular debate, and that price is evidence. Olmsted doesn't have it. So he appeals to a manufactroversy and hopes that that will be enough to fool his audience.

Same as it ever was.


More like this

Just yesterday, I commented on a typical whine from the antivaccine crew at the crank blog Age of Autism in which Dan Olmsted became indignant over being reminded that science does not support his belief that vaccines cause autism, that they don't work, and that they are dangerous. Olmsted,…
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…
I want to thank Dan Olmsted, the editor of Age of Autism. I think. Why do I say this? After all, Olmsted is the managing editor of perhaps the most wretched hive of antivaccine scum and quackery that I am aware of. However, he's actually done me a favor. You see, the other day, the instigator of…
It is as I had feared. I must do one more post on a story that I’ve been blogging about for one solid week now. Hopefully after this, I will be able to move on to other topics last week, but after spending this whole week writing just about this, I figured, “What the heck? It’s Friday. Might as…

"Take the antivaccine movement (please)."

Genius, an oldie but a goody.

By Michael Hughes (not verified) on 21 Oct 2012 #permalink

What I've found lately, particularly around my lectures this month in Wisconsin (where I'm told 800 students, faculty and visitors attended in a variety of overflow rooms), is that the "debate" sought by anti-vaxxers is now little more than abuse.

Thimerosal has virtually gone from children's vaccines and Wakefield is self-destroyed, yet autism diagnoses continue to climb, and rates continue to vary dramatically between states.

The anti-vaxxers have no plausible explanation for this situation and, lacking any new research to tout since their boutique test cases were thrown out of federal court in 2009, they have been left with nothing much but screaming personal hatred.

Directed at me is nothing but an absurd shopping list of irrelevant smears and insinuations, many of which are the work of a handful of malignant cranks who just can't let their obsessions go. They omit any credible narrative to explain what has happened to their crusade, but simply vent bile for relief. I don't recommend it, but their agreed line to abuse me is set out at this page, if you can bear it:

Frankly, there is no debate. The dog has barked and the caravan has moved on. It may not be all science, but it's progress.

By Brian Deer (not verified) on 22 Oct 2012 #permalink

Teach the phlogiston controversy!

Well, according to The New German Medicine (Hamer et al), all disease is due to unresolved psychic conflicts. So in that woo-niverse, vaccines are completely absolved of harm, debate over.

Science and woo agree!

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 22 Oct 2012 #permalink

Case closed: the University would not allow for a free exchange of ideas so informed, intelligent students could make up their own minds.

"Free exchange of ideas". You keep using that phrase. I don't think it means what you think it means.

By Julian Frost (not verified) on 22 Oct 2012 #permalink

I'm glad you mentioned the manufactoversy over anthropogenic global warming (AGW) -- it's truly a textbook case. Unlike the antivax case, this one is pushed by powerful business and political interests, and has much, much better PR people on its side, so it has been horrifyingly successful. The presidential candidates aren't saying a word about it.

On a completely different topic: There was a fascinating article by Michael Spector in the last New Yorker (with the Koren cartoon of the runners lining up for a race on the front), about the evidence that many chronic maladies -- including those that are increasing rapidly, such as obesity -- may be related to the impoverishment of our bacterial flora through antibiotic use and other practices. H. pyloriii -- the ulcer bacterium -- seems to have an important role in regulating the signal that says you're full, so people without H. pylorii may tend to overeat., and H. pylorii incidence is way down from what it used to be. Children who are born vaginally seem to have a much lower rate of athsma than C-section kids, perhaps a C-section doesn't expose the infant to a wide spectrum of bacteria.

If the rate of autism actually is increasing -- I understand that this is not entirely clear -- could bacterial ecology be a factor? Has anyone looked at whether there's a correlation between early antibiotic use in infancy (e.g. ear infections) and autism?

I am not a bioscientist -- I'm not even a doctor! -- so I'd be very interested in what my bioscience betters have to say on this.

By palindrom (not verified) on 22 Oct 2012 #permalink

If science were to be a democracy, God created the world 6000 years ago. Actually, if it would be a world wide democracy, he did so by putting it on the back of four elephants standing on a turtle.
The probably photoshopped that part out of the Apollo pictures.

As you may know, I trudge through the miasmic swamps of decaying intellectual detritus ( AoA, TMR, NN, PRN et al) on a near daily basis, searching- in vain- through the muck for a tiny shred of rationality or a spark of sympathetic human emotion. No such luck.

Instead I am subjected to endless tirades of venom-drenched invective and self-congratulatory grandiosity targetting an audience of like-minded confabulators and fictionalisers. I have often referred to these enclaves as 'group therapy gone wrong':
rather than rewarding members for realism, they do the converse, while skewed role models blithely disseminate mis-information.

They continuously blubber about their tragic lives - of which they ritualistically attribute the causation thereof to outside sources- as they assiduously polish and display their own sterling characteristics They are 'warriors' and 'revolutionaries'.. sure, they are!

It sounds to me like a way to prop up flagging self-esteem and marginalise opponents' achievements simultaneously.

Today Ms Mama Mac ( Alison Mac Neil @ TMR) informs us that she wouldn't care if a certain investigatve journalist " got hit by a truck". She is a child of privilege who also happens to be a social worker. I know people who lost a family member to a bombing who don't say things like that.

Unlike the folks over at AoA, I am not quick to toss psychiatric diagnoses around like confetti but I assume that several of the principals involved ( AoA, Canary Party, TMR) have what we psychologists often refer to as 'a screw loose' as well as other problems ( see Jake Crosby).

Let me steep more before I write about the 'girls' club'....

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 22 Oct 2012 #permalink

I heartily recommend Matt Tabibi's book, "The Great Derangement" as a very useful resource for understanding why groups like AoA exist (including, as well, 911 Truthers, Far Right Evangelicals, NWO Conspiracists, etc) & the relative mindset of their members.

In general, because there is a significant percentage of Americans who feel completely divorced from mainstream politics and culture - they tend to gravitate to small groups of like-minded individuals who know the "Truth" because it gives their lives some meaning...which is another reason why arguing with them is nearly impossible - because they refuse to recognize any evidence which is contrary to the "Truth" - their whole lives and being are wrapped around this "identity."

Very good stuff and very telling.

Lawrence -- thanks for the Tabibi recommendation. Another good one is "Idiot America", by Charles Pierce. It's aimed a little differently, but in the same general direction.

Pierce's politics blog on Esquire is often superb, if you enjoy full-throated defenses of old-fashioned liberalism delivered with great panache and plenty of scornful humor (e.g., he imagines David Brooks' afternoons at the "Young Fogie's Club" through the eyes of his long-suffering Irish Setter, Moral Hazard.).

By palindrom (not verified) on 22 Oct 2012 #permalink

Alt media relies upon alienation from the mainstream: the head honchos ( @ NN, PRN) heap derision on SBM, hating what they cannot ever BE: authorities, experts and respected professionals- Gary Null could not ever be a physician and Mike Adams could not ever be a scientist- they were not able to overtake the first hurdles to enter through the university doors: what most of us here have long since forgotten about because we continued on our ways towards other, longer range goals..

Similarly, the smaller, anti-vaccine groups ( AoA, TMR, the Canaries) build up identiies that disavow the consensus in order to make them feel better about their own selves and their own lives Which gets me to the girls' club..

I thought that it might be easier for a woman to say this: I see a perverse brand of feminism that focuses on their roles as mothers of children with ASDs rather than any other achievements. It seems a throwback to the days when women were primarily regarded as mothers and caretakers- these roles eclipsed all others. They also tend to over-estimate the value of parents'
accounts in contrast to those of independent professionals.

To make up for their loss of self-esteem ( not achieving in other roles, perhaps? having a "destroyed" child ?) they envision themselves as fierce warriors and revolutionaries- battling the world for their child. Is it really for their child or for themselves? To even to score, they say..hmmm?

Thus a clique develops that re-iterates particular themes: they are hip, tough, hard@ss, self-sacrificing mamas fighting the Establishment- the powers-that-be- working towards the eventual creation a new and better world where they and their theories will be judged to be correct by the multitudes. They are riding high on the tsunami of Paradigm Shift.

I notice that these women make use of facebook as a way to strengthen their communities of crankery: however it is interesting that their numbers ( which might be relevant taking their age cohort into account) seem to hover around 5K-6K ( 12K for Generation Rescue) IIRC. Some web woo-meisters attract over 200K.

Their little sorority trades on war stories and family recipes as well as the latest bio-med treatments to which they might subject their children. They congratulate each other- and themselves- at their fabulosity and plan meet ups at anti-vax conventions and AJW fan events.

They make me wonder about how a good idea- feminism- could go so wrong.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 22 Oct 2012 #permalink

Putting the kabbosh on disagreement is a sign of deep anxiety about the real facts.

Oh, Dan. You just fried my most recent irony meter, Dan. Why'd you have to do that? Have you taken a look at your comment moderation practices at AoA? Ever?

Projection, thy name is Olmsted.

I definitely have a problem with the claim that keeping crank ideas or discredited notions out of the sphere of academic discourse (save for sociology/history/anthropology where one studies the history of the sciences or the propagation of misinformation) is somehow "stifling the free exhange of ideas".

No one would support, as far as I know, university/college maths professors teaching undergrads that Π == 3.

Why should any support be given to the propagation equally erroneous notions (e.g. the alleged vaccine-autism connection)?

(Apologies if the HTML rendering of the pi character doesn't come out).

By Composer99 (not verified) on 22 Oct 2012 #permalink

Hmm... upper-case pi wasn't what I was looking for.

What about π?

By Composer99 (not verified) on 22 Oct 2012 #permalink

You may get Shirt flicked your way for the comment DW, but you're making a good point. I can think of other good ideas, progressive-seeming movements or cultural trends that have gone quite wrong in my life. Books have been written, I reckon, and there's plenty of (GMO?) food for thought. Mark Rudd wrote a good book (Underground) a few years ago.
To the manufactroversy issue, a good friend, respected journalist, was telling me Saturday how the wingnut T party types have gotten increasingly slick in finding credentialed hacks to block environmental issues in, for example, S. Oregon/N. California. Same guy who a few weeks ago cautioned me about the glee in the Obama camp.


They just move the goalposts.

It's not the thimerosal (unless there's *trace amounts* in the vaccine), it's the synergistic effects of said *trace amounts* plus the aluminum.

Unless, the vaccine doesn't have an aluminum adjuvant, then it's because of either the foreign DNA causing the inflammation, etc...

It'll ALWAYS be the vaccines. It can never NOT be a 'vaccine injury'.

On twitter, The Donald is going on about autism and vaccines:

Autism rates through the roof--why doesn't the Obama administration do something about doctor-inflicted autism. We lose nothing to try.


We should march on Washington re:autism--with leadership & common sense the numbers would drop precipitously!

The man is such a numpty


I heard you speak at LaCrosse, but was stuck in an overflow room, but was able to escape to in-person for the Q and A. Although I read a number of skeptic blogs regularly and feel well-informed about the vaccination issue, I found a wealth of additional information in your presentation and felt that the cross-the-state drive from Milwaukee was well worth the effort. I will arrive much earlier next time and I have contacted the University about my displeasure with these “overflow” rooms. Who knew?

The AoA hacks were publicizing Brian Deer's scheduled seminars at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse weeks before the actual "non-debate".

In a series of three articles written by an "education reporter", the Lacrosse Tribune, framed Mr. Deer's seminars as *a debate*. I am convinced that the AoA hacks got to this LaCrosse Tribune cub reporter and provided him with a whole boatload of background information about the non-debate. My feelings about their activities were confirmed when this latest article appeared. The chairman of the University committee which arranged for Mr. Deer to come to the University wrote this Letter-To-The Editor:…

"It’s unfortunate that the Tribune chose to promote this as a “debate” in its Sept. 30 article, which led to the misconception that the university was hosting a debate between two opposing views.

This series does not organize debates. We invite distinguished scientists (or in this case a journalist) whose findings have not only had a significant impact on science and society but also whose work is widely accepted by the scientific community.

This year we invited a journalist who exposed a grievous scientific fraud by a former British doctor. The former doctor, who was found guilty of this fraud by two prestigious medical journals and the British General Medical Council, invited himself and complained that he was not invited to debate Deer.

There are many topics worthy of debates. Whether a vaccine is the cause of autism is not among them."

I have a question I'd like to direct towards Dan Omlstead: Does anyone know how often the organizations which invite Dr Wakefield to speak have also invited Brian Deer to present the other side?

This Donald guy: "Autism rates through the roof – why doesn’t the Obama administration do something about doctor-inflicted autism."

Because it doesn't fucking exist, Donald!

Same Donald guy: "We lose nothing to try."

Actually, you lose plenty.

LizDitz: "The man is such a numpty"

That's kind compared to what I'd be calling him....

By David N. Andre… (not verified) on 22 Oct 2012 #permalink

Looking at what The Trump did to the birther movement, DanO is probably sending AoA's secret ninja squad after Donald right now.

comment in moderation ... it's a doozy!

By David N. Andre… (not verified) on 22 Oct 2012 #permalink

I missed one of The Donald's utterances:

Lots of autism and vaccine response. Stop these massive doses immediately. Go back to single, spread out shots! What do we have to lose.

@ THS:

Well, as long the "shirt" is cyber, I'm not extremely worried. (But somebody had to say it- why not me?)
I just hope that if I am burned in effigy that they at least get my look right- 5'6", twisty blonde hair, perfect dark suit, silk scarf by B.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 22 Oct 2012 #permalink

I thought that it might be easier for a woman to say this: I see a perverse brand of feminism that focuses on their roles as mothers of children with ASDs rather than any other achievements. It seems a throwback to the days when women were primarily regarded as mothers and caretakers- these roles eclipsed all others.

I've heard a version that tends to be used to say, "I'm really not sexist, honest!" which sounds similar, asserting that women are more naturally adept caregivers but less proficient at "technical" skills like math. It comes across as trying to sugarcoat the gender roles while failing to acknowledge people who don't live according to stereotypes and generally discouraging people from trying to develop cross-gender talents.

Sadly, I've seen some female woos who've used that idea as an excuse not to think about the nitty gritty science issues, preferring to discuss how they just feel their woo is correct and how mean I am for disagreeing.

I grant that men and women generally do seem to be wired differently, but I know enough about science that we shouldn't jump to conclusions about who's adept at what, we shouldn't treat any general population tendencies that are discovered as hard and fast barriers for individuals, and that we shouldn't let ourselves mistake cultural artifacts for neurological differences.

By Bronze Dog (not verified) on 22 Oct 2012 #permalink

Speaking about manufactroversy, is there anything new regarding the trial between AJW and Brian Deer (et al.)?


@ Liz Ditz: Thanks for the *heads up*...I've already posted at the Forbes blog. Another *RI Regulars* has posted as well.

Putting the kabbosh on disagreement is a sign of deep anxiety about the real facts.

Urban Dictionary informs me that this is "The dumb [sic] down version of Kibosh for those that can't bother to learn how to spell."

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 22 Oct 2012 #permalink

From the same people who brought the court decision saying vaccines cause autism.

The Italian high court also just ruled that someone got a brain tumor from a cell phone. They're on top of things.

Urban Dictionary informs me that this is “The dumb [sic] down version of Kibosh for those that can’t bother to learn how to spell.”

That's the Amish spelling.

Speaking about manufactroversy, is there anything new regarding the trial between AJW and Brian Deer (et al.)?

Still waiting on the court reporters' record, which has a new due date of November 1. After that, appellant Wakefield will have 30 days to provide a brief. (Sorry about the staccato, I had a lunch guest and am catching up.)

@ Bronze Dog:

Sure. I like to think about people as being bundles** of abilities with great differences *within* groups as well as *between* groups. Whenever we talk about social creatures- like us- we need to remember that perception and societal ideas about abilities greatly influence what specific abilities individuals may *choose* to develop- they may get pushed towards a certain direction more than another- regardless of where they might actually excell .

Now I need to go and get my car.

** Wonder where I got that word, right?

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 22 Oct 2012 #permalink

@ JBC. Thanks for your kind words. Sorry about the overflow rooms. It was simply a case that Wisconsin-La Crosse doesn't have one very big hall. Apparently, it was planned that way years ago.

Because of the separate rooms, the organisers took questions on cards, which I also thought killed the atmosphere somewhat. I always think it's better to take questions from the floor, not least because everyone can get a sense of the person asking the question.

But thanks for coming.

@ Narad. I didn't realize the sigificance of when the reporter's record is filed. By way of gossip, after I was deposed last summer, I asked Wakefield's lawyer: "Did you get what you needed?"

He replied: "I'm not sure I got what I needed, but I got pretty much what I expected."

I suppose you can interpret that any way you want. After 6.5 hours (a half hour more than he was entitled to), either he had concluded that I was the most flagrant perjurer that he had ever encountered, or he had come to realise that his client had not exactly, shall we say, told him the whole story.

I felt like telling him that two Wakefield solicitors had quit their jobs when they were preparing his case for the GMC, and that his own leading counsel's advice caused him to lose his funding - also twice.

Am I trembling at the prospect of the Texas judiciary re-writing settled law so as to enable any resident of the state to haul anybody in the world into district court?

I think not.

By Brian Deer (not verified) on 22 Oct 2012 #permalink

people as being bundles** of abilities
** Wonder where I got that word, right?

You are David Hume*, and I claim my £5.

* Or possibly a Buddhist phenomenologist.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 22 Oct 2012 #permalink

@ herr doktor bimler:

And I still have to wait for my car.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 22 Oct 2012 #permalink

@ BD - I would love to see a copy of the deposition at some point. Being in the legal / litigation technology industry, I have a pretty good handle on how much things cost nowadays & would love to see what Wakefield's supporters "paid" to get from you (you know, all the stuff that has been publicly available for years).


Anyone have a reaction to the Michael Spector New Yorker article?

As bait, it does mention Mercola, but not favorably.

By palindrom (not verified) on 22 Oct 2012 #permalink

I would love to see a copy of the deposition at some point.

There's a heavily excerpted version courtesy of Ed Arranga. One can however infer that it ran at least 224 pages.

Oh cr*p...I've now perused Arranga's heavily redacted *version* of Brian Deer's deposition.

Where are the first 44 pages of the deposition?

Where are the missing pages (49-144 and 149-220) from Brian Deer's deposition?

Where are the first 44 pages of the deposition?

Look closer. I'm not sure what the point of this exhibit is, but I haven't felt much compelled to read the document that refers to it. One of the exhibits is a scan of a blank UK vaccination-record booklet; that's about when I decided the signal-to-noise ratio was just to low to plow through it all.

Eh, OK, they're just trying to establish with this excerpt that (1) the BMJ "collaborated" with Brian Deer and (2) the publication was aimed at Texas. Not exactly a good return on investment.

Re the deposition transcript. It runs to 229 pages, but even if I could be bothered to scan it, there are uncorrected errors in my version and it would likely cost money to ask our lawyers for the final version.

However, I can tell you what happened. Because Wakefield's case is vexatious, he's not fully-funded. His lawyer is his next door neighbour, who I suspect was regaled over white wine with one of Wakefield's preposterous yarns, and then valiantly declared; "Heck Andy, you should sue, and I'll give you a darn good rate."

Anyhow, they both turned up for the deposition, with their "UK lawyer", the malignant crank Clifford Miller. If you don't already know, he's the fifth-rate patent lawyer who secrety (and I think any right-minded person would say disgustingly) operates a crank website called Child Health Safety. He is such scum that he would conceal his identity while purporting to speak for children's health. His defamation of me and the BMJ editor would be enough to finish him if he keeps it up. But I understand that his wife got most of his money.

Anyhow, Miller turned up and, with Wakefield filled, the lawyer's head with all the ludicrous conspiracy fantasies and petty abuse which Miller et all have been tossing over in their dreams for years, and, of course, none of it is true.

So - apart from the section where I identify a mass of fraud and faleshoods in Wakefield's research, and a few junk segments that would placate an insomniac - they spent hour after pointless (and very expensive) hour grilling me over stuff that was pure drivel. Like where did I get the medical records (court order), did somebody tell me what to write (no), didn't I publish all the names of children on my website (no)?

Just laughable. My lawyers sat back and pretty much let them get on with it. Their man was really shocked when we pointed out that he'd over-run by half an hour.

Us deposing Wakefield? Mmmm. Now there would be a transcript...

By Brian Deer (not verified) on 22 Oct 2012 #permalink

Oh, G-d, they let Miller talk?

Mr. Deer:

didn’t I publish all the names of children on my website (no)?

But their friends did on the “Dr Wakefield Justice Fund” website. I keep thinking that if the whole Wafefield affair turns into a movie it would be a comedy.

@ DW. They would not get it right. Given their record, how could they. Good thing, too - a shame to waste a fine silk scarf. Expect something - more appropriately for them - stuffed with straw - is all they can attack. They could save fashion statement money burning the likes of me. Still, would be a shame to waste even muddy tie-dye. Totally OT - we have Chinook spawning in our creek

@ JBC - You drove up there from Milwaukee? Cool! Did other folks make a long drive? I'm thinking it would be mostly local, college students. You may have reported on this, but - how was the scene?

Mr. Deer—

When I viewed some of the documents related to Wakefield's appeal of his failed attempt to sue you in Texas, I was struck by how Wakefield elects to dance around several issues. I don't have the time to dig through all of this, but I'd appreciate it if you could comment on what I think is one of Wakefield's most egregious failures.

In what seems to be an obvious attempt to obfuscate, Wakefield suggests that in the absence of pertinent medical records he was correct, insofar as he could tell, in the material that he published in the Lancet: without contemporaneous medical records, Wakefield suggests, Wakefield claims that he simply relied on the recollections of the parents, including those parents Wakefield had contacted and/or those who had been in contact with solicitors before they related a history at the Royal Free. (FWIW, when I read his initial report a week or so after it was published, I wondered why Wakefield had relied on notoriously inaccurate parental reports—but that’s just me.)

However, in the August 1997 draft of his paper that you made public, Wakefield wrote that the parents of Child 5 suggested a temporal association between that child's receipt of MMR and the onset of both behavioral symptoms of and GI signs. Wakefield thus relied on information that was available to him, and Wakefield’s analysis of this point is thus in agreement with the records that were readily available to Wakefield—but not with what Wakefield wrote in his Lancet paper.

According to the transcripts for Wakefield's GMC Fitness to Practice hearing, the Royal Free record for Child 5 (which was, obviously, available to Wakefield) include Child 5's neurology record, and thus Dr. Peter Harvey's statement: “Parents have no doubt about the relationship with MMR.” [Royal Free Neurology record, 5 December 1996, according to Wakefield's Fitness to Practice (Misconduct) GMC hearing transcript, Day 64] Wakefield, of course, undoubtedly also had access to Child 5's Royal Free discharge summary dated 6 December 1996, in which Dr. David Casson wrote, “[Child 5's] parents feel that the onset of his neurodevelopmental symptoms stems from the period two months after having had the MMR vaccination which he received on the 10 April 1990. A few months subsequent to this he started losing his skills.” [GMC transcript Day 24]

Strangely, Wakefield elected to [I]suppress[/I] the information in the Royal Free records available to him: Wakefield negated the data that indicated that Child 5's parents emphatically associated the receipt of MMR with the onset of developmental problems that was noted in the material available to him. As you have noted, Wakefield's choice, in that case alone, dramatically decreased the average and maximal duration between exposure to MMR and the onset of symptoms. However, Wakefield also chose to exclude similar data from two more of the other eleven children, despite the fact that their parents had similarly associated MMR with the onset of behavioral signs of ASD. Wakefield's choices neatly decreased the calculated findings that were the most explosive aspect of his paper.

There is no good explanation for this.

Could you please comment on this, perhaps including why you think that Wakefield’s remaining supporters continue to ignore the evidence?


This conversation has been very helpful to me, as I have been trying valiantly of late to figure out WHY people believe this stuff. I have a couple of friends who are deep into all the alt-med/anti-vaccine stuff, and they seem like perfectly nice decently intelligent people. So why do they ignore the evidence to chase conspiracy theories and then accuse me of "not doing the research" on the subject? Thanks for the help figuring this out, although I'm still not totally sure I get it.

@ brian:
" There is no good explanation for this".

Nor is there any good explanation for MOST of what transpires in the fevered imaginations of AJW and his avid supporters.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 22 Oct 2012 #permalink

@Liz Ditz:

Emily Willingham at Forbes is criticizing the Chicago Sun Times for giving Jenny McCarthy a megaphone.

Emily Willingham has been given a two-week spot on the Scientopia Guest blog. Would anybody else like to go over and say hello? URL:

By Julian Frost (not verified) on 22 Oct 2012 #permalink

Brian Deer, I thanks you for weighting in here :)

now, regarding that comment:

Us deposing Wakefield? Mmmm. Now there would be a transcript…

I badly want to see it.


> I see a perverse brand of feminism that focuses on their roles as mothers...

That does not fit any definition of feminism known to me

That does not fit any definition of feminism known to me

Would "activism" be a better word?

By Julian Frost (not verified) on 23 Oct 2012 #permalink


The more intelligent people are, the better they are able to rationalize their irrational beliefs. All to often people think their post-secondary education plus some googling gives them enough knowledge to second guess experts in a highly specialized field.

By Militant Agnostic (not verified) on 23 Oct 2012 #permalink

@ Our Sally:
@ Julian Frost:

It was tongue-in-cheek- I thought that the word 'perverse' would provide the hint. You see, I am getting so tired of using "scare quotes" / *italics*/ adding the prefix 'so-called'.

If you read a few posts by the so-called thinking moms, you'll immediately recognise their odd way of being *feminists*. They're just "lovely".

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 23 Oct 2012 #permalink

@ Alain:

Mon ami:
so would I!
I was once nearly dragged into a vexatious suit myself: to make a long ( and hilarious) story short, I didn't renew a lease on a commercial property I owned so that I might sell it when prices skyrocketted- the tenants claimed that they had another lease that I wrote up for them on note paper.
It was imaginary.
However, the entire scenario seems a lot funnier now than when it happened 10 years ago.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 23 Oct 2012 #permalink

@ Denice:

Sigh...that must be stressful but I don't know because I've never been sued (perhaps i'm not trying hard enough :D ).

(offtopic) Regarding my blog, I'm at a crossroad because I'd like to return to science posts and while I have plenty of blog material in neuroscience, there also may be a fat chance that I work in a lab dedicated to beer brewing research (kinda like Dr. Charles Bamforth's group at UCDavis) and I'd like to post about that too.


@ Alain:

They NEVER got that far: they threatened a suit because they were 'playing for time' - they were *supposed* to leave 90 days after the place was sold and didn't.

I was very worried but my legal advisor remarked that it was more likely I'd get "hit by a meteor" than their case would go forward. In the long run, they had to pay ME because they left junk when they vacated- which cost money to clean up.

So I did laugh last.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 23 Oct 2012 #permalink

I have plenty of blog material in neuroscience, there also may be a fat chance that I work in a lab dedicated to beer brewing research (kinda like Dr. Charles Bamforth’s group at UCDavis) and I’d like to post about that too.

I would read both...

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 23 Oct 2012 #permalink

@ Denice Walter, Glad for you :)

@ HDB, thanks. As soon as I get access to the publications in the American Society of Brewing Chemists journal, I'll have some post up about beer brewing.


I made a real effort to read the comments, but found them such nonsense and drivel. I couldn't decipher what most were saying, as if in code. I suggest they all be deleted so we can start over.

So you read the comments and you don't read the post and you suggest to start over? Fine, do so but what do you have to argue against the post?


Mr. Coe, you have returned! Are you ever going to answer my question? It has been over a year, and we really want to know how measles affected Roald Dahl's daughter was just like autism?

Did Mr. Dahl really dedicate The BFG to her memory because she had autism? Or was it something else?

@ Ross Coe,

Furthermore, I took the time to read both the post and the comments and while there's a few offtopic comments, most are ontopic and appropriate so which comments do you have a beef with?


@ Alain:

Mr. Coe is an anti-vaccine crank, who claims his child was "damaged" by vaccines.

He also claims that his "damaged child" has destroyed his family; truly an odious man.

@ lilady,

got it, guess I could ask for guardianship for his child as I could do a better job to raise him.


Especially since Mr. Coe cannot answer a simple historical question, He clearly does not want to admit why Mr, Dahl's oldest child cannot explain why she survived measles okay-dokay.

It is because she died in a hospital from measles. Just like one out of a thousand other healthy kids who measles before there was a vaccine. Mr. Coe likes to ignore such inconvenient facts like death from an actual disease or the much more common chance of permanent disability,

Here's a blog from the New Yorker that discusses how Wakefield's "research" had a profound impact on the uptake of the triple antigen MMR vaccine...and how Gene Tierney, a movie star contracted rubella during her pregnancy:…

Gene Tierney was an extraordinarily beautiful woman who had severe debilitating emotional problems, that most people believe was due to the sadness associated with her daughter Daria being born with Congenital Rubella this infant:

"Brave" Mr. Coe has a new tactic: post some lame insult on this blog just before commenting ends after sixty days. Then run away, again.

He is both an idiot, and a coward.

Especially since Mr. Coe cannot answer a simple historical question, He clearly does not want to admit why Mr, Dahl’s oldest child cannot explain why she survived measles okay-dokay.

It is because she died in a hospital from measles. Just like one out of a thousand other healthy kids who measles before there was a vaccine. Mr. Coe likes to ignore such inconvenient facts like death from an actual disease or the much more common chance of permanent disability,

That's one thing that really angers me about anti-vaxxers: They so often perpetuate the whitewashing of childhood diseases and history. It's like they think different time periods means a change in decor, not facing up to the fact that children died or were disabled by disease. Illness was a part of life, and health wasn't taken for granted.

In grade school, I once went on a field trip to a graveyard within walking distance. We had a tour guide who pointed out that some families simply named their next child after the previous one who died of childhood disease.

By Bronze Dog (not verified) on 11 Dec 2012 #permalink