Chili's gets burned by an antivaccine group posing as an "autism advocacy" group

Here I am, sitting on the balcony of my hotel room in sunny San Diego, as I get ready to head over to the 2014 meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). The sun is rising over the mountains, and the only sound I hear is that of running water in the swimming pool below (well, that and traffic around the convention center, the odd siren, and the noise of air conditioner fans), and I need to produce something quick for the blog. Realizing that last week, I described myself as having fallen into a "rut," not because I thought my posts were substandard but rather because I seemed to be perseverating on the topic of the antivaccine movement, I hesitated to take on this topic. It's something that happened over the weekend, and, yes, it has to do with the antivaccine movement. It's also the perfect topic for a short (for Orac, at least) post. Unfortunately it's about the antivaccine movement. I was torn. It's perfect (and hilarious). It's a cautionary tale for companies seeking to do good.

And Mike Adams wrote about it last night.

Crap! Rut or no rut, it's time for Orac to do what Orac does best.

Let's get the Mikey version of events first, realizing that whatever Mikey says about something and reality tend to be related only by coincidence, if even that. It's more than that, though. Mikey only includes what serves his purpose in his descriptions, and then only in the most histrionic, conspiracy-laden way possible. He's not unlike a spin-the-bottle conspiracy game; he'll kiss any conspiracy where the needle points. So it is here:

The medical mafia is alive and well in America today, where pro-vaccine thought police routinely engage in malicious campaigns to smear anyone who dares ask the question "Are vaccines linked to autism?"

When Chili's recently announced they would make a one-day gesture to provide financial assistance to families devastated by autism, even that was too much for the medical mafia. Their operatives fanned out across the mainstream media to disparage Chili's for even daring to help autistic children. The danger of people becoming merely "aware" of autism is so great, it seems, that even a goodwill effort to help support mothers of autistic children must be stifled and shut down as quickly as possible.

Adams says that as though it were a bad thing!

Not surprisingly, that's not quite what happened. (Remember, Mikey's connection with reality is tenuous at best, even at the best of times.) A more accurate take can be found at a Business Insider article that set off the conflagration in a teapot:

In honor of National Autism Awareness Month, Chili's is planning to donate 10% of customers' checks on April 7 to the National Autism Association, a charity with controversial views about vaccinations.

More than 1,200 Chili's restaurants will participate in the fundraiser for the group, which writes vaccinations can trigger or exacerbate autism in "some, if not many, children" on its website.

Indeed, on its website, the NAA states that it believes:

Vaccinations can trigger or exacerbate autism in some, if not many, children, especially those who are genetically predisposed to immune, autoimmune or inflammatory conditions.

It also lists the usual autism "biomed" suspects besides vaccines, including pesticides, pharmaceuticals, proximity to freeways (not true), and other favorite "environmental cause" hobby horses of the antivaccine movement. Although I haven't blogged about the NAA as much as, say, Jenny McCarthy's antivaccine group Generation Rescue, the wretched hive of scum and antivaccine quackery known as the Age of Autism blog, or SafeMinds, make no mistake. NAA is cut from the same cloth, and that cloth is antivaccine. Let's just put it this way. As BI points out, the NAA is a sponsor of AoA. (Just look at the right sidebar of the AoA blog if you don't believe me. The NAA is listed as a sponsor there, along with other antivaccine groups like SafeMinds, Generation Rescue, and the Canary Party. You don't sponsor AoA unless you're either (1) antivaccine to the core or (2) easily duped. OK, NAA is both, but it's easily duped about antivaccine pseudoscience; it knows what AoA is. After all, its board of directors is made up of antivaccine stalwarts like Katie Wright and Wendy Fournier.

So what happened? Basically, Chili's corporate management thought it would try to do a good thing, for which it is to be commended. Unfortunately, its choice of what constitutes a "good thing" was woefully misguided in that it clearly didn't vet the organization it planned to support. In any case, Chili's "Give Back" events involve donating 10% of the receipts from a single day's sales to a cause or charity. It's a nice gesture on behalf of a corporation. However, as is so often the case when it comes to "autism awareness," an antivaccine group claimed the mantle of "autism awareness" and clearly duped whoever is in charge of choosing charities to benefit from Chili's Give Back events. They do that by playing up the other things that they do and carefully making no mention of their support of antivaccine pseudoscience and "autism biomed" quackery, posing instead as legitimate autism advocacy groups.

If, as was almost certainly the case at Chili's, the people picking the charities don't know about a group's background, then they can be easy to fool. Sometimes, however, there are people with antivaccine views in companies looking to make charitable donations, and they try to steer the corporate generosity towards their favorite antivaccine group. In any case, the result often ends up not being what the corporation had hoped for. Such was definitely the case with Chili's. Not surprisingly, such shenanigans tend to peak every year in April, which is Autism Awareness Month. Then, of course, some of these antivaccine groups do more than just agitate against vaccines. AoA, for instance, does publish posts about autistic children wandering off and how to stop that, posts decrying violence against autistic children, and the like. Apparently, the NAA fooled Chili's by asking for money for its program designed to help families of autistic children who wander. After the BI article appeared, initially Chili's tried to make excuses and still stay the course:

At Chili’s Grill & Bar, we’re about making every guest feel special and pride ourselves in giving back to our communities. When choosing a charitable partner for our Give Back Events, both locally and nationally, we are committed to supporting organizations dedicated to helping children and their families. The intent of this fundraiser was not to express a view on this matter, but rather to support the families affected by autism. Our choice to partner with the National Autism Association was based on the percentage of donations that would go directly to providing financial assistance to families and supporting programs that aid the development and safety of children with autism.

Of course, one can almost hear the sound of backpedaling in the carefully crafted corporate-speak of the message above, and yesterday the backpedaling led to a reversal the day before the event, which was originally scheduled for today. (Hey, it just occurred to me: A Monday? Come on! Monday nights tend to be the slowest business days of most restaurants; it's why some restaurants close on Mondays. But I digress.) In any case, here's the statement from Chili's, posted to its Facebook page yesterday:

Chili's is committed to giving back to the communities in which our guests live and work through local and national Give Back Events. While we remain committed to supporting the children and families affected by autism, we are canceling Monday's Give Back Event based on the feedback we heard from our guests.

We believe autism awareness continues to be an important cause to our guests and team members, and we will find another way to support this worthy effort in the future with again our sole intention being to help families affected by autism. At Chili's, we want to make every guest feel special and we thank all of our loyal guests for your thoughtful questions and comments.

My guess as to what happened? After the BI article and the attention from the science-based community that it garnered, Chili's took the time to—oh, you know—check into the background of the NAA and didn't like what it found. It then waffled a couple of days, trying to determine which would result in worse PR, continuing with a charity event to support a bunch of antivaccine loons while hiding behind the claim that it's only supporting that group's autism advocacy and help to autistic families, or canceling the event and walking away with egg on its face. Chili's chose the latter. This led Mikey into even more over-the-top tin foil hat hyperbole than usual:

What's really happening today with children being harmed by vaccines is nothing less than a medical holocaust being carried out in total secrecy with strong-arm enforcement accomplished by a gang of corporate-sponsored "science" goons collaborating with pro-business mainstream media to smear, attack and denigrate all who oppose toxic chemicals in vaccines. You are witnessing chemical warfare being waged against our children -- and yet you're not supposed to even ask questions about why it's happening!

Even the call to take the mercury out of vaccines is viciously attacked by the medical mafia. Mercury, you see, is a "desirable ingredient" by vaccine-pushing zealots, many of whom quite literally demonstrate the kind of psychotic behavior caused by exposure to mercury. In other words, the medical mafia is largely made up of people who are damaged by the very same brain-damaging toxins they're trying to push onto others. Mercury makes people not just crazy, but also violent and psychotic -- and that's the perfect description of the medial mafia trolls you see on social media or writing crazed, inflammatory opinion pieces in mainstream business magazines.

You know what's truly hilarious about Mikey's post? (Besides the incredibly spittle-flecked prose?) It's that his utterly loony rhetoric about the "medical mafia," a "chemical holocaust" due to vaccines, and his belief that vaccines make people violent because of the mercury will likely do far more confirm to Chili's management that it made the right choice. I rather suspect that, in secret, the NAA is rather unhappy with Mikey. Through the cancellation by Chili's of its Give Back event, the NAA might have had a setback in its goal, a goal shared by many "mainstream" antivaccine groups, to achieve "respectability," but it can and will try again with another corporation somewhere, sometime. Now it might have to wait much longer before trying again, because the fresh memory of (not to mention Google searches of NAA showing) Mikey's raving support will make it more difficult for the NAA to overcome that problem the next time it tries to fool a corporation into thinking it's a legitimate "autism advocacy" charity rather than an antivaccine group. I actually do feel sorry for Chili's and almost—almost!—feel sorry for the NAA.

On second thought, no I don't, at least not for the NAA. Just check out Wendy Fournier's reaction:

Wendy Fournier, president of NAA, said, "It was obvious that the comments [Chili's was] getting were a fight about vaccines. Everybody was all heated up and wanting to boycott. It was bullying. It was orchestrated by a small number of people who wanted to deny assistance to families that we serve through our program."

Fournier said that NAA is not anti-vaccination, and that she and her co-workers have vaccinated their children. She said that the statements on the NAA website about vaccinations and autism are the views of parents who "are entitled to their viewpoints without being attacked."

Everyone's entitled to her own viewpoint, as they say, but she's not entitled to her own facts. Also, freedom of speech does not equal freedom from criticism. If you hold pseudoscientific antivaccine views that, if implemented, would harm children, you will be criticized. Also, how many organizations have statements on their website that they don't endorse without actually...oh, you know...having labeled them as not being endorsed by the organization? Particularly when the statements are prefaced by "the National Autism Association believes"? Not "some of our parents believe," but "the National Autism Association believes." Not many. Alternatively, even if you take the NAA at its word, it's clearly an incompetently run organization if it can't update its website after "years" to reflect its current views. No, I suspect that the NAA wants to have it both ways, and this time it got burned. Good.

Thanks, Mikey! Without meaning to, you've actually probably helped the pro-science cause by laying bare the associations between NAA and the antivaccine movement. I'm sure Ms. Fournier appreciates your efforts on the NAA's behalf.


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Looks like somebody forgot to tell Mikey that the've taken thimerosal out of vaccines. He's right that mercury can do nasty things to the brain--Lewis Carroll's Mad Hatter originates from the tendency of people in that profession, which at least in the 19th century used a fair amount of mercury, to go insane. But other heavy metals can do that as well, and from what I understand, the lead in leaded gasoline has been identified as a major culprit (violent crime rates have been decreasing as kids who were born after lead was phased out of gasoline have aged into their teens and early 20s, the age group which is most likely to commit violent crimes). I haven't seen any evidence that mercury, in vaccines or elsewhere, has been a major culprit in mental illness, outside of perhaps a few cases of acute poisoning involving much larger amounts than ever were found in vaccines.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

Don't complain about being in a rut as you absorb the rays in San Diego, Orac. I just returned from the tax accountant's office. :-)

I think the NAA is going to be running for cover, now that the Ho-Po covered their failed fundraising event with Chili's Restaurant. It couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of con artists.…


Ladies Auxiliary, Medical Mafia

Wow - with friends like that, the NAA doesn't need enemies, that's for sure.....

Oooh! I cross-posted with our magnanimous and gracious host about *la Cosa Nostra*
Also Mamacita ( Jameson) is seething @ TMR.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

I recall reading a medical paper once in which the author astutely pointed out that with all of the hullaballo about mercury in vaccines, most parents allow their children to eat fish. The article pointed out that the trace amounts of any mercury-based preservative in any vaccine are so small that eating a single piece of Tuna will expose you to more mercury than all your vaccines combined (I am not gifted with much mathematical ability, but the numbers seem to bear that out).

Where is the anti-fish campaign from all these groups? I've been waiting for it, but it never seems to materialize.

Not surprisingly, such shenanigans tend to peak every year in April, which is Autism Awareness Month.

And... meet "Team TMR":

"The money that we raise will go directly to help families who need it. In listening to your needs, the grants we make available can be used for biomed, homeopathy, mainstream pediatric GI doctors and neurologists, alternative treatments ... virtually anything that is required to assist a family in need. The grants will not be restricted based on income, and seasoned veterans of the autism community who have been fighting this fight for years are encouraged to apply along with new families."

While Mondays are usually slow I was a little surprised they chose the night of the NCAA basketball championship. Chili's have a big bar and sports on the TV in most places, so this would be a busy night. I am glad the NAA won't be getting a dime.

By Brent Thompson (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

@ #5 -- The Purge Perch movement is just around the corner. :P

By Chadwick Jones (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

“The money that we raise will go directly to help families who need it...."

...minus a healthy "administration" fee, one suspects.

@Chadwick - I'm just waiting for the day when Charlie the Tuna replaces Paul Offit as their Public Enemy Number 1. Charlie's actually got big money backing him up, so this will get interesting.

Wow, I didn't know writing an individual letter to Chili's and putting it on their facebook page made me "medical mafia". And here I was just thinking I was a mere pediatrician.

By Chris Hickie (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

I need to buy a Medical Mafia bumper sticker.

It'll go well with the family stickers on the rear window (me, Mrs. Bacon, the Labrador retriever, the cloven-hoofed demon and the giant dripping hypodermic needle).

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

I just saw this on ThinkProgress - headline, "Your Baby Back Ribs Will No Longer Support Anti-Vaccine Conspiracy Theorists."

If we can get the left to see reason on vaccines, is it possible they might see reason when it comes to GMOs?

(Oh, who am I kidding.)

By Roadstergal (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

Well, that didn't take long. Althought "medical mafia" has a nice ring to it.

Kudos to Chili's. I still refuse to eat there, though. And not only because all I can hear when I go there is "how about some pizza shooters, shrimp poppers, or extreme fajitas?!" It's actually gross. But I do applaud them cancelling in light of deserved criticism. You know, especially since outbreaks are in the news every day recently.

By AnObservingParty (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

@Roadstergal I don't think it's just the left who need to see reason on vaccines. There are plenty on the right who see vaccines as some form of governmental intrusion (see, for example, Donald Trump and many FOX minions).

The thing those on the far left and far right have in common — especially with respect to vaccines — is an uncanny ability to see vast conspiracies at play where, in fact, there are none.

@ Roadstergal (and thanks for now having this stuck in my head for the rest of the day)...."I want my baby vac, baby vac, baby vac....I want my baby vac (etc).

By Chris Hickie (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

Eric Lund: "Looks like somebody forgot to tell Mikey that the’ve taken thimerosal out of vaccines."

Yeah, the Mercury Militia seems to be stuck in a time warp.

Oh, no, they definitely do acknowledge (grudgingly, when pressed with facts) that mercury was taken out. Then they breathlessly say, as if revealing some huge conspiracy, that it wasn't taken out of ALL of them. It's as if there's some sort of homeopathic effect going on here, where mercury gets more powerful and autism-causing the more tenuous its connection to vaccines becomes.

Not only is it always about the vaccines, it's always about the mercury. Even when it is also about the aluminum and formaldehyde and whatnot. They got into antivax over mercury, and so they will not forget that.

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

So glad that Chili's did the right thing. I know this sounds selfish, but today's my birthday and it would have been beyond insulting to know that people were mistakenly giving money to people who consider me "broken" on a day that I'm supposed to be celebrating.

By cakesphere (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

I wish that once Chili's got the money dedicated to the "Big Red Box" project, they followed through. It's a reasonable effort by the NAA. Sure, Chili's would be lending their name and legitimizing the NAA somewhat, but the amount of money was not likely to be large and Chili's already made the mistake.

That said, I have to imagine that, for example, Autism Speaks is watching this closely. The people who have kept their message away from vaccines are doing a lot of "I told you so". Autism Speaks would be yet another small, fringe charity if they hadn't made the decision early on to keep their vaccine-focused employees quiet in public.

By Matt Carey (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

Happy Birthday cakesphere: Now we have a double celebration; your birthday and the day when the NAA's scam fundraising campaign was defeated. :-)

@ Matt Carey: Now...if the "founders" of Autism Speaks would just stay away from the airways during Autism Awareness Month (they were interviewed constantly last week), and take their loony daughter with them, AS could become a great organization. Let their grandson stay...he's a cutie.

One might want to read the nonpology type statement that the NAA made:

Thank you to all of our supporters, and thank you to Chili's for taking a chance on us. Though NAA has changed our mission and efforts in recent years to focus on autism safety, namely wandering prevention, controversial views about vaccines remained on our website. Because of guest feedback about these views, Chili's has opted to cancel tomorrow's event. We respect their decision and ask everyone to please speak words of love and kindness. NAA has evolved as our children's needs have evolved. Our Big Red Safety Box Program very much helps protect children and adults with autism from wandering-related emergencies. We will continue to provide boxes as funding becomes available. Again, thank you for your support and your positive messages that represent our entire autism community.

NAA doesn't make it clear if they still hold to these "controversial views".

Will those controversial views on vaccines remain on their website? I'd bet yes. Prominent people at NAA are still very focused on these views.

By Matt Carey (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

I find it telling that Mike describes it as " help [to] support mothers of autistic children." Because it's not, nor has it ever been, about the kids. It's about the needs of parents who are convinced they were cheated out of their "real" kids.

namely wandering prevention, controversial views about vaccines remained on our website

Please. They point people to the NVIC for information and support AoA. That was not an oversight in clearing away an old mission. Nor do I like the articles featuring the NAA's president, Wendy. She makes it sound like they're victims and it's terrifying, it is.

By AnObservingParty (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

"In listening to your needs, the grants we make available can be used for biomed, homeopathy, mainstream pediatric GI doctors and neurologists, alternative treatments … virtually anything that is required to assist a family in need."

As long as that family is deeply into woo, apparently.

Orac should stop by the Precision Biosystems booth at AACR. There is a fantastic plexiglass box of blinking lights that may be a long lost relative.

Terrie: Because it’s not, nor has it ever been, about the kids. It’s about the needs of parents who are convinced they were cheated out of their “real” kids.

Yep. And I can't name a single 'autism charity' except for the Autism Self Advocate Network, that doesn't put the parent's 'needs' and views front and center.

By Politicalguineapig (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

"Though NAA has changed our mission and efforts in recent years to focus on autism safety, namely wandering prevention, controversial views about vaccines remained on our website."

You know, it was kind of rude to pass over their other activities in order to focus on the antivax stuff that happened to remain on their website.

Sort of like going to a dinner party where your host is getting plaudits for sponsoring a charter school - and then making a fuss because you run across a Klan robe hanging in his closet.

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

@28. You owe me a new keyboard.

@lilady - Thanks! :) I think it might be a good day for a bailey's milkshake, myself.

By cakesphere (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

NAA has been the least vaccine-focused of those groups pushing the idea of vaccine causation. Their twitter strem, for example, has few hits for vaccine as far as I can see

That said, From a news story:

""We haven't even looked at that page — it's been up there for years," Fournier said of the section on the group's site that says vaccines can trigger autism. She said the group hasn't decided yet how to proceed, but that it may consider changing the language at some point down the road.

For now, she said no changes would be made because the move might be criticized as well."

Again-- a nonpology. Either they agree with the statements on the page or they don't. If they are not part of the NAA's message, take them down. Now.

That page--causes of autism--is just barely 2 years old, so she's technically correct. Technically.*/…

But, what, they put it up and immediately changed their position and just forgot to edit the page?

From their FAQ:

"27.What is NAA’s position on vaccinations?
NAA believes that every parent has the right to research and educate themselves about all medical products, including vaccinations. Informed consent is critical and each parent should have the freedom and information necessary to make the best decision for their child. NAA cannot make this decision for any parent, but we are happy to provide sources of information to anyone in need. We recommend visiting"

NVIC is a very poor choice for their recommendation. And that page is only a year old.

Just 1.5 years ago, NAA wanted to speak at the congressional hearing on autism. As a part of their comment, they wanted to state "Vaccines can cause immune and/or inflammatory injuries to the brain that eventually manifest as an autism diagnosis."

Three board members mention vaccines in their bios.

Their statement after the previous CDC prevalence estimate (2 years ago) was very focused on vaccines…

So, they are not as vaccine-focused as some groups, but they do promote a damaging message.

By Matt Carey (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

Or the NAA could just be trying to have it both ways, being antivaccine while trying to hide that it's antivaccine, which is what I suspect. I mean, come on! Those excuses are pathetic.

Basically, the NAA thought it had hidden its antivaccine proclivities adequately, but they came back and bit it on the ass.

Well, they do receive support and money from people that do believe that vaccines cause autism (like AoA & others), so if they changed their message now, they would certainly lose that the end of the day, placating the crazies will cost them far more in the long run, but they just can't see it.

Terrie: I didn't think I was joking.

By Politicalguineapig (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

“”We haven’t even looked at that page — it’s been up there for years,” Fournier said of the section on the group’s site that says vaccines can trigger autism.

Pull the other one, it's got bells on. It would be one thing to ignore a page that was peripheral to the group's claimed core mission. But autism is the NAA's ostensible core focus. If it were their actual core focus, they should want to have the latest and best information about the causes of autism on their website, not something as thoroughly debunked as that. But if they are actually an anti-vaccine group, then it makes sense for them to continue claiming that vaccines cause autism, no matter that the evidence says otherwise.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

"Or the NAA could just be trying to have it both ways"

They are. But they are on a better trajectory than some groups. I would welcome one of these group finally saying, "we are about helping autistics, not vaccines". The individuals can believe what they want.

Then, of course, there would be the discussion of how NAA promotes untested and unproved "therapies".

By Matt Carey (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

I'm disappointed to see the canard repeated here that antivax is somehow associated with "the left." That is nonsense. Jenny McCarthy is a conservative, and among the most prominent people to have publicly endorsed a link between vaccination and autism are Donald Trump, Michelle Bachman, and Sarah Palin. I am unaware of a single prominent Democratic politician who has ever endorsed the association. Maybe people associate Marin County granola gobblers with "the left" but that's equally false. You're confusing hippie style with progressive politics.

By Cervantes (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

The individuals can believe what they want.

Of course, the page I references states:

The National Autism Association believes:

  • Vaccinations can trigger or exacerbate autism in some, if not many, children, especially those who are genetically predisposed to immune, autoimmune or inflammatory conditions.
  • Other environmental exposures may trigger, or exacerbate, autism in certain children, especially those who are genetically predisposed to immune, autoimmune or inflammatory conditions.

It's the NAA stating that it believes vaccines cause autism.

Cervantes: I agree with you...mostly. We see anti-vax and anti-science viewpoints coming from both sides of the aisle.

Do you classify Robert Kennedy, Jr., as a "prominent Democratic politician"?

A recent comment at AoA ( my edit ...
which includes only the most Shadenfreudeslichtes** parts-as I was too lazy to copy it all):

' It would be great if AOA could do an expose on the bot technology... People have no idea this is going on... they are falsely representing the masses and attempting to shape public policy... this is one person posing as many...fraudulently using a computer to manipulate, control and shut down public discourse "

You don't say!

Oddly enough I do recall seeing and reading here and elsewhere ( e.g. NPR/ Thomson Reuters, 2012/ UK survey quoted by Kreb; recent survey on conspiracy theories) anti-vax/ autism-causes-autism sentiment runs at approxiately at 20%- or less amongst US and UK adults.

So who will do the expose?
Dan and Mark? RFK jr? Jake? Mikey? G--g?
I can hardly wait.
Oh DO tell us all about our errant ways, our exorbitant life style, about the sordid, decadent relationships amongst our sorry lot.

Since I've read so much novelising at AoA, perhaps they can call it, " 50 Shades of Shilling" and make themselves some money.

** I think that that's a word

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

I looked up NAA's website, under "causes of autism" and the first sentence is:

"Based on parent reports – including parents representing the National Autism Association – sharp regression occurred in their children directly following immunizations."

They issued a press statement saying that the investigation of Wakefield by the British medical board was intended to stop research that might show vaccines to be the cause of autism.

Such liars, these people. They figured they could be real clever - like Jenny McCarthy with her "rescue angels" - and raise money off the back of kids who wander, so they could get their feet under the table for anti-vax campaigning.

I'm not disagreeing with where they are now. NAA is still holding on to their roots: vaccines cause autism.

I'm saying perhaps (and only perhaps) they might move to an org that has no statement on vaccines. Those running the org will not change their minds, but they can make NAA about something other than vaccines. They've pushed vaccines back in prominence. Just drop it.

Ms. Fournier is trying to lead people to think that's where they are heading. I'm just hoping that she has the courage to actually do it.

Otherwise they will always look like the "Big Red Box" is their gateway to their vaccine message.

By Matt Carey (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

"Hi, we're from Big Red Box!"
"And was your child vaccinated?"
"Well, yeah."
"There you go then. Here's a flier for Dr Wakefield's next talk."

Where does NAA spend their money? It's on their form 990's (which they post on their website) and Liz Ditz has summarized those.

They spend their money on their annual parent convention.

The question shouldn't be "does their 'Big Red Box' effort outweigh the damage of their statements on their website" but, rather, "does whatever good they do outweigh whatever happens at their parent convention?"

It wasn't that long ago that they were hosting Andrew Wakefield, king of the "your kid is vaccine damaged" message. The man who lauds the parent who kills her kid (on more than one occasion).

The parent convention is host to "sponsors" who want to sell parents on faux therapies. And faux therapies use vaccine-injury as their selling point, quite often.

Aside from the obvious question (does NAA have the guts to lose sponsors), there's the question of exactly how much harm comes from those conventions?

By Matt Carey (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

Maybe NAA uses the same "tech guy" who for months (or years)? was unable to take the links off Dr. Jay's site?

In this day and age, I simply cannot take seriously anyone who tries to backpedal significant content on their website as being "old" that they just "forgot" to check--it speaks either to facile dishonesty (and a lack of respect for the intelligence of their audience) or sheer incompetence. (This, unlike some of the science, is well within my professional wheelhouse).

Jubilee, you beat me to it.

It's NAA's signature program.

They've given away 10,000 and don't have the money to fund more. That, to me, smacks of financial mis-management -- I mean, you have a couple of years of tracking the demand, you know how much it costs to make and ship the boxes -- and you can't get your act together to keep funding it?

They're planning another give-away, this time iDevices loaded with an AAC program. I smell failure ahead -- you can't just slap a device into the hands of a child with significant oral-language issues and expect a miracle.

walking away with egg on its face.
Huevos rancheros, I assume.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

@PGP. sorry, that was aimed at Dangerous Bacon, not you. Fingers slipped.

@Matt Carey:

You might be mildly interested in this.

If NAA is serious about eliminating its antivax advocacy, it will at a minimum take down the antivax position statement, stop pointing visitors towards NVIC, cease promoting the sort of "biomed" treatments that feed off antivax beliefs and stop sponsoring rabid antivaxers (i.e. Age Of Autism).

Instead we get feeble excuses - don't-pay-attention-to-what-the-website-says-this-isn't-really-what-we're-about-anymore, and they wind up pissing off antivax allies as well as rational folks who'd otherwise be inclined to support their organization.

Talk about painting yourself into a corner.

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

@38: I’m disappointed to see the canard repeated here that antivax is somehow associated with “the left.”

I didn't say it was singularly associated with the left, I said I was happy to see it falling out of favor with the left. :) As a progressive hippie peacenik environmental blahblah, it just raises my blood pressure in a way no amount of bicycling to work or vegetarianism will ameliorate to see/hear my leftie friends going on about pseudoscience...

Although I am not at AACR, I will be at DDW in about a month, for a little good science on the subject of colitis.

By Roadstergal (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink


I think this topic has been covered d on this blog (at least I think it was, it could have been on SBM or an affiliate), but there's a tendency for the extremes on both sides of the political spectrum to converge on an anti-vaccine platform, just with their own justifications. Those on the extreme left don't want to inject "toxins" into their offspring and leave it to mother nature, while those on the extreme right will be damned if they'll have any authority tell them how to keep their offspring healthy and infringe on their health freedom. Stupidity knows no political bounds.

By Sian Williams (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

I find the $7500 grant to the trustees of Tufts College that's reported on the NAA's 2011 Form 990 intriguing.

It doesn't seem very obviously mission-compatible. Or very anti-vaxx-y.

Also, they must be furious. It would have been very big bucks for them (and probably more than they could have spent on Big Red Toolboxes).

Ann, I have been looking for autism research at Tufts University and not coming up with much. The $7,500 would not have funded much, anyway. It might have been for an autism awareness day, or an "autism & wandering/elopement" event on campus.

It might have. 990s are frustrating that way.

It does stand out, though. I might feel a little curiosity about the Section 179 deduction too, if I could think of any way to satisfy it.

But it looks clean to me, for the most part.

In case that needs elaboration:

It's unusual to see one (a Section 179 deduction) being claimed by an exempt organization.

There's nothing for them to be deducting it from, unless they have a lot of unrelated business income, which is not the case here.

I guess I don't really understand what it's doing there.

As I figure it::

The presence of a 179 deduction suggests that the charity owns a property some percentage of which is used for business.

That, to me, raises a question about what the deal is with the other part. If someone lives or works there, rent-free, that's potentially a problem.

Because that's usually not what the IRS regards as charity.

But maybe I have it figured wrong.

Ann, I'm not an accountant, just have been to the rodeo with a lot of different 501(c)3s.

The one thing that pops out at me on the 2011 990 is that in Schedule A, Part II, they report 2008 income as $17,650, but when I look at the 2008 990 (downloadable from the NAA page) it lists total $595,231. It's the program service revenue that's $17,650.

the extremes on both sides of the political spectrum to converge on an anti-vaccine platform, just with their own justifications

I don't know if "converge" is the right word, as if the anti-vaccine platform were a logically-thought-through conclusion derived from the wrong postulates or evidence. Seems to me more that some people start with a magical-thinking purity-of-essence style of ideation, which is compatible with otherwise left- or right-wing leanings.

What with the workings of crank magnetism, one half-baked idea is never enough, and someone who's open-minded enough to accept the mercury / aluminium junk science has a sufficiently large enough hole in the head to let a lot of other stuff blow in as well. Rightwing politics seems slightly friendlier to magical thinking and the paranoid style, more tolerant of cognitive dissonance, but it's not exclusive.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

Well....Technically, they sign the form under penalty of perjury.

But apart from that, I can't think what part of the IRC it would violate. Even if I were the meanest auditor in the whole EO division, I'd figure it was just an error by whoever prepared the form.

(Me too, wrt not being an accountant/running around with (c)(3)s.)

Terrie: No problem, it was just puzzling me.

By Politicalguineapig (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

^^That's @Liz Ditz.

Another thing about that deduction that's attention-getting is that I don't see a $2 million property listed anywhere among their assets.


Maybe the NAA doesn't own it.

Makes no sense either way.

I think converge is okay. They have their own circuitous paths littered with conspiracies and logical fallacies, but they arrive at the same destination.

I'll agree that the far right is friendlier to paranoid thinking, but the left has its own share of magical thinking and cognitive dissonance. I'm left of center, but some of the crap I've heard the far left spew has left me baffled.

By Sian Williams (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

In a way, this is great news. Four years ago, this would have kicked up a slight fuss, but Chilli's would have proceeded. Today, there was such a storm of protest that Chilli's was forced into a climbdown. It just goes to show how far anti-vaxxers have fallen in the public's mind.

By Julian Frost (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

the left has its own share of magical thinking and cognitive dissonance. I’m left of center, but some of the crap I’ve heard the far left spew has left me baffled.

Ah well, if you ever have need of consolation, you can always look at the objectivists & libertarians.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

The $7,500 would not have funded much, anyway. It might have been for an autism awareness day, or an “autism & wandering/elopement” event on campus.

I don't know what overhead and benefits rates at Tufts are like, but if they are similar to what my university charges, that would be roughly two weeks of salary for somebody like me. Less if you are dealing with faculty, more if it's a postdoc or tech. So that's more likely going for some kind of event on campus, especially if Tufts isn't doing much autism research. Did somebody on the NAA board have a connection to Tufts?

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

Concerning the right-left divide in woo..

I notice that Mikey and Gary attempt- rather clumsily- to appeal to both ends of the political spectrum for, after all, leftie money and rightie money are both MONEY.

It's done this way:
they both advocate** a return to 'naturalness',: the world uncontaminated by industry, greed, avarice and man made toxins: a return to an earlier aeon of pristine bliss which is attributed to the perfected work of either the Creator or Mother Nature herself: take your pick.

Traditionalists may hear their religious leanings invoked whilst liberals might resonate with the idea of a corporationless utopia in the prevaricators' messaging.

The loons go even further: they blend together divergent themes from each political slant as though they were GMO-free ingredients in one of their hellish smoothies. There is an appeal to freedom to act or speak as one will without interference, respect for human rights and a deeply cherished plea for tax freedom as well as for health choice. Both governments and corporations are railed against as though they were basically identical. A revolution against the powers that oppress is called for nearly weekly.

Their own proclivities shine through this morass- they can bark about their humanitarianism all they like but their true motives quite transparently glow through to anyone who has even the slightest understanding of how people operate-
both earn high incomes as owners of corporations and would like to pay less taxes;
both mime being health professionals and thus, dislike government agencies ruling what they can and can't do. Both sell supplements and don't want to see any interference in their business;
both want the freedom to spew dis-informational routines without being censored.
One of them even goes so far as to call his inclination "progressive libertarianism".

Do I think that they believe these contrary tendencies? No, I think that the bottom line truly is the _bottom line_ i.e profit.

** which in some quarters ( PRN) is pronounced *a-vo-cate*

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

I happen to have a FB 'nym who is friends with Wendy Fournier, president of the NAA. She's not antivax. Not her ;)

She's friends with
Jake Crosby
Nancy Hokkenan
Kurt Linderman
Lisa Joyce Goes
Lisa Sykes
etc etc

And she likes:
Nurses against mandatory vaccination
FUA (f**k you autism)
Autism Action Network
Linderman Unleashed
The Thinking Mom's Network
Dr. Wakefield Justice Fund
We stand by Dr. Anju Usman
Lee Silsby Compounding Pharmacy
83 Canaries
Dr. Bob Sears
Generation Rescue
Dr. Tenpenny on vaccines
Dr. Wakefield's work must continue
My child's vaccine reaction
etc. etc.
And to be fair:
Close Judge Rotenberg Center

If she wants to show she's not antivax, she needs a whole new set of friends and likes.

By Broken Link (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

Tufts has a campus chapter of Autism Speaks, evidently. (There also might be an affiliate called "Voices for Autism." I can't tell if they're separate things.)

Anyway. Bet it was earmarked for that.

"are entitled to their viewpoints without being attacked."

... but they are not entitled to free money.

The free money/apartment/food/etc set are a different activist movement.

By Spectator (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

Very sad I couldn't join you this year at AACR, Orac! It was a rare year where I got a pass.

I wonder if you saw this Epidemiology paper from last year?

Epidemiology. 2013 Sep;24(5):651-9.
Autism spectrum disorder phenotypes and prenatal exposure to methylmercury.
"Prenatal exposure to methylmercury was not associated with ASD phenotypic behaviors in our cohort of high fish consumers. Our findings contribute to the growing literature suggesting that exposure to methylmercury does not play an important role in the development of ASD phenotypic behavior."

It's METHYLmercury, not ETHYL, but still interesting.

Add that to the data from the Seychelles study:
Lancet. 2003 May 17;361(9370):1686-92.
JAMA. 1998 Aug 26;280(8):701-7.

Short version: no science supporting a link between organic mercury compounds and autism or ASD ... though developmental delay still remains a possible outcome.

... one interesting finding that caught my eye was in Environ Health Perspect. 2013 Oct;121(10):1214-8. Apparently, herbal teas are a likely source of mercury. Hey, look, you can buy just such a product at Mike Adam's website NaturalNews! Looks like Mikey is part of the Chemical Holocaust, too...

By c0nc0rdance (not verified) on 07 Apr 2014 #permalink

Denice: in HS German we had a contest to come up with the longest-possible concatenation-based word. My entry (my German has gone rusty in the 39 years since, so I don't remember what it turned out to be) involved something along the lines of "a tow truck called out to haul away a car damaged when a riot broke out over disputed officiating at a soccer game."

God, they are such liars. Fournier is speaking even this weekend at an anti-vaccine conference being run by Wakefield, sponsored by the NAA. And they put out their mealy-mouthed statement to say "oh, do we have something about vaccines on our website?"

These people live and breathe to frighten parents away from vaccines, and to exercise some kind of perverse revenge on a world they think has mistreated them.

Short version: no science supporting a link between organic mercury compounds and autism or ASD

The magic word is 'prenatal'. This from the Seychelles would get flipped instantly: "There were significant adverse associations between examination scores and postnatal exposure, but only for males."

OneOther @ 5: Fish & mercury:

But fish are Natural and the mercury in fish is Natural Mercury, whereas mercury in vaccines was Artificial Mercury, which is almost as bad as the Supernatural Mercury of AOA's feverish dreams. (Excess Capitalization Intended;-) Right!

@ Denise Walter
Shadenfreudeslichtes should of course be Schadenfreudeslichtes.

Chili's should just revise where they send the money. I'm sure there are dozens of legitimate autism support groups who would greatly appreciate donations from the event and could put the money to practical use providing support, (evidence based) therapy, materials etc.

You don’t sponsor AoA unless you’re either (1) antivaccine to the core or (2) easily duped. OK, BI is both

Surely you mean "NAA is both", not "BI is both".

By Antaeus Feldspar (not verified) on 08 Apr 2014 #permalink

ABC news' website has a story purporting to be about differences in the "autism community" over the Chili's affair, but the "reporter" apparently just scarfed random comments off the Chili's Facebook page:…

Too bad, it would have been interesting if ABC had bothered to interview spokesmen for other autism organizations (true, duck and cover would likely have characterized the responses).

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 08 Apr 2014 #permalink

@ ebohlman:
Ha ha.
@ Renate:
Thanks. I was worried about the "lichtes* part so of course I got the "Schaden* part wrong. I did have some German at school though.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 08 Apr 2014 #permalink

Back to business:

It seems that the Rev ( Lisa Goes) views the Chili's debacle as a sign that anti-vaxxers are winning ( @ TMR today). The restaurant company merely "caved to bullying tactics". However another company in her area WILL donate to NAA.

Obviously magazines/ newspapers will laud companies who cave for they exist because of pharma adverts. Vaccines cause ASDs, SID and a host of other auto-immune conditions.

After a page or so, she adds a video of additional preaching and childcare ( 9 minutes) wherein she discusses the numbers. That 1-in-68 being bandied about doesn't even include children like her own- and those of other TMs- who are under age 8. The REAL number is much more: according to her MIL, an educator, 1 in FOUR have special needs. Autism is *medical* she declares.

So what can Thinking Moms do? She says,first, talk with your doctor ( her son has several) "share the science", talk about the "profit motive" and show him or her the study -whichever it is- which made you sit up and take notice: "That's just like what happened to MY son!" Show the doctor the study.

Next, don't "engage" with anyone who argues with you about the issue: time is precious.They are simply "not educated". There are only 4 words you can say to them:
"Read the package inserts".

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 08 Apr 2014 #permalink

In other religious news:

Mikey reveals the diivine inspiration behind Natural News:
he's not in it for the money. He discusses evil ( i.e. us)
And hey, that lab cost him a cool million. ( podcast 10 minutes)

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 08 Apr 2014 #permalink

@Denise: possibly an oversimplification, but both the right and the left wingnuts seem to want a return to the 50's -- the 1950's and the 1850's, respectively.

@Renate: And there's always Rhabarberbarbarabarbarbarenbartbarbierbier.

Oops...that should have read Rhabarberbarbarabarbarbarenbartbarbierbierbar.

Finally.. some sanity! arguing with those on natural news i was beginning to think there was no hope! Orac! you have restored my faith in humanity that somewhere there is still sense in the world. i'm going to lose the evening reading now :)

Jeff1971 @82

God, they are such liars. Fournier is speaking even this weekend at an anti-vaccine conference being run by Wakefield, sponsored by the NAA.

Details please I haven't been able to find a link to said conference. Dates and location at a minimum.

Never mind, Jeff. It's the "Give Autism A Chance" conference this weekend. Tickets are only $65.00

@ Bags:

Come on over to the darkside:
the pay is excellent and all of us are goodlooking. Great cocktail parties, pharma sponsored, of course.

MIkey has often been the causation of much merriment @ RI: use the search box to see what mincemeat Orac and his minions have made of him.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 08 Apr 2014 #permalink

Broken Link : If she wants to show she’s not antivax, she needs a whole new set of friends and likes.

Or possibly, you need a new friend. I had to unfriend a former schoolfriend on FB after too much Christian spam started cluttering up my page. (Hilariously, his dad's a pot activist.)

By Politicalguineapig (not verified) on 08 Apr 2014 #permalink

@PgP. Of course, she`s not a real friend, She is a "friend" of a pseudonym of mine who exists on FB to keep an eye on this stuff.

By Broken Link (not verified) on 08 Apr 2014 #permalink

Ah, okay. Like I said, I've sadly had a few friends in real life who I've either had to drop outright or phase out gently, so I assumed you'd had the same experience.

By Politicalguineapig (not verified) on 08 Apr 2014 #permalink

Question: Where is this Wendy Fournier person headquartered, and from where does she get her money? I've run across a similar name in a different context (two hops away from another centre of woo & new-agery) and it would be interesting to find out if they were related.

@Denice Walter

I have read quite a bit already,. NN Banned me after i called him out one time too many. He doesn't like the voice of reason on his comment threads! he removed every one of them! The denial and paranoia over there is overwhelming. I was about to give up anyway to be honest. its an ass kicking contest with a porcupine!

@ Ann and Liz, could their "donation" have something to do with Dr. Theo Theoharides and his "Autism Free Brain" gig?

By Science Mom (not verified) on 09 Apr 2014 #permalink

I have a Chili's right down the road from my house. I tweeted them I would no longer be visiting their establishment (as my family does a couple times a month) and would be advising my colleagues, family and friends to do the same regarding their support of an unscientific and dangerous idea.

By oldmanjenkins (not verified) on 09 Apr 2014 #permalink

And it was thanks to tweets like yours, oldmanjenkins, that they did cancel it. They do listen to their customers, so thank you! I hope you'll reward that by resuming your patronage of them.

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 10 Apr 2014 #permalink