In the world of the anti-vaccine underground, there is one time of the year that looms large. Over the last few years, this time has generally come right around the end of May, usually coinciding with the Memorial Day weekend and the unofficial beginning of the summer vacation season here in the U.S. I’m referring, of course, to Autism One, which blights one of my favorite cities in the world, Chicago, every year about this time. True, of late Autism One has been metastasizing, most recently to blight the city of Toronto and the very grounds of the University of Toronto itself. As you may recall, last fall, when Autism One descended upon Toronto, I described it as “a conference of believers in two things: (1) that vaccines cause autism and (2) that ‘biomedical’ and CAM/IM therapies can treat and even reverse autism,” and it’s true, but Autism One is more than that. It’s a combination of a networking meeting for the anti-vaccine set, a revival meeting for the cult of anti-vaccinationism and autism “biomedical” therapy, and a trade show for “biomed” treatments for autism, all dressed up to appear to be a legitimate scientific conference.
Of all the fake scientific conferences out there, Autism One in Chicago, which begins today, far eclipses all the others, including even Barbara Loe Fisher’s National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) conference. Closely aligned with the anti-vaccine propaganda group Generation Rescue and its outlet in the blogosphere Age of Autism (both of which, not surprisingly, have been promoting the conference incessantly), Autism One is the granddaddy of fake academic autism conferences, where anyone who’s anyone in the anti-vaccine “autism biomed” underground goes to see and be seen. It even has a keynote address by anti-vaccine celebrity spokesmodel Jenny McCarthy herself this year, just like the previous two years. This year, however, Autism One has expanded from three or four days to a full week, and it has taken on a note of political activism that was generally lacking in previous conferences. In previous years, Autism One pretty much stayed localized to a hotel near O’Hare, far from the center of the city. This time around it’s still at a hotel near O’Hare, but its organizers plan an anti-vaccine protest rally right smack dab in the middle of Grant Park on Wednesday afternoon. All of this leads me to conclud that this year Autism One’s organizers appear to be cementing the relationship between the autism “biomed” movement, the anti-vaccine movement, and the “health freedom” movement.
A cavalcade of anti-vaccine quackery
First and foremost, Autism One is about two things: “biomedical” quackery to treat autistic children (who are, according to many of the dubious practitioners there, autistic because of “vaccine injury”) and promoting the scientifically discredited idea that vaccines cause autism. In fact, this year, Autism One appears to have taken on the flavor of being in part one big “coming out” party for Andrew Wakefield, who somehow also managed to score an interview with Matt Lauer on Monday. Remember, this is the man whose dubious, incompetent, trial lawyer-funded, and probably fraudulent research back in 1998, aided and abetted by the credulous and sensationalistic U.K. press, not only sparked a hysterical fear of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine resulting in depressed vaccination rates and the resurgence of the measles in the U.K but is arguably the man most responsible for the very existence of the “autism biomed” movement itself. His shoddy and likely fraudulent research was the inspiration that launched a thousand — nay, thousands! — of “biomed” practitioners (a.k.a. quacks) to prey on autistic children. That’s why I thought it would be a useful exercise to take a look at the list of abstracts (just like a real scientific conference!) and make a few observations.
The first thing I noticed when I looked at the schedule is rather telling. I simply searched for the word “vaccine” and immediately noticed that for an autism conference there sure are a lot of references to vaccines! But what is Autism One telling parents about vaccines? What do you think? Let’s find out.
First up on the list is a speaker named Vicky Debold, who is giving a talk entitled What Parents Need to Know About Vaccine Adjuvants. Ms. Debold is described as:
…affiliate faculty member at George Mason University, Health Administration and Policy Department. She previously worked as a health policy analyst for the US Congress at the Physician Payment Review Commission, the Michigan Health and Safety Coalition, and the Michigan State Commission on Patient Safety. Additionally, she has served as an assistant professor at the University of Michigan and as an associate professor and director of the Health Systems Management Program at the University of Detroit, Mercy. Her doctoral degree is from the University of Michigan (1999) – from both the School of Public Health (Health Services Organization and Policy) and the School of Nursing (Health Systems Administration). She was a University of Michigan Regent’s Fellow and completed a post-doctoral fellowship in health services research at the Michigan Peer Review Organization. Dr. Debold’s son, her only child, experienced serious, long-term health problems following receipt of seven live virus and killed bacterial vaccines at his 15-month well-baby appointment. That event sparked her interest in vaccine safety and chronic childhood illness. In addition to serving as a director and committee member for autism non-profit organizations and as the volunteer director of patient safety and a board member of the National Vaccine Information Center, she is the appointed consumer representative to the Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC).
Oh, dear. Not my alma mater! Not the University of Michigan! Isn’t it bad enough that Ann Coulter also graduated from the University of Michigan? In any case, of note Debold is a board member of the anti-vaccine organization NVIC. From her abstract, it looks as though Debold is trying to put a reasonable face on the anti-vaccine movement — at least on the surface. Her abstract sounds pretty reasonable until you hit this:
In addition to producing antibodies, vaccine adjuvants can stimulate the immune system to produce abnormal responses in some individuals leading to autoimmunity and chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
I don’t have high hopes for the scientific accuracy of this talk.
Next up is Dr. Mayer Eisenstein. Dr. Eisenstein, as you may recall, has been mentioned several times on this blog, most recently just last week when it was pointed out that he is part of the team that writes anti-vaccine propaganda for the website Medical Voices Vaccine Information Center, the very same website that’s been dodging responding to Mark Crislip’s excellent takedown of one bit of MVVIC’s anti-vaccine propaganda. Dr. Eisenstein, as you may recall, is the founder of the crunchy “alternative” HomeFirst practice in the Chicagoland area. He is noted for claiming that there is no asthma, allergies, ADHD, ADD or Autism in its unvaccinated children based on zero published peer-reviewed evidence. In fact, Eisenstein himself has said:
Eisenstein stresses his observations are not scientific. “The trouble is this is just anecdotal in a sense, because what if every autistic child goes somewhere else and (their family) never calls us or they moved out of state?”
Yet his claim that he has 35,000 unvaccinated children in his practice and has never seen a case of asthma, allergies, ADHD, ADD, or autism in them is taken as Gospel truth in anti-vaccine circles. This time around, at Autism One, Dr. Eisenstein will be speaking on So You Have Decided Not to Vaccinate – How Do You Qualify for a Valid Legal Vaccine Waiver?, and the abstract reads:
Since vaccine mandates are state determined, vaccine laws may vary from state to state. Before submitting any medical, philosophical or religious exemption documentation, I recommend reviewing your state law to determine which of the waivers are applicable in your state. All 50 states in the U.S. allow for medical exemption to childhood vaccines. With the exception of West Virginia and Mississippi, all states also allow for a religious exemption to childhood vaccines. Currently, 17 states have philosophical exemptions to vaccines.
I will address the following questions: Can I give some of the vaccines and not others? Are there medical contraindications to vaccines? Can the state review and deny your physician’s letter objecting to vaccines? Are the chicken pox and rubella vaccines grown on the cells of aborted fetuses? Is mercury still in vaccines? How do I find a sympathetic doctor?
Of note, Dr. Eisenstein was recently in the news for having been an advocate of Mark and David Geier’s chemical castration protocol for autism, as well as a record of harm and death in his practice. And what do vaccines have to do with autism? In the real world, as far as science has been able to ascertain, nothing. In the fantasy world of Autism One, everything. Meanwhile, no form of quackery is off-limits at Autism One. In fact, there will even be homeopaths speaking there about how to use that quackiest of quackeries, homeopathy, to treat autism and “vaccine injury.” For example, two homeopaths named Cindy L. Griffin, DSH-P, DIHom, BME and Lindyl Lanham, DSH-P, BS Spec Ed, both from the Homeopathy Center of Houston, are collaborating to give two talks, one entitled An alternative approach for vaccine injury, which features homeopathy prominently as one of those “alternative” approaches, and another entitled The Houston Homeopathy Method of Sequential Homeopathy: A Drug-Free Alternative to Biomedical Treatment for Children with Autism.
Apparently even the magical thinking that is homeopathy is not too magical for the organizers of Autism One. And if that’s not enough, there’s a naturopath named Darin Ingels, ND (Not a Doctor) presenting on The Role of Allergy Desensitization in Autism, which makes Dr. Lipson’s post last week most timely, as well as another Not a Doctor, Jennifer Johnson, discussing Lymphatic Therapy – the Missing Piece. Get a load of the abstract:
Jennifer Johnson, ND, will speak on lymphatic therapy and how it is the missing link for autism recovery. She will include how lymphatic decongestive therapy prepares the body to be at its optimum level of detoxification prior to laser energetic detox. Also she will include how lymphatic decongestive therapy works in conjunction with the Zyto as well as how it complements IVIG treatment and chelation. This will be done with a slide-show presentation. This will be followed by a demonstration of the electro-lymphatic drainage machine and there will be time for questions and answers.
“Laser energetic detox”? “Lymphatic decongestive therapy”? IVIG treatment and chelation? Truly, no form of autism pseudoscience is too bizarre for Autism One, be it homeopathy or the woo-iest of woo from naturopaths!
Of particular interest to regular readers of this blog is this talk by Laura Hewitson entitled Primate Models for Testing Vaccine Safety. Having had her (and Andrew Wakefield’s) paper on this study withdrawn before officially appearing in the journal NeuroToxicology in the wake of the judgment of the British General Medical Council having found Wakefield to have committed research misconduct. Regular readers may recall that I deconstructed this study, in which Wakefield and Hewitson subjected infant Macacque monkeys to hepatitis B vaccination spiked with extra thimerosal, twice, once on the basis of a couple of abstracts presented at IMFAR and then once based on the actual manuscript describing the study results. Suffice it to say that this study was, in my not-so-humble opinion, bad science, unethical, and a waste of valuable and sensitive primates, who were all killed at the end of the study to examine their brain and organs, as well as to perform whole genome expression profiling on tissues harvested from the GI tract of the dead monkeys. Dr. Hewitson also failed to disclose on her initial abstracts that her husband worked for Thoughtful House and that she and her husband are the parents of a complainant in the Autism Omnibus petition to the Vaccine Court seeking redress based on “vaccine injury” having caused autism in the children involved. As a result of her association with Wakefield, which led to her descent into pseudoscience, Dr. Hewitson saw her once-promising academic career at the University of Pittsburgh tank and ended up joining Wakefield at Thoughtful House. Now that Wakefield has been fired from Thoughtful House, Hewitson remains there. She who once was the learner has now become the master, at least at Thoughful House, while Wakefield is on the outside looking in. Meanwhile, if your research is discredited scientifically, you can always present it at Autism One, as long as it appears to support the belief that vaccines cause autism.
Speaking of Andrew Wakefield, as I said before, Autism One appears to be his “coming out” party after the disrepute he fell into in the wake of the GMC’s ruling, the retraction of his infamous 1998 Lancet paper, and the withdrawal of his NeuroToxicology paper in which he abused baby monkeys by using them for bad science. First of all, he has a new book out entitled Callous Disregard: Autism and Vaccines—The Truth Behind a Tragedy. The title of a book is a play on this passage from the GMC’s ruling on Wakefield’s research misconduct: “You showed a callous disregard for the distress and pain that you knew or ought to have known the children involved might suffer.” Wakefield no doubt thinks that he’s being cheeky and sarcastic by appropriating those words for the title of his book, but the term “callous disregard” fits Wakefield like a glove. Of course, the book is getting rave reviews from the anti-vaccine crowd, but I have yet to see a review from a skeptic. I’m half tempted to see whether I could score a review copy, but after my attempt to read Suzanne Somers’ paean to cancer quackery last fall I’m not sure that would be such a good idea. You’ll notice that there was no part 2 to that series. My brain had a hard time handling all the misinformation there; it caused too much pain.
So what’s Wakfield up to at Autism One? First, he’ll be appearing on a panel with the editors of the anti-vaccine crank blog Age of Autism, where they will tag team a discussion of “AOA’s mission in the coming year and discuss with Andy how to continue to tell the truth about autism.” I can hardly wait. No doubt it will provide me and my fellow SBM bloggers with copious blogging material for the coming year. Then later he’ll be a keynote speaker, where he will discuss in a talk entitled Autism and the vagrant in the brainstem:
This talk examines the possibility that brainstem injury plays a central role in autism. In light of recent observations of brainstem injury in a primate model of vaccine-associated effects on early neurodevelopment, and an analysis of the scientific literature, it is proposed that, as an epicentric event, damage to the dorsal vagal complex (DVC) of the brainstem may be necessary and sufficient to initiate the central and systemic features of autism, including the many that fall outside the behavioral definition of this condition. Mechanisms by which primary systemic inflammation can cause brainstem damage are presented with reference to the published literature. The talk discusses the anatomical predilection of the DVC for injury resulting form a variety of mechanisms including disruption to the blood supply in the developing brain, environmental toxicity and, via retrograde vagal pathways, intestinal inflammation. Ways of examining this theory are discussed.
So now it’s “brainstem injury” due to vaccines, is it? I thought it was gut injury due to measles virus from MMR. Truly, Wakefield is a man with many dubious ideas.
Perhaps the most intriguing event where Andrew Wakefield will appear occurs on Wednesday. It is at this event where Autism One does us skeptics all a great service by demonstrating even more strongly than Jenny McCarthy’s “Green Our Vaccines” rally two years ago that it is about being “anti-vaccine,” not “pro-safe vaccine.”
The anti-vaccine movement “autism biomed” movement meets the “health freedom” movement
One of the biggest examples of either self-delusion or lying that emanates from the anti-vaccine movement is the oh-so-pious and indignant denials that inevitably follow from its members and leaders whenever someone like me has the temerity to point out that they are, in fact, anti-vaccine. The disingenuously angry denials usually take a form something like this, “I’m not anti-vaccine; I’m pro-safe vaccine.” Another variant is for anti-vaccine activists to claim that they aren’t anti-vaccine at all; they’re just “concerned” that children are getting “too many” vaccines “too soon.” What belies these claims, which can be seemingly reasonable on the surface to the uninitiated, is what happens if you try to pin down someone making them on just what, exactly, it would take to convince them that vaccines are safe as administered. A good way to approach this is to try to ask them to tell you specifically exactly what it would take to convince them to vaccinate their next child. What evidence would convince them? What you’ll almost inevitably find, if you push them, is that the answer to that question is: Nothing! Nothing will convince them. Ever!
On cue, seemingly trying very hard to support my oft-stated belief that “pro-safe vaccine” really equals “anti-vaccine,” and the “autism biomed” movement is in reality all about the vaccines, Autism One comes along to back me up. The reason I say that is that on Wednesday, May 26, associated with the Autism One quackfest, there will be a rally in Grant Park, an “American rally for personal rights.” Perusing the website, you’ll rapidly find out that the manifesto of the rally is about vaccines:
We believe in the rights to life, liberty, and personal security for ourselves and our children.
We demand the universal human rights standard of informed consent for all medical interventions. Compulsory vaccination cannot be legally and morally justified.
We affirm the sanctity of personal space, the right to be left alone, and the freedom to make personal health care decisions guided by the professionals of our choosing.
We invite all people, families and organizations committed to protecting these fundamental rights to stand with us in downtown Chicago on May 26, 2010 at our inaugural rally, and to work with us after the event to support grassroots advocacy, education, and leadership in defense of our personal – individual, parental, legal, moral, religious, civil, and human – rights.
Is it a coincidence that this rally is occurring smack dab in the middle of Autism One? Of course not! Is it a coincidence that, at the same time Andy Wakefield is “coming out” after his humiliation in January and February, as well as the impending loss of his medical license in the U.K. and that part of that coming out (not to mention promotion of his book) involves being the keynote speaker for an anti-vaccine rally? Get a load of the promotional video:
If you wanted yet more evidence that the “pro-safe vaccine” movement is really the anti-vaccine movement, here it is. But, wait!, I hear. It’s an entirely legitimate issue about how much power the government should have to require that children be vaccinated and under what circumstances. So it is. It’s a valid political and philosophical question, but a scientific question, not so much, given that the science is firmly behind the safety and efficacy of vaccines. Moreover, the whole “personal rights” bit is a smokescreen to hide the true nature of the rally: Anti-vaccine to the core. In reality, this “personal freedom” angle is very much the intellectual offspring (I think I just choked on the word “intellectual” in this context) of the “health freedom” movement. As I’ve said more times than I can remember, “health freedom” is in practice rarely anything more than demanding freedom for quacks to ply their trade on their marks without any pesky interference from laws, regulation, or the government.
“Vaccine freedom” is little different at its core. It’s also profoundly deceptive for at least two reasons. First, by “informed consent,” American Personal Rights does not mean real, informed consent, with a science-based discussion of the benefits versus the risks of vaccines (which, by the way, is overwhelmingly in favor of vaccinating being safer than not vaccinating). What such groups really mean is an “informed” consent where parents are “informed” of all sorts of scientifically unsupported and intentionally frightening claims, such as the claim that vaccines cause autism, that they’re loaded with “toxins,” that the don’t work, or that they’re very dangerous, all coupled with a vastly exaggerated estimation of the rate at which true vaccine complications occur, which is very, very low. Second, except for two states, parents already have the freedom to decline vaccines. The only real enforcement point of our vaccination policy is admittance to public schools, virtually all of which require children to be up to date on their vaccines before they can attend. Even with that leverage, in nearly every state, there are mechanisms within the law to claim exemptions from vaccination requirements based on religion or even personal philosophy (17 states have “personal philosophy” exemptions, as Dr. Eisenstein himself points out), the latter of which can be something as simple as saying that the parent has some sort of “philosophical objection” to vaccinating their children. In other words, this is a rally for a right that parents in nearly every state already have.
So why bother? Perhaps some of the literature on the website can tell us. First, let’s take a look at the organizations that are participating in the rally. The participants include a veritable who’s who of anti-vaccine cranks, including Age of Autism, Ginger Taylor, Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, Generation Rescue, the Holistic Moms Network, Medical Voices, Mike Adams, TACA, the Australian Vaccination Network, and many others.
For more evidence, let’s take a look at the suggested slogans for rally signs. I’ve selected a few out of the 100 or so slogans there. There’s lots of “freedom” rhetoric, but there are also quite a few signs that can only be described as pure anti-vaccine:
- 1% US Kids Autistic But Fully Vaccinated
- Adults Die From Vaccine Reactions, Too
- CDC Trades Infectious Disease For CHRONIC – Allergies, Autism, ADHD, Asthma, Diabetes…
- H1N1 Was a TARP For Pharma
- I Refuse Forced Vaccines
- If My Child Is Harmed, You Won’t Pay
- I’m More Afraid Of The Vaccine Than The Flu
- My Child Was Murdered By Vaccines
- No Vaccine Liability! Total Immunity If Vaccine Kills You
- Schools Are Overrun With Vax-Injured Children
- Stop Experimenting On Our Kids
- The Ouch Isn’t What Hurts
- Too Many Shots
- Too Many Sick Kids
- Why Does Our Government Want Us Vaccinated So Bad?
And my favorite, the ever-ominous, “There Are No Safe Vaccines.”
Finally, this particular rally has its very own soundtrack.
The American Rally for Personal Rights is pleased to announce that rally speaker Michael Belkin, will for the very first time ever, be performing songs from his upcoming CD at our rally. In 1998, Michael’s daughter died only hours after receiving a required vaccine, sparked by this intensely personal encounter with the negative effects of government mandated vaccines he began a journey of public service which has included providing testimony before Congress, attending vaccine related regulatory sessions and appearing in countless media reports as a vaccine safety advocate.
His journey has found a new path in The Refusers, a musical tribute to the victims (past, present and future) of the government’s misguided mandatory vaccination policy. Inspired by his previous career as a LA session player and recording artist, Michael has brought infectious elements of funk, gospel, rock, and even a touch of punk to this project. Combining this with his pointed lyrics discussing vaccine issues and government-mandated intrusion into our personal lives, The Refusers embodies, in the great American tradition of protest music, a sound that will be heard around the world. With lyrics like “they can keep their flu vaccine” and “a vaccine needle stole my baby away,” this record will have you on your feet shouting “keep your mandates out of my body”!
You think I’m joking? I only wish I were joking, but I’m not, and neither, apparently, is the “American Rally for Personal Rights” or The Refusers. There are three songs listed there:
- Get Your Mandates Out of My Body
- Vaccine Gestapo
- We Don’t Want Their Flu Vaccine
You can actually download these songs here. If you want an example of how anti-vaccine (not to mention inane) these songs are, here are the lyrics to one of them, “Vaccine Gestapo”:
They have swastikas on their shoulders
They’re such patriotic soldiers
They’re like a militia in Montana
They’re a government agency in Atlanta
Vaccine gestapo! Vaccine gestapo!
Vaccine gestapo! Vaccine gestapo!
They’re a medical military priesthood
Just like Adolf they preach the greater good
Consciencious objectors are just little snot
Why don’t you quit complaining and go get your shots
Vaccine gestapo! Vaccine gestapo!
Vaccine gestapo! Vaccine gestapo!
Can we see your papers
Have you had all your shots?
your papers please, your papers please
Have you had all your shots?
They’re got a one track mind of domination
They say vaccines are your obligation
If a bad reaction turns you into a vegetable,
They’ll sneer and tell you you’re expendable
Vaccine gestapo! Vaccine gestapo!
Vaccine gestapo! Vaccine gestapo!
Let’s just put it this way: The Clash’s immortal classic “The Guns of Brixton” or “Police on My Back,” this ain’t.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry after I listened to this song. I also kept holding out hope that The Refusers were some sort of mischievous, clever parody of anti-vaccine nonsense. They aren’t. They’re dead serious. As hard as it is to believe, these lyrics are absolutely real and appear to be intended completely sincerely. Truly, the anti-vaccine movement has degenerated to the point where it is impossible to distinguish real from parody. Maybe I’ll claim another law (well, a corollary, anyway) and hereby name it the Gorski Corollary of Poe’s Law:
Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is utterly impossible to parody antivaccinationists in such a way that someone won’t mistake for the genuine article.
Songs like this are impossible to parody. What was that again about Andrew Wakefield and J.B. Handley swearing to high heaven that they aren’t anti-vaccine?
Autism One: An anti-vaccine quackfest fused with the “health freedom” movement
It has been said that it’s impossible to reason a person out of a viewpoint that he has not reasoned himself into. The anti-vaccine world view is just such a viewpoint. There is no convincing (or even good) scientific evidence that vaccines cause autism or any of the other conditions attributed to them by the anti-vaccine fringe, and there is good scientific evidence that vaccines are effective at preventing the diseases for which they are designed and very safe. Serious vaccine injuries are not nonexistent, but they are rare. Again, the risk-benefit ratio for vaccines is overwhelmingly in favor of being vaccinated.
Generation Rescue, Age of Autism, and Autism One, as well as other anti-vaccine organizations, try very, very hard to paint their viewpoint as science-based. It is not. The question of whether vaccines cause autism or all the other conditions attributed to them has been extensively studied over the last decade, and the evidence shows that these vaccines are safe, the efforts of the anti-vaccine movement to discredit the research notwithstanding. The best that groups like Generation Rescue can come up with are incompetently performed non-studies, dubious telephone surveys that don’t show what they think they show, and unethical monkey experiments. When scientists and skeptics point out the utter intellectual and scientific vacuity of these “studies” and attempts to discredit existing science, often they are attacked in misogynistic terms (if they are female) or just smeared (if they are Steve Novella, Paul Offit, or others), sometimes to truly despicable extremes.
Unfortunately, the alignment of the anti-vaccine autism “biomed” movement with the health freedom movement is not unexpected. The two fit together perfectly, because the “health freedom” movement vigorously resists all attempts to regulate quackery and dubious supplements, while the anti-vaccine movement, because of its extreme distrust and loathing of vaccines and anything that smacks of a vaccine mandate, can fit its agenda comfortably within that of the supplement hawkers wanting to be able to make whatever health claims they like without any pesky interference from the FDA or FTC.
In the end, it’s not about vaccine “injury.” It’s not about autism. It’s not about science. It’s not even about “health freedom,” really, other than as a convenient political justification for wanting to end vaccine mandates that just happens to use libertarian rhetoric that resonates among many Americans. It’s about “bringing the U.S. vaccine program to its knees.” I know this because J.B. Handley himself, the founder of Generation Rescue and major force behind Age of Autism, tells us this is so.
Autism One and The American Rally for Personal Rights are just more of his propaganda tools to try to accomplish that end.