Monday, May 30, 2011

Autism One: Pick Up Your Police Escort at the Reception Desk

Time to take a trip back to some subject matter that was at the creation of this blog: censorship, autism and anti-vaccination sentiments. It should come as no surprise to anyone who reads here regularly that I take these issues rather seriously. Generally speaking, censorship seems to go hand in hand with the anti-vaccination folks within the autism community (and let it just be said that the autism community is very broad, with the anti-vaxers representing a rather small minority, thankfully). Silencing dissent is a favored tactic, as evidenced by the "editorializing" favored by such luminary and (mis-)informative sites as Age of Autism, among others. Where truth and reality rear their ugly heads, there will always be a moderator close at hand to protect their quailing, fragile readers, making such reason-based comments disappear down the memory hole before a single electron hits the screen of an AoA reader.

Should you decide to attend an event organized by those with anti-vaccination notions, be not afraid of having your tender sensibilities bruised, for there will be an ever-so-polite and helpful event organizer to call the police to haul out any suspicious-looking persons. Yes, though they may be mild-mannered and behaving themselves, who knows when they will utter uncomfortable truths? Best to remove them, without any justification, before any charlatans or quacks can be challenged, before any parents, trying their best to cope with a child with a disability about which, frankly, not a great deal is known, can have the scales removed from their eyes and their wallets protected from expensive and utterly useless treatments. Fear not, for brave folks like Teri Arranga will quickly summon hotel security and police to deal with anyone she thinks may pose a threat to your delicate sensibilities.

I admit, I'm making rather light of this and taking an, admittedly and (I feel) deservedly, condescending tone toward the 2011 Autism One conference. You see, what I described above actually happened. Two individuals, Ken Reibel (who had been expelled from the 2008 Autism One) and Jamie Bernstein (VP of the Women Thinking Free Foundation), were escorted out of the conference venue by three hotel security guards and four armed police officers. Their offense? Being recognized, I guess. From accounts I've read, I haven't been able to determine any rule that was broken. It seems that Ken and Jamie both behaved themselves, did not pester other conference attendees and generally did not make a nuisance of themselves. Their only crime seems to have been that the Autism One coordinators recognized Ken and wanted him gone. Since Jamie was with him, she clearly had to go, too.

The purpose of a conference, in my opinion, is to give attendees knowledge about a range of topics. For those who support your notions, it is an opportunity to share new things or bring people up to speed on recent developments. For those who do not support your ideas, it is a chance to change their mind, to present things in a way that will potentially bring them around to your viewpoint. If you are confident in your convictions, then any challenges that someone might bring via critical questions during a Q&A session should not be a problem. However, if you are, shall we say, less than confident that your presentation will stand up to scrutiny, I suppose I could see the desire to avoid confrontation at all costs, especially if said questions might turn people away from whatever it is you're selling.

And selling stuff appears to be a large part of what Autism One is all about. You've got the team of Mary Holland et al. selling their dodgy study on the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Despite losing his medical license in two states (and potentially going to lose it in more), Dr. Mark Geier was there, along with his son, David (who is facing felony charges for practicing medicine without a license), selling their Lupron Protocol, in which autistic children are chemically castrated in an attempt to "cure" them. Fraud Andrew Wakefield will be there touting his conspiracy theory that doctors are making money by diagnosing parents as having M√ľnchausen syndrome by proxy and getting their kids taken away. Chiropractors sell their services to treat autism, as do homeopaths. And, of course, Jenny McCarthy is there as the keynote speaker, selling her guru, Byron Katie, and Katie's program, "The Work," which appears to be a rip-off of the nonsense known as The Secret, with a dark, blame-the-victim approach. There are HBOT purveyors selling that quackery, as well, not to mention the ubiquitous panoply of folks touting the GF/CF diet, despite a lack of evidence that it does anything for autism (which is not to say that such a diet is nonsense for people with a diagnosed sensitivity to gluten or casein, just that it is not a cure-all as it's presented).

In short, Autism One puts the "con" in "conference." Quacks, frauds, charlatans and alleged felons are welcome, while anyone with a science-based viewpoint who keeps quiet and behaves themselves will be summarily escorted out. Autism One: keeping it classy.

For a rather full round-up of posts on the conference, check out Liz Ditz's anthology.

Disclaimer: This post represents my understanding of the facts of the conference and my interpretation and opinions thereof. They do not constitute declarations of fact in and of themselves and should not be interpreted to be libelous. If any errors of fact are discovered, I am more than willing to review my words and change them as appropriate.

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