Thursday, December 13, 2012

Calling on Congress to Do the Wrong Thing

Oh, Age of Autism. Once again, this rag that calls itself a web newspaper of the autism epidemic ignores science and providing real help and support for families with autism in favor of unsubstantiated hyperbole and appeals to politics. Since they do not have actual science behind their claims, they try to use political means to get their way, freely ignoring reality.

Feeling that, perhaps, they made some small victories after the recent Congressional hearing on autism, the fact-challenged are making some demands suggestions to our legislative body. In a post titled Top 10 List for Congress Post Autism Hearing, contributor Laura Hayes addresses Congressman Bill Posey (R-FL) and includes a list of ten things she would like Congress to do. I'm not quite certain whether to chuckle at how inane it is or worry, since the hearing included more than one science-challenged Congresscritter.

Before I get into the list, I want to address couple comments in the body of Ms. Hayes' letter. She notes:
You will see that a vax-unvax study is not on my list of Top 10.
Does she not include this study because it is unethical? I'll give you a hint, her reason has nothing to do with the rights and protections of study subjects. No, rather, she thinks that it would be useless, at least as far as those children who have autism. 'Cause, y'know, vaccines clearly cause autism. I know it. You know it. Ms. Hayes certainly knows it. Or at least she's certain she knows it. Why does she say it would be useless?
It would not stop the holocaust against our nation's children.
That's right. Autism is just like forcibly rounding up a bunch of kids, throwing them in detention and labor camps, using them as guinea pigs in all manner of forced, unethical research, and then gassing them. What a great way to view your kid, Ms. Hayes, as someone who is dead.

Sorry, but I just find that attitude absolutely despicable and had to get that off my chest before I went on. What are her demands? I'll take them point by point.

1. Pass an Act of Congress banning vaccine mandates nationwide, an Act which would override any state mandate laws

Let's leave aside for a moment that such an act of Congress would, itself, be unconstitutional, since it would violate states' rights, not to mention their duty to protect their citizens. The premise, of course, is that vaccines don't work. At all. Because efficacy of anything under 100%, as everyone knows, it the same as 0%. As Ms. Hayes writes:
there is no evidence that vaccines are either safe or effective for any given individual.
All part of their black-and-white thinking. Since vaccines are not only 0% effective for any individual and cause just about any malady you can think of, then there clearly is no valid reason to force people to be vaccinated. Who cares that mountains of scientific evidence show that vaccines are effective and that they are significantly safer than the diseases they prevent?

2. Immediate ban of all mercury and aluminum in vaccines, including in the manufacture of vaccines

This again stems from the "ooh, scary ingredients!" toxin gambit. Ms. Hayes illustrates her inability to understand that the dose makes the poison, as well as her ignorance of the scientific literature showing that neither of these substances, in the amounts found in vaccines, cause autism or any of the other diseases she wants to blame on immunizations. And she doesn't consider why these ingredients are used. For example, she wants thimerosal banned from the production of vaccines, yet does not understand that this would mean a greater risk of bacterial and fungal contamination, which, as shown in Australia before thimerosal was added to any vaccines, can be exceptionally deadly. You see, in 1928, Australia was starting an immunization campaign against diphtheria, a disease that is almost always fatal in infants. Two rounds of immunizations were administered, with 21 children in each round. Of the second group, 11 children died due to contamination of the vaccine by staphylococcus. Were thimerosal banned from use, even during the manufacture of vaccines, the risk of this type of contamination and unnecessary deaths would likely skyrocket. But, whatever. Science be damned.

3. Immediate recall of all mercury and aluminum-containing vaccines

I'm not sure what she hopes to accomplish with this, since neither of these substances cause autism and it would only result in a vaccine shortage and return of preventable diseases that would permanently maim and possibly kill children.

4. Immediate retraction of the CDC’s recommendation for the Hep B series for infants, toddlers, and children

The HepB vaccine became the anti-vaccine boogeyman after the mercury and MMR hypotheses fell flat (though clearly they haven't died). Ms. Hayes doesn't see any reason for the birth dose of hep B vaccine. I'm sure that in her mind, the only possible ways to get this virus are through sex and sharing drug needles and that screening the mother is 100% accurate. The screening test given to the mother is decent, but like all screening tests, can have false readings. Not to mention that other family members who may be in contact with the infant are not tested for hep B. Or the fact that hep B can be transmitted via
other means than sex and needles (e.g., hand-to-mouth and hand-to-eye are also known means of transmission, not to mention bites and open wounds). And then there's the uncomfortable fact that roughly 90% of infants infected with the virus will be chronically infected, placing them at increased risk for liver failure and cancer. But Ms. Hayes doesn't seem to care about such inconvenient facts.

5. Repeal the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act

This act was brought about due to a scare involving the pertussis vaccine in use in the 1980s. Barbara Loe Fisher, founder of the misnamed National Vaccine Information Center, was a significant figure in getting this act passed, despite her protestations that it should now be repealed. What the act did was to establish a means by which those who actually were injured by a vaccine could be compensated without jumping through all the hoops in civil court. Some injuries are simply assumed to have been caused by the vaccine and are compensated pretty much automatically, without the petitioner even having to prove that the vaccine did, in fact, cause the issue. Petitioners also do not need to worry about legal fees, whether they win or lose their case, unlike civil court. And finally, it gave some level of protection to manufacturers from frivolous law suits, which at the time threatened to close the entire industry down. Many companies stopped playing in the vaccine market because the liability was too great, which threatened to cause vaccine shortages nationwide. Repealing the act would do nothing more than place a greater burden upon those with legitimate claims, make it less likely for them to be compensated, and lead companies to once more decide to stop making vaccines altogether. I know that's Ms. Hayes' fervent hope, but it would be a public health catastrophe, with preventable diseases raging back into common circulation.

6. Immediate investigation of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program

This would accomplish nothing, other than wasting taxpayer money. This stems from Ms. Hayes' belief that vaccines cause autism and that, since the Omnibus Autism Proceedings found to the contrary, that there must therefore be a conspiracy to cover things up. Keep in mind, again, that the vaccine court has a much, much lower standard of evidence than, say, a civil court and orders of magnitude less rigor than a scientific study. Also bear in mind that the test cases in the proceedings represented the best cases that petitioners thought had the greatest chance of success. And yet, despite all this, they still failed to show that there was even a plausible connection between vaccines and autism.

7. Criminal charges need to be brought

I'm not certain which specific laws Ms. Hayes thinks have been broken. She doesn't cite anything specific, nor does she name any specific individuals who she thinks are guilty of these imagined crimes. Again, she wants to waste taxpayer money chasing geese.

8. All Members of Congress need to be educated

Of course, by "educated" she really means "misled and brainwashed". In Ms. Hayes' mind, the "truth", if that word can even be used, is that vaccines cause autism. Reality says otherwise, but she wants Congress to know her version of reality, no matter how erroneous it is. She even has people she could recommend speaking to Congress. Nevermind that these individuals have nothing but their own imagined fancies, rather than science, to bolster their claims.

9. Use the monies in the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program’s fund

Once again, Ms. Hayes sees a conspiracy where there is none. She wants the money to be used to compensate those injured by vaccines, yet it already does just that, just not for any of the injuries she imagines are caused by vaccines. Not only that, but she wants it completely defunded and distributed, presumably to individuals like her who have to raise children with autism. Who cares about those other people who were really injured by vaccines. Nor does she seem to understand how it is funded, since she says:
the money belongs to those who have paid into the fund
Well, Ms. Hayes. If the money belongs to those who have paid into the fund, then that money would belong to the vaccine manufacturers. You see, they are the ones who pay a fee for every vaccine they make. That fee is placed into the fund in order to compensate those individuals who unfortunately suffer an adverse reaction. So, if you really want vaccine companies to take their money back, then push really hard for this. Personally, I'd like to see them continue paying into the fund so that those who are injured can be compensated.

10.Bring Paul Thorsen back to the U.S. to face charges for fraud

Yay! Non sequitur. I'm not entirely sure how this would benefit children with autism. Certainly, Thorsen should be held accountable for the financial fraud in which he allegedly engaged. I admit I haven't followed his case all that closely, so I can't say whether he has been tried anywhere, yet. At any rate, Thorsen is the scapegoat for the anti-vaccine movement. I think it's more of a childish "nyah-nyah" after the justified disgrace of their patron saint, Andrew Wakefield, who was guilty of research fraud and unethical behavior. Since Wakefield was guilty of fraud, the anti-vaccine movement needed to find a researcher on the pro-vaccine side who was up to some shenanigans. They found their gift in Poul Thorsen, a Danish researcher who happened to be involved in a minor capacity on a couple studies finding that vaccines did not increase the risk of autism. He was a middle author on those studies, meaning he was neither the lead investigator nor the head of the lab, but rather did some work sometime during the studies. After those studies were completed, he received some grants from the CDC, which he apparently used to buy himself some shiny toys, like a posh house in the U.S., among other things. Nowhere, other than in echo-chambers like Age of Autism, will you find allegations of research fraud or data manipulation. But Ms. Hayes and her like just simply must have their own researcher to point to as evidence that vaccines actually do cause autism. See, if Thorsen is bad, then his research is bad. Since he was involved in two studies that failed to find any connection between vaccines and autism, then clearly those two studies must be false. And therefore, vaccines cause autism. Just ignore all of the other studies done around the world that also failed to find any causal connection.

At the beginning of this, I mentioned that I wasn't sure whether to laugh at just how reality-challenged Ms. Hayes' diatribe was, or whether I should be worried. On the one hand, Ms. Hayes is representative of a very small minority of fact-free, anti-science individuals. As such, I'm not sure whether I should give them any image of credence by taking them seriously. On the other hand, there are members of Congress who might actually listen to them and believe their fictions. And if those senators and representatives follow through on recommendations like those in this list, that could spell disaster for public health in this country, not to mention the impact it could have globally, thanks to the ease with which diseases can spread on air flights to other countries.

And so, I'll leave it to you, my readers. What is the best course of action? If you would like to contact your congressional representatives to urge them to ignore this anti-science nonsense, you can find your Representatives here and your Senators here.

Edited to add: There's another perspective on this over at The Poxes Blog.


  1. Wow. Congress should do all those things on that list immediately because it would make the lives of autistic people so much better in an instant. SMH!

    Also...why am I seeing so many stupid lists lately? I'm going to put writing a post with a list of reasons of why not to make silly lists on my to do list.

  2. Thanks Todd for writing this.

    I do think something should be done to counter this nonsense, I'm just not sure of the correct approach.

    In the mean time, I have an e-friend, Amy Sequenzia, who is autistic and uses a device to communicate. This is what she sent to her congressman, Rep. Posey

    Dear Mr. Posey

    Last week you were part of a congressional hearing on the federal response to autism.

    I was very disappointed with the language used (burden, affliction, tragedy), with the focus on vaccines and with the apparent lack of knowledge from the members of congress.

    I am autistic, not a burden, a disease, a tragedy. I can tell you that the response to autism has lacked, not only from the federal government, but also from local and state governments, and from private organizations.

    There is no autism epidemic. We’ve always been here. We need supports, more investment in services, instead of researches on causation.

    I will be happy to give you current information if you want to learn about autism. Vaccines are an old and settled issue. It does not cause autism. Autism just is. God caused us.

    You asked Ms. Boyle, from the CDC, if there was a study, comparing rate of autism in children who were vaccinated and children who were not. I have the answer: studies like this would be unethical because it would require choosing some children to be not vaccinated and being at risk of diseases that can kill. I am surprised you asked that.

    We don’t need to waste almost three hours of an important hearing discussing something that is not related to autism. What is needed is support for autistics who want to learn and maybe able to work.

    Inclusion is a civil right.


    Amy Sequenzia

  3. So here's point 10, again with emphases added
    10.Bring Paul Thorsen back to the U.S. to face charges for fraud, to investigate his manipulation of data, and to investigate who paid him to come up with results that would deny a link between vaccines and autism.

    Rationale: The autism community is waiting for this criminal to be brought to justice. The autism community would like his accomplices brought to justice, too.

    As far as I know, the real autism community is autistics and their allies and supporters. I have started a poll to see what they have to say about Thorsen's importance to them.


  4. Thanks for the link back to my blog post.

    Can someone tell us what the author of the list has in terms of scientific background?


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