Follow-up to Riverdale, NJ story

Yesterday I posted this blog and emailed two parties involved. And I got responses back.

First, I received an unexpectedly polite response from Rebecca Scanlon, News Editor of Suburban Trends who wrote this article. I wrote her:

A number of facts presented in this article are inaccurate. I would like to make it clear that I am a Jersey resident who takes this matter very seriously. It is not my intention to provoke hostility, only to promote good science and this article makes claims that run contrary to all of the scientific evidence to date. There is simply no longer any reasonable evidence among the medical science community that vaccines are in any way contributing to incidences of autism and no appeal to grand conspiracy theories can change the evidence.

You can find links to reliable and in-depth sources concerning the myth that vaccines cause/contribute to autism on my blog at:

http://skepacabra.wordpress.com/2008/08/15/information-anti-vacciners-dont-want-you-to-know/

Or you can choose to directly copy and paste the addresses posted below:

“From time to time, rumors circulate that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative once used in several vaccines (and still used in some flu vaccine), could contribute to ASDs. However, valid scientific studies have shown there is no link. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), the CDC, and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) agree that science does not support a link between thimerosal in vaccines and autism.” -American Academy of Pediatrics (http://www.aap.org/healthtopics/Immunizations.cfm)

“The author concludes that recent studies have found no association between MMR vaccination and autism. The frequent embryologic neuroanatomic abnormalities found in children with autism lessen the likelihood that MMR immunization is a major risk factor. The Immunization Safety Review Committee of the Institute of Medicine and a special American Academy of Pediatrics panel have concluded that evidence does not support MMR immunization as a risk factor for autism.” -RICHARD SADOVSKY, M.D., American Academy of Family Physicians (http://www.aafp.org/afp/20020301/tips/14.html)

“On May 18th, 2004, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released its eighth and final report from its Immunization Safety Review Committee.  Based on a thorough review of clinical and epidemiological studies, neither the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal nor the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine are associated with autism, says the new report. Furthermore, the hypotheses regarding how the MMR vaccine and thimerosal could trigger autism lack supporting evidence and are theoretical only. Further research to find the cause of autism should be directed toward other lines of inquiry that are supported by current knowledge and evidence and offer more promise for providing an answer, said the committee that wrote the report.  The American Medical Association (AMA) lauds the process that went into the creation of this scientific report and applauds the IOM and the CDC for their strong efforts in continuing to ensure the safety of the vaccines that are administered in the U

nited States through post-market surveillance and studies such as this.” -American Medical Association (http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/category/13703.html

“Some people believe increased exposure to thimerosal (from the addition of important new vaccines recommended for children) explains the higher prevalence in recent years. However, evidence from several studies examining trends in vaccine use and changes in autism frequency does not support such an association. Furthermore, a scientific review* by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that “the evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism.” CDC supports the IOM conclusion.” –Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/thimerosal.htm)

“There is much debate regarding the correlation of childhood vaccines and the occurrence of autism in children. The weight of currently available scientific evidence does not support the hypothesis that vaccines cause autism. We recognize there is considerable public interest in this issue.” -U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Resources (http://www.hhs.gov/autism/)

http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=186
http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/358/20/2089
http://www.csicop.org/si/2007-06/novella.html – Neurologist critiques of Kirby
http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/thimerosal.htm
http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/vaccines.htm
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/im/q_a_thimerosal-eng.php#2
http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1808438,00.html
http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=128
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22542677/
http://www.quackwatch.com/03HealthPromotion/immu/autism.html
http://www.autismvox.com/the-vaccine-autism-urban-myth/
http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=308
http://www.daylightatheism.org/2008/01/popular-delusions-viii.html
http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=164#more-164
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?view=DETAILS&grid=&xml=/earth/2008/07/10/sciautism110.xml
http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2008/07/thanks_jenny_mccarthy.php
http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=71
http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=336
http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=341
http://autism-news-beat.com/?p=29

Thank you. And I hope you’ll take the appropriate steps to rectify this situation.

Rebecca Scanlon’s polite response:

Thank you for your email. You present several good pieces of evidence to back the validity of vaccines. I would encourage you to write a letter to the editor presenting your evidence because I believe a lot of parents would be reassured about the safety of vaccinating their children after hearing what you have to say. If you would like to, you may send it to me and/or suburbantrends@northjersey.com. You would need to include your name, where you are from, and a daytime phone number at which we could reach you to verify the letter. Thank you again for reading and your feedback.

Rebecca Scanlon
News Editor
Schools Editor
Suburban Trends

She also provided her phone number and fax. All in all, a good response. I also sent this message to an administrator directly from the Borough’s webpage:

I was deeply concerned when a friend of mine, a resident of Riverdale, informed me about an article that appeared on the borough’s website that perpetuated demonstrably false information about vaccines. And when I investigated this site myself I found not only more misinformation and fear-mongering about vaccines but also links to global warming denial websites on the blog “Live Free or Die!” prominently featured  on this site.

I would like to make it clear that I am a Jersey resident who takes this matter very seriously. It is not my intention to provoke hostility, only to promote good science. And I don’t think it’s appropriate for such controversial material to be presented on the town borough’s own official website as even with a disclaimer it can appear as though these positions ARE endorsed by the town’s officials, especially when those views run contrary to all of the scientific evidence to date. There is simply no longer any reasonable evidence among the medical science community that vaccines are in any way contributing to incidences of autism.

You can find links to reliable and in-depth sources concerning the myth that vaccines cause/contribute to autism on my blog “Skepacabra” from 8/15/08.

Thank you. And I hope you’ll take the appropriate steps to rectify this situation.

I got a very different kind of response:

Dear Mr. Rosch,

Thank you for your thoughtful comments.  The whole purpose of that section, and thus the disclaimer, is to provoke some independent thinking.  If we were to exist merely on the pabulum spoon-fed us by the controlled media, we will certainly cease to exist as a free society.

The first statement I take strong exception to is “… those views run contrary to all of the scientific evidence to date.”  That simply is not true.  There are more credible scientists, many of whom are Nobel Prize winners, teaching that global warming is either non-existent or not being caused by the use of fossil fuels.  More pollutants are put into the atmosphere through animal waste than all of the car emissions.  But the media who have their own agenda will never make this information, or that fact there is another credible opinion, known to the citizens.

As far as vaccines are concerned please see the attached link http://www.cnn.com/2008/HEALTH/conditions/03/06/vaccines.autism/index.html

The central government settled a lawsuit brought by parents of a young girl claiming that the vaccines caused or worsened her autism.  The government made no admission of harm, but was their intention to settle in order to preclude the empirical evidence that would have been presented at trial from being documented in a court of law?

So you see, the only reason for having that page is to give people information that is not being controlled by the central government and let them make their own decisions.  It wasn’t that long ago that 4 out 5 doctors recommended Lucky Strike cigarettes for their patients.  I remember the ads growing up.  When my kids were growing up medical professionals told us to put our kids to sleep on their stomachs so that if they vomited they wouldn’t choke.  My kid’s kids were to be placed on their backs upon the advice of today’s medical whiz kids.  One of my grandsons head was so flat that the doctor was going to prescribe a helmet to bring his head back into shape (is this just a case of a new cottage industry dreamed up by the MD’s?  Offer a solution to a problem you created!)  Fortunately, saner minds prevailed and my son started putting his son to sleep on his stomach and his head corrected itself.

The point is we don’t have all the answers yet.  If parents believe that vaccines are harmful to their children, what right does any government have to force them to be inoculated?  A 14 year old girl has the right to an abortion without her parents knowledge (but she can’t get her ears pierced by the same doctor without a parent’s consent), all in the name of her right to do what she wants with her own body.  Why doesn’t that apply to vaccines and such?

Do you know that over one million British sailors died of scurvy over a 200 year period after they learned of a cure for it.  But the medical whiz kids of their day weren’t going to listen to some “ignorant natives” and their natural cures for the most dreaded disease of seamen.  In the 20th century medical science could not believe that a nutrient, niacin I believe, could cure pellagra.  Semmelweis was dismissed from his hospital because he wanted the medical profession to wash their hands before delivering babies.  This was only about 150 years ago, certainly not the dark ages.

As far as rectifying the situation, I don’t believe that is necessary.  What is on that webpage is not inflammatory or inciting people to violence, it is simply putting forth other view points.  I don’t take your suggestion as a threat, nor am I offended by it.  My fear is that the government will take it upon itself to suppress the expression of differing points of view.  It has been attempted in this country by the central government a few times in our short history.

Give the people information and let them decide for themselves.  Sorry for the rambling, but when I get on my soapbox…

Would be happy to hear from you again, best wishes.

Bill Budesheim

What now follows is my rather lengthy response to Mr. Budesheim’s response:

Hi Bill,

Thanks for the speedy response. First I would like to address your statement that the “Live Free or Die” section is meant “to provoke some independent thinking.” It seems to me that the best way to accomplish this goal is to provide information from both sides of this issue instead of only one. Indeed, the anonymous writer (I don’t know if that’s you but it isn’t stated on the site) of those pieces seems only interested in presenting his/her own opinions with his/her own handpicked sources that happen to agree with them. This is all well and good on an independent blog but as I stated already, I don’t think it’s appropriate for a polemic such as this presenting misleading, one-sided arguments as facts on a government website. And I couldn’t find any place on the page that allowed visitors to leave comments to challenge the claims. Is discussion not a necessary part of critical thinking? If so, would not an open forum be a better way of promoting critical thinking?

Next, you seem to suggest that the alternative side of the issue to the one presented on your site is somehow just media fodder or at worst part of a controlled effort by the media to promote a particular agenda. I was unclear as to which you were suggesting so I’ll address both. I work in media and hold a Masters Degree in Media Studies, so this is a subject I know a lot about. First, I agree that the mainstream “old” media has a terrible track record when it comes to conveying good science. But I would view this very issue of the “vaccines cause/contribute to autism” hypothesis a perfect example of this. It seems obvious to me that the data presented on this website on the topic perfectly mirrors the misinformation currently being fed to the public by the mainstream media in large doses. This has left the public to believe there is a serious scientific debate over the dangers of mercury in vaccines long after the medical community has thoroughly investigated these claims a
nd concluded that no link could be found.

But if you were suggesting some sort of grand conspiracy on the part of the entire mainstream, corporate media to hide these public threats caused by vaccines, first, I’d again point out that the mainstream media are clearly the ones pushing the vaccines cause/contribute to autism story, far more than the scientific consensus that no link exists. And second, clearly news media runs across a wide spectrum of political affiliations and I find it hard to believe anyone could find an agenda that could be shared by Fox News, The New York Times, and The Village Voice. Their politics are just too different to ever really conspire together for a common goal such as this.

You next took contention with my statement that the views presented on your website “run
contrary to all of the scientific evidence to date,” arguing that many smart, credible, and even Nobel Prize-winning scientists hold the views expressed on this site on Global Warming. And this may very well be true. And I can find Nobel Prize winning scientists who believe all sorts of crazy things. You run the risk of applying the logical fallacy, argument from authority. At the end of the day, only the evidence matters regardless of how trusted any one or more sources may believe something or not. I think the evidence has indeed reached the point where Global Warming cannot be reasonably doubted and where it’s clear that one of the biggest factors in this, if not the biggest, is carbon emissions from fossil fuels. I don’t have time to discuss the evidence here (and besides, I’m far more concerned about the autism issue) but I’m confident that the evidence can be easily found on the internet for those interested in investigating the matter. I’ll simply comment on your seco
nd accusation that “the media” presumably as a whole is unilaterally working to cover up a danger to public health as part of some grander sinister agenda. This leaves me and I hope any critical thinker to ask, to what end? And for what motivation? Indeed, what would it take for Fox News, The New York Times, and The Village Voice all to come together towards a mutual political goal? As someone who works in media, I don’t buy it. While some media sources like Fox News clearly promote a particular political agenda, most mainstream media is primarily concerned with their own bottom line. Controversy sells papers and advertising time; propaganda does not serve that goal. And so much diverse media across political lines exist to challenge the claims of any other, creating checks and balances that allow the industry to effectively police itself. Also, any news source would jump at the chance to break a major story exposing a massive conspiracy.

Onto your link to a CNN article about the Hannah Poling case. First, I’d like to point out the irony of your presenting an account from the Time Warner-owned CNN after accusing the mainstream media of issuing deliberate misinformation when it suited your argument to do so. I hope you’re not just dismissing the media when they disagree with you. But anyway, regarding the Poling case, as the CDC is quoted in the article, “The government has made absolutely no statement indicating that vaccines are a cause of autism” and “This does not represent anything other than a very specific situation and a very sad situation as far as the family of the affected child.”

But I would also add this link to Neurologist Steven Novella’s blog where he discusses this case in detail (http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=341). Towards the midway point of the blog, Novella addresses the Poling case, saying, “This is also not a normal court of law, so I am not sure if “settled” even applies to such hearings. I was referring to the fact that the case was removed as a test case – it was not decided as a test case. The HSS agreed that “compensation was appropriate” – they specifically did not concede, as Dr. Poling implies, that vaccines were actually responsible for Hannah Poling’s autism. What the HHS did not do was rule that this case sets a precedent for any other case. It seems that Dr. Poling is suggesting that the Autism Omnibus cheated – they removed a case they knew would set a precedent they apparently did not want. But wasn’t the whole point of the test cases to be test cases?
My interpretation (and that of many others) of the HHS ruling was that the Hannah Poling case is too complex and unique to be a test case, but because there is so much uncertainty they erred on the side of compensation – without conceding that vaccines caused autism in this case.”

Next, if you want to make political claims that are not consistent with the medical science consensus (and I’ll quote numerous sources for that claim at the bottom of this email) and “give people information that is not being controlled by the central government and let them make their own decisions” then again, it is inappropriate to do that on a government website. That belongs on an independently run blog with no connection to a government page.

You follow this up with one of the most commonly used gamuts among pseudo-scientists, the statement of the obvious that scientists have been wrong in the past. Of course scientists have been wrong in the past. This is a red herring argument as it does nothing to validate the specific claims that you’re making. Science is not a dogma but rather a methodology for critical thinking. Not only do we not have all the answers yet but we’ll never have all the answers and we shouldn’t expect to. In fact, scientists typically prefer to a new mystery to solve over having their suspicions validated. Statements by doctors are largely statistical, and they can be wrong in individual cases. Although sometimes the statistics can be overwhelming (the chance of waking up from a PVS that has persisted for more than 6 months is truly vanishingly small), they are still just statistical – not predictions of the future. But this is no different than all of medicine. Medicine is an applied science.
It is the practice of making the best inferences we can from the data we are able to obtain. It involves making statistical statements about probable outcomes in order to make treatment decisions. To quote Carl Sagan:

“Science thrives on errors, cutting them away one by one. False conclusions are drawn all the time, but they are drawn tentatively. Hypotheses are framed so they are capable of being disproved. A succession of alternative hypotheses is confronted by experiment and observation. Science gropes and staggers toward improved understanding…Pseudoscience is just the opposite. Hypotheses are often framed precisely so they are invulnerable to any experiment that offers a prospect of disproof, so even in principle they cannot be invalidated. Practitioners are defensive and wary. Skeptical scrutiny is opposed. When the pseudoscientific hypothesis fails to catch fire with scientists, conspiracies to suppress it are deduced.”

This is precisely the flaw with the current anti-vaccine movement. They keep their claims as unfalsifiable as possible and then when they are falsified, they make post hoc rationalizations to dismiss the evidence that runs contrary to their predetermined conclusions. For instance, Thimerosal was removed from almost all child vaccines in the U.S. in 2002. And it was mostly removed from vaccines in Scandinavia and Canada in the mid-90′s. This resulted in no significant decline in cases of autism. And in California, the rate of autism actually rose after the removal of Thimerosal in 2002. The obvious conclusion to this research is that Thimerosal is not a causal factor in autism. Even if you were to argue that Thimerosal is only one of several factors that contributes to autism, such an enormous decrease in Thimerosal given to children under 2 would certainly still be expected to cause a significant decrease in the rate of autism if it was indeed a factor. How has the anti-vacc
ine movement responded to these findings? They dismissed simply them and continued to make faulty claims. This is not science but anti-medical superstition. Science is not determined in the court rooms. Further damning evidence for this hypothesis comes from the simple fact that although children under 2 receive more vaccines today than in the past, they actually receive far less toxins in those vaccines than my generation ever did.

Next you say, “If parents believe that vaccines are harmful to their children, what right does any government have to force them to be inoculated?” The government has every right to protect children from harm. That’s part of their job. In many states not getting your child vaccines deemed medically necessary is legally considered negligence on the part of the parent and a serious crime. In most states, students must get certain required vaccines to attend public school. Parents do not have the right to endanger their children’s lives. Every child is has the fundamental right to proper medical care whether their parents regardless of whether their parents think they know better than the doctors. Though some legal exceptions have been made for religious reasons (which I personally disagree with). And in the case of vaccines, it’s not just about your child’s life but the lives of everyone they come in contact with who is potentially harmed. And some people have specific medical
conditions that prevent them from being vaccinated. Those individuals’ survival depends upon herd immunity. This anti-vaccine hysteria has already led to the first Measles outbreak in the U.S. in a long, long time. And Measles is potentially fatal. Thanks to vaccines, we’ve virtually wiped out many of the worst diseases known to man. Do we really need another Polio epidemic for the anti-vaccine folk to accept that it’s okay for government to sometimes overrule personal wishes for the sake of public safety? Ultimately, it seems that almost all politics lies within the spectrum between individual liberties and security. And while I usually rule in favor of personal liberties, I feel public health takes precedence over misguided superstitious fears of medical conspiracies. For more information on the harm caused by not vaccinating a child, see the website: whatstheharm.com. Moreover, your ear piercing example is a false analogy as this has no serious medical concerns.

Next, you mis-characterize medical science. Again, scientists go where the evidence leads. They don’t base major medical decisions on personal beliefs. If this nutrient you describe could pass controlled clinical trials no respectable doctor worth his salt would deny it. I believe your horribly misrepresenting the history (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pellagra#History). You also suggest that 150 years ago was hardly the dark ages, but keep in mind that 150 years ago was before modern germ theory, antibiotics weren’t discovered yet, vaccines weren’t invented yet, and some doctors were still using leeches. The medical industry was for all intents and purposes still in the dark ages 150 years ago.

Now finally, you say that you don’t feel it’s necessary to rectify the matter as it’s not inflammatory or inciting violence. That may very well be true depending on your definition of violence, but such misinformation does indeed cause great harm. I’ve already cited the Measles epidemic. And numerous children in the U.S. have already died of easily preventable diseases simply because their parents denied them their rights to proper medical care (http://whatstheharm.net/autismdenial.html) because the parents thought they knew better than the doctors. Well they didn’t. In light of the overwhelming evidence, this is the moral equivalent of defending the right to shout fire in a crowded theater when none exists. Sure it is not inflammatory or inciting people to violence but it still causes great harm.

-Michael

PS: Here are the findings of the top medical institutions in the country followed by a list of sources that demolish virtually every claim the blame vaccines for autism crowd has ever made:

“From time to time, rumors circulate that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative once used in several vaccines (and still used in some flu vaccine), could contribute to ASDs. However, valid scientific studies have shown there is no link. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), the CDC, and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) agree that science does not support a link between thimerosal in vaccines and autism.” -American Academy of Pediatrics (http://www.aap.org/healthtopics/Immunizations.cfm)

“The author concludes that recent studies have found no association between MMR vaccination and autism. The frequent embryologic neuroanatomic abnormalities found in children with autism lessen the likelihood that MMR immunization is a major risk factor. The Immunization Safety Review Committee of the Institute of Medicine and a special American Academy of Pediatrics panel have concluded that evidence does not support MMR immunization as a risk factor for autism.” -RICHARD SADOVSKY, M.D., American Academy of Family Physicians (http://www.aafp.org/afp/20020301/tips/14.html)

“On May 18th, 2004, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released its eighth and final report from its Immunization Safety Review Committee.  Based on a thorough review of clinical and epidemiological studies, neither the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal nor the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine are associated with autism, says the new report. Furthermore, the hypotheses regarding how the MMR vaccine and thimerosal could trigger autism lack supporting evidence and are theoretical only. Further research to find the cause of autism should be directed toward other lines of inquiry that are supported by current knowledge and evidence and offer more promise for providing an answer, said the committee that wrote the report.  The American Medical Association (AMA) lauds the process that went into the creation of this scientific report and applauds the IOM and the CDC for their strong efforts in continuing to ensure the safety of the vaccines that are administered in the U
nited States through post-market surveillance and studies such as this.” -American Medical Association (http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/category/13703.html

“Some people believe increased exposure to thimerosal (from the addition of important new vaccines recommended for children) explains the higher prevalence in recent years. However, evidence from several studies examining trends in vaccine use and changes in autism frequency does not support such an association. Furthermore, a scientific review* by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that “the evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism.” CDC supports the IOM conclusion.” –Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/thimerosal.htm)

“There is much debate regarding the correlation of childhood vaccines and the occurrence of autism in children. The weight of currently available scientific evidence does not support the hypothesis that vaccines cause autism. We recognize there is considerable public interest in this issue.” -U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Resources (http://www.hhs.gov/autism/)

http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/358/20/2089
http://www.csicop.org/si/2007-06/novella.html – Neurologist critiques of Kirby
http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/thimerosal.htm
http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/vaccines.htm
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/im/q_a_thimerosal-eng.php#2
http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1808438,00.html
http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=128
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22542677/
http://www.quackwatch.com/03HealthPromotion/immu/autism.html
http://www.autismvox.com/the-vaccine-autism-urban-myth/
http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=308
http://www.daylightatheism.org/2008/01/popular-delusions-viii.html
http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=164#more-164
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?view=DETAILS&grid=&xml=/earth/2008/07/10/sciautism110.xml
http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2008/07/thanks_jenny_mccarthy.php
http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=71
http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=336
http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=341
http://autism-news-beat.com/?p=29
http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=186

When I get I response I’ll try to post that as well.

About these ads

One Response to Follow-up to Riverdale, NJ story

  1. [...] NJ – Home of anti-scientific propaganda I’ve previously posted about some of the antivaccine and anti-science propaganda being perpetuated on the official website [...]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 55 other followers

%d bloggers like this: