Age of Autism seeking more attention by criticizing Chris Mooney

The other day, I blogged about Age of Autism anti-vaccinationist Ginger Taylor’s pathetic attack on Chris Mooney for his brief mention of the unscientific nature of the anti-vaccinationist movement in an article he wrote for the LA Times. Well Mooney & Kirshenbaum’s only response to this, as far as I know, was to link to Orac’s excellent response to them here.

Well now Age of Autism’s J. Bradley Borden is trying to get some attention by attacking Mooney too. It’s really kind of sad too because Borden doesn’t seem to say anything about the science at all. Instead, because presumably he doesn’t understand the science, he harps on a cherry-picked and probably quote-mined few words that Mooney allegedly said (though Borden doesn’t provide the source of the quote and I couldn’t find it in the original LA Times article). The line that Borden devotes his criticism is Mooney’s alleged quote, “Scientists are super smart.” To be fair (though Borden isn’t), here’s the entire alleged quote by Mooney, which Borden doesn’t source:

“Scientists are super smart. And they end up in communities of people like them. Their education level is extremely high and that’s what lets them do the great stuff that they do. Over a lifetime, they can sort of forget where everyone else is starting from”.

Now Borden calls this “The gist of his argument,” which is a flat-out lie. Even if I accept that this statement did indeed come from Mooney, it most definitely is not the gist of his argument. Not even close. I’ve heard Mooney argue his position (as well as the position of the entire medical community) and that isn’t it. Mooney is not making an argument from authority, as Borden would have people believe. This is just a platform for him to delve into one of the favorite tactics of all cranks, the “science has been wrong before” gambit, which has been discussed many, many times such as here and here.

And that’s Borden’s ENTIRE ARGUMENT! That’s the whole dog and pony show. And he illustrates his ignorance even further with this little gem:

Ginger wrote one of the most thoughtful, to the point and on target rebuttals that this non-scientist has ever read.

Ginger’s little blog was anything but thoughtful, and while Borden proclaims Ginger the winner (Big Surprise!), she’s such an intellectual amoeba that Mooney didn’t even bother to write his own response to her. And yet, despite the fact that Mooney didn’t personally bother with her, Borden titled his own blog, “Autism Wars: Chris Mooney vs. Ginger Taylor.” Won the battle? Borden, Borden, Borden. Mooney hardly even noticed she exists. Get real.

But at least Borden did finally manage to work in one whole true statement in his blog:  he’s not a scientist. That we can agree on.

The following is an accurate portrayal of the battle between Chris Mooney and Ginger Taylor, with Wallace Shawn playing the part of Taylor:

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16 Responses to Age of Autism seeking more attention by criticizing Chris Mooney

  1. Pearls says:

    “she’s such an intellectual amoeba that Mooney didn’t even bother to write his own response to her.”

    Gee, no intellectual elitism here. BTW, this is a great example of precisely what Ginger Taylor said is the problem – the condescension & arrogance that expects reverence without questioning from the amoebas.

    Intelligence does not equal infallibility. In fact, in my experience, intellect frequently doesn’t equal intelligence either…

    • mjr256 says:

      Is this Sarah Palin? You say “intellectual elitism” as if that’s a bad thing. It’s not. Science is a meritocracy. That means ideas sink or swim based on their merits. If they lack merit, they are tossed aside like a used condom. Intellectual elitism is a good thing. It keeps anti-evidence, anti-intellectual nitwits like Ginger Taylor whose ideas lack all merit out.

      “Intelligence does not equal infallibility.”
      Neither does incompetence and baseless assertions.

  2. The quote was from the LA Times article (http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-sciw-mooneyqa22-2009aug22,0,7621929.story?page=2) which I thought was the obvious source given the the “article vs. article” listed above, but you’re right.

    I was trying to have a little fun with the “autism wars” concept.

    Glad I found your site even if it was on a post trashing me.

    • mjr256 says:

      Ah, okay. It seems I was looking at a different LA Times article by Mooney. Okay, he did indeed say that, which I suspected you did legitimately pull from somewhere, as I stated in the article, it’s a cherry-picked and quote-mined in order to distort its intended meaning. Mooney’s intent was to argue that scientists need to learn how to better communicate science to the public and that he feels that’s something that some scientists are stubborn about learning. I happen to only agree with Mooney to a point and think his full thesis on how to communicate science is not much of a solution at all. But the point is that he was not suggesting in any way that when evidence is concerned, scientists can’t see the forest from the trees. He was saying scientists are poor communicators of science. There’s a fundamental difference.

      Also, as I said before, it’s not the gist of his argument, not even close. Mooney wasn’t making an argument from authority and this was indeed used as a platform for you to use the classic “scientists have been wrong before” gambit, which is just a tactic and doesn’t offer any positive evidence for your position. As someone once said, “Galileo was a rebel but not all rebels are Galileo.”

      Regardless of how much you seem to hate people bluntly and unapologetically telling you that you’re wrong, it doesn’t change the fact that you’re wrong, this issue has been sufficiently settled, and that there is no longer any debate. Certainly any scientist can conduct and try to publish any study they please, but there’s every reason at this point to conclude such studies would be about as useful as a new investigation to determine whether or not the Holocaust really happened.
      Borden, if you want to be taken seriously and not have to make convoluted arguments based on quote-mining and completely misrepresenting your opponents, switch sides. Choose science.

  3. Point taken. However, I don’t hate bluntness and I am not too concerned about being taken seriously.

    I appreciate bluntness and I am in general a skeptic on just about everything else. I guess something goes out the window when you see your kid having a seizure right after injection. These were lengthy seizures.

    Fact: Seizures over than a few minutes can cause brain damage.

    The vaccines my daughter got at the 4 month mark were …

    * DTaP (SmithKline, Lot # 998A2)
    * Comvax (Merck, Lot # 1827K)
    * IPV (Pasteur, Lot # 81556)
    * Prevnar (Lederle, Lot # 481556)

    Look at the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System on these DTaP in particular and you will see that seizures are a frequent event. http://vaers.hhs.gov/

    1/3 of kids with ASD have seizures.

    Which came first the seizures or the autism?

    And are these kids different from those with no seizures. Is it possible that the vaccines are related to the 1/3 of kids with seizures?

    If DTAP can cause seizures and seizures can cause brain damage, it doesn’t really take much of a leap to suspect the vaccine as having some part of play in it. I think the issue is more complicated than just X vaccine does or does not cause autism. I don’t think we fully understand the unintended consequences of revving up the immune system in a certain part of the population. I don’t see this even close to “case closed” on that issue.

    Maybe …

    Compromised immune system at the time (sick, on antibiotics, etc.) + vaccine = autism. Is there a correlation between the rise in the MISUSE of antibiotics and the rise in autism?

    and/or

    Genetic susceptibility + vaccine – autism.

    I see that I am not remotely objective on this issue. After hearing from one neurologist that it was “probably just reflux”. Hello, it was an hour of seizing in the emergency room and a week in Vanderbilt Hospital. The next neurologist, “wasn’t sure they were seizures since he hadn’t seen one in the office during the 5 minutes he spent with us every few months. I could go on and with clueless morons doctors we have crossed paths with over 8 years and around 300+ seizures.

    • mjr256 says:

      But it does take a leap when the scientific studies have overwhelmingly shown that there is no significant difference in the rate of autism between vaccinated and unvaccinated populations. And the dosage of the ingredients is so incredibly small as to render such reactions entirely implausible.

      And the anti-vaccine community distorts the most important facts about the vaccine ingredients. They’ve kept the thimerosal claim alive after the autism rate’s continued to show a perceived rise after it’s been removed from almost all vaccines. They continue to claim antifreeze & ether are in vaccines even though this bogus claim has been long ago corrected. Each and every one of these claims as well as the claim the “too much too soon” claim has been specifically addressed. None of them has ever panned out as a plausible cause and the only reason anyone could possibly offer to implicate vaccines in the first place is because a small minority of kids happen to get diagnosed with ASD shortly after getting vaccinated. And while I understand why I parent might jump to the conclusion then that the vaccine did it, it’s a scientifically untenable position given what we know about scientific evidence, logical fallacies, and how easily fooled people can be.

      The whole claim rests on the assumption that mere association equals causation or the logical fallacy known as Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc and dogmatic belief in a giant conspiracy to conveniently cover-up all the evidence. Regarding the second, my response is to say that if the best excuse is that your government ate your evidence, I’m not impressed. And regarding the first, I like the following analogy: Just because lots of kids discover they’re gay in high school, it doesn’t mean something toxic is in the high schools that made them that way just because they didn’t seem gay when they were born.

  4. Did you close down comments on this one?

    • mjr256 says:

      Your comment was automatically sent to my spam filter because I think it contained links. I’ve now released it from the filter, so it should be posted. I don’t close down critical comments like your friends at Age of Autism.

  5. It seems a tad ironic if you cherry picked which of my comments to approve.

  6. I get what you are saying, but if seizures are a known side effect of a vaccine and my daughter had very long seizures right after getting this vaccine at 4 months, then no more seizures until the day of the 8 month vaccines where they became a daily event and we know that extended seizures can cause brain damage, can you see a little bit where I am coming from? Her brain is not functioning properly. We know from EEG’s that her synapses are over excited and mis-firing.

    Vaccine = Seizures
    Long Seizures = Brain Damage

    This has not remotely been studied in this subset of kids, the 1/3 of kids with autism who have seizures. Which came first the seizures or the autism? Believe it or not, I have read some of the actual studies. I may be a moron, but I did have a 31 on my ACT in Science, so I should be able to grasp the basics. In a lot of these studies, it looks like kids like my daughter are excluded from often because of the seizures since the technical definition of epilepsy is multiple seizures for no known reason.

    You could be right on the other 2/3, but I am most interested in the 1/3 with seizures and I don’t think there is a complete understanding of what is going on here, if these kids are genetically susceptible, or if having a compromised immune system at the time of the vaccines is a factor. My daughter had an ear infection and was on antibiotics which the should have been enough for the doctor to tell us to WAIT!!!!!!

    • mjr256 says:

      Many things cause seizures. It’s a fairly generic symptom of illness. Chopping onions causes tearing in the eyes but that doesn’t mean that every time someone cries, a chopped onion is near. If vaccines were really the smoking gun here, would we not expect to see autism in only vaccinated populations or at the very least predominantly among the vaccinated over the unvaccinated? If thimerosal was “the trigger”, would we not expect to see a reduction in the rate of autism after removing it from virtually every vaccine? These are measurable, testable claims. And they have been tested. I mean if the claim is to be reduced to the point where it’s entirely unfalsifiable, why waste research time, money, and energy on it? If just as many people develop autism with or without being vaccinated, what’s the point?

      Scientific protocols exist for the very reason that people are easily deceived into seeing patterns even when they don’t really exist and that people frequently misapply statistics. The entire gambling establishment relies on this weakness. For everyone who seems to spot some coincidence like their kid seemed to develop autism shortly after being vaccinated, there’s many more like my niece who show no such timing coincidence. That’s why anecdotal evidence alone is regarded as low-grade evidence. It’s only after we look at many cases that we can reasonably infer if a true pattern exists. And as you probably know if you’ve been following this issue long enough, the entire 90’s was full of failed hypotheses concerning autism. Many people sincerely believed that facilitated communication worked. And many still do despite its being totally discredited. There were other alleged causes that people were certain about that didn’t pan out, etc. We don’t blame parents for being honestly mistaken. But where the line needs to be drawn is the active promotion of hypotheses that failed to survive the scientific process, hypotheses that have not been vetted by experts, as well as the promotion of baseless and libelous accusations that the entire medical community is deliberately deceiving the public for their own private gain. Now I haven’t seen you particularly make those accusations, but this is a common claim within this movement and on Age of Autism specifically. That sort of fear-mongering hysteria cannot stand.

      Now doctors can be smart and they can be stupid. But when such little evidence supports this hypothesis and the consensus of experts in the field feel this hypothesis has reached a dead-end, that’s significant. It’s not a mere argument from authority. If the claim could reasonably be tested and pass, the medical consensus would happily embrace the evidence. But the evidence simply isn’t there and sufficient evidence to the contrary has been presented. And this campaign has only created a subculture who are too superstitious of vaccines to take them, which has in turn led to unnecessary deaths from easily preventable diseases.

      BTW, I do apologize if I’ve been too harsh with you over this issue. I think we both are sincerely trying to get at the truth in this matter. I appreciate your comments on my other blogs and hope you and your family are well.

  7. The vaccinated vs unvaccinated issue fascinates me.

    I understand the ethics of doing a peer controlled study and not vaccinating one group of kids, but there are unvaccinated kids already. I don’t see why we can’t find the % of autism in these kids. The idea that these are poor kids who’s parents don’t have the means to seek treatment for autism doesn’t fly as a reason why this can’t be done.

    Look at the NNii Demographics of Unvaccinated Children.

    “Compared to undervaccinated children, unvaccinated children were more likely to be non-Hispanic white, have a mother who was older, married and who had a college degree. These children were more likely to live in a household with an annual income exceeding $75,000.

    Compared to fully immunized children, unvaccinated children were more likely to be non-Hispanic white and live in larger households. Educational levels, family income and other factors did not differ.

    Almost half (48%) of the parents of unvaccinated children expressed a concern about vaccine safety compared to only 5% of parents of undervaccinated children. In addition, 71% of parents of unvaccinated children indicated that medical doctors have little influence over vaccination decisions for their children compared to 23% of parents of undervaccinated children.

    Many children with no vaccinations lived in counties in California, Illinois, New York, Washington, Pennsylvania, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Utah, and Michigan. ”

    OK, so these people who don’t vaccinate at all are white, make >$75k and don’t trust their doctors (aren’t the non-doctor trusting folks the ones all over the internet?). If those people have kids with autism, you would think you could find them on the internet. Try it for yourself. “I know a lady who’s kid was not vaccinated, but got autism anyway” doesn’t count. You will find a handfull of those.

    No results found for “my child is unvaccinated and has autism”.
    No results found for “my child was not vaccinated and has autism”.
    No results found for “my child is not vaccinated and has autism”.
    No results found for “not vaccinated and has autism”.
    No results found for “was never vaccinated but has autism”
    No results found for “was not vaccinated and has autism”.
    No results found for “not vaccinated and has autism”.
    No results found for “never received any vaccines, but has autism”.
    No results found for “no vaccines, but has autism”.
    No results found for “no vaccines, but has autism”.
    “never vaccinated, but have autism”
    1 result containing query from someone as confused as me
    “not vaccinated, but have autism”
    1 result containing query from someone as confused as me
    “not vaccinated” “got autism anyway”
    1 result My friend’s child wasnt vaccinated for this reason and he got autism anyway
    Your search – “was not vaccinated” “got autism anyway” – did not match any documents.
    The more generic search of just plain old “got autism anyway” turned up a few parents who didn’t give their kid a specific vaccine or they missed a vaccine and “got autism anyway”. There were 9 whole results for “got autism anyway”.
    “was diagnosed with autism anyway” resulted in 1 result. By “they” he must be talking about anyone who knows how to operate a computer.
    @#744512:(connection between vaccines and autism)
    LOLWUT?
    I don’t recall autism being communicable.

    Some small percentage of infants are diagnosed with autism after birth, and until recently nearly 100% of infants got vaccinated, so the parents started trying to blame it on the vaccines. So far, no study that I’m aware of has shown a positive correlation, but sites like this work on anecdotes and fear. And of course they would never post testimony from a parent who decided not to vaccinate his child and the child was diagnosed with autism anyway because that would be inconvenient.

    OK, so these white folks making >$75k aren’t going to seek treatment if their kid shows signs of autism? They aren’t going to be on the internet telling their story? Let me know if you find some. We’ve been told in a gazillion news stories over the last year about the thousands and thousands of unvaccinated kids going to school being on the rise.

    If we can determine their household family income, can’t we someone at least see if they have a kid with autism? If the rate of unvaccinated kids with autism jives with the 1 in 100, I would think I could find more of them. Maybe you should re-categorize this as cryptozoology. Reminds me of Bigfoot. Mofo is supposed to me everywhere, but you can’t find him or at least a body. :-)

    I did find one though. I think she was in Paul Offit’s book. “Tina Brown, mother of 2 boys with autism, decided not to vaccinate son Dylan because his brother Dalton had been inoculated and was subsequently diagnosed with autism.”

    • mjr256 says:

      The epidemiological studies have been done and we’re still looking at 1 in 150 in the U.S. And David Gorski explains at length why any other kind of study comparing vaccinated and unvaccinated is not realistic here: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=939

      I remain of the same opinion as the medical consensus. Why bother to continue to waste important time, money, and energy on furthering to investigate a hypothesis that never had any real scientific evidence supporting it in the first place? Even during that brief period immediately following the Wakefield study when it was actually taken seriously, few saw any compelling evidence. So why bother when every aspect of the only study that ever came close to implicating vaccines has been utterly debunked and there’s far more compelling research being done that’s following the evidence and is making real progress? If the claim is really to be reduced to, some people might get autism from vaccines sometimes while others don’t, we’ve arrived at an entirely unfalsifiable claim. And if it’s unfalsifiable, it’s scientifically useless in that we can’t practically do anything with it. And we certainly can’t make a legitimate study out of surveying the beliefs of laypeople on the internet. You survey the public on the internet and you’re likely to see a disproportionate amount of people believe the government is responsible for 9/11. A recent study found that 1/5 of the American public aren’t even sure if the Earth revolves around the sun or vice versa. The American public is horribly scientifically illiterate.

      I’m actually currently reading Paul Offit’s book and just met him at a conference today.

  8. PS – If Google can so accurately predict flu outbreaks before the CDC, maybe they could resolve this for us.

    I won’t post link so I don’t end up in your spam folder, but search for Google Flu “how does this work”.

    The general Google Trends app that they let us use, doesn’t seem anywhere near as smart for topics other than Britney Spears or Jay Z’s new album for some reason.

  9. Thought you might enjoy this speech by Michael Crichton. www dot michaelcrichton dot net/speech-alienscauseglobalwarming.html

    “There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.”

  10. mjr256 says:

    Of course science is about evidence. If you can’t back up a claim with evidence, then the scientific community has no reason to take you seriously. But for those who aren’t in the scientific community, the laypeople who might not understand the science because that’s not their particular expertise, the consensus of experts in the field ought to be sufficient.

    Too often pseudo-scientists try to get away with spouting out complex-sounding jargon to the public that is in reality meaningless or easily debunked by experts because they know most people won’t know the difference. They’ll then typically try to frame themselves as brilliant mavericks and the entire rest of the scientific community as just stubborn ideologues or as corrupt. That’s what the creationists do. That’s what the Holocaust deniers do. That’s what every fringe group of cranks do.

    So when encountering this behavior, what is the layperson to do? Should they just throw up their hands and conclude it’s his word against theirs? Should they devote their entire lives to becoming experts in the appropriate field? Neither seems like a very good option. So what is a critical thinker who isn’t an expert in everything to do when confronted with conflicting claims? The answer I think is to do exactly what we do all the time in our every day lives. We think like scientists by weighing the likelihood of each position being accurate to the best of our abilities. I’m not an expert in automobiles but given the history, I have good reason to assume that my car will probably work when I start it in the morning. Do I have strong scientific evidence of this? No, it’s just a reasonable assumption I make because I’m not an expert in automobiles and so I’m choosing to put some degree of trust in the car’s manufacturers based on their reputation and perhaps professional reviews of that particular model of car, etc. I’m not a carpenter or an architect either, but I have fairly good reason to trust that the experts who built and designed my house did so in a way to ensure that the roof won’t cave in on me. And should an error be made, there’s an entire legal system designed to protect my interests and maintain accountability. This is the basis of how society functions. Our lives run far more smoothly when we work together and rely to a reasonable degree on experts in their respective fields to do their jobs responsibly. So assuming that I was scientifically illiterate and had no way of properly judging the quality of evidence on either side, which would be the smarter position to hold, choosing to rely on the over 95% consensus of experts in the appropriate field from around the world or the tiny minority of people, many of whom are not experts in the appropriate field and whose position requires one to accept that over 95% of all the experts in the world are either incompetent or part of a diabolical conspiracy to get us all? Even if I was totally ignorant of the science and of the scientific process itself, I’d still consider the smarter play to be to briefly research both sides, their arguments and their criticisms of the opposing side’s arguments, and then ultimately to side with the consensus of experts over the small vocal minority with the big conspiracy claims.

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