Do we suspect Age of Autism doesn’t care for Dr. Paul Offit?

October 27, 2011
September 12, 2009-66-NECSS

Image by tr.robinson via Flickr

Dr. Paul Offit has just been appointed to the Institute of Medicine. It’s a great honor and a validation of all his work both as a medical researcher and communicator over the last several years.

And seemingly in honor of this announcement, that wretched hive of scum and villainy known as “Age of Autism” has reposted a bunch of their old screeds against Offit himself that spend little time addressing the actual science and no time pointing out that Offit is not saying anything remotely out of sync with the rest of the international medical community.

For instance, here’s an old piece from January from J.B. “fuck facts” Handley that includes a note saying it’s being reposted because of the Offit announcement.

Handley’s begins with on a very subtle and ambiguous note:

OK, let me be clear: I think Paul Offit is a blowhard liar, a vaccine profiteer and apologist, and every time he opens his mouth he disrespects my son. When the final chapter is finally written on this man-made autism epidemic, I will do everything within my power to ensure that Offit is remembered by history as one of the most sinister, dishonest, well-funded talking heads pharma ever produced, and that his efforts served to afflict so many children with autism who may otherwise have avoided it.

I feel like Handley here is falling into the classic journalist trap of being too objective and balanced, leaving me with no idea what I’m supposed to think of Offit. Okay, enough irony. Right out of the gate, Handley has played his entire hand. He has a deep-seeded hatred for Paul Offit and has no interest whatsoever in any facts that would change his mind. He makes bold accusations against Offit he has no interest in substantiating (and indeed, he never does in this article). Handley calls him a liar but never proves or even comes remotely close to proving Offit has lied about anything (let alone the rest of the international medical community who share Offit’s stance). Handley calls Offit a “vaccine profiteer” because as one of several inventors of a vital, life-saving vaccine, Offit was paid for his work (as he explains himself here. It’s also discussed here)…not unlike anyone else who receives payment for performing a job. Handley calls Offit an apologist because Offit shares the exact same position as every single reputable health organization on Earth and says so publicly. Handley asserts that autism is “man-made” even though there is no legitimate evidence that anyone has ever presented to demonstrate this is true. And finally, Handley declares his intentions to destroy utterly Offit’s reputation and brand him a villain for all time despite the indisputable fact that Offit has easily saved thousands of lives. Of course, I don’t know him personally so for all I know, Paul Offit could be a wife-beating rapist who runs with scissors and steals candy from babies. But if Offit does have any dark secrets, they’d have to be pretty huge to outweigh the enormous good we know for a fact that he’s done.

So Handley has singled Offit out as one of the great villains of history…even though, again, he’s not saying anything different from every reputable health organization on planet Earth. So does that mean that every one of the millions of health officials who agree with Offit are also being paid off by pharma? Just how much money does pharma have? And just how much money is in their bribing experts fund? And after bribing every doctor on Earth, how much money would pharma have to then make in order to break even on this investment, let alone actually profit? Wouldn’t a better business model be to just sell a product that is both safe and effective? Then they wouldn’t have to waste time, money, and energy bribing anyone.  Nah! Too complicated. Must bribe everyone.

There’s not much more to Handley’s “article” beyond the content of that first paragraph. Like a stupid monkey, he just throws feces in random directions hoping something will hit Offit and stick. For instance:

…Offit, a doctor who has never seen a patient with autism, never treated autism, and never published a study about autism, is somehow considered to be an expert on autism.

These are all such stale and silly arguments, especially given that Handley doesn’t have a millionth of the medical training and experience Offit has…or, you know, any at all. And Offit doesn’t treat patients because he’s a medical researcher. That’s like condemning a police officer because he doesn’t pick up your garbage in the morning. It’s simply not his fuckin’ job. Moreover, Offit is not considered an expert in autism and he doesn’t even present himself as a vaccine expert (review of his qualifications here). But his resume clearly includes lots of published research on rotavirus-specific immune responses and vaccine safety, which seems quite relevant to the conversation Handley seems to want to have about vaccine safety. Still, Offit doesn’t profess to be an expert in autism or vaccines in general. Handley, on the other hand, claims expertise in BOTH, despite no formal education on either, nor any experience.

Handley then goes onto accuse Offit of being a multi-millionaire as if that is some sort of indictment of his character. And this of course comes after years of Handley and his fellow members of the “I hate Paul Offit” club greatly inflating Offit’s earnings from his Rototeq patent by several hundred percent. Further, one gets the impression from Handley that Offit lives in a mansion, is driven around by in a limo, wears a monocle and top hat, and wipes his ass with hundred dollar bills while Offit’s actual lifestyle is rather unremarkable. He lives in an ordinary, reasonably-sized house and drives his own affordable car to his regular, daily job. Additionally, it’s not as though Offit’s wealth came from inheritance or any sorted means; it came from hard work and dedication to co-creating a product that has actually saved many lives. Handley’s claims that Offit’s career was “supported by Merck” (whatever that means) is bogus and has been publicly debunked ages ago.

The piece doesn’t make a single statement about the science; it’s literally just a long hit piece against a man who is simply the most public face of a position held by every reputable health organization on the planet that attempts to dodge that fact to give the false impression that criticism of Handley’s idiotic beliefs begin and end with Offit and the evil pharmaceutical companies. Nonsense. If Handley wants to be taken seriously, he’s got to address the science, not just fling mud at his critics. And if he is just going to mud-sling, he’s got to back up his potentially libelous (and possibly dangerous) accusations with compelling evidence.

Handley isn’t the only one at Age of Autism taking aim at Offit this week with a rerun. Young Jake “everyone who disagrees with me is a shill” Crosby reposted one of his older Offit hit pieces too. It might as well have been written by Handley though since it’s just a retread of the same silly accusations. The only discernible difference is that young Jake has more of a flair with language. For instance, he calls Offit “millionaire vaccine industrialist Paul Offit.” See! Totally different. Now Offit’s really Mr. Burns toiling in his nuclear power plant, trying to figure out how to block out the sun. Of course, Offit doesn’t own a factory and doesn’t even still receive any money off his patented Rototeq vaccine. All he did was design a vaccine with several other researchers and they applied for a patent. That’s it! The man still has a regular job at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. If that’s your idea of a “millionaire industrialist,” then your idea of what that means differs greatly from mine…and that of Merriam Webster. Offit neither owns nor is engaged in the management of an industry. He just fuckin’ patented a vaccine!

Jake also invokes Robert Kennedy’s now thoroughly debunked Simpsonwood lies (see here, here, and here), which Salon later retracted after printing many corrections. To his credit, Jake at least attempts to make scientific points…though they’re all demonstrably wrong and have been shown to be wrong on countless occasions.

But then Jake goes and does the silliest of things. He actually attempts to cite a long list of reputable health organizations that completely disagree with him 100% for support:

These concerns about vaccines causing autism and similar conditions – which do not necessarily point to thimerosal or the MMR specifically as the prime culprits – are clearly serious concerns of leaders in the CDC, FDA, NIH, IOM, AAP, WHO and the vaccine industry. But to Paul Offit, “this is classic for pseudoscience.”

Ouch. Jake, you’ve gone and done the dumbest thing in your whole life. Ya can either rail against this organizations or take their side but you can’t have it both ways, buddy.

“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

“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 

“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 United States through post-market surveillance and studies such as this.”

-American Medical Association

“Prior to its introduction in the 1930’s, data were available in several animal species and humans providing evidence for its safety and effectiveness as a preservative (Powell and Jamieson 1931). Since then, thimerosal has been the subject of several studies (see Bibliography) and has a long record of safe and effective use preventing bacterial and fungal contamination of vaccines, with no ill effects established other than minor local reactions at the site of injection.”

-U.S. Food and Drug Administration
“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

“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

“The committee concludes that the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism. The committee also concludes that the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism. The committee further finds that potential biological mechanisms for vaccine-induced autism that have been generated to date are theoretical only.” -http://www.iom.edu/CMS/3793/4705/20155.aspx”>Institute of Medicine (2004)

Finally, he ironically calls Offit “Nick Nailer,” the tobacco lobbyist in the film Thank You For Smoking. What amuses me about this is not only the fact that a lobbyist is an actual profession, so Offit can be definitively shown to not be a lobbyist, but that I constantly point out the fact that anti-vaxxers constantly work out of Nick Nailer’s playbook such as when they try to change the discussion to one about so-called “vaccine choice.” It’s as if it were directly lifted from the ice cream gambit scene in that film:

It’s a shame. So many words from J.B. and Jake, and nothing to show for it either than what can be summed up completely with, “Oh yeah!”

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Jake Crosby once again unintentionally convicts himself of having a conflict of interest

April 28, 2011

Jake Crosby is at it again with more 6000-degrees of separation conspiracies - If I were as childish as the folks over at Age of Autism, I might dub this kid Joke Crosby…but I’m classy and stuff. Crosby reiterates his last alleged conflict of interest:

The saga of Seth Mnookin and his uncle, Robert Mnookin just gets weirder and weirder. First it has been revealed that Robert Mnookin is close colleagues with Linda Singer – the mother-in-law of pharma-funded wife, Alison Singer – and Michael Lewis, who sits on the board of her fake autism charity/pharma front group, “Autism Science Foundation.”

Got that straight? Seth Mnookin’s uncle works with the mother-in-law of Alison Singer (who I get a funny feeling young Jake is not a fan off – what he has against warrior moms with autistic children, I have no idea). This to him constitutes a conflict of interest. On what grounds? Beats the fuck out of me!

I recently learned that I’m distantly related on my uncle’s side to Jonathan Ames, the writer and producer of the HBO series Bored To Death. And while I met his parents once now, I’ve never so much as been in the same room as Mr. Ames. And yet young Jake, who apparently isn’t aware that everyone in the world is connected by a few degrees, is convinced such a tenuous connection is “weird” and “bizarre”, as well as significant enough to completely ignore Mnookin’s actual facts and arguments.

His latest amazingly “bizarre” connection is that the author of the recent NY Times article that positively quoted Mnookin also “gushed” about his uncle in a news story from a whopping six years ago.  Come to think of it, I’ve noticed a lot of writers consistently write negatively of Charles Manson. Weird! Bizarre! It must be an evil plot. What other possibility could there be? Also Jake Crosby has in dozens of articles “gushed” over Andrew Wakefield. Bizarre. I think Jake would agree that that proves overwhelmingly that he is part of a conspiracy. Seriously though, this level of deluded McCarthyism is getting truly pathetic. Here is an article that lays out the grounds for what is considered an unhealthy relationship in the real world.

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Jake Crosby is a shill for Big Kevin Bacon

March 21, 2011

Yup, that’s right. It’s another piece on Jake Crosby, the Senator McCarthy of the 21st century. As you probably know, a person can’t be approved for official membership in the anti-vax crank club until they accuse someone who disagrees with them of being an agent of the grand conspiracy to get us all. And no one has earned more patches in that category than young Jake Crosby at Age of Autism. It isn’t hard to find examples of Crosby’s comically tortured logic and pathological need to fling the nastiest vitriol at anyone who dares tell him he’s wrong (here, here, here, here, here, here, here).

Sadly, no matter how far he crosses the line into libel and deliberate distortion of facts, remarkable he and the Age of Autism fan club continue to view him as a legitimate investigative reporter…even when he posts something as despicable and repulsive as this. In this article, Crosby not only accuses real investigative journalist Seth Mnookin of a conflict of interest through a maze of loose associations that would make even Kevin Bacon scratch his head but also has the audacity to say this:

Seth Mnookin – a former drug dealer and burglar who bit a police officer…

Geez oh Peet! Offit picks the lousiest spokespeople, doesn’t he? First Amanda “don’t listen to me” Peet and now this former heroin addict.

What the psychotic Crosby is referring to in Mnookin’s history with battling a psychiatric disorder, which drove him to heroin addiction. Of course Mnookin has been clean for twelve years (about half of Crosby’s entire life), has rebuilt his life, has an exemplary journalist record, and has proven he has the courage to talk about this dark period of his life candidly and very publicly.

As for what any of Mnookin’s or anyone else’s past indiscretions have to do with the overwhelming science that proves Crosby completely wrong about everything he believes about vaccines is a mystery. These anti-vaxxers are deeply disturbed individuals who wouldn’t hesitate to try and even cite an old parking ticket to try to poison the well. Anything to try and discredit their critics and distract the public from the science. They have no shame.

And as for the amazing conflict of interest Crosby states Mnookin has, one commenter on the Left Brain Right Brain blog summed it up perfectly:

Wow. Jake revealed that Seth Mnookin -> is the son of Seth Mnookin’s father -> who is the brother of Seth Mnookin’s uncle -> who is a colleague of Alison Singer’s mother-in-law -> who is the mother of Alison Singer’s husband->who is married to Alison Singer (a founder of the Autism Science Foundation) -> who is therefore a colleague of a Paul Offit, who makes his millions by directing the world-wide, pharma-backed conspiracy to promote the idea that Jake and his AoA colleagues are ignorant, wacky, anti-science conspiracy theorists who clearly can’t understand that the great weight of the scientific evidence is against them and so have to rely on ad hominem attacks.

Unusually strong work for Jake.

Jake Crosby, you are a coward and a fraud. I challenge you to address the science and nothing but the science that you feel supports your position. I double dog dare you.

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Have you no sense of decency, Ginger Taylor, at long last?

January 26, 2011

I have to wonder at this point if the anti-vaccine community ever gets sick of using the same McCarthyist tactics over and over again. I’ve been debating them for years now and I don’t think there has been a single occasion where they didn’t either  accuse me of being paid off by the pharmaceutical companies without any justification or accused other critics of theirs of being paid by pharma. And I’m not being hyperbolic here. This accusation has been made on every single occasion. That alone should speak volumes about the intellectual honesty of their movement.

Now another drone from Age of Autism, Ginger Taylor, has written a piece where she explains how incredibly reasonable she and her cohorts have been to their critics…despite their critics being corrupt monsters who willing sacrifice the safety of children for their own profit.

That’s her version anyway:

I published an extensive piece detailing the problems I saw in the Skeptic movement (which I really now see as just the Contrarian movement, as they don’t seem to be skeptical of some assertions that someone from Missouri would demand proof of, but merely oppose anything our community says no matter how reasonable) and in “science writers” who act as mere functionaries of Pharma and their friends/sometime employees in public health. It was entitled:

Chris Mooney, Sheril Kirshenbaum, Lori Kozlowski, Rosie Mestel, Thomas Maugh, David Gorski, Virginia Hughes, Science Journalists, The Dying of the LA Times and an Angry Autism Mom*

It details my earnest attempts to get through to these skeptics/science journalists, and an effort to point out that they are shooting themselves in the foot with their actions, and that our children are collateral damage in their efforts.  Long story short… they are some pretty myopic people and not open to self-evaluation, so their tactics continue to loose them the vaccine/autism wars.

See,  she made earnest attempts to get through to these maniacs who have the repugnance to disagree with her, despite their evil and willful corruption. Of course she, like her cohorts and her predecessor Senator McCarthy, failed to present evidence of foul play by her critics at all.

The critics she mentions share the same position as every reputable health organization on Earth and their criticisms are quite substantive. But since Ms. Taylor doesn’t actually understand enough of the science to challenge their scientific criticisms, it’s much easier to just write off every criticism as mere contrarianism…a claim that she also doesn’t seem interested in backing up with evidence.

She does give one example of alleged conflict of interest though:

(*After I posted the piece, Dr. David “Orac” Gorski sent me a flattering email saying he had actually always respected me and asked me to remove the piece. When I declined, he let the insults fly again. So… not the most honest and straightforward guy.

A few months later, we learned that Gorski has spent the last several years developing a drug for vaccine maker Sanofi, which he had some how forgotten to mention in his hundreds of posts about these issues, so I do feel a bit the sucker for approaching him as if he was actually a somewhat disinterested party in this debate. Had I known I would not have wasted so many hours trying to have a real discussion with him, but live and learn I guess.)

I guess we’re just going to have to take her word about that first incident as she doesn’t seem to link to any evidence that it took place. I don’t know what happened and I certainly don’t see how that in any way refutes the conclusions currently held by every reputable health organization on Earth. And then just just repeats the “hungry lie” (to steal Handley’s stupid phrase) of Jake Crosby, citing his piece in the same blog she writes for. This is like if one of my fellow Gotham Skeptics wrote a piece accusing Ginger Taylor of being a drug dealer, a claim made by no other person, and then I wrote a piece in the Gotham Skeptic where I repeated the claim and cited by fellow Gotham Skeptic blogger’s unsubstantiated rumor as my source.

Of course, Gorski has already told his side of the story and called young Jake out on his libelous bullshit. But his refutation of the accusation wasn’t convenient to Honest Ginger Taylor here so she didn’t find it necessary to even mention it. Cause she’s such a fair and honest journalist. Yeah, that’s the ticket! Crosby and the rest of the anti-vaccine movement deliberate choose to not distinguish tenuous relationships with industry from real conflicts of interest. They also choose not to pay attention to regulatory compliance policies and how those policies discourage unhealthy relationships by making making it very costly to all parties involved while providing huge incentives to whistle blowers, as I discussed when addressing Jake Crosby’s hilarious accusation that John Stossel had a conflict of interest because he wasn’t an only child.

But back to Ginger:

…so I do feel a bit the sucker for approaching him as if he was actually a somewhat disinterested party in this debate.

No, anyone who thinks Ginger Taylor genuinely approached David Gorski or any critic of her warped ideology without actively searching for ammunition to launch a character attack as a cheap attempt to justify dismissing their position out of hand would be the sucker.

As Gorski began his rebuttal to Jake Crosby’s libelous blog entry:

One of the very favorite and most commonly used tactics to attack criticism in the armamentarium of pseudoscientists, cranks, and quacks (not to mention politicians) is the ad hominem fallacy. In this fallacy, rather than addressing the actual evidence and science that demonstrate their favorite brand of woo to be nothing more than fairy dust, the idea is to preemptively attack and discredit the person.

And indeed, Ginger Taylor has said not one thing in her entire polemic to even address the actual evidence and science. She doesn’t understand it and she’s praying you don’t ask her about it. Instead, she’d rather fling feces at her critics, crying that they’re all out to get her while pretending she’s fair, impartial, and genuinely open to engaging in civil discourse with her critics. Bullshit!

She says it all right here:

I hope you will take the time to read it, especially if you are someone who believes the media on this issue and  super especially if you are Matt Lauer, Anderson Coooper, George Stephanopolous or any other major news personality who has been handed a press release labeled “News” that was likely drafted in a Pharma conference room and told to get really angry at some guy named Andrew Wakefield.

That’s right. They’re ALL out to get her. Everyone in the position to disagree with her is in on the big conspiracy. I have not had one interaction with any members of the anti-vaccine movement that didn’t involve them accusing critics of being big pharma shills. Not one. And clearly Ginger Taylor has not broken that pattern.

There isn’t enough money in the entire world to pay off all the people Ginger believes are being paid off by Big Pharma to make people think vaccines are safe, let alone enough money for pharmaceutical companies to pay all those people off AND still actually produce the vaccines. Who made up this plan, Dr. Evil? This would have to be the most incompetent evil plot ever. How would pharmaceutical companies even hope to profit off the vaccines if they’re throwing so much money away just to convince people get the vaccines? And even if they could manage to at the end of the day make some profit, wouldn’t there have to be a much easier way to make a profit? Like couldn’t they must sell products that work and are safe that don’t require spending quadrillions of dollars sweeping public relations disasters under the rug?

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Oh brother, Jake Crosby is the walking embodiment of Poe’s Law

December 21, 2010

"Uh, durr. What's a regulatory compliance policy?"

I’ve written about Jake Crosby’s use of the “Big Pharma shill” gambit on countless occasions by now. So have lots of people, as evidenced from a basic Google search of his name. But it never ceases to astound me how often he uses the same one argument. This kid quite literally has no other argument but to apply his McCarthyist poisoning the well tactics on anyone who disagrees with him to the point that he’s a satire of himself.

Jake Crosby has absolutely nothing to say about the science of vaccines or the science of autism. Nope. He’s just going to accuse everyone he doesn’t like of being a commie…err, I mean a Big Pharma shill. And his recent application of this McCarthyism leveled against journalist John Stossel only illustrates how he doesn’t even understand what a conflict of interest looks like.

What relationship you might ask does Jake Crosby think constitutes a conflict of interest for John Stossel? Was he explicitly paid to use his medical credentials to endorse pharaceuticals? No. He’s not even a doctor. He’s just a journalist. Did a pharmaceutical company give him gifts? Nope. No, Jake Crosby thinks John Stossel has a conflict of interest because…

Wait for it.

Perhaps the answer best lies with the details surrounding his older brother, Dr. Thomas P. Stossel, a hematologist and professor at Harvard Medical School with direct ties to the pharmaceutical industry, which Dr. Stossel has heavily supported in controversies where it has been on the receiving end of well-deserved criticism.

WHAT?! His brother is a doctor and you think that’s a conflict of interest? Oh, the stupid! It burns!

First of all, all doctors have SOME relationship with the pharmaceutical industry, in the same way all librarians have some relationship with the publishing industry. That alone does not constitute a conflict of interest. That’s absurd. Federal and state regulatory compliance policies are quite explicit with regards to what constitutes an unhealthy relationship between medial professionals and industry. And no journalism regulations forbid journalists from covering medical news stories because they have the audacity to have siblings. That’s just asshole dumb.

Anti-vaxxers pull this pharma and government conspiracy crap all the fucking time and it’s blatantly obvious that they don’t know a damned thing about the regulatory compliance policies in place that are specifically designed to prevent such conflicts of interest. Just once, I’d like to hear an anti-vaxxer articulate their specific objections to the Federal Anti-Kickback Law and Regulatory Safe Harbors or the industry self-regulating phrma code on interactions with healthcare professionals, as well as the anti-vaxxers’ proposed amendments to improve the efficacy of those policies. I’d also like to know if they feel the notoriously strict Massachusetts compliance and disclosure system is acceptable or if they think even that is too easily breached. But you’ll never see that because the vast majority in the anti-vax movement aren’t doctors and so have never even heard of these policies, let alone have thoughtful opinions about them, while those who are doctors happily choose to play on the others’ ignorance of the policies.

And of course anti-vaxxers love to exploit populist paranoia about the government to suggest an bin Laden/Hussein-like alliance exists between the pharmaceutical companies and the government when such an alliance has grown utterly preposterous when you look at recent history. The fact is that more than ever, federal prosecutors are mercilessly leaning on pharmaceutical companies (which is not to necessarily say the prosecutors’ actions have been unjustified). Take for instance, the 2001 case over the drug Lupron, where Tap Pharmaceuticals was forced to pay $875 million.

I’ll repeat that number to help you wrap your head around it. Tap Pharmaceuticals was made by the government to pay the sum of $875 million. If these guys are friends and co-conspirators, I’d hate to meet Tap’s enemies. This was at the time the largest criminal fine ever in a U.S. healthcare fraud prosecution. Then there’s the Allergen case from this year where Allergen was forced to pay $600 million, not to mention the Pfizer case from just last year that ended with Pfizer having to pay $2.3 billion dollars. That’s BILLION with a fuckin’ B!!! Oh yeah, that government and Pfizer are the best of friends. Clearly.

Then there’s the unfortunate tale of Dr. Gleason who the government chose to make an example of. Gleason is a pretty prominent psychiatrist in Baltimore who was hired by a company to do promotional speaker programs. It was not independent. He’s a paid agent. So he traveled around the country at the company’s expense. It was during this promotional speaker program, that he specifically talked about off-label uses of their product. He gave one of these presentations in New York and while standing on a train platform in Long Island, he was suddenly swarmed by a half dozen federal agents who went as far as to actually handcuff him. He was charged with criminal violation of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act for promoting unapproved uses for the product. Gleason filed a motion to dismiss based on First Amendment grounds, claiming the right to express his opinion but given that he’s a medical doctor, the law specifically limits his speech, so that argument was summarily rejected by the board. The fact was that under the law, a medical professional hired as a speaker for a company makes you an agent of the company, meaning you’re held to the same rules as a sales representatives.

The law takes these issues very, very seriously. So I’m sorry but anyone who claims the government is somehow in collusion with the pharmaceutical companies is either completely ignorant of the facts, is lying, or is delusional. Further, even if a reporter did have what would actually constitute a conflict of interest, if they’re reporting the consensus view of every reputable health organization on Earth accurately, as Stossel does, why should their relationship to industry matter? From now on, I absolutely refuse to accept the “Big Pharma” conflict of interest excuse from anti-vaxxers unless they’re prepared to discuss specific problems with the current regulatory compliance policies as well as their proposed amendments to those policies. Otherwise, I will take their refusal to do so as a tacit admission that they are not properly informed about what those policies say and how well they’re enforced, and therefore their objections are nothing but an excuse to deny the facts and a waste of everyone’s time.

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Jake Crosby is a big pharma shill

October 25, 2010

 

Big Pharma shill?

If you’ve spent any time debating vaccine deniers, you know that you must be a big pharma shill…because you’ve definitely been accused of such if you’ve ever debated vaccine deniers. It is by far the most popular argument the anti-vaccine movement use because they rarely know anything about the science and so must attempt to discredit their opponents. Cause when you’ve got nothing of any substance to argue, why not just try to poison the well?

And there are no shortage of examples of this gambit being used by anti-vaxxers:

The “pharma shill” gambit by David Gorski

LA Times – “Childhood vaccines, autism and the dangers of group think”  By JAMES RAINEY

Barack Obama: A pro-vaccine pharma shill who doesn’t care about autistic children?” by Orac

The Jenny and Jim antivaccine propaganda tour has begun” by David Gorski

Paul Offit on Dateline NBC: The $29 Million Vaccine Man?

Brian Deer Interviewed by Matt Lauer on Dateline NBC Dr. Wakefield Program

When critics disagree with me, I’m a Pharma Shill. When critics disagree with a woman, it gets sexual.” By Abel Pharmboy

Demonizing “Big Pharma” by Steven Novella

Conspiracy Mongering at Age of Autism” by Steven Novella

I could go on but you get the idea.

But I can think of no anti-vaxxer who uses this tactic more than young Jake Crosby, who seems to never even try to make any other argument but to accuse absolutely everyone of being a big pharma shill (see:  here, here, here, here, here, and here).

Crosby and his ilk seem to go out of their way to find any loose association between their critics and any pharmaceutical organization and then apply a classic McCarthyist guilt by association accusation against those critics. And of course when most of your critics are actual medical professionals, it’s not hard to find some loose connection to the industry that literally manufactures the products they use.

For instance, recently David Gorski reported on the hit piece young Jake Crosby was writing against him. First, Crosby emailed Gorski about an alleged “conflict of interest” that he claimed Gorski did not disclose on his blog. The claim was that Wayne State University stands to benefit from Sanofi-Aventis money, and since Gorski works for Washington State University, that creates a conflict. But even before Crosby published his “article,” Gorski emailed him back and specifically stated that he does not receive any money from Sanofi-Aventis or any other pharmaceutical company, nor was he likely to any time in the foreseeable future. Then Crosby went ahead and ignored Gorski’s words and wrote:

Dr. Gorski has been funded over the last decade by institutional funds, the Department of Defense, the National Cancer Institute, the ASCO Foundation, and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. He currently receives no funding from pharmaceutical companies, although he did once receive a modest payment for an invention from such a company back in the mid-1990s. Indeed, so bereft of pharmaceutical funding is Dr. Gorski that before his talks, when he is required to make his disclosures of conflicts of interest, he often jokes that no pharmaceutical company is interested enough in his research to want to give him any money. Maybe one day that will change, but for now, like most biomedical scientists in academia, he must beg the NIH and other granting agencies for the money to keep his lab going.

This is the kind of tenuous connections vaccine deniers exploit to invent their nonexistent conspiracies.

But then I noticed a new article on the vaccine denialist propaganda site Age of Autism that was being reposted from a piece Crosby had written for his student publication, Brandeis University Magazine.

So I thought it’d be fun to play investigative reporter Jake Crosby-style. Let’s see. Crosby is a student at Brandeis University, which is hosting a Biotech, Healthcare & Science Summit in November that includes pharmaceutical industry professionals on the panel. And other participating employers who are involved include Merck, Acceleron Pharma, Adnexus Pharmaceuticals (Bristol-Myers Squibb), Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Cubist Pharmaceuticals, Merrimack Pharmaceuticals, and Novartis. And Novartis signed an license agreement with another company that obtained an exclusive worldwide license with sublicensing rights to the technology from Brandeis University.

And if I keep digging, is there any doubt I couldn’t find more ties between Brandeis University and pharmaceutical companies? Yet Mr. Crosby never mentioned this possible conflict of interest on Age of Autism. What’s he trying to hide?

Of course I’m being silly but this is precisely how anti-vaxxers justify dismissing their critics out of hand without addressing the actual science.

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ScienceBlogs response to new PepsiCo blog illustrates why Jake Crosby is dead wrong

July 7, 2010

Skepacabra is in no way sponsored by Pepsi or any other commercial enterprise.

I’ve been talking a lot lately about the flagrant hypocrisy of vaccine denialists, and particularly those at Age of Autism, who condemn their critics as “Big Pharma Shills” while ignoring their own far more serious conflicts of interest.

Now last year, young Jake Crosby started writing for Age of Autism. He was exactly what they look for over on that site. He was young, dumb, and without any medical or scientific background. Now young Jake appeared on my radar for the first time when he write a lengthy 2-part hit piece on ScienceBlogs and Seed Magazine, which maintains it. I wrote a 2-part response to young Jake’s blogs here and here. Now ScienceBlogs is home to possibly the most popular science-related blogs in the world. Among its writers are PZ Myers, Orac, PalMD, Jason Rosenhouse, Abbie Smith, and many more.

Now young Jake’s entire lengthy 2-part attack on ScienceBlogs really only made one argument, the vaccine denialists’ favorite. He called every science writer as well as the editors of the site big pharma shills (Actually, this is the only argument young Jake EVER makes against his critics. See:  here, here, and here). And his justification for this libelous accusation essentially boiled down to the fact that ads appear on the blog pages…even though few if any are related to pharmaceuticals, the ads cycle randomly and are not under the control of the writers, the writers are under no orders to hold back any criticisms of the site’s sponsors, and none of the writers on the blog make enough money off of the blogs to even make a living wage, not even PZ Myers, who arguably has the most popular English-language-speaking science blog in the world.

Now it didn’t bother young Jake that on several occasions, the bloggers over at ScienceBlogs did in fact condemn organizations whose ads appeared on their page and even expressed public outrage upon learning from readers that ads for certain institutions the bloggers despised appeared on their blog page.

He also never bothered to acknowledge the shilling done on his own website, which unlike ScienceBlogs, is covered with specific, targeted ads for products and organizations who clearly benefit from the ideology Age of Autism is selling.

But now a new blog has come to ScienceBlogs, one by PepsiCo, and big greedy shills that they are, many of the ScienceBlogs writers are expressing everything from concern to outrage over the encroachment of a commercial corporation onto their turf.

For instance, PalMD says:

The problem is not that Pepsi is “corporate” or “commercial”. This is not about “selling out to The Man.” What Pepsi produces and how it does is ironic but beside the point. The main problems are:

  1. Lack of transparency, which is somewhat improved
  2. Visual appearance, despite caveats, very similar to “real” science blogs
  3. Content produced by and for the benefit of the company that bought the space
These create all sorts of ethical problems.  It also erodes the credibility of some of us in a couple of ways, but I’ll speak only for myself.
I have spent a bit of time and energy building a little credibility with mainstream journalists, engaging them online and in person, and have started writing for a more mainstream outlet, Forbes.com.  I enjoy my role as both a writer and a physician; the more I read about journalism, the more I find myself questioning the best way to do what I do.  Given the multiple ethical challenges to what I do, I don’t appreciate being dragged into a new one with no warning.
One of the more fortunate things at ScienceBlogs has been the recruitment of experienced science writers such as Maryn McKenna, David Dobbs, Rebecca Skloot, and Deborah Blum (yes, I left some of you out, but it’s busy here tonight).  This gives me additional opportunities to learn the craft, but if they all run away from here, I lose out (as do our readers).
I have relied on a reputation (even if I were my only reader) of independence.  Ads are inevitable and not undesirable, but deceptive advertising that looks very much like my own content poses special problems for me (and for other medical bloggers).

And the always polite PZ Myers says:

They aren’t going to be doing any scienceblogging — this is straight-up commercial propaganda. You won’t be seeing much criticism of Pepsico corporate policies, or the bad nutritional habits spread by cheap fast food, or even any behind-the-scenes stories about the lives of Pepsico employees that paints a picture of the place as anything less than Edenesque. Do you think any of the ‘bloggers’ will express any controversial opinions that might annoy any potential customers?

There won’t be a scrap of honest opinion expressed over there that isn’t filtered and vetted by cautious editors before making it online, and it will all toe the Pepsi line. It’s going to be boring. It’s going to blur the line between blog content and advertising. It’s going to be bloodless dull blogging that will diminish the Scienceblogs brand.

See somewhere in between these two opinions is precisely what one ought to expect from honest journalists who aren’t simply all about the all might dollar. Now with Age of Autism, the situation is far more distressing because it isn’t just any companies advertising with them but companies like Lee Silsby who sell bogus autism treatments, a product that clearly benefits from a website devoted to getting people to buy bogus autism treatments.

Now as far as amoral corporations go, I admit that I actually like PepsiCo. They’ve stood up to the bigots at the American Family Assocation and have continued to support LGBT issues with large financial contributions. So I’m inclined to think they’re a far more ethical corporation than at least BP or the Catholic Church, for instance. But that’s not the point. It is disconcerting to see ScienceBlogs give a platform for a corporation to potentially use to exploit the name of science for their own propaganda, especially since their wealth provides them with more than enough other platforms. But the important thing here is that the ScienceBlog writers have not sold out while the Age of Autism writers have never even sold in to begin with.

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