Age of Autism gives out awards

December 30, 2010

It’s that time of year again. The time when everyone starts compiling those best and worst lists of the year. I’m sure I’m going to get to that soon enough myself. But today I wanted to comment on the awards being issued by those paragons of crazy at Age of Autism.

Not surprisingly, they awarded their arch nemesis Dr. Paul Offit their “Denialist of the Decade” Award. When I first saw them promote the article written by Dan “I still can’t find autistic Amish even though they’re not hard to find” Olmsted on their Facebook page, I couldn’t resist leaving a short comment. I wrote: “Odd choice since every reputable health org on the planet agrees with him.” Shockingly, this comment apparently proved too snarky to be see and they had it quickly disappeared because Age of Autism respects intellectual discourse and honesty.

Then again, as Olmsted’s piece illustrates when he discusses Offit’s latest book  Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All (at least discuses its existence, not really any of its content or the science being presented of course), Age of Autism has no sense of irony:

Much of the book is a score-settling screed against anyone who’s ever criticized him or vaccine safety surveillance, including Fisher, Jenny McCarthy and J.B. Handley.

Not like Age of Autism that devotes over 75% of its content to articles about attacking the characters of any public figure who promotes vaccination instead of discussing stuff relevant to, you know, autism. The site always reminds me of Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, sarcastically asking if there are any actual dinosaurs in this dinosaur park?

So essentially, Olmsted just uses this “award” as an excuse to reiterate the same long debunked BS claims he and his fellow misinformers have been making all decade, sling more mud at Offit specifically (even though everyone of any consequence agrees with him), and of course to further plug his own recent horribly unsuccessful book.

But this wasn’t the only award they gave out. To really bring home Age of Autism’s credibility, they gave their “Journalist of the Year” award to a woman named Alisyn Camerota…an anchor at Fox News.

Yes, THAT Fox News.


And Orac posts about Age of Autism’s recent articles here.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 12.27.10

December 27, 2010

1. Christianity loses majority in England – For the first time, an annual British Social Attitudes survey suggests Christianity does not represent the majority of British citizens, with only 42% self-identifying as Christians while 51% now saying they have no religion. America is making progress in that area as well bu still has ways to go, as 26% of Millennials saying they’re religiously unaffiliated compared with 20% of GenXers and 14% of Baby Boomers.

2. What’s the harm in voodoo? – a Haitian mob has taking to lynching voodoo priests over the belief that voodoo is the cause of the recent cholera outbreak. It should be noted that Germ Theory was being argued as early as at least 1700 by physician Nicolas Andry as an explanation for small pox and other diseases and that John Snow contributed to the formation of the germ theory when he traced the source of the 1854 cholera outbreak in Soho, London. And for those keeping track, the Haitian cholera outbreak being blamed on voodoo is happening in the year 2010, over a hundred and fifty years later. That’s like attributing the dishwasher (1850), sewing machine (1851), and pasteurisation (1856) to demons.

3. I usually don’t like seeing children get spanked but PZ does it so well – Occasionally, PZ Myers posts a particularly egregious creationist email he gets and has his fun dissecting and demolishing its points. This time, it was an email from a creationist claiming to be a 12-year-old boy. Now normally I would say leave the kid alone as it seems overly cruel to publicly ridicule someone so young. But to the kid’s credit (if we take his age at face value), it’s fairly well written for a 12-year-old (minus some glaring typos) and it’s actually precisely the same arguments we hear from adult creationists all the time, so I can’t really fault PZ for using this email as chance to educate.

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Letter to the Editor on SafeMinds PSA in movie theaters

December 27, 2010

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the SafeMinds anti-vaccine “PSA” that was going to be rolled out in movie theaters across the country during Thanksgiving weekend and how a massive skeptic letter-writing campaign got at least AMC Theaters to pull the commercial. Well I also wrote a letter to the editor of my local newspaper about it that was published on November 29. Here it is, second letter down the page [Note: The link may go inactive after awhile]:



This week, the anti-vaccine propaganda organization SafeMinds is rolling out a commercial in some movie theaters that makes bogus claims designed to scare people away from getting their annual flu shot.

Given the well-known importance of herd immunity to vaccine efficacy, this misinformation campaign poses a direct threat to the public health and must be challenged head-on. Contrary to what audiences will hear from this commercial, every reputable health organization on planet Earth recommends vaccination against the flu and agrees that the overwhelming evidence demonstrates that the vaccine is more than reasonably safe and reasonably effective.

And despite what SafeMinds would have people believe, thimerosal is not poison or dangerous to anyone, including pregnant women. What is dangerous to pregnant women is the very thing the vaccine protects against: the flu. More than 30,000 Americans die from the flu in an average year, and New Jersey has the sixth-worst vaccination rate in the country.

Vaccines are among the safest health measures ever discovered, and denying this fact is tantamount to denying gravity. Vaccines save lives. Period.

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Federal authorities finally investigating Texas Board of Ed changes

December 25, 2010

Documentary Comedy ‘Gawd Bless America’ looks awesome!

December 22, 2010

I am so seeing this movie. It looks like Jackass for skeptics:

It already looks a cut above Bill Maher’s Religulous just looking at the approach this guy, Blake Freeman, is using. Though I find it strange I’ve never heard of him before.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 12.22.10

December 22, 2010

1. Catholic Church tells hospital they should have let patient die – A pregnant woman who was almost certainly going to die came into St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center. The doctors knew that in order to save the woman’s life, they’d have to abort the fetus. And it worked. But the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix didn’t like that decision and so they essentially excommunicated the hospital from any Catholic affiliation. They actually punished a hospital for putting patient life first. Though I guess it’s not really a punishment since now the hospital administration can continue to act ethically without having to give the misguided and ignorant opinions of Catholic officials another thought.

And speaking of the Catholic Church…

2. WikiLeaks uncovers another possible Vatican scandal – The Vatican originally agreed in writing to take up observer status with the International Task Force on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research, referred to as the ITF. Then, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable from WikiLeaks, they reneged on the agreement amid controversy over the role of the war-time pope.

She added that the deal “had fallen apart completely … due to Vatican back-pedaling,” according to the cable, which was published by the newspaper.

The message says this decision “may have been taken by the Vatican’s relatively inexperienced new deputy foreign minister (Ettore Balestrero), and if so, would not be the first time he has complicated Vatican foreign relations.”

However, it added: “The Vatican may also be pulling back due to concerns about ITF pressure to declassify records from the WWII-era pontificate of Pope Pius XII.

Yup, you can always count on the Vatican…for a good scandal.

3. Gallop poll suggests America is gradually moving towards accepting evolution – When it comes to accepting evolution, America is somewhat of an embarrassment to the rest of the world. In recent years, polls have shown that up to 47% of Americans are Young Earth Creationists. But a new poll suggests that number is now only 40%. Still not anything remotely to be proud of but it suggests that maybe our efforts to take on the creationists may be yielding positive results.

4. Sanjay Gupta embarrassingly uncritical of John of God – Unfortunately, CNN hasn’t put up the video yet of this segment, but I’ve linked to their blog about it. For those who don’t know, John of God is a Brazilian con artist posing as a faith healer. He does nothing we haven’t seen other “faith healers” who have been exposed as frauds have done, and yet Sanjay Gupta and his guests still found him to be “mysterious.” In fact, given how many times they reminded the audience during this segment that the universe is mysterious and there are still things we don’t know, Gupta made it clear that journalistic and scientific integrity was not very high on his list of priorities. I intend to write to CNN to express my outrage over the segment and demand that they fire Sanjay Gupta for his anti-intellectual nonsense. I hope others will join me in this campaign.

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Skeptics get Power Balance to admit their wristband product doesn’t work

December 22, 2010

The Australian Skeptics have been fighting to expose the Power Balance scam for some time now. Power Balance are rubber wristbands with little hologram on them that are marketed with all sorts of vague claims like improving the wearers’ balance, strength, flexibility, etc.  But no longer:

As of today the manufacturers will no longer be making those claims, after a ruling proved them to be unsubstantiated. What follows is a press release from the ACCC explaining further, but it’s worth pointing out that without the work of the Australian Skeptics in demonstrating the falsehood of Power Balance’s claims this ruling would never have happened. So, once again – excellent work, guys!

Misleading advertising claims about the alleged benefits of Power Balance wristbands and pendants have been withdrawn by the manufacturer after Australian Competition and Consumer Commission intervention.

As a result consumers will be offered a refund if they feel they have been misled and Power Balance has agreed not to supply any more products that are misleadingly labelled.

“Suppliers of these types of products must ensure that they are not claiming supposed benefits when there is no supportive scientific evidence,” ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel said today.

Power Balance has admitted that there is no credible scientific basis for the claims and therefore no reasonable grounds for making representations about the benefits of the product. Power Balance has acknowledged that its conduct may have contravened the misleading and deceptive conduct section of the Trade Practices Act 1974.

Another great victory for science and reason!

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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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Leaked email exposes Fox News as less than “fair and balanced”

December 10, 2010
Fox News Channel
Image via Wikipedia

During the big health care debate, Fox News’ Washington managing editor came up with an interesting, little idea for his network to maintain their “fair and balance” policy. He decided they should constantly mislead the public by calling it the “government option” and now we have the emails to prove it.

Fox News pundits started sporadically adopting the “government option” slant around March, 2009, when they previously referred to it as the “public option” and Republican pollster Frank Luntz scolded them if they slipped by into using the term “public option”:

Luntz argued that “if you call it a ‘public option,’ the American people are split,” but that “if you call it the ‘government option,’ the public is overwhelmingly against it.” Luntz explained that the program would be “sponsored by the government” and falsely claimed that it would also be “paid for by the government.”

Then on October 26, Fox used “public” and “government” interchangeably and Sammon was not happy. So he wrote an inter-office email, the subject of which was: “friendly reminder: let’s not slip back into calling it the ‘public option.’ “:

From: Sammon, Bill
Sent: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 8:23 AM
To: 054 -FNSunday; 169 -SPECIAL REPORT; 069 -Politics; 030 -Root (FoxNews.Com); 036 -FOX.WHU; 050 -Senior Producers; 051 -Producers
Subject: friendly reminder: let’s not slip back into calling it the “public option”

1)      Please use the term “government-run health insurance” or, when brevity is a concern, “government option,” whenever possible.

2)      When it is necessary to use the term “public option” (which is, after all, firmly ensconced in the nation’s lexicon), use the qualifier “so-called,” as in “the so-called public option.”

3)      Here’s another way to phrase it: “The public option, which is the government-run plan.”

4)      When newsmakers and sources use the term “public option” in our stories, there’s not a lot we can do about it, since quotes are of course sacrosanct.

Michael Clemente, Fox’s senior vice president, responded:

From: Clemente, Michael
To: Sammon, Bill; 054 -FNSunday; 169 -SPECIAL REPORT; 069 -Politics; 030 -Root (FoxNews.Com); 036 -FOX.WHU; 050 -Senior Producers; 051 -Producers
Sent: Tue Oct 27 08:45:29 2009
Subject: RE: friendly reminder: let’s not slip back into calling it the “public option”

Thank you Bill

#3 on your list is the preferred way to say it, write it, use it.

Michael Clemente



And after that, the phrase “public option” was hardly ever used on Fox. 

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Creationism loses in Louisiana

December 9, 2010


Suck it, bitches!

Not long ago, the Louisiana school board bought into the “teach the controversy” campaign being sold by the cdesign proponentsists. Fortunately, cooler heads have now finally prevailed.

In a preliminary vote a few days ago, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) voted 6-1 to  accept a proper treatment of Evolution free from insane disclaimers like that it’s “only a theory” or that Intelligent Design is to be taken seriously.

Today, the final vote that included the entire board found 8-2 in favor of Evolution and a quality science education. Yet again, creationism has been defeated. Of course, sadly, as I must say whenever we score such victories, the battle continues. Ideologues never give in no matter how many times they’re shown to be dead wrong and no matter how many times their attempts to change public policy are defeated.

They just continue to move the goalpost and change strategies. First, it was “Creation Science.” Then when the Supreme Court ruled against it, they created Intelligent Design (w/ a brief unfortunate stop over in “cdesign proponentsists”). Then when that was defeated in the Kitzmiller vs. Dover trial, they branched off into “teach the controversy”, “academic freedom”, and “teach the strengths and weaknesses of Evolution.” Now that all those tactics are starting to fail, they’ll just come up with something else, whatever it takes to chip away at the legitimacy of Evolution.

Fortunately, we have the National Center for Science Education and guys like Ken Miller keeping up with the latest tactics and tirelessly fighting the good fight for truth, justice, and the American way.

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