Jul 21 2008

Celebrity Smackdown: Amanda Peet vs Jenny McCarthy

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Comments: 35

I have bemoaned in the past the celebrity culture in which we grant more weight to the opinions of celebrities than they deserve. It seems to be part of human nature to idolize and hero-worship. It can be benign, even healthy. Young athletes idolizing the talent and hard work of sports stars may be spurred on to greater achievement themselves. I also think that intellectual heroes, like Carl Sagan and Stephen J. Gould, can have an enormously positive influence on culture and society.

TV and movie stars, however, are famous because their profession involves public performance in a medium that potentially reaches millions. This is fine as far as it goes – I have no problem admiring stars for their entertainment value, their charisma, and their artistic talent and skills. It is reasonable to admire artists for their art.

The problem comes, in my opinion, when actors and actresses feel that their political opinions or ideology are somehow more valuable than anyone else’s because of their fame. I don’t necessarily blame them – they have a right to express their opinions and their fame gives them an outlet. I do think that if they are going to trade on their fame then they have a responsibility for what they promote, but I am not questioning their right to promote whatever they choose. Rather I maintain that the public should largely not care what celebrities think about issues that have nothing to do with their art and profession.

Recently I have been very critical of actress Jenny McCarthy for becoming the celebrity spokesperson for the anti-vaccinationist movement. My criticisms have focussed on what she has said – endorsing nonsense about toxins in vaccines, the “too many too soon” slogan which is not evidence-based, and generally promoting the false controversy about a link between vaccines and autism.

Now actress Amanda Peet has entered the game with a video in which she defends the safety of vaccines. In an interview about her views she said:

Frankly, I feel that parents who don’t vaccinate their children are parasites.

She is referring to the fact that when the majority of children are vaccinated they prevent the spread of infection through so-called “herd immunity.” Those who don’t vaccinate are benefiting from those who do. Calling this “parasitic” is inflammatory – but not inaccurate. Peet essentially gets it right. Of course, when enough people choose not to vaccinate there is the risk that herd immunity will be compromised and outbreaks will occur – this has already happened in the UK and is now starting to happen in the US.

Peet says she researched the issue with vaccines before deciding to vaccinate her own child, but she had some guidance from her brother-in-law who is a pediatrician. Not everyone has that advantage.

While I credit Peet for caring enough about the issue to use her celebrity status to promote a position I agree with, and I credit her with getting the issue correct – her celebrity endorsement of vaccines really shouldn’t matter. This question should not be settled by which side gets the sexier actresses as spokespersons (and, BTW, if that were the case Peet would win hands down – I’m just saying).

There has already been some backlash against Peet for coming out on the side of science. Some have questioned her right to speak out on this issue because she does not have a child with autism. I personally find this “you don’t have a right to express an opinion” gambit disgusting. Everyone has the right to express an opinion. And also, everyone has a stake in what is right and just – even if it does not affect you personally. And finally, it’s a false premise because everyone has a stake in herd immunity – not just parents of autistic children. This tactic is just a childish way of silencing opinions one doesn’t like.

But the biggest backlash came from David Kirby – that reporter who has made a career out of spreading misinformation about vaccines and any nonsense he can think of to prop up the failing claim that mercury in vaccines causes autism. Writing for the Huffington Post he chastised Peet for her “parasites” statement and then tried to argue that her opinions are against the medical establishment.

As evidence Kirby does not refer to the medical literature. He does not refer to official statements by professional medical organizations . What he gives is a list of recent statements by politicians or by professionals who are working for government agencies, like the CDC – which means they were given in a political and not purely scientific context. For example, he cites the fact that John McCain, Obama, and Clinton made statements acknowledging an autism epidemic or a possible environment role in the cause of autism. I didn’t realize that presidential candidates spoke for the medical establishment.

But let’s look at some of his more salient examples, coming from the CDC and the NIH. He refers again to the Hannah Poling case, a girl with a mitochondrial disorder who developed a neurodegenerative disorder with “features of autism” after getting a fever from vaccines. This special case – which is not a case of autism being caused by toxins in vaccines – says nothing about the broader vaccine-autism debate. The case was settled (not judged in Poling’s favor, but settled) because both sides realized it was a special case that could not be extrapolated to other vaccine-autism cases.

The rest of Kirby’s examples essentially boil down to – officials are studying the issue of vaccines and autism, therefore there must be something to it. This is a common ploy used by those who promote unscientific medical issues. First, they make a claim controversial by grass-roots lobbying and public misinformation, even when there is no scientific controversy. Then, when political pressure is applied to government agencies to look into the issue they claim that as vindication that the issue is being taken seriously – therefore it is a true scientific controversy. It is, rather, nothing more than a self-fulfillment saying nothing about the science.

But it’s even worse than that. Kev at Left brain right brain takes Kirby to task for specific misrepresentations. Kirby refers to a recent IACC (the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, which includes HHS, CDC, NIH and others) report which calls for “specific objectives on vaccine research.” Kev points out that the IACC included Lynn Redwood of Safe Minds – an antivaccinationist group promoting the claim of a link between vaccines and autism.

This is the ultimate self-fulfillment. The IACC decided to include controversial advocates from the anti-vaccine side so that they would seem open to all views and hopefully form a consensus. Then those individuals insert their agenda into the IACC, and then ideologues like Kirby come along and try to make it seem like the IACC is concerned about vaccines so it must be legitimate.

Kev also makes this correction:

I would also like to correct David on his characterisation of the Combating Autism Act. The Act contains no mention of vaccines. It specifies environmental research but the words ‘vaccine’, ‘vaccination’ ‘immunize’, ‘immunization’, ‘mmr’ or ‘thimerosal’ appear nowhere in the CAA. I hope David will correct his HuffPo piece accordingly.

We will see.  The piece by Kirby was nothing more than misdirection, which is common from the anti-vaccine crowd – including their unconvincing insistence that they are not anti-vaccine. Essentially Kirby presented a list of dubious political evidence as if it were a scientific consensus of the medical establishment. Shame on him, yet again.

But hooray for Amanda Peet. Again – I don’t think this is an issue to be decided by celebrity endorsements, but at least she came down on the side of science and evidence.

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35 responses so far

35 Responses to “Celebrity Smackdown: Amanda Peet vs Jenny McCarthy”

  1. orDoveron 21 Jul 2008 at 1:43 pm

    I was really disappointed when I read a few days ago that Peet had issued an apology for her parasites comment, which she admited was “mean and divisive.” I wondered how many times Jenny McCarthy had said something mean about Big Pharma, the government, doctors, parents who do vaccinate their children, etc, without even a hint of backlash. I don’t think Peet should have felt sorry for what she said, and I found it refreshing that someone wasn’t coddling these anti-vax parents for once.

    But while she did apologize for the parasite remark, she stood strong in defending vaccines and presented a lot of great information. Here’s the link to her apology, which was more like a thinly-veiled comeback:

    http://www.cookiemag.com/entertainment/2008/07/peet_apology

  2. DevilsAdvocateon 21 Jul 2008 at 2:27 pm

    As soon as Dr. Novella is sufficiently famous, I think he should issue a press release stating he’ll move to another country unless _________ (fill in the issue) isn’t resolved in a way he approves.

    Hey, actors and actresses make such ultimatums (ultimata?). Why not neurologists?

    However, I do NOT want to see or hear about Dr. Novella involved in any ‘wardrobe malfunctions’ at the next TAM. Amanda Peet he ain’t.

  3. Steven Novellaon 21 Jul 2008 at 2:31 pm

    orDover – Thanks for the link. It was a great response from her, and you are right that McCarthy has gotten away with much worse. The “parasite” comment is a gaffe by George Will’s definition (to paraphrase) – an unpopular truth.

  4. I’m Smarton 21 Jul 2008 at 2:35 pm

    [...] and logic. It sounds pretty dry – sometimes it is – but he’s a smart dude that will talk about celebrities, low-carb vs. low-fat diets, and Deepak [...]

  5. Oracon 21 Jul 2008 at 2:54 pm

    This is the ultimate self-fulfillment. The IACC decided to include controversial advocates from the anti-vaccine side so that they would seem open to all views and hopefully form a consensus. Then those individuals insert their agenda into the IACC, and then ideologues like Kirby come along and try to make it seem like the IACC is concerned about vaccines so it must be legitimate.

    This isn’t the first time David Kirby has used the presence of Lynn Redwood on the IACC as “proof” that there must be something to the whole vaccine-autism thing. I warned about this very possibility, and it took him less than a week after Redwood’s appointment was announced.

  6. Jim Shaveron 21 Jul 2008 at 2:58 pm

    She [Peet] is referring to the fact that when the majority of children are vaccinated they prevent the spread of infection through so-called “herd immunity.” Those who don’t vaccinate are benefiting from those who do.

    This scenario reminds me of something in sociology called the “law of the commons”, which refers to the English practice mostly prior to the 17th century of sharing designated common lands for cummunity purposes. For example, each commoner in the community would be allowed to pasture a certain number and kind of his animals for a certain amount of time, to ensure that the land was well-utilized and that everyone needing the resources got a fair portion.

    However, the sociological aspect is that many people would cheat and use more resources than they were entitled to use. The cheaters would rationalize that the overall benefit to the community would not be reduced and the community would not suffer from the small transgressions made by just a relative few users. By cheating strategically, they were able to enjoy the community benefits while also giving themselves an advantage.

    Unfortunately, in such a situation, if an individual’s interests are allowed to trump the community’s, even if only by a little, the system often breaks down. The number of individuals who are willing to bend the rules in their favor grows as the resources diminish or are perceived to diminish, such that the resources are overused and the whole community suffers, including the abusers.

    I think the same problem applies here to the vaccination question, and as Amanda Peet said, those parents who choose not to vaccinate their children know that as long as they are in the small minority they still benefit from the “herd immunity” effect, without taking the perceived risk of side effects. While the behavior of parasites may not be a perfect analogy, I think the sociological law of the commons does directly apply. And if the anti-vaccination crowd wins the support they purport to desire, and a subsequent breakdown of the community’s herd immunity ensues, the anti-vaccinationists will then face an even higher disease risk than the weakened community.

  7. Roy Nileson 21 Jul 2008 at 3:29 pm

    Never underestimate the powers of the persuasive:

    http://www.cookiemag.com/entertainment/video/2008/07/amandapeet

  8. Fred Cunninghamon 21 Jul 2008 at 4:03 pm

    Judging from her bio on Wikipedia, Amanda Peet is fairly smart and might be a good person to interview on The Skeptics Guide. Just tell her you usually interview ex-presidents and Nobel Prize recipients. Maybe you will add another 5000 nerds to your listener ship.

  9. DevilsAdvocateon 21 Jul 2008 at 4:56 pm

    There’s an actual SG ship?

    Wow.

  10. jonny_ehon 21 Jul 2008 at 5:19 pm

    DevilsAdvocate: It’s more like an ark. It sailed for the entire length of the Dover trial.

  11. Roy Nileson 21 Jul 2008 at 5:20 pm

    Yes, it’s the USS Redoubtable

    It’s Captain refers to himself as an Admirable, and is piped aboard thusly:

    Of materialistic knowledge I acquired such a grip
    That they took me onto the Listener’s ship.
    And that polymathic barge, I ween,
    Was the only ship that I ever had seen.
    But that kind of ship so suited me,
    That now I am the ruler of the Nerd’s Navee!

  12. DevilsAdvocateon 21 Jul 2008 at 6:41 pm

    Ar!

    Do I detect 1st Mate Gilbert’s and Bosun’s Mate Sullivan’s influence?

    [I do apologize to all Neurologica regulars for my frequent flippant or comical posts. I come to this blog because it so often addresses areas where I need more skeptical education: medical, neuro, quackery, etc., and does so wonderfully, I might add. Once in a while a topic overlaps my areas of expertise and I might enter a substantive post, but mostly I try to fill the blog clown role, and hopefully not too obnoxiously. Mrs. Advocate suggests I add that I respond well behaviorally to firm applications of rolled up magazines and newspapers where needed.... This is a great blog. Dr. Novella would be the first to acknowledge he is not the only neurologist holding the knowledge he holds (he displays a humility that seems entirely natural), but a reader would travel far and wide to find another who writes so clearly and so well, and puts forth the effort to issue almost daily entries of high quality. I write a substance abuse treatment blog and struggle with once-weekly entries. It is not as easy as our good doctor makes it appear.]

  13. krissncleoon 21 Jul 2008 at 9:35 pm

    There are good and there are bad celebrities with opinions. Penn and Teller good, Mel Gibson Bad, very bad. As far as this issue is concerned, J-Mac bad and Peet good. Years ago Sly Stallone was being interviewed and he was ask a political question. To his credit he said, “I’m just an actor guys.” At least he was honest…and correct.

    Thanxs Steve, Kriss

  14. Cerebroon 21 Jul 2008 at 9:38 pm

    “I also think that intellectual heroes, like Carl Sagan and Stephen J. Gould, can have an enormously positive influence on culture and society.”

    Sagan deplored the tag hero. He thought it was a tag that suggested something normal people couldn’t achieve. Does that just make you like him more? lol

    I also dislike hero worship but there is nothing wrong with having a healthy respect and admiration for someone.

    Regarding the anti-vaccine cooks.

    All parents in this movement I understand their motivations but people like Kirby, what it his motivation? Is he simply a ghoul trying to such money out of vulnerable people?

    Amanda Peet is much hotter than Jenny McCarthy. Also that is one cute baby.

  15. jonpolingon 21 Jul 2008 at 11:41 pm

    Dear Dr. Novella,

    Your assertion that the scientific question of Autism etiology belongs to the medical community rather than Hollywood Stars is correct. I also agree that Hollywood opinions are more likely to be broadcast to millions because of their position in the media. This heightened awareness is nothing but a positive thing for the million families struggling with this difficult, and all too common, disorder. Jenny McCarthy is an Autism Mom looking for answers and rattling some cages—good for her. Amanda Peet is a new mom who believes in the importance of vaccines to protect her baby—good for her too. Don’t attack the moms, listen to them.

    These issues are very complex as we exchanged before and not amenable to soundbites. Regarding your entry on Hannah’s case, your blog entry unfortunately propagates several of the mistakes from the media.

    In criticizing the journalism of Mr. David Kirby, you wrote:

    “He refers again to the Hannah Poling case, a girl with a mitochondrial disorder who developed a neurodegenerative disorder with “features of autism” after getting a fever from vaccines.”
    Actually—Hannah has diagnoses of DSM-IV Autism (by JHU/KKI psychology) and mitochondrial disorder (by two metabolic experts). The only ‘degeneration’ that occurred (along with 6mos of total growth failure) after 18mos of NORMAL development followed vaccination and nothing else! Of course, any ‘scientist’ can obviously point out that temporal correlation in a single case never proves causation. Rule number one of pediatrics though is “LISTEN TO THE MOM.” Are 10s of thousands of autism moms over the last decade suffering from mass hysteria induced by Hollywood? Not likely.

    You also noted:
    “This special case – which is not a case of autism being caused by toxins in vaccines – says nothing about the broader vaccine-autism debate.”
    The only thing unique about my little girl’s case is the level of medical documentation—5 to 20% of patients with ASDs have mitochondrial dysfunction. Many other cases where mitochondrial testing is WNL is because “we never looked” not because the testing would be “within normal limits.” Most mitochondrial experts will tell you that the dots of autism and mitochondrial disorders are strongly connected.

    Finally, you say:
    “The case was settled (not judged in Poling’s favor, but settled) because both sides realized it was a special case that could not be extrapolated to other vaccine-autism cases.”
    The case was not settled, it was conceded by medical representatives of Sec HHS. We are obviously pleased with the HHS decision to concede our case, but we had NOTHING to do with the concession. This was a unilateral decision from HHS (recall that HHS is the respondent, rather than the vaccine maker, as manufacturers have blanket liability protection afforded by the Vaccine Injury Program established in 1986) I will not speculate on the obvious question—why concede? Hannah’s case was positioned to set precedent as a test case in the Omnibus Autism Proceedings for potentially thousands of other cases.

    With regard to the science of Autism, I have no argument with the assertion that a single case does not prove causation of a generalized autism-vaccine link. What the case does illustrate though is a more subtle point that many physicians cannot or do not want to comprehend (ostensibily because vaccines are too important to even question). Autism is a heterogeneous disorder defined by behavioral criteria and having multiple causes. Epidemiological studies which have not found a link between autism and aspects of vaccination do not consider the concept of autism subgroups. Indeed, in a heterogeneous disorder like Autism, subgroups may indeed be ‘vaccine-injured’ but the effect is diluted out in the larger population (improperly powered study due to inability to calculate effect size with unknown susceptible subpopulation). I think former NIH Director, Dr. Bernadine Healey explained it best in that population epidemiology studies are not “granular” enough to rule-out a susceptible subgroup.

    Furthermore, ‘science’ has not systematically studied the children who fell ill following vaccination to determine what the cause(s) for their adverse reaction was. It would follow that if you never tried to understand why a single child developed encephalopathy following vaccination—you wouldn’t have the first clue as to what aspects of vaccination you could alter which could increase the relative risk of that adverse event (whether it be thimerosal, live virus, or ‘too many’). Could the susceptibility be a mitochondrial genetic haplogroup similar to Chloramphenicol toxicity—sure it could! Why did a few Alzheimer’s patients die of fatal encephalitis following administration of the failed AN-1792 vaccine, but the majority had no ill effects (vaccine didn’t work though)?

    Definition: Autism is a heterogeneous systemic disorder with primary neuropsychiatric manifestations due to complex genetic and gene-environmental interactions likely affected synaptic plasticity early in childhood development. This new theory of Autism is rapidly replacing the ‘old guard’ dictum that Autism is a genetically predetermined developmental brain disorder of synaptic formation/pruning that is set in motion prenatally. By the ‘10 year rule of science,’ your time is about up!

    Until the biological basis of ASD subgroups are better understood, further epidemiological and genetic studies regarding “Autism” causation will be relatively meaningless. We need good science to be able to address these complex issues which parallel nicely the emerging story of genetic and environmental influences in Parkinson’s disease. Perhaps some Parkinson’s researchers want to take a crack at Autism?

    Recommended SCIENCE reading for the evening:
    Altered calcium homeostasis in autism-spectrum disorders: evidence from biochemical and genetic studies of the mitochondrial aspartate/glutamate carrier AGC1. Mol Psychiatry 2008 Jul 8. (The discussion includes thimerosal as a potential toxin that could trigger further perturbations of calcium homeostasis leading to neuronal injury—and in a mainstream Nature publication no less)

    Thank-you Dr. Novella and his band of skeptics for continuing the debate.

    Dr. Jon Poling

  16. I Heart Amanda Peet « Skepacabraon 22 Jul 2008 at 1:53 am

    [...] is a pleasant contrast from the likes of Jenny McCarthy, the celebrity poster girl for the anti-vaccine–err, I mean “Green Vaccine” Movement (I still can’t say that Orwellian [...]

  17. eiskrystalon 22 Jul 2008 at 4:29 am

    Yknow, we really need to get some big definitive campaign out about there NOT being an autism epidemic. This is a cornerstone of their current argument but information on the changes to autism diagnosis is clearly not filtering through to the parents. They are simply seeing a lot more mention of autism and even if there wasn’t a vaccine debate, the idea that autism is becoming more common would still scare a lot of people into looking for other randomly correlated causes.

  18. superdaveon 22 Jul 2008 at 11:05 am

    wow, that is a quite a challenge to Dr. N. I know he wakes up every day hoping for posts like that from jonpolling. I look forward to his response.

    Here is my tip of the iceberg. He says “Are 10s of thousands of autism moms over the last decade suffering from mass hysteria induced by Hollywood? Not likely.”. I think we can prodive more than enough examples of several million people believing something erroneous. The fact that 10s of thousands of autism moms believe something simply does not make it true.

    Also, I am wary of anyone who puts the words science and scientists in quotes.

  19. Oracon 22 Jul 2008 at 12:30 pm

    The anti-vaccine contingent also published Dr. Poling’s letter on that haven for all things anti-vaccine, The Age of Autism.

    Interesting. Dr. Poling has revealed more about his daughter’s medical condition than he has seemed willing to reveal before. Of course, he’s always been careful to reveal just enough to give the anti-vaccine crowd just enough to be able to point to his daughter’s case as “evidence” that vaccines somehow cause autism through mitochondrial disorders but seemingly never enough to allow a more rigorous scientific evaluation of the possibility.

    I’m also very curious where Dr. Poling gets the “10-20%” figure for the percentage of autistic/ASD children with mitochondrial disorders. Where is the data? What study? From my reading of the literature, that seems way high. The highest estimate I’ve seen in the literature comes from Oliveira et al in Portugal from last year, which found 4.6%. The only source of the 20% figure that I’ve ever been able to find is from an article by antivaccine apologist David Kirby, who referenced a “study” from the Kennedy-Krieger Institute that at the time I couldn’t locate on PubMed. Of course, KKI sees a skewed population because of its expertise in mitochondrial disorders, and likely many children are referred there because there is clinical reason to suspect that they might have mitochondrial disorders.

    So, I’d ask Dr. Poling: What is the specific evidence to support an estimate that high of the percentage of autistic children with mitochondrial disorders? Also, what does he say about the fact that virtually universally physicians who take care of these children insist that vaccinating these kids is critical because the risk to them from fever from infection is so high?

    I look forward to his response.

  20. DevilsAdvocateon 22 Jul 2008 at 12:40 pm

    “The fact that 10s of thousands of autism moms believe something simply does not make it true.”

    It’s a logical fallacy, the appeal to popularity. The claimant seeks to support the assertion by pointing out how many people believe it, rather than on the evidence for it. Hindsight on historical appeals of this sort (earth-centric solar system, evil spirits cause disease, etc.) have shown it an unreliable marker for fact. Truth is not a democracy, and facts are not determined by how many ‘vote’ with their belief in them.

    Tens of millions of Americans believe in creationism, or ghosts, or psychics, or…….

  21. Oracon 22 Jul 2008 at 12:57 pm

    Dr. Poling’s letter looks like part of a coordinated attack by the mercury militia. David Kirby has joined in.

    I think I know what’s going on here. Antivaccinationists can dismiss me when I post about mitochondrial disorders because I’m a cancer surgeon and researcher, and autism and vaccines are not my primary area of expertise. They can also point to my use of a pseudonym to try to tear down my credibility. At the same time, they can proudly point to Dr. Poling, who is a neurologist, as an actual authority giving credence to their beliefs.

    Then along comes Steve Novella. Not only is he a neurologist, too, just like Dr. Poling, but he’s also an academic neurologist–just like Dr. Poling. Not only that, but he’s an academic neurologist at Yale, which is on par with Johns Hopkins, which, if I remember correctly, is where Dr. Poling is on faculty. Not only that, Dr. Novella doesn’t buy the whole vaccines-cause-autism myth, and he knows how to argue against it. He even understands quite a bit about mitochondrial disorders and can say why antivaccinationists are misusing the science there and how Dr. Poling is letting them. Consequently, Dr. Novella is seen as a much more serious threat than I or many of the other bloggers who have criticized the whole claim that vaccines somehow “trigger” autism in children with mitochondrial disorders. He has to be countered; he can’t be ignored. A counterattack had to be launched.

    My only question is this: Who put Dr. Poling up to writing that letter? J. B. Handley, perhaps? David Kirby? Mark Blaxill? Who knows? What I do know is that this reeks of a coordinated program, given that Dr. Poling’s letter has been posted at Age of Autism and David Kirby has posted about this on the Huffington Post.

  22. HCNon 22 Jul 2008 at 1:58 pm

    jonpoling said “Jenny McCarthy is an Autism Mom looking for answers and rattling some cages—good for her. Amanda Peet is a new mom who believes in the importance of vaccines to protect her baby—good for her too. Don’t attack the moms, listen to them.”

    And what kind of mom am I then? I have a health impaired kid whose seizures started before any vaccine. He had to depend on herd immunity during his first year of life to protect him from pertussis. Yet, because of the anti-vaccine hysteria (thanks Barbara Loe Fisher), our county was in the midst of a pertussis epidemic.

    It was also the same period where over 120 Americans died from measles.

    Now here you are supporting the misinformation that will continue to erode the herd immunity that several people do depend on. And those people include ones with mitochondrial disorders.

    How come you won’t listen to moms like me? How come you won’t listen to the actual science that shows there is no real link between vaccines and autism?

  23. [...] response to my post yesterday, Jon Poling, a neurologist and father of Hannah Poling, wrote: Jenny McCarthy is an Autism Mom [...]

  24. kevleitchon 22 Jul 2008 at 4:43 pm

    Dear Dr Poling,

    You say:

    Actually—Hannah has diagnoses of DSM-IV Autism (by JHU/KKI psychology) and mitochondrial disorder (by two metabolic experts). The only ‘degeneration’ that occurred (along with 6mos of total growth failure) after 18mos of NORMAL development followed vaccination and nothing else!

    I don’t think anyone disputes that your daughter has autism according to the DSM-IV criteria.

    What we do (at least I do) doubt is that her autism was ’caused’ by her vaccines. I’ve seen no definitive statements from anyone aside from yourself and David that that is the case. The case study you co-authored with Shoffner et al stated ‘autistic-like’ symptoms following vaccination. This means she had symptoms like those found in autism and indeed, a side-by-side comparison of those listed in your case study and the DSM-IV criteria clearly shows that Hannah lacks a goodly amount necessary to give her a diagnosis of autism.

    Indeed, this also seems to be the opinion of one of your co-authors – John Shoffner, who states:

    Jon Poling, says Shoffner, has been “muddying the waters” with some of his comments. “There is no precedent for that type of thinking and no data for that type of thinking,” Shoffner says.

    and indeed, your wife, Terry Poling RN, made this statement to the Yahoo Group ‘Recovered Children’ in Nov 2001:

    She has mitochondrial disease which causes her autism.

    No mention of vaccines causing her autism.

    In the HHS report and your case study you identify the following symptoms as those caused by vaccines:

    fever to 38.9°C
    inconsolable crying
    irritability
    lethargy
    refused to walk
    waking up multiple times in the night
    having episodes of opisthotonus
    no longer normally climb stairs

    Low-grade intermittent fever
    generalized erythematous macular rash
    spinning
    gaze avoidance
    disrupted sleep/wake cycle
    perseveration
    expressive language was lost
    chronic yellow watery diarrhea
    appetite remained poor for 6 months
    body weight did not increase
    decline on a standard growth chart
    atopic dermatitis
    slow hair growth
    generalized mild hypotonia
    toe walking
    normal tendon reflexes.

    I have emboldened the items which match the DSM (IV). I’ve italicised the items which are repeated.

    There aren’t enough to say that Hannah’s autism was caused by her vaccines. Or have I misread that?

    Indeed, in a heterogeneous disorder like Autism, subgroups may indeed be ‘vaccine-injured’ but the effect is diluted out in the larger population (improperly powered study due to inability to calculate effect size with unknown susceptible subpopulation). I think former NIH Director, Dr. Bernadine Healey explained it best in that population epidemiology studies are not “granular” enough to rule-out a susceptible subgroup.

    Firstly, I have to say I find it fascinating that you – a Johns Hopkins doctor – would rely on Bernadine Healy to make your case. Helay has an interesting history, including that of a paid shill for Phillip Morris during the time she belong to TASSC:

    Initially, the primary focus of TASSC was an attempt to discredit research on Environmental Tobacco Smoke [passive smoking] as a long-term cause of increased cancer and heart problem rates in the community—especially among office workers and children living with smoking parents.

    Now, your comment above is a soundalike comment of Professor Sander Greenland – witness for the petitioners in the ongoing Omnibus Autism trials who argued that (hypothesising it is a factor at all) the amount of autism caused by vaccines is in fact too small to be detected by epidemiology. He termed this minority ‘clearly regressive autism’ and given his data I guesstimated a total figure of 11,200 people aged between 0 and 21 who would fall into that category. How do you square this with your talk of ’10s of thousands of autism moms over the last decade’?

  25. kevleitchon 22 Jul 2008 at 4:45 pm

    Damn, OK, so Steve’s blog italicises quotes…

    The symptons that I mean to highlight as being repeated are:

    - irritability
    - expressive language was lost

  26. petrucioon 22 Jul 2008 at 10:03 pm

    Just when I started to like Amanda, the first thing I did was check her IMDB profile, and to my dismay, she’s cast for “2012″.

    Crap.

  27. [...] response to my blog post on Monday, David Kirby wrote a response in the Huffington Post and Dr. Jon Poling (father of Hannah Poling) [...]

  28. [...] response to my NeuroLogica blog post on Monday, David Kirby wrote a response in the Huffington Post and Dr. Jon Poling (father of Hannah Poling) [...]

  29. daedalus2uon 23 Jul 2008 at 11:22 am

    Orac, as to who is putting Poling, Kirby and the others up to this coordinated attack against Dr. Novella?

    As the anti-vaxers always say, “follow the money.” The money trail leads to Clifford Shoemaker. It would seem that he has made more money off of autism litigation than anyone else. Kathleen Seidel at Neurodiversity.com has documented part of that money trail quite conclusively. He is the business associate of the Geiers. He was the attorney for Poling. It was the confidential report by the government experts that was leaked to Kirby (in breach of the Court’s rules).

    Clifford Shoemaker is the one who stands to make the most money off of this controversy. As long as the litigation continues, he continues to draw legal fees. He doesn’t want closure or an answer. He just wants to litigate it for as long as he can make money off it.

  30. isleson 24 Jul 2008 at 12:30 am

    “Don’t attack the moms, listen to them.”

    Way to go all Phil Donahue.

    ***

    “Hannah has diagnoses of DSM-IV Autism…”

    What are her CARS scores lately? Because wasn’t she preschool age when they dropped out of the autistic range?

    ***

    “The only ‘degeneration’ that occurred (along with 6mos of total growth failure) after 18mos of NORMAL development followed vaccination and nothing else!”

    Except several straight months of ear infections! Which couldn’t POSSIBLY have been the precipitating factor in her mitochondrial crisis…maybe because there’s no OMICP (Otitis Media Injury Compensation Program)?

    ***

    “Most mitochondrial experts will tell you that the dots of autism and mitochondrial disorders are strongly connected.”

    Except that the many eminent mitochondrial experts who gathered recently in Indianapolis didn’t seem to think so at all.

    ***

    “The case was not settled, it was conceded”

    You’re trying to make it sound like the government threw up its hands and admitted everything you claimed was correct. Neither word (“settled” or “conceded”) is in the document. The facts met the statutory requirements. That’s it.

    ***

    “physicians cannot or do not want to comprehend”

    Except for you, O Insightful and Brave Physician. You alone are strong and wise enough to see the truth.

    ***

    “population epidemiology studies are not ‘granular’ enough to rule-out a susceptible subgroup”

    Antivaxers have been hanging on to this life-ring for years now…and yet no “susceptible subgroup” has ever been shown to exist. Is this because there’s an insidious conspiracy suppressing the evidence? Or because this subgroup just.doesn’t.exist?

    ***

    “Definition: Autism is a heterogeneous systemic disorder…”

    Making up definitions now, are you?

  31. [...] drowned out by the celebrity power of the likes of Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy. But more and more actual experts like Steve Novella are taking up the pro-science cause — and that’s scaring the antivax crowd enough to [...]

  32. [...] by Skepdude in Neurologica. Tags: autism, Hannah Poling, vaccines trackback In response to my blog post on Monday, David Kirby wrote a response in the Huffington Post and Dr. Jon Poling (father of Hannah Poling) [...]

  33. Bravo, Amanda Peet! « Canuck Galon 26 Jul 2008 at 5:18 pm

    [...] Dr. Steven Novella:”Celebrity Smackdown”, Amanda Peet Vs. Jenny McCarthy (In Part) The problem comes, in my opinion, when actors and actresses feel that their political opinions or ideology are somehow more valuable than anyone else’s because of their fame. I don’t necessarily blame them – they have a right to express their opinions and their fame gives them an outlet. I do think that if they are going to trade on their fame then they have a responsibility for what they promote, but I am not questioning their right to promote whatever they choose. Rather I maintain that the public should largely not care what celebrities think about issues that have nothing to do with their art and profession. [...]

  34. Studio 60 | wongaBlogon 03 Aug 2008 at 5:52 pm

    [...] bizarrely pleased to read that Amanda Peet is apparently quite cool in real life too, having just launched a broadside against the current spate of celebrity anti-vaccination campaigners in the US. Hey, a guy can [...]

  35. [...] it crazy of me to think that maybe Ms. Peet read my blog entry where I made the exact same point? I applauded her efforts while simultaneously pointing out that [...]

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