Stupid cubed: David Kirby, RFK, Jr., and Generation Rescue use the Bailey Banks case to tag team the antivaccine counterattack against the MMR

“Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.”

At least, that’s what Michael Corleone said in The Godfather, Part 3, and even though I’m not a mafia don, I can sort of relate to where he’s coming from, if you know what I mean. It seems that whenever I try to get away from blogging about the nigh infinite level of stupidity and pseudoscience that emanates from the disease promotion movement (i.e., the antivaccine movement), it seems as though they somehow find a way to pull me back in. Of course, I’d rather like to think of myself as the reluctant gunslinger pulled out of retirement for one more battle.

Either that, or certain people in the antivaccine movement twist science, logic, reason, and reality so much that they piss me off.

Certainly, such a description applies to the chief macher of the antivaccine movement these days, Jenny McCarthy and “her” autism organization, Generation Rescue, willingly given up to her Googleness by former ruler J. B. Handley. Of course, the recent twin blows of the revelations about hero to the antivaccine movement Andrew Wakefield’s scientific fraud and the resounding repudiation of the first three test cases in the Autism Omnibus proceeding have drive the antivaccine movement a bit crazy. Normal people, faced with such an unrelenting stream of scientific and other evidence strongly refuting their beliefs, would start to think that maybe their beliefs need readjusting. Not Generation Rescue. The reality warp field surrounding J.B. Handley, Jenny McCarthy, and their Kool Aid drinkers is too strong. Given their cultish certainty that, no matter what the science says, it absolutely, positively has to be the vaccines causing autism, they can never retreat, never surrender, and, above all, never, ever even entertain the possibility for a minute that their most fervent belief is based on on the scientific equivalent of smoke and mirrors.

That’s why I knew a counterattack had to be coming. At first, I thought that the smearing of Brian Deer and rants about the “bias” and unfairness of the Special Masters were that counterattack. But I was wrong. I should have known that the antivaccine movement knew it was in trouble and would pull out all the stops to stop the bleeding after being riddled with reports calling their world view into even more doubt than usual. I should have known that the counterattack would consist of more than just the previous feeble efforts to smear Brian Deer and blame the Special Masters’ rulings on a big pharma conspiracy. I should have known that GR would resort to yet another ad in USA Today:


Then I should have known that they’d throw together the chief apologist for the antivaccine movement, along with its chief conspiracy-monger, namely David Kirby and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., respectively. And where, you ask, would two such luminaries of the antivaccine movement ply their fallacious arguments? Where do you think? Yes, appearing Tuesday night on that repository of antivaccine lies and pseudoscience, The Huffington Post, was this gem by those two crappy tastes that taste crappy together, David Kirby and RFK, Jr., entitled Vaccine Court: Autism Debate Continues.

If stupid were a poison, all life on earth would be dead and rotting from the emanations of the two articles contained under the above link. And if stupid really did burn, the surface of the earth would consist of nothing more than charred rock, with the oceans themselves vaporized.

Let’s take a look first at the article by RFK, Jr., Another Autism Case Wins in Vaccine Court. It just goes to show that RFK, Jr. is not the smart one in this pairing; he boldly lays down the stupid:

The New York Times joined the government Health Agency (HRSA) and its big pharma allies hailing the decisions as proof that the scientific doubts about vaccine safety had finally been “demolished.” The US Department of Health and Human services said the rulings should “help reassure parents that vaccines do not cause autism.” The Times, which has made itself a blind mouthpiece for HRSA and a leading defender of vaccine safety, joined crowing government and vaccine industry flacks applauding the decisions like giddy cheerleaders, rooting for the same court that many of these same voices viscously derided just one year ago, after Hannah Poling won compensation for her vaccine induced autism.

But last week, the parents of yet another child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were awarded a lump sum of more than $810,000 (plus an estimated $30-40,000 per year for autism services and care) in compensation by the Court, which ruled that the measels-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine had caused acute brain damage that led to his autism spectrum disorder.

Yes, it’s the Hannah Poling case all over again, except this time they’re not rebranding autism as a mitochondrial disorder. What they are trying to rebrand autism as again, you will see in a moment. In the meantime, let the stupid flow over you as RFK, Jr. spins and twists. The only reason I don’t say that he’s lying is because I’ve come to believe that he really, truly believes the nonsense he is spewing:

The family of 10-year-old Bailey Banks won their case quietly and without fanfare in June of 2007, but the ruling has only now come to public attention. In the remarkably clear and eloquent decision, Special Master Richard Abell ruled that the Banks had successfully demonstrated that “the MMR vaccine at issue actually caused the conditions from which Bailey suffered and continues to suffer.”

Bailey’s diagnosis is Pervasive Developmental Disorder — Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) which has been recognized as an autism spectrum disorder by CDC, HRSA and the other federal health agencies since at least the 1990s.

Wow. It sure looks like ol’ RFK’s got all those nasty pharma shills there by the short hairs, doesn’t it? I mean, it sure looks like a slam dunk, doesn’t it? PDD-NOS is indeed one of the conditions that fall under the category of disorders known as autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs) and is thus considered an ASD. The ruling concluded that, in the case of Bailey Banks, the MMR had caused a condition known as acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM). Here is the passage that RFK, Jr. quotes:

The Court found that Bailey’s ADEM was both caused-in-fact and proximately caused by his vaccination. It is well-understood that the vaccination at issue can cause ADEM, and the Court found, based upon a full reading and hearing of the pertinent facts in this case, that it did actually cause the ADEM. Furthermore, Bailey’s ADEM was severe enough to cause lasting, residual damage, and retarded his developmental progress, which fits under the generalized heading of Pervasive Developmental Delay, or PDD [an autism spectrum disorder]. The Court found that Bailey would not have suffered this delay but for the administration of the MMR vaccine, and that this chain of causation was… a proximate sequence of cause and effect leading inexorably from vaccination to Pervasive Developmental Delay.

This is not an exact quote of what Special Master Richard Abell’s ruling. Note the term “an autism spectrum disorder” in brackets. There’s just one problem. PDD is not an autistic spectrum disorder. Let’s look at the very beginning of the Special Master’s ruling:

On 26 June 2002, the Petitioner filed a petition for compensation under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 (Vaccine Act or Act)2 alleging that, as a result of the MMR vaccination received on 14 March 2000, his child, Bailey, suffered a seizure and Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (“ADEM”),3 which led to Pervasive Developmental Delay (“PDD”), a condition from which he continues to suffer (the “Petition”).

Note the difference. The claim in the ruling is not that ADEM led to pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specialized (PDD-NOS). The ruling is about pervasive developmental delay (PDD). The difference is more than a matter of semantics, as Kev points out. PDD is not the same thing as PDD-NOS. In fact, the ruling itself makes this point very, very clear in one of its footnotes:

Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) is a ‘subthreshold’ condition in which some – but not all – features of autism or another explicitly identified Pervasive Developmental Disorder are identified. PDD-NOS is often incorrectly referred to as simply “PDD.” The term PDD refers to the class of conditions to which autism belongs. PDD is NOT itself a diagnosis, while PDD-NOS IS a diagnosis. The term Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS; also referred to as “atypical personality development,” “atypical PDD,” or “atypical autism”) is included in DSM-IV to encompass cases where there is marked impairment of social interaction, communication, and/or stereotyped behavior patterns or interest, but when full features for autism or another explicitly defined PDD are not met.

In fact, PDD-NOS is a subset of PDD, but there are other forms of PDD. This is what RFK, Jr. says about it:

Bailey’s diagnosis is Pervasive Developmental Disorder — Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) which has been recognized as an autism spectrum disorder by CDC, HRSA and the other federal health agencies since at least the 1990s.

No, it’s not. Read the decision. Granted, the terms PDD and PDD-NOS seem to be used almost interchangeably and sloppily so, but latching on to that doesn’t “prove” anything. In fact, if you read through the ruling, you’ll also see that even the facts of the case do not represent the slam dunk that RFK, Jr. seems to think they do. Indeed, the Special Master even acknowledges that and feels the need to justify his decision:

Despite their accord on certain factual predicates contained in Bailey’s medical records, there is, unsurprisingly, a pronounced conflict between the parties as to the following issues: whether a biologically plausible link exists between ADEM and pervasive developmental delay (PDD) in a direct chain of causation, whether Bailey did in fact suffer from ADEM, and ultimately whether the administration of the MMR vaccine to Bailey actually caused ADEM which would then cause PDD that currently besets Bailey today.

Note that Special Master Abell referred to PDD as “pervasive developmental delay.” Again, I’ll grant you that he seems to flip back and forth between using PDD that way and to mean PDD-NOS in a confusing manner, but once again the antivaccine fringe reads far more into it than is warranted.

As for the issue of autism, here is what Special Master Abell also admitted:

Dr. Lopez’s diagnosis appears to conflict with the diagnosis given by Bailey’s pediatrician on 20 May 2004, who saddled Bailey’s condition with the generalized term “autism”; however, that pediatrician later acknowledged that use of the term autism was used merely as a simplification for non-medical school personnel, and that pervasive developmental delay “is the correct [i.e. technical] diagnosis.” Pet Ex. 35. Another pediatrician’s diagnosis noted that Bailey’s condition “seems to be a global developmental delay with autistic features as opposed to an actual autistic spectrum disorder.” Pet. Ex. 30 at 4

In other words, reading the entire judgment, whatever neurological disorder Bailey has, I consider it arguable whether Bailey has an ASD. He very well might have PDD-NOS; he might not. In fact, the title of the ruling should tell you how sure Special Master Abell was that the MMR caused Bailey Banks’ autism: Non-autistic developmental delay; Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis; Expert Credibility; Evidentiary Reliability; Scientific Validity; Burden of Proof; Causation in Fact; Proximate Causation. Moreover, the chain of causality gets gets more strained when we consider ADEM. For one thing, it’s not even entirely clear that he had ADEM, as the testimony in the case reveals, given the arguments, although let’s say for the moment that he definitely did. Next, there’s virtually no scientific literature to support the link between ADEM or PDD (or PDD-NOS, for that matter). Basically, the ruling is best read as saying that in this case MMR might have caused ADEM, which might have resulted in PDD. That’s a lot different than RFK, Jr.’s confident blather that this is a slam-dunk indication that the court has accepted that vaccines can cause autism.

What I find more troubling, however, is this statement in Special Master Abell’s ruling, harped on by David Kirby in his article:

In response, Respondent’s expert stated that, although ADEM may result in “permanent neurological sequelae,” nevertheless “all the medical literature is negative in that regard;” however, soon thereafter, he corrected this statement by clarifying, “I can find no literature relating ADEM to autism or [PDD].” Tr. at 84-85. It may be that Respondent’s research reveals a dearth of evidence linking ADEM to PDD, but that is not the same as positive proof that the two are unrelated, something Respondent was unable to produce. Therefore, the statement that “all the medical literature is negative” is incorrect.

I want anyone who has claimed that the Vaccine Court is biased against the petitioners to read that paragraph again. And again. And again. That paragraph reveals a Special Master bending over backwards to give the petitioner’s experts the benefit of the doubt even in the absence of any positive medical literature supporting the petitioner’s hypothesis of causation for the vaccine injury claimed. (I refuse to use the word “theory.”) He’s even chiding the government’s expert for being too particular about actually requiring some evidence published in the medical literature. Indeed, the Special Master is practically looking for a reason to reject the Respondent’s defense. For the most part, this is probably a good thing. The Vaccine Court was set up to speed up and streamline the compensation process, and, given that Bailey had a reaction close enough to vaccination that the law considers it likely that the vaccination caused it legally it is probably not unreasonable that the Court decided to compensate his parents. But let’s not confuse a legal ruling with science. What the Banks case appeared to boil down to was a battle of two experts, more than a dispassionate review of the science, and Banks’ expert was more persuasive to the Special Master.

Curious, I did a few PubMed searches about whether ADEM can be caused by MMR. I found virtually nothing: five German articles, none newer than 1993 and British review. That’s not to say that MMR can’t cause ADEM (after all, other vaccines can, rarely), but the evidence is pretty spotty. This article, for instance, finds a possible association. Of course, the antivaccine movement is doing nothing other than what it did in the Hannah Poling case. RFK, Jr. and David Kirby are throwing people a big red herring. What the court admitted is that Bailey’s seizures occurred soon enough after the MMR to be considered a vaccine injury and accepted that his neurologic problems could be the result. It did not “admit that vaccines cause autism” any more than it did in the Hannah Poling case. It bent over backward to give the petitioner every opportunity to come up with a concept of how vaccines might contribute to autism and argue it, primarily based on the relatively close temporal proximity. It in essence ignored testimony that there was no convincing evidence in the peer-reviewed medical literature linking ADEM to PDD. I did the PubMed searches myself, and there really isn’t anything. There’s no “there” there.

David Kirby, characteristically, is a bit more careful–and, of course, weaselly–about the issue. Clearly he is the smarter and cleverer of the two. What Kirby does is to throw Andrew Wakefield under the bus, metaphorically speaking, at least as far as how he claimed that MMR caused autism:

Is vaccine-induced ADEM (and similar disorders) a neurological gateway for a subset of children to go on and develop an ASD? That question will now become subject to debate. Thousands of parents have reported similar reactions and symptoms following vaccination, yet they lack radiological proof of ADEM or related disorders in the form of an MRI. Meanwhile, most children with autism do not present with myelin damage, but many do test positive for antibodies to myelin basic protein (MBP).

But what were these reactions? Kirby described them earlier:

Most cases of ADEM (80%) are in children. Symptoms usually appear within a few days to a couple of weeks. They include: headache, delirium, lethargy, seizures, stiff neck, fever, ataxia (incoordination), optic nerve damage, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, irritability and changes in mental status.

I know of thousands of parents who witnessed many of these same symptoms afflict their children shortly after vaccination, most typically the MMR. Did these children with autism also suffer initially from ADEM or some subclinical version of the disorder? We may never know (physical signs like myelin damage are transitory).

Ah, yes, yet another “I’m just asking” gambit by David Kirby, the same sort of rhetorical prestidigitation he performed for the Hannah Poling case, connecting condition after condition without any firm scientific evidence that a connection is warranted, each connection getting more tenuous as he continues.

But let’s look at it this way. For the sake of argument, let’s say MMR or other vaccines can cause ADEM, which can then lead to PDD-NOS or even full blown autism. Let’s say that, just as RFK, Jr. and David Kirby are claiming, that’s exactly what happened to Bailey Banks. Here’s the problem. ADEM occurring after vaccination is very rare–so rare that it’s very difficult to determine whether it’s even correlated with a vaccine. For example, this study, looking at post-marketing adverse events from vaccines in Japan, reported the total estimated incidence of serious neurological incidents, including ADEM, encephalitis or encephalopathy, and Guillain-Barré syndrome, after vaccination as 0.1-0.2 per million immunization practices. That’s incredibly rare. (NOTE ADDED AFTER POSTING: Note in the ADDENDUM that PalMD points out that the incidence of ADEM after measles and some other viral infections is 5,000 to 10,000 times higher than after vaccination, on the order of 1 in 1,000. In other words, the risk of ADEM after getting the measles is several orders of magnitude higher than it is after MMR vaccination–if there even is an elevated risk of ADEM after MMR vaccination at all!)

Of course, Kirby has an answer for this:

ADEM is said to be rare, but the disorder may be grossly under-diagnosed (or misdiagnosed). Even the government’s chief witness against Bailey’s case testified that he sees patients with ADEM “on a fairly regular basis.

Note the cleverness, so pathognomonic of Kirby’s writing style. ADEM itself may not be incredibly rare, but ADEM is very rare associated with vaccination. At the end of the article, Kirby repeats the sentiment:

People will argue that ADEM is rare; that vaccines “only” caused PDD in Bailey; and that this was a legal and not scientific decision. The problem is we don’t know how prevalent ADEM is because we never looked; while “PDD” is interchangeable with “ASD” in the language of public health. And, the three cases that lost were also “legal” decisions.

No, scientists and doctors have looked. There are numerous epidemiological studies and post-marketing surveillance studies looking for neurological sequelae after vaccination, be it with MMR or any other childhood vaccine. We just haven’t found what Kirby wants us to find, which is why his definition of “look,” apparently, is to do CT scans and MRIs on every child brought to the emergency room with any complaint at all after vaccination. Also remember that Bailey underwent an MRI because he had a seizure associated with fever.

I once labeled the vaccine-autism hypothesis the “incredible shrinking causation hypothesis.” This tag-team assault is yet more evidence of that. Remember, the original contention of the antivaccine movement was not that vaccines could cause autism through some rare preexisting condition (mitochondrial disorders) or an even rarer demyelinating reaction (ADEM). No! It was that vaccines are responsible for the “autism epidemic.” For that to be true, vaccines would have to be a major–if not the predominant–cause of autism. By latching onto a rare mitochondrial disorder as the “linking factor” between vaccines and autism last year and now latching onto a very rare possible complication of vaccination, ADEM, as a “gateway” to autism, using only a legal ruling and in essence no science, Kirby and Kennedy are showing just how small the vaccine hypothesis for autism has shrunk. Even if such a link exists and is ultimately scientifically confirmed (unlikely) it could not account for very many cases of autism–just as mitochondrial disorders couldn’t account for very many cases. Moreover, even more so than neurological complications in children with mitochondrial disorders, neurological complications due to ADEM are more likely to occur in the unvaccinated because measles is more likely in such children. Science, facts, and reason notwithstanding, look for a lot of very bad “science” to pour out of the “labs” of Thoughtful House, Mark and David Geier’s basement, and Boyd Haley’s lab, wherever that may be these days.

It’s also rather convenient that the antivaccine movement seemingly forgot about this particular ruling, given that it was issued in 2007 and Kathleen Seidel blogged about it and others nearly a year ago. One wonders why they waited until now to trot it out. Actually, one need not wonder. Pre-Autism Omnibus ruling, even the antivaccine movement considered the Banks case thin gruel indeed. If that weren’t the case, the Banks case would have received major hype long before now. Post-Autism Omnibus ruling and Andrew Wakefield revelations, Generation Rescue needs something to distract people from the drubbing they’ve taken scientifically and legally. So they pull an old ruling out of the closet, tart it up a bit using their post-Poling spin skills, and send it flouncing down the runway and hope it impresses.

And if that doesn’t work, RFK, Jr. cranks up the paranoia:

Although the vaccine court is mandated to fairly serve the victims of vaccine injuries, their primary purpose and raison d’etre is to protect the vaccine program and vaccine makers. Damages are doled out from a 75-cent tax on every vaccine sold and not from the vaccine makers. “You can understand why special masters, burdened with their duty to protect vaccine programs, might be unwilling to make the direct causal link between autism and vaccines,” Krakow observed. “If you ask the big question and answer it in the affirmative, there is a sense that it will damage the vaccine program irreparably.”

Vaccine Court judges are equipped with a draconian armory of weapons deployable against plaintiffs intent on proving the causal connection between vaccines and autism. Jury trials are prohibited. Damages are capped; awards for pain and suffering are strictly limited and punitive damages banned altogether. Vaccine defenders have an army of Department of Justice attorneys with virtually unlimited resources for expert witnesses and other litigation costs. Plaintiffs, in contrast, must fund the up front costs for experts on their own. In a cultural choice that clearly favors defendants, vaccine court gives overwhelming weight to written medical records which are often inaccurate — over all other forms of testimony and evidence. Observations by parents and other caretakers are given little weight.

Consider this: If the proceedings are so rigged against the petitioners, why is it that the U.S. government pays their legal fees? Remember, the abusive lawyer Clifford Shoemaker? Remember what caused him to go after Kathleen Seidel with legal thuggery? What pissed him off was Seidel’s revelation of just how much money he had made from representing Vaccine Court petitioners. In fact, the Vaccine Court goes beyond paying legal fees, even for those who lose, as Kathleen Seidel has explained. In fact, the law guarantees payment of attorney’s fees and costs incurred by petitioners in presenting a claim to the Vaccine Court, as long as the claim is brought in good faith and the costs are deemed reasonable and necessary.

In other words, RFK, Jr. is either grossly misinformed or lying. Or, I suppose, he could be too lazy to have bothered to look it up. Take your pick again.

Particularly amusing to me is RFK, Jr.’s rant that the court gives overwhelming weight to written medical records. What else is the court supposed to give the most weight to? The very fallible human memory of people involved in litigation? Humans are very prone to confusing correlation with causation, as well as confirmation bias, and the tendency to subconsciously adjust memories to conform to beliefs. Medical records may be fallible, but eyewitness testimony is even more fallible. Indeed, the Michelle Cedillo case shows that, given how the parents insisted that her neurological problems started after her vaccine. Videotapes taken before she was vaccinated showed that her abnormalities were pre-existing.

Finally, to cap off the advertisement in USA Today and the tag team crankfest of David Kirby and RFK, Jr., Generation Rescue pulls out all the stops, trotting out–yes, you guessed it!–Jenny McCarthy and her boy-toy Jim Carrey. Check out this press release:

“It was heartbreaking to hear about Bailey’s story, but through this ruling we are gaining the proof we need to open the eyes of the world to the fact that vaccines do, in fact, cause autism,” said Jenny McCarthy, Hollywood actress, autism activist, best-selling author and Generation Rescue board member. “Bailey Banks’ regression into autism after vaccination is the same story I went through with my own son and the same story I have heard from thousands of mothers and fathers around the country. Our hope is that this ruling will influence decision and policy-makers to help the hundreds of thousands of children and families affected by this terrible condition.”

Chiming in immediately after is her boyfriend:

Jim Carrey, Hollywood legend and Generation Rescue board member, reacted to the news, “It seems the U.S. government is sending mixed messages by telling the world that vaccines don’t cause autism, while, at the same time, they are quietly managing a separate ‘vaccine court’ that is ruling in favor of affected families and finding that vaccines, in fact, were the cause. For most of the autism community the question is no longer whether vaccines caused of their child’s autism. The question is why is their government only promoting the rulings that are in favor of the vaccine companies.”

In the face of such towering, burning stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain. No, Jim, the question is why morons like you and Jenny think your Google University education trumps science, epidemiology, and the accumulated knowledge based on mountains of epidemiological and scientific evidence, and why you think that a legal ruling on science means anything whatsoever. After all, I was pleasantly surprised when the Autism Omnibus was ruled correctly based on the science, without even a hint of wiggle room for antivaccine loons to claim that the door is still open. When I found out about it, I was less surprised by the Banks ruling than I was by the rejection of the test cases in the Autism Omnibus.

I could go on, so much crazy is there, especially in RFK, Jr.’s article, where he complains to high heaven, wailing and gnashing his teeth, about how plaintiffs’ attorneys can’t get access to the Vaccine Safety Datalink. Gee, you don’t think it has anything to do with concerns about the confidential medical information under HIPAA for the millions of records contained in that database, do you? Or perhaps knowledge of how antivaccine warriors Mark and David Geier tried to alter file extensions and merge datasets, very possibly to match names with cases. True, they denied it, but as Kathleen Seidel wrote:

To justify their attempt to merge datasets, they refer to the absence of direct identifiers in patient records, apparently unaware or dismissive of the well-documented fact that aggregation of indirect identifiers (such as race, sex, birthweight, APGAR, maternal age, gestation, and date of vaccination) would compromise the confidentiality of private health information. Modern data mining software heightens the risk that patient confidentiality might be compromised by statistical researchers, hence the proliferation of guidelines for the conduct of such research.

Of course, legitimate researchers can get access to the VSD. Indeed, numerous studies have looked at the VSD data on vaccines, none finding any correlation between vaccines or thimerosal in vaccines and neurodevelopmental disorders. If the antivaccine movement had any scientists other than crank scientists, it could do studies using the VSD data too. All it takes is a protocol that can be approved by an IRB.

The rest of the usual tropes are trotted out, too, like the claim that the CDC is suppressing research and the brain dead analogy between the science of vaccines and how tobacco companies tried to suppress the epidemiological data showing a strong link between cigarette smoking and cancer. I’ve dealt with this one before; so I don’t feel the need to deal with it again, but I will say that it’s a sign of a diehard antivaccinationist to make this specious comparison.

What we are seeing here is what GR can achieve when Jenny McCarthy’s and Jim Carrey’s starpower and fundraising prowess is yoked to the increasingly desperate propaganda of the antivaccine movement. When that happens, we see full page ads in major national newspapers coordinated with a propaganda blitz. Indeed, if there’s any doubt now that the Huffington Post is now a propaganda organ for Generation Rescue and the antivaccine movement, this incident ought to erase it. The only thing keeping it from turning into Age of Autism is the fact that vaccine blogging is only a tiny part of what’s published there.

What we are also seeing here is desperation. J.B. Handley, for all his other flaws, is not stupid. He sees the writing on the wall. Study after study have failed to find even a hint of a link between mercury and autism or vaccines and autism. The Vaccine Court, which , as the Banks case shows, is about as plaintiff-friendly as can be, conclusively ruled against the vaccine-autism hypothesis. The hero of the antivaccine movement has been revealed for the world to see as not just a dishonest man in the pay of lawyers suing vaccine manufacturers and hiding his conflict of interest, not just an incompetent scientist, but as a scientific fraud. He knows that, in the reality-based world, the last nails are being driven into the coffin of the vaccine-autism hypothesis. (They were actually driven in a few years ago, but this zombie somehow keeps managing to pound enough against the coffin to dislodge them.) However, he knows that he might still keep it alive in the court of public opinion if he’s clever enough, and that’s all he wants and needs, even if science examined and refuted his unswerving belief that vaccines cause autism years ago.

Sadly, he is probably right. Religious fanaticism always has an advantage over dry scientific study, and there are always credulous “report both sides” bloggers and journalists to be taken in. Money doesn’t hurt, either.

ADDENDUM: PalMD points out that Kirby and Kennedy are even more dishonest than I describe:

The Banks case to which K&K are referring is interesting as a case of “I don’t think it means what you think it means.” The case examined a young patient who received an MMR vaccine, and then 16 days later suffered a seizure. He was evaluated and at least one doctor felt he had ADEM, a severe neurological disease. The best statistics estimate a rate of ADEM after measles vaccination of about 1-2 per 1 million, although the vaccine has never actually been proved to cause ADEM. The rate of ADEM associated with measles infection is about 1 in 1000, a proven causation.


Notice, this is not a “vaccines cause autism” finding—it is a “in this particular case, a vaccine may have cause ADEM, which may have lead to an autism-like disorder.” If this is the best argument K&K can come up with, they probably should have given up a long time ago.