A crazy mixed up kid comes up with a crazy mixed up conspiracy theory about a crazy mixed up blog collective, part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about Jake Crosby, the token college kid on the spectrum over at the happy home for wandering anti-vaccine zealots, Age of Autism. Specifically, I felt sorry for him because of his rather tortured bit of conspiracy mongering that postulated deep, dark connections between Adam Bly, the founder of Seed Media Group, the company he founded, ScienceBlogs, and multiple big pharma countries, all tied together with a breathtakingly tenuous connections all wrapped up into a big fat ball of nonsense.

Ooops. He did it again, with part 2 of Part II Seed Media’s “Science”Blogs: A 180 Degree Shift in Reporting.

Since it’s mostly a rehash of part one, complete with the same logical fallacies used in approximately the same proportions. It continues Jake’s maddening tendency to look for superficial connections between pharma, Seed, and bloggers and concluding that any connection, no matter how minor, superficial, or tenuous must mean that they are all in cahoots, working for the evil purpose of denying The Truth about vaccines and autism. Unfortunately, it shows me that maybe I was wrong to characterize him as just a crazy, mixed up kid who’s fallen in with the wrong crowd. However, the optimist in me leads me to hope that my original characterization was right.

Because there’s just so much nonsense in part 2, much of it repetitive and a rehash of part 1, I’ll focus on two things that Jake seems to consider to be smoking gun evidence. First, he takes a shot at my bud, skeptic extraordinaire and host of the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, Steve Novella:

The outcome of SEED’s 180-degree shift in the reporting of this controversy was its ties to other sources sympathetic to the pharmaceutical industry. An interesting connection I found was the link between Adam Bly’s “Science”Blogs and another collection of blogs, “Science”BasedMedicine. Both blogs share some bloggers and views on the vaccine-autism controversy. Some bloggers who typically use pseudonyms on “Science”Blogs go by their real names on “Science”BasedMedicine, as if to give the impression that there are more bloggers posting with this position than there actually are. The person who founded “Science”BasedMedicine, Steven Novella, an assistant professor of neurology at Yale who specializes in injecting Botox, is also a Scientific Advisor to the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH).

First off, Science-Based Medicine is not a “collective” of blogs. It’s a group blog, with around 13 bloggers, some of whom post regularly, some of whom are occasional contributors, and which, sadly, has been down for the last couple of days. Jake also repeats the despicable distortion, first “pioneered” by J.B. Handley and refuted originally by Steve the first time AoA tried it:

How pathetic. He then lists the uses of Botox and descriptions of its potential for toxicity, as if this somehow impugns my character or judgment as a phsician. This is really low. First of all, I do not use Botox for cosmetic purposes, only for neurological purposes, for which its use is clearly established as the standard of care. But he tries to make some tortured argument that I use Botox, and Botox is used for cosmetic purposes, and therefore… What, exactly?

Yes, Jake, that was pathetic when J.B. first said it, and it’s even more pathetic when you parroted it. Obviously, neither J.B. nor Jake is aware that Botox has several therapeutic uses. Some of them including cervical dystonia, blepharospasm, strabismus, and severe underarm sweating that antiperspirants can’t control. There are other, surgical, uses of Botox, too. For example, it is used to treat achalasia, a cause of trouble swallowing due to spasm of the lower esophageal sphincter. Gastroenterologists inject Botox into the sphincter to stop the spasm and allow normal swallowing. Indeed, there are an increasing number of medical indications for Botox that have nothing to do with the traditional cosmetic anti-aging uses, which, by the way, AoA’s patron celebrity spokesmodel Jenny McCarthy just loves.

Even sillier is the implication that, because Steve has been an advisor for ACSH. Odd that Jake didn’t notice that Wally Sampson, another SBM blogger, is also a scientific advisor for ACSH. He must be emulating Dan Olmsted again in the completeness of his reporting. In any case, that’s it for SBM. The rest of the SBM bloggers, my “friend” included, do not have any connection with ACSH. Moreover, I can tell Jake that my “friend,” who also blogs at SBM, isn’t exactly a fan of ACSH. Indeed, although he appreciates its anti-tobacco stance, He does not like how on virtually every other public health issue, ACSH sides with industry. ACSH is just too pro-business, and he doesn’t consider it to be a reliable source of information on matters of public health. Indeed, here’s an example, specifically:

The bill also encourages young women of specific higher-risk populations, including African-Americans and Ashkenazi Jewish populations, to ask their doctor about getting genetic testing. Again, this has the potential to do more harm than good. The field of genetic screening is in its infancy, and widespread testing raises more questions than it answers. For instance, a finding of genetic mutation, while terrifying, not only offers little information, it may lead some women to overreact. Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, explained in a letter to ACS volunteers that some women with positive results may choose a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy, a procedure wherein both breasts are removed to prevent a cancer they do not, and may never, have. He wrote that “many of these women will in reality have mutations of no significance.” In addition to unnecessary, disfiguring and risky surgery, “there are already scientific data to show that many women…will suffer significant emotional and mental harms” just from finding out they have the gene mutation.

While I would agree that most African-American women don’t need genetic screening unless they have a strong family history. I would disagree about the Ashkenazi Jewish populations, given the high incidence of breast cancer and the prevalence of BRCA mutations, many of which confer up to an 80% lifetime risk of breast cancer. Here’s what the 2009 National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines say about BRCA mutations in Ashkenazi Jewish populations:

For an individual of ethnicity associated with higher mutation frequence (eg, founder populations of Ashkenazi jewish, Icelandic, Swedish, Hungarian, or other) no additional family history may be required.f

“f.Testing for founder-specific mutation(s), if available, should be performed first. Full sequencing may be considered if other HBOC criteria met.

These recommendations are based on level 2A evidence by evidence-based medicine guidelines. In other words, serious consideration for testing for founder mutations at least and at the most full BRCA sequencing (if other risk factors are present) should be considered for all Ashkenazi Jewish women


I guess that’s what you get when a lawyer tries to write about health.

Oh, dear. Have I ruined Jake’s little conspiracy theory?

Jake is also very upset at the “censorship” supposedly exercised against a German ScienceBlogger who made some blatantly anti-vaccine posts:

What gained front-page coverage then, would be met with censorship by Seed today. On the German-speaking “Science”Blogs, co-managed by Seed Media Group and Hubert Burda Media, censorship is exactly what happened to Austrian journalist, author and documentary filmmaker Bert Ehgartner. He had been blogging for the German “Science”Blogs from August until December of 2008 when an entry by him stirred up a firestorm. The thread title was “Aluminium muss raus aus Impfstoffen!” which translates to “Aluminum must be eliminated from vaccines!” It featured an interview between Ehgartner and a vaccine safety researcher, Dr. Klaus Hartmann, who criticized the presence of aluminum salts in the HPV vaccine, and its inadequate safety trials. This quickly prompted a full-flung attack from the bloggers and readers of the US “Science”Blogs, calling Ehgartner an “anti-vaccinationist.”

Let’s take a trip back down memory lane, shall we? Here’s what happened. Read the full account if you have time, but basically Ehgartner was spewing all sorts of pseudoscience about autism, ADHD, and aluminum in vaccines as a cause of autism. In the same post, I chastised, another German ScienceBlogger for promoting Ayurvedic medicine and defending the presence of heavy metals in it. Funny how Jake neglected to mention that part of the post. After all, he should be totally down with getting rid of mercury, lead, and other heavy metals in herbal medicines. In any case, here was the reason I went so ballistic:

Perhaps I’m ridiculously naïve, but I always thought that, whatever our fractious behavior and arguments over religion or politics or even scientific issues (which, let’s face it, are often full of sound and fury, signifying nothing), one thing ScienceBlogs stands for is communicating what good science is to the masses and why it’s so cool. I’ve also assumed that what it stands against is pseudoscience and misinformation. My complaint is not a matter of scientific disagreement or being annoyed by a couple of contrarians defending positions that are weak and not well-supported by the evidence. It is about clear and obvious misinformation about what science says about vaccines, autism, ADHD, and disease published under the banner of ScienceBlogs. In the case of Peter Artmann, it is about a ScienceBlogger who defends obvious quackery and makes utterly unscientific assertions while doing so. I don’t know about my fellow ScienceBloggers, be they English- or German-speaking, but I don’t like being associated with two such bloggers. I don’t like it at all. As much as I hate to say it, we clearly have a problem in our German division.

What I hate to say even more is that the leadership of our German division does not appear to “get it.” Indeed, Jessica Riccò, one of the editors of ScienceBlogs Germany, showed up in the comments to complain. I was disappointed to see that she apparently does not know that Rethinking AIDS is an HIV/AIDS denialist organization. Worse, she makes arguments from authority in pointing out that Ehgartner has apparently written for mainstream German publications. Unfortunately, by that criteria, David Kirby (who’s freelanced for the New York Times) or Dan Olmsted (who, remember, used to write for UPI) would qualify as excellent ScienceBloggers. Worse, she argues that because Ehgartner has never denied that HIV causes AIDS or urged parents not to vaccinate on ScienceBlogs.de itself, it’s OK to have him there, while labeling the criticism against him a “fatuous witch hunt.” By that definition, I suppose it would be fine to have Peter Duesberg blog for ScienceBlogs too, as long as he doesn’t write about his HIV/AIDS “skepticism,” or for Mark Geier and Boyd Haley to join the collective, as long as they don’t urge parents not to vaccinate. Heck, why not invite Dr. Michael Egnor to blog about neuroscience, as long as he doesn’t mention evolution? He is a neurosurgeon, after all.

Actually, this incident also utterly demolishes Jake’s insinuation that ScienceBlogs is one big monolithic collective, all working for the same thing. I stirred up a lot of trouble in the “family” when I opened fire on Ehgartner. There was a lot of argument, sturm und drang, and drama. It was also about the science and my belief that, regardless of our other disagreements, all ScienceBloggers should be promoting good science, not pseudoscience. They should be promoting science-based medicine, not pseudoscience-based medicine.

That’s the only conspiracy I’m interested in, and I make no apologies for it.