Antivaccine nonsense Autism Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery

How can I resist such a request?


You know I’m a sucker for a heartfelt plea from an anti-vaccine activist. That’s why, upon seeing Kim Stagliano write in Age of Autism:

Hi, I’d appreciate your comments over at HuffPo on my post, The Censorship of Autism Treatment” HERE.

I had to admit that I heartily agree. That’s why I’m asking my readers to take Ms. Stagliano up on her offer and head on over to comment on her post! Who says Orac is not a kind and benevolent box of blinking colored lights?

Even more amusingly, Kim’s post was entitled The Censorship of Autism Treatment, which makes what she says next even more rich in irony:

Support Dr. Wakefield and his colleagues and share your own story there, please. Thanks.

Clearly, Kim has no sense of self-awareness at all. It makes me wonder if the Huffington Post will “censor” anyone who doesn’t support Andrew Wakefield, it does. In any case, I’d just like to say to Kim and others of the merry band of anti-vaccine fighters at AoA: “Censorship. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The reason, of course, is that AoA conflates criticism of its support of the pseudoscience that claims vaccines cause autism with “censorship.” Sorry, it just isn’t. It’s free speech criticizing AoA’s free speech. No one is stopping AoA from publishing its tripe far and wide. No one is stopping Ms. Stagliano from voicing her erroneous belief that vaccines cause autism. Heck, she even has a blogging gig on HuffPo and is promoting a book she’s written that will apparently be coming out soon! [NOTE ADDED AFTER WRITING: Apparently CNN interviewed Ms. Stagliano and let her ramble on and on about her anti-vaccine views. Wow, that’s some “censorship”!] She just doesn’t like the fact that science is increasingly going against her belief, and, even more, she doesn’t like being reminded of it. So she retreats back into one of the lamest cliches there is:

I implore you to consider the patients. Remember the children, young adults and older persons with autism for whom GI disorders and other medical conditions are a very real problem..

Won’t you think of the children?

Of course, it never occurs to Ms. Stagliano or her merry band that those of us who oppose them, those of us who don’t accept their pseudoscience claiming that vaccines cause autism are doing just that. We are thinking of the children. We are thinking of the children who will suffer needlessly from vaccine-preventable diseases, thanks to the activities of people like Ms. Stagliano. We are thinking of autistic children, subjected to all manner of invasive procedures, such as stem cell quackery in which cells claimed to be “stem cells” are injected into their cerebrospinal fluid in dubious Costa Rica clinics. We are thinking of the children whose parents view them as “poisoned” by vaccines or worse and try to “detoxify” them with dangerous regimens of chelation therapy.

Oh, yes, we do think of the children. That’s why we view the anti-vaccine movement as such a profound threat to the health of children and public health in general. That’s why most of us think it’s a profoundly good thing that Andrew Wakefield has been, in Ms. Stagliano’s words, “censored.” In actuality, he has only reaped what he sowed in 1998. It’s been a long time coming, but finally maybe some justice is catching up with him.

A guy can hope, can’t he?

ADDENDUM: My irony meter exploded when I saw a comment from Ms. Stagliano in response to Landon Ross, who took her to task thusly:

May I remind you that your title is “THE CENSORSHIP OF AUTISM TREATMENT,” and yet:

We aren’t afraid of a thing, Taradiddles. I am one of the moderators, we have made a conscious decision to moderate the site so that it does not become a cesspool of dissent. You can go to the ScienceBlogs for that, dear.


So, there is no room for the effective dissents? Censorship is censorship. I don’t censor dissenting comments on my posts – EVER – and nor should you.

Kim’s response shattered the irony meter of the universe, such that it contracted into a black hole of hypocrisy:

So would you, an avowed atheist, go into a devout Christian site and tell them they are wrong, there is no God, and expect to have your comments posted regularly? Or would those Christians have the right to a single safe haven where they could share their views among each other? We are very clear in our moderation guidelines who is our target audience and the tone of our content.

TRANSLATION: When our views are criticized it’s “censorship,” but it’s not censorship when we suppress viewpoints contrary to our own. It’s just providing a “safe haven.”

Could Ms. Stagliano be more hypocritical?

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

44 replies on “How can I resist such a request?”

Thanks for posting this, Orac, and love the picture. You’ve probably noticed my cross-posts of comments here since AoA actually does censor dissenting views (they let some through, but I’m up to at least 6-7 recent posts that still have not been allowed to appear over there).

I find stagliano’s article disgusting. Wakefield has repeatedly used lawsuits and other harassments just to attempt to silence those critical of his claims. The Geiers, Shoemaker, Handley and most recently Fisher also resorted to frivolous litigation of critics. AoA has not delved into this kind of shenanigans, but does have a notorious policy of using “comment moderation” to censor dissenting opinions and corrections on point of fact. I can testify to an egregious example: Last August, I provided a correction to an article against Offit, showing that a figure reported as 29M was actually 6 million. Every comment with the correct figure was censored. After one briefly got through, it appears that Stagliano herself deleted it, said it was posted “in error”, and made personal comments against me.

CNN isn’t all bad, at least. A long piece today from a woman with an autistic child, reiterating that vaccines don’t cause autism and discussing the harm caused by not vaccinating, including her realization that, following Wakefield’s advice to delay vaccination, she had exposed her younger daughter to vaccine-preventable diseases.

I would argue that censorship would have helped Andrew Wakefield and the rest of the gang by preventing them from making silly claims that could later be disproven.

Had Andrew Wakefield been told by the editors at The Lancet, “Come on, this is absolute rubbish! We wouldn’t even think of publishing such tripe!”, his unethical behaviors might never have come to light.

Of course, he wouldn’t be the “savior” of the “vaccines-cause-autism” movement and he wouldn’t be basking in media attention, but a normal person might not want the sort of attention he’s been getting lately. This morning alone, I read about his “disgraceful” and “unethical” behavior in The Wall Street Journal as well as our local newspaper and heard it again on the morning radio news. Nobody wants that sort of attention.

Obviously, Kim Stagliano needs to find a dictionary so that she can look up the meaning of the word “censor”. Andrew Wakefield has not been censored (although he might now wish he had), but he is likely to be censured in the near future.

Perhaps that’s the word she means.


@Not the Crazy One

There are at least as many pro-vax commenters as anti-vax commenters. I’m not sure about the “well-sourced” and “credible” stuff, but the pro-vax group seems at least up to the task.

Of course the whole idea is essentially an exercise in futility. Anyone delving deep into the comments has pretty much already made up their mind and are looking for partisan talking points. Anyone ambivalent isn’t going to wade into the mess too far past the first handful of comments. Hence the importance of a well-written, well-sourced blog post. Commenters like us are really just in it for lolz.

I am going to disagree with Landon Ross in one respect. I think there are times when moderating comments can be useful. However, I don’t think it is very appropriate in a post complaining about censorship.

Or would those Christians have the right to a single safe haven where they could share their views among each other? We are very clear in our moderation guidelines who is our target audience and the tone of our content.

Stagliano is basically admitting here that the anti-vac crowd is based on faith: they need protection from objective analysis and doubt, because their beliefs come down to trusting in personal stories.

Of course, this is the same complaint the ‘new atheists’ hear when they criticize and critique religion – to hell with coming to a consensus on truth, our views have to stay strong. They can’t do that unless we, personally, are treated as special, delicate flowers.

It seems to me that a lot of people consider robust debate to be a form of bullying. They’re drawing their images and arguments from adults needing to protect small children. They don’t want a ‘single safe haven.’ They want the world to exercise forbearance.

Huffpo didn’t let me down. They approved 3 of my comments but not the first one that 1) asked why people thought it was appropriate to treat autistic kids as lab animals, like Wakefield did and 2) complimented HuffPo and its anti-vax bloggers on not censoring comments.

I love Stagliano’s title. I do, I admit it. It’d be even better if she’d been doing it ironically. Ah well, at least comments seem to be going on over at Huff. That’s a change.

I’d say the answer to your last question is an unabashed no. She’s hit critical mass on that one.

Had Andrew Wakefield been told by the editors at The Lancet, “Come on, this is absolute rubbish! We wouldn’t even think of publishing such tripe!”, his unethical behaviors might never have come to light.

I still think he’d have gotten a foothold somehow. He might not be the rock star he is in the pro-disease movement, but he’d be a player. You can’t keep those anti-vaxers down.

I feel for the Autistic kids, and the parents, but the sympathy only goes so far. Lots of kids grow up with developmental disorders and mental health issues. Most parents just deal with it. They accept that what their kid has got can’t be cured but in some cases can be treated, and they make the best of it. I would think that even the sensible type that have an aversion towards real doctors eventually just have a Come to Jesus moment and realize that no combination of herbs is going to get rid of their kid’s Down Syndrome or their teenager’s bipolar disorder. That these people keep clinging to an obsessive degree to these false strands, just to get beat down over and over again, and to the effect that they are blind to everything but their own sense of helplessness is *selfish*, and it boggles my mind.
I can see doing anything for your kid, but doing anything TO your kid and trying to justify that it might help them in the future when you have no external evidence is reprehensible.
Even foot-binding once conferred a clear societal advantage that was widely observable. Beating your kid confers measurable psychological effects. Chelation therapy? Outside of your own wishful thinking, no. It doesn’t. It is abusing your child for an end that is IMAGINARY.
Anyway, Wakefield seems like a creep and a psychopath. I really can’t understand such casual evil, and I really can’t understand the parents who are fooled by it.

“I would argue that censorship would have helped Andrew Wakefield and the rest of the gang by preventing them from making silly claims that could later be disproven.”

Except, (1) his “study” was financed by trial lawyers in the US and UK so that it could be the linchpin in planned class action tort suits against the vaccine manufacturers; and (2) Wakefield had a patent on a competing measles vaccine, which would become very valuable if the safety of the standard MMR vaccine was called into question. Accordingly, he had to publish somewhere, and, if he’d not gotten published in Lancet, he’d have gotten it published elsewhere. However, instead of 12 years of “censorship,” we’ve been putting up with BS for 12 years. Fortunately, Wakefield’s study was so flawed that it quickly raised questions, although the press failed to pick up on those questions for quite a while.

IMO, the lessons that can be drawn from this are:

1. Lancet’s policies on reviewing, and printing corrections or retractions concerning previously published articles are deficient. It signficantly hurt its reputation because of this. Peer review does not guarantee accuracy. But,by not retracting such an obviously flawed study for 12 years and only then in the face of overwhelming evidence that the flaws in the study appear to be so deep and deliberate to strongly suggest fraud, Lancet has shown itself to be a publication which cannot be relied upon to ensure that only first class articles are published.

2. The Scary Story Rule: Just because a story is scary and is published in the popular press, that doesn’t mean that it’s true. To this conclusion, I add Jenny’s Corollary: Just because she’s got big breasts doesn’t mean that she knows what she’s talking about.

3. The information most people rely on comes from reports in the popular press. Unfortunately, it is apparent that the popular press hasn’t a clue about the difference between good science and crap.

Oh, man, the comments on there make me feel ill. I did laugh at the person who said they had seen autism start within months of vaccination. You know, I showed an increase in anxiety at 2, right around the time I got some vaccines. Of course, that was also around the time when my brother took to trying to run me down with his baby walker. But, obviously, it must be the vaccines.

Speaking of censorship, I am now barred from making comments or posting anything on Mercola’s FB page. This happened very shortly after I posted a link to the NPR article detailing the Lancet retraction. Also, the two people who commented positively on the article were also promptly barred. I’m not surprised, really. His FB page exists to increase he profit margin and fan base. We wouldn’t want something like science or reality getting in the way of that, would we?

Ah, good to see that HuffPo’s still good for the woo even when the rest of the world takes a step forward to coming to its senses.

I think it’s consistent with their mindset if you consider their idea of “censorship” as “ever admitting you did anything wrong, ever.”

@Scrabcake: But the difference, of course, is that “why does my kid have Down Syndrome” has a definite and final answer. Not so for autism. If we don’t or can’t understand something, a lot of people in a lot of cases turn to faith in something they don’t understand. (On top of that, as one therapist consoled us, if your kid had Downs and had a meltdown on the floor in Target, you wouldn’t get the stares which all said you’re a bad parent.) Besides that, very few parents see any signs of autism in their kid’s first 18 months, while you know your kid has Downs from day 1. If my kid is fine, then he is broken, then I’ll try to fix him, and if my doctor doesn’t know what’s wrong, much less how to fix him, I’ll look elsewhere.

My opinion is that my kid’s not broken; he just works differently and needs help with some things. (At least he’s not boring. Neither is my neurotypical kid.) I commented over at AOA a few times, trying not to prejudge, and if nothing else, I took away that the parents over there feel that something has been stolen from them and their children, and the anti-vax community are the only people who want to help them get it back. (And I want to make very clear that they act because of how they feel, not what they think. That’s how most people in the world operate.)

In the end, science is right, but as Dr. Offit says in his book, you aren’t going to win a public fight with Jenny M with facts when she’s going to cry and say she saved her son and can show you how to save yours. That’s particularly true when your factual argument says science doesn’t know what causes autism, much less how to cure it.

In the end, I have a lot of sympathy for the parents at AOA, and I can say absolutely that if we don’t try to feel what they feel, at least a little bit, they’ll never try to think how we think.

Speaking of AoA’s “point of view”, here’s an exceptionally surreal response from Jake Crosby to a correction (inexplicably NOT censored) to the false claim that Michael Rutter was paid for testimony by the vaccine industry: “LAB funding was petitioned to Rutter by lawyers for pharma, so to that effect, Rutter was paid by vaccine manufacturers.”
So- is it AoA’s point of view that being paid by a vaccine manufacturer is the same as NOT being paid by manufacturers? (And note Crosby has neglected to present evidence for his rationalization!) Is it also their point of view that 18/3=29? Reality check for Stagliano: FACTS are not a “point of view”, and censoring corrections on points of fact discredit any “point of view” they have to offer.

I’ve had a disheartening week. I’m married to man who has faults as every human does, but his is a serious susceptibility to woo.

He ordered some books written by a naturopath (probably an infomercial offer) and has been bringing them to me periodically saying… “read this!”

Well, I do and try to explain to him how/why some of the stuff is correct, but most of it is at best serious exaggeration, and likely just plain wrong.

My very intelligent daughter (degrees in mathematics!) told me that she thought there was something to the vaccine/autism stuff she’s been reading in pregnancy forums. I point-blank asked her if my granddaughter was up-to-date on her vaccines and she assured me she is… but I’m worried now about the one that is due in 2 months.

My step-mother “subscribed” to weekly chiropractic treatments for a year for $5000… and paid $600 for the first month’s “supplements”.

My sister is a 9/11 truther… and my brother bought the homeopathic doggie arthritis remedy thinking it might work on his arthritis too.

I’m so depressed.

Why does Huffington Post even give that woman space ?
She has her own blog to bleat her nonsense on.
Further, in response to her burnin’ bit o’ stupid comparing Christian Religious forums to her anti-vax nuttiness.
Really. This is not a case of religion, except perhaps on your side. There simply is no evidence for your tired, worn out and never very credible hypothesis that vaccines cause autism, and now the one study you could point to with pride has turned out to be bunk. Get over it. Drop it and move on.
Being a true believer, you won’t. but that’s my advice.

Grendel @26: yeah, I saw that, and I gave a cheer when I did.

I actually have no problem with the idea of AoA as a safe haven for anti-vaxxers. Just as long as they realise that admitting this renders the notion that AoA is in any way reliable or trustworthy as a source of information utterly unsupportable.

Indeed. That’s why I laugh when AoA calls for “open debate.” In reality, it’s just CureZone,, or any of a number of other forums where dissent is first censored and then, if the dissenter is too vocal, banned.

Personally, I agree with you. If antivaxers want a nice, comfy, reassuring place, where never is heard a discouraging word, they have every right to create such a place. The problem is, they don’t admit that that’s what it is and they try to represent it as an actual news and commentary source.

Totally agree with your take on the whole “censorship” thing. I’m all for the “safe place” idea – up to a point. That’s why when I have attempted to post at AoA, it’s only been in response to anti-vaccine nonsense or other related character assassination attempts. If the site really was meant to support parents of autistic children, we could all co-exist peacefully, I’m sure.

So, Kim Stagliano still has not approved the comment I left on her post at AoA. I left this comment there just now:


I see you are continuing to censor my comment. Pray, tell, what happened to honest and open discussion? Your conduct, and that of your fellow editors, makes me glad that I’ve cross-posted to other blogs so that people can see just how open you are to discussion.

BTW, this post is also getting cross-posted.

James Ray’s arrest made the front pages here in Mesa AZ. I think his actions are despicable enough to warrant capital punishment. I am considering a little essay on this; working title “Oprah Kills!” A point I would certainly plan on making is that the Sonoran desert is a harsh environment that no one should consider entering without ample preparation and a high level of strength and health. It seems like every year, there’s at least one story about a group of poor bastards from Mexico who don’t make it.

Cross-posting the comment below from Dan Olmsted’s article “Enjoy It While It Lasts”:

@Dan Olmsted

“Well, the experts tell us, genes and environment acting in some exotic fashion that we’ll never ever figure out and are not all that urgently attempting to find.”

Who is saying that “we’ll never ever figure out” what the cause or interaction is? Also, there are a number of researchers who would be very surprised to find out that they are not urgently attempting to find the cause(s) of autism.

Please enlighten us with links to these statements.

This comment is being cross-posted in the event that AoA editors decide to censor it.


A lot of people don’t comprehend the ways the desert is dangerous. They have a car or a guide, so they assume they’re safe. They don’t stop to think that guides can be venal or careless: even without malice, people can take two vans out to the desert, and each driver assume the other has the bottled water for the group.

Add in that easterners are used to hot-and-humid as one thing, so 95 Fahrenheit and 10% humidity doesn’t feel hot to us, and it can get bad. So yes, warnings are necessary, and local guides and hosts–which Ray emphatically was, morally and I think legally–are responsible for providing things, or at least telling people to bring them.

@benandcoopersdad I can see where you are coming from, but I think that the feeling that “something has been taken away from you and your child” is the real shame here. There’s no “why” currently as to why your kid is bipolar, or OCD either. Both of these can cause intense suffering for parents and their afflicted children.
And though I can’t say that there’s not woo in the community of kids with mental disorders, it doesn’t seem as prevalent as it is in the Autism community. That’s not to say that in the past these people haven’t been *tortured* in the name of science, real or woo.
TODAY, there seems to not be so much of a problem in accepting an OCD kid or an ADD kid for who they are and either medicating it or getting therapy to allow the kid to work with the deck they’ve been dealt. I know people who would not be themselves if they didn’t have the trait we label as “aspergers”. It’s a facet of their personality, and I think the real challenge for parents is to get to the point where they accept and value this.
If they do not, their grown child’s going to be in therapy for a whole lot more than just aspergers.
I pity Jenny McCarthy’s kid because he’s going to grow up feeling that if he was only different, his mother would love him more. Because his mother has devoted herself to trying to eliminate a part of him.
Oh man. That kid is going to be screwed up.

[email protected]:

This wasn’t a guided trip into the desert, this was a protracted fast w/o water followed by stuffing scores of middle-aged people without warning into a tiny space with no airflow, no light, no exit, superheated rocks, and no supervision.

Then when people were passing out from hyperthermia and dehydration, Ray just blew it off — instead of actually calling EMS, he just declared that it was “being taken care of.”

In a just world, he’d be back in a tiny airless space with piles of hot rocks for the combined time that he subjected others to.

tamakazura: The main reason why OCD/ADD/bipolar/etc children have less problems being accepted than autistic/asperger’s children is that there’s medication for those. Society is starting to accept that mental abnormalities are real and not just being a “bad person”, but when there’s no treatment, people fall straight into woo – that happens with pretty much everything that modern medicine can’t treat or can’t treat reliably. (for instance, see, ohhh, cancer.)

The most atrocious thing about James Ray’s “lodge” is that he casually let middle-aged (at best?) people go through an ordeal that young Indian braves would have prepared for as a test of manhood. I have heard that one of the tribes is threatening to sue him for impersonating an Indian.
And another set of bad guys out here: the (human) coyotes who abandon their clients. They seem to account for most of the horror stories. I HATE stories like this, I really do. I also hate that the (other) Republicans shortcircuited a genuine reform of immigration. How does “no amnesty” for illegals trump no more bodies??

@41 – Properly done, a sweat lodge is no more an “ordeal” than a few 10-15 minute sessions in a sauna at the local gym. Nor is it restricted to “young Indian braves as “a test of manhood” … I participated in a few as a child, and others as an adult. A quick glance down the breech-clout tells me that I’m not male.

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