Richard Moore: Swallowing antivaccine lies, hook, line, and sinker

There are few things more dangerous than a reporter with no understanding of science who, though the arrogance of ignorance, somehow comes to think that he has found the “next big story.” We’ve seen it before in various incarnations. One of the first such reporters to fall down the rabbithole of vaccine pseudoscience, thinking he found a huge story, was, of course, David Kirby, whose “investigations” produced resulted in his 2004 book Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic, A Medical Controversy. Together with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and his steamy, drippy turd of fear mongering entitled Deadly Immunity, which appeared in June 2005 and helped launch me into the blog business of taking down anti-vaccine lies when and where I find them, Kirby was a major force in perpetuating the myth that mercury in the thimerosal preservative in vaccines was a major cause of the “autism epidemic.”

Hot on the heels of David Kirby, there was Dan Olmsted. These days, Olmsted is currently the editor of Generation Rescue‘s anti-vaccine propaganda blog Age of Autism. What most people who haven’t been following this issue a long time don’t know is that Olmsted used to be an investigative reporter and senior editor for United Press International (UPI). Really, it’s true! Between January 2005 and July 2007, Olmsted wrote a series of “investigative” reports in a series that he called Age of Autism (his first installment predating the existence of the actual Age of Autism blog by nearly three years). In the series, he totally bought into vaccine-autism pseudoscience and presented the conspiracy theory through a combination of the same logical fallacies and bad science that undergirds the anti-vaccine movement, including confusing correlation with causation to blame thimerosal in vaccines or vaccines themselves for an “autism epidemic.”

Olmsted’s most infamous gaffe was to be, as far as I can tell, the man who originated the myth that the Amish don’t vaccinate and that as a consequence they don’t get autism, a fallacy that, again as far as I can tell, Olmsted first reported in a two-part story entitled The Amish Anomaly (Part 2 here) and revisited time and time again. Of course, the Amish do vaccinate, and there are autistic Amish. In fact, Olmsted even missed a clinic in the heart of Amish country that treats autistic Amish children. Unfortunately, facts didn’t stand in the way of a good myth, which has only grown in the five years since Olmsted first imagined it. Ultimately, Dan Olmsted left UPI (whether he resigned or was fired, only he and UPI know) and is now the editor of the anti-vaccine crank blog Age of Autism, where he can “report” to his heart’s content, free of any pesky concerns about editors insisting on actual facts and science.

After Olmsted, we’ve met other reporters of his ilk, in particular Steve Wilson of WXYZ-TV News in Detroit. Usually most of these reporters are local reporters, at least since Dan Olmsted parted ways with UPI, but over the last few years on a national level, Sharyl Atkkisson has taken up the mantle of national anti-vaccine reporter, becoming in essence CBS News’ resident anti-vaccine crank reporter. She even seems to have some sort of connection with AoA in which she has apparently fed the merry band of anti-vaccine loons there information on at least one occasion. Perhaps she’s destined for AoA infamy after her news career implodes. One can only hope. Now I’ve found another reporter anxious to take a flying leap off the rationality train, and he makes Dan Olmsted look rational by comparison. Meet Richard Moore, “investigative reporter” for the Lakeland Times. He appears to have bought completely into the Age of Autism propaganda line that vaccines cause autism, autoimmune disease, and bad breath, not to mention all manner of evil. The problem is, he’s a newbie, and, as a newbie, he has the enthusiasm of the recently converted. Too bad he doesn’t have a modicum of actual–oh, you know–scientific knowledge to go along with it. It’s the arrogance of ignorance on display. Not just on display, but proudly flaunted as though it were a virtue, proof of Moore’s inherent rightness.

No, it’s more than ignorance. It’s flaming, burning stupid, a veritable Burning Man of stupid–no, a Hiroshima and Nagasaki of atomic stupid rolled into one. In fact, Moore fires off anti-vaccine lies the same way that John Basilone fires off machine gun rounds in The Pacific. Of course, Moore’s barrages have far less effect because many of his rounds are long-discredited anti-vaccine lies that even J.B. Handley would think twice before firing off. Consequently, they bounce harmlessly off the armor of science, not even leaving a scratch in the paint. Let’s put it this way, shamelessly mixing metaphors. If Michael Egnor is the Energizer Bunny of intelligent design creationism, Moore sure looks as though he’s trying to become the Energizer Bunny of the anti-vaccine movement.

A perfect example is an article that appeared yesterday by Moore entitled Autism and the bad science of the medical establishment. He starts out sounding more like Mike Adams than any sort of legitimate reporter:

To some, it might come as a complete surprise that the big government, big pharmaceutical forces of the medical establishment turn out to be completely without credibility, but to me it is an ongoing fact of life.

From killing the elderly and maiming children with drugs such as Risperdal to perpetrating hoaxes such as the Swine Flu Pandemic of 2009 – nations are now unloading millions of unused swine flu vaccines the pharmaceutical industry conned them into buying – Big Pharma and its government allies peddle drugs to people who don’t need them, and who often end up worse after taking them.

When sensible people protest, the medical establishment engages in a massive campaign to destroy their credibility. They accuse those who disagree with them of bad science, and then use bad science to back up their own claims.

They trot out government-backed agencies endowed with stately acronymic names (“The CDC says . . .), which roar out their verdicts in ominous Oz-like tones to instill fear, all the while telling people to ignore that silly man behind the curtain.

We’ve all seen the show before, and it’s no different when it comes to autism and the role that childhood vaccines and other environmental toxins play in its rapid spread among our youth.

Wow. Moore might even out-Adams Mike Adams! I’ve criticized the various depredations of big pharma before. I’m more than aware that pharmaceutical companies are not paragons of virtue; they’re out to make money. But the conspiracy-mongering demonstrated in the passage cited above is right up there with the “best” I’ve ever encountered and deconstructed on this blog, while the level of stupidity and sheer ignorance has been turned up to 11 and beyond. Way beyond. Moore seems to believe that not only is big pharma cackling with glee like some sort of demented Ernst Stavro Blofeld, only apparently stroking a package of syringes rather than a cat. I mean really, really, really believe. Of course, Blofeld was highly intelligent, cunning, and ruthless. Given the utter ineptitude of Moore’s attack, he reminds me more of the hapless Doctor Evil from the Austin Powers movies, only without the redeeming feature of being funny, except that Doctor Evil shows far more signs of intelligence than Moore does.

Don’t believe me? Then get a load of the rest of his article. In it, he uncritically buys into the concept of an “autism epidemic” when there almost certainly is not one, heaps scorn upon big pharma for imagined offenses of which big pharma is actually not guilty, and in general engages in conspiracy mongering so ridiculous that even AoA rarely sinks to such levels, and that’s saying something:

The truth is, while not all of the autism epidemic can be traced to too many vaccines containing too many poisons, much of it can be, and the medical establishment has spent millions trying to stigmatize that sound and sane notion, to the detriment of thousands of children.

First, they tell us there is no autism epidemic, though diagnoses have mushroomed, rising from fewer than 1 in 2,500 to 1 in 110 in a matter of decades. Yet, the medical establishment will sit there and tell you there isn’t any real increase at all.

They do this with a straight face.

Of course, they do, because there is science to back up the contention, whereas the opposing contention (that there is an “autism epidemic,” a veritable autism “tsunami,” if you will) is backed up by not much more than the logical fallacy known as the appeal to personal incredulity. That’s why scientists can say this weith a straight face, while Moore proclaims “autism epidemic” with a sneering face. Personally, I think that scientists should rebut loons like Moore with a laughing face, because the dude has no clue what he is talking about. The fact is that much, if not all of the apparently increasing prevalence of autism can indeed be shown to be due to diagnostic substitution, increased awareness, and the broadening of the diagnostic criteria used to define the condition. It’s quite possible that there might have been a “true”increase in the prevalance of autism, but the data are by no means definitive, nor is there anything close to agreement on this point. It is quite possible–likely, in fact–that there has been no detectable increase in autism prevalence, and all the apparent “epidemic” is indeed due to diagnostic substitution and the broadening of the diagnostic criteria.

Failing understanding, Moore resorts to sophomoric sarcasm. I hate that. If anyone’s going ot use sophomoric sarcasm, it’s Orac, not some hack journalist from Wisconsin. All I can do, I guess, is to provide Moore that which he most surely craves: A heapin’ helpin’ of not-so-Respectful Insolence. As Captain Kirk said to Khan in The Wrath of Khan: “Here it comes.” But before I can say, “Now, Mr. Spock,” and let loose the phasers and photon torpedos into this Khan wannabe, let’s take a brief look at the target first:

Then they release “scientific” studies “disproving” any link between autism and mercury (thimerosal) in vaccines, or any link to vaccination schedules, or any causation by toxins such as aluminum.

And Mr. Moore is an “investigative journalist” claiming to have found “evidence” for an link between vaccines and autism who also invokes the “toxin” gambit.

Gee, the use of scare quotes is fun!

So is watching how Moore launches through a litany of long-discredited anti-vaccine myths. For example, he plays the “Where are the adult autistics?” card. Let’s see. Here they are. Oh, here they are, too! Perhaps as many as 1 in 100 adults! Oops! Sorry, Mr. Moore. Try again.

Unfortunately, he does. For example:

So what about all those scientific studies produced by the medical establishment showing no link to vaccines – and to thimerosal in particular – and the claims that those believing in a vaccine link have no scientific evidence of their own?

After all, between 2003 and 2008, 10 studies from Canada, Denmark, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States showed no association between thimerosal in vaccines and autism. At least 19 studies in all came to the same conclusion.

As it turns out, all the studies were ethically tainted, either funded in part by the pharmaceutical industry or its ally, the Centers for Disease Control. They were ideologically skewed as well, assiduously avoiding any direction or field of exploration that might have demonstrated a link between vaccines and autism, such as studies comparing autism rates in vaccinated children to those in unvaccinated groups, as obvious an undertaking that such studies might be.

Note how Mr. Moore is utterly unable to describe any actual scientific flaws in these studies. All he does is to assert that they are “ethically tainted” (whee! more scare quotes, this time justified), and he can then wave his hands and dismiss all their results without having to bother to think about them. Well, not quite. He does cite “flaws” in, for example, the Danish studies that are not major flaws at all, as Steve Novella has shown. Then, in a hilariously ignorant and un-self-aware bit of silliness, Moore even invokes Poul Thorsen and his alleged infamous fraud. The problem is, as I have discussed in great detail, Thorsen was not even close to being the lead investigator of these studies. More importantly, even if he were guilty of fraud, it would not in any way cast doubt upon the validity of the results of the Danish studies. It’s great for conspiracy mongering and anti-vaccine wet dreams, but for science, not so much.

If you really want to know just how hilariously, ridiculously, fantastically ignorant Moore is, though, just get a load of this passage:

A Generation Rescue study compared under-five mortality rates and the vaccination schedule in the U.S. with those in 29 other nations, and found that the U.S. had the highest number of mandated vaccines for children under five in the world (36, or double the Western world average of 18), the highest autism rate in the world (10 times or more the rate of some other Western countries), but only placed 34th in the world for its children under-5 mortality rate.

In other words, more vaccines correlate to more autism, but the tripling of the schedule has not done much to improve early childhood mortality.

Wrong, Mr. Moore. Wrong, wrong, wrong. If you think a Generation Rescue pseudo-study has any validity whatsoever, you need a course in medical research methodology, STAT!

Or maybe it’s a lost cause. Moore even references Mady Hornig’s infamous “rain mouse” study.

As I said before, there are few things more dangerous to public health than a scientifically ignorant reporter who thinks he’s on to the next big story that’ll make a name for himself. David Kirby proves that. Dan Olmsted proves it. Now Richard Moore proves it. There’s only one logical next stop for him: A blogging gig for the anti-vaccine crank blog Age of Autism.

It’s coming. It’s only a matter of time.