More false “balance” on vaccines and autism

There’s so much horrible reporting on vaccines and the whole manufactroversy that promulgates the myth that vaccines somehow cause autism through a combination of confusing correlation with causation, bad science, quackery, and misrepresenting autism that it’s gotten harder for me to be sufficiently irritated to write about it. When I see yet another another example of credulous reporting, it has to be either truly egregious to the point of catching my attention above the baseline noise of stories presenting anti-vaccine pseudoscience as though there were any truth to it or somehow illustrate something about the anti-vaccine movement that needs to be pointed out–or both. Not uncommonly, such articles are touted on that repository of anti-vacccine quackery and propaganda, Age of Autism, as examples of the media “finally getting it.” So it is with a truly execrable piece of crap journalism that the merry band of anti-vaccine propagandists over at AoA–specifically, one of that merry band, Anne Dachel, Media Editor of AoA–found and promoted yesterday. It’s an article that was first published in The Hudson Reporter entitled To ‘V’ or not to ‘V’? Free vaccinations offered; controversy continues.

It turns out that, since my departure, New Jersey has become a hotbed of “vaccine choice,” a.k.a. anti-vaccine propaganda masquerading as “personal exemptions,” “health freedom,” and “vaccine choice.” The staff reporter who wrote this article, Lana Rose Diaz, has dropped a steaming, drippy turd of a “tell both sides” article that really doesn’t tell both sides. Rather, it tells the side of Louise Kuo Habakus, Founder of Life Health Choices. We have, of course, met Ms. Habakus before. For example, she was awarded the AoA Person of the Year Award for 2009. Most recently, she was one of the main instigators of the anti-vaccine rally in Chicago attached to Autism One that turned into an embarrassing fizzle. Basically, she’s a woman who’s made a name for herself opposing vaccine mandates in New Jersey and New York based on the same sort of rank pseudoscience that AoA promotes on nearly a daily basis. No wonder AoA likes Ms. Habakus so much!

So what sort of nonsense is Ms. Habakus spewing in this article this time? Plenty, actually, and AoA loves it because in writing the article Ms. Diaz uses the time dishonored tactic of letting the advocate of pseudoscience blather on and on and then only at the end provide the science-based viewpoint, almost as perfunctory afterthought that had to be included because it’s expected. However, it’s obvious where Ms. Diaz’s heart is, and it’s not with the science-based viewpoint, at least not on this issue. After all, why else would she represent a clueless advocate of pseudoscience like Ms. Habakus as a “mother turned medical practitioner”? Get a load of this:

Louise Kuo Habakus, a member of the New Jersey Coalition for Vaccination Choice, which held a session last year at a restaurant in Hoboken, is also the director and founder of The Center for Personal Rights, a non-profit organization based in Middletown.

Habakus said she got involved in the fight for vaccination choice after two of her children were injured by vaccines. She said they developed inflammatory bowel disease, which got progressively worse after each vaccine.

However, she stressed that the injuries her children faced may be less or more severe than what others could face.

“Vaccine injury manifests very differently in different people,” said Habakus.

A former corporate executive, Habakus took on the mission of poring over studies in her quest to advocate for research, education, and informed consent when it comes to vaccination and ultimately became a holistic health practitioner.

I wonder what kind of “holistic practitioner” Ms. Habakus decided to become. So I did a little Googling. Apparently she represents herself as “specializing in integrative nutrition and homotoxicology.” Of course, “integrative nutrition” appears to be pure quackery, if the Institute for Integrative Nutition website is any indication. On the website, the glories of Andrew Weil, MD, Arthur Agatston, MD, Barry Sears, PhD, Mark Hyman, MD and Deepak Chopra, among many others, are touted as the source of much of the knowledge of woo that the institute wants to impart to its students and the curriculum features “major dietary theories from Ayurveda to The Zone.” Meanwhile, as it is claimed for “instegrative medicine,” integrative nutrition “integrates” woo and quackery with “conventional” nutrition. Of course, looking at the website, I rather suspect it’s a homeopathic integration in that the woo is probably used to serially dilute and succuss the conventional nutrition until nothing is left. Not surprisingly, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition has its very own page on Quackwatch.

As for “homotoxicology,” as you might imagine, that is pure quackery as well. In fact, according to Habakus’ own website, homotoxicology is described thusly:

Homotoxicology is the science of toxins and their removal within the human body. It offers a theory of disease which describes the severity and duration of an illness or disorder based on toxin-loading relative to our body’s ability to detoxify. We should normally be excreting toxins through the primary pathways of feces, urine and sweat. When the immune system is challenged, however, our body’s ability to eliminate toxins is also compromised. There are progressive stages of illness which correspond to the bio-accumulation of toxins. After excretion, we move to deposition, then impregnation, degeneration and finally neoplasm (cancer). Symptoms of disease are the result of appropriate biological resistance to toxic substances. In other words, conditions such as asthma or skin rashes are predictable ways that we might respond to toxicity. If we attempt to suppress the symptoms at an earlier phase, for example, through the use of steroids or other prescription drugs, we drive the toxins deeper into our cells, which can result in advancement of illness and disease.

That’s right. Homotoxicology is pure “detoxification” woo. Never mind that our bodies are quite capable of removing most “toxins” without the help of the dubious nostrums that dubious practitioners like Habakus recommend, including “serially agitated homeopathic dilutions” (surprise, surprise). According to “homotoxicology,” diseases result from the body’s attempt to expel those magical mystical “toxins” that supposedly build up in everyone’s body, denying the central tenets of the germ theory of disease. These toxins are referred to as “homotoxins,” and consist of pretty much everything in the environment to which we are exposed. In contrast to homeopathy, homotoxicology is less concerned with “like cures like” than with using substances that, according to the principles of this woo “activate the greater defense system” and force the body to expel the “toxins.”

Habakus also recommends “homeoprophylaxis” to prevent infectious diseases in children. It’s depressing to think that Habukus would substitute magic water instead of effective vaccination to protect our children from infectious disease, but clearly she has fallen for pure magic. After all, she is, it would appear, a homeopath of a sort, and anyone who thinks that the principles of homeopathy are the least bit based on any science–or even that they don’t conflict with the known laws of science to the point that, for homeopathy to be valid much of what we know about physics and chemistry would have to be spectacularly wrong–is not a rational thinker. She is a magical thinker.

No wonder she’s so firmly of the belief that vaccines cause autism, and depressingly our intrepid reporter Diaz didn’t notice any of the quackery espoused by Habakus.

The rest of the article is basically Habakus making the argument that more vaccine exemptions should be allowed and that the state of New Jersey should not mandate vaccines. I’m not going to get into the political argument over whether the state should have the power to require vaccines. Many people who fully accept the efficacy of vaccination and do not buy into the pseudoscientific myth that vaccines cause autism will argue that on libertarian principles the government shouldn’t have the power to require vaccination as a precondition before a child can attend public school. Personally, although I accept that adults should have the right to determine what is done with their bodies, I’ve never bought that argument for children any more than I’ve bought the argument that parents should be allowed to choose quackery over science-based medicine to treat cancer in their child. My opinion of the argument or not, arguing against school-mandated vaccination on libertarian reasons is not a scientific argument, but rather an argument about philosophy and public policy that is far more about the principles one values than the science. I would point out that, even in New Jersey, it’s still not that difficult to get an exemption. It’s not as though state officials are going to ask parents who claim vaccination is against their religion to prove it. In fact, there are times when I wish they would. But they don’t, and it’s highly unlikely that they will.

Unfortunately, the rest of the article is a heapin’ helpin’ of confusing correlation with causation liberally sprinkled with–of course!–conspiracy theories:

In New Jersey, the autism rate is 1 in 94. Some have said the high rate is due to the many resources that exist in the state, a situation that draws people with autistic children to move here. In addition, more children may be diagnosed here.

Habakus pointed to the fact that the Garden State gives more shots, offers no vaccine choice, and is the U.S. and worldwide headquarters for over half of the world’s pharmaceutical firms.

“Is that a coincidence?” she said. “The pharmaceutical industry is such an important tax base in our state, you could argue that it would be impossible to be elected in New Jersey without pharm support.”

Habakus said that sufficient research has never been put into vaccines to see who is susceptible to possible complications prior to administering vaccines, because the people conducting the studies are the same ones selling the product.

“We’re not saying don’t vaccinate,” said Habakus. “We’re just saying do your research.”

Read more: Hudson Reporter – To ‘V’ or not to ‘V’ Free vaccinations offered controversy continues.

OK, I’ll give Diaz a bit of a pass on the first paragraph in that it is quite possible that the prevalence of autism in New Jersey may be higher because of those very reasons. Having lived in New Jersey, I know that the state charges outrageously high property taxes but does pour a lot of that money into schools and special services that are superior to those of any other state I’ve lived in. There are a lot of early intervention programs and a lot of resources thrown into screening for learning disabilities and then trying to help these children. Of course, to Habakus, it’s all a big pharma plot to make the children of New Jersey autistic and make billions of dollars doing it, not to mention Diaz, who turns a story that should be an optimistic story about a good thing, offering free vaccines, into a paranoid, conspiracy mongering mound of nonsense, thanks to her choice of Habakus as her main interview subject.

One thing that this story demonstrates about the anti-vaccine movement very clearly is that, to anti-vaccine activists, left is right, up is down, and anti-science is science. Look, for instance, at what Anne Dachel at AoA says about the story:

I like to think that reporters are someday going to start telling the truth about autism and catch on to the fact that if you only talk to health officials, you’re only getting one side of the story when it comes to the controversy over vaccines and autism.

Personally, I, too, like to think that reporters are someday going to start writing accurate stories about vaccines and autism. Several months ago, when Andrew Wakefield had his medical license removed and then as a result the editors of The Lancet retracted his misbegotten amalgamation of bad science published in their journal in 1998, I was pleasantly surprised that most journalists actually got the story pretty close to right and seemed to be stopping the false balance of “tell both sides.” Unfortunately, that progress towards reason, skepticism, and science appears as though it might be in danger of eroding now that the memory of Wakefield’s disgrace is starting to fade.

With Wakefield’s disgrace no longer front and center, reporters are in danger of falling back to their old ways of “balance,” and, to the Bizarro World of AoA, false balance is balance, as Anne Dachel makes explicit:

We can also hope that more reporters will do their job—and give us the arguments from both sides. That’s all we ask. It’s what they mean by “fair and balanced.”

Actually, I find it rather telling that Dachel chooses to appropriate the FOX NEWS catchphrase “fair and balanced” to describe the kind of reporting it wants. It’s hard not to note that, even at its worst, FOX NEWS isn’t as biased and full of misinformation as AoA–or Habakus. The sorts of spin, misinformation, and pseudoscience regularly delivered by AoA and Habakus would make Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity blush in embarrassment.