J.B. Handley: Attacking the AAP over vaccines…again

I may have taken a break yesterday, but that doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned my mission to make this Vaccine Awareness Week (or, more properly, the Anti-vaccine Movement Awareness Week, dedicated to countering the lies of the anti-vaccine movement). Even though it was good to take a day off, the anti-vaccine movement rarely takes a day off, and yesterday was no exception. Indeed, one of the most belligerent anti-vaccinationists of all, the meanest, ugliest, nastiest one, the meanest anti-vaccine bull of all, decided to show up for the first time in a long time yesterday on his organization’s happy home for wandering anti-vaccine loons, Age of Autism. Except that it’s rarely so happy when J.B. Handley shows up, except when he’s gloating over driving up parental suspicion of vaccines. This time around, J.B. decided to be J.B., which is all J.B. can be. Yesterday, he was unhappy because the American Academy of Pediatrics was doing what actual pediatricians should be doing and actually doing something to try to combat the pseudoscience, misinformation, and lies spread by the anti-vaccine movement.

Before I get into the delightfully unhinged rant so typical of Mr. Handley, let me just take a moment to point out that I hadn’t intended to spend this week looking at all the lunacy that AoA delivers on a daily basis. After all, the architects of Vaccine Awareness Week were Joe Mercola and Barbara Loe Fisher. While it’s true that Joe Mercola has brought home the crazy about vaccines day after day, as Steve Novella has shown so well, for some reason Barbara Loe Fisher has been very, very quiet. In fact, there hasn’t been a single new article published on her website, NVIC.org. Some partner she’s turned out to be for Joe! I mean, seriously. Would it have hurt her so much to contribute just one delightfully quacktastic post like the one in which she attacked health care institutions for requiring that their employees be vaccinated against the flu? I say thee nay! Yet, as of this writing, there’s nothing newer than more than a month old. If I were Joe Mercola, I’d be major league peeved right now. Why should Joe do all the heavy lifting for quackery?

But back to J.B. Yesterday, in his usual inimitable fashion, J.B. decided to attack the American Academy of Pediatrics and its CEO Errol R. Alden, M.D. in a spittle-flecked post entitled AAP’s Errol R. Alden, MD: The Worst CEO in America, Looking to Target “Vaccine Opponents” and “Celebrities”:

Don’t be confused by names like Judith Palfrey, David Tayloe, or Renee Jenkins, there’s only one boss at the AAP: Errol R. Alden, M.D.

While folks like Tayloe show up on Larry King Live and get their ass kicked, Dr. Alden has been running the show since 2004. Not sure who’s boss? When Tayloe was the AAP’s President for a year, they paid him $150,000 for a job poorly done. Dr. Alden? He brought home $525,000, over a half-million “non-profit” bucks.

Dr. Alden does a great job of hiding in the shadows and letting others speak for his organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics. Meanwhile, he appears to be biding his time paying his employees huge salaries and, as the most recent Form 990 HERE from the AAP reveals, losing lots of money.

Now, this is perhaps the first and probably the last time that I ever say that I sort of agree with J.B. that it’s a bit disturbing how much money Dr. Alden makes for running the AAP. He makes over a half a million dollars a year, which strikes me as rather high for running a nonprofit institution, particularly given that few pediatricians could ever manage to achieve that level of compensation through clinical practice. In addition, given that the AAP reported a $4 million loss last year, it’s hard not to question the financial stewardship of the organization.

Of course, legitimate concerns about the finances of the AAP are not what J.B. is about. Attacking the premiere organization that stands up for vaccine science and child health is what he’s about because that organization recognizes Mr. Handley’s organization for the dangerous bunch of denialists that it is. So let’s just say that I don’t exactly like the rather high level of compensation being paid to many of the employees of the AAP when it’s losing money, even taking into account that some of them are physicians and could manage to make $200,000 a year in practice, meaning that a certain level of compensation has to be offered to lure physicians to do these jobs. Be that as it may, whether or not the AAP is well run from a financial standpoint has little or no bearing on the scientific validity of its defense of vaccines. Because he can’t refute the AAP’s stand using science, J.B. Handley wants you to believe that the two are conjoined, much like Chang and Eng Bunker.

They aren’t.

So let’s get to what’s really chapping J.B.’s posterior:

Autism may well be the AAP’s swan song, and I think they know it. You simply can’t have 1% of your pediatric population being damaged for life and survive for very long, and I hope pediatricians start to desert the AAP in order to save our kids. In the meantime, I’m guessing Dr. Alden will hasten the ship he is charting right into the ground.

The arrogance of ignorance encompassed in that statement is amazing to behold! J.B. simply assumes that, in essence, all autistic children are a result of the AAP’s vaccination policies. I say that because the estimate for incidence of autism and autism spectrum disorders is around 1%, and J.B. says that 1% of the pediatric population is being “damaged for life.” Mr. Handley’s statement shows that, science and clinical trials notwithstanding, he still thinks that vaccines cause nearly all cases of autism out there. In any case, if pediatricians end up deserting the AAP or not, their decision isn’t going to be over the issue of autism and vaccines. If the AAP ends up getting into serious financial trouble, it won’t be over autism and vaccines. Mr. Handley’s thinking is profoundly delusional if he thinks either of these outcomes are likely to be due to his pet issue. Delusional and narcisstic. Come to think of it those two terms describe J.B. perfectly.

Mr. Handley goes on to demonstrate this in listing what he considers to be the AAP’s shortcomings:

Alden’s organization has:

– Done nothing to alert their membership to biomedical protocols that may improve the symptoms of autism, and shown no interest in understanding the DAN! Movement of physicians, and never acknowledged that biomedical recovery from autism is possible

Why would Dr. Alden alert the AAP membership to the quackery that is “autism biomed” and encourage them to consider it? He shouldn’t, because the AAP champions evidence-based medicine. Contrary to what Mr. Handley thinks, the woo that is promoted by the anti-vaccine movement in general and his organization in particular is anything but evidence-based. It’s about the purest pseudoscience there is, as I and many others have documented time and time again. If you don’t believe me, take a look at Jenny McCarthy’s Autism Biomed 101 video. Look at Kent Heckenlively’s description of the biomedical woo to which he subjected his daughter. Read Trine Tsouderos’ description of how the autism biomed movement hijacks legitimate science and turns it into quackery.

– In 2009 HERE admitted that their membership of pediatricians is unprepared to deal with autism and that many wish complementary alternative medicine training for these patients

You know, I wonder how AoA gets away with hosting copyrighted material on its affiliated websites. In any case, just because the AAP published a survey that found that primary care pediatricians don’t feel competent to deal with autism and its associated problems and concludes that better education about autism would help allievate the situation does not mean that the AAP is “admitting” anything. All it means is that the study managed to pass peer review and be published in the AAP’s flagship publication. Mr. Handley seems to think that acceptance of a manuscript in its main scientific publication means that the AAP is endorsing the findings of the paper. It doesn’t. Obviously, Mr. Handley hasn’t learned anything about medical publishing over the years. Either that, or he seems to think that medical publishing works the same way that AoA works. It doesn’t–fortunately.

Let’s move on to one of J.B.’s other complaints:

– Wasted everyone’s time with a predictable public-relations gambit that failed miserably when they tried to guilt ABC into pulling a TV show that discussed the autism-vaccine link HERE threatening that:

“ABC will bear responsibility for the needless suffering and potential deaths of children from parents’ decisions not to immunize based on the content of the episode.”

Mr. Handley’s referring to ABC’s short-lived Eli Stone, which did indeed feature in its pilot a storyline filled with anti-vaccine idiocy. The AAP was absolutely right to criticize ABC for its irresponsibility in airing such pseudoscientific, evidence-free nonsense. That’s free speech. Unfortunately, ABC didn’t listen and aired the episode anyway. That’s its right to be stupid in exercising free speech. In any case, obviously the AAP doesn’t wield as much power and influence as Mr. Handley apparently thinks it does.

Particularly hilariously lacking in self-awareness is Mr. Handley’s invocation of an exchange on an episode Larry King’s show in which he appeared. Yes, Larry King, old fool that he is with no critical thinking skills when it comes to science or medicine, has allowed Mr. Handley on his show on more than one occasion. That alone shows his propensity for woo more than anything else. Well, that and his tendency to give the useful idiot of the anti-vaccine movement (Jenny McCarthy) a forum on a regular basis.

Actually, if there’s one thing I’d criticize the AAP about, it’s being uttely clueless for such a long period of time about the threat to children’s health the anti-vaccine movement as personified by Mr. Handley represents. For years, the AAP stuck its head in the sand. It stuck its finger in its ears and its hands over its eyes, and chanted, “Lalalalalala, I can’t hear you.” Only in the last two or three years has the AAP figured out that, yes, the anti-vaccine movement is actually having an effect. It’s scaring parents based on fairy dust to believe that vaccines are dangerous when they’re not. It’s finally getting to the point of eroding herd immunity in parts of the country where there are educated, affluent parents with more money than sense, full of the arrogance of ignorance, who believe that their Google University knowledge trumps scientific knowledge and the knowledge and study of scientists who have dedicated their lives to studying vaccines or autism.

What burns Mr. Handley is that the AAP has finally awakened. It appeared to throw off some of its lethargy a couple of years ago, when Jenny McCarthy led her “Green Our Vaccines” anti-vaccine march on Washington. True, it’s still rather crude and bumbling in its responses, but at least the AAP has finally awakened to the threat that the anti-vaccine movement represents. Indeed, what’s gotten J.B. Handley’s undies in such a bunch this time around is the report of an apparent mole he has in the AAP, which sent him a copy of this internal letter:

Dear AAP Staff:

From time to time, the AAP Department of Communications develops print Public Service ads that appear free of charge in national and local magazines. These ads promote a range of pediatric topics such as obesity prevention, disaster preparedness and immunizations. We’re currently working on a new ad to ease parental concerns over vaccines – concerns caused by misinformation spread by a small but vocal group of vaccine opponents which includes celebrities.

We’re asking for your help to identify local parents who may be interested in joining a focus group that will evaluate several concepts and messages proposed by Springboard, our advertising agency.

A series of 30-minute focus groups will be held on Wednesday, November 17, at the office of Springboard at 15 N. Arlington Heights Road, Ste. 105, Arlington Heights, IL 60004 (downtown Arlington Heights).

AAP staff, their family and relatives may not participate in the focus groups; however, your friends or neighbors with young children below the age of 5 are welcome to participate. Please have anyone who may be interested contact Jill Halco of Springboard to schedule a session. They should e-mail her at [email protected] with a time preference. Focus group sessions will take place approximately every 30 minutes from 3:30 pm-7:30 pm on November 17.

Please note that childcare is not provided; these sessions are for adult care-givers only.

We’re looking for a cross-section of parents from many different backgrounds and communities. Please ask those you think fit this description if they’d like to participate. If so, have them contact Jill Halco directly no later than Friday, November 5. (If they do not have e-mail access, please ask them to call Jill at 847-398-4920, but e-mail is preferred.) Each parent will receive $50 as a thank-you for participating in the research.

Thank you for helping with this important initiative – to help protect children from the dangers of vaccine-preventable diseases.

Roger F. Suchyta, MD, FAAP
Associate Executive Director

I say: It’s about time that the AAP actually made a serious effort to counter celebrity idiots like Generation Rescue’s spokescelebrity Jenny McCarthy. I hope it follows through with the plan described in this letter to go aggressively against the misinformation spread by groups like J.B. Handley’s. What I’m worried about is that, given AAP’s past history, it’ll screw this effort up. On the other hand, look at J.B. Handley’s followup post to his first attack Dr. Errol Alden, CEO of the AAP, has a Nephew with Autism. Apparently, Dr. Alden’s brother-in-law remonstrated with Mr. Handley for his usual odious nastiness and how Generation Rescue’s nastiness might have led to Dr. Alden’s backing away from negotiations with TACA. Predictably, any criticism of Generation Rescue’s viciousness led to Mr. Handley’s responding with even more of his usual odious nastiness, cranked up to 11:

My first reaction to his post? I said to myself, “I’m sorry, is the AAP f-ing North Korea? If we get the Dear Leader’s nose bent out of joint he runs for the hills?”

Find your spine or get out of the way.

Paul Robinson, the only victims in this fight are the children. If you don’t understand why we’re so mad, you’re no help to us anyway. Your misdirection of blame is absurd. As Jim Carrey so perfectly said, and I will repeat it in all caps so you don’t miss it:


And, if biomed is part of the solution, let’s all get moving. Today.

“The problem is the problem”? Mr. Handley’s citing Fire Marshall Bill? How Zen, as though repeating it in all caps makes it any less vacuous and faux profound. He also seems rather oblivious to the fact that actions have consequences and people don’t like his bull-in-a-China-shop tactices. Personally, I found it rather amusing that Mr. Handley would refer to Dear Leader, given that, by the very story he was responding to (assuming it’s true) Dr. Alden was responding to pressure from his constituents. That’s hardly running the AAP like a dictator. Besides, Mr. Handley seems so pissed off that Dr. Alden was a co-author on a paper that failed to support Andrew Wakefield’s results (big surprise there, given how crappy a scientist Wakefield is) that he lets that color his entire diatribe. He also seems to think that having published a paper refuting Wakefield is far worse than his misogynistic attacks on journalists, Jenny McCarthy’s having shouted down actual doctors on TV a while back, or Age of Autism’s having represented its enemies as baby-eating cannibals last year.

In any case, Mr. Handley actually says one more thing I agree with, just not in the way he means it:

There is a moral duty that binds those of us in a position to help: we HAVE to help, for the sake of all the kids.

I agree. That’s why I do what I do: Do my small part to counter the pseudoscience, misinformation, and utter nonsense spewed by the anti-vaccine movement as represented by Generation Rescue–nonsense that endangers children. I urge skeptical and science-based bloggers to do the same.