Expelled!, anti-vaccine style, 2011 edition (continued)

Today’s a holiday here in the U.S. You’d think that I’d be taking it easy, but, sadly, thanks to the insatiable needs of the NIH grant monster, today, as I was doing most of the day Saturday and part of the day yesterday, will be working on grants; that is, when I don’t take a couple of hours to get that jungle of a lawn that surrounds my house mowed. (Thanks to the almost daily downpours producing the wettest spring I can remember, “jungle” is a fairly accurate term to describe our yard at the moment.) Despite all this, I would still be remiss if I didn’t take a little time to followup on my post from yesterday about how two skeptics were kicked out of the anti-vaccine quackfest known as Autism One by armed police. The reason for the followup is that the two protagonists have posted their first hand accounts of what happened. All are worth your time to read in their entirety:

I’ve already written up my thoughts on the matter; so I’ll just make a few random observations based on Ken’s and Jamie’s accounts. And, as always, you can go to Liz Ditz for the complete roundup of Autism One’s history of ejecting those who do not agree with the quackery and anti-vaccine views promoted there. It goes back at least three years. In any case, here, in no particular order, are the thoughts running through my mind as I read through these accounts.

First, Jenny McCarthy’s pushing The Secret now. Well, she’s not calling it The Secret. Her self-help guru Katie Byron is calling it The Work, instead, but it’s basically a twisted variant of The Secret in which all the positive stuff about your “intent” bringing good things to you is subsumed to the darkest “blame the victim” bits of The Secret:

Here are some actual examples from the conference (note: since audio-recordings were not allowed and I couldn’t write fast enough, it is paraphrased):

Parent: I’m angry with my husband because he does not accept me as a whole package.

Katie: Does your husband not accept you, or do you not accept your husband?

Parent: I’m frustrated with my son because he always puts himself down.

Katie: Does he always put himself down or do you always put him down?

Parent: I’m angry with the pharmaceutical companies for hurting my son.

Katie: Did the pharmaceutical companies hurt your son or did you hurt my son?

She would then force them to repeat the opposite of their original statement.

“I don’t accept my husband as a whole package.”

“I always put my son down.”

“I hurt my son.”

Seriously. She forced people to say these things and then told them they had to change their thoughts accordingly. Her whole point was that any time you are angry or frustrated at someone/something else, you actually caused those things to happen because of your thoughts. Therefore you can’t change it without taking responsibility. It’s basically a blame-the-victim mentality — If anything bad happens to you, it’s your fault.

To me, Byron’s turning these statements around into questions that blame the victim strikes me more like an attempt to achieve pseudo-profundity using Yoda-like language constructions than anything that would be useful in a therapeutic setting. There’s also a difference between taking responsibility for one’s actions and their consequences and being told that you can change everything if you just accept blame, which is what Byrne appears to be doing. On the other hand, perhaps telling parents of autistic children who believe that vaccines caused their children’s autism feeds into the guilt that many of these parents appear to feel for having vaccinated their children if the discussion boards and blogs I’ve read are any indication. Maybe there’s a reason why someone like Byron peddling, as Jamie put it, “bullshit psychological theories” can find traction with Jenny McCarthy and then with her movement. It might also be an attempt on McCarthy’s part to keep her movement loyal while trying to dissociate herself from the paranoid anti-vaccine fringe as much as she can.

On the other hand, Byrne tries to sell her program as:

Despite such New Age trappings (and the sappy folk music on the P.A. system), Katie’s approach, with elements that recall Zen meditation, Socratic inquiry and Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-step program, offers a pragmatic and simple way of getting people to take responsibility for their own problems. Says Katie: “It’s a way to cut through everything. It puts responsibility back on the person looking for their answers, not the world’s answers.”

One wonders whether Byrne succeeded in getting McCarthy to accept responsibility for her role in promoting vaccine rejectionism and endangering the health of children. Apparently not. After all, McCarthy is still president of Generation Rescue and still headlining Autism One.

A second observation is that it’s amazing how much the dietary woo manages to suck the flavor out of food. Both Ken and Jamie described the gluten-free, allergen-free pizza, chicken strips, and ice cream as particularly unappetizing.

Third, it’s unclear what anti-vaccine guru Andrew Wakefield has moved on to. He appears to be peddling a highly dubious story about five children in Arizona:

According to Wakefield, there is a family in Arizona where the parents believe all five of their children have autism. They have taken their children to many doctors who have subjected them to a variety of tests. The doctors concluded that there is nothing wrong with the children and that the parents either made the whole autism story up or may have Münchausen syndrome by proxy, meaning that they have a psychiatric issue that causes them to believe their children have autism when they don’t. Because subjecting children to medical testing for a disease for which there is no evidence is dangerous, these children have all been taken from their parents and put into foster care until it can be determined it is safe for them to return to their family. Wakefield said this is a conspiracy (a word he used multiple times) because, supposedly, there is a way for doctors to make money by taking children away from their parents and putting them in foster care.

Or, as Ken put it:

The story first surfaced last fall, when Wakefield promised a giant December rally to focus the nation’s attention on the anti-vaccine movement’s “Rosa Park’s moment.” The rally fizzled, Rosa’s bus route stopped short of Crazy Town, and the Arizona 5 slipped down the memory hole.

Finally, it occurs to me that, as I pointed out yesterday, the anti-vaccine movement has become so paranoid that it routinely shoots itself in the foot. Both Ken and Jamie pointed out how dull it all was, with Ken pointing out that “so far, lunch was the big story” and how he “started to look at my watch.” Leave it to Teri Arrenga, the organizer of Autism One, to bring home the crazy and create a story where there wasn’t any:

At this point, Teri said she wanted my camera film… which is kind of a strange thing to ask since this is 2011 and most cameras don’t use film anymore. I told her I didn’t have film, but would be happy to delete the pictures I took. The police officer said that would be fine, but Teri would have none of it. With a shaking voice, she snapped “No, I demand the film!” I said (again) I didn’t have any film, it being a digital camera and all, but took my camera out and erased the two pictures that were on there. She seemed unhappy with this result, but was unable to overturn the police decision.

At this point, Teri and a police officer took Ken aside and I was questioned by the remaining Lombard police officers. They took down all my personal information and kept asking me paranoid questions like “Are you a journalist?” “Do you work for a magazine?” and “Who sent you here?” I answered all questions truthfully, though they weren’t happy with the answers. They seemed convinced I was some big-shot reporter for a magazine and kept harping on that point as I continued to deny such a thing.

After this, three hotel security guards and four armed Lombard police officers escorted Ken and Jamie off the premises, right past David Geier, the MD-wannabe who is currently facing legal action in Maryland for practicing medicine without a license. In the Bizarro World of Autism One, science-based skeptics like Ken and Jamie are escorted out with armed guards, while non-doctors like David Geier get to give presentations promoting their quackery to the parents of autistic children.