A one trick pony does his one trick

It’s funny, but it’s only been one week since I expressed extreme skepticism that that wretched hive of scum and quackery, The Huffington Post, had reformed itself. The reason, of course, was that HuffPo had announced that it was starting a science section. Even though on the surface it seemed that HuffPo was making the right moves, recruiting real scientists to blog for it, even asking Seth Mnookin to write an pro-vaccine article that was the very antithesis of the antivaccine idiocy that has run rampant at HuffPo from the very beginning and, with only rare interruptions, continuing during the nearly seven years that Arianna Huffington’s little project has been in existence. Indeed, HuffPo’s support for antivaccine pseudoscience and other forms of quackery led to not infrequent descriptions of HuffPo’s “war on medical science.” Given HuffPo’s history, it’s probably not surprising that I scoffed at the very idea of a HuffPo science section when it was first proposed and remain very, very skeptical that HuffPo will do anything other than segregate decent science there and continue publishing quackery and pseudoscience elsewhere.

Oddly enough, I saw something that made me wonder if maybe I had been a bit hasty in my judgment, something that made me wonder whether perhaps HuffPo really has started to turn over a new leaf. What I saw came, even more oddly, from the Boy Wonder of the merry band of antivaccine propagandists at the crank blog Age of Autism. Yes, I’m actually referring to Jake Crosby, the young epidemiologist wannabe whose ambition in life seems to be to follow in Andrew Wakefield’s and Mark Geier’s footsteps and become the vanguard of the next generation of antivaccine pseudoscientists. When last we left Young Master Crosby, he was trying to hone his pat answers to skeptical questions about vaccine pseudoscience. This time around, our one trick pony is performing his one trick (i.e., spinning conspiracy theories based on “six-degrees-of-separation”-style links between vaccine defenders and various pharmaceutical companies in order to smear them as having unreported conflicts of interest), but in doing so he does something I hadn’t expected. He expresses worry about HuffPo right in the very title of his post, The Mnookin Virus Infects CBS and HuffPo.

Here’s what I mean. Not surprisingly, Jake is very, very unhappy about HuffPo’s having allowed Seth Mnookin to write a provaccine article for HuffPo. But it was more than that; it was a provaccine article that criticized HuffPo for its long history of antivaccine fear mongering dating back to its very beginning. Jake doesn’t like that. No, he doesn’t like that at all:

Seth Mnookin has spread his deceit to CBS and The Huffington Post, with the help of accomplices from both sources.

It is amazing just how much Seth Mnookin continues to be propped up as having credibility he simply does not possess. Now, thanks to two fellow opportunists – David Freeman and Neil Katz – we see that pharma’s censorship has taken over CBS and The Huffington Post, both of which have now welcomed the vaccine industry’s shameless pusher, Seth Mnookin.

Given that Jake has become the lapdog of the antivaccine crew at AoA, wagging his tail and spewing out outrageously logic- and fact-challenged screeds in return for a pat on the head and a treat, I can’t help but wonder if he’s expressing a fear that’s shared in the leadership of AoA and Generation Rescue. Jake also notes the new leadership at HuffPo, including its new news editor Neil Katz and the editor of its new science section, David Freeman, both of whom used to work for CBS but were recently hired by HuffPo thusly:

Accompanying it was an article by Freeman’s colleague and then-cbsnews.com executive editor Neil Katz (just before he was hired by The Huffington Post as its new executive news editor). The title:

What autism, climate change and Obama’s birth certificate have in common

It was posted on the very same CBS HealthPop blog that Freeman started and edited with Katz, to which Freeman also contributed biased blog posts riddled with vaccine industry talking points.

Katz’s hiring at HuffPo came right after David Kirby’s piece about the Pace Law Review – ignored by CBS – titled, High Rates of Autism Found in Federal Vaccine Injury Program: Study Says More Answers Needed. There hasn’t been another article like Kirby’s on HuffPo since.

And New York Times writer Carl Zimmer, who I saw share a stage with Seth Mnookin in New York City last summer, blogged about Mnookin’s piece for Discover Magazine, in an entry titled “Huffington Post + Science. A New Leaf?” The implication being that The Huffington Post will become the latest addition to the vaccine industry’s collection of propaganda outlets.

Jake writes that as though it were a bad thing.

Actually, it would be a great thing indeed if David Kirby’s clever paeans to antivaccine pseudoscience were to appear no more in HuffPo (or in any other mainstream media outlet, for that matter) and instead be relegated to where it belongs, conspiracy theory and quack websites like Whale.to, AoA, NaturalNews.com, and the like, but whether that will happen remains to be seen. In any case, the specific study touted by David Kirby was an execrable, unethical study that didn’t prove anything. That’s not surprising, because David Kirby has a history of touting crappy studies. I’m not sure, however, that Katz’s appointment as news editor or Freeman’s appointment as editor of the science section has anything to do with Kirby’s deemphasizing vaccine-autism pseudoscience. That trend began long before Katz or Freeman was ever hired. For instance, for at least a year before the article referenced by Jake, Kirby had been using his HuffPo blog to flog his book on factory farming. Even before that, he had appeared to me to be losing interest in the whole vaccine-autism claim and mercury militia pseudoscience. If you’re going to argue that HuffPo has given up antivaccine pseudoscience, pointing to David Kirby is not a strong argument. Correlation does not equal causation. Of course, given how prone the antivaccine movement is to confusing correlation with causation, it’s not surprising that Jake does that here now.

Jake’s worry that HuffPo is going all wobbly on the “evils of vaccines” is also how he inadvertently gave me hope that HuffPo’s change away from pseudoscience might be for real. Katz’ article that so disturbed Jake is actually spot-on. It was about how Americans are prone to believing pseudoscience and myth, no matter what the evidence shows otherwise, and anthropogenic global warming denialism, vaccine rejectionism, creationism, and the “birther” movement are all excellent examples of this phenomenon. Each is either myth or pseudoscience that isn’t supported by evidence, and each is widely believed by a large segment of the American population. Jake, of course, falls into the group of believers in the myth that vaccines cause autism, which is no doubt why he so detested the article, so much so that later in his post he titles a subsection “Neil Katz + David Freeman + HuffPo + AOL = No More David Kirby?”

I actually found this part rather amusing because it echoed what quacks thought when AOL purchased HuffPo. Indeed, Mike Adams saw a business opportunity to expand his quackery empire by trying to recruit what he apparently thought would be an army of displaced quacks leaving HuffPo for what he represented to them as greener pastures. Maybe there was something in that, although the continued presence of homeopaths Dana Ullman and Judith Acosta as regular HuffPo bloggers rather argues against a sudden hostility towards quackery. However, maybe there is a change in emphasis when it comes to vaccines. Jake actually noticed something I hadn’t:

While David Kirby remains a contributor to the site for which he has written an article as recently as November, he has not contributed a single piece on the vaccine-autism controversy since Neil Katz became executive news editor. In fact, no thorough investigations of this debate have run on the site since Katz’ hiring. There has been nothing from Jenny McCarthy or Age of Autism’s managing editor, Kim Stagliano. It was McCarthy’s past contributions to HuffPo which were lambasted in Mnookin’s hit piece.

Again, I say: Jake writes that as though that were a bad thing. I certainly hope that it’s true that HuffPo has given up on antivaccine pseudoscience, and, indeed, I had a hard time finding any antivaccine posts on HuffPo since last spring. That’s several months without something as hideously stupid as Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s fear mongering, Jenny McCarthy’s brain-dead defense of Andrew Wakefield, or Jim Carrey’s Fire Marshal Bill-worthy rant against vaccines. For HuffPo, that’s a near-miracle. If it reaches the one year mark in May, I might start to believe that, when it comes to vaccines at least, HuffPo might have changed. Given that HuffPo was as recently as late December publishing “personal cases” about homeopathy written by a homeopathy, it’s oing to take a hell of a lot more to convince me that HuffPo has given up quackery. However, given how much Jake, who is certainly tied in to the antivaccine crankosphere, seems to fear that HuffPo has been co-opted, maybe it has been to some extent, and that would be a good thing.

On the other hand, it is Jake, Master of Half-baked Conspiracy Theories.

I was half-tempted to stop my post here and be uncharacteristically brief, but I can’t help but take a quick look at some of the rest of Jake’s post. The reason is that Jake seems to think that it’s not just HuffPo that’s been “corrupted.” According to him, CBS News has also been “silenced” when it comes to publishing The Truth about vaccines and autism. His rationale? He’s unhappy that resident antivaccine reporter for CBS Sharyl Attkisson hasn’t produced a “vaccine investigation” for a long time now in a section entitled “Scott Pelley + Pfizer + CBS Evening News = No More Sharyl Attkisson?” Here’s the reason:

One change in television news that garnered much less attention than it deserved was the replacement of Katie Couric as anchor of CBS Evening News with 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley. Within weeks of the announcement that Couric would be leaving CBS to become a correspondent for ABC, CBS posted Seth Mnookin’s talking point gallery along with Neil Katz’s complementary article.

Pelley’s journalism on vaccine-related topics is troubling to say the least. Hosting 60 Minutes, he played a major part in inflating the swine flu scare. And that is reflected in the program’s sponsorship. Before the 60 Minutes report even begins, you have to stare at nothing but a Pfizer logo for seven seconds.

Sharyl Attkisson, as you recall, has made a name for herself for kissing Andrew Wakefield’s posterior, stories engaging in antivaccine fear mongering, and a tendency to falling for pseudoscience in other areas, such as breast cancer. Her most recent foray into antivaccine apologia occurred nine months ago. She was even caught apparently passing documents to someone in AoA.

So what, according to Jake, is the cause of Attkisson’s apparent nine month silence on vaccines and autism, a silence that doesn’t strike me as any longer than at least one previous period of inactivity? To Jake it’s Scott Pelley, whom Jake suspects and despises because he has the utter gall to be on…well, let’s let Jake tell it:

But most disturbing of all is Pelley’s personal relationships. He sits on the board of directors of the International Rescue Committee, a non-profit organization which is, in-part, dedicated to the vaccination of children in the third world. Sitting on the board of directors with Pelley is Susan Susman, director of external relations for Pfizer, which sponsored Pelley’s 60 Minutes report on H1N1 vaccine production.

The cad! He wants to see children in Third World countries protected against vaccine-preventable diseases, and he’s even gone so far as to get himself onto the board of directors of an organization dedicated to doing just that! Bastard! How dare he work with a nonprofit organization dedicated to emergency response, child and youth protection, protecting women, the development of civil society, economic development, and refugee resettlement! Oh, and responding to outbreaks with vaccination campaigns in refugee camps. You’d think from Jake’s description of the IRC that almost all it does is vaccination. Its charitable activities go far, far beyond that, but to Jake, because the IRC also does vaccination, it’s obviously completely in cahoots with big pharma in trying to maximize profits by pushing vaccines. To an antivaccine loon like Jake, vaccines contaminate everything. No matter how much good an organization like the IRC does, to Jake it’s corrupt because it vaccinates.

Believe it or not, I can’t resist finishing my post by quoting Jake. The reason is that I laughted out loud when I read this part of his post, and I think you’ll be amused by it too:

Of course, if HuffPo and CBS choose to censor genuine journalism like that of David Kirby and Sharyl Attkisson in favor of agenda-driven pseudo-journalism and blatant lies by vaccine industry pushers like Seth Mnookin, then that is CBS and HuffPo’s choice. But positions like Mnookin’s are unsustainable and bound to fail.

Jake owes me yet another irony meter, given that it’s positions like that of AoA that are unsustainable. In any case, if Jake really believes that David Kirby and Sharyl Attkisson do good journalism with respect to vaccines and autism, his judgment is even more warped than I thought. Of course, he’s been working with Dan Olmsted for the last few years; I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Conspiracy mongering aside, though, wouldn’t it be cool if Jake were actually correct that HuffPo and CBS News are no longer promoting antivaccine pseudoscience? Certainly, I’d rejoice, but not yet.

ADDENDUM: It looks like HuffPo is credulously covering the quackery known as facilitated communication. All is as it has been before: HuffPo has a long way to go to convince skeptics that it’s not anti-science to the core.