A little more than a week ago, I took note of Dr. Paul Offit’s new book, Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine and a story in which he was featured in USA Today about the nonsense that is alternative medicine. The news story coincided with the release of Paul Offit’s book, which of course led me to express my admiration for not only Offit’s ability to write good books about topics that interest me but to garner the publicity of a major story in a national newspaper published the same day his book was released. No wonder he drives the antivaccine lunatic fringe so crazy.
What surprised me, though, is how long it took for that wretched hive of scum and quackery to launch a major counterattack, but yesterday the “media editor” of the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism (AoA), Anne Dachel, tried to do just that with a post entitled Industry Insider Paul Offit Attacks… Every Non-Pharma Treatment Known To Mankind. Of course, the job of the AoA “media editor” appears to consist of putting up links to science-based stories about vaccines (i.e., stories that don’t accept the prevailing belief among AoA bloggers that vaccines cause autism and are, in essence, the root of all chronic disease in children today), thereby sending her flying monkeys to those articles to fling their antivaccine poo all over the comment threads. Yes, I know that this is a metaphor that I’ve used before, but it’s so appropriate that I’ll use it whenever I feel it’s needed, as it is now.
Of course, Dachel’s no slouch at flinging poo herself, and she does just that in her post. It’s hard not to note (if you’re me, at least) that not a single fact is presented to refute a single fact discussed by Offit in his book. It’s all alt med and antivaccine tropes mixed with a liberal helping of ad hominem attacks on—of course!—Paul Offit. Why? Because that’s all she’s got. Paul Offit has science on his side. Anne Dachel does not. It’s a simple as that. That’s why she unearths this old, musty alt-med chestnut:
Offit goes after a number of people in his books, including celebrities like Dr. Oz and Dr. Mercola.
The real danger seems to be that people are taking charge of their own health. The idea that diet, supplements, homeopathy, and alternative treatments like chelation and acupuncture can restore health and keep us that way, is of course a huge threat to the pharmaceutical industry and mainstream medicine—entities that profit from treating chronic conditions, especially with prescription drugs.
Yawn. I mean, seriously, Anne. Can’t you come up with something better than the old “skeptics attack alt med because it’s a threat to the pharmaceutical industry” silliness? That one’s so old even Samuel Hahnemann thought it was hokey. Of course, Dachel isn’t known for exactly being the sharpest crayon in the box of Crayolas; so she links to another article attacking Paul Offit. This time, it’s an article by Leslie Manookian. You remember Leslie Manookian, don’t you? She’s the producer and writer of an antivaccine propaganda film every bit as egregious as either of Eric Merola’s two movies about Stanislaw Burzynski, The Greater Good. When last we encountered her (actually, when last I encountered her in person), it was in Las Vegas during last year’s TAM, where she was “moderating” a debate between one of Burzynski’s buddies, Julian Whitaker, and Steve Novella about vaccines. It did not go well for Whitaker, as Novella easily wiped up the floor with him. It was, however, rather interesting to see both Julian Whitaker and Leslie Manookian up close and personal. In any case, Manookian posted an article on The Greater Good website entitled Do you believe in magic? No, but we believe in facts. Its very title made me laugh out loud, having seen just how much Manookian “believed in facts” when making her movie. Truly, antivaccinationists have a particular talent for obliterating irony meters.
Amusingly, Manookian starts out painting herself as being oh-so-honorable and “above” using insinuations of conflicts of interest (COIs), so much so that she didn’t mention any perceived COIs when she included Offit as one of her token skeptics promoting science-based medicine against the tsunami of pseudoscience that she laid down in her movie:
Recently, two books have been published by Dr. Paul Offit, the leading proponent of vaccines in the US and one of the main experts featured in The Greater Good. The two books are called Do you Believe in Magic and Killing Us Softly. They laughably denounce supplements and alternative medicine like chiropractic, acupuncture and homeopathy as not only ineffective but even deadly. To be clear, when creating The Greater Good, we did not disclose the following information as we wanted to let Dr. Offit’s perspective stand on its own and not influence the audience with information about his potential conflicts of interest.
Except that it’s not two books, as far as I can tell. It’s the same book with different titles, depending on whether it’s the UK or American version. (Notice the same title or subtitle, included in each book, The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine. Be that as it may, having apparently taken what she considers to be the “high road” with her movie, Manookian wastes no time in abandoning it in her post, launching what is little more than a pure ad hominem attack that is at the same time a huge heapin’ helpin’ of burning stupid, leavened with an almost as heapin’ helpin’ of non sequiturs involving attacks on “conventional” medicine so beloved of antivaccine quacks and cranks everywhere. Indeed, it’s rather amusing to see what Manookian comes with because it’s so pathetic, consisting of accusing Offit of being funded by the pharmaceutical industry.
She also likes to attack Offit because he actually has a successful scientific career and has developed an actual effective vaccine that saves lives. In other words, he has actual accomplishments that matter. I note that this is in marked contrast to Manookian herself, who, by all appearances, does not. She was a financial portfolio manager who “saw the light” and became an antivaccinationist moviemaker. Of course, none of this means that she might not have a point, but clearly, if she does, it has nothing to do with science, facts, reason, or evidence. All that leaves are attacks on Paul Offit, which she launches with relish:
Dr. Offit is a real hitter in the medical industry so people should respect his opinion as an independent voice on all these matters, right? One might want to consider the following before deciding. According to a 2008 report by CBS’s Sharyl Attkisson, “Offit holds a $1.5 million dollar research chair at Children’s Hospital, funded by Merck.” Hmmm. So his position at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is funded by one of the leading vaccine manufacturers in the world. He also developed Rotateq, a rotavirus vaccine, together with Merck and according to Attkisson, “future royalties for the vaccine were just sold for $182 million cash. Dr. Offit’s share of vaccine profits? Unknown.”
But surely he is honest and discloses all his financial ties priding himself on transparency? Apparently not. According to a 2011 report in the Orange Country Register, Offit has no evidence to support his claim that Attkisson lied and that she sent him a nasty email. It sounds like perhaps he was the one doing the lying. And the OC Register goes on to state the following after their investigation: “the network requested (but Offit did not disclose) the entire profile of his professional financial relationships with pharmaceutical companies including: The amount of compensation he’d received from which companies in speaking fees; and pharmaceutical consulting relationships and fees.”
So why rehash all of Dr. Offit’s conflicts of interest? Merely to remind folks that being a doctor does not make one immune to the lure of financial reward, nor does it make one an expert on everything that doctor chooses. So when hearing about Dr. Offit’s farcical denunciation of supplements and alternative medicine as deadly, one might want to consider his financial ties as well as some other information.
It’s rather amusing that anyone would take anything Sharyl Attkisson says about Paul Offit seriously. She is, as I have shown before, CBS’s resident antivaccine reporter. That she was AoA’s “reporter of the year” once ought to tell you all you need to know about her, but in and of itself saying so risks being an ad hominem attack. On the other hand, it’s fair game to point out that Attkisson has not had what I would call a particularly reliable track record, having spewed antivaccine crankery on the CBS News website, fallen for the antivaccine line on the Hannah Poling case, repeatedly voiced antivaccine beliefs in her “journalism” about vaccines, sucked up to antivaccine hero Andrew Wakefield, and, apparently, blatantly collaborated with AoA.
So, let’s recap. Manookian claims that Offit is attacking alternative medicine because he’s in the thrall of big pharma. Yes, that’s about it. Her evidence? Well, Sharyl Attkisson and her own deluded ravings. Of course, even if every thing she said was completely true, Paul Offit’s COIs, if they existed, wouldn’t necessarily invalidate what he writes. Certainly, Manookian can’t invalidate Offit’s assertions.
She might have at least had a fighting chance if she hadn’t been able to resist discussing what I like to refer to as The One Quackery To Rule Them All, homeopathy. This is not surprising given that Manookian is a homeopath. In her own press materials, she states that she holds an degree from the Lakeland College of Homeopathy. So she brings homeopathy into her attack on Offit. It’s truly amazing to see a homeopath lecture an actual pediatric infectious disease expert who has developed an actual effective vaccine on the science of infectious disease:
Seriously? I recognize some of these studies testing the magic water that is homeopathy. They are no proof that homeopathy works. Neither is this claim by Manookian:
Now back to the flu pandemic. Few folks know that in the early 1900′s there were 22 homeopathic medical schools, 100 homeopathic hospitals and 1,000 homeopathic pharmacies in the US.3 4 Hence when the flu pandemic hit, there was ample opportunity to assess the relative risk and success of what we today call conventional care versus homeopathic care. Normally when we read about the 1918 flu pandemic, we hear the horrors of how that flu killed over half a million Americans but one never hears how the fatality rate of homeopathic hospitals and physicians was but a fraction of that of the conventional hospitals. According to many accounts, the homeopathic hospitals lost 1%-2% of patients whereas conventional hospitals lost 20%, 25% or over 30% of patients. So much for homeopathy being nothing more than a placebo effect. (You can read physician accounts here.)
As I’ve pointed out before, this is a common claim among homeopaths for which there is no solid or convincing evidence Of course there’s a big problem here. No doubt homeopaths reported low mortality, but was there any objective evidence that this was true? How do we know that patients who got sicker under the homeopaths’ care didn’t go to real physicians or die without being followed up? We don’t. Do we know that the homeopaths’ patients were comparable to the patients treated by “conventional” medicine? We don’t. None of this stops homeopaths like Manookian from trotting out the claim that during the 1918 flu pandemic homeopaths did better than “conventional” doctors.
If there’s one quackery that is the quackiest of all, it’s homeopathy. Manookian gets the history of homeopathy wrong, as well. The reason homeopathy appeared to do so well in the 1800s is because at the time conventional medicine did so poorly, to the point that it was sometimes worse than doing nothing, which is what homeopathy is. Purging, treatment with toxic metals, and the like were part and parcel of care at the time. As conventional medicine shed itself of these harmful treatments and became increasingly science-based and effective, homeopathy became revealed for the quackery it is. The early 1900s were the transition point. There were still a lot of homeopaths around, but it was obvious that homeopathy didn’t work. One noes that the flu pandemic began in 1918.
In the end, the irony of someone like Leslie Manookian proclaiming that she “believes in facts” was just too much for my poor little irony meter in light of her being a homeopath and extolling the virtues of homeopathy. I really do need to invest in a military-grade, shielded meter. It will serve me well in dealing not just with Manookian but many of the believers in pseudoscience that I encounter. As for Manookian’s risible attacks on Offit, I have to ask again, “Is that all she’s got?”