A district attorney embarrasses himself spewing antivaccine nonsense

Last night was one of those nights where I was working late because I was asked to do a panel discussion on breast cancer last night. Such are the perils of being a breast cancer expert, I guess. That doesn’t mean I don’t have time for an uncharacteristically brief notice of some particularly dumb bit of antivaccine nonsense. Just as I said in yesterday’s post, such things are like waving a cape in front of the proverbial bull. Even worse, it’s a lawyer. Let me just put it this way. When I discuss the law, I’m very circumspect. I’m not a lawyer, which means that I am acutely aware of my limitations with respect to pontificating on the law. As “Dirty Harry” Callahan (played by Clint Eastwood) said in the movie Magnum Force, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” I like to think I know mine. Clearly the lawyer featured in this story has failed to heed that wise advice:

Here’s what I mean:

Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood on Sunday screened a controversial documentary, “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe,” linking childhood vaccines to autism at a local movie theater, according to a source who received an invitation.

Elected in 2014, LaHood also was videotaped sitting at his desk in his county office making a statement on the controversial topic.

“I’m Nico LaHood,” he said. “I’m the criminal district attorney in San Antonio, Texas. I’m here to tell you that vaccines can and do cause autism.”

Well, la-de-dah.

Am I supposed to be impressed by this. Let’s put it this way. The skills set necessary to analyze legal evidence is not the same skill set needed to analyze scientific evidence, particularly with respect to the question of whether vaccines cause autism. He even made a teaser video for the team behind VAXXED, you know, the antivaccine movie by Andrew Wakefield and Del Bigtree:

The video in which he appeared is so much like antivaccine videos I’ve deconstructed over the years and suffers from the same confusing of correlation with causation. LaHood himself views the movie like a trial against vaccines and seems quite impressed by the “evidence” it presents. Unfortunately, as tempting as it is for a lawyer and DA to see everything in legal terms, science doesn’t work that way. He goes on and on about how children seemingly regressing after vaccines is “strong circumstantial evidence.” Yes, perhaps, but in science circumstantial evidence isn’t enough. In reality what Mr. LaHood calls “strong circumstantial evidence” is what we in the medical biz call anecdotal, and, in science, unlike the case in law anecdotal evidence is the weakest form of evidence.

Sadly, Nico LaHood is confusing correlation with causation with his own child, as so many parents have done, and is now abusing his position of trust as District Attorney to promote the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism:

The next shot declares that “Niko’s (sic) Story” is “coming” on Tuesday, followed by a plug for the Vaxxed documentary.
LaHood acknowledged in an interview Monday that “this is not a politically correct opinion.”

“We had a very normally developed child, meeting all the marks as a child – walking, eye contact … and after his 18-month vaccination we had a very different child,” LaHood said. “And our story is not alone. I mean, there’s thousands of parents out there that have the same story. So my opinions are just my opinions as a daddy, as a husband who happens to be the DA.”

This daddy might happen to be the DA, but that doesn’t stop him from falling for the fallacy of confusing correlation with causation. Unfortunately, despite people trying to educate him as to the error of his ways, Mr. LaHood continues to double down. In fact, just yesterday he doubled down in a Facebook post:

Basically, in this post, Mr. LaHood urges “everyone” to view VAXXED. Bad choice. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop Mr. LaHood from diving deep into antivaccine crankery in four points.

1. Parents educate yourselves for the sake of your precious children. Stay away from rhetoric and look at hard facts.

“Educate yourselves.” You keep using that term. I do not think it means what you think it means. Ditto the term “hard facts.” Whenever you see someone spewing antivaccine talking points telling you to “educate yourself,” what he really means is to read websites like NaturalNews.com, Mercola.com, Age of Autism, and other antivaccine websites to imbibe antivaccine pseudoscience and conspiracy theories.

Let’s see what Mr. LaHood has to say next:

2. Let doctors be doctors. They should be able to take a position for or against vaccines. It is a shame that, if they do not support vaccinations, they are ostracized, slandered, and chastised by licensing boards and certain segments of the public.

Silly DA. There’s a reason why doctors who don’t suport vaccination are ostracized. It’s because they have betrayed their profession. Why? Doctors are expected to follow professional standards In pediatrics, there is no “anti-” position when it comes to vaccines, at least not in any responsible medical society. Doctors who do not vaccinate are not practicing according to the standard of care, at the very minimum, in the process endangering their patients.

3. Do not force vaccines on our parents. Keep exemptions and parents rights alive. It should be a parents choice “if” and “when” they will vaccinate.

Ah, yes. the old “parental rights” argument. Here’s the problem with that. Children are not the property of their parents. They are autonomous beings who have their own rights. Insofar as parents protect those rights and look out for the best interests, they are doing their job. However, failing to vaccinate is doing exactly the opposite of that, because vaccinating is almost always in the best interest of a child. The only exception is when a child has a medical condition that renders vaccination too risky; i.e., has a medical condition for which vaccination is contraindicated and thus rates a true medical exemption.

LaHood saves the most ignorant for last:

4. Ask your legislators to demand the same phase 1 safety studies that all pharmaceutical drugs go through. That is not happening with the vast majority of vaccines and no one is asking why. The CDC should be mandated to show us objective research that proves which position is right or wrong.

The stupid, it burns. It burns mightily and painfully. I feel sorry for the people of San Antonio to have such a ignorant dolt as their district attorney.

This is such a common myth among antivaccinationists—and, make no mistake, what LaHood is laying down is pure antivaccine talking points, particularly this one. This is one of those times where all I can do is to shrug and point Mr. LaHood to some links that describe the testing process for vaccines, which does include phase I clinical trials. (One wonders if Mr. LaHood even knows what a phase I clinical trial is.) He’s also risibly ignorant of how vaccines are approved.

The government already does require “objective research” to determine whether vaccines are safe and efficacious, It’s called the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act. just not how LaHood thinks. For one thing, it is the FDA, not the CDC, that approves vaccines, and vaccines go through the same approval process as any pharmaceutical. The CDC only selects among vaccines already approved by the FDA to include in its list of recommended vaccines. For a lawyer, Mr. LaHood is certainly ignorant of the law and regulations with respect to vaccines and pharmaceuticals.

LaHood concludes:

I will zealously defend our children. I will zealously defend the rights of parents to protect their children from something, they believe, may have a link to harming their children, unless it is proven otherwise. In the end, you have a right to vaccinate or not; it is your choice.

‘I will defend parents’ ‘rights’ to endanger children based on pseudoscience, fear mongering, and conspiracy theories. There, fixed that for ya.

LaHood does, however, preemptively play the victim:

Lastly, if anyone is going to criticize me for supporting the information contained in the documentary, Vaxxed, I humbly suggest they watch it first, then advocate an opinion. I’m happy to organize a public showing and discussion with anyone willing.

I have watched VAXXED. That’s why I know it’s antivaccine propaganda chock full of lies, misinformation, and pseudoscience presented so blatantly that it would make Leni Reifenstahl blush, were she still alive to see it. That a DA like Mr. LaHood would find the film so compelling does not speak well of his knowledge of science or, more importantly for his job, his critical thinking capabilities.

I can’t help but note that Tara Haelle found a rather interesting quote from Mr. LaHood about a grand jury proceeding regarding a man killed by police whom the grand jury declined to indict:

The code of criminal procedure restricts me from saying what was presented to the grand jury but let me tell you what our practice is. What the new culture is in this office. We present all evidence to the grand jury. We don’t cherry pick evidence. I don’t think that’s honorable,

One wonders, then, why Mr. LaHood doesn’t consider Andrew Wakefield and Del Bigtree to be completely without honor. Cherry picking evidence was their favored technique in making VAXXED. LaHood might call himself an “evidence guy,” but he’s clearly anything but. In the video, he expresses disbelief that anyone could watch VAXXED and conclude “they made it up.” Well, if you know the background, you can quickly recognize which parts of VAXXED are made up and which parts are dishonest spin. That’s about 95% of the movie. The movie’s so blatant that even people, film reviewers, with no special knowledge of vaccines could tell that Bigtree and Wakefield were laying down a load of fetid dingo’s kidneys, a pack of lies. Yet Mr. LaHood believed the movie and praises it.

The people of Bexar County and San Antonio are clearly poorly represented by this clown.