Given how this blog has so thoroughly been dominated by blogging about COVID-19 for nearly a year now, it almost seems quaint to address more typical antics of the antivaccine movement. However, given the prominence of the antivaccine movement that has come about as it’s made common cause with COVID-19 cranks and deniers to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the new COVID-19 vaccines, I thought it might be a useful exercise to look at the sort of thing antivaxxers have been doing, well, ever since I started paying attention to the antivaccine movement in a big way 16 years ago—and, of course, long before that. So it was that I started seeing links to an article by Del Bigtree’s antivaccine group the Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN), The CDC Finally Capitulated To ICAN’s Legal Demands and Removed the Claim that “Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism” From Its Website! On Twitter, Del Bigtree was making grandiose claims on ICAN’s Twitter feed to the point that, if you didn’t know better, you might think that ICAN had utterly defeated the CDC:
From the article:
ICAN, through its attorneys led by Aaron Siri, has been relentless in its legal demands and actions to compel the CDC to remove its blanket claim that “Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism” from its website. We are excited to report that the CDC has finally capitulated to those demands! It has removed this claim from its website!
You’d think that something major had happened; you’d be wrong. I will admit, though, that Bigtree’s choice of subheading titles did leave me chuckling heartily at his self-importance. I mean, “ICAN’s Pincer maneuver”? “ICAN drops the gauntlet”? “ICAN’s coup de grâce“? Seriously? Does Del know how ridiculous he sounds? As you will see, this is a total nothingburger that signifies nothing. Certainly it doesn’t signify that the CDC has suddenly “seen the light” and “conceded” that vaccines cause autism, as the antivaccine narrative over this ICAN suit tries so desperately to imply.
Enter Ginger Taylor
Meanwhile, the merry band of antivax cranks at that wretched hive of scum and antivaccine quackery, Age of Autism (AoA), were ecstatic. Indeed, yesterday, Ginger Taylor posted a long article (for AoA), Starving The Hungry Lie: CDC Removes Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism from Site. When I saw the article, the first thing I noted was that, for what is perhaps the first time ever, I didn’t see Taylor include her degree (MS) after her name. Her penchant for always using a byline with her masters degree listed never ceased to amuse me. More relevant to antivaccine tactics, I also recalled her history, in particular how she used some really brain dead appeals to “religious freedom” to demonize vaccines aimed at orthodox Jews. Even though this occurred nearly a year before the pandemic, the reactions of antivaxxers were eerily prescient, as you’ll see. Basically, Rockland County temporarily banned all unvaccinated people from public gathering places, including synagogues, in order to combat the measles outbreak that was in full swing at the time. The resistance to this public health order for an infectious disease was very much like the “anti-lockdown” resistance that started very early on in the COVID-19 pandemic. Then there was the time when she got into it with an even bigger crank than her, Tim Bolen, and that’s not even plumbing the full depths of her antivaccine crankitude. Perhaps what tells you the most about Taylor is that she has in the past referred to provaccine advocates as belonging to a religion she dubbed “Vaccinianity.” Yes, the projection is epic.
In any event, I think I’ll examine Ms. Taylor’s post instead of Bigtree’s article because it’s more fun for me that way, given Taylor’s tendency towards being overwrought. (Oh, wait, Bigtree is even more overwrought, but dealing with Taylor lets me have some fun with AoA, which is why she won out by a hair in the race for my attention.)
Ms. Taylor begins:
Bowing to legal pressure from the three year campaign waged by the Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN), CDC quietly removed the false claim from their website on August 27th, 2020. They did it so quietly in fact, that neither anyone at ICAN, nor the dozens of vaccine watchdog organizations, nor the tens of thousands of Americans that have been decrying the false claim even noticed, until someone at ICAN checked the site again on January 20th, and found that The Hungry Lie was gone. A search of the Internet Archive shows the last day the fraud was posted was August 26th, and it was gone on August 27th.
ICAN deserves high praise for accomplishing the feat, the latest in a line of ongoing court victories. Their dogged legal team is led by Aaron Siri, the man who managed to get Dr. Stanley Plotkin, considered by the medical establishment to be the greatest living vaccinologist to admit that there is no research on the Pertussis vaccine and autism. Nor on any vaccine that is not the MMR.
Of course, one notes that neither Ginger Taylor nor any of her other antivaccine buddies at AoA won’t admit that even MMR (which has definitely been the most studied vaccine with respect to autism) doesn’t cause autism. It’s not true, though, that there is no research on whether “any vaccine that is not the MMR” causes autism. After all, there are scads of research about mercury-containing vaccines not causing autism. Be that as it may, hearing the term “hungry lie” was truly a blast from the antivaccine past from J.B. Handley, the founder of Generation Rescue and its president before Jenny McCarthy. He coined the term way back in 2010 and was quite pleased with himself for having done so. Basically, to antivaxxers, the “hungry lie” is the scientific statement that vaccines do not cause autism:
There is a very, very hungry lie, and the lie needs more food. Dr. Paul Offit is this lie’s public chef, but it also gets fed by the Centers for Disease Control, American Academy of Pediatrics, and many other parties who have a vested interest in protecting our current vaccine program. The problem with a lie as big as this one is that it never knows when it has had enough to eat, and it always needs more food.
It’s a simple lie, really. And, it’s being told with more and more frequency lately, which is really no surprise. Lies like this tend to get fatter and fatter and hungrier and hungrier before they explode, and many, many people need this lie to be true.
Like many lies, this one has evolved. The lie-tellers used to tell half-truths, but they seem to have abandoned the half-truths and just gone for the big, big lie. That’s how hungry a lie tends to get. Don’t feed me half-truths, the lie screams, feed me lies!
Sadly, J.B. Handley is blissfully unaware or unwilling to admit that the true “hungry lie” is the antivaccine lie that vaccines do cause autism. These days, though, the “hungry lie” about vaccines could be any number of antivaccine tropes designed to demonize vaccines, particularly COVID-19 vaccines. In this, antivaxxers have a body count. We don’t know how large yet, and we might never know because of how difficult it would be to make an estimate, but spreading antivaccine disinformation and making common cause with COVID-19 cranks to oppose public health interventions to slow the spread of a deadly virus definitely has a body count.
I’ll get back to Ginger Taylor in a moment, but what happened?
ICAN and Del Bigtree’s “victory”: A nothingburger to end all nothingburgers
Basically, Bigtree took a page out of his usual notebook in order to harass the CDC with dubious Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Dorit Reiss describes a bit of that tactic in her deconstruction of ICAN’s claims (here’s a link), and I’ve discussed before how ICAN wasted the CDC’s time early in the pandemic with its abusive FOIA lawsuit.
Bigtree’s description of ICAN’s activity is indeed histrionic, as the previously listed subheadings of his article indicate, and I really don’t have the time or desire to go through every “blow-by-blow” description of each legal action, because the end result is so inconsequential. Basically, even if you accept Bigtree’s explanation at face value (which you should never do), this is all that resulted, a change from this:
The difference is really minimal. In the first, the heading is “Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism” and in the newer version the heading is “Autism and Vaccines.” Both versions state very plainly that there “is no link between vaccines and autism,” which, scientifically, is accurate. Apparently, the change happened between August 26 and 27, 2020 and was done so quietly that no one noticed it until last week.
And that’s not. No, really, that’s all there is to this “victory.”
Not that that stops Bigtree from exulting in a most overblown fashion:
You may be wondering why we waited until now to announce this amazing news. Well, ICAN and its legal team have been so busy fighting on dozens of vaccine related fronts (mandatory MMR vaccines, flu shot requirements, improper COVID vaccine trials, etc.) that we only realized the CDC’s vaccine-autism claim had been removed when we recently turned back to that front! Like a Mayan temple hidden in plain sight for hundreds of years, ICAN only recently discovered the CDC’s silent capitulation.
And, of course, to Bigtree, this is only the beginning:
With the removal of the claim that “Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism,” it is ICAN’s sincere hope that our public health authorities have turned or will soon be turning the corner on this issue. That they will fund independent scientists to conduct the desperately needed studies of autism and the cumulative impact of the vaccines given during the first six months of life.
The cries of parents who know that vaccines caused their child’s autism should no longer be ignored. The science must be done. And ICAN will continue to fight to make sure that that it is done.
All over a small change in one heading of one part of the CDC website! That’s some powerful little change, isn’t it?
Or maybe not:
The CDC’s website does continue to claim that “Vaccine ingredients do not cause autism” and so ICAN’s fight continues! Our next step will be to force the CDC to admit whether or not they are also making this claim for aluminum adjuvants used in vaccines. And if so, to produce the studies to support this claim. (See ICAN’s white paper on aluminum adjuvants and autism here.)
Of course, whether one or more ingredients, like water used in vaccines, does not cause autism is not really the issue. The question is whether the vaccine, the product itself as formulated, causes autism. And we now know that the CDC finally understands that it can no longer claim that “Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism.”
Except, if you look at the passage that’s there now, which I took screenshots of last night:
Oops! It looks as though the CDC is once again stating that vaccines do not cause autism. Perhaps Bigtree’s “victory” is even less than it seemed the other day. Indeed, Dorit Reiss observed:
There are two options here. First, ICAN did not read or did not understand the page; in other words, ICAN’s people are either incompetent or sloppy in checking facts before making statements. Second, ICAN knows that this is not a win or a meaningful change, but is willing to misrepresent it as one – whether to give its followers the appearance of doing something, or to justify asking for money, or to paint the CDC in a bad light, or for other reasons.
Either possibility makes ICAN a bad source for vaccines – whether the issue is inability or dishonesty. The second also suggests that they do not respect their followers since they assumed these followers would not notice such an obvious misrepresentation.
As I like to say, believers gonna believe, and grifters gonna grift, and when you look at the antivaccine movement you’ll find grifters and believers (with some overlap). Bigtree definitely falls into the grifter category. I strongly suspect that he is too intelligent not to realize what a nothingburger this change was even when it was there and is even a bigger nothingburger now that the text has been reverted back to “Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism,” a change that appears to have happened yesterday. Notice, though, how Bigtree used the “victory” as a way to raise funds. Yes, grifters gonna grift.
And believers gonna believe
Meanwhile, believers gonna believe.
Knowing how all of ICAN’s abusive FOIA requests and lawsuits against the CDC have now resulted in basically zero change, Ginger’s lengthy “education” and “history” about the “hungry lie” come across as even more ridiculous than when I first saw them yesterday, even as she seems to realize that it might not be as big a deal as Bigtree sold it as. After all, at the very beginning she notes:
ICAN’s three year, Herculean accomplishment was met with joy, by the vaccine injury community, but also a bit of confusion. “But the page still says, “there is no link between vaccines and autism?” Thus I thought it was important to put their win into historical context.
“Herculean” is not the word I would have chosen to describe ICAN’s efforts. “Quixotic” and “deluded” are the words I’d have chosen. In any event, her “historical context” goes all the way back to the late 1930s and one of the first cases of autism described by Leo Kanner in 1943, a child named Richard M.:
The time line of Richard M, according to the paper, is thus:
November 1937 – Born
November 1938 – Vaccinated with Smallpox vaccine
September 1940 – Mother reports developmental regression beginning approximately two years previously, the autumn of 1938.
February 1941 – Referred to Hopkins for evaluation, and in 1943, becomes the third child to be described as autistic by Leo Kanner in his disorder defining paper, the first paper published on autism, 52 years before Wakefield.
In the 40s and 50s, the Freudians were in command of the narrative on childhood mental health, thus maternal rejection of the child was asserted as the source of the rare disorder, until Bernard Rimland, Ph. D. ended the supremacy of the unfounded and misogynistic theory, and began the era of medical investigation into the origins of autism in the 1960s.
Based on this vague timeline—when did the regression begin, before or after the smallpox vaccine?—Taylor’s off to the races. She picks on another case of a child in the 1970s who developed autism within a month after smallpox vaccination, and then she remembered an undergraduate course in 1988 in which someone speculated that autism might be caused by vaccines. During all of this, she’s attacking a straw man, namely the claim that everyone claims that the idea that vaccines cause autism originated with Andrew Wakefield. Of course it didn’t! Only the ignorant claim it did! Wakefield never had an original idea in his life, and he was recruited and paid £400,000 by a lawyer seeking to sue vaccine manufacturers to find evidence linking vaccines to autism.
He did, however, arguably birth the latest iteration of the antivaccine movement 23 years ago, when he first published his small case series in The Lancet, but the idea that the MMR vaccine (or other vaccines) cause autism did not originate with him. Indeed, around the same time across the pond here in the US, the US branch of the antivaccine movement was becoming convinced that the mercury in the thimerosal preservative in vaccines was The One True Cause of Autism. Heck, it was only a few years after Wakefield’s paper that J.B. Handley himself started Generation Rescue, which was originally based only on the idea that mercury in vaccines cause autism. Of course, thimerosal was removed from most childhood vaccines by 2002, and autism incidence and prevalence haven’t declined, even though that was over 18 years ago, a pretty firm falsification of the hypothesis that mercury in vaccines causes autism.
Once Taylor reaches the late 1990s and Andrew Wakefield, she regurgitates the usual antivax defenses of him, claiming that he never said vaccines cause autism in his original paper, which is a half-truth. Wakefield certainly implied a link, and in his public statements he was far less…circumspect. The rest of her history delves into familiar territory, cases and claims that I’ve been following since 2004. Truly, like her hero Andrew Wakefield, Ginger Taylor is also incapable of an original thought.
The bottom line, though, is that Del Bigtree and ICAN have tried to spin one of the most ridiculously silly nonvictories that I’ve ever seen from the antivaccine movement into some sort of massive victory in which the CDC has “capitulated” to ICAN. One can only shake one’s head, between chuckles, at the arrogance of ignorance involved, as one laughs at the gullibility of people like Ginger for believing Bigtree, all while expressing appropriate contempt for grifters like Bigtree who themselves clearly have such contempt for their marks.
Late last night, in an email I saw right before I went to bed, Del Bigtree and ICAN noticed that the CDC has put back the text whose removal ICAN had just declared to be such a victory. Let’s just say that hilarity ensued. I’ll cite the email in its near-entirety, because it didn’t (yet) appear to have a URL to link to. The things I do for my blogging, including subscribing to the ICAN email list:
The CDC, after removing the claim that “Vaccines do not cause autism” from its autism-vaccine webpage nearly six months ago, has just put back that claim in direct response to ICAN’s publicity about its removal! The science is clearly not there to support this claim. The CDC knows it. After capitulating to the removal of this claim for lack of science, in the end, the science did not matter.
This puts the nail in the coffin for any claim by the CDC that it follows the science. ICAN will be taking the CDC back to court to seek the removal of this unsupported claim.
This claim was first added to the CDC website in 2015. After relentless attacks pointing out that the science does not exist to support this claim, it was removed on August 27, 2020 without a whisper.
The removal followed ICAN’s lawsuit in which the CDC was forced to provide a list of the studies that the agency alleged support this claim. That list included twenty studies, not a single one of which involved any of the vaccines currently given to babies in the United States during the first six months of life.
Having been forced to face the fact that it cannot scientifically support its claim that vaccines do not cause autism, some individual or some group at the CDC did the right thing and removed this claim from the agency’s autism-vaccine webpage. That was six months ago.
A few days ago, ICAN broke the story of its removal, causing a public relations nightmare for the CDC. In response, the CDC, wasted no time putting its public image ahead of science by putting its unsupported claim that “vaccines do not cause autism” back on its website.
As long as the CDC makes this unsupported claim, the desperately needed research regarding vaccines and autism (and other neurological disorders) will never receive the serious funding it warrants. It may be only a few words on a webpage but those words have massive implications for the funding of vaccine-autism science.
The CDC does not appear to have any serious concern that its most recent data shows that 1 in 36 children born this year in the United States will develop autism. This is a true epidemic. Instead of listening to the 40% to 70% of parents with an autistic child that continue to blame vaccines for their child’s autism, typically pointing to vaccines given during the first six months of life, the CDC and public health authorities insult and demean these families by continuing to claim, without adequate support, that vaccines do not cause autism.
The CDC should stop waging this false media campaign against these parents and, instead, fund independent scientists to do the needed science! But it is plain this will never happen because it is not what drives the CDC. It would rather avoid the issue in order to protect its holy vaccine program and its public image. Shame on the CDC.
ICAN plans to take the CDC back to court to demand it remove the claim “vaccines do not cause autism” from its website. It will certainly be interesting to see how the CDC explains its whipsaw changes in position regarding vaccines and autism. Stay tuned.
Great. The CDC is trying combat the deadly COVID-19 pandemic (and, yes, it is deadly, Bigtree’s denial that it is notwithstanding), and Bigtree’s going to waste more of its time and resources with yet another frivolous legal action.
But, as I said, grifters gonna grift, because Bigtree finishes the email with—you guessed it—a fundraising appeal:
Stand for vaccine truth and help us keep winning with your tax-deductible gift of $20, $30, $50, $100, or more today!
Yes, grifters gonna grift, and the biggest antivaccine grifters will never let pass an opportunity to fleece the marks.