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Bad Spin, bad interpretations, bad for the community

Posted Feb 20 2009 6:13pm

I was hoping to move on from the Omnibus decisions. Let’s face it, it’s hard on that fraction of our community that believes in vaccine causation. Also. let’s face it, the decision is so clear and decisive that it is hard to add anything to it or complain about any parts.

But then Barbara Fisher Fischkin chimed in. Her spin is just plain amazing. The comments she makes are exactly (and I do mean exactly) the sort of thing bloggers like David Kirby would tear apart if he were even close to impartial.

You know from the fist sentence that her piece, “ Bad Justice, Bad Journalism, A Maligned Doctor And A Dead Mother ” is going to be bad:

As an Autism Mom, I spent last week with my head spinning.

You left out some important descriptive words, Ms. Fisher. “As an Autism Mom who believes in vaccine causation...”

Just because you are an autism mom doesn’t mean your head is spinning. I know lots of autism moms whose heads aren’t spinning. In fact, I’ve been watching my local yahoo groups and, guess what, people aren’t talking about the Omnibus decisions.


In America last week, our Vaccine Court very curiously threw a hearty dose of cold water over the widely reported connection between autism and vaccines.

Very curiously? Nice way to diminish what they did. They very carefully and thoroughly splashed an entire swimming pool of cold water on the widely reported belief that there is a connection between autism and vaccines.

She then spends some time on the fact that it is “widely reported”. Sorry, just because you can pull people like David Kirby, Dan Olmsted and that journalism student Ashley Reynolds to tell your story doesn’t make the story true.

I also appreciate the vague nature of “reported”. Reported where? Local newspapers in Hawaii that will accept just about anything and get it on to the news wire? How about reported in the medical literature?

There’s more cold water that can be thrown, but let’s move on.

Now, here’s the comment that got me to blog this:

The Vaccine Court’s decision, like so many complicated matters can be obscured by too much information and, alternately, clarified with a dose of simplicity. So here goes: This year the Vaccine Court, in looking at three specific cases, ruled that, in effect, vaccines and/or their ancillary, toxic ingredients do not cause autism. But last year – with evidence produced by a neurologist father and a mother who is a nurse and an attorney – the court ruled that, in effect vaccines could cause autism. Thousands more cases are pending which it why I believe this matter is far from settled. Ask any bookie: Second guessing an outcome with as many variables as this one is risky business.

After the Hannah Poling story broke, David Kirby and I used to take turns pointing out the misstatements made about the court. Mr. Kirby made a LOT of misstatements. And now, here we have a big one from Ms. Fisher. Care to blog it Mr. Kirby? I know you see it.

The court did not rule on the Hannah Poling case. HHS conceded the case. BIG difference. The Court did not consider the evidence, the court did not make a decision based on the evidence, nothing like what Ms. Fisher is presenting.

Mr. Kirby, if Paul Offit said that, you’d already have a scathing blog post up.

Also, she is misrepresenting the whole point of the Omnibus. “Thousands more cases are pending….”.

Does she have no idea of what is going on with the Omnibus? Here’s a definition of “Omnibus”

pertaining to, including, or dealing with numerous objects or items at once

The whole point of using an Omnibus Proceeding and test cases was so that a few cases could be heard with very detailed evidence and general causation could be applied to the thousands of other cases waiting.

Or, to put it another way, any of the thousands of other cases waiting which are contending MMR caused autism are basically over.

And, guess what, the Petitioner’s lawyers only presented two “theories of causation”. It isn’t like there are that many “variables” as she would like to assert. Each of the thousands of cases is not an individual variable.

Ms. Fisher then moves into the Wakefield/Brian Deer story with

As this was happening in the United States, in England a journalist reported that a certain gastroenterologist who treats children with autism – and whose license over there is under intense judicial scrutiny—fabricated his data. There are, not surprisingly, counter allegations that the journalist strategically created some of the controversy himself so that his story would get more play. This does not surprise me.

It doesn’t surprise me either. Instead, it saddens me that a fraction of my community has acted so harshly towards Mr. Deer in what appears to this reader be an attempt at a smokescreen—an attempt to divert attention away from the possibly very damaging findings Mr. Deer has uncovered about Dr. Wakefield’s work.

Notice that Ms. Fisher avoids entirely the crux of the entire story by Mr. Deer: if the information Mr. Deer has presented is true, is there anything left of Dr. Wakefield’s study to support his idea that MMR causes autism?

Take away even the question of whether Dr. Wakefield knew or should have known the details Mr. Deer presented. If those details are true, even the very weak evidence that Dr. Wakefield presented on MMR causing autism is worthless.

The spin will continue. I believe strongly that fewer and fewer real journalists are going to listen and report it.

[note, I modified this post slightly shortly after publishing it. Substance was not changed]

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