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Jake Crosby’s great big straw man

Posted Jun 09 2009 10:35pm

I’ve said it before—a blogger could spend his entire online time debunking blog posts from the Age of Autism. Between the pseudoscience and the bad policy promoted on that site, it is draining to just read it on a regular basis, much less respond. A few weeks ago a particularly bad post came through and I wanted to respond but, frankly, I just didn’t have time. The post was by Jake Crosby about a (then) upcoming article in Newsweek about Ari Ne’eman.

It is no secret to people who read this blog that I admire Mr. Ne’eman. A rough analogy is that Ari Ne’eman is to autism advocacy what David Mandell is (in my mind) to autism science: a person who is asking the right questions and staying above the vaccine debates. Mr. Ne’eman founded the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN).

It really is worth taking a few minutes to read the Newsweek article. I read it online, read Kev’s blog post, and then stumbled upon it in my doctor’s office last Friday.

Erasing Autism

Scientists are closing in on the genes linked to autism. So why is Ari Ne’eman so worried?

Since I am discussing Mr. Crosby’s blog post, you should read that as well. The history leading to that post is somewhat sad. A reliable source I know says that prior to the publication of the Newsweek article, Stephen Shore leaked the information. This led to a blog post by John Best, including death threats. Jake Crosby at the Age of Autism decided to blog his own misconceptions about it. Here’s one bit of advice for Mr. Crosby: when you are pickup up stories from John Best, fired Generation Rescue “Rescue Angel”, you are putting yourself in really bad company. I am sure Mr. Shore did not intend to precipitate a blog post by John Best. At the same time, I hope Mr. Shore is somewhat chagrined to realize that this happened.

Mr. Crosby’s blog piece had a fairly simple theme: “don’t publish the Ari Ne’eman article; interview me instead”. Or, failing that, “Give me equal time”. We all knew (and I assume Mr. Crosby is intelligent enough to know as well) that his was an empty commentary: the article was already in press. There was no way to either pull it or to add Mr. Crosby’s comments. But, it makes good blog fodder and may get Mr. Crosby’s foot in the door for future articles by Newsweek. Somehow I doubt Newsweek is impressed by strawman arguments, but, who knows, Mr. Crosby might appear on their radar now.

Let’s do what Mr. Crosby didn’t do. Let’s really look at what is being said and done by Mr. Crosby, Mr. Ne’eman, ASAN, Newsweek…you know, let’s discuss some facts.

Mr. Crosby has taken on one of the Age of Autism’s favorite tactics: the “straw man argument”. He pretends that Ari Ne’eman promotes the idea that autism is not a disability. There is a common tactic amongst those who dislike Neurodiversity: try to define it to be something it isn’t. I understand the motivation: it is really hard to go out in public as an autistic or the parent of an autistic and say “I am against a movement that thinks autistics deserve civil rights”. But, they people try this argument all the time. Case in point, Mr. Crosby’s blog post:

Neurodiversity is an ideology supported primarily by some autistic individuals and parents who do not believe that autism is a disability, and opposes any potential cure.

The statement was clearly false when Mr. Crosby wrote it. Mr. Ne’eman clearly considers autism to be a disability. I hope that Mr. Crosby was duly embarrassed when the Newsweek article was published, including a simple statement outlining Mr. Ne’eman’s position on the autism spectrum:

It’s a disability, yes, but it’s also a different way of being, and “neurodiversity” should be accepted by society. Autistic people (he prefers this wording to “people with autism,” a term many parents use, because he considers the condition intrinsic to a person’s makeup) must be accommodated in the classroom and workplace and helped to live independently as adults—and he is pushing to make this happen for everyone on the spectrum. They should also be listened to.

See what I mean? I find it amazing that a person with an ASD like Mr. Crosby could be against accommodations, independent living, and acceptance as people. So, rather than address this issue head on, he builds his straw man.

The real argument, we all know, is about the “cure” question. Mr. Ne’eman believes that Autistics should be allowed to say, “I don’t want a cure” and “please respect me as for who I am: autistic.” For those using pity politics to promote a cure agenda, people like Mr. Ne’eman are very tough obstacle to overcome. Case in point, a quote from the Newsweek article:

“There’s a misperception that autism is some thief in the night that takes a normal child and places an autistic child in its place,” he says. “That’s not true.”

Mr. Crosby has cast his lot with the pity-politics groups represented at the Age of Autism blog. That’s fine, it is his right. He is even within his rights to misrepresent other people and organizations in order to further his own ideology. I don’t think it is a good idea, or that it makes sense, but it is his right.

Mr. Crosby makes a number of completely unsupported assertions.

Yet, it appears there has been a mainstream media blackout on those of us within the community who publicly disagree with that point of view.

When I first read “Media blackout” all I could think was: do a Google news search for Jenny McCarthy and for Ari Ne’eman and get back to me on that one, would you Mr. Crosby? But, Mr. Crosby is lamenting the fact that autistic voices that dissent with Mr. Ne’eman are not heard. Well, perhaps that would change if, say, Generation Rescue or any of the other organizations who sponsor Mr. Crosby’s blog writing would put autistic people in prominent positions? Isn’t it ironic that this is exactly the sort of thing ASAN is promoting? Nothing for us without us. If Generation Rescue would listen to ASAN, perhaps Jake Crosby would have his platform. Instead, he supports groups that have no autistic representation.

Mr. Crosby uses another common Age of Autism tactic: use every chance possible to promote the “epidemic”. He argues against the “epidemic denialists” who don’t agree with the mercury-autism hypothesis. One thing I admire about Mr. Ne’eman is that he doesn’t spend much (if any) time on the “epidemic” and, instead, fights for the rights of people with disabilities.

Jake Crosby has to dig deep in order to find reasons to criticize Ari Ne’eman. Case in point, from a second blog piece by Mr. Crosby:

Then the Ari Ne’eman piece ran online a week later and then in the May 25th issue, where he professed his anti-cure views while expressing an unfounded fear of the unproven idea that autism can be prevented through eugenics.

Mr. Crosby plainly gets it wrong. The argument isn’t that autism can be prevented through eugenics. The argument is that with a good genetic test, one might in the future prevent autism through eugenics.

If one can find anything amusing about eugenics discussions, it might be this: Jake Crosby disagrees with JB Handley…and JB Handley agrees with Ari Ne’eman. You see, JB Handley has also raised the worry about genetic testing leading to a form of eugenics in a piece Autism Speaks: The Abortion Industry’s Best Friend.

Mr. Crosby closed his first blog post with this lament:

Unfortunately, I have not been as active as I would have liked since I am in college and just declared my major in history

Let me just point a few things out to Mr. Crosby: While an undergraduate, Ari Ne’eman has founded ASAN, worked in numerous states on bullying issues, special education reform, assisted living supports, issues for adults with autism and he was instrumental in getting the “Ransom Notes” ad campaign pulled. Mr. Ne’eman works with other disability groups to give advice to the federal government at high levels.

I don’t think he got where he is by making obvious staw man arguments about people he disagrees with.

Perhaps that is why Newsweek wants to talk to Ari Ne’eman and people like Mr. Crosby and myself are just blogging.

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