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My “hostile” or “threatening” messages to the Age of Autism editors

Posted Dec 23 2009 2:24pm

I’m critical of the Age of Autism blog and their so called “editors”. That comes as no news to anyone who has read this blog, I’m sure. But I found an odd bit in David N. Brown’s recent piece, Paul Offit’s Mythical Millions (v. 2), when he noted that Mr. Mark Blaxill and Mr. Dan Olmsted wrote in a recent Age of Autism piece:

Most notably, we have received hostile (and in one case threatening) messages from readers who take issue with our estimates

I sent email messages to Mr. Blaxill and Mr. Olmsted, pointing out their mistakes. Hostile and threatening were not the way I would characterize the emails, so I emailed Mr. Blaxill and Mr. Olmsted with my request for clarification of their comments. They have not responded, which I am taking as confirmation that they considered my communications “hostile” and/or “threatening”. I thought I would let the readers decide whether based on the actual messages below.

As a bit of a backstory, Mr. Olmsted and Mr. Blaxill wrote a piece where they estimated the amount of money Dr. Paul Offit earned from his share of his vaccine patents. In this piece, they made a number of errors. I pointed out some of the errors, errors that were easily confirmed with publicly available information, via email.

I thought I had phrased this in a non “threatening” and non “hostile” manner. Again, I leave it to you, the reader, to decide.

Here is my initial letter to Mark Blaxill and Dan Olmsted, editors at the Age of Autism blog.

Mr. Olmsted, Mr. Blaxill,

I am sure you are interested in accuracy whenever possible in your blog posts. I assume you want to know and want to correct errors.

In a recent post of yours, you estimated the royalty payment for Dr. Paul Offit from CHOP’s sale of it’s rights to the rotavirus vaccine Dr. Offit, Dr. Plotkin and Dr. Clark invented.

Your post makes an estimate that is markedly higher than the real number. This is in large part to two errors you made.

First, the Patent and Intellectual Property Policy you used is incorrect. You rightly note that this is a new policy and that the rotavirus patent was likely covered by a previous policy.

The details of the previous policy are included in this document (http://stokes.chop.edu/forms/btob/Jan07BtoB.pdf) , which can be easily found with the following google search:

Patent and Intellectual Property Policy site:chop.edu

Using the older policy and the $182M reported as the payment CHOP received for their patent, you can calculate an inventors share of $18,550,000.

The second mistake in your estimation is in assuming that Dr. Plotkin and Dr. Clark. did not share in the CHOP inventor share. This is incorrect. Again, a quick google search will demonstrate that Dr. Plotkin and Dr. Clark were, indeed, CHOP faculty. Therefore, the $18,550,000 is divided by 3, resulting in an inventor share of $6,183,333.

The CHOP 2006 annual report (http://stokes.chop.edu/publications/annual_report/pdf/annual_report_2006.pdf page 42) clearly states that Dr. Plotkin and Dr. Plotkin were part of the CHOP team that invented the vaccine. Other pages on the CHOP site note that Doctors Plotkin and Clark were, indeed, faculty there.

I have already emailed Dr. Offit to check that this is an accurate representation of the facts, and he confirmed this.

I look forward to seeing how you make use of these corrections.

Mr. Blaxill reponds:

Dear Sullivan,

Please identify yourself. I do not respond to unsigned communications.

Sincerely,

Mark Blaxill

Sullivan:

Mr. Blaxill,

I realize that this is your policy and I respect that. I apologize for contacting you like this, but I felt it important that you have accurate information in this case. The links I supplied confirm this. That information is independent of whether I sign or do not sign my email.

I believe your mistake to be an honest one. At the same time I believe it was easily avoided as accurate information is readily and publicly available. Note that I made a conservative estimate, using the full $182M of the Royalty Pharma payment, not the $153M you report as net income from CHOP’s sale.

I respect your policy and I was not and am not looking for a response. I do hope that you will act on the information provided.

Mr. Blaxill:

Dear “Sullivan”,

Your information is interesting but equivocal. I have information that goes in the other direction. More to the point, we asked both Offit and CHOP to comment on the story before publication and they declined. The only definitive way to resolve the ambiguity is full disclosure of the amounts Offit received from all sources and he has declined to do so. So we have no plans at the moment to act on this or any other new information, which at the most amounts to a distinction without a difference. The conclusion stands: Rotateq made Offit a millionaire.

In the meantime, you continue to hide behind an anonymous email address. You must understand that discredits you as a source.

Sincerely,

Mark Blaxill

Sullivan

Dr. Offit has publicly stated how much he was paid by CHOP.

http://counteringageofautism.blogspot.com/2009/09/paul-offit-explains-money-side-of.html

A blogger contacted Dr. Offit and Dr. Offit responded. The blogger (David N. Brown) used his real name in reporting the information. No different than had he responded to you and you had included that information in your blog under your name.

Were you both unaware of that blog and that post?

Will you make the correction now?

Mr. Olmsted and Mr. Blaxill did not make the correction. The recently admitted their mistakes, but have yet to make the correction.

Upon reading the comment that they had received “hostile” and “threatening” responses, I decided to inquire as to whether they were referring to the exchange above. Below is my final email in this exchange.

Mr. Olmsted, Mr. Blaxill:

In reading David Brown’s discussion of your recent blog post on Dr Offit, I found this comment: ” Most notably, we have received hostile (and in one case threatening) messages from readers who take issue with our estimates. ”

I would like to know if you include this exchange as either hostile or threatening.

I thank you for your time.

This has remained unanswered. I take this as a strong indication that, yes, they considered my discussion “hostile” or “threatening”.

Frankly, I believe either clarification or an apology are in order from Mr. Blaxill and Mr. Olmsted as the above discussion was quite respectful. Do I expect that? No. I don’t expect such behavior from people who would write the passage below:

“The only definitive way to resolve the ambiguity is full disclosure of the amounts Offit received from all sources and he has declined to do so. So we have no plans at the moment to act on this or any other new information, which at the most amounts to a distinction without a difference. “

The message was clear to me: the blog post would remain uncorrected unless Dr. Offit met their demands. The fact that Mr. Olmsted and Mr. Blaxill were clearly mistaken had no bearing on whether the piece would remain. Note that even though they have admitted their mistake, no mention is made in their original post to this day.

I started the above communication with the assumption that Mr. Blaxill and Mr. Olmsted were honorable people who, while we disagree, would put accuracy above smear.

I am willing to admit my mistake.

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