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Was Mark Roithmayr pushed out of Autism Speaks over vaccines?

Posted Feb 28 2013 9:01pm

Last June Autism Speaks suddenly announced that their president, Mark Roithmayr, was leaving and being replaced by Liz Feld. (Mr. Roithmayr is now Chief Development Officer at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society) There was little information about why Mr. Roithmayr left. The suddenness and the lack of information given out for the departure of an executive pointed to there being much more going on behind the scenes. Things going on which Autism Speaks would prefer did not become public.

In reading up on the group Focus Autism, I found a past webpage of emails from the founder, Barry Segal. One of those is copied below :

Barry Segal’s email to Bob Wright June 21, 2012

Bob,

Good work on Mark. On June 1st, I sent an email to you as well as Peter Bell that stated, “I feel Mark Roithmayr is not an asset to Autism Speaks.” In three weeks he was gone. You acted faster than Warren Buffet. When I wrote him that his top three men at JM knew nothing about roofing, it took him 90 days to replace them.

Here’s the problem. The gist of it is that the government was not going to do the necessary environmental and vaccine research due to political restrictions of public money, but that did not mean that private sector organizations, like Autism Speaks, had to follow those restrictions, per Kevin Barry.

It doesn’t matter whether you have Liz Feld, Donald Trump or Alex Rodriguez on the board. Unless Bernie relents and lets Autism Speaks go after the vaccine involvement, nothing will be gained.

Barry

It appears clear to me from this email that Mr. Roithmayr was pushed out. If we take the email above at face value, Barry Segal (a large donor to Autism Speaks) wrote to Bob Wright (Founder of Autism Speaks) and Peter Bell (executive vice president for Autism Speaks), pushing for Mr. Roitmayr’s ouster. Mr. Segal has elsewhere indicated that both Bob Wright and Peter Bell want more work done on vaccines and autism.

Given the next two paragraphs of the email, it appears that Mr. Segal’s complaint about Mr. Roithmayr was, indeed, his stance on vaccines:

It doesn’t matter whether you have Liz Feld, Donald Trump or Alex Rodriguez on the board. Unless Bernie relents and lets Autism Speaks go after the vaccine involvement, nothing will be gained.

I read this to say that while pushing Mr. Roithmayr out was a step forward (in Mr. Segal’s view), that Bernie (I assume Marcus, of the Marcus Autism Center and Autism Speaks) is still in the way of the wish to push Autism Speaks further into pursuing vaccines.

Kevin Barry , on the other hand, is a former president of Generation Rescue (an organization which especially then was very vocal about vaccine causation) who went to work as a consultant for Autism Speaks in 2006. While at Autism Speaks, Mr. Barry was apparently using others to post his messages to discussion boards. In this case, a call was sent out on the “Evidence of Harm” board for people to give input to Autism Speaks on the “epimdemic ‘debate’ “:

Hi Heidi, Confidential. I am not allowed to comment on the Boards. Would you post this to the EOH board as if you can upon it yourself? It is a page where people can comment on the epidemic “debate”. It would not hurt if Autism Speaks heard more feedback from EOH parents. Thanks, Kevin

In 2009 Autism Speaks lost Eric London (founder of NAAR and member of the Autism Speaks Scientific Affairs Committee) largely due to difference over vaccines. Earlier in 2009 , Autism Speaks’ executive vice president of communications and awareness, Alison Tepper Singer, resigned prior to an IACC meeting in which a vote was to take place on vaccine related research. “Knowing she might cast a vote with which Autism Speaks might disagree, she resigned from Autism Speaks prior to the meeting.” In the press release following her departure, Ms. Singer wrote:

“However, for some time I have had concerns about Autism Speaks’ policy on vaccine research. Dozens of credible scientific studies have exonerated vaccines as a cause of autism. I believe we must devote limited funding to more promising areas of autism research.”

The same day, Autism Speaks published a press release, Autism Speaks Withdraws Support for Strategic Plan for Autism Research, Decries Unexpected Change in Final Approval Process . Yes, Autism Speaks pulled it’s support for the Strategic Plan because it didn’t include vaccines. The press release included this statement from Bob Wright:

“We are angered and disappointed by this last-minute deviation in the painstaking process of approving the Strategic Plan. Members of the autism community have worked tirelessly during the last two years to develop a plan that would set the stage for significant progress and discoveries for autism research over the next five years,” said Bob Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks. “In a matter of minutes, the Federal Members of the IACC destroyed much of the good will that had been established during the course of this process. Because of this surprise tactic, we now have a plan that is tainted and cannot be supported by the autism community.”

It appears that even though Autism Speaks has not made such strong statements about vaccine causation in the past few years, the sentiments remain strong within the organization. Strong enough apparently to push the president out.

If it is true that Mr. Roithmayr was pushed out over vaccines, this would mean that the fears of many are validated: that Autism Speaks has a public face adhering to the science of today, while inside they still have a strong faction, including the founders and executives, pushing for a focus on vaccines. And that there is no room for someone with an opposing view.


By Matt Carey


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