Antivaccine nonsense Autism Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery

Robert J. Krakow and David Kirby race each other to the bottom commenting on the Autism Omnibus trial

With the Autism Omnibus trial having finished its first week looking at the first test case of Michelle Cedillo, a very unfortunate girl with multiple medical problems and autism, for whose “vaccine injury” her parents are seeking compensation, it’s not surprising that we’d find some slime bubbling up to the surface. First off, we have the ludicrous spectacle of a website that’s allegedly supposed to be a source of good information about autism providing a forum for a lawyer named Robert J. Krakow looking to encourage parents of children with autism to sue. Negative comments over his being allowed to advertise led to Mr, Krakow’s popping up to defend himself thusly:

…it is highly presumptuous for anyone to determine that these claims are “frivolous.” There is subtantial scientific support for the claim. As an attorney, I would never accept a claim that is “frivolous.” In fact, I refuse to accept the majority of cases that parents contact me about. Unfortunately, most of the claims are not timely because the parents had no idea about the possibility of the claim until it is too late to file.

I believe the reason posted the information about vaccine court is that many parents were submitting questions about the proceedings. As for “free advertising” contacted me. It is not financially advantageous for any lawyer, or me, to accept these cases. Frankly, I am answering questions and speaking to parents because I care very deeply about the rights of children with disabilities. I donate hundreds of hours per year without compensation to advocate for the welfare of children and adults with disabilities, at great financial hardship to myself and my family.

Some out there may have biases against trial lawyers or the litigation system. Your biases are misplaced. Not every lawyer who tries to work within the legal system – and it is very difficult to do so – is engaged in frivolous activity, notwithstanding the spin put out there by special interest groups supported by business or the US Chamber of Commerce, like the American Tort Reform Association.

The vaccine injury claims made by children with neurodovelopmental disorders including autism are valid and real casses, supported by substantial medical and scientific evidence. These children deserve their day in court and more. That is what America is all about. That is why the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program was established.

Typical lawyer-speak about “deserving their day in court,” which in lawyer-speak is code for “with 4,800 cases, maybe one will stick.” My retort is that it is not at all presumptuous to argue that these cases are frivolous. On a scientific basis, they clearly are. Were it not for the fact that the usual Daubert standard was not applied to the testimony allowed, most of it would probably never have been permitted. Examples include, in particular, that of Dr. H. Vasken Aposhian and Dr. Vera Byers, both of whose testimony was incredibly embarrassing in the level of its pseudoscience. Indeed, thus far the plantiff’s case is an utter fiasco, nothing but pseudoscience and downright silly speculation. Particularly risible was Krakow’s claim that cases in which it is claimed that the MMR vaccine or the thimerosal preservative in vaccines caused these children’s autism are “valid and real cases, supported by substantial medical and scientific evidence” and that there is “subtantial scientific support for the claim.” There isn’t, as I’ve discussed time and time again. Even more hilarious is Krakow’s characterization of the credentials of the plaintiff’s witnesses as “outstanding, and their work is sound.” They are not, nor is their science “sound.” Aposhian, in particular, basically admitted that he made up his “hypothesis” around three to four weeks before the trial. Shame on Lisa Jo Rudy for promoting Mr. Krakow and the scientifically discredited concept that MMR or thimerosal in vaccines causes autism.

Worse by far, however, is David Kirby, who posted a truly despicable article to that repository of antivax looniness (with the notable exception of Arthur Allen, of course), The Huffington Post. In addition to his usual conspiracy-mongering and logical fallacies, not to mention the usual ad hominem against those who argue against the MMR-autism and thimerosal-autism links:

Critics of the autism claims also contend that a victory in court by any of the families would drive panicked parents away from immunizing their children at all, resulting in new epidemics of infectious disease and lots of sick and dying youngsters

Maybe that’s why Dr. Offit — who incidentally stands to make some money from the recently approved rotavirus vaccine he co-developed with Merck — referred to the court as a “circus” in his Boston Globe Op-Ed.

While this gives us insight into one pediatrician’s contempt for the American legal system, it is somewhat puzzling, given that the first “test case” has proceeded with nothing but respect, decorum and a sobering sense of the Herculean task at hand.

Oh, please. The Special Masters may have bent over backwards to be respectful to the plaintiffs (and appropriately so, I might add). How could they do otherwise, given the seriousness of the medical problems their children have? It would take a cold heart indeed not to feel sympathy for the parents and give them our every respect. Our sympathy and respect, however, do not mean that we have to grant the same respect to the scientifically dubious “arguments” presented on their behalf thus far by pseudo-experts. In science, arguments earn respect in direct proportion to the scientific and experimental evidence that back them up. In this case, arguments presented thus far by Vera Byers, H. Vasken Aposhian, Ronald Kennedy, and Arthur Krigsman have thus far utterly failed to earn my respect, because they are without scientific foundation. In fact, I’m half wondering whether the plaintiffs are truly trying to win this case, given that they can sue in regular court if the vaccine court rules against them and am left wondering: Five years, and this is the best they could come up with?

Kirby then tries to downplay the possibility that a plaintiff victory in the Omnibus would risk causing vaccination rates to plummet, with the attendant return of once-vanquished diseases. Given how Wakefield almost single-handedly caused vaccination rates in the U.K. to fall dramatically, with the return of measles and the recent death of a 14-year-old from it. In the U.S., to a lesser extent, the same thing is already happening, as Kevin Leitch points out. Kirby claims that the U.S. will never entirely ban thimerosal because the WHO is against it. The reason, of course, is two-fold. First, there is no good scientific evidence that thimerosal at the doses used in vaccines causes harm. Second, thimerosal preservative makes multi-use vials possible for vaccines. These are less expensive and allow more children in poor countries to be vaccinated at a lower cost. Kirby probably has a point that if the plaintiffs prevail it could lead to charges of “hypocrisy” that the U.S. no longer has thimerosal in its vaccines but is encouraging with the WHO the use of thimerosal-containing vaccines in Third World countries, but this has nothing to do with the scientific argument of whether thimerosal causes harm. Even David Kirby and the formerly biggest booster of the “mercury causes autism” brigade, J. B. Handley, are having trouble defending the concept anymore and have been backpedaling considerably of late. Of course, Kirby’s disingenuous question (“Oh, what will they think of us if the legal system gives the vaccine-autism link its imprimatur of acceptance?) is an even stronger argument that the results of the Autism Omnibus will likely have far-reaching repercussions, undermining Kirby’s “don’t worry, be happy” argument. If pseudoscience and unscientific speculation win out over science, vaccination acceptance won’t be endangered only in the U.S., but all over the world.

That’s not as low as Kirby sinks, however. He saves the slimiest part of his editorial for last, where he gets truly vile:

And then there is the Middle East.

Osama, for one, has a very extended family. We are exporting thimerosal containing vaccines to many Muslim nations. Some vaccines contain not only mercury, but products derived from pigs.

I don’t need to tell you where I am going with this train of thought. You already know.

No, Mr. Kirby, you don’t have to spell it out for us at all where your fear-mongering and racist line of thought is going. You’re insinuating that our exporting of vaccines with thimerosal and “pig components” will bring down the wrath of radical Muslims like al Qaeda on us. (One also has to wonder where you found that “products derived from pigs” are in vaccines; I cannot find a source that supports that claim.) Naturally, Kirby presents this as a “what if” scenario, as something we will have to deal with if the parents win in court, but Kirby’s implication is all too clear: If the parents win and we don’t remove thimerosal from all vaccines, even the ones we export, the terrorists will be out to get us because of our “hypocrisy”–as if al Qaeda isn’t already out to get us.

David Kirby now officially nauseates me.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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