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David Kirby and Autism Speaks, sittin’ in a tree…


All right, I give up. Since I’ve been sucked into the whole vaccine thing again after only one day away, I might as well highlight this simultaneously amusing and depressing tidbit. Earlier today, I wrote about a coordinated attack by the antivaccine movement on the Autism Omnibus decision two weeks ago. Given that it involved Generation Rescue, Jim Carrey, Jenny McCarthy, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Deirdre Imus and her eirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology, the Huffington Post, Age of Autism, and various other antivaccine activists, I thought it pretty obvious that there was a lot of planning and coordination of effort. However, I never expected to find the sort of planning and coordination of effort discovered by Kevin Leitch. It turns out that David Kirby and Peter Bell of Autism Speaks have been coordinating their efforts to drum up “respectability” to the idea that vaccines cause autism.

Kevin discovered this when David Kirby posted an e-mail to his Evidence of Harm Yahoo! group. This e-mail happened to include an exchange between him and Peter Bell that led to Kirby writing his latest HuffPo spinfest based on an Autism Speaks interview with Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the NICHD.

Most telling is this exchange, after Bell had forwarded this interview to Kirby:

Bell: You just happened to find this on our website, right? J

Kirby: I go there often, yes! The piece will be up in minutes NICE JOB!

Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

Note also that Peter Bell isn’t just anyone at Autism Speaks. He is an executive vice president there:

Peter Bell is executive vice president for programs and services at Autism Speaks. He oversees the foundation’s government relations and family services activities and also serves as an advisor to the science division. In addition, on an interim basis, he is overseeing the organization?s communications and awareness efforts. Prior to his role at Autism Speaks, Bell was president and CEO of Cure Autism Now, which merged with Autism Speaks in February 2007.

Clearly, Autism Speaks is down with the antivaccine movement for which David Kirby is chief propagandist and is feeding him information and leads on the down low. As Kev wonders, why keep it secret anymore? After all, if Generation Rescue–excuse me, “Jenny McCarthy’s” autism charity–is now a seemingly “respectable” autism charity in spite of its rabid antivaccination viewpoint, Autism Speaks, with its kinder, gentler antivaccine stance should be able to follow suit, shouldn’t it?

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]

24 replies on “David Kirby and Autism Speaks, sittin’ in a tree…”

I would have thought that evidence of a coordinated anti-vaccine campaign was hardly news.
That’s one conspiracy theory I do believe in

So if there’s a conspiracy to claim a conspiracy theory, do they cancel each other out or is it additive?

That’s the problem with real conspiracies. It’s non-trivial to keep them secret, even small ones like this.

There goes what little credibility Autism Speaks had left, though. In the old days, they might have fired or at least admonished Bell. Nowadays I doubt they care.

It’s not a “conspiracy theory” if there actually are conspirators, people. Conspiracies do exist; people get convicted of them all the time. The problem is more when you think of conspiracies as being more like something out of The X Files than, you know, Law and Order. (Actually, most actual conspiracies are really rather dull…)

Wasn’t Peter Bell on the last Autism grant review committee with the Army’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program?

It so pains me to see AS in bed with the likes of GR and David Kirby. I vowed to stop giving them money and fundraising for them after Allison Singer’s resignation (which was the first hint to me that this organization–historically very science-oriented–had drunk the Kool-Aid), so this isn’t much of a shock. I wish NAAR had stayed independent. And I’m quickly losing all respect for Geraldine Dawson.

So, are there any credible autism advocacy/research organizations left? This is so depressing.

Thanks. I’m familiar with ASAT (first place I recommend parents of newly diagnosed kids go). I just looked at their website for the first time in a while and I noticed they now have info on donating.

God knows Autism Speaks isn’t getting another dime from me. My 9 yr old daughter with autism would never let me hear the end of it–she’s read Offit’s book and keeps asking me (that’s perseverating, folks) why some parents would put their children at risk for potentially fatal diseases when there is no good science to support their position.

“I wish NAAR had stayed independent.”
That makes two.

I wonder how the research branch of AS is viewing the direction of the organization?

The key word is parsimonious. Parsimonious conspiracy theories exist. The mob exists, people conspire to commit crimes etc. The thing is, such theories fit the data in a convincing way and don’t generate more questions than answers. They are therefor parsimonious.

Non-parsimonious conspiracy theories (the planes hitting the towers were holograms! Global warming is a hoax! All doctors are lying about vaccines! It was an inside job! Controlled Demolition!) generate more questions than they answer. Like, how is it possible that such a grand conspiracy wouldn’t have leaks, or be easily detectable, etc.

Kirby et al have to keep the ball rolling or they fall off the gravy train.

I do wonder sometimes what a typical autistic kid thinks of being chelated repeatedly, forced onto a gluten free casien-free diet, had pills, potions and nostrums shoved at them and been “intervened” every 2 days.

DLC, I can see where you are coming from except for one thing — how do you describe a typical autistic child when the definition seems to have expanded to include every developmental disability?

Not related to the current post, but here’s something that looks likely to become a new anti-vax talking point:
When doctors were questioned about the hepatitis B vaccine, 86% were in favour of it being used to treat other G.P’s. However, out of the 586 questioned, only 47% had received the jab.”

Interestingly, a Google Blog Search shows seven different BlogSpot blogs with a copy of the above article, with obviously machine generated blog titles like “wgf-bonye5” and “kks-rrlkk6”. Did a garden-variety spammer randomly grab the anti-vax article to put in bot-created blogs, or did an anti-vaxxer decided to spam the blogosphere?

There is something strange going on here. I have a feeling that Peter Bell is not abiding by the official Autism Speaks line. After all, it was quite a short time ago that JB Handley was speaking of Autism Speaks’ Geraldine Dawson in highly negative terms. I’m not going to link to the Clown Blog, but you can find the piece yourself by googling “Is Autism Speaks’ Geri Dawson a Blithering Idiot?”

Here’s an excerpt: “Geri Dawson is either a blithering idiot, or she is a corrupt, partisan hack who so desperately wants the autism-vaccine thing to just die so she can get back to work chasing her genetic-psychological theories on autism that she will happily go along with the mainstream spin on a stupid little study and do her part to exonerate the MMR, even if hundreds if not thousands of parents have called her organization which is supposed to help our kids and told them that the MMR turned their child upside-down including the daughter of the very people who founded the place she now calls home.”

Somehow, I just don’t see Geraldine Dawson cozying up to David Kirby and his co-blogger JB Handley after a slam like that.

Maybe someone who knows her should alert Dr. Dawson to these goings on.

Or maybe Dawson is the only sane one on the ship? Either way, it sounds like Peter Bell is someone I wouldn’t trust.

It looks like the autism-vaccine link ideologues have taken a page from the AGW deniers and used the general public’s lack of science knowledge against them. It makes me really sad to see people who should know better deliberately risk the lives and health of thousands of children by propagandizing crap.

Do we need to introduce basic concepts in school, like the difference between causation and correlation, or theory and hypothesis, or assessing relative risk? It could help fight teh stoopid.

Autism Speaks was never a remotely science-focused organisation except that it funds research. They had absolutely no problem with cherry-picking what sources would inform their view about Autism. ASAT has similar issues and appears to exist solely to promote Applied Behavioural Analysis where as the consensus is that no single method is recommended for Autism.

Autistic adults and parents have attempted correspondence that criticised their positions, requested primary sources and asked for more respecting behaviour from them. They were met with disdain and abuse; if I remember correctly, ASAT even had a page up for years written by FEAT’s Sabrina Freeman defaming and attacking Canadian researcher and diagnosed Autistic Michelle Dawson.

Broken link and outsider have good points that I believe are probably closer to the truth in this situation. Dawson has done exceptionally solid science for a long time and I’ve not heard anything out of her that leads me to believe she is going to stray from the science. Everytime I’ve heard/read her comments on the vaccine/autism (non – my opinion)controversy since she joined AS it sounds something like “we need to keep pursuing whether there is reasonable evidence that a small subset of kids are susceptible to such injury but the scientific data to date do not support a link btw vaccines and autism.” Sound like a politically correct means of steering the agenda of some at AS. I’m not ready to dump on Autism Speaks as a whole because of the feelings of some involved but I can certainly understand why others might.

That’s pretty funny.

The last time I spoke to Peter Bell was about a year ago, he told me my views on autism were both naive and simplistic. There is no love lost between our community and AS, and one interview showing up on their website isn’t going to change that.

Autism Speaks has done the unthinkable: they’ve alienated me and Kevin L. at the same time. I frankly think they throw these “vaccine morsels” out there that mean nothing to keep us from holding protests in front of their HQ.


Your views on Autism are naive and simplistic. You don’t even appear to know what Autism actually is and have even less interest of what researchers say about it outside of the tiny vaccine manufactroversy.

Thoughts Regarding Autism Spectrum Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Of these rare neurological disorders, Autism is the most common. The autism spectrum reflects the broad range of symptoms in which the names of these autism disorders have been given their own name for their disorder.
Autism is a disability that is suspected to be caused possibly by a brain development disorder of unknown etiology. Others suspect the cause is some sort of neurological dysfunction- possibly with a genetic predisposition. Autism is about 3 times more common in males than females as well, and it is unclear as to why this occurs.
Usually, symptoms of the disease present themselves before the toddler reaches the age of three. Before Autism was more understood, others inaccurately labeled autistic people as childhood schizophrenia or as having a psychosis or mental retardation.
Symptoms of the autistic patient included limited or dysfunctional social and personal or intimate relationships with others, their intelligence is affected, and the autistic person typically is adverse to change. Also, the autistic person tends to be compulsive and prefers to be alone. They lack eye contact as much as physical contact with other people.
Out of over two dozen diagnostic criteria utilized for these disorders, eight must be present to be considered autistic, according to the DSM. As with all passive developmental disorders, the person expresses language, social, and behavioral difficulties.
Treatment includes what are called psychotropic medications that delay the progression of the disorder, as well as relieve some of the symptoms of one who is autistic. Behavioral therapy is common as a treatment regimen as well. Boys get Autism much more than girls.
Then there is the controversy between many who claim that thimerosal- a preservative containing mercury, which is a neurotoxin that was used in vaccines until 2001, was the catalyst for autism in children.
Over 5000 lawsuits have been filed because of this belief, and some have been successful for the plaintiff. Yet most agree the correlation between thimersal and autism is void of scientific merit. Furthermore, the cases of autism have not decreased since the preservative was discontinued in 2001.
Aside from Autism, the other four passive developmental disorders are known as autism spectrum disorders.
Asperger’s Syndrome is more common than autism, and the symptoms are milder, as there is minimal delay in language abilities, if at all. What is expressed with Asperger’s syndrome is mild autistic symptoms. In time, the patient may express atypical personality disorders, though.
While intelligence is within normal limits with the Asperger’s patient, social interactions and abilities preset difficulty for such a patient. As with Autism, medications and behavioral therapy are treatment regimens with one with this syndrome
Rett’s Syndrome or disorder presents with not only atypical behavior, but also suffers from restricted physical growth and movement. There is cognitive and social impairment as well. The disorder affects mostly girls, and the cause is due to a gene mutation.
Childhood Disintegrative disorder is rare, and is 10 times less common than autism. The disorder has a late onset with mild autistic symptoms. The disorder affects mostly boys, and regression is sudden and possible with this disorder. Skills lost with this disorder may be language, social, self-care, as well as play or motor skills. Decreased function or impairment with this disorder may include social skills and behavioral flaws. Central Nervous System pathology is a suspected cause of this disorder.
Finally, there are passive development disorders that are not otherwise specified. This may include atypical autism, for example. Yet as with the rest of types of these disorders, the symptoms vary in their frequency and intensity, as well as the range of abilities of these developmental disorders vary widely as well.
Medicinal treatment is believed to be not necessary for the management of all of those who may have autistic spectrum disorders. Depending on the patient’s health care provider, medications may be prescribed by their doctor to manage any affective disorders autistics may present in an acute or chronic nature. However, cognitive and behavioral therapy prove to be most beneficial for all the different types of Passive Development Disorders that exist for reasons yet to be defined.
Dan Abshear

Please do not click on the link in Dan’s post. He is a spammer that posts that same post in every vaccine post. Do not encourage spamming, click farming or potential malware distribution.

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