Antivaccine nonsense Medicine Quackery

A well-deserved honor is bestowed

Congratulations are in order.

Earlier this week, someone whom I admire has received a well-deserved honor:

The IOM announced the names of 65 new members and five foreign associates today in conjunction with its 41st annual meeting. Election to the IOM is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine and recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievement and commitment to service.

“It is a great pleasure to welcome these distinguished and accomplished individuals to the Institute of Medicine,” said IOM President Harvey V. Fineberg. “Each of these new members stands out as a professional whose research, knowledge, and skills have significantly advanced health and medicine, and their achievements are an inspiration. The Institute of Medicine is greatly enriched by the addition of our newly elected colleagues.”

New members are elected by current active members through a highly selective process that recognizes individuals who have made major contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care, and public health.

There are some familiar (to me, at least) names on the list, such as Nancy Davidson, director, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and an incredibly accomplished oncologist and breast cancer researcher (whom I’ve met on a couple of occasions), and Carlo Croce, director, Institute of Genetics, Ohio State University Medical Center and a famous molecular biologist, among others.

Also on the list is someone well known to regular readers of this blog: Dr. Paul Offit. Dr. Offit is at least as deserving as anyone on the list, and not just for his scientific accomplishments, either. Let’s not forget the abuse and character assassination he constantly deals with at the hands of the anti-vaccine movement, in particular the propagandists at Age of Autism. He’s been called a “biostitute” by anti-vaccine crank Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and “Dr. PrOffit” by innumerable anti-vaccine cranks; portrayed as a baby-eating cannibal; and worse. And all of that abuse came his way because he isn’t afraid to speak out against the anti-vaccine movement and defend vaccine science.

For all of that and more, Dr. Offit richly deserves the honor that’s been bestowed upon him. Through hard work, intelligence, dedication, and integrity, Dr. Offit has climbed to the heights of his profession. Contrast that to Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the person who arguably did more to spark the MMR vaccine scare in the U.K. than anyone else and then later went downhill even from there, devolving into a pathetic excuse for a doctor, stripped of his U.K. medical license, and who has now been reduced to this:

Yes, that’s him speaking last month at the annual meeting of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), a denialist, Ayn Randian group of doctors whose crankery includes being anti-vaccine and anthropogenic global warming denialists, to name a couple of the sorts of pseudoscience promoted by the AAPS. I must admit, it’s very appropriate. Dr. Offit will be honored by becoming part of one of the most prestigious organizations in medicine; Dr. Wakefield is where he deserves to be, addressing fellow cranks.

You know, maybe later this week, in Dr. Offit’s honor, I’ll once again lay down some not-so=Respectful Insolence on Andy Wakefield and deconstruct the misinformation Andy presents in his talk, as soon as I screw up my courage and ratchet down my sense of nausea enough to be able to watch all 45 minutes of the video. (It may require alcohol to accomplish after his opening remarks in which he proclaims himself to be so concerned about the patient and given that he later parrots SANE Vax’s fear mongering about there being DNA in the HPV vaccine.) We’ll see.

In the meantime, feel free to take on the numerous errors, bits of misinformation, and anti-vaccine nonsense laid down by Wakefield. I also hope you’ll join me in the comments in congratulating Dr. Offit.

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]

43 replies on “A well-deserved honor is bestowed”

Awesome contrast there, Orac. I’m hopefully going to get to meet Dr. Offit at CSICon. :)) He gave an interview on Ginger Campbell’s podcast not long ago, and his demolitions of antivax claims were elegant and complete. Loved it.


Congratulations to Dr. Offit are certainly in order. He’s done more for public health and disease than many tens of doctors combined. In all of the interviews I’ve seen and read, he has come across as being incredibly kind and humble regarding himself, and appropriately excited and proud regarding the subject of vaccines and the numerous lives they save. I truly respect him.

In regards to Wakefield, this is what Age of Autism says about the above mentioned video…

“This talk by Dr. Andrew Wakefield to the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons this month is a reminder of how clear and convincing his message is — when it’s not filtered through the bias and bluster of the mainstream media and medical industry.”

Is it just me, or are they adopting the “us against the world” mentality that the far-right tea party types seem to hang on to? Just like the radicals of the Conservative movement, they seem to be preferring a Last Stand At The Alamo approach these days.

Instead of trying to convince others through celebrity endorsements and pitches from the warrior moms, it’s all evil mainstream media this, and evil medical establishment that.

It must be hard to build a base when all you have is paranoia and anger.

Man, cub reporter Jake C.’s head is going to a-splode.

I’m going to guess he’ll concoct some rationalization, though, like the only reason he was elected to the IOM is because vaccine makers bribed the people making the decisions.

Wonderful post — thanks. And hopefully your liver will still be intact after you’ve self-medicated your way through that video.

It got me to thinking about the difference between the kind of people who win IOM awards, and the kind of people who end up as cranks.

Some of it comes down to this: For whatever reason, most people find science hard to understand, and the number of people who can do really excellent science is pretty small.

Even among smart people, the habits of mind that science demands — in particular the self-critical capacity needed when you mentally cross-check your understanding against the rest of what you know — are far from universal. Indeed, sometimes otherwise very smart people develop a kind of false certainty reminiscent of Dunning-Kruger — they don’t get very far. Tortoises often outrun these hares in the long run.

So, a relatively small inner circle has the rest of the world looking in. Some of the onlookers are people who tried to get in, and went off the rails somewhere; many of these turn into cranks. And there are many, many others with incipient paranoia triggered by the expert claim of special knowledge — the global warming deniers play on this with their ridiculous claim that the scientists are making it all up to get grant money.

I’m an older guy, not too far from retirement in the grand scheme of things, and I’m finding that I’m spending far too much time on public fora such as the Wretched Hive pushing back against what appears to be an avalanche of — well — fecal matter. I suspect that many others on this forum are in somewhat similar circumstances. I hope this is helping public understanding of science and steering public policy. The other side certainly thinks it’s worth the effort.

@3: “Is it just me, or are they adopting the ‘us against the world’ mentality that the far-right tea party types seem to hang on to?”

They’ve always had an “us against the world” mentality. All quacks do. What but a global conspiracy could explain the world’s failure to acknowledge their manifest genius?

I managed all of 90 seconds of video before wanting to smack his silly head for being a smarmy pr*ck (an insult I feel perfect for vaccine denialists). Think I’ll wait for the great Orackian Smackdown.

C Sommers, this phrase of yours “It must be hard to build a base when all you have is paranoia and anger.” reminded me of the extreme left wingers that haunted Universites when I was but a teacup. They were almost invariably middle-class sociology students, had long unkempt hair, rolled their own cigarettes, and wore black leather jackets. They could be seen every Saturday standing outside subway stations trying to sell Socialist Worker (the Morning Star was too right-wing). They never seemed to build much of a base either.

As someone who married woo and has watched the friends and family of this beloved person, I can tell you that the strongest supporters of woo most often DO seem to be conspiracy theorists and mistrustful of the established order to begin with. I do end up with a “chicken vs. egg” dilemma, though, when I try to figure out if it is the lack of trust in the system that makes them more willing to accept alternative unproven medicine, or a willingness to accept alternative medicine that leads them to the path of the tinfoil brigade…

Congratulations to Dr. Offit!

@3: “Is it just me, or are they adopting the ‘us against the world’ mentality that the far-right tea party types seem to hang on to?”

The author of this recent legal article argues that, now that “the consensus [has] turned against the autism hypothesis . . . vaccine critics have run up against the limits of legitimate scientific argument and are now in the curious position of both doubling down on credibility-depleting stances and innovating new and possibly resonant formulations.”

Kirkland A. The Legitimacy of Vaccine Critics: What Is Left after the Autism Hypothesis? J Health Polit Policy Law. 2011 Oct 14.

Congratulations to Dr. Offit!

Congratulations are very much in order for Dr. Offit. I’ll leave it at that being as how I can’t comment on matter of public health.

*wink, wink*

…the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), a denialist, Ayn Randian group of doctors whose crankery includes being anti-vaccine and anthropogenic global warming denialists…

I’ve been noticing the Randroid quacks a lot more, myself. I’m glad to see it’s being pointed out more often, and in this instance, by one of the big fish in the skeptical blogosphere. Quacks would love it if all government watchdogs and safety regulations vanished.

Anyway, back on the main topic: Congrats to Dr. Offit.

One glass of wine enabled me to get through the first 82 seconds of the video. 45 minutes? Fuck that — I’ve got better things to do with my liver.

Wakefield may be proud of being the fifth generation of doctors in his family, but how proud are they that he’s been struck off?

Brian #9:

Thanks, I though that was a fun read. I love the fact that as they run out of ideas, all they have to fall back on is conspiracy.

It seems to me that- post Wakefield being struck off-the anti-vaxxers have become more insular: whereas before they sought out the mainstream media incessantly, now, more and more they seem to resemble alt med proselytisers like those I survey who expand the conspiracy to include BigMedia ( both sides of the pond) as well as BigPharma and BigGovernment, seeking out alternate media ( you know all of the big names in this field- and they’re all awful) even creating their own woo-ful “TV/ radio” networks on the net ( NaturalNews; ProgressiveRadioNetwork): AoA is certainly headed in this direction. Which means a smaller audience of more cultish believers who have painted themselves into a corner, preaching to the choir, disregarding any rectifying input from the outside world.

Here’s something horrible ( via Seth Kalichman @ Denying AIDS and Other Oddities): a portion of the population surveyed – 26% IIRC- question vaccines; they are more likely to be amongst the younger people.

While I truly believe that perhaps we may have seen the worst of the anti-vax movement I don’t for an instant think that it is behind us: imaginary nonsense has a way of continuing like a perpetual motion machine which also can’t exist in reality- but exists because it is fuelled on bad ideas which are never in short supply. And younger more radical believers are trying to make names for themselves as older- but not any wiser- writers have done in the past. RI has been “graced” by visits from both sets.

Hopefully through education and the efforts of concerned people eventually the antivaxxers will become an evanescent faction confined to the wilder and woolier regions of the net and not as worth a mention in the general public.

From Brian @9’s link:

Vaccine critics […] developed an alternate world of internally legitimating studies, blogs, conferences, publications, and spokespeople to affirm a connection.

All that effort and not even a best-selling fantasy novel at the end of it!

Congratulations to Dr. Offit!

(I recently read his book on the Cutter Incident; very interesting and well-written. Clear without being condescending, comprehensive while still keeping your attention.)

Congratulations are definitely in order for Dr. Offit! Well deserved!

@4 (Todd W.):

Man, cub reporter Jake C.’s head is going to a-splode.

I’m going to guess he’ll concoct some rationalization, though, like the only reason he was elected to the IOM is because vaccine makers bribed the people making the decisions.

My guess is that he’ll instead take the even more ridiculous leap of villainizing the Institute of Medicine itself. “A collective of evil doctors and scientists simply recognizing one of their own…”

Ug, I should have previewed my previous post (#21) before submitting! The second-to-last paragraph, as posted (“I’m going to […] making the decisions”), should be part of the quote block.

Paul Offit is one of my real-life heroes. Anyone who is willing to brave the life and career endangering tactics of the alties (who seem to feel that stalking, threats, smear campaigns and more threats are perfectly acceptable behaviours) and keep speaking out is someone to be admired.

That’s fantastic, congratulations to Dr Offit.
Seeing Carlo Croce’s name on that list made me equally happy, he has been a favourite of mine for quite some time. MiRNA… I must be slightly warped, just saying the word miRNA makes me smile.

@ Todd W., Julian Frost, and kd,

Jake chimes in at the comments- @ AoA -for the Wakefield clip.
Oh, -btw- he doesn’t like Orac’s “friend”, Dr Offit, and that British fellow. And probably most of us.
And… he’s still on that trope he scolded yours truly on months ago.

Brian @9: vaccine critics … innovating new and possibly resonant formulations

Excellent. I now know the legalese for “making more sh*t up in the hope some gullible fool will believe it.”

Congratulations Dr. Offit on this latest honor bestowed on you.

I remember so well the informative immunization update teleconferences sponsored by the CDC and Dr. Offit’s participation on the panel along with Doctors Atkinson and Humiston. All the clinicians in our County health department attended and participated, so that we were up to date with existing immunizations, new immunizations and changes in scheduling.

@ Denice Walter: Good “slumming” on your part.

Yes, Boy Wonder Ace Reporter is off on a rant against Dr. Offit and their nemeses at RI. Jake even repeated the b.s. about the Bettelheim theory being used extensively by medical doctors:

“The AAPS is one of the few credible medical societies left now, and its journal never promoted Bettelheim’s discredited ideas blaming autism on bad parenting – unlike the AAP, AMA and Brian Deer.

Posted by: Jake Crosby | October 18, 2011 at 06:10 PM”

I recall a post on RI by Jake recently, where he posted some nonsense about doctors in the old days stating that parents of children with autism wished them to be dead. Jake suddenly “disappeared” after Herr Doktor Bimler called him out about that remark.

Orac, My liver is too old and I’m too tired after a long road trip, to “self-medicate” to view the carny barker video. Tomorrow after some libation, I’ll tackle it..

The AAPS is one of the few credible medical societies left now, and its journal never promoted Bettelheim’s discredited ideas blaming autism on bad parenting

A journal first published in 1996 is credible because it did not promote the malignant theories of a man who died as an academic outcast in 1990? What?

unlike the AAP, AMA and Brian Deer
The claim that Deer did promote Bettelheim’s bullshit is crying out for the [Citation needed] flag.

@ lilady:

I actually read/ listen to crap like this without self-medicating.

@ herr doktor bimler:

For some reason Jake seems to think that what *he* dislikes is highly regarded by those on his enemies list ( of which I am a proud card-carrying member).
Actually, Bettelheim was merely a footnote in a course I took : I wouldn’t be surprised if others in my cohort even knew about him.

@ Denice Walter: I tried, I mean I really, really tried to watch the carny barker’s video…but I gagged within the first few minutes when Andy said he wanted to practice public health here in the United States.

Actually, I fast forwarded to the Q & A period and guess what? According to Dr. Howard Long I am part of the “minions of the vaccine central command” giving vaccines to individuals when their immune systems are challenged by illnesses. I suspect this 84 year old doctor, who is not a member of the AMA and who self designates himself as a “family medicine doctor” is a wee bit paranoid when it comes to immunizations.

Well Jake Crosby’s handler himself, J.B. Handley, has dug deep into the bowels of his AoA blogs to “commemorate” Dr. Offit’s appointment to the IOM:

JB Handley
Best of Age of Autism: Paul Offit and the Original Sin

Managing Editor’s Note: JB wrote this post last January. We’re running it as a follow up to Dr. Offit having been appointed to the IOM.

By J.B. Handley

“OK, let me be clear: I think Paul Offit is a blowhard liar, a vaccine profiteer and apologist, and every time he opens his mouth he disrespects my son. When the final chapter is finally written on this man-made autism epidemic, I will do everything within my power to ensure that Offit is remembered by history as one of the most sinister, dishonest, well-funded talking heads pharma ever produced, and that his efforts served to afflict so many children with autism who may otherwise have avoided it…..”

(It goes even further downhill from here)


I noticed that post, too. In fact, I left a comment that was, of course, sent down the memory hole. So, I put up a blog post about it. JB Handley’s post violates his deal that he would not write about Dr. Offit any more, ever.

Now, it’s possible there are some technicalities that might allow him to get away with it:

a) He wrote it before, so it’s not new. While true, this still violates the spirit of his deal.
b) One of the other editors at AoA may have dredged it up to repost. If this is the case, then Handley is allowing others to tarnish his reputation. As the original author, he has the authority to say yea or nae on putting the post up, so we’re back to him being responsible for breaking his word.

Reading through posts like Handleys’s – or Kent’s- *and* the comments section throughout AoA, I am often shocked at the vitriol and nearly boundless hyperbole. Where have I heard this before? Of course, the woo-meisters’ demonisation of SBM and its supporters- including us. Why are these people so angry?

Actually, I think it’s important for the leaders to keep the followers riled up. I’ve been taught- by family, in my education, in training, and by working- the great value of keeping a cool head and my wits about me *especially* in “difficult” situations, emergencies, and in the long hauls of protracted stress or endless projects. Otherwise, you’re lost.

Woo-meisters perpetually spew venom about the “evils” of medicine, corporations, and government to get and keep ( the more important verb here) an audience. Similarly, writers over at AoA keep rubbing salt in the wound created by “vaccine injury”( in imagination at least) to keep the audience engaged through anger. I might read a post by a parent who, while happily reporting about the progress a child is making through therapy, pauses and then throws in a line about how he was “*before* he was damaged”. A constant reminder of the agenda intrinsically programmed into alt med: keep being angry and upset- otherwise you might start questioning your rebellion against the status quo.

Alt med talks about scientific revolutions being on our doorstep : they need foot soldiers. Recruits are only a rant away.

@ Todd W. I’m off to visit my “other son” in his group home. I’ll be sure to visit your blog.

BTW…I love your blog and the up to date information about the ACIP recommendations regarding influenza vaccines and “egg allergies”.

@ Denice Walter: The bloggers and the comments at AoA are almost comical…but then I think about their collective delusions and paranoia and the viciousness of the remarks…and am outraged for everyone who is targeted by their personal vendettas.

On a personal note, I cringe on behalf of their children who are “damaged by vaccines” and are “treated” by chelation, chemical castration, restrictive diets and noxious supplements to effect “cures”.

The decision to re-publish Handley’s scurrilous attack on Dr. Paul Offit, “supposedly” was made by Kim Stagliano, the Managing Editor of AoA. Todd W. nailed them for violating the promise made by J. B. Handley to not personally attack Dr. Offit, by this “clever” ruse of re-publishing Handley’s article…and blaming it on Stagliano.

You have to feel deeply deeply sorry for old JB. If he held up his side of the bargain or showed any other sign of acknowledging reality, his followers would just leave him for someone else – that’s how cults work.

@ Andrew: Old J.B. is a S.O.B. and I don’t feel sorry for him.

He and his crowd are all cult leaders and I take particular delight in observing their pathetic attempts to remain “relevant”, now that all their heroes are revealed as charlatans and all their theories are regarded as junk science.

And so the personal attacks on Dr. Offit continues at AoA.

Today at that site we are “treated” to the re-cycling of Boy Wonder Ace Reporter Jake Crosby’s article with an intro from Kim Stagliano that “Dr. Offit has been appointed to the IOM”:

Best of Age of Autism: Paul Offit’s message: CDC, FDA, NIH, IOM, AAP, WHO and Merck engaged in pseudoscience.

No date was given for Jake’s original screed…it was May 25, 2010. The article is chock full of conspiracies, “secret meetings” and every pseudoscience theory used by anti-vaxers about vaccine causing autism. Of minor interest here is the linking of other ingredients such as aluminum adjuvants as causing autism. (Here I am wrapping my brain around the subject of Orac’s blog about aluminum causing breast cancer.)

***I suspect now that Boy Wonder Ace Reporter Jake is now in a MPH-Epidemiology program, that his newer articles will be based on real science.

***As my mom used to say “When pigs fly” and my brother used to say “When sh** turns to apple butter”.

Lilady: Oh, okay, have it your way. I just like to imagine JB having an epiphany and returning to reality someday. He’d have to hide out under an assumed name (I suggest “Mike Wazowski”) to avoid his former followers’ wrath…

@ Andrew: Ain’t ever going to happen…not when there are new “theories” to be explored and newly minted alternative CAM practitioners. His followers have been thoroughly brainwashed by the woo nonsense that he sends their way.

Congrats to Dr. Offit.
As for AAPS (Apes?) would they be okay with me bringing a chicken to pay for my surgery ?
As for Waky Wakefield : Dude. first rule of holes.

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