$315 Million For “Boobs and Woo”?

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

The Huffington Post (HuffPo) was recently acquired by AOL for $315 million, $300 million of it in cash. That’s a lot of money for what’s been called “the Journal of Boobs and Woo.” The boobs are OK, the woo is not. In a recent David Kirby article, The Autism-Vaccine Debate: Why It Won’t Go Away, HuffPo keeps up the woo part. The short answer: because opportunists like Kirby have teamed with believers in the cult of pseudoscience to keep this manufactured controversy alive whenever it starts to fade.

In the article, Kirby defends the irresponsible and dishonest Andrew Wakefield.

Andrew Wakefield, in a 1998 paper published in The Lancet, claimed a causal connection between the mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. The claims were fraudulent, and Wakefield was stripped of his license to practice medicine in the U.K., and The Lancet retracted Wakefield’s 1998 paper.

He had since moved to Austin, Texas, to be the founding “scientific director” of a house of autism quackery known as Thoughtful House. After his fraud made headlines, he resigned from was pushed out of his position at Thoughtful House.

Wakefield is also defended by pseudo-celebrities like Jenny McCarthy of the autism advocacy group, Generation Rescue.

The fact that HuffPo would defend such a pariah is the reason I stopped visiting that site. However, Lindsey Lohan has brought me back.

H/T: Respectful Insolence.

38 thoughts on “$315 Million For “Boobs and Woo”?”

  1. @JamesM: That is part of my point, children that have an impaired ability to excrete mercury (which is measurable) or children with a malfunctioning or marginal immune system in general (which is also measurable), are in the class of children that should not be vaccinated. Your characterization that they are “needlessly” unvaccinated is counter-factual, I identify in my post the reason they should remain unvaccinated.

    Plus you fail to comprehend my second point: There is a risk to vaccination too. The risk of exposing other non-vaccinated children to a non-vaccinated child is not the only risk on the table, and deciding the balance of those risks by law or mandate instead of medical science is simply wrong. I am arguing the law is wrong and immoral, that is the other part of my point. It is well known that a supposedly crippled live-virus, introduced into a weak immune system, can by mutation in reproduction regain full potency and cause the disease it was intended to prevent. That is a risk, and few people besides the parents and medical care-givers of a child are in a better position to know whether the child is frqeuently ill or not. Further, autistic children are well-known to have weakened immune systems, enough so that just the diagnosis of autism should be sufficient presumption to exempt them from vaccination. The law is wrong here, or new law should be passed.

  2. Tony C.,

    I do think vaccines are wildly effective, but I also think that if a parent wants to protect their child they should have their child vaccinated to protect their child from disease. Parents that fail to vaccinate their child for a specific disease form a group that has chosen to put their children at risk with each other. It is a binary grouping; the vaccinated children are not at significant risk, that was the whole point of the vaccine.

    There are groups of people who cannot be vaccinated. Parents whose children could be, but who are not, are not just putting their own children at risk, they are screwing over people who can’t be vaccinated.

    States have the power to force children to get vaccinated and they should use it, unless there is a medical reason for a specific child not to get vaccinated. They certainly shouldn’t let needlessly unvaccinated children attend public school.

  3. Getting off the topic of autism: I do not understand the derision here; nobody is being forced to frequent HP, and as far as I know they are not telling outright lies to support an insidiously hateful and despotic political agenda (like FOX does). Boobs, woo, whatever, apparently people find it entertaining and HP seems harmless to me. If harmless entertainment nets Ariana $315 million, well, I don’t begrudge Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, The Beatles or Chris Rock or any other entertainer the money they get for entertaining people, why should we care if Ariana makes an honest living off of online advertising while entertaining people? Television has been doing that for six decades!

  4. You may like the boobs but I despise them, and boobs are accessible elsewhere. They are not news, they are a waste of space.

    I and I suspect many people who go to HP do not go there for either sexual turn or or turn off but for quality extensive news coverage.

  5. @patricparamedic: Ironically (to me) the most damage occurs when an unethical researcher finds something real to exploit. I won’t say “stumbles upon,” that implies stupidity and I don’t think Wakefield was stupid. I think he was (and is) driven by money-grubbing greed. He legitimately found an actual piece of the puzzle (except for a few unethical cheapskate steps like taking blood samples from children at a birthday party). I believe history shows vaccination is a contributing factor, along with other sources of heavy metal poisoning and other effects of immunocompromisation.

    The trouble is, the little bit of truth in his claims tricked people into swallowing his more outlandish claims along with it, and when the outlandish claims are debunked, the whole body of claims is denigrated — Including the truthful claims. So he ends up harming the autistic community twice: First with his lies, and then by stigmatizing, for researchers, the one real clue he found.

    Wakefield is a run-of-the-mill jerk. The parents of autistic children are distraught and desperate, most of them face a lifetime of expensive care of not just a mentally disabled child, but eventually a mentally disabled adult, and one that will meet none of their dreams. Odds are they will not get married, have children of their own, be successful in jobs. When your child is ten and still in diapers because they haven’t grasped the idea of toilet training, some parents are literally suicidal. The prospect of having any more children can be horrifying, since there is obviously a genetic component the idea of having multiple autistics to care for can be daunting. Marriages break apart and people end up destitute.

    Against this backdrop of potentially unending existential and financial pain, even the slightest hope of a cure, or even relief, is overwhelmingly powerful. They will give you all of their money and their house to save their child and restore their dream. All of it.

    That is what Wakefield was (and is) exploiting, and that is what he has perpetuated and extended by stigmatizing any research that remotely implicates vaccination, and therefore stigmatizing research into the heavy metal poisoning I think is responsible for a significant portion, perhaps even a majority, of autism diagnoses. (Some forms of autism will not be due to heavy metal poisoning. They may well be due to pollution, genetics, diet, or some other environmental form of interfering with mental development, but we already know that many autistics are not immuno-compromised in terms of mercury elimination.)

  6. sorry Nal;

    “A quick look at some of the science. A mainstay of vaccine defenders is the research carried out in by Dr. Hviid and colleagues claiming that since thimerosal was removed from vaccines given to Danish children, autism hasn’t gone down, and may even have gone up. Dr Wakefield was excoriated because he took fees from lawyers for his research, but what’s sauce for the goose is not, apparently, sauce for the gander; nobody but autism researcher Dr. Bernard Rimland noticed that Dr. Hviid too has a massive conflict of interest. In a letter to JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Dr. Rimland revealed that Dr. Hviid and his colleagues, during that research, were affiliated with the Statens Serum Institute, a for-profit, state-owned enterprise; in 2002, vaccines (some of which still contained thimerosal) represented approximately one half of its revenues and more than 80% of its profits.”

  7. Tony C –

    Thank you very much for your terrific assessment of the status quo, with regards to the vaccine/autism conundrum.

    In my view, the most valuable resource brought to the table in these emotional cases is clarity.

    In the zeal to clobber Andrew Wakefield for his appalling idiocy, the undisciplined aspire to leverage his fraudulent claims as proof of “no causal link.”

    Regretfully, merely one thing is proven in the Wakefield scandal: that yet another physician (and he is in the company of 2,500 unethical and/or criminal peers annually)is capable of bending reality and inflicting enormous societal damage, for fame and financial gain.

    Someone of prescience once said, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.”

    And just because Wakefield is an embarrassment to his profession and a liar, does not mean his unproven premise cannot be true.

  8. When one reads Huffington Post, all one has to do is separate the wheat from the chaff. There are good articles and there’s garbage. I check out the “front page” a few times a day. I also check out some other sections from time to time: business, religion, education.

    BTW, didn’t Andrew Breitbart help Arianna Huffington launch The Huffington Post?

  9. @LottaKatz: I don’t have any problem with mandating that all children receive vaccinations or that if they do not that they can not attend a public school or any other publicly funded gathering place for children.

    I believe you should have a problem with that! I think this assumes that vaccinations are free and have zero risk, and that is a false assumption.

    If you acknowledge that vaccinations carry risk (including, for live virus, the risk of contracting the full-blown disease for which they are intended to provide protection) then you advocate that the government force parents to put their children at risk. Well, if your position is that it is the government’s right to put children at risk, then that risk could just as easily be demanding they attend public school with un-vaccinated children!

    I do think vaccines are wildly effective, but I also think that if a parent wants to protect their child they should have their child vaccinated to protect their child from disease. Parents that fail to vaccinate their child for a specific disease form a group that has chosen to put their children at risk with each other. It is a binary grouping; the vaccinated children are not at significant risk, that was the whole point of the vaccine.

    We do not mandate other health choices this way. Parents are not forced to keep fat and sugar away from their children, and the lifelong health risks of over-consumption of those foods (on a per capita basis) far outweigh the lifelong per capita health risks of MMR.

    I believe strongly in vaccinations and that they have and will save lives, but I also understand they pose a risk, and the risk to certain individuals that are genetically (or otherwise) immuno-compromised can be hundreds of times higher than the averaged risk, and because of that the one-size-fits-all rule of vaccination is oppressive. It should be a choice, not a law.

  10. @frank: Anecdotal is too “data,” all science begins with observations by individuals that suggest associations that can be measured.

    More importantly, it is simply false to suggest all the data is anecdotal. I did cite a study, by Holmes and Baxill, for the hair analysis.

    So here is another study: In the top quartile of geographies with heavy metal pollution, the chance of autism is increased by 50%, according to Dr. Windham and the National Insititute for Health. From his study: “The individual compounds that contributed most to these associations included mercury, cadmium, nickel, trichloroethylene, and vinyl chloride.”

    Here is another, by Dr. Palmer: His team studied the link between environmental mercury and autism in Texas, and found that for every 1000 lbs of mercury released into the environment, there was a 61% increase in autism and 43% increase in special education rates.

    These cannot be dismissed offhand as not credible. They have been peer reviewed by experts and scientists and accepted as valid studies. At this point they require a credible challenge and refuting counter evidence, not just a petulant assertion of triviality or disbelief.

  11. @Frank: I did cite a study; by Holmes. Environmental mercury is a threat, and autism rises with environmental mercury quite reliably.

    You seem to insist on ignoring the central fact in evidence, that some children have almost zero ability to excrete mercury. “Trace” amounts are no longer trace when multiplied by 200, or 250, or (in the case of the environment) by 1000 or so.

    That is what happens with accumulation; you and I absorb mercury by drinking it, eating it, breathing it and walking through it. So do children. And the sulfuric binding cites in the cells of our immune system grab it and ditch it, in our hair, nails, urine and feces.

    For some people, elimination is a problem, and they accumulate the mercury in their brain and it produces neurological deficits.

    Why ignore this central fact? Plus, you falsely accuse me of not providing evidence when I did, then you, unilatererally and without evidence, claim the peer-reviewed and published studies of MDs and medical researchers are not “credible.” That is hypocrisy.

    The proper answer in science is the truth, and the truth at this point is “we don’t know.” That makes the claims that the matter is “settled” bad science, either immoral or ignorant.

  12. HuffPo should be viewed with a jaundiced eye. They have some value as an aggregation point for wire services, but their original reporting and editorial polices are very suspect. If you doubt this, go over there and post something challenging one of Arianna’s “friends” – either personal or business – and see how long it takes to get your comments repressed, er, removed, um, edited out of existence.

  13. I have not seen any credible evidence but I have seen plenty of credible evidence that there is no connection. Remember anecdote does not equal data. If mercury is the problem then environmental mercury would be about 1000x times a greater threat then the insignificant amount in a very few vaccines that still have thermasol. But, like so much woo, evidence will never convince the true believers.

    I stopped reading huffpo 2-3 years ago because it was all boobs, if not the mammary kind for sure the woo kind. I don’t want her on my side of any argument.

  14. Nal,

    I don’t pretend to “prove” that vaccines cause autism, certainly not on this blog and not without the assistance of trained scientists. My point is that there exists credible science that shows a connection. You can call it “weak” – the researchers themselves have pointed out in their respective papers the limitations of their studies. There are serious flaws in the papers on which many rely to say that the question is “asked and answered.” THe fact is, as epidemiologist Sander Greenland has said, the question of whether there is an association between thimerosal (and we can extrapolate to the broader question of vaccines generally, with our without thimerosal) and “clearly regressive autism” has not been sufficiently studied. Yet those who religiously promote vaccinationn have said that the question is resolved. So, I do not pretend for one second that the body of work proves scientific causality or even causation as defined in law. The question is unresolved but there is a body of scientific literature supporting the association and more emerges every with frequency.

    My point is that there are provocative studies that suggest an association and the question deserves better research. I think that is part of David Kirby’s point as well (and Bernadine Healy’s and many other reputable researchers.)

    As for the DeSoto paper that I cited, that is a review paper that is a discussion of the issue by researchers who conducted an earlier reanalysis published in 2007 of the Ip blood mercury study that claimed no association between blood mercury and autism. The DeSoto reanalysis found an error in the Ip study and DeSoto/Hitlan did find an association between mercury levels and autism using the same data. I quote their findings from the abstract below.

    My point is not to debate the science but to show that the question is completely unresolved, contrary to what you hear from scientific pundits and in the media. My further point is that the Huffington Post is perfectly within journalistic and editorial justification to print articles like David Kirby’s, and it is certainly not irresponsible to do so.

    DeSoto and Hitlan (2007):
    “The question of what is leading to the apparent increase in autism is of great importance. Like the link between aspirin and heart attack, even a small effect can have major health implications. If there is any link between autism and mercury, it is absolutely crucial that the first reports of the question are not falsely stating that no link occurs. We have reanalyzed the data set originally reported by Ip et al. in 2004 and have found that the original p value was in error and that a significant
    relation does exist between the blood levels of mercury and diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder. Moreover, the hair sample analysis results offer some support for the idea that persons with autism may be less efficient and more variable at eliminating mercury from the blood.”
    –Desoto and Hitlan. Blood Levels of Mercury Are Related to Diagnosis of Autism: A Reanalysis of an Important Data Set. Journal of Child Neurology (2007) vol. 22 (11) pp. 1308-1311

  15. Yes, I agree that HuffPo has gone to the right in its political coverage over the last few years, It’s sure not the main focus for my info on politics and I can’t imagine that it is for anyone left of center.

  16. As a matter of national policy what is unacceptable with mandating that no heavy metals, or specifically mercury, be present in vaccines? I don’t have any problem with mandating that all children receive vaccinations or that if they do not that they can not attend a public school or any other publicly funded gathering place for children. Is there a manufacturing problem with removing all mercury or is it an economic issue?

  17. Robert J. Krakow:

    Desoto and Hitlan. Sorting out the spinning of autism: heavy metals and the question of incidence. Acta Neurobiol Exp (Wars) (2010) vol. 70 (2) pp. 165-76
    Review paper by researchers who found association between blood mercury levels in children and autism, correcting errors in earlier research.

    Epi Wonk’s Intro to Data Analysis

    What is my conclusion about what this data set tells us about the association between blood mercury and autistic spectrum disorder? Not much. I don’t think it shows a significant relationship. On the other hand (and this is important), I don’t think that it shows that there is not a relationship either.

    Hope that helps.

Comments are closed.