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Another Libel Suit – This Time Against Paul Offit

Posted in SkepticBlog by Skepdude on January 4, 2010

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT SKEPTICBLOG

We are still in the midst of the libel suit brought by the British Chiropractic Association against Simon Singh, and now another defender of science has been targeted by such a suit. Paul Offit, Amy Wallace, and Wired Magazine have been sued for libel by Barbara Loe Fisher, the head of the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC).

Here is a pdf of the complaint.

The subject of the suit is the excellent article by Amy Wallace criticizing the anti-vaccine movement. Wallace was attacked for this piece by anti-vaccinationists – essentially because she got the story correct. Wallace pointed out that the science strongly favors vaccine effectiveness and safety, and that the anti-vaccine movement is dangerously wrong – hurting the public health with their misinformation. The anti-vaccinationists were apparently very upset over be called out by a mainstream journalist. They got a lot of bad press this year, the Chicago Tribune also did a series of articles detailing the dangerous pseudoscience of the anti-vaccine movement. Wallace’s article earned her a place in the infamous baby-eating photo (along side Offit and yours truly) that only served to further embarrass the anti-vaccine movement via the blog, Age of Autism.

The law suit, in this context, seems like just the next step in the campaign against Offit and Wallace.

The NVIC, despite its innocuous name, is an ideological anti-vaccination group, and they were targeted among others in the Wallace piece. Fisher found a sentence in the article that she felt she could build a libel case around.

Fisher, who has long been the media’s go-to interview for what some in the autism arena call “parents rights,” makes him particularly nuts, as in “You just want to scream.” The reason? “She lies,” he says flatly.

“She lies” will now be the subject of as much analysis as the term “bogus” was in Singh’s article about the BCA, so I might as well start. Critics often walk a fine line – we want to accurately portray the actions and claims of the targets of our criticism, without holding any punches, but we have to be clear in our terminology and careful not to inadvertently give the wrong impression. The term “lie” is problematic. It is not necessarily inaccurate, but it can carry implications not intended by the writer, because it may imply something about what another person knows or believes.

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT SKEPTICBLOG

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An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All

Posted in News by Skepdude on October 20, 2009

Skepdude says – Excellent article! Loved every line of it. This should be mandatory reading for any skeptic!

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT WIRED.COM

To hear his enemies talk, you might think Paul Offit is the most hated man in America. A pediatrician in Philadelphia, he is the coinventor of a rotavirus vaccine that could save tens of thousands of lives every year. Yet environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. slams Offit as a “biostitute” who whores for the pharmaceutical industry. Actor Jim Carrey calls him a profiteer and distills the doctor’s attitude toward childhood vaccination down to this chilling mantra: “Grab ‘em and stab ‘em.” Recently, Carrey and his girlfriend, Jenny McCarthy, went on CNN’s Larry King Live and singled out Offit’s vaccine, RotaTeq, as one of many unnecessary vaccines, all administered, they said, for just one reason: “Greed.”

Thousands of people revile Offit publicly at rallies, on Web sites, and in books. Type pauloffit.com into your browser and you’ll find not Offit’s official site but an anti-Offit screed “dedicated to exposing the truth about the vaccine industry’s most well-paid spokesperson.” Go to Wikipedia to read his bio and, as often as not, someone will have tampered with the page. The section on Offit’s education was once altered to say that he’d studied on a pig farm in Toad Suck, Arkansas. (He’s a graduate of Tufts University and the University of Maryland School of Medicine).

Then there are the threats. Offit once got an email from a Seattle man that read, “I will hang you by your neck until you are dead!” Other bracing messages include “You have blood on your hands” and “Your day of reckoning will come.” A few years ago, a man on the phone ominously told Offit he knew where the doctor’s two children went to school. At a meeting of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an anti-vaccine protester emerged from a crowd of people holding signs that featured Offit’s face emblazoned with the word terrorist and grabbed the unsuspecting, 6-foot-tall physician by the jacket.

“I don’t think he wanted to hurt me,” Offit recalls. “He was just excited to be close to the personification of such evil.” Still, whenever Offit gets a letter with an unfamiliar return address, he holds the envelope at arm’s length before gingerly tearing it open. “I think about it,” he admits. “Anthrax.”

So what has this award-winning 58-year-old scientist done to elicit such venom? He boldly states — in speeches, in journal articles, and in his 2008 book Autism’s False Prophets — that vaccines do not cause autism or autoimmune disease or any of the other chronic conditions that have been blamed on them. He supports this assertion with meticulous evidence. And he calls to account those who promote bogus treatments for autism — treatments that he says not only don’t work but often cause harm.

As a result, Offit has become the main target of a grassroots movement that opposes the systematic vaccination of children and the laws that require it. McCarthy, an actress and a former Playboy centerfold whose son has been diagnosed with autism, is the best-known leader of the movement, but she is joined by legions of well-organized supporters and sympathizers.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT WIRED.COM

Book Is Rallying Resistance to the Antivaccine Crusade

Posted in News by Skepdude on January 13, 2009

A new book defending vaccines, written by a doctor infuriated at the claim that they cause autism, is galvanizing a backlash against the antivaccine movement in the United States.

But there will be no book tour for the doctor, Paul A. Offit, author of “Autism’s False Prophets.” He has had too many death threats.

“I’ll speak at a conference, say, to nurses,” he said. “But I wouldn’t go into a bookstore and sign books. It can get nasty. There are parents who really believe that vaccines hurt their children, and to them, I’m incredibly evil. They hate me.”

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT THE “NYTIMES”

We know what the false prophets think; now what?

Posted in ScienceBlogs BookClub by Skepdude on October 10, 2008

On the last day of the Science Blogs Book Club discussion about Dr. Paul A. Offit’s recently published Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure, I’ll start by quoting the last paragraph of the book:
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The science is largely complete. Ten epidemiological studies have shown MMR vaccine doesn’t cause autism; six have shown thimerosal doesn’t cause autism; three have shown thimerosal doesn’t cause subtle neurological problems; a growing body of evidence now points to the genes that are linked to autism; and despite the removal of thimerosal from vaccines in 2001, the number of children with autism continues to rise. Now it’s up to certain parent advocacy groups, through their public relations firms, lawyers, and celebrity spokespersons, to convince the public that all of these studies are wrong—and to convince them that the doctors who proffer their vast array of alternative medicines are the only ones who really care. (p. 247)Now that’s a laying down of the gauntlet. Those “certain parent advocacy groups” and their accompanying band of PR firms, lawyers, celebrity spokespersons, and the doctors who “proffer their vast array of alternative medicines” have their work cut out for them, if they mean to thoughtfully contest the claims of the numerous studies Dr. Offit cites.

But the problem is—-based on how the antivaccinationists have responded to the evidence so far—-they’re not going to respond to the science with science. Instead, expect full-page ads (like this one) in which there’s talk of not being “anti-vaccine” but “pro-vaccine-safety.” Expect a lot more moving of the goalposts as autism gets rebranded: So the link between thimerosal in vaccines and autism does not seem “so strong”—then it must be something else, like aluminum. In other words, don’t expect an actual discussion of the studies Dr. Offit cites but succinct slogans with just enough punch (“autism is treatable,” “green our vaccines”), criticisms of “conflicts of interest,” cries of the limitations of the data.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “THE SCIENCEBLOGS BOOK CLUB”

author’s initial entry, AUTISM’S FALSE PROPHETS

Posted in ScienceBlogs BookClub by Skepdude on October 1, 2008

My name is Paul Offit. I’m the chief of the division of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and my published expertise is in the area of vaccine safety and rotavirus-specific immune responses. (I’m the co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine, RotaTeq). I’ve written a book about the vaccine-autism controversy titled AUTISM’S FALSE PROPHETS: BAD SCIENCE, RISKY MEDICINE, AND THE SEARCH FOR A CURE. First: a little background on autism and the birth of the controversy.

There is no known cause or cure for autism. But in the late 1990s two hypotheses garnered a great deal of media attention. The first, advanced by a gastroenterologist in London, posited that the combination measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR) caused autism. The second, advanced by parent advocacy groups in the United States, argued that thimerosal, an ethylmercury-containing preservative that had been used in vaccines since the 1930s, was responsible. The notion that vaccines caused autism wasn’t surprising; vaccines have often been blamed for chronic disorders such as asthma, allergies, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and mental retardation.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “THE SCIENCEBLOGS BOOK CLUB”