Whenever I blog about atrocities against science like the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), I'm frequently asked how just such an edifice designed to promote pseudoscience could have come to be as a full-fledged center in the National Institutes of Health. The answer is simple and boils down to woo-loving legislators. In the case of NCCAM, the primary driving force to create it, promote it from an office (originally the Office of Unconventional Medicine and then later renamed the Office of Alternative Medicine) to a full center, and protect it from all attempts to impose scientific or to defund it was Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA). Indeed, the first OAM director resigned under pressure from Harkin when he objected to Harkin's OAM council nominees who were involved in cancer scams such as laetrile and various "alternative" cancer clinics in Tijuana. Oddly enough (or perhaps not so oddly), I've learned from my interactions with NIH researchers that Harkin is viewed very favorably by the NIH because he's been a tireless advocate for protecting and increasing NIH funding. In other words, he's viewed as a defender of science, even though he's inflicted one of the worst injuries on the NIH ever by inflicting NCCAM on it. It would be an interesting philosophical discussion to debate whether the damage he's done by creating NCCAM outweighs the good he's done by championing the NIH and the real science it does.
Be that as it may, there is another powerful legislator who has been a champion of quackery for more than 20 years. He's from the opposite side of the aisle and in the House of Representatives. I'm referring, of course, to Representative Dan Burton (R-IN). Where Harkin is probably the foremost promoter of quackery in the Senate (with the possible exception of Orrin Hatch, whose pitbull-like defense of his state's supplement industry from anything resembling responsible regulation that might impede its ability to make huge profits is a depressing wonder to behold), Burton is arguably the foremost champion of quackery in the House. Back in his heyday, he was able to inflict expensive and unethical clinical trials such as TACT on NCCAM and the NIH, but most prominently he was known as the most powerful antivaccine activist in the U.S. Congress. Say what you will about Tom Harkin, I've never been able to find any evidence that he is antivaccine. Burton, however, is antivaccine to the core, believing that his grandson's autism was due to the mercury in thimerosal-containing vaccines. Back in the day (say, ten years ago) when Burton was chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Burton held showboating kangaroo court-style "hearings" about thimerosal=containing vaccines, in which he hectored CDC and FDA officials, even going so far as to propose bringing criminal charges against these officials. A few years later, Burton tried to insert himself into the Autism Omnibus hearings on the side of the "vaccine-injured," using typically awful antivaccine studies as his "evidence." As I've pointed out before, Burton is excellent evidence that antivaccine fear mongering is a form of quackery that transcends political boundaries, as Burton is about as conservative politically as they come.
Fortunately, earlier this year, Burton announced that he was not going to run for reelection and would be retiring from politics after 30 years in the House. As a result, come January, Susan Brooks will replace Dan Burton as the Representative of Indiana's 5th Congressional District. Unfortunately, not long after he announced his intent to step down, Burton had to have what I thought to be one last antivaccine hurrah, publishing typically fallacy-filled bit of antivaccine nonsense on his blog, later calling for new "vaccine hearings."
Who knew that his call would come to fruition?
Although I've been receiving notices from various antivaccine groups like Safeminds for a couple of weeks now about this, I didn't really feel like blogging it, at least not until now. Maybe it's because my tryptophan-laden body isn't quite feeling up to doing a heavy-duty analysis of science today. It is the day after Thanksgiving, after all. Lucky for Dan Burton, this story provided me with the perfect topic. What I'm referring to is a hearing that Burton's committee, on which he still sits even though he is not its chair anymore, will be holding on November 29 at 2 PM:
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is planning a hearing later this month on rising autism rates and the federal government's response.
The panel, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (D-Calif.), has invited witnesses from the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as Autism Speaks and other advocacy groups.
Autism rates are rising quickly. One in 88 children has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by age 8, the CDC reported in March, a dramatic increase from its previous estimates.
The Oversight Committee's witness invitations say the Nov. 29 hearing "will address the federal response to the recent rise in ASD diagnoses, as well as the allocation of government resources for ASD. It will also review research and treatment options for those diagnosed with ASDs."
While it's true that Burton is no longer chair of this committee, Darryl Issa is not exactly known for his adherence to science. When last we encountered him, he was meddling in NIH peer review of NIH-funded grants on HIV/AIDS prevention by passing a bill to rescind funding of these grants because he viewed them as being spent on "foreign alcoholics and prostitutes." In essence, a man with zero qualifications to do so tried to use his power to second-guess peer reviewers.
So pardon me if I'm—shall we say?—less than optimistic about the science that will be presented at this hearing. After all, it's a meeting of a committee that was known for being hijacked into serving an antivaccine agenda, one of whose members, a former chairman of the committee, has only a few weeks left to serve in the House. I can see how the discussion probably went. Burton called for hearings six months ago. Issa probably saw no harm in granting his request, but safely after the election, the better to keep the hearing from adding yet more fodder to the growing narrative of a "Republican War on Science." In this respect, it's important not to get too excited over this hearing, as it is unlikely to result in any legislation. On the other hand, it's a mistake to think that it can't do much, if any, harm. After all, as I've noticed over the last couple of weeks, the antivaccine movement is taking full advantage of the propaganda opportunity for crank autism groups whose purpose is to promote the scientifically discredited idea that vaccines cause autism. For instance, the Autism Action Network sent out this mass e-mail:
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California) will hold the first hearing in more than a decade regarding the federal response to autism on Thursday, November 29th at 2:00 pm, in the Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2154.
Autism Action Network will be focusing on these hearings as a way to pressure Congress to take the autism epidemic seriously and begin a federal response commensurate with the scope of the public health catastrophe we are suffering.
We will be asking you to take a series of actions to pressure your Representatives to attend the hearing, respond appropriately and change the wholly inadequate federal response to the epidemic.
Today we would like to call or write to your Representative and simply and politely ask them to attend the hearing, and if they cannot personally attend the hearing to send a staffer to attend for the full duration of the hearing. Let them know that you will be checking in later to discuss the hearing and what your Representative has to say about it.
Yes, the AAN doesn't mention vaccines, but given its past history, its use of vaccine/autism causation crank code language ("autism epidemic"), and more that I'll discuss later, it's obvious what is intended, particularly in light of the sorts of things antivaccine crank organizations and blogs have been writing to promote this hearing. Now that it's scheduled, they've gone into high gear. For instance Ann Dachel, the "media editor" for the antivaccine crank blog (whose job seems to consist mainly of setting up Google Alerts for vaccine- and autism-related terms and then descending upon any news stories or posts that present a science-based perspective on the manufactroversy in order to flood the comments with cut 'n' paste antivaccine propaganda talking points), wrote a post entitled Will Congressional Autism Hearings Be Different This Time?, in which she flogged the "autism epidemic" talking point and bemoaned how so many people had "raised concerns" about vaccines but it didn't result in any change. Of course, the reason is that the vaccine-autism connection is a hypothesis that has been so thoroughly discredited scientifically that even most congressmen recognize it. None of this stopped Dachel from presenting this very highly biased account:
Other well-credentialed experts raised serious concerns about vaccines and autism and the failure of health officials to address vaccine safety thoroughly. Wakefield had his critics at the hearing and representatives of the Centers for Disease and Prevention were there too attesting to the benefits and safety of their vaccines. Dr. Paul Offit was in attendance and he criticized the committee for even holding the hearing because it could shake public confidence in vaccinations. Offit was put on the defensive about his financial ties to Merck. Other notables in the autism community included Dr. Bernard Rimland. Numerous aspects of the controversy were discussed at length. It was clear twelve years ago that there were experts on both sides with strong arguments for each of their positions. Back in 2000, the autism ratewas one in every 500 children.
And repeating a whine about a hearing in 2010:
We could have also heard about the levels of toxins like mercury and aluminum found in these kids.
Why didn't anyone ask why millions and millions of dollars have gone into genetic research when clearly the answers aren't there?
Where were the DAN doctors? Why didn't we hear about biomedical treatments and recovering autistic kids? There could be some great before and after videos there too.
Where were the expects who've done the vaccine research? Why weren't people from SAFEMINDS testifying?
Why weren't we told that untested chemical additives are nothing new? Deadly mercury is still allowed in vaccines and declared to be safe even though it was never tested or approved by the FDA….
Perhaps we didn't hear from DAN doctors because they're a bunch of quacks pushing their antivaccine quackery on parents desperate to do anything for their children. Be that as it may, Dachel also flogged the usual bunch of bogus studies (for instance, this unethical study) as "evidence" that there's a huge conspiracy to cover up The Truth and protect The Man.
Meanwhile, Safeminds has been flogging this issue since before August, trying to get its readers to pressure their Representatives to support such a meeting, even going so far as to provide helpful talking points:
- Why the CDC pretends that autism isn’t an epidemic even though it affects almost 2% of boys.
- Why the Department of Justice refuses to admit a vaccine-autism connection in vaccine court – even though they have been compensating vaccine-injured children with autism for over 20 years.
- Why encephalopathy gets compensated in vaccine court and autism doesn’t even though the symptoms are often the same.
- Why the CDC impedes research on the causes of the autism increase – what are they afraid of finding out?
- Why the CDC manipulated studies to cover up any connection between vaccines and autism and haven’t pursued Poul Thorsen, the Danish researcher who stole a million of the taxpayer dollars they paid him to do those studies?
The stupid, it burns. In these talking points, you see what sorts of "JAQ"-ing off questions will be asked at this hearing and see just how little value it will have. I've seen that movie, too, as has Autism News Beat, who points out that Burton chaired six separate Congressional hearings on vaccines and autism between 2000 and 2003, featuring such "luminaries" of the antivaccine movement as Boyd Haley and Jeff Bradstreet. Indeed, Burton's tenure as chair of the committee corresponded to the high point of antivaccine movement influence in the U.S.
In any case, I went to the Committee on Oversight & Government Reform website to find its entry for the hearing. As of the publication of this post, there's really nothing there, other than the name, title, location, and time of the hearing. There's no list of witnesses. I can't confirm it and could well be wrong, but the grapevine tells me that witnesses will include representatives from the NIH and CDC on the pro-science side and people like Mark Blaxill and Bob Wright on the autism quackery side.
In a way, this hearing is rather pathetic and sad. It's basically a sop to a once-powerful Congressman a few weeks from retirement. It's one last chance for him to trot out the usual suspects promoting vaccine-autism quackery, let them spout their pseudoscience and "JAQ-ing off"-style questions leavened with conspiracy mongering, and present them as legitimate scientists with "serious concerns" over autism causation, advocacy, and treatment. Fortunately, there's still time for the pro-science side to be heard. Sullivan tells you how. Emily Willingham asks Will Science Be In Attendance At Latest Congressional Autism Hearing? Here's one way to make sure that it at least has a tiny voice. It would also be great if pro-science autism advocates would attend en masse. You know the antivaccine cranks will be there. The major antivaccine blogs and organizations have been asking their members to attend for a couple of weeks now.
- Log in to post comments
Tryptophan-lade body? Don't tell me that the great Orac has gone Orthomolecular? Perish the thought!
Or just ate a lot.
Ugh. Couldn't they just throw him a retirement party in Andy's Gun Shack?
And NOW we're going to have to sing that song over and over in our heads all day.
Oh boy, see what you started?
-btw- the lyrics are great.
Shills and Minions,
I hope you have all recovered from your annual flesh- and sucrose-crazed feast of conquest. It's one of the things I like best about your kind as it combines mass slaughter, gluttony, conquest and gladiatorial competitions (both around the table and in your grand stadiums).
Now, this minor government functionary seems to be problematic. His time is nearly over and yet he seems to want to grandstand. I concur that as many Shills and Minions as possible must make their way to your capitol in a show of force. Profits and subjugation timetables hang in the balance.
I nominate Cadre Leader DW to drive as all the Obsidian Units are putting down a minor rebellion at our production facility on Triton.
Lord Draconis Zeneca, VH7ihL
Foreward Mavoon of the Great Fleet, Pharmaca Magna of Terra, Medal of the Deep Fried Turkey Incident Recipient
Glaxxon PharmaCOM Orbital
Gol-dangit...Denice gets all the good assignments.
Sign says, Woo! stay away fools, 'cause quacks rule at the Gu-u-un Shack!
I wonder if Rep Burton will wish to consider the evidence, given under oath at previous hearings of the committee, by one Andrew Wakefield, who stated:
(a) That his research was funded by charitable donations.
(b) That children in his (now-retracted) study had "regressive autism".
Rep Burton might wish to consider those matters against a background of the said Andrew Wakefield accusing one Dr Michael Gershon of potential perjury, and insinuating that Gerson had a conflict of interest on account of his wife holding vaccine patent rights.
We now know that Wakefield was funded by lawyers, that children in his study did not have regressive autism, that Dr Gershon's evidence was wholly accurate, and that Gershon's wife had no such conflict of interest through a vaccine patent, but that, perversely, Wakefield did.
If anybody is minded to inquire into these matters, I have all the documentation, and would surely regard it as my public duty to make it available to the committee.
Now, really, please don't be disappointed. Your tireless, exceptionally evil work in our behalf is greatly appreciated and we know the whole incident with the kittens and maple syrup was not your idea. This choice had nothing to do with that, it's just a cold, calculating executive decision. You see, Cadre Leader DW, DL, etc. had the foresight to request a custom Marathon Coach as one of her many gifts for serving us so loyally. With the Obsidian Units off subduing rebellious drones in the outer system, we need a vehicle that can hold a plethora of Shills and Minions in luxury. Maybe, just maybe, if you're very, very evil this year, Satan will leave a lovely bus in your metaphorical stocking at the holidays.
Now, back to work everyone, Woo never sleeps . . .
Lord Draconis Zeneca, VH7ihL
Foreward Mavoon of the Great Fleet, Pharmaca Magna of Terra, Coachmaster General of Eminiar VII
Glaxxon PharmaCOM Orbital
0001111 0000 0001 1111
I imagine that the holidays are arriving early for you this year with gifts like this.
I'm way ahead of you guys. I've posted on Emily Wilkerson's blog...several times and I posted on LB/RB, as well.
And...a Happy Thanksgiving to you all, from AoA: :-)
Ah, I see. This little sentence brushes quite a good portrait of this Daryl Issa. A gentleman with a black-and-white view of the world, in more ways than one.
Belattled Happy Thanksgiving, folks.
I see that Olmsted is continuing to deploy the manly love for... Tony "my ad hoc researches reveal exactly none who are wholly unvaccinated and autistic" Bateson.
@ Narad: And, Mark Blaxill is scheduled to represent and testify at the hearing for Safe Minds.
How coincidental is it, that TACA and Safe Minds managed to visit Issa's office, with some of the "vaccine-damaged" children they represent?
A much logical lead for autism...
The Autism Enigma looks at the progress of an international group of scientists who are looking for clues to the baffling disorder by examining the amazingly diverse and powerful microbial ecosystem that’s an essential part of the human gastrointestinal tract, and the extraordinary efforts of parents who have been relentlessly pushing science forward in hopes of finding answers for their children’s condition.
Eric Charland -- I pointed out this very interesting New Yorker article a while back, and it sounds as if this could be related. I know the New Yorker is not always on the evidence-based side of scientific issue (e.g., Brodeur's excrable "currents of death" stuff), but this does seem reasonable and maybe very promising:
if this is right, kids will tend to do better if they'r exposed to a reasonable range of bacteria. It's like the "hygiene hypothesis" writ large.
@ Eric Charland,
You're kidding right? Microbial ecosystem in autism and science in the same sentence? Hell, maybe I should drink more hops tea to affect my symptoms of autism (Please ask away if that passes over your head....)
@ Eric Charland,
More to the point, I've looked you up and being a sexologist, you should know the scientific method and especially your limitation regarding autism (your area of expertise being sexology, not autism).
Regarding autism and the gut's connexion, autistic people experience more stress which may lead to disrupted gut functioning and thus, the bacterial environment may be disrupted but that doesn't meant disrupted gut environment is the cause of autism.
You know, I keep gearing up on the science of autism and did you know, autistics have 23% more neurons than control; here's my question for you: do you think anything in the gut-brain theory could account for smaller neurons, minicolums and 23% more neurons in the brain of autistic persons. As a scientist, you have to account for all of the science of autism, not just a particular subset of science and you should know that too; this is why I keep gearing on the science of autism, both the bad and the good.
About hops tea, hops is a natural antibiotic which has the potential to affect the gut and I've used it recently (about 3 times) to relax (hops can help sleep) as well as effect some minor gut problem, which it fixed but I know full well that's not scientific. According to your hypothese, this should affect my symptom of autism but I didn't see any behavioral changes at all; not even in my stress level.
Looked at the Autism Enigma link. Crank stuff, for sure. Same old, same old - "pushing science forward" must be a euphemism for something else.
I have a feeling Eric Charland is a drive-by poster...
I watched the video. It was a cranky cherry picked bit of wishful thinking.
Here is some potential material for the Orac treatment (c/o PZ Myers): a physicist's Brilliant Insights into oncogenesis.
Shorter version: Paul Davies is somehow completely blind to the concept of "selection bias" -- he assumes that because the cancers that kill people are fast-growing, resistant to therapy, prone to metastatise et cetera, therefore cancers all begin with these properties, bestowed by a set of archaic, usually-suppressed genes that were useful back in the days of single-celled existence.
OT: but it's Saturday and woo doesn't take weekends off:
More from Schadenfreudesville-
for your listening uh...pleasure:
Yesterday Gary Null provided his audeince with profound psychological insights into how they are manipulated by the mainstream media; @ 45 minutes in, he discusses mammography ( from a recent article) with Green Med Info's Sayer JI ( later on, Woo-drenched Nurse chimes in, also discouraging mammography); includes an "inspirational" clip ( @ 50 minutes).( Progressive Radio Network, yesterday, Gary Null show)
-btw- the AJW appearance on Wednesday seems to have gone 'disappeared'.
Herr Doktor Bimler -- Oddly enough, there is another paper called "Expanding Confusion: common misconceptions of cosmological horizons and the superluminal expansion of the Universe" by DavIS (not DavIES) and Lineweaver, which is an excellent and totally non-woo-ish summary of some knotty conceptual issues involved in cosmology. Anyone interested can find it at
Lineweaver shoulda quit while he was ahead.
But then again, the temptation must be strong. I mean, it's only biology. How hard can it be?
Next thing you know, biologists will be wanting their own journals.
Ah, I see that Davies & Lineweaver's speculations have been noted
Maybe there's a niche for a new journal, specialists making fools of themselves speculating in areas they know bugger all about. It could be very amusing. Which reminds me, I've seen one of the review board of Medical Hypotheses naked.
"Which reminds me, I’ve seen one of the review board of Medical Hypotheses naked."
Which reminds me of one of the comments about one of the studies published in Medical Hypotheses, Krebiozen...
There was no ejaculation involved. A lot of talcum powder, as I recall, but no ejaculation...
Allow me to be the first to oppose the idea of a Medical Hypotheses fundraising nude calendar.
Oh, c'mon, grease those folks up good and replace the swords with rakes, and you'd be handing them out like candy.
Seconded. My experience was over a quarter of a century ago, and I have still not entirely recovered. I doubt gravity has wrought any improvements since.
DAN doctors? DAN as in scuba diving DAN or is there another group with the same acronym?
DAN! Doctors. (Defeat Autism Now!)
Defeat Autism Now! Doctors provide *treatments/cures* for autism using some dreadful invasive treatments on defenseless developmentally disabled kids. Orac has blogged about these DAN! doctors...
More news from Schadenfreudesville:
Today @ AoA, Cathy Jameson writes:
"The knowledge we possess could fill volumes. More volumes than the pharma-fuelled medical literature and textbooks that are passed out like candy".
I hereby rest my case.
"The panel, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (D-Calif.), “
Issa is NOT a Democrat--maybe you just copied the error or maybe just s typo, but eeekk!
One of the "regulars" from AoA posted this at me, yesterday..
"Duh yuh think THEY may a valid reason for declaring vaccines “unavoidably unsafe’?
In any event, duh yuh think the Vaccine Court exists to protect vaccines because they are SAFE? Indeed, it vaccines were as safe as you apparently believe them to be .. YOU SHOULD BE DEMANDING THEY CONDUCT THAT VAC. V. UNVAC STUDY TO PROVE IT!!!!!"
I posted back at him..
"Whatever are you banging on about, rmoffi?
Why don’t you get a *scientist* or a *science journalist* from AoA or any of the other anti-vaccine organizations that are your sources for science information to conduct a vaccinated-vs-unvaccinated study? Perhaps one of the *journalists* at AoA who refused to have her third child vaccinated because her older two children were diagnosed with ASDs could assist you with that. (Her third unvaccinated child is also autistic.)
Don’t you realize that a study such as you propose is unethical because it would leave unvaccinated babies unprotected from serious, sometimes deadly, vaccine-preventable diseases?
How would you propose to get approval from an Institutional Review Board to conduct such a study?
I suggest you take a course in medical ethics, if you don’t understand why your “proposed study” is unethical and immoral.
BTW, I won’t be “DEMANDING THAT THEY CONDUCT THE VAC. V. UNVAC STUDY TO PROVE IT!!!!!!”….because of the reasons I outlined above."
I rather doubt that these types will ever figure out that being "inherently unsafe" (which is commonplace, hence the basis of a warning defect, and also sometimes weird by statute, such as Texas's exclusion of oysters) is different from federal preemption(s), which isn't anything new of itself, either. You could suggest to this one that the ability to explain the difference between the Locomotive Inspection Act and the Price-Anderson Act is a prerequisite to being taken seriously with any babbling about the NCVIA.
@ Narad: See Omsted's post yesterday on AoA:
See "rmoffi" = "Bob Moffit's" "“DEMANDING THAT THEY CONDUCT THE VAC. V. UNVAC STUDY TO PROVE IT!!!!!!”, on that post.
"rmoffi" has not replied to my post. :-)
JBC: Yep, Issa's a republican. I thought he was from Oklahoma, but, nope, he's a Californian.
We do have a history of a controlled experiment using vaccine vs placebo, since that was the way the polio vaccine was validated. It's not exactly a secret. You can look up the details on Wikipedia or by a google search. Where the ethical issues come in is when you have reason to understand that a vaccine is effective and produces few side effects. It would be unethical to allow children to become sick or die due to a repeat of a controlled trial.
I think we also have plenty of epidemiological data that correlates vaccination with the reduction in smallpox, plus all the data, studies, and careful arguments presented on this blog. Non of this is of much interest to the anti-vaccine crowd, but we can at least point out that the vaccine vs placebo experiment was done back in the 1950s, even if it was not done for their favorite whipping boy of the moment.
Rep Issa is widely understood to be an opportunistic grandstander who never let a fact get in his way. He is repeatedly elected by a highly conservative base in a San Diego area district. He has a murky history, to put it charitably, including arrests for car theft and illegal possession of a concealed weapon. He has been looked at for a suspicious fire at a plant he owned. He made a fortune by inventing and marketing a car alarm. Ironic.
Issa's record and reputation are so bad that it probably helps that he is the chair of this committee, since he doesn't have any credibility at all with reasonable people. I suspect that even the Republicans find him more a matter of amusement than a trustworthy source -- just somebody who is good at riling up the other side once in a while.
Here is the dope on Issa from media matters:
Several others beat me to it, but yes Representative Issa is very much a Republican. (I note that the second time he was mentioned he was properly labeled as such, so it is just the first reference which is in error).
I'm not sure why it is, but the war on science from the far right is still very much in effect. Maybe they have decided that since they don't believe in evolution or climate change that they must distrust anything from the scientific community.
I simply cut and paste from the original reference. I do not change text that I quote directly. If you don't believe me, click on the link and go to the original source. I'd appreciate it if commenters would stop obsessing over what is an error in the original source quoted here, be it a typo or other error. It's irrelevant to the topic at hand and, quite frankly, annoying to boot. After the first comment pointing it out, we know it's an error already! If it bugs you that much maybe I'll put a comment about the error somewhere in the text.
Take a look at Issa's website...
Now click on this...
He's pandering to his far-to-the-right constituency and using and abusing his Chairmanship of the House Oversight Committee.
And, commenting about today's Congressional hearing on autism, a person who was not invited to speak ....
The Leveson inquiry "hangs ominously over" this event? I am reminded of something.
Hoo! Olmsted's weirdly interjected "From the Editor" rant is fantastic.
Poor Wakey is a sad panda. This Brian Hooker is a plant biochemical engineer (or was). Beside his Lewis-esque "expose" of the CDC, I'm not seeing what his qualifications are to provide testimony.