Damned Heretics

Condemned by the established, but very often right

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Qualified outsiders and maverick insiders are often right about the need to replace received wisdom in science and society, as the history of the Nobel prize shows. This blog exists to back the best of them in their uphill assault on the massively entrenched edifice of resistance to and prejudice against reviewing, let alone revising, ruling ideas. In support of such qualified dissenters and courageous heretics we search for scientific paradigms and other established beliefs which may be maintained only by the power and politics of the status quo, comparing them with academic research and the published experimental and investigative record.

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Many people would die rather than think – in fact, they do so. – Bertrand Russell.

Skepticism is dangerous. That’s exactly its function, in my view. It is the business of skepticism to be dangerous. And that’s why there is a great reluctance to teach it in schools. That’s why you don’t find a general fluency in skepticism in the media. On the other hand, how will we negotiate a very perilous future if we don’t have the elementary intellectual tools to ask searching questions of those nominally in charge, especially in a democracy? – Carl Sagan (The Burden of Skepticism, keynote address to CSICOP Annual Conference, Pasadena, April 3/4, 1982).

It is really important to underscore that everything we’re talking about tonight could be utter nonsense. – Brian Greene (NYU panel on Hidden Dimensions June 5 2010, World Science Festival)

I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing ever interfered with my learning was my education. My name as you already perceive without a doubt is George Bernard Shaw, and I certainly approve of this blog, in that its guiding spirit appears to be blasphemous in regard to the High Church doctrines of science, and it flouts the censorship of the powers that be, and as I have famously remarked, all great truths begin as blasphemy, and the first duty of the truthteller is to fight censorship, and while I notice that its seriousness of purpose is often alleviated by a satirical irony which sometimes borders on the facetious, this is all to the good, for as I have also famously remarked, if you wish to be a dissenter, make certain that you frame your ideas in jest, otherwise they will seek to kill you.  My own method was always to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost levity. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life magazine) One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways. – Bertrand Russell, Conquest of Happiness (1930) ch. 9

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Evidence of harm in vaccines and autism


How many of you are parents worried about vaccines, and whether they will give your babies autism? I assume many here probably think, as I did, that the idea is as preposterous as mainstream medicine said it was last May, when the hallowed Institute of Medicine reported that it wasn’t likely.



Well, duh. There is cause for alarm, according to a persuasive book, Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy, just out from St. Martin’s Press. And the affair has implications for the AIDS-HIV issue.


I attended the book’s publication party last night, at the Antartica bar at Hudson and Spring, and afterwards at EAT round the corner. The party, chock full of outraged parents and handsome gay men, plus two idealistic Washington lawyers, was hosted by the author, David Kirby. He has a pay-the-rent job at the UN but devotes himself to writing on health for the New York Times and has now written a book. It is, I think, a public service, for he has clarified the topic with evenhanded thoroughness.


I was glued to it today going down to Wall Street, partly for its style. It presents a controversy in a completely credible manner, without taking sides, and you conclude what you conclude, without being pushed. While hard scientific proof is lacking, I ended up persuaded that we may have here another case of “evidence of harm” done by the health community to its unfortunate charges, in this case American children.


I am glad to say that it has struck a nerve in many others too. Sales are already passing 50,000 after only a week and it is in its fourth printing. I’d say this reflects the public demand – the deep hidden need, in fact – for authoritative briefings in matters such as this, which is in many aspects the same story as in AIDS. Parents on alert to these kinds of iatrogenic (doctor caused) dangers, where the lives of their children are at stake, need more than reassurance from a government appointed committee.


This is the role of journalists and why we need them, as the vivacious blonde lawyer, Beth Clay, said to me when I talked to her. There are too few investigative journalists who don’t follow the media habit and simply convey the press releases of government departments and industry in health matters, she said (Yes, ma’am). As the other lawyer there (James Moody, Chairman of Advocates for a Competitive Economy, who has a squiff eye, but decency extruding from every pore) explained at length, there has been a sea change in attitudes in Washington in the last three or more decades.



It follows on the heels of the great change in the academy, where thirty years ago no one in bological research had any company with which they were involved, and today it is hard to get any respect if you don’t have a corporate role. Corporate money is now the blood transfusion providing life support to departments at major universities. Nowadays, he said, everyone in Washington sees their neighbor on the take from lobbyists and the drug industry, and feels a fool if h/she gets left behind. Well, not so surprising, perhaps. Nader is famous for never going after the cigarette mannufacturers who funded him, the lawyer said.


I asked the blonde lawyer what she thought the layman should do, and she said they should do as the journalists and the politician’s staffs should do. “There is only one thing to do and that is to go the the source yourself and read the scientific studies for yourself, and see if they were well done and if they prove what they say they show.”



That was nice to hear. She had faith in the man-in-the street, or at least the upper middle class layman, being able to penetrate the mysteries of scientific papers. Some would say she is optimistic, but I think not. I hope she can spread the habit.


I admit I had picked up quite the wrong impression by skimming the news superficially in the past, and assumed that the concern about vaccines was generated only by ignorance and fringe beliefs. Perhaps this was because I knew personally one of the two authors of one of the earliest books on the matter, Shot in the Dark . This was Harris Coulter, who was a firm believer in homeopathy (he wrote a history of medicine from that point of view) despite his inability to defend it against professional scientific skepticism.



So I was surprised to see that the book reliably conveys that there is very good cause for concern. Studies correlate the rise in autism with the rise in mercury based vaccination and also other famously growing ailments among children, including ADD (attention deficit disorder), ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), and gross speech delay. One mother last night told me that her son at 7 spoke no better than a 2 year old.


There is obviously something deeply wrong somewhere since autism is making steady leaps in America – it’s gone from 1 in 10,000 births in the 1980s to 1 in 500 in the 90s to 1 in 250 in 200 to 1 in 166 in 2004 (boys suffer 4 to 1 over girls). No less than one in six American children have a developmental disorder or a behavior problem!



All of this correlates with mercury exposure through vaccines, which doubled between 1988 and 1992. The parents of children with autism present last night were absolutely sure of the cause, telling me that their child’s sudden onset of symptoms followed immediately after their vaccination.


If they are right, the deadly element in vaccines is thimerosal, the vaccine preservative which is just about half (49.6%) mercury. Thimerosal is needed for the more popular, cheaper multidose vials which are punctured repeatedly for each dose, which would otherwise breed fungus and bacteria. Live vaccines or single dose vials don’t have to have it in them.



Thimerosal is cheap and since the 1930s when it was introduced has been preferred prcisely for this reason, and because it was already used in the production line for vaccines.


The first case of autism was recorded on the early 1940s, a few years after thimerosal was introduced, but for years emotionally distant, “refrigerator mothers” were blamed for autism, according to the theories of Austrian born psychologist, Brunel Bettelheim.



In 1964, however, Bernard Rimland, a psychologist with an autistic son, wrote Infantile Autism:The Syndrome and its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior which debunked the aloof “refrigerator mother” theory and persuaded readers it was of biological origin.


In the 1980s vaccines finally came under suspicion, though it was also clear that, as Rimland pointed out, there must be some genetic predisposition. Not only are boys four times as susceptible than girls, but autism may run in families, judging from what one mother told me last night of her own family. But it cannot all be genetic, as Kirby slyly notes, not when autism, by most accounts, is epidemic. “There is no such thing as a genetic epidemic.”


The families’ distrust of the medical establishment is palpable, and they are infinitely grateful for Kirby’s review which puts their view – “they call us the crazy vaccine people” – on a firm footing. The Institute of Medicine report of May 2004 ordained that the evidence “favor rejection of a causal relationship” between thimerosal and autism. But later animal and test tube studies provide further evidence of harm from thimerosal-laden vaccines, he says.



While the US is supposedly abandoning such vaccines, the British have set a deadline of September 2004 to ban them, after suffering a rate equal to the US (I wonder what has happened since.) Northern European countries with more cautious policiessuffer much less than that. Denmark removed thimerasol from vaccines in 1992 and now has only a 1 in 1,300 rate.


Meanwhile, the doctors, bureaucrats and drug company reps who discount the thimerosal danger refused to be interviewed for the book, David Kirby says. He told me he had the top four CDC officials lined up for an interview, and was in a car 20 minutes away from them in Atlanta when he got a call on his cellphone. Sorry, they would not talk to him after all, because the cases were being pursued in court.



But these were cases the CDC played no part in. Meanwhile the same officials warn against mercury in fish. Mercury is a known neurotoxin – “most dangerous element to humans after plutonium,” said a furious father to me last night. “Don’t inject it into babies!”


It does seem inexplicable that anyone, let alone the CDC should allow it to be injected into babies one or two days after birth, at doses that exceed federal adult safety exposure levels by up to fifty times per shot. “There are not satisfying answers,” writes Kirby calmly, in his restrained, New York Times mode. He makes the point that he is not writing an anti-vaccine book, nor a partisan one. But he does note “heavy resistance from the powerful public health lobby” to the efforts of parents to prove that mercury in vaccines is what pushed their kids “into a hellish, lost world of autism.”


In 1999, the US government in a “Joint Statement” officially acknowledged that children were being exposed to mercury beyond federal safety limits, and promised to phase out thimerosal in vaccines and to determine if injecting it into infants was responsible for autism nd other nurological disorders. So far neither has been fully achieved, says Kirby.


Though thimerosal has been removed from most routine vaccinations given to American children – there are some 52 of these according to one father I spoke to, who said he felt they were overloaded – but it is still in flu shots. How many Americans know they are getting a mercury injection when they take this route to fend off flu?! And the CDC recommends flu shots for pregnant women and children between six months and twenty three months old.


With perhaps billions of dollars in legal claims at stake, the drug industry guys are running around the country spreading their largesse in hopes of winning indemnity against claims, not to mention trying to suppress evidence of thimerosal’s toxicity. Apparently the cat is long out of them bag, however. A Merck memo from 1991 was uncovered, admitting that the substance was toxic, I gathered.



All in all, an excellent case study of why one cannot make any assumptions about the validity of AIDS research, since the same forces are undoubtedly at work in that field, with billions also at stake.



In fact, given the much more powerful global politics of AIDS, it seems that the beliefs of that much more prominent ideology will surely be far less objective, and far more deeply protected, than in the realm of autism.



The book’s web site is at http://wwww.evidenceofharm.com

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