Tuesday, June 01, 2010

How to Debunk Age of Autism

Of late, the amazing concentration of stupidity that is the "teabagger" movement has just stunned me with it's ability to gain attention all out of proportion to the merits of the... oh, let's just call it "argument," as I'm a charitable man.

One subgroup of this movement feels (or at least profits from saying that they feel) that there is a conspiracy to restrict the freedom of parents to make informed decisions about the safety and effectiveness of vaccinations, versus, say, the risk of your child getting mumps or polio.

But then, as a group, they also believe that if you take the word of "science" on Important Matters - like disease, climate change,evolution, or the age of the earth.. you are a gullible chump. This message - by the way - is often brought to you by The Franklin Mint, Amway or the latest system for making thousands of dollars at home, working only minutes a day!

Orac writes:

But wait. Orac's typing hand is twitching over his keyboard. Julie Obradovic at Age of Autism is laying down nine Burning Man-sized straw men about supporters of science-based medicine and vaccines and then setting them on fire with napalm-grade burning stupid.

Well, I WAS looking for a worthy target... so I went over to see what flaming straw men Orac had thought to be worthy of note. As you might expect, the entire thrust of the article was to point out the unholy conflict of interest between the "unscrupulous vaccine makers" and the unholy federal gumment, (they who use the Vaccine Courts against the Helpless Victims of Vaccines.)

I understand why Orac wants to asplode. People who can say things like this aloud with no apparent sense of shame or perception of irony, are like unto an Hydrogen filled Zeppelin to a man with ten rounds of tracer left in his Maxims...

This culture of corruption in the scientific community is not a product of fantasy; it is a sad reality society is becoming increasingly aware of as more and more investigations are launched. Fake medical journals. Phony research. We hear about this everyday.
Sadly, yes. They know Andrew Wakefield personally.

Despite involving just a dozen children, the 1998 paper’s impact was extraordinary. After its publication, rates of inoculation fell from 92% to below 80%. Populations acquire “herd immunity” from measles when more than 95% of people have been vaccinated.
Last week official figures showed that 1,348 confirmed cases of measles in England and Wales were reported last year, compared with 56 in 1998. Two children have died of the disease.
So you see, this is a case where a reliable way of discerning the truth matters. A lot.

I started to consider what I was about to say - when my eye was drawn to the banner just below the header..

Now, far be it from me to suggest that advertising is bad or that commercial associations are inherently improper. Speech is free - but bandwidth is not. It's entirely reasonable for any group to seek sponsorship, and they their right to associate with people, ideas and products that support their own ideals is entirely proper.

Just as you and I are free to draw conclusions as to why those associations exist.

I would say that ...and I put this as dryly and neutrally as I can... the advertisers at AoA feel that the audience it attracts are likely to reject any idea or assertion that has any dangerous science cooties on it...

Oh damn. Let me try again...

It will appeal to those who value a firm, authoritative assertion of Truth over "evidence-based approaches" that Liberal Atheists are trying to Force on our Chil.... damn, that's not working out well, either.

However - when I go to the major sponsor of AoA and find that they are marketing a "supplement" with ingredients I have never heard of to the parents of Autistics, based on the discredited idea that autism IS heavy metal poisoning ... and the page features testimonials as to the effectiveness, rather than links to the studies establishing how and why this expensive patent nostrum should be introduced to any child's precious bodily fluids... 

All I can say is that P.T. Barnum would be embarrassed. He took pride in the craft of separating the gullible from their cash. 

There is a point beyond which routine skepticism need not go. Before I even examine an argument for or against any idea that may cost me money, I want to know if the self-styled merchant of truth happens to be working entirely on commission.

AoA is clearly seen as a good place to advertise by folks who tout "cures" of unsubstantiated benefit.  AoA profits directly by this. It's really quite remarkable to damn near blend one's header with a product banner. Speaking as someone who's worked in print journalism on both the editorial and advertising sides -

It's reasonable for me to presume they would have no particular motive for telling me anything that would have negative impacts upon them. This is advice that applies to Fox News, Time Magazine, Orac and me. This is what the entire idea of "conflict of interest" is about. I'm unlikely to tell you something that will take money out of my pocket.

But, you see, the people at AoA have clearly dismissed all tools of critical thought, to the extent that it never once occurred to anyone over there to wonder how it might look to host a rant about the "Obvious Conflict of Interest" of the federal government  under a banner for a compounding pharmacy.

It's sad and it's ridiculous. It's tragic that takes time, money and attention away from autistics - but sadly, the people persuaded by AoA that they are shrewder than people who believe in all that "atheist science" are natural marks, and the real tragedy is that some of them have children at all.

Not that I'm saying that AoA believers are bad parents. Nope. I am saying, however that those parents likely to believe AoA have a definite challenge that makes it difficult for them to be good parents.

Perhaps someone should start a support group.


Liz Ditz said...

Don't miss Countering Age of Autism, who posts frequently, and Autism Newsbeat, who posts less frequently, but always on point. A Photon in the Darkness gives the hard science treatment to foolishness posted at AoA (from time to time) -- the blogger is known as Prometheus at Respectful Insolence and elsewhere.Silenced by Age of Autism performs a very useful service by giving commenters a venue to publish comments that have been, well, silenced by the extreme and adverse moderation practices of AoA. It's a hall of mirrors over there.

Autism News Beat said...

Welcome to the world of anti-vaccine crankery!

Bob King said...

Thanks for the links and the welcome. :)

Were it not for cranks of various sorts - I'd have nothing to set aspin. :P

Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to Zakhquery? Age of Autism had some stupid idea of "debunking" his story.

Bob King said...

Not entirely sure. It seems he won his due process hearing, but that's the last piece of new-to-me info I could find.

I'll keep my ears out..


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