Is Dr. Bonnie Offit masquerading on the web as an autism parent and prolific blogger named “Sullivan”?
By J.B. Handley
Bonnie Offit, a pediatrician, tours the autism Web sites late at night after her husband goes to sleep. "He's not the man they've created an enemy out of," she says. She wishes his critics knew him the way she does—a gentle, sweet, salt-of-the-earth guy. "What I've learned in all this is to stick to the truth, talk about the science," says Paul Offit. "It's not about me, it's about the data." Above all else, it's about doing right by the children.
* Newsweek Magazine October 25, 2008
When it comes to her husband’s welfare, Bonnie Offit is fiercely protective. A pediatrician with a thriving group practice, she still makes time to monitor the blogosphere. (Her husband refuses to read the attacks.) She wants to believe that if you “keep your finger on the pulse,” as she puts it, you can keep your loved ones safe.
* Wired Magazine, November 2009
The press has been very clear because Bonnie Offit has told them: she takes the time to watch the blogosphere, monitoring the pulse of those against her husband. Yet, for all the time Ms. Offit reportedly spends on the web, I can’t find a single comment or post in her name. Unless of course she calls herself “Sullivan,” and then everything makes perfect sense.
Background: Bonnie Offit
Dr. Bonnie Offit is a pediatrician at Pediatric & Adolescent Care, Haverford Pediatric and Adolescent Care Haverford , a division of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Her practice has one of the most draconian pro-vaccination policies I have ever seen, and includes the following statements:
“We firmly believe in both the effectiveness and safety of the currently recommended vaccines for children and adolescents…We firmly believe that vaccinating children may be the single most important intervention we perform as health care providers…Again there is plenty of research to reassure us that giving multiple vaccines at once, though stressful, is not overwhelming to the immune system of any aged child…Finally, if you should refuse a recommended vaccine or delay vaccinations despite our efforts we will ask you to find another health care provider who shares your views.”
Of course, Dr. Bonnie Offit is also the wife of Dr. Paul Offit, a person who many in our community, myself included, consider to be a self-interested, wildly-conflicted, one-sided blowhard who will do or say anything to protect a vaccine schedule that has generated millions for him (and his wife). He is the de facto spokesperson for the other side, be it CDC, AAP, or Big Pharma, and AoA has demonstrated that he has both voted himself rich by adding his own vaccine to our kid’s schedule and never never treated treated a child with autism, despite inserting himself into our debate as some sort of expert.
“Sullivan” is a prolific, anonymous blogger. In the last few years, Sullivan has essentially hijacked a website, LeftBrainRightBrain --a site that used to be dedicated to the concept of “Neurodiversity.” Sullivan’s subject matter, in dozens of blog posts, is the vaccine-autism controversy, and really nothing else. Sullivan is also a prolific commenter, both in the blog posts written by Sullivan and in other forums.
I first came across the name Sullivan after I appeared on the TV show “The Doctors” because this Sullivan character was absolutely dominating the discussion boards about the show, as you can see for yourself HERE. In fact, Sullivan has posted comments at The Doctors website an amazing 223 times, as I learned from reading Sullivan’s profile on The Doctors website HERE.
Sullivan’s profile from The Doctors:
“I am the parent of a child with autism. I follow autism science and politics closely, and have spent many long hours looking into claims about what causes autism and what can treat autism. As a parent, I have to look at these claims very seriously and with an open mind--my kid depends on it.
Unfortunately, the autism world is filled with people with false claims of causes and treatments.
While much of my blogging time is taken up combatting false claims about causes and treatments, my main concern is to create a better world for all people, but especially for people with disabilities. Autism is a great challenge. People with autism deserve respect and support.”
From the profile and post above we gather three things: Sullivan is a man, a layperson (rather than a doctor or scientist) who has spent long hours looking into the vaccine-autism connection, and is also a parent of a child with autism. A perfect cast if you will: a parent just like you and me, with their own autistic child and their own opinions, borne of long hours of research.
Sullivan: Not a man, probably not a layperson, probably not a parent of an autistic child
Before I present evidence that Sullivan is actually Bonnie Offit, let’s look at the evidence that Sullivan isn’t who Sullivan claims to be. Commenting at the Squidalicious blog, Liz Ditz, another blogger, made the following comment:
Sullivan (who, like you, I know in real life) writing at Left Brain Right Brain, links to this post Two of her points I found particularly important: #4 -- the lag in diagnosis & treatment for African American, Asian and Hispanic children #7 -- There are many adults with autism, some diagnosed in adulthood. (6:04 PM)
If you read the above post again closely, you’ll see 2 things: 1) Liz Ditz claims to know Sullivan personally, and 2) Liz Ditz refers to Sullivan as “her.”
Conclusion: Sullivan claims to be a man, and is actually a woman. Anyone who reads dozens of Sullivan’s posts, as I have, would probably reach the same conclusion. It’s hard to hide your gender when you write, much as it’s hard to hide your nationality (Sullivan is clearly an American, too).
Sullivan also claims to be a layperson. If you read many of Sullivan’s posts, you’ll quickly see you are dealing with a person who is smart, organized in their thinking, and extremely facile with complex medical terminology. One example:
“Kev,all mitochondrial DNA is maternally inherited. There is one case in the literature of someone inheriting the mDNA from a father, but it is called, “the exception that proves the rule”.
Mitochondrial disorders are not caused always by mDNA. The mitochondria processes material which is determined both by mDNA and nuclear (nDNA). So, if the cell is creating proteins that are incorrect for the needs of the mitochondria, the mitochondria will malfunction.”
This is just one of hundreds of examples. Sullivan writes with great clarity and ease on very complex medical and scientific processes and cites published medical research ad nauseum.
Conclusion: Is Sullivan a layperson with a remarkable gift for explaining complex medical and scientific issues? I highly doubt it.
The final point is, admittedly, the hardest to refute. Sullivan claims to be the parent of a child with autism. Is she? Here’s what I know:
* I have yet to see a single post where Sullivan mentions her autistic child in any material way or reveals anything about the pain of caring for an affected child.
* What parent of an autistic child would write, “my main concern is to create a better world for all people, but especially for people with disabilities. Autism is a great challenge. People with autism deserve respect and support”? Give me a break! A real parent would only have one main concern, the concern we all share: giving our own child the best possible life!
Does the evidence show that Sullivan is actually a woman, a doctor/scientist, and not a parent of an autistic child? I’ll let you be the judge.
Is Sullivan actually Bonnie Offit?
Let me be clear: I have circumstantial evidence that points to Bonnie Offit being Sullivan. I will spell out what I have, and let you be the judge.
Evidence #1: Sullivan brings up and protects Offit at every turn
I ran into Sullivan again, after my appearance on PBS’ Frontline, once again going out of her way to comment about me. Check out this dialogue:
Sullivan: JB Handley in his own words: "With less than a half-dozen full time activists, annual budgets of six figures or less, and umpteen thousand courageous, undaunted, and selfless volunteer parents, our community, held together with duct tape and bailing wire, is in the early to middle stages of bringing the U.S. vaccine program to its knees." That's his goal. To bring the vaccine program to its knees. It really is a war on vaccines. Kids like mine need advocates who will do something valuable, not work to hurt children like Mr Handley.
Compassionmom: Do you think he declared war because vaccines caused his son to have a lifelong neurological disability? Seems like a decent reason.
Sullivan: I don't know why JB Handley does the things he does. I just know he does things that are dangerous. He is quite capable of, how does he say it, expanding and exaggerating the truth. Take a read of his pseudo paper on childhood mortality and vaccines. It is a case study in misusing facts.
Compassionmom: Reading his actual quote, he seems to be implying that until the program is brought to its knees, no one will compromise? He's probably right.
Sullivan: He is saying that his community is working to crash the vaccine program
Sullivan: CompassionMom, are you aware that the number of people who filed with the vaccine court claiming autism as vaccine injury has dropped off dramatically? At the peak, 2,700 families filed in one year. Last year only 11 families. Sure, many people follow JB Handley. But his day has past.
Sullivan: Many people believed him when he said that autism was merely a misdiagnosis for mercury poisoning and all you had to do was chelate for 2 years. Many years later here we are--JB Handley was clearly wrong. I haven't seen his apology
Compassionmom: And, many of us parents side with JB. There, are we any better off. Sullivan, you appear to follow JB like some kind of stalker, no?
Sullivan: CompassionMom, that would be "no". Would you call JB a stalker for his obsession with Paul Offit?
I remember reading this exchange at the time and thinking what an odd non-sequitor Sullivan added to the conversation by bringing up Paul Offit. It makes more sense now.
Later, Sullivan went out her way to drop a huge shout-out, probably to her own husband:
Sullivan: This autism parent offers his gratitude to Dr. Offit for his efforts to correct the misinformation that is causing so much harm to the autism communities
How many random fathers of children with autism feel compelled to give Paul Offit a shout-out? He’s not even an autism doctor.
Evidence #2: Sullivan is in communication with Paul Offit, with great insight
Here’s an exchange between Sullivan and our very own Jake Crosby at the LBRB Blog:
Jake Crosby: Paul Offit, if you are reading this, I would really appreciate a straightforward answer to the question I sent to you via email. Thanks.
Sullivan: Jake Crosby, in my experience, Dr. Offit doesn’t read blogs.
Jake Crosby: He doesn’t? [Jake offers a link where Offit is clearly in the blog mix] HERE
Sullivan: I’m aware of that comment, Mr Crosby. Can you find a second? I am not aware of any others. I am aware that when I have mentioned blogs in emails to Dr. Offit and he was unaware of them. I have been known to bring some to his attention that were particularly bad. I don’t expect or have any experience that he reads lbrb.
Why does the random father of a child with autism have such a great take on Paul Offit’s computer viewing habits?
Evidence #3: Sullivan has spent considerable time clarifying how much money Paul Offit made from the Rotavirus vaccine, with remarkable insight and detail.
“I have repeatedly discussed Paul Offit’s patent situation. When I pointed out to Mark Blaxill and Dan Olmsted that they made some very large mistakes and that those were easily confirmed (which begs the question as to why an intellectual property expert and an investigative reporter couldn’t find the information in the first place) I was basically informed that the incorrect information would remain in place until such time as Paul Offit met their demands.”
I asked Mark and Dan about Sullivan. Mark Blaxill noted that Sullivan, “seemed to have an unusually good knowledge of Offit’s finances as well as terrific research skills in finding old CHOP policies.”
Here’s an email Sullivan wrote to Mark & Dan:
From: firstname.lastname@example.org Sent: Saturday, September 12, 2009 7:24 PM
To: Dan Olmsted, Mark Blaxill
Subject: Your calculation of Dr. Offit's royalty payout from CHOP
Mr. Olmsted, Mr. Blaxill, I am sure you are interested in accuracy whenever possible in your blog posts. I assume you want to know and want to correct errors. In a recent post of yours, you estimated the royalty payment for Dr. Paul Offit from CHOP's sale of it's rights to the rotavirus vaccine Dr. Offit, Dr. Plotkin and Dr. Clark invented. Your post makes an estimate that is markedly higher than the real number. This is in large part to two errors you made. First, the Patent and Intellectual Property Policy you used is incorrect. You rightly note that this is a new policy and that the rotavirus patent was likely covered by a previous policy. The details of the previous policy are included in this document, which can be easily found with the following google search: Patent and Intellectual Property Policy site:chop.edu Using the older policy and the $182M reported as the payment CHOP received for their patent, you can calculate an inventors share of $18,550,000. The second mistake in your estimation is in assuming that Dr. Plotkin and Dr. Clark. did not share in the CHOP inventor share. This is incorrect. Again, a quick google search will demonstrate that Dr. Plotkin and Dr. Clark were, indeed, CHOP faculty. Therefore, the $18,550,000 is divided by 3, resulting in an inventor share of $6,183,333. The CHOP 2006 annual report page 42 clearly states that Dr. Plotkin and Dr. Plotkin were part of the CHOP team that invented the vaccine. Other pages on the CHOP site note that Doctors Plotkin and Clark were, indeed, faculty there. I have already emailed Dr. Offit to check that this is an accurate representation of the facts, and he confirmed this. I look forward to seeing how you make use of these corrections.
[Author’s note: Dan & Mark made an update to their first report, a detailed analysis of Offit’s patent royalties called Counting Offit’s Millions HERE. This revision incorporated the new information Sullivan provided them. Unfortunately for Sullivan, this new information didn’t make Offit any less less rich, it actually showed that Offit was sharing income from another royalty deal that gave him on ongoing interest in Merck’s Rotateq revenues, a crucial piece of the puzzle Sullivan withheld from her attempted “correction.” Mark and Dan had a brief exchange with “Sullivan” who, despite repeated requests from Mark, refused to disclose her true identity.].
Why does the random father of a child with autism, a layperson, care so much that the exact number of millions Paul Offit made be clarified? So he’s a multi-millionaire, not a multi-multi-millionaire? What’s in it for Sullivan?
Evidence #4: When Barbara Loe Fisher sued Paul Offit, Sullivan didn’t even mention the case until the suit had been dismissed, despite the fact that Orac (a blogger who Sullivan cites frequently) had discussed the case 3 months prior.
When Barbara Loe Fischer sued Paul Offit for libel, Dr. David Gorski, aka “Orac” was quick to discuss the suit in January 2010.
When did Sullivan, a nearly religious chonicler of all things autism first discuss this case? In March 2010, three months later, THE DAY THE SUIT WAS DISMISSED. Why was there such a time delay on a topic—anything to do with Paul Offit—that Sullivan is so quick to discuss?
Evidence #5: Sullivan knows what’s in Paul Offit’s new book, Deadly Choices, even though it hasn’t been released yet
While the word “autism” doesn’t appear at all on the Amazon.com page for the book, it will come as no surprise that the autism/vaccine parent groups play a prominent role in the book’s discussion of the modern anti-vaccine movement.
Dr. Offit’s books get read. By important people. I have little doubt this one will too.
As I said with my discussion of Panic Virus, there is no joy in realizing that some of the vocal autism-parent groups are being chronicled in this way. There is, however, relief that books such as these signal that perhaps the worst is over. The public and the press are no longer giving the idea of the vaccine-induced-autism-epidemic the credibility it enjoyed only a year or two ago.
The book isn’t out until January? Why does Sullivan already know what’s in it?
Evidence #6: If it has to do with Offit, Sullivan will defend the most arcane of topics (especially the Rotavirus vaccine)
In a post titled “Storm in a Teacup, “ Sullivan goes out of her way to defend Paul Offit’s rotavirus vaccine, after it was determined that the vaccine contained a pig virus:
“We have to start getting over our collective heebie-jeebies every time something perfectly safe is found in a vaccine and start realising that the people who are advocating that we do have an attack of the heebie-jeebies are those who have a single item agenda – promoting anti-vaccineism.”
Why does this random father of an autistic child give a crap that they found pig virus in the rotavirus vaccine?
Evidence #7: Sullivan is obsessed with the same topics that obsess Paul Offit
Take a tour of LeftBrainRightBrain’s blog. What does Sullivan, a layperson father of a child with autism write about? Hannah Poling, Barbara Loe Fisher, Andy Wakefield, Generation Rescue, and Jenny McCarthy. Anything that exonerates vaccines from causing autism, and anything Paul Offit.
Paul Offit could not have asked for a better random father to come along out of nowhere:
* a father with a child with autism
* a father with a child with autism with remarkable ease at dissecting complex medical topics and forming the same exact arcane one-sided arguments that Paul Offit makes
* a father interested in topics, almost exclusively, that impact Paul Offit and his legacy
Check out this absurd fax signed by “Autism Parent” that Sullivan sent to Katie Couric, definding all things Paul Offit:
“It is with great dismay that I, a parent of a young child with autism, have watched the ongoing series on autism by Sharyl Attkisson. This series’s angle was illustrated in her interview with Dr. Healy, which was tainted by the unfounded statement, “There is a completely expressed concern that they don’t want to pursue a hypothesis because that hypothesis could be damaging to the public health community at large by scaring people.” I feel a good journalist would have asked for Dr. Healy to support this statement. Given the stakes involved, that would be the minimum required before airing it. I expect you will not be surprised that I also have concerns over the recent piece questioning the independence of vocal supporters of vaccines. In particular, the part discussing Dr. Paul Offit was lacking in facts and in real analysis of those facts…Given these facts, what we have is a scientist who has over 25 years’ experience researching vaccines and infectious diseases, and has no financial conflicts of interest in the present or future. Isn’t this exactly what we want in a spokesperson?”
You know, I’m starting to hope this is Bonnie Offit, because if it isn’t we have one really, really troubled father on our hands. Get a life, father of a child with autism, Paul Offit is not going to help your child…unless Paul Offit is the father of your children, and then, once again, it all makes sense.
(One small point: I’ve read Sullivan elsewhere explain that her children were born before the year 2000…so how young is your child, Sullivan?)
AoA’ers, please look into this, do your own research, and share it. I believe there is compelling evidence to implicate Bonnie Offit as the blogger known as Sullivan. If true, then Bonnie Offit:
* Is posing as a parent of a child with autism to engender sympathy and credibility for her point of view. This is dishonest and, well, absolutely reprehensible. In fact, I’d even call it disgusting--Offit’s wife is pretending to be one of us!
* Is writing under false pretenses to provide support for topics that protect her husband’s legacy, confusing the reader who is unaware of the biases and conflicts she is bringing to her writing.
* Wagging the dog, if you will, by trying to steer the debate on the Web as a neutral party when, in fact, she and her husband are major players in the whole debate – it is wildly fraudulent. Recently, she is spending her blogging time attempting to declare that this debate is over, perhaps hoping it will be if she says it enough times.
So many questions emerge if Bonnie Offit is Sullivan. How much of Paul Offit’s upcoming book is written by Paul Offit? As an inside joke, does he thank “Sullivan” in his acknowledgements? Will the book’s writing style and Sullivan’s writing style be eerily similar? Is Sullivan the thoughts and words of Bonnie Offit, Paul Offit, or both?
Does the evidence I have presented prove anything? Again, I’ll let the reader decide, and either add to or challenge my argument.
I’m personally convinced, I think Bonnie Offit is Sullivan.
I don’t think a father of a child with autism exists who would devote himself to the hundreds (if not thousands) of hours it would take to compile Sullivan’s body of work on the web, a work so completely dedicated to topics that impact Paul Offit. In fact, the only person capable of doing this, I would argue, is Paul Offit or his Pediatrician wife.
Bonnie spends an inordinate amount of time blogging, she herself admits this. Yet, we can’t find anything she has written anywhere on the web. Or can we?
Bonnie, you have every right to have an opinion. You have every right to defend your husband’s legacy. But, for goodness’ sake, have the decency to do it honestly, openly, courageously, just like the rest of us do, the real parents of kids with autism, the people who are actually suffering in this whole debate. You’re not suffering--you have two healthy kids and a few million in the bank.
I know for certain Bonnie Offit does seek to defend her husband’s legacy, as this recorded recorded message (this is a .wav file) from Bonnie Offit demonstrates. As you can hear, she’s asking someone to take the Pauloffit.com website down, because it damages her husband.
Bonnie Offit, or Sullivan for that matter, I have a simple offer:
If you can produce a dad with a child with autism with a remarkable grasp of the medical and scientific literature who blogs under the name Sullivan, a man who has an inordinate grasp of the details of your husband’s patents, lawsuits, published studies, and web habits, I will make sure that the pauloffit.com website is given to you and your husband for good.
In fact, if you can produce this father, I promise to never, ever publicly write about or utter the name “Paul Offit” again.
I’m waiting, Bonnie, and I have a funny feeling I will be waiting a very long time.
Author’s Note: I emailed Sullivan to ask him/her to respond to this story and/or call me on my cell. I have not heard back.
J.B. Handley is co-founder of Generation Rescue.