“So it's an absolute lie that has killed thousands of kids. Because the mothers who heard that lie, many of them didn't have their kids take either pertusses or measles vaccine, and their children are dead today. And so the people who go and engage in those anti-vaccine efforts -- you know, they, they kill children…” -- Bill Gates
(Professor Seth Kalichman on UConn on left and Bill Gates on right.)
By Lou Conte
I have worked in a curious branch of law enforcement referred to as “Community Corrections” for over 28 years. Most days I am involved in helping people turn their lives around, helping people make better decisions and then holding them accountable if they don’t. The work can be interesting and mundane. It can be challenging and frustrating. It can be satisfying and it can be terrifying. You either get comfortable with dichotomy or uncomfortable with cognitive dissonance.
This work is done in the community – hence “Community Corrections” – and you had better be on your game and keep your eyes open because there are no bars separating you from the people you are dealing with.
The criminal justice system has reasonable procedures for dealing with people accused of violating the law. People charged with crimes are afforded certain rights, commonly referred to as Due Process Rights. These rights are built into the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. A defendant will have access to legal representation, will have the right to know what they are being charged with and they will have the right to mount a defense. The upshot is that people have rights and before you can impose the authority of the state on them, some burdens must be met.
I will be the first to tell you that the system isn’t perfect. But before the system labels a person as an “offender”, there is a legal process.
If, in the end, a person is found guilty, the state can impose a sentence on the person. The offender can be incarcerated or sentenced to probation. If the offender is sentenced to probation, they get a set of conditions that they have to follow and have to look across the table at a guy like me.
Lately, however, I find myself feeling as though I am on the other side of the table.
It seems that there is a new concept of “Community Corrections.” Apparently, I am a member of a community of people that needs to be corrected. That community is made up of people who ask questions about vaccines safety, who ask questions about the nation’s vaccine program or who ask if some cases of autism are the result of vaccine injuries. Ask any of these questions, and you are guilty of being “anti-vaccine.”
It seems that I am guilty. I confess that I have asked questions like that. This doesn’t mean that I have received meaningful or intelligent answers to my questions. In fact, I received so few answers from those in the federal government on a project that I was working on that I eventually co-authored a paper called Unanswered Questions from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Holland, Krakow, Colin and I published a peer reviewed paper in the Pace Environmental Law Review in which we reported that the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program had been compensating a lot of vaccine injured children who also had autism. This had gone on for years but the government never disclosed it. The “Vaccine Court” then held the Omnibus Autism Proceedings as if none of this had gone on and issued terse rulings criticizing the petitioners.
But I digress….
No court has found me guilty of doing anything wrong. In fact, I haven’t even been charged with anything. No petitions have been filed against me in the “Anti-Vaccine Court.” Just asking the questions seems to be all that is necessary to get the label. That is the extent of Due Process in this arena.
If one assigns this label simply because a group of people have asked questions about vaccine safety, then there are a lot of people who are “anti-vaccine” – including those people in the United States government who passed a law called The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986. They obviously had questions once.
And yet, it seems that I am about to placed under surveillance, along with all the other people who have asked vaccine questions. If I write something questioning vaccine safety (maybe even something like what I doing now), I may well find myself in the cross hairs of an Internet surveillance program funded by one of the richest men on earth – Bill Gates. It seems that Gates has decided to give University of Connecticut Psychology Professor Dr. Seth Kalichman $100,000 for "Establishing an Anti-Vaccine Surveillance and Alert System," which intends to "establish an internet-based global monitoring and rapid alert system for finding, analyzing, and counteracting misinformation communication campaigns regarding vaccines to support global immunization efforts."
So Dr. Kalichman intends to monitor people like us and quickly report his findings back to some unidentified entity (Bill Gates?) and then do stuff (we don’t know what) in response. Dr. Kalichman does not have to run his activities by a judge, as professionals involved in real community corrections do. He doesn’t even have to really
That doesn’t really sit right with me. Last I heard, the Constitution protected speech, even speech that questions the government. And, please, questioning vaccine safety is not equivalent to yelling “fire” in a movie theatre. If it were, Congress wouldn’t have passed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act in 1986.
With these concerns in mind, I reached out to Dr. Kalichman with the following emails:
-------- Begin forwarded message --------
Subject: Grant from Gates Foundation
From: "Louis Conte" <firstname.lastname@example.org >
Dear Dr. Kalichman:
I am the father of triplet boys, age 12. Two of my boys have autism. I fully disclose that I am concerned that vaccine injuries may have lead to my sons suffering brain damage and, eventually, autism.
I have worked in law enforcement and the courts for over 28 years in Westchester County. I mention this because some of my questions connect to my background.
I have read an on-line article that states that you are receiving some funding from the gates Foundation for the purposes of "Establishing an Anti-Vaccine Surveillance and Alert System," which intends to "establish an internet-based global monitoring and rapid alert system for finding, analyzing, and counteracting misinformation communication campaigns regarding vaccines to support global immunization efforts."
I recognize that one can not trust everything that one reads on the internet. However, is this accurate?
Is it really ethical to conduct surveillance on people just because they question the safety of a medical product? This seems to be an odd thing for a university professor to do.
How will you decide what makes a person (or a group of people) "anti-vaccine"? How will you actually conduct the surveillance of these people? Who does the "rapid alert" go to? What will the "counteracting" be like?
I would like to talk to you about this project if you are willing.
Please feel free to call me at 914-XXX-XXXX
My first email went, well, unanswered. So I sent another one.
Dear Dr. Kalichman:
I have done some minor digging and verified that you are indeed the recipient of grant money from the Gates Foundation under Grand Challenges in Global health. "Establishing an Anti-Vaccine Surveillance and Alert System - Seth Kalichman of the University of Connecticut in the U.S. will establish an internet-based global monitoring and rapid alert system for finding, analyzing, and counteracting misinformation communicator campaigns regarding vaccines to support global immunization efforts."
So, I guess to answer one of my questions (you didn't respond to my previous email), this is true.
So, once again, I will ask: Is it really ethical to conduct surveillance on people just because they question the safety of a medical product? How will you decide what makes a person (or a group of people) "anti-vaccine"? How will you actually conduct the surveillance of these people? Who does the "rapid alert" go to? What will the "counteracting" be like?
Again, I would like to discuss your project.
Well, Dr. Kalichman didn’t answer my emails. I was getting the sense that he didn’t seem interested in discussing his project with me. Given my label, it seems that my concerns were not worth responding to. In my line of work, you learn as much as possible about the people you are keeping an eye on so that you get some perspective on them as people. This struck me as disrespectful and just a little bit unethical.
So, I decided to look up the University of Connecticut’s Code of Ethics. Sure enough, it turns out that Dr. Kalichman’s project could be in conflict with the code of ethics that he is supposed to be working under – particularly in the Respect section…
The University of Connecticut Ethics Statement
The standards contained in this Code of Conduct reflect the University of
Connecticut’s core values as they have been articulated over time by generations of
faculty, staff, administrators, students and the State of Connecticut. These values are
essential and enduring tenets of our organization. A statement of these values, while
reiterating concepts already well understood, is helpful in outlining the context in
which our Code will operate. Please be advised that violation of the standards in
this Code of Conduct may result in appropriate disciplinary measures up to and
Members of the University community value truth, the pursuit of truth, intellectual
curiosity and academic freedom. Our faculty and students seek to create new
knowledge and are committed to sharing ideas, research findings and the products
of intellectual and creative pursuits with the broader community.
Members of the University community are truthful and sincere in their words and
actions and do not intentionally mislead others or provide inaccurate information.
Institutional and individual behaviors at the University reflect fundamental moral
and ethical values. Our actions are beyond reproach and avoid both the fact and the
appearance of impropriety.
The University honors and respects individuality and demonstrates tolerance for the personal beliefs and cultural differences of all individuals. As members of an academic community, we seek to foster a spirit of civility and collegiality through open and honest communication. We strive to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of all persons. We protect the private and confidential information that is provided by our patients and research participants, faculty, administrators, staff, students, volunteers and others. We value an environment that is free from harassment, intimidation, bullying, incivility, disrespect and violence.
The University and its members expect that the professional standards and
requirements that are applicable to the academic, research, clinical, engagement,
administrative and other professions comprising our community will be followed.
We are responsible and accountable for our actions and are expected to make reasonable efforts to comply with all applicable federal, state and local government laws and regulations. As individuals and as an institution, we also strive to follow ethical
business practices and to act as good stewards of the resources made available to us.
I guess that the Respect section doesn’t apply to people labeled “Anti-vaccine.”
Now, Dr. Kalichman is not a bad guy. In fact, I give the man a perfect score of 10 on the “Snooker Scale” because he has managed to pry $100,000 from Bill Gates for simply reading the Age of Autism every morning. I wish I had come up with that idea (Maybe I can request some money from Uncle Bill by submitting a grant to develop counter-measures against those people who say that his software is lousy).
And this snookering is even more artful when it is clear that many vaccine “questioners” are already “monitored.”
If you look Dr. Kalichman up on the Internet, you will see that he is concerned about the spread of AIDS around the world and has written a book about that issue. He is also donating any profits from the sale of the book to help fight AIDS. Dr. Kalichman has some interesting thoughts about some people who question the scientific consensus that AIDS is caused by a virus. I don’t know if he equates those people with people he considers to be “anti-vaccine.”
I don’t know because he didn’t answer my emails.
But I do know that it is wrong to assign a label to people you don’t know and haven’t taken the time to learn about. It is a way of marginalizing people so that you don’t have to consider them as fully human. And once you have marginalized someone, you don’t have to listen to them.
It is not what a member of academia should do.
So, I sent Dr. Kalichman one last email:
Well, I guess that you don't intend to respond to my earlier emails.
That is fine.
I am not going to send you any more.
However, I would ask that you take the time to get to get to know some of your research subjects - some of those "anti-vaccine" people. I am certainly willing to introduce you to some of the people that you are likely going to be keeping an eye on. Actually having a conversation with some of them - instead of just surveilling them on the Internet - might be an eye opening experience for you. I think that you and the University of Connecticut should do that before you commence your surveillance project. My opinion is that doing so would be more consistent with UCONN's code of ethics.
And to that point, let me state I regard this project as being unethical. The nation's vaccine program is but one aspect of Public Health Policy. That means that the public is invited to participate in discussions around the policy and, yes, even question it. Accepting Bill Gates' money and labeling those you intend to surveil as "anti-vaccine" does not make it ethical to do so. Particularly since your project intends some form of vague "countermeasures."
Our nation’s universities used to be places of academic freedom and open debate. The program you have agreed to administer seems more like something that Joe McCarthy would run back in the Cold War days.
Is surveilling people on the internet really appropriate academic research? Is Dr. Kalichman unfairly labeling people who have done nothing more than asked questions and express concerns about the safety of a medical product? Is this furtive conduct that infringes upon the rights of people to speak openly? Does it place Dr. Kalichman in conflict his university’s code of ethics? Is the project ethical just because Bill Gates is paying for it?
I really don’t know. My questions went unanswered.
Louis Conte is the father of triplet boys, age 12, two with autism. He has over 28 years of experience in law enforcement and the courts. Conte is the Board President of the Elizabeth Birt Center for Autism Law and Advocacy (EBCALA) and also serves on the board of the Autism Action Network (AAN). He is a co-author of Unanswered Questions from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.