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Best of Age of Autism: Jake Crosby Booted from Seth Mnookin Book Event

Given-the-bootManaging Editor's Note: Today is the one year anniversary of this event - and Jake Crosby's 24th birthday.  

By Jake Crosby

Seth Mnookin blatantly lied about me again, this time at a public conference run by an organization that is chaired by a Merck vaccines executive. In short, I asked Mnookin a question during the Q/A period; he stopped me, accused me of disrupting the event, and falsely stated I had disrupted past events of his, whereupon security escorted me out.

It all happened on December 2, 2011 – my 23rd birthday – when I attended the “Research Ethics Book Group Lunch and Book Signing,” at the annual “Advancing Ethical Research Conference,” held by “Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research” (PRIMR). 

The book being discussed was “Panic Virus,” by Seth Mnookin, who fielded questions from the audience. He was originally scheduled to be physically present, but his daughter was born three weeks early the day before, so he held the discussion via Skype. The conference was listed under the “current speaking schedule” on his personal website.

When signing up in advance online, I was told the event was already full, so my name was placed on the waitlist. Nonetheless, enough people who successfully registered for the event did not show up, and I was allowed in without a registration badge after giving my name, saying that I was on the waitlist and also saying I was covering the event for a major autism news website. I was even told I could sit down at one of the tables and help myself to lunch.

In the lead up to the question and answer session, a sheet labeled “Questions for discussion” was handed out to all audience members, filled with some of the most loaded questions I’ve ever seen, one of which read:

According to Mnookin, Andrew Wakefield and the other players in the movement to link vaccines and autism succeeded in convincing so many people, despite overwhelming scientific evidence against such a link, because they played to the desperation and frustration of parents of autistic children. How, according to Mnookin, did the desperation and frustration of parents also allow Wakefield and other clinicians who “treated” autistic children – with multiple endoscopies and the like – to shield themselves from charges that they were engaged in bad science and unethical behavior?

Surprisingly, the conversations by some of the folks at my table seemed to run counter to the overarching message of the event. I overheard one person saying he always rejects flu shots. Another person remarked that if Seth Mnookin is so sure vaccines do not cause autism; he must have some alternate reason for the skyrocketing rate of the disorder. Except that he doesn’t.

Eventually, the screen at the conference turned on and up came Seth Mnookin’s face. He couldn’t see us; he could only hear us, but we could see and hear him. As soon as questions rolled around, I raised my hand, was called upon and got up to the microphone to ask the first question.

“Hi - Jake Crosby - congratulations,” I said, regarding his newborn daughter. I then proceeded to ask my question:

“With regard to Dr. Andrew Wakefield, given the new advancements within the past month, with Dr. David Lewis…”

Then – all of a sudden – the screen went black. The moderator said that we lost connection. Audience members then told me to switch microphones in case the one I was using didn’t work either.

Eventually, the audio returned. The moderator asked, “Seth, are you there?”

“Yes,” he said, “The last words I picked up were ‘given these new advancements…’” Then his face reappeared.

I later realized he probably disappeared from view in order to make a phone call. I then proceeded to ask how he can continue to accuse Dr. Wakefield of unethical research and bad science given the ongoing investigation by Dr. David Lewis – professional scientist with the National Whistleblower Center – who exonerated Wakefield of the pathology fraud allegations made by BMJ earlier this year, and stated the pathology results were consistent with what was in the Lancet paper, and also given that the expert pathologist – Dr. Amar Dhillon –  defended the results in a letter to the BMJ. But as I was finishing up, he cut me off.

“Okay, Jake, I’m going to stop you right there.”

“I just want to know how you can continue to accuse Dr. Wakefield of this.”

“We’ve talked before at my other events you’ve been to, and you’ve been into interrupting and disrupting.”

“I haven’t been disrupting; I was just asking a question.” (At the only event of Mnookin’s that I attended before this one,  I conversed with him afterwards. He even shook my hand – hardly a “disruption” of his “events.” But then again, accuracy is not Mnookin’s strong suit as he readily admits.)

“I never mentioned Andrew Wakefield in my plenary address,” he claimed, even though Dr. Andrew Wakefield was mentioned several times in the questions for discussion given out at the event.

During this exchange, I overheard some snickers from a few audience members. Then a woman came up to me, grabbed the microphone, aimed it down at the floor so I couldn’t speak into it and asked, “Can I see your badge, please?”

“I don’t have a badge, I was let in from the waitlist.” Jake boot

“You’re going to have to leave!”

I repeated what I told her, but it was no use. Apparently, you can’t ask Seth Mnookin a challenging question without a badge.

While she was escorting me out, Seth Mnookin proceeded to answer my question that he had just labeled disruptive of his event. I could make out bits and pieces of what he was saying:

“…he [presumably Dr. Lewis] is not an expert on bowel pathology…the BMJ evaluated the data and found there was nothing there…it doesn’t even matter if Wakefield acted unethically, he’s still wrong…”

I detoured past the microphone I used earlier – which sure enough worked – to respond, “That’s not true.” But the same woman then grabbed that microphone and aimed it down at the floor so that I couldn’t use it either. Meanwhile, Mnookin continued his long, rambling response to my “disruptive” question.

I was then followed out of the room by a security guard in a dark grey suit, who continued to follow me until I was out of the resort. During my perp walk through the hotel, he radioed back my every move, at one point saying as I got on an escalator:

“He just got on the escalator! He is going to the first floor!”

As he got on after me, I called back, “You don’t have to follow me! I’m leaving the building!”

And he replied, “You broke the rules! You were being disruptive!”

“I asked a question as I was allowed!”

“You weren’t supposed to do that!”

Eventually I walked out of the lobby – off the hotel premises – and that’s when he finally stopped trailing me.

In retrospect, I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised. On the PRIMR’s board of directors, sits chairman Dr. Walter Straus. The PRIMR website says of him:

Dr. Walter L. Straus is the Global Director for Scientific Affairs - Vaccines at Merck Research Laboratories, Merck & Co, Inc.

Several attendees of the conference tweeted my exit, accusing me of being a “heckler” for asking my question.

One attendee named Dr. Judy Stone tweeted:

Lunch session with @sethmnookin had an anti-vax heckler challenging Seth re #Wakefield nonsense.

Another person named Chris Witwer even caught a twitpic of me as I was being escorted out. Below his picture, he wrote:

Heckler at @sethmnookin luncheon has been removed. Thx, Gaylord hotel.

Afterwards, Seth Mnookin tweeted about me, lying once more:

I would have preferred responding (& tried to), altho the person wanted to grandstand not talk at #PRIMR_AER11

No, all I wanted to do was ask a challenging question. And he was apparently planning on answering it unchallenged given that the screen he was on went black immediately after I gave my name.

When Dr. Andrew Wakefield was asked challenging questions at Brandeis University (allow to load and go to 1:19:12 and 1:21:39), the challengers were allowed to finish their questions and even ask follow-up questions. They were not cut-off, shut up, or escorted off the premises. That’s because Dr. Wakefield welcomes challenging questions.

Seth Mnookin obviously does not.

Jake Crosby has Asperger Syndrome and is a contributing editor to Age of Autism. He is a 2011 graduate of Brandeis University with a BA in both History and Health: Science, Society and Policy. He currently attends The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services where he is studying for an MPH in epidemiology. 

Comments

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Happy Birthday and I wish you Happy Holidays Jake.Thank you for you hard work and your reports to us.
All the best with your studies,we need a strong person like you to keep them on their toes.They are afraid because they do not have the answers.You and the families and hard working mothers and fathers at AoA - we have to find the answers.
Yes,you are a hero Jake.

Thank you all for your support and birthday wishes.

@Farmer Geddon, I'm actually 24 now; this article originally ran a year ago. Who knows what these people are giving their children in comparison or contrast to what they claim they're giving them? 10 years ago, Tony Blair wouldn't say whether he gave his son the MMR. So anything goes.

@Benedetta, I'm afraid my being "disruptive" was more than just the security guard's opinion of me, but rather the whole pretense for ejecting me in the first place.

Judging by some glimpses I got of him while he was walking behind me as well as our encounter on the escalator, I'd say he was probably in his early thirties. He also had a heavy accent; I'd venture to guess he was from a sub-Saharan African country where autism is virtually unheard of, for now...

Best of luck to your son and happy holidays to everyone!

Msg to Seth Mnookin : can you pls assure us , your wife took the flu and pertusis vaccines during the gestation period ?
And that your daughter will be taking the full load of childhood vaccine schedule please . You know its all perfectoly safe ......and dont be cheating with any placebo or anything like that . Same question to William and Kate HRH ?

IG Farben = Muck = Govt sponsored Killing

Who said we arent winning , they connot even defend a simple question , thats how weak their arguments are .
We have them on the run .

Brilliant stuff Jake (happy birthday - only 23
- hope you live to 100 and campaign agst the PharmaHarma all the way ), wish I could have been there with you . You are not alone , there are many of us , all over the world taking this fight to the criminals .

Seth Mnookin , please come to Ldn where you will recieve the same treatment and much more (you are a scoundrel)

There seems to be no practical purpose for these meetings other than to pat themselves on the back.

WOW when I grow up I want to be like Jake and politely with FACTS, openly and vocally challenge AUTHORITY on all their lies and hypocrisy. If this is "disruptive" then it is a REQUIRED disruption from the perversion we are being forced to live through.

Hey I AM grown up!

Happy birthday, Jake!

Haaaaaapy Biiiiirthday !!!! To a real-life SUPERHERO.

Wishing you a positively fabulous birthday this year, Jake! You certainly deserve one after what happened last year. Hope you are surrounded by the people you love the most this year, and that you celebrate heartily and happily.

What a jerk. I'd like to see Seth Mnookin questioned by the Congressional House Oversight Committee. Of course, that would be a waste of their time, but it would be nice to see him grilled by someone in power who could make him squirm, instead of accepting his BS.

The guard should have kept his opinion to himself, his job was to escort you out - not tell you his opinion.

Was he a young guard - to young to have yet started a family?

Maybe he was an middle guard that had what he thinks are typical children (hard to know now a days - when the hormones kick in and suddenly there is those teenager blues - that turn out to be really bipolar) -- but maybe he is expecting his first grandchild.

There may be a day coming when he kicks himself because he did not take the opportunity of while doing his job - that he also did not take the time to give you a pat you on the back - say job well done, and may I shake your hand.

Yeah, that day may soon be coming for that guard.

Happy Birthday Jake.
Mine has yet to find a job although he has had two interviews. Vocational Rehabilitation is turning out to be a nothing piece of (**it).

I a trying to talk him into going back to school for automotive reapair -- he could get a job repairing small motors - my Dad is 88 but he wants to help get his own busines set up -My father and him has always tinkered with small motors for fun???
Wish me luck in getting him excited about this - while he is still young and we are here to support him to that end.

Jake Crosby is my hero! He is absolutely brilliant! Happy Birthday, Jake!

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