Autism. What's in a name?
Dr. David Gorski and His Merry Band of Idiots Don’t Like Full Page Ads

Best of A of A: More Bullshit from the Apparatchiks

BullshitalertbuttonlManaging Editor's Note: We thought this piece deserved a second run - Mark wrote it after the Hannah Poling decision last year when the press referred to Miss Poling as having "autism like symptoms." 

By Mark Blaxill

Some people get a little squeamish when others use the word bullshit to describe a certain kind of bureaucratic doublespeak. Not me.  I like to remind the squeamish among us that bullshit is a precise term in the philosophy of science and it’s entirely respectable to use the word in polite company. To support my case, I point friends to Harry Frankfurt, emeritus Professor of Philosophy at my alma mater, Princeton University, who elaborated on the relevant philosophical concepts at some length in his wildly popular essay, On Bullshit, in which he famously distinguished bullshit from lying.

Bullshitting is not exactly lying, and bullshit remains bullshit whether it's true or false. The difference lies in the bullshitter's complete disregard for whether what he's saying corresponds to facts in the physical world: he does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.

I’ve been reminded again about Frankfurt’s wisdom in observing the public health apparatchiks’ transparent attempts to spin the recently disclosed concession that vaccines caused Hannah Poling’s autism. There are three aspects of the spin that are just so egregious it’s impossible to let them stand without some kind of rebuttal.

1. Hannah Poling was not really autistic. She just had “autism-like symptoms” or “features of autism.”

Sorry boys, but that’s just bullshit. In case you hadn’t noticed, there is nothing else that defines autism except a collection of features and symptoms. If you have enough features from the official checklist, then you have autism. It’s that simple. It’s not as though we actually have an agreed biological definition of autism—biomarkers, genes, tissue characteristics—that specifies a biomedical condition. Quite the opposite, the entire concept of autism is just a hypothesis of its own: that there are kids who share some kind of underlying disease process that one day we’ll understand well enough that we can redefine in biological terms.

Don’t believe me? Then believe Michael Rutter, the man who developed the formal diagnostic concept of the triad of features (“impaired social relationships”, “language and prelanguage skills” and “insistence on sameness”) that has guided the diagnostic instruments used in autism for the last three decades. In his landmark 1978 essay that set out the modern criteria for autism, Rutter made this point pretty clearly as he described his attempt to both support and update the original criteria set forth by Leo Kanner in 1943:

The question is not “What is autism?” but rather “To what set of phenomena [can you say “features”?] shall we apply the term autism?” There is no point in starting with the word autism and then defining it. It is merely a word and like any other word it means just what we want it to mean—no more and no less…This may seem like a mere semantic quibble but in fact the distinction has important practical consequences. The word autism could be used to describe children who merely avert eye-to-eye gaze or for that matter to describe wooden tables…But Kanner’s use of the term was more than a simple label, and that is where the trouble really increases. It was also a hypothesis—a suggestion that behind the behavioral description lay a disease entity. In short, he suggested (quite properly) that the particular grouping of behaviors he chose to call autism had a validity in the sense that the children with these behaviors differed from children with other psychiatric disorders in some important sense.

It’s not complicated folks. For anyone who just watched Hannah Poling (what a beautiful little girl!) on Larry King Live, is there any doubt that she's autistic? Let's get real. “Autistic-like symptoms”, if you have enough of them, are autism. By definition.

2. Vaccines aggravated a rare undiagnosed mitochondrial disorder. They didn’t cause autism. It would be completely wrong to say that this case has bearing to the vast majority of children with autism.

Oops, gotta stop you there. More bullshit! Hannah Poling’s doctors tested her blood after she had a clear vaccine reaction. They found “subtle abnormalities in the serum creatine kinase level, aspartate aminotransferase, and serum bicarbonate”, all markers for mitochondrial metabolism problems. Then they took a muscle biopsy and found some more markers that pointed in the same direction. But more importantly, they turned around and looked for the same blood markers in a sample of banked autism blood samples. In close to half of these samples they found elevations in the same plasma markers (aspartate aminotransferase and serum creatine kinase) that they found in Hannah. A rare condition? Not exactly.

More to the point, mitochondrial dysfunction is a common feature of autism. Several studies of autistic children have found biomarkers consistent with abnormalities in mitochondrial metabolism. These abnormalities are typically observed in blood tests as either elevated levels of lactate or elevated levels of the lactate/pyruvate ratio in plasma (both signs of “hyperlactidemia”, plasma is the liquid component of the blood). Lot’s of people have been worried about mitochondrial problems in autism for a long time. Two of the smartest DAN! doctors around (Dan Rossignol and Jeff Bradstreet) just published a paper on it.

So let’s be clear here. Hannah’s pattern of mitochondrial dysfunction is not rare. It’s quite common in autistic children. If vaccines caused Hannah’s illness and mitochondrial problems, it’s quite possible, indeed likely, that they could cause the same effect in other autistic children. Large numbers of them. Hannah’s case is not just a trivial, obscure, one-of-a-kind anomaly. It may very well prove to be a big deal and a model for the injuries that affected large numbers of children after they were vaccinated and then became autistic.

3. Hannah Poling’s health problems come from a well known genetic defect in mitochondrial metabolism. Her genetic defect produced an “encephalopathy.” It’s not really autism.

The genetic bullshit is always the most creative. Let me take these points one by one. First of all, “encephalopathy” is one of those fancy sounding medical words that mean absolutely nothing. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (my go-to resource when the linguistic bullshit starts flying), encephalopathy is “a disease of the brain.” Literally speaking, it means “sick in the head.” That’s not a precise description and not the least bit useful. Just sound and fury signifying nothing.

Second, the genetic issues are about as far from well understood as you can get. Lots of scientists have speculated about defects in the genes surrounding mitochondrial function in autistic children, but none of their theories have gotten very far. The most prominent genetic theory regarding mitochondrial metabolism in autism is that there is an increased inheritance of a form of the “mitochondrial aspartate/glutamate carrier gene” (it goes by the catchy name of SLC25A12) that increases the risk of autism. But despite some tentative findings that suggested that one form of this gene might be passed on more frequently from parent-to-child in autism, the finding has not held up well under repeated testing. Despite misleading comments to the contrary, the direct genetic connection between mitochondrial function and autism remains a mystery. Perhaps it always will be.

Finally, and most importantly in the Poling case, is that the specific genetic mutation that Hannah’s doctors found has never before been connected with a known mitochondrial disorder. The recently published court papers in the Poling case revealed that “a mitochondrial DNA (“mtDNA”) point mutation analysis revealed a single nucleotide change in the 16S ribosomal RNA gene (T2387C).” Search the scientific literature, the internet, any medical database you can find for that matter, for this T2387C gene mutation and see what comes up. Is it a well known, commonly characterized genetic source of mitochondrial dysfunction? To ask the question provides the answer: of course not. Mitochondrial scientists have never before published anything relating to Hannah’s specific mutation and I’d be surprised if anyone ever does. The suggestion that genetic science has the slightest idea what is going on in Hannah Poling’s genes is simply wrong. And more bullshit.

   
   *  *  *
To some extent I realize that I’m preaching to the choir with our readers at Age of Autism. But there’s one very critical disagreement that I know is out there, because I’ve had this discussion with many fellow parents. There’s an important counter-argument to my model of bureaucratic (the Soviets called bureaucrats apparatchiks) misbehavior here and it has to do with the intent of the public health apparatchiks in denying vaccine damage in the case of Hannah Poling. Quite a number of you will argue that these people aren’t just dealing bullshit. In Frankfurt’s terms, they know what the truth is and they’re taking a position in opposition to it, with full awareness that that’s what they’re doing. In that sense, many would argue, what the CDC is doing has nothing to do with bullshitting. They’re simply lying. And I’m letting them off the hook.

I always prefer to explain error with confusion rather than malice. But since I can’t read the minds of the apparatchiks, I suppose I have to admit that the cynical case is just as plausible as mine.

So on the latest spin that “vaccines have nothing to do with autism” in the Hannah Poling case: is that lying or bullshit? I’ll let you be your own judge.

Mark Blaxill is Editor at Large for Age of Autism.

Comments

Teresa McDaniel

Good article. Thanks

sdtech

Maurine:

Screaming is good. A pillow or closed door is suggested--or your US Congressperson or newspaper editor.:)

Maurine Meleck

Really and just like "autism like symptoms" don't equal autism so does PDD/NOS not equal autism. Honeslty, somedays I just want to go outside and scream"I just can't take it anymore."
Maurine

WE SHALL OVERCOME

We have ever been dealing with objective interpretation of scientific data. This has always been a game of playing with words, involving more linguistic analysis than scientific research, and the goal has always been how to get bullshit (or weasel words) to sound like "facts". That amount of "word play" just tells you how much bullshit is flown around here. Scientists do not call the shots, they never have. CDC spokesmen are spin masters, and they are at no more than a car salesman level at that. The trouble is that nobody else seems to be looking but those directly affected by their manipulation.

ObjectiveAutismDad

Mark, Thank you -- again. As a student of philosophy I went and got the book after you first wrote this article. It is an excellent book. And your article is spot on in both cases!

sdtech

Mark:

Thank you. Here is another observation to reinforce your excellent assessment.

There is something more insidious than lies and bullshit going on here. That something is the use of weasel words which soon lose their weasel-ness and become outright lies.

For example, look at the cover up of the Verstraeten data at http://www.safeminds.org/research/library/20010229.pdf .

Graphs 3 and 16 show statistical inference of autism from vaccine mercury exposure.

But weasel words allow a “different version of the truth,” per the movie As Good As It Gets.

Here is how it works. First the CDC and the IOM look at other reports and studies and state in weasel word fashion “The committee concluded that this body of evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism...”
See http://www.fda.gov/Cber/vaccine/thimerosal.htm.

Notice that the weasel words “body of evidence” and “does not favor” do not deny outright the Verstaeten statistical inference from the 2000 report. This is a perfect setup to change the weasel words to outright lies.


And Viola--CDC, “In 2004 the Institute of Medicine reviewed many studies looking into this theory and concluded that there is no evidence of such a relationship.”

See “Vaccine Information Statement Inactivated Influenza Vaccine” (7/24/08) 42 U.S.C. §300aa-26, p. 1. See http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/Pubs/vis/default.htm#flu.

timezupforjulie

Mito disorders are so 80's, in the post modern era we call this oxidative stress resulting in brain/gut inflammation.
Thimerosal causes T-cell malfunction and Mitochondrial deletion.
The CDC sound bites are like a bullshit smoothie they expect us to chug down... while child after child plunges into Autism.
They know mito disorders aren't rare. 1:4000 more prevalent than PKU. Many of the mito symptoms are commonplace for those of us with ASD kids.

How many more billions in tax dollars will be designated to covering up this travesty.
Julie Gerberding has artfully deployed billions to underwrite a phony bird flu pandemic. Her chicken little drama raked in fat Congressional grants for the CDC and legislation that indemnified vaccine makers.
All the while sanctioning the poisoning of our children.
You really wonder how this woman is gainfully employed by the US government.

Sandy Gottstein

Mark, you always treat us to a unique form of mercury reasoning. Thanks again!

And Curt, thank you for explaining the ramifications of this concession. Very clever they are. There is clearly darkness 'neath this silver cloud. They have made it more difficult, but with right on our side, we will still prevail. It has to be.

Jupiter

Bullshit is what the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (used to be the National Immunization Program) does. That's part of their job.
They string series of true statements together in a way that forms a lie to promote and defend vaccinations. They even have psychologists and advertising people on staff to study what forms of bullshit are the most effective!

They are some of the best bullshitters I've ever seen.

Go to their "vaccines home" page right now, and this is the first link you see:

http://www.cdc.gov/od/oc/media/transcripts/2008/t080307.htm

Who's Glen Nowak?

An advertising guy! He sold overpriced commercial crap before the CDC bought him to create bullshit to push vaccines.

I do get the impression that these people believe all their own bullshit (to a certain extent, at least) so it's bullshit as opposed to lying, in my opinion.

They also flat-out lie on a regular basis, as well, but I'm sure they're all convinced that Hannah was born with the disorder and would have caught a cold that triggered it the same week even if not for the shots. Thinking like that keeps them innocent in their own minds and The Saviors Of The World Through Vaccines. I used to think it was all about the money, but now I think it's all about them and their messianic complexes.

That's the "underlying disorder" behind their "bullshit-like symptoms".

Heidi Roger

Great Job Mark! I would say that the spin from the CDC yesterday had "bullshit-like symptoms" and "features of bullshit". No?

Curt

The transcript from the Polings on Larry King directly contradicts what some of the vaccine apologists are saying in response to the case. Here's my legal take:

THE POLINGS DID PRESENT "EVIDENCE"
The Polings presented evidence of a link by way of affidavits (written testimony) and medical documents. They just didn't repeat that testimony live, during a court hearing. There is no legal distinction. Both documentary evidence and spoken evidence are evidence. As an attorney who has tried cases in court, I can tell you there is NO legal difference. This whole line of argument by the vaccine apologists is complete B.S. The don't know law.

CONCEDING POLING'S CASE PREVENTED A PRECEDENT
The Poling's case WAS set to be a test case for the other 5000 pending cases. Since the government settled it, the Poling's case is no longer a test case for the other 5000. The reason why the government decided to concede the Polings case before it went to hearing is obvious: the government knew it would lose, and did not want the Poling's case to establish an autism-vaccine link that would be legally binding in some of the other 5000 cases. The vaccine apologists are angry because the Poling's case HAS become binding precedent in another court, the court of public opinion -- which is out of their control.

At the link are both some excerpts of the show, where the attorney says the Polings DID present evidence of an autism-vaccine link, and the full transcript in downloadable MS Word format.

http://www.autismfathers.com/forumdisplay.php?f=29

Twyla

Today's L.A. Times has a story (on p. 15) by a reporter from the Baltimore Sun: "Officials Try to Calm Fears about Vaccines, Autism". The story repeats the myth that despite the claims of a "small vocal group of parents", "studies have shown no credible link between vaccines and autism". The story states that, "Many experts say that Hannah's case is unique and that her rare condition led to a rare consequence."

The story ends by saying that Hannah Poling was behind on her vaccinations when she visited her pediatrician and received five shots (nine vaccines) at once to catch up. "Within 48 hours, she developed a high fever and couldn't stop crying. Soon she stopped walking and became less verbal."

If they did their homework -- if they did not just stop with the spin offered by those who have so much to lose -- reporters would realize that this story is not "unique" at all.

momtodavon

If you go to today's covering of this case on the Autism Speaks site it will take you to a statement by Dr. Geri Dawson, Chief Science officer for Autism Speaks saying that they have done a limited amount of research on Mitochondrial and neuronal function and this case shines a bright spotlight on the important need for continued research.

HELLO, is this not what DAN has been Preaching, Teaching, Implamenting and why are kids are Recovering!

Tim Kasemodel

Mark, Amazing you can come up with such great articles in such a short period of time - Thanks!

I have a question maybe someone can answer or verify with their comments.

Did'nt the Government simply "make up" that Hannah had the "underlying disorder"? It seemed very clear to me that Hannah's mom was saying there was no proof Hannah had any mito disorder prior to getting vaccinated.

Although I am very immpressed with Sanjay Gupta in how he responded yesterday (long way to go, but I am pleased nonetheless) but he did not seem to understand what the family presented as theories on this were. Why did he not get it that the family was saying that the vaccines themselves, thimerosal specifically, actually brought about the mito disorder in Hannah? He was reallly focused on her being born with the disorder as fact, not fiction. I think he needs information on thimerosal being a mutagen, capable of mutating DNA - at anytime, even after being born.

I especially love it when they say that there is no evidence or studies that show mito disorders causing autism. I have an idea! Open the sealed documents and find out!!! Oh thats right, if they look, they might find, so don't look.

I heard some commentators say illnesses like the flu would have triggered these "autism like symptoms" if the vaccines had not. Nothing like pushing the flu vaccines while trying to cover for vaccines in general.

The AAP and CDC showed their true colors to newcomers on this issue, and I am quite sure their first thoughts when hearing the government's response was "What a bunch of BULLSHIT!!"

Teresa Conrick

Mark,

You said it all, and then some! Reading the Offit bullshit, the "rare case" crap, and hearing Julie G's lies on Larry King was exasperating. Thanks for your continual, classic insight, as it helps immensely to see the spin exposed.


Harry Hofherr

Great article, Mark. Thanks for explaining in detail one of my favorite words.

It is both exciting and disheartening to see the B.S. flying from the mouths of modern medicine today. I might be wrong, but it sure sounds like they have an undercurrent of fear in their voices. They ought to.

Thanks again.

Harry Hofherr

Sargent Goodchild

I thought I smelled something.

Gatogorra

That was a beautiful summary. AND it made me laugh. I would give a lot to have heard just this response on Larry King tonight.

Hmmm. If I try to be "generous" or at least not ravingly cynical about the mechanism of the "bullshit" being thrown at us from the alphabet agencies, all that I'm left with is to be really gross: can there be such a thing as celiac's disease of the brain? Because if they're not just out-and-out murder conspirators, that's what it seems like these "apparatchiks" are suffering from. Or a "cerebral celiac-like disoder", since there's no absolute, objective tests to determine it, only "markers". You could call it intolerence for cognitive dissonance, but as long as we're making bullshit a scientific term, cerebral celiac's seems more to the point.

It must start with an autoimmune response to the initial bullshit that they're teethed on, inured to, probably since childhood or at least since college. I think it happens to anyone who tries to reconcile their world view to greed and brown-nosing to the point of toxicity and still feel good about themselves. Their mental intestines become slippery from scarring and inflamation, due to trying to digest offensive, indigestible content, and no longer absorb nutrients (fact, truth) from any of the information they process and they develop allergies to the nutrients they most need (fact, truth). Resulting in (obvious, overly literal analogy) verbal diarrhea. Brainscans would reveal further "markers", such as hunks of cemented crap in their forebrains the size of softballs, past which only drivel can spew forth.

Since my children live with the actual disease (and then some) that I'm joking about, I'm very desensitized and don't think I'm being excessively crude in making the analogy.

Lisa

This is awesome Mark. What a landmark day today. Great article and observations.

The doctors all over the press today on the other side did very little to bolster up the vaccines. "Vaccines are safe" were said over and over again -- right in the face of Hannah Poling - for which the vaccines were not safe and she got Autism. So which is it again? I am confused?

And there is no test ahead of time to dodge the "Hannah autism bullet". So families are lead to believe they are playing russian roulette with no details on how many bullets are in the gun. (1 in 150?)

Bottom line: parents are not resting easy today. They did a terrible job.

Kelli Ann Davis

Alright, I admit it -- I’m one of those “squeamish” people Mark is alluding to in this piece.

When I heard him do his “Bullsh**” talk at an autism conference 2 ½ years ago – I made the suggestion that maybe he could substitute “BS” in place of the other word.

But after seeing the “spinmeisters” at work today, I agree Mark – What a bunch of Bullshit!

Crap! Did I just swear?

Autism mom

This is a super article. Beautifully put. Thank you.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)