William F. Buckley, Jr. once remarked "I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.”
The reason for the conservative writer’s strong democratic leaning was because of his perception that regular people, despite their varying political philosophies, when presented with real-world problems, would ask roughly similar questions and come to roughly similar conclusions. By contrast, the highly-educated often have a peculiar blind-spot when it comes to common sense. They seem to know everything, except for what’s important. The current financial melt-down illustrates the point of how highly-educated people can make spectacularly bad decisions. They can see the individual trees, but are blind to the forest burning down around them.
The decision in Snyder by Special Master Denise Vowell is another example of a spectacularly bad decision which would make the average person shake their head and wonder what happened to the judge’s common sense.
By now the pattern of these decisions is relatively clear. We have a discussion of the credentials of the experts, a decent recitation of the competing theories of the families and the medical authorities, and a declaration that the overwhelming weight of evidence favors the belief that thimerosal (mercury) could not cause immune disruption in infants, and could in no possible way cause autism.
This is where the average person remembers the last time they went to the seafood counter at their local grocery store and saw the warning that infants and pregnant women should avoid eating certain kinds of fish and limit their intake of others because of the possibility of high levels of mercury. They may also recall that the cold medicines they used as children have been pulled from pharmacy shelves because something about infant bodies can’t handle them as well as adults.
So the average person is aware that they’re supposed to try to avoid mercury, that children's bodies work differently than adults’ bodies, and yet they’re told the injection of mercury into babies doesn’t present any problems. This doesn’t make sense to the average person. He thinks somebody’s lying to him. The highly-educated person says, “Carry on!”
On the question of whether there is a rising prevalence of autism there were two sections which illustrate the disconnect between what any average person would conclude and the response of Special Master Vowell.
“There was general agreement among the witnesses that both the raw numbers of ASD diagnosis and the percentage of children with such diagnosis have risen dramatically in recent decades. However, there was no consensus that the rise represents an autism “epidemic” or even a true increase in the incidence of the disease . . . There was general agreement on the rate of ASD in the U.S. The U.S. estimate of 60-70 cases per 10,000 was derived from data from 14 different states. Illustrating some of the problems in case ascertainment, the rates among the states surveyed were highly variable, with New Jersey having an incidence of 107 per 10,000. In contrast, the rate in Alabama was 32-33 per 10,000, only 1/3 of the New Jersey rate.” (P. 52-53)
The average person would go to their local long-time teachers as I have done on many occasions and say something along the lines of, “You’ve been teaching in this district for more than thirty years. Do you remember having this many autistic kids in the past?” Inevitably, they’ll respond with something like “I went through nine years of teaching without ever hearing about a single autistic kid. Then I heard about one, but I never interacted with him. Then another ten years went by until we had another one. Now, they're all over the place.”
You look at each other, and maybe you say it, or maybe you don’t. But you both know. Something is going on.
Next you might wonder what the difference could be between New Jersey and Alabama and the first thing that would come to your mind would be access to medical care. You know it’s probably somewhat stereo-typical to say, but you’d have a general sense that people in New Jersey would have more access to doctors, and therefore it would be easier for them to get their children’s vaccinations done, than it would be in Alabama. You’d understand there might be other reasons, but differing vaccination rates would at least come to mind.
The most glaring example of this blindness to facts which would make the average person sit up and take notice is Colten Snyder himself. When Colten was 26 months old he had the communicative abilities of a 9 month old. After extensive treatment with Dr. Bradstreet, including dietary changes, IVIG treatments, and chelation, he became a normal 10 year-old. He is essentially "recovered." Even according to the government’s witness, Dr. Wiznitzer, none of his autistic patients have ever improved enough to lead a normal life as did Colten Snyder.
For reasons which continue to elude me, Special Master Vowell notes that “although Colten’s condition markedly improved between his diagnosis and the hearing, the experimental treatments he received cannot be logically or scientifically linked to the theories of causation.” (P. 3)
Later on she states that, “Rather than attributing Colten’s obvious improvements in speech, language, socialization, and behavior to the effects of IVIG, secretin, chelation, and/or dietary supplements, Dr. Wiznitzer noted that Colten’s developmental pattern was consistent with the natural history of autism in that those with the disorder are at their worst at the second or beginning of the third year of life. Speech therapy improved his speech, and Colten’s normal intelligence permitted him to benefit substantially from speech and language therapy.” (P. 256)
However, Colten’s “miracle-worker” speech therapist, Katherine Timlin only worked with Colten for 30 minutes, twice a week, and while she didn’t testify directly on the efficacy of the bio-medical treatments, it was clear she believed they were key to his recovery.
Let’s put this into the perspective of the common person. Let’s assume you go to the doctor’s office for a routine check-up and your physician finds something a little troubling in your results. She does some additional tests, and find you’ve developed an aggressive cancer which she predicts will kill you in six months. You go in for surgery to remove the cancer, and have radiation and chemotherapy.
Six months later you’re at a party and a friend inquires about your health. “Oh, I’m cancer-free according to every test they can give me,” you tell him.
“You must feel great about your treatment,” your friend replies.
You shrug your shoulders and say, “I’m not really sure it did anything. I think the cancer might have just gone away on its own.”
Your friend would laugh in your face.
I’ve tried to figure out how to explain this decision, and the best I can come up with is an example from the book, “Blink” by Malcom Gladwell. In the book Gladwell recounts the difficulty female musicians had in being hired by professional orchestras, particularly for the wind instruments. They were thought to lack the lung capacity of men. But when the auditions began to use screens, so the conductors couldn’t see the gender of the person playing, the number of women hired by professional orchestras increased five-fold.
Now the conductors would probably have sworn they were free of sexism, and may have truly believed it, but something else was clearly at work. Although the claim was made that they were simply listening to the music and picking the best people, the different results obtained after the use of the screens showed a significantly different mental process going on.
I can only conclude that something similar is at work in the minds of the Special Masters, and perhaps many people who will look at what we allege. Despite their efforts to carefully weigh the evidence, something else is tipping the scales. I don’t believe it’s money, at least in the crudest sense of the word. It’s money in the sense that it’s built the entire edifice and world-view in which the Special Masters are looking at these claims.
The inability to conceive of the idea that something has gone terribly wrong with this generation of children blinds them to see the facts which show something clearly has. I say this without malice towards the Special Masters, but I believe the prejudices they brought with them to the courtroom have prevented them from seeing any of the facts which support our beliefs.
It's only by understanding the depth of such unconscious prejudice that after years of hearing similar stories of regression after vaccination, and in this case, the recovery of a child that even the government's witness asserts is beyond anything he's ever seen that a magistrate could write as Special Master Vowell does that, "To conclude that Colten's condition was the result of his MMR vaccine, an objective observer would have to emulate Lewis Carroll's White Queen and to believe six impossible (or, at least, highly improbable) things before breakfast." (P. 278)
The father of one of my friends converted to Catholicism as an adult and was thus able to rise to the position of deacon. When my friend was eight-years-old he was molested by a priest. He told his father. His father responded by beating him for lying. Today we acknowledge that priests and other adults in charge of children can abuse them, but at the time such a thought was not entertained. The clergy were pillars of the community. Times have changed. Perceptions have changed. People like my friend have entered the church and they have a different response to these claims. They understand that such things do happen.
I don’t know if that means we'll need people with common sense, like Buckley's "first 400 members listed in the Boston telephone directory", who believe things can gone terribly wrong, so that when they see evidence of it they’ll act upon it. Or if there’s a way to change the dynamic like the screens for professional musicians, so it is truly an unprejudiced decision. Will we have to call the disorder something different than "autism"? Will we have to refer to the shots as something other than "vaccines"? I don't know.
But we need to find an answer to these questions or we will not prevail in the future.
Kent Heckenlively is Legal Editor of Age of Autism