By Adriana Gamondes
Someone I know in the U.K. faction of the vaccine injury movement recently sent me an email with a link to an article by Simon Baron-Cohen, asking whether I might like to “have a go” at him (HERE). I opened the link, glanced at the photo of a dapper Baron-Cohen in a Cambridge archway (looking either like he was bracing himself for an earthquake or posing as a saint in a niche) and thought, “No, I’m just too tired”. But I did read the article and leave a comment.
The gist of Baron-Cohen’s piece isn’t really the most interesting aspect of it. What he’s doing is pretty obvious—he’s basically calling for more censorship (than has already occurred in the U.K.) of journalists who write criticisms of the vaccine industry, or who write in support of independent scientists whose work criticizes the vaccine industry.
He claims that media sensationalism over the vaccine question is “chipping away” at public confidence in the vaccine program and the reputations of (mainstream) scientists. Naturally Baron-Cohen never mentions the things which would make this stance ridiculous, such as the fact that Brian Deer now works for Rupert Murdoch, who’s taken a non-executive position with Glaxo, maker of the MMR—and all the rest of the gross media and political machinations surrounding the MMR-injury cover-up in the U.K. Baron-Cohen makes the usual unsubstantiated, generalized claims that “no evidence” supports Wakefield et al. or other arguments that vaccines may be implicated in the autism epidemic. It’s all gotten so old.
What I think is actually interesting about the article is watching Simon Baron-Cohen adding the finishing touches to his transformation from silly scientist to all-out propagandist to rival Paul Offit. I believe that what brought this on is Baron-Cohen’s increasing popularity with pharmaceutical interests and pharmaceutical-embedded media (Baron-Cohen’s biggest “theory market”), coupled with his rising ire over having his alternate autism hypotheses “chipped away at” in public forums. I thought I’d share the comment I wrote with AOA rather than just throwing it into the pail over at the New Scientist:
Bad theories sometimes have bad consequences. It's not too much of a stretch to say that one lousy quant theory in investment risk analysis (David X. Li’s Gaussian Copula function, HERE ) began the cascade that brought about the international financial crisis. The theory had its proponents, who were making too much money from the market's false confidence to see the theory questioned. The bad theory also had its early detractors, who were generally ignored or detracted from themselves.
The bad theory in the case of autism is the fundamental misunderstanding of how the human immune system (and risks to it) actually works. The theory was wrought by vaccinologists and then promoted by the pharmaceutical industry, which has been making too much money in more ways than one to want to see the theory questioned. The companies which produce both vaccines and drugs, for instance, even get their "bonuses" for causing the disaster in terms of the exponential rise in sales of atypical antipsychotics, a "treatment" algorithm created by industry for the explosion in childhood behavior disorders (from $0 to $16 billion a year from the start of the epidemic).
The human body and brain might be compared to the stock market in terms of how much is not yet understood or may never be understood. For instance, the scientists now attempting to map the human brain compared the process to crushing up the paint of a Monet to try to understand the painter's technique. The insiders know how little is understood but the hat trick is to show a face of assurance and mystique to the public, which is exploited to keep the public's noses out of scientific "business" in case profitable theories upon which "reputations" are hinged are ever questioned. This is the slip-slide on which a scientist becomes a propagandist.
I think we're witnessing the "slide" regarding the author of this article. This piece is an example of "chipping away" at the credibility of individuals who dared to detract from a highly profitable but bad immunological theory-- that vaccines in any number and vaccine ingredients in any amount are safe for every individual infant no matter whether the infant has immune impairment from any number of causes, genetic or circumstantial.
Simon Baron-Cohen is serving up his own "quants" in defense of others and in defense of his own (for which he is greatly valued and rewarded by industry) to try to explain away why the "market" of children's health has been crashing for nearly twenty years. In short, feminism caused the epidemic. Apparently stemming from women's campaign for the right to vote, sit on juries, etc. (no one else fought for them, so it was all damned female meddling), geekettes at last found their way into higher academic and professional circles where they could meet the geek of their dreams (instead of the cavemen and nebbishes they might once have safely mated with) and go on to spawn an epidemic of super geeks.
Not that Baron-Cohen thinks this is a bad thing. Never mind the social costs of caring for individuals who may never be independent or the fact that children with autism have staggeringly high rates of other life-threatening disorders like asthma, seizures and diabetes-- or even that Daniel Tammet has not yet contributed anything of real meaning to science or physics—Baron-Cohen believes this primordial "bog" of suffering may spit out a few mathematical minds.
Like any mesmerizingly bad quant, a few figures in the equation might have some truth hiding under them, like the fact that nature does not tend to favor high IQ: individuals with high IQs might have more tendency to have slightly impaired immunological functions (mitochondria) and that these impairments might otherwise be benign without a concentrated environmental assault. Certainly high testosterone can lead to brain susceptibility, as can be seen in men's compromised ability to recover from oxidative stress when compared to most women.
All this might mean is that the strongest and brightest along with random individuals with transient immune susceptibilities may be falling prey to chemical injury, all because of a few lousy theories.
Public panic didn't cause the global financial crash. Public trust in incompetent and crooked financial analysts, greed and short sightedness did.
Adriana Gamondes, a former theater director, lives in Massachusetts with her husband and recovering twins.