Managing Editor's Note: This post includes a follow up to the lawsuit discussed in J.B. Handley's post titled, Columbia University Press and Dr. Paul Offit Sued for Autism's False Prophets. Pay special attention to the phone call J.B. made to schedule an appointment for a child with autism with Dr. Offit, author of a book about autism treatments. It seems Dr. Offit does not treat patients with autism. Odd, yes? Grab a cup of coffee and read on. Don't get the photo? Click HERE. And, Ringo? Don't bother.
By J.B. Handley
Paul Offit wrote a book, Autism’s False Prophets, with the overt goal of repudiating the biomedical treatment movement for autism. Of course, the real goal of the book, and how it’s being used today, is to convince parents to keep on vaccinating.
As an inventor of the Rotateq (HERE) vaccine, a man who voted his own vaccine (HERE) onto the childhood schedule, and a multi-millionaire after his vaccine was sold to Merck, Offit has plenty of time on his hands to protect his legacy and the legacy of his peers.
The AAP has done a great job of getting Offit’s book out to their pediatric base, many of whom give the book to parents when they express concerns about vaccination. I have personal friends who have come home from their doctor with a copy of his book in hand.
The book is filled with factual errors and/or completely made-up information about a wide variety of our community’s most important players, including Dr. Andrew Wakefield, David Kirby, RFK JR., and Jenny McCarthy, to name just a few.
For a simple example of the book’s poorly-veiled intentions, consider the inside cover that includes a quote from a parent, Amy Pisani:
“Hearing all the rumors about vaccine side effects made me question the right thing to do. This book makes it clear that vaccines save lives, and they clearly do not cause autism.”
There are so many revealing things about this quote, which is literally the first thing you see on the cover’s inside flap. Firstly, Amy Pisani is the Executive Director of Every Child By Two, a vaccine advocacy organization funded by Wyeth, a vaccine maker. (HERE) The book only describes her as “Amy Pisani, mother.” Not only is Ms. Pisani’s conflict hidden from the reader, but her actual quote is a complete fabrication. Ms. Pisani has been advocating vaccines for children for YEARS, everything in her quote is a lie -- she wasn’t questioning the right thing to do when Offit’s book came along. A liar with a conflict of interest -- how perfect!
Biomedical doesn’t work?
In advocating for vaccines, Offit uses his book to take a sideswipe at an entire movement of scientists, doctors, and parents who are toiling away to recover children from autism. With roughly 1,000 worldwide doctors and more than 100,000 parents practicing biomedical treatments, it’s one hell of a sideswipe. Not only does he criticize the biomedical movement, he says it isn’t working to help kids:
“Instead of helping, these therapies can hurt those who are most vulnerable, and particularly in the case of autism, they undermine childhood vaccination programs that have saved millions of lives.”
I want to highlight this a little further, because it’s such an important point. Offit says, unequivocally, that our therapies do not help children with autism. Has your child improved through biomedical treatment? Offit says no way. Do you have a child who has recovered from autism? To Offit, it’s just coincidence. He lives in a world where recoveries from autism are of unknown origin and any adverse events created by vaccines are coincidence.
The lack of humanity, the lack of interest in recovering children, is this guy really a doctor? It would be like the Marlboro man shitting on a non-traditional treatment for lung cancer, because the treatment uses natural substances to pull tobacco tar out of people’s lungs. It’s horrible, repugnant, and so profoundly disrespectful of parents who ARE seeing recovery through biomedical treatment, I really don’t have the words to castigate Offit to the proper degree. In fact, it’s even worse than that. Offit and his comrades are actually rooting AGAINST recovery for our children, because if recovery from autism is actually possible through biomedical intervention, then autism is environmentally caused. And, if it’s environmentally caused, then the guy who will die known as “Mr. Vaccine” is in very deep kimchi, and his tombstone may actually end up reading, “Mr. Autism Epidemic Facilitator.”
Who wants that?
Making a sweeping statement -- that biomedical treatments don’t work – certainly means you better have done your homework. In fact, since the publication of his book, Offit is now routinely quoted in articles discussing alternative treatments for autism, and always as the naysayer. Given Offit’s developing “expertise”, I placed a phone call last week to his office in Philadelphia. While I knew the answer, it was still shocking to have the conversation, which went like this, with me (“JB”) talking to Offit’s assistant (“OA”):
JB: Hi, I have a child with autism, and I’d like to make an appointment to see Dr. Offit.
OA: He doesn’t see patients.
JB: My son, he has autism, he needs help. My understanding is Dr. Offit is an expert on autism, he wrote a book, I’d really like to see him.
OA: He doesn’t see patients in a clinical outpatient setting.
JB: Well, is there some other way for me to see him? Please, my son, he needs help, can’t Dr. Offit make an exception?
OA: He doesn’t see patients at all. I’m sorry.
Don’t believe me? Make your own call: 215-590-2549. Paul Offit, autism expert, doesn’t see any patients. Ever.
The 100,000 vaccine man
It was recently in Wired magazine, this quote from Paul Offit that a baby can handle 100,000 vaccines at one time:
Then, he came up with a rough estimate: a person [he said a baby] could handle 100,000 vaccines — or up to 10,000 vaccines at once. Currently the most vaccines children receive at any one time is five. He also published his findings in Pediatrics. Soon, the number was attached to Offit like a scarlet letter. “The 100,000 number makes me sound like a madman. Because that’s the image: 100,000 shots sticking out of you. It’s an awful image,” Offit says. “Many people — including people who are on my side — have criticized me for that. But I was naive. In that article, I was being asked the question and that is the answer to the question.”
Let me repeat: Offit says a baby can handle 100,000 vaccines simultaneously. As we all know, a vaccine is a pharmaceutical drug. Is there a doctor out there who would ever claim that a human being could simultaneously tolerate 100,000 aspirin or Tylenol or Ambien or Aleve or Viagra or Vioxx or any other drug manufactured anywhere on the planet? Of course not.
Not only is Offit’s comment insane, it’s also wildly dangerous and untrue. 100,000 vaccines given to a baby would cause immediate death, every single time. How profoundly disrespectful to the THOUSANDS of parents for whom ONE vaccine caused death for their child. ONE!!
Let’s look at the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program website for a moment, just to further highlight how crazy Offit’s comments really are (HERE). What does it tells us? It shows 11,970 claims of injury and 1,006 claims of death, in every case from ONE vaccine. Offit is saying a baby can handle 100,000 of something that has killed, at a bare minimum, more than 1,000 Americans (and note that for some reason this table doesn’t include Gardasil).
David Tayloe, the President of the AAP, recently posted this on a discussion board, “Just wanted to let members of this list know that the AAP is honoring Dr. Offit with it's President's award next week based on input from many of us in practice.”
The following email was sent to the AAP media relations department, I have yet to hear back:
“I have two questions for the AAP, would greatly appreciate a reply by end of day Thursday. 1. I heard a rumor that Paul Offit, M.D. recently received the President’s award from the AAP. Is this true? 2. Dr. Offit stated in Wired Magazine this month that a baby could safely receive 100,000 vaccines at one time. Does the AAP agree with Dr. Offit’s position, that 100,000 vaccines would be safely tolerated by a baby? Thank you for your prompt reply.”
Way to go, AAP.
Dr. Offit, here’s my simple offer for you, since I know you and Bonnie are reading this right now:
Get 100 Gardasil shots (just approved by the FDA for boys) in one arm and 100 H1N1 shots – the ones from a multi-dose vial, please (loaded with Hg) -- in the other. If you’re still alive three months later, I’ll contribute $100,000 to Alison Singer’s autism organization, perhaps to let her move out of her basement. 200 shots is plenty for me, I’ll give you a break on the other 99,800.
By the way, Dr. Offit, in your own book you state, “Although vaccinations have probably saved more lives than any other medical intervention, they have come with a price – occasionally causing severe, even fatal, side effects.” I’m sure you’ll be just fine. If one vaccine won’t hurt you, 200 will be a breeze.
The lies, the lawsuit, the settlement
In my opinion, there are more than a dozen members of our community who could sue Paul Offit for libel and win based on the lies and mischaracterizations of them in his book, Autism’s False Prophets. But, I’ll just tell you about me.
Frankly, I was shocked to see my name in Paul Offit’s book. Of all the people to pick a fight with, I wouldn’t recommend starting with me. Moreover, when I actually read the passage Offit wrote about me, I was absolutely stunned. From earlier this year:
It was October 2005. Generation Rescue had only been up and running for about 5 months, and we had 125 brave souls who had put their names, locations, and emails on our website to serve as Rescue Angels to help other parents (today we have more than 800) on their journey through biomedical intervention.
On or around October 10th of that year, I heard from a Rescue Angel Mom who was extremely distraught. It turned out that someone, most likely a member of the "ND" community, had blended a post they had seen from her on a message board, her Rescue Angel information, and somehow figured out where she worked. This person had contacted the Rescue Angel's employer and told them something to the effect of, "Your employee is a volunteer of this organization, believes and says a lot of scary things about autism [like that it's triggered by vaccines and is treatable], and why is she allowed to say and do these things and work here?"
This Rescue Angel mom had just been through a meeting with her employer, which I believe was a public school, where she'd had to respond to this anonymous mudsling, and she was understandably very, very upset.
I, too, was irate. The thought that people were trying to impact the livelihoods of our Rescue Angels was incomprehensible, and I felt personally responsible for the plight of this Mom, having created the group that got her into this whole mess. Knowing that many of our enemies were avid readers of a public message board where we all congregated, I fired off a warning to the person responsible that read:
Dear N.D. folks monitoring this list:I have no respect for your "movement". You are now spending your time actively hassling our Rescue Angels. We are spending out time constructively engaging doctors to help our babies. If you don't like what we have to say, stop listening. We will bring the full resources of myself and Generation Rescue to stop this. We will sue you for libel and we will go after your homes and assets. My lawyers live to investigate and sue people like you. This will be your only warning. Sincerely, JB Handley
My message is still up there on the EOH message board, it's message #17717 and you can read it for yourself. Now, you may disagree with the message I wrote, you may disagree with its tone, and you may disagree with my reaction to the situation at hand. But, at least you know the circumstances that surrounded the decision I made, and that's what I really want you to know.
I really want you to know and understand what happened and why I wrote the note I wrote because once you do, you can see what a profoundly dishonest and manipulative liar Paul Offit really is.
You see, this post from EOH, or at least an excerpt from it, actually made it in to Paul Offit's book, that book that will remain nameless, but the one we all know the name of. Yup, a piece of my post from EOH, the one where I was trying to tell the person hassling one of our Rescue Angels at work to back the hell off, made Offit's book.
But, you wouldn't know that from what Offit wrote.
You see, Paul Offit has a passage using a portion of this post, but it's used for an entirely different reason. Rather than try to explain, I'm just going to share the passage from the book that will remain nameless, on page 145:
"SEIDEL WAS ALSO APPALLED BY THE GEIERS' AND JB HANDLEY'S constant promotion of chelation therapy as a cure for autism. In 2000, only a handful of children were chelated; by 2005, the number had purportedly climbed to more than 10,000 a year. On her Web site, Seidel pleaded with Handley to stop promoting a "therapy" that had never been shown to work and was potentially dangerous. Handley wrote back: "We are spending out time constructively engaging doctors to help our babies. If you don't like what we have to say, stop listening. We will bring the full resources of myself and Generation Rescue to stop this. We will sue you for libel and we will go after your homes and assets. My lawyers live to investigate and sue people like you. This will be your only warning."
Well, I'll be damned. A post I wrote on a public message board regarding someone hassling our Rescue Angels was now a response to Kathleen Seidel? A response that never actually took place in an exchange that Offit manufactured from thin air? I threatened to sue her for challenging me on the "promotion" of chelation therapy?
I'll be damned again.
So, there it is folks. Offit made up a conversation that never took place and blended something I wrote on a public message board for an entirely different reason to serve his own purpose.
After a simple (and rebuffed) request asking him to change the above made-up passage, I filed a lawsuit (HERE) with the same request, hoping to get a better answer the second time around.
There’s a great scene from an early 80s movie called the Dead Zone where Martin Sheen, playing an ambitious and morally compromised politician, is under sniper fire during a campaign rally. To protect himself, and while the network TV cameras are rolling, he grabs a small child and hides behind him. End of political career.
I’m not going to tell you that Paul Offit’s defense during my lawsuit and subsequent settlement negotiations reaches quite this same dramatic pitch, but it was the first thing I was reminded of when recently re-reading some letters from his lawyers.
Let’s get something straight: there is nothing about my victory in the lawsuit against Paul Offit that’s going to solve the autism epidemic or recover any of our kids. My victory is a small victory. But, you have to admit, it’s damn entertaining just the same.
Our settlement discussions, which went on for several months, were a hoot to witness. I knew from the beginning that I was right and that I could prove it. It took the other side several weeks of reviewing the supporting evidence my lawyers gave them to reach the same conclusion, at which point they knew they had a weak hand.
So, if you’re Paul Offit, what’s the best thing to do when you’ve been caught in a lie? You guessed it: blame someone else.
If you’ve seen Offit’s book, you know that he pays tribute to some of our most intractable critics for all their help in putting his manuscript together. Notable amongst them is Kathleen Seidel, the Church Lady who runs a website called Neurodiversity. I’ve really got nothing personal against Ms. Seidel and I’ve never met or talked to her. She’s always struck me as being rather brittle and shrill, but she’s certainly no Orac or any of the other particularly annoying characters residing in the dark world. And, she actually blogs under her own name.
Offit was clearly grateful for Ms. Seidel’s help in putting his book together. But, when he found himself in a wrangle over lies that he allowed to be printed, she was the first person he threw under the bus. Don’t take my word for it, check out this passage from a letter sent to my attorneys by Offit’s lawyers:
“Moreover, Dr. Offit has informed the Press [Columbia University Press] that the book had been sent for review to a long list of individuals, including Kathleen Seidel. Further, the Press had a high degree of confidence in Dr. Offit, a confidence enhanced by the initial review of Dr. Offit’s manuscript by an eminent scientist and former dean, and a review of his manuscript by Fred R. Volkmar, M.D., a leading autism expert at Yale University School of Medicine, Marie McCormick, Professor of Maternal and Child Health at Harvard School of Public Health, and Anne Gershon, MD, director of the division of Pediatric Disease at Columbia Presbyterian…
"Dr. Offit interviewed Ms. Seidel at some length. While Dr. Offit was writing the book, somebody sent him a copy of the Oct. 10, 2005 post from Handley directed ‘To the Nuero-Diverse Crowd Reading the List’ as a stand-alone document. At the time, he put it in his JB Handley file. When he went to write his book, he assumed that, given its salutation ‘To the Nuero-Diverse Crowd,’ the post was directed principally at Kathleen Seidel in response to her writings on Handley, Generation Rescue, and the Rescue Angels. Seidel created the neurodiversity website and she is strongly associated with that term. To Paul’s knowledge, no one else used that unusual term prior to Seidel…
"After Dr. Offit completed a draft of the manuscript, he sent it to Kathleen Seidel for her review. Although she made several other suggested changes regarding other portions of the manuscript she did not indicate that there were any errors regarding the language at issue or make any suggested changes to correct the language.”
As Milli Vanilli once said, “Blame it on the rain!” Just don’t blame me.
Our case wasn’t a slam-dunk. We’d proven Offit had lied, that was easy. The higher hurdle was to prove Offit’s passage actually damaged me in any material way – that’s what you need to prove to win a false light claim. Was I worse off for it? Could I show that he had damaged my ability to hold down a job or anything else? My lawyers gave me 51/49 odds of winning in court. There was damage, but the other side would spend all their time challenging that position So, because I’d rather spend my time with my kids, I decided to settle, which Offit’s side (including Columbia University Press) was very eager to do.
The final terms of our settlement, reported here by AoA for the first time anywhere, include the following:
- Offit will correct the passage in his book
- Offit and Columbia University Press will each contribute $5,000 to one of Jenny McCarthy’s favorite autism charities at UCLA.
- Offit will send me a personal letter expressing his regret for the lie he told. The letter isn’t everything I wanted, but, hey, I’ll take it. It reads:
“On page 145 of my book, Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and The Search for a Cure, I may have conveyed the impression that J.B. Handley directed an internet posting, which was addressed to “Neurodiverse folks” on a public message board, as a response to Kathleen Seidel, and as a continuation of a prior exchange of posts between Mr. Handley and Ms. Seidel. After publication, Mr. Handley brought additional information to my attention confirming that, in fact, the post quoted in the book related to a different topic, and was intended to address individuals he believed may have been harassing members of Generation Rescue. I have agreed to make revisions to the text of the book in subsequent printings to address this issue. I regret any mistaken impression the original language may have created.”
Paul Offit: Vaccine inventor. Vaccine profiteer. ACIP member who voted himself rich. A man reprimanded by Congress for doing so. Winner of the AAP President’s award. Avowed liar from his book, Autism’s False Prophet’s. The 100,000 vaccine man. The autism expert who won’t see patients. The man who has never seen a child recover from autism, and thinks vaccines are medicine’s greatest invention. Paul Offit, that’s one hell of a legacy.
On the one hand, I hope Offit takes me up on my offer, and gets those 200 vaccines. On the other hand, I hope he doesn’t. We’re always one gullible journalist away from another Gucci-loafer in the mouth moment -- he’s far more valuable to all of us alive.
The donations have been made, the book correction is under way, and you can read the letter, HERE. Offit loses, we all win.
J.B. Handley is Co-Founder of Generation Rescue.