Editor's note: I declined to run Contributing Editor Jake Crosby's original article on this topic for reasons outlined here. Since then, it appeared elsewhere and generated a great deal of comment within our community (and without). We subsequently ran a statement from SafeMinds, the object of the original piece. Now Jake has asked us to run this follow-up. Given that the subject is on the table, and that this article would presumably appear elsewhere in any event, I decided to run it, unedited. -- Dan Olmsted.
(PS: After a thorough airing of views, the comment thread is now closed. Go in peace for all mankind.)
By Jake Crosby
On November 29th, SafeMinds hijacked the Dan Burton Congressional Hearing on autism and vaccines by pretending to represent autism parent and scientist Dr. Brian Hooker, and by changing the topic away from vaccines - thus opening the door to autism epidemic denialists among other vaccine program apologists. On its website and on Age of Autism, SafeMinds responded to my Bolen Report article “SafeMinds Steals The Show, Literally…” claiming that what I wrote about the organization were “false allegations.” However, they provided no proof that any of them were false, completely ignoring some of the more serious allegations.
Instead, SafeMinds’ response was a hodgepodge of outright falsehoods, obfuscation, and straw man arguments. The organization claimed to have developed a “professional relationship” with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (COGR). Who knows what they mean by that? What SafeMinds never addressed, however, was the fact that no one from the organization was present when COGR Chair Darrell Issa committed to holding hearings on autism causation and the vaccine program in a May 18, 2012 meeting with other congressmen, congressional staffers and Dr. Brian Hooker.
The following claim by SafeMinds is completely false:
“When SafeMinds became aware of allegations our organization inappropriately represented ourselves or used undue or untoward influence with congressional staff at the COGR to create desired outcomes, we immediately began an investigation.”
Within my own article, I quote Dr. Brian Hooker when he brought this issue up to SafeMinds' Executive Director Eric Uram on December 18th:
“I tried to explain this to Eric Uram, but he used a lot of double-speak on the phone to deny it.”
This is hardly an immediate investigation.
SafeMinds then claims to have exonerated itself by speaking with the congressional staff that organized the hearing and being “assured that nothing undue or untoward occurred in conversations with SafeMinds.” Well, these congressional staffers are the very folks SafeMinds fooled; so of course they didn't notice anything “undue or untoward in conversations with SafeMinds.” Had they noticed, the hearing might have had a much better outcome.
Now, the next two sentences appear to be a tacit admission that indeed SafeMinds-hired, scientology-tied lobbyist Beth Clay did in fact misrepresent herself to staffers:
“At no time did SafeMinds misrepresent our organizational affiliations to congressional staff. At no time did SafeMinds or any of our affiliates seek the recision of Brian Hooker’s invitation to testify before the COGR.”
While the first sentence makes very clear that “SafeMinds” did not misrepresent itself to congressional staff, the second sentence states that at no time did “SafeMinds or any of our affiliates (ie Beth Clay)” try to rescind Brian Hooker's invitation to testify (boldface mine).
If Beth Clay really wasn't misrepresenting Dr. Hooker, SafeMinds would have been consistent and referred to both the organization and its “affiliates” as not misrepresenting him to the staffer or having him uninvited to give testimony. The fact that SafeMinds only included the reference to its affiliates for the latter sentence but not the former indicates that indeed Beth Clay had in fact misrepresented Dr. Hooker to staffers. (Furthermore, the latter sentence is a straw man argument; I did not accuse SafeMinds of trying to rescind Dr. Hooker’s invitation to testify.)
As a matter of fact, Clay openly admitted to narrowly defining Hooker’s role as a mere provider of information and not a key player in resurrecting the Dan Burton autism-vaccine hearings with Congressman Issa, as evidenced by her email from which I quoted other excerpts in my previous article:
“In many meetings over the last year I have explained to others including Congressional staff that the community works in a collaboratory fashion, different groups and individuals taking on specific issues and developing areas of focus. I have been very clear that you picked the FOIA issue as the one you would be point on, something folks from the entire autism community, and myself greatly appreciate.”
Clay essentially admits that she represented herself to congressional staff (and who knows who else?) by speaking on behalf of this fictitious collaboration led by SafeMinds, in which Brian Hooker supposedly played one very specific role that did not include testifying before Congress.
But as I previously cited, Dr. Hooker corrected her:
“We never collaborated, period.”
What does Clay, or SafeMinds for that matter, think the net result of her actions will be? The net result, of course, is exactly what happened: Dr. Brian Hooker not being invited to testify and SafeMinds Government Affairs Committee Chair Mark Blaxill testifying instead, not to mention SafeMinds successful changing of the topic of the hearing away from vaccines.
On several occasions, I informed Mark Blaxill of Clay's misrepresentation of Dr. Hooker to congressional staff. Blaxill responded that Clay was reporting to others within SafeMinds, but not to him. He later claimed that he had very little knowledge of Clay’s activities “through November,” stating that his primary political activities were with Canary Party members. Yet according to SafeMinds’ Communications Committee Chair, Beth Clay was helping Mark Blaxill write his congressional testimony.
Despite Dr. Hooker’s very disturbing accusations, there is no indication that SafeMinds intends to get rid of Clay as its hired lobbyist. Why would SafeMinds keep her on if it never intended for her to misrepresent Dr. Hooker to congressional staff as collaborating with SafeMinds? Perhaps that's exactly what SafeMinds intended.
Meanwhile, SafeMinds completely avoided responding to the allegation that it changed the topic of the hearing from autism causation and the vaccine program to the “federal response” to the autism epidemic. This wrong-headed strategy, which resulted in autism epidemic denialists being invited to the hearing, is reason enough to eliminate SafeMinds from future hearings. Instead, SafeMinds created another straw man – that the only organization SafeMinds tried to get involved in the hearing was SafeMinds. My article never accused SafeMinds of trying to have representatives from the autism epidemic denialist groups ASAN and GRASP or vaccine program apologist groups ASA and Autism Speaks (even though SafeMinds' President Sallie Bernard serves on Autism Speaks’ board).
The fact is, Congress would have had no reason to invite any of these groups had SafeMinds not changed the topic of the hearing. So Dr. Brian Hooker is probably not the only person whom SafeMinds prevented from testifying.
SafeMinds' response to my criticism that Blaxill’s testimony left out vaccines was comic gold. According to SafeMinds, the autism community is supposed to be satisfied with vaccines and mercury being referred to as “Great unmentionables...causation factors” in response to a follow-up question. Yet, the very members of Congress Blaxill was supposed to be briefing were the only ones who aggressively challenged vaccine safety that day.
I had also pointed out that SafeMinds informed the Coalition for Mercury-Free Drugs’(CoMeD’s) Dr. Mark Geier of a congressional briefing SafeMinds held on May 18, 2012, only to set up a security trap against him and his son David, also of CoMeD, retroactively minimizing their opportunity to participate because they want to be paid for work they've done as expert witnesses. Does SafeMinds reserve that right as well? How does it expect lawsuits to be won against the government in vaccine court if expert witnesses like Dr. Mark and David Geier aren't paid for their work? You can't win a lawsuit without expert witnesses. And yet, SafeMinds calls the decision to exclude them “outstanding” without explaining why.
SafeMinds repeatedly accuses me of breaching “standard confidentiality.” However, there was no binding agreement or even a discussion of keeping e-mails and conversations confidential when I joined SafeMinds' Government Affairs Committee. I stated up front in my article on the Bolen Report that I had thought long and hard about sharing private email exchanges, doing so only because I felt it was warranted, considering the damage to the congressional autism hearings that SafeMinds has wrought. I was not obliged to follow any confidentiality standards, nor was Dan Olmsted when he revealed Tim Bolen's email without permission.
The only time the issue of privacy came up was after the fact - when Mark Blaxill asked me if I wanted to stay on SafeMinds' Government Affairs Committee after he had learned of my article, indicating I could not remain on it if I publish discussions. I responded that I would not be participating on the committee anymore, to which Blaxill replied:
“Sounds good. I’ll take you off the distribution list.”
After falsely accusing me of “breaching confidentiality,” SafeMinds then accuses me of taking emails from its members “out of context,” but never says how any of them were taken out of context.
Attempting to take credit for coming up with the thimerosal hypothesis, SafeMinds argued that its year 2000 paper "Autism: A unique type of mercury poisoning" was the first reported link between mercury and autism. (SafeMinds claims the article was also published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry. However, a search for the article in the journal archives yields no results.)
Though a well-researched review article, “Autism: A unique type of mercury poisoning” was not the first reported link between mercury and autism as SafeMinds claims. The first reported link was made in 1999 by CDC’s own Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer Dr. Thomas Verstraeten, showing that early thimerosal exposure multiplies the risk of classic autism by 7.62-fold. This remarkable finding was obtained via FOIA request, but would not resurface until five years later when it was discovered not by anyone at SafeMinds, but by David Geier.
SafeMinds, in stark contrast, sat on this data for years. In fact, SafeMinds did not discover the FOIA-obtained or leaked information that definitively proved the thimerosal-autism cover-up. Like David Geier, Dr. Brian Hooker exposed the private emails between Poul Thorsen and his colleagues showing that they had suppressed the fact that autism prevalence and incidence was declining after thimerosal’s removal from vaccines in Denmark. The IOM meeting minutes showed that the IOM report rejecting autism causation by vaccination was pre-empted from the start as a result of undue intervention by CDC; these minutes were obtained as the result of an anonymous leak.
In fact, SafeMinds has a stake in not mentioning any of this information at risk of highlighting the uncomfortable fact that none of it was discovered by anyone at SafeMinds, which perhaps sees itself as competing with other advocates and advocacy groups, not collaborating with them as claimed by Beth Clay. Bringing up the IOM leaks would be especially awkward for SafeMinds since its president and co-founder Sallie Bernard sits on the board of Autism Speaks, which has endorsed the IOM’s whitewash of the vaccine-autism link. So SafeMinds has a stake in pretending there is no thimerosal-autism cover-up.
The rest of SafeMinds' response to my article is nothing more than self-congratulation in which it takes pride in “establishing the scientific basis on the environmental causes of autism...” Thimerosal – the mercury based vaccine preservative implicated in autism's rise, not to mention autism's fall following its removal in some places – went completely unmentioned, just as it went unmentioned in Mark Blaxill's testimony that similarly invoked the vague “environmental causes of autism.”
SafeMinds concludes with an expression of gratitude for the autism community's “continuous support” of SafeMinds. However, “continuous support” was not in evidence in the comments under several articles that recently ran on this controversy on Age of Autism. Support may be something SafeMinds hopes for, but it is not what SafeMinds deserves.
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.