Progressive Politics, Indian Issues, and Autism Advocacy

Tuesday, December 31  

Thimerosal addendum (addendum)

Mark Kleiman and Glenn Reynolds are having a go-around about the legal aspects of the Thimerosal provision as it currently stands, tacked onto the Homeland Security Bill, but without the proper funding requirements. While Mark has most of the details right, he's not exactly correct on a couple:

1) In his timeline, Mark fails to mention that after Frist's original bill died in committee back in April, he attempted to revive it by amending it to Democrat-sponsored prescription drug legislation in July. That attempt also failed - the amendment wasn't even called for a vote. Not surprisingly, that amendment was offered at the last minute as well.

2) Mark stated "all the thimerosal claims are time-barred by the terms of VICP. Neither the Frist version nor the Armey version deals with that."

Frist's original bill, as well as the proposed amendment to the Schumer-Edwards bill, did extend the time limit for filing to the NVICP from 36 months to 6 years, as well as establishing a one-time grandfather period of two years for all injuries sustained since 1988. Armey's provision, which only deals with reclassifying preservatives as vaccine ingredients, does not.

However, be under no illusions that Frist's bill in any way wanted to assist children potentially injured by ethylmercury in vaccines. A September press release alludes to such:

Perhaps the most significant proposals in the bill, however, are a series of modifications to the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP). This program was created in the mid 1980's to rapidly compensate those who suffer rare but serious side effects from vaccines while lowering the legal risk to vaccine manufacturers and doctors and nurses who administer vaccines. Lately, however, the VICP has become overwhelmed with new claims -- many of which lack merit. This has not only delayed consideration of legitimate claims, but caused the spill-over of costly lawsuits into our court system.

Essentially, as I've mentioned previously, Frist's bill would further tightened the restrictions on the Vaccine Injury Table. Whereas the table originally did not disqualify a child from compensation if the child had an underlying genetic condition which may have contributed to the severity of the reaction, Frist's changes would make such a genetic problem a disqualifying factor. Thus, if a child showed a genetic predisposition of improperly metabolizing heavy metals, which some recent research indicates may be the case in some autistic children, even if the child was exposed to neurotoxic levels of ethylmercury in vaccines, that child's injury would be disqualified. It is woefully apparent that Senator Frist, despite the evidence proffered by his medical colleague in the House, Dr. David Wheldon (R-FL), through two years of committee meetings on the subject, has fully made up his mind that filings to the VICP claiming ethylmercury injury are without merit. Its also clear that Frist has his eye on the VICP's surplus, which he addressed in his earlier bill, but left out of the HLS bill. But Frist hasn't forgotten about the billion-plus in the fund; in early December he again called for the passage of his original bill, this time showering the bill with the support of the Advisory Commission on Childhood Vaccines (ACCV). The supposedly non-biased, non-partisan scientific advisory body whose members are appointed by the Administration. (see below)

posted by MB | link | 10:04 AM |

"Stacking the Deck"

Some issues seem to get lost in the holiday crush, and need revisiting once the dust around the tree has settled. On December 17th, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) issued a joint press release with groups as diverse as the Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, the Consumer Federation of America and the World Wildlife Fund, asserting that the Bush Administration was "stacking the deck" with highly "vetted" political appointees to some of the most important scientific committees at the CDC. The group condemned HHS (the department which has oversight for CDC and its committees):

The Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) is playing politics with appointments to key scientific advisory committees at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), citizens’ watchdog groups charged today. The groups accuse Secretary Tommy Thompson of replacing respected scientists with industry insiders on influential committees advising on lead poisoning, environmental health, and other issues.

The press release also claimed that potential appointees were screened with what appeared to be a political litmus test:

In recent months, the Bush administration has also come under fire for applying ideological litmus tests to nominees for key scientific advisory posts, by quizzing nominees about partisan politics or political issues. Today, the health and environmental groups told Secretary Thompson that the often-undisclosed financial ties of the nominees to those posts and the lack of a written conflict-of-interest policy at CDC runs afoul of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).

William R. Miller, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, elaborated in a December 24 interview with LA Times reporter Aaron Zitner. Miller said that early in 2002, he had been asked if he would serve on the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse, which guides funding and policy decisions at a unit of the National Institutes of Health. But only recently had a call come from HHS Secretary Tommy Thomspon's office asking some rather unusual questions.

The first question he asked me was, 'Are you sympathetic to faith-based initiatives?' I said yes, and he said, 'OK, you're one-for-one.'

Then the caller asked Miller about his views on needle exchange programs, the death penalty for "drug kingpins" and abortion, keeping a running tally of where his views agreed with those of the White House.

Finally, the caller asked whether Miller had voted for Bush. When Miller said he had not, the caller asked him to explain.

Miller said that he must have failed the pop-quiz, as he was never asked again to serve on the advisory committee.

But while its not completely unusual for an Administration to select political appointees who share their views on many subjects, the Bush Administration has gone even further, by filling committee openings with individuals nominated by the very industries the committees are supposed to be "watchdogging". One example of this is the Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention. The 27-member committee advises the government in determining the level of lead exposure which is considered harmful to children. It is expected to soon review current federal lead safety levels to determine if they should be lowered or even raised. A recommendation to increase the acceptable blood lead level associated with health problems developmental delays could make it more difficult for the government to force lead-producing industries to clean up toxic sites or for victims of lead poisoning to pursue litigation against industries associated with lead products, such as paint manufacturers.

A report released by Congressman Edward Markey's office lambasted the Administration's attempted to replace well-respected experts on the Advisory Committee with lead industry lackeys:

This report reveals recent changes to the membership of the Advisory Committee that indicate that the nominations of renowned scientists with a long record in determining the health effects associated with childhood lead poisoning are being rejected, and that instead the vacancies are being filled by individuals who have direct ties to the lead industry, which has a financial interest in the policies adopted by the Advisory Committee; If the acceptable blood lead levels are revised upwards, of if new scientific evidence indicating they should be revised further downwards is ignored, the health of many children in this country will be imperiled, and corporate polluters will be allowed to trade the long-term health of children for short-term commercial gain.

Its rare that the Advisory Committee's recommended nominees are rejected. However Drs. Bruce Lanphear, a pediatrician at U. of Cincinnati, and Susan Klitzman, of the Hunter College School of Health Sciences, both authors of numerous peer-reviewed studies on lead-poisoning in children, were snubbed by HHS. But rarer still was the Administration's decision to reject the reappointment of a committee member, as in the case of Dr. Michael Weitzman, Pediatrician-in-Chief of Rochester General Hospital, and well known researcher on lead poisoning.

Instead of these exceedingly well-credentialed pediatricians, the Administration offered five public policy analysts, environmental scientists and paid consultants for various lead industries, three of whom admitted to having been contacted by lead industry representatives regarding their nominations. The most egregious of these appointees was toxicologist William Banner, whose handful of PubMed citations includes a 1993 Pediatrics article, "Mythology of lead poisoning". Banner's expertise came under intense scrutiny in last week's TNR report, Toxic,

[I]t's one thing to question the new studies, quite another to question the entire body of research suggesting that lead could cause intellectual or behavioral problems in children--which is precisely what Banner, the Oklahoma toxicologist, has done. When a lawyer in the Rhode Island paint case asked Banner if studies had ever demonstrated a link between lead exposure and cognitive problems in children, he said flatly, "I don't think anybody has demonstrated that." When a lawyer pressed him, Banner indicated that except in cases of encephalopathy--a severe physical condition that shows up at blood levels of 70 micrograms per deciliter or higher--there was no proof that lead causes "central nervous system deficits or injuries."

One Administration nominee, Joyce Tsuji, a scientist for Exponent, Inc., a consultant to several lead manufacturers, removed herself from consideration, citing conflicts-of-interest. The Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning and other concerned groups sent a letter calling upon Secretary Thompson to immediately remove Dr. Banner, and to rely on CDC’s recommendations in making future appointments (the next openings come up in May, 2003.)

There are many more CDC, NIH and FDA advisory committees which also allow for political appointments, such as the Mine Safety and Health Research Advisory Committee, the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Advisory Committee, and the Hospital Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee. Besides the aforementioned Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention (important to me personally as my youngest son was severely lead poisoned in early 2001), I'm particularly interested in the Bush Administration's appointments to the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and National Vaccine Advisory Committee. But never again will I fall for the pretense of scientific objectivity brazenly flouted by all such committees. If a cool million in campaign donations by the lead industry can buy, I mean "nominate", five members for the ACCLLP, imagine what Eli Lilly's $5,899,220 (for 2001/2) can get them.

posted by MB | link | 7:38 AM |

Sunday, December 29  

Maybe a little less "Insta"-punditing, and a little more fact-checking...

What is the old saying? Don't run with scissors...Early to bed, early to rise...Ah, I remember, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Once again, Glenn Reynolds is a living example of the reasoning behind such old time wisdom. Just for starters, Reynolds begins his latest bit on the HLS midnight-rider fiasco,

"BILL FRIST: Lackey of Eli Lilly? Or of Rosalynn Carter?"

I guess I could take the easy road and ask if there are really differences between Eli Lilly and Merck, Aventis Pasteur, GlaxoSmithKline and Wyeth-Ayerst. Oh, not clear on the connection between the latter four vaccine manufacturers and the Rosalyn Carter-Betty Bumpers Every Child By Two Program? Well, they're only the foundation's principal funding partners. Obviously, then, they're biased, right?

However, as Professor Reynolds should himself learn, although telling in some aspects, such assumptions don't always reveal the whole picture. While Dr. Frist may have (somewhat inaccurately) appropriated ECBT language to support his argument against removing the Thimerosal provision from the HLS bill, he did not explain ECBT previously stated reservations to his own bill, S 2053, the near word-for-word template for the Eli Lilly exemption. ECBT stated in its April "From the Hill" newsletter supplement,

"ECBT supports proposed changes to the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. A similar bill to Title II of Senator Frist’s is Congressmen Dan Burton (R-IN), Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Dave Weldon's (R-FL) National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program Improvement Act (H.R. 3471). The bill has several cosponsors. Both the House and Senate versions would allow compensation to families for counseling and guardianship costs, would raise the compensation payment ceiling, would allow claimants to recover interim costs before final judgment is reached and would extend the statute of limitations from three to six years from the appearance of symptoms before filing. Senator Frist’s bill is more favorable to vaccine manufacturers as it does not offer parties claiming injury legal options that are quite as liberal." (my emphasis)

Reynolds admits his confusion on the history of the matter (one might expect that when your source of information regarding the subject appears to be the Fox-News crawl.) In addition, it seems he's never heard of House-Senate strategy meetings, such as the one Republicans called the weekend after the midterm elections, where pending legislation is discussed. But that doesn't stop him from concluding,

"But at the very least, claims that Frist was acting secretly in support of the language are contradicted by the speech -- on the Senate floor -- supporting the language. And claims that this was some sort of sleazy corporate bailout would seem to be contradicted by the words from the Rosalynn Carter - Betty Bumpers Campaign. Unless the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy has gotten really, really vast."

I've spent some time trying to understand Reynold's logic here: Because Frist openly supported language which was identical to that which he had crafted for his own bill, as well as that which he attempted to tack onto the Schumer-Edwards "Greater Access to Affordable Pharmaceuticals Act" in late July, he obviously couldn't have been involved in a behind-the-scenes lobbying effort to have his colleagues in the House tack it on to pending legislation at the last minute? And moreover, because a single foundation, whose sole purpose is to promote universal vaccination, states its concern regarding the impact the debate over Thimerosal (which is no longer even used in US vaccines) on vaccination rates, one has to naturally conclude that no malfeasance or impropriety has occurred? Do I understand it to be true that Reynolds is a law professor?

I am a strong proponent of a safe and rational national immunization program, and I support many of the goals of the Carter-Bumpers campaign. However, like most public policy initiatives, its goals are developed by analysts, not necessarily scientists. What is particularly interesting, during the weeks that Reynolds has punditized on this subject, he has supported his arguments with soundbites from politicians, columnists and policy wonks, rather than from research by toxicologists and epidemiologists. I strongly urge that he spend some time over at the IOM's Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines and Neurodevelopmental Outcomes Meeting website listening to the "junk science" presentations of the IOM invited speakers and committee members. Even Dr. Neil Halsey (also cited by Senator Frist) stated that the "evidence was more than sufficient" as to why the US should be helping other countries to remove thimerosal as quickly as possible. In fact, after Professor Reynolds reviews Dr. Halsey's testimony, perhaps he can explain to us how this obvious strong arm attempt by Halsey's superiors, as well as the supposed correction to the NY Times article are not indications of at least the appearance of his touted right-wing conspiracy.

posted by MB | link | 4:26 PM |

Friday, December 27  


I am, that is. My 4 and a half year old, Sam, just came up to me and said for the first time, "Mommy, I yuv you", and then ran away giggling.

{updated} I should really elaborate on this, as I'm fairly sure its one of those things that only my (one or two) hardcore fans and other POA (Parents of Autistics (TM)) will understand right off.

Sam is my eldest son, diagnosed autistic at just under two-and-a-half. He was a normal baby and infant, but rapidly regressed between fifteen and eighteen months, losing all speech and eye contact. After failing a sound-booth hearing test at 20 months, he was diagnosed as profoundly deaf. We didn't learn for another 2 months that his hearing was perfect. We finally started admitting to ourselves, and then to others, that we suspected autism around his second birthday. A neurologist confirmed our suspicions a few months later.

Sam did not say another word until shortly before his third birthday. He was in a Lovaas-Floortime hybrid preschool 30 hours a week, and soon we had a few more words. Then a few short sentences. But mostly echolalia - repeating back what he had heard then or before. At the same time, however, his receptive language was increasing dramatically, to the point that he was almost age appropriate. His imaginative play took off (his toys this Christmas were dragons, castles and merry men in Sherwood Forest), as did his peer-to-peer skills. He was always affectionate - on his terms. But he seldom called me Mommy, and never spoke of affection spontaneously. You never realize how much you miss hearing your child tell you they love you, or hate you, until they can't.

So hearing those few words, which so glibly fly off the tongues of children and Casanova's alike, are like cool rain falling on a drought-stricken field. I don't know when or if I'll ever hear them again - its impossible to predict what will come out of the mouth of an autistic child. But hearing them this one time was enough.

posted by MB | link | 12:38 PM |

Pharmaceuticals declare war on the working poor

In a stunning upset for 110,000 working-poor Mainers, on Christmas Eve the Scrooge-like District of Columbia Court of Appeals struck down Maine's HHS-sanctioned prescription drug discount program for low-income Mainers, the Healthy Maine Prescriptions Program. The initiative, which required a Medicaid-equivalent discount of up to 25% for non-Medicaid eligible residents making 300% of the federal poverty level, was strongly opposed by PhRMA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, who then filed suit against Maine.

In what can only be described as arrogance or cluelessness, depending upon how gracious one feels, PhRMA Spokesman Bruce Lott called the decision

"a victory for Medicaid patients in Maine and everywhere because their access to needed medicines won't be limited by bureaucrats putting budget needs over patient care."

This decision had no impact on Medicaid recipients, who receive a full drug benefit under MaineCare. The small cost of the program fell mostly upon pharmaceuticals, by requiring the same wholesale prices for the low-income program as for other state-sponsored programs, such as Medicaid. Unless, of course, PhRMA is arguing that this miniscule cut in profits will harm consumers, as research and development will be crippled. This is exactly what PhRMA claims in response to competition from generic drugs;

"A study released earlier this month by researchers at the University of Chicago, Bates College, and the University of Virginia finds that accelerating generics to the market harms consumers by reducing innovation leading to new prescription drugs."

A PhRMA press release earlier this month stated,

"We recognize the desire of states like Maine and Vermont to help seniors pay for their prescription drugs, but these programs are the wrong way to do it. States should work with us to urge Congress to pass a Medicare prescription drug benefit this year."

Ironically, Maine 36,000 poorest seniors are not effected by the court decision, as they are covered under a different initiative, the Drugs for the Elderly Program. This decision primarily effects the 25% of working Mainers with no medical insurance or prescription drug benefit. Fortunately, Maine's Attorney General Steve Rowe and Human Services Commissioner Kevin Concannon vowed to rework the program so as to not violate the court's narrow ruling. Even Senators Snowe and Collins, recipients of millions in campaign donations from pharmaceuticals, have declared their support for the Maine drug program.

posted by MB | link | 11:51 AM |

Tuesday, December 24  

Oh brother, where art thou?

I don't know about you all, but I'm still feeling despair over Al Gore's choice not to run for re-election in 2004. The other candidates in the pack just don't do it for me; Kerry's plagued by the Dukakis ghost, Dean has Abenaki skeletons in his closet, Lieberman's a better choice to replace Cheney on the ticket, and Daschle lost his spine somewhere along the way. At this point, Martin Sheen looks better than the lot of them.

So I'm holding out that after 9 or so months of the same, Democrats will wake up and realize what we lost when Gore removed his hat from the ring and do our mightiest to convince him that we need someone of his caliber to lead the charge. In the meantime, if you want to ask Gore to reconsider his decision not to run, head on over to Democrats.Com and sign this petition.

posted by MB | link | 10:00 AM |

A child's reminder..

For Christians and secular holiday celebrants, tomorrow is Christmas. This morning, my six year old daughter asked me to help her get father his Christmas gift. After hearing my favorite Band Aid song (scroll down for lyrics, permalinks screwy again), Grace wanted to know how we could help "feed the world". Fortunately charitable giving is a mouse click away. So if you want to do some last minute shopping which makes you, the recipient and many other people happy, consider visiting one of these sites and, like my sweet Grace, spread some joy this holiday season. Also, you can find financial and other information on most US-based charities at Give.Org.

Oxfam America
Save The Children
Doctors Without Borders

And a very special one to our family:
Cure Autism Now

posted by MB | link | 7:10 AM |

Monday, December 23  

Once again, blame the IRS

Note to Armey: If you intend to tack a midnight provision on to popular legislation, make sure you turn the light on first and read the fine print...

Some interesting points have been brought up regarding loose ends which were apparently not tied up prior to passage of the HLS bill, and its Eli Lilly bail-out clause. Pop on over to Mark AR Kleiman, PLA, and the original source (although maybe to his own chagrin), BlissfulKnowledge for the whole (for now) story.

As a relevant addendum, it should be pointed out that the original source of the Eli Lilly provision was essentially word-for-word language from Senator Bill Frist's earlier bill, S2053, the Improved Vaccine Affordability and Availability Act. Frist's plan from the start was to deny autistic kids and their families the right to sue in state court over Thimerosal, primarily by reclassifying preservatives as vaccine components and thereby forcing families into the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. In that way, he would protect Lilly. But autism does not currently appear on the injury tables, and Frist had no intention of altering that minor detail. In fact, his bill would change definitions in the NVICP so as to exclude those cases of autism where an environmental factor, such as mercury in vaccines, triggered an underlying genetic predisposition. Then, after jumping through all the Vaccine Court's hoops, only to have it determined that their injuries did not qualify, families who then wanted to continue to seek redress could only do so in federal, not their state, courts.

One of the most telling pieces of the Frist Bill legislation was its final provision. If one logically expected even a portion of the children injured by mercury in vaccines to submit their claims to the NVICP, before long, with lifetime medical and educational expenses totally in the millions, the fund's surplus of nearly 2 billion would soon be paid out. However, Frist anticipated no such decrement of the program's funds. In fact, he added the following provision for raiding the fund,

Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall submit recommendations regarding how to address the growing surplus in the Vaccine Trust Fund, and the rationale for such recommendations to--
(1) the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee of the Senate;
(2) the Finance Committee of the Senate;
(3) the Energy and Commerce Committee of the House of Representatives; and
(4) the Ways and Means Committee of the House of Representatives.

Since the HLS bill only accomplished one of Frist's goals, protecting Eli Lilly, one would expect we'll see the other provisions of S2053 soon, particularly with Dr. Frist as Majority Leader.

posted by MB | link | 6:23 PM |

A recent quote from the Wall Street Journal:

"A mom who eats a tuna fish sandwich probably passes along more mercury during breast-feeding than a kid gets in a vaccination."

Michael Pichichero, lead investigator of a study published in The Lancet which concluded mercury in vaccines are safe.

So lets do some math. The FDA and EPA list four species of fish to be particularly susceptible to mercury contamination; tilefish, swordfish, shark and king mackerel. One ounce of swordfish averages 1.00 ppm mercury, or 28.5 ug Hg per ounce, according to Dr. Neal Halsey of John Hopkins University. According to the FDA, canned tuna has a mean of 0.17 ppm, or 4.85 ug Hg per ounce.

A typical 4 ounce tunafish sandwich would thus contain around 19 ug Hg. That methylmercury, however, is ingested and digested, with only a portion being absorbed into the blood stream. Even if the transport from blood to breastmilk was 100% (highly unusual), the amount of methylmercury from the original 19 ug in the tuna fish sandwich has now been reduced considerably.

Following the CDC vaccine schedule, a child could receive upwards of 237.5 ug of ethylmercury by age 18 months. A single round of vaccinations could yield an injected load of between 12.5 and 62.5 ug. Thus, while the amount in the original tunafish sandwich may have compared with the low end of the amount in a single thimerosal-laced vaccine, Pichichero's statement did not stop there. He surmised that the amounts infants received were weighted towards the sandwich, which was ingested by mother, made into breastmilk, and then ingested by baby. Recent research has demonstrated that mercury levels though breastmilk consumption drop to 1/5th those of a direct blood route. So even with an improbable 100% ingestion and a 100% transfer to breastmilk, we're still left with only 1/5th of that original 19 ug Hg - a far cry from the 12.5 to 62.5 injected directly into the bloodstream of newborns and infants.

The point of all this is that this is that even though I am a scientist, I am neither a toxicologist nor immunologist, and was still able to do the math. Dr. Pichichero, a renowned immunologist (but not a toxicologist), was not, and yet his recent work has been lauded far and wide as the near-final word on Thimerosal.

posted by MB | link | 8:39 AM |

Friday, December 20  

Move over Trent Lott

This from Ron Andrade on the Triballaw mailing list:

State Representative Carl Isett is planning to run for the (Texas) 19th Congressional House race which will become open in January. In a recent speech before a local Chamber of Commerce he told them one of the greatest recent legislative accomplishments was the abolishment of the Texas Indian Commission. He told them that it had gone well since there was not an uprising of the among the local Natives. This was filmed by local news stations.

Ron will be sending a transcript as soon as he receives it. Of course, chances of a racist remark against Indians warranting even a "boo" from the media or general public are remote, but I thought I'd opt for full disclosure of Mr. Isett's stand on the issue.

posted by MB | link | 6:02 PM |

Clueless quote of the day

"The biggest thing I learned from the process is that within the Native American community, opinions were so varied," he said. "There is no one single voice for the Native American community."

David Snively, assistant director of WVU Extension Service, on the West Virginia 4-H controversy over perpetuating American Indian stereotypes at its summer camp programs.

posted by MB | link | 6:44 AM |

Thursday, December 19  

Hot off the presses...

Bush Administration Withdraws Motion to Seal Thimerosal Documents

PRNewswire via COMTEX - The US Department of Justice agreed today to withdraw its motion to the US Court of Federal Claims Office of Special Master to seal all documents related to present thimerosal-autism claims. The Mercury Policy Project and SAFE MINDs said that the withdrawal of the motion was a step in the right direction. However, the groups questioned whether documents in future cases would be subject to the secrecy order.

"The Bush Administration has overreached in its attempt to seal documents in thimerosal cases and the withdrawal of their motion bears that out," said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project. "Unfortunately, this agreement only addresses half the loaf of bread. While the motion's withdrawal may help those involved in current litigation, it leaves unresolved what this means for future cases."

While the groups acknowledge that some information unearthed in court should be kept private -- like trade secrets -- they maintain that scientific studies and information should not qualify. In addition to the documents obtained through discovery from Eli Lilly, these also include unreleased confidential documents from the Centers for Disease Control stating that mercury in children's vaccines is a potential source of neurological damage in children including ADD/ADHD, speech and language delays and other neurological disorders including autism.

more... (scroll down to entry #2034)

posted by MB | link | 6:42 PM |

What is the definition of propaganda?

I wonder if Santa will be handing out common sense to some netpundits this holiday season, as it appears some are sorely in need of such. A quick jaunt following the Thimerosal trail, from Instapundit (linked from Counterspin) to Derek Lowe to Medpundit Sydney Smith has me shaking my head. Each of these commentators (not Hesiod) has bought into the pharmaceutical industry's new media strategy; put a study out on vaccines, and no matter how flawed the study, protocol or results, declare unconditionally that it proves no link between "x" vaccine or vaccine component. The media will swallow it it hook, line and sinker, and even throw to the news shows some medical talking head with little or no experience in the field of epidemiology or toxicology to hold the company line. (Just ignore the man behind the curtain with the millions in research grants from drug makers in his back pocket.)

Case and point is the Pichichero study in Lancet. Researchers followed 40 children who received immunizations containing Thimerosal. Autism rates are somewhere between 6-8:1000, or around one child in 200. That in-and-of itself should raise red flags for serious researchers, as its more likely than not to miss a child who might develop a developmental disability as a result of injection with Thimerosal. There were no consistent protocols used; blood and stool samples were taken anywhere from 3 to 28 days after vaccination. At no time were peak levels assessed. Pichichero et al. asserted that the relatively low levels in the infant's blood samples were a good sign, and concluded that Thimerosal was therefore not dangerous. But they never addressed the well documented research that mercury collects in brain tissue at a rate five times that of blood, and that peak levels reach the brain at less than 24 hours after exposure.

Autism specialists who testified in front of the House Committee on Reform last week were blistering in their criticism of the study. They revealed the morbid irony of Pichichero's technique of "averaging" mercury levels over the 180 day period utilized by the researchers; one commented that using this rationale, a subject could receive a lethal dose of mercury, but by averaging it out, could have it declared "safe", even though he'd be dead.

But back to the aforementioned blogging on the issue. Derek Lowe makes the almost laughable assessment

"Blood levels of mercury were lower than expected, well under the toughest EPA standards. And the mercury was found to be cleared much more quickly from the children's system than had been expected (a week versus the predicted 45 days.) This goes a way toward clearing things up, because it makes it less likely that there's an accumulation of mercury with multiple vaccinations. A key part of the anti-thimerosal case has been that exposure to it was allowed to creep up over the years - the hypothetical autism epidemic is much more recent than the use of thimerosal per se."

While there has been some concern about the total mercury load children are exposed to during their first year, the main concern of neurologists and toxicologists is the massive neurological injury sustained at the time of immunization by the immediate mercury load - just a couple of vaccines at one time exceeded the recommended dosage for adults, let alone children. What does it matter if you're nibbled to death by goldfish if you've already taken a bullet to the head?

I've commented before on the hypocrisy of the "vaccines never cause autism" crowd previously in that they utilize some form of bait-and-switch logic in their arguments: Pose a completely irrelevant question, test it using suspect data, summarize with a "See! This proves there's no link between vaccines and autism" and feed it to the Wall Street Journal for starters. Works every time.

(I really shouldn't blog when I'm this peeved...ugh!)

posted by MB | link | 1:14 PM |

A small blog policy change.

My first exposure to the wit and eloquence of Jim Capozzola of the Rittenhouse Review was the day after he first kindly linked to Wampum. One of his posts that day, We Are The Company We Keep, stirred a great deal of controversy in the Left, and Right, blogosphere, as Jim stated his intent to "manage" his blogroll. Following shortly on the heels of Jim's essay were the NYTimes article, Telling All Online: Its a Man's World (Isn't It?) and Jeanne D'Arc's thought-provoking spin on the subject. The latter two articles recently led me to do some soul searching of my own, particularly in regards to the lack of women's and non-Western voices on my own blogroll. I now feel compelled, however, following Jim C's lead, to be even more pro-active, and apply a stricter criteria to those websites I promote, even the purportedly "Progressive" ones. Thus, I recently visited all my blogroll sites, checking for even a modicum of diversity. I'm pleased to say that I was, for the most part, pretty impressed with the results. On the downside, I did find at least one site, which shall remain nameless, but has been removed from the permanent links, which not only displayed a dearth of women and non-Western permanently-linked sites, but rarely included those voices in its commentary as well. I did email the site owner requesting an explanation for the omissions, but received no reply. Not that he, or anyone else, cares what I think. But I was a naive and foolish Beta when I initially dressed up my sidebar, thinking such things don't matter. But what you don't say means as much as what you do.

posted by MB | link | 7:24 AM |

A bounty now in Lillygate...

Even in the midst of the Lott fiasco, a number of Progressive bloggers and websites have kept up the pressure for full disclosure of the facts behind the last-minute provisions on the Homeland Security Bill passed last month. In particular, Hesiod of Counterspin Central, Dwight Meredith of PLA, and Lisa English of Ruminate This, have all been hot on the heels of Eli Lilly's mysterious benefactor. On top of this, one lefty website, TomPaine, is willing to put money down, to the tune of 10K, for the first sleuth to come up with the goods on the notorious midnight rider.

Back in November, I lined up the usual suspects: For anyone who missed the earlier post, the cast included,

Mitch Daniels: Former Eli Lilly VP of Corporate Affairs, until he was nominated in 2001 to be G. W. Bush's Budget Director. Claims not only to have no knowledge of the HLS provision, but of Thimerosal itself, asserting in response to a request for information by Rep. Waxman, "I had not even heard of Thimerosal until I received your letter, which is not surprising because Eli Lilly stopped making Thimerosal a decade before I began working there and the lawsuits appear to have been filed after I left." Hesiod catches Daniels in this lie, as Daniels' tenure at Lilly began in 1990, while Lilly still manufactured the preservative. In addition, Lilly purchased and distributed Thimerosal throughout the 1990s.

Syndey Taurel: CEO of Eli Lilly, tapped for a much coveted seat on the President's Homeland Security Advisory Council. Taurel gave $55,500 to candidates and PACs in the 2000-2 campaign cycles, 92% of it to Republicans.

Deborah Steelman: Former Reagan and Bush-41 appointee, during the '90s, she lobbied heavily for pharmaceuticals and healthcare interests. In 1998, she was nominated by Senator Trent Lott to a 17-member bipartisan commission on Medicare. In 2001, she was hired by Eli Lilly to replace Mr. Daniels as VP of Corporate Affairs.

Congressman Dick Armey: As soon-to-retire House Majority Leader, Armey has reluctantly assumed the mantle of the "fall-guy", even though his own staff asserted that "Mr. Armey is not a doctor, like Senator Frist. He's (Senator Frist) the source of the language." Initially Armey claimed the impetus came from the White House.

George Herbert Walker Bush, aka "Poppy": Bush joined Lilly's Board of Directors after leaving the CIA in 1977. The position was a gift from Quayle's father and uncle, who owned controlling interest in the Indiana company. While Vice President, Bush was ordered by the Supreme Court to stop lobbying the IRS on behalf of Lilly and other pharmaceuticals.

An anonymous "official at the Department of Health and Human Services": According to the Washington Post, this unnamed member of the Administration gave the final approval for the thimerosal provision.

Add to the previous list, a new suspect,

Senator Bill Frist: The language tacked on to the HLS bill was identical to that which Frist included in an earlier vaccine bill, S 2053 (Improved Vaccine Affordability and Availability Act.) Congressman Dick Armey, while claiming ultimate responsibility, alluded to Frist's involvement to Carville on CNN's Crossfire, "Well, you know, you really have to say it was my bill, I wrote it, I put it in. But I put it out in consultation with Senator Frist, the most well-respected doctor in Congress and the White House."

Although I lack the smoking gun TomPaine requires for payment of its bounty, my bet is on a Frist-Steelman-Daniels collaboration. After the defeat of the first Bush Administration, Steelman moved back into the private sector as a health issues lobbyist. One of her largest accounts, to the tune of $180K in 1997 was the Society for Thoracic Surgeons, of which Frist is a leading member. Another, the Healthcare Leadership Council, donated over $41K to Frist's campaign through the CBM Pac. Both Frist and Steelman were on the 17 member Medicare Commission in the late '90s, and Steelman was a financial supporter of Frist's 2000 Senate campaign. As VP of Lilly, she was well aware that with a number of recent plaintiff victories in state courts regarding Thimerosal, the wolves were at the door. A call to her predecessor, now at the WH, a suggestion to Senator Frist (personally, or through Daniels), and Lilly itself becomes immunized. Not bad for a day's work.

posted by MB | link | 2:26 AM |

Tuesday, December 17  

A kinda-sorta victory..I guess...

From CNN this morning:

MORGANTOWN, West Virginia (AP) -- Youngsters in West Virginia's 4-H clubs will abandon some American Indian traditions that a panel found to be stereotypical, officials said Monday. Other rituals, deemed respectful to the Indian heritage, will continue.

Children attending the state's 4-H summer camp take pride in joining one of four tribes -- Mingo, Cherokee, Delaware or Seneca -- and that practice should continue, the review committee announced.

But feather headdresses, "stereotypical motions and dances," and chanting a tribal cheer of "Ugh! Ugh! Ugh!" should stop next year, it said.

While it is a welcome sight to see the removal of the most overtly offensive behaviors, the changes are really just whitewash: The whole "Indian-as-Woodland-Savage" model is, in and of itself, the real problem, one which 4H officials refused to address, deeming the practice "respectful". Indians are locked in a romanticized nineteenth-century ethnohistoric time warp, living in teepees (which none of these tribes actually did) as nomadic hunters and gathers (all four tribes had been sedentary agriculturalists for 500 years by the time of Columbus.) Children are fed the lie that real Indians are extinct, or living way away, on Western Reservations. The descendants of the four appropriated tribes, all of whom still live in West Virginia, are harmed more than others, but it is in fact a blow to all American Indians. Unfortunately, it would take several doctoral theses to explain the problem in its entirety, and my own Indian children need to be fed Cheerios, dressed in Gap jeans and sent off to public school.

In light of the current flack surrounding Senator Lott, imagine thousands of happy, frolicking white children, spending their summer vacation pretending to plow fields and pick cotton, working on the perfect "yes, Massa" and singing Negro spirituals, all the time in "blackface." As long as no whippings or slave markets are in evidence, I'm sure one could make the argument that such a program "honored" the African-American experience. I expect the NAACP would argue differently, and rightly so.

But why is it that the media (and many Americans) view the hypocrisy of white children dressing up in feather headdresses and whooping around a campfire in the same terms as the Majority Senate Leader-elect's statements condoning segregation, and yet fail to see the problem with our political leaders attending Redskin, Chiefs or Indians ball games, cheering while the crowd does the "Tomahawk Chop" and "Chief Wahoo" prances around?

posted by MB | link | 5:25 AM |

Monday, December 16  

And on a celebratory note...

My soul mate and partner of eight years (seven wedded) hit the half-century mark today. Happy Birthday.

posted by MB | link | 12:17 PM |

More Republican cries to tax the poor

The Washington Post reports that the idea floated by the WSJ just a few weeks ago, arguing that the "Lucky Ducky" working poor and middle class need to be taxed more, has been picked up by the White House and will be incorporated into the President's new tax plan.

Economists at the Treasury Department are drafting new ways to calculate the distribution of tax burdens among different income classes, which are expected to highlight what administration officials see as a rising tax burden on the rich and a declining burden on the poor. The White House Council of Economic Advisers is also preparing a report detailing the concentration of the tax burden on the affluent and highlighting problems with the way tax burdens are calculated for the poor.

In a return of Fuzzy Math, the President's former economic advisor Lawrence Lindsey recently tried to make the case that employment (Social Security) taxes weren't really taxes at all, since they pay for an entitlement which is "cashed in" in later years.

Lindsey compared the Social Security tax to a deposit in a neighborhood bank's Christmas Club. In such clubs, periodic deposits are returned in a lump sum during the holiday season, and Lindsey said no one would consider such deposits a tax.

I guess one could then make the argument that my property taxes are school tuition and the state's sales tax, an insurance premium. Gee, I guess I really am not paying my fair share of taxes. Please, tax me more.

posted by MB | link | 5:00 AM |

Sunday, December 15  

Skippy is soliciting favorite "Holiday Tunes". Although I can't claim I've been suitably missionized, despite the best efforts of nearly 400 years of Jesuit and Puritan proselytizing, I will throw out my two favorites, which seem particularly poignant in this time of warmongering.

Happy Christmas
John Lennon/Yoko Ono

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones
The old and the young

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas (War is over)
For weak and for strong (If you want it)
For rich and the poor ones (War is over)
The world is so wrong (Now)
And so Happy Christmas (War is over)
For black and for white (If you want it)
For yellow and red ones (War is over)
Let's stop all the fight (Now)

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas (War is over)
And what have we done (If you want it)
Another year over (War is over)
And a new one just begun (Now)
And so Happy Christmas (War is over)
I hope you have fun (If you want it)
The near and the dear one (War is over)
The old and the young (Now)

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

War is over if you want it
War is over now

Do They Know Its Christmas
B. Geldof, sung by Band Aid

It's Christmastime; there's no need to be afraid
At Christmastime, we let in light and we banish shade
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime
But say a prayer to pray for the other ones
At Christmastime

It's hard, but when you're having fun
There's a world outside your window
And it's a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears

And the Christmas bells that ring there
Are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you
And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime

The greatest gift they'll get this year is life
Oh, where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow
Do they know it's Christmastime at all?

Here's to you, raise a glass for ev'ryone
Here's to them, underneath that burning sun
Do they know it's Christmastime at all?

Feed the world
Feed the world

Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmastime again
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmastime again

posted by MB | link | 7:05 AM |


Recently, Jeanne D'Arc of Body and Soul gently rebuked lefty "blogtopia" for its fairly obvious androcentricism. A number of poliblogs have attempted to remedy this, although mostly women who realized we were silently supporting the assumption "women can't punditize" with the deficiency of our own blogrolls. You can still frequent an inordinate number of lefty sites where only a few women bloggers are either cited in the oration or the permanent links.

While I find this pretty disheartening, in the wake of the Trent Lott debacle, on a turn through my favorite progressive weblogs, I found an equally disquieting idiosyncrasy; the apparent "whiteness" of it all. I say "apparent", as its nearly impossible to tell the color of one's skin from the pixels on their website, and one could easily lie about their own ethnicity. But while progressives are very apt to comment on the plight of civil rights, et al., the deficit of non-white voices needs to be redressed if we truly want to represent diversity. And just as I found that I had been complicit in not plugging feminist blogs on my own site, I am guilty of not giving due to other women and men of color.

To rectify this, I'm actively supporting affirmative action in the Progressive blogsphere, and am adding diversity to my blogscroll; sites which I promise myself to frequent even before I tread my traditional path (from PLA, to Body and Soul, to Alas, to Rittenhouse, and so on....)

Unfortunately, although I may have my finger on the pulse of the Indiginet, my links to non-Indian non-European bloggers is, as best, limited to what Google can pull. But I did find some interesting sites yesterday, such as the reasonably-peeved Charlie Chan's Revenge and an African-Canadian view of American politics at Formica. Some others include AllAboutGeorge, 8legs and Ray Hanania (although not currently up to date). I'm in the process of soliciting from my AI/NA friends and colleagues their favorite weblogs, but I will post one on indigenous rights that I frequent, Rhinosblog. For political humor, Black People Love Us, reminded me of every time I've heard "You know, my gr-gr-gr-grandmother was an Indian Princess" used as an icebreaker.

For my permanent politics links, I'm adding Political Circus and BlackElectorate.

I'd like to add many additional sites, so please feel free to email or add to the comments section, your favorites.

posted by MB | link | 6:48 AM |

Friday, December 13  

Let it Snowe...Let it Snowe...Let it Snowe...

I spent most of the morning writing the beginnings of a post on the slim chance of Sen. Olympia Snowe's bailing from the Republican Party. Below is what I had achieved before the letter carrier arrived at lunch:

.....While Democrats may be chomping at the bit, speculating on which moderate Republican may be next to "pull a Jeffords", I'll throw out my own suppositions on one of the targets of such conjecture, Maine's own Senator Olympia Snowe. While Snowe, and Maine's Junior Senator Susan Collins, may be chafing from the cold shoulder they've received by the Republican leadership, namely Tom Delay and Dennis Hastert, in the aftermath of the supposed "ironclad" assurances they received to remove three of the midnight provisions tacked on to the Homeland Security Bill, that sting is surely soothed but the dangling of committee chair positions, Small Business and Entrepreneurship for Snowe, and Governmental Affairs for Collins.

Progressive groups may be crossing their fingers, and even publicly (and expensively) urging moderates to jump ship with ads such as those which ran in late November in the New York Times and Weekly Standard, but more telling of Sen. Snowe's intentions are her actions in response to Trent Lott's current predicament.

Senator Snowe, generally known for her graciousness and acquiescence, even in light of the sharp right turn of her party in recent years, has joined the typically non-reticent John McCain, in openly slapping the soon-to-be Majority Leader. Snowe spoke openly to the media, and even issued a press release critical of Lott's statements at Sen. Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party.

"Clearly, racism has no place in America, and segregationist policies were a reprehensible blight on our past. Having worked with Senator Lott for 24 years in both the House and Senate, if I had ever sensed that his recent remarks accurately reflected his beliefs, I would not have supported him for any leadership position, or served in his leadership organizations.

"It was critical that he apologize – I was deeply disappointed with his choice of words that were insensitive and offensive, and I expressed my concerns to him in conversations this week. In those discussions, he expressed deep regret for the implications of his remarks, and was clearly remorseful. I believe his apology was sincere.

"Nevertheless, I also believe it is essential that he forcefully convey to the Nation and most especially the African-American community, in a public forum, what is truly in his heart as to the depth and breadth of his commitment to civil rights, and I have urged him to do so."

If one were to take a leap into an alternative reality for a moment, it could conceivably be argued that the Snowe and McCain messages were orchestrated as a way of testing the water for a 2004 third party ticket, especially since its been rumored locally that Snowe intends to quit the Senate at the end of her term in 2006. While such a run might be highly problematic for progressive Democrats, it surely is preferable to the far-right policies of the current administration. However, returning to earth, its fairly clear that such a leap is not in the foreseeable future for either moderate.

Unfortunately, the public admonishment of Lott does not bode well for a party-switch for Snowe either. But to be honest, it has always been highly unlikely that Snowe would attempt such political suicide. Party switching, or more precisely, "unenrolling" to a politically "independent" status, is not unheard of in Maine, even in recent times. The state's current governor (until January), Angus King was a Democrat most of his adult life, switching to Independent prior to his 1994 run for the Blaine House. But King was a television talk-show host prior to his run for governor, not a 24-year veteran of Capitol Hill. Neither was his spouse a former governor, and principle fundraiser for the state party. And while Jeffords may survive in his re-election bid in 2004, Maine is not Vermont, and the slow leftward creep of the political center would not benefit an independent Snowe, who may be viewed as "moderate" on a national level, is still right-of-center in Maine.....

Now, I probably should restate that as an Independent, Snowe would not benefit should she seek re-election of her Senate office, or even if she should seek to challenge Governor-elect Baldacci in 2006.

At noon-time, my mail arrived, and in it, a letter each to me and my spouse, from the Washington offices of the Hon. Senator Snowe. As we have not been reticent about letting our views on a number of issues be known to our elected officials in the past, I was not surprised by such mail. In fact, as we'd called, written and emailed the Senator's offices (in Portland and D.C.) almost hourly during the Homeland Security-Eli Lilly fiasco, I'd rather expected a one-page "thank you for voicing your concern but --- off" like we'd received many times before. What I didn't expect was a three-page stump speech. And a rather good one at that, which namely spoke to valid issues of national "defense" (in the true sense of the word), such as supporting the Coast Guard and securing major ports and borders.

Snowe also went into detail about her decision to support the HLS bill, even with "eleventh hour" "offending provisions". She asserted that she "was able to obtain assurances from the Senate Republican Leader, the Speaker of the House, the Majority Leader-elect of the House and the Administration, that these objectionable measures will be addressed quickly upon our immediate return in January, through the first available appropriations vehicle in the 108th Congress."

What was most striking about the letter (besides the length) was the distance Snowe placed between herself and both the Republican House and Senate leadership, and even the supposedly popular President. The only mention of the leader of her party was a reference to the President's signing of the HLS bill into law. As one can ascertain from aforementioned quotes, she does not mention Delay, Hastert, or Lott by name. Yet she does speak without prejudice to "an amendment offered by Senators Daschle and Leiberman to remove provisions over which I had deep concerns". President Bush is not mentioned by name, while both Presidents Kennedy and Carter are.

The net effect of all these small nuances is that I am no longer sure what to think when it comes to the future moves of the senior Senator from Maine. This morning, I was certain that she was using her new-found clout as a "closet Jeffords" to eke out a few victories on environmental policies or reproductive rights. And by being in the forefront of the chorus chiding Lott, she would also be in a better position when she eventually, begrudgingly, but with charity, bestows a pardon on the Majority Leader-elect, obtaining in return his assistance in matters dear to Maine's heart (and pocketbook), such as BWI. Snowe's censure of Lott's word shouldn't be construed as the first in many steps leading to her bolting the party. At least, that's what I thought this morning.

However, the Senator's letter casts certain aspects of her press release regarding Sen. Lott in a new light. Maine is the "whitest" state in the Union, and even in that tiny minority, African Americans place third behind Indians and Asians. When Olympia speaks to "civil rights" issues, she is not speaking for the sake of her Maine constituents. She is creating a record for national consumption. The fact that she is positioning herself with McCain in the media begs the question, is Snowe contemplating, albeit in a supporting position, a challenge to the current Administration in 2004?

Should I be buying a ticket to that alternative reality I described this morning?

posted by MB | link | 11:40 AM |

Wednesday, December 11  

Whose Science?

Throughout much of the day yesterday, I was embroiled in an email discussion about a recent PBS Nova series, The Mystery of the First Americans. The participants of the discussion were all Indian/Native American, and mostly anthropologists or academics. And while we agreed on most points, it led me to extrapolate the discussions to other issues on my mind recently.

For those not familiar with the PBS series, it focuses primarily on the controversy surrounding Kennewick Man, also known as the Ancient One, whose well-preserved skeletal remains, now dated at approximately 9,000 BP, were uncovered on Army Corp of Engineers land in Eastern Washington state, back in 1996. The skeleton was originally in the custody of the county coroner, but within a few weeks the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impounded the remains. Soon thereafter, local Native American tribes, led by the Umatilla, sought to retrieve the remains, under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). NAGPRA enables tribes to file claims to remains to which they can demonstrate a cultural affiliation, and to rebury those remains if they so choose. When it seemed likely that the Indians would succeed in repatriation of the Ancient One, a group of eight physical anthropologists and archaeologists sued the federal government for the right to study the remains, even if it entailed physical destruction of the skeleton. There has been no final decision yet. In the meantime, the Corp of Engineers has kept the remains locked up under tight security at the University of Washington, pending the outcome of the lengthy court battle.

In the Kennewick/Ancient One dispute, the battlelines appear, at least by characterization of the media, as the rational scientists versus the superstitious Indians. In fact, if you read the reasoning of the eight litigating anthropologists, there are inordinate appeals to the virtues of scientific reasoning.

"Kennewick Man may be one of the most important skeletons ever unearthed in North America. It is a very ancient skeleton and therefore not a close relative of any human alive today. Thus, claims of cultural or biological affinity by any group existing today are so tenuous that they should not be allowed to prevent scientific study of this important find. The skeleton should remain in the domain of all humanity and not be claimed by any single federal agency or any single religious or cultural group. It should be studied by all qualified scientists whose research might be able to provide new knowledge from the secrets that these ancient bones contain." (George W. Gill)

"When you're talking about recent human skeletal remains, certainly that is within the rights of the tribes, to claim those skeletons. But when you start getting 1,000 years old, or 5,000 years old, or 9,000 years old, it becomes arguably much more difficult to demonstrate a clear cultural affiliation. And certainly to demonstrate that affiliation requires scientific study." (Douglas Owsley)

"For me and many scientists, the understanding of nature is based upon scientific investigations that add to humankind's ever increasing fund of knowledge. The fund is ever changing as new generations of scientists add to, debate, and reinterpret the data. For those who have devoted their lives to better understanding the peopling of the New World, the Kennewick find is a rare opportunity for a significant increase in knowledge about who the early Americans were and how they relate to living tribes." (C. Vance Haynes, Jr.)

In stark contrast to these supposedly "esteemed" scientists are the Eastern Washington tribal members, who want nothing more than to repatriate and rebury their "elder". As anthropologist Amy Dansie explained,

"There are many other issues besides physical reality and facts involved in something like this. Human feelings, humans' perception of sacredness and spirituality, and whether the human spirit is still sensitively involved with its mortal remains. I mean, these are questions no human has ever been able to answer to the satisfaction of any other human. These are all unknowns that science can't even touch."

However, in the present Nova series, and particularly in other non-PBS programs, the repatriating Native Americans are presented as anti-science, anecdotal and superstitious, willing even to sacrifice the greater good of humanity for their own specious religious purposes.

"Skeletal remains help tell the story of human history; it is a history to which everyone is entitled. Access to human history should not be restricted by the government, nor should it be controlled by small groups of people." (Richard L. Jantz)

Throughout the presentation, one is left with the perception that there are only two points of view, and only one is seeking "Truth", the object of desire of all scientific study:

"Only through the study of important individual skeletons, such as Kennewick Man, from different regions and different times will the scientific community be able to build a coherent picture of America's past." (Robson Bonnichsen)

The problem with the media's portrayal of the conflict is that the position of the eight physical anthropologists litigating against the government's compliance with NAGPRA is NOT the mainstream anthropologist's view. When I was last at the SAA's (Society for American Anthropology) meetings in Chicago three years ago, I couldn't swing a stick and hit an archaeologist who agreed with the eight litigants. And this was not due to "political correctness". Everyone I spoke with viewed the problem solely as a "scientific" one: What do you get from a study population of one? Nothing. Anecdotal evidence. Voyeurism, at best.

Thing is, the majority of archaeologists/physical anthropologists are pragmatists. When you study one individual, with no controls, there is no way to tell if this individual is "average Joe", or someone on the physical/genetic/cultural margins. There is just no way to tell, so while the data obtained from him is "interesting", it has no scientific worth. None. Nada.

Even when archaeologists like the eight litigating to dissect the Ancient One argue "when we compare him to the other five pre-8000 BP specimens", they are not talking about anything statistically significant. There is nothing to be honestly gleaned scientifically from comparing individuals hundreds, even thousands, of miles, and centuries, even millennia, apart. The questions which anthropologist constantly ask cannot be answered in any way by a population of ONE.

So while this is all fun and interesting to us archaeologist geeks, what does it have to do with "real life"? Well, as I sat and watched the House Committee on Government Reform yesterday, I was struck by the parallels between the Kennewick Man and Vaccine/Autism debates. On one side we have the "scientists", on the other, the anecdotal and suspicious parents. According to the media, we are led to believe that all scientific "Truth" is on the side of one, while those on the other side may, by their mere questioning of the former, lead to the downfall of the civilized world.

As I sat captive to my TV on Tuesday, watching the committee meetings on C-Span, I realized that there was, in fact, a largely ignored scientific middle ground. Congressman Waxman, for whatever reason, may have felt obligate to label these scientists "discredited", but it was obvious from their publications and government funding, this was not the case. Here were honest-to-goodness scientists, peer reviewed and all (to a tune of 250 Medline citations combined) who made the obvious observations that the two recent studies so hyped by the media in no way answer any of the questions parents, researchers or the government has in recent years poised. Either the populations are way too small and the study methods flawed (Lancet, 2002) or the questions posed (e.g., does MMR cause the smaller population of "regressive autism" cases) is not even addressed (NEJM 2002). And as I went back through previous House Committee on Reform hearings on autism, I found similar respected scientists stating similar criticisms; it is not the case that there is no data, but that the questions government and pharmaceutical vaccine researchers have posed have not addressed the simple task of replicating previous studies which have raised various red flags. All of the committee members who sat through the presentations (Rep. Waxman left after his opening remarks) expressed their concerns regarding the lack of appropriate research.

Both the "scientists" on the Kennewick case, and the "scientists" who casually dismiss vaccine concerns have grabbed the attention of the media, who then portray them as the legitimate representatives of "Science". In the Kennewick controversy, this probably arises from the litigants story being the "sexy" (i.e., controversial) one; the reality of a large segment of anthropologists regarding Kennewick Man as scientifically useless does not increase ratings. But what prompts the media to discount the concerns of respected autism researchers, even when the story is "sexy". Dr. Geier produced data from a CDC report which had been suppressed by the agency, data which strongly supported a causal link between Thimerosal and autism. Rep. (Dr.) Dave Wheldon (R-FL) grilled the NIH representatives regarding a clinical researcher with biopsy samples who was barred from using his own affiliated research facility, with the explanation that his research findings could be "too controversial". Committee panelists testified that neither they, nor any other autism researcher, have been given access to the VSD (Vaccine Safety Datalink) and so could not even attempt qualified epidemiological studies. In March 2002, attorneys for a group of families litigating against Thimerosal manufacturers released copies of documents obtained through discovery which implicated Eli Lilly promoting its product as safe, when it had numerous internal studies which proved otherwise. A smoking gun, but completely ignored by every reporter and columnist.

In regards to Kennewick Man, a minority of scientists argue that for the greater good of humanity, one sole skeletal specimen should be subject to every known invasive medical and scientific procedure. In the Reform Committee hearings, we learned that the FDA has been "asleep at the switch", the NIH is "just coming on board" and the CDC has been "obstructionist, at best" in promoting vaccine research. And this is the scientific community in which we have placed humanity's trust?

posted by MB | link | 1:56 PM |

Friday, December 6  

WampumBlog is currently under construction, due to loss of blog... Will return after the reconstruction is complete.

Please come back soon.

posted by MB | link | 12:06 PM |

Tuesday, December 3  

Sullivan the neurologist?

Let's hope not, if this is evidence of his research criteria. The real question Sullivan should be asking himself is not why males are more susceptible to autism, but why some males are so susceptible to bad reasoning about autism.

Duke University's Center for Human Genetics has looked at the question of male susceptibility as related to genetics (as Sullivan's resource would support) and have determined there is evidence against X-linkage as a major cause of autism :
Since it is a known fact that more males have autism than females, researchers believed that autism might be associated with a non-working gene on the X chromosome. Recent data for our group and others have shown that it is unlikely that a gene on the X chromosome causes the majority of cases of autism.

How do we know this? By studying many different families in which more than one member has autism, or a variant of autism such as Asperger’s syndrome or PDD, we have seen that in a number of families the "gene" is passed through the father to a male child with autism. Since a father transmits an X chromosome only to his daughters and not his sons, the "gene" cannot be on the X chromosome in these families.
Resources: Cuccaro M.L., Wolpert C.M., McClintock D.E., Abramson R., Beaty L.M., Storoschuk S., Zimmerman A., Frye V., Porter N., Cook E., Stevenson R., DeLong G.R., Wright H.H., Pericak-Vance, M.A. Familial aggregation in autism: Evidence against X-linkage as a major genetic etiology. American Society of Human Genetics 1996.

Hallmayer J., Spiker D., Lotspeich L., McMahon W.M., Petersen P.B., Nicholas P., Pingree C., Ciaranello R.D. Male-to male transmission in extended pedigrees with multiple cases of autism. American Journal of Medical Genetics. 67:13-18, 1996.

On a more serious note, Sullivan's use of the tragedy of autism in order to buttress his own twisted views of gender is indefensible. Nearly one percent of males born today will be afflicted with the condition, and a recent study found that one in four Americans surveyed knew someone with an autistic spectrum disorder. Autistics need constructive research and advocacy, not glib pseudo-psychology.

posted by MB | link | 5:29 PM |

Surprise, surprise!

An article just published on WebMD states without reservation that "Mercury Levels in Vaccines Safe". Regardless of the fact that the study has already been heavily critiqued, as it contained only 40 subjects (autism rates average 1:200), nowhere in the article is the disclaimer that WebMD is owned by Eli Lilly.

{update} The NYTimes has also picked up the ethyl-mercury research reported above, although with a slightly less emphatic heading, "Study Suggests Mercury in Vaccine Was Not Harmful." The Times article does go into some of the reasons the study has been critiqued, namely the study size and protocol. The study is useful in that it indicates that in a population of 33 infants, with no additional criteria mentioned, the half-life of ethyl-mercury is shorter than previously believed. However, no one has ever argued that Thimerosal effects all children. The question is, does it ever effect some children, and to a point where there is neurological damage? One of the children in the UR/Lancet study did have unexplained higher levels - still just below the EPA's threshold, but significantly higher than the other infants in the study. But the study did not attempt to address the disparity. Other research has determined that antibiotic use extends the half-life of ethylmercury from 10 to 100 days in rats. Autistic children are five-times as likely to have suffered from ear infections in the first year of life, and thus more likely to have been treated repeatedly with antibiotics. Researchers took this into consideration in studies unveiled at IMFAR in November:

B. Done, J.B. Adams, and E. Castaneda, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-6006

Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative widely used in childhood vaccines, and there are suspicions that it may contribute to the etiology of some cases of autism since it is a known neurodevelopmental toxin. A research study was undertaken to more fully assess the toxicity of thimerosal, for the conditions experienced by human infants. This study involved the use of a mouse model, Mouse Crl: CD-1 (ICR) BR from Charles River Labs...The effect of oral antibiotics was investigated because it has been shown that their use increases the half-life for the excretion of mercury from 10 days to over 100 days in rats. The effect of aluminum was investigated because it is included in some vaccines, and Haley has demonstrated that it increases the toxicity of thimerosal.
So the question perhaps we should be asking is not whether mercury is toxic (we know it is) or how long is remains in the body for "normal" children, but why is it found in excessive amounts in autistic children, and how did it get there?

What is truly disheartening is that under "normal" conditions, a study such as the one conducted by UofR wouldn't be given a second look, by either scientific journals (thereby increasing its credibility) or the media. But the current rush to shore up confidence in the world's immunization program, regardless of whether or not there is valid reason for concern, allows, even promotes, this kind of inferior research.

{note1: I reduced the abstract as I'd posted it previously...though my archives appear to have eaten it.}

{note2: Although this current study was funded by the NIH, research by Dr. Pichichero has been funded by Eli Lilly and other vaccine manufacturers. On UpToDate's Conflict of Interest page, Pichichero lists "Abbott; Bristol Myers Squibb; Eli Lilly Co.; GlaxoSmithKline; Merck & Co; Pasteur Merieux" as companies with which he has a financial association.}

posted by MB | link | 5:19 PM |

Monday, December 2  

In Media Res, Indian-Style

As has been widely punditized over the past few days, Paul Krugman in his November 29th NYTimes op-ed piece observed:

Over the past 15 years, however, much of that system has been dismantled. The fairness doctrine was abolished in 1987. Restrictions on ownership have been steadily loosened, and it seems likely that next year the Federal Communications Commission will abolish many of the restrictions that remain — quite possibly even allowing major networks to buy each other. And the informal rule against blatantly partisan reporting has also gone away — at least as long as you are partisan in the right direction.

On the same day, a much lesser known, but no less reputable news source, Indian Country Today, featured a story which put facts behind Krugman's hypothesis that Republicans manipulate their own media outlets, such as the Wall Street Journal, FoxNews and right-wing talk radio, taking mere rumor and by passing it through supposedly reputable news lens, produce "fact".

The case at hand is the recent South Dakota Senate race, where incumbent Senator Tim Johnson beat back a challenge by Rep. Jim Thune by a mere few hundred votes. In a November 14th WSJ editorial, entitled "The Oglala Sioux’s Senator", the Journal insinuated that Johnson won re-election over Thune, "the Chicago way", with voter fraud perpetuated on the state's Indian Reservations. In an argument strikingly similar to Krugman's, Indian Country Today asserted,

The editorial is obstinate disinformation at its best. Citing for its base a hocus-pocus statistical analysis by Michael New, billed as a post-doctoral fellow at the Harvard-MIT Data Center, it sets out to assume, against all real evidence on the ground, that fraud decided the South Dakota senatorial election. The vaunted researcher found something "fishy" in an increase of 89 percent in Indian voter turnout for Shannon County, which went overwhelmingly Democratic. New pointed out that Johnson picked up a hefty 92 percent of the votes cast by the largely Oglala Lakota voters of Shannon County. This, he exclaims, is the cause of suspicion. You want proof? Hey, this is 12 points better than Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., did in 1998. Definitely something fishy. That’s the extent of it. This, The Wall Street Journal publishes as a serious fact-pattern.

Al Gore also commented upon this recent phenomena. In a December 2nd interview with the New York Observer, he mused,

"Fox News Network, The Washington Times, Rush Limbaugh—there’s a bunch of them, and some of them are financed by wealthy ultra-conservative billionaires who make political deals with Republican administrations and the rest of the media …. Most of the media [has] been slow to recognize the pervasive impact of this fifth column in their ranks—that is, day after day, injecting the daily Republican talking points into the definition of what’s objective as stated by the news media as a whole."

In the case of Senator Tim Johnson and South Dakota's Indian voters, the names of the right-wing ideologues vary slighty, but their intent is the same.

The conservative magazine National Review commented on the fraud potential of the so-called bilingual voting factor even before the election. An article titled "Lost in Translation: Bilingual voting and the South Dakota Senate race," Oct. 22, by Jim Boulet Jr., assumes as reality a South Dakota "Indian reservation voter-registration scandal." Boulet, executive director of "English First," goes on to make a convoluted claim of potential would-be fraud by translators who assist non-English speaking Indians.

That both Krugman and Indian Country's editorialist's conceived of nearly identical critiques of right-wing fact-fabrication-disguised-as-journalism is telling of the state of the media in America today. One would expect that we'll see further evidence of manipulation as the economy continues to tank, Bush's never-ending warmongering leads to increased insecurity, and the Republicans, wielding unfettered power, have no one to blame but themselves. That is, unless "the Media" has something to say about it.

posted by MB | link | 9:40 AM |
Email Wampum