Dr. Marie McCormick Subpoenaed

What causes autism is a question to be answered by science, or so one would think rather than by, for instance, any legal decisions or court cases. Just in the past year, there have been more and more studies refuting a link between the MMR vaccine and autism and also between thimerosal and rising autism rates. More and more studies are being done that point to a complex web of genetic factors in autism. Nonetheless, legal decisions in cases involving an autistic child and claims of injury by a vaccine, as in the cases of Michelle Cedillo (whose case was brought before the “vaccine court” in June of 2007) and Hannah Poling, have continued to attract the attention of the public, and to shift attention onto the safety of vaccines, over and above the need to take care of and educate autistic children and adults.

At end of March, Kathleen Seidel, who administers the well-researched Neurodiversity website, was issued a subpoena commanding her “to appear for deposition and document production in Rev. Lisa Sykes and Seth Sykes’ $20,000,000 personal injury lawsuit, Sykes v. Bayer (Case No. 3:07-CV-660, Eastern District of Virginia, Richmond Division).” Seidel has written carefully researched articles about a hypothetical vaccine-autism link and has offered cogent, well-documented critiques of biomedical research. This is her Motion to Quash the subpoena, which requested that she hand over “virtually the entire documentary record of my intellectual and financial life over the past four years.” Many bloggers have spoken out in support of Seidel; here is a list.

Today Seidel noted that she is “in distinguished company.” I quote from her:

Yesterday I learned that on March 26, 2008 ……. Dr. Marie McCormick, Sumner and Esther Feldberg Professor of Maternal and Child Health at the Harvard School of Public Health, and Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, was subjected to a similar experience at her Massachusetts home.

From 2001 to 2004, Dr. McCormick chaired the Immunization Safety Review Committee of the Institute of Medicine (IOM), charged with analyzing and reporting on data regarding the safety of vaccination practices. During her tenure, the committee published numerous reports of its findings, now made freely available on the National Academy of Sciences website. In its 2001 report, Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine and Autism, the committee concluded that existing studies provided no support for an association on a population level between MMR immunization and autistic spectrum conditions. Vaccines and Autism, issued in May 2004, concluded that currently-available evidence favored a rejection of a causal relationship of thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism.

As a result of her voluntary work on the committee, Dr. McCormick has found herself a frequent target of suspicion by plaintiffs, their attorneys and advocates, and opponents of vaccines, who disagree with the committee’s conclusions, and whose legal and political positions are not supported by its reports. Now she, too, is the target of a subpoena in Sykes v. Bayer.

The subpoena was issued against Dr. McCormick on March 21 by Clifford Shoemaker, and commands her to appear for deposition on April 29 at the Boston offices of vaccine-injury litigators Conway, Homer & Chin-Caplan.

Clifford Shoemaker is a lawyer who has represented more than a few families who claim that their child was “injured” by a vaccine and became autistic; he is the lawyer for the family of Hannah Poling. A Motion to Quash the Subpoena has been filed on behalf of Dr. McCormick. More from Kathleen Seidel:

The Motion (assigned docket number 1:2008-mc-10102) indicates that although Dr. McCormick was served on March 26, and although her attorneys tried repeatedly to contact plaintiffs’ counsel to discuss the matter and to attempt in good faith to resolve or narrow the issue, Mr. Shoemaker did not respond until April 9 — the deadline for filing a motion to quash.

The Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion to Quash Third-Party Subpoena addresses the governance of the National Academy of Sciences, the processes by which its committees conduct and publish scientific studies and investigations, and the manner in which it screens committee members for conflicts of interest. It protests the subpoena as unduly burdensome and premature, particularly given the substantive and procedural flaws in the Amended Complaint recently filed in Sykes v. Bayer. The Memorandum discusses the legal rationale for and public policy interests served by preserving confidentiality of IOM committee deliberations reflecting “preliminary, incorrect, or incomplete analysis” of scientific matters, and previous attempts to compel discovery of such material. The Memorandum also addresses the inappropriateness of issuing the subpoena to Dr. McCormick personally, and protests its burdensome demands for material readily available from public sources and its personally invasive character.

Seidel notes that she is in “solidarity and sympathy” with Dr. McCormick, and I am too. It is unfortunate that, rather than let theories about autism causation be studied and determined by scientists and researchers, some have chosen such avenues and tactics—-especially when there are so many other issues about autism that need our attention and resources.

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    • H6

      We live in a high tech world in which “science” is invading every aspect of our lives (for better or worse) and like all human endeavors, “science” has a political dimension–especially public health “science.”

      Those in power in “science” are free to make decisions for all of us about what gets researched and what is called “scientific truth.” What is called “peer review” is often “old-boy-network.”

      Scientists would like nothing more than a blank check of credibility from the public. Just wear your ribbons, go on your marches, follow our medical advice, and leave the rest to us.

      Who will protect us from fraud in “science” and from the use of “science” for political agendas?
      Scientists? Self-correcting “science” itself? LOL. Science is far too important these days to be left to scientists.

      Lawyers should not threaten freedom of speech, but a few lawyers looking over the shoulder of “science” as it is practiced these days might be in everyone’s best interest.

    • Regan

      “Scientists would like nothing more than a blank check of credibility from the public.”

      Are you a scientist?
      Do you know any?
      Do you work with any?

      That seems like a sweeping generalization, and one that is more than ironic, considering that the technology that is allowing the sharing of the opinion of the above about “science” is through the work of scientists. Sometimes the disconnect between the relative luxuries that we enjoy, nay demand, and how those came about is incredible to me.
      Perhaps you would like to paint us a picture of this new world where science is decided by the vox populi.

    • Synesthesia

      I don’t really understand why they are suing her.
      There’s free speech to consider, the right to disagree. Otherwise the whole picture will never present itself.
      I don’t really like a lot of these autism organizations because they seem to just present one aspect of autism and it’s an extremely negative one.

    • H6

      One doesn’t have to be a scientist to recognize lapses in logic, conflicts of interest, violations of human rights and other things that can go wrong in “science.”

      When “science” and scientists go terribly wrong, like in Nazi Germany, thank goodness some people don’t think “Oh, I’m not a scientist so I can’t speak up about this.”

      The person who blew the whistle on the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment wasn’t a scientist and the person who exposed the atrocious AIDS vaccine experiments in Africa was not a scientist.

      Two New York Times science journalists, William Broad and Nicholas Wade, wrote a book called “Betrayers of the Truth: Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science” which is an eye-opener about the real nature of science. Brian D Ricketts summed up the book nicely, writing that it “essentially does two things: it attempts to develop the philosophical position that science and the conduct of science by practitioners is not the completely objective, squeaky-clean discipline it is commonly made out to be (by scientists themselves and the general community), and it develops this position using some spectacular examples of fraudulent behaviour.”

      Let’s celebrate all the good things “science” does for us, but not at the expense of looking the other way when scientists do the kind of things that show what mere mortals they are, too.

    • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

      I’m not sure that serving someone a subpoena is the sort of “watchdogging” that needs to go on.

      A couple of times a semester I point out to my students that—in the ancient world of the Greeks and Romans—everything in the room we are in would not exist. Not just the electricity and computer; everything in the room (including the clothes the students are wearing) would be unimaginable in the ancient world.

      Science does not have all the answers but the whole process of the scientific method is an attempt to get to some truths, and to be willing to re-examine those truths, and many of the scientists involved have been attempting this—-imperfectly, small step by small step.

      But again, I don’t think subpoenas are the way to go about finding those truths.

    • Synesthesia

      No. it seems more like trying to conceal the truth
      Like they’ve got something to hide…

    • http://stopthinkautism.blogspot.com/ S.L.

      Absurd. It’s disturbing when a group takes their conspiracy theory to the next phase. It is a slippery slope, an abuse of our legal system, and once again, a two-way street (which is why I suppose Kirby & Olmsted did reply, sorta, to Orac).

    • Regan

      Actually, H6, “Betrayers of the Truth” was one of my favorite books in college. Still is. It is worth noting that the small number of situations described therein represent both sides of the fence : establishment AND mavericks. What I am concerned with is that “establishment” gets the close scrutiny, but the alternative side desires a “pass”. As you said, lapses of logic, and if it is to applied fairly, applies to both sides. I might also note that even though the writers of that book were journalists, the detective work on finding that reported was done by…scientists, and even some through official channels.

      It just seems more apt and productive to point out out specific cases, publications or citations, as do Wade and Broad in the book, rather than casting suspicion across the board on the endeavors of many talented, hard-working, and, even…concerned people, simply because of the professional field they work in.

    • http://www.sustenancescout.blogspot.com Karen DeGroot Carter

      I’m no scientist and my children are NT, but the ramifications of this case are widespread and deserve widespread attention. What a difference such time, energy, and resources could make in helping children and adults with autism. And what a worry that many more children will suffer from and spread contagious diseases because their parents opt not to immunize. I’m looking forward to a time when all these questions are answered for everyone’s benefit.

    • Ruth

      The Rev. Sykes is having her autistic son treated with the same chemical castration drug used on sex offenders, with no peer review studies to back it up. There needs to be oversight, but not on Kathleen. She was SLAPPed for bringing these abuses to light.

    • http://autismnaturalvariation.blogspot.com Joseph

      If there were whistleblowers, then maybe there would be a reason to investigate, and it would not be up to Shoemaker to do so. A conspiracy theory whose only basis is paranoia is not a valid justification to hand out subpoenas to whomever you like. Imagine if this were a common practice in any debate or controversial subject about anything.

      Why haven’t any whistleblowers come forward about the big conspiracy, BTW? Is no one in the CDC, the WHO, the FDA and the pharmaceutical companies a parent? A relative of an autistic person, etc.?

      That’s the part where you realize this particular conspiracy belief system is utterly irrational.

      Also, it’s one thing to hand out a subpoena to the IOM, which has produced health related recommendations based on their research reviews. It’s quite another to hand out a subpoena to Kathleen, who has simply investigated and written about a subject, and who posts information supported by publicly available resources. How in the world do you ever justify that subpoena? H6, do you care to try?

    • H6

      That subpoena seems like an outrageous fishing expedition meant to stifle freedom of speech. I thought I covered that in the last paragraph of my first post.

      There are irresponsible lawyers just like there are irresponsible scientists. But good lawyers have a role to play in the policing of science. And to get to the bottom of autism good lawyers may have to launch a class action lawsuit on something other than the vaccine theory.

      If good lawyers had launched a few class action lawsuits against the CDC for the questionable “science” it performed on AIDS and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, we would all be better off today.

      There are more than a few good books on groupthink that explain why people don’t easily become whistleblowers.

      I don’t think vaccines are the cause of autism, but not based on the absence of a whistleblower.

      If a person is a “paranoid conspiracy theorist” one day, and then the next day a whistleblower comes forward, I guess the “paranoid conspiracy theorist” has a miraculous mental health remission and is welcomed back into the human race. Every “paranoid conspiracy theorist” is just one whistleblower away from recovery.

    • Regan

      Because a lot of this turns on Sykes v. Bayer, I decided to read about this via Kathleen’s blog and then some lawblogs.

      Messy, complicated case. Interesting reading, but messy case. I think the call that the serving of these subpoenas as a fishing expedition sounds about right. I can’t even fathom why Kathleen was served. But then, I’m no lawyer.

      Watchdog groups can be useful, but I don’t think that the public interest is the driving force in this situation.

    • http://daisymayfattypants.blogspot.com Emily

      I don’t know a single scientist among the many many scientists I know who would “like a blank check” from the public in terms of credibility. The scientists who worked for the Nazis were ideologues, not scientists. You may as well say that teachers or butchers or milkmen need watching, since I imagine there were a few of those aiding and abetting the Nazis as well. Yikes. I mean, people come down on my crowd all the time, but it’s been a long time…maybe never…since I’ve found myself in a group being discussed in the context of Nazi Germany.

      To the subject at hand, if Mr. Shoemaker could expend even a tenth of this energy on something relevant and useful, just imagine what kind of positive results could be achieved.

    • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

      Quashed!—-read the rest on Kathleen Seidel’s blog.

    • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

      The motion filed against Dr. Marie McCormick is moot.

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    • Chris

      I know scientist, and they are teaching, while doing some research. They will never make big discoveries (like 99% of them), and the ones who do, well…they will have their information sequestered as I’ve read about.

      It’s like working for the government. I hate the government, however, all the people I work with are A+ awesome! Just because you are part of something doesn’t mean that you are tainted and evil like top tier. Furthermore, if you ain’t in the “big fucking club”, then you aren’t shit. So, you can study whatever you want under a microscope, but you aren’t but a turn in a punch bowl.