A Whale of an Expert · 2008-06-13 20:00

Participants in the ongoing debate about autism and vaccines know Whale.to as a treasure-trove of litigation-inspired “science,” conspiracism, health-care hysteria, and bizarre and grandiose fantasies, where immunization initiatives are envisioned as tools of covert genocide and their supporters as enablers of “medical mind control.”

The site features the full text of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious anti-Semitic forgery in which vaccinations are viewed as an essential element of a dastardly Jewish plot to:

utterly exhaust humanity with dissension… even by the use of torture; by starvation; by the inoculation of disease; by want, so that the goyim see no other course open to them than to take refuge in our complete sovereignty in money and in all else.

Whale.to also hosts the anti-Catholic diatribe, Maniacal World Control Through the Jesuit Order, in which author Rick Martin asserts that Mafioso Carlo Gambino “was murdered with a vaccination, with a flu shot.”

Among the gems of speculation that have been published on Whale.to is this astonishing theory of autism causation from The Illuminati Formula Used to Create an Undetectable Total Mind Controlled Slave:

[O]ccasionally the child while in the womb when traumatized by the Moon Child rituals, retreats into its mind like a cocoon, and develops autism… The programmers are not able to reach such children, and essentially all were discarded into mental hospitals or used in rituals, until about 20 years ago when more and more of them were allowed to survive in public… [T]he increase in autistic children is believed by the authors to be the result of increased trauma-based mind control.

It is hardly surprising that those promoting a causal link between vaccinations and every medical condition imaginable (regardless of whether any reputable studies support their claims) should resort to citing to Whale.to to bolster their arguments. Its proprietor, John Scudamore, has assiduously accumulated every scrap of information and speculation he could find that validates his belief that vaccines are a scourge of modern medicine, inflicted upon the hapless masses by a shadowy elite bent on world domination.

It was considerably more surprising, however, to discover a recent Vaccine Injury Compensation Program decision — Jane Doe/16 v. HHS (No. 06-670V, June 2, 2008, unpublished) — that documents the introduction into evidence of material from Whale.to in a vaccine injury proceeding. In Jane Doe/16 v. HHS, attorney Thomas Gallagher, Esq. (who represents petitioners in 96 pending VICP claims, including many autism claims) enlisted the assistance of New Mexico otolaryngologist Dr. Frederick Fiber in the hope of persuading the court that an influenza vaccine caused his client’s hearing loss.

In her decision, Special Master Denise Vowell describes Dr. Fiber’s career as an ear, nose and throat specialist, and his opinion that the influenza vaccine “caused an inflammatory process to occur damaging the inner right ear resulting in a permanent hearing loss” — an opinion “not well elucidated” in either his one-page expert opinion or his testimony, and not supported by the petitioner’s medical records. She noted that Dr. Fiber was ill-prepared for the telephonic hearing, that on cross examination he was unable to locate an article he had discussed during direct examination only moments before, and that he attempted to testify about an internet search he was conducting at the same time that he was testifying. She recalled that his testimony largely consisted of “yes” or “no” responses to Mr. Gallagher’s leading questions — a tactic that, while not prohibited in Vaccine Act proceedings (which are not bound by the Federal Rules of Evidence) nonetheless served to detract from the persuasive value of his testimony.

She then described the scientific literature Dr. Fiber offered as the basis for his “expertise”:

In support of Dr. Fiber’s opinion on causation, petitioner filed three medical journal articles, a website printout, and a vaccine information sheet… Doctor Fiber testified that he first became aware of a connection between hearing loss and influenza vaccines based on the reported experiences of one of his patients. He did not provide details regarding the timing between this patient’s vaccinations and the patient’s hearing difficulties, the results of any audiological testing, or the apparently reversible nature of the patient’s hearing loss and vertigo. He based his opinion that the influenza vaccine could cause hearing problems on Pet. Ex. 13, a document entitled “International Vaccination Newsletter.” This is a document Dr. Fiber “found on the internet.” The URL found in the lower left hand corner of the document indicates that it is a printout from a website found at http://www.whale.to.
This website (last visited May 1, 2008) describes its mission as “mostly a medical politics and anti-vaccination site, the Big Brother and (his) Mind Control sections were included to show the wood from the (medical) trees and to see where Tyranny (eg wars, famine, atheism, poverty, droughts, killer hurricanes, drugs, crime, most disease fear, etc) really comes from, causing most folk to think God doesn’t exist! ‘Whale’ is a tribute to our larger brained mammals.” It appears from the configuration of the website, that Pet. Ex. 13 is not a medical journal article published elsewhere and merely linked to this website, as the article contains no medical journal citation or pagination.
Pet. Ex. 13 itself does not list an author. Respondent’s Trial Exhibit 1 is a printout from the same website, that identifies the author as Dr. Kris Gaublomme, a Belgian medical doctor and homeopath, who asserts that:
The vaccination lobby shamelessly takes all the children of this world as hostages to still their greed for money and power. They relentlessly abuse our compassion for the weaker and our concern about health to promote their giga-business. No matter what. No matter how many more vaccine victims will suffer death or side-effects. No matter how many financial resources this strategy devours at the expense of essential social investments like housing and employment. No matter what. Shocking!
The “International Vaccination Newsletter” consists of two parts. The first is a polemic asserting that influenza vaccines do not prevent influenza. The second contains summaries of case reports of post-vaccination illnesses. The decades-old references are apparently European medical journal case reports…

The Special Master explored the depth of the expert’s expertise.

…Doctor Fiber also testified about two other case reports briefly mentioned in Pet. Ex. 13… Doctor Fiber testified that he did not read the underlying case reports mentioned in the website article and had no further details concerning those cases…
On cross examination, Dr. Fiber acknowledged that he found no medical literature, other than the International Vaccine Newsletter, linking the influenza vaccine to sudden hearing loss. The peer-reviewed medical literature related to hearing loss and vaccines all concerned vaccines other than the influenza vaccine. He agreed that Pet. Ex. 14, a Food and Drug Administration information sheet on the Fluzone influenza vaccine, did not mention audiological problems as a possible adverse event temporally or causally associated with the vaccine.

Regarding the evidentiary standards applied in vaccine-injury claims, she observed:

The special master determines the reliability and plausibility of the expert medical opinions offered and the credibility of the experts offering them. Not all evidence carries equal weight with a trier of fact. A medical opinion on causation may be based on factually incorrect medical histories or it may be offered by someone without the necessary training, education, or experience to offer a reliable opinion. An expert’s opinion may be unpersuasive for a variety of reasons.
Courts, whether they deal with vaccine injuries, medical malpractice claims, toxic torts, or accident reconstruction, must base their decisions on reliable evidence. Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 594-96 (1993). Daubert provides a useful framework for evaluating scientific evidence in Vaccine Act cases. Terran v. Sec’y, HHS, 41 Fed. Cl. 330, 336 (1998), aff’d 195 F.3d 1302, 1316 (Fed. Cir. 1999), cert. denied, Terran v. Shalala, 531 U.S. 812 (2000). See also, Ryman v. Sec’y, HHS, 65 Fed. Cl. 35, 40 (2005) (special master performs gatekeeping function when he “determines whether a particular petitioner’s expert medical testimony supporting biologic probability may be admitted or credited or otherwise relied upon”)…

The Special Master offered a dispassionate evaluation of the expert testimony offered at the hearing, and the reliability of the sources from which Dr. Fiber derived his opinions.

…Doctor Fiber’s testimony that the influenza vaccine triggered an autoimmune hypersensitivity reaction supplies petitioner’s medical theory. Whether it is a reliable medical theory is another matter entirely. An on-line search of medical databases, such as PubMed and Medscape, is qualitatively different from an open-source search. The former will yield results related to indexed and peer-reviewed medical literature; the latter may access sources with questionable reliability.
Petitioners Exhibit 13 itself is of questionable reliability. It appears that the author is a frequent contributor to a website that bills itself as “antivaccine” and there is no evidence that it is a peer-reviewed publication. It is clear that a petitioner cannot be required to supply confirmation of medical plausibility by submitting peer reviewed medical literature. Stated differently, medical literature of any type may not be required as a condition precedent to finding vaccine causation. See Althen, 418 F.3d at 1279, 1281 (discussing the Federal Circuit’s rejection of the Stevens test, which required such evidence as a condition precedent to finding causation). However, when medical literature is submitted as evidence, the type of medical literature submitted may be weighed and evaluated in determining what weight should be accorded to that evidence. The Supreme Court has noted:
[S]ubmission to the scrutiny of the scientific community is a component of “good science,” in part because it increases the likelihood that substantive flaws in methodology will be detected. The fact of publication (or lack thereof) in a peer reviewed journal thus will be a relevant, though not dispositive, consideration in assessing the scientific validity of a particular technique or methodology on which an opinion is premised.
Daubert, 509 U.S. at 593-94. When an expert places reliance on documents such as Pet. Ex. 13, the weight that may be accorded that expert’s opinion is not enhanced.

She concluded that there was a dearth of reliable evidence linking the petitioner’s influenza vaccination to her hearing loss, leaving “a post hoc, ergo propter hoc, analysis that is insufficient to establish causation.”

A Meme in the Air

It is likely that when she was preparing her opinion, Special Master Vowell was unaware that a new eponymous law, apposite to the evidence presented by Dr. Fiber during the hearing in Jane Doe/16 v. HHS, had been coined that very week. On May 24, the U.K. Guardian reported that Dr. Edzard Ernst, Professor of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter, had harshly criticized Boots the Chemists, the U.K.‘s largest chain of pharmacies, for its lucrative trade in ineffective and questionably-labeled homeopathic remedies. Outraged by Dr. Ernst’s remarks, commenter “Principled” described skeptics of homeopathy as people who “blithely ignore the obvious destruction of life and intelligence as we know it,” maintained that “medical ‘science’ [is] probably the globes biggest killer and maimer of humanity,” and referred his readers to numerous sources, among them a political polemic on Whale.to.

The Guardian discussion attracted the attention of the denizens of Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science Forum, including U.K. skeptic Rich Scopie. Upon encountering the citation to Whale.to, Mr. Scopie quipped:

In any discussion involving science or medicine, citing Whale.to as a credible source loses you the argument immediately…

…and gets you laughed out of the room.

The adage was dubbed Scopie’s Law and heralded by the anonymous Dr* T, who linked from his blog to a newly created Wikipedia page about it. That page was eventually enhanced with a citation to an Evidence of Harm newsgroup post by the unabashed antivaccinationist Sheri Nakken, who made the uncorroborated claim that David Kirby relied heavily on Whale.to while researching his vaccine-injury plaintiffs’ potboiler, Evidence of Harm.

In short order, the Wikipedia page was deemed nonsensical vandalism and was therefore nominated a candidate for speedy deletion. The corpse of the page now moulders in Google’s cache.

For better or worse, the Special Masters of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims will not learn of Scopie’s Law from Wikipedia — that is, unless the neologism becomes notable enough for some weary Wiki-woo-fighters to determine that it merits reinclusion in the online encyclopedia, alongside Godwin’s Law and Hanlon’s Razor. The possibility is not far-fetched, given the frequent controversies over the use of Whale.to as a source in Wikipedia articles.

Although Scopie’s Law was not explicitly invoked in the Jane Doe/16 v. HHS entitlement decision, another opportunity will soon arise to enshrine the principle in the judicial corpus — that is, when Thomas Gallagher, Esq. submits to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims the bill for his legal services, and for the scientific expertise of Frederick Fiber, M.D., Whale.to Ph.D.

Comments


  1. Oo, mind control! I like that theory the best of any I’ve ever heard.

    Mary (MPJ)    2008-06-13 20:29    #

  2. With apologies to the esteemed Dr. Fiber, I kept hearing his name in my head as “Fibber”.

    — matt    2008-06-13 20:31    #

  3. Is it within the power of the Special Masters to bill “expert witnesses” for wasting the Special Master(s)’ time?

    One thing about Fiber’s testimony is that it makes some of that offered by the PSC witnesses in the Omnibus look almost “expert” by comparison.

    With Fiber being on the phone though he couldn’t accuse the DoJ lawyer of making faces at him…

    — Ms. Clark    2008-06-13 22:01    #

  4. Fisk carries overtones of merciless analysis combined with mocking, somewhat in the style of your splendid Welcome to my conspiracy

    But, may I propose that a thorough, detailed, well-referenced, wholly comprehensive coverage of an issue should be known as “doing a Seidel”? If it isn’t already and I’m just demonstrating how out of date I am.

    dvnutrix    2008-06-13 22:16    #

  5. “vaccinations are viewed as an essential element of a dastardly Jewish plot to:”

    Not exactly. The protocol says inoculation of disease, not against disease. The idea is the intentional inoculation of disease in the world to wipe out the goyim.

    Orac    2008-06-14 08:29    #

  6. True Orac but the antivaxxers of that period – like some today – believed that the secret true purpose of vaccines was to spread disease. Therefore, in this view, vaccines are indeed inoculation of disease.

    JQH    2008-06-14 12:14    #

  7. Re: Orac’s comment

    Man, there sure are a lot of goyim left in the world. Those Elders of Zion must be pretty ineffective at their protocol! Why are those Whale.to folks so afraid of them? :D

    — Melissa G    2008-06-14 12:22    #

  8. Traumatic Mind Control – That’s a great idea for a sci fi novel – must start right away:)

    — alyric    2008-06-14 12:43    #

  9. All I know is that I’m still waiting for my check from the Elders of Zion. They keep on telling me it’s in the mail.

    It’s enough to wanna make a good Jewish girl move back to the States and convert to Southern Baptism, or somethin’…

    Esther    2008-06-14 14:14    #

  10. OK, I’ve done my part to promote Scopie’s Law. Kathleen, I salute your devotion to rationality — I couldn’t read much more than a couple of pages of Scudamore’s ravings without brain injury.

    And Esther, honey — you mean, “convert to Southern Baptism, or sumpin”

    Liz Ditz    2008-06-14 14:29    #

  11. “He did not provide details regarding the timing between this patient’s vaccinations and the patient’s hearing difficulties, the results of any audiological testing, or the apparently reversible nature of the patient’s hearing loss and vertigo.”

    Wow, way to build a court case: virtually no data!

    I’m sorry, but sense of the absurd is running overtime with names like Vowell and Fiber. Yes, I know people can’t help their surnames, but with the absurdity of the court case, the whole story verges into the realm of accidental satire…

    andrea

    andrea    2008-06-14 17:32    #

  12. IMHO, Dr. Fiber deserves some embarrassment — for heaven's sakes, coughing up Whale.to in court! for money! — but Special Master Denise Vowell is a wicked smart lady. She used to be the Chief Trial Judge of the U.S. Army, and is responsible for the profoundly just decision to cut Vietnam War deserter Charles Jenkins a whole lot of slack when he finally turned himself in.

    Special Master Vowell shares her uncommon surname with Sarah Vowell, an insightful and screamingly funny author and voice actress who’s been featured every now and then on Jon Stewart. I can’t help but wonder if they’re cousins.

    Kathleen Seidel    2008-06-14 17:42    #

  13. The thing that strikes me about people referring to whale.to is how obvious it is that its a conspiracy website. Its not as if its trying to cloak itself in a veener of false respectability. It makes me wonder if some of the people who refer to the place even check to see what the site actually is. (Or even read the articles that they are referring to?)

    — Heraclides    2008-06-14 17:48    #

  14. The thing that strikes me about people referring to whale.to is how obvious it is that its a conspiracy website. Its not as if its trying to cloak itself in a veener of false respectability. p.

    Given my loooong history with Scudamore over the years, please forgive me for reading that as, “Its not as if its trying to cloak itself in a veener of false rationality.”

    — D. C. Sessions    2008-06-14 19:42    #

  15. My mother had a good friend with the last name of Vowell, so it doesn’t sound odd to me.

    I disagree with Liz Ditz, I think it’s “cuhnVUHT tuh SUTHuhn BAPtistism, er sumpin”

    — Ms. Clark    2008-06-14 19:49    #

  16. “It makes me wonder if some of the people who refer to the place even check to see what the site actually is. (Or even read the articles that they are referring to?)”

    (Uh…what does it say if they DO?)

    — Regan    2008-06-14 23:31    #

  17. @14: That too… I was thinking in contrast to how a number of sites try to portray themselves as respectable via citing degrees (not always from accredited universities), “research institutes” (that really don’t deserve that title) and so on that aren’t about the content of the articles themselves (as rationality is) so much as “dressing up” the site to be more respectable to a naïve reader than it might otherwise be. But what you are saying too.

    — Heraclides    2008-06-14 23:41    #

  18. 16 –

    “(Or even read the articles that they are referring to?)”

    (Uh…what does it say if they DO?)

    Just kidding around: Kathleen did <wink>. And so did Orac <wink>. I’ve read a little of it myself too. Its how I figured it was a bizzare website <grins>.

    After all you can’t know something reads as dodgy without reading it! Unless you’ve developed a neurological device that streams content into your head via a universal ultra-highspeed wireless source on sensing your desire to know the content <grin>. (Shades of some sci-fi flicks…)

    (Seems you can’t more than one traditional wink on this site: excuse my unorthodox workarounds.)

    More seriously, I’ve seen people cite whale.to who appear to have only read a another website quoting one of the articles on whale.to. On questioning these people, some of them seem not to have actually gone to whale.to to read the article itself (to see the quote in its original context) or checked the website.

    Some people also seem to refer to articles that they haven’t read fully or really understood. I get the impression that some of them get to a sentence that they think supports their cause and sort of stop there and use the sentence by itself.

    — Heraclides    2008-06-15 03:54    #

  19. 18. My apologies. I phrased that badly.
    What I meant is regular readers who might read and buy into the content. ‘Take your point on quote-mining.

    — Regan    2008-06-15 13:29    #

  20. thanks for the plug. I call first part of that ad homimen conspiracy and appeal to incredulity, ie logical fallacies. Sure is a distraction from the overwhelming evidence of the medical conspiracy and the vaccine hoax found on whale.to

    cheers

    john    2008-06-16 15:37    #

  21. Welcome and congratulations, John, for getting your website cited in an official judicial decision. That hasn’t happened to mine yet.

    Kathleen Seidel    2008-06-16 17:13    #

  22. @19 — Got your meaning and I wouldn’t get too worried: my own posts probably read ambiguously too…

    — Heraclides    2008-06-16 17:18    #

  23. Marvelous post. Amazing. Blogged

    Ken    2008-06-18 08:51    #

  24. Thanks. Actually whale is mostly a library of information, even has numerous journal articles on it so not sure what you are on about but most if not all of your argument I call Appeal to Incredulity. Which was the ‘argument’ to ban whale from Wikipdeia. Good to see you can’t deal with the medical info on whale. The smallpox pages being an example. Cheers

    john    2008-06-20 09:36    #

  25. Thanks to Wakefield and Scudamore, another child is dead:
    Teenager Dies of Measles as Cases Continue to Rise

    — HCN    2008-06-20 23:46    #

  26. @24:

    Actually whale.to describes itself as “mostly a medical politics and anti-vaccination site”, with a (bizarre) conspiracy twist: “[…] This is medical Fascism or Tyranny. This proves we have a wider conspiracy as they could only have done, and continue to do this, with the governments being in on this conspiracy, proof of political Fascism, as we can see all around us, exposed recently with the Iraq wars. The section on the Big Brother documents the wider conspiracy that pulls the strings of the medical monopoly, it being the main money earner for the shadowy Elite.” (Both direct quotes from the whale.to mission statement.) Note the capitalisation of Ever So Important Words.

    As a library of paranoia and ordinary incompetence, it is a wonderful collection of examples of how people delude themselves and I imagine the collection has some value in that.

    — Heraclides    2008-06-21 21:24    #

  27. Chew on this: [2008] Key realities about autism, vaccines, vaccine-injury compensation, Thimerosal, and autism-related research——Gary S. Goldman, Ph.D & P.G. King PhD.
    http://whale.to/vaccine/king.html

    john    2008-06-28 16:22    #

  28. Sorry, John… any time you link to whale.to you automatically lose the argument. That is Scopie’s Law.

    — HCN    2008-06-29 23:04    #

  29. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/archive/polio_and_cancer.htm#13
    “Have research studies looked at the risk of cancer in children whose mothers received SV40-contaminated polio vaccine?
    Yes, two studies concerning maternal vaccination with SV40-contaminated vaccines and risk of cancer in offspring have been conducted. Each study reported an association.

    Heinonen et al. (1973) reported a higher incidence of neural malignancies in children born to mothers who received inactivated poliovirus during pregnancy. The prospective study of over 50,000 women who were pregnant between 1959–1965 identified 24 malignancies in their children during the first 4 years of life. The rate of malignancy was about two-fold greater in children born to mothers immunized during pregnancy when compared with children born to unimmunized mothers or mothers who received influenza or OPV vaccines. Neural tumors accounted for most of the difference.

    Farwell et al. (1979) found that of 15 cases of medulloblastoma in children born in Connecticut between 1956–1962, 10 were born to mothers exposed to SV40 contaminated polio vaccine while 5 were born to mothers unexposed. Interpretation of these results, however, is hampered by the low response rates and uncertain accuracy of vaccination histories by obstetricians (Strickler et al., 1998).”
    www.thevirusandthevaccine.com

    http://www.sv40foundation.org/Demanding-CI.html

    — Jill    2008-09-17 01:26    #