Seth Mnookin’s Introduction at Harvard: “His dad’s a buddy of mine!”


Editor’s Note: This post was previously submitted to Age of Autism, but rejected without being read. It is now published here as Autism Investigated’s first full-length article.

By Jake Crosby

On March 29th, a few weeks after I publicly challenged the vaccine lobby’s blogger David Gorski (“Orac”) on his broken promises related to thimerosal removal, I challenged the vaccine industry’s media go-to guy Seth Mnookin, at his alma mater of Harvard no less. The event was organized by the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, and the topic was “Does the public believe in science?” Not only did it cover the vaccine controversy, but also controversies over climate change and of course stem cell research.

As with the event in New York City where I had my first conversation with Seth Mnookin over a year ago, this event was also in the form of a panel discussion. Sitting on the panel with Mnookin were two Harvard Professors and a writer for USA Today.

The moderator was M. William Lensch, Faculty Director of Education for the Institute. He introduced each member of the panel, but gave a special introduction for Seth Mnookin.

Speaking jovially, Lensch said of Mnookin, “His dad’s a buddy of mine!”

Lensch revealed that he was introduced to Seth Mnookin’s writing through his father Jim Mnookin, who was the 2011’s “Hedge Fund Consultant of the Year.”

“Jim told me to read Seth’s book about the Red Sox.” Lensch said how much he loved that book and about what an avid fan he is of the Boston Red Sox.

“So the Red Sox got Seth Mnookin this speaking gig,” I thought to myself.

Each panelist spoke briefly. When Seth Mnookin spoke, he talked about how there were more cases of measles and how concerning he thought those were and blamed them on vaccine exemptions. However, a measles “outbreak” occurred in Britain just after the UK Health Minister declared before Parliament that, “… MMR vaccination uptake is currently at historically high levels.” That said, Mnookin blaming any US increase there might be in measles on decreased vaccination rates seems premature at best.

He then continued about the recent epidemics of whooping cough – which actually did kill children in the United States – but he did concede that it was waning immunity from the vaccine, not vaccine exemptions, that were causing those outbreaks. In fact, I was the first to inform him of this last year on Twitter, citing none other than the CDC when he tried to exploit the pertussis epidemic in Washington State to serve his agenda. (His only response was to block me from responding to any more of his tweets.)

Then he brought up a study that had apparently just come out – by one of the original thimerosal cover-up co-conspirators Dr. Frank DeStefano of CDC – which Mnookin claimed laid to rest the “myth” that receiving many vaccinations at once increases one’s risk for developing autism. Of course, that study did not look at vaccines at all, but number of “antigens” per vaccine, the lion’s share of which were in the whole-cell pertussis (DTP) vaccine that was being replaced by the acellular pertussis (DTaP) vaccine while the vaccine schedule was increasing in correlation with the explosion of the autism epidemic. The study was merely a re-analysis of old data from a 2010 study claiming to show no association between exposure to the mercury-based preservative thimerosal and autism. In that study the authors suppressed results showing prenatal thimerosal exposure multiplied the risk for autism by eight-fold as revealed by biochemical engineer and autism parent Dr. Brian Hooker.

Unfortunately, I knew none of this regarding this new study, hearing about it for the first time and only having Seth Mnookin’s interpretation of it, which is obviously unreliable. So I brought up yet another study led by DeStefano from all the way back in 2004 that also suppressed results – this time showing that early exposure to the MMR vaccine can multiply the risk for autism by more than 2-fold, which the authors dismissed as an artifact of non-existent immunization requirements for special education children in Georgia. I felt this was more relevant as it concerned a combined vaccine and also because Mnookin consistently blamed measles outbreaks on vaccine exemptions. Bringing up this study by CDC and how the results directly conflicted with the conclusion, I asked Seth Mnookin if he felt the conclusion should be retracted.

Rather than responding to my question, he asked me:

“You want to introduce yourself?”

Although there were other questioners who didn’t introduce themselves, I went ahead and introduced myself:

“Sure, Jake Crosby, MPH Candidate concentrating in epidemiology at GW School of Public Health and Health Services.”

That wasn’t enough for Mnookin, who then asked me:

“What website are you contributing editor to?”

I replied, “Age of Autism: Daily Web Newspaper of the Autism Epidemic.”

I have to give him credit for giving me such an opportunity to plug my then-forum, although I am no longer allowed to contribute to Age of Autism despite still being listed as a contributing editor. Mnookin then asked me:

“And what is Age of Autism’s opinion about autism and vaccines?”

I responded:

“The opposite of yours.”

At that point, the civility broke down and Seth Mnookin went off on a rant against me, starting by calling a CDC study led by the same author as the one he plugged that day: “insignificant minutia to anyone unfamiliar with this topic,” and said my question was “devoid of facts.” It’s funny how he called the CDC’s study of MMR “insignificant minutia,” but felt the study that didn’t even study what he purported it studied was worth mentioning.

Meanwhile, he continued his rant, claiming there are “studies” of “millions” of children that show no connection whatsoever between vaccines and autism. When he made that argument to me the first time I met him, I pointed out that it was one Merck-funded Finnish study that compared the number of doses of MMR vaccinations to hospitalization rates of autism – the latter is totally useless for measuring autism rates since children are almost never hospitalized for developing autism.

Mnookin went on to say “I don’t know why you follow me to my events, I don’t know what rise you get out of this. You regularly attack me on Age of Autism, attacking my past, attacking my uncle.” The uncle he was referring to was Robert Mnookin, close colleague of vaccine lobby front group president Alison Singer’s mother-in-law. And if attending two of his talks within a year and a half constitutes “following” him, things must be pretty quiet for Seth Mnookin. He also said, “I know there will be a post about this tomorrow” (more like three months, actually).

Mnookin then concluded, “I will not engage you in a big debate about this.”

Taken aback, I replied, “Thank you for not answering my question.”

Then an audience member stood up for me, telling Mnookin, “You shouldn’t take it personally; science isn’t personal.”

The last time I publicly challenged Seth Mnookin at one of his talks, I got booted out after he lied that I disrupted past events of his. In his interview with a neurodiversity blog, Mnookin later tried to claim he had nothing to do with my removal:

“I recently spoke at a medical research conference — via Skype as my daughter had just been born — and there was someone in the audience who was very vocally anti-vaccine, and who ended being taken out of the room for something I had nothing to do with, and in fact I probably would have preferred that he stayed — but regardless, that was an upsetting incident to me.”

Mnookin did not prefer my attendance at the panel discussion he gave at Harvard, that’s for sure.

Jake Crosby is editor of Autism Investigated and is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. He is a 2011 graduate of Brandeis University with a BA in both History and Health: Science, Society and Policy. He currently attends The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services where he is completing his candidacy for an MPH in epidemiology. For nearly five years, he was contributing editor to Age of Autism where he eventually encountered resistance to his investigations into the activities of several of the blog’s sponsors (one of which is also an editor) and was ultimately blocked from writing for the site.

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27 Thoughts on “Seth Mnookin’s Introduction at Harvard: “His dad’s a buddy of mine!”

  1. Sam Hall on July 6, 2013 at 10:13 am said:

    I appreciate the effort poured into attending these events and challenging these people.
    I enjoyed the article because I feel the only way forward is to make other thinking people question what is going on with vaccines and that will only happen if debates are conducted publicly.

    I am sure you had a bunch of other stuff you could have been doing that day so on behalf of this community thank you.

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  3. Dear Jake,
    Politics and commerce are full of real conspiracies, but unfortunately once a person gets the concept of conspiracy into their thinking it can sometimes get out of hand in an escalation of paranoia.
    You fail to understand that just because something is true and you and or other celebrity others were involved, that does not make it interesting or worth publishing. I’ve read two of your things supposedly so terribly suppressed by AoA. They were boring drivel, even for someone very interested in autism politics. Seth M was unscholarly and uncivil in his reception of yourself? So what, given the sort of personal hostility language you use here? What else would you expect?

    • Dear Robin,
      If you’re suggesting my concerns about the vaccine-autism cover-up stem from paranoia; they don’t. They stem from documents obtained through FOIA.
      I would love to hear any real examples you can provide of “personal hostility language” by me here, which you use as your basis for calling my article “boring drivel.” Because as you can see from my post, I was perfectly respectful to Seth Mnookin; he was the one who became personal. There was no good reason for him – an MIT science writing professor – to have reacted the way he did. Rather than simply acknowledging he did not have an answer to my question, he chose to attack me personally and then use his attacks to excuse himself from addressing what I asked him. That is not how journalists or MIT professors should behave if they want to be taken seriously.

      • Thanks for your reply Jake.
        Re my reference to conspiracies and paranoia, I had in mind rather your notions that (1) you are being censored from AoA and that (2) Mark Blaxill et al are conspiring to undermine those who represent the “genuine” campaigners (which was the subject of your first “censored” article).
        In your first article you mentioned the notion that some Safeminds people considered that Messrs Geier and Geier were not best representatives despite their expertise. They were suggesting that they might be great as scientists but not great as presenters in a political situation. Your “censored” article dismissed that perfectly reasonable concept as a mere false excuse as part of a conspiracy to keep the most competent voices out of the limelight. To which I say, nonsense. You did make some other interesting points about how that hearing got seemingly hijacked, but on the evidence your presented it was not persuasive to me quite what was really going on there. Blaxill’s presentation appeared pretty abrasive to myself in such a context. You have to understand that in presenting a case to a non-criminal hearing you AUTOMATICALLY FAIL if you make your case dependent on criminal accusations (such as of corruption). That’s because the non-criminal hearing is not allowed to make any judgement of guilt on criminal accusations, and therefore is obliged to reject such evidence as inadmissible. And very often the most talented scientists are dunces at political presentation.
        The paranoia I am suggesting is your notion of a conspiracy by AoA and Safeminds to shut you and others up due to some hypothesised subverting of those organisations into secret allies of the enemy. Such things certainly do happen (Autism Squeaks?) but one has to be VERY cautious of accusing the possibly innocent of such like.

        Re the language, I should make clear I’m not here to defend Mnookin, prominent member of the pseudo-skeptics as he is. But his being wrong doesn’t make you right.
        The “personal hostility language” in this case is to be sure not the most incandescent sort (involving certain well-known adjectives). But still negative rather than helpful.
        1) “His dad’s a buddy of mine!” (Implying he’s only there via nepotistic connections.)
        2) “Seth Mnookin went off on a rant against me,”
        3) “Meanwhile, he continued his rant,”.
        These above are not exactly diplomatically civil language calculated to foster civil discourse. You should just say you disagree and why. Sure it’s wouldn’t be as journalistically-gripping that way but you can’t blame Mnookin for reacting negatively to a person who uses such language about him.
        You could perhaps learn from what I recently heard a judge say. “I’m afraid I can’t follow your reasoning there Mr Hall”. I guess that is what a judge says when actually thinking: “You are talking bollocks, Mr Hall”. But so much better to put it in the civil version rather than the offensive one.

        • First of all, I have been censored from contributing and leaving critical comments at AoA. Secondly, what SafeMinds did by co-opting the last hearing was unethical. SafeMinds did not shut out the Geiers from its briefing because they were poor presenters, it was because SafeMinds saw itself as being in a petty competition with them while partnering up with some lawyers who failed to fairly compensate them for their work as expert witnesses – as if expert witnesses for plaintiffs in vaccine court don’t have enough reasons to be discouraged from testifying in the first place. The congressional committee Blaxill testified in front of is primarily concerned with corruption, so accusations of criminality is fair game and if anything encouraged (one of the congressmen called international fugitive Poul Thorsen a “humongous scumbag).
          I never accused AoA and SafeMinds of being “secret allies of the enemy.” SafeMinds’ president is on Autism Speaks’ board while AoA gets sponsorship from SafeMinds, neither of which is “secret.”
          Based on what Seth Mnookin said to me, I’d say it’s perfectly legitimate to describe his reply to me as a rant. Also, I did not come up with that quote referencing his father, that was said by the moderator of the event who said so himself that he first became familiar with Mnookin’s writing after his father told the moderator to read Seth Mnookin’s book about the Boston Red Sox. I’m sorry you do not consider some of my writing “civil”; I disagree and stand by my choice of words.

          • Carlyle on July 15, 2013 at 8:09 am said:

            “First of all, I have been censored from contributing and leaving critical comments at AoA.”

            And you find the censorship of critical comments at AoA to be… surprising? It’s the modus operandi. Complaining about it only after you find yourself on the receiving end is base hypocrisy.

            • I am not aware of other people who have formerly contributed to the site and then been banned from contributing as I have. However, I have complained about the censorship of other peoples’ comments, too. In fact, I was blocked from moderating my own comments for doing so prior to being kicked off the site entirely.

    • Ellen Mary on July 8, 2013 at 8:29 am said:

      Dropping ‘conspiracy’ every time someone mentions COLLUSION or intellectual dishonesty is a boring trope. Haters gonna hate!

  4. Thank you for taking the time to do this very important work. It means a lot to the community. I only regret I couldn’t have been your wing”girl”. It’s a shame when groups get so big they get influenced by sponsors etc. Your voice is important to the cause and I am glad you have found another platform to share your knowledge.

    Best of Luck!

  5. Katie Beecher on July 8, 2013 at 2:59 am said:

    Perhaps it has been written about before, but I would be interested in learning more about the controversial blog sponsors at AoA and that situation. Could you direct me to where I could find more information or would you address it here? Thank you for all that you do. It is unfortunate that Mr. Mnookin does not have the courage or information to address your questions. The truly informed among us know that the information required to rebut you will never materialize. Hopefully, for Mr. Mnookin, he will develop the courage.

    • Sure Katie, it started with an article I wrote for the Bolen Report in January about how AoA sponsor SafeMinds hijacked the last hearing and prevented a very effective advocate, autism parent and scientist from speaking. I submitted it to Bolen only after it was rejected by AoA for reasons never made clear.

      AoA’s editor Dan Olmsted put out a hit-post simply trashing my article and then ran a press release from SafeMinds purporting to respond. I then wrote a counter-response to SafeMinds, which I got to run on AoA. Olmsted refused to let me moderate my own article and closed the comments thread without my permission, ordering readers to “Go in peace for all mankind.”

      I was then barred from ever contributing to AoA ever again after I revealed on Facebook that the editor censored a comment I submitted criticizing a press release put out by Canary Party – another AoA sponsor – whose chairman Mark Blaxill is also editor of the site and pays Olmsted. Blaxill was also instrumental in SafeMinds’ role in gutting the last hearing, having chaired the group’s Government Affairs Committee in the months leading up to it. I had no idea I was even blocked from contributing for that reason until my piece was rejected without being read.

      So that’s why it’s now running here instead, because it won’t run on AoA since I can no longer contribute to the site.

      I appreciate your interest as well as your kind remarks. Regarding Seth Mnookin, I somehow doubt he will ever have the courage to address my questions.

  6. Kathleen Heltsley on July 10, 2013 at 1:36 pm said:

    I have enjoyed your tenacious efforts in the fight for our community now for years. I appreciate your keeping feet to the fire of those like Mnookin by challenging him in public because I honestly believe, as a previous poster commented, that “public” platforms are where we can help. Questioning and helping others to think, really think, about the information or misinformation being given out is a must if there is any chance to save children from future damage. As for AoA, I have long since stopped going there for information as it seems to have become a self boasting platform for many and the honest science is lost between all the personal stories about daily life with a child with autism. I already get that. Save Anne Dachel and Katie Wright, as their efforts I liken to yours, tenacious like a pit bull. Simply look forward and know your work is valid and needed. No sponsors to censor and that is HUGE my friend. I will disagree with one thing you stated in response to a comment here. There is a good reason for Mnookin to react the way he does to you….he knows you are right. And you are not willing to let him off the hook for getting paid dispersing misinformation. He is unable to look in the mirror when thinking about you. His reaction to you is “self protection” as he is wrong and he knows it, but his paychecks will no longer come in and his reputation sullied to fight the “good fight”. Anyone on the side of vaccines causing damage know their reputations are at risk, his ego simply will not allow that. Jake, you inspire me in so many ways, I am grateful for all you do.

    • Thanks Kathleen, your kind words mean a lot to me – they really do. It’s a shame what has become of AoA, but I will continue fighting the good fight here. Don’t you worry, and people like Seth Mnookin still won’t be able to give talks without wondering if there might be any unexpected visits from critics.

  7. Bruce Thompson on July 12, 2013 at 12:29 pm said:

    Hi Jake,
    I really enjoyed your article. My wife and I have a 7 year old son with Autism, diagnosed at 2. He’s doing really well now after dramatic dietary change (gluten dairy free then later GAPS diet) at 3 and continues to improve. We get bashed constantly by people everywhere, including family, about not vaccinating our son. But here is why we don’t:
    Firstly, at 2 months he passed out after his Hep B vax. We rushed back into the surgery in a panic to be told by the nurse, “Don’t worry love, that’s normal”. We were naïve at the time but if kids passing out from vaccinations is normal then there is something seriously wrong with our health system.
    Secondly, the day after his first MMR he came down with a 42c fever and had to be rushed to hospital. This we were told was just the result of a flu virus. From that day on he was a chronically ill child. Chest/ear infections and asthma that just did not stop. GP told us diet was rubbish as we had been researching the gut/brain connection and prescribed endless courses of antibiotics. He just got sicker and sicker. At 3 years we turned our backs on mainstream health and went to a biomed Doctor. Course of action: Gluten dairy free diet, supplements, no more antibiotics, no more vax. Within 6 months all his chronic illnesses cleared and he started talking. Chronically ill mute child to healthy talking child in 6 months. He is still Autistic of course but a different child in terms of health and happiness. It’s not rocket science. In terms of the vaccinations, we know many parents in our Autistic community who had similar stories post vax to us. Hell of a coincidence huh? As your article said, children admitted to hospital sick post vax are not ‘admitted for Autism’. It’s a no brainer for us. Kids with compromised immune systems simply cannot handle these vaccines, and the number of these children seems to be increasing. Environmental, genetic? Whatever is the root cause, the vaccinations are in my belief just tipping kids systems over the edge.
    Not vaccinating our kids any more is not a flippant ‘hippie’ decision for us. It is a well thought out judgement call based upon the evidence we have encountered first hand.
    Thank you for your research and articles. Keep up the good work and keep on ‘keeping the bastards honest’ as we say here in Australia. Bruce

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  11. Nydia Olvera on August 1, 2013 at 2:01 am said:

    “the latter is totally useless for measuring autism rates since children are almost never hospitalized for developing autism”
    Well said!

  12. Natural Nurture on August 1, 2014 at 11:23 pm said:

    Jake…again I congratulate you for standing up to these commercial pharmaceutical bullies. I read Mnookin’s book and was chafed by his demeanour throughout…his writing was not the least bit exploratory…nor neutral, as is to be expected from a investigative journalist…quite expected by a liar for hire by the Pharma industry…such as Deer….Panic VIRUS so only derogatory of anyone who speaks against the hegemony and cupidity of the number two profit centre of the globe: PATENTED MEDICINE….by their own admission in Pharma trade blogs….VACCINES are the new money maker now that many of their patents have elapsed…and been made affordable via other manufactures of drugs…curtailing the exaggerated profits of the drug industry. With the Lily rider causing the American people to pay the price of devastated health and the tax payer dinged for their care…as now VACCINE manufacturers are no longer liable for their own mistakes and the devastation to lives they create from hasty, poorly tested and rushed out money making vaccines that appear to cause more infection than they preclude. GOD BLESS AMERICANS who have been sitting in the pot of water like the poor frog as it is turned up incrementally until the poor thing boiled to death.

    Vaccines are about wealth not health. Until the government rewards and starts paying those who create healthy outcomes, the crooks will have their way with us and a HAY DAY fleecing the governmental sheep by wolves in white smock coats.

  13. Gaddy Chazes on May 6, 2015 at 3:13 am said:

    This begs the question, if the environmental causes are the same for everyone, why do some people become autistic, but not others. When that missing link will be found, it will shed a lot of light.

  14. Gaddy Chazes on May 6, 2015 at 3:28 am said:

    And how is ‘autism’ defined here? Since it is a spectrum, are we talking about the more severe autism? Is what used to be known as ‘Asperger’s’ included in this definition? In that case, why are some more severely affected than others? My guess is if there is already something different about people on the Autism Spectrum to begin with, how perhaps that needs to be investigated, as well as the variability within the Spectrum; it looks like there is at least more than one variable involved…

    • Janice on June 20, 2015 at 5:21 pm said:

      Gaddy, if your question is sincere, and not a mere attempt to insinuate that autism must be genetic, there are a tremendous number of variables that create the ‘spectrum’ that exists concerning the severity of autism. For starters, consider health and vaccination status of parents, birth experience (drug exposure and/or other trauma during birth), breastfed or formula, health at time of vaccination, diet, and other toxic exposures including environmental, antibiotics, tylenol or other drugs, etc.. Of course genetic makeup affects how toxic exposure is expressed, but it is unlikely minus ‘environmental factors’ to lead to autism. It is a fairly well understood concept that each individual is unique, as is each set of life circumstances. This leads to vast differences in the health and function of the immune system, as well as variations in the number and types of assaults upon it.

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