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AutismOne speaker Zen Honeycutt’s Latest Nonsense

Zen Honeycutt (Bachelor of Fine Arts) is the founder of the organization Moms Across America (MAA) whose raison d’être is to remove GMOs and glyphosate from the food supply to cure everything from neurodevelopmental issues (like autism and ADHD) to infertility to infection diseases (like pneumonia). This on its own is a big red flag – the idea that there is one cause for ALL THE THINGS should raise your skeptical eyebrows.  In fact, she goes so far as to blame cancer, mental illness, school shootings, infertility and the overall “demise of our families and society” on a common cause induced by ingestion of glyphosate and a “leaky gut”.

She is speaking again this year to promote a GMO-free diet as a cure for autism. Basically, she believes that glyphosate residues on GMOs (but not glyphosate residues on non-GMOs, apparently) are the cause of autism. Read elsewhere on this site where we discuss the scientific evidence regarding this.

Last week, MAA billboards started appearing around the US encouraging parents to buy organic food:

Our families get better when the eat organic.

First, is this claim valid? Not according to the scientific evidence. Organic food is nutritionally equivalent to non-organic; a bigger health concern is that for a variety of reasons including fear of pesticide residues, people in the US are not eating nearly enough fruits and vegetables!  Pesticide residues on the very large majority of produce in the US (organic or non-organic) are far below levels of concern. This article, Moms Across America Sponsors Bogus Organic Billboard Lobbying Blitz, on Forbes breaks down some of the specifics.

If you want to buy organic, go right ahead, just make sure you have accurate info and aren’t basing your decisions on lies and fear-mongering nonsense. Also don’t buy organic food thinking that it will do anything to help your autistic child (beyond the benefits of just increasing intake of fruits and vegetables and reducing intake of added sugars that we have discussed on this site, here).

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Second, let’s look at Zen Honeycutt’s track record to assess her credibility on scientific claims. History shows that she is full of ideas not based in science or reality.  As you can see in #8 in the image, she thinks that since high levels of glyphosate are toxic to shrimp who live in salt water, we should ban glyphosate because 1) human wombs are full of salt water (amniotic fluid contains electrolytes, proteins, sugars, lipid and phospholipids and is not like seawater) and 2) fetuses look like shrimp (comparative embryology is a field of study, but it doesn’t mean what she thinks it means). In other words, because human fetuses are like womb shrimp, glyphosate is responsible for all modern medical problems. That is not how anything works. It’s so wrong, it’s “not even wrong” as people say.

She also thinks the drop in teen pregnancy is due to sterilization by glyphosate, which is utter nonsense on many levels (see #9 in the image for the claim and info in the above linked Forbes article debunking this claim).

She has also promoted CD/MMS (bleach enemas for autism) more than once on the MAA Facebook page.

As a side note, please notice that comment in the image was intended for mothers in Africa. In Africa where hunger, poverty and malnutrition are enormous problems. Of course, GMOs won’t “feed the world”, that’s a non-sequitur to begin with, but there is no valid reason to exclude “GMO” technologies from the toolbox that plant breeders can use to address issues of hunger and food security. You can read about the cultural myopia of Zen Honeycutt and other American food activists here.

But what exactly are anti-GMO activists and elite foodies trying to accomplish with their campaign against biotech in Africa? Their rhetoric and attitudes have consequences beyond what happens in the cereal aisle at California grocery stores. These humanitarian applications have nothing to do with Monsanto or pesticides, a fact American food activists are well aware. Yet they are so determined to demonize a technology, they won’t even separate the issues for the sake of human lives.

Maybe it is impossible for them to fathom a place where Whole Foods and hipster co-ops don’t exist or where children die daily from malnutrition. Maybe they can only imagine farmer’s markets as quaint places with natural pet treats and specialty jams rather than places where narrow margins can mean the difference between eating and not eating. And where one batch of bad bananas may mean your children will go hungry.

Perhaps American food activists, especially mothers like Zen Honeycutt, will someday move beyond their cultural myopia and realize the human cost of their words and influence. Because the people of Africa – all people – deserve more than misery and empty stomachs. And, they certainly deserve better than flippant advice and imaginary pots of squash.

As a caveat, it bears mentioning that just because someone is wrong about one thing, it does not necessarily mean that all their claims are wrong. This is a poisoning the well fallacy (also know as a genetic fallacy). This fallacy means that information is judged solely on its source. This doesn’t mean there isn’t validity in considering someone’s credibility. It does means that someone’s credibility may be a red flag to make you think twice about their claims. After all, credibility comes from demonstrating that you back up claims with evidence, apply critical thinking and do all the things that ensure that you are providing reliable information.

Just because Zen has been wrong about all these things doesn’t mean her next claim won’t be correct. But it does mean that I will consider anything she says with a very high degree of skepticism and always seek out sources with a higher degree of credibility. At some point, it just becomes a waste of time to even consider sources with extremely low credibility.

Breaking News: In completely predictable move, AutismOne announces Vaxxed screening

In case you missed it, there’s been quite the hubbub over discredited Andrew Wakefield’s foray into filmmaking. In short, the movie was added to the prestigious film festival, from which a large majority of submissions are rejected, by Robert de Niro who has an autistic son. Upon outrage from the general public, the scientific community, and the autistic community, de Niro pulled the movie from the film festival. Now, Wakefield and friends are shopping around for venues to show their movie. AutismOne, completely predictably, given their roots in the anti-vaccine movement, will be screening the movie.

Commentary from the film industry

The film industry has criticized both that the movie bypassed the normal submission process, which is highly competitive, and that, from a filmmaking perspective, the movie is terrible.

The open letter from Penny Lane that started it all

Exclusive: Why Filmmaker Penny Lane Stirred Up the Tribeca ‘Vaxxed’ Controversy

Film Review: ‘Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe’

‘Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe’ is Designed to Trick You (Review)

Commentary from the scientific and skeptic communities

Orac’s most recent take on this story on Respectful Insolence

No Andrew Wakefield, You’re Not Being Censored And You Don’t Deserve Due Process by Kavin Senapathy, Forbes

Vaxxed – A Guide to Andrew Wakefield’s Fraudulent Film, Skeptical Raptor

Robert DeNiro Just Broke My Heart, by Tara Haelle, Forbes

News Coverage

LA Times: How Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Film Festival sold out to anti-vaccine crackpots

The New York Times: Robert De Niro Pulls Anti-Vaccine Documentary From Tribeca Film Festival

The Guardian: Controversial Vaxxed film premieres in New York despite scientists’ outcry

CNN: Robert De Niro pulls anti-vaccine film from Tribeca after controversy

Wall Street Journal: Anti-Vaccination Lunacy Won’t Stop

The money behind AutismOne

AutismOne is part of a large and very wealthy network of anti-vaccine activists. Until this year, the AutismOne conference was called AutismOne/Focus For Health, but this year they have dropped Focus For Health from the name, despite Focus for Health being their primary source of funding. Both AutismOne and Focus for Health have significant financial ties to other anti-vaccination powerhouses such as the NVIC and Generation Rescue, Jenny McCarthy’s organization, although the affiliation with Generation Rescue was dropped in 2014.

A 2015 report from CNN outlined the financial connections between these organizations. Much of the anti-vaccine propaganda can be traced back to a few sources who have used their wealth to make it appear as if there is a large group of independent scientists supporting this movement. However, these are not independent organizations funding independent scientists. The few families and individuals responsible for funding the organizations are arguably financially responsible for the entire anti-vaccination, anti-autism movement.

Resources:

cnn-money

 

Resources:

The Money Behind the Vaccine Medical Myth, (CNN)

A comment on the CNN story from the Left Brain Right Brain blog can be found here.

Harpocrates Speaks discusses the issues of funding in anti-vaccination research here.

…there are very, very wealthy individuals and groups behind the anti-vaccine movement. They have the resources to gin up studies that appear to support them, fund PR campaigns to spread their misinformation and lobbying legislators. I only highlighted two. There are plenty of others, like Barry Segal, Gary Kampothecras, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., businessman and founder of Generation Rescue J.B. Handley.

More info on the financial links between Generation Rescue and Andrew Wakefield’s Strategic Autism Initiative: here.

A few highlights about the finances of Andrew Wakefield’s non-profit, Strategic Autism Initiative (more details in the linked posts):

  • Only 13% of money in 2010-2012 went to grants and these grants went to some questionable studies, including studies carried out by the Geiers
  • More than half of the donations go to paying salary for Wakefield and Terry Arranga of AutismOne
  • They have done little to actually benefit autistic people or further research

 

Protesting Kerri Rivera and Chlorine Dioxide Abuse

This past Saturday, a small group gathered outside the Loews Chicago O’Hare Hotel to protest the presentation by Kerri Rivera at the AutismOne conference. Kerri Rivera promotes the use of chlorine dioxide, or CD, an industrial bleaching agent, for bleach enemas to “cure” children with autism. Here, I am sharing stories from three of the protesters. (If you haven’t read about this issue before, please see the end of the article to learn about CD, Kerri Rivera and why we were protesting her presentation at AutismOne.)

Rebecca F is a mom to two boys, one with autism. She joined to promote awareness and respect for her son and all those with autism. She wanted the opportunity to talk directly to parents because so many people try to exploit special needs parents, both financially and emotionally.

Kim Z is a mom who participated because she saw this on Facebook a few months ago and was horrified. Like me, the thought of people doing this to their children keeps her up at night crying, wondering what she can do to help. In general, she tries to use her time to do some good in the world and is particularly upset when people who can’t speak for themselves are being taken advantage of, or in this case, tortured. She understands how parents can feel desperate when they have a child who isn’t “normal” and can fall for lies because they promise false hope.

Lou L is a concerned parent and says: “I don’t have any children with autism, but my daughter is only 9 months old. As a parent I felt that it was important to stand up for the children who can’t.”

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Kerri Rivera tries to intimidate the protesters

From Rebecca F.

Kim, her 20 yr old daughter, my two boys and I showed up a little late and they were waiting for us. Three or four security people came up to us.

Rebecca: We know, keep moving, stay off Loews property.

Loews security: Okay, just so you know, the police have been informed.

Kim: Yes, we’re pretty scary.

Loews security: Yes, like a box of kittens.

Rebecca: What’s scary is the people advocating bleach enemas for autistic kids.

Their eyebrows rose, as in like, what.

Now, trying to intimidate the protesters because they called the police is pretty silly. See, others in our group had called the appropriate authorities in Rosemont weeks ago to learn the laws regarding protesting in their jurisdiction and to see if we needed any permits to hold a protest. I also personally spoke to the Rosemont PD earlier in the week to let them know that we would have a small group there and that we were aware of the rules about protests. They were very appreciative of the heads up.

Rebecca F continues her narrative.

Kerri came out with security and it looks like some manager lady. They just watched us. I recognized her and let the others know. We started chanting, looking directly at Kerri Rivera: “go away, we don’t need your bleach today”. She went inside.

Kerri came out later with security again. I pointed out her to the film crew and they approached her, but security hustled her inside.

Traffic stops to learn more

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People driving past stopped to ask questions and spoke to the protesters. Kim shared this:

A car stopped in traffic to listen to the cause and backed up traffic. Right behind her was the Loews bus beeping away, trying to deliver people to the conference. But the driver of the car I was speaking to didn’t care and listened to me for about 3 or 4 minutes!

Hotel and conference staff support protesters

From Kim Z:

Hotel workers would walk past us and would give us a thumbs up. One worker came directly to me and said I can’t let them know what I’m saying they think I’m just asking you not to block the drive but I respect and agree with what you’re doing. Those people in there are nuts! I told him I understand he needs his job and later if he wanted to support this where to find us. He was a good guy who genuinely looked upset by what was taking place in there.

From Rebecca F:

The film crew hired to tape the event thanked us. They said they were horrified by what they had seen over the last few days. They made a point to tell us all we were doing the right thing.

Conference attendees appalled by learning about Kerri Rivera, CD and AutismOne

Rebecca F says:

One woman approached us asking what it was about. We (Kim, her daughter and I) explained. We also spoke of the other quacks at the conference. She looked stunned and said, ‘I came from Mexico for this conference’. She was obviously unaware what she came to and was put off.

We spoke to many parents, moms mainly. They were shocked to hear and thanked us. They thought they were going to a nice conference. That alone made it worth it. I spoke to four myself, Kim also spoke to more.

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Not all the interactions were positive

Rebecca L told me this story about a woman who showed no respect for autistic people or understanding of what autism is.

A grandmotherly type just finished talking to Lou. I was standing by. I chimed in that my son is autistic and I wouldn’t want the treatments there for him. She said, “I’m sorry”. I said, “Don’t be sorry. I’m not.” She said her 69 yr old brother is autistic so she really is sorry because she knows it makes life harder. I said it makes life harder and better like for all people. She said she was sorry again. I said she should be grateful for autistics. She said sorry again, then bent down and condescendingly spoke to my son, who is autistic. I walked away at that point. Pulled the wagon with the boys away. I will not let anyone talk down to him. He may be socially awkward but he is very smart. Finishing K and reading and math at second grade level. At some point I told her that he will do great things some day.

Lou spoke to a woman who apparently believes in many pseudoscientific ideas, no matter how contradictory they are to each other, has a very poor grasp of the history of science and knows nothing about how biomedical research works.

I had a conversation with this woman outside who seems to believe that every cure inside is valid. I asked her how autism can have so many root causes and everything from homeopathy to CD to avoiding vaccines apparently cures it. Her response to me was ‘then what do you think you can do about autism?’ as if challenging me for my own cure. To which, of course, I told her that she doesn’t have to find a cure – especially not with pseudoscience. Just treat children with autism with respect. She also told me ‘have you tried homeopathy? it works’. Then, I asked her to produce a single double blind study with some kind of objective measure showing any of these things work. She responded to that with ‘there are no double blind studies”’ So I said ‘even if the entire medical community is completely corrupt and can’t produce a valid study, you can always create the first one’. Then she gave me some crap about Galileo and how he went against established science. I told her the difference between Galileo and her is that Galileo had compelling objective evidence. I told her that if she could produce that I’d change my mind. And that’s where the conversation ended.

The hotel makes a lot of money from conferences

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Lou’s wife was allowed in to change their baby’s diaper.

She told me it was a complete pseudoscience fest and packed with vendors, including one person selling anti-wifi shields. She was curious so walked over and the woman asked her about what she thought about wifi harming us. My wife said it sounded like “quackery” and I guess the woman got fairly pissed off. My wife couldn’t take pictures or tape because there are signs everywhere saying no photos or recordings. I can see why the hotel refused to cancel this event. The place was packed. This is a huge moneymaker for them. I just hope that when the news does their segment the hotel won’t be able to continue their “we didn’t know” claim.

The hotel cannot claim ignorance. This particular hotel is the venue for AutismOne every year. This is not the first time Kerri has been at the conference. They know. They know that this conference has hosted Andrew Wakefield multiple times. They used to host Jenny McCarthy regularly. Focus For Health, one of the main sponsors of the conference, is a major player in the anti-vaccine propaganda movement. There is no way the hotel doesn’t know who they are hosting, unless they are willfully ignorant. Perhaps they do know, but they the management believes in the non-scientifically based misinformation presented at this conference.

Before the protest, we tried to get the event canceled. In other countries, reaching out to the venues and informing them just who and what will be presented, combined with negative publicity, has been enough to get events with Kerri Rivera or Jim Humble canceled. However, Loews Hotels did not care at all that someone at this event would be giving a seminar that could be alternatively titled “How to chronically poison and abuse your autistic child.”

We reached out to the hotel many times. There was a petition on Change.org. We sent emails and called the hotel and corporate headquarters. Most of us we received no response. When we did get a response, we got the standard PR response: the views of the people using our venue are not necessarily the views of Loews. That response seems wholly inadequate when someone is using your venue to promote child abuse.

We also left comments on their Facebook page. Many were deleted and commenters were banned. Eventually, Loews pulled down the entire Facebook page for the hotel instead of addressing criticism. There was not even a response from the hotel after the local NBC news did astory about Kerri Rivera, Jim Humble, and chlorine dioxide.

I am really pleased with how the protest turned out! I wish I could have made it up to Chicago to participate. Those who went were amazing, as were the many other people who helped with the planning but were unable to go. This protest was one important piece of the momentum that is building to help us put a stop to this terrible abuse.