Comment Of The Day: “Tales Of The Slippery Slope: Amazon And Censorship”

Autism “cures”, aka “Snake oil.”

Ethics Alarms is blessed with several commenters with specific expertise in areas that arise here often. Alexander Cheezem is our authority on autism and the various misconceptions and unethical practices surrounding it, and he contributed  valuable perspective on why Amazon was under pressure to stop offering two books about the topic. I carelessly assumed that the problem was the further circulation of the dangerous myth that vaccinations cause autism, since that is the autism-related issue we hear about most often from the media. There’s a lot more to autism misinformation than that, and Alexander graciously enlightens us.

As he acknowledges, the thrust of the post is not dependent on why the two books have been pulled The remedy to bad information is good information, not censorship–like the useful information in Alexander Cheezem’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Tales Of The Slippery Slope: Amazon And Censorship”:

Okay. I’m actually quite familiar with one of the books in question — I even spent about five years dealing (over and over and over again) with its author and her brand of bullshit (yes, that’s actually the technical term)… and I have to say that your analysis is flat-out wrong on one major point and significantly off in another respect.

Of course, whether that impacts the rest of the analysis is another matter.

The major problem with your analysis is that what sets those books apart is not that they’re anti-vaccine… but don’t take my word for it. As I write this, I’m paging through my first-edition copy of Rivera’s Healing the Symptoms Known as Autism (my second-edition copy is somewhere), so I’ll use it to illustrate. Let me give you just a small sample of what the book actually contains.

The thing is essentially a protocol book, dedicated to “teaching” parents a complicated pseudoscientific and ritualistic protocol centered around having the parents feed industrial bleach (chlorine dioxide) to their children, bathe their children in a solution of industrial bleach, and give their children bleach enemas.

It doesn’t contain substantial discussion of what autism is, instead focusing on what to do about it. There’s a six-page introduction, a seventeen-page autobiographical sketch which also serves as a truly horrifying tale of child abuse (e.g. “He told me that the more doses [of industrial bleach] we can get [read: make her child drink] in one day the better, 8 doses is the minimum…. That first week Patrick [her child] vomited (classic Herxheimer reaction), because I went too fast with the dosing.”, bracketed comments added for clarification), and a sixteen-page collection of 35 testimonials to the benefits of making your disabled child drink industrial bleach. It then spends 34 pages on making your child follow a complicated and nonsensical diet (Chapter 3, “Step 1 — The Diet”), four pages on why drinking bleach allegedly won’t harm your kid with testimonials and promotionals mixed in (Chapter 4, “A Note from Jim Humble”), and… well, it gets worse from there.

Chapter 5 (“Step 2 — Chlorine Dioxide (CD)”) is 49 pages of detailed instructions on how to make your child drink bleach, bathe in bleach, and take bleach enemas, starting with general promotional material and yet more pseudoscientific discussion of why it allegedly won’t hurt your kid… before it moves onto the nitty-gritty. It discusses the “baby bottle method” for making bleach for your kid to drink, methods to prepare an enema (fleet bottles vs. a homemade contraption based on syringes and catheters vs. a gravity or enema/douche bag), homemade bath devices… and a lot of generally horrifying miscellaneous advice (spraying industrial bleach on snake bites rather than seeking hospital treatment, or this glorious bit: “Dose frequently throughout the day…. Do a minimum of eight doses a day, but try to get in more doses if possible. Go for 16 in cases of PANS/PANDAS and acute situations like colds and flus.”)

Chapter 6 (“CDS, A New Way to Deliver Chlorine Dioxide”) is eight pages on an alternate way to prepare bleach to shove up your kid’s ass (and make him drink; can’t forget that).

Chapter 7 is the last one I will review, and arguably the most blatantly criminal one in the book. It is subtitled “Step 3 – The Kalcker Parasite Protocol” and is dedicated to teaching parents to remove sections of their kids’ intestinal linings and label them as “parasites”.

It doesn’t just include a bunch of advice on how to remove larger sections of intestinal lining via bleach enema and collect samples to share on the Internet — it also includes photographic evidence of this in practice via many, many photographs of sections of kids’ intestinal lining and what types of “worms” these sections allegedly are. This is not a new thing in the alt-med world (Google “rope worms” sometime if you want more evidence than you could ever want), but it remains blatantly abusive.

There are more chapters. Frankly, though, I think I’ve made my point. Still, for the sake of completeness, there’s a chapter on “other supplements” (which vary in danger), one on hyperbarics, one on chelation (which is extremely dangerous), some closing thoughts (ranging from how everything under the sun wrong with your kid is really a condition that can be treated with bleach to how much more cost-effective bleaching your kid is than other forms of pseudoscientific “treatment” and how to find people who will support you in your decision to abuse your child), and appendixes including still more testimonials, further reading, “protocol” summaries, a guest-written section on pseudoscientific ways to “avoid” autism in future kids, and the like.

The point of this overview — which I freely admit went into far more detail than it strictly should have, but it’d take more effort to edit it down than it’s worth — was to establish that the book is not fairly characterized as simply espousing an antivaccine viewpoint. Vaccination is, in fact, barely even mentioned.

What the book is is a how-to manual for criminal activity (child abuse) with a good bit of testimonial and photographic evidence of said child abuse. And while I have a letter from Michigan’s government saying, in essence, that it’s perfectly legal in that state to give your kids bleach enemas in the name of “autism treatment”, both my own reading of the statute and several other states’ governments disagree.

The book isn’t dangerous because it encourages an antivaccine viewpoint. The book’s dangerous because it encourages vulnerable parents to make their kids drink bleach.

I’ve never personally read “Fight Autism and Win,” but my understanding is that it’s a similar book — albeit one that promotes a different, but no less dangerous, pseudoscientific “autism treatment.” Again, the danger has very little to do with the antivaccine viewpoint that its methodology presupposes, and does have to do with the criminal behavior it encourages.

That’s where your analysis is simply wrong — even if understandably so given the coverage. The better parallels are things like the Anarchist’s Cookbook (available on Amazon), a “how-to” guide for carjacking (I didn’t look), or a book on defrauding the IRS (I’m not that familiar with pseudolaw, but I searched for Winston Shrout’s publications on the subject; Amazon doesn’t sell them).

Now, I’m not saying that free speech concerns aren’t relevant. They’re actually very much so… but without comment from Amazon, we can’t really say what their reasoning was. As noted, this can’t be fairly considered an “antivaccine crackdown” per se, or even viewpoint-specific censorship… which leads into the other issue I mentioned.

And, bluntly, that issue is the overall context of this move. Amazon (along with Google and Facebook) has been facing a great deal of criticism for the way that their review and search systems are game-able by pseudoscientists and frauds — and the antivaxxers in particular. This has resulted in some substantial negative press coverage for them… and, as a company, they can’t afford people losing confidence in their recommendations and salesmanship.

And, make no doubt, the issue was very much at risk of causing damage to that confidence. Several of the press pieces emphasized how someone naively searching for vaccine information could instead find antivax propaganda, for instance, and several notable pseudo-documentaries were available — or even top recommendations — on their video streaming service.

As such, they’ve been making a show of “doing something” about the (rather extensive) mess and hamfistedly removing some of the more blatant offenders. This is just one example — they also removed the fraudulent, pseudoscientific documentary Vaxxed from Prime Video service, as another. It does nothing to actually fix the systemic problems with their service — but does provide press coverage to address and mitigate the PR issue.

And that, more than actually fixing anything, is what I think they want.

Now if only we had responsible, informed journalists giving this the sort of (extensive) coverage it deserves…

 

23 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Tales Of The Slippery Slope: Amazon And Censorship”

  1. Posts like these are enlightening to those of us who would not otherwise investigate these issues. My question is how does the author get away with publishing what could be considered medical advice without any medical training or licenses? What parent in their right mind would consider any of this legitimate treatment?
    Perhaps the autistic child is the one that should be considered perfectly normal. Any parent that would buy into this garbage and inflict the treatments described needs to be jailed.

  2. Amazon has banned dozens of books — hundreds of books — and the process is just beginning. But here the focus is on books dealing with autism? Ok!

    Many titles that touch on WW2 historical revisionism have been banned. At least 50 (though I do not have a precise count). Numerous books with a critical view of Israel have been banned.

    Books that are critical of Islam are regularly banned.

    Just recently a whole group of titles by Greg Johnson and Jared Taylor have been banned. See here.

    The larger purpose is to limit the breadth of conversations. It is part of a general ideological warfare. You will not be allowed to think outside of the parameters that ‘they’ define and patrol.

  3. When I was a kid, for a while my dad got into the use of vinegar and honey as a cure for most everything. At least it was harmless compared to chlorine bleach and thankfully he never had the idea of using it as an enema.

    As far as a non-physician giving medical advice, there is usually a brief disclaimer somewhere that states that the information should not be taken as medical advice. Much the same way articles by attorneys include a blurb that what they are saying does not constitute legal advice. Of course, the people who fall for this kind of thing really don’t care about the source and in fact believe real medical advice is just the “establishment” trying to hide a cure so they can keep treating people and making money.

    Thank you Alex for a very enlightening post.

    • That is, in fact, precisely it: the book includes a rather… interesting… disclaimer across from the inside of the cover. “Healing the Symptoms Known as Autism is not intended as medical advice, it is for informational and educational purposes only. Please consult with a medical professional when the need for one is indicated. For obvious reasons neither the author, co-author, the publisher, nor their associates can take medical or legal responsibility for having the contents herein considered as a prescription for everyone or anyone. You are ultimately responsible for the uses made of this book.

      “All content, including text, graphics, images, and information, contained in this book or our website, is for general information purposes only. We take no responsibility for the accuracy of information contained herein, and such information is subject to change without notice.”

      This, ah, “disclaimer” is present in the second edition as well.

  4. Bit of an overreaction. First, chlorine dioxide isn’t quite the same as sodium hypochlorite or diatomic chlorine gas. Second, considering the quantities he’s talking about (I downloaded the book, and he said something like a quarter-drop in a glass of water) is incredibly miniscule. More sodium hypochlorite is pot in stored drinking water, and at about 5 ppm, municipal drinking water has more chlorine in it. Kind of a built-in safety feature of chlorinated water is that you’ll puke it up way before you’d be able to ingest a dangerous quantity.
    It’s still pseudoscientific malarkey that any thinking parent would laugh at rather than seriously consider.

    • First off, I never said that chlorine dioxide was sodium hypochlorite or chlorine gas. I said that it’s industrial bleach — which is accurate (specifically, it’s the primary bleaching agent used to whiten wood pulp in papermaking). Your assertion there is spurious at best.

      Or, as Emily Willingham put it ( http://www.thinkingautismguide.com/2013/01/mms-yes-it-is-bleach.html ): Yes, it is bleach.

      Secondly, you’re flat-out wrong about the quantities recommended… and the basic toxicology involved. Just what book are you basing these claims on, anyway? There’s no “he” in the authorship of the thing.

      • … unless you count the guest chapters, anyway. So, I do suppose there are some male authors — just not primary authors.

        Also, to elaborate on my comment about concentrations and recommended quantities… well, the exact concentrations vary quite a bit throughout the book (I mentioned that it was an overly complex protocol several times, didn’t I?), but they range from 8-24 drops per 8 fluid ounces of water.

        • And, so what, it’s “bleach”? We consume “bleach” all the live-long day, and I occasionally rinse my mouth out with dilute H2O2, which is a deadly and dangerous oxidizer. I occasionally take a drag off a cigarette if I happen to drink socially, inhaling hydrogen cyanide (the stuff in Zyklon B) in the process. Literally countless other examples of how “poison” is all about quantity.

          • Hydrogen peroxide is dangerous? Keep in mind I’m not a biochemist, or even a chemist. But they sell the stuff over the counter at my local grocery store.

            • The stuff they sell at the grocery store (and drug store) is quite diluted — usually to around 3% concentration, and even that’s enough to bleach tissue (as you’d notice if you ever used it to disinfect a wound or render hair blonde).

          • Pay attention to your message. Pay attention to what I actually said in my comment. I was addressing your use of a massive strawman — essentially talking to a claim that I didn’t make.

            Hence “Yes, it is bleach.”

      • Flat-out wrong about basic toxicology involved….Okay, I hate to go the “argument from authority ” route, but I’d love to hear how I got the toxicology wrong. Disclaimer; chemistry/biochemistry was my undergrad degree for pre-med, and I’m preparing to take the USMLE’s in the near future, so maybe you can help me out. I’d hate to screw up the basic toxicology of bleach.

        • Everything, EVERYTHING can be deadly in excess. Even drinking too much water can kill you via hyponatremia. And there are very few chemicals that can’t be consumed in small enough quantities to be non-toxic, save those with MLDs or LD50s so ridiculously low, that finding an analytical scale and other means of titration accurate enough to portion out a harmless quantity is hit-or-miss. I probably don’t have to tell you that you couldn’t continue to live, not for a minute, without a sizable quantity of Cl in your body (it’s the 10th most abundant element in the human body).

        • Simple: You’re talking about a hypothetical dilution rather than the dose a child following the protocol would be exposed to. That’s… a pretty basic error when it comes to toxicology.

        • In other words, you took only a cursory glance, found one reference to a dosage, and didn’t bother to check what it was in the context of the protocol. You then went off half-cocked with your commentary.

          That “one drop in a glass of water” is what they do on the first day of the protocol, before steadily increasing the amount of bleach they have the child drink. To quote the relevant parts of the version of the book you linked:

          Day one starts with just one drop in eight fluid ounces of water.” (p. 84, emphasis added)

          “In the previous exercise, you learned how to prepare the dose for Day One. Children and adults all start by taking only one drop of CD divided into eight hourly doses. On Day Two, you make a batch of two drops sodium chlorite plus two drops activator and mix that into eight fluid ounces of water. Increase this dosage by one drop per day…” (p. 100, emphasis added.)

          … etc. The “full dose” — noting that this only accounts for the oral portion of the protocol, and assumes a number of things about which listed protocol the parents are following — is a function of the child’s weight, shown on a table on p. 101… one that opens with the following caveat:

          “Use these numbers as a guide only. You may need to go up by as much as 50% or more over the indicated drops.”

          As such, an eleven kilo child would be given eight drops — or twelve, if the above is taken into account. A child who weighs 150 pounds would be given 31… or 46 or more.

          Oh, and if the child gets upset or distressed over this? Give them a double dose (see p. 103).

          And all of that is before other things — like the baths and enemas — are taken into account.

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