Thursday, April 10, 2008

US blogger subpoenated for writing against quackery

On Feb. 1, I wrote that quacks want freedom of speech for themselves but deny it to opponents. Now, we have a fresh example of this phenomenon. Kathleen Seidel who blogs against the vaccines-cause-autism quackery reported on Apr. 3 that she was subpoenated by Clifford Shoemaker, a lawyer representing Rev. Lisa Sykes and Seth Sykes in their $20,000,000 personal injury lawsuit against Bayer company. The Sykes think that vaccines have caused their son's autism and want big money from vaccine manufacturer Bayer as compensation. (The vaccines-cause-autism urban legend is discussed in my Jan. 14 post.)
I am surprised that the event described above happened in the USA. You expect such things in places described by the broad term "east of Belgrade", e.g. here in Bulgaria. In fact, the story reminded me of Bulgarian blogger Michel who was subpoenated and warned by police last summer because of his writings about the Strandja protests (see my July 19, 2007 post).
I guess, US legislature allows laywers to directly subpoenate people thought to have information useful for their clients' cases. However, Kathleen Seidel had no such information; in fact, she had more than once written against the Sykes' claims. So the only explanation is that Mr. Shoemaker abused his right to subpoenate in order to harass and intimidate Kathleen. In fact, the subpoena came shortly after Kathleen's post The Commerce in Causation, describing how Mr. Shoemaker uses the disproved vaccines-cause-autism theory to nicely fill his pockets via never-ending litigations. So it clearly looks like a revenge: you blog against me - I intrude into your life by a subpoena. Although not compatible to a lawsuit, a subpoena such as this one is, to say the least, unpleasant for those on the receiving end. Bulgarian blogger Michel reported the experience to be traumatizing.
One of the absurd aspects of the overall absurd subpoena is the demand that Kathleen should provide copies of "all her communications with... religious groups (Muslim or otherwise), or individuals with religious affiliations". Kathleen has written Serving the Guest, a cookbook with essays and anecdotes about the role of food in Sufism. I do not know whether she has actually converted to Islam, but even if she has, whose damn business is this? Has Mr. Shoemaker ever heard about freedom of religion?
It is important to defend rights and freedoms of everybody, including our opponents and even enemies. A Russian writer once said that freedom isn't like a blanket - take it from your neighbour and you'll have more of it. It is rather like air - take it from anybody and there will be less of it for everyone, including you. In this respect, I (like many others) was delighted and surprised to see that two distinguished quackery-promoting journalists have expressed their support for Kathleen Seidel.
Let me now say a few words about Mr. Shoemaker's clients (who are unlikely to be unaware about their lawyer's methods) and particularly about Rev. Lisa Sykes. For those who don't know what "Rev." (abbr. from reverend) means, it is a title of a clergy member (Bulg. prepodoben). Generally, religious people earn my respect by their attitude to disabled children. They think that there must be a reason for God to send children with disabilities to this world, so their parents must feel honoured and meet their extra responsibilities with dignity and compassion. This is e.g. the view of Jenny, mother of 3 children (2 with special needs) and, let me remind, seller of a wonderful home in the city of Anniston. However, Rev. Sykes (shown here with her son) has a different attitude. She apparently thinks than nothing can be "wrong" with her or her husband's genes, and that God couldn't be so cruel or stupid to dump a non-perfect child on such a wonderful person as her. So she blames vaccines for her son's autism, sues a pharma company to rob it of its honestly earned money and, by her own admission, does on her son a quack "treatment" which castrates him chemically. I ask, why is this pompous person, greedy gold digger and abusive mother still a pastor? What is the human resources policy (if any) of today's churches and what do they think they are doing by employing people such as Lisa Sykes, Jeremiah Wright and Rowan Williams, to name just a few? Thank God I am an atheist :-). Read also the excellent Janna's post on this subject.


Liz Ditz said...

Thanks for commenting on this.

I am one of the 100+ bloggers mentioned in item 5 of the subpoena.

I am keeping a running list of responses to the Seidel subpoena at I Speak of Dreams. I've added your blog.

Oh, and the Muslim matter? Kathleen Seidel maintains an online "Sufi Cookbook and Art Gallery", Serving the Guest, "with essays and anecdotes on the historic and contemporary role of food, eating, meals and hospitality in Sufism, the mystical tradition of Islam". Just another layer of intimidation.

Thiz 'n' Dat said...

Thanks for blogging on this.

I've written a blog post that mostly focuses on Kathleen Seidel but also a little bit about other bloggers who have been attacked (see the links from the blog post) and how all people can help defend against these attacks on our freedom of speech:

Maya M said...

Thank you both!

Estranged said...

Maya, I just came across a bulgarian petition to let the people avoid vaccines because of their side effects (autism and the like). See for yourself: