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Lawsuits and Autism: A Back-Door Effort to Suppress Facts

Although I’ve stayed outside of the autism/vaccination debate, make no mistake: I do not believe vaccinations cause autism, but I do believe there is a group hysteria around the topic that’s fueled by some clever, smart, vocal parties who have a vested interest in getting others on the bandwagon.

Consider Jenny McCarthy, who would love to sell more of her books about how her son was ‘cured’ of autism. How insulting to other parents dealing with living day-to-day with their autistic children! Or the Rev. Lisa Sykes and her husband Seth, who have a $20 million lawsuit pending against vaccine manufacturers and would love to win it — big bucks and glory in it for them, after all.

On the other side, Kathleen Seidel blogs for Neurodiversity.com and has written extensively against the theory that autism is caused by vaccines. She has been subpoenaed by the Sykes’ and the scope of the subpoena (PDF) should frighten every blogger out there, no matter what their topic.

Liz has many, many details here. You can also Digg this story here. According to Liz’ post, the opinion of one who reviewed the subpoena was this:

…the first phrase that occurred to me on looking through the subpoena was “fishing expedition”, and the second was “intimidation”. Several clauses indicate that Shoemaker is hoping to turn up evidence that Seidel has accepted support from the federal government, or from vaccine makers, which she says she hasn’t. Also among the documents demanded: Seidel’s correspondence with other bloggers.

One of those other bloggers is Liz herself.

Basically, these people are making an assertion with absolutely zero fact to support it that Kathleen Seidel is a pharma and/or government shill, and has possibly conspired with other bloggers, the government and pharmas to damage their case.

They should have a problem with this. After all, they don’t get to go on a fishing expedition for random nuggets without some basis for doing so. Unlike their autism argument, they actually have to PROVE a link between these bloggers and the defendant in the lawsuit. Unlike their autism argument, they do not get to pick and choose facts to fit the situation, because the judge is the arbiter of such decisions.

If plaintiffs in lawsuits are permitted to use their standing in a lawsuit to silence bloggers, we all lose. Kathleen Seidel had the resources to be able to file a motion to quash the subpoena, but not everyone does. A blogger who writes fact and opinion, who is honest and transparent in doing so and who does so in the spirit of informing and discussing issues should not have to face an unfair violation of her privacy as well as other bloggers who have supported her in the past, present and future.

More to the point, the Sykes’ use of the subpoena seems to be specifically targeted to suppress dissent, something that should never, ever be tolerated or sanctioned by the courts.

It doesn’t matter where you stand on the question of vaccines and autism. If you want to be able to write about it freely and without intimidation, support Kathleen Sykes, because the underlying principles affect each and every one of us, whether we’re writing about autism, ADHD, Twitter or tech.

The violation of Kathleen Seidel’s rights is the violation of all of our rights. It’s time to stand up and tell the lawyers we’re not spineless, nor are we voiceless, and they are not going to suppress another blogger’s right to speak with their legal subpoena hammer.

Related Links: EFF: Legal Guide for Bloggers, Anti-SLAPP Resource Center

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