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It appears he gave the interview to refute criticisms leveled by skeptics, but the article raises more questions than it answers.
1. Why did Biter wait until his relations with Scripps reached a crisis point to resign and seek privileges elsewhere?
In the interview, Biter describes a longstanding pattern of disagreements and mistrust between himself and “the old boy’s [sic] club” at Scripps—a situation that makes his decision to leave understandable, if belated.
There have been rumors of his unhappiness at Scripps, and speculations about his imminent departure for at least a year. In an interview given last November to SignOn San Diego, Biter himself proclaimed his intention to leave Scripps to open his own birth center because “women shouldn’t have to fight for their choices or protect themselves from intervention.”
In the recent San Diego News Network interview, Biter says:
“I knew that I just could not deliver the care that my patients deserve and that I myself needed to provide for these women who have trusted me…”
However, far from ensuring he could provide for his patients, Biter’s sudden resignation after having his privileges reinstated accomplished only two things:
1) It ensured his near-term patients, as well as those needing in-hospital procedures, would suddenly have to make other arrangements for care from other providers;
2) It eliminated a source of income at a time when he is trying to finance the establishment of his own birth center.
2. What’s the truth about the lawsuits?
According to the article, Biter states that “in his eight years of practice at Scripps, he has never had an obstetrical malpractice case filed against him and has won every gynecological malpractice case filed against him.”
While the first half of the statement may be true, the second is demonstrably false.
Of the five cases filed against him since 2009 , one was recently dismissed at the plaintiffs’ request. The remaining four are still pending, according to the San Diego Superior Court website, and one is two are currently scheduled for a jury trial, one this fall and another early next year.
Perhaps Biter meant to say that of the closed cases against him, all were resolved in his favor.
Biter might be forgiven for the imprecision of his language, however the reporter evidently neglected to verify his easily-refuted claim.
UPDATE: On July 17, the reporter responded to my comment on this, noting that “Dr. Biter was referring to closed gynecological malpractice suits.” The San Diego Superior Court website notes two earlier cases, but has no additional information on their disposition. I assume these are the cases Biter claims to have won.
The most interesting question raised by the interview, though, is the one it ostensibly intends to answer:
3. Why was Biter suspended in the first place, and what were the reasons for his reinstatement?
Throughout the interview Biter implies Scripps was pursuing a vendetta against him, and that their actions were motivated by greed.
He says that he was informed of the suspension via a terse phone call from Scripps chief of staff Dr. Ronald MacCormick, who provided no rationale for the action. Notice of Biter’s reinstatement came via a letter circulated to Scripps staff rather than to Biter in person.
If this was the case, it was certainly a shameful way to treat a colleague, and MacCormick and other involved parties deserve censure for such poor handling of a sensitive personnel matter.
However, Biter adds that he received a letter detailing the reasons for the suspension several days after the phone call.
What did the letter say?
We don’t know because either the reporter didn’t ask, or Biter declined to discuss it.
Scripps, of course, cannot comment on the case other than to reaffirm its “long-standing commitment of providing women many childbirth options,” which reporter Jennifer Reed acknowledges, but rather snidely characterizes as “playing defense.”
Of course, patient confidentiality dictates that Biter can’t provide names or details of any specific case(s) that may have prompted the suspension, but he could certainly have spoken of the hospital’s concerns in general terms.
Moreover, when asked about the last birth he attended prior to the suspension, he rightly declines to comment, out of respect for the family in question, but the reporter adds that the family has “been openly supportive of Dr. Biter.” If that is the case, it is curious that the reporter did not seek their comments, or state that they declined to comment.
And it is more than curious—in fact, it is rather astounding—that the reporter allows Biter to claim in print that Scripps was “on a mission to destroy” him and that childbirth at the hospital is “a political game,” apparently without pressing him for examples, much less proof of his assertions.
In the interview, Dr. Biter was given the opportunity (complete with You-Tube video) to tell supporters and critics alike why Scripps suspended him, why he was reinstated, and what, specifically, he feels is so wrong at Scripps Encinitas that he could not stay on long enough to care for his patients with the most urgent needs.
He didn’t. Instead, he lodged vague and unsubstantiated accusations against Scripps to a reporter who appears either credulous or incompetent.
- 1. Since my initial posts on this topic, an additional malpractice case has been filed against Dr. Biter. Sarah Holder v. San Diego Fertility Center was filed in San Diego Superior Court on June 29, 2010, naming San Diego Fertility Center as the primary defendant, with Drs. Biter and William P. Hummel, and Robert M. Biter MD, Inc. as co-defendants.
- 2. Jamie N. Wiest v. Robert Biter, M.D. was dismissed with prejudice (meaning it can’t be refiled) on June 2, 2010 at the request of the plaintiffs. This may mean either that the plaintiffs decided to drop the case entirely (perhaps because they realized it was unwinnable) or that the parties reached a settlement stipulating the action.
- 3. In fact, in a May 14, 2010 San Diego News Network article, the same reporter (Jennifer Reed) had already detailed some of the specifics of this birth, as related to her by Biter supporter Carol Yeh-Garner, including the facts that it was a cesarean section, and that the baby had suffered meconium aspiration, requiring a stay in the NICU. She also wrote that that the baby was doing well, and that the parents, who, although they could not “could not be reached for comment,” were said by Ms. Yeh-Garner to be “shocked and distraught” over Dr. Biter’s suspension.
I’m not surprised, as it seems the Biter story is still going strong. A supporter has written two blog posts for HuffPo, and fundraisers for his birth center are being listed almost weekly on the “I Love Dr. Biter” Facebook fan page.
In all the discussion, I’ve noticed some commentary that very neatly exemplifies the kind of cognitive dissonance that seems to occur whenever people rely too heavily on personal anecdote to form opinions or prove a point.
Many of Dr. Biter’s supporters talk a great deal about empowerment in making choices about childbirth, however their unwavering support for him–and especially their excoriation of Scripps–is anything but empowered given the lack of much factual information about Dr. Biter’s problems with the hospital.
Quite a few of his fans have very nice stories of their experiences with him, which seem to form the basis for their noisy condemnation of his initial suspension from Scripps and demands to have him reinstated. Perhaps this is why some supporters seem more interested in the personal motivations prompting skeptics and critics to comment on his saga than in the few verifiable facts surrounding the case.
Abi Cotler O’Roarty, the author of a glowing HuffPo blog post on how Dr. Biter helped her overcome trauma from a previous childbirth, wrote on the “I Love Dr. Biter” Facebook fan page:
“Ok, couldn’t resist finally calling out insiders and haters on the Huffington Post comments. Don’t they realize how funn yit [sic] looks that they, who’ve never even had a bad experience with Dr. Biter (or any, so far’s we can tell) are soooo interested in maligning him? Ach, money can be a big motivator. I’m glad we are suc…h a strong community now to drown out the lower vibes:)” ~ (posted June 10, 2010)
But wait… look at what she said a few days earlier to a commenter from Canada who wrote that she had been following the story from afar, and that Dr. Biter “appears to be…’Dr. Wonderful’”:
“Thanks Pam, we feel you all the way from here! If you have a second to pop up on the HuffPo I think it would really help people to see that this is not just a local issue by any means. I can not believe how many women our Dr, [sic] Biter stories resonate with!” ~ Abi Cotler O’Roarty (June 5, 2010)
So if someone who has never had any experience with Dr. Biter comments positively, it’s okay because it “resonates,” but if someone comments critically it’s “funny,” and possibly motivated by money?
Moreover, the “lower vibes” Ms. O’Roarty claims to be “drowning out” are actually questions and criticisms–some valid, some not–of Dr. Biter or his supporters. The only “vibe” I get from this is fear of dissent. That doesn’t line up so well with the empowerment Ms. O’Roarty claims to care about.
Here’s another supporter’s comment on the HuffPo piece:
“Why I personally am 100% on Dr Biters [sic] side even though I don’t know details are this:
I did alot [sic] of research on labor and delivery and wrote out a 1 page Birth Plan. I had to actually FIGHT (during my unmedicated labor) my first OBGYN to deliver my first child the way I wanted to. . . . That is why I logically & intelligently (and not blindly) support Dr Biter.” ~ mybabysmommy (June 11, 2010)
Sorry, but taking such a firm position without knowing “the details” (read: the facts) is indeed blind support.
Yet another commenter’s riposte to critics sums it up nicely:
“It’s amazing the time and energy you two have put into researching and commenting about Dr Biter. What are you getting out of it? Your opinions have not changed anyones [sic] minds with the people who believe in him. You two- men or women really need to get a handle on your lives and get over Dr Biter.” ~ amazedfor all (June 11, 2010)
Opinions may not change minds, but facts should, when they contradict beliefs. The notion that the facts presented by critics wouldn’t change the minds of “people who believe in [Dr. Biter]” says little about the preoccupations of critics, but much about the critical thinking faculties of the commenter and those he/she claims to represent.
Dr. Biter claims that he “would welcome a more extensive investigation” (although he has yet to provide either critics or supporters with any substantive information about the reasons for his or Scripps’ actions, except to talk in vague terms about Scripps’ alleged persecution of him.) It seems, however, that he and some of his supporters just want critics to shut up.
How empowering is that?
Jake Crosby, blogging over at Age of Autism (AoA), has uncovered what he believes is a devastating conflict of interest (COI) of pro-science blogger and frequent AoA critic, Dr. David Gorski. His discovery: Dr. Gorksi makes no money from vaccine manufacturer Sanofi-Aventis.
Given the investigative prowess of Mr. Crosby and other journalists at the “Daily Web Newspaper of the Autism Epidemic,” I am alarmed at the possibility that I, like Dr. Gorski, will be outed to my employers as a pro-vaccine shill for BigPharma; therefore I feel compelled to finally come clean about my own COI:
I have received vaccines, and so have my children.
Phew, I feel so much better now that that’s finally out in the open.
- Freedom from… um… death due to select infectious diseases;
- Freedom from disability secondary to freedom from select infectious diseases;
- Avoidance of several weeks (cumulative) of potential unpleasant symptoms of select infectious diseases, including, but not limited to:
- Fever and chills
- Joint pain
- Muscle spasms
- Weakness and fatigue
- Nausea and vomiting
In addition to these, the vaccines received by myself and my loved ones include several material benefits:
- Elimination of medical expenses due to select infectious diseases;
- Elimination of work time lost due to select infectious diseases;
- Ongoing ability to earn income, due to not being… um…dead, or severely disabled secondary to infection with select diseases.
I realize now that the benefits I have received personally, professionally and through my family, from vaccines and vaccine-manufacturers represent significant conflicts of interest whenever I write about vaccination-related topics.
Readers are henceforth advised to consider these COIs when evaluating potential biases in my work.
- 1. Including, but not limited to: Acambis, Inc.; Berna Products Corp.; CSL Biotherapies; GlaxcoSmithKline; MedImmune, Inc.; Merck & Co., Inc.; Novartis Vaccines; Pfizer (Wyeth Vaccines); Sanofi Pasteur, and of course, my Rothchild/LizardOverlords.
- 2. Oh, and public health.
- 3. The monetary value of this benefit is estimated at $500,000 of earned income over a 20-year period, which, thanks to a clever investment strategy, has been parlayed into a cool $250 k.
You never forget your first love.
Mine was Frederica von Stade.
My interest in opera started abruptly with a chance T.V. viewing of a Maria Callas biography, but it didn’t fully blossom into a love affair until I saw von Stade.
After my initial encounter with La Divina (as Callas is often called), I slowly began listening to more and more opera on recordings, but as a starving student, my opportunities to attend were few and far between .
I lurked on internet boards for guidance on what to listen to, but was a bit frustrated that the most enthusiastic recommendations were for singers long-since dead or retired—the first-loves of operaphiles older and far more experienced than I. As wonderful as these singers were, and as much as I delighted in discovering the work of Tebaldi, Zeani and Sutherland (to name a few), I longed to discover great artists I could actually experience live in the opera house and concert hall. Read more…
It offers donors the option of donating via PayPal, making a deposit directly to a bank account, or writing a check, payable to Robert Biter, MD.
More interesting, however, is Dr. Biter’s personal message to his patients:
“In many OB practices, a doctor sees a patient at some visits and a stranger delivers. You know that I do not practice that way. “Everything that I have done has kept you, my patients, as first priority. This has cost me hospital privileges that I rightfully won back, a lot of money, and even more nights of lost sleep. I don’t know what to say to reassure you other than that. My commitment to you has never been up in the air. My refusal to allow your birth to be a political or financial deal has put me into this unwanted situation, but you and your baby are worth it. “
However Biter’s actions don’t fully support his statement of principle. Read more…
There has been an uproar in “natural” birth advocacy circles about the recent suspension, reinstatement and resignation of OB/gyn Dr. Robert Biter from Scripps Encinitas Hospital. Biter is known as “Dr. Wonderful” by many “natural” birth advocates for his support of non-interventive childbirth.
Supporters, lead by actress Ricki Lake, have staged rallies and given interviews excoriating Scripps and demanding Biter’s reinstatement.
There are very few facts available about the issue, but there has been a great deal of speculation, not to mention downright falsehood, regarding the reasons for both the hospital’s and Dr. Biter’s actions. Read more…
One of the relative strengths of the anti-vaccination movement has been its ability to weave a persuasive narrative from the anecdotes of its leaders.
The best-known of these, Jenny McCarthy, had an especially heart-wrenching tale about how her son Evan got his MMR vaccination, and “…soon thereafter—boom—the soul’s gone from his eyes,” suffered a series of seizures, and was eventually diagnosed with autism.
Stories like McCarthy’s make for compelling news, and are understandably more convincing to many people than the dry, difficult, and sometimes contradictory-seeming science that has, again and again, failed to find a link between vaccines and autism. (Even the language of science—“failed to find a link”—seems to reek of uncertainty to the uninitiated.)
Moreover, narrative is pliable; it can be conveniently altered to conform to new facts.
Witness Ms. McCarthy’s editing of her MMR-Ate-My-Baby’s-Soul story in the wake of the final collapse of the MMR-causes-autism hypothesis: She now claims that the dramatic “boom” following Evan’s MMR shot was not exactly the sudden thunderbolt she had implied:
“You know, a lot of people think, and probably from me saying in some interviews, that it was after the MMR I noticed changes.
I don’t think it was just the MMR shot that caused any kind of trigger with autism. I think it was a compilation of so many shots to a kid that obviously had some autoimmune disorders. So I would say maybe a couple of months, a month or so after the MMR, I started to notice some physical ailments such as constipation, rashes, eczema. That was like the first little sign. And then the train just kind of descended from there.”
Some readers may think, “Big deal. So she fudged her story a little for dramatic effect. Doesn’t mean she’s wrong about what happened to her son.”
(Quite right. It doesn’t. What makes her most likely wrong about the cause of her son’s autism is the science that fails to support her assumptions.)
The problem for Ms. McCarthy and her anti-vaccination allies is that persuasive narrative depends, in large measure, on personal appeal and credibility, both of which can easily be eroded.
The folks at Generation Rescue know this, which is why they have unceremoniously banished McCarthy’s original story from its website with nary an explanation.
This is a tacit admission that they recognize the inconsistency in McCarthy’s stories, and are concerned about the potential damage to her credibility.
What Generation Rescue and other anti-vaccination groups are coming to realize is that reliance on narrative rather than fact to sway public opinion can become a liability rather than an asset.
A few examples:
- Andrew Wakefield, whom anti-vaccinationists have portrayed as a hero and martyr to the cause, has now been thoroughly discredited both as a clinician and a scientist, and is out of a job at the clinic he helped found (and from whose website he appears to have been thoroughly expunged);
- Both Age of Autism managing editor Kim Stagliano, and Ms. McCarthy with Jim Carrey tried to backpedal on the importance of Wakefield’s work in their responses to his downfall;
- Generation Rescue founder J.B. Handley has also recently altered his story about both his own son’s autism and the claims of parents who feel their children’s autism was cause by vaccines;
- Anti-vaccination journalist David Kirby, who claimed in 2005 that a fall in autism rates would prove that Thimerosal in vaccines caused the autism “epidemic,” now says that the fact that they have increased means that vaccines somehow cause autism;
- Generation Rescue and its house organ, Age of Autism, heavily peddled the story of cheerleader Desiree Jennings, whose dystonia they portrayed as a scary example of the dangers of the flu shot, and whose miraculous cure they cited as a wonder of chelation quackery. They quietly dropped the story when her illness was later revealed to be most likely psychogenic;
- J.B. Handley rather ham-fistedly ducked a question about whether the truth about vaccination matters (in the case of the aforementioned Ms. Jennings);
- Dr. Jay Gordon, stamping his foot at being left out of Frontline’s “Vaccine Wars,” wrote a piece in which he claimed not to be “anti-vaccination” because “we still give vaccines;” vaccines, which, later in the same essay, he claims are part of “the group of toxins which have led to a huge increase in childhood diseases including autism”;
- In the same essay, Dr. Gordon, in one, mind-boggling example of cognitive dissonance, says, “The science is there and the evidence of harm [from vaccines] is there. Proof will come over the next decade”;
- Anti-vaccination empress dowager Barbara Loe Fisher, who has in the past been one of the more effective anti-vax spokespeople, filed a defamation suit against Dr. Paul Offit, journalist Amy Wallace, and Wired magazine, for printing Offit’s assertion that “she lies,” yet days later penned an essay entitled “2010 Needs a Fearless Conversation About Vaccination.”
The anti-vaccine narrative is becoming increasingly fractured, and its chief storytellers seem to be having difficulty keeping even their own stories straight.