The use of the term ‘epidemic’ to describe autism is an insulting and derogatory term to apply to a whole subsection of people. It has connotations way beyond its literal meaning and can only add to the misinformation and hysteria which already surrounds autism.
What I fear is two-fold. By pandering to this continuing association with vaccines, autism research risks getting sucked into a biomedical dead end. Its tempting to follow that path (and as Dad to an autistic child I did indeed follow that path for awhile) but it offers no answers and as evidenced above, that path can lead to some very nasty places. People lie in wait like predators, ready to take advantage of your ignorance and charge you to the hilt for the pleasure. I urge all parents to question the motives of anyone linked to the non-scientific treatment of autism. There is often a heavy financial price to pay and sometimes a heart breaking non-financial one. My other fear is that by allowing people like this to discard our autistic children as the results of an ‘epidemic’ or a ‘living hell’
or to describe our kids as ‘lost’ (my daughter is right where I left her!) we create even more negativity about a condition that already carries a heavy load of stigmatising misinformation. What I would hope for my daughter is that she remains free from people attempting to ‘cure’ her and that we as a society can progress to a point where people like my daughter can be free to be who they are, receive treatment for the debilitating accompanying conditions that sometimes come with autism and that autism can be seen as a difference more than a disability.
Indeed, during its 16 days of existence, Huffington's group blog appears to have already become a repository for anti-vaccination propaganda based on the usual pseudoscientific and fallacious arguments that most antivaccination zealots use. (Tip o' the hat to "chaperonin60," who pointed this out to me.) I've already counted at least five posts "questioning" the efficacy of vaccination or postulating a (probably nonexistent) link between thimerosal in vaccines and autism.
The connection between mercury and elevated testosterone - which seems so solid to the Geiers - is not clear at all, even at overtly toxic levels. Nor does the idea that testosterone impairs mercury excretion or increases mercury toxicity seem to be holding water... we have no data to support the idea that testosterone binds preferentially to mercury, that mercury bound to testosterone (if it were possible) would be bioavailable (capable of doing harm). We also have no data that mercury causes an increase in DHEA (as proposed by Geier and Geier) or that testosterone impairs excretion of mercury. What's left?
So, is there an autism epidemic? No. No Gvmt has declared epidemic status for autism at all. The phrase is simply part of an increasingly shrill demonisation of autism in increasingly disrespectful and shameful terms. Other phrases coined include 'autism tsunami' (distastefully coined after the events of last Boxing Day), the 'hell' of autism ‘autism is our enemy’ and many, many more.
Once more, blogging the history of Rick Rollens' quarterly press releases on the California DDS numbers. Warning, it's best not to believe any of his interpretations of the numbers, unless you check them yourself and find that he happens to be right. There's some serious spinning going on here. Please read the whole thing and take note of the dramatic and hyperbolic speech.
If you are keeping track of the trends here in the numbers, you can see that what Rick Rollens is calling a slow-down in the rate of intakes is statistically neglible. After the previoius "tsunami quarter" and after getting some criticism for the inappropriate usage of "tsunami" in letters to the Schafer Autism Report, he still makes reference to a "tidal wave of young children". Autism Diva has a hard time picturing this, it's easier to picture the "hordes of autistic children" from his earlier press release, though the reference is just as weird and demeaning.
More blogging the history of Rick Rollens' quarter press releases on the California DDS numbers. Beware - his press releases tend to contain highly spun descriptions of the data he finds. Don't believe any of it until you check it out yourself. You can see a change of policy from described here, restricting the services to people who would basically be the ones obviously needing services. This enacting of a stricter policy might be the reason that the rate of increase was slightly lower in the second quarter of this year, the most recent one, which he interprets as a sign that thimerosal use caused an autism epidemic.
More blogging the history of Rick Rollens' quarterly press releases on the California DDS numbers. This was the tsunami quarter. Never to be forgotten.
While it is commendable that Kirby takes the experience of parents so much into account, Evidence of Harm displays a limited understanding of what autism is... According to Kirby, autism is a "hellish, lost world" (page xii) and a "befuddling life" (page xiii) for a "damaged" child (page 180) and for her or his family (e.g., page 76). ... While Kirby's opening "Author's Note" states that he does not "endorse the biomedical treatments described in this book" (due to not "enough evidence"), the crucial role of education in treating autism is not sufficiently addressed
Does the Standards Editor review health-related claims made by nonprofit organizations in the same way that he reviews health-related claims made by pharmaceutical companies or health-care professionals? Are disclaimers required for health-related claims made in nonprofit organizations’ advertisements? Do the editors of the Times perceive any obligation to offer corrections or clarifications of potentially misleading medically-related information offered in advertisements, especially advertisements intended to persuade parents to subject their children to controversial and potentially dangerous medical treatments?
To cure what? Good question. Some believe that autism and its attendant comorbidities are interchangeable. That constipation and a different way of looking at things are the same thing. That dyspraxia and a lack of imaginative ability are the same thing. Others believe that the two things are quite separate. That the comorbidities that are attendant with autism in some people cannot be used to define autism. That the condition of being autistic bequeaths gifts as well as troubles (and it does bequeath troubles, lets not pretend it doesn’t) and that keeping the troubles is a small price to pay for keeping the gifts.
Is there an "epidemic" of autism? Are vaccinations or dental fillings to blame? Lately the media has loudly featured, with more noise than facts, the increase in reported cases of autism and the unproved allegation that the mercury derivatives in some vaccines and dental fillings have caused this increase. We seek ways to improve the condition of those with autism, but enthusiasm mustn't imperil sound science. Wrong answers can make things worse, wasting time and squandering resources.
Many researchers argue that the ethyl mercury in thimerosal is much less toxic than the methyl variety that is known to cause brain damage. They also contend that the apparent explosion of autism cases is largely an illusion, brought about by greater awareness of the disease and more aggressive diagnosis of it. In California, for example, autism levels shot up only after the psychiatric definition of autism was broadened in 1980. In 1990, Congress made autism one of a number of disabilities that qualified for federal funding, and states were obliged to report all cases. Thus alerted, doctors and school counselors suddenly began seeing more childhood autism than ever before.
Since about 1 million little Americans are born every quarter, and since an estimated 1 out of 166 people are thought to be on the autistic spectrum, something on the order of 6000 autistic Americans are coming into the world every quarter. Therefore, VAERS is finding about 2/3 of a percent of autistics. Can you, dear reader, see it might not be a good idea to try to track trends in autism incidence through a system that can't account for even one percent of autistic children? Trends in autism reported to VAERS clearly have far more to do with changes in the fraction of autistic children who are reported to VAERS than with actual changes in the number of autistic children.
The recent spate of media attention to the autism/vaccine controversy has been breathtaking, to put it diplomatically. Autism=poisoning campaigners’ vehemence and tendency to dismiss any scientific evidence that contradicts their pre-existing conclusions are discussed in Gardiner Harris’ and Anahad O’Connor’s recent article in the New York Times, On Autism’s Cause, It’s Parents vs. Research.
I’ve been very critical on this blog of a book called Evidence of Harm and its author David Kirby. The book claims to offer ‘evidence of harm’ in that American children have been systematically poisoned over the last few decades and ‘made’ autistic. Aside from the many factual errors in the book and aside from the poor science used to underpin it there are larger issues to do with making assumptions about autism and autistic people that this book doesn’t just use but actually swallows wholesale.
The lunacy over autism and the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine probably wouldn't exist but for a tiny yet massively-publicized British study that turned out to have been paid for by trial lawyers who -- you got it -- were suing vaccine makers. In fact, some of the children in the study were their clients! When the news got out, the chief author was fired (he now works for the vaccine conspiracy nuts), the medical journal disavowed the study, and the co-authors also disavowed their participation. None of which mattered a bit to the conspiracy-theorists, who prize "real life" X-Files episodes over children's health and blasted me with more hate mail than I'd received on any other subject to date.
Aitken has taken research that contradicts his previous position on the connection between MMR, bowel problems and regressive autism and selectively quoted from it to support his view that there is a connection between bowel problems and regressive autism, while ignoring the authors’ qualifying remarks about the reliability of parental memories concerning regression. There’s more. Aitken misrepresents a pilot study for a screening checklist as if it were an authoritative measure of autism incidence among 18 month old children.
When one is utterly certain that one has The Answer, it then starts to make a sort of sense to conclude that parents who do not subscribe to that "answer" and therefore do not treat their children accordingly are either deluded, careless, or even bad parents doing harm to their children and that they therefore deserve contempt. Parents with autistic children have enough problems; they don't need this one added on top of the difficulties they have to deal with every day raising their children.
Stark described the child’s death: “The Pennsylvania boy was receiving the intravenous form of chelation when he went into cardiac arrest. C.P.R. was administered but the boy died at a local hospital. An autopsy was inconclusive. More tests are planned. This story was only the latest round behind radical environmentalist claims linking autism to a preservative once used in children’s vaccines. The preservative, called thimerosal, contains mercury and is subject of an international campaign aiming to ban the substance. But the issue isn’t about autism. The larger goal is to shut down coal-fired power plants which environmental groups blame for mercury in the environment and which they consider a major cause for global warming.
I wrote "Evidence of Harm" in order to spark national debate over this very serious question. But I cannot debate myself. Critics of the thimerosal theory (and my book) have issued disapproving statements, posted blistering blogs, and even dropped off anonymous, vitriolic flyers at my public appearances. But no one will debate me face to face, at least not so far. (Editor's note: Sure, Mr. Kirby. When are you going to respond to Evidence of Venom?)
It has been dismaying to witness the extent to which uncritical reporters have been willing to spotlight Mr. Kennedy’s bombastic assertions, and the assertions of those who have enlisted him in their cause, with little apparent concurrent attempt made to consider the outlook of those whose lives are also touched by autism, but who have no reason to believe that they or their family members have been "mercury poisoned."
Kennedy is harming efforts to get parents to immunize their children for a variety of illnesses. Parents breathlessly exchange their worries to others about the soundness of vaccines, providing an excuse to avoid the trouble and expense of vaccinating children. A herd mentality can develop, as it seems no big deal to skip vaccinations, because lots of other people are doing it. Thus increases the risk that illnesses will spread through the population. A public health problem that should never happen.
How many times must it be said? Repeated studies have established no causal link between autism and thimerosal exposure from routine pediatric vaccines. The Institute of Medicine issued a report last month stating exactly that, as have several other health organizations including the National Immunization Program of the CDC. These reports are based on many peer-reviewed studies. Therefore, to continue to blame vaccines for autism simply because the onset of autistic symptoms coincides temporally with the pediatric vaccination schedule buys into a dangerous causal fallacy and may lead parents to opt out of having their children immunized. This will put them -- and their school and family contacts -- at increased risk for contracting a number of vaccine-preventable diseases.
After spirited dialogue between the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) and CBS, including CBS's threat to take unspecified legal action against ACSH for our criticism, CBS failed to correct the erroneous and dangerous message they sent to parents, even when vaccine experts associated with ACSH called upon them to do so. We can only conclude, therefore, that CBS News stands by its allegation that parents are putting their children at risk for developing autism if they have them properly immunized.
In a press release from rally sponsors characterized the press conference as “a secret press conference” and “an invitation-only meeting” It criticized the CDC for not notifying anyone from 13 organizations involved in the rally of the press conference and not inviting any of the national autism groups to speak, nor share any copies of what will be presented with these groups.” Well, to set the record straight, I was sent an announcement this morning from the Department of Health and Human Services with a call in number. Dan Olmstead, a UPI reporter who has written in support of the position that there is a connection between thimerosal and autism was in attendance -- so the characterization of secret is a little unfair.
Such viciousness is not only a problem with a few "loose cannons" peripheral to the anti-thimerosal campaign, but also with individuals who are right at the heart of it. I would like to encourage anyone associated with this crusade to raise these issues with their comrades in a meaningful way, for no good can come of a supposedly "humanitarian" effort that is fueled by so much emotional toxicity, and which casts as "enemies" so many people of good will.
Several years ago it was the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine that caused autism. Before that, secretin, a small protein secreted by the intestine, was proposed as a cure; many parents traveled hundreds of miles and spent thousands of dollars for secretin injections. Today, it's the mercury in vaccines. Doctors who play to such fears are not uncommon. The phenomenon of Dr. Kerry isn't new.
In his June 22 column, Craig Westover writes, "The thimerosal connection to autism is first about science." Actually, it's about hysteria and money. Hysteria distilled in the groupthink of autism advocacy groups that insist thimerosal causes autism -- contrary to all reputable science -- and cast anyone who says otherwise as a member of a global conspiracy to poison children.
More and more often, on various unrelated forums I read, it seems that anti-vaccination activism is becoming the trendy topic du jour. Decrying vaccinations as "dangerous" and "unproven" is hot these days; and worse yet, people are now advocating not immunizing children. I keep seeing the same claims posted again and again on all these different forums...sometimes, word-for-word the same, which suggests that people are copying the information from one place and pasting it into another, without actually doing any research to verify the authenticity of this information. This points, I think, to the same kind of credulity that lets people believe in the Loch Ness monster and the notion that human beings were created by space aliens from the tenth planet who used us as slaves to mine gold, but at the same time not believe that the world is round. Credulity pisses me off, as long-term readers of this journal will no doubt have noticed. So I did some legwork. I visited a bunch of anti-vaccination Web sites, and made a list of the claims I've seen posted on many of these sites, and then tracked down the truth. I've invested, at this point, about seven or eight hours into looking up each of these claims, reading very dry articles, doing Google searches, looking at links, and compiling an assessment of whether the claims are true or false. As it turns out, not all the claims are false. Some of them are true, though often not true in the way the activists campaigning against vaccination might think. And I found some surprises, too.
"If this is snake oil and what they're doing is medicine, then I choose to practice snake oil. And I have no embarrassment with it," said Buttar. "If this was a sham then I'll tell you what. This is the best sham that has ever been put on. I think you'd have to agree with that... Why would I waste my time proving something that I already know is working innately?"
What is it you think you are curing? If your child doesn’t smear, or headbutt or have constipation – does that mean they are not autistic? No. It means they’re not constipated or headbutting or smearing anymore. If thats your child then I offer you my sincere congratulations. I don’t want your child to be in pain any more than I want my child in pain. But I would urge you to be very careful – your child almost certainly still thinks and interacts in ways that are very different than you do. Would that be enough justification for you to carry on ‘curing’? If so, why?
Perhaps more than any other historical nostrum -- from the shark-cartilage cure for cancer to magnetic therapy for pain -- the theories about mercury poisoning and autism convince more parents each day, despite a lack of clear scientific evidence.
Cyanide is deadly poison Who are these horrid people who knowingly inject compounds containing cyanide into helpless handicapped children? What is their motive? Only the most hard-hearted hater of humanity would ever say that cyanide was safe enough to be injecting into babies! And what about Cobalt? Its very name comes from the German kobold, which means evil spirit! That must tell you something about how toxic cobalt is!
The Daily Mail is not an anti-vaccine paper, but it does ask for the opinions of anti-vaccinators. The reason for this is, as many other have previously noted, that it believes the sky is continually falling in. So, if they think babies are dying from a disease that is preventable by a vaccine, they will welcome the vaccine and revel in the thought of a “killer disease”. Mere days later though, the same paper can then run a scare story entitled Babies to be given 25 vaccinations in a year, apparently without any awareness of their previous headlines: Babies are to be given 25 vaccinations in a year in a move which sparked fears of ‘immunisation overload’.
It's clear that Dan Olmsted believes vaccines - most likely mercury IN vaccines - play a role in autism. He's become no better than Thomas Maugh of the Los Angeles Times who prints the claims of Rick Rollens without verification and has written a number of other articles sympathetic to anti-thimerosal activists. The bias is becoming more obvious in every article he puts forth. But in this case, Olmsted has gone from speculating or presenting a case to basically spouting nonsensical anti-vaccine rhetoric. And that's terribly disappointing.
Any cases more than ten years old would make neither the state nor Statens Serums Institut liable according to Danish law, and, since Statens Serums Institut stopped using preservatives in their vaccinations in 1992, there would be no liability even if a definite link between autism and vaccinations were to be found now. I repeat, there would, under Danish law, be no liability for childhood vaccinations containing thimerosal causing autism.
So, David Kirby’s (who offers an ‘even handed account’ that ‘doesn’t offer his own verdict’ and which ‘walks the middle line’ and thus explores ‘both sides’ of the controversy remember) website is designed and built by someone who blames mercury for autism. How very impartial your propaganda is turning out to be Mr Kirby.
Citizen Cain gets results! David Kirby has quickly responded via e-mail to my recent needling about his previous lack of response to my refutation (in my opinion) of his Huffington Post article. This article argued that autism among young children in California has decreased recently, possibly in response to reductions in the mercury content of vaccines. I argued that the California data in fact show continued increases in reported autism among young children in California.
When a study revealed that mercury in childhood vaccines may have caused autism in thousands of kids, the government rushed to conceal the data -- and to prevent parents from suing drug companies for their role in the epidemic.
The story "Deadly Immunity" has been updated to correct inaccuracies in the original version (three sets of corrections).
A recent Cochrane systematic review concluded that there was 'no credible evidence' of a link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) and either inflammatory bowel disease or autism. The virtually unanimous verdict of the media was that this review, following a series of studies coming to the same conclusion, meant that the scare launched by Andrew Wakefield's now notorious Lancet paper in 1998 was finally over. Not quite.
A 5-year-old autistic boy who went into cardiac arrest in his doctor's office died as a result of the controversial chelation therapy he was receiving as a treatment for his autism. The manner of death of Abubakar Tariq Nadama, of Monroeville, has been listed as accidental while the investigation continues. The findings released by the Butler County coroner's office don't say whether the treatment itself is dangerous or the child died from the way the treatment was administered.
A new ruling that a controversial drug therapy for autistic children was responsible for the death of a 5-year-old Monroeville boy is likely to intensify debates about the treatment's safety and effectiveness. The Butler County Coroner's Office ruled that Abubakar Nadama suffered cardiac arrest because of an injection of EDTA, a chelation therapy drug administered to him in October by Dr. Roy E. Kerry at the Advanced Integrative Medicine Center in Portersville.
Tara Parker-Pope's September 7th Wall Street Journal article regarding the unproven link between the vaccine preservative thimerosal and autism included factual errors and left out important points. The result was a mixed message as to whether or not there is just cause for parental concern.
Meanwhile, critics like Steven Milloy, a FOXNews.com columnist and author of "Junk Science Judo: Self-defense Against Health Scares and Scams," says emotions are driving the thimerosal scare. "I’m not aware of any credible, peer-reviewed study that has proved this link," he said, adding that other studies, like the Geiers’, can be "plucked apart for their scientific methodology."
I am concerned that all the attention paid to thimerosal takes the focus away from a much larger issue: We Don't Know why autism is on the rise. Too much thimerosal-mongering distracts us from a true scientific investigation of what is really causing all the autism. Too often, we need to know answers right away and we (the public) use this impulse to latch on to the first explanation we can find. This does science a disservice. You'll see from the letters that follow that I take much heat from consumer advocates on this subject. I don't take it personally, and in fact I welcome these letters. I am concerned, however, that the vehemence is misdirected towards me. We are on the same side, after all.
The real story is that the autism epidemic is a myth: a combination of skewed statistics, junk science and incomplete reporting... "The [autism] diagnosis is being used more broadly than it used to be. There are some very non-specific diagnoses that have been used in the past: ‘behavioral disorder,’ for example," says the CDC’s Roebuck. "There are kids who 20 years ago would not have been called autistic who now are being called autistic, but they are the same kids."
Just as the Mayo Clinic study of autism diagnostic trends "will probably not end the debate" over vaccines, neither will other analyses that undermine the argument that autism is iatrogenic and evidence of negligence. Class-action lawsuits demanding jury trials distort public discourse about autism and encourage demonization of medical professionals, conspiracist thinking, and perfunctory dismissal of non-actionable contributions to autism. Plaintiffs, aspiring plaintiffs and their advocates have not persuaded the larger scientific community of the validity of their hypotheses. Failing that, they resort to proselytizing the lay public by promulgating unproven generalizations and speculations as if they were scientific facts.
Following Brian Deer's Channel 4 Dispatches investigative documentary on November 18 2004, visitors to this website had their say.
A year ago in May 2004 David Kirby was writing for the New York Times. He travelled to Puerta Vallarta to check out the gay tourist scene and write about it. The article describes him as someone who writes frequently about travel... In June he wrote about another beach, Bradley Beach in New Jersey, a place to buy a home. In October he wrote a book review about a travelers guide to good manners. Then he became an expert in mercury and autism.
The real conspirators here are the Kennedys of the world, the 150 websites, and all those desperate to kill off childhood vaccinations. Sadly, they’re also killing off kids. As more frightened parents refuse to have their children vaccinated, "‘hot spots’ are cropping up across the U.S.," observed a recent article in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, such that "outbreaks of measles, whooping cough, mumps, rubella and diphtheria are reoccurring, costing hundreds of lives and hospitalizing thousands more."
During the first half of the 20th century, polio struck fear in the American public. It crippled children. It left people breathing with iron lungs. It killed thousands. Mass immunization put an end to the suffering. Small pox killed 300 million people around the globe in the 20th century. It, too, was eradicated through the use of vaccines, as were many other diseases. Vaccines save lives. They save the populace of entire communities, of entire countries. In an age where any country is a short airplane ride away, vaccines are more necessary than ever.
What in the world? How is it that these hair samples from presumably randomly selected neurologically NORMAL babies could have rates of mercury up past 100 times the statistically normed level for children age 1-5? Talk about mercury moms! Who are the parents of these kids with 30 to 100 times the normal amount of mercury in their baby hair? Why in the world did this paper call these comparably very high levels "normal" and call the autistic babies' hair levels "reduced"?
Notable for the comments thread.
Fombonne debunked the autism epidemic myth, and MMR and thimerosal autism causation myths at the UCD MIND institute this evening... Thanks, Dr. Fombonne. Thanks MIND institute for hosting him (even though you are part of the problem).
The September 2004 issue of Molecular Psychiatry (may not have been available at your local news-stand) contained an article by Dr. M. Hornig et al titled, "Neurotoxic effects of postnatal thimerosal are mouse strain dependent". Athough the title doesn't give any hints (other than the mention of thimerosal), the article is all about autism. This struck me as strange, since I had a hard time imagining how you would tell if a mouse was autistic. But, I digress.
In 2003, a special master who presided over a case of alleged vaccine injury issued a report that severely criticized Dr. Geier's analysis of a case. The ruling is espcially noteworthy because the special master referred to him as "a professional witness in areas for which he has no training, expertise, and experience" and listed nine other cases in which Geier's expert testimony was given "no weight."
Journalists agree that the thimerosal story is one of the most explosive they’ve ever encountered. In addition to the vitriolic response Anahad O’Connor drew from readers, he also said he received a number of e-mails praising him and Harris from fellow reporters who had been interested in covering the thimerosal controversy, but had "gotten scared away from really tackling the subject . . . they were afraid of getting hate mail."
So Mr. Kennedy spent a whole lot of time being told what to write by Lujene Clark, who seems to have a real problem with understanding what autism is and refuses to believe that there isn't a conspiracy here. And Kennedy used his name to promote more fear and panic among parents, though unwittingly, it seems. On the metafilter blog, in a discussion of the Kennedy article, a parent of an 18 month old toddler expressed fear over the fact that his child had just been vaccinated. Great.
Promotional website for the book fueling the 2005 vaccine panic.
No proof that mercury poisoning either is, or causes, autism. There may be a link but what that link is or even if it exists at all is pure conjecture. In the meantime, what isn’t conjecture is the amount of money Kirby, Generation Rescue et al make from manipulating the emotions of parents into buying hysterical books on the subject and purchasing thousands of dollars worth of chelation ‘therapy’.
In his determination to provide an account that is sympathetic to the parents Kirby enters into the grip of the same delusion and ends up in the same angry and paranoid universe into which campaigners have descended, alleging phone taps and other forms of surveillance as they struggle against sinister conspiracies between health authorities and drug companies. Yet, through his laboriously detailed account he inadvertently exposes the combination of junk scientists, opportunist politicians, and ambulance chasing lawyers who have jumped on the antivaccine bandwagon.
The NAA is the not the big autism organization in the US, that would be the ASA (Autism Society of America). The NAA has Boyd Haley and Andrew Wakefield on it's scientific advisory board. (Wakefield has been essentially disgraced in England and has moved to Texas to keep going on his dead end measles-cause-autism theory.) Boyd Haley doesn't know what he's talking about when he says their is certainly an association between the use of mercury in vaccinations given to babies and children and autism. Mercury can only cause autism if the child is exposed to it in his or her mother's womb when he or she was very tiny (3 - 8 weeks into gestation). The NAA is not concerned with that possible cause, they want to prove that vaccines caused and "autism epidemic" that never happened.
For every parent eager to "recover" their child and "lose the diagnosis," there are autistic citizens who will always have the diagnosis and will always wear the label, and who are affected by the manner in which that label is bandied about by those who hate what it represents to them.
I am under no obligation to prove or disprove your suspicion that my family members have been contaminated. I am under no obligation to explain or defend my family's private medical decisions to you, or to provide you with anecdotal information about our personal lives.
Vaccine controversies, real or imagined, can do real harm to the public. There was a time in this country, before we had the vaccines we have now, when people regularly suffered, even died, from influenza, smallpox, measles and polio. Barely more than 50 years ago, going to the beach during a polio epidemic was dangerous and terrifying. Vaccines have changed our lives for the better, profoundly. Vaccines are also one of the great social justice achievements. Poor people suffer much more when they're sick than rich people do; when a population manages to reduce or eliminate the incidence of a disease, it's poor and oppressed people whose lives change most for the better. So while it's always important to question our medical and scientific establishments, asking the hard questions, it's also important not to throw out the great progress we have made.
Michelle Dawson is an autistic adult who is a member of Dr. Laurent Mottron’s research team at the Autism Clinic of Hôpital Rivière-des-Prairies in Montreal. Ms. Dawson is well-known for her trenchant writings on the history of behaviorism, and for her role as an intervener in the Auton case, decided by the Supreme Court of Canada last November. I here reproduce, with permission, Michelle Dawson’s response to Craig Westover’s reply to St. Paul Saga.
A great deal of ongoing research seeks to identify causes of autism, including investigations of genetics, birth trauma, increase in maternal age, metabolic and environmental factors. No research exists that conclusively proves that autism is a consequence of mercury toxicity. However, a 2004 Institute of Medicine review of five large epidemiological studies did conclude that there is no causal association between thimerosal and autism... Environmental protection is a noble goal. Exposure to potentially toxic substances should be minimized, and viable alternatives for mercury-based preservatives in vaccines should be developed. However, in their efforts to draw attention to environmental and public health problems, advocates and journalists should also be careful not to disseminate inaccurate information about autism.
The Geiers’ study was mentioned by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in his extensive essay, Tobacco Science and the Thimerosal Scandal (upon which his shorter article, Deadly Immunity was based)... Tobacco Science and the Thimerosal Scandal was published on June 22, 2005. Yet, according to the Geiers’ report, "The online public access VAERS database (updated through August 31, 2005) was examined using Microsoft Access" (and) "The online public access CDDS database (updated through October 4, 2005) was examined using Microsoft Access." If Kennedy’s report is accurate, one must conclude that the Geiers determined the results of their study prior to conducting their analysis of data upon which it was based.
In their increasingly forlorn looking attempt to get some kind (any kind!) of connection between thiomersal and autism, the Geiers launched a new paper... These sources are terrible. The VAERS is not intended for this purpose, a fact spelled out in big bold type on its page: ".....Therefore, VAERS collects data on any adverse event following vaccination, be it coincidental or truly caused by a vaccine. The report of an adverse event to VAERS is not documentation that a vaccine caused the event."
Even if the data from these databases were more useful for determining the incidence of autism, the way the Geiers did their analysis is utterly laughable. Here's what they did. (Any statisticians, please chime in here.) Basically, they plotted the data as cases against time period by quarter and then used a statistics package to do linear regression of the data from 1994 to the end of 2002 and then to do it again from the beginning of 2002 until October 2005. They then compared the slopes of the two lines derived from linear regression for each graph and concluded that the slope of the line after 2002 had changed from positive (increasing) to negative (decreasing).
"Perhaps more troubling is that the ad implies that those of us whose names and institutions are prominently displayed are convinced that there is a causal connection between mercury exposure and autism risk. However, we do not believe there is a proven connection between mercury and autism... GenerationRescue's advertisement, at first appearance an innocuous gesture of appreciation, may actually mislead the public into thinking that the mercury-autism hypothesis has stronger support in the scientific literature than it actually does."
Promotes the concept that "childhood neurological disorders such as autism, Asperger's, ADHD/ADD, speech delay, sensory integration disorder, and many other developmental delays are all misdiagnoses for mercury poisoning."
The Amish, and their neighbors the Mennonites, have been studied by geneticists for some time because they are a genetically isolated community. Although they accept converts, they don't get very many and so they don't get much "new blood" (genes). In addition, they don't move around much and their members tend to marry within the community - those who don't often leave and join their "English" (as they call people outside their communities, regardless of ethnicity) spouse outside of the community.
Proponents of the myriad autism causation hypotheses - mercury, vaccines, gluten, casein, plasticizers, etc. - all insist that exposure to these substances cause autism in a subset of children. None of them has said (or even implied) that any of these substances causes autism in every child who is exposed to them. The reason they don't (and can't) say that is that it would be painfully easy to refute such a claim. It is obvious that the majority of children exposed to these substances do not develop autism - since even the highest estimates of autism prevalence can only claim that a third of a percent of children are autistic. This leaves 99.7% of children - most of whom have the same exposures as the autistic children - who are not autistic.
Mr. Kennedy may believe that the epidemiological studies which he disparages are inferior to the studies provided by his informants, but he offers no support for his claim that they are "fraudulent" -- a claim that borders on libel against their authors. I am one parent who regards the allegedly "fraudulent" and "flimsy" studies he so roundly rejects as far more credible than the studies produced with funding from SafeMinds, the founders of which have been publicizing their pre-existing conclusions about autism causation and culpability for years.
Andrew Wakefield, the doctor at the centre of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine controversy, was criticised by a high court judge last week for trying to silence critics by warning them that he was suing for libel while at the same time failing to progress the case. Mr Justice Eady said that he was quite satisfied that Dr Wakefield, who now works in Austin, Texas, "wished to extract whatever advantage he could from the existence of the proceedings while not wishing to progress them or to give the defendants an opportunity of meeting the claims."
Kirby is in the habit of not responding to the comments posted to him on the Huffingtonpost blog. Perhaps he doesn't even read them. There have been outright requests from those commenting on his other blog posts for him to answer specific questions. He has never answered those questions on Huffingtonpost or in any other public forum. They are still waiting for him to come back and answer on the British Medical Journal's Rapid Response board where Kirby posted that he would come back and answer questions posed to him there months ago... (such as) "Research? Did you ask about research on children and chelation? But there has been research on children for lead poisoning (what they now claim the child who died during chelation actually had). Did Kirby check on these studies of the chelation on children for lead?"
This study once again hammers home the inherent unreliability of the VAERS database as a tool for longitudinal studies of the rate of vaccine-related complications. Not only can anyone access it and enter reports without verification, but there is no denominator, which means testing for causality is not even possible with VAERS. Worse, as the authors point out, the rate of reporting of autism as a complication of vaccines is easily influenced by numerous external factors. For example, the authors pointed out that 75% of the autism reports in VAERS between 1990 and 2001 were received not long after the the publication of the the now utterly and completely discredited Wakefield study that claimed to find a link between the MMR vaccine and autism and that 2/3 were received after the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that thimerosal be removed from vaccines. And it's not just autism. For example, in 2002, half the reports to the VAERS database about mental retardation were related to litigation.
In Friday's piece, Dr. Gordon in essence impugns the research of all investigators who accept funding from pharmaceutical companies solely on the basis that it may interfere with their objectivity. While conflicts of interest are certainly a legitimate concern when it comes to evaluating the validity of research sponsored by entities that can profit from the results of that research, Dr. Gordon is quite inconsistent in applying his standard.
Some of the comments coming from Generation Rescue’s ‘Rescue Angels’ are getting scarier and scarier... "Anyone who is not chelating to get rid of the mercury is guilty of child abuse. Every doctor who is not telling their patients to chelate is guilty of malpractice." ... Now aside from the factual errors, isn’t that the most frighteningly, almost fascist, shivers-down-your-spine-hair-stand-on-end-uh-oh-here-come-the-fundie-whacko’s genuinely disturbing thing you’ve read in awhile?
It is possible for an unvaccinated child to be autistic and to regress into autism right around the same time they would normally be vaccinated. My child was all of the proof I needed but was I the only one? I don't remember talking to any parents with unvaccinated children with autism let alone second or third siblings. There were a few parents that I'd lost contact with after they went off to have more children. What happened to them? It turns out there are plenty of other unvaccinated children on the spectrum. Many of them siblings of fully vaccinated children with autism. Why hadn't I heard of them before? For the answer to that, all I needed to do was think about the difficulties I faced while coming to terms with my situation and publicly admitting. I WAS WRONG!
The mercury hypothesis has taken on many of the appearances of a false religion or cult and to some degree it serves them well. Take a substance that we all know to be dangerous and it makes it easy to divide the world into two groups, good and evil, pro-mercury or anti-mercury. The anti-mercury underdogs are persecuted by the government and pharmaceutical companies and a few rogue scientists, willing to step up and speak out against the establishment and the evils of mercury, are brought to the pulpit to preach.
One thing the mercury-autism crowd goes out of its way to claim is that it's not "anti-vaccine." However, their rhetoric on the issue of mercury as a suspected cause of autism belies that claim, as does their association with others whose rhetoric is even more heated, calling autism a "silent Holocaust" and those who consider the evidence being touted as "proof" of a link between mercury in vaccines in autism "autism holocaust deniers." Even at best, their overheated hype of very weak to nonexistent evidence for mercury in childhood vaccines as an etiological agent resulting in autism encourages the real anti-vaccination crowd, making the anti-thimerosal activists in some cases "useful idiots" to the true cause of eliminating vaccines. At their worst, they encourage quackery and the peddling of bogus "cures" for autism like chelation therapy to desperate parents.
Other than UFOs, there may be no hotter topic for conspiracy theorists than the claim that childhood vaccines cause autism. There are more than 150 Web sites devoted to fingering various vaccines for the severe neurological disorder. Many blame a mercury-based preservative called thimerosal, used in some vaccines, while others blame the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, although it never used thimerosal. The only commonality is that autism appears shortly after the period during which childhood vaccinations are given. The theorists take this "post hoc" fallacy, add suggestive quotations (often taken out of context), toss in a few "experts" and claim cover-up -- so far, unconvincingly.
Imus is publicizing the view that mercury in thimerosal, a preservative used in vaccines, is causing the purported autism epidemic. To accept this proposal, one must discount a number of studies that have diligently sought to prove the connection: None has found a theoretical, clinical, or epidemiologic link.
Its no secret that like a few others I was once someone who believed that my daughter had been injured by vaccines and that that injury had resulted in autism. Its also no secret that I no longer believe that to be true. There are many reasons why not. Some are logical reasons, some are medical reasons, some are intuitive. The logical reasons are the overwhelming evidence against a vaccine/autism causative connection and the underwhelming evidence to support that theory. The medical reasons are private and will remain so. Suffice it to say there are better labs than Doctors Data and Great Plains around. What about the intuitive reasons?...
Journalists’ reluctance to critically examine anti-thimerosal campaigners’ claims results in increased willingness by parents to put all children at risk of infectious disease by refusing to vaccinate their own, and increased temptation to subject autistic children to expensive, unproven procedures. Journalists’ failure to seek input from autistic individuals, or from parents who do not attribute their children’s autism to poisoning, puts the majority of autistic citizens and their families at risk of continued marginalization. Many autistic people are offended by stigma-perpetuating assertions that they are “toxic.” Nationwide preoccupation with this campaign diverts attention from the need for educational, housing, employment, and anti-discrimination initiatives, and other issues affecting the quality of life of all autistic citizens and their families.
My post stating that I was thinking of moving to another blogging platform was made on October 28. Then, on November 3, J. B. Handley registered oracknows.com in his name and redirected all traffic to it to his Generation Rescue website. Apparently, J. B. is no longer content just to comment here occasionally when I point out that the evidence does not support his contention that mercury causes autism. Apparently, now he feels the need to trick people looking for my blog.
Thimerosal, the ethylmercury-based preservative found in childhood vaccines, can increase the risk of autism-like damage in mice, according to a report published online June 8 in advance of publication in Molecular Psychiatry. However, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Immunization Safety Review Committee released a statement on May 18 that scientific evidence supports no association with autism for either thimerosal-containing or measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccines.
As the mother of two children who received an autism diagnosis at 2, I have seen fads, cures and theories about causation come and go... I urge my fellow parents to seek the science behind any purported treatment for autism and, most important, to educate ourselves on the distinction between science and pseudoscience.
For most in the autism-mercury movement, it is beyond their ability to fully understand or assimilate the scientific data. This does not reflect poorly on them - they simply lack the education and experience to do it, just as I lack the education and experience to repair my car's transmission (or even understand how it works). However, the autism-mercury movement does have people in it who should know what the data mean.
The mercury-containing preservative Thimerosal has been removed from all vaccines given to children, except for tiny amounts in a few remaining flu vaccines; in any case, it has not been associated with any neurological disorder in children of any age as a result of vaccinations. Analysis of literally hundreds of thousands of study patients has confirmed the lack of any association between children's vaccines and neurological impairments, including autism-spectrum disorders. The only people still not convinced of the truth of these statements are parents of autistic children, whose judgment is understandably clouded, and plaintiff's attorneys, whose "judgment" is based solely on how much money they can extort from drug companies over unfounded fears.
Last night on Comedy Central’s "The Daily Show", Robert F. Kennedy Junior admitted that he’s not qualified to talk about vaccines or autism: "It’s not really my area," a crestfallen Kennedy admitted to host Jon Stewart. And despite repeated questioning by Stewart, Kennedy would not be drawn on why ABC’s autism special did not support Kennedy’s accusation of a link between autism and mercury in vaccines: "I’ve no idea what happened."
… he said defensively, the desperation showing in his voice as he sidestepped why ABC did not buy into the scaremongering tactics of a lawyer, but had instead chosen to listen to the qualified scientists on the issue
Robert Kennedy has been Huffington Posting again, this time suggesting that we study the Amish to see if vaccines are a cause of autism. It was encouraging to note that many people in the comments could immediately see the flaws in Kennedy’s reasoning. I’ll repeat a few of them below.
As you can see, caseload in the 3-5 year old group increased during every quarter, at a fairly constant rate, even as exposure to mercury in vaccines was decreasing. Completely the opposite of the picture portrayed by Kirby! Moreover, caseload over this period increased by 38 percent among 3-5 year olds, but by only 34 percent among 6-9 year olds, although even by mid-2005 nearly all of the children in this category were born prior to 1999. If the thimerosal-autism theory were correct, caseloads should have been increasing faster in the 6-9 year old category, in which there has been essentially no change in thimerosal exposure, than among the 3-5 year old category, in which thimerosal exposure has plummeted.
To save vaccines, Congress passed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act in 1986, a law which included the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Now, when parents claim that their children were harmed by routinely recommended childhood vaccines, they take their case to "vaccine court" where scientists, epidemiologists and clinicians review data and decide whether the claim is valid. The system brings reason and fairness to decisions about vaccine safety, says Offet.
The autism-mercury "connection" stirs unquietly in its grave. It has been shot, stabbed, hacked to bits and incinerated by scientific data and yet still it rises from its grave to seek out new victims and drink their blood ... or drain their wallets. Faced with a new onslaught of scientific data - published in the past month - the Renfields of this New Age Dracula have fanned out to make the world safe for the coming of their Dread Lord.
Although many anti-thimerosal crusaders only publicly express concern about the preservative, there are also many who oppose vaccination per se. Controversy is perpetuated by anti-vaccinationist demagogues (2) who are regular participants in anti-thimerosal PR efforts, and who regard the thimerosal issue as a nail to be driven into a coffin eventually containing all vaccination programs worldwide.
As it stands, your website is responsible for perpetuating untruths about the nature and causes of autism that can only serve to promulgate negative stigma and reduce funding into valid interventions... I don’t have an issue with you claiming that autism may in some cases be resultant from an environmental insult such as Mercury. It is your unfounded and belligerent claim of fact that bothers me so much.
It is disrespectful to automatically discredit those who seek to discuss disability issues publicly but who are unwilling to participate in games of medical show-and-tell, or to publicly portray their lives in devastating terms, or to agree that they or their family members are poisoned and in need of detoxification. Nonetheless, autistic citizens who dispute the conclusions and tactics of autism-equals-poisoning crusaders are commonly met with demands to produce diagnostic documentation, accusations that they are "pseudo-autistics," and outright contempt. Dissenting parents have been called "in denial," "clueless," "ignorant," and other such insults.
Kennedy's correlation of increases in autism diagnoses with changes in the vaccination schedule disregards sociological factors contributing to this phenomenon -- broadened diagnostic criteria and the success of stepped-up efforts to educate clinicians about autism. He accuses government agencies of "turning a blind eye" to studies supposedly incriminating thimerosal at the same time that he disparages studies that do not conform to his prejudices.
While there are parents who have reason to believe that their own children have suffered from vaccine reactions, there are also many who don't. Although schools are facing an increase of students with autism and related diagnoses, this is hardly proof of an "epidemic." "The autism epidemic" is not a fact, but an attention-getting rhetorical device utilizing a word generally reserved for infectious disease, implying contamination, expressing and inducing fear.
One can hardly hold these parents at fault for seeking appropriate health care for their own children. Nonetheless, whether or not their conclusions about autism causation are valid, is it any wonder that others might be turned off by such judgmental evangelism?
We received dozens of letters, both pro and con, about Chris Bushnell’s article, "Diagnosis: Hype." Below is a small sampling: "The author is either intellectually challenged or on the payroll of the drug companies, just like his main source for this article." (Evelyn Pringle) "Oooh, I could just hug you all. I have been trying to battle this stupid autism epidemic hype for at least a year, nearly every day." (Camille Clark)
A commentary on vaccine safety issues written by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. that appeared in Salon and Rolling Stone is rife with factual errors and distortions. Although there are numerous errors in Kennedy's piece that deserve correction and clarification, this letter focuses only on the errors pertaining to the Institute of Medicine.
By impugning the scientists at the Centers for Disease Control, disregarding the large body of evidence showing no association, and relying on fringe science, Kennedy truly rivals the Bush administration in its unscrupulousness regarding global warming. One feels one can only wait helplessly while more money and effort are put toward research that's already been published and replicated.
The article "Deadly immunity" by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. centers around the June 2000 CDC meeting at Simpsonwood, the transcript of which supposedly reveals that a CDC study shows that thimerosal was the cause of childhood autism. However, many of the central and most damning statements in the article are mischaracterizations of some participants' statements.
We need to put the supposed thimerosal-autism link into perspective. As childhood deaths from measles, mumps, rubella, smallpox, polio, hepatitis A and B, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and Haemophilus influenzae type B decrease, fear of side effects from vaccination increases. Over the years a large number of illnesses and conditions have been credited to immunizations because of timing. Pretty nearly anything that can be diagnosed in children has been linked to immunizations because people can't help thinking that events that happen around the same time must be related. But a temporal relationship does not demonstrate causality.
The conspiracy believers have taken their best shot -- and that was your best shot -- and neither document quoted by Kennedy shows any conspiracy or cover-up. And frankly, taking a few out-of-context quotes from a 199 page transcript as proof of a conspiracy is pretty stupid anyway, but when the transcript reveals a group of honest scientists trying, with integrity, to grapple a difficult problem, it gets beyond stupid and is just thoroughly dishonest. It’s pathetic, frankly. If there really was a cover up, wouldn’t they have something better than this?
I object to the exploitation of parents and autistic people by ambulance chasers, political opportunists, and profiteers who market 'autism treatments' for which insufficient evidence exists to support inflated claims of efficacy. 'Treatments' all too often have painful consequences glorified as 'healing crises' rather than unnecessary suffering. I am highly suspicious of practitioners and mail-order laboratories who justify keeping children trapped on a neverending merry-go-round of 'detoxification,' pill-popping, shots and intravenous treatments.
QUESTION: With 10,000 children receiving the treatment and one (1) death, what is the mortality rate per million children treated? ANSWER: 100 deaths per million treated. QUESTION: If the actual number of children being chelated is less than 10,000, will the number of deaths per million treated go up, go down or stay the same? ANSWER: Go up.
As you can see, the autism-mercury movement is not exactly in touch with reality as we know it. In this one post (authored by a prominent member of the autism-mercury movement), we see the following:  Excusing a person who is clearly profiteering from the parents of autistic children because he is "on our side".  Accepting the unsupported (by anything!) "word" of a man that the cream he makes and sells at exorbitant cost is the only treatment that will cure the mercury poisoning that he diagnoses in children during an $800 consultation.  "It works because I say it works!" - even the author could not explain how they knew that the TD-DMPS was absorbed, other than to say that they tried it on themselves and "knew".
 Discouraging people from discussing treatment failures. Both the "if you gave it less than 18 weeks, that may not have been enough time" and the apt "[d]on't roach other people's buzz" comments encourage the "proper" mindset - if the treatment fails, it's your fault and "we don't want any negative thinking".
I don't see any reason to try to convince the autism-mercury believers of the error of their ways - I don't go in for pointless effort or hopeless causes. Even if we had incontrovertible proof, they would pass it off as "biased", "flawed" or "corrupt". Yet they continually bleat that they want "more studies". Why? They haven't believed the ones so far. Yet, we cannot give up the struggle against ignorance because there are still people out there who are looking for answers (the autism-mercury movement has found their answer) and they need a rational counterbalance against the autism-mercury dogma.
Conflict of interest is something that the supporters of various "alternative" autism hypotheses throw around a lot. They use it to explain why studies fail to show a connection between thimerosal and autism. They use it to explain why we should pay no attention to the dozens of excellent scientists and doctors who say that there is no connection. They use it to explain why nobody is doing research that finds a connection between mercury and autism. But they don't use it to explain why many of the people on their "side" are doing what they do.
Reading back over some comments on this and other blogs, I see a pattern emerging. There are nasty language, ad hominem attacks and exasperation coming from both sides of the issue, but autism-mercury advocates are far more likely to resort to accusations of:  Lying (2] Conspiracy (a form of lying)  Cover-up (another form of lying)  Bias/Conflict of Interest (leading to - you guessed it - lying!)
the studies by Geier could not establish a causal relation between MMR and autism because of their methods -- such as using statistical measures incorrectly and omitting facts about their research approach. Similar problems were found in six other studies by Geier and one study by Blaxill, which reported findings of an association between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism. In addition, Geier’s expertise in neurological disorders has been questioned.
There are two questions that need to be answered regarding government protection of drug companies from lawsuits claiming thimerosal caused autism. First, are these lawsuits probably without merit? Second, do these lawsuits threaten to bankrupt a vital industry?
When I wrote about my son's autism last year, I quoted several experts on the possible origins of this sudden rise in children diagnosed with the disorder. I briefly mentioned the idea that mercury in childhood vaccines was the primary culprit, and then dismissed it
Once upon a time (in fact less than 40 years ago) psychologists ‘knew’ that homosexuality was only an illness that could be ‘cured’. How do you think that -- at the time -- that made gay people feel? Imagine a blogging community of parents desperate cure their gay adolescents (who ‘know’ that their children are just ill) -- would gay adults be horribly offended and fight back? Or would they sit on their hands and do nothing? For us parents, the outcome of this debate is very important – our kids depend upon it. For those people who are autistic, the outcome of this debate is absolutely crucial. Their continued survival depends upon it. I ask you once more: in an area of such vital importance, is the method really unimportant when the method denigrates so much? Is it something to be brushed aside as we smile indulgently at its instigator when its tantamount to an attempt to control a debate that affects peoples very right to exist?
Real doctors know, of course, vaccine-fuelled faux-controversies are not unique to New Zealand. In the US, a similar non-debate to the one taking place here has been on whether vaccines cause childhood autism. Here again, the actual conversation involves only a tiny fringe of anti-capitalist types and some ideologically sympathetic news editors, along with this being America the trial lawyers, who have somehow convinced 4100 vulnerable parents to bring a risible class-action suit against the pharmaceutical industry.
Autism, vaccines link? David Kirby, author, "Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic"; Dr. Harvey Fineberg, president, The Institute of Medicine
This hotly disputed question will only burn brighter as more biological evidence surfaces to suggest a link. But a definitive answer might take years.
Kirby's account of the tantrums and tirades of anti-mercury campaigners suggests that there is some danger that the public's good will is being abused and exploited as a license to behave badly. He reports the experience of the Wall Street Journal, which found itself confronted with a 'hornets' nest of moral intimidation' when it published a critical commentary on the anti-thimerosal campaign. Journalists received threats and harassment, and prominent supporters of childhood immunisation were 'targeted as baby-killers and compared to Hitler' (5).
A lot of references and a nice index do not necessarily indicate "meticulous research," just voluminous research. It is quite possible to do a ton of research and come up with an utterly incorrect conclusion if you berry-pick the data and ignore data that does not support your thesis, as certain political pundits have proven time and time again.
A Californian couple is convinced chelation therapy has alleviated the symptoms of their autistic son, who they believe got his autism from mercury in the thimerosal preservative in a vaccine... Why do this child’s parents think chelation made him better? Impossible to say, but incorrect initial diagnosis of autism springs to mind. Or maybe they are over-optimistic in reporting improvements. In any case, you can’t draw any conclusions from just one story or from anecdotes in general.
Remember the "Good Old Days", when the only people who suffered from mercury-induced insanity were those who had been exposed to a significant amount of it? Today, through the medium of the Internet, we have thousands of virtual mercury-poisoning "victims", not to mention those additional thousands who have lost their minds from worrying about mercury poisoning.
Describing Kennedy's article as "pseudoscience" is simplistic at best. When science enters into the political arena of sound bites and partisanship, it naturally degenerates rather quickly into "pseudoscience." Reputations are sullied to discredit good science and dedicated public service. Problems inherent in bureaucracy that have festered over decades are laid at the feet of currently elected officials. And all the good work that created visibility for the thimerosal issue is reduced to fodder for political advantage.
They are both environmental theories. They both rely on the notion that someone is to blame. They both largely deny heritiability, which incidentally is the only well known aspect of autism causality. They are largely incompatible with neurobiological differences in autistics. They are largely incompatible with any cognitive advantages of autism. They lack any real scientific backing. They are supported by scientists of dubious integrity. They both assume that autism can't be anything but pathological. And last but not least, both theories are simply wrong.
If you consider the cause of the anti-thimerosal crusaders, I urge you to also consider three basic principles: Parents respond in many different ways to a family member’s disability, to chronic health problems, to stress, and to the unfolding of their autistic children’s development. People who are themselves disabled often have a very different perspective on their own disability than parents of children with the same disability. The maxim "Nothing about us without us" is no less applicable to autism advocacy than it is to advocacy for the needs of people with any other disability.
Of course there are many parents on the mercury side of the argument who manage to incorporate the MMR scare into the mercury hypothesis. Something like "The mercury weakens the immune system thereby opening the door for persistent measles infection in the gut and brain, yada, yada, yada..." In the US it's the thimerosal, in the UK it's the MMR. Can they both be right? Can they both be wrong?
Phillips presents material as experimental scientific research when it has never been published in a peer-reviewed academic journal and is not indexed in PubMed, the standard search tool for finding medical academic papers. The research she refers to has been published only in the in-house magazine of a rightwing US pressure group well known for polemics on homosexuality, abortion and vaccines. She says "autistic enterocolitis" is a "disease" and a "new syndrome" that has been "replicated in studies around the world". As a rough guide, the phrase "autistic enterocolitis" appears in only five PubMed-indexed academic papers, one by Wakefield and four others mostly doubting its status... It is self-evident to anybody who understands biomedical research, and if you don't get it then you have only two choices: you can either learn to interpret data yourself and come to your own informed conclusions; or you decide who to trust. Choose wisely.
The behavior analytic Law of Effect states: The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. So, in consideration to that, here are my predictions of how advocates of the autism epidemic will respond in 2007 to a "no decrease" in autism rate according to the DDS; in order of likelihood.
Olmsted has shown similar credulity before when writing about the claims of antivaccination advocates. Prometheus described well this tendency on his part several months ago, after Olmsted had published an article about the supposed "Amish anomaly" in which he reported (again in a nearly completely data-free manner) that there was a very low rate of autism among the Amish in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Naturally, Olmsted honed right in on vaccines without considering other more plausible factors that might account for the difference in autism rates between the Amish and the general U.S. population (if difference there actually even is, given that no verifiable data was presented). For example, the Amish live a simple life on farms out in the countryside. Perhaps the difference could be explained by different environmental exposures from that lifestyle rather than vaccines. Wouldn't that be just as plausible, if not more so, than vaccines? Also, the Amish are a genetically inbred group, and, given that autism has a strong genetic component, that inbreeding alone could explain any difference, again if there even is a difference. In other words, there are many potential causes for such an observed difference (if there is one), but Olmsted honed right in vaccines as having to be the one true cause, ignoring all the other equally or more plausible alternatives.
Autism Diva wants to know: What kind of punishment do people like Kennedy, Kirby, Huffington and Stewart and all the mercury parents who are stirring up needless fear and spreading lies about scientific matters while maligning autistics and making them objects of sickening pity and fear, knowingly or not,
deserve? What if, there is a massive conspiracy to take the heat off of pesticides as the environmental cause of a supposed increase in autism rates?? So now everyone is screaming mercury when it's really something else? What then?
The way that a doctor presents a diagnosis can strongly influence parents’ response to it. Although autistic individuals face significant challenges throughout their lives, it is irresponsible for a doctor to automatically predict that an autistic toddler "will probably never speak." Such a scenario derives from outdated definitions of autism that relegated the label to severely impaired children. In fact, 90% of children on the autistic spectrum develop speech by the age of nine. As diagnostic criteria have broadened and understanding of autism has evolved, so too must clinicians support parents in formulating a realistically positive vision of their children’s future.
Autism Diva is not a toxicologist, however, she recently she discovered the basic answer to the question, "What are the two most toxic substances on earth?" The answer came out of a discussion between some some of these professionals, including at least one medical doctor and a
double-board-certified toxicologist. David Kirby was and is wrong for saying that mercury is the second most toxic substance on earth. It's not true. In Autism Diva's opinion the most toxic substance on earth is stupidity.
...what if I was told that my choice to vaccinate could cause my child to be paralyzed, brain damaged or die of SIDS? What if I was told that vaccines really didn’t have a whole lot to do with getting rid of disease? And what if I was led to believe that there were other alternatives to building up my immune system that didn’t require vaccines? If I were to base my decision on those criteria, I certainly wouldn’t have anything to do with immunization. I can’t imagine any rational person would. That is the common thread that runs through many so-called "parental choice" websites. They tell you that you can choose to vaccinate. But by doing so, your child is at risk of getting a whole host of other diseases, and the vaccine isn’t really going to work anyway.
Children with autism vary widely. It was not until 1940 that this constellation of problems with social interaction, communication, and focused interest came to be called autism. And it was not until 1980 that the diagnosis of autism was formalized. In 1994, the diagnosis changed again. Kids diagnosed with autism from 1980 through 1993 had to meet six mandatory criteria. The new 1994 definition offered 16 optional criteria, only eight of which had to be met. Gernsbacher says the 1994 diagnosis made it much easier for a child to be labeled autistic.
So, now we have a very different picture of the killer Hornig mice. SJL/J male mice are prone to agression and the females are prone to biting their wounds. If they developed some nerve pain from the thimerosal, biting their limbs would be a very predictable reaction, but maybe they got wounds from another source. There's reason to think that Dr. Hornig broke her lab's rules by allowing the mice to hurt themselves and hurt other mice. If she allowed the SJL/J males to remain in the same cage together past 8 weeks she was "asking" for them to get hurt. She should have explained that the SJL/J mice are prone to aggression always, not just when they are given thimerosal.
As well as frightening parents into not vaccinating their kids, the anti-vaxers are frightening corporations, who fear costly and time-consuming lawsuits, from making the stuff anyway. And all because of an ingredient that doesn’t produce symptoms anything like those of the thing they're using to do the frightening.
Whether "mad child disease" was a premeditated acronym or a moment’s inspiration, whether Professor Haley’s concerns might be legitimate or his intentions noble, there is no excuse for his dissemination of degrading terms to describe autistic citizens.
Nobody is meant to go through this life unscathed, free of anything that is unpleasant. Parents, if you are addicted to the quest for a cure for autism, I ask you this: What reality are you running away from? Is it the reality that there is no perfect child and no perfect family? Is it the possibility that your child’s autism was inherited from you? Are either of these realities really so bad after all?
The Ithaca Journal published an article: “Vaccines with Thimerosal Linked to Autism,” on Oct. 26. The article discussed the fact that no link between Thimerosal and autism has been established. Thimerosal, which contains ethylmercury, is used as a preservative in some vaccines. It is no longer used in such vaccines as measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), chicken pox or polio vaccines due to the availability of other preservatives... I suggest that a more appropriate title of the article would have been "Vaccine/Thimerosal Link to Autism Lacks Proof."
This blog began as "No Points for Trying" to provide a listing of the errors propagated during the NBC broadcasts on autism during the week of February 21, 2005. Now it's time to ramp up again as the scientific reality and political implications of mercury toxicity may soon hit the mainstream media.
If mercury in vaccines didn't cause autism, then why did more than 10,000 autistic children this year receive the same chelation therapy that caused Abubakar's death? One answer is the media concentration on scare stories linking thimerosal to autism.
In recent months, the fight over thimerosal has become even more bitter. In response to a barrage of threatening letters and phone calls, the centers for disease control has increased security and instructed employees on safety issues, including how to respond if pies are thrown in their faces. One vaccine expert at the centers wrote in an internal e-mail message that she felt safer working at a malaria field station in Kenya than she did at the agency's offices in Atlanta.
I think that the Generation Rescue organization, which bears some responsibility for vouching for Rescue Angels, should provide some training to these people so that they will have a broader understanding of autism and can learn to interact more appropriately. I think it is unwise to send out Rescue Angels who cannot communicate in at least a non-hostile manner with people who have developmental disabilities.
The "vaccines stole my child and made him Autistic" mentality does absolutely nothing useful and is incorrect. There are individuals who have been damaged by vaccines, and there are Autistic individuals. They are not the same... A profitable industry to “cure Autistics” is available to desperate and uninformed parents. This became apparent to me in the last two years. Profiteers of this industry contacted me frequently during the summer of 2004, when my son’s name was in newspapers reporting on our civil action suit. Nearly every week, I received an unsolicited call from one company or another promoting their "cure" for my son. I questioned these telemarketers at length to discover that objective criteria and medically verifiable results were not available to substantiate their claims.
CDDS clients can go from a status of active to a status of inactive or closed when they move out of the state, die, are no longer found to be eligible, or choose to discontinue pursuing eligibility. Given the increasing population of autistic clients in the CDDS, the importance of these considerations cannot be overstated. Additionally, the fact that the population of autistic clients in the CDDS continues to grow at an annual rate of 10.7% as of Dec. 2005 (a rate much higher than the general population growth in the state of California) shows that an actual decrease in the number of newly diagnosed cases is not likely occurring. The population is simply starting to level off.
From a lawyer with no training, experience or education in biology, medicine or chemistry: "Autism is mercury poisoning!" From a venture capitalist with no training, experience or education in biology, medicine or chemistry: "Autism is mercury poisoning!" From a marketing consultant with no training, experience or education in biology, medicine or chemistry: "Autism is mercury poisoning!" What would these same people say if I, a humble molecular biologist with no training in law, investing or marketing presumed to tell them that they were dead wrong about something in their fields? I imagine that laughter would be the nicest thing I could expect - and it would be well deserved! After all, who am I to think that my uneducated opinion about those matters amounts to anything?
JB Handley of Generation Rescue, who has been at odds with several bloggers for their position that mercury poisoning and autism have nothing to do with one another, has punked his online adversaries. He bought domain names similar to theirs, oracknows.com, supportvaccination.com and autismdiva.com, redirected them to his site... The picture that I am getting of Handley is of a well intentioned, pissed off bull in a china shop. He is mad about what was done, and is being done, to his, and other autistic children; and he is pushing back with his full weight to fix the problem. ...and he has a lot of weight to throw around.
Dr. Geier, who is a geneticist and an obstetrician, is not qualified to give a neurological diagnosis... In other cases, Dr. Geier's testimony has similarly been accorded no weight... It is doubtful that Dr. Geier meets the AMA guidelines for expert witnesses. Dr. Geier's expertise, training and and experience is in genetics and obstetrics. He is, however, a professional witness in areas where he has no expertise, training and experience. Petitioners must seriously consider whether they want to proceed with a witness whose opinion on neurological diagnosis is unacceptable to the undersigned.
Not only is entirely disrespectful to allude to a whole subsection of society as the result of an epidemic, or to be a disease, or to need a cure it also puts false hope into those parents who are desperately trying to help their children. Not help them to be ‘cured’ but help them to find a place in society being proud of who and what they are. Can you imagine how it must feel to be constantly told that your existence is nothing more than a disease?
First, I am not paid by pharmaceutical companies. I have a patent on a rotavirus vaccine being developed by Merck (RotaTeq). But all of the research that I did on that vaccine was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, not from Merck. Merck does support another investigator in my division, Fred Clark, with a yearly grant of $350,000, to test the vaccine. People have always wrongly assumed that either me or someone in my lab is paid off of the grant to Dr. Clark. But we're not. Second, I am not paid to speak about vaccines by pharmaceutical companies. I have never received an honoraria to speak from apharmaceutical company. This all stems from Dan Burton's "leak" to the anti-vaccine folks. Unfortunately, his leak about me was incorrect. Third, our Vaccine Education Center here at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is also not supported by pharmaceutical companies.
A week ago, I posted an article that touched on a truly appalling study of autism and mercury, "Reduced levels of mercury in first baby haircuts of autistic children." On careful reading, I have determined that this study is so bad it deserves a more careful analysis. So, in the interest of public education, I have decided to dissect it here in my blog. Those of you who are squeamish may want to check back in a few days. OK, gloves on, protective eyewear in place...here we go!
The authors imply, in the introduction, that one of the reasons they began this study was that some autistic children had presented to Dr. Holmes' practice with low hair mercury levels. Finding that all 94 autistic subjects in this study had low hair mercury levels, they then proceded to a conclusion that was not supported by their data. Given that the only thing they measured in this study was hair mercury level, the only thing that their data support is that autistic children have low hair mercury levels.
If children with autism are known to be deficient in B-12, why aren't they all anemic? Why aren't they dropping like flies if they are so sensitive to chemicals because they are on empty if you measure their glutathione? And better, what about the adults? Did anyone bother to check to see if they were all about to drop dead from pernicious anemia? Of course not.
People who support the idea that autism is mercury poisoning get to a certain point in the debate (i.e. when they feel themselves to have no recourse to logical debate any more) they resort to asking you: "have you had your daughter’s metals levels tested? And NO, I am not asking for your daughter’s medical records. It’s a fair question." They do this mainly as they are unable to debate on an intellectual level about the issue at hand but they also believe this to be an acceptable request.
The LA Times has been complicit, in Autism Diva's opinion, in spreading fear of vaccines (see also here) by the fact that they have carried at least some of Rick Rollen's scare mongering quarterly rants about the California DDS numbers (remember the autism tsunami?). But in this article, the LA Times seems to say that fear of vaccination has led to the deaths of seven babies in California in a year or less, and there have been triple the usual cases of pertussis/whooping cough here.
Even if a newsgroup denizen were a pharma shill, that wouldn't necessarily invalidate his argument. Yes, in the case of a true "shill" who does not reveal that he works for a pharmaceutical company and pretends to be "objective," it is quite appropriate to "out" that person. Even in the case of a real shill, however, this sort of "outing" is not a refutation of that person's arguments; it merely serves to increase appropriately the level of skepticism about what that person is saying. Such an "outing" still leaves the task of actually using evidence, logic, and sound arguments to refute what that person is saying, something alties rarely even attempt to do.
In his eagerness to promote the theory that biomedical treatments can not only relieve certain physical ailments, and improve the health of autistic people, but can also "cure autism," Dan Olmsted has offered a distorted interpretation of Donald T’s story and Dr. Leo Kanner’s original articles, and has thereby needlessly contributed to the amplification of rage and distress experienced by parents of autistic children who are convinced that their children have been damaged by vaccines.
Back in mid-June, plans for the "Power of Truth" rally began with the suggestion: "So, what do you all say? Take our kids and have a big ‘melt-down’ at the Capital, united as ONE?????" Now, a month later, we can look forward to upwards of 700 people showing up at the Capitol on Wednesday, July 20. We can expect to see protesters bedecked with silver ribbon, carrying silver helium balloons...
David Kirby’s response regarding the California autism data is interesting and perplexing on a number of levels. He notes that we aren’t certain about the extent to which thimerosal remained in vaccines between 1999 and 2003, and that it may be too early to tell whether reduction in thimerosal has had an impact on autism caseload in California. I agree. I wouldn’t myself have trumpeted the California DDS numbers as proof of anything. It is Kirby, in his Huffington Post article, who holds up the California data as reflecting the "gold standard of autism epidemiology" and who claims that "if the numbers in California and elsewhere continue to drop -- and that still is a big if -- the implication of thimerosal in the autism epidemic will be practically undeniable."
The self-inflicted injuries in autism seem to come at least partly from the fact that some autistics don't always feel pain in the normal way, it can also be an emotional reaction to extreme frustration, overstimulation or understimulation. Autistics report different reasons for self-injury, and self-injury is not only found in autism.
On February 13, 2005, ACSH received a letter from the mother of an autistic child asking what our response was to the February 8th release of a 1991 Merck & Co. memo. The memo in question, written eight years before the FDA noted this fact in 1999, cited knowledge of the possibility that additions to the pediatric vaccine schedule resulted in overexposure of children to the ethylmercury based vaccine preservative, thimerosal. The dialogue below addresses whether ACSH's stance on the thimerosal-autism link has changed as a result of Merck's questionable actions on the matter and the contents of this memo.
In a comment on this post, a reader asks my opinion of an open letter to Evidence of Harm author David Kirby that appears on the web site neurodiversity.com. I think it is very thoughtful and well written, certainly well documented letter. That said, I also think it is misguided. While making a convincing case for her point of view, the letter writer misses the real issue.
The non-existent "aborted fetal tissue" is hardly toxic or reactive, and someone needs to tell Shelley why weakened, or attenuated, live viruses are the active ingredients in some vaccines, because if they were dead viruses there would be no point in injecting them into anyone, the dead viruses (of some types) wouldn't promote immunity.
I am free to keep an open mind and give other researchers a fair chance to show the merit of their work, but my mind doesn’t have to be so open that I accept theory in the absence of full experimental research... I wonder sometimes if future epidemics of infectious disease will be triggered by a current epidemic of irresponsibility.
There is little risk and great potential benefit to be derived from acknowledging the likelihood that as many adults as children could be diagnosed with autistic spectrum conditions if they so desired. It is no more speculative and far more compassionate to entertain such a reasonable notion than it is to categorically deny its possibility. There is no harm done to autistic children by acknowledgement of the existence of adults on the autistic spectrum. Such acknowledgment should not jeopardize the search for justice of families who have evidence that their children have been injured by vaccines.
In the biomedical community, we often throw around the word “cure.” When I use that word, I know what I mean and most other people who practice biomedical know what I mean. We are seeking to alleviate the dysfunctional aspects of ASD in our children. We will never alter the genetic makeup of our children, and to the extent genes make them autistic, they will remain autistic. I can live with that. But I believe that one or more environmental insults has acted in concert with my son’s genetic makeup to create stumbling blocks that keep him from using all of this gifts. I cannot believe I am wrong in trying to reduce the effects of those environmental insults.
A few weeks ago, I described a flier I received at my office advertising a talk at a local extended care facility. Through the flier, the speaker, a local physician who also employs alternative medicine, touted all sorts of wonderful effects that one could enjoy if one tried chelation therapy... This physician even went so far as to characterize chelation therapy as "the most successful method to extend maximum life span."
New comers to the autism world might be astounded to hear warnings of the vitriol of certain arguments. A friend in a related field once asked me what could inspire such strength of opinion; autism is not, after all, politics or religion. Sadly, my friend was incorrect and I am prepared to argue that aspects of the autism debate are indeed politics and religion. This is relevant because it places some context as to why we see such depth and diversity in the logic fallacies in autism.
Argumentum Ad Hominem; Tu Quoque: "You also"; Strawman; Wishful thinking; Inflation of Conflict; Non Sequitur; False Equation; False Dilemma; Fallacy of Origin; Begging the Question; Circular Reasoning; Argument to the Future; Post Hoc, Ergo Prompter Hoc; Argumentum Ad Absurdum; Argumentum Ad Nauseam; Inductive Fallacy; Deductive Fallacy; Two Wrongs Make a Right Fallacy; Error of Fact; Dishonesty; Argument from the Unknowable Fact; Red Herring Fallacy; Fallacy from Popularity.
Anticipated Strawman; Invoking the Bandwagon; The fallacy of Samaritan Intent; Fallacy of the Assumed but Hidden Truth; Fallacy of the Proven Hypothesis; Ignoring Regression Towards the Mean; Common Sense Fallacy; Fallacy of Intuition; Magical Thinking.
Fallacy of Inconsistent Application; Needling; Slippery Slope; Argument by Rhetorical Question; Psychogenetic Fallacy; Argument from the Beard; Argument by Tradition; Not Invented Here; The Galileo Gambit; Argument ad Baculum; Argument from Elitism; False Authority/Anonymous Authority; Argument from Conversion; Confusing Correlation and Causation; Plural of Anecdote Fallacy; Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy; Error of Reification; Affirming the Consequent; Moving Goalposts.
The Department of Disability Services (DDS) has published their quarterly report. In that report the numbers of service categories the DDS provides services for are listed. These reports are issued once every quarter. It has become habit for various persons to review these reports for autism and to chart the number of supposed new cases and compare to the number of supposed new cases at the same time, the last year. Various blogs have also featured this topic at different points. The purpose of the current review is to provide a graphical display of these number and justification for this presentation. It is also to provide criticism for the way these numbers have been displayed in the past. It is finally, to provide a discussion for what these numbers indicate.
The data so far seem inconclusive either way. For my part I don’t think the thimerosal theory can hold up in the absence of the proposed epidemic; I take the position that there is no epidemic. Maybe, ultimately the ball is back in the court of the advocates of this theory. They will have to conclusively and repeatedly show the effectiveness and safety of chelation using research that demonstrates causation, and publish in peer reviewed journals. They will also have to effectively demonstrate an increase in autism exists, and they will have to deal with the ethical questions that arise from attempting to remove autism from children. Until this is done chelation will remain pseudo-scientific.
In short, RFKJr and Mr Blaxill are in contradiction with each other. RFKJr is sure that a dramatic difference between amounts of thimerosal between US and UK vaccination schedules renders irrelevant (to the US) a UK study showing no relationship between mercury and autism. Mr Blaxill "proves" there has been a similar increase in autism in both countries, at about the same time, therefore showing that there is no relationship between dose of mercury and prevalence of autism. In fact, because there was no conveniently-timed increase in thimerosal in the UK schedule on which the UK's autism "epidemic" could be blamed, the UK epidemic was blamed on MMR.
With his sensationalistic accusations of incompetence and deception, conspiracy and coverup, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. functions as yet another public relations rep for a subset of the autism community that seeks to hold pharmaceutical companies, doctors and public agencies liable for a disability that is an enduring aspect of the human condition with a well-documented genetic component.
In fact, the meeting did not conclude that thimerosal was responsible for an increase in autism and did not discuss any cover up. It did discuss possible future studies... Kennedy’s version is totally inconsistent with the transcript. Quite honestly, only someone with a preconceived belief in a causative relationship and who was fixed in that view no matter what the evidence, would view this meeting as "discussing how to cover up the damaging data."
Because there are no good studies that demonstrate its efficacy in treating autism, chelation therapy for this purpose should be considered at best an experimental therapy (at worst it is a completely ineffective therapy). As such, it is not and cannot be considered the standard of care, and it is generally considered dubious at best and unethical or even malpractice at worst to give experimental therapies outside the context of properly designed and conducted clinical trials.
So the preparation of the article was heavily influenced by an antivaccination activist. Gee, why am I not surprised to learn this? Why didn't Salon.com just let Lujene Clark write the article? The result would have been the same. In any case, there's so much misinformation, paranoid conspiracy-theory raving, and one-sided stuff in this article that it's hard to know where to start. Fortunately, I've dealt with this topic a few times before recently. Here are just a few of the major problems with the article: Quote mining. Confusing correlation and causation. Double standards in looking at "conflicts of interest."The "hidden hordes" fallacy.
It's now hard to overstate the scientific evidence against the thimerosal-autism link. Many, many chemicals seem dangerous in test tubes or in animal studies but have no significance in the real world; thus, the most useful safety data come from large-scale "epidemiological" studies of people. In 2004, the prestigious Institute of Medicine, the federal government's adviser on public health, reviewed dozens of such studies related to vaccines and autism and concluded the "evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism." Halsey sees this as a powerful statement, since "that's about as strong as the IOM will come out." In contrast to many massive studies from major academic centers that found no link, the only epidemiological studies favoring a link were one unpublished study from Mark Blaxill, a Massachusetts-based consultant and board member of an advocacy group called SafeMinds, and five separate published studies from the home-based father-son team of Dr. Mark Geier and David Geier - and these were all dismissed by the IOM as "uninformative" or "uninterpretable" due to poor methods.
The real moral of this story is that retrospective administrative database studies are highly overrated. Regardless of the risks associated with thimerosal, or lack thereof, the CDC/VSD study could scarcely have raised issues for discussion, let alone shed light on any potential causal relationship between thimerosal and autism. A retrospective administrative database analysis is just too crude a tool for the job.
VK Singh has been a hero of the measles/mumps/rubella causation hype-othesis crowd, and such is sort of a hero for the mercury crowd, too. Bernie Rimland's Autism Research Institute funded this study, and Bernie's big on mercury as a cause for autism, these days. Singh says that mercury isn't to blame for autoimmune responses seen in some autistics. He says that autistics aren't low in metallothionein. (Review of Assessment of metallothionein and antibodies to metallothionein in normal and autistic children having exposure to vaccine-derived thimerosal, by Vijendra K. Singh and Jeff Hanson.)
Understandably, Kirby doesn’t seem interested in mucking around in the data with me too extensively, or in answering my detailed questions. But in an e-mail, he did address the key point, and concede that “if the total number of 3-5 year olds in the California DDS system has not declined by 2007, that would deal a severe blow to the autism-thimerosal hypothesis.” He also conceded that total cases among 3-5 year olds, not changes in the rate of increase is the right measure.
It's not surprising at all that parents prone to antivaccination beliefs have family histories of illness or an interest in alternative medicine such as homeopathy, as much of "alternative medicine" is hostile to vaccination. It's also quite common for religious beliefs to play a role. However, I would quibble somewhat with whether that apparent "sophisticated" understanding of the issues involved is actually as sophisticated as it appears on the surface. In some cases it may be, but far more often it's a superficial understanding that has little depth, mainly because few lay people have the detailed scientific and medical background to apply the information.
How much shame falls on parents today who prove to have "inferior" genes by their producing"defective" children? Another question: How reasonable is it for parents who subscribe to "my kid is part of the autism epidemic" thinking, to promote the idea that if there are any more of these kids they'll utterly destroy the economies of the states and nations where they reside, and they do use that reasoning in the things they write. Such as this from Rick Rollens in April of 2004: "The social and fiscal disaster that is the autism epidemic is upon us. God help us." That Rick Rollens sure has a flair for the dramatic, eh? He forgot to add "every one", though.
How can anyone say (or even speculate) that the removal of thimerosal had anything to do with autism caseloads declining in California, when there are declines in groups that would've been unaffected by such removal? The answer - they can't, at least not with the slightest shred of certainty. But they can use the total caseload number declines to imply such a phenomenon exists.
Should someone have to pay? If my child was intentionally harmed or the victim of criminal negligence I wouldn't think twice about "making someone pay" but not just any old someone, the person or persons causing the harm. Something I would want to be certain of before bringing suit. Of course the money would be helpful, raising a child with autism can be very expensive for reasons beyond educational needs, but why should I be entitled to some sort of damages if I couldn't be sure my child was damaged?
Mr. Rollens is adept at insulting people who don't agree with him. He is also adept at insulting autistics. We all know that no one "important" cares if autistic adults object to being called train wrecks or plague rats. But, how do parents feel about having their children described as "train wrecks" and results of a "plague"? One would think that real human non-autistic parents would object. So far the people whose voices might count to Rick Rollens aren't objecting.
Last week, in Censorship, Incivility & Chronic Suspicion, I offered an account of two particularly nasty episodes on the Evidence of Harm discussion list, in which private citizens were targeted for ridicule, harassment and investigation by anti-thimerosal campaigners, in retaliation for expressing their dissenting opinions about the controversy over vaccines and autism. Today I provide an expansion and update on the first episode, the tale of Lisa Randall of St. Paul, Minnesota.
I am a member of a family touched by autism, do not choose to restrict my focus to scientific research, and will not pretend to rise above "messy" issues. My family and I live and will continue to live with the fallout of all the hyperbolic, catastrophic verbiage and inaccurate generalizations about autism and autistic people that are being broadcast in so many public venues these days, mostly by anti-thimerosal crusaders.
Specifically, members of Immunization Safety Review Committee had no ties to vaccine manufacturers, had not made policy statements regarding vaccines; had not served as expert witnesses--paid or unpaid--in any vaccine-related litigation; and had not worked for nor received recent funding for research on vaccine safety from the agencies that sponsored the study. As is the case with all IOM projects, their service was entirely voluntary; they received no compensation.
The Geier father and son team have released a paper discussing the link between vaccine preservative thimerosal (a compound containing methylmercury) and autism. I have been invited to comment on the matter, and have chosen to accept the invitation in a very narrow capacity. That very narrow capacity is specifically on the statistics of the paper and how it relates to the conclusions of the paper.
In Part I, I discussed how Mark and David Geier in their paper used a bizarre analysis of VAERS data to support their conclusion that the removal of thimerosal from vaccines resulted in a decline in cases of newly diagnosed/reported autism. I concluded that their incorrect analysis did not really support their conclusions. I stand agnostic on their conclusions. In this entry, I get a little more serious and suggest a better way to run this analysis. Or maybe I just want an excuse to run some of the fancier time-series procedures I haven't run in a long time. At any rate, I'll use the VAERS data again without questioning the data's integrity or the methods used to extract and derive the number of new reported autism cases. Again, I'll revisit those in a subsequent post.
In Part I and Part II of this series I discussed the statistical methodologies in the recent paper by Mark and David Geier, who extracted data from the VAERS and the CDDS and tried to show that efforts to remove the compound thimerosal from vaccines have resulted in a decrease in new autism cases (and other neurodevelopmental disorders). In Part I, I concluded that their statistical methodology was invalid and unable to support their conclusions. In Part II, I suggested that they could make their point more soundly by employing better, time-series-related methodologies. In this part, I take a brief look at their CDDS data. I did try the odd linear regression techniques of the Geiers again, just to check things. I got similar results.
In Part I, Part II, and Part III of this series I discussed the statistical methodologies in the recent paper by Mark and David Geier, who extracted data from the VAERS and the CDDS and tried to show that efforts to remove the compound thimerosal from vaccines have resulted in a decrease in new autism cases (and other neurodevelopmental disorders). In Part I, I concluded that their statistical methodology was invalid and unable to support their conclusions. In Part II, I suggested that they could make their point more soundly by employing better, time-series-related methodologies. In Part III, I briefly examined their CDDS data, and concluded that the methodology was invalid, and correct methodology did not back up their claims. In this final part, I examine data quality issues and wrap this series up by examining a few other criticisms of their work.
As the writer who first told the thimerosal story in depth in the New York Times Magazine two and a half years ago, I have been astonished to see how badly it has been handled since... The Institute of Medicine agreed that the special medical problems of some autistics deserve closer scrutiny. But like the Institute of Medicine, I doubt that vaccine damage will figure into the story. And in the meantime, lawsuits could do severe damage to the vaccination programs that protect all of us.
Promoters of the hypothesis that autism is a common adverse reaction to vaccination rely heavily upon articles published in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (JPandS, originally Medical Sentinel). Previous perusals of JPandS tables of contents left me with the general impression that its sponsors tended toward the conservative end of the political spectrum. I therefore decided to make a comprehensive survey of the website of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, to get a sense of the convictions driving its editorial policies.
By showing the lack of connection between the "facts" used in this data-chain, it becomes apparent that what we actually have is a series of separate "facts" with an implied connection, something that another writer called a "string of pearls". A "string of pearls" is a beautiful group of data without any visible connection.
The opposition to vaccination is one of the most well-organized, well-funded "alternative health" movements I've ever seen. It is important to speak out against those who would use questionable science and fallacious arguments to influence parents not to vaccinate. The consequences of those actions can be potentially devastating.
I had forgotten about the Geiers' inability to use SAS. That was truly amusing when I found out about it. Let's also not forget their attempt to compromise the confidentiality of patients in the CDC database, either, or that David Geier's company exists mainly to sue vaccine manufacturers and the government.
Let's get real. Anti-vaccinators hate Paul Offit because he has the opposite viewpoint they do, plain and simple. He takes money from the drug companies they despise, which makes it even worse. And to top it off, he's a passionate, intelligent, charismatic proponent of a medical protocol they can't stand and think is inordinately dangerous. And that makes it hard for their junk science, even when delivered by their best and brightest, to stand up.
Over the past few weeks, while blogging away against ignorance, injustice and general fuzzy-headed thinking, I noticed quite a few members of the autism-mercury movement (and not a few others, as well) complain that "the government" wasn't heeding their calls to research this treatment or that (hypothetical) cause. That got me thinking - perhaps these people don't understand how science works; perhaps they don't know how studies get started.
Television has given us some great doctors over the years -- Dr. Kildare, Marcus Welby, John Carter, Gregory House. Their value was giving us good fiction based on fact. Now, television is giving us bad facts based on fiction from a new set of doctors -- people like... “Dr.” Don Imus, the esteemed science broadcaster and recreational drug expert who uses his programs to cast doubt on the safety of childhood vaccines. But he is a mere intern compared to the genius "Dr." Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has mounted a campaign to convince people there is a corporate-government-medical conspiracy to poison children by polluting them with vaccines that used to contain the mercury-based preservative thimerosal. Dr. Kennedy’s scholarly article appeared in a recent edition of the venerated medical journal Rolling Stone.
I just finished watching and replaying the Meet the Press segment featuring “Evidence of Harm” author David Kirby and IOM President Dr. Harvey Fineberg. As readers of this blog know, my bias going in was (and coming out is) that there is a strong case for plausibility of a connection between thimerosal and autistic symptoms. I have personally met and have a great deal of respect and admiration for David Kirby and the work he has done on this issue. Having that background, I think Kirby made the most telling points in his debate with Dr. Fineberg, but equally clear to me is that the important audience -- parents with no skin in the game either by virtue of having an autistic-free child born in the 1990s or giving birth in the post 2003 thimerosal-free era -- was won by Dr. Fineberg.
Circumstances conspired again to turn me, almost against my will, into a vaccine blogger, leading me to step with both feet into the mercury-autism controversy with this post and this followup, the combination of which have brought more attention to this blog than anything I've ever written before. Fortunately, most of the responses were, surprisingly, less hostile and more supportive than I had feared they would be. However, the sheer hostility of a small minority of responses was amazing. At least creationists usually offer to pray for me, rather than angrily and gleefully wishing autism on my or other people's children just to "teach us a lesson."
We don't know what causes autism. We need to find out. Using anecdotes and wishful thinking to seize on simplistic explanations hinders our ability to get at the correct answers. Please do put Big Pharma on the hotseat, but do it honestly. Right now, I've lost all respect and trust for this set of accusers.
I thought I would link and summarize some other bloggers’ posts and other feedback on Robert F. Kennedy Junior’s ridiculous thimerosal scare piece that I commented on unfavorably last Monday.
Once again, this time in a post on HuffingtonPost.com, RFK rides out of the hills after the battle and shoots the wounded. He piggybacks on another author’s work with out giving him named credit, way overstates the conclusions that can be drawn from the evidence in that work and uses inflammatory rhetoric that denigrates the evidence he defends.
Perhaps the best evidence against the thimerosal/autism hypothesis is the fact that banning thimerosal doesn't reduce autism rates. If thimerosal caused autism, you would expect autism rates to fall after the offending vaccines were stricken from the immunization schedule. Several nations including Denmark and Canada have already banned thimerosal-containing vaccines, but no declines in autism have been observed so far. In the United States, the FDA has worked with vaccine manufacturers to decrease thimerosal exposure in the standard infant immunization schedule by 95%. So far, decreased exposure hasn't translated into decreased autism incidence.
The Geiers used a dataset that had correct data in it, they just didn't age adjust. They tried to correlate autism with thimerosal exposure from DTaP and found a strong relationship, but it turned out to be an artifact. The kids who had low thimerosal exposures were too young to have had diagnoses of autism made because the T-free or reduced DTaP had recently become available. So they were comparing older children with younger children and big surprise autism was more common in the older children - adjustment for age eliminated the finding.
It’s time for RFK Jr. to come clean about the fact that he represents the interests of private litigants seeking compensation for supposed vaccine injury when in fact many of those litigants have no evidence that such injury occurred. Many never even suspected that their children were 'damaged' until they were convinced after the fact that vaccines offered the only possible explanation for their children’s autism. The sense of entitlement and certainty expressed by many autism=poisoning crusaders is not always based on a careful review of a wide range of information.
Did the use of a mercury preservative in vaccines directly contribute to the autism epidemic plaguing the country? And did federal health officials—fearful of liability facing their agencies and vaccine manufacturers, and loss of compliance with the federal vaccine program—put such concerns above the health of millions of infants? Are the recent studies discounting a link between thimerosal-containing vaccines (TCVs) and autism really rife with conflicts of interest and data manipulation? Or are the parents, researchers, and members of Congress who make such claims seeing conspiracies where none exist?
The autistic children in the Holmes et al study had over twice the mean hair mercury level of the NHANES group (of 838 children) and the Holmes et al controls had hair mercury levels of over sixteen times the NHANES level. What are they feeding those kids? Well, the only conclusion that you can draw from that data is that the Holmes et al study is garbage. My suspicion is that their laboratory - Doctor's Data - is the cause of the outrageously high levels of mercury found in the children - especially the control children.
While the VICP has been successful in protecting those vaccines designed for childhood diseases, Trial Lawyers, Inc. has continued to attack the supply of vaccines that fall outside the law's ambit. In 1999, less than a year after GlaxoSmithKline introduced LYMErix, an adult vaccine for Lyme disease (the multi-symptom inflammatory and neurological ailment that has affected more than 150,000 people since 1982), Trial Lawyers, Inc. brought a class-action suit claiming that the vaccine causes chronic arthritis. By 2002, LYMErix was off the market -- and reported cases of Lyme disease, stable since the vaccine's introduction, jumped 40 percent.
This negativity regarding vaccines is unwarranted with no evidence whatsoever indicating that thimerosal or MMR causes autism (and if anyone wants to disagree with me then remember to cite your peer reviewed science please) and yet a sizable minority not only believe it but are aggressively politicising the issue to a point where a number of us are growing alarmed about the future of autism research and, more importantly, concerned about the stigmatic consequences this will have for our kids as they grow up with people believing they are poisoned.
The US Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) is a passive reporting system to which anyone can report an event. Publicity related to potential adverse events may change reporting patterns. The objective of this paper is to show how litigation-related reports have influenced the trends in possible adverse event reports to VAERS. The VAERS public-use data files were downloaded in July 2004 and translated into identical SAS data sets for analysis. Cases that were related to litigation were identified using a word search algorithm. All cases for the most frequently reported symptoms in litigation (overdose, neuropathy, autism, "mental retardation," arthralgia, and "speech disorder") were reviewed. In recent years, most case reports to VAERS that were related to overdose, neuropathy, and thimerosal were related to litigation. Many cases that were related to autism and mental retardation were as well. This review shows a previously undisclosed rise in the number of reports to the VAERS related to pending litigation for vaccine injury. The implications of this for understanding longitudinal reporting patterns are discussed.
Mark Sircus, head of something called the International Medical Veritas Association, needs to learn a bit about the meaning of "Veritas." In a commentary titled "Intellectual Prostitution," he calls a whore anybody who disagrees with the proposition that childhood vaccines containing the preservative thimerosal (half of which is ethyl mercury). They’re all on the take; that’s the only possible explanation for their positions no matter how authoritative and detailed their arguments may be.
This is not to say that there might not be some sub-group of infants who are vulnerable to toxicity from some vaccine or combination of vaccines -- it would be impossible to completely eliminate that fear. But the history of unwarranted fear generated among parents, provoked by irresponsible "researchers" and even government officials, leading to parents' refusal to allow their children to get potentially lifesaving vaccinations, is out of proportion to any such minute risk. Among the erudite medical and scientific bodies that have already denied any link between ASD and thimerosal is the Institute of Medicine, which issued a report only a few weeks ago reiterating its stance. A spokesperson for the IOM noted that the group had already seen this Columbia report and discarded it. But that has not, apparently, stopped the reporters and headline writers from going ahead with the alarmist warnings. Just when we thought it was safe to go back into the pediatrician's office...
Expanded diagnostic criteria and awareness of autism have swelled the number of families with newly diagnosed children. Trial lawyers and campaigners cultivate parents' desire for retaliation and downplay non-actionable theories of autism causation. Chelation-provoked testing yields artificially elevated mercury levels, needlessly encouraging parents to suspect reckless damage. History abounds with mavericks willing to offer novel treatments justified by testimonials but with minimal peer-reviewed research or clinical trials conducted with informed consent. Parents employing such treatments, especially those who proselytize other parents, commonly attribute to them their children's every developmental gain.
Re: A Series of Studies to Analyze the Vaccine Safety Database
As with RFK Jr.’s latest article, Mr. Best’s speech at the rally offered few surprises. I did not transcribe his presentation, but can affirm that his profoundly bitter message and tone were very much in keeping with his previous public statements. Here are a few. "Anyone who is not chelating to get rid of the mercury is guilty of child abuse."
Above is a small sample of the many letters in response to my article about vaccines and autism. Although several people wrote that concerns about vaccines should not be dismissed as mere conspiracy thinking, many more wrote comments, such as those by Anne Dachel and Kim Kovalchik, reinforcing a conspiracy claim or theme. In addition to the comments made in the article itself, I can only add that I am a clinician and science educator with no ties to vaccine production or regulation. The same is true of the majority of scientists in the community who have reviewed the data. It is important to emphasize that the medical establishment is not a monolithic entity carrying out a unified agenda. It comprises many independent individuals and institutions.
Did a thimerosol, a preservative once used in childhood vaccinations, trigger the sudden rise in the number of children diagnosed with autism. David Kirby thinks so. In his book, Evidence of Harm, Kirby asserts they may be a link between the two. Check out our interview with Kirby and Maine's Director of Public Health, who isn't as convinced.
So there are plantiffs in lawsuits, expert witnesses (the Geiers), people who own for-profit testing companies (Boyd Haley) and numerous chelation doctors (Bradstreet, et al.) proposing the autism-thimerosal theory, all with a substantial financial stake in seeing the theory gain acceptance. Yet the book takes a significant amount of time mentioning the "conflicts of interest" in the medical community, while glossing over, if not outright ignoring, said interests in proponents of the theory.
One of the reasons that "alternative" medicine and "pseudoscience" appeal to the "average person" (i.e. people with little or no formal education in the sciences) is that they offer simple (some might say simplistic) answers to difficult and complex questions. People who find science intimidating and impenetrable (i.e. most of the population) want a simple answer to their questions. They don't like long, complicated answers riddled with probabilities and conflicting or ambiguous data. And they especially don't want to be told that nobody knows the answer yet. Regretably, most simple answers to complex questions are also wrong. If you ask one of these "renegades" how to slow (or even stop!) aging, what causes autism or how to "cure what ails ye", they almost always have very concrete, definite anwers. Many of them will also sell you the goods you need to carry out their advice. What they won't tell you is that they have no data - other than their own "clinical experience" - to support what they say.
When scientists appeal over the heads of their peers directly to a public lacking in scientific expertise there are dangers of manipulation. I have attended conferences at which speakers have addressed parents in scientific jargon so dense as to be incomprehensible. Though the object of this exercise appears to be to demonstrate the intellectual authority of the speaker, it means using science to impress rather than to explain and it often leaves parents bewildered and confused. There is also a danger that scientists whose work is not of adequate quality to satisfy the standards of mainstream academic institutions may be able to secure recognition - and increasingly funding - from parent groups. The danger of abuse is greatest when there are links among scientists, parent groups and commercial interests, providing diagnostic tests, specialised dietary requirements, food supplements and medications. The common feature of all these interventions is that they are inordinately expensive and may constitute a substantial financial burden for some families with autistic children, whose resources are already severely stretched.
Despite the obvious expectations of the authors (one is on the Executive Board of SafeMinds, yet another is a well-known anti-mercury advocate), the study found that the autistic children had lower hair mercury levels than the neurotypical controls. Rather than concluding that mercury protects against autism (which the data supports but is nonsensical) or at least is not associated with autism, the authors take a sharp turn off the road of reason and propose that the autistic children had impaired mercury excretion.
One of the big -- if not the biggest -- dependencies that the whole autism = thiomersal poisoning rests on is the existence of the so-called ‘autism epidemic’. Without the ‘epidemic’ there is no rise in prevalence and without a rise in prevalence there is no mystery surrounding the causes of autism. In fact, if there’s no epidemic then this refutes the idea that thiomersal causes autism as the amount of thiomersal (before its removal) in vaccines rose sharply. Without a corresponding ‘epidemic’ the whole shebang is dead in the water... One of the key points then become the existence of adults on the spectrum. If they exist in large numbers then there can be no real rise in prevalence and hence no epidemic... Whilst its impossible to prove or disprove that exact point its easy to demonstrate that there are a lot of adult autistics.
With a few notable exceptions—such as Brian Deer, whose work for the Sunday Times and Channel Four helped to discredit Wakefield's Lancet paper—British journalists have a poor record on MMR and, indeed, on autism. While certain journalists have lionised Wakefield, real scandals -- such as the recent death of an autistic boy from Britain undergoing mercury chelation therapy in the United States, or the inadequacy of respite services revealed by the conviction of a 67 year old mother for killing her adult autistic son when she could no longer cope with his violent behaviour -- have largely been ignored (www.spiked-online.com). If children die from measles, the MMR scandal may indeed get worse.
The trial established beyond reasonable doubt that Cutter had not been negligent. But the judge stated—as a matter of law, so that the jury was powerless to disagree—that the company was liable for damages, even if it had done nothing wrong, simply because its product had harmed its recipients. This principle of absolute liability soon found itself defended in legal journals on the grounds that a large company was best able, via its insurance, to distribute the costs of risks among all the relevant parties, and society as a whole would benefit from the arrangement. Quite apart from its repugnance to natural justice, this principle has been disastrous to the manufacture of vaccines. It opened the way for huge claims against the manufacturers. Since the courts are often cavalier in their complete disregard of scientific evidence, awarding huge damages against companies not only innocent of any negligence but whose products have done no objectively demonstrable harm, it is not surprising that pharmaceutical companies have largely withdrawn from the vaccine market. For them, the potential profits are small, and the risks great.
...but SHOUTING, I've learned, is not the most effective way to be heard. At least I think I've learned that lesson but sometimes I wonder..... There's an awful lot of SHOUTING going on these days about mercury causing autism. It doesn't matter if the majority agree or not, the shear volume of the message drowns out the quiet voices of reason. Question the role of thimerosal, the benefits and risks of chelation, or mention other possible causes and expect to be SHOUTED down with terms like; "Child Abuser" - "Irresponsible Parent" - "Pro-Thimerosal" - "Mercury Lover" - "Pharma-Shill" and several that are too offensive to repeat.
Neither thimerosal nor ethyl mercury, the compound into which the body breaks it down, cross the blood-brain barrier and enter the nervous system. Both are eliminated from the body quite rapidly and do not accumulate between vaccine doses. In the tiny amounts formerly associated with vaccines, there is no sign that either is toxic. Mercury was eliminated from vaccines in 1999 out of concern that the thimerosal panic would lead to widespread refusal of vaccines.