Respectful Insolence

In case you had any doubt that it’s about vaccines and the concept of vaccination itself, here’s video of the protest held outside of the American Academy of Pediatrics a couple of weeks ago:

I’m not sure it was such a great idea to release video of this protest, given how tiny the demonstration looks and how obviously antivaccine their signs and rhetoric are. Either way, Dr. Eisenstein (whose “research” skills are legendary) makes me wonder how he earned his M.D. if he doesn’t understand that the whole “toxins in vaccines” is a canard, and Dr. Ayoub is a conspiracy-monger. However, it’s worth pointing out at the risk of inducing fatigue for this issue in my readers because clearly moving away from mercury and ranting about scary-sounding “toxins” in vaccines is the new strategy of the mercury militia, given that science is coming down so conclusively against their previous agenda of claiming that autism is a “misdiagnosis for mercury poisoning.”

I’ll try to give this topic a rest for a while–if I’m allowed.

Comments

  1. #1 Phoenix Woman
    March 3, 2008

    Please don’t. As you’ve pointed out, the antis are at a pivotal point in the evolution of their dogma. They’ll try to disappear their older “we’re really not against vaccines, just mercury” stance. Now might be a good time to start Hoovering up screen shots of the incriminating posts.

  2. #2 Phoenix Woman
    March 3, 2008

    Arrrgh. “Please don’t give it a rest”, that is.

  3. #3 rod Clark
    March 3, 2008

    Isn’t mercury already out of the vaccines? What kind of morons are these people.

    He’s no Einstein is he…

  4. #4 Phoenix Woman
    March 3, 2008

    That’s the whole thing, Rod. It’s been out of the vaccines in the US for years. It’s been out of vaccines in Denmark since 1992. It’s been out of the vaccines in other countries for years as well. Yet autism rates haven’t dropped in any of those places.

    Another thing: The whole reason that mercury-based vaccines were discontinued was because it was believed that ethyl mercury (also known as either thiomersal or thimerosal, depending on who’s spelling it and when) had the same properties as methyl mercury, the compound with which researchers over the years were the most familar and which is indeed nasty as it stays in the body for months, which gives more time for it to do a number on brain tissues.

    But studies done during the last decade show that ethyl mercury 1) doesn’t concentrate in the brain as intensively as does methyl mercury, 2) is easily eliminated from the body via our digestive tracts, and 3) is gone from the body in a week’s time if not less. As a consequence, the World Health Organization ruled in July of 2006 that there was no reason to forbid the use of thiomersal/ethyl mercury in vaccines.

    More can be found here: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/factsheets/thimerosalqa.htm

  5. #5 Ray
    March 3, 2008

    Forgive my ignorance, here, but with autism rates seemingly skyrocketing, why aren’t we putting more money and effort into determining the actual cause, rather than bickering about what it might or might not be?

    Eisenstein has stated that he would stand down if a blue ribbon panel that did not include any vaccine patent holders would conduct a thorough review of all available evidence and issue a conclusion that vaccines’ risks are outweighed by their benefits. Has such a sweeping study ever been performed? If not, why not? It doesn’t sound unreasonable to me, and it would go a long way toward increasing trust in vaccines.

  6. #6 Suska
    March 3, 2008

    in the video at 2:28 they have a sign, in a car, covering the side of the windshield closest to the driver’s side. I hope these protesters don’t drive away with it still on and get into an accident. That would be really sad and ironic. And what are they chanting?? “AAP you can’t spell me”???? or maybe “AAP you can’t snow me”???

  7. #7 isles
    March 3, 2008

    Suska – I think it’s “snow me.” They complained constantly about the cold. What did they think it was going to be like in Chicago in February? Oh, right, we’re talking about the mercury moms.

    Ray – A blue ribbon panel, like oh, maybe the Institute of Medicine? Committee chosen specifically to exclude any vaccine stakeholders? Been done. Didn’t come out the way the mercury moms wanted.

  8. #8 Ranson
    March 3, 2008

    Ray,

    At risk of flagellating a very, very dead horse, the upswing in autism diagnoses stems from pretty much one source: better diagnostics. When you greatly widen the spectrum, as the last major revision of the DSM did, you are, of course going to get bigger numbers. Why weren’t autism rates high back in the early days of vaccines? Because they called them “retarded”, not autistic. Mental health treatment has come a long way in recognizing and dealing with autism, but that also means that a lot morecases are being noticed. Hell, Asperger’s is on the spectrum, and it wasn’t even recognized in the DSM until recently. So, basically, when the ability to diagnose gets better, diagnoses tend to go up, especially for mental health and/or developmental concerns.

    As for benefits versus risks, I have a hard time being polite right there. Rates of death and/or injury due to preventable disease are well established. They’ve even touched my family. Rates of real, confirmed “vaccine injury” are absolutely tiny by comparison. Those numbers have all been dragged out and rehashed over and over by people like Orac. Hell, one of the first posts I ever read on this blog was a list of death rates in unvaccinated populations versus rates of bad reaction to vaccines. The data has already been presented. The numbers don’t support the anti-vaxxers. Period. They never will. That’s why, even when they are the ones calling for such comparisons, the anti-vaxxers will ignore the data. They’ve done it every time so far. Why bother showing them again?

  9. #9 Suska
    March 3, 2008

    isles- well said, props. Maybe the anti-vaccine people don’t believe all that science mumbo jumbo(i.e data) about certain parts of the world being colder than others at different times of the year. Silly scientists being paid by corporations to tell us to buy coats and such. I still don’t get what “you can’t snow me” means. I’d suggest these people go to school, but clearly people like “Dr.”Eisenstein lead one to believe that having an education might not combat ignorance.

  10. #10 Azkyroth
    March 3, 2008

    Forgive my ignorance, here, but with autism rates seemingly skyrocketing, why aren’t we putting more money and effort into determining the actual cause, rather than bickering about what it might or might not be?

    Because we keep having to waste time and money placating noisy, belligerent pig-ignoramuses who have already made up their minds and are unwilling to be confused by the facts, maybe?

    I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but, like with Creationists…well, those things you’re liable to hear from the anti-vaxxers about being interested in the truth and concerned about children’s welfare…well, they ain’t necessarily so.

  11. #11 Joseph
    March 3, 2008

    Forgive my ignorance, here, but with autism rates seemingly skyrocketing, why aren’t we putting more money and effort into determining the actual cause, rather than bickering about what it might or might not be?

    A distinction needs to be made between diagnoses skyrocketing and actual rates skyrocketing. I could go into details, but basically, there’s substantial evidence that there’s no real increase in actual rates of autism, and the prevalence of autism in adults is high, albeit often being undiagnosed or differently diagnosed.

  12. #12 Prometheus
    March 3, 2008

    “Eisenstein has stated that he would stand down if a blue ribbon panel that did not include any vaccine patent holders would conduct a thorough review of all available evidence and issue a conclusion that vaccines’ risks are outweighed by their benefits. Has such a sweeping study ever been performed? If not, why not? It doesn’t sound unreasonable to me, and it would go a long way toward increasing trust in vaccines.”

    As mentioned above, such a “blue ribbon panel” has met and found that vaccines’ risks are outweighed by their benefits. Since that wasn’t the outcome that Eisenstein (and others) wanted, they continue to insist that their “demand” hasn’t been met.

    No doubt, Eisenstein and the rest would not be “satisfied” with anything that did not support their pet (dead parrot) hypothesis that vaccines cause autism (and/or other unspecified “neurological disorders”).

    For that matter, why should we care if Eisenstein “stands down” or not? Does it really matter if a small group of disaffected “black helicopter” conspiracy theorists are “not satisfied” with the state of the science?

    Why should we throw good money after bad, trying to convince people who will never be convinced? They have a specific outcome in mind, and anything other than that outcome is – in their eyes – nothing but further evidence of “government conspiracy” and “cover-up”.

    There will always be some people – even some people with advanced degrees – who will perseverate in believing some improbable thing or another. If it’s not vaccine-cause-autism, it will be powerlines-cause-cancer or cellphones-are-mind-control-devices.

    I, for one, don’t feel an overwhelming need to convince people like Dr. Eisenstein that they are wrong. I am perfectly content to leave him to his self-delusions. It is the vast number of people who haven’t closed their minds yet that I am trying to convince.

    As the evidence has mounted, study by study, showing that thimerosal was not associated with autism, the aluminium-foil hat crowd – the “true beleivers” – has been pushed steadily back. They’re retreating from thimerosal-causes-autism, falling back on mercury-(from power plants, crematoria and China)-causes-autism and vague-unspecified-”toxins”-in-vaccines-cause-autism. When they’re pushed back from those positions, they’ll fall back onto too-many-vaccines-cause-autism (as some have already done – “leading the retreat”, as it were).

    Eventually, the folks left in the “movement” will, as most do, end up simply mumbling about “government conspiracy” and “cover-up”.

    It’s too late for them. They’re beyond reason. No amount of research or “transparency” or “blue ribbon panels” will ever convince them that they are wrong.

    Why bother with the hopeless cases like Eisenstein? I say, let’s put the effort into showing the data to people whose minds are still open.

    Prometheus

  13. #13 Graculus
    March 3, 2008

    Has such a sweeping study ever been performed?

    It’s been done.

    You may have heard of this thing called “history”.

    Or are you blissfully ignorant of how many people died or were permanently crippled by vaccine controllable diseases before the vaccines were developed?

  14. #14 Sastra
    March 3, 2008

    Although the bulk of the “increase” in autism is probably due to differences in diagnosis, I read somewhere that there still seemed to be a slight increase unaccounted for. The hypothesis was that autism (and Asperger’s) might be carried on the same ‘network’ of genes which also coded for ability in math and science — and the likelihood of two people who both carried the tendency having children has slightly increased. In the past, most marriages were either arranged, or simply did not bring couples together based on common interests. Not so today, where for the last few generations science/math majors of opposite sex are more likely to meet, note they have similar personalities, and marry. Recessive genes come together. Thus, the statistical increase.

    I don’t remember where I read this, or what supported it. It sounds plausible on the surface, but that may not mean anything. Has anyone else heard about this? Is there valid research behind it, or were some folks just speculating?

  15. #15 K.
    March 3, 2008

    If only you could let it rest.

    McCain has jumped into the fray supporting the militia, and lost the considerable respect I had for him until now.

  16. #16 K.
    March 3, 2008

    Oops, had too many windows up when I copied that tag. This is the correct link.

  17. #17 Kurt
    March 3, 2008

    Sastra,

    I’ve read similar things specifically about silicon valley and the relatively high numbers of “math/computer geek” couples having autistic children at a higher than expected rate. This Wired article from 2001 talks about this.

  18. #18 MadVeterinarian
    March 3, 2008

    I like how they have a freaking Escalade parked right next to their protest. The evil physicians that are saving kids’ lives seem to have more practical vehicles, and they also appear to have jobs.

  19. #19 Lilly de Lure
    March 4, 2008

    Another forgive my ignorance post but I just can’t get my head around the whole “Merury causes Autism” thing that these people spout and was hoping for some help.

    Surely a brief look at the history of medicine shows that we’ve been using mercury for centuries to treat a variety of ailments, syphilis being the best known example. Now, not only did it not work but it typically resulted in a lot of very unpleasant and very specific symptoms due to mecury poisoning, some of which were neurological and all of which are very well documented.

    However those genuinely mercury poisoned patients displayed a completely different set of symptoms to those displayed by people on the ASD spectrum. Given this how can the Mercury Militia possibly claim their children suffer from mercury poisoning when their symptomology is so completely different to that displayed by actual sufferers of mercury poisoning?

    Apologies if I’m flogging a dead horse with this question, it’s just been bugging me for a while and I don’t seem to be able to find an answer to it anywhere.

  20. #20 Ranson
    March 4, 2008

    @Lilly

    Your question actualy makes good sense, and I’m hapy to explain. To put it simply, the current Mercury Militia is simply wrong. They have no understanding of the differences between different types of mercury compounds, nor do they care to find out. If you’ll look back at Orac’s recent posts, you’ll note that they are trending away from blaming mercury to “toxins” in the vaccines, because the evidence is coming in hot and heavy against the mercury hypothesis. Some of these people are distraught parents looking for something to blame. Others are anti-medicine conspiracy nuts. Some are just plain nuts (see: Jenny McCarthy). Others are evil, opportunistic scaremongers peddling their latest snake oil to people who don’t have a lot of critical thinking skills.

    Ultimately, it comes down to the fact they don’t know or don’t care. What we on the side of reality have to do is keep presenting the evidence in a clear and forthright manner, while not cutting the real charlatans any slack. The only chance we have is to use those things to get to the people who don’t know. Any time we sway someone on the fence (or even the other side) toward the side of reality, we have a victory and may have even saved a child from a crippling or fatal disease that is easily preventable through vaccines. I’m not saying that my words are worth that much, but the time and effort of people like Orac, or Steve Novella, or Bronze Dog, or anyone that puts their heart and time into fighting dangerous “medicine” has certainly made a difference. There’s a million places to get bad vaccine information on the web, and only a handful holding up the evidence refuting them.

    I encourage you to look around, and look at the evidence, not the rhetoric. If it’s a lawyer or a radio host talking, do you trust them over the NIH? How about published research? Given that you even asked your question, you seem to at least think about these things. Asking real questions is often the best way to dismantle bad medicine, because they can’t back up their ideas. If you can pass that on to others, it’s almost the best thing you can do.

  21. #21 Lilly de Lure
    March 4, 2008

    Hi Ransom

    Thanks for that, I was wondering if I was just being dumb, it appears that it’s the mentality I am having trouble with rather than the actual facts of the matter.

    I guess I can understand how desperate parents who need answers can latch on to something that might give them comfort, but surely if they’re that desperate for answers they are capable of looking up “symptoms of mercury poisoning” (or indeed of an overdose of any compound in vaccines since they appear to be drifting) in a medical text book or online, compare it with the symptoms their children are experiencing and going “hang on a minute”.

    Also, are they incapable of dealing with the concept of “dosage” – virtually everything, including pure water, is lethally toxic in a high enough dose – and checking whether the additives in vaccines are actually toxic in the doses that children are exposed to?

    Or am I just expecting too much rationality from people? Whilst I fully accept that there are some evil-minded people in the Mercury Militia and that Andrew Wakefield is probably one of the more repulsive specimens of humanity walking the planet at the moment I just can’t understand how concerned parents can just buy what they are saying when the facts are so clearly against them and so readily accessible.

    Why are such parents sufficiently concerned to protest outside the AAP in sub zero temperatures but not concerned enough to do some basic research to make sure they’re not tilting at windmills?

  22. #22 Joseph
    March 4, 2008

    Although the bulk of the “increase” in autism is probably due to differences in diagnosis, I read somewhere that there still seemed to be a slight increase unaccounted for.

    Well, they say that, but I haven’t seen anything convincing to that effect. For example, a report came out out of California saying that older children in the system met DSM-IV criteria at about the same rate as children diagnosed more recently. But that misses the point completely. They need to check if the older children meet a more restrictive criteria than DSM-IV that the younger children might not meet. There are also things not in the criteria that would not be measured. It is well known that mental retardation is rare among younger autistic children compared to older autistic children in California. If you look at changes in characteristic proportions in the data, it’s quite obvious that we’re talking about a cultural shift rather than a biological/environmental one.

    The hypothesis was that autism (and Asperger’s) might be carried on the same ‘network’ of genes which also coded for ability in math and science — and the likelihood of two people who both carried the tendency having children has slightly increased. In the past, most marriages were either arranged, or simply did not bring couples together based on common interests. Not so today, where for the last few generations science/math majors of opposite sex are more likely to meet, note they have similar personalities, and marry. Recessive genes come together. Thus, the statistical increase.

    I’ve heard that as well, and it seems plausible on the surface, but there’s no good epidemiological evidence that this is having an effect in the numbers. It’s true that autism is more common in families of engineers, and it’s debatable why this is, but again, I don’t see an effect in the numbers that would account for the “epidemic” people talk about.

  23. #23 Hey Zeus is my Homeboy
    March 4, 2008

    Why is the vid no longer available? Did they realize how stupid they look?

  24. #24 isles
    March 5, 2008

    You know, I was reading comments on another blog – a post about McCain’s woefully uninformed comments on thimerosal causing autism – and realized that this is a neon sign flashing the message that “it’s all about the vaccines.”

    In the court case the questioner was asking about, the child was given several vaccines in one day. Some of them were vaccines that could have contained thimerosal (they were given in 2000, during its phase-out), but the court document doesn’t say whether they actually did, and it doesn’t seem to have occurred to the mercury militia to even ask the question. Certainly the mercury mom who posed the question was using the case to support her insinuations about thimerosal, even though it’s not clear that the child was ever exposed to it.

    It just doesn’t matter to them. Thimerosal is a convenient bogeyman when it’s available, but they’ll grab onto anything that they think makes vaccines look scary.

  25. #25 Inquisitive Raven
    March 5, 2008

    Suska: I assume that you are not a native English speaker, or at least not American. A “snow job” is a kind of deception, so “can’t snow me” would be a bit of a double entendre meaning “can’t fool me,” but also a comment on the weather.

    Sastra: There was a study done in Israel that seemed to indicate that the probability of a child being autistic is correlated to the age of the father at the time of conception. Given that people are tending to have kids later than they used to, this may account for a lot of any actual rise in occurrence (as opposed to apparent rise resulting from broader criteria and better diagnosis).

    Joseph: Something to think about. Part of the broadening of the criteria includes adding Asperger’s Syndrome. Kanner type autism is far more likely to include mental retardation as a co-morbidity than Asperger’s is, so just including the Asperger’s patients is going to change the apparent proportions of mentally retarded autistics. A higher proportion of older diagnosed autistics are going to be mentally retarded simply because the Asperger’s kids weren’t diagnosed previously.

  26. #26 Joseph
    March 5, 2008

    Joseph: Something to think about. Part of the broadening of the criteria includes adding Asperger’s Syndrome. Kanner type autism is far more likely to include mental retardation as a co-morbidity than Asperger’s is, so just including the Asperger’s patients is going to change the apparent proportions of mentally retarded autistics. A higher proportion of older diagnosed autistics are going to be mentally retarded simply because the Asperger’s kids weren’t diagnosed previously.

    Part of the broadening of criteria includes Asperger’s, or more precisely, a lot of autism without mental retardation. But it’s clear from the data that there’s increasing recognition of autism in the population with mental retardation as well. In fact, autism is still under-recognized in this population. Nearly all of the increase in autism cases in the US special education system appears to come from the MR category.

    But you’re essentially correct. The drop in the MR proportion in California autistics has to be due to increasing recognition in the population without mental retardation. (I realize that’s a bit confusing; basically, IDEA and California DDS don’t report on the same types of categories).

    BTW, “Kanner” autism should not actually be considered to necessarily include mental retardation, although you’ll read that in a lot of places. Many of Kanner’s original patients did not have cognitive disability. One of them, Alfred N. (case 8), reportedly had an IQ of 140. Interestingly enough, he was apparently not one of the patients who had a good adult outcome (he was taken to one psychiatric hospital after another by his mother; Kanner lost track of the kid eventually.)

  27. #27 Dr. Mary Johnson
    March 5, 2008

    Kevin generally ignores me, but I thought the Mighty Orac might “enjoy” this link from my neck of the woods: http://www.traditionalnaturopath.com/2008/03/05/us-government-concedes-vaccines-cause-autism/

    Yours, insolently.

  28. #28 Shiritai
    March 5, 2008

    Dr. Johnson,

    Orac’s commented on that here.

  29. #29 Dr. Mary Johnson
    March 5, 2008

    Thank you!

  30. #30 Azkyroth
    March 6, 2008

    BTW, “Kanner” autism should not actually be considered to necessarily include mental retardation, although you’ll read that in a lot of places.

    ….I wasn’t aware that it was supposed to, unless “Kanner autism” means something more specific than distinguishing Autism from Asperger’s. My daughter definitely doesn’t manifest symptoms of mental retardation; despite her rudimentary language and social skills she consistently performs many cognitive tasks at a level typical of a child one to several years older. (Anecdotal evidence, while it has little weight in questions of prevalence, is if documented enough to conclusively disprove a “…necessarily…” to the contrary).

  31. #31 Joseph
    March 6, 2008

    The current understanding of “Kanner autism” and “Asperger autism” are relatively recent constructions, and I don’t believe there is an official definition of “Kanner autism” at all. (Not to mention that the official criteria for Asperger’s is so ill-defined, that Asperger’s might not be strictly diagnosable in any child, and will likely be taken out of the DSM-V). There doesn’t appear to be much of a difference between the patients Kanner saw and the patients Hans Asperger saw, except perhaps that Dr. Asperger was a bit more respectful in his descriptions of the condition.

    “Kanner autism” is often thought to mean exactly “low functioning autism”, but then the official definition of “low functioning autism” includes mental retardation (IQ below 70, although types of IQ tests are not mentioned in the definition). So “Kanner autism” can’t be the same as “low functioning autism.” Other times lack of speech in late childhood or later are thought to mean “low functioning autism”, but again, that’s not consistent with the official definition. It’s all a big mess, and it would be naive to think that autism researchers are close to having a handle on it all.

  32. #32 Azkyroth
    March 6, 2008

    As I understood it, the primary difference between children with Asperger’s and children with Autism is that children with Autism generally have severe delays in language development. This has been consistent with my experience.

  33. #33 Joseph
    March 7, 2008

    I’m sure the thread has turned boring for most, but Azkyroth might still be interested. See this (one of many papers that say the same thing). Basically, all autistic children, whether they are thought of as Asperger’s or not, have a communication impairment. Hence, all meet criteria for autistic disorder and not Asperger’s syndrome.

  34. #34 Azkyroth
    March 9, 2008

    My own experience as a person with Asperger’s with an Autistic child has been that I developed langauge – advanced, sophisticated langauge – quite early and initially socialized enthusiastically but very, very badly, ultimately developing an aversion to social situations after repeatedly offending, disturbing, insulting, angering, or weirding out neurotypical after neurotypical with absolutely no idea why they responded that way. My daughter, by contrast, did not develop speech at all beyond the “baby babble” stage and seemed even to regress from that prior to being placed in ABA therapy, and was moderately affectionate with her mother and I but otherwise strikingly quiet and withdrawn socially. I suppose both of these can be reduced to the almost meaninglessly broad and ambiguous heading of “communication impairment” if one insists, but the details are different in a fashion that’s been quite consistent among the other people with Asperger’s and Autism I’ve encountered or read about, and my experience (having been misdiagnosed with bipolar-like conditions for years due to psychiatrists similarly reducing my symptoms to “perceived as irritable and acts excited and inappropriately in social settings” and calling it hypomania) suggests that this is not a useful approach to understanding anything (it’d be kind of like writing a comprehensive synthesis of “the history of brown-skinned people”).

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