Respectful Insolence

Ack!

Well, so much for Hillary Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s reputations for supposedly being well-informed about scientific issues. True, they didn’t sink as far into the stupid as John McCain did about vaccines and autism, but what they said was bad enough. Let’s put it this way: If David Kirby thinks what they said about vaccines and autism is just great, they seriously need to fire all their medical advisors and get new ones who know how to evaluate evidence:

No matter who wins in Pennsylvania today, the next President of the United States will support research into the growing evidence of some link between vaccines and autism.

Senator John McCain has already expressed his belief that vaccines and the mercury containing preservative thimerosal could be implicated in what he has rightly termed an “autism epidemic.”

Senator Hillary Clinton, in response to a questionaire from the autism activist group A-CHAMP, wrote that she was “Committed to make investments to find the causes of autism, including possible environmental causes like vaccines.” And when asked if she would support a study of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated children, she said: “Yes. We don’t know what, if any, kind of link there is between vaccines and autism – but we should find out.”

And now, yesterday, at a rally in Pennsylvania, Barack Obama had this rather surprising thing to say:

“We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it.”

True, this is not quite as bad as John McCain’s incredible ignorance, but it’s pretty bad.

Obama’s statement, even if the interpretation that his saying “this person included” was referring to someone in the crowd and not referring to himself, is nonetheless particularly ignorant and egregious. The science is quite conclusive thus far that vaccines do not cause autism and becomes more convincing every year. Obama is just plain wrong about implying that vaccines have something to do with an “autism epidemic,” and he was wrong when his campaign supplied this reply to a questionnaire sent to the candidates by A-CHAMP. I’m not going to go through all of the candidates’ responses to the questions, mainly because most of them consisted of only the most vacuous and vapid of soothing political pander-language that looks like it’s saying something but really isn’t. For example, this is Obama’s answer to one question:

Are you satisfied that the federal vaccine approval process is free of conflicts of interests, transparent and rigorous?

As President, I will conduct a thorough examination of all federal programs to ensure that they are effective and operating in the best interests of the American people. And I will ensure that sound and unbiased science, not ideology, guides decisions made in my administration.

That’s about as vacuous and controversy-free as a politician can make it, as is Hillary Clinton’s reply to the very same question:

I believe that we need independent, thorough, and comprehensive testing of all drugs, including vaccines, to make sure that they are safe and effective. I will ensure that the process of approving vaccines is based on science and research – not ideology or other motives. I will do everything I can to protect the health and well-being of American families.

Such boilerplate language doesn’t need a dose of Respectful Insolence™ because it says nothing of substance that is worth beating on for anything other than the fact that it says nothing of substance. However, this response by Barack Obama to the questionnaire does deserve a heapin’ helpin’ of not-so-Respectful Insolence™:

Do you believe there is an autism epidemic in the United States?

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the United Sates and, perhaps the world.. One in 150 children is diagnosed with ASD. These numbers can not be explained solely by increased awareness or changes to the diagnostic criteria. It is a health crisis and I will act accordingly. There are many Americans with special needs. They will have a partner in the federal government under my administration.

Wrong, Senator Obama! Just plain wrong.

The evidence strongly suggests that it is indeed a combination of increased awareness, changes in the diagnostic criteria in the early 1990s, and diagnostic substitution that is responsible for the appearance of an autism “epidemic.” Steve Novella summarized the evidence nicely and put it well:

It should also be noted that all of this research, while supporting the hypothesis that the rise in autism diagnoses is not due to a true increase in the incidence but rather is due to a broadening of the definition and increased surveillance, does not rule out a small genuine increase in the true incidence. A small real increase can be hiding in the data. There is no evidence upon which we can conclude, however, that true autism rates are increasing.

Of course the implications of this are profound. If there is no autism epidemic, if there is a “stable incidence” of autism over recent decades, then this alone is powerful evidence against the vaccine hypothesis – and in fact removes the primary piece of evidence for a vaccine-autism connection. Just as a true increase in incidence would have called out for an environmental factor causing autism, the lack of any increase argues strongly against any environment factor – especially when this is combined with the copious evidence for multiple genetic factors as the ultimate cause(s) of ASD.

In other words, it’s possible that autism rates may have increased slightly, but multiple studies refute Barack Obama’s contention that the autism “epidemic” cannot be explained well by the broadening of the diagnostic criteria that occurred 15 years ago. There’s no way around it; Obama’s just plain wrong about this, pure and simple. Hillary Clinton’s reply is only marginally better. Although she doesn’t ignorantly dismiss the likelihood that broadened diagnostic criteria and diagnostic substitution are primarily at work here, she too believes there is an autism epidemic:

Do you believe there is an autism epidemic in the United States?

Yes. Today, one in 150 children rare diagnosed with autism, for a total of about 25,000 each year. In sum, about 1.5 million Americans and their families are affected by autism today. This national health crisis is costing the United States at least $35 billion each year. I have long been a strong advocate for individuals and families impacted by autism. I have cosponsored the Combating Autism Act and introduced the Expanding the Promise for Individuals with Autism Act, in order to ensure that Americans living with autism could have access as quickly as possible to evidence-based treatments, interventions, and services. When I am President, I will dramatically boost research funding for autism and support services for families caring for an autistic loved one.

And what about the positions of the candidates on whether there is a link between vaccines and autism? First, Barack Obama:

Do you think vaccines should be investigated as a possible cause of autism?

I believe that the next president must restore confidence and open communication with the American people. This includes environmental policies and government funded research. An Obama administration will go where the science and the facts lead us, whether it is about climate change or toxic heavy metals in our environment.

Would you support a large-scale federal study of the differences in health outcomes between vaccinated and unvaccinated groups

Experience has taught that effective medical research must be “large-scale” and well funded. I believe Americans should know must know the health effects that caused by the presence of mercury in vaccines. I will also support an examination of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation program, a program designed to compensate those injured by vaccinations.

The first reply was nothing more than vapid, content-free, vague politician-speak, but for the second answer the stupid, it truly burns. (Yes, Obama deserves that richly in this instance.) Clearly, the Obama campaign seems not to believe the multiple large, well-designed epidemiological studies that have failed to find a link between vaccines and autism or between mercury in vaccines and autism. He also seems not to realize the methodological and ethical difficulties involved in doing research comparing vaccinated and unvaccinated and oblivious to the fact that vaccine outcomes are intensively studied.

Hillary Clinton, although slightly better, doesn’t exactly reveal that she has advisors who understand the issue either:

Do you think vaccines should be investigated as a possible cause of autism

I am committed to make investments to find the causes of autism, including possible environmental causes like vaccines. I have long been a supporter of increased research to determine the links between environmental factors and diseases, and I believe we should increase the NIH’s ability to engage in this type of research. My administration will be committed to improving research to support fact-based solutions, and I will ensure that the NIH has the staff and funding to fully explore all possible causes of autism.

Would you support a large-scale federal study ofthe differences in health outcomes between vaccinated and unvaccinated groups?

Yes. We don’t know what, if any, kind of link there is between vaccines and autism – but we should find out. The lack of research on treatments, interventions, and services for children and adults with autism is a major impediment to the development of delivery of quality care. We need evidence-based research on what works and what doesn’t in order to provide the most effective services for people with autism. In addition to a large-scale federal study, I will create a task force that would include significant representation from the autism community and would be charged with identifying gaps in evidence-based biomedical research, behavioral treatments, and services for children and adults with autism. The task force would present these findings to Congress and the Executive Branch and would make recommendations on how to make evidence-based treatments, interventions, and services available at the state and local levels. Once the task force has completed its work, I will provide funding to establish state-based demonstration grants to provide these evidence-based autism treatments, interventions, and services.

I know what apologists for Clinton and Obama will say there: What’s wrong with calling for more research? Of course, “calling for more research” is the cop-out that all politicians use whenever there’s an issue that is contentious, but that’s not why the Democratic candidates are in for a dose of Orac’s loving attention. Rather it is because in answering these questions the way they did, they both fell for the very frame (I hate that word these days, but it’s the correct one here) that antivaccinationists wanted them to fall for with respect to vaccines and autism. In essence, both candidates accepted some of the major pillars of the mercury militia’s fantasies as being true. These include claims that:

  • there is an autism “epidemic.” (Arguably, there is very likely not.)
  • there is a scientific controversy over whether vaccines cause autism. (There really isn’t; it’s a so-called manufactured controversy. There is no good evidence that vaccines cause autism, David Kirby’s bloviations and pontifications otherwise notwithstanding. Multiple large epidemiological studies have failed to find even a hint of a convincing link, and the publicizing of the Hannah Poling case as some sort of “smoking gun” by antivaccinationists is nothing more than a rebranding of autism and more evidence of the incredibly shrinking vaccine claim.)
  • that vaccines are somehow unsafe or that children are “overvaccinated” and eceive too many vaccines. (Again, there is no good evidence that either of these is the case.)

Unfortunately, thanks to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s poorly thought out statements, David Kirby is actually correct when he says:

So there you have it, our next President will share the views of such radical fringe crazies as, well, me, Democrat Robert Kennedy, Jr., Republican Joe Scarborough, former NIH and Red Cross chief Bernadine Healy, and several researchers at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, the Universities of California and Washington and elsewhere.

Well, not quite. I ‘m not sure who those researchers at all those prestigious institutions are who think vaccines cause autism the way that David Kirby and the mercury militia do. As for Bernadine Healy, I remember seeing her disappointingly credulous article and was just too burned out on dealing with the stupidity being laid down in such copious quantities about vaccines and autism lately to comment on it. David Kirby is right, though, that he and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. are radical fringe crazies, even though (I think) he meant it ironically. He may also be correct that the candidates “share their views,” albeit only in a superficial sense. Kirby and RFK Jr., for instance, are very committed to their view that vaccines cause autism. I doubt the candidates gave it half a thought; they probably just signed off on a statement by their scientific advisors, which, if true, is strong evidence that they really need to fire their scientific advisors immediately.

I realize that Clinton and Obama are politicians. I realize that they didn’t want to tick off the group that sent them the questionnaire. I further realize that politicians will pander, as they are no doubt pandering to the mercury militia here. The problem is that pandering to this group can have very real and very serious consequences in terms of protecting the health of the people of the United States. Let’s just put it this way. If the nattering nabobs of antivaccinationism over at the Age of Autism and credulous cheerleaders for antivaccinationists like Ginger like–or worse, are beside themselves with glee at–what all three candidates have to say with regards to the issue of vaccines and autism, no matter which candidate is elected, on this issue at least, those of us who support scientific medicine and accept what it has to say about the value and safety of vaccines are likely to be well and truly screwed. Worse, if antivaccinationists get their way in a new administration, it could be the nation that is well and truly screwed.

Comments

  1. #1 Left_Wing_Fox
    April 22, 2008

    Yeah, disappointing as hell.

    Still voting for Obama though. I knew I was voting for the best of bad choices anyways, so what’s one more screw to the thumbs. At this point, all I can hope for and work towards is making sure whomever becomes the president gets informed on this issue.

  2. #2 hardindr
    April 22, 2008

    That is pretty disappointing. Hopefully, all that will happen if either Clinton or Obama is elected is that they’ll jut do another (unneccessary) epidemiological study, find no link betwen autism and vaccines and that will be the end of it.

    By the way, Orac, why do you allow Typekey registration for your blog’s comments? Other sciencebloggers do…

  3. #3 Lenora
    April 22, 2008

    Bleck. I met Obama when he was campaining for the senate. We asked him a very specific question about special education funding in Illinois and he knew exactly what we were talking about and answered us directly. It’s disappointing that he shows such a bad grasp on autism.

  4. #4 Tyler DiPietro
    April 22, 2008

    Man, this sucks. I predicted that the Dem candidates would probably try and appease the mercury militia for easy votes (as I still think McCain did). But it all still sucks, the Dem candidates still look like idiots.

  5. #5 John Best
    April 22, 2008

    Are you really dumb enough to believe that Clinton, Obama or McCain will do anything to help our mercury poisoned kids? They’ll probably all just let the drug companies invent some pill that will kill them all quicker so they don’t have to pay to care for them. As long as you vote for any democrat or republican, you have nothing to worry about.

  6. #6 ecoli
    April 22, 2008

    I guess we don’t have to worry about a politician giving a straight answer anytime soon.
    with any luck, the science well be able to speak for itself on this issue.

  7. #7 Laser Potato
    April 22, 2008




    That’s it. I’m movin’ to Sweden.

  8. #8 usagi
    April 22, 2008

    Do you know Ron Paul? [/snark]

  9. #9 Karl Withakay
    April 22, 2008

    What’s the difference between most skeptics/critical thinkers and the anti-vacationists, anti-scientists, homeopathophiles, astrology fans, ufologists, and other woofolks? If we find credible, verifiable, scientific proof/evidence that we are wrong, we will likely admit we are wrong and change our positions, whereas the woo folk will never be dissuaded from what they WANT to believe.

    You must not be come so obsessed with your answer that it overshadows the question, and you must also first make sure you are asking the right question.

  10. #10 Karl Withakay
    April 22, 2008

  11. #11 Jorde
    April 22, 2008

    Ok, I think I have figured out a way to get the anti vaccine people to shut up and go away, its ingenious. Its based on the scientific principle of Crankology, anyone who believes in one pseudoscience will believe in more.

    Instead of saying we took out the thiomersal, we start the it is in the vaccines in a 30C dosage. Thus, if it is the cause of autism, the new vaccines should cure it.

  12. #12 Jim RL
    April 22, 2008

    I’m an Obama supporter, but you are dead right on this. I already sent a nasty-gram to his campaign about it. A child died just last week of whooping cough because his mother chose not to vaccinate him. We don’t need presidential candidates endangering our children by scaring parents away from vaccinations.

  13. #13 culvercitycynic
    April 22, 2008

    Obama lost my vote. He knew better. What unforgivable pandering.

  14. #14 Andrew
    April 22, 2008

    Well, I was going to vote in the Pennsylvania primary today…but I caught this just before I was going to go. Couldn’t, in good conscience, make a decision at this point. :/

  15. #15 Etha Williams
    April 22, 2008

    This is horrifying. Really shows you the non-difference between Clinton and Obama.

    “I never voted for anyone. I voted against.”
    –W. C. Fields

  16. #16 Phil
    April 22, 2008

    I’m annoyed but what can I do? I can’t afford another 8 years of Bush economics. My car won’t let me at $4 a gallon. Another invasion to secure oil will end up at $8.

  17. #17 Azkyroth
    April 22, 2008

    We can and should demand better than this from our candidates, but blowing off voting for a mostly-good candidate every time an imperfection is discovered really seems like cutting off your face to spite your nose.

  18. #18 HCN
    April 22, 2008

    Oh, crud… I tried to find an email address to send both of them information (I was also going to add McCain to the list), but you have to fill out a “spam me please” form first!

    I think then I shall wait for who ever wins to send them information that:

    1) Vaccines save money:
    http://archpedi.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/159/12/1136

    2) Vaccines reduce mental retardation:
    http://archpedi.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/160/3/302

  19. #19 Ticktock
    April 22, 2008

    These people are trying to get elected. Not every U.S. citizen is smart enough to read Dr. Novella’s blog so that they can understand the nuance of autism rates jumping from 1:10,000 in 1994 to 1:150 in 2007. The average American would look at that and call Obama an IDIOT for denying the skyrocketing diagnoses of children with autism.

    What more can he do? He was raised in his early years by an atheist scientist mother, and he respects the division of science and religion. To say that he lost your vote because he gave a vague scientifically-imperfect answer to a highly emotional and complex subject is just nuts.

    His answer boiled down to “we will follow the science”. DUH! That is code for “Scientists, please understand that I’m with you on this, but I need to pander to these people so that I don’t look like the elitist dismissive asshole that the media wants me to be lately”.

  20. #20 Narc
    April 23, 2008

    The Huff Post piece is frustrating, but what I also find frustrating is the two comments marked “HuffPost’s Pick” are from autism cranks. It’s not just that this stuff gets given a prominent place there, but that someone is sorting through all the comments and deciding special recognition should go to someone that closes a comment with tripe like “No child should ever be written off as collateral damage in the war on the disease.”

    You know, since the rest of us are protesting in front of Big Pharm HQ chanting “We want collateral damage and we want it now!”

  21. #21 Epistaxis
    April 23, 2008

    I’m optimistic – I think the Democrats are just pandering and they don’t mean it. Think of it as a vaccination against the antivaccinationists.

  22. #22 Harry Eagar
    April 23, 2008

    Just curious, on what grounds were Obama and Clinton supposed to be well-informed or better informed about scientific (specifically, medical) matters?

    They’re lawyers.

  23. #23 Laurence Passmore
    April 23, 2008

    I wholeheartedly agree with Ticktock. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of debating someone who passionately believes in this connection, you’ll understand the emotion involved. For Obama to disparage these concerns is politically suicidal, especially with the “elitism” meme floating about. We in the scientific community should suck it up for the time being.

  24. #24 Quiet Desperation
    April 23, 2008

    Ah, so let ‘em investigate. Maybe the results will finally shut up the whiners.

    That’s why I supported the V-Chip and other stuff like that. Now when a parent complains about content on TV, you just tell them to STFU and learn how to program their televisions correctly.

    And you folks realize that any candidate that gets as far as the primaries is an insane megalomaniac, right? You think *any* of these people- Obama, Clinton or McCain- give one tenth of a gnat shit about any of you? If so, you are completely delusional on the level of a Young Earth Creationist.

    People in this country, science based skeptics included, need to start developing political skepticism.

  25. #25 Jerry
    April 23, 2008

    For me the big blow against them is that they are ignoring even FDA studies by saying that the jury is still out there on the “controversy” and there needs to be independent studies done. To me they are saying they do not trust what the government has to say, which could lead to a lot of problems if they become president.

    I am still going to vote for Obama though. Even though I very strongly disagree with his position on this issue I still like his stances on many other important issues, and believe that he will be shown the error of his ways if we get the evidence to him.

  26. #26 Azkyroth
    April 23, 2008

    And you folks realize that any candidate that gets as far as the primaries is an insane megalomaniac, right? You think *any* of these people- Obama, Clinton or McCain- give one tenth of a gnat shit about any of you? If so, you are completely delusional on the level of a Young Earth Creationist.

    People in this country, science based skeptics included, need to start developing political skepticism.

    Very well.

    What evidence would you care to offer for that claim?

  27. #27 Jack Chastain
    April 23, 2008

    It’s been said, but do you really expect any candidate to say “You are all completely witless on this issue. Go home, read a book and come back with a sensible question when you aren’t under the influence of some mind-altering substance – like belief”???

    None of these people knows much of anything other than how to garner large crowds who will ballot their way. The bigger collection wins. That’s their job.

    I would LOVE to have someone who really knew something about this – and many, many other subjects, running for Pres. Like that is EVER going to happen. The world is too big a place.

    It comes down to a choice of idiots. Pick one. The best you can hope for is that the people they pick for the important positions are honest and knowledgeable themselves.

    JC

  28. #28 Silmarillion
    April 23, 2008

    I hope you send this to Obama.

  29. #29 outeast
    April 23, 2008

    I think Ticktock has his/her finger in the sore. It’s disappointing to see the bullshit, but I think that’s what it is – it’s not ‘teh stupid’, it’s political bullshit. Unfortunately, allying yourself strongly with science to dismiss as ignorant the heartfelt conviction of people whose lives have been struck by tragedy is not the best way to go politically – especially when, as is the case with Obama now, the elitist tag has already been hung round your neck. Also: those are LONG responses. You think the candidates even saw those questionnaires? I’m sceptical.

  30. #30 João
    April 23, 2008

    I’m so glad I live in country where vaccination is absolutely compulsory, homeschooling is not allowed, gay marriages are legal, nobody thinks the earth was created 6,000 years ago, and so forth. And I’m quite sure the prime-minister is an atheist.
    Oh, wait, this is not the USA. It’s ol’catholic Spain!

  31. #31 laserboy
    April 23, 2008

    This maybe political bullshit but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fuss about it. The majority of people in the US still believe that vaccination is beneficial and mostly harmless. Most don’t believe it causes autism (my evidence is that vaccination rates are still reasonably high).

    If we let them get away with this bullshit then public confidence in the vaccination system is further undermined. Both Obama and Clinton missed a prime opportunity to say “Vaccination is safe. Numerous studies say so and I will not waste another dime of public money investigating an answered question. I would rather spend that money on support for ASD sufferers and their families. I would rather let scientists be optimally productive by pursuing what they believe to be the most promising avenues for investigating cause and therapy and treatment of ASD”

    Sure they would have lost the mercury militia vote but it would have been worth it for their strengthened support in the middle ground and the ability to call all the other politicians nutcases.

  32. #32 Anthony McCarthy
    April 23, 2008

    That’s why I supported the V-Chip and other stuff like that. Now when a parent complains about content on TV, you just tell them to STFU and learn how to program their televisions correctly.

    So, what about the next door neighbor’s kid who watches TV and gets the idea that playing with a gun or some similar idea promoted through is cool?

    Putting the responsibility on parents is hardly addressing the problem because a lot of parents are irresponsible. It’s like making vaccination against deadly diseases before attending public schools entirely voluntary. It also puts the commercial interests of media corporations before the welfare of children and the population in general.

  33. #33 Laser Potato
    April 23, 2008

    DIE IN LAVA, SPAMMER.

  34. #34 daenku32
    April 23, 2008

    Well, it’s not over yet. The next primary is here in Indiana (and that other state) That means they will be down here on the ground and hopefully still with their ears open.

    If ScienceDebate ever take place, I hope it takes place here. Indiana is filled with life-sciences research.

  35. #35 Gummo
    April 23, 2008

    RFK, Jr. seems to have good intentions, but is a little shaky on assessing evidence, as seen in his 2006 back-and-forth with Farhad Manjoo at Salon.com over the election irregularities in 2004. As someone who favors election reform, it’s frustrating to see RFK’s work given such prominence in a magazine like Rolling Stone.

  36. #36 Anthony McCarthy
    April 23, 2008

    Thinking that this issue is going to come up as a major one in the presidential election is wrong. It isn’t. This is an issue for an adminstration to be lobbied on once they take office. During the campaign, it’s going to go no where. Making it the decisive issue in who you vote for or if you vote at all is irrational, especially if you think all of the candidates are wrong on the issue.

  37. #37 R N B
    April 23, 2008

    Only because I usually only say “yes Orac I completely agree with your opinion” in this case I’ll dissent.

    So I want to add my support to those commenters who are saying that the criticism was very harsh. Of course I still agree completely with the Respectfully Insolent viewpoint, there is simply no credible evidence for any vaccine-autism link, Obama should not have agreed that there is an autism “epidemic”, but as a politician he had to say that he respected the opinion of someone who may have lost a child.

    And I confess that the way that I express my views is possibly even more direct, I don’t hesitate to throw words like idiot and moron at evidence denialists, but I’m not trying to be elected president, and I don’t think it was fair to imply that the “stupid burned” in this particular example.

  38. #38 Orac
    April 23, 2008

    DIE IN LAVA, SPAMMER.

    Terminated with extreme prejudice. Somehow one slipped through the filters. Very annoying.

  39. #39 Kay
    April 23, 2008

    They may all be ignorant about the issue but there are a lot of issues out there. Personally, I like Obama’s reply. He basically said: lets find out the truth about this issue. Clinton on the other hand said: Lets regulate the crap out of this. I prefer a truthfinder to a regulator everyday of the week.

  40. #40 Jesse
    April 23, 2008

    I’m with Ticktock and Jack, here. Obama’s answer was quite vague and certainly seemed to promise that it was not an issue he was concerned with but rather trusted the scientists/physicians on it.

    Besides, if you’re running for political office you can’t make the statements you sometimes should; “The science clearly demonstrates that there is no link between vaccines and autism and people who think there is are nothing more that feckless morons with even more moronic fears.”

    Or….

    “REALITY. UR NOT LIVIN IN IT.”

  41. #41 Orac
    April 23, 2008

    Thinking that this issue is going to come up as a major one in the presidential election is wrong. It isn’t.

    I never said it was. However, even so, that doesn’t mean I won’t criticize candidates who say scientifically ignorant things about it.

  42. #42 Anthony McCarthy
    April 23, 2008

    Orac, I meant the comments of people who said it would make a difference in their voting. You have every right to criticize candidates on any issue you want to. Everyone does.

    Obama and Clinton have issues that they have to address in the limits they live under, we aren’t limited that way.

  43. #43 me
    April 23, 2008

    I’m annoyed but what can I do? I can’t afford another 8 years of Bush economics. My car won’t let me at $4 a gallon. Another invasion to secure oil will end up at $8.

    Another economically ignorant Democrat. What a surprise!

    NOT!

  44. #44 Joseph
    April 23, 2008

    I don’t understand why they feel they need to pander to the anti-vax conspiracists, a fringe movement. Why don’t they pander to 9/11 troffers, for example? Same thing.

    You’d think rational-thinking people are a considerably larger constituency, but maybe I’m being naive about that.

  45. #45 miles
    April 23, 2008

    Actually the science linking vaccines to health problems is quite reliable. When Japan broke away from the US vaccination schedule in the 70′s and delayed their vaccinations until the child was at least 2 years old (and their blood/brain barrier and immune system had finished developing) they saw their SIDS rates fall from US rates to almost zero. They now have three decades of consistent data to show that if you want to get rid of a SIDS epidemic, start looking at how we vaccinate our children. The Japanese still use most of the vaccines we do, but later use makes all the difference.

  46. #46 Orac
    April 23, 2008

    Citations in the peer-reviewed literature to back up that claim, please. Links to antivaccinationist websites do not count.

  47. #47 HCN
    April 23, 2008

    miles, you have been lied to, especially about Japan and SIDS.

    From http://www.pathguy.com/antiimmu.htm:
    The anti-immunization activist author goes on with inflammatory, unreferenced stuff. After doing a computer search of the literature back to 1965, I am convinced that some activist simply made up the business about SIDS in Japan. He follows it with rhetoric about the need for a massive study of the whole business, not telling his readers that this has already been performed and that no correlation has been found.

    April 10: Jennifer Bankers-Fulbright wrote me about the explanation for the Japan SIDS business.

    JAMA 257: 1375, 1987: “In Japan, the problem of vaccine-associated SIDS was eliminated not by the introdution of acellular pertussis vaccines, but by the change of immunization from 3 months to 2 years.”
    The rate of SIDS in Japan did not change, but because the immunization schedule was changed, people stopped blaming the vaccine.

    I have spent a lot of time looking for this often-cited Japanese evidence, and have found so little that I must believe that the story originated with the misinterpretation of one person and spread like wildfire (as all the really “good” stories do). The rate of SIDS, I recall, did not change over the time-frame when this vaccination schedule shift occurred… Clearly it is the “vaccination-associated” classification of SIDS that went away; not SIDS itself.

    6//7/00: A correspondent shared an account of the SIDS in Japan business. An online account of further deceptions involving vaccines and SIDS is also down.

    ……

    A search on PubMed found now real information on Japan and SIDS. But I did find this abstract:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15889991?

    Which says:

    “An antivaccine movement developed in Japan as a consequence of increasing numbers of adverse reactions to whole-cell pertussis vaccines in the mid-1970s. After two infants died within 24 h of the vaccination from 1974 to 1975, the Japanese government temporarily suspended vaccinations. Subsequently, the public and the government witnessed the re-emergence of whooping cough, with 41 deaths in 1979. This series of unfortunate events revealed to the public that the vaccine had, in fact, been beneficial. Furthermore, researchers and the Japanese government proceeded to develop safer pertussis vaccines. Japan now has the most experience worldwide with acellular pertussis vaccines, being the first country to have approved their use. This review describes the major events associated with the Japanese vaccination program. The Japanese experience should be valuable to other countries that are considering the development and use of such vaccines.”

  48. #48 Prometheus
    April 23, 2008

    That settles it! I’m writing in Chthulu for President – I’m tired of voting for the lesser of two evils!

    Prometheus

  49. #49 Prometheus
    April 23, 2008

    Ooops! That should have been “Cthulhu for President”.

    Prometheus

  50. #50 The Christian Cynic
    April 23, 2008

    Miles, I’ve heard that Japan/SIDS canard before, and it’s total BS. All that occurred when Japan delayed their vaccinations is that it was impossible for SIDS to be linked to vaccine injury because a SIDS claim cannot be made for children over two years of age. It’s a matter of elimination by redefinition, not by true elimination.

    A relevant quote:

    Japan ceased compensation payments for SIDS when it moved the age for first vaccination to 24 months but the rate of SIDS remained the same at 1.2 per 1,000 births. The death rate from vaccine-preventable illness rose and Japan has since reintroduced vaccination at a younger age.

    (Here’s another source, although I’d take it with a grain of salt given that it’s on Geocities. It is, however, very well-cited.)

  51. #51 Regan
    April 23, 2008

    I had kind of knee-jerk reaction to this yesterday, but you know what…we do have a sky-rocketing diagnosis (underline that) rate at the current time. Getting a handle on that and the inputs/influences would not be a bad thing (given the ADDM network work and alot of discussion, in blogs for example, about why that might be so seems to be a topic of interest). Right now we seem to be comparing apples to pineapples when the discussion is “autism”.

    McCain, for other reasons in addition to his a priori attribution of cause, is off my slate.

    The other two I still am considering.

  52. #52 sick of autistics being the whipping posts
    April 23, 2008

    Why did anyone, politician or advisor answer A-CHAMP’s questions? A-CHAMP is no more credible than any group of flat earthers, holocaust deniers or any flaming hate group.

    The thing the candidates should have done is not agree to lies being spread about a epidemic that never happened, but to just ignore these fools at A-CHAMP.

    These words will lead children to be left unvaccinated and those children can die, or unvaccinated children can do just fine with a disease but spread it to another vulnerable person and that person can die. Thanks loads guys.

  53. #53 Cobalt
    April 23, 2008

    Gah. Damn it, Senator Obama. If he weren’t the most solid elsewhere…

  54. #54 culvercitycynic
    April 23, 2008

    It’s about more than science really. It’s about pointing a finger at a minority group — autistic citizens — and directing more prejudice and fear upon them. That they might be “poisoned”. That they’re spreading an “epidemic”. This is why I’m disappointed in Obama. He should not be perpetuating these myths for votes. No matter what.

  55. #55 culvercitycynic
    April 23, 2008

    It’s about more than science really. It’s about pointing a finger at a minority group — autistic citizens — and directing more prejudice and fear upon them. That they might be “poisoned”. That they’re spreading an “epidemic”. This is why I’m disappointed in Obama. He should not be perpetuating these myths for votes. No matter what.

  56. #56 Phoenix Woman
    April 23, 2008

    Here’s the problem: The antivaxers are better at getting their message out.

    Try Googling “vaccines autism” sometime, which is probably the extent of the research Obama’s, Clinton’s and McCain’s people did. The first three links are antivax garbage links; the CDC pages don’t show up until links four and five, sandwiched between more antivax woo.

  57. #57 Liesl
    April 23, 2008

    Phoenix Woman: You hit the nail on the head. The frustrating thing about woo versus science is that it is close to impossible for lay people to find good, verifiable information about these things without knowing exactly what to look for. I went off in search of the claim that a bacterial infection causes rheumatoid arthritis last night. I gave up after three pages of google results. I wish there was a database that you could check to link the actual science to help combat woo on other websites. I think it would be immensely helpful to people who want to be able to debate these things intelligently but who do not have the background to know how to find the studies.

  58. #58 Ms. Clark
    April 23, 2008

    One of the reasons that the antivax conspiracists are “effective” at getting their message out is that they have a few well heeled supporters who have been putting millions of dollars (at least a couple million) into paying for professional PR agencies to keep their message in the news. They also had have a couple of insane politicians in their pocket, and now a professional bimbo to be their spokesmodel.
    http://www.allfordmustangs.com/photopost/data/3847/medium/200435626_11329f1346_b.jpg

  59. #59 Hmmm!
    April 24, 2008

    Here’s an interesting comment from the Washington Post discussion thread on the same subject.

    I was sitting next to the person who asked the question that prompted Senator Obama’s reply on Monday at Montgomery County Community College and to whom he was referring when he said, “…including this person.” The Senator was certainly not referring to himself but to my friend, Karin. She is practitioner of and believer in a number of alternative healing methodologies.
    hughhyatt at bluehen.udel.edu
    Posted by: Hugh Hyatt | April 23, 2008 7:01 PM

  60. #60 AndyD
    April 24, 2008

    What’s really surprising is that some people are surprised or shocked to hear politicians pandering to a lobby group. Having faith in politicians shows a general lack of evidentiary assessment equivalent to those who profess faith in other con-merchants.

    One can only assume that the polls show there’s more votes in scaring parents about vaccinations than there is in reassuring them that all’s well.

    Although, you have to cut Hillary some slack as she’s still reliving the horror of sniper fire in Bosnia (and you expected common sense honesty on autism?).

  61. #61 armored goldfish
    April 24, 2008

    There are many Americans with special needs. They will have a partner in the federal government under my administration.

    If that is so, why not use federal money on education (including interpersonal skills),adult support services (including job training), and training caregivers? Why spend it on fatuous claims?

    I don’t get it, I thought that when studies failed to find a link, parents would be relieved.

    Then again, I thought that parents would be happy that some autistic adults are writing on how their brain works. On Huff Post, some mom was lamenting about all those autistic adults writing about ‘neurodiversity’ while her kid smears feces on the wall. Does it occur to her that even if her kids require more care (and amount of care will vary with the individual on the spectrum), that they can be functional adults?

    I am confused about the reactions, and maybe it’s that ‘theory of mind’ thing.

  62. #62 TK Kenyon
    April 24, 2008

    Yes, Obama, Clinton, and McCain have all fallen victim to the scientific-ish meme that vaccine = autism.
    .
    This meme, along with the absolutely terrible research linking early TV viewing to autism (I blogged about that here: http://science4non-majors.blogspot.com/2006/10/spectrum-of-autism-research-from.html ), both play into the superstitious belief that (1) those parents did something wrong, and that’s why their children are cursed with autism (and I use “cursed” in the superstitious sense,) and (2) if I as a parent do not do the wrong thing, my child will be protected.
    .
    Unfortunately, these two false ideas run rampant, because they both suggest that you can somehow protect your child or, in this case, that better government can somehow protect children.
    .
    More research is needed. In that, all three candidates are correct.
    .
    TK Kenyon
    http://www.tkkenyon.com , http://science4non-majors.blogspot.com/
    Author of RABID ( http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1601640021 ) and CALLOUS ( http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1601640226 ): Two novels about science and religion, with some sex and murder.

  63. #63 MaryL
    April 24, 2008

    There’s video and a reporter’s notes up at the Washington Post that confirms that Obama didn’t mean that he was “this person”, but someone in the audience.

    The notes:

    “My goal is to fully fund special education,” Obama replied, starting off on a dissertation about funding for such children. He noted some statistics about how much the fed government pays for such educational funding.
    Then he started talking about “early screening” for children, more medical testing to identify children who will have these special needs. Then Obama turned to autism, saying, “That’s an area where our basic investment, our basic research has to increase. There are huge opportunities for us to figure out” how diseases occur, calling for more funding for research into the causes and potential cures for autism and other disease.
    “We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. This person included. [Points to someone in the audience.] The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it. We can’t afford to junk our vaccine system, we have to figure out what’s happening. If we keep on seeing the increases in the rate we’re seeing, we’re never going to have enough money” to take care of these children.

    I still wince at the call for “more research” when the science is not at all inconclusive, but he explicitly supports vaccines and was talking about research in the context of broader investigation into the causes of autism, so that’s something.

    It’s better than I thought, and it puts him ahead of Clinton and McCain, but he needs to shift more.

  64. #64 Joseph
    April 24, 2008

    All that occurred when Japan delayed their vaccinations is that it was impossible for SIDS to be linked to vaccine injury because a SIDS claim cannot be made for children over two years of age. It’s a matter of elimination by redefinition, not by true elimination.

    That’s the one reason why I used to think that complete removal of thimerosal from vaccines (even trace amounts) is a good idea. It would end up phasing out the mercury militia eventually. The problem is that the mercury militia is not the mercury militia, but really the anti-vaccine militia. They’ll be around for as long as there are vaccines.

  65. #65 Spiceduck
    April 26, 2008

    I understand that science has not proven that there is a link between vaccines and autism, but has it proven that there is *not* a link? Brace yourselves, I am about to make a statement that I never thought I would be making, especially on a science forum, but…I keep going back to something I heard Jenny McCarthy saying when she was on Oprah (I know, I know!). I’m paraphrasing here, but basically what she said was that no matter what science has been able to prove, there is a huge population of mothers out there who all say the same thing, that something was not right with their kids after their vaccinations. That’s not necessarily something you can qualify, but how do you refute a parent saying, “My kid’s not the same.”? She also made a point of saying, hey, while vaccines might be problematic for some, they are overwhelmingly non-problematic and certainly beneficial to the population at large, but let’s look at some alternatives.

    I’ve also heard that diet can make a huge difference in an autistic child’s behavior. Perhaps there’s some combination of diet/vaccine/genetics that is responsible. I think it’s too early to say definitively that vaccinations absolutely have nothing to do with it. Personally, I would rather see more research being done on the effects of diet, on autism as well as other diseases/disorders.

    As others have stated, I think the candidates did the best they could to not ostracize any particular group while keeping their options open for future political action. Maybe that’s the best we can hope for.

  66. #66 Joseph
    April 26, 2008

    I’m paraphrasing here, but basically what she said was that no matter what science has been able to prove, there is a huge population of mothers out there who all say the same thing, that something was not right with their kids after their vaccinations. That’s not necessarily something you can qualify, but how do you refute a parent saying, “My kid’s not the same.”? She also made a point of saying, hey, while vaccines might be problematic for some, they are overwhelmingly non-problematic and certainly beneficial to the population at large, but let’s look at some alternatives.

    McCarthy’s claim that she’s not anti-vaccine is dubious for various reasons.

    As to the claim that there’s a correlation between vaccination and autistic regression, coincidence is one way to explain it. How do you double-check it’s coincidence? With population studies. It might also be possible to come up with a mathematical model that predicts how often this sort of coincidence might occur. If you consider thousands of children are diagnosed with autism every year, it’s obvious the coincidence will occur often.

    But it’s also interesting to see what parent surveys say. There are actually parentally reported triggers of autistic regression that are more common than vaccination; such as family stresses, like the birth of a sibling.

  67. #67 Covenant
    May 31, 2008

    It’s obvious that the OP hasn’t seen the Simpsonwood Transcripts. Anyone with strong feelings about the autism/vaccine connection should go Google “Simpsonwood Transcripts” right now. First read the article by Robert F. Kennedy, then go look at the transcripts themselves. Alternately, check out my Squidoo lens (click my name below); I’ve summmarized both for you.

  68. #68 HCN
    June 1, 2008

    Covenant: Go to the upper left hand corner of this blog and plug the word “simpsonwood” into the search box. Here is the first link…
    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2007/06/a_myth_memorialized_aka_simpsonwood_reme_1.php

    I would suggest you read it more carefully, along with all the links in that posting.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.