Respectful Insolence

ResearchBlogging.orgIt looks like I’ve been sucked into another streak again.

Regular readers know that examining the claims of the antivaccine movement with skepticism, science, and critical thinking has been a theme of this blog from the very beginning. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last four years, it’s that vaccine news seems to come in streaks. Often weeks will pass without much, and, because the antivaccine wingnuttery over at, for example, The Huffington Post and Age of Autism is such a constant that it blurs into background noise, provoking my attention only when someone really brings the crazy home in a way that produces a level of burning stupid that results in sufficient pain to my harried neurons that it finally provokes a response.

Oddly enough, the story I wrote about yesterday has yet to provoke a response. It couldn’t possibly be because it was a story of how not vaccinating leads to death from Hib infection, could it? Perish the thought! Maybe our boys (and girls) are slipping. Maybe, in spite of having the entire weekend to think of an angle to use to attack this story as not being evidence of the dangers of not vaccinating (given most of the children involved were completely unvaccinated, including the one who died). I’m wondering if that’s the same reason they haven’t come out of the woodwork yet to attack a study that was released on Monday.

It’s yet another nail in the coffin of the idea that thimerosal causes autism. You know, that hypothesis has so many nails holding its coffin shut that high explosives wouldn’t dislodge the door, but I can still hear pounding from inside the coffin. It’s pseudoscience trying to get out. It’s a good thing we have a stake like this to drive into its heart:

CHICAGO | A new study from Italy adds to a mountain of evidence that a mercury-based preservative once used in many vaccines doesn’t hurt children, offering more reassurance to parents.

In the early 1990s, thousands of healthy Italian babies in a study of whooping cough vaccines got two different amounts of the preservative thimerosal from all their routine shots.

Ten years later, 1,403 of those children took a battery of brain-function tests. Researchers found small differences in only two of 24 measurements and those “might be attributable to chance,” they wrote in the February issue of the journal Pediatrics, which was to be released Monday.

Only one case of autism was found, and that was in the group that got the lower level of thimerosal.

“Mountains of evidence”? I love it. Even journalists are starting to get it. The thimerosal hypothesis of autism is dead, dead, dead! This hypothesis is no more! It has ceased to be! It’s expired and gone to meet its maker! It’s a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! If the mercury militia wouldn’t keep nailing it to the perch it’d be pushing up the daisies! Its metabolic processes are now history! It’s off the twig! It’s kicked the bucket, it’s shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisibile!! The thimerosal/mercury/autism hypothesis IS AN EX-HYPOTHESIS!!

Sorry, I got carried away. (Either that, or I’m channeling John Cleese.)

A news story is all well and good to read about the study, but it’s so much better, so much more satisfying, to go to the source and dig out the actual study by Tozzi et al, which is hot off the presses in the February issue of Pediatrics and entitled Neuropsychological Performance 10 Years After Immunization in Infancy With Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines. The study was done in Italy, and one of its great advantages is that the amount of thimerosal to which the infants were exposed was actually known, unlike many epidemiological studies, where sometimes the dose of thimerosal (and therefore mercury) had to be inferred from the vaccine schedule at the time.

The reason is that the children studied were children who had taken part in a randomized study of two different diptheria-tetanus-acellular-pertuss (DTaP) vaccines, one that contained thimerosal and one that did not:

In 1992-1993, 15,601 healthy, 2-month-old infants were enrolled in the Italian Trial on Pertussis Vaccines. 18-20 In this trial, infants were selected from the general population in 4 of Italy’s 20 regions (Fig 1) and were assigned randomly to receive, under double-blind conditions, 3 doses of 1 of 4 vaccines, 2 of which were DTaP vaccines from 2 different manufacturers. One DTaP vaccine contained 50 μ g of thimerosal (or 25 μ g of ethylmercury) per dose, and the other was thimerosal-free (2-phenoxyethanol was used as preservative). The 3 doses of DTaP vaccine were administered at 2, 4, and 6 months of age. To comply with Italy’s vaccination schedule, all children also received 3 doses of hepatitis B virus vaccine (child formulation), each of which contained 25 μ g of thimerosal (or 12.5 μg of ethylmercury), at 2, 4, and 12 months of age, and a fourth dose of diphtheriatetanus vaccine, which contained 50 μg of thimerosal (or 25 g of ethylmercury), at 11 months of age…Therefore, in the first 12 months of life, the cumulative intake of ethylmercury, the mercury metabolite of thimerosal, was 137.5 μg for the children who were assigned randomly to receive the DTaP vaccine that contained thimerosal (“higher intake group”) and 62.5 μ g for those who received the thimerosal- free DTaP vaccine (“lower intake group”).

Ten years later, the children from this study living in the Veneto Region were studied. 1,403 children (697 belonging to the high thimerosal group and 706 belonging to the low thimerosal group) were recruited and subjected to a battery of eleven neurodevelopmental tests that produced a total of 24 neuropsychological outcomes to assess their development. The results were unsurprising and very much like the results of a study of thimerosal-containing vaccines as a risk factor for neurodevelopmental disorders other than autism that was published a year and a half ago. Most outcome measures showed no difference between the low and high thimerosal group, and the ones that did were small and entirely compatible with random chance due to multiple comparisons.

Oddly enough, the investigators did not control for multiple comparisons in their statistical analysis. I have no idea why they didn’t (they didn’t really explain), but they didn’t. They did, however, point out that for 78 different univariate statistical tests between all the outcome measures of all the tests (some outcome measures were tested by more than one test, and separate tests were done for males, females, and the entire sample), by random chance alone they would expect four “statistically significant” associations by univariate analysis. They found two. Girls had slightly lower scores in a measure of motor function, the finger-tapping test with the dominant hand, and a language test, the Boston naming test. As the authors described it, the differences were very small and of doubtful clinical relevance. My guess is that these apparent associations would probably disappear if a correction for multiple comparisons were applied. Moreover, only one case of autism was found, and that was in the group with the lower thimerosal dose.

I know what antivaccine activists will probably say when and if they get around to attacking this study. They will point out that there was not a group receiving no thimerosal. True enough. The authors themselves make that point. However, if thimerosal in vaccines were associated with autism, one would not expect that it would be different than any other toxin associated with an abnormality or condition. One would expect that the chance of autism or neurodevelopmental disorders would increase with increasing dose. The second argument that antivaccine advocates will likely try to make is that the dose-response curve has a plateau, and that plateau is below 62.5 μg, hence the lack of difference between the two groups. There’s just one problem with that argument. An exposure to 62.5 μg, to which the low exposure group was exposed, corresponds to roughly the total amount of mercury in thimerosal to which American infants were exposed in 1989–before the alleged “autism epidemic.” Even if mercury caused autism and there was a plateau in the dose-response below a dose of 62.5 μg, that would not be consistent with the antivaxers’ other pet claim, that an autism epidemic started in the 1990s because of the increasing amount of thimerosal exposure due to vaccines. That couldn’t have happened if a dose of thimerosal less than 62.5 μg maxed out the risk of autism, because 62.5 μg below the baseline exposure before the alleged “autism epidemic” started. The two claims (that of an autism epidemic in the 1990s due to increasing amounts of thimerosal in vaccines versus that of an effect that maxes out before a 62.5 μg cumulative dose of mercury from thimerosal) are mutually contradictory. I suppose antivaccinationists could postulate a threshold effect that doesn’t occur until a dose above 137.5 μg. Unfortunately for them, then they would have the problem of how long they ranted that any mercury was toxic and any mercury was unacceptable, not to mention the–shall we say?–inconvenient epidemiological evidence that autism rates did not plummet back to 1980s levels after 2001, which was when thimerosal was removed from most childhood vaccines and mercury exposure from vaccines plummeted to well under 62.5 μg.

Not that science, logic, or reason ever penetrate the brains of antivaccinationists. For example, let’s take a look at what they are saying in that bastion of only the craziest antivaccine looniness, a belief utterly resistant to change. That’s right, I’m talking about the Mothering.com forums, where anyone who criticizes antivaccine rhetoric or comes out as pro-vaccine risks being banned from the forums. Let’s see what they’re saying there. A selection of comments, with a little not-so-Respectful Insolence in parentheses afterward:

  1. “So basically this tells us kids who get some thimerosal are the same as kids who get more. And, despite our favorite doctor (ahem) gloating that it proves mercury is safe, it doesn’t.” (Straw man argument; what this shows is that there is no detectable dose-response curve from the two amounts of thimerosal. However, taken together with previous studies, it does strongly suggest that there is no correlation between thimerosal exposure and adverse developmental outcomes.)
  2. “It’s not just thimerosal a lot of people are worried about.” (Oh, no, the “toxin gambit“)
  3. “Don’t these kinds of studies just make you crazy? How can you say that it isn’t the mercury when you only compared more mercury to less mercury?” (The only reason these studies “make you crazy” is because they do not support your irrational belief, against all scientific evidence, that mercury causes autism.)
  4. “Because vaccine safety studies aren’t held to the same scientific standards as we have every right to expect. No true placebo/unvaccinated controls are ever done, nor long-term safety studies. And we have no idea what could potentially happen when we combine so many vaccines the way they do.” (Placebo/unvaccinated controls would be utterly unethical, for reasons explained to these morons again and again and again and again. It never sinks in.)
  5. “ugh. another useless study.” (It’s only “useless” because it doesn’t show what you want it to show.)

And, most hilarious of all, in response to a question, “I would like to know why people are afraid of DNA. References supporting your DNA fears, anyone? There is DNA in hamburgers, sushi, chicken, any meat you eat. What’s the big deal?”:

There is a huge difference between eating something in it’s natural state, and having bits and pieces selected by scientist injected into your blood stream while floating in a bunch of toxic chemical.

But that’s not the most burning stupid. I know, I know, it’s hard to believe that anything could be dumber than the statement above. After all, vaccines are not injected directly into the bloodstream, and the chemicals in vaccines are not toxic at the doses given. (The concept of “the dose makes the poison” appears to elude these Einsteins.) In general, DNA is chemically the same whether it is in its “natural state” or genetically engineered. All that differs is the sequence of base pairs. In any event, after reading that post, I thought that the scientific ignorance on display in the Mothering.com forums couldn’t get any worse. I was wrong. Boy, oh, boy was I wrong! This is the worst:

One form of DNA is handled naturally by the gastrointestinal system, which is designed by millions of years of evolution to properly deal with the oral ingestion of animal tissue, and the other form of DNA is tinkered with in a lab, mixed in a disgusting cocktail of toxic substances, and then directly injected into the body, bypassing the body’s basic defenses, where it does who-knows-what to the immune system and wreaks havoc on the body, possibly forever.

Yeah, they’re totally the same.

The stupidity waves emanating from the quote above could probably bend space-time into an endless loop of stupid, trapping all sentient life within it. I mean, my brain almost exploded under the onslaught of such horrific idiocy. I sincerely apologize to those of you with a science background–especially those of you with a biology background, or, even more so, to those of you with a background in molecular biology or evolutionary biology. I realize that reading that quote must have caused you intense pain, your every neuron crying out for release. Perhaps you even experienced a wave of neuronal apoptosis from the waves of dumb. I’m sorry, but you just had to see it to believe it.

Unfortunately, no matter how much scientific evidence exonerates the mercury in thimerosal in vaccines as a cause of autism, there will be the lunatic fringe that absolutely, positively refuses to believe it. They just know that mercury causes autism. The smarter antivaccine zealots have started to realize that science is coming down definitively against the thimerosal hypothesis. Heck, even the more obtuse ones, like J.B. Handley, have started to back away from their former mantra of “it’s the mercury, stupid.” The unrelenting mountain of evidence (I really like that term) failing to confirm the thimerosal hypothesis is the very reason why antivaccinationists have started to shift away from it, choosing to focus on vaccines themselves instead of any single ingredient, moving to vague claims that are difficult to falsify experimentally or epidemiologically. They realize they’ve made a serious tactical error by lashing themselves to a falsifiable hypothesis because the hypothesis has been falsified. Even though the amount of mercury in the vaccines infants receive has fallen to levels well below what infants used to receive in the 1980s, autism rates have not fallen, as would be predicted by the thimerosal hypothesis. You don’t often see epidemiological evidence more slam-dunk than that. That’s also why antivaccinationists have changed their story to “too many too soon” and coined the brilliantly Orwellian “Green Our Vaccines” slogan.

Science is ready to move on. The thimerosal hypothesis has been about as definitively falsified as is possible for a hypothesis involving a large population. Unfortunately, antivaccine zealots will not let science move on. Truly, the thimerosal hypothesis is the zombie that will not die.

Oh, well, at least Monday was a bad day for antivaccinationists, the first of what I hope will be many in 2009.

REFERENCES:

A. E. Tozzi, P. Bisiacchi, V. Tarantino, B. De Mei, L. D’Elia, F. Chiarotti, S. Salmaso (2009). Neuropsychological Performance 10 Years After Immunization in Infancy With Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines PEDIATRICS, 123 (2), 475-482 DOI: 10.1542/peds.2008-0795

Comments

  1. #1 FreeSpeaker
    January 27, 2009

    JB is vomiting all over AoA over the Italian study.

    Seems he is having an adverse reaction to bad news.

  2. #2 Orac
    January 27, 2009

    Send him my post with a hearty hello from Orac. :-)

  3. #3 Orac
    January 27, 2009

    Heh. Right on cue, as pointed out above, the AoA loons are going crazy. Note that I’ve already addressed most of the fallacious “criticisms” of the study by J.B.. So, if JB has the guts to show up here, I ask him: How do you reconcile the two opposing claims made by the mercury militia that I discuss above?

    Such mind-numbing scientific ignorance makes me want to vomit.

  4. #4 Catherina
    January 27, 2009

    I think one thing that sticks out is that they had one child with autism among 1400. Clearly that makes for a much lower prevalence than indicated by the CDC (according to which about 9 or 10 children on the spectrum should be found in 1400).

    Did you see the article on varicella vaccine safety in the same issue?

    http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/123/2/e228

    The real gem is hidden in the main text:

    Although rare in both groups, stroke was more common among children who did not have a varicella vaccination compared with those who did, even after adjustment for age (0.008% vs 0.003%; P < .0001)

  5. #5 AnthonyK
    January 27, 2009

    I am wholly convinced that you have supernatural powers – you forecast their response, and lo! it is so. Obviously you were never vaccinated, exposed to any envioronmental toxins or pathogens, and have eschewed medicine in favour of the “natural” approach to health so successful in our ancestors. How else to explain your mental acuity?
    Phil Plait deals with just this issue:
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/01/26/vaccines-and-autism-yet-another-dead-link/
    No doubt we’ll see the wingnuts below – Dawn, hello? But we’ll smack them down, yet again…

  6. #6 Hank
    January 27, 2009

    Thanks for coming back to this topic from time to time, always fascinating.

    Unfortunately, no matter how much scientific evidence exonerates the mercury in thimerosal in vaccines as a cause of autism, there will be the lunatic fringe that absolutely, positively refuses to believe it. They just know that mercury causes autism.

    Arrogance and ignorance is a quite potent mix it would seem.

  7. #7 Mu
    January 27, 2009

    So, can we use that study to write an article with a headline “Autism overdiagnosed in the USA by 1000%”? Or, more realistically, is it that the Italians only classify the “Rainman” type autism as such, leaving out all the ASP and PDD included in the US-autism-spectrum?
    Which leaves the question, if they’d added the “true” control group of unvaccinated kids, would they have been most likely to find more autistic kids in the group, since the anti-vax crowd is more likely to notice “autistic tendencies” in their kids?

  8. #8 tl
    January 27, 2009

    There is a huge difference between eating something in it’s natural state, and having bits and pieces selected by scientist injected into your blood stream while floating in a bunch of toxic chemical.

    This one cracks me up! What about masquito bites? Or fleas, ticks, chiggers, … Talk about bits of random partially digested DNA mixed with unknown substances!

  9. #9 Militant Agnostic
    January 27, 2009

    When you think about it, the DNA in your hamburger or chicken sandwich is not “natural”, being the product of thousands of years of human controlled breeding. But then thinking is not the anti-vaxer’s long suit.

  10. #10 gingerbeard
    January 27, 2009

    But of course the lower the amount of mercury the more potent the effect! You forgot all about the law of dilutions, stating the less of a substance in the medicine the more potent it is!

    Don’t you realise that the water memory of the mercury is why it is even more toxic now that mercury is no longer in the vaccine?

    You cannot defeat woo.

  11. #11 qetzal
    January 27, 2009

    What the h*ll are those people going on about injecting DNA for? Aside from the fact that injecting DNA would do nothing in this context anyway, isn’t it totally irrelevant here?

    All the vaccines described in this study are based on purified toxin proteins. There’s no injection of DNA involved.

    Irrationalism at its finest!

  12. #12 Alan Henness
    January 27, 2009

    Ah, gingerbread, I like the way you think…but it must be that because vaccines used to contain mercury, vaccines still have a memory of that mercury – they were very fond of it, you know.

  13. #13 Dr. Steve
    January 27, 2009

    I think the vaccine-autism link is bunk but I would like to point out a valid criticism of this particular article.

    Statistical power. Since only one kid got autism, it’s hard to say that the “intervention”, lower thimerosal dose in this case, resulted in different rates of autism.

    In this regard, the study lacked power. If there really is a statistical difference between groups this study did not have enough kids to detect it. It’s the same thing if you do a mortality study and nobody in either group dies.

    However, it DOES show that there is essentially no difference in congitive measures between the two groups and therefore no dose-response relationship.

    It’s an 8-penny finish nail in the coffin of the thimerosal-autism hypothesis, not a railroad spike.

  14. #14 RJ
    January 27, 2009

    Best conspiracy theory comment on AoA of all time:

    “Is it a coincidence that the “epidemic” outbreak of Hib, the release of Offit’s book and now the Italian study have all been dumped into the herd’s lap all at the same time?”

    You’ve got to be kidding me?!?!?

    Yes, these people are for real.

  15. #15 RJ
    January 27, 2009

    When is the Special Master’s decision due? I thought we would have heard by now.

    That will be the icing on the cake.

  16. #16 Premier Silvio
    January 27, 2009

    Che è corretto! The Italian childrens are so beautiful they need more mercury to be from getting autistic!

  17. #17 mayhempix
    January 27, 2009

    It’s amazing how JB can write so much circular idiocy before he gets to his idiotic “point”.
    Even one of the anti-vaxxers takes him to task for bloviating in a comment on the thread..

  18. #18 Karl Withakay
    January 27, 2009

    I’ve had this thought for a while, and I’ve been looking for a good post to use it on; it seems this one will work well enough, so here goes:

    I’ve been doing a little searching to see if I have come up with a new fallacious argument or not.

    I haven’t found “Argument by Certainty” or “Argument by Strength of Convictions” in any of the lists of fallacious arguments so far.

    Argument by certainty would be the position that if you are more confident of your position than the opposition is of their position, you must be correct and your opposition is wrong. In different words, the confidence a person has in their position is directly proportional to the correctness of their position.

    This would be a cousin of the circular reasoning of “I’m right because I know it to be true, and it’s true because I’m right.”

    Because science is rarely absolute in its certainty, this gives the appearance of strength for wooists. ex: Jenny McCarthy is absolutely certain that vaccines cause autism. Science can’t really say with absolute certainty that vaccines don’t cause autism, it can only say that there is no detectable link between vaccines and autism, and therefore we are very confident vaccines don’t cause autism, but not absolutely confident. Wooists seem to win the (fallacious) battle of strength of convictions.

    How many times have you had an argument with someone who used the line “I am absolutely sure of my position, how sure are you of yours?” implying or stating outright that if you are less certain of your position that they are, they must be right, and you must be wrong?

    This fallacious argument by (strength of) certainty is one of the big sticks wielded by the woo world.

    Of course, I’ll be slightly embarrassed if it’s already out there, or is covered by an existing FA

  19. #19 Karl withakay
    January 27, 2009

    “directly injected into the body, bypassing the body’s basic defenses”

    I know the primary means for contracting pathogenic disease are eating, breathing and screwing, but I guess according to these people, the immune system doesn’t protect against disease acquired via cuts or bites???

  20. #20 Joseph
    January 27, 2009

    I think one thing that sticks out is that they had one child with autism among 1400. Clearly that makes for a much lower prevalence than indicated by the CDC (according to which about 9 or 10 children on the spectrum should be found in 1400).

    My guess is that since this was not an epidemiological study of autism, they simply relied on existing diagnoses of ASD. It’s quite possible autism is not diagnosed very often in Italy.

  21. #21 Chris
    January 27, 2009

    Dr. Steve said “Statistical power. Since only one kid got autism, it’s hard to say that the “intervention”, lower thimerosal dose in this case, resulted in different rates of autism.”

    Since the word “autism” in the USA covers a whole spectrum of abilities, I think one should find out what criteria for diagnosis is being used in Italy.

  22. #22 MikeMa
    January 27, 2009

    Dr Steve,
    I think that the study, while related to possible autism connection, was primarily intended to compare cognitive and motor skills between the groups and not necessarily to find a link (or lack) with autism. Any impairment at the higher dose would be significant in saying there might be a link. Apparently, none was found. I’d up that to a 12 penny nail ;-)

    Karl Withakay,
    Agreed. The power of certainty is indeed a potent weapon. I have found that saying, “No, you are wrong and there is evidence to back me up.” This often startles the fervent wooist enough to slow them down but no more.

  23. #23 Amanda
    January 27, 2009

    The Pediatrics E-letters page is getting quite a few responses about Offit’s review of Dr. Sears’ book. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/eletters/123/1/e164

  24. #24 Dangerous Bacon
    January 27, 2009

    AOA poster: “Is it a coincidence that the “epidemic” outbreak of Hib, the release of Offit’s book and now the Italian study have all been dumped into the herd’s lap all at the same time?”

    Interesting choice of words. Since “the herd” is ignoring or handwaving away all of this, does that constitute “herd immunity to reason”? A novel explanation for dogged antivaxery.

    Of course, if there were longer intervals between the release of Offitt’s book, publicity about the meningitis outbreak and the Iralian thimerosal non-link study, there’d be accusations that the Pharma Conspiracy is spacing out events deliberately to have a longer impact.

  25. #25 Bob O'H
    January 27, 2009

    Oddly enough, the investigators did not control for multiple comparisons in their statistical analysis. I have no idea why they didn’t (they didn’t really explain), but they didn’t.

    To be honest, I think what they did was better – multiple comparisons are a bit of a pain, so saying “we expect x positives, and we got less than that” is a pretty good omnibus test (unless the positive differences were very large). Why piss around, when the simple results tell you what you need to know?

  26. #26 Stacy
    January 27, 2009

    One of my very proudest accomplishments was getting banned from the anti-vax forum at Mothering. I lasted three days attempting to pound reason into their heads over there before being banned for it.

    The worst part is that the anti-vax forum at Mothering is also backed up by some even worse forums over there. You’ll plenty of posters sadly arguing that the only way to give birth is in the woods somewhere by yourself. An epidural is seen as the work of the anti Christ as is formula feeding and anything else that challenges their extremist motherhood ideology.

  27. #27 Todd
    January 27, 2009

    I think the results of this study are shocking. Thimerosal prevents autism.

  28. #28 Pablo
    January 27, 2009

    The worst part is that the anti-vax forum at Mothering is also backed up by some even worse forums over there. You’ll plenty of posters sadly arguing that the only way to give birth is in the woods somewhere by yourself. An epidural is seen as the work of the anti Christ as is formula feeding and anything else that challenges their extremist motherhood ideology.

    Rule #1 of mother forums: Mom is always right. No matter what she does, she is always right.

    Rule #2: If you think mom is wrong, see Rule #1.

    The part that drove me up the wall (and out of the parenting fora) was that mom’s opinion was by default always right, and if dad dared suggest otherwise, he was relegated to the trash heap. On one hand, dads get ripped because oh they don’t do enough yadda yadda yadda. But then, if they try to participate in parenting, they get dismissed. The message is clear: dad’s only purpose is to do whatever the mom wants exactly as mom wants it. Oh, and he’s supposed to already know what all that is. And don’t think that dad has any useful suggestions about raising a child. See rule #1.

    As a new parent, I am heavily involved in raising our baby. Fortunately, my wife and I go by the credo that, “The goal of parenting is not to think alike, but to think together.” No, she doesn’t hang out in the mom websites.

    (I used to but basically got driven away by the attitude that I had nothing useful to contribute)

  29. #29 The Perky Skeptic
    January 27, 2009

    But Bob O’H, half the fun of statistics is in the pissing around! Multiple comparisons for everyone!!! :D

    Orac, you really should apply for the JREF million dollar prize. ;D

  30. #30 Pablo
    January 27, 2009

    BTW, I was reading Offit’s review of Sears’s book, and was struck by Sears’s view that he relates that parents should be allowed to make the decision for themselves, in light of what is best for them. This is consistent with one aspect I have seen in the anti-vaxxers: it is all about THEM. They say, hey, the chance my kid gets sick is pretty small, and that’s good enough for me. Why should I care if I put others in society at risk?

    You can make the argument, as Sears does, that this attitude should be allowed. However, we need to recognize the selfishness behind the argument. When we do that, we see the case for why society has the right to limit the extent to which unvaccinated kids can participate in public activities (such as public school, public health, and day care).

    By not vaccinating your child, you are putting my child at risk. Don’t expect me to jump up and down with joy, asshole prick.

  31. #31 Ahistoricality
    January 27, 2009

    I’m surprised none of the anti-vax’ers have accused the study authors of cherry-picking: “they only tested ten percent of the original kids, so there’s a 90% chance that the study is wrong!”

    Seriously, though, unless there’s a real diagnostic difference between US and Italy, the lower rate of autism diagnosis does deserve a second look.

  32. #32 Prudence
    January 27, 2009

    I’ll confess, I finally broke down and wrote a comment on AoA out of sheer frustration. As a result, I was told by JB Handley that: http://www.ageofautism.com/2009/01/feeding-the-hungry-lie-italian-style/comments/page/1/#comments

    “On its worst day, polio impacted 1 in 3,000 with a death rate of under 5%. That’s really, really bad, and the deaths are horrible and tragic. My grandfather had polio and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.” [And yet, he IS!]

    “But, autism is approaching 1 in 100, at a minimum its 20x worse than polio, and we have no plausible explanation for cause.” [Which is why he's blaming vaccines!]

    “But, we have tens of thousands of parent reports after vaccination. And, treating for vaccine injury is generating recoveries. [Woohoo! Anecdotal woo!]

    “There needs to be a middle ground. The middle ground is not “do what the health authorities say.” [Indeed, it should be what some crank with and aversion to science and education says!]

    “And, if you think the Italian study is anything but complete trash, you lack objectivity and honesty”. [Yes, I lack objectivity and honesty, subjectively. However, Handley's complete lack of self-examination is truly astounding.]

    JB Handley

    Orac, as my hilarious evangelical friend (the non-hateful kind) says, “you can’t save everyone”.

  33. #33 Pablo
    January 27, 2009

    “But, we have tens of thousands of parent reports after vaccination.”

    Since most kids are (thankfully) still getting vaccinated, and vaccinations start (for the most part) at 2 months of age, then anything that happens after 2 months are going to be “after vaccination,” yes?

    My wife broke her arm after vaccination. 37 years after vaccination, true, but hey, it was still after vaccination.

  34. #34 Prudence
    January 27, 2009

    Woohoo! Mystery solved, it’s not the vaccines, it’s the high fructose corn syrup inserting all that terrible mercury into our childrens!
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/jan/27/high-fructose-corn-syrup-mercury

    Do you think the woo-meisters will declare war on candy (and everything else) now?

  35. #35 Stacy
    January 27, 2009

    Parents should be allowed to refuse vaccines for themselves and their children if they wish.

    But that choice should be discouraged and penalized whenever possible. I don’t want the local health care worker infecting immuno-compromised patients and little babies on respirators because she doesn’t want to get a vaccine after reading garbage at Mothering. I don’t want your kids in my public classroom if they risk bringing measles along with them.

    I don’t want whooping cough or HiB or Hep B or polio or tetanus.

    That’s one of the fundamental problems with the anti-vax movement. They want the rest of us to take responsility and live with the consquences of their poor choices. They want the right to punch holes in public safety without the public’s consent.

    Do whatever you want when it comes to vaccines. But don’t whine when you have to face the results of your actions. Or when people fight back hard.

  36. #36 mayhempix
    January 27, 2009

    Here it is… they Anti-Vaxxers have their talking point response to the Minnesota Hib death.
    This was on AoA:

    “Don’t oversimplify the issue, and don’t demonize people who vaccinated their children but lost the risk/benefit gamble.”

    “Lost the risk/benefit gamble.” So now it’s a parlor game. Unbelievable.

  37. #37 ANB
    January 27, 2009

    Didn’t the Italian study rely on phone interviews with parents? That might explain the low number of ASD cases.

  38. #38 mayhempix
    January 27, 2009

    @Prudence
    They wouldn’t post my comments. They did once about a month ago but stripped the link from it claiming they didn’t have post every link that someone includes even thogh all the anti-vax posts around it had links. I think their strategy is to let a comment or two through on a thread so that it looks to their sheep like they are open and honest.

  39. #39 Lurkbot
    January 27, 2009

    Stacy:

    Parents should be allowed to refuse vaccines for themselves and their children if they wish.

    I must respectfully dissent from this. (It’s not just you; I hear this all the time.)

    Despite all the great advances in medicine and surgery, most of the credit for the doubling of the human lifespan (in developed countries) in the last century goes to vaccines and sanitation. Suppose somebody didn’t want to pay their sewer assessment (or argued that sewers weren’t mentioned in the bible and were therefore satanic) and decided to divert their effluent pipe out into the road instead? How would that play, legally? Would you see anybody jumping to their defense, saying “they have the right” to flush their shit into the public thoroughfare? I sincerely doubt it; and I don’t see any conceptual difference. The only difference is that everyone could see and smell that. (Of course, the anti-vax rhetoric smells just as bad to me….)

    There’s a reason they call it Public health.

  40. #40 RJ
    January 27, 2009

    “Oh, well, at least Monday was a bad day for antivaccinationists, the first of what I hope will be many in 2009.”

    Wait! There’s more!!!

    http://neurodiversity.com/weblog/

  41. #41 Stacy
    January 27, 2009

    Lurkbot,

    I agree with you completely in principle. Not vaccinating a baby or small child is stupid and dangerous. But I don’t think mandating vaccines in practice will work. Allow vaccine exemptions but make them difficult to get and sponsor public health campaigns to discourage the practice as much as possible.

    I’ve been debating this issue for years and years. When you start arguing mandates even some pro-vaccine people get very angry unfortunately.

  42. #42 I am so wise
    January 27, 2009

    This is all well and good, but until people realize that getting knocked up and spawning a child because one was too stupid/drunk/stoned to properly use birth control does not grant you magical knowledge into every aspect of child rearing than the anti-vax movement and all manner of child involved woo will continue to thrive.

    Start yanking children out of these homes, mocking the parents in public, and avoiding them like the plagues they will eventually harbor and then this will stop.

  43. #43 Natalie
    January 27, 2009

    JB, via Prudence’s post: “But, autism is approaching 1 in 100, at a minimum its 20x worse than polio, and we have no plausible explanation for cause.”

    Is he saying that the frequency of autism is 20 times higher than the frequency of polio? Or is he saying that the condition is 20 times worse to live with (or die from)? If it’s a, his math really doesn’t work out. And if it’s b, where the fuck does he get off?

  44. #44 MikeMa
    January 27, 2009

    I like the idea of public campaigns. Not that you could name specific stupid individuals (HIPAA) but you could certainly point to a whole class of stupids. Or maybe a positive spin:

    Take a moment to thank all the parents who had the wisdom to vaccinate their children. They have reduced the chances of passing deadly, preventable diseases to others.

    Billboards, bus signs, banners, etc. Hand out stickers that say “I Vaccinated” just like the “I Voted” stickers they give at many polling places. Make it a point of civic pride.

  45. #45 Chris
    January 27, 2009

    Apologies ahead for rambling, I deal personally daily with this topic, the Autism “issue” and the like, please be kind.

    Interesting column & comments here, How current & topical I found this today after being once again, handed a blog by a friend with Autistic children, about the Mecury connection and Vaccine issue bla bla bla,

    I can’t hold it off, here’s some info for you bright people to review this, slash it to pieces or, maybe, gee look into it and report back what you find….

    Have a great ride!

    Autism Increase?
    not really, do the math & data validation.
    In the US, 2002,03 brought about a “redefinition” of the Federal Disability Categories covering the Educational definitions of Mental Retardation, Serious Emotional Disturbances, and Autism, and in an almost miracle method, the counts shifted from one “Non- PC” label to the dujour of the moment, Autism, with only a bare less than 5% increase in a 10 year period?
    while the others categories, decreased, shifted? hunh? Thats not real increase. Just Stats being shifted, for whatever reason.

    Ok onward.
    Anti Vax Anti MMR Vaccine Thimersol Mercury Connections?
    Equally not likely, again do the math. and I see it’s covered in this blog quite fully.
    ok then maybe it’s the Video games that causes it? hoo hah

    How about looking in the mirror?

    Startes
    Look into the PKU related problems, the relationship of how levels of phenylalanine and the resulting genetic neuro damage that is done by high concentrations of ……phenylalanine can do to a Fetus….how close to Autisim “spectrums” diagnoses and the core issues are all the same but without the direct result in the physical PKU protein, phenylalanine intake problems for life;
    In any case, I find clear indicators pointing to a direct cause effect link between these two to look deeply into the
    phenylalanine intake being increased, how much? over the last 20-30 years, to warrant a deeper look into the data.

    and what of 2-3 generations ingesting Food Additives, Fake Sugars aka Aspertame ohhh wait…those Diet Sodas with phenylalanine, …..
    (ooo carefull here, might get someones attention, watch out for the Soda & Sweetener Lobbiests, but heck, I;m sure they’ll throw $$ research your way to produce conflicting studies, thats the American way, right?)
    … has when, a mother and father for that matter, but concentrate on the Fetus carrying female.

    http://www.nutrition4health.org/nohanews/NNF90TrickOrTreat.htm

    In the last 2 weeks, I have researched the demographics, locals, ages, concentrations, intakes of Diet Sodas containing phenylalanine and the relationship to Autism Spectrum disorders, ADHD, ADD enough to result in data sets covering the timelines, quantities and end effects unfortnatly, find an direct relationship, that could justify a detailed study.

    I only stumbled across the PKU,phenylalanine relationship, while doing a criss cross of data worm searchs on the web for the base symptoms, etc and found that if you take out PKU, and substitute Autism you have an almost 1:1 match for the diagnoses, symptoms albiet without the end physical medical problems full blown PKU exhibits….
    Odd, but it was worth looking into. and finding that the
    main deep problems are exact same as the core of Mental Retardation, Developmental Disorders, Autism Spectrum??

    Whats the likely hood of that? now add the core chemical
    components; phenylalanine and of course benzene which also presents in Diet Sodas under pressure and heat.
    ===================

    Phenylketonuria (PKU),the benzene, phenylalanine, diet soda connection and maybe Autism Spectrum?

    Known fact:
    phenylalanine accumulation disrupts brain development, leading to mental retardation.

    Effected children are normal at birth, but fail to attain early developmental milestones, varying degrees of risk to develop microcephaly , and demonstrated impairment of cerebral function. Hyperactivity , EEG abnormalities and seizures, and severe learning disabilities are major clinical problems later in life.

    Known fact.
    Many diet foods and diet soft drinks that contain the sweetener aspartame must also be avoided, as aspartame consists of two amino acids: phenylalanine and aspartic acid.

    Known fact.
    benzaldehyde and benzoic acid is present in higher rise levels as well in patients afflicted with Følling’s disease, mental retardation and related neuro transmitted inhibited functioning traits.

    Known fact.
    Benzene (which does occur and exist in diet soda when the compounds, sweeteners and acids combine under pressure & heat) is the substance found that was subjected to much more basic and rudimentary chemical analysis (taste). Research & Tests have been conducted and have found reactions that gave rise to benzaldehyde and benzoic acid , which concludes the compound contained a benzene ring and also combined with elevated levels of phenylalanine
    were present in the afflicted patients in the studies.

    Known fact.
    In most countries, women who wish to have children are advised to lower their blood phenylalanine levels before they become pregnant and carefully control their phenylalanine levels throughout the pregnancy.

    Phenylalanine is an amino acid that is needed for normal growth and development. If a baby’s body does not have the enzyme that changes phenylalanine into another amino acid called tyrosine, the phenylalanine level builds up in the baby’s blood and can cause brain damage, seizures, and mental retardation.

    Babies born to mothers with uncontrolled phenylalanine levels (women who no longer follow a low-phenylalanine diet) have a significant risk of intellectual disability because they are exposed to very high levels of phenylalanine before birth. These infants may also have a low birth weight and grow more slowly than other children. Other characteristic medical problems include heart defects or other heart problems, an abnormally small head size (microcephaly), and behavioral problems. Women with uncontrolled phenylalanine levels also have an increased risk of pregnancy loss

    Facts from NIH
    What is the normal function of the PAH gene?
    The PAH gene provides instructions for making an enzyme called phenylalanine hydroxylase. This enzyme is responsible for the first step in processing phenylalanine, which is a building block of proteins (an amino acid) obtained through the diet. Phenylalanine is found in all proteins and in some artificial sweeteners.

    How are changes in the PAH gene related to health conditions?
    More than 500 mutations in the PAH gene have been identified. Most of these mutations change single amino acids in phenylalanine hydroxylase. For example, the most common mutation in many populations replaces the amino acid arginine with the amino acid tryptophan at position 408 (written as Arg408Trp or R408W).

    Other PAH mutations delete small amounts of DNA from the gene or disrupt the way the gene’s instructions are used to make phenylalanine hydroxylase.

    PAH mutations reduce the activity of phenylalanine hydroxylase, preventing it from processing phenylalanine effectively.

    As a result, this amino acid can build up to toxic levels in the blood and other tissues.

    Because nerve cells in the brain are particularly sensitive to phenylalanine levels, excessive amounts of this substance can cause brain damage.
    Levels of phenylalanine high enough can cause brain damage and other serious medical problems.

    ========================================

    Now if x=Increased levels of Phenylalanine higher than required or the body can use can result in Genetic damage & neurological disorders,
    And y=is present in artificial sweeteners
    And z=is already found in all proteins
    Why then= 1= would you desire to add to or increase the levels of Phenylalanine & artificial sweeteners in your daily diet if it can result in X??

    ==========================================

    Besides, I know personally 1st hand the exact above issues existing in a families which have
    a)consumed Large amounts of Diet Sodas, Daily and I mean Daily, over 2 generations. During pregnancy and throughout.
    b) has 4 effected children in the families.
    c) upon interviewing these and many other locals Autisitic families have noted over 95% of the mothers-females and families ingested Diet Sodas daily before, during pregnancies, and is a staple in thier diet.

    Sure there needs to be a fragile gene dna that gets stomped and mutated as the end result.
    And the end result, be it PKU, Mental Retardation, Developmental & Behavoiur issues, Autism Spectrum

    They ALL Suck! I see it every day personally.

    Maybe some brighter scientific medical research minds better than my fried noodle. ( I live with Autisic children and the above Mom, and yes, I get tired of the Anti Vaccine, Mercury, Thimersal, gee Flouresecnt Light Bulbs? rants and trains that seem to get daily press.
    They are crap.)

    Look in the mirror, everyone, seriously, take nothing for granted, believe nothing until you prove it yourself.
    Never believe “the authorities” or “Studies” by ?? who?

    Remember; “Soylent Green is People!!!”

  46. #46 jennifer
    January 27, 2009

    Geez… I only go to the mothering fora when I feel I have especially earned a punishment, and I don’t have time to surgically remove brain cells. You’re far braver than I.

  47. #47 Chris
    January 27, 2009

    Chris (another one) said “Besides, I know personally 1st hand the exact above issues existing in a families which have
    a)consumed Large amounts of Diet Sodas, Daily and I mean Daily, over 2 generations. During pregnancy and throughout.
    b) has 4 effected children in the families.
    c) upon interviewing these and many other locals Autisitic families have noted over 95% of the mothers-females and families ingested Diet Sodas daily before, during pregnancies, and is a staple in thier diet.”

    The plural of anecdote is not data.

    (plus all babies are tested for PKU, so if you come up with some real evidence that we are more sensitive and it is causing all sorts of problems, be sure to post the papers)

  48. #48 Prometheus
    January 27, 2009

    According to JB Handley:


    “But, we have tens of thousands of parent reports after vaccination. And, treating for vaccine injury is generating recoveries.”

    Well, since autism was noted to appear (or be noticed) at or shortly after the time of the MMR vaccination (15 – 18 months) as far back as the 1950′s (hint: that was before the MMR – or even the measles – vaccine was used), the “fact” that “tens of thousands” of parents have noticed the “onset” of autism at that time is somewhat less than amazing.

    It is as if JB noticed that the morning rush hour starts around the time that the streetlights turn off and decided that turning off the streetlights was the cause of freeway congestion.

    Of course, he insisted for the longest time (and on national television) that autism was simply another name for mercury poisoning. It appears that his aim hasn’t improved.

    As for the claim that “…treating for vaccine injury is generating recoveries.”, I’d love to see the data on that. If “treating for vaccine injury” was really “generating recoveries”, you’d think that someone would have taken a moment to write that up. After all, they’ve taken the time to talk about their “cures” at countless parent “conferences” (“revival meetings”?).

    Of course, I am making the assumption that by “generating recoveries”, Mr. Handley is referring to the recovery of autistic children, not the “recovery” of the bank accounts of the “practitioners” involved. I could have misinterpreted that, however.

    Prometheus

  49. #49 deech56
    January 27, 2009

    Orac, you owe me a new laptop; not because of laughter while consuming beverage, but because your inclusion of the quotations about different types of DNA made my head explode. Typing is being done using only brain stem powers, but I guess I can now use my reptilian brain to decipher science. It’s easier that way.

  50. #50 Dan
    January 27, 2009

    Autism is one of what I believe are a number of what are called passive developmental disorders- and autism is the most common. Autism is a disability caused by a brain development disorder of unknown cause, yet some suspect the cause is some sort of neurological dysfunction. Usually, symptoms of the disease present themselves before the toddler reaches the age of three. Before Autism was more understood, others labeled them as childhood schizophrenia or as having a psychosis or mental retardation.
    Out of 16 related characteristics, eight must be present to be considered autistic, according to others. As with all passive developmental disorders, the person expresses language, social, and behavioral difficulties. Treatment includes what are called psychotropic medications that delay the progression of the disorder, as well as relieve some of the symptoms of one who is autistic. Behavioral therapy is common as a treatment regimen as well. Boys get Autism much more than girls.
    Then there is the controversy between many who claim that thimerosal- a preservative containing mercury, which is a neurotoxin that was used in vaccines until 2001, was the catalyst for autism in children. Over 5000 lawsuits have been filed because of this belief, and some have been successful for the plaintiff. Yet most agree the correlation between thimersal and autism is void of scientific merit. Furthermore, the cases of autism have not decreased since the preservative was discontinued in 2001.
    Aside from Autism, the other four passive developmental disorders are known as autism spectrum disorders.
    Asperger’s Syndrome is more common than autism, and the symptoms are milder, as there is minimal delay in language abilities, if at all. What is expressed with Asperger’s syndrome is mild autistic symptoms. In time, the patient may express atypical personality disorders, though. While intelligence is within normal limits with the Asperger’s patient, social interactions and abilities preset difficulty for such a patient. As with Autism, medications and behavioral therapy are treatment regimens with one with this syndrome
    Rett’s Syndrome or disorder presents with not only atypical behavior, but also suffers from restricted physical growth and movement. There is cognitive and social impairment as well. The disorder affects mostly girls, and the cause is due to a gene mutation.
    Chldhood Disintegrative disorder is rare, and is 10 times less common than autism. The disorder has a late onset with mild autistic symptoms. The disorder affects mostly boys, and regression is sudden and possible with this disorder. Skills lost with this disorder may be language, social, self-care, as well as play or motor skills. Decreased function or impairment with this disorder may include social skills and behavioral flaws. Central Nervous System pathology is a suspected cause of this disorder.
    Finally, there are passive development disorders that are not otherwise specified. This may include atypical autism, for example. Yet as with the rest of types of these disorders, the symptoms vary in their intensity, and the range of abilities of these developmental disorders vary widely as well. Medicinal treatment along with cognitive and behavioral therapy prove to be most beneficial for all the different types of Passive Development Disorders that unfortunately exist for unknown reasons,

    Dan Abshear

  51. #51 Joseph C.
    January 27, 2009

    As for the claim that “…treating for vaccine injury is generating recoveries.”, I’d love to see the data on that. If “treating for vaccine injury” was really “generating recoveries”, you’d think that someone would have taken a moment to write that up. After all, they’ve taken the time to talk about their “cures” at countless parent “conferences” (“revival meetings”?).

    Not to mention the question of why are they still so pissed off if their children have “recovered”? If autism is treatable as they suggest, then what’s the big deal?

  52. #52 Joshua Zelinsky
    January 27, 2009

    There is one argument they don’t seem to be making that might actually have some minimal validity. The fact that only a single autism case occurred might suggest that the sample size isn’t large enough to make any conclusions about the impact of autism. This argument has a variety of problems(most seriously the continuum nature of autism and the large batteries of cognitive tests that were done to the subjects) but it would be better than the arguments they are making about this study.

  53. #53 MikeMa
    January 27, 2009

    Dan Abshear.
    Did you copy and paste that from something? Is that a homework assignment? MLA citations please or no points will be awarded.

  54. #54 HCN
    January 27, 2009

    Dan doing another drive-by spam wrote “Passive Development Disorders”

    For the third or fourth time, the “P” in PDD does NOT stand for “Passive”!!!

    Dan Abshear you are a clueless git.

  55. #55 Robster, FCD
    January 27, 2009

    I think that is the same stale copypasta that Dan tried to pass off on us a week or so ago.

  56. #56 Kathleen Seidel
    January 27, 2009

    Yeah, RJ, the timing is pretty cosmic — Tozzi et al. announced one day, and FDA’s latest rebuttal to the Mercury Militia published the next. (FDA issued the decision in November, but only posted it online today.) It makes for great conspiracy fodder! And it makes you wonder how long diehard adherents to the Great Vaccine Conspiracy Theory will go on insisting that everyone who interprets information and phenomena differently than they do is necessarily dishonest, venal and lacking in objectivity — and that they’re all in cahoots with each other.

  57. #57 1mom4science
    January 27, 2009

    How soothing it is to read all of this common sense. I’ve spent far too much time reading the rants of J.B. Handley. I seemed to have noticed a recent trend. The anti vaccine crowd is still promoting the dangers of vaccines, while speaking less about thimerosal. That’s convenient, since mercury is no longer an issue.

    Now they seem to be moving on to environmental toxins. Is that how they explain California’s “explosion” of autism? Given that California has the most restrictive EPA in the union; it seems a bit ironic doesn’t it?

    I studied agriculture. I seem to remember all of the loons twenty or thirty years ago saying we used too many chemicals. Then came the seed scientist and they began with their ingenious gene stacking of hybrids. They came up with a miracle where they modified the corn and soybean genes to make them resistant to glyphosate. Just about the time I could appreciate all of the benefits of using Round-Up Ready hybrids, I was hearing the same voices who had previously complained about chemicals. They were now complaining about GMO’s. The common thread seems to be:

    1. Some people have too much time on their hands.
    2. People naturally make associations and conclusions despite the lack of evidence for any association.
    3. Scientists in every industry need to devote more time to educating the masses. Otherwise consumers are behind the technology. In other words, we need to do a better job of customer relations.

    The anti vaccine crowd cannot win. The best they can do is to create increasingly more and more serious outbreaks, until the guest on Larry King and Oprah are asking “How could we have allowed such an epidemic to occur in the richest country in the world?” As a matter of fact, I fear one day we will hear Offit saying “I told you so!”

    Ignorance is not bliss; it is an expensive commodity that we cannot afford. Whether or not we spend valuable research dollars to investigate vaccines as the cause of autism should not be left up to majority rule.

    Keep the politics out of this. It should be for scientists only to decide.

  58. #58 Lucas McCarty
    January 27, 2009

    If Dan Abshear posts yet another drive-by copy/paste in an Autism-related topic again he’s going to find his blogs full of crap from 4chan.

  59. #59 Per Kristian Dragseth
    January 28, 2009

    “inconvenient epidemiological evidence that autism rates did not plummet back to 1980s levels after 2001, which was when thimerosal was removed from most childhood vaccines and mercury exposure from vaccines plummeted to well under 62.5 μg”

    I would like the source for this assumption.

  60. #60 Joseph
    January 28, 2009

    Asperger’s Syndrome is more common than autism, and the symptoms are milder, as there is minimal delay in language abilities, if at all. What is expressed with Asperger’s syndrome is mild autistic symptoms.

    Where did you get that from, Dan? It’s wrong.

    Asperger’s is not more common than autism. Maybe it’s more commonly diagnosed in adults. In children, it’s actually considerably less common than autism. PDD-NOS is the most common of the ASDs.

    The prevalence of Asperger’s in children reportedly varies from about 2 in 10,000 to 10 in 10,000.

    Not only that, many researchers now argue that the way DSM-IV Asperger’s is defined, it might be impossible to diagnose. In other words, all children with an DSM-IV Asperger’s label should have an autistic disorder label instead.

    Finally, there’s nothing that says Asperger’s needs to be “milder.” There’s no speech delay in Asperger’s — that’s the only defined difference. Once you match older Asperger and classic autistics for IQ, there appears to be no difference of note between the groups.

  61. #61 John H
    January 28, 2009

    At the risk of sounding prurient do not people (both men and women) receive injections of pure unadulterated DNA every time they engage in unprotected sexual activity.

    I wonder how the children the jabbophobes are so keen to protect actually arrived in this world without an injection of DNA in various unsavoury fluids.

    Stacy

    We have a forum here in the UK called JABS (a veritable vipers nest of morons, idiots, scientifically useless, quasi-religious loons). I beat your record of three days as JABS slung me off, deleted my comments and blocked me after two hours. All I did was post a few comments highlighting the idiocy of the jabbophobes. And they have the gall to call it a FORUM !

    Orac

    Yet another first class article. Not surprisingly the jabbophobes in the UK are up in arms about the Italian study. I might just cut and paste your articles (in their entirety) into their sites under a mass of aliases and spooofed IP addresses. Email addresses are cheap and if just one worried mother is turned away from the bile these morons spout then it will be worth the effort.

  62. #62 Orac
    January 28, 2009

    Just be sure to include links back here. Why spare us the fun? :-)

  63. #63 Mu
    January 28, 2009

    Chris, you were doing well until you found benzene in diet soda, and started freely converting it into benzaldehyde and other compounds. So you might get a Nobel price for it if you manage to scale that up; soda bottles are so much cheaper than the huge factories they build for that kind of transformations.

  64. #64 Chris
    January 28, 2009

    Kristen Dragseth said “I would like the source for this assumption.”

    It is in the paper that is the subject of this blog posting. The link is just before the blockquote that sentence was contained in. The link is the title of the paper that is in blue letters.

  65. #65 Chris
    January 28, 2009

    Oops… I read the wrong part of the quote. The “assumption” is sourced at the autismnaturalvariation link above the quote, and it is also been blogged often on Respectful Insolence, AutismNaturalVariation, LeftBrainRightBrain, and elsewhere. Just look for the California Developmental disability numbers.

  66. #66 Joseph
    January 28, 2009

    I would like the source for this assumption.

    Yes, that was blogged repeatedly by me and others since at least 2006. The California data is publicly available and easy to verify. It also appears in the peer-reviewed literature. See Schechter & Grether (2008).

  67. #67 RJ
    January 28, 2009

    “I would like the source for this assumption.”

    It’s not an assumption. It’s a conclsuion derived from data. You should be able to look it up.

    If you think it is an “assumption”, why not take the time to check? When I learn of something I didn’t know (or thought to be otherwise) I do a little research.

    It is important to never, ever “assume” that you are always right.

  68. #68 Prometheus
    January 28, 2009

    While I was waiting for the thermocycler to finish, I spent some “leisure” time reading the comment from “Chris”.


    “Look into the PKU related problems, the relationship of how levels of phenylalanine and the resulting genetic neuro damage that is done by high concentrations of ……phenylalanine can do to a Fetus….how close to Autisim [sic] “spectrums” diagnoses and the core issues are all the same but without the direct result in the physical PKU protein, phenylalanine intake problems for life…”

    Uh, no. Although looking at the list of signs and symptoms of PKU and autism might “reveal” some similarities, the actual disorders look very different. Fortunately, we don’t see much full-blown PKU these days, thanks to post-natal screening of infants.

    Additionally, even high concentrations of phenylalanine do not cause genetic damage, although they certainly can cause neurological damage.


    “In any case, I find clear indicators pointing to a direct cause effect link between these two to look deeply into the phenylalanine intake being increased, how much? over the last 20-30 years, to warrant a deeper look into the data. and what of 2-3 generations ingesting Food Additives, Fake Sugars aka Aspertame ohhh wait…those Diet Sodas with phenylalanine, …..”

    If you look at how much aspartame is in “diet” soft drinks (see: http://www.thecoca-colacompany.com/mail/goodanswer/us_fountain_beverages.pdf ), you’ll find that it runs from about 15 to 60 milligrams (mg) per 8 oz serving. This works out to 39 to 156 micrograms of phenylalanine per milliliter.

    This means that a half-liter bottle of diet Coke (for instance) would have about 75 milligrams of phenylalanine from aspartame. By comparison, an ear of corn contains 90 milligrams, an egg about 300 milligrams and a quarter-pound hamburger (without cheese, condiments or bun) about 1000 milligrams. That should help put it into perspective. (see: http://www.healthyeatingclub.com/info/books-phds/books/foodfacts/html/data/data2e.html)

    If we were concerned about an increase in phenylalanine consumption, we would have much more impact by reducing the number of cheeseburgers eaten than by reducing the consumption of “diet” soft drinks.

    The “caution” label on aspartame-sweetened products is there because adults and older children with PKU need to restrict their phenylalanine intake to 200 – 400 milligrams per day. This would be the equivalent of about 1 – 3 liters of diet soda per day.

    Of course, there is phenylalanine in most proteins (some more than others), so they are warned away from aspartame-containing sodas because they need to leave “room” in their diet for the phenylalanine they can’t so easily avoid.


    “Besides, I know personally 1st hand the exact above issues existing in a families [sic] which have
    a)consumed Large amounts of Diet Sodas, Daily and I mean Daily, over 2 generations. During pregnancy and throughout.
    b) has 4 effected children in the families.
    c) upon interviewing these and many other locals [sic] Autisitic families have noted over 95% of the mothers-females and families ingested Diet Sodas daily before, during pregnancies, and is a staple in thier [sic] diet.”

    [a] Diet sodas sweetened with aspartame are widely consumed in the US and other Western countries. There is no reason to believe that the miniscule increase in phenylalanine consumption this represents (see above) would have any effect on either increasing the frequency of PAH mutations or increasing autism prevalence.

    [b] Autism appears to be largely genetic, so it would not be surprising to see multiple affected children in one family. I refer you to the numerous articles on familial autism. Search “multiplex AND autism” in PubMed – I came up with nearly one hundred relevant articles with this search.

    [c] It would be interesting to see if a random selection of families without autistic members showed a statistically significant difference. After all, aspartame is a widely used artificial sweetener.

    All this goes to show that a Google PhD is no substitute for actual education and experience in the field. People who don’t have the requisite education and/or experience and don’t trust studies funded by “the government” or “Big Pharma” are pretty much out of luck.

    Prometheus

  69. #69 storkdok
    January 28, 2009

    I think it was Dr. Benway who so colorfully called Dan’s cut/paste job a “drive by book report”? Still chuckling from this description.

    Orac, great job, as usual.

  70. #70 Tsu Dho Nimh
    January 28, 2009

    “nor long-term safety studies”

    I was a polio vaccine pioneer … in the trial group. Waiting to see how the vaccine affects those recipients long term could take another 20 years.

  71. #71 anonimouse
    January 28, 2009

    I hope people realize that dealing with J.B. Handley and the mercury militia is essentially the same as dealing with (at best) hardcore intelligent design advocates or HIV denialists. It does not matter what you say or how much evidence you provide to debunk claims, the militia is always right, you are always wrong.

  72. #72 FreeSpeaker
    January 28, 2009

    Anonouse, many of us do recognize that about Handley, the Junta at AoA and their pet lemmings. That is one of the reasons I created Age Of Ignorance. They censor the comments.

    Feel free to visit.

  73. #73 john ilya
    January 28, 2009

    I agree with ORAC but………his use of the wingnut is dead wrong.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wingnut_(politics)

  74. #74 Petri
    January 28, 2009

    “On its worst day, polio impacted 1 in 3,000 with a death rate of under 5%. That’s really, really bad, and the deaths are horrible and tragic. My grandfather had polio and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”

    “But, autism is approaching 1 in 100, at a minimum its 20x worse than polio, and we have no plausible explanation for cause.”

    This is an extremely misleading response. A quick look at this article: JAMA. 2007;298(18):2155-2163. and anyone can see that the incidence and even deaths associated with vaccine preventable diseases top the so called Autism epidemic. Acute polio from 1941 to 1950 had 19,794 cases with 1393 deaths. That’s 7% of cases ending in death right there. Add in the others and you begin to see how scary those times were.

    This doesn’t even include the lifesaving power of other newer vaccines that stop childhood meningitis. Or the age old vaccine for rabies, or the flu vaccine and how many lives it’s saved during flu epidemics. How many people could have survived the 1918 scourge of influenza that left 500,000 dead had there been a flu vaccination? How much longer till these anti-vax people are in line to get a vaccination against the rising risk of an avian flu epidemic.

    If vaccines cause autism, it would have to be an extraordinarily strong and obvious cause and effect to challenge the universal good of vaccines. Nothing even remotely concrete has ever been shown and we bicker over triviality while vaccination proves itself again and again. Paradoxically, I am so glad that vaccines work well enough that these pseudo-scientists have the luxury of attacking a life saving measure while hiding themselves and their children behind herd immunity.

  75. #75 Chris
    January 28, 2009

    john ilya said “his use of the wingnut is dead wrong.”

    For those of us old enough to remember life without the internet, the word “wingnut” has been used for years to describe a crazy nutty person. It is the 2nd and 6th definition here:
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=wingnut

    (I can imagine that wingnut got attached to right-wing politics with the online paper, World Net Daily, commonly being called “WingNutDaily” on Usenet years ago — Though when I used it was a reference to its stupidity, not its politics.)

  76. #76 john
    January 29, 2009

    Autism and vaccination well proven http://whale.to/vaccine/vaccine_autism_proven.html

    sorry about that!

  77. #77 john
    January 29, 2009

    Autism and vaccination well proven http://whale.to/vaccine/vaccine_autism_proven.html

    sorry about that!

  78. #78 john
    January 29, 2009

    Autism and vaccination well proven http://whale.to/vaccine/vaccine_autism_proven.html

    sorry about that!

  79. #79 MikeMa
    January 29, 2009

    john,
    Three times make it more true? Well the source, whale.to, makes it worthless. Peddle your filth elsewhere.

    Anecdote is not data ring a bell? Cute pictures spouting lies do not really compare well with scientific results. Asshole.

  80. #80 howzbayou
    January 29, 2009

    Sorry to have to break it to you, Mr. Whale, but you’re still stuck in Oz.

  81. #81 Joseph
    January 29, 2009

    http://whale.to/vaccine/vaccine_autism_proven.html

    Due to Scopie’s law, this should and will be ignored. If anyone is interested, the “proof” consists of quotes by 5 well known autism quacks, including David Ayoub, who believes that vaccines are a worldwide plot to control the world’s population.

  82. #82 howzbayou
    January 29, 2009

    Sorry to have to break it to you, Mr. Whale, but you’re still stuck in Oz.

  83. #83 howzbayou
    January 29, 2009

    Sorry to have to break it to you, Mr. Whale, but you’re still stuck in Oz.

  84. #84 Cerus
    January 29, 2009

    All this goes to show that a Google PhD is no substitute for actual education and experience in the field.

    Prometheus

    Aww, but I was about to train at the prestigious Jenny McCarthy School of Idiocy. I guess I’ll have to send back that frame for my diploma now, sigh.

  85. #85 Nomen Nescio
    January 29, 2009

    Umm. Excuse me if I’m being dumb here, but isn’t there a small shred of truth here in ‘injecting DNA’ issue.

    I do understand that most, if not all vaccines these days use protein fragments chosen to elicit the required immune response, so I’m not saying DNA is being injected but…

    Aren’t injections in fact designed to circumvent some of our basic defences? Skin is pretty good at keeping nasty stuff out. The high pH of the stomach is pretty good at killing off bacteria. The reason people fuss about tetanus status with some injuries is that having broken the skin, you are more susceptible to infection.

    Some chemicals (like crown ethers) are dangerous precisely because they go through the skin easily.

    So, overall, there is a case to be made that you have to be careful about what does get injected – otherwise people wouldn’t really bother about having sterile hypodermics, would they?

    NN

  86. #86 Scott
    January 29, 2009

    Nomen,

    Fundamentally, that’s nothing more than “vaccines do something.” If they didn’t get past the skin, they wouldn’t have any effect. But yes, that does mean that we need to be careful about making sure they’re safe and the risks are outweighed by the benefits. That’s exactly why vaccines are carefully tested and made as safe as possible while retaining their efficacy.

    Bottom line: Yes, that does indicate something that needs to be done. That something is already done. So the objection is moot.

  87. #87 Nomen Nescio
    January 29, 2009

    Hi Scott,

    I’m not an anti-vaxxer. My son is getting all his vaccines, no question.

    What irritated me is this somewhat over the top writing from Orac:

    “”There is a huge difference between eating something in it’s natural state, and having bits and pieces selected by scientist injected into your blood stream while floating in a bunch of toxic chemical.””

    “But that’s not the most burning stupid. I know, I know, it’s hard to believe that anything could be dumber than the statement above.”

    I eat steak tartare, Marmite, sashimi, and unpasteurised cheese (not all ath the same time). I drink real ale. I really would not like to have any of those injected, into the bloodstream or no. I quite understand that vaccines are as safe as can reasonably be made, but the point I was trying (badly) to make is that I think Orac went just a bit too far with his hyperbole here.

    NN

  88. #88 Danio
    January 29, 2009

    Ok, Nomen,can you please indicate the part of that Mothering quote that isn’t actually stupid? I’m just not seeing where Orac has exaggerated in his reaction to it.

  89. #89 Joseph
    January 29, 2009

    There’s a very annoying anti-vaxer over at LB/RB if anyone is interested. He says he’s not anti-vaxer (just sounds like one).

  90. #90 The Perky Skeptic
    January 29, 2009

    NN, it is difficult to refrain from hyperbole when confronted with the same canards time and time again. I think ridicule is a perfectly valid response to a comment like that in the mothering.com forum.

    As Thomas Jefferson once said (quotation completely stolen from blog-buddy Cyberlizard), “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them.”

    I read Orac’s blog specifically because he subjects unintelligible propositions to well-deserved ridicule, thereby facilitating our reason to act upon them.

  91. #91 The Perky Skeptic
    January 29, 2009

    Also, it occurs to me that we inject DNA into our bloodstreams every time we pick a scab or skin a knee. Also, we breathe bacteria constantly. The world is a filthy, wonderful place! :D

  92. #92 anonimouse
    January 29, 2009

    You know it’s a good day when Whale’s John Stupidmore drops in for a visit. Cheers!

  93. #93 Stacy
    January 29, 2009

    I love it when anti-vaxxers cite whale to. Read the entire site. It’s hysterically funny. My favorite part is when they actually talk about how Princess Di was really controlled by lizards. Exactly the sort of nonsense you’d expect the anti-vax contingent to believe.

  94. #94 Dawn
    January 30, 2009

    Not a bad day at all Orac for those of us who know the facts surrounding that study.

  95. #95 Robster, FCD
    January 31, 2009

    Zounds Batman! Dawn makes another evidence free statement, with an appeal to secret knowledge! Certainly, she will grace us with some post hoc rationalization about how said paper just isn’t, just can’t, couldn’t possibly be true.

    I can’t wait. Will it be any different from Orac’s above predictions? Will it involve words that Dawn cannot properly define? Will Dawn make vailed threats while blogging under the influence?

    Tune in tomorrow, same crank time, same crank channel!

  96. #96 CulturalIconography
    January 31, 2009

    I know I’m the 34,559th person to ask this question, but…when, oh when will we stop wasting research money on the rebutting the failed thimerosal=autism nonsense and put the research money wasted on that into, say, finding the actual causes of autism? When is enough, enough?

    I know there’s excellent autism research going on right now, but just think how much more we could do with the extra time and money?

  97. #97 MikeMa
    January 31, 2009

    CulturalIconography
    You cannot get more resources while Dawn and her ilk are screaming for more and having famous fools back their cause. RFK & Ms McCarthy-ism are big draws and basically steal money from promising research. So in addition to causing deaths by advocating against vaccines, they reduce the chance of research actually addressing the problems. Double stupid.

  98. #98 Per Kristian Dragseth
    February 1, 2009

    I`m sorry to say, but this blogg has to have the highest concentration of members with asperger syndrom in the whole blogger universe. Idiocracy at its best. An anthropologist would love this blogg!

  99. #99 Dangerous Bacon
    February 1, 2009

    Anthropologists are no doubt welcome. The specialists in abnormal psychology are all busy over at AoA, whale.to and the like. Those places are an endless source of thesis material.

    p.s. one “g” in “blog”, Per. This useful grammar fact is brought to you by the 100th poster.

  100. #100 anonimouse
    February 1, 2009

    I love it when anti-vaxxers cite whale to. Read the entire site. It’s hysterically funny.

    It’s not bad satire considering its author is actually a pig farmer.

    Wait, you mean it’s NOT satire?

  101. #101 Laura
    February 2, 2009

    “Rule #1 of mother forums: Mom is always right. No matter what she does, she is always right.

    “Rule #2: If you think mom is wrong, see Rule #1.

    “The part that drove me up the wall (and out of the parenting fora) was that mom’s opinion was by default always right, and if dad dared suggest otherwise, he was relegated to the trash heap. On one hand, dads get ripped because oh they don’t do enough yadda yadda yadda. But then, if they try to participate in parenting, they get dismissed. The message is clear: dad’s only purpose is to do whatever the mom wants exactly as mom wants it. Oh, and he’s supposed to already know what all that is. And don’t think that dad has any useful suggestions about raising a child. See rule #1.”

    The impression I got is that this kind of thing is actually part of a job-security strategy for housewives.

    If you managed to convince your husband that he can provide funding but anything else he tries to do to take care of his child, clean his house, feed himself, etc. is wrong, then you convinced him that he can’t cope without you unless he has a replacement for you ASAP. Now he might still imagine leaving you for a mistress or whomever who’d take over all your chores ASAP, but he wouldn’t imagine leaving you just because he fell out of love with you/he can’t bear staying in the closet anymore/he caught you hitting his child/whatever and surviving as a single father.

  102. #102 Laura
    February 2, 2009

    “If Dan Abshear posts yet another drive-by copy/paste in an Autism-related topic again he’s going to find his blogs full of crap from 4chan.”

    Ah, 4chan (see http://www.cynical-c.com/?p=10957 , including comments, for a summary). I wonder how many of the channers in the overlap between geek fans and racists/sexists/homophobes also diagnose themselves with autism or Aspergers in order to make themselves feel better about not caring what other people think…

The site is undergoing maintenance presently. Commenting has been disabled. Please check back later!