Respectful Insolence

I must admit that, after having taken it easy over the last few days, when the time came to sit down and get back into the swing of things, I had a bit of a hard time. No, it’s not just blogging. That’s actually a rather minor component of the whole malaise that descended upon me like a shroud. Rather, it’s the simple fact that the Labor Day weekend in the U.S. represents the unofficial end of the summer season. After that, it’s all back to school, back to work, back to the grind.

Back to real life after summer.

This reluctance, not surprisingly, seeped out of real life and started to permeat blog life. What I needed was something to get me going again with enthusiasm. For a moment, I wished I had held back my post from Sunday, because, despite (or perhaps because of) its being uncharacteristically brief for me it was actually one of my better posts. Fortunately, though, for skeptical bloggers, particularly those who have made the depredations of the anti-vaccine movement one of his favorite topics, there exists a gold mine of anti-vaccine woo that almost never fails to provide fresh meat blogging material for a skeptical blogger to sink his teeth into. There, although there are several bloggers, there is one who is capable of illustrating the arrogance of ignorance better than any other. Yes, I’m referring to Age of Autism as the blog, and the blogger is Mark “Not a Doctor, Not a Scientist” Blaxill, who yesteray was crowing There’s a Funny Thing About Evidence: More Support for Autism-Mercury Link. Let’s just put it this way. There is a funny thing about evidence. It’s just not “funny” in the way Blaxill thinks it is, as the entire AoA crew will find out in the near future and about which I can’t say more–for now.

In the meantime, let’s take a look first at what Blaxill says about the study that he is presenting as “evidence” that thimerosal in vaccines causes autism, and then at the study itself. It’s quite amusing to see someone so talented at so thoroughly deluding himself:

Despite the relentless drumbeat of propaganda from the CDC, public health authorities and the thuggish on-line goons of the medical industry, there’s a funny thing going on. The evidence of a connection between mercury exposure and autism keeps growing.

On what planet? I asked myself as I read Blaxill’s post. After all, if there’s one thing that I’ve covered again and again and again over the five-plus years that I’ve been regularly blogging about the vaccine-autism manufactroversy, it’s that the evidence is going in exactly the opposite direction to what Blaxill proclaims it to be going. For example, in terms of neurodevelopmental outcomes, Thompson et al, although not explicitly studying autism, showed no detectable difference in non-autism neurodevelopmental outcomes in children who received thimerosal-containing vaccines and those who did not. Meanwhile, large epidemiological studies from Italy, California, Demark, and elsewhere have all come to the same conclusion: There is no detectable correlation between thimerosal-containing vaccines and the subsequent risk of developing autism or autism spectrum disorders. Yet, despite this tsunami of evidence (sorry, couldn’t resist), all members of the mercury militia like Blaxill can do is to stick their fingers in their ears and repeat at high volume, “La la la la la, I can’t hear you.” Well, that, and producing truly execrable studies like the highly unethical Hewitson et al study that abused baby Macaque monkeys in the name of an improbable hypothesis, as I described back in July. By coincidence, that particular study appeared in a “special issue” of a Polish journal that I had never heard of before, Acta Neurobiologiae Experimentalis (ANE). By no coincidence, I’m sure, one of the articles that Blaxill trumpets as evidence that the thimerosal/mercury/autism link pining for the fjords, so to speak, also comes from that very same “very special issue” of ANE. It also comes from everybody’s favorite “I’m not anti-vaccine” proclaimers Mary DeSoto and Robert Hitlan, who famously got in a rather amusing exchange with bloggers who piled on their earlier less than scientifically stellar work. This time around, they’ve managed to impress Blaxill (not difficult if you write something that suggests that vaccines can cause autism, virtually impossible if you present actual science) with a review article that Blaxill describes as follows:

They asked a simple question: what does the published evidence linking autism and mercury really say? To answer that question, they did a simple Pub Med search. They searched for the terms “(Autism AND Mercury) OR (Autism AND Heavy Metals)”. They found 163 articles (a number that has since risen to 174) and reviewed them. According to the authors, “Of these 163 articles, 58 were research articles with empirical data relevant to the question of a link between autism and one or more toxic heavy metals. Fifteen were offered as evidence against a link between exposure to these metals and autism. In contrast, a sum of 43 papers were supporting a link between autism and exposure to those metals.” In short, 74% of the published studies supported the theory.

It’s at this point that Blaxill melts yet another one of my irony meters. I tell ya, I really need to buy a few dozen of them and stash them away in my basement, so fast are promoters of pseudoscience tearing through them these days. I should probably make up some sort of armor plating for them, preferably heat resistant to deflect all the burning stupid like what Blaxill lays down:

Evidence is a funny thing.

To which I respond again: It sure is, just not in the way you think it is. On second thought, I’d have to armor those irony meters like the black box flight recorders on commercial airliners, and even then that might not be enough to protect them. It’s probably cheaper just to let people like Blaxill fry the occasional irony meter and just replace the damned thing with the cheapest version I can, knowing the next one will be fried again before too long.

Given that Blaxill is not exactly known for his scientific chops, his delusions otherwise notwithstanding, I went and looked at the article to which he referred. Oddly enough, Blaxill didn’t really spin or misrepresent what DeSoto and Hitlan wrote. He didn’t have to. What they wrote pretty much basically, when stripped of the scientese, consisted of an argument that because there are more articles that report a link between vaccines and autism a link must be plausible. Of course, in the meantime, they butcher the interpretation of at least one study, specifically Thompson et al:

For example, Paul Offit concludes that Thompson and others (2007) study “found no evidence of neuro- logical problems in children exposed to mercury-con- taining vaccines” (Offit 2007, p. 1979). But is this really true? According to the article’s authors, they detected only a “few significant associations with exposure to mercury” (Thompson et al. 2007, p. 1281). Of some interest to the question of early exposure and autism, “Increasing mercury exposure (in the first month of life) was associated with poorer performance of a measure of speech articulation.” (Thompson et al. 2007, p. 1281), although this finding is in need of repli- cation, it is of interest since poor articulation occurs in those with autism (Shriberg et al. 2001). Among boys, higher mercury exposure during the first month was associated with an increase in performance IQ. This is again interesting because children with autism are known for having an uneven IQ performance such that their performance IQ is often higher than their verbal IQ (Ehlers et al. 1997). To be sure, overall, the results are not overwhelming and the inclusion of so many measures (42 different outcomes) makes it plausible to write off the few significant results as chance occur- rences. But if the aim of the study was meant to see if thimerosal might relate to autism, future research may want to target specific measures based on the autism literature and make specific predictions. If the aim was to see if thimerosal relates to general cognitive skills, it would have been wise to select tests previously shown to relate to mercury exposure.

This is, of course, utter nonsense. As I pointed out (as did Autism Natural Variation), Thompson et al noted a handful of neurodevelopmental measures that improved as well as showed a detriment. In fact, there were correlations between thimerosal-containing vaccines and improvements in 12 measures and declines in 8 measures. Statistically, this result is perfectly compatible with a wash, random noise, given the large number of comparisons done. Here, Hitlan and DeSoto are doing exactly what the anti-vaccine maven Sallie Bernard did after the study and focusing on the handful of negative correlations and ignoring the positive correlations. Sorry, science doesn’t work that way. You can’t just cherry pick the correlations you want to take seriously. If you’re going to harp on the negative correlations as evidence that thimerosal has a negative impact on neurodevelopmental outcomes, intellectual honesty demands that you equally acknowledge the positive outcomes detected and consider the hypothesis that for those particular measures thimerosal-containing vaccines might actually improve neurodevelopmental outcomes. Given that the correlations noted were all very small and close to evenly distributed both positive and negative, the most appropriate interpretation is that they are random noise. That Hitlan and DeSoto apparently can’t see that should tell you all you need to know about their methodology.

But what is the second bit of “funny” evidence? This, according to Mark Blaxill:

Last week, yet another important study was published with no fanfare in the mainstream media. A research team in Warsaw led by Dr. Dorota Majewska published the latest findings from their ongoing investigation of the effect of thimerosal administration on newborn rats. I wrote about the first published findings from this project HERE. In their latest paper, the authors extended their investigation of the potential relationship between thimerosal and the development of opioid receptors in the infant brain. They found that thimerosal at the same concentrations received in human infants had clearly measurable effects on opioid receptor development in the infant rats. They also found that these effects were stronger at higher doses. The effect was found to be persistent, lasting well beyond the initial period of administration. According to the authors, “very likely, it is permanent.”

This is another study that is arguably an abuse of animals. True, it’s not as egregious as the Hewitson et al study, but it’s still quite dubious. Basically, what Majewska’s group did was to test the effect of injecting thimerosoal in newborn suckling rats. Rats were dosed with either thimerosal at 12-3,000 μg Hg/kg (actual doses: 12, 240, 1,440 or 3,000 μg Hg/kg) or saline control intramuscularly at age 7, 9, 11, and 15 days. At 20 weeks, the rats were killed and their brains sectioned and stained for the mu opiod receptor (MOR). There was also a separate group receiving the lower doses of thimerosal who were killed at 8 weeks in order to examine their brains. Investigators reported that thimerosal administration caused dose-dependent statistically significant increase in MOR densities in the periaqueductal gray and caudate putamen, but decrease in the dentate gyrus, where it was accompanied by the presence of degenerating neurons and loss of synaptic vesicle marker (synaptophysin).

The authors claim that the lowest dose (12 μg Hg/kg) is equivalent to the amount of thimerosal contained in vaccines given in some countries, something I had a hard time believing; so I decided to look it up. I went to the website of the evil empire itself, the FDA, which confirms my memory (given that it’s been a long time since I looked up this information) that a typical thimerosal-containing vaccine contained between 0.003% and 0.01% thimerosal. That means that, at the highest concentration, a typical 0.5 ml dose of vaccine contains around 25 μg Hg. So, for such a vaccine, a child would have to weigh 2 kg to be receiving a dose “equivalent” to the lowest dose used in this study. That’s rather on the small side even for a newborn infant, and, given that the only vaccines that contain more than trace thimerosal, are flu vaccines, very small compared to a child at least six months old, which is the youngest age at which the flu vaccine is recommended. The median weight for a six month old boy is on the order of 13 lbs, or around 5.9 kg. For 25 μg Hg, that’s around 4.2 μg Hg/kg. It’s even worse than that, though. The investigators repeated the dose four times in one week, which adds up to a minimum dose received of 48 μg Hg/kg (more than 11 times what would be considered a “typical” dose of thimerosal for a human infant), and the maximum dose received was a whopping 12,000 μg Hg/kg, or 12 mg Hg/kg, nearly 3,000 times a “typical” dose for a human infant!

These calculations aside, it should be emphasized once again that virtually no pediatric vaccines contain thimerosal above trace levels other than certain flu vaccines (which aren’t administered before 6 months of age anyway), and there are thimerosal-free alternatives. Basically, the authors are stretching the definition of “equivalent” almost beyond recognition when they claim that their dose is equivalent to what some childhood vaccines provide.

There were a number of other dubious aspects to this paper. For one thing, it is not stated whether those doing the sectioning and counting of the rat brains were blinded to experimental group. True, most of the counting was done using automated image analysis software, but that does not obviate the need for blinding in rigorous experimental technique. After all, it’s a human who selects the sections and images that the software counts. Another thing that confused me was the methodology used to determine the time frames when the brains were examined. Basically, the rats receiving the two lower doses were examined at eight weeks; the two higher doses, at 20 weeks. One thing that I noticed right away is that at 8 weeks, the group receiving 12 μg Hg/kg was reported to have a two- to three-fold increase in MOR density in two of the regions of the brain identified, but then I looked at the statistics and saw that neither value achieved statistical significance! Yet the authors had the gall to write:

A marked THIM-induced, dose-dependent increase of MOR density was found in the PAG–the midbrain region associated with pain modulation [18-20]. The effect was clearly noticeable already at the lowest dose of THIM (12 lg Hg/ kg), equivalent to those used in pediatric vaccines, although at this dose it did not reach statistical significance.

Sorry, but “clearly noticeable” doesn’t cut it. If the result didn’t even come close to achieving statistical significance, then there was no difference. Sorry, Charlie. Of course, there was a statistically significant difference at the next dose level up, but that dose level was 20 times higher! I’m perfectly willing to believe that that dose could cause changes in the brain. Ditto dose levels 250 times higher than the lowest dose level of 12 μg Hg/kg. 3 mg/kg Hg is a rather large dose. In any case, there is nothing in this paper that convincingly demonstrates changes in the brain due to thimorosal at anything near the doses received by a typical child in vaccines–or arguably even received by a typical child ten years ago, before thimerosal-containing childhood vaccines were taken off the shelf. The closest that comes to it is a measurement of synaptophysin, which is a measure of the number of synapses in a given area, and even then the results are not particularly convincing, given the lack of blinding and what appears to be a barely statistically significant result found only in one area of the brain and in only one outcome measured. That doesn’t even consider the authors’ choice of one-way ANOVA for a statistical test when a dose-response analysis would probably have been better.

The authors conclude:

In conclusion, this study documents that parenteral administration of THIM to suckling rats at doses equivalent to those used in pediatric vaccines or higher produces lasting alterations of MORs in several brain regions and damage to neurons. If analogous changes occur in the brains of some children, they are likely to have profound neurological, physiological and behavioral consequences, which may be relevant for certain neurodevelopmental disorders. These data argue for removal of THIM from all infant vaccines.

Poppycock. This study documents nothing of the sort. As I’ve documented, in reality, even the smallest dose is not “equivalent” to what infants receive, in particular since thimerosal has been removed from nearly all infant vaccines and given that the authors repeated the dose four times over the course of one week. Moreover, this study doesn’t even find a statistically significant difference in the MOR density of the brains of infant rats that can be attributed to the lowest dose thimerosal used (you know, the one that’s supposed to be “equivalent” to what infants receive), and the one measure in which it does purport to find a statistically significant difference is not particularly convincing. In other words, this study tells us that very high doses of mercury in the form of thimerosal is toxic to the brain. Tell us something we didn’t already know. Too bad the authors forget the old adage in pharmacology of “the dose makes the poison.” In fact, they forgot it to the point where they didn’t even include doses of thimerosal that were legitimately similar and bracketing the dosage that an infant might receive even from the old thimerosal-containing vaccines that are no longer used.

Mark Blaxill may think that “science is funny,” but in reality all he’s pushing is “funny science.” And I don’t mean humorous science, as there is nothing humorous about the sacrifice of so many rats to try to show that thimerosal causes autism. It is, however, humorous to see Mark “Not a Doctor, Not a Scientist” Blaxill desperately spin the study as evidence that, any day now–any day!–the tide will turn and the mercury militia will be vindicated.

Comments

  1. #1 Todd W.
    September 8, 2010

    @Orac

    I also noticed that in their introduction, the authors state:

    studies conducted with
    infant monkeys showed that Hg from THIM-vaccine injections
    accumulates in the brain at concentrations many times
    higher than those in the blood, and that it stays there for
    months or years [4]

    They have a citation there to back up their claim. Well, let’s take a look at reference #4:

    4. Burbacher WM, Grant KS, Mayfield DB, Gilbert SG, Rice DC (2005) Prenatal methylmercury exposure affects spatial vision in adult monkeys. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 208:21–28< ?blockquote>

    That’s right. To back up their claim about thimerosal, which, we might recall, contains ethylmercury, they cite a study on methylmercury.

    Here’s a hint to Majewska, et al.: methylmercury and ethylmercury are two completely different compounds and behave in quite different manners in the body. For one, ethylmercury is cleared from the body in a matter of days to weeks, while methylmercury takes weeks to months.

  2. #2 Hey Zeus is my Homeboy
    September 8, 2010

    It’s been painful to watch the slow motion fall of Blaxill from respected businessman to scientist poseur. How far and how low will he go?

  3. #3 Todd W.
    September 8, 2010

    Gah…blockquote fail. I meant to include more at the end of that post:

    That’s right. To back up their claim about thimerosal, which, we might recall, contains ethylmercury, they cite a study on methylmercury.

    Here’s a hint to Majewska, et al.: methylmercury and ethylmercury are two completely different compounds and behave in quite different manners in the body. For one, ethylmercury is cleared from the body in a matter of days to weeks, while methylmercury takes weeks to months.

  4. #4 Aaron M Hatch
    September 8, 2010

    Great post. As a side note, I gave a group presentation two months ago about the neurobiology of autism. The group member who thought of the topic decided to discuss leaky gut syndrome and how heavy metals can get into the blood stream and to the brain. I couldn’t stop her, so I concluded the presentation with an explanation of how there is a lot of incredible research regarding autism and to rely on http://www.autism-watch.org for reliable information. When I said that there is no reliable evidence that mercury causes autism, someone asked, “have any studies been done to show that mercury *doesn’t* cause autism?” …

    This topic is out of hand.

  5. #5 triskelethecat
    September 8, 2010

    @Todd W.: You must be in the pay of the EVIL PHARMA! How DARE you point out the research was done with methylmercury, which is not thimerosol! Heavens! Won’t someone think of the babies? /snark

  6. #6 brian t
    September 8, 2010

    This is weird … the idea that Mercury is harmful is not that outlandish, but the bit that confuses me is how that gets extrapolated in to “vaccines are bad”. If there’s a problem with a specific vaccine (or class of vaccine), what you do is fix the problem and move on. That’s what evidence-based medicine does: makes decisions based on evidence.

  7. #7 Todd W.
    September 8, 2010

    @MI Dawn

    Yep. You got me. My check should be arriving any century now…

  8. #8 Kristen
    September 8, 2010

    Let’s just put it this way. There is a funny thing about evidence. It’s just not “funny” in the way Blaxill thinks it is, as the entire AoA crew will find out in the near future and about which I can’t say more–for now.

    I am struck with an insane curiosity about this statement. Can you say what “near future” means? I will try to wait patiently, which is out of character for me :)

    Basically, the authors are stretching the definition of “equivalent” almost beyond recognition when they claim that their dose is equivalent to what some childhood vaccines provide. This is particularly true given that the investigators in actuality appear to have given four such doses within a week.

    This is dishonest. To me (and I am just an undergrad and mother) “equivalent” (in this case) means the same μg Hg/kg. It is painfully obvious that giving the same dose for a (lets say) up to 500g rat (average adult weight) and a 2000g baby is not “equivalent”, it is four times as much. And in this example my rough estimate is in favor of an adult rat and a small newborn!

    I know I am just repeating what Orac stated, but I am shocked that anyone would venture to call this research. AoA must have contempt for their readership to think anyone would believe this garbage. But I don’t think many of their readers have the inclination to look into anything for themselves. They eat it up without question because it supports what they already “know”.

  9. #9 Joanne
    September 8, 2010

    Well – I tried posting on their site, telling readers to come *here*… But their comments are moderated, so I doubt it’ll ever show up.

    ex animo-
    Joanne

  10. #10 Orac
    September 8, 2010

    I am struck with an insane curiosity about this statement. Can you say what “near future” means? I will try to wait patiently, which is out of character for me :)

    Next week. I can say no more.

  11. #11 Kristen
    September 8, 2010

    Thank you for the answer, Orac. I will try to make sure I am paying attention. My brother-in-law will be visiting from Germany before leaving for Iraq next week.

  12. #12 Todd W.
    September 8, 2010

    Next week. I can say no more.

    I shiver with antici…pation.

  13. #13 MikeMa
    September 8, 2010

    @brian t,
    Yes, look at evidence, fix problems, move on.

    The anti-vax crowd use super mommy evidence, gut feeling evidence and such silly methods to reach their conclusions. They are catching on though that real evidence may have an edge so they are trying, as evidenced by this recent AoA screed Orac has written about. Sadly the evidence points to other problems totally unrelated to vaccines.

    I’m not even sure where to get a dose of methyl-mercury but a quick google search points out some power plant smog and certain sources of drinking water. The Blaxill types would better serve the world by fighting to clean up those real threats and let autism research continue along more productive paths.

  14. #14 Denice Walter
    September 8, 2010

    Mulling over something Orac’s “friend” wrote recently ( at the other place) which asked whether woo-slingers ( *comme* Adams) _really_ believed their own nonsense or if they were *compleat* scammers ( *comme* Trudeau), leads me to posit a third alternative : they actually *do* believe *and* then further exaggerate the shakey foundations of their beliefs to convince those to whom they wish to sell woo-ful ideas and/or products. Does not Blaxill ( and do not Adams, Null, and Mercola) vehemently protest the rampart corruption by “orthodox” medicine, science, BigPharma, universities, the FDA, the CDC, the feds, et al ? Sounds like they’re trying hard to first convince themselves. It also appears that they have all been using the same play book recently : “‘BigScience’ is totally corrupt” …..except for the few studies that solidify their own dodgy ideas. Do they actually believe their own tripe ? Well, it appears that many *do* practice what they preach : anti-vaxxers don’t vaccinate their children or themselves , “poz” HIV/AIDS denialists don’t use ARV’s ( often to their own detriment), the aformentioned woo-meisters are avid runners and athletes who eat perversely specialized, orthorectic diets and consume mountains of self-branded supplements ( sometimes to ill effect)… they preach a stronger message to their marks, leaving out ill effects ( can you imagine 50+ and 60+ year old long-time runners without injuries and knee-surgery?), or a “cured” type 2 diabetic athlete (Adams) who doesn’t discuss issues relevant to this condition ( but I bet he has a glucose monitor and uses it).

  15. #15 Calli Arcale
    September 8, 2010

    MikeMa: One of the more common sources of methylmercury is diet. A diet high in pelagic coldwater ocean fish is particularly of concern. (That means tuna, swordfish, shark, etc. These large oceanic predators live for decades, and can accumulate a great deal of toxins before they are large enough to be fished.) This is why some doctors recommend that pregnant women avoid more than one or two servings of these fish per week. Some freshwater fish can also have high amounts of methylmercury, depending on the body of water they came from; the best way to steer clear of those is to keep aware of local fish & wildlife authorities advisories, and not eat fish from affected lakes. This mercury contamination can originate from natural sources, but is often industrial pollutants. (In Minnesota, paper mills have historically been a significant offender, but there are other industries which use mercury and may spill it.)

    Contaminated lakes also tends to point to contaminated groundwater, so yeah, drinking water is another source. Coal-fired plants also emit some mercury, though I think contaminated water is a bigger concern.

  16. #16 Dangerous Bacon
    September 8, 2010

    Wow, a review article using the Gish gallop technique – if more published articles “support” a heavy metal-autism link than do not (never mind exactly what the articles say or what their quality is*), then that’s really really good evidence for our side!

    But why bother to do a literature search? Just do a Google search instead. When I plug in “mercury causes autism” I get 882,000 hits, but “mercury doesn’t cause autism” yields only 44,000. That’s, like, way way better than 10 to 1 in favor of the mercury hypothesis! It’d be more than enough for Jenny, and I’m sure Blaxill as well.

    Blaxill: “the thuggish on-line goons of the medical industry”

    I like this. Is there a bumper sticker that reads “Online Goon of the Medical Industry”? I want one.

    *Wonder how many of the articles were by one or another of the Geiers, for example.

  17. #17 Science Mom
    September 8, 2010

    I just started reading the introduction and my brain gasped for a reprieve. It is very apparent that the authors have a pre-determined conclusion based upon the citations of junk science (ala Geier & Geier for example) and gross misrepresentations of studies that do not demonstrate a thimerosal-autism link. One paragraph can easily be summed up as, “Autism-caused-by-thimerosal studies, good. Autism-not-caused-by-thimerosal studies, bad”. I will try and gather the fortitude to plough ahead.

    Why does the anti-vax side employ such dubious methods? Do they really think no one is going to notice?

  18. #18 colmcq
    September 8, 2010

    @Todd W

    That’s right. To back up their claim about thimerosal, which, we might recall, contains ethylmercury, they cite a study on methylmercury.

    it’s worse than that; Burbacher didn’t even measure the amount of free [Hg] present in the samples before injection, so wasn’t even able to draw the conclusions he did!

  19. #19 Emily Willingham
    September 8, 2010

    Blogged this yesterday w/ a breakdown of how their lowest dose compares to actual exposures. I also note that their highest dose is the equivalent of spoonful of mercury for a human 6-mo-old. Really…12000 mcg Hg/kg in less than a week. WTF? Why did they even use this dose? And why didn’t they go lower than their alleged “relevant” dose of 12 mcg Hg/kg (given 4x in about a week), as most tox studies would have done? The entire thing is a trainwreck.

    Also, I noted their cited references, which include “papers” from Med Hypotheses and Med Veritas, among others, and of course, the Geier paper. Their only citation supporting their use of 12 mcg Hg/kg as “relevant” is their own previous paper. While I’ve got no problem with this journal, it does request three suggested reviewers, and I’d be very interested in knowing who those reviewers were.

    http://daisymayfattypants.blogspot.com/2010/09/on-anti-vaxers-science-and-sticks-of.html

  20. #20 Liz Ditz
    September 8, 2010

    Dangerous Bacon,

    1.Emily Willingham debunked the Majewska study yesterday. As you suspected, the citations include the Geiers. Should we amend Scopie’s Law to include citing the Geiers?

    2. On the whole, I don’t put stickers on my cars or other items. However, I might make an exception for “Online Goon of the Medical Industry” I’ll pay for it with those pharma checks I’ve been getting.

  21. #21 MikeMa
    September 8, 2010

    @Calli,
    Thanks for adding those sources of methyl mercury more clearly and completely. I eat a lot of tuna at work. I may have to rethink that strategy. Fortunately, I am the wrong gender to get pregnant.

  22. #22 Todd W.
    September 8, 2010

    @MikeMa

    I have a section on Thimerosal over at antiantivax.flurf.net in which I talk a little about the differences between ethylmercury and methylmercury. Of interest to you, perhaps, is the third bullet point discussing how much methylmercury you actually get from, in my example, a 6 oz. can of white tuna (other varieties of canned tuna have less mercury, btw – see the links in the text over there).

  23. #23 Paul
    September 8, 2010

    It’s the dishonesty of this sort of “science” that really irritates me. I foolishly wasted a couple of hours this morning after reading claims that Gardasil killed several children in India. It turns out the causes of death included snakebite, drowning and malaria, and large clinical trials unequivocally demonstrate that Gardasil is one of the safest and most effective vaccines we have. That doesn’t stop several websites from claiming that any death or illness in anyone given Gardasil (car crashes and cancer included) was really caused by the vaccine. These websites always insist you should do your own research, though they seem incapable of following their own advice.

  24. #24 MikeMa
    September 8, 2010

    @Todd W,
    Thanks for the link. I suppose I should eat that can of albacore tuna somewhat less often. My memory is as sharp as ever though so what pressure should I look for to quit this horrible seafood habit?

    Maybe I should use Kimmy’s idea of mixing the the tuna with industrial chelator. Maybe not.

  25. #25 Elin
    September 8, 2010

    ‘In short, 74% of the published studies supported the theory.’

    Not a doctor, not a scientist, and no good at maths either.

  26. #26 Agashem
    September 8, 2010

    What, no trolls?????

  27. #27 Calli Arcale
    September 8, 2010

    MikeMa: bear in mind that tuna also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are reputed* to be good for you. A study (reference not available, sorry; this was years ago) of communities which subsist almost entirely on deepwater fish (i.e. South Pacific islanders) show a surprising effect: despite the relatively high consumption of methylmercury, they actually appear to score better one some tests of intelligence than the “Western” populations studied to produce baseline values. The study attributed this to omega-3 fatty acids, but I don’t recall if they had any real justification for doing so or if it was just speculation.

    I rather suspect that unless you’re a pregnant woman or small child, it’s not going to matter too much. ;-) (One could eschew tuna for other reasons; tuna breed slowly, and the growing popularity of sashimi has not been kind to them, especially the prized bluefin tuna.)

    Maybe you could have strawberry rhubarb pie for dessert? :-D It contains oxalic acid, a natural chelator.**

    * Mileage may vary; I don’t know the basis for this claim.

    ** I have absolutely no clue whatsoever how well oxalic acid does at removing mercury. Mostly I know it creates that weird gritty sensation if you drink milk with rhubarb, because it chelates calcium out of the milk, and large quantities can give you kidney problems. But hey, I’ll take any excuse to eat strawberry-rhubarb pie!

  28. #28 Todd W.
    September 8, 2010

    @Calli Arcale

    large quantities [of rhubarb] can give you kidney problems.

    Not to mention more immediate concerns. IIRC, rhubarb was also used in large doses as a laxative.

  29. #29 MikeMa
    September 8, 2010

    @Calli, Todd,
    I did have a really good strawberry rhubarb jelly/condiment at a breakfast restaurant in Maine while on vacation recently. Maybe that will help!

    @Agashem,
    Shhh! Peace and quiet isn’t a bad thing, now and again :)

  30. #30 Scott
    September 8, 2010

    Maybe you could have strawberry rhubarb pie for dessert?

    I have to admit that this is one of those foods I just don’t get. Why would anybody ruin perfectly good strawberries by adding something so disgusting-to-the-point-of-inedible as rhubarb?

  31. #31 Todd W.
    September 8, 2010

    @Scott

    Blasphemer! Rhubarb is a wonderful food. I used to just break off stalks and eat it raw as a kid. Nice and tart. Plus, it’s a vegetable! One of the few that actually goes quite nicely with strawberries. Just macerate them for a few hours, then bake them into a pie. Scrumdiddlyumptious.

  32. #32 Dangerous Bacon
    September 8, 2010

    Slight digression: The American Academy of Pediatrics is now joining other health care groups in calling for mandatory influenza vaccination for health care workers:

    “The American Academy of Pediatrics plans to call for all health workers to get flu vaccinations, saying unvaccinated doctors, nurses and other medical staffers pose a threat to patients.
    The academy, which represents 60,000 pediatricians*, is the latest of several organizations that now back mandatory flu shots for health workers. The groups include the National Patient Safety Foundation, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the Society of Healthcare Epidemiologists.

    Cited in the article are a flu outbreak in a neonatal intensive care unit in which 19 of 54 infants were infected (one death) and another in a bone marrow transplant unit (two deaths). In both cases, 15% or less of health care workers had been immunized against the flu.

    My conscience as a hospital-based physician is good on this one (I’ll be getting vaccinated against influenza again this fall, though I should need just one shot this time), though I acknowledge that personal as well as patient safety is on my mind.

    *as we’ve seen here, not all pediatricians represent the AAP, however they trumpet their “credentials”.

  33. #33 Composer99
    September 8, 2010

    Agashem:

    It is kind of weird to see a post on vaccines which doesn’t have one of the ‘regulars’.

    Probably just a matter o time…

  34. #34 squirrelelite
    September 8, 2010

    Interesting little discussion on rhubarb.

    I like rhubarb pie and it was a big favorite of my dad’s, but I’ll admit it is a bit of an acquired taste. Sort of like Granny Smith apples, the tart taste and firm texture hold up well under the cooking conditions needed to make a pie, but you do need plenty of sugar to balance that out. Which is why strawberries are a common addition.

    The Wikipedia article on rhubarb has some useful information. Evidently it’s a useful source of Vitamin C and Vitamin K as well as calcium and some other nutrients.

    It has been used as a laxative for thousands of years including in Traditional Chinese Medicine!

    The oxalic acid concentration in the stalks is lower than in the leaves, so they may not be as poisonous as generally thought in the U.S. But, we always cooked them anyway.

    The heat may accelerate the process of combining with oxygen to make CO2 and water, but I didn’t find the technical details in a cursory search.

    The roots may also have some medicinal value, since they contain several stilbenes, which very preliminary research shows help lower blood glucose levels in mice.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19235684

  35. #35 triskelethecat
    September 8, 2010

    @Todd W: I knew I liked you! I love rhubarb, my mom grows it at home and makes a fabulous rhubarb custard pie. I never experienced strawberry rhubarb till I married and moved to the east coast (and still don’t like it very much…I like my rhubarb pure) My brother and I used to pull up rhubarb and eat the stalks by the hour; our mom used to yell at us that we ate so much there wasn’t enough for pie. But, maybe that explains why the EVIL thimerosol in our vaccines and in the merthiolate we slopped all over ourselves didn’t make us autistic; we were too busy chelating ourselves!

    MI Dawn

    (this time I remembered to sign the post, even though you did know who the previous one was from.)

  36. #36 triskelethecat
    September 8, 2010

    Argh! HTML fail…only “knew” in the first sentence was supposed to be bolded…

    My apologies to all for the extended bolding.

    Oh well.

    MI Dawn

  37. #37 Orange Lantern
    September 8, 2010

    Awesome. Rhubarb is by far my favorite pie. I like strawberry rhubarb from time to time but I usually prefer it straight. I too eat rhubarb stalks straight, especially as a child.

    Google for Garrison Keillor’s rhubarb pie ditty when you get a chance, but I’m warning you it will stick in a rhubarb fan’s head head for days.

  38. #38 Orac
    September 8, 2010

    How did this comment thread get sidetracked to rhubarb? Come on. I’m getting bored.

  39. #39 Calli Arcale
    September 8, 2010

    I blame lunchtime. :-D We were apparently getting hungry.

    (As a kid, I used to eat rhubarb stalks, straight out of the garden and dipped in sugar. Double, triple, quadrouple, etc dipped, so each of us had our own sugar bowl to dip into for the duration.)

  40. #40 Pablo
    September 8, 2010

    How did this comment thread get sidetracked to rhubarb? Come on. I’m getting bored.

    Dude, you just answered your own question.

    Everyone else was getting bored, too.

  41. #41 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    September 8, 2010

    “Rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb….and custard”
    - Harry Secombe as Neddie Seagon

  42. #42 Todd W.
    September 8, 2010

    @Orac

    How did this comment thread get sidetracked to rhubarb? Come on. I’m getting bored.

    Well, your post was just so good that none of the trolls could find anything adequate to kvetch about, leaving the rest of us with nothing else to talk about. So really, it’s all your fault.

  43. #43 Dangerous Bacon
    September 8, 2010

    “It is kind of weird to see a post on vaccines which doesn’t have one of the ‘regulars’.”

    You don’t always need to have a rhubarb.

  44. #44 triskelethecat
    September 8, 2010

    I look at it as a natural progression from the main course (the fish conversation) to dessert. (grin)

    Well, you know, Orac, when you leave us with teasers like “next week” for what I am guessing will be a wonderful heaping helping of Insolence (gee, must still be hungry), we will wander into strange directions.

    More on topic: spent lunch talking to a coworker whose partner is pregnant. He asked about fear of vaccines and (yay!) scoffed at the thimerosol/autism link. He is a strong believer in vaccines. However, he didn’t know about getting his and his partner’s vaccine status updated for the baby’s sake, so he will look into getting the TDaP if he needs it, and any other vaccines he may need. Hooray for logical fathers-to-be.

  45. #45 Calli Arcale
    September 8, 2010

    Getting back on point, the reason I mentioned rhubarb is because I’m waiting for one of the mercury militia to latch on it as a cure for autism (since apparently any chelator will do) and claim miraculous results. It’s only a matter of time.

    Blaxill and his funny science are a continuing problem, but at least around here, the anti-vaxxers appear to be a distinct minority. Even the local Fox affiliate has run pieces promoting vaccination clinics and such, and hasn’t stooped to reporting on the manufactroversy of vaccines and autism. Even their autism pieces have been free of that kind of thing, and have focused on educational and behavioral interventions. I understand that is not the case everywhere.

  46. #46 Jack
    September 8, 2010

    Speaking of pretending to be a scientist, Mike Adams recently posted a stinker of a post entitled “Evidence-based vaccinations” in which he shamelessly manipulated the Cochrane Library. He found one review that showed that seasonal flu vaccines do not decrease hospitalizations or deaths in healthy adults. He then clearly proceded to read only the abstract and even then to get it wrong. He claimed that the vaccine didn’t have any effect on work absenteeism but the paper actually showed the opposite. He also missed out on the other similar Cochrane library reviews, specifically this one that showed that the seasonal flu vaccine is efficacious in children. Of course, he also made completely unfounded assumptions in order to claim that the number needed to treat for flu vaccines is 1000 when the number from the review was actually 35-100.

    Unsurprisingly, my comment on his post pointing out all of his mistakes was promptly deleted within a few hours. Fake scientists are everywhere and they’re banding together to ignore all evidence that they don’t like!

  47. #47 stripey_cat
    September 8, 2010

    @Todd. I think it was rhubarb root used as a purgative – on the basis that it’s a really nasty irritant and would flush your gut out (either end, probably!) before it had time to poison you. There’s a reason we use Senna nowadays.

  48. #48 MikeMa
    September 8, 2010

    Sorry Orac, my tuna fish habit started the rhubarb thing. Todd and Calli were trying to prevent a dangerous buildup of heavy metal due to an overuse of tuna in my diet.

    While the rhubarb may be distracting, it does highlight once again the need to differentiate between the various forms of mercury out there. The loons are reacting to studies of methyl mercury, a far longer lasting form of the metal rather than ethyl mercury, the kind that was prevalent in vaccines but isn’t really any more, flu vaccines excepted.

    Does the mercury from tuna get transmitted to babies by breast milk? I wonder if Kimmy eats albacore or Blaxill lets his wife eat tuna? Seems like the danger, unproven though it is, is in the food and water, not in the vaccines.

    I’m hoping to reel in a troll with this but we’ll have to see.

  49. #49 Orange Lantern
    September 8, 2010

    I would challenge anyone to show me a single study that proves that rhubarb does not prevent autism.

    I have searched high and low and have never, I repeat never, found any autistic individual with any documented proof that they have ever in their life eaten rhubarb.

    Where are all the rhubarb-eating autistics?

  50. #50 Pablo
    September 8, 2010

    Where are all the rhubarb-eating autistics?

    In the bathroom? Although stripey_cat disagrees…

  51. #51 Scott
    September 8, 2010

    @ 49:

    Amusing! Shall I call you “Orange Bateson” now?

  52. #52 Matthew Cline
    September 8, 2010

    @brian t:

    This is weird … the idea that Mercury is harmful is not that outlandish, but the bit that confuses me is how that gets extrapolated in to “vaccines are bad”.

    It’s the other way around: first they became convinced vaccines caused autism, and then secondly tried to figure out how/why they caused autism. For whatever reasons, those in the U.S. first concentrated on mercury as the possible cause, and then for more whatever reasons many have stuck to the mercury hypothesis despite all the evidence to the contrary.

  53. #53 brian
    September 8, 2010

    The study design is fundamentally flawed–and not because the authors neglected the rhubarb question.

    First, humans and rats follow different neurodevelopmental schedules, although that crucial fact seems to have escaped the authors’ attention.

    The developmental periods of the human brain may be directly related to the developmental periods of other mamamalian species when the ‘brain growth spurt’ is synchronized. This important event in brain development is quite differently positioned in relation to the time of birth. In humans … the ‘brain growth spurt’ is almost completed before birth. In rats, it begins after birth and lasts up to the third postnatal week. These differences must be kept in mind, as they have important implications in designing a DNT [developmental neurotoxicology] study with rats and carrying out risk assessment for human infants. [Krinke GJ, ed. 2000. The Laboratory Rat. London (GB). Academic Press.]

    In addition, of course, spacing doses at two-day intervals ensures that a compound with a half-life of seven days will build up, so that the exposure is much higher than could have been achieved in humans.

    Perhaps the authors actually intended to ask what would happen if you administered escalating doses of thimerosal during the third trimester of prenatal development, but that wasn’t what they wrote.

  54. #54 Scott
    September 8, 2010

    For whatever reasons, those in the U.S. first concentrated on mercury as the possible cause, and then for more whatever reasons many have stuck to the mercury hypothesis despite all the evidence to the contrary.

    It’s definitely odd to see how they were moving on to the less easily refuted “too many too soon” idea, but more recently seem to have gone back to the trivially-obliterated mercury bit. I don’t get why they’d do that; the simple observation that autism rates haven’t budged since the almost-complete removal of thimerosal makes it even more of a laughingstock than their other BS.

    Are they truly THAT clueless?

  55. #55 a-non
    September 8, 2010

    How did this comment thread get sidetracked to rhubarb? Come on. I’m getting bored.

    Hey, that’s what she said!

    You all know you laughed at that, in spite of yourself.

    To make a salient point…I think that we tend to laser in on the reporting that gives the anti-vax loons equal weight, when by and large the debate is mostly in their mind at this point. I’d suggest that for every story that is sympathetic (or worse) to the “vaccines cause autism” belief, there are two or three that get it right.

  56. #56 Todd W.
    September 8, 2010

    Orange Lantern wins the thread!

  57. #57 Science Mom
    September 8, 2010

    It’s definitely odd to see how they were moving on to the less easily refuted “too many too soon” idea, but more recently seem to have gone back to the trivially-obliterated mercury bit. I don’t get why they’d do that; the simple observation that autism rates haven’t budged since the almost-complete removal of thimerosal makes it even more of a laughingstock than their other BS.

    Are they truly THAT clueless?

    @ Scott, Don’t forget Blaxill and Olmsted have their book coming out next week. Who cares that their material is so last decade; they need sales.

  58. #58 Lisa
    September 8, 2010

    “Never rub another man’s rhubarb” –Jack Napier

  59. #59 IHC Jay
    September 8, 2010

    The antivax group remind me of Ned Flanders in this clip.
    http://www.milkandcookies.com/link/39566/detail/

    Even if there is undeniable evidence they just burn it.

  60. #60 Composer99
    September 8, 2010

    So, to recap the study that Blaxill is touting, the researchers:
    (a) injected rats with a disproportionately large amount of thimerosal compared to the current US pediatric vaccine schedule
    (b) injected the rats on a schedule that is exaggeratedly shortened compared to the current US pediatric vaccine schedule (all the more so given the fact that the current scheduled consists of vaccines, not just injections of thimerosal)
    (c) injected the rats during a period of their neurodevelopment equivalent to a pre-natal period of fetal neurodevelopment
    (d) expect the above to say something bad about the current US pediatric vaccine schedule

    Does that sum it up accurately?

    With regards to the more popular topic, I haven’t had rhubarb in a very long time although I recall not much liking it in the past. It may be time for a re-check.

  61. #61 Orange Lantern
    September 8, 2010

    Amusing! Shall I call you “Orange Bateson” now?

    I was thinking of signing it Tony Rhubateson.

  62. #62 AnthonyK
    September 8, 2010

    Interstingly, while British actors (and Americans?) use the words “rhubarb rhubarb” to suggest the murmur of background conversation, Irish actors use the phrase “potatoes potatoes”.
    D’you think the anit-vax nuts say “thimerasol thimerasol”? It would work quite well. And, of course, it would make just as much sense as what they do say….

  63. #63 Dangerous Bacon
    September 8, 2010

    “Unsurprisingly, my comment on (Mike Adams’) post pointing out all of his mistakes was promptly deleted within a few hours. Fake scientists are everywhere and they’re banding together to ignore all evidence that they don’t like!

    By referring to Mike Adams in this manner you are demeaning fake scientists as a whole. He is more properly referred to as the shock jock of stupidity.

  64. #64 a-non
    September 8, 2010

    Mike Adams is to fake science what Glenn Beck is to insightful political commentary.

  65. #65 Enkidu
    September 8, 2010

    Ugh. Slightly OT: I get updates from the March of Dimes (since my daughter is a preemie) and it seems there is an influx of anti-vaxers spouting nonsense on the MoD’s Facebook page, under their links on the flu vax and pertussis. Have they no shame? Preemies are the most at-risk with these diseases.

  66. #66 Matthew Cline
    September 8, 2010

    @Enkidu:

    I get updates from the March of Dimes (since my daughter is a preemie) and it seems there is an influx of anti-vaxers spouting nonsense on the MoD’s Facebook page, under their links on the flu vax and pertussis. Have they no shame? Preemies are the most at-risk with these diseases.

    How in the world are they tying vaccines and autism into premies (assuming they aren’t being entirely off topic)? Are they claiming that premies are more at risk to autism-from-vaccines? Or that the mother being vaccinated leads to premature birth?

  67. #67 Denice Walter
    September 8, 2010

    @ Dangerous Bacon and a-non : I totally agree that Adams is an idiot – and not even a useful idiot – on the contrary, he’s a *destructive* idiot who cannot understand how his foolhardy words might effect people’s beliefs and ( possibly ) behavior. Today, he writes ( @ NaturalNews) about the unreality of HIV testing results and how AIDS is basically about a “Pharma plot”.

  68. #68 Enkidu
    September 8, 2010

    @Matthew Cline: It’s because the March of Dimes is very pro-vaccine (because vaxes are such life-savers for preemies). So, they have links with info on pertussis and flu vaccines on their page. Some from the anti-vax crowd is commenting on these links, bringing up all the same-old, same-old crap about autism-vaccine links, aborted fetal cells in the vaccines, etc.

    The one that really irritates the crap out of me is this woman who said that people who are vaccinated against pertussis are a danger, as they will unknowingly contract it and transmit it to their baby. Then she claims that it is safer to not vaccinate, so that if you catch pertussis you’ll “know” and can quarantine yourself. ::huge eyeroll::

    I really hope that their comments don’t sway a preemie parent away from vaccinating their baby or themselves. There are quite a few people rebuffing the anti-vaxers on there, which is good.

  69. #69 realinterrobang
    September 8, 2010

    I’ll take the heavy metals over the rhubarb, thanks. There must be some genetic thing along the lines of what makes cilantro taste like citrus to some people and mouldy shower curtains to me, because I think rhubarb is inedible, too. Even if you sugar it up, it still winds up tasting bitter with the texture of celery strings mixed with snot. Yum yum.

  70. #70 MI Dawn
    September 8, 2010

    @realinterrobang: I love rhubarb and like cilantro but yes, it probably is genetic along with habituation. (Although I DO like Calle Arcale’s idea of self-chelation! LOL)

    Just saw on FB that Left Brain/Right Brain sees that THE BOOK (Blaxill and Olmsted’s Magnum Opus) is due out next week. Maybe the deconstruction of that is what Orac is referencing. If that is it….OOOOHHHHH! I can’t wait! I loves me some good insolence in the morning!

  71. #71 Sid Offit
    September 8, 2010

    How did this comment thread get sidetracked to rhubarb? Come on. I’m getting bored.
    ———————-
    Sid Offit takes the day off and you’re all reduced to discussing recipes.

  72. #72 MikeMa
    September 8, 2010

    It took 71 posts to get Sid to come out and play. We need a better class of troll I think.

  73. #73 Matthew Cline
    September 8, 2010

    Referring to yourself in the third person, Sid?

  74. #74 a-non
    September 9, 2010

    It took 71 posts to get Sid to come out and play. We need a better class of troll I think.

    Yeah, I’m disappointed. No Jay Gordons, no crazy Dawn, no augustine, not even a drive-by blathering by J.B. Handley.

    It’s quiet. Almost *too* quiet.

  75. #75 Chris
    September 9, 2010

    Is it time for an evil “heh heh heh” laugh?

  76. #76 Sauceress
    September 9, 2010

    It’s quiet. Almost *too* quiet.

    Probably all the regular anti-vaxx trolls are preoccupied soaking up the reach-around atmosphere iniated by Blaxill over at AoA.

  77. #77 superdave
    September 9, 2010

    Here’s a dumb question. If thimerisol causes brain damage, why aren’t we seeing an increase in all manner of developmental disorders? Why would this just cause autism? And for that matter, if autism is brain damage, are there reports of people developing autistic symptoms after physical trauma?

  78. #78 DLC
    September 9, 2010

    Re: the study. haven’t read it, but damn but it sounds absolutely craptacular. Texas-Sharpshooter Craptacular.
    Re: Trolls:
    Internet service at Augie’s Institution may be down ?

  79. #79 Scott
    September 9, 2010

    @ Superdave:

    Oh come on. You’re being LOGICAL. How dare you? Everybody knows that Jenny’s Warrior Mommy Instinct is far more powerful and accurate than any amount of logic or evidence!!!

    And also:

    I was thinking of signing it Tony Rhubateson.

    Is it possible to win the thread twice? I guess so, since you just did it…

  80. #80 Broken Link
    September 9, 2010

    Orac wrote:

    So, for such a vaccine, a child would have to weigh 2 kg to be receiving a dose “equivalent” to the lowest dose used in this study. That’s rather on the small side even for a newborn infant,

    The discussion on vaccination of premature babies, above, reminded me that this may be the rationale for choosing such a huge dose of THIM. They want to simulate the effect of vaccination in the most drastic case – on the premature. At least that’s what they may tell you.

  81. #81 Enkidu
    September 9, 2010

    @Broken Link: If that is their rationale, then it is kinda flawed, as preemies don’t get vaccinated when they are super-tiny. My daughter was born at 2 lbs but didn’t receive her first vax (HepB) until she was ready to leave the hospital – she was 5 lbs by then. And while they might be on the small side initially, a lot of preemies “catch up” rather quickly in size to their actual age counterparts.

    One of the biggest reasons preemies are so endangered by these diseases is their lungs. A lot of preemies, and I’d imagine almost all micropreemies, have been on vents. Some have chronic lung/ breathing problems. Even those deemed healthy enough to not need oxygen support upon discharge may have under-developed lungs that still need time to mature. I’ll admit I was a bit paranoid that first winter my daughter was home; we were in lock-down mode to try to stave off catching colds, RSV, and flu. We all got flu shots, and my daughter got not only the flu shot but monthly RSV antibody shots. She made it through that first year catching only one minor cold.

    Hmmm, that was a bit of a side-track. Sorry!

  82. #82 Enkidu
    September 9, 2010

    Ugh, it’s early (for me). I failed to do the math to see that 2 kg is roughly 5 lbs. :)

  83. #83 Jarred C
    September 9, 2010

    Sorry, but “clearly noticeable” doesn’t cut it. If the result didn’t even come close to achieving statistical significance, then there was no difference. Sorry, Charlie.

    In my toxicology classes in college, we were taught to sometimes be careful of whether something is statistically significant. Biological organisms don’t always fall within a neat little set of numbers, and sometimes a toxin can produce a biologically significant symptom, yet not be statistically significant. Of course, that usually means “more research is needed” and does not mean “lets base policy off of this.”

    I also remember (from a neurobiology of addictive drugs class) that rat models had to use higher mg/kg doses than what a typical human would use to reach biological equivalence; however, that may have been only for one specific drug.

  84. #84 Scott
    September 9, 2010

    In my toxicology classes in college, we were taught to sometimes be careful of whether something is statistically significant. Biological organisms don’t always fall within a neat little set of numbers, and sometimes a toxin can produce a biologically significant symptom, yet not be statistically significant. Of course, that usually means “more research is needed” and does not mean “lets base policy off of this.”

    Please provide concrete examples of the sort of result, and conclusion, you’re talking about. It sounds like you’re saying that it can be OK to draw conclusions from exactly where within the confidence interval the central result lies – which is most certainly not the case.

  85. #85 trrll
    September 9, 2010

    In my toxicology classes in college, we were taught to sometimes be careful of whether something is statistically significant. Biological organisms don’t always fall within a neat little set of numbers, and sometimes a toxin can produce a biologically significant symptom, yet not be statistically significant.

    It is certainly possible for an effect to be biologically significant but not statistically significant (although I think the reverse is probably more common), but that simply means that the study design lacked the power to detect a biologically significant effect.

    Statistical significance is a pretty stringent standard. Certainly one should not automatically dismiss a result if the p value is 0.051 rather than 0.49. Given how easy it is to mistake “no significant effect” for “no effect,” I have no problem with an author commenting on differences that did not attain statistical significance, so long as the lack of significance is prominently stated. Most commonly, an author will report a result that did not attain significance as a “trend” and provide the p value, and I think this is fine.

    I draw the line, however, when the author then goes off on a flight of speculation as to what it might mean if the result actually were significant. About the only conclusion that can properly be reached from a not-quite-significant result is that “more study is needed to resolve this question.”

  86. #86 Scott
    September 9, 2010

    A real example of the problems with reading too much into non-statistically-significant results:

    When working on my PhD, one of the things the experiment I was with did (though not what I was directly involved in) was measuring the parameters for atmospheric neutrino oscillation. At one point, a paper was published with the confidence intervals for those parameters, based on the then-current data.

    Later, after more data came in and more analysis was done, those intervals were updated. The confidence intervals shrank a bit, and the central estimate shifted a bit more (well within the one-sigma confidence interval). As I recall it, some theorists then started complaining and demanding explanations for this shift, because it apparently completely changed the conclusions of some analysis they had been doing.

    If they’d thought about it a bit, they’d have realized that this meant their analysis was unreliable to begin with. But no, they didn’t pay proper attention to the confidence intervals and just focused on the central value.

  87. #87 Prometheus
    September 9, 2010

    “I would challenge anyone to show me a single study that proves that rhubarb does not prevent autism.”

    Do the Amish eat rhubarb?

    Prometheus

  88. #88 squirrelelite
    September 9, 2010

    I have a cookbook of “Hearty Recipes from Amish and Mennonite Kitchens” that was featured on a PBS series several years ago.

    It has recipes for rhubarb juice, rhubarb sherbet, rhubarb dumplings, and rhubarb conserve. Strangely enough, although it has several pie recipes, there was not one for rhubarb pie!

  89. #89 Calli Arcale
    September 9, 2010

    That’s it! PIE CAUSES AUTISM!!!

    Actually, my daughter who is on the spectrum will not even *try* strawberry-rhubarb pie, on the basis that it has both a fruit and a vegetable in it and is therefore automatically gross, no matter how much sugar is in there, and despite the fact that she has never tasted it.

  90. #90 Jarred C
    September 9, 2010

    Please provide concrete examples of the sort of result, and conclusion, you’re talking about. It sounds like you’re saying that it can be OK to draw conclusions from exactly where within the confidence interval the central result lies – which is most certainly not the case.

    Concrete example? As in from the literature? No thanks. I don’t feel like digging through my old college notes just to provide an example for you. I can make one up, though. Let’s say your doing an animal toxicology test on a new drug, and find an abnormality in one of the animals. Let’s say cancer in 1/500 rats (or heck, even one in a million rats). It may not be statistically significant, but it sure as heck is biologically significant. More research is needed before you send this drug out into the market.

  91. #91 Jarred C
    September 9, 2010

    I draw the line, however, when the author then goes off on a flight of speculation as to what it might mean if the result actually were significant. About the only conclusion that can properly be reached from a not-quite-significant result is that “more study is needed to resolve this question.”

    Yeah, that’s pretty much what I was trying to say. I guess I didn’t say it very well.

  92. #92 Scott
    September 9, 2010

    I had in mind a hypothetical anyway, so that’s fine.

    However, your hypothetical example is insufficiently complete to demonstrate the point. After all, what you’d actually be measuring is a comparison of the rates between the control group and the treatment group, not a single rate.

    Is what you mean that (say) a 25/1000 rate in the treatment group vs. a 24/1000 rate in the control group should be taken to warrant further study?

  93. #93 Jarred C
    September 9, 2010

    Scott,

    You’re quite correct. To answer your question, obviously it would warrant further study if the rate increased with increasing dose (since we’re using simplistic examples, we can’t really tell). Right now it just looks like noise. But I would suggest further research of 0/1000 control vs 1/1000 in the treatment.

    Either way, though, I think we’re generally on the same page, along with trrll.

  94. #94 Scott
    September 9, 2010

    Jarred,

    I’m being a bit thick today, so not sure if I’m fully understanding. Would it be a fair summary to say “1/1000 vs. 0/1000 yes, 25/1000 vs. 24/1000 with a detectable dose-response curve yes, 25/1000 vs. 24/1000 without additional evidence is noise so no?” (Where yes/no refers to whether it indicates a need for further study.)

    If so, then yes, we’re on the same page. It initially sounded like you meant that 25/1000 vs. 24/1000 without any additional evidence would suggest a need for further study, and that I would object to.

  95. #95 Jarred C
    September 9, 2010

    Scott,

    Yup. Perhaps I should have been more clear in my initial post. On the other hand, my original comment didn’t *really* pertain to Orac’s post, primarily due to the authors of the study talking about noise as if it were significant. I think.

  96. #96 Dangerous Bacon
    September 9, 2010

    Ha, it’s a typical pseudoscientific error to state that the Amish don’t have autism because they don’t eat rhubarb pie.

    The proof is in the pudding, or rather custard.

  97. #97 Drivebyposter
    September 10, 2010

    Actually, you naysayers, autism IS caused by mercury.
    Try to follow. Nature produces mercury. And industry produces mercury. Total mercury per planet (mpp) has been consistently on the rise.
    Now, can anyone name an industry? I sure as hell can, BIG PHARMA!
    Thus explaining why autism has been on the rise.

    ps SHILLS! ALLLLLLLLLLLLLLL OF YOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!!!

    /end of poe-ing

    There. Does everyone feel better now that the obligatory insane message is out of the way?

  98. #98 Chris
    September 10, 2010

    Needs more rhubarb.

  99. #99 Drivebyposter
    September 10, 2010

    Needs more rhubarb.

    YOU’RE A SHILL FOR BIG RHUBARBA

  100. #100 MI Dawn
    September 10, 2010

    Moar rhubarb! (When will I get my Big Rhubarba checks? Since Big Pharma has never carried out their payment promises, I’m trying a new group.)

    I don’t really understand p values, statistical significance, etc. My one and only stats course is years in the past and I memorized and regurgitated just to pass. Can anyone recommend a Stats for Dummies type book?

    MI Dawn

  101. #101 Poogles
    September 10, 2010

    Oooo! I would love a stats for dummies type book! I’m off to look for one now :-)

  102. #102 trrll
    September 10, 2010

    In a 2009 study from Dr. Majewska’s group (Brain Research 1301:143-151) in which they used similar dosing, it was stated that the thimerosal dose was “in the order of Hg doses still present in infant vaccines in many countries, including Poland.” A table lists “Calculations of Hg load, which infants may receive with vaccines in the form of THIM in many countries, including Poland, according to 2008 recommended Immunization Schedules in the USA and Poland.” So they don’t exactly say say that such doses are being used in the US, but it is certainly implied, and she does not discuss removal of thimerosal from US vaccines. Does anybody know anything about thimerosal use in Poland, where Dr. Majewska is based?

    The paper was published in Brain Research, a decent (maybe 3rd rank) journal, but there are a number of aspects of the paper that I would have objected to if it had come to me for review.

  103. #103 Antaeus Feldspar
    September 10, 2010

    MI Dawn,

    It’s not the same thing, of course, but you might want to try “The Manga Guide to Statistics.” It clarified a lot of previously arcane concepts in statistics for me.

  104. #104 Tony Rhubateson
    September 10, 2010

    Dangerous Bacon, speaking of pseudoscientific errors, you have made the fallacious assumption that the Amana Colonies are Amish when in fact they are not.

    All I see here is a lot of handwaving and no documented evidence (Did I mention it has to be video documented? It does.) that any autistic individual has ever eaten rhubarb before developing signs of autism. (Did I mention it had to be before showing signs? It does.)

    I have spent a respectable portion of my free time asking for such evidence at various orchards and produce stands (of which I have been to many and am well known and respected at them all), not to mention gas stations that are on my way to and from work. And various pubs. I still have yet to find even one case of non-rhubarb-free autism.

    I am increasingly convinced that all autism is a novel form of rhubarb deficiency.

  105. #105 Chris
    September 10, 2010

    Wait, what? There are rhubarb orchards?

  106. #106 Tony Rhubateson
    September 10, 2010

    No. But I ask at them anyway. It is a testament to how thorough of a researcher I am.

  107. #107 Calli Arcale
    September 10, 2010

    That’s some freakin’ huge rhubarb.

    Can you tell me where it is? I want some tree-sized rhubarb!!!

  108. #108 Orange Lantern
    September 10, 2010

    That’s some freakin’ huge rhubarb.

    Can you tell me where it is? I want some tree-sized rhubarb!!!

    [bites tongue]
    .
    .
    .
    .
    [bites tongue harder]
    .
    .
    .
    THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID!

  109. #109 squirrelelite
    September 10, 2010

    Maybe the rhubarb orchard is across the lane from the peanut orchard.

  110. #110 Militant Agnostic
    September 11, 2010

    I think it is just down the road from the spaghetti farm.

  111. #111 Coryat
    September 11, 2010

    Todd W said:

    “I used to just break off [rhubarb] stalks and eat it raw as a kid.”

    Isn’t raw rhubarb poisonous? : S

    http://www.rhubarbinfo.com/poison

    Surely Augustine can appear and say about how rhubarb and vaccines are both poisonous? Or blather something weird abotu Nietzsche? Augustine? Helloooo?

  112. #112 Science Mom
    September 11, 2010

    Pshaw on you Big Rhubarb shills, apparently, Dr. Bob Sears thinks that real pharma shills exist (and have infiltrated his little board):
    http://www.askdrsears.com/forum/message.asp?id=113353

    Either they are selfless servants, or . . . . . by Dr. Bob – posted on 9/9/2010

    Although I appreciate that SM and Cath virtually always give accurate and useful medical information here, they RARELY agree with my viewpoints on matters of opinion. So, people need to take their advice with that in mind.

    This website has been going for almost three years now, and I can barely keep up. So, I’ve often wondered how SM and Cath find so much time to spend on this website when they have no actual affiliation with it. I’ve come up with two basic possibilities:

    1. They are selfless, giving, servants-at-heart who love to serve this community of parents who have vaccine questions and don’t mind giving hours of their time every day to do so (for almost three years and counting).

    or

    2. Someone is paying them for their time.

    The reason I’m leaning toward number two is that I can’t imagine anyone actually giving up so much free time when most of the people they are interating [sic] with don’t agree with them and some like to give them flak (flak that goes both ways). To get onto my website day after day after day just for the fun or the heck of it really seems unlikely to me. I could be wrong, but I’ll never know.

    Who would want to pay them for their time? I wonder. It would make perfect sense for well-funded companies to pay lay-persons or professionals to continously [sic] interact all over the internet on every vaccine website in order to promote vaccine use and counter any opposition. Whether or not SM and Cath are part of that, I don’t know.

    One little note on their side is that I think I’ve seen Cath say she’s not a fan of the flu vaccine in children? I wouldn’t expect a paid vaccine spokesperson so write something like that (unless it’s just to deflect suspicion). So, anyway, just my thoughts on this.

    Since this is an open forum, anyone is welcome to stay.

  113. #113 Denice Walter
    September 11, 2010

    @ Science Mom : Interesting. He’s saying he can’t understand why people would do something that is *both* intrinsically rewarding and is about something that is an important issue without pay. Is that an astute psychological observation or self- revelation ? ( “I’m leaning toward” the latter.) The part about well-funded companies paying people to interact on vaccine websites… sounds like it belongs on whale.to or NaturalNews. Perhaps he’ll say next that Cath is a “double agent”.

  114. #114 Dangerous Bacon
    September 11, 2010

    Science Mom: The link to Dr. Bob’s pharma shill comments doesn’t work for me – in fact, I can’t find any vaccine forum with recent messages. Is there a general/vaccine forum link so I can leave pro-vaccine propaganda to satisfy my Pharma Masters read this groovy stuff?

    I found an hilarious link on Sears’ website to an “integrative pediatrician” (part of his list of antivax-friendly pediatricians around the country):

    We employ a wide variety of evidence based and
    complementary approaches

    It’s rare to see these folks to come right out and admit that their woo is not evidence-based.

    This practice’s offerings include:

    DIAGNOSTIC TESTING FOR DIGESTIVE PROBLEMS, TOXICITY, AND
    METABOLIC DISORDERS

    HBOT, HERBAL SUPPLEMENTS, HOMEOPATHY, NUTRACUETICALS (sic)

    MEDICATION TAPERING, TRANSITION TO NATURAL REMEDIES,
    DETOXIFICATION,

    OSTEOPATHIC MANIPULATION, ACUPUNCTURE, BIOENERGETICS

    FAR INFRARED MASSAGE, INTERACTIVE METRONOME

    THERAPEUTIC LISTENING*, EEG NEUROFEEDBACK

    Fabulous stuff.

    *as opposed to trying to tell your symptoms to a doc wearing headphones and making wild gestures as he listens to Iggy Pop’s greatest hits on his Ipod?

  115. #115 Science Mom
    September 11, 2010

    @ Dangerous Bacon, His site is so low tech I think there are hamster wheels involved. Try this: http://www.askdrsears.com/thevaccinebook/index.asp

    There is a box on the right, select “Vaccine Discussion Forum”. You will see a lot of whining about me but the webmom deleted a lot of posts. Dr. Bob’s screed is on the third page now (click ‘previous posts’ at the bottom to get there).

    “Dr. Bob’s Teabagging Mumsy Army” is a coffee klatch of nasty little hausfraus that will go into collective apoplexy if another pro-vaxer shows up there.

  116. #116 Orange Lantern
    September 12, 2010

    Wow, SM, you and Cath are doing a bangup job there. I would love to join you but I don’t know if I can tolerate the archaic message structure!

  117. #117 Science Mom
    September 12, 2010

    @ Orange Lantern, the format is awful but somehow, you get used to it. There are actually some very nice, inquisitive women there that are just trying to sort through the misinformation out there. But then there is this weird uprising every few months or so of a handful of harpies who merely resent our (mostly my) presence. Idle minds and all that.

  118. #118 Dangerous Bacon
    September 12, 2010

    “Dr. Bob’s Teabagging Mumsy Army”

    Band name!

    Or at least a fine title for a followup album to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.

  119. #119 Kristen
    September 12, 2010

    I went over to that message board out of curiosity. Science Mom, you and Cath are amazing. I could not do it day after day, talking to those people wears me out.

    The format is horrifying. I don’t know what would be worse, the ignorance, or the format. I think it is worth it, though when you find a parent who is genuinely scared and wants the facts backed by evidence.

  120. #120 Shigella
    September 12, 2010

    Dear Orac,
    here is a voice from Poland.

    in Poland almost all branch of science have their “Acta *”. These publications are usually normal, science journals.
    Institute of Neurology and Psychiatry is a normal hospital (I live close to it).
    Dr Majewska is well known person in anti-vaccination movement in Poland. She is on the top in the index of the citations on the anti-vaccination blogs.
    She’s a hero for people who believe in “The Big Pharma plot”.
    I haven’t read original Dr Majewska’s article, co I could only guess why it was accepted in the journal.
    Your information about solution used during Majewska’s experiments makes me afraid about going to doctors.

    In Poland we use vaccines made by Evil Bad Something Someting Pharma (Merck, Sanofi-Aventis, Pasteur, GSK). Here I found a link with the names http://angelus.pl/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=7614&Itemid=884 (use “search in page” – Merck and you’ll go to the list).

    BTW We have now additional mumbo-jumbo against vaccines in Poland, because part of them is produced on cells taken long ago from death fetuses – our pro-lifers fight with these vaccines.

  121. #121 Boring Augerstine
    September 12, 2010

    Surely Augustine can appear and say about how rhubarb and vaccines are both poisonous? Or blather something weird abotu Nietzsche? Augustine? Helloooo?

    Do you so-called SBM’ers actually, truly believe that it makes sense for someone to believe they were born into the wrong body and were actually meant to be born into the body of a rhubarb? Really? Does the rest of what you believe makes any more sense than this bizarre belief you have in transrhubarbites?

  122. #122 Dangerous Bacon
    September 12, 2010

    How do we know, I mean really know that rhubarbitol is not a toxin present in vaccines?

    The CDC has never denied it.

    They don’t want us to know.

  123. #123 Drivebyposter
    September 12, 2010

    How do we know, I mean really know that rhubarbitol is not a toxin present in vaccines?

    The CDC has never denied it.

    They don’t want us to know.

    THEY also fill our water with fluorine AGAINST MY WISHES and other RHUBARBITUATES! They are poisoning US!

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