Tara's post yesterday about Mercury and Mythology about how mercury in vaccines does not cause autism and about a recent story demonstrating tht mercury as used in dental amalgams is safe, coupled with Phil Plait's discussion of an article in TIME about autism that seemed a bit too credulous about facilitated communication reminded me that I haven't blogged about autism in a while. Basically, not much has happened that I feel qualified to comment on since Paul Shattuck's article concluding that claims of an "autism epidemic" based on analyses of the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) and California Department of Developmental Services databases are without foundation.
As you know, though, I love a good fisking, especially when the target is so richly deserving, and, fortunately, Kev, the proprietor of Left Brain/Right Brain has recently provided me with not just one, but two, excellent takedowns of autism-related cluelessness that are worth mentioning.
First, Kev has a grand old time using his indepth knowledge of web design and the meaning of traffic statistics to fisk the claims of our old "friend" and cybersquatter (and all around mercury maniac), J. B. Handley. it turns out that ol' JB was bragging about the traffic stats for his new website, Put Childen First, which happens to be yet another effort on the part of Generation Rescue to publicize its scientifically unsupported belief that autism is caused by the mercury in the thimerosal used as a preservative in childhood vaccines (or, as GR puts it, "autism is a misdiagnosis for mercury poisoning"). Not surprisingly, it lists the same tired old cast of fallacious arguments and misrepresentations of the science, which I've dealt with so many times before that I don't feel like repeating myself again today. No, what's really amusing is the way that Kev schools JB in web terminology (specifically what a "hit" means and other relevant matters) and then shows that, despite an advertising campaign in USA Today and other media sources, the traffic to Put Children First for April, when critically appraised was--shall we say?--underwhelming, particularly in comparison to JB's bluster and particularly given the publicity GR paid for.
In fact, the most amusing thing (to me, at least) was the revelation that my humble little blog usually brings in more traffic on an average weekday than Put Children First drew on its very best day, the day that JB's advertising campaign ran. I was truly amazed to learn this, as I had always assumed that sites like Put Children First and Generation Rescue, given their high profile and the level of activism behind them, probably got way more traffic than your humble servant could muster for his minor blog. Indeed, I almost feel guilty linking to them now--even with the rel="nofollow" tag--because I now know that I'll cause a significant blip in their traffic. Now I know why J.B. was so happy when I linked to GR in the past, even though it was almost always to criticize or refute their very reason for existence, and why he bought the domain name oracknows.com and redirected it to Generation Rescue. Oh, well, I'm in a generous mood now; so let him enjoy another blip in his traffic. (Or just don't click on the link.)
More amusingly, Kev shows that one significant referral source for traffic to Put Children First was a domain belonging to a personal injury law firm that advertises its services to parents wanting to make claims against the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program for "thimerosal" injury. An even bigger referrer was--heh!--David Icke, you know, the guy who thinks that we are ruled by extraterrestrial lizard people that look like humans and that Bill Clinton and the Britain's Royal Family are the spawn of these lizards. Now there's a credible source for referrals. Naturally, the mercury militia is coming out of the woodwork, too, at least one of them using sockpuppets, to attack Kevin. Heck, even JB himself has shown up.
In fact, Kev's analysis ties in very nicely with Joseph's analysis of how web traffic to websites promoting thimerosal-autism links appears to be down, as well as abhf's conclusion that Handley's site is less popular than vampire hobbit porn. Maybe there is hope that this misguided piece of pseudoscience is finally dying out.
But Kev ain't done yet.
Next, Kev takes on a clueless wonder named Kenneth P. Stoller, who wrote a letter to Pediatrics in response to Paul Shattuck's study showing that the VAERS and California databases do not support the concept of an "autism epidemic" and that the apparent increase in autism diagnoses since the early 1990's is likely due to diagnostic substitution. (For more information, see also Joseph's nice summary of the evidence showing that autism is underdiagnosed even today.) In fact, after having learned of that letter, I had been planning on doing a takedown of my own sometime in the next few days, but Kev beat me to it. He did such a good job that almost anything I might add would probably be superfluous.
Yes, I know that's never stopped me from commenting before, but my grant deadline is approaching; so this time around I was more than happy to let Kev take this guy on in detail, while I sat back for once and enjoyed the spectacle from the sidelines
Too bad I didn't have the presence of mind to forward the entries above to this week's Skeptics' Circle! Well, there's always next time (May 25).
In the meantime, I think I'll contemplate some other food for thought that I've come across, namely Interverbal's excellent questions regarding the inconsistencies and implausibilities in the whole mercury-thimerosal-autism "hypothesis" and be amused at how all mention of chelation therapy has been removed from the promotional materials for a conference on "biomedical" treatments for autism (the term "biomedical treatments" is code for altie woo, particularly chelation). Do you think it might have something to do with the three deaths from hypocalcemia due to chelation therapy that have been documented over the last couple of years.
Naaahhh. Can't be.
Thanks for linking (2 posts no less).
Yes, it seems likely that the thimerosal hypothesis is dying down (or has been dying down for a while, given the low traffic the main sites currently have). But I'm sure other crackpot theories will either follow or resurface.
Wow... David Icke, the former TV sports presenter, turned son of God? I thought he'd been safely tucked away in a secure home somewhere, but after checking his web page, I see he's been busy!
Just to let you know that Ben Goldacre in the Guardian is spreading the word too!
Thanks for the interesting reads, Orac. I have a question for the autism knowledgeable. Would you diagnose this child as autistic? The following is from several family letters.
Edited (combined) Quotes: (name of mom and dad) don't know what they are going to do with (child). He is so strong, and he keeps them on the jump all the time,... he runs through the house turning on all the burners on the stove, and while (mom) is turning them off he is in another room throwing the cushions off the chairs...He will sit still and rock for hours at a time, or stare at a saucepan lid for hours, spinning it around...He is bright, can read anything and is a wizard at math...he can be so naughty...they just got him fully toilet trained...he is 10 years old now...
If anyone agrees this child might fall within the spectrum...I don't know enough about the DSM requirements to know if he would/would not be given that diagnosis.
Oh...forgot to add
(own son, age 3) talks so much more than (child) does...
Interverbal (blog link) just posted the DSM-IV criteria. You can check them out there very easily, and then you will know enough about the DSM requirements. Although they were posted for comparison, make sure you're referring to the DSM-IV section.
I'm certainly not qualified to diagnose anybody, but from what you've written it autism certainly seems like a possibility.
Thanks to Orac for the links :o)
Dawn - there are some things there that may indicate ASD. The rocking and spinning are of note (to me anyway). Can your friend get a referral?
Thanks to everyone who responded. Sorry it's taken me so long to get back but work has been very hectic. DOC--I really appreciate that link. Never saw that one before and the DSM book I have is ancient. Junior and Kev--thanks for your responses. This child is no longer alive, having died in his early teens. I am sure that today he would have been diagnosed with ASD.
An even bigger referrer was--heh!--David Icke, you know, the guy who thinks that we are ruled by extraterrestrial lizard people that look like humans and that Bill Clinton and the Britain's Royal Family are the spawn of these lizards. Now there's a credible source for referrals.
I can't believe I missed that the first time. Long, long laugh here.