A myth memorialized (a.k.a. "Simpsonwood Remembered")

Here is the myth of Simpsonwood being memorialized on the seventh anniversary of the meeting where, if you believe the mercury militia, the CDC, in cahoots with big pharma, tried to suppress the "truth" that thimerosal in vaccines causes autism. it is a myth that was popularized by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s misinformation-laden Salon.com article two years ago that trotted out every pseudoscientific and fallacious argument claiming that vaccines, specifically the mercury in the thimerosal preservative used in vaccines, causes autism.

Here are some commentaries that reveal the myth for what it is:

  1. Salon.com flushes its credibility down the toilet
  2. Robert F. Kennedy Junior's completely dishonest thimerosal article
  3. Simpsonwood redux: Isolation is a state of mind
  4. Lies, damn lies, and quote mining
  5. Simpsonwood, thimerosal, and vaccines (II)
  6. Endangered species
  7. Mercury, autism, and Imus
  8. Mercury and autism: RFK Jr. drops another stinky one on the blogosphere

I had been thinking about waiting until June 17, which would represent the two year anniversary of my deconstruction of Robert F. Kennedy's totally dishonest and distorted article on in Salon.com and Rolling Stone about thimerosal, but with the Autism Omnibus hearings starting next week, I decided that today would be as good a time as any to do a blast from the past. Remember that, even though the thimerosal/autism hypothesis is about as scientifically dead as a hypothesis can be, with no good evidence supporting it and a number of large studies now showing no link between thimerosal in vaccines and autism, the plaintiffs can still win. The reason is that the standard is a legal standard, not a scientific one, as one of the plaintiff's attorneys puts it:

The plaintiffs acknowledge that their case is far from airtight scientifically. But Kevin Conway, a Boston attorney representing the family of 12-year-old Michelle Cedillo of Yuma, Ariz., whose claim was designated the opening test case for more than 4,800 plaintiffs, said that even if the science is equivocal, he has a good legal argument, which is all he needs.

"There is a difference between scientific proof and legal proof," Conway said. "One is 95 percent certainty, and the other is . . . 50 percent and a feather."

Also, don't for a minute buy the claims of the mercury militia that they aren't "antivaccine." They are. Moreover, it's not just about the thimerosal; it's about the vaccines, as Conway confirms:

Besides, Conway added, those who support the vaccine-autism theory did not put all their eggs in the thimerosal basket. They are also arguing that something else in vaccines might be making children sick.

Of course they didn't. Even they know that the thimerosal hypothesis is a road to nowhere. That's why they're backpedaling furiously and broadening it so that it's in essence unfalsifiable. It's also all about conspiracy-mongering:

Scientific advocates for the vaccine-autism theory, such as the father-and-son team of Mark and David Geier of Silver Spring, say fears about damaging public health programs have prompted scientists and the government to hide evidence of a problem. Many of the families believe that the medical establishment and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have conspired in a massive coverup.

Remember, this is the same "team" that injects powerful drugs that block sex hormone activity into autistic children (i. e., chemically castrating them) because they think that testosterone somehow binds to the mercury from vaccines and makes it "harder to remove" by chelation. Such are the "experts" the plaintiffs will be presenting.

The Autism Omnibus proceedings will be a real test of our legal system and its ability to rule on science, not pseudoscience. The problem is that the bar for the plaintiffs to prevail in court is considerably lower than the bar that science expects advocates of a hypothesis to hurdle in order to convince science.

More like this

If you read the first draft report, which SafeMinds got via a freedom of information, there is only one "data point" in the entire report where the 95% confidence limits doesn't overlap with 1.

Daedalus! I was just about to send you here to check this out, but obviously you already know where the "real" science is being blogged about. I've read Orac for a long time, because I know there's no hype or insanity here.

By medrecgal (not verified) on 11 Jun 2007 #permalink

oh dear.. Fox News is about to do an expose on the whole trial in DC thing and I just know they are going to screw it up. Why are people so gullible about this stuff? My mom has already called me and told me to watch as my nephew is going in for his first round of shots this afternoon.

Of course, the fact that the shots he'll be getting have no Thimerisol in them doesn't seem to make them any happier about all this garbage.

so that means that I'll be spending the rest of the day on the phone debunking this overview they are offering point by point to all my relatives and friends so that they have some chance of understanding what the news asshats wont be explaining.

The griers and the rest of these people need to get real jobs so they can stop having time to mess with the rest of us.

By PlanetaryGear (not verified) on 11 Jun 2007 #permalink

Daedalus2u: there is only one "data point" in the entire report where the 95% confidence limits doesn't overlap with 1.

I don't doubt that's an important observation. Could you explain it in more everyday language for those of us who don't speak fluent Statistics, please? I interpret it to mean "The report shows only one study in which the results could not have been entirely due to chance" but I haven't read the report and it's long time since I've done any statistical work. Clarification would be welcome.

Actually Rob that one remaining data point could still have happened by chance, its just that the odds of that being true are less than 5%. For one study in isolation that would normally be a big enough difference to consider the effect statistically significant. Basically, in that one study it would be reasonable to conclude that there may be a correlation.

Having said that, when you have multiple studies the odds of one of them being outside the 5% limits is quite a bit higher. The more times you spin the wheel, the more chance that you get a winner.