Battling antivaccinationists at FreedomFest, part 2 (Dr. Whitaker responds)

During this year's TAM, I had the distinct pleasure of accompanying Steve Novella and Michael Shermer to debate an antivaccinationist at FreedomFest, a conservative/libertarian confab that was going on in Las Vegas at the same time as TAM. That antivaccinationist turned out to be Dr. Julian Whitaker, a man who champions Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski and is one of Suzanne Somer's doctors. There's no polite way to put this, Steve Novella wiped the floor with Dr. Whitaker, mercilessly pummeling him with facts, analysis, and logic to the point where even the audience appeared to be grumbling. Even though I am someone who has demonstrated over the years a proclivity for applying heapin' helpin's of not-so-Respectful Insolence to antivaccinationists like Dr. Whitaker, even I was starting to feel a little bit sorry for him by the end of the debate, although not sorry enough to lay off of him after the debate was over. As you will recall, I went up to the table, along with a statistician I didn't know, and started asking some very pointed questions about a graph he used to demonstrate the "autism epidemic" and correlate it with increasing numbers of vaccines. That graph is reproduced below, my having taken a picture of it from the newsletter passed out before the debate:

As I said in my last post, seldom have I seen such statistical, mathematical, and scientific ignorance on display in one graph. After all, Dr. Whitaker extrapolated from a dataset starting apparently at 2000, producing in essence exponential graphs in which autism incidence for boys will reach 100% by 2032 and 100% for girls by 2041. Yes, I kid you not. That's exactly what the graphs claim. So the statistician and I asked Dr. Whitaker how he generated the graph, what datasets he used, what statistical model he used, his justification for using what appears to be an exponential curve fit; what software he used; and in general how he can justify a projection that shows 100% of the population being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders within 30 years. Dr. Whitaker's answers were evasive and indicated that he clearly didn't know what he was talking about. To his credit, he did say that he would send me the information I requested, and I did give him my e-mail address. He also told me that a man named Shawn Siegel had made the graph for him. Siegel describes himself as having done "research," but his research and reality are related to each other only by the occasional coincidence. One might expect someone like Siegel to produce something so utterly ignorant. He has no scientific training. However, someone like Dr. Whitaker should really know better. But he doesn't. He not only believes such an utterly incompetent graph, but publishes it in his newsletter and uses it during his talks to fool the scientifically illiterate.

In any case, I haven't heard back from Dr. Whitaker yet (not that I really expected to), but my readers inform me that he has answered, after a fashion, in the comments of a blog post he had written earlier. I guess the after having been asked again and again how he had done the graph in the comments of the post and on his Facebook page he finally felt compelled to answer. Unfortunately, his answer equals the scientific insight of the original graph, and I don't mean that in a good way. You'll see what I mean in a minute:

I understand that the projected rate of 100 percent seems unreasonable. However, the graph is based on estimated autism rates of 1 in 5,000 in 1982 (a rough estimate based on the fact autism rates were not routinely recorded back then) and 1 in 91 in 2009 http://pediatrics.aappublicati..., for an average yearly increase of about 14 percent. (Current statistics reveal that 1 in 88 children are now affected.

The graph reflects the assumption that the current rate of autism diagnoses continues in this upward trend unabated. According to these numbers, autism spectrum disorder will saturate the pediatric population by 2040. Anyone who does the math will come to the same conclusion.

No, he will not. Anyone who tries to do the math correctly will conclude that whoever made this graph is an idiot.

I'm half-tempted to let the reader figure out what's wrong with this for himself or herself. Let's see. Did Dr. Whitaker really just extrapolate between two points, a 1 in 5000 incidence in 1982 to a 1 in 91 prevalence in 2009. Leaving aside the fact that this apparent increase in autism prevalence is likely mostly due to broadening of the diagnostic criteria, increases screening, and diagnostic substitution, I can't help but note that Dr. Whitaker lays down a lot of wrong here. The study he cites found an autism prevalence of 1 in 110 in 2007, not 2009. So let's take a look at what he appears to have done. Now, for the life of me, I can't figure out how he got a 14% per year increase. Such an increase from 1 in 5000 would equal (0.0002 x 1.1427), which is 0.00688, or roughly 1 in 145, not 1 in 91. If we use the year 2007, which is the year whose data was reported in the referenced paper, the results are even further away. If you use 2012 (i.e., 30 years), then you can get close (0.102 or 1 in 98), but that would be wrong. So right off the bat, something's weird.

It's much, much worse than that. What Dr. Whitaker apparently does is to make an estimate of a yearly percent increase from two data points, one of which is pretty uncertain and the other of which is separated by 25 years (except that, apparently, he used 27 years). It then takes that estimate and extrapolates out into the future, assuming that autism prevalence will keep increasing at 14% per year until it hits 100%. Either that, or he fitted an exponential curve to the data in this table and extended an estimate based on data points over an eight year period thirty years into the future. Again, this is wrong on many levels. I did think of back calculating to figure out exactly how Shawn Siegel or Dr. Whitaker (or whoever) did construct this graph, but, really, why bother? (My readers can do this is they wish, but, again, why bother to do the work that it would take?) His base assumptions are so wrong, so utterly brain-dead, that all that is left is to point out that his assumptions are so utterly ridiculous that any extrapolation he does can be immediately dismissed.

If you don't believe me, then just look at the graph again and consider something that was mentioned in the comments of my original post. Look at the graph. It shows autism prevalence for boys reaching 100% by 2032 and autism prevalence for the entire population reaching 100% by around 2038. Now consider: According to the same graph, autism prevalence for girls won't reach 100% until 2041. This is impossible on a mathematical basis alone. For the autism prevalence to be 100%, it must be 100% in both boys and girls, but Dr. Whitaker's graph doesn't show girls reaching 100% until after it reaches 100% of the population at large. The only way this could happen is if prevalence among boys went higher than 100%. Again, this is impossible.

None of this stops Dr. Whitaker from opining:

Again, the fact that it goes to 100 percent is certainly alarming and hard to believe. Confounding factors include the likelihood that not all children will be vaccinated, the potential for changes in autism diagnostic parameters, and the possibility that rates of increase will decline. (On the other hand, rates may also increase.)

For those who take issue with this projection, check the relevant data I’ve provided and do your own projection.

I did, and I conclude that Dr. Whitaker doesn't know what he's talking about. You can't take two data points, one of which is uncertain, extrapolate an exponential curve between them, and then assume that that rate of increase will just go on indefinitely. Diseases like this might follow a sigmoidal curve, but there would be no way of estimating where the curve is likely to level off without many data points. Even then, one extrapolates more than a little bit beyond existing data at one's own peril. Doing such an extrapolation based on two data points Of course, the truly ignorant assumption behind these graphs, even more so than the bizarre mathematics, is the idea that, even if autism prevalence were increasing this amazingly rapidly, it must be vaccines that are causing it.

Perusing the original newsletter that I described, I now can't believe I missed the part where Dr. Whitaker was in essence taunting Steve because apparently he couldn't make it to FreedomFest last year. According to Steve, he was invited at the last minute and details weren't properly nailed down before his responsibilities at TAM overtook him. According to Dr. Whitaker:

Have you ever been to a widely publicized debate between two adversaries where only one of them showed up?

Well, I have. I was all set to debate Steven Novella, MD, from Yale University School of Medicine at FreedomFest in Las Vegas in mid-July. We were to argue the pros and cons of the mandated vaccine program that Americans have endured for years. But Dr. Novella simply didn’t show, and I was left to present my point of view: strong opposition to this nonsense, as you’ll read in the first story. I had looked forward to the debate, but at least I was able to tell the hundreds of people in the audience about the horrific damage vaccines are inflicting on our children—and that is hardly debatable.

Except, of course, that it was very debatable. Dr. Whitaker's day of reckoning had been delayed a year, but it came, and when it came he looked about as foolish as foolish can be. I strongly doubt that there will be a rematch, as I suspect that even Dr. Whitaker must realize how thoroughly humiliated he was.

Finally, Steve makes an excellent point:

...debating cranks and true-believers can be effective skeptical outreach, if you have sufficient mastery of the topic at hand. I would add that mastery includes more than knowledge of the science of the topic itself, but also knowledge of the arguments used by the other side. Just as many solid evolutionary scientists have been demolished in debates against slick creationists (like the infamous Duane Gish), it would be folly to go up against an anti-vaccinationist without a thorough knowledge of their propaganda.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I usually don't agree with debating cranks like Dr. Whitaker. However, not everyone agrees with me. I respect that, and Steve's commanding performance almost changed my mind. If, however, you're going to take on an antivaccine crank like Dr. Whitaker (or a creationist crank or an alternative medicine crank, or any other crank), you absolutely need to know the common distortions, misinformation, and tropes used by that flavor of crank. It's not enough to know the science. You need to know how that science is distorted by cranks. Steve knew that. My guess is that Dr. Whitaker's originally scheduled opponent probably didn't. Too bad for Dr. Whitaker that his original opponent had to bow out and Steve was actually available this year.

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The graph reminds me of a classmate of mine who managed to get only two data points in an experiment and still drew a beautiful exponential graph through the data points. The dressing down (and subsequent explanation) from my Prof are still clear in my mind (and probably clearer in my classmates mind)

How someone who claims to be a doctor can have such a low level of scientific knowledge ...

Nice dose of Insolence . You brighten up my afternoon!

By Burrahobbit (not verified) on 18 Jul 2012 #permalink

Two data points? Two? I, what, huh? This is cargo cult science isn't it? That, and statistics. Possibly even maths.

By DurhamDave (not verified) on 18 Jul 2012 #permalink

I'm thinking maybe they started out with a linear plot using those two data points, decided that even for the gullible that looked a little too unscientific I can't fathom it.

By Sauceress (not verified) on 18 Jul 2012 #permalink

Re reading the article, he actually had only ONE data point. The 1982 number of 1 in 5000 was (even according to "Dr" Whitaker) pulled from his nether regions.

An exponential graph from one Data point-- Gentlebeings, we have a mathematical genius here.

By Burrahobbit (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

Granted, he had published the really dubious charts, but I really found his response quite telling. When the extrapolation put 100% of the population as autistic in such a short period of time, instead of looking at the chart and saying, "something has to be wrong with what we did here," they pretty much said, "Wow, this is scary stuff. We really need to be sure to get the word out so parents will be aware and quit vaccinating."

I can't picture any rational person looking at a projection like that and immediately saying, "Yup, those figures have to be right." 100% of the population is autistic before 100% of the girls are! You'd think they would have at least "massaged" their projections to make the last two 100%'s match up?

I have never had a statistics course and I find the chart suspicious at best.

I'm curious but all my neurons keep shutting down when I look too hard at it. That's it! It's a plot containing exponential levels of stupid designed to make us all brain dead trying to figure out the formula. There is no formula!

By Sauceress (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

Short version: you can't deduce the nature of a trend from just two points.

(You can *assume* a particular distribution, then, having made that assumption infer how it might pan out given the assumption, also assuming that the points are representative [i.e. assuming that the points are not erroneous or unrepresentative in some way, as just two points won't you give a feel for the variation in the estimates])

The fact thatin the graph the general population (GP) hits 100% before the girls do is most likely do to the boys really being over 100%. They most likely calculated the GP as an average of boys and girls (assuming something like a 50:50 boy-girl-ratio) and the forgot to include the cutoff at 100%. So if for example the boys are calculated at 120% and not cut off and the girls are at 80%, the average would be 100%, while the more 'reasonable' value would have been 90%, the average of 80% and 100%. Even in my first year at the university I would have been able to create a more professional looking graph, and furthermore I would have known that the thing I created was total BS.

Taking past trends and extrapolating them to infinity is one of the worst things you can do to support an argument.

In reality, trends tend to follow the line you get when you leave a toddler with a crayon in front of a sheet of paper.

The majority of children are vaccinated now, but the majority of children are not autistic, what does he think is going to happen in the next thirty to forty years to change that?

Even if you're daft enough to think that vaccines cause autism why should the incidences increase if vaccination rates stay the same? Are we to beleve that in the future children will have become so "damaged" by the vaccines their parents had that they'll all succumb to autisum the second a needle is waved in their direction, or is it that the vaccines themselevs will have somehow become stronger and more evil?

The 100% autism rate by 2041 reminds me of 19th century predictions made about how deep horse manure would be in the streets of New York and London:

One commentator predicted that by 1930 horse manure would reach the level of Manhattan’s third-story windows. New York’s troubles were not New York’s alone; in 1894, the Times of London forecast that by the middle of the following century every street in the city would be buried under nine feet of manure.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

"The only way this could happen is if prevalence among boys went higher than 100%. Again, this is impossible."

Or the vaccine burden is going to really take a toll and boys will start getting diagnosed with multiple cases of autism.

If I can make a generalized observation about why these attempts at Cargo Cult Science by proponents of pseudoscience always fail:

They do science *fundamentally* wrong.

They start with the conclusion ("Autism rates will skyrocket", "God created Man in His own image", "HIV is a harmless virus", "Humans have had no impact on global temps") and work their way BACKWARDS to find data that can get them there.

You can see it in every form of denialism. It's not JUST "cherry picking of data", it's a systematic process of cherry cultivation, harvesting, packing and distribution. What they are doing was never science.

This is a very clear example of that backwards process. Your opponent in the debate had decided that autism is caused by vaccines, and was, in his own mind, "proving" this to himself and others. Scientists never engage in this kind of behavior. We present the data, make tentative analyses, and begin picking apart our own studies. We make every attempt to be self-critical, non-deluding. We attempt to disprove our own theories!

When I say that the American people need a better level of scientific literacy, I mean that they need to understand the PROCESS of science, the fundamentals of how the scientific process works. They need skeptical and critical radar to detect that when someone is trying very hard to convince them of something, it's almost never true.

By c0nc0rdance (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

I don't know about horse manure but the level of cow manure Whitaker is standing in is way over his head.

By Sauceress (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

Once again, I recall to memory the Mark Twain piece on why misapplied extrapolation of data is just plain silly.

By Katherine Lorraine (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

"The fact thatin the graph the general population (GP) hits 100% before the girls do is most likely do to the boys really being over 100%. They most likely calculated the GP as an average of boys and girls (assuming something like a 50:50 boy-girl-ratio) and the forgot to include the cutoff at 100%. "

That explanation doesn't work either. Look at the figure. When the "incidence" is 100% of all children, boys are still well below 50%. Must be some quantum effect.

By Wholly Father (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

I mean bull manure.

By Sauceress (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

Ignore my last comment. I misread the legend on the graph.

By Wholly Father (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

"an antivaccinationist at FreedomFest, a conservative/libertarian confab"

Why am I not surprised that this sort of gathering would be hospitable to antivaccinationists?

"Dr. Julian Whitaker, a man who champions Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski "

Why am I even less surprised at this manifestation of crank magnetism?

Bogus graphs are a subspecialty of the antivax crowd. One classic is where they graph mortality from a disease, starting way back a hundred-plus years ago, so that the death rate* appears to be declining steadily without vaccine introduction having had an effect. But when you create a graph showing modern mortality data, a dramatic drop in the death rate post-vaccination is no longer concealed and is starkly evident.

*Antivaxers don't like to use graphs showing disease _incidence_, since the dropoff in cases (and their sequelae) is even more dramatic following vaccination.

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

Several things come to mind when I read Whitaker's explanation of how he came up with the graph:

1) It's amazing how politicians and alt-med peddlers alike refuse to accept being wrong occasionally.

2) Yesterday's "Surviving the World" is relevant, as it also points out why you need more than two data points before you can make any sort of conclusion (though it's talking about Jesus, not autism -- go read it, it's funny):

3) Dave Akin, a famous spacecraft designer, maintains a list of his "laws of spacecraft design". Many are applicable in other situations, but my favorite is perfect for this occasion:

19. The odds are greatly against you being immensely smarter than everyone else in the field. If your analysis says your terminal velocity is twice the speed of light, you may have invented warp drive, but the chances are a lot better that you've screwed up.

If your analysis predicts that the entire population will be autistic and that the adding the percentage of boys to the percentage of girls will exceed 100%, then you have not discovered the solution to the population crisis, you have in fact screwed up.

4) Again, the fact that it goes to 100 percent is certainly alarming and hard to believe. Confounding factors include the likelihood that not all children will be vaccinated Hmmm. He's making an assumption of some kind there, isn't he? He is assuming that autism is definitely caused by vaccination. That has not been established, so it is a bit cheeky of him to list "some kids won't get vaccinated" as a confounder. One might almost think he had started with his conclusion and worked backwards to build an edifice to support it rather than starting with a hypothesis and testing it. Hm.

BTW, c0nc0rdance, I am totally putting what you said into my quotefile, about a "systematic process of cherry cultivation, harvesting, packing and distribution." That is excellently said.

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

I wonder what are the odds of that graph showing up at AoA sometime in the near future.......

Whitaker displayed this graph for the sole prupose of inciting emotional reaction from protective parents as well as making them angry about the injustice of it- he wants them on his side- it's not supposed to make sense or portray reality- he's already lost the people who are amenable to reason: it is a tool for invoking fear and promulgating anger at the status quo and power-brokers**.

Anti-vaccinationists fit right in with the group who sponsored the event. Right now, the Canary Party is preparing for their convention this weekend in Minneapolis. Same agenda.

I'm glad that Dr N did this: I hear so often that the Orthodoxy fears debate. Crap, isn't that was science is? A super debate in which the talking points are data and the exchanges occur in articles; the time period is over years. The questions themselves are posed by Nature ( not the journal).

** Natural News and the Progressive Radio Network are currently uncovering plots: BigPharma bribes and FDA surveillance of workers, respectively.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

This is even worse than I thought. Not only has he admitted to fitting an exponential to the data, he admits to using just two points, one of which is an "estimate". You can, as a mathematical exercise, fit an exponential to two points (as long as both y values are positive or both negative, it is mathematically equivalent to finding the slope and intercept of a line between two points). But there is no way to estimate the error in your fit, and there certainly will be errors in an "estimated" point.

And contra Cthulu @0727, I don't think he computed the overall incidence rate by averaging the rates for boys and girls. If he did, his extrapolated rates would imply that the fraction of girls in the population is already beginning to drop noticeably. There are countries where more boys than girls are being born due to gender-selective abortion, but the US (to which this chart claims to specifically apply) is not among them.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

@ Lawrence:

Right. I wouldn't be entirely surprised if Jake wrote up the Great Debate. It would probably be ( unintentionally) hilarious.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

Um...this chart shows ZERO cases of autism in 2000. That pretty much eliminates any possibility that autism is caused by vaccines, doesn't it?

By Raging Bee (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

Canary Party is having a convention in Minneapolis this weekend? Ugh. Thank goodness I won't be in town. I'm going to Sioux Falls to see the Power on the Prairie 2012 airshow! WOOOHOOO!

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

Raging Bee -- dude, I totally didn't notice that. Autism didn't exist prior to the 21st Century. :-P If there was even the slightest, remotest doubt that this guy's clueless with statistics, this is it.

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

concordance @858 AM: My compliments on this wonderful metaphor:

You can see it in every form of denialism. It’s not JUST “cherry picking of data”, it’s a systematic process of cherry cultivation, harvesting, packing and distribution. What they are doing was never science.

By palindrom (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

@ Raging Bee:

And that PROVES that AJW made up data! No autism prior to 2001, he said there was.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

@Raging Bee

You make a good point. Some event in 2000 must have been the catalyst for the rising cases of autism. Let's think here...there was a presidential election in 2000...Bush won the election...conicidence? I think not! George Bush is the one to blame for the rise in cases of autism!

How does a graph, based on only two data points, start in 2000 when one of the data points is from 1982?

By Jay Chaplin (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink


Magic or stupidity.

Take your pick.

Dr. Whitaker's blog is again "open for comments" in case any of you want to post at him about his statement explaining the graphs...or you could just go post and link to today's RI Freedom Fest Part 2.

I would "go there" myself but the little b*st*rd Ugh Troll posted on the other three articles that I posted on, at Dr. Whitaker's blog. If you "go there", please do not engage the Ugh Troll.

The clinical definition of autism has changed a number of times since 1982. There is no correction for this in his work. Major fail from the gate.

By Kelly M Bray (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

So, what you are saying is that debates are generally NOT a good idea (since you create false balance and allow their nonsense up on what looks like equal footing with non-nonsense). But, in the cases of a skilled debater, it can work. We probably shouldn't overestimate our own skills and rush out to debate the pseudoscientists.

I am totally saving this post and printing out that graph as an example of one of the Greatest Crimes against the Public via Statistics.

By Sharon Hill (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

Kelly -- I'm having a hard time finding anything *not* wrong with his graph. (Well, I guess it's spelled correctly. That's something.) It's like what I heard someone describe as "fractal wrongness" -- the more you look at it, the more wrongness you notice, at every possible level of resolution.

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

Again, this is impossible.

"If you've done six impossible things this morning, why not round it off with breakfast at FreedomFest!"

(Apologies to DNA.)

By Roadstergal (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

"But, in the cases of a skilled debater, it can work. "

I think the other thing to be aware of here is that, according to Orac and Steven, Whitaker wasn't very good at the gish gallop and his graphs, data, and arguments weren't particularly sophisticated and were therefore not especially persuasive rhetoric

“A debate is not won by sound argument; it’s by persuasive rhetoric.” -P. Z. Meyers.

By Karl Withakay (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

I recently described debates like these as being basically "whack-a-mole"

Two things to remember:
1) No matter how good the player is, it always looks like the mole is in control and the player is frantically trying to respond. 2) the mole always wins in the end and is ready to face the next player, popping up in the same holes where it was beaten down before

Oh, and thing 3) no matter how hard you smack him, the le always has that goofy smir

Your only hope is that you have an incompe

By Marry Me, Mindy (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

I recently described debates like these as being basically "whack-a-mole"

Two things to remember:
1) No matter how good the player is, it always looks like the mole is in control and the player is frantically trying to respond. 2) the mole always wins in the end and is ready to face the next player, popping up in the same holes where it was beaten down before

Oh, and thing 3) no matter how hard you smack him, the le always has that goofy smir

Your only hope is that you have an incompe

By Marry Me, Mindy (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

A few years back, a study was done of school records in a Southern/Appalachian state (West Virginia?), going back decades and looking for evidence of undiagnosed cases of autism spectrum disorders. If I remember right, it found enough probable cases to indicate that incidence rates had not changed over the period that was under study and appeared to be about the same as rates then current.
I am unable to recall more detail, and a Google search was hopelessly swamped with irrelevancies.
If anyone reading this has more information, I would appreciate it being posted here.

By Old Rockin' Dave (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

@ Old Rockin' Dave
Better yet, there's the studies by Terry Brugha. They random sampled both adults and children in the UK - a big age range - with the same diagnostic tool and found the same incidence of autism. When you use the same criteria for 60+ year olds and for 2 year olds you get the same result. Autism incidence has not changed.

By Jay Chaplin (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

At least the autism incidence has not changed over the lifetime of a 60 year old... Maybe time traveling retroactive vaccines given in 2010 made folks autistic back in 1950? I've heard stranger things from the anti-vax crowd here in Seattle.

By Jay Chaplin (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

Antivaxxers here in Seattle are the absolute worst. I got into a debate with one when I was volunteering at the Pacific Science Center last year...she told me (actual quote):

"You can take your toxic needles and shove them up your ass! I get all the immunity I need from the moon and trees."

@ Old Rockin' Dave:

Sorry I cannot locate that study, but I did locate this one, about the estimated 10 % of autistic individuals who are in long-term care at State psychiatric hospitals:

Shoot...I could have assisted the study authors, after my experiences visiting State psych centers with members of the local chapter of the *Autism Society of America, ~ 30 years ago.

*This was before the ASA went off the rails with entertaining all sorts of biomedical treatments options AND, before the start of the "Autism Epidemic".

@ AdamG

Funny, I've never needed immunity to the moon or trees...

People who have no idea how immunity works should keep their mouths shut. Immunity is antigen specific, it is not possible to develop immunity to pertussis from exposure to trees, the sugar in homeopathy tablets, the Vitamin B12 in super-duper Naturopath woo, etc.

It is people like the one you mention that fuel the sales of the "Science: helping you make other people look stupid" t-shirt.

By Jay Chaplin (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

Wait. Wait. He mentions THREE data points in that comment.
1982: 1 in 5000
2009: 1 in 91
2012: 1 in 88
Autism prevalence, according to his own comment, is going down.

If anyone reading this has more information, I would appreciate it being posted here.

The closest I'm finding offhand is in Minnesota.

More Hilarity Ensues:

I just caught this earlier, on my way out:

*L'idiot sans pareil*, being a sensitive, psychic or suchlike, spoke about the quackbusters (sic) and offered to debate them *live on the air*. Ooooooh, that's aiming at us!

He and his RN enabler, Luanne, discussed Dr Barrett** and Wikipedia** : he notes he couldn't sue Dr B because the " statute of limitations ran out" and he FAILED to mention that he lost his 100 million USD suit against Wiki, which was tossed ( see, uh,,, quackwatch, recent additions, for details).FAIL

He carries on about debates ( especially that one with a certain 'Brian' / late January of 2011 IIRC, archived @ PRN*** ) which he always "wins" ( the aforementioned also shows up in AJW's suit contra BMJ, Deer and Godlee) and FAILS to mention his debate with physicist, Lee Phillips (, which was followed by another suit he and his crony manufactured ( both total 13 million USD), which they LOST, also tossed ( see also quackwatch/ recent additions). More FAIL

All these invitations and spittle-drenched invectives transpired at his noontime woo-fest and are lovingly archived, as though valuable( in VIDEO @ the Progressive Radio archives- Gary Null Show- today- post 45 minutes into the show/ thankfully, I can't watch video)

Sceptical brothers and sisters, be VERY afraid.
I'm joking, of course.

** he needs to explain those high ranking articles to his fans.
*** which wasn't a debate but merely illustrates, most likely, a 2 sd difference in the participants' verbal ability. (Guess whose is higher). FAIL, even more.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink've gotten to be kidding...linking us to a study conducted in OLMSTED County, Minnesota!!!

I'm sooooo grateful that we have cured mental retardation, while the incidence of ASDs has gone up, to "epidemic* levels.

I had a friend, but his brain apparently got scrambled. Too long in Seattle, Too much exposure to new age nonsense, too much time spent in the company of non-Thinking Mothers and others, etc. C'est la vie...

@Curt (12:31pm)

Some event in 2000 must have been the catalyst for the rising cases of autism.

The removal of thimerosal from childhood vaccines? 2001...close enough.

By Sauceress (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

All dissenting and/or questioning posts have been removed from from Whitaker's Facebook page! Only the sycophants remain.

By Sauceress (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

Just when I thought Jay Gordon set the bar how science illiterate and innumerate someone could be and still be an MD, this assclown limbos right under it with plenty of room to spare.

In gaswell testing if the rates are high enough for turbulent flow to occur it is common practice to run a 4 point test. 2 points will establish a line, but you cannot tell it one of them is bad unless you get a stupid slope. If you 3 points and they don't fall on line you cannot tell which one is the bad point so you need a fourth point to determine which one is the outlier. And this is for a situation for which we know the function from well established theory.

Whitaker has 2 points, one of which is made up and then he assumes a function (exponential) which can not possibly be correct over a large range since it gives impossible values in a few years.

Exponential declines are reasonable functions to use for long term extrapolations, exponential growth not so much.

By Militant Agnostic (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

For those keeping track at home, two such studies referred to by Jay Chaplin are here and here. The latter article may be the journal publication follow-up of the survey in the PDF file, mind.

By Composer99 (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

Oops broken link for the JAMA article, try this instead.

By Composer99 (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

Just goes to show you that the classic "How to Lie With Statistics" continues to be relevant. For me it was required reading in grad school. It ought to be assigned to students far earlier.

By T Herling (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink


All dissenting and/or questioning posts have been removed from from Whitaker’s Facebook page! Only the sycophants remain.

Apparently "Health Freedom" includes freedom from criticism and scientific scrutiny. Colour me unsurprised.

By Militant Agnostic (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

Denice, he tried to sue Wikipedia? Seriously? That made me laugh so hard the people next to me are looking at me suspiciously.

By dedicated lurker (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

One hundred twenty

is the new 11

By Spectator (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

Looks like a few of them have been put back, but when I saved the page earlier these were the last two comments:

Jay Chaplin
Nice work Dr. W, deleting and banning all posts that show you for the ignorant fraud you are. So much for "freedom".
Yesterday at 7:56am · Like · 2

Julian Whitaker, MD
Jay, my blog moderator only deleted posts that were profane, per the comment policy. I am happy to engage in a lively debate as long as the discourse stays respectful.
Yesterday at 10:19am

I can email you a copy of the page I saved then? Jay Chaplin's was the only surviving dissenting post. Now that's gone from the current page.

By Sauceress (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

Maybe his "graphic" artist Shaun is arguing with Whitaker over how much deception should be allowed, or maybe Whitaker is arguing with himself.

By Sauceress (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

Sorry, just checked and on the copy of the page I saved, there were 63 comments (current version has 92 comments) and the last three comments were:

Jay Chaplin
Nice work Dr. W, deleting and banning all posts that show you for the ignorant fraud you are. So much for "freedom".
Yesterday at 7:56am · Like · 2
Julian Whitaker, MD
Jay, my blog moderator only deleted posts that were profane, per the comment policy. I am happy to engage in a lively debate as long as the discourse stays respectful.
Yesterday at 10:19am · Like · 1

Nicole Truscott
Most of posts removed were questioning of your methods but not profane.

By Sauceress (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

BAH! ignore those figures for number of comments. That was the number of "shares".

~42 comments on censored version and 70 comments on current version.

By Sauceress (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

No, he seems to have deleted critical posts. The exchange now reads as:

Jay Chaplin
Nice work Dr. W, deleting and banning all posts that show you for the ignorant fraud you are. So much for "freedom".
Yesterday at 2:56pm · 2

Julian Whitaker, MD
Jay, my blog moderator only deleted posts that were profane, per the comment policy. I am happy to engage in a lively debate as long as the discourse stays respectful.
Yesterday at 5:19pm · 1

Nicole Truscott
Most of posts removed were questioning of your methods but not profane.

You guys are in charge of monitoring his Facebook page.

I've been monitoring his blog and earlier today he did reopen the article up from comments. Dr. Harriet Hall asked him a question about the charts...odd, he reply.

He's moved to other topics vital to the health of the nation:

Just when people were despairing about having to increase their Dilantin and, er, other *medications*, Dr. Whitaker presents us with this gem...

But there’s a downside. Piperine has similar effects on a fairly extensive list of drugs, including beta blockers, barbiturates, Dilantin, theophylline, and sildenafil (Viagra). It makes them stay in the system longer and at higher levels, which may increase toxicity. This could also be used to advantage, allowing for lower dosing and increased effectiveness. I believe we’re going to be hearing a lot more about piperine in the future.

I bet we will be hearing a lot more about piperine in the future.

Brain fog correction:

"I’ve been monitoring his blog and earlier today he did reopen the article up from comments. Dr. Harriet Hall asked him a question about the charts…odd, he DID NOT reply.

Chris, I'm confused... I can't see the above comments on the (expanded) current version?
I get:

Lisa J Johnson Alet - there sure are days when they feel like "more than one," and if you get two or three together you end up with a situation hubby once described as "puppies, without the box." ;-) 13 hours ago

Peter Cockerell
Ha ha, so your graph is based on a "rough estimate" from decades ago, then a single other point 27 years later? How the heck can you determine the the shape of the curve from that? How on earth do you manage to ignore all the confounding factors like changes in the DSM and generally increased awareness of ASD? How do you explain the inconsistencies of the curves WITHIN the graph? How do you sleep at night knowing that you're sowing such misleading and harmful lies? 12 hours ago · 5

Mark Mucker That's the funniest graph I've ever seen. Draw a line between two points, then swerve upwards for no reason until you hit 100%?

You're incompetent, sir. Why not post the video of that debate showing how every last one of your mad claims is shot down in flames by the other guy?
4 hours ago

as being the last 3 comments on the current version?

By Sauceress (not verified) on 19 Jul 2012 #permalink

Just to comment on the common misconception that doctors are scientists. Most doctors are trained in content and technique and are fully able to practise without an understanding of scientific principle. This should not be so. But anyone who has studied with doctors with no additional scientific training will find that it is.

However, this is no excuse. Certainly someone promoting a course of action considered murderous by the overwhelming majority of the scientific community is obliged to learn wtf they're talking about.

Where is the video of the debate? Surely somone filmed this?

This has become a good chuckle. Because I was bored, I ran Whitaker’s equation backwards and didn’t get anything like the graph he has. The rate of acceleration used was more than 14%. 16% gets closer to the pattern. So not only does Whitaker not understand the math, he can’t even get the method used right.

I particularly liked the bit where Whitaker acknowledges that 100% incidence is a bit, well, urr, unreasonable, but instead of then reasoning that perhaps his math was a bit off, he reasons that OMG it is a major catastrophe.

Shawn Seigel’s blog is rather uninteresting. He clearly let his “modicum of common sense” out for a walk the day he produced this dodgy graph.

I wonder what he thought when he included the slide in the debate preparation. I hope he was thinking "this will kick their arse", not realising the sheer stupidness of it. That would make it the funniest reaction of all time when Steve presented the crushing idiocy and exposed him to the audience.

By Michael Hughes (not verified) on 20 Jul 2012 #permalink

@ dedicated lurker:

Oh yes! The matchless idiot repeatedly talks about his battles with the quackbusters (sic)- supposedly all of the information posted about him is wrong. He has a team of legal representatives and they sued for 100 million USD- it was tossed out of court as were the suits contra Phillips ( see quackwatch/ recent additions page); articles by Barrett, Wiki and Phillips are still up. -btw- He was sued by people harmed by his bad vites: two settled but the family of a woman who died has not ( see quackwatch/ article on him)

He is currently hyping his expose of the FDA. Much of his idiocy is available archived at the Progressive Radio Network .It's a laugh riot.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 20 Jul 2012 #permalink

Sauceress, I am also confused. Because I don't see any way to expand the comments.

On Whitaker's Facebook page, I clicked on "View all 77 Comments" to see the most recent comments.

Scrolling about 75 % downward on the 77 comments, I came across this comment...

David H. Gorski
I do find it rather amusing that Dr. Whitaker shows only a picture of himself and not a picture of him with Dr. Novella.
3 hours ago ·

@curt - so 9/11 was to cover up Bush's plan to give 120% of people autism?

Doot-doot, doot-doot. Autception, we need to deeper.

@JohnV - You mean... TRIPLE AUTISM?


At least if the whole world is non-neurotypical then I won't have to explain so much about myself to so many people all the time.

Whoops, I accidentally a verb.

We need to go deeper.

*Toxic Overload: Assessing the Role of Mercury in Autism By Boyd E. Haley Issue 115, November/December 2002…

*The Amish and Autism…

Selected vaccine authorities from CDC, FDA, and manufacturers discuss, in a closed meeting, the possibility of neurodevelopment disorders resulting from vaccine components.

1) Thimerosal exposure in infants and neurodevelopment disorders

Heather A. Young a, David A. Geier b, Mark R. Geier c,⁎…

By Freedom of Choice US (not verified) on 20 Jul 2012 #permalink

No worries, elburto, that was a perfect Whitaker impression... :-)

By Scottynuke (not verified) on 21 Jul 2012 #permalink

Wait, he supposes smooth exponential growth from 1982 to 2007 (or 2009, 2010, or whatever)? I thought the proof that vaccines (all vaccines) cause autism is that autism rates jump upward discontinuously each time a new vaccine is added to the schedule. If that were true, the only way autism rates could climb to (*snicker*) 100% is if new vaccines were added at an increasing rate from now to 2041 or thereabouts.

Actually, if we do pretend that there has been a rather smooth exponential growth in the rate of autism for thirty years, doesn't that in and of itself suggest a contagious agent spreading through the population? Against which we should have ... um ... a vaccine?

Apropos of nothing here, but, the Alternative Medicine Review appears to be folding up shop.

\Alternative Medicine Review Volume 17, Number 2 will be published as digital only. This is last scheduled issue of AMR. We will consider one more digital issue to ensure publication of pending reviewed articles. AMR will be refunding subscriptions and leaving the website up for full access to our archives.

Question to scientists:

I am not a scientist but in health care. I can clearly see that Dr. Whitaker's chart is full tilt retard even with only my MS.

If the scientific method is bullet proof, then why all of the ad hominem attacks? Why the action(s) to link this issue with 9/11? And why are faulty inputs ignored, such as…?

I come here seeking knowledge and hope that some light can be provided. I have a bet riding in this.


@Freedom (freedumb?) of Choice US:
Medical Veritas is a Conspiracy Site and Boyd Haley is a joke here. Put his name into the search box.
The Amish do vaccinate. The Amish Anomaly is a lie.
The "discussion" is likely to be taken out of context, the same way Robert F. Kennedy took remarks out of context to support his execrable article "Deadly Immunity".
The Geiers are quacks who sell a Lupron protocol to "help" autistics. Both are in legal trouble - the son for practising medicine without a license, and the father for practising medicine while suspended.
Thanks for the target practise, you chop.

By Julian Frost (not verified) on 23 Jul 2012 #permalink


If the scientific method is bullet proof, then why all of the ad hominem attacks? Why the action(s) to link this issue with 9/11? And why are faulty inputs ignored, such as…?

1. Please point out what you perceive to be ad hominem attacks. I hadn't noticed them myself.
2. Nobody claims that the scientific method is bullet proof. It is the best method we know for trying to develop and test our understanding of natural phenomena.
3. What actions to link this issue with 9/11?
4. Assuming Merck did, in fact, fake its results, then anything related to that should rightly be ignored. But that's a matter of corporate or personal greed.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 23 Jul 2012 #permalink

Per wikipedia: "An ad hominem (Latin for "to the man" or "to the person"), short for argumentum ad hominem, is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or belief of the person supporting it."

It would be an ad hominem attack to say that his theory is bogus because he's ignorant. It is not an ad hominem attack to say he must be ignorant because his theory is so bad.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 23 Jul 2012 #permalink

@Brian - that was not an attempt to "link" anything to 9/11, but a joke about other silly reasons for the autism academic. I don't think it has ever been actually proposed as a reason for the increase in autism diagnoses.

I'm kind of confused by the rest of your post. How does whether or not the allegations regarding "faking positive results" for a vaccine are true have anything to do with the assertion that vaccines cause autism? It could be argued that it has a lot to do with whether or not the vaccine is as effective as stated, but nothing to do with whether or not that vaccine does anything to cause autism.

When it was suggested that vaccines were causing autism, a lot of data was analyzed in multiple studies and could find no direct link between vaccines and autism. Further, when you look at diagnostic substitution, expanding diagnostic criteria and over-diagnoses the climb in autism diagnoses is accounted for.

A study recently showed that 13% of women drink while pregnant. Fetal exposure to alcohol carries known risks including developmental issues. You add to that the many women who aren't intending to get pregnant and are drinking socially on a regular basis and discover somewhere between 9 and 12 weeks that they are pregnant and I wouldn't be surprised if the number were higher. Add the people who do recreational drugs as well as drinking and the risks to the fetus are even worse.

Another argument that I find frustrating is the one about medicine/research not trying to find the answers to the "why" of autism. I regularly read of new information in the puzzle (though most who are convinced that it is vaccines immediately laugh at the studies and demand more research).

Vaccines have known risks and the risk of harm from vaccination is always lower than the risks of the disease that vaccine will prevent. Strangely, you'll never hear someone who prefers science-based or evidence-based medicine insist that vaccines have no risk. I don't understand why that doesn't make it obvious that we are dealing with the information truthfully.

Free of Choice, can you please tell us which vaccine on the American pediatric schedule is available only with thimerosal. Please do not say "influenza" because the eight approved for children, four are thimerosal free.

Brian, which mumps strain are they questioning? Is it the Rubini, Leningrad-Zagreb, Jeryl Lynn or Urabe vaccine strain? And how is the efficacy information suppressed when there are papers like this and this?

@ Bryan: The link you provided...has this "gem"

"The vaccine issue is especially important. We've written numerous articles on the issue as we began to discover that at least for some, there seemed to be manifold side-effects as regards vaccines. Just Google "Dr. Andrew Wakefield" and "Daily Bell" for more on the issue.

It turns out that vaccines, at least in the past, may not have been fully vetted for efficacy for ethical reasons, supposedly. Meanwhile, there is a significant and evolving 'Net-based literature on problems that people have undergone from receiving vaccines, especially children.

Dr. Wakefield was pilloried for making an indirect linkage between vaccines and austism, (and ultimately lost his medical ilcense) but there certainly seems to be evidence along these lines no matter how Big Pharma attempts to conceal it."

I've read the Complaint filed by two so-called whistle blowers who are former employees of was "unsealed" by the Court, last month, after the DOJ declined to join the two "whistle blowers". Just look around the internet, on any of the notorious anti-vaccine websites, for a copy of the complaint. IANAL, but after reading the Complaint in its appears that the plaintiffs have little or no evidence to prove falsification of data about the mumps vaccine.

Would you care to share with us, what the nature of your "bet" is?

You will have an extended period of time to see if you win or lose that bet, as the Discovery phase of the lawsuit probably has not been completed, nor has the case been put on the Trial Calendar.

regarding the delayed curve for the girls:
maybe he was trying to account for the huge uptick in the number of hermaphrodites born in the '30s...oh, never mind, its just a bunch of BS.

By casual reader (not verified) on 23 Jul 2012 #permalink

Brian=concern troll

By Demandabanana (not verified) on 23 Jul 2012 #permalink

@Demanadabanana - I suspect Brian is something other than your run of the mill concern troll. I believe his JAQing session is an attempt to get some sort of response and, possibly, to make a point by indirection. I'm not quite sure what response he's looking for.

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 23 Jul 2012 #permalink

Brian is deploying classic whataboutery. What about the big pharmaceutical companies fudging their data? As if this is some way makes Whitaker's ludicrous graph of autism incidence any better.

@ ChrisP:

Amongst the idiots I survey, it's common to mention corruption, crime and error in the past by whomsoever they wish to cast aspersion upon: e.g. Newspaper X was wrong about Politician A or the Medical Society used to recommend Outdated Procedure B and the Goverment was not totally honest about International Conflict C, then they dismiss other data or material from those sources which is based on solid evidence, unlike their own." How can you believe the Times/ Medical Society/ Secretary?"

Recently much of their web space/ air time seems to be dedicated to making people suspicious about news and data sources; curiously, these are the same people who are simultaneously setting up alternative media, internet radio and health informational encyclopaedias as they tell us not to trust what you read on the 'net.They also speak about COIs of others. leaving out their own.

It's endless and as convoluted as a Mobius strip. Fortunately, I have high tolerance for nonsense for a good cause.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 23 Jul 2012 #permalink

@Denice - it ends up being rather comprehensive - "you can't trust any of the traditional media/government/doctors/etc., but we have the real truth here" then, of course, they make increasingly dubious claims while interspersing them with more reasons why you cannot trust media/government/doctors. Much of the claims, of course are also against who you cannot trust. The longer you go down the rabbit hole the more isolated you get. Right now there's a lot of things out there that they can use to manipulate their audiences, and they're running full steam with it.

It just takes a little trust of the alternative person sharing the news and a little distrust of whatever/whomever they have targeted and off you go.

I'm beginning to wish I really knew a lot more and how to explain it well (or defend it in a debate, actually) so when my instincts say "that is really off" I can find ways to convince Mr Woo that what he is listening to is unlikely to be right (right now he's listening to some prophet of some sort discussing the coming end times).