• Fri, Jul 25 2008

False Controversy: Autism and Vaccines

This is perhaps an example of medicine acting despite an absence of what we’d recognize as science, a case of peoples’ fears getting the better of them.

This statement was made in reference to a “well-respected senior scientist” issuing a warning about cell phones being linked to cancer, as discussed in Ars Technica today. Other examples of “medicine acting despite an absence of what we’d recognize as science” noted are “(unfounded) concerns over WiFi and vaccinations“—both of which have also been linked to autism—and the (now put on hold) federal study on the possible use of chelation therapy as a treatment for autism.

For worse or for better, outrage over Michael Savage’s remarks about autism–which exhibit an absence of what we’d recognize as any knowledge about autism—has drawn away attention from the topics that usually garner the most rage and contentiousness in discussions about autism. Some recent posts on the “absence of what we’d recognize as science” in claims of a link to vaccines or something in vaccines and autism:

Left Brain/Right Brain offers a transcript of Autism Omnibus testimony of Dr. Elizabeth Mumper, the President and CEO of the Rimland Center for Integrative Medicine, which clearly states its use of the Defeat Autism Now! protocol. In responding to questioning about lab test results for “neurofiliment antibodies and myelin basic protein antibodies,” Dr. Mumper did not seem completely aware that results from the lab that did the tests, Immunisciences, might not have been “accurate and reliable,” and that the lab did not (it seems) receive accreditation through the College of American Pathologists. — In other words, there is more than a little reason to question the reliability, and the accuracy, of the test results that supposedly make a case for vaccine-induced neurological damage in the children whose cases are being presented before the Autism Omnibus.

Over at the Neurologica blog, Dr. Steven Novella posts about (1) the nature of neurological diagnosis and why Hannah Poling has a “neurological disorder that is broader than just ASD” and that hers is a case of “atypical” autism; and (2) a resonse to David Kirby and Dr. Jon Poling about autism and vaccines. In the latter post, Dr. Novella says that Kirby and other “anti-vaccine/pro-vaccine safety advocates” have created a “false controversy”:

Kirby and the anti-vaccination crowd have created a false controversy over vaccines and autism. They then promote this controversy as if it were a legitimate scientific controversy. They then demand that their claims be investigated, that they are represented on the IACC, and they sue the government over alleged vaccine injury – and claim that the resultant controversy they manufactured is evidence for a legitimate scientific controversy and that they should therefore be taken seriously. There must be something to this controversy we manufactured because there’s a controversy – it’s nothing more than an elaborate and deceptive self-fulfilling prophesy.

Kirby is now using a strategy also familiar to the [Intelligent Design] crowd – say something scientifically outrageous, and then use the backlash of scientific outrage to say – well at least I got them talking about it and taking the controversy seriously. Mission accomplished. It’s just more self-fulfillment.

What is lacking in the case of ID and the anti-vaccination movement is an actual scientific controversy, or reliable scientific evidence to challenge the current consensus of opinion.

It’s a point that bears repeating—-the controversy over vaccines and autism is false.

Dr. Novella also notes Dr. Poling’s use of the “mommy gambit,” which is a sort of rhetorical sympathy-seeking strategy in which one says, hey, they’re just moms trying to do the right thing and help their kids, stop picking on them!. Dr. Novella cites Dr. Poling’s support of Jenny “Green Our Vaccines” McCarthy:

Heightened awareness is not always a positive thing, if it’s awareness of misinformation. What Jenny McCarthy has done is spread demonstrable misinformation (like the false claim that vaccines contain antifreeze) which has served to confuse the public. Unscientific propaganda distracts from real science and real solutions. Misinformed parents, hoping for answers, have been lured by false claims of the so-called “mercury militia” to risky and likely ineffective treatments, like chelation therapy. Hysteria over vaccines has lead to increasing numbers of parents choosing not to vaccinate their children – with resultant outbreaks of preventable diseases, like measles. This threatens herd immunity – which means that vulnerable populations, and even the vaccinated, are at increased risk (because vaccines are not 100% effective).

Dr. Poling is saying, essentially, that public misinformation, risky and ineffective treatments, false hope, and unnecessary outbreaks of preventable disease is all good – as long as it raises awareness.

He then tries to defend McCarthy, and criticize me, with the mommy gambit. This was tried before by RFK Jr. who tried to deflect skepticism towards the dubious claims of the mercury militia as an”attack on mothers” McCarthy’s status as a mom, even of a child who may have autism, does not exempt her opinions from scrutiny, and does not remove from her the obligation to use her celebrity status responsibly.

(I’ll note, too, that I’m a mom who finds the “mommy gambit” a dubious and even condescending enterprise.)

Last is a recent post by Epi Wonk on the 2007 DeSoto and Hitlan study, Blood Levels of Mercury Are Related to Diagnosis of Autism: A Reanalysis of an Important Data Set. EpiWonk responds to a response by Professor DeSoto about an earlier EpiWonk post on the study (did it give you a headache to read that? Could be much worse: EpiWonk has a migraine—full sympathies sent from here). The conclusion from EpiWonk also bears repeating: “‘We can conclude absolutely nothing about the association of ethylmercury [thimerosal] in vaccines to autism from these data.’”

Now imagine if Michael Savage were to say that 99% of what you hear about autism and vaccines and mercury is misinformation and over-stated and even simply false.

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  • http://theautisticme.blogspot.com/ C. S. Wyatt

    Minnesota has an increasing rate of unvaccinated school-age children. The exemption is easy and is being popularized by two of our regional autism organizations. As the vaccination rate falls, but not the rate of diagnosis, I wonder what the next claim will be?

    California, in particular the Bay and San Diego areas, also has an increasing “opt-out” population of over-educated, Internet-surfing, parents. I know several of these parents.

    I have limited resistance to the chicken pox virus. I have had two horrible outbreaks since elementary school. The notion of measles or mumps… those really scare me.

    Silly me, worrying about aerosol transmission of potentially deadly diseases. Chicken pox are bad enough. Darn scars!

  • http://www.neoteny.org Andrew

    Please consider visiting http://www.neoteny.org/?cat=7 to review a unique and unorthodox theory for the cause of autism.

    It’s not vaccines.

    Thank you,

    Andrew Lehman

  • MAría Luján

    Hi Kristina
    I disagree on the opinion on Dr Novella and other topics on your post.
    there is a very detailed analysis of Dr Novella´s post in his blog by Schwartz.
    The consideration of the inadecuancy of one lab does not make all the findings around the world, in other labs inadequate or false for many autistic children-beyond the Autism Omnibus Hearings. Even more, the need of better safer and adequate diagnostic tools for CMPs does not invalidates the importance of them for many children like my son. This kind of situations emphasize the importance of better testing, but does not rule out the need of testing ( proper and adequate).

  • Nodda Danfan

    Elizabeth Mumper is queen of DAN! She’s their top “medical” advisor if I’m not mistaken. I’m not sure what she does is so much “medical” as it is voodoo and wish-craft. This is DAN! in action. She either lied about what she knows or she’s really stoooooopid, frighteningly stooooopid. Which makes sense, a smart person wouldn’t be tormenting poor children with fake and useless therapies based of worthless lab tests from labs run by their friends.

  • http://daisymayfattypants.blogspot.com Emily

    Does she have a partner named “Measler”?

  • http://daisymayfattypants.blogspot.com Emily

    Sorry. I’ve been reading a lot of Dickens lately.

  • Diana

    If I would have listened to my mainstream pediatrician when he told me not to try a gluten casein free diet with my four year old son, whom he had diagnosed with delays at 18 months, I would have an autistic son. OH – I forgot to mention, at our first appointment with a DAN doctor when my son was four the DAN recognized my sons belly was distended. xrays confirmed his bowels were impacted. The good pediatrician missed it completely. After spending an evening in the bathroom with my son remedying the problem (!), my son said not once but twice – and keep in mind this is a kid who was practically non verbal and certainly delayed at the time – “Thanks for getting all that poop out of me, Mom” We started the diet the very next day. My son’s progress on the diet in just four months was shocking to his pediatrician. That was the start of our biomed journey over two years ago. We just started chelation, and my son continues to improve. In fact, noone was the wiser when we enrolled him in first grade last year. We have done about 5 IVs so far. Once, my son was too dehydrated to get his IV. As I put him to bed that night he said, “I’m sorry I couldn’t get my medicine today, Mom. It really makes me feel better.” Biomedical is about making kids feel better. That they recover from autism in the process is just a happy side benefit.

    People have a tendency to find that for which they are looking. The main stream medical religion doesn’t want to see any information that they did not originate. History will prove that they are wrong now, I hope you all live long enough to see it.

  • http://ballastexistenz.autistics.org/ Amanda

    Erm… I was hospitalized several months ago for a bowel blockage that had gotten probably worse than it had for your son, and I wasn’t more autistic, just (in this case) more delirious, which looks completely different. I’ve had problems with these things off and on my entire life, and I don’t become less autistic when they go away. (Nor do I become even a shred more or less autistic — or more or less prone to these problems, for that matter — with GFCF, which has been tried.) The only effect it had on my communication skills was making me too weak to type more than a word or two at best, but I was also too weak to stand up, so it’s not like it would be possible to miss.

    Oh, and, my experience with a couple DAN doctors was a bunch of wasted money on the part of my parents, and the “treatments” they prescribed causing anything from no chance to making me feel incredibly awful, but being told that I had to keep them up in order for them to work and that if I “really cared about getting better” then I would. (They didn’t make me any better in the long run than they did in the short run. The stuff about “if you care about getting better” was pure manipulation.)

    And also, there was the fact that one of the DAN doctor found inflammation in my stomach but did nothing at all to treat it. I was later diagnosed by a regular doctor with gastritis and duodenitis that got better with (gasp) conventional medicine. All the special diets did me no good at all in that department. Oh yeah, and he also translated various symptoms of severe early-onset gallbladder disease (runs in my family for generations), into meaning the same thing as the gastritis did. This led to neglect of the real problem until the organ had completely stopped working — and a very angry surgeon once he looked inside to see how messed up it was. So now I’m on a low-fat diet prescribed by more conventional doctors, and that works to keep me from having many problems in the remaining bile duct.

    If your anecdotes count as data, then mine must too. It’s not like we set out to distrust the DAN doctors either, or we wouldn’t have wasted our time. In fact, we didn’t even know they were DAN doctors, they were recommended to us by word of mouth for other reasons. Just like the Snake Lady. But she’s another story…

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    @Emily, Bleak House? Oliver Twist? Little Dorrit? It was the best of times it was the worst of times…..

    @Diana, My son started the gfcf diet in June of 1999. We were strict about it until the past 2 or so years and now are more or less gfcf at home and let him eat what he would like otherwise; no dramatic results or side-effects. Though he does seem much relieved not to hear us saying again and again “no, you can’t have that.”

    @Amanda, Thanks for the story……

  • http://daisymayfattypants.blogspot.com Emily

    Diana, sounds like your son needed more fiber in his diet. If his bowels were impacted, his “good” pediatrician wasn’t the only person who missed that one.

    Kristina, Bleak House…just wrapping it up. I’ve read them all before, but if I have a “unifocal interest,” it’s Vic Lit.

  • Regan

    very detailed analysis of Dr Novella´s post in his blog by Schwartz.
    What I see is a detailed rhetorical critique of Dr. Novella’s post, which is the same thing that he claims to criticize–use of rhetoric.
    So except for being another of the ’tis/’t'aint arguments that seem to go ad infinitum in reference to the subject of autism and vaccines I am not seeing anything exceptional except for the amount of detail.

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    Also, Dr. Novella goes to some lengths to make his post more than just a critique of the rhetoric and arguments used by Kirby and Dr. Poling: Dr. Novella points out his own background as a doctor and scientist, and that Dr. Poling has a very significant conflict of interest in these discussions: As Hannah Poling’s father, hard not to think he has a “personal investment” in the matter.

  • MAría Luján

    Regan I disagree with your analyisis.
    Kristina, Many parents of autistic children thinking different from Dr Novella are also doctors and scientists.
    I still think that fallacies in argumentation are important to be presented. and the post in question have many.
    Dr Poling has presented here and elsewhere, clear, to the point and enough detailed explanation of his position. He is also a Dr and a scientist.

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    His defense and support of a celebrity like Jenny McCarthy has seemed all the more puzzling!

  • MAría Luján

    I do not agree with many opinions of Mrs Mc Carthy but she has the right to present her concerns and her findings related to her son, such as I have or you have or other moms have related to the positive or negative aspects of such or that intervention.
    What I see is the consideration of maternal concerns from a very highly educated doctor. Sorry, but the proper consideration of maternal concerns on CMPs I consider refreshing. What i perceive is that he is defending every mom telling the peditricians concerns about vaccines or antibiotics or whatever related to development and being consistently and continuously ridiculed, minimized and not heard- such as it happened to me. Of course the same doctor did not take the responsability to test, diagnose and treat the incredible amount of CMPs I later found. Therefore my interpretation is different than yours about the apparently puzzling position. Of course this is my personal perception. I have seen an incredible amount of moms of autistic children mistreated and not heard by the mainstreamed doctors consistently. For me, he is defending in JMC the mom that has not her possibilities to be heard but her concerns.

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    Thanks, María——it is certainly good to see a doctor so concerned about listening to mothers. Something in me detects a slightly different note in the way he puts it, though.

  • Regan

    Regan I disagree with your analyisis.

    That’s cool. It wasn’t analysis, just observation.

  • http://ballastexistenz.autistics.org/ Amanda

    Diana, sounds like your son needed more fiber in his diet. If his bowels were impacted, his “good” pediatrician wasn’t the only person who missed that one.

    Low fiber isn’t the only cause of constipation, and high fiber diets can make some forms of constipation worse (by adding bulk but not improving gut motility), so it’s important to know whether the constipation is a result of the makeup of the stools, gut motility, both, neither, etc.

    I’ve learned all this the hard way over a lifetime of being frequently plugged up for multiple different reasons.

    Also something people often forget, is that bowel problems are some of the most frequent medical problems for children in general, not just autistic children.

  • Ed

    I am the father of an autistic son, 21 years old. He was in the front of the bow wave of autism statistics we have seen. I am not as sanguine about there being no link between autism and vaccines as the medical community is.

    The medical community has spent a lot of money proving that there is no connection. Since that is the object of the research, I am not surprised that the research has reached that conclusion.

    In February, 2007, the CDC announced that there really is an autism epidemic. I could see that 13 years ago. My son was one of two autistic children in a school of 250 children. There was another child just up the road who attended a private school and a fourth in another elementary school nearby. Since the statistics were supposed to be 1 in 2500, the numbers I was able to personally observe did not connect with the statistics that were proported by the CDC at the time.
    I can understand why the CDC would not want to say that there is an autism epidemic. That would mean that there has to be something in the environment connected with autism. Genetics alone do not explain epidemics, though I will be the first to say that genetics are involved. Whatever that something in the environment is, it has to cover the time that the autism epidemic has occurred and the area all over the industrial world that the autism epidemic occurred. Vaccines meet these two criteria. Whether vaccines and autism are associated or not, vaccines have been the only environmental association that fits the criteria of both space and time association. Without something else that fits the space and time requirement, a vaccuum is created and no amount of reassurance will mean anything until something else is found that fits the criteria of space and time association.
    The CDC left itself an out with the announcement of an autism epidemic by saying that the cause could be an change in the autism diagnostic criteria. The California studies have been very thorough. Their conclusion is that no change in diagnostic criteria drove the epidemic.
    It is a funny thing. The medical community has already declared victory. There is no association between autism and vaccines. Yet, the statistical experiment to determine if there is an association is to compare the autism rate in a vaccinated population against the autism rate in an unvaccinated population. I can find no such study. I wrote the CDC asking where I could find any such study and the reply was that they did not know of any such study. There is a bill sponsored by Carolyn Maloney of New York and Tom Osborne of Nebraska to mandate that such a study be done.
    No, I am not saying that I know that autism and vaccines are related, but if life gave us do overs, I would opt out of vaccines for my son.

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  • http://drsavitz@hotmail.com donald savitz

    Hi ED; I read you accont of your obervation about the anount of autism childern arond your town. #1 I take it this was about the time that you son started school? #2 Sence that time has that number of childern in and around the area in creased or decreased with autism? # 3 I ask every one where the live{just state ond town] not many answer the question, all I am trying to find out if the pws may have been puting FLUORIDE in the supply. That is to say if it was man made FLUORIDE witch is a waste left over from making fertilizer. I ask the same question fro Scott on another board about the state of PA. He said he didn”t think so. I seem to not to find any thing for the state OH. May be you should try you state. Hopeing to hear from you soon.

  • MAría Luján

    This is the transcript of the Proceedings of the April 11, 2008 Meeting of the Vaccine Safety Working Group of the National Vaccine Advisory Committee
    Dr Wallace on the topic
    Now the question I think then becomes relevant here is, is there a relationship between mitochondrial disease and vaccination and mitochondrial disease and autism. The first question is would a vaccination or infection initiate an incipient mitochondrial disease as has been suggested. Well, we don’t of course have any way of proving that, but one thing that is certainly known is that there’s a disease called Leigh syndrome, L E I G H. It is called and best known and recognized pediatric disease that’s known to be associated with mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation defects. These children are absolutely normal when they’re born. They are fine up to the first several years of life, then invariably they’re reported by the parent to have a transient increase in temperature that is B febrile, and then progressively lose intellectual and motor milestones, the vasoganglia dies out, and they die.

    So it’s clear that mitochondrial disease can be precipitated in some way and it can result in irreversible damage from a person that seemed to be perfectly normal. Moreover, these mitochondrial diseases are not rare in fact mitochondrial disease may in fact be the most common cause of pathophysiology that is known and the question then that you might ask is �Well, why don’t we know this?� and the answer is tradition in relation to medicine because medicine traditionally has been organized around anatomy and, therefore, there are specialists in all the different organ systems, and so in fact it is very difficult for an organ specific specialist to understand a systemic disease, but in fact life is related to both structure and energy and energy is systemic even though structure is organ specific. So we’ve spent most of our care health-care dollars looking about at structure and organ specific symptoms and not thinking about systemic disease, and systemic disease is about energy, and energy is about the mitochondria because mitochondria provides 98% of the energy.

    So, the fact is that we really don’t have any data that allow you to make these decisions now because that whole area, the energy biology of health and disease is essentially unexplored and the UMDF and the Scientific Advisory Board really has tried to champion redressing this lack of information so that we can provide parents with the right answers and actually formulate the right questions. So I really hope that you will then take the initiative to give us the facts so that we can either make the right decisions or reassure the public, but right now I stand as someone who sees patients regularly and runs a diagnostics lab, and when they asked me about vaccinations have a hard time given them a straightforward answer. Thank you very much.

    He has been working n.on mitochondria and role of mitochondria in human health and disease for 39 years.

  • http://drsavitz@hotmail.com donald savitz

    Amanda & Diana; As you know that many things can cause constipation, with me it if I drink to much milk or eat cheese in almost any form.Some times it happens when I don:t drink enough water. Don”t they say that you should keep a person with autism away from dairy products. So it may have come to the time that my brain or body is in the same shape as the same shape body of a young person with autism . That is to say that the mind is more or less in the same mode. So it might be worth to check us old people.

  • http://drsavitz@hotmail.com donald savitz

    I just read an interesting idea from George Wade about preventing autism. I my self think that is a very good idea. I also think that if the goverment would take the MAN MADE FLUORIDE out of the pws supplys. As we know that is a waste prouduct from the fertilizer industry that is made up of lead and arsenic with a little nitrate also. Witch may turn that swimming pool into a cess pool of ammonia water and that might be bad for the fetus to there for nine months.the other site is False Dichotomy of genes vs environment.

  • Regan

    I think it might be interesting to read the full transcript of the 4/11/08 meeting, as well as the full quotation of Dr. Douglas Wallace’s public testimony at that meeting, partially in representation for the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation. He had some additional comments in his statement.

    Maria Luján–thank you for posting the link.

  • http://drsavitz@hotmail.com donald savitz

    Ms Chew in Jun o7 when George said about preventing autism that you not for it. What if you looked at it as a train wreck would you for preventing the wreck, and that is going to happen in the next few years if there is not a slow down the rate of 25,000 new cases each year. How are we going to pay for the new persons. As you know that sence the mid 90s ther are around 500,000 new cases. I think I heard that sum one said that in a few years the cost would be around $700 billon for this part of the population.

  • http://drsavitz@hotmail.com donald savitz

    Ms.Chew; I just saw on another posting that Charlie was born in MIssouri I would Like to make a guess that could that hsve been KC.

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  • mom5

    Personally, I don’t believe vaccines cause autism. However, I do think it is a very real possibility that something in the vaccines triggers the onset of autism in someone genetically predisposed to it. More research definitely needs to be done as the rates of autistic children continue to increase. There is a really interesting debate about the potential link between vaccines and autism at http://www.opposingviews.com/questions/are-autism-and-vaccines-linked Experts from both sides make some great arguments, and there is a guy named Kevin Leitch who is really stirring things up by taking on the groups who believe autism and vaccines are linked.

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