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.