Antivax ad nauseum

By Phil Plait | May 14, 2008 2:20 pm

Well, I suppose I asked for it. I wrote a thoughtful, cited, linked, and clear post on how vaccines are unrelated to autism (as well as in an update), and got a flock of antivax nonsense in the comments in return. I’ll preface any details to say that there has been a lot of support for my post, especially from Orac, who knows a thing or two on this, and I thank everyone who replied — on either side of this issue — who did so politely and reasonably. I did get some interesting emails as well from parents of autistic children, and again I thank them and send them my best hopes and support.

But then I get email like the following (in italics below) with my comments interspersed (in normal print); it is reproduced in full but with the author’s name and email address left out to prevent a flood of mocking from people less polite than me.

WARNING: set your irony meter volume way down, lest it vaporize.

You do not have the credentials to have an opinion on this subject.

Well, I’m a trained scientist, able to read graphs and do basic statistics. I have a passing familiarity with logical processes, and how to think through an argument. I also have years of experience as a professional skeptic, you might say, in seeing through fallacious arguments.

I’ll note that the emailer did not give their credentials on understanding the subject, either.

Your flippant, self-promoting, and arrogant rant shows what you are all about — attention.

Oh, attention doesn’t hurt, especially when I think my message — like this one — is of critical importance. But that argument is wrong anyway; where does it actually deal with the content of my message? Oh, right, in this next silly statement:

Removing a link between thimerosal and vaccines does not even prove your hypothesis. This very bad science.

Actually, I am debunking someone else’s argument, and that is that thimerosal causes autism, or that vaccines in general do. The case against this argument, I think, has been made very well by the overwhelming totality of scientific study on the topic.

Your hypothesis: “Vaccines do not cause autism.” Really!? Can you site [sic] a study that shows a non-vaccinated child population, instead of a timerosal [sic]-free population? Didn’t think so.

Actually, the links I provided in the post do just that. Only part of that was about thimerosal; the graph I showed. There are lots of other studies.

Why don’t you go and do a little research instead of spewing anecdotal evidence and your very misguided opinions out to the internet.

The author of the email has grossly confused the difference between anecdotes and data. Maybe the email author is unfamiliar with the concept of scientific studies, like the one I linked to, and the other links that cite many other studies. I’m not the one with anecdotal stories; the antivaxxers are.

People like you make me sick.

BANG!

Nuts. Now I have to buy yet another irony meter.

Hello? It’s the antivaxxers literally making people sick. That’s the whole point. If we don’t vaccinate, then we are dooming our children to suffer through pertussis, measles, mumps, chicken pox, (damage from) HPV, and a host of other ailments, some of which are fatal, but most of which have dire public health consequences.

So there you go, folks. That’s the sort of irrational attitude we’re dealing with here. Bear that in mind when you are deciding how to couch your words with the anti-vaccination group. People with autistic kids certainly deserve our support, and our sympathy. But only up to when they advocate a public health disaster. I will still be sympathetic about their personal trouble, but I will not back down when they promote anti-science and try to sentence millions of children to suffer terrible ailments and perhaps even death.

Comments (110)

  1. Kevin

    Well Phil, you make me sick too.

    Jet-setting around the world… hobnobbing with celebrities… playing with LHC’s… it makes my stomach turn.

    Or it could be the chili I had for lunch.

    Yeah, that’s probably it. :)

    Keep up the good work Sir!

  2. Geomancer

    Hmmm… Since this is my first post here – ever – maybe I should contribute something valuable?

    Nah.

    Phil, I thought you wanted to be on somebody’s enemy list? More swearing and more personal attacks, man!

  3. John Best name calling in 3…2….1

  4. I don’t think anyone can make this subject any clearer than you BA, but these anti-vaxxers have *faith* in what they are doing. It is difficult to argue someone out of something they just *know*.

    Besides, there is too much money to be made stirring up the mud and selling alternative remedies and stories to frightened parents armed with just a couple of facts and a huge imagination.

  5. Sailor

    It is the very success of vaccination that has allowed people to rant like that. In truth, there are risks associated with vaccination, allbeit very small ones. There is even a fund to compensate in such cases. So with the effectiveness of herd vaccination protection, it might be true that one individual child might even be at less risk NOT vaccinating, when everyone else is vaccinated. Of course the whole thing falls apart as more kids don’t vaccinate and the herd vaccination protection breaks down.
    As someone fairly ancient, I remember lots of people, a generation ahead of me, with polio deformities, seeing that, and then not seeing it any more, is a strong motivator to support vaccination.

  6. Nathan Myers

    If people in positions of responsibility were not so reflexively dishonest about vaccine problems, the distrust problem would not be so great. As it is, every study not finding a particular problem in a particular vaccine and a particular population has been promoted as vindicating all vaccines everywhere. Each such promotion is obviously false, and (assuming competence in the promoter) dishonest. Hey, guess what? Dishonesty breeds distrust.

    The poster was entirely correct in this: you, Phil, are not equipped to evaluate the results you trumpeted. Medical science operates on a higher standard of proof than does astronomy. (In medicine, a generation-old speculation doesn’t generally count as fact.) The results did not, in fact, justify the degree of confidence you expressed, particularly not with an exclamation mark.

    Vaccines are unquestionably a force for social good, *on balance*. They are not an unalloyed good. Some vaccine batches are bad. Arthur Clarke’s polio (which left him wheelchair-bound for life) was caused by a vaccine. A measles epidemic (75% mortality in some groups) among the Yanomamo in Venezuela was apparently caused by ill-administered vaccination. The US federal agency responsible for recalling “hot batches” has yet to respond in time to recall even one. Dishonesty about potential vaccine problems does not serve the public interest, however well-justified you may feel participating in such dishonesty.

  7. Dan

    That pretty much blew my irony meter into itty-bitty pieces. There aren’t even shards. It’s just turned to dust.

  8. Jefs

    @Nathan Myers

    Nice straw man there dude…

  9. tacitus

    The tragedy of this issue is that its easy to see how well-meaning people get sucked into perpetuating the myths surrounding vaccines and autism. There is likely nothing more devastating than finding that your child has severe developmental difficulties which will not only affect the child itself, but the whole family for years to come. It’s only natural to want to find a cause, to find something or someone to blame and to direct their anger towards. It must be terribly difficult to come to terms with the situation when there’s no “bad guy” to blame.

    The real culprits are those would willfully peddle the toxic combination of suspicion and superstition that seeks to boost the nonsense of alternative medicine by accusing the medical establishment of wanting to keep us sick so they can continue to make money from us.

    But you can’t hope to stem the tide without stepping on a few toes. Continuing to erroneously blame vaccines for the cause of autism simply diverts resources away from finding the real root of the problem, and could result in many more lives being affected that would otherwise be necessary. So a few ruffled feathers should be the least of people’s worries. Allowing people to continue blathering on about such wrongheaded ideas without forcefully pushing back will likely do much more harm than good in the long run.

  10. Arthur Clarke and the Yanomamo incidents, both in the 60’s. Not really up to date examples.

  11. Jim Ortner

    I have to agree with Nathan Myers. You really need to do some more checking into some of the studies that don’t show links with vaccines and autism. Many of the studies are questionable when it comes to the group of subjects, who funded the study, how the statistics were computed, etc. I’ve researched this quite a bit as I have a child that has many autistic traits although he is not considered autistic.

    I still believe that vaccines are still necessary but more research still needs to be done on how all the vaccines react to each other and more studies still need to be done on thimerisol.

    What has caused such a spike in autism? I don’t believe it has to do with reporting. When I was growing up there were some kids with problems but not like I see with many kids today. Many of my kids friends have problems and I see it with quite a few students at the karate school we go to. We didn’t have all the kids with these problems when I took karate 25 years ago. Why such an outbreak now? If it was hereditary, then the numbers would have been much higher instead of the jump that’s occured in the last 20 years.

    Jim

  12. You tell em Steve-Dave

    Keep up the good work BA.

  13. I am very much in favour of vaccination. However, I’ve always felt – irrationally – that I’m slightly better off not having had the MMR shot. It’s a feeling that I can’t shake, despite the fact that consciously, I know better. As a child I was seriously allergic to eggs, and since the vaccine used to be cultured in eggs, it was very contraindicated… perhaps that’s the root of it.

    Of course I am immune to measles, mumps, and rubella. I became immune the old fashioned way: I’ve had measles, german measles, and mumps. Mumps was the only one I remember causing me much grief.

  14. stopgap

    Why not pass a law for mandatory vaccinations? That way there would be nothing they could do to not get the vaccinations. It will take away the worry of compromised herd immunity due lower use of vaccines. If they refuse there is always the option of tossing the parents into jail.

  15. I still believe that vaccines are still necessary but more research still needs to be done on how all the vaccines react to each other and more studies still need to be done on thimerisol.

    Do you believe that no more studies on this are being done?

  16. What has caused such a spike in autism?

    Probably better detection methods and a widening of the definition of autism. I’d like to see an analysis of, say, 10000 modern autism cases from the last 5 years… but using the definitions of autism circa 1970. That would give a better insight into whether or not we’re really seeing an increase, or if we’re just detecting/labelling more that we missed/didn’t care about 40 years ago.

    It’s like the spike in Alzheimers. It is likely that the increase in the occurrence of Alzheimers over the last 3 decades has more to do with better detection methods and extended lifespans (i.e. people live long enough to get the disease, and we notice that they do… rather than going a bit “senile” and dying off before the disease blooms) than anything environmental.

  17. Arnaud

    Jim Ortner

    Many of the studies are questionable when it comes to the group of subjects, who funded the study, how the statistics were computed, etc.

    As opposed to the original Wakefield study purporting to link MMR to autism and since discredited, a study made on 12 children?

    And yeah, anecdotal evidences, man?

  18. I’m a medical student (normal disclaimers apply: IANAD) and been following the debate here. Just thought I’d add a bit of evidence in favour of the whole “MMR doesn’t cause autism” thing. The gold-standard in evidence based-medicine is a Cochrane Review (essentially a well-performed meta-analysis of the literature). The Cochrane Library reviewed MMR in 2005 and found no evidence in favour of a link.

    Plain language summary as follows:
    Measles, mumps and rubella are three very dangerous infectious diseases which cause a heavy disease, disability and death burden in the developing world. Researchers from the Cochrane Vaccines Field reviewed 139 studies conducted to assess the effects of the live attenuated combined vaccine to prevent measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) in children. MMR protects children against infections of the upper airways but very rarely may cause a benign form of bleeding under the skin and milder forms of measles, mumps and rubella. No credible evidence of an involvement of MMR with either autism or Crohn’s disease was found. No field studies of the vaccine’s effectiveness were found but the impact of mass immunisation on the elimination of the diseases has been demonstrated worldwide.

  19. tailgunner

    just a quick note: it’s actually “ad nauseam” in Latin. Yeah, I split hairs, it gives me a sense of enormous well being

  20. John Giotta

    I’m a parent of an ASD child. My wife is a vacc opponent where as I am a proponent.

    My wife is actively seeking therapy from a well known DAN doctor. Of course, it generates much conflict between us. Here are the arguments I hear regularly:

    1) “Thimerosal existed in some manufactured vaccines and was taken out, so it must be dangerous and obviously still exists on (hospital) shelves.”

    2) “ASD isn’t caused by one vaccine, but the concoction of vaccines.”

    3) “Hair, waste, and fluid analysis shows high amounts of (toxic) heavy metals, so where do that come from if not vaccines.”

    4) “Foreign studies aren’t conclusive because are not here (the US).”

  21. Nathan Myers

    Jefs: not a strawman. Phil has expressed his preference for dishonest promotion (for what he insists are excellent reasons; still) over scientific accuracy. You too, apparently.

  22. Andy C

    I didn’t comment on the first post, so…. good job Phil.

    Sadly, no amount of data will ever convince some people. Here in the UK, measles outbreaks hit record highs last year, with MMR uptake still well below the target 95%.

    @Nathan Myers… dishonesty? I didn’t have to look too hard to find discussions about vaccination side-effects from ‘people in positions of responsibility’, and when I went to get my MMR booster not-so-long ago, I was informed (as expected) of the potential side-effects before being given the shot.

    > Medical science operates on a higher standard of proof than does astronomy.

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=106

  23. Alan

    “Jefs: not a strawman. Phil has expressed his preference for dishonest promotion (for what he insists are excellent reasons; still) over scientific accuracy. You too, apparently.”

    Wow, Phil prefers dishonesty over scientific accuracy? I missed that one somewhere; could you point me to one of his posts where he said so?

  24. The poster was entirely correct in this: you, Phil, are not equipped to evaluate the results you trumpeted. Medical science operates on a higher standard of proof than does astronomy.

    What?!!! – Although Medical Science is a strong and respected field, in what way is the standard of proof any stronger than Astronomy?

    1. Peer reviewed journals (check)
    2. Designed experiements/observations to test hypothesies (check)
    3. Acceptance of debate and analysis by peers (check)
    4. Doctorate level degrees and years of training (check)

    What more are you looking for? I see medical science and astronomy as pretty even in terms of scientific rigor. If anything, Astronomy might have the slight edge due to the variability of dealing with biological conditions and trying to account for all factors in medicine.

    Now, if you were talking in the distant past? Let’s not even mention things like Phrenology and Snake Oil Medicine. Talk about age old beliefs or just good old fashioned superstition subsitituing for Science…..

    I’d stack any modern Astronomer up against any modern Medical Researcher on a scientific basis any day. (Note I did NOT say doctor – Medical Doctors are not necessarily scientists, although some are).

  25. If people don’t want to be vaccinated against disease (A successful public health policy which has been conclusively proven to reduce overall mortality), then by all means, let them and their children die horribly and prematurely of the awful diseases they would otherwise be protected from.

    If the parties who want to believe that ‘big Pharma’ manipulates the media to discredit a supposed link between say, the MMR vaccine and Autism; that is their choice. However, having refused such prevention, they should in turn be refused treatment for the disease (Such as Measles, Mumps or Rubella for example), or have it not covered by their personal health insurance.

    As one who has seen, first hand, the results of non vaccination for Rubella; believe me, it ain’t pretty. I can still recall children with Polio.

    For those who would still refuse vaccination after due consideration; well, just think of it as evolution in action, eh?

  26. Jon

    I did some reading on the anti-vax crowd and stumbled upon this gem, courtesy of Jenny McCccarthy:

    I believe that parents’ anecdotal information is science-based information. And when the entire world is screaming the same thing — doctor, I came home. He had a fever. He stopped speaking and then he became autistic. I can’t — I can see if it was just one parent saying this. But when so many — and I speak to thousands of moms every weekend and they’re all standing up and saying the same thing. It’s time to start listening to that. That is science-based information. Parents’ anecdotal is science-based information.

    WHAT?? I’ll admit, I laughed at first, but then I thought about what that really meant. Anecdotal evidence taking precedence over scientific evidence? No thank you! How could one be so horribly misguided?

  27. John Giotta, If you haven’t visited Orac’s blo I suggest it. He’s very knowledgeable in the discussion and has links to many other resources that answer all of those questions.

    I expect the Anti-vaxers will moan and bitch about this suggestion, but none the less I make it.

  28. JakeR

    Minor quibble, Phil: In your last paragraph you meant “couch,” rather than “coach.” What with Tailgunner’s hairsplitting, you now have four hairs where two previously existed, thereby proving that your article is otherwise dead right.

  29. GrumpySilk

    “Why not pass a law for mandatory vaccinations? That way there would be nothing they could do to not get the vaccinations. It will take away the worry of compromised herd immunity due lower use of vaccines. If they refuse there is always the option of tossing the parents into jail.”

    None if this is to deny that there is an essential need for children to receive vaccines, indeed I am vehemently opposed to the arguments propounded by the antivax advocates if one may label them as such. Nonetheless, an argument which proposes the mandatory institutionalisation for vaccines is surely morally untenable. Individuals have a right to refuse medical treatment and rights trump – at least over some range – bad consequences. It is not merely that it is permissible for individuals to refuse treatment, but it is prohibited to compel an individual to have treatment against their will. It is an invasion of their bodily autonomy to force them to have injections. We simply have to accept this as the price to be paid for not violating the rights of the individual.
    Nevertheless, one may refute this argument on the grounds that the parent is “harming” the bodily integrity of the child by denying the option of medical vaccination, but to argue for mandatory vaccinations without qualification may be subject to abuse in extremis.

  30. GrumpySilk

    On a somewhat more satirical note I hereby nominate those advocates of antivax for the 2008 Darwin Awards…”Honoring those who improve the species…by accidentally removing themselves from it!”

  31. xf

    Why not pass a law for mandatory vaccinations?

    Stupid congressmen.

  32. infidel

    “Why not pass a law for mandatory vaccinations? That way there would be nothing they could do to not get the vaccinations. It will take away the worry of compromised herd immunity due lower use of vaccines. If they refuse there is always the option of tossing the parents into jail.”

    I sincerely hope you are begin satirical because that is a horrible horrible slippery slope to start down.

    :-O

  33. davidlpf

    GrumpySilk, unfortunely they are not removing themselves but removing their children or other peoples from the gene pool.

  34. Nathan Myers

    Alan: Phil insists he’s qualified to interpret results of medical studies. That’s obviously not true. He knows it’s not true, however much he wishes otherwise. When one says what one knows is not true, that’s dishonest. QED. (No, wishing doesn’t count.) Other examples left as exercises for the reader.

    Vaccinations are already, for all practical purposes, mandatory. That’s a big part of why tensions are so high.

  35. Rik

    I have a long history of working with Autistic children in several different forums. They have my full support and I hope someday we do find the cause. It may actually hurt the primary agenda of finding successful treatments if so much energy is put into fighting vaccines which are clearly not the cause of Autism.

  36. davidlpf

    Nathan what makes you such an expert.

  37. GrumpySilk

    “GrumpySilk, unfortunely they are not removing themselves but removing their children or other peoples from the gene pool.”

    davidlpf, I could not agree more with this statement, and as a parent I find it incomprehensibly difficult to appreciate how a parent may subject their child to the dangers of possible death.
    The issue that I ardently contest however would be for state legislation which mandates medical vaccination. As infidel observes, the logical slippery slope which may materialise from this position would be ethically indefensible!

  38. Nathan, that is patently ridiculous. Interpreting graphs isn’t difficult if you know how. Reading journal papers isn’t hard either. Go to the conclusion section. See what the authors said.

    Or, ask yourself, what does the CDC say about this? Then look it up. Find out it says vaccines don’t cause autism.

    Your argument is somewhere between a strawman and an ad hominem. Or would you actually want to tackle the content of those studies?

  39. Geekoid

    Jones – In a vaccinated person the virus doesn’t mutate, in an un-vaccinated person it does. As such it’s a risk to everybody. Not even mentioning all the children that will die because there parents choose to ignore science. I hope all the kids that get shingles in their 50’s remember it was their parents fault for not vaccinating them against Chicken pox.

    For the people asking about Vaccines being mandatory – In many school districts they are mandatory for your child … however they can get a waiver for religious beliefs. A waver that doesn’t need to actually be confirmed against any theology.

    I suspect when the next outbreak comes around, it will become completely mandatory and possible given is schools.

    Nathan – “Phil insists he’s qualified to interpret results of medical studies. ”
    Why not? They aren’t that hard to understand.

    Phil is certianly trained to understand the studies performed, and understand their results

    All of this is besides the point, and a Strawman you are creating. The people who DID THE STUDIES came to this conclusion as well.
    These studies have been done several time, and have been very public but the anti-vaccine crowd doesn’t really like to look at things called ‘facts’.

    As I said above, the ‘mandatory’ requirement is trivial to get around. Personally, I think there should be no exception at all unless the person has an allergy to the other ingredients in the shot. This is a public health issue, a critical one.

  40. Helioprogenus

    There will never be any amount of information discrediting the autism-vaccine link to cause some people to accept and acknowledge that vaccines don’t cause autism. All the recently released studies have shown that thimerisol, although toxic in high levels, is not the root cause of autism. There are many children exposed to heavy metals such as lead and mercury vapors that exhibit developmental deficiencies, but they don’t mirror those symptoms of autism. Before lead paints were known to be such health hazards, many children had developmental problems, but they would not be considered autistic. The other problem is that there isn’t one type of autism, but a wide range of spectra. If it was vaccinations causing autism, then the correlation between children who are routinely and regularly vaccinated and those thave are sporadically vaccinated would be damning, yet, even in those instances, there isn’t any correlation. For example, checking to see whether high functioning autistic children were vaccinated less then the severely disabled children would be one possible link, yet that has never been proven.

    Ultimately, as some posters have already said, it comes down to faith. If you believe something hard enough, no amount of evidence to the contrary will change your mind. That is unless you strain to constantly maintain a healthy sense of scepticism, warranted with an empirical and fact-based understanding of the world. Stick with the scientific method, and it shall eventually unveil the truth about this matter. All the research money going into finding links between autism and vaccinations is wasted, when in effect, better treatment methods, and identifying factors are probably just a few years away. We all sympathise with families dealing with this pain, and we’re not attempting to destroy hope, but fostering a better understanding, and perhaps enlightenment on autism spectral disorders (without irrational conjectures and faith-based analysis).

  41. Will

    @Nathan

    So, let me understand the logic…

    Phil himself didn’t conduct the medical studies he linked to, THEREFORE he is not allowed to talk about them, and also somehow THEREFORE the studies are not valid, THEREFORE vaccines _do_ cause autism?

    Wow… and I thought creationists had illogical arguments…

  42. Ultimately, as some posters have already said, it comes down to faith. If you believe something hard enough, no amount of evidence to the contrary will change your mind.

    Yep, it’s become like a religion to them. It answers questions as to why it happened to their child, gives them a bad guy and lets them focus on something.

    I understand why some latch on to the anti-vax message the same way I understand why creationists latch onto creationism.

  43. davidlpf

    Nathan please read the following wiki article about argument from authority. While the BA is not expect in medicine he can still read graphs and scientific research better then say an ex playboy model, actor or anybody else who is considered an expert. Plus it was mentioned above by a current medical student that there has been meta study on the subject that shows there is no direct connection between autism and vaccinations.

  44. sci_tchr

    I am old enough to have experienced the time before the polio vaccination. I have several relatives that were stricken with the disease. I also grew up with a number of friends that had to walk with canes and braces. Not everyone survived a bout with polio. Those that did bore the effects for the rest of their lives. I know this is anecdotal but I could supply names to back it up.

    After retiring from industry, I began teaching in public schools. After ten years, I have not had a single student that has suffered from polio.

    I can still recall the “childhood” diseases that everyone suffered through. I am sure that there some that suffer side effects from vaccinations. In those cases, the cause should be investigated and eliminated or at least minimized. It should be based upon scientific investigations.

    I have five children. They are all healthy well educated adults. Fortunately, they had the benefit of modern medicine and vaccinations.

  45. “Medical science operates on a higher standard of proof than does astronomy.”

    This is quite an astounding statement. Can you provide evidence of that — hopefully unequivocal, as is that statement?

  46. Damon

    Oops! Looks like all of your info is outdated. Better luck next time, Phil.

    http://forum.prisonplanet.com/index.php?topic=39864.0

  47. Sailor

    “What has caused such a spike in autism? I don’t believe it has to do with reporting.”

    The short anwser is we do not know (and reporting is almost certainly a part of it). However a link has been found between the mental health problems of parents and autism in their children. (Remember this is statistical not absolute)

    http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2008/05/05/a-link-between-parents-mental-health-and-autism/

    I would suggest a hypothesis which could easily be wrong. That with better chemical treatments for things like depression and schizophrenia, more people with periodic mental problems are having kids successfully than would have been the case before such treatments were available. This could be one contributory factor to the increase.

  48. For people like me, It’s people like that that make me glad there are people like you to deal with people like that. Keep punching!

  49. Michel B.

    Greetings.
    As a person who is both a skeptic and an autist, two things very much bother me.

    First, the sheer intellectual dishonesty so common in the anti-vaccination movement is simply breathtaking. For some of these people, there can be literally no evidence that would change their minds. They have The Truth, and no mere clinical study is going to make any difference.

    Second, it bothers me that many of these people appear to be using ASD purely for political reasons, in an attempt to evoke strong emotions in lieu of actual argument. It worked. The emotion they have evoked in me is disgust.

    Thanks you, Phil. It’s always nice to see somebody come out against this flim-flam. I owe you some Minties for this.

  50. Glenn Schneider says: “‘Medical science operates on a higher standard of proof than does astronomy.’
    This is quite an astounding statement. Can you provide evidence of that — hopefully unequivocal, as is that statement?”

    My impression of that statement is that Glenn meant to say (and correct me if I’m wrong, Glenn) that the medical *industry* operates to higher standards.

    I spent 25 years moving between aerospace, automation/robotics and high vacuum/semiconductors (plasma chambers). I worked for the biggies, GE, Lockheed, Applied Materials, but it wasn’t until I went to work for a little start-up medical equipment company developing a chair-side blood separator that I really learned the meaning of rigor. Working to FDA standards is a nightmare, but it’s necessary because peoples’ lives are at stake. We had a PhD microbiologist at the VP level whose entire job was to review every protocol and report to make sure they were up to FDA standards.

    If you publish an astronomy paper and you’ve misinterpreted some data on nebula emissions, you might be professionally embarrassed, but no one is going to wind up dead or in a wheelchair for life because of it.

    On the topic at hand, I am firmly in the vaccination camp. I, too, am old enough (barely) to have a childhood friend whose older brother was a polio victim. I got the Salk vaccine and later the Sabin. Both of my kids had all of their vaccines as early as possible. The risks are minuscule and the benefits immense.

    – Jack

  51. Rodney

    To quote one of the guys on this site,

    “Nathan, what makes you such an expert?”

    I’d like to add: What is it that qualifies YOU to have a professional opinion on BA’s readiness to understand the data?

    I’m sure we’ll all be re-energized and challenged by your unique point of view…

    rod

    P.S. If it’s anything to do with the Enterprise Mission; I hope you answer before I finish my cheese fries.

    I want to truly enjoy them.

  52. Kerry Maxwell

    Phil, hope those checks from Big Pharma cleared OK! ;) As the parent of two autistic teens, I find nothing more pathetic than the mewling of soft-brained anti-vax conspiracy dimwits. Let’s hope we can look back on this fad in a few years the same way we view alien abductions and roller-disco now. Unfortunately, there may be more in common with Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate when the body count for anti-vax idiocy is tallied up a decade from now.

  53. Scott D.

    Over at Science-Based Medicine Dr. Steven Novella wrote a very good article about increases in autism diagnosis.

    here’s the link
    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=95

  54. space cadet

    Sorry I didn’t jump on this bandwagon sooner.

    Michael B: I haven’t read every comment word for word (obviously, there are several now), but you win the prize for using the newly coined term ‘ASD’ rather than ‘Autism.’ ‘Waddaya mean ASD?’ some readers may wonder.

    At least one commenter has pasted a link to SBM, but it was the wrong one. Go here: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=95#more-95. (Thanks, Dr. BA, for telling us about that site. It’s a daily read for me.)

  55. stopgap

    Damon “Oops! Looks like all of your info is outdated. Better luck next time, Phil.

    http://forum.prisonplanet.com/index.php?topic=39864.0

    The people on that forum a freaking nuts.

    “When are they going to start hanging these Vaccine pushers? The Amish don’t vaccinate their children and they don’t have autism- end of story.”

  56. space cadet

    to Scott D: you win.

  57. stopgap

    are*

    I guess the shock of the quote got to me a bit. Anyways these people are beyond rational.

  58. Michel B.

    space cadet:
    ASD is not a new term. At any rate, I used the words ‘autist’ and ‘ASD’ in my comment. Perhaps I don’t understand your point. I imagine that most readers would understand what I said.

  59. One Eyed Jack

    Let me preface this by stating that I haven’t studied this topic in depth.

    So, the superficial question I have is why people would think that vaccines would cause autism? Vaccines are nothing more than weakened/inactive viruses or antigens that give our own immune system a jump start so it recognizes and destroys the live virus if it’s ever encountered.

    What makes people think that activating our own immune system would lead to autism? Yes, I am aware that our immune systems can get off track and attack our own bodies, but the effects of those disorders are much different than autism.

    I guess I just don’t understand what mechanism they think occurs that links vaccines to autism. Yeah, I know I should go read up on this, but I’m lazy and out of time.

    OEJ

  60. Dom

    I am still young (21) and have no intention of having children anytime soon so its not much of an issue for me personally at the moment, but I will say one thing:

    Gotta appreciate the fact people are being skeptical about vaccines rather than just pumping their kids up with them. A bit of illness is good for general populations, its why the Europeans didn’t really suffer from American diseases but in contrast the Native Americans were nearly wiped out by European diseases.

    Having said that I will almost definitely vaccinate my future children. A vaccination is preferable to a potentially fatal disease regardless of the benefit to the general population. I suppose as time goes on we will just have to learn to rely more and more on medicine. Either that or eugenics.

  61. amphiox

    “Medical science operates on a higher standard of proof than does astronomy”

    Speaking as a neurosurgeon, I must say that I am in complete disagreement with the above statement. If anything, in my experience, the standard of proof in medical science is probably lower than that in astronomy or any other pure science, for many reasons, of which I’ll list just a few.

    1. Human beings are complicated critters with unpredictable behaviors, making it incredibly difficult (basically impossible) to control experiments as rigidly as one might want

    2. Certain kinds of experimental manipulations and experimental designs simply cannot be done for obvious ethical reasons

    3. A huge amount of the funding for experiments comes from sources with vested interests (pharmaceutical companies for example). We are dependent on these studies due to the magnitude of the funding disparity, but the resulting publication biases are well recognized

    4. We cannot always control the numbers in our experiments, and thus the statistical power, to the extent that we might like, as we are dependent often on the prevalence of diseases in often non-equivalent populations

    5. We must still treat patients to the best of our abilities even in the absence of evidence. There many, many conditions where the standard of care is little more than expert consensus based on a few small, shoddy studies (and many where the expert consensus and standard of care is a contradiction of the existing studies, a de facto rejection of the conclusions of the available studies because they are so shoddy)

    This is why we still talk about the ART and science of medicine.

  62. Nathan Myers

    Phil: Spurious accusations of strawmen/ad hominem, now? That’s an easy out. This isn’t the forum to “tackle those studies”, it’s an astronomy blog. Most reading it are no better equipped to evaluate arguments in detail than you are. The studies conclude what their authors say, which does not match what you say. Can you even tell the difference? Reading graphs is often easy, but interpreting the evidence that went into the graphs takes deep experience in that field, which you manifestly do not have. Honestly, you should have conceded that point immediately. Even interpreting the conclusions is not as easy as one might hope. Pretending to competency in interpreting medical studies is a doomed position for you, frankly.

    As an example of a detail that matters, what does the vertical line really mean: did *no* vaccines injected after that point contain mercury? Or was that just when new batches didn’t contain them? Suppose the supplies containing mercury ran out right near the knee of the graph. Would your conclusion remain the same? (It is a fact that vaccines containing mercury compounds were still being administered in the U.S. well after 2000.)

    Glenn: Very few people have any reason to care what flights of fancy astronomers indulge in — least of all, it sometimes seems, astronomers themselves. Manifestly many people do care, for (even here!) painfully obvious reasons, about the consequences of depending on medical results. The consequences of error can be severe.

    Todd: Behavioral psychology had all the trappings of scientific rigor that astronomy does today; all it lacked was validity.

    Geekoid: The authors of studies I have read invariably draw vastly more restricted conclusions from their results than do those promoting them (typically) as proof that all vaccines everywhere are categorically beyond reproach. People conducting the studies have generally been scrupulous; people promoting them are liars in support of what they insist is a good cause, blind trust in vaccine vendors. Regardless of the cause’s merits, lying to promote trust is doomed to fail.

    Will: speaking of strawmen…

    Can you tell the difference between “anti-vaxx” and “anti-dishonesty-about-vaxx”? I suppose that by attacking me you are coming out in favor of dishonesty about vaccines. Right? Please try to stick to the facts. For example: Lying about the safety of vaccines promotes distrust of of those promoting vaccination. Distrust leads to reduced vaccination rates. Reduced vaccination rates lead to increased incidence of disease. Increased incidence of disease is a Bad Thing.

  63. amphiox

    Vaccination is not within the specific field of expertise of my branch of medicine, so my understanding of the science of it is general.

    However, I have always believed that vaccination is more than just a scientific issue, or a question of personal health choice. It is an ethical issue as well.

    When you get yourself or your children vaccinated, you are not just protecting yourself, you are protecting everyone around you. Vaccination is an act of collective health promotion. If you refuse to vaccinate yourself or your children, you are effectively sponging off the collective immunity of those around you. This would not matter if vaccines had no risks, but vaccines do have risks (they are rare, but they can sometimes be very serious, and autism is NOT one of them, according to the best available (and admittedly imperfect) evidence we currently have). It is therefore a social contract where the risks and benefits are collectively shared by all, with an exemption for a small minority of people who cannot safely have vaccinations for various reasons. Refusing to vaccinate oneself is a violation of this contract, a form of cheating that in my opinion is highly unethical.

    Now I do not support making it a crime not to vaccinate one’s children or making vaccinations mandatory. But I do support efforts to educate and persuade people that voluntary vaccination is more than just an act of self-protection, but one of civil charity as well.

  64. Nathan Myers

    Just to be clear: I’m not saying the graph demonstrates the opposite of Phil’s assertion. I’m saying (1) the graph doesn’t demonstrate anything, and (2) saying it demonstrates something indicates something between naivete and dishonesty, depending on how much you know.

  65. Nathan, my calling you out on your comment is not spurious. You are not attacking the claims, you are attacking me, saying I am unfit to read a graph or read a journal. I am not qualified to know if a study was done correctly, sure, but that’s why we have peer review.

    But twenty years as a scientist does give me a slight heads-up on the scientific method, and the bases of scientific research.

  66. davidlpf
  67. Nathan the bigger picture isn’t about the one graph, it’s about all the major studies done that show no link and actually provide evidence against the link.

    You fixating on this one graph (yes I understand why) doesn’t change the facts.

  68. John Giotta

    Came home, read my post, and realized I had opponent and proponent reversed.

    Rev. BigDumbChimp – I’m actually a subscriber to Orac’s blog.

  69. Now you know what those of us who debate autism day in and day out have to deal with. I don’t even post my email address on my blog. Some friends in this debate, who are not pseudonymous, have even been harassed through the legal system.

    There are substantial litigation interests in the world of autism. See neurodiversity.com.

  70. MNPundit

    Well there are actually quite a lot of them out there, and they cross the political spectrum. Realistically, I think politicians should always say “we should get more information and do more studies…” and then just not do anything because there’s actually no need for more tests.

  71. Just to be clear: I’m not saying the graph demonstrates the opposite of Phil’s assertion. I’m saying (1) the graph doesn’t demonstrate anything, and (2) saying it demonstrates something indicates something between naivete and dishonesty, depending on how much you know.

    I suggested before that a California graph would be more clear for various reasons. What does it demonstrate? It falsifies a specific hypothesis, expressed for example by Mark Blaxill in 2001; which is that autism prevalence increased concurrent to a thimerosal exposure increase. The hypothesis implies that California counts are accurate (although they likely are not). Therefore, if you assume the hypothesis is true, the hypothesis is immediately falsified. It’s as simple as that.

    The hypothesis made specific predictions, accepted by people like David Kirby and JB Handley, who had stated the hypothesis needed to be reexamined if the predictions failed. The predictions did fail. That’s called falsification in science. The continued advocacy by the mercury militia that followed this is no longer science; it’s pseudo-science.

  72. JB

    Phil,

    Arguing with the antivaxers is a no-win situation. It’s like arguing with creationists. Whenever they get close to the losing end of the discussion and whenever they get overwhelmed with facts contrary to their belief, they will start with ad hominem attacks. It does not matter how many scientific papers and studies you point them to.

    It’s not worth it Phil. These people are not worth it.

    For what it’s worth, you have exposed these people for what they really are: foaming at the mouth, stark raving lunatics.

    Hey, maybe we need a hot celebrity (or three!) to promote the real facts about vaccines.

  73. Tom

    I’d always thought that the antivac parents were people who had a problem with vaccination because they thought that the possibility of their kid becoming autistic was more realistic than their kid dying/crippled by disease.

    I though that these parents could not wrap their heads around the concept of families quarantined in their homes because of infections, of children dying before the age of five in outbreaks. My Grampa’s family spent nearly two months in quarantine as Measles and scarlet fever went through him & his sibs.

    As a geneologist, I’ve seen the death records full of dead children. My Nana told me of the weight that was lifted from her when they announced the polio vaccine, that she no longer had to be afraid of my Dad or his sibs ending up crippled or dead.

    My kids will be vaccinated.

  74. Nathan Myers

    Phil, the honest response would be to admit that you are not qualified to evaluate the results of medical studies, so you must rely on what you understand of the statements of those who are so qualified. To be scrupulous, you might verify your interpretation with the authors or equally qualified observers (no, not Orac) before posting it with exclamation marks.

    You have a fluffy blog with pretty pictures and lots of readers. Astronomical conclusions don’t matter very much, correct or not. In fifty years the pictures will be just as pretty, the present conclusions the subjects of much amusement. Medical conclusions do matter, and getting them exactly right matters. One might say it’s a matter of “life and death”. With all due respect to your 20 whole years in “science”, experience in one field just does not carry over to a fundamentally different field.

    You have not addressed any substantive point I have written, instead dwelling on spurious accusations. Have a care, your Skeptick’s License is in severe danger.

  75. Pat

    Wow… Dom, please go read a bit on what brought about the first cowpox vaccination for smallpox. If you are part of a population that has survived a disease, the only reason you don’t get it again is you have effectively been vaccinated. It’s not magic or evolution, necessarily. It’s sometimes luck and sometimes circumstance. If anything, the resulting depopulation of North America argues very strongly for vaccination.

    And Nathan: sorry to burst a bubble here, but people do pay attention to risk versus protection in vaccination. That’s why we don’t “require” an anthrax vaccination. The incidence of the disease is so very small, and the potential bad reaction, though relatively rare, is so severe as to mitigate against vaccination unless there really isn’t another option.

  76. Dagger

    Fear.

    Arguably the biggest motivator in the history of our species. Definitely the most ubiquitous.

    At one end of the scale, it can keep you alive. At the other, it can kill you. But the really interesting thing is, that without it (amongst other things), we likely never would have climbed our way out of the primordial ooze.

    Fear is a part of life. Everyone, everything alive, fears something. Sometimes, most times, many things. It can never be, nor should it be, eliminated. But it can be and always should be, controlled.

    How can it be controlled?
    Through knowledge and understanding. Most, if not all of us understand this on one level or another, no matter your point of view in this (or any other) arguement/discussion.

    The real danger lies when you fail to seek that knowledge, when you fail to seek that understanding. In doing so you allow the scale, your personal scale, to slide towards the end that you naturally wish to avoid.

    But perhaps worst of all is when that knowledge or understanding is ignored or misunderstood. When we ask a question, receive an answer, but fail to believe in the answer we receive, it’s akin to standing blindfolded on a mountain top with one step leading either to the safe path down or the sheer drop with the sudden stop.

    So what do you do?

    I’m not sure what you would do, but me, I’d take off the blindfold, ask more questions and be eternally grateful for those who keep trying to show me the safe path down.

  77. Pat

    Nathan, you’re disingenuous: you started off with a fallacy of effectively declaring nothing can be known until every vaccine is evaluated for autism. But we don’t have to perform to your standards to have an opinion on current research. Current research shows no links. Basic analysis would show that if vaccination was a cause, autism should have gone up among anyone ever getting a disease in childhood. That’s effectively vaccination with a much worse reaction.

    If it was mercury, then Hatter’s children should have been rampantly autistic up until the mid 1930’s, whereupon there should have been a decline. You seem to ignore that populations exist historically for each of the proposed scenarios, and when they don’t bear out the wild speculation about autistic causes, they are either ignored or discounted, or the focus shifts to something else. I’m sorry, the goalposts move.

    And why does Phil do this? I can’t speak for Phil, but it would appear, from evidence gathered from his site and blog, that he is against bad science in general. Anti vaccination arguments, as generally presented, are based on emotion and ignore evidence. They favor anecdotes and attempt to position them as data and rigorous analysis. Which anecdotes are not.

    I stand against the cargo-cult science of this new generation, a lower form than what Feynman addressed. It attempts to put together evidence in favor of a position while ignoring the scientific method, and I don’t blame Phil for pointing at people wearing coconut headphones.

  78. DLC

    Okay, first the BA isn’t qualified to evaluate a study, and now Orac isn’t qualified either ?
    Who is qualified, Nathan ?

  79. Rodney

    Nathan,

    YOU HAVE STILL NOT ANSWERED MY QUESTION!!!!

    And my cheese fries are finished, so I can’t enjoy a good laugh while I eat them. What a shame… I LOVE nuts.

    Why don’t you answer my question? Reveal your inner most self to us all!!! Provide me with the entertainment I, and my students crave…BE like “crazy gideon” help us laugh out loud…smash TV’s or something.

    Tell me how you got your P.H.D in philosophy, from West Coast University. Let me laugh at your “mental powers”. Please…

    As I said, I luv the nuts! Help me out, here.

    Answer the question: Why do you have a professional opinion of the BA’s science abilitly?

    Where did an “intellectual giant” like you go to school!!!

    I, and a few others, hang on every word…

    rod

    P.S.

    I’m trying to get “Time Cube Guy” out here (Long Beach). Maybe you’d fill in, if he can’t make it?

    Damn,

    We’d love you…PULEEEEZ consider it,

    We NEED a good laugh in the hood,

    rod

    I’ll personally give you a dollar! Guaranteed.

  80. silchan

    This is a wonderful piece of hate mail. You are rising up in the world! However, I must say, compared to the hate mail PZ gets, this is more like mild detestation mail^.^

  81. Zar

    “Can you site [sic] a study that shows a non-vaccinated child population, instead of a timerosal [sic]-free population? Didn’t think so.”

    I’m afraid I can’t, because most of these children are DEAD.

    Good lord, stopgap, that link is horrible! One of the posters seems to think that people in Stereotypical Africa (you know, Africa, the one big homogenous landmass where everyone is the same and everyone has the same down-to-earth standard of living and culture and history and whatnot) are better off. Because they don’t have vaccines. Or fluoride in their water (Preserve Our Essence!), just good ol’ fashioned, all-natural FECAL CONTAMINATION.

    If vaccines were responsible for autism, wouldn’t we have seen a huge spike in autism in the 50s when everyone got vaccinated against polio?

    I have never in my life met a practitioner or student of medicine who was anti-vaccine. This statement is kinda anecdotal, but I think it holds water considering my father is a primary care physician. And he has loads of doctor friends. And my old roommates were registered nurses. And my childhood friend is an EMT. And my brother is currently moving from pre-med to dentistry. And, oh yeah, I live and socialize in the med school dormitory for the Yale School of Medicine.

    Maybe we should all counter with lots of anecdotes, too. I was vaccinated and don’t have autism.

    Here’s why we have a rise in autism. In the old days, when someone was different, you’d write him off as stupid or weird. Now we recognize learning disorders and autism spectrum disorders, so we actually diagnose and try to help people with problems instead of giving them wedgies.

  82. Nathan Myers

    Rodney: I wish I could say your postings fail to measure up to the level of discourse Phil maintains here. Sadly, such an assessment would be false.

    But the pictures are fun.

  83. madge

    sorry. no time to read through every post here now but @ Nathan Myers…. Arthur C Clarke was diagnosed with post polio syndrome in 1988 after he contracted polio in 1959 HE WASN’T VACCINNATED!

  84. Nathan Myers

    Pat: I don’t know who you think you’re arguing with. I never claimed that no one responsible pays attention to vaccination risks. I never claimed that vaccines cause autism. I never claimed that mercury in vaccines causes autism. What I did write really is right there to read, just scroll up.

    Believe it or don’t, I *like* science, all kinds of science. I hate to see it abused and misrepresented, particularly by scientists. I have to admit my favorite scientists lately are biologists, because in my experience they are among the most scrupulous about what they know and don’t know, and what they know is very fun. (In that context, let me take the opportunity to promote Olivia Judson, http://judson.blogs.nytimes.com/ .)

  85. Rodney

    Nathan,

    But you’ve STILL never answered the question. Why are you an expert?

    We KNOW you’re not, by now, but that’s only because you didn’t answer the original posting.

    Be that as it may, I’d still rather laugh at you than “Time Cube Guy”, as he’s been “done” already (at MIT no less) ; you haven’t. Not in Long Beach anyway. I stand by my promise of a whole dollar if you actually speak in front of us. (Man, I can’t wait…) I’ll put up the buck myself, (hell between you and I, I’ll give you ten really, but don’t tell anyone, or I’ll be ruined)!

    Now, would it be too much trouble for you to answer davidlpf’s original question? A question that I have repeated and you have been conspicuous in your insistence NOT to answer?!

    I’m still holding out that we can get you INSTEAD of “time cube guy”, I’m outnumbered but I’m fighting the good fight!

    Do you have any “fossils” that you’ve found in your back yard? That will help my cause mightily…

    I’m really on baited breath here,

    rod

  86. Rand

    One of the worst parts of spouting things like “creationism is child abuse” is that it’s really crying wolf. We get crap like this, people willing to risk *epidemics* because they think there’s a risk of autism which is completely unsubstantiated.

    I mean, hey, wasn’t polio awesome? Yeah, let’s bring that back because autism signs generally start to show up at the same age as immunization.

  87. csrster

    B. said: “Arguing with the antivaxers is a no-win situation. It’s like arguing with creationists.”

    I disagree. No you won’t convince the true believers, but there are a mass of ordinary people out there who are ready to give credence to the anti-vaxers superficially convincing arguments. They are the ones the pro-science community needs to be reaching and that means answering the anti-vaxers convincingly and rationally wherever we can.

  88. Antti

    What’s worse, vaccinations cause unnatural selection among viruses and may lead to evolution among the affected germ populations!

    Anecdotal evidence also links vaccinations to atheism!

    Vaccinations also unfairly shrink the market of faith-based remedies!

  89. Guysmiley

    My god, the anti-vaccine whackos are worse than the moon landing hoaxers. I do think “Nathan Myers” is just trolling for a flame war though.

  90. TEO

    Nathan are you wearing your tinfoil hat? Your behavior is expected since you know deep inside that you’re threading thin ice. Stop your ramblings and provide us with some real evidence please.

    My guess is that you

    a. Ignore me.

    b. do a ad hominen.

    c. Actually supplies evidence. But this ain’t gonna happen or will it?

  91. Nathan, what are your qualifications?

  92. TheProbe

    JB said:

    Arguing with the antivaxers is a no-win situation. It’s like arguing with creationists. Whenever they get close to the losing end of the discussion and whenever they get overwhelmed with facts contrary to their belief, they will start with ad hominem attacks. It does not matter how many scientific papers and studies you point them to.

    It’s not worth it Phil. These people are not worth it.

    For what it’s worth, you have exposed these people for what they really are: foaming at the mouth, stark raving lunatics.

    Hey, maybe we need a hot celebrity (or three!) to promote the real facts about vaccines.

    Me:

    To argue with the true believer anti-vaxer is an utter waste of time, as you point out. They are equipped with all of their questionable studies, etc. and can appear to be knowledgeable about vaccines. Often, they shroud their anti-vax argument in some other issue, like the Thimerosal one.

    Pointing them to studies and papers is pointless. They have their stock explanations of why facts that do not support their positions are not valid.

    When debating them, knowing their hot buttons is useful, as pressing one often creates an eruption of spewing. Citing experts, like Paul Offitt, is one sure fire way to cause an eruption. Just mention that Offitt stated that a child can handle 10,000 antigens, and they will start to bubble. Be careful, though, as they will substitute vaccine for antigen, and, reminding them that they are playing word games will cause a full blown Mt. St. Helens.

    And, the one thing that they cannot possibly answer, when they raise their conspiracy crapola to reject one or two epidemiological studies, is the simple fact that ALL epidemiological studies have reached the same conclusion, i.e. that there is no connection between vaccines, their contents, and autism.

  93. Kingthorin

    @ Nathan Myers

    “A measles epidemic (75% mortality in some groups) among the Yanomamo in Venezuela was apparently caused by ill-administered vaccination.”

    This is exactly what Phil is talking about. Blaming the vaccine for the incompetence of some nurses is illogical.

    BTW way to cite sources! I’m pretty sure Arthur Clarke died from complications around post-polio syndrome which means he actually had polio. While you could argue that his polio vaccination ended up giving him a full blown case of polio I was unable to find anything which stated so. Perhaps you care to cite the relevant info?

    @ Jones

    “If the parties who want to believe that ‘big Pharma’ manipulates the media to discredit a supposed link between say, the MMR vaccine and Autism; that is their choice. However, having refused such prevention, they should in turn be refused treatment for the disease (Such as Measles, Mumps or Rubella for example), or have it not covered by their personal health insurance.”

    Excellent point….I completely agree! Let natural selection do it’s thing.

    @ GrumpySilk
    “Individuals have a right to refuse medical treatment and rights trump – at least over some range – bad consequences.”

    I agree, however, the people that make that choice should then be forced to live with those bad consequences. They should not be expecting free service at clinics/hospitals or coverage from medical insurance providers.

    @ Everyone/General
    Overall I see this debate being kind of like the whole “do cellphones cause cancer/health issues” debate or “Mac vs PC”.

  94. WScott

    Nathan’s position seems to be that medical doctors are the only people qualified to interpret medical studies. Which makes one wonder how many doctors there are among the anti-vax crowd? (That’s a rhetorical question – I’m pretty sure I know the answer.)

  95. Calli Arcale

    “Good lord, stopgap, that link is horrible! One of the posters seems to think that people in Stereotypical Africa (you know, Africa, the one big homogenous landmass where everyone is the same and everyone has the same down-to-earth standard of living and culture and history and whatnot) are better off. Because they don’t have vaccines. Or fluoride in their water (Preserve Our Essence!), just good ol’ fashioned, all-natural FECAL CONTAMINATION.”

    Don’t forget Guinea Worms. Yay! Life’s so much better in sub-saharan Africa, where crushing poverty denies people access to modern medicine!

  96. Actually, all of you are perpetrating a fraud. We know what causes autism: the Internet.

    Think about it. You never heard about autism before the early ’90s, just as that whole “world wide web” thing started taking off, now, did you?

    And there are far fewer studies refuting the link between autism and the Internet than there are debunking the link with vaccines–none, in fact. That’s evidence you can take to the bank.

    In fact, I have some honest-to-goodness scientific advice for all those people concerned about autism’s link to vaccines: forget about vaccines, and get off the Internet. Now. Don’t even finish reading this comment if you don’t have to. Cut the cord with scissors, sue your ISP, whatever it takes. Just get off immediately.

    Your kids will thank you later, and I’m sure the people on this forum will endorse this course of action as well.

  97. Jeff Licquia has a point. 90% of all /b/ members have Aspergers Syndrome, which is an autistic-spectrum disorder.

    And 76% of all statistics are made up on the fly.

    And AOLers are responsible 4 tlkn lik tis lol.

    Anyhoo, even if vaccines cause autism (and they don’t), autistic children are better than dead children unless you’re one of those CULL THE WORLD freaks.

  98. Nathan Myers

    TEO: 1.

    WScott: No, medical doctors typically are not qualified either. Most aren’t scientists at all, but technicians. (Not that theres anything wrong with that! Civilization would collapse without technicians, and technicians know much that scientists never will.)

    Look, this is really not difficult to get. Phil really does understand this, despite his bluster. When you’re “familiar with the literature”, you’ve read a few hundred papers, particularly including the seminal ones everyone cites, and had the more difficult ones explained to you by your professor, and been savaged by referees. In some fields (not astronomy), you’ve performed lab experiments and discovered hundreds of ways to accidentally invalidate your own results.

    Within a “literature”, much goes unsaid. When a paper says “X is Y”, it is often shorthand for “X is Y, which is to say not Z or W as some insist, but it might really be M which we can’t distinguish from Y yet.” Furthermore, X and Y are not the dictionary meanings of those words. The literature has its own, more precise, distinctly unintuitive meaning. No matter how godlike your intelligence, and how many years you’ve spent “doing science”, without a grounding in a particular literature you just don’t really know what a simple statement “X is Y” means. Therefore, Phil insisting he’s equipped to interpret medical studies all by his lonesome is just blowing smoke.

    Now, survey articles are meant for a wider audience, but scientists steeped in a literature for decades really aren’t very good at rooting out all the unsaid assumptions they are used to relying on. So, even the conclusion of a survey article often means very different things to an expert than to somebody outside the field.

    Phil’s self-assessment of godlike intelligence may or may not be correct. To interpret papers from any random literature reliably enough to put your interpretation behind an exclamation point, though, takes omniscience, which I doubt even Phil will claim.

  99. Actually, all of you are perpetrating a fraud. We know what causes autism: the Internet.

    Think about it. You never heard about autism before the early ’90s, just as that whole “world wide web” thing started taking off, now, did you?

    @Jeff Licquia: I’m not sure if you’re serious, but you’re actually closer to the right track than you might think. I’ve written about this hypothesis before. The internet drives awareness. Pediatricians are not very good at recognizing autism, and they are not qualified to diagnose it. What is necessary for an autism diagnosis is parents who already suspect autism and take a child to an specialist.

    I’ve actually graphed internet penetration vs. administrative prevalence of autism at the US state level, although I haven’t written about this yet. There is a clear trend. Even if you control for population density or wealth, there’s still a trend.

  100. So Nathan is your sole point that Phil is not qualified to interpret this one graph? If that is so what about the CDC and the AAP? Are they qualified to interpret data concerning any Autism Vaccination link?

  101. Pat

    Nathan, you stated:

    If people in positions of responsibility were not so reflexively dishonest about vaccine problems, the distrust problem would not be so great. As it is, every study not finding a particular problem in a particular vaccine and a particular population has been promoted as vindicating all vaccines everywhere. Each such promotion is obviously false, and (assuming competence in the promoter) dishonest. Hey, guess what? Dishonesty breeds distrust.

    My point on anthrax was that “people in positions of responsibility” were not reflexively dishonest. Risks exist, and on balance the weight is correct. Distance diminishes the perceived risk of polio only because we don’t see polio anymore. We still need the vaccine.

    My point was also that you’d claimed the above: “…every study not finding a particualr problem in a particular vaccine and a particular population has been promoted as vindicating all vaccines everywhere. Each such promotion is obviously false and … dishonest.”

    This is the classic moving the goalposts, and in response I cited that every vaccine doesn’t need to be evaluated for autism because evidence from before and after both widespread vaccination and mercury regulation did not bear out the assumed conclusion of cause-effect. You appear to eschew logic in looking at this issue in favor of a “vaccine cause of the gaps.” I apologize if I misconstrued the above statement as declaring you wouldn’t rule out vaccination in general until all vaccines had been withheld from control populations large enough and long enough so you could make sure. A suggestion breathtaking in its potential ethical consequences, but apparently the only one conclusive “enough.”

    I just am quite certain that even that would not be enough to convince you, as you’d insist we hadn’t evaluated pollution plus vaccines plus television to rule out the combination.

  102. Space Cadet

    Michael B,

    The SBM article suggests that the unexpected rise in ‘autism’ diagonses is due to an expansion of the diagnosis rather than an increase in patients with particular symptoms, hence the expansion of the name from ‘Autism’ to Autism Syndrom Disorder (or something simular, been a while since I read it). The article points out correlating increases in ASD diagnoses with decreases in other language disorders. Same number of sick folks, just another name for what they have. Certainly, no offense meant.

  103. Michel B.

    Space Cadet:
    No offence taken, certainly.
    I use the term ASD partly because it is generally considered to be the correct umbrella term these days, and partly because it’s fairly commonly used in the ASD community itself. I do sometimes forget that it doesn’t really have much currency amongst the general public yet.

    To nitpick: not all ASD people have problems with language. Unless one considers pedantic usage or formality to be problematic, of course. As you might have guessed by now, I do not:)

  104. The best pro-vax argument I have ever heard (and I admit its pretty much anecdotal), was when I took my son for his polio vaccine and my then 10-year-old stepdaughter asked, “What’s polio?”.

  105. Michel B.

    Beche-la-mer:
    That about sums it up, I think.
    I had a similar moment, where my son asked my mother what that odd scar on her shoulder was. When I explained what smallpox was, he was horrified. The mere fact that a person can grow to the age of 13 without ever knowing what smallpox is testifies to the utility of vaccination.

  106. Nathan Myers

    Pat: Again, it’s far from clear who you think you’re arguing with. What is it I’m supposed to be “convinced” of? That conclusions X(i) from N studies must imply that barely-related claims Y(j) must all be justified, so long as N is large enough? I’m not among the people you want convinced, in any case.

    Distrust of vaccines is at a high, with correspondingly reduced vaccination rates. That didn’t happen by itself. Blaming “crazies” is disingenuous; “crazies” have very little effect on most facets of public life. The distrust was generated by the actions of people in positions of responsibility. Distrust will not be resolved by labeling people as crazies. Trust is earned by transparently scrupulous behavior. Fluffy astronomy bloggers posting behind exclamation marks does not qualify as transparently scrupulous behavior. Leveling random accusations at people concerned about high levels of distrust doesn’t help either.

  107. Pat

    Nathan:
    Dutifully, after you commented, I provided the quoted passage in question. You now dismiss this as being relevant, oddly echoing dismissal of studies as not perfectly answering whatever allegations you choose to level.

    But you seem to hold on to this lack of logic as a mainstay, now blaming providers of vaccines as culpable instead of the spurious scaremongerers who started these bizarre associations in the first place. I suppose the WHO is to blame for the scaremongering that polio vaccination in Africa is actually spreading HIV.

    You know, Nathan, I suppose you are correct. Everyone is to blame for the spreading of unfounded ridiculous rumors except for the people who start and repeat them. And every denial of them plays into the conspiracy theories, so there should be no denials. Or critical thinking, since that also seems to feed the distrust. We all know that intellectuals can’t be trusted. They think too much.

    So, so true, Nathan.

  108. Nathan Myers

    Pat: I see that you prefer to blame me, personally, for having somehow initiated and sustained the rumors, over discussing why they have taken root and fluourished, or how that might be prevented in the future. Your own behavior is an excellent example why suspicion fluorishes. Good day.

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