…but how do we recover from Jenny McCarthy?

By Phil Plait | October 20, 2008 11:20 pm

As I mentioned, I’m no fan of Jenny McCarthy. Her antivaccination stance is totally without merit, and in fact her status as a public spokesman for that movement constitutes a public health hazard.

Let me take a moment here to say something very carefully. I am a parent. I love my daughter, and want to protect her as much as is healthy for her. I understand that instinctive need to care for a child. While I have not gone through what must be an agonizing experience for a parent of an autistic child, I’ve had my taste of such things when my own daughter was ill, or in an accident.

Talking about kids with autism is a topic filled with emotion. Any time a topic invokes a strong emotional response, critical thinking is the first victim. People are less likely to listen to hard evidence and more willing to accept anecdotal evidence — that is, stories that support their pre-existing beliefs, even if those beliefs are completely wrong. Ms. McCarthy and the antivaxxers have lots of anecdotes, but the real evidence is totally against them. Remember, as hard as it is to talk about this, the ramifications are very, very real: outbreaks of diseases are on the rise because antivaxxers are scaring people into not vaccinating their children.

So we must talk about this.

Ms. McCarthy has an autistic son. Or, according to her, he was autistic; now she’s claiming her son has been cured of autism. She makes this claim in an Us magazine interview, saying changing his diet by removing wheat and dairy products has cured him. In this puff piece, there is not a single medical person contacted (just a general statement saying "doctors have accused her of creating fear of necessary vaccines"), not a single mention that there is no evidence of a relationship between vaccines and autism and in fact strong evidence against such a relationship, and not a single statement that McCarthy might be wrong — actually, is certainly wrong — about vaccination.

In fact, they didn’t even ask her if a doctor had corroborated her diagnosis that her son is cured.

I am not accusing Ms. McCarthy of lying; in fact I think she is a caring parent who loves her son, but who has taken the decidedly wrong path of science denial. But I am very curious about her saying her son was cured. While the press (in the form of Us magazine) has been positive over this, it has not been at all investigative of her claims. We have not seen any diagnoses of her son, for example. Again, I am not accusing her of lying, but let’s bear in mind the seriousness of her claim: she is saying her son is no longer autistic, and that she cured him by changing his diet.

This is a incredibly serious claim, and she is the one using it not only as a weapon against vaccination, but also is de facto telling others to ignore medical advice and try this "alternative" therapy. The burden is therefore on her to show the evidence for her claims. This is absolutely essential: I expect the antivax movement will trumpet her claims loudly and often. But how much real evidence can be made to back up Ms. McCarthy’s claim? For example, there is a broad spectrum of autism disorders, and some research indicates children can do better naturally as they age. Could this be the case here?

I suspect very strongly that what Ms. McCarthy is engaging in is a mistaken way of thinking called post hoc ergo propter hoc: because an event happens after something, it happened because of that thing. Her son got autism after a vaccination, therefore he is autistic because of the vaccination. But vaccinations are given around the same time children can be first diagnosed with autism! So it makes a link, a false link in a parent’s mind. Again, doctors have made very careful studies of this, and there is no link between vaccines and the onset of autism.

And now she is propter hoccing again. Let’s assume her son really is doing better. This happened after she changed his diet, so in her mind it happened because of the diet. But it also happened after we invaded Iraq, and after Cassini reached Saturn, and after I left my last job. None of those things were related to her son’s illness, just as his diet almost certainly wasn’t either. And remember, it’s possible that his alleviation of autism symptoms was a natural aspect of his getting older.

I rail against uncritical thinking on this blog and in everything I do in life. The Moon Hoax, the Face on Mars, and other things like them may not have much of an impact in "real" life, but the same lack of critical thinking skills does affect us, all of us, especially when a celebrity with some notoriety is the one behind them, aided by an all-too-willing and credulous press.

Vaccines are one of the greatest triumphs of medical science. Children can die from not getting vaccines. There is no evidence vaccines cause autism. Jenny McCarthy is wrong.

If you have questions on this, talk to your doctor. Do your research. But please, please, don’t just listen to what McCarthy says, or any of the antivaxxers. They’re dead wrong on this.


Comments (132)

  1. Nemo

    So if she cured him by changing his diet, then vaccines are off the hook, right? Right?

    Before she went on her anti-vaccine crusade, she was calling her son an “Indigo child” (or was it “Crystal child”, with her being an Indigo mom? I forget), which is some serious New Age nonsense. She even had a website — indigomoms.com — which she took down once she switched to anti-vax. Who knows what fad she’ll latch on to next?

  2. Scott
  3. A great article in dispelling the myth surround vaccines and autism.

    However, diet can reduce the severity of some behavioral problems and this is a fact backed up by science. Therefore, could it be that McCarthy’s kid had a behavioral problem which manifested similar to a form of autism and by changing his diet his behavioral problem was lessened, thus appearing in her mind to have cured him of supposed autism?

    Still would have been nice for a doctor to back up her claim though.

  4. I am the parent of an autistic child and it’s precisely because I love him so much that I look carefully at anything that comes near him. It’s too bad that so many parents get their information from Jenny McCarthy and her pet quack Jay Gordon instead of from reliable sources such as Science-Based Medicine and other doctors who actually care enough about their patients to present them with actual research and studies.

    Thanks, Phil, for helping spread the word.

  5. Ted

    I am the father of two autistic children. When my eldest daughter was diagnosed with Autism, my wife tried to talk me out of getting our younger daughter vaccinated. I prevailed, and when the younger daughter was diagnosed with Autism, my wife was wracked with guilt over “causing” it. These people need to be stopped. It is not harmless, it is vile. I don’t care if she is well meaning, it is a disgrace. The only hope is through education, so please keep up the posting on this Phil.


  6. I have some anecdotal evidence that some kids do improve with age. Hey, the antivaxxers can use anecdotes why can’t I? My nephew didn’t speak once. Now at 8 he speaks a bit and some of it isn’t meaningless jibber jabber too. A big improvement as far as we are concerned. What do his parents put it down to? They don’t know but I am convinced that it is the hours and hours of tireless effort put in by his parents, teachers and carers. Nothing to do with diet. He is still eating the same sausages. Have you ever tried to change an autistic kids diet? Meltdown.

  7. My son is autistic. For several years we tried the no wheat/no dairy diet that Jenny McCarthy is espousing (gluten free/casein free). We also tried very expensive custom vitamin supplements. We never saw an improvement, and eventually took him off the treatment after spending many thousands of dollars.

    My story is of course *anecdotal*. Jenny McCarthy’s case could be totally different — in fact I sincerely hope that it is. But speaking as someone who’s been there, it’s very easy to interpret “good days” as a sign that the autistic symptoms are going into remission, and to interpret the bad days as, “sure he was bad today, but just imagine how bad he *would* have been if he wasn’t on this special diet!”

    So count me as skeptical of this US Weekly story. But it will undoubtedly inspire many parents to try the same thing, and there is already a cottage industry of salespeople ready to take advantage of this.

  8. I suspect very strongly that what Ms. McCarthy is engaging in is a mistaken way of thinking called post hoc ergo propter hoc: because an event happens after something, it happened because of that thing.

    Richard Feynman had a great phrase to replace this Latinism: “Cargo Cult Thinking”. It’s after the cargo cults that sprung up in the south Pacific, where the natives thought that all the cargo shipments brought by US military aircraft were caused by the Americans setting up airstrips and marching around. And it carries the notion of a cult along with it, which helps stick the point that such thinking is misleading at best, and likely dangerous.

  9. dp

    Just an epidemiologist stepping in to say thanks for the post hoc ergo propter hoc explanation. We have an exhaustive set of criteria used to assess causation, and “because she said so” is not on the list.

  10. Adrian Lopez

    One of your best pieces, Phil. Just wanted to say that.

  11. Phil, I have a daughter with Down syndrome, and you would not believe the stuff we heard from well meaning people that told us they had the cure that would even reverse the distinctive facial features. If my ex and I were not as educated on the subject as we were, I am sure we would have fallen for it. I commend you for the stance you take.

  12. zeb

    The problem with people like Ms. McCarthy and others is that they seem to think that any attack on their position is a personal attack. They need to understand that we DO sympathize with their situation and DO wish them well. I’m sure that we would all shout with joy if there were a reliable way to cure autism. We just don’t know how to do it yet, and the only way we will know is to rigorously research the problem.

    And Phil, it’s so refreshing to see someone maintain a logical stance while discussing a subject rife with emotional pleas and swindlers trying to make a buck. I just wish the people who really need to read this (those propogating and digesting misinformation) actually would.

  13. TheWalruss

    Another anecdote!

    I have an autistic cousin who is also mentally retarded – the right side of her brain failed to develop very far, and the left hemisphere is also damaged, but much less so. She effectively turned into a banana a few weeks after birth because her left side was not growing as quickly as her right.

    Today she is 17 and (mostly) straightened out, and loves to have long, exciting conversations with whoever is willing to listen – in any of 3 languages! She can’t add at all and is at the level of a 4 or 5-year-old on almost every other skill. She barely has a sense of time – weeks are somewhat shorter than months, hours fit into days, a minute is usually not too long, and what happened last week might have occurred years ago, or just yesterday…
    What she can do is read social cues, respond, retell stories of events that she remembers, and she does it to make people laugh and smile, and she makes people happy.

    The only reason she is not a vegetable is because of her mother. Her mother worked as a pediatric nurse and was trained for years to detect problems of this sort and worked with the infants and their mothers to reduce the impact of the problems. She is one of the most skeptic women I know, and is able to use reasoning and common sense to cut through the crap and find real answers and real treatments, and apply them to her own sick daughter with clinical precision. She’s a very emotional woman, but the way she can manage her feelings and make rational decisions regarding her daughter in the midst of all the quacks and liars and misinformation shows an incredible strength, and keeping it up for 17 years shows an interminable fortitude. She doesn’t treat her daughter like a doctor treats a patient, but like a mother caring for her child.

    The point of the story, though, is how skepticism and sound reason – while often portrayed as heartless or cruel or inhuman – enabled a near-vegetative mentally handicapped autistic infant to develop into a happily communicating person whose purpose seems to be to spread joy among the people around her.

    I wish stories like this would make it into the media more often.

  14. Sanity

    Uhm, you don’t “cure” autism, you learn to live with it.
    When I was 7, I was diagnosed with “mild to medium autism” (although it would probably be diagnosed as PPD-NOS today) and now, 14 years later, I still have it, even though most people don’t really notice.

    It’s not because of any strange diet, scary chemical treatments or medication. It’s purely because of practise and effort. And some Ritalin, but only during the exams and the week before.

    I still don’t understand people and have very little empathy, but I know how people generally react to certain actions, and generally guess what they are supposed to be thinking.
    I still have trouble focussing and i’m still easily distracted, but I constantly force myself to pay attention. In conversations, I keep repeating “look at him, look at him, look at him”, so I won’t look over my shoulder in mid sentence.
    I still have problems expressing feelings, so I fake facial expressions and responces. When I’m expected to react When I’m supposed to react sad, I look sad even though I really don’t feel sad.

    It’s really become second nature to me, and I do it mostly automatically, but my point in all this is that, even though it may look like autism is getting cured, it’s really not. I learned to properly act (literally) like a “normal” person somewhere around age 16-17. Some learn as young as 13, others at 22 and some never do. Just don’t confuse adaption with being cured.

    Probably not a single “patient” will freely admit to doing this, simply because we don’t like to talk about it. The only reason I don’t mind posting this, is because it’s anonymous and not personal.

  15. Researching my own son’s related problems, I have read that food allergies can cause symptoms similar to those associated with Autism and other similar disorders. It’s always possible that changing her son’s diet did cause him to improve, but by alleviating symptoms of another condition, not his Autism.

    That doesn’t really change anything you’ve said – this is a complicated matter that still needs lots of research, not baseless claims of miracle cures.

  16. aster1man

    Phil, a truly amazing piece of writing. The use of simple but clear language (and lack of distracting parenthetical asides) should stand as an example of how to use the scientific mindset to confront the anti-rational crowd. With mass market publications like ‘US’ on the other side how do we get people who are not already predisposed to rationalism to even hear the arguments you present?

  17. steve

    My wife and son both have wheat and dairy problems. His behavior was somewhat autistic before we took him off wheat and dairy. His emotional development and cognitive skills have improved drastically in the last year. My wife no longer misreads emotions and says she feels like a veil has been lifted. She is warmer than ever in the past. He’s 18 and she is 47.

  18. quasidog
  19. Naomi

    More anecdotal evidence – as a kid, I would have been absolutely TEXTBOOK Aspergers. I was like someone had got the description in the DSM and used it to write my personality – I played with Lego by lining them up according to colour, I could talk at length about my favourite obsessions without pausing to let anyone else talk (monologuing is a very very common trait), I’d scream if my routine was changed or if I was overloaded, my language was incredibly stilted, and I never looked at people when I talked at them.

    Now, I still have those traits – to a very minor degree. I appear to be ‘quirky’ or ‘eccentric’, not autistic. So idiots like Jenny McCarthy would probably say I was cured. But I didn’t have chelation therapy, or ABA, or a wheat-and-dairy-free diet (well, I did briefly go on a lactose-free diet, but they thought I was lactose intolerant at the time – I’m definitely not, and I still twitch at the sight of soy ‘yoghurt’). I simply developed coping skills as I got over. No ‘curing’ involved!

    As a general rule, kids become ‘less autistic’ as they get older. Not everyone, of course, but most (again, based on anecdotal evidence). I was obviously and visibly autistic as a kid, now you’d have to look closer, and that happened just on its own.

  20. Ginger Yellow

    “So if she cured him by changing his diet, then vaccines are off the hook, right? Right?”

    Indeed. I wonder how she rationalises this part. What on earth has not eating dairy/wheat got to do with “poisoning” from vaccination?
    Do wheat/dairy cause autism now? If so, how does this tie into the “epidemic”, given that people have been eating dairy and wheat products for thousands of years?

    On the indigo child thing, have a look at this brilliant article by Jon Ronson.

  21. TheWalruss

    What I find strange is how much more money antivaxxers (and similar swindlers) are willing to put in to these sorts of campaigns – television time, celebrities, and magazine articles are not free!
    What do they win? Are they secretly backed by a health-care industry that is looking forward to a generation of sick children?
    Why don’t we have celebrities with television spots and talk-show time, explaining the science and promoting vaccinations as the life-saving technology that it is?

    This is one reason I fear the free market and would appreciate more government intervention in health care.

    Sadly, this is not just limited to the US. Here in the Netherlands, for example, there is a bible-belt spanning the country, and there is a growing number of people refusing to have their kids vaccinated. There was a bill drafted to address the problem, but I’m not sure what happened to it … I have the feeling it was defeated by Geert Wilders, our very own neo-con.

  22. So… wait… her story now is that vaccines cause autism, but removing wheat/dairy from the diet cures it? Because… how?

    With every turn of the screw, this just gets nuttier.

    (For the record, Asperger’s runs in my family).

  23. GQ

    Great piece, Phil.

    Thinking about her situation (all my sympathy, none of my support) wouldn’t a logical stance, based on her experience, be to support vaccinations WITH her super-special diet?
    I mean, I don’t think she’s denying that at least SOME vaccinations are needed so even if they do cause autism, its easily fixed by a change in diet*, so why not do both?

    * It isn’t, but she thinks it is…

    Disclaimer: Obviously, i don’t believe that vaccinations cause autism. I’m just trying to see things from her position. And it ain’t easy…

  24. SLC

    I think that Dr. Plait is being much too kind to Ms. McCarthy. The unfortunate fact is that she is a dangerous whackjob whose rantings, which are taken much too seriously by all too many elements of the mainstream media, could result in widespread epidemics and increases in mortality. Further, she has presented no evidence that her child was ever diagnosed with autism to begin with so that her claims of his being cured are piffle. IMHO, she as at least as dangerous as typhoid Mary ever was. It’s about time that the medical and scientific community take off the gloves when dealing with her.

  25. Ian

    What blows my mind is people actually listen to this extremely ignorant woman. Oh, wait, she’s an expert because her son is autistic. Has she ever cited any medical evidence to back up her nonsense? Now we all know that all celebrities live clean, drug and alcohol free lives, so an extravagant lifestyle can’t be to blame. It’s not the botox, or the cosmetic surgeries that could be to blame, it must be vaccinations that cause autism.

  26. Ian

    I can’t wait until she comes up for a cure for HIV and cancer so I can start having unprotected sex and start smoking.

  27. Pat

    Son’s got ASD, nephew with moderate Autism. Both have “improved” regardless of what we do or do not do, but unfortunately my sister is occasionally swayed into the magical thinking of people like Jenny, and I have to spend hours undoing the damage. “No, if it was mercury every hatter in the country up until 1930 or so would have had all autistic children, and this would have dropped precipitously afterward.”

    The horrible Jenny McCarthy is an anti-intellectual bomb who goes off periodically and causes massive collateral damage, calling it “progress” or some other noble-sounding misnomer.

    As an aside: dp, as an epidemiologist you might have more access to statistics – I’m curious about the rate of c-sections, infant mortality, problems with birth related to head size vs. pelvis size, and the apparent prevalence of some ASD/Aspergers/Autism afflicted to have larger heads/larger brains. Rate of c-sections shot up around 1970, unlike rates of vaccination. Not a cause at all, to be sure: the cause appears to be the pattern of neuron growth in the brain is abnormal or differently organized, but the apparent “epidemic” may be an artifact of lower infant mortality.

  28. Mary

    Phil, you’re addressing the wrong problem.

    The problem isn’t vaccines or diets. The problem is guilt.

    There is something wrong with your child. What did you do to cause it? And whether that is autism, a learning disability, or a cold, you don’t want to feel the guilt of having done something to cause your child harm. SOMETHING must have caused it. Ha! He was vaccinated, and yes, post hoc ergo proctor hoc.

    And the more guilty the parent feels, the more they will try to prove that *that* thing caused *this* thing.

    My son has a learning disability. When he was first diagnosed, I called a friend who is a psychologist and asked her about the disability. The first words out of her mouth (god bless her) were ‘You did not do anything wrong’. I didn’t even realize (yet) that I was feeling guilty and wondering if there was something we could have done to prevent it. I was ignoring all of that in the fact-gathering stage. But she had dealt with many parents of kids with issues and knew that the guilt was there whether I was acknowledging it or not. Then she told me the best thoughts about what causes the disability, what treatments there are for it, etc. But just hearing (from a trained professional) that it wasn’t *our* fault made all the difference.

    I think someone needs to tell Jenny McCarthy that it’s not her fault, it just is.

    (This is not to say that she shouldn’t still be advocating for her child, and fighting to get him the best he can acheive and helping him to live in a ‘normal’ world, but it might stop her from giving bad advice to other parents.)

    (And on another note, what idiot takes medical advice from an actress? Sheesh. Ok ok, got that out of my system).

  29. llewelly

    Orac at Respectful Insolence has written about Jenny McCarthy and anti-vaccination hoaxers many times, most recently here . Highly recommended.

  30. Matt

    Invading Iraq cures autism! Yayz.

    @carl: exactly. I was wondering how that worked. Do vaccines have gluten or lactose in them? Or maybe it’s just all to do with crystal energy and unicorns.

  31. tobiasthecommie

    Yet another anecdote… I have autism(aspergers syndrome)..

    And it has become better with age…

    I was vaccinated, and i would recommend everyone make sure they vaccinate their children.

    There are things that can be done when it comes to autism.. a lot of things that can help.. But there is no cure..

    People like Jenny kill children, not directly, but by subjecting them to risky procedures for no reason.. Like chelation to get the mercury out of the kids system…

    Autism is real, autism can’t be cured, but it can improve with age, with help, with proper training and with a good network of people around you…

    With that said, some surprising non woo suggestions(though they sound it)

    Ball Blanket can help some people with autism sleep.. Simply because a sense of security and safety(pressure on the body from the blanket, which can be quite heavy, as in 7kg or more). LINK

    Melatonin(jet lag pills) can help some people with autism sleep(one study says that 100%, anotehr 75% of all people with autism have a weird/broken/skewed melatonin level)

    Fish oil(omega 3) <- this one i will not vouch for as much as the proir two. There have been some studies that have shown they can help with stress, sleeping problems, and motorical skills.. Personally i got a lot better while taking them, but i was doing a lot of other things at the same time, so i will not claim it was these alone, especially since i haven't gotten worse after i stopped.. When i took them i thought (hey, they might work, i see no evidence they don't, and i have looked.)

    They appeared to help, and i thought "well, may just be a placebo". But i kept taking them. I do not know of any new research on omega 3 fish oils, but they should be researched before wasting money.

    The first two though, those i am sure are aok. Even if they do sound a bit woo. Note: if you(or your child) can't sleep because of thought cludder(the brain keeps thinking and won't just relax) those two may not do as much(hence my "some people"). To combat that i usually listen to a good documentary or lecture..

    (if anyone can read danish, search for "Tobias Ussing" to get my credentials.. that is, if you care) :)

  32. tobiasthecommie

    Phil, i didn’t mean to make all that last part a link, any way you could fix that?

    Oh, and sorry about that fluffy pink thing in the bar at TAM.

    Hm, and also, the submit comment button is now also linked to that site.. at least for me.. Hope it isn’t for everyone.

    Honestly, not on purpose

  33. Robin

    Please. Outbreaks of diseases are on the rise because, A.) WE ARE GROSSLY OVERPOPULATED and B.) We have been fed so many drugs and antibiotics that our systems, and our children’s systems, are no longer up to match for diseases. Unless you have a child with autism (not a cold or an accident that will pass) you have no idea what a parent goes through. No one searching to curb soaring autism rates is “anti vaccination,” no one. Blithely saying so, over and over, is irresponsible for a writer to do. Vaccinations are not little miracles in a vial, they are complex, and filled with substances that do not belong in the human body. Not every child’s body respond the exact same way with the same vaccine. What Jenny is promoting (which you have missed entirely to substantiate your own point of view) is a review of vaccination schedules, and a smarter vaccine ingredient list. The current vaccine schedule is absurd, and is overkill to earn Rx companies even more dough. (Maybe you have shares?) I wonder what kind of agenda someone might have who is so fearful of improving vaccination methods? One more thing…when my mother was vaccinated for polio, she got polio from the vaccination. Vaccines are not God. Any human created medical method will always benefit from further research and improvement. Don’t be lazy and say McCarthy is anti vaccination. Do your homework.

  34. Gary Ansorge

    We need more precise analyses of DNA and its relation to neurological development. I expect/ propose there are environmental stimuli that can affect a predisposed mutation to alter protein synthesis and subsequent neurological development. When we KNOW what these interactions are, we will be able to detect those bearing such mutations early enough(like say, at birth) to intervene and facilitate the appropriate application of missing or ineffective protein synthesis to ensure proper neuronal development. When we have those tools in hand then we can put these kinds of emotive/irrational discourse behind us. At our current level of ignorance, we have no way to dissuade those who are so afflicted with such damaged children from seeking woo-woo cures because we have so little to offer them.

    On the other hand, obsession is an aspect of excellence. Nearly every truly great thinker is also likely obsessed with whatever turns them on. Perhaps aspergers is merely an extreme example of that kind of neurological development. Sort of a “too much of everything is just too much” mutation.

    GAry 7

  35. Charles Boyer

    At the risk of sounding sexist (and I am not) why is it lately that controversial movements or political segments put attractive women at their forefront to enunciate their positions? Jenny McCarthy, Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman have all been in the news of late, and all are attractive women espousing polarizing viewpoints.

  36. Curious

    It sounds like some of you are “sure” that vaccines don’t cause autism. Pray tell – what then DOES cause it? If anyone on this site can say with certainty that vaccines play no part in this disability, you have to have concrete proof of an actual alternative “cause”.

    People that stumble across this site should do their research about the alleged safety of vaccines. Check the Merck Vaccine Insert for the MMR: (http://www.merck.com/product/usa/pi_circulars/m/mmr_ii/mmr_ii_pi.pdf). Funny how this pharmaceutical company states that this particular vaccine MAY be linked to encephalitis, which mimicks the early symptoms of many young autistic children. From the insert: “Experience from more than 80 million doses of all live measles vaccines given in the U.S. through
    1975 indicates that significant central nervous system reactions such as encephalitis and encephalopathy, occurring within 30 days after vaccination, have been temporally associated with measles vaccine very rarely.” And – “the data suggest the possibility that some of these cases may have been caused by measles vaccines.”.

    Also from the “Merck Manual” online (http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec16/ch217/ch217c.html#sec16-ch217-ch217c-1004): “Encephalitis can occur as a secondary immunologic complication of certain viral infections or vaccinations.” And – (http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec06/ch089/ch089f.html) “Autoimmune Encephalitis: After certain infections or vaccines, the body’s immune system sometimes attacks the layers of tissue that wrap around nerve fibers (called the myelin sheath) in the brain and spinal cord The attack occurs because proteins in myelin resemble those in the virus.”

    With Merck noting a link between vaccines and adverse neurological effects, how can anyone on this site casually dismiss the link between vaccines and autism? Whoever wants to respond to me – please before you try to argue – share YOUR explanation for autism’s cause.

    God help (and forgive) us all.

  37. My-Name-is-Kenneth

    One sad fact is that, no matter how right or smart Phil Plait may be,
    one thing he is not is a former Playmate who is now married to an overhyped and overpaid so-called funny man. JM will be listened to for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with reason.

    We can only hope that all the noise about this issue will bring about some real scientists who will somehow either stop the quackery or find a real cure for autism, or both.

    Then again, if we could find a way to channel the good aspects of autism, imagine what that might do for all of humanity!

  38. Brian Hodges

    The problem with people like Ms. McCarthy and others is that they seem to think that any attack on their position is a personal attack. They need to understand that we DO sympathize with their situation and DO wish them well.

    Unfortunately, a lot of people who get into this debate DON’T sympathize in the full application of the word. The discussions tend to get quickly heated with pro-vax people calling the anti-vaxxers whackjobs and whatnot. I know it gets frustrating having to explain and re-explain points to people who just don’t get it, but patience and empathy I think are the only virtues that are going to win people over. Maybe Jenny McCarthy is a threat to public health. But do you want to get things fixed NOW, or do you want them ACTUALLY get fixed. Because changing people’s minds takes time and patience. Have real sympathy and resist getting angry and frustrated at parents who seem to ask the same questions over and over again. If you put them on the defensive, they’ll never listen to what you actually have to say. If you meet them where they are, no matter how frustrating, you’ll actually change minds and put them in a position to take up the cause as well.

  39. SMW

    Listen, I have to throw a wrench in all your nay saying. First off, I am an Atheist, so, unless something is plopped down in front of me as absolute truth, I tend to be sceptical. I personally don’t care about Jenny McCarthy and all the other rich Hollywood celebs spending tons of money trying to “cure” their kids of Autism. I don’t have their kind of money, but I do have a common sense about me, as does my husband, and a basic knowledge of how the human body works. All I know is, I know several yes… several… people in my life that have vaccinated their boys, and three days later, their kid is Autistic. How can you sit there and say thats simply coincidence? Then you read more into it and talk to medical professionals, and you find that yes, there are actually hundreds of cases of kids literally going “autistic” days after vaccines. So, to me, this country needs safer vaccine schedules. There is medical proof of the correlation between 30 shots by two years of age and damage to the immune system. It’s not out there, because Pharmaceutical companies don’t want you to know about it. I know people who have PhDs and research the immuno-response of the body as it relates to autism, mental illness, diabetes, allergies, etc. Our immune system is a fragile thing, and pumping tons of chemicals and dead viruses into a baby over and over again month after month shouldn’t sit well with anyone. Of course we need vaccines. I am not even close to being anti vaccine. but I feel, as does my husband that a safer product must be marketed in light of the current autism epidemic. And if you do your research, you will see that thats exactly what it is – an epidemic.

    All I know can safely say is, my son has been “different” since he was four days old. He was not talking or processing the world the way I thought was normal. He banged his head, ate inatimate objects, didnt want to be touched, flapped his hands, tantrumed 10 hours a day, etc. He didn’t sleep well, and had diarhea for 12 months straight. I had him tested for gastro issues, nothing came up. My pediatricians told me he’d grow out of it. So I put him on a Wheat Free/Casien Free diet right after his second birthday, and four days later he started talking and hasn’t banged his head once since. So, what ever, it works for him. Im not blaming vaccines. He hasnt even had his MMR, so I can’t blame that. But don’t knock Jenny’s whacko diet until you have a head banging, non sleeping non talking son and nothing is helping. The Gut – Brain connection is real, and food sensitivities can cause autism like behaviors. It worked for my son, but Im sure it doesn’t work for everyone. We need safer vaccine schedules for our babies with less chemicals in them. I mean it’s simple logic. When your kid has symptoms of a spectrum disorder, give the diet a try. It’s not even that hard, you just have to shop a little differently. And my sons head is below the 2% for size, so head size means nothing. He is not “cured” he still needs developmental intervention, but last week he “miraculously” tested out of it. Now all he needs is speech. A month of the diet and we have a relatively normal son. Quit bashing something that can help. And BTW, Mercury poisoning has been proven to cause Autistic like symptoms. The brain is a complicated place, as is the digestive system. Stop spending your time bashing that kook Jenny McCarthy and start putting effort toward keeping kids safe from greedy pharmaceutical companies by imploring them to stop their one size fits all vaccine schedules, and food companies to stop making disgusting crap food to feed America’s kids.

  40. As the father of an undiagnosed (but, as parents, you sometimes “just know”) high-functioning-Autistic son, I can tell you that he fits the classic gluten/cassien diet symptoms. (He would live on mac-and-cheese and bagels with cream cheese if we let him.) We recently tried a 2-week experiment with removing dairy from his (and everyone else in the family, just to be fair) diet. Again, it’s only anecdotal, but there was definitely a noticeable change in his behavior. (Not to mention his nearly Gollum-like obsession over dairy products in the supermarket while shopping.) We’re ordering one of those peptide tests for him, and we’ll see if anything comes of it. Even if changing diet makes a drastic change in him, I would only go so far as to conclude that it helped _him_, and not autism in general, and I would never say that milk and wheat “causes” autism.

    And I agree with the previous poster who asked how does she explain that a diet change would “cure” him of “vaccination-induced autism”? Couldn’t it simply be that the wheat and dairy that _she_ :-) had been feeding him was the root cause of his symptoms?

  41. Ginger Yellow

    I don’t think anyone has put Bachmann at the forefront of anything. She’s never been shy of voicing her crazy opinions anywhere she can. I wouldn’t call her attractive either, but that’s neither here nor there.

  42. Oh, as a follow-up to my previous post…

    I consider myself a skeptic. (Or, at least, “skeptical”.) But, a few weeks without dairy was a relatively easy test, and hardly invasive. (Eliminating wheat would be a different story, however.) If I see evidence that it works, I’ll give it a go, plain and simple.

    On the other hand, my 4-year-old son’s behavior changed dramatically during the no-dairy test, practically to the point of being described as hyperactive. We suspect all the sugar in the soy milk that he took an instant liking to may be the cause, so he’s been cut off from the soy milk. Perhaps a simply “post hoc ergo propter hoc” case, perhaps not. We shall see.

    And, of course, everyone in my family (including the “normal” ones) have been vaccinated.

  43. Curious said:

    It sounds like some of you are “sure” that vaccines don’t cause autism. Pray tell – what then DOES cause it? If anyone on this site can say with certainty that vaccines play no part in this disability, you have to have concrete proof of an actual alternative “cause”.

    This is absolutely 100% WRONG. Well-done and very thorough medical studies have shown conclusively that there is no link to vaccines. None.

    That means we don’t know what causes autism. But we do know what doesn’t cause it. Vaccines don’t cause autism.

    You have set up a false dichotomy, which is bad logic, and a very, very bad way to make an argument. Just because we don’t know what causes autism doesn’t mean you get to make up some cause for it.

  44. I saw that article in US and there is mention of the child having seizures — seizures aren’t typically associated with Austism per se, but neurological conditions that can cause autistic-like behavior (tuberous sclerosis comes to mind — I have a daughter with this condition, it’s genetic).

    On the other hand, I have a son who is PDD-NOS (on the fringe of the spectrum) who is progressing rapidly in his speech and language development (he is a late talker) and has the potential to “outgrow” his mild autism — through intensive pre-schooling and speech and occupational therapy. No miracle cures, chelation therapy or strange diets. He got 4 vaccine shots for his 4th birthday, boy was he unhappy with those shots but a minute of crying is a lot better than measles, mumps, diptheria, hepatitis, etc.

  45. Jef

    I’m not sufficiently well read enough to have an informed opinion on this topic but I take exception to the way you presented your reasoning about her logical fallacy. Drawing a relationship based on phenomena that occur around the same time and place and on the surface seem like they could have a connection isn’t a fallacy in itself; saying it’s a proven conclusion rather than a hypothesis without doing any controlled study is. The burden of proof is on her for her claim, but likewise it’s on you for the claim that there is absolutely no connection. If the hypothesis is proven false I’d like a link to at least a writeup of the study or even the homepage of the lead researcher, if it’s not then you should present it as an unproven hypothesis that’s being dangerously paraded around as fact rather than a false assumption. A bit of fairness will help your cause immensely.

  46. Carole

    You probably won’t print this, but clearly none of your bloggers have read the literature regarding the issues around autism and biological connections. The research IS extensive. Clearly, there is considerable ignorance of the full extent of research – not just the research on vaccines. You are aware that the federal government has paid out damages to a family acknowledging that the vaccination was related to the development of their child’s autism – and many others are under consideration. This child had a mitachrondrial disorder that made her vulnerable and what McCarthy is saying is that some children ARE vulnerable, and the schedule of vaccinations should be re-evaluated – not eliminated. When I was a child, admittedly in the 40s, we had only three shots before going to school. I understand children now have more than 30. The chances of affecting a vulnerable child increase with these numbers. Children die from vaccines – many get sick. How do the “experts” explain the rise in autism – not just a broader spectrum diagnosis but also in those who are moderately severe or severe? I’ve tried every kind of approach for my son who is 41 and still very autistic. Nothing has made much difference, including the supplements Ms. McCarthy advises (you need to read her books – and the other research to understand she is not just blaming vaccines OR diet. Autism is as complex as cancer – there are many different forms – and just as resistant to cure).

    People attacked facilitated communication when it was all the “rage.” My son never became independent but I know – and have seen – children who are clearly autistic and non-verbal become independent typers. I have a friend who I taught to work with her son. The father was a skeptical psychiatrist. Today, their son is typing independently and is graduating from high school – still no speech. The father is amazed.

    Nothing works for everyone. Open your minds.

  47. Tom Marking

    “Why don’t we have celebrities with television spots and talk-show time, explaining the science and promoting vaccinations as the life-saving technology that it is?”

    I just saw Christy Yamaguchi on the TV promoting annual flu vaccines for everyone. She’s a former Olympic gold medalist in ice skating and she recently won “Danging with the Stars”, but as far as I know she has no medical background. So I think that qualifies as a celebrity promoting vaccinations.

  48. Gary Ansorge

    Ah yes, the old “If YOU don’t know what causes this, then maybe THIS causes it,,,” .

    False dichotomies abound in human thinking. I call it grasping after straws.

    Milk allergy is not an allergy per se. It’s just that some people (most notably, Asians and people of recent African ancestry) seem to lack the particular MUTATION that allows us to digest milk. Note that it requires a mutation in order for us to use this food at all. If you’re of the old DNA type, if you’re incapable of such digestion, then you and probably your off spring will suffer uncomfortable, even a life threatening reaction to milk but if you’re DNA is primarily northern European, you will likely get along better with milk in your diet than without it. It IS a very high level source of protein, fats and carbohydrates(lactose).

    If the DNA test for such mutations was reasonably cheap, we could inform people of the likelihood of such reactions before they had to experience them.
    Well, maybe soon, Dog willing,,,

    GAry 7

  49. Peptron

    Maybe someone already said it, I didn’t read all the comments:

    The thing is, if she managed to “cure” somebody of autism, isn’t it a major medical breakthrough that would give her international fame if she proves to be right?

    What I mean is that some people, like psychics, will claim to have solved a problem that we are still trying to find a cure for. But for some reason they don’t go forward despite the international fame and millions they would make for their achievement. Why not? Is it because they can’t prove their claim?

  50. Peptron

    To Carole:
    How do the “experts” explain the rise in autism – not just a broader spectrum diagnosis but also in those who are moderately severe or severe?

    Its simply that autism is more well known now than it was in the past, therefore it gets diagnosed more often. In the past, an “autistic of today” would have ended up with another, probably less precise, diagnostic.

    If there is a problem that seems to plague a few people, but what it exactly is is not well known; the second the trouble gets more precisely identified the number of cases diagnosed will increase, simply because people get to know about it.

    I have no source for that, but somehow I doubt that there is a “real” increase in the number of actual autism cases, at least not as intense as we see, as opposed to the increase in the number of diagnosed autism cases (due simply to more people knowing about that disorder).

  51. Tom Marking


    “We believe what helped Evan recover was starting a gluten-free, casein-free diet, vitamin supplementation, detox of metals, and anti-fungals for yeast overgrowth that plagued his intestines. Once Evan’s neurological function was recovered through these medical treatments, SPEECH THERAPY AND APPLIED BEHAVIOR ANALYSIS helped him quickly learn the skills he could not learn while he was frozen in autism. After we implemented these therapies for one year, the state re-evaluated Evan for further services. They spent five minutes with Evan and said, “What happened? We’ve never seen a recovery like this.”

    Notice, that she used both speech therapy and ABA for her son. It wasn’t just the diet. ABA has been well known as a treatment that has led to autism recovery since 1987.

  52. Carol:

    You are aware that the federal government has paid out damages to a family acknowledging that the vaccination was related to the development of their child’s autism – and many others are under consideration. This child had a mitachrondrial disorder that made her vulnerable and what McCarthy is saying is that some children ARE vulnerable, and the schedule of vaccinations should be re-evaluated – not eliminated.

    You are wrong. That child does not have autism, and the government has not “admitted” the vaccines cause autism because of it.

    Of course vaccines aren’t 100% safe. Neither is Tylenol, or anything. You can’t just say “Some kids get sick, and so we shouldn’t vaccinate!” With that reasoning, you’d never leave the house because you could die from a thousand different things on the way to the store.

    And facilitated communications? Seriously? That’s been shown conclusively to be wrong. The children you say have gotten better, if they have, probably did so due to other factors. You’re using post hoc ergo propter hoc as well.

  53. Tom Marking: Amanda Peet has been a vocal supporter of vaccines. Search my blog for her name.

  54. Rodney

    Amen Ian

    My thoughts exactly…

    Thangs ta that Doctar Jinny McCarthy, I’m a throwin out ma condums and gettin me a pack a smokes right now (and droping the “g” off of most of my verbs!)

    Or, maybe not so much,

    Great article BA, (and I’m loving your new book)


  55. Paul Schofield

    The thing about changing the childs diet relieving symptoms makes some sense. It ‘curing’ autism is insane.

    My mother works in a special needs school where a large number of the children are on the Autistic spectrum (although there are many conditions that may give an autism diagnosis prior to specific symptoms appearing). Leaky bowel and various food allergies are extremely common. Virtually every child is on a specialised diet. They don’t cure them – they just don’t irritate or make them worse.

    If Mrs McCarthy’s kid did have a condition that made him susceptible to certain foods, then changing his diet could have removed those symptoms. However, it wouldn’t change any underlying cause of the condition.

  56. Tom Marking

    @Peptron: “I have no source for that, but somehow I doubt that there is a “real” increase in the number of actual autism cases, at least not as intense as we see, as opposed to the increase in the number of diagnosed autism cases (due simply to more people knowing about that disorder).”

    Yes, every post on this subject has the same canard tossed out there. The rise in autism cases is not real, it’s all in our minds. I’m still waiting for someone to provide one shred of evidence in support of this position. Seems like the antivaxers are not the only people to believe things with absolutely no evidence and contrary evidence.


  57. Dan

    Hey Phil;

    Don’t you love the people that start off with “You probably won’t print this…” as if you’ve ever censored a post for something other than inappropriate or offensive language (although I guess we’d never know would we?).

    @ Carol;

    I am extremely familiar with autism research. I should point out that there are other disorders that MANIFEST similar to autism. My brother has a chromosome disorder that manifests in ways similar to autism and down’s syndrome. One reason it took until her has 5 to diagnose him was that there were so many things he “might have…but something doesn’t match…” He is considered “on the autism spectrum” but does not have “autism” per say.

    It isn’t much of a stretch to say that in previous years there were many things that WERE autism but that we didn’t know that. Autism used to be an “on/off” disorder, you either had it or you didn’t. Now it is more properly understood as a spectrum disorder which means more people are being labeled “autistic.” Additionally, it is really only in the last 20 years or so (which *gasp* correlates to the “rise in autism occurrences”) that mental disorders have become a center-stage issue that people are getting their kids checked out for.

    I would submit that it is a much simpler explanation than vaccines to simply say that autism occurrences are not “rising.” It’s simply that more people are getting checked out and, when that is combined with recognition of a spectrum disorder, we are simply FINDING more of the autism cases.

  58. Tom Marking

    @Dan “I would submit that it is a much simpler explanation than vaccines to simply say that autism occurrences are not “rising.” It’s simply that more people are getting checked out and, when that is combined with recognition of a spectrum disorder, we are simply FINDING more of the autism cases.”

    Your source please?

  59. Todd W.


    FC is a crock and has been plainly shown to be so. Using FC, kids that weren’t even looking at the keyboard managed to somehow produce, through a hunt-and-peck method, well-formed sentences and thoughts? Here’s something for you to try: sit down in front of a keyboard. Get a good look at it to familiarize yourself with where all the letters are. Now, close your eyes and type out a coherent sentence using one finger, with no other contact with the keyboard or the surface on which it rests. And remember, no peaking. Then, open your eyes. Did what you typed bear any similarity to what you intended to type?

    Teaching a child with autism how to type, however, is a completely separate matter. It involves the building of various skills (matching sounds to letters, matching words to pictures, teaching motor control, etc.). A deficit in any of those skills will slow or even prevent independent typing skills.

    As Phil said, there are probably some other factors that influenced the success of those kids. My guess is some form of Applied Behavior Analysis program.

  60. Dan

    @ Tom Marking;

    The evidence is circumstantial yes, but there is no questioning that autism used to be considered an “on/off” disorder that is now understood as a BROADER spectrum disorder. That, by definition, means that people who used to be diagnosed with something else are now being diagnosed with autism. People don’t understand that, they still think of autism as a simple disorder that you have or you don’t, “autism spectrum disorder” is different from “autism”

    Additionally, it cannot be doubted that there is more awareness of childhood development and childhood mental disorders. Therefore, it is more likely parents will recognize something wrong and get their child checked rather than simply assuming “oh he’s just a little behind the others.”

    The logical outcome of these two factors is that many more children are being seen by childhood development specialists and that the much broader net of autism is scooping up more of these children.

    Yes its a circumstantial case, but there is just as much hard evidence behind that argument (I would submit more evidence) than there is that vaccines cause autism.

    Very VERY few diseases have THAT simple of an explanation anyway. Even if vaccines were to found to have some link, I can pretty much guarantee that it would be a far more complex issue than simply “Stop giving vaccines and autism goes away.”

    Are you also prepared to argue that vaccines should be stopped until they are evaluated? With all the accompanying return of polio, measles, whooping cough, etc that the halting of vaccines would entail.

    It may seem cold to say, but right now the risks of vaccination are MASSIVELY outweighed by the benefits. That is undeniable, are you prepared to argue that we should risk the CERTAIN return of MASSIVE polio epidemics because vaccines MAY have SOME POSSIBLE link to autism?

  61. Paul Schofield

    Carole, just a couple of points;
    You probably won’t print this, but clearly none of your bloggers have read the literature regarding the issues around autism and biological connections. The research IS extensive.I don’t suppose you care to share that information with us? I will gladly admit that I haven’t read any recent articles or studies that support such a link, largely because every search and resource I can find turns up absolutely none of them. There is extensive research in the area, and all of it negative as to any connection between vaccines and autism.

    If I am wrong, provide links or references please.
    This child had a mitachrondrial disorder that made her vulnerable and what McCarthy is saying is that some children ARE vulnerable, and the schedule of vaccinations should be re-evaluated – not eliminated.
    Children with mitochondrial disorders are vulnerable – particularly to diseases such as those that are vaccinated against. Read anything written by the parents of such children after that case and you will find desperate pleas for people to vaccinate; their children are those most at risk from these diseases making a comeback.

    It is also significant to note that such disorders are far more severe and noticeable than early stage autism. Parents would be well aware that the disorder exists before the vaccination.
    People attacked facilitated communication when it was all the “rage.” I believe that was because people were using such messages, which largely were written by a third party, as testimony in cases where parents were losing custody of their children. Testimony that we had no way of knowing was actually coming from the child, who wasn’t able to communicate other than through that third party.

    There are many techniques for improving non-verbal childrens ability to communicate. Many of them include intensive methods that have some relationship to facilitated communication, and they do show great success. However, the early method was heavily abused. Not to mention that typing is a strange and relatively difficult area to start on, which doesn’t help when there are additional underlying problems (common in many autistic children).

  62. Paul Schofield

    Ah, messed up my blockquotes… Any chance of a preview button at some point?

  63. Todd W.


    IIRC, from Tom Marking’s previous posts, he is not anti-vax, and is not saying that vaccines cause autism. He is of the opinion that autism cases are on the rise (he posted in a previous thread a study in California looking at autism cases [not the broader autism spectrum, but autism specifically], showing a rise), and also of a mind that the current vaccine schedule should be changed, not that vaccines should be eliminated.

    Tom, correct me if I’m wrong.

  64. gopher65

    Sanity: That’s PDD-NOS? Cause I feel exactly that way.

    I have (essentially) no empathy. I have learned to analyze other people’s actions and respond to them accordingly, but I don’t naturally desire to act like they do. If I just let myself be me, then I’m almost always expressionless; I fake my facial expressions to put people at ease. And I’m really really afraid of interacting with more than about 5 people at once, cause I HAVE to watch each and every one of them to make sure I’m reacting properly, and I can’t do that in a large group. I don’t desire to look over my shoulder while talking though.

    I juuuust started to learn how to do these things when I turned 17 and a half, and I’ve been learning ever since. Much of it (facial expressions especially) is nearly automatic now, but I’m still learning, even though I just turned 25.

    I was never diagnosed with anything, and still haven’t been:P. People (teachers especially, since I had trouble in largish classrooms) always treated me like a freak, and looked down on my parents cause they had trouble controlling me.

    I wonder what things would have been like if someone had noticed that I wasn’t normal?

  65. Dan

    @ Todd W. & Tom Marking

    I apologize, I did misunderstand what Tom was saying. I stand by my argument but it probably wasn’t an answer to the question asked.

    And I don’t have a particular problem with the vaccine schedule being altered. But there is a compelling interest in getting the vaccines in as quickly as possible (doesn’t help someone that their vaccinated against polio after they get it). It’s a tricky balance of risk vs. reward. I seriously doubt there is a best answer.

    Perhaps there are increases cases of autism, but all we have to go on is that the number of people DIAGNOSED is higher. 20 years ago, would those people have even been CHECKED? Who knows. It certainly is possible the number of cases are going up, but I have yet to see a study that accounts for any kind of increase in the number of evaluations being done.

    Yes, the number is going up, but so is the number checked. So is the rise do to an increase in occurrence? Or to an increase in evaluation? Tough question to answer.

  66. Todd W.

    I would speculate that the apparent rise is a combination of factors:

    * Better diagnostic tools
    * Greater knowledge and awareness of autism and other ASDs
    * Broader diagnostic definitions of ASDs
    * Increased population
    * Changes in environmental factors (food, chemicals, etc.)
    * Actual new cases that would have been counted under older definitions of autism
    * Greater reporting of cases to the general public

    I do not think that it is a strictly either-or scenario, as in either a real increase or only an apparent increase. Regardless, thus far, the evidence overwhelmingly speaks against vaccines as a likely cause of autism or autism spectrum disorders. It may play a role in some rare cases, but not, I believe, a direct cause.

    Also, while it might be true that McCarthy is not directly arguing for cessation in vaccines, she is also stating, rather plainly, vaccines cause autism. That is wrong, and it has the effect of arguing that people should not have their kids vaccinated. Because of that, she is being irresponsible and poses a risk to public health.

  67. ekeby

    Don’t know much about this subject, but I do recall seeing McCarthy on television recently and she specifically said that she wasn’t “anti-vaccine.” It was the schedule of administering vaccines to young children that she thought might be a triggering mechanism. As I recall she was pretty conditional about placing any blame on vaccines themselves, and she did call for more, consolidated research. She sounded sane and responsible to me. Just saying.

  68. Jose

    I’d have to agree that this column is well written, even though I only quickly skimmed it. I’m basing that on the remarkable lack of insane, hysterical comments, compared with what has followed the other Autism posts.

  69. Tom Marking

    @Todd “IIRC, from Tom Marking’s previous posts, he is not anti-vax, and is not saying that vaccines cause autism. He is of the opinion that autism cases are on the rise (he posted in a previous thread a study in California looking at autism cases [not the broader autism spectrum, but autism specifically], showing a rise), and also of a mind that the current vaccine schedule should be changed, not that vaccines should be eliminated.”

    Yes, that’s pretty fair synopsis of my position. I just posted a link to the California study that concluded that the rise in autism cases is real. Apparently it’s in moderation.

    (Side note: any anti-McCain posts I make go straight through. The anti-Obama posts of course go into moderation and some have a funny way of disappearing. But perhaps, just like the increase in autism rates, it’s all in my head. :) )

    I do not believe in an autism-vaccine linkage since there are many symptoms of mercury poisoning which are not the same as autism (skin discoloration, edema, tachycardia, profuse sweating, memory impairment, etc., etc.). Memory impairment and autism? LOL. My 5-year old autistic son has memorized the complete track listing on more than 100 music DVD’s. Nor is there any linkage between autism rates and countries such as Iceland where the people eat a lot of seafood including marine mammals where the mercury should be concentrated. So the whole mercury-autism connection makes absolutely no sense to me. That is a different story than saying there are absolutely no environmental triggers at all.

    Concerning the vaccination schedule I would argue that the threefold increase in vaccinations on the schedule during the last few decades has obvious economic motives by the pharmaceutical industry. It is perhaps the only thing I agree with the anti-vax crowd on. I would like to see some real science done here in order to come up with the optimal vaccination schedule. I mean, do we really need 4 DTAP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Accelular Pertussis) shots up to age two? If the vaccine was any good it wouldn’t require 3 booster shots in less than two years. So some of this is definitely the pharmaceutical industry feathering its own nest.

  70. Tom Marking

    O.K. Dagnabbit. Maybe it was pilot error because I don’t see it. Just in case let me mangle the URL.

    hypertexttransportprotocol colon forwardslash forwardslash www dot ucdmc dot ucdavis dot edu forwardslash news forwardslash mindepi_study dot html

    The unprecedented increase in autism in California is real and cannot be explained away by artificial factors, such as misclassification and criteria changes, according to the results of a large statewide epidemiological study.

    “Speculation about the increase in autism in California has led some to try to explain it away as a statistical issue or with other factors that artificially inflated the numbers,” said UC Davis pediatric epidemiologist Robert S. Byrd, who is the principal investigator on the study. “Instead, we found that autism is on the rise in the state and we still do not know why. The results of this study are, without a doubt, sobering.”

    Key findings of the study are that:

    The observed increase in autism cases cannot be explained by a loosening in the criteria used to make the diagnosis.


  71. Mike V

    One thing that’s always bothered me about the anti-vaccination stance: Many of the illnesses being vaccinated against could be fatal. Are they effectively saying that they’d rather risk their child being dead than autistic?

  72. Peptron

    I suspect I might have double-posted…

  73. drksky

    @Ken B – As long as you’re willing to”experiement” on your son with his diet, let try something. You say that taking him off of dairy has caused a marked improvement in his condition. This still doesn’t not show a causation between dairy products and you’re son’s condition. Now, if you were to allow him to go back to consuming dairy products and his symptoms returned, then I would be willing to concede that dairy has something to do with it. Until then, I remain skeptical. Children develop fast, and it could have been something entirely different that caused the improvement in his symptoms that happened at the same time you changed his diet. Without confirming that symptoms return after the return of dairy, you’re story is just one more coincidental anecdote and proves nothing.

  74. Jose

    @Tom Marking
    I think that some of your posts go into moderation because they contain a frightening amount of math.

  75. Tom Marking

    @Todd: “I would speculate that the apparent rise is a combination of factors:
    * Better diagnostic tools
    * Greater knowledge and awareness of autism and other ASDs
    * Broader diagnostic definitions of ASDs
    * Increased population
    * Changes in environmental factors (food, chemicals, etc.)
    * Actual new cases that would have been counted under older definitions of autism
    * Greater reporting of cases to the general public”

    Let’s take these one by one.

    1.) Better diagnostic tools
    It may surprise a lot of folks just what is involved in your typical diagnosis of autism. You may have been expecting a lot of high-tech gadgetry (e.g., brain MRI’s, CAT scans, etc., etc.) or perhaps some type of blood test or DNA test. In most cases almost none of that stuff is used. Instead simple observation and parent and teacher questionnaires are used. There is something called ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule) which is a set of structured tasks that the doctor attempts to have the kid do. It has been around since 1989. So there have been no major improvements in autism diagnosis since the introduction of ADOS. And not only that, not every developmental pediatrican or neurologist uses it (ours didn’t).

    2.) Greater awareness and knowledge of ASDs
    There has definitely been a push in society to identify children with developmental disabilities at an earlier and earlier age. One of the programs that has sprung up in this regard is ECI (Early Childhood Intervention) which provides services to children up to the age of 3. However the level of funding for ECI varies drastically from state to state and ECI is NOT involved in the medical diagnosis of autism. I will also note that even though most state ECI programs have been in place in at least the late 1990’s the rate of autism diagnosis continues to rise.

    3.) Broader diagnostic definitions of ASDs
    This is an old canard that I hear continuously. The main document that schools and other institutions must legally follow to make a diagnosis of autism is the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual). The last revision was revision IV which was published in 1994. The main diagnostic definition of autism has not changed since then and autism diagnoses have skyrocketed since then.

    4.) Increased population
    Well, there are some reports that the rate of autism has increased by as much as 250 percent in one decade. Certainly, the population has not increased that much even accounting for illegal immigration.

    5.) Changes in environmental factors (food, chemicals, etc.)
    Ahhh, now we might be getting somewhere. Don’t you think we ought to be studying these possible factors. What has increased dramatically during the rise in autism? Oh nothing much, just things like use of ultrasound during pregnancy, increasing prevalence of both legal and illegal mood altering drugs, cell phones and other EM radiation, etc., etc.

    6.) Actual new cases that would have been counted under older definitions of autism
    Again, the definition has been the same since 1994.

    7.) Greater reporting of cases to the general public
    I’m not sure what the general public has to do with anything. The movie “Rain Man” was released by Hollywood in 1988. That probably more than anything else caused autism to enter the public consciousness. Of course, autism rates have continued to rise since then.

  76. Peptron

    You get an awaiting for moderation message if your post contains a link. However I have been trying to post something and it doesn’t show up and I did not get an awaiting for moderation message… I think that maybe I am putting a special character somewhere that the software doesn’t like… That or Phil Plait put cameras in my office to stop me posting comments when I really should be working.

  77. Peptron

    My post was an answer to Tom Marking, but I will stop trying to post it because I think I might be flooding.

  78. drksky:

    Well, I did state up-front that it’s anecdotal, and not “hard evidence” of anything. A few weeks without dairy was basically just a “let’s see if there’s anything to this” thing. By itself, I see it as “maybe there is something to it”. And, before we put the family through three months (!) of no wheat, we’re looking for some more concrete information.

    Could the timing be coincidental with the change in diet? Of course.

    And, as far as “experimenting” on my son, I think eliminating dairy for a few weeks is pretty tame. Also, the peptide tests require that you have your “normal” diet in order to have any meaning, so we’re back to dairy for a week, and we’ll see what happens.

  79. Tom Marking

    @Jose “I think that some of your posts go into moderation because they contain a frightening amount of math.”

    ROFLMAO. So it takes Phil time to go through and check my calculations, right?

    BTW, Does Death From the Skies contain any equations at all? If someone can post a JPEG of a page containing some equations I will definitely buy the book. I remember there was a story about Stephen Hawking lamenting that every equation he put into “A Brief History of Space-time” would cut the sales by half. And so he left them all out and, SURPRISE!, SURPRISE!, the book ended up sucking more than the blackhole at the center of the Milky Way. So weeze gotta have, ya know, them thar equations in that thar book, y’all.

  80. I strongly urge folks to check out Science-Based Medicine for the facts on vaccines and autism (as well as lots of other great posts on science-based medicine). Search for McCarthy and you’ll find a wealth of scientific rebuttals to her movement’s ridiculous claims.

  81. Carole:

    How do the “experts” explain the rise in autism – not just a broader spectrum diagnosis but also in those who are moderately severe or severe?

    As others have pointed out, has there really been such an increase in autism, or just in recognizing and/or “labeling” it? If you took today’s standards back 50 years, how would it compare to today?

    There has also been a tremendous increase in the number of people with life-threatening allergies, such as to peanuts. Was this caused by vaccinations as well?

  82. Todd W.

    @Tom Marking

    I would include questionnaires as diagnostic tools. I would also include better training for pediatricians as a tool. Keep in mind, “tool” does not just mean gadgets and machinery.

    The apparent rise in autism cases began in the 1990s, around the same time that the vaccination schedule was ramped up, give or take a couple years. As you pointed out, this is also the same time that DSM IV came out, which has a different, broader definition than previous editions.

    Greater public knowledge can lead to increases in the seeking of medical diagnosis and treatment. This can lead to an apparent increase in cases, though the number of cases may remain steady. The more people are aware, the more they are able to identify the signs and symptoms and the more likely they are to seek the appropriate care. But, if people do not seek medical care, then the case will not be reported in the statistics.

    Again, my point was not that any of those items I mentioned are solely responsible for any real or apparent increases in autism cases, but rather that some combination is likely responsible. I.e., there is some real increase in the cases, but there is also an apparent increase, if that makes sense.

  83. Gary Ansorge

    Tom Marking:

    The brain is plastic and is capable of compensating for a large number of insults and developmental disorders, stroke, etc.

    Compensation is not cured!

    GAry 7

  84. Cheyenne

    Great article Phil. I think you handled this sensitive topic really well.

    I don’t forward on many things I find out on the blogosphere but I did send this one out to a bunch of friends and family.

    Ugh, US Magazine is something that grocery shoppers and teenagers read- I don’t mean to generalize but I’m guessing there isn’t a high overlap between the people who read that mag and this blog. Breaking through that information barrier is a pretty tough game.

  85. Peptron

    Maybe there is a link between raising children in an overly sterilized environment and a general weakening of immune systems.

  86. Calli Arcale

    Tom Marking, you may be interested in this study that looked at the California data. It found that the rate of autism diagnoses went up at about the same rate that mental retardation diagnoses went down. In and of itself it proves nothing about the actual cause of autism nor whether or not there is an increase, but it is certainly food for thought.

    You also mention that DTaP seems to be a bad vaccine because it requires four injections over a course of several years. I would personally restate that to say that it seems to be an inconvenient vaccine, and it would be nice if a simpler one could be devised. It may be that there is no better way to achieve the desired state of immunity than with repeated boosters; this may be an indictment not of the vaccine but of the human immune system. The idea is to trick the immune system into thinking it’s been invaded by a pathogen without actually making you sick, but since the immune system doesn’t like to waste resources, this is a complicated thing to do.

    Thing is, research *is* being done, and is constantly being done, to work out the best way of getting the right vaccines in the most beneficial and least risky way. It’s just not true to suggest that no real science is being done on the subject. It’s being done all the time. My second daughter is getting different vaccines than my first daughter, because better ones have become available in the meantime. So it’s happening. We don’t need Jenny McCarthy to tell scientists to do their jobs. They’re already doing them. Thus, her “Green Our Vaccines” cries come across as rather insulting to institutions who have been busy doing just that since before she was born.

    I’d also like to respond to Gary Ansorge, who said a while back that “Milk allergy is not an allergy per se. It’s just that some people (most notably, Asians and people of recent African ancestry) seem to lack the particular MUTATION that allows us to digest milk.” This is not entirely true. There are different forms of “milk allergy”. Most are lactose intolerance, which is what he described. There are also genuine allergies, with one of the better-known being allergy to casein (a protein found in milk). Some are only allergic to bovine casein, and can handle goat’s milk just fine. The lactose intolerant are usually okay with things like Cheez-Its, but people with casein allergies have to get very good at reading labels, because casein is a surprisingly ubiquitous ingredient. Many lactose intolerant people can use Lactaid or a similar product to enable to them to eat dairy products; it contains the lactose-digesting enzymes that their bodies don’t make. Such enzymes do nothing for those with casein allergies, of course.

    “Wheat allergy” is in a similar boat. Some people are genuinely allergic to a protein in wheat; others are unable to digest gluten (such as celiac sprue sufferers). Gluten turns into long, gloopy, sticky strands, which makes it very useful for bakers but very bad for the guts of people who can’t break it down. Different reactions to the food, with different implications for the patient.

  87. Calli Arcale

    ADDENDUM: I just remembered that Cheez-Its is one of those rare crackers made with actual cheese, and not some weird cheeze-flavored product. The cheeze-flavored products often do not contain lactose, but do contain casein, since they are still derived from milk. And reactions to lactose (and gluten) vary — some lactose-intolerant don’t realize it, because they just get a little upset tummy. Others suffer two weeks of seriously upset bowels until every last trace has passed out the other end.

  88. Tom Marking

    @Todd “Greater public knowledge can lead to increases in the seeking of medical diagnosis and treatment. This can lead to an apparent increase in cases, though the number of cases may remain steady. The more people are aware, the more they are able to identify the signs and symptoms and the more likely they are to seek the appropriate care.”

    Todd, there is a real simple way to find out who is right. If I am right the incidence of autism will continue to rise and that is my prediction. If you are right then the incidence of autism will level off after the awareness saturates in society. Right now, the incidence of ASD is 1 out of 166 kids.

    If it goes much higher to say, 1 in 100, 1 in 50, etc. then it poses a real threat to our society. Interesting how neither political candidate addressed this possible threat to our way of life. If it reaches 1 in 100 or 1 in 50 will you still be saying it’s caused by increased awareness and broader classification?

  89. Jose

    Along with links, certain key words will automatically cause a post to go into moderation. I’ve found a few. The only one I can think of at the moment is the retail name for that little blue pill that makes old men function like young men again. But there’s not some evil overlord sitting and watching comments as they come in.

  90. Todd W.

    @Tom Marking

    If we have a good, solid baseline with few or no confounding variables (e.g., awareness, changes in definition, improved diagnoses/tools, equal access to adequate medical specialties, etc.) and the incidence rate continues to increase, I would likely say that there is a real increase in the number of cases, not just in the number of reports. Also, the same methods that are used in one study must be used in subsequent studies, to avoid further discrepancies that could throw off results. At any rate, we need a good baseline, and pre-1990s does not serve as a good measure for post-1990s. A lot of the vaccines cause autism crowd seem to be pointing to the pre- vs. post-1990s numbers as evidence for their case.

    Regardless of whether the increase is only apparent or real, it is definitely something that needs to be researched and addressed sooner, rather than later. And, whether or not the number of cases is increasing is a completely separate matter from this thread.

  91. Very tactful handling of a subject that gets a lot of people riled up.

    Keep in mind in other areas, and the quality of the blog will go through the thermosphere.

  92. I have often meant to comment about Phil’s postings as I agree with most of his non-political opinions such as being skeptical of phenomenon (I hope to catch the end of the Noury show tonight). What really prompted me to reply here is that this vaccination scare is just that, a scare. I grew up through measles, chicken pox, mumps etc. Sure, I survived and have immunity but having a vaccine to prevent these things is a huge advance. My two children didn’t have to go through those illnesses which carry much worse risks than the vaccines.

    While I’m no autism expert, I didn’t think that autism was a curable condition without behavioral remedies. I seriously question that Jenny’s child was “cured”. Perhaps the child was misdiagnosed in the first place, a la so many ADD/ADHD diagnoses.

  93. Mitch Miller

    “who is now married to an overhyped and overpaid so-called funny man.”

    Whoa,Whoa,Whoa,Whoa,Whoa…. Jim Carey has done some VERY good work in serious roles including the Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine….. Don’t let your opinions of his wife (actually girlfriend) prevent you from enjoying the work of one of the most dynamic and versatile actors of this generation.

  94. Calli Arcale

    If it goes much higher to say, 1 in 100, 1 in 50, etc. then it poses a real threat to our society. Interesting how neither political candidate addressed this possible threat to our way of life.

    Actually, both candidates have made comments regarding the importance of studying autism. There is some debate on the blogosphere regarding whether or not this was appropriate (i.e. were they just pandering to a specific audience by mentioning autism and not other more serious and more common conditions at least equally deserving of attention) but they have both acknowledged that autism is something worth studying.

  95. Rand

    I hate to say this, but even if he was “cured,” do we have any evidence he was autistic in the first place?

  96. Lisa

    Antivaxers are very dangerous. One threat that I don’t think anyone has addressed (I didn’t read all 94 comments, sorry) is that it is unknown how long vaccines last. Some may only last 20 years. I think this was a concern when everyone was worried about terrorists using smallpox. People who were vaccinated for this (I’m not one) may not be protected as much as they think. You may have been vaccinated for measles, but you might not be fully protected against it now and the only reason you haven’t gotten is because children get immunized, and the disease doesn’t get a chance to spread. You may think you are protecting your kids, but you may only be delaying when they get sick. Chicken pox, measles, mumps are really nasty if gotten as an adult.

    And what about the people who cannot get immunized because they have a compromised immune system. Those kids have just as much right to be safe as anyone else. They are at far greater risk from complications from disease than anyone who actually gets vaccinated.

    There are risks and anyone who thinks there aren’t doesn’t understand biology. I am very sorry that kids get autism, but it is genetic and there may be triggers. Research has shown that the trigger is not linked to vaccines. There are ways of detecting autism before the age 2 when it usually becomes obvious that something is wrong and before MMR is given. Also, I couldn’t find the study right away, but I believe that thimerisol has been removed from the suspected vaccine and there has not been a decrease in autism. Need to look up that study again.

    There are very few issues that get me this upset and this is one. This is total ignorance and social irresponsibility at it’s worst.

  97. Tom Marking

    @Calli “You also mention that DTaP seems to be a bad vaccine because it requires four injections over a course of several years. I would personally restate that to say that it seems to be an inconvenient vaccine, and it would be nice if a simpler one could be devised.”

    Actually, I never called it a bad vaccine. I questioned whether its usage 4 times within 2 years is necessary. Where is the study that says it is?

    @Calli “Thing is, research *is* being done, and is constantly being done, to work out the best way of getting the right vaccines in the most beneficial and least risky way. It’s just not true to suggest that no real science is being done on the subject. It’s being done all the time.”

    O.K. Then perhaps you can point me to the science research that demonstrates that the current American Academy of Pediatrics vaccine schedule is optimal, preferably one that compares that schedule to other schedules and looks at longterm health outcomes for various schedules. I’m not aware of any such study being conducted. I wonder why not.

    BTW, thanks for the link to the PDF file. It looks like some interesting stuff.

  98. drksky

    @Ken – I wasn’t trying to infer that you were some kind of monster experimenting on his child. My point was, if you’re willing to go that far out of your way to eliminate dairy, you should be equally as willing to go back to a regular diet to see if that was indeed the cause. Worst thing, the symptoms return and you know for sure. I’d be curious to hear what happens when you put him back on a regular diet to do the tests.

    I have a very close friend who has two autistic children, so I have a vested interest in the research.

  99. Davidlpf

    Actually I feel sorry for her and her son. I do not blame her for blaming autism on vaccinations but the people who are really profiting from the books and othe materials that are being sold on the subject.

  100. 1) I think that if changing the diet helped, it probably was more a prolonged allergic reaction to gluten, and/or lactose intolerance

    2)current modern vaccines are more “precise” than the old ones, so even if you get a bunch of different ones, you still get fewer active compounds than were present in the 3-5 kids used to get decades ago. (not to mention that the smallpox vaccine itself was far more dangerous than most the current vaccines)

    3)whether or not McCarthy really really intends to be an anti-vaxxer or just wants to change the schedules etc is irrelevant when all it leads to is less vaccination, i.e. the result is anti-vaccination.

    4)(since we’re dishing out anecdotes) the anti-vaxxers are especially dangerous to kids like a friend’s son who isn’t able to get the pertussis vaccine due to an allergy. he truly depends on herd-immunity, and those people are risking his life and the life of other children like him because fo their woo-woo)

  101. Good writing Phil.

  102. David B

    Almost forgot which Dr Phil I logged into…
    All joking aside(?) I want to thank everyone on this blog. Each time I come here I learn lots of interesting things. Most times about the Universe, some times about us humans and today about myself. Always wondered why I did not look into peoples eyes as I definitely monologued at them. Can anyone point me to a good site on Aspergers ?

  103. Ms. Clark

    Jenny is a cold blooded money grubber. What Jenny does is whatever puts money in Jenny’s bank account. She licensed her image to be used in a video game some years ago where the players got Jenny to climb the ranks in Hollywood by having sex (that the players controlled, and observed, apparently) with this producer or that deli manager.

    Jenny will do anything for a buck. Now she is exploiting her son. When she thought she could make a buck off of selling him as a “crystal child” that’s what she did. While she was still selling him as a “crystal child” she started writing the book about him being autistic and how he became autistic from the MMR vaccine and how it was really the yeast that made him act insane, so she did the diet that was the most popular and went for a toxic anti-fungal drug (all drugs are toxic, just as all substances are toxic, it’s just a matter of dose, but Jenny only complains about them when she can get a camera on her while she complains).

    I don’t know why she dropped the yeast angle now, but I suspect it’s because she didn’t realize how stupid it made her look. What probably happened is that she went to see a DAN! quack and he took a blood sample from her son and sent it to the quack laboratory called, “immunosciences” that at that time could find evidence of “yeast” in absolutely everyone who sent in a sample. Because of this and other tests that were found to be absolutely bogus from this lab, ….. THEY WERE SHUT DOWN.

    It’s been discussed a bit on the leftbrainrightbrainDOTcoDOTuk blog. I think maybe that Jenny realized that if someone asked she might have to admit that she had her son tested for yeast at that lab and decided to move on to something else.

    So now, instead of autism being something that takes huge effort, huge amounts of money (to pay the quacks) and drugs, now it’s really easy but still huge heroic effort (she needs it to be heroic, but she wants to sell it as an easy cure, just a few vitamins and not wheat and dairy).

    In her book she tries to guilt all moms into doing the diet otherwise they are bad moms and not warrior moms the kind who care enough about their kids to actually cure them of autism.

    Jenny is a manipulator and a liar. She learned how to manipulate and get money from early on… first bleach your hair, then get implants… then be willing to splay yourself out naked for a million men… bingo… big cash. Then sell your image to a video game company for a million dollars… worry about your future children finding a copy of the game later. … and so on. Then find yourself a rich movie star and suck up to him and tell him you think he’s wonderful. then figure out how to exploit your son’s seizure disorder, call him a mystic psychic child, then a poor unfortunate kid destroyed by vaccines.

    There’s a word for women like Jenny McCarthy and it isn’t “mother.”

    There are parents of autistic kids who can use some support and some empathy. Jenny McSalesgirl is not one of them. She is helping to harm families and vulnerable children and autistic adults and I don’t think she gives a hoot. I can see why Phil would want to write about her as if she might have some belief in what she is doing, but I think his sympathy for Jenny is misplaced. She’s a tin-plated con, in my opinion.

    Oh, and the person above who had a question about head size and pelvic size and C sections. Babies who are born autistic, tend to have normal or slightly below normal sized heads, there is a burst of head growth some time around 12 months to 2 years and then there is a decline in the speed of growth so that for many autistics they have a normal sized head at adulthood.

    And there’s no reason to think that a change in diet does anything but make a kid with a food allergy feel better. It’s not a cure for anything but a diet problem. Kids are born with autism, they don’t acquire it after birth, even if it looks like they do. Sorry, but that’s a big long discussion in itself.

  104. Tom Marking said : “I remember there was a story about Stephen Hawking lamenting that every equation he put into “A Brief History of Space-time” would cut the sales by half. And so he left them all out and, SURPRISE!, SURPRISE!, the book ended up sucking more than the blackhole at the center of the Milky Way.”

    Tom, but that book sold something like 8 million copies. For a science book that is astronomical. I have heard it described as the biggest selling unread book ever though.

  105. Davidlpf

    I must of been one of few that read Hawkings book.
    He actually hosted I science series on pbs in ’97
    and he’s opening line was “I have sold more books on physics then Madonna has on sex.”

  106. JeffM

    It’s not about autism it’s about narcissism. There’s an epidemic in Hollywood, as celebrity America tries to tell average Americans how to live. You think Jenny is a problem. Try Tom Cruise. Here’s a high school dropout who is an expert on the physiology of the human brain.

  107. Ted Fogarty, MD

    Any person of science that reads through all 290 odd pages of the Simpsonwood conference transcript would have to question whether the relationship between vaccines and neurodevelopmental problems has really been put to rest. The best and brightest of public health gave the relationship at least a weak association (not nil); this issue has never been looked at from a protocol comparison point of view. Hep B on day one of life is the biggest confounder to this issue and isn’t it odd that the first vaccine is the least of pediatric epidemic disease? The CDC schedule is not based in science as evident by the Hep B first dose timing. Immunointerference from maternal antibodies in the first six months is another problem in the heavy handed CDC schedule, other countries’ scientists and physicians seem to understand neonatal immunology a bit better and don’t have irrational scheduling like we have here in the US. The real shame in this issue is that US MDs have let vaccine and drug companies do their homework for them for so long that the majority have no idea that the Simpsonwood conference ever happened (and look at drug after drug that gets pulled post-marketing by the FDA). Note also that former NIH head Bernadine Healy has gone on record to say we have not looked in the appropriate manner at this issue, as she says, the government has been to quick to dismiss the association (many conflicts of interest here).

    Methylation and sulfation handling problems are at the core of the molecular cross roads leading to this neurodevelopmental issue; the basic processing of metals is really the issue in a lot of autistic kids. Check out Jill James, PhD’s work on this out of the U of Arkansas dept. of Pediatrics.
    Aluminum adjuvants are not handled by everyone equally, metals administered in medical practice have a long history of coming back to haunt the profession. The immune system is ridiculously complex-if vaccines aren’t causing friendly fire in some of us then they can’t be doing their job. We need to do this better, not quit doing it completely and we need to understand that there are susceptible populations we will always identify to a medical advance that react adversely to what is a a greater good for many; thus creating a hugely complex medico-legal social problem such as this.

    A really great piece was put out by Discover last year on the complexities of this issue citing mainly Harvard’s Marth Herbert, MD, PhD’s work. Many in this discussion list ought to read it. See link:

  108. Ms. Clark

    Babies can catch Hep B from the people around them on the first day home from the hospital. And no, the baby doesn’t need to be having sex or using injected street drugs. That’s why they vax against Hep B at birth. Not because they want to sell more vaccines and not to destroy a generation of children by making them autistic, though some would tell you that that is the case.

    Jill James is a bad joke. Her science is garbage and generated to get her in the good graces of the mercury parents. I’ve seen her present her stuff, she’s an idiot and a sellout, in my opinion. Besides that she’s kind of fallen by the wayside with the mercury parents. She used to be one of their big favorites.

    Martha Herbert is as big a joke as Jill James (and I’ve heard Martha “Gaia Loves Me” Herbert speak in person, too). She’s a total woo-oriented fool, Harvard affiliation or no. She has no ability to think ethically or logically from what I’ve seen of her.

    Discover magazine still needs to do a major apology for promoting that stupid woman’s work. No telling how many children were condemned to painful and stressful quack treatments because of that article.

  109. Ms. Clark

    Oh yeah, and Discover promoted one of the biggest most obvious of science/health frauds on earth in that article, Amy Yasko. Discover has done tremendous harm to autistic people by throwing science out the window in order to look like they are “cutting edge” or something. They can undo some of that harm by retracting the stupid article about autism being in the gut.

  110. Jeffxandra

    Clearly the only way to stop her is have some incredibly hot pro science chick pose for Playboy while talking about how vaccinations don’t actually cause autism.

  111. Rebecca Lawer

    I am a Special Education Teacher and Speech Therapist who has worked for years with children with Autism and in Programs for children with Autism.
    I have worked with many children on special diets including charcoal diets and gluten free diets and have seen no improvements in them as a result of these diets. I am not a doctor but what I do know from reading many research articles as well as from my own professional observation is that the reason the special diets may work is that, as others have said, the individual child has an allergy to certain foods which may cause them to display certain behaviors, just as any individual with allergies would since those allergies are affecting them physically. Obviously alleviating the body of these foods which cause the allergy would help anyone function better. However, no research to date has concluded that either special diets or vaccines have caused or “cured” autism. In fact there is still no conclusive evidence to show what causes the disorder. The only practice that has been proven to be successful is intervention and therapy. Since Autism is a spectrum disorder each child improves at different rates according to cognitive functioning and abilities.
    From my understanding of conclusive evidence in science, in order for something to cause something else it must happen 100% of the time. Therefore, if vaccinations really did cause Autism, than every single person who has every been vaccinated should have Autism.
    What I do know is that hard work with children with Autism, routines, visual aids and therapy, children with Autism are able to progress. My professional feeling is to accept the children for who they are and work with all the positive attributes and all the abilities they have in order to help them succeed in the world, and to support them in any way we can. I think sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in all the hype out their and the so called “cures” that we forget it’s about the kids, not the science.

  112. Calli Arcale

    Tom Marking:

    Actually, I never called it a bad vaccine. I questioned whether its usage 4 times within 2 years is necessary. Where is the study that says it is?

    I’m sorry, I thought you meant that if the vaccine takes 4 doses to be effective, it must not be a very good vaccine. I had misunderstood.

    That said, the 4 dose thing is not pulled out of thin air. The dosing schedule is determined based on how many exposures are required to provoke the desired immune response, without overloading the person and actually making them sick. I’ll have to do some digging to see if I can find the studies used to determine that, but I’m not sure I can do it quickly; I’m a software engineer, not an immunologist. But I have been assured by professionals that the dose schedule was in response to extensive research over many years. (The tetanus, diptheria, and acelluar pertussis vaccines have been around a while, in various forms, so there’s be a good body of work on how these things function and how the immune system treats them.)

    I don’t fully understand everything about vaccines, but from what I have read, they work in different ways. Oh, at the most basic level, it’s the same — provoke the immune system into identifying the “invader” and producing an antibody that will neutralize it. But in order to do this without actually giving the person the disease in question is less simple. Some vaccines contain “dead” or “inactivated” virus. Things like the tetanus vaccine are a bit less simple, because the antibodies produced do not attack the tetanus bacterium — they attack the toxins it produces. That requires some careful chemistry to produce a fake pathogen that the immune system will treat as a real pathogen and whose antibody will be effective against the target pathogen. This is probably why some vaccines seem more potent than others. The ones least like a pathogen are probably the hardest to “stick”, because it’s harder to persuade the immune system that it’s something it needs to attack.

    (That’s what the aluminum is for, BTW. The immune system doesn’t like it, so it wants to attack.)

    Different vaccines require different schedules, and vaccines taken at different ages require different schedules. I’d like to hear an expert comment, but the impression I’ve always gotten is that the ones that need boosters are the ones where there is a greater chance that your immune system didn’t respond adequately. Just as with allergies, repeated exposures will produce stronger reactions from the immune system. Obviously you don’t want to go overboard with that (there’s no point, for one thing) but you do want the immune system to react *enough* that it remembers the pathogen in future.

    One thing which is not adequately researched is how well the immunity sticks past one’s childhood. There’s a lot of research on how well the routine childhood shots stick through childhood, but not a lot into how well those persist into the adult years. Now, we know tetanus needs regular boosters into adulthood, and now we’re hearing that pertussis may also. But what about others? There is a significant amount of concern, but it’s difficult to study in a controlled fashion, because it’s tough to follow a specific set of patients for thirty years or so. It has to be retrospective instead. But we do know that immunity can wane over time, and the understanding of this process is incomplete. Personally, I’m more inclined to think we’re not getting enough doses of vaccines than to think that we’re getting too many.

    O.K. Then perhaps you can point me to the science research that demonstrates that the current American Academy of Pediatrics vaccine schedule is optimal, preferably one that compares that schedule to other schedules and looks at longterm health outcomes for various schedules. I’m not aware of any such study being conducted. I wonder why not.

    Well, for starters, each and every vaccine on the schedule was subjected to a clinical trial. Participants were like the general population — apart from the vaccine under study, they were getting the regular set of vaccines. So vaccines are tested in conjunction.

    The overall vaccine recommendations, however, were probably arrived at through an amalgam of a body of research — the clinical trials, understanding of disease prevalence in various populations (children are vaccinated more than adults because children are much more likely to get sick), understanding of vaccine action and the human immune system, ongoing adverse event reports, and so forth. I don’t think anyone has done a clinical trial of the entire vaccine schedule, but I don’t think it would be necessary. We already have the evidence we need to decide which vaccines to get and when. That said, the book is never closed. The recommended vaccine schedule is constantly being tweaked as relevant new research is published.

    BTW, thanks for the link to the PDF file. It looks like some interesting stuff.

  113. Calli Arcale

    Whoops, I copied in your last line and didn’t edit it back out again. Sorry; it sounds rather disjointed that way. You’re welcome, though. 😉 It was an interesting study.

  114. Tom Marking

    @Calli “I don’t think anyone has done a clinical trial of the entire vaccine schedule, but I don’t think it would be necessary.”

    That would be like testing the various parts of a car individually but never testing the car as a whole. So the wheels rotate, the windshield wiper goes back and forth, the turn signal pulsates, etc., etc. That does NOT mean that the car will function when it’s actually on the road. I disagree on the necessity – we need to test the whole car, not just pieces of it.

    Since you are in software development (as am I) then perhaps the better distinction would be the difference between a JUnit test and an integration test. Unit tests are NOT enough to ensure the quality of an application. You need to test the real thing when it’s running with all of its components turned on.

  115. Todd

    She never said “cured”. She said recovered. You might want to listen better next time.

  116. Ted Fogarty, MD

    Good point Tom, interestingly oncologists always have to compare the prior art against the newer protocols in their work, I am not sure why the CDC feels above this. Seems the federal governmental agencies are no longer the best place to look for science, it has become so increasingly politically influenced that the best and brightest no longer go into public service in many branches of government including the scientific agencies.

  117. Todd W.

    For anyone that’s interested, Good Morning America is running a story this morning (10/23) on autism, looking at the facts and the fiction. They will apparently be discussing the vaccine issue, as well. Let’s hope they get it right.

  118. I agree with these other people, and i am glad to see i am not the only one outraged by jenny mccarthys article of how she cured her son. i have an autistic son he did not used to look people in he eye or smile now he does both. But he is still autistic. Shame on US mag. for printing an article like that. No where in her article has she said she had evan examined by a doctor to see if he was cured. All of us with autistic children would be so happy to have a cure but doctors and scientist have been working on a cure and just to understand autism for 20 years, and jenny is telling me she found the cure. Your encourging people not to get their children vaccinated the vaccinations are there for a reason. If people stop vaccinating their children for fear of autism there will be a whole new set of epidemic of mumps whooping cough and others. I think jenny needs to get her facts straight. any parent who knows autism really knows shes full of it. With behavioral management autistic kids can get better and they do but it does not mean they are cured

    Elizabeth Mish
    San Diego CA

  119. Uwe Hayek

    I have been suffering from Chronic Fatigue for over 30 years.
    Turns out that when I was 8, I was misdiagnosed and given way too much antibiotics, the wonderdrug of that time.
    To make matters worse : our socialist government, had made psychological testing mandatory in the last year of primary school, and then they told my parents that I had “inborn lazyness”. I was already ducking efforts, since I felt tired all the time, and it must have come out of the answers I gave. My father died recently, and disinherited me because of my “lazyness”.
    I got even conscripted, and not one doctor noticed that my heartbeat was way too high while resting, and that I failed almost every physical endurance test. When I finished my army time, they were ever so kind to put “lazy” on my military evalution.

    20 years later, always getting sicker , and getting more and more antibiotics, and getting even sicker of them, the internet came around, and after taking antifungals, I suddenly felt better than ever. Only then I realized that I had CVS all the time.

    Why do I tell you all this ? Doctors have a very, and I mean very rudimentary view on our health. They almost NEVER listen to patients, but they listen to pharma representatives, who come to tell them how their meds performed wonderfully in “scientific” studies.

    Did you know that HIV-AIDS was a scam ?

    That it probably could be cured with yoghurt, just as CVS ?

    Did you know that vaxing against HPV could cause infertility ?
    It could cause a reaction against some hormone needed in pregnancy, and then result in miscarriage after miscarriage.

    Dr Mercola says : take your health into your own hand. Jenny McCarthy did, I admire her for that. Be sceptical. You have the internet. Also listen to dissident voices and patient who suffered the orthodoxy, give their arguments a fair hearing. They may save your life, as they did with mine.

    Uwe Hayek.

  120. @uwe hayek: Wow, it’s a two-in-one: HIV denialism AND anti-vax!

    Jenny McCarthy didn’t take her health into her hands, she took everyone else’s, and she is putting them all in danger with her woo-woo.

    We gave your arguements a fair hearing, and we determined that they were dead wrong. You are just spewing the same old pro-disease canards.

    Joe Mercola is an out-and-out quack, and as far I can tell, he has more interest in lining his pockets than “curing” anyone.

  121. etc

    Statistically speaking, the data regarding DPT-vaccinated infants is absolutely frightening.

    The death rate is eight times greater than normal within only three days of receiving a DPT shot. The dreaded Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) clusters very strongly around the typical time frame of DPT shot administration.

    DPT vaccinations are usually given at age’s two months, four months, and six months. SIDS occurs mostly during the same time frame (85% from one to six months), with the largest incidence occurring at two and four months, in a bimodal fashion. This means that most of the SIDS cases actually cluster directly after the injections, and not in smooth fashion over the entire time period. One study showed that of 103 infants who died of SIDS, 70% had received the DPT vaccine within three weeks.

    As of 1975, Japan began deferring pertussis vaccinations until two years of age. A significant drop in serious reactions to the vaccine (of which there are many, the worst of which is SIDS) was noted immediately. The United States has refused to be deterred by such data, however, and some DPT shots are administered here as early as six weeks of age. Often this earlier injection occurs only because it better meshes with the pediatrician’s schedule for a ”well-baby” check-up.


  122. 90210

    1rise in the number of kids vaccinated > autistic

    off course when you have a bigger pool of kids, more number of kids are bound to be autistic. Back before vaccines are available, most of the autistic kids are just hidden in the basement, which is why you see a lot of them.

    2 some kids are more vulnerable

    off course some kids are more vulnerable but autism was there before the vaccines. Blaming the vaccines is easier than blaming god, or Jebus, or magic dust or Darwin or that night of lovemaking.

  123. Gill

    And I thought it was bad when Actresses try to become singers!!

    Is it politically correct to say that this Mother known as Jenny McCarthy is probably nuts and her poor kid probably is too? Yeah…. that’s offside. I’m sure a few people have thought it! She actually runs around saying that she CURED autism. That is a pretty serious thing to say.

    In the litigious United States it would be great if someone could sue her for her unfounded advice. If a guy can sue McDonald’s for making him fat, or someone can sue for spilling a hot coffee on their crotch (I drink my coffee hot too) then someone could certainly make a case for an illness arising because of a lack of vaccination.

    I’d be really interested in seeing what a great writer (like Phil Plait) would write about the over-prescription of medication for all the ADD, ADHD kids….. whom I suspect of not having anything more than an abundance of energy. Forgive my bias, I am a schoolteacher and I see the board and parents looking for medication as the FIRST technique when it comes to behavior problems. That really concerns me.

    Thanks to Phil and the intelligent posters on this site. I learned a lot and I have a lot more to learn if I want to continue helping students that fall in the Autism Spectrum.

  124. It’s worse than that, though. Not only has Jenny McCarthy claimed that she has cured Evan, but she says that she could “turn him autistic again” if she ever lets up:

    You know, I could in two months turn Evan completely autistic again. I could do it completely through diet. And maybe getting some vaccine boosters. Through diet, I could load him up again with all the things that will aggravate the damage that was done. Right now, what happened now was that I healed him to the point where he got everything back to this baseline level and it stays there like this. But I mess with it at all–boom!

    (from: http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2007/11/postholiday_the_stupid_it_burns_part_1_j.php)

    Sadly, the original interview that I cited is no longer available on the web page I linked to, which is why I consider it very fortunate that I transcribed her words. In any case, consider the colossal arrogance of that statement. McCarthy now thinks that she has the power over whether Evan is autistic or not.

  125. I think that this is the best example of natural selection I have ever seen! If you believe the bad science your kids might die but before they die they will spread the disease to other children of bad science thus preventing these people from properly entering the gene pool. Ms McCarthy should be haled as a Darwinian hero.


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