ABC News embraces the nonsense

By Phil Plait | January 6, 2010 11:03 am

You may have heard the recent news that an expert panel of pediatricians reviewed the literature on gastrointestinal disorders and autism, and found no link between them. A key phrase in their findings was

The existence of a gastrointestinal disturbance specific to persons with ASDs (eg, "autistic enterocolitis") has not been established.

They also found that there was no evidence that special diets help autistic kids. Mind you, this was a panel of 28 experts, scientists who have devoted their careers and lives to investigating autism.

So if you were a reporter at ABC News, who would you turn to to get an opinion on this? If you said Jenny McCarthy, then give yourself a gold star, because that’s just what ABC News did. Go and watch that interview (have some antacid ready). In it, she says that scientists need to take anecdotes seriously, a statement so awful it’s hard to know where to start with it.

Jenny Mccarthy and syringe, smallFirst of all, scientists did take the anecdotes seriously. That’s why they investigated any possible links between GI disorders, diets, and autism. What they found was that there is no link.

Second, McCarthy confuses anecdotes with data. As I have said before, anecdotes are where you start an investigation, not where you finish one. That’s the difference between science (aka reality) and nonsense. You can convince yourself of all manners of silliness through personal experience. I decide to whistle before drinking my coffee one morning, and I find a $20 bill in the street. So does that mean if I whistle every morning before my java I will find money? No, of course not. But that’s precisely the type of thinking McCarthy is promoting.

Getting back to ABC News, they also posted a story that tries to throw all sorts of doubt on the results of the report by the pediatric experts. I suppose they’re trying to find balance and all that in this issue, but again, as I have said before, sometimes stories don’t have two sides. There is reality, and there’s fantasy.

Should they post a rebuttal by an astrologer every time we find a new extrasolar planet? How about getting a creationist’s opinion on a new malaria vaccine?

Sadly, Jenny McCarthy is news because she’s the voice of a group of people who listen to her, but that’s at least in part due to the fact that the news organizations treat her seriously. It’s a self-fulfilling news cycle, and ABC News just gave it another nice little boost.

Shame on you, ABC News. Shame.

Happily, not every news outlet is so gullible. USA Today just posted a great article about the dangers of not vaccinating your kids, and they don’t pull any punches. Because people like Jenny McCarthy muddy the waters and add so much noise to the real science, people are turning away from real medicine and embracing "alternative" methods that we know don’t work.

The result it not just that kids who need help aren’t getting it (the so-called "what’s the harm?" fallacy). The result is that kids are getting sick, and some of them are dying. When you reject reality and turn to nonsense, it has real effects. And it’s not just affecting your kids, it affects all kids.

Talk to your physician about vaccines, autism, and diets. Read the real work being done.

Tip o’ the syringe to Gary Schwitzer.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience, Piece of mind

Comments (155)

  1. i feel like i’m taking crazy pills

  2. Sc00ter

    I just emailed them to complain, I suggest others do the same. It’s the only way they’ll change.

  3. Which is why this timeless cartoon will always be relevant

    Teach Both Sides

  4. UGGGHH – anecdote is not evidence. Come on people. So infuriating!!!

    Am very glad about the US Today coverage though – hooray to Every Child by Two and PKids!

  5. Scooter, what e-dress or website did you use?

  6. Personal SinR

    Yea, I’d love to write in as well. This stuff is ridiculous

  7. Coming up next on ABC News. Captain Kangaroo, explains Black Holes. No, wait…. that’ll make sense . Sorry, cant come up with an analogy that is as dumb as JM giving medical advise, that a news network would run as a story.

  8. @TechSkeptic

    I saw the cartoon posted and thought, “Hey, IVAN3MAN’s back!” Picking up his mantle?

    Oh, and to anyone who has questions about vaccines, please pay a visit to antiantivax.flurf.net before commenting. It may answer some of your questions.

  9. Adam

    I just wrote to ABC and let them know how disappointed I am in their report. If we all do the same and let them know how we feel about bunk like this appearing on the news maybe they’ll step up their game.

  10. The interview actually reminds me of Dara O’Briain’s bit about “balance”.

  11. Matt

    I don’t think there’s another person on this planet that boils my blood as quickly as Jenny McCarthy.

    And to think I used to touch myself while looking at you, Jenny. Now I feel ashamed. Luckily God will forgive me… oh crap.

  12. Tim

    This whole antivax thing has made me feel, more than any other time in my life, like I’ve gone WAY down the rabbit hole. Sometimes I can understand panics, if not sympathize with them. I managed to shrug this one off as a blip until it really started gaining traction in the past couple of years, and ever since then I’ve been alternately scratching my head and vomiting. There’s no way people can be THIS stupid…something else has to be at work. Help me…? I’m lost…

  13. @Tim I absolutely agree, it’s a surreal level of stupidity.

    I really cannot believe that the mainstream news continually fails to see the harm in showing “both sides” of the vaccination issue. I understand that people want to find an explanation for the seeming increase in autism spectrum disorders, but the scientific method has shown the Vax=Autism hypothesis to be wrong. It’s certainly possible that there is a as yet undiscovered environmental cause, but vaccination is not it. I don’t have children yet, but am genuinely scared that people without the facts will put my children in danger by their choices.

  14. You can contact ABC News here. I sent them a complaint that included a link to Dara’s youtube video that I mentioned above.

  15. Way to leave out the fact that Jenny McCarthy has a kid with autism. And the anecdotal evidence in her community (whatever that means) is that a specific diet does help with autism.

    Also, to quote: “The existence of a gastrointestinal disturbance specific to persons with ASDs (eg, “autistic enterocolitis”) has not been established.” (emphasis mine)
    Just because something hasn’t been established, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    Jerks.

  16. bookwench

    The basic problem that people have with science is it doesn’t tell them a story they can relate to, and it won’t hug them and tell them it’s going to be ok, or listen to them when they complain.

    I worked a call center for a while. Customers were not supposed to have our number – we were the call center for the techs, not the customers. Shockingly, the customers would somehow get our number anyways. Straight after my highly professional greeting, I would get the most fantastic rants you’ve ever imagined hearing. Often as not, if I just listened to them, reassured them we were working the issue and pointed them to the customer hotline, they were happy. It had nothing to do with actually fixing their problem – their calling me actually wasted both their time and mine, and possibly delayed the repair if a tech was trying to reach us – but even if they understood that fact I firmly believe most of them would have called anyways. All they wanted was to be reassured they were important, to feel like they’d done something, to talk to someone. I’m not talking lonely little old 20-cat ladies, either – I’m talking businessmen and professionals. Something had gone wrong in their world and telling someone was the only way they knew how to handle it.

    Stories are powerful things, and they’re how we’re built to learn. When someone tells you a story, your brain absorbs it and learns from it. Anecdotes are *everything* to people who deal in people, from your managers to your hedge fund folks to your politicians to your soccer moms. Anecdotes tell them which nanny is trustworthy for their kid, which kids are into drugs, which employees are reliable, which jurisdictions are lenient. To be told “your anecdote isn’t science, it’s pointless” makes them angry – you’re telling them *they’re* pointless and dumb. You’re telling them their entire system of thought is flawed (which it could be, but mostly it works) and that’s something nobody likes to hear. They have a story to tell you, and to them it’s important. It’s the most important thing. It’s knowledge, the only way they know how to transmit it.

    Science needs the equivalent of a call center where people can come to vent their anecdotes so they feel science is listening. Something friendly and caring and kind, with fuzzy sweaters and smiles. Then you can tell them “That’s wonderful, we’re definitely going to take your story into consideration, thank you so much for telling me that! Now, this is how it really works, ok?”

  17. Typical dismissive skeptic…

    “I decide to whistle before drinking my coffee one morning, and I find a $20 bill in the street. So does that mean if I whistle every morning before my java I will find money? No, of course not.”

    Have you TRIED the whistling test? My mother’s cousin’s best friend’s aunt’s neighbour mistles (money whistles) all the time!

    Dismissing misling out of hand… next thing, you’ll say that those orbs in my photos are just dust!

  18. I will also write to ABC…well done bad astronomer!

  19. Gary Ansorge

    Seems other news organizations are trying to follow the FauxSnooze tactic of inventing news.

    As an aside, I note this quote from that link:

    “Schaffner says he sees vaccination as a part of the obligation of the strong to protect the weak.”

    Which is exactly how I was raised. Most societies appear to accept the exact opposite of that statement. When I was last in Saudi Arabia, I was working out at a Saudi gym and went for a drink of water. Two small children were being pushed aside from the water fountain by a larger boy. When I approached he stepped aside. I then encouraged the younger kids to help themselves. The bigger boy was puzzled and asked me why, since I was obviously physically superior, I had allowed the children to drink first. I told him “The way I was raised, the strong take care of the weak”. I hope he learned something from that.

    Jenny M. may THINK she’s helping but before she can do that she needs to learn what science really is and I expect that would be too difficult for her. Thinking is painful for some people.

    GAry 7

  20. JackC

    Todd W beat me to it :) “… so, in the name of “balance” we now go to Barry, who believes the sky is a carpet painted by god …”

    If you haven’t watched “Dara O’Briain Talks Funny” yet – do so. Now.

    No – I don’t think I spelled his name wrong. It just looks odd.

    JC

  21. Rob W.

    Hey Phil — off topic, but in your disclaimer box you still list yourself as president of the JREF. Just though I’d let you know so you can update it.

    On topic, as a journalist, I am in violent agreement with your assertion that some stories do not have two sides.

  22. This post demonstrates why I stopped listening to the “Nightline” podcast. ABC seems to really credulous when it comes to religion and alt med stories.

  23. @JackC

    The scary thing is that Diane Sawyer’s presentation followed almost exactly the same format as Dara’s bit. “[talking about the science]. We now turn to Jenny McCarthy, who…”

  24. oNagra

    There should be simple requirements and standards put in place before you can label any communication as “News” whether it be print, TV or any other type of media….they have done it for all other industries….it should now be mandatory to differentiate (1) Opinion, (2) News, (3) Investigation……something like that….You cant call everything ” News” anymore, because it just isn’t….

  25. Rich W.

    However, there has been one bright spot on the day: NPR seems to have gotten one right. They even consulted with someone who
    A. knows something about the subject and
    B. has a good B.S. detector: Steven Novella.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122256276&ft=1&f=1001

    You should post this… seriously.

  26. Rob W (23) Thanks! I meant to do that after January 1. :)

  27. SkepDoc

    Sometimes I just feel like quitting my job as a physician because I can’t compete with this. Phil, can’t the rational community just start our own country? Maybe somewhere sunny on the beach in Mexico, I’m sure they’ll let us.

  28. JackC

    Todd: Well – we KNOW that science doesn’t know everything – otherwise it would just stop…..”

    Man, that is just scary.

    JC

  29. Sean

    People want quick, easy to digest answers. People worship celebrities. Celebrities who study acting and pop culture are the most vocal (those who study reality think quietly). Therefore, loud, ignorant celebrities answer people’s questions in short, easy to follow sentences. The result is that these people believe things that are demonstrably not true, but sound “right” if one does not think too hard about them. Without better education from day one, we’re doomed to more of this crap. An informational Dark Age looms. To arms!

  30. In regards to your comment about balance: ABC News isn’t going to look for a person that supports murder. “This person was shot last night. Can you find someone that supports murder? It would be great if you found a neighbor that always wished this person would die.” (Obviously the two issues aren’t equal, but it’s the best example I can think of…)

  31. Charlie Young

    Jenny doesn’t see the observer bias introduced into her logic. She wants to believe her boy is better by taking the diet, therefore he is better. I guess she doesn’t understand that the scientists want to test her theory from an unbiased standpoint. Can’t wait for the studies funded by AoA refuting Pediatrics’ study.

  32. JD

    As an opposing point, diet directly affects my autistic son. I don’t give a hoot what a panel of 28 experts say, I have proof staring me in the face every day. Most people would have a hard time noticing anything is amiss with my child. Unless… he gets hold of some food item he shouldn’t. The transformation is remarkable and repeatable.
    If anyone doubts it I will gladly open up my home to any expert you want to have come over and observe. Sure, you can sit there at a distance and call it anecdotal, from my position I call it empirical data.

  33. Michel

    I live in Europe so this McCarthy woman doesn´t affect me.

  34. @mattack

    Way to leave out the fact that Jenny McCarthy has a kid with autism. And the anecdotal evidence in her community (whatever that means) is that a specific diet does help with autism.

    I used to have a dog with kidney stones. I found that letting it out frequently seemed to help with its kidney stones. Does my anecdotal evidence make me an expert on kidney stones in dogs? Does it mean that letting the dog out frequently really did help with its kidney stones? Does my anecdotal evidence carry the same weight as the science, data and expertise of a veterinarian?

  35. Michel

    @27
    So that gives you plenty of time.

  36. It could have been worse. They could have started by showing Jenny McCarthy’s perspective on a scientific subject, then saying, “but the issue is far from settled, there are diverging opinions”, only to counter with a “second opinion” from Pamela Anderson or Tom Cruise.

  37. Jenny, you should have stuck to posing naked. That’s about all you’re good for.

  38. Adam

    bookwench… that is an awesome story and a great idea. I think you’re onto something with the whole “people want to know that science is listening to them” thing. I can see how that would go a long way to helping feel a connection with science rather than crackpottery. Crackpots are the only ones who appear to be actively listening, even though science really is listening. Science just goes off and does its multi-year study and then reports findings. So how do we make science more personable, more accessible?

  39. Matt G.

    @35

    -So how do we make science more personable, more accessible?

    Get our own playboy bunny to represent science?

  40. Peptron

    The saddest in all that is that satirical news stations like The Colbert Report and The Onion end up giving more accurate informations than actual news channels.

  41. Nomen Publicus

    So, on one hand we have a bunch of doctors, backed up by a bunch of scientists, backed up by 500 years of science. On the other hand we have a silly woman desperate make her sense of failure go away.

    Obviously everybody should side with the silly woman, she’s got a sick baby!

    I wonder if she would reject medical science if a member of her family were unfortunate enough to be injured in an accident?

  42. Once upon a time a bunch of scientists claimed the sun revolved around the Earth.

    This article is incredibly one sided. Lets now go talk to the scientists that say diet DOES effect autism.

  43. rob

    i, for one, would rather put my trust in a nose pickin’, nudie posing, internet edubuhcationatin’, aura seein’, publicity seekin’ media hound than some “elitist” “scientific” “consensus.”

    scienc are hard.

  44. Did we forget Jen has a kid with Autism?? I’m sure she can see the effects of diet on her child FIRST HAND. Her thoughts on the subject are worth listening to.

  45. Mateo

    I thought that vaccines had already been proven safe to use and also effective in curing diseases, based on years of research that had been conducted by well-trained scientists and mountains of evidence that had been collected worldwide, as well as how untold millions of lives have been saved by their administration.

    Fortunately, 1994 Playboy Playmate of the Year and 2005 Golden Raspberry Award-winner Jenny McCarthy’s brief remarks on “anecdotal evidence” concerning special diets and autism has cured me of that delusion.

    Her ten-second thought on that subject, which was dripping with scorn and condescension toward scientists in general, has shown me the error of my ways.

    Now I know that a B-movie and television actress should be taken more seriously than highly qualified experts with years of experience in their respective fields when discussing “anecdotal evidence” concerning vaccines and special diets for autism.

    Congratulations, Jenny McCarthy: you have shown me that alternative medicine and homeopathy based merely on subjective and biased interpretation of “anecdotal evidence” is more accurate than thorough, rigorous, and objective experimentation (based on the scientific method) that is performed by highly-educated researchers and doctors who have worked in that field for years.


    “Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” — Mark Twain

  46. Aerimus

    @christy:

    And I used to believe in Santa Claus. What’s your point?
    In any case, it was the scientist who released that error before the masses.

    @John:

    The problem there that I see is two fold. First, as a lay person, she may not understand the concept that correlation does not equal causation (in fact, her belief that vaccines cause autism would suggest that she does not understand that principal at all). In other words, she cannot accurately say whether the diet leads to the improvement in her child, or if the two just seem to coincide enough for her to think that they do. Secondly, it’s her treatment on her kid – she’s baised. She’s not likely to make an objective statement because she has too much emotionally tied up in this.

    On top of all that, even if her kids actually responding positively to the diet, that might just be the case for her own kid or for a very small percentage of children.

  47. @bookwench

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. These parents want to feel like they’re doing something to improve their child’s situation. I can completely relate to that.

    During two of my kids’ febrile seizures, they stopped breathing for awhile. I found that I couldn’t just sit there and wait for 911 to send someone. I had to do *SOMETHING* even if I knew intellectually that that something wasn’t really helping in any way. For my oldest, it was prying his mouth open so he wouldn’t swallow his tongue (which, after panic subsided, I realized could not happen). For my youngest, it was keep an eye out for the ambulance while my mother-in-law gave rescue breaths. (Couldn’t just sit there watching my baby not breathing with gray-colored skin.)

    Parents of children with special needs like Autism likely have similar desires (though in a less panicky state of mind). Sitting around while the doctors research treatments/cures isn’t an option to them. They need to be active.

    Here is where they trip up, though. They get lured in by claims that a certain diet or skipping certain shots will help their child. This is relatively easy to do. Stop feeding your kid this. Start feeding him that. Call the doctor and tell him the child won’t be getting this shot. Very easy actions that make them feel like they’re doing something to improve their child’s situation. Perhaps they even “research” it (translation, search online and end up on antivax websites).

    If they see improvement, they attribute it to the diet/shot-skipping/etc. If they don’t, they move on to the next claim. Of course, by pure chance, eventually something will coincide with some tiny improvement. The credit for this will go to the actions they took and they’ll believe even more firmly in the healing power of this course of action.

    This doesn’t excuse the risk the antivax crowd is exposing other children to, but sometimes it helps to know the motivations of the people on the other side.

  48. ND

    Michel,

    You may live in Europe but the people who listen to McCarthy may be flying into your area today.

    Hmm, is that scaremongering?

  49. @Todd W

    I used to have a dog with kidney stones. I found that letting it out frequently seemed to help with its kidney stones. Does my anecdotal evidence make me an expert on kidney stones in dogs? Does it mean that letting the dog out frequently really did help with its kidney stones? Does my anecdotal evidence carry the same weight as the science, data and expertise of a veterinarian?

    Your anecdotal evidence doesn’t make you an expert on kidney stones, but it does make you the closest thing we’ve got to an expert on your dog’s kidney stones. Jenny doesn’t claim to be an expert on autism -and I didn’t claim she was either- but she is an expert on her experience, and knows what works for her child and for other children.

    I can’t say if letting your dog out more frequently actually helped kidney stones. You tell me. Or better yet, why don’t we ask your dog?

    I firmly believe I am the best person to articulate my experience. Not a so-called ‘expert.’

  50. Big Al

    Finally have enough H1N1 vaccine in Jefferson County, Texas to go around. Maybe the availability is due to some people being afraid of vaccines, who knows. Anyway, soon as I get off work, I’m headed over to the health department for my jab.

  51. @christy,

    The difference is that science is self-correcting. Way back when science said the Sun revolves around the Earth, some people noticed problems with this theory. They tried to resolve it with various methods (circles within circles), but eventually had to scrap the whole thing. Instead, the Earth revolves around Sun model won out because it fit the data better.

    The Woo believers, however, don’t get “proven wrong.” They are, by their own definition, right (at least in their own minds). This means they can never be disproven and their theories never need alteration.

    For people like the antivax crowd, who are a bit less woo and a bit more on “the science isn’t settled”, every strike against them moves their claims over a bit. Mercury in the combined MMR causes autism! What? Mercury’s been removed and rates haven’t dropped? Well, it’s the combined MMR itself! What? Studies are disproving this? Well, it’s the number of vaccines! What? Studies disprove this now? Well, it’s the toxins in vaccines! Rinse. Repeat.

    You can’t “prove them wrong” that A leads to B because every time you do, they simply revise the path they take from A to B and say you didn’t disprove this path. As long as they can draw a new path, no matter how winding and unlikely, they will continue to claim that they hold the truth and “Big Science” is wrong.

  52. Matt G.

    @ mattack

    Well her claims were investigated and no link was found between diet and curing autism nor immunizations and causing autism.

    Okay, we checked, your experience isn’t invalid, but the evidence doesn’t support the links you are claiming to find in your experience, let’s move on to find other links or treatments or causes. At least, that would be the reasonable thing to do, not decide that the science is incorrect and your single case and the links you ascribe to it are and start a national campaign to stop immunization and cause the deaths of children because you don’t like that you were wrong.

    She, you, and I are not experts even in our own experience because we can create ‘facts’ that don’t exist by not being armed with the correct information in reviewing our experiences. Just like the woman who saw Jesus in her grilled cheese isn’t an expert in her own experience because she created that association in her head, not her bread.

    ok, I’m pretty proud of that last line.

  53. Ray

    @ Christy,

    “Once upon a time a bunch of scientists claimed the sun revolved around the Earth.”

    And it was scientists who changed their claim when better data came in.

    It is the cranks and fools who refuse to change. Jenny, for instance.

  54. Rigby

    @Christy – NO, once upon a time the Church and its myopic leadership said that the sun revolved around the earth. They knew this because they could observe the movement of the Sun and they preached that God made the Earth the center of the universe. It’s that anecdotal thing again.

  55. Icepick

    Thanks, Phil! Writing to ABC News now.

  56. @mattack

    Your anecdotal evidence doesn’t make you an expert on kidney stones, but it does make you the closest thing we’ve got to an expert on your dog’s kidney stones. Jenny doesn’t claim to be an expert on autism -and I didn’t claim she was either- but she is an expert on her experience, and knows what works for her child and for other children.

    I can’t say if letting your dog out more frequently actually helped kidney stones. You tell me. Or better yet, why don’t we ask your dog?

    I firmly believe I am the best person to articulate my experience. Not a so-called ‘expert.’

    Actually, my experience did not make me an expert on my dog’s kidney stones. All it made me an expert on was letting my dog out so it could pee outside instead of me having to clean the rug. And as it turns out, my letting it out did absolutely nothing for the kidney stones. In fact, it allowed my dog to be in greater and greater pain as the stones got worse. If you spoke dog, you could ask it, but you’d need to find its body, first, then figure out some way to make it live again, as it had to be put down due to the severity of the kidney stones; there were no interventions that would have helped.

    Just as I was and am not an expert on kidney stones in dogs, either my own or in general, Jenny is not an expert on GI issues in autistic children, either her own or in general. We were both prone to fooling ourselves, seeing what we wanted to see. Our experiences might be okay as places to start investigating the phenomena, but they are not, in and of themselves, evidence that the phenomena help, or even that they are actually happening as we perceived them.

  57. JD

    From the linked study:
    “Few studies have examined the effects of a casein-free diet, a gluten-free diet, or combined GFCF diet on the behavior of individuals with ASDs. To our knowledge, only 1 double-blind placebo-controlled study has been published to date.”

    They are using one study to base these finding on…

    “In this double-blind crossover trial of GFCF or typical diet in 15 children with ASDs”

    15 children? That’s a conclusive group size?

    Even with that…

    ” there were no differences in measures of severity of ASD symptoms, communication, social responsiveness, and urinary peptide levels after 12 weeks.46 Nevertheless, after being informed of the results, 9 parents wanted to continue the diet and reported positive subjective clinical changes while their child was on the GFCF diet. ”

    Over half the parents must have seen something that made them curious and then report improvement.

    This is supposed to be a big bombshell report that refutes all parents that say they see improvement by using a tailored diet?

    Seriously, is this conclusive science?

  58. ND

    Did MMR used to have thimerisol? I thought that it never had it.

  59. Will

    @mattack

    Your thought process is, unfortunately, the exact problem with this issue. You apparently don’t understand basic scientific principles, and then someone comes on TV like Jenny who has a lot of conviction and not a lot of sense and you buy into her nonsense.

    The volume of scientific evidence to show that Jenny McCarthy doesn’t have a clue what she’s talking about is pretty much overwhelming. Eventually she comes to accept the information and find a new thing to demonise (from vaccinations to intestinal flora). She’s one roll short of a tinfoil hat at this point, and I think the bigger questions to ask are: ‘why is she so against western medicine? what was the trigger point for her being completely unable to trust the evidence given to her? why does she feel the need to push this ridiculous agenda to the detriment of American children?’ Maybe if some of those questions were answered, we’d be further along in figuring out how to get her to use her conviction for good, rather than evil.

  60. isles

    ND – No, MMR has never contained thimerosal. It is incompatible with a live-virus vaccine.

    If I recall, this study found that there was no objective difference when the autistic children were fed the special diet, only a subjective difference perceived by parents. That right there tells you the whole story.

  61. @ND

    MMR does not and has never had thimerosal in it. One of the things I’ve mentioned on my site. Some antivaxers will, however, claim that MMR had (or has!) thimerosal in it.

  62. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Schaffner says he sees vaccination as a part of the obligation of the strong to protect the weak.

    At times I’m proud to be human.

    This, together with yesterday’s (?) release of results that vaccines correlates with lower autism rates, is all good. (Though as noted, it could be due to that children with autistic symptoms are withheld vaccinations for different reasons.)

    Now, if we could only have the crackpots actually learn. But there’s no vaccine against incompetence. :-/

  63. David

    You are so right, all the “experts” have already proven that autism is due to cold mothers. Oh, wait, that was the scientific communities’ old, disproven theory. It’s actually due to a genetic, neurological disorder. Oh, sorry, that’s the second theory from the scientific community that’s falling by the wayside. Now the scientists think there’s an environmental component, which means chemicals entering the body might trigger underlying genetic susceptibilities. Which precludes vaccines, because they aren’t chemicals… entering… the… body… hmm.

    Anyway, only wackos consider a link between gastrointestinal disorders and autism, like Dr. Tim Buie of Harvard (okay, forget him). Obviously none of the million or so parents with autistic kids who actually live with this every day and observe this with their own eyes should be listened to, because they don’t have the impressive medical credentials that you have, Phil (that is ignoring your complete lack of credentials, and of course except for the large numbers of doctors, researchers and clinicians with autistic kids involved in biomedical treatment)

    The DAN! Community of doctors is finding large numbers of kids improving and even recovering from autism, but I think they must be using your brilliant whistling / coffee technique.

    If arrogance could be bottled and sold, you’d be a billionaire, Phil.

  64. Linda

    Just cause they didnt find a link does not mean no link exists. Thats great that they are experts, theyre the ones that should be donig this research, since they are equipped w knowledge that should help them see or explain the biological/chemical mechanisms that are potentially at work. Clearly Im not suggesting that there definitely is a link. I know nothing of the matter. What I am saying, is that you cannot simply say that a group of experts looked and found nothing and from that establish a hard fact that there is no link. I would word it pretty much exactly the way the researchers themselves stated – “The existence of a gastrointestinal disturbance specific to persons with ASDs (eg, “autistic enterocolitis”) has not been established.” The article for some reason goes to say how ridiculous anecdotal data now becomes since a link was not found in this study. Why all of the sudden the anecdotal data looses all credibility, that it maintained prior to the study, is beyond me. Its the same data, it has not changed. Simply not finding an answer immediately, does not mean that there is no answer to be found. I think it is important that we realize that experts cant see everything either, and they too overlook stuff. Not to mention that no matter what illness you may or may not have, your diet will of course affect you.. seeing as we are what we absorb from what we eat.

  65. Another Adam

    @ BookWench. You are absolutly right. Watch the stock footage of news clippings in Apollo 13. See how the experts tell a story and try to teach us the science. We have gotten away from that. Reports of scientific studies now follow the same patterns: flashy headline, a research study shows… (something less than the headline claims), experts are not sure about …, more study needs to be done. So we went from absolute miracle to we don’t really know what we did. The story undermines the science. When we get scientists willing to teach the populace we will get better science information.

  66. badnicolez

    My two cents:

    1. Diet can play a huge role in behavior and perhaps the changes the parents are observing is simply the result of a better (healthy?) diet, rather than the improvement of autism symptoms, which I assume is what the doctors/scientists/experts are monitoring.

    When I see what my friends and family are feeding their kids on a regular basis, I’m fairly horrified. A good diet might very well improve any child’s (or even adult’s) behavior regardless.

    2. See http://discovermagazine.com/2005/may/vitamin-cure/?searchterm=vitamin cure and http://discovermagazine.com/2008/jan/food-additives2019-effect-on-children

  67. MadScientist

    I just don’t understand it. Given the following choices:

    1. obtain medical advice from appropriate medical professionals

    2. obtain medical advice from a pair of surgically enlarged boobs

    why do people choose (2)?

    McCarthy brings to mind the old Latin joke about Tongilianus; as it applies to McCarthy:

    McCarthy has boobs, I know it and I don’t deny it – but these days McCarthy is nothing but a boob! (OK, maybe it’s funnier in Latin).

  68. I came across a similar but less generally harmful instance of lazy and sensationalist journalism in late 2008 when the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) first came online.

    Our local cable news network SkyNews Australia broadcast a package about the LHC which focused almost entirely on the end of the world scenarios and the “scientists” espousing those views.

    I rang the newsroom to complain and was given the standard “but we have to give both sides of the story” excuse. I replied by saying “I look forward to Holocaust Deniers being given equal time when you next broadcast a story about the Jewish Holocaust”. The response was something akin to “Oh…” followed by an uncomfortably long pause.

  69. Mike

    You know why I hate stuff like this? I just read an interesting article that a large percentage of people with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) also have some form of epilepsy or have had an abnormal EEG (test to monitor brain-wave patterns). This was a respectable publication about epilepsy research, so they made sure to point out that it needs further studying, they are not sure of the cause/effect relationship, and that each condition manifests itself in many different ways, so that it may be impossible to ever derive much useful information other than a strong correlation between them.

    So why does Jenny tick me off? My wife has both ASD and epilepsy, so that research may really affect her life. But with all of these idiots spouting off about anecdotal causes, it takes the focus off of the real research. I’m worried they may cause a backlash against the real research and cause funding to be diverted to things that have already been studied and found wrong. Also, if people believe Jenny, some of the money spent on helping those like my wife to lead a somewhat normal life (which is a constant struggle) may be spent on finding some bogus cure that may not exist.

  70. Chip

    Reminds me of a cartoon I saw about ten years ago: A TV commentator was sitting between a perplexed looking man who had just spoken and a wild, crazed looking man with clown makeup in a paramilitary uniform with ammunition belts preparing his script. The announcers said: “Thank you for that analysis Dr. Jones, and now for fairness and balance, here is an opinion from a crazed lunatic.”

  71. rob

    i have a friend who tossed a coin–and it came up heads. just to be sure i tried tossing a coin and it came up heads too. that means that all coins must come up heads. after all, my friend and i are the experts on our coins. who are you to deny that coins don’t always come up heads? you can marginalize our experience with our coins–but i know in my heart that all coins come up heads. you experts out there, the ones that have done large sample size coin toss studies with your statistical analysis and standard deviations and p values are all elitist scientists in the pay of big pharma. i don’t care about all the coin studies that have been done in the past 50 years that show that coins come up heads *and* tails 50% of the time each. my anecdotal experience is valid and you are all mean to say that my experience isn’t meaningful and hasn’t enriched my coins life.

    excuse me now.

    i have to go and have my coin’s aura read. then i have an interview with abc news to explain again how sheeps’ bladders may be employed to prevent earthquakes.

  72. ND

    Thanks guys for the info on MMR and thim. I should have checked out your site Todd. I know a few people who should read it.

  73. Sean

    ABC read the letters shaming them, it would seem. This article, http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wirestory?id=9492635&page=2, demonstrates that the causes of autism are unclear. Further, it demonstrates that diagnosis of autism is more likely when testing is more prevalent (obvious, I know, but some need that). Naturally, JM and her crowd will now crow “degrees cause autism!”, and begin recommending lobotomies for all who studied after high school. Hey, if that’s what it takes to keep my daughter from “catching” autism…

  74. JT

    Re: christy

    Really, scientists believed in geocentricism? Well then, I guess it’s a good thing the astrologers correctly came up with the heliocentric model, and eventually convinced the world it was correct by showing conclusively how it improved the accuracy of their horoscopes, isn’t it? I mean, it had to be that way. Otherwise, we’d still think the earth is the center of the universe, since no scientist has ever changed his mind based on evidence. Right?

  75. Yeebok

    I found this site which is interesting :
    http://www.jennymccarthybodycount.com/Jenny_McCarthy_Body_Count/Illness_Timelines.html

    At least McCarthy’s interesting when you do an image search with safe off.. though you’d think she’d at least make sure her hair matched.

  76. narendra

    The next thing they can look for is the relationship between past life and autism! That seems to be the latest on Indian TV channels airing what they call as past life regression! Is there no limit to peoples credibility?

  77. mena

    Oh please, going to college and getting a doctorate makes you an elitist and can’t prepare you for a medical career as well as being naked in a magazine can. This is America after all!
    (sigh, down with ABC et all.)

  78. Christina

    Several problems with the “special diet helped my kid, so it will help yours” idea: A) autism is often charcterized by sudden gains or losses of abilities, so a coincident change in symptoms and diet doesn’t prove a connection, unless you can show it in a large group. B) some autistics have food allergies, just as some non-autistics do. Of course an individual autistic will do better if their allergies are avoided. Unless you can show a higher-than-chance correlation, nothing’s been proven

  79. gypsyb

    I beg to differ with your “people are turning away from real medicine and embracing “alternative” methods that we know don’t work.”
    For some unimaginable reason people into synthetic medications think they have all of the answers. Most of them usually end up if you take A, then you’ll also need to take B and C to combat the side effects of A, which can have the same side effects that you are initially trying to treat anyhow. I view most pharmaceuticals as Voodoo SCIENCE. Watch any T.V. commercial for pharmaceuticals and listen closely to the side effects disclaimer, or if you want a real shock read the pamphlet or pharmacopoeia on line!
    I find it amazing that nature has grown remedies to ailments next to each other. IF you get hit by stinging nettles look for fern with pollen on the under leaf and rub it on.
    It seems to me the more we mess with the so called “miracle drugs” the more afflictions we have to fight against, which I guess is good if you own pharmaceutical stock or work for one of their companies.
    Here’s one for you. There are thousands of studies done on marijuana being used for medication, it’s almost daily someone like Dr. Melamede or ICRS has something new on it. Yet press tries so hard (and is failing thanks to the internet) to suppress this information. And by the way the side effects are less than a vicodin and NO ONE has EVER DIED from it. Pharma’s won’t be happy until they can totally dissect the plant and make FAKE medicine from it that is less effective, they can sell to consumers.

  80. Has McCarthy ever had her kid examined by independent doctors post-diet, and has she ever revealed what said diet consisted of?

  81. Yojimbo

    @ gypsyb

    An interesting set of assertions, that are, sadly, mostly worng.

  82. Not Mr Wizard

    Why did they do it? Because Jenny McCarthy bloviating about her antivaxx nonsense gets more ratings than the panel of 28 scientists. This is why we know more about Tiger Woods’ escapades than Darfur or some of the ridiculously cool things NASA is doing.

  83. I kind of miss the days that she was in denial of her kid being autistic, and instead was an “indigo child.” It was still completely ludicrous but at least it wasn’t a lunacy which led to other people making stupid decisions on their children’s behalves.

  84. Emily

    @JD I think diet affects all people to an extent, whether or not they have an ASD. As a kid, I can remember that most of my siblings and friends had ‘forbidden’ food items that would turn them from an apparently normal, healthy kid into a little terror. It was everything from chocolate to artificial vanilla flavoring to red dye #40 (that seems to be the most common one).

  85. There are children with autism who have gastro intestinal problems – just as there are children without autism who have gastro intestinal problems and I suspect the prevelance rate is about the same.

    You do tend to find that children with autism have higher rates of issues such as constipation but this is more often due to the limited diet rather than the result of ‘leaky gut’ or something else the parent imagines. The limited diet results from sensory sensitivities that some children with autism have – colour, texture and flavour all being carefully considered in an item to be ingested.

    If I were to remove gluten and casein from my child’s diet he would have nothing left he considers edible. If I were to play the anecdote game the way that Jenny McCarthy does then I’ll match my gluten loving, milkshake drinking child with autism and his mixed bag of speech, physical and social therapy based improvements against her biomedical quackery and say that gluten and casein are essential ingredients for improving the behaviour of a child with autism.

  86. @ linda

    Just cause they didnt find a link does not mean no link exists.
    What I am saying, is that you cannot simply say that a group of experts looked and found nothing and from that establish a hard fact that there is no link.

    This is why people laugh at antivaxxers. I read a lot of dumb things to say here, but this was just hilarious.

    Just because they didn’t find any leprechauns in the bellies of autistics doesn’t mean that there are no leprechauns there. A group of experts didnt sit around and just think of things to say, there are a number of studies, people who did real work, people who controlled their studies with participants who had different diets, people who actually understand and can perform statistical analysis who did a lot of work to wean out the data for making a statement like “There is no evidence to support the hypothesis that diet has something to do with autism”.

    Now if Jenny Booberoni said “There are leprechauns in my childs belly” Would you take this seriously? Why not? How about if she said “My child is an indigo child and is more evolved than other people”. Well that one is something she believed, you know based on her anecdotal evidence.

    Why all of the sudden the anecdotal data looses all credibility, that it maintained prior to the study, is beyond me

    and so is all of the way we determine that something works or not. In fact looks like all of how basic science is done is pretty lost on you. Please read Trick or Treatment by Simon Singh and leanr how we came to understand that bloodletting is not a cure for anything, despite strong anecdotal evidence, for 2000 years.

    Increasing rates of autism is simply due to more more and better diagnostic methods. Studies of adults using modern criteria show that the autism rate has basically gone unchanged. Get over it, lets move on and actually let scientists do science.

  87. Amanda

    @gypsyb Ok, then according to your “all pharmaceuticals are bad” theory, we shall now remove any and all pills, vaccines and medications from human use.

    Oh, you didn’t want polio coming back? Ok, we’ll keep that vaccine.

    Oh, you don’t want your headaches? Ok, we’ll keep asprin.

    Oh, you don’t want small pox decimating millions at a time? Ok, we’ll keep that vaccine.

    Oh, you want your sunscreen, sticky plasters, anti-sceptics and birth control? Oh, ok.

    Oh, you want to do surgery WITH anaesthesia? Oh, you want surgery at ALL? Right then.

    Shall I continue?

    You can’t discredit “All Medical/Science is BAD”. You’d be returning humanity to a most primitive state.

  88. JimB

    Amanda,
    No, you missed it. Gypsyb wants us to just use natural medicines. You know, all that stuff that when actually tested is proven to be no better than placebo (with a few exceptions).

  89. Pete

    I read on the net today about a recent study that showed a correlation between California urban areas, parental wealth, and autism. So obviously rich urbanites are prone to autism.

    Except that rich parents have the means to get their child properly diagnosed, as opposed to poor parents whose kids get labeled “retarded”. And rich parents move to the urban centers nearest major hospitals and treatment centers.

    Remember – Ms. McCarthy used to think her son was not autistic – why is her current belief that his diet cured him any more likely to be true?

  90. StevoR

    For a second I thought you meant a different ABC news – The Australian Broadcasting Company – which is one of the better news & current affairs & documentaries channels in my country. ;-)

    You could’ve specified the American ABC BA! ;-)
    Although I guess it should be a default assumption given your location I ‘spose …

    Sad to hear though, & I in in full agreement with you on this issue.

    Soundbites delivered by an attractive woman Vs a panel of many scientists.

    The former may look better & be easier to follow but if you want to know what the facts & truth are it is far better to get your knowledge from the latter.

  91. Michael Swanson

    @ Rob W.

    You disagree that SOME stories don’t have two sides? Are you nuts?

    Headline: “Driving too fast increases the likelihood of getting in an accident.”

    Headline: “Man falls off cliff and dies.”

    Headline: “Local fire caused by arson.”

    Headline: “Vaccination does not cause autism.”

    You see what I’m getting at here, or do you want to want to run a story on my ulterior motives and maybe do a little subtextual analysis?

  92. @JimB (94)

    The thing that bothers me most about “alternative medicine” is the implicit claim that mainstream medicine is somehow “suppressing” these “real” treatments because it’s afraid of them for some reason, when in reality, if the treatments had any merit or benefit, they would become mainstream medicine. Many mainstream medications that we take for granted today started out as herbal folk treatments – Aspirin, for example..

    As another example, for a long time, pretty much all estrogen pills (for HRT for the various reasons for HRT) was produced by extracting it from the urine of pregnant horses (hence the brand name “Premarin,” a contraction of “PREgnant MARe urINe”) until synthetic alternatives were developed (estradiol and the like). That is “natural” in a sense, but also extremely cruel (since in order to get urine from pregnant mares you need to have mares that are pregnant – and in order to get it in the volumes needed that meant having large stables full of artificially inseminated mares which were routinely given abortions before they were pretty much immediately impregnated again), and the synthetics turned out to be much safer and more effective anyway.

    There’s a lot to hate about “big pharma” but completely eschewing them in favor of “natural” treatments is a pretty big baby to throw out with not very much bathwater.

  93. @Michael Swanson #97 actually I misread that at first, too. Re-read Rob W.’s comment ;)

  94. @gypsyb,

    Now I am assuming you will know of some “natural” compound that will help boost your immune system and keep it strong (e.g. echincea).

    Try this thought experiment: Let’s assume you have never been exposed to Small Pox nor have had a vaccination for small pox. You will take your natural compund at what ever does you think is necessary to boost your immune system so it is supposedly super strong. We then take an infectious quantity of the small pox virus, expose you to it and wait the required incubation period to see what happens.

    Do you want to try this experiment for real?

    I’m sure all of the indigenous people around the world whose populations were decimated by exposure (both deliberate and accidental) from colonising Europeans would have love to have a vaccine for small pox.

  95. Jamie F.

    It doesn’t matter if Jenny McCarthy says the sky is blue and Botox is perfectly safe. It takes a lot more to convince me.

    Why would anyone even consider her opinions at face value? Broken Clock Theory?

  96. Petrolonfire

    @ 71. MadScientist Says:

    I just don’t understand it. Given the following choices:
    1. obtain medical advice from appropriate medical professionals
    2. obtain medical advice from a pair of surgically enlarged boobs
    why do people choose (2)?

    Mmmmmm …… Seexxxy laaadddy. So hypnotising. Must.follow.boobs.. Arrrrrrrrr… (droools)

    Sorry, its our biological programming esp. for red blooded males to pay most attention to that most attention-grabbing and captivating & motivating of sights – a pretty lady. We are hormonally / endrocrinologically & genetically programmed to give her our attention & be more willing to listen to & follow her.

    Oh & because she gets considerable male attention & is seen as an iconic model for Beauty and hence success that means women also see her as a powerful role model because that’s what successfully grabs male attention too.

    Jenny McCarthy’s playboy bunny beauty has given her power over most men & some women who are that way inclined – a power she has chosen to wield for evil. :-(

    PS. I’m NOT saying this situation is logical or good or anything it is just how it is.

  97. @Another Adam,

    About science reporting in the media, I think this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic described it perfectly.

    http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=1623

    Everything is skewed for maximum shock value (or ignored/glossed over if they can’t make it sound shocking).

  98. DrJen

    One of my favorite (in an ‘enraged by’ sort of way) quotes from the Thoughtful House website:
    “Many children with CDDs [childhood developmental disorders] have GI symptoms that precede, coincide, with, or appear after the onset of neurological symptoms or regression. A child should produce one formed stool per day – anything else may merit attention.”
    As a general pediatrician, if I applied this criteria for normal stool to my patient population (or poopulation, I suppose), “normal” toddlers would certainly be a minority. Interestingly, I find that many–most, even–children with broken legs have GI symptoms that precede, coincide with, or appear after the injury or after resolution of the injury sometimes years before or after. Go figure.
    Thoughtful House is focused on kids with ASD. It’s head of research is…bum bum bum…Andrew Wakefield.

  99. @Petrolonfire,

    Meh. Jenny holds no hormone-induced sway over me. Then again, maybe I’m one of the rare guys that thinks that a woman with a perfect body and no brain isn’t attractive at all. To me, intelligent brain & average body beats perfect body & no brain any day.

    Of course, if you find someone with a great body & intelligent brain (like my wife)…. well, let the hormone-induced sway begin!!!

  100. DrJen

    Yikes…its, not it’s.

  101. Craig

    Autism has been around for a long time. It has been getting a lot of publicity in most recent years as we focus more on neurological problems in people. People continually search for an easy answer to autism, a kind of simple correction for it, as the polarization of medicine revolves around pharmaceutical profits. The problem in autistic children is taurine, one of the most abundant amino acids in the brain and body. Taurine needs proper balance of manganese and zinc for it’s storage, distribution, and utilization. Methyl and Ethyl mercury tends to get lodged on dendrites in the brain where zinc and manganese are low, which prevents taurines proper storage, distribution, and utilization, as it cannot use ethyl and methyl mercury. It needs zinc and manganese. How do we know this? By observing taurine, zinc, and manganese functionality in the brain and body, and understanding that their functions match the characteristic symptoms of autistic children. Autism results in impaired growth in height, weight, brain size, posture, which is indicative
    of taurine’s prevalence in the pituitary gland. Autism involves inflammation of the
    bowels, and taurine is prevalent in the mucous membranes of the digestive tract.
    Taurine is prevalent in the muscles, and muscle tone is a problem in autism. Taurine is
    prevalent in the eye’s retina and autism involves occulomotor, peripheral vision problems, and vision gaze problems. Taurine is amply abundant in the Thymus gland, and autism involves low white blood cell counts and autoimmune infection. Taurine is abundant in the salivary glands and autism involves taste problems. Taurine is important in the central nervous system, and there are numerous problems in autistic patients with autonomic reflexes, coordination and motor programs. Manganese is essential in the brains threshold for seizure activity and assisting the temporal lobe in perceiving auditory social cues as is taurine and zinc are in the visual cortex. Understanding the functionality of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, unveil the various symptom characteristics of disease, and from this, we can accurately correct them. Autistic children must be chelated using N-Acetyl Cysteine or GE-132(Organic Germanium), and then be given the proper balance of zinc, manganese, and taurine. Remember, that autism is very high among vegetarian parents/families, and taurine is found mostly in meat, which makes it’s supplementation essential amongst vegetarians.
    Understanding disease becomes very logical and understandable when we learn it from the approach of orthomolecular nutrition, although, it is certainly not simple.

  102. Chris

    About Rob W’s comment… he said “I am in violent agreement with your assertion that some stories do not have two sides.”

    The first time I read that my brain actually prefaced the word after “violent” with “dis.” I think this is because we commonly hear that way. I actually had to read it twice. Very funny, and very apt!

  103. Chris

    Stealing a line from someone who commented on Orac’s blog:

    Craig, what kind of dressing do you want on your word salad?

  104. Craig

    Is “word salad” slang for orthomolecular nutrition?

  105. @ 67. David you state “…Anyway, only wackos consider a link between gastrointestinal disorders and autism, like Dr. Tim Buie of Harvard (okay, forget him)….”

    You bring up Tim Buie as proof that diet and autism are incontrovertibly linked? Guess who chaired this panel? You know – the panel that said there is no GI disturbance specific to ASD? Did you guess Tim Buie?

    But, as he and his associates noted, “Symptoms associated with gastrointestinal disorders, especially pain, may function as setting events for problem behaviors.” Changing diet isn’t going to “cure” autism – but it may help some of the problems. But when any nutjob labels a bandaid as a cure, that creates bigger issues.

  106. Paul

    @mattack
    Yes, that doesnt mean that the link definitely doesnt exist, but what it means is the probability of it not existing is WAY stronger than the probability that it exists. Some basic logics, please? Just because the language supporting one conclusion is not definitively strong, it doesnt give you the ammunition to point to the opposite conclusion yet!

    If you want to prove that the link probably exists, then produce a study that points to it, not using anecdotal evidence, and the fact that the study conclusion “doesnt say it doesnt exist”.

    That’s not just the way science works mate.

  107. Zyggy

    @bookwench: Wonderful insight! I love it!

  108. Its bad enough when idiots listen to celebrities but she isn’t even a fucking celebrity! She is just an idiot who was on MTV for fifteen minutes!
    She is not a scientist, she is not a doctor, she is not pretending to be a scientist or a doctor, she isn’t even really famous yet people listen to this idiot.

  109. Chris

    Craig, only if you say so! Have you heard of the term “neo-linguistic jargon”?

  110. Chris

    Also known as incomprehensible gibberish!

  111. JB of Brisbane

    @linda, mattack and others – call this semantics if you will, but is it that the scientists “did not find a link” between diet and autism, or that scientists “found that there was no link” between diet and autism?

  112. Edwin

    @Mattack

    My son has autism, I have Aspergers. I have double anecdotal evidence diet doesn’t do anything. My anecdotal evidence beats Jenny McCarthy’s anecdotal evidence whose son more likely has Landau-Kleffner.

  113. Edwin

    @JD Evidence that diet doesn’t do anything in relation to autism is staring me right into the face as well. Explain why my anecdotal evidence is worth less than yours. If you can’t, they cancel each other out.
    As an extra, I have Asperger’s so related evidence closely on the ASS spectrum is staring back at me from the mirror. I can also put hereditary causes into the mix. If we follow your line of reasoning, I win.

  114. Mike

    I believe that children should be vaccinated against diseases and I disagree with most of Jenny McCarthy’s positions, whether or not her positions are scientific. However, autistic or not, I don’t think there is anything wrong with feeding children meals that may or may not include meat, wheat, or dairy, provided the meals contain the right mix of nutrients.

    Native Americans believe that food is medicine, and I think they’re right.

  115. Dave

    It’s certainly true that there’s less incentive for a pharmaceutical company to extract an efficacious compound from a naturally occurring source than for them to synthesize a compound in a patentable process. I think we all can agree on this without claiming that smallpox vaccine is no good or any other nonsense. There’s a reason why Viagra costs about $10 per pill or so, and aspirin costs more like 3 cents per pill.

  116. Michel

    Maybe that Jenny woman doesn´t even believe herself, but is she making some nice money out of het blabberings.
    Just ike all those psychics. And Oprah.

  117. GQ

    Late to the party, nothing new to add except for my vote that everyone who hasn’t read 18. bookwench ‘s comment should do so now.
    Also, we should give her a round of applause.
    And a cake. MADE OF SCIENCE.

  118. Hmm, whistle before drinking my coffee. I’ll have to try that. It worked for the B.A.

  119. squirrelelite

    Last night as I was going to bed, I saw an ad on our local ABC station for the ABC news team and what a tough, insightful interviewer Diane Sawyer was.

    I remembered the Jenny McCarthy interview (which was NOT part of the ad!) and just about choked up laughing!

  120. @Tronner,

    Good point. By sheer chance/genetics/whatever, some people with Autism will have food allergies, GI issues, etc. These are unrelated to Autism just like my wife has a sensitivity to Soy and has asthma. One is not the cause of the other. They are simply two conditions she has.

    When she ate soy (before we figured out her sensitivity) she would get nightly horrible stomach cramps. Her doctor was perplexed, had run a few tests and was going to run a bunch more. Then she remembered that she had eaten a veggie dog the night before and we tried a week without soy. No stomach cramps. So she intentionally gave her soy again one night. Stomach cramps. She’s avoided soy since and has been fine.

    Now children with Autism might be unable to express pain that they feel. They might not be able to say “Mommy, every time you feed me that food, my tummy hurts.” Their pain only exasperates their other symptoms. So feeding an Autistic child a special diet *may* alleviate some pain (unrelated to Autism) and thus “improve their condition.”

    Unfortunately, though, this isn’t a cure-all. It would only work for those Autistic patients with unrelated, secondary issues and even in those cases it wouldn’t improve the Autism symptoms beyond relieving some discomfort/pain.

    Thus, Jenny might be telling the truth that her child’s special diet helped him. (Since perhaps he was sensitive to the items she removed from his diet.) At the same time, though, Jenny is wrong for billing the special diet as a cure-all for autism.

  121. JD

    @Edwin
    I surely don’t claim a special diet will help all children. I also know many parents who have reported no change, although I also sometimes wonder just how strict they are. I can tell you it is not an easy regimen to follow and any “cheating” will negate the experiment.

    But some children do respond very positively. Mine is one of those. It allows him to participate in standard classes in public schools. Before the diet, this would not have been possible. I’m sorry a special diet does not help you or your child, but I don’t think anyone is claiming it’s a cure all for everyone. Many find it helps, many don’t. If Jenny is indeed claiming the diet works for all, then she’s obviously talking nonsense.

    As opposed to withholding vaccinations, someone trying out special diets on their child should be a “What’s the harm in trying” situation.

  122. Nathan

    What do you all think of this?

    http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/?p=3684

    I think it is ironic that after the claims made by McCarthy and her ilk, that research like this would surface.

  123. Nicole

    Maybe for Jenny, she has had positive results because she BELIEVES the diets are helping. Whats wrong with that? She putting positive thoughts and energy into the universe and it it helping her.

    Studies show a lot of things, but there have been miracles in the work just because people BELIEVE and have a positive attitude!

  124. @JD

    “What’s the harm in trying”

    While certainly not anywhere near as serious as rejection of vaccines, a “What’s the harm?” attitude in trying diets may very well lead to harm for the kid. It depends on what diet they choose and how they go about implementing it. They need to be very careful that by excluding certain foods, they aren’t contributing to malnutrition (inadequate intake of essential vitamins and minerals, for example). This is why it is probably a better idea to consult a doctor and do proper tests and evaluation to see if a particular diet is actually necessary before even starting it.

    For example, a gluten-free/casein-free diet is a good idea if the child has a diagnosed gluten or casein intolerance/allergy. However, if they are able to tolerate gluten and casein just fine, then removing these from their diet could lead to reductions in iron, vitamin D, calcium, etc., requiring the addition of pill supplements. Gluten-free/casein-free foods tend to cost more than “normal” foods, and the addition of supplements adds yet another cost to such a diet. If there is only a perceived benefit, but not real benefit, then why add these unnecessary costs? Why risk malnutrition, which carries its own risks to child development?

  125. Steve in Dublin

    Todd @ 127

    Spot on, mate.

  126. Gary Ansorge

    This link is quite interesting, from a medical treatment POV for autistics:

    http://www.technologyreview.com/biomedicine/24325/?nlid=2651&a=f

    Medical research from a scientific POV: the REAL way to alleviate human suffering.

    GAry 7

  127. MartinM

    …there have been miracles in the work just because people BELIEVE and have a positive attitude!

    And your evidence for this would be…?

  128. Joe

    132 MartinM

    If you had fact based evidentiary support, then you don’t have to BELIEVE! and it would ruin the whole concept of positive-thinking subjective reality. Who cares about silly things like facts and evidence when you have magic-think to support your ideas?

  129. One Voice Of Many

    Love this story. It absolutely embraces every tactic being used to free the pharmaceutical companies of their liability for the damage they have caused. What literature has been reviewed? Perhaps if it had come from the parents of affected children who keep strict records of their children’s dietary interventions, evidence would have been established. As far as the news story informs us the literature came from a Marvel comic – not very scientfic. Plus, of course, the word of any parent – celebrity or not – who has successfully used dietary intervention for their child means far more than the word of any scientist or physician who has been courted and bought by the drug companies since the day they enrolled in college. Or any blogging reporter who’s job may well depend on the income generated by running ads for the same drug companies.

  130. One Voice of Many (#134): Yes, because I make soooo much moolah from pharma ads.

    (rolleyes)

    That’s some nice logicifying there, Lou.

  131. LayT

    Dear Comment Section,
    Don’t go turning this into a debate about religion. Not all people who believe in God are nuts, just like not all people that believe in science are sane. I believe Autism is terrible, I also believe that the measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis, and tetanus are terrible. I believe in science and facts and proof and my children are vaccinated and that has nothing to do with my faith in God. That said ABC and many “news” organizations are dropping the ball in reporting as a duty. I’ve gotten to the point where I watch the comedians for news because I can read through sarcasm I can’t read through stupidity and ignorance.

  132. Keith

    Anecdotally it seems if you have a complete wacko for a mother you are more likely to get autism…..

  133. I am autistic and this kind of crap pisses off most of the other autistics I know no end…

    Look, our brains are wired differently. Period. It’s not caused by detergent or wheat or milk or (for the love of God, Montressor!) VACCINES. It’s caused by sperm and eggs and a genetic pattern that is passed on over generations. My grandmother was either an Aspie or had PDD-NOS. So did my father, who was born in 1913, and wasn’t exactly given an MMR, okay? Honestly I blame “Autism Speaks”. I’ve never run into any other autistic person who can stand those people, and despite their name they don’t appear to want to let us have our own voice. I refer to stories like this one as “Jenny McCarthyism”. And yes, it makes me sick at my stomach.

  134. RArn

    Craig post #107–where did you get that info?

    I don’t have a problem with putting a study through it’s paces. There are *plenty* of studies that come out with misleading, untenable conclusions, and lots more that are badly flawed in design–but that are at first swallowed by the scientific community. If it’s valid it should hold up to intense scrutiny. I do have a problem with challenging it just because ‘I know it’s wrong’.

    One problem I have with most of the studies on autism/autistic spectrum disorders, whatever the source, is that they tend to treat autism as a disease, while as it is diagnosed now it is…well…more like a description. If a person(usually a child, because coping mechanisms interfere with diagnosis) behaves in *this* way and has *that* trait, he is autistic/aspergers/developmentally delayed. The problem is, as far as I know there is no truly objective diagnostic test, nor is there any idea of what causes it, nor is there any real overwhelming agreement of what the condition really is. In all likelyhood, based on my observations of my son(Aspergers) and his peers, reading studies of autism, and knowing how this issue is diagnosed, there are probably two or three different causes that result in difficult-to-distinguish conditions all termed ‘autism spectrum disorder’. I have to withhold judgment on this study until I have read the it myself and evaluated their method.

  135. questionable

    28 experts…..that’s all?

    Who are these experts? What are their histories? Where does their income come from? What do they have to gain or lose by taking a side?

    Out of all the manufactures of vaccines and those who would profit from them, how many professionals is that? 28 professional seems like a small number especially when we have to assume they have hearts of gold.

    There are more than a few professionals with verifiable histories ABC could have used to take the side of antivaccine but they chose Jenny McCarthy, hmmmmmmm. Nice tactic. The same people who own ABC own Merck.

    I think I will make my own decisions about the health of my family and no it wasnt because of Jenny McCarthy. Please dont insult me. If you think our current vaccination schedule coupled with the conflicts of interest that pollute the CDC and FDA are acceptable you can have my dose.

  136. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    # 67:

    If arrogance could be bottled and sold, you’d be a billionaire, Phil.

    Just because he relates science, and he is a scientist, he comes out as arrogant?

    The arrogance is to think that you can use anecdote as evidence, when we know it doesn’t work after many studies and we know>/i> data collection (aka statistics) does after many studies.

    If he’s a billionaire, the crackpots owns the Earth.

    …, um, wait a minute …

  137. MAC

    Is McCarthy a Scientologist? Because that’s just the sort of nonsensical crap they spew, and it does nothing but harm.

  138. bert

    Did you know that most people who die were vacinated as children?

  139. Thomas

    ….Um… news companies have no relation to the free press upon which America was founded. It’s a BUSINESS, people. And what business is going to risk narrowing their market (audience) by telling only one “side” to any story? The answer? None. ..Although I’m sure I could find someone to agree with the inverse, in order to avoid losing any readers right now…

    Good thing I’m non-profit.

  140. Jacqui

    My son has GI issues, addressed by a doctor, and he is doing better. He had been constipated for a year and I was told by a gastroenterologist that this was “normal” for kids with autism and he would cross his legs and scream in pain until he turned purple forever. He is obviously allergic to milk, and I am sure he is not the only kid with autism to have these allergy issues. There has since been a new study published that confirms GI issues in kids with autism and also goes a step further to state that these issues cause self injurious behaviors, stimming and lack of language. Wouldn’t you know it, since my son’s Chlostridia and yeast have been treated he stopped biting, slapping, pinching, and punching himself and started mimicking speech. Wow, Jenny is better at playing scientist than these “real” scientists are at doing a study correctly.

  141. Someone may have already made this point (I can’t read through 150 comments), but you said there aren’t always two sides to every argument. This is generally not true. Surely there’s a great many sides to every argument. But I would say that it is true that there are not always two legitimate sides to every argument.

    As an example, creationism vs evolution is an argument where there are certainly two sides, it’s just one of them is a lot more legitimate.

  142. It could have been worse. They could have started by showing Jenny McCarthy’s perspective on a scientific subject, then saying, “but the issue is far from settled, there are diverging opinions”, only to counter with a “second opinion” from Pamela Anderson or Tom Cruise.

  143. Stephen Villano

    First, SOMETIMES there ISN’T *TWO* sides to an argument, there are three. Indeed, FREQUENTLY there are three. On rare occasions, there are two. Two sides is easy…
    Consider a group of sober, somber scientists report there was no evidence to support the silly notion that a certain disease was caused by bacteria. The mystery is WHY disease was that, and to further the short mystery, within 20 years of today.
    The answer. H. Pylori, which causes ulcers. Before that (and indeed, during the sober scientists announcement period, until the facts got crammed down their throats by RESEARCH), ulcers were caused by stress and diet.
    Research cured that.
    Don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe that vaccines are proven by research, experience (which is always suspect) and effect (diseases either becoming extinct (smallpox) or nearly extinct in areas where vaccines are used (such as polio)). I feel strongly enough that I frankly, want to stab Jenny McCarthy to death with my nearly worn out sandals, which would be the chore of the millenia!
    OK, we know she won’t be stabbed by anything harmful, obviously.
    THAT said, would some simple number crunching hurt? CAN gluten cause, influence or even be an effect of autism spectrum disorder?
    I’d not be surprised if the latter is true in some cases.
    My primary reason for doubt that causes my wish for research? BESIDES the scientific method?
    Epidemiology. I was QUITE taken with the subject. I even got a copy of epidemic tracking software. As it was part of my military job, which I took QUITE seriously, I began some SERIOUS research into it.
    Once I got my hands on the software (training was scheduled), I started examining it. The configuration options were QUITE wide and quite baffling.
    Once I started the course, I understood why!
    To PROPERLY track and resolve an epidemic (to include prevention of a “next one”), one must track essentially an infinite number of variables. Since we CAN’T track an infinite number of variables (nobody is YET issuing the “I AM GOD” tee shirt and I’m staying OUT of line when they do), one must define them.
    For a simple food poisoning instance. An infantry battalion of 250 men has approximately 170 of them ill. Suspected was the partially cooked eggs that were served in the field for breakfast.
    OK, no brainer, right? Wrong, not the scientific method.
    Facts:
    ALL ate the eggs. Not all got sick. All complained that the eggs were runny.
    SOME cooked the eggs themselves to complete solid scrambled eggs, as they should be.
    WOW! TWO facts.
    The eggs were SUPPOSED to be scrambled.
    They weren’t.
    We have an instance of action where people cooked them.
    The cooking group didn’t get ill, save one who didn’t. Not good enough.
    NOBODY ate anything different, simplifying the investigation by many orders of magnitude.
    70% of those who ate the eggs (some didn’t) who did not cook them yet again got ill with salmonella (thanks to the final culture results that came a few days after the investigation was done in the field, but not completed nor a result ready).
    Of the 30% who did not get ill, ALL were from a “poor” socioeconomic group, who are known to have a higher risk of food poisoning in the past (prior research results from CDC and NIH), hence some level of either immunity or tolerance. Possible mitigating factor for leading theory…
    Cook took a LARGE pot, 20 quart to be precise, full of raw eggs that took approximately an hour to crack by the “kitchen police” (personnel detailed to help the cooks for the day, then released to their regular duties on a rotating basis, EVERY person in the unit rotates in that duty).
    Said cook decided to scramble the ENTIRE POT. Something NOT in his training, nor in the established procedures.
    As no food samples of the partially cooked eggs were available, only patient bodily fluid samples were available.
    Salmonella was detected in ALL ill personnel, save one who had no signs of salmonellosis and resolved long before his ill comrades.
    Salmonella is a common infection from ill cooked eggs. The organism is harbored by domestic animals, to include domestic chickens and even some humans.
    No salmonella positive samples were obtained from ANY personnel after recovery.
    Obviously a case of illness secondary to the anthrax immunizations from two years ago, at least per Ms McCarthy…
    Nope, we even tracked immunizations and allergies (one case was recalled that could cause similar symptoms, so was included with reservations).
    All considered after the fact, the reserved addition a good data point, regardless of it not being necessary for conclusion.
    15% did not have an anthrax immunization that tested positive for symptoms AND presence of salmonella.
    Conclusions, the cook deviated from established procedure and the result was an epidemic in the field of troops by salmonella. The cook was relieved for cause immediately, he became a rather good infantryman.
    I also recovered AFTER I assisted in said investigation. I also provided the reserved data point, for completeness. And was NOT a joy to be around, as I was exfiltrating a rather large amount of malodorous gas…
    True story from Fort Drum, NY.
    And yes, we actually DID include immunizations by request of USAMRIID for completeness (more likely, a similar response of mine regarding the autism complaint by Ms McCarthy, the difference *I* am not ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater, unlike her).

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