Vaccines win their day in court again!

By Phil Plait | March 15, 2010 11:01 am

A special court set up as part of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program
has ruled
that there is no evidence that thimerosal — a preservative used in vaccines, but removed from virtually all of them years ago — causes autism.

Yay!

Last year, this same court ruled that evidence presented by families claiming their children were harmed by vaccines was insufficient to show that vaccines cause autism. In fact, one judge said that the families were misled by antivax physicians.

This new ruling is a good one. Medically and scientifically, it’s been known for some time that thimerosal does not cause autism. This graph makes it pretty clear:

Since the removal of thimerosal from most vaccines, autism rates have increased. The antivax movement has frothed and railed about this, but as usual reality is firmly against them. I suggest you read Australian skeptic Maggie’s take on this topic as well.

As a parent myself, I have sympathy for parents of autistic children, I really do: no parent could deny the strong urge to defend and protect their child against all threats. But because we are so strongly emotional in cases like this, we have to be ever-more vigilant about using logic, evidence, and rationality, lest we react to a problem that doesn’t exist. The parents who brought their cases to this court are, I suspect, well-meaning and desperate for answers. But the respite they seek will not be found in an imagined link between vaccinations and autism.

This movement is doing serious damage in two ways. One, it’s scaring parents unreasonably into not vaccinating their kids, putting these children and others at risk for contracting preventable diseases. But second, this whole debacle is distracting researchers against looking for the real causes behind autism. In other words, these people are fighting against their own cause.

We need real answers about autism, and the antivax movement is wasting tremendous resources that could be far, far better spent looking at the reality of the situation. Instead, they rail against phantoms, and the real victims are children, theirs and everybody’s.

MORE ABOUT: thimerosal, vaccines

Comments (79)

Links to this Post

  1. A Quiet Victory : Delaware Liberal | March 17, 2010
  1. Matt T

    Oh yeah, if autism rates are on the rise, how come they’ve been decreasing since 1996!!!eleven!! Someone better use a trick to hide the decline, quick!

    poe avoidance measures activated: ;-)

  2. Oli

    The amount of people with autism isn’t increasing. The amount of people who are tested raises.

  3. ndt

    Typo in 3rd paragraph: you want misled, not mislead.

  4. Justin

    That’s great news! Anti-vaxxers seem to be in full force in the article’s comment section though.

  5. What? I send you emails and tweet this and Facebbok this and no tip o the syringe? Is that restraining order that strict? :P

    And don’t forget: http://factsnotfantasy.com/vaccines.html

  6. Jim G

    Yep. Every article I’ve seen has the same knee-jerk reaction by commenters, and the same line is being pushed as the talking point for anti-vax groups: “ITZA KONSPEERACY!” That’s it. That yet another court has weighed the evidence and found their case sadly wanting only “proves” to the tinfoil-hatters that The Conspiracy is even bigger, having bought off the federal judiciary. If the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against them, they’d say the same. If they lost in The Hague, that would only mean the entire Earth had been corrupted by Big Pharma money. If Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, Krishna and Quetzalcoatl made a joint statement on CNN that vaccines don’t cause autism, they’d start worshiping Thor.

  7. Mac

    Something that bothers me about the arguement a lot of Anti-Big Pharma promoters use is that Big Pharma controls the world and therefore Vaccines will always be found safe in courts and in research. Yet, in true tin-foil-hat world, wouldn’t the drug companies want you to be sick so they can sell you far more expensive medication? Accidental, random mercury poisoning and autism can hardly be big money for them? Catch a few preventable ailments as a youngster and spend your old age sick when they can charge you real money for the cures. Therefore, vaccines are something that big-pharm would want to eliminate.

    Ive always believed if you’re gonna be a consipracy theorist, you might as well go to the limit.

  8. mixonph

    http://blog.autismspeaks.org/2010/03/12/statement-vaccine-court/

    At least one Autism Site has some respect for science. As long as you don’t read the comments (well only a couple are bad).

  9. DigitalAxis

    But if the anti-vax people are wrong, what will become of the message that your son is autistic because you’re a very bad parent? (unlike Jenny McCarthy)

  10. Katharine

    “But if the anti-vax people are wrong, what will become of the message that your son is autistic because you’re a very bad parent?”

    Wasn’t the ‘refrigerator mothers’ hypothesis debunked?

  11. Katharine

    “In other words, these people are fighting against their own cause.”

    Because they’re idiots. Most humans are. By definition, half the world has an IQ lower than 100.

  12. Mike

    This headline caught my eye on CNN. For whatever reason I have yet to understand, I had CNN on muted sometime on Saturday (or was it Sunday? whatever) and the ticker along the bottom scrolling read: Court says Vaccination not linked to Autism. (or something like that).

    Yay!

  13. Jay Fox

    Antivaxxers are continuing to bark up the wrong tree. It is amazing to me that they still rail about mercury (thimerosal) long after it’s use has been discontinued.

    Research should be focused on methylation of the genome by environmental factors. All those plastics (BPA, phthalates, etc.) and pesticides are the probable cause.

    To parents of autistic children: Holster your lawyers until there is a scientifically provable cause. Spend that wasted energy on raising your kid instead. It will be proven that your exposure to some kind of environmental insult is what caused the problem. And if it turns out that plastic bottles caused the harm, who will you sue? Every bottle manufacturer that ever was? Good luck with that.

  14. Katharine

    Yes, folks, we are all in the pocket of Big Pharma and secretly testing your children with Autismox(c) dissolvable medicine, which we secretly slip into their vaccines, just for our own jollies, because we’re secretly developing our great new drug Paracetamoxyfrusebendroneomycin to take over the world and make the rest of the human race into living drug factories, ha ha ha ha ha.

    Oh, and we’re all reptiles.

    /sarcasm

  15. Ken

    Hmmm. According to that chart, autism has gone way up since Thimerosal was removed. Obviously, we need to put Thimerosal back into vaccines! /specious reasoning

  16. The DSM-IV was published in 1994 (changes to autism diagnosis, including Aspergers becoming a diagnosis) – coincides with the steepest increase in slope on the graph. I’m sure it’s just a conspiracy by Big Graph.

  17. mixonph

    The MMR vaccine was introduced in the late 1960′s, yet autism did not go up until 1985ish.
    Once the term autism is defined then immediately the number of autistic people rise. I know this is really insensitive, but if this was the 1950′s, these same kids would have been mentally retarded.

  18. jcm

    reality: 1
    anti-vax: 0

  19. Ken

    Phil,

    Darn! I sent you a link via email to thebadastronomer (at) gmail (dot) com (obviously replacing what needed replacin’!) about this LAST WEEK (friday, to be exact)! Get on the ball, mate!

    And all I wanted for the week was a simple “tip ‘o the astronerd community to Ken” blurb. Bah-Humbug!
    :)

  20. Katharine

    Jay Fox, you’re gonna have to prove that the way everyone else has to.

  21. Katharine

    I think the probable cause is that it’s kind of like schizophrenia in that it has a complex, multigenetic cause which can also be affected by the environment.

    Biology is rarely simple.

  22. Calli Arcale

    Jay Fox @ 11:

    Research should be focused on methylation of the genome by environmental factors. All those plastics (BPA, phthalates, etc.) and pesticides are the probable cause.

    Probable? I would have to say that is, at best, premature. Be careful of hanging your assumptions on one hypothesis before there is any data to support it. This is a lesson which the Mercury Militia are currently trying very hard to ignore.

    Personally, while environmental contaminants are a *possible* and *plausible* cause, I would not consider them *probable*, especially as a sole cause. Like the thimerosal argument, it ignores the strong familial bias in autism — it tends to run in families, which suggests a genetic component. More likely, autism will be found to have multiple causes, and I suspect that many will be either genetic or epigenetic, perhaps with intriguing relationships with environmental factors. Note: genetic is not always the same thing as heritable. One of the interesting correlations found with autism is parental age, particularly maternal age, which would suggest a non-heritable (or at least not inherited) genetic basis for at least some cases.

  23. Autism rates are largely a result of diagnosis. Nobody talks about the plummeting rates of “mental retardation” or “severe speech delays.” They’ve all been shifted over to “the spectrum.”

    Our son had borderline high-functioning autism at age two. The pediatrician literally offered us the diagnosis and explained what benefits it would get us. Namely, free speech therapy from the state (which turned out to be worthless), free enrollment in an integrated special-needs preschool (which turned out to be awesome). It also gave us the diagnosis we needed for insurance coverage of occupational and sensory-intergration therapy.

    The moral of that story is that the increased diagnosis of kids on the spectrum is getting them the help they need at a much earlier age. This is a good thing. Three years later, our son has been taken off the spectrum and is no different than any boy his age (seeing as they all have quirks of some sort).

  24. I just gotta share, especially after reading Eric’s post.

    Took my daughter to a developmental Psych for evaluation today. Second time. 6 months ago I was sure we would get an asperger diagnosis (its not abandoned yet). Then she radically improved after she got her shots (never mind that she had been put into a special needs school, something that the diagnosis helped do).

    Its now six months later. Its was unclear previously, if she was on the spectrum, but after today, they are confident that she is not. She is slow in her linguistic skills but she has made great strides in other areas. Which is the same as I was when I was three.

    My daughter is destined to be a geek. I couldnt be more happy with her.

    I am so happy about our state’s (new york) efforts to get kids ready for kindergarten and want to thank our tax payers for making it possible. No way could we have afforded this.

  25. This really needs to be investigated.

    No, not whether vaccines cause autism. The data obviously show that it does not. What needs to be investigated is why are people so ready to believe this and continue believing it?

    I think that the anti-vax movement is fueled by something deeper. There is not only a mistrust of drug/vaccine companies, but of doctors, medicine, and science in general. Why is that?

    To really help people, we need to focus not on the anti-vax rhetoric and beliefs, but on why they exist in the first place.

    Reaching out to parents of autistic children on an emotional level is an important first step in ending the anti-vax hysteria.

  26. This data looks utterly misleading to me and is probably the epitome of statistics ‘lying’ – for example, as one person pointed out, has the amount of testing increased in the time, which would explain the increase of autism incidences?

    Further, what about the fact that obviously Autism, like any other disease, probably takes some time to manifest after the vaccine has been administered. So Autism rates would not decline immediately after the ingredient was removed from vaccinations, but maybe a few years later – maybe even five years, as the graph shows?

    Lastly, this particular ingredient is only one of the many potential harmful binding agents or ingredients that many claim are the cause of neurological disorders such as autism, and I’m sure all of those have not been removed.

    I would hardly say that the utterly random correlations displayed here and a ruling by a legal court definitively decides this issue one way or another.

  27. @darth_borehd, I think it’s because so many people just KNOW better than all those doctors and scientists with their degrees and fancy learning. Anti-intellectualism and ignorance has somehow become a virtue in the US, so any opportunity to snub their noses at more learned individuals, no matter the field, reinforces their belief that “they” are always wrong.

    Many of these people belong to social groups and circles that further encourage this mode of behaviour and thought because it encoaches on several dealy held dogmas that they cling to.

  28. Adam English

    Phil I see you finally got my email :) Or you found this out without it. Ulness it’s a different incident, which would be good.

  29. Gary Ansorge

    26. Larian LeQuella:

    “Anti-intellectualism and ignorance has somehow become a virtue in the US, ”

    I don’t know your age but here’s an anecdote for you. It took place in 1952.

    Upon returning from the educational system existent in ARAMCO (in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia), I was enrolled in the third grade at Eucalyptus Grade School in Inglewood, Calif. I was seated beside a kid named Roy, who made some noise when I signed my name to my penmanship paper IN SCRIPT. The teacher wanted to know where I learned to do that and when I pointed out I’d been writing script for a year, she said “I guess it IS time we started learning to do that.”

    Roy leaned over to me and said ” It’s all YOUR fault we have to learn something new.”

    Anti-intellectualism is not new to the American landscape. Scientists have forever been vilified as weirdos who spend all their time in white lab coats, trying to do things that should be reserved to god.

    Hey, this species has really only been a thinking species for about ten minutes(geologically speaking). MAybe in another 40 or 50 millennia, thinking will be as easy and natural to us as breathing but for now, it’s kinda limited to those of us in the top 2 percent.

    We should be born with a tattoo that says “This species still under construction. Check back in 50 thousand years for the improved, 2.0 version.”

    Gary 7

  30. Sir Eccles

    I think people keep believing the anti-vax claims because they want an answer.

    Ask a doctor what causes autism, the shockingly truthful answer is “I don’t know”. This is not what the parent wants to hear, they want to hear “Autism is caused by X, this pill treats X and fixes it”.

    As for the alleged increase in incidence. I have to agree with the poster above that the definition changed with DSM-IV and the other poster who said getting a diagnosis opens doors to insurance companies paying for basic things they might not otherwise pay for.

    It used to be that people with autism were curiosities in mental institutions, the “Rain Men” and the “Idiot Savants” (glad we dropped that term). The people now classed on the wider autism spectrum were previously labeled as “disruptive”, “shy”, “odd”, “hyperactive”, “introvert”, “socially awkward” and a myriad of other words. I think it almost insulting to those who are truly autistic that these other people have jumped/pushed/forced onto their bandwagon. Just wait until DSM-V comes out, I see more people being lumped in.

  31. AJ

    @ Gary Ansorge, above:

    Um, not sure what you mean by “I signed my name to my penmanship paper IN SCRIPT.”

    Maybe an American phrase, I’m British though.

    The thing is, I vaguely agree with no. 26, ‘TheStupidAmerican’s point. This graph doesn’t seem to help.

  32. Gary Ansorge

    31. AJ:

    In the USA, we start learning to write in block print, then later we’re taught to write in flowing script(at least, that’s the way it was,,,60 years ago).

    Gary 7

  33. @26. The Stupid American,

    Further, what about the fact that obviously Autism, like any other disease, probably takes some time to manifest after the vaccine has been administered.

    The main reason for the explanation of the anecdotalists is that they saw an immediate change after the vaccination.

    We want it both ways?

    When causing autism, thimerosal acts instantly. At the slowest, within maybe a month of vaccination. When not causing autism, the effect is delayed. Not delayed for days. Not delayed for months. Delayed for years!

    Then the drop off in the rate of autism is so slight that over 5 years of dramatic increase, the delay over 4 years is less than the increase over any year. This does not appear to be a drop, but a leveling off. Are we supposed to accept a decade delay in the sudden lack of onset of autism?

    Not just a little bit delayed, but the supposed immediate onset of autism after vaccination is still causing an increase in the rate of autism years after the thimerosal has been removed?

    How does that work?

    If we were looking at fatalities in a war zone, and the war ended, would we expect that the fatality rate would keep increasing even though the soldiers are no longer being shot or blown up. The fatality rate will have a continuing increase for years, then a leveling off?

    According to the parents of the autistic children, the onset was almost immediately after vaccination. These are the only people, other than a scattering of gullible onlookers, who believe that vaccines cause autism. Now we should ignore them to propose some other fantastic claim of The vaccines did it?

    Yeah. That sounds completely reasonable. Let’s resuscitate Medical Hypotheses, just so we can publish something to support this latest distraction from finding the real cause of autism. In the mean time, we may be able to raise some money to fund this study by assisting some completely honest, but down on their luck, members of the Nigerian royal family to recover their lost millions.

  34. Tomi J

    @techskeptic (#24): That’s pretty close to our experience with our son. Hmm, I should probably attribute our son’s progress to the H1N1 shots. :-)

    @Phil: As a double whammy, it’d be great to show that graph next to (or overlaid with) one showing incidence (and possibly mortality, although that isn’t so directly related to the vaccine) rates for measles, mumps & rubella, with a marker in the year the MMR vaccine was introduced. I think these are rather higher than the incidence rate of autism.

  35. Mik C.

    Thanks for the very interesting information. In other news, the National Moviegoers Injury Compensation Program has ruled that most Jim Carrey movies are still not very funny, and in hindsight not funny at all.

  36. Travis D

    I’m trying to figure out exactly what Big-Pharma is getting out of trying to cover up this supposed Thimersol-Autism connection. Usually if a big company finds out something they are using is causing harm the first thing they do is discontinue it and then try to deny it was the cause of all the harm. Here they supposedly know it harms but also want to keep using it. Isn’t that just asking for the whole thing to be uncovered and they end up losing everything in court? And to what end?

  37. Sir Eccles

    @Travis

    Having just rewatched “Torchwood – children of earth” I have to ask what aren’t they getting out of this? Surely the 456 have really put them to task this time!

  38. You know, people talking about the correlations should read this: http://factsnotfantasy.com/coincidence.html

  39. Christopher Petroni

    “By definition, half the population has an IQ under 100.”

    This isn’t so. 100 is simply the average. If 9 people had an IQ of 1 and 1 had an IQ of 999, the average would be 100.

  40. Regan

    I’m not arguing with your premises, since the science and the statement of the Special Masters seem pretty clear on this, but,
    am I misinterpreting your graph – because 1992 seemed a little early for removal of all thimerosal preservatives from vaccines,
    From the FDA,
    “Since 2001, all vaccines manufactured for the U.S. market and routinely recommended for children ≤ 6 years of age have contained no thimerosal or only trace amounts (≤ 1 microgram of mercury per dose remaining from the manufacturing process), with the exception of inactivated influenza vaccine. In addition, all of the routinely recommended vaccines that had been previously manufactured with thimerosal as a preservative (some formulations of DTaP, Haemophilus influenzae b conjugate (Hib), and hepatitis B vaccines) had reached the end of their shelf life by January 2003.”

    Is my data incorrect or does that x-axis need to be shifted a bit?

  41. Erwin

    Last year both my son and I were diagnosed on the spectrum, autism for him, Asperger for me. IT’S AN EPIDEMIC!

    Oh wait. If proper diagnosis was available in the 70s, I’d have been diagnosed about 35 years ago. Move along, nothing to see here. Except that, with the scientific standards of the anti-vaxxers, I’ve just completely proven that it is hereditary.
    My experience with the diagnostic procedure and beyond is the doctors in the field are very much aware that the definition is still a work in progress although the groundwork is solid. Most I spoke with expect the theory of the probable direct cause (the make-up of the brain of people in the spectrum, not what made it be like that) to be shifting for at least 5 to 10 years while thinking they are looking in the right direction (number, distribution and functional level of neurons, functioning of different parts of the brains etc ).

  42. Mchl

    The more I know about autism spectrum, the more I am convinced I would be diagnosed positively now. It somewhat amazes me on how wide criteria are used for diagnosis today.

  43. Katharine

    My inclination is to think that there are a lot of misdiagnoses for ASDs and a lot of people who are stuck on the spectrum for purposes of getting treatment but who may simply have such issues as depression and not be able to get treatment otherwise because they’re not considered a permanent disability. ASD diagnosis is a little wonky in and of itself, and combined with the fact that we don’t know a whole heck of a lot about the etiology of this condition and the fact that thimerosal doesn’t do it and the fact that the DSM is all sorts of screwed up (I occasionally keep in contact with the professor who taught me intro psychology, who comes from a fairly different background – I’m studying neurobiology, and the professor is a school psychologist – and we had a recent conversation about the DSM wherein the professor mentioned being a member of those people who had some huge problems with some of the newest revisions to the DSM and talked about some of the biological and societal issues behind it. For goodness’s sake, the DSM listed homosexuality as a mental disorder until the 1970s or later.), actually pinpointing people who actually do have autism and pinpointing people who may be misdiagnosed, including those who have the diagnosis for convenience’s sake, is problematic.

    There is not an insignificant part of what is considered ‘mental illness’ that is determined by cultural norms, too. Which, in my opinion, is an inherently unscientific and unfair way to go about it.

  44. Katharine

    Erwin, I’m pretty sure they’re looking in the right direction.

    Some of the latest thinking, as far as I can tell, is that the architecture is there, but the neurochemistry is deficient; there are studies in which oxytocin dramatically improved the social skills of people who had an ASD, which means that the pathway for oxytocin to act exists.

  45. Katharine

    “This data looks utterly misleading to me and is probably the epitome of statistics ‘lying’ – for example, as one person pointed out, has the amount of testing increased in the time, which would explain the increase of autism incidences?

    Further, what about the fact that obviously Autism, like any other disease, probably takes some time to manifest after the vaccine has been administered. So Autism rates would not decline immediately after the ingredient was removed from vaccinations, but maybe a few years later – maybe even five years, as the graph shows?

    Lastly, this particular ingredient is only one of the many potential harmful binding agents or ingredients that many claim are the cause of neurological disorders such as autism, and I’m sure all of those have not been removed.

    I would hardly say that the utterly random correlations displayed here and a ruling by a legal court definitively decides this issue one way or another.”

    Proof, please.

  46. Katharine

    What strikes me is the GIGANTIC gap between what people actually studying this stuff know and what the public knows.

    No, seriously, it’s even bigger than I thought. It’s not just a gap, it’s a frigging ocean.

  47. Andy

    Looking at that graph, and trying to determine external causes that match up with it, I’m going to go with “rap music”.

  48. William

    Anything the baby boomers touch turns into an hysterical mess.

  49. Ken

    I can understand that at this point, that we need to be realistic about the then hypothesized correlation between thimerosal and autism. However, at the time my children were young, autism was a concern, and there was not sound backing to demonstrate the safety (or danger) of thimerosal. Given the uncertainty, I as a parent, chose to not vaccinate in the traditional schedule. It did not seem wise to inject my daughter with four or five shots, all containing thimerosal, a widely known mercurial compound, six months after she had been born. She has been vaccinated, when thimerosal-free versions were available, and when she was bigger. She has no ongoing health issues related to this course of action, and did not die of measles…

    Can we please stop castigating rational caution? Let the scientific evidence stand, rational people will do the right thing.

    Thanks.

  50. @Regan

    I had wondered the same thing, but then I followed the link back to the original post that used that graph. That one is from a Danish study, where thimerosal was removed in 1992.

    You are correct, though, that in the U.S., thimerosal was removed around 2001 and the last lots using thimerosal expired around the end of 2002/beginning of 2003.

    @Phil

    You may want to add some clarification that the graph represents Danish numbers, not U.S.

  51. Lawrence

    Saying that it can take “years” for autism to manifest itself flies in the face of the entire “anti-vaxx, autism” movement – who claim that autism symptoms appear immediately after administering vaccines (which we know is a huge misrepresentation of the actual situation, where signs of autism can be found as early as 12 months old, and in some cases earlier than that).

    It is interesting to see the entire movement start to splinter as these cases are adjudicated & new research is released – you still have the hard core Thimersol folks, but more and more, you have other groups moving the goalposts to just about anything else they can think of.

    Hopefully, we will get at least some of them starting to come to their senses – and if we do ever find the actual cause of autism (I’m betting on genetics, coupled with age of the mother & perhaps some environmental effects thrown in), it will be very, very interesting to see how the movement reacts.

  52. erikthebassist

    My question is this… I’ve always been taught that “Free Speech” does not mean that you can yell Fire! in a crowded theater. Isn’t that what the anti vaxxers are doing? Isn’t their speech causing verifiable harm to others? Isn’t there some legal remedy to hold them responsible?

  53. andythegreat

    I’m not sure if any of you listen to this stuff but This American Life had a podcast on people not vaccinating their kids because of the fear of autism and the chaos it can create.

    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/370/Ruining-It-for-the-Rest-of-Us

  54. In addition to my comment #26, I’d like to point out one HUGE problem with what is going on:

    Let’s assume that this particular ingredient is NOT the cause of autism – which I don’t think is definitively proven anyway – keep in mind that the court ONLY ruled that the data was “insufficient” not definitively incorrect.

    So, let’s say this ingredient is not the cause – well, this is the first I’ve heard of this ingredient. To my knowledge, it was the binding agents when they started to administer multiple vaccinations in one dose.

    THE PROBLEM is that people are now spreading the word that “vaccinations do not cause autism” simply because ONE court decided that there was INSUFFICIENT evidence that ONE ingredient causes autism.

    It’s simply being used as a marketing tool by Big Pharma now.

  55. Mark Schaffer

    Thanks for the honest self description “The Stupid American”!
    Is anyone here falling for the nonsense of this poster?

  56. @The Stupid American

    THE PROBLEM is that people are now spreading the word that “vaccinations do not cause autism” simply because ONE court decided that there was INSUFFICIENT evidence that ONE ingredient causes autism.

    Uh, no. There is also quite an abundance of scientific research out there looking at thimerosal, as well; it’s not just this onethese three court decisions, though they are the fuel for much of the current media stories. Not to mention a bunch also looking at MMR. And some retrospective epidemiological studies that, IIRC, looked at autism rates among vaccinated/unvaccinated. Oh, and then there was that crappy phone survey that Generation Rescue did to try to show that autism rates were higher in the vaccinated population than in the unvaccinated, but that ended up showing that the vaccinated population had the lowest rates, followed by unvaccinated, followed by partially vaccinated.

    So, these three court rulings (where the plaintiffs didn’t even need evidence to a scientific level of certitude) just add to the evidence against a causal connection.

    To my knowledge, it was the binding agents when they started to administer multiple vaccinations in one dose.

    Are you arguing that vaccines should be given individually, then? That doesn’t jive with the antivax “too many too soon” mantra. Though it does sound like the denigration of MMR and Wakefield’s argument that single vaccines are better. But, that’s been looked at, as noted above, and found to be untrue.

  57. Chris Winter

    Some comments I heard from various places over the past week:

    On “Ring of Fire”, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. touted the opinion of Dr. Boyd Haley, Prof. Emer. of Chemistry at the University of Kentucky. This was apparently prompted by the news that Dr. Paul Thorsen, long-time consultant to the CDC, has allegedly disappeared along with $2 million that was supposed to have been spent on research into the causes of autism.

    Dr. Haley maintains that Thorsen is a psychologist, therefore not qualified to research epidemiology in the first place.

    According to Haley, thimerosal is still implicated as a possible cause of autism. Kennedy asked him about thimerosal-free vaccines; he answered that there were such, but people had to know to ask for them. This sounds like evasion to me.

    Wikipedia says Haley’s views are “controversial.” I looked at two blogs dedicated to autism. Both expressed the opinion that Haley is a loony (not in so many words.)

    Saturday on NPR’s Living on Earth, Dr. Philip Landjigan of Mt. Sinai Medical School spoke of “12 high-quality studies” that ruled out thimerosal as a cause of autism. He says some pesticide is probably responsible.

  58. Robert E

    The only references I can find to a “Dr. Paul Thorsen” on google (other than those from anti-vax sites spewing the same disappearing money story above) are from a Twilight Zone episode.

    Oh, and an out-of-print book on Amazon (in German) titled “Methodology and practical application of Hypnosis”

  59. @Robert E

    Tying spelling it “Poul” instead of “Paul”.

  60. ndt

    The Stupid American – are you aware that there is NO evidence that eating Cheerios cereal does not cause autism? NONE. Scientists refuse to research the issue. There is no court case saying there is insufficient evidence. Based on that, I think people concerned about autism should take a good hard luck at the breakfast cereal industry.

  61. Brett

    While I agree that vaccines do not cause autism, I would disagree that the single chart makes it clear. Without any background information, the chart says to me that autism rates climbed almost exponentially while thimerosal was an ingredient and continued to climb for a few years after it was removed, until we began seeing a decline in incidents over the last 4-5 years. Now – playing devil’s advocate, since I’m only discussing what the chart itself shows – I would surmise that the incidence rate increased as people became more aware of autism. Additionally, it makes sense that *IF* thimerosal caused autism, there would still be a steady climb as it is removed from the market and diagnoses continued a few years later. It is true that autism is very hard to diagnose, so there would surely be a lag. And, it’s interesting that the rate began declining six years after it was removed from vaccines.

    Don’t flame me, because I do think anti-vaxxers are nuts – I’m only stating that “the chart” does not make the issue clear at all. In fact, without any additional supporting information, the chart shows a clear relationship between the two.

  62. Katharine

    “Let’s assume that this particular ingredient is NOT the cause of autism – which I don’t think is definitively proven anyway – keep in mind that the court ONLY ruled that the data was “insufficient” not definitively incorrect.”

    I see you don’t understand science that well. You can either asymptotically approach 100% certainty that something does happen or 100% certainty that something does not happen. You never reach 100%.

    We generally accept something in the area of about 80-90+% as ‘correct’.

  63. Katharine

    This is the problem with most people: they want to deal in absolutes, always, and nevers, not ‘probablies’ or ‘probably nots’ or ‘almost certainlies’ or ‘highly improbables’.

  64. Regan

    @Todd W. – So it was my misread. Thanks for clearing that up.

  65. t-storm

    Big Graph and Big Chart were definately in on this. As well as Big Pie. Mmmmmmmm…Pie.

  66. Buzz Parsec

    Without numbers, it is hard to be certain, but autism is almost always diagnosed before the age of 5, and most times when the kid is 3 or 4. The autism rate in the graph stays at about 3 after the peak in 1996-97, 4 to 5 years after the thimerosal was discontinued in 1992. The vast majority of cases after 1995 were kids who had never received *any* thimerosal vaccinations. So why is the the rate still 50% higher than it was in 1992? Without knowing the ages of the kids being diagnosed (or a graph based on birth date, rather than on date of diagnosis) it is impossible to come up with precise numbers, but just basic principles severely limit the possibilities.

    Also, Stupid, thimerosal is a preservative, not a “binding agent”, whatever that is. Maybe you should do a little research before spouting off.

  67. Chris Winter

    Dr. Thorsen, being of Danish extraction, spells his first name “Poul”, like the late Poul Anderson — as Todd W. pointed out.

    Most anyone curious has probably found this Philadelphia Inquirer story by now, but it’s a good summary of the Thorsen affair.

    http://www.philly.com/philly/news/homepage/87437502.html

    Here’s the nub of it:

    Others, such as Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a vocal opponent of the anti-vaccine groups, said even if the allegation against Thorsen is true, it does not mean his science is bad.

    “Let’s assume it is true that he embezzled money,” Offit said. “The notion that it casts the science into question is false. For these big epidemiological studies, it is hard to believe that one person could effectively change the data.”

    Offit pointed out that a dozen major studies show no link between MMR and autism and at least a half dozen say the same about thimerosal, which contains mercury.

    The Inquirer notes, “But the Internet was afire over the allegations.”

    Of course it was — just as it erupted over the hacked CRU e-mails. I think we can sit back and wait for cooler heads to decide how much substance underlies this flap.

  68. Plutonium being from Pluto

    The Bad Astronomer wrote :

    But because we are so strongly emotional in cases like this, we have to be ever-more vigilant about using logic, evidence, and rationality, lest we react to a problem that doesn’t exist.

    Like the case of the Anthropogenic Global Warming scare?

    Sorry but really the parallel here is unmissable and irresistable.

    Why does your skepticism fail on that issue when you apply it so well to other things like anti-vaxxers & creationists?

    Vaccines don’t cause autism = FACT.

    Human Co2 does not cause climate change = also FACT.

    Oh well, I think the AGW scare has now peaked, is increasingly being exposed for the swindle it is & is now on its way down – just like the temperatures. In a few years time I predict that the BA & many others will be wondering how they ever could have fallen for such rot so badly. ;-)

  69. @Plutonium being from Pluto

    Are you physically capable of not threadjacking? Troll.

  70. John Fryer

    Hi

    Mercury out of vaccines? Since when?

    In France 95 per cent of adults REFUSED the mercury vaccine for themselves.

    It also contained an additive BANNED in the USA because of its non-association (but lets be safe) with Gulf War Syndrome.

    Sadly 80 per cent of the adult population are quite happy to give as many vaccine to under 1 year old children as the state asks but not demands they receive.

  71. John Fryer

    @roguemedic

    You made the apparently silly point that soldiers were more likely to die in a war but not when back after the war.

    Gulf War Syndrome has taken away the lives of 25 per cent of the soldiers that fought the first Gulf War.

    The deaths in this war (to USA troops was tiny)

    The deaths to French soldiers after the war is tiny.

    What is the difference?

    One lot got lots of vaccines and one lot got no vaccines.

    GO Figure.

  72. John Fryer

    Many comments here are trivial and contemptuous.

    As a teacher retiring many years ago I can safely say there were no autism cases.

    Today teachers say there are many.

    Where are the vaccine versus antivaccine studies.

    To the Danish Thomas Verstraeten who proved that vaccines DID cause autism, we can now demand to be brought also before the courts Paol Thorsen and probably several others hiding in his tail shirt.

    Published papers of these people do not coincide with their work or lack or work.

  73. John Fryer

    Autism at whatever level does have a cause.

    One possible cause already proven in unpublished studies is the 2 000 year old notion that mercury and other heavy metals take away your mind.

    This of course does not exonerate plastics especially if they contain additives that are biologically active on EVERY human whether old or young.

    Vaccines as I stated are given to more than 80 per cent of every generation with the proviso that adults reject them to even higher levels.

    You can fool some of the people all the time. Babies sadly seem to be sacrificed to propaganda.

    Professor Charles Richet and ANAPHYLAXIS is more than 100 years old and the science of vaccines as the science of mercury is FIXED and cannot be changed except by FRAUD, CHEATS and LIARS.

  74. John Fryer

    @plutonium

    Vaccines do cause autism and your statement otherwise is WRONG.

    Global Warming is FACT look at the icefields of 100 years ago that are plainly NOT THERE except for vast seas today.

    You may be right that CO2 is not to blame as for me it is the measure of the global warming ONLY.

    However the practice of incineration does add mercury to the atmosphere and this can strip out the ozone and this is UNDISPUTED fact.

    Again GO FIGURE.

  75. stephanie

    Stating that parents are being influenced by doctors who are against vaccines is bogus. Doctors are influenced by the pharmaceutical companies that have influenced the CDC. Doctors have become vaccine and medication pushers. To say what parents see in thier children is not so is just trying to change the facts by saying they did not see what they saw. Vaccines are full of many things that are harmful to young growing brains and immune systems- not the least of which is mercury. There are many things such as aluminum. The actual number of vaccines children are being pushed, forced to recieve has risen dramtically so figure that into your calculations as well. Wake up people. The CDC and the influence of big business have great power and control over our lives. We need to be watchful. I am not sure if we will ever get our power back. We must protect our children and our society and not close our eyes and deny what we see.

  76. stephanie

    Stating that parents are being influenced by doctors who are against vaccines is bogus. Doctors are influenced by the pharmaceutical companies that have influenced the CDC. Doctors have become vaccine and medication pushers. To say what parents see in thier children is not so is just trying to change the facts by saying they did not see what they saw. Vaccines are full of many things that are harmful to young growing brains and immune systems- not the least of which is mercury. There are many things such as aluminum. The actual number of vaccines children are being pushed, forced to recieve has risen dramtically so figure that into your calculations as well. Wake up people. The CDC and the influence of big business have great power and control over our lives. We need to be watchful. I am not sure if we will ever get our power back. We must protect our children and our society and not close our eyes and deny what we see.

  77. Janus

    2 high profile scientists advocating vaccines are indicted with fraud in their recearch in autism…so…!
    http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/05/22/cdc-autism-researcher-indicted-for-fraud.aspx

  78. Harley Davison Borgais

    Has anyone noticed that the pattern before the “most” of Thimerosal was removed was a steeper climb than after?

    If we had not removed it ten the point to the right of the removal date would have been substantially higher.

    If we had removed it from all the curve would have been substantially more horizontal.

    If the rate of autism really is going down, than is that because of more people being tested, or further removal of mercury based preservatives from vaccines and other consumer goods, or some other reason?

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