Posted by Brad @ 12:48 am on March 1st 2008

Wait, So There IS a Link Between Thimerosal and Autism?

Interesting development in the massive legal fight over whether or not there is a link between infant vaccinations and autism.

David Kirby—who wrote an excellent book on the subject—writes at the Huffington Post about the government deciding to concede a case against them in a federal court of claims because their HSS doctors reviewed it and “concluded that compensation is appropriate.”

This comes as quite a shock, given that the official line on the Thimerosal-Autism link debate is that there no debate, that it’s patently preposterous and all the parents pushing their cases against the government forward are sad kooks.

Now, they say:

“The vaccinations received on July 19, 2000, significantly aggravated an underlying mitochondrial disorder,” the concession says, “which predisposed her to deficits in cellular energy metabolism, and manifested as a regressive encephalopathy with features of ASD.”

Read the Kirby piece for the full implications of this. It is, of course, a single case, but it still comes as a big surprise. There is, as yet, no scientific evidence one way or the other in the debate, but a whole lot of circumstantial evidence, and if it appears to be the case—or at least the case enough that even HSS can’t mount a viable defense—that vaccinations can “trigger” autism in mitochondrially disordered infants—which account for around 20% of autistic cases—then that’s quite stunning.

29 Comments »

  1. Uh…

    …Jesus.

    This is not small news. It’s just about the equivalent of flouridated water conspiracy theories coming true.

    Comment by Rojas — 3/1/2008 @ 1:02 am

  2. No, it’s not small news. I had to really really dial down my reaction to it before I put up that post, because at this point it’s tough to say exactly what this means. It’s not a scientific finding in terms of medical research, nor is it a blanket concession, nor is the chain of causation exactly clear. But yeah…Jesus.

    If the vaccination to ONE infant is now effectively proven to a legal standard (NOT the same as a scientific standard, mind) to have caused an environmentally-spurred onset of deficits that are autistic (N.B. there is no autism, strictly speaking, at least none that’s ever been proven; just shit that APPEARS as what we call autism), then that kind of pops a big hole in the dam. And, as Kirby asks, what does that mean for the 20% of other cases before the claims court with symptoms and causal cases very similar to this one? And if 20% of autism-from-vaccinations cases are conceded or settled…well, Jesus.

    I guarantee you that that Kirby post is flying around the world right now to every parent of an Autistic kid with an email address.

    By the way, it’s always been an unfair rap to equivocate the vaccination and autism controversy with that of water fluoridation or other genuine conspiracy theories. It is a claim made without scientific proof (in the strictest sense), but that’s not the same as saying it’s a claim made IN THE FACE OF scientific proof. And, as I said, the circumstantial (and, admittedly, anecdotal) evidence, and a few other significant mitigating factors, paints a picture a bit more complicated. Point being, it is a controversy that’s considered settled by most of the medical community, but that’s a far cry from saying it’s on the same level as, say, 911 Trutherism.

    I should add that I have more than a passing interest in the issue. I worked with autistic kids a lot when I was younger (mom worked for a school for kids with disabilities while I lived in Kansas, and I did a lot of work there), before my current gigs I was a researcher in a Cognitive Development Lab whose job was to go out and do cognitive testing in schools and homes, and I lived for a time with a girl and her autistic son. I also worked in a mail-order business once, for a very short time, that did nothing but network parents, medical professionals, and interested parties on this issue (there’s an entire community of activists on this issue) and connect them with resources (Kirby’s book chief among them, incidentally; I was hired as a temp to do some prep work for a conference this business was putting on at which Kirby was to be a keynote speaker). I had heard about the vaccination-autism link, but that brief stint actually read me in on it in a concerted way, so I try to keep up off-and-on with the movement of the controversy.

    Comment by Brad — 3/1/2008 @ 1:48 am

  3. Brad:

    I appreciate your open-mindedness on this topic.

    I think one thing that people may not realize unless they have an affected child is how sudden and clear some of the departures into autism are for some of our kids after vaccination.

    If you read the court case, this girl’s story is very common. She was doing great, meeting all milestones, she got 5 vaccines in one visit, and immediately went off a cliff.

    You can be the most mainstream parent in the world, and if you see that happen to your kid you can never be told it didn’t happen.

    That’s why the truth is and will continue to come out. We know what happened to our kids.

    All the “science” that people use to refute the link is funded by the CDC. This is tobacco all over again, only this time kids are involved.

    An AutismDad

    Comment by GR4KIDS — 3/1/2008 @ 2:36 am

  4. Hell that’s just a blog post. I appreciate far, far more what you guys are doing. I’ve had some face time with parents like yourself, discussing this, and I think that was what ultimately brought me around. I’m not a doctor, and I haven’t a hundredth of the research your average autism parent has, so I’m very reticent to come down on this issue one way or the other. And, it’s of course true that it’s impossible to deny that the main people pushing here have a huge emotional investment (parents wanting some handle of understanding, somebody to blame even); but that’s also true, of course, for the people pushing back (pharmaceutical companies obviously, but the government big time, and even the medical community at large, who would be loathe to admit that one of their most proactive public health measures may actually have some pretty horrific potential side effects).

    But if I had to come down, I’d have to side with the parents (you guys). The circumstantial case to me is just too compelling, and, again, part of it comes down to a matter of research levels of proof (because you can’t find a link, of course, doesn’t mean it isn’t there; it is not proof AGAINST). At the very least, the autistic parent community deserves a lot more respect and thoughtful consideration on this than they’ve gotten, and it’s one of those things that, based on pure risk analysis, where even if the chance that you guys are right is very very low, the potential implications if you ARE right are…well, monumental. The snow job response in light of that is confusing and frustrating. And the only way that persistent scientific misunderstandings (particularly ones with a large institutional financial and psychological investment behind them) ever get thrown off is an equally persistent pushing-back. If a question like this is worth asking (and I believe, in this case, it is), with all that’s at stake, then it’s worth asking hard.

    And that’s you guys. And for my money, that’s an imminently admirable thing. Thanks for your comment.

    Comment by Brad — 3/1/2008 @ 4:48 am

  5. GR4KIDS, I appreciate your comments, and won’t pretend to imagine what you have gone throught. But. You do not “know” what happened to your children, you simply believe. The way you stai Any time someone feels the need to put “science” in scare quotes, that is a significant indicator of objectivity, or lack thereof. I certainly wouldn’t expect you to have detachement on this issue, but you should know how that looks to others.

    Brad, you have come down on the side of the parents, with the implicit suggestion that they are all on the same side. They are not. I just don’t have it in my to post at length on this now. But I think I am going to remain extremely skeptical of the thimerosal-autism issue, something I too have followed for a while, based on a single law suit.

    Comment by Jack — 3/1/2008 @ 10:16 am

  6. Here is a good comment on the subject from the New England Skeptical society, which has a great podcast BTW.

    TheNess.

    While I don’t believe the vaccines cause Autism, I think the medical and science community do not give this matter the time and discussion it deserves. Parents deserve lengthy review of this matter and spending extra money to get it is worth it.

    Comment by daveg — 3/1/2008 @ 2:28 pm

  7. Let’s do I believe noted mercury militia propogandist David Kirby, or do I go with someone who knows what they are talking about?
    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2008/02/incredible_shrinking_causation_claim.php

    Comment by Jack — 3/1/2008 @ 11:13 pm

  8. Pretty strong refutation in that link Jack posted above.

    Comment by Rojas — 3/1/2008 @ 11:23 pm

  9. Where?

    Seriously, because I just read the whole thing twice and couldn’t find anything in it but snide back-biting rhetoric pointing out nothing not already conceded and discussed by both myself and Kirby. Is there some factual refutation in that article that somebody can pull out, wipe the “the people are all crazy assholes!” shrillness off of, and repost for me? Because I apparently missed it. His last question is a good one, but the rest of it seems to be THAT GUY doing a lot to rhetorically move the goalposts. “Because this case doesn’t scientifically prove anything (yes), and because it is just one case (yes), and because we don’t know the exact link between these mitochnodrial disorders and autism (yes yes), then these guys are raving lunatic assholes who have not proved that vaccines cause autism and therefore this story is not significant (wait, what?)”

    I don’t think Orac (?) made any points in his article that I (or Kirby) didn’t appropriately couch in ours (the difference between different kinds of burdens of proof, the smallness, individually, of each case, the lack of a clear chain of causation, etc).

    But let’s take a look at what even Orac is conceding in his writeup:

    All the government conceded was that it is more likely than not (remember the “50% and a feather” rule) that vaccines aggravated an underlying mitochondrial disorder (almost certainly genetic) that manifested itself as a regressive encephalopathy that had features of ASD.

    Well yes, and again…jesus.

    Oh, and to clear up a few points of rhetorical obfuscation of Orac’s:

    “As a regressive encephalopathy that had features of ASD”. Not just that had features of ASD, but that presented as ASD. Why is that significant? Because there IS no such thing as autism, strictly speaking. It’s just a constellation of symptoms with no apparent explanation bundled under the label “autism”. So I don’t quite understand how they try to parse “autism-like symptoms” for a diagnosed autistic and play like that distinction makes any difference. If you have a condition which mimics autism, which presents as autism, and you don’t know what else it is (and in this case, let’s be clear, they don’t; they have a guess as to an underlying disorder that they may have further aggravated to create the new, presenting-as-autism disorder), you are autistic. Orac plays like “manifested itself as a regressive encephalopathy that had features of ASD” represents something manifestly different from autism as we know it; that’s not, in fact, “true”.

    Now, if through this, we have evidence that a chunk of what we know is “autism” is actually an underlying genetic mitochrondial disorder of a certain type (though that the government can’t apparently prove that this disorder would manifest itself with or without the environmental trigger in question, i.e. the vaccinations, is itself of interest), then that’s big news in its own right, in that we can shave off an (apparently significant; Orac also cut out all the explanation of how, though it represents just 1 out of 10k people, within the autistic population, it might in fact represent a significantly higher rate of incidence, which is itself of interest) segment of the autistic population and have a new diagnosis (and of course a new question of whether vaccinations have a determinable impact on it, autism, both, or neither).

    On the “(almost certainly genetic)” throw-away, that’s Orac splitting hairs as well, because implicit in the concession is that, while the disorder might be genetic, the trigger might not have been (even MORE specific, might have been the vaccination) (and let’s be clear; we have lots of genetic disorders that never actually manifest until an environmental trigger touches it off, that is not the same thing at all as saying “this disorder would have been present due to the underlying genetic cause WITH OR WITHOUT the existent environmental trigger—not the same thing at all)

    “government conceded was that it is more likely than not”. The scientific burden of proof vs. legal burden of proof—both mentioned and explained by Kirby and myself (though not belabored over as with Orac) is a point that you HAVE to keep in mind with this issue. But let’s look at this another way.

    If the government can’t meet a LEGAL (lower) standard in “disproving” this case, how the hell would they meet a SCIENTIFIC (higher) standard?

    Orac sort of misses the implication on that one.

    And this whole thing also begs the question of where the burden of proof lies.

    Orac obviously has a great disrespect for anything that rubs up against the medical or scientific establishment, and I suppose I understand that to some extent. But these are not random medical procedures, these are MANDATED VACCINATIONS given to every child of age in our country. Even if we’re playing with probabilities like 1 in 10,000, that’s pretty fucking significant, and if the government in this case, after careful scientific review of the case by their own doctors can’t meet the LEGAL burden of proof that their vaccinations did not, in fact, touch off an autistic disorder in this kid—why is that not significant again, to Dear and Wise Leader Orac at Science Blogs?

    Because for all the hand-wringing about “Oh noes the conspiracy theorists got thrown a bone!” and a whole lot of rhetorical mitigation, I haven’t seen anything in that article or the other ones that guy is linking that refutes the core fact of the story here, or the potential implications of it.

    I guess it’s just a matter of what you’re emotionally invested in. I certainly wouldn’t call that Orac guy a voice of calm and objective reason on this, and the father guy that posted here some watery-eyed lunatic. Hell, compare Kirby and Orac’s pieces side by side and see if one isn’t angry and teeth-gnashing and the other isn’t absolutely calm, contextualizing, and reasonable.

    Comment by Brad — 3/2/2008 @ 7:38 am

  10. I don’t see the point in significant excitement either way from the point of view of answering the question; it’s a scientific question and it’s not yet answered to the satisfaction of some and it’s already answered to the satisfaction of most. For people campaigning for more resources to be devoted to re-examining the question, it’s obviously a big deal; many of those people will believe, I guess, that there is a link, so they should be pretty happy that there’s a sliver of daylight for them.

    An observaton I would make is that while one in ten thousand means a relatively large number over the population as a whole, it’s presumably enormously less bad than the problems the vaccination programme is adressing. So, the question of different vaccination programmes is obviously open for discussion, but with all medical practices there isn’t a ‘no-risk’ solution, you just weigh risks against each other.

    Comment by Adam — 3/2/2008 @ 9:20 am

  11. It’s a scientific question, but given that the medical intervention in question is governmentally mandated, and that there is a line wrapping around the corner of people with suits pending, it is a legal question as well. Which makes this a point with a significant eye-popping nature of it, given it’s the first time the government has made ANY legal concession on cases like these, that I’m aware of.

    Agreed on the risk weighing aspect of it, but of course, it’s worth knowing (and that’s a small consolation to parents with children they believe to have become autistic from vaccinations).

    Comment by Brad — 3/2/2008 @ 11:57 am

  12. The legal arguments will be entirely dominated by science, I think. Indeed, this one you refer to apparently was (whether or not it was ‘good science’ is something that will presumably be thrashed out). Indeed, we had better hope that they are dominated by science, otherwise it’s game over for sane law.

    Comment by Adam — 3/2/2008 @ 1:15 pm

  13. Brad,

    couldn’t find anything in it but snide back-biting rhetoric pointing out nothing not already conceded and discussed by both myself and Kirby.

    I can only guess that you are quite emotionally invested in this issue, because that statement is complete nonsense. You conceded nothing. For Christ’s sake your post title is “Wait, So There IS a Link Between Thimerosal and Autism?” YOu link positively to David Kirby, noted mercury warrior, you describe his book as “great”, you have already chosen sides and abandoned all but a pretext of objectivity. Your primary objection to Orac’s post appears to be entirely stylistic. You agree with all the backwalks and caveats now, but gave no indication of it previously. Youi can’t even admist that David Kirby’s l;anguage ius obfuscatory and exagerative. Jesus is tight, I have rarely, no never, seen you less even handed on any issue.

    Comment by Jack — 3/2/2008 @ 10:42 pm

  14. And something is obviously wrong with my keyboard.

    Comment by Jack — 3/2/2008 @ 11:13 pm

  15. Because Jesus is not generally considered to be “tight.” Except in a sort of slang sense.

    Comment by Jack — 3/2/2008 @ 11:14 pm

  16. I can only guess that you are quite emotionally invested in this issue, because that statement is complete nonsense. You conceded nothing. For Christ’s sake your post title is “Wait, So There IS a Link Between Thimerosal and Autism?” YOu link positively to David Kirby, noted mercury warrior, you describe his book as “great”, you have already chosen sides and abandoned all but a pretext of objectivity. Your primary objection to Orac’s post appears to be entirely stylistic. You agree with all the backwalks and caveats now, but gave no indication of it previously

    Still waiting on you to pull a factual refutation from with the piece you linked. All I’m seeing is a bunch of shrill mitigations about how this doesn’t scientifically prove that vaccinations cause autism, which is both absolutely correct, and absolutely a strawman in this case.

    As far as “gave no indication previously on caveats”, I can’t believe you read either my original posts here, or Kirby’s.

    It is, of course, a single case

    There is, as yet, no scientific evidence one way or the other in the debate,

    and if it appears to be the case—or at least the case enough that even HSS can’t mount a viable defense—that vaccinations can “trigger” autism in mitochondrially disordered infants…then that’s quite stunning.

    If the vaccination to ONE infant is now effectively proven to a legal standard (NOT the same as a scientific standard, mind) to have caused an environmentally-spurred onset of deficits that are autistic (N.B. there is no autism, strictly speaking, at least none that’s ever been proven; just shit that APPEARS as what we call autism), then that kind of pops a big hole in the dam.

    It is a claim made without scientific proof (in the strictest sense), but that’s not the same as saying it’s a claim made IN THE FACE OF scientific proof. And, as I said, the circumstantial (and, admittedly, anecdotal) evidence, and a few other significant mitigating factors, paints a picture a bit more complicated. Point being, it is a controversy that’s considered settled by most of the medical community…

    Is there some base, in terms of couching my posts, that I didn’t cover?

    Again, the main finding that both you, Kirby, and myself agree on (quoting from your guy):

    All the government conceded was that it is more likely than not (remember the “50% and a feather” rule) that vaccines aggravated an underlying mitochondrial disorder (almost certainly genetic) that manifested itself as a regressive encephalopathy that had features of ASD.

    Even the Science blog links concedes that, and THAT’S THE WHOLE STORY BEING TALKED ABOUT HERE. I think it’s a matter of interest; you and Science blogs are basically saying “SHUT YOUR PIEHOLES YOU NUTJOBS!”. I’d say we agree to disagree, but that’s apparently not something you’re interested in here.

    The facts not being (yet) in dispute, the question is how significant those facts are. I have no idea, to be honest (certainly not from a medical standpoint), but I do know that what we’re dealing with here is the government position being to hold to a negative—this cannot and does not happen; and all you need is one counterexample, scientifically, for a statement as concrete as “there is no link between vaccinations and autism” to no longer hold up. Again, I have no idea, but this is the first time I’ve seen of the government conceding a counterexample, and to me, that’s pretty big news in this debate. If, again, there’s some point you or the other guy are making that indicates why that’s not a big deal or potential big deal at all, feel free to pull it and quote it.

    As far as emotionally invested: maybe it’s worth noting here that Kirby’s language was about as unemotional as it comes (and mine too, for that matter). Your first jumping into the thread was an immediate decrial of “mercury militia conspiracy theorists”, and the guy you linked sure as heck isn’t a lot better. Maybe you ought to read me and Kirby side by side with you and Science blogs and see who appears to be frothing at the mouth on this one.

    Comment by Brad — 3/3/2008 @ 1:45 am

  17. asdf

    Brad:

    Starting with your original post, the title of which is “Wait, So There IS a Link Between Thimerosal and Autism?” That is not what the case in question has established, as you do admit later. You can walk it back and defer all you want, but that is the starting point of my objection.

    “David Kirby, who wrote an excellent book on the subject.” Really. DK claims a direct causative link (and the primary if not sole cause) between an autism epidemic and mercury in vaccines, using extremely poor methodology and distortion, and is repeatedly contradicted by multiple well designed scientific studies. Right. Great book.

    “But if I had to come down, I’d have to side with the parents (you guys). The circumstantial case to me is just too compelling,” I’m just not seeing this as neutral.

    As for emotional response. I posted a one sentence link. I included a descriptive and admittedly disparaging phrase about David Kirby, but it is a phrase that I believe is easily defensible, and it is a phrase that is far less derisive than a good number of our posts at TCP, your’s included. In reply to both my posts you provided a 10+ paragraph aggressive response, filled with “jesus,” “that’s pretty fucking significant” “Dear and Wise Leader Orac at Science Blogs?” scare quotes, and all caps phrases “you and Science blogs are basically saying “SHUT YOUR PIEHOLES YOU NUTJOBS!” Yet I’m the one frothing at the mouth. OK Brad, you have spoken, I guess.

    Orac plays like “manifested itself as a regressive encephalopathy that had features of ASD” represents something manifestly different from autism as we know it; that’s not, in fact, “true”.

    He writes this way because he is quoting directly from David Kirby’s article, which is quoting from the legal document, which is quoting from the pediatric neurologist that examined “Eve.” Language of this type is repeated several times in the finding. I understand the definition of autism, but I also understand through my limited reading that mito is something different. There is question as to whether this child met standard diagnostic criteria for autism or simply had some similar symptoms. It is not the simple “If you have a condition which mimics autism, which presents as autism, and you don’t know what else it is … you are autistic.” Here http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/?p=735 is a nice discussion of that exact issue, referencing both the DK article and the actual finding. It is a layman’s analysis, but it might explain why the finding, Orac, and even DK use this language. Essentially, the child “Eve” does not appear to meet enough criteria. The author could be wrong on this, but it is a reasonable deduction. I will also stipulate that this is not the heart of the issue, Eve may very well be fully within standard ASD criteria, but it is an explanation of the carefull wording of all parties.

    On a side note, I would be interested in seeing some back up for your suggestion that up to 20% of autism cases might be mito.

    And what does this mean: “I’d say we agree to disagree, but that’s apparently not something you’re interested in here.” Did I fail to give you the last word? Your pardon.

    I’m not sure what you think you are waiting on. I object, strongly, to the post title and the implications. I think David Kirby is a terrible distorter that is feeding a conspiracy theory while living off the tragedy of autism parents. I think that David Kirby and the rest of the mercury-autism link groups are already exaggerating the finding:
    “It’s official. The sky has fallen. The fat lady has sung. Pigs are flying.” http://www.ageofautism.com/2008/02/govt-admits-vac.html

    I think this will result in more bad books and bad science and money poured into nonsense, while decreasing participation in vaccination programs.

    Some additional links:

    Another HuffPo article regarding vaccines and autism, focusing on the social forces at work, with some commentary on the new ABC series Eli Stone: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/harold-pollack/no-vaccines-arent-behin_b_89305.html

    Some discussion of mitochondrial disease in light of the recent finding. http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/?p=734 Key point:

    FYI…vaccines ARE recommended for children with mito ! Some are advised to avoid a shot, ONLY if a history of bad reactions exists (which holds true for the general population). My friends whose children have mito ALL vaccinate their children and are mortified by people who opt to not give shots to their kids because of quack science (vaccines=autism). Those un-vaccinated children put my child and my friend’s children at risk for contracting serious diseases. Diseases that most certainly would land a child with mito in the ICU & possibly kill them.

    Go here: http://www.umdf.org/site/c.dnJEKLNqFoG/b.3616911/apps/s/content.asp?ct=4211851 and read. I will also add, it is HIGHLY unlikely that a child with autism has mito, especially if that child has never been hospitalized, doesn’t have severe health issues, eats on their own, there is no muscle-wasting, vision impairment, heart defects, etc. Read more about mito at umdf.org & see how autism doesn’t equal mito, and how this case has nada to do with what Kirby is fighting for!

    “To our understanding – it is not the immunizations themselves that are harmful in mitochondrial disease – but rather the potential for associated fever after the injection, since a fever might precipitate a “metabolic crisis.”

    Look Brad, I am never going to match your post frequency, word count, or eloquence. But I don’t have to, because I have the overwhelming majority of scientists behind my position. Yes, fighting words to you I am sure. But whenever you want to implement your agree to disagree concept that does not involve me just shutting up, I’m willing.

    Comment by Jack — 3/3/2008 @ 11:55 am

  18. I also think that, for the purposes of settling the question, anecdotal evidence from parents of autistic children is worthless. It can drive the pressure to conduct a study, but the group is so hopelessly (and understandably) self-selected that there’s no ‘side’ to side with, so far as science is concerned, consisting of parents of autistic children.

    That’s not making any moral judgement on those parents, incidentally, it’s just a statement about science.

    In other news, I have just learnt (thanks to Firefox’s US-centric spelling highlighter) that you people spell ‘judgement’ as ‘judgment’. Also you don’t have ‘learnt’ but, rather, ‘learned’.

    Comment by Adam — 3/3/2008 @ 12:24 pm

  19. Too much anger here.

    Comment by Rojas — 3/3/2008 @ 12:35 pm

  20. Starting with your original post, the title of which is “Wait, So There IS a Link Between Thimerosal and Autism?” That is not what the case in question has established, as you do admit later. You can walk it back and defer all you want, but that is the starting point of my objection.

    And that is the starting point of the factual basis of the article. That being, that the government concedes, in this case, the girl’s autism (or “autism-like disorder” however you want to parse it) was, to a legal standard, most likely touched off by her vaccinations.

    Maybe your science is a bit rusty, but saying there is a “link” between two things doesn’t infer a direct causation, nor does it infer much of anything save that…well, that there’s a link. I don’t know how else to phrase this case, save that in a United States court of law, the government, along with its own scientists and doctors, with every interest geared towards finding against noting ANY such connection, found that there is enough evidence for a link between their mandated vaccinations and this girls autistic disorder to warrant compensation (and bypassing having to defend against it in court). Maybe I shouldn’t have put “thimerosal” in the title (it was originally just “vaccinations” but, ironically, I didn’t want to get too Chicken Little about it because there are an awful lot of different kinds of vaccinations), but the finding is indeed clear: in this case, the government apparently believes there IS a link between thimerosal (the vaccinations in question) and autism (i.e. this girl’s “autistic-like” disorder), and stated as much in a court settlement document.

    Now how would you like me to write that headline?

    “David Kirby, who wrote an excellent book on the subject.” Really. DK claims a direct causative link (and the primary if not sole cause) between an autism epidemic and mercury in vaccines, using extremely poor methodology and distortion, and is repeatedly contradicted by multiple well designed scientific studies. Right. Great book.

    I take it you haven’t read it.

    It IS a great book; that is not to say it proves its case beyond a shadow of a doubt or is irrefutable or even, to researchers in the field, frustrating. But what it does do is take a controversial (and extremely significant) scientific question that had thus far mostly existed in the shadows, and it calmly (yes, calmly) elevated it, examined it, and put it forward in a concerted, concise, and mainstream way.

    Now, you can rail against any given conclusion in it (though I gather you don’t know any more about the science or medicine of it than I do), but the book itself is exactly what books like it should do—meet the battle in the field.

    But a word on your strawman again: it does not claim a direct causative link (and the primary if not sole cause) between an autism epidemic and mercury in vaccines. It certainly goes a long way to make that SUGGESTION, but Kirby himself, as is clear in ALL his writings, is no Chicken Little conspiracy theorist. The title of the book itself is instructive (and emblematic): Evidence of Harm, Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy. Now to you that may sound like a hair-pulling out unbalanced screed against the medical establishment, but to most people, that would seem to be a pretty goddamn reasonable construction for somebody wanting to examine the evidence of a medical controversy. The conclusion is in the first three words, essentially, but even there it isn’t “The Government is Lying to You!” or “Holy Shit There is a Direct Causal Link Between Vaccines and Autism”. It’s not even “Overwhelming and Irrefutable Evidence of Harm”. It is: “Here is this medical controversy, and in my research, I have indeed found some evidence to support the Mercury-Autism link position.” (and that’s how the whole book reads, incidentally, in exactly that voice and construction). You can say what you will about the conclusion, and cut it up a million ways, and indeed people should—that’s a huge part of the purpose of publishing a book like that. But that doesn’t make it some kind of shrill conspiracy theory snowjob written by a militant propagandist, just because some guy at Science Blogs says so. But again, I’d urge you to read it and decide for, you know, yourself.

    “But if I had to come down, I’d have to side with the parents (you guys). The circumstantial case to me is just too compelling,” I’m just not seeing this as neutral.

    No it’s not, and admittedly I was really inclined to avoid saying anything like it (for this specific reason, so people didn’t flip out and say that I was painting the news item I posted in some hysterical light), but I felt, given the post that preceded it, it was worth engaging in more directly than I had. And also notice what followed, which is about as much couching as you can get (including pointing out that the parents were too emotionally invested for a scientifically clear POV, as you repeated later, including pointing out that the case in question by no means “proved” anything regarding the larger controversy, including making by and large EVERY POINT that your author made, for once more succinctly and much less rabidly). I can quote those, as I did some others, but you can read it for yourself (scroll up) and decide if what I was saying was “There is irrefutable evidence that mercury in vaccines causes autism!!!!OMG!!1!!”.

    I even took great pains to wrap up that post by saying, while I’m not qualified enough to “come down” on the question one way or the other, largely what makes me side with the parents is that I feel it’s a pretty goddamn significant question, and that I appreciate a group of folks out there doing the research gruntwork and pushing it in the face of an alarmingly rabid and spiteful blowback they get from what ought to be a relatively dispassionate counter-position. Which you’re illustrating amply here.

    As for emotional response. I posted a one sentence link. I included a descriptive and admittedly disparaging phrase about David Kirby, but it is a phrase that I believe is easily defensible, and it is a phrase that is far less derisive than a good number of our posts at TCP, your’s included. In reply to both my posts you provided a 10+ paragraph aggressive response, filled with “jesus,” “that’s pretty fucking significant” “Dear and Wise Leader Orac at Science Blogs?” scare quotes, and all caps phrases “you and Science blogs are basically saying “SHUT YOUR PIEHOLES YOU NUTJOBS!” Yet I’m the one frothing at the mouth. OK Brad, you have spoken, I guess.

    Well, your one sentence link included calling the author the article a militant propagandist (and a shot in another thread called “Worst Blog Post Ever” that read “Wow, its bad. Of course, no worse than lending knee jerk credibility to the mercury autism conspiracy.”). I’d say your emotional frothing at the mouth rhetoric per word expelled ratio is a bit higher than mine.

    My 30 or so paragraphs that I’ve contributed to this thread, especially up to that point, I’d point to as pretty, I hope, thoughtful and measured discussion of the issue. And if you want to talk about scare quotes and frothing at the mouth, again, put up that Kirby next to that Science Blogs refutation you linked and see which ones comes across as militant and hyper-emotional to you. I’ll wait.

    I understand the definition of autism, but I also understand through my limited reading that mito is something different. There is question as to whether this child met standard diagnostic criteria for autism or simply had some similar symptoms. It is not the simple “If you have a condition which mimics autism, which presents as autism, and you don’t know what else it is … you are autistic.” Here http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/?p=735 is a nice discussion of that exact issue, referencing both the DK article and the actual finding. It is a layman’s analysis, but it might explain why the finding, Orac, and even DK use this language. Essentially, the child “Eve” does not appear to meet enough criteria. The author could be wrong on this, but it is a reasonable deduction. I will also stipulate that this is not the heart of the issue, Eve may very well be fully within standard ASD criteria, but it is an explanation of the carefull wording of all parties.

    I understand all that, and I think Kirby made it pretty clear in explaining what mitochondrial disorders are, how they relate to the community of children labeled “autistic”, and what reasonable inferrels one could make from that.

    Of course, if this mitochrondial disorder accounts for a large segment of the autistic population, that, in itself, is significant, because as I said it means you can take a chunk of the autistic community and label that chunk as suffering from something which is NOT autism (and since nobody really knows what autism is, having a significant segment of the community that we can point to as suffering from something more specific is a pretty big step). And, of course, the salient point of the article and case is that vaccinations appear to have “aggravated” that mitochondrial disorder (which may or may not be autism), and might have led the infant into presenting as autistic where she might otherwise not have. Which is, again, a “holy shit” kind of thing from within this controversy.

    On a side note, I would be interested in seeing some back up for your suggestion that up to 20% of autism cases might be mito.

    Just relying on what was written about it in the article I quoted. I’ve got no independent evidence of my own to share—though again your refutation didn’t actually refute that point—I was just rehashing the findings in the article I was linking.

    Look Brad, I am never going to match your post frequency, word count, or eloquence. But I don’t have to, because I have the overwhelming majority of scientists behind my position. Yes, fighting words to you I am sure. But whenever you want to implement your agree to disagree concept that does not involve me just shutting up, I’m willing.

    A little thoughtful respect would be nice, is all I’m saying. I don’t appreciate getting sniped at in various comments with phrases like “knee jerk”, “not as bad” as worst blog post ever but close, “militant”, “propagandist”, etc etc. I’ve got a pretty thick skin, and certainly I wouldn’t dream of denying that the side I tend to sympathize with don’t have the support of the medical community at large (as I said in my very first post, to them, this is already a settled matter). But given that this IS a large controversy (warranted or not), with pretty massive legal implications (in that there are thousands of cases pending on this subject which have not until now been given a whiff of legal oxygen or much hope at all of succeeding), to say nothing of moral implications (you can break up the cost-risk analysis all you want, of course, but if governmentally mandated vaccinations are causing autism or “autism-like” disorders in even a relatively minute segment of the population (which this is), I think that’s something worth going OVERBOARD on exhausting rather than leaning the other way and trying to shout down the other side), that, to me, is significant).

    Here is a case where the government decided it could not meet a scientific or legal burden of proof in defense of a case where a little girl’s vaccinations are thought to have triggered the onset of an autistic disorder. That is the only way I have ever presented it here, that is the point not being refuted (just being shouted at), and that, to me, is newsworthy (incredibly so). That is significant, and perfectly worthy of the headline I gave it, if you step back for a minute and see what I, or Kirby, are NOT actually saying (I certainly give you that some will be; as I said, I’m sure that post of Kirby’s electrified the parent community who are involved in this debate, and I certainly can’t defend any given parent quote on an online forum somewhere).

    Comment by Brad — 3/3/2008 @ 12:40 pm

  21. You knows you want one.

    badscience rules.

    Comment by Adam — 3/3/2008 @ 1:33 pm

  22. A little thoughtful respect would be nice, is all I’m saying.

    Ditto.

    Comment by Jack — 3/3/2008 @ 1:34 pm

  23. McCain is misrepresenting the current divide. Although I wonder if he’ll backtrack, actually.

    Comment by Adam — 3/3/2008 @ 1:38 pm

  24. A little thoughtful respect would be nice, is all I’m saying.

    Have I been disrespecting you here? If so, I honestly apologize. The only time I got at all hot and heavy was in my responding to the post you linked, which was inline (and even well below) the tone of the article itself. Certainly, I can’t see anything in my first posts that you took objection too that I’d feel wasn’t respectful or thoughtful.

    From my perspective, I’ve been trying to calmly discuss this, which I feel is newsworthy and of interest (potentially big interest), and I’m getting in response a bunch of “Fuck you you nut!” sniping coupled with that article the factual refutation in which I’m still having a hard time divining but which is certainly heavy on invective and pejorative waving-off (and heavy also on a whole lot of waving off all people not in agreement with the medical establishment here as being “militant” “nuts” “propagandists” “knee jerkers”, etc).

    In any case, if you took offense to anything I’ve been posting here, apologies. I mean that.

    Comment by Brad — 3/3/2008 @ 2:08 pm

  25. Brad, that was your quote, I forgot to put quotation marks around it.

    Comment by Jack — 3/3/2008 @ 2:18 pm

  26. I know. I thought the implication of you quoting it and saying “ditto” was that you thought I haven’t been giving thoughtful respect here—that I’ve been offensive or personally disparaging—which is what I responded to.

    Comment by Brad — 3/3/2008 @ 2:23 pm

  27. Vaccinations: a divider, not a uniter.

    There Will Be Blood-Borne Diseases.

    Comment by Rojas — 3/3/2008 @ 2:29 pm

  28. Also, can somebody advise me as to why it’s such a bad thing for kids to be artistic?

    I mean, I know artists are stereotyped as effeminate, but just having ability in painting, sculpture, and/or music doesn’t BY ITSELF make you gay. If vaccinations make kids artistic, well, so much the better, I’d say.

    Comment by Rojas — 3/3/2008 @ 2:30 pm

  29. They could use their artistic skills to rise to the dizzy heights of debate coach, or even streetsweeper.

    Comment by Adam — 3/3/2008 @ 3:00 pm

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