Autism Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery

Candidate #1 for stupidest attack from a mercury maven ever

Those who still desperately cling to the concept that mercury in thimerosal in vaccines causes autism have been known to write some really stupid stuff trying to justify their position or attack someone else’s rebuttal of the whole “hypothesis.” This week has produced a bumper crop of such fallacy-laden “defenses” of the thimerosal gravy train–I mean, hypothesis–that two of them are worth a brief mention.

Beware, though: The stupid, it burns.

First up is a guy named Mike Wagnitz, who bills himself as having “over 20 years experience evaluating materials for toxic metals” and currently working “as a chemist in the toxicology section of a public health lab evaluating biological samples for lead and mercury.” He’s been known for writing howlers in the past like this:

I do not believe thimerosal causes autism. I believe thimerosal causes neuroinflammatory disesase, gastrointestinal injury and autoimmune problems. My only connection to autism is that my daughter has been labeled as such so they can refuse paying for proper medical care and instead push dangerous anti-psychotic drugs on her. Autism, for 90% of cases, is nothing but a word used to cover-up the damage done by thimerosal to millions of kids.

Wagnitz’s latest article, a hit-piece on Arthur Allen, author of Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver and who recently wrote an article in Slate that I referenced, only ups the stupid this time around.

Wagnitz does, as Dad of Cameron points out, start with one truth when he points out that there is indeed a group of parents who “feel” that their children were “injured” by the thimerosal in vaccines. Of course, “feelings” don’t constitute science, and the Autism Omnibus is no exception. Wagnitz also seems very upset that Allen would be so mean to that father-and-son team of Don Quixotes tilting at mercury windmills, David Geier and Dr. Mark Geier, whom Wagnitz, tellingly enough, considers “one of the most intelligent, honest and courageous people I’ve ever met.”

Who is Arthur Allen?” asks Wagnitz, and he answers with a rather nasty personal attack that’s not only devoid of any evidence to support his contention that mercury causes a syndrome (autism) that’s a “cover-up” to the “damage” done by thimerosal, but shows that he’s obviously never actually read Allen’s book:

In late 2002 Arthur wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine entitled “The Not-So-Crackpot Autism Theory“. The article centered around an interview with John Hopkins Institute for Vaccine Safety Director Neal Halsey. In the article Halsey describes how devastated he was when he realized how much mercury was in childhood vaccines. He says if mercury had been listed in micrograms rather than per-cent, this would have been discovered long ago. He goes on to state, “but the fact is, no one did the calculation”. Why all of a sudden are all of us now considered crackpots?

The answer is easy, Mike: In 2002, the thimerosal-autism hypothesis, although biologically only very weakly plausible, if that, had just barely enough credibility to stay above being labeled a crank idea. The CDC and IOM were looking into the matter seriously. Unfortunately for your case, in 2002, thimerosal was removed from all childhood vaccines other than the flu vaccine, and there was no resulting fall in the number of new cases of autism diagnosed. Nada. Zip. In fact, the number of cases keeps climbing, and there have been a number of studies looking at the question that have failed to find even a correlation between receiving thimerosal-containing vaccines and being diagnosed with autism. In other words, there is no credible evidence of a link other than the Geiers’ poorly designed and unethical “science,” and in fact each successive study seems only to hammer home that point even more. As Dad of Cameron put it, “You got nothing.” Yet you continue to hang on to a now scientifically discredited hypothesis.

That’s part of the definition of a crank.

Here’s where it gets nasty:

Arthur, a free lance writer, knew an opportunity when he saw one. Unfortunately for him, a book came out soon after this entitled, “Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic”. This book was written by another New York free lancer by the name of David Kirby. Mr. Kirby’s book quickly ascended up the New York Times best seller list. He was a regular guest on “Imus in the Morning” and was invited on to “Meet the Press”. Quite an accomplishment for an author.

n the meantime, Mr. Allen had lost his chance to become the spokesman for this hot issue. One thing he did notice was that the other side needed a spokesman. So Mr. Allen did a one-eighty and started work on his book, “Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver “. This book trumpets the opinion that vaccines have saved more lives than any other modern day invention and no one should question their safety. As of today, Mr. Allen’s 2007 published book was rated number 41,058 on sales list. One has to wonder why none of the vaccine manufacturers stepped up to buy/distribute 10,000 copies of this book like they did for Dr. Paul Offit’s similar vaccine book. In a 2007 debate Mr. Kirby and Mr. Allen squared off on thimerosal. This was the mismatch of the century. At least Mr. Allen could have done a little bit of homework on this subject. He seemed to lack any knowledge of relevant facts.

Truly rich. First, although Vaccine does ultimately conclude that vaccines have saved more lives than any other public health intervention, it does not in any way attempt to cover up the problems and even disasters that have occurred in the long history of vaccination, nor does it contend anywhere in its pages that no one should question their safety. Indeed, Allen even pointed out periods of time when, for example, side effects and deaths from the smallpox vaccination outweighed the risk of smallpox. He also described other real vaccine disasters. True, the book’s later chapters on the antivaccination movement do cast the mercury militia in a rather unflattering light, but it deserves to be so cast. What Vaccine is is a highly readable and engaging history of vaccination dating back to the days of Jenner through to the present. Geez, all I can say to Wagnitz about this is: Read the friggin’ book before making such idiotic statements!

As for the claim that Kirby trounced Allen in the “debate” a few months ago, only someone so deluded by his preconceived ideas could come to that conclusion. After all, this is the “debate” where Kirby started trotting out such inspired canards as mercury from China, mercury from the fillings of cadavers in California, and mercury from forest fires as contributors to mercury in the environment that causes autism. It’s the same debate where Allen pointed out that by February 2002, only 2% of vaccines in stocks as inspected by investigators still contained thimerosal, and David Kirby could only try to handwave it away. This is the same “debate” where Kirby, realizing that the “mercury in vaccines cause autism” hypothesis is completely untenable, started obfuscating by bringing up all these canards about environmental mercury.

But far more despicable is Wagnitz’s insinuation on the basis of–surprise, surprise!–no evidence whatsoever that the reason Allen has now come down on the side of reason and science with respect to the whole “mercury/autism” hysteria is not because he examined the science and has come to realize that there’s nothing to this hypothesis, but rather due to a case of sour grapes and envy because Allen missed his opportunity to write an Evidence of Harm-like book and make the rounds as a public spokesman for this point of view. He also seems rather confused about who, in fact, is the real “whore,” given the way his hero Mark Geier behaves with regard to being an “expert” witness for hire in vaccine “injury” cases of dubious or no merit.

The stupid, it burns. In fact, it burns so much that I’ll save candidate #2 in the stupid blogging about autism contest for tomorrow or Monday.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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