Antivaccine nonsense Autism Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery

Kev asks: Why aren’t you scared to death?

Regarding Dan Olmsted’s latest foray into autism pseudoscience at Rescue Post, Kev asks, “Why aren’t you scared to death?

Olmsted’s latest happened to appear while I was on vacation a couple of weeks ago, and there’s so much other interesting stuff out there to blog about since I got back that I never got around to addressing yet another of his attempts to blame autism on mercury. This time, though, just like J.B. Handley and others who have been steadily backing away from the “mercury in vaccines causes autism” hypothesis (mainly because each new epidemiological study that comes out fails to find even a hint of a connection), he’s doing a David Kirby and starting to blame not just mercury in vaccines but mercury in pollution emissions from China–all based on no evidence, of course.

Kev makes a couple of good observations, in particular mocking Olmsted’s cluelessness about what an r2= 0.9954 means:

An appeal to “common sense” is a sure sign that what follows is probably not data that supports his hypothesis. Is common sense really the best way to arrive at correct answers about any subject for anyone, regardless of their background? What do statements like, “An ‘R-squared value of .9954’ is way beyond my non-scientific expertise”, tell us about the context to which Mr. Olmsted’s “common sense” might be reliably applied? Is autism epidemiology likely to be anywhere near Olmsted’s knowledge and expertise?

Sometimes common sense seems like a good way to operate, but the reality is that many things in science have quite complex answers. It’s also the case that science does not have all the answers (nor does it claim to). None of this will apparently stop Mr. Olmsted from forging ahead with assertion and anecdote in the rest of his post of course.

Referring to Olmsted’s apparent argument that we can’t be certain that an “autism epidemic” is not happening with his question (“How can anyone be certain that one-tenth of that 40-fold increase isn’t actually real? And if they can’t be certain, why aren’t they scared to death?”), Kev retorts masterfully:

I can’t be absolutely 100% certain that an alien abduction has never occurred, but this lack of certainty does not translate to “therefore alien abductions are real”. I can’t be absolutely 100% certain that bigfoot doesn’t exist either, but again, that lack of certainty does not translate to “bigfoot is real”. I don’t live in fear of being abducted by aliens or encountering a hairy giant biped while on a hike with the kids, despite an abundance of “stories” about these things. I’m also not “scared to death” that there could indeed be an increase in the actual prevalence of autism. It is a possibility, but I have seen no evidence of its truth.

Read the whole thing. I’m glad Kev took this stupid article apart, so that I didn’t have to.

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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