Antivaccine nonsense Autism Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine

Still more evidence that it’s all about the vaccines

It figures.

I’m deprived of full Internet access for a few days, and–wouldn’t you know it?–the merry band of antivaccinationists over at Generation Rescue have to go and provide yet more evidence to back up what I’ve been saying all along about the mercury militia, namely that, once again, J. B. Handley’s protestations otherwise, it really, truly is all about the vaccines, not the mercury. It always was. This new bit of confirmation of what I’ve said time and time again comes in the form of a full page ad taken out in USA Today on February 12 that I found about thanks to the credulous mention of it by Ginger over at Adventures in Autism, where she pointed out the line at the end of the ad stating that the ad was published with the “generous support” of Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey.

It just goes to show that what I had thought to be impossible is actually possible: J. B. Handley‘s burning stupid can escalate to malignant stupidity custom-designed to endanger children’s lives, thanks to the contribution of University of Google idiot Jenny McCarthy. This is the same woman who parroted the most egregious lies of the antivaccination movement with the confidence of the utterly credulous, even on The Oprah Winfrey Show. She’s merely another symptom of what we know to be happening in the movement created by people who blamed mercury in vaccines for their children’s autism. Remember last May, when I wrote about Generation Rescue’s makeover? Gone were the confident claims that “childhood neurological disorders such as autism, Asperger’s, ADHD/ADD, speech delay, sensory integration disorder, and many other developmental delays are all misdiagnoses for mercury poisoning.” In their place were softer, less easily testable hypotheses that autism is an “environmental illnesses caused by an overload of heavy metals, live viruses, and bacteria.”

It never really was about anything other than the vaccines. Mercury was simply a convenient bogeyman. Now that so many studies have failed to find even an inkling that mercury in vaccines is associated with increased rates of autism, the most recent of which was published just last month, even the most dedicated of the diehard Don Quixotes tilting at windmills made of mercury are starting to realize that maybe Sancho Panza was right when he told him that maybe–just maybe–it wasn’t the mercury.

Unfortunately, like any good Don Quixote, the mercury militia now sees windmills shaped like syringes, and this ad reproduced below drives that point home:


I suppose I should thank J.B. and Jenny for providing me with blog fodder to welcome me back to the medical blogosphere. After all, this ad is nothing but pure antivaccination rhetoric. In fact, the very core of it is the typical antivaccinationist fallacy of confusing correlation with causation. Note the two syringes, one labeled “1983” listing an autism rate of 1 in 10,000 and only 10 mandatory vaccinations. Then note the “2008” syringe, with 36 vaccinations (although Generation Rescue cheats by including the prenatal flu vaccine recommended for pregnant women and several non-mandatory flu vaccines to pump up the 20089 number). The text then drives home one of the most blatantly obvious and moronic examples of a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy that I’ve ever seen:

The statistics speak for themselves. Since 1983, the number of vaccines the CDC recommends we give to our kids has gone from 10 to 36, a whopping increase of 260%. And, with it, the prevalence of neurological disorders like autism and ADHD has grown exponentially as well.

Just a coincidence? We don’t think so. Thousands of parents believe their child’s regression into autism was triggered, if not caused, by over-immunization with toxic ingredients and live viruses found in vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics dispute this but independent research and the first-hand accounts of parents tell a different story.

A lot of other things have happened since 1983 as well. For example, in the early 1990s, the diagnostic criteria for autism were broadened, and campaigns for greater awareness were begun. Diagnoses of autism in 1983 were made using the DSM-III, where the criteria for an autism diagnosis were much more restrictive than those in the DSM-IV, released in the early 1990s. Moreover, in 1983, categories of Asperger’s and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified, both of which are lumped into the 1 in 150 figure for 2008, weren’t recognized in the DSM-III. Of course, if I wanted to be snarky (and perish forbid that I would ever be snarky), I could point out that 1981 was the year that the IBM PC was released, followed by the Apple Macintosh in 1984, both of which led to the exponential growth of households owning and using personal computers. That’s it! It must be computer use that led to the increase in autism in the 25 years since 1983! Wait, what about the compact disc? It just so happens that 1983 is the year that the CD was first released in the American market. Ergo, it must be CDs that cause autism.

I could go on, but you get my point. A lot of other things have happened since 1983, but to Jenny McCarthy, J. B. Handley, and their assorted antivax fanatics it has to be those evil vaccines. It just has to be. And, as predicted, if mercury in vaccines is exonerated scientifically (which it basically has been, the contortions of Generation Rescue and its ilk otherwise), mercury mavens were more than ready to move on to something else, and this ad shows it:

Mercury. Aluminum. Formaldehyde. Ether. Antifreeze. Not exactly what you’d expect–or want–to find in your child’s vaccinations. Vaccines that are supposed to safeguard their health yet, according to our studies, can also do harm to some children.

Somebody please show Jenny McCarthy my rant about this breathtakingly, burningly, malignantly stupid antivaccination canard, because this ad boils down the antivaccination wingnuttery to a couple of concentrated sentences in which Generation Rescue conclusively moves on from its previous “it’s the mercury, stupid” stance to blaming all sorts of scary-sounding “toxins” in vaccines, even ones that aren’t there, like ether. (As I explained, as far as I could tell, McCarthy’s “ether” appears to be polyethylene glycol pisooctylphenyl ether (Triton X-100), a common detergent agent used to make cell membranes permeable. In the past, a compound called Tween-Ether was sometimes used instead of Triton X-100; it’s the same sort of thing, a fairly large organic molecule with an ether chemical group hooked on. Basically, this “ether” is a form of soap.

Really, and there’s no antifreeze that I could find listed in vaccines either.

I don’t want to belabor just how dumb and fallacious this rhetorical tactic is. On the other hand, it’s hard to belabor it because it is so inconceivably dumb and fallacious (at least to people with some understanding of science and medicine) that it beggars the imagination to understand how anyone could say something like it in all seriousness, much less waste tens of thousands of dollars to run a full page ad in a national newspaper.

However, if you want to see where J.B. and Jenny are really coming from, just take a gander at the conclusion of the ad:

Why do we only test vaccines individually and never consider the combination risk of vaccines administered together? Given the dramatic rise of autism to epidemic levels, isn’t it time for the scientific community to seriously consider the anecdotal evidence of so many parents? We urge the CDC and AAP to help us find the answers to these questions and learn why the increase in the number and composition of so many vaccinations has led to a surge in neurodevelopmental disorders. Our children deserve no less.

Note the moving of the goalposts and the unfalsifiable hypothesis, which insists that it is some unspecified “combination” of vaccines that causes autism. Of course, Generation Rescue would love nothing better than to have scientists test the many, many different combinations of vaccines. Never mind that it would be not only logistically virtually impossible, but it would be unethical, given that it would require some children not to receive protective vaccines as a control. Note the lovely conspiracy-mongering. Note the repetition of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

Note how antivaccinations are like the Energizer Bunny. No matter how many times their “theories” are shot down by scientific studies, they never give up. They keep going and going and going and going…

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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