Antivaccine nonsense Autism Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery

David Kirby’s calling you and me out. Yawn.

Color me unimpressed.

As I mentioned last week, that opportunist who has apparently become a paid shill for the hardcore antivaccination movement (namely Generation Rescue, Autism Research Institute, National Autism Association, Coalition for SAFE MINDS, and Talk About Curing Autism, all of whom helped to fund his recent trip to the U.K. and, according to Kirby’s announcements and advertisements, appear to be funding his speaking engagements), David Kirby, is making a tour of the Northeast to spew his special brand of credulous idiocy about vaccines and autism hither and yon. I listed his schedule thus far in a previous post. It turns out that the other day David Kirby called out “all vaccine-autism critics” thusly:

In the next two weeks, I will give three public lectures and Q&A sessions, free and open to the public, at Brown University in Providence, NYU Law School in Manhattan, and Northeastern University in Boston. (Other events are to be announced soon for New Jersey, Long Island and Southern California).

I sincerely encourage any and all vaccine-autism skeptics, critics, agnostics and cynics living in the northeastern US to please consider attending one of these talks, armed with all of your most pointed, difficult and critical questions.

Anyone in these cities, I urge you to give Mr. Kirby exactly what he wants, especially in light of this bit, which shows just how utterly ignorant of the scientific method Kirby is (the kind explanation) or how utterly disingenuous he is (the more likely explanation, assuming he knows damned well what he is doing):

My only arguments will be that the evidence is NOT conclusive against a link, and it is premature to declare that vaccines and their ingredients have been 100% exonerated as environmental contributors to autism.

That’s right. Kirby is pulling a classic argumentum ad ignorantiam, also known as an “argument to ignorance.” Science can never completely prove a negative. No matter how many studies fail to find a link between vaccines and autism or thimerosal in vaccines and autism, there is still a small chance that there is an effect that was missed. True, with each large study, the likelihood of an effect being missed grows ever smaller, along with the size of such an effect, if an effect exists. By now, based on what we know from multiple large studies that have examined the relationship between vaccines and autism and failed to find even a whiff of a correlation, we can say quite confidently that (1) the odds that vaccines cause autism at a significant rate are vanishingly small and (2) if they do (unlikely) they do so in an incredibly tiny number of children. Add to this the overwhelming epidemiological evidence showing that, despite the fact that thimerosal exposure in infants is lower than it has been since the 1970s and 1980s, before the “autism epidemic” that isn’t, autism prevalence shows no signs of decreasing. That’s about as strong epidemiological evidence as one can hope to find refuting a link between vaccines and autism. It may be impossible ever to “exonerate” thimerosal or vaccines with 100% certainty (something I suspect that David Kirby is well aware of), but it is certainly possible to produce such a preponderance of evidence that does not support a link that it no longer makes sense to keep spending large sums of money asking the same question (and getting the same answer) again and again. After a certain point, doing so is a waste of finite resources.

Of course, antivaccinationists implicitly acknowledge this by their harping on the Hannah Poling case, which is nothing more than the implicit admission that the claim that vaccines cause autism is the incredible shrinking hypothesis.

So, once again, all we have is David Kirby’s bluster. Does anyone really think that these events won’t be packed mainly with antivaccinationists who view Kirby as a hero and who will look very dimly upon any skeptic who gets a bit too–shall we say?–pointed in his or her questioning of Kirby? Besides, as the experience with David Kirby’s “debate” with Arthur Allen shows, Kirby’s a master of the “Gish gallop,” which is why I consider any face-to-face debate with him by a scientist to be pointless.

Still, it might not be pointless for attendees to make his lecture experience as uncomfortable as possible with some tough questions, if only because David Kirby’s smugness is so insufferable that it would be highly enjoyable to observe its puncturing. That’s why I hereby leave open the comments for you, my readers, to suggest questions for attendees to one of Kirby’s vaccine crank-fests to ask him, for the edification and education of anyone who might be able to attend one of Kirby’s crank-fests. Kevin Leitch has even been kind enough to start you off.

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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