Antivaccine nonsense Autism Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery

I love the smell of blog napalm in the morning…

…it smells like…fisking.

In this case, it’s a fisking of a particularly annoyingly self-righteous and scientifically ignorant antivaccinationist by a medical student. The annoying drinker of the “vaccines cause autism” Kool Aid is Ginger Taylor. The medical student is Adina Cappell. The slapdown is utterly comprehensive, methodical, and ruthless, pummeling Ginger’s panoply of pseudoscience, logical fallacies, defenses of Jenny McCarthy, and conspiracy mongering under a barrage of science, reason, and fact, leaving nothing but smoldering ruins of antivaccinationist misinformation.

Even better, it’s polite blog napalm; its victim can’t whine about how mean Adina was to her. Please, go give Adina a high five (or, in this age of Obama, a fist bump).

Also, the post that provoked Ginger’s anger, Adina’s treatment of anecdotal evidence in The Disapointment of Hearing “Your Results Don’t Matter” is worth a read, too.

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]

16 replies on “I love the smell of blog napalm in the morning…”

Orac –

Alas, the anti-vaccine people didn’t get your message about yesterday being the first of many bad days for them.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. AND David Kirby have an article on HuffPo called “Autism, Vaccines and the CDC: The Wrong Side of History,” ( and unfortunately, most of the comments I looked at were of the “oh, my child got his vaccines and the next day he was autistic” variety, with the few rational voices being attacked as “on the side of evil Big Pharma.”

Adina’s treatment of the subject was excellent. A very good read and an internet high five or fist bump (whichever is preferred) from my computer to hers.

On another tack, any comments about this “report” (here, in the Wa. Post, doubtless to be repeated unendingly elsewhere) about mercury being “found” in corn syrup?

I’ve gone past being disgusted by “science” reporting that mentions only the presence of a compound or element, without a concentration, all the way to expecting nothing better.

Expect a “soda causes autism” scare, I reckon.

The soda thing (corn syrup really) is a potentially great happening. Lower obesity rates, less diabetes, indirectly less heart disease, and best of all, the anti-vaxers can vaccinate their kids! Oh, wait. They probably wont. The corn syrup will be in a cause in addition to the vaccines. Darn.

The presence of mercury at detectable levels isn’t a big concern to me. Bring on the syrupy goodness!

Seriously, though, I think the limit of detection for aqueous solutions is in the parts per million range, around 10ng/g solution. Please doublecheck that estimation…

The reference I found said that the positive samples had 5 to 570 ng mercury per gram HFCS. The low end is at the edge of detectable limits, as I understand it. Of course, we also don’t know what type of mercury is being detected, which also has some pretty big influence on toxicity.

With something like 39 g HFCS in a can of coke, assuming you got the highest concentration mercury possible based on these figures, you would get around 22 micrograms of mercury of unknown type. That would be 3 times the safe daily intake limit for a 70 kg person for one day from one can of coke, by my calculations. This is a sizable and concerning dose, and since the allowable limit is based on micrograms mercury per killograms body weight per day, it is doubly concerning for a small child. Again, we need to know the type of mercury to know how troubling we should really be.

Why is this different than the level of mercury that used to be in childhood vaccines? People don’t get vaccinated every day, but many consume a fair amount of HFCS every day. Also, they type of mercury that was present in vaccines was ethyl mercury, which is quickly excreted from the body. Methyl mercury, on the other hand, is very toxic and is poorly excreted.

On the other hand, if you got the low concentration amount, it would be about 3% of the safe daily intake for one day from a can of coke. That isn’t something to be worried about.

I guess that whole “head of the EPA” thing didn’t work out for Kennedy, so he’s back to anti-vax wignuttery.

uh. I just read the ‘piece’ from RFKjr on Huffington Post. My head hurts!

I cannot believe that anyone could read that and not react to the baseless accusations and inflammatory rhetoric. The ‘piece’ is replete with conspiracy theories.

It’s exactly what those people thrive on. With all being said, I think this one article will produce 100X the problems that Kirby’s weekly rants do.


Thanks for the link Orac! Very well written counter argument.

But fist bump? C’mon, get with the times it’s called a “Pound”, originally started as the slap-pound (kind of a low-5-then pound). You could call it a “fist pound” but I’d say that’s a bit redundant

Robster, FCD: I’m not sure of the exact numbers but I know that modern methods provide well into the parts per trillion for mercury.

It’s not the mercury. When I die, I plan to have those words on my lips. Or perhaps “it’s not the goddamn vaccines, you morons! ” We could do 1000 more studies of the highest quality and it still would not be the vaccines.
It wasn’t the vaccines in 1972 when I met my first autistic, and it will not be the vaccines next year. I’ve heard many people say “if it isn’t the vaccines then what is it?”
Unfortunately we don’t know, yet. this is why I’d like to see the autism spectrum broken apart. There is likely to be several “autisms” and each one may have it’s own cause.
I think it will be necessary to attack each one separately.

Robert S,

Thanks for the correction. Its good to know that we can do ppt detection. I’ll file that away for a paper I am thinking about having a student work on…

Classes got canceled for me again, so I have some time to look up the paper and see what method was used in the paper, which will be the most useful number for interpreting the results. But first, sleep.

Adina is quickly learning a lot about the anti-vax campaign, including the final victory they always claim:

“Thank you “Schwartz.” If you respond to this, I’m going to have to let you have the last word. My adventures in autism blogging are putting a cramp my non-school-related life.”

Because Adina cannot dedicate her life to constantly correcting every misinterpretation the put forward, they will end up with the last word, and quite frankly they seem to think that wins the argument.

Much like how they focus on the little flaws in any research paper ignoring the overall body of evidence, but refuse to even acknowledge the serious flaws in the studies they site in support of their agenda, and it is an agenda. That is a big problem, they are all exceptionally meticulous at finding fault in what they disagree with. Are quick to question the competency of anyone who disagrees with them, however if some one is an expert in the field, they then dismiss them as a shill. Yet they never apply the same rigours requirements for information to their own “evidence” supporting their claims.

Are people right to question authority, and to be concerned about medical treatment? Yes I would even argue it is their responsibility. But you can’t just base your judgments on your gut, if you question, you have to be open to the answer, even if it isn’t the answer you want.

Vaccines do carry risks, all medical interventions carry risks. The benefits greatly out weigh the risks overall, although yes this does mean that sometimes individuals will be injured. I understand the desire to find the reason behind autism, or more accurately “why is my child autistic?”, because really they are looking to assign blame more then find answers.

This group seems to argue because you (the medical/scientific authority) don’t know what causes it (autism or any other issue they are concerned about), you can’t say what doesn’t, and believe this is a valid argument. They will never accept the growing body of evidence, or if forced to, will move the goal posts so that you can never answer their criticisms.

They need a villain, they need a reason, and they have picked the vaccine. NOTHING short of finding the actual cause will ever change their opinion, and even at that, their chosen villain will always in their mind be the contributing factor.

I praise and pity Adina, ORAC, and all the others dedicated to fighting these dishonest people and purveyors of woo. You can’t win, but maybe you can help reduce the number of new people who will buy into their crap.

Expect a “soda causes autism” scare, I reckon.

If it would replace the “vaccination causes autism” scare I’d be very tempted to not try to contradict it. No one ever died for lack of soda (well, ok, maybe if you were lost in the desert with nothing else to drink…) but a number of people have become ill or died due to lack of vaccines. Fewer kids drinking sodas might even have the side benefit of reducing obesity.

Of course, there are problems with letting the meme run wild. First, it isn’t true (or at least the evidence is very, very weak.) Obvious lies should not be allowed to run uncontradicted for reasons of justice and precedent. Second, it could lead to a round of expensive and unnecessary studies on soda and HFCS that would take funding away from more useful and/or promising studies. Nonetheless, I’d consider it a step in the right direction if McCarthy forgot vaccines and spent her time ranting about the evils of soda instead.

Dominick Dunne ‘s opinion of RFK Jr:
“I don’t give a fuck about what that little shit has to say,” Dunne spits back. “That fucking asshole. This pompous, pompous, POMPOUS man. I don’t care what he has to say. He’s not a person that I have any feeling or respect for.”

I entirely agree.

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