Thanks to Andrew Wakefield, it’s been pretty much vaccine week for me. Well, mostly anyway, I did manage to have some fun with Mike Adams and the immune system, but otherwise it’s been all vaccines all the time this week. As I mentioned yesterday, at the risk of dwelling on one topic so long that I start driving away readers, I’ve just decided to ride the wave and go with it until it’s over. Unless something blows up over the weekend, I rather suspect that, for all intents and purposes, it’ll be over as of today and I can move on to other topics starting Monday. At least I hope so.
But there’s one more issue related to the Andrew Wakefield case that I feel I’d be remiss not to cover, as it’s a very important issue. I was reminded of it by Chris Mooney in a post entitled Will the Vaccine-Autism Saga Finally End? He and I both know the answer to this question (no), but in discussing why neither the General Medical Council’s finding Andrew Wakefield to have behaved dishonestly and unethically in doing the “research” that led to his 1998 Lancet paper that launched the MMR scare in the U.K. nor the decision of the Lancet’s editors to retract said 1998 paper would end the vaccine autism manufactroversy, Mooney suggested a way out of this problem that is profoundly misguided, naive, and reveals a profound misunderstanding of the anti-vaccine movement.
Before I explain what it was he said and why I find it so problematic, let me just point out that I was actually surprised at his post, because Chris has done good work before. I like Chris, by and large. I’ve gone drinking with Chris before (in Washington, DC three years ago, when I was at a conference). Moreover, last year Chris published an excellent overview of the anti-vaccine movement and why it is a danger to public health for the June issue of Discover Magazine, entitled Why Does the Vaccine/Autism Controversy Live On? (In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll point out that Chris interviewed me for the article, and I did my best to give him as much background as I could, but he also interviewed numerous other people.) In rereading it, saw the germ of a promising idea for how to try to restore public confidence in vaccines, but in reading Mooney’s latest, I wonder if he’s taken that idea too far. I’ll explain.
First, though, let me point out that I completely agree with Chris when he writes:
Here’s the thing, though. It seems obvious to all recent commentators–myself included–that the latest Wakefield news will have virtually no impact on Wakefield’s passionate followers, the anti-vaccine ideologues in the UK and United States who have long cheered him on, and will continue to do so. If anything, it will probably only make them still stronger in their convictions.
Which is very similar to what I’ve said more than once this week. In the eyes of his supporters, Wakefield has become a martyr, struck down by The Man in the form of pharmaceutical companies, governments, and uncaring science that wants to poison children with toxic vaccines. It’s all a fever dream, a fantasy, of course, but that’s how they view Wakefield, despite his callous disregard for children, his incompetent science (and even possible outright fraud), and his lack of ethics. Truly, it is a cult of personality, and recognizing that Wakefield is likely to be even more lionized than ever by the anti-vaccine movement is what Chris gets right.
What Chris gets so very, very wrong is this:
…I believe we need some real attempts at bridge-building between medical institutions–which, let’s admit it, can often seem remote and haughty–and the leaders of the anti-vaccination movement. We need to get people in a room and try to get them to agree about something–anything. We need to encourage moderation, and break down a polarized situation in which the anti-vaccine crowd essentially rejects modern medical research based on the equivalent of conspiracy theory thinking, even as mainstream doctors just shake their heads at these advocates’ scientific cluelessness.
Chris’s naÃ¯vetÃ© on this issue is astonishing in light of his excellent Discover piece last year. He appears utterly unaware that scientists have been trying to reach out and build bridges to leaders of the anti-vaccine movement for years, if not decades. It hasn’t worked. It doesn’t work. As Mike Stanton pointed out in a comment, public health bodies courted Barbara Loe Fisher of the National Vaccine Information Center (whom I’ve discussed recently here, here, and here). The only result is that it raised her profile. She hasn’t budged an inch; she is still as anti-vaccine as ever. One recent example that stands out in my mind occurred in 2007, when Sallie Bernard of SafeMinds participated as a consultant in the design of a large study designed to ask whether there was a link between thimerosal containing vaccines and neurodevelopmental disorders other than autism. Unfortunately for her, the study failed to find a link. All investigators found were a handful of correlations, both positive and negative, that occurred at a frequency consistent with random chance. In a case of sour grapes, Bernard disowned the study before it was published and then, after it was published, launched attacks against it, even going so far as to write a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine criticizing it.
Another example came to mind. Almost two and a half years ago, Dr. Thomas Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, appointed prominent anti-vaccine activists to the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), apparently in the name of “inclusiveness” and “building bridges” The anti-vaccinationists appointed to the committe were Lyn Redwood, Vice President of SafeMinds; Lee Grossman, President of the Autism Society of America; and Stephen Shore, who included in his book Understanding Autism for Dummies clearly showed anti-vaccine proclivities and supports the idea that chelation therapy can be used to treat autism. It’s been a total disaster. Not only did anti-vaccine propagandist David Kirby crow over it as “proof” that the government considers the idea that vaccines cause autism to be a scientifically viable hypothesis “worth studying,” but Redwood and her pal Mark Blaxill (another Vice President of SafeMinds and an editor at the anti-vaccine propaganda blog Age of Autism) have hijacked the process at every turn. Dr. Insel, again apparently in the name of being “inclusive” and “tolerant” won’t rein them in. He basically lets them run wild, and other members of the committee are complaining. As Sullivan has pointed out, this mischief has a cost:
Hours and hours were spent in the IACC meetings wordsmithing the vaccine language. To groups like SafeMinds and people like Lyn Redwood, the Strategic Plan was a political document. It was a statement by the government, and it was critical to get as much “admission” of autism being caused by vaccines as was possible. So what if another generation of minorities gets mislabeled with Intellectual Disability or some other Special Education category when SafeMinds was able to get the IACC to admit that many parents think vaccines cause autism?
This is what happens when psuedo “Vaccine-injury” advocates pretend to be Autism advocates and take seats at the table. Lyn Redwood put her own interests and those of her organizations ahead of the well being of people with autism.
Which is what the anti-vaccine movement does, because at its heart it’s not about autism to them, the names of their societies notwithstanding. It’s all about the vaccines; specifically, it’s all about opposing vaccines and promoting the idea that vaccines cause autism and all sorts of other “horrors.”
Chris is profoundly misguided in his apparent belief that any amount of “bridge building” will bring anti-vaccine activists around. Their beliefs are as ingrained as those of any fundamentalist religion and just as resistant to bridge-building over the core belief around which they revolve. Indeed, trying to reach out to leaders of the anti-vaccine movement is pointless. It is, as AutismNewsBeat so pithily characterizes it, akin to “bridge-building efforts by evolutionary biologists toward creationists. Or by B’nai Brith to mend fences with the Nazis. I’m sure those meetings went well.” I agree fully. Thinking that “building bridges” to the leaders of the anti-vaccine movement will achieve anything except giving them more opportunity to sabotage public health by giving them an unearned feeling of power and legitimacy is likely to be as productive as evolutionary biologists engaging with Ken Ham, Casey Luskin, or Dr. Michael Egnor or for Deborah Lipstadt to engage with David Irving. As they say, you can’t use reason to lead someone away from views that they didn’t reach using reason.
No, the leaders of the anti-vaccine movement, people such as J.B. Handley, Lyn Redwood, Mark Blaxill, Jenny McCarthy and her boyfriend Jim Carrey, Barbara Loe Fisher, and Lee Grossman, don’t need bridges built to them. It’s a pointless exercise, as has been shown time and time again. Every attempt to do so is viewed by them as a sign of weakness or vindication of their crank views, never as an opportunity for compromise. That is why they need to be cut off from the oxygen that fuels their movement: publicity. AutismNewsBeat is correct to point out that we need to change the public narrative from “vaccines might cause autism” to “vaccine rejectionists are barking loons who endanger us all” because the are barking loons who endanger children by destroying herd immunity and increasing the chances of vaccine preventable diseases returning. Indeed, we’ve already seen this in the U.K., where MMR vaccination uptake has plummeted, thanks to Wakefield, and measles has come roaring back. As Mike Stanton says:
Instead of building bridges we should be building a cordon sanitaire to keep these predators at bay. We have our own compelling stories to tell. What about the childhood cancer victims who cannot be vaccinated and cannot attend day care for fear of a lethal encounter with the unvaccinated offspring of the worried well? What about the excellent journalism of of people like Trine Tsouderos at the Chicago Tribune, exposing the money grubbing quacks who feast on parental fears offering false hopes at a premium price? Or the vaccine success story in Africa where Measles deaths fell by 91% between 2000 and 2006, from an estimated 396,000 to 36,000 thanks to a mass vaccination campaign?
We will never persuade the die-hards. Our best tactic is to act to prevent them from persuading anyone else.
Exactly. In a free society, that means countering their misinformation in uncompromising terms and holding editors and reporters to task when they allow the “tell both sides” ethic to give the false appearance of equivalence between real science and the pseudoscience of vaccine denialists. Remember that the anti-vaccine loons are out there in force doing exactly what commenter Kim on AoA is doing:
Here’s an idea, call your local health reporters and introduce yourself. Tell them when anything comes up in the news about autism that you are their “go-to”. Make sure they have all your contact numbers/email, etc and tell them if you don’t know the answers, then you will find someone in the community who does. I’ve got 2 stations and the newspaper in town calling me everytime something happens anywhere remotely close to autism. It’s great for awareness and if only ONE parent learns something, we all win! This week I even got my own 3.5 minute spot on the Fox station in town. I’ll post when it’s online…
Although, for instance, I’ve made myself available to the media, I haven’t been proactive about it. Nor, I daresay, have most of us trying to defend science against pseudoscience. I have, however, written to the odd local reporter who has written a credulous story about autism “biomed” treatments and the anti-vaccine movement, in which an anti-vaccine group is portrayed as an autism advocacy group. I think it helped, but I won’t know until these reporters write another story on the subject, which, for all I know, could be months. Still, blogs aren’t enough. Twitter isn’t enough. The “old media” is still very powerful and will likely always be powerful. Web 2.0 is great, but it’s not (yet) enough to counter the power of mass media.
It is important to remember, however, that we are talking about the leaders of the anti-vaccine movement. We are talking about the J. B. Handleys of the world. We are talking about the Barbara Loe Fishers of the world. We are talking about the Lyn Redwoods of the world. We are not talking about parents who are afraid of vaccines because of what they hear on the Internet but are not committed to the cause of promoting the idea that vaccines cause autism. They may even be parents who have autistic children who think that vaccines were responsible. It is for these parents that Mooney’s strategy might have a chance of working. Indeed, I would liken these parents to the moderate religious people whom Mooney advocates working with to promote good science evolution, including evolution, and to defend science education against the intrusions of creationism. In essence, this is two-pronged strategy in which the die-hards are marginalized as much as is possible in a democracy through cutting them off from the easy access to the media that they have enjoyed thus far while at the same time building bridges not to the leaders of the anti-vaccine movement but to the moderates who are not beyond recovery.
I’m under no illusion that it will be easy to distinguish one from the other or even to work with those who are not in so deep that they can’t be persuaded. I do know, however, that scientists and the government have tried time and time again to “build bridges” to leaders of the anti-vaccine movement. It doesn’t work, and it’s time to try something different.
If Chris (or anyone else, for that matter) has any specific ideas for what that something different is, I’d be more than happy to listen. In fact, if Chris (or anyone else, for that matter) can show me that I’m dead wrong about the uselessness of trying to “build bridges” with the leaders of the anti-vaccine movement, I’d be more than happy to listen. Who knows? I might even change my mind if the arguments are compelling enough and backed by strong evidence.
175 replies on ““Building bridges” to the leaders of the anti-vaccine movement?”
I’m only going by what I read on Pharyngula, but this sounds similar to Mooney’s plea of “being nice” to the science-illiterate in Unscientific American. What’s interesting is that apparently he can be aggressive with anti-science types when he wants: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/06/whose_side_are_you_on_flatow.php
I really try to adopt a live-and-let-live philosophy, but I absolutely agree we need to be more aggressive with this stuff. People like Andrew Wakefield, Jenny McCarthy, Bill Maher, et. al., are dangerous people. They push ideas that kill people. Not cool.
But isn’t this Chris Mooney’s MO? Doesn’t he want to tone down the evolution rhetoric, too? I, personally, am tired of this wishy-washy crap, especially when so much is at stake.
Everyone calm down I know what is causinc autism.
I completely agree that the leaders of this have to be written off as a lost cause. It is not worth the effort to reach them.
Seems to me we (defenders of science and evidence) need to get out where the mushy middle sits and convince them. I did a post on that after I attended a CDC flu vax meeting a few months back.
But what I could have used was backup. Unlike the crank network, the science network was _not_ activated for this. And I don’t know how to do that. I reached out to a couple of people and places that I thought had megaphones, but it didn’t have any impact. I had only accidentally found out about this meeting, and found out late, after the crank bat-signal was already aware.
Hopefully, this isn’t trollbait, but what is causing it?
I was thinking the same thing. I recall many of PZ’s posts dealing with Chris Mooney’s attitudes towards creationists. So it wasn’t completely surprising to hear that Mooney’s suggesting the same sort of approach to another band of pseudoscience advocates.
I think the antivax leaders need the same kind of bridges built to them as the one Buzz Aldrin famously built to Bart Sibrel, generally.
AutismNewsBeat is correct to point out that we need to change the public narrative from “vaccines might cause autism” to “vaccine rejectionists are barking loons who endanger us all”
The tide is already turning. The comments in the NY Times on the vaccine articles this week have been running heavily against the anti-vaxxers. People are starting to get the message, so it’s just a matter of building on the momentum.
[Edna Krabapple] HA! [/Edna Krabapple]
Huh. I guess Chris Mooney is a broad-spectrum accommodationist. With religion, at least it kinda makes a little bit of sense (it’s hard to go against so much entrenched history), but to try and accommodate the desires of some weird fringe group? Are we going to start accommodating the 9/11 troofers or the teabaggers or the Raelians next?
Seriously, there’s a point at which you have to stop and say “look, you’re wrong. Reality is on this side of the line, and you’re all the way over there.”
That’s my recollection as well. OTOH, I also seem to recall a pretty big pissing match between Orac and PZ Myers over this, when Myers criticized Mooney for it and Orac came to his defense. Now, it seems, the shoe is on the other foot. Mooney doesn’t seem so helpful when he is acting accomodationist on your own cause, it appears.
When the rate went to 1 in 110 I decided to look at the problem. Since the experts had looked at all the chemical compounds I looked for nonchemical enviromental causes of autism. These could be cosmic radiation, ultraviolet radiation,sound, light and touch. Taste and smell would have a chemical base.
I found that about 25% of children born blind become autistic. So could light or the lack of it be part of the cause? Is there a visual component to autism? Then I found a study by David Fitzpatrick and others at Duke using ferrets that was interesting. They raised 3 groups, normal, total darkness and with eye lids fastened shut so that the only light filtered through their eye lids. The ones raise in darkness showed normal but diminished brain development but the ones with closed eye lids had no normal development, so the conclusion was that abnormal light input was far worse than no light. Could this be why blind autistic children respond to training and treatment better than other autistic children? So how do autistic children get an abnormal light input? The only possibility is fluorescent lighting, which is actually strobe lighting. Fluorescent lighting turns completely off 120 times per second, that is the room goes completely dark 120 times per second. The infant brain is unencombered by speach, memory, planning ahead or a thousand other things that the adult brain is doing. Because of this I think the visual input of infants can be very rapid and they see this intermittant light and this disrupts the normal development of the mirror neuron system in the brain. The mirror neuron system allowes us to recognise emotions in others and to develope our emotional system. Dysfunction of the mirror neuron system has long been thought to be the core cause of autism.
Now let’s compare histories, the first cases of autism were diagnosed in the early 1940s,fluorescent lighting started to be sold in 1938.the autism rate has gone up 1000% since 1996, screw in fluorescent lights came to the market in 1995, the 220,000 Amish use no electricity and have virtually no autism, The correlation between rain fall and autism in the pacific north west is caused by the additional light required for overcast conditions, the 1 in 58 rate in the U.K. is caused by their electricity which is 50 cycle so the visual input of their infants has to slow down much more than ours to avoid the strobe effect and finally the report of the California clusters. Educated couples of child bearing age living in affluent neighborhoods usually both work to get by so the children go to day care. The first cluster is centered around Culver City so I went to the yellow pages and found six day care centers and their address’s. Then I went to google earth and looked at them, 5 of the 6 were in commercial buildings so any ambiant light if any had to come in through the front. Those children got fluorescent lighting at home at night and at day care during the day. Double the exposure double the rate. Case closed.
Mooney seems determined to demonstrate to all that he is completely clueless.Â If thatâs his plan, he is succeeding.
And I do think this is similar to his accommodationist views on the teaching of evolution.Â I have to disagree with you, Orac on this:
Not really.Â Mooneyâs view, as I understand it, is that we shouldn’t try to convince the moderate religious that they are wrong and that they should be atheists; heâs saying we should convince them that evolution and science are compatible with religion.Â Surely, we actually do want to convert the worried parents?Â
That would be very, very, weak suggestiveness even if there was any biological plausibility. Since the strobing of florescent lights is too fast to be perceived by the human eye, there is none.
Regarding dealing with reporters:
Orac probably already knows this, but if you’re going to make yourself available as a “go-to” guy, you have to deliver with reasonable soundbites. Precise language about how studies fail to show any link between vaccines and autism is no match for “There is no reputable link between vaccines and autism.” Be direct, be blunt, and save the scientifically defensible language for letters to medical journals.
A-ha. So you admit there is a link, you just refuse to accept it because it goes against your religion.
Scotty, it’s not that easy.
It doesn’t work. As Mike Stanton pointed out in a comment, public health bodies courted Barbara Loe Fisher of the National Vaccine Information Center (whom I’ve discussed recently here, here, and here).
Well they damn well better. She was instrumental in passing the infamous 1986 legislation that has afforded the availability of vaccines without threat of litigation. Allowing a consumer advocate for this kind of protection doesn’t seem like such a bad tradeoff from an industry point of view.
One recent example that stands out in my mind occurred in 2007, when Sallie Bernard of SafeMinds participated as a consultant in the design of a large study designed to ask whether there was a link between thimerosal containing vaccines and neurodevelopmental disorders other than autism.
Help me here: other than autism, no unvaccinated children, and 30% of those selected participated. Are these not valid criticisms?
It’s all about the vaccines; specifically, it’s all about opposing vaccines and promoting the idea that vaccines cause autism and all sorts of other “horrors.”
Yes, that’s what people like you see. And I agree, it is all about the vaccines and the policy that has evolved since the late 80’s. I have YET to find any good safety data that has justified the increase in vaccines to children under the age of two and we won’t even do an observational study of both populations to make sure we’re not causing more harm than good. There has been a tendency to extrapolate data from older age groups, and this, is bad science. I’ll concede that it has definitely aided in removing any possible control group, making the attempts for such a study extremely difficult. Don’t bark about confounders people, it’s still worthwhile to do. Those being honest know this is true.
Mike Stanton via Orac: What about the childhood cancer victims who cannot be vaccinated and cannot attend day care for fear of a lethal encounter with the unvaccinated offspring of the worried well?
Yes, let’s discriminate. That is certainly helpful. Shall the parent of an unvaccinated child show up with their blood panels and titre levels and hopefully make a difference in your discriminatory behavior? Well no, because from one side of your mouth you’ll tell me that they are no measure of immunity, and then out of the other you will show me efficacy data which specifically relates to seroconversion. Positive titres have not been demonstrated in challenge studies to indicate “immunity”. A person’s ability to produce antibodies to any given disease causing agent doesn’t mean that they will resist disease. There’s a lot to be said about being subclinical.
I’ll agree with you on this point though, those most visible in this issue are doing the most harm.
The strobing of a properly functioning fluorescent light is too fast to be consciously perceived by the human eye. That said, there are people for whom even slightly imperfect fluorescents are a migraine trigger. So clearly they can perceive it.
And then there are some of us who will be bothered for days or weeks as an old-style fluorescent light at the office or in the classroom slowly fails, and it isn’t replaced because most people don’t care. There’s a built-in fluorescent light at my desk. It flickers. I can’t get it replaced, so I work by the overhead lights and the light from my monitor (even when doing paperwork).
I don’t know whether fluorescents are connected to autism, but I don’t think we can dismiss the idea on the grounds that the human eye can’t perceive the flickering. Some people’s eyes can. And one thing we do know about autism is that it affects about 1 percent of the population; maybe they’re some subset of those who are unusually sensitive to strobing and/or defective fluorescent lights. Or include such a subset: this may be a case where “yes, there are Amish children with autism” is relevant.
Mooney’s mistake is in thinking that the antiscience lot (“The Republican War on Science,” creationists, antivaxers) can be convinced to behave rationally if we just find a way to communicate with them. They can’t.
These groups’ opposition to science is just a symptom of their main goals: the advancement of conservative ideology, religion, etc. They view any compromise of these principles as failing to “Stand Up for What They Believe In.” Since compromise is impossible, the only recourse is to show that their extension of those principles into science is wrong. Show it repeatedly, loudly, publicly, and rudely if that might work.
i am with Scott. i doesn’t seem plausible that lighting has anything to do with it. also, i don’t have the references, but i am sure i have seen posted here by Orac that the Amish/no-autism connection is completely false. the Amish *do* have autism at rates comparable to the general population.
You know Oren, I believe you’re right. You have just proven the sole cause of autism in your 525 words-without-paragraphs. Case closed!
The Onion chimes in on the Lancet retraction:
The reaction of Wakefield’s supporters to revelations of his disgraceful behavior should be ample evidence of the failure of reason and due process in dealing with diehard antivaxers. They’re a lost cause.
The cause that’s important is the children of parents who are wavering in the face of destructive antivax propaganda, and society at large which is at risk from the return of preventable infectious diseases. Our focus at this point should be to continue working with the news media to report responsibly on vaccination and autism, on organizations funding autism research which should be looking into real causes and treatment, and on Congress to prevent hijacking of the public health agenda by antivax activism.
You can’t build bridges to people who are eager only to blow them up.
I agree. It would be a “bridge to nowhere”: there are those who cannot be reached, cannot be taught,and cannot be influenced, who are highly invested emotionally and/or financially.I suspect that in many cases, using an external,controllable cause(i.e. vaccines, toxins)is protective of the “believer’s” self-esteem(“Nothing wrong with *my* genes or *my* parenting behavior!”)- those whose *business* (or *raison d’etre*) is anti-vax, as well as general “contrarians”.They are probably a small(but very vocal) minority…..Perhaps our job is something like that of a tennis player who tries to anticipate/”cover” the majority of most likely “shots” delivered by the opponent-we want to reach the greatest number of (most likely to be) *influencable* people, discounting the impossible ones .
Your point is well taken – I was incorrect. The weakness of the evidence and complete lack of a biological mechanism still stand, though, even if there isn’t specific evidence for the absence of such a mechanism.
While these statements are pithy, I think they fail to reflect the problem that is at hand with such efforts. My pithy comeback would be, “You don’t want to build bridges to people who will use them carry out an assault on you.”
As Orac describes, we already have situations where there have been bridges, and all that happens is that they mobilize to cross it into the enemy territory. Once there, they use filibusterish techniques to get their way and increase their presence. Why in the hell would they want to demolish that opportunity by blowing up the bridge?
THEY want the bridge, because THEY are the ones who benefit from it. It’s not advancing science at all.
If you’ve got the Rhein separating you from the German army, you don’t build a bridge to give them a means to attack.
screw the bridge building. we should go all emperor’s-new-clothes on the antivaxxers.
point at them and exclaim they’re naked.
That makes my German army analogy a lot more interesting.
Denice is right, the accomodationist approach appears to be based on a flawed assumption that if you make some concessions to the other side you can win them over. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about anti-vaxers, creationists, animal rights activists or AGW “skeptics”, this almost never happens.
What scientists should be concentrating on is convincing the far larger group of people who are not already committed to one side or the other, and that is where lending credibility to anti-science forces by making concessions to them can be very dangerous.
You’re surprised this is coming from Chris Mooney? He of the “if religious wackjobs don’t believe in evolution, it must be the fault of those nasty atheist scientists!” fame? Please. Whatever great work Mooney may have done in the past, nowadays he has this accomodationist bug so far up his ass that, if he were living in 1938 Germany, he’d say the Jews weren’t doing a good job of “framing” their plight to the National Socialist Party.
FWIW, I do think many physicians/pediatricians can do more to build bridges to the marks of the anti-vaccine movement. The leaders? The advocates? They are already irrevocably gone over to the dark side. But the frightened first time mom who thinks, “Well, maybe there is something to this… maybe I should talk to my doctor about an alternative vaccination schedule?”, these are the people who are still very much reachable. I have heard horror stories of pediatricians becoming angry and derisive when their patients’ mothers inquire about anti-vax propaganda (in one case I am directly aware of, a doctor called a 20-year-old mom “stupid” for asking about a delayed schedule). I’m sure most pediatricians are more patient, but it never hurts to remind them that the marks are not the enemy; they have merely been conned, and patience and compassion, and maybe even a willingness to compromise (if a patient is really adamant, a delayed-but-complete schedule is still better than no shots or an incomplete schedule) are the appropriate responses.
Mooney’s suggestion that the leaders of the anti-vax movement can be swayed with honey? Insane, inane, immature, and dare I say, self-serving, since Mooney’s making a name for himself as Mr. Accomodationism.
I just want to point out that many of those people whom Mooney has in the past criticized as not sufficiently accommodating towards religion do have a history of working with “moderate religious people” to “promote good science”. Dawkins, for instance, has worked extensively with the Bishop of Something-or-other.
Where Mooney and the New Atheists part ways is whether it is okay to also say that, despite having moderate religious allies, you do not believe religion and science are ultimately consistent, for fear that your allies will be driven off. To which all I can say is, if someone is that touchy about their religion that they can’t even tolerate an alliance with someone who disagrees with them on certain issues, maybe they weren’t all that “moderate” to begin with….
James Sweet – you say this doctor calling the mom stupid something you are “directly” aware of. I am curious, were you actually in the room and heard it? Or did she tell you? Or did the doctor tell you?
As we know, patient’s versions of what doctors say are not always accurate (like Suzanne Sommers?). I would especially be cautious about it coming from a 20 year old mom, who I know from a lot of experience (including now) are extremely sensitive about any comment that doesn’t blow fluff up their pants. They can consider everything to be an insult (if the doctor even used the word stupid in the room, it can be misinterpreted, “Well, if the tonsils show signs of serious infection, we could do a tonsilectomy, but it would be stupid to do surgery if it is just a runny nose” “He said I was stupid!”)
That was totally uncalled for, and I invoke Godwin’s law.
Re the suggestion to mobilize scientists/doctors as “go-to” folks on vaccine-related issues:
I think this may have a chance in a local media market. But nationally, the media loves nothing better than an argument, leading to the drafting of scientists and doctors for exactly the sort of “tell both sides” presentation that Orac decried a couple of posts ago.
As a late friend of mine used to say, “You got a better chance of seeing God” than of getting movement from the firmly cemented positions of the vaccine/autism folks, no matter how well “framed” and no matter how much more scientific evidence accumulates. What I think might work better to change public opinion are items orthogonal to autism, such as recent stories saying (1) 40% of cancers could be prevented with vaccines and a healthy lifestyle, and (2) higher vaccination compliance by seniors could help prevent 40-50,000 deaths and $10 billion in extra medical costs annually in the U.S. alone.
I don’t want to “build bridges” with anti-vax loons. I want to nuke their silly little island back into the stone age where they obviously want to live.
Thank you Coryat. It’s hard to dismiss the near perfect correlation of the history of autism and the history of fluorescent lighting as well as the other 4 correlations. I have UC Davis and childrens Hospital of Philidelphia interested in this theory. They may be willing to run EEG or brain scans on very young children to see if they can detect a change when going from incandescent to fluorescent lighting. If they can I think we have a solution.
You know, I hate this statement. Not because it is wrong, but because it is so ripe for abuse. It feeds straight into the supplement manufacturer market.
“The FDA says that 40% of cancers can be prevented with a healthier lifestyle. Our snake oil^H^H^H^H fish oil supplement pills are clinically proven to be part of a healthier lifestyle.”
Screw the “healthier lifestyle” crap. Get to the point: stop smoking. “20% of cancers could be prevented if people would STOP SMOKING.”
We’ll worry about the other stuff once that is taken care of.
James, #31. Thanks for that last paragraph. I agree with that and it is a point I do not see brought up very often. People really need to grow up and be a little bigger when it comes to dealing with those who disagree with them. If you look at Dawkins or PZ it seems they are more than willing to interact and discuss things with religious communities. I think I remember at least one occasion, though perhaps there are more, where PZ has gone and talked in churches about science. I think they would be more than willing to team up to promote good science as well.
It seems building bridges is often expected to be a one way endeavor.
You have a point about lighting conditions contributing to autism. (Computer screens are also a significant issue.) But this is confusing the symptom with the disease. Autistics are very sensitive to their environment, and different individuals have different sensitivities. (I have used the phrase “kryptonite stimulus”.) Dealing with these issues means either changing the environment, or teaching autistics how to react to stress without a “breakdown”.
As an automotive engineer who has become rather a specialist in PWM lighting technologies, I can assure you that an adult human takes, at it’s fastest rate about 20 milliseconds to react to a change in light. (This does vary a bit between people and color vs. black and white vision, and the various frequencies of color.) That’s about 50 Hz. (Frankly, if you can see a 50Hz flicker you are superhuman, most humans can’t see better than about 20Hz and the frame rate of movies is between 24Hz and 30Hz.)
Even if a newborn’s eyes can react twice as fast (and I have no reason to think that it does, I’ve never looked into the question), your hypothesis doesn’t hold much water. Note, looking around I find a 1995 study by Bieber, et.al., suggests that infants and adults have similar reaction times, See Spectral efficiency measured by heterochromatic flicker photometry is similar in human infants and adults, Vision Res. 1995 May;35(10):1385-92.
Next, you are jumping to conclusions about the type of light used in day care facilities, a simple search of on google maps is not sufficient to show that these facilities only use fluorescent lighting. I wouldn’t be surprised that they do, but you haven’t shown that they do.
Third, there are well documented cases of autism among the Amish. Do a search on this blog to get some links.
Forth, I’m certain you are aware that differences in reported rates of autism between different countries can be more easily explained by the differences in reporting criteria than by difference in AC frequencies. Autism is a spectrum disorder, it’s not like a broken bone where a simple test verifies the diagnosis. The rise in reported autism rates in the US are most likely due to increased awareness of the condition, diagnostic substitution [There were a couple children I went to school with who, on reflection, were probably autistic. We just called them retarded. I haven’t seen that term used in a long time.], and the expansion of the diagnostic criteria in the mid-1990’s. The higher rate that you claim for the UK (I hadn’t heard that particular number before) is still very likely to be related to the differences in diagnostic criteria.
Checking this is simple, is the reported rate in all countries which use 60Hz the same? How about all countries which use a 50Hz system? If you claim that different reporting criteria explains those differences, why is it different because of power line frequency?
Fourth, repeat after me the mantra of statistical epidemiology, “Correlation is not Causation”. Yes, in 1936 fluorescent lighting was introduced. Also in 1936 British television broadcasts started, and the first practical helicopter was invented. In 1937 Britain deploys radar stations. In 1938 the first ball-point pen was patented by Biro, and DuPont starts selling nylon. In 1939 Birds Eye started production of pre-cooked frozen foods. And in 1940 freeze-dried foods are introduced. I could go on, but I think you see my point.
What you have is an observational hypothesis, and not a particularly good one, that the introduction of fluorescent lighting into delivery rooms increased the rate of autism.
This is based on a few observations;
1. the rate of autism in the population has increased (not demonstrated).
2. 25% of children born blind are autistic (I’d not see this figure before, got a source.) Even if true, it’s even more evidence for a genetic condition. Of course, since autism is a popular diagnosis these days, your claim about children born blind having a better response to teaching than non-blind born autistic children may simply be a case of a number of children born blind are mis-diagnosed with autism and thus they respond very well.
3. A study on ferrets. Please provide the cite, I’ve read the three papers Fitzpatrick has written using ferrets to model vision and none of them match the description of what you claim. The closest I could find was this one; White, L.E., D.M. Coppola, and D. Fitzpatrick (2001) The contribution of sensory experience to the maturation of orientation selectivity in ferret visual cortex. Nature 411: 1049-1052. And it compares directional sensitivity between light-reared and dark-reared ferrets, I can’t find anything about ferrets reared with their eyelids fastened shut (and I suspect an ethics board might have some difficulty with that one too). If this is indeed the paper you are referring to, it doesn’t claim what you think it does.
In short, the evidence you provide is flimsy (and in some cases false) and your hypothesis will need much stronger evidence than that to be considered a reasonable one. I’d start, if I were as convinced about it as you seem to be, by proving that the reported increase in autism rates is real and not an artifact of the changing diagnostic criteria. If you can do that, you are going to be much more likely to get the attention of someone who will study it.
But I do offer you one consolation. The new LED lights oscillate at about 1000 Hz, not 60 Hz, so the room goes dark (well, aside from the reflected light) 1000 times a second. (They are DC PWM controlled, not AC.) So, as the technology changes, and LED lighting is introduced into delivery rooms, if your hypothesis is true we will see a decrease in the rate of autism over the next 20 years or so.
Actually, as you see, I was quoting someone else as an example of two unreconcilable parties, but point taken. Even so, remember that Sweet’s example was, in essence, claiming that Mooney would have taken the side of the Nazis during the Holocaust. Not nice.
Bridge analogies aside, is there any indication that the people who believe that vaccines cause autism are interested in:
 Acknowledging (or even listening to) the scientific data that fail to show any connection between autism and vaccines?
 Changing or moderating their belief that vaccines (in some way) cause autism?
For that matter, is there any indication that the doctors and scientists who have done the research showing no apparent connection between autism and vaccines are interested in “moderating” their findings?
Wouldn’t that be scientific fraud?
The idea of “reaching out” or “building bridges” only works if both sides are willing to compromise on their positions. The “vaccines-cause-autism” groups have shown no interest in moderating their position in response to the data and the scientific community would be committing fraud if they “compromised” and said, “Well, the data aren’t everything – we can make ‘adjustments’ based on your ‘narratives’.”
Maybe I’m missing something, but there doesn’t seem to be a viable compromise between people who say “These are the data.” and those who say “I don’t believe the data.”
Any attempt to “build bridges” to the “vaccines-cause-autism” groups will be exploited by them to show the general public that they are being taken seriously by the scientific community – as detailed above. The only possible benefit to the scientific community would be to show the rest of the world “Well, we tried.”
Sometimes an issue is polarizing because there is no middle ground.
If you consider that a “near perfect correlation”, then you know absolutely nothing about science, statistics, or the history of autism.
LED lights don’t oscillate. LEDs are Light Emitting Diodes. diodes conduct in only one direction. LEDs operate with a DC bias voltage across them–no AC. electron-hole pairs are created, then recombine and emit a photon. the photon emission is incoherent and continuous so there should be no flicker either.
Various gargantuan problems in Oren’s argument:
1. Conflating the original characterization of autism with its appearance.
2. Unsubstantiated assertion that “25% of children born blind become autistic”.
3. Completely ignoring potential confounders between blindness and autism to assume a causal relationship.
4. Reading far too much into a single study in ferrets showing that sensory experiences have impact on brain development – at best this is a demonstration of possibility, NOT evidence in favor.
5. Bald assertion that “the only possibility is fluorescent lighting” without any attempt whatsoever to justify why there is no other possibility.
6. Ignoring the difference between increased diagnosis and increased incidence.
7. Assumption that the rainfall/autism correlation is real as opposed to data mining AND that the correlation must obviously be due to lighting.
8. Extrapolation of the differing effects of different cycle rates without any foundation.
9. Completely ignoring confounders such as socioeconomic status impacting quality of medical care when assuming that California “clusters” are real.
And that’s just on a superficial survey. It puts the argument that global warming is caused by a lack of pirates to shame, since THAT correlation actually exists while not a single shred of the ‘evidence’ cited here convincingly supports the existence of a correlation, much less causation.
Oren Evans wrote @36
Just have them replace their fluorescent lighting with LED. There are replacements available now, and while it may cost a few thousands of dollars (at about $60/bulb, that’s 1000 bulbs for $60,000. You have to disconnect the ballast, but that’s not too hard.), they will get two benefits, lower electric bills and evidence to support/disprove your idea.
I do think this retraction might be a good idea after all. The general public knows what it means when a journal retracts something. They know it means that whatever it was sucked. This does not require a PhD to get.
Quoth Oren: “I have UC Davis and childrens Hospital of Philidelphia interested in this theory.”
As a proud Aggie alumnus, I find this prospect disturbing. Which department head should I be contacting? (Or was that assertion just complete bollocks?)
I suspect complete bollocks.
Yes, I should have been more clear. LED lighting runs at a DC level.
The DC voltage level is varies slightly between 1.8V and 2.4V, depending on the doping and current draw.
However, variable lighting level for LEDs, i.e. dimmable LED’s, do not dim by lowering the DC voltage level. Instead they use a PWM generator to turn the LEDs on and off at a high frequency. I’ve seen them used as low as 85Hz, but most manufactures recommend 1-2 kHz. All the T8 replacement bulbs I’ve seen are fixed DC levels, but the few that are dimmable run at around 1kHz.
So, my point is that in the worst case the on/off cycle for LED lighting is going to be around 1000Hz, assuming you are using variable level LED lighting.
I was thinking about going into that, but my post was getting too long already.
i was trying to think of some reason why you would run a LED on AC and could think of none. the pulse width scheme you mention makes sense wrt dimmable lights. however, why not just vary the input bias level to vary the brightness? heating issues? probably easier to implement with existing dimmer light switches? hmm.
Your argument starts with the assumption that the autism diagnoses are increasing at a alarming rate and therefore there must be a environmental cause not present in previous generations. That is a huge, platoesque assumption.
There is no evidence the prevalence of autism is even increasing. At this point, it appears far more likely that the broadening of the autism scope and better primary care at diagonalizing the signs of autism early in recent years are responsible for the increase rate of diagnoses.
The big fail in the science-based medicine community is in attempts at “countering their misinformation in uncompromising terms.” It seems every time I see a news report on this subject, they turn to the rational clinical view and get “There is no conclusive evidence that vaccines cause autism.” Of course, the corollaries are that evidence exists it is just not conclusive and/or there is no evidence that vaccines do not cause autism. Anyone who might lean somewaht toward the anti-vax viewpoinmt will not be swayed by this statement.
What is needed is to come up with short statements that will get the average listener angry about the anti-vaxxers. The appeal to risk of disease is not doing it because vaccines have made the diseases so rare and people think their vaccinated kids are safe.
How about an appeal to the pocketbook? Something like: We studied this possibility years ago and found no evidence of a link. But, because of the anti-vaxxers, we have had to revisit the question again at again, perform studies, create committees. And again and again, we find no link. Of course this all comes at taxpaayer expense and removes funds that could be used to find the true causes of autism or cancer or whatever.
I actually wrote my comment before I read comments #32 and on (i.e., I didn’t refresh before writing). So it wasn’t intended to be a comment on your invoking Godwin’s Law. But I found it ironic that someone who is so attuned to Nazi comparison as to have invented the delightful Hitler Zombie would miss it in a quote that he “agree(s) fully” with. Really, I was just tweaking your nose.
As to Sweet’s example, I disagree that it claims that Mooney would have sided with the Nazis. Unless you are accusing Mooney of siding with the anti-vaxxers?
However, since Godwin has already been invoked, I will say I honestly agree with Sweet’s assessment of Mooney. Had he said 1943, I would have disagreed, but I don’t think the events leading up to 1938 would have been sufficient for Mooney to abandon his basic premise. Again, just an honest assessment, made while trying to avoid consideration of later events of the Holocaust.
LED are, as you mentioned above, semi-conductor diodes operating in a forward bias state. This means that based on the material, silicon is the common ones, and the doping, a very specific voltage drop occurs across the junction.
Adjusting the current can make minor changes in the voltage drop, but not a great deal. Forward conducting diodes are pretty well self-regulating. As an example, taking an LED from 2mA to 40mA may change the voltage drop from 1.8V to 2.1V. The light output of an LED depends directly on it’s current, so a 20-times (2000%) increase in light only corresponds to a 300mV or 16% change in voltage. It’s hard to control the light output of an LED by using voltage.
Further, most LEDs turn on at around 2mA of current, that is the light is perceptible. A certain amount of charge carriers have to pass the threshold level before light is emitted (kinda), so the dimmest and LED can get by controlling the voltage isn’t particularly dim.
Beyond that, once you get into white LEDs they actually change color at different current levels. White LEDs are really blue LEDs with a phosphor lens to absorb the higher frequencies of the blue light and re-emit them in the red side of the spectrum. This requires a balancing act in manufacturing LEDs, too much phosphor and the light is orange, to little and the light is blue. The balance is tuned toward the nominal operating current, 20-40mA depending on manufacturer, and below 10mA of current most white LEDs look decidedly blusish.
So turning them on and off at high frequencies, which is fine because their slew rate is very high, is the best way to vary the light output on white LEDs.
BKsea – can we get that into a sound bite?
“We’ve already spent enough time and money searching for a link and keep coming up empty. It’s time to stop wasting resources and move onto something productive.”
That is even good scientist speak!
wrt fluorescent lightin
Fluorescent lighting has been increasing it’s flicker rate. A modern CFL ranges from 10,000-24,000 Hz, a modern T8 w/ electronic ballast as high as 120,000 Hz. If it were the flicker rate, we should have seen a decrease in the autism rate since the mid-90s, not an (alleged) increase!
I’m sorry, I just can’t let this go on.
If you don’t count the massive amount of inductance and the response rate of the bulb itself, then you might be able to say it “goes dark”. Of course, you would then be smacked around by any decent electrical engineer in sight. There is an incredible amount of energy storage supplying the voltages and currents to a standard fluorescent bulb.
The same thing about the LED’s, though. The capacitance and inductance (some parasitic and some from the supporting circuitry) keep the LED from ever really going dark or light. A simple FFT of a real circuit (not the perfect environment that most analysis uses) will show that there are a lot of frequencies that will dim an LED, not just slower freq = dimmer or such.
You’d think this problem would be self-correcting.
“But the frightened first time mom who thinks, ‘Well, maybe there is something to this… maybe I should talk to my doctor about an alternative vaccination schedule?’, these are the people who are still very much reachable.”
I agree with this, having been one of those mothers. You don’t have to seek out the anti-vaccination paranoia, it’s already there, and it’s gotten into your thinking without your realization. It rears its head when you are confronted with the nurse handing you CDC papers, and it muddles your decision-making process. I don’t know how you get to that population of people, provide them with facts and evidence, and cut through the fear, but it’s an important thing to consider, and something I am considering.
I’m not talking about changing frequencies to adjust light output of LEDs. I’m talking about PWM, pulse-width-modulation. By using a square-wave (on/off), at a specific frequency say 1kHz, and turning the LED on for 50% of the time, and off for 50% of the time, you get about 30% of the light output that an LED would have if it was on 100% of the time. (The relationship between PWM duty-cycle variation and LED light output is not linear.)
I’m not talking about a sine-wave. I have no experience on how sine-wave frequency shifts change light output on LEDs. I don’t know of anyone who tries to dim LEDs that way, when PWM works so much better. Especially with the modern switching power supplies.
And, if you don’t believe me that LED’s do go entirely off during the off portion of the PWM cycle go ahead and take a high-speed film and slow it down and look at it. If your circuit allows that much current through an LED during the off portion of the cycle you have something else wrong with the circuit. I’m speaking from 15 year of automotive lighting design experience largely focused on using PWM to vary the light output of LEDs, not sitting at a bench doing FFT’s. The slew rate, i.e. time it takes an LED to go from on to off, is measured in nanoseconds.
BTW, thanks W. Kevin Vicklund @58. I haven’t paid attention to fluorescent lighting in the last decade or so. It’s good to know that the modern ballasts are running at a much higher frequency. Back in the day I used the 60Hz output from our fluorescent fixtures as a strobe to align reel-to-reel data tape recorders. (Hey, they were ancient when I got to them!) But I haven’t paid much attention to them recently.
I’m sure others have beaten me to it, and a Terminator too cliched anyway. Oh what the hell…
“…they cannot be reasoned with, cannot be bargained with. They feel no remorse, pity or mercy, and they absolutely will not stop their missions until they are done.
kittywampus: agreed completely.
I am somewhat faced with this right now. My wife and I are (as of a week ago Wed) expecting our second offspring. Obviously, we are very excited. I have been again hanging out in the pregnancy forums on-line (not sMothering.com), and so see a lot of discussions among moms. The topic of vaccines and autism has already come up, prompted by the Lancet retraction. Now, you have to be very careful in those places or get shunned, but fortunately, the response was generally very good, with just a few of the “H1N1 vaccine was too rushed” and crap like that.
There was only one real issue, with a mom (who I don’t like anyway) spouting about the problems with THIMERASOL, and she heard that vaccines that are stored on the shelf are bad (her sister in law had a bad reaction) and those stored in the fridge.
Well, I just responded with statement that thimerasol is not in any pediatric vaccines except for multidose flu vaccines, and then provided a little more info about how actually, Wakefield’s initial accusation was about the combined MMR, which never contained thimerasol, and that he stood to gain with his own, separated, vaccine.
So she gets all huffy (see my comment above about how moms are offended if you don’t blow fluff up their pants), about how she never said anything about MMR (it was a thread about Wakefield, for pete’s sake, it’s all about MMR), how vaccines from the shelf are bad blah, blah, blah, with a link to something like http://www.vaccineinfo.edu. I don’t know the link, but I don’t trust it because edus are usually reserved for educational institutions, and someone grabbing a domain name like that has an agenda. I just came back with the link the FDA tables about thimerasol content in US vaccines (that I got from antiantivax – Thanks, Todd!) and described very clear with that data about how thimerasol is not present in pediatric vaccines except for multi-dose flu vials, as shown clearly here on the FDA website.
In the end, her steam diminishes, but she has to have the last word to say, “I’m still not taking any vaccine unless its from the fridge.” I held my tongue, but it would have been real easy to retort, “I don’t give a shit what you do, but don’t blame thimerasol, that has nothing to do with it.” The stupid thing is, in principle a thimerasol containing vaccine COULD be stored in the fridge, and she wouldn’t have any problem with it. A case where a little knowledge is dangerous.
But the point is that I provided a very clear demonstration that thimerasol is not present in vaccines, and so was hopefully able to allay some fears (for the non dingbats) about it, without having to resort to telling them that their concerns were unfounded.
good info. however, Si and Ge aren’t used in LEDs because they are indirect bandgap materials. you need a direct bandgap semiconductor to have an efficient radiative transition probability. depending on the color of the LED, whether on the red or blue side of the spectrum, you will use different material systems. for red, AlGaAs and related alloys are used. for the blue side InGaN and related alloys used. by varying the semiconductor composition, for instance changing the Al %, you can vary the bandgap energy to get LED emission closer to the green portion of the spectrum. however, changing the semiconductor compostion too much introduces defects and strain which decrease the efficiency of the radiative transitions. that is why green LEDs are much lower efficiency than available red or blue LEDs. II-VI semiconductors show promise for making efficient green LEDs.
Congratulations, Pablo! All the best to you, your wife, and future child.
Hello friends –
Many of the ‘famous’ people described here may be unreachable. However, there may be some ways you could achieve some of your goals with people who might fall under the influence of the McCarthys and/or Wakefields. It will require some intellectual honesty, and that’s the big problem; a lot of the core arguments in use don’t stand up to simple logical tests, and indeed, many appear to be intentionally deceptive.
1) Stop pretending that studying thimerosal or the MMR can equate to “vaccines in general”, whatever that means. Making this tired argument is absolutely a gift to the likes of JB Handley, and it is something that gets done all over the place, including this blog.
For a bunch of people that are supposedly scientists, this is disingenious to say the least; and this shell game ridiculousness is plainly visible to anyone who does any reading. Right or wrong, people raising children with autism do a lot of reading, and this argument is a surefire way to lose credibility. I am here to tell you, it does not matter how badly JB fucks up the details on his 14 studies site when the person arrives there after reading somewhere else that the vaccine question has been answered. The core argument he makes, that vaccination hasn’t been studied regarding long term neurological changes, stands up. That’s not good.
Shifting goalposts towards ethical concerns or explaining the complexities of performing such quality analysis are difficult tasks, but not nearly as insurmountable as convincing someone that you weren’t lying to them when you tried to tell them that studying the MMR or thimerosal is equivalent to studying the vaccine schedule. These are arguments that have to be made up front, not only after it is implicitly acknowledged that vaccination hasn’t really been studied. All the nuance and defendable science in the world is no good once someone is convinced you are a liar.
The medical community is in a tough position here, I believe the concerns over herd immunity are appropriate and I’d imagine there is a general belief that it might cause a lot more distrust to admit to this. But it doesn’t matter, this is an acknowledgement that is going to have to be made sooner or later; in the meantime, the question is, do you allow folks like JB to have that yelling point or do you get in front of the situation?
2) Start acting like the observed increases in autism are a crisis so important that it doesn’t matter if diagnostic changes have impacted rates as artifacts; in other words, acknowledge that the ramifications of an actual increase, no matter how small of a percentage of what is observed, is a big, big deal.
There aren’t many people arguing that the entire observed increase is real; there are a few, but your goal needs to be reaching the moderates. But even the moderates realize that there are only two ways to interpret the history of our prevalance data:
a) The entire suite of prevalance studies available to us previously were bound by such monumental problems that they all missed huge swaths of the autism population, and all of our observations are the result of artifacts.
b) We are observing a true increase in prevelance of some unknown amount.
For example, Fombonne released a metadata study in 2008, just two years ago that found prevelance in the 60/70 – 10,000 range.
Great. But then a few months ago, the CDC comes out with 100 in 10,000K numbers, meaning that Fombonne must have been missing 30 – 40 per 10,000; or nearly half of his population.
It is possible that the studies Fombonne used were serial undercounting cases. While such a thing is possible, it is a difficult position to defend when your only defense is that all of our previous evaluations were wildly inaccurate, and also I have a quirky uncle that loves computers that would have been diagnosed today, but don’t worry.
When this discrepancy is brought up, the only real answer that doesn’t involve an actual increase is that, hey, our old studies didn’t take into consideration “greater awareness” very well. Occassionally you’ll see the argument made that any true increase must be minor. How do we know it is minor? By relying on artifacts that cannot be empiricized with any quality and seem capable of soaking up whatever prevelance numbers they come into contact with; like the Bounty of autism rates. Got a bigger spill? Get a bigger sponge!
It reminds me of when Bush kept on saying things like:
“The generals haven’t told me they need more troops to secure Bagdad.”
When the question back to him should have been,
“Did you ask the generals what it would take to secure Bagdad?”
Our real question should be, “What amount of a real increase in autism constitutes a health emergency?” Once you admit this is a meanignful question, however, the frailty of using the greater awareness crutch as an answer to our ever increasing observation rates becomes clear, and the credibility of those that use it is called into question when somehow everyone knows a friend of co-worker who is raising a child with autism.
Those are some of my ideas anyways.
Of course! I tend to write far too much too quickly then edit down and missed the material change when I stopped discussing straightforward silicon and germanium diodes (a discussion about both normal and zener, subsequently edited out) and leaped into LEDs. My bad.
I’m trying hard not to be as loquacious as Orac himself.
1. There’s never been any reason to believe that “vaccines in general” are a cause for concern, and they ARE as carefully safety tested as any other drug. If you insist on attempting to refute “vaccines in general” linked to autism, in the absence of any reason to suspect they are, you must also insist on refuting cough syrup as a cause of autism. And skateboards. And airplanes. It just doesn’t make any sense at all.
MMR, thimerosal, etc. get specifically studied because that’s what the claims are made about.
2. So we should ignore the question of whether or not there is a real increase and assume there is. With no grounds for doing so. Because yes, it’s very, very, very easy to believe that earlier studies and later studies can get that level of difference without a real increase in incidence, if you understand the studies.
Ultimately, your entire post boils down to “we should completely ignore the facts and act like the concern du jour is necessarily true simply because some idiots have chosen to promote it.”
Glad my site could help. And as an FYI to those who consider trying to get through to the AoA crowd, I’ve created a new site, Silenced By Age of Autism. It’s a place where you can cross-post your comments from Age of Autism, in the event they decide to censor you.
Just posted a comment on an article by Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey.
It looks like it’s easy for a skeptic to agree with Mooney, until Mooney stumbled into that skeptic’s raison d’etre.
pD, did you really just accuse scientists of shifting the goalposts and playing a shell game? You have that 100% backwards. It’s the antivaxxers who have historically moved the goalposts as their hypotheses get knocked over. “It’s thimerosal!” “It’s aluminum!” “It’s antifreeze!” “It’s this one vaccine!” “It’s all vaccines!” “It’s too many too soon!” Nice work twisting that around, though … I’m sure you’ll convince some people that there’s merit to what you’re saying.
And precious few of them, at that. There are these things called “optocouplers,” after all, made of an LED and a photoreceptor switch. I was making them switch in nanoseconds almost forty years ago, and they’ve gotten faster since.
I’m not sure what the incentive for building bridges with these crazies are.
If there are parents out there that are so completely clueless to trust a washed-up stripper with silly anecdote rather than medical professionals with real, significant scientific data- so be it. Intelligence has a large hereditary basis. I figure in a few generations, humanities’ genetics might be better for just letting the stupid engage in a self-destructive activity (like anti-vaxxing and feeding kids industrial cleaners).
I might agree, but I have to say, we aren’t the ones doing that!
We aren’t the ones who have moved from “MMR causes autism” to “all vaccines are bad.”
Whenever the question of the flu vaccine comes up by the anti-vax nuts that show up here, I always ask the same question: MMR at least has an association with the onset of autism symptoms, and so at least has the possibility of creating a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. However, as far as I know, know one ever has ever suggested that the flu vaccine is associated with anything, much less autism! So why the big outrage, especially among the AoA-type community?
No one has ever answered that, and just whine about Desiree Jennings. We are the ones who keep pointing out that thimerasol is not present in pediatric vaccines, so what does that have to do with anything?
No, it is the anti-vaxxers that keep throwing up red-herrings. They rely on the autism scare to get everyone opposed to vaccines, despite the vaccines that only MMR has ever been associated with autism (incorrectly). Thimerasol is a red-herring, and moot, anyway, since it isn’t used. DTaP (like prevnar) is given already at 2 months, long before autism symptoms, so all those who say, “My son was fine until he got the MMR shot” have vindicated DTaP. etc
We focus on MMR and thimerasol because those are the ones that are actually the issue. Constantly bringing in other vaccines is total obfuscation.
Actually, in a rare bit of self-restraint I intentionally refrained from making just that Terminator reference. 🙂
“We’ve already spent enough time and money searching for a link and keep coming up empty. It’s time to stop wasting resources and move onto something productive.”
This is exactly the message of the Autism Science Foundation, which I hope will eclipse the woo-susceptible Autism Speaks as the nation’s preeminent autism organization. http://www.autismsciencefoundation.org/
Um, JayK, lighting is near unity power factor. There are a lot of harmonics injected by the ballasts, but the inductance seen by the bulb is negligible. The peak values of the harmonics are not sufficient to cause excitation. However, the response rate of the phosphors do extend the lit phase somewhat, and especially so at higher frequencies.
Just a comment from a “decent electrical engineer” (with lighting certification).
Just switch to electronic ballasts, they run at 10K-20K hz and the glow decay of the bulb is slow enough that the light never goes out.
As Lincoin said, I will stick to my line of reasoning until someone shows me a better one.
About this, that I related from recent news –
– Pablo writes the following:
Oh, I absolutely agree with you. But it is kinda fun thinking about the world being turned on its head to the point where supplement makers would advertise the effectiveness of their wares using headlines that praise vaccines.
Were that to happen, yes, but it won’t. The vaccines part will be ignored. In fact, when I heard the comment the other day (from a doctor on Dr Radio), it didn’t say vaccines. It was only about “lifestyle choices.” That would include vaccination, true, but it also includes issues such as cancers that result from HIV and HPV.
What do you think is going to highlighted? Certainly not vaccination and smoking.
Hi Scott –
Please don’t confuse ‘safety testing’ with the ability to detect subtle neurological changes that only become manifestly obvious months or years after an insult. In any case, a logical progression of what has been done, retrospective studies on thimerosal or the MMR refutes the idea that these safety studies analyzed outcomes like autism. Think about it; why perform a retrospective study at all if existing safety studies used autism as a measurement endpoint? The existing safety studies had no useful information for us regarding autism.
Unfortunately, there is a growing body of literature suggesting that abnormal immune function may play a part in the pathogenesis of autism.
For example, a study that just came out in the past week found that children with Fragile X that had autism had different immunological profiles than children with Fragiile X and without autism. There are many, many others that have found abnormalities in the immune function of children with autism. There are many, many more.
Furthermore, we have a growing body of evidence that immune disturbances during critical timeframes can have lifelong immune and behavioral effects. We are tinkering around with a system we barely understand. Most of this understanding has come about after our aggressive increase in the vaccination schedule; especially in the early months was introduced.
The presumption was that Fombonne understood when he was doing in 2008 when he came out with 60-70 / 100,000 right? Or Fombonne in 2003? Or any other prevelance study previous to that that came out with numbers less than what we see today. I am especially amused by the idea that we have “no grounds” to believe that some of the increase is real. By the same token, if our diagnostic tools are so poor, why grounds do we have to believe that the latest CDC numbers of 100 per 100,000 are real? Why not 200 per 100,000K? Why not 1000 per 100,000K? What has caused you to suddenly believe our current batch of studies are solid, when in order to do so, you must admit our previous studies are deeply flawed?
But in any case, your argument still hinges absolutely on all of the observed increase being imaginary, and you can make no good argument for how this might be except for invoking the superstrings of autism rates; responsible for everything we observe, but possessing qualities that render them impossible to measure accurately after twenty years of looking.
Not a good argument. If I hold to a line of reasoning, which leads me to a particular conclusion, and someone demonstrates to me that it is correct, the proper new conclusion is “I don’t know,” not “the conclusion is still assumed correct until the correct one can be demonstrated.” It’s pure intellectual laziness.
gotta love ’em. especially when they fit!
Please see posts 40, 46, and 53.
Um, yeah, that should read “demonstrates to me that it is INcorrect”. I so wish we had an edit button here.
I have Asperger syndrome and am always deeply offended whenever I hear these nitwits. There should be an organization, if not already existing, of people with autism who are angry at the faux “pro-autism” pseudoscientists.
Back to Mike Adams and Natural News –
I’ve had some fun today responding to his MA’s latest woo on Wakefield on Facebook, specifically here:
“The Lancet retraction of vaccine autism paper condemned as Big Pharma conspiracy to discredit Dr. Wakefield.”
I’ve challenged Adams to back up his claims, posted past news stories, links to the GMC ruling, and have watched NN censor’s delete virtually all of them.
So I’ve kept them busy by reposting them. Finally, I got this “notification:”
NaturalNews.com commented on their link:
“@George: please leave this forum. How much does drug companies pay you to spread this pro-vaccine nonsense. ~ NN Support”
So, if you’re bored tonight and want to post some reason, facts, and anti-woo, join the fun.
@ Cory Miller- Agreed.
When I was a kid, everyone just thought I was really shy. In my 20s, I was diagnosed as having various social anxiety disorders. A couple of years ago, at age 31, I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. The diagnostic criteria has certainly changed.
And, considering that I have two post-graduate degrees, a professional job in an office environment, a wife and a nine month old baby girl (who’s had all her vaccinations to this point, and will continue to get them), I think I’m doing fairly well for myself. Which is why I continue to be offended by the “Their lives are ruined!” talk at AoA.
I think Scott (67) was simply trying to give advice on how to avoid the pitfalls of dialogue with the anti-vax crowd. The way I interpreted his comment was that they’ve moved the goalposts, but we haven’t moved the argument, so they can triumphantly crow “More study is needed” because we’re focused on what the science actually SAYS.
Another thing, why aren’t we making more hay out of the fact that our multi-function vaccines are actually reducing the number of individual vaccines needed? And that these jab-reducing measures are all marketed by our Big Pharma overlords? And that Wakefield actually ADVOCATED the use of more individual vaccines rather than a combination, which would result in children getting jabbed more times?
I feel like there’s a book to be written here: How to Talk to an Anti-Vaccinationist. If someone’s already working on this, I apologize for scooping you.
While I find all this electrical engineer stuff interesting, I think you two (or three) are getting a little off-topic and have more that made your point to Oren–who is obviously not equipped to do battle with any of you. I am saying this with a smile as I have enjoyed reading (as best I can) your posts and I really liked Flex’s (I think) smack down of Oren’s “theory”!
Old-style florescent lights make me “agitated” (anxiety?) and the new curlycue ones bother my eyes after a few hours (but don’t agitate me). I don’t have enough direct experience with LED’s so can’t say. Anyway, all these posts have helped me to understand that a bit better (but only a bit). So now I’m the one who is off topic. Sorry.
I agree with Orac on all of this, and find these comments some of the best and most insightful I’ve ever seen on this blog. It’s very important to keep trying to get to those who haven’t started barking yet. I cannot tell you how many alt med devotees have told me that doctors have called or made them feel “stupid”, so whether or not this actually happens the way it is perceived, docs need to be aware and do their best not to lose ground with those who are still open to reason. I speak as a mother who was young and susceptible to all sorts of things I would read about on a casual basis. Had I not gone to college (after babies) and taken some science courses, I’m not sure I’d be reading this blog today instead of AoA. I was in college when Mothering Magazine started up and they almost got to me with their early vax stuff.
The bridge that needs to be built is not from science to the leaders of the anti-vaxx movement, but from science to the general public. Increasing public education would probably go a long way towards this.
This is also true of the arguments for evolution and global warming as well.
Communication with people who are on the edge of this group is a really interesting and important problem that should be taken very seriously. As Orac pointed out, it does closely mimic the evolution-creation problem, with a large group of people on the fence over the issues. Obviously, it is pointless to try to convince the converted, but what should you do with those undecided?
There was a great article in Nature about communicating with people in a different social group: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v463/n7279/full/463296a.html (might be behind paywall, sorry!) It says that you are more likely to hold the same beliefs as other members of your social group, regardless of the evidence or science behind one position or the other. In other words, they accept whatever position “reinforces their connection to others with whom they share important commitments.” It references primarily the divide between global warming acceptance vs. deniers and giving HPV vaccine to schoolgirls.
So it seems like the anti-vaxxers have a substantial advantage, not only because they use emotional arguments to convince parents, but also because they are most likely in the same social groups as these parents.
Some suggestions that the authors make are 1) presenting arguments and evidence in a way that “affirms rather than threatens peoples’ values.” 2) Make sure evidence is vouched for by several, diverse experts.
I think the suggestions are excellent, easy, and good to keep in mind when communicating facts surrounding intensely emotional issues.
Full citation: Kahn, D. Fixing the communications failure. Nature 463, 296-297 (21 January 2010).
Congrats on your second child!!! How exciting.
About those parenting boards… I started visiting them when I was pregnant, and met a nice group a women who all had babies the same month as my daughter was born. Mostly I go there to chat with them, but occasionally someone will link me to another forum where vaccines are being discussed. It’s super frustrating to hear all the nonsense being said, and I try so hard to keep my cool when “talking” with these ladies.
Inevitably, what happens after I cite every piece of medical literature to refute their claims, it comes back to “To me, some people treat science as a religion. Whatever is generally accepted and pushed by the scientific community is taken as gold. When billions upon billions of dollars are circulating through the different facets of scientific findings, there are too many opportunities for corruption. The corruption that exists, and is known for a fact to exist, to me is bad enough. But then you have to worry about the shit that goes on that you don’t know about! It’s just not a trustworthy institution to me. They’ve messed up too many times and have too many conflicts of interest.” You can’t argue with conspiracy theorists. And more and more of them are turning to this as their ultimate explaination.
My mistake: the author’s name is Kahan, D. NOT Kahn.
@ scott lamorte:you invoke some of my worries- there’s *less* money for increases in public education; *less* money for newspapers and magazines to do research(Chris Matthews,MSNBC today, although in a different context);TV news has often become cavalier and histrionic; AND self-publishing and self-broadcasting via the internet is affordable and relatively easy.Still, I do believe that *most* people will eventually listen to reason- although it might have to be spoon-fed,presented in a catchy manner,shown to save money,appeal to their sense of vanity, frighten them into acceptance,use a tried-and-true advertising gimmick, or many repetitions to get through to them.Wakefield has been shown(to all but the wildest conspiracy mongers)to be a scoundrel:the general public will “get” that.
This sort of mistake is getting to be a bad habit of his.
Not nice. But very plausible extrapolation given his aggressively invertebrate attitude towards other, more immediate forms of dangerous lunacy.
Chris Mooney seems to be either constitutionally incapable of understanding that some people are plainly and simply unreasonable, or a deeply dishonest shill.
Many of the comments by the vaccination defenders here sound just as strident as those of their most fundamentalist and “unreachable” opponents, promoting an unconditional belief in so-called science whithout assessing the credibility of their own priesthood.
What is an outsider to think of the great fanfare about the Lancet’s retracting the Wakefield study when the medical literature remains riddled with flawed and bogus “studies” that falsely promote dangerous medications? See, for instance, the recent article by Martha Rosenbarg “Why are Pfizer’s Ghostwritten Hormone Therapy Articles not Retracted?”
Similarly, see retinopathyofprematurity.org about the built-in lack of self-correction in medical “science”, and the revolting examples of clinical research frauds to the detriment of premature babies documented on that entire site. For instance, the 1995 LIGHT-ROP study exposed preemies knowingly to overdoses of fluorescent light, including the allegedly “protected” group, to arrive at the predictable (and liability-deflecting) conclusion that this light had not changed the incidence of blinding among the study grooups and was therefore unrelated to the blinding.
These medical reserachers bluntly denied and then ignored the easily calculated fact that the still extremely vulnerable retinae of a preemie in a typical fluorescent-lit intensive care nursery are exposed during their first ten to fifteen minutes to more damage-weighted retinal irradiance than what the US Occupational Safety Guidelines consider as the danger limit for adult industrial workers over an eight-hour shift.
(Note to Oren Evans: This blinding overdose has nothing to do with the flickering rate but with the high intensity of the mercury emission line at 435.8 nanometers in the spectrum of virtually all fluorescent lamps. This wavelength is right in the most retina-damaging region of the entire visible spectrum, as established by Occupational Safety researchers.)
The New England Journal of Medicine published that intentionally misleading paper although its editors had been alerted to the rigging of the study and to many other ethics violations in its design. The epidemic of baby-blinding from retinopathy of prematurity continues therefore to generate large revenues for pediatric retinal surgery and diagnostic apparatus as well as drug trials.
This epidemic began in the US with the introduction of fluorescent lamps and repeated that parallel in other industrial countries after World War II when fluorescent lamps became available there. However, some eugenics- minded doctors preferred to blame the blinding on oxygen breathing help. They had openly stated that they wanted to eliminate the babies with the “defective germ plasm”, and by rigging their study they succeeded in having unwitting neonatologists asphyxiate the most vulnerable preemies in large numbers to so reduce the number of babies having to grow up blind.
Any rational observer is inevitably led to conclude that as long as medical “science” continues to deny and cover up such blatant and patient-harming frauds the rest of its pronouncements is not to be trusted either. Those who demonize the vaccination opponents should therefore first ask themselves what they can do to restore credibility to their own guild before they can blame parents for not entrusting their children to the so far unproven medical assertions of vaccinations’ long-term safety.
I have the weirdest feeling of deja vu with this particular bullshit claim…
(Though I’m still holding out for an epiphany on Orac’s end.)
Mooney doesn’t seem to realize that saying “Come, let us reason together” to an anti-vaxer is like saying “here, kick me in the stomach” to a kick-happy 8 year old.
Or, to steal from someone else: “there’s no use telling the other side when the other side is complete bollocks!”
Mothers in Africa are prepared to walk for days, with their children on their backs, on their shoulders and in makeshift carts, only to get them vaccinated. Now why would this be? Could it perhaps be because every single day they have to witness the misery these illnesses can cause?
Surely many people in our western society don’t know how extremely lucky they are and the really terrible thing is that with their narrowminded refusal to be educated they jeopardize the health of countless children.
That’s a good conspiracy theory you’ve got there. It could do with a few more Freemasons though. And perhaps a connection to HAARP and the LHC.
To Azkyroth and hyperdeath: you are proving my point about medical “science” lacking any self-correction mechanism. All you can do is call my argument “bullshit” and “conspiracy theory” without having the guts to engage the facts. Anyone can resort to name-calling, particularly those who cannot refute basic and inconvenient arguments. This is not the way to gain any bystander’s trust, or to start correcting any of the glaring frauds and other flaws in the medical doctrine.
Peter Aleff: A couple people on a blog thread mocking you for proposing giant conspiracies and generally failing to comprehend how things work hardly means medical science lacks self-correction mechanisms.
It just means that making random blog posts really isn’t one of them, and that’s a good thing.
Postscript to Azkyroth and hyperdeath: If your bubble of isolation from the real world can still be penetrated, you might benefit from an article by Simon Jenkins in this morning’s Guardian, titled “Scientists, you are fallible. Get off the pedestal and join the common herd.” His main subject is the sloppiness in the climatology debate where data were suppressed and criticism ignored but he also draws a parallel to the vaccination controversy:
“The wildly exaggerated flu scares promoted over the past decade by virologists and their friends in government have so undermined trust in epidemiology that people are refusing flu vaccination. In the case of the MMR scare, it took London’s Royal Free Hospital a shocking 10 years to investigate the scientists responsible, and the General Medical Council to discipline them.”
That article concludes: “Only when science comes off its pedestal and joins the common herd will it see the virtue in self-criticism. Until then, sceptics must do the job as best they can.” I suggest you take this admonition to heart before spouting more of your “bullshit” and “conspiracy theories”, and recognize the right and duty of skeptics to question your assertions. Thank you again for having so vividly demonstrated the need for my criticism.
You could also point out the unethical, high-risk treatments alternative practitioners foist on children.
Simply because a child has been diagnosed with autism does NOT provide medical justification to perform colonoscopies, lumbar punctures, or chelation on that child.
Chelation in particular is being performed by practitioners with no specialized training in that field, and people have died as a result.
Postscript to Azkyroth and hyperdeath: If your bubble of isolation from the real world can still be penetrated, you might benefit from an article by Simon Jenkins in this morning’s Guardian UK, titled “Scientists, you are fallible. Get off the pedestal and join the common herd.” His main subject is the sloppiness in the climatology debate where data were suppressed and criticism ignored but he also draws a parallel to the vaccination controversy:
“The wildly exaggerated flu scares promoted over the past decade by virologists and their friends in government have so undermined trust in epidemiology that people are refusing flu vaccination. In the case of the MMR scare, it took London’s Royal Free Hospital a shocking 10 years to investigate the scientists responsible, and the General Medical Council to discipline them.”
That article concludes: “Only when science comes off its pedestal and joins the common herd will it see the virtue in self-criticism. Until then, sceptics must do the job as best they can.” I suggest you take this admonition to heart before spouting more of your “bullshit” and “conspiracy theories”, and recognize the right and duty of skeptics to question your assertions. Thank you again for having so vividly demonstrated the need for my criticism.
Hi Pablo –
David Gorski writes:
Or Orac, here:
[crossposted on SBM the same day]
Or Stephen Novella, at SBM
These are people that know full well that there simply haven’t been any studies one way or the other on the vaccination schedule, but the spin is to consistently imply that there has been research. This isn’t being lazy or not knowing better, Orac and Mr. Novella are obviously very smart and capable of generating a lot of content. This is intentionally trying to cover up an inconvenient fact; our studies are incomplete.
The media coverage of the retraction is the same, “The question has beeen answered.”
As the thread was about reaching out to people, my thoughts were that you can’t be seen as deceiving them. It doesn’t matter if people find both JB Handley and mainstream medicine as deceptive, that’s still a parent you lose.
Hehe. While I’m in full agreement that the thimerosal issue was way overblown, but your statement reveals a lot about the problems with how this is being approached. With autism being a disorder that outwardly manifests itself behaviorally, I’d love to hear your description of how we could tell, behaviorally that a child was affected by their two month shots? Did the child stop talking? Did they start spinning in circles? What does an autistic two month old look like?
The implicit arguement is that because we cannot observe acute, immediate changes in an infact, there must not be any effect. It would be one thing if this wasn’t just a matter of conveniently skipping past the point that we haven’t done any evaluations of the early shot schedule; but the reality is, we have a growing body of evidence that disturbances to the immune system early in development can have lifelong effects on immune function and behavior. The paper I linked to above, Early-Life Programming of Later-Life Brain and Behavior: A Critical Role for the Immune System is a review of a series of studies by several groups regarding subtle but real effects of immune disturbances during early life. Another paper, Postnatal Inflammation Increases Seizure Susceptibility in Adult Rats decribes cytokine mediated alterations in seizure succeptibility into adulthood, if the animal was challenged during specific developmental timeframes. There are many, many more.
The reason studies like this are salient is that our population of interest, autism, has been shown again and again to not only have disturbances in immune function, but indeed, to have exaggerated innate immune responses, for example, Enstrom, Jyonouchi, or Ashwood.
So, we have increasing evidence that immune disturbances during early development can have lifelong influences and a population with curious immunological profiles indeed, a straightforward pathway towards a dose relationship regarding innate immune response.
The Bigfoot defense gets thrown out a lot regarding vaccines and autism, but the facts on the ground are that we have a growing body evidence that abnormal immune function is playing a part in autism. Consider the Fragile X study I posted above; just by evaluating blood samples for cytokines, I can beat Vegas odds at determining which child with Fragile X also has a diagnosis of autism.
At the same time we seem to be observing unprecedented increases in the rates of autism, we have dramatically increased the frequency and strenght of the immune reactions we create during the first months of a childs life. If this makes you curious, you are out of luck because one thing you aren’t going to find is anything other than evaluations of a vaccine given between one year and eighteen months; long after the majority of our schedule has already been implemented. If it doesn’t make you curious, it should.
When someone wonders aloud about the fact that the history of our historical prevelance studies are by necessity worthless if our current evaluations have meaning, the fact that the people at AOA are idiots is used as an arguing point. It doesn’t matter if the people who want to use Desiree Jenkins as a takling point are morons. The fact that the campers at AOA or Natural News or whatever have problems getting their facts straight does absolutely nothing to make our existing suite of research any more robust; instead of arguing against them, why isn’t anyone worried that what we do know is woefully inadequate, but is nonetheless used to paint a picture of scientific certainty?
Peter Aleff, someone might reply to your points. If I was not about to leave I might. However you should be aware that you are hardly the first person to come here and say the exact same things. These topics have been addressed over and over again. People get a little tired of hearing about the same old things from people who think they are saying someting new. Take some time and read the archives. The search box is your friend.
The problem isn’t with what Mooney advocates or what people like Orac want to do.
The problem is when people set these two approaches up as a needless false dilemma and pretend that theirs is the silver bullet. As that link shows, it’s been happening with religion and climate skepticism, and now anti-vax. I think we’ll have to move past our own willful ignorance about how to approach communication if we’re going to ever make progress at killing off all forms of anti-science silliness.
“I think we’ll have to move past our own willful ignorance about how to approach communication if we’re going to ever make progress at killing off all forms of anti-science silliness.”
I hate chimming in on these arguments but something has been nagging at me for the longest time now and I need someone to set my mind to rest.
Shouldn’t the deciding factor among people be what the science says and not our rhetoric? If we do make it about the rhetoric (which is what Mooney seems to be advocating) what then? If the public bases its decisions on who makes their message mot appealing aren’t we back at square one? Where’s the progress?
Judging from the average intelligence and thoughtfulness of Orac’s readers I’m sure someone here has an answer.
I believe that we should build bridges, not with hardened ideologues, but with those who can be reached. I like Chris Mooney a lot because he is dedicated to diplomacy and building bridges, and while I don’t agree with everything he says, I do think that what he is saying is very important. I also think it would be cool to see Orac interviewed on a major news outlet such as CNN at some point.
Peter Aleff, if you would like to get down from your own pedestal for a moment, you will see that most skeptics are extremely critical of the medical establishment. For example, in his book Bad Science, arch-skeptic Ben Goldacre absolutely crucifies the pharmaceutical industry. Similarly, Orac has run many stories criticising medical errors and dodgy medical science.
As for Simon Jenkins, he has hopelessly gotten the wrong end of the stick, and is “debunking” claims that no medical researcher has actually made. In his mind, warnings of the possibility of a pandemic are somehow equal to claims that a pandemic is imminent. He thinks that he has been vindicated by past warnings coming to little, but in reality his logic is similar to that of a man who has just survived a round of Russian Roulette thinking that what he did was safe all along. In reality, the epidemiologists are being cautiously uncertain, whilst Jenkins is being uncautiously certain; in Jenkins’s mind, they are arrogant and he is modest.
Scientists should accept criticism, but that doesn’t mean that all criticism is valid. Science has been wrong before, but that doesn’t mean that it is wrong about everything. Science has had its fair share of scandals, but that doesn’t mean that all science is scandalous. As the old joke goes, “they laughed at Galileo; they also laughed at Bozo the Clown”.
Now, do you have any actual evidence for your claims?
@ young skeptic needing help:(about the “deciding factor” you describe)-if only!!!!Jenny & Company have an audience precisely *because* people *don’t* look at the science.However,I’m emphatically *not* saying to mimic the woo-meisters’ methods:but we should be aware of *why* parents may fall into the emotion-laden lures (and advertising techniques)of the anti-vaxers.Quackwatch & Autismwatch discuss this.Also some commenters here-kwombles,Prometheus,Todd W.- have sites to consider.(Those who combat HIV/AIDS denialism are in the same boat).And why *not* chime in?
The presumption was that Fombonne understood when he was doing in 2008 when he came out with 60-70 / 100,000 right? Or Fombonne in 2003? Or any other prevelance study previous to that that came out with numbers less than what we see today. I am especially amused by the idea that we have “no grounds” to believe that some of the increase is real.
That is amusing, especially because you cite Fombonne who writes in the abstract of the 60-70/10,000 review article you mention:
“There is evidence that the broadening of the concept, the expansion of diagnostic criteria, the development of services, and improved awareness of the condition have played a major role in explaining this increase, although it cannot be ruled out that other factors might have also contributed to that trend.”
By the same token, if our diagnostic tools are so poor, why grounds do we have to believe that the latest CDC numbers of 100 per 100,000 are real?
Who says the 100 per 100,000 is some concrete or “real” number? Not the CDC. Here’s what they said:
In 2006, on average, approximately 1% or one child in every 110 in the 11 ADDM sites was classified as having an ASD (approximate range: 1:80–1:240 children [males: 1:70; females: 1:315]).
That’s a range of about 40 in 10,000 – 120 in 10,000 (which encompass the number you attribute to Fombonne).
Additionally, the CDC ADDM data for ASD’s contains variability in ascertainment methodology, and they noted some of the impact of this:
“ASD prevalence varied by type of ascertainment source, with higher average prevalence in sites with access to health and education records (10.0) compared with sites with health records only (7.5).”
Do you really believe you’ve presented an apples to apples comparison with respect to methodology pD?
Travis, if the topics I document about clinical research frauds had been addressed over and over again, as you claim, then why did none of the scientists “tired of hearing about the same old things” do the ethical thing and stop the routine medical abuses of preemies resulting from those frauds? Instead, you arrogantly dismiss out of hand arguments which you did not even examine. Can you refute any of the evidence of scientific misconduct that I present? If you cannot, then why are you not helping to expose those frauds as any ethical people would do?
To hyperdeath: your logic seems to be that not all criticism of medical science is valid, and that therefore none of it is valid. This is not how science is supposed to work. Also, you ask me whether I have any actual evidence for my claims, but you omitted to check the link where I provide a full and so far never refuted documentation of what I say. By summarily ignoring the evidence provided to then question its existence you don’t act as a scientist. But to judge from your posts, your wagon-circling denial mentality appears to have exempted you from this basic requirement.
Mooney’s claims contain a small kernel of truth, in that many anti-vaxxers are just worried parents, and that gentle persuasion is probably the best approach.
Unfortunately, he has overlooked the fact that much of the movement is essentially a cult, and is fuelled by narcissism, egotism and messianic fantasies. Andrew Wakefield probably imagines himself as the next Louis Pasteur. Melanie Phillips probably imagines herself as the next Emile Zola. People like this have the choice of living in two worlds: In the first, they are brave and unyielding crusaders for truth and justice. In the second, they are paranoid idiots who have wasted their lives in support of a dangerous and pathetic delusion. It takes a lot of effort to drag someone from the first of these worlds into the real world. Indulging their fantasies by treating them as partners in some great debate will only make things worse.
“Thank you again for having so vividly demonstrated the need for my criticism.”
Funny, your post seems to mostly be Simon Jenkins’ criticism.
The article you’re referring to is here. Was it so very hard to link?
As to the portion of the (thoroughly mendacious) article that you quoted above: blaming scientists and government health organizations for the fearmongering perpetrated by the media is unfair. Then again, the situation is essentially no-win for said health organizations: if they warn the public that a new strain of flu is dangerous and mass deaths don’t occur, they’re blamed for exaggerating the threat, even if it’s the vaccines they promote that headed off the threat in the first place, and even if it’s loudmouthed media figures who exaggerated their warning into SHUT DOWN EVERYTHING. If they don’t warn the public and more people than usual die, they’re blamed for not taking the virus seriously.
More generally, it’s hilarious, in a sad sort of way, that the one discipline of human thought that has a formal process of self-review and self-criticism is being criticized for thinking itself infallible. Yes, occasionally peer review fails. No, this does not mean that peer-reviewed literature, in general, is no more reliable than somebody’s forum post about florescent lights causing autism (no offense, Owen). I don’t even want to get started on Jenkins’ misinterpretations (to be charitable) of ‘Climategate’, etc., but in general, he seems to be a fine example of the typical modern ‘skeptic’, insisting that claims made by scientists about science are no more reliable than claims made by anyone else about science, and, moreover, that this is all the fault of scientists for not being perfect. Sheesh.
I’m not going to waste time respond to Peter Aleff because I see nothing but a strawman in the first place.
Scientists get things wrong, and know that. However, in those cases it is because of work by other scientists (or even themselves!), not some rantings of looney conspiracy theorists.
Off topic, but Novella’s Neurologica is suspended. Would anyone have any idea what’s going on?
Oh, wow, Peter Aleff is a climate change denialist, too! Who would have thought?
And this sentence is hilarious: “Only when science comes off its pedestal and joins the common herd will it see the virtue in self-criticism.” Self-criticism and self-correcting mechanisms are built into the very definition and process of science. This writer really just means, “Only when scientists start accepting the particular criticisms that *I* think are valid…”
I’m beginning to think Dunning and Kruger might have discovered the key to explaining most of human society and history. Their observations seem constantly applicable, everywhere I look.
Peter Aleff @ 115:
No, my claim is that some criticism is valid, and some isn’t valid. Nothing more. The point I was making is the existence of the former doesn’t add any weight to the latter.
As for evidence, do you have anything besides websites that assert the same thing as you do? I can find websites which “prove” that Barack Obama is a reptilian alien. It doesn’t make it true.
(Incidentally, the impressive looking numbers in brackets count for little. For a reference to count for anything, it actually has to be relevant to the conclusions being drawn.)
Hi DoC –
If one of the most quoted epidemiologists and recent numbmers from the CDC miss by 40 out of 100,000, it isn’t my fault. To illustrate how absurd this argument is, flip it on its head; imagine the CDC came out with values of 20 – 30 per 100,000; 40 less than Fombonne. Does anyone really think we’d see calls that the CDC must have missed a huge number of kids with autism, maybe because of undercounting because we have trust in Fombonne’s values? Anyone?
You are still relying on the God of the Gaps to fill in all of the values with non real changes in between Fombonne 2008, everything before him, and evertyhing since him. That ought to be ringing a lot of alarm bells for anyone who really considers themselves a sketpic.
What I love about this argument is that is fundamentally proves my point; all of our epidemiology is poorly constructed; and yet, people seem to be very willing to jump the gun to assume that one hundred percent of our observed increases are artifacts. Why? It is because once you admit that some of the increase might be real,it quickly becomes apparent that actually trying to empricize the amount of true increase with the artifact with any certainty is impossible. Once you admit this, the questions get even more uncomfortable.
Our existing prevelance studies are so discordant over time that the only commonality is a decreasing number of children with a diagnosis as we move into the past.
What level of a true increase do you think would qualify as a true health emergency, DoC? 1%? 5%? 25%?
@ Young Skeptic
Judging from the average intelligence and thoughtfulness of Orac’s readers I’m sure someone here has an answer.
Thank you. And now to your question.
Shouldn’t the deciding factor among people be what the science says and not our rhetoric? If we do make it about the rhetoric (which is what Mooney seems to be advocating) what then? If the public bases its decisions on who makes their message mot appealing aren’t we back at square one? Where’s the progress?
The goal is to vaccinate by any means necessary. Everything else is immaterial. Beside people are too stupid to understand science.
Probably just an ISP overload. Not only did was he on television recently about the Desiree Jennings case but he was also linked to by a newspaper recompensing his blog.
“Shouldn’t the deciding factor among people be what the science says and not our rhetoric?”
Good science and ineffective persuasion can be trumped by bad science and appealing rhetoric (accompanied by a heavy dose of scare-mongering).
Good science needs to be communicated effectively. We’re at a point where this is increasingly realized, and the hardcore antivaxers are starting to be pushed back on both fronts.
Understandably they’re not happy about it.
Jenny McCarthy does the same thing though. There is a video of her on Youtube calling parts of the body Iran, Iraq, Kings, and Rambo. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what she was talking about though because she dumbed it down so much. It had something to do with allergies though I know it that much.
What a reality check I got this week when I talked with my health provider’s travel clinic about prescriptions and immunizations for an upcoming trip to India. Because I’m stopping over in the UK, I am being advised to get another MMR because measles is now considered to be endemic there. Great work anti-vaxxers!
@Mr. Aleff: very interesting website with no verifiable data. Medical Veritas is NOT a peer-reviewed medical journal. And this has nothing to do with the topic Orac has written about.
Ok, what’s with the anti-light-bulb conspiracies?
Aleff, my clueless chum, surely even a climate change denialist, anti-medicine and anti-health nut like you MUST be able to spot the glaring ignorance required to simultaneously claim that the medical establishment is actively rejecting and silencing criticisms… and then using as an example the fact that the medical establishment took ten years to punish Wakefield for fraud-based criticisms (your post 107, the MMR scare reference).
Don’t kid yourself, the MMR scare was an attack on the medical community’s consensus that vaccines are recommended. If outright fabircation of evidence leading to fraudulent criticism leading to dead children takes a decade for the scientific establishment to get off its butt to defend itself against, if a decade goes by while fake data against vaccines is allowed to stand in the medical records, then this has to be the most inept, slow-moving conspiracy ever. What, is the Illuminati run by sloths? Were secret orders given out, but they were so secret that the agents responsible for action were never allowed to know what those orders were? Or do we just have the one black helicopter, and are now a decade backlogged in our operations? Circling the wagons doesn’t take a decade to accomplish.
Did you miss the part where Fombonne’s review number is encompassed within the CDC range? The argument is only absurd to a straw man who assumes that the CDC’s estimate of an average 90 in 10,000 (1 in 110) is a methodological apples to apples comparison to the papers Fombonne reviewed. It probably isn’t, and that’s what I asked you about.
Your response in no way supports the notion that your comparison has any scientific validity.
Filling in gaps between invalid comparisons, and attempting to draw meaning where it probably can’t be determined is pointless. As a skeptic, I have not ascribed any comparable (to the past) relevance of the current CDC estimates, as they likely employ differing methodology, as I noted. Apparently, you are willing to inflate the actual CDC estimate of the average, and call it a reality reference for past studies that used different ascertainment methods to make your argument.
pD, you’re slipping. I’ve not known you to jump straight to a straw man in the past. But, we are in fundamental agreement about the state of the epidemiology. Knowing this, why are you so willing to jump the gun and assume that current CDC estimates have real comparative meaning in the context of the mixed epidemiological landscape?
Most skeptics have long acknowledged the possibility of some sort of real increase. Empricizing it, if it’s there, would be difficult, if not impossible. I don’t think that necessarily leads to uncomfortable questions as you imply. If you wanted to claim that it’s possible that some vaccine etiology for some small number of cases of autism exists, I would say that is absolutely possible. If you want to claim beyond possibility, and for actual existence, bring good evidence.
Autism diagnoses, yes. Education data for all disabilities paints a different picture though. Yeah, it’s problematic data too, but I’m curious, if there is stability over the last 10 years of special education data (approximately 9.2% of the school-aged population, and flat, for all disabilities), and if there is a real increase in autism prevalence, is whatever is responsible for that increase caused a reduction in the prevalence of other disabilities?
You started out with inflated CDC average numbers that essentially include anything on a behaviorally described spectrum. Can you be more specific and clearly define “health emergency”?
Shorter science to Aleff: “Evidence first, then we’ll talk.”
As for Jenkins… ehh. He speaks with the absolute certainty of 20:20 hindsight and the authority of zero responsibilities. Perhaps his opinions should be weighted with that in mind?
Re: Mr. Aleff’s startling (if irrelevant to the topic) claims.
Reading Mr. Aleff’s website and the references he uses to make his indictment of fluorescent lighting, it appears that he has – at least in part – conflated “fluorescent lighting” with “phototherapy lights”. Besides the obvious differences in intensity (children undergoing phototherapy have their eyes covered or bandaged to protect them), the two light sources have very different spectra.
While the “cool white” fluorescent lights have the “retina destroying” blue wavelength, their intensity (and the intensity of the blue light “spike”) is much lower than in phototherapy lights.
While I have sympathy for Mr. Aleff’s plight, it needs to be noted that even the albino rat studies used exposures in the range of 2000 to 5000 lux (~200 – 500 foot-candles) continuously over several days. Nursery lighting is in the range of 400 – 500 lux, assuming that it is not dimmed at night. [For reference – the average house lighting is 50 lux, full daylight is 10,000 – 25,000 lux and direct sunlight is 30,000 – 130,000 lux.]
Studies more recent [see below] than those on Mr. Aleff’s website indicate that light – even in combination with oxygen – does not significantly increase the risk or severity of proliferative retinopathy or retinal injury.
In fact, the ophthalmological research into proliferative retinopathy/retinopathy of prematurity has moved away from light as a cause or exacerbating factor because studies showed no effect in the best animal models. There was no “conspiracy” by “mainstream medicine” or “Big Lighting” to “cover-up” the real cause of retinopathy of prematurity – rather, the best data showed that light (of the intensity found in nurseries and other workplaces) was not a factor.
[Note: light exposure continues to be researched as a contributing cause for age-related retinal dysfunctions and disorders.]
In many ways, Mr. Aleff’s “Crusade” is a good model of what we can expect from the “vaccines-cause-autism” core believers. No matter how much research is done, they will always insist that “the right study” will show that they are right and everyone else is wrong.
There is no point in “building bridges” to the core believers. If were are to “build bridges”, it should be to the larger group of people who are still open-minded and receptive to new information.
The facts have been engaged. Repeatedly. I’m not going to do your homework on this for you.
The nonexistence of a link between vaccination and the increasing rate of autism diagnoses in the general population cannot be proven beyond an unreasonable doubt. You will not find any scientist who denies this, since nothing can be proven beyond an unreasonable doubt.
@pD: I believe you completely misinterpret how this probably works in reality. It’s not that the studies were crap. It’s that they used different case-finding methods, screening tools, diagnostic criteria, and diagnostic tools. Additionally, the way researchers think of the autism construct has likely changed over time as well, and this matters.
Heck, a lot of the studies didn’t use diagnostic tools at all.
I’ve read some pretty old studies. In Lotter (1966), for example, they completely made up their screening methods. There weren’t any standard methods available, of course. At each screening step (and there were several) they assumed they didn’t miss any autistic kids. Vic Lotter was also extremely strict as to who he thought should be called autistic – according to Lorna Wing, who was around at the time.
Now, consider a study like KadesjÃ¶ et al (1999), where the first author personally evaluated 50% of the children who were attending school. That was a form of extreme screening/case-finding, and the result was that 1.2% of all children were found to be autistic. (The children would be 25 now, as I’ve pointed out.) The case-find methodology clearly matters – a lot.
BTW, pD, do you see that the CDC’s methods are largely passive (i.e. they don’t exhaustively look for autistic children who might be undiagnosed) and therefore it’s not surprising that their counts would increase over time? This seems straightforward to me.
Lindsay: There’s an awful lot of social psychology research that advocates of rationality need to be reading. For example, the idea that people tend to adopt the attitudes and beliefs of those around is a very old one, but it still surprises people. There was a recent study that found that when people look to others for advice about a decision, the more emotionally important the decision is to them, the more they value the perceived likeability of the advice giver and the less they value his/her expertise. That would explain why a mother anxious about whether or not to vaccinate her child would be inclined to give more weight to a former Playboy model who starred in teen gross-out comedies than a researcher who’s done a great deal of vaccine development work for a non-profit children’s hospital. It also explains why when terrorists send airplanes into skyscrapers, people want the sort of President they can imagine having a beer or two with (yes, I did say “imagine”; with Bush, it would have been more like “a beer or twenty” in real life).
That latter finding was published in a journal devoted to marketing research (sorry, I don’t have the citation; it’s been about a year since I read about it). Unfortunately, that means that a lot of pro-rationality activists, along with progressive political activists, will immediately dismiss it as a tool of the Dark Side. The fact is, persuasive techniques are morally neutral; they can be used for both bad purposes and good ones. They key is whether you’
re selling a lie or selling the truth, and expecting the truth to sell itself is wishful thinking.
Fluorescent lights: My understanding is that the retina can respond to the flicker frequency of magnetic-ballast lights (120hz) but that the brain normally filters it out so that it isn’t consciously perceptible. However, in some autistics that filtering process doesn’t work and the flicker comes to conscious attention and it requires perceptible effort to filter it out, effort that can be exhausting if one has to do it for a long time. Electronic-ballast lights, like most CFLs available at retail, have a much higher flicker frequency (around 19 Khz) which is faster than the retina can detect.
With the 19K hz there is no flicker because the glow decay is slow enough so that the light is never dark.
I see a lot of banter at this site but not many new ideas or other helpful suggestions.
I’m not saying that my theory of fluorescent lighting as the cause of autism is correct but it wouldn’t harm any young children to keep them away from it as much as possible. If we did this and there is no reduction in the rate then at least we have eliminated another possibility no matter how remote. How terrible is that!
“I see a lot of banter at this site but not many new ideas or other helpful suggestions.
I’m not saying that my theory of fluorescent lighting as the cause of autism is correct…”
Yes, you are. You came here and triumphantly declared that you “know” what causes autism. Then you presented your hypothesis and said, “case closed.”
You have received some criticism from Orac’s readers, and that’s as it should be. You should welcome it, even if sometimes that criticism seems harsh. A legitimate hypothesis will stand up to scrutiny. Your ideas will either strengthen or weaken as you present evidence supporting your claims. That’s how science works. 😀
I’m not saying that my theory of Oren Evans as the cause of autism is correct but it wouldn’t harm any young children to keep them away from it as much as possible. If we did this and there is no reduction in the rate then at least we have eliminated another possibility no matter how remote. How terrible is that!
“Shouldn’t the deciding factor among people be what the science says and not our rhetoric? If we do make it about the rhetoric (which is what Mooney seems to be advocating) what then? If the public bases its decisions on who makes their message mot appealing aren’t we back at square one? Where’s the progress?
Believe it or not, I actually agree…although you did seem to make this statement as a counter to mine. The deciding factor SHOULD very much be science. Always. But there’s a difference between simply being right and how you let others know that you are (see Sean Carroll’s post about “being polite and being right” from a few weeks back as a good discussion of this).
The problem is when people with the science on their side use the truth of their claims as the justification for shunning ethics and manners – as if “I strongly disagree with you” and “you’re a disgraceful fuckwit. now go fuck yourself and die” are equivalent statements. They might be equivalent in terms of veracity (the person making both might be right about their argument), but the impressions they leave on those they’re directed at are far from the same.
It’s this latter case that matters when we’re trying to communicate science. The “fuckwit” references might be fun when we’re dealing with someone like a Ken Ham (because no amount of rationed discussion is going to do the trick), but a more moderate approach might work with other more “mushy middle” people.
I believe the key to this (and it’s why I posted the link to Smith’s post in my original comment) is that we need to recognize that not all people in a movement like anti-vax are like Ken Ham. There are some like him, but they differ, and we should recognize that different approaches can work in different sitauations. Everyone on both sides – including Orac and Chris Mooney – could do well to see that, IMHO.
Depends on how much the dramatically increased bills (either for electricity to run dozens of small space heaters that generate light as a byproduct, AKA “incandescent bulbs,” or for buying terrifyingly expensive LED lights) cut into providing for the children’s demonstrated needs. Your irresponsible promotion of a poorly supported and theoretically implausible hypothesis potentially harms children in ways not (probably) related to autism by convincing gullible parents that keeping them away from fluorescent lighting is important enough to be worth sacrificing, say, fresh fruits and vegetables or an adequate supply of books in the household, in order to pay the higher bills that result.
Again all I see is venom. Give me a better theory or any new theory. Or tell me what is the maximum price you would pay to potentially keep your child from becoming autistic and I’ll see if I can come up with something cheap enough for you.
This is me face-planting my head into my keyboard. My fundamental problem with your hypotheses, Oren, is that you presume that autism wasn’t around before the use of fluorescent lights. However, I submit that autism and Asperger’s have been around a hell of a lot longer than fluorescent lights. Look at Isaac Newton. Lots of evidence he had Asperger’s. Except back then there wasn’t Asperger or Kanner who took the time, effort, and/or energy to describe the condition.
And really? If the Amish have autism (which they do), your whole theory is shot to heck. Deal. And I say that with compassion and understanding.
Re-read Jen in Tx’s post at 138. Third post in you said you know what causes autism, and several people since have pointed out flaws in your hypothesis. It might be time to head back to the drawing board.
She, like myself to a lesser degree, is. Having understood and accepted that her condition is a difference, not a disease (think of a computer running a different operating system than the Windows everyone is accustomed to), and that it is primarily genetic in origin, I am concerned with helping her learn how to function in the world in a way her differently-wired brain can understand, and take a dim view of unproductive “just-so story” speculation about the possible cause of what is naively and dehumanizingly characterized as “damage.”
Hi DoC –
Fombonne reviewed 43 different papers. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that there were a variety of methodologies in use in these 43 papers. Given the veritable fruit buffet of procedures used here, I’d be interested in knowing what you think we could learn, at all from such a mishmash? If there isn’t something that can be gleaned from looking at studies with different methodologies, why did Fomobonne bother at all? Fombonne used to get cited a lot when it was useful to discredit the MMR, but suddenly he’s dumb enough to perform an apples to oranges to bananas to strawberries comparison of over forty studies without realizing the futility of of such comparisons?
What about previous CDC estimates, which used similar, passive techniques then? None of them were within a lightyear of 100 per 100,000K. My argument is that all of our studies show a consistent trend upwards, regardless of methdological processes in use, and that I consider it wildly irresponsible to assume that all of this increase is due to artifact considering the amount of reckless environmental engineering we, as a species, have been embarking on. [My concerns happen to extend far beyond vaccines, but there rarely seems a forum where anything else gets discussed.] Throw out the latest CDC studies if you want and you still see the same pattern.
I guess I should be happy that someone thought I had a way to go backwards!
I was alarmed long before the latest batch of CDC numbers came out. The numbers the CDC came out with previously were scary. Fombonne’s numbers were scary in 2008, and 2003. If we can’t trust any study due to mixed methodologies, why does everyone keep on trying these kinds of studies?
My thoughts are to assume some of it is real, maybe a lot, which means we should be applying a lot more resources towards environmental changes. I’m not making the charge that genetic studies are useless, or that some resources aren’t being applied there, but rather, this should be being treated as more of an emergency.
The comforting part of the usual argument, is that ‘hey, we don’t have to worry about these numbers, after all, we shouldn’t assume any of it is real, if you know how to read the studies.” [see Scott @69 for an example of this].
But we have evidence that less controversial things, like increasing parental age are associated with autism. No one is going to deny that our parents are getting older. So now the argument is, ‘well, some of our increase is real, but it can’t be much.’.
Considering the ramifications of being wrong in this assumption, I find the followup questions, like, ‘how can we be confident ‘most’ of our increase is artifact’ to be very uncomfortable, because we can’t get any decent answers. Maybe we just differ on what constitutes uncomfortable.
I wrote a large post on a dozen or more studies involving emerging research on immune challenges in early life and subsequent immune and behavioral changes in the treatment group that I touched on above, aa well as on a post for this thread that is sitting in moderation. The evidence seems to point to the idea that the immune system is highly maleable during critical developmental timeframes; there are lots of studies on this involving more classical immune disorders such as asthma.
As we seem to have established, as we have zero studies actually studing vaccination up and above the MMR, I have no real studies to post one way or the other.
As I stated above, however, my concerns are far greater than simply vaccines. For example, there is a lot of evidence that common environmental pollutants such as PDBEs can interferre with thyroid hormones, and hypothyroidism is associated with a ton of developmental problems, including autism. [avoiding linking due to spam filtering]
Great question that requires more attention than I can allocate right now. Let me put some thought towards this.
Well it is a little movie on the internet at the University of Calgary (which is in Alberta, one of the western provinces of Canada). First they filmed it, and edited it. Then they converted to a format that could be played on a computer, and uploaded it to a webpage.
Now I see the subject is mercury. First off, mercury caused brain damage if it is a certain form (the movie is about mercury vapor which is more dangerous than methylmercury, which is more dangerous than ethylmercury), and at a certain dosage. They tested mercury ions. Something like using sodium or chlorine ions on cells, which would also be just as destructive. But you could not live having sodium chloride in your diet (you might have also heard of being called “table salt”).
The movie had absolutely nothing to do with vaccines.
Also almost a decade ago pediatric vaccines started to be given in single dose vials with no thimerosal. Even the influenza vaccine (that only a few children actually get) is available with thimerosal. Also, the MMR vaccine has never contained thimerosal.
So you bringing it up just shows that building a bridge is pointless on those like you who bring up idiotic strawmen. For a further explanation of the fallacy of the mercury argument look here: The âEPA Mercury Limitâ Canard.
@pD: You can learn all sorts of things from such an effort. For example, you can model ascertained prevalence as a function of case-finding method, location, criteria, and perhaps, year of survey. I recall something like that was done in Williams et al.
Who says you can’t trust them? For example, I completely trust that Lotter (1966) found that only 4.5 in 10,000 children were autistic, within the limits of the criteria and methods used.
Yes, but that’s not the argument. In fact, I will grant that a true increase of a few points per 10,000 – since 1980 – is possible if not likely. (I actually modeled this recently based on the rates of the Israeli study and maternal age data from US Census.)
If you want to be convincing, here’s what you need to do. Show us data on, say, housing for developmentally disabled individuals as a whole. Are rates of institutionalization increasing, when you consider all developmentally disabled persons? If not, what is the basis of any alarm?
Despite fabricated claims to the effect that autism will overwhelm social services and so on, trends in the data simply don’t support them.
Thanks ebohlman, I’ll look for those.
Ironically, it seems like even scientists who are right on science of an issue forget to look at the science of convincing groups of people or of why people believe what they do. It is unfortunately always more complicated than ‘I’m right because the data support my position,’ even if it shouldn’t be with issues like vaccination and global warming.
And it would be very good for all of us to learn a little able what social science has to say about this problem before coming to strong conclusions about what should be done or said. I mean that’s just as unscientific to ignore it, right?
This is exactly how I feel about my son. It is refreshing to hear another mother speak these thoughts.
Once again you hit the nail right on the head. The world will not conform to our children, they need to find a way to ‘fit’ the best they can. It is our responsibility as parents to help them find a place where they can be happy and productive, and to equip them to handle the challenges that come.
I don’t tolerate anyone calling my son ‘damaged’, he is not! He is different, and in my opinion his different makes him who he is. I would not make him ‘normal’ if I could.
I’m on the spectrum. For me the cut-off seems to be somewhere between 60 and 75 Hz. I’m not sure I could tell the difference between a CRT monitor at 75 Hz and one at 100 Hz, but one at 60 Hz is intolerable. Television flicker I don’t notice, I suspect the difference is that TV takes up less of my visual field. I’ve never noticed flicker in movie theaters either, I’m not sure what the difference is there. My guess is that the amplitude of the flicker is less with film projectors than with CRTs. (Also, the flicker rate for theater film projectors is not 24 Hz – they display each frame more than once. On rare occasion I’ll notice a stutter from the 24 fps frame rate, but that’s not the same as flicker.) Fluorescent lights have never bothered me unless they they were flickering at perceptible frequencies (well under 120 Hz), or they were buzzing.
Regarding Chris Mooney’s article, I find it interesting that the comment sector contains comments from a representative (billy bob) of the very sort of people that Mooney think we should try to build bridges to.
The commenter in question calls modern science “fraud”, and claims that is is discredited. How can one build bridges to someone so delusional?
@Pablo #32: Okay, fine, not directly aware, but I don’t find the tale completely implausible. In any case, even if the mother’s story was inaccurate, something this doctor was doing wasn’t working, because the mother in question is now seeing our family doctor, and getting her son vaccinated.
@Orac in regards to Godwin’s law: Fair ’nuff. I appreciate that another commenter pointed out that you failed to call Godwin’s law on what was essentially an identical dig from AutismNewsBeat which you quoted, but as they say, two wrongs don’t make a right. My comment was probably indeed un-called for.
I’m just getting really sick of Mooney’s empty “let’s all be friends!” rhetoric, while he routinely fails to give any concrete details of exactly how that is supposed to actually be accomplished. But that doesn’t justify going all Hitler Zombie on him. Point taken, my apologies.
I don’t know, but for everyone else who might be reasonable but on the fence, responding to them is really important. billy bob and you aren’t the only people who read those comments! I believe that making a sane, respectable and reasonable response to that sort of thing goes a long way for the *other* people that read the comment string. Or you could ignore him, which seems to happen more often than not to my comments. 🙂
Of course, it is much more fun to call him a delusional idiot, which he might be, but it doesn’t really benefit the argument.
Lindsay and ebohlman: Thanks for the interesting comments. It definitely gives something to think about.
I would add that, even according to this “social group” model, derision and ridicule can sometimes be a useful response as well. For instance, when my wife started to get fed some anti-vax paranoia and I first started to look into it, one thing that helped motivate me to really learn about the topic rather than just going along with it was the fact that the types of people who I typically respect (i.e. skeptics, etc.) were particularly vocal and — yes — vitriolic about anti-vaxers. Essentially, I was saying to myself, “These people who share my values are REALLY pissed about this one… I guess I’d better find out why!”
Of course, I may be biased to think about this way, as I wrote all the way back in July about how it is useful to have both “accomodationist”-esque folks and hardliners. (Although if I were writing that post today, I would have used Eugenie Scott and Michael Schermer as my token accomodationists, rather than Mooney and Kirshenbaum… in the meantime, the latter pair have just gone way too far, I no longer think they are offering a particularly useful viewpoint).
Are institutionalization rates actually a good proxy for the rates of the conditions you’re interested in? Those rates are driven at least in part by changes in policy and attitudes. People used to routinely institutionalize children who couldn’t walk, for example, from some combination of inability to deal with physical issues (in a world where almost no public place was wheelchair accessible) and embarrassment, shame, or fear of being shunned as different or potentially contagious. I see more people in wheelchairs now than I do twenty years ago: that doesn’t mean there are more people who need them, it may mean that people who use wheelchairs are spending more time in public places like buses and stores.
Autistic people may be living in ways much like neurotypicals, alone or with a roommate, or with a spouse or their own parents. I know one person with Asperger’s who is living with his husband, and has shared custody of his children with his ex; another is sharing a home with her mother, sister, and nieces. Neither of them is going to show up if you work with institutionalization rates, because they aren’t institutionalized. Other people with autism may be in group homes of some sort, which may or may not count in the same way that a larger and more medicalized institution would. Shifts in how many autistic people can cope with the ordinary world (are not presented with expectations they can’t handle) will affect institutionalization rates, but maybe not diagnosis rates.
Similarly, there are trends in whether to institutionalize people with certain mental disorders. (The rate of mental disorders did not change drastically when community-based mental health was introduced.) That many places are de facto using the prison system to handle some of these problems means that it’s hard even to figure out how many people are institutionalized for schizophrenia, since instead of a diagnosis they may have a felony conviction and sentence.
Yes and no. They are to the extent that people have claimed states will be overwhelmed economically trying to care for autistic people. If there’s no increase in the numbers of institutionalized developmentally disabled persons (relative to general population growth) then that particular argument falls apart. I believe in 5 or 10 years we’ll be able to make a definite argument that this didn’t come to pass.
Of course, institutionalization numbers also depend on cultural factors, as you note, in particular the movement to close institutions (although a lot of those who would otherwise live in institutions might still live in group homes and such.)
I haven’t gone through the previous 100-some-odd posts, so I don’t know if this point has been made.
Eery childhood vaccine that is licensed in this country basically constitutes a test of said vaccine schedule. Why? Because when they test vaccines, the subjects are given the freakin’ current vaccine schedule plus the new vaccine.
Why is this so hard to understand? This “vaccines haven’t been tested” argument is such utter, complete bull and is little more than the anti-vaxers going to the end game: a nearly impossible hypothesis to test that will keep their disease promotion business in place for generations to come.
I am of the school of thought which believes that it’s not possible to make reasonable responses to someone making delusional claims, and any attempt to do so will just lend some credibility to the person making those claims, as it looks like the responder is actually seriously considering the points made by the first person.
When someone uses the internet to claim that modern science is discredited, they should be ridiculed for it.
When they make claims that would require a worldwide conspiracy on not only governmental level, but also among doctors, nurses, and scientists around the world, the correct response is not to try to reason with them, but instead point to the blatant idiocy of such an idea.
Tiptoeing around, trying to not offend, will only make those on the fence believe that there is something to it, not convince them that it’s nonsense of the worst sort.
If the people on the fence starts asking questions etc., then it’s time for reasonable responses, but not when dealing with the lunatics.
Eery childhood vaccine that is licensed in this country basically constitutes a test of said vaccine schedule. Why? Because when they test vaccines, the subjects are given the freakin’ current vaccine schedule plus the new vaccine…Why is this so hard to understand?
You have nothing to compare this to… you cannot say that the schedule has been tested in its entirety and there are no more [insert condition / adverse event here] in this population than its counterpart because you have no background data. You have no control group. An observational study of both groups on a long term level (like the Italian study used to exonerate thimerosal) would be helpful in defense of your argument. Just like raw data on the schedule in its entirety with a bona-fide control (animals only, I realize the ethics involved for humans) would also defend your argument.
But saying that the actual implementation of the program is its own evidence fails.
Hi A-non –
Did the studies you mention involve neurological disorders, such as autism, as a measurement endpoint? If they did, maybe you could explain to me why so many retrospective studies of thimerosal and the MMR were performed? After all, why waste researcher time and dollars to perform retrospective studies when our existing safety studies took autism diagnosis into consideration?
I made this same point in post #81, when the same poorly thought out canard was trotted out by Scott.
The safety studies you mention simply didn’t use autism as a measurement.
Hi Josesph –
Fascinating idea, although one seemingly fraught with so many confounds it makes teasing out “greater awareness” seem tame in comparison. By way of example, I’ve spent near 50K over the past three years on traditional therapies for my son; i.e., ABA / Speech. In order to do so, I’ve sacrificed a lot of other opportunities. If I keep doing this for another twelve years, and my son becomes self sufficient (in my dreams), does this mean there hasn’t been a societal cost?
Our other potential measurements are just as problematic to measure efficiently, IMO. For example, in the state I live in (Florida), about 2/3 of the people on the wait list for services from the State are under the age of 18. The state has been providing services for a long time; there are complaints about how good it is, but there are some things available for (some) people. [On a side note, the list is sort of a joke, it is a rolling list, and people are only moved up to get services as someone else ‘moves off’. My son is around 8,000 in line, and last year, about 300 people became qualified.]
What do you think we could learn by analyzing things like age comparisons of people looking for respite or other services? There are adults on these lists, but as a percentage, they are in the minority, at least in my state. Does anyone have information about other states?
A lot of the people actually getting services are still living with their parents, who receive things like respite care. A common refrain I’ve heard, and how I tend to feel, is that it will take a hell of a lot before a parent willingly consents to have their child put in a group home; but this doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem.
I agree with you that in five to ten years, we will have a better idea of how things pan out. I hope you’re right, but fear I am.
The discerning, however, will note that your entire response was effectively an argument from ignorance and did not address the point in any meaningful way.
There is some truth to the argument that vaccine testing – while it does use what I would call “incremental controls” (i.e. it compares the “current standard” vaccine regimen to the “current standard” plus one) – does not use completely unvaccinated subjects as controls. The reasons for that are many – ethical considerations, shortage of completely unvaccinated controls, differences between completely unvaccinated subjects and the general population, etc.
It is also true that vaccine safety studies do not use neurological disorders, autism, asthma, etc. as specific “end points”. However, vaccine safety studies look at any change in health, so autism occuring months after vaccination (or, as some parents and practitioners have claimed, days after vaccination) would be detected.
The retrospective studies looking at thimerosal and the MMR vaccine were triggered by anecdotal reports of association between thimerosal, MMR and autism. They were, in fact, done in response to parental concerns which have been shown to be unfounded.
The irony of using these studies – which, it must be noted, found no association between either thimerosal or the MMR vaccine and autism – as an indicator that vaccines have not been adequately studied is apparently lost on some people.
Let me be blunt: parents (and “Brave Maverick Doctors”) said that thimerosal and/or the MMR vaccine were “the” cause – or the major cause – of autism based on flimsy (or no) data. Then, when studies were done that confirmed thimerosal and the MMR vaccine were not associated with autism, these studies – studies done at the insistence of the “vaccines-cause-autism” movement – are used as “proof” that vaccine safety studies are inadequate.
I’d laugh if it weren’t so sad.
What next? If a study shows that the prevalence of autism is no higher among fully vaccinated children than it is in unvaccinated children, will the goalposts be moved again? Will it change from “Too many, too soon!” to “Random acts of vaccination”?
Why do we keep wasting time, money and resources chasing a hypothesis that is so obviously not productive?
Not a whole lot. Many of those children might not seek services when they are adults, for various reasons. There could also be a trend where people are seeking more services now than they would have in the past.
Something like institutionalization is less subjective. And you can say what you will about autism counts in passive databases, but at the very least you’d expect an agency like CalDDS to be able to keep track of the number of developmentally disabled individuals who are either institutionalized or under the care of the state.
Scott — The truely discerning stopped reading pD’s tripe quite a few posts back.
Prometheus — “Let me be blunt” You mean you havent been blunt till now, Mr. “at this point they can fucking swim?”
“That doesn’t prove that some of the vaccinated children with autism didn’t get the autism because of the vaccine”
and then they will try to break it down into small subgroups and base conclusions on them, saying that while there was no effect overall, see that if we break it into these twenty groups, this one did show an effect (which is not all that uncommon because the groups are so small that there will be a distribution – they similarly ignore that subgroup where vaccination apparently prevents autism). My old adviser used to call it “going all squinty eyed” to try to find an effect.
That was helpful Dave… please continue to backwardly contribute.
pD and tripe don’t quite go together in my mind… feel free to be more specific next time you hurl insults so I might actually be able to agree about something.
And yet after all the wooly thinking demonstrated by the subject of this post, it is Chris Mooney, of all people, who gets to hash out the science-based position on vaccines with Nancy Freaking Snyderman. I mean, I’m glad it’s being discussed so unequivocally in the MSM (even if it is on Dr. S’s own show and not, e.g., ‘Today’ of Lauer *hearts* Wakefield fame), but by Mooney? Really? Were all the actual pediatricians/scientists busy that day?
Mooney did a good job. In fact, he did a better job than Nancy Snyderman as my upcoming post will explain. I give props where props are due and throw brickbats when indicated. This time, Mooney deserves kudos.
Mrs. Johnson and pig
A man was sued by a woman for defamation of character. She charged that he had called her a pig. The man was found guilty and fined.
After the trial he asked the judge, “Does this mean
that I cannot call Mrs. Johnson a pig?”
The judge said that was true.
“Does this also mean I cannot call a pig, ‘Mrs. Johnson’?” the man asked.
The judge replied that he could indeed call a pig ‘Mrs. Johnson’ with no fear of legal action.
The man looked directly at Mrs. Johnson and said, “Good afternoon, Mrs. Johnson.”
Cut the tail off
Bert took his Saint Bernard to the vet.
“Doctor,” he said sadly, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to cut off my dog’s tail.”
The vet stepped back, “Bert, why should I do such a terrible thing?”
“Because my mother-in-law’s arriving tomorrow, and I don’t want anything to make her think she’s welcome.”
“I’m beginning to think Dunning and Kruger might have discovered the key to explaining most of human society and history. Their observations seem constantly applicable, everywhere I look.”
This is why I’m really thinking that it should be seen as something of a syndrome relevant to education: a psychopathology of learning (or, maybe, meta-learning). Because the phenomenon is more ubiquitous than a ‘mere’ effect… it is one of those things that really can put up obstacles to learning.