Autism And Mercury – Defining the Battle Ground

19 Jun

Autism is Mercury poisoning because:

The symptoms match so closely. Well, thats what the regular claim of the ‘no mercury’ crowd is. So lets see. lists the clinical symptoms of Mercury poisoning as:

Low Dose Exposure

  • Erethism (nervousness, irritability, mood instability, blushing)
  • Tremor
  • Personality change
  • Suicidal tendency
  • Paraesthesia
  • Impaired hearing
  • Speech disorders
  • Visual disturbance
  • Abnormal reflexes
  • Disturbed gait
  • Gingivitis (inflammation of the gums)
  • Impaired nerve conduction
  • Renal damage
  • Adverse outcome of pregnancy
  • Infertility
  • Pneumonitis (lung disease)
  • Glioblastoma (brain cancer)
  • Immune system dysfunction

High Dose Exposure

  • Gastroenteritis (stomach upset)
  • Mouth pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive salivation
  • Anuria (urine production stops)
  • Uraemia (urine products appearing in the blood)
  • Nephritis (kidney disease leading to kidney failure)
  • Anorexia (lack of appetite)
  • Ataxia (difficulty in moving)

Now I have to say immediately that this sounds nothing like the autistics (mainly kids) that I’ve met, including my daughter. There may be a case for arguing ‘speech disorder’ and/or ‘visual disturbance’ but even then you’d be stretching it. By contrast lets have a look at the diagnostic criteria for ASD.

A. Abnormal or impaired development is evident before the age of 3 years in at least one of the following areas:

(1) receptive or expressive language as used in social communication;

(2) the development of selective social attachments or of reciprocal social interaction;

(3) functional or symbolic play.

B. A total of at least six symptoms/signs from (1), (2), and (3) below must be present, with at least two from (1) and at

least one from each of (2) and (3):

(1) Qualitative abnormalities in reciprocal social interaction are manifest in at least two of the following areas:

(a) failure adequately to use eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body posture, and gesture to regulate social interaction;

(b) failure to develop (in a manner appropriate to mental age, and despite ample opportunities) peer relationships that

involve a mutual sharing of interests, activities, and emotions;

(c) lack of socio-emotional reciprocity as shown by an impaired or deviant response to other people’s emotions; or lack of modulation of behaviour according to social context; or a weak integration of social, emotional, and communicative behaviours;

(d) lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g. a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out to other people objects of interest to the individual).

(2) Qualitative abnormalities in communication are manifest in at least one of the following areas:

(a) a delay in, or total lack of, development of spoken language that is not accompanied by an attempt to compensate through the use of gesture or mime as an alternative mode of communication (often preceded by a lack of communicative babbling)

(b) relative failure to initiate or sustain conversational interchange (at whatever level of language skills is present), in which there is reciprocal responsiveness to the communications of the other person.

(c) stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic use of words or phrases;

(d) lack of varied spontaneous make-believe or (when young) social imitative play.

(3) Restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interests, and activities are manifest in at least one of the following areas:

(a) an encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that are abnormal in content or focus; or one or more interests that are abnormal in their intensity and circumscribed nature, though not in their content or focus;

(b) apparently compulsive adherence to specific, non-functional routines or rituals;

(c) stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms that involve either hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole body movements;

(d) preoccupations with part-objects or non-functional elements of play materials (such as their odour, the feel of their surface, or the noise or vibration that they generate).

Now do these two things look even vaguely similar to you?

Autism started to be discovered at the same time as mercury/thimerosal was used in vaccines.

Proponents of the autism/thimerosal/mercury link say that autism and mercury became known at the same time – that the first cases of autism were diagnosed immediately after thimerosal was added to vaccines.

The dramatic rise in autism rates correlates with the increase in mercury doses. Thimerosal was first marketed in the mid 1930’s and autism was first described as a new never before seen disorder in 1943, in children born in the 1930’s.

No Mercury

However, its simply not true. There have been numerous reports that describe autistic people going back to Victorian Britain. The only thing that differs in these cases its the actual label of autism but there were certainly autistics long before either dental amalgams came into widespread use or vaccines were being used at all.

I also have anecdotal evidence of my own. 2 members of my family both born between 1910 and 1920 were diagnosed AS in the 90’s. However, they’d been the way they were since birth my grandparents claim – long before thimerosal was ever used in vaccines.

Autism cannot be genetically based because you cannot have a ‘genetic epidemic’

A very misleading argument as it presupposes the idea of an autism epidemic. It also supposes that even if there is an autism epidemic that mercury is the cause.

So, is there an autism epidemic? No. No Gvmt has declared epidemic status for autism at all. The phrase is simply part of an increasingly shrill demonisation of autism in increasingly disrespectful and shameful terms. Other phrases coined include ‘autism tsunami’ (distastefully coined after the events of last Boxing Day), the ‘hell’ of autism ‘autism is our enemy’ and many, many more.

In fact, as is usually the case in situations like this, the real reason is misunderstanding of stats:

The reason why some states show an “almost infinite” increase is that when you increase from zero to 100 the increase is “almost infinite” One does not measure a change from zero in percentage. If the change is from 2 to 100, one can say the number has gone up 50 times.


Proponents of the ‘autism epidemic’ tout a figure of 1 in 166 for prevalence of autism. This figure is entirely bogus.

There has been no autism epidemic, whether or not there has been an increase at all is debatable.


The reason there is an apparent increase in ASD is because of two things – better training allowing people to ‘spot’ ASD and more places one can get an official diagnosis:

Variation in the administrative prevalence of ASD is associated with education-related spending, which may be associated with better-trained educational staff who can recognize the problem, and more and better trained in-school specialists who can provide screening. It is also associated with the availability of health care resources. Increased access to pediatricians and school-based health centers may lead to improved recognition of ASD. Interstate variability in the identification of ASD should be taken into account when interpreting the results of prevalence studies based on administrative data and the associated system characteristics taken into account by policy makers working to improve the recognition of ASD.

David S. Mandell, ScD; Raymond Palmer, PhD

The incidence of research-identified autism increased in Olmsted County from 1976 to 1997, with the increase occurring among young children after the introduction of broader, more precise diagnostic criteria, increased availability of services, and increased awareness of autism. Although it is possible that unidentified environmental factors have contributed to an increase in autism, the timing of the increase suggests that it may be due to improved awareness, changes in diagnostic criteria, and availability of services, leading to identification of previously unrecognized young children with autism.

William J. Barbaresi, MD; Slavica K. Katusic, MD; Robert C. Colligan, PhD; Amy L. Weaver, MS; Steven J. Jacobsen, MD, PhD

federal and state administrative changes in policy and law favoring better identification and reporting of autism are likely contributing factors to the prevalence increases and may imply that autism spectrum disorder has been underdiagnosed in the past.

James G. Gurney, PhD; Melissa S. Fritz, MPH; Kirsten K. Ness, MPH; Phillip Sievers, MA; Craig J. Newschaffer, PhD; Elsa G. Shapiro, PhD

But surely the autism/thimerosal crowd have some stats of their own to counter these? Well, no they don’t. What they have (so they claim) is an absence of facts. A bizarre piece of ‘scientific’ reasoning that apparently ignores a basic precept of science: absence of proof is not proof of absence.

If the epidemic is truly an artifact of poor diagnosis, then where are all the 20-year-old autistics?

Boyd Haley

Its a shoddy piece of ‘logic’ repeated by David Kirby in Evidence of Harm. In fact, Haley knows very well where a lot of adult autistics are because he incurred their and their families wrath when he referred to autism as ‘Mad Child Disease‘. In the subsequent uproar that followed Haley was forced to confront the reality of adult autistics. Amusingly he also claimed he was using MAD as an acronym – Mercury Acquired Disease – obviously a better scientist than linguist he failed to spot that when lengthened out his phrase would read ‘mercury acquired disease child disease’. And in fact, he’s a pretty rubbish scientist as well.

Michelle Dawson also had something very pertinent to add to the ‘hidden hordes’ scenario:

Mr Kirby (author of Evidence of Harm who swallowed Boyd Haley’s thesis hook line and sinker) deploys the “hidden hordes” to express his disbelief in the possibility that there is no autism epidemic. Were numbers of autistics steady over the years, he argues, America would be clogged with aging hopeless autistics gruesomely burdening society. Mr Kirby cannot find us (I’m one of his “hidden hordes”) how and where he expects (doomed and confined to institutions), so he denies we exist. Szatmari et al (1989) suggests that Mr Kirby should look for his hordes in university records. In a follow-up of autistics diagnosed as children before 1970, 7 of 16 had university degrees (one was an MBA).

Michelle Dawson

Lots of studies prove a link between autism and mercury and there are none to disprove it.

Wrong on both counts. There are a few studies that suggest there may be correlation but none – none – that suggest causation at all. You can read a comprehensive review of the literature at Pediatrics online. By contrast only one study has been done which showed a link and this was shown to have flaws in methodology so severe that:

the Geiers have used shoddy study methodology and also engaged in data collection irregularities, drawing a rebuke from the CDC and suspension of Dr. Geier’s IRB approval from Kaiser-Permanente.

Orac Knows.

The Geiers in the course of their ‘investigation’attempted to compromise the confidentiality of patients on the CDC database. Nice going guys.

Of course, these studies that fail to show a link are pounced on and traduced as being produced by ‘shills’ in the pay of big Pharmaceutical companies. These same people though fail to mention that David Geier, one of the co-authors of the woeful study referenced above, works for MedCon – a company that helps vaccine injury claimants to obtain money from both the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program and through civil litigation. Coincidently, Geier senior made (makes?) a good living on the side as a ‘professional witness’. Although as I’ve noted before – he’s not very well respected by either the judiciary or the medical systems in the US.

This point about correlation being different than causation is important to understand: On Orac’s blog Kaethe Douglass commented:

“The fact that Iowa’s 700 percent increase in autism began in the 1990s, right after more and more vaccines were added to the children’s vaccine schedules, is solid evidence alone,” says state Sen. Ken Veenstra. But Veenstra is wrong. That isn’t evidence. That isn’t anything but coincidence. The 1990s also saw a sharp increase in the use of car seats for children, but no one is blaming them. A 700 percent increase in autism, or any other diagnosis, is much more likely to indicate a growing awareness of a possible diagnosis, rather than an actual increase in patients suffering particular symptoms. And if Veenstra cared to do a little bit of research, he would see that the less specific diagnosis of “mental retardation” dropped as sharply as autism increased.

If people want to research possible causes of their kids autism then thats entirely up to them – I did it so I’m in no position to judge these efforts. But it behooves the researcher in question to apply scientific criteria to scientific data. Its no good extracting the bits that suit your argument and discarding the bits that don’t.

edit: Just noticed AutismDivas has made a very similar post to this – sorry AD!

4 Responses to “Autism And Mercury – Defining the Battle Ground”

  1. Lakidaa June 19, 2005 at 20:00 #


    This is great. I’d say somethin to the effect of ‘I WANT TO HAVE YOUR INTERNET BABIES’, but that would be innapropriate. So I’ll say this: This entry layeth the smackdown on those Panicing (is that even a word) people.

    I would even go so far as to say that this ‘pwns’ them.

  2. Helen June 19, 2005 at 21:12 #

    1. Asperger’s was not even well known about/known about till 1994. And there are still adults getting diagnosed, and that could have accounted for loads of the 700%.
    And hey I am in uni, AND well wanting to work….

  3. Kev June 20, 2005 at 14:09 #

    I’m touched Lakidaa but I don’t think my wife would approve at all ;o)

  4. Kev June 20, 2005 at 14:11 #

    Helen: You’re one of the Hidden Hordes! According to Boyd Haley, David Kirby and Lujene Clarke you don’t exist!

Comments are closed.

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