Is it Kirby Season Again?

21 Sep

Well, it’s September, nearly time for the California DDS to put out the latest quarterly reports.  That means it’s nearly Kirby “spin the numbers” season.  What spin, you may ask?  Last time, David Kirby announced that the numbers may be going down.  At the same time, Rick Rollens noted that they were going up.  Even though they were proposing  exactly opposite interpretations, both were claiming it as evidence of an epidemic.

Even though Kirby’s post was last July, some of his comments still stick in my mind.  Why?  In his reach for crutches to support the fake epidemic, he has started pointing fingers at immigrants.

Legal and illegal immigration continues to rise from countries that still use the full amount of mercury in childhood vaccines.

First consider the fact that people like Kirby and others ignored immigration when they spun the supposed increrase seen in the 1990’s it would have been inconvenient for the “epidemic”.  But, what bugs me more is the jingoistic tone. Well, it’s the tone plus the fact that he could have spent the five minutes he should have spent to realize that it isn’t supported by the facts.

Let’s face it, when you are talking about immigration in California, especially illegal immigration, you are talking about Hispanics.  Hispanics make up about 49% of the legal immigrants, and probably most of the illegal immigrants.  Another big chunk of legal immigrants are Asian (about 40%).

Mr. Kirby notes:

But it turns out that a private citizen has paid the state each quarter to analyze the autism numbers according to year of birth, and not just by age group. State law requires that such privately funded analyses be made available to anyone else who asks for it.

That does sound like some interesting data!  I will post on that shortly.  In the meantime,  let’s take a look at the data by age-group, shall we?  Let’s look at the total number of people with autism who are White as a function of time:

Kirby Season Figure 1

Wow, it just goes up and up and up.  Doesn’t stop, doesn’t flatten out.  Doesn’t go down.  Where’s the drop that Mr. Kirby sees?  If immigration is pumping up the overall numbers, I’d have expected to see a drop in the numbers for Whites.  Take a closer look: the curve isn’t precisely straight. Let’s draw a line in through the data before 2006 (data points in red) and another through the data points after 2006 (in blue).  Oh, my, the slope for the 2005 data is 848+7 and the post 2006 data is 1058+25 (in units of individuals with autism per year).

Closeup of Figure 1

The total number of Whites is not only increasing, but the rate of increase is going up too!  I don’t see how one can spin immigration to explain that.

Now, do put any significance in the change in slope?  Yes and no.  Yes, something is going on, it’s small but there is something causing changes in slope from time to time.  The real question is why?  To just say, “Well the numbers are going up, therefore my pet idea is true” is irresponsible.  One should look closer at the numbers and decide why.

That is my basic problem with the Kirby/Geier approach to “research”.  Dig deep enough to support your theory and no farther.

So, let’s look at the Hispanic population and see what is happening.  Well, there is big increase in the number of Hispanic people served by the CDDS under autism in the time period here (mid 2000 to mid 2007) the number went from 2533 to 9212.  Or, in epidemic speak, that’s a 364% increase.  By comparison, the numbers for Whites went up by 234%.

Kirby Season Figure 3

You can easily see how that could be spun into blaming the rising numbers on immigration.  If you didn’t already know about the trends amongst Whites especially.  Still, take the five minutes to look at the data closer.  Take a look at the percentage of Hispanic clients served under autism.

An increase from about 19% to 27% in just 7 years?  The increase must be those immigrants a Kirby would say.  Or, is it?  Consider that Hispanics make up 35% of the California population.  Even with this big increase, they only account for 27% of the total number of CDDS clients under autism?  The problem, Mr. Kirby, is not whether Hispanics are driving up the numbers.  The problem is that the great State of California is probably under-serving one of its largest ethnic groups!

Anyone remember Jurassic Park?  Remember the problem with their computer program that did the census on the dinosaurs?  It counted until it reached the number it expected and then stopped.  Guess what, that’s what people who rely on the CDDS numbers have been doing.  They look until they find the data that supports their theory and they stop.

The extra steps taken here go further than a Kirby or Geier analysis, but they only scratch the surface.  And, yet, I will be bold and say that it is a crime that we are undercounting and underserving our own people.  By ignoring the fact that the CDDS could be undercounting some groups, those promoting the “epidemic” helped the undercounting continue.  This despite the fact that the CDDS is actively reaching out to minority groups.

Mr Kirby ends his post with the statement:

Regardless of one’s position on the mercury-autism contretemps, I hope everyone can agree that an actual drop in the numbers, no matter what the cause, would provide a welcome respite from the endless chorus of grim news we all seem to face these days.

Well, if we had an accurate count of the individuals with autism, we could debate that.  We don’t have an accurate count.  That’s sort of the point, Mr. Kirby.  Your “gold standard” of epedimiology, the CDDS dataset, is woefully inadequate.  Once we have an accurate count of everyone and are providing the appropriate supports for those who need them, we can start talking about whether it would be good if the numbers should go down.  Until then, identifying the uncounted is a good thing.

I would add, there are causes for a drop in autism numbers that would make me very unhappy.

I would welcome an end to the “grim news”.  Any time you want to tone down the rhetoric and start working on the real problems at hand is fine by me, Mr. Kirby.

11 Responses to “Is it Kirby Season Again?”

  1. Ms. Clark September 21, 2007 at 01:18 #

    Thank you, Sullivan. Nice to have a new blogger on the block.

    It would be interesting to see how the Hispanics are served in the Regions where the most money is being spent.

    We can see that Hispanics (not just newly immigrant Hispanics, but Hispanics) are not getting help from the DDS to a significant degree, even though that has been improving. But I’d guess that the Hispanic community is woefully underserved where there are fewer of them, in the areas of the state with fewer cities, like Far Northern RC and Redwood Coast RC, and probably in Valley Mountain RC.

    The thing is that there is this hideous imbalance between the way autistics are served across the state, period, ,with vast amounts of money going into ABA therapy for kids across the spectrum, but just in certain areas, in other areas those same kids would get absolutely nothing from the DDS, they’d be rejected as clients, the difference being access to lawyers and a subculture of dependence on and the ability to finagle the DDS for all kinds of goodies (in the richer parts of Los Angeles) that is just not there in the rest of the State.

    It’s criminal that a kid or adult with PDD,nos who is deserving of help from the DDS will get it in the LA area, especially if the mom knows someone who knows someone who knows the ropes, or has a lawyer, and the same kid will be laughed out of the office, basically, and told that they don’t serve PDD,nos people in the DDS in any other area of the State.

    The DDS is well aware of this, and so is Rick Rollens. They just don’t care enough to fix it.

  2. Sullivan September 21, 2007 at 01:43 #

    Thanks for the welcome!

    I just hope that people like Kirby are sloppy and not purposely neglecting these facts.

  3. isles September 21, 2007 at 02:29 #

    Sullivan, you’re more optimistic than I if you can still believe Kirby and co. are misunderstanding what’s going on at this point. The only question of interest, to me, is how long before it gets too embarrassing for them to even hold up appearances anymore.

  4. Ms. Clark September 21, 2007 at 04:54 #

    Kirby never showed up on EoHam when they asked what happened to his movie deal. I think he’s out of autism. But I’ve thought that before… he’s like the undead or something.

  5. Matt September 21, 2007 at 05:14 #

    Well, his blogging has dropped off significantly this summer.

    Maybe he’s putting all his time into his new book? Wasn’t it supposed to be something on industrial pollution or something


  6. Tommy Westphall September 21, 2007 at 11:26 #

    Very nice work Sullivan.

    It will be interesting to see if Kirby sticks his neck further into the noose when the new numbers are reported.

  7. Joseph September 21, 2007 at 13:32 #

    I was not actively blogging when Kirby came up with that analysis. It looks like he doesn’t understand left censorship. I think I’ll ask CDDS for the birth-year-cohort data.

  8. Sullivan September 21, 2007 at 14:48 #


    “Sullivan, you’re more optimistic than I if you can still believe Kirby and co. are misunderstanding what’s going on at this point.”

    It is as much a statement as a question. When the choice comes down to being sloppy or intentionally sloppy there is a big problem.

    More on data he “forgot” to mention shortly…

  9. Patrick September 21, 2007 at 21:17 #

    Oh Ms C!!!

    Since the LA imbalance has brought up, I thought I might mention that someone else MAY have noticed.

    Here is a link to a blog entry about someone (da Feds) threatening to drop funding for perhaps fraudulent or wastefull allocation of federal funds!

    Happy Reading.


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