David Kirby clarifies?

31 Oct

David is obviously a reader of this blog or Autism Vox or Respectful Insolence as these are (so far as I know) the three blogs that commented on his claim that thimerosal was no longer the ‘smoking gun’ for autism causation. Here’s the quote from the New Jersey Star Ledger:

David Kirby, a journalist and author of “Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy,” said he believed that thimerosal, which still exists in trace amounts in some childhood vaccines, was no longer the “smoking gun.” Several national studies have found no connection, and a California study found that, even after thimerosal was removed from vaccines, diagnoses of autism continued to rise.

Now that’s a pretty unequivocal statement. Even so, David felt the need to clarify on Age of Autism yesterday:

The term “smoking gun” comes from Sherlock Holmes…..[]….To this writer’s mind…….the term means the “one and only cause,”.

I do not believe that thimerosal is the one and only cause of autism.

Now I’m confused. In the quote from the New Jersey Star Ledger David says thimerosal is no longer the cause of autism. In his own quote on AoA he says it is. Here is the quote that uses the words ‘smoking gun’:

The triggers, as I mentioned, might include, unfortunately, everything, and when I wrote my book I was hopeful that maybe thimerosal was the smoking gun. And if we just got mercury out of vaccines, autism would rapidly reduce. And we haven’t seen that happen yet. But I did say if that does not happen then that’s bad news; now we’re back to square one. It would have been so much nicer, and easier, and cleaner to say, gosh, it was the mercury in the vaccines and now we can take it out and the case is closed. That didn’t happen, and we need to look at everything. And as I said, not only the individual vaccine ingredients, but also the cumulative effects of so many vaccines at once.

So, this then as people said to me, is not David saying ‘its not thiomersal’, its David saying its not just thimerosal.

I’m kind of saddened by this. As David himself says:

There has been so much debate over ‘What is THE cause?’ And for a long time in this country, we were fixated on thimerosal, the vaccine preservative, and I share some of the blame for that because my book focused mostly on thimerosal.

Fixated is the right word. Some of us over and over and over were constantly telling people it couldn’t possibly – based on the available data – be thimerosal. And yet this stopped no-one from saying it was. More importantly it stopped no one from chelating autistic kids needlessly for ‘mercury poisoning’ that didn’t actually exist.

David now officially joins with Jenny McCarthy and the new side of autism/vaccines. Its everything. Individual vaccines ingredients and the cumulative effects of so many vaccines at once. My question is why? What we have here is an instance where a hypotheses was tested and failed to be accurate. It took 10 years for people who believe David to get that message. Many still haven’t.

David also claims that his infamous claim about CDDS data in 2005 (that if the thiomersal hypothesis was correct CDDS rates would fall – they didn’t) failed to take into account key confounders –

1) Falling age of diagnosis
2) Thiomersal in the flu shot
3) Immigration
4) Rising levels of background mercury

With all due respect to David these are pretty shoddy. David asks if the caseload could’ve increased between 1995-96 due to recent falling age of diagnosis and aggressive early intervention. I’m not sure that 95-96 could really be considered recent.

As discussed by Do’C on Autism Street, the whole ‘mercury in flu shots’ thing is rather misleading:

…better than 90% of the 5 year olds in the relevant data set were not even vaccinated. Does the increase in flu shot uptake in this age group that occurred after 2003 even matter with respect to the California data? It doesn’t seem likely given that about 80% of kids in the relevant age group are not even vaccinated during the next couple of years. But aside from that, the ones who were vaccinated were decreasingly likely to receive a thimerosal containing flu shot at all.

I’m not sure what to make of the Immigration thing. It makes me feel a bit uncomfortable – its easy to blame ‘the outsiders’ but without any actual science (and I’m not of the opinion that running CDDS data through Excel is science, sorry) to back those beliefs up, it feels like an easy ‘out’.

This rising levels of background mercury thing puzzles me. It may well be happening. David didn’t source the three studies (I imagine one is the Palmer thing) but I don’t see what background mercury has to do with thiomersal? Maybe I’m missing the obvious here.

David went on to describe what mercury can do:

constriction of visual fields, impaired hearing, emotional disturbances, spastic movements, incontinence, groaning, shouting, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and constipation,” (HERE) (otherwise known as every afternoon at the Redwood house, circa 1998 in my book)

That may well be ‘every afternoon in the Redwood house’ but its never been any time of the day in my house. None, I repeat, none of the symptoms David lists form part of the DSM (IV). Whatever it was causing those symptoms every afternoon in the Redwood household, it had nothing to do with autism.

David closes by referring to a study published early this year. He says:

So, despite all the cries of innocence among mercury supporters, the California study authors insist that this trend has not been confirmed.

Not quite. Here’s the quote from the Medical News Today article:

They also cautioned that the evaluation of the trends needs to continue in order to confirm their findings for the children born more recently.

What they’re saying is that their conclusion for the data they’ve looked at is:

The DDS data do not show any recent decrease in autism in California despite the exclusion of more than trace levels of thimerosal from nearly all childhood vaccines. The DDS data do not support the hypothesis that exposure to thimerosal during childhood is a primary cause of autism.

but – quite reasonably – for children they haven’t looked at, they can’t speak for.

11 Responses to “David Kirby clarifies?”

  1. Science Mom October 31, 2008 at 13:42 #

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-kirby/new-study-mercury-other-t_b_139269.html

    Seems like a new study has breathed life into Kirby’s ‘hypothesis’, unfortunately, he does what he does best and that is torture the results to fit his conjecture. Nevermind that this study deals with methylmercury in utero and he is taking his information from a press release, pesky details shouldn’t stop a crusader like him.

  2. Ringside Seat October 31, 2008 at 16:30 #

    It’s always interesting to follow the lives of people whose seminal life’s accomplishment – a book – sits on their living room shelf, and is entirely wrong.

    I dare say Mr Kirby will come to understand the trajectory of the likes of Peter Duesberg, who confidently declared that HIV doesn’t cause Aids.

  3. Navi October 31, 2008 at 18:21 #

    Science Mom – isn’t thimerosal ethyl mercury, not methyl mercury? I forget…

    That, and it’s the mercury found in fish. Which has been known to cause problems in the US for years. As in When I was pregnant with my 10 yr old I was told not to eat more than a certain amount of fish…. Not sure exactly how the information he reports is new….

  4. RJ October 31, 2008 at 18:35 #

    Man! It’s so frustrating sometimes. These people that claim to be interested in ‘the truth’ are the same ones who are moderators of commentary that deals with their articles. David Kirby at HuffPost appears to be no different that Skankliano at AoA: if you say something that may discredit my position, I will not post it.

    They liked the fish explanation (about which fish has a lot of methylmercury and those fish that do not) but will not post my question as to why we don’t see a trend in autism statistics with fish consumption. This ‘methylmercury MIGHT cause neurological disorders, and ethylmercury is like methylmercury, therefore, vaccines, that contain thimerosal that is metabolized into ethylmercury could be driving the autism epidemic”. (Nice logic, huh!) So, more fish, more methylmercury…so where’s the increased autism at?

    I think it’s important that everyone realizes that Kirby did not read the actual study. he read (and cited) someone else’s layman/dumbdowned version, then made his assessment based on that. Would anyone here find that acceptable for someone trying to present himself as an authority? Is that what journalists do, use secondary sources instead of primary sources? And the poor, easily impressionable saps out there that do not realize they are being suckered.

  5. Regan October 31, 2008 at 19:16 #

    That may well be ‘every afternoon in the Redwood house’ but its never been any time of the day in my house. None, I repeat, none of the symptoms David lists form part of the DSM (IV). Whatever it was causing those symptoms every afternoon in the Redwood household, it had nothing to do with autism.

    Our experience mirrors yours, and I concur that to my knowledge it is not part of the DSM-III, IV, or IV-TR.

    FWIW–My autistic daughter, typical daughter, and I had boosters, new immunizations and flu shots within the past 2 months. We all feel fine.

  6. Sullivan October 31, 2008 at 20:15 #

    The immigration question is one that has bothered me for some time–as in, the way Mr. Kirby uses the immigration question bothers me. It bothers me even more that Mr. Kirby continues even though the data are against him.

    I’m not sure what to make of the Immigration thing. It makes me feel a bit uncomfortable – its easy to blame ‘the outsiders’ but without any actual science (and I’m not of the opinion that running CDDS data through Excel is science, sorry) to back those beliefs up, it feels like an easy ‘out’.

    Especially when Mr. Kirby doesn’t take the time to check if his ideas are consistent with the very same CDDS data he is using.

    The “Immigration” thing has been a piece of the pie for Mr. Kirby for over a year. He at least has backed away from the “illegal immigration” language.

    But, even given that, I went through the CDDS data about a year ago to point out how Mr. Kirby’s “analysis” doesn’t hold water.

    First, the idea that immigration accounts for the rise doesn’t jive with the fact that the CDDS numbers show an increase in autism count (with an increasing slope, no less) for Whites in California.

    Second, the fact of the matter is that Hispanics are under-represented in the autism counts via the CDDS. From my piece last year (if I may)

    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!

    The graph of the fraction of the CDDS autism count that is Hispanic is here.

    In short, the idea that the immigration (largely Hispanic, as noted by Mr. Kirby in previous wirtings) accounts for the continued increase in autism doesn’t add up. As example, the Hispanic CDDS/Autism population has increased but is (a) mirrored largely in the White Population (b) not enough for the Hispanics “rate” to reach parity with the white “rate”.

  7. Prometheus October 31, 2008 at 20:38 #

    So this is what things were like in the Redwood household:

    “constriction of visual fields, impaired hearing, emotional disturbances, spastic movements, incontinence, groaning, shouting, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and constipation…”

    Not so in my home. Also, I wonder if they ever documented the “constriction of visual fields”, since that is a pretty “classic” symptoms of mercury poisoning, unlike some of the others (e.g. nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, etc.).

    Prometheus

  8. Patrick October 31, 2008 at 23:50 #

    Well I am glad that he has had the chance to be misinterpreted then, since the need to clarify has arisen. Perhaps he might feel a wee bit more like some of the other folks that have been misinterpreted now?

    Ah, the joy of seeing a spin master spun around a bit? Thanks Kev!

  9. Jeanette November 1, 2008 at 18:43 #

    It truly doesn’t matter if David Kirby retracts the whole “thimerosal” nonsense, he has done his “harm”…so to speak.
    David Kirby is a journalist..he is not a scientist, doctor, or immunologist. Yea, I just read Dr. Offit’s book!
    It is really, really scary that parent’s are willing to still believe the whole vaccine/mercury causation from a man who is no more than a Propogandist trying to sell a book. I am thrilled the movie deal fell through…just imagine how much more harm that would have caused Autistic children.
    How much of David Kirby’s profits, from his book, was given to Autism?

  10. Science Mom November 1, 2008 at 20:01 #

    Navi, Yes thimerosal is a thiol of ethyl mercury and fish/coal combustion are sources of methyl mercury. Such a detail doesn’t stop Kirby however.

  11. Gotta Say it November 2, 2008 at 05:15 #

    It’s gotta be said–

    If Kirby is finally coming around to “autism isn’t all mercury from vaccines”….all I can say is

    No shmoke, Sherlock.

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