David Kirby didn't look before he leapt

7 Dec

On Wednesday 3rd December, Ginger Taylor sent an email around to a maillist of journalists she maintains contact with saying:

Last spring I wrote to you and told you to be on the look out for the story of Hannah Poling, who was the first child with autism to be paid from the vaccine injury compensation fund. In the months following the Poling story, we found that she was actually at least the tenth child with autism compensated for her vaccine injuries by the government, but only the first to go public. Her case caused a profound shift in the public recognition of vaccination as one of the causes of autism.

I am writing to you today to let you know that tomorrow another story of equally profound weight will be breaking.

Specifically that the Department of Defense now holds the position that autism is one of the adverse reactions to the DTaP vaccine. In addition, The US Armed Forces Institute of Pathology holds that thimerosal is likely a cause of autism and recommends methyl B12 and chelation as the course of treatment for this mercury exposure

This entry is about the DoD story here but I really can’t let the Hannah Poling reference go by without a few notes. Hannah Poling was _not_ the first child with autism to be paid from the Vaccine Injury fund, a story first broken by Kathleen on her blog. And please note that yes, these kids had autism and yes these kids had vaccinations. And thats it. No link was ever made. This is just the same as the Hannah Poling case where no court or HHS employee has stated that Hannah’s autism was caused by her vaccines despite the numerous claims that they have. if anyone ever tells you they they have, ask for them to provide a link. All these cases are once you get right down to it are dressed up cases of correlation being presented as causation.


Following Ginger’s email, the next day found David’s blog post on the Huffington Post asking if the Pentagon was was a voice of reason on autism and vaccines, by which he means – do they think vaccines cause autism.

During the course of the post, he cited this presentation from José A. Centeno of the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and specifically referred to Slide 22 which I urge you to download and look at yourself (its a PDF). The slide is headed ‘Thimerosal’ and discusses sources, health effects and treatment. The health effects section states (in its entirety):

– Exposure to Hg in utero and children may cause mild to severe mental retardation and mild to severe motor coordination impairment;
– Autism?
– Dementia?

to which David asks:

My question is: Why does autism appear on a list of health effects on a slide about thimerosal, even if it is followed by a question mark?

To me its obvious: This PDF was created in 2005. . Some mainstream researchers still thought it was a slight possibility that thiomersal was involved I guess. Its further notable that even Centeno knew it was a doubtful link by the placing of a question mark after the word ‘autism’.

Lets also note that these are bullet points on a slide. I imagined the discussion at the time of presentation revolved around the debunking of the thiomersal hypothesis and it seems that was accurate.

I wondered at the time if David had actually spoken to anyone in the US military about this before passing it on to Ginger as a story of ‘profound weight’ and now, after reading David’s update on the post itself, it seems he didn’t:

UPDATE – I recently received a response to my query from Paul Stone, AFIP Public Affairs. He wrote that: “Dr. Centeno’s presentation, entititled ‘Mercury Poisoning: A Clinical and Toxicological Perspective,’ did mention Thimerosal. However, its inclusion was specifically intended to point out that although there has been some speculation about a potential association between Thimerosal and Autism, currently there is no data or science to support such a claim. Neither the AFIP nor Dr. Centeno have been involved in or conducted research on Autism.”

Its unfortunate David decided to ‘publish and be damned’ before waiting for a response from Centeno or the AFIP. Its clear that rather than a story of ‘profound weight’ this is something of a non-event. However, as is usually the case, no matter how incorrect it seems to be (and I am sure that this is _far_ from the last that will be heard about this from bloggers eager to get to the accuracy of this mini debacle) it will be quoted again and again and again from anti-vaccine believers who care little for accuracy. This will have an impact on both the well being of autism research and public health. I really hope David does the right thing and simply apologises and retracts the story.

2 Responses to “David Kirby didn't look before he leapt”

  1. Joseph December 7, 2008 at 15:24 #

    Ginger’s characterization is completely dishonest. They say you should never ascribe to malice what can more easily be explained by incompetence. But in Ginger’s case, I’m not so sure about that.

  2. Tyler December 7, 2008 at 18:26 #

    No, I get the impression that she really does believe this stuff. In my experience she doesn’t totally shut out dissenting comments in her blog [like I’ve seen from Kirby.] I think she really believes this stuff. She just isn’t that good at critical assessment and sifting through all the data herself (I’m not sure she even places much value in it, conceptually speaking). So she gets snowed by the likes of Kirby.

    David Kirby on the other hand I do suspect is being less than honest. Even if he has convinced himself there is sort of vast conspiracy and he’s working towards the “right end” (may or may not be true), his tactics [and his background] suggest to me he knows he’s peddling pure BS.

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