Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism

4 Mar

That’s the title of an article at The introduction spells out one of the dilemmas that face skeptics to the “vaccines cause autism” story:

It’s rare in science and science writing to make definitive statements, particularly about causation. We like to add what I call “wishy washy” words like “may” and “probably” and “perhaps.”

It’s the “you can’t prove a negative” thing. Can someone say that in all of history, for every person, vaccines have not caused autism through some mechanism not yet described? No. But, is there “overwhelming evidence”?

So when scientists or science writers make definitive statements like “vaccines don’t cause autism” and “vaccines save lives,” it’s because we have overwhelming evidence to back it up.

I expect that soon the author, Sarah Zielinski, will see what happens to blogs that dare make such bold statements. Links to the embarrassingly bad “fourteen studies” website will be posted. Comments that “only one vaccine and one ingredient” will be trotted out by people who lack the courage to acknowledge that the studies clear that vaccine (MMR) and that ingredient (thimerosal). “Too many too soon” will be spouted as though this is some real hypothesis rather than a mere slogan.

Ms. Zielinski finishes with:

Vaccines work. They don’t cause autism. Now, perhaps, scientists can spend their resources on figuring out what does instead of wasting them on a debunked theory.

And that is where the frustration comes in. Groups like SafeMinds and Generation Rescue, while they claim to be interested in environmental causes of autism, really only care about vaccines.

Sorry for yet another vaccine story, but it is nice to see people coming down with hard, clear statements. Real people use strong language all the time. Those pushing the vaccine-causation story use language that is completely unsupported by the facts.

Sometime scientists need to speak like regular people, as Sarah Zielinski has just done.

16 Responses to “Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism”

    • Sullivan March 4, 2010 at 23:31 #

      Liz Ditz,

      thanks, I didn’t realize I forgot to include the link!

  1. Liz Ditz March 4, 2010 at 23:17 #


    And oh noes, I just lost 45 minutes poking around elsewhere on the Smithsonian site. I had let my subscription lapse (trying to cut down on dead trees)….so many fascinating articles.

  2. Steve March 5, 2010 at 06:15 #

    Thoughtful article. I like the description of “wishy washy” and vague notion of Science. Other phrases used a lot when strengthening a science position on a study, “Science only deals with the facts” – until the interpretation of the results.

    I tend to agree on the subject of certain organisations and vaccinations. If they don’t go for MMR it’s be preservatives in annual flu injections for pregnant women.

    Also, on the subject of toxins, another one beginning is makeup and shampoo chemicals affecting first trimester pregnancy – so fox news reports. Here’s the link

  3. Susan March 6, 2010 at 01:01 #


    I like this one. It is clear, easy to read with great links…and I agree that no one can ever say that a vaccine never caused autism…it’s just that there is no scientific link…

  4. Robert Rampson March 6, 2010 at 22:53 #

    Wakefield’s tests with monkeys – giving them scaled down doses of human chilhood vaccines produced an alarmingly high number of autism-like reactions in the creatures. The work is unfinished, although I gather he now has an institution prepared to back his work to completion.

    Meanwhile, he seems to have received support from an unusual source. Read this from the Daily Mail!

  5. Chris March 6, 2010 at 23:38 #

    How can you tell if macaques are autistic? Why did they use a form of a vaccine that is not used anymore? Thimerosal has been removed from pediatric vaccines (even influenza is available without thimerosal), so why beat a dead horse?

    How come the control numbers kept changing? Was that due to massaging the data? From A “Made for Court” Study?:

    This study raises more red flags than a Kremlin May Day parade in the old Soviet Union. It appears that control subjects were added post hoc and that unproductive reflexes were dropped from the data. One of the authors – the “anchor” author – has been implicated in research and ethical misconduct and is awaiting adjudication. Other authors have significant personal conflicts of interest.

    Why should we read about science from a newspaper, especially one with the (lack of) reputation like the Daily Mail? And that article does not even mention Wakefield, and there is a separate group that opposes pet vaccines. How did you miss that?

    Do you know how to make a veterinarian very angry? Get your dog homeopathic vaccines, and then bring them into a real vet when they have parvovirus and die

    Just to put in my two pence worth regarding homoeopathy. Never have I been so frustrated after losing five out of nine infected Lhasa Apso puppies from two different litters with diagnostically confirmed parvovirus. The breeder had vaccinated them, as per the instructions, using a homoeopathic vaccination that was recommended by other breeders and bought from a large company in London.

    Such meaningless suffering and death due to exploitation of a breeder’s ignorance leaves me aghast. The ludicrous idea that homoeopathy plays a part in canine vaccination makes me quite ill.

  6. Eric S. March 9, 2010 at 01:08 #

    1.) Autism is a neurological condition.

    2.) Mercury causes neurological harm to developing brains.

    Both of these statements are scientific and irrefutable.

  7. Dedj March 9, 2010 at 01:37 #

    Well done for noticing that Eric.

    Perhaps you’ll provide some form of arguement next visit. Or maybe crack open a entry level book on neurology.

  8. Joseph March 9, 2010 at 01:41 #

    @Eric: Sure. So are the following:

    1) Autism is a neurological condition.

    2) Mothers who dope, smoke and drink cause harm to developing brains.

    Can I draw a conclusion from these two statements? I’d hope not.

    BTW, your #2 requires a caveat that “mercury in sufficient doses” causes neurological harm. Every fetus is exposed to some mercury, and always has since humans exist.

    Let’s try another syllogism:

    1) Eric S. is an anti-vaxer.

    2) Many snake-oil salesmen and con artists are anti-vaxers.

    See what I mean?

  9. Dedj March 9, 2010 at 01:51 #

    “Can I draw a conclusion from these two statements? I’d hope not.”

    Indeed, there are a number of known risk factors that can cause neurological harm. The conditions that arise from these are not seen as being variations of autism, yet by the logic that Eric obviously means yet somehow failed to make clear (a trick that means he can deny he said anything of the sort when it all goes pear-shaped and still convince himself he’s not a liar or dishonest) all of these sources of neurological harm must therefore be able to cause autism.

    2.) can be replaced with any single known cause of neurological harm and it would still work, yet Wernickes Dementia is not autism. Parkinsons disease is not autism. Stroke is not autism. Traumatic brain injury is not autism. Diabetic encephalopathy is not autism. etc etc.

  10. Chris March 9, 2010 at 02:40 #

    Let us take Eric’s statements and elaborate:

    1.) Autism is a neurological condition.

    2.) Mercury causes neurological harm to developing brains.

    3.) Many fish contain mercury.

    4.) Therefore eating certain kinds of fish causes autism.

    Remember this, especially with the dwindling size of the bluefin tuna populations.

  11. Chris March 9, 2010 at 02:56 #

    Also, I would like to add that the form of mercury in fish, methylmercury, is more dangerous than the form in vaccines. Plus there is much more in fish than in vaccines.

  12. Mike Stanton March 9, 2010 at 08:21 #

    Yeah, Chris,
    but who in their right mind would give fish oil to an autistic child?

  13. Prometheus March 9, 2010 at 20:58 #

    Eric S. correctly notes:

    “1.) Autism is a neurological condition.
    2.) Mercury causes neurological harm to developing brains.
    Both of these statements are scientific and irrefutable.”

    To these I’d like to add two more facts that are also “scientific and irrefutable”:

    3.) We know what mercury poisoning looks like, from decades of sad experience.

    4.) Autism looks nothing like mercury poisoning.

    What Eric S. has done is try to connect – by physical proximity – two “facts” that are true but unrelated.


  14. brian March 9, 2010 at 21:43 #

    Prometheus wrote:

    3.) We know what mercury poisoning looks like, from decades of sad experience.
    4.) Autism looks nothing like mercury poisoning.

    We also know, via exceptionally thorough and independent longitudinal studies, that extensive prenatal and postnatal exposure to mercury is not associated with an increased risk for ASD. The most recent paper that I’ve seen from this work [Neurotoxicology. 2009 May;30(3):338-49] affirms that if you do enough tests of neurodevelopmental outcomes, some will seem significant (this should also be true if you did a sufficient number of tests of, say, macaque reflexes), but that “no consistent pattern of associations emerged to support a causal relationship.” (Sometimes mercury seems to improve the outcome.)

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