The Autism-Vaccine Debate: Why It Won’t Go Away

11 Feb

Who said it was? Backstory: “The Autism-Vaccine Debate: Why It Won’t Go Away” is a recent blog post by David Kirby at the Huffington Post. Yes, he’s come back to talk about autism and vaccines.

I say again: who says the debate is going away? The scientific debate on the main issues: thimerosal and the MMR is over. That scientific debate has been over for some time. The rising autism “rate” wasn’t caused by mercury. It wasn’t caused by MMR. Autism isn’t a “novel” form of mercury poisoning. These facts don’t stop activist groups and online discussions, or the debate elsewhere for that matter.

The debate isn’t going away, but is is morphing. From the piece by David Kirby:

There is clearly no single cause of autism, and we are not going to find answers looking only at genes, or for that matter, only at thimerosal or MMR.

David Kirby’s main contribution to the discussion was his book: Evidence of Harm, Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy. Mr. Kirby has been a major proponent of the mercury hypothesis since he started on that book, fed by research garnered by SafeMinds founder Lyn Redwood. The book wasn’t about “vaccines” and the autism epidemic, or “environmental causes of an autism epidemic”, it was about “mercury in vaccines and the autism epidemic”.

The debate isn’t going away, but it is getting weaker. And it’s just moving a few goalposts: Let’s play down mercury. Let’s play down MMR. It’s the “Autism-vaccine” debate, not “Mercury in vaccines and the autism epidemic”.

Mr. Kirby does in this blog post what he has done so well for the past few years. He puts the current talking points out there, nicely packaged. Here’s a good example, where he even manages to include a plug for the latest pseudo-research. It’s amazing, really:

That’s because evidence of a vaccine-autism link did not come to them via a 12-year-old study published in a British medical journal, nor from Hollywood celebrities: Not very many had heard of Wakefield until recently.

Some of these parents actually keep up with the science, including a new review of autism studies in the Journal of Immunotoxicology which concludes: “Documented causes of autism include genetic mutations and/or deletions, viral infections, and encephalitis following vaccination.”

Simply amazing. People haven’t heard of Wakefield, but they know about a paper that just came out yesterday in a relatively obscure medical journal? It’s product placement. Very slick. Mr. Kirby plugs this paper as though it is as natural as all the judges on “American Idol” drinking from great big red Coca Cola cups.

He also gets in the “the discussion isn’t all about Wakefield” theme that is in the current responses to the disclosure of fraud in Mr. Wakefield’s research. “Not many people had heard of Wakefield until recently.” As a side note, the obscure Mr. Wakefield appears on 30 pages of Mr. Kirby’s book, Evidence of Harm.

Let’s check whether people have heard about Mr. Wakefield. According to a recent Harris poll (one that Mr. Kirby cites, by the way):

In the new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll, 69 percent of respondents said they had heard about the autism-vaccination theory — but only half (47 percent) knew that the original Lancet study had been retracted, and that some of that research is now alleged to be fraudulent.

The question “Are you aware that the medical journal that published the paper linking vaccines to autism has now withdrawn the paper, and a published account describes the research as fraudulent?” 47% of people asked said yes.

That’s a pretty big number of people who not only (a) knew about Mr. Wakefield’s paper but also (b) knew it had been retracted and described as fraudulent. What other research paper would the public know about in such great numbers, 12 years after publication?

To state the obvious, yes, Mr. Wakefield and his research was known. Well known. It has been a big piece of the vaccines-cause-autism debate.

Here’s the table from that Harris poll question, showing that 47% of people had heard about the retraction and fraud. Even more important, take note of the fact that people who are informed about the retraction and the fraud are much less likely to believe that vaccines cause autism (click image to make big):

Yep, 65% of people who have heard about the retraction and fraud say that the vaccines-cause-autism idea is “not true”. Mr. Wakefield’s work was known and important to the vaccines-cause-autism cause.

Mr. Kirby then goes into the standard talking points of the day: only two vaccines (MMR) and one ingredient (thimerosal) have been explored for relationship to autism, followed closely by a denial that any of those studies were of any value because they are performed by people who have a “vested interest”.

Of course, “vested interests” in those promoting the vaccine hypothesis, both professional and financial (of which Andrew Wakefield is only the most prominent example) are ignored. As we quickly see as Mr. Kirby warns us that the expected SafeMinds response is on the way to the recent paper showing no link between thimerosal exposure and autism.

Mr. Kirby finishes with “The CDC estimates that there are about 760,000 Americans under 21 with an ASD. Even if just 1 percent of those cases was linked to vaccines (though I believe it is higher), that would mean 7,600 young Americans with a vaccine-associated ASD. ”

Yes, Mr. Kirby is adapting. Adapting in much the way that I have said the vaccine-causation community needs to adapt in order to stay alive. They need to abandon the “epidemic” rhetoric. Claim that if there are people with vaccine-induced autism, the number is very small, too small to be picked up by epidemiology.

Rather than really adapt, Mr. Kirby wants to play both sides of this. He wants to say, “what if the number is really small” and say that the data available show that the rise in autism prevalence is correlated with vaccines.

At the risk of being accused of “product placement” myself, I can’t help but bring up an incident discussed in the book “The Panic Virus“. I don’t have the book handy, so I apologize if I get this not 100% accurate. Seth Mnookin tells of talking to Dr. Jon Poling, father of Hannah Poling, during an AutismOne conference. While Dr. Poling is telling Mr. Mnookin that, yes, the concession in the vaccine court isn’t about causation, David Kirby is giving his talk saying exactly the opposite.

One question I know I will face soon is: why do I bring up David Kirby again? Why not move on from the vaccine debate. In the end it is because of statements like this:

In my opinion, many children with autism are toxic.

After over five years as a self-described member of the autism community, David Kirby still uses damaging language. Children are not “toxic”. Even children who have demonstrated heavy metal poisoning (which autism is not) are not “toxic”. If you touch them, you don’t get poisoned. They are “intoxicated”. But, that doesn’t read well, does it? I’ll say it again, autism is not a form of mercury poisoning. I really don’t need my kid labeled “toxic”.

I don’t know if David Kirby is “anti vaccine” or not. If you notice, I rarely use the term. I don’t care if David Kirby is anti vaccine. It isn’t the label “anti-vaccine” that matters. David Kirby is intellectually dishonest and his actions are irresponsible. On a more personal note, he puts forth an image of autism that is damaging to my kid.

52 Responses to “The Autism-Vaccine Debate: Why It Won’t Go Away”

  1. Sullivan February 11, 2011 at 20:56 #

    As an aside. Here is an example of David Kirby’s statistics:

    “These are highly educated, affluent and politically progressive people — doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, writers and other successful professionals. And like half of the American population in one poll, many of my neighbors (though certainly not all) say that there is, or may be, an association between autism and the current U.S. vaccine schedule.”


    Poll source

    18% said there may be an association (split 2% certainly true, 16% probably true)

    52 % said no (split 31% probably not true, 20% certainly not true)

    30% said “not sure”.

    Since when is 18% “half”?

  2. Sullivan February 11, 2011 at 21:32 #

    Note: I edited this piece after publishing. I had made a statement which was incorrect, claiming that the piece by Mr. Kirby did not mention “mercury”. It does, in mentioning “thimerosal”. I reworked that paragraph.

  3. Shannon February 11, 2011 at 21:37 #

    Here’s what I took away from Seth’s Mnookin’s research on David Kirby as documented in The Panic Virus:

    Mr. Kirby takes quotes out of context. He crops and rearranges those quotes until they fit his arguments. In doing so, in manufacturing and then exploiting vaccine fears for profit and personal gain, he can no longer be considered a journalist. He *can* be considered a cherry picker, and a carpetbagger.

    • Sullivan February 11, 2011 at 22:52 #

      Shanon (and others)

      Seth Mnookin has discussed the recent post by David Kirby here.

  4. bensmyson February 11, 2011 at 23:39 #

    “…many of my neighbors (though certainly not all) say that there is, or may be, an association between autism and the current U.S. vaccine schedule.””

    Sullivan half the people (48%) in your example either showed, “18% said there may be an association (split 2% certainly true, 16% probably true)” or “30% said “not sure”.”

    Again, Kirby said, “…say that there is, or **may** be, an association…”

    I’m not sure why what Kirby said is wrong.

    • Sullivan February 12, 2011 at 01:06 #

      Then it is OK for me to say that 82% say that the idea is not true or may not be true, right?

  5. Dedj February 12, 2011 at 01:28 #

    Yes. It’s also okay to say that only 2% think that there is an association, yet 98% are not certain or are certain there is not an association.

    It’s also okay to say that there’s ten times as many people who think it’s certainly not true than think it is true.

  6. Dedj February 12, 2011 at 01:36 #

    “I’m not sure why what Kirby said is wrong.”

    It’s what he didn’t say that’s interesting.

    He appears to have failed to say that his neighbours are 4 times as likely to think there is not, or may not be, an association.

    By his own metric, this is just as valid, yet it defeats his own point of having that metric in the first place.

  7. bensmyson February 12, 2011 at 02:15 #

    Actually Sullivan those at the Harris Poll link you provided said, “18 percent are **convinced** that vaccines, like the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, **can** cause the disorder, and another 30 percent **aren’t sure**.”

    So I guess you could say that 52% are not sure or are certain there is an association. Either way you’ve made your point. As have I.

    Dedj – I wish I was a mind reader so I would know exactly why he chose to say what he did. Perhaps it might simply be, because he is being misinterpreted…

    “Yep, 65% of people who have heard about the retraction and fraud say that the vaccines-cause-autism idea is “not true”. ”

    65% of the 47%

    35% of those who are aware of the controversy are unconvinced of the safety of vaccines, even after hearing all there is to hear about vaccines being the cause of autism.

    Sounds like someone isnt doing a very good job at spreading the message.

  8. daedalus2u February 12, 2011 at 03:07 #

    with crap like this and AOL paid how much for HuffPo?

  9. brian February 12, 2011 at 03:54 #

    It’s useful to have some context when you’re talking about people adopting positions that are contradicted by scientific evidence. Using the 18% figure, you might correctly state that: “18 percent are convinced that vaccines can cause ASD, while 21% believe that it’s possible to communicate with dead people, 42% believe that people can be sometimes possessed by the devil, and 73% believe in at least one paranormal phenomenon.”

  10. K_Dad February 12, 2011 at 04:19 #

    Someone needs to tell David Kirby that my son with autism is not “toxic.” Thanks to rhetoric like his, my wife tells my son — TO HIS FACE — that he’s toxic, poison, broken, etc…Fuck you, Kirby.

    My wife didn’t come up with that phraseology on her own. Kirby and similar folk have been telling her for years that our son is “toxic and broken.” Well, all those words have had devastating consequences in my home. Esp. when their parents repeat them IN FRONT OF THEIR KIDS.

    And you bet I blame Kirby and his ilk.

  11. bensmyson February 12, 2011 at 04:44 #

    What is the devil?

    How many believe in a God?

    Is precognition possible or is that a paranormal phenomenon?

    “Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect,” which was just published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.—daryl-bem

  12. sharon February 12, 2011 at 05:01 #

    @brian I was about to make that point when I got to your comment. I recall a recent poll showing aprox 50% of Americans believe in Angels. That is not evidence that Angels exist.

  13. bensmyson February 12, 2011 at 05:15 #

    K Dad – Since Im not a scientist, what do you call someone who has been exposed to a bunch of radiation? Would that person be radioactive? Maybe Kirby should have said “poisoned” rather than “toxic” Toxic does infer being contagious or something that could cause harm if one would come into contact with it. Mercury would be toxic, a person ingesting mercury would be poisoned.

    And your wife telling your son he is broken or toxic is wrong. I dont even plan on telling my son he has autism.

    • Sullivan February 12, 2011 at 05:52 #


      a person exposed to radiation, assuming it is a lot of radiation, is a person with radiation sickness.

      If a person is exposed to enough radiation (and the correct type) which can result in his tissues becoming radioactive, my guess the correct term is “dead” or “soon to be dead”.

      I dont even plan on telling my son he has autism.

      here’s how you responded to someone who characterized disability as a difference:

      A guy walks up behind your son when he is a year old, swings a baseball bat and strikes your son square on the head, meant to do it or not makes no difference, your son falls to the ground, loses his ability to speak, he stops making eye contact, from that moment on he is brain injured, I mean different. Yeah that’s not the end of the world, your world at least.

      If the time comes that your kid starts surfing the web and reading what you have written, feel free to drop me a line if you want some of your comments deleted.

      • Sullivan February 12, 2011 at 08:39 #


        the comment was easy to find. I remembered it clearly because at the time I thought, “I would never want my kid to read such a statement written by me”. Not a lot of comments with the term “baseball bat” on this blog, and there is a nice search function I can use.

        My statement was sincere. If there comes a time that you feel like some of your comments would be better off deleted, I’ll be happy to do so.

        Believe me, I don’t plan on getting into a discussion of disability, difference, difference+disability, etc. with you. Your baseball bat retort to whoever brought it up last time was a pretty clear signal that you don’t want to have that discussion.

        By the way, when you left last time you hadn’t responded to a couple of questions about your court action. You seemed to be claiming that an offer was made in your case or that it was dismissed, but that you had decided to stay in the program. Could you clarify that?

  14. bensmyson February 12, 2011 at 06:07 #

    “a person exposed to radiation, assuming it is a lot of radiation, is a person with radiation sickness.”

    See how that clears it up so easily, but for some reason I thought that the person might be called radioactive. Funny how easily it is to confuse things. You know what they say, a little bit of knowledge is bad, or something like that.

    And OMG Sully, how great you found this:

    “A guy walks up behind your son when he is a year old, swings a baseball bat and strikes your son square on the head, meant to do it or not makes no difference, your son falls to the ground, loses his ability to speak, he stops making eye contact, from that moment on he is brain injured, I mean different. Yeah that’s not the end of the world, your world at least.”

    This is exactly what it’s like, BAM! and everything changes and not for the better as a small minority in the ND crowd would encourage me to believe.

    And oh gee, please let’s dont get into the whole “disability as a difference” thing again.

  15. sharon February 12, 2011 at 07:45 #

    @bensmyson I assume your decision not to tell your son he has Autism is the result of an ideological perspective. A perspective that appears to allow you to determine what information your son can and cannot have access to. While he is young this is your prerogative I suppose, but I wonder if you are prepared for the day he can, as Sullivan points out above, find a world of information and opinion on the internet? I’m curious to know how open you will be to discuss Autism with him then?

  16. brian February 12, 2011 at 10:26 #

    bensmyson, faith is belief without evidence, whereas antivaccine activists practice belief in opposition to evidence.

  17. bensmyson February 12, 2011 at 14:10 #

    Sharon, when my son is old enough, or developmentally able to figure things out for himself I will be honest with him.

    Sullivan, I’d prefer everything I comment on be deleted, it’s all part of a conversation and words shouldn’t linger in the air to be pulled a year later in order to be taken out of context and used in an argument. My wife is pretty good at that but at least I can deny I said it 🙂 I feel pretty okay with the baseball bat thing, not so sure about anything else I might have said. Yeah hit delete.

    Also the offer was for us to move towards a settlement and we chose not to move in that direction. We were the ones, the Petitioner moved to continue. The “settlement” would have been worked out outside the Special Master, between Respondent and Petitioner and presented to the Special Master later, but it’s a specific avenue away from the regular chain of events. That’s how I understand it. A fast tracking you might say. Anyway we rejected it, it never effected what was already going on.

    brian – Im not sure I know what you mean or if it is even directed at me. There is plenty of evidence that vaccines can cause brain injury, how does the knowledge and experience of that make me “anti-vaccine?”

  18. bensmyson February 12, 2011 at 14:21 #

    Sharon – a follow up. When Ben was first diagnosed with autism I knew very little about it. I asked the doctor if Ben would know his limitations, would know his “differences” I used an example I was familiar with in my own memory and history. On the playground a group of kids are picking sides, teams, groups to play football, basketball, tag, army, red rover whatever and Ben would be the last to be picked, I asked, would he know it, would he know he is last and why and I was told no. This was a relief to me because I thought the embarrassment, the humiliation would be cruel. I can remember as a kid making fun of the less attractive, the less athletic, the less gifted and only as an adult realized how hard it must have been on some of those kids to not be popular, wanted, accepted. Those words, “he will not notice” were followed by “most likely he will never even know there is a game going on or hold much interest in it, he will more than likely walk around the perimeter in his own little world.” At the time that comforted me.

    But now it breaks my heart, Id rather him feel embarrassed than to not feel anything at all. Yesterday on the playground my wife reported to me that Ben led a group of kids in a game of some sort. She said she has noticed recently that Ben has followers on the playground.

  19. Dedj February 12, 2011 at 17:24 #

    “Perhaps it might simply be, because he is being misinterpreted…”

    No, he very clearly threw in the middles with the enders, without a thought for the idea that the same tactic is equally valid if taken in the opposite direction.

    In other words, he chose to represent only one way of interpretating the results, when his own metric would have indicated that the opposite is actually larger.

  20. K_Dad February 12, 2011 at 22:51 #

    bensmyson: How come it’s OK for Kirby et al to call my son “toxic” and “broken” but not my wife? I mean, if it’s true and all … ‘cuz that’s her justification.

    She’s just parroting back to our son what she’s been told to believe about him. Why shouldn’t she say it?

  21. bensmyson February 13, 2011 at 00:32 #

    K_Dad – I suspect Mr. Kirby doesn’t know your son and I have no idea as to why your wife said what she did and in what context so I cant really answer. Like I said, poisoned may be a better word than “toxic.”

    Who knows, fortunately that’s an issue that you should take up with Mr. Kirby rather than me. I’ve only met the man a couple of times, it’s not like I have his cell phone number and can call him and ask him why he chose the word he did.

    Sorry your marriage isn’t working out, sounds like you have your work cut out for you with her. Have you tried smacking her around, yelling at her in front of your son, humiliating her in public? If I was you I would get an attorney to petition a court order for full custody so you can raise your son yourself. Best of luck.

    • Sullivan February 13, 2011 at 16:29 #

      Sorry your marriage isn’t working out, sounds like you have your work cut out for you with her. Have you tried smacking her around, yelling at her in front of your son, humiliating her in public? If I was you I would get an attorney to petition a court order for full custody so you can raise your son yourself. Best of luck.

      My guess is that you will claim that was some sort of joke.

      Bye bye, bensmyson.

  22. McD February 13, 2011 at 00:53 #

    I think it is quite reasonable to associate vaccines (and antibiotics) with an increase in autism – in the absence of statistically detectable causation (meaning any causation is lower than the 1:250000 rate that epidemiological studies can find for some other vaccine side-effects). Simply by preventing natural selection from ‘culling the herd’ through disease. Those with weaker immune responses or more (genetically) vulnerable to inflammatory responses or mitochondrial disorder (possibly triggered by a plethora of environmental factors) are no longer in the roughly 50% of children who would not survive to 5 years in the absence of modern medicines and vaccines.

    Vaccines and antibiotics are allowing our vulnerable children to survive. I (dx:AS) would not have survived childhood without antibiotics, and my autistic son would not have survived his first year due to continual severe ear infections requiring surgery and heaps of meds and a bout of pneumonia. Any of the vaccine-preventable illnesses on top of that would have finished him off, if the ear infection/fevers had not done so already. My AS son was prone to GI infections, and had severe asthma/hayfever/eczema to contend with. Both boys were hospitalized several times for treatment as infants/toddlers. Without modern medicine, there would indeed probably be 3 less ASD diagnoses in our family. And 3 less people too.

    So I would not be surprised to find a lower rate of autistic kids in areas absent vaccines and adequate medicine – they would be dead.

    So maybe increased rates of autism (and probably other disorders) really are a by product of modern medicine. But when looking at a 1% autism rate vs a 50% mortality rate, which would you prefer?

  23. bensmyson February 13, 2011 at 01:41 #

    “50% mortality rate”

    I’m sorry, what has a 50% mortality rate?

    “So I would not be surprised to find a lower rate of autistic kids in areas absent vaccines and adequate medicine – they would be dead.”

    Interesting theory. Never thought of that.

  24. Catherina February 13, 2011 at 12:46 #

    McD – that is an excellent point – in the past 30 years, infant mortality in my home country (Germany) has dropped by 80%, translating into over 1% of the birth cohort who are now surviving each year, whereas 30 years ago, they would have died before the age of 1.

  25. sharon February 13, 2011 at 13:18 #

    @McD your theory hangs on the assumption that ASD children are prone to illness and mortality moreso than non ASD children. I’m not aware of any research that shows this to be the case. Are you? If so I would be really interested to read it. My ASD child has the constitution of an ox. He certainly would not fit your description of a vulnerable child being kept alive by antibiotics and immunisations. Not any more than an NT child anyway.

  26. Brian Deer February 13, 2011 at 14:42 #

    This might be a good moment to post the BMJ’s response to the charlatan Wakefield’s various statements put round to those he looks to for his future income and lifestyle. Some people may not have seen this response.

    “Since we published the first of three articles by Brian Deer on the secrets of the MMR scare [1] and a linked editorial [2] on 5 January 2011, the BMJ has been the subject of an orchestrated campaign of emails. In response to questions raised in these emails, we make the following statement.

    “The BMJ stands by the article and the editorial. The article, which was subjected to peer review and editorial checking, was based on enquiries carried out over some seven years, involving, among other things, interviews with parents of children enrolled in Andrew Wakefield’s research. Four such parents are quoted in the article. As made clear in the article, the core data on which the findings were based were evidenced, except in the case of one child, by the transcript of a General Medical Council fitness to practise hearing which sat between July 2007 and May 2010.

    “In many of the emails we have been sent, it is suggested that Andrew Wakefield did not have access to GP records and therefore could not be responsible for discrepancies between those records and what was published in the Lancet in February 1998. The case we presented against Andrew Wakefield that the 1998 Lancet paper was intended to mislead is not critically reliant on GP records. It is primarily based on Royal Free hospital records, including histories taken by clinicians, and letters and other documents received at the Royal Free from GPs and consultants.

    “We draw attention to the finding of the fitness to practise panel, on which we are entitled to rely, that “the project reported in the Lancet paper was established with the purpose to investigate a postulated new syndrome and yet the Lancet paper did not describe this fact at all. Because you [Wakefield] drafted and wrote the final version of the paper, and omitted correct information about the purpose of the study or the patient population, the panel is satisfied that your conduct was irresponsible and dishonest.”

    “Contrary to other suggestions contained in the emails, we made no allegation of dishonesty against Andrew Wakefield’s co-authors, or indeed against anybody else. As the GMC panel heard, it was Andrew Wakefield who wrote the Lancet paper, using data which he anonymised, with little oversight by other authors. We confirm that under the uniform requirements for manuscripts submitted to biomedical journals all authors should be in a position to speak to data, but the evidence is that in this case they were not.

    “We are aware of recent claims made by Andrew Wakefield that “new documents have come to light” purportedly confirming his claims in the Lancet. The material he cites was presented to the GMC panel two and a half years ago. Andrew Wakefield was last year erased from the medical register and he has chosen not to appeal that decision. As indicated, the very many charges proven against him include dishonesty in his research.

    “We are unaware of any peer reviewed paper replicating Andrew Wakefield’s research or confirming his claims to have identified a new syndrome of regressive autism and inflammatory bowel disease associated with MMR vaccination. With respect to gastrointestinal issues, we draw attention to an authoritative consensus statement published last year by experienced specialists in this field [3] and particularly to statement 4: “The existence of a gastrointestinal disturbance specific to persons with ASDs (eg ‘autistic enterocolitis’) has not been established.”

    “Fiona Godlee, Editor in Chief, BMJ

    1. Deer B. How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed. BMJ 2011; 342:c5347 doi: 10.1136/bmj.c5347
    2. Godlee F, Smith J, Marcovitch H. Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent. BMJ 342:doi:10.1136/bmj.c7452
    3. Buie P, Campbell DB, Fuchs GJ, et al. Evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of gastrointestinal disorders in individuals with ASDs: a consensus statement. Pediatrics 2010;125;S1-S18.”

  27. bensmyson February 13, 2011 at 16:58 #

    It’s not a joke, I was making a general point, it’s an unfortunate reality, many men use violence to control their ex-wives post divorce, be it religion, jealousy, what school little Johnny attends, how Jenny should or shouldn’t dress, they fight in front of the kids and in my experience working with these people they harm their children by introducing them into such an environment filled with violent rage when the solution is spending money on a good attorney so that a judge will grant custody, full custody. I have friends that bitch and moan constantly about what an ex does or doesnt do and yet they allowed joint custody in order to have some weekends off. It’s pot calling kettle black in a way. Kdad upset what his wife says in front of his son is something I respect. Why not see a judge about it?

    See ya, had fun playing!

    • Sullivan February 13, 2011 at 18:19 #

      bensmyson–you got your last comment through. It’s really telling.

      K_Dad, sorry for this. You don’t deserve this sort of crap. bensmyson was banned previously for trolling. He made a comment on AoA about how he likes to come over here (and elsewhere) and act like a troll.

  28. K_Dad February 13, 2011 at 18:12 #

    I was simply trying to show how the hateful “our kids are broken and poisoned” rhetoric has actual, real-world consequences. Because of what she reads from folks like Kirby (and he’s certainly not the only offender), she’s come to think of our son in a very unfortunate way.

    The way we speak about our kids–and the things we read about them–will influence the way we treat them.

    Of course I don’t smack my wife around, bensmyson. What’s wrong with you? That was a pretty nasty thing to say.

  29. Science Mom February 13, 2011 at 18:37 #

    See ya, had fun playing!

    Playing?! Suggesting a man in pain perpetrate violence against his wife is playing? You’re an ass BMS; a vile, deranged, lying ass.

    @ K-Dad, Again, I’m so sorry for what you are dealing with and hope that you can persuade your wife to back away from the internet and get into therapy.

  30. AWOL February 13, 2011 at 18:42 #

    Sullivan and Mom of no science portraying
    the self-serving, hypocritical moral crusaders, or leaders of the hurt Autism Community, many will believe you but keep your jokes in house p-l-e-a-s-e

  31. Julian Frost February 13, 2011 at 19:51 #

    Sullivan, I think there’s another troll that could do with banning.

  32. Chris February 13, 2011 at 20:02 #

    I don’t know, Julian. It is kind of fascinating, like seeing a train wreck.

  33. McD February 14, 2011 at 06:03 #

    @bensmyson (if you are still following this)

    The 50% rate stuck in my head after reading Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s book Mother Nature, but I don’t have the book with me at the moment, so I can’t check her sources. Note that that was an estimated childhood survival rate (birth-age 5) in the absence of modern medicine – not the mortality rate from one particular disease as suggested above.

    Annoyingly, I cannot pin down many evidence-based estimates of childhood (birth – age 5) mortality online, but a number of infant mortality estimates are online. Here is the Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society page on infant mortality (birth – age 1) that gives an estimated figure of 30-40% traditional (pre-medical science) infant mortality (remember the 50% figure was for children to age 5):
    There are heaps of supporting figures and refs in the entry if anyone is interested.

    Next up, some actual evidence based figures on child mortality from Razzell and Spence, 2007, The History of Infant, Child and Adult Mortality in London, 1550–1850, The London Journal, Vol. 32, No. 3, 271–292:

    (from the abstract)“The paper uses a range of sources — parish registers, family histories, bills of mortality, local censuses, marriage licences, apprenticeship indentures, and wills — to document the history of mortality of London in the period 1538–1850. The main conclusions of the research are as follows:
    1. Infant and child mortality more than doubled between the sixteenth and the middle of the eighteenth century in both wealthy and non-wealthy families.
    2. Mortality peaked in the middle of the eighteenth century at a very high level, with nearly two-thirds of all children — rich and poor — dying by their fifth birthday.
    3. Mortality under the age of two fell sharply after the middle of the eighteenth century, and older child mortality decreased mainly during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. By the second quarter of the nineteenth century about 30 per cent of all children had died within the first five years. This latter fall in mortality appears to have occurred equally amongst both the wealthy and the non-wealthy population.”

    From the paper itself: “We will argue in this paper that mortality was not primarily shaped by wealth and poverty, but mainly by exogenous disease patterns largely independent of economic factors.”

    The discussion section of the paper goes into some detail on diseases and their impact on mortality. The paper abstract is here:

    I have the PDF through my library, and have read the whole thing which reinforces my horror at what mothers had to go through in those days – almost all of them lost at least one child, many lost several. I saw this first-hand when I worked in Bougainville and East Timor before I had my kids.

    Then there are some slightly nicer figures from the US 1900 census noted in book form here:

    By 1900 (note this is after the introduction of some inoculations, and modern medical techniques) only 20% of children were dying by their 5th birthday in the US at least.

    Another table and discussion of infant mortality in the US is here:

    This starts at 1850 with a white infant mortality rate of 21.7% and a black rate of 34%, again, this period is after the introduction of some modern medical techniques (and is the infant, not child figure).

    Without actually having Hrdy’s book on hand, I hope that the above indicates her estimate of a 50% childhood mortality rate, in the absence of modern medicine/vaccines, is not unreasonable.

    From a range of sources (mostly western European) I have just looked at while trying to track down Hrdy’s figure, I would be comfortable in claiming a western childhood mortality rate of 20-30% in the early years of modern medicine, which is about the time people started keeping a reasonable count – noting also that unbaptised infants tended not to enter the record in western countries, so the neonatal death rate is almost certainly going to be underestimated (e.g. Razzle and Spence above used baptismal records).

    I will address Sharon’s comment in a separate posting (which may be delayed, I have not finished compiling it, and the behaviour therapist is about to leave).

  34. McD February 15, 2011 at 00:22 #

    Re: my suggestion that changing selection pressures may underlie a possible increase in ASD in recent years (vaccine + modern medicine = increased survival of ASD prone kids = possible increase in ASD rate).
    Sharon has suggested I portrayed kids with ASD as fragile little flowers. I apologize if that is the way it came over. My boys are now quite robust and rambunctious as well. However, they were – as infants – vulnerable to illnesses that are these days considered harmless diseases of childhood, but which were killers in past generations. Since there are a number of contributing factors to autism, and probably different types of autism, obviously no blanket statements can be made about ALL kids.

    There are a number of credible reports of children with ASD being more prone to various childhood illnesses, particularly ear infections, infectious diseases, and allergic-type disorders (some refs below), I am not claiming a strong association between any particular disease though I think the problems my kids had were pretty typical. Studies into GI disorders and measles are tricky since Waker’s dodgy research – parents of ASD kids are likely to be hypervigilant concerning GI disorders/measles, so I won’t bother with refs in this area – that is for some boffin doing a review to look at, but I would not be surprised to find that there is a real association.

    Next I am absolutely not making the claim that any of these childhood illnesses CAUSE autism, or even that potential causes of these illnesses also cause autism; merely that for whatever reason kids with ASD may be more vulnerable to them – thus placing those kids more at risk in an environment absent modern medicine/vaccines. My suggestion is only that before the advent of modern medicines/vaccines, a greater number of kids presently contributing to the ASD statistic would have been contributing to the childhood mortality statistic than their NT peers. This is the differential selection I am talking about – selection pressures on children are now vastly different than they were even in 1900 (see my post on mortality above) when 20% never made it to 5 years.

    Even if ASD is only genetic (it isn’t, there are at least some known prenatal teratogens), an increase in incidence without a shift in the genetic makeup of the population is possible if differential selection is considered. In discussions of an increase in a genetic disorder, only genetic distribution has been addressed as far as I can see (e.g. there has not been sufficient time for a population-wide increase in ‘autism genes’), I have never seen a discussion of differential selection in relation to ASD. Lower mortality at the other end of the life span has brought about an ‘epidemic’ of Alzheimer’s which can be almost totally explained by differential selection in the absence of changing gene frequencies – people are now living long enough to get Alzheimer’s. What I am suggesting is that claims of an ‘autism epidemic’ need to consider differential selection, along with expanding diagnostic criteria and the other usual suspects. I suspect that medical science and reduced mortality is revealing (not causing) disorders like Alzheimer’s and ASD.

    Refs on kids with ASD being prone to assorted childhood illnesses (excluding measles and GI stuff):

    Association of hospitalization for infection in childhood with diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders: a Danish cohort study. Atladóttir HO, Thorsen P, Schendel DE, Østergaard L, Lemcke S, Parner ET. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2010 May;164(5):470-7.

    This first one is worth looking at in some detail, so I will copy the abstract here as well:
    OBJECTIVE: To investigate the association between hospitalization for infection in the perinatal/neonatal period or childhood and the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).
    DESIGN: A population-based cohort study.
    SETTING: Denmark.
    PARTICIPANTS: All children born in Denmark from January 1, 1980, through December 31, 2002, comprising a total of 1 418 152 children.
    EXPOSURE: Infection requiring hospitalization.
    MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE: The adjusted hazard ratio (HR) for ASDs among children hospitalized for infection compared with other children.
    RESULTS: A total of 7379 children were diagnosed as having ASDs. Children admitted to the hospital for any infectious disease displayed an increased rate of ASD diagnoses (HR, 1.38 [95% confidence interval, 1.31-1.45]). This association was found to be similar for infectious diseases of bacterial and viral origin. Furthermore, children admitted to the hospital for noninfectious disease also displayed an increased rate of ASD diagnoses (HR, 1.76 [95% confidence interval, 1.68-1.86]), and admissions for infection increased the rate of mental retardation (2.18 [2.06-2.31]).
    CONCLUSIONS: The association between hospitalization for infection and ASDs observed in this study does not suggest causality because a general association is observed across different infection groups. Also, the association is not specific for infection or for ASDs. We discuss a number of noncausal explanatory models.
    Early medical history of children with autism spectrum disorders. Niehus R, Lord C. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2006 Apr;27(2 Suppl):S120-7.
    This study was smaller (75 ASD, 24 NT kids), and looked at (and debunked) GI problems as a cause of autism. GI issues were not a significant issue on their own but “Children with ASD were found to have significantly more ear infections than the typically developing children as well as to use significantly more antibiotics.”

    Autism associated with conditions characterized by developmental errors in early embryogenesis: a mini review. Miller MT, Strömland K, Ventura L, Johansson M, Bandim JM, Gillberg C. Int J Dev Neurosci. 2005 Apr-May;23(2-3):201-19.

    This study looked at teratogen-caused autism. A key finding: “These studies suggest that early embryonic development errors often involving cranial nerve palsies, internal and external ear malformations, ophthalmologic anomalies, and a variety of systemic malformations may be associated with autism spectrum disorders statistically more frequently than expected in a normal population.”
    My point here is that some of these anomalies may be related to vulnerability e.g. inner ear malformation is associated with glue ear and otitis media. When my surgeon looked at the MRI of my sinuses before surgery, he told me the drainage holes were in the ‘wrong place’ which allowed mucus to pool and contributed to my recurring sinusitis – my autistic son later required the same surgery (along with grommets in his ear drums). No need to suggest an impaired immune system or delicate constitution – the vulnerability for both of us was simply structural.

    Immune allergic response in Asperger syndrome. Magalhães ES, Pinto-Mariz F, Bastos-Pinto S, Pontes AT, Prado EA, deAzevedo LC. J Neuroimmunol. 2009 Nov 30;216(1-2):108-12. Epub 2009 Oct 17.

    “Clinical findings, including atopic family history, serum IgE levels as well as cutaneous tests showed that incidence of atopy was higher in the Asperger group compared to the healthy controls.”

    Associations between indoor environmental factors and parental-reported autistic spectrum disorders in children 6-8 years of age. Larsson M, Weiss B, Janson S, Sundell J, Bornehag CG. Neurotoxicology. 2009 Sep;30(5):822-31. Epub 2009 Feb 10.

    Among other interesting findings: “airway symptoms of wheezing and physician-diagnosed asthma in the baseline investigation (2000) were associated with ASD 5 years later.”

    Infection in the first 2 years of life and autism spectrum disorders. Rosen, N. J. Yoshida, C. K. Croen, L. A. Pediatrics. 119(1):e61-9, 2007 Jan.

    This study shows that not all studies concur, which is why a good review of the issue is needed – this was a much smaller study that the recent Danish cohort study, and was geographically limited. “Children with subsequent diagnoses of autism do not have more overall infections in the first 2 years of life than children without autism. Data suggest that children with autism may have modestly elevated rates of infection in the first 30 days and that, during the first 2 years, children with autism may be at higher risk for certain types of infections and lower risk for others.”

    Perinatal complications as predictors of infantile autism. Wilkerson DS, Volpe AG, Dean RS, Titus JB. Int J Neurosci. 2002 Sep;112(9):1085-98.

    Vulnerability may be pre-natal as well as post-natal, as there is a relationship between pregnancy complications and post-natal wellbeing: “5 items were found to significantly predict [autism] group membership (prescriptions taken during pregnancy, length of labor, viral infection, abnormal presentation at delivery, and low birth weight). Finally, 3 maternal medical conditions were found to be highly significant and contribute to the separation between groups, including urinary infection, high temperatures, and depression.”

    Prenatal, perinatal, and neonatal factors in autism, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified, and the general population. Juul-Dam N, Townsend J, Courchesne E. Pediatrics. 2001 Apr;107(4):E63.

    “The results of this study support previous findings suggesting a consistent association of unfavorable events in pregnancy, delivery, and the neonatal phase and the pervasive developmental disorders. However, interpretation of the meaningfulness of these results is difficult, as the specific complications that carried the highest risk of autism and PDD-NOS represented various forms of pathologic processes with no presently apparent unifying feature.”

  35. sharon February 15, 2011 at 01:06 #

    Thanks for that info McD. Much food for thought. The above certainly poses more questions than answers for me. For example the 5 pre natal risk factors do not relate to my pregnancy and delivery. I do take the point however that if an in utero ‘insult’ explains at least some ASD cases, that this same incident would affect other organs in their development at the same time the neurological process was ‘disrupted’ (for want of a better word.)
    You may, or may not, be interested to know my husband and I recently took the Baron-Cohen AQ test, I scored 25 and he 30. If the test is to be considered reasonably accurate, this seemed to me at least to indicate some genetic influence in my sons case.

  36. McD February 15, 2011 at 05:22 #

    I think there are lots of ‘autisms’ and most probably require some genetic input, judging from the assorted twin studies. My pregnancy with my second son was a nightmare, compared to the first. He has managed to collect quite a few ‘risk factors’. I sometimes wonder whether he would have been AS like the rest of us, but something, or a collection of things triggered fullblown autism. My family has very strong AS traits going back four generations – rocking was considered so normal that our car would bounce along the road as my cousins and I rocked in unison in the back seat. It took a solid autism diagnosis before we took stock and realised what we thought was normal behaviour (in several areas) was actually considered quite odd.

    My bappy husband did the AQ as well – he answered so defensively that he scored lower than an NT female (14 IIRC). I had to laugh.

  37. sharon February 15, 2011 at 05:31 #

    Yes McD, I too suspect we are looking at multiple causes and ‘Autisms’. I recently blogged about this. The spectrum variation seems too broad to me to suggest otherwise. In your case there again seems to be a genetic vulnerability at the least, leaving your very NT hubby aside of course 🙂 Adding to the idea of a genes and environment interplay.

  38. McD February 18, 2011 at 06:38 #

    Thanks Brian (and Sullivan) for the BMJ response. I hadn’t seen it before.

    I suspect some regulars are pretending not to have seen it. Either that or they are waiting for Handley to tell them what to think about it.

  39. John Fryer Chemist February 20, 2011 at 15:09 #

    Hi McD

    Thanks for that ref to the Alzheimers report.

    4 million with the illness in 1999 and we all know it hasn’t began to stop yet.

    Brain destroying compounds must be responsible and again mercury from dental fillings, vaccines and of course chucking the stuff into our rivers and seas plus the new novelty of burning everyone so that every last molecule gets around to all those still surviving.

    And of course chemical agriculture doesn’t help.

    Only this week on French TV was a bit about grain treatment and how it is done. The grain gets into the silo in a relatively good shape and while there they add a thousand times the amount farmers use for what reason? Pirimiphos methyl is an organophosphate and is enough to make cows mad and from the figures in the CDC report quite likely to do the same to humans.

    It all gets rather depressing to think people can be so STUPID to do this and so STUPID to accept it.

    For example what do you need to stop that 1 000 fold addition of a brain destroying OP to wheat in the silo? You just need to get the temperature of the silo down to less than 10 degrees.

    I think I have at least 4 such contraptions in my house but evidently 4 million AD is cheaper than one cool silo at the coop farms.


    And the illness is not UNRELATED to autism.

    We now have the capability while old to get our revenge on the next generation.

    It really is a MAD MAD MAD World.

  40. John Fryer Chemist February 20, 2011 at 15:35 #

    To Brian

    “In many of the emails we have been sent, it is suggested that Andrew Wakefield did not have access to GP records and therefore could not be responsible for discrepancies between those records and what was published in the Lancet in February 1998.

    It is standard in research papers to use a CONSISTENT approach to diagnosis of illness. How can you write a scientific paper when EVERY local doctor uses his own DIFFERENT knowledge base to describe autism?

    There is no single person or clinical description that can accurately describe and diagnose autism to any degree of accuracy. Not even Andrew Wakefield and certainly no journalist.

    For ten years debate has raged about whether autism is rising or is the result of better diagnosis. World autism experts are in total disagreement.

    I am not certain that there is or was anyone at the Royal Free with any expertise on autism but there was expertise on bowel problems.

    Whether these famous 12 had autism or not is unknown to anyone and the paper must be interpreted in the light of 1998 knowledge of autism which sadly was just plain chaos and sadly rests so in 2011 with still no clue to causation that is accepted by all.

    I find your diagnosis that you know better than the Royal Free Hospital and Andrew on this matter amazing.

    The paper is or was minor and quickly dropped out of line of sight. Well in 4 years or so.

    Your critical campaign only brings it back into public view and for me it is high time as people keep saying here to take this historic and old paper and bring it up to date by rewriting it using the same patients and our hard earned knowledge of the past 12 years.

    Just to add my conflict of interest as a chemist I too think that brain destroying mercury known to affect boys more than girls and known to have a delayed action is the prime suspect in causing autism and many other illnesses and deaths.

    After receiving several vaccines in the first year of life, those that survive are surely immune to a non toxic MMR vaccine at 15 months or older.

    On your conflict of interest I note that you assume the role that is commonly employed in courts of law where every last detail of a persons life is examined while treating the home side to complete reverence.

    When a blogger gets mentioned in court as a world expert on autism and its cause and that cause is unknown I know the pack of cards we use are marked.

    As a 7 year old told me there is no such thing as magic and the unequal treatment of autism specialists tells any honest person that there is a conspiracy.

    Thimerosal vaccines were found 200 fold toxic 40 years ago and no amount of trickery or substitution of safe vaccines given at older age can cover up the harm done and still being done to children.

    Andrew is a known supported of the safest vaccine protection ever known for measles that of the UK single vaccine at 15 months but we dont hear that very often in this Witch Hunt.

  41. Julian Frost February 20, 2011 at 20:47 #

    @ John Fryer:

    Whether these famous 12 had autism or not is unknown to anyone…

    Strange, then, that Wakefield claimed to have found a new disorder, namely “autistic enterocolitis. Strange, too, that the children in his study were referred from a class action lawsuit alleging that the MMR caused Autism.

    The paper is or was minor and quickly dropped out of line of sight. Well in 4 years or so.

    Then why did rates of vaccination fall?

    I too think that brain destroying mercury known to affect boys more than girls and known to have a delayed action is the prime suspect in causing autism and many other illnesses and deaths.

    In the OAP cases before the Vaccine Court, an expert in both autism and Mercury poisoning showed that the two were fundamentally different.

    When a blogger gets mentioned in court as a world expert on autism and its cause and that cause is unknown I know the pack of cards we use are marked.

    Who is this blogger? Also, what is your proof that this person had no qualifications apart from being a blogger?

    Thimerosal vaccines were found 200 fold toxic 40 years ago…

    Cite, please.
    You have produced no evidence to support your claims. Until you do, to quote a commenter on another thread, we will assume that you are simply making it up.


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