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Mark Blaxill on the Geiers: they do sloppy work

13 Oct

Mark Geier and, more recently, his son David have been active promoting autism as vaccine injury for over 10 years (Mark Geier has been active as an expert in, and been criticized for his lack of quality work, the vaccine court on non-autism issues for about 20 years). They have written multiple papers, ranging from bad to worse, attempting to argue the case that vaccines (and especially thimerosal) are a primary cause of autism.

There are multiple discussions over the years of the Geiers here on Left Brain/Right Brain, Respectful Insolence as well as many other places. The best work was done by Kathleen Seidel at Neurodiversity.com, but due to a server crash much of that content is not readily available. (although it is worth searching for the cached versions or the versions on the Wayback Machine).

The work of the Geiers is so poor that it has always been a wonder to me that no criticism has come from anyone promoting the idea that vaccines caused an epidemic of autism. It isn’t that those promoting the vaccine-epidemic idea are not bright, leaving me wondering if they are too biased by their beliefs or just unwilling to speak publicly against an ally. But, recall, these are the same people who closed ranks around Andrew Wakefield in the face of clear and proved ethical violations.

If we are to believe Jake Crosby, former writer for the Age of Autism blog, it appears that the tacit approval of the Geiers has, at least in part, been a case of “circle the wagons”. I.e. people defending an ally over speak their opinions. Mr. Crosby has blaxillwilliams and quotes more emails where Mark Blaxill (former board member of SafeMinds and a long-time proponent of the idea that mercury in vaccines are a primary cause of autism) expresses his views about the Geiers to Mike Williams (attorney involved representing the families in the Omnibus Autism Proceeding).

In an email image on Mr. Crosby’s blog, Mr. Blaxill is reported to have stated:

In the interest of full disclosure. I thought you might like to see my critique of the Geiers’ latest work on VSD. I have not been a big fan of the Geiers. I worry they do not represent our side well. They do sloppy work.

In another email (quoted by Mr. Crosby, the link to the original is nonfunctioning) quotes Mr. Blaxill as stating:

“As to the Geiers, I may be a bit of a minority voice here, but I worry very much that they can do our cause more harm than good. They are not very good scientists, write bad papers (both writing badly and reporting in sloppy fashion) and attract too much attention to themselves as individuals. In this last regard, they don’t show nearly as well as Andy Wakefield but they’re trying to play the same role. Frankly, if I were on the other side and were asked to critique their work, I could rip it to shreds. I’m surprised they haven’t been hit harder. So I think you are wise to diversify.”

Mr. Crosby’s stance is that this constitutes “interference” in the Omnibus Autism Proceeding. I.e. Mr. Crosby seems to imply that the Geiers are not sloppy scientists whose work is poor, but that the Geiers should have been allowed a more active role in the Omnibus.

In this case I find myself agreeing, in part at least, with Mr. Blaxill. The work by the Geiers is poor. Where I don’t agree is Mr. Blaxill’s decision to hold back on making those statement public. Not just because it’s hard to take the stance that one is a only “…interested in the quest for the truth” when one holds back on key information like an entire critique of the Geiers’ VSD paper. No. It goes deeper than that. The Geiers’ junk science went beyond promotion of the idea that thimerosal is a primary cause of autism. The Geiers ran a clinic for many years. Mark Geier was a licensed physician, David Geier worked in the clinic (and has been accused of practicing medicine without a license). Through their papers and their talks at autism parent conventions like AutismOne, the Geiers became well known. One of the “brand name” autism clinics. They reached this level of respect within their community because no one within that community dared to speak out.

I’ve noted on Left Brain/Right Brain many times before that these parent conventions differ markedly from real science conferences in that no one ever seriously challenges the speakers. They can present almost any theory or idea, especially if they tie it to autism as vaccine injury, without anyone standing up and saying, “that makes zero sense”. These aren’t science presentations, they are advertisements. It would be interesting to see how many of these conventions Mr. Blaxill attended and yet remained silent on the “sloppy” work that could be “ripp[ed] to shreds” that the Geiers presented. Instead, parents were presented a view that the Geiers were good scientists who suffered unjust criticism for their “brave” stance on vaccines.

The Geiers were promoters of chelation as a treatment for autism. Not only does chelation have no scientific basis to be an autism treatment, a study just out this week using rodents states that chelation could be harmful if there is no real heavy metal toxicity:

Finally, we also found that succimer treatment produced lasting adverse neurobehavioral effects when administered to non-lead-exposed rodents, highlighting the potential risks of administering succimer or other metal-chelating agents to children who do not have elevated tissue lead levels. It is of significant concern that this type of therapy has been advocated for treating autism.

It is highly likely that Mr. Blaxill would disagree with the statement that chelation has no good scientific basis as a treatment for autism. He’d be wrong, but that’s been covered over and over before. The Geiers moved on from standard chelation to stranger, more dangerous therapies. As an aside, if chelation was a successful treatment one has to wonder why the Geiers were prompted to move on to using Lupron as an autism treatment. Lupron is very serious medicine and it shuts down sex hormone production in the body. Why Lupron, one might ask? The Geiers convinced themselves (or convinced themselves that they could pass off this explanation) that mercury bound itself to testosterone in the brain, making it hard to chelate. They cited a paper showing that if one heats testosterone and mercury salts in benzene, one could form these mercury/testosterone complexes. They actually claim (yes, they tried to patent this idea to make money off it) that this paper shows that “It is known in the art that mercuric chloride binds arid forms a complex with testosterone in subjects”. The “subjects” are beakers of benzene, not animals and not people. Add to that the lack of an explanation of how shutting down hormone production would break up these complexes. The Geier “science” supporting Lupron would be laughably bad if it wasn’t used to subject disabled children to Lupron injections.

Lupron clearly has no basis as an autism therapy. In fact, the “lupron protocol” played a major part in Mark Geier losing his medical licenses. One has to ask, how did the get such traction for such an obviously bad idea? For one thing, the Geiers were considered respected scientists in the vaccine injury/alternative medicine autism community due to their previous and ongoing work trying to link thimerosal and autism. Work which Mark Blaxill considered “sloppy” and worthy of being ripped to shreds. But instead of sharing his views on the Geier papers with the public, Mr. Blaxill shared them privately within his own circle.

It’s worth noting that the email quoted above was written before the “Lupron Protocol” was developed. We don’t know if Mr. Blaxill was alarmed by the emergence of the “Lupron Protocol”. I can’t find where he spoke out against it. We can see that his blog (under a different writer) promoted the idea as “MERCURY, TESTOSTERONE AND AUTISM – A REALLY BIG IDEA!“. Mr. Blaxill doesn’t seem to have commented there. For all the papers the Geiers have published, Mr. Blaxill only mentions them once in his book “Age of Autism. But as we’ve seen, tacit approval (silence) may not be the same thing as real approval.

Mr. Blaxill had the courage to testify before a congressional hearing last year. A hearing where the politicians had been lobbied in advance to be favorable to his cause. When it came to disagreeing with one of his allies, that courage was lacking. He allowed “sloppy” science from an ally to go unchallenged. An example of the fallout of such a decision, in my opinion had he stood up he could have slowed or even stopped the “Lupron Protocol”, a therapy which in my opinion amounts to the abusive treatment of disabled children in an uncontrolled and unapproved experiment.


By Matt Carey

No, the thimerosal in the flu vaccine does not explain why autism rates did not go down

6 Oct

Surprisingly enough, there are still people promoting the idea that the rise in autism diagnoses observed over the last decades was caused by thimerosal in vaccines. The original argument was this–vaccines were added to the vaccine schedule in the 1990’s and with them the infant exposure to thimerosal increased. Concurrent with this rise in infant thimerosal exposure was a rise in autism diagnoses. Add to this a poorly concocted argument that autism resembles mercury intoxication and you have the basis for the mercury hypothesis.

Thimerosal was phased out of infant vaccines over 10 years ago. Thus, if the thimerosal hypothesis were true, reported autism rates should be declining by now. As far back as 2005 David Kirby (whose book “Evidence of Harm” played a major role in promoting the mercury hypothesis) acknowledged this point in a statement

If the total number of 3-5 year olds in the California DDS system has not declined by 2007, that would deal a severe blow to the autism-thimerosal hypothesis.

It’s 2013. Autism rates in California have not declined. Not in Special Education. Not in the CDDS roles. And, yes, we are six years past the 2007 deadline that David Kirby gave us.

To be specific, let’s use the same method that David Kirby and others used to claim a thimerosal induced autism epidemic in the 1990’s (namely the California DDS client count–which not a good method, by the way). Autism “rates” have gone up by over 150% since thimerosal was phased out of infant vaccines. The age 3-5 bracket had about 4000 children in 2003 and is currently over 10,000.

CDDS 3-5

So we have more kids in California receiving services under the autism label than when thimerosal was in vaccines.

This is but one in a huge list of reasons why the thimerosal hypothesis doesn’t work.

But let’s go back in time a bit. Not so long ago one would hear proposals that we go back to the vaccine schedule of the early 1980’s when, it is claimed, the autism rate was 1 in 10,000. Fewer vaccines, less thimerosal, less autism. So goes the logic.

Generation Rescue, in fact, used to recommend the 1983 schedule as one of their alternative schedules

Turn back the clock
Comment: This is the schedule from 1983. If it worked for kids then, why doesn’t it work for kids now?”

Does it make sense to go back to the 1983 schedule? No. Why? OK a lot of reasons, but let’s focus on the fact that infants were exposed to more thimerosal in the 1980’s than today. Infant vaccines have no or only trace amounts of thimerosal.  So if thimerosal were the (or even a single) primary cause of autism risk, we would see autism rates lower today. To not only 1990’s levels, but to something like 1980’s reported levels. Assuming that the reported rates in the 1980’s were an accurate count of how many autistics there were then (a bad assumption but it’s the one they use).

To recap–Infant thimerosal exposure from vaccines peaked at nearly 200 micrograms in the 1990’s, up from about 100 micrograms in the 1980’s and is now less than 10 micrograms. And autism rates have not declined at all. Much less to 1980’s levels.

Once anyone says this the instant answer is that there is still thimerosal in some influenza vaccines. This, they say, is why autism rates have not declined. (note that thimerosal containing vaccines, including influenza vaccines, are banned in California for infants and pregnant women…and autism “rates” have continued to climb here).  

For completeness sake, let’s consider a kid who gets the maximum exposure to thimerosal from vaccines. I.e. a non California kid.  A kid who turns 6 months (the earliest age they will give a flu vaccine to a kid) during the flu season.  That kid will get 2 vaccines in the first year (6 and 7 months) then another influenza vaccine each year thereafter. Each with 25 micrograms of mercury from thimerosal. How does the thimerosal exposure compare to the 1983 schedule?  Take a look for yourself (exposures in micrograms of mercury from thimerosal):

1983 schedule 2013 schedule
DPT Inluenza
2 months 25
4 months 25
6 months 25 25
7 months 25
Total by 1 year 75 50
18 months 25 25
Total by 2 years 100 75
30 Months 25
Total by 3 years 100 100

So by age 3, the exposures are the same.  Except that the kid of today gets the thimerosal later and more spread out over time.  As an aside–most people who talk about the rise in thimerosal exposure during the 1990’s neglect to point out that the cumulative exposure in the 1980’s was already 100 micrograms. I.e. the “safe” level was significant.

If thimerosal were the driving force behind the rise in autism diagnoses, we should be back to 1983 levels, misrepresented by those claiming an epidemic as 1 in 10,000.  Instead we are at 1-2%.  The “rates” didn’t go down.

By this point the proponents of thimerosal are basically screaming, “you are forgetting the vaccines recommended to pregnant women!” No, I just put that off until now.  Sure, the influenza vaccine is recommended for pregnant women, but as the CDC notes:

Prior to 2009, influenza vaccination levels among pregnant women were generally low (~15%) (5,9).

So, from about 2000 to 2009 there wasn’t a big increase (or even a large part of the population) getting influenza vaccines while pregnant, nor were their children getting exposures higher than those in the 1983 schedule.

Take a look at that graph for California administrative autism prevalence again. Between 2002 (after the drawdown of thimerosal in vaccines) and 2012 the autism count doubled. Thimerosal exposure was down. A lot. Below 1990’s “epidemic” levels. Back to the 1983 “worked for kids then” levels. But autism “rates” continue to climb.

The people still pushing the idea that thimerosal is a (or even the) primary cause of autism are not unintelligent. We are talking about college educated people. Ivy league schools. A former journalist, an intellectual property expert and more. There is no math above. It’s all quite simple and straightforward. It uses the exact same logic and methodology they used to promote the idea that mercury causes autism. This is where intellectual honesty and basic integrity should kick in and get people to suck it up, admit their mistakes and start repairing the harm they have caused.

I’m not holding my breath.

By Matt Carey

Is there a split in the autism-vaccine groups?

1 Mar

For people who watch the public discussion of autism and vaccines, organizations like Generation Rescue, SafeMinds, the National Autism Association and TACA (and others) come to mind. One less public organization is Focus Autism. Focus Autism is a private foundation. In other words, they don’t accept donations from people outside the foundation. Here are tax forms submitted by Focus Autism in 2010 and 2011:

2010 tax form 990
2011 tax form 990

In 2011, Focus Autism pulled in $1.7M, which makes it as big or bigger than most of the other groups named above. If you peruse their website, it is clear that they have promote the vaccine-epidemic idea. Their “about” statement is:

FOCUS AUTISM is dedicated to finding answers about autism causation, no matter how inconvenient it might be. We believe in accountability, transparency and above all, a sense of urgency.

Childhood vaccine policies must be carefully administered. We demand strict avoidance of neonatal vaccination and vaccination of vulnerable children.

We must hold leaders of government, corporations, and the medical establishment accountable for failures that have led to the autism epidemic.

Leaders in the field agree there is a subset of vulnerable children who are predisposed to vaccine-related injury. We want those children identified, so that we do not needlessly harm innocent children.

Millions of dollars have been funnelled into genetic research in a frantic search for the single gene or a small number of genes responsible for the autism epidemic. Emerging consensus rejects a purely genetic cause. Most experts now agree that the primary causes must be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

They have funded a mix of projects and groups. In 2010, most projects were not vaccine-focused. In 2011 they funded: Autism Speaks ($51,000), the Marcus Autism Center ($50,000), projects in Africa and many other non-vaccine focused projects. In 2011, Focus Autism funded vaccine-oriented groups such as the National Vaccine Information Center ($37,500), SafeMinds ($70,000), Generation Rescue ($40,000).

In 2011, Focus Autism added to its board Louise Kuo Habakis and Katie Wright, both vocal proponents of the vaccine-causation idea. The board currently includes Brian Hooker, who is also a vocal proponent of the idea. There has been some discussion lately about Mr. Hooker’s involvement with the autism hearing held by the Committee on Government Oversight and Reform last year. The idea being presented that Mr. Hooker, lone citizen, made contact with members of congress and got the hearing moving.

Consider that Focus Autism was founded and is apparently run by Barry Segal. Mr. Segal’s family foundation has over $50M in assets, and seems to be doing a great deal of good work, especially in sub-saharan Africa. Mr. Segal’s company sold for an undisclosed amount, but had sales of $1.7B (yes B) in 2006.

Here is a picture from Facebook showing Mr. Hooker in the audience of the congressional hearing from Focus Autism’s facebook page. Sitting next to him is Mr. Segal’s wife, then Mr. Segal.

Hooker-Segal 2

I consider it possible he had a bit more support in his efforts than, say, I might have.

Focus Autism includes in its list of partners: Age of Autism, EBCALA, the National Vaccine Information Center, the Canary Party and the Dwoskin Family Foundation. All groups promoting the idea that vaccines cause autism.

As to the split mentioned in the title of this article, consider this short blog post on the Focus Autism website: The Fragmented Autism Community:

The so called autism community is represented by:

#1 Autism Speaks, which because of Bernie-Julie thing refuses to meaningfully go after environmental issues, especially vaccines.

#2 Safe Minds, another disaster and I don’t know (or care) what their agenda is.

The rest of the community is fragmented, acts like our congress, accomplishes nothing and has an approval rating similar to congress. In both cases we need to change.

“Bernie” is most likely Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot and founder of the Marcus Autism Center. I’m not sure who “Julie” refers to. SafeMinds, well that reference is clear. It is also interesting in that Focus Autism donated money to both the Marcus Autism Center and SafeMinds in 2011. Somewhere in the past couple of years, there seems to have been a falling out.

Given some of the current discussion about the way the congressional hearing was put together, specifically Mr. Hooker’s and SafeMinds’ roles (see here, here and here), it is interesting to see the organization he works with taking such a harsh stance on SafeMinds.

The name Barry Segal was familiar to me, and it took me a few days to recall where I saw it before. It was on a discussion at the Forbes website. I usually avoid bringing discussions held on other sites to this blog, but I think these statements show the possibility of further rifts, both between autism organizations and within organizations. Here are the statements made by Mr. Segal (or someone using his name, but I have no reason otherwise) at Forbes:

First this one (actually two, it was repeated):

I guess you are aware that in 1960, 3 years before the measles shot, 100 people died of measles. In 2012 over 80,000 of the babies born that year will end up on the spectrum. Bob Wright knows certain children are vulnerable to vaccines but Bernie Marcus won’t let him go there. Do you really give your child or grandchildren a Hep b shot at birth, or do you have them practice safe sex till they are 6 years old. (That is when the shot wears off)

Indicating his opinion that Bob Wright (founder of Autism Speaks) wants more vaccine research but that Bernie Marcus (Marcus Autism Center and Autism Speaks) is blocking it.

Mr. Segal went on:

I won’t discuss Hepatitis B with you except that the following five countries, Denmark, Sweden, France, Germany and Japan only give the Hepatitis B vaccination to children whose mothers test positive.

As far as Bob Wright, I have met with him and he shared with me, the following thoughts:
1.That there needs to be more vaccine research
2.That there should be no more thimerosal in any vaccines or medicines

I had dinner with Bernie Marcus in Florida. Towards dessert, I mentioned what Bob Wright had said and he told me, “There is no thimerosal in this country today,” to which I replied, “ You’ve got to be kidding me, you can go to your local drug store and get a shot of thimerosal in your flu injection.” He is clueless and after starting the Marcus Autism Center and hearing Bob Wright had an autistic grandchild, he reached out to Bob Wright to form Autism Speaks with the intent that they do not address the vaccine issue. Peter Bell and Holly Peete both have vaccine injured children and will not vaccinate their subsequent children as mandated.

And this:

I had breakfast with Peter Bell on 12/8/11. He explained to me that the increase in the vaccinations alters the immune system. When he lived in CA, he didn’t have to vaccinate his children (philosophical exemption is available in CA) but when he came to NJ, he slowed it down as much as possible. Peter suggested Tylenol could be part of the problem.

Rodney Peete said in his book, “NOT MY BOY!” co-authored by Danelle Morton:

“At home that night, R.J. had a terrible fever and started shaking violently, just short of something like a seizure. Holly called the pediatrician to ask him what could have caused this. Should we take R.J. to the hospital? The doctor was unruffled and told us it was not a reaction to the shots. He recommended that we give R.J. some Tylenol to help him with the fever and he promised that R.J. would be fine. R.J. had a terrible reaction to the Tylenol and we rushed him to the emergency room late that night. We believe he went into some kind of toxic overload shock. After that, we didn’t hear the words “Mommy” or “No” for about four years.”

As far as vaccine safety, the problem is much more than just thimerosol. Today, the autism incidence rate is 1 in 88 and this is for children born in 2000. If we apply a more conservative 8% growth rate to this rate, we’re looking at over 80,000 children born this year being on the spectrum!

In these two suggesting that Peter Bell (Autism Speaks), Holly Robinson Peete and her husband Rodney Peete (HollyRod foundation, Autism Speaks) are also proponents of the vaccine-causation idea.

All this again indicating tensions between and within autism orgs over the topic.

For anyone who thinks the vaccine-autism-epidemic idea is going away from the public discouse any time soon, keep in mind that this is not a grass roots movement. There are millions of dollars being spent by these groups every year. Much of it from wealthy donors.

Mr. Segal had some very interesting things to say about the departure from Autism Speaks of their previous president. That is discussed in Was Mark Roithmayr pushed out of Autism Speaks over vaccines?


By Matt Carey

No, the autism “rate” in California did not go down after removing thimerosal from vaccines

26 Feb

I recently attended a talk where the speaker showed autism prevalence by age group for a large HMO in California. The administrative prevalence (fraction of people in the HMO identified autistic) was still going up as of 2010, and the speaker indicated this trend continued to 2012. California is an interesting case study because not only was thimerosal removed from vaccines along with the rest of the U.S. starting in the late 1990’s, but the state enacted a law which required that pregnant women and children under three be given thimerosal free vaccines from 2006 onward. So, with the exception of an an exemption in 2009 and another one right now, even the influenza vaccine in thimerosal free. I bring this up because it is a common argument that somehow the exposure from the flu vaccine is keeping the rate climbing, even though at most this is a lower exposure than that from the 1990’s pediatric vaccine schedule.

This all said, the talk made me dive back into looking at autism prevalence. I decided to finally write about the fact that the autism prevalence in Denmark is higher post thimerosal than while thimerosal containing vaccines were in use. This is completely unsurprising, but a myth has been propogating that it came down and that fact was being hidden.

As it turns out I also checked back with what once was the most common source of autism data for the armchair epidemiologist: the California Department of Developmental Services (CDDS). (I admit one could argue that Special Education data are the most common source for the armchair epidemiologist). The CDDS provides services to disabled Californians and keeps and makes public statistics on their client base. For a long time, every quarter they would come out with a report. For a long time, every quarter these reports would be followed by announcements about how the data showed that vaccines cause autism. One of the people you could always count on was David Kirby (author of the book, Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy, and basically a PR man for some of the vaccine-causation groups). Mr. Kirby went so far as to claim that these data were the “gold standard of autism epidemiology”. Well, the data had their uses (such as identifying and quantifying some of the social influences behind the increase) but it is not an easy task to get results from them. The idea that they represent an accurate count of all those with ASD’s (or even accurately account for all individuals with autistic disorder) is a stretch.

But this didn’t stop David Kirby. Back in 2005, David Kirby was claiming that there was an indication that the administrative prevalence in California was starting to drop, and if the trend continued this was a sign that the removal of thimerosal was having an effect:

Stay tuned. If the numbers in California and elsewhere continue to drop – and that still is a big if — the implication of thimerosal in the autism epidemic will be practically undeniable.

Well, by 2007 it was clear that the California data were not really showing a drop. In addition, the lack of a drop was published in 2008 as Continuing increases in autism reported to California’s developmental services system: mercury in retrograde.\

The rise in the number of autism clients in the CDDS database was key to the idea of the mercury-induced epidemic. David Kirby (and others) relied on these data and Mr. Kirby even acknowledged that the data should start showing a drop (statement from 2005):

If the total number of 3-5 year olds in the California DDS system has not declined by 2007, that would deal a severe blow to the autism-thimerosal hypothesis.

The reason is that 5 year olds in 2007 were born after the removal of thimerosal from vaccines. Their exposure to thimerosal was much less than kids in the 1990’s. If the “thimerosal caused an autism epidemic” idea were true, the rates would have to drop. They should drop back to pre-1990 (actually pre 1980) levels if thimerosal were the main, or even a main, cause of the rise.

My recollection is that Mr. Kirby did later backpedal and claim that we would have to wait until some much later date, but it was a weak argument (even by David Kirby standards).

Sorry to keep diving into past history, but one of the strangest moments in the mecury debate (and I can use the term this time, because there was a debate) came in San Diego in 2007. David Kirby debated Arthur Allen in the UCSD Price Center (about 100 yards from my old office, as it turns out). Presented with the fact that even though thimerosal exposure from vaccines had gone down, the California numbers kept going up, David Kirby presented (in something like 100 power point slides!) a four pronged response. First was a claim that California HMO’s had stockpiled thimerosal containing vaccines, so the exposure from vaccines didn’t really go down as much as reports were claiming. Then:

1) A gigantic plume of coal smoke from Chinese power plants has settled on California, depositing lots of mercury and therefore causing the autism numbers in the state to continue to grow.

2) Bad forest fires have put tons of mercury into the air, depositing lots of mercury etc…

3) Cremations (!). The burning of dead bodies with mercury amalgam in their mouths has added even more mercury to the air.

It was a hail Mary pass, to be blunt. Lot’s of handwaving and ignoring the facts.

In 2007, the CDDS changed the way they assessed and counted their clients and they stopped publishing the quarterly reports. As you can imagine, many claimed this was part of a conspiracy to hide the fact that the autism rates were declining in California. And with that the quarterly ritual of misinterpreting and deconstrucing the data came to an end.

All amusing history, sure, but one might ask, why bring all this up again? Well, because it turns out that the CDDS started putting out quarterly reports again in 2011. Yes, there’s a gap of a few years in the data. Yes, some things changed (for example, the CDDS now shows the PDD fraction of autism client base). Given these limitations–and the other limitations in the CDDS data (i.e. they are *not* the “gold standard” of autism epidemiology), what do these data show? The upward trends continue. More individuals served by the CDDS with autism, even though thimerosal was removed from vaccines. Here’s the total–all ages–count for CDDS clients in the autism category (click to enlarge):

CDDS total

Looking at the younger age groups, those whose exposure to thimerosal is much lower than for kids born in the 1990s, there is also an increase. Here is the age 3-5 age group (click to enlarge)

CDDS 3-5

and the 6-9 age group (click to enlarge):

CDDS 6-9

9 year olds in 2012 were born in 2003. Post the removal of thimerosal nationwide. 5 year olds were born in 2007, post thimerosal nationwide and post the California law prohibiting mercury in vaccines for pregnant women and small children. In both groups, the CDDS autism counts are higher than they were in 2002 (the earliest date in the currently available data). Which, in turn, was much higher than the counts from the 1990’s. Here is a figure from the Schechter-Grether paper refenced above:

S-G CDDS paper figure

Which is all a very long way of saying: years ago the evidence was against the thimerosal/epidemic idea; it is even more clear now. For years we heard Mr. Kirby and others talk about how those responsible should step up and admit what happened. Well, the fact is they did. Now it is time for those who promoted the mercury notion to step forward and show they have the guts to admit they were wrong. Because they were. Clearly wrong. It would take a lot of guts to step forward and admit the mistakes. Even though their influence has waned, it would help the autism communities. While I have focused on David Kirby in this discussion, the list is much longer of people who should step forward. I’m not going to hold my breath.


By Matt Carey

Witnesses for Congressional hearing on autism announced

28 Nov

Thursday the US House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform will hold a hearing on autism: 1 in 88 Children: A Look Into the Federal Response to Rising Rates of Autism.

The witness list has been made public on the committee’s website:

Alan Guttmacher, M.D.
Director, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
National Institutes of Health

Coleen Boyle, Ph.D.
Director of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Mr. Bob Wright
Co-Founder
Autism Speaks

Mr. Scott Badesch
President
Autism Society

Mr. Mark Blaxill
Board Members
SafeMinds

Mr. Bradley McGarry
Coordinator of the Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst
Mercyhurst University

Mr. Michael John Carley
Executive Director
Global & Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership

Mr. Ari Ne’eman
President
Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Occurrence and Family Impact of Elopement in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders

9 Oct

In the past few years there has been a great deal of discussion on wandering and autism. Wandering as in elopement, running away, leaving a home or group. With people who are not independent this can obviously be a dangerous situation.

The U.S. Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) had much discussion on wandering. The previous IACC had a Subcommittee on Safety and provided HHS Secretary Sebelius with a letter on the subject. One hot topic was whether a medical code should be created to track wandering as there was little hard data on the topic.

One result of this discussion was a study to answer: how prevalent is wandering? Anecdotally we knew the answer was going to be that there is a high prevalence. Now there are numbers to back that up from a study published in the journal Pediatrics.

Here is the abstract:

OBJECTIVES: Anecdotal reports suggest that elopement behavior in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) increases risk of injury or death and places a major burden on families. This study assessed parent-reported elopement occurrence and associated factors among children with ASDs.

METHODS: Information on elopement frequency, associated characteristics, and consequences was collected via an online questionnaire. The study sample included 1218 children with ASD and 1076 of their siblings without ASD. The association among family sociodemographic and child clinical characteristics and time to first elopement was estimated by using a Cox proportional hazards model.

RESULTS: Forty-nine percent (n = 598) of survey respondents reported their child with an ASD had attempted to elope at least once after age 4 years; 26% (n = 316) were missing long enough to cause concern. Of those who went missing, 24% were in danger of drowning and 65% were in danger of traffic injury. Elopement risk was associated with autism severity, increasing, on average, 9% for every 10-point increase in Social Responsiveness Scale T score (relative risk 1.09, 95% confidence interval: 1.02, 1.16). Unaffected siblings had significantly lower rates of elopement across all ages compared with children with ASD.

CONCLUSIONS: Nearly half of children with ASD were reported to engage in elopement behavior, with a substantial number at risk for bodily harm. These results highlight the urgent need to develop interventions to reduce the risk of elopement, to support families coping with this issue, and to train child care professionals, educators, and first responders who are often involved when elopements occur.

Usually with papers like this I try to obtain a copy in advance to review when it is released. last week and this week are too busy for that. The Autism Science Foundation blog has a discussion of the paper in New Study Confirms Autistic Wandering is Widespread. Autism Science Foundation president Alison Singer was one of the forces behind getting this study accomplished, along with Lyn Redwood of SafeMinds and there was support from the National Autism Association and Autism Speaks.

Often on such high profile papers, the full paper is made available to the public. Apparently not in this case.


By Matt Carey

A Positive Association found between Autism Prevalence and Childhood Vaccination uptake across the U.S. Population

8 Jul

The title for this article should have a question mark, “A Positive Association found between Autism Prevalence and Childhood Vaccination uptake across the U.S. Population?”. The paper’s faults have already been discussed, but I was unable to sleep earlier this week and I decided to graph some of the data. For some reason, even this didn’t help me to sleep.

A Positive Association found between Autism Prevalence and Childhood Vaccination uptake across the U.S. Population

here is the abstract:

The reason for the rapid rise of autism in the United States that began in the 1990s is a mystery. Although individuals probably have a genetic predisposition to develop autism, researchers suspect that one or more environmental triggers are also needed. One of those triggers might be the battery of vaccinations that young children receive. Using regression analysis and controlling for family income and ethnicity, the relationship between the proportion of children who received the recommended vaccines by age 2 years and the prevalence of autism (AUT) or speech or language impairment (SLI) in each U.S. state from 2001 and 2007 was determined. A positive and statistically significant relationship was found: The higher the proportion of children receiving recommended vaccinations, the higher was the prevalence of AUT or SLI. A 1% increase in vaccination was associated with an additional 680 children having AUT or SLI. Neither parental behavior nor access to care affected the results, since vaccination proportions were not significantly related (statistically) to any other disability or to the number of pediatricians in a U.S. state. The results suggest that although mercury has been removed from many vaccines, other culprits may link vaccines to autism. Further study into the relationship between vaccines and autism is warranted

The author made a number of strange decisions in this paper, as already discussed (and here, here, and here). First, she chose “autism prevalence” for her title when what she discussed was a combination of autism and speech or language impairment. So, I will put quotes around “autism” in “autism” prevalence, as this isn’t a real autism prevalence. Second, she chose a vaccination rate that is based on 100% completion of the 1995 vaccine schedule. This rate was changing notably, as she starts the study period when the schedule was introduced. So, as states and pediatricians and parents adopted the schedule, the “vaccination rate” as defined by the author increases notably. Again, I will use quotes around “vaccination rate” as this is an odd definition of the term.

Here is the main result of the paper:

The results suggest that if a given U.S. state has a 1% higher vaccination rate than another U.S. state, then the state with the higher vaccination rate might have, on average, a 1.7% higher prevalence of autism or speech disorder

With more than 4 × 10^6 babies born in the United States each year, this finding translates into an additional 680 children (= number of children [4 × 10^6] × coefficient [0.017] × 1% [0.01]) exhibiting autism or speech disorders for every 1% rise in children receiving the 4:3:1:3:3 series of vaccinations by age 2 years.

To put all this simply, the author is claiming that if there is some baseline prevalence of “autism” if the “vaccination rate” is 0, say 5%, then the prevalence rate of “autism” would be 5+1.7=6.7% if the “vaccination rate” were 100%.

One would expect that as “vaccination rates” go up or down, the “autism rate” would go up or down with this proportionality factor. It doesn’t happen that way, though.

The author used household income and ethnicity (%Hispanic, % African America, %Other) as variables in the model. Let’s assume that those numbers don’t change significantly during the time period considered for each state (the author appears to make this assumption, so let’s go with it.)

I took a look at the first 4 states in the table (listed alphabetically): Alabama, Alaska, Arizona and Arkansas. If anyone has a particular interest in any given state, I’ll graph them up (or you can do it yourself).

Here is the “vaccination rate” as a function of study year:

As Prometheus has noted, this rate shows the biggest change in the first two years. Given the result of the study, we should see the biggest changes in “autism rate” in these two years. But we don’t. I took the data for the “vaccine rates” as a function of time and applied the 1.7% increase in “autism” prevalence the author states as a result. Let’s look at these states and what the model predicts and what the actual data showed (click any graph to make bigger):

Alaska:

Alabama:

Arizona:

Arkansas:

The data not follow the predicted trends. Not even close. Not only that, but for two states, the predicted values are higher than the reported values (red curves higher than black) while for the other two states the opposite is seen.

This isn’t a case of “I don’t know how the analysis came to the conclusion but I don’t think it is right” type of paper. This is a case of “how did this get past an editor and referee” type of paper. It is just that clearly wrong.

Reconsidering the Nature of Autism

8 Apr

Todd Drezner has a new piece up on the Huffington Post: Reconsidering the Nature of Autism. He starts out by quoting the forward to one of Jenny McCarthy’s books. The forward is by alternative medical practitioner Jerry Kartzinel.

Here is what Mr. Drezner wrote in his introduction:

“Autism … steals the soul from a child; then, if allowed, relentlessly sucks life’s marrow out of the family members, one by one.” So wrote Dr. Jerry Kartzinel in the introduction to Jenny McCarthy’s bestselling “Louder Than Words.” No wonder, then, that the concept of neurodiversity– the idea that we should understand and accept autistic people as a group that thinks differently from the majority — has proven to be so controversial.

The quote takes me back. Back to when I was starting to look online for information about autism. I remember when Jenny McCarthy hit the scene. Kev responded here with his blogging. The blog might have been kevleitch.co.uk then, not LeftBrainRightBrain. I remember that Kev’s blog went down: the traffic was so high that he hit his bandwidth quota. I remember that he responded to the forward from Jerry Kartzinel. He responded with words and, a little later, with video:

I don’t bring this up just for some sort of nostalgia. But this reminds me of two major themes. First: words hurt. What Dr. Kartzinel wrote, and Jenny McCarthy published, hurt. It hurt a lot of people. It added to the stigma of autism and disability. Second: words can be powerful. Kev fought back, as did many others. How or if this was an influence on Todd Drezner, I can’t say. It influenced me as I still remember it.

We can’t sit back and let people stigmatize others, for whatever reason they may have. Kim Wombles shows that almost every day with her blog Countering. Bev did it with a humor and keen perspective on Asperger Square 8. Corina Becker is taking up the task with No Stereotypes Here. And this is just a few of the many voices, autistic and non, out there.

Having said this, I will bring up one message that I’ve felt needed to be countered for some time. Here is a screenshot of a page from the book “the Age of Autism” by Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill. Both write for the Age of Autism Blog (Dan Olmsted appears to be the proprietor). Mark Blaxill is a member of the organization SafeMinds. Both promote the idea of autism as vaccine injury and, more specifically, the failed mercury hypothesis. (click to enlarge)

To pull but one disturbing quote: “As one of the first parents to observe an autistic child, Muncie learned how well autism targets ‘those functions distinctly human’ “. Yes, I have spent quite a lot of time fighting bad science like the first part in that sentence: the idea that autism is new/the kids in Kanner’s study were the first autistics ever. But what about the second part: that autistics are missing or have impaired “distinctly human” functions? Yes, I’ve also responded to that sentiment in the past and I plan to continue to do so. And that is much more important than the fight against bad science.

Words hurt. Jerry Kartzinel’s words hurt. Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill’s words hurt. They hurt and they are wrong. Plain and simple.

Another phrase from the above paragraph: “autism brutally restricts the interests of the affected”. So say the team that has one interest: pushing mercury in vaccines as a cause of autism. A little ironic?

Reading their writing, I am reminded of one of Bev’s amazing videos:

Back to the paragraph from “The Age of Autism”. Dan, Mark: You don’t think autistics made tools, explored the globe, invented new technologies? The sad thing is, it seems like you don’t.

Yeah, a lot of kids, kids like mine, aren’t in the world explorer/inventor categories. And even kids like mine are still as human as you or I. They are not missing anything “distinctly human”.

Why does it matter what happens to Andrew Wakefield?

8 Jan

People have been questioning the necessity of these latest revelations about Andrew Wakefield and suggesting that enough is enough or maybe that all this latest round of publicity will do nothing except make him a heroic martyr. This is possible.

However, for a number of reasons I really feel it is vitally important that not only is there some response but that that response comes at least partly from the autism community.

Firstly, I believe it is necessary for there to be a response full stop. These might be the same set of _facts_ that were uncovered during the GMC hearing but the difference here is that for the first time it has been established that the facts against Andrew Wakefield came about through what the BMJ refer to as fraudulent. This is a huge difference. Up until now it could’ve been argued that Andrew Wakefield simply made a mistake. After the events of the last two days, that can never be honestly argued again.

Secondly, there are a set of people who have been at the rough end of Wakefield’s fraud for the last 13 years. A set of people who have struggled to make new parents understand that there is no risk of autism from the MMR vaccine. Doctors. Particularly paediatricians and GP’s. It is vital that by establishing what Wakefield has done as fraud, the media ensure that the message is spread far and wide. They (the media) have something to atone for in this respect, being the original spreaders of the message that the MMR caused or contributed to autism. They now need to recognise their role in the past and help the medical establishment by ensuring Wakefield can never again spread his fraudulent claims via their auspices.

Thirdly, there is another set of people who have been at an even rougher end of Wakefield’s fraud. The sufferers of the falling vaccination rates of MMR. Its been well documented in numerous places, including this blog how people – particularly children – have been injured and died in the UK and US. The concept of herd immunity, no matter what some might claim is a real concept and when it falls, the level of protection falls. When it falls to far then the people who suffer are the very young, the very old and those who for genuine medical reasons cannot be vaccinated. Wakefield’s fraud needs to be spread far and wide in order for people to realise what he is, what he tried to do and what the consequences were in order to have some confidence in the MMR jab.

Fourthly, there is another set of people who have suffered heavily. This set of people are the silent victims of Wakefield’s perfidy. Autistic people. Wakefield and his supporters, TACA, NAA, Generation Rescue, SafeMinds, Treating Autism et al have turned autism into a circus. The aim of the last decade amongst serious autism researchers and advocates has been to

a) Raise awareness
b) Find evidence-based therapies that will help the life course and independence of autistic people
c) Protect the educational rights of autistic people

and getting research monies to meet these aims is long, hard and slow. Andrew Wakefield and his hardcore of scientifically illiterate supporters have actively derailed that process, dragging research monies away from these principled activities and towards their core aim of degrading vaccines and ‘proving’ vaccines cause autism. Wakefield himself has taken over US$750,000 worth of money to pursue a legal battle against the UK Gvmt. Just think of how that money could have enriched the life of just one autistic person.

However, this same set of people claim to be representative of the autism community. They write nonsense books about autism. They hold celebrity studded fundraisers for autism. They participate in rant-filled rally’s for autism. But none of them are really about autism. What they’re about is anti-vaccinationism.

Every one of these activities denigrate autism and autistic people. They take attention away from where it is needed.

We, the true autism community, made up of parents, autistic people, professionals of autistic people need to do two things. Firstly, we need to wrest back control of the autism agenda from these one-note people. Secondly, we need to speak to society at large and say ‘yes, some members of the autism community believed the fraudulence of Andrew Wakefield but not all of us did. Please don’t tar us all with one brush.’

What Andrew Wakefield has done has impacted everyone. We need to make sure that he and people like him can never affect us all in this way again. To do that we need to speak out about him, loudly and as long as it takes.

Book Sales: The Age of Autism and Callous Disregard

15 Dec

I tapped my source one last time for book sales figures for “The Age of Autism” and “Callous Disregard”. The Age of Autism was written by Mark Blaxill (board member of SafeMinds and one of the three principle editors of the blog, Age of Autism) and Dan Olmsted (former UPI editor, principle editor and, from what I can tell, owner of the Age of Autism blog). Callous Disregard is Andrew Wakefield’s account of the events which landed him before the General Medical Council and resulted in him being removed from the UK medical register.

Total book sales to date:

Age of Autism: 2301
Callous Disregard: 2925

Last week five copies of Callous Disregard were sold.

Last week The Age of Autism sold 130 copies–38 in Minneapolis St. Paul and 35 in Norfolk, Virginia. This appears to coincide with book signing events in those locations. The week before that, The Age of Autism sold 57 copies.

These figures must be disappointing. If not to the authors, to the publishers.

I may post an update with this week’s book sales. Either way, there isn’t much reason to continue the discussion of these books. When they are available in the remainder book outlets (with this few sales, there won’t be a lot of used copies and little chance for paperback editions) I will likely obtain copies of each. I’ve already read them, but they are interesting from a historical perspective. It will be a good exercise to see how these books read ten years from now. If history is kind to these authors, it will be by neglecting them.